Flash: Grass

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The walks surrounding the Inter-species Conference Enclave campus meandered through immaculate lawns, stopping occasionally to admire rose bushes, day lilies, statuary, and other areas of interest with a widening of the brickwork and a bench here and there in their travels. Azza followed the paths with her human counterpart at her side. Arching a fur-feather eyebrow, she asked the much taller black male, “Why do you dedicate so much land to non-food?”

The use of the “her” pronoun was problematic for both Azza and Sefu, since the Spican species had only one gender. But because of the average height of the Spican, their high voices, and their offspring liquid gland locations match human female norm, the pronoun had been applied to all Spican members since the humans had found the first Conference planet. Sefu, one of Earth’s polygots chosen to learn the interstellar tongues, was still struggling with the Conference tongue, a constructed language used by most spacegoers, and Spicese, a complicated language constantly expanded by the natural linguists of Azza’s planet for play and professional reasons. As a result, most of Azza’s and Sefu’s conversations fell back to the gender-driven English language of the country where the campus had been located. He tried not to limit his view of Azza with the pronoun, but thinking in a language always limits some concepts. Kenya would have been a better the host nation with the genderless Swahili to communicate in, in his unasked for opinion.

“Well, umm, if we put all the land to food usage it will exhaust the ground.” Sefu struggled in his answer. “It would require constant fertilization and work.”

Azza nodded like a human. “So, you rotate this … grass … with other crops?” Her species specialization as linguists made Sefu jealous; in three handful of months she mastered the complicated English language complete with the non-verbal cues. The specialization was spectacular even among the Conference members, therefore Spican’s always were the Speaker for the first Enclave sent to newly discovered civilizations. She had already sent the full report of English and Mandarin back to the Conference Core so those languages could be added to the translators. The present language assignment for the Enclave was Spanish and they were already making arrangements for Hindi. They would continue down the line until they reach languages of less than a million speakers. Azza and the six other Spican on the Enclave were having a ball; most species only have one, maybe two languages when they reach interstellar space.

On the human side, they had the basic grammar and over 1,000 root words for the Conference’s Every-Speak, and the computers had recorded nearly 89,000 words of Spicese with no end in sight for the intonation, non-verbal, and grammatical-vocabulary-modification nightmare making up the linguists native tongue, a language so complex they could easily pick up any other language in the galaxy. With approval of all forty members of the Enclave, recording instruments had been installed throughout the campus and gave them a good grasp of Pegasian, Ursate, and Virgrril, though Mensate baffled the biological and computer translators as much as Spicese so far. The one Lucian of the Enclave, with its light-based communication, was beyond their abilities, at the moment; the Conference translator would be working overtime for it as soon as the new programming became available. A Lucian colony was the human’s closest neighbors and their first market and both the humans and Lucian were chomping at the bit to start, but the Speaker declared, as was traditional, no trade talks translations were allowed by her team during the first generation of contact. The inexact translation by machine would have to do for the businessmen once it became available in another eight years. The major hold up was just travel time for the language assessments to get to programmers.

“No. We use it for aesthetic purposes. It is decorative.” Feeling slightly less provincial since the alien had searched for the word grass, Sefu paused in his walk to watch her non-verbal cues more closely.

Azza swiveled her head slightly further than humanly possible, taking in the landscape. “It is very green.”

“Yes.” The Earthling born on the African continent agreed.

“Does the grass ever fruit?”

Each of the visiting species had shown pictures of their homeworlds as part of the linguistic and cultural exchange required before full Conference membership approval. Azza’s home commune was a riot of color from food-bearing tree and bushes.

Shaking his head, Sefu explained, “We cut it before it goes to seed, that makes the root system stronger.”

Azza’s face wrinkled in consideration. “Is any other maintenance required?”

“Other than mowing every one week or two?” Azza’s eyes widened. Sefu understood from the monitors they had been allowed to install the Spican applied a defoliator and bleach to remove stripes which normally ran across their face so the humans could better read the non-verbal cues they were mimicking. Internally, he looked forward to the day they trusted the humans enough to stop doing that. It would mean they were considered equals. “Yes. The landscapers have to lay in weed killer and bug killer and fertilize every fall and spring. Plus reseed regularly.”

“So the grass requires as much work as food crop.” Azza looked out at the lawns again. A sweet smell similar to honeysuckle drifted on the breeze, a scent Sefu noticed whenever Azza was figuring something out. He made a mental note to see if the odorific monitors had been installed; part of the Spicese non-verbal language had to include scent.

Turning his tone a little dry, knowing sarcasm did not translate well with any of the Conference members but the Ursians, Sefu commented, “More, actually. Crops only need to be cut once.”

The honeysuckle scent grew stronger. “Wasting land and effort like this is not logical.” She waved her hand at the acreage surrounding the sprawling buildings.

“Humans are not logical.”

“You keep saying that.” Azza looked him in the eye. “And I keep seeing evidence of truth.”

Sefu shrugged.

“It’s amazing you ever made it into space.” Her face mimicked exasperation, and her scent changed to sour green apples. Or more accurately zefs, one of the few things already transferred in the cultural exchange. Zefs, a quick-growing berry, had dozen of variations made suitable for zero-g growth; the four space stations already integrated them into the crop cycle. The campus greenhouses grew some of the gravity varieties for the visitors, after Earth and Conference scientists confirmed the variations were mules in every of Earth’s environments, so Enclave members had a taste of home, and Sefu had eaten some during the meal visits.

Those were landmine filled occasions as each of the six visiting species had different customs related to eating before even taking into account the cultures of the nineteen Earth polygots drawn from six different continents. Each meal centered around a different species’ tradition with five days of instruction beforehand; fourteen times they had been through the rotation since Sefu joined the team and they still had nine more of the Virg causal meals to go before they started on the formal variations.

He looked forward to the Lucian weeks as they only ate socially during mating mergers, what humans call weddings. Otherwise consumption could be done during any activity such as playing games. Falling-Wavelength-552-to-577 turned its meals into game nights, the primary social activity for its species, many of the games had human equivalents. It had fallen in love with Chess when Judit used the human game to explain K-band-frenquency-19 to the rest of the team. The Lucian meal nights left the Pegasian and Mensate on the outside, but then most meals left the Lucian sitting alone.

“Getting into space only requires determination, not logic.”

“For your species.” Azza blew out her breath, then started walking again. A little faster than before, so Sefu needed to stroll instead of saunter, to match her short steps. “Your ships make as little sense as you.”

Thinking about the very functional, nearly universal stick and globe assemblages passing for spaceships among the Conference members, with only minor variation for environmental difference, compared to the sleek human ships, Sefu bragged, “They look great.”

“Ships do not need to look great,” Azza spun on him, her hand flung sideways while the calluses rotated into thorn-spine positions in her species version of frustration, while the skin under where the stripes would be if they hadn’t been bleached swelled slightly. “They need to function well.”

“They function fine.” Sefu felt amusement at the cute anger shown by the Spican. Quickly he cut off that emotional reaction. This was not an American or Australian female getting riled up, but an alien species and head of the Enclave. Damn English thoughts; he really wanted to switch to his native Swahili. “They got us to a Conference planet before you guys found us.” The colonial swagger-laden words tripped out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“True statement.” The white and gray skinned alien, topped by black feather-fur dappled with blue and red highlights, brought her arm back to a more human stance and the nearly human facial features, which caused the polygots no end of grief because they made it too easy to forget the Spican were aliens, returned to resting levels. A mimicked half-smile touched Azza’s lips. “By practically exploding the engine room every activation of the DM drive.”

Sefu gulped internally. Was the anger and frustration real or this half-tease? Was Azza here just to teach language and culture, or did a darker imperative drive the cultural exchange? The humans weren’t the only species to create a Dark Matter drive, but, according to the Conference, less than 10% of new species even had worked out the theory before crossing paths with a Conference outpost. Earthlings were one of seven species to invent the drive completely on their own. Being in the back-end of nowhere, at the edge of a spiral arm, contributed to the Humans developing the theories and ships independently. That backwater location combined with a jump from electronic communication having bleedoff past the local atmosphere to interstellar flight in less than three hundred years, when the average for most species is closer to two thousand years, prevented any of the Conference cultural surveillance drones from spotting them before humans blinked out of DM warp in their sleek, rotating hub and spear shape ship into the Alpheratz system and its three inhabited planets.

Licking his lips, Sefu decided to poke to see which way Azza jumped. “Ah, but the results of the controlled explosions are cool. What is it? Four times faster than any other DM ship out there?” And that was very fast indeed, since DM speed was measured exponentially due to energy-state transfers within warp, which means a Conference spaceship from the Lucian outpost in the Cervantes system, 50-light years away, takes nineteen weeks with their fastest ship. A human DM drive ship takes six days, including the sub-light maneuvers.

The skin raised again, but Azza’s face remained neutral. “The human interpretation of DM theory is intuitive rather than deductive, at best, making your drives irrational disasters. The Earth ships already have the worst safety record of any Conference ship, but you only care about how fast and …cool… they look?”

Sefu forced himself to imagine her saying the words through gritted teeth instead of with the calm almost indulgent mimicked expression on her face. His gut told him he was right about the anger. He stepped sideways so the nearby monitor could have an unobstructed view of her. Deciding against overtly flagging the conversation for closer review since this was Azza and all her conversations were dissected, Sefu poked her again. “Humans are not logical.” And, obviously, the Conference could not reverse engineer the human version of DM drives and they were applying pressure to the Enclave to get results.

“No, humans grow grass which has no purpose other than be green.” She blew out air, and the scent of burnt starch, like plantain slices fried too long, made Sefu’s nose burn. He never had noticed that scent before.

Arranging a careful smile on his face to match her false one, Sefu said, “Exactly. You are beginning to understand us Speaker.”

“I hope not. I really hope not.” The alien and human resumed their walk, a pseudo-companionship silence falling on their travel.

Privately, and against the fiber of his communication-oriented polygot soul, Sefu agreed.

(words 2,083 – first published 7/30/2017)

Book Review: I, Zombie

Amazon Cover - I Zombie

Book Cover from Amazon

* Someone is Murdering the Dead. *

I, Zombie by Doris Piserchia under the pen name of Curtis Shelby

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

When the girl from the asylum drowned in the lake that night, she thought it was the end of her life, but she was wrong.

With robots at fifty thousand dollars a unit, it was far more economical to use corpse labour – all it took was a two-thousand dollar animating pack in the brain, and a zombie worker, under the direction of a helmeted controller, could do just about anything except think.

Or so everyone said. But in the zombie dorms at night, with only the walking dead for roommates, things were not as they should have been. The girl from the asylum seemed to have more mental ability, not less, and someone was trying to kill her. Kill a dead girl?

Maybe there was more to heaven than an afterlife of manual labour in the company of a bunch of stiffs!

 

MY REVIEW

One of my favorite books of all time, I don’t know how many times I have read it. Picked it up back when it was first released in 1982 at an airport to keep from getting bored on a plane. (now available on kindle – yeah! … because my original paperback is Beat Up(tm).)

Interesting psychological study. Pretty cool worldbuilding with the Frogs and the Zombies (deceased humans with brain packs to work them). Actually excellent worldbuilding, the layers to the Zombies and the world trying to translate that over to the mentally disturbed. Layers upon layers with the brain pack technology and the Frog culture.

Then the action adventure with fights in front of a furnace and problem-solving mysteries with someone murdering the dead and the ice world melting, keeps everything moving at a fast pace.

This book is one of my happy places.

NOTE: Curt Selby is the pen name of Doris Piserchia, so “Curt Shelby” appears on the cover but you will now find the book under Doris Pierchia’s real name for the kindle.

Writing Exercise: FanFict

Writing Meme created by Erin Penn

Fan Fiction

Or FanFic as most of the writing community calls it, is often sneered at by established writers who conveniently forget the origins of their writing development. Yes, some of the early work between age three and fifteen had originality, but much of it sprung from books read, television watched, and movies experienced. I know I had lots of stories dance in my head based on the Wizard of Oz, and even more from the Marvelous land of Oz which introduced Ozma of Oz. As a teen, Star Trek, the Next Generation, was my go-to for inserting myself into a narrative.

Why FanFic? Because worldbuilding is hard, and these worlds have been created. A reader falls in love with them, and what else is one going to do when the author stopped writing stories for the world. I love inserting myself into these wonderful layered worlds to live a little longer after the book is done and the show is over.

Side-note: Self-Inserts are great for expanding on writing skills initially, but they are not ones to share on FanFic writing forums in general. FixFic (correcting an error in the story, at least in the writer’s opinion, or making a better ending), Shipping (two characters who are not together in a relationship in the story but are for the FanFic), and Crossover (two or more fan universe mashup) are more widely accepted than Self-Inserts. This goes back to the developing writing skills (a writer knows who they are and therefore doesn’t need to work as hard for character development) and the point of FanFic (spending more time in the universe and its characters). Feel free to write Self-Inserts but keep those to close to the chest. Other expansions in all their glorious subgenres can be shared on the appropriate FanFic sites.

FanFic has been around for a long, long time. How many versions of Camelot exist? People loved the mythos for over a thousand years and have been adding to it all the time. Every movie made from a book or existing story is a FanFic by the director.

Now the question is: do establish writers attempt FanFic? All the time. Some of it even is contracted such as getting a novel published in the Doctor Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek universes. Also joint sandboxes are everywhere for playtime like Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Series and John Hartness, Monster Hunter Universe. People make a living translating screenplays to novels.

An excellent vlog series on FanFic has been created by Jill Bearup – the first episode is: Virgil was a Homer Fanboy, the history of FanFiction part 1. If you like it, you can continue down that rabbit hole for a while (updated 11/12/17 – she is now up to seven episodes).

The takeaway I want you, dear writers, to have is: FanFic skills are valuable. They can make money writing screenplays or novelizing them. They let you explore worldbuilding in an existing world: what pieces are needed to create world robust enough to hold up to expansion and how can a world be layered enough for other people to want to live there.

WRITING EXERCISE: Write a FanFic flash – more than 100 words but don’t kill yourself. What made this world robust enough to support your FanFic? What made you want to expand the mythos?

READING/VIEWING EXERCISE: What is the most recent story you daydreamed about in a FanFic sort of way? Why?

***

In Men-in-Black 2, Agent J needs Agent K’s skills, so Will Smith’s character pulls Tommy Lee Jones’ character back into the business and restores his memory. At the end of the first movie, Agent K became Kevin Brown again and is reunited with his love, and they marry. The second movie has him willingly accepting being back to monitoring aliens because he wasn’t able to cut it in the real world and the woman who had waited decades for him, divorced his psychotic ass.

Dang, I loved that scene in the original film. It added so much to his character, to the world. Things flow out and in from 45-second scene.

And the screenwriters of the sequel WRECKED IT!

My FixFic starts in the same place as the sequel. Kevin Brown (Agent K without memories) working in the post office, the love of his life no longer in the picture.

After being deneuralized, Agent K walks away and keeps walking. Focused, determined. Much more his old self than the pale imitation Agent J had found at the post office. Agent J prances after his old mentor, asking questions about memory without a single reaction until he offers Kay a ride to wherever he is going when they pass a black sedan. Kay freezes, turns around, and demands, “Keys.”

“Still working on one word answers, huh?” Jay pats his pockets and pulls out the keys.

Kay grabs them and walks around the vehicle to the driver side, getting in. Protesting, Jay quickly climbs in and buckles up, closing the door as Kay pulls away from the curb. “Be careful, Zed upgraded the cars in the last four years. Do you even know how to drive? Did the deneuralizer fry you? Come on man, talk to me.”

Already on the highway and going way over the speed limit while weaving in and out, Kay looks over at Jay with disdain. 

After one quick drift between cars, Jay screeches, “Watch the road. We can talk later. In the meantime, let me tell you why Zed had you recalled…”

At headquarters Agent Kay walks right by the guard in the vent room, Jay nearly running to keep up. But being Jay, he looks over at the guard and winks as they get on the elevator. “Heck yeah,” he nods at the guard who stood, looking flabbergasted. “Kay is back in business.”

The elevator door closes but doesn’t move.

Jay looks up, talking to the ceiling. “It’s okay. Agent Kay is being brought in just like Zed asked–“

“Override Candy-Delta-<shrill-click-click>-Hamburger.” Kay interrupts and the elevator moves down.

Striding through the terminal, Jay continues to jabber and run after his silent, steadily moving partner. Around them, a ripple of beings stop and stare. Most continue on their business, but moving slowly, their heads and eye stalks swiveling to follow the two agents.

Kay takes no notice. Stopping only when reaching the crow’s nest, where Zed is standing, opening his arms. “Welcome back, my frie–“

A right hook stops the Men-in-Black leader, lifts him off his feet for a second, and drops him to the floor. He looks up at the returning agent, who is rubbing his knuckles.

“You could have saved her.” The accusation grinds out of Kay’s soul.

Zed nods, rubbing his chin. “You know the rules.” He moved to stand up. “I leaked the information as quickly as I could when I found out, but too many changes, too many jumps in technology.” He shook his head; Zed’s pompous starchiness left him sagging against his desk. His eyes watered. “I wasn’t fast enough.” Zed dropped his eyes before Kay’s dead stare.

“Two months. We had only two months.”

“At least you had that much.” Zed whispered back.

(words 475; first published 2/28/2017)

(And back to the regularly scheduled movie already in progress.)

Same end situation – Kevin working in a dead-end job, not fitting in. Same loss of love. But we got to keep the emotional payoff of the first movie, and Kay comes back as not so much as helpless in the real world but broken.

This is the FicFix I want for the movie. Men-in-black is a wonderful mythos covering multiple comics, movies, and urban legends. I think this would make it better.

Geeking Science: Baen Book Teacher Guides

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the cool things about living in North Carolina is Baen Books headquarters is here, not New York. Yes, that Baen Books with David Weber, Margaret Ball, Eric Flint, Sharon Lee, etc. So a writing convention in these parts will have at least one Baen representative, maybe even the big lady herself, Toni Weisskopf. At one of the conventions I attended Ms. Weisskopf told us about a thing. Baen Books offers teachers’ guides FOR FREE to some of its young adult (YA) oriented materials – guides good for the classroom or homeschooling.

I know last month’s geeking science was on “The Sell”, and make no mistake Baen Books is not doing this exclusively out of their hearts. The teachers’ guides are free, the books themselves – sometimes – are not. On the other hand this particular sell dovetails well into their core business while also having beneficial results. The teachers’ guides not only support reading (and every publisher supports reading), but also encourages students to use the science fiction as a jumping point to learn history and science. Where someone might go “who care how prize money was awarded by England during the wars?”, reading about the prize money collected by the Manticore Navy in Basilisk Station by David Weber raises an interest – then the rabbit hole shows a student what money meant (economics), how money was divided (math), which wars had the most money given (history) and a dozen other interests. By the way, Basilisk Station is a free book just like the teachers’ guide.

Is this “The Sell” or a publishing company giving back to their customers? The creation of the teachers’ guides did cost money – proofing, adding to the website, etc. Having met Ms. Weisskopf and Mr. Weber and the other authors participating in this program, I know its a bunch of people geeking out about how to get people involved in education by using the carrot instead of the stick. These are people who pour over research to get the covers right – did that uniform in 1637 have four or five pockets? Information and words are their life!

And they want to pass on that passion.

The Young Adult list at Baen Books ( http://www.baen.com/bookdata/ya ) contains a vetted list by Ms. Weisskopf. The ones with little books beside them contain teachers’ guides. Over twenty are available.

Teaching through science fiction – man, I wish this was around when I was a kid.

WRITING EXERCISE: Create a small guide for a reading group based on your work in-progress (WIP). Put together at least six questions.

READING EXERCISE: Pick one of the teachers’ guides and work your way through it. Which book did you pick and what did you learn from the guide?

Book Review: The Human Division

Book Cover from Amazon

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Following the events of The Last Colony, John Scalzi tells the story of the fight to maintain the unity of the human race.

The people of Earth now know that the human Colonial Union has kept them ignorant of the dangerous universe around them. For generations the CU had defended humanity against hostile aliens, deliberately keeping Earth an ignorant backwater and a source of military recruits. Now the CU’s secrets are known to all. Other alien races have come on the scene and formed a new alliance―an alliance against the Colonial Union. And they’ve invited the people of Earth to join them. For a shaken and betrayed Earth, the choice isn’t obvious or easy.

Against such possibilities, managing the survival of the Colonial Union won’t be easy, either. It will take diplomatic finesse, political cunning…and a brilliant “B Team,” centered on the resourceful Lieutenant Harry Wilson, that can be deployed to deal with the unpredictable and unexpected things the universe throws at you when you’re struggling to preserve the unity of the human race.

Being published online from January to April 2013 as a three-month digital serial, The Human Division will appear as a full-length novel of the Old Man’s War universe, plus―for the first time in print―the first tale of Lieutenant Harry Wilson, and a coda that wasn’t part of the digital serialization.

Old Man’s War Series
#1 Old Man’s War
#2 The Ghost Brigades
#3 The Last Colony
#4 Zoe’s Tale
#5 The Human Division
#6 The End of All Things
Short fiction: “After the Coup”

 

 

MY REVIEW

Mr. Scalzi attempted a new format of releasing 13 episodes as mini-ebooks; similar to the old method of serializing a story in newspapers or magazines (everything that is old is new again). A format option popular with self-published authors. After the episodes were all released, his publisher put together the whole thing in book format, adding two extras.

I did not read this during the episodic releases, and discovered the hard-copy book did not work very well as a straight read-thru. The characters’ lives had ebbs and swells that needed a break every three or four episodes. After getting about half-way through the book, I needed to set it aside for a week. Since my work was asking for 60 to 80-hour weeks during the time I was reading this book, it actually functioned well. Every Saturday I would set aside time to read three more episodes.

The writing is typical, brilliant Scalizi – a combination of humor and observations that are just too much fun. He continues to create a new character voice for each book. I love that his characters are unique – Zoe’s Tale had a teenage girl voice; The Human Division had a combination – each episode had a different POV (point of view) of diplomatic approaches. As such the diplomatic-POV did not have the pure snark factor of his first book of the universe (Old Man’s War). 

I should note the uniqueness of the universe is beginning to wane simply because of familiarity of the World – now in book five – but the universe hasn’t reached comfortable glove status. So, in places, this book felt … awkward… like a teenager – no longer a cute, shiny baby to ooh&aah over, but not fully mature like a George R. Dickson Dorsai! universe story.

This story is essential to the ongoing Old Man’s War Universe. It clearly sets up the conspiracy for the next story.

Worth the read, just do it in chunks for maximum enjoyment – the way it was originally published on the Internet.