Home Star

 *It is now complete. It ended up being somewhat shorter, but that’s probably not a detriment. And if you want to blame anyone for this, blame my husband who has been mainlining Christmas movies in the evening. Well, that and the fact I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over three weeks. – SAH*

It doesn’t snow in space. There are no chimneys in a scout ship lost in unknown coordinates. And John was fresh out of socks, and he was all out of the energy to wash one and hang it on the non-existent chimney.

He looked at the date blinking on his calendar. On Earth, in his native coordinates in Colorado, a North American State, it was December 24 and 11:30 pm. Stockings would be hung on mantels, and adults would be telling children they really should go to bed so Santa Claus would come. His parents had been pros at the deception, and he and his sisters had been treated to what sounded realistically like the jingling of sleigh bells, and hooves on the roof. Dad had gone to the trouble of installing speakers in the attic space, so he could add to their experience.

He wondered how dad would react to news John had been lost. Dad had got a lot less animated and joyous since mom had died last year. He seemed to just be waiting to join her. He’d probably shake his head and say “Danger of the trade.” And then hope to join John too when his time came.

John stared at the flawless grey glasssteel ceiling above him. It was a danger of the trade. Scouting was difficult work. You set off for a series of coordinates, quite literally to see where they led. If promising you’d set up a beacon there, which would allow the actual planet scouts to come, land, and explore and return home.

No one would endure both the risks of scout location and of planet scouting-clearing, both.

But you, yourself were dependent not just on your native mathematical ability, but also on a complex and often temperamental AI system to find their way back home. If either failed, you could be lost, in space, in time, or both.

In the last four hundred years, Schrodinger ships — so called because the first one might have arrived, might not, and no one knew for sure — had gone from wildly unreliable, to reliable only when paired with humans, so hopped up on dangerous drugs they died within ten years, to AI controlled and mostly reliable. Mostly. If there was a beacon onto which the ship’s AI could fasten, and a decent pilot aboard, you could be sure you’d return.

But if you were a scout setting beacons for jumping places, you might return or not. You might miscalculate. Or the AI might fail.

John tasted bitter bile at the back of his throat. On Christmas day, too.

Not that it mattered, or not really. He had jumped… he looked at the display: five times to get here. And that last jump had gone seriously awry, and the constellations looked odd, and the AI stubbornly insisted they were in Location Unknown, Coordinates Unknown. He might be in the past or the future. He might be in another universe, for that matter. Every hundred years or so the eggheads liked to claim the jump-ships, a more dignified name for Schrodingers, were actually jumping between universes. It was all the same to him, of course.

That blinking calendar on the dash displayed his personal date, the hours and days counted inside this ship from the moment he had embarked at Pikes Peak Port, with a cup of coffee and a doughnut consumed in haste, hugging his sister and telling his nephews he’d be back for Christmas.

The kids had asked he name a star after them. Paul James would be an odd enough star, but not weirder than some he’d heard. Some he’d heard had names like Peanut Butter And Jelly and Do Drop In. After all naming the new was scout’s privilege. A small payment for all the risk.

How long did he have, really?

There was food and water for a week. Maybe a little longer with care. And air would recycle as long as the power held. For how long did he have power? Could he get at least nearer a star in that time?

The distant stars shone like pinpoints in black velvet. They looked indifferent and cold.

It was now twenty minutes to midnight on Christmas eve. He imagined his dad and sisters — Bella and Anna — getting the news he was missing. It was stupid, because he had no idea how long the exploration bureau would wait to notify family. At this point he was less than a day away. Surely they wouldn’t.

For a moment, just a moment, he contemplated opening the AI panel. But then what? unless there was an obvious cut wire with a note to connect again, he’d never figure it out. People spent a lifetime studying both AI software and hardware before they were competent to touch those in a scout ship.

He could — and did — redo the calculations again, and feed them to the AI while programming it to jump to the pre-planned point. He pressed execute, felt the slightly queasy clenching of the stomach in the translation. And… Velvet with pinpoint stars.

He rested his forehead on the edge of the console, and hoped against hope for a miracle. He was twenty three. He’d hoped to do this another year, then find a place somewhere in the outer worlds, maybe find a wife–

This would just push dad towards giving up on life. And what would his sisters tell the kids?

He knew this could happen. He just didn’t expect it would happen to him.

And more than anything, he wanted to be a kid again, back home, with his mom reading the Christmas story about the wise men who came, following a star.

At that moment it seemed to him he heard his mom say “Follow the star, John.” It was her voice with that hint of a smile, like she spoke when she was amused or he was being dense. “Just follow the star.”

He opened his eyes, with a feeling as if he were waking up. There, in the center of the screen, one of the pinpricks seemed just slightly shinier than the others.

It’s probably an optical illusion, he thought. But really, what did he have to lose, after all? Yes, it was completely irrational, but then again, there was no rational response at this point. He’d done everything he’d been trained to do, and he was completely lost.

He hadn’t done manual jump calculations, on sight, since his first year in the Academy, but what the heck. Calling up on blunted memory, he feverishly calculated the location of that bright, particular star.

And then, heart beating erratically, simultaneously sure that all was lost, and that he’d be home in a few hours, he pressed the translation button.

There was the queasy feeling in his stomach, and the display went black. Which was not supposed to happen. At all.

From above, he swore he could hear sleigh bells and…. tiny hooves? On the scout ship?

Then suddenly the AI chimed announcing they’d reached the point, and John was in orbit on an Earth like planet.

John looked at the coordinates, and blinked. He would swear that was the point he’d been aiming for all along, when he’d started out and gotten so disastrously lost.

He checked his log book and there it was.

It was with his voice colored by wonder and confusion that he recorded the message for the beacon as “Welcome to Christmas point.”

Paul and James would wait a little longer.

He released the beacon into orbit, to greet the planet scouts when they came.

And then, holding his breath, afraid of some bizarre accident, he pressed the go home program.

It was a minute past midnight on Christmas day when he emerged into Earth orbit, and little more when he sat down at Pikes Peak Space Station.

Bella’s home, in Colorado Springs was awake, with her kids and Anna’s opening all their gifts, and breakfast on the table.

Still dazed, short on sleep, John sat on the sofa, watching the familiar excitement, part of him still shocked that he was here, that he’d made it back at all.

Dad got up from the chair near the fireplace and came to sit by John. “I’m glad you’re back,” he said. “They told us you were late and might be lost. Some glitch?”

John nodded. “Yeah. I swear I heard mom’s voice telling me to follow the star. And it worked. It makes no sense.”

His dad stared at him a long time, then went to the pile of unopened gifts, and brought John a small package, he set on John’s lap. The tag said “For John, From mom.”

John looked up at his dad.

“It was in a box, on her closet shelf. There was one for each of you kids. I didn’t know. Found it yesterday. Started clearing her closet.”

With trembling fingers, John pulled the bow, and opened the bright red paper wrapping.

Inside was a silver star, in filigree, finely wrought. A Christmas tree ornament, with a loop of ribbon for hanging.

“Dad!” John said.

“Bella’s was a heart and Anna’s was a bell. And I had a feeling, from the shape I could feel.”

John held the star in wonder, feeling its swirls and turns. “I’m going to hang it in the cabin, over the instrument panel. I know it’s silly, but I feel if it’s there, I’ll always find my way home.”

His dad smiled, but his voice was thickened by tears as he said, “I don’t doubt you will.”

Infinite Minds In Finite Bodies

Humans are a tragic race. By which I mean our lives are deeply significant and almost all end in or suffer a major unhappy event.

Jordan Peterson said not to be jealous of anyone, because in the end everyone suffers. Something like that. I’d never thought about it, but lately it’s much on my mind, particularly as my friends and relatives age. There is always,even in the most blessed of old ages, significant loss of self-ownership, of pride, of ability. And then there are those who die young.

But the true tragedy of humans is something else, and if anyone really wants to pinpoint what was “the apple in the garden” this makes a far better candidate than sex, a pasttime we share with all animals and truth be told most of life on Earth.

The true tragedy of humans is that we can think the infinite and imagine the forever, while stuck in definitely mortality-bounded bodies with puny lifespans.

Even when I was eight, I liked history, but history was two thousand years and more ago. Fifty years ago? A hundred years ago? That is merely slightly older news and somewhat yellowed newspapers, the significance of which we haven’t yet fully seen.

And yet, against that compare a mortal life span which is at most a hundred and some years.

Better writers than myself have compared us to flickers in the night or actors who “strut and fret our brief time upon the stage.”

But our minds, our inner selves, want the infinite. We want to see the past and the future.

For this the traditional paliative is knowing we are part of something greater. In the simplest sense: we came from our parents, and we pass on to our children and grandchildren. Or perhaps: we are part of this great organization, this great purpose, be it a nationality, a church, a work.

This is how the monks of old found purpose and peace in their service. And how kings started Cathedrals their grandchildren would follow and build on.

So, what do we make of it, we people of the twenty first century, many of whom never married, and even more of whom never had children, or whose children never had children. We in a culture that changes so fast, we can’t guess what great work will help the future, and which hinder it? Or even if some great invention will change things so much that our lives and works make no sense to anyone?

Me? I am religious, though not conventionally so (no, trust me, it might be impossible for me to be conventionally anything) and have made my peace with the idea my self is just the present expression of something greater that might or might not go on forever, but if it does will be in such a form I don’t fully comprehend it. And I have a mission. Well, several, but one of them I can try for though I’m utterly inadequate to it: I want humanity to go to the stars, as I think that will allow us to grow more. (I could be totally wrong, but at any rate my pushing and shoving will hurt no one, and it’s largely ineffectual.)

But at this threshold, where I can sense life narrowing to the end (not yet. Hopefully not for a long time, though you know, we can all be recalled, like defective products, at any time) I am vaguely alarmed at the vast multitudes older than I who are already in that narrowing path, and who have nothing to send into the future.

A lot of them try to breach that distance with art or self expression, and if it works for them, I’m all for it. Me? I have no delusions. My scribblings at best will outlast me for half a day. And that’s if they’re not gone and forgotten before I am.

A lot more of them, alas, are trying to create their legacy by making others slaves to their delusions. Witness our geriatric left, or the ossified members of WEF, trying to make all humans slaves to their visions that they think are utopian, but which are in fact the worst of dystopias.

Worse, a lot of them seem to have a sense this work is already in vain, and so to their mad designs is added a not inconsiderable amount of hatred and loathing for all those who will survive them, and for the species itself. They aim at nothing less than the extinction of all humans, as though they were gods who could replace us with something better. They do truly aim to reign in hell, even after death, leaving the Earth scoured of humans or maybe of all life.

So what do we do? We need that connection, to our past and to our future. It is part of how we’re built. And the future is such a long time. And none of us can be sure we will have our blood there, a lot of us know we won’t, and the howling infinity of nothing comes upon us in the dark hours of the night, when we stare at the ceiling and ask if we matter, if we ever mattered.

First, dispose of the idea that leaving descendants is the best thing. Those of us who are on 23andme can tell you that a great grandmother has about as much in common with her great grandkids as a second cousin.

Yes, it’s instinctive and we all want children. I, myself, want biological granchildren and would love to see them grow. But in the end? Bah. We came from that vast ocean of human genetics. We’re unique to ourselves but made of common parts. And maybe somewhere in the future there will be someone who has almost the same deck of cards (unlikely, but the future is a long time.) That’s all any of us can know.

Second, raising children is not that, of course. It’s both a shout of hope into the future, saying “You have no defeated me. I live!” and something not entirely rational. (It is also the most exhilarating task I, at least, have ever put my mind and hands to. And the most humbling, because children have free will and will never be what you mold them to be. For better or worse, their totality will elude you. And your mark on them will not be what you expect.)

Third, your works of art might or might not significant. Yes, Master Shakespeare, or for that matter Robert A. Heinlein, left behind work that far outstrips any descendants they might have had (and they had none, RAH immediately, and Shakespeare having only one granddaughter who died childless.) It is something to hope for, to be sure, but like children, both something you can’t count on, and something that might turn out very differently from what you expect. (Seriously. What would poor RAH think if he’d been vouchsafed the knowledge he’d been the major formative influence on a little girl in Portugal? Or that she’d come to disagree with him on as much as she agreed, while still respecting his influence and ideas?)

Fourth… It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.

There is a perversion and an evil in trying to control the future after you’re gone. I think it’s that whole “trying to be like gods.”

There is a perversion and an evil too in falling in despair and wailing “But then why do I matter?” It also looks fairly ridiculous. Or at least it does when I do it. And trust me, flailing your arms and legs about doesn’t help. It only looks cute on two year olds. I know this from experience.

We have to accept that though we can dream of forever and infinite, our minds are really almost as limited as our bodies. The futures we foresee are rarely correct, because our minds are bounded by what we were taught as children, and can only reach as far as our limited perceptions. You don’t know how the words you said today affect someone who affects someone, who affects someone. Now multiply that by the entire population of the world. We can’t know and we can’t see.

The idea we’ll vanish utterly and never matter is as much a delusion as the idea that we can control what the future looks like and encompass forever.

Neither is possible.

Every contact lives a trace. By living, you affect all those around you. Heck, there are children stillborn or miscarried who affected the destiny of the world in measurable ways, and not just those of royal blood. Their almost-existence changed those around them.

And this doesn’t mean you should be in the corner, shivering with fear of doing wrong.

Live your life as best and as joyfully as you can. If it’s all going to, in the personal front, end in tears, so to put it, make it as joyous and as …. large as you can, so the tears are cathartic and not just despair.

Forgive yourself for what you can’t.

And be sure that things you’ve said and done will resonate long after you’re gone. No, they might not be the things you expect to have an effect. Heaven knows, even what my own kids took from what I tried to impart often makes me tilt my head sideways and go “uh, what?” but it will be pieces of you, going forth into the future.

We live in a uniquely dangerous moment, in which rootless and seemingly futureless people, armed with a cult like certainty in the omnipotence of their delusions, try to shape the future in their own, limited image, corrupted by an anti-human philosophy.

All we have to counter it is joy, love, charity. Living life as fully as we can. Loving as fully as we can.

And yeah, as you’ve been expecting, in the end we win they lose. Because in the long run, joy and love trump a sterile “planned future” any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Be not afraid. Go and do the best you can, and trust the future to take the best of you, and shine it forever into eternity, like pieces of a beautiful stained glass window that become part of an infinite mural and shine to inspire ages yet unborn.


Bad Feminist World Building

When I was young I called myself a feminist. Remember the culture I was born into, though it changed when I was in my teens — in law, but the underlying culture remains of course — did make women second class citizens. A woman needed permission from father or husband to work outside the home, for instance. Women didn’t have the vote. And women were assume to be dumber than men, a myth I enjoyed exploding. And, and, and–

So I called myself a feminist because I wanted women to have the same rights as men. That was all.

I did not have a mythos in my head as to why females were superior and males evil, nor as to why women had had an “inferior” position throughout history.

Part of this is that I didn’t necessarily see women’s position as inferior, except for the injustice of laws against them. Sure, in the world outside women were at danger of being attacked if they were out after sundown (and it would be considered her own d*mn fault for violating the unspoken curfew) and there were only male clubs, and most women worked at home (and I mean beyond being stay at home moms and wives.

But, look, it’s complicated. In many ways it was an archaic society, partly national culture, partly just the area and class. There were male spheres and female spheres. And in each of their spheres, each sex held themselves as superior.

I was indicted early into the sphere of women, because as a girl child, I often ended up sitting under tables or int he corners of the kitchen while women cooked or sewed. (I was usually hiding and reading. I didn’t say I was good at the female thing, just that I was in the general area.) Also of the adults in my life, the one who walked on water was female: my paternal grandmother. And you know exactly what I mean by walking on water. In every child’s life, if things are even vaguely healthy, there is an adult who is assumed to “be able to do anything.”

I followed grandmother around a lot, and a lot of her talk was about how annoying and incapable of doing things men were… In the female sphere. While being given all possible respect and leeway in their sphere.

I think the best way to explain this, is that a lot of men in the village (though not all. Some were artisans or small time farmers) had jobs, and worked for a salary. But at the end of the month they came home and handed the money to their wives. From that they received an allowance.

All money decisions from there on were the woman’s. Not just what to buy for the house and children, but what to invest, how to invest, what clothes to buy for the husband, and whether to get them ready made or make them.

If a couple floundered financially, barring abuse, it was the woman’s doing.

In the same way, she was responsible for making sure the kids were learning, or if not were apprenticed at something outside formal education. She kept the lines of communication not only between family members (which in that time and place might be all over the world) but also between households in the village. She jockeyed for prestige, position, and precedent for her husband and entire household. Where a family stood and whether it rose or fell was the woman’s doing. Unless she was a “poor thing” “almost a man” (I’m afraid if I’d stayed there and the village endured, I’d have fallen there.) in which case she ignored all of that, and the family got the dirty end of the stick.

Men? You went and got your man to help if you needed to: deal with bureaucracy; buy or sell in a large scale; hire someone skilled or degreed, make a complex investiment you weren’t sure how to structure. Oh, men also kept track of politics, and had opinions on economics and macro issues. Women just knew if the price of bread rose and fell and had opinions about that.

So, it never occurred to me back then that men and women were one superior and one inferior. Just different specialties, and fairly idiotic at the other one’s job. Though mind you, things were in flux when I came in, so I was expected to get a degree and function in the world of men. (And yes, there were women doing that by the time I was born.) So I was tolerated to hide and read, and while taught some housekeeping, it was assumed I’d have servants for that (university degrees used to be valuable) and that my function would be closer to a male’s.

As such, I was very interested in the laws, and wanted equality under the law, and called myself a feminist.

Until I came to the US and realized it meant something completely different, and weird. Look… I’m not saying everything feminist was or is like this, just that …. most of what that said struck me as nonsensical. If this were a novel, it would be really bad world building.

So, some of the things I’ve been told by earnest and exquisitely educated women who apparently never bothered to analyze received wisdom.

“There were always the same number of women fighters at all levels as men, it’s just that men have suppressed knowledge of them.”

<Holds aching head. Yes, there were always “Maidens who went to war.” You can’t throw a stone in folklore without tripping over one of those. I’ve often wondered if it’s a reflection of reality or just a wish fulfillment, because frankly men like stories of women fighters.

BUT we know some women were “fighters” for a definition of fighters. There were a lot of soldiers found not to be male when they died. Now, most of those we know for sure are in the modern era, when guns make the whole thing easier. But we know from bios and other stuff that there were women in the ranks at every major battle we know of.

These were usually not commanders or famous fighters, but women who for some reason or another found it expedient to run away, pretend to be male, and engage in the dirty and dangerous business of war.

Their stories are usually exactly what you would expect, too: big and ugly, widowed, without visible means of support. In societies where a woman either depended on others to survive (look, there’s physical and biological reasons for this) or became whores, becoming a “man” could be very attractive.

They were not usually commanders (though Queens did command armies, but that’s different and of course, not common or average) and they weren’t anything so complex as “knights” which had rules and groups and–

I mean, there might have been a half-mad woman roaming the back country in found Armour and calling herself a “knight” — but if so, she’d be passing as a male.

Oh, and women who stayed behind in their cities often found themselves forced to defend the garrison with the old men and the kids. And some of them became heroes. But that was “hazard of war” not a career.

Yes, women have always fought, in the sense that war — particularly primitive war — doesn’t respect sexes. And you either fight or die.

But think about it. Think about women throughout the ages fulfilling exactly the same role as men in war, but “Men kept it secret.”

How would men even do that?

“Well, men wrote the histories.”

Not strictly through. We do know that several women were erudite and wrote, also throughout history. They could have preserved the lore of women fighters.

But let’s say that every woman writer was also suppressed. (Leave the now for a while.)

How do all the men — all the men int he world — keep a secret? No, seriously. Think on it five minutes. This means keeping secrets from their moms, their sisters, their daughters, their WIVES.

Every intelligence service in the world knows men leak like sieves to women in their lives.

But let’s suppose men had decided to forever keep women down. HOW would they keep this secret conspiracy forever?

And in fact, we know of maidens (and queens) who went to war. Which means no one is policing this.

It’s bad worldbuilding, get over it.

“Men can decide to impregnate whoever they want at any time.”

Uh. What? Wait a fricken minute. My husband had that super power and let us go through six years of infertility? That male conspiracy must be bigger than I thought.

“If men made sure other men wouldn’t attack women, women would be safe anywhere at any time.”

Hold, time out. Any decent man I know would risk his life to defend a woman (or anyone) being attacked. What more are they supposed to do?

Do they think men have superpowers and can each connect to each other’s brains and turn switches on and off? (No, there isn’t locker room support for rape and attacks. EXCEPT in the sickest pockets of culture. And that’s different. Sick culture is sick culture, and that affects men and women both. Most men are just as disgusted as sexual or other assault as most women.)

They believe this about the past too. “Humanity used to live in a peaceful matriarchy” (I never understood how this connected to women being amazing fighters. Bad worldbuilding. Keep on trucking.) “And then men overthrew it, and instituted patriarchy and capitalism.”

I swear this is like the myth of onthogeny recapitulates phylogeny, except inverted and for society. In all of our lives there was a time the mother was central. And in that world, all was peaceful at least according to us, because we were small and dumb and had no clue what went on beyond the nursery walls. But eventually we entered the larger world where there are — ick — men and things became more complicated.

For the species as a whole, it doesn’t hold. Maria Gimbutas just straight up made up things, and anyway, except for small places with weird customs (and those not matriarchies, but matrilineal descent or inheritance places, which is not the same) the more primitive the society, the more women have fewer rights, because women are weaker than men. And in a society that prizes brute force to survive, that matters.

Also matrilineal descent tribes — the ZULUS — aren’t peaceful.

Again, think about how this would work: Men took over, using their psychic powers, I assume, and thereafter women could never restore the great and peaceful matriarchy.

Look, at this point I’m thinking if men can do all this they’re obviously superior beings, and we should all shut up and have more sons.

“Ah, but women would be exactly the same as men, as strong, etc, if we fed them and educated both the same.”

Let’s ignore the fact that we’ve been doing exactly that in the west for fifty years and got a whole lot of soyboys for it, but no amazing doughty fighting women.

Forget that we know the role of testosterone in bone and muscle formation.

How does the worldbuilding work again? Go back as far as you can go, even in pre-history. Women are smaller and more gracile, and therefore physically weaker then men.

Women are also, as far as we can tell far into societies without writing, the ones who gather and prepare food.

… They were intentionally starving themselves?

When they could instead have gone hunting, because they were just as big and strong as the guys?

…. Boy, that male mind control must be powerful. It even got the women to cooperate, even before there were PROPER women, back to homo erectus and such.

If this were a book and I were writing, I’d have to make men a superior alien race, gifted with a collective mind, and powerful mind control to make any of this work. (In fact, some of the crazier of my colleagues have done that.)

And again, in the face of that powerful and omnipotent a race, all you can do is surrender and hope they treat you kindly.

Or you know, you can admit that men and women are different and complementary, and that men fighters who were the great majority of the combatants in any war depended on women to feed them and defend the homeland while they went to war.

And that men scholars often worked together with women scholars.

And that every couple one has competences the other lacks (sometimes not necessarily stereotypical masculine-feminine.)

Men have greater strength. Women have greater pain resistance. Men have greater force. Women have greater patience.

Together we achieve more and we secure the future.

Why engage in bad worldbuilding to explain this away?

House Repair Triage a guest post by Heroditus Huxley

House Repair Triage a guest post by Heroditus Huxley

We are in, no lie, a full-on economic meltdown.  Times are hard for everybody

Here’s a hint: they’re always hard for some.  My household is single income.  I budget hard, and carefully, to get the stuff done that needs to be done. 

And sometimes, stuff has to wait

So.  You’ve taken the plunge and become a homeowner.  You smile, and you look at your house.  Your house.  You’re in love with it.  And you move in.

And then…the flaws start appearing.  Repairs that the previous owners should have done (or, as was the case with our house, were gypped on). 

Your money’s really, really tight. 

What do you do?

You do what I did.  You prioritize.  It’s called triage

I grew up watching MASH.  I vividly remember the rapid-fire assessment of soldiers coming in, wounded in horrible ways, and one of the surgeons prioritizing who went in first (because it was a now-or-never chance to save him), who could wait, who wasn’t going to be looked at until last, sometimes because they weren’t that badly hurt, but sometimes because the person doing triage didn’t think they could survive even through the surgery.

You can do the same assessment and use the same kind of bloody-minded reasoning in ordering repairs and maintenance of your own home. 

For example: we moved into this house fully aware that at some point, we’d be replacing the roof, given that there was a bleedin’ hole in the roof over the garage, that dripped into a bucket on the steps down into the garage every time it rained.  And one of the turbine vents was…bent.  And wouldn’t turn.  And dripped rain down through the living room.  We might have been able to put it off longer if we’d found somebody willing to repair a few spots, but everybody wanted to quote for replacement. 

We…couldn’t afford that at the time, so we started socking money back as fast as we could. And placed buckets.

The immediate, as in, must do now, was the drains.  We bought the house, moved in, started living here…and the drains started backing up.  A lot.  Horribly.  And immediately. 

We called a septic tank pumping service, and they cleaned out the system, then said if that didn’t fix the problem, then it wasn’t the tank. 

It wasn’t the tank. 

We called a plumber.  And the plumber went under the house.  And then came back out, giggling.  “[Your drain system] is the worst DIY mess I have ever seen.  The toilets are the only things done right, and one of those is leaking from a cracked pipe.”

Okay.  That…was item number one on the triage list.  It was…spendy, but we gritted our teeth and did it.  Because every drain was backing up.   

Turned out, there was double the length of pipe in the drains that there should have been…at half the diameter they should have been.  As in, the plumbers took two days, and took out two linear feet of pipe for every foot they put back

We did that first because…honestly?  The house, with the drainage plumbing we bought it with, was not livable.  The washing machine drain overflowing with every load?  The sinks making the tubs and toilets back up?  The tub making the sinks vomit?  Yeah, that wasn’t livable.  At all.  The roof drips?  Those kinda were. 

Also in the “not-livable” category was the well pump going out (necessitating the replacement of the pump itself and almost 200’ of pipe) a few years later.  Immediate repair required, and done.  With much gritting of teeth. 

And then…after four years of saving, and living with it…we finally got the roof replaced.  There was more that needed done than there would have been if we’d done it immediately (almost all of the decking needed taken off and replaced because it was crumbling—which it wasn’t when we bought the place, even if having the rafters too widely spaced had the decking warped to the point it was visibly wavy).  But we did the main part of the roof, and re-covered the porch roof. 

We couldn’t afford to do the carport at the same time.  Because it needed a complete tear-down and rebuild, and tuition was coming up due within three months. 

We took another year to save for the carport (and got a significant boost in the form of a gift).  It’s rebuilt. 


…the patio roof has fallen off. 

The one part of the house that never gave us a hint that it was going to give us trouble.  And…it just…fell off.  At the end of August. 

Guess what’s next on the triage list. 

And yes, it’s a list.  We’ll need to replace the heat pump within the next ten years or so; the cook stove sooner than that.  I’d like plumbing done to do both on propane rather than electricity.  But it’s going to have to wait—and wait longer, since I’m going to be rebuilding our emergency reserve from paying for the tear-down of the patio roof, and then next year’s tuition. I’m balancing what needs to be done against what we can afford to do. 

The key question is this: what can you live around?  What must be fixed now because leaving it undone makes the house unlivable? 

Can you live with stairs that moan when there’s weight on them?  (Before you say yes, check the structure!  And there are almost always temporary fixes that will cost less than full replacement: braces, mending a broken joist AND bracing it, and such.)  How about the drains that won’t?  The roof that leaks?  What can you not live with?  What can you afford?  What can you patch until you can replace?

Priorities.  Priorities are everything

Choose wisely. 

When Atlas Takes A Coffee Break

As you guys know I might have a few opinions. Couple hundred. And while I’m often in doubt and often in error, there as some things that get under my skin in a way you can’t even begin to imagine.

Lately, everywhere, I’ve been listening about how the problems in America are because we’re trying to maintain our place at the top of the unipolar world.

Honestly, I hadn’t heard unipolar at all in news media or opinion pieces since my brother’s cohort was lamenting that “the good guys lost” the cold war. Now all of a sudden, it’s everywhere, from right to left, from top to bottom, as though released from above with the good old “journolist” hose. All of a sudden supply problems happen because “America’s decay” (I swear this is mandatory once per article) makes the “unipolar world” no longer possible. Russia’s militaristic bullshit, and the Junta pseudo-sending-Ukraine money (but really just embezzling it) is because America is willing to risk nuclear war to “maintain the unipolar world” and China’s troubles are because America can’t stand to have rivals and wants to maintain the “unipolar world.”

So was word sent from above to pound the drums of “unipolar”? I don’t know. It’s possible. Brandon’s Junta is such a hot mess that having a college kiddie decide that this weird desire for a “unipolar world” is the worst thing EVAH and we need more diversity in power int he world, or something.

I know it suits the cursed race of the Brandonites that we should think America is in decline, and that we were only prosperous and free because of our “militaristic attitudes”. It suits them because then we won’t notice what is going on with them and what they’re doing more or less in the open to destroy us.

It’s like they’re holding our heads underwater and telling us it’s the floods.

Unfortunately for them the strategy of “if you hold America down, the rest of the world will rise” is working about as well as all their other strategies. (Seen this weekend from a military desk pilot “The truth is that diversity is strength. It’s a scientific fact.” That’s about as scientific as the the idea that the sun circles the Earth or that the Earth “has a fever”.

In fact what we’re seeing is the unipolar (there are you happy I used the word?) Atlas, holding up the world and modern civilization being forced by bean counters to step away for a coffee break. And the rest of the world losing its mind, structure and wealth as a consequence.

Let’s be perfectly clear, not only is the world unipolar but it has been unipolar for a far longer time than any of these lackabrains can figure out. There was never a bipolar world during the cold war. There was a unipolar world pretending to be a bipolar one. Thanks to our own commie simps and pudding heads, we actively propped up the Soviet Union by feeding it, and not slapping it down as it so richly deserved. They had nothing. They were driving long pipes around on trucks to pretend they had missiles, and our commie simps, pudding heads and the CIA (BIRM) bought everything they were selling, and cowered with fear, and tried to convince us to get rid of our own arsenal and kneel in submission to the brutal commies so the world could live.

They’re still trying to do it. That’s what this unipolar and “decaying America” bullshit (with cream of bullshit on top) is all about.

The commies are gone. Fascists rule China, but that’s coming untangled too. And the socialists in Europe are freezing in the dark, but our fraking commie simps, pudding heads, and the federal bureaucracy are trying to kneel to them and give them power they couldn’t use if they had it.

They’re acting as if Reagan hadn’t taken a sharp pin to the balloon of gaseous bullshit they’d been spinning for years and revealed that there was no great USSR behind the curtain of nonsense. Worse, they’re acting as if Russia — all that remains of the USSR — hadn’t shat itself in public over the last year, and weren’t busily wiping its excrement-covered hands to the global walls in front of everyone. They talk about China being ascendant, as though we hadn’t known what happened the last time the original Mao — not the Winnie the Xi facsimile — was doing this “we Stronk” bullshit. Well, maybe they don’t know that millions starved in China and that the country was destroyed as though by an enemy (Which arguably it was. The voices in Mao’s head were no one’s friend.) They are the type of airy fairy bullshitters that were telling us back in the seventies that China would conquer the world, and which made me study Mao’s execrable “poetry” (ransom notes have more style) in school. (The only good thing about Mao’s poetry is that it was better than Samora Machel’s, which they also made us study. Note this is praising with loud damns.)

Now, is America in the greatest of shapes? No. But we’re not doing badly for a country whose institutions of learning, government, and to a great extent economy have been captured by a cabal of their enemies.

Yes, we’re buckling under the Brandonites decision not to let us drill for gas, or buy from relatively friendly countries. And the amount of cash that the bloated communist carcasses of the Junta are swallowing as they swell to blimp-like proportions is putting what was until relatively recently trivial expenses — like meat for the table — into the realm of near-unreachable for a lot of us. (I went grocery shopping between this morning’s post and this.) Black Friday was black indeed, with a lot of people window shopping but few buying, and I’m trying to boost the business of a lot of friends who are hurting a lot worse than we are.

We are relatively okay, even if losing ground, of course. Who isn’t? But writing, particularly escapist writing, is a counter-recessionary industry. People buy more of it as things get worse. Yes, we end up having to do things like putting all our stuff on Amazon if the readers can only borrow from KU not buy. (I’m working on a work around via my newsletter and book funnel. But I have to know how much I’m producing regularly before then. Because, see, my newsletter is with substack, which means I can have subscription levels, and allow the subscribers to get a book funnel link to download what I produce that year — but I need to know how much that will be (roughly) so I know what to charge. This past year wasn’t great, but I’m picking up. Anyway, I should know by January.) But we won’t starve. (And the only ones who object to escapism are those who want everyone in jail.) However, we have family and friends who will need our help — already need our help — and our ability isn’t infinite.

So America is going to have a rough, rough winter.

And yet, with all that, we’re probably the only semi-functional economy in the world. And we’ve been for a long time. As bad an infestation of commie simps, pudding heads, academics and deep staters (BI DEFINITELY RM) as we have, the other countries have it worse. As much as our elites don’t recognize reality, every other country (except maybe some very tiny ones) is markedly worse.

Unipolar? Well, no shit Sherlock. When Russia can’t invade its own backyard, and China is attempting (in vain) to occupy itself and Western Europe is freezing and starving itself to appease a frigging autistic Swedish teen.

Here’s the thing the Brandonites and their ilk don’t get: the US isn’t the “sole power” of the “Unipolar” world because it wants to be. It doesn’t get in fights because it wants to — although the left’s tendency to use the armed forces for world building (and by left in this case I include a lot of the soft-left that flies under the GOP) and general attempts at charity doesn’t help — but because as the sole functional (for values of functional) country we have everyone’s hand against us. And if we didn’t prop up these ‘Threats’ and ‘enemies’ — if we actually and for real went in, broke their shit and told them not to make us do it again — we’d sacrifice fewer of our boys and be more clearly the sole power. (Which frankly would only be sane.)

I mean, what do they want instead? A world of fighting slave states, stateless bandits, and demi-savage shitholes, with everyone’s hand against everyone else?

Don’t answer that. These shitweasels (apologies to shitweasels everywhere) think that if everyone is fighting everyone else, they get to rule. Yes, I know Machiaveli said “divide and conquer” but Machievali assumed the conquerors had half a functional brain to use. They weren’t fantasy addicts high on hopium like all our reality-deniers and insanity-peddlers.

A unipolar world? We should be so lucky.

If America can get rid of these rabid ducks nibbling our entrails and drop kick them into the hell they belong to, so we can come back from our coffee break of the soul, we’ll teach them the meaning of unipolar.

You think Atlas shrugging is bad?

Wait till Atlas drop kicks your whining asses to the college campuses that will no longer exist.

You ain’t seen nothing yet. And because I’m sane (ish) still, I hope you never will.

It’s Up, IT’s UP

I think I broke Amazon.

No, seriously. They didn’t even bitch after Darskhip Thieves. Renegades and A Few Good Men went through without a peep. I guess having an hysterical Latin mom threatening them with la chancla if they keep asking her to prove she’s herself got a note put on my account saying “Do what the crazy woman wants. It’s not worth anyone’s time.”

So, A Few Good Men, Third of Darkships, is once more available electronic.

And hardcover is in the process of publishing.

Ahem. Real post later. I went to bed SO worried about this, though….

A Few Good Men

Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva spent fourteen years in solitary, before freedom comes suddenly: unexpected and startling.
He returns to the domain he was born to rule to find that his whole family is dead, his younger brother killed by shadowy forces.
With his own life in danger he must depend on revolutionaries and a roll of the dice to save himself and perhaps, just perhaps to win the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for himself those who depend on him.
But nothing is free and his life, his fortune, his sacred honor must be risked in this mad attempt at a Usaian revolution, centuries after that fabled country was erased from history.

It’s a Cyber Monday Extravaganza


Darkship Thieves

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. She never had any interest in finding out the truth about the Darkships.
You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help.
But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime and perhaps a whole new world—if she managed to survive….
A Prometheus Award Winning Novel, written by a USA Today Bestseller.


Deep Pink

Like all Private Detectives, Seamus Lebanon [Leb] Magis has often been told to go to Hell. He just never thought he’d actually have to go. But when an old client asks him to investigate why Death Metal bands are dressing in pink – with butterfly mustache clips – and singing about puppies and kittens in a bad imitation of K-pop bands, Leb knows there’s something foul in the realm of music. When the something grows to include the woman he fell in love with in kindergarten and a missing six-year-old girl, Leb climbs into his battered Suburban and like a knight of old goes forth to do battles with the legions of Hell. This is when things become insane…. Or perhaps in the interest of truth we should say more insane.

Other Rhodes

Lilly Gilden has a half-crazed cyborg in her airlock who thinks he’s Nick Rhodes,
a fictional 20th Century detective. If she doesn’t report him for destruction,
she’s guilty of a capital crime.

But with her husband missing, she’ll use every clue the cyborg holds,
and his detective abilities, to solve the crime her husband was investigating
when he disappeared.

With the help of a journalist who is more than he seems,
Lilly will risk everything to plunge into the interstellar underworld
and bring the love of her life home!

FROM TIM GILLILAND: Lawyer to the Stars: Book One of Damien Durne’s Accidental Adventures on the Frontier of the Galaxy.

What makes a Human?

A frozen world on the edge of civilized space has a deadly secret. The indigenous people, known as the Ixtyl were human-looking to be sure, but they had characteristics so unique there was doubt they were naturally acquired. Human? Or genetically modified creatures? Humans, including Indigenous peoples, were heavily protected by law. Genetically modified creatures were not. They were like lab rats who would have no rights, no hope, and no future. The tribe lives on a planet rich with an invaluable ore: One men are willing to kill for. When Certified Genomist Damien Durne is called to investigate the Ixtyl’s genome, to certify whether they are human or not, he is flung into an intrigue of lies and murder, with an ultimate goal of genocide.


Eurydice Otherwise (The Hades Cycle Book 1)

She’s not Eurydice, but she’s caught the eye of hell’s king…

Phoebe, a nature spirit of ancient Greece, loves her mountain birthplace and intends never to leave it. But the Olympian Artemis’ dazzling glamor lures her away to join the goddess’ retinue of handmaidens.

Initially the handmaidens welcome Phoebe warmly, but their friendship turns to bullying once Artemis turns her back. Phoebe’s inexperience makes her no match for the mean girls, who win every verbal battle.

And when Phoebe chooses a protector other than the often-absent Artemis, she courts a danger far worse than cruel taunts or stinging slaps. Unless she learns to value herself for herself—rather than depending on the regard of others—she will perish in Hades’ depths.

Eurydice Otherwise is the intense first tale in The Hades Cycle. If you enjoy ancient mythology brought to vivid life, you’ll love the entrancing characters, inventive world building, and startling twists in J.M. Ney-Grimm’s gripping short story of the old gods.


Artemis in Chase (The Hades Cycle Book 2)

The goddess of the hunt burns for justice…

When Artemis discovers her handmaiden dead in the forest—slain by Dìs, lord of the underworld—she demands that Zeus punish the murder. But Zeus upholds Dìs, who boasts that he will steal a nymph away to his dark realm whenever he so desires.

The indifference of the other Olympians forces Artemis to take matters into her own hands.

Because Dìs wields powers beyond any Artemis commands, she crafts a complex scheme to secure the magical artifact she needs to bring Dìs to his knees.

But unless Artemis learns the essential truth at the heart of all vengeance, her strategy must fail. Will she do what she knows is wrong to defeat Dìs? Or will she do right and condemn her nymphs to death by his hand?

Artemis in Chase is the second tale in the immersive Hades Cycle. If you’re entranced by the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece—if you long to visit their mythic world, to witness their passions and triumphs—you’ll love J.M. Ney-Grimm’s compelling story of revelation and revenge.

Take from Hell (The Hades Cycle Book 3)

Pierced by the hero’s song, she prays hell’s queen will weep…

A nameless shade, newly arrived in Hades’ darkness, struggles to remember her past. As ghosts press around her, she suspects she descended to the underworld deliberately, with a purpose—not just because she died. But what that purpose might be eludes her.

When the mortal hero Orpheus appears—effulgent with the light of the living—the shade hopes she is his beloved Eurydice and that he has come to rescue her.

But unless she learns that her most essential self cannot be stolen and cannot be restored by another, hell will claim her forever, dooming her to silence and forgotten memory—her quest unfulfilled.

Take from Hell is the third tale in the gripping Hades Cycle. If you loathe the despair of lost memory, if you long for the splendor of light vanquishing darkness, if you believe in the power of love, then you’ll revel in J.M. Ney-Grimm’s inventive riff on ancient myth.

Eurydice in Truth (The Hades Cycle Book 4)

When Orpheus sings in Hades’ shadows…

Eurydice longs for life, sunlight on her face, and her lover’s embrace. But no shade ever escapes the dark and dreary land of the dead, until Orpheus dares the undareable, confronting death’s king to win Eurydice’s freedom.

Confused and disoriented by her time in the underworld, Eurydice struggles to remember who she is, why she lied to Orpheus in life, and what she really wants after death.

But unless Eurydice learns that seeking life in the past yields only tragedy, Hades will imprison her forever.

Eurydice in Truth is the compelling third tale in the inventive Hades Cycle. If you enjoy characters who step out of myth into vivid life and ever-ratcheting tension, you’ll love J.M. Ney-Grimm’s heartstopping twist on an ancient legend.

Buy Eurydice in Truth to challenge darkness with song today!


Tales From The Pandemic.

A biologist faces certain death before the devil. A young tennis player evading lockdown is trapped on a tennis court by a wolf demon. A man tries to escape the corona fever in an isolated cabin. Poe’s Masque of the Red Death is reimagined in a Victorian steampunk setting. An isolated grandmother suffering from dementia sees a zombie.

In this collection of horror stories inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, explore these young authors unique view of the pandemic through a creepy, dark, and occasionally uplifting lens with a set of illustrated short stories that give a dark mirror to our own times and a window into the terrors that can stalk mankind at anytime.

Featuring original tales of horror and ones inspired by Edgar Allen Poe classics, come explore the pandemic through the warped lens of horror.


Shadow Captain (Star Master Book 1)

His one chance to escape slavery could trap his brother in a terrible fate! Jetay has been on the run with his brother for a long time, hiding his psychic powers from the evil Red Knights. Living as a slave on a star freighter, Jetay dreams of freeing himself and his brother, and of wielding his powers openly. On a frontier planet, Lady Lanati of the Partisan Alliance seeks his help for a secret mission. It will take him across the stars to the edge of a black hole, with a Red Knight chasing him every step of the way. He might finally get a chance to use his powers for good. But the price of that chance may be too high, putting his brother in grave danger. Can Jetay save himself and his brother without sacrificing Lanati and her friends? If he can’t find a way to save them all, the battle against evil may be over before it begins….

Sunday Vignettes

Since tomorrow I will be doing Cyber Monday Promo, I didn’t mean to inflict two promos on you. And yes, I am slightly better. What happened is the dry coughing irritated my throat and got my asthma going, so there’s still some coughing going on, though substantially less every night. Will probably be on in a couple of days. I hate when my body takes a reaction to something, in this case medicine, and views it as a suggestion on how to kill me better.

Having auto-immune is like living with a stone cold assassin whose plans are ever changing and flexible. Hey, outsmarting it for sixty years is reason to rejoice, I guess.

So, we’re going to have vignettes without promo, which is like having second dessert without dessert, I guess.

I know it’s bee a light week on posts, and no, most not the holiday, but rather my stupid reaction to bp meds. I will try to do better next week.

I am going over the copyedits on AFGM in order to put it up. And I have another Rhodes hanging by a thread. Whether I’ll be able to do much today is a question, but tomorrow is likely at least.

And as for reasons to not try to write a post today, I downloaded the top image from pixabay this morning and spent not inconsiderabe time trying to decide whether to write a short story about a robot kitten with steel wool fur. Shoot. Me!

I think napping is on the program and then some light going over edits.

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: FULL