Tag Archives: memoir

634.1 Critter Count

I have a post about two new critters who came to visit, called Stinky Boy and his Cousin. It was supposed to be posted yesterday, but the tribute to Alexi Leonov pushed it forward to the Monday before Thanksgiving.

As I was writing that post, I was a little uneasy. It ended up mentioning a large cadre of critters. Even though I made it clear that many only came by once in more than a decade, I still wondered if some readers would imagine that I live in a virtual zoo, instead of normal foothills full of sweet but ordinary creatures, and more rarely visited by the exotic.

Then today happened.

We went out early by car to watch a cattle drive which happens twice a year, going to the high country in spring and back down to the foothills in the fall. The critter count included cows, horses, dogs, and cowboys, but they don’t really count because they are all domesticated. Except the cowboys.

Driving back to my house, I had to brake for quail flying across the road. Driving on down toward the valley afterward, we had to dodge a tarantula crossing the road —

“Why did the tarantula cross the road? Mating season.”

— then passed a flock of turkeys in a neighbor’s yard. Still less than two miles from home I saw an egret standing at the edge of the lake waiting for a fish. Yesterday at the same spot I saw a flock of geese floating on the water.

A moment later a vulture swooped down. For a moment we were bracing for a collision but he was only interested in a piece of road kill in the ditch.

Okay, you’re right. I do live in a zoo.

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633. Good Books for Kids

When I was a child, I read as a child,
I thought as a child, I understood as a child:
but when I became thirteen,
I switched to Clarke and Heinlein.

That pretty much screws up 1 Corinthians 13:11. And it isn’t exactly true. When I was a child, i.e. about twelve, plus or minus, I read what was available, and it wasn’t always great. It was primarily science fiction and mysteries, by which I mean Tom Swift, Jr. and the Hardy Boys. You could buy them in a toy and hobby store on the main street of Coffeeville, Kansas, one of the towns we shopped in. There were no bookstores; there were libraries, but I didn’t know that yet.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate, which ground out novels for kids like Hershey’s grinds out chocolate bars, was actually the best thing that ever happened to rural American youth for most of the twentieth century. I read them, my grandfather read them, and kids were still reading them when the millennium rolled over. They weren’t very good. In fact, a lot of them were terrible, but they were there. For a kid out in the sticks who liked science fiction, the choice wasn’t Tom Swift or something from Arthur C. Clarke. It was Tom Swift or nothing.

When I started going to libraries a couple of years later, my possibilities were expanded, but it was still a small library. I read a lot of things that I would never have touched if more had been available. I read a lot of books meant for adults, but that’s the goal anyway. I also read books way below my level, because they were there.

I recently remembered a book I hadn’t thought about since those days, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Elanor Cameron. I was too old for it when I read it, but I still loved it, so much that I tried to find it again. No luck, but I did get a copy of the sequel.

I couldn’t read it. I could barely read it when I was thirteen, but if I had gotten to it when I was eight, I would have been in love.

That got me to thinking about what makes book a juvenile, as they were called then. The Mushroom Planet books would not have qualified. They were for children. Juveniles were for boys who were anxious to become men.

Of course there were juveniles for girls, but girls and boys were separate species in the fifties, so I can’t report on their books.

Heinlein did a lot of juveniles which I’ve already talked about. (See posts 311 and 513) My real favorite juvenile writer was Andre Norton, and I’ve done a few reviews on her as well. (For science fiction see posts 262 and 263, or others see posts 260 and 261.)

What Heinlein, Norton, and many other juveniles authors had in common was that their characters were not yet adults but were given adult roles by the author. The Heinlein characters were often learning a futuristic trade under an adult. Norton’s characters were often being stranded on an alien planet. Outdoors and with no other kids in sight — she was channelling my childhood.

Today’s young adult books seem to be quite different from yesterday’s juveniles. First, they are targeted for slightly older audience, and second, 2019 isn’t 1959. The audience itself is different.

I can’t imagine a modern kid reading the early Nortons I loved so much. With only slight exaggeration, those Nortons were about a young person alone in a wasteland, trying to survive the dangers of nature, and modern kids live in crowded cities trying to survive the dangers inflicted by the adults around them.

I wouldn’t want to be a modern kid, and I understand why the books of my childhood probably wouldn’t mean much to them.

I taught middle school for twenty-seven years and I tried to keep abreast of what was available for my students, but I’ve been out of that loop for a while. I used to go to every Scholastic book sale to see what was new and good. The answer — damn near nothing. The few good books the kids had to choose from were mostly reprints from way back when.

Those book sales were where I found Fog Magic by Julia Sauer. It’s a wonderful book but it was published in 1943. Later I found A Storm Without Rain by Jan Adkins published in 1983. That’s still almost four decades old. Both were time travel stories of the old style; that is, without a time machine. The kids just went back in time and never understood how it happened.

I also stumbled across a fine steampunk novel, before I really knew anything about steampunk. That would be Airborne by Kenneth Oppel, published 2004. At least we are getting into the right millennium.

Harry Potter? Tried it, couldn’t read it. Twilight and the Hunger Games? Don’t want to, and if you don’t know why, I could never convince you.

Good books for kids are rare. Fortunately they stay around forever.

Why didn’t I mention A Wizard of Earthsea? You can’t pigeonhole it as a juvenile or a young adult book. It’s literature. Buy it for your kids and read it yourself.

More Power

Hi, folks, I’m back. It’s five o’clock here on the west coast and I’m just getting home from helping a friend. I see that my power is restored. It went off 3:30 PM Wednesday and came back 1:30 PM Friday. That’s forty-six hours of no light, no computer, and spoiled food in the refrigerator, all of which was no fun. It was also forty-six hours without news of natural disasters or the liar-in-chief. My friends tell me it’s been a rough two days, so I have to go now and see how bad things got. Vacation is over.

630. Sequel

I spent most of the summer trying out possibilities before settling on Dreamsinger as my next novel. One thing I considered was a sequel to A Fond Farewell to Dying. FFTD was set in a post nuclear war/post rising of the waters world. I wrote it before global warming became obvious, and my main character thought the flooding was due to the nukes that opened up the San Andreas fault. I don’t feel obligated to agree with him if I write another novel.

There would be several advantages in this sequel. I wasn’t done with my characters, even though FFTD had a proper closure. I had several bits and pieces of story that needed telling, but not enough to make a novel. I had a dandy idea for a third novel, if I could find a good second one to sew everything together.

In FFTD, the protagonist starts out in Ozarka, the island chain that lives in the middle of a much expanded Gulf of Mexico, but this is told as a flashback. The shattered, inundated remains of NorAm are not explored, and I felt there was a lot to see there. I wanted my old characters to fade into the background, letting me tell the next story through new eyes.

On a practical note, I’ve lived fifty years in California but only two of my novels are set there, and neither is science fiction. I know a lot of stuff that is going to waste.

So I decided to bring in a new character. He (I don’t know his name yet) is not so driven as David Singer was, but he is still a backwoods kid who has a lot to learn. That’s always useful; it lets us learn along with our character. I decided to let him grow up on an island off the coast of what is left of California, make his way across the now flooded Central Valley, spend some times in the former gold rush towns which will become seaports by his time, then head north walking along the crest of the Sierra/Cascade ranges. Up north he will come in contact with the characters from FFTD and his story will meld with theirs, but I don’t have that completely figured out yet.

I could tell you more, but at this point everything is still malleable. In fact, it is probably too soon to write this story; it needs to ferment a few more years.

Just to get a feel for this new novel, I wrote a few hundred opening words. You can have a peek at what may be coming, if you want.

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

1.

The town I reached was a haphazard scattering of buildings up the dense green slopes of what was once the Coast Range, mostly built from sawn driftwood. At sea level were shacks and several small piers for fishermen, as well as a longer one for oceangoing vessels.

As for me, I was an invading army of one. Maybe I should say navy, since I was coming in from downcoast in the middle of a sealskin and driftwood kayak of my own making. I had left my birthtown two weeks ago, heading north to find a bigger life. Here and there I slept on islets, and cooked fish over driftwood fires, but mostly I just paddled all day with the sunrise on my right and the sunset on my left, and slept on the waters each night.

This place was not going to give me the life I wanted, but that long pier meant ships would come eventually. I beached the kayak on the open shore and dragged it into the brush, out of sight.

First things first. There were hundreds of streamlets coming down the steep, west facing slope. I picked one, walked up until I reached a waterfall, and let it sluice two weeks of grime and stench off my body. I swilled my fill of fresh water that had not spent days in a stoppered gourd. Then I walked on up the beach.

The first man I saw was a fisherman. So were the next dozen.

You could read the history and the future of the town in its architecture. There were a dozen huts on stilts paralleling the beach. The first actual houses were three hundred yards up a steep zigzag, and a hundred feet above the water.

Conclusion: from time to time a storm would wipe out everything below those houses. Prediction: someday, tomorrow maybe, or maybe ten years from now, a larger storm would wash the headland clean and this town would become a memory — if anyone survived to remember.

The first man I met looked me over and snarled, “Where did you come from?”

“Pirling. Two weeks south, out on one of the islands.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Kayak.”

His eyes ran down the beach behind me, looking, but he didn’t ask where I had hidden it. He said, “We all work here. No handouts. What can you do?”

“Anything you can do.”

#             #             #

For two weeks I worked, harder than anyone in the town. I wasn’t trying to impress anybody. It’s just that I had no friends or family, and nothing to keep me occupied but work. I slept on the beach. The sand was comfortable enough, and my boudoir was swept clean twice a day by the tide.

My body was comfortable, my belly was full, and the surly bastards I worked with never asked any questions. But my mind was trying to crawl out my ears to find something interesting to think about. Fat chance in that town.

Then a ship came. She was called Mariposa, Spanish for butterfly, a twenty-five meter schooner with a ferrocrete hull. I went aboard and looked for the skipper.

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

His next stop will be the shattered remains of nuked San Francisco, with only Nob Hill still above the water. Maybe. Someday. If I get that far down the list of books-to-write.

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.

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.