All of my (published) stories. Unless I forgot something.

The Sun Will Set On The Open-Air Farm

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Not today. Probably not this century. In the next, I’d be shocked if it didn’t start happening. Outdoor farms in their sprawling plant-filled glory will one day be extinct in most “developed” countries and will be a marker of terrible, desperate poverty.

There are already experiments in urban and/or indoor farming. Experiments and practical endeavors, in fact. With tall racks of trays and hydroponic and similar setups, optimized artificial lighting and harvesting, and total climate control (oh, this is the next paragraph right here, just you wait and see) an indoor farm can produce a LOT more food in the same volume of old-fashioned dirt farm.

And there’s another benefit, one that will grow much more valuable as time advances. You see, the climate is changing, and we humans changed it mainly by burning billions of tons of the distilled hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old forests and dinosaurs we call oil, coal, and natural gas. You can’t burn that much carbon-bearing material and not impact the environment you release it into. Deny it if you want, but the facts say it’s changing and we had a lot to do with it.

Climate change changes farming. Extreme weather events become more common because the global flows of air and heat are disrupted and you can’t disrupt a gigantic complex system without introducing chaos. Rainfall patterns and which land is suited for what crop change as wet land becomes arid (and presumably vice-versa as it’s a big globe with more than the USA in it), and temperatures and season lengths change.

So how do you escape chaotic weather that threatens crops? How do you immunize yourself against the shifting of agricultural zones under the whip of a changing global climate?

You move indoors, of course.

One day, our farms will be many, many thousands of enormous warehouse spaces full of light and the smell of growing things while the hot breath of the climate we screwed up howls against the doors.

“What Was I Thinking,”

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is the thought that goes through my head when I look to the past, especially when it comes to my writing.

Maybe it’s a version of impostor syndrome. Maybe it’s performance anxiety, in which it’s easy to think the worst about one’s own work. Maybe it’s…

Well. It probably owes to many factors. But creatives are saddled with the cliche of uncertainty about the worth, goodness, and success of their own work, because the cliche is (as far as I can tell) overwhelmingly true. The main way I’ve seen out of it is to adopt a Kanye-level ego and self-absorption, and screw that, I’d rather be unsure.

But back to me (no ego here; I’m so modest!).

I chose the rail junction image because I’m a person who always sees alternate paths. I see the future as a hugely ramified maze of paths — which is of course where I draw stories from and why my stories tend to be clustered within a century or two of the present. I see the past the same way, and spend too much time wondering at what might have been or even regretting the paths I’ve chosen. And that regret is sometimes rightful — what if I’d never wasted so many years in alcohol dependency and self-hate? But that’s unproductive and I try to look at it, evaluate it, acknowledge any lessons that might be present, and quickly retire it. And I work with a couple of mental health professionals to help me be better at that, because I’ve historically kinda sucked at it.

So of course I also wonder what could have been if I’d talked to some professionals ten years ago, or twenty, or thirty-five. Hmm.

See what I mean?

The present is the same way. Endless potential paths. I have a nasty tendency to want to travel all of them, and getting stuck like the proverbial ass trapped between two equally attractive bales of hay.

And so, all of the above in mind, I want to continue to build on my past writing… but also, every few weeks, I get the urge to cut ties with my past writing (oh, it could have been better, boo-hoo, you get the picture) and dream up a catchy pseudonym because S.A. Barton isn’t flashy and also conflicts with the much-more-search-engine-present and popular Beverly Barton. And sometimes even the hideous zealot-ideologue revisionist fake-historian David Barton, who I wish I didn’t share a last name with.

Look, I know keeping the name I’ve kept for six years is the better choice. But for me, it’s difficult not to agonize a little over what might have been. What if I’d chosen a “better” nom de plume?

Heh.

(This post appeared on my Patreon page first, ten days before it appeared here. If you become a patron, you can see stuff early too!)

When Life Gives You Porg Lemons…

…make Porgonade. It’s probably more refreshing than green milk from a giant surf creature’s udder.

Commander Kitty Is Unsure…

…as to whether or not he digs his new digs. We humans, though, ARE sure. This is a definite improvement!

I’ve been silent here for a while. We’ve been moving. Goodbye 1968 sub-single-wide trailer home with slowly collapsing floors and significant amounts of black mold.

Hello 2nd floor apartment with balconies in a 100+ year old brick building that has been remodeled enough to (hallelujah!) have a modern amount of electrical sockets.

And there’s a real stove. For SEVEN FRICKIN YEARS I have cooked with electric skillets and hotplates because the trailer had a propane stove and it turns out it’s EXPENSIVE AF to cook (or heat!) with propane.

Finances, as always, remain tight. We’re just happy to be able to juuuuuuust afford to upgrade from substandard housing that would likely be condemned if anyone looked closely, to something decent.

If you’re not already, consider giving my family and writing a boost by checking out my Patreon page.Early blog posts and sometimes exclusive looks at rough drafts, even free ebooks.

Commander Kitty says thanks for reading.

What Kind Of Provincial A-Hole Thinks Jambalaya Is UnAmerican?

I mean, seriously. How ignorant and/or priggish do you have to be?

Also, sweet potato pie is almost as regional as jambalaya. Maybe this isn’t about “froo-froo” food, but about Erick’s prejudices and his desire to pronounce anything that isn’t familiar and comforting to him “wrong.”

What a cringing prick.

Short Story Review: What is Eve?

What is Eve? by Will McIntosh appears in the April 2018 issue of Lightspeed Magazine.And before I go farther, spoiler warning: I’m probably going to spoil one reveal or another because A) I *do* want to talk about the story and B) as a person not bothered much by spoilers I sometimes don’t realize I’m spoiling despite my best intentions.

YE BE WARNED.

Now: Lightspeed puts the word count in the header of each story. I like knowing how long of a story I’m getting into, but a mere word count does not tell all. What is Eve? is advertised as being 10,160 words but I’m having a hard time believing it because I read the thing so fast it felt like 3,000.

This story is a smooth read. Smooth like a bobsled chute. It’s straightforward but not overly predictable. It doesn’t present deep complexity with tons of subplot and twisty turns, but the twists and reveals that are there are effective at building the story, advancing it, and keeping it interesting.

It’s an alien story and a first contact story — old ground for sci-fi. Old ground we keep writing on, because it’s so rich. As usual with these stories, you’ll find some themes and tropes repeated. The value, now that the 1930s and 40s are behind us, is in the particulars of the story.

This story, trust me, has some good particulars. It carries the strong morals of “don’t be a dick,” “don’t be a cynical realpolitiker,” “maybe try treating others with respect,” and “bullshitters get cut, bitch.”

There’s a nice dose of “do what feels right” and “the authorities are probably full of shit,” which as I’m a moderate cynic and long-disillusioned idealist, strikes a chord in me.

The main characters are a twelve year old scion of, basically, The Man — a kid already maneuvering for a shot at a good college with parental encouragement, and, second, a ticking time bomb of some strange creature that Lightspeed’s artist represented with what I’m pretty sure is a red snapper face looming out of a purple dress.

And I can’t swear the image isn’t the right one given the story. Like many good alien creatures, the alien is more human than she (?) looks.

But then, aren’t we all more human than we look?

…anyway, give this one a read. You won’t regret it.

 

(This post was published on my Patreon a week before you saw it here. Y’all ought to become patrons. Not only could my kids and I use every spare penny possible given that we live below the poverty line, but you get to read stuff early and get free ebook copies of stuff I publish :))

Surprise Asteroid + “Fake News” =

The article pictured above mentions an asteroid large enough to mimic a nuclear airburst, noticed only a day before a close flyby of Earth.

A day.

Right now, in the US and UK at least (likely elsewhere, but I’m not politically knowledgeable enough to point fingers in those directions) it’s fashionable to holler “fake news!” if a fact doesn’t agree with one’s assumptions and/or want-to-believes. Mostly on the political right, though I’ve sadly seen some on the left and even center catching the feelings-over-facts bug.

So. Imagine a rock from space smearing a city in a tense nation. The astronomy community says “hey, look, here’s video proof we saw it a day ago.”

And a few influential hawks shout back, sneering: “fake news! Fake video!”

Millions cheer for war. Saner heads are ignored — after all, didn’t Breitbart and Infowars and Trump (or the parallel orgs & people in another nation) say it wasn’t an asteroid? In fact it was a nuclear attack! And the [whoever is in the doghouse with the struck nation] did it! LET’S GET THEM!

This is one of the more out-there scenarios — more than likely, the “fake news” conspiracy theorist howl will kill us all in simpler ways, or even just lock us into an extra-paranoid authoritarian dystopia.

But the end could begin with a real asteroid mistaken (or misrepresented) for fake.

We Will Set Our Doors To Let The Burglars In

Bank on it: we will set the door to let deliveries in. You think people order a lot of stuff online now? The trend is upward, the Gen-Xers and Boomers who didn’t grow up ordering stuff online and who are as likely to reject online shopping as to embrace it, are either croaking or following their Millennial and Gen Z and — what are the really little ones called? I’ve seen Gen Alpha, but… meh. Hope they think of a better name.

BUT back to the very short and direct point: more online shopping, free delivery will become the law of the land in that delivery charges will become the kiss of death (they’re headed that way anyway, I feel), and there will be ways to buy things we’re not as comfortable buying online.

I’m not comfortable buying shoes online unless they’re the one shoe I absolutely know how they fit me: Chucks.

But if you could project a true-to-life holo of the shoe over your foot and move aside the layers to see how much room your toes had, it might be a different story.

The next 20 years will be a rapid progression of business finding ways to make people ever more comfortable with buying online (assuming, of course, that we don’t find some way to destroy our own civilization).

I mentioned free delivery above. Delivered by flying, walking, and wallcrawling drones of all shapes and sizes, it will become feasible to make a zillion tiny deliveries. I need sugar — hey, SirTanaExa, order a four pound bag of sugar. Oh, this is the last of the vanilla. SirTanaExa, order a four ounce bottle of imitation vanilla. And so on. The vanilla will fly in on the back of a fat metal dragonfly and the sugar will crawl in locked in the basket atop a mechanical turtle.

And we’ll set the door to let it in, because who wants to open the door for drones 87 times per day?

And some burglars, but mostly mischievous kids who can nevertheless walk off with jewelry and drink up your beer, will wait for those drones and jam your front door for the crucial seconds it takes to dart inside…

 

Generation Ship? You’re Soaking In It.

So I tweeted this in my Tweetmorrow incarnation:

The generation ship is a grand old sci-fi trope. The people on them are always forgetting they’re on one, which seems implausible to me but maybe that’s a subject for a more comprehensive post.

Generation ship yarns are fun and they’re a great walled garden to make stranger, more warped, and more insight-generating societies plausible than would otherwise be possible.

Which is probably why they’re usually depicted as small. Usually a few thousand or even hundred inhabitants.

Good for keeping stories simple. Not for generation-shipping.

For getting somewhere, you want BIG. I haven’t yet written a story around a jumbo generation ship, but I’ve mused and tweeted about it often enough. Hollow out Ceres. Take the Moon. Slap some magictech thrusters on Earth. From the sounds of it we could heat the surface with geothermal taps and keep it up for millions of years in the absence of a warming Sun.

I’m sure we could have Earth basking under a new star in five or ten thousand years. Not bad, really.

Wouldn’t it be funny if Earth ended up running away from the Solar System? We always imagine ships traveling from Earth, not BEING Earth.

Short Story Review: Containment By Susan Kaye Quinn

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From Dark Beyond the Stars: A Space Opera Anthology edited by David Gatewood.Spoiler warning: there are spoilers in here. There kind of always are when I do these things because as one of those weirdos who doesn’t care about spoilers (99% of the time) I’m kind of spoiler-blind when I write.

Also, this review appeared on my Patreon page ten days before appearing here. Become a patron and you’ll not only help boost me and my POOR POOR SUFFERING CHILDREN toward the poverty line and, hopefully soonish, actually over it, but you’ll get to see a lot of posts way early, plus occasional exclusive posts, and you can even get free ebooks when I publish (and you get those a whole MONTH before the rest of the world! But now, the review:

Containment is an artificial intelligence in a Solar System wide civilization story. It’s also a know thyself story. And a coming of age story in a strange sort of way, and a finding your purpose in life story. Maybe a work-life balance story. And…

…there’s a lot to unpack in this one. The last paragraph makes it sound like the story is a massive chaotic mashup and it definitely is not.

It’s an elegant story. It progresses smoothly. It bears you along like an inevitable word-river. The imagery is not literary or flashy but in this story it should not be. The real beauty and intrigue is elsewhere and too much flash in the outside world would only be a distraction. In this story the author is too smart to distract you.

As I read, I felt echoes of the technological hard science fiction of the masters of the 1950s and 60s, yet it was undeniably modern and accessible. That impressed me and brought out happy memories of myself as a child in the ’70s and a teen in the ’80s immersed in 10 and 20 and 30 year old books and loving them.

There’s an element of mystery in this story, and the eventual revelation of the purpose of the little tower of rocks discovered in the beginning by the Mining Master of Thebe, one of Jupiter’s smaller moons, is natural and smoothly handled, as are the little hints along the way.

Much of the story takes place in the inner world and reasoning of the Mining Master, who is an artificial intelligence (and whose interchangeable purpose-made bodies are an interesting, useful, and story-vital feature). We spend a lot of time in their head before and after the stealthy and subversive upgrade the Master gives himself without permission from his superiors.

While internal impressions and monologue can be boring, it is not here. I found myself fascinated. The protagonist’s inner life is at turns logical and soulful, robotic and humanistic as they cycle from full sentience to blunted sentience to full sentience again and then to something more, something undeniably human.

It’s a what makes us human story, too. And a what could make AI human story. A type of story that has been done many, many times before, but in this incarnation made me stay up reading so late it became early and the birds singing in the dawn made it difficult to fall asleep. Damn your wily storytelling, Susan Kaye Quinn!