The Reunion

I wrote this in 2017 after the Writers of the Future workshop. Our group had formed a bit of a bond and, before we parted ways, someone casually mentioned how neat it would be if we had some sort of a reunion in the future. The unpleasant fact of modern adult life is that schedules rarely line up to allow much of a reunion for any group–unless someone dies.

***

When the first raindrops pelted my hand and nose, I opened the black umbrella. I always bring an umbrella to funerals, especially to those of Andy Shulnar.

A woman standing to my right sniffled into a lace handkerchief as someone opened an umbrella over the minister. I shifted mine to shelter the sniffling damsel.

“First one?” I asked.

She sniffed again and dabbed her eyes before speaking.

“I haven’t been to a funeral since my grandfather died,” she said. “Andy was such a dear friend, though, and to take his own life…”

“Yeah–that Andy. He’s always over-the-top.”

She looked up at me, a look of disbelief in her eyes.

“I’m Steve,” I said.

“Heather,” she replied, attempting a smile under running mascara.

“His wife sent out the invitations in advance this time,” I said, “what with everybody’s schedules being so hectic lately. Larry Somers from fourth grade actually missed the last one. Larry was only here for a year, but he hung out with us in gym class. Mindy didn’t put anything in the invitation about how he’d killed himself, though. Do you know? You seem to be a more recent acquaintance.”

“He–” she stammered, “he drank a bottle of drain cleaner–it was basically straight sulfuric acid. The thought of…”

She didn’t sob again though. The pure horror of thinking about Andy guzzling acid that burned his flesh from the inside out had simply shocked her into silence.

“Listen,” I said, “since you’re new at this, I’ll let you in on a secret.”

“Hm?”

“Look at everyone else here. Do you see anyone else crying? Look especially at his wife.”

Heather studied her across the sea of faces.

“She looks, almost–”

“Bored?”

“Yeah,” she said. Then she looked around at the others, the crowd of about a hundred people.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Andy does this every five years or so,” I said. “He said the worst thing about being an adult is that the only time you’ll see all your friends in one place is at your funeral. People get so busy that they never stop by anymore. Scheduling something like this is impossible unless you’re really committed to getting their attention.”

“But–”

“The acid thing’s not so bad, honestly,” I said. “He made a bologna shirt one time and jumped into the tiger enclosure at the zoo. That one was pretty brutal. Funny, though. We all had a good laugh at the wake. I’m sad there wasn’t one this time. I don’t think Mindy wanted people tromping through the house with a newborn.”

“I don’t think that–”

“It’ll be fine. I guess you’ll just have to see it though. You know Marley’s Pie Shop on third street?”

“Yeah.”

“Meet me there tomorrow at noon.”

“I have a boyfriend.”

I smiled. 

“Unless they’ve changed the local customs since Andy and I were in Kindergarten here, I think we can safely meet for pie and coffee with our clothes on.”

She laughed, despite herself, and we listened as the minister finally got around to delivering his eulogy.

#

“It’s good pie, right?” I asked, cutting off another chunk of apple and crust with my fork.

“Yeah,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been missing out.”

She eyed the steaming cup of coffee and plate of rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream that was just starting to melt. They sat next to her and across from me, untouched.

The bell on the door jingled, and I looked up to see a familiar figure walk in. He smiled when our eyes met.

“Oh, good,” Andy said, then looked at Heather. “Last time he ordered early and the ice cream melted before I got here. It’s hard to answer texts when you’re dead.”

Heather stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief, but nonetheless stuffed another forkful of cherry pie into her mouth.

“What? You told her didn’t you?” Andy said.  He twisted a finger in his ear and pulled out a small clod of dirt. “Sorry, Mindy actually made them bury me. I had to dig my own way out. She said she’s tired of my ‘attention-seeking behavior.'”

He sipped the coffee.

“Ooh,” he said, “that burns. ”

###

The Mote of Consciousness

I have a new novelette available for pre-order on Amazon.

This is my first work of Christian apologetic science fiction. It puts the reader in the shoes of a husband-and-wife team as they test and refine artificial intelligence programs for deep space exploration.

By linking the AI to tiny alien worms, Atticus and Love create a miniature universe inside their lab. There, the sentient worms are free to create, innovate, explore–and reveal what they will do with free will.

This will be published on March 20, 2020. You can preorder it here.

FAQ:
Q: Is this the best thing I will ever read?

A: Yes, probably.
***
Q: Why do you call it Christian apologetic science fiction?

A: Every good story allows surrogacy for the reader in at least one character. By creating a miniature universe governed by humans, your surrogate has God-like power and God-sized decisions to make. By stepping into His shoes we can better understand why He behaves as He does, and if His actions are reasonable.
***
Q: Does this tie into any of your existing work?

A: Yes. It is a furtherance of the technology from Bullet Catch and Homunculus. Bullet Catch takes place on Mars and includes augmented reality goggles, or “augles.” Homunculus takes place on Titan, the moon of Saturn. It features both augmented reality and miniature robots for space exploration, which are controlled remotely through a quantum entanglement relay. The Mote of Consciousness contains augles and the homunculus robots, as well as the continuation of black hole research that began in Homunculus. It takes place in the Leo constellation, outside our solar system. Bullet Catch and Homunculus are included in this volume also.

***

Q: Is this going to be available only in the Kindle form?

A: For now, yes.

Mote_cover

Coffee

I’ve read in several places that coffee is the world’s second-most traded commodity after oil. This article indicates that’s an urban myth with no real justification:

https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/05/coffee-isnt-worlds-2nd-traded-commodity-important/

Nonetheless, coffee has enabled longer work hours and night-shift work for decades, and has been credited as at least a partial cause of the Industrial Revolution. It has an outsized impact on our society when compared with other commodities like peanuts.

Have you ever considered what would happen if garage-band terrorists used CRISPR to develop a virus aimed at a coffee pandemic?

With CDC researchers’ brains understimulated due to a lack of caffeine, would they be able to contain it in time?

Would under-caffeinated pilots cause an increase in fatal airline mishaps?

Would under-caffeinated morning commuters bring urban highway systems to a standstill?

Would it be–THE NAPOCALYPSE?

(I debated turning this plot into a story, but I think it would put the readers to sleep.)

Vampire

I knew the man had come for my blood–blood I did not want him to harvest. I pulled the gilded crucifix from my satchel and held it before me as though it were a shield.

“Get back, spawn of Satan!” I yelled. 

The man recoiled, as did his assistant.

“I’m a doctor,” the man said. “Nurse Galloway is only here to process the sample.”

He still held the syringe. 

“We really need to check your cholesterol, Mister Van Helsing,” the nurse said.

“Sorry,” I said. “You’ll have to forgive an old vampire hunter.”

I lowered the crucifix, and laid it next to me on the examining table.

He nodded, smiled, and approached again with the syringe.

I remembered a rhyme from my childhood–something of the lore of doctors. I pulled an apple from my satchel and held it before me as a shield. 

“Get back, spawn of Modern Medicine!” I shouted.

He hissed and leapt away as though burned. Nurse Galloway scurried into the shadows.

“An apple a day–” I whispered. “The power of Johnny Appleseed compels you! Leave me, you black-hearted blood-peddlers!”

The nurse scurried out the door, knowing their plan was undone.

“Next time, Van Helsing,” the doctor hissed. “Next time.”

Then he vanished in a cloud of thick black smoke, leaving me in peace with my high LDL level.

Results of Moral Objectivity Poll

On March 19, 2019, I launched a thought experiment poll in Google forms. I wanted to see how people perceived objective moral values and duties. For me, this was a test of 2 things:

  1. Do people understand what objective moral values are?
  2. Do people sense that some (if not all) moral values and duties are objective rather than subjective? Do they sense a true difference between good and evil?

One commonly cited example of an act that is wrong in any situation is rape, so the thought experiment included a dilemma that could potentially justify rape to save the human species.

I posted an invitation to this poll on my Facebook page, and on Reasonable Faith’s page. The latter is a common hangout for both devout Christians and devout atheists. Whether the link was shared to third parties, I do not know. All respondents would obviously be in a population that has Internet access and that understands written English. Thirty-eight people completed the poll.

The questions and results follow. I’ve included 7a and 7b with their original results, but will also show a “clean” version of the data since a few people didn’t quite follow the instructions to only answer 7a OR 7b based on their answer to question 6. You’ll see this if you add up the responses to each question.

(The 7.9% group in the first chart refers to the “Something else” response, not “Jewish.” The colors were similar in Google’s results.)

Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.18.08 AMScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.18.21 AMScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.20.41 AMScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.21.03 AMScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.21.31 AMScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.21.47 AMScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.22.14 AM

Clean results for 7a and 7b.

7a. Of those that believed that objective moral values exist:

  1. 67.7% believe their source is God
  2. 16.1% believe their source is evolution or Mother Nature
  3. 16.1% answered “something else”

7b. Of those that believe that morality is subjective:

  1. 71.4% (5 people) believe morals come from local norms and customs
  2. 14.3% (1 person) said that whatever he thought was right in a given situation, regardless of what others thought, was moral
  3. The last person (14.3%) answered “something else”

Observations:

  1. 82% of respondents said that there are objective moral values. 95% said that rape is inherently evil. How can an act be inherently evil if morality is subjective, and changes based on circumstances and environment? If a property is inherent, the observer’s opinion of it is irrelevant. Five people of the thirty-eight that responded do not understand inherent properties and the concept of objective moral values. That may be part of the problem.
  2. Of the two that claimed they did not believe that rape was inherently evil, one identified as “something else” in terms of religious belief, and the other identified as an atheist. Both of these results appeared after the second time I posted an invitation to Reasonable Faith’s Facebook.
  3. As cited in the clean results for 7b, 5 people, or 13% of total respondents believe that morality comes from local norms and customs. For this 13%…is eating people if you’re among a cannibal tribe moral? When Nazis ruled Germany, was killing Jews moral? If you’re comfortable with that, we don’t have enough common ground to have a discussion.
  4. At least a majority–arguable at 82% or 95% based on 1 above–believe that objective morality is a thing. That is the other thing I wanted to test, and this poll confirmed my hunch that people are, as a majority, aware of objective morals and duties.

Thought experiment concerning objective moral values

Much of what I’m writing currently revolves around morality and Christian apologetics. My reading on the subject delves into some areas I hadn’t thought much about before, one being objective vs. subjective morality.

I have a thought experiment for you. It is short, and responses are anonymous. It is limited to one login via Google though. Be forewarned that it deals with some fairly dark psychology and morality. Should take 1-2 minutes.

If you tested it: thank you, and your responses are still in the data. I kept the results.

Sharing of the link as broadly as possible is encouraged to avoid skewing data toward people like myself. I’ll close it on or around July 1. If enough people take it to form a statistically significant group, I’ll post the results.

Take the poll via this link: https://goo.gl/forms/a42lVKtxQnK5jjU43

The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF, Vol. 5

I’m super-stoked that “Homunculus,” my 2018 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award winner, has been selected for inclusion in Vol. 5 of The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF, edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen.

This is the first time I’ve signed a second contract on a story, and I’m quite honored that it’s for a “Best of” anthology. It comes out June 4, 2019, and you can get it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Here are some links to pre-order this awesome anthology: AmazonB&N.

Broad emotional palette

Last year I read a novelette by Ted Chiang called “Understand,” which is about a guy with rapidly accelerating intelligence due to a super-secret experiment. As part of this process, he realizes that he feels things that other people don’t feel because they don’t dissect their experiences as deeply or understand nuance.

Part of writing well, based on my early-career assessment of my writing that sells vs. what doesn’t, and what I enjoy reading, is allowing the reader to wear another life through emotion. If a writer has correctly conveyed an emotion that I’ve either felt (relevant connection) or want to feel (wish fulfillment), I will enjoy wearing their written life more. I listened to an interview on the radio several months ago in which an artist talked about capturing a feeling that would resonate with maybe just one person, but that would bring them a sense of connection that they didn’t get elsewhere. Perhaps you’re the only other person who’s felt that exact thing, and by writing it well, you’ve just become a reader’s most intimate friend.

So I’ve been making a study of things I feel that don’t seem to have names, or that I see written/acted rarely.

We moved several times when I was growing up, but the places we moved to were within an hour or so drive of each other. I travelled through that area recently, and so I visited the place where I went to grade school, and the place we lived when I was in high school. I revisited my undergrad college recently also, and simply jumping in this time machine brought memories out of my head and into reality. I’ve had the same experience when going through old paperwork to compile resumes, background investigation forms, etc. I don’t think “haunted” is the right word. It’s too generic. When I go on these physical trips to facilitate mental travel, I get all the bad with all the good. Even stranger is the feeling that one of my grade schools is an antique store (most of it had to be closed because it was a death trap) and a building where I had some fun memories at college had been torn down completely. My high school is going to be demolished in the summer of 2019, and I was fortunate to get one last look after-hours when a Spanish teacher let me in. Part of me resides in not-so-ancient ruins, and places that no longer exist. That is a useful feeling–one worth putting onto the page.

I got onto the elevator at my church (I’m lazy) a couple of months ago, and there was a woman whose body-language was very introverted. We were the only two people on the elevator. I’m usually a bit of an introvert too, but she seemed to be honestly afraid that I was in the elevator with her. I hadn’t spoken a word to her, and held the door open when she went inside. Sometimes when I’m alone with people, and thinking entirely benign, non-aggressive thoughts, they will give me the vibe that I’m a scary person. I have a little bit of rank in the military also, and sometimes, before I get to know the new kids and they realize I’m laid back and often not serious about anything, I’ll get the scary-officer vibe from them. I was on the other end of it when I was brand new too, so I get that one. Is there a name for the fear of causing fear in others? That seems like a character trait worth giving to someone on the page also.

What about the guilt of feeling some joy at the horrible death of someone who’s done you wrong? Schadenfreude is a word, but it means something before that guilt kicks in. What is the guilt of having felt schadenfreude? Is it just normal, every-day guilt?

What about the feeling of becoming detached from your own emotional experience so that you can observe and record it for your work? Is “going to the balcony” (from negotiation doctrine) or “observing ego” (from psychology) descriptive enough?

Schrödinger’s Pockets

Do you remember Schrödinger’s cat? Of course you do. Everyone does. It was conceived as a joke–not against quantum physics, as many believe–but against ethics. Why should one poor cat be stuck in two states as both alive and dead while no one else suffers such disparate fates?

It wasn’t until the discovery of Pandora’s Box–yes, the actual box handed down from Olympus–in the basement of a collector in Crete, that Erwin Schrödinger was willing to bring his thought experiment into reality.

That was, as everyone knows, the beginning of two pocket universes–one without trouble, evil, and darkness, and one with all of those horrible things. A man named Voltaire started to write a book called Candide once upon a time, but he threw his manuscript away when he realized that we live in the best of all possible worlds. He realized that without problems and evils, there could be no plots.

Imagine it–a world with racism, poverty, and infidelity. Who could conceive of such a place? It boggles the mind that people should even exist in a world where Pandora’s Box sprang open when a quantum was observed.

Give thanks then, dear reader, that we live in the world we do. We live in the best of all possible worlds.

Leaders Taste Better and Other Stories

Pre-order a collection (published July 20, 2018) that includes all my published work from 2017, a couple of previously unpublished stories, and a contest-winner from 2015. Contents of “Leaders Taste Better and Other Stories” include:

Leaders Taste Better (urban fantasy, humor)

Moonlight One (hard science fiction, mystery, space colonization)

The Death of Arthur Owsley (mystery, urban fantasy, philosophy, noir)

Game Theory (hard science fiction, flash fiction)

Gifted (hard science fiction, mystery)

Bullet Catch (hard science fiction, space colonization, space medicine)

The Green Fairy (urban fantasy, humor, dad jokes)

The Aeronaut (steampunk, military science fiction, hard science fiction)