Friday, February 25, 2022

Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 8: Blight On The Beanstalk

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)

The hatch split into ten slices that pulled back into the rim. Emerald took the last three rungs of the ladder slowly so she wouldn’t bang her head. There were four maintenance tubes at 45 degree angles from each other. Lined with screens and keyboards, they could access and monitor every system on the car and on the Beanstalk. They extended from the central shaft to the exterior, and some were capped with transparent ports.

There were three levels above her. She climbed to the top and into one of the four tubes, crawling along the soft material on the floor until her feet hung over the edge. Then she started backing up, her feet going into the tube across the shaft. Her hands touched the edge of the shaft and she stopped. This was the dangerous part. The hatch below was still open. She hoped it being open didn’t turn on any noticeable alarms in the control cabin. The operating manual she’d skimmed hadn’t been clear about the hatch. Would it close on its own after a short time or did she need the key she’d picked from Rachida’s pocket to activate it. She’d planned on leaving it open. Now she searched for the key slot. Below her, the white cloud of ricin gas was rising. Soft thuds on the floor far below told her that the gas was indeed killing rats and other pests who’d lived in the tube that ran from the top to the bottom of the space elevator car.

It would also kill her once it reached her level.

There didn’t seem to be any key slot here. Her pulse roared in her ears and she gulped air squirming across the shaft and all the way into the maintenance tube. She rolled over on her back and saw the outlined rectangle with a key slot in the center. She didn’t care now if it set off an alarm on the control level. She didn’t want to die. She slipped the key in and the pie-slice door closed instantly.

She started breathing again. Eventually she moved again, scooting herself across the shaft and into the tube across from her again. Tiny lights and readouts lined the walls of the tube she was in until she came to the end. She was rewarded by the view through a bubble of ten-centimeter thick quartz glass. She could look above the car, alongside the 100,000-kilometer ribbon joining Earth to the Space Station orbiting at the end of it.

The Beanstalk slid fast and silently past. The sky was a deep, midnight blue and sharp, white pinpoints of stars no longer twinkled. She took a long, slow breath. It was easier to breathe now that she was here. This was a night sky like none she’d ever seen from the Yucatan Peninsula.

That triggered the memory of laying on the beach after the knife-footed robot had destroyed her house. She’d never forget the sound of its knife into sand, but she was leaving that sound behind on Earth, forever, and heading for the infinite silence of space. She’d stayed on the beach for three days, waiting for something to happen. If she hadn’t lived on the Yucatan for the past four years, she’d have been burned to a crisp like the tourists who came to the area to sunbathe. Trees had shaded her at the hottest part of the day, so she was protected from the worst of the sun until Rashida and her team had found her and carried her away.

Into space.

She frowned, squinting. “What’s that?” Something on the Beanstalk; a faint brownish smear ahead in that looked wrong. The passenger car, moving to geostationary orbit was going nearly seven hundred kilometers per hour. It would take almost no time to reach the smear. It looked like an infection, mottled grayish brown, organic. She lifted her ipik level with her face, snapped a picture and turned her head. She could access the internet from it – it just drained the battery faster. She ran through a few queries, mostly getting useless information. The cable was made of extremely long, bundled carbon nanotubules and for a moment, it seemed like it might be possible for them to interact with water and create carbohydrates. But so what? What harm could that cause?

It wouldn’t be long until they reached the blight on the Beanstalk and the car wasn’t slowing down. Emerald took a deep breath, bit her upper lip then plugged into the a computer access portal on the wall.

An instant later, a woman’s voice said from a speaker nearby, “Identify yourself!”

Startled, Emerald tried to sit up and slammed her forehead against the ceiling of the tube. “Ouch! What?”

There was a pause and the voice sounded distant when it said, “It sounds like a little girl!”

“I’m not a little girl!” Emerald snapped. “I’m twelve-and-a-half.”

Another pause, then the woman said, “And what are you doing in a restricted access maintenance tube?”

Emerald said, “That’s not important...”

“Actually, I think it’s very important that I find out how a little girl got into a restricted passage maintenance tube. Would you like to tell me now or should I fill the tube with sleeping gas and send someone up there to drag you out?”

“No! Don’t! There’s something wrong with the Beanstalk! I can see it from the porthole on the top here. There’s something brown on it. It looks organic, like fungus or mold!”

“Right, kid,” replied the voice. They covered the speaker’s microphone, but Emerald thought she heard, “...forward elevator cameras...” Another pause and the voice came back on clearly, “So, who exactly are you, little girl in a restricted access space?”

Emerald bit her upper lip then said, “Emerald.”

“Does Emerald have a last name?”

“Not right now.”

“Smart...” The microphone was muffled again. The speaker clicked and went silent. Scooting back to the porthole, Emerald rubbed her forehead. She knew from reading about the Beanstalk that there was no way to halt the passenger car. It wasn’t exactly like the trains in the Yucatan that could stop if the tracks flooded or a herd of cattle was crossing. She also wasn’t eager to tell the voice that she was the great-niece of one of SOLAR EXPLORER’s vice-captains. In fact, she was pretty sure based on what Dad had said about great aunt Ruby, that she wouldn’t want anyone talking about this little incident and pushing the family name into a bad light.

The passenger car shivered suddenly. A bright light strip over the hatch changed from steady green to flashing red. The voice came back on, louder now to be heard over the pulsing hoot of an emergency klaxon, “This is an emergency. A detached Artificial Intelligence has been dispatched ahead of the passenger car to clear the Beanstalk of an unidentified organic deposit. It will be necessary to close all observation ports during this time, as high intensity ultraviolet lasers will be employed. Please return to your assigned seats and completely strap in. This is an emergency.”

The blaring voice cut off and the softer voice came back on. “Emerald, are you Vice-Captain Marcillon’s great niece?”

Crap. Caught red-handed. She took a deep breath and said, “My name is Emerald Anastasia Nhia Okon Marcillon.”

“Your great aunt’s middle name?”

Emerald scowled then snapped, “Private information.”

“My finger is hovering over the sleep gas release. It should make you sleep for a few hours or days. Did I mention that most people come out of being sleep-gassed throwing up?”

Emerald rolled her eyes. “That’s blackmail!” Saying Ruby’s middle name out loud was going to get her in bigger trouble than getting caught.

“My finger’s getting itchy,” said the voice.

She bit her upper lip, considered getting sleep gassed, then said, “Great aunt Ruby’s middle name is Stellaluna. ”

A loud guffaw was abruptly cut off as the voice said, “Oh, yeah! I will get so much mileage out of this!”

Emerald shook her head. Twin puffs of vapor burst ahead of them as a pair of robots launched from the car and sped ahead. She was gonna be in so much trouble when she saw her great aunt. It was a good thing she hadn’t told the woman great aunt Ruby’s other middle names: Maria Ixazaluoh – the mother of God and the inner divine mother, weaver of our life and symbol of spirit within. She would have definitely died for that revelation.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this:

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 14: Philosophical Ruminations on “What is Human?” and “What is Alien?”

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...

What engineering problems were involved with the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn & Titan in order to design an experiment that had to survive the journey, and then the harsh conditions on the surface of Titan?

What are the environmental constraints and engineering imperatives for Venusian colonization imposed by the environment?

All you need to know about space and interplanetary exploration is bottled for easy consumption for writers, space fans, and DIY space vehicle construction (don't try this at home folks) on the internet.

I’ve been a science teacher since I was licensed in 1981. I retired in 2020 – just short of forty years. I’ll continue teaching classes for gifted and talented kids called ALIEN WORLDS…and I make sure my science is as up-to-date as I can make it. When I started teaching the class 26 years ago, there was no such things as the Open Exoplanet Catalogue ( and my kids had to make up everything from the star-type to the number and types of planets. No more – I make them choose a REAL star system and they have to include the REAL planets that are known to exist.

So, what does this have to do with creating Alien Aliens?

Well, we DO have a fabulous resource. Derek Künsken, whose novel HOUSE OF STYX appeared first in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact, and will be published as a hardcover in April 2021. It’s incredibly real and intersectional in that the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, and classism intersect (combine, overlap) in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.

Künsken didn’t interest himself in ONLY the physical aspects of Venus and its exploration and colonization, but also in the people who were the colonists. His approach to the Venus is far, far beyond that of, say CS Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs or even Ben Bova. The problem of course, is that our understanding of extreme Solar system environments changes daily. Even in my work in progress, I have to read constantly to know what is “current” on Mars; and when or if it’s published, the data will be dreadfully out of date!

But once Humans have been hanging around in the atmosphere of Venus for a few decades…or centuries…or millennia…will they still be Human? Would they be transhuman? The definition of transhuman is “a being that resembles a human in most respects but who has powers and abilities beyond those of standard humans…including improved intelligence, awareness, strength, or durability…and appear in science-fiction…as cyborgs or genetically-enhanced humans.”

What is “Human”? There are 22 of the “best” definitions here: [What about pets? Are they Human? (Be careful who you ask for a comment on this. Interpretations run from “hell no!” to “absolutely yes!” Sometimes even in the same family.)]

Maybe that’s the biggest problem faced by those who are trying to make plans for landing on the surfaces of the various bits of flotsam and jetsam. In my River Universe, Humans have had experience exploring Jupiter – but the engineering here is biological. The Confluence of Humanity has essentially no taboo on the genetic engineering of Humans. But, giving free reign for science to do whatever it feels it should do, has given rise to a backlash. The Empire of Man became an empire of hard technology and created a divide between levels of genetic engineering such that, if you are more that 65 percent Original Human DNA (as defined by the first results of the Human Genome Project in 2003), you are legally Human. If you are NOT 65% or more, you are NOT entitled to the protections and laws of Humanity.

Think about the surface of the Moon. It’s airless, lightless (half the time), and the temperature variation swings from 127 C to -173 C a swing of some 300 degrees. How do you not only dress an astronaut for that, but design MACHINERY for that? What will it take to really, truly colonize Mars? [How long will the colonists remain “human”? What will the standard of “Human” be? That’s what I’m looking at in my River stories…]

We’ve clearly got a reasonable grip on EQUIPMENT surviving on Mars. But what about people? It seems to me that we’ve just assumed that we could plop a colony on Mars, stand back, and let everything develop. But the FACT of the matter is, is that Humans evolved/were designed to live on Earth. Our biology – from our bone structure to our bowels is built to work in what we even call a “standard G”; based on Earth’s gravity of 9.8 m/s2. How will Humans survive, I mean REALLY survive on Mars when gravity there is is 3.7 m/s2 ? How will our digestion work with only .38 g’s pulling the food down – I KNOW some of our digestion comes from peristaltic action – but how much? We only have long-term experience with microgravity (“zero-g”)…How about real reproduction? Can we make babies on Mars; ‘cause if THAT’S a no-go, then true colonization is impossible.

Venus? It has gravity that’s very close to Earth. It may give us some problems, but far fewer than we’d find on Mars, the Moon, or in the Asteroids. A 188 degree temperature swing. It’s famously inhospitable, though Derek Künsken, Sarah Zettel, and others (, and Zettel postulates that Venus has been colonized by aliens for whom it’s a “good fit”.

How can you design stuff to work reliably under conditions that are so far outside of those needed to sustain Human life? Well, apparently, that’s what scientists and engineers are trying to do. How would you design a rover for Venus? We’ve sent rovers to the Moon, Mars, and even dropped probes to the surfaces of comets and Titan, one of the Moons of Saturn.

Obviously sending Humans to any of those targets would be an entirely different challenge, but engineers are going to need to do it. So, what would a surface probe of Venus look like? Most scientists figure that such an undertaking would be impossible. How could we possibly design anything that would survive those conditions? The heat and pressure alone would destroy anything we made and dropped down to the surface. The RECORD for the survival of Human engineering is 127 minutes for the Russian Venera 13 lander.

Most Venus-explorer types insist that surface exploration is moot. We will need to explore with balloons set adrift in the high atmosphere and perhaps drop gliders…

What if we genetically engineered creatures like, say squirrels or bats or something else we could armor and then let them fly in huge swarms? So designed, would they become “true Venusians”? What if they developed a “swarm intelligence”, would they colonize and own Venus?

What is our definition of “Human”? Are robots Human? Artificial Intelligences? Who defines “Human” and Alien?

Living on Mars:,

Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at:

Image 2:

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Fiction • "It Came From The Slushpile," by Bruce Bethke

Editor’s note: A few days ago Guy Stewart brought it to my attention that there was something of a mystery as to why we’d named the magazine Stupefying Stories. Here, in a sense, is our origin story. This one was first published in the July-August 1987 issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction magazine, then republished in the Best of Aboriginal anthology, and then anthologized and reprinted so many times in the late 1980s and 1990s that I lost track of all its reprint appearances. It was even optioned to be the pilot episode for a proposed Twilight Zone-like TV series, and while the project made it as far as an approved shooting script, the series never went into production.

“It Came From The Slushpile” has been a part of my life for so long I’d forgotten that we’ve picked up a lot of new friends lately, and most of you probably have never seen this one, as I quite likely wrote it before you were born. Therefore, here, for your entertainment, is…

Actually, no. This is not a story. It’s true. It’s all true. This is what it’s like every day here at Rampant Loon Press. Honest.



Original art by Larry Blamire • Used by permission.

The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the manuscript-buried offices of fiction magazines know. Groping for the light switch, Rex Manly, the two-fisted editor of Stupefying Stories Magazine, led two junior college interns into the cramped and windowless back office.

“This is the slush pile,” Rex said in his deep, mature voice. “Normally we try to stay on top of it, but our associate editor quit six months ago and we couldn’t afford to replace her. So we’ve let it get a little out of hand.” Rex found the light switch; after a few crackles from a dying transformer, flickery blue fluorescent light flooded the room. Sheila, the tall, willowy, blonde intern, gasped. Janine, the other intern, bit her lip and fought back the tears.

“There are some six thousand unsolicited manuscripts here,” Rex continued. “Of those, six hundred are worth reading, and one hundred worth publishing. At best, twelve suit our current needs and budget well enough to be purchased.

“Your job,” Rex said, as he laid his massive hand on the manila-colored heap, “is to sift through this and find the dozen gems that might be hiding here.” Suddenly, the  stack of manuscripts shifted and began to collapse around him like an erasable bond avalanche. With an agility uncommon in a man his size, Rex leapt clear. “You get half an hour for lunch,” he said calmly, as if nothing had happened. “We see there isn’t a clock in here, so we’ll send someone by at noon to check up on you. Coffee’s in the art department. If you didn’t brown-bag there’s a Burger King up the street.” The two women were still overawed by the Herculean— or rather, Augean—task they faced, and asked no questions. Rex closed the door as he left.


“Ready for lunch yet?” the tall, shapely, brunette asked as she arched her back against the doorframe, and with studied carelessness caught a polished fingernail on the hem of her skirt, tugging it up to expose a flash of silk-stockinged thigh.

“In a minute, Gina,” Rex said to the Art Director, without looking up. “We’ve got a really tough comma fault here we’re trying to nail down.” Gina pouted and sighed heavily, reminding Rex that it was dangerous to leave her with idle time on her hands. “Tell you what,” Rex said. “Do us a favor and tell those two interns working the slush pile that it’s time for lunch, okay?” Without answering, the Art Director turned and sauntered down the hall, her high heels clicking out a seductive Morse code on the terrazzo floor.

This was followed, in short order, by a piercing scream.

Rex vaulted over his desk and ran out into the hall, to find Gina wailing hysterically. Mascara streamed down her cheeks like oil from a leaky rocker-arm cover. “What happened?” he demanded, as he grabbed her roughly.

“You’re hurting my roughly!” she cried. Rex relaxed his grip; Gina sobbed, buried her face in his broad chest, and said, “It’s awful! Terrible! Hideous! Grue—!”

He slapped her. “Excess adjectives!”

Gina shuddered, then regained her composure. “Sheila and Janine, they’re... Oh, it’s too horrible!” A small crowd was gathering around the door of the interns’ office, so Rex helped Gina into a chair and bulled his way through the staffers.

“Does anyone here know—?” He stopped, the question caught in his throat. Sheila and Janine lay on the floor, two crushed, ink-smeared corpses half-covered in manuscripts.

“The slush pile must have imploded,” said Phil Jennings, the Science Fact Editor, who’d slipped through the crowd to stand at Rex’s right elbow. “No one has ever researched the critical mass of unpublished manuscripts. They may undergo gravitational collapse, like a black hole.”

Rex crouched; Phil crouched with him. “But the ink stains,” Rex said softly.

Phil gingerly reached out and touched Janine’s face. “Still fresh,” he said.

“Then at least we’re getting through about using new typewriter ribbons.” Rex stood, resolve giving strength to his voice. “Okay, let’s get them out of there. Jerry, Dave,” he pointed to two of the keyliners, “get in there and get their feet. Phil, take Sheila. We’ll take Janine.” Cautiously, the two keyliners waded into the office, but before they’d gotten more than ankle-deep they both slipped and fell on the erasable bond. “Are you okay?” Rex called out.

“Think so,” answered Jerry, who was closest to the center of the heap, “but there’s something funny going on here. My foot’s caught on something.”

“Oh my God,” Dave gasped.

Behind Jerry, a large, white- and black-speckled pseudopod was slowly extruding from the slush pile. “Phil?” Rex asked calmly, his voice belying the cold horror he felt. “What do you make of that?”

Phil leaned forward, squinted, took off his glasses and cleaned them on the tail of his shirt, put them back on, and then squinted again. “Hard to tell from this distance,” he said softly, “but it looks like a plagiarization of an old Twilight Zone script.”

“What are you...?” Jerry rolled around and caught a glimpse of the thing slithering up behind him. His scream catalyzed the rest into action.

“Give me your hand!” Rex bellowed as he leapt into the room. In moments he’d wrenched Dave free and pushed him out the door, but by then the pseudopod had Jerry and was drawing him deeper into the pile. “Someone find a rope!” Rex shouted. Fighting for balance, he waded in deeper. Jerry clawed for him like a drowning man; their fingers touched briefly, and then Rex lost his footing and went down.

“Hold on, Rex!” Phil shouted. He pulled out his butane lighter, set it to High, and charged in, wielding the lighter like a flaming sword. With four wild slashes, he freed Rex.

“Now for Jerry!” Rex bellowed.

“Too late!” Phil screamed. Rex plowed back into the manuscripts, while Phil tried to stave off the advancing pseudopodia, but a sixty-page rewrite of Genesis 5:1-24 rose up and slapped the lighter out of Phil’s hand. Then the slush pile began building into a great wave that towered over them. “Rex! Get out!” Phil yelled as he dove headfirst through the doorway. Reluctantly, Rex followed. “Shut it!” Phil shouted. Most of the staffers had already run away, and those who remained were paralyzed with fear, but one of the freelance book reviewers still had something of his wits left about him and he pulled the door shut, just as the heap smashed against it with a great soggy thump.

Rex sagged against the wall. “Jerry,” he said softly. “Oh, Jerry, we’re sorry.”

Dabbing her eyes with a Kleenex, Gina gave Rex a consoling hug. “There’s nothing you could have done,” she said.

Resolve flooded back into Rex, and he began issuing commands. “You there,” he barked, pointing at the surviving production crew. “Find something to barricade this doorway.”

“Phil!” he snapped. “What is that thing?”

Phil took off his glasses, chewed the earpiece for a bit, and then shrugged and said, “Beats the Hell out of me.”

“We pay you two hundred dollars a month for Science Facts,” Rex growled, “and all you can say is—”

“Hey, I only minored in Biology!” Phil said defensively. “I majored in Philosophy. You want a philosopher’s guess about it?” Rex said nothing, so Phil continued. “Okay, here’s the hard sci-fi guess: It’s a cellulose lifeform that mimics manuscripts for protective coloration. Maybe it’s symbiotic with that scuzzy blue mold that grows in old coffee cups. Kathryn was always leaving half-empty cups in there.”

Rex shook his head. “Too 1940-ish. Old hat.”

“Okay,” Phil said.  “Here’s the philosophical guess. It’s divine retribution for letting manuscripts sit for six months.”

“We never buy theological fantasy.” Rex thought a moment more, then reached a decision. “It doesn’t matter where it came from. The question is, what do we do about it?”

“Get more lighters,” the book reviewer said. “Torch the sucker.”

“We’d rather not,” Rex said. “This building’s a firetrap.”

“Let’s lure it into the paper cutter,” Gina suggested. “Do a Conan on it. Fight hacks with hacks, I say.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Phil answered. “It’s extremely amorphous. It may even be a colony organism. Cut it in half and we may well end up with two monsters.”

“Do you have a better idea?” Rex asked.

“I think we should attack its component parts,” Phil said. “If we can disperse them, we might destroy its will to exist.”

“Huh?” said Gina.

“We must reject it,” Phil said portentously. “Reject every last piece of it.”

“I know where there are some rejection slips!” the book reviewer shouted. He dashed over to the managing editor’s office, and in moments returned bearing two fistfuls of paper.

Rex took one, and pushed the other into Phil’s hands. “If it gets past me...,” Rex began. Phil nodded.

“Oh, be careful!” Gina sobbed, as she hugged Rex.

“Easy, kid,” he said coolly. “You’re getting mascara on my shirt.” Then he looked to Phil. “Ready?” Phil nodded.

Luckily, the staffers Rex had sent running to find barricade materials had simply kept running, so all he had to do was kick open the door, step into the breach, and start passing out the slips. In seconds, though, it became obvious that something was terribly wrong. Instead of being driven back, the thing was surging forward, swelling, growing. It even formed a pseudohead and started catching the slips on the fly, like a spaniel jumping for Doggie Snax. “What the Hell?” Phil wondered aloud. Then he looked at the slips he held:

Dear Writer,
      Thanks for showing us the enclosed manuscript. We’ve read it and are sorry to say we do not think it’s quite right for Stupefying at this time. Please don’t regard this as a reflection on the quality of your work; we receive a great many publishable stories but simply don’t have the space to print every one we like.

      Because of the great number of submissions we receive, we cannot make more specific comments. But again, thanks for giving us the opportunity to consider it, and we hope you find a market for it elsewhere.

      Rex Manly

“Rex!” Phil screamed. “Get out of there! “You’re encouraging it!” Rex hastily backed  out of the room; the thing followed him, swirling around his feet and emitting happy yipping sounds. When it realized Rex had gotten away, it began hurling itself furiously at the door, and it took both Rex and Phil to hold the door closed.

“What went wrong?” Rex demanded. “Analysis, Mister Jennings!”

“We need something colder and blunter,” Phil answered. “We need to stun it, depress it, crush its ego.” The thing built up into another great wave and crashed against the door; this time the book reviewer had to throw his shoulder into it, too. “And soon!” Phil shouted.

“The previous editor used slips like that,” Rex said. “Can you hold the door while we look for some?” Not waiting for an answer, Rex sprinted back to his office and began rummaging around in the filing cabinets.

“I hate working on spec,” the book reviewer said.

In a few minutes, Rex returned. “These are all we could find,” he said. “Will they do?” Phil took one and read:

Stories and Science
Dear Contributor,

We regret that we are unable to use the enclosed material. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider it.

The Editors

“It might,” Phil said. “It just might.”

With Gina’s help, Rex laid out a semi-circle of rejection slips in front of the door. When the last one was in place, he yelled, “Now!,” and Phil and the book reviewer leapt clear. The door burst open with a violence that nearly tore it from its hinges, and the disgusting, pulsating mass slithered forward, found the first rejection slip, paused...

“It’s working!” Phil crowed. The slush pile shuddered, drew back slightly, and began whimpering. This quickly built into a spastic quivering, and the pile began sloughing off return envelopes and loose stamps.

“Is it dying?” Gina asked.

Phil wiped the perspiration from his glasses, peered closely at the trembling hulk, and said, “I’m not sure.”

“I’ll show you how to make sure!” the book reviewer shouted, as he ran up the hall. “We give it the coup de grace!” He found a typewriter, cranked in a sheet of letterhead, and began frantically clacking away.

“What are you doing?” Gina asked.

“What I do best,” the book reviewer said with a wicked grin. “Crushing an ego.” He finished the letter, yanked it out of the typewriter, and ran back to show it to the others. “One look at this, and it will shrivel up and die!”

“A bit strong, don’t you think?” Rex observed. It read:

Dear Talentless Hack,

Were you by chance going to the town landfill on the same day that you mailed your manuscript? We ask because it appears that you got confused, discarded your story, and mailed us your garbage instead.

In the future you may save yourself postage by simply not submitting to us at all. We will be watching for your name; rest assured that we will never forgive you for attempting to foist this load of pathetic crapola off on us.

With malice aforethought,
The Editors

“I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” Phil said.

“Nonsense,” the book reviewer countered. “I’ve done this a thousand times. Just watch.” He slipped the letter under the nearest edge of the slush pile; within seconds, the thing was smoking, shaking, and letting out hideous groans. “You see?” the book reviewer said smugly—and in less time than it takes to describe it, the slush pile rose up, quivering and roaring, and squashed him flatter than a thin-crust pizza.

“Good God!” Rex shouted. “That only enraged it! Run!” he shouted, as if Gina and Phil needed instructions.

The thing surged down the hallway after them, bellowing angrily and engulfing chairs, desks, ashtrays—anything that stood in its way. There was no plan to their flight, only sheer adrenalin panic, and so they wound up dashing into the Art Department two steps ahead of the thing. Phil slammed the door in its pseudoface; sinews straining, Rex held the door shut while Phil tipped over a few filing cabinets and pushed them together to form a barricade.

Frustrated, the pile drew back and threw itself against the door with all its force. Miraculously, the filing cabinets held. “Well, we’re safe for now,” Phil said, between gasps. “It can’t get in.”

“Just one problem,” Rex noted. “We can’t get out, either.” The three of them looked around. There was indeed no other way out: no window, no door, no conveniently large air duct...

“We’re trapped!” Gina wailed.

“Get a grip on yourself!” Rex shrieked. “This is no time for hysteria!”

“I’m trapped in a dead end by a monster that wants me for lunch!” Gina sobbed. “Can you think of a better time?”

“She’s right, Rex,” Phil said softly. “Sooner or later that thing will realize it can just ooze around the barricade. We’re done for.” He took off his glasses and slowly, mournfully, began to clean them on his shirt tail one last time.

“NEVER!” Rex bellowed, finding his full imperative strength at last. “We do not buy stories that end in futility!

“Look at us!” he commanded, as he stalked about the room, gesturing wildly. “What are we? Three people trapped in a blind alley by an unstoppable monster? No! We are three archetypes! The brilliant, scientific, nearly omniscient mind! The curvaceous, screamy, eminently rescuable heroine! The aggressive, dynamic, mightily thewed hero! We have an obligation to beat that thing!

“You! Phil!” he ordered. “Go discover something! Me! I!” Rex paused, stunned with the realization that he’d dropped his editorial plural. “I’ll think of an ingenious plan to take advantage of whatever you discover. And Gina? You—” Rex sat down, and grumpily put his chin in his palm. “Aw hell, go make some coffee or something.”

As the weight of his new responsibility settled onto Phil, he sat up alertly and said, “Listen! It’s stopped!” Rex’s ears perked up; the thing had indeed stopped hammering at the barricade. Phil crept to the door and peered out. Rex followed, and saw the quiescent beast  lying in the hall.

“Is it dead?” Rex asked hopefully.

“Do archetypal monsters ever die?” Phil answered scornfully. “It’s dormant, of course.”

“So now would be the perfect time to strike?”

“If we had a weapon,” Phil agreed.

“We’re out of coffee,” Gina said. “Will tea do?” She held up a Salada tea bag.

Rex snatched the tea bag out of her hand. “Of course!” he cried, the light of inspiration burning fiercely in his eyes.

“Didn’t know he liked tea so much,” Gina muttered.

“Don’t you see?” Rex shouted, holding up the tiny paper tag on the end of the string. “Gina, honey, can you reduce our logo and make it fit on this?”

“Well,” she said dubiously, “normally it’d take a week to keyline and shoot the stats, but I think—”

“Don’t think! Do!” He spun around. “Phil! Help me with our paper stock. I want something truly obnoxious. Fluorescent Yellow will do, Blaze Orange would be better! And find some glue sticks! Lots of glue sticks!” Rex started dumping boxes on the floor and searching through the resulting heap.

“What—?” Phil started to ask.

“We,” Rex said proudly, “are going to create the ultimate rejection slip. One that crushes all hope, destroys all incentive, leaves no room for doubt, argument, or interpretation—”

“Well, we’d better hurry,” Phil said ominously. “I don’t know what it’s doing out there, but I’m sure I won’t like it when I find out.”


An hour later, they were nearly ready. They’d had to modify the design slightly as they went along to suit the materials at hand, but the result—

—on a postage-stamp-sized slip of Neon Lime Green stock, was coming off the copier. “Remember,” Rex was saying, “we hit it hard, hit it fast, take no prisoners—”

“And we hit it soon,” Phil added, as he peered out the door. “I’ve figured out what it’s doing. It’s metastasizing.”

Rex stopped short.  “What?”

“Look at it,” Phil said. “Those lumps all over its back; they’re buds. It’s getting ready to reproduce.”

“Good grief,” Rex gasped. “You mean, we’ll have more of those things?”

“Worse,” Phil said pensively. “If I’m right, in its larval stage it takes the form of an unsolicited manuscript. In a few minutes this place is going to be crawling with stories: thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of stories. Stories about flying saucers, deals with the devil, time travelers killing their grandparents.” The panic began to rise in Phil’s voice. “Evil galactic empires, sexy Celtic witches, sentient dragons, killer robots disguised as toasters.” Phil was bordering on total hysteria now.

“Rewrites of the Old Testament! Star Trek ripoffs! Twenty-first Century Barbarians!

“Rex!” Phil screamed. “There are enough post-Apocalyptic nuclear holocaust stories in there to wipe out this entire solar system!”

“Gina!” Rex growled. “Hurry up with those slips!”

“Be patient!” Gina snapped. “You can’t rush quality work!”

“Omigod!” Phil yelped, his face ashen. “They’re hatching.”

“Gina!” Rex barked. “I need those slips and I need them now!

“Hold your damn horses. They’re just about ready...”


Even with ten years’ experience in hand-to-hand fiction editing, the fifteen minutes that followed were the most ghastly Rex had ever lived through. Armed with the new rejection slips, he, Gina, and Phil waded into the heart of the beast, tearing open envelopes and slapping down tags. Gluing them to the manuscripts, to force retyping. In an odd way the process had a familiar feel, as if they were driving thousands of little stakes through thousands of tiny vampires’ hearts.

It was a grisly job, but at last, they were done. “It’s harmless,” Phil pronounced. “We’ve destroyed its will to live.”

Rex brushed aside a pile of spent glue sticks and collapsed into a chair. “Did we get it all? All?

“Here’s one we missed!” Gina called out, as she crouched on her hands and knees and peered under the receptionist’s desk. She fished out the manuscript and read aloud, “It Came From The Slushpile, by some guy I’ve never heard of.”

“Ugh!” Phil spat. “Sounds like a bad ’50s sci-fi movie.”

“I don’t know,” Gina countered. “Listen to this. ‘The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the—’”

“That’s the opening of John Campbell’s Who Goes There?,” Rex said wearily. “At least he plagiarizes from a good source.”

“So you don’t want to read it?” Gina asked. Rex answered her with a sneer more eloquent than any words.

“Okay,” Gina shrugged, as she dabbed some glue on a rejection slip and prepared to slap it down.

But then, she hesitated...

¤   ¤   ¤   ¤

Saturday, February 19, 2022

A little something for the weekend?

Recommended watching, maybe.

The DC Cinematic Universe has a well-deserved reputation for being a gigantic dumpster fire. While there have been a few worthwhile movies to come out from Warner Bros. in recent years, in general, movies based on DC comic book properties are just not in the same league as the competing Marvel/Disney products or even the Marvel/Sony products. The reason for this at first seems a mystery. Is the Marvel cinematic universe really that much richer? Why, this is DC we’re talking about! They have Batman and Superman, and… and Batman, and Superman, and yet another reboot of Batman, and some more Superman…

And then all those other guys.

It seems a shame that so many other good characters are so completely overshadowed by the Big Blue Boy Scout and the grumpy guy in the cave. If you haven’t yet seen Aquaman, you should consider it: it’s easily the equal of any of Marvel’s standalone Thor movies. Definitely see Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman 1984 is actually much better than the reviewers said. After that, another one worth tracking down is Shazam!, as it’s a lot of fun, and isn’t that what a comic book movie is supposed to be? Fun? (Okay, we’ll leave Dredd out of the conversation for now.)

But after that…well, then we’re down to all those “other guys,” and that brings us to Harley Quinn and The Suicide Squad

The 2021 movie The Suicide Squad fits into an awkward place in the DC Cinematic Universe. To begin with, it has almost the same title and many of the same characters as the 2016 bomb. Suicide Squad, so it’s starting out with a major disadvantage. 

Secondly, the focal character is Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie, and it follows hot on the high heels of her playing the same character in 2020’s Birds of Prey, which was just plain awful in just about every way that it’s possible for a movie to be bad.

[Maybe Birds of Prey would have been better if they’d given Harley a tank to drive and some mutant kangaroos to pal around with. It certainly looked as if that was what they were trying to do.]

As concerns The Suicide Squad, though, the good news is that you can completely ignore both Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. There is zero continuity between the three movies. Pretend that the previous two movies never existed. I’m sure there are plenty of people at Warner Bros. who feel the same way.

The better news is that while Harley Quinn remains the focal character, Margot Robbie doesn’t have to try to carry the entire film herself, as she did in Birds of Prey. She is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.

The best news is that Warner/DC apparently gave writer/director James Gunn permission to go really deep into DC’s giant cesspool of “other guys” and to do whatever he wanted with them, and he turned up some true delights. Idris Elba as Bloodsport? (Will Smith wasn’t available to return as Deadshot; no great loss. Elba is much better.) Sylvester Stallone as King Shark? Nathan Fillion as The Detachable Kid? Peter Capaldi as Thinker? David Dastmalchian as The Polka-Dot Man? (One of the more ludicrous super-villains in DC’s pantheon.) Starro the Conqueror? Above all, John Cena as The Peacemaker—and he was so good in the role he got his own spinoff TV series on HBO Max, which is getting great reviews and has just been renewed for a second season.

Be forewarned, though, this movie is not merely violent; it’s ultra-violent. It’s Deadpool-level violent. It is so over-the-top violent the violence itself becomes cartoonish and ludicrous. So this is not a movie for the squeamish or to watch with your young children. 

But if the violence doesn’t bother you, then The Suicide Squad is well-made, well-cast, well-acted, and just all the way around a great big, loud, colorful, noisy, impossible, and at times laugh-out-loud mess. It’s got action, excitement, plot twists, villains who think they’re heroes, heroes who turn out to be villains, villains who actually are heroes in the end, and it climaxes with an enormous boss fight that puts the final battles in pretty much every other recent DC or Marvel movie to shame.

Isn’t that exactly what you want from a comic book-based movie? 


Friday, February 18, 2022

Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 7: Emerald and the Beanstalk

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(If you like EMERALD OF EARTH, please forward, text, Instagram, or Tweet a link to people you know who might like it! A new episode posts every Friday. Thank you much.)

The hydrofoil ride had been mostly uneventful, except when the captain had taken them around a pod of blue whales. The creatures dwarfed the boat and they had to slow down to a normal speed and retract the foils to avoid hurting the whales.

Even from twenty kilometers away, the Ascensor Errante was visible. What seemed to be a silver high-rise apartment building rose into the clear sky, growing narrower and narrower, until it became first a pole, then a rope, a needle, and finally vanished into the sky.

By the time they caught up with the platform, it was local night and the Ascensor was studded with lights, some red, some white, some yellow; some blinking, some steady, some sweeping spotlights. For a moment, it took her breath away. Rashida looked back at her, smiled and waited at parade rest until Emerald shook her head and followed her again.

By the time she and Rashida got off the boat and Rashida – Rashida, Emerald had started calling her silently – she’d gotten over her first amazement. At least Rashida hadn’t asked her what she thought and gushed about how amazing the Ascensor was, and wasn’t it fabulous that they would be going up there. Emerald grudgingly appreciated that.

But Rashida had saluted the captain as they arrived at the actual launch platform. Emerald muttered, “Civilian my butt.”

They made their way from there to the launch point on a moving sidewalk. It took only a few minutes, but during that time, Emerald had hacked into General Magnetics public database and downloaded the general schematics for the “Beanstalk Car”, which is what would actually crawl up the Ascensor Errante and into space. Rashida had casually asked, “What’cha doin’?”

Emerald had replied, “I don’t want to leave the best music back on Earth if I have to go on some crazy Solar System tour!”

It had been a risky move. If Rashida had decided to scan the playlist of her ipik, she’d have known, but Emerald had no intention of staying nicely coddled. A few illegal passcodes she’d hacked from a couple of sites would let her choose when and where and what she did.

The passenger and freight car resting on the landing pad that wrapped around the base of space elevator was roughly ten stories tall, shaped like a hexagon, about ten or so meters across. Windows faced away from the carbon nanotube cable from three faces marking five levels in the middle of the car. She estimated that there were three lower levels without windows for freight and two on top, one for luxury passengers, the other, topmost probably the command deck – or the bottommost was the command deck. Which one was the command deck probably depended on what direction they were headed. But would the command deck face up on the way up, or down? She shook her head. It could go either way: the people who believed that the captain and crew of a falling vessel should be the first to die, or the people who believed that the captain and her crew would come up with a miraculous, life-saving solution at the last minute only if they WEREN’T worrying about being the first to die.

Everyone entered at the lowest passenger level. Rashida had taken her hand as they walked up the boarding ramp. Emerald stopped in the middle of the ramp and looked up, leaning all the way back before Rashida laughed and caught her. She said, “I did that the first time I ever went up.” She set Emerald upright. “Only I didn’t have anyone to catch me.” She nudged Emerald back into motion and they continued up the ramp, Emerald edging a bit further ahead with every step.

It was spectacular, she had to admit. But that wasn’t the reason she stared up the tower into infinity. When she figured Rashida was suspicious, she turned and smiled over her shoulder and said, “Can we get a seat by the window?”

Rashida laughed and said, “Let me check our tickets.”

As Rashida swung her small travel bag around, unsealed it and looked inside, Emerald dropped her necklace, exclaimed, “Oh no! My necklace broke!” She bent over to pick it, then dropped to all fours and scurried away, weaving through the moving legs. Passing over the threshold into the car, she turned across the traffic and scooted around the outer wall until she came to the AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY panel she’d noted on the car’s floor plan.

“Emerald!” Rashida called. Her voice was low – not in tone but to the ground, as if she were crawling.

Emerald looked over her shoulder to see Rashida’s hands land on the floor. She started to stand then dropped back down when Rashida’s hands came up. The woman had been trying to flush Emerald out!

Emerald crab-walked past the first door. There weren’t as many people now and she sprinted then, still keeping low to the ground but no longer crawling. The next access hatch she reached, she was already standing as she jammed her ipik into the key slot. The door mechanism popped open instantly. She slipped in and closed it, cutting off the rumble and mutter of pre-boarding. It also cut off the cry of, “Wait ‘til I get my hands on...”

Emerald shivered, breathing in gulps, pulse hammering in her ears. She knew it was more than being chased. When she was small, whenever they flew, Mom and Dad – she paused as a sharp spike of loss speared through her – had always drugged her nearly senseless.

She shook her head, saying, “Focus, Emerald! Focus!” Even her low voice echoed up the access tube. It was a bit over a meter wide, but she stood on a narrow ledge. She could see all the way to the bottom of the car, three stories below. She looked up. Bangs, creaks, hums, hisses, whines and creaks echoed loudly in the empty space that reached six more stories up.

“No time to wallow!” she said, then clamped her mouth shut. There was a good chance the tube was wired to pick up sound. For a moment, she felt relief flood over her as well.

She was finally alone; just as alone as she’d been the night her parents were murdered. She ground her teeth. No need to dig there. Dr. Jekyll had tried that already and Emerald had managed to stay away from those feelings. Of course, Dr. Jekyll had only been trying to help. They wanted her to cry to cleanse her emotions, but she hadn’t mentioned that Dad always said, “Crying is fine, but for Marcillon’s it is NEVER a public event.”

Besides, since the attack by the knife-footed robot at the station, she hadn’t been alone for more than a few seconds. Even when she went into the bathroom, if she stayed too long, Dr. Jekyll, Rashida, or some other busybody was pounding on the door asking if she was OK.

It was true that her heart ached for the sound of her parent’s voices, even raised in argument. Her lower lip trembled.

No one was watching her now. No one knew where she was. She leaned against the door, tears sliding to her chin. Something heavy thudded against the airlock door. Startled, she leaned forward, nearly over balancing, then swung around and grabbed hold of the rungs of a ladder welded to the side of the tube. She started to climb down. The cargo bays would be the safest place to hide in.

She’d only gone two floors when the lock on the bottom level swung open, pouring bright light into the tube. A man stepped in looked up, saying, “Everything clear above. We can dog the hatches and evacuate the bays for the trip up.” The lock closed again and she could hear solid thunks as it was sealed. The other locks proceeded to lock as well, moving up one level at a time until they stopped at the top.

She blinked in surprise. The database hadn’t said anything about sealing the vertical access tube! The entire car jerked suddenly, a high-pitched whining filling the tube with a deafening, resonant wail. After a moment, the pitch dropped until it became a low rumble. The car moved, swaying slowly, shivering at times, but otherwise was steady and silent. Outside, the lock wheels only held the car to the ribbon of carbon nanotubules that made up the Ascensor Errante. The energy that moved them up came from banks of solar cells orbiting above at the top and they would slowly accelerate to its cruising speed of 600 kilometers per hour.

Emerald stepped on to one of the ledges and leaned back, until her breathing steadied and she made sure her ipik was sealed in a pocket and that her hands were dry. Then she started to climb.

She’d counted past three levels when the tube was flooded with blue lights. A voice boomed into the silence, “I know you’re in there, Emerald! Come out or else!” Emerald snorted. That eliminated the possibility of there being cameras in the tube. She ignored Rashida’s demand and started climbing again. The lights suddenly changed color to red. Rashida continued, “The access tube is now flooding with ricin gas. It’s a standard procedure to kill off any vermin that might come aboard.” The air at the bottom of the tube swirled as a cloud of white dust was carried into the air. It stayed there until fans at the bottom of the shaft started up.

Frozen while watching the powder, she scrambled up the remaining two levels in less than two minutes reaching a white DANGER! painted on a round, blaze orange hatch. Patching her ipik into the car’s systems again, she tapped in the code sequence of numbers and letter, then held her breath.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this:

Thursday, February 17, 2022

How to succeed with Kindle Vella • by Henry Vogel


In April of 2021, Amazon announced a new publishing platform called Kindle Vella. Even though the platform has been live since July 13, 2021, many writers have questions about Vella. What is it? How does it work? Can writers make any money from it?

For those who don’t feel like reading the rest of this column, the short answers are ‘a serial fiction platform,’ ‘oddly,’ and ‘I have.’ If you’d like more details, read on.

» Link to the rest of Henry’s column on the Mad Genius Club site


Read the books that spawned the series!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Goodbye, Melissa Mead


Frequent contributor Melissa Mead passed away last night. It was a pleasure to get to know her through her fiction. Until she sent us “I Don’t Hate Tiny Tim. Really!” I had no idea what her real life was like, as unlike most writers, she was always strangely reluctant to talk about herself. She preferred to talk about her stories and other writers. 

Rather than say more, I will turn the microphone over to her sister, Cindy.


My oldest sister, Melissa Mead, passed away peacefully this evening at 8:43pm… my parents, sister and I were all able to be by her side tonight thanks to an incredible hospital staff. We were beyond blessed to have the past 12 days to visit one on one and talk… share stories, fears, questions, laughs, hugs and a lot of love.

Thank you for all of the prayers and thoughts, they were much appreciated by all of us.

For those of you who don’t know Missy as well… she was the strongest, smartest and kindest person I know. She was born fighting at only 2lbs with cerebral palsy… beat odds and shattered misconceptions and stereotypes throughout her life. Backed by the most incredible parents in the world she was the first disabled child to be mainstreamed at Shenendehowa, paving the way for a future of inclusion and education. She and my dad helped make Clover Patch Camp into a place where children with disabilities could learn, grow and experience nature. She went on to earn a bachelors and a masters degree from SUNY Albany, of course with high honors all while once again beating impossible odds and fighting what should have been a lethal case of autoimmune hepatitis. Nothing ever stopped her or got her down… she lived a life of humbled success, drove her own van, owned and lived in her own house all while being a published author and very well respected science fiction writer. Even while at the hospital her focus was always on everyone else being okay, she spent her life trying to make the world a better place when it already was just because she was in it. I have watched her in awe since the day I was born, and I will continue to strive to be more like her every day. Nothing is the same without her, but I’m at peace knowing everything was amazing because of her.


If you’re on Facebook, you’ll find Melissa’s page here:, and can post a note there. In her author’s bios, she always listed as her blog site. It’s a group blog, and I’m a bit surprised to find that her last post was a plug for the New Year’s story she wrote for us, “That Darn, Dear Cat.”

Personally, I’d like to point you to “Time Machines” on Daily Science Fiction, as she wrote it for our For Sale, Used Time Machine contest, but sold it there. 

Melissa was a bright talent. She will be missed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Email address update

Because Microsoft Exchange continues to play hob with the email addresses—email sent to any of the RLP addresses might get through, or it might end up diverted to the Spam, Trash, or Junk mail folders, or it might simply disappear; there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how Exchange sorts incoming email (and it now appears to be filtering outgoing email, too)—I have created a backup email account: If you are trying to contact me/us, use this one, at least for now.

Please do NOT take a guess at my personal email address and send email to or Whoever those people are, they are NOT me. I have no idea what happens to messages sent to those accounts, but they do not get through to me, and if you have received email from either of those accounts, that also is not coming from me. 

Bruce Bethke

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 13 B: Iconic Alien vs Iconic Human, and How China and India Fits Into Creating Alien Aliens…

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...

Like I said last week: “Let’s start with China first – and we no longer have to wonder what an alien society would be like…let’s start with naming TEN ways China and the US are different (and if you’re really brave, name TEN ways India is different from the US and different from China (20 things in total)…”

I just figured out that might take years. So I’m going to look at one difference and poke at it a bit.

How are the US and China different? This is one that fascinates me – and it may just be me, but it’s a clear image of how alien that culture is to Western culture.

I'll go with a science fiction alien society to start my thinking. I don’t know CJ Cherryh, but in her FOREIGNER series, she’s taken the Humans and the Atevi and changed one, small fundamental factor and then allowed that factor to propagate through the Atevi civilization and then showed how that one different assumption could drive not only a series of 20-plus novels, sparking endless conflict in the books, but also still forces me to struggle with understanding the Atevi.

The Atevi don’t “love”, they have “associations”.

Atevi and Ateva don’t love each other – they are part of an association that may or may not shift over the course of a marriage. Children don’t love their parents, they are part of the parent’s association – which may or may not survive through childhood. Even their "horses" don’t love. They have man'chi or "association" with  a rider they have come to respect because they held firm when the animal challenged them. They respond to a strong leader by migrating to that association. A rider doesn’t coddle their horse (technically, macheti), he or she forces them to acknowledge that the Atevi or Ateva is the LEADER. Then the other macheti will follow that leader.

What does this have to do with the US and China; what does it have to do with an alien worldview?

It’s a 2022 Olympic observation: men and women who are citizens of other countries – many even born there – are celebrated as “Chinese” for their ethnicity. They are Chinese FIRST and Americans or Canadians or whatever during the Olympics – more than half of the “Chinese” hockey team come from North America. But China “identifies” them as Chinese and celebrates “its” victories as if they had raised, trained, and supported these athletes since birth.

Have you ever heard how cuckoo birds reproduce? Female cuckoos don’t make their own nests. They lay their eggs in the nest of other birds, who incubate the eggs. The baby cuckoos hatch before most birds do – then they shove the legitimate babies out and take over. And they are sometimes twice as big as their “mothers”…hmmm. But how can I FAULT that? Is this an...association with the Chinese worldview? It’s effective and really, none of my business, is it, China is undeniably a growing country.

Culturally China and the US are as different as they can get. For example, the US “celebrates diversity” at least it’s working toward being a culture that does that, and we continue to move in that direction. Our movement toward diversity is the polar opposite of Chinese culture, which values and honors conformity. China’s mantra might as well be “Everyone the same, difference is not only abhorrent, but incomprehensible.

It’s one of the reasons China has become militant about Hong Kong and Taiwan. The two countries DO NOT conform. Maureen F. McHugh wrote CHINA MOUNTAIN ZHANG, published in 1992 (she’d actually lived and studied in China…) and after a recent re-read, it's a perfect combination of Human and alien – with the main character trying to live in two worlds. This dichotomy is also well illustrated in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” – American culture and Chinese culture are fundamentally different. The main character was born in China, but raised in the US. Her mother makes a clear point that while she may LOOK Chinese, SHE IS NOT. Her best friend even calls her a “banana” and then starts to explain it.

The estrangement of our two world views was obvious in a recent gold medal won by an American skier…for China.

We cry “foul!”, they whisper “Victory…” How? They are ALIEN…

China long ago gave up any connection with other Asian cultures – Japan, and the Koreas, as well as driving out the intractable Hmong culture and the current campaign to eradicate the Uyghurs. My son was stationed in South Korea for four years with his family. His children attended KOREAN SCHOOLS from kindergarten onward and both spoke fluent Korean; my grandson was an excellent interpreter between his parents and anyone else they interacted with (living off base in a Korean apartment complex). In the course of writing a short story and after spending a month there and touring countless museums, I discovered why China is loathe to provoke a conflict with either Korea – NOT because they would lose. Their armies would roll over both Koreas without pause. But such a war would mean that refugees would China – and to the Chinese there ARE no other cultures; there ARE no other languages. The Chinese consider Koreans, essentially not-human which is the same thing as “not Chinese”. Citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan are also NOT Chinese, perceived as more Western than Chinese. (Beijing Billionaires however, seem to be exempt…)

A former student of mine taught in China for almost ten years – he and his Chinese wife have two children. He and their kids would ever be considered Chinese in any way, and if he and his wife died, the children would likely be abandoned, effectively executed because they are aliens to the Chinese culture.

China is an alien civilization in everything except that they look Human.

They neatly fit the definition of ‘alien’ above. They have an different written language, and have an entirely alien way of spoken communication: a single Chinese word can have at least three different meanings dependent entirely on the TONE with which it is spoken – not just an “angry” or “sweet” or “indifferent” tone; rather a high, middle, and low tone. Traditional Chinese is written top to bottom, right to left, while modern Chinese is typed and read left to right, as English is.

The philosophy of today’s China: “Chinese philosophy never developed the concept of human rights…by the time of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, there were many calls…to completely abolish the old imperial institutions and practices…incorporate[ing] democracy, republicanism, and industrialism…Mao added Marxism, Stalinism, Chinese Marxist Philosophy...the Chinese Communist Party [denounced] previous schools of thought…as backward, and later even purged during the Cultural Revolution…

"Religion…Spiritual and philosophical institutions [were] re-established, as long they are not perceived to be a threat to the power of the CPC [and] are heavily monitored.”

The Chinese are aliens as far as Western thought and behavior exist on Earth. And Chinese Communism is entirely different than Western Russian Communism because of the alien world view of the Chinese mind: [Abhishek Mohanty, Junior Research Associate German-Southeast Asian Center of Excellence for Public Policy and Good Governance]: “Russian Communism advocated a workers' revolution, while Chinese Communism refocused its philosophy toward a peasant revolution. The former also proposed coexistence with capitalism, while the latter refused that notion and remained aggressive toward the US as its imperialist enemy…Chinese Communism shifted to market socialism…China provides its citizens with more freedoms and modifies its economic policies to be more favorable towards foreign trade.” Conflict is inevitable despite the chummy face currently being projected.

So, what does this mean to me as a writer?

It means that we have aliens here that I don’t understand – and that are a serious resource if I’m willing to read and think and consider. My current work in progress has forced me to look at a simple pair of characters – one is Human, the other a sort of bird. It has forced me to ask myself how the two characters would respond in EVERY PARAGRAPH, because I can’t assume that a Human and a Galeborne see the same thing – I can’t even assume they EXPERIENCE THINGS THE SAME WAY.

I have a murder scene; and I also found out that birds can hardly smell anything – but their eyesight is incredibly ADJUSTABLE…how does that affect a simple crime scene investigation?

You’d be startled…


Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS ( where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at:

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Monday, February 14, 2022

Status Update: 14 February 2022


Karen had a medical emergency on Tuesday, February 9th. Fortunately she was actually in the oncology clinic and hooked up for chemotherapy when it happened, so medical help was practically instantaneous. At 2pm she’d seemed to be fine. At 5pm she was on her way to the ER. It took them about 18 hours to stabilize her and then move her from the ER unit to the regular hospital, and she’s been in a hospital room ever since. She is much improved since last Tuesday and is supposed to be undergoing an invasive diagnostic procedure this morning, but as of the last time I checked, it hadn’t yet begun.

We’ve had worse Valentine’s Days, but not many.  

All of which is to say, if it seems like I haven’t been responding to email or IM since last Tuesday, that’s pretty close to correct. Thanks for your patience.

Bruce Bethke

Saturday, February 12, 2022

A little something for the weekend?

Assuming you’re not already glued to your TV and watching either the Olympics or all the warmups to the run-ups to the pre-game shows for tomorrow’s Super Bowl, we have three movie in the queue this week. Depending on your frame of mind, we recommend:

Black Sunday (1977)


If you’re in the mood for gratuitous violence, political intrigue, heroic Mossad and FBI agents chasing evil Middle Eastern terrorists, and then more violence, may we suggest Black Sunday. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal), directed by action movie master John Frankenheimer, this movie features Bruce Dern at his batguano craziest and tells the story of a disgruntled ex-Navy blimp pilot (!), who has been seduced by a beautiful Palestinian terrorist (Marthe Keller) as part of a plot to turn the Goodyear blimp into a giant flying suicide bomb and detonate it over the stadium during the Super Bowl. Robert Shaw plays the intrepid and heroic Mossad agent who has been on the trail of the terrorists ever since Chapter 1 and who saves the day in the final reel, and just all the way around, if you love thrillers, hate football, and don’t mind characters who have all the depth of cartoon characters, this one is great fun. Watch it!

Heaven Can Wait (1978)


If you’re more in the mood for a romantic comedy, may we suggest Heaven Can Wait. This 1978 remake of the 1941 adaptation (filmed as Here Comes Mr. Jordan) of the 1938 stage play (titled Heaven Can Wait and written by Harry Segall) stars Warren Beatty as Joe Pendleton, the quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams (!), who is accidentally taken to Heaven by his overzealous guardian angel (Buck Henry) and to correct the problem must be returned to Earth in a new body, whereupon much romantic comedy ensues before a wonderful happy ending. The casting is superb, the movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and if you’ve ever wondered why Warren Beatty was considered the heartthrob of a generation—or why it was such a pity he kept trying to play those kinds of roles long after he was way too old to get away with it—this is the one to watch. Highly recommended.

Wag the Dog (1997)

On the other other hand, if you really can’t stand to watch another thing about football and are far more interested in mankind’s oldest full-contact sport—war—may we suggest Wag the Dog. The story of an American president whose spin team gins up an imaginary war in the Balkans in order to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal, this is a wonderfully dark, cynical, and sadistically funny movie. If I was teaching political science and trying to get my students to understand the American politico-media complex, this movie would be required watching. The script is first-rate; the casting is flawless—Woody Harrelson is particularly good as Sergeant Schumann—and just all the way around, this one is worth a look. It is of course pure fantasy, and has nothing to do with anything that might be happening in contemporary reality. The imaginary war created to distract the voters from the president’s scandals is in Albania. Ukraine isn’t mentioned once.

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

Friday, February 11, 2022

Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 6: Fleeing Earth, Into Space

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)

Emerald walked fast, to the antigrav drop tube at the end of the hall, and took it down to the ground floor. No one seemed to notice.

She’d been drugged before, when she was eight. A doctor had told them that they would help. Her parents had tried spectrum-adjusting drugs, then flushed them. They had done terrible things to her dreams and made her feel like she was walking through glue during the day.

She would never let anyone drug her again. She made it out through the glass doors of the classic Century Building and into the bright Hawaiian sunlight. The riot of colorful flowers outside was blinding. The smell made her feel sick. The sound of traffic felt like someone was pounding her head.

Sensory overload. She wanted to run back inside. “Nope.” She looked left and right, chose left and started walking.

Spengler wouldn’t be far behind her. But she might not realize that Emerald was used to being in charge of her own life. Emerald lifted her chin, activating her smartphone implant. One advantage to being stuck in the wilderness for two years was that her parents had made sure she had the latest GPS and location hardware implanted alongside her jaw. That way, her mother had said, she could never get lost – and she’d never lose the phone, the way she was always leaving her music ipik laying around. The implant accessed internet and she pulled up a map of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Century Square was a nice, but old building, built late in the 20th Century. It wasn’t far from a place that showed up as Ala Moana Mall. A quick check told her it was once the largest open-air mall on Earth. She could lose herself in the teen mobs that would inevitably be hanging out there. It would give her time to think this through. Maybe she should head back to Puerto Chicxulub. Maybe she could just leave Earth and go to the Lunar colony or the Orbital Ship Yards that were supposed to be working on Great Aunt Marcillon’s asteroid spaceship thing. The sky was her limit. She shuddered thinking that the knife-footed robot might be stalking her. But that was stupid. Her parents were dead and there was nothing she had that the knife-footed robot could want.

She went southwest on Bishop Street, her GPS in the 3D image projection mode marking her as a blinking red dot. She stopped, turned off the GPS and took a deep breath. Spengler could probably access her GPS program. She started running, turning it off with her password. She had an eidetic memory. She knew where she was going.

She took a left on South King and sprinted four blocks until she saw the Hawaii State Library. She’d hole up there for a while and use their internet to look for a way to get back to Yucatan. Or into space. She steered away from the packs of tourists, following the contoured paths up to the library. She slipped into the cool, air-conditioned entry with a sigh. She went as far back into the library as she could, then found a window that looked back at where she’d just come from.

Logging in, she paged to information on the Chicxulub Crater, then scrolled down.. Skimming through a dozen websites, she stopped to uploaded a few gigs of music and a couple of special programs. Back to finding a way to the Yucatan, she soon realized that getting there any way but sub-orbital flight was...

The computer screen went suddenly blank. She looked around.

Two meters away, leaning against a pillar, Rashida tipped her head forward, looked over the tops of her sunglasses and stepped toward Emerald.

Emerald stood and took a step back from the desk.

“Looking to go on a trip, Emerald Anastasia Nhia Okon Marcillon?” Rashida said in a warm contralto. She smiled faintly.

“Why are you following me?”

“You were assigned to me.”

“By who?” Emerald squeaked. She cleared her throat.

“I take my orders from Chien-Shiung Wu, Captain of the SOLAR EXPLORER. I also take them from Colonel Berg, head of SOLAREX Security.”

“What’s that?”

“SOLAREX is Humanity’s Last Greatest Adventure™,” she said. It sounded like a trademark phrase in a commercial.

Emerald said, “Why didn’t you rescue me from Dr. Jekyll over in the Century Square Psych Ward?”

The woman’s lips thinned and she tilted her head back up, hiding her eyes behind the sunglasses. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“You were there.” Emerald glared hard.

“I don’t think you realize how hard going back to the Yucatan is going to be.”

“What makes you think...”

“There are all kinds of restrictions on travel there. Puerto Chicxulub has been quarantined. SOLAR EXPLORER is owned and operated by the governments of North and Central America, Russia, India, Reunited Korea, Australia, Brazil and Reorganized New Africa. When it comes to matters that concern SOLAREX, what they say, goes. SOLAREX also has first pick of cutting-edge technology the member nations produce.” She tapped her temple. “State-of-the-art nanohardware and heuristic software.”

“You’ve got a computer in your head that learns?” Emerald said.

“How do you think I cut you off from the internet?”

“Nobody can do that without...”

She nodded. “I can do a whole lot more as well.”

“Like what?” Emerald asked warily.

“Like get you off Earth and up to your great aunt.”

Emerald snorted. “Great aunt Ruby? She doesn’t give a rat’s...” A mother trailing four kids passed by them, shooting Emerald a lethal glare. “...behind about me.” Emerald finished. Rashida’s mouth twitched. “She’s hasn’t talked to Dad since we went to Chicxulub. She never came down. Never called us.”

“Well, she’s talking now. In fact she’s saying she wants you up there as soon as possible.” The woman stepped forward.

Emerald backed up.

The woman exhaled up her face, flipping short bangs. “Look, I have tickets for us to go up the Beanstalk in two days. The mobile Beanstalk platform is currently about twenty-four hundred kilometers south of here. Even with vice-captain Marcillon’s pull, it would be a very hard job to replace these tickets. So we have to leave now to get there.”

“Great aunt Ruby paid for tickets for me to go up the Beanstalk and visit her on the SOLAR EXPLORER?”

“Not ‘visit’ – live. Now that your parents are dead…” she paused. “They were murdered by a knife-footed robot, Emerald. She’s taking custody of you in the name of global security.”

Emerald held her breath. She couldn’t breathe. She sat down hard and stared at the blank computer screen. She whispered, “I feel like there’s a red band tightening around my head.”


“When was everyone going to tell me about this?” She paused. “I think I’m going to faint.” Nobody really understood her. Certainly not Rashida. Her great aunt had only seen her may three times in her entire life. Strangers ignored her. People who knew Mom and Dad talked about her in whispers.

What could the First Woman To Breathe Martian Air know about a teenager who was on the spectrum? Dad had said she had been diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder – ASD. He sent her links she could read, but she hadn’t. She said at Rashida, “I’m going to have a screaming meltdown in a few minutes.”

Rashida said, “Do you want to stay here?”

Emerald shook her head.

“Do you want to walk out with me?”

“No. But I will.” Emerald stood up. One thing she’d learned in the Yucatan was that if she had reached the point where she was going to lose control, she would switch directions and go with the current, changing stubborn resistance to passive resistance. It often threw the opposition off and it was usually enough to back her away from the precipice of meltdown. She said, “I’ll come peacefully.” Then she held out her arms, wrists together, waiting for handcuffs.

Rashida reached into a back pocket and pulled out double loop plastic handcuffs, toying with them.

Emerald pulled her hands back and asked, “How do you plan on getting rid of Dr. Jekyll?”

Rashida closed her eyes, and tapped the side of her head. A moment later, she opened them and said, “Done.”


“I used Vice Captain Marcillon’s directive code to override the Psych Evaluators custody and return it to your great aunt.”

Emerald nodded and held out her hands, “Cuff me and let’s go.”

Rashida pursed her lips. “I won’t put them on if you promise not to run.”

Emerald smiled sunnily. “I won’t…”

Rashida interrupted her, “Or I’ll tase you. On full power.” She paused, adding, “You won’t wake up until we’re in orbit.”

Emerald studied the woman, eyes narrowed. Then she nodded and said, “Deal.”

The trip to Pearl Harbor didn’t take long. “It’s not an active naval base any more, Earth Government – and Consolidated Forces of North and South America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – use it as a base for Pacific rescues, police work and paramilitary actions in the region.”

Rashida nattered on as they rode through the streets of Honolulu in a black Humvee – a real one with a machine gun on the roof and soldiers with helmets driving and riding the bumper.

Once they reached the Combined Forces Pearl Harbor-Hickam Space Base, they stopped at a gate leading to a dock. “What’s that?”

“The private yacht of a civilian patron of your great aunt’s.”


“Check your ipik. I’ll send you a file.” She paused and Emerald pulled out her hand held and read. Her eyes bugged out. The woman who owned GoogAzon knew her great aunt? Rashida said, “We have to get the two of us to the mobile elevator platform.”

Emerald looked up abruptly, startled. “We’re taking an elevator up?”

Rashida eyed her suspiciously. “Of course. How else would we go?”

Emerald saw two soldiers fall into step behind them just as two others who had been standing guard at the dock turned on their heels and led the way to the boat. Once all of them were in, they closed the heavy door – Emerald heard the solid thunk! of the lock – and the boat immediately started to move away from the base. They sped up and then there was a strange sound, the boat lifted into the air and surged forward. She ran to the window.

Rashida said, “Don’t worry! This is a Russian Meteor IV hydrofoil.”

Emerald turned, looked Rashida in the eye and instantly dropped her gaze. Rashida stepped up to her, touched her shoulder and looked out the window. “Sorry. I should have warned you. We need to hurry so we can catch the next car up. They can’t hold even for your great aunt.”

Emerald turned her head slightly without looking at Rashida and the young woman said, “We need to get you off of Earth, Emerald. Whatever killed you parents will come after you. I thinks you hold the key to something it wants.”


“We don’t know, and we don’t want to find out the hard way.” Rashida turned away to the other soldiers while Emerald watched the Pacific ocean race past.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: