Monthly Archives: June 2012

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

This week, the Weekly Photo Challenge topic is to show a “fleeting moment” – preferably on the street.

St. Marks in Venice aspires to the eternal. But the tourists, and the pigeons, are fleeting.

Friday Fictioneers: Summer Love

This week, Madison Woods’ photo prompt for Friday Fictioneers sent me back to the Middle Ages for a quiet little love story, as the young people of an ordinary village scatter through the woods to gather ripe berries…

Summer Love

Elaine pushed into the brambles, ignoring thorns. She’d be covered with scratches when Dickon joined her, but they’d be private for once.

Her hands busily picked berries, one for her, two for the basket… The berries were sweet, sweet as Dickon’s kisses. She would feed him one and tell him so.

Somewhere nearby a girl giggled. “Nobody will see us here!” Matilda’s voice. What was she doing? Flirting with a knight? He’d desert her. Elaine peered through the branches.

Matilda. And Dickon. No!

But he was hers, Elaine’s. They were betrothed; their parents would see to that. She smiled slowly. He couldn’t escape.

Thorns raked her, unheeded.

Third Sentence Thursday: Why ask for trouble?

The Chinese Gold Murders
by Robert van Gulik

p. 18: “There is still time; you could easily plead a sudden indisposition and ask for ten days’ sick leave.”

It’s the fourteenth year of Emperor Kao-tsung (663 a.d.). We’re in the capital of the vast Chinese empire listening to two young men try to persuade their good friend Dee Jen-chieh not to throw away his chance at a successful career. After all, all three of them have promising beginner-level positions in the heart of the imperial government. Why should Dee choose to become the magistrate responsible for a distant provincial town?

But Dee – Judge Dee, the hero of van Gulik’s series of mysteries – is determined to test his abilities with a post far off in Peng-Lai, doing work that actually means something instead of spending years writing memos. So his friend Secretary Hou reminds him that the previous magistrate was murdered – and nobody knows why or who the killer is. Hou urges Dee to use any excuse to back out of this idiotic plan.

Of course, Judge Dee doesn’t listen. Heroes don’t.

What’s human? What’s not?

Review: Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler

A keeper? I have to think about that some more.

For the first two parts, this was one of those books I wanted to read fast to find out what happens, and also wanted to read slow so I could think about the ideas. The last part – well, let’s set the stage before we talk about the last part. (Note: Lilith’s Brood is really a trilogy – Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago – republished as a single book.)

If it weren’t for the Oankali, human beings would be extinct a few centuries before the beginning of this story.

Who are the Oankali? That’s what Lilith Iyapo wants to know as the saga begins. Somebody has shut her up in a very strange doorless room; somebody she never sees or hears. Her last memories are of hiking in the Andes, trying to forget her dead husband and son, when the final nuclear war broke out. She should be dead; she seems to be alive.

Eventually, an Oankali joins Lilith in her room. She’s horrified. He’s hideous, with no eyes and little tentacles all over his head. But she adjusts. She’s more or less adopted by his family and turned over to his ooloi child Nikanj to learn about the Oankali and what has happened to people. (The ooloi are the third sex among the Oankali. As the story goes on, we learn just how important they are, in a self-effacing way.) It seems that the humans who could be rescued have been healed (the Oankali are master genetic manipulators) and, mostly, kept sedated until the earth had been coaxed into supporting life again.

Much, much more happens. (Lilith’s Brood is almost 750 pages long.) The Oankali give Lilith the job of training groups of humans to recolonize earth (with Oankali partners, whether the humans like it or not). Fastforward – oh, maybe a century – and many humans, including Lilith, are back on earth. A large fraction of the humans – the Resisters – refuse to have anything to do with the Oankali, and have been made sterile. And the Resisters’ despair at being the last of their kind leads to all sorts of problems, including kidnapping young hybrids. Hybrids?

The fertile humans are the ones who have joined Oankali families to produce human-Oankali hybrid children, each with five parents – two humans and three Oankali. We follow one of Lilith’s part-Oankali sons as he grows up, develops ties to some Resisters, and fights to talk the Oankali into terraforming Mars for the Resisters. His dream is to let Mars become an independent human world where they will be allowed pure-human children. (Why not give the Resisters earth? Because, in time, the Oankali and their humans will use most of the planet as raw material for several starships and go seeking new life and new civilizations to assimilate. There won’t be enough left of earth to make a decent moon.)

So far, we have an exciting story with some meaty science fiction ideas – what does it mean to be human? Who is human? Is homo sapiens genetically doomed? (The Oankali certainly think so.) How far can you go in exploring and accepting another culture (or species) without betraying your own people?

Then comes the third section. Another century or thereabouts has passed, and another of Lilith’s children is growing up (the other parents are Tino, a human man, the male Oankali Dichaan, the female Oankali Ahajas, and the ooloi Nikanj – the same Nikanj Lilith has known since it was a child). The hybrids don’t know what sex they will be until they’re twenty or thirty years old – but everyone is surprised when this child, Jodahs, realizes it’s becoming an ooloi.

As Jodahs matures and tells its story, we realize just how powerful the ooloi really are. In human-Oankali families, it’s the ooloi who selects what genes will go into the next embryo, from which parents. They manipulate genes to change the bodies of full-grown adults – always for good, we’re told. They inject biochemical tranquilizers to soothe anyone who objects to what they are doing.

In effect, both the humans and the male and female Oankali have been domesticated, like dogs or cows, by their ooloi. And the ooloi can’t stop. Their own biochemical urges force them to tinker with everybody around them. I suppose I’ve read too much history; I can’t swallow this level of control as Officially Good, no matter what the manipulators believe they’re doing. With this last section in which we hear Jodahs’ story, Lilith’s Brood changed from thought-provoking science fiction to quiet horror.

100 Word Challenge for Grownups – Marketing Genius

This week, Julia has a photo prompt for us to use in the 100 word challenge:

Marketing Genius

Some like it hot.

Some prefer it iced, or with milk foam or flavoring extracts.

When you’ve been driving for hours and still have hours to go, everyone wants – no, needs – a dose, and you can’t get better anywhere else. Dive headfirst into the coffee pot. Sure, the stuff’s a little addictive, but it tastes so good and it wakes you up so well. People drive miles out of their way for a taste.

Ignore those scare stories that customers desperate for the company’s secret blend have tried to haul down the decorative spout on the building, hoping to pour black nectar directly from it into their mouths. They’re all responding well to treatment.

Still Struggling to Prioritize Projects

Dance with spinning plates2(js)
And feeling pretty overwhelmed, too. So many things I want to do; so many things I have to do; so many things I’ve promised to do. The promises may have been too optimistic, but there are people trusting me to keep them. The “have-to-dos” may annoy and frustrate me, but neglecting them is, in various ways, self-punishing. (For example, if I don’t floss my teeth, at best my dentist will scold me again, and at worst I’ll have to face gum surgery.) The things I want to do – well, you could argue that they’re just self-indulgence. But what if they’re the things I am uniquely talented to do? What if they’re among the things I’m here to do?

That crashing noise you just heard was the spinning plates falling off their sticks and shattering. Again.

Time to reach beyond my comfort zone and try a new approach, and fortunately I stumbled across one recently. I was innocently reading CHo Meir’s blog Coffee, Cats, And Yarn when she started talking about much the same problem – though, having spent time as a paramedic, she formulates it in terms of triage. Now, I’ve heard of triage as a way of sorting out injured people to decide how best to use limited resources to treat them. Generally, it’s described as a three-way sort. There are the people who can’t be helped; at best, they get pain relief. There are the people who will recover if they get treated immediately, but will die or be permanently injured if they don’t; they get most of the time and medicines and treatment. Then there are the people who are suffering at the moment, but will recover whether they’re treated right away or not. It sounds grim, but simple.

As CHo Meir describes triage, it’s not quite so simple – but more useful. She says that you have to keep re-evaluating the situation. Yes, start by putting your resources to work on whatever needs immediate attention. But remember that other problems or projects might get more urgent after being neglected for a while. Take the time to recategorize everything regularly. Make sure nothing important gets ignored so long that it becomes a crisis.

“All things need your attention in the course of a day, just not at the same time,” CHo Meir sums it up. And this sounds like it may be exactly the kind of approach I need.

We’ll see.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

This time, the Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Create”. Sometimes creativity involves unexpected ways to make practical things.

While we were on vacation last summer, we found this sink in our hotel room in Niagara Falls –

That’s creative!