Monthly Archives: July 2013

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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Margaret Atwood

OK, so I came down pretty hard there on poor Mr. Orson Scott Card – not that he’d care if he ever read that post. He’s enjoyed a great deal of success and has lots of fans. But you could say the same thing about Justin Bieber.

So enough negativity! Here’s an entirely positive post about one of our greatest living writers. She doesn’t like to call herself a Scifi writer, but she’s certainly done that. Speculative Fiction is a better description of what she does. It’s too bad that Scifi has such a bad reputation among the literati because there’s a lot of great writing in that genre. Ms. Atwood’s is the best of the best.

Ever since “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Ms. Atwood has produced one masterpiece after another, but the two books she most recently wrote, “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” are just so stunningly good that I would honestly put them in the category of Great World Literature, with titans like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, or Hemingway.  And yet, these are accessible, interesting, engaging stories that pull the reader along, that are almost impossible to put down. They both kept me up late several nights as I rushed through them, unable to slow down and savor them until my second reading.

Both books tell the same story, but from entirely different points of view. A terrible catastrophe destroys a world of the near future where wealthy corporations have completely taken control of every aspect of American life. The story is fantastic, without a doubt, but it’s the characters, and the incomparably rich world that they inhabit that make these books unforgettable. Just one example: Ms. Atwood creates an entire religion, God’s Gardeners, complete with hymns, sermons, and holy books, and she makes it fascinating. I’ve talked to people who want to join that religion!

In “Oryx and Crake”, the events leading to the disaster take center stage. Enormous suspense builds as we see evil created before our eyes, and then that evil going out into the world to make the disaster. I have never been so engaged, so totally unable to stop reading!

In “The Year of the Flood”, Ms. Atwood assumes the reader already knows about the disaster. The story centers around what happens to the characters that innocently get caught up in it. She makes us care deeply about these people. But the fate of one important character is left in doubt. That’s what we all hope gets resolved in the third book of this series, coming this fall, titled MaddAddam.

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Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card has managed to step in it about his role in the anti-gay marriage movement that he’s advocated and taken part in. Now that his book has been made into a movie that is likely to appeal to the young, who are overwhelmingly for gay marriage, his opinions may affect the success of his movie.

To that I say, “Too bad!” Mr. Card absolutely has a right to his ideas. He can be for the gold standard, for abolishing the Department of Education, for internment camps for liberals, whatever. That’s what being a citizen of the USA is all about – you get to hold any idea that catches your fancy and nobody can lock you up for believing and advocating it.

But at the same time, others can most assuredly also express their opinions as Americans and boycott his movie.  That isn’t intolerance, as Mr. Card is trying to claim now that he’s seen just how unpopular his views are. I’m sorry, but if you stand for something, you stand for it, period. You don’t try to weasel out of it by claiming that people who disagree with you are intolerant.  So Mr. Card, stand up for yourself. Use this opportunity to explain again to us why you think gay marriage is such a terrible thing. It’s what you believe – don’t try to straddle the fence, because there really isn’t much of a middle ground on this issue. And don’t call people who disagree with you intolerant or biased. They disagree. This is America. Disagreeing is what we do!

As for Ender’s Game itself – I never much liked it. For me it’s built to a formula – evil aliens, teenage hero, cardboard characters, way too much time spent on a computer game. Nothing speculative – just a testosterone fantasy.

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