So, I’m still alive

But we had erranda (sounds so much better than errands) to run this morning, and so I haven’t been near a keyboard.

And now that I am I don’t particularly feel like blogging, so I’m going to give you one of those bizarre hodge podge posts I sometimes do.

This morning we woke up to fantasy fog.  Last year we had to drive through several of these (TO DENVER) to pick Robert up from interviews.

Fantasy fog is the sort of thick, milk-white fog where you can’t even see the sides of the road, or the bumper of the car in front of you.  On a trip to Denver, we followed the headlights of a car in front of us, without any idea if we were on a lane, two lanes, or driving on the side of the road.  We didn’t fall down the mountain and that must count as a win.  Given probabilities, in several universes we died, and Robert waited at DIA forever…

We’d have waited till the next day to pick him up, but he had a test, so…

Other than when I found myself on the road late at night, in fantasy fog, fantasy fog is a fine thing.  It sort of blurs the edges of the real and makes it seem like ANYTHING is possible.

Memorable under this heading is the day I was walking the kids to school and Kit Marlowe walked out of the fog, and past me.  Yep, Manitou is that sort of place.  The guy did have a passing resemblance to Marlowe, and he was an SCA person who favored Elizabethan wear.  He also used to walk around downtown CO springs, with sword strapped on.  Dan kept saying “There’s a time travel story in this.  I mean what better cover than “I am in the SCA?”  Because this is the way writers’ minds work.

Of course I grew up with this sort of fog, only it was black and stank.  A real peasouper.  This was because all the garbage from the city of Porto was sent to the “fertilizer factory” near us to burn.  Since the factory couldn’t accommodate it all/get permits for expansion, but the garbage still came, they would burn it in huge bonfires outside the factory.  Highly illegal, of course, but then everything was.

Since the factory was on a hill, when there was fog, it all fell down to the valley where we lived.  Which means foggy days meant being unable to breathe.  Mom has emphysema because of this.  (And genetic susceptibility.)  I wonder if it has something to do with making my immune system crazy and my airways hyper-sensitive, too.

Of course the fog here doesn’t stink, so it’s just cool and a little fantasy-like.  Provided we don’t have to drive to pick up anyone in DIA at midnight.

Other things that come to mind — I’m really trying to finish witch’s Daughter and making progress on Darkship Revenge.  I hate it when books come out together, it’s so hard to concentrate on just one.

Speaking of the song on the radio “Living like a renegade” what the heck does that mean?  Younger son sings it as “living like a darkship renegade” but unless they are Hoyt fans I have no clue what they’re talking about.  Unless of course they’re referring to the president’s secret service handle.  And anyone believe, btw. that handle was randomly bestowed?  No?  Neither do I.

Okay — having reassured you I’m alive, I’m going to go work now.

I’ll return (hopefully more coherently) on Tuesday.  Tomorrow I shall have a guest post.



Dancing with Shadows

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the paranormal.  This is not (precisely) a Halloween frame of mind, but more that I had a book series hit me over the head unannounced.  Which is getting ridiculous as at last count I’m something like 5 books behind.

However, since I also feel like there’s something missing from Witch’s Daughter (the gentleman who just said, “yes, an ebook edition on my kindle” gets points for enthusiasm and has points deducted for impatience) it befits me to get more background.  I’ve been reading on myth and magic, but also on criptids and ghosts and that sort of thing.  Because double duty on two books/series.

BUT here’s the thing — reading about it, one can’t help consider, not just suggestibility but… How do I put this?  The effect of the human mind on the surroundings.

I’ve always found ghost hunters singularly foolhardy.  I grew up in a village and we had a healthy respect for the uncanny.  There was no avoiding that it was around and that if you went around believing in it it would just start uncanning all over the place like nobody’s business, and then where would you be?

What I mean is that things did happen for which there were no logical explanations and sometimes there weren’t even illogical ones.  You just took it that weird stuff happened and rolled with it.

What you didn’t do was going out to meet the stuff half way, look for it, or generally invite it to come around.  Because if you did that… well, there is a reason you don’t invite vampires (which don’t exist) into the house (metaphorically speaking.)  Because if you invite this stuff into your mind, things spin out of control.

Perhaps it is that the world is at least half narrativium and that reality has a bad tendency to try to accommodate what people think it is.  Oh, not in the big things.  I don’t think people can actually levitate the Denver Mint.  And I don’t think we can turn normal human beings into Homus Sovieticus.  (Or even homos sovieticus, which are like homos anywhere else, only with more hammer and sickle. Which are weird things to take into a bedroom.  Which is why the Soviet Union was gay-unfriendly [It is entirely possible this writer is low on coffee.  Bear with me.])

What I mean is that the human mind has a way of imprinting on surroundings, and a way (perhaps not yet figured out) to make other people who have had no contact with you see what isn’t there.  Trust me, I make a living by this, but I make it honestly.  I admit I’m lying.

What concerns me is not so much house where murder happened, and there’s haunts.  I mean, perhaps there’s an after image or something, some type of energy yet unplumbed that will explain this.

It’s more…

I was reading about this road in Ohio where it is said that a bus full of school kids had a crash and all onboard died, and multiple people see the ghost bus.  Only, of course, it never happened.  Or consider all the Cry Baby Bridges (I know, I know, the one near you is the real one.  I KNOW, but really, trust me) which can’t possibly be real cry baby bridges. And yet people see it/hear it.

Yes, some of this is expectation, but there is something else, something that attaches to places that people expect things to attach to.

There are dimensions to the human imagination that we don’t fully understand.

So consider where I am, even before this research (and I figured this is one of my problems with fantasy — exposing my neck too far to the things out there.  Again, I grew up in a village.  We respect the uncanny.  And sometimes even the canny.)

To be a really good writer, a fiction writer has to believe his own creation to an extent.  We have to weave it with the threads of verisimilitude and invest it with belief.  And in a way we’re trifling with the uncanny.  We’re making the imaginary real.  We’re stepping into that half light, dancing in that limnear world, enticing the uncanny in.

After a while writers get a little odd.  I’m one of the saner ones (Stop laughing.  I have a garum-loaded watergun) because I don’t see or hear my characters, except at the back of my mind, but let me tell you, I felt quite relieved when I heard that Rex Stout too knew what Nero Wolfe was doing even when he wasn’t writing him.

Because it seems crazy that you can answer questions about imaginary people without pausing to think.

But it is my job: to invite the imaginary, the non-existent, the … shadowy in, so I can make others believe in it for the space of a minute.

It’s a dangerous job.  It explains some of the crazier behavior in my field.

And it’s why it’s important to keep your logical mind sharp and grounded.  Because otherwise, the vampires will come in.

This Here Is A Promo Post – Free Range Oyster

*There will probably be another post later this afternoon, but meanwhile I have things I must do, so… listen to the ambulatory and unconfined mollusc.*

This Here Is  A Promo Post – Free Range Oyster

Alma Boykin

Chicken Feet and the Firebird

Alexi’s Tale Book 3

Alexi should have known better. Now Ivan the Purrable has a smart phone, a rusalka has her eye on him, and he’s got to keep a bunch of church scouts from being eaten by bears. And he volunteered for it. But when a storm, a fire, and angry Slavic spirits combine, even Sgt. Alexander Zolnerovich may have met his match.

CJ Carella

Bad Vibes

A story of monsters and those who hunt them.

Occult consultant Dante Godoy arrives to the small town of Redemption, Nevada, just in time to help Sheriff Matilda Knobb deal with two impossible murders. Together they will confront unspeakable evils in the night.

Shadowfall: Las Vegas

Bizarre murders. Disappearances. Suicides. Sightings of strange creatures in the night. The strangeness soon snowballs out of control, with people turning insanely violent without warning and sinister cults growing bolder and more dangerous. Nightmares come to life and monsters walk the streets of Las Vegas. And all those events are but a prelude to something far worse. Darkness is coming.

A police detective, a street gang member, an exotic dancer and a visiting tourist cross paths with a bizarre collection of occult troubleshooters trying to prevent the looming disaster. Their actions will determine whether or not Las Vegas will be destroyed by the occult forces gathering around it – and whether or not the rest of the world will follow.

Shadowfall: Las Vegas is set in the same universe as the short story Bad Vibes. It’s a horror-action novel with a dash of humor and film noir sensibilities, with a diverse and compelling cast of characters, Lovecraftian undertones and more than a few zombies.

Dante’s Demons

In a world reeling from the destruction of Las Vegas by Lovecraftian entities, troubleshooter Dante Godoy is on the front lines of the War on Horror, using magic and firepower to battle entities from beyond our reality while dealing with a very real inner demon of his own.

While investigating a murderous cult, Dante discovers a traitor within his own organization. Even worse, he is beginning to lose control over the unearthly entity living inside him. Can he save the world without losing his humanity?

A sequel to Shadowfall: Las Vegas and Bad Vibes, Dante’s Demons combines horror and action with a dash of humor.

Warning: contains graphic violence and adult language.

Your Duties

I’m not going to write about the Oregon shootings.  Not enough information is out and at this point we’d be sharing ignorance.  There is a post maybe, if the profile of the killer is accurate, because it plugs into fears I’ve had for a few years now.

There might also be (there is) a post on the sheer insanity of taking a shooting in a gun free zone as a sign we need more gun laws, as though laws were some sort of magic shield that changes reality.  Anyone who genuinely thinks that way is still in kindergarten, mentally.

But I don’t want to write about the shooting in particular.  I want to talk about this sort of event, which might not be more frequent than before (I’ve seen claims both ways) but which we’re more aware of, I guess.

My first awareness of mass killing was Black September, during the first Olympics I paid attention to.  Dad had sold it to me as this beautiful ceremony, tying in to the ancient Olympics, and how it was all about peace, and then…

Then there was 9/11.  But before that, because I live in CO, there was Columbine.  I got to not just read in horror about the school shooting, but also to be frisked whenever I dropped the kids off at pre-school while wearing a raincoat.  (We had only one car, my house was three blocks from the school and we had a ridiculously rainy year.)

And then there was Beslan.  Beslan, and knowing how easy (truly) it would be for something like that to happen in my kids’ schools almost got me to take the kids out of school and homeschool.  I’m frankly shocked we haven’t had one of those in the US yet.  I’ve expected it for years.  Maybe the terrorist scum knows us better than I thought, and knows if they touch our kids, it’s all up with them.  Maybe.

And I got to watch the school’s completely ineffective and actually counterproductive reaction to Beslan and to Columbine.

I mean, our preschool teacher informed us, in dramatic accents that she would die for our kids.  And all I could think was “Lady, I don’t want you to die for them.  I want you to protect them.”

And their grand plan was to lock the classroom doors, and let no one out.  You know, the perfectly normal classroom doors, you could kick in without much effort, and which were not bullet proof.  What this amounted to was isolating the classrooms, and making it easy for a single killer to move down a hallway shooting the kids in batch lots.

This makes absolutely no sense, of course, unless you think of guns as magical objects, against which there is no defense but to cower and hope that the evil object and its thrall don’t find you.

If say, imagine, someone has an evil magic wand, that can kill you just by being in your vicinity, and he’s loose in the school, yep, the best thing to do is to hide and close the door and hope evil sates itself on your neighbors before it gets to you.

It’s also pusillanimous and shameful and unworthy of any human who walks on two legs.  But it is the result of what the left is and what is has become.  90% of the communists and socialists walking around today are not such because they think those regimes are admirable (at least not if they’re over twenty and actually know anything of the world and history) but because they’re afraid they’re inevitable.  Their embrace of the crazy left is not an embrace of ideals they think will make the world better, it’s an attempt to be eaten last.

With such people in charge of our policies, as they are throughout most educational establishments, it’s no wonder that the ‘eat me last’ strategy is the best they can come up with.

It is also unworthy — as I said — of any human over the age of six.

Look, we live very comfortable and very safe lives by the standard of our ancestors.  And I’m not going to preach about traditional morality, because some of your traditions are not my traditions.  I mean, I do believe, on a spiritual level as well as on a practical one, that one defends oneself and also those who can’t defend themselves.  It’s a moral duty, as well as a practical one.

But let’s go with the practical side, shall we?  I’d bet you the majority of our ancestors are people who defended themselves and those of their group (whatever the group happened to be, and in most cases a tribe.)


Because groups where individuals didn’t defend themselves and didn’t defend those closest to them didn’t survive to contribute their genetics in any significant amount.  Those mythical angelic noble savages who never raised a hand to another human being even while being slaughtered, if they ever existed, were the human equivalent of the Dodo.  You are not of them and have nothing (or very little) in common with them, genetically.

And those tribes that survived by being the last to be eaten while they probably survived to some extent, were not the most successful around, and I doubt a great part of you comes from them.


So after the Columbine thing, I started teaching my kids what to do in case of a shooting.  Because guns aren’t magical, they don’t render the shooter invulnerable.  They just make him more deadly than would, say, a knife or a mace.  BUT neither infallible nor invulnerable.  It’s important to remember that.

Because schools and other public spaces (including army bases) insist on making people there sitting ducks, with no guns for defense you have to get creative.

From being in situations where reaction was needed, I know that I have two modes, and never know which switch is going to flip: the fight like crazy, or the freeze.  Fortunately two of the occasions I froze, freeze was what was called for and in the second it even gave me the appearance of courage.

I also know that training and constant instruction makes it less likely you will freeze.

So, we taught our kids, if an active shooter came into the classroom, throw EVERYTHING at them.  Everything and anything you can reach: books, binders, even desks (which Robert, being a bulldozer, could have lifted by three.)  If you can get them down disarm them.

If you are locked in a classroom, and there’s an active shooter in the school, throw a desk through the window, get out (presuming they’re on the bottom floor, of course), run in zigzags if there’s any sign of shooting from the school to the outside.  If it’s a false alarm, we’ll deal with the window.

My kids never needed to put this into action.  But I remain convinced it’s the right course of action.

Remember 9/11.  The plane that crashed in PA WITHOUT being used as a weapon?  The difference is the people in it didn’t follow the instructions to go passive and wait for someone else to save them, which were standard for high jackings before 9/11.

This is the same reason that other attempts have failed.  The underwear bomber?  the shoe bomber?  It wasn’t the TSA (maybe the underwear bomber!) that stopped them, it was their fellow passengers behaving like a pack, not a herd, and looking to their own protection.

More gun laws won’t make you safe.  More gun free zones won’t make you safe.  people intent on harming you don’t care about the regulations.

This is not kindergarten.  Your government is not the “all powerful” teacher.  They can’t keep you safe, no matter if they lie and say they can.  No matter if they THINK they can.

It is the duty of every adult human to defend him/herself and those weaker than themselves.  Not metaphorically.  Not by pile-on twitter mobs.  But in very real fact.  If someone is threatening you or those near you, defense is not just an option, it’s a duty.

In the end, no one else has your preservation as much in mind as you do.  Nor should they.  And defending the weak, the sick, the small, is a duty of civilization.

Guns are not magical. They don’t absolve you from the duties of humanity and civilization.

Cowering and letting people be shot is the behavior of children and cowards.  Don’t be either.

Take stock of the situation and defend yourself.  Yeah, you might die, but at least you’ll die like an adult human, not a sheep.

I don’t judge anyone in that situation, because I never know when I’m going to just freeze.  BUT I’ll try not to freeze.

As Heinlein put it, paraphrased because I always remember it in  Portuguese “It’s better to be a live sheep than a dead lion, but it’s always better to be a live lion.  In most cases it’s also easier.”

In a time of uncertainty and violence, (as all times are) don’t bleat for more laws.  Laws can’t protect you or those you love.  They’re just words, on paper.

Be a lion.

The Weapon

Today it occurred to me it’s exactly 20 years since I caught the pneumonia that almost killed me.  Okay, it didn’t start in October.  It started in November.  But the percursor to it started in October, with the kids and Dan catching some form of stomach flu.  Since younger kid was then just short of one, and his brother was three, stomach flu meant piles and piles of clothes and BED CLOTHES to wash and more often than not carpets to clean.  I was running the carpet cleaner continuously, I was running the wash continuously, and yet there were piles of smelly sheets in a corner of the laundry room.

Then Dan caught the respiratory bug going on at work.  I — seemingly — didn’t catch it.  Usually you know when I’m sick, because I cough constantly.  I wasn’t coughing at all.

I just felt exhausted.  In fact, driving Dan to one of his doctor’s appointments, the doctor said I looked sicker than Dan.

By November it was obvious I had SOMETHING.  I thought it was one of my bad asthma attacks.  While making food for the Holiday meeting of our writers’ group, I had to keep drinking coffee, which seemed to help my breathing, which tracked to asthma.

By late December I gave up.  As in, doing anything at all became too much work.  It took me an hour to dress, because I’d put on a piece of clothing, then rest, then put on the other.  And I was spending most of my time on the sofa, which is why we asked one of my friends to come mind the kids — as mothers of small children know, minding small kids is an athletic endeavor — because I couldn’t.

And then on the eleventh of January — fortunately early morning, while Dan was home, because I don’t know what my friend would have made of it, I got up to go to the bathroom and collapsed in the hallway.

Dan found me passed out, freaked, threw me in the back of the car, and drove me to emergency (after getting someone to stay with the kids.)

When I got to the hospital, my blood oxygen levels didn’t register.  I walked in, and they said they’d never seen anyone below 65 walk in.  They admitted me.  Where, if my blood oxygen levels hadn’t been so low, they’d have thought I was an hypochondriac, because my x rays showed NOTHING in my lungs.  (Later it became known that form of pneumonia was intracellular — i.e. the space between the cells.)  OTOH they could HEAR liquid in my lungs.

The emergency room doctor who admitted me had been seeing a lot of this and made the decision in about 5 minutes.  He gave me intravenous zitromax (sp?) then a new drug, and put me on oxygen.  For about two days I sort of recovered, slowly, then I got treated by a group of five doctors.

And then things got “fun.”  They decided my white blood count wasn’t high enough for the problem to be an infection.  They took me off antibiotics and wanted to give me steroids.  I refused the steroids, because certain types of infections get worse with them (which we knew from our cat.)

I kept getting worse, including coding in the middle of one night, and having a heart attack during a broncoscopy.  (I told them not to give me atropine when my heart was already enlarged and I was tachycardic.  Don’t they read Agatha Christie?)

After which I was in ICU.  For eleven days.

The pulmonologist wanted to do a lung biopsy.  My sister-in-law who is a pathologist in Portugal, was in constant communication with my husband and said given my state at the time, a lung biopsy would kill me.

So, Dan refused to sign the consent and told me not to sign the consent.

Now, I was somewhere between life and death, floating in a weird space in which my then 2 and a half years dead grandmother came and sat with me.

Our kids were being watched round the clock by a group of volunteer friends, who spelled themselves, as though they were family, so these little kids were never without someone.

However there were gaps.  Our friends had jobs and obligations.  So, sometimes, Dan had to leave me (greater love has no man than he who sleeps for almost a dozen nights on the floor of an ICU room, on his coat, in the middle of January) for an hour or so.

When he did, the doctors came.  The pulmonologist told me I should have the biopsy, for instance.  I told him my SIL advised against it in my condition, as chances were I’d die.

He told me, yeah, it was a high risk, but so what?  In the state I was in, I was no good to my husband and kids, and besides, what was I? A house wife?  I wasn’t much help to them anyway, and think of how much money I would save my family by dying.

I signed the form.

Dan came in as they were prepping me, threw the mother of all fits, pointed out I was not competent to sign anything and threatened to sue them to their back teeth.  Then he demanded they give me antibiotics again, the antibiotics under which I had improved.  They said no, and he said, that’s fine, we’re going to the other (the Catholic) hospital in town.  And he said, “Honey, put your clothes on, we’re going.”

This is one of three times my husband has given me a direct order.  I wasn’t at all sure of the advisability of obeying, but I did promise to obey, so as he handed me my clothes, I sat up slowly and started dressing.  Keep in mind, I was tachycardic and my heart was enlarged.

The doctors freaked, and told my husband they’d give me the antibiotic, but it wouldn’t do any good, because it wasn’t an infection.

For the next three days I got the antibiotic in IV — yes, that same antibiotic you get five little tablets of, and that’s it? — and it burned the IV sites after a few hours, so that they moved it constantly.  Three days later, I looked like an addict with track marks.

And four days later I walked out of the hospital under my own power because I was too well for the insurance to pay for my bills any longer.  I stayed on oral dose antibiotic (yes, that same one) for a month and a half, but six months later I was well enough to prep and stage a house for selling.

Two years later I made my first novel sale.  Nine years later, I home schooled younger son, who would otherwise have dropped out of sixth grade and probably never opened a book again.

For the last twenty years I’ve cooked, I’ve cleaned, I’ve refinished furniture, sewed clothes, and generally made our lifestyle the same as that of a family with two normal incomes.  Oh, and I’ve written 23 books which got published.  I don’t know if those count, but at least one of those got me a fan letter from a lady saying it had kept her sane through cancer treatment.  (Weirdly?  The book was Plain Jane.)  She got an autographed copy by return mail, of course.

The above story is relevant for various reasons.  First of all, and unlike some people who have written on Sir Terry Pratchett’s saying he planned committing suicide, I don’t judge people in that situation.  I don’t judge, because I’ve been there and when I signed that consent form, it was more or less what I expected.  Now, I wasn’t competent, but people who are terminal by definition aren’t competent.

Also, I’ve seen two friends die of cancer.  It’s an ugly, slow death.  One of them was one of dad’s best friends, and it was an open secret the doctors put him down when the family couldn’t endure it anymore.  The other was my friend Alan, Dan’s best friend, now dead almost a year.  He died naturally, but it was also a slow, agonizing death.

I don’t hold it against any family members who, when hope is gone, wish they could relieve people of their suffering.  We do that for our pets.  (Though my family is really bad at it.  We’ve lost 4 cats, and only two were euthanized, one for constant pain beyond our power to relieve — his kidneys failed — the other because cancer fused her jaw.)  And I understand the desire to “make it stop.”

But — yes, there is a but — there is a Second of All.

Second of all, I am sternly against legalizing medically assisted suicide.  For the same reason I don’t judge people and the decision they choose to make, it is power I don’t think we should put in doctors’ hands.  Doctors have authority and power, particularly when you’re ill, and too many of them seem to make strange judgements on human life, like the one who tried to convince me my family (and please keep in mind we had an infant and a toddler) was better off with me gone.

After all I was “just a housewife” and therefore making no contributions to the family.

When you’re sick, and if you’re like me and fight the black dog ALL THE TIME anyway, you’re likely to be depressed, and it’s very easy to tell you the world is better off without you, and there’s no hope.

It was all too easy to convince me of this, and if I hadn’t had a husband and friends who thought I was valuable and needed, I would have died then.  I don’t know if my contributions since are worth anything in the grand scheme of things, but at least my contributions to my kids have been important and irreplaceable. But I couldn’t see it, so I was at the mercy of strangers with their prejudices, except for a husband and friends who cared.

Which brings us to this article sent to me by one of you.

I can hear some readers saying, “Who?” Maggie Karner had the same brain cancer as Brittany Maynard, who became an A-list international celebrity for announcing she would commit assisted suicide.

Go and read the whole thing.
At one point she is quoted as saying:

The out-of-state proponents of the bill regarding physician-assisted suicide suggest having the ability to end your life legally is comforting. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is nearly as troubling as the cancer itself. You see, I get strength and comfort from the knowledge that nobody is going to give up on me — medically, psychologically or holistically. Right now, I have the firm support of the state and my fellow citizens in my desire to live — no matter the cost or burden. If that were to change, the tiny knowledge that I might be straining my family, friends, doctors or community resources unnecessarily would be a heavy burden. The constant “option” for suicide would wear at my resolve and I fear, become an unspoken “duty” for me and others.

This resonated deeply with me.
I’m a libertarian — I don’t think we should imprison people for trying to commit suicide (or even for having abortions.)
But I also think that legalizing suicide with our current culture does exactly what Maggie Kerner says.  It makes your decision not to commit suicide in the face of hopeless, or just prolonged health battles a selfish one, for which you can be condemned.  Which will tip the scales towards death, when there is no other reason for it, and eliminate all the potential contributions the person might still make.
In fact, we live in a culture where believers in zero-sum economics consider people ALWAYS a drain and an expenditure.  (We’ve found that many if not most of the women having abortions do so under pressure of a partner or other near relatives — their decision to choose life would be considered selfish, in fact, just like the decision to live. This is a culture in which all life is considered a drain, not a contribution.)  It is insane, but it is the culture that we have.
So while I don’t condemn those who choose a way out early because I’m not them, and not thinking with their minds, I disapprove of giving doctors (who are increasingly more and more agents of the state) and hospitals, and the entire bureaucracy of a culture in which human beings are considered expenditures and drains, the power to influence people towards ending it all early.
I’ve been ruminating this post for a while.  It’s difficult, both because it touches my personal experience, and because I am conflicted when it comes to saying I’m against legalization of assisted suicide.  But it’s not really that I’m against, of course.  I’m against empowering bureaucrats to decide when your time should come, which is what assisted suicide tends to do, sooner or later.  (And usually sooner.)
Yesterday a sentence went through my head “Would you give a loaded weapon to an imbecile?”
It is the pay off line from a Frederic Brown story The Weapon, a pacifist, pro unilateral disarmament story.  As what it was, it fails.  The conceit is that a visitor comes to a scientist who has discovered a new weapon, and listens to his reasons why he must give it to the government, then gives a gun to the scientists mentally slow son, and after the scientists retrieves the gun he uses the pay off line.
It doesn’t work as what it is, because the fact was that the psychopath already had the gun (the USSR) and giving one to our less than brilliant leaders just stopped the psychopath from shooting everything in sight freely.
However, in this case, consider the culture that would make a hero of a woman who chose to commit suicide when faced with brain cancer, but not even mention a woman who chose to die naturally.  Consider the culture that routinely makes heroes of women who choose to abort, but reviles those who have large families.  Consider the culture that, having imbibed Marx through all its educational establishment, routinely says things like “Smokers cost society money.”
Consider a society in fact in which the idea of self ownership is so far gone that most people think the government has the right to dictate what you drink, what you eat, what you do with your own body not even out of some higher principle, but because “you’re a drain on society.”
How far off are we from people being guilted into committing suicide because they need minor care throughout life?  People are ALREADY routinely guilted into not reproducing because of genetic defects in their family, which are not fatal just inconvenient.  (And we ALL have genetic defects.  They’re often paired with the genes for intelligence and other “good” traits.)  How far off are we from “oh, you have asthma?  Society would save a lot of money if you died.”
I don’t judge the people in great suffering who choose to end it.  But I judge people who make decisions on the value of human life based on the assumption that humans are just “a drain on society.”
That most definitely includes the members of the news-entertainment-industrial complex who make death a fetish and who at the bottom of their hearts seem to believe anyone else, anyone even vaguely flawed, should be done away with (or do away with themselves) for the good of all.
It’s not just that they make it harder on the people who choose not to take the suicide route.  It is also because once a society becomes this steeped in “obligation to die” no one is safe.  Not even those journalists.
Would you give a loaded weapon to a malevolent imbecile?

Grocers of Despair- A Blast From the Past Post from March 2012

*I am struggling in with a rather difficult post just now, which is somewhat related to this one.  At any rate, forgive me if I put up a BFP today.*

This is a post about the qualities and the effects of despair.  There are several reasons for it, the proximate one being that we are fed a lot of it – purposely? – by our art and entertainment complex.

I’m well acquainted with despair.  You could say it is an old friend of mine, except that despair is no one’s friend.

Despair accounted for how long it took me to break into publishing, to an extent, by creating long gaps of silence in my production, and several attempts at doing something else – anything else – with my life.  My basement is littered with the beginnings of would-be-money-making projects I tried to engage in to avoid what seemed to be a hopeless attempt at getting published.  Despair has accounted for how few of my books have been out the last two years.  Those of you who have followed my blog through that time know I hit the nadir of despair about a year ago, when it looked like despite all my best efforts to keep running on ice, my career in writing was over.

I was wrong.  I was wrong for several reasons, one of them being that Darkship Thieves – my heart’s darling at that point – did well for itself, and continues to do surprisingly well.  I was wrong, because indie possibilities opened.  I was wrong because I lost it – truly lost it – and started telling it like it is, and weirdly, surprisingly the “me” I’d suppressed so long, in order to have a career that would allow me to feed the kids, allowed me to find readers who helped my career.  Go figure.

But the point is not that I was wrong.  The point is that I know from despair and what’s more, I understand why despair is considered a sin.  This is not always the case, and I’ve always had an issue with, say, sloth, since – being active by nature – I can’t imagine a worst punishment than being forced to do nothing.

Despair is a sin because it eats you, from the inside out.  Despair comes with “I will never” and “what is the use” and “the game is rigged, so why bother?”  Despair comes with beating your head against a glass window that shouldn’t be there, and yet is.  Despair, in its ultimate form has blighted more artistic careers, destroyed more souls (and by soul here, I don’t require you believe in an immortal entity.  I refer only to that which makes your mind and spirit yours) caused more suicides than anything else.

Despair is that feeling you get when you’ve run the maze, you’ve done your best, and you come to the end and there’s nothing but a blank wall.

It is a powerful emotion, at least for those of us who have faced it.  It is dramatic, if you end a story with it, after a good run and a lot of hope, it stays in the mind.

It is in fact a primary color, and it’s small wonder beginning writers use it, just like beginning artists – say kindergarten – use primary colors.

And it is a sin.  It is a sin against your future self.  It is a sin against humanity.  It is a sin against possibility.  Remember that.  We’ll come back to it.

However, the fact that it is an easily identifiable tint and primary doesn’t explain why there is so much of it larded around science fiction and fantasy, which SHOULD be the literature of possibility.  Sure a lot of this can be explained by the youth of writers (in truth or in practice,) the youth of editors (most of the ones working with newby writers are just out of college) and a certain fashionable air of the times, when it is considered smart and hip to dress all in black and moan about the evils of the future.  (Kind of like it was fashionable for Goethe’s Werner.  Never mind.  Hip, I tell you.  futuristic even.)

But wait, there’s more.  There’s what despair serves to do.  People who despair don’t try to change things and/or undermine the establishment.  People who despair, at the very least go away and shut up, even if they don’t deliberately kill themselves.

There is a striking scene in one of Leo Frankowski’s books, in which a Mongol Lord gets peasants to line up so he can behead them.  And when the hero comes along and kills him, the peasants turn on the hero because “now you’ve gone and angered them.”  And when the hero asks what can be worse than being killed, they have nothing, except “they will make it worse.”  THAT’s despair.  Despair makes you embrace death willingly rather than rebel, no matter how bad things get.

While I don’t believe in a grand conspiracy among publishing outlets and entertainment venues, I do believe in a tribal culture in what is – after all – when it comes to influential people maybe a few thousand people: a small village.  Tribal cultures are easy to influence.  I’m not saying anyone is, I’m saying it’s possible – and we’ve found that type of influence behind a lot of the recent “trends.”

So, before you give in to despair, ask yourself cui bono?  (And if you’re not into asking yourself Latin questions and are now wondering if you should have been paying more attention to Dancing With The Stars and supermarket tabloids, let me dispel your confusion.  That means “Whom does this profit?”)

Dave Freer talks about sheep and goats.  Most of humanity are sheep.  Some of us are goats.  The problem of any establishment, any power, anyone who abrogates influence over human hearts and minds is to control the goats and to make the sheep do more than stand in place and bah.  The more brutally repressive regimes eliminate the goats, often physically, and leave only the sheep.  The result is all the innovation and elan of… North Korea.

The best regimes manage to allow the goats their head, keeping them only off the things that will hurt other people.  They usually result in the highest production – both artistic and material.

In between there are several types of goat-herding schemes, including tolerating them within certain bounds and shipping them abroad to claim new pastures for the sheep.  The British Empire used both strategies with great success since the Elizabethan age.  They eventually stopped using it and resorted to despair.  The British Empire didn’t survive much longer.

So ask yourself what about the current establishment makes it resort to despair?  It’s surely the mark of a philosophical system that has nothing else to offer its goats.  It’s the mark of a philosophical system that is doomed, and wants to keep things quiet “just a little longer.”

And it has been THE culture in publishing since the seventies.  The embrace of declining numbers, declining revenues, declining living standards for writers – the willing embrace of decline – the meek submission to the people who are killing us, because you wouldn’t want to get them angry.  They could really make it unpleasant then.

In According To Hoyt, we’ve talked about how going Indie is a mark of impatience… or something – at least according to the establishment.  We’re supposed to stay still, and let despair permeate us, and slowly tighten around us like a band, allowing us to make only the approved noises, which increase the cultural despair and get everyone accustomed to decline and darkness, and no way out.  When publishers say the mid-list should die, they expect us to curl up and do so.  How quaint.

Despair is a sin.  And, to quote Jerry Pournelle, it might not even reflect the truth.  Look at Heinlein, a smart man and most of us would say an optimist, who chose not to have children, avowedly (yes, I’m aware there might have been other reasons) because “the world was such a mess.”  And yet, if he’d had a child in his first marriage, that child would now be older than my dad, who has had a full life, and not an unpleasant one.

Do not take Mr. Heinlein’s example in that particular aspect of his life.  Take his example in his writing.  Despair is a sin.  And there is usually another way: a way through, a way around.  Find the way.  Pull the Mongol horseman down.  If you kill enough of them, they’ll go away.  Refuse to write despair.  Refuse to believe despair.  Look doom and gloom in the eye and ask them “you and what army?”  Yes, it might all come to the same in the end, but at least you’ll have fought and died like a human being and not a bah lamb.

Tell the Grocers of Despair you have better things to do.  There is a fight going on, and you’d rather fight.  And then go on and discover new pastures.  The poor sheep need somewhere to graze on.  And you’ll have more freedom to breathe.  And everyone wins in the end.

Remember qui bono?  If they sell you despair it’s because they’re afraid of what you can do if you don’t give up.  Don’t give up.  Nothing will piss the establishment more than your continued – and cheerful – battling on.  Do it.  Let THEM despair.

Dancing in Circles

Yesterday I had a moment of dissonance as I clicked on Mad Genius Club. [update: fixed link.] I stared at the title of the post, wondering if I’d written it because it was titled with a Leonard Cohen song title and then went on to quote Leonard Cohen.

Which is all great because it was Dave Freer’s post, and we’re friends, but I had no idea anyone else shared my tastes in music. Because that’s not one of the mind-sets of the groups I run in.  The groups I run in have other things in common.  But not too much.  We try not to group-think.  Some of the bigger, most fundamental arguments I’ve had have been with my friends.  We remained friends afterwards, but we test our perceptions of things fairly often.

If you go to the post, you’ll see it’s about mind sets, and how someone coming new to an established culture like, say, Baen might be shocked and think that everything that’s being done is being done wrong.

I didn’t have this problem, because I had arrived to most of the ideas Baen was using on my own before being bought by Baen.  Things like “the first taste is free.” And “pirates aren’t really a problem.” ( Yes, I fell for the whole “book pirates must be stopped” for about six months, then started thinking through it: both the fact that no one steals from obscure beginners and that the culture of piracy is such they’ll steal books they don’t read (for the triumph of breaking the code) and that they wouldn’t buy them anyway.  Also, that the loss to piracy is far smaller than the “loss” of traditional books to lending, used books and what I used to do of rescuing books from the trash in tourist hotels in Porto.)

However, particularly when ebooks were new, like 20 years ago, the technology itself was terrifying for most of the writers and publishers, who were not only older than I, but not the greatest of tech geeks.  Also new technology scares people, because there’s an entire new world of things that can go wrong.

But most important of all, everyone who was talking about ebooks and the horrible dangers of piracy was of one mind.  And those that had no opinion heard the entire group agree.

Publishing was a small, provincial group with no knowledge of anything outside it.  Traditional publishing still is to a certain extent.  They are a relatively small group of people, who constantly rub elbows, and who know very few people outside the field who read or have opinions about publishing.

There is an idea — or at least I’ve had this idea — that indie is challenging the claustrophobic nature of publishing, bringing new ideas into the closed world of the industry and exploding old notions.

But the more I read about … well, the field I work in, the more I become aware that my assumptions are wrong.  No, they’re not really changing their minds, or looking at evidence, or evaluating numbers.

Do you guys remember Dorothy Grant’s post on the publishing numbers?

Among other things (and if you haven’t read the post you should) she said this:

Amazon-imprint & Indie books now make up 60% of the market, and gross 40% of the revenues.

Yes, you read that right. More than half of all the books sold aren’t from the Big Five, or the 1195 other publishers of the AAP. Congratulations, indie writers, you’re not fighting to get in the market anymore. You ARE the market.

Unfortunately (?) what those numbers also show is that the sales of ebooks from traditional venues are down — way down compared to paper books.  Which means… that traditional publishers should be reconsidering their idea of pricing ebooks way above paper books.  (Because I keep losing books in this house, I’m trying to go as much ebooks as possible, and I’ll pay the ridiculous prices for, say, Jim Butcher.  And PF Chisholm’s Elizabethan mysteries.  But that’s it.  And the last one only because I was ill and really depressed about it, otherwise I’d have waited and bought the paper book used, even though I’d feel really bad about not supporting a good series.)

I assumed publishers would be reconsidering their ebook prices because, let’s face it, they can’t count their sales of paper too well.  No seriously, the Nielsen numbers reflect maybe one third of books sold, and then they calculate according to some bizarre formula even they admit is not right.  (BTW for publishers like Baen who make a strong showing in comic bookstores  and other non-traditional venues, Nielsen is even less reliable.)

But they could look at reports and go “whoa, we’re losing money to indie.  How can we compete?  Perhaps not pricing ebooks higher than paperbooks?”

That’s what I sort of assumed.  Because I forgot they’re a closed shop: a small, provincial group of people for whom it is more important to keep the good opinion of their colleagues than to do anything else, including survive.

These are the sort of poisonous circles in which thinking for yourself, or not singing in the choir becomes a thought-crime.

In these circumstances, it becomes very easy to blame your failure on an evil villain — Amazon for instance — which is stealing your business by totally unfair methods.  It becomes very easy to join in rage-fests against this Emanuel Goldstein instead of contemplating what makes Amazon succeed and why your printruns keep falling.

And it’s really easy to think that the fall in ebook sales FOR TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS is the same as a fall or leveling off in ebook sales.

[And I bet you not included in this is the biggest number of ebook “sales” in recent months: Kindle Lending Library.  I have a membership and I bet a lot of you do.  Sure.  If you read more than three books a month, even at 2.99, it’s a good price.  It also prejudices you AGAINST buying ebooks.  Because if you can read something that is included in your subscription, it’s cheaper, and we’re mostly broke, most of us.  (Trust me, I just read a modern retelling of the book of Ruth which was like having your back teeth extracted through your eye sockets, because I kept thinking “but it’s free.”  Okay, I need to control that.)

The thing is, even though those aren’t exactly “ebook sales” they are, because the reader is still paying money, and the author is still getting paid (and for some stories more than they’re up for.)  But none of that will show in ebook sales and most of those are not traditional, because traditional publishers won’t put books on KULL.  (Though some of the romance series now have their first book in a series on KULL.  I’m resisting the feeling I should buy the others, at traditional publishing prices.  I can’t afford them.  But it’s a great marketing technique.)]

Have you guys ever read books on “How to lie with statistics?” or “How to lie with numbers?”

Sure you have, and I’m sure traditional publishing house personnel have also.  BUT the numbers are telling them things they want to hear.  More than that, things their entire circle wants to hear.  So there’s no one to say “what if we’re terribly wrong?”  And “Have you looked at these other factors?”

John Carlton in his blog The Arts Mechanical did a round up on this subject.

He quotes this:

Publishers, seeking to capitalize on the shift, are pouring money into their print infrastructures and distribution. Hachette added 218,000 square feet to its Indiana warehouse late last year, and Simon & Schuster is expanding its New Jersey distribution facility by 200,000 square feet.

Penguin Random House has invested nearly $100 million in expanding and updating its warehouses and speeding up distribution of its books. It added 365,000 square feet last year to its warehouse in Crawfordsville, Ind., more than doubling the size of the warehouse.

“People talked about the demise of physical books as if it was only a matter of time, but even 50 to 100 years from now, print will be a big chunk of our business,” said Markus Dohle, the chief executive of Penguin Random House, which has nearly 250 imprints globally. Print books account for more than 70 percent of the company’s sales in the United States.

The company began offering independent booksellers in 2011 two-day guaranteed delivery from November to January, the peak book buying months.

Yep.  As far as publishers are concerned, their concerted effort at making ebooks too expensive is paying off.  People are going back to print.  Happy days are here again.  Build more warehouses and maximize your ability to stock independent book sellers.

Now I know some independent booksellers are making a come back, but I can also tell you there aren’t nearly the numbers of them there were in the late nineties before the chains killed them and before Amazon ate the chains.  For instance, in my old neighborhood there used to be a good indie bookseller, a good indie used/new bookseller, and a good used book seller.  Of those the indie used/new bookseller remains, but their bookshelves are now mostly used and keep shrinking.

I do confess that looking at that information above, and the fact publishers are building warehouses and expanding their paper book side, I took a step back.  Once I’d picked my jaw off the table, I checked my gut on why this felt not just wrong but borderline insane.

I checked things like Barnes and Noble toysellers, with an ever shrinking amount of BOOK shelf space; I checked things like the number of bookstores available in my area, or the fact that I — by any definition a power reader — haven’t been in a bookstore for… two? years, and the last one I entered (other than to pick up my friend and pet the store cats) was a used bookstore where I was buying a batch of $2 books.

And this is not because I have a grudge against traditional publishing — my grudge against them started as a reader, when series disappeared, and authors I’d just discovered had been unable to publish for three years — because I continued reading them grudge or no grudge until they made it difficult (and I still buy Butcher from Random Penguin.)  And this is not because it’s what I want to see: before I wet my toes in indie publishing, watching what was happening in traditional was like standing by and watching the Titanic sink all over again.  I used to tell my friend Charles “I’m at least still employed.  It’s like the Titanic is sinking, but I’m floating on the grand piano.”

Speaking of Charles, the aforementioned friend who works in a used bookstore.  The bookstore he used to work for went under, partly driven by Amazon offering used books.  (For a while there, and this is my perspective, not his) his former boss appeared to go nuts and start tossing every book that would bring in minimum payment, not realizing the money was in the volume of plus shipping money.)

His current employer, another used bookstore is opening up as a concert and event venue and other ways of supplementing income.  It’s a great bookstore, and it has cats.  BUT I’m going to guess that the volume of used book buying is down, even on Amazon.

I know my volume of paper book buying is way down, and not just because we’re moving.  Unless it’s research, or art or such, I’m not buying paper books.  (Exceptions made for books I expect to get signed or that are not in ebook.)

Of course, I could be atypical.  Except… except that the last three times I flew, I saw exactly ONE person reading a paper book.  In fact, in the last five years, that one person, reading what appeared to be  bestseller was the only one not flourishing phone/kindle/nook/ipad.

More interestingly, I keep seeing free bookshelves on craigslist, or really cheap ones.  For years, bookshelves were hard to find used, and expensive when you found them.  But not anymore.

AND most importantly of all, it’s impossible to beat the convenience of ebooks.  I actually lack the romantic attachment many people my age seem to have to paper books.  Yeah, yeah, the feel, the weight, the smell — bah.  I’m in it for the story. And ebooks have assuaged one of my constant fears from childhood: the fear I’d be left without something I felt like reading RIGHT THEN. I mean, I had enough to-be-read books at any given time, but what if I wasn’t in the mood for anything I owned.

I don’t know what the percentage of people is who drove madly across town to Borders, went in five minutes before closing, and bought out an entire shelf of material because THAT NIGHT they wanted historical.  Well, ebooks saves me that drive, but more importantly, I’m not restricted to whatever is on the shelves on that night. I can ALWAYS find something I feel like reading.

To addicts like me, who formed the backbone of the book business, THAT means ebooks win.  Every time.

And so, traditional publishers look at the numbers and prepare for the big rush back to paper books.

Because it’s their culture.  Because it’s the circle they dance in.  I can’t find any justification for their optimism — if you can call it that — but in their circle, it’s an article of faith.

Just as I supposed it’s an article of faith in the GOP that at the last minute they can slid in Jeb Bush and everyone will be happy.  Or amid the Democrats, it’s an article of faith that everyone is waiting for Hilary.  (No, not to confess to felony, but to be elected.)

It’s baffling unless you realize you’re dealing with cultures, not with people, not even with groups.  Cultures have these beliefs they tell themselves, and isolated cultures have really tenacious stories they tell themselves, and are really good at punishing dissenters.

So all cultures change slowly and isolated cultures — our so called intelligentsia, the publishing establishment, the DC habitues– change extremely slow if at all.  Because in their circles it’s better to be wrong in objective fact than to be thought wrong by their friends and colleagues.

And this is why politics — and entertainment, and journalism, and the arts — are downstream from the culture.

And why the culture can blind people completely to what is going on beneath their noses, while they go dancing in circles, merrily, nearer and nearer the precipice, until all that you can do for them is say the prayer for the dead.

Which is one of myriad reasons that in the end we win, they lose.  It’s also one of myriad reasons that despair is premature and infantile.

Be not afraid.  Stay the course.  It’s going to get very rough, but we can turn her around.  All it will take is sweat, tears and maybe even blood for much longer than anyone should be required to expend them.

It’s been done before.  We can do it too.

Mars-Les Johnson

Mars – Les Johnson

Mars. In the heart and mind of almost every science fiction fan I know, the mere mention of the planet Mars evokes a sense of “what if?” followed by wistful recollection of the many books, television shows and movies that have been made depicting the exploration of the Red Planet.

Who among us hasn’t wished they’d heard the live broadcast of Orson Wells’ The War of the Worlds back in 1938? A few of our older kin recall the disappointment of learning that Mars is a barren dessert and not the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs. We’ve experienced the joys of reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and the disappointment of seeing the truly mediocre television miniseries of the same name. And then there’s Ben Bova’s sweeping novel of Mars exploration titled, simply, Mars. And Kim Stanley Robinson’s series, Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars; the list goes on. And now we get to see how Andy Weir’s survival story, The Martian, survives translation to the big screen. (I’ve already seen it – There was a special screening at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville on September 21. No spoilers here!) Almost every science fiction writer, including me, have written about Mars in either a book or short story. It’s in our blood.

Since I work for NASA and have looked extensively at the technologies required to send people to Mars, I am often asked how close we are to being able to take such a journey. [DISCLAIMER: The very fact that I work for NASA requires me to say that “the opinions expressed herein are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.”] Basing my opinion solely on information that is publicly available, the answer is… not straightforward. Let me break it into the three areas that Project Managers and Decision Makers (the ones with the money) use when they assess the viability of a project in an attempt to explain my answer.


This is the area where engineers, scientists and science fiction fans like to reside. (Yes, I consciously group scientists and engineers with science fiction fans together in the same category!) From a purely technical point of view:

1) We have or will soon have the rockets needed to send the huge amount of mass required to keep people alive for the 1.5 to 3.5 year round trip journey to and from Mars. CHECK

2) Thanks to years of experience on the International Space Station (ISS), we believe we have the life support systems required. We can recycle up to 90% of the water we need and a significant fraction of the oxygen. We can scrub the CO2 from the air and mitigate most of the adverse effects that come from weightlessness; though providing artificial gravity for the trip would be desirable. (We can probably do this also.) CHECK

3) We have or can soon have the in-space propulsion systems required to carry people and cargo from Earth orbit to Mars and back again. Chemical rockets can do the job, but they require a lot of fuel. A lot of fuel. (Did I say they require a lot of fuel?) With investment, we could use nuclear thermal rockets to cut the fuel load by approximately 50%. Alternatively, we could use electric propulsion to efficiently send much of the cargo required ahead of the crew, while sending the people with more traditional chemical propulsion. This approach would also decrease the amount of fuel required. CHECK

4) We know how to build the lander to take the crew to the surface of Mars and launch them back into space. No one has built the lander or the ascent vehicle yet, but we know we can. CHECK

5) We also know how to build a habitat for the astronauts to use when they are on the surface of Mars exploring.   CHECK

6) There is one serious technical unknown that has split many in the community: the adverse effects of being exposed to space radiation for a long period of time. The exposure from a trip to Mars would almost certainly increase a person’s risk of getting some cancers. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a near-term fix for this problem so it might just have to be a risk they live with. Which brings me to…


Mounting a mission to Mars will take a long time.

1) You have to build the advocacy – either in governments or in the private sector. Someone has to be convinced to do it and figure out what technical solutions are the best to actually go and build. This will require a minimum of 2 years. (This is very optimistic!)

2) Once you decide to go, then you have to build the hardware. This takes more time than anyone wants it to take. Plan on 5 years, minimum, to design and build all of the complex systems described in the TECHNICAL section above.

3) Will there be an uncrewed test flight? Or will you fly these complex systems with people during the first mission in which they will be used? If you decide to have a dress rehearsal test flight, then you can add a minimum of 8 – 10 years to your schedule. That’s how long it will take to fly to and from Mars and then build the next set of hardware.

4) Finally, you fly to Mars. Conservatively, allow for a 3-year, round-trip mission.

The total time from the moment you decide you want to go until you return the astronauts home is 18 – 20 years with a test flight and a minimum of 10 years without. Ouch! And you have to keep your sponsors excited, with the money flowing, for the duration.


Someone has to pay for this mission and it will either be the tax payers, investors or a wealthy patron. Realistically, the project will cost somewhere between $10 Billion and $100 Billion. Now there are a few billionaires out there, but very few are willing to bet their entire net worth on a first mission to Mars. A consortium of billionaires could do it, but is this going to happen?

A corporation could certainly pay for it. The annual profits of Exxon, Coca Cola and Apple certainly put them in the category of ‘they have the money.’ But recall that corporations are in business to make money and a first mission to Mars is certain to be a money loser. How will they be able to convince shareholders that betting the company on a Mars mission is a good investment when there is no real economic benefit to be gained, at least in the near- to moderate-term.

That leaves governments and the taxpayers. There is precedent: Project Apollo, various 19th century colonial empires, and the American Louisiana Purchase and exploration. For you and me, $100B is a lot of money. But on the scale of what the United States government spends in a year, it is so little that it might as well be a rounding error. In 2015, NASA’s budget was ~$18B. The Department of Defense spent ~$598B. Medicare cost the taxpayers ~$522B. And the total spending of the United States government was ~$3.9 trillion — that’s ~$3900 billion, or enough to sponsor over 39 Mars missions.

What do we conclude from all this?

1) We want to go to Mars.

2) It is technically feasible to go to Mars.

3) It is logistically possible to go to Mars within a decade of deciding to do so.

4) A trip to Mars is affordable.

Why, then, aren’t we going to Mars?

Because it isn’t a priority. We, as a society, don’t want it badly enough.

Priorities can change. So get busy. Mars awaits!

Les Johnson

Les is a physicist, a husband and father, a science fiction author for Baen books whose latest novel, Rescue Mode, is to be released in paperback September 29. You may learn more about Les, his work and his writing by visiting his website at, on Facebook and on Twitter (@LesAuthor).

Odds, Sods, Pods

First of all I didn’t sleep this late, and there’s no pod people in my basement.  What happened is we went out to get water for Derpfish’s aquarium. Because I need to change his water.

I am actually in basement right now as I write this, but will be going upstairs to work as soon as it’s done.  I’m waiting for holding tank to be warmed up for Derpy, so I can clean his aquarium and change the water and filters.

Anyway —

I’m working on getting Witch’s Daughter ready to go up, after which I’ll resume posting Rogue Magic on weekends.  I’m also editing the Magical British Empire to go up and getting a little impatient at the beginning writer who wrote it.  I hope to get it up soon and then get up the Musketeer Vamps which reverted also.

I’m also writing Darkship Revenge, now with more Mule/Good Men villainy…

After that it’s Dragons which I’ll put up in subscriber page as I write, and while we’re at it.

I apologize to my much-abused subscribers for not having distributed the freebies they’re entitled too so far.  Sorry, guys, it’s one of those things, the moment I put up the subscriber page, the wheels came off the health and it’s been two and a half years give or take, though the last half year has been definite recovery.

Through Fire is delivered, and DSR2 is halfway there.

Now I now that you guys are supposed to get a bunch of stuff, but the paypal interface doesn’t keep who is at which level and — see wheels coming off — I didn’t keep a list.  Dan has finally gone through and made lists for me, but … I’m going to be blunt.  We’re tight.  We’re tighter than a drum, right now.  Yes, we’d be a lot tighter without your donations.  Yes, I know I owe you posters and t-shirts and mugs (some of you.)  But here’s the thing — right now, I simply can’t have them made.  (Mortgage, rent, repair on outgoing house.)

What I do have is an overflowing brag shelf, full of contributor copies.  I’m out of Darkship Thieves and Draw One in the Dark and Death of a Musketeer.  I MIGHT be out of Dipped, Stripped and Dead.  The rest — and remember I also write as Sarah D’Almeida, Sarah Marques and Elise Hyatt and there is the write for hire as Laurien Gardner — Plain Jane, the “fictional biography” of Jane Seymour, wife of Henry VIII.

I still intend to give everyone who subscribed their due, even if they only subscribed a year.  Stuff will come once we’re moved, only paying mortgage/rent AND I’m keeping track of life a little better (Almost there, I swear.)  So probably early next year.  HOWEVER until then, as a holding prize, if any of you who subscribe above $50 want a book, or for those above $100 a couple of books, or above $500 half a dozen books (I’m not going to be really tight on those numbers, unless I run out, so… you can also say 2, 4 and 7 or whatever) signed, to keep or give to friends and family for the holidays, ping me on my Goldport address with your list of wishes, and I’ll ship this coming week.  Also, those of you $100 and above, let me know if you’re interested in a Sarah’s Huns/Sarah Diner challenge coin in addition to/besides the books.

And the right stuff for subscriptions will ship as soon as I get the d*mn finances off our throats.  (Which might be house sale or delivering a bunch of books, natch.)

As soon as I have half an hour, (well, I’m looking after two houses and writing a lot) I’ll start a patreon account and then slowly try to move people over.  I hear the platform is better.

In the meantime, I’m okay and I’m going to go upstairs and write, after I change Derpfish water and filters.

There might be a walk in the lovely Fall sunshine in store, too.

Tomorrow I have an exciting guest, and then will return on Tuesday!

Oh, yeah, I’m now doing this once a week.  I started with one of the old Austen stories which I’ll finish a chapter a week (this gives me some weeks before I have to write new stuff, so room to breathe…


Lately a lot of people have been asking me about Human Wave.  They want to be sure, you see, that they’re doing it right.

Part of the problem of course, is that I know what Human Wave is in my head, and I know it when I see it, but it’s kind of hard to say “you shall do this/not that.”  For one, look at that header up there.  The only interest I have in taking over the world is to leave it alone, and more importantly to make it leave me alone as much as possible.  I was to be free to conduct my business and live my life without bloody stupid regulations.  (And before the opposition readers on this blog bandy it all over that I’m saying the government is interfering with freedom of expression, no of course that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m saying stuff like, even if I should make enough for Dan and I to live from our writing (a distant goal, but not as distant as it was five years ago) we can’t, because I’ll be d*mned if I’m going on the exchanges, which are overpriced, restricted as to doctors that will take them, and most of all a free lunch for identity thieves, no to mention giving others power over your health decisions.  Besides, I will not be forced to buy something on the government’s terms, because a government of free men has no right to make you buy stuff.  (And before someone comes up with auto insurance, no, I don’t have to buy it.  I also don’t have to own a car.  I can’t help owning a body by virtue of existing.  So please, take a powder.  Not the same.  That is a ridiculous burden to place on a business person “your partner, or you must have a day job, for the insurance, so you’re not thrown on a chaotic, irrational, restricted AND unsafe system.  Because we said so.”  (What we’ll probably end up doing, only it will necessitate much higher income, is pay the d*mn fine and then pay for for-cash services wherever we end up living.)

And yeah, not the government, so not censorship, but the  Special Jeering Brigade do a lot of trying to get you to toe the line by yelling at anything you write that doesn’t fit this month’s notion of the “only right thing” to write.  Mostly I ignore them, though, but this is part of why I don’t want to issue orders from Mount Sinai (Or even Mount Ararat, since we seem to be Apres le Deluge). Can you write dystopic fiction?  Is that  human wave?  I don’t know.  Depends on the fiction. Can the character die at the end?  I don’t know.  Can he?  Depends — as it does in life — what you die for and how and what type of person you were.

One of the examples that Charlie Martin brought up recently was Cold Equations.  Yeah, yeah, I know, the story of bad engineering, but AS A SHORT STORY it is a masterpiece of science fiction short fiction.  My ambition in life is still to write something half as good.

So, is it Human Wave?  The girl dies in obedience to the cold equations?  Well, yeah, BUT both characters are excruciatingly human as are their motivations.  (Probably because of my attachment to my older brother I cried buckets when reading this story for the first time at 12, because I could see me doing what the girl did.)  More importantly, she doesn’t die in vain.  If the cargo had been widgets, the pilot (and she herself) would have come up with something else to do.  BUT she dies to save a planet.  Sad doesn’t equal non human wave.

What about a story in which all the characters are aliens?  Well… does it embody human/sentient life values?  Is it true to itself or is it nihilist for nihilism’s sake?  If the first, it’s still human wave.

Look what we have here, not just in writing, but in all the arts, is an entrenched establishment that has become ossified.

It’s not entirely their fault.  They are the result of the last big turmoil in the arts, when the classical/representational manner of writing/painting was the establishment and the challengers wished to shock people.

There was a time when “the obligatory reference to classical works” was… well, obligatory.

That dissolved under a wave (eh) of nihilism and well, Marxism.  It appeared there for a while that if only you could destroy the world as it was, you could build Utopia.

If the twentieth century has taught us anything, it is that destroying is just a means of destroying.  Utopia doesn’t magically emerge from convincing humans that being human is somehow bad.  Equality doesn’t emerge from satisfying the screams of envy.  Prosperity doesn’t magically emerge from destroying those who produce.

Turns out that pulling apart society for the sake of pulling it apart, tearing down “the way it’s been done” just for the sake of doing so, and shocking the bourgeois because it’s so much fun doesn’t actually build anything worth looking at or reading.  What it does is harden the viewer/reader to the point that you have to go ever further out to build ever more heretical visions and create ever more outrageous shocks, which then become the status quo.

It also turns out that when that sort of revolutionary who believes in tearing down for its own sake, gets power, all they can do is keep tearing down, until the product manages to be, objectively, both repulsive and boring to any sane person.  (I’m not saying, understand that — with exceptions, the dinosaur abomination coming to mind, for instance — that the product of the other side is both boring and repulsive.  Most of the time it’s simply boring.  More ambitious writers manage the repulsive too.)  In painting this is very obvious.  The shock that doesn’t shock anyone does manage, nonetheless, to turn the normal, sane human being off the “art” being displayed.  (Though even there most of it is just boring.  Really, the Denver museum of art paid millions for a bunch of twisted together kitchen implements?  Without the little card explaining what it is and how it relates to domestic dissatisfaction, that “art” evokes “my drawer got stuck again.”)

So this avant garde of the past aged without doing more than throwing continuous artistic tantrums at the world that refused to conform to their visions.  Some of the early ones, when they still weren’t the establishment were magnificent and are probably art, just because, well, art includes tantrums too.  BUT after they became the establishment all they could do was chase the thrill and shock that no longer existed ever further, off the plank of sanity and into the ocean of irrelevance.

When they realized this — when the museums emptied of the middle-brow and the print runs fell — they chased relevance by erecting ever more exacting rules saying “this you shall not do, that you shall not say, this thing you shall not even think.”  This ranges from political correctness to the sort of stultifying mandates on style and manner that are the last gasp of any dying artistic movement.  (I’m still sticking my middle finger up at the minimalists and the idiots who think first person is always bad. )

Which brings us to science fiction.  Since science fiction in its heyday was not considered art or literature, it was just… what people wrote for fun.  (Kind of like Shakespeare in his day.)  There would be some reflexive clasical references, which were the equivalent of Kit Marlowe putting his stage directions in Latin, just to prove his education wasn’t wasted.  However, they weren’t exactly following any school.

Then came… the deluge.  Or at least the “if we destroy all the rules and shock everyone, it will be literature and amazing.”  And when they took over the establishment, the same thing followed as in the rest of the art.

Now… Now they — even those marginally younger than I — are the establishment.  They are the authorities still vainly rebelling against an establishment that doesn’t exist, that probably never existed except in their heads.  Which is probably why they attract so many people with issues with daddy or teacher or other authority figures who didn’t let them have their bugs and eat them too in childhood. (It also explains a certain fascination with the contents of their metaphorical diaper, now I think about it.) They must be FOREVER the first woman to write non-binary sex, even if it has been done for decades before they were born.  They must be forever the most shocking thing Evah! even if what they’re doing was done better and more apropos by their grandparents’ generation.  It’s all they have.

So, what is Human Wave?  Who are these crazy Avant Garde kids who refuse to continue tearing pieces off an establishment that no longer exists? Do we really — giggle, snort — want to go back to the writing as it was done in the pulp days?  (Whenever that was.  It’s been dated all over the twentieth century, by different people.)

Be real.  Most of us haven’t even read much pulp.  THAT establishment was dead by the time most of us were born, and heck New Wave was well established by the time I could read and write, let alone by the time I discovered science fiction.  We are not the imaginary dad come again, to spank the unruly children.  Heck, most of us are young enough to be the children (or the much younger brothers and sisters) of people in the establishment.

We are those who believe you must build, as well as tear down.  We are those who don’t believe you can tell us how to write — theme or stylistically — for our own good.  We do not give you the right to judge us, and we find most of your authoritative pronouncements immensely funny.  We’re the people who looked at what you were doing and yawned or laughed.

Other than that…  If there are Human Wave Commandments they start with “Don’t be boring” and continue with “Build, don’t just tear down.”  There are other things that go with that, such as eschewing nihilism for nihilism’s sake and not conforming to the CURRENT counter-cultural convention, unless we want to.

In a way we are the equivalent of the new realistic movement in the visual arts.  It turns out that the camera didn’t kill art, but the attempt to destroy visual reality through counter cultural posing almost did.

Turns out that there are images that can only be captured through the mind’s eye and artistic skill.  Of course, most new artists don’t go to galleries, they go to Deviant Art.

And most new writers go to indie, all the while creating visions of reality that can’t be captured by simply writing slice of life, but which also don’t fit in the new “you must offend everyone but the “thought-leader” of the week” dictates of the ossified establishment.”

This seems particularly true in science fiction where “fun” is a new commandment of indie authors, at least those who want to sell a lot and be read a lot (and most of them do.) Fun does not preclude deeper emotions, and in fact in many cases needs them.

We are the people looking at reality and twisting it to make people think, but mostly to make them give us their beer money.

Art?  Probably.  I understand Shakespeare wrote to make people applaud and give him THEIR beer money, and look where it got him.

But mostly?  Mostly we’re the people breaking the rules and pointing and laughing at the establishment.  Which is a tradition worth continuing, particularly when we have an establishment as giggle-snort worthy as our current one.

On with the motley.  Carry on.

We have to do nothing but exist, to make the establishment collapse.  It has nothing holding it up but the muscle-memory of their own rebellion.

Be not afraid.