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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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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Brighter than the Stars – A Sense of Wonder

My first (and so far only completed) novel is a story that I wrote, in part, to bring back the sense of wonder I felt as a boy when I first read good SF. I don’t get that from novels written today very often. They can be good stories, well written, creative, etc, etc. But where’s the wonder? Where’s that feeling of the vastness of the universe? There have been some more recent books that evoked those feelings – Verner Vinge’s On/Off star in A Deepness in the Sky is an astounding invention. The long space voyages he envisioned help the reader appreciate the distances between stars, and the strangeness of the spider creatures definitely did awake my sense of wonder.

But too many books today are like The Windup Girl. This book received tremendous accolades and sold well, so who am I to criticize it? But let’s be frank; it describes a depressing, gritty, ugly world ruined by bioengineering. Who would want to live in it? Where is the inspiration of scientific discovery? And the ending unfortunately degrades into a sort of civil war. I’m SOOO tired of war themes in SF! But Paolo Bacigalupi is a tremendously talented writer – no arguments there. He just chose to write a book that depressed and disappointed me.

So I guess, in a way, I tried to write the anti-Windup Girl. Brighter than the Stars does have conflict, it does have a bad guy and it does have tension and resolution. But there aren’t any wars, science is presented in a positive light, and the problems that arise are problems caused by the limitations of living things – their fears, prejudices, and especially, their innate instincts.

I also tried to weave in certain themes, or leitmotifs into the story. There’s the sun, a stand-in for the fusion generators that drive the plot. There’s music, misunderstood by the Cygnians (the species that invented fusion power and is now trying to sell their fusion generators on Earth) who communicate with thought waves. There’s each species’ instincts limiting them, causing them to make mistakes. Another theme is the other, the sense of being an outsider. Thus two of the main characters are African-American, and the main conflict in Cygnian civilization centers around the fact that predator species from other planets, dangerous outsiders, are visiting them in places they’ve long secured from their own predators.

The action takes place on Earth and two other planets. The reader gets introduced to the grazing, pacifist Cygnians, the vicious, wolf-like Arcturans, the bureaucratic, satyr-like Eridaneans, and my favorites – the Sirians, the source of all the little green men sitings on Earth, and a species so technologically advanced that they spend all their time pursuing pleasure – especially sexual pleasure.

I’ll outline the plot in a future post.

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Submitting and Rejection

Anybody trying to become a published author, and whose name isn’t one immediately recognizable by the general public, has to go through the tiresome, degrading process of submitting his or her work and getting lots and lots of rejections, almost all of which provide absolutely no useful information.

How tired I am of “it doesn’t work for me” or “we can’t use it at this time” (the most common one). Tell me why, for cryin’ out loud!! But I can imagine the firestorm of invective that a tiny minority of fragile-ego writers would unloose if they were told what was wrong with their story. And I can imagine that editors have seen this phenomenon, and so the bland, information-free rejections continue.

What’s even worse is when it takes six or more months to get said rejection. If you’re going to sit on my piece, all the while proclaiming that you don’t want simultaneous submissions then please be at least a little bit prompt. This recently happened to me with a certain publication that’s been around for a long time and usually takes a lot less time than 235 days (as calculated by Duotrope). OK, I’ll say who it was – Analog. Why 235 days? At least give me something to work with if you’re going to tie up my story that long. A single sentence will do.

OK, enough ranting for one post.

We all know why this happens – because it can. The A-list publications get mountains of submissions every month. Most are awful (I’ve been told) but the good ones still add up to many times more than they can publish. They don’t want to discourage good writers, so they send a bland rejection. But why not do something like what Buzzy did for me. The rejection said it was a good story, but they just couldn’t fit it in. That tells me something, at least.

I’ll address the issue of what the A-list mags are actually publishing these days in a future post.

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