Category Archives: Science Fiction

Writing What You Know Is Not A Path

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It’s a gate. It’s a place to start, whether you’re describing a character or a place or an action. And you know more than you think.

Especially if you write science fiction or fantasy. Because then you’re free to make up the things you know from whole cloth in a few spots, maybe many. That’s a privilege other genres don’t have like we get in SFFPHM (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Magical realism). Other writers might make up a town or something, but their worlds are expected to act totally like the real world.

Settings aside, writing what you know also doesn’t mean every character has to be a writer or a retail person or a middle manager or whatever variety of things it might be that you do with your lifetime. Doesn’t mean all your aliens need to know what it’s like to poop or vomit. Doesn’t mean that your orcs need to be the orcs you know from all those movies with the really short dudes and a jewelry fetish.

Write what you know is great for writing the human bit of your story, though it’s a damn good thing to remember that if you’re writing about a culture or subculture you’re not familiar with, it’s best to consult members of that culture. Unless it’s elves. You’re not going to find any real elves to consult about your fictional ones, I’m afraid. HOWEVER that said if you’re going to base your elves’ culture strongly on the culture of southern Spain, you’d better be familiar with southern Spain in some significant way.

’nuff said. I’ve already harped on that enough and I hope you were listening.

Write what you know means the practical simple things around you, sure. Do use your memories, your pain, your joy, things that happened to you, places and people you’ve met (though tread lightly when writing a person who’s close to you lest ye complicate yer relationship).

Use the things that made you grieve. Use the things that made you weep with joy. You can choose not to reveal that those things came from within yourself if that’s what you want or need to do. Do use your writerly skills to file the serial numbers off them.

Write things you know you can feel. Because feeling (Hemingway would say, did say, bleeding) on the page speaks to readers. It can reach into your readers’ hearts where mere skill can only titillate their minds.

There are plenty of successful authors who do the latter. But the stories that do the former are remembered. They change minds and sometimes lives.

Don’t think it’s easy, though. No author succeeds at that every time. In fact, I think it’s an ideal that is rarely reached.

Do reach for it.

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13 Word Story: Pyrrhus Would Be Proud

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Things are already getting worse climate-wise. We’ve had a string of hottest years ever. The average global temperature is rising. Polar ice and mountain glaciers are waning. Tundra is melting, and releasing more greenhouse gases. The complex weather systems of Earth are becoming chaotic and less predictable–as climate change theory predicts (a theory is a evidence-supported premise and proposed set of conditions and results to be tested and changed according to new results, not a wild-assed guess as the “climate change is a Chinese hoax” crowd would have it).

Maybe the world will find the will to take the drastic action needed to keep things from getting much worse, or out of control forever leading to a greenhouse Earth that looks like a second Venus.

And maybe it won’t and Earth is already dead–we just don’t know it.

The next 500 years will tell the tale.

But, if the option is to flee, settling the Solar System WILL NOT save the bulk of humanity, though it may save the species.

Barring totally amazing technological developments like Blish’s “spindizzy” in his Cities in Flight series that can lift whole cities off the planet, there’s not a way to evacuate billions of people.

More likely is a The Expanse-type world in which there are settlements all across the Solar System, but they’re limited in carrying capacity and reproducing on their own. There won’t be a hell of a lot of room for Earthers.

Most of them, if things go badly wrong, will die desperate deaths.

Agitate for climate action if you want to avert that future.

(This post appeared on my Patreon 10 days before it posted here. If you’d like to see posts early too, and maybe even pick up some free ebooks and paperbacks, please come on over and join. I need all the support I can get–so do pretty much all authors who aren’t giant huge names, so please support some smaller names whether you support me or not!)

 

13 Word Story: Infamous Leaders

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I bet you can guess who the reality show POTUS is. Hopefully this won’t come to pass–but let’s not underestimate the foolishness of our leadership at the moment.

If it does happen, I bet the first communication from the hiding-from-disaster presidential bunker will include a brag about his war having the best ratings ever.

(This post appeared on my Patreon page 10 days before it appeared here. If you’d like to see microfiction and blog posts early, and maybe take advantage of occasional free ebooks and short stories, and maybe even get signed hard copies once in a while, PLEASE DO BECOME A PATRON! Every little bit helps.)

And if you don’t become my patron, kindly consider becoming the patron of another up and coming writer, or of a science fiction magazine or ezine. Or read something by an indie or new-ish writer and leave a review. If you enjoy science fiction, please support it so there are more stories for us all in the future–hopefully even more than we have available now!

ALSO: please feel free to save the image and share it however you wish. The attribution is on the image and it is meant to be shared!

A Future Of Eroding Privacy And Intense Self-Monitoring. YAY!

 

(This post does not appear on my Patreon page because I can’t effectively post tweet links there. But I’ll take this opportunity to mention that I could really use your support for reasons I lay out in the About section which is the first thing you see there, and I’m super grateful for any support I receive. In fact, a comment here or on Twitter would be cool, too.)

This tweet was a prequel, if you will. If we’re at all active online, our privacy is undermined far more than most of us are comfortable with, even Millennials. Maybe even post-Millenials.

But eventually, the complex of tracking browsing habits and posts and images and our online friends and where we shop online and what we buy and what we share with our apps will tell.

There will come a generation that is comfortable with all this. That accepts it as casually as we accept the automobile and television.

This tweet inspired a thread about one way privacy will be compromised more than many of us dream: we will monitor our own bodies more closely than ever before, and that information will be shared with “our advertising partners” as they often put it.

Here’s the thread:

 

Sorry about the repetition at the end, but the links post both a tweet and the tweet it was in response to, and there’s not an option to suppress it. Which would be a very specific feature, so I kind of understand why it’s not there.

Anyway, this is a privacy-destroying vision that I think it very likely in the future. And it will probably be more than just capsules recording your insides. Your clothing and jewelry will also have options to record your health information.

If it becomes popular enough, it may become difficult to find clothing and jewelry that don’t monitor your health and report it to an app or manufacturer or both. Have you ever tried to find a cellphone without a camera? I live in a military town and it’s a requirement for some secure areas that your phone has no camera, and I’ve heard lots of complaining about how hard they are to find.

But, you say, you can just turn the monitoring off.

Well, that speaks to my point.

Eventually, a generation will come who just doesn’t care and they’ll think anyone who gives much thought to online privacy is weird.

Maybe weird enough to diagnose with a mental illness.

The future will be very strange to us. But isn’t that the way of the world? Change is.

Imagine Being Dustbound On Mars, Settler

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This global map of Mars shows a growing dust storm as of June 6, 2018. The map was produced by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The blue dot indicates the approximate location of Opportunity.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS — caption verbatim from NASA for the sake of accuracy.

NASA recently reported that the global dust storm on Mars, which has lasted a month, is starting to die down but may take weeks or months to completely disperse.

Imagine being a resident in a Martian settlement through that.

Sure, the settlement will almost certainly be underground, as long-term human residents will need shelter from the radiation that penetrates the feeble atmosphere and magnetosphere of the Red Planet.

But surely there will be periscopes, surface observation domes, and surface excursions.

Not during a dust storm.

Solar power will be difficult to come by during one of these storms, too. Sure, it could be generated in orbit and beamed down. But what will the dust do to the microwave laser that would do that?

Mars will need nuclear or fusion power to weather dust storms.

And I wonder, will being stuck under a skyful of dust bring on cabin fever in people already confined to tunnels and domes?

Something to think about.

When Life Gives You Porg Lemons…

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

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 :))

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…

 

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!

I Would (Maybe) Kill For A Gardenerbot

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“Wow, this garden is overgrown. Beep.”

This is becoming something of a miniseries — you can see the post about the maidbot here, and there’s a link to the tinkerbot post at the end of that one.

This post appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago — become a patron and see them FIRST. Also you get a free ebook or an exclusive post sometimes!

But enough about those things. This is about gardenerbots and how I just might be willing to kill for one.

Though, maybe not yet because a ratty old trailer in a rundown old trailerpark doesn’t provide a lawn worth keeping up (barring acts of Murphy, we ought to be taking up residence in a little rental duplex or even a small house sometime in the next 1-3 months. Wish us luck!).

But it would almost be worth if just for my little urban garden that I grow in felt pots (which are awesome — plants don’t get rootbound, they grow well, and if you want to put them away for the winter they fold up pretty well). If a gardenerbot was really cheap, like maybe I found a used one on Craigslist that someone was letting go for a hundred bucks because one arm got smashed in a freak tree-trimming accident, I’d totally jump on it (assuming it was near the beginning of the month and my patronage had just hit my PayPal account — otherwise I tend to spend it on food or laundry soap or a while back I used some of it to replace a dead mouse, or contributing to the internet bill. You know, stuff that being able to afford makes this little trailer a more congenial place to live and write).

I could go for it because my gardening skills are only so-so. When I grow my veggies the yields are pretty inconsistent and I’m pretty sure I lose plants I shouldn’t. But a gardenerbot with halfway decent programming, I’m sure, wouldn’t have that problem. I just might kill for one.

It would be all the more enticing if I had a quarter-acre or so of backyard to gardenify. Even an eighth-acre. Or to mow. I’ve never been a fan of mowing lawns.

In fact, I bet within ten or twenty years of rollout a gardenerbot would be cheaper than a good lawn tractor. Then you wouldn’t have to buy a lawn tractor. Or a tiller. Or even a cheap, crappy version of either.

You could buy the absolute cheapest of each of those. An old-fashioned non-motorized push mower.

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Instead of an expensive power tiller (or less-expensive but yearly tiller rental)? A couple of good shovels, a hoe, and a rake.

Because what’s the gardenerbot going to do? Get tired? Suffer heatstroke from overwork in the hot sun? Complain about the long hours during sowing and harvest?

Nope. Because it’s a machine. And in the future if self-aware AI is possible…

…it doesn’t take self-awareness to cut grass and plant bell peppers and fertilize the roses. So you don’t even have to worry about being gardened to death in the robot revolution.

It won’t forget to water the vegetables until the leaves get droopy like I’ve been known to do.

If the vegetables or grass or trees start looking unhealthy it will be able to identify the most likely nutrient deficiency or infestation and treat it. When I have to try to identify that kind of thing, I’m mostly guessing and it’s mostly luck when I’m successful.

If I had more room to garden and more lawn to take care of, it would be worth it and I’d totally kill for a gardenerbot then.

Another benefit I hinted at above: tree maintenance. Bush trimming (I mean shrubs, this isn’t a ’70s porn post — the other kind would be handled by a sexbot or a barberbot), stump pulling, digging where electrical or gas or water lines might be.

You know, the dangerous stuff. Not only would a bot not, you know, die if a tree dropped on it or it jammed a shovel blade into a live power line, but the gardenerbot would have access to online maps of these lines so it could avoid them way better than you trying to figure out exactly how the symbols on the map correspond to locations on your lawn (humans do not have GPS, but a bot would). Surely it could do a better job than you or I referencing multiple utility company maps and trying not to forget anything.

All that, and more fresh veggies and fruit than I can grow left to my own devices? Yep, I’d totally kill for a gardenerbot.