Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Special Audio Treat for Our Blog Friends

We are about to release the brand new audio edition of Life Sentence, the Science Fiction novel with an alien difference, on Audible.  As blog friends, you will be able to order this first book of the Forlani Saga series during a pre-launch period before our major release.  You will enjoy the great narration by the actor Andrew Thacher, who perfectly captures the adventurous spirit of the story and the numerous unusual characters, human and otherwise.  Visit the prison colony of Domremy, the female-dominated world of Forlan, the watery domain of the super-aggressive Song Pai and the interplanetary hospital at Corlatis, with its staff doctors including robots, jellyfish, a coati-like surgeon with a chatty bedside manner, and an extra-sexy extraterrestrial who repairs more than just pretty noses.  Get ready for a unique cosmic experience.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Check Out Our Short Story, Outset

     Just published in the July issue of New Adventures in Sci-Fi, here is a link to our latest short story, which takes place in the Forlani Saga universe at the early time of the Zetan Incursions, as Earth's first space fleet, aided by the powerful Thil and their mysterious Blynthian allies, fight to expel Zetan body-snatchers from the Solar System in our world's first interplanetary battle.   Here is the link:   Enjoy!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Special Offer on Kindle

Intellectual bat-like aliens, hermaphroditic aliens, urchin-shaped aliens, alien centipedes, robot doctors, and of course the strongwomen of the Forlani race, the ruthless squiddly Song Pai and the treacherous humans -- they're all yours for 99 cents this week only!  Go to

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Audio Edition of Life Sentence Soon to Appear

We're back!  Our beach trip to Nag's Head, North Carolina was relaxing and refreshing.  We got a lot of good beach walking, especially John, who did up to 7 miles a day.  So what a delight to return safely and learn that Chapter 6 was completed and sounds great.  We hope our hard-working producer, who was called away for a role in an upcoming streaming program, will be able to complete in the first part of July in time for our family reunion.  We know a lot of fans who have problems with ebooks or print versions (even our Forlani Saga that has a nice large pitch to make it more accessible to readers) will be excited to be able to LISTEN to the adventures of Klein and Entara as they contend with the plots of Hyperion Corporation and the Kinderaugen conspiracy, the violence of the convicts and exiles on Domremy, the greed of Tays'she and his cronies and goons in the Brotherhood, the body-snatching Locals, and the berserk blood-thirstiness of the Song Pai.  We look forward to sharing an audio release date when you can obtain your own access to the story.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Is the Planet of the Apes Closer than We Thought?

Many people forget (assuming they ever bother to inquire) that, like most sci fi movies, the original Planet of the Apes is based on a book, and a French book, at that--  Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel, La Planete des singes.  Should they dig a little deeper, they are even more surprised to find that Boulle was not strictly a sci fi author.  For example, he penned the volume that inspired another famous film, The Bridge on the River Kwai.  What a strange man!  To write both sci fi and war stories!  Yet, there is nothing at all strange about this when you consider that what really interested Boulle was not a given genre, but the ways he could use it to examine culture.  More specifically, the conflict or juxtaposition between competing cultures.  In the case of Le Pont de la riviere Kwai, it was Japanese versus British, Colonel Saito's bushido warrior code against the proverbial sang froid, or imperturbable nature of Colonel Nicholson (with a side order of unsophisticated American pragmatism in the form of Commander Spears).  The "stronger" culture does not always win, as Nicholson eventually prevails over Saito's Samurai values and drives him to the brink of suicide.  In La Planete des singes, it is human presumptuousness against the surprisingly intellectual and spiritual qualities of the apes.

Pursuing the search even further, a fan will find that many of the features of the book were quite different from the Hollywood screenplays it spawned.  One of the most astounding departures is that the nuclear holocaust discovered by Charlton Heston's Taylor character never took place in Boulle's
universe.  Instead, humans fell victim to a cultural collapse.  As Boulle explains, "une paresse cerebrale s'est empare de nous," "a laziness of the brain overtook us."  Humans stopped challenging their brains, notably giving up reading.  Meantime apes achieved mastery of language and, through solitary meditation, philosophy and the keys to knowledge.  They began to subjugate humans through a rather benign process, rising as their former masters declined.

It is perhaps typical of the culturally-obsessed French that human destiny should hinge on processes of learning, adapting and acculturation, rather than on the thermonuclear explosions and apocalyptic thinking that have gripped the American collective mind.  True, Hollywood eventually came around to a more Boullean view of things in the more recent ape cycle, accenting the parallel rise and fall of the two cultures.  Yet, they could not wean themselves completely from the familiar tropes of apocalyse, using an anti-Alzheimer's experiment gone awry as the agent of human demise rather than a simple reliance on bombs.  Perhaps the future will see a return to Boulle's original vision in another series  of ape films, as the superb talents of Andy Serkis have revived interest in the cycle, and Americans themselves have become more and more hooked on cycles in any form of media.

To return to Boulle's notion of "mental laziness," an article quoted from the Chronicle of Higher Education drove my imagination back to the theme.  It described the assignment of a free lance writer, himself a never-employed English PhD, to cover the annual convention of the Modern Language Association of America in Chicago.  The writer found academics who not only acknowledged his personal observations on the withering state of learning in the USA, but also admitted that the crisis had begun even as he and thousands of others were being fed into degree machines that were already privately aware of the futility of their advertising.  Nor was the decline limited just to unstudied books in English, like his beloved poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, for the other languages have seen the abolition of over 500 departments in just a decade.  He is honest enough to accept that a good share of the blame for this mental laziness lies with academia itself, as it drifted into a habit of obtuse postmodern navel-gazing, instead of establishing intellectual contacts with the "real world."  Of course, the woes of the MLA are just part of a much larger process, as traditional universities substitute branding for research and certifiable "knowledge lite" for intensive intellectual inquiry, while ruthless proprietary startups offer degrees online in pay-as-you-go schemes scarcely different from payday loans.  Even the distinguished Nobel Prize committees have melted down in a series of embarrassing "me too" firefights  and extra-literary adventures.  And of course, if we wish to talk of cerebral laziness, we need to go no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW and its attendant sideshows scattered around the District of Columbia.  Surely, it's a little early yet to affirm that a full-scale cultural collapse has already taken place, but it's high time to reflect on whether Boulle might not have been just a bit prophetic about humans losing their way as they move into the future.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Sci Fi and Skepticism

A recent conversation I had on Facebook developed in a direction of conspiracy theories, a very common feature of speculation in general and sci fi speculation in particular. Since a conspiracy that is never publicly acknowledged plays such a prominent role in our first Forlani Saga novel, Life Sentence, this line of inquiry is obviously of special interest to John and me.

The exchange began on with the posting by our friend FP of an article in Mother Jones (4/11/2019) by Paul Philpott entitled “What’s Causing an Outbreak of a Mysterious Fungal Infection? America’s Farms Offer a Clue. Fungicide use ‘most likely’ played a role in the rise of a deadly drug-resistant germ.” The gist of Philpott’s piece is that the spectacular emergence of the fungus candida auris has been attributed by a notable in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a possibly excessive use of pesticides in agricultural applications. Chemically resistant bacterial organisms have demonstrably been created through human agency when massive use of antibiotics in agricultural production and the author infers that fungal strains of c. auris may well have followed the same path through massive use of fungicides.

I commented that there may be an actual “conspiracy by the drug producers because they know if they keep creating new pathogens through resistant organisms, they will be able to keep marketing new drugs to attack them, thus creating an addicted race of ideal consumers -- capitalism at work, for it has realized since the opium wars that the ideal populace is one of addicts that can be endlessly exploited in several directions.”

My allusion to the Opium Wars in 19th century China involved an effort by the British East India Company and the Bank of England and the British governments to raise colossal amounts of opium cheaply through agricultural monopoly in India, ship it to China through a deceptive syndicate of brokers, militarily prevent the Qing Empire from banning its consumption, generate a population of Chinese addicts, and drain silver out of Asia and into the vaults of British banks to support a hegemonic global currency. It was a coordinated and conscious effort that constituted what was probably the first such conspiracy attributable to a classical form of capitalism. It took a century for China to begin to emerge from this crisis, which only came about through extreme and coercive measures -- such was the power of addiction.

Another person, ES, disagreed in part, based on the unlikelihood of small actors in the process to endorse the exploitation of agricultural chemicals in such a scurrilous way: “[although] it wouldn’t totally surprise me, your idea actually sounds like the actual conspiracy theory. How many lab technicians do you actually know? I ask because obviously they'd have to be in on it. And my experience is they usually are very intelligent people with strong integrity and good intentions. I'm not saying it couldn't happen but it’s rather unlikely. Frankly most scientists would shudder at this idea.” ES goes on to point out that evolution on all organic levels Furthermore, all life forms, “change in ways to protect themselves... it’s not the strong that survive but the adaptable.”

Of course, the causal, and in this case totally controllable, element in this loop is the development and implementation of agrichemicals by human beings. I went on to add an important caveat: “Policy decisions are seldom made at the level of lab technicians, who in many cases are not aware of the bigger implications of the procedures they are working on and who, if they show signs of awareness and opposition, are easily reassigned or terminated. While most senior scientists are good folk, the evidence of experiences with tobacco, ddt, and glyphosphates shows that there are plenty who are willing to sell out when the compensation is right. The tight organizational structure of the EIC and the British gov't in the opium wars is no theory, but a historical proof of how capitalism can utilize addiction as a strategic tool that easily becomes a strategic goal.”

I added: “It is also worth bearing in mind that underpaid scientists at the CDC, IP, and other such institutions are at a similar disadvantage compared to the legions of industrial scientists as unseasoned public prosecutors are to well-heeled and wily defense attorneys who are thoroughly schooled in protecting their clients (or masters). Besides which, the increasing secretiveness of industrial production, solidly reinforced by legal protections in the name of IP and burgeoning security forces better armed than the national military, prevent public access to the dangers of capitalistic research aimed at increasing profit at all costs.”

So what does this discussion, which evolved in the direction of scientific responsibility, imply for science fiction enthusiasts?

Well, the “mad scientist” who appeared so strongly in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H. G Wells’s The Food of the Gods (so soon after the Opium Wars!) is certainly no stranger to the sf world. Maybe he should be redefined as the “sociopathically self-interested scientist,” however, since in neither case, nor in those of many successors, was the scientist truly mad, in terms of functional derangement. In fact, these scientists were in many respects ultra-effective, possessing a heightened level of achievement attributable to their unhealthy concentration on the fulfillment of the goals their self-interest has imposed on their behavior. The imposed their own blinders to prevent any contrary ideas, even from their closest friends, families, and professional colleagues, from hindering their goals. And this in a day when binding non-disclosure contracts and avast state and industrial security networks had scarcely begun to emerge! Given today’s hierarchical strictures, I would maintain that it is even more difficult for scientists to put a limit to any project to which they are assigned by their masters or patrons.

The erstwhile goal of the agrochemical industry, which has already crowed about creating a “green revolution” (better living through chemistry?), is to provide Food of the Gods and to place, as Dr. Frankenstein wished, the power of life and death in human hands. Yet virtually all scientists seeking to work in the area find themselves heavily dependant on the money “donated” for their research by the likes of Bayer, Dow, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, etc. They face de-funding, professional degradation, ruinous lawsuits, violation of privacy, and even physical violence from a vast corps of paramilitary industrial security forces. One need only look to the recent Standing Rock confrontations in the Dakotas to see how hard industrialists can still strike.

In space exploration, Japan has joined the United States in sponsoring capitalist participation, its own fledgeling company joining the likes of Space-X and Bigelow in searching for extraterrestrial riches. Given the previous experiences of the latter corporation with the murky world of quasi-government intelligence gathering and management, a pattern seems to be emerging that parallels the British ventures and those of other powers in the years of the Opium Wars and the Rush for Africa. Of course, science fiction is way ahead of political science in conceptualizing such dystopian futures, from Skynet in Terminator to Weyland-Utani in Alien to Rekal in “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.” Our own corporations in the Forlani Saga are similar in many ways.

Does every pawn in a capitalistic enterprise have to know about the down side of scientific “benefits?” Does the corporation even have to be consciously aware of its conspiratorial role in a damaging chain of events, much less advertise it to a public of targeted consumers? Probably not. Any way you look at it, a conspiracy theory may only be unrealistic from a certain point of view. Keeping one that is unobstructed becomes more and more difficult, even as our “civilization progresses.”

                                                                                                Jim Gaines

Friday, March 29, 2019

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Great Time at Mysticon!

Mysticon 2019 in Roanoke was really stimulating.  As you can see, we even had a visit from Galadriel!  We could have done nothing but take pictures the whole time, because the cosplay was outstanding.  However, we were both pretty busy with two signings, two readings, and four panels each.  In one we played a narrative game involving the worst fantasy story ever written, "The Eye of Argon."  Each reader continued until he or she burst out laughing or corrected the error-strewn text.  John was drafted to lead the group, which managed to survive the irresistible hilarity.  Other panels we served on were TREKnologies (specialty: medical and life sciences), Stan Lee's life and work, Shakespeare and the Supernatural, and Paranormal Beyond Western Europe.  We reacquainted with old friends, made new ones, gathered information, and set up contacts for future projects.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Missed Opportunities

Having reviewed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last night just to fill in time on a boring evening, I was surprised to find myself more interested in it than I had been the previous time I saw it.  At first exposure, I was feeling it would also be my last exposure.  Of course, all the complaints by fans are true and too numerous to enumerate.  Yet, I was struck by the fact that there was a story hiding in there that could have been worthy.  

It might be unfair to blame Jesse Eisenberg alone for the bizarre deformation of Lex Luthor.  After all, there was a director somewhere off camera who should have been paying attention to character development, even if the writers seem to have largely skipped it.  To attribute all of Luthor's motivation to a form of madness, and a rather high-school-social idea of madness, was a great collective sin.  At this crucial developmental point, there should have been an Iago in the making.  As with Nero in  Racine's tragedy Britannicus, his is the birth of a monster.  More than tragedy, it is opera.  It calls for a magnificent aria instead of a disjointed raving.  Puccini could have found material of fine lyrical quality in the consciousness of most of these characters.  Instead, they were foreshortened by special effects that manage to cancel themselves out in an endless tautology.  

Yes, Gal Gadot managed to bring some class to the act, but even her part was shorn of its full potential.  She, more than Ben Afleck's Bruce Wayne represents the real meaning of the Justice highlighted in the subtitle.  Too bad her lines kept reiterating the same note of disgust about the Great War, instead of bringing the need for order amid gratuitous violence into clear focus.  It would have made a very good sci fi performance into a great one.  And speaking of lines, the saddest omission of operatic perfection of all was Amy Adams's Lois Lane.  She managed to construct a decent character -- not a minor achievement in this trainwreck -- through anguished looks and facial language.  Couldn't they have given her a bit of decent dialogue?  In ways, she is the tragic heroine here, but how misused! She deserves something better to work with in the future.

To go on much further would risk ranting.  It's not exactly SO, but it does take place partly in space and it certainly should have had more OPERA!  A lesson for future universes, onscreen and off.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Aquaman: Is Space No Longer Enough?

Even as China's Chang'e-4 moon mission begins to explore the Dark Side as an extension of previous research by other nations and in anticipation of manned landings by Taikonauts, skepticism seems to be growing about extraplanetary plans involving human presence.  Recently former astronaut William Anders, who took the iconic "Earthrise" photo while in Apollo 8 lunar orbit, remarked that the view of our living planet struck him as a stark contrast with the barrenness of the inorganic moon.  He has lately been outspoken in his criticism of NASA's priorities in putting "boots on the moon" as a prelude to colonizing Mars.  Anders' crewmate and commander on the mission, Frank Borman, has reportedly voiced similar views regarding unreasonable expectations for our species in hostile and exorbitantly expensive space environments.  One can suppose that this prise de conscience on Borman's part is not just a recent change:  he turned down the chance to take Scott Armstrong's "one small step" in order to work on airline problems closer to home and enjoy the pleasures of aircraft building and ranching.  These are not just theorists or speculators, but men who have been out there.

Having just seen Aquaman, John and I were struck by a certain similarity in general views reflected in this engaging and well-done film, which takes place entirely on and under the Earth's solid/liquid surface. An ongoing theme in Aquaman is the failure of Atlantean technology on a wide level.  This is not new in portrayals of Atlantis, if we consider George Pal's 1961 Atlantis, the Lost Continent as an example.  There we already encountered Atlantean hubris gone wrong in the form of biological tinkering and destructive lasers anchored in a hierarchical, slave-driven economy.  The wonders of civilization quickly prove to be a dangerous illusion that can only be dispeled by the obliteration of the very ground it stands on.  Aquaman sets out from a common point of departure but carries the projection further into the 21st century.  Post-Atlantean humans have not only followed the technological bad examples of the Atlanteans, but have enlarged the assault by poisoning the Atlantean seas with pollution.  Naturally, the lords of the deep respond with a massive tsunami that vomits up a tide of plastic and debris onto the land, along with the mighty navies humans have constructed in their arrogant attempt to conquer the seas.

What, one may ask, does this fishy tale have to do with the conquest of space?  The answers are not far below the waterline.  Deep ocean and deep space have always, after all, represented the twin abysses that confront the human imagination, one up and one down.  We are, as Pascal so brilliantly posited, trapped between the two infinities, failing to grasp the dimensions or the lessons of either of them.  As De Gama, Magellan, Columbus, Gosnold, Cabot, or Cartier set off across the water, NASA, Roscosmos, CNSA, ESA, JAXA and others now contemplate the colonization of distant lands in the form of whole new planets.  Once again, the greed for rare materials and untold riches underlies the quest.  Yet these new worlds offer no lush forests, rich harvests, exploitable natives, or even air to breathe.  This time, colonization means the onus of supplying everything is on our own shoulders.  No Squantos or Dahomean queens are waiting to comply with our demands and needs.  The differences between the objectives and the place we are leaving, despite the still unsolved and growing problems of the latter, are mind-bogglingly daunting.  This is as obvious to the hybrid Arthur Curry as it was to Anders and Borman in Apollo 8.

In the film, the answer, the ultimate power, the healing holy grail lies in the form of the ancestral trident which is all that lies between the human race and annihilation, as Curry/Aquaman seeks to reconcile his dual natures, his own genetic two abysses of surface humanity and Atlantean DNA.  His own spirit quest requres that he descend into the depths below the depths to challenge an unspeakable monster.  This hero journey, falling within the parameters of Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, recalls other journeys of extraterrestrial sci fi, not least of which is the plunge into the Gungan suboceans in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.  Visually, the reverberation is undeniable.  And here once more, one encounters a transition from the limits of science to the arcane powers of the supernatural.  Like the ambiguous influences of the Force, the previously evil might of the Trident morphs into a life-saving, beneficial element in the hands of the Chosen One who manifests himself to claim his true birthright and redeem humanity in the process.

The pre-apocalyptic situation of the human race is as apparent in Aquaman as it is in Elon Musk's urgent desire to transplant the seeds of a dying civilization to Mars.  However, our astronauts often remind us that what we still have is more precious than the shimmering image of a reconstructed existence abroad that seems to offer, in the words of Vauvenargues, the products of a perfected civilization.   Intuitively, we sense that technology alone never has and never will provide a worry-free world, whether the one we live on now or any within reach above or below.  Superstitious fantasy may not suffice to bestow on us the Trident we need to save our species, but the powers of the Imagination  just might, assuming that we can apply them in a forsightful and humane way that prevents irrational tech from sinking us where we stand.