Vonne’s Shelf: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger

by Alastair Reynolds

“Aye, it be a daaarrrk and stooorrrmy night!” Paladin said, clutching its sword menacingly. Paladin was a battered robot wheeling about the stage on one wheel and one peg leg. It sounded like “screech, stomp, screech, stomp.”

“That is the lamest intro to anything I have ever heard!” someone bellowed from the seated audience.

Paladin squinted into the dark theatre, which is quite a trick since it didn’t have eyes; although, to its credit, it was wearing an eyepatch to sell the squinting thing. “Who be that, then, that daaarrres to call me a liaaarrr?” The robot brandished its sword-like thing in one articulated appendage. The sword was really just a three-foot piece of wood and a small crosspiece at the hilt. It hadn’t even been cut to a pointed tip. So, actually, Paladin brandished a blunt piece of wood.

“Stop it, already, you’re no pirate!” the voice hooted from the crowd.

“Aaarrrgh,” threatened the droid. “Methinks I’ll be showing you some paaarrriting!”

“Squawk!” something . . . um, squawked from nearby. This confused everyone, so no one knew what to say.

“Um, Revenger?” someone in the front row whispered. From the back, they seemed to be wearing a robe that cowled their features, looking like a robed and shadowed MST3K character.

“Right!” Paladin caught the drift, almost. “I means ‘rrriiight!’ Now, landlubbers . . . ”

“Space,” that same stage manager whispered loudly.

“Er . . . maties!”

“Coves,” hissed the front row cuer.

“Aaarrrgh!” Paladin roared. “This heeerrre paaarrrit language be haaarrrd!”

“Squawk!”

“What the hell?” Paladin growled. “Somebody shut that thing up befooorrre I haves to skewer the . . . squawky thing. I mean, squaaawwwky thing!”

“Jeez!” the heckler in the audience said. “This is the worst review ever!”

Paladin squinted again, stubbing its wooden sword toward the voice, a silent warning.

“Ignore the heckler,” the shadowy blob whispered.

“As I was saaayyying,” Paladin continued. “This heeerrre tale is a paaarrriting tale . . .”

“Squawk!”

“I swear to God I’m going to kill that thing!” Paladin roared, swiping its eyepatch up. There was, as expected, no eye underneath to patch.

“Review,” hissed the front row.

“Right. Okaaayyy. This tale be called ‘Revengeeerrr,’ and it be a daaarrring tale of danger, excitement, quoins apleeennnty, bauwwwbles and ghooosties that’ll give even seasoned coves a deep case of the shivery! Theeerrre be maidens in distress, and . . . ”

“Hardly!” laughed the heckler. “These girls don’t need help! Dude, they got it going ON!”

“One mooorrre outburst from you, diiirrrty cove, and I’ll make ye walk the plaaannnk!”

“You can’t do that!”

“Just ye wait and see,” Paladin squinted at his anonymous adversary. “Anyway, these two laaasssies get into big adventuuurrre in the Empty, beyooonnd the Congregation, out among the bauwwwbles. The eeevvvil Captain Bosa Sennen, flying the daaarrrk flag of the Nightjammeeerrr, she be capturing one o’them giiirrrls and fooorrrces heeerrr to . . . ”

“Would you PLEASE stop all that hokey, fake pirate talk!”

Paladin swung its sword, er, board at the voice. “I spent a lot of quoins and time to learn Paaarrrit language and . . . ”

“Squawk!”

Anyone who had not wandered out from sheer boredom at this point, suddenly found a healthy reason to be elsewhere, so the ruckus included falling chairs, punches, ouches, doors flung open, shoving, and one inappropriate horse neigh (which has nothing to do with anything and was surprising to everyone).

That left only the Pirate Droid Paladin, the heckler, the cowled stage director, a sprinking of gold flakes flitting around, and one other droid standing behind the heckler.

The heckler sat, frozen in place, one hand full of popcorn poised to dock with its mouth, staring at all the Empty that was just created inside the theatre. The heckler finished the docking maneuver, and then stood to look at the rest.

The Pirate Droid Paladin leaned on its sword’s blunt end on the stage, idly snapping its eyepatch against its domed head. Pull, “snap!” pull, “snap!” pull, . . .

The stage director sat in the front row, holding its head in its hands, shaking back and forth with frustration at this failed review of an important book by an important author.

The gold flakes flitted around, but oddly slow and halting, like it wasn’t sure what it was.

The other droid standing behind the heckler, three feet tall, silver with blue trimmings, domed swivelling head, simply mourned “Blooooooooo.” It had a parrot sitting on its head.

And Vonne got it.

Vonne, the heckler, asked Paladin, “What do you think you are, again?”

The droid muttered, “A paaarrrite, dammit!”

“Squawk!”

Vonne nodded. “Every time you say pirate in that stupid accent, this parrot thinks you’re calling it. It’s answering. Now stop it, please. And, please, get on with the review. I’ll leave you alone as long as you don’t talk stupid paaarrrit-ese.”

“Squawk!”

Paladin sighed, then looked at the stage manager. Have you ever seen a robot shrug? It’s weird. Those little gold flakes seemed like an unqualified and slightly annoying dust devil.

“Parental,” the stage manager cued.

“Right! So,” Paladin began, pedantically boring and board, er, bored. “This is a story heavily influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s basically pirates in space. It occurs at some distant time in the future. Many of the planets of the Solar System simply don’t exist anymore, but there are tens of thousands of small artificial worlds orbiting the Sun. Most of these artificial worlds are rubble, but there are many dozens of engineered worlds that probably at one time were asteroids, or bits of shattered planets.

“Because this is so far into the future, it is unlikely humans ever got away from their own System. The ravages of broken civilizations have left strange baubles floating among the debris. These baubles are ripe for mining by various adventurers who want to strike it rich. They are full of odd technologies that either descended from past human civilizations, or perhaps even created by a couple of alien civilizations who have passed through. One of these alien civilizations still plays a major role as bankers for humans, controlling the flow of quoins (and hopefully you are smart enough to make that connection).

“The story centers on two sisters. One, Adrana, is old enough to qualify to be an adult and make her own decisions. The other, Arafura, is 17. She is the voice of the story, and is familiarly known as Fura Ness (Ness being the last name). They escape from their overbearing father and ultimately board a scavenger ship that has missions to crack baubles and mine their jubbly (treasures).

“The bad paaarrrr — um, pirate is on a separate ship called the Nightjammer. At one point, this bad pirate, Bosa Sennen, overwhelms the ship the girls are on and takes Adrana for herself to pilot her own Nightjammer. Fura is left behind.

“Now, the way into the baubles is by ‘reading the bones.’ This means there are skulls that can communicate over vast distances in an unknown way, but it takes a young mind to ‘jack’ into them and understand the directions. Older one’s brains lose their elasticity and cannot do it. Both of the Ness girls have this ability, which is why Bosa took one of them captive. She needs a new Bone Reader.

“Fura embarks on a rescue operation to retrieve her sister and bring down the murderess Bosa Sessen. She signs on with a young and inexperienced salvage crew to be their Bone Reader. Ultimately, she leads them to a particularly nasty bauble named ‘Fang’ that holds many lucrative secrets, and will set the stage to, perhaps, rescue her older sister and end Bosa Sessen’s reign of terror.”

“Parental!” hissed the cowled stage manager, adamantly.

“Yes,” Paladin acknowledged. “There’s a couple of bits of interesting tech here. Something called catchcloth that makes up the sails that enable these space ships to catch various solar winds to maneuver around the solar system. Most catch photons, but the kind the WIndjammer uses catch electromagnetic winds, allowing it to be completely black and camouflaged.

“Another is lookstones. These are basically spyglasses that can look through solid matter and see things any other visual tool would be unable to see.”

“What about weapons?” the heckler called while munching popcorn. “How cool are they?”

“The Ghostie tech is particularly exciting,” Paladin began, “but very rare because . . . ”

“Stop it!” bellowed Vonne from the audience. “I want to hear about weapons. What kind of cool weaponry do space pirates normally use?”

“Um. . . that would be crossbows.”

“Crossbows?”

“Yes, but it’s cooler than it sounds.”

“Oh? How does it work?”

Paladin paused, thinking. “These crossbows are . . . um, . . . er, they shoot arrows really fast.”

Vonne stood, scattering popcorn everywhere. “That’s it?!?”

“Well, yes, but they are really, really fast.” Paladin’s pause ground to a full and complete stop; and if a robot could sigh, it would have.

“That’s it, I’m out of here!” Vonne declared and began scooting for the door.

The stage director hissed.

Paladin stood straighter, brandished its wood, waving it wildly above its head (which sounds vaguely obscene).

The little droid behind Vonne moved in closer, articulated arms unfolding from his carapace, pincer joints sparkling blue lightning, but very, very, threatening blue lightning. He intoned, “Blup, blip, bloop, brew!”

Vonne stopped, staring at the little droid with a parrot on top. “Artoo?”

“Bleep, bloop,” R2 confirmed.

Vonne stared, caught between Paladin with a wooden furring strip sword, and Artoo with a built in defibrillator hardly ever used for healing. “How did you get mixed up with this bunch?” He asked.

“Pooo-re-et,” Artoo said.

“Squawk!” echoed in the theatre.

Paladin spoke, “You are being directed, Anton, to sit and listen to the Parental Reviews and the rest of this review.”

“Ah, yes, about that. What if I don’t? What?” Vonne asked, “Are you going to whack me with your cheap piece of wood, or make sweet Artoo here give me a tingle? Doesn’t sound very piratey to me.”

“Sit!” intoned the stage director, not even rising from his own seat to sound magnificent, stately, commanding, god-ish.

Vonne sat.

Paladin continued, “There’s no mooorrre of the stooorrry I can reveal, cove, because that would be spoileeerrrs, and they be not peeerrrmitted!”

“Oh, god, the paaarrrit speak again,” Vonne muttered.

“Squawk!

“Paaarrrents,” Paladin cried. “There be no vulgaaarrrities in this story. There be no baaarrreness or sex in this story. Aye, but there be a wee bit of violence, lad, or else how could this be a proper paaarrrite story!”

“Squawk!”

“A wee bit?” Vonne rose again. “Bloody hand to hand combat isn’t a wee bit!”

“Aaarrrgh, but it be in space and all!” Paladin retooorrrted.

“Decapitation? Skewering in various ways? That’s not a wee bit!”

“Alright,” Paladin conceded. “Let’s compromise around, say, a wee-bit-squared, shall we?”

Vonne was adamant. “Is this a YA novel, or not?!”

Paladin hedged, quirking eyebrows it doesn’t have over the eye patch it doesn’t need. “For a young-ish audience. How be that, then?”

“I guess . . .” Vonne allowed, nodding.

“But!” Paladin brightened, brandishing its wood. “Wasn’t it fun?!?”

“Yeah, yeah, true. It is a blast,” Vonne agreed. “So, you recommend it, then?”

‘Of course,” Paladin said. “Because – as everyone knows – whens you wants fun, it helps to be paaarrrites!” It began cavorting around the stage, in spite of its wheel and peg leg, singing. This sounded like “screech, stomp, ‘Rum,’ screech, stop, ‘Rum.’

“Squawk!”

“That’s it!” Vonne yelled. “You aren’t pirates!”

Paladin stopped cavorting, and raised its wooden sword. Artoo moved closer behind Vonne, threatening with crackling electricity and blooping, “Bloop!”

“Methinks,” Paladin sneered. “It be time ye waaalllked the plaaannnk, Anton!”

“Oh?” Vonne asked. “Artoo isn’t going to make that happen because he’s too nice. In fact, R2 is so nice, he gets to be called a “he,” while you’re stuck in “it-“dom. And you can’t make me because you have a peg leg and one wheel and I’ll be long gone before you even get here.”

The stage manager rose, turned, and released his cowl, revealing his face and his true identity. “Oh,” he said, making a mystical hand wave. “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

“Obi?”

“How can I be of service to . . . ” the golden sprite said, taking off it’s Ghostie helmet, which had obscured his identity. “Er, should I call you Lord or Lady?” C3-PO asked, a cocked golden head floated above an invisible suit of armor. The joint areas were exposed, which made up the golden sprite that had been jerking around the auditorium.

“Um, Vonne?”

“As a protocol droid, I am able to converse in thousands of languages, many digital, including paaarrrit-ese.”

“Squawk!”

“So,” C3-PO continued. “I have been ordered to assist you to walk the plank. Please come with me now, Vonne.” C3-PO reached out an invisible hand and grabbed the heckler’s arm.

“But, but, you still can’t make me walk the plank,” Vonne said.

“Oh?” Paladin asked. “Why be that then?”

“Because,” Vonne answered, “On this WordPress website, I never got around to installing the Plank plugin. There is no plank.”

“Oh, Vonne,” C3-PO responded, pulling on his arm. “Remember those digital languages I know?”

“Aha!” Paladin roared. “We win, coves, because we be paaarrrits!”

“Squawk!” the parrot and Vonne screamed in unison.

26 November 2016

VA

Friends We Don’t Know We Have

Yesterday, my spouse and I were leaving Costco, which meant walking by their Food Court. Neither one of us felt good, and was simply trying to support each other so we made it through the day together. We were talking, so I was not looking when I heard this:

“Sir? Can you help me, please?” I turned to my right and saw the speaker, a white woman approximately 60 years old, sitting on a bench, with a man – presumably her husband – slouched against her. I got the impression she had barely managed to get him to the bench on time.

“Can anyone call 911?!” she shouted.

My phone appeared in my hand and the buttons were punched.

“Please call 911,” she pleaded.

I stepped closer to them, and said as calmly as possible, “It’s done.” I was waiting for an answer.

The man began to slump further, almost sliding off the bench, and the woman was desperately trying to hang on to him. He was bigger than me, but if I grabbed him it might stabilize the situation. I snuggled up close, trying to prop him with one hand while preparing to speak to the 911 operator.

Someone said, “Let’s get him to lay down.”

Just as I heard the words, “911, please state the nature of your emergency,” the man began to slip onto the floor. I handed my phone to my spouse and said, “Handle it.” While they tried to explain what was going on I had my hands full of a big man falling into my embrace, his wife continuing to clutch at him.

“Don’t let him fall!” she cried.

“I’ve got him. No one’s going to fall,” I said, giving him a bear hug and easing him to the floor where he would lay for the next several minutes.

“Grab him by the head!”

“Don’t worry, he’s safe,” I said. Now he was stretched out on the floor, with my hands cradling his head.

The floor of Costco is cold cement. I didn’t know what was happening. Epileptic seizure, diabetic faint, heart attack, stroke? Whatever it was, his head wasn’t going to touch the hard, cold floor on my watch. His eyes were open, frightened. We locked gazes and I smiled in what I hope was a reassuring manner.

A crowd was gathering. Two Costco employees, other well-meaning people, mostly women.

I heard through the hubbub and frantic speech, “Medical . . . can I help?” A woman’s voice.

I looked up. A nice, young, dark woman wearing a hajib. “Yes,” I said. “Are you a doctor?”

“I’m a medical student. Can I help, please?”

The man’s wife and several others were babbling to her and over her, none of it making sense to me. The man gasped, and I looked down. We locked gazes again and he calmed.

Lots of thoughts ran through my head. Mostly, how much medical training has she actually received? One year, two, how much did she know? The answer: A hell of a lot more than I did. I kept the man’s gaze because it seemed to keep him calm and hoped his wife was telling the nice lady what was happening.

Then another voice called from my right. “I’m a paramedic. Let me in.” A white man approximately 60 years old crouched beside me and rested his hand on the man’s chest, gauging something. Heartbeat? Respiration?

“Do you know where you are?” he asked the man on the floor.

And the patient uttered his first words, still looking at me. “Yeth, Cothco.” Slurred speech. His face seemed slack on the left side. A stroke, then.

The paramedic began directing my spouse things to tell 911, who were still on the line.

I found out later that 911 didn’t understand where this Costco was by its major cross streets. They needed a physical address, which we didn’t know. But, one of the employees gathered at the scene dictated the street address, giving time for the paramedic to quickly evaluate the situation and provide more instructions.

“What’s your wife’s name?” the paramedic asked him. The man answered, but I couldn’t understand it. I was too busy just keeping him calm.

Things got quieter suddenly. Not because there wasn’t a lot of activity and people fretting anxious words. No, quieter because this man and I were definitely connecting and it felt like there was only the two of us here now.

I was saying things like, “You’ll be okay.”

He grimaced, uttering a swear word, and said, “Embarrathed. Thorry.”

“Don’t be. These things happen sometimes. We’ve got you. Try to see how many friends you have that you didn’t know about until now. The medical team is on the way. You’ll be fine.”

Someone brandished a blanket, and said, “Here, put this under his head.” And it was so. I no longer needed to cradle his head.

The EMT’s siren could be heard. I’m not sure if it was some kind of walky-talky squawk, or over the store intercom, but someone said, “Direct them to the Food Court immediately.”

“See? They’re here. Rest now. Just lay there and relax. We’ve got you. You’re safe.”

The man closed his eyes and sighed in relief.

The paramedic said, “I’ll stay here until the emergency response team arrives.”

I nodded, and my spouse and I moved out of the way. The wife said, “Thank you so much.”

My spouse acknowledged it by saying, “No problem. Hope he’s okay.”

I was no longer looking at anyone. No, I was looking for someone. Only she wasn’t there anymore. What happened to her? Where had she gone? More importantly, why had she gone?

We left, allowing room for more experienced people to do their jobs. I do not know the woman and her husband, nor even know their names. They don’t know us either. I’m fine with that. Anonymity feels right. We don’t need affirmation of our humanity. I am glad my spouse was there for support and teamwork.

My feelings were – oddly not for the stroke patient – but for that medical student in the hajib who had offered help. The paramedic had arrived a moment later, and she had disappeared. Why? Did someone reject her because of her religion? Her race? Had an older white guy paramedic just taking over cause her to just leave? What was she thinking right now? Was she thinking we didn’t care about her, wouldn’t listen to her, and didn’t want her help? She would be wrong on all those counts, at least on my part.

Then my feelings went to despair. Why was I worrying about her more than the stroke victim? He was getting experienced help. But who was comforting her?

Why was this bothering me?

Answer: Because of the stressful, fearful, and hate ridden climate in this country right now. It was changing me. It was affecting me. I am now hyper concerned for those who might seem “Other.” I had not worried much about that before.

I am not aware of any biases within myself. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It just means I don’t think along those lines and may be unaware of how my surroundings have influenced me.

But I do know this: All of this panicking about these fears is not helping us be better people. It is really getting in the way of our humanity and our acceptance of other humans. And I’m wearied by it.

So, to the nice medical student in the hajib: Thank you. Thank you for caring. Thank you for overcoming your fear. Thank you for just being you. I don’t know you, but I am grateful people like you are around me. You are a friend I didn’t know I had. A friend that none of those at Costco knew they had. Thank you.

Oh, and thank you, strange white man paramedic.

23 November 2016

VA

Broken Gnus: James Bond Diagnosed With Multiple Personality Disorder

That’s right; I’m reviewing all things Bondy!

But wait, you might declare, Bond ain’t SF! Um, actually, yes he is. Think about it: gadgets, outer space stuff, rockets, cool transformer cars, and schemes to destroy the planet. That’s SF, folks!

I’m going to – like a fine laser beam – focus on comparing the books with the movies with the actors with the angles with the times with the . . . you’re right, I lost focus. More of a microwave oven beam. Beam-ish? I promise to drink lots of Jim Beam while writing this. But let’s see where all this rambling takes us, shall we? I guarantee some of your expectations will prove to be little more than myth, and others mythters.

In undertaking this endeavor, I felt it obsequious (you’ll want to look that word up) to stick to the Bond created by Ian Fleming, and not venture into the dozens of novels or short stories that several authors have written post-Fleming. Yes, we will stay focused on the REAL James Bond, as his creator meant him to be, at least, until we can’t anymore because, after all, that would be insane!

The Bond that Mr. Fleming wrote about had dark hair and blue eyes, was a little over six feet tall. That means Daniel Craig was a mistake because he’s blond. But let’s not discard Mr. Craig over that because that would be blond profiling and would be wrong.

To illustrate this, consider four Bond tropes:

  • His drink of choice, the famous “vodka martini – shaken, not stirred.” In reality, Bond drank everything. Beer, champagne, wine, vodka neat, whiskey; you name it, he’d drink it. The classic drink is a myth. Oh yes, he did order it once in the books, but that’s it. The main point to Bond’s character is that he was a working alcoholic. I actually tried one of his vodka quirks. On one occasion he ordered it neat, and then shook some black pepper into it for flavor. It tasted like raw vodka with pepper in it. Not all that. Craig drinks all of them, and doesn’t care how you feel about Heineken.
  • Cars, the famous Aston Martin DB-5. Actually, he only drove this once. As a spy, he often reported into the “Stations” set up in various countries by the Foreign Office. These stations were small offices with a managing officer and another spy-flunky used for menial work and to have a token good guy get killed. Think Star Trek Redshirt Guy, only with a suit and a strange accent. When Bond reported into these stations, he would drive whatever pool car they had available. Once it was the famous Aston Martin. His personal car was a big V-12 Bentley Town car. It was not bullet proof, but was a hefty chunk of steel. It didn’t have any gadgetry, or rockets, but it did know how to get north of 100 mph when required. Craig has even driven a FORD, fergodsakes!
  • Weapons, the Walter PPK handgun. In reality, he did like this gun, but had to be forced to use it in Dr. No because all the service agents were being upgraded to it. In the four books that preceded this one, he used a Beretta 318, which he dearly loved, as this is the weapon he had used during his military service. He didn’t even have a gun often, but could turn anything available into a weapon. While we’re on this subject, let’s look at his “License to Kill,” which is what the Double-0 designated. What this meant was that, if the job required it, he was officially approved by the British government to assassinate whomever the mission designated. The government might disavow any involvement, but he would get a private commendation or medal. Craig presents himself as an assassin more than the others did.
  • Girls! Did Bond actually get all the girls? Only the ones he wanted to get. In Moonraker, the “Bond Girl” (with the unfortunate moniker of Dr. Holly Goodhead) was engaged to an English bobby policeman. So she was off limits as far as he was concerned. Not because she was engaged, but because she was engaged to a cop, or fellow officer, in his mind. His moral scruples went only as far as his country was concerned. In the course of the novel, both get all their clothes flensed off their bodies by being in the rocket chamber when it lifted off, but they found overalls to wear to protect her reputation. Craig is the only Bond who doesn’t necessarily even want the girl.

And while we’re on this subject, let’s talk about sex and nudity. In the novels, he managed to get naked in every one, even if alone in the shower or sleeping in the nude. Many of the Bond girls were naked also. The famous Honey Ryder in Dr. No (played in a white bikini by Ursula Andress) was originally completely naked and seemed unaware that she was naked when first meeting Bond. She was kind of like Eve, the innocent diver woman, unaware of her nudity. It was From Russia, With Love that brought full blown sex into the literary narrative. In that novel, the sex is fairly explicit, even having the Girl – Tatiana Romanova – nude, spreading her legs and inviting him to join her.

In short, an interesting point is that all of these would have been rated R for sex, nudity, and violence if they attempted to stay true to the novels. There was a lot of creative monkeying around with the stories to get the PG or PG-13 rating they ended up with.

But the monkeying around didn’t stop there. Scenes were chopped out of one movie, and found themselves bewilderingly in another movie. For instance, in For Your Eyes Only, Bond and the girl, Melina Havelock, are dragged through the ocean over coral and sharks and both are mostly clothed. But this didn’t happen in the novel. No, it happened in Live and Let Die, and Bond was wearing boxers, while Solitaire (Jane Seymour in the movie) was completely nude. Since this was Roger Moore’s first Bond role, he looked bewildered. Jane Seymour just looked pretty. Both were clothed.

See? We ended up getting into the movies anyway!

Worst monkeying of all goes to The Spy Who Loved Me. This novel is written in the first person by the Bond Girl – Vivienne Michel – who is trying to get a hotel business up and running in Virginia when gangsters take over. Bond checks in as a guest on his way home from Thunderball, saves the girl, kills the mob, etc. The movie version of this involves an encryption devise, a Russian spy named Triple X (the gorgeous Barbara Bach), and preventing a nuclear strike. The book and the novel have nothing to do with each other except a title. NOTHING! As far as movies go, this was the first one to become more overtly sexual in nature.

One of the highlights from all of these is the accidental ways Bond escapes serious injury. In the novels, almost every one ends up with him being in the hospital convalescing from his injuries. He gets burned, beaten, shot, beaten, stabbed, beaten, strangled, did I mention beaten? Apparently Bond was not such a great fighter.

The very first Bond book was Casino Royale. The very first Bond film was . . . drum roll, please . . . Casino Royale! Didn’t see that coming, did you? Most people think Dr. No was the first movie made, but no. An episode of the dramatic anthology series Climax!, which was a one-hour presentation of various stories, 1954’s Casino Royale was the first screen adaptation of a James Bond novel and stars Barry Nelson as 007 and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Peter Lorre set the standard for Bond villains, evil, charming, slimy, etc. Barry Nel – WHO?

In fact, Casino Royale has been made THREE times, more than any other Bond movie. In 1967, David Niven played an aged, retired Bond in a spoof. Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen and the great Peter Sellers were along for the ride, with Peter Sellers playing Evelyn Tremble aka James Bond, 007 (yes, two Bonds for the price of one!). This satire begins psychedelically and ends outrageously psychedelically, almost defying explanation or coherence. This also set the standard for many Bond movies: to start out with a coherent mission and end in a messy mud puddle of incoherence.

By the way, the only other Bond movie that has been remade (to date) is Thunderball. After many years away from the role because he had said he would NEVER play Bond again, Sean Connery reprised the role in a Warner Bros production called Never Say Never Again, making the joke on him. It was a more updated version of Thunderball with Kim Basinger as Domino Largo. It should be noted that Klaus Maria Brandauer plays the deliriously great villain, Maximilian Largo. This is worth it just for him.

Let’s list the actors to play Bond, and rank them! Yes, yes, I know, you will disagree. Good for you! America, free speech, and all that.

Barry Nelson, Sean Connery, David Niven, Peter Sellers, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all contributed to the legend that is James Bond, 007. Nine of them!

Barry Nelson’s Casino Royale Bond was okay, but weak on action. After all, it was the dull 50’s and everything came in either black or white, so they chose both colors to make this one. David Niven and Peter Sellers were great, but that wasn’t a real Bond movie, but a satire. So, we’ll take those three out of contention, largely because most people don’t know anything about them.

Connery seems to be the quintessential Bond, but honestly, that’s only because he is the original one that people remember. He had too many accidental wins to get the real Bond feel. He looked like the real Bond, and could be as calculating, but mostly took advantage of sudden and fortuitous events to ultimately win the day.

George Lazenby wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a MUST see Bond film. His opening line is a hoot. Then, in both the novel and the film, gets married but loses his wife to an assassination. This pivotal event affects the character like no other, revealing more personal details than ever presented earlier.

Roger Moore played him far too silly.

Timothy Dalton was a serious Bond, and more of a spy. Actually, he was pretty good, but he failed to elicit enough humor, which Bond did have.

Pierce Brosnan was also good, and I liked that his Bond wasn’t afraid to hit a woman, because the real Bond did it often. But he was far too polished. Bond could dress up nice, but most people understood he could get rough in a hurry. Brosnan just looks so dang neat!

Daniel Craig’s Bond is the closest. He doesn’t look like him, but his sardonic humor and thug-like attitude is pure Bond. Too, Craig gets it that Bond used women, used weapons, and used anyone and anything at hand. However, too much of Craig is personal vendettas.

And – SHOCK – the films with Craig are just awful. There, I said it. Someone had to. It’s not his fault, but the Director and Producers seem to want to make some sort of art house films, and that is not what Bond is. I recently watched Spectre, and have no idea what that was about. It ended in a chaotic mess. Dramatic music, loud action, incomprehensible dialogue. Life is short and I want my 2-1/2 hours back.

So, ranking in order: Brosnan (neatness will be overlooked), Craig, Connery, Dalton, Lazenby, and Moore. The hardest ones are Connery, Dalton, and Lazenby. You could rearrange all three of them and I’d likely say, “Mmm, I see your point.” Connery gets third place just because – he is James Bond, after all, right? Most of you are mad I didn’t list him first.

Actors take a love/hate attitude toward playing the character. They all want to, because their egos tell them only THEY can invest something new and different into the iconic role. Then they all don’t want to anymore, because – really – this character is far too big for all of them, let alone one. It ends up claiming their careers, and they want to branch out as actors. Go back over that list of actors. You can probably name something different they did, but I’ll bet their names conjure up their role as Bond first. Bond makes careers and then breaks careers.

You know why? Because Bond has a multiple personality disorder. He’s nuts, dangerous, and doesn’t make much sense.

That’s what I like about him.

21 November 2016

VA

Making Medicare Healthier

So, there it is.

A new President-Elect who doesn’t like the ACA. Actually, what he said in his acceptance speech was, “We’re going to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something better!” Mysterious, isn’t it? What did he mean by that? Replace it? With what? Something better? Better for whom?

First of all, let’s get some “Definitions and Explanations” out of the way. Then you’ll be treated to something “Personal” about yours truly. You’ll hear an “Opinion” of mine. You’ll learn a “Fact” you might not be aware of, in the form of a contrast between two very close nations. And, finally, you’ll hear a “Simple Fix,” along with some adjunct “Consequences.”

DEFINITIONS AND EXPLANATIONS

Medicare is available to anyone over 65 (retirement age), or disabled. It’s basically an 80/20 proposition wherein the guvmint pays 80% of medical costs, while the citizen pays 20%. For a long time it did not include medications, which were becoming increasingly expensive, so a change was required.

Back in the early 20-aughts, there was this unlikely President with the unlikely moniker of G-Dubya who addressed that shortcoming. That’s known as Medicare Part D, and for a small-ish extra deduction, the citizen got prescription meds at a better price. Though Insurance companies were always trolling under the surface of Medicare, they stepped boldly into Part D and the citizen had to pick a plan.

This led to an outcry for national health care, and President Obama tried to get that past Congress and a bevy of lobbyists. Originally, it was called the Affordable Health Care Act (or, AHCA). It would be underwritten by Insurance companies, but there would be a “public option” for the citizen to choose the guvmint, and the guvmint would be the arbiter of how expensive the Insurance companies could charge and expect to get a meaningful piece of that pie. Unfortunately, the Insurance Lobby didn’t like that idea, so they refused to underwrite any of it while that public option was on the table. President Obama caved and removed this “single-payer health care system;” the Insurance Lobby got on board; chaos reigned among the citizenry because there were now too many bewildering options. Oh, and the deduction from Medicare income got bigger.

Somewhere along the line, the acronym for this was reduced to ACA (Affordable Care Act). Why they took the word “Health” out of it is a mystery, but there it is. Actually, in time the truth would come out. By putting the citizenry’s health care under the auspices of the Insurance companies, there are now conflicts about what will be covered, co-pays, formulary’s, etc, that allow the Insurance companies to play doctor. It was never really an Affordable Health Care Act because it was really an Affordable Health Insurance Act. The difference between “Care” and “Insurance” is significant. The citizens had no choice, because it became a crime punishable by a fine to not have insurance.

As time went on, it’s even lost its “Affordable” status, as Insurance companies are deserting segments of the population, and/or raising their premiums. In Arizona, Maricopa County — where Phoenix is — now has only two choices. In Pinal County to our south, they have NO choices. Senators McCain and Flakes are trying to enact an exception to the law that exempts such citizens from being punished.

So, now it is basically merely an “Act,” in so many, many ways.

PERSONAL REVEAL

I am disabled. I depend on this “Act” for some semblance of care. I have skin in this game. So, there it is.

OPINION

Any wealthy, progressive nation should assume responsibility to keep its citizenry healthy. America is wealthy, though “progressive” is in doubt at the moment. Many nations far less wealthy than the USofA provide for their citizen’s health.

You may have a different opinion, and that is fine. Go build your own website, meditate, then blog about your opinion over there. Invite me to have a look. Free speech and all that. So, there it is.

FACT

This will surprise many! According to a report dated 4 June 2009, published by the Denver Post, Americans spent 17% of their income on health care and only 85% of the population actually had coverage. Meanwhile, in Canada, they spent 10% of their income on health care in the form of a tax, and 100% of the population was covered. I tried to compile more current results, but the deeper you get into this, the more complicated it becomes; mainly because the Canadian tax is diluted across many expenses that have nothing to do with healthcare, and determining exactly how much of it goes to health care is like counting cards in a casino. They probably won’t throw you out of the country for that, though. After all, it’s Canada. So, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll go with this easier contrast.

Think about that fact. 17% versus 10%. 85% coverage versus 100% coverage. Add to it the reality that many Americans run both the southern and northern border for cheaper medications, and it won’t take long to figure out we are suckers. So, there it is.

SIMPLE FIX

Currently, President-Elect Trump and Speaker of the House Ryan are thinking about dissolving Medicare and replacing it with something called Privatization Insurance. In other words, the guvmint will give us a check that can be used to buy private insurance, even though it won’t cover the whole cost.

Currently, if you have Medicare now, you are not going to lose it. At least, that’s what we’re told. The Privatization Insurance will be for those going on Medicare in the future. What form this could actually take is unclear – mainly because lobbyists, congress folk, a new prez who doesn’t want to dissolve Medicare – all still will get a crack at it.

There is a much easier solution. Considering we already have the infrastructure called Medicare, it would be easier to expand it to all citizens. All of us can accept a – oh, compare the contrast under FACT and pick something between 10 and 17 percent – 13 or 14% health care tax. Everyone pays it, and health care is provided to all the citizens. Yes, the richer will pay more, but will have the joy and personal satisfaction of knowing they are helping their fellow citizens be healthier. (Sound naïve? Sure. But, this is exactly how Canadians view it. A healthier population helps those richer ones to become even richer due to improved working conditions.)

FIVE CONSEQUENCES

  • Insurance companies will get out of the doctor business and remain in the car, property, home, economic, and life business. There will be masses of lay-offs from this industry. However, the guvmint will need masses of extra staff that are already trained to do this, so virtually no-one needs to be unemployed.
  • The guvmint will need to establish qualifications for whom or what “approved health care providers” are, and regulate them.
  • The guvmint will need to regulate the pharmaceutical companies regarding how much profit they will allow the drug companies to make selling their drugs to the guvmint.
  • The expansion of the guvmint program, and regulating the medical industry, will drive fiscal conservatives stark, raving ga-ga.
  • Insurance Lobbyists will be invited to leave politicians alone, which will mean no more money mysteriously shifting from pocket to pocket. Now this one really IS naïve.

And there you have it. A simplified universal health care plan that would work, but no self-serving bureaucrat would ever let it become a reality. I think Bernie Sanders would have loved it.

So, there it is.

VA

14 November 2016

Review: Paternus by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus

by Dyrk Ashton

Guest Reviewer: Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies

Welcome, welcome, come on in! Have a seat! Pardon the flies; someone dropped a load in here earlier, and you know how much them flies likes them some dung, eh?

I’m Beelzebub, and Vonne has hired me to be the guest reviewer today. I’m more generous than Vonne is, because . . . you guessed it! Hot, fresh pizza in the back, and I brought one of my slav…er, Orc Gentleman’s Orc, to pour Dos Equis Amber into cold frosty mugs for you! It’ll stay nice until this review is over, which won’t take long.

In Paternus, the author hired all these gods, demons, succubi (is that the correct plural of succubus? I don’t know. I’m not a writer. I’m an artist. Yep, I can draw flies! Badabing! I’ll be here all weekend, thank you!), anyway all these demigods, uber-gods, even vampires and werewolves to tear the place up. I think me, Trump, and Clinton were the only ones not hired. The other two are busy, and Dyrk still hasn’t forgiven me for arranging those Jay Leno skits for him. Crybaby.

Basically, there’s a supernatural civil war on, kind of an immortal family feud, and a couple of people get caught up in it, and dragged along for the party. These two people are just twentysomething humans, or are they? Maybe not! You’ll see. The action gets hot and heavy in the last two thirds of the story, so if you like chases, battles, miraculous escapes, battles, intrigue, battles, shocking reveals, and did I mention battles? Then you will love this! Good versus evil on an epic scale, as you’ve never seen before!

A few things to be warned about: first, this is book one of a trilogy, so don’t expect everything to be tied up in neat packages for you. There are plenty of loose ends in this epic that should keep you interested for some time. And …

Please stop swatting the flies. I’m their Lord and they start whining at me to save them, droning on and on. Just leave them alone. Remember, I am their Lord? Don’t make me come down there and save them. You won’t like it. Thank you.

Second, this is not a novel for kids. How many here are parents? Oh, lots. Great! Vonne says I have to give parental advisories. Here they are:

Profanity: Yep. Check that one. Lots, but not pervasive f-bombs. However, if you were experiencing what these two humaniforms are going through, you’d probably be swearing yourself into a slapfest from your mother, too.

Sex/Nudity: Some. One masturbatory scene, and a bizarre memory that will be discussed under “Themes.”

Violence: Gobs of gore! Decapitations, dismemberments, entrails, ichor, enough blood to fill my Hades-sized very, very hot-tub. Splatters and brain bits everywhere; even the gobs are covered in gore.

Themes: Occult, spiritism, all kinds of evil in many forms. That one memory alluded to earlier under “Sex/Nudity” is one of the characters remembering being sodomized by their parents when young.

So, not for children, huh?

Speaking of children, will the Mexicans here please raise their hands? Ah, there you are! Great to see you! Okay, all you other people can stop sacrificing your children to me. White kids just taste like lard; black ones like catfish — whaddup wi’dat, anyway? —  asian ones just make me feel hungry again in two hours. But you Mexican ones! OMG — well, more like OYG (Oh, Your God) — I loves me some Mexican food! Keep it up, people! That’s some fine eating, right there!

There are three giant problems I have with this story. First, no mention of the Big Guy, Your God. We are led to believe Peter is the Father, but even he references God as someone else, so I’m a bit confused on that point. But, it’s a trilogy, so we’ll see.

Second, that sodomy scene: normally kids that are abused like this are not balanced, reasonable human beings. They are seriously messed up. But, this memory belongs to the most balanced, reasonable character in the milieu. That just doesn’t jibe. I hope it’s not just gratuitous sicko; can’t see how the author will make it relevant in the two installments to follow, but Dyrk’s got oodles of imagination, so we’ll see.

And third, no mention of me anywhere. I know! Go figure! Well, I do get a shout out in the Bible – one from Jesus himself – yet Dyrk isn’t mentioned anywhere in that perennial bestseller. Take that, Baldy! It’s a trilogy, so maybe cut me in on a little of that action later. Deal?

Oh, Vonne wanted me to read you this notice about the author, Dyrk Ashton, It says:

“When I first stepped into social media to enter the SF/F fray, one of the first people to follow my lunacy was Dyrk Ashton. He is generous, warm-hearted, friendly, and very funny. I have never met him personally, but hope to one day. Upon seeing him, I will give him a big hug … then shine his bald head … and give him a wedgie. That’s how we roll. With affection and gratitude, Vonne Anton.”

There you go, folks. That’s it! BTW, Dyrk self-published and is self-promoting this novel, so give the guy some love by buying this and reading it to your children so that they never sleep, won’t go near their closets, and grow up frightened and warped burdens on society, freeloading on death row. Meanwhile, be amazed at the depth and breadth of the author’s research. It is astonishing!

Go get some pizza and beer, everybody! Oh, wait … What? . . . oh my. Um, well we can strain the flies out of the beer; and be careful of the pizza. Those might not be black olives. “Shoo fly, shoo! Shoo fly, don’t bother them! You too, review reader pest, shoo!”

BZB for VA

5 November 2016

Review: Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Death’s End

By Cixin Liu

Translated by Ken Liu

So, there’s this trilogy by a renowned Chinese SF writer named Cixin Liu, who probably doesn’t have enough room in his home for all the awards he’s won.

The first volume, The Three-Body Problem, won the Hugo in 2015 for Best Novel. It was basically about a strange star-system with inhabitants, called Trisolarans because they have three suns, of intimidating technology who hear Earth shouts for attention. They provide that attention by sending two fleets to overwhelm Earth and take it for themselves. They, at light speed, send out unfolded particles called Sophons that are basically computers to spy on Earth and prevent humans from developing further technology that might make us more dangerous. It was very good, and deserved the Hugo it won.

The second volume, Dark Forest, was released the same year and wasn’t nominated for any awards. Dark forest is a strategy that emerging species wisely practice. It doesn’t announce itself to the galaxy, but continues to build technology until there is the inevitable confrontation. The idea is to stay isolated and unknown for as long as possible. It was okay, but had some pretty silly premises and downright bad science on occasion. It didn’t really deserve any awards, but did deserve reading.

This third and final volume, Death’s End, is an epic tome! 600 pages of dense action and info-dumps to bring the whole thing to a conclusion, literally at the end of the universe. Normally, I can read a book like this in a week. This one took a month. Yeah, like that.

So, now is REVIEW TIME! (Can’t you hear the trumpets blaring?) We will begin with short parental advisories; then a summary of this with as few spoilers as possible; some faults and praises, which probably will involve some spoilage; and finally, my take on its award potential.

Parental Advisories:

Language/ Profanity: Perhaps 2 f-bombs, and that’s it.

Sex / Nudity: None.

Violence: Some and it can be gory in a couple of places. However, the author treats this with the shock any normal human SHOULD have, and does not glorify it, nor wallow in it.

Suggestion: If you have a bright young one who wants to tackle this, it is probably okay without you reading it first. However, many of the concepts are difficult to envision, and that might be good for them to try and discern. It certainly will be educational. And quite boring in places, so tenacity will be required.

Summary:

Part One of this book takes place during the same time as Dark Forest, but from a different angle. That one was about the Wallfacer Project to deter the impending invasion. This begins during that time, but with another scheme called the Staircase Program that is acting separately. This program has the objective of meeting the invading fleets and planting a spy amongst them. It seems to fail, but is quite interesting in its practical application for accelerating space ships quickly through the Solar System.

Part Two follows the successor to Luo Ji as Wallfacer as the fleet nears. She is supposed to send a signal into the galaxy with the invader’s coordinates, insuring that their own home star will be destroyed if they attack. She fails. However, out at the edge of the Solar System, two human-crewed space ships send out the signal, and the Trisolaran’s sun is hit with a photoid, destroying their System. Unfortunately, this transmission endangers Earth also, because it generally provides triangulation for more powerful aliens to find Earth and destroy it also. The Trisolarans flee in terror, having lost their own world and unwilling to face the consequences to our world.

Part Three is unraveling three fairy tales that the spy sent humans, giving clues of how to defend themselves. No one really understands the symbolism throughout them. Humans embark on two more projects: The Bunker project, which involves building space cities behind the gas giant planets, to provide shields if the Sun is destroyed by the unknown super-aliens. And the Black Domain Plan, which involves slowing the speed of light around the Solar System, so it appears to not exist. Neither one will ultimately work. Another option was attaining FTL drive by space curvature technology, but the dangers make it unrealistic, and so this research is outlawed.

Part Four explores those space cities, touring many of them to show off the variety that is possible, the population, and even why Earth is relatively empty of people now because most folks are afraid of the dark forest strike they believe may be coming. One of those cities has clandestinely continued working on FTL drive, and has to stand down or be destroyed.

Part Five opens with the dark forest strike being sent Earthward. It enters the Solar System appearing to be a small slip of paper. However, it defies the known laws of physics, and humans try hard to figure out what is going on. Too late. We learn that the protagonist’s ship has been outfitted with a proscribed FTL space curvature engines, and is the only ship that can escape.

Part Six follows the main character as she escapes the System and heads out into the galaxy, skipping ahead through hibernation until the Universe’s entropy collapses. How will they be saved? Sorry, that’s just too much spoilage. Those fairy tales are clearly explained, which is pretty great!

Faults and Praises (with spoilers, so get lost now if you don’t want them):

Fault: The science in this is front and center, which makes the bad science jump out at you and go, “Boo!” Once again, we see people firing rifles and pistols in weightlessness without any recoil or spinning backward, but if a man uses a cane in weightlessness, it keeps sending him into the air.

Praise: The science in this is AWESOME! The author will spend quite a lot of time trying to explain four dimensions to three dimensional people, then describing two dimensions also! It is quite evocative.

Fault: The author will spend QUITE A LOT of pages explaining all that dimensional stuff. BORING! Give us one good example, not five bad ones.

Praise: The scale of this story is EPIC! There are so many cool extrapolations of ideas that this book is rapid-fire one after the other.

Fault: The scale of this story is SO EPIC that it is hard to contain. There is enough here for five novels, let alone one. It’s overwhelming.

Praise: The difficult decisions the protagonist is faced with are enormous. The fate of humanity literally weighs in the balance.

Fault: The protagonist is uneven in how she deals with these decisions. Ultimately, she fails more times than succeeds.

Praise: Doesn’t matter. A few humans will survive and she will be one of them.

Fault: When explaining all those dimensional things, we are told that what a shuttle has already done is quite improbable if not impossible. Then it does it AGAIN! What? Two tries to go from four dimensions to three and nail your target? Sorry. Not happening.

Another Fault: At the end of Part Two, we have detailed the efforts of two space ships at the edge of the Solar System to explore those dimensions. They decide to leave the System because the Earth is doomed. Some don’t want to go, so they construct and ark and send it inward to Earth. That ark disappears from the novel completely. We have to assume from then on that they arrived at Earth, simply to explain how Earth suddenly knows about four-dimensional qualities. No message is sent to explain it, so they must have arrived. It’s just not mentioned.

Another Fault: Those two ships appear in the final act in other parts of the galaxy, and somehow they know about and have built curved space FTL propulsion. They were gone from the Solar System before that was addressed. How?!? Where would they find the ability to do research, testing, and development of the exact same method of FTL that Earth developed?

In other words, if I had enough Vaseline I could probably slide a locomotive through the plot holes in this novel. I’ve only listed three of them. There are more. However, it is gratifying that the author ties up many loose ends. There were just too many to tie up.

At the end Ken Liu, the highly esteemed author and translator of this, praises Cixin Liu as a genius. I have to agree with him. The man is a genius. He could use a genius editor who will keep him in check, making wiser uses for Liu’s genius. It’s interesting that Ken Liu began the work with footnotes to help western readers understand some nuances of Chinese language. Then we hear nothing from him until the last 100 pages, when the footnotes return. There are about 350 pages of this that needed footnotes, but doesn’t get them. Though Ken Liu will never say, nor should he, I suspect the tedium of this work wore him down. He’s got his own stuff to do. He was probably paid a handsome fee, and you don’t piss in your bosses Cheerios, so kudos.

The tone remains strictly isolationist. The dark forest strike drives everyone to retreat inside themselves. This is a negative way to approach the world and the galaxy. Think about what is going on in the UK with their Brexit vote, due largely to fear. Think about what is going on in America with the presidential election, being campaigned on a platform of fear from both candidates. It’s messy, stupid, and is, overall, unproductive. With China’s history, this tone is unsurprising from a Chinese author, but should be rejected by reasonable people with hopes, dreams, and ideals.

Award Worthiness:

It’s epic. No doubt about that. It should, at least, be nominated for the Hugo for this year. But those plot holes are pretty devastating. Granted, there is a great hullabaloo about diversity in SF/F right now, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the SFWA or the Nebula folks will respond to that by giving Cixin Liu another award. But, does it stand up to The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds? I don’t think so. Nominated, probably. Win, not so much.

24 October 2016

Vonne Anton

 

Revolting Revolution in America: An Outsider’s View

I am not from this universe, so that makes me an outsider looking in, currently living on Earth simply because it is such a funny place to live, and explore the inanities of the people inhabiting this beauteous orb. Right now my focus is on American politics and the governed’s view of their democracy versus the governors’ view of their republic.

Wednesday night there was a third and final debate for the office of President of this crazy country that somehow found itself – quite by accident, I’m sure – the world power of this whole planet.

I was quite impressed with the pluckiness and determined spirit of goodness pervading every move and thought of the pretty blond lady. The other lady was doomed to failure because she had been corrupted by the political atmosphere. However, even she would soon be revealed to be a really nice person who had simply lost their way.

Then I learned that I was watching “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blond,” and not the debate that everyone else watched. Oops.

So, here are my thoughts: it seems everyone got what they wanted from the real debate:  Those on the blond lady’s side got confirmation that the orange man is a loony tune and she has the demeanor and experience to be a successful President. Those on the orange man’s side got confirmation that the blond lady is still a lying failure and he has the demeanor and drive to shake things up in Washington. Meanwhile, both of them enjoy between 30% and 50% popularity figures with the voters.

To my view, there is something no one has been talking about enough through all of this and they are the real problem. Yes, I mean Congress (who are the opposite of Progress). When, in modern times, has Congress ever even had 30% approval ratings? Never? Really? Why not? Aren’t they your representatives to the executive and judicial branch?

Congress is pretty quiet these days, not even raising their heads to denounce stupidity and culpability from both candidates. They are loving the fact that your attention is not on them; because Congress is the real problem in America.  Why do you even bother getting all heated up about either of the other two branches of government? Congress legislates, so the state of matters in America is primarily on them.

It’s due to one deficiency in your Constitution, and due to two ridiculous practices that Congress indulges in that has led to the deplorable state your fellow citizens think they are in.

The deficiency in your Constitution: Lack of term limits for Congress. Seriously, if an incumbent can stay there forever, they will(!) and rake in the dough, spending an inordinate amount of time schmoozing and campaigning instead of actually legislating on behalf of their districts.

Term limits need to be imposed, so fresh blood can literally invigorate the democratic republic. However, Representatives should be given their office for at least four years. At two years, they spend all their time campaigning! That is about the current campaign trail durability, you know. Perhaps Congress would pass a law limiting campaigning to one year. Really? When have they ever voted anything regarding themselves except pay rises?

Two ridiculous practices of Congress:

  • Gerrymandering. I know it’s a long word and you’re probably not sure what it means. Here it is: gerrymandering is the practice of restructuring each Congressman’s district to reflect only those voters who will actually vote for them. If you get what that means and are not properly outraged, then you have no business being upset about anything going on in your country.

It means that Congress decides who they represent. And if you personally aren’t voting for them, then they do not represent you.

Consider the gridlock you have suffered through for decades: it is because Congress will only do what their hand-picked constituents are telling them to, not what the Constitution directs them to. There should have been a Supreme Court justice appointed many months ago. Did Congress really delude themselves into thinking Trump had a chance? They don’t even want him there, for the same reason some of the people do!

You should see the districts outlines being tortured beyond sense. Seriously, google it.

Gerrymandering might get fixed soon, but not by Congress. Why would they fix something that keeps them in caviar? I hear President Obama is going to spend a lot of his spare time now on fixing gerrymandering.  Though I applaud his choice, the practice doesn’t need fixing; it needs burning to the ground and re-assigning districts by population (as in number of people, not number of their friendly voters). Congress needs to start earning their votes.

  • Stop padding good bills with pork projects and extra rider expenses. Each bill should address its immediate concern. I learned this from Legally Blond 2. If the learned gentleman from Wisconsin wants federal aid to build a new bridge over a river, then the learned gentleman from Wisconsin should present a separate bill to that effect. The learned gentleman should NOT tack it onto a national health care bill.

You see, you hilarious Congress-folk: when you tack pork projects or irrelevant additions to any bill, you risk another Congress-folk feeling like they cannot support the bill because they don’t think you need another bridge. Especially when they need financial aid from the nation to improve early warning tornado alerts for Wichita, Kansas. Meanwhile, something really worthwhile – like national health care – drowns in your pork. The only thing that should drown in your pork is your gravy, and perhaps mashed potatoes. Oh, and who hasn’t heard of Stove Top Stuffing! How I wish my universe has that!

There is one other thing that might change the course of government, but I request you give me a couple of months notice on this one. That is an actual revolt by the voters to overturn the government. In this country, that revolt will inevitably involve guns, and I don’t want to be around for that. I’ll take a vacation in the Fornax cluster while you all kill each other.

Oh yeah! Get corporations out of your government. Trump would hate that idea because he is a corporate all by himself, while Clinton will love it! As long as corporate money is involved, then the people will be stuck with the best government that money can buy . . . for those with the money to buy it.

Take note America: Trump will not fix Congress. Clinton will not fix Congress.

Take note government of America: Trump’s sort-of-success is the barometer of how close you are to an actual revolution. Or, at least, how far the Republican party is. That is the true terror surrounding this election.

This has actually occurred twice, with varying success. The first time was a doozy and brought this nation into existence. Much blood was shed, and famine cursed the patriots. The second time was called the Civil War. Tens of thousands died, just at Gettysburg, let alone all the rest.  Many thousands lost a substantial amount of blood on their own hallowed ground. Abraham Lincoln oversaw that, demonstrating extraordinary bravery.

(By the way, you should know that Lincoln is held in such immense esteem throughout the multiverse that most adopt his courageous viewpoint that all creatures are created equal. Unfortunately, he is the only one of your leaders whom everyone else could give a flying quark for.)

Isn’t it ironic that the revolution party seems to be the Republicans, the party of Lincoln? If he were here, he’d probably slap all of you.

Don’t be complacent. Revolution has happened here before. Twice. Care to go for a third one? I don’t. It will be awful.

Then you better pressure Congress to go back to caring for all the people and not just their own chosen fan clubs.

20 October, 2016

VA

Vonne’s Shelf: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate

by N. K. Jemisin

You flicker into this strange place, wondering how you got here. Simple, really, you clicked on something that brought you here. How you got here is immaterial; why you are here is the real question.

You’re expecting something, yes, an overview of The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin.

But you realize the only other person in the room is a statue, obsidian black, standing with one arm poised before his torso, as if in warrior mode.

His body? Why do you assume the statue is male? You look closer down there, and see only a jumble of rocks precariously poised against each other, just like the rest of him . . . it?

The statue doesn’t move, yet its black glinting eyes still seem to follow your movements.

You look away to find your overview, but it eludes your senses.

You look back at the statue, wondering if your review will come from him . . . it. The statue is in a different pose. You did not see it move. Both hands are covering its groin area, and its eyes are turned away. You sess, or sense, shame? Embarrassment?

“It is appropriate to begin like this,” the statue says. Its lips do not move, and the sounds seem to come from his . . . its chest. The voice is deep, and decidedly male in its tone. So any gender designation must be male, then, if a clever pile of rocks can ever truly have a gender.

For the sake of convenience, you decide to refer to it as he or him or his. His hands are not big enough to cover his groin, and the size of his rocks somehow excites you a teensy bit. He must be heavy, therefore it would be prudent – should you follow up on that excitement – to be on top.

“First,” he says from his chest, his luscious pecs, “We need to establish parental advisories.”

You groan in despair as these words beat your rising desire to death with an umbrella. You look down and away, knowing that you are now the one embarrassed.

“There is no sex in this second book of The Broken Earth trilogy,” the statue continues. You are disappointed and want to let him know, so you frown at him. His position has changed again, and you did not see that movement either. Now one hand is braced against his hip, and the other hand is pointing a finger at you.

You hear a low rumble in your head, a quivering of the earth, and realize the statue is shaking his finger at you, admonishing you for your bad thoughts.

“None at all?” you stammer.

“Well . . . just a bit, off camera. You might hear moaning and groaning, but you mustn’t see it out of respect for the lover’s privacy.”

That low rumble is intensifying, and you close your eyes, fearing a migraine is building. When you reopen them, the statue is sitting on the ground in the lotus position.

He speaks, “Too, there is a change in the profanity from the first volume. In fact, regarding that first volume, have you read it?”

Your thoughts flutter into random moths at this sudden change of subject, and those moths beat at the inside of your skull. “What was it called?” is all you can weakly query.

“Only a little thing called The Fifth Season. Not much of a book as far as books go. After all, it barely made a ripple in the SF/F realm. It only won the HUGO FOR BEST DAMN NOVEL THIS YEAR!”

You sess, or sense, that the statue is getting a tad testy.

It continues, “If you haven’t read The Fifth Season, then two things are apparent. First, that you have no business here while we talk about its sequel The Obelisk Gate. Secondly, it is apparent that YOU ARE AN UTTER IDIOT!”

Your mind turns elsewhere and you remember it now. Yes, that one. The one about earthquake people called Oral Genes or something, which need guardians, and stone eaters that are made of stone and . . . and eat stone, as their designation clearly suggests, and those strange obelisks in the sky. “Yes, I remember it,” you say, and realize the statue has changed position again.

It is standing on one foot, and it’s in profile to you now, so that you can clearly see its arms and hands making that walk-like-an-Egyptian pose.

Its voice continues, “Then you should know there are fewer f-bombs in this one. In fact, Ms. Jemisin decided to replace a lot of them with the word ‘rust’ or ‘rusting.’ Like, instead of saying like, ‘He couldn’t just f-ing tell me,’ she changed it to ‘He couldn’t just rusting tell me.’” Sounds more family-friendly, don’t you think?”

“Um,” you pause. “Sounds like a euphemism for the same thing. Won’t people just insert the bad word in their minds?”

“Don’t use big words on me or I’ll, like, get angry. You don’t want to see me get angry,” the statue says. “Besides, she uses both words, sometimes together, which is all very confusing, but I’m not the author. Regardless, the bad one isn’t as common as it appeared in the first part of this journey.”

It occurs to you that the statue is adopting, like, Valley Girl Stupid vocabul-air-y, and you begin to think this was a waste of time. But you ask anyway, “Is there any violence?”

Somehow, without you seeing the movement even though you never took your eyes off the statue, it is now posed with hands like photo screen shots framing its smiling face. You think the word ‘Vogue’ and can’t remember why. And you wonder how a face made of gravel can smile so brightly.

“Of course, there is violence. After all, this is a war story at heart. The orogenes, guardians, stone eaters, obelisks, and your own kind are at war with each other. Orogenes will die. Guardians will die. Stone eaters will . . . actually, we don’t die. Obelisks will . . . actually, I’m still not sure about them. Your own kind will die. But still – “

“Wait,” you interrupt. “My own kind? What are my own kind?”

“Still – “ he says, but you interrupt again.

“Don’t ignore me; tell me what my own kind are!”

“I just did. You’re still – “

“Stop it! WHAT AM I?” you demand, raising your voice because you are now getting a tad testy also.

He stops, smile gone, staring at me as if studying an ant in a magnifying glass. Yes, you can see it’s just like that. You don’t need to sess it. You see it. Somehow the statue found a magnifying glass and is peering at you through it.

One of his black, shiny, obsidian eyes loom larger than the other, and you think that’s really kind of cool.

“You are a Still,” he says.

You are confused. You know that he has now told you the same thing for the third time (or is it more properly the ‘same thing for the second time,’ considering the first time doesn’t really count as it is the original thing, not the same thing . . . oh, who gives a crap. You know what you meant). Yet, your confusion remains, and you bravely ask the obvious question.

“I make hooch?”

His shoulders slump. The magnifying glass drops to the ground but doesn’t shatter. It just puffs dust and disappears into the earth. (But wait, you think, you’re not on the earth. You’re at a website on the Interweb. You wish this whole conversation would just GET ON WITH IT!”)

“Do not fear the violence,” the statue says. “It is not reveled in by the author. She wisely states what happens, and demurs from describing the effects in detail. In fact, I am the one who gets torn apart, and see how well I turned out.”

You are back to that again. That strange sensation that you want to get your rocks on with a pile of rocks. (Or, would that be ‘get your rocks off’ rather than on. Such beautifully smooth, strong rocks; rocks that cause you to feel oddly ‘nasty.’)

“This installment has an upside and a downside,” the focus of your desire says, which causes even more illicit ponderings on your part. “The upside is that you will learn much more about my kind, the stone eaters, and a little more about the obelisks, and you will realize that the stone eaters and obelisks are linked to each other. You will also learn how Essun will learn to befriend many of us, and to use the obelisks as the gates they truly are. Some things will be kept in reserve. This novel does not yet reveal all. The outcome of this war is yet for the third volume.”

Yes, even a handsome hunk of rock-hard manliness loses his allure when being pedantic. Your desire ebbs to the appropriate level for your question, “And the downside?”

“This is the second book in a trilogy. This one’s purpose seems to be to explain things in story form. Think of it as a mildly entertaining info dump. There may easily come a moment (around two-thirds of the way through) where you will get bored and want to skip ahead. But don’t. All this meaningless action will turn out to have meaning later. Besides, don’t you want to know what becomes of the ten-or-twenty-ringed orogene called Alabaster?”

Actually, yes, you would like to know that. So, yes, you will read it, and probably the third also. This is not for children, but you know each parent will delight to read these and then decide for themselves what their child can handle in a mature manner.

“Will this one win a Hugo also?” You ask.

“Nah,” the statue says. “Oh, it’s good, just not quite THAT good.”

The statue has changed pose again. It is now upside down, balanced only on its fingertips in the earth, that entire rippling torso on full display rising up, and you think that maybe . . . yes, perhaps there . . . you see a slender slab of rock rising down . . .

“Whoa!” you exclaim.

The statue’s eyes flick at you, and they smile a little. “Actually, there is no ‘W’ in my name,” he says, and dives straight into the earth, disappearing.

Gone. This website is empty now. Even that rumbling of the ground has subsided, echoing into the distance.

Are you glad you came? Only you can answer that question.

9 October 2016

VA

 

 

Diversity in SF/F

Diversity in Science Fiction / Fantasy

There is quite a bit of brouhaha going on right now about diversity in our chosen sandbox.

It seems that some folks think awards are given dependent solely on “difference” instead of the quality of the actual story. In other words, a standard issue military SF novel isn’t necessarily given the same consideration as a completely fantastical world with fantastical characters doing fantastical things; similarly, an American white male author who likes to write high-octane adventure tales is believed to be less worthy than a Polish green transvestite who gets their ideas from tossing random Etch-O-Sketch patterns.

Frankly, I think this is just a stupid distraction. Please note the following definitions of our chosen sandbox, as well as the concept of diversity, and see what role you think diversity should play in SF/F (italicized and bold letters are my own, while the definitions themselves are hash-ups from Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster).

Science Fiction: A literary genre that makes imaginative use of scientific knowledge or conjecture; dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component

Fantasy: Imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained; something that is produced by the imagination; an idea about doing something that is far removed from normal reality; the act of imagining something; a story about things that happen in an imaginary world

Diversity: The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness, variety, condition of having or being composed of differing elements.

Perhaps you read those definitions differently than I do; which would be a good thing, because that would indicate diversity.

The way I read them is that Science Fiction / Fantasy is DEFINED by diversity. So, should the Hugo, Nebula, et al, necessarily reward the same old same old just because the author likes it? No, because of diversity.

If you don’t like diversity, then go create your own awards. Lots of folks do it. I usually call them the Emmy’s, but that name is taken, so invent another one. I have no problem with that because it’s called diversity. Seriously, go create your own award.

Science Fiction and Fantasy REQUIRES DIVERSITY! Deal with it, or go somewhere else.

DUH!

VA

19 September 2016

 

 

The Angry Glare of Midnight Sample

The Angry Glare of Midnight

Copyright 2016 by Vonne Anton. All rights reserved.

Chapter Two

Tomorrow in Phoenix, Arizona

He sat in a little chair in a little room off a large corridor.

He watched his dead mother dying, though that wasn’t exactly a news flash. It was the second time this week. She had actually died over a year ago but her body refused to give up the already lost war. He watched it unravel over the days and weeks and months and years, over and over again.

Wasn’t he the lucky one . . .

Mom: whittled down to ninety pounds, cadaverous skin stretched over bone like blotched paper; her head turned to the other side and staring dully into the corner of the room, perhaps looking into heaven; gray hair wisped with the gentle caress of the air conditioning unit; sticks for arms ending in talons clutched at the cream-colored blanket that covered her body, no more than concealed ashes; her breath clawed its way from her throat, rattling and hoarse, staggered into the room and flittered away, transparent moths, forgotten memories.

Quiet . . . no murmur, no song, no babbling. Just Mom dying again. Wasn’t she the lucky one . . .

He buried his face in his hands and felt the blood pounding his brain.

“How is she?” someone whispered behind him. The door was opening, and a nursing aide was there, an ephemeral shadow of efficiency and objectivity.

“Okay,” he mumbled, something like that.

“Let me check her vitals.” The nursing aide moved to the machinery clustered around the bed. She took Mom’s right wrist in her hand and held it, staring off into a distant place. A flower with falling petals drooped from the end of his mother’s arm: her fingers. Mom swiveled her head to see without seeing.

He watched the aide. She was young and pretty, with Asian eyes, coffee complexion, and long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail that flung itself down her back. Slender, fit, well hidden by the oversized blue uniform they made her wear. Her left-breast tag said, “Krystal”. Krystal looked like a high school student.

She gently replaced Mom’s arm at her side. “Her blood pressure is up to 85/52, pulse up to 53, and her temp is up to 95.4.” Krystal met his gaze and smiled. “She seems to be improving this morning. You must be good for her, Mr. Lockhart.” Her amber eyes crinkled and sparkled when she smiled. “Can I get you anything?”

Manny shook his head, and she evaporated from the room.

Alone again.

Should he have The Talk? What if this wasn’t real? Did we want to have The Talk again, later, if necessary? What if he didn’t have The Talk now, and this really was it? Hell . . .

“Mom,” he began. “I promised you, when Dad died, that you would end up in a nursing home only over my dead body. That was before we knew about Alzheimer’s. We tried to keep you at home as long as we could, but the doctors finally threatened legal action if we didn’t get you into a place where you could have twenty-four hour care. So, here you are, and I couldn’t prevent it, and now . . . ” he stopped to meet her eyes. They were still staring into eternity, as if she didn’t care that he had lied to her so many years ago. In a way, it was better this way, at least for her.

Her throat still rasped with agonized breath.

A tear slipped from his right eye. “You don’t remember it, I know, but it got too dangerous at my place, what with stairs and ovens and the city and . . . ” He remembered the frantic hours searching the neighborhood for her when he got home from work; walking in to smell the oven rings blazing and a forgotten pan boiling itself into smoke; up all night afraid she would creep by his room to get a drink in the kitchen only to take a fatal fall down a steep and forgotten flight of stairs.

“I had to do this. Please forgive me.” She stared away, oblivious to his need for absolution.

Dying. Dying. Maybe finally dying. Would he be glad, sad, or just relieved? Seven years had passed and he didn’t know where her strength came from for another day. But she was enduring, and she was the sick one . . . no self-pity, kid, you’ve got the easy part of this;you only need to watch. Tears flowed as hot lava from his cheeks. No, she had the easy part.

When he looked up again, his mother was staring at him. Her blue eyes were clear and focused, blazing embers from a very old and weary flame, with understanding and recognition, her mouth curled in a joyous smile.

She said, “Don’t cry. They’ll show us the way.”

It was like that: months of incoherent babble punctuated by a few words of lucid clarity from the other universe her weary mind had hidden in.

She turned her head back to her pillows and drifted into tortured sleep, her eyelids beating hearts down to cessation. Her breath gurgled.

“Mom?” he whispered, a lonely echo in an empty room. “Mom?” She didn’t stir. “Please don’t die yet.”

Her throat constricted and a breath escaped. Her chest heaved in another one. “Mom?” She exhaled again, breath caught, inhaled, held, exhaled, gurgle, inhale, heave . . . He changed his mind.

“Mom? Please, Mom . . . Please go to sleep. Don’t worry. I’ll be okay. Sleep now, you hear?” Her shallow breathing was steady now. “You don’t have to wake up if you don’t want to.”

Did he mean for her to die? Was he wishing his beloved mother to die? Could he–dare he–was it fair and right? She had nursed him when a babe, rocked him all night when he was sick and couldn’t breathe himself, soothed his fears, kept him alive, helped him recover and gain strength, encouraged him ever onward, upward, and forward to be the man he was today. God, he was tired.

The man who would sit across from her and wish her dead. A man without the guts to just take her life. It would be so easy now. She wouldn’t even resist. Just ease the door shut, take a pillow, and in the dark, cool room show her how tender and strong his love for her was.

No, not because he hated her. Because he loved her. Alzheimer’s had eaten away her brain, leaving this empty sculpture of a human who merely existed and knew none of her family or friends. A two-dimensional husk, a cartoon living in a cartoon world. Her only holds on reality were the endless pacing of the corridors and sucking pureed food through a straw because she had forgotten how to chew.

No. Not his mother.

He tried to remember that she wasn’t dead yet, and so there was still joy to be found with her. That’s how all the social workers encouraged him with understanding nods and sorrow-filled eyes: think positive remember the good seek the fun make her last months enjoyable for her. There could still be laughs antics dancing; yes, dancing! She had once auditioned to be a Radio City Rockette in New York City when she was but nineteen so many decades ago. She was turned away, and always believed it was because of her Latina heritage. In those bygone days all the Rockette’s were Anglo. A Cuban girl from Miami never had a chance.

She still danced here at the nursing home, but he couldn’t hear her music, he couldn’t keep the beat so she always led and he always smiled and they laughed together and when he left she clung to him clawing like a harridan until a nurse came to take his place and he ran away from the madness. Life was just so damned good!

Damn the merriment. Damn the good life. Damn the social workers. Damn the nurses. Damn Alzheimer’s. Damn his father. Where was he? Why did he get out of all this fun? A stupid heart attack right when things with Mom were getting interesting? How convenient! Sure, drink yourself to death Manuel Lockhart, Senior; the man of the moment the tower of strength who never got mad but never got anything else either and then you left us with this little surprise. You knew Mom was losing it but you didn’t want anyone to know keeping your precious little secrets and your precious mystic control. Only your secret survived you and now no one was in control. No one knew how to be in control. We were never taught, never prepared, never . . . never a lot of things.

All you left us was . . .

The lights in the building flickered. “Beep, beep, beep . . . ” one of her monitors demanded attention.

He darted to the door and stepped into the hallway. Other monitors were complaining at fringes of the nursing home. Some dementia patients stared around themselves confusedly.

Krystal appeared at his elbow and squeezed by him into the room. “Have to re-set it, is all.” She began punching buttons and checking the display. “With our generators, that shouldn’t have happened. Weird, huh?”

He nodded and slid back into his chair. Emergency over. Krystal hustled on to the next beeping monitor down the hallway.

His mother squirmed in her sleep, and her eyes flickered, then opened and fixed on nothing across the room.

All you left me was your name, he thought, corrupted to just “Junior” by the family . . . and love for Mom. And that was enough. It would have to be enough. Who was he to wish for more? What other riches could compare? What other heritage would he trade this moment for?

He laughed to himself. He would trade this moment to have Mom’s personality, her heart and mind back. He needed her to hold him, comfort him, and whisper that everything would be all right son my beautiful little boy don’t worry Junior don’t cry I’m here and everything will be wonderful just you wait and see . . . just like always before. Only he wasn’t Junior anymore. Dad was gone so he was now just Manny Lockhart. When Senior died he took “Junior” with him into the crematorium.

That had pissed his Dad’s family off. Not the cremation; they would have done the same, but they would have done it by the old ways: on a bonfire in the outback wilderness playing their strange music, dancing their mojo, and chanting odd tales in languages and symbols while sparks flew into the night. No, his Dad got a white man’s send off, like the good Catholic his Mom had never really been.

Mom shifted, then turned her head and glared at him, obviously trying to figure out who he was. She smiled again, her eyes warmed and shone again, and she said, “Don’t worry. They’ll show us the way.” Then she drifted back into ruffled, psychotic slumber.

Again? What was this new insanity? Someone was coming to save us, were they?

If only that were possible; if only . . .

The room had two beds in it. Mom was using hers, but her roommate was out wandering the halls of the Secured Unit with the other residents. He was so tired he idly considered crawling into the empty bed for a nap.

Mom’s bed had rails on the sides. They were never pulled up to protect her from falling out onto the hard white tile floor. He had asked for them to be raised earlier in the week, and Krystal had explained that it was illegal for them to do that because the State viewed rails as “physical restraints”, and they were not allowed to use that form of control, not even to keep her from falling out of bed.

“What if there was a fire, Mr. Lockhart? She might not be able to get out fast enough,” Krystal had explained cheerily, smiled cheerily, and flounced cheerily from the room, her ponytail flicking like a horses tail. Apparently that made sense to somebody somewhere. Manny wondered which was more likely: a fire; or a frail, debilitated, weak old woman falling out of bed. That bed had to be dealt with and negotiated every day; fires didn’t, he hoped.

To the left of her bed was a small nightstand with a fluffy, brown teddy bear sitting atop it, beguiling in a large green satin bow tie. Above the nightstand hung one yellowed and grainy photograph in a simple wooden frame: Mom and Dad, in ancient sepia, on the night of their wedding; she in gown and he in a suit, both young and handsome, smiling, holding hands, anticipating a wonderful future where all their dreams would be fulfilled in each other. Fifty years and five children later, Dad was gone and Mom might as well be gone.

What a dream . . . better never to wake up from it.

He hung his head and muttered a weary prayer. He didn’t know if anyone was listening, but he fervently hoped someone would hear and act. When done, he raised his leaden head and gazed through tired, puffy eyes at his mother sleeping tranquilly.

With a sigh he pushed himself up and turned away, out of the room and into the hallway, weaving his way around shuffling elderly bodies.

One old man, his hair wild and uncombed, eyes bloodshot and glaring, right hand shoved down the front of his pants, licked his lips and leered at him. “Chester the Molester” is what Manny nicknamed him. He was harmless, but prone to masturbate in public. Chester followed Manny with his eyes, and bellowed at his retreating back, “Don’t worry, son! They’re gonna’ show us the way!”

Manny turned back, wondering if hope of mysterious salvation was somehow contagious among nursing home patients.

Chester’s glee cackled like merrily crumpling paper.

Manny hurried on, pausing only when he got to the nurse’s station. “Mom is sleeping still,” he told Myrna, the aging head nurse over the Secured Unit. “I’m gonna’ go ahead and take off.”

She smiled, blue eyes glinting through eyeglasses. “Thank you, Manuel. You take such good care of your mother!”

Right. Manny nodded, bolting for the exit. He felt for the asthma inhaler in his pant’s pocket, primed it, and sucked in deeply as it automatically fired off a dose of albuterol. In a few seconds his breathing steadied to normal.

His mind raced ahead to the rest of the day as his fingers fumbled with the security code that would unlock the inner door, and it took three attempts to hear the click of freedom. He never could remember the numbers exactly right. He hurried pulled the door closed behind him to keep wandering residents from escaping, and hustled through further corridors until bursting into bright sunshine in the parking lot.

He had to get back to work, and get his mind on other things. Better things. He had a full schedule with his students and their parents, as he had conferences half the day. Children’s things.

Don’t worry. They’ll show us the way.

God, he missed her.

He kicked his Kawasaki into life, slipped on his helmet, and roared away from the nursing home, letting hot wind whip his memories and his emotions away.