Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.
Subjects this month: (Epicon 2010, Award, New Orleans, filet mignon and Betty’s accident), Question about methane gas in the environment, Progress Report, Book reviews, Tonto and the Butterfly, Inoperable Firestarter, Betty’s diagnosis *finally* and prognosis, Excerpt from Starship Down
Epicon 2010, book award and Betty’s accident
Betty and I attended the Epicon convention in New Orleans early in March. This was going to be our last fling so far as vacations went since both of us have back and leg problems that make travel difficult.
It started off fine except that the weather forecasters could have given us some warmer weather but they didn’t. Then the first morning after arriving we went for a short walk. It was cold and Betty had both hands in her jacket pocket. A part of the sidewalk was elevated a couple of inches above the rest and she caught both feet on the hump. Since her hands were in her pockets she couldn’t get them out in time to break her fall. She toppled like a tree falling and the whole front of her body hit the sidewalk simultaneously. Fortunately no bones were broken but it scared hell out of me thinking she must have from the way she fell. Then I saw the side of her face. Her eye was already swelling and blood was pouring from her mouth from a cut both inside and outside her lip. A very kind couple stopped to help and assisted me in getting Betty to her feet and got a cab for us. I’m sorry I didn’t get their names or think to give them one of my cards so I could thank them properly (although I did say thank you a number of times) but Betty of course was foremost on my mind. The housekeeper who handled the section of the hotel that included our room was very helpful. She got us an ice pack, informed the management that Betty had been hurt and might possibly need assistance and in general was very professional and concerned. We appreciated her help. I wrote a letter to the hotel thanking her.
After ice packs for a couple of hours we switched to hot cloths for her face. Her eye had swelled completely shut by then but the heat opened it back up somewhat. Oh yes, for those who wonder why we didn’t seek medical attention, Betty is a nurse and I have worked in enough medical fields that between the two of us (but more importantly, her own self-assessment), we determined that rest and the treatment already described was all that was necessary.
Needless to say, that about ended most of our activities. We ate in the room (such as Betty could eat, ice cream, mostly) and she rested while I stayed with her to make sure she was okay and do everything I could for her, including washing the blood out of her good jacket.
Betty had a spectacular black eye by the next day and her lip was still swollen.
We did go out to eat once Saturday where we had made reservations a month in advance.
The banquet was Saturday night before we were due to leave Sunday. Betty decided to try to make it since I was a finalist for a couple of book awards. The banquet food was great and the entrée was a big, perfectly cooked filet mignon. Unfortunately, they did not provide steak knives and many of the older folks with arthritic hands and fingers had a hard time cutting it, even as tender as it was.
Just before the award ceremonies began Betty began hurting and feeling too bad to continue. I took her up to the room, made sure she was comfortable and returned in time to accept my award, the winner of the adventure fiction for my novel Quanty.
We left for home the next day and that night I came down with a little bug of some sort that put me to bed for a day or two.
Thus ended our last vacation. Rats and other comments. However, it could have been much, much worse. If Betty hadn’t had her hands in her pockets she might have broken one or both her forearms attempting to break her fall, and if she hadn’t fallen flat rather than sideways she might very well have broken her hip. Brrr.
So, I guess all’s well that ends well.
By the time this issue of Bainstorming goes live my newest novel, Frontier Rebellion should be available in print at Amazon and ebook format at all the usual ebook stores, e.g., Fictionwise, Kindle, etc. Betty says this is my best book so far, at least in terms of the caliber of writing. I have started another novel and am about 20,000 words into it but the scope of the story is going to get into areas where I may need some help from a computer specialist and a physicist to get the science anywhere close to right.
Regular readers of Bainstorming know I read more science fiction than anything else but that’s not all I read by far. This month I have a special treat for you, two books by Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle. The first is a fictional rendition of the author’s grandmother’s life from the 1920s on. The second is autobiographical. I thought I’d had a rough childhood but it was nothing compared to hers. I thoroughly enjoyed both books but I liked The Glass Castle the most. I highly recommend these books to anyone, regardless of the genre you prefer.
Orbital Resonance by John Barnes is an unusual novel but a very good one. I hadn’t read it for years and years but ran across it on one of my bookshelves and decided to read it again. It involves kids growing up in a hollowed out asteroid after earth has been mostly trashed. They are very different from their parents who were raised on earth. The story is told from the point of view of a 12 to 13 year old girl in first person. Barnes really does get inside the minds of teenagers. It brought back some of my embarrassing moments for sure! Enjoyable reading.
I also just re-read the Prince Roger series by John Ringo and
David Weber. It consists of four books telling the epic adventures of a Prince who is stranded on a terrible planet and the marine company that is charged to protect him. The prince begins as a self-centered young idiot but the reasons for this will be gradually revealed and the reason he is marooned will be also. I don’t want to say too much but this is one of the best series I’ve ever read, right up there with the Honor Harrington and Dies the Fire series.
And speaking of Honor Harrington, I just finished the Advanced reading copy of Mission of Honor by David Weber, the eleventh book in the series, I believe. I hope he keeps it going because they are all very good.
And finally, I read The Crucible of Empire, the sequel to The Course of Empire by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth. It is very, very good, even better than the authors’ first one which I thought was one of the best rendering of alien thought processes I’ve ever read.
Tonto and the Butterfly
Spring is here and Tonto was outside playing with sticks when he was attacked by a ferocious butterfly. It fluttered down toward him, perhaps because he had been sniffing flowers or something, but whatever, it scared him into imagining it was a fanged horror wanting nothing else than to chomp down on one of his floppy ears. Now ordinarily a butterfly will flit around looking for nectar producing flowers but something about Tonto attracted this butterfly. It kept zooming down at him. He was frightened and tried running away. The butterfly chased him. Around and around the yard they went with Tonto trying to head for the house and get inside so he wouldn’t be mangled by the horrible, frothing at the mouth butterfly but every time he tried to make a run for the house the butterfly got between him and it and he had to take off in a different direction. Betty gave him no sympathy. She was doubled up with laughter, tears running down her face she was so tickled. Eventually the butterfly decided Tonto wasn’t going to hold still long enough to be torn to pieces and it flitted off to attack some other poor creature. Tonto scooted to the house as fast as his short little legs would scoot and zoomed inside, straight to his bed and burrowed under his blanky. He wouldn’t come out until hydraulic pressure finally forced him to venture from beneath his blanky but he had waited so long he peed on the floor before he could make it to the porch.
Today he wanted to help Betty while she worked in the yard and garden. He came along behind her and dug up all the tomatoes she had planted, little tail just wagging, sure he was doing exactly the right thing. Then when Betty decided to plant the tomatoes in the raised bed where he can’t get to them he got tangled in one of the tomato cages she was getting ready to put up and couldn’t get himself loose. Tonto is a pure idiot dog, not enough brains for a dodo but always entertaining at least!
Anyone who has a fireplace or a wood burning stove has probably seen those fire starters that you hold in your hand sort of like a pistol and pull the trigger to produce a flame to start fires with. I had used them before with not much problem. Betty tucked one into my stocking at Christmas but somehow I forgot about it until recently. I spotted it one day and decided to break it out. The next morning I confidently picked it up to start the fire in our Franklin stove. There must have been some accidents with kids playing with them because the safety features have been improved, in a manner of speaking. In order to keep a flame gong you have to keep the trigger pulled while simultaneously holding a lever back so it doesn’t go out. While lighting the fire my hand began hurting from the constant tension. By the time I got the fire going it was very painful and my hand hurt the rest of the day. Fooie! I didn’t even know I had arthritis in my hands and fingers but obviously I do because I strained them with the firestarter. So much for it. I went back to matches. At least they don’t inspire an arthritis attack trying to keep the flame burning!
Those of you who have been reading Bainstorming for a couple of years may remember how Betty injured her hip two years ago in a fight with a spider. She won but slipped and tore loose something in her upper hip--actually she said it felt as it tore everything loose! Anyway, after she was able to hobble to the doctor a week or so later X-rays were taken of her hip. They showed nothing. However she never got over the injury. She was given pain pills and this went on for a year or so but the pain was gradually getting worse. Next came an MRI of her lower back. It showed mild degenerative disk disease and the doctor attributed her pain to that. Continue on the pain pills, he said. She did and eventually increased the dosage. After a year of this the pain really got bad. She was sent to an orthopedic surgeon. He examined her and in about ten seconds had a diagnosis. During the fight with the spider two years previously she had sustained a very bad tear in her upper hamstring muscle. An MRI of the exact location confirmed his diagnosis. Unfortunately the tear had healed wrong (naturally with a wrong original diagnosis) and had knit back together unevenly, leaving nerve ends dangling. She was put on a month of therapy three times a week and appeared to make a good bit of progress. The pain lessened and we were very hopeful she would be more or less able to carry on as she used to. Unfortunately, a month later the very bad pain has returned. Drat and other bad words. I don’t know where we go from here. Probably more therapy, but perhaps eventually surgery, if the doc thinks it would help at this late stage. Fortunately, the really bad pain isn’t there all the time. It pops up at unpredictable intervals. The constant low level pain is somewhat controlled by tramadol, the same synthetic narcotic I take for my own hip problem. And to think all this happened just from her trying to kill a big spider that had gotten into the house (actually she did kill the spider with a broom. It was the hundred little baby spiders that had been riding on the mama spider’s back that got her into trouble) Moral of the story: If you’re gonna fight spiders, use a gun. It’s safer.
Methane atmospheric inconsistency
I keep reading how livestock herds are contributing to increased methane concentration in the atmosphere which is bad because it is a greenhouse gas. However, I haven’t heard a thing about why the tens upon tens of millions of buffalo that used to roam the plains, not to mention the vast herds of other ruminants in Africa, Asia and Europe and North America didn‘t raise the methane levels to intolerable levels. Why didn’t all their methane releases over hundreds of thousands of years raise the methane level of earth so high that we’d be roasting now? Get real. Earth’s temperature may indeed be rising but let’s not attribute it to stupid causes.
Starship Down did very well as an ebook and has sold pretty good as a trade paperback, causing me to decide to include another excerpt from the book.
“What in hell happened here?” Captain Gordon demanded to know. His normally controlled voice was suffused with barely suppressed fear that manifested itself in an expression of anger.
“Apparently a whole bank of computer boards failed and threw us off course, Captain,” Travis told him, noting as he did that Gordon was afraid. A tic he had never seen before was working beside the captain’s right eye. His mouth was shut in a thin tight line and his jaw muscles were knotted as if he were gritting his teeth.
He prepared himself for an explosion from the captain but even his wildest thoughts hadn’t prepared him for what followed.
“Who’s responsible for it?! Who caused the failure?! By God, I’ll have him in irons all the way back to earth!”
“Sir, there’s no time for that now. We have to try to find out where we are and see if we can even get back to earth,” Sissy said. Her voice was level but he saw that she was almost as afraid as the captain. Unlike him, she was doing her best not to let it show. Only knowing her as well as he did allowed him to see how upset she was.
Gordon turned his rage and fear on her. “Did you do it?! Were you responsible?!” His voice was loud but not loud enough to hide the frightened tremor that marred his outrage.
“No, sir, I was not. As I said—”
“I don’t care! I want to know who did this!”
A dead silence greeted his statement. Travis saw him scanning the control room and looking for a culprit while the ship continued its headlong flight, unpowered but still moving at its last velocity before going inconstant. He felt sick at the way Gordon was handling the crisis, looking for blame rather than taking action.
“Well?” His voice was loud and threatening.
Travis tried to answer honestly. “Sir, when the computer went down it caused the inconstant factors to spin way beyond where they should have been. The alarm didn’t sound so we had no way of knowing until the scheduled check. We’ve shut down the computer and impellers until Mister Effers can rig up something we can depend on.”
The captain glared at him. His mouth trembled with unvoiced fury.
“Sir, may I suggest we try to determine where we are while that’s going on, if we can?”
“Good God!” Gordon yelled and turned his wrath on Sissy. “Coffeehouse, do you mean to tell me you don’t even know where the ship is right now?!”
“That’s right, Captain. I’m trying to figure it out, but with the main computer down, I’m having to rely on the control room backups and I’m not even certain they’re accurate. They should have kicked in when the main computer went down and sounded an alarm. They didn’t, and the inconstants kept spinning with nothing to control them. Nothing…at…all.” The slow rendition of her last statement told everyone how horrified she was.
“You mean we have no reliable computer?!” Gordon practically screamed the words.
“I don’t know yet, Captain,” she answered in a steady tone of voice, a decided contrast from Gordon’s screech. “I’m proceeding on the basis that the backups up here are okay and somehow they simply failed to come online when they should have. Mister Effers booted them up manually for us to work with while he’s trying to route around the failed boards. That’s the last word we had from him. But, Captain, we’re…” She nodded toward the screen. “I don’t see any landmarks. I don’t recognize the part of the galaxy we’re in and that’s if we’re even in our own galaxy!” She didn’t say it, but most of the control room crew knew they might not even be in the same universe.
“Goddamn it, you blond-haired bitch! You’re going to pay for this! You and the whole control room crew! You’re all responsible!”
Travis and Sissy exchanged glances. Neither had ever seen Gordon lose his composure, but then nothing material had ever gone wrong so long as they had been aboard. They were in new territory and it was appalling.
“What do you have so far, Sissy?” Travis asked quietly, hoping the question would bring their captain back to his senses.
She looked at him helplessly then stared at what data she had and back up at him. She ignored Gordon’s glare.
“We are so far off course that I don’t know where we are, XO. I don’t really even know where to begin looking, but I’ve got one of the backups tied into the main spectrum scope searching for landmarks and the other running calculations based on the data we had before the main ’puter blew up. So far I’ve found nothing recognizable, although I believe we’re still in our own galaxy. It was the course settings that the bad boards affected initially, not the quantum inconstants. However, after we noticed something was wrong, the uncalculated course change had altered the inconstants so perceptibly that they were way beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. By the time we shut down, all kinds of indeterminate settings had been factored into our course. We came out somewhere way off our path. I mean way, way off. We’re lost.”
“How in hell could that happen so quickly?” Gordon asked belligerently. He took a step toward her. His mouth twisted into a snarl. “What’s the time between sightings checks? Two hours? We couldn’t be lost!”
Again Sissy and Travis exchanged glances. He should know how the drive works, surely, Travis thought. But he was acting as if he’d never heard of an indeterminate setting, the one thing every space-faring person feared. It could only happen if the main computer and both backups went down as theirs apparently had done.
Terrell, seeing that he could do nothing from the control room had gone to the engine room in order to be present once Effers got a reliable computer online. The three control room technicians were trying not to stare and making a bad job of it.
“Sir, nothing like this has happened since we first began interstellar travel,” Travis said, trying again for calm. “Or nothing we know of, that is. Perhaps a few of the early ships that were lost had computer problems but none have gone missing in years and years. I think we should consider ourselves lucky we didn’t wind up in a whole other universe.”
Gordon stared at him then Sissy for long moments with his mouth half open. It was obvious that the quandary of a lost ship was finally beginning to sink in. He closed his mouth slowly and felt for the captain’s chair. His groping hands touched its armrests and he collapsed into it like a rag doll.
“How soon will you know where we are?” He glanced from Travis to Sissy and back again. He spoke as if all the previous conversation had not taken place.
Sissy shrugged. She was becoming fed up with his manner. “Captain, we may never know. In fact, I doubt that we will. And even if we did, we’re so far beyond where we should be I wouldn’t dare try to get us back. We have no parameters for this area and there’s no way to reverse the indeterminate settings with any kind of accuracy. It’s that bad. I believe we should begin looking for a habitable planet as soon as we’re satisfied we have computers we can trust.”
“A habitable planet. You’re saying we may never go home?” Again his voice rose.
She nodded. “If we don’t know where we are it’s the only option open. We could search forever and not find our way back to earth.”
“Keep looking for earth,” he ordered in an unsteady voice, as though it were just around the corner and would be found any moment. He stood up and his body wavered for a moment. “I’ll be in my cabin.” As he left, his hands touched each part of the control room in reach as if satisfying himself it was still there.
No one had told Jimmy Hollister he couldn’t talk. He knew he shouldn’t but rumors were already flying. They couldn’t help but be, what with all the control room techs listening as Captain Gordon shouted and raved at his officers and listening when he ordered them to search for earth. Hell, even the lowliest tech in the control room knew that was an impossible task.
At dinner he ate with Staff Sergeant Maria Mirando of the weapons platoon from the army company they were transporting. They had just begun seeing each other. She was a few years older but it didn’t bother him. Maria was dark-haired and pretty even if she was older and there was nothing at all wrong with her figure or her mind, either. She was the first person in the military he had known at all well. He had been surprised and pleased, if somewhat disconcerted at the depth of her knowledge beyond her military specialty. It didn’t fit the impression he had carried of the military all his adult life, that of narrow-minded persons of low intelligence who thought force was the answer to all problems.
“The captain’s not taking it very good,” he told her after relating how the ship had gone so far off course. “Don’t spread that around, though. It’s bad enough that we’re lost without our passengers knowing the captain’s gone bonkers besides.”
“How so?” Maria was already party to the rumors but she wanted to hear it from a source close to the control room.
“Oh, he’s trying to find someone to blame instead of seeing whether the problem can be fixed or not. And he ordered the control room crew to keep searching for earth. Crap. We could look forever and not even come close to finding it.”
“You mean the problem can’t be fixed?”
Jimmy shook his head. “I strongly doubt it, not the way Sissy Coffeehouse was talking. She’s the chief astrogator, you know. She said we’re probably in the same galaxy but God knows where in it.” Talking to Maria was helping to settle the fact of being lost in his own mind, even though he was trying not to show Maria how worried and fearful for the future he was.
“Hmm. That sounds ominous.”
“You bet. Like we won’t be going home any time soon, if at all.” There! He’d said it.
She paused with her fork halfway to her mouth. “Never?”
“She told Captain Gordon we should start looking for a habitable planet. What does that tell you?”
She smiled slowly then finished the bite of food. “It tells me I’m not gonna get my wish, looks like.”
“Uh huh. I joined the army for adventure and to do something different. So far all I’ve seen is occupation duty on McCallister’s World and that rock is worthless if you ask me. I was hoping for duty on Bonnport and then damned if our company didn’t get orders to go there. It would have been different and probably lots of fun if all I read about that planet is true. We were going to be stationed there for four years. I was looking forward to it. Now it sounds like that’s down the tube.”
“Well, you can still get your wish. Probably more than you asked for.”
“What makes you say that?”
“A new planet is always interesting and usually dangerous until it’s been explored. And new planets are sure as hell different.” He shrugged and grinned. “Ever look at the casualty figures for first contact teams?”
“Um. Yeah. Not good.”
“Then there’s other problems. You know we have a contingent of hardcore prisoners on board?”
“Yeah. What’s that…oh, I see. What do we do with them?”
“Right. And then there’s the ship’s crew and the army and the government types being sent out as replacements for ones going back to earth. Put them all together and what’s the ratio of male to female?”
“Um. Not good again.”
“Right. And last but not least, the Carlsbad wasn’t designed for colonizing. We’ll be short of everything. Primitive. Hell, I don’t even know if we’ve got any seeds aboard other than what hydroponics uses. And what happens when the recycling and fabrication equipment breaks down? Think of all the supplies we’ll be short of or not have at all.” Christ, he thought, now I really am scared! How in hell are we going to survive? Or will we?
“Suddenly I’m not hungry. Not for food anyway.” She looked across the table into his warm brown eyes and took in his young, earnest face and short brown hair. Decision time. “But I’ve got a bottle of rum I snuck aboard and I’ve been waiting on a special occasion to use it.”
“And?” Jimmy held his breath. He had been hoping for this even if not under the present conditions.
“Let’s go pick it up then go to your stateroom.”
Crag Morehill growled low in his throat, a sound that fit his appearance. He was a big ugly man but behind the wiry, unruly hair and scarred face lived a sharp mind. The noises he made were another effort to irritate the guard, more for something to break the routine than the idea it might be effective. When the guard didn’t react, he sounded off.
“What the fuck is this? More of the same shit you’ve been feeding us every day?”
The guard paused in his daily routine of sliding trays through slots in the prisoners’ cells. He grinned at the big con. “Better eat it while you can, Morehill. Rations are likely to get short before long.”
“Yeah? How come, little man?”
“You haven’t heard, ugly? The cap'n made a wrong turn. We’re lost as a goose.”
“You’re pissing in the wind, screw.”
“You wish, you ugly fuck. But you oughta be glad. You won’t be dumped on Brongstill and spend your life draining swamps and being eaten by monsters.” He laughed into the sudden silence behind the food slot and moved on.
In the cell, Morehill began spooning the food into his mouth mechanically. His mind was occupied with what the guard had told him. He wondered if it was true and after a moment of two of thought, decided it probably was. All the guards had suddenly become nervous and talkative, like they were scared of something. If the ship was lost that would explain it. And if it was true, now he had to figure out what it meant to him and the other cons. If they couldn’t be sent to Brongstill to labor in the swamps, then what would be done with them? And how could they influence the powers that controlled the ship for some kind of deal? Or could they deal? Maybe they would simply be spaced when the food ran short but he rather doubted that. Lost or not, they were safe for now. Civilized restraints would hold for a long while yet. In the meantime though, it wouldn’t hurt to find out all he could and be ready for whatever happened. Shit, it might turn out to be a break instead of having to do the time, twenty years of back-breaking labor in return for freedom. He set his empty plate aside and rubbed at the scar that began below his mouth, cut through the edge of his lips and ended in the shaggy hair at his temple. Not being able to get a haircut irritated him as much as anything else about being imprisoned in the ship. He thought for a while about the situation then began mapping out a campaign in his mind to bring all the cons together under one leader. He didn’t really care who it was. It could be him or someone else so long as they were smart enough to know what they were doing. Smart enough to rely on intelligence instead of force as long as they could. But force and violence had to be on the agenda somewhere along the line. That was all the cons really had to work with in the long run. But in the meantime…something else might work.