A Pause To Appreciate


We all have different things to be thankful for. The pilgrims, who gathered together in November of 1621, were glad to be alive after a harrowing first year in the New World. Their new friends the Wampanoag were thankful for the land and its bounty, an unspoiled place that still belonged to them. Though we seldom think about Thanksgiving from the Native American perspective, it should remind us all that what the things we love most can easily be lost.

Today, however, on this cool Sunday afternoon, washed clean with the rain, I don’t want to dwell on the negative. In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to express my thanks for the following:

For free speech in America, still unparalleled in the world.

For all the brilliant writers who have entertained and inspired me.

For the technology that has revolutionized publishing, and the opportunity to express myself as a writer.

For Linux and the free software that allows me to make the most of the creative process.

For lessening tensions between the US and Russia, and hope for lasting peace in the Middle East.

For Arizona, a place that brings together the best of urban life and the natural world.

For the many friends, colleagues and acquaintances over the years, with their different beliefs, faiths, and backgrounds, who have enriched my life.

For my loving family that accepts me despite my numerous quirks.

And for Arlys-Allegra, who is wonderful beyond words.

Life is good!

SCIENCE SATURDAY: Nanotechnology, or Let’s Get Small


Technology fads come and go as they vie for the attention of our fickle media. One such fad was nanotechnology, the branch of engineering which operates at or near the molecular scale, around 1-100 nanometers in size. In the 1990’s it was the darling of the science media here in America. When the most outrageous predictions didn’t come to pass, the public turned its attention to other topics, such as genetic engineering and space exploration. In reality, nanotech has become part of our lives and thus as invisible to us as water to a fish.

Richard Feynman, a renowned physicist, is credited with the origination of the idea in a talk he gave in 1959, though he did not call in nanotechnology. That term was coined in 1974 by Norio Taguchi, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science. The idea didn’t catch the public imagination until 1986 and the book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, by American engineer K. Eric Drexler. He proposed that manufacturing could be revolutionized by creating nanoscale “assemblers,” tiny machines which could replicate themselves and larger things.

Science fiction writers ran with the idea; a prime example is Neal Stephenson’s award-winning novel Diamond Age (1995), in which nanotech was a positive but disruptive technology. In Kathleen Goonan’s Queen City Jazz (1996) nano-machines run amok, turning whole cities into “gray goo.” An episode of Season 3 of Star Trek the Next Generation (circa 1990) featured a plague of microscopic silicon-based “nanites.” The worry of a nanotech has so far been unfounded. One of the biggest limitations of these tiny machines has been the difficulty of supplying energy at this scale; this has so far kept the doomsday scenarios at bay.

Though the technology doesn’t get nearly as much press these days as it did in the 1990’s, it’s become a critical part of our technology. The website of the US government’s Nano-Technology Initiative lists several widespread uses, most dealing with the creation of micro-electronics. It also mentions bio-engineering applications such as nano-particles that can cure influenza (see artist’s conception above.) Nanotech could eventually provide inexpensive cures for tough diseases such as cancer and HIV, though unfortunately, these are probably years away.

Though public attention is fickle, new ideas such as nano-technology take a considerable time to develop from conception to practical applications. Neither the extravagant promises nor the exaggerated threats of nano-scale engineering have come to fruition. Like all technologies, it has the potential for good or bad. Hopefully, scientists and engineers will make the right choices and allow us to banish diseases such as cancer from the earth.

The above illustration is from http://www.nano.gov/.

If you like small things, you’ll enjoy my short stories such as Fidelio’s Dilemma, available on Amazon.


SELF-PROMOTION SUNDAY: Coming Soon from Ione D

Arlys Endres as Ione D

Arlys Endres as Ione D

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it’s been more fun since acquiring a collaborator, my amazing friend and partner Arlys Holloway. Though at the time she had little writing experience, she has proved to be a very capable co-author. Our character “Ione D” was her idea, as part of a Facebook campaign she devised to promote my steampunk novel, Fidelio’s Automata. Ione’s name is derived from the middle names of Arlys’ mother and father. I immediately fell for the character and decided that she had to star in her own series.

As a man, writing in first person for a female protagonist has been challenging for me. Arlys has been an incredible help, editing and rewriting my draft dialog from a woman’s perspective. Creating this series was partly a marketing move since these days women dominate the audience of avid readers. Though Ione is quite progressive for her time, to our sensibilities she’s a very old-fashioned and proper girl. We felt this would make Ione a refreshing change for the people of our cynical modern era.

Our first Ione D story, Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, takes place in the 1890’s as the 19-year-old Ione moves with her parents to Guatemala, where her father has been appointed the deputy to the US Ambassador there. There she visits the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, makes an amazing discovery, and uncovers a sinister plot. Our second book takes Ione back to London, the city where she spent much of her childhood. She’s attending the first Royal Epicurean Exhibition, a pet project of the new King Edward. His Majesty aims to rehabilitate the image of English cuisine, featuring a fiercely competitive cooking contest. We’ve been working on it diligently and expect to release it early next year.

Another of our projects is to produce a paper edition of the Mayan Marvel book. Since as a novella it is shorter than a typical book, we plan to supplement it by including artwork at the beginning of each chapter. This project will hopefully be completed in early 2017 as well.

I’d like to remind readers that I haven’t given up my plans to publish a sequel of Fidelio’s Automata, called Fidelio’s Insurrection. The Ione D project has delayed my original plans to get to it next year, but I’ll get to that correctly.

Continue to check out my Sunday blog posts for news of another opportunity to win free books and swag from Nakota Publishing (that’s us!)

SCIENCE SATURDAY: Razib Khan and the Controversy of Human Genomics

Razib Khan, scientific outlaw

Razib Khan, scientific outlaw

The science of genetics has added a fascinating dimension to the history of mankind. For example, we once thought that Neanderthal people went extinct. Now scientists believe that modern humans have Neanderthal genes, meaning that our ancestors got close and personal with their caveman cousins. It’s also fascinating to consider when humans first occupied what parts of the earth, and in what direction they migrated. New theories have provoked fierce debate about migrations to places like Australia and the Americas earlier than experts previously believed. Genetic analysis of human remains is one piece of this puzzle. Why is this branch of science not more popular than it is? I suspect the reason may be political.

For the last few months, I’ve been reading the Gene Expression Blog by Razib Khan at the alt media site unz.com. I’ll write more about that excellent site in an upcoming blog post. Khan is an avid reader and a prolific writer on evolution, history, religion, and philosophy. He also writes frequently about the field of personal genomics and controversial services such as 23andMe. Khan’s profile lists him as a graduate student in genomics at UC Davis. His column has renewed my dormant interest in human genetics and paleo-history.

The problem is, Khan doesn’t stick to the narrative. He engages with publications and groups that are politically incorrect. Last year the New York Times booted him off the editorial pages for that reason. The gossip site gawker.com had outed him for his association with allegedly “racist” sites takimag.com and vdare.com. That’s their loss and Unz’s gain. It gives me great satisfaction, however, that VDare and Taki’s Magazine are still going strong, but Gawker is no more.

It’s appalling to think that a smart, well-spoken fellow like Khan would be punished for his associations. I’m reminded of how the Catholic Church treated Galileo’s theories. Yes, many biologists speculate on the differences between human racial groups concerning average intelligence, health, stamina, etc. This may offend politically correct opinion. Yet I don’t think that scientists actually believe the propaganda that “race is an illusion” and that all groups are exactly equal in potential. If you think about it, the egalitarian view is counter-intuitive. As a progressive friend commented to me, concerning the differences between ethnicities, “Why would you think they’d all be the same?”

My point is that science shouldn’t make value judgments. Research gives us information, which we can use for good or evil, to help people or hurt them. You may ask, what good does it do for us to know how and where humans originated, and the differences between racial groups? We don’t know. Neither did the Pope Urban VIII at the time he censured Galileo. He couldn’t have foreseen space exploration and its benefits, yet his closed-mindedness could have prevented all of that.

Arlys’ and my book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel takes a fanciful look at Mesoamerican paleontology. Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Ione-Mayan-Marvel-Adventures-ebook/dp/B01G2TBBPU/

FREE SPEECH FRIDAY: Honoring an American Hero


“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.”

— General Smedley Darlington Butler

On this Veteran’s Day, I’d like to remember one of America’s most decorated veterans, Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler. He was one of 19 men to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice. He was also one of America’s bravest truth-tellers, author of the 1935 classic War is a Racket. This book is available in digital form on Amazon for 99 cents.

Butler participated in American military actions in several countries, including the first World War. He did not become outspoken until after his retirement. One of his most controversial actions was coming to Congress with information about the so-called Business Plot, a conspiracy to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt and replace him with a military dictator. All the alleged conspirators denied it, of course, but a Congressional committee verified at least some of his testimony.

I highly recommend reading Butler’s book. It’s quite short and can be read in a few hours. Though written shortly before WWII, it nevertheless seems to mirror current events, as Butler writes about all the extravagant profits earned by various “patriotic” industries, from steel to leather (for cavalry saddles.) He also condemns the use of the US military as an enforcer for corporate interests in other nations, such as United Fruit Company’s abusive, monopolistic practices in Central America.

Butler didn’t live to see the second World War that he was warning the nation about. He died of cancer in 1940 at the age of 58. Besides “War is a Racket”, he wrote books about military actions in Mexico and Paraguay. Some of his speeches and letters have also been compiled and published. One of his co-authors was Arthur J. Burks, a marine colonel and a fascinating character in his own right. Burks wrote numerous books and stories in the adventure, detective, and sci-fi genres.

If you’re an admirer of Smedley Butler, you’ll enjoy my political sci-fi novel Centrifugal Force, because he’s mentioned in it.

Time Travel Thursday – The Wild Wild West


Ross Martin and Robert Conrad as Gordon and West

In this year of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I’d like to call attention to another pioneering series: The Wild Wild West. In my childhood, it was my second favorite show. For those of you who are too young to remember, it was a historical drama created by Michael Garrison, set during the 1870’s and starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin as Jim West and Artemis Gordon, dashing Secret Service agents. I loved it for the gadgetry and its science fiction elements. Its fanciful treatment of America’s past has caused many steampunk aficionados to declare it a forerunner of their favorite genre.
West and Gordon had the coolest ride, which doubled as their headquarters: their own private train, which included a laboratory and a stable. It had great villains, too, particularly the Spanish dwarf Dr. Miguelito Loveless, played by Michael Dunn. An evil genius, he invented the airplane, the cathode-ray tube, and an LSD-like drug. Another thing I enjoyed about the show was the animated title sequence, a montage which showed a heroic cowboy fighting the bad guys and kissing the girl. At the commercial breaks, they would replace each of these pictures with a scene from that episode.
I didn’t know this, but the show’s Wikipedia article notes that the series was canceled not due to bad ratings but because of the outcry over “television violence.” Was that the real reason, or was it political correctness that pushed the Western genre off of television? It’s not a scientific study by any means, but I seem to remember cowboy shows as being less violent than the 1970’s crime dramas that replaced them. The Wild Wild West, with its campy James Bond light-heartedness, did not deserve this early death.
Many of my younger readers may recall the feature film version which was made in 1999, starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline as Agents West and Gordon, with Salma Hayek as the damsel in distress. Sadly, its quality wasn’t up to that of the series, earning only 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Though I’m a big fan of Smith, it seemed strange to have a black man as a Federal agent so few years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. Then again, it’s steampunk; anything can happen.
Another plot element that changed in the movie was that West and Gordon’s nemesis changed. The scheming little person became an embittered Southern amputee, Dr. Arliss Loveless. The PC anti-Confederate message was obvious, though at least they gave him a cool name.
DVD’s of the original series are available for rent on Netflix or for purchase on Amazon. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate it in streaming form.

If you like steampunk cowboy adventures you’ll love my book Fidelio’s Automata on Amazon.

Photo is from Wikimedia Commons.


WRITERS’ WEDNESDAY: Writing for the Theater: A Horse of a Different Color

Theater Masks

Something appealing, something appalling…

When I joined a theater group a few years ago, I already had experience writing novels and stories. The transition was not as easy as I’d expected. Although a novel can be adapted to a script and vice versa, the two are different art forms. At the time I decided it would be easier to create a new work. I remembered stories my girlfriend Arlys had told me of her weird on-line dating experiences, and voila, a musical comedy was born! I’ll save the rest of that story for an upcoming Self-promotion Sunday post.

The first rule of script writing is that your audience – producers, directors, and actors – expect it to be in a specific format. Using a word-processor template can make this easy. There’s a reason for using the archaic Courier font: it helps keep the timing consistent. As a rule of thumb, a page of dialog should last a minute on stage, but in practice that can vary greatly.

Secondly, converting standard prose to script can be challenging. Your pretty description and narrative must be replaced with scene and stage direction, which should be as concise and utilitarian as possible. How thorough you make these directions is a matter of personal style. Some famous playwrights, such as Pinter, use almost none. In any case, you will surrender much of your creative control to directors, actors, and set designers.

This conversion will be easier if you follow the cardinal rule of good writing: show don’t tell. In the theater, the writer shows through dialog and action. A good set can be helpful, but a play can be just as effective on a bare stage. If necessary, a character can play the role of a narrator, but this device should be used sparingly.

Comedy is a difficult genre in any form because humor is a personal thing. Unless you’re a natural, I suggest writing comedy with a co-author. The social dynamics of collaboration will help you come up with better, funnier jokes.

Music adds another layer of complexity. It’s good to have a song occur early in the scene, for maximum impact. Of course, the flow of the dialog will determine the ideal place for a song to occur.

Theater writing has its positive aspects, of course. Even if it’s not your primary mode of expression it’s a good exercise. It incorporates a social element that the solitary habit of writing normally lacks. Larger cities often have showcases for local talent, and they’re always looking for new works. These provide good opportunities for publicity and increased name recognition.

In this short post, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic. My primary message is not to underestimate the challenge of writing for the theater, but also to point out its potential rewards. As the saying goes, there’s no business like show business!

For some dramatic storytelling, check out my books on Amazon.com.

TECHNOLOGY TUESDAY: Introducing the Alt-Internet

The Gab.ai logo

The Gab Logo (Ribbit!)

The greatest thing about the Internet is the free informational tools. It’s difficult to remember what life was like before convenience of Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook. Lately, though, these sites have been the focus of controversy. Conservatives and libertarians have long suspected them of left-wing bias, and the leaked Clinton emails have confirmed it. Yes, they’re private companies that can set their own rules, but they need competition. Recently, alternatives have appeared: Gab, a free-speech version of Twitter, InfoGalactic, a dynamic fork of Wikipedia, and Duck Duck Go, a privacy-focused search engine.
I heard about duckduckgo.com at a libertarian conference in 2012. Its motto is “the search engine that doesn’t track you” the way Google does. It has a number of other handy features that Google doesn’t. The best thing is the consistency of its searches; it doesn’t consider your previous searches when returning results. I’ve used it for a while now. It’s just as useful as Google, without the creepy suggestions based on my search history.
InfoGalactic debuted recently as an alternative on-line encyclopedia. Currently, most of its pages are clones of those on Wikipedia. This is legal because of Wikipedia’s Creative Commons license. Infogalactic’s administrators are attempting to create an environment free of bias. They’re replacing Wikipedia’s community-editing feature with a more sophisticated set of tools and algorithms. In place of Wikipedia’s ideologically motivated editing staff, they plan to introduce personalized content controls that will allow each reader to select their own viewpoint. This could be useful for debaters looking to hone their arguments. It would also meet the needs of people who might want to filter their information, for example, devout Muslims. So far there’s not much divergence from Wikipedia, and its servers have been rather slow. I’m looking forward to seeing major changes in ideologically sensitive articles.
Gab, the Twitter alternative, is still in beta. Its address is gab.ai, “ai” being the domain of the island of Anguilla. Gab aims to provide an alternative without PC-based censorship. It forbids only material that is legally problematic: child pornography, incitement to violence, and unauthorized release of personal information. The frustrating aspect is that there’s currently a waiting list, but I only waited a few days for my account. At present, I’m using Gab as an opportunity to gain followers as an early adopter.
Facebook will be harder to replace. A promising site called “this.com” started last year but already went belly up this July. () The best alternative seems to be Disapora.com, which debuted in 2010 and is based on a decentralized server model. Like duckduckgo, it pledges not to abuse personal data. It hasn’t yet lived up to its hype, but it’s hanging in there.
In the coming months, I plan to use these alternative sites as much as possible. I encourage you to check them out. I’ll keep you posted on my experiences.

If you’re into alternatives, you’ll want to read my stories. Check them out on Amazon.

MEDIA MONDAY: Movie Review, Inferno

Inferno movie poster

Don’t think, just run!

Inferno, the new movie starring Tom Hanks, is based on the Dan Brown novel of the same name. It’s the fourth in the series that includes the controversial Da Vinci Code, all of which feature the same protagonist, Professor Robert Langdon.

At the opening of the movie, Langdon (Hanks) awakens in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy, with a pounding headache and no memory of the previous 48 hours. Before he can assess his situation, an assassin dressed as a policewoman invades his room, riddling the place with bullets. With the help of his doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a self-confessed fan of Langdon’s work, he survives and evades a multi-agency dragnet. Langdon and Brooks must solve a puzzle to defeat a sinister conspiracy. Billionaire and environmental fanatic Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has created a deadly virus, to be released at any moment to decimate the human race.

I’ll admit that the movie is exciting and visually interesting. Director Ron Howard does a great job keeping the action going and the cinematography is superb. Tom Hanks is convincing as Langdon, though his character spends much of the movie befuddled by his injuries. Felicity Jones is such a visual delight I’d watch her even if the movie was terrible. The story has some interesting twists which I’ll admit I didn’t see coming.

The story, however, is also the movie’s biggest flaw. To enjoy it, you must turn off your brain and not consider the plausibility of anything. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if it addresses the issues any better, but I doubt it. The plot is so riven with holes, it’s difficult to know where to start. The basic premise is not the problem; plenty of globalist elitists have expressed a desire for a plague or other disaster to “solve” the population problem.

That’s about the only thing that’s believable. To name a few of my objections: Why would Zobrist direct his followers with an elaborate puzzle, rather than using some more reliable method such as encryption? How could he believe that a one-time democide would permanently fix the overpopulation problem? It seems he’s made no provision for his group to survive the plague and guide humanity to a zero-growth future. Why would his plan depend on a single distribution locus for the virus, when viruses are easily replicated?

One plot element I did enjoy was the secretive private security firm led by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), a maverick businessman who makes an unlikely action hero. Since ideas can’t be copyrighted, I’m tempted to borrow this concept for a work of my own.

As for the rating, I’m seriously conflicted. Because it’s an enjoyable diversion, I could give Inferno 4 out of 5. However, I need to detect at least one star for insulting the audience’s intelligence, so let’s make it 3.


Self-Promotion Sunday: My Journey So Far

Book covers, Centrifugal Force & Fidelio's Automata

My first two novels: Centrifugal Force & Fidelio’s Automata

In 2007 I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an author. At the time I was a self-employed software consultant. I realized I wouldn’t have sufficient time for writing as long as I was self-employed. I also knew I couldn’t expect to support myself as a writer any time soon. Therefore I accepted an offer of full-time employment and settled into a normal, 40-hour work week. Shortly afterward I began work on my first novel, a near-future science fiction adventure called Centrifugal Force. Because of the book’s political leanings, I doubted I’d find a mainstream publisher, but this didn’t matter. My goal was to express myself, not to become rich and famous.

This was not my first serious attempt at writing fiction. Two decades earlier, I took creative writing courses, attended workshops, and wrote a number of short stories. I submitted a number of these stories to science fiction magazines, but none were accepted for publication. I realize now that I hadn’t put enough work into learning the craft. Now, years later, I was ready to make the necessary sacrifices.

My first act was to join a writers’ group. Through the website meetup.com I found a local sci-fi oriented group called the Grendelmen, after the monster from Beowulf. Through my participation in that and succeeding groups, I made a lot of new friends and learned a tremendous amount about writing.

During this time there were a number of side detours, all of which were valuable learning experiences. From my fellow writers, I learned the benefit of a thoughtful critique and honest feedback. They also motivated me to try writing in unfamiliar genres such as urban fantasy and theater.

In 2012 I finally completed Centrifugal Force. As I expected, the agents I showed it to expressed no interest. That was OK; I knew it wasn’t the kind of work that publishers were currently seeking. I chose the self-publication route on Amazon.com, and although I haven’t seen a lot of sales so far, it was really satisfying to hold my creation in my hands.

Since then, I have worked primarily in the genre of historical science fiction, also known as steampunk. My second novel, Fidelio’s Automata, is about the struggle of an idealistic young inventor to recover his stolen invention, and features eccentric genius Nikola Tesla. Currently, I’m collaborating with my partner Arlys Holloway on the “Professor Ione D” series of steampunk mysteries.

It’s been great fun, but it would be even more enjoyable if I could share my work with a larger audience. Toward that end, Arlys and I will soon be having a giveaway of free copies of Fidelio’s Automata and additional steampunk goodies. See next Sunday’s blog post for more information.

Check out Force and Fidelio on Amazon.com.