The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Survival Test: Snippet Six

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.







SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER TWO (Part Three)
William McIntire, head of one of the three independent quality control teams at O'Neill, tapped at the door in front of him. "Petya? Are you there, Petya?"
The lights in the corridor glowed dimly for the nighttime cycle and the air conditioning ran a little cooler. The air freshener smelled different as well. McIntire wondered if anyone else found these attempts to make the construction shack homelike annoying rather than soothing.
"Go away." The closed door muffled Petya’s voice.
"Come on. Talk to me."
"I said 'go away.'"
"Not a chance, Petya. Not until we talk."
The door slid aside. "And what have we to talk about?"
Petya stood a bare 160 cm tall and weighed maybe sixty kilos. His wore his solid black hair cut short. He looked almost like a doll next to McIntire’s 185 cm and 100 kilos.
"Plenty, I thought," McIntire said. "I thought we were friends."
"Friends?" Petya frowned. "Your people attacked mine."
Pyotr Maktsutov--everyone called him Petya--one of the two junior engineers on McIntire’s team, was doing a co-op year on exchange from the University of Leningrad. McIntire did not know all the details of the deal but he knew that the contract to deliver materiel to Lunaville had some role in it. Part of the deal required Petya to receive actual experience in space. That meant that McIntire’s team had moved from Earth--getting their data by telemetry from the colony--to the construction shack.
McIntire tried to catch Petya's eyes but Petya avoided him. "Yeah. I saw the same tape. You know that it was an accident. A stupid, insane accident."
"Accident?" For all his small size, Petya managed to put surprising energy into his voice. "Bozhe moi, do you know how many people died in that accident?"
"A lot." McIntire kept his voice soft. "Millions, I guess. And yes, I agree that it's tragic. But it's not half as tragic as the stupidity going on right now. The leaders of both countries, mine and yours, are being stupid." He shook his head. "None of this should be happening."
Petya remained silent.
Down the hall, another door slid open and someone poked their head out to look at McIntire and Petya. "Keep it down out there. Some folk are trying to sleep."
"Sorry," McIntire said to the man and turned back to Petya. "Look, I'm not going to stand out here arguing cases. Can I come in?"
One corner of Petya's mouth twitched. "Have I any choice?"
McIntire grinned. "Not much."
As Petya stood aside, McIntire stepped into the room. Petya had a room to himself as one of the benefits of the exchange program. Most of the other junior personnel had to share.
"Please sit down," Petya said.
With both bunk beds folded against the wall, the compartment barely held enough room for the two chairs. An easel and a half-completed charcoal drawing occupied most of the remaining space.
McIntire leaned close to the sketch. It showed O'Neill in a very early stage of construction. The moon hung in the background and the Rock, the large chunk of silicates connected to the construction shack by tether and around which the shack spun to give them the feeling of gravity, hung in the middle. The construction shack itself added balance in the foreground.
"Careful," Petya said as McIntire leaned closer.
McIntire jerked back. He glanced over his shoulder at Petya.
Petya smiled. "Charcoal smudges easily. I thought you about to touch it."
"I won't," McIntire said. He sat in one of the chairs. "You okay?" he asked.
Petya sank into the other chair. "I am...uncertain. This war has me confused. You, all of you, should be enemy, yet I cannot make myself believe that."
"We're none of us the enemy," McIntire said. "Not you, not me, none of us. We're just assorted victims. All of us, casualties of a war that's not our doing."
Petya sighed. "I...realize that, I think. Is still hard sometimes."
"I know. You love your country. It's home to you."
Petya nodded. "I know how it must look to you, but Russia has changed much since I was small boy. For my parents Russia was hard land to love, yet love it they did. And now?" He shrugged. "You are right. Is my home."
McIntire sat in silence a long time. Petya was a good kid. The insanity going on back on Earth did not change that. Finally, he said, "I'd like to keep you on my team. Charles agrees with me. That is, if you feel you can still work with us." He looked up to catch Petya's eye.
This time Petya did not avoid McIntire's gaze. "I would like that, I think."
"Good," McIntire clapped him on the shoulder, then he turned serious. "There's one thing you should realize though."
"Oh?"
McIntire nodded. "There will be some, not many I hope, who will see you as the enemy. I know that this war's not your fault, or Russia’s fault, any more than it is mine or America’s, but I don't think some people will be able to see that clearly."
"I am not sure I understand," Petya said. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just stay calm," McIntire said. "Some people are going to try to make your life hell. For the most part you’ll just have to ride it out. It might be good to stick close to me and Charles whenever possible. Folk will be less likely to give you trouble then."
"I understand." He grinned. "I was teenager not too long ago. I suppose that people here can be no worse than Murmansk high school"
"Good man." McIntire rose to leave.
#
"So what's the extent of our damage?" Jared Arthurs asked. He had collected the C.A.M.P.E.R. research team in the common room, a combination kitchen, lounge, and game room. The entire crew crowded with him. The temperature had dropped since power had gone off and Jared pulled a jacket over his jumpsuit.
"We've lost one of the solar collectors Crystal Gibson said. "The other has some power line damage so we're still on batteries but I think it's fixable.
"The external rack is gone entirely," Wade said. Once he had work to do, his fear had almost entirely disappeared. "It probably took the brunt of whatever hit us."
Jared nodded.
"The machine shop took some light damage, but we can fix it if we have to. Something punched a hole in our waste tank, but escaping water froze and resealed it. Our sewage is safe."
Jared nodded at Ralph Moulton.
"We've lost the external antennas," Moulton said. "That leaves us out of radio communications with anybody and everybody."
Jared nodded again. "Anything else?"
Nobody spoke.
"All right," he said. "Anybody have any thoughts on what to do now?"
"Can't we use the escape capsule?" Michelle O'Brien asked. "I mean, this is an emergency and the Shuttle won't be coming to get us. Will it?"
"No," Jared said, his voice as calm as he could make it. "No, I don't think we can expect the Shuttle. The missile defenses are shooting at anything that bears even a passing resemblance to a missile. That's what hit us in the first place."
"So we abandon ship," Michelle said.
"Real smart, Shell," Crystal said. "We come down through the atmosphere in the emergency capsule, blazing for all the world like a reentering warhead. What happens then I leave as an exercise for the student."
"Oh," Michelle said quietly.
Jared gave a mental shake of the head that he very carefully kept away from his muscles. These people were not astronauts, they were machinists. A moment later he gave a half smile. Astronauts or not, they were handling this situation very well.
"All right," Jared said. "We're out of touch. We have one week's supplies, two with the emergency stores. We can't risk attempting to return to Earth with the emergency capsule. Nor can we expect rescue. What have we got to work with?"
"We can get power back," Crystal said. "With that, the machine shop will operate again. I don't know what good that will do us though."
Jared thought for a moment. "With the machine shop working, can we make some new antennas?"
"Easily" Wade said. "We can give you spinnings of optical quality if you want--bodies of rotation on any pattern you care to name."
"Not optical quality," Michelle said. "The laser polisher was on the external rack."
Jared shook his head. "Doesn't matter. We don't need optical quality for radio antennas. He paused for a moment. "That will be our first order of business. With antennas and power, we will be back in touch."
Relief showed on each of the others' faces. A job, something constructive to do, made them forget for a time their problems.


END CHAPTER TWO

































































Monday, April 21, 2014

Feeding the active writer.

I grew up to enjoy good food.  For most of my life, however, living at the edge of poverty, if not flat out in poverty, has meant that the only way I could eat good food is if I cooked it myself using very basic ingredients.

Now, money isn't so much of a problem.  Oh, I still can't afford to eat out every day or anything like that but I don't have to watch every penny when I shop for food and can get a little fancier with the ingredients.  No, these days the problem is time.  Who has time to do fancy cooking?

Oh, that and the fact that I'm on a special diet (low carb . . . really low carb) because I'm diabetic and trying to treat mostly with diet.

Two things help resolve this issue:  my slow cooker and my oven.

So here's what I do.  On the weekends (I still have a five day a week "day job" so weekends) I'll roast up a pork loin.  I'll season it different ways to give me some variety--garlic one time; a "rib rub" another; sage, thyme, and oregano a third, and so on.  That roast is my breakfast for the week.  Every morning I carve of a slice or two and heat it up along with a bread substitute (low carb tortillas or flax-meal muffins), and I'm good to go.

Next, I cook up an entree item in the slow cooker, a ragu or a stew or maybe a shredded meat.  I've got a lot of recipes that I use for this.  Once it's cooled, I divide it up into zipper storage bags and freeze them.  I'll take one of these packages with me to work every day, add some frozen vegetables that I keep in the freezer at work, and heat up a nice, low carb lunch.  By keeping a variety of vegetables I can mix them up to add a little variety to my lunches.  Also, while I make the lunches in batches, by keeping several different things in the freezer at any given time I can have something different each time.

For suppers, I pull out the stops.  It can be a roast or it can be another one of those slow-cooker items.  Keep this one in the refrigerator and I'm good for the week.

The main thing is what to do with leftovers.  By the end of the week the breakfast roast and whatever I have for supper is getting a bit old.  However, I don't let it go to waste.  I wrap up leftover roast in aluminum foil and toss it into the deep freezer.  In the event we ever get snowed in or some other emergency arises, well, there we are with some emergency food.  Ragus, stews, and the like that I'd made for supper, I bag and they go into the set for lunches.

And that's how I keep myself fed with a variety of tasty foods without having to spend either a lot of money or a lot of time.

And here's a recipe to enjoy:


Zero Carb Flax Bread
Ingredients
2 cups flax seed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
5 eggs
5 tablespoons flax oil, coconut oil, or olive oil
1/2 cup water

Directions
Mix all dry ingredients then add the wet. Whisk together and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. This recipe can also be made into muffins: divide batter into muffin pans and bake for about 10-15 minutes.

If you like a sweeter bread you can add a bit of the sweetener of your choice, stevia and sucralose work well for this (provided you tolerate them well).
 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A possible end to Sad Puppies

Larry Correia and others have, in the past, made allegations of bias in Hugo nominations.  The award, in the end, is a popularity contest, but popularity among a generally small and self-selected group:  people who buy Worldcon memberships (and not even all of them).

This year, Larry Correia ran his "sad puppies" campaign. To wit:

And a heads up, it is time for Sad Puppies 2: Rainbow Puppy Lighthouse, The Huggening to begin. For those of you who weren’t readers last year, Sad Puppies 1 was my attempt to poke the humorless literati in the eye by getting MHN a Hugo nomination. When all was said and done, my entire slate for every other category got nominated except for me, and I missed the final 5 best novel noms by a handful of votes, with a final tally that would have put me in the top 3 any previous year. Which is quite the achievement, considering my regular reading audience isn’t exactly the WorldCon type.

Note that this wasn't just Larry asking his fans to vote for his work (as other authors have done in the past without any fuss) but other books they like too.

Along the way, Larry posted the titles he was voting for, his "slate":

Best Novel
Warbound, the Grimnoir Chronicles – Larry Correia – Baen
A Few Good Men – Sarah Hoyt – Baen
Novella
The Butcher of Khardov – Dan Wells – Skull Island Expeditions
The Chaplain’s Legacy – Brad Torgersen – Analog
Novellete
The Exchange Officers – Brad Torgersen – Analog
Opera Vita Aeterna – Vox Day – The Last Witchking
Best Fanzine
Elitist Book Reviews – Steve Diamond
Graphic Story
Schlock Mercenary – Howard Tayler
Best Editor Long Form
Toni Weisskopf
Best Editor Short Form
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Campbell Award
Marko Kloos
Frank Chadwick

Of those, I, personally, have read the novels, the graphic story and am familiar with Ms. Weisskopf's work.  And all of them I consider very much award worthy.  Given that he's batting 1000 in the ones for which I am familiar, I have no reason to think the rest are any less worthy.

That makes the "slate" nothing more than a list of good works and editors for people to consider and maybe get behind.

As it happens, the campaign was a success. Schlock Mercenary, it turned out, wasn't eligible and neither was Marko Kloos.

The final list of nominees:
BEST NOVEL (1595 ballots)
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
  • Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)
BEST NOVELLA (847 ballots)
  • The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
  • "The Chaplain's Legacy" by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  • "Equoid" by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
  • "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)
BEST NOVELETTE (728 ballots)
  • "The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
  • "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • "Opera Vita Aeterna" by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
  • "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  • "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
BEST SHORT STORY (865 ballots)
  • "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
  • "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
  • "Selkie Stories Are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
  • "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
Note: category has 4 nominees due to a 5% requirement under Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.
BEST RELATED WORK (752 ballots)
  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
  • "We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative" by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
  • Writing Excuses Season 8 by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson
BEST GRAPHIC STORY (552 ballots)
  • Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • "The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who" written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
  • The Meathouse Man adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • "Time" by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (LONG FORM) (995 ballots)
  • Frozen screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  • Iron Man 3 screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • Pacific Rim screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (SHORT FORM) (760 ballots)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: "The Day of the Doctor" written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: "The Name of the Doctor" written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Television)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot written and directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Game of Thrones: "The Rains of Castamere" written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Orphan Black: "Variations under Domestication" written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)
Note: category has 6 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.
BEST EDITOR - SHORT FORM (656 ballots)
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams
BEST EDITOR - LONG FORM (632 ballots)
  • Ginjer Buchanan
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Lee Harris
  • Toni Weisskopf
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST (624 ballots)
  • Galen Dara
  • Julie Dillon
  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • John Harris
  • John Picacio
  • Fiona Staples
Note: category has 6 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.
BEST SEMIPROZINE (411 ballots)
  • Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Sonya Taaffe, Abigail Nussbaum, Rebecca Cross, Anaea Lay, and Shane Gavin
BEST FANZINE (478 ballots)
  • The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris, and Helen J. Montgomery
  • Pornokitsch edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
BEST FANCAST (396 ballots)
  • The Coode Street Podcast Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
  • SF Signal Podcast Patrick Hester
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, David Annandale, Mike Underwood, and Stina Leicht
  • Tea and Jeopardy Emma Newman
  • Verity! Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • The Writer and the Critic Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
Note: category has 7 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.
BEST FAN WRITER (521 ballots)
  • Liz Bourke
  • Kameron Hurley
  • Foz Meadows
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Mark Oshiro
BEST FAN ARTIST (316 ballots)
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles
  • Sarah Webb
JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER (767 ballots)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).
  • Wesley Chu
  • Max Gladstone *
  • Ramez Naam *
  • Sofia Samatar *
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew 
I've marked the ones from Sad Puppies in Red. (And, Sorry Larry, but I would have given the nod preferentially to Sarah Hoyt's A Few Good Men over Warbound if I had to choose.)

Of course, as soon as the results come out, so do the accusations of "cheating" and objections that these books made the ballot.

And on what are those objections based?  Are they based on the quality, or presumed lack thereof, of the books and stories?  Of course not.  The people making the objections by and large haven't even read the works in question.  Nope.  They are based on the politics (or presumed politics since they often get that wrong as well) of the nominees and nominators, or that people not part of the "in crowd" are actually using the rules, as written, to support art that they value rather than that of the "in crowd."

And thus do the objectors prove, by their very objections, that Larry Correia was right all along.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Survival Test: Snippet Five

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.






SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER TWO (Part Two)
Richard Schneider commandeered the O'Neill construction shack cafeteria to hold a meeting of his own. To the meeting he called Julia Markham, John Millhouse, and two others: Keith Moreno and Rebecca Curie, respectively his information specialist and science advisor.
When he released the news of what had happened back on Earth, Schneider expected at least some panic, but there had been none. He had not seen any sign that they were too shocked to even panic. Instead, his people waited for instruction in what to do. Schneider had never been prouder of the people working for him.
Julia installed a large viewscreen in the cafeteria at Schneider's request. It tied into both the computer system and video circuits. Currently, it displayed a view of the Rock around which the construction shack circled.
"Okay," Schneider said, "What is our situation?"
Julia set her compad aside. "Those idiots back Earthside have finally done it. They've gone to war." She reached for the viewscreen controls and paused, catching Schneider's eye. At Schneider's nod she tapped a switch. The starfield filling the viewscreen vanished to be replaced by a transcript of the broadcast they had received from A. C. Clarke less than an hour ago, the broadcast that had caused Schneider to call the meeting.
"You've all seen the preliminary report," Julia said. "The missile defenses worked better than even the most optimistic estimates. Only about a dozen warheads got through. Denver's gone, as are Tripoli and Minsk along with four of our military bases. That, while tragic, is not our immediate concern. Both major powers, plus half a dozen smaller nations, are using their defenses to deny the others access to space. That leaves us cut off." She frowned. "And I don't think everybody will lower their defenses long enough for us to evacuate."
Schneider nodded. "What about the other stations and outposts? What's their status?"
Julia shrugged. "I've been too busy with our own problems to look into it."
"Anybody?" Schneider asked.
Keith Moreno, a fifty-year-old polymath, leaned forward to answer the question. "The other stations are pretty much in the same fix we are," he said. Although Moreno worked in the computer department, he did not set up networks. He explored networks to find information and do research.
Rebecca Curie, a physicist by trade, placed a hand on Moreno's arm. The ink had hardly dried on her doctorate and she did not have Moreno's breadth of knowledge but her understanding of the physical sciences went much deeper. They worked together in a partnership that extended into their private lives as well.
"None of us," Curie said, "are self sufficient. We've barely begun construction here. Lunaville still relies on shipments from Earth, and the GEO stations require regular resupply of just about everything."
"What about the stations in low Earth orbit?" Schneider asked. Most of the government-owned stations, except the German’s and the Japanese’s, remained in LEO as did the privately owned station, C.A.M.P.E.R.
Moreno shook his head. "There's been no contact with any of them since the fighting broke out." He sighed. "My guess is that they were destroyed in the first attack."
Schneider winced. More than two hundred men and women...dead. He felt their loss more than he felt the loss of Denver. He had known some of those people personally.
"What about communications Earthside?" he asked.
"None since the war started," Julia said. "We've tried calling but nobody replies." She nodded at Schneider's surprise. "That includes Mauna Loa. We've picked up some groundside chatter and noted an encrypted call to Lunaville, which just goes to prove that Earth can reply if they want to. They’re just not talking to us. I don't know why."
Schneider sat in silence a long time. Finally, he said, "All right. Bottom line. How long can we last."
Julia shook her head. Moreno looked over to Curie who said, "Six months. The GEO stations about the same. Lunaville can last maybe eight. The Troy mission can hold out the longest, a year."
Moreno shrugged. "I guess we just hope the war's over before then."
"A forlorn hope at best," Julia said. "Since neither side succeeded in blowing the other up, it looks like they've settled down for a nice, long siege. I would have expected a cease-fire or something so folk can sort that out but they keep on fighting. It could go on for years."
"There has to be an answer." Schneider stood up, a little hastily in the low gravity and he bounced off the floor. By keeping one hand on the edge of the table he recovered easily. He continued, "Get together with your departments. I want an assessment: what we have, what we can do without. Keith, I want you and Rebecca to try to figure out what's going on Earthside. We need information since they're not talking."
He paused for a moment. "I'll meet with each of you over the next few days, then we'll get together and see if we can hammer out a plan. All right?"
Without waiting for an answer, he turned and hurried through the door.
Millhouse intercepted him in the corridor.
"What do you think, John?" Schneider asked.
"I think we're in deep shit," Millhouse said. "However you look at it, we just don't have the supplies to stay up here for more than six months. It's hard to live off the land when that land is nearly four hundred thousand kilometers away."
Schneider nodded then peered more closely at Millhouse. A haggard look, very unlike him, dulled his eyes. Further, frown lines just creased the normally smooth brown expanse of Millhouse's forehead, making him look much older than his thirty-three years. "Something's wrong, beyond just the obvious. Care to tell me about it?"
Millhouse bit his lip as all pretence fell away. "Rick, I'm worried. Hell, I'm scared."
Schneider considered for a moment. "John, there's an answer here. There has to be. We'll find it. We'll pull through."
"It's not us I'm scared about," Millhouse said. "My wife is still down there. And our house is right next to Mauna Loa. That's got to be a target."
Schneider swore softly. So. He understood. Schneider had been driving himself in work to try and keep from thinking too much about his own children still on Earth. How much worse it had to be for Millhouse who had only just returned from his honeymoon when he had joined Schneider on this tour. Of course, his wife's safety worried him.
"I know what you're feeling," Schneider said. "Don't worry overmuch. I left good people in charge of the company Earthside. They'll take care of your wife. If it looks like there's danger, Lincoln will see that they're evacuated."
"But...."
"Dammit, John," Schneider said. "I need you. If we're to come out of this alive ourselves I'll need every man and woman here at full potential. That includes you."
Millhouse jerked at Schneider’s rebuke then nodded. As Millhouse walked away, Schneider released the breath he had been holding. Schneider had not meant to snap at Millhouse like that. Still, his words had made Millhouse think about something other than his worry. Good.
#
Schneider returned to his quarters. He did not see Marie. His oldest son, William, sat bent over the computer workstation.
"You know," William looked up from the terminal. "I could get used to this low gravity."
When did he grow up, Schneider wondered. One minute, Schneider was bouncing William on his knee and the next William was in graduate school, working on his PhD in mechanical engineering.
"You could, huh?" Schneider said.
"You bet." William waved at the cane leaning in the corner. "Can you imagine how good it feels to be able to walk without that thing?"
Schneider grunted in response. The same auto accident that had killed Schneider's first wife had also done permanent damage to William's right knee. An allergic reaction had prevented him from accepting an artificial joint replacement and his leg would no longer support his full weight unaided. Schneider looked over William's shoulder and peered down at the computer screen. "What are you working on?"
"It's a simulation," William said. "I'm trying to develop a small, closed cycle ecology using those German high-efficiency plants. So far, only huge systems remain stable. Small systems tend to die out without constant adjustment."
"Making any progress?"
"Some." William scrolled through the lines of code on the screen, stopped, and pointed. "Here I tried to run high on green plants. Ordinarily in a system like this, the plants use up the available carbon dioxide. The new plants are more sensitive to low CO2 levels. They go dormant. CO2 levels shoot up and, before the plants can recover, your animal life dies off. If you have a large enough system, the changes occur slowly enough that you don’t have the problem, but I'm looking at small systems. A space station rather than a colony."
"Sounds nasty," Schneider said.
William nodded in agreement. "I put in a routine that adds carbon dioxide when the amount falls below a preset level. When I run the simulation with that change, it lasts about twice as long before collapsing, and even then the collapse isn't as catastrophic. I'm looking for other factors I can adjust, trying to build a system that I can keep running indefinitely with only minor adjustments. I would like to keep those adjustments to simple things that could be done automatically in a real-world system."
"That's good," Schneider said. "Do you have any idea how much we’re going to need that?"
"Oh?" William looked up at him. "Are things that bad?"
"They're not good. Six months and we have a disaster as catastrophic as anything in your simulations." Schneider sank back onto the room's couch. "Worse, because it involves real people dying."
William pivoted his chair to face him.
"Where's Marie?" Schneider asked.
"Down in the galley. She said she was going to try to teach the cooks how to make coffee."
"Best of luck to her." Schneider forced a smile. While the coffee brewed at O'Neill tasted like mud in Schneider’s mouth, the cook resented any intrusion into his territory.
"What are you willing to bet she has her way?" William asked.
Schneider laughed. "Sorry, Will. I'm not making any sucker bets today. Remember. I've known her longer than you have."
A thumping sounded at the door, low down as if someone were kicking it. Schneider placed fingers into the recessed door latch, pressed, and slid the door back into its pocket.
Marie stood in the doorway, laden with a heavy tray. A round, glass, coffeepot sat near the center of the tray. Steam drifted from the fluid that filled the pot, carrying to Schneider's nose the scent of better coffee than he had smelled, let alone tasted, since leaving Earth. On one side of the pot sat a pile of sandwiches, on the other, three bowls of soup.
Schneider caught his breath and stared. Sixteen years they’d been married and he still could not get over how any room brightened when she walked into it. Other folk might think her rather plain, with her oval face and light-brown hair but when she smiled the world lit up. When his first wife had died, the need to care for his son had given him a reason for not dying. It had only been when Marie had come into his life that he found a reason for living.
"Well?" she said.
"Well what?"
"Are you going to get out of my way, Mr. Schneider, or am I going to dump this on you? Careful how you answer. It's hot."
Schneider stepped to one side, bowed, and waved her inside with a sweeping gesture.
Marie kissed him on the cheek as she passed him in entering the room. She set the tray on the room's single table. "So, how did the meeting go?"
"You don't have to do that," Schneider said as she began to set the table.
"It makes me feel useful." Marie turned to face him. "Considering where we are and what our situation is, well, no one is asking me to balance books or perform an audit. Besides, this will probably be our last good meal before you put strict rationing into effect so I wanted to grab it quick.
"And don't change the subject. How did the meeting go?"
"We have some problems," Schneider said.
"Meaning that until the war's over we're cut off. We can't get to Earth, nor can anybody reach us. We either starve or suffocate when our supplies run out." She smiled wanly. "The rumor mill is already active."
"Dad," William said, "you should know better than to try to 'protect' Mom that way. I think she's tougher than both of us put together."
Schneider laughed. "That she is."
As they ate lunch, Schneider told them both the details of the meeting.






































































Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Saw Captain America:  The Winter Soldier today.

Bottom line:  Awesome; see it.

I had one bit of unpleasantness about it.  The camerawork, particularly during the fight scenes was nerve wracking.  My daughter or a bit said she didn't want to watch it because it was making her motion sick.

That said, the fight scenes were well choreographed and really captured what I imagined of Cap's fighting style from the comics.  The story started with blazing action and never let up.  Don't go in expecting deep, philosophical discussion but there is philosophy there.

I do like the interpretation of The Falcon here.  I hope they keep the character around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I was also very pleased by the Black Widow's part in the movie.

One of the things I liked about the comics, at least back when I was reading comics regularly (for various reasons I dropped out in the mid-late eighties) is that they kept Cap patriotic and idealistic without using him as a mouthpiece for partisan politics.  Well, there was the occasional break in the latter part of that but the writers were only human.  But Cap's devotion to America, and the ideals of its founding (while recognizing the failings of the all-too-fallible humans that organized that founding) is one of the things that made him one of my favorite characters back in the day.  And he remains so in the Marvel movies because they appear to be continuing that tradition.

Really, very little negative to say about the move, just that bit about the camerawork.  So, yeah, see it.

I do wonder if "Agents of Shield was picked up for a second season (I haven't seen most of it yet and reviews I've seen on it have been very mixed indeed) and, if so, well, the ending of the movie does present some challenges for that, let us say.

It's a Marvel movie, so watch for "easter eggs" at the end.  There are two.  Stay for both of them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Survival Test, Snippet Four

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.





SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER TWO (Part One)

"Colonel Mason here, sir," Dave Mason said into the two-way video system. He sat in the communications office in Lunaville.
"Colonel." General Thaddeus Russell, head of NASA Lunar Operations, nodded at him. "I have to inform you that the United States is officially at war."
Mason drew a startled breath. "Did the North Africans...?"
"They did," Russell said. "Unfortunately, it's worse than we thought it would be. We've had a communications problem, a bad one. We're still trying to find out where it happened. When we retaliated against the North African confederacy..." He sighed. "There’s no point in going into the details. The upshot is that a number of missiles flew to incorrect targets. Somehow they got orders from, well, plans for other contingencies." He sighed again and shook his head. "Six missiles headed for targets in the Russian Federation. The Russians retaliated with surprising restraint. They launched a somewhat larger missile strike then stopped. Nobody's launching any more missiles at the moment, thank God, but we've tightened our defenses as much as we can just in case.
"After the missile strike, several military leaders in Russia took the opportunity provided by the chaos to seize power. They reinforced their conventional attack in Europe. Our analysts think this is an effort on their part to retain power. No one, on either side, is willing to stop the fighting long enough to sort out the mess. Once a war gets started, whether by mistake or not, it can be very hard to stop."
"I...see. What are our orders, sir?"
Russell smiled. "Just sit tight. There's nothing you can do up there. Analysts at the Pentagon tell us this will be a short war. We have the same technological edge we had in Iraq. Having to split our attention between Europe and Africa will slow us down some, but we already have forces in Europe. Our analysts are talking six months...eight tops. Plenty of time to get relief to you."
"That sounds reassuring, sir, but are you sure...?" Mason let his voice trail off.
"No, I'm not sure, but that's what I've been told to tell you." Russell’s voice softened. "They'd better be right, Dave. Just about all the participants in this war have missile defenses of one sort or another. Everybody's denying everybody else access to space. Until the war's over you're on your own."
Mason mulled that over. He had been a fighter pilot, had fought in the Middle East, before transferring to NASA. While he was no stranger to risk, the idea of calmly waiting to starve to death while others fought sent shivers down his spine.
"Six...months." Mason mouthed the words. "The war will be over in six months." If he told himself that often enough, perhaps he would believe it.
"Dave, are you all right?"
Mason jerked his attention back to the screen with the camera lens above it. "Yes, sir. How much of this can I tell Lunaville personnel?"
Russell laughed. "Tell whoever you want. None of them are in a position to reveal secrets to the enemy. You may also want to consider contingency plans. Just in case."
Mason smiled. What contingency plans could they develop besides an attempt to raid other stations for food? Oxygen they could obtain from lunar rock and water they could recycle. They would need food if they had to be out here for very long.
For a moment, Mason considered the possibility of such raids. He as quickly discarded the notion. Whatever he might think of Schneider, the idea of piracy repelled him. Besides, Schneider possessed the only ships in space. Excuse me, Mr. Schneider. Would you mind loaning me a ship or two so that I might launch an attack on your stations to steal food? Mason did not know whether to laugh or cry.
"I'll look into what we can do," Mason said. "I'm sure you're being overcautious. The analysts are certainly right."
Russell gave him an odd look. "If they are, it will be the first time."
Mason laughed. "Lunaville out." He shut off the circuit. Six months. Please, dear God, please let those analysts be right.
#
"So that's where we stand, Brian," Mason said a quarter hour later.
Angel blew a deep breath through pursed lips. "It looks like we're in deep trouble."
"Nonsense." Mason waved aside the concern. "As soon as the war is over, six months from now, maybe less, they'll send a relief ship." Perhaps if he told himself that often enough he would believe it. "With new supplies and an end to the North African problem we can get going the way we should."
"Six months?" Angel's eyebrows rose. "We're locked in a war with the Russian Federation and you say six months? Never mind the Africans. It's likely to go on for...."
Mason slapped a palm on his desktop forestalling whatever Angel had been planning to say. "Six months. That is the direct word from the Pentagon."
"But...."
Mason's eyes narrowed and his lips pressed into a thin line before opening to respond. "I said six months. Now I don't want to hear any more about it, not from you, not from anyone."
Angel skipped back a step. "Yes, sir."
"Easy, Brian," Mason said. "I shouldn't have snapped. Do try to remember, though, the last thing we need is a panic."
"I'm not sure I understand."
Mason sighed and sank deeper into his seat. "Most of the people here are civilians. In a crisis like this we need to keep the coolest heads possible. Just let rumors get started and we'll soon have people claiming that we're being abandoned. That kind of thing we don't need."
"I don't think we'll get a reaction anything like that," Angel said.
"Maybe not," Mason said. "But we can't take that chance. Now, the Pentagon says that the war will be over in six months, eight at the outside. They have a lot more information than we do to make an assessment. Unless and until we get better intelligence we'll just have to rely on what they say."
"If...you say so, sir." Angel looked dubious.
"I do." Mason nodded at the door. "Now, why don't you pass the word, and keep an ear open for wild rumors. We'll have to squash them."
"Yes, sir."
"Oh, and Brian," Mason said as Angel's hand fell on the door latch. "Remember. Six months."
"Yes, sir."
As Angel left, Mason wondered who he was trying to convince--Angel or himself--but only for an instant. But he needed to guard against the panic issue. If he, with his experience in combat, felt on the verge of panic how much more would the others feel it?
He poured himself a drink from the bottle in his desk. After a while, the nagging worry at the back of his mind went away.
#
Karen Gold waited in the Troy mission's command center for the regular transmission from A. C. Clarke. It arrived on schedule.
The small room most resembled the flight deck of a large airliner with computer screens where the windows should be. In the front were two stations--one monitoring the drives and navigation systems, the other handling communications. On the right wall a large panel monitored the ship’s internal systems. In the rear left corner sat a small chair with a single computer screen and simple panel of buttons that hovered in front of the chair on a swing-away boom. The screen would let whoever had the con--Gold at the moment--check any of the key ship’s systems. An intercom system connected to that simplified computer system, allowing Gold to give orders to those responsible for any system she monitored.
"Uh, Captain?" Crewman Mark Prentice looked up from the communications station.
"Crewman?"
"We're getting a warning signal for an incoming, real-time video." He shook his head. "Rush immediate priority."
Gold gnawed on her lower lip. "Routing?"
"Just the ship."
Gold swung the computer monitor from in front of her chair and stood. "My office, then, but record it. I'll decide what to do once I've seen it."
"Yes, ma'am."
"And get Harry. Whatever it is, he should see it too."
A few minutes later the image came up on her office screen. Gold watched in growing horror as Walter Terrence, commander of A. C. Clarke, described the war on Earth. She felt sick to her stomach. She had a cousin who lived in Denver. Had lived in Denver.
The message came to an end.
"Oh, my God," Jordan whispered.
"So, what do I do with this?" Gold said. "Do I tell the crew?"
"Captain, that's your decision." He stood up and shook his head. "That's why you have the rank, not me."
Gold sighed and nodded. "They have a right to know. Besides, we couldn’t keep it secret too long anyway. She pressed the intercom switch on her desktop, "Prentice?"
"Ma'am?"
"Play the recording of that message. Shipwide."
"Yes, ma'am."
Gold sat through the message as it played a second time, then stood, up. "Well, lets go brave the lions' den."
All sound ceased in the command center when Gold stepped into it.
Prentice looked back at her, his face white. "What are we going to do?"
Right.
Gold shook off her own budding panic. "We cope," she said. She turned to Jordan. "I want an assessment of our resources. The resupply mission won't be coming as scheduled so I'll need to know what we can do on our own."
"I can tell you right now what our critical needs are going to be." Jordan held up three fingers. As he named each item, he folded a finger. "Food, fuel, and drive electrodes."
Gold nodded. "That's about what I thought. Those are the three things we can’t replace readily."
"Readily?" Jordan cocked his head to one side. "We can't replace them at all that I can see."
"We're going to die," Prentice said.
"That will be enough of that," Gold said. "Before we have even begun to consider our options is not the time to be giving up."
"But there's nothing we can do," Prentice said.
"Oh?" Gold raised one eyebrow. "I can think of several possibilities off the top of my head. Our drive electrodes are tungsten and copper." Her wave indicated their general direction of travel. "We can probably use iron if we have to."
"Less efficient," Jordan said. "It would cut into our thrust, but it would be workable. Oh, iron would erode like fury, but I suppose we could double or triple up on spares."
Gold nodded. "Fuel is gallium. I don't know if it's available in those asteroids but I don't know that it's not either." She drew in a deep breath. "As for food, we do have the algae tanks. I don't know if we using them as food would provide any nutrition, but again I don't know that it won’t either. Unlikely? Perhaps. Impossible. No. I for one won't give up until we've exhausted every avenue. Not even then."
She leaned toward Prentice. "Have I made myself clear, Crewman?"
"Yes, ma'am," Prentice said in a very small voice.
"Right." Gold looked around the room. No one else seemed to want to say anything. "If I'm needed, I'll be in my cabin."
A cluster of people swarmed around Gold the moment she stepped off the bridge.
"What's going on?" someone asked.
"Are we stranded?" someone else asked.
"Is it hopeless?" a third put in.
Gold held up her hands in a calming gesture. "Please. I won't kid you. Our situation is serious. We can be certain that the resupply mission will be, at least, delayed, possibly stopped entirely. Unless we can find some answers of our own, we will be stranded out here until we run out of food."
The group went silent at her words. Gold could feel the tension in the air. She schooled her face into the most confident expression she could muster and poured all the conviction she could into her words. "However, our situation is far from hopeless. To return to Earth we will need fuel and new drive electrodes. We'll be looking at ways to manufacture both of them right here, using material from the asteroids we're approaching. As for food, we'll be examining ways to convert our waste back into nutrition." Her smile changed of its own accord into a wide grin. "Right now we're changing our waste into algae and we dry and store the excess. The logical next step is to see if we can convert that algae into food."
The tension, while still strong, diminished noticeably.
"Now," Gold continued, "I've given orders to Mr. Jordan. He'll be in touch with you about individual assignments."
As she watched, the crowd dispersed.
Gold paced the corridors to her cabin. Several times she ran into groups of individuals, some as small as three, one as large as twelve. Each time they stopped her and she had to repeat herself, calming each group and reassuring them that the situation was not without hope. She had not kept count, but thought that by the time she reached her cabin she had spoken to everyone in the ship.
When she closed the door of her cabin Gold looked down at her hands. She clasped them together in a vain attempt to stop their shaking.
Gold dug into her cupboard and removed a flask of scotch from the clips that held it secure against changes in acceleration. She fit the dispenser nozzle to the fill valve of a drinking bulb and squirted herself a strong drink. She held it up and stared at it for several seconds, then squirted it back into the flask. She wanted--needed--a clear head.

My political philosophy

I have been told from time to time that I should keep my politics to myself if I want to sell books.  I'll "turn off" readers.

Well, maybe.  But I am who I am.  And one of the things I am not is a shrinking violet.  So to hell with that.

I tend to more or less lean libertarian as a philosophical basis but don't believe it is truly achievable in the real world (so long as "real people" are involved) and also recognize that no system is stable in the long run and the trend is usually toward more "government" control over individual lives and less individual liberty.

This leads to making political decisions based on "will this help or harm on balance" or even "do less harm, or greater harm on balance" when "help" isn't an achievable option in furthering the cause of individual liberty.  Sadly, I've never seen a case where the choice was "helping less or helping more on balance".  Would be nice to have the luxury of such a choice.

And this tends to annoy the h*ll out of Libertarians of the "ideologically pure" stripe (as well as both Conservatives and Liberals) as I will agree with them philosophically while radically disagreeing with them tactically. (Oh, and by not buying the idea that the Liberal/Conservative/Libertarian "utopia" will every be achievable in the real world--that the best we can achieve is some stumbling approximation that only lasts for a while.)




I suppose you can call this position "Pragmatic Libertarian."

One of the consequences of my position is that sometimes "slow down the rate things get worse" is all one can expect to achieve. When I point out that a proposed "fix" falls somewhere between "very likely" and "almost certainly" on the "make things worse" scale it doesn't mean that I have a "better answer" other than "don't make things worse than they already are." Sometimes "don't make things worse" is the best you can hope for, at least for now.

I have seen that "not stable in the long run" and "trend toward more government control over individual lives" tend to be universal truths. In the long run there isn't a fix that anyone's found.

You don't have to like it. I don't. But that doesn't make it any less true.


And remember that just because "don't make things worse" or even "slow down the rate of things getting worse" may be the best you can hope for now, there's always tomorrow.  If you don't screw things up too much in the meantime, tomorrow gives you another chance to find, or build, something better.