Monthly Archives: May 2017

362. Masters of India

     Wasn’t it barely a week since I had thrilled to learn what was inscribed on the base of the Statue of LIberty:
          Give me you tired, your poor,
          Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
     What generosity, I had thought, what a marvel of welcome!
                         John Masters

We’ll let that quotation hang there, and return to it later. This post, and several more, are connected to John Masters’ third installment of autobiography, Pilgrim Son.

I read the first installment of his autobiography, Bugles and a Tiger, during the 1970s. Normally a military biography would be the last thing to interest me. Furthermore, I was in the Navy against my will at the time, it that made it even more unlikely. However, Masters was a famous novelist specializing in India, so I read Bugles . . ., and I was impressed.

I had just finished four years studying South Asia and was about to return to another year of the same. My experience had shown me that there is wisdom (and stupidity) in writing on all sides of any issue. Wiser’s The Hindu Jajmani System (anthropologist), Nehru’s The Discovery of India (nationalist agitator, then national leader) and Masters’ various works (officer in the British Army in India) all showed accurate views from different perspectives.

I skipped Masters’ second autobiography, The Road Past Mandalay because I had no interest in sharing the horrors of WW II’s Burmese campaign, but Pilgrim Son was about the start of his life as a writer. I was beginning to write, so I ate it up.

That was nearly four decades ago. One particular story from that book stayed with me, and sent me back to seek it out again. I found that the whole book was a gem, far better than I remembered, and with more than one brief bit worth sharing.

For one thing, Masters had a lot to say about immigrants. That had not stuck in my memory because it was not an issue in the early eighties when I first read Pilgrim Son.

I have to set the stage by reminding American readers, whose world historical knowledge is typically shallow, that India is an ancient culture, but is new as a nation. Until mid-last century, it was controlled by Britain. In 1947, what was then India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and each part became a self-governing nation. Decades later, Pakistan also split, into Pakistan and Bangladesh. What had once been a more-or-less uniform culture divided into hundreds of petty kingdoms, was first unified under British rule, then split into three modern nations.

After several hundred years, members of the British Army and of the British governing class, many of whom had lived in India for generations, had to take ship for England. John Masters was one of those Englishmen who was born in India, had lived his life there, and now found himself an immigrant to his other homeland. He soon found that there was nothing for him in England, and became an immigrant to America, where he began his writing career. more tomorrow

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Alien Autopsy (3)

Imagined alien life forms can range from nearly human to outrageously strange. They can be imagined to meet story needs, or imagined first, with stories arising from their peculiarities.

Actually we can do even more. We can imagine whole ecologies. And again, we can go from minimalist to extreme. Arzor from Norton’s Beast Master is suspiciously like the American southwest, but Dune is a desert with an ecology quite a bit developed beyond any desert on Earth.

My first science fiction novel Jandrax [see note at the bottom of the page] is set on a deeply frozen planet, with only the equatorial region ice free. The only area I developed was a plain roughly a thousand miles across, centering on a massive freshwater lake. I stranded a starship with a load of fundamentalist passengers and a relatively unreligious crew, and watched the fireworks as they found two quite different ways of coping with the local ecology.

The area in question never sees rain, but during the cold season, snow and sleet falls, then melts during the (slightly) warm season. Viewed locally, this results in a dead season of snow, a brief season of wild plant growth during which massive migratory herds move through, and then a long season of dry, warm aftermath until the churned and destroyed vegetation is covered with new snow, where it and its seeds will wait for the next melt.

Viewed from the starship stranded in orbit, there is a moving line of green, eating up a mass of white, and followed by a growing gray, brown temporary desert.

I won’t tell you what happens to the people. That would be a spoiler to a book I’m hoping you will still read. Instead, let’s look at the alien creatures, starting with the herbivores.

Herbies are burrow bodied, tapir headed, fleet and harmless. Humpox don’t get much description, but don’t need it, with that name. Trihorns are as deadly as they sound. All are mammals, as are the carnivorous longnecks and krats. There are also huge carnivorous toothed birds called leers. They ended up on the cover.

These are the deliberately realistic creatures, all mammals and birds, devised in an era when warm blooded dinosaurs had not yet reached public awareness. In another part of the book, there is an interlude on an island which may be a hallucination or perhaps an encounter with the local version of God. Here the rules of realism don’t fully apply, and we find winged people who would never stand up to the laws of aerodynamics, and an insufferably cute, seal-faced, plump flying mammal called a dilwildi.

The example of Jandrax goes straight to the notion of purpose. Weird critters for the sake of weird critters is entirely valid. I love a weird critter novel. But Jandrax was my first full fledged novel, designed to show human interaction in a harsh, ice-age environment. It contains an entire religion, devised for the purpose of providing conflict. The ecology of the world was central to the story, and it was developed, but the individual alien creatures just needed to look right in an ice age environment. Nortonian minimalism is at work here.

#               #               #

I was in high school when I  first read Richard McKenna ’s novella Hunter, Come Home. It was a deeply moving, human story of manhood, honor, and love. It also had a second dimension, the description of an entire sentient ecosystem in peril and fighting back.

Here is a brief summary. Mordinmen were descendants of a lost Earth colony which had fought a generations long war against the dinosaur-like creatures which inhabited their planet. Manhood had become symbolized by the killing of a dino, but now the dinos were scarce and poor families, like Roy Craig’s, could no longer afford a hunt.

Mordinmen had now claimed another planet and were setting about to destroy its native ecosystem, in order to rebuild it in the image of their home planet. Red dots (successful hunters) were running the show, assisted by blankies like Roy who was working toward the time he could make his kill on the new planet. Hired as specialists, the Belconti biologists were providing the virus-like Thanasis used to destroy the native life.

When the story begins, the fight to transform this new planet has been going on for decades, and it is failing. Now the Mordinmen, against warnings by the Belacaonti, are about to unleash newer, harsher, more dangerous plague on the planet.

That’s about as far as I can summarize without a spoiler alert. Roy Craig wants more than anything to be a full fledged member of his machismo society, but his blanky status leaves him marginalized and frustrated. At the same time, he is drawn to the relatively gentle society of the Belaconti with whom is is working, symbolized for him by the woman Midori Blake.

Other than the dinosaur like creatures imported by the Mordinmen, there is only one other alien species — the entire planet they are all on. The native life of the planet is totally interconnected, essentially a one-world-tree (shades of Gaia).

There is a three way contrast in Hunter, Come Home. The Mordinmen, from a macho society built on killing are placed in contrast to the Belaconti, scientists who understand and treasure the ecosystem they are trying to destroy, and they in turn are contrasted to the interlocked, semi-sentient native life of the planet. Roy and Midori are each caught in conflicting loyalties as the planned apocalypse moves forward.

This is one of those cases where world building, culture building, and alien species building work together seamlessly. more tomorrow

Click here for next post.

[You can find Jandrax in used book stores. It is also available on this website, in an annotated form. Eventually it will be placed in Backfile, but I’ve been busy. I you want to read it here and now, your best bet for navigation is to begin by clicking the March 2016 archive and find Jandrax 2, then read and slide up, skipping every other post — archives alternates posts from the two blogs on this site. It is a bit of a pain. You can get Jandrax most days through Amazon’s cadre of used book stores. If you want the annotated version, in which I explain the various foibles of a young author, I plan to put it into an easily accessed form in Backfile, as soon after Westercon as I can find the time.]

361. Take This Test

Berlin WallMexican Wall

TAKE THIS TEST TO SEE IF YOU ARE FIT TO BE AN AMERICAN

Have you ever knowingly committed any crime for which you have not been arrested? [Never mind the fifth amendment. It does not apply here.
Have you ever been arrested? [Whether convicted or acquitted.]
Have you ever received public assistance?
Are you likely to receive public assistance in the future? [As if you could know that.]
Have you ever gambled illegally? [Yes, the Super Bowl counts.]
Have you ever encouraged an act of illegal immigration? [Yes, that includes hiring the maid who cleans you toilet, cooks your meals, and babysits your kids.]
Did you smoke pot before it was legal?
Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? [Yes, Joe McCarthy is dead, and yes, the question can still be asked, and no, you can’t refuse to answer.]
Did you, in support of the Nazi party, aide in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion. [If such aid was to the KKK, answer no.]
Have you ever assisted any organization engaged in kidnapping, political assassination, or any other form of terrorist activity. [If that organization was the CIA, answer no.]
Have you ever left the U.S. to avoid the draft?
Have you ever served in the armed forces?
Have you ever been a police officer?
Have you ever been a prison guard?
Have you ever been been a Boy Scout?

If you answered yes to any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you could not read any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you could not afford a lawyer to help you answer any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you were too repulsed to finish the test, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

Finally: List your present and past membership in or affiliation with every organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in other places since your 16th birthday. Include any military service in this part. If none, write “None.” Include the name of each organization, location, nature, and dates of membership. If additional space is needed, attach a separate sheet of paper. If you are unable to remember and list these affiliations, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

—————-

All of these questions were drawn, with snide but accurate rewording, from Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence. If you think this is a joke, click here to read the actual form.

Aren’t you glad you are an American citizen? If you weren’t, we probably wouldn’t let you in.

Alien Autopsy (2)

This material is the second post of four for the panel “Alien Autopsy: the biology of ET” Posts for the rest of the panels will be published in A Writing Life.

You can write a story and make up aliens – sentient or otherwise –  to fit. Or, you can make up aliens, and write a story about some peculiarity of their makeup. Decades of stories were about human mutants (not technically alien, but close enough) with psi powers. if you didn’t live through the fifties, you probably don’t realize how many ESP wielding mutants there were in science fiction, long before Professor X and his X-men made it to the comic books.

Sometimes a single biological factor, with its secondary ramifications, may suggest a whole species and their culture, as in Gardner Dozois novel Strangers.

It is the bittersweet story of a love affair between an Earth man and an alien woman of a people called the Cian. Throughout the novel, Dozois drops hints about the central paradox of Cianian culture, but Farber, his hero – if that is the right word – doesn’t pick up on them. Because he doesn’t understand his wife’s culture, he chooses to have children by her, thinking that is what she wants, and in the closing chapters Dozois drops a house on all of us when Farber – and we – discover that Cianian culture is all built around the fact that, because of a biological defect, its women always die in childbirth.

Technically, this is a gimmick story, but it is so well done that it doesn’t feel like one. Strangers is build around Cianian culture, but Cianian culture is built around the structure of its aliens’ reproductive biology.

There have also been a lot of less salutary books written about aliens with odd reproductive structures, but lets not go down that road.

(Aside: My novel Cyan, named after the planet which was named after the color, has no relationship to Dozois Cian, or the thousand other Cians — characters, book titles, and authors names — to be found if you type cian into Goodreads.)

Those of us that grew up with the original Star Trek knew aliens as humans with big masks and padded clothing. CGI made quite a bit of progress in removing that limitation in movies and subsequent TV programs, but the wildest aliens aren’t products of technology. They have been around for more than a century in novels. Remember War of the Worlds? Great monster. Even better radio broadcast.

Larry Niven’s Puppeteers might be hard to reproduce in a movie, but that doesn’t stop readers of Ringworld from enjoying them. In fact, that may be part of the appeal. We science fiction readers enjoy having a cadre of writers producing phalanxes of weird critters that would leave lesser readers shaking their heads.

No one has read all of science fiction, but I’ve read a lot. And in my slice of the SF universe, I have never found a writer who created more or weirder creatures than E. E. Smith, PhD; aka Doc Smith.

Smith was not available in either of the two libraries that were the centers of my childhood universe, but when I got to college, one of my roommates was a fan. He wisely started me on Galactic Patrol, and I read through to the end, then circled back. Take my word for it — keep the same order. If you start on the putative book one, Triplanetary, you’ll probably never make it past page five.

(Another aside: books four through six were written from 1937 through 1948, all appearing in Astounding. Smith wrote “book one” in 1934, unconnected to the rest. When he got a chance to see the complete series published, he rewrote Triplanetary to fit the others, wrote an entire new “book two”, First Lensman, and tweaked the rest. They fit together, and the first two have moments of excellence, but the last four are the essence of the tale. If you find the style too old fashioned after two chapters of Galactic Patrol, move on; you were born too late.)

You will, however,  miss a menagerie of strange aliens, both sentient and otherwise. I’ll describe just two; first Worsel:

. . . there was hurtling downward toward them a veritable dragon: a nightmare’s horror of hideously reptilian head, of leathern wings, of viciously fanged jaws, of frightfully taloned feet,  of multiple knotty arms, of long, sinuous heavily-scaled serpent’s body.

This is the creature who will become the second most formidable Lensman, and Kennison’ s best friend. The third second-stage Lensman was Tregonsee:

This . . .apparition was at least erect, which was something. His body was the size and shape of an oil-drum. Beneath this massive cylinder of a body were four short, blocky legs upon which he waddled about with surprising speed. Midway up the body, above each leg, there sprouted out a ten-foot-long, writhing, boneless, tentacular arm, which toward the extremity branched out into dozens of lesser tentacles, ranging in size from hair-like tendrils up to mighty fingers two inches or more in diameter. Tregonsee’s head was merely a neckless, immobile, bulging dome in the center of the flat upper surface of his body — a dome bearing neither eyes nor ears, but only four equally-spaced toothless mouths and four single, flaring nostrils.

These are the minions of civilization; the baddies look worse.

Part of the power of these descriptions comes from E. E. Smith’s writing style. In flipping through the internet while writing this, I ran across a comment that if the Lensmen series were to be offered for publication today, it would not be accepted. That is absolutely true, but it is also true that without the Lensmen series, there would be no Star Wars, nor any other space opera. The Lensman series set the pattern that all others would follow, and nothing that came after was as good as the original.

Heinlein was Smith’s friend, and our best picture of him, from RAH, shows Smith as the original of the Gray Lensman, and shows his wife as the original of Clarissa MacDougal. Much of the charm of the series lies in Kennison’s Boy Scout incorruptibility. Those who say he has no personality are wrong. He simply has a personality that is out of the modern norm. Like Jesus. Which is exactly what he should be, as the end product of thousands of years of Arisan work in perfecting human DNA.

All this works, and the hundreds of weird aliens work, because E. E. Smith’s writing style is essentially naive. His rolling cascades of description could only come from someone who is so sure of himself that he is incapable of embarrassment.

It’s been a long time since that kind of writer has been in vogue. more tomorrow

Click here for next post.

360. Eternal Ballads

Just before noon on May 22, I was writing the posts leading up to the Golden Age panel I will be doing at Westercon. I wanted to know the name of a particular J. G. Ballard short story for the post. I remembered the story, not its name, so I pulled out my compilation of his work. It is massive, and by the time I had found the story in question (Deep End) I was approaching a state of depression. Ballard can do that. I suggest taking him in small doses; one story a week maximum.

That was when this story occurred to me. I wrote it in about an hour. Once it was finished, I realized that it might seem a very strange story — if you don’t know Ballard, and particularly Deep End.

=================

He was an old man already when they caught him. The crime, if it was a crime, and if he had done the deed, occurred so long ago that there were few witnesses left. Three, to be exact. One placed him on the scene. One testified that he had seemed to know too much about the crime, in conversation, a week after it was done. One said he saw it happen, and saw the old man, when he was a young man, and testified that they were the same person. None of the witnesses told exactly the same story two days running, but they were all old, so you could expect that.

The accused was found guilty and sentenced to ten years. It was a lenient sentence for the crime, but no one thought he would live long enough to serve it.

They placed him in a cell of the new type. For decades solitary confinement had been deemed cruel and unusual, so only the most dangerous endured it. The old man was not dangerous. He swayed when he walked and he was always short of breath.

But there were new rules now, designed to protect prisoners from each other. The old man was so clearly frail and helpless, that they applied to him. They put him in a cell, four meters by three, with a toilet and shower in an alcove, an opening that presented food three times a day, and a steel door that was closed once and forever, not to be opened for ten years, or until the old man died. This would keep him safe from the other prisoners who might have tormented him.

There was a camera at the ceiling, through which he could be observed.

Before he was incarcerated, they asked him what book he wanted with him. He would only get one. Most prisoners asked for the Bible. A few asked for the Koran. Buddhists never asked, as they carried their god within themselves.

The old man was not religious, but he loved the sound of human voices. It was the thing he anticipated missing the most, so he said, “Ballads,” thinking he could sing them and ease the eternal silence of the cell.

They gave him his book, pushed him through the doorway, and the last human sound he heard was the clanging of the door, and the oiled sliding of the lock. He sat on the bed. It was made of plastic, semi-soft, vastly durable, designed to outlast him. He was naked because once a prisoner had stuffed his mouth and nostrils with torn clothing, and slipped his hands into pre-tied manacles of denim, and had escaped into death.

After an hour of silence, eyes downcast to avoid the gray walls, the old man took up his book, but they must have misunderstood him. It was the complete short stories of J. G. Ballard. The old man had never heard of Ballard. With a sigh, he opened to the first page and read, “I first met Jane Ciraclides during the recess . . .”

#              #              #

When the proctors came to let him out at the end of ten years, they went first to the observation station. There were one hundred screens on the wall, ten rows of ten, all tied to the cameras in the cells for which this observer was responsible. The observer quickly darkened all but one screen, as protocol demanded. He had spent thirty hours a week in this room for eighteen years, viewing a hundred prisoners who could not look back. His outlook had become narrow, but his body had grown large.

The proctors were hardened to viewing the results of solitude, but even they were startled by the old man’s appearance. His head was shaggy in parts, bare and raw in other parts where he had torn out his hair by the handful. His body was a skeleton wrapped in wrinkled skin. The walls of his cell were covered with graffiti made with excrement. It must had smelled terrible.

Following protocol, they watched him for two hours, waiting for the moment his sentence would be up. He lay most of the first hour, foetal on the bed. Then he staggered up. There was no sound from the room, except the sliding of bare feet on concrete. The old man had uttered his last curse eight years before, and every day since then had been wordless. But not utterly without sound.

Now he approached the book, and opened it. He let pages flutter past, until he found a starting place, and then he read. After a moment, there was a faint groaning. After five minutes, that gave way to an ululation on two notes that grew in volume as his body began to shake. Eventually he leaped up and hurled himself against a wall, beating it with his fists until blood flowed, and sinking to the ground in whimpers.

The observer remained unmoved, sitting in his place like a fat Buddha who no longer saw the world’s pain. He leaned forward and rotated the camera, and said, “I thought so. Deep End. That always upsets him the most.”

One of the proctors said, “How can he have survived like this.”

The observed replied, “Everybody lives forever in Hell.”

Alien Autopsy (1)

Kinnison and Tregonsee well visualized,
with Worsel drawn badly as an alligator.
Interior illustration from a 1941 Astounding.

Raven’s Run concluded Monday, May 22. A new novel, Spirit Deer, will begin in Serial on June 5. Meanwhile, I am scheduled to participate in five panels at Westercon this year. Posts relating to the panel “What Makes the Golden Age Golden?” were presented in Serial last week.

This material is for the second panel “Alien Autopsy: the biology of ET”. Posts for the rest of the panels will be published in A Writing Life.

Take one human being. Count his parts. Now start changing the appearance, number, or configuration of those parts. You might come up with:

A two headed mutant on a century ship.
A seven foot humanoid with curving horns coming out of his forehead.
A human who consists of “four-hundred-odd pounds of rawhide and whalebone”, because his ancestors colonized a high gee planet.

See how easy it is. And that, by the way, was a quiz. All three examples are from major writers of science fiction. Their identities are at the bottom of the page. Sometimes, a little tweak all it takes, and for that you don’t need any help. Anyone could do it, although not everyone does it equally well.

     The first of these three was a monster/villain type, and that was all the critter building required to let him do his job.
     The second was an ersatz Amerindian and everybody knew it. By the way, the term Amerindian was used by anthropologists for a short time before Native American took over, and this author may be the only one to have used it in science fiction. Hint, hint.
     The last human variant was a fairly major character, with an actual personality (albeit a cardboard one) and he looked like he did because he had to, in order to play the role assigned to him.

These are all humans, or the galactic equivalent of human. Sentient beings. HILFs. A HILF is a Highly Intelligent Life Form, a term coined by Ursula Le Guin, which should have replaced sentient being, but never caught on. Sentient actually means “having sensation”, not “having intelligence”. An earthworm is sentient in the dictionary sense, but science fiction speaks its own language.

Non-sentient (in the SF sense) beings can also be created by simple tweaks.

The people of Gorth in Star Gate ride larngs; I’m referring to the original novel by Norton, unrelated to the movie or TV series using the same name. A larng is shaggy, clawed, and has a bad temper, but basically he is just a hairy horse with an attitude. On Arzor — Norton, again, in Beast Master and its sequels — humans have to watch out for yoris (think alligators with a poison gland) while they herd frawns (analog to big-horn sheep) across a landscape suspiciously like the American southwest.

I’m not complaining. Beast Master is one of my favorite Norton novels. There is plenty of intrigue, adventure, battle, and family turmoil. It didn’t need a full scale exercise in critter building. In fact, more imagination devoted to that aspect of the novel would just have slowed things down.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, in Hunters of the Red Moon and its sequel The Survivors,  gave us a mammalian snake, complete with nipples, and a giant hyper-fast weasel. She also gave us some sentient beings — there was the cat-critter and the dinosaur-critter. Again, I am not making fun. These sentients had plenty of individuality and charm, but it came from their cultures, not their body structures.

You might call this the minimalist approach; it’s surprising how often it works. Norton was the master of the technique. Gordon Dickson could paint a whole landscape in twenty words. If you have a story to tell, and that story just requires local color, it’s often best not to waste your efforts and your reader’s time in excessive descriptions of the local flora and fauna.

You can combine the minimalist approach with an occasional zinger that brings you reader up short.Marion Zimmer Bradley did that in The Survivors with the proto-saurian Aratak. In the middle of the action, he gets a pheromone soaked calling card from an enemy proto-saurian and disappears. Weeks later he comes back with a smile on his face, ready to take up the quest where they were when he deserted his companions.

I have read hundreds of stories with minimally different aliens. They were all as good, or bad, as the underlying story allowed. I never felt cheated.

However, if you want to go to the next level, and make your aliens really different, that works too. We’ll look at that tomorrow.     

Click here for next post.

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Oh, yes, I almost forgot. The quiz. The examples were from:

Robert Heinlein, Orphans of the Sky
Andre Norton, the Norbies from Beast Master
E. E. Smith, Galactic Patrol, referring, of course, to Peter vanBuskirk.

359. Westercon Who?

I always think of Westercon as a big deal, but really, most people have never heard of it. Star Trek conventions, sure. Comicon, oh yes: especially since The Big Band Theory showed our four nerds in attendance.

Worldcon is the mother of all science fiction conventions, genealogically, although not in size. It began in 1939. Hugo Awards are handed out at Worldcon.

In 1948, local science fiction fans in the Los Angeles area decided to hold their own convention, because Worldcons were being held on the east coast, and coast to coast travel in 1948 was no small chore. The first Westercon drew 77 people — the first Worldcon had drawn 300.

You might say they have both grown since then. Conventions have also fragmented into specialty venues for fans of fantasy, comics, Star Trek, Star Wars, zombies, manga/anime and who knows how many others.

I love science fiction, but I’m not a fan. That means I read it a lot, read everything my favorite authors write, re-read frequently, and eventually became a writer myself. But since I’m not gregarious, and no one in my world shared my interest, I never talked to anyone about science fiction. Until this blog, that is.

Fans talk about their favorites, and also the %*#*@ jerks who are ruining the genre. They used to write fanzines, and now they produce webzines, websites, and pod casts. And they produce conventions, go to conventions, and volunteer at conventions.

I guess this website takes me half-way into fandom, since I have written quite a few appreciations of Heinlein, Clarke, Norton and others of my favorites. And now I’m volunteering as a presenter at Westercon 70 in Tempe, Arizona over the fourth of July weekend this year.

I’ve actually done this before (see How to Build a Culture), but it has been a while. I’m tentatively scheduled to be on five panels:

What made the golden age golden?
Fantasy world building
Alien autopsy: the biology of ET
Science & Technology versus Magic: what makes this such a compelling trope?
Fake it ’til you make it: a survivor’s guide for the introverted author

I’m not the kind of guy who can flop down behind a table with three or four people I’ve never met and pontificate. Not gregarious; as I said above. I will be preparing my thoughts on these topics over the next month, and as I do, I’ll be sharing them in the form of posts. That way you will be in on things, even it you don’t make it to Tempe. This will work well with Spirit Deer in Serial. That short, short novel is going to turn into a bit of a how-to through posts over on this side, and that will work well alternating with how-to posts made in preparation for Westercon.

This should be fun.