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Excerpt: Complete Sentences

5

Three flashlight beams lit the campground road. With Charlene to his right and Marianne to his left, Eric led the way to where the road swung toward the lake and the sand came right up to the crumbling edges of the asphalt. A slow breeze like a soft warm breath came off the lake, heavy with the scent of summer, and gentle water sounds joined with the August cricket song. Charlene’s left hand gripped Eric’s right arm just below the end of his T-shirt sleeve. Her touch was still magical, perhaps moreso because she was putting her weight on his arm whenever she took a step. She could walk because he was there to help. He tried to drive the thought out of his head, but with each tightening of Charlene’s hand on his bare arm, the intoxicating thought returned: She needs me!

The trio walked out onto the beach until they had gone midway across the sand, within several yards of the water. Eric scanned the horizon. “This should be good, right here.”

Charlene squeezed his arm one last time, and pulled herself against him. She tipped her head until her temple touched his shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Whatever I can do to help,” he whispered in reply. He looked up again as she drew away. “Turn off your flashlights.” The three lights flicked out, leaving them in darkness.

No one moved nor spoke as their flashlight-dazzled eyes gradually adapted. Above them, in an order Eric had witnessed under many dark Wisconsin skies since he’d been a small boy, the stars were coming out. First, the brightest of the brilliant: Antares, Spica, Vega, Deneb, Altair, all torches of the night. And one more, in their league but not of their kind: Saturn, a steadfast untwinkling pale yellow in the southeast. As his eyes grew more accustomed to the dark, the second-string stars appeared. Eric could name some but not all, and they were everywhere, the framing members of the constellations, not torches but-he grinned-two by fours. Soon after emerged the multitudes of lesser magnitudes, down to the limits of his eyes to discern. Finally, meandering down the sky toward Sagittarius in the south, a river of pale stardust, the Milky Way.

“Wow!” Marianne said to his left. “I’m lost already!”

Charlene tsked. “Nobody’s lost with Eric around.”

“Especially you,” Marianne muttered.

It was a girl thing; Eric guessed that he wouldn’t understand. He shrugged, and knelt beside Marianne. “We’ll start right here. Turn toward the north.” He gripped Marianne’s hand and pulled her around until she was facing the same way he was. He noted that there was no magic in Marianne’s hand, as there was in Charlene’s. “Right over the trees in the north. Look hard. You’ll see the Big Dipper.”

He felt her hand tense. “Yes! It’s there! I see it! It’s really big!”

“Yup. That’s why it’s not called The Medium-Sized Dipper. Now look at the bowl of the Dipper. Find the two stars at its left side.”

“I see them.”

“Now draw a straight line between those two stars, and extend it upward until the line hits another star.”

Marianne remained silent for a few seconds. If she had never looked up at a sky as crisp and clear as this, she might have trouble separating the Dipper’s canonical stars from the clutter of fainter lights everywhere around them. So he was patient. She was only nine.

Charlene placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed twice. Eric suspected she was thanking him for catering to her bratty little sister. Again, he felt Marianne’s hand tense as her eyes learned the skill of separating the brighter lights from the fainter.

“Yes! It’s there! What star is that?”

“Polaris. The pole star. The whole sky revolves around it.”

“Wow! And that’s really because we’re rotating, right?”

“Right. And Polaris is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. It’s harder to see because its stars are fainter. It’s about the same shape as the Big Dipper, but smaller and aimed the opposite way.” Eric lifted lifted Marianne’s hand until it pointed to one side of Polaris. “See it?”

Eric could almost feel the epiphany that came upon Marianne. “I do! Wow! The Little Dipper! How do you knowall this stuff?”

Eric released her hand and stood. “I read books. Lots of them.”

 

In one rapid-fire lesson, Eric took Charlene and Marianne through the hallmarks of the late summer sky: Scorpius, the teapot of Sagittarius, the Summer Triangle, Delphinus, the Great Square of Pegasus, and all the bright stars from horizon to horizon. Halfway through the tour, he felt Charlene’s soft, small fingers wriggle their way between his. He lost his train of thought, and caught himself wondering where Achernar was. No, wait-that wouldn’t be visible this early until October. Only one thing was clear in his mind:

A beautiful girl was holding his hand.

“Please show me Lyra,” Charlene asked. Eric’s heart was pounding. “In the book I read, it actually looked like a harp.”

Lyra was almost at the zenith. Eric craned his neck back until he felt it pop. “Straight up. A very bright white star with a touch of blue. That’s Vega, Alpha Lyrae. You can’t miss it.”

“Yes! It was so bright and beautiful in that book. I wanted a T-shirt with ‘Lyra’ on it, printed in gold ink on black above the constellation. I wanted it to be my symbol.”

Eric pointed at Vega. “Lyra is a parallelogram, with Vega above and to the right of it. Four stars. It would be easier to see if it wasn’t straight up.”

“That’s easy to fix,” Charlene said, and sat on the sand. She stretched her legs out toward the water, and lay down. “I see it! Perfectly! It’s better even than the book!”

“No picture of the stars ever does them justice.” Eric pointed again, almost to the zenith. “To the right of Lyra is Hercules. It looks like a keystone.”

Charlene grabbed Eric’s ankle. “Don’t look straight up like that. You’ll hurt your neck. Lie down like me.” She turned to her sister. “Marianne, you too.”

“I dunno about this,” Marianne grumbled, but complied.

Eric hesitated, looking back toward the trees that separated the beach from the tent sites. He had done plenty of observing flat on his back. It was certainly a more comfortable position for looking at the zenith. But he’d never done it with a girl-or anyone else-beside him.

Once Marianne was stretched out on the sand, he sat down between the two girls, took one more nervous glance toward the road and the trees, and lay down himself.

The lecture began again. He explained how you could follow the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle and “arc to Arcturus” and later, following the same general curve, continue to Spica. He showed them the close pair of stars called the “cat’s eyes” at the stinger end of Scorpius. Wistfully, he told them that if he had his telescope finished, he could show them the rings of Saturn.

Eric heard Charlene wriggling toward him on the crunchy sand. Her hand gripped his right arm. The next thing he knew, her head was on his shoulder, her body pressed against his side. He had the intuition that she was paying but a fraction of the rapt attention that she had shown only minutes before. His tour of the sky stopped abruptly.

A slow, silent minute ticked past. Eric oscillated between elation and dread.

Dread won, in the form of Marianne’s agitated voice. “Hey, Shar, what are you doing over there? If mom sees us lying down like this, she’ll be mad.”

“Your mom is always mad.”

“You’re lying down and hugging a boy!”

Charlene looked over Eric’s recumbent body at her sister “I’m hugging my friend.”

“He’s a boy. It’s not like hugging mom.”

Charlene’s voice grew sharp. “Your mom hugs you. She’s never hugged me. Ever. And your dad never hugs anybody. Who am I supposed to hug?”

The last thing Eric needed was for the girls to get in a screaming match across his ribcage. The pale green luminous hands of his watch showed 9:41. He had promised Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer to get their daughters back to the site before ten. This was as good an excuse as any.

“Um, we have to go home now. It’s quarter to ten.”

Eric helped Charlene to her feet, with Marianne standing nearby, her arms crossed. Charlene rubbed her eyes and cheeks against the sleeves of her T-shirt. Once their three flashlights were lit, they walked back to the tents without another word. Charlene’s limp was still obvious, but she did not take Eric’s arm. And one faint smile was her only reaction when he finally said ‘G’night”.

Announcing Complete Sentences

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And now for something completely, totally, top-to-bottom (for me at least) different: I present Complete Sentences, a short novel about two very articulate high-IQ 12-year-olds. Not in space. Not in the future. Not on some other planet nor in some unlikely fantasy world. No hyperdrives. No monsters. No magic. Nossir. On Earth, our Earth, our timeline, in Wisconsin. In 1966.

I’m not even sure the term is still used, but when I was first making my name in SF, we called such fiction “mainstream.” In other words, a story about ordinary people in the here and (approximately) now, with no fantastic elements at all. Yes, I wrote mainstream fiction. I’ve done this only one other time in my increasingly long life, back when I was in college in 1972. I wrote a short story about two guys my age who were sweating bullets about the draft lottery during the thick of the Vietnam meatgrinder. My Modern American Literature prof loved it and told me I should try selling it. The story is grim. One guy pulls #244. He’s free. The other one pulls #6. He runs. Mainstream literature is full of stuff like that, which is why I now mostly avoid mainstream literature.

So what’s it about? Let me borrow the descriptive text I uploaded to Amazon with the book:

It’s late summer 1966. Family camping is the rage. Boomer kids are everywhere. Star Trek is brand-new. Smartphones and social media haven’t even been dreamt of yet. So summer crushes happen the old-fashioned way: young face to young face.

While scoping out sites for stargazing at Castle Rock Lake, 12-year-old Eric meets a girl from the next campsite over. Charlene and Eric are both gifted, highly articulate kids: Eric in math and science, Charlene in art and composition. He shows her the constellations in the ink-black Wisconsin night sky; she sketches him and writes him poems. An attraction neither has ever felt before soon blossoms between them. Eric’s sensible parents caution him that 12 is too young to fall in love, while Charlene’s parents barely speak to each other, let alone her. She aches for the love she sees in Eric’s family, and takes strength from the attention and kindness that Eric offers her.

For Charlene has a secret, one that cuts to the heart of who and what she is. When the conflict in her family threatens to end the campout early, she must explain that secret to Eric, and begs him to accept the vision she has of her own future. Facing the possibility that they may never see each other again, Eric and Charlene struggle to put words to the feelings that have arisen between them. They discover the answer in the language they both speak, and had spoken together all along: Complete sentences.

I’ll post a sample chapter tomorrow.

In the meantime, you all might reasonably ask, Why? For the same reason I wrote whacko humorous fantasy like Ten Gentle Opportunities and Dreamhealer: To prove that I could. Before I wrote Complete Sentences, I didn’t know that I could write mainstream fiction. Now I know. Before Kindle made self-publishing possible, I had to write what publishers wanted. I first tasted the forbidden fruit 25+ years ago, when Coriolis established a book publishing operation and I was the one who decided what to publish. Could I have sold The Delphi Programming Explorer to Wiley or Macmillan? That was a gonzo book. It was also the Coriolis book that sold the most copies and pulled in the most revenue for all of 1995. I (maybe barely) sold Assembly Language Step By Step (under its original title Assembly Language from Square One) to the late Scott, Foresman in 1990. That was just as gonzo, if not moreso. (My four-fingered Martians are standing up and cheering.) A guy once sent me an email telling me that that book saved him from flunking out of his computer science program. Yeah, that book is nuts. But I have independent evidence that it works, in the form of hundreds of fan letters. Not to mention the fact that it’s been in print now for 31 years.

These days I write what I do largely to push back personal boundaries–and sometimes try things I’ve been wanting to try for literally decades. I always wanted to write a love story where the nerd gets the girl in the end. It took awhile. Then there was Dreamhealer. I don’t call it a love story. But it contains one–in fact, two.

In writing Complete Sentences, I drew on bits and pieces of my own history. (Just bits and pieces. It is pointedly not autobiographical.) When I was 12, I found myself longing for female company. Not love, nor, lord help us, sex. I didn’t know why, exactly, but alluvasudden I wanted girls to be my friends. I remember that feeling clearly. I didn’t know what to call it, and for the most part it was an annoyance, at least for the next couple of years. I now know what to call it.

Complete Sentences is not a love story, not in the usual sense of the word.

Or…maybe it is.

You tell me.

 

Watch This Space…

(Something interesting coming soon to a Contra post near you…)


By the time Eric reached the road, his mother was already headed back to their campsite. He had to trot to catch up.

“She’s an interesting girl,” Marcia Lund said, when Eric drew alongside her.

“I think so too. But how did you…”

“No, I mean interesting.”

Eric’s mother had used that word with that emphasis before, sometimes of things she didn’t entirely approve of. “Mom, c’mon.”

Marcia laughed. “She came up to me and introduced herself. Dad came over and she introduced herself again. She said she wanted to meet you. I said you were down at the beach. Then your father invited her to have lunch with us.”

Eric grimaced. “Just like dad.” He took an uneasy breath. “Um…will she?”

“If her parents don’t object. And why would they?” Marcia grabbed her son’s forearm and squeezed it.

Eric waved her hand away. “Ok, ok. Now, what makes her, um, interesting?”

“Everything she said, she said in complete sentences. You could learn a few things from her.”

Eric groaned. “You’re an English teacher even on summer vacation.”

“I get paid year-round. And my kids will not be illiterate.”

They left the road and rounded the family’s big blue tent.

Charlene was already sitting at the campsite picnic table across from Eric’s younger sister Lisa, with a bright orange Melmac plate in front of her and a very big grin on her face.

Announcing the Publication of Odd Lots

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It is with considerable pleasure (and a great deal of relief) that I announce the availability of my newest book, Odd Lots. It’s available in both ebook ($2.99) and trade paperback ($12.99) format.

I announced the project here last October. It’s taken a lot of time to put together in part because I had to OCR so much of it, and I hate OCRing. The other time-consuming element was trying to decide what-all should be in it. The bulk of what I’ve written on programming is now obsolete, and what isn’t obsolete is in published books that are already available. But my DDJ columns? DOS programming? Modula 2? Extinct. I suffered over those decisions more than I should have. I gave myself a 250-page topstop for the paperback. It came in at 235 pages, so I could have thrown in another Contra entry or two. At some point I simply had to say, “It’s done.”

What’s in it? Five topical sections:

  1. Essays, idea pieces, and editorials from PC Techniques/Visual Developer.
  2. Entries from Contrpositive Diary
  3. Parody (most of which came from the magazine)
  4. Memoir
  5. None of the above.

Part 1 contains pieces from the magazine that I felt had lasting interest, like “The All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything,” a few essays about the wearable computers I called Jiminies, “Pay Them Forward,” and “Hail the Millennium!”

Part 2 contains entries from Contra, again items I felt had lasting interest. I threw in my oddball series “50 Days’ Meditation on Writing,” which I posted on Facebook on fifty consecutive days way back in 2014.

Part 3 contains humor and parody, some of which was originally published in the magazine, and some in fanzines that now go back almost fifty years.

Part 4 contains excerpts from my memoirs, along with the very first written item I ever sold for money, which ran in 73 Magazine in December 1974. Some of that appeared here on Contra. A great deal of it is published in Odd Lots for the first time.

Part 5, well, some things don’t categorize well. Whatever didn’t fit in the first four categories ended up here. A couple are funny, including one that might be considered a parody of myself. The others might be classified as “inspirational,” depending on what inspires you.

The cover photo, some might remember, came out of a 2015 Contra entry called “Samples from the Box of No Return.” I think it qualifies as a collection of odd lots, just not written ones. It’s a shame I couldn’t photograph everything in the box, which has a lot more stuff in it than shown here.

Again, I assembled the book because I regularly get emails from people asking where they could find one or another editorial or idea piece from the magazine or Contra. I posted a few on my site. I don’t have word processor files for most of them, and had to OCR them. It’s almost a private publication for my fans, some of whom have been reading me since I launched Turbo Technix at Borland in 1987. I freely admit that some of it sounds like bragging. Hey, I really did predict Wikipedia in 1994, using technology we had in the early ’90s. Keep in mind that I wrote a great deal of that early material with a grin on my face. It was blue-sky stuff, satire, and primarily entertainment. I’ve never been one overly given to seriousness. Please read it with that in mind.

And I once again thank all my long-time readers for giving me a reason and a forum for writing interesting and funny stuff, and for (finally!) having a place to put it.

It’s done. Whew. Go get it! And if you think Odd Lots was odd, heh–just wait until you see my next publishing project. (Stay tuned.)

Odd Lots

  • Mercury has a tail. Whodathunkit? With all that solar wind blasting over it, the poor planet’s already thin atmosphere is constantly being driven outward, forming a tail over 24 million kilometers long. That makes ol’ Merc the biggest comet in the Solar System. You can’t see it visually; if you’re used to astrophotography, shoot through a sodium filter to make the tail more visible. Some good shots at the link; check it out.
  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe has left asteroid Bennu and is headed for home as fast as limited fuel and orbital mechanics allow. It’s got 300 grams of asteroid dirt to drop, after which it will head into a parking orbit. NASA is considering another mission for the probe. Nothing crisp yet, but there’s still some life in the device, so why waste it?
  • Having listened carefully to 60 million stars in toward the galactic center, the Breakthrough Listen project has found no sign of alien intelligence. We may be the one impossibly unlikely fluke that solved the Drake Equation.
  • Relevant to the above: Our dwarfy next-door neighbor Proxima Centauri spit out a flare a couple of years ago that was 100 times more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen out of our Sun. If too many dwarf stars are in this habit, it could bode ill for the chances of life elsewhere in our galaxy, where we have red dwarf stars like some people have mice.
  • I stumbled across a British news/opinion site whose USP is going against the grain of conventional wisdom. Given the current drain-spiral of American media, it can be useful to have a few overseas news sites on your bookmarks bar. This one is definitely contrarian. It’s also sane and not prone to the often-comical frothing fury we see in news outlets here.
  • Tis the season to be stumbling, in fact: I stumbled upon Reversopedia, which is a compendium of things that we don’t know or can’t prove. The entries are odd lots for very large values of “odd.” E.g: “Why is space 3-dimensional? And is it?” I love that sort of thing because it makes me think about matters that could easily become the central gimmicks of SF stories.
  • Bari Weiss posted a solid article on Substack saying what a lot of people are thinking but afraid to say out loud: That vaccinated people don’t need masks, especially outside. Social pressure against mask skeptics is intense. Masks have become a culture-war thing, which is both absurd and dangerous: Antivaxxers are asking what is actually a sensible question: If the vaccines are real and not just saline solution, why do we have to keep wearing masks?
  • Substack (see above item) is an interesting concept, rather like a blog site that you can get paid for. A lot of articles can be read for free, and subscription fees for many writers are $5/month. It’s not a gumball machine for articles, but rather a gumball machine for writers. A lot of writers who would be anathema in big national vehicles can write there, gather a following, and make a living.
  • Is sleeping with your TV on ok? Short answer: No. (And I’m wondering how old the stock photo in the article is, given that it shows a glass-screen TV.)
  • IBM has just created a proof-of-concept chip with a 2NM process. IBM’s published density numbers for this node are 333M transistors per square millimeter, whew! They say 2NM will improve performance by 45% at the same power.
  • I haven’t said much about my book project Odd Lots lately. It was a classic “odd moments” project accomplished in moments scattered across the last year or two. I just got the first proof copy back from Amazon and will be cleaning it up as time allows. Most of what’s wrong are OCR errors of old writings for which I no longer have disk files and had to scan out of magazines. I expect to post it on Amazon before the end of May.

The Odd Lots Project

Every so often someone sends me an email to ask, “Is there any place I could find your story ‘Our Lady of the Endless Sky’? I read it years ago and it was a really good story. I’d like to read it again.” Swap in the title of any of several other stories or idea pieces that I published in PC Techniques / Visual Developer what seems now like decades ago–because it is. Some of my idea pieces and humor from the magazine are already up, linked in an archive page that you can find here.

Still, it’s only a few of them, mostly because for those few I still had the original word processor files. Most of those files have been lost. All that remains are the magazines themselves.

Five or six years ago I sketched out an idea for a book containing some of the old BEGIN / END / The Vision Thing / Breakpoint pieces, plus some of my better Contra entries. For almost four years I was occupied with my new novel Dreamhealer. (The paperback edition is now for sale on Amazon, so that project is finally complete.) With Dreamhealer out of the way, a week or so ago I started building a TOC and searching out files for as many pieces as I still have. Some had to be scanned and OCRed from the magazines. Some were buried in odd folders in my data drive. All of them needed cleaning up. Quite a few I have only in WordPerfect format. Fortunately I can convert these using a handy utility called QuickView Plus. The Contra entries are copy’n’paste.

I work on it when time permits. I now have 45,000 words in the master Word file. My target is 75,000 words. There’s still plenty of scanning and OCRing to do, plus introductions to put all this ancient stuff in context.

The book will have seven sections:

  1. Essays and Editorials
  2. From Contrapositive Diary
  3. Poetry (maybe)
  4. Parody
  5. Memoir
  6. None of the Above.

The Poetry section may not happen. I’ve only written three poems in my life that I would show to the general public. Two of them are e.e.cummings pastiche and one Robert Frost pastiche. When God was handing out poetry genes I was standing in the Whimsical Tutorials line. (Fortunately, it was a short line.)

One thing that won’t be included in Odd Lots is “STORMY vs. the Tornadoes,” which appears in my AI SF collection Souls in Silicon . There are a few items that fall in the forbidden zone between fiction and nonfiction, which is what the “None of the Above” section will capture.

I will publish it in both Kindle ebook format and trade paperback. I don’t have a timetable yet, but in nice round numbers I’d like to see it laid out and ready to publish by the end of the year. When I flesh out the TOC a little more, I’ll post it here, and if you remember something that you liked but don’t see in the TOC, let me know in the comments.

The biggest task for now is simply reviewing Contra to remind myself what I’ve done. This is a challenge, as I’ve been publishing Contra now for 22 years and have about 5,000 entries. I’m working on that. So stay tuned. This will be fun. I don’t expect to sell thousands of copies. Mostly what I want to do is put a lot of my mostly-forgotten work back in the public eye. This’ll do it.

Looking for Cableton

I’m gathering miscellaneous items I’ve written down the years into a collection called Odd Lots. A fair number of those are editorials or END/Breakpoint pieces I wrote for the magazine across its ten years of publication. I no longer have the source files for a lot of my earlier material, though I do have most from about 1996 on. I have a complete run of PC Techniques / Visual Developer on a high shelf…

…or at least I thought I did, until I was scanning the spines for August/September 1993. It wasn’t there. And that issue included something I wrote called “Cableton,” which I had included in the tentative table of contents for Odd Lots.

I tore the house up, and opened a few previously unopened boxes from our move down here in 2015. No Cableton. It may still be around here somewhere. However, I looked in all the obvious hiding places, and quite a few very non-obvious hiding places, like under my big reading chair. Hit a wall, I did. So let me put out a request to my friends and readers who may actually have a copy of that issue: Could someone email me a scan of “Cableton”? Once I have a scan I can OCR it, like I’ve done with a lot of other items in those very old issues.

What else will be in Odd Lots? Some humor pieces, most of which were never published. A fair number of editorials and idea pieces from the magazine that I think may still be important. A little memoir, some of which I’ve published here on Contra. A few important Contra entries. It won’t be a huge book, and it won’t be expensive. If nobody has that issue, I’ll call it unfortunate and move on. But if you have it and a decent scanner, please email me a page image.

Thanks!

And as a postscript, if you’ve enjoyed some short item that I’ve written, let me know. I’m not always a good judge of what my best work is. Then again, nobody ever is. It’s a blind spot that may be baked into the human mind.

Now Available: Dreamhealer on Kindle and KU

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Some time last night after I hit the switch and the sack, Amazon approved my upload of Dreamhealer to the Kindle store and KU. So it’s ready to rock–go get it! I’ll have a trade paperback edition in a week or so, unless Amazon decides to arm-wrestle me over it, like they did with Firejammer.

Unlike most fiction these days, the cover is a from-scratch painting that represents a scene from the book itself. (It’s Larry healing a man’s falling nightmare–falling from 90,000 feet. See Chapter 1.)

This one was a long time coming. Part of it was starting a novel in the middle of a move that included renovating two houses 850 miles apart.I’m sure part of it was just starting a novel at age 64. Part of it was the…peculiar… nature of some of the background concepts. There is tension between witches and lightworkers. I worked some of that tension into the plot. I bought a whole book on the “etheric double” as understood by Theosophists. I read and reread a lot of material from the late Colin Wilson. Oh, and material about tiger moms, phantom pregnancies, Elk Grove Village, steampunk mechas, the bicameral mind theory of human evolution, and more. Way more. (I actually explored Elk Grove Village back in 2017 and chose the street where Larry the Dreamhealer lives.) Of course, I invented as much as I borrowed, especially regarding the Elemental Cycles of the Canidae and the quantum computational substrate underlying dreams. Researching the background is the fun part of creating a novel. The writing itself is butt-kicking hard work.

I was going to summarize the plot here, but there’s always the problem of spoilers. So I’ll be brief: Larry gets on the wrong side of what turns out to be the Architect of All Nightmares. He finds his true love, who has a thing for chainsaws. The spirit of Isambard Kingdom Brunel builds one helluva mecha. Dogs. Dogs everywhere. Talking dogs. Dogs who eat the creatures that create nightmares. Fights, more fights, a skeletal flying saucer, searching for calculus class, imaginary friends…hey, what more do you want? Whatever it is, it’s probably in there somewhere.

Go get it. Have fun. Write a review. Tell your friends. And…thanks.

Birthdaywander

68 today. About this place in each decade there are a couple of years where it’s not immediately obvious to me which birthday I’m having. 2020 being what it is and will likely continue to be, I have had no trouble remembering that this is my 68th birthday.

A lot of this is the virus, which from the demographic stats clearly has a target on my forehead. (See this compendium of stats as of June 23.) My age bracket represents 21% of COVID-19 deaths, and COVID-19 represented 9.4% of total deaths from all causes in my age bracket between February 1 and June 17. Them’s bad odds, at least from where I sit. So we’re staying home, and the most human contact we’ve had in a couple of months is talking to the neighbors out in the middle of the street.

I have some bitches about the numbers. In a lot of places, anyone who dies with tested SARS-CoV-2 in their bodies is listed as dying of the virus, even if they died of cancer, alcohol poisoning, car accidents, or lots of other unrelated conditions. Granted, it’s often hard to tell what actually causes death. So although I’m willing to accept the huge numbers of newly identified cases (where a “case” is anyone who tests postive for the virus) the mortality numbers are almost certainly higher than they would be if people who caught the virus but died of something else were not counted.

Bit by bit the numbers improve, especially now that tests are easy to come by. An awful lot of young people are carrying the virus, but an awfuller lot of those are completely asymptomatic. Whether they’re contagious is still under heated discussion.

Catching the virus outdoors is unlikely. I’m not one of those who blame the protests for the rising number of cases in young people. Oh, I’m sure it helped raise the case numbers a little. But in watching the appalling videos of the riots, what I see is a lot of people in fast chaotic motion, outside, probably with a light breeze. What this means is that the spreaders are unlikely to be in close proximity to the same people for more than a few seconds. This is not what happens at choir practice, really.

A lot of the protesters were wearing masks. Forgive me for thinking that a lot of them weren’t worried about acquiring the virus half as much as a police record.

Oh–masks. Let’s talk about masks. What I’m seeing in recent weeks is a peculiar psychology of constant harping about masks that does two things:

1. It makes a certain number of otherwise reasonable people annoyed enough to refuse to wear masks in public.

2. It makes a larger number of reasonable but naive people feel that with a mask on, they’re invulnerable and cannot catch the virus. This is major magical thinking.

I wear a mask to keep peace in the valley, mostly. Getting yelled at by every uberkaren in the supermarket is not on my bucket list. Nonetheless, I am under no illusions that the masks will prevent me from either catching or spreading the disease. There is plenty of research showing that SARS-CoV-2 spreads in aerosol form. (That is, as free particles rather than inside mucus or saliva droplets.) The masks available to the public will not stop isolated virus particles drifting in the air. For that you need properly fitted N95 masks or better, and I’m among those who think that front-line health care personnel should get them before the rest of us.

Consider this article, by a skeptical MD with 36 years of clinical experience. He knows medical masks. Woodworking masks or cowboy bandanas are of zero effectiveness, and even surgical masks are not effective in filtering aerosols. The virus itself is 120 nm in size; basically, a tenth of a micron. Your workaday snotrag is not gonna stop that. Droplets, possibly–at least big ones. But let me ask you this: What happens when a droplet that was stopped by your bandana dries out? It seems to me (I’ve seen no research on this issue) that absent their droplets, individual viruses can be inhaled through the cloth, or blown out into the invironment again by exhaled air.

Especially here in Phoenix, where the humidity is often in single digits, those droplets will dry out fast. Maybe they’ll remain stuck to the cloth fibers. Maybe. Bet your life on it? Not me.

So, again, we’re staying home. I’m trying to work out how to get the ball rolling on my new novel The Molten Flesh. The first chapter is a flashback, to twelve years before The Cunning Blood takes place. We’re focusing on a different nanotech society this time: Protea, which is designed to optimize the human body. Sangruse 9 can do a little of that, but Protea literally rebuilds the interior structure of the body to make it much more resistant to trauma, radiation, cancer, infectious microorganisms and aging. It’s not as smart as Sangruse 9, nor as good with physical chemistry. Still, once you understand the full reality of what it can do, it’s a pretty scary item. And that’s the canonical Protea. In 2354, Protea was forked. A renegade Protea Society member breaks with the others and starts tweaking the device. The story emerges from that.

I’m trying to put together an action scene where renegade Ron Uhlein steals the 1Earth starship Vancouver. He succeeds (with Protea’s constant assistance) and in the process demonstrates to Sophia Gorganis that starships can be stolen. What she does with that knowledge is told in The Cunning Blood.

I need to catch up a little on Contra entries here. I have one partly written involving my All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything idea, and another about the COVID-19 coin shortage. Really. Remember: The universe is stranger than you can imagine…and I can imagine a lot.

Plaguewander

How serious is this lockdown thing? Well, I’ve won all 1600 boards on Mah Jong Titan. That includes all available premium board packs. If there were more I’d buy them. There aren’t. That doesn’t surprise me, given the work it must take to produce another 300 boards that only the occasional crazy like me will ever play.

I’ve played Mah Jong for decades, and not just to kill time. For me it’s a sort of mental palate-cleanser: I play a board or two when I need to shift gears from one project to another. When I move from working on Dreamhealer to some construction project out in the shop, I play a board to stop me from thinking about Dreamhealer, or at least to pull me down from obsession territory. It does work. I’m not sure why, given that Bejeweled doesn’t provide the same benefit, nor do any of several other games I’ve tried. My theory: Mah Jong depends to a great extent on memory. Playing well requires remembering which tiles are where on the board. You’d think that that would be no big trick, given that the board is already laid out in plain view. Not so. A few tiles stand out from the crowd. Most do not. If a move uncovers a four of bamboo, you had better know if there’s a four of bamboo elsewhere on the board. The games I play, at least, are played against a clock. You don’t have a minute to scan the whole board to spot that four of bamboo over in the lower-right corner. Dead-time adds up, and each board has a time limit. To win the board, you have to empty it within that time limit.

The creative life is all about memory. This is true of fiction, especially the fiction that I write, which is heavy on ideas, foreshadowing, and gradual reveals. Getting away from fiction means remembering other things for awhile. And because Mah Jong is a shallow memory challenge, it takes little or no effect to push a board full of tiles out of the forefront of my mind when it’s time to turn to something else.

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Carol and I did some shopping at Wal-Mart today. I don’t know if this was their innovation, but aisles at Wal-Mart are now one-way. This makes it easier to stay away from other shoppers, though it can be a nuisance at times. I tend not to go shopping when I’m feeling impatient. Mercifully, I was not feeling impatient this morning.

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While at Wal-Mart, we looked at Polish sausage and other sausage products. I typically eat a bratwurst or some other similar sausage for lunch. There was a run on such things for awhile, and I was unable to find the Hillshire Farms smoked sausage that I’d been lunching on for some time. We saw them at Wal-Mart today. I picked up a pack, and scanned the list of ingredients. Yikes; they now put MSG in their smoked sausage products. I originally chose them because they did not include MSG. Johnsonville sausage products, on the other hand, have been nonstarters here for years, because all their sausages contain MSG. Well, since I was reading labels anyway, I picked up a package of Johnsonville smoked bratwursts and scanned its ingredients. No MSG! So I bought some.

It is a puzzlement. Given how many people react badly to MSG, I have to wonder why sausage companies insist on using it. Does a sausage really taste better with MSG than without? I can’t tell the difference and never have.

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Cutting Board Before-500 Wide.jpg

54 years ago, I took wood shop at Lane Tech in Chicago. We built a number of projects, but the only one that survives is the heavy oak cutting board. My mom used it while I stilled lived at home, and I took it with me when I moved out and married Carol. So it’s been in use for all 54 of those years. The board’s saggita is now half an inch, so we flipped it over and now cut on what was the bottom face.

Alas, the two outer oak layers on the board started peeling away from the rest a few years ago. Food was getting caught in the resultant cracks, and I was afraid I’d have to toss it out. Not so: A little careful work with my chop saw and some belt sander time yielded a narrower but now far more hygienic cutting board. This may not last, and the day may come when I can’t cut any more layers off the edges. Still, 54 years is a long time to be using an artifact that you built yourself with your own hands.

-…- -…-

My fellow hams don’t need me to tell them that the bands are dead right now. The very occasional sunspot is so small I often wonder if it’s dirt on some telescope’s lens. Propagation is lousy. Working Wisconsin was a delight. Working Seattle almost knocked me off my chair. But beyond the current sunspot dearth, what really annoys me is the noise level. I thought for a long time that this was caused by the crappy switching power supplies inside every LED bulb in the house, which would be all of them but two. (The two incandescents are grow lamps for Carol’s African violets.) So I did the experiment last week: I shut off every piece of electronics (including the AC) and every damned lightbulb in the house.

The noise level did not change at all.

I can’t shut off the security system and really don’t want to. But I’ve had security systems in every house we’ve lived in since 1990, and have never had noise levels like this. The houses here are widely spaced (this is the land of half- to one-acre lots) so I suspect I’m not hearing the neighbors’ stuff. All the more reason to buy a 12V battery pack and enable the Icom IC-729 to run on battery power. If the power ever goes out in our neighborhood, I’ll make a beeline for the shack, to see if the noise level drops. That won’t help me work Wisconsin once the power comes back on, but at least it’ll narrow down the culprit list a little.

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Dreamhealer is coming along. I’m still doing some edits, but in truth, I’m waiting for the artist to finish the cover. I was going to release it at LibertyCon in June, but there will be no LibertyCon this year. My deadline, being dead, no longer has much force.

-…- -…-

Arizona is opening up. Carol’s going to her hairdresser to get her hair done on Tuesday for the first time in quite awhile. The next time I need a haircut (I know, I know, during the next Ice Age) I’ll be doing the same thing. We’re being careful, but we’re no longer cowering at home. I’m watching Arizona stats for a number of reasons, the main one being that we’re already most of the way to a long hot summer. Viruses in the Sun die in seconds. No data on how long they last in triple-digit air out of direct sunlight, but I suspect it shortens their viable stage by a lot. Viral load is, as best we can tell, a factor. So we don’t go to concerts or political rallies. (Actually, I have never gone to a political rally. Viruses are not the reason.) We used to go to sit-down restaurants maybe once a month. We have carryout service accounts now and know how to use them. Total Wine is open, as are most other stores that we frequent. My motto remains what it is and has always been:

All will be well. And all will be well. And every damfool thing in the universe will be well!