I’m not an animist, but watching the sun sparkle on the water at the edges of the shadow of that old cypress, I can see how someone could wonder if there wasn’t some sort of spirit or essence or godling showing itself out of the water, the tree, the sun, or all three.
This isn’t Yellowstone falls or the Badlands or any of the great attractions we get so excited about – – and I’ve seen both I mention, that’s why I picked them – – but it’s beautiful (aside maybe from what the wind did to the mic – – sorry about that). It’s easy to get jaded about the little things and the close to home. We build up the big sights and experiences and events so much it’s easy to conclude that everyday life and experiences must innately be boring, so we should be bored.
But beauty and engagement (the opposite, kinda, of boredom) are close at hand if you can give the jaded big-wow-glutton in us all the word to sit down, shut up, and let the excited kid inside a shot at enjoying the little things. Little things like the sun sparkling off the tiny wavelets of a lake on a breezy day.
From a recent visit to the Chrysler Museum of Art. Humans pictured are family, not random passersby.
So, we stopped to pay homage to that not-quite-most-modern of gods, Television. Its younger sibling Internet was nowhere to be found, but maybe the artist will work on that next.
I’m not sure Lord Television qualifies as king, though. There’s its parent, or perhaps grandparent, Money.
Usually people are sneering when they talk about worship of television and money. When it really is worship, there’s plenty to sneer at and I do. But like those most ancient gods Fire and Story, the reality is more complex.
Isn’t it always? We try to simplify, and the universe laughs.
I’m a big fan of Story. And Book. Fire, too, because light and cooking and all the things made of metal and plastic. But I digress.
I can say I appreciate those gods. Revere some, like Story and Book. Internet, too, if I’m gonna be honest.
I spend a lot of time with them. And that’s where worship comes in. You can say plenty about what constitutes worship, but the basis is time spent and the devotion of attention and thought.
Lots of my time and attention and thought goes into Story and Book. Certainly into Internet – – have you seen how much I tweet? You should see how much I read there.
And I do end up giving what feels like too much time to mighty Television. Maybe I’m a worshiper of that one, too.
If we manage to nuke ourselves to extinction, alien archeologists will likely wonder if our televisions and computers aren’t altars.
They won’t be far wrong.
So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch for three or four months.
But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.
This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.
And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.
Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.
Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.
Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.
Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”
That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.
So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…
[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]
Here you go. You can thank me after you stop sighing, laughing, eyerolling, puking, or whatever your reaction of choice is. I think I managed all but the last in the space of 3 seconds, which probably isn’t a new world record but has to be close.
I may have sprained an eye, in fact.
I get it. New stuff can be scary. There has been a TON of new stuff in the last couple of centuries. Internets, pocket computers, flying machines, devil carriages that move without horses, lights that mysteriously light up without a hint of whale oil in sight.
If some folks want to hole up in the past, well, that’s sort of their choice. The Amish and a few similar groups manage to do it pretty gracefully and even give their kids at least some degree of choice as to whether they’d like to stay in ignore-the-changes-land or come out and share the benefits and, yes, detriments of modernity.
And then there are people like Mr/Ms “NASA is a Satanic snake tongue”.
It takes a special kind of asshole to employ a computer to create a blog that can be viewed, potentially, by anyone in the world via a global communications net made possible by transatlantic fiberoptic cables and a network of satellites to urge others to reject space exploration as offensive because it doesn’t fit in with their particular (and particularly narrow and ugly) view of a ‘how to live’ manual composed roughly between 6000 and 1500 years ago depending on which bits you read and what you believe about how they came to be. Oh, and assume there’s somehow a giant secret conspiracy to lie about it spanning 70+ years and involving, by now, at least hundreds of thousands of people, becasue we all know how great several hundred thousand people are at keeping a secret over many decades, right?
If you want to see the WTFery for yourself, I’d rather not generate hits for them but here’s a Google Cache link.
Some art that made me say, “cool!” and a few tweets led to some bigger thoughts on genre writing – which is a pretty normal thing, small ideas leading to larger ones, if you’ve done some writing or pretty much any art I can think of or serious thinking.
I found Travis Durden’s Star Wars Greek statuary through a tweet I saw a couple of hours ago (on the 27th — this post first appeared on my Patreon page (would you like to support a not-quite-starving writer? Please do! Because every penny helps tear down the budget worries that often occupy my mind when I’d rather be writing) in the wee hours of the 28th) (tweet posted below). Durden’s art is seriously neat stuff.
Which lead to this tweet:
And this one:
And finally this one:
After I graduated from kiddie books so many years ago, I cut my reading teeth on science fiction. I tried reading the paperbacks my father brought home from used bookstores and quickly learned to look for the short story collections and anthologies — I’d recently learned to read, it was hard enough to work through all the words I didn’t recognize without trying to figure out what was going on in a whole novel. But the shorter short stories, in those early years, I could wrap my mind around those. And remember (well, you might not have known, so I’m telling you) this was in the mid-70s, when certainly many authors in science fiction and elsewhere may have been experimental in their writing, but the mainstream in short science fiction stories was heavy with straightforward plots, traditional story arcs, and mysteries resolved with a single final twist. There’s plenty of that now, to be sure. But either there was more then or those are what I remember because they’re the stories I understood as a child.
That’s a long way to go to say that science fiction seemed huge to me, but it did. It seemed huge and very distinct because it was my entire fictional world then. Nursery rhymes and the little stories found in early reader books — if you’ve had or been around small children just learning to read much, you’ll recall them — hardly counted.
And science fiction is distinct, or at least distinctive. The definition has been endlessly debated over, but most of us who read much of it recognize it when we see it. The same goes for the other genres I mentioned in that last tweet. Horror is distinct enough that we notice the difference, for example, when we read a Stephen King horror story as opposed to a Stephen King something else. Legends have a pretty distinct definition. Magical realism blurs the lines — sometimes it’s fantasy, sometimes it’s science ficiton, sometimes it’s literary, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes.
That’s the genre that really makes the point, with its blurryness.
They’re all blurry, really. Think of Star Wars: get a SW fan who calls it science fiction and a SW fan who calls it science fantasy in the same room and watch the genre boundary argument fur fly.
We love to dicker over what story counts as which genre and who’s that writer whose work is called X but really it’s more Y don’t you think?
To say they’re all fiction is too simplistic. But there’s that in pointing out that genres are small things that cannot really contain a story, not the large and well-defined things we’re tempted to think of them as, that we often reflexively think of them as after a scholastic lifetime of being taught the boundaries of genre.
They’re all stories. They’re all about human beings and what human beings do and think and feel and wonder. All of them, even the genres where there is debate as to whether or not they’re fiction or nonfiction: mythology, legend, religion.
They’re stronger when they wander, stories are. When we get it into our minds that we can’t write in X event because we’re writing science fiction or that Y character doesn’t make sense because we’re reading fantasy, we weaken the stories that we might otherwise love, whether we’re reading them, writing them, or representing them in other forms of art. For centuries fiction and poetry have derived inspiration and imagery from religion and mythology and legend (assuming you divide stories that faith has grown up around into those rather than lumping them together). Star Wars is beloved science fiction in part because it incorporates elements of fantasy and legend and even, at least in the beginning, of the Western movie.
Try picking out a few of your favorite stories that have won wide acclaim or are considered enduring classics. Give them a read with this in mind, and look for where the genres blur. You don’t need a story that glaringly throws seventeen genres together; one that’s mostly in one but draws in bits of others is just fine — even better, in fact.
Much like the ancient advice that a single stick alone is weak but a bundle of those same sticks is strong together, I think you’ll find that stories that gather together elements of different genres are the strongest.
And I also think that it’s more than worth the effort to seek them out as a reader, and to try to create them as a writer.
…I thought I’d share a series of my tweets on the subject with you all. I started with a sad reply to the first tweet below…
After I tweeted “nobody wants to touch this tweet,” a couple of people were moved to retweet it — whether they simply noticed it a little later than it was tweeted or they were responding to my ‘nobody wants’ statement, I don’t know.
But I do know this: a lot of folks are very quick to condemn group X that they are not personally part of or acquainted with when something bad hits the news. The worse the news, the louder the outcry.
But those same folks don’t condemn the group when the person who is guilty is part of their own group or a group they are well acquainted with on a positive personal level. Then, they’re all about “well the ones who did this awful things weren’t REALLY part of group X” or “you have to blame the individual.”
Since this series of tweets touches upon the 9/11 terrorist attack, I’ll go with Islam for a moment. Yes, the perpetrators identified as Muslim. Yes, there’s a nasty vein of violent extremism that supports or perpetrates awful things — think 9/11 attackers or ISIS or Boko Haram.
That doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with the people FLEEING this kind of violence who are also Muslim, no more than an Italian fleeing Mussolini in the 1930s had to do with Fascist violence.
There are people who identify as Christian in the United States who talk about doing the kind of thing that ISIS or Boko Haram is doing. They talk about assassinating politicians they don’t agree with and blowing things up and bringing about the rule of their particular view of their denomination of their branch of the religion they identify as. I’m using that “identify with/as” language very deliberately, by the way. “They’re not real [religion]” is often said, and often with reason. Most mainstream religious believers or agnostic or cultural-but-not-believing individuals don’t think blowing up buildings or murdering or even waging war is a great idea. They’d rather do without this whole “war” thing.
And that’s my point. It’s not to say that Christians want to blow up federal buildings or Muslims want to raze villages in Nigeria. Quite the opposite. And it’s not to say there’s no danger in the actions or words of extremists who claim that there needs to be violence in the name of imposing their vision of religion or ideology Z. There is. There’s a lot of danger. And these people who would do violence often move within the body of the larger society seeking the opportunity to inspire or perpetrate violence. That’s undeniable.
Let’s be honest: it’s scary. The odds say we’re more likely to be struck down by lightning than extremists in the vast majority of locales. But it’s still scary — the press and their breathless reporting (OMG DID YOU SEE THAT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, the crawl on CNN and the headline in the paper say daily, because it gets attention and eyeballs and clicks and advertiser attention) isn’t helping a bit in that regard.
But what we need to do is NOT cast an assumptive eye on all people who share some superficial common identification with murderers. What we need to do is what we’re already doing — and sadly often overdoing in the name of that assumptive eye. We need to watch for the murderous. And we need to do it, whenever we can possibly manage it and even when it’s “too hard,” without that assumptive eye on the innocent. That assumptive eye, when it turns to action that harasses and imposes judgment, is the easiest thing extremists use as evidence that the world hates ALL of whatever-dom and they must lash out to clear a place for their religion or ideology or whatever to live.
I welcome your comments.
A short story, about 3500 words.
Parkhar’s father has a plan to wrest an ancient talisman from the glittering City of the ancients and the godlike, deathless Bots that guard it — but it will be Danwill, Marjay, and their cohort who take the risks. What they find will shape the future of the whole tribe, maybe even of all humanity itself!
This is my newest ebook short story single. While my patrons at Patreon have downloaded their free copies as part of their patron privileges, thirty days before release,
at this writing it is available elsewhere only by preorder. The release date is April 7th HEY YOU CAN GET YOUR COPY NOW! The cost is a mere 99 cents — all you can get for that price at Starbucks is a funny look from the cashier. Of course you don’t have to buy and read this — you should read what you want, that’s kind of a central idea in this whole freedom of expression thing we like to talk about in authordom — but it would make me really happy if you did. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be happy too, because if you’re here reading this far into a science fiction writer’s bloggy stuff you probably enjoy science fiction in general. Right?
The preview below is a bit over the 30% you can view where it is available to preorder (or buy directly if you’re reading on April 7th or later). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, Kobo, Smashwords, and hopefully soon at iTunes! [Right now iTunes is not listing it, though I haven’t gotten a ticket from Apple about any problem with the ebook file — if/when it finally is listed, I will hopefully remember to come back here and update the link to point at the book instead of my iTunes author page]
Enough of that, here’s the preview:
S.A. Barton — Copyright 2016
Since the time of my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather, the People have sought the Grail. Today, I hold it in my hand. The other two survivors of our band eye me as warily as I eye them. It is easy to talk of sharing before you hold the key to all wealth and power in your hands; after, it is more difficult to practice. Temptation…
Parkhar sits with his back against the office door, twisting a leather tourniquet tighter on his left wrist. He hisses through his teeth at the last twist. His hand and the stumps of his fingers tremble, dotting his pants with more blood, red over red. He’s wondering if we’ll let him live now that we’ve found the prize. Marjay, though – she and I are unwounded but for scrapes and scratches. She’s short, broad, agile almost to the point of acrobatics; she stands across the massive burlwood desk from me, eye on the grail, hand on the haft of the heavy machete at her hip.
“Well, Danwill?” she asks, soft in the silence that falls after Parkhar’s groan. “Can we share, or must we duel?”
For a thousand and some years, we the People have lived in the hills and mountains surrounding the City. For the same amount of time, anyone setting foot in the City has been swiftly confronted by its tireless Bot defenders and either killed or captured. They are immortal spirits, avatars of the ancient giants who strode the land before the People were created and who have since passed Beyond. A few Bots fly through the air on circle-blades that whirl faster than even the wings of hummingbirds flap; a few, the size of bison, roll on wheels. Most wear forms like those of human beings, but bulky and shiny-black armored, and they walk in magic boots that never wear out. When Bots take a captive, on nights when the winds are still the captive’s cries can be heard all the way up in the mountains. Some of them live and scream for many weeks.
The City, in stories passed from grandmother to grandmother to grandmother, has always been a pool of jewels in the night, luminous treasure cupped in the great ancient mountains’ palms. As in the tales, even now it is bright there while in our tents and burrows we strain our eyes at guttering tallow candles. It is warm there while we shiver. There are storehouses packed with food while our lean bellies growl. The City is jealous of her bounty.
The holy tales say that once, the People dwelt among the giants in the City. Then, talismans brought them shelter, food, and other luxuries we can no longer imagine. The holiest talisman, the Black Grail, is said to grant the bearer all the heart’s desires, provided by the Bots.
With the Black Grail, the People might be brought back into the City to live in riches – and the one who brings them would be their King.
“Well?” Marjay asks one more time. The cords stand out on her thick forearm with the power of her grip.
If we fight, either might die. Even the victor might die of wounds later, or lingeringly of gangrene. We are too closely matched.
Slowly, I draw my own machete – a little longer than hers, its spine not quite so thick.
She tenses. Half the length of her blade clears its sheath in a blink, with a sound like the chirp of a bird.
Slowly, slowly, eyes locked with hers, I extend my blade, turn it sideways, lay it on her side of the desk.
“There’s only one way that we both walk out of this place,” I say.
“You have to be joking,” Marjay replies. “You know I have no interest in men.”
Over many years, many bands of young warriors have challenged the City and its lethal Bots for the Black Grail – or simply, in famine times, for a few armloads of food from the City’s warehouses.
No previous expedition has ever recovered the Black Grail. Few who have gone hunting it have returned. From those handful of survivors, we have some trinkets of the city among us. The Herndez clan has a ball-shaped lamp that has stayed lit for twenty generations. The Denneh clan, Marjay’s, has a box that plays music that no instrument of ours can duplicate. When it stops playing, allowing it to rest in the sun for only an hour will restore it to play for many days. My own clan, the Kirkays, keeps kitchen herbs in metal cans that once held food captured from the City in a famine time a hundred years ago. There are a few other trinkets, but not many.
Few are willing to challenge the Bots. They cannot be harmed by blade, arrow, or spear. There are tales of talismans that might stop them, but those have proven as elusive as the Grail itself.
My father was one who was willing to challenge the Bots, in his own way. By studying the holy tales and the many stories we tell around our campfires, he thought he knew where the Black Grail must lie. But he was also a man of extraordinary patience and cleverness. Instead of going himself, he made a plan for the future. As he executed his patient plan, his hair slowly turned iron-gray and I grew into a man.
I remember, dimly, being four summers old, waddling with the weight of a reed basket of dirt and gravel gripped in both hands. It was a scoop of what my father and his fellows dug out of a long tunnel under the city boundary. Part of his plan was simple: avoid the eyes of the bots for as much of the path to the Grail as possible. The entrance of the stealthy tunnel, squared off with heavy smoke-blackened timbers, was shielded from the inspection of the Bots by the abrupt stony mound of a hill near the city limits. Still, that we were digging must have been obvious. We children, who, grown, formed the company that has brought we three survivors to the residence of the Grail, carried out endless buckets of earth and stone, filling nearby dry washes and building new hills. It’s obvious in hindsight. So many things are obvious in hindsight. Things that might have saved lives if only they’d been obvious to us before. But the desire for the Grail was strong in us all, we young adventurers, our aging parents and grandparents, even our wise toothless Eldest whose food we youngers trade the honor of chewing for her ease. The vision of wealth blinded us all. Perhaps that is the curse that ended the reign of Giants and allowed the humble People to step from their shadows.
But the Bots had never shown curiosity about anything beyond the border of their domain. We had never seen any pay attention to anything under the ground. And so we thought we were safe…
…and that’s the preview. Want to see what happens next? Head back up to the top and click a retailer link, or click one of the Patreon links there or in the header, become a patron, and download your free copy!
(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 14 February 2016. Becoming a patron means they get to see almost all of my posts three days before they appear here, and when I publish a short story they get to read it THIRTY days before anyone else, PLUS they can download a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF I CHARGE FOR THE EBOOK. So if you’re not already part of my Patreon crew, you should be!)
2364: Jedi Heir to Crowdfund Mars Orbital Habitat
AP-MARS (Thoat Crossing Domeplex)
15 April 2364 UT-Earth
Mars-born asteroid-mine heir and ordained Church of The Force Master Jedi Arianna Musk-Aguinaldo announced the establishment of a systemwide GoKick crowdfunding campaign in an effort to construct a habitat devoted exclusively to members of the Church of The Force. Late last year Musk-Aguinaldo made headlines with her purchase of Mars-sychronous orbital rights from her own private funds, with the purpose shielded by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with a maximum duration of three years and early disclosure limited to her and not to the government or officials of Mars.
Some financial and political experts believe that Musk-Aguinaldo intended to develop her orbital habitat concept in secrecy for the entire term of the NDA, but was prompted to take earlier action in response to a March 23rd security breach of MarsGov intranet, for which the infoterror group Full Transparency took credit.
The scope of the project is ambitious for a private effort, with a habitat ecology capacity of 250,000 individuals and plans to invite 25,000 initial occupants. Those occupants are expected to consist of individuals with strong networks within the church hierarchy, as their number represents only a small fraction of the Church of The Force’s estimated thirty million members throughout the solar system. When asked if the habitat would be open to skeptics or nonadherents to the church in the future, Aguinaldo-Musk stated that skeptics directly related to church members in good standing would be welcome, but individuals designated to be Dark Side by official action of the church would be excluded or exiled without exception. Also excluded would be members of or adherents to the schismatic Congregation of Lucas, Prophet, whose doctrines differ with the Church of The Force on doctrine regarding the divine inspiration of Star Wars movies beyond the Holy Sextet (Episodes I-VI) or inclusive of the Old Expanded Universe.
The Church of The Force’s teachings on shunning of those designated Dark Side have been controversial both historically and at present, as church Writs have been issued commanding the faithful to sever all contact with employers, spouses, and parents, or even to abandon adolescent children to foster care.
Habitat plans include a hydroponics district and wildlife preserve designated as “Dagobah,” a mixed urban and recreational parkland district of “New Alderaan,” a vacuum and cryonics laboratory named “Hoth,” and a contract with Mars Orbital Utility Solar (MOUS) to provide primary power (in addition to onboard fusion reactors) to the habitat via microwave laser.