Saturday, March 30, 2013

So What's Next, Now That The Storm-Wing Is Published?

       This piece will be a kind of roadmap of what I intend to do in the upcoming weeks and months, both on my blogs and in the area of writing and publishing.
       First, I should say that I won't be publishing anything for a while.  I plan to let readers get caught up with the verbiage I have already produced! (LOL!)  And the third volume of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head isn't anywhere near ready (I've shortened the name from The Tale of the Valley of Thorns to simply The Valley of Thorns.  I think, since I've chopped this into so many volumes, shorter is better). The text is in partially formatted shape, but it needs a good bit more editing and polishing, and I don't have a map or cover drawn.  That is, I have a large map of the whole Quest but I'll have to cut it down to fit the setting of this particular book, which will cover only a small part of the termite world.  I want to come up with a different way to show the mountains.  I don't like that hatched background -- makes the place-names hard to read (see the map for The Storm-Wing here).
       As for the cover ... well, I have only one drawing for this part of the book and it's very stiff and not to my liking.  Here it is (comments?):

Click for a larger view

       Actually, this picture isn't as bad as I remembered, but obviously it's oriented wrong to be a cover picture.  Also, you can see by the date in the left corner that I drew this way back in 2003.  At that time I was outlining all my termites in black.  Now I do them in orange -- it softens the effect.  I also don't like the canyon walls, so I would need to find some photos of rocky cliffs to use as models.  But "Lug'tei'a Battles the Demon-Sorcerer" may very well be the subject of the cover, although I have another idea that would require a brand-new drawing.
     So!  I will be working on all that off and on.  First, however, I'm going to take a break and do some reading.  I've promised several people to read and review their books, and also one person is waiting for me to read her WIP and comment on it.  I need to get caught up on all that.  I'm afraid my rather ambitious intention of analyzing all four of Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion retellings is going to have be put on the back burner.  I've only done the first one -- Prince of Annwn (see all four posts here, on my other blog) -- and I do intend to get back to it someday, but I need to do some other things first.
       One of these things is to extract a section of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars that deals with what happens to the Jews in my future world and also with the psychological struggles of the first star-mission's Chief Engineer.  Most of that will have to be dropped from the final book if I ever get it published because it's somewhat peripheral to Capt. Nikalishin's life, but it's too compelling to leave on the cutting room floor.  So I intend to work seriously on that and it will probably be the next thing I publish.  It will have to be drastically shortened and condensed, with a lot of rewrite.  It will be a complete change of pace from my termite SF/fantasies and maybe that will be good -- show I can write about something besides termites and conlangs and introduce some variety into my backlist.  The book will probably be called Of Fathers and Demons.
       Betwixt and between, I want to keep posting chapters from Man Who Found Birds (in spite of the fact that I still don't know whether anybody is reading them), and I want to do more Mythmaker explication and also some more Olde Grammarian posts, etc., plus other less ponderous stuff.  On the termitespeaker blog, I have more bird myth material to post (people seem to like that), and I may put book reviews on both blogs.  I will also keep updating my progress on formatting The Valley of Thorns.  And there will always be promotional tasks to undertake.
       So I think I'm going to keep busy, don't you think?  Stay tuned!  And keep trying my books!  Read sample chapters!   Download samples from Smashwords!  And please do comment more!  I really enjoy your opinions!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mythmakers: Some Responses to a Comment

       I've had some interesting comments by Neil Aplin on the earlier Mythmaker posts (see the comments here) and I need to respond, so here goes!  It was about time I wrote a new Mythmaker post!  This is rather hastily composed, but I'm going to post it today anyway (without a serious proofread).

       Mr. Aplin writes: "Just because man’s internal sense of right and wrong doesn't preclude the supernatural, it doesn't necessarily mean that the supernatural must therefore exist." 
       My response: Neither I nor the Mythmakers say that man's ability to discern what is right proves the existence of god or the spiritual, only that there can be no proof that god or the spiritual doesn't exist. That is Precepts No. 1 ("No one can know deity; neither can it be proven that it does not exist")
and 3 ("Since the purpose of deity for humans, or even whether it had a purpose for humans, is unknowable, it is incumbent upon humans to look within themselves and find the way to right action"). 
       I refuse to be a full-blown atheist, because I think a lot of them to be just as closed-minded and bigoted as the most hot-headed religionists. I find Richard Dawkins to be like that.  I don't even particularly like the term "agnostic."  These terms suggest fixed beliefs with no room for growth or development or change or novelty -- the very opposite of scientific! It seems to me that there will always be something beyond what science can teach us -- beyond the Big Bang, beyond what came before what came before that -- but we will never know its nature.  Therefore, it could come in any form.  That's why  we can write fantasy.  A true atheist couldn't write fantasy because it would go against his belief in the supernatural.  It would be a travesty to have spirit beings or gods working miracles in a book.  A true atheist should have a big book-burning and get rid of every allusion to anything spiritual that has ever been written.  Throw Tolkien on there, because his elves cannot be scienfically proved to exist!
       Mr. Aplin quotes me as saying "Myth and gods are .... a truth, which the individual recognizes by some instinct built into the genes."  But the full text of what I said is this: "Myth and gods are not science; they are faith-based. But by that very nature, they can't be proved to exist; they can be neither denied or proved true or real. They can only symbolize a truth, which the individual recognizes by some instinct built into the genes." "Symbolize" a truth is different from saying they "are" a truth.  When symbols are used, as in poetry or literature -- or myth -- it gives us a deeper insight into what is reflected or embodied.  By "built into the genes," I'm talking about the need of the evolved human brain to explain the world in which it finds itself.  I remember reading somewhere that there may be a genetic component to this need.  Non-human creatures don't seem to be able to explain the world through symbols or to have a need to do so (well, bower birds do have a certain artistic capability!) 
       Gradually these primitive symbolic explanations (such as Zeus hurling thunderbolts) become replaced with scientifically provable facts.  But again, there is always that point beyond which we cannot go.  Therefore, we can write fantasy or construct mythic systems -- we can satisfy our need for symbols by embodying the unknown in our personal creations, and by gaining deeper insight through those creations.  I consider all religious writing to be mythic in nature, including the Bible (or perhaps especially the Bible).  I'm not against religious myth; I'm only against dogmatic religious institutions that proclaim they have the one and only Truth and want to force the entire world to believe as they do.
       So -- maybe infinitely huge entities exist, inhabiting a plane of existence or a dimension we can't even conceive of (see my short piece "A Little Laboratory Work"), playing soccer with comets and using the entire universe as a laboratory.  Maybe malevolent beings lurk out in deep space -- beings who don't want us out there (that's in my Man Who Found Birds among the Stars).   
       And maybe there really is a big Termite Queen (see at left) who fills up the sky with the mighty creative force of her belly, lays the stars from her ovipositor, and occasionally meddles in her creation.  I can have this Goddess talk to the Seers among those who worship her, even though Earthers have become humanists and don't believe in her or any other god.  Or maybe humanity believes more than they realize.  Decide for yourself after you finish v.2 of TQ!

This is enough for now.  I've only touched on Mr. Aplin's remarks.  I'll get back to more of them at another time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I've Been Interviewed!

I've been interviewed by Vanessa Chapman at the Limebirds website. 
 My very first interview!
As a bonus you get to see a different picture of me!  Aren't you thrilled?
If you comment on the interview,
 you might win a FREE copy of Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder.
Vanessa is not only a Limebird --
she writes a highly entertaining blog of her own
that I strongly recommend (

Friday, March 22, 2013

Take Note: The Termite Queen Is Not a Series!

       It's come to my attention that some people may think The Termite Queen is a series of discrete novels.  I've always referred to it as a two-volume novel, but probably the meaning of that hasn't been clear or people have not encountered the information.  I wrote the story as one novel, but it was too long to publish in one volume (in print), so I divided it into two. 
       The whole piece has four sections:
       Pt. 1: Inception
       Pt. 2: Consummation
       Pt. 3: Dissolution
       Pt. 4 Absolution
       Parts 1 and 2 make up v.1, while v.2 includes Parts 3 and 4.  I considered renumbering the parts in v.2 as Pt. 1 and Pt 2, but that just wasn't right, so I retained the original numbering.
       I had to assign separate subtitles to each of the two volumes in order to distinguish them on Amazon and Smashwords.  Thus, the first volume became The Speaking of the Dead and the second volume became The Wound That Has No Healing
       Now maybe I could have published the whole novel as one ebook (I don't know if Kindle and Smashwords have a limit on length), but I didn't.  I still kept the 2v. format.
       And since it is not a series, there will be no more Termite Queen books.  There may be other books yet unwritten in which Kaitrin Oliva is a character, and she plays a part in The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head (which IS a series).  But the novel The Termite Queen is complete!
       Format aside, since it's all one story, don't expect a big climax in v.1.  The big climax comes about halfway through v.2, with a secondary but very important climax right at the end.  If you read v.1 and don't read v.2, you're missing the major thrust of the book.  Just consider yourself warned!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Of Skunks and Cable TV; a Personal Rant

       I was told recently that I ought to write more personal posts, so, since all I feel like doing is venting anyway, here goes!  (I'm obviously going to get almost nothing done today!)
       First, skunks.  Last night I dreamed I was in a department store with a crowd of people and a broad expanse of plate glass windows across the front.  We started smelling horrible skunk odor.  I remarked that I sure hoped the skunk didn't get inside.  Then we could see the skunk through the big window and it was at least two feet long and it was a spotted skunk, not a striped skunk (have you seen that PBS Nature program on skunks? -- fascinating!).  Then suddenly there the skunk was inside.  It just wandered around and didn't make any attempt to spray, but, boy, did it stink! 
       Then I woke up and it seemed like I could still smell skunk just slightly.  I could almost taste it.  And I wondered if I had been smelling skunk while I was asleep and that had stimulated the dream. 
       Then after I got up, I went out to bring in my newspaper and lo and behold!  There in the middle of the street was a dead skunk, quite a large one but properly striped!  So I guess I WAS smelling skunk in my sleep.  My house is a few blocks from a municipal golf course and so we often get wildlife wandering around.  I'll even see a fox occasionally trotting purposefully down the sidewalk like he owned the neighborhood.  But I hadn't had any skunks in a long time.  I had to call the Street Dept. to come pick up the carcass.  They evidently did so, because it has now  disappeared.
       Do any of you ever have dreams that include vivid smells?  Smell-o-vision dreams?
       Second, cable.  About three weeks ago, my HD died.  I was trying to get over the broken rib and I just didn't feel like hassling with Comcast over the phone  -- press this, press that, do this, do that, we'll do this, blah-blah-blah.  The picture simply had expanded so that everybody looked like they weighed 300 lbs. and the edges of the pictures were cut off, so anything near the edge was not there.  This was true whether you used the 16:9 fomat or the 4:3 format.  4:3 gave things the right proportion, but the edges were still cut off.  TV can be viewed that way, but I'm paying for HD so I was really steamed.
       So today I decided to tackle the problem.  The trouble is, I use mainly my landline and I don't have a phone with a cord that reaches to the front of the TV.  (I may have an extra-long phone cord stashed somewhere, but I can't find it.)  So I use my cordless phone, but the sound is mushy and I can never understand what people are saying.  Most of them mumble and talk too fast anyway.  After an infinite amount of "press this-press that" I got a live person and we went through a rigamarole of questions and she said that they would fix it remotely and for me to leave the set on and it should be fixed after 45 minutes.  Then she said if that didn't work, I could go to the local Concast store and get a new box.  I said, I didn't drive any longer and if I got a new box, I wouldn't know how to install it, anyway, and couldn't they just send out a damned cable man (I actually didn't say damned but I thought it).  So we settled on waiting 45 minutes.
       So I took a walk.  At least that was something positive I accomplished this morning!
       An hour and a half later -- still not fixed.  So I called again.  Whole same rigamarole -- different woman -- repeat everything ad nauseum.  She starts to ask me questions -- and the phone went dead!  The rest of the phones were working!  And certainly my cordless phone was fully charged!  Steam was coming out of my ears!
       So I turned my TV around so I could see it using one of my corded phones. (In case you're wondering why I don't use my cell phone, it's even mushier and more liable to cut off that the cordless phone.)   Same routine, same explanations -- and then this particular woman said, "On the remote there is a button at the lower right called 'HD ZOOM.'  Try pressing that."
       I pressed it -- and it fixed it!  Who knew?  I've never paid any attention to that button, but it must have accidentally gotten pressed about three weeks ago (that's entirely possible because I'll sometimes drop the remote in the chair or even on the floor), and that caused the picture to look wrong ever since.  I said to this woman, "Well, for god's sake, tell all your co-workers there about this button, because it sure would save time and hassle when the next person calls with this same complaint!"  She laughed and said she would.  What a bunch of ignoramuses!  They're supposed to be customer-service experts on cable and they don't know any more than I do!  I don't even know why such a button would be on there!  What would it be used for?
       So I wasted a good half of my morning -- it certainly could have been spent more productively!
        Do any of you have stories about either cable or dish aggravations?
       Btw, there's a new review of The Termite Queen, v.1, at the website of E.C. Ambrose.  It's also on Goodreads.  Hasn't showed up on Amazon yet.  I want to remind people that you won't get a full impression of TQ until you read v.2, because it's basically one novel.  The only reason I didn't publish it as one physical volume is that it was too long.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 7

Here is the newest installment of my unfinished novel, The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, a fictionalized biography of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, the starship Captain who made the first contact with extraterrestrials in the 28th century (some 2.5 centuries before the time of The Termite Queen).
I'm curious as to how many of you are actually reading this series.  I can't tell because I don't get any comments.  Some of the episodes get a lot of page views, but nobody writes, "Enjoyed this chapter, can't wait for the next" or even "This is really a boring story -- why are you bothering to post it?"  So give me some feedback -- please?  Would you enjoy the story more if you were reading it in book form, without so much time between posts?
A list of the previous posts, with links:
Chapter 1 The Captain Eats Crow
Chapter 2 How Robbin Nikalishin Got His Name
Chapter 3 The Captain Receives an Unexpected Assignment
Chapter 4 School Days at Epping Academy
Chapter 5 The Captain Takes Command of the Red Planet
Chapter 6 Crises and Decisions

In keeping with my method of alternate flash-backs and flash-forwards, Chapter 7 chronologically follows Chapter 5.  We begin to know the Captain's first love, whom we met back in Chapter 1, and we get a bit further into the intricacies of his life and character.


(30 October-4 November 2766, Old Heathero Flight Port)

When Robbie arrived back on Earth after the Red Planet mission, he walked into his quarters at Sloe Hostel and knew immediately that something was different.  Even though Minie did not officially reside in Sloe, she had managed to accumulate a lot of personal belongings in the Captain’s room.  Now the closet stood open and every last thread of female clothing was gone, along with the contents of the bathroom cabinet.  Then he saw a scrap of plastipaper on the bed pillow.
Dearest Robbie redbrest, it read.  We both knew it was just a temperery get together.  3 month is to long without a socail life, and something else came along.  Ill never forget you, though, wizzer – its been a hoot being a heroes trag for awile just like I knew it would.  Bye bye, duck …  Yours, with great memeries, Willemina Dill.
Robbie stood perusing the note with a rueful half-smile on his face, grimacing over the misspellings.  Then he sighed fatalistically, swung his duffel onto the bed, and started unpacking his gear.
*          *          *
Robbie walked into the Old Fox’s Head about 1630h, waving a sheepish greeting at the publican Ned Aftergood.  Robbie still got embarrassed at the recollection of what had taken place in this pub last January.
“’Afternoon, Captain!” Ned called.  “We had a notion you’d be coming right along after Wilda showed up.  She’s in the back there, at your usual table.”
Archie Haskins, the barkeep, was thumbing the armholes of one of his famous vests, in this instance a loud purple and yellow stripe.  “So what do you think of this one, Robbie?  Are you comfortable with it?”
“Well … it kind of hurts my eyes, but I’d certainly never mistake it for an asteroid.”
As a chuckling Robbie approached Wilda, she gave him a bright smile and said, “Well, Capt. Robbie!  So Minie threw you over?”
“How’d you know?”
“A man doesn’t make a date with an old love as soon as he steps off a spaceship if his girl of the moment is waiting for him.”
Robbie tossed the note on the table and while Wilda read it, he went and fetched himself a pint.  Dropping into a chair, he took a tentative pull on his beer and shuddered.  “Holy grief, that stings!  Do you know, that’s the first drop of anything with even a dash of alcohol in it that I’ve tasted since the Solar Wind?”
“Yeah, I was wondering.”
“Well, the terms of the sentence permit me an occasional social pint, and they’ve granted me five days’ leave before I’m due to report to the estimable Maj. Nwinn.  And I feel like celebrating, because this voyage couldn’t have gone better.  My rank is supposed to be nothing but an empty word during this ordeal, but out there in space I was a real Captain again, Wilda.  And it was wonderful!” 
“Aw, Robbie, that’s great to hear.”
He gestured at the note.  “Like Minie says, our arrangement never had anything permanent about it.  It’s not like I didn’t appreciate her being willing to consort with somebody in my state of disgrace – actually I was more grateful to her than she’ll ever know!  But the relationship was getting a little stale lately, for both of us, I think.  At least now I can shave in the bathroom again.”  Robbie messaged his naked chin regretfully.
“When are you going to grow that beautiful beard back, Robbie?”
“Oh … not yet.  Its absence kind of helps me remember my humiliations – keeps me on the straight and narrow, as it were.  Besides, if I let it go a day and check out the stubble, I can tell it’s gotten an awful lot grayer during this last two years.  Scares me a bit to think that I might look like a proper elderly gentleman if I re-grew it.”
Wilda chuckled, but her demeanor was slightly serious.  “Actually, I can tell from the bottom of the sideburns …  They’re getting pretty silvery, Robbie.”
  “Yeah … silvery … ”  He took another pull on his glass.  “Maybe you ought to commiserate with me rather than help me celebrate, Wilda – here I’ve lost another girl and I’m getting antiquated to boot.  And you’ve got the best shoulder to cry on of any woman I know.”
“And I’m always happy to offer that shoulder, Robbie.  But I do need to get home by 1800h.  My brood complains that Dickon’s cooking isn’t up to mine, even if all we’re having is chop and tomatoes.”
“Even after all these years, I still have trouble believing he doesn’t mind us meeting like this.”
“Well, he and I trust each other and tell each other everything.  That’s why we had four babies together, more than we’re supposed to.  It’s just, everything is always right between us.”
Robbie stared into his half-drained glass, swirling the contents.  “That’s what she once said she wanted – Feddie, you know.  A settled life, with children and a man waiting to come home to.”
“And there was no way that you could give her that.”
“Wilda, can you see me tied down to Earth, shuffling data for Ground Command?  I’d rather fly Lunar shuttles or even atmospheric for the rest of my life than do that!”
“Well, I’ve known that from the beginning, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” responded Robbie, sighing.  “But I’ve always had trouble believing that Feddie would really want that kind of life.  Have you heard anything about her while I was gone?  I had hoped there would maybe be a message …  God, I’m such a fool, darlin’ …” He stared moodily at the wedding band he continued to wear on his left hand, rotating it with his thumb.
Wilda gripped his wrist and shook it a little.  “Ellen and I watch the assignment rosters – we like to keep up with what our old chicks from the hostel are doing.  I checked out Fedaylia’s name a couple of weeks ago, and she’d been posted as Second Com Officer on an Exploration Class ship – the Eye of the Future, as I recall.  It was headed out on some big scientific expedition to Venus and Murcuri.”
“There, you see now?  She doesn’t want to settle down any more than I do!  But I guess that fits with what she told me the last time I saw her – that she was ready to try for the hero gig herself.  This is a start on that, I guess.  But I wonder … maybe she’s with somebody … somebody on that expedition …  I wish I could get access to the crew manifest ... ”  Robbie’s right hand contracted on Minie’s note.
“Now, Robbie, don’t get all tensed up.  Fedaylia’s never filed a contract severance, has she?  From what you’ve told me about her, I’m not sure she’d hook up seriously with another man without severing the contract first.”
Robbie laughed, but there was no mirth in it.  “Yeah, she’s got principles, all right, and she can be quite rigid in sticking to some of them.”  He clenched the hand with the ring, then hid it in his lap under the table.  “But that doesn’t mean she might not be with another man on a casual basis, like I’ve been with Minie.  I mean, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to expect her to be faithful to me when I haven’t made the slightest effort to be faithful to her since she ran out on me.  But she never supported me – she used me – betrayed me … She never gave me any help when I needed it, the way I had expected a wife would do …  Hell, it’s women that drive men to drink, Wilda.  All except you, that is … and … well, there are a few others ... ”
“Robbie, you’ve never loved any other woman the way you love Fedaylia.”
He drained his glass.  “You’re right at least about the way I love her.  It’s a lot more comforting, darlin’, to just have the cozy kind of relationship that you and I have.”
She said again, “My shoulder is always there for those crying eyes, Capt. Robbie.”
He sighed deeply.  “You know, Wilda, I’ve got this uneasy feeling that something big is about to happen in my life.”
“A good kind of big?”
“Well, I don’t know.  You’d think I’d feel positive, what with this last assignment and all, but I’m not very inclined to let myself be optimistic these days.  When you’re young and naïve, you always manage to feel invincible, but I left that feeling behind a long time ago.  But I’m ready for the change, whatever it is.”  And he added, “I’m getting impatient to taste the pineapple.”
“Oh, never mind that.  I only meant, I’m ready for life to bring it on.”
“Maybe it’s just that you’re turning 37 tomorrow.”
“I am?  Holy cry, you know, you’re right!  I’d completely forgotten about my birthday -- again!  Wilda, did I ever tell you that in some parts of the Spainish-speaking world, people celebrate the 31st of October as a day when the dead are honored?  El día de los muertos, they call it.  In Mehik they make little skulls out of candy and pastry.”
She shuddered.  “That’s a morbid custom to connect with your birthday!  Robbie, I just wish I could talk you into having supper with Dickon and me and the children tomorrow night.  There won’t be any skulls on the menu, but with Dickon working in … ahem! … ‘animal protein distribution,’ I can get the makings for a mean steak and kidney pie.  And it goes without saying I’d cook up the famous cake.”
Wilda was resigned to having Robbie turn her down, because in all the years she had known him, she had never been able to cajole him into meeting her husband.  But this time he confounded her by saying, “You know what, darlin’?  I just might do that – I think I’m finally ready.  Beats spending a birthday alone, that’s for sure.  I can finally get a glimpse of what real domestic bliss is like – what Dickon’s had and I’ve missed all these years.  Get a taste of home cooking for a change.  I’m not complaining about what you and your staff do at Sloe, Wilda – you work wonders, what with the limited resources they give you – but I have been missing the Officers’ Mess.  What time would you like me to come?”
Wilda was gaping at him.  “Well, I never, Capt. Nikalishin!  Did you really say what I think I heard?”
Robbie laughed.  “Yeah, probably.  Remember what I said just now? – that something big was about to happen in my life?  I guess this is it!”
*          *          *
Five days later, Maj. Nwinn kept Robbie waiting only 30 minutes and then waved him into a chair almost before he had time to salute.  “It seems the Board was satisfied with the way you conducted yourself on the Red Planet, because they’ve kept you on the stand-by list.  Orders have been cut for you to take command of the Hell’s Gate on 7 November.”
It was an unpleasant shock.  “The … Hell’s Gate?  That’s not a Mars vessel.  That’s – an  Asteroid Class ship.  An ore hauler.”
“Imagine knowing that, Nikalishkin,” said the Major sarcastically.
“Uh … an Asteroid …  Isn’t that Capt. Brindisi’s ship?  What happened to him?  Did he slip in the shower or something?”
“He’s been temporarily reassigned.”
“Temporarily reassigned?”
“I thought you heard me.”
“So that they could give the command of the Hell’s Gate to Robbin Nikalishin?”
An irritated Maj. Nwinn said, “I don’t have all day to deal with your redundant questions, Mister.  Here’s the info key – it’ll tell you everything you need to know.  Dismissed.”
*          *          *
On his way back to Sloe, Robbie detoured through the Greenbelt that surrounded the Command Officers’ Residential Sector.  His former quarters were in those parts, but last April, when his pay had been reduced and his assets impounded, his flat had been placed in lockdown mode and he had been denied access to it.  He liked to walk in this area occasionally, to remind himself of what he might be allowed to return to if he successfully survived his year of disgrace.  Besides, with its hundred-year-old lindens and oaks and its rowans and hazel bushes, the Greenbelt was a welcome relief to the eye for someone fresh from the sterile reaches of space. 
And it was full of birds, even at this time of year.  In the spring nightingales nested there, and now sparrows were flocking around the concourse, demanding handouts from passersby.  Robbie always carried a packet of birdseed in his pocket and now he paused to deal some to the twittering beaks.  The activity helped to calm his mind, which had been seriously unsettled by the nature of this new assignment.
Behind him somebody called “Captain?  I’d like a word with you!”
Turning around, Robbie was surprised to see R. Adm. Jivanta Soemady, one of his friends on the Board of Command.  He struck a quick salute, barking, “A privilege, sir!”
“Oh, can it, Robbie,” she said.  “Save your starchy subordinate act for somebody who doesn’t know you as well as I do.  Besides, here I am in civvies, out for a run, and it’s best if you don’t attract attention to us.  Why don’t we take a ramble down this side path?”
His curiosity piqued, Robbie fell into step with the petite, 55-year-old Admiral.  He was aware that this path cut through one of the less frequented areas of the Greenbelt.  “To what do I owe such an honor, sir?”
“It’s merely a fortuitous meeting, but I’d been hoping for this kind of chance encounter, because there are things I’ve been itching to say to you.  What did you think of your recent orders?”
“Uh … the Red Planet was incredible – I never in my wildest dreams expected to be given the opportunity of commanding a ship like that!  Of course, I missed my old crew, but Capt. Kastens’ crew was top-of-the-line, too – I could get real fond of ’em all.  I’m perfectly aware that’s not to be, let me hasten to add, sir.”
“Ever feel the need for a drink while you were on board, Captain?”
 “Oh, not once, Admiral, and that’s the truth.  And let me just say I can’t thank you enough and I’d appreciate it if you’d pass that along to anybody who might have helped to get me this mission.  But, uh … ”
“But today’s orders are a different kettle of fish, aren’t they?  You’ve never served on an Asteroid Class freighter, I believe.”
“Not even before SkyPiercer and certainly not since.  But a bit of a pattern seems to be emerging here.  I’d never served on an ST-90, either.  Is that intentional?  And is putting me in command of the Hell’s Gate the smartest thing you’ve ever done?  I mean, you know more than you want to about Robbin Nikalishin’s relationship with asteroids … ”
“I certainly do.”
 “So I guess I have to assume that I’m being tested.”
“Well … we wanted to find out how capable you are these days at coping with the unexpected.  You know you have a lot more to prove than just staying clean of booze.  By the way, we grabbed the Senior Officers of the Red Planet the minute they disembarked and debriefed them.”
Robbie eyed her sidelong.  “Why, Admiral … did you set them to spy on me?”
“Heavens, no.  They had no idea they were going to be debriefed until we called them in.  I’m happy to report we did not receive a single negative assessment – except from one character who shall be nameless, who was disappointed that you weren’t more intimidating.”  The Admiral laughed.
 “I think I know the one you mean, but I won’t say that person’s name, either.  I think that person would have liked it if I’d carried a whip.”  Robbie laughed along with her, feeling some sense of relief, but he couldn’t help wondering what all this was leading up to.  “So, uh … you decided a fine reward for good behavior would be the command of an ore freighter.”
The Admiral cocked an eyebrow.  “It was necessary to take the next step.”
“Toward what, if it’s not too much to ask?”
“It is,” she said, and she changed the subject.  “Did you know that Gen. Stepanek decided to take early retirement?”
“No!  You may recall that I’m denied access to command info, Admiral, so I’m really out of the loop.”
“I think she got tired of bucking the Robbie Faction.  She was one of your most implacable opponents on the Board, you know.”
“Well, I always suspected as much.”
“I learned awhile back that it was Stepanek who suggested to our Base Commander that Com. Wellspoon would make the perfect probationary monitor for you.”  Soemady sounded terminally disgusted.
“Oh, she was!  Bloody hell, she liked me even less than I would have thought!  So who’s replacing her, or am I not allowed to know?”
“No, it’s common knowledge.  Actually, she departed about eight weeks into your sentence and Brig. Gen. Nigel Evens took command of the EAFC operation here.  He’s a Brit who attended Old Heathero Flight Academy about ten years before your time, but his entire length of service has been in the Western Hemisphere.  His last posting was as Chief of Atmospheric Flight Operations at Habana in Kuba Prefecture.”
“And, uh … how does that change the complexion of the Board?”
“It helped your case a lot – we got a new ally.  Without his support, you might not have gotten a Mars Fleet command so soon.  It also didn’t hurt that Adm. Lekoa has been having a crisis of conscience.”
“Let’s just say that in the beginning the Chief of Interplanetary Flight Command couldn’t bring herself to allow an officer convicted of drinking on duty to take the Bridge of any ship within her sphere of responsibility.  That’s what really made that final vote on your sentence touch-and-go”
“But now?”
“She’s seen the light.  I’ve been working hard to wear her down and I’ve finally succeeded.”
“Admiral, I don’t really understand what I’ve done to merit this speeded-up schedule.  Sometimes I feel that I’m getting much less punishment than I deserve.”
The Admiral laughed.  “Well, don’t let anybody but me hear you say that, Mister!  You’re not out of the woods yet!”  Then Jivanta Soemady stopped walking and turned to face the Captain.  “You know we had to do something, Robbie.  Under the Code of Military Justice the Board of Command had the legal authority to intervene in the sentencing phase for your type of crime and to alter the prescribed penalty, but your misconduct was so flagrant and so public that we couldn’t just slap you on the wrist and let you off scot-free.  You should have heard the decibel level during that debate!  Your opponents on the Board were itching to impose the maximum penalty – demotion and dishonorable discharge and at least five years in prison.  But the ESC simply couldn’t afford to squander your expertise, so the brass in New Washinten exerted a little pressure that enabled the Robbie Faction to fix you up with what you got.  Now, does that surprise you?”
“The brass in … They intervened for me?  Who?  Why?”
“Mmm – that isn’t in the realm of ‘common knowledge.’  But it’s true, nevertheless.  And surely you must realize that what really turned the tide in your favor was that last minute guilty plea –  the fact that you made no argument whatsoever in your own behalf.  When a man acknowledges his misdeeds and takes responsibility for them, and announces that he expects no mercy and will accept whatever is dished out to him and try to turn it into something positive … well, it makes it hard to throw the book at him.”
“Sir, I’m going to dare to ask another question.  Why are you talking to me like this today?  Part of the sentence was that I’m not supposed to have contact with Senior Officers.  You shouldn’t be talking to me about so much as the weather, should you?”
“Why do you think I dragged you down this obscure path?  And I caution you not to mention this conversation to anyone.  But I just felt you deserved a little encouragement.  You’re too astute not to suspect that something is afoot.  That’s all I’m going to say at the moment, and it’s more than I should.  This second assignment may be tough on you, Robbie, but if you can get through it in good shape, I promise that after you return you’ll find out what this is all about.”
“Well, Admiral,” said Robbie, scrubbing the back of his neck, “that’s tantalizing.  It’s not going to help the time go faster.”
She laughed.  “Just don’t let your supporters down, Robbie.  I and your other friends on the Board are once again staking our reputations on your success.”
He twitched his head.  “Holy cry, you’re going to jinx me, Adm. Soemady!”
Again, she laughed.  “Actually, Capt. Nikalishin, it’s my opinion that you’ve handled this difficult experience in an exemplary manner.”
“Well … I should be used to the taste of crow by this point in my life.  People who have a lot of obsessive hopes and expectations … it seems like life has to keep knocking them down so they always have something to reach for.”
“You’ve proved you’re a lot more resilient than people expected you to be.  I wish we could have given you more consideration – taken into account all the adversity you’ve had to contend with since ’61.  But the military isn’t famous for looking at the human side of things.”
“Respectfully, Admiral, I really don’t agree with what you say – that JAG and the Board should have looked at me with some kind of special pitying eye.  I lost my way and did some things I always swore I never would, and I needed to redeem myself, no matter what mitigating circumstances might have been factored into it.  Like I said when I made my guilty plea, it wasn’t right for me to try to justify or rationalize what I did, or to blame anybody but myself.  I learned young the necessity for self-discipline and personal responsibility.  It’s just that I … well, I lost hold of the threads for a time there, to speak metaphorically.”
Coming next!
Chapter 8: Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves

Monday, March 11, 2013

New Review of "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" - Plus Another Publishing Update

       I just received my seventh review of my novella on Amazon Kindle, plus an additional one on the paperback version, and still others on Smashwords.  This one is a 5-star and it's by Vanessa Chapman, one of the Limebirds.  I'm re-posting it here because I think some of you might like to read it:
"I literally said 'Wow' out loud when I finished this book! Before I started it I had thought it was going to be a bit hard going, but it wasn't at all, it was very readable. I sat down on a Sunday afternoon thinking I would make a start reading the first few pages, but as it turned out I couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting. It's shocking and compelling, and has a moral message, but it's one that feels incidental rather than the story being contrived to bring out the moral point.
"I've never read anything quite like this and it's not a story I'm going to forget in a hurry."
       See, I keep telling people my books are worth reading, but who pays any attention to an author's brags?  LOL  If you want to read "Monster" or any of my other books, go to Amazon or to Smashwords.  It's only $1.99 for the e-books or $5.49 for the paperback, where you'll get that striking cover as a bonus (looks much better in print than in e-format).
       Also, I want to report that I finished the upload of The Storm-Wing on CreateSpace and ordered my proof copy.  It won't arrive until Mar. 19 (CS is slow as molasses), but I'll begin working on the e-book formatting in the meantime.
       My computer seems to be working fine.  I canceled the repair man.  He said my problems sounded more like internet than computer, anyway.  But today is also the day I get rid of my car!  Woe!  I'll be a little nostalgic for a while and it's going to be a shock to look out into the garage and see nothing there, but I'll get used to it. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Computer Decided It Wants to Live! Plus a Publishing Update

Final version of the cover for
The Storm-Wing
(Watch for publication soon!)
       Wouldn't you know it?  I call for a computer repairman, he's coming out at 8:30 Monday morning -- and immediately my computer decides to begin behaving like it was brand-new!  I have not had a single hiccup since noon on Friday!  Oh, well, I'll go ahead and get it diagnosed.  I just hope the technician doesn't find any fatal flaw, because I really don't want to get a new computer.
       Therefore, my silence over the last two days had nothing to do with computer problems.  I've been completing the formatting of The Storm-Wing (v.2 of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head) and I've uploaded it on CreateSpace.  I had a couple of dinky but pesky problems that took most of yesterday and part of today to solve.  One involved pagination (sigh -- the eternal flaw in Word).  There are quite a few preliminary pages and I wanted them paged a certain way, with small Roman numerals.  And I couldn't get "ii" off a blank page without causing the numbers to disappear from some of the subsequent pages.  Blank pages are not supposed to have numbers on them.  I finally solved the problem -- don't ask me how.
       Then CreateSpace told me my little title page drawing (shown below) didn't have enough DPI.  I was puzzled, because I thought that the t.p. drawings on The Termite Queen were simply copied over from Word and not even put in .jpg format.  It turned out that the problem was the eyes.  I have used a fill containing little dots for the eyes in my cover drawings, but the strange thing with the fill is that it won't change size if you change the size of the drawing.  After a couple of unsuccessful adjustments I just deleted the fill with the dots and made the eyes solid gray.  Then it took the plain drawing without a quibble.
Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer,
narrator of the Labors series
       I'm waiting now for approval to publish.  But I think this time I'm going to order a printed proof copy.  I think that's a good idea, because it was hard to tell in the online mock-up whether the t.p. drawing is going to look right. I'm not in any hurry to publish, anyway, so I don't mind waiting 10 days or so.  In the meantime I can work on the Kindle and Smashwords editions -- I haven't even begun that formatting.  However, it's pretty easy once you've done it a few times.  The only time-consuming aspect is embedding the footnotes in the text.  Then, once all three are available, I'll put up some kind of celebratory special offer!  So stay tuned!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Help! I Think My Computer is Dying! Plus Big Personal News

       The last few days, my computer, which I bought in 2007 (so it's beginning to get old) has been not only sluggish -- it's been freezing up, it will flash as if it were refreshing or changing somehow, it's been saying "IE has stopped working, Windows is trying to diagnose the problem," and yesterday when it was idle, it suddenly cut off on its own and I heard it boot back up (you know, the little jingly Windows music).  So I've called the local company where I bought it, but they can't come out till Monday morning.  The technician said it sounded like a hardware problem.  Groan!  I don't want a new computer.  I like what I'm used to.  A new computer means a new operating system, plus having all the document files transferred into the latest Word (which will mean learning something new when it's totally unnecessary).  And I don't need that fancy touch-screen stuff and extra-special game playing capability that's on Windows 8.  I'm perfectly satisfied with Vista, a keyboard and a mouse.
       In case you're wondering why I can't just load the computer into the car and drive it down to the shop, well, there are two reasons.  First of all, with the arthritis in my shoulders, I can't even begin to lift the CPU; furthermore I don't see too well these days.  And second ...
       I haven't liked to drive for a long time and with the arthritis, I can hardly turn the steering wheel or buckle my seat belt or pull the car door closed.  The car is really old -- a l978 Chevy Malibu -- although it has amazingly low mileage.  I have a friend who will take me places, or I get cabs, or there are other services.  So senior-citizen-dom -- here I come!
      What I did was call Goodwill and they will come and pick up the car, probably Monday but hopefully not at the same time the computer man is here.  I will watch with some nostalgia as it's towed away, but actually it's a relief.  I've always hated cars -- I hate having them serviced, I hate putting gas in them, I hate keeping them clean, I hate the smell and the noise.  It's a certain loss of independence, but I've only been driving the car to the grocery and a few other places near at hand for a long time anyway.
       So I want everybody to know, if you don't hear much from me over the next couple of days, it's because my computer became completely inoperable.  I will now try to post this.  Perhaps, goodbye, forever!  LOL
       Oh, and just in case this is my last opportunity,

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Potpourri of Posts: Ribs, Publisher's Block, and Jewish Future History

The Saga of the Fractured Rib
       To bring this topic to a conclusion and to use my probably least favorite cliche: What a difference a week makes!  Last week at this time I was contemplating a visit to the ER.  By now, the rib has mostly stopped hurting.  I don't holler any more when I twist or bend or get up and down or even when I sneeze (I've only produced one serious sneeze; otherwise I've tried to surpress it).  Deep coughs are still forbidden, so I've been trying hard not to swallow anything the wrong way.   I found that Vicodin doesn't do a damn thing for arthritis pain.  I think the fall made the arthritis worse -- jars every joint in the body.  And so that's that -- enough of boring senior citizen topics!
       PS (added the following day):  I'm starting to get some unusual lower back pain.  I hope that's not some ominous aftereffect that was late showing up.

Publisher's Block
       I have been threatening for some time to publish v.2 of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, but I can't seem to get myself into the frame of mind to do it.  The cover and the map are finished, and the book is completely formatted for print.  I'm still contemplating the Glossary -- it's inserted but needs a second look to make sure there are no problems (unless I decide to omit the Glossary entirely -- can't make up my mind). 
       Anyway, I think the reason I can't make myself get into CreateSpace and upload everything and hit that publish button is that nobody is buying v.1.  I am truly puzzled by that fact.  So I'm going to put a question out there to anybody who reads this blog:
What is it about the retelling of myth within a termite culture that doesn't seem to turn people on?
       I would really like some comment on this.  I may have had a couple of comments on Twitter or elsewhere saying things like "Sounds fascinating!" but nobody wants to read it.  People seems interested in myth in general if the pages on my termitespeaker blog are any indication.  I get lots of views on my discussions of myth and on the Bird Myth recountings and on my reviews of books that deal with myth in literature, so I can't think it's a disinterest in myth itself. 
       I have two theories.  First, I keep saying that The War of the Stolen Mother is a spoiler for  Termite Queen, so maybe the people who have bought TQ want to read it first, and it's so long that they don't get to it very quickly.  Maybe after they finish, they will proceed to buy Labors.  Second, people read the sample chapters on the termitespeaker blog and they're put off by the footnotes or by the scholarly apparatus that opens the book.  I admit that my books don't always have slam-bang openers ("Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" is another case in point), but I really don't apologize for that.  I happen to like scholarly apparatus.  It gives the book a sense of its time and place.  After all, you're certainly aware that I neither wrote nor edited The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer composed it and Prf. Kaitrin Oliva translated and edited it.  All I did was channel it from the future!  (Tongue-in-cheek there, in case you couldn't tell.)
       Maybe I should post up the two opening chapters from v.2, The Storm-Wing.  It starts out a lot faster, especially after you reach Ch. 2.
       So what do you think?  Why does nobody want to read what I think is the best stuff I ever wrote?
Jewish Future History  
       My latest post over on the other blog (Bird Myths, Pt. 3: The Jewish Ziz) is attracting a good bit of attention and an exchange of comments got me to thinking about the section of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars that deals with the saga of the Jewish people after the Second Dark Age.  For some time I have been pondering the idea of extracting that section and publishing it as a novella.  After the exchange on that post, I did copy the text into a different document and I was appalled to find out it was 123,000 words!  That just goes to show how out of control MWFB really became, and why I could never publish it as it stands!  The Jewish section seemed to me short enough for a novella -- no more than maybe 30,000 words! 
       However that may be, I have gotten interested now in possibly whipping it into publishable shape, so that's another reason I've lost enthusiasm for preparing The Storm-Wing for publication.  I think I would call the book something like Of Fathers and Demons.  I need to shorten it drastically -- I'd like to get it below 100,000 words at the maximum.  Some characters who pertain to the larger novel but have no real function here need to be eliminated.    One of the problems is that it's not really a novel -- a book with a coherent plot; developing, interacting characters; a climax or climaxes; and a true beginning, middle, and end.  It certainly isn't science fiction (although it's future history) and it certainly isn't fantasy.  Its style is really uneven.  It has portions that are compelling renditions of character and it has one sequence where one character tells the life story of another (an absorbing novella in itself), but a lot of it is exposition -- an info dump, if you will, although I hate that term.  The original purpose was to show what became of the Jewish people after the Second Dark Age and what is happening with them by the time of the 28th century.  So there is a lot of one character sitting there and narrating that history to others who aren't familiar with it.  There is much philosophical argument in another section.  Will anybody want to read that sort of thing?  I don't know.  But some parts of it are really good, if I do say so myself, so I may persist.  I think if I ever publish MWFB that section will have to be eliminated for the sake of that coherent novel business that I spoke of above.  And I don't want what I wrote there to be left on the cutting room floor.

       So what do you think?  Would any of you find the story of Judaism in the 28th century interesting enough to read?  Give me your views on this, too!

       I'm going to post this now, and it was hastily put together, so forgive any typos.