Culture Shock

Evan had come a long way from his remote Appalachian home. Heck, as early as 2137, he was first in town to own a cell phone. And now he visited the big city of Harper’s Ferry to board a starship bound for Earth’s newest space colony. 

He stared up at the glass tubing and the lights in wonder. What incredible technology! Since the aliens shared their technology, humans traveled the stars. This spaceship demonstrated the aliens’ high tech. “Them aliens shoor make a mighty perty ship,” he said.

“Not yet,” said his guide, sighing. “This is just the shopping mall.”


Written for the Friday Fictioneers:

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The Bane Of Communication

I haven’t been posting much lately. Sorry about that. I had been writing so intensely for so long, I guess I suffered from a certain amount of burnout. I needed a change for a little while. I didn’t have writer’s block, mind you, the creative juices still flow. I just needed to give them another outlet for bit. Add to it, I hate this new wordpress writing interface. It’s desperately inefficient, and it doesn’t make writing any more fun. I’ll try to get used to it.

Enough of that. On with the story!

Jace and Palmer stood at a place where heated water had broken through Europa’s icy crust. Earth’s colony to Jupiter’s moon was making a tremendous discovery.

“I’ve found intelligent life!” cheered Jace.

“No way,” said Palmer.

“It’s true, and we can communicate. Watch!” 

Jace held out his cell phone. A silvery tentacle reached out of the water and began typing. It wrote. “You back.”

“Incredible!” said Palmer. 

The tentacle typed more and wrote, “I hated you back.”

“But it hates us already,” groaned Palmer.

“But why?” Jace asked the creature.

The tentacle typed again, frantically. “Hoped, I mean. Damned spellcheck!”


Written for the Friday Fictioneers:

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The Welcoming Present

Photo by: Anne Higa

Aliens Ixtlan and Yltec stood beneath the micro-brewery’s broken pipe, fish-like mouths agape to catch the torrent of fluid. Up until now, the highly touted human beer hadn’t impressed, but this was different.

“Amazing!” said Ixtlan. “I’ve never tasted anything like it.” 

“Their best beer to date,” cheered Ytlec.

“And they’re just giving it away for free!”

“This is the best welcoming present humans have ever given us.”

Meanwhile, one floor above, Bill examined their work carefully. “I think we’ve almost got it now.”

“About perfect,” said Bob. 

Bill nodded. “Yep. Another flush and this toilet clog will be gone.”


Written for the Friday Fictioneers:

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What Really Happened

Photo by: Jennifer Pendergast

Huntsman Jurgen found the missing children in the witch’s gingerbread house. Safe and comfortable, Hansel and Gretel were cutting vegetables at the table.

“She wanted to fatten us up on candy, then eat us,” said Hansel.

“Not for us,” said Gretel. “We prefer meat.”

“We took care of her,” said Hansel. “She’s gone now.” 

“Let’s go home, then,” said Jurgen.

“We’ll stay here for now,” said Hansel. “There’s plenty to eat.”

The children seemed safe and in control, so Jurgen turned to leave.

“One question,” said Gretel. “Hypothetically speaking, is it better to boil ‘leg of witch,’ or roast it?


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The New Guy

Photo by: Dale Rogerson

“The portal!” shouted Valeleaf, flying his moth straight into the streetlamp.

It’s just a streetlamp,” called Thistlehorn.

He sighed. Secret missions into the human world were tough enough, but their portal back home had moved. Add to it, Fae knew in their bones lights were signs of powerful magic. And they couldn’t resist charging any light. In the human world, lights meant little.


“Porch light.”

“That one!”

“Tattoo Parlor.”

Thistlethorn sighed. He knew where the portal moved to. He could only imagine the frenzy when the new guy saw millions of lights in Times Square for the first time.


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The Strongest Defense

Photo by: Roger Bultot

Brzilit’Ang walked with his bags up the stairs to his apartment. He stripped out of his human shell and unfurled ten tentacles. At the hyperspace signalling computer, he sent a message to the invasion fleet:

Earth defenses still too powerful. Delay imperative.

That done, Brzilit’Ang opened the bag full of various human alcohols. In truth, the invasion fleet could overrun Earth in a New York minute, but Earth did have a strong defense: a dizzying array of wonderful drinks to sample.

He picked up a bottle of Jagermeister. Oh yes, Earth would be too hardy to attack for many decades to come.
Written for the Friday Fictioneers:

Author’s Notes:

Just in case, you’re unfamiliar: Jagermeister is a crazy-tasting booze, not unlike cough-syrup, popular with those unfamiliar with alcohol and common at college suarees. When I was far younger, you were cool if you had drank Jagermeister.

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Plausible Animal Behavior

I love watching movies with dinosaurs. The CGI these days is so impressive, the dinos look like living animals. Unfortunately, as I get on a dino kick and watch through my collection, the behavior of the animals in some of these shows still needs work.

Cost Benefit Analysis

From childhood, all the way through middle-age, I’ve been watching nature videos. In all that time, the laws that animals follow are revealed, and they are pretty simple. Eat, mate, and most importantly, survive. Animals in the wild do not have access to insurance policies, hospitals, or HMO plans. Yet, the life they live is very dangerous. Everything they do comes with the risk getting eaten, failing to eat, or getting injured. Any creature on this Earth must make a cost benefit analysis before doing anything. Is the cost of doing something worth the benefit? An error in this calculation can easily lead do death. So, animals are very good at this. They don’t take unnecessary risks.

Unbelievable Animal Behavior

And this leads us back to the dino movies. Did the animals depicted perform this cost benefit analysis? From what I can see… No. In King Kong (2005), a Vastatosaurus Rex (similar to T-Rex) has just bitten into an enormous lizard. The larger half (perhaps half a ton of meat) falls to the ground just as the V-Rex spies Naomi Watts. Now, there’s a huge chunk of meat it no longer must chase laying at its feet, or the little blond who maybe weighs 120lbs. What does it do? It chases the blond, of course. Two other V-Rexes join the pursuit, desperately going after this insignificant morsel in Kong’s hand. Kong is obviously too tough to fight. He’s strong and in perfect health. Why even bother? Wouldn’t it make more sense to chase down an aging sauropod with a limp? How did these creatures survive if they take such unnecessary risks?

In “The Bloodiest Battle,” an episode of the documentary, Jurassic Fight Club, a trio of Allosaurus encounter two helpless Stegosauruses. They are stuck in the mud bordering a lake. One has been freshly killed by a Ceratosaurus. The Allosauruses kill the Ceratosaurus immediately with a surprise attack. Cool. Just then, a huge sauropod (Camarosaurus) comes to drink and also gets stuck in the mud, one-hundred yards away. The Allosauruses have literally tons of meat right at their feet. What do they do? Attack the sauropod, of course. Why? It’s a simple cost benefit analysis. Why risk battling a huge animal when the easy meat is right at your feet? They could have feasted for days on the stegosauruses with no risk at all.

Plausible Animal Behavior

The purpose of the two shows I mentioned is to provide exciting action and adventure, and they succeed. I love them both. Thing is, they ignored the rather simple laws of the jungle that all animals must observe, or perish. With a slight tweaking of the narrative, both could have had all the excitement, and believability too. The trope of the implacable enemy that never stops chasing you is a strong, effective one. I think it is possible to have that while still following logic from an animal’s standpoint. The movie, The Ghost and the Darkness does this superbly in my opinion. It’s based on a historical account of two lions hunting workers in Africa. These lions are more terrifying than most movie monsters, and part of the reason is, I can believe in what they do.

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The Weak Spot

Photo by: Na’ama Yehuda

The armies of sixteen nations struck at the rampaging alien machine. They tried bombs, lasers, microwave weapons, achieving nothing.

Finally, they dispatched Colonel Connelly Ekstrum. Known for being cool under fire, he stood still as the ten-story tall machine stepped towards him.

I wanted to run, but then Ekstrum said, “The aliens who built it must be very tall.”

As buildings toppled, I said, “What?”

“Every machine has a weakness, so designers make sure that weakness is hard to get at.”


A giant foot came down meters away. “That’s to avoid this.”

Ekstrum reached out, and pushed the OFF button.
Written for the Friday Fictioneers:

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Fishing Claus

Photo by: Trish Nankivell

The elf, Leafway, sighed. At Santa’s traditional summer home, his “Gone Fishin'” sign ominously read just, “Gone.”

The hunt for Santa Claus was on.

After weeks of searching, the elf Hollybranch reported in. Leafway answered his FTL vidphone. “What’s up?”

“I found him!” said Hollybranch.

“Thank Christmas! Where is he?”

“Well, he did go fishing, and it seems he was highly successful.”

“Eh? What does that mean?”

“He caught a mermaid.”


“Some things cannot be unseen.”

Leafway grimaced “I don’t follow.”

“Well, judging by their position, I can’t say if Santa caught her, or if the mermaid caught Santa.”
Written for the Friday Fictioneers:

Merry Christmas everybody!

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Practical Expectations of a Mars Colony

Recently, a friend brought an article about a Martian colony to my attention. Being the lover of space and science fiction that I am, the title hardly encouraged me. Humans Will Never Colonize Mars offers the rather gloomy impression that a Mars colony isn’t happening anytime soon. Even though I intend to slice this piece up like a Christmas goose; I think it’s a good read and an important one. Please read it. When engaging in a large endeavor, we need to look carefully at the cold, hard facts, and this article provides a lot of valid ones. It’s a list of bad things that might happen, which is a good thing, because now we know we shouldn’t do those bad things.

The article presupposes too much naivete on the part of folks supporting a Mars Colony. It begins by pointing out that Mars is too airless and too cold, apparently believing folks expected to walk on the surface in a Hawaiian shirt and boat shoes. That’s like saying goldfish aren’t good pets because you need to keep them in a goldfish bowl. So then, how about we put it in a goldfish bowl? We get it, guys. Everybody knows you’ll need a pressure suit and you’ll only be able to walk on the surface as long as your air holds out. Then the article points out the radiation. Without a good magnetosphere, there’s little protection against solar radiation. That’s a real problem. I’ll get to that.

Next, the article points out that terraforming Mars isn’t going to happen quickly and not even within centuries. It’ll not be warm enough for running water on the surface. This is true. Nobody is going tubing with a sixer of Bud or wind sailing before retiring to the resort for a dinner of lobster… on Mars. Terraforming Mars into some sort of Garden of Eden is too damned hard to achieve within even centuries. The reasons are numerous. So let’s not even try, for now. Rather than saying a brick wall is impassable because ramming our heads into it doesn’t work; let’s simply walk around it instead, ‘kay? Then there’s the low gravity problem. The article lists the value or Mars’s gravity as “0.6 percent”. This is a common error that drives me to fits. It literally reads as “six-tenths of 1%.” No. Mars’s gravity is low, but far higher than that. According to the gravity is 0.376 or 37.6% of Earth’s gravity (see how I wrote the value?). That’s still low, and there are deleterious effects because of it. It needs to be addressed.

Essentially, the thrust of the article is Mars won’t be colonized because it won’t be as nice as Club Med. It’ll be more dangerous than attending a convention of sociopathic Agatha Christie fans, on a train. It could quite likely kill you. We get that. In the article’s defense, wild claims can lead to anyone wanting to submit such articles to bring folks back to reality. Elon Musk wants to put a million people on Mars by 2050. Hehe. Very funny, Elon. We’ll be lucky if there’s one-hundred people on Mars by 2050. No one is going to go there because it’s nice. It’ll be a job, a hard, dangerous job. People may live in domes, but I expect ones with no windows. The bleak Martian landscape won’t be worth it. Luckily, certain foams are proving to be effective radiation shielding. Any domes will be covered with the stuff. The gravity will be too low to stay there long, so workers must return to orbit to a spinning habitat to find gravity closer to one gee. After a time, they’ll go back to the surface for another shift. Repeat. And no one should stay in the Martian system for more than a couple years. That would be cruelty.

The primary point of a Martian colony should be access to the asteroid belt. It’ll be a waystation on the way to fabulous riches that asteroids offer. It’ll be like a base camp at the foot of Mount Everest; not a vacation spot, but a place to rest and recuperate of the ravages of high radiation and low gravity. It’ll be a trading post on the way back to Earth. This talk of we’ll never do it because it won’t be pretty, is nonsense. We won’t go to Mars to be pretty, we’ll go there to establish a human presence in space. Maybe in a century or two, it’ll be nice, but not in the near future. That’s a not a reason to stop. The astonishing potential for human progress is the reason why we should go, anyway.

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