Friday Flashback: Alien

You know what made this movie so damn scary? You never really got a good look at the xenomorph. That’s something the later Alien moves lack.

NEO ComicCon

NEO ComicCon2017I will be at NEO ComicCon this Sunday from 10 AM until I have to flee for Cincinnati. The show itself runs until 6 PM.

We’ll be at the SoccerSportsplex at 31515 Lorain Road in North Olmsted. Costumes! Art! Books! Comic books! And really hot cosplay girls!

I will be sitting looking forlorn in my booth begging you to buy one of my books, so come by and say hello!

The Office

trashed officeMy old office was great. The one before it was great. The office at my old condo was awesome. Bookshelves, lots of space, especially at the apartment where I lived for a year and a half before my current digs.

So why is my new office so hard in coming together? Well, for starters, it was indeed an office when the previous owners lived here. It’s a low-ceilinged affair in the basement, which means I banged my head a few times while moving in. But there’s more.

When I bought a condo a few years back, I also bought a huge desk to go with my massive new office. My brother and ex-brother-in-law still give me grief over trying to get that 350-pound behemoth up the stairs. I was told I was on my own if I moved again. Well, I moved again. I married the second spousal unit, and we wound up moving into her place in Deer Park. So what am I to do with it? I dismantled it and tossed the pieces in the back of spousal unit’s (now stepson AJ’s) Hyundai Santa Fe. I would not let anyone help me move it. I put it back together and said the next stop was the fire pit in the backyard. That didn’t work out, and I found myself lugging its heavy disassembled pieces over to Reading by myself again. OK, new ex could have it for bonfires if when I moved again. Right? Wrong. Ex got remarried and bought a house. Then I got engaged, and I bought a house. I also took a desk from work that someone threw out. That was a “mere” two hundred pounds that my new lady and I somehow wedged into this office. (Did I mention my new lady has a weak heart? I have to remind her of that when she overdoes it sometimes. She’s tougher than I am!) What happened to the old desk?

Let me apologize now to Rumpke Waste Management. At least I dismantled it and threw the smaller bits in the dumpster.

But that’s not even all of what makes this office a challenge. The previous owners 1.) stored pool equipment in here and 2.) had rock and roll hearts. They glued albums to the ceiling in some sort of avant garde attempt at decorating. They glued vinyl to the ceiling. I have a coworker who would be horrified. I personally get all my music digitally these days, but vinyl to the ceiling? That’s disrespecting the music!

The pool supplies are gone. I need to figure out how to shelve the books. I need a lamp as the ceiling light is depressingly dim. No, it’s not the bulb. It’s the position. Oh, and I have glass block windows. They’re sitting in each corner waiting for me to install them. Maybe next spring.

It’s going to take time. It’s not the only part of the house I’m working on, but it is where I will spend most of my time. At least the computer’s up. Here’s a photo of this blog post as proof!

My computer on the new desk


No Marigolds Update – In Which The Daleks Answer These Questions Three Because You Have To Know These Things When You’re King

surface of mars

So I moved. Then I unpacked. Oh, God, am I still unpacking! I am writing this from my new office, which needs shelves.

And paint.

And better lighting.

And I haven’t even finished with the rest of the house.

So… How’s it going with No Marigolds? Here’s a shocker. You’re reading this less than twelve hours after I wrote it, instead of the usual two days. And it’s been slow going getting into a new routine. My former morning routine was predicated on me living alone in my apartment doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Now I have people who want and need my attention.

I got even less writing in this past week than I had the week before. But what little I have written sheds light upon Warped. We get a sense of why Okada and Lancaster left the Navy in a huff, though not how they got dragged kicking and screaming back. It’s probably a good thing. This series shifts its cast of characters so often that it’s good to see someone like Burke show up and put everything in perspective.

Meanwhile, John Farno is waiting for something more than a hyperdrone to come looking for him. So they’re sending a ship. Only…

Yeah, remember last week when I said I still hadn’t explained whodunnit yet?

That’s coming this week.

The Next Project

The Compact UniversNow that Tishla is out and Amargosa: Second Wave is awaiting a second round of revisions, it’s time to think of what’s beyond. Tishla gives us three novellas set between The Children of Amargosa and its follow-up. The others are Broken Skies and WarpedNo Marigolds, which is currently being serialized first in the newsletter, then here, makes up a trilogy of novellas along with The Magic Root and The Marilynists that precede Children. (Gimme Shelter is really the original first ten chapters of Children, minus a rather lifeless subplot about Davra.)

The point of that whole link salad is to illustrate how the Amargosa Trilogy works. Each novel is preceded by three novellas set elsewhere in the Compact Universe, and not necessarily in The Compact itself. The Magic Root takes place largely in The Realm, the home polity of the Gelt. Tishla takes place on the former human colony of Gilead, now called Hanar. The rest take place on Compact worlds, several in the case of The Marilynists.

Before I even begin to write Storming Amargosa, the final book in the trilogy, I will need to write three books elsewhere in this universe that feed into the story. I originally toyed with writing about the fate of one of the characters on Amargosa who seemingly dies, but that would be a spoiler. I’d rather the character’s fate be a surprise to the main characters in Storming. Obviously, I am going to have to revisit Admirals Burke and Austin and the crew of the Challenger from Warped. But what of Douglas Best from The Marilynists? He got pulled into the intrigue surrounding the loss of the colonies and this mysterious entity known as Juno. Who are they? And what do they want?

To that end, I’m going to start with rewriting a project I titled Quantonesia, based on the name of the capital of The Compact. Best will again find himself swept up in intrigue and possibly ensared with a sexy Marilynist priestess who is almost two centuries old. (Rejuvenation is a thing in this series.) And maybe, just maybe, I can lay some eggs to hatch for Storming Amargosa. But first, I have to finish No Marigolds and get John Farno off Barsoom.

Or kill him.

Friday Flashback: The Swarm

When I was a kid, all the pseudo-science shows like In Search Of… had us paranoid about South American killer bees coming to invade America. In reality, they calmed down quite a bit when they did reach America. But not if you believed Irwin Allen, in probably his least successful disaster film…

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Under the Dome by Stephen KingMy goal this year was to finish up Stephen King’s non-Bachman canon. (Bachman was slated for 2018.) I have about ten more books to go and fully expected to be reading the latest King new in hardback in October or November.

Nope. This 1074-page monster took me from February to this past weekend to read. It wasn’t that it was a chore or even that it was long. It was complex, and my life started changing rapidly right around the time I started reading. As a result, it took me an abnormally long time to finish this one. But enough about it’s length. What is it? And is it any good?

Under the Dome is a massively complex book that probably is best read in small bites. It concerns the town of Chesters Mill in western Maine, bordered by Castle Rock and TR 90, two places where King has already visited enough destruction already. Someone or something has dropped an invisible dome over this town of 2000 people, one that perfectly fits the town borders. On his way out of town is a drifter named Dale Barbara, aka “Barbie.” He’s stuck just as the dome comes down (killing a couple people in a small plane and slicing a deer in half in the process.) The dome ignites a firestorm of activity on the outside as the US government swoops in. The President appoints Barbie to take over inside as he’s more than a dishwasher. He’s a former special operations soldier. Unfortunately, that puts him on a collision course with the town’s Second Selectman and local used car tycoon Big Jim Rennie. Big Jim is a devout Christian who runs a drug operation. He also sees the dome as a means to cement his power, appointing new cops from as many inexperienced civilians as he can find. The resemblance to mad dictators in the past is hard to miss.

Under the Dome has one of the largest casts of characters of any King novel, larger than The Stand or It. And most of the characters survive until late in the story, whereas The Stand killed off half of them about halfway through in one single incident. But The Stand, for its sprawl and vast setting, is a pretty linear story. Under the Dome, while linear in its timeline, is nonetheless more nebular in its backstories. It’s not a hard story to follow. King is not in the habit of overwhelming his readers. It’s with Under the Dome that King’s mojo seems to have returned for good after his 1999 accident. The novels that followed that incident showed a marked shift in quality that got progressively better. Finishing his Dark Tower series might have had something to do with it, but a brush with death sometimes can re-energize a person.

King’s output since Under the Dome has been considered some of his best work. He has even said he attempted Under the Dome early in his career only to realize he did not have the skills back then to pull it off. I’m glad he waited.


Beverly Hillbillies in their Model T truck


It’s finally happened. We’ve moved! We’re in an actual house instead of cooped up in a two-bedroom apartment, one room of which was my office.

Merging two households into one is not a trivial matter. Some furniture gets tossed. My lady had a slightly bigger apartment than mine (two bathrooms and more floor space than where I used to live in Deer Park.) It took an hour and a half for professional movers to clear out her storage. Mine took about 45 minutes. Then all that had to be moved into a Cape Cod built in 1922 when we ran into another problem: Our queen-sized box spring will not fit upstairs. Future brother-in-law, who used to remodel houses, wasn’t having it and wanted to measure to get it right. I said, “Forget it. I saw. it’s not going to fit without breaking it.” So I’m getting a split box to replace it.

By the way, if you have the bucks to pay someone else to move you, spend it. Our weekend was exhausting enough as it was. Saturday was cleaning up after the contractors (who did their own clean-up on Friday.) We did not get to bed until 1:30 AM. Then it was up at 7 to meet the movers at 9. We did need to assist (not much. Mostly, they want you to stay out of the way.) and had to unpack as we went along so we’d at least have a bathroom and some living space. Unfortunately, my lady and I are sleeping on couches for now. Why?

See above.

Monday, I had to go back and do the finishing work that we couldn’t do on Sunday at my old apartment. With no power. NEVER cut the power unless you know y0u will be done that day. Getting rid of old furniture was easy. Goodwill and New Life Ministries (a neighbor works for their furniture shop) took most of it. The 300-pound behemoth that was my desk until this weekend? Let me apologize now for the mess I left Rumpke Waste Management. At least I broke it down. After packing all that was left behind, I had to clean.

Without power.

Or daylight.

We crammed the car full of the left overs, threw out everything in the fridge. I wiped down as best as I could in the twilight, swept, mopped, and cleaned a coffee stain on the carpet. Then I left the keys.

That part was weird. I was alone in that apartment until June of this year. I moved in during December of 2015. Both times, my life got a serious reboot. I love where we are now. It’s a fixer upper, and one I’ll probably be working on until I die or sell the place in my retirement. But it was strange leaving the keys to my bachelor pad behind and locking the door for the last time.

No Marigolds Update – In Which The Reavers Take Up Macrame After Settling On Sha Ka Ree

surface of mars

No Marigolds in the Promised LandTry writing during a major move. G’wan. Try it. Actually, I managed to write up until Friday morning. It looks like John Farno’s going to get rescued. I even thought that, before we went over to the new house to clean up ahead of the move, I might throw a monkey wrench into the works. Um… Nope.

Saturday morning, my lady dragged me out of bed for a big breakfast, and then it was a day of pool assembly, back deck prep, and cleaning, cleaning cleaning. My Saturday ended at 1:30 in the morning. The move, even with movers hired, took all day Sunday. Last night was spent cleaning out the apartment. (Pro tip: Never turn off the power until you absolutely know you’re done or the landlord is going to cut power back over to the building. Had to pack up the leftovers and clean in the dark.

So yeah, moves are disruptive. So much so that I’m writing this at work between two tasks that really need done by lunchtime. I don’t have an office up an running yet. The upside is that I can take one of my portable devices and just go out on the porch (Yes, I have a porch!) or back deck to write first thing in the morning. May do that even when the office is finally unpacked and setup.

And the Keurig is unpacked, along with the coffee. Writing first thing in the morning without coffee? What do you think I am? Some kind of savage?

No Marigolds In The Promised Land – Episode 10


For Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk

This is the ninth installment of Compact Universe #0, No Marigolds in the Promised Land. Want the whole story? Subscribe to the Compact Universe Newsletter for the newest installments and the all the previous installments.

DAY 12: Solaria


LOG ENTRY: 1105 25-Sagan, 429

So near, yet so far. I can see Solaria in the distance. The last leg of the sensor road goes over a mountain ridge. I started early, hoping the sunlight on the side of trailer would offset the power drain on its batteries. Seems to have worked. The batteries gave up the ghost ten minutes ago, just as we crested the last foothill.

“We.” Julie is just an AI interface with no conscious thought of her own beyond some customized algorithms, and yet I think of her and me as “we.” That’s how alone I am.

Thanks, John Farno, I love you, too, or would if I had more than algorithms.

Hey, the girl is trying.

I stopped and powered down the trailer, letting its heater run off 57’s power tap. Since we’re going nowhere, it’s not much of a drain on 57. It’ll keep the supplies above 5 Celsius, just enough to avoid freezing anything sensitive back there.

The hard part is this last foothill. I’m looking out across a wide valley. Thirty-five kilometers in the distance is the intact dome of Solaria. I can be there in an hour. But I have to let the trailer power back up, a three-hour process. It’s like dying of thirst and having water just beyond your grasp.

That’s not what you said before making a log entry.

Shut up, Julie.

He said it was like trying to lose his virginity only to find his girlfriend’s father put a padlock on her panties.

You’re based on a middle child, aren’t you?

Julie Seding, whom I am based upon, was the second of three children, her oldest sibling a brother who was a noted athlete on Deseret.

Great. My charming companion is based on a sarcastic, barely repressed Mormon woman who lived for tormenting her jock older brother. I suppose drinking beer and what passes for coffee offends you.

The real Julie brewed her own beer, at least while she lived on Barsoom. But she found most coffee here offensive.

So much for the Deseret Way. No wonder they gave us the Polygamy Wars.

Technically, that was the Deseret colony of Goshen, which she would…


Ah. Sometimes, I need to appreciate my solitude.

Now, then, I haven’t been completely unproductive this morning. The diagnostics on the hypergate came back. Whoever destroyed it and the orbital station only destroyed one of the emitters that generate wormholes. The rest are intact, and, in fact, it can transmit and receive. I had Julie comb whatever records we downloaded back at the pit stop for basic information on how the hypergates function. For starters, how does one hypergate or a projection drive ship looking for an assist talk to another hypergate light years away?

Actually, there are two hypergates. One is the actual portal you pass through to get to the other side, during which you may or may not toss your cookies. You’re in multidimensional space, and so far, no primate intelligence has been able to handle the sight of it as a rule. Kind of like sea sickness.

But wait! There’s more! A second, smaller hypergate exists just powerful enough to create a tiny wormhole in space. Just enough to tap another hypergate lightly. All it needs are the coordinates and the path of the wormhole beneath space to reach the other side. A database of known hypergates is kept on orbital stations, traffic control centers, and even ships, depending on how populous and busy the planet or moon is. But really, all the signaling apparatus needs is the coordinates of another gate. For this reason, an existing hypergate can find one that just went online as long as it knows the exact coordinates. It can even talk to alien hypergates as, apparently, math is universal.

But there are safeties built in, and such is my dilemma. See, if the gate is damaged, the signaling apparatus is usually programmed not to respond at all, a clear signal that all is not well. It can’t do much else because it doesn’t have the power to function as an ansible. Which is why, after 400 years of interstellar travel, we rely on ships and hyperdrones to transmit data across the stars.

I have an idea, however, and even Julie simulated being impressed. My signaling apparatus does have power to transmit more than “Hey, I want to hook up and make mad, passionate wormholes with you.” With the hypergate damaged, I have access to the gate’s power systems. I can tap any of the emitters for extra power. But…

The signaling apparatus on the other side won’t know what to do with it.


Let me think on that for a bit. At least the rest of the Compact just got closer. In the meantime, let’s talk Solaria. And its drones. Chatty buggers, these drones. Even Julie got annoyed, or felt forced to simulate annoyance. Anyway, they’re chatty. And they’re whatever passes for lonely in their primitive brains.

The way, future intelligence now packing my bones into crates for some archeologist to examine, we have kept artificial intelligence “nice and stupid” for the past four-and-a-half centuries is simple. We make it dependent on human intervention to know what to do. Julie is largely dependent on me for an agenda. Well, technically, the rover is. Julie is an interface to make the AI easier to work with. But the rover is also designed to function independently. In theory, I could have stayed in the pit stop and sent both rovers off to Solaria to check out conditions there. They could even give the drones inside something to do.

But the drones we use for construction and prepping for habitation can handle only limited agendas. The net effect is some really needy machines. That gets annoying to the point even Julie, programmed with enough rudimentary emotion for human interaction, finds her patience tested.

I’m pretty sure Julie Seding winged a drone or two in her time on Barsoom. I hope she’s happy wherever she is.

The drones, however, have also been my source of information about Solaria. The dome is sealed and ready for pressurization. Some of the storage chambers are pressurized and heated. The life support systems…

They’re waiting on parts. Which means I may have to go back to New Ares, now over a week away, and brave the charred corpses of those who worked in the catacombs below the dome. Don’t really have a choice. Equalia is in a valley and a glass pancake. Can’t access its storage caverns. Helium is a crater. The caverns are not only inaccessible, but they likely no longer exist.

So I may be forced to scavenge parts from New Ares. Unless there are parts in the pit stops or one of the pit stops beyond Solaria. It’s possible. The next dome is Deadwood, another five thousand clicks away. So there are likely multiple pit stops as rovers would have to stop for the night (day?) several times between Helium and Deadwood. (Who comes up with these names anyway? None of them were in Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

So here I sit, all broken hearted, staring at a partially habitable dome, a real fixer upper by any standard. And I have to wait for 19’s goddamned solar cells to recharge. For three hours. To make a one-hour trip.


LOG ENTRY: 1509 25-Sagan, 429

Meesa home!

Well, my new home. I am now speaking to you from a pressurized apartment inside Solaria. Can’t go outside yet until life support is fully installed. Plus, the drones are all gathered outside the building waiting for me to tell them what to do.

The nice thing is the rovers are parked beneath the building in an airlocked garage. Awesome. Better still, I’ve managed to upload Julie into my newly chosen dwelling. How do you like the new digs, Julie?

It figures you’d go right to turning it into a man cave.

Well, you are disembodied, so it shouldn’t be a problem for you.

That does not mean I have to like it.

At least she’s not needy like the drones.

Right. How do you stand it, John Farno? If I had nerves, they’d be frayed.

I turned off the notifications on my palm tattoo. I think we can have them power down for the day now.

Thank you.

Right now, my main job is to get everything I need for survival inside the building, get Rover 19 hooked up to a power tap to keep the batteries topped off, and get my food situation sorted. Between the construction quarters and the pit stops, I’m still on rations, but starvation is not that imminent. Julie and I will work out a system for growing food eventually.

I also need to tidy up 57 and get it ready for my next excursion. Tomorrow’s agenda will be to scope out Solaria and see how much is useful. Which means I’ll also need to get the drones online. Because of this, Julie has had to evolve. Essentially, 57 has imprinted the Julie interface onto that of the building and the apartment. With all three synched, she has effectively become the mind of Solaria. Which means, for the first time in thirteen days, I’ve been inside a woman.

That’s not funny, John Farno.

See? No sense of humor.

The real Julie would have punched you in the nuts.

So much for the liberated Mormon. But before I piss off the artificial intelligence now keeping me alive, let me get back to the subject at hand. I am making the drones Julie’s eyes, ears, and hands. We think we may be able to get the dome’s life support going if the plans are here. We can tri-D print the parts we need or get them from nearby pit stops or…

Yeah, I may have to go back to New Ares and the pit stops to get parts. If they’re out there.

It’s the best news I’ve had all day. I’ll spend evenings here and in 57 trying to crack the hypergate problem. If I can con its signaling apparatus into pinging, say, Amargosa, I should be able to get them to notice me. Maybe a projection-drive hyperdrone will open up communications. We’ll see. Right now, I have to hope they even notice I can send a message.


LOG ENTRY: 1822 25-Sagan, 429

I found bacon rations! Delicious. And I no longer feel like I’m stranded alone on a deserted planet. Never mind that everyone else has been vaporized or melted into slag.

And I’ve come up with a way to check out the other domes I haven’t visited yet. There are more rovers here, all AI equipped and about as advanced as good ol’ 57. I’m keeping 57 for myself. That’s mine and Julie’s love nest.

Keep dreaming, John Farno. If you want a virtual hooker, I told you there are other interfaces you can load while I go dormant.

She’s playing hard-to-get.

No, I’m not.

Seriously, though, I need to go check them out, but they should all have new or only partially used fusion cores in them. I can send one out with a couple of drones to transmit back conditions at the next dome, then leave one of the smaller drones to relay signals back and forth.  Within a month, I should have a ring of drones all the way back to Kremlin, then Musk, New Ares, and so on a few days after that.  And that sensor road neither Julie nor her more primitive counterpart could find?

I’ve absorbed maps from the construction computers here in Solaria. With nearly two weeks of John Farno happening upon destroyed sites, I can use the maps to make bypasses around the domes and lay a new stretch of sensors. Assuming we have enough.

In the meantime, I’ve got two tasks: Get Solaria’s life support up and running, and get the hypergate to ping home.  Wish me luck.