Author Archives: sydlogsdon

627. Banned Book Week

If you google special weeks, you will find a week for everything. Some of them are worthy; most are just plain goofy.

There’s nothing goofy about Banned Book Week.

My first encounter with banned books was in high school, when I became aware that Oklahoma and almost no other state had banned The Grapes of Wrath because it supposedly portrayed Oklahomans in a bad light. They didn’t much like the term Okie either.

I’m an Okie and I like the term, but if I had been walking down the streets of Bakersfield in the thirties, and people had been calling me that while spitting on me, I would probably have a different viewpoint.

When I was a boy, more than half a century ago, I said n— all the time. I quit when I grew up and learned better. Of course Black people will never come to accept the word like I accept Okie, and they shouldn’t. Okie was only a cuss word in parts of California for a brief time, a long time ago. N— has a different history.

While we are banning books, let’s go ahead and ban the word nigger.

See, you can’t do it. I’ve managed to use the abbreviation n— up to now, but I couldn’t write that sentence without spelling it out.

We have made not saying the word the key to survival in modern politics, but does a clean mouth insure a clean conscience, or a clean personal history? If you think so, I have a swamp I’m willing to sell you.

Shall we ban the idea behind the word? Good luck trying.

All this brings us back to books. Books should not be banned, except for a few.

What?!?!?!?

That’s a lot like saying I’m for free speech, but not for hate speech. Okay, define hate speech. Not give examples, that’s too easy. Define it.

It can’t be done.

Now, back to books again. Personally, I hate the *** series. I wish those books had never been written, but I’m afraid to even mention their name in this post. They have all but disappeared on their own, but if I were to mount a campaign to ban them, they would be back on the shelves and on their way to the best-seller list before the month was out. There would be websites defending them and websites condemning them and hash-tags like — no, I’m not going to tell you what the hash-tags would say.

Banning books is not only wrong, it is also self-defeating. If something bothers you — books, words, concepts, actions —  confront it. Banning it just drives it more deeply into the public consciousness.

If the media had not been so outraged in 2016 that they made  ***** the main subject of every newscast, we would have a different president today.

If the Ayatollah had not condemned The Satanic Verses, it would have died the quiet death it deserved. I know. I fought my way half way through the thing out of moral obligation before I tossed it. If it hadn’t been condemned, I would have quit after page three.

End of sermon.

Now here is a tidbit that I am adding just because it amuses me. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum is the list of books banned by the Catholic Church, beginning about 1600, going through various versions, and being finally dropped in 1966. Johannes Kepler and Immanuel Kant along with some translations of the Bible have all had the dubious honor of inclusion over the years.

When I wrote A Fond Farewell to Dying, set on a post nuclear war Earth, the main character wrote a book called Inquiry into Artificially Induced Immortality. I needed to have it banned, so I had to let the New Vatican located on Lake Titicaca (Rome having been nuked) reinstitute the Index just so my hero’s book could be on it.

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626. Lucifer’s Cousin

In post 575. Textbook: The Rolling Stones, I mentioned the two interpretations of the asteroid belt that were current when I started reading science fiction. At that time, many believed that it was the result of the fourth planet being somehow blown up. There were plenty of science fiction stories about that lost planet’s civilization, including several which made it the source of humanity and the origin of the Atlantis myth.

The other interpretation was that the fourth planet was kept from forming by Jupiter’s gravity. A logical and prosaic theory and apparently the correct one. Occasionally, ignorance is bliss when writing science fiction. Does anyone else miss a swampy, dinosaur infested Venus?

Oh well, that’s okay. That’s what steampunk, fantasy, and alternate universes are for.

In Dreamsinger, I’ve managed to retrieve just a tiny touch of the old glory of an asteroid belt from an exploded planet, and it only came to me within the last few weeks. I had already tilted Stormking, way back when I was writing Cyan. The culprit was a rouge body passing through the Sirian system. I didn’t have to invent that; scientists believe that’s the way Uranus got tilted. I recently decided to make further use of it the rogue body by having it do major damage to planet number two.

I gave it a near miss. I may change my mind about that and give it a bullseye. I may even have my page-people discover that their scientists were wrong; that it wasn’t a near miss but a hit. Or maybe a so-near miss that the rogue was captured and is now part of the Swarm.

Here’s how it fell out in today’s (August 28th) rough draft.

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

Dreea was assigned to the cargo ship Typhoon. It seemed a silly name for a ship of space, especially one completely without streamlining. If it ever encountered a typhoon, it wouldn’t last thirty seconds.

Sirius was massive, and it’s system reflected the fact. The distance to the Goldilocks region was about five times as far as Sol to Earth, but it wasn’t a blown up model of the old Earth system. Having a second, shrunken star was enough to see to that, but it did have a hot planet close in and a more-or-less Earth sized planet in the third position. The planet which had held Venus’s position had been broken up by the same rogue body that had tilted Stormking.

That was important, and it was the reason that the Swarm was Typhoon‘s first destination.

The fourth planet in orbit of Sol had never coalesced because of perturbations from massive Jupiter. Consequently, all the asteroids in the belt were more or less uniform in composition. The beltmen of Sol had made a living there, but it had not been rich pickings.

The Venus-position planet circling Sirius had fully formed, with a core and tectonic plates. For billions of years gravity and convection has stirred the stuff of the second planet, and accumulated various minerals in their various places. Then the rogue body had passed so close that tidal stresses had shattered number two.

Pebble sized, and rock sized, and boulder sized, and mountain sized and continent sized chunks of the planet had been torn apart. The heat released had been tremendous. The outward force had been tremendous, but so was the combined gravity of all the pieces. Coalescence began at once, but gravity had to fight tidal forces, lateral velocities, and new heat energy when the pieces crashed together again.

After half a billion years, it had still not fully coalesced. It was still a mess, but it was a rich mess. It was as if someone had picked the Earth up, hit it with a giant hammer, and left all it’s mineral riches out in the open for easy exploitation.

Typhoon was to drop in, pick up a cargo of various minerals, and then proceed to Forge, the innermost planet where Sirius’s heat was abundant and open-air factories would turn Typhoon’s cargo into the goods needed throughout the system.

If you can call a factory open-air, on a planet whose atmosphere was long ago boiled away.

625. Gateway Drug

Science fiction is a gateway drug. I don’t mean a gateway into general reading; that would probably be Dr. Seuss. I mean a gateway drug into a life of exploration.

Harlan Ellison told this story on himself. He was on a tour of some space installation, probably Houston but I can’t be sure. It’s been years since I read the story. One of the pocket protector crowd came up and told Harlan that his stories had been inspirational to his career. In Harlan’s version of the story, he was unimpressed, but he had a carefully crafted curmudgeon persona, so who knows really. He later found out that he had been talking to an astronaut.

Space exploration is taken for granted today. The moon landing happened during my early twenties, but just a dozen years earlier, in the late fifties when I first became fascinated with science fiction, few people believed man would ever leave the earth.

Science fiction people — writers and readers — believed.

Science fiction has been a gateway drug for a very long time. In 1898, 16 year old Robert Goddard, already fascinated by science, turned his attention to space when he read H. G. Wells War of the Worlds.

With little outside help and while enduring the disdain of his colleagues, Goddard invented the liquid fuel rocket, then went on to invent the multi-stage rocket. He received patents for both in 1914 and had actually built and successfully launched a liquid fuel rocket by 1926. He went on to pioneer the use of gyroscopic control of steerable thrust rockets.

Goddard was launched by science fiction, and in turn he launched a whole flotilla of boy scientists building rockets in their basements and flying off to explore space in the science fiction of the twenties and thirties.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is named after him.

In 1905, in Transylvania (now in Romania) eleven year old Hermann Oberth became fascinated with the works of Jules Verne, particularly From the Earth to the Moon.

Oberth took training in medicine, but spent his spare time conducting experiments in rocketry. He studied physics from 1919, but his dissertation on rocket science was rejected as utopian. He chose to expand his work and publish it privately, saying he would become a great scientist even without a diploma. He was right.

His book, The Rocket into Planetary Space, became a classic. Its publication led to the formation of the VIR (Verein für Raumschiffahrt — Society for Space Travel) a German group which built and launched rockets in the years between the World Wars. Wernher Von Braun became a member. Oberth later became a mentor to Von Braun.

Von Braun’s work led to the V-2, and the V-2 led to every subsequent rocket built by the Americans or the Russians, including the Saturn V. Oberth was in the crowd watching its launch when it carried Apollo 11 to the moon.

Today Nova on PBS is probably the gateway drug for a life of fascination with space, and science fiction as literature has been largely co-opted by the movies. But there is a lot more content in a science fiction novel than Nova or Star Wars can present, and kids are still reading.

The first time a kid comes upon a science fiction idea, no matter what the quality of the work it appears in, that story is the one which counts. It doesn’t matter how many times the idea has been presented in the past, the story you read when you are twelve or thirteen is the one that stirs your juices and sets your neurons into a new pattern.

Maybe someday, some kid will be inspired by one of my books. The odds are against it so late in the history of science fiction, but it’s a comfort to know that it could happen.

624. Jandrax Meets Trenco

When I occasionally borrow, I take from the best. Tidac Wyrd s’Marquart got the s’ in his name from Andre Norton’s Star Gate. That is a classic novel unrelated to the movie or the TV series. The Marquart part, his fathername, did not come from Shrek; I wrote Valley of the Menhir years before Shrek came along. I picked up the notion of “avert” while I was visiting Earthsea.

When I decided to make Stormking fit its name, I was looking straight at my memories of Trenco. Actually, I hinted at that four posts back when I called Stormking “a place of Trenconian extremes”.

Trenco is a planet where the liquid isn’t quite water, and it rains 47 feet every night. Yes, I said feet. The entire ecosystem is made up a creatures who must be born, grow, procreate, and die in one planetary day. Their offspring will do the same tomorrow, and it gets mighty fierce. If you want the real scoop, read chapter 10 of E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol.

Dreamsinger has the same underlying theme as Jandrax, the oasis and the desert. In Jandrax most of a group of stranded colonists choose to stay in a fortified village while the remainder become wanderers, following the melt, a moving band of springtime. The wanderers life is crude, but they manage to squeeze freedom and joy out of it.

In Dreamsinger, the oasis is the buttoned-down Home Station in orbit, reasonably pleasant, but dull and lacking in freedom. The desert is the planet Stormking where a Uranian tilt turns the exiles there into perpetual wanderers simply to survive.

Back in 2015, when Cyan was due for publication, I pulled up my notes for Dreamsinger and wrote a few thousand words. Now that I am fully engaged in completing the novel, I found that writing again, and discovered a forgotten prolog.

Gaugi, a young girl exile, is speaking, telling a small part of her story before things shift to Antrim’s viewpoint. It is unlikely that this bit — or Gaugi — will end up in the final novel, but it gives a quick peek at the hardships the exiles endure.

The wind was fierce, but the wind was always fierce. So am I so it doesn’t matter, but it was making it hard to see and that can be dangerous. Deadly. The kamrak rose up before any of us had a chance to be ready for it, or to get out of its way, dripping acid, teeth and fangs ready. We scattered like quail — whatever quail are. They always scatter in all the Earthstories, so we scattered like quail.

Mazie didn’t make it. She almost did, but she didn’t. She fell down, tripped over a tilticle just before she got far enough away that the kamrak wouldn’t reach her, and then it had her. I saw it. I stayed to watch. She didn’t die all at once. That was the worst part. It was the acid that got her. The kamrak had her clawed so he didn’t bother to use his fangs. She lived longer than she needed to, longer than she should have, longer that I wanted her to. And I watched. I didn’t want to, but Ma told me early to watch everything, to always learn what I could. It might keep me alive and it might make my life better. I don’t know how watching the kamrak dissolve Mazie, screaming all the time would make my life better, but I learned more about how a kamrak feeds and someday that may let me escape like Mazie didn’t. I don’t know. Ma said learn everything, but watching Mazie die like that wasn’t something I really wanted to learn.

In that same packet from 2015, there was this description given to Antrim just before he joins the downsiders, by a pilot who knew them well.

Antrim, these people are smarter than you are, tougher than you are, and there is no softness in them. We’ve been dumping exiles onto Stormking for a generation. The dumb ones died immediately; the smart ones survived and had smart children. Those children have spent their lives surviving a harsher environment than you can imagine, no matter how hard you’ve trained. If you underrate them, you’re dead.

Sounds like studying the exiles might be interesting — if Antrim survives.

623. Hanging a Shotgun on the Wall

They call it foreshadowing, or sometimes hanging a shotgun on the wall. That’s from the old mystery novel rule, “If you hang a shotgun on the wall in chapter one, you had better shoot somebody with it by chapter three.”

You want to let your reader know what is about to happen, but not too much, and you don’t want to bore him in the process. It really isn’t easy. The 648 word prolog-as-teaser at the bottom of this post took me three days to get just right, and that was after I was already 12,000 words into Dreamsinger.

Time will tell if it actually gets used. I needed to give my reader a small look at family life on Home Station and tease him about the mystery of the exiles, without making it look too ordinary or too outré.

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

During the 115th year of the escape from Earth, Antrim was decanted. Four others had preceded him and three followed, all so close together that they shared a birthdae.

For a while, Antrim’s world was smelly, wet, loud, and untidy, full of strange hands and faces. Eight new babies and a rotating cadre of adults occupied Natal Intensive. Slowly the frequency of feedings and the incidence of fecal outflow slowed and soon only Ma and Da remained with the eight new children. Finally the spray hoses were removed, the floor drains were sealed, and the newbies were introduced to their first ferds.

There had once been a different name for them, but since the computer categorized them as Fecal Emission Retention Devices, they were now called ferds.

There also used to be a word for a group of young humans raised together by an adult male and female, but that word was out of fashion by 2242. Antrim and his seven sibs were Socialization Group number 1352.

Never mind that. They fought, hugged, smiled, frowned, screamed, sulked, and bonded with one another. They were a family, even though no one used the word.

Ma and Da actually had names, although the children didn’t learn them until much later, and they were unrelated to their kinder. They had high ma-pa-ternal indexes, and that was all that mattered.

For their first seven years, the children lived in their crèche and did not interact with the outer world. Da and Ma provided them with their education, aided by the central computer. It seemed normal to be a society of ten, since they had never known anything else.

They knew that at age eight they would join with three other socialization groups to become a schooling group. At age fourteen, they would begin to interact with the rest of Home Station.

Most of the adults on Home Station had never seen a child younger than fourteen, and did not want to. That also seemed normal. For now, eight children and two adults seemed just right.

Da taught history, mostly the history of their own small group of refugees, but also enough of Old Earth history to know why they had fled. Ma taught science and math.

When Antrim was six, they learned the planets. The computer provided a holograph in the center of the crèche with Sirius A in the center, Forge next out, then the broken cluster of planetoids called The Swarm, then Stormking, and finally Bifrost. Home Station was there, endlessly circling Stormking. Sirius B, various asteroid belts, and the other fourteen planets were missing from this first lesson.

Tril asked to see the surface of Stormking and the computer obliged. A three-D holograph filled the center of the room with a surging hellscape of rain and storm, but comp had made a mistake. This was not a censored version for an elementary lesson but a real-time display complete with struggling, nearly naked humans being battered by Stormking’s winds.

A sharp command from Ma cut it off and Mosh said, “Those were people. Why were there people on Stormking?” Ma refused to answer.

A few daes later, Antrim got Da aside and asked the same question. Da usually answered the questions Ma wouldn’t, but this time he was evasive. Antrim persisted, and Da finally said, “They are being punished.”

“For what? What did they do that got them into that much trouble?”

Da shook his head, and when it was evident that Antrim planned to persist, he said, “Stop asking. I’m not allowed to answer.”

“Why?”

“If I tell you, they will take me away from you.”

That put a stop even to Antrim’s curiosity. Then Da said, “If you still want to know when you are grown, come and ask me then.”

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

One page later, Antrim is twenty years old and his question to Da has not yet been satisfactorily answered. It will guide his life and the novel Dreamsinger as he chooses to study the exiles by living among them.

622. My Place or Yours?

If you didn’t read Monday’s post yet, go there first.

The most difficult problem I’ve had in getting under way with Dreamsinger is that I wouldn’t want to live as part of the culture of Home Station, the orbital habitat which most humans occupy. I need it as the flip side of the culture of the exiles on the surface, but I don’t like it.

Never fear, I’m a professional. I’ll get there, but there will be a lot of moaning, groaning, and cussing under my breath along the way.

One thing is in my favor — in world building, problems are answers. A perfect world might be pleasant to live in, but it would have no fodder for storytelling.

The situation in Cyan which led to the beltmen leaving Earth created a culture of enforced, extreme civility. That’s not natural for us hairless apes, so there has to be an enforcement arm with no sense of humor. That is the system of directed dreaming, explained Monday.

Directed dreaming is a system that needs overthrowing, and that will clearly be a major theme of the novel. But what else does it imply?

On Home Station, you don’t sleep. Therefore you don’t need a room. Your exercise/dreaming time is brief, so what do you do with yourself when you aren’t working? Where do you go? Once I had asked myself that question, I filled Home Station with lounges.

Also, if you don’t have a bed or a bedroom, where do you have sex? Let’s see what the rough draft says:

Antrim headed down to Heaviside Lounge for companionship and to purge his mind of the problems posed by Riff.

Beneath a flowering mimosa he saw a girl he knew. She had removed her shirt as a signal of readiness, but no one had yet joined her. Her name was — Broa. His mental hesitation triggered the Farleyfile which gave him a précis. Broa 14284. The number told him that she was one or two crèche releases older than he was. He had copped with her three times before, but he already remembered that. She was a tech working in hydroponics.

He stopped and smiled down at her. She said, “Want to cop?” and he said, “Sure.” He peeled off his shirt and she unfastened his pants. There was a snarl when they hit the floor and snagged on his shoes. Broa was already barefooted, and laughed at him as he extricated himself. He came down on her without bothering to remove her pants and met her mouth to mouth and tongue to tongue.

The pants came off soon after, and they put on a clinic of the four positions and the eight variations. Several of the other occupants of Heaviside Lounge wandered over to watch and admire.

Afterward, they talked for a while. Her eyes were on him, but her attention had wandered and so had his.

She levered herself up, pushed back her tangled hair, and said, “I have to shower before I go back to the hydros.” She kissed him again, lightly and briefly, picked up her clothes and walked away.

Antrim lay there admiring her back side. Nothing in the moment impelled him to run after her.

His mind was cleared, his body was spent, and the pleasure had been profound. But she was still, after four sexual meetings, so much a stranger that he had reflexively triggered the Farleyfile when he saw her. If he never saw her again, he would feel no loss.

It didn’t seem like enough.

Sex right out there in the open? Well, the future is supposed to be different and there are no secluded, grassy riverbanks on a space station. Actually, if you are living in society that controls your dreams, privacy is non-existent already. On Home Station, even the desire for privacy is considered a mental aberration.

In some ways, this culture is a bit of a feminist dream since everyone is completely equal and there is no power structure of dominance — except for the dream therapists, but that is a whole other level of this novel which we’ll get to eventually.

Everybody is comely. I don’t have space here to tell you where babies come from, but take my word for it, they all come out perfect. And it is considered impolite to refuse an offer to cop(ulate).

It sounds like a 14 year old boy’s idea of paradise, but it isn’t that either. Everybody on Home Station is so damned equal that nobody needs anybody. Want sex? Do it. Twenty minutes later you can each go your way without even exchanging names.

It’s very unromantic.

The culture of the exiles on Stormking, which we will see later, is based on survival. It is totally different, but also completely unromantic.

Antrim, our main character, has imbibed all kinds of romantic notions from reading the literature of Old Earth. He is seeking something neither culture stands ready to provide. He is going to have a rough time of it.

Corollaries, implications, and unexpected consequences of the structure of directed dreaming are falling out onto the page every day, often surprising the hell out of me. Weird things are happening and I haven’t even gotten to the culture of the dissidents who have been exiled to Stormking. Their lives are really different.

621. Dream Culture

For the last month or so I have been fleshing out one corner of a universe that I began writing about decades ago. My first SF novel was Jandrax, a lost colony story. Cyan came later, filling in the backstory of that same universe. Dreamsinger, which I am writing now, continues the process.

If you have read my novel Cyan, you will remember that when Keir visited the asteroid belt to view the B&A coreship, he discovered that the beltmen were secretly preparing an expedition of their own. They feared the impending destruction of Earth, but had no interest in colonizing a new planet. They had come to prefer life in space.

In the Cyan and Jandrax universe, the exploratory expedition to the Sirian system had found that the planet occupying the Goldilocks position — the distance from Sirius with the same level of radiation as Earth — was taken by a planet with a Uranian inclination. That is, it was tilted onto its back like a sad tortoise, with first one pole and then the other pointed toward it’s star as it moved through its orbit.

With no habitable planet, it was likely that Sirius would never again be visited by man. This made it an ideal destination for the beltmen who wanted to live in space without interference from planetbounds.

When the Procyon colonization expedition departed for Cyan, the beltmen were nearly ready to leave for Sirius. Keir’s last message was of farewell and good luck to them.

The beltmen had to build their craft in secret with minimal resources. It was a crowded, spinning torus which held 2000 refugees from impending disaster. Under-funded and under-powered, it would take an eighty-seven year journey to reach Sirius, and a generation would die in transit.

During that long, slow, crowded journey, civility became essential to survival. The refugees evolved a system called directed dreaming.

Once each day, each person entered into a dream like state during which her/his body (not under his/her conscious control) underwent rigorous exercise, followed by dreams tailored to keep them civil.

This is how it all sounds in the rough draft:

The dreamers were hanging, heads encased in sensory deprivation helmets, in ten rows of ten. They had already gone through their exercises, contortions that had stretched and strained every muscle and left them all soaked in sweat. Now they settled into a deep, quiescent, unmoving sleep

It looked like a grotesque mass hanging, but that was an illusion since their weight was just sufficient to keep them from bouncing off the ceiling. Being suspended by their necks at this level of gravity did not even cause discomfort.

Now, one by one, they began to move. An arm shot out here, fingers gripped nothing over there, arms crossed over chests to hold something in, legs shot out to kick some threat away. Each one was now in his own directed dream. Carefully tailored images were fed into their brains and they reacted. Uncivil inhibitions were destroyed; fears were dredged up and alleviated; prejudices were wallowed in until they seemed foolish. Angers were expressed in dreams, so they could be suppressed in waking life.

Dream therapy was every person’s right and obligation. Dream therapy was the key to civility. Dream therapy kept them all sane and happy.

It took less than an hour and a half, and afterward every person was ready to go back to his life. Each one was exercised, refreshed in mind and body, cleansed and cleared of all angers and resentment. There was no more need to waste a third of your life in sleep.

Sleep had never really knitted up the raveled sleeve of care anyway, but directed dreaming did.

You understand that I am setting this up as something that seems like a good idea, but isn’t.

Once the refugees arrived at Sirius, they immediately undertook the building of a larger station to be their new home. Directed dreaming continued to lubricate the wheels of progress, but not everyone agreed with this new way of life. Those who could not conform were exiled to Stormking, which was a place of Trenconian extremes, and a death sentence for most of those transported there.

I had already outlined all of this while I was still writing Cyan. For the last month or so, I have been fleshing it out. We’ll see some of the new thinking on Wednesday.