Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Opening Passages VI: Moonrise at the Tatamy Book Barn

 This completed alternate fiction was rejected bt Analog, but since the main characters had their different lives in other Analog yarns, it's hard to see where else it may find a home. The Book Barn in question existed years ago, but eventually went under. Its collection became the Quadrant Used Book store in downtown Easton, PA. The old building in Tatamy, repurposed, still exists.

                Moonrise at the Tatamy Book Barn

by Michael F. Flynn

 

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested.

 – Francis Bacon, Studies.

The waving branches and fluttering leaves created moiré patterns across the hiking trail beside the creek. The late afternoon heavens were still pale blue, studded with high popcorn clouds, but the restless foliage prophesied stormier weather coming. The westerlies chivvied glowering black cumulus ahead of them, and the fishermen, gauging the sky, had abandoned the creek in a splashing of waders. It was a matter of luck, the locals said, whether storms would roll down the valley between Kittatinny Ridge and South Mountain.

But Cindy did not believe in luck, or at least not in the sort of luck that you didn’t make for yourself. Rain clouds drive out sunshine like bad money drives out good. She had a meal in her belly and some money in her pocket, thanks in large measure to a diner willing to accept hard work in lieu of hard cash, but she really ought to give some thought to shelter for the night. A bedroll and camping gear perched atop her backpack but there had been nothing resembling a campground since leaving that diner.

She enjoyed nights under the stars. As a child, she had dreamt of being an astronaut, and the night sky possessed for her a wistful allure. But the stars tonight seemed destined to cower behind sullen clouds and she was less eager to sleep under driving rain.

Thunder rumbled in the west like God clearing his throat.

Cindy exited the tree-shrouded trail to find herself facing a paved road. To the right, the road skipped over the creek on a brief concrete bridge to join the state highway. To the left, it curved north and out of sight. It didn’t look like there would be much in the way of accommodations either way. The fleshpots of Xanadu might be just around that bend, but she harbored doubts.

That left the big stone-and-wood building directly across the road. A large board sign above the entrance proclaimed it the Tatamy Book Barn: Old and Used Books. In the parking lot three cars and a pick-up truck, also old and used, suggested that the building remained open.

God dumped a truckload of scrap metal on the sky, which turned bright brass for an instant, and that made up her mind. Cindy hitched up her backpack and strode confidently toward the entrance – just as the heavens let loose.

Stride became run, but she was drenched before she reached the door. She ducked through and backed against it, as if the tempest would try to force its way after her. The woman behind the counter looked up at this sudden eruption, took in Cindy and her sodden appearance, and cocked a rueful smile. “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

 (c) 2022. Michael F. Flynn

Friday, October 21, 2022

Opening Passages V:

This opening os for a fact article, essentially done, but being rewritten,

 Adventures in Mythistory

by Michael  F. Flynn

“We need to share truths with one another, and not just truths about atoms, stars, and molecules, but about human relations and the people around us.”

-- William M. MacNeill, “Mythistory”

While rightly decrying junk science in his Alternative View, John Cramer repeated junk history when he mentioned “the Flat Earth consensus that existed before the voyages of Columbus and Magellan” (Cramer, 2015:61). No such consensus existed (Consolmagno, 2016:267-8). The standard medieval astronomy text was Sacrobosco’s “On the sphere of the world.” Thomas Aquinas took the world’s sphericity for granted (Sum. theo. 1.1.1 adv. 2); and it was central to the medieval science fiction classic, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. In the latter, “Sir John” sets forth to discover new life and new civilizations, encountering alien beings like blemyae,[i] and in hard SF Analog fashion, uses an astrolabe to show how the changing inclination of the pole star at different locales demonstrates the Earth’s sphericity:

“So I say truly that a man could go all round the world, above and below, and return to his own country, provided he had his health, good company, and a ship.” (Mandeville 1983:128).

Yet the flat earth myth, concocted by Washington Irving for his fictionalized biography of Columbus, persists in popular culture. Like all myth, it serves to “reinforce the values and attitudes of the community, offer satisfying explanations of the major features of the world as experienced by the community, and legitimate the current social structure” (Lindberg 2007: 7-10). That is, the purpose of myth is satisfaction, not journalism. We are smart, the story assures us, and our ancestors were stoopid.

Mythmaking may be deliberate. Mussolini concocted a mythistory of a resurrected Roman Empire. Defeated Confederates conjured the Lost Cause; defeated Germans, the Stab in the Back. Triumphant Tudors demonized Richard III. And after Kennedy’s death, his administration became the mythic “Camelot.”

But myth can also be unintentional, caused by losing context over time, sanding off details, reifying abstractions, or fusing characters. The “Children’s Crusade” is an example. (Dickson. 2008) This erosion can require as much as three centuries before real events become grand narratives (Vansina 1985: 23-24). Thus, in common culture, certain events of the 1600s had become by the 1900s Foundation Myths for the Modern Ages: The complexities of Massachusetts Bay coalesced into The First Thanksgiving; those of Jamestown, into Pocahontas. Galileo became The Martyr for Science. Newton had an Annus Mirabilis.

Myth presents Types: valiant hero, brave traitor, cowardly traitor, old fogey scientist, iconoclastic young scientist, and so forth. Each comes on stage to strike characteristic poses and perform iconic deeds. Early SF was replete with such fables.

But to write realistic SF, we need characters with motives and purposes. Motives drive a character forward and may be unclear, even to the character. The author may unveil these motives by selectively revealing a backstory (e.g., Dickens, A Christmas Carol). Purposes, on the other hand, pull the character forward and are generally explicit in the plot.[i]

To do this, we need to know how people really behave, not how we want them to behave to advance the plot. History, biography, and direct observation help. But historical facts, the subject of this article, are prone to mythologizing.

 

6. Consolmagno, Guy. 2016. “Medieval Cosmology and World Building,” in Medieval Science Fiction, ed. Carl Kears & James Paz (King’s College London).

7. Cramer, John. 2015. “The Retarding of Science,” (Analog, Oct. 2015)\

8        8. Dickson, Gary. 2008. The Children's Crusade: Medieval History, Modern Mythistory (Palgrave Macmillan; 2008 edition (November 8, 2007)

16. Lindberg, David C. 2007. The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious. and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, 2nd ed. (Univ. of Chicago Press) 

17. Mandeville, John. 2014. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, trans. C.W.R.D. Moseley (Harmondsworth: Penguin) On line: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/782/782-h/782-htm.

23.  23. Vansina, Jan. 1985. Oral Tradition as History. (University of Wisconsin Press)

 



[i] blemyae: Headless men whose faces are on their torsos.

[i] motive/purpose. You may recognize Aristotles two causes of becoming: efficient cause and final cause.



 

(c)2022 Michael F. Flynn

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Opening Passages IV: Hunter's Moon

This is the beginning of a short story. I know whodunnit and how. I just don't know how Mickey figures it out.

 

 

Hunter’s Moon
by Michael F Flynn

As nearly as anyone could reconstruct matters afterward, it happened like this.

Zdravko Sirajov was standing on the peak of Mt. Hadley watching the Meteors Nouvelle. It was the best seat, if he had been sitting and, as it turned out, would have been better for him if he had been. The view was stunning – over 100 klicks in every direction. You could gaze northwest across Putrid Marsh all the way to the rimwall of Great Archimedes and eastward across the lesser Apennines to the broad plains of Serenity. But the little group had come up to look at Earth, not their own neighborhood.

Detlef Streicher stood in front of Sirajov, but a little below the crest so as not to block Sirajov’s view of the Earth. Maria Pereira, a bone of contention between the two men, remained behind on the Moon buggy with Klement Chou, the driver, while Pete Hendaye had placed himself off to the side, as if to detach himself from the whole business.

Streicher and Sirajov had been sniffing around Maria almost from the time she had made her “one small step” and learned of the severe sexual imbalance in the Moon. Each man had schemed after ways to be alone with her or at least to exclude the other and had come to blows over the matter on two earlier occasions. It was hard to say to what extent Maria was oblivious to the struggle around her and to what extent she may have encouraged it.

Earth was in half phase that day, and its night side blinked with fireflies as the rubble of the asteroid burned up in her atmosphere. Everyone oohed and aahed as they always do when watching meteor showers, even from the other side of the sky; though Klement griped to Maria that the previous year had been more spectacular.

Below them, at the foot of the mountain, nestled the tidy settlement of Falcon’s Landing and Pete remembered afterward thinking how much more comfortable it would have been to watch on the big screen from inside the dome. Or not watch at all. He thought the whole thing was a big bore.

Sirajov had grown tired of the display and had turned to go down the backside of the hill, likely to sit beside Maria on the buggy, but Streicher checked his chronometer and said, “Wait, the best part is coming.”

“It better be a damn sight more spectacular than up to now.”

It was.

Something hard and fast smashed Sirajov’s polycarbonate faceplate and opened the oxygen regenerator behind his head with an exit hole like a blossoming flower. Blood and brains splashed out in a flash-frozen mist.

Maria screamed all the way down to Falcon’s Landing.

#

 (c) 2022. Michael F Flynn

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