Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Have You Had Problems Commenting on Blogspot Blogs?

       It's come to my attention that some people may be finding it impossible to comment on my blogs.  This surprises me because other people seem to pull it off without difficulty.  So I'm setting out to analyze the problem.  I really would like to get more comments.
       I never have trouble commenting on other Blogger blogs.  I assume that's because my blogs are on Blogger.  When I go to Faith in Ambiguity (Tara Adams' blog, which I recommend highly, btw), for example, I get the same kind of comment box that I have here.  My name is already there -- it reads "Lorinda J. Taylor (Google)" and all I have to do is click on Publish.  In fact, I just put a new comment on her blog and it went right through.
       The Comment box gives choices:  You can post with Google, LiveJournal, WordPress, TypePad, AIM, OpenID, Name/URL, or Anonymous.  It doesn't give the choice of Twitter or Facebook.  I was told by the person having the problem that he tried all the choices and couldn't post with any of them.  I just checked out each of these choices; LiveJournal, WordPress, TypePad, and AIM require a User Name while OpenID requires an Open ID URL (whatever that is).  If you aren't registered with these sites, of course you can't use them to post (I'm not registered with any of them -- well, WordPress, but more on that later).  Name/URL requires you to have an URL of your own, and not everybody does.  But Anonymous doesn't require anything.  Spammers have no trouble posting with Anonymous, so I would think that option at least would work, but apparently it didn't.  
       What I think the real problem might be is this:  Blogger is a Google site, and so I think you have to be signed up with Google for it to work well (for your name to show up ready-made in the box).  I think that's why I have no trouble posting on Blogger blogs.  I suppose it's a Google trick to get people to sign up.
       I don't have a solution for you, except to sign up with Google.  So I'm sending out a request to people who often do manage to post Comments on my blogs.  To Kat Anthony, Sandra Tyler, Debbie Doglady, T. A. Miles, E. C. Ambrose, Joyce Lansky, Journey of Life, Chris Andrews, Fel Wetzig ... if any of you read this, tell me if you had trouble posting comments and describe the trouble.  Some of you have Blogger blogs and some have WordPress and some may have other hosts.  Most of those people are signed up for Google, because I've encountered them in Google+.   And for anybody else who can't post, contact me at Twitter (@TermiteWriter) or at Facebook or Goodreads or Google+ and explain the kinds of problems you're having, because I would really like to fix the situation!
       Now I want to talk about WordPress, because I have a similar problem posting comments on those blogs.  It's a bit of a long story (but when did I ever write short stories?)  When I first started, I had no connection with WP at all and I had no problem commenting on WP blogs.  Then I got involved with a project to share a themed blog with someone else, and that required me to sign up for WP.  Then that project fell through and the blog disappeared.  But apparently I remained in some mysterious way connected to WP.  This is compounded by the fact that I have a conlanging blog through the Language Creation Society.  It is WP-powered but through wordpress.org, not wordpress.com: http://remembrancer.conlang.org.  It's pretty inactive -- I haven't had time to post anything there for quite a while, but it has a lot of information about my conlangs.
       So now when I try to post on a WP blog, it will ask me to log in to WP.  However, it won't take any of my passwords, either for the defunct blog or for the LCS blog.  It inevitably tells me it's the wrong password.  So I have to resort to posting with Facebook, which requires me to enter all my information every time.  Gravatar also got into the mix somehow -- the Gravatar information pops up when I enter my email address, but if I try to use that URL, the request for the WP passwords comes up again!  At that point I lose the brilliant comment that I have just spent hours composing (ha, ha!)  So what I have to do is delete the Gravatar URL and type in my own blog's URL.  And also I have cultivated the habit of copying the text of the comment before I try to post it, so at least I easily can start over.
       But even that doesn't work all the time.  Occasionally, the comment just disappears into the ether, but when you try to re-enter it, it tells you it's a duplicate.  That happened yesterday.  I tweeted the blog owner and asked him if anything had gone to moderation, but he said, nope. 
      They say all lost objects end up on the moon.  There must be a special crater for lost blog comments!  Or else maybe we should all start praying hard to St. Anthony!

[On that note, a Google search turned up this amusing blog post by Nancy Mace (December 20, 2010): http://my1073fm.com/stanthony/
from which I took this image]: 

"Tony, Tony, come around, there's something lost that must be found!"
Website credits Hutton Archive

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 8 (Pt. 2)

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).

It's hard to believe I put up the first half of this chapter on April 5.  It's about time I finished it.  This chapter also fits with my series on the Mythmakers, since we see Robbin Nikalishin getting a lesson on Mythmaker ethics.

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
Chapter 7 An Old Love and Another Assignment
Chapter 8 (Pt.1) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.1]

In Pt. 1 of Chapter 8, we learned more of the vicissitudes of Robbie's adolescence at Epping Science Academy, including his first sexual encounter.   In Pt. 2, Robbie has to deal with the repercussions of his escapade and he gets a lesson in Mythmaker ethics from his moral philosophy teacher, Prf. Alise Doone. 


(2745, Epping Science Academy)
Robbie didn’t go to the dining room; instead he crashed into the Preserve and walked and ran as hard as he could, as if physical activity could turn back the clock and delete this catastrophe.  But it didn’t, and late in the day he returned to campus.  He had cut chemistry lab and another class – Prf. Doone’s class.
Prf. Doone … she taught moral philosophy … she always told her students that if they found themselves in a predicament, they could come see her any time.  She had told him that personally once.
He sure as hell didn’t want to go to the Counseling Center – he’d had enough of that self-righteous bunch of prunes.  But Prf. Doone wasn’t like that.
The Professor’s office had a little window in the door and Robbie could see her sitting at her desk with a study lamp behind her that left the periphery of the room dimly lit.  He worked up the nerve to knock and she said, “Come!”
She was a slightly stout woman with a round face, thick brown hair cut short, and a pleasant Scotts accent, and when she saw who it was, she looked him in the eye.  “Well, Mr. Nikalishin, where were you this afternoon?”
Feeling like bolting, Robbie poised in the doorway.  Then he took refuge in levity.  “Having a crisis.”
“Is that so?” she said, not missing a beat.  “Do you want to sit down there and tell me about it?”
He did so, rubbing his palm across his nose and mouth, clearing his throat.  “It’s just that … something happened … and I just don’t know what to do … how to react … how I ought to react to it.”
“Do you want to be a little more specific, Mr. Nikalishin?”
In a rush, he said, “It looks like I’ve gotten a girl pregnant.”  And he ducked his head, waiting for the onslaught.
But all she did was blink.  “That’s specific, all right.”
He looked up at her furtively.  “Do I have to say who it is?”
“Not if you’re not ready.  But, uh … it’s pretty well known whom you’ve been dating.  Now, that does not necessarily mean … ”
“No.  You got it right, Professor,” he said, dropping his eyes again.
Alise Doone leaned forward a little, folding her hands on her desk.  He sat with enough light on his face to let her see him plainly but in sufficient shadow to give him a feeling of shelter.  There was nothing threatening or judgmental about her level regard, but Robbie rather wished that she would look somewhere else.
“Where was your mind during your sex education classes, Robbie?”
“I don’t know.  I guess it was off in outer space somewhere, Professor.”  Now that she had dropped the formal “Mr. Nikalishin,” she seemed a little less severe.
She smiled slightly, and he said, “I’ve been trying to stay out of trouble – hell, I thought I was doing pretty good.  And she said … she said she wouldn’t tell anyone … she wouldn’t tell her parents – who the father was ….  That was a relief, I can tell you.  But … then she said … that I wasn’t a man … didn’t have the courage of a man … like she wanted me to say … I ought to tell her to tell … ”  He stopped, hopelessly mired in his own syntax.
“You know, Robbie, in our culture you aren’t supposed to be a man at 15 years of age.  But you are supposed to learn from the experiences you have at that age.  So let’s see what you can learn from this one.  Obviously, you feel something is wrong in your willingness to accept her self-sacrifice.  For that’s what it is.  Her parents … and I happen to know them – her mother is a Professor of Historical Studies at Oxkam and her father is a senior industrial chemist for UnionGov … I can tell you he will be more irate over what’s happened than Sharlina’s mother will … ”
Bloody hell, Robbie thought miserably, I didn’t know all that.  I would pick one of the elite-elites to knock up ...
“… and he will certainly make an effort to find out who was responsible for their daughter’s situation.  It won’t be difficult – I’m hardly the only one who knows the identity of Sharlina’s boyfriend.  But should that compel you to make a clean breach of this circumstance?  Not necessarily.  There are much more fundamental reasons for you to be open about this than that you will be found out anyway.”
Robbie sat with his forearms on his knees, his hands dangling, looking up at Prf. Doone.  “I’ll be leaving her to take the brunt of everything alone, won’t I?  If I do come forward, it will make it easier for her, and the consequences won’t be all that bad for me, anyway.”
“Very good.  You know, in 28th-century society the sexes are supposed to be strictly equal and receive equal treatment.  But that can never be, because no matter how you construe it, males and females aren’t alike.  They evolved for different purposes – they each have a different set of hormones that drive a different outlook on life.  They are certainly equally capable in intellect, and every human is entitled to the same dignities of justice and the same chance to survive, but men and women are physically and emotionally different.  And when a man gets a woman pregnant, no trace is left behind for him except what his conscience tells him ought to remain, while she has a changed body, and the physical child to raise, or give away, or kill.”
Robbie realized that, while these statements were not that new to him, he had never before fully grappled with their implications. 
“When you were in Basic Forms, Robbie, you had the reputation of treating the girls more courteously than the general run of boys did.  Is that going to change now that you have the ability to dominate them sexually?”
He looked at her, a little shocked.  “I hope not!”
“Do you think it’s right to make a woman suffer because you are more physically powerful than she is and because your needs are different from hers?”
He sat bolt upright, as if she had jabbed a hot poker in his midsection.  “No!  Bloody hell, no!  I don’t ever want to make women suffer!  That’s a terrible thing to accuse me of, Prf. Doone!”
She regarded him speculatively, as if she sensed some personal experience behind the unexpected vehemence of his reaction.  But she did not press the point, saying merely, “If I were to make the following statement, how would you feel about it?  It’s cruel and irresponsible – and cowardly – to let Sharlina face this revelation alone, without any support.”
He had collapsed again.  “I’d agree with it.  I don’t want to be cruel, Prf. Doone, and I don’t think I’m a cruel person.  So … what do I have to do – go with her when she confronts her parents?”
“I believe you aspire to be a hero someday, Robbie.  This act would be a good start.”
“Oh … What I want to be is a space hero – fly to the stars – be famous and have everybody know my name … ”
“There are a great many other ways to be a hero, Robbie Nikalishin, besides gaining fame for performing some difficult or original feat.  Some of the greatest heroes never left a single record of themselves in the histories.  Look at the Mythmakers.  Not a trace of the name of even one of them exists, and yet their writings have changed the Earth – spurred our culture toward the hopeful place it is today.  Isn’t that a heroic act?”
“I couldn’t have done it that way,” said Robbie.  “Written all those plays and tales without setting my name to them.  What good is it if you do something wonderful, but nobody knows about it?”
“Well … there’s a place for the public hero, certainly – I wouldn’t deny you that.  Robbie, you’ve read a number of Mythmaker works over the last few years – some of them in my classes.  Which is your favorite?”
He thought they were getting off the point, but he said, “Oh, I suppose … Well, I still like The Heath of Angus  I know it’s a child’s story.”
“That’s all right – it’s one of my favorites, too.”  She grinned.  “You didn’t pick that one just because it’s laid in Scottlend and you figured that would please a Scottswoman like myself, now, did you?”
He returned the smile, a little wanly.  “No, I swear.  It really is one I like.”  In a rush he continued, “I also like the novel we just finished – The Seven Idols.”
“Good.  It’s fairly straightforward in its implications.  That’s why I give it to Third Formers.”
“And I’ve never forgotten The Valley of the White Bear, even though I know we read it only in a prose condensation.”
“You’ll get the original dramatic version next year.  I always take my class to a production of The White Bear when we read it – there’s always one playing somewhere ’round.  Let me see, I believe next year it will be at the Lunden Consortium.  That drama is considered one of the most profound and moving of any Mythmaker work, and I agree with that opinion; it epitomizes the philosophy enunciated in the Precepts better than any other single piece.  Do you remember your Precepts?”
Alarmed, he said, “I don’t know that I can recite them right off, without any review.”
“Relax, Robbie, this isn’t a test.  I’m sure you know the gist of their meaning, though.”
“Of course,” he said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
“And yet I wonder if you really do.  I get the feeling during class discussions that you regard poems and moral aphorisms rather like a mathematical formula – something fascinating but clinical, whose meaning can be worked out to its logical conclusion and then ignored.  Life isn’t like that, Robbie.  Life is messy and chaotic, and you can never solve for all the unknowns.”
Now he was beginning to see where this discussion was going.
“Can you summarize the first five of the Precepts?”
He squirmed a little, racking his brain – that brain that would one day be able to juggle temporal quantum factors with no trouble but forever found moral concepts daunting.  “Those are the ones about the existence of god.  About how we can’t know whether a god exists.  That we shouldn’t depend on a god to tell us how to act but look within ourselves for the truth.  That we must take responsibility for our own behavior – that’s Number 4 … I’ve heard plenty about that one in the Counseling Center, I can tell you!  And the Fifth is …we may never succeed in all that, but we have to keep trying.”
“Yes, striving for right action is its own purpose.  Well, that’s a decent enough summary.  I’m going to cudgel you again with Number 4 because it’s the crux of all Mythmaker thinking: Humans must take responsibility for their own behavior, not seeking to put blame on imposed rules (of deity or human) or on fate, chance, or the intervention or willfulness of deity.  So … what do the unimposed rules of your own conscience tell you?  Do you think your initial reaction in this affair with Sharlina exhibited a willingness to take responsibility for your own actions?”
He swallowed and shook his head, then, to shift the subject, he said, “Why did the Mythmakers put so much emphasis on gods?”
“You tell me.”
“I suppose … because god-worship divided humanity and brought on the Second Dark Age.”
“Well, that oversimplifies the situation a good deal.  The worship of gods, or more correctly, the ferocious fanaticism of dogmatic organized religions, played a major role in dividing humanity and precipitating the Second Dark Age.  Precepts 10 and 11 treat of this in particular, although they have broader implications – The Right Way is universal; the Truth is parochial and divisive … 
“Now, the Precept you’re probably finding most interesting at this moment of your life is Number 14, about making vows of love in the music of the bedchamber, not with empty words.  
”It was under the apple trees,” mumbled Robbie.
Prf. Doone made a little throat noise as if she were attempting to laugh, or trying not to.  “The important word there is vows.  Did you and Sharlina make any vows?”
“No,” he said somewhat disgustedly.  “We just … did it.  There were a few empty words, though.  More like grunts.”
Prf. Doone appeared to be strangling again.  “The point of that Precept is that ceremonial words or contracts can’t make a union holy.  When two people can achieve a truly holy union, it’s a highly intangible and fragile thing, spiritually blessed and very personal and unique.  That state can be called marriage, whether there is a ceremony or not.”
“That never happened,” he said.  “I’m not sure that sort of thing exists.”
Again she regarded him thoughtfully.  “The final five Precepts make up the so-called environmental or biological set, except for number 18, which is sort of thrown in illogically at that point.  But buried in their midst is the one that in my opinion epitomizes everything that the Mythmakers were trying to say.  Which do you think it is?”
Robbie took a deep breath, desperately dredging his brain.  “The one about how humans share a genetic heritage with every other organism on Earth?”
“Well, that awareness is central to the survival of our Planet, of course.  But I was thinking of Number 17 – There are creatures on this planet who speak, form symbols, and share emotions; these may be called human.  The entire thrust of the Mythmaker philosophy is about what it means to be human.  Keep that in your mind, Robbie.  It may not mean so much to you right now, but possibly it may at some later point of your life.”
There was a moment of silence.  Robbie was feeling a little light-headed; he had skipped lunch and now the opportunity to get supper was rapidly slipping away.  “So … I should go to Sharlina and tell her I’ll go with her when she tells her parents.”
“Is that what you think you should do?”
He looked up at her.  “Yes.”
“I can arrange permission for the two of you to leave campus.  I’d be glad to talk to Sharlina, but if she doesn’t want to see me, that’s all right, too.  But, Robbie, there’s something else you have to do.”
“What?” he asked, frowning.
“You have to tell your own mother.  She’ll wonder why we let you go off roaming around the countryside, for one thing.  Besides, it’s the right thing to do.”
“Damn.”  He hadn’t even thought of that.  “Why do I have to get myself into these messes, Prf. Doone?”
“Well, Robbie,” she said, “heroes are noted for being audacious and perhaps a bit over-impulsive.”
He looked at her and then they both laughed.  He stood up.  “I guess I’d better go to Commons before it’s too late to get supper.  Can you … well, could you put in a good word for me to Mr. Tirkle?  I skipped chemistry lab, too.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
At the door Robbie turned back.  “Thanks so much, Professor.  You helped a lot, even though I never can get out of one of these scrapes without having to do a lot of things I don’t want to do.  But – can I ask you one more thing?”
“Shoot!” she said.
“How can you take all this so calmly?  You never twitched a muscle when I said … you know.”
Alise Doone laughed.  “Robbie, I’ve been teaching moral philosophy here at Epping for twenty years – longer than your lifetime.  There’s nothing new anybody can dump on me!  Now, get yourself some supper.  And if you need to talk again, you know where to find me.”
*          *          *
Robbie went to his mother with his heart in his throat, but to his surprise she didn’t react as adversely as he had expected.  She only stood looking at him with an expression that seemed slightly sad and slightly quizzical, and then she said, “I hadn’t realized.  I hadn’t realized how grown up you were getting.”
“Not all that grown up, according to Sharlina and Prf. Doone.”
Sterling smiled transiently.  “So you’re going up to Oxkam and face the girl’s parents with her?  That’s pretty grown up, Robbie.”
“Well, like Prf. Doone said … maybe it’s a step.”
He went away puzzled as to why Sterling’s reaction had been so subdued, but he forgot it in the pressure of traveling up to Lewton, the upscale precinct where most of Oxkam’s senior faculty lived.
Throughout history, the insular lands of Britan had mostly managed to escape invasion, and the period of the Second Dark Age was no exception.  The kind of devastation that had descended on Uropia and on the vast metropolises of the east and west coasts of North Ammerik had been inflicted on only two areas of the British Isles.  Radiant bombing had totally obliterated the ancient central City of Lunden; and the University called Kambridge, where significant scientific research into defensive weaponry had been taking place, suffered several direct hits and was destroyed.  In the years when Robbie Nikalishin was an adolescent, the center of Lunden had already been neutralized and the archaeological work had commenced that would lead to some of the restorations that can be seen in our time.  There had been no work done at Kambridge; it was still a walled-off Devastation Zone, too radiant to be entered.
That was not to say that Britan had escaped other types of Dark Age catastrophes; poison rain, natural plagues, famine, and biowarfare had reduced the population by about half, the same as in most parts of the world.  Hence, even though Old Oxferd had escaped direct bombing, no resources were available to maintain and restore it until about the year 2600.  By that time the buildings had deteriorated so badly that it was considered best to found a new university and create the Historical Preserve of Oxferd and the Old Oxferd Living Museum out of what was left.  That was still an on-going project in Robbie Nikalishin’s youth; parts of the old town and campus were already enclosed in a protective dome, and the Bodley Library was being examined book by fragile book. 
Britan was fortunate in that most of its major libraries had survived, whereas in Northwest Quad, the great national and civic libraries located on the east Ammeriken coast had been reduced to piles of charred rubble.  Thus, for a knowledge of its past Britan was not quite so dependent as the rest of the world on the preservation caches of the Underground Archivists, which were at that time being pulled from their hiding places all over Earth in an exciting game of cultural hide and seek.
The new Oxferd was named Oxkam in order to honor its deceased companion, and all its Colleges were renamed to incorporate a corresponding College of Kambridge.  Oxkam was located halfway between the two ancient sites; its construction was also an ongoing project and is to this day.  The original buildings – utilitarian, bunker-like hulks – were being replaced by structures designed in the ancient architectural styles of Britan.  It made for a delightful milieu, like stepping back into the past but with all the amenities of the New Space Age.
The visit to Lewton was the first time that Robbie Nikalishin had ever been “up,” but he hardly had his mind on architectural grace.  He only knew that the Graves family lived in the grandest house that he had ever entered, except maybe the Headmaster’s residence at Epping.  The Graves’ house was freestanding, with seven rooms and the plushest of upholstered furnishings; and the living area and kitchen were separate rooms.  There was even a dining room, and a little entry hall that was a total waste of space as far as he could tell, as he stood jigging about in that enclosure waiting for Sharlina to call him in.  She had wanted to go in alone at first and talk to her parents privately.
He could hear her father begin to bellow and he felt inclined to renege on his promise and run away, but he did not.  When he was finally called in, Sharlina was crying and Robbie had to endure a tongue-lashing from Mr. Graves that would have withered the apple blossoms on the trees where the ill-starred liaison had occurred. 
Robbie suffered the barrage in silence until the irate father erupted, “You ought to at least pay for your victim’s abortion!  I’ll drag your family into legals if you won’t!”
Panic surged over Robbie and he quavered, “Sir, don’t do that!  There’s no money … I don’t have any money … ”
To that point, Prf. Graves had been sitting there with her chin on her hand and her lips compressed, saying nothing.  But now she stirred.  “Come on, Brayford, ease up!  Look at the poor boy – he’s just standing there enduring everything you throw at him, and his face is red as a geranium!  He comes down here to take his lumps like a man, and all you can do is denounce him as a reprobate and a degenerate Barsilian bastard and threaten him with legals.  Why don’t you shut up for a minute?”
“That’s right!” cried Sharlina, taking courage from her mother’s support.  “I’m trying to tell you it’s my fault as much as Robbie’s!  I wanted to do it as much as he did!  Let’s just get on with whatever it is I’m going to have to do and get it over with!”
And so Robbie escaped, looking much cleaner than he felt, with a minimum amount of damage to his life.  Sharlina had her abortion, her father pulled her out of Epping and sent her to a school in Bath, and that evening in Lewton was the last time Robbie saw her.
The episode left two lasting effects.  Robbie never forgot the conversation in Prf. Doone’s shadowy office that day; it had brought the guiding precepts of the new Earth to life for him and he always tried to live by the ethics of the Mythmakers, even if, as the Fifth Precept stated, humans will never succeed absolutely in achieving these goals.
The other lasting effect was a particular recurrent nightmare that Robbie was never to escape, although as he aged, it plagued him less frequently.  In this dream he stood by a bed where Sharlina was giving birth.  After the baby had emerged, an attendant laid it in his hands, saying in a highly pleased tone, “Here’s your son, Robbin Nikalishin.  Would you like to cut the cord?”
And he took the scissors in his hand and cut, then took the remnants of the cord, twisted it around the infant’s neck, and strangled it to death.
 At that point he always woke up with a yell, drenched in a cold sweat, so he never knew what happened to him in the dream after that.  He was always glad that he woke up, because he felt no desire to discover what the consequences of so dire an act might have been.
Next installment:
Chapter 9
Capt. Nikalishin Takes Command of the Ore Freighter Hell's Gate


Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Kind of Books Can You Expect Me to Write?

       My last post on this blog concerned writers who suffer from lack of confidence.  Today I want to talk about the type of book that I write.  When you buy one of my books, what can you expect?
       First, I'll tell you want not to expect.  Don't expect anything trendy.  You won't find vampires, zombies, or werewolves here.  You won't find paranormal elements or tales of horror.  You won't find Young Adult themes, with teenage characters.  You won't find superheroes, shoot-'em-up space wars, or bone-crunching car chases.  You won't find superficial, easily understood characters, either.  You won't be spoon-fed simplistic events and personalities.  You will have to exercise your brain.
       Here's what you will find:  psychological treatments of real people who have been placed in difficult situations.   You'll see the characters react to these situations and struggle to solve the problems that arise.  These principles apply to all my characters whether they are Earthers or extraterrestrials, humans or isopteroids or avians.  After all, Mythmaker Precept No. 17 says: There are creatures in the universe who speak, form symbols, and share emotions; these may be called human.  This is the way I view all my characters.  Intelligent termites are not immune to inner turmoil any more than human beings are.
       So a lot of the action in my stories is internal, inside the characters.  That doesn't mean that I don't write about physical actions and adventure, but those action parts should be in support of -- or the outgrowth of -- what's going on inside the characters' psyches.
       It all boils down to the fact that I write literary science fiction, not  commercial fiction.  I wouldn't know how to go about writing a piece of pulp, something likely to end up as a mass market paperback in the supermarket. What I want to do is appeal to other people who like literary fiction.  A lot of those people don't read science fiction, but I think many of them would like my books if they got into them.  These are the people who read Ursula K. LeGuin, Mary Doria Russell, and others who write with a deeper purpose.  I would expect many of these people to criticize elements of my writing, but I would bet that they would also find something to intrigue them and to bring them back. 
       As an example of my statement that the adventure is internal as well as external, I'd like to speak a moment of The Storm-Wing, v.2 of the series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  In v.1 we met Ki'shto'ba's twin, A'zhu'lo.  They hatched from the same egg, but obviously they are fraternal twins -- it seems two eggs somehow got crunched together (of course, the intervention of the Sky-King may have had something to do with it!)  A'zhu'lo has always been smaller and less aggressive than its sibling and there is a classic little brother-big brother rivalry.  A'zhu'lo is frustrated because it knows it will never be equal in strength or fighting ability to Ki'shto'ba -- it will never be a major hero in the tales of the Remembrancers.  In v.2 A'zhu'lo keeps getting into difficulties and being rescued by Ki'shto'ba.  A'zhu'lo would give anything to be able to rescue Ki'shto'ba at least once in its life, but it knows that's pretty unlikely.  So when A'zhu'lo gets a chance to rescue another Champion, Zhu'zi'a'ro'a of the Marcher Shshi, and is successful, it and Zhu'zi'a'ro'a become close friends.  Then  a Seer makes a dire pronouncement: "One of the Twelve will bring about the death of the Champion."  Nobody knows which Champion this refers to, since each has twelve Companions, but A'zhu'lo, with its feelings of inferiority, is convinced it will be that one who causes Ki'shto'ba's death.  Therefore, A'zhu'lo leaves the quest and throws its lot in with Zhu'zi'a'ro'a and the Marchers.  This act will produce the direst of consequences in v.3.  So you can see that the outer action of the story is linked intimately with the inner state of mind of the characters.
       Now a word about the piece I'm preparing for publication right now.  I've mentioned my interest in Judaism and how I took what I learned a few years back and incorporated it into my WIP,  The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars.  If I ever fix MWFB, that chunk (about 100,000 words) will have to be cut, so I'm turning it into a book in its own right, because it has material in it that is too good to be lost.  However, it will definitely be classed as a work of literary fiction, because it can't really be called either science fiction or a novel.  It's part of my future history -- what happened to the Jewish people during and after the Second Dark Age? -- and it's SF in that the events happen just prior to the launch of the first interstellar mission and follow on a major space disaster -- but outside of that, it's totally laid on Earth, among real human beings (no extraterrestrials -- no termites here!) 

        And it doesn't even have a well-defined plot. A lot of people sit around and do a lot of talking.  In the second chapter, one character narrates the PDA history of the Jewish people.  Then there is a Jewish wedding, which is described in great detail, followed by a conversation among several characters wherein the whole of Jewish belief is discussed and argued over.  There are a lot of verbal fireworks here, but no physical action.  Finally a character narrates the story of one of the Rabbis (see my rendition at left), by way of explaining why he is such a gloomy fanatic.  That in itself is a fascinating story, but again, it's static.
       Finally the second part of the book details the psychological situation of the Engineer who will help fly the new spaceship to the stars.  This again forms an absorbing story and will probably appeal more to the general reader than the Jewish parts.  The Engineer has seen a demon -- the "god in the pod" -- which he believes was responsible for the earlier space disaster, and he needs to figure out how to protect the ship.  His feelings are mixed up with his feelings for his domineering father, and in the Jewish part there is also much talk of fathers and sons, of gods and fathers -- hence the title, Of Fathers and Demons.  (I would have liked to use the title of Of Gods and Fathers, but I think a book with this title was just published.)  Anyway, this theme links the two sections.  And there is no real end to the book, either -- it remains hanging, right before the launch of the Big Mission. 
       So I can't really call it a novel, with a defined beginning, middle, and end; a carefully constructed plot; a nice flow from incident to related incident -- it's really a collection of parts (almost essays) woven together by a theme; and it's a treatise on Judaism -- you can learn a lot from reading it.  The one novelistic thing about it is that it includes some great characters, and that alone makes it worth publishing.   I just hope I can find somebody who will want to read it. 
       People bring their own experiences, preferences, and personalities to the books they read, so a writer can't hope to please everybody or be all things to all people.  Therefore I write the way I want to write.  Slowly but surely I'm picking up readers and reviews.  Please give some of my books a try!  The references are all in the sidebar.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some Thoughts Aimed at the Writer with Shaky Confidence

       I've been reading blog posts long enough now to have discovered certain things.  First, I find an amazing number of insecure writers out there.  Many of these are beginners and it's understandable that they would be a little daunted by the idea of writing a book, sharing it with others who might have negative opinions, and even actually publishing it.  When I started writing fiction, I did it because I discovered that I could, and because it was SO MUCH FUN!  I could be Tolkien's sub-creator -- I could make these characters do anything and suffer anything I wanted!  (I always loved to make my characters suffer!  I hesitate to speculate on what that says about my psyche!  Heh, heh!)
     And it never occurred to me that other people wouldn't want to read about my worlds and characters.  A couple of people outside my family read my big, long, first novel and one of those has always liked what I wrote.  The other one was someone I didn't know and she was lukewarm and didn't really peg properly what I was trying to do (I probably didn't get across).  She was quite picky about style and from her I mainly learned that I used the word "now" too much.  (I probably still do and I'm a bit sensitive about that, so I try to watch it.) 
       Anyway, it was a good six or seven years before I considered trying to publish.  This was in pre-internet days -- no email, etc.  I sent stuff out, I collected rejection slips.  I was just starting to get a little encouragement, like, "We don't need anything like this right now, but try us again later."  Or (in regard to my free novelette "The Blessing of Krozem" and the novel of which it was the Prologue), "I like this story, but it doesn't have enough magic in it."  (I've never been a big writer of magic -- I'm too scientifically oriented.  I need a rational explanation for everything that happens.  It's either science or some inexplicable, external god-force with me.  I feel uncomfortable with earthly magic -- wave a wand or utter your "abracadabra" and something happens for no discernible reason.) 
       About that time, I was forced to stop writing for some 17 years, so nothing ever came out of those early days.  But it certainly wasn't a waste of time -- I read somewhere way back that you need to write a million words before you can call yourself a writer.  I certainly did that because I'm nothing if not prolific.  And when I picked up writing again in 2000, I think I had improved 500% -- again, I don't know why.  Maybe it was just an increase in age and experience, and the fact that "now" I had plenty of free time with no interruptions.  I still write by instinct and you can quibble all you want about stylistic points, like too much reliance on dialogue or too much repetition in certain parts or too much explication and display of facts, but I stand by what I write.  I have never suffered from lack of confidence about the quality of my books.  I'm not saying they couldn't be improved -- I'm just saying that they do what I intended them to do.
      And that's what puzzles me a little about some insecure people who are fairly experienced writers; they've written non-fiction pieces and published them, they write terrific blogs that are sometimes hilariously funny (I'm no good at comedy writing) and sometimes insightful or downright poetic; they may even earn their living in an editorial capacity.  And yet the idea of writing an organized story with a plot that has a defined beginning, middle, and end; some complex and captivating characters; and a series of minor climaxes building to a major climax -- it just seems to petrify them. 
       My advice is -- don't be petrified!  Just let your imagination flow like a fountain of Irish creme!  Let it trickle out through your fingers on the keyboard!  You're a Creator!  Make those characters love and laugh, make mistakes and get into trouble, find relationships and have adventures!  Make them grow and change and reach a finality, be it sad or happy!  Make 'em suffer -- heh, heh!  It's so much fun!  If you really feel what you're writing, other people will, too.  Don't just write wooden, empty sentences like this --
       "He walked out the door and saw a man with a dog sitting on the curb.  He got into his car, but it wouldn't start, so he got out and said to the man, 'Can you help me here?' and then he walked over and touched the man's shoulder and the man fell over." 
       Instead, write --
       "Michael walked out the door with his car keys in his hand and looked around.  Something didn't feel right.  There was strange cast to the light, as if the sun were veiled, and yet the sky was clear.  There seemed to be a sound on the edge of Michael's hearing, but he couldn't define it or even tell where it was coming from.  Michael hesitated, then shook his head to clear it, and walked to his car.
       "It was then he noticed the man sitting on the curb, with a dog at his side.  The dog was resting its head on the man's knee and its muzzle was hidden.  Again Michael hesitated -- was the man all right?  But Michael was late, so he settled himself behind the wheel of his car -- and found the engine wouldn't turn over.  He swore.  Jumping out, he called to the man, 'Hey, can you help me here?  I need somebody to keep trying the engine while I tinker with the motor.'  The man made no answer, although the dog looked around and bared its teeth slightly.  The teeth seemed unusually red.
       "Uneasy, Michael nevertheless approached the man.  'Did you hear me?  Are you OK?'  He reached to touch the man's shoulder.  Instantly the man fell over and everything changed.  Lights flashed, a gong began to clang deafeningly, and Michael passed into another world."
       Hey, that's not so bad!  I just made it up on the spur of the moment and I have no idea what happens next.  If any of you people out there who are low on writing confidence would like to take this beginning and run with it, be my guest!  :-)

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 8 (Pt. 1)

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).

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
Chapter 7 An Old Love and Another Assignment
In keeping with my method of alternate flash-backs and flash-forwards, Chapter 8 chronologically follows Chapter 6.  Chapter 8 is rather long, so I'm splitting it into two posts.  In Pt. 1, we learn more of the vicissitudes of Robbie's adolescence at Epping Science Academy, including his first sexual encounter. 


(2741-2745, Epping Science Academy)
The discipline meted out to Robbie Nikalishin for deserting the football team and leaving campus without permission was stern enough; for a month he was restricted to dormitory and study rooms except for class attendance and meals, and he was not allowed in the Village even on Off-Days.  He had to undergo a series of rigorous counseling sessions on the importance of reliability and responsible behavior.  He lost his entire accumulation of merit points.  But the thing that he found the most chastening was explaining to his best friend Kolm MaGilligoody why he had done what he had done.
When Kolm came to the big island, he brought with him a level head and a profound and uncomplicated instinct for right and wrong.  He came from a family of farmers.  Private land ownership still existed in Eira (and persists to this day), and in many cases, a single family had held the same hundred acres for a century or more, growing vegetables or oats or perhaps one of the new, high-protein hybrid grains, or cultivating orchard crops, livestock, or even flowers.  Such farmers frequently banded together with their neighbors in cooperatives, forming social as well as economic bonds.  Nobody in these loose organizations got rich, but they developed a strong sense of loyalty to the common good that the evolving governmental structure of the time sometimes had trouble stimulating in parts of the world with different traditions.  That, coupled with vestiges of ancient customs and snippets of a language that had faded as a viable means of communication, had molded Kolm into a type of boy who differed from the norm at Epping Academy. 
Kolm simply could not fathom how Robbie could have done what he did.  “Ye don’t just go runnin’ off, lad, because ye suddenly decide ye don’t want to do the thing ye agreed to do!  Ye just don’t do that!  Ye got to keep yer promises!”
“Don’t you start haranguing me, too, Goody!” Robbie shot back irritably.  “Friends are supposed to support each other.”
“Friends can tell each other when they do somethin’ stupid!  It’s … it’s obligatory, even!”
“All right, so you’ve told me I did something stupid!  Just try to look at it from my side, will you?  I made a mistake about playing football – I’m not suited for it.  I didn’t realize how dangerous it could be.  Now I do.  I’m not going to jeopardize my life, Kolm, for some goofy game.”
“And I think it’s right ye’ve learned that!  I never meself liked any sport where the more ye get hurt, the more glory ye get – that’s why I’m doin’ track.  But there were only three more games to play in the season – five if we made the tournament.  Sure, ye could have finished it out without gettin’ yeself killed.  I mean, how many football teamers do get killed, when it’s all said and done?”
And then Robbie admitted something that he might never have admitted to anyone but Kolm MaGilligoody at that point of his young life.  “Kolm, I was … I guess I was – scared.”
Kolm just looked at his defensively scowling friend.  “Oh.  Well.  I suppose I can understand that.  It’s hard to go to yer coach and admit that ye’ve gotten too scared to play, isn’t it, now?”
“I know I couldn’t do it,” said Robbie.  “Kolm, don’t tell anybody.”
“Ye know ye can always count on me, man, to keep yer secrets.”
“Yes.  I know that.  And you can count on me, too, Kolm.  It’s not likely you’ll ever get into a real scrape, but if you do, I’ll be there for you, too.”
“Shall we swear our friendship and our carin’, Robbie?  I’ve got a gods’ image we can do it on.”
“You and your superstitions!  We don’t need some old god to make us friends forever, do we?”
Kolm had pulled a chain out of his shirt.  A medal hung from it, stamped out of some silver-colored alloy.  “Some people have really old ones of these, made of real silver or gold even, but this is just a copy like they give to children.  This one here – she’s called Mairin, and that’s her son Jaysus.  The tales say they lived a long time ago far away from here and that her son was a special kind of god, and after he died his followers invented the Romish religion and tried to make Earth a better place.  But it didn’t work, so during the Dark Age everybody gave up on him.  But another story says that Jaysus and his mother were aliens, come to try to rescue us from our bad ways.  It could be true because she gave birth to him without a father, and that’s not the human way it’s done, so far as I’ve ever been told.”
Robbie was staring at the depiction on the medal – a tall, slender woman in flowing robes, with hair hanging loose around her shoulders.  She was resting her hand on the head of a small boy who hugged her knees.  “Kolm, what did you say the son’s name was?”
“Jaysus.  I’ve seen it spelled Jeesus, but in Eira we say Jaysus and spell it that way.”
“I’m named after that god, Goody.”
“In Spainish it’s Haysus, only Mum says, in correct old Spainish, you spell it
J-e-s-u-s.  That’s my middle name.”
“Holy cry.  I never did know what the H stood for.  Ye don’t use it much.”
  “Only when it’s something official.  It’s how I’m listed on the registration role.”  Robbie was staring intently at the image of the woman and her son.  “Maybe you’re right, Kolm – maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to swear our friendship on this thing.”
*          *          *
In some ways, Robbie Nikalishin’s adolescence was quite ordinary.  He was never to grow taller than 177 centimeters, but he showed the potential for developing a brawny set of muscles, particularly in the upper body.  He tried out for Kolm’s sprint club, but he lacked physical agility, and plodding in last in every race hardly suited his competitive nature.  Then he took up squash and enjoyed it to a degree, especially in doubles with Kolm, but he never really excelled in that sport, either.  So he generally stuck to weight training and simple jogging, things that would improve his physique and keep him physically fit, a necessity if his dream of entering the Old Heathero Flight Academy were to be fulfilled.
His relationship with the Epping faculty was mixed.  Whenever he happened to encounter the unforgiving Coach Barnwell, he would always be careful to greet him with a brisk “Good morning, sir!” but the Coach never once returned the greeting, simply striding on with eyes fixed grimly ahead.  As the sting of his punishment faded into the past, Robbie began to take secret satisfaction from this battle of wills with the coach.  No one could accuse the boy of the slightest insolence, but the coach certainly understood the impudent intent.
However, other faculty members were watching the progress of Robbie Nikalishin with a more favorable eye, and two of them in particular became his mentors.  Alise Doone was one of only three faculty members at Epping Academy who had earned a Professorship in university.  She was a Specialist in the Mythmaker Canon, out of the Glasgoe Consortium; she taught history and moral philosophy in the upper forms and oversaw the Academy’s humanities curriculum.  The second teacher who took an interest in Robbie was Prf. Ramzi Quinston out of Oxkam, who taught physics.  Both of them were always ready to counsel their students informally, whether on academics or on personal matters, and he felt comfortable with them.  He had never had a reason to seek their advice on how he should run his life, but he understood that they were always available if the need arose.
Shortly before his fifteenth birthday Robbie said tentatively to his mother, in the cracked tone of an adolescent whose voice is struggling to deepen an octave, “Do you suppose I could have a shaver for my birthday?”
Sterling inspected his baby-smooth cheeks with admirable gravity.  “I don’t see why not.  Are you feeling the need for one?”
“Well … ”  Tentatively he fingered his chops.  “I don’t suppose so.  But it can’t hurt, can it? … to be ready.”
“It can’t hurt a thing.”
“I don’t want one of those starter ones, for soft beards.  I want a real man’s shaver.”
Her lips quirked then.  “I’ll remember that.”
“Oh, unless … unless it costs too much.  Sorry, Mum, I wasn’t thinking … ”
“No, it’s all right.  I’ve got enough money for a grown-up shaver.  Don’t you fret.”
Robbie glanced at her.  It seemed there always was enough money these days.  Sterling had told him that she was bringing work home in the evenings and getting paid extra for it.  Since he was hardly ever there except on Saturday nights and Sundays, he saw no reason not to believe what she said, and he simply accepted with relief that their financial problems had been resolved.
Not long after that, as Robbie was brushing his teeth, he thought he saw a smudge of dirt on his upper lip.  Annoyed, he was scrubbing his face with a cloth when he realized that what he saw wasn’t dirt.  It seemed that the need for the shaver had arrived at last.  No one could have been more thrilled, and when he saw Kolm at breakfast, he said, “You notice something different about me today, Goody?”
Kolm looked him up and down.  “Is that a new uniform shirt?  Ye’d never know it.”
“No, you nit!  Look harder!  Right here!”
Kolm stared.  “Well, I’ll be!  It’s a mustache you’re growin’!  Gonna be black as your hair, too!”
“Well, I should hope so!  Otherwise, I’d look like a Pied Piper!”
“Ye better use that fancy shaver on it, friend of mine.  They frown on face hair at Epping.  Or is it some matter of pride that ye can’t do that?”
“No, I’m dying to use it.  But I just wanted you to see it first.  And as soon as I get out in the world where they don’t tell you how to dress and deport yourself, I’m going to grow a full beard.  Hide this damn baby dimple in my chin.”
“Man, you’re plannin’ on goin’ to a military academy.  They tell ye plenty how to dress and deport in places like that.”
“But they let you have a beard after you make it through Third Rank.  God almighty, it’s going to be so exciting!  You are going with me, aren’t you?”
Kolm cocked his head philosophically.  “Can’t say yet, Robbie.  Holy cry, we’re only fifteen years old.  I haven’t even started growin’ me own mustache yet.  It’s forever before we go off to do anythin’!”
*          *          *
Robbie Nikalishin’s adolescence also contained some turbulent moments.  Not long after his first flirtation with facial hair, he got a new roommate, a transfer from a science academy in York Precinct.  This youth, named Rink Handley, was a cocky sort who felt decidedly superior to these southern barbarians, and in particular to his new roommate, as soon as he learned Robbie wasn’t a native Brit.  They could barely tolerate each other, and it took all Kolm’s diplomacy to keep the two from each other’s throats. 
“Robbie,” Kolm would say, “don’t let that smart-ass get to ye.  Just turn the other cheek to ’im when he taunts.”
“What do you mean, ‘turn the other cheek’?”
“It’s just somethin’ we say in Eira.  It means, don’t answer back or hit back, and let ’em stew it out because ye won’t retaliate.”
“I’m not good at that sort of thing, Kolm.  It’s not Robbie Nikalishin’s style.”
“And that style of yours may be the death of me,” said Kolm, rolling his eyes.
One day Robbie entered his dormitory room after class to find his space plane missing.  Cursing loud enough to be heard all the way to the end of the hall, he rampaged around the room throwing Rink’s belongings in every direction.  Then he rushed out into the hall, only to collide with the Yorker.  Robbie caught the youth with a solid right hook to the jaw.  Rink dropped like a slaughtered ox, whereupon Robbie fell on top of him, his hands around his throat.  “Where’s my plane, you bastard?  If you’ve done something to it, I swear to gods, I’ll kill you!  I swear it to gods!”
A number of boys had rushed out of their rooms, including Kolm, who grabbed Robbie around the neck and tried to pull him off.  “Mairin and Jaysus, Robbie, what are ye doing?  Get offa him – let him up!  What are ye doing to yeself?”
“It’s him I’m doing something to!” shouted Robbie, but he let Kolm drag him back.  Some of the other boys hoisted Handley to his feet, where he stood panting and holding his jaw and mocking his assailant. 
“Look at the big man – bawling over a lost toy!  Did the little baby lose his toy?  Well, maybe he ought to look under his own sweet little baby bed!”
And then Robbie realized how this was playing out.  The dominant male of a certain portion of the student body had shown himself to be vulnerable – because of a child’s toy that he kept sitting on his chest of drawers.  Kolm was looking at him with a hint of despair in his eyes.  Robbie could feel himself turning red and suddenly he felt dizzy.
He spun around and retreated into his room, slamming the door.  Behind him, Rink was shouting, “I’m reporting this to Security, Nikalishin – you can be bloody sure of that!  Since when do you get off sucker-punching your roommate?  You could have just asked me nicely if you thought I stole your goddam little tin flyer!”
Kolm had tailed Robbie into his room, to find his friend holding the plane, which he had pulled from under his own bed where Rink had hidden it.  The star had come loose and he was trying to reattach it but not having much luck because his hands were shaking. 
Kolm gripped his shoulder.  “Robbie, what’s with that plane?  I know it sort of represents what ye want to do in yer life, but is there some other meanin’ that it has?”
Robbie sat down on the bed.  “It’s … everything I had … before I came to Britan.  We left Barsilia of a sudden, you know … ”  He was rubbing a place above his ear, as if his head were sore there.  “ … and we could take only one suitcase apiece, and so I could only bring one – toy.  And I brought this plane, instead of ...  And so it’s everything I had … ”
“Well, so!  Friend of mine, I think I have a wee bit more understandin’ now.”
Robbie jumped up and paced around the room.  “You may, but I understand, too – what this looks like.  Sometimes it takes the foolery of a pissing son-of-a-bitch to make you see yourself.  I’m going to get rid of this … ”
“Now, Robbie, I don’t think ye should do that,” said Kolm in alarm.
“I mean, take it home, to Mum’s place.  Leave it there.  I wouldn’t throw it away, Kolm – I wouldn’t want to lose it for anything.  But it’ll have to wait till I’m older.  Right now, it just makes me look weak.  When I’m older, then it won’t matter.  Then the world can be damned.  Then Robbin Haysus Nikalishin will do just as he pleases.”
*          *          *
It seemed it was Robbie’s fate to never accumulate any merit points.  But one positive thing came out of the fracas over the plane – he gained Kolm as a roommate.  The Eirish youth himself went discreetly to the Dormitory Master and suggested that if he and his volatile friend roomed together, life might proceed more smoothly for everyone.  Kolm was universally respected for his even temper and peacemaking abilities, and so this struck the administration as a first-rate idea.  They made it so.
But the next crisis in Robbie’s life was a more serious one, producing consequences that even his friend Kolm MaGilligoody could not ameliorate.
The Academy considered social interaction between the sexes to be a necessary part of growing up.  They were careful not to promote indiscretion; none of the dormitories was coed, parties and off-campus jaunts were carefully supervised, and the school made sure that their charges knew all the essentials to ensure safe passage through the perilous adolescent years.  However, plenty of opportunities existed for contact between male and female members of the student body.
And so the time came when girls began to look differently at Robbie Nikalishin and Robbie Nikalishin began to look differently at girls.  He and they began to hang out together.  A couple of them in particular began to flirt with him and he couldn’t help liking it.  The Student Organization sponsored dances once a month, so he asked Sterling to teach him how to dance.  It was a hilarious experience, from which his mother emerged with bruised insteps.  He was catching up to her in height, but somehow she still seemed tall to him.  Later Robbie was to remember those moments as some of the most light-hearted he and his silver mother were ever to spend together.
The first time he went to a dance, he asked a girl named Sharlina Graves, mainly because he liked her name.  They started meeting for evening get-togethers in the campus “pub,” where fruit drinks and snacks were served and they could listen to the latest music.  When the next dance came around, he asked her a second time.  He was really enjoying her company; her eyelashes fascinated him.  She was an average student, but she liked the life sciences and was fond of birds, so he was able to show off his ornithological knowledge.  And she used a perfume that really stimulated him.  His mother wore perfume sometimes, but only a touch of a delicate and indefinable flower scent.  This one had a musky quality that really went to his head, to say nothing of other anatomical parts.
One night he was walking her back to her dormitory when they passed a grove of apple trees.  It was spring and the trees were blooming.  “Let’s walk through there,” he said.  “Maybe we’ll hear some nightingales.”
They did so and under the apple boughs they kissed.  And on the ground, among the fallen blossoms, they made love.
Five weeks later, Sharlina grabbed onto Robbie after a literature class.  “Robbie, I’ve got to talk to you.”
Flattered by her urgency, he said, “Sure.  Want to take a walk?  Get something to drink?”
“I just want to go some place private.”
So they sat on a bench in a corner of the quadrangle and she whispered to him that she thought she was pregnant because her last menstrual period hadn’t happened and she’d been feeling sick at her stomach. 
He sat stunned, staring at her.  “Sharlina … you mean … because we … you and I … you’re going to … a baby, you mean?”
“It was so spontaneous, Robbie.  We shouldn’t have done it like that.  We didn’t use a condom.  I didn’t take any pills or shots.  We didn’t do anything.  I thought I had the timing down, but I guess I got it wrong.”
Then it hit Robbie that in spite of the sex-ed classes, he didn’t know anything.
She was saying, “I should have gone to the clinic the next day and gotten a pill, but I didn’t.  I couldn’t believe that something like this could happen.”
“Sharlina … ”  His voice cracked and he had to clear his throat.  “Has there been anyone else?  Maybe it wasn’t me.”
“No, there hasn’t been anyone else!  Just that one time!  What kind of girl do you think I am?  That I go around having sex with every boy on campus?  You seemed special at the time, Robbie!”
He rubbed his face, trying to think, feeling paralyzed.
“It’s your baby, Robbie!  Aren’t you even interested in it?”
And he wasn’t, really – he just wanted to escape the situation with as little damage as possible.
 “What do you intend to do, Sharlina?”
“I have to tell people.  It’s not something you can hide.  I have to tell my parents.”  She started to snuffle into her handkerchief.  “My father’s going to pop a valve.  His only daughter lets herself get pregnant at fifteen.  Oh, Robbie, I’m positive he’ll make me abort.”
Abort.  Yes, that was it.  She could abort.
But then he felt a certain horror.  If a life had been created, was it right to take it away like that?  “You could have the baby and let somebody else adopt it, Sharlina.”
She cried harder.  “That’s even worse, to go through all that and then have it taken away.  I’d have to drop out of school, ’cause if I stayed here and was pregnant, I’d be ragged all the time for having no sense, and so would you.  It’s horrible, but it’s better to keep it all quiet and abort.”
He said, “I guess it’s your decision.”
“You’re so cold about it, Robbie.  I’d like to see how you would feel if you had to decide to kill a baby.”
He flinched.  “This is all so sudden, Sharlina.  I don’t even know what I’m thinking.  Dammit, why do you use all that perfume?  Why did you have to let this happen?”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, sitting back from him.  “So now it’s all my fault!  Who wanted to go under the apple trees and listen to the nightingales?  Who kissed first?  Who pulled down my underwear?  You can’t get out of this as easy as that!”
He squeezed his eyes shut.  “I’m sorry, Sharlina.  It’s just that … bloody hell, I don’t need any more trouble.”
“They won’t do anything to you, except smirk at you for being an ignoramus.  Hell, I wish I was a man and there weren’t any consequences!  I’m the one who has to have the abortion!”
He groaned.  “God, I’ll never have sex again.”
“Oh, of course you will!  You’re a man, aren’t you?  Or are going to be one!  My mother was right – men are all alike.”  And she got up and started to walk off.
But then she stopped, stood a minute with her shoulders hunched, and came back.  “I think I’ve got to tell my parents first.  And I’m not going to say who the boy was.  There is really no reason to say.  I’m not vindictive.  You didn’t force me – you seemed special and I wanted to do it.  There’s no reason for you to suffer for it.”
He thought that was the most generous thing he had ever heard and he grasped at it, even while he felt vaguely that it wouldn’t do.  “Would you really do that?  God almighty, I’d be eternally grateful.”
She stared at him like he was some kind of slimy bug.  “You may be going to be a man, Robbie Nikalishin, but you sure haven’t got the courage of one right now.”  And she turned around again and departed.
Robbie sat there befuddled at her mood shifts, with those final words ringing in his ears.  He didn’t have the courage of a man … 
Robbie didn’t go to the dining room; instead he crashed into the Preserve and walked and ran as hard as he could, as if physical activity could turn back the clock and delete this catastrophe.  But it didn’t, and late in the day he returned to campus.  He had cut chemistry lab and another class – Prf. Doone’s class.
Prf. Doone … she taught moral philosophy … she always told her students that if they found themselves in a predicament, they could come see her any time.  She had told him that personally once.
He sure as hell didn’t want to go to the Counseling Center – he’d had enough of that self-righteous bunch of prunes.  But Prf. Doone wasn’t like that.
The Professor’s office had a little window in the door and Robbie could see her sitting at her desk with a study lamp behind her that left the periphery of the room dimly lit.  He worked up the nerve to knock and she said, “Come!”
She was a slightly stout woman with a round face, thick brown hair cut short, and a pleasant Scotts accent, and when she saw who it was, she looked him in the eye.  “Well, Mr. Nikalishin, where were you this afternoon?”
Feeling like bolting, Robbie poised in the doorway.  Then he took refuge in levity.  “Having a crisis.”
“Is that so?” she said, not missing a beat.  “Do you want to sit down there and tell me about it?”
To be continued ...
Robbie gets a lesson in Mythmaker philosophy