My First Book is Published!

Brighter than the Stars is available on Amazon. I held onto this book a long time before finally deciding it was completed.  But at some point you just have to put it out there and hope.  Not that I have much in the way of hopes for sales. This is mostly a project for self-satisfaction. I really like this book. The few people who’ve read it really like it. Whatever sales I get are a plus.

I don’t want to say too much about Brighter than the Stars. The synopsis on Amazon describes the basic plotline well. What I’ll do here is discuss some of the “hidden” extras I added, and talk a little about the alien species and what they really mean.

First of all, here’s the link to Brighter than the Stars:

As I wrote this book, I was listening to music. There is a very strong leitmotif of music throughout, starting with the obvious references to the 1960’s pop stars that the Cygnians emulate in their disguises while they are on earth. But there are many more subtle references. Here are some of them:

The section titles are all song titles. “Strange Days” and “Waiting for the Sun” are Doors songs. “Alien Shore” is from Rush.

The name of the capital city of Tertia, Juturna, is both the name of an album by a favorite band of mine, Circa Survive, and a Roman Godess.

There are other references to song and album titles in the section on Juturna. If you’re a Circa Survive fan, you might notice them!

The aliens.  Brighter than the Stars introduces the reader to four different alien species. Each represents an aspect of human nature by exaggerating those traits.  I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to create aliens that were completely different than humans, or to do the more common thing of making aliens with some human traits. Much science fiction dispenses with any real differences between aliens and humans. Yes, the aliens LOOK different, but they are scheming, power hungry, love their children, etc etc, just like us. For example, I just read Verner Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep”, and loved it. But the Tines, while very different from humans superficially, seem to pretty much have all of our psychological traits.

My aliens are a compromise.  Each species emphasizes some part of our nature and diminishes other parts.

The Cygnians are the real stars of the book. They are herd animals that learned to fence-out their predators. Over time, the fences have become a kind of religious icon. They are conservative, obsessed with meeting quotas (herd goals), not strongly individualistic at all. While mostly passive and non-violent, they can become violent when threatened.

The Arcturans are wolf-like predators who live on a harsh world. They have an insatiable need for violence and a culture that tolerates killing far more than any human culture does. They are highly intelligent pack animals, but no pack survives long without a fatal conflict or two.

The Eridaneans are satyr-like creatures that have developed a culture centered on negotiation, compromise, and talking through problems. They can tire any opponent out with endless negotiating.  They are the creators of Tertia, a pleasure planet that tolerates the vast differences of many different species, and toleration is one of the Eridaneans most desirable traits. Unfortunately, getting things done seems relatively unimportant to them and they are notorious for talking about problems rather than solving them.

The Sirians are a very old culture that is so technologically advanced that individuals can spend their entire lives doing nothing but pursuing pleasure. And this they do with gusto.  In appearance, they are very similar to the big-eyed aliens depicted in popular culture. You can see their images everywhere if you go to Roswell New Mexico – and the Sirians were the ones who crash-landed there, by the way!  But Sirians are also deeply loving creatures who care very much about others. Because their planet is so near earth, they’ve visited us continuously for hundreds of thousands of years, and some Sirians have developed quite a strong feeling of attraction to humans. Their frivolous nature makes Sirians seem ridiculous to the very serious Cygnians who have no respect for them at all.

I could say a lot more, but why not take a look at the synopsis on Amazon, or even buy the book. If you do, let me know what you think.

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Just a Minor Firmware Upgrade

This story hasn’t found a home yet, but it’s probably my favorite of all the stories I’ve written. The Sirian character Inkohatum is a blend of several people I’ve known, and the scientist, Gerry, is a lot like me.  The story is in part, a humor piece, obvious to anyone who reads the first two paragraphs, and takes place in Chicago, the city of my birth and where I lived for many years.

Here is some background not included in the story to better understand the setting of “Firmware Upgrade”. It was inspired by books I read some time ago – Michael Moorcock’s “Dancers at the End of Time” series. In those books, humans have developed such incredible technology that they can do almost anything, and they thus become jaded and frivolous. The Sirians of “Firmware Upgrade” are much the same, unimaginably powerful as a group, frivolous and childish as individuals. But unlike Moorcock’s characters, some Sirians try to maintain the old ways, determined to fully understand the technology they’ve created. They fear that their own species is losing it’s ability to do this and so decide to train other species. Thus Inkohatum’s uncle, the Learned Nefer, who works closely with Gerry, one of Earth’s greatest physicists.

As the story develops, it takes on a darker tone, and Gerry discovers that there is a sinister side to the Sirian  mind.  But you’ll hopefully be able to see that for yourself as soon as the story gets published.

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Intelligent Design

Intelligent design is the evil stepchild of a way of “thinking” that goes back to the time of Darwin. In it’s most simplistic form it’s known as “creationism” – now renamed to “young Earth creationism”. It’s the concept that the ostensibly biblical six-day story of creation is in fact correct. Leaving aside the disturbing fact that the bible has more than one creation story, it’s still such a ridiculous idea that I wouldn’t even attempt to write something based on it.

But “old Earth creationism”  or Intelligent Design is another matter. In this slightly more sophisticated “theory”, the evolution of new life forms over a long time span is accepted, but there’s an invisible hand guiding it all. That hand is, of course, the Christian God, though the proponents make a point of never stating that.

Now I don’t buy into that theory either, but I write Science Fiction, and I started to think: What if they were right. What would be a scientifically plausible scenario where Intelligent Design could be believable?

And I also speculated that if living beings were designed by some greater intelligence, the religious fundamentalists behind the Intelligent Design movement might not actually be too happy to learn the nature of that intelligence.

This story is the result of all that .


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The Vanishing Hairdresser

My third published Sean and Cindy story finds our heroes helping local Sheriff Ollie Gustafson to solve a mystery – what’s happened to Cindy’s hairdresser, her husband, and their three miniature schnauzers? This story, while it stands alone, depends on my two previous Sean and Cindy stories for full character development.

I tried to write this like a classic mystery complete with red herrings and a limited point-of-view (Cindy’s) so that the reader can slowly discover facts as the POV character does.  These red herrings, or false leads are part of what I love about the British mystery shows I eagerly devour, shows like George Gently, Touch of Frost, and Foyle’s War.

Here’s the link:

Vanishing Hairdresser

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Taking A Break

I really just had to stop writing for a while. It can be so frustrating, so unrewarding. In business, I did something and I saw the results, usually right away. And people told me what they thought about what I did – good or bad.

But it’s not like that for a writer. You get a LOT of rejections and usually there’s no explanation. Even when something gets published, the feedback is minimal. And there’s this growing feeling I’ve been having  that science fiction stories just don’t matter as much as securing the computer networks of large corporations – which is what I did in the business world. And it’s true! SciFi stories are just entertainment. But an unsecure computer network can cost a company billions, cause people to lose their jobs, upset who-knows-how-many customers, etc.

I got to the point where I couldn’t write anything. It was probably triggered by the repeated rejection of a story that’s one of my personal favorites – a story I’m convinced is better than dozens of published stories I’ve read. I originally called it Intelligent Designers, then changed the name to Just a Minor Firmware Upgrade. Although it’s gotten its share of form rejections, there have been two odd personal rejections, one mentioned earlier in this blog in THIS post, and one a few days ago – two words long – “Not Bad!” That’s it. A form rejection with Not Bad! tacked onto the end of it. Thanks a lot for nothing!

I know that rejection is the universal experience of the writer (unless you’re already a celebrity or someone in the public eye), and that a thick skin is a prerequisite for this trade. So maybe I’m just not someone who ought to be doing this.

But then, this morning, I wake up, the sun shining, Tucson basking in unseasonable warmth. I’m feeling good and I think – “who cares? I’ll write what I want to write, I’ll make it the best it can be. If they reject it – well it just wasn’t for them, but it won’t be because it was poorly written.”

And so it goes – one day discouraged, the next day motivated. Am I unusual? I doubt that!

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Two-Edged Sword

I’ve always been fascinated by time paradoxes, but many stories about time travel seem, to me, to be quite lazy about getting the logic right. I think a lot of authors just want to put their characters into different time periods and play with “what-ifs” based on changing history, or maybe just use the time period as a setting for action.  What I like is really exploring what could happen by changing the past, especially your own past.

Many years ago I read “The Man Who Folded Himself” by David Gerrold. The book explores what happens when a young man visits himself in the past and the future. Gerrold has a wonderful imagination, and the book stayed with me all these years. Not only did it address time paradoxes as well as anything I’d ever read, it also broke new ground with its treatment of gay characters.

I decided to write a kind of homage to that book – a very short story, barely longer than a flash, that would also have a gay character, but would also deal with the issue of AIDS, unknown to Gerrold at the time he wrote the book. You could think of AIDS as something akin to the Mule in Asimov’s Foundation trilogy – something completely unexpected, impossible to predict, impossible to deal with using the laws of probability.

Two-Edged Sword tells two rounds of a story that swirls in time, circling back and forth, never ending. Each round changes something, and that causes changes that cycle back. I took away the cop-out of multiple time streams and instead looked at the time stream as something that doesn’t have an arrow – that can move in both directions, or more properly, in a circle.

Take a look and decide for yourself how well I succeeded.

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One Small Step…

Last week I got an email from Don Webb, Chief Editor of Bewildering Stories telling me and some other authors that our stories had been chosen for that publication’s quarterly review, meaning that the editors felt that these 14 stories, some flashes, and some poems were the best of the quarter.  That was nice. But then I checked further and discovered that they’d picked my story “Critical Mass” as the best overall piece they’d published for the quarter. This from well over fifty pieces they’d accepted for publication.

That was REALLY a pleasant surprise.

I always felt “Critical Mass” was a good story, and it was disheartening to see it rejected several times by other publications. So this award, hardly a Hugo or Nebula but still real recognition, is a small vindication for me. Yes, I know, there are so many good stories submitted. Yes I know, publications want to be known for a certain kind of work and thus will reject even masterpieces that don’t fit their criteria. Yes I know, they have to sort through those submissions so quickly because there are so many of them so they sometimes fail to notice great stories that don’t jump out and bite them. Still, it’s nice that someone really took the time to understand this subtle story and appreciated all the little things I’d put in there.

Now I’m thinking about doing a series of stories with these characters and premise. Meanwhile, thanks, Don and BwS for the recognition!

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Murder in the Oak Forest

Sean and Cindy return to solve the mystery of a strange skeleton found in the forests of the oak that Sean buys and ‘exports’. This story is a follow-on to my story Cindy’s New Profession and my fifth published story. You can read it at this link.

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An Unusual Rejection

I recently received the kind of rejection that I always want to get – one that explains why the piece was rejected. but sometimes getting what you wish for is well… read on.

I submitted my story “Intelligent Design” to a well-known journal. I thought it might be a good fit because they’re not afraid to take things that are more than a little strange, and “intelligent Design” is, admittedly, not for everyone. It’s the story of a reknowned physicist, Gerry Landis, who befriends an alien, a Sirian to be precise. Sirians are millions of years ahead of humans technologically, and as Gerry finds out, they also have strong ties to us. The story takes some surprising twists, and I think the last of those twists was too much for the folks at this journal.  Here’s their rejection message:

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to consider this one. On the first read we thought it was really weird, funny, and appealing, but by the third round we were beginning to think this one read too much like a script treatment for American Dad.
Good luck placing it elsewhere.

First of all, I do appreciate being told WHY it was rejected. Thanks for that! But, really, I’d never even watched an episode of American Dad, though I did after receiving this. I’m still a little befuddled about how this story could be related to that very popular television program, and why reminding people of a popular show is a bad thing, but, hey, it’s not my magazine!

Anyway, now I’ve got another thing to worry about – being sure my stories aren’t going to remind editors of any of the hundreds of popular shows, past and present, out there! I’ve reworked the ending, the part I suspect reminded them of American Dad, and sent it off somewhere else. We’ll see…

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Critical Mass

Critical Mass is my go at a post-apocalyptic story. I’ve always kind of liked that genre – that is until it got taken over by zombies and other forms of the undead. The earliest and probably still best of the P-A genre has to be Walter Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. I re-read this book, first published in the 1950’s, just before starting Critical Mass and it influenced me greatly. I decided to make an homage to one of the all-time great SciFi books. See farther down for all the references.

Critical Mass is about a commune on a river island in Nebraska that survived a horrible plague. It’s become a refuge of information in a world that has fallen into a new dark age. It’s charismatic founder does his best to hold onto the scientific knowledge he so reveres, but reality knocks at the door with greater and more disturbing regularity, creating a crisis in the commune that is the central plotline. This story is completely outside the world of many of my stories. There aren’t any aliens, and nobody comes from another planet to save the commune members. They’re on their own, and have to make very hard choices to ensure their survival.

Themes of the practical verses the ideal, and the proper use of available technology drive the story. The central human conflict is the same as the conflict between the two choices the commune has for protecting itself.

The link to this story is here

Here are all the references to “Leibowitz” in Critical Mass

1. The concept of the Simplification, here turned into a religion.

2. “Leibowitz” author Walter Miller’s name is used for the military commander in the story.

3. The first section of “Leibowitz” takes place in an abbey and focuses on a monk, Francis Gerard. I use that name for one of my main characters.

4. The leader of the abbey in “Leibowitz” is Brother Arkos. In Critical Mass I use that name for Dr. Arkos, the charismatic founder of the commune.

Thanks to Bewildering Stories for giving me a voice by publishing my work!

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