Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 1. putting my foot in it

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble, writing this series.

Actually, I first began thinking subversive thoughts about the canon assumptions of sf decades ago.

But I wrote the basis-document for this series of posts last summer, while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It’s the first novel in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the SyFy series of the same name.

First of all, let me say I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it, although if I go into why the ending disappointed me, it’ll involve spoilers–so I won’t. Go ahead and read the book. Maybe what bugged me about the ending won’t bother you.

In between the squees of delight and the nitpicks, however, I began to form a stronger and stronger opinion, the longer I read: I would absolutely hate living on Ceres. And I bet everyone else would, too.

Why? Because that is a massively dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society. I’m looking at Ceres, as portrayed in LW, and seriously—that place is a hellhole no Chamber of Commerce PR campaign could pretty up! So why would anyone willingly choose to go there, see what a sorry excuse of a place it was, and then fail to either leave, or work to make it better?

This is not even close to being an exhaustive collection of all the corporations with their eyes on a profitable future in space.

That the cops are run by a corporate contractor is not a stretch, given that we already have corporations leading the way into spaceprivate contractors covering security for more and more corporate and government entities, and for-profit corporations such as CoreCivic run many of our country’s prisons, for well or ill.

GRS (Global Resource Solutions) provided security for the State Department in Benghazi; ACADEMI is better known by Blackwater, its former name; SOC works for the US Departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as corporations; Constellis is the parent company of the security firm Triple CanopyCoreCivic is a private prison management company you might remember better as Corrections Corporation of America.

But the clowns and cowboys who pass for law enforcement on Ceres have no concept of professional law enforcement best practices whatsoever. They make some of our more troubled contemporary police departments look like models of even-handed social justice. Even worse for the good people of Ceres, no one in a position of leadership seems interested in requiring them to step up.

Other outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres?

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.
To paraphrase, Ceres ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids–at least not the version of it we see in Leviathan Wakes.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes in a story things have to get pretty dark before they get better. The principle of contrast for emphasis is important in most art forms. But I also have begun to get eternally weary of the same not-necessarily-well-founded assumptions being trotted out without all that much examination in novel after novel.

How could such an epic fail of a so-called society as the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes sustain itself? I mean, outside of the canon tropes of SF? Realistically, not too well, in my opinion.

I’ll get deeper into my reasons in upcoming posts. But people, please! We’re writing science fiction, here. Can’t we imagine anything outside of that same predictable rut?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover art. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Aerospace Logos montage: to Wikimedia Commons for the Spacex logo; to Stick PNG, for the Boeing logo; to LogoVaults for the Orbital Sciences Corporation logo; and to Space Foundation, for the Sierra Nevada Corporation logo. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Security and Prisons Logos montage: to LinkedIn, for the GRS logo; to IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, for the ACADEMI logo; to SOC for its logo; and to Constellis for its logo. 

Finally, many thanks to Science Versus Hollywood, for the still image of Ceres Station from SyFy’s The Expanse. 

I appreciate you all!

Never too late to thank K9 veterans!

Well, darn it–I missed it this year. K9 Veterans Day was Monday, on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the US Army K9 Corps. A couple days off or not, however, it seems reasonable to honor the bravery and sacrifices of the magnificent animals who help keep our nation, and its human defenders, safe.

Dogs have been going to war with their humans for millennia, of course. Sergeant Stubby, of World War I fame, was very far from the first, although his story is pretty cool.

So is the story of Rin Tin Tin, arguably the most famous war dog of World War I, thanks to his subsequent acting career.

Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd Dog–still one of the most popular breeds for Military Working Dogs.

Dogs for Defense was an American Kennel Club-associated World War II program that slightly predated the Army K9 Corps, and helped supply its need for dogs. They accepted a wider variety of breeds than we commonly see today–including Alaskan Malamutes and Collies.

Today, most Military Working Dogs and law enforcement canines are German Shepherd Dogs, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois, chosen for their intelligence, aggressive natures, versatility, and athleticism.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s interesting that all three breeds were originally developed to herd and protect sheep.

Meet Cairo, the Belgian Malinois who helped Seal Team Six kill Osama bin Laden

The famous Seal Team Six dog Cairo, who helped in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, was a Belgian Malinois. These dogs, which are slightly smaller and lighter-weight than, say, a German Shepherd, are often favored by Special Forces.

Liaka, shown here on the job in Baghdad, is a Dutch Shepherd.

What’s a Dutch shepherd? They almost didn’t make it through World War II, but now they’re one of the three top MWD and law enforcement breeds.

Like most MWDs who are retrievers, Cobo the chocolate lab is a tactical explosives detector.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the many retriever breeds (especially Labrador Retrievers, as well as Golden Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers), which are especially prized for explosives detection. Occasionally other breeds also show up, from Springer Spaniels to Pit Bulls. The onetime favorite breed of the USMC, the Doberman Pinscher, is far less often found on the front lines today.

Whatever their breed, however, we owe them a debt of gratitude! We can make our thanks more tangible by supporting organizations such as Save A Vet, which make sure that once their military service is finished, these magnificent dogs can enjoy their retirement in a good home.

IMAGES: Many thanks to QuotesGram for the “Veterans” image. I am indebted to Wikipedia for the photo of Sergeant Stubby and the poster featuring Rin Tin Tin. I am deeply appreciative to Josh Tannehill for the “I am the Sheepdog” image.

Many thanks to the Fedhealth blog for the photo of Cairo. Many thanks to Gizmodo’s cool photo essay on Military Working Dogs for the photos of Liaka, the Dutch Shepherd and Cobo the chocolate Labrador. 

And finally, many thanks to Rebloggy’s “Top Tumblr Posts” for the photo of the German Shepherd MWD with an awesome superpower.

Yet more evidence that dogs are wonderful

The other day I came upon what I think is a wonderful story from the Denver, Colorado area. I’ve shared stories about a variety of service dogs on this blog, but this is the first “facility dog” I’ve encountered. 

This is one way that Pella helps comfort child witnesses, out of sight of the jury.

This program in Colorado was born of the persistent vision and efforts of criminal investigator Amber Urban, who got the idea from the Courthouse Dogs program in Seattle, WA. Over time, the Arapahoe County Courthouse has become one of several courthouses and child-services facilties where Pella and others like her are now accepted.

Pella helps children feel more empowered during what can be an extremely stressful interview or turn on the witness stand. The interviewers make a point of letting the child decide if Pella should be there or not (giving him or her a bit of control, in what is almost guaranteed to be a frightening, out-of-control experience).

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Denver Post’s excellent 8/18/2016 article about Pella and the “facility dogs” program in Colorado, by John Wenzel, from which some of the background material for this post was drawn, for the photo of Pella in “stealth mode” on the witness stand, and to YouTube, OakwoodNS, and KUSA for the 2012 video clip about Pella.

Another way to thank a first responder

Hi! Here’s a quick update to a very popular post I wrote last November. I’m gratified that many readers have read my post Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders. Thank you!

My friend, fellow writer, and excellent resource for that post, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?), recently sent me another idea: 6-LED mini-flashlights with 9-volt batteries

Firefighters are dealing with 9-volt batteries all the time, so these little things are especially handy for them. Dora’s husband the Fire Captain gave them out to the guys on shift as Christmas presents last month.

Of course, you don’t have to wait till next Christmas to use this idea. No time is a bad time to say “thank you.”

IMAGE: Many thanks to Wal-Mart for this product image. I recently bought some of these via Amazon, too.

New Year’s Eve reminders

Not all of us get to party tonight. Please spare a thought for our first responders, who’ll be on the job to keep us safe!

Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders, a painting by Teresa Ascone.

Be nice to them at checkpoints, and designate a driver, please!

Keeping us safe this Holiday Season, a poster by Teresa Ascone.
They’re working hard tonight! Don’t give them more to do!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Teresa Ascone via Fine Art America for her Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders painting, and to Teresa Ascone’s “Holiday Art” Pinterest page for her Keeping Us Safe this Holiday Season poster. Thanks to Bonfire Designs for the EMS greeting.

Three bad guys’ worst nightmare

Here’s a pre-Halloween story about three bad guys with an evil plan. Back in May, 2015, they decided–possibly as part of a gang plot–to ambush and kill a cop.

Cop's-eye view, approaching a similar Lincoln Town Car.
Cop’s-eye view, approaching a similar Lincoln Town Car.

They set up their ambush at a deserted rest area on a lonely stretch of Highway 90, near Pearlington, Mississippi. They parked their 2000 model dark blue Lincoln Town Car, and turned off the lights. One man sat very still inside. The other two hid in the woods nearby. Then they waited.

Around 10:00 p.m., Hancock County Deputy Todd Frazier noticed the car with the motionless man in the driver’s seat. Like any good cop, he pulled over and got out, to see if the man was all right.

That’s when the other two leaped out of the dark woods. They attacked Frazier with fists and what probably was a box cutter. When the man who’d been in the car piled out, it was three against one. They choked Frazier, told him they were going to slit his throat, and dragged him toward the woods.

Chief Deputy Don Bass later said authorities think they planned to take Frazier into the woods, kill him, and dump his body.

Lucky for Frazier, he had a couple of secret weapons.

lucas-leaps-full
Meet Lucas, the hero of this story.

The first was a button on his belt. Frazier managed to get a hand free long enough to press it. That released the door of his patrol vehicle and popped it open. The device had only recently been installed: one of the first two on any Hancock County units. 

The second secret weapon was his K9 partner, 75-lb. black Belgian Malinois Lucas. Six-year-old Lucas recognized right away that this was not a training exercise, Frazier later said. The dog leaped from the vehicle and immediately attacked the three men.

Lucas bit one, possibly two of the attackers, according to Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam. “We don’t know how many he got, we just know he had blood all over him.”

By that time Frazier had blood all over himself, too. “I couldn’t see anything, because the blood was all in my eyes,” he said later. “I could hear [Lucas] growling and making all these sounds . . . he sounded like a wolf.”

The attackers fled in the Town Car. Sheriff Adam said that as they drove away, Lucas was still hanging onto the leg of one of them

A multi-agency manhunt ensued after the attack on Deputy Frazier.
A multi-agency manhunt ensued after the attack on Deputy Frazier.

The bad guys didn’t get away unscathed–at least one of them probably had serious dog bites. But neither did Frazier or Lucas. Frazier’s injuries, while not life-threatening, put him in the hospital for a while. Lucas broke several teeth and tore a neck muscle and an ACL. 

Lucas in 2015, with his medal from BARL.
Lucas in 2015, with his medal from BARL.

Despite a multi-agency manhunt that expanded into Louisiana, the attackers have not yet been found. But that doesn’t mean the police aren’t still looking. DNA swabs and other evidence were taken from the scene, so even if it takes years, they should still have the means to link suspects to this case. If you know anything that would help, please contact the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department at (228) 467-5101 or call your local law enforcement.

It took a while for Frazier and Lucas to get back on their feet. Unlike at many agencies, where the department owns the K9s, Lucas is Frazier’s own dog. Since their close brush with death in 2015, Frazier has started TLB K9 Enterprises, his own business training K9s, and they also do federal search and rescue work for FEMA.

Lucas has been recognized for his bravery with a PETA Heroic Dog Award, and by the Brookhaven Animal Rescue League (BARL) as the Hero of the Year for 2015.

I found an animated re-enactment of Lucas and Frazier’s story from TOMO News, that you may enjoy:

IMAGES: Many thanks to WeBeAutos on YouTube, for the screenshot of a 2000 model dark blue Lincoln Town Car, as the videographer approaches the drivers’ side front window. This would be similar to Todd Frazier’s viewpoint as he walked into the ambush–only it was a lot darker that night. I am indebted to the Australian website news.com for the dramatic photo of Lucas in mid-leap. Many thanks to the Clarion Ledger for the photo of the investigation at the crime scene, and for the photo of Lucas with his BARL award. Finally, many thanks to TOMO News on YouTube, for the animated re-enactment of Lucas’s heroic night.

Finished—Sort of

You may have noticed (If so, bless you!) that I didn’t post much on my blog last week. What’s up with that? Massive stuff going on in my life, that’s what.

My first novel, finished in 1979, actually was written on one of these.
My first novel, finished in 1979, actually was written on one of these (manual Underwood).

I very recently finished a full draft of a science fiction novel.

This is the fifth novel manuscript for which I’ve been able to write “The End” in my adult life. The working title of the current opus is Going to the XK9s.

XK9s are forensic olfaction specialists, (dogs) whose universe-class noses make them something of a forensic analysis lab on four legs, and whose genetically-modified verbal-logic enhancements have pushed them over “the line” (wherever that lies, exactly) into sapience.

Rex looks a bit like real-life hero dog Lucas, who in 2015 saved his partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, after Frazier was ambushed by three assailants.
Rex looks a bit like real-life hero dog Lucas, who in 2015 saved his partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, after Frazier was ambushed by three assailants.

My protagonist is Rex, the “Leader of the Pack.” The other POV characters are his opinionated mate Shady and his somewhat beleaguered human partner Charlie.

My logline (still a work in progress) reads: A genetically-engineered police dog must innovate crime-solving approaches on a major case to prove his Pack is sapient and deserves freedom, before enemies—both from the Project that created them and from the criminal underworld—can destroy them.

I’ve mentioned “the novel” in past posts, most notably in the Space Station DIY series (an outgrowth of my research, since a large space station is the primary setting for the novel).

The XK9s were inspired by recent scientific explorations of dog cognition, recent discoveries of dogs’ ability to sense medical conditions by scent, and canine capabilities in search and rescue, drug enforcement, and bomb detection.

Present-day forensic olfaction specialists in training.
Present-day forensic olfaction specialists in training. Photo by Reed Young.

Since I travel in science fiction circles, I meet a lot of people who are “working on a novel.” People who actually have finished one are rarer, but simply finishing a draft doesn’t mean it’s done.

Publishing today: a whole new set of learning curves!

Very few people “take dictation from God” on the very first draft, most certainly including me. Once the novel is “finished,” the editing begins. In my case that means hacking through thickets of luxuriant verbiage to focus, polish, and pare it down to a streamlined, more readable length.

After that, professionals will review it. And after that . . . Oh, my. Publishing has changed almost beyond recognition since I worked with agents and editors in the 1980s. Lots of large learning curves ahead!

But meanwhile, it’s time to celebrate a nice milestone.

IMAGES: Many thanks to PenUltimate Editorial Services for the manuscript-finished typewriter image; to ABC News, for the photo of heroic Belgian malinois Lucas (read his story); to Gizmodo, Smithsonian Mag and photographer Reed Young for the photo of bomb-sniffing dogs in training; and to CyberSalt, for the “Good Luck” road sign.