Sunday, January 31, 2021


NFFF sounds like a something you'd see in a grunt bubble in a comic book fight scene, and perhaps that is why the .org is also known as N3F.

Have you heard of it? The acronym-free form is The National Fantasy Fan Federation, and it is very well run by George Phillies.

"The mission of N3F is to help members enjoy and discuss science fiction and science fiction fandom, in all media.  The N3F welcomes the membership of fen of all nations, backgrounds, and political persuasions."

One of many good reasons to subscribe is that, "...if you are a dues-paying N3F member, and if you have recently published a novel, we will be happy to publish as a teaser the first chapter or so.  Please forward it to George Phillies,"

Few people write thank-you notes any more, but Keith Kupferschmid of the Copyright Alliance has made it very easy to thank your Congresspersons for passing the CASE Act. The draft note can be edited, toned down (it is a mite exclamatory) and otherwise personalized, which is a nice touch.

Assuming that giving thanks where it is due is a good habit, Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly has a wonderfully helpful article this week about freelancing: Four Fundamental Habits To Develop For Long Term Successful Freelancing, by Jennifer Brown Banks

All the best,

Rowena Cherry  SPACE SNARK™ 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Portraying Animal Viewpoints

Recently I've read several bestselling first-person, canine-viewpoint novels by W. Bruce Cameron, the trilogy A DOG'S PURPOSE, A DOG'S JOURNEY, and A DOG'S PROMISE, plus a stand-alone book, A DOG'S WAY HOME. (I've watched three movies adapted from them, too, and I recommend those films. They stick as close to the novels as practicable within their running times.) The latter is realistic, aside from the literary convention of having the canine protagonist narrate her experiences in articulate, grammatical English. The author's afterword mentions the extensive research he did to ensure that her 400-mile cross-country travels would be plausible and also discusses two important motifs in the story, breed-discriminatory legislation and therapy dogs for veterans. The trilogy is fantasy, since it deals with a dog's many lifetimes, reincarnated over and over as he/she strives to fulfill his/her purpose. (Even if I believed in reincarnation, I'd classify these novels as fantasy, since we have no way of knowing what the afterlife is like or exactly how the rebirth process would work.) These books portray the world through a dog's mind and senses, smell and hearing preternaturally acute by our standards, but an understanding of human words and actions necessarily limited. The canine narrator acts like a living video and audio recorder. He or she sees and hears everything that goes on within sensory range, but a lot of it goes over the dog's head. Therefore, the reader understands what's happening even when the narrator doesn't. The dog recognizes many words but is often puzzled by the context. For instance, why do people frequently mention the names of other people who aren't present? Why don't humans appreciate the importance of chasing squirrels or checking out intriguing scents? In a funny scene in one of the books, the dog thinks his owners are encouraging him to bark louder when they yell at him to stop barking. The dogs in Cameron's works don't talk among themselves. They infer the moods, motives, and emotions of other dogs from smells, nonverbal vocalizations, and body language. I highly recommend these novels. Yes, they're tearjerkers with sentimental happy endings, but I love that if it's done well, and the human characters have believable, non-trivial problems.

Fictional animal autobiography goes back at least to BLACK BEAUTY in 1877 (and earlier, according to Wikipedia). Again, the horse narrator tells his life story within a framework of equine perceptions and concerns. Human actions are described and interpreted as they directly affect him. Like Cameron's dogs, he and his animal companions don't talk. Aside from having a horse tell the story, BLACK BEAUTY sticks to events that could actually happen. Indeed, the author's principal purpose was to awaken people to the real-life sufferings of horses and incite reforms in the treatment of animals.

There's a similar level of animal verisimilitude in BAMBI (Felix Salton's novel, not the Disney animated film). The main difference is that the deer do converse verbally. Otherwise, they behave like normal woodland creatures.

The rabbits in WATERSHIP DOWN represent a step away from completely naturalistic wildlife behavior. They have not only a language but culture and mythology. The author, however, researched the actual lives of rabbits, making his characters behave like their nonfictional models. For example, extreme fear can make them go "tharn," paralyzed with terror.

Diane Duane's feline wizard trilogy, THE BOOK OF NIGHT WITH MOON, TO VISIT THE QUEEN, and THE BIG MEOW (the latter available only through the author's website), being fantasy, depart further from strict realism. This series features cat wizards with human-like intelligence and a complex feline language. Nevertheless, aside from their wizardly duties, they view the world and human society from a feline viewpoint. For instance, they make a sharp distinction between neutered and sexually active members of their species, and intact males, even cat wizards, still act like tomcats.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from BAMBI and Cameron's dog stories, we have books such as George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM. Although the pigs and other farm inhabitants retain many animal traits, they essentially serve the function of satirizing human political structures rather than attempting to portray the actual lives of domestic livestock.

At its best, deep-dive immersion animal viewpoint fiction can allow the reader imaginative access to minds unlike our own that we can nevertheless empathize with.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Reviews 60 - How The Multiverse Got Its Revenge

Reviews 60
How The Multiverse Got Its Revenge 

We discussed creating a World for a series of novels spanning multiple alternate Universes here:

How The Universe Got Its Revenge by K. Eason has a title that seems as if the novel would be a model for how to apply the considerations highlighted in those two posts.

I read the novel with great anticipation, and was just a bit disappointed because of my expectations.

The novel is not disappointing.  It's well done, for what it is -- a lot of combat scenes glued together with some plot and some vaguely sketched Relationships.

But I could imagine what a grand novel it would have been had it been a lot of Relationships challenged and welded together by some vaguely sketched combat scenes.

But for what it is, this is a very good book.

Most readers will enjoy How The Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K Eason - even without reading the prequel.

I read it in small snatches because (well, life, you know) but every time I had a half hour, or thought I would, I came happily right back to this book to see what happens next.

The book is well written, powerfully plotted, but skips around point of view among several sub-groups of the main characters in the previous novel. It shows clearly how their team has remained intact, even though they split up physically at the end of the previous adventures.  They won, and "retired' to new lives.

Only - well, life happens.

Now they are back at saving the Multiverse as they know it, with several species of people trying to form and hold profitable alliances.  The narrative does not dwell on the politics -- you grasp the sparse sketch of the politics instinctively.  It is a nicely set up situation that showcases the main characters combat abilities -- in skirmish after battle, after danger after near-miss.

So in a vague way, this novel does illustrate what happens when you mess with the Multiverse as these characters did in the prequel.  But I didn't see that it really lived up to its title about the nature of reality, the nature of life, the definition of "person" and the adversarial relationship between Reality (or THE Multiverse) and a small group of unlikely friends and allies.  

Given the title, Multiverse, I expected more modern science, math and theoretical physics explaining what the Multiverse is doing, why it is doing it, and what these characters can do about that.

Why "revenge" -- why is "the" Multiverse so petty, small, childish, petulant, and impotent?  Only the truly impotent seek "revenge" so why would some Macrocosmic All regard this ragtag band of political adventurers as a threat to be swatted back at?  None of those questions are addressed or answered or even sketched.

The definition of "revenge" is not addressed. That's what I kept coming back to the book looking for.  It isn't there. The characters are (mostly ) good people pitted against people who somehow intend to destroy the comfortable existence of good people. That might be revenge - or maybe not. The theme is not clear.

So if the title alone attracts you, maybe you should read the prequel HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE, or wait for the sequel and read all 3 at once.

But you won't get any real Romance out of it.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Power Of Thoughtful Questions

 "I ask questions for a living..." Larry King responded to an interviewer of perhaps the most famous interviewer of our generation.  

Larry King also shared some of his guiding principles, such as that an interview is about the interviewee, not about the interviewer, therefore he "left ego at the door". He "never brought [his own] opinion to [his] interviews." He believed in asking concise questions, and giving his guests an uninterrupted opportunity to answer.

Writers can learn a lot, craftwise, from public figures who ask questions for a living. 

While Larry King asked questions to edify and entertain and broaden the horizons of his viewers and listeners, asking questions of a different sort is the basis of an attorney's craft. Asking questions is also a critical part of a teacher's Socratic method to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas. The right questions, at the right time, and in the right order can often achieve what no amount of argument will do.

There is an anecdote in "Doesn't Hurt To Ask" by Trey Gowdy in which Gowdy gently roasts Senator Tim Scott for having a vanity license plate US SENATOR 2. Senator Tim Scott responds with a question: "How many times were you stopped last year by the police...?"

Off topic, but maybe vanity license plates that convey a helpfully reassuring message to law enforcement ought to cost no more than regular plates. Maybe somewhere on the back of a vehicle, it should be possible to have the photos of the licensed driver and co-driver of that vehicle.  If the need to ask to see License, Registration, and Proof of Insurance are the most dangerous part of a traffic stop, shouldn't those documents have an RFID chip that the police could read before approaching the driver's window?

One of Gowdy's chapter titles, likely to appeal to writers, is "A word is worth a thousand words".  That might be an oxymoron for the ages. Deep!  Another great insight from Gowdy's years as a prosecutor is that there may only be two witnesses to a murder. One is dead. The other is the defendant.

Another truth is that almost every human likes to talk a lot more than they like to listen. That gives huge life advantages to anyone who likes to listen, or likes to ask incremental questions and is willing to actively listen to the answers.

For authors perhaps wanting a refresher in character development, or the use of dialogue while in the POV of the questioner, Trey Gowdy's "It Doesn't Hurt To Ask" might be a goldmine. As Gowdy says, "Asking the right question is a devilish way to turn the tables."

All the best,

Rowena Cherry


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Digital Feudalism

In Cory Doctorow's early January LOCUS column, he discusses in considerable technical depth the surveillance and privacy (or anti-privacy) policies of big tech companies, mainly Apple but also others such as Facebook and Google:

Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor

He draws an extended analogy with the medieval feudal system. Private citizens besieged by cyberworld bandits have no practical recourse but to ally themselves with "warlords" who offer protection through powerful security measures unavailable to ordinary users. Behind the nearly impregnable walls constructed by the warlords—Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, etc.—we can consider ourselves fairly safe from encroachment by predators. Safe from everyone, that is, except the warlords themselves.

Doctorow's example of Apple's "feudalistic" practices: "For more than a year, Apple has engaged in a covert, global surveillance of its users through its operating system, which automatically sent information about which apps you were running to Apple, and which gave Apple a remote veto over whether that program would launch when you double-clicked it." The corporation might claim this feature protects users from malicious software, but it doesn't prevent Apple from blocking any software it chooses, whether harmful or beneficial. Furthermore, Apple also locks out programs consumers might use to turn off the surveillance and blocking feature.

The article cites various examples from other major corporations. It also explores entanglement between big tech and government, with the state claiming the right to mine data collected by technology giants. How chilling to contemplate that "the US government viewed the tech companies as host organisms to be parasitized at will, a force that would mobilize market investments to erect a vast, expensive surveillance apparatus that the state could then wield at bargain-basement prices."

If the only thing that stops Apple or any big tech lord of the manor "from blocking you from running legitimate apps – or from gathering information about your movements and social activities – is its goodwill and good judgment," what can we peasants do? Doctorow, of course, has some suggestions, but they're solutions no individual or small group of consumers can implement on our own.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes Part 2 - Find Some Crazy Ideas

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes
Part 2
Find Some Crazy Ideas

Part 1 - Star Trek Fan Fiction

We pointed to Star Trek as an example of a TV Show whose fans created fanfic -- some writers attempting to replicate the aired-Trek universe exactly, while others embroidered freehand to create alternate-Trek universes, from which other writers spun off alternate-alternate-Trek universes.

Of course, no matter how hard they tried, fanfic writers never could replicate the aired-Trek characters and ended up with "original" Spocks, Kirks, McCoys, and Scotties (and Uhuras and so on).

Seeing that, other fanfic writers just plain grabbed the archetypes and spun themselves original characters - sometimes using the aired-Trek names, and sometimes adding new characters, or just creating.

Some of those writers soon "went pro" and sold their own original science fiction for professional publication.

You might be surprised to discover how much fiction has been published (in various genres) "inspired by" aired-Trek.

Once inspired, a writer just doesn't stop.

So at some point, the writer originates material that requires several universes, parallel or perpendicular, branching from, and time-line-corrupted -- possibly just a dreamland the Character negotiates.

All of the Main  Characters' adventures as they splash through alternate universes and try to figure out "what the hell is going on" and "how do I get home from here?" -- all while rescuing each other from dire predicaments and sharing quiet moments of bonding -- have to be living a coherent path through their personal lives.

That means the essential theme has to be replicated in all the alternate universes they cross, and their responses have to generate further events (because line) consistent with the underlying premise of the alien universe.

You'll need a lot of material to create such alternate realities and lend them verisimilitude.

OK, so where do you get those crazy ideas from which to spin insane universes for your characters to traverse?

The solidity of your worldbuilding is even more important because it is not the focus, or the reason the readers are turning the pages.

Romance, and yes, Science Fiction, actually focus on the Character Arc - how the Character changes because of the impact of the plot events.

So the important thing about the Setting (which alternate universe they are in) is what they think is happening - much more than what is really happening.

What is really happening can be information the writer has but never imparts to the reader -- or even to the Characters.  What is really happening is the stuff of which sequels are made.

What the Characters think is happening is the most important element in both Science Fiction and Romance because from those inferences, the Characters will launch their responses to Events.  That's how Johnny gets his fanny caught in a bear trap -- the novel is about Johnny's adventures getting it out.

Show don't tell how the Characters responding to an incorrect take on the meaning of Events leads them to do things that just make matters worse.  At the 3/4 point, you can let it dawn on the poor blokes just how wrong they've been, so the "worm turns" and attacks the real problem.

The real problem will yield to that head-on attack, but if you leave out some information, the real problem will die down for a satisfying ending, but then re-grow from deeply buried roots, and attack again -- making a grand sequel.

To sketch out a story-dynamic of this type, the writer has to stockpile material -- sometimes for years and years.

The adage is "write what you know" -- but who knows life on another planet, or how any couple can achieve a "Happily Ever After" in this turbulent world?

The whole point of reading Science Fiction and/or Romance is that you don't know.

That's what makes an "adventure" -- not just that the Characters don't know, but that the writer doesn't know before writing.

But it is also true that the desk drawers (and hard drives) of writers are littered with abandoned books half-written and shelved.

Those projects become abandoned when the writer had to stop writing to do research.

Or it might be that the writer didn't stop writing to do research -- and as a result created a whole universe that just won't work at all.

The way to avoid both kinds of research problems is to be an eclectic and omnivorous reader, and stockpile heaps and heaps of useless information, ideas, points of view, emotions, and all the alternatives that humans have already created down through the ages.  And then just forget it all.

Absolutely forgotten - barely recognize if you ever see it again, forgotten.  No way you could verbalize any explanation but you fully understand it on a non-verbal level.

Once "forgotten" this kind of information forms a compost heap to fertilize the freehand invention of whole universes.

As needed, the writer wallops out a few words to "describe" (or more accurately, evoke) the entire alternate universe the Characters pass through on their adventures.  Two or three vivid details, a symbol, a souvenir or wound, and BAM, they are gone into the next alternate universe.

So what do you research to find bits to shovel into your compost pile of universes?

Actual reality makes a good start.

Theory, theme, ideas, bizarre occurrences (don't get me started on UFO stories!) and yes, even politics and religion, make grand sources of crazy ideas.  Romance writers need to read a lot of non-fiction on psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history.  Science Fiction writers need to read lots of science, peer-reviewed journals, but most importantly "junk science" and pie-in-the-sky theory at the tabloid level and the serious (but made-simple) kind of science reporter level.

Science Fiction Romance writers need both. The reading predates the writing by at least 10 years, if not 20, so start in elementary school.

Biographies are a good starting place, as you can discover which sciences enchant you most by reading the life story of those who have degrees in those fields.  And you need to read lots of biographies to be able to craft a Character Arc that will make your Characters seem real to your readers.

So a fiction writer stocks their compost heap with non-fiction.  A corollary to that is also true: a non-fiction writer stocks their compost heap with fiction.

Here is a non-fiction best seller -- stuffy academic topic; best seller status on Amazon in 2020 -- that weaves Sociology, with Politics, Anthropology, and the theory of governing HUMANS (not non-humans, mind you, so you have a lot of elbow room to create here).

It is a book ABOUT academe, but not academe itself.

It suggests a relationship (which may not be true for humans but might for some alternate universe non-humans) between the flights of fancy of academic philosophers inventing new Disciplines and courses in them, and the everyday "real world" you and I live in.

Maybe there is such a relationship, but it isn't configured the way this book suggests.  Or maybe, hitherto in human history, there has never been such a relationship, but today's academics are creating that relations (so in an alternate universe, what if they succeed? What if they fail? What if the whole thing turns on them?)

Here's the book, and its description from Amazon:

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody



------blurb from Amazon------
Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that you shouldn't practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Are you confused by these ideas and wonder how they have managed to challenge so quickly the very logic of Western society? In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay document the evolution of this dogma, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this dangerous and authoritarian orthodoxy.

--------end blurb------

Here's a quote from one of the early reviews:

....This book gives a detailed history of the movement to destroy liberal principles and replace them with Wokeness. It makes what is happening on our streets make sense. It explains the absurdity of things like the videos going around as I write this, of restaurant patrons being harassed by thugs screaming in their faces and demanding that they make a show of obedience and fealty to the mob.

-----end quote------

This book details a neat way of looking at history -- the evolution of IDEAS -- and it lends itself to Romance so very easily.

Take a couple, one holding one view on this matter, and the other holding the opposite view, each used to hanging out with people who reinforce their views.  What does she see in him?  What does he see in her?

But love conquers all, right?

Can such a couple survive without killing each other, or themselves Romeo and Juliet style?

The essence of story is conflict -- and I can't see anyone reading this book without fulminating with conflict.

If the topic doesn't  catch your attention, go on Amazon and put this paper copy book in your cart, then watch what Amazon recommends would interest you.  Find a topic you can fulminate over, read some of the books Amazon recommends (check ABE books for used copies, you likely won't want to keep), and then just forget the whole thing.

In a few years, you will "have an idea" for a novel.  Your idea will sprout from the compost heap of balderdash, bravado, and homespun nonsense you read and forgot years and years previously.

This non-fiction best seller contains the material for two, maybe three, whole alternate universes for your Characters to tromp through and fight about (and for, and against).  Don't ignore these kinds of books, and don't sell them short as source material for your compost heap.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Dry (Tax)

 "File and furnish a copy of Form 1099-NEC on paper or electronically by February 1, 2021."

So says the IRS. That's new, and different. Does it affect you?  It might, if you are a writer. Writers who make a profit from their writing in three out of five years are deemed to be professional writers (as opposed to hobbyists).  
Writing for profit might make you a small business owner, and as such, you should have an EIN (employer identification number). An EIN is a good idea, because you want as few persons as possible to know your social security number. For more information on getting an EIN free:

If you do business as an LLC (even a single member LLC), you need to file an annual report with your state, and pay a nominal annual filing fee.  You may  also need to file informational filings. 
In past years, authors would file a 1099-MISC  (line 7, the Non-Employee Compensation box) with any lawyer to whom you'd paid any amount, and to any non-incorporated business or individual (perhaps a webmistress or a researcher or a cover artist) that you'd paid $600 or more.
Also--which may come as a nasty surprise to authors and their fans--if you paid $600 or more (or equivalent value) in prizes and awards to a lucky contest winner, you have to file an informational return about that.  I am not clear if that is still 1099-MISC or 1099-NEC.
For 2020, the Non Employee Compensation box is gone from the 1099-MISC. Instead, you have to use Form 1099-NEC. You can get the forms free from the IRS, online if your equipment qualifies, or by mail if you file paper.

With the 1099-MISC, you had until Feb 28th to file.  Now, you have to get your forms in the mail and postmarked by January 31st (except the USPS is not going to be doing any postmarking on Sunday Jan 31, so the deadline is Monday Feb 1st this year.)

The info is a little confusing about whether payments to lawyers still go on 1099-MISC or 1099-NEC. The Taxpayer "Relief" Act of 1997 appears to have been written by lawmakers deeply distrustful of lawyers, but all should comply with the super onerous requirements!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Sufficiently Advanced Technology

As we know, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (Arthur C. Clarke). Conversely, many magical events in older fiction can be duplicated today by mainstream technology. A century and a half ago, someone who witnessed a translucent human figure floating in midair and emitting eerie moans would unquestioningly recognize it as a ghost. Now we'd respond with, "Cool special effect. I wonder how they did that?" Just such an apparition appears in Jules Verne's 1892 novel THE CARPATHIAN CASTLE, on the cusp of the shift between the two probable reactions. The local people think the vision of a dead opera star at the titular castle is her spirit, when it fact it's produced by a sound recording and a projected photograph.

In George du Maurier's 1894 novel TRILBY, the villain, Svengali, uses hypnotism to transform an ordinary girl who's tone-deaf into a famous singer. She can produce exquisite melodies only in a trance. When Svengali dies, she instantly becomes unable to sing. At the time of the novel's publication, little enough was known about hypnosis that this scenario doubtless looked scientifically plausible. Now that we know hypnosis doesn't work that way, Svengali's control over Trilby seems like magic, and to us the story reads as fantasy.

Several decades ago, I read a horror story about an author who acquires a typewriter that's cursed, possessed, or something. He finds that it corrects his typos and other minor errors. Gradually, this initially benign feature becomes scary, as the machine takes over his writing to an ever greater extent. He narrates his experience in longhand, since if using the typewriter he wouldn't even be able to demonstrate an example of a misspelling. At the time of publication, this story was an impossible fantasy. Now it would be merely a cautionary tale of a word processor with an excessively proactive auto-correct feature. From the beginning of J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas science fiction mysteries, set in the late 2050s and early 2060s, almost everybody carries a handheld "link," a combination communications device and portable computer. When the earliest books in the series were published, that device was a futuristic high-tech fantasy. Now the equivalent has become commonplace in real life. But another tool Lt. Dallas uses in her homicide investigations still doesn't exist and remains problematic. Police detectives employ a handheld instrument reminiscent of Dr. McCoy's tricorder to gather data about murder victims. One of its functions is to pinpoint the precise time of death to the minute. That capability would seem to run counter to the intrinsic limitations arising from the nature of the decomposition processes being analyzed. Therefore, the exact-time-of-death function strikes me as irreducibly quasi-magical rather than scientific, something the audience has to accept without dissecting its probability, like the universal translator in STAR TREK.

The distinction between science and magic can get fuzzy when nominal SF has a fantasy "feel." Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series takes place on an alien planet inhabited partly by descendants of shipwrecked Terran colonists. Strict "hard science" readers might not accept psi powers as a real-world possibility, however, and the common people of Darkover regard laran (psi gifts) as sorcery. Anne McCaffrey's Pern series, also set on a planet colonized by migrants from Earth, features fire-breathing, empathic, teleporting, time-traveling dragons. Although these creatures have an in-universe scientific explanation, they resemble the dragons of myth and legend. Robert Heinlein's novella "Waldo" blends SF and what many if not most readers would consider fantasy. The title character lives on a private space station because of his congenital muscular weakness. Yet he overcomes his disability by learning to control his latent psychic talent under the guidance of an old Pennsylvania hex doctor who teaches Waldo how to access the "Other World." Incidentally, "Waldo" offers an example of how even a brilliant speculative author such as Heinlein can suffer a lapse of futuristic imagination. Amid the technological wonders of Waldo's orbiting home, Heinlein didn't envision either electronic books or computer games; a visitor notices paper books suspended from the bulkheads and wonders how Waldo would manage to play solitaire in zero-G.

I've heard of a story (can't recall whether I actually read it) whose background premise states that, in the recent past, the wizards who secretly control the world revealed that all technology is actually operated by magic. The alleged science behind the machines was only a smoke screen. If such an announcement were made in real life, I wouldn't have much trouble accepting it. For non-scientists, some of the fantastic facts science expects us to believe—that we and all the solid objects around us consist of mostly empty space; that the magical devices we used to communicate, research, and write are operated by invisible entities known as electrons; that starlight we see is millions of years old; that airplanes stay aloft by mystical forces called "lift" and "thrust"; that culture and technology have advanced over millennia from stone knives and bearskins to spacecraft purely through human ingenuity—require as much faith in the proclamations of authorities as any theological doctrine does.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Reviews 59 - People of the City by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Reviews 59
People of the City
Marshall Ryan Maresca

Here is a non-stop action series we've discussed before,

And I do recommend the whole series, as a study in "worldbuilding" -- even though it is not Romance Genre or Fantasy or Paranormal Romance.

It has a couple of "love story" threads, but they get buried in the detritus of action-action-action.

As in much fantasy-action, the fighters get badly injured but recover quickly, much more quickly than is realistic.  This casts a "comic book" atmosphere around the "Magic" so that "Magic" is just a way of imposing your personal will on the world, the adolescent male wish-fulfillment-fantasy.

But Maresca uses Magic as only one small thread of the tapestry he is weaving before our eyes.  Watch his future novels built on this foundation -- and use your imagination to figure how, if you and your readers explore such a "world," you could illustrate LOVE CONQUERS ALL.  The problems Maresca is setting up are exactly the type that love is best at conquering.

With PEOPLE OF THE CITY, Maresca brings to simultaneous climax all the threads begun and richly colored, woven and showcased in the previous Maradaine novels.

I do seriously recommend reading them in the order in which they were published, as it is actually one, continuous, long story -- a story-arc -- that behind the non-stop action-action format, leaves us with many serious issues to consider on a fundamental level.  And that is what fiction has traditionally been for -- challenging pre-conceptions, prejudices, and assumptions while at the same time provoking thoughtful consideration of other  explanations for how things are which lead to how things might be "....if only."

The essence of science fiction is the three ingredients, "What if...?" "If this goes on ..." and "If only ..."    When mixed with science, these three thinking processes lead to ideas that have never been promulgated before.

With this blast of novels centered on the city of Maradaine, Maresca uses political science, psychology, sociology and anthropology (and Magic) as his "science" ingredient, spending all 12 of these novels explaining "the problem" and setting that problem against a detailed survey of the sociological organization of a city based on neighborhood gang rulerships of territory, drug cartel rulership of imports, people-trafficking, a righteous constabulary, a corrupt constabulary leadership, a King with major political problems, a Throne in question, and a university struggling to teach two antithetical theories of the universe - Mechanics of Machines and Science-vs-Magic.  There are also mandatory Magic-user monitoring and controlling organizations called Circles which one enters upon completing certain University training to obtain "power."

But as with humans (and these people are human, though different, and with races and cultures unfamiliar to the reader), it is all about "power" --  physical, psychological, knowledge itself, or magic (or the knowledge of magic) and psychological power of trickery, illusion, misdirection.  Apparently, Magic is an individual endowment one is born with, but acquiring power takes real work plus some arcane tools nobody really understands or has ready access to.

We, as readers, can see the analytical thinking of engineers applied to investigating how these magical tools and substances can acquire, store and deliver raw Magic-power, but the denizens of this complex world can't see it.

Except, one suspects in the distant past, they did see the combination of science and magic, and came to a bad end.  Thus in the era of "The Maradaine Elite" there is a young generation beginning to awaken to this combination, willing to explore the possibilities to gain enough "power" to counter the corruption destroying their City from the top down.

The title page of PEOPLE OF THE CITY indicted the next book, coming soon from DAW Books, will be titled THE VELOCITY OF REVOLUTION -- a title combining a scientific mechanical concept "velocity" which has both speed and direction, with "revolution" which likewise has mechanical implications but is often used to discuss changing political leaderships.

It sounds like a very clever segue into a story about combining Magic and Science -- and that is a combination I find endlessly fascinating.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Forced Transition (Why I Don't Eat Catfish)

Suggested soundtrack: "Eighth Day" by Hazel O'Connor, from the Breaking Glass album and movie.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of being terrified of the family toilet.  I thought mutant crocodiles might emerge and bite me while I went about my business. Horror from the sewer goes back much further. At least since 1941, spec fic writers have imagined what might arise from polluted waters.

Consider The Penguin, aka Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot. As they write on Wiki, credits to

"The Penguin is one of the major villains from DC Comics, most notably appearing as one of Batman's oldest and most infamous foes. The Penguin, like most of Batman's foes, relies heavily on gadgets, since he does not have any superpowers."

Batman is science fiction, isn't it? Soft SF?  Speculative fiction? It's the stuff of superheroes and supervillains, and of super-heroines and super-villainesses. In the case of Batman, the goodies and the baddies rely mostly on technology, but also on genetic mutation. They use costumes and secret identities, and usually, if anyone important dies, they are resurrected by supernatural means or supernatural intervention.

The Penguin is particularly interesting because his problems stem from toxic waste pollution, although, I don't think we are told why his aristocratic parents gave birth to a deformed infant.

What's In Your Sewage? asked a science blog in 2008

Already in 2008 they knew about the feminization of male fish in lakes, and also in coastal parts of the ocean. Some male fish were found to be growing female parts and even laying eggs, and larger predator fish were ingesting sex-changed smaller fish. Lake fish are the worst. Don't eat them.  Similar issues have been found in flatfish in the oceans for instance in plaice, sole, skates... in bottom feeders, one might say.

The 2008 science blog's bottom line is, "Don't flush your drugs."

We cannot help flushing hormone laden urine -- or can we?  Should we?  Those who take Viagra, the contraceptive Pill, vitamin supplements, morphine etc, and those who believe that the safest way to dispose of unwanted or expired pharmaceuticals is to flush them may send surges of unnatural substances into the wild.

With everything Big Tech knows about every individual, and the continued weakening of medical privacy regulations (Covid Passports?) it should not be difficult to identify persons who ought to be disconnected from sewers, or else surcharged for their ungreen sewage output. 
This week, we hear that in New York, where, it is alleged, unused/unusable doses of mRNA vaccine are being flushed down the toilet. One would have thought that administrations that claim to be concerned about the environment would use more caution. Have there been studies on what mRNA does to rats and cockroaches? Likely not.

Michael Savage explains a bit about how mRNA works here:
It is perhaps not a particularly helpful blog with regard to advocating for defeating Covid-19 through vaccination --which everyone, of course, should do-- but the quote from The Independent is edifying.

“It uses a sequence of genetic RNA material produced in a lab that, when injected into your body, must invade your cells and hijack your cells’ protein-making machinery called ribosomes to produce the viral components that subsequently train your immune system to fight the virus.”“In this case, Moderna’s mRNA-1273 is programmed to make your cells produce the coronavirus’ infamous coronavirus spike protein that gives the virus its crown-like appearance (corona is crown in Latin) for which it is named,” wrote The Independent.

Delving back into the sewage issue, it's not just a problem for fish and fish eaters.  Solid waste from treatment facilities is used on farmland, and may poison the worms --not in a good way-- which are said to accumulate pharma products and also residues of whatever is flushed from human bodies during showering (or baths).

The link from what's in your sewage to discussion of worms goes to a deleted page.  The link to an active, environmental blog does work, and is thought provoking.

For spec fic writers, perhaps the bigger problem for the world is not what humankind exhales (C02), but what personkind excretes into the sewers.  Bottom line, don't flush your drugs, either first hand or second hand.  Also, don't flush "flushable" wipes. They are not truly flushable or biodegradable.

All the best

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Robot Pets

Here are two articles about robotic cats and dogs manufactured to serve as substitutes for live pets:

Robotic Pets Help Seniors Avoid Loneliness

Can Robot Pets Provide Comfort?

A FAQ posted by a company that makes these artificial pets:

Joy for All

The products are claimed to "feel, look and sound like real pets."

Some years ago, I remember reading news stories about robot dogs that looked like robots rather than real dogs. They were metallic instead of furry, which doesn't sound to me like a proper appearance for a surrogate pet. It would seem more like a clever toy, not a quasi-living animal. These present-day robotic pets look like animals, as shown in the still photos anyway. Or, at least, like cuddly stuffed animals—the kitty pictured on the first page linked above seems to resemble a toy more than a live cat. I didn't come across a video showing whether or not their movements appear natural rather than mechanical. They're described as interactive, but the FAQ linked above doesn't specifically state what they do. One of the articles does mention the robot dog performing some typical canine actions such as barking, panting, etc.

These devices remind me of Philip K. Dick's classic DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? In that dystopian future, human-caused mass extinctions have made live animals extremely rare and expensive. Therefore, people buy artificial pets as substitutes, such as the electric sheep in the title. Fortunately, we're nowhere near that plight yet. Today's robot dogs and cats are meant as pet surrogates for isolated elderly persons who can't own real animals because of health, housing, or financial constraints.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes Part 1 - Star Trek Fan Fiction

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes
Part 1
Star Trek Fan Fiction 

In August 2020, the creator of the Sahaj Series of Star Trek fan novels asked if she could have a scene where Sahaj tours across universes, comes to the Kraith alternate universe, and wants to Affirm the Continuity with his father, Spock, but the Kraith Spock.

I said, YES!

The Affirmation of the Continuity is a ceremony I invented for my Kraith Vulcans while writing my Kraith Star Trek fanfic series.

In the early 1970's I wrote STAR TREK LIVES!

at the same time I was writing Kraith stories (and managing the gaggle of Kraith Creators who wanted to write in my alternate-Star Trek Universe),

 and on alternating days I was also writing my Sime~Gen Universe novels.

I sold my first story, the first Sime~Gen story professionally published, in 1968 for the January 1969 issue of Worlds of If Magazine (edited by Fred Pohl, who later bought STAR TREK LIVES! when he became editor at Bantam Books).

That is OPERATION HIGH TIME - set at the threshold of the Sime~Gen Space Age.  You can find the issue here:

The Kraith Universe and the Sime~Gen Universe have both attracted writers who contributed their own ideas to the Universe that I built, but both have also inspired writers to create ALTERNATE universes to mine, just as Star Trek inspired people to create alternate universes to aired-Trek's universe.

Sime~Gen is my own, original creation, but Kraith is built from aired-Star Trek and Kraith is an alternate Star Trek universe that has spawned alternate universes.

Later, I also contributed stories to other established novel-universes by famous authors I grew up being inspired by, Andre Norton and Marion Zimmer Bradley when they did anthologies of other writers creating in their universes, just as we are now doing anthologies of Sime~Gen stories by many other writers.

Writing in other people's universes, is complicated and all-absorbing. Writing in their Universe with the intention of adhering entirely to canon as defined by that original author is just like Worldbuilding From Reality -- there are things you have to learn and then account for if you violate them.

Here's the index to Worldbuilding From Reality:

Your job, as a writer of fiction, is to create a whole "Reality" where it seems inevitable, and self-evident, that "LOVE CONQUERS ALL" and the HEA are inevitable, real, tangible, unavoidable -- but there are obstacles to overcome.

That is a "meme" floating around in various versions of conspiracy theory commentary, which I found on Facebook having been posted by Donald Brinegar ( ) who apparently searched for the earliest form of this image.

As I see it, the point isn't what image you see among the dots on the final panel, but rather the point is that the human brain FILLS IN LINES that are not there.

Presumably, imagination is a survival trait.

If imagination is a survival trait, imbibing fiction in whatever medium is handy (from Shaman tales to  Streaming TV) is the way to train the imagination to see the underlying patterns behind the data-dots.

You imagine correctly, you survive longer than if you imagine incorrectly. 

OTH erring on the side of "here be monster" is likely a survival edge. 

We all imagine. Train your imagination - train your kids' imagination - and get closer to surviving real threats. It doesn't take a "conspiracy" to survive.  It only takes individuals with well trained, honed, imagination, and the ability to know WHEN imagination is engaged, and when it's just data, information, and maybe knowledge.

The panel labeled "Data" is a good representation of the "reality" your reader lives in.

This is the reality you share with your reader, and it is the bedrock of all the alternate universes (or imagined Time-Travel settings, such as ancient Scotland) you create for your Characters to visit.

Readers who've grown up on fanfic, online or in 'zines, will have trained their imagination to take their perception of the aired-TV (or novel) Universe as "Data" -- and ride with you as you re-transform all their data into "Information."

Maybe after a few Seasons, or novels, you show them "knowledge" about their favorite Characters that they never guessed existed.

From watching and analyzing the Source Material (Reality, a TV show, a Novel Series), your readers have a set of lines connecting their colored-in Information-dots that is entirely their own.  Finding a writer who fills in the connecting lines the same way is a thrill.

Some readers, especially fans of science fiction, will be even more thrilled to find a writer who connects the dots in a different way than they do - they're open to a good alternate universe.

Using the tricks of the writing trade, you can lure them into a story and convince them of the solid, plausible reality of the universe with which your Characters must cope.

If you "plant" a foreshadowing dot in the first Episode, or novel, in your series, then you color in the texture of each dot in subsequent episodes, then you connect the dots with lines just the way they would, (show don't tell is the craft skill for doing lines), then you can trigger "INSIGHT" -- the connections among apparently unconnected data-dots.

Somewhere between book 20 and maybe 25, the bits of insight, the resonances, become "WISDOM " -- the understanding of your complex bundle of universes.

The reader lives in one universe, you live in another, but they have patterns in common.  Show don't tell, illustrate, use symbols.

And use unique vocabulary, to hint at resonances among your Characters' universes.  Show how the vastly different settings and cultures construct imaginary lattice works of lines between the data-dots - but we all live among the same data-dots.

Fanfic uses a fictional-reality (TV, film, books) as if it were "reality" while your original Science Fiction Romance uses the reader's reality.

To create your Aliens - you use the same data-dots as your reader but color and connect them differently to make information.

Show the reader that even with all the additional decorative color and lines, the Alien civilization, culture, and peoples have something in common with humans.  Science fiction writers generally rely on physics and math -- assuming Aliens have to cope with the same laws of physics that we do.

That might not be entirely true in some of your Alternate Universes or historical realities.  The physics might be the same (or a bit altered with a different speed-of-light, for example), but the interpretation might be different, and there might be concrete evidence to support your Aliens' interpretation.  Humans who ignore the Aliens' "Wisdom" about their world will not survive long.

So square the human and Alien off against each other, and watch them argue about what "THEORY" picture is "real" when all the dots are connected.

Flip your characters between Universes, where the rules differ, then flip them into a Universe neither knows.  See if they team up to survive, or fight to the death and create a Legend for that unknown universe.

What is true? What is real?  What "all" might Love not conquer?  Would the lovers have to reincarnate and have another go at it if they failed to summon the power of Love?

As writers, we think about point of view.

Do you need knowledge before you can have insight or wisdom?  Or can you start with Wisdom and back-figure to knowledge?

Can an Alien brain avoid imagining a recognizable image superimposed on data-dots like the Unicorn here?

Do different people have to draw different parts of the Unicorn, and argue over where the lines go?  Argue over each others' imaginary lines?

Or does each person sketch their own reality out of the scattered bits of data that they perceive around them?  And not everyone sees all the data that's there.  How much of what's there do you let the reader see?  How much do you demand the reader just imagine on their own?

There are numerous neurological studies showing how the human brain fills in the gaps in personal reality with imaginary "lines" that, after a while, become solid truth, an inescapable reality, common knowledge.  This tendency is so well known, it is used when comparing "Eye Witness Accounts" of an Event.  No two people will report it the same way.

Today the popular example is phone videos of people doing (or not-doing) things -- and the added complexity of what is termed "deep fakes" (videos cleverly altered to make it seem some celebrity said something they actually never said).  It isn't just editing with cut-and-paste tools, but actual altering of the digital recording.

Your reader's "Reality" has become malleable and a matter of opinion.

Given the familiarity of imposing imaginary order on natural chaos as the human brain is hardwired to do, how difficult can it be for you to convince a reader that your bundle of alternate universes are plausible?

Maybe your Aliens have a more accurate interpretation of our reality than we do?  Or maybe they can change it at will?  How can Love conquer that?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Over Watch

Today's theme is about over-reach, surveillance, games, greed and naming rights... of a timepiece. Please decide for yourself which is which.

Tech expert and ethical website developer Ibrahim Diallo poses a very interesting question: "Why ask the user what they think if you can watch exactly what they are doing?"

He was watching over a friend's keystrokes, initially without her knowledge or consent, when he came to an ephiphany about how moral lines may be blurred for the sake of convenience.

"Mouseflow" is on the legal blogging radar. Allegedly, Blizzard, also WebMD, and Chevrolet use a particular spy technology to surveill everything a user does with his/her/their mouse when visiting their sites. Blizzard Entertainment and Mouseflow are allegedly being sued by a Californian resident for invasion of privacy.

According to the law suit, Mouseflow captures and records, "full activity, location, device type, referral source, duration of session, browser/operating system, and much more."

Legal blogger Rick Zou, for the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz explains some of the ramifications for IP and Media Law.

Meanwhile, an Australian law suit is worth watching. A famous person attempted to monopolize a fairly common surname, including with regard to wristwatches, although that surname was already trademarked by an older watch-making company.

Shaun Creighton and Daniel Moulis for Moulis Law pose some questions that are interesting not only to purveyors of timepieces, but also to writers. 

For instance, "Can a famous person obtain monopoly rights over their common surname?"  and "Does a trade mark for a first name and last name prevent others from using just the last name on goods or services?" and "What legal rights do celebrities have in their names?" And more.

Disclaimer: the definition of Over Watch was taken from The Century Dictionary.

  • To watch to excess.
  • To exhaust or fatigue by long want of rest.
  • To watch over; overlook.
(It is also the name of a game which does not appear to be implicated in any of the stories reported on above.)

All the best, and Happy New Year!