Monthly Archives: January 2014

Writing prompt: Red

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Red” (this prompt was inspired by my science fiction group’s monthly theme. Red was chosen relating to February and Valentine’s Day, but we know there are other themes red suits as well.)

I woke to fresh snowfall outside my window, but it wasn’t the glittering field of white that caught my eye, it was the speckles of red in the white. I woke up and pulled on my robe and slippers and blundered into the brilliant glare. There in the snow, not thirty feet from my house, I found the red in the snow. It was clearly blood, and a lot of it. I felt a cold that had nothing to do with the snow. I kicked at the snow. Perhaps, somewhere, there was a clue to what had happened in the field, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to touch the sullied snow.

My dog, Clover, ran out from the house, through the door I’d left standing wide open. He bounded over, initially happy to see me, but after a moment concerned himself with the patch of snow as well. He didn’t have my compunctions about the blemished snow, and instead buried his face into it, seeking the heart of the problem.

He brought his face up, smeared with red and frost. And in his mouth was a pendant, with the sign of a saint I didn’t know.

“Good job, boy!” I said, and Clover dropped the chain in my hand, and proceeded to kiss me with his scarlet smeared mouth. I screamed and ran back into the house, someone or something’s sticky blood all over my hands. Clover cocked his head to the side and followed behind me. I washed my hands and then I went to the computer to look up this saint.

Book Review: Cyteen (C. J. Cherryh 1988)

There are no spoilers in this review beyond what you’d find in the first few chapters or the cover blurb.

Rating: 4/5

Cyteen was the winner of the 1989 Hugo Award. It is about neither cyborgs nor teenagers nor cyborg teenagers, despite the name; Cyteen in the name of a planet. Cyteen takes place in the same universe as Downbelow Station (which I reviewed here) in a different culture and time. Like Downbelow Station, this is a book that requires patience up front, but offers great rewards. Cyteen is 750 pages of intricate scheming and counter-scheming, supported by interesting and conflicted characters.

Cyteen is the capital planet of the Union, one of a few major political entities in a future where humans have drifted amongst numerous stars with faster-than-light travel. The economy of Union is largely supported by the production of a cloned working force called “azis”, who are psychologically trained to serve in various capacities. All azis are produced in a research lab/city called Roseune. The book opens with power struggles between the forces of Roseune, the military, and another faction. A murder follows this initial conflict, which weakens the status of Roseune and fundamentally alters the lives of the characters. The continuing power struggles are described through the individuals trying to survive them at Roseune.

My biggest complaint: the book takes too long to develop. The first 20 pages are textbook-style background. Even after that, my progress was slow. It took a while to figure out a lot of the politics, and I didn’t understand what azi were for at least a hundred pages. Additionally, it read slowly, constantly packed with intricacy and detail on each large page of text. I very much enjoyed this book, but it is not light reading. Read this one when you have a solid block of time to set aside.

I would recommend Downbelow Station over Cyteen, although I prefer the characters in Cyteen. Despite a shared universe, the styles of the two books differ substantially. Downbelow Station is a smart space opera, threaded with politics. Cyteen is a personal drama, saturated with politics. If you enjoy hard science fiction and you are patient, you will probably enjoy both of them.

Florida wilderness

Across the street, there is a patch of Florida wilderness. Many think of groomed lawns, palm trees and bougainvilleas when they think of Florida. I think of brushy overgrowth, mangroves, and scrub. Below are some favorite pictures from an outing to wild Florida.

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Above: the coastline at low tide. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Writing prompt: the lights blinked off on the ship

Time: 5 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Lights blinked off all over the ship”

Daisy watched as lights blinked off all over the ship. First at the front of the boat, then progressively to the back. Finally the whole boat was engulfed in blackness. After her eyes adjusted, Daisy could see the stars glittering off the ocean. She hoped that now, the enemy could not see them. She didn’t know how the enemy saw.

Her master approached. “Don’t worry, doggie. I know it’s dark, but dark means safe.”

She could hear the fear in the girl’s voice. She started to shake. This corridor was dangerous, even a dog knew. It was the only way to the fabled north sea. In the north sea, everybody played games all day long, and the sun never set. She licked the girl’s hand. It made Daisy feel better to try to please her master.

She heard the buzz of engines above. She cringed. Her ears were better than her master’s.

“What is it, Daisy, what do you hear?”

She wished she could tell her master to run, to hide. But she couldn’t. She could only hope. So she licked her hand and stared into the little girl’s wide, friendly eyes. She looked over her shoulder. She heard the engines now too.

Fun science: more crystals!

Months ago, I posted about the collection of crystals and minerals at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Well, I went again, this time armed with a nicer (and heavier!) camera, and below are a few of the finds.SONY DSC

Quartz: quartz is a very common type of type of mineral (the second most common after feldspar), made up of silicon and oxygen. This variation is called agate. I used to buy agate slices as a kid, but the Smithsonian’s are slightly fancier.

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Another example of quartz. This one arose in a piece of petrified wood. I like this one because it looks like a painting of a setting sun behind a row of pine trees–almost Japanese.

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Malachite with azurite: both malachite and azurite are compounds of copper with oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. The two differ only in the ratios. By geological standards, this rock formed somewhat quickly. We can tell this because the crystals are numerous and small. Single, large crystals form more slowly. This is why you should make ice cream at low temperatures, because when you freeze it quickly, many tiny crystals form, producing a better texture.

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Pyrite: As you may see, pyrite, or fool’s gold, has a cubic crystalline structure. Pyrite is composed of iron and sulfur.

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Calcite with duftite inclusions: Calcite is known for its optical properties such as birefringence. It was used as a material for gun sights in World War 2. Duftite is a compound of lead, copper, and arsenic. It is the duftite that gives the distinctive green color. I think of this as the kiwi mineral, as it even has the seeds.

Writing prompt: unexplored wilderness

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Unexplored wilderness”

The sweat dribbled down Aaron’s back. The containment suit was unbearable and yet necessary. The lush jungle spread before him. He was the first human ever to set foot in this place. Bugs swirled around his covered face, perhaps sensing his warmth, even if they could not reach it. They gleamed in gold and emerald and sapphire. One appeared, only to be chased off by another. Their reflections filled the air, off into the distance.

As on Earth, the jungle floor was mostly covered with debris, only a small trickle of light permeating this far. Here and there lay a fallen log, covered with new fledgling trees. The flora was full of surprising colors, including whole sections of white, fern-like plants. Perhaps they functioned on a non-chlorophyll system. Somebody would look into it later. Now, he was the first visitor after the rovers. He stepped slowly through the brush, carefully placing his feet.

In the distance, he saw an animal. His first animal. Now he realized that he heard no birds or rodents. He didn’t know if it was for a lack of them, or because he had spooked them. This animal stood on its hind legs, with small forelegs, a little like a kangaroo. Unlike a kangaroo, it was pink, with an enormous prehensile tail. He hastened to see it. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it. He stepped forward.

Riiiip. He looked down. He had torn his containment suit. One of the sapphire insects buzzed past.

Antique American Muscle Cars

I went to a museum of American Muscle Cars in Punta Gorda, Florida. I am not a particular car enthusiast. I find the engineering intriguing as well as the design, but I just can’t keep track of all the models and companies and statistics. However, I found it a pleasure to wander through the rows and rows of beautiful cars. Even if I didn’t know their horsepower or what was special about them, I could appreciate the art in them. Check out the beautiful colors, hood ornaments, and details. Each photo below links to Flickr, or check out the whole set here.

(Picture 1: Chevrolet and vintage signs, picture 2: row of corvettes, picture 3: 1935 Cadillac hood ornament, picture 4: Chevrolet Impala convertible interior, picture 5: 1960 Chevrolet Impala convertible tail light.)

And I got a fun toy for myself too!

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Writing prompt: night at the pool

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Night at the pool”

She awoke at the pool. Agh, she must have fallen asleep again. Not good. The burns from last time had taken a week to go away. That warm, balmy sun was so relaxing, until it slow-cooked the outer layers of your skin.

It was dark out. Utterly dark. The small lights around the pool glimmered in the darkness. They did little to beat it back. Everything beyond 10 yards was inky and lost. Even the stars were hidden. It was fog, that weird, heavy coastal fog that came in sometimes, thick as soup. She was cold now. She wrapped the towel around her tender skin.

She slid her flip-flops on. Something in the pool splashed. Probably a frog. She got the net to fish it out, otherwise the thing would be dead in the morning. She walked over to the pool, thwack, thwack, thwack. Sometimes they could be so fast. Where did it go? She leaned over the water, her eyes straining to penetrate the dark pool.

Something moved. It was big, person sized. There were alligators around here. It was time to leave the pool. She hastily gathered her things and left the pool deck. The gate did not bang shut behind her.

The parking lot was impossibly dark. What had happened to the lights? It was only a few hundred meters to the apartment, but she had never done the trip blind. Had there been a power outage? But then why were the lights at the pool still function. She made her way as quickly as she dared in the saturating darkness.

She paused. She heard footsteps behind her. The cadence was not human.