The Perpetual Decline of Civilization?

This is a somewhat updated “Blast from the Past.”

Back in the day on an old online service (the Internet existed, but it had not yet really begun to take off) GEnie (General Electric’s online service, thus the odd capitalization), there was a Science Fiction Roundtable. As a member of SFWA (I was once under the belief that membership might help my career. What can I say; we’re all young and stupid once.) I had a “freeflag” to this group.

So, in one discussion I pointed out that one of the things I didn’t care about in Tolkien was this idea that that the world was in perpetual decline. Yes, I’m aware of the mythic underpinnings of such a structure–classic myth with it’s Gold, Silver, and Iron ages, each progressively worse than the one before. Still, it didn’t fit my world view and that was a source of frustration with the world of Middle Earth and since the world is very much a character, in some ways the main character, well…

I got jumped on by a Special Snowflake who insisted that of course the world is in decline. We’re all worse off than our ancestors were.

Wait. What?

I pointed out that all Caesar’s wealth could not have bought him a single Tylenol(r) for his headache to be met with a response that the Romans had access to Opium.

Wait.  What?

The answer to a proxy for modern medicine even at the low end was that they had opium?  And I’ll give them Ethanol and, are willows native to Europe?  I don’t know, but in the absence of knowledge, let them have willow bark as well.

Against that we have the contents of my medicine cabinet.

But the kicker was when someone else told me that she (yes, it was a she) would have to get used to having slaves do all the stuff we do with machines today, but it would really be no worse than living today.

Wait. What?

First off, having machines rather than slaves to do menial chores is not in and of itself a major improvement on past society? Did she really mean that?

But the real question is, what unbridled hubris led her to think she would be the slave owner instead of the slave?

At that point I just gave up.  I didn’t even bother asking of the person really thought that having machines rather than slaves was not an improvement after all.  What would be the point?  The person in question was all holier-than-thou “I’m not interested in trying to convince you.” (Good thing given that you’re so utterly, egregiously, wrong.)

Some people have this strange idea that it’s “better” to live an agrarian lifestyle than to live in a modern technological and industrial civilization.  Almost invariably these people have never tried to live on a subsistence farm while completely cut off from modern industry, no access to modern medicine, no backups in case pest devour the crop or a drought withers it.  No modern weather forecasting to tell you to get that crop in before the hailstorm pounds it into the ground.  No modern storage and preserving techniques.  Nothing that a truly “agrarian” society wouldn’t have.

Hunter-gatherer societies have a lot of leisure time compared to modern society?  That’s nice.  What, exactly, are you going to do with that leisure time?  You know those societies tend to have high birthrates because, 1) their infant and child mortality rates are astronomical and 2) what else are they going to do with all that “leisure time”?  If carving decorations on your spear shaft is your thing, knock yourself out.  But, you know, it’s not for everybody.

People have a tendency to romanticize primitive lifestyles, usually when they’re far, far away from the realities of those lifestyles.  But Hobbes had it right:  “Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

The world has generally gotten better over the years, the decades, the centuries, and yes, the millenia.  It may have its ups and downs.  There may be reversals from time to time, but in the long run the trend has been upward.  “The good old days” are a creation of selective memory, no more.

And, thus, while I will occasionally venture into some dark explorations, my futures tend to be upbeat and hopeful.  Problems are problems to overcome, not some inevitable collapse into everlasting hell.  This is the kind of fiction I like to write.  This is the kind of fiction I like to read.

I don’t think I’m alone.

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Feeding the Active Writer: Bourbon Garlic Pork Roast

I haven’t done one of these in a while so I think it’s about timer.

Tonight’s experiment: Bourbon Garlic pork roast.

  • 1 4-5 lb Pork loin roast

Brine:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup Bourbon
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup “Splenda”
  • About half a dozen garlic cloves ground into paste
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp ground Cayenne pepper

Mix the ingredients of the brine together until the salt and splenda are dissolved.
Put the roast in a plastic bag and pour in the brine mixture. Squeeze out the air so that the roast is completely covered with the brine mixture and seal the bag. Let sit in the refigerator overnight.

  • “Glaze”:
    2 Tbsp Mayonaisse
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard.
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 350
Remove the pork roast from the bring mixture and let the excess liquid drain away.
Thoroughly mix the glaze.
Use a pastry brush to coat the pork roast on all size with the glaze.

Place the roast in the heated oven. Bake until internal temperature is 160 (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit). I have no idea how long that is since I use a leave-in thermometer that alerts when the target temperature is reached.

On removal from the oven, let rest about 15 minutes before cutting.

Good hot or cold, or sliced thin for sandwiches.

Big Blue: New Pricing

I’ve just reduced the price of my novel Kaiju vs. Lovecraftian Horror novel, Big BlueYou might want to check it out.


Jovan Crncevic leads a cult worshiping the old one Dread Shev’kha.  They have taken Amber White and her daughter Bobbi prisoner and are holding them in a farmhouse where they have slaughtered the occupants.  Another prisoner, Barry Coehlho, remains bound in the bus which the cultists used in their masquerade as a group of Catholic monks offering aid in the aftermath of a series of massive tsunamis.

Crncevic had given Amber and Bobbi one of the upstairs bedrooms in the house. Unlike some of the other rooms, no blood stained this room. One door opened to the upstairs hallway, another to a small bathroom. A large picture window provided a view of a barn and the fields beyond it.

Bobbi lay curled on the large canopy bed, along with the Victorian dresser and other furnishings, a holdover from a bygone day.

Thinking that maybe once dark fell she could tear the sheets into a rope and escape with Bobbi, Amber looked out the window. One of Crncevic’s men leaned against the wall of the house. She could not tell which from this angle.

She closed her eyes and bowed her head. “Please, dear Lord, watch over Bobbi and me. And if it is your will, spare us from whatever those evil men mean to do with us. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

In times past, prayer had always calmed her and given her strength when she faced challenges but this time…this time fear continued to knot her throat.

She looked over at Bobbi, no longer even crying, just curled on the bed. Her face streaked with the dried tracks of tears.

She swallowed in a vain attempt to clear the knot in her throat then turned to the door to the hallway. If she could do nothing for herself perhaps…at least…she opened the door.

Simon sat in a high-backed wooden chair next to the door. Simon looked at her and shook his head, clear warning that she was not to leave the room.

Amber swallowed again. “Your master said he might have a use for Barry, Mr. Coelho. Do him no good if he dies of thirst, or heatstroke. At least let me take him some water.”

Simon stood. He placed his right hand on the doorknob.

“Wait here.” He pulled the door closed.

Amber stepped back from the door and waited. Shortly, the door opened and Crncevic entered the room.

“So you want to take water to the other one?” Crncevic smiled. “Very well. Take some. Take him some food even. Flee if you like.”

He pointed at the bed. “But your brat stays here.”

Amber shook her head. “I won’t go anywhere. Just…can a little kindness hurt?”

“Of course.” Crncevic stepped back through the doorway. He swept his arm open indicating she was free to leave the room.

Amber sidled past him, then almost tripped down the stairs. The bodies, at least, were gone. Only spatters of blood marked the locations of the slaughter Crncevic’s men had wrought.

In the kitchen she found a pot of soup on the stove, still warm from where it had simmered. Someone had turned off the oven, leaving the half-cooked chicken within. A pan of biscuits, still raw and apparently waiting their turn in the oven sat on a sideboard. A colander of greens sat in the sink to be washed.

Feeling guilty for disturbing other people’s, even dead people’s belongings, she rummaged in the cupboards until she found plastic bowls and glasses. Another cabinet turned up a serving tray. Someone had removed all the knives from the silverware drawer and the knife block next to the cutting board was empty.

In the refrigerator she found a pitcher of lemonade. She placed the pitcher and a glass on the tray, filled the bowl from the pot and set that on the tray as well. She picked up the tray and backed out the kitchen door onto the rear porch of the house.

Someone had brought the bus up the gravel drive so she did not have far to walk. In the gathering gloom of twilight, she carefully climbed the steps into the bus. Inside she saw movement as Coelho, still tied to his seat, lifted his head.

“Sorry I can’t rise to greet you.”

Amber set the tray on the seat across the aisle from Coelho.

“I am so very sorry that I got you into this.”

“Not your fault,” Coelho said. “I invited myself along.”

“Maybe…” Amber looked over her shoulder. Nobody had followed her. “Maybe I can…”

She leaned close, leaning down to examine the knots that tied Coehlho’s hands to the grab rail on the back of the seat.

“You’re not going to get those untied.” Coelho tugged on one. “They used a lighter to melt the knots. Don’t suppose you have a knife?” He chuckled.

“‘Fraid not,” Amber said.

“Is it too much to hope that you weren’t planning to eat your dinner in front of me?”

“Oh! I’m sorry.” Amber picked up the glass and filled it from the pitcher. “Here.”

She held the glass to Coelho’s lips and he drank greedily, some of the lemonade slopping down the front of his shirt.

When he drained the glass, Amber picked up the bowl and began spooning soup into Coelho’s mouth. As she fed him, tears welled up then spilled down her cheeks.

“God has abandoned us,” she whispered.

Coelho bit down hard on the spoon for a moment. When he opened his mouth, Amber removed the spoon and started to scoop up some more soup. Coelho turned his head to look her in the eyes.

“Don’t give up faith,” he said. “I don’t know much, but I know one thing. God will not abandon you. He will not abandon your little girl. So you keep faith and you trust in the Lord.”

Amber forced a smile and nodded. She returned to feeding Coelho.

Soon, the bowl was empty. Amber gave him another glass of the lemonade then rose to return to the house.

Fear still filled her, terror unlike anything she had known in her life. And yet, somehow, she found strength as well, strength to cope.

God would not abandon them. She knew He would not.

#

No one prevented Amber from leaving the room, or indeed the house. One of Crncevic’s men always followed her at a distance when she left the house but even that was unnecessary. Crncevic knew he held a leash that Amber could not break.

Bobbi remained in their rooms at all times, forbidden from even setting foot outside.

Amber climbed the steps of the bus, a tray containing a modest breakfast in her hands.

The smell assaulted her nose. She closed her eyes and cursed herself for a fool.

Coelho looked up from his seat. “I’m sorry.”

Amber set the tray down on one of the seats.

“No, I’m sorry. I should have thought.” She shrugged. “There’s not much I can do except see about cleaning you up.”

“Really, you don’t have to…”

Amber shook her head. “I changed Bobbi’s diapers. I’m sure I can handle this.” She thought for a moment. “Can you hold on for a bit?”

Coelho laughed dryly. “Do I have a choice?”

“I’ll be right back.”

Amber ducked back into the house and up to the room she shared with Bobbi.

“Mommy?” Bobbi looked up from the bed.

“Yes, baby?”

“No, Mommy. I can wait.”

Amber sat on the bed and gathered Bobbi in her arms. “Remember what I told you, sweetie?”

Bobbi nodded. “Even when things look bad, God is still with us.”

Amber kissed the top of Bobbi’s head. “And when things are bad?”

“Look for who you can help?”

“That’s right. And I’ve got to go help Mr. Coelho. Okay?”

Bobbi nodded.

Feeling guilty but trusting that the ghosts of the farmhouse’s owners would understand, she dug through the drawers in the dresser. The farmer had been large, maybe something of his would fit Coelho well enough. She found a pair of sweatpants in a lurid purple and held them up. They looked like they might fit.

Sweatpants folded and tucked under her arm, she returned to the kitchen. Crncevic looked at her from the table as she selected a large pot and filled it with warm water. He shrugged. She dropped a dishrag in the pot and grabbed the bottle of dish soap and several more dishrags from one of the drawers. Burdened by her selections, she backed out of the door and returned to the bus.

Her nose wrinkled as she knelt next to Coelho.

“I am so sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Amber said. “Nothing you could do about it. Let’s just get you cleaned up.”

She bent and untied his shoes. She pulled off the left shoe, then the right.

Coelho sighed. “Oh, my.”

Amber looked up.

The corner of Coelho’s mouth twitched.

“When you’re stuck sitting so long,” Coelho said, “your feet swell. I never knew simply taking your shoes off could feel so good.”

“Well, let’s see what else we can do.” Amber reached up. She hesitated a moment, her hands held halfway to Coehlho’s waist. She set her jaw and continued, tugging the hem of Coehlho’s shirt out of the way before unfastening his belt.

Soon, she had his soiled pants and underpants off. A quick glance up showed Coelho’s face burning scarlet but she kept her own blush down by sheer willpower.

She selected one of the clean dishrags and used it to wipe up as much of the mess as she could. Already the skin of Coelho’s thighs was red and inflamed from sitting in waste. As gently as she could, she wiped the area with a wet cloth. She took a third rag, wet it, then applied a small amount of dish soap to it. She kneaded the rag to work the soap through it.

“I’m afraid this is probably going to sting.”

“Did I ever tell you what a wimp I am?” Coelho said with a smile.

“Well, you’re just going to have to be a big boy and put up with it, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Still working gently, Amber scrubbed Coelho’s skin where the waste had soaked in. Coelho hissed as the cloth rubbed sores on his legs. Blood welled from tiny pockmarks.

Finally, Amber selected one more cloth, soaked it in the water, and used it to rinse the soap from Coelho. She set the dirty cloths and pot of water aside then picked up the sweatpants.

“Purple pants?” Coelho chuckled. “If I was going to get angry and turn big and green, I think it would have happened already.”

Amber smiled at the sally. “Let’s just get you dressed.”

Coelho lifted first his right leg, then his left, to allow Amber to work the pants onto his legs, then pressed his feet against the floor to raise his hips so she could pull the pants up to his waist.

“That feels much better,” Coelho said.

“I’m glad,” Amber said. “I’ll try to get out more often to help you relieve yourself. For now, let’s just get you fed.”

She tossed the dirty rags out the door of the bus. Using the one final rag, she scrubbed her own hands until nearly raw before dumping the water into the gravel. She then brought the tray of food from the front seat back to where Coelho sat tied and began to feed him.

When you’re scared, she told herself, look for who you can help.


$2.99 in Kindle Store, Free to read in Kindle Store, $19.99 in Paperback

When an accidentally detonated nuke from a stolen submarine releases something never before seen, Sea Hawk pilot Lieutenant Steve Pomerantz is sent to investigate. He finds a blue-green monster ten times the size of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex and seemingly impervious to every weapon in mankind’s arsenal.

Earthquakes in the South Pacific, at a location dubbed as the most remote spot on Earth, raise tsunamis all along the West Coast. Air Force Captain Jamal White, pilot of a C-130 Hercules is pulled off of search and rescue duties to ferry two scientists to investigate. What they find is a new continent arisen from the deep. And on that continent something stirs, bringing terror and madness in its wake.

Two monsters, one from the frozen North Atlantic, one from the remote South Pacific, on a collision course with the survival of mankind hanging in the balance.

Blast from the past: Heinlein’s Juveniles

Elsewhere the suggestion was made that Heinlein’s Juveniles were not, in some way, valid, or maybe relevant is a better word, any more because, “children aren’t like that any more.”

I don’t know about that.  My daughter, age 9 [Ed: As of the original writing of this], loves them [Ed:  Currenly, her tastes have gone other directions, often a lot darker than Heinlein was wont to get].  It started when I read them to her in installments a year or so ago as “bedtime stories”.  She kept saying “More!” and I kept having to insist “No, it’s time for you to go to sleep, sweetie.” This year, she has a school reading assignment where she gets to pick a book, read it (10 pages at a time for the assignment), and write something about what she read.  She picked Have Space Suit Will Travel. (Finished that and went to Piper’s “Little Fuzzy” but that’s another story.  She wants the other Heinlein juveniles but I only have the one in dead tree at the moment.  The rest are in e-format only.)

I don’t think it’s so much “Kids are different today” as it was more OK then to write about exceptional kids, ideals to aspire to rather than the mush of “everyday life.”

And, as it happens, “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” remains my all-time favorite book–not just science fiction, not just juvenile, not even just Heinlein, but book.

To emphasize, even when I was growing up, the kids in Heinlein’s Juveniles (or in the Tom Swift Junior books which were among my first introduction to science fiction) weren’t what I was.  They were what I wanted to be.  And I wanted to be that because they showed me something better, something worthy of being.

Maybe I’d never acquire a space suit of my own, but man if I did, I certainly hoped that I’d be as hot as Kip at getting it working and maybe, just maybe, that would get me into space.

There were no “junior” let alone “senior” prizes for rocketry back then* but even so I tried to be like the kids in Rocket Ship Galileo because, well, they were kids doing things worth doing.

And there was no “Space Patrol” to join, and chances were I’d never be able to make the cut if there were, but oh, how I wished there was so I could at least try.

And so on.  These people did things, made things happen, and sometimes . . . saved the world.

*As it happened, years later there was a prize, something that probably would have been one of the “senior prizes” in the world of Rocket Ship Galileo, the Ansari X Prize.  And, as fate would have it, it would appear that I actually helped make that happen.

The Hordes of Chanakra

I’ve been working on a new “blurb” for The Hordes of Chanakra.  The “blurb” is a brief text description that tells you what kind of book it is.  The idea is to get the book’s target audience excited about the idea of reading it.  It’s the kind of thing that would be found on the back cover of a print book and on the book’s online listing.

So, far, here’s what I’ve come up with:


When even the gods are at a loss, all they can offer is a spark of hope.

Kreg lived an ordinary life as a computer consultant–safe, secure…dull.  He was content, with his hobbies and a passion for history.

Thrice weekly judo classes and weekends at the archery range imagining he was at Agincourt or Crecy let him at least pretend to excitement in his life.

When Kreg saw a rape in progress he tried to be the hero and was struck from behind.  He woke in a world he had never imagined, a world of blood and pain, a world that seemed mired in the Middle Ages.  Trapped and despairing he met and befriended the rough swordsmistress Kaila and her wizardly father.  With new friends came new foes, a horde that poured from the small nation next door in seemingly endless numbers that threatened everything his new friends cared about.

Now, Kreg was in a race against time to find the source of this horde, and to stop it before everything he had come to care about ended in fire and death.


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From The Hordes of Chanakra (Price just dropped to $2.99):


Kreg, having been torn from the world he knew and dropped in a strange land he does not comprehend accompanies his newfound friends the Swordmistress Kaila, and her wizardly father Shillond to the common room of their inn, seeking dinner.

Smoke hung heavily in the crowded room.  In one corner, men threw knives at a target stuffed with straw.  A shout rose in another corner as a rotund man won an arm wrestling match against a somewhat slighter opponent.  The loser groaned and money changed hands as the winners of bets collected.  Beside the large fireplace a minstrel wailed a ballad, badly off-key.  About half the patrons of the tavern wore rain-soaked clothes and water ran in tiny rivulets down their faces.  The sound of the rain was more muted here than in the rooms above.

Kaila led Kreg and Shillond to the only unoccupied table in the room.  The crowd swirled around them but always left a gap before them, more, Kreg suspected, in deference to the way Kreg and Kaila towered over them than from any notion of courtesy.

“These places always like this?” Kreg sidestepped a stumbling drunk and sat.

“Aye.” Kaila said then looked over her shoulder. “‘Twould please me mightily an’ yon bard be silent.  I am near of a mind to clout him aside the head an’ he continue.”

Shillond sighed as he sat. “The people carouse, I think, to forget that their city is dying.”

A barmaid dodged a groping hand and arrived at their table. “May I help you, Lords and Lady?”

“Roast venison and a tankard of ale!” Kaila slapped her palm on the table, causing its legs to bounce off the floor.

“Whatever is by the board and a flask of wine,” Shillond said.

“Aye, Lord.” She turned to Kreg. “And you, my lord?”

“Uh.” Kreg hesitated for a moment, uncertain what to say, and then decided to follow Kaila’s lead in choice of food. He did not know what Shillond’s “by the board” meant. “Roast venison, I guess.  Uh, what do you have to drink?”

He looked at his companions for assistance.  Kaila bit back a laugh.  Shillond raised his eyebrows, the twinkle in his eyes brightening, but he offered no advice.

“Why, sir.” The barmaid sounded as confused as Kreg felt. “We are as well stocked as any tavern in the city.”

Kreg groaned.  He sighed and tried again. “I am a stranger here.  Could you be more specific?”

The barmaid’s face lit with understanding. “Oh?  Does the Lord wish companionship?  For three rabeni, and one for the innkeep, I could….”

Kreg raised his hands in warding. “No, no.  That’s fine.”

Kaila could no longer restrain her laughter although she tried.  Tears rolled down her cheeks as she half-choked with the effort.

“Well, my Lord.” The barmaid frowned for a moment. “I am sure you would find me more pleasant than this boy thing.” A flip of her hand dismissed Kaila. “Send her, it, on its way and let me be your companion instead.”

Kaila’s laughter vanished.

Shillond broke in. “My friend will have wine.”

A fresh look of understanding crossed the barmaid’s face. “Oh?  Is that the way of it?  My pardon, Lord, if I intruded.  I shall see to your food and drinks.”


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Pulled into an alternate world mired in the Middle Ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.

Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source of these seemingly numberless forces, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!