Water on Mars?

AnnetteActual NASA photograph of Mars

A lot of folks are giddy over NASA’s announcement that its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found evidence of liquid water on Mars. They imagine this points the way to a Martian colony and human expansion into space.

Put me down for a big ol’ “meh” on this waste of taxpayers’ dollars. While the Trekkies may swoon over this news, I (and many others) suspect we are too acutely tuned to the rhythms, radiation fields, and cycles of this planet to go skipping about the galaxy like disembodied brains.

I agree with Kim Stanley Robinson: “I think Earth is the one and only crucial place for humanity. It will always be our only home. … Maybe there’s only one planet where humanity can do well, and we are already on it.”

As to terraforming an alien planet to make it suitable for human habitation, Robinson says, “… there’s no place other than Earth where humanity can be healthy and safe. When we land on another planet, we’ll find out if it’s either alive or dead. It it’s alive, we’ll be in trouble because the life that’s there already will either make us sick or kill us. If it’s dead, we’ll have to terraform it, in which case we’ll die before it’s ready.”

Robinson’s objection is valid. In fact, there are so many variables involved in reverse engineering alien planets to accommodate human needs that such a project would be utterly impossible. Then there are the countless unknowns we will never grasp. It wasn’t until the past decade or so that we understood the vital role played by human flora, which outnumber human cells by 10 to 1.

I’ll believe we can terraform other worlds to our liking when we’re able to rid our own planet of earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and telemarketing calls.

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Remembering Bob Gordon

Bob Gordon

Robert Gordon Van Horn, November 16, 1924 – September 11, 2015

Now this brings back some memories:

Robert (“Bob”) Gordon Van Horn was an unassuming man, not given to boasting, and devoid of any ego. If you spoke with him, you’d never know that he was a popular TV personality, a creative innovator, or a war hero. As our mutual friend Dave Plyler told me, “Bob saw fierce combat in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge for which he earned a purple heart and a bronze star, but he never discussed his service.”…

Bob is preceded in death by North Carolina’s other legendary children’s TV show hosts: George Perry (WFMY’s Old Rebel); Fred Kirby (WBT’s singing cowboy); Uncle Paul Montgomery (WRAL’s jazz artist); and Brooks Lindsay (WSOC’s Joey the Clown). His passing earlier this month should serve as a reminder of the pioneering work they all did to make growing up just a little more fun.

Saturday afternoons, I’d plant myself in front of our black-and-white TV and watch those wonderful “B” serials Bob Gordon featured on his show in between rope and magic tricks. Rocket Man was my favorite.

Rocket Man

Those cliffhanger serials were my first introduction to science fiction, and no doubt influenced my approach to story telling.

Thanks for the memories, Bob.

The Meta-Recipe

A Moveable Feast

Things got a little heated at the last meeting of our Sci-Fi/Fantasy critique group. One member said that the manuscript under review did not work. The reason, he insisted, was that a scene lasting two paragraphs of a ten-page story was exposition, and as everyone knows, “showing is better than telling.”

I disagree. Sometimes you enhance the pace with a little exposition. For example, does the reader really want a vivid, sensuous accounting of your protagonist fixing dinner? I’d say no — unless it’s central to the story.

And that’s the thing. A vital part of the writing craft is knowing when to apply the right rule. Even the best rule should not be mindlessly followed off a cliff.

Bill Daley, the Chicago Tribune’s food writer, recently offered what I call a “meta-recipe” for aspiring cooks. He calls it “10 steps six cookbook pros say you should follow to get the most from a recipe.” These steps offer sound advice for writers, too, about learning how to apply the rules of writing.

For example, Daley’s first meta-rule is: Cook! The more you cook, the more you will learn and the easier it will be to spot a recipe that’s “worthwhile or intriguing.” And the more writers write, the more “feel” they get for what works and why.

Daley also counsels that cooks should Listen! You want to hear the recipe’s “voice.” Judith Jones, the cookbook editor behind Julia Child and other cooking legends, says she wants the recipe to tell her “whoever wrote it had really done it and makes me feel the taste and texture just by reading it.” So a writer seeking direction should heed the insights of someone with actual publishing experience rather than someone who has not.

Daley’s best advice for cooks and writers, in my opinion, is Consider the audience. Should you substitute a jalapeno for the habanero your recipe calls for? Would Aunt Doris prefer a tangy dish rather than the blazing one your recipe calls for? And wouldn’t your potential readers prefer you to tone down your violence or sex scene?

Developing such judgment comes from experience, careful listening, and caring. Good advice for any craft.

Soldiers Aren’t Angels

Breakfast With The Dirt Cult

My review of Samuel Finlay’s gritty and gut-busting war novel Breakfast With The Dirt Cult is featured today at the Abbeville Review blog.

An excerpt:

Finlay’s fictionalized account of his tour of duty in Afghanistan, Breakfast with the Dirt Cult, is hard to classify. It isn’t a red-white-and-blue “Support our Boys!” kind of tale, nor is it an expose of imperialistic brutes in uniform wielding high-tech machines to murder and subjugate noble savages. So one should not expect this war novel to be “The Green Berets” or “Apocalypse Now.” It is instead a tale that bristles with humor, honesty, and has an edge to it that will alternately have you chuckling or holding your breath.

Read the rest at the Abbeville Review.

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

mishima

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, with advice and inspiration guaranteed to make you a literary ninja. Compiled by mishima.

Nihar PradhanTravelling, Photographing & Writing
Jon Westenberg30 Reasons Why I Write
Marcy KennedyInternal Dialogue: The Secret Sauce to Fixing Problems?
James Royce PattersonFive Ways To Improve Your Writing’s Flow
DamyantiHave You Always Been A Writer?
C.S. WildeHow I Write
K.L. RegisterWhy Do You Write?
Samantha WhoThe Keeper of Lost Causes