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This photo by Pascal Gephardt shows the Weird Sisters Publishing Dealers Table at DemiCon 34. Tyrell Gephardt stands behind the table. On the left-hand side, from top to bottom of the display, are copies of Dora Furlong’s “One of Our Own,” then Lynette M. Burrows’ “My Soul to Keep,” “If I Should Die,” and “Fellowship.” On the table level are Jan S. Gephardt’s “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.” In the middle of the table, we attached badge ribbons to bookmarks and business cards with information about the books the quotes come from. To get a badge ribbon, table visitors also had to take the attached information. On the right side of the table, from top to bottom, are Randal Spangler’s hardbound, fully illustrated children’s books, “D is for Draglings™” and “The Draglings™’ Bedtime Story.” On the next level are “The Draglings™ Coloring Book” and the three volumes of Karin Rita Gastreich’s “Silver Web Trilogy,” “Eolyn,” “Sword of Shadows,” and “Daughter of Aithne.” On the table level are G. S. Norwood’s “Deep Ellum Duet” and M. C. Chambers’ “Midsummer Storm” and “Shapers’ Veil.” Tablecloth design is “Nebula 2,”

My last DemiCon?

By Jan S. Gephardt

DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. I have a lot of great history with DemiCon as an institution, and as an eagerly-anticipated annual event. I’ve blogged about it in this space for the last several years, as veteran readers of this blog may recall.

It was the convention that primarily inspired my 2019 post “Why I go to SF Conventions.” For a profile of DemiCon at its recent best, take a look at my 2018 post, “My DemiCon 29 Experience.” I had a wonderful time there.

Even the Pandemic didn’t kill my love for DemiCon. Their patient, helpful Joe Struss helped me create “My First Original Video” for Virtual DemiCon in 2020. And they looked as if they were coming back strong in 2022, as reflected in my post “The Best and Worst Time.”

But DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. At least for a while.

This is a predominantly dark gray image, featuring a drawing of an astronaut with wings against a dark sky with a yellow crescent moon. The words say “Starbase DemiCon: A New World. Des Moines Holiday Inn Northwest, 4800 Merle Hay Rd.
Image courtesy of the DemiCon Facebook Page.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I figured we were off to another great start last fall, when I received an invitation to attend with a guest as a professional guest (this means the membership fee is waived because I’ll be “paying for it” by appearing on panels. It’s a normal-enough procedure, and I’m always happy to agree). I responded quickly to say quite truthfully that I was looking forward to it.

After that, however, crickets. (Okay, it was winter. But still). Finally in March I figured I’d better find out if they’d forgotten me. As it turned out, they kind of had. There’d been a reshuffling of the con committee in some way. My invitation and acceptance had gotten lost in that shuffle. But Amanda in Programming said of course I’d be welcome, and she’d find ways to fit me onto panels. No author reading, though.

Um, okay. Well, things could still work out. It didn’t have to be my last DemiCon. But unfortunate events and disappointments gradually accumulated.

This is a montage of some of the paper sculpture that Jan would have brought to DemiCon 34 if she’d found the Art Show information. The artworks are: Top Row, L-R: “Common Cliff Dragon – Male,” “Gemflower Outburst,” and “Love in the Storm.” On the next row, L-R: “Overcoming Complications,”  pair from the “Guardians” series in yellow top mats, “Protector” and “Defender;” and “White Clematis with Dragons.” The lower pair of “Guardians,” in green top mats, are “Fierce” and “Brave.” All artwork is © Jan S. Gephardt.
Woulda, Coulda, but missed it! Here’s some of the paper sculpture I would like to have shown at DemiCon this year. All artwork is © Jan S. Gephardt.

Art Show?

I couldn’t find Art Show information online. Turns out it was on their website and they did (let the record show) have an Art Show. It was listed under “Venue” in dim type at the bottom of their index page. I found “Dealers Room” on that drop-down menu, but somehow my eyes kept skipping over “Art Show” (second down after “Anime Room”).

I guess I was always in too much of a hurry to search the fine print. And, perhaps because of the concom shakeup, I also never received a contact from the Art Show Director. Usually I get a cheery email a few months out, asking if I’ll be showing art again this year. That really would have saved me, this year.

So, I didn’t bring any art (thought, “what’s the point?” and we were tight on space). Then, to my dismay, I discovered there was an Art Show after all. I tried not to be too upset, but I never could quite bring myself to go inside and see what was there. I suppose it should be no big deal in the grand scheme. But I was crushed.

Granted, a mistake I made shouldn’t be used as a justification to make this my last DemiCon. But it was one more, particularly searing disappointment on the growing pile of them.

This photo by Pascal Gephardt shows the Weird Sisters Publishing Dealers Table at DemiCon 34. Tyrell Gephardt stands behind the table. On the left-hand side, from top to bottom of the display, are copies of Dora Furlong’s “One of Our Own,” then Lynette M. Burrows’ “My Soul to Keep,” “If I Should Die,” and “Fellowship.” On the table level are Jan S. Gephardt’s “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.” In the middle of the table, we attached badge ribbons to bookmarks and business cards with information about the books the quotes come from. To get a badge ribbon, table visitors also had to take the attached information. On the right side of the table, from top to bottom, are Randal Spangler’s hardbound, fully illustrated children’s books, “D is for Draglings™” and “The Draglings™’ Bedtime Story.” On the next level are “The Draglings™ Coloring Book” and the three volumes of Karin Rita Gastreich’s “Silver Web Trilogy,” “Eolyn,” “Sword of Shadows,” and “Daughter of Aithne.” On the table level are G. S. Norwood’s “Deep Ellum Duet” and M. C. Chambers’ “Midsummer Storm” and “Shapers’ Veil.” Tablecloth design is “Nebula 2,” ©2021 by Chaz Kemp.
Our son Tyrell Gephardt represents at the Weird Sisters Publishing Dealers Table on Friday 5/5/23. This shot gives a good view of about half of the Dealers Room, as well as the books we offered. Photo by Pascal Gephardt. Nebula 2 tablecloth design ©2021 by Chaz Kemp.

A Very Tight Squeeze

The Big Convention Experiment for this year is a quest to answer the question: Can Weird Sisters Publishing present a profitable Dealers Table at sf conventions? Didn’t have to be super-lucrative, but at least breaking even would be nice. We tried to vary our offerings (and increase the odds of selling things) by including the work of selected Kansas City Author Friends Dora Furlong, Lynette M. Burrows, Randal Spangler, Karin Rita Gastreich, and M. C. Chambers, as well as my books and my sister G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Duet. Happily, we did sell something from almost everyone. But did we break even? No.

Our first challenge was squeezing ourselves into the space. To say the Dealers Room was “cozy” . . . well, check out the photo above. There wasn’t room for our banner. In fact, it’s a good thing I’ve lost about 30 lbs. over the course of the past year (thank you, NOOM!), or I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through to work the table.

Unfortunately, the aisle space was almost as constricted as the space behind the table. ADA compliance? Ouch! Not so much. The aisles were consistently congested each time I came in, but that doesn’t mean there was room for a lot of traffic. Yes, it was a small con. But as a semi-frequent visitor to the dealers rooms of many conventions, I can tell you I personally would have looked at the congestion and thought, “Nope.” Was that the experience that made me question whether this would be my last DemiCon? Well, no. Not by itself.

A helpful audience member took this photo before the “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday night. Left to right, panelists are Steven Southard, Jan S. Gephardt, and David Pedersen.
Taken before the “A.I. Meets SF” Panel on 5/5/23. L-R: Steven Southard, Jan S. Gephardt, and David J. Pedersen. Jan teamed up with one or the other of these men for all but one of her subsequent panels. Photo by Helpful Audience Member Number One, who remained anonymous.

The Best Bright Spot: My Panels

For me, the highlight of this convention was the panels. This is often true. For one, I love to talk about our genre(s), writing, art, and related topics. For another, I generally love working with the other panelists. Most are interesting, knowledgeable, and intelligent people, and would be so in any setting. A well-moderated, intelligent discussion with such people is a delight I relish.

Most of my panels teamed me up with either Steven Southard or David J. Pedersen. The “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday 5/5/23 included all three of us. I had a lovely time working with both of them. They’re bright, thoughtful men. I’d met and been on panels with David before, but a major high point of DemiCon 34 was meeting Steven. Our panel discussions were lots of fun, and we had large, intelligent, well-informed audiences. It was a mix of elements practically guaranteed to be both stimulating and fun.

I was on five panels. By the time we got to the final one on Sunday afternoon (where I joined Author Guest Rachel Aukes to discuss “Who Will We Meet in Space?”), I think everyone was exhausted. The audience barely outnumbered Rachel and me, and they seemed little disposed to talk much. But that somewhat “flat note” certainly wouldn’t have been enough, on its own, to make me ask, “Is this my last DemiCon?”

The first bedroom the “night persons” in the Gephardt contingent occupied had two inviting-looking beds with a built-in nightstand and wall sconces between them, with what looked like floor-to-ceiling glass doors and a small balcony facing west. In the photo, some of our luggage is stacked beside and between the beds.
Two queen beds and big, sunny windows provided a deceptively-inviting view. Photo by Jan S. Gephardt.

My Last DemiCon?

In my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, there’s a chapter titled, “A Combined Weight of Awfulness.” I wouldn’t ascribe “awfulness” to my DemiCon 34 experience (with one exception). But disappointment after disappointment built up through the weekend. The convention committee seemed disorganized. There weren’t many panels that looked interesting to me, outside of the ones I was on. Readings by friends were mostly scheduled against my own panels, so I couldn’t attend them. I didn’t get many other networking opportunities.

But our discovery in one of our rooms would’ve sent us home immediately if we’d been there strictly as fans. A rash of distinctive red bumps rose on several sensitive square inches of my son’s skin. Then he found a rather distinctive little brown bug in his bed. And when you find one, you know there must be more. De-con efforts have continued since we got home, to make sure none infiltrated our luggage.

We had a dealer’s table. I’d made promises to be on panels. We’d bought a program book ad. So we accepted a change of rooms and stayed. But combined with all the other issues and disappointments, this was definitely the nadir of all my convention-going experiences in the more than three decades I’ve been going to conventions all over the country. So DemiCon 34 is likely to have been my last DemiCon. At least for a good long while.


Many thanks to The DemiCon 34 Facebook Page for their Convention header. The artwork displayed in my “woulda” montage is © Jan S. Gephardt. Many thanks to Pascal for the Dealer’s Table photo and to Helpful Audience Member Number One, for the photo of the “A.I. Meets SF” panelists. I took that room pic myself.

This is a predominantly dark gray image, featuring a drawing of an astronaut with wings against a dark sky with a yellow crescent moon. The words say “Starbase DemiCon: A New World. Des Moines Holiday Inn Northwest, 4800 Merle Hay Rd.

Demicon 34

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s that time of year again: getting ready for “con” season, and specifically for DemiCon 34. Repeated blizzard events over several recent years have discouraged us from attending Capricon in February. This means DemiCon, an annual, early-May convention in Des Moines, Iowa, has become our “new normal” first science fiction convention of the summer season.

But for DemiCon 34, things will be a bit different from our usual. Some of the changes were planned, others not. Here’s hoping I’m in much better health and voice than I was last year! I’m also hoping that we have our typically pleasant DemiCon experience on the whole.

This is a predominantly dark gray image, featuring a drawing of an astronaut with wings against a dark sky with a yellow crescent moon. The words say “Starbase DemiCon: A New World. Des Moines Holiday Inn Northwest, 4800 Merle Hay Rd.
Courtesy of the DemiCon Facebook Page.

A Couple of DemiCon 34 Disappointments

Let’s get these out of the way, so I can go on to the much-more-fun stuff. Due to a snafu in communications, I won’t be doing a reading at DemiCon 34. Readings are one of my favorite forms of “giving out free samples,” so I’ll miss it! To partially compensate for that, you might enjoy My First Original Video, which was filmed for 2020’s Virtual DemiCon (DemiCon 31, “Contaminated”).

In that video my son Tyrell Gephardt filmed me reading the first chapter of The Other Side of Fear aloud. That’s the prequel novella to my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, which was released that year. It was as close as we could get to a live reading during the early months of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Perhaps you’d also like to read the “free sample” first chapter from one of my novels, What’s Bred in the Bone (XK9 “Bones” Trilogy  Book One) or A Bone to Pick (Book Two). Just follow the links to their Weird Sisters pages, where you’ll find them offered.

My other DemiCon 34 disappointment? There doesn’t seem to be an Art Show. I have a long history of bringing my paper sculpture to sf cons, and I’ve enjoyed showing (and selling) my artwork at DemiCon for many years. I also love hanging out with the artists who gather in greater numbers at conventions where they can show and sell their work!

This is a montage of some of the paper sculpture that Jan would have brought to DemiCon 34 if there had been an art show. The artworks are: Top Row, L-R: “Common Cliff Dragon – Male,” “Gemflower Outburst,” and “Love in the Storm.” On the next row, L-R: “Overcoming Complications,”  pair from the “Guardians” series in yellow top mats, “Protector” and “Defender;” and “White Clematis with Dragons.” The lower pair of “Guardians,” in green top mats, are “Fierce” and “Brave.”
Here’s some of the paper sculpture I would like to have shown at DemiCon this year. All artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.

Panels Planned!

But another one of the things I love to do at sf cons will definitely be happening at DemiCon 34: panels! I have started pulling together notes for the five panels on which I’m scheduled! The first, AI Meets SF, is scheduled for Friday, May 5 at 6:00 p.m. I’ve been on a number of panels that discussed science fictional stories about artificial intelligence. But this will be my first discussion primarily about the potential for AI to write science fiction.

On Saturday I’m set for two more, a back-to-back pair. Thank goodness, they’re in the same room! Starting at 2 p.m., the first addresses a topic very near to my heart, The Role of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Predicting and Shaping the Future. That one’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. The other also promises to be a meaty topic: Pandemics Through History and Their Effects on Literature.

Sunday wraps up with two more. And again, they’re scheduled back-to-back. The first starts at noon, which will be a stretch for me, especially on Sunday of the convention! The rooms are next door to each other, so that should help me make it to the second one on time. At noon we’ll discuss Gadgets in SF. This is where we’ll talk about ways writers can incorporate speculative tech into their stories without grinding the story to a halt while they deliver a data-dump to explain how it works. Then, at 1:00 p.m., we’ll discuss life forms we might encounter on the Final Frontier in Who Will We Meet in Space? Should be fun!

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
Here’s a walk through the decades that Jan’s been going to sf cons. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

Our Biggest News for DemiCon 34

For the Gephardt household, the most important change at DemiCon 34will be our official presence in the Dealers Room. Not only will we have a Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table with all four of our books. We’ll also have a new member of the Gephardt clan at the con: my husband Pascal. My son Ty and I have traveled to sf cons for many years, while Pascal has always had obligations elsewhere.

But here’s the thing. Pascal is the lark among us night owls – the family’s Designated Morning Person. A lot of the Dealers Room schedule happens before 1:00 p.m., which means that someone has to be awake then to run it! Add to that the fact that he’s got years of experience traveling to art shows and Renaissance festivals with our friend Randal Spangler, and he was doomed to be drafted for this role!

Of course we’ll bring our own books: Mine are, as noted above, The Other Side of Fear, What’s Bred in the Bone, and A Bone to Pick. We’ll also have copies of my sister G. S. Norwood’s book Deep Ellum Duet, which includes both of her “Deep Ellum” novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues. But wait! There’s more! Speaking of Randy, he’s among the “Kansas City Writer Friends” whose books we’ll be offering at our table. It’s a way to expand our range of offerings and give our friends access to a new market (not to mention we earn a commission while we’re at it).

Weird Sisters Publishing Presents Books by Jan S. Gephardt and G. S. Norwood, plus Books by Kansas City Writer Friends Lynette M. Burrows, M. C. Chambers, Dora Furlong, Karin Rita Gastreich, Randal Spangler.
All cover images are courtesy of the authors, their publishers, or Amazon.

Our Kansas City Writer Friends

The covers of books by our “Kansas City Writer Friends” in the illustration above represent books that we’ll offer at our table. By Lynette M. Burrows, we’ll bring dystopian alternate history sf novels from the Fellowship Dystopian Series. They are Fellowship, My Soul to Keep, and If I Should Die. By M. C. Chambers, we’ll have fantasy books Midsummer Storm (romance novelette) and Shapers’ Veil (novel). By Dora Furlong, a science fiction novella titled One of Our Own.

In addition we’ll have the Silver Web Trilogy fantasy novels by Karin Rita Gastreich. They are Eolyn, Sword of Shadows, and Daughter of Aithne. And, as noted above, from Randal Spangler we’ll have hardcover, full-color children’s books D is for Draglings written with Lauren K. Duncan, and The Draglings Bedtime Story. Not shown in the illustration (because I couldn’t make it fit), we’ll also offer The Draglings Coloring Book.

All in all, things definitely will be different at DemiCon 34. But then, change is the most constant thing about our lives. I’d love to see you at the convention. If you can’t make it, I plan to publish a follow-up after we get back so you’ll know how it went. And here’s hoping one thing that doesn’t change is having a fun and creative weekend at another year’s DemiCon!


Many thanks to the DemiCon Facebook Page for a good pic of their header. All of the artwork in the paper sculpture sampler is mine, shown in a montage I made, from photos I took. All of it is © by Jan S. Gephardt. If you should choose to repost it, please do so with a link back and attribution, if possible.

As for the photos of me at conventions through the decades: I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. Might note that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, in an era before desktop printing made them easy to print.

In the 2012 photo that’s me on the left. Tracy S. Morris sits in the middle with her book Bride of Tranquility. At the right is fellow Kansas City writer, artist, and longtime sf fan Sherri Dean. I owe Tyrell Gephardt thanks for photo of me, masked up behind my then-current collection of signs, books, and S.W.A.G. at Archon 43 (2019).

For the fourth illustration, I am indebted to the authors, their publishers, or Amazon, for the cover images of our Kansas City Writer Friends’s books (see their embedded links in the text of this post). The design is mine.

Covers for Jan's three "Cops in Space" books, "The Other Side of Fear," "What's Bred in the Bone," and "A Bone to PIck."

What should police do?

By Jan S. Gephardt

We rarely think to ask a fundamental question: what should police do? What part should they play in a multicultural, representational democracy? The ubiquity of police forces around the world argues that many societies believe police do have a role in civilized life. But what – exactly – should it be?

As a novelist whose primary characters are science fictional detectives, I am in an unusual position, both to ask and to answer this question. But I believe it’s also a question everyone should ask. Especially every citizen in a representational, multicultural democracy.

Why should we ask? Isn’t the answer to that question obvious? Well, no. We’ve all grown up “pre-loaded” with conscious and unconscious attitudes and understandings of what police officers and police forces do, and why they exist. But clearly, those seldom-examined attitudes and understandings aren’t leading to very good outcomes. Not in much of the world. And certainly not here in the United States.

"Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law." - Barack Obama.
Many thanks to BrainyQuote.

Asking as a Novelist

One of the best things science fiction does is hold up a mirror to society. If you think about it, all fiction does that in a certain way, because all fiction is a reflection of our experiences of life. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of the novelist in society. And yes, a fundamental aspect of our work is purely to produce entertainment.

But it’s not the only aspect. I would (and frequently do) argue that it may not even be the most important aspect, particularly in the realm of science fiction. That’s because science fiction is all about thought experiments.

When we start asking “what if?” a whole multiverse of possibilities opens up. What if a recent scientific discovery led to a new technological breakthrough? How would that change the world we live in? What if our society continues on its current course in this aspect, what might the future look like? How would our world change? How would we react?

So, as a novelist who writes about police in a future society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams." - Alexis Wright.
Thanks again, BrainyQuote!

Asking as a Citizen

But I’m also a citizen: of the world, and also specifically of my country and community. I’m a taxpayer, a voter, a member of “the public.” I can be sliced and diced out and defined demographically, culturally, and any other way you choose. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Woman. Educated. Teacher (retired). Middle class. United Methodist. White. Senior citizen. Democrat. Science fiction fangirl. Creative person. Animal lover. Multiculturalist. I am all of those things and more.

And as that complex, multi-aspect creature, I bring all of my experiences, understandings, and biases into my role as a responsible adult in contemporary society. For me, that involves an active interest in news and politics. I have formed some rather strong opinions over the course of my life. Each day I refine them or adjust them or reinforce them as I receive and process information.

I see it as my right – indeed, my responsibility – as a citizen to ask if my government and community leaders are representing me and governing in a way I think is appropriate. Are they respecting and honoring values I share? If they’re not, then I have a right to question them, and to seek better representation. As do we all.

This means, as a citizen in contemporary society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"Each day, millions of police officers do the selfless work of putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, frequently responding to or preventing crises completely with no recognition." - Letitia James
You’re now 3-0, BrainyQuote!

What Do We Ask Police To Do?

We currently ask police to fill a wide range of roles. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a 2016 interview by the Washington Post. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

I tend to agree with Chief Brown. As a teacher, I learned all too much about the many things our communities want to dump in the laps of their public servants. Usually while also underpaying them, restricting their operating budgets, and asking them to do work they never trained or signed up for. I get it, and I agree.

But what problems are the police meant to solve? Unlike some observers on the leftward end of the spectrum, I do believe there is a role for police in society. Unlike some observers on the rightward end of the spectrum, I don’t believe we will ever be well served by our current system. Certainly not when it’s focused on criminalizing poverty and mental illness. Not when it majors on crackdowns on minority populations and small offenders. And certainly not when it perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

This graph charts United States crime clearance rates in 2020, the most recent year for which the statistics are available. “Murder and nonnegligent homicide:54.4%. Aggravated assault: 46.6%. Violent crime: 41.7%. Rape: 30.6%. Robbery: 28.8%. Arson: 21.5%. Larceny-theft: 15.1%. Property crime: 14.6%. Burglary: 14.%. Motor vehicle theft: 12.3%”
Graphic ©2023 by Statistia.

What Problems WERE Police Meant to Solve?

If you were to ask the average “person on the street” this question, they’d probably say “Solve crimes,” or maybe “keep public order,” or perhaps “enforce the law.” Fair enough. So, how well are they doing?

Let’s take that first one, “solve crimes.” A look at the crime clearance rates (percentages of crimes that are cleared in a given year) is downright discouraging. “Clearance rate,” by the way, does not mean the full Law & Order-style litany of captured, charged, tried, and convicted. No, “clearance” means at least one person has been arrested and charged, or it means the probable perpetrator(s) are identified, but outside circumstances make arresting and charging them impossible. For two examples, circumstances could include that they died. Or maybe they’re in another country from which we can’t extradite them. Stuff does happen sometimes.

Clearance rates vary by the type of crime. But according to the only type that gets solved more than half the time in the USA is “murder and non-negligent homicide.” The clearance rate for that is 54.4%.

Flunking Crime-Solving

Think about it. That’s only a bit better than a 50-50 chance that any given murder will be solved. If I were grading a test and my student made a 54.4% on it, their grade would be an F (On a normal grading scale, 0-60% = an F). And that’s the best they do! You want them to solve your burglary? Sorry to tell you, but you have only a 14% chance that the perpetrator will be caught and charged with the crime. Someone stole your truck? Oh, dear. You only have a 12.3% chance they’ll ever arrest the thief.

So, basically, police in the United States flunk at crime-solving. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and many of them are tied up in the other answers to the question “What should police do?”

"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe." - Mary Frances Berry
Thanks yet again, BrainyQuote!

What Should Police Do to “Serve and Protect”?

What does “keep public order,” “enforce the law,” or “protect people” look like, when it’s happening? Does “keeping public order” mean bulldozing camps of unhoused persons? Or imposing a curfew on a small population’s free movement during a specific part of the day or in a specific place? Does it mean beating or injuring protesters? The words “keeping public order” have been used to justify all of those actions.

On the other hand, it also could mean directing traffic away from an accident. Maybe it means repelling a violent insurrection from the Capitol. And it could mean shielding a person who has not been convicted of any crime from a lynch mob that wants to kill them. It’s an umbrella phrase, broad and nonspecific enough to be both used and abused.

Standards Without Clarification

And in the end, it’s not a very helpful standard without further clarification. The seemingly obvious “protect people” brings the same host of issues when we try to apply it to specific cases. Which people are the police to protect? From whom or what? In a racist, sexist society (don’t kid yourself: that’s this one), how many ways could that go wrong?

“Enforce the law” is only deceptively “more specific.” Does that mean “enforce all the laws, all the time?” By that standard, most of us should be, or should have been, arrested at many points in our lives.

People are fallible. There are times when we’re sick and can’t cut the noxious weeds in our front yard. Or we’re forgetful and only notice later that our driver’s license has expired. Perhaps we’re tired or in a hurry, so we jaywalked when we saw an opening, instead of walking down to the corner and waiting for the lights to change. Minor traffic violations, legally carrying a gun, or simply walking down the street have resulted in citizens being killed by police in the name of “enforcing the law.”

"Accountability for police officers should be an expectation, not an aberration." - Alex Padilla
You rock, BrainyQuote!

Okay, so: What SHOULD Police Do?

As we’ve seen, that’s a really problematic question! But, both as a citizen and as a novelist, I want to find better answers to it. I cannot endorse a blanket approach such as “abolish the police.” I’m not a fan of “defund,” either. Neither of those represent where I think this conversation should go.

On the other hand, a thoroughgoing interrogation of that “what should police do?” question isn’t going to deal kindly with old-school “cop culture.” Not with many contemporary police training techniques and approaches, either. Nor even with a fair number of contemporary laws and standards.

Yes, dear reader, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m cueing up a series of blog posts on this topic. I’m not sure how long it’ll be. Considering our upcoming publication schedule, it most definitely won’t be every single post for the next umpty-dozen times without a break!

But over the next few months, I propose to take up one aspect of “what should police do?” at a time. I’ll examine how it’s currently being handled in the USA, survey the critiques, and then explain “how we handle it on Rana Station” and why I think that might work better. I hope you’ll find the series interesting.


Many thanks to BrainyQuote (what would I have done without you for this post?) and Statistia.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan. Second, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin.

We Get One More Chance

By Jan S. Gephardt

I almost didn’t post anything this week. Life events (my daughter’s health crisis and my father’s recent death) have just about sandbagged me. But, with a little encouragement from my Weird Sister (who’s also had her cataclysms this year), I concluded I did need to say something this week. Because things in my beloved country are rapidly running toward a collision point. And because in this season of advance voting, we get one more chance.

Anyone who’s followed this blog for long knows I am passionate about voting. I was among the first crop of 18-year-olds allowed to vote in the US, and from that day on I have never voluntarily missed an election. While this makes me pretty run-of-the-mill in my family, it makes me rather uncommon among the general US population.

I wish it wasn’t so. I wish everyone who was old enough and eligible understood how important it is to make an educated vote on the key matters of the day.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson. Second, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony.
Voices from the past weigh in. I hope people consider their words. (See credits below).

Of Primary Importance

Here in Kansas, we proved just how wrong polls can be, and just how powerful women – especially young, angry women – can be in an election. Back then I posted, tweeted, and blogged for all I was worth about the incredible importance of voting in every election, not just the big, “sexy” ones in the fall. I am under no illusion that I made a measurable difference, but enough people did step up to create a rather amazing outcome.

Nobody thought young people would vote. Nobody expected angry young women to vote in such numbers. Everybody had kind of written Kansas off as “oh, well, they’re a red state.”

They’re doing that again this fall. Will the “sleeping giant” of angry young women go back to sleep, assuming they “fixed it all” in August? Well, the issues are less clear-cut in November, if you choose to look at it that way. They aren’t for me personally, but I vote anyway. I guess we’ll find out what others decide.

The cartoon shows two crowds, one of which is about double the size of the other. Everyone in the smaller crowd wears a T-shirt that says, “I voted.” The larger crowd wears blank shirts, and a word balloon above them reads, “We didn’t vote because it won’t make a difference.”
This cartoon image says it better than I ever could in words. As the picture makes clear, it WOULD have made a difference. Whatever you do, don’t sit this one out! (See credits below).

Don’t be Discouraged by the Polls

One thing I keep telling myself is that I can’t lose hope. If Kansas in August is anything to go by, the polling then showed a close race. It was anything but close, although one benighted idiot did demand – and pay for – a recount.

When was the last time you got a call from an unknown number and actually picked up? Pollsters do their best, I assume. But they’re at a disadvantage in an age when we have to jealously guard our time and our privacy against abuse. Recent polls have consistently skewed conservative, in large part because who has landlines these days? Who routinely answers phone calls? Older people who haven’t caught on to the pitfalls.

Other places, such as focus groups, public events (fairs, shopping centers, etc.) offer opinions from small populations who often self-select to at least a certain extent. Email polling is often partisan to the point of becoming an echo-chamber. I’ve come to the conclusion that polls are just “iffy” guesses (sometimes accurate, sometimes not) till the election happens. Kansas in August proved that to a more dramatic extent than we’ve seen in a while.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan. Second, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin.
The two “Georges” have it right. Inform yourself and vote, if you haven’t! (See credits below).

In the General Election we get One More Chance.

The outcome still lies with us. We get one more chance. A lot of the candidates have bought into the “Big Lie” that previous elections were rigged. Note that none of that camp who DID get elected seem to worry that the vote was rigged in their case, however. We get one more chance to refrain from giving more power to that group.

In the name of “election integrity” state legislators already have instituted changes that inhibit many of the voters they deem to be skeevy (weirdly enough, they don’t seem to target old white conservatives, although those who need assistance to vote are out of luck). If some of the candidate-election commissioners, secretaries of state, and/or attorneys general are voted in, we’ll get more of that, plus legislatures with the power to reject results they don’t like.

Elections matter. We get one more chance in November.


Largely because (mentally and emotionally) my main reactor core has already melted down and I’m limping along on “impulse power” toward the nearest repair base, I used illustrations from my previous blog posts for this one. The two “vote-quote pairs” are both from my November 4, 2019 post, “Vote Tuesday! Will your voice be heard?” See that post for sources.

Similarly, the cartoon image by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle came from my 2016 post, “Vote Like your Life Depends on It – Because it Just Might,” which used an image from The Coffee Party USA’s Facebook Page. Many thanks to all the original sources!

“The Moon is the first milestone on the road to the stars.” — Arthur C. Clarke

To The Moon

By Jan S. Gephardt

As I write this, the Artemis 1 Mission is still “go for launch” next Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. A lot of us are excited about the prospect of a new Moon program. But other voices, from both left and right, question whether we should go back to the Moon at all. Indeed, from the very beginning there have been questions about the priority we should give to our reach into Space.

We haven’t been to the Moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972. A full 50 years. Half a century. Dating myself, here, for the sake of scale: that was the year I graduated from high school. I’m retirement-age now, so that’s a working lifetime ago.

Why not? We’ve launched other missions – why not go back to the Moon till now? In my research, I’ve discovered several reasons.

I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul... we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream. – Neil Armstrong
That was then. Why haven’t we gone back for all these years? (Famous Quotes 123).


Consider the political landscape in the United States between 1972 and 2022. Control of the House, Senate, and White House has seesawed back and forth between Republicans and Democrats rather frequently, after two long periods of Democratic Party rule during the Roosevelt-Truman years and again during 1960s and the Kennedy-Johnson administrations.

This meant that each administration and Congressional majority got to make up their own rules. They felt free to set, re-set, abandon or continue the policies of their predecessors. As a result, there were never enduring, universally-established ideas about where, how, and even if, we might boldly go anywhere. Including to the Moon.

The last Apollo missions happened during the Nixon Administration, but while Nixon wasn’t exactly against space expansion, he was much more bullish on the idea of making space more affordable and accessible. The Space Shuttle project had its origins in the Nixon White House.

“Before another century is done it will be hard for people to imagine a time when humanity was confined to one world, and it will seem to them incredible that there was ever anybody who doubted the value of space and wanted to turn his or her back on the Universe.” — Isaac Asimov
Isaac would undoubtedly have been disappointed to know it would take us 50 years to refocus on the Moon. (Quotefancy).

Focus, Refocus, and Lack of Focus

Space programs take a long time to develop, and they require a lot of money. People in power haven’t always seen it as a high spending priority, especially in times of economic difficulty. Many early programs ran into cost overruns of the sort that saw Skylab B mothballed in the mid-70s, about the same time the Soviets canceled the Almaz (space platform) project, possibly for similar issues.

In the latter 1970s the Space Shuttle program remained in the development stages, but continued to move forward. The Ford and Carter administrations were preoccupied by inflation, an energy crisis, foreign threats, and social upheaval. Ford greenlit the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Carter emphasized the need to self-defense in space, but didn’t take the idea very far. You’ll notice that none of these ideas got us anywhere closer to the Moon.

“All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct.” — Carl Sagan
Sagan’s sample-size did nothing to lend power to his words at the time. He died in 1996, at a time when NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet had begun to show its age and limitations, but new space initiatives weren’t in fashion. (Quotefancy).

Space-Based Defense

Ronald Reagan took that space-based defense idea and majored on it. He proposed a massive Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). But vocal observers complained it was unrealistic for the technology of the period. They nicknamed it “Star Wars” and painted it as over-priced science-fictional wish-fulfillment. At the time, they weren’t entirely wrong, although the idea of space-based defense both predated, and ultimately outlived Reagan’s idea.

George H.W. Bush was a space-development booster. On the 20th anniversary of the our first Moon landing, he announced the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), which included a space station called Freedom – but no plan to return to the Moon anytime soon. Congress couldn’t get past the idea of its $500 billion price tag, however. Not even if the spending was spread across 20-30 years.

Bill Clinton’s administration never brought “Freedom” to fruition, but did start construction on the International Space Station. He focused more interest on exploring the universe, and kept the door open on space-based weapons. Especially in his second term, however, divisions in the United States grew more extreme. The Republican-led Congress was unwilling to work with him on initiatives of most any sort.

“It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet.” — Miyamoto Musashi
The Clinton Administration created the National Science and Technology Council. They backed exploration and the ISS, but had little interest in a return to the Moon. (Quotefancy).

Advance and Retreat

George W. Bush reshaped NASA policy yet again, refocusing on space exploration (Vision for Space Exploration, 2004). He reintroduced plans to return to the Moon (by 2020), retire the Space Shuttle program, and start preparations to send humans to Mars. But Bush became much more heavily focused on waging two wars that did not produce predicted easy victories, and the onset of the Great Recession at the end of his term.

His successor Barack Obama had little time or energy for space, and certainly not for the Moon. Not in the depths of the Great Recession. His political capital went for economic fixes and the ACA. Faced in his second term with an oppositional, Republican-led Congress, few initiatives prospered. But he did use his executive power – to kill most of “W’s” space initiatives, including a trip to the Moon.

Instead, he opened the door for more private investment in space and a focus on commercially-exploitable asteroids and Mars. SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other initiatives began their dramatic rise.

“In the coming era of manned space exploration by the private sector, market forces will spur development and yield new, low-cost space technologies. If the history of private aviation is any guide, private development efforts will be safer, too.” — Burt Rutan
The Clinton Administration created the National Science and Technology Council. They backed exploration and the ISS, but had little interest in a return to the Moon. (Quotefancy).

Taking the High Ground

I’ll refer you to my sister’s excellent essay on the Space Force for a look at the most recent iterations on the United States’ focus on space-based defenses. The Trump Administration further encouraged private space enterprise. They resurrected the National Space Council (continued under Biden and currently chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris). And they shifted the country’s efforts from the Obama-era focus on Mars back to the Moon.

The Biden Administration embraced and continued the internationally-supported Artemis project, which will (we hope) launch Artemis 1 on Monday. The long-delayed return to the Moon has finally begun in earnest.

Riding atop the Space Launch System (survivor of the “W” Bush-era Constellation project), the Orion spacecraft won’t carry humans this time (“Captain Moonikin Campos,” “Helga,” and “Zohar,” all varied types of sensor-equipped “manikins,” will ride in their place, along with NASA mascot Snoopy and ESA mascot Shaun the Sheep). Nor will it land on the Moon. but it will deploy CubeSats and orbit the Moon.

“If God wanted man to become a spacefaring species, he would have given man a moon.”
— Krafft Arnold Ehricke
Looks as if the Artemis Project might actually get us there after all. (Quotefancy).

Artemis 1, 2, 3, and Beyond

Monday’s launch of Artemis 1 is an essential test of equipment and systems. If all goes well, in mid-October NASA will retrieve it from the Pacific Ocean. At that point, teams of scientists will start feverishly poring over its data. They must apply everything they can learn from Artemis 1, to ensure the safety of the human crew on Artemis 2.

Artemis 2 is currently planned for a May 2024 launch date. It, too, will orbit the Moon, but won’t land. The crew has a whole laundry list of systems checks to perform, both in Earth orbit and during the lunar flyby. The Artemis 2 crew hasn’t yet been named, but they’ll all be North Americans: three from the USA, and one from Canada. Whoever they turn out to be, the latter will be the first Canadian ever to travel beyond low Earth orbit.

We’ll get to Artemis 3 sometime in 2025 . . . we hope. There have been numerous delays already. This first crewed Moon landing of the Artemis Project (first humans on the lunar surface since 1972) also will see the first use of the SpaceX-built Starship HLS. If all goes well, this will be a true return to the Moon.

Artemis 1 through 3 are the beginning, not an end-point. Artemis 4 starts building another international effort:  a space station called Lunar Gateway, designed to orbit the Moon. And you can guess from the name where things are headed from there. It all starts with a return to the Moon.

“The Moon is the first milestone on the road to the stars.” — Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur might be right, after all. (Quotefancy).


For once, this section doesn’t have much to add. All of the quotes are attributed in the captions. Nearly all came from the Quotefancy page “Space Quotes,” with one ringer from Famous Quotes 123. All quote images were selected by this post’s author.

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock

It’s Important to Vote

By Jan S. Gephardt

In Kansas and Missouri, we’re holding a primary election next week. And every time there’s a primary, some people question whether or not it’s important to vote in it. I’ve blogged about Primary Elections in other years. Longtime readers of my “Artdog Adventures” blog know very well that I feel it’s important to vote.

I realize some of my readers don’t live in the United States, and many others live in states hold their primaries earlier or later in the year than now. I was talking about this with my sister recently. She agrees with me on the importance of voting, although for her the primaries are so last March (she’s a Texan, as longtime blog-followers well know).

But in my neighborhood, the primaries are looming (August 2). It’s important to vote because elections are always a potential turning point of some sort. And that’s where life is informing my art rather a lot, recently.

“So long as I do not firmly and Irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Image courtesy of Medium).

Life, Art, and Science Fiction

I’ve already blogged some about politics on Rana Station. Rana is the fictional, far-future space-station home of the XK9s and their favorite humans, the setting of my novels. Readers of my stories may recall mentions of elections for Premier that were held while the XK9s and their partners were still on Chayko. POV characters Pam and Charlie voted absentee, and talked with their XK9s about the elections. It’s unspoken but clear that both think it’s important to vote.

There are political undercurrents throughout the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. On Rana, Boroughs are sort of a cross between a city and a state or province, politically. Readers saw the local Borough Council in a special session during What’s Bred in the Bone. In the second novel, A Bone to Pick, Ranan politics received less focus. But that realm returns in a big way –on a national level – in the third novel, Bone of Contention. As it happens, I’m writing some of that part now.

Of course, politics in science fiction is nothing new. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, recently.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
(See credits below).

Eroding Rights

Women who pay attention know our rights and freedoms are always under attack. Cases in point: horrifying recent stories about Mongolian schools that require “virginity checks.” Patriarchal cultures use force to suppress education for girls. Invading armies use rape as a means of terrorizing civilians. All across the world our freedom and bodily autonomy are at continual risk, and they always have been.

Even before the United States Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health verdict that made it official, we in the USA saw the warning signs if we were paying attention. Remember “pussyhats” and the Women’s March on Washington in 2017?

As a science fiction reader and writer, I’m aware of many dystopian “futures.” It’s a time-honored science fiction tradition to base dystopias on contemporary trends taken to extremes.

And in nearly any dystopia ordinary people are powerless. They have no agency, no autonomy. Goes without saying they have no vote.

The cover of the book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a page from a graphic novel adaptation of the book, and a background photo from the television show based on the book.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into a graphic novel and a television show. (See credits below).

Tales and Parables

One science fiction story that has resonated deeply with women – and in the wake of Dobbs feels even more relevant – is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In this dystopia, first released in 1985. Starting production in 2016 (imagine that), a television series by the same name, based on the novel, has been renewed for season after season.

But the science fiction that’s resonating most deeply for me this week is Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I’ve been re-acquainting myself with it. I remember when it first came out in 1994. Back then, I was a mother with young children and little time. I had difficulty reading it, probably because I wasn’t ready to contemplate a world like the one it depicted.

Now, in 2022 (the book starts in 2024, in a world both unfortunately like, but also different from our current situation), I’m finding the parallels interesting. Butler’s world, in fact, feels like an oddly familiar place. For one thing, there’s more than a small echo of the assumption I grew up with, that it was only a matter of time before disaster hit. At the age of Butler’s main character Lauren, I tried to learn canning and gardening, assuming I’d need such survival skills after the coming nuclear apocalypse. But there are other parallels, too.

Two book covers, one for the original novel by Octavia E. Butler, the other for a Hugo-winning graphic novel adaptation.
Octavia E. Butler’s book Parable of the Sower has been adapted into a graphic novel and optioned for a film. (See credits below).

A Different Apocalypse, But it “Rhymes”

The kind of apocalypse Californian Lauren Olamina faces in Parable of the Sower didn’t start with a bomb blast. Some reviewers call the novel “post-apocalyptic,” but that’s not correct. The slow-rolling apocalypse Lauren and her neighborhood face is protracted and actively ongoing. There is nothing “post” about it.

Its origin lies in steadily-chipped-away rights, a process that has disabled all government protections for ordinary people. This has led to savage economic disparity and inflamed racial division. Of course, those dynamics further cripple government. The power and importance of voting has been reduced to choices between bad and worse impotent politicians. But you can only vote if you can make it through the mean streets to the polls in one piece.

By the time of the novel, all the last safety nets of civilization have been stripped away. This dysfunctional dynamic empowers the rise of business behemoths that capitalize on the power vacuum to further entrench their own advantage. No surprise, there’s a massive and growing unhoused and dispossessed population that’s increasingly desperate and lawless.

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock
(See credits below).

The Antidote? It’s Important to Vote! (While we still can)

Does any of this sound familiar? If not in exact mirroring, it certainly takes little effort to recognize parallel dangers in contemporary gerrymandering and false claims of vote fraud that threaten to actually do the real thing. If it’s okay to declare that corporate “free speech” (AKA money) is protected, and that some people have no right to bodily autonomy, how far from slow-rolling apocalypse are we, truly?

All of this brings me back to the importance of voting. We’re not yet in full-blown apocalypse. We won’t be (barring unforeseen disasters) in 2024. But we’ve been flirting with it for longer than many people have noticed. And if more of us don’t wake up to the serious issues that threaten our freedom and our democracy, we’ll wander blindly into it.

Our rights are increasingly on the line. Our best defense is our vote, and here the advice is “use it or lose it.” That’s why it’s important to vote. Every time. In every election. Vote.


The quote-image for Dr. King’s view of the importance of the vote came from Medium. The background for the quote from Jan is Nebula 2, ©2021 by Chaz Kemp, first published in the blog post “Looking for Hope.” Design by Jan.

Jan also assembled the two montage images built around two of the books mentioned in the post. The Handmaid’s Tale montage Includes several images. The cover for Margaret Atwood’s novel is courtesy of ThriftBooks. A page from a graphic novel adaptation by Renee Nault comes via Maclean’s. And a still from the television adaptation of the book is courtesy of Woman & Home.

The montage for Parable of the Sower features the cover of Octavia E. Butler’s book, courtesy of the North Carolina State University Libraries. Butler’s book also has been adapted by Damian Duffy into a graphic novel illustrated by John Jennings. No TV show yet, however it’s been optioned for a movie.

Jan first assembled the final quote-image in this post from a tweet by the Rev. Raphael Warnock (now US Senator Warnock) in November 2020. The background photo is originally from the Baltimore Sun, taken at the Maryland primary election, June 2, 2020 by the multitalented Karl Merton Ferron. Deepest appreciation to all of them!

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother. - Margaret Sanger

Liberty and Personal Freedom on Rana Station

By Jan S. Gephardt

Recent events have gotten me thinking about liberty and personal freedom. Here in the United States, we recently seem to have had an unusual amount of trouble defining just exactly what those are. To whom should they be extended, and in what measure? There seem to be different standards, depending on who you’re talking to, and about whom they’re talking.

Yes, I know. We Americans are kinda famous around the world for having staked a claim, back in the day, that “all men are created equal.” But the qualifiers were there, even then. At the time, they literally meant only male humans. They also assumed these “endowed by their creator” male humans were white landowners.

A whole bunch of people fell outside of that definition, but the Founders didn’t seem much inclined to talk about them (indeed, the less the better, they judged, for the sake of the union).

Freedom is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us. – Timothy Keller
Many thanks, Quotefancy!

Today, it seems that liberty and personal freedom – at least, for some of us – are once again under assault. I suppose, when are they not, in one way or another? But by golly, if I were Queen of the Universe . . . oh, wait.

In one particular universe, I am the Queen.

A few Words from the Queen of . . . A Universe

The realm where I actually am the Queen of the Universe is a place where I’ve been running a little thought experiment on Rana Station, in the Chayko System of Alliance Space. As I explained in an earlier post, I’ve been exploring a kind of outrageous idea.

It’s a human-run system that tries to create an environment where all of its citizens have the tools to reach their full potential. Strange idea, right? We certainly don’t have such a system around my neck of the woods, “equal protection under the law” notwithstanding. How would such a system even look? How would it operate?

Rana Stationers value their liberty and personal freedom as much as anyone. But how is ‘liberty and personal freedom” understood in Ranan culture? How does it compare with the way we understand these concepts in the United States?

Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell. – Charles de Lint
Many thanks, Ms. Mullin!

Rather than speak in broad generalities, let’s look at a particular point of friction in the United States, especially after the United States Supreme Court’s most controversial recent decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Health Care on Rana Station

Readers of my books probably have observed that on Rana, unlike in the United States, both mental and physical health care is considered a basic right. Even if you’re poor. Even if you’re not a citizen. And even if you’re a criminal suspect. Access to care is essential if liberty and personal freedom are to translate into reaching one’s full potential.

My readers know some things about Ranan health care because my characters spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Ranan health care system. Most of them have dangerous jobs. They get banged up sometimes (some more than others). And some of my characters work in the Ranan health care system.

Of all the forms of inequality injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1966
Many thanks, Medium (scroll down).

But except for passing comments, none of my characters or situations has directly addressed reproductive health yet. That’ll change in future books, but here’s an overview. Because space is not unlimited on a space station, the population’s size must be carefully controlled.

Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health on Rana

I know I’m not the only teacher who’s sometimes been exasperated by the fact that people don’t have to get a license to be a parent – even when there’s ample evidence of malpractice. So, when I conceived of Rana Station I decided to explore that idea.

On Rana, you really do have to apply for a license to have children. You have to show you have the mental and physical capacity to parent a child and an understanding of child development and appropriate care. But how can that square with liberty and personal freedom?

It’s not an ideal situation, and it definitely puts limitations on adults and their free exercise of the right to bodily autonomy. But let’s be clear. The focus isn’t on the adults.

Choosing to have a child means your life is no longer your own. Behave like it. Cherish them. –“Laws of Modern Man” blog by Erik Angstrom.
This doesn’t mean you’re a slave to your child. But it does remove you from the center of your universe. (See credits below).

Call it a “Nanny State”?

Social and legal structures are in place on Rana to ensure that parents and children have strong support networks. Call it a “nanny state” if you must. But on Rana the focus is on child care, not on needlessly coddling adults in the pejorative sense that some conservatives and “rugged individualists” use the term. When the state is dedicated to ensuring that all of its citizens have the tools to reach their full potential, it has certain responsibilities – especially to children.

And perhaps the most important of those responsibilities is making sure parents are equipped and empowered to care for their children well. Most of us want this for our kids, but in the American system it’s hideously easy to fall through the cracks, especially if you are poor or part of a minority community. Of course, in any human-run program, things will not  go perfectly.

Effective parenting requires being the grown up version of what you want your children to be. Why? Because example is the most compelling superpower. – Richelle E. Goodrich, “Slaying Dragons.”
How to build a healthier world? One wise-adult-to-child bond at a time. (See credits below).

The Crucial Trade-Off: Fertility and Autonomy

If a state is going to require a license to become a parent, it instantly brings up some very sticky points, if one is focused on liberty and personal freedom. Remember China’s misguided and draconian “One Child” policy? Outside control of an individual’s fertility is always, without question, coercive and invasive.

Today, young women in the United States are properly alarmed at the prospect of being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term (or dying for lack of needed health care). But the “flip side” of forced sterilizations is just as horrifying. Its oppressive and racist applications in the past were unconscionable. That in some cases the practice continues today should be an automatic argument for public scrutiny.

More horrifying questions follow. The power to choose between who may become a parent and who may not is frightfully open to abuse, even when it’s kept transparent and carefully safeguarded. Americans, Europeans, and especially the Nazis enthusiastically embraced the eugenics movement that began in the late 19th Century. Eugenics history alone should offer more than enough nightmarish warnings. Here on earth, many people rightly see reproductive rights as human rights, essential to liberty and personal freedom. Yet new biological advances force us to confront new ethical questions.

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother. - Margaret Sanger
Many thanks, AZ Quotes!

Contraception and Yet More Ethical Questions

The fact remains that Rana Station is a carefully-balanced, closed ecosystem. Its sovereignty and national security require that it be a self-sustaining island in a great sea of space. They have to be able to feed themselves and meet all other needs through internal resources. Too much dependence on outside resources makes them vulnerable to powers in the system that definitely don’t see liberty and personal freedom the way Ranans do.

It’s all too easy to throw a balanced system out of safety margins and risk famine. The population, among a laundry list of other things, must be meticulously controlled. It’s not a “Cold Equations” scenario, but sober caution is an existential necessity.

That means there can only be a limited number of new births and immigrations allowed in any given year, to balance the “expected deaths.” In its 90-plus years of history, the Station has only expanded its territory once, by adding Wheels Seven and Eight. That was a difficult and expensive venture, one the government is still paying for. Unlimited reproductive freedom simply is not practical.

Eventually we'll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves. - Jonas Salk
Many thanks, AZ Quotes!

So, How do the Ranans do it?

Any tight control of population growth requires an ironclad means of contraception, something we don’t yet have in our contemporary world. Science fiction, y’all. I’m assuming someday we will have such a thing. I can do that because I’m the Queen, remember?

Given this infallible means of contraception, certain rules fall into place. From the onset of puberty, all Ranan kids must undergo a reversible procedure that renders them temporarily sterile. Same goes for anyone seeking to immigrate, even on a temporary visa. It’s a requirement that the law mandates must never bent or fudged.

In this situation, abortion is a non-issue. No pregnancy gets that far. No one can force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term if she doesn’t want it, because she and her partner(s) have to literally sign up for it. This also means that one form of bodily autonomy – and a measure of liberty and personal freedom – must be subsumed for the greater good.

Most Ranans have long since accepted it. But of course, not everyone is happy with the trade-off. Therein lies the seed of conflict, and conflict is the stuff of which plotlines are built! Stay tuned.


We have lots of people to thank this week, most especially AZ Quotes, which provided the quote-images from both Margaret Sanger and Jonas Salk. Other excellent sources included Quotefancy, for the Timothy Keller quote and Ms. Mullins (teacher extraordinaire) for the quote from Charles de Lint. Medium published the article that included the quote-image from Dr. King. Jan found the quote from “Laws of Modern Man” by Erik Angstrom via Connie Young’s “Let’s put children first” Pinterest Board. Finally, we’re grateful to Quoteslyfe for the words of Richelle E. Goodrich, from her book Slaying Dragons. Many thanks to all of you!

Lucy’s beautiful, verdant landscape captures the terraced hills with their little farms on either side, the meanders of the Sirius River through the center, and the torus’s perverse upward curve in the distance.

Thinking About Space Stations

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been thinking about space stations, lately (sure, doesn’t everyone?). As a regular reader of science fiction, I encounter the fictional kind pretty often. And I’m always interested in news from Earth’s very own space station, the ISS. Technically we Earthlings have two, but it seems like China doesn’t want to share.

I’m particularly interested in Jessica Watkins’ long-duration ISS assignment. She’ll stay in orbit for 6 months, adding valuable insight to our knowledge about the effects of microgravity on humans, by providing data from someone who is not a white male. She’s also breaking new ground (another “first,” –the first Black woman to fly an extended mission).

The information Watkins will gain for us is particularly important to me. That’s because anytime I’m thinking about space stations, the first one that comes to mind is the one I’m working hard to create: Rana Station.

Lucy’s beautiful, verdant landscape captures the terraced hills with their little farms on either side, the meanders of the Sirius River through the center, and the torus’s perverse upward curve in the distance.
The Sirius River Valley: It’s hard to imagine the years of effort by a surprising number of people that lie behind this peaceful-looking landscape. (Painting © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

My Anti-Disbelief Kit

As a writer, my most pressing necessity is to induce rational, intelligent, scientifically-educated readers to willingly suspend their disbelief and accept some patently unreal things. That humans can live together with a non-Terrestrial sapient species in harmony within the same nation, for example. That a government could dedicate itself to the well-being of all citizens. Or law enforcement agencies could fight crime effectively and respect the civil rights of everyone, even criminals. That dogs can be uplifted to an intelligence level on par with humans, for another. And, of course, that they all can exist in an exo-system somewhere else in the Galaxy, inside a human-and-ozzirikkian-made megastructure in space.

I know: that’s a lot of disbelief to suspend! But I have a huge advantage. Decades of popular media have trained people in our culture to recognize such ideas as not totally crazy. Thank you, Star Trek, Star Wars, and of the many, many other “space”-based movies, TV shows, and video games we’ve enjoyed!

The other major tool in my Anti-Disbelief Kit is to follow the science we do know, as closely as possible in my story context. That’s why thinking about space stations is something I do frequently. I keep updating myself, even as I have started publishing my XK9 books. If I can stay up-to-date with current knowledge development about space, as well as the knowledgeable extrapolations of experts, my stories will ring more true to my readers.

Three pictures of humans working inside the International Space Station, the photos are at odd angles, suggesting the very low gravity.
Things float around in microgravity – and there is no “up” or “down” unless it’s relative to one’s own face and hands. (See extensive credits below).

Enough to Eat – In Space

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t planning to set my XK9 stories on a self-contained, self-sufficient space station. It was part of my basic concept “from the git-go.” Part of the appeal for me came from the “closed system” nature of the interior environment. I’ve done a lot of research and given a lot of thought to food production, protein sources, and agricultural infrastructure on a self-sufficient space station.

I think we all know the more familiar idea of a space station as a port of some sort. Sort of a super-sized airport in space. Most fictional space station depictions don’t get into food production questions. They mostly assume there are logistics chains from somewhere (or that magical “replicators” will cover the need). But I’m from farm country, I was born in the Show-Me State, and I’m also a longtime home gardener. I have a real hard time suspending my own disbelief when it comes to replicators or astronomically long logistics chains. How could I ask my readers to do so?

Something we already know about hauling things up from gravity wells into space is that it’s very expensive. And – speaking of thinking about space stations and their resupply issues – on the ISS they’ve been growing experimental food-producing plants for a long time already. NASA and the world’s other space agencies know full well that multi-year space missions or “colonies” on the Moon or Mars can’t afford to rely only on food from Earth.

Clockwise from the beefsteak in the black vacuum-sealed bag velcroed to the blue tray or mat at lower left, other vacuum-sealed food items are candy-coated peanuts, shortbread cookies, cheddar cheese spread, creamed spinach, and at the center some round crackers. At lower right are a pair of medical-style scissors, a fork, and a knife (which look startlingly similar to this blogger’s “Paul Revere” flatware pattern). The utensils appear to be held in place by two magnetic strips.
Taken in the Food Tasting lab in building 17: Bags of International Space Station food and utensils on tray, 2003. (see credits below).

Thinking About How to Build Rana Station

Thinking about space stations in the abstract is all well and good. Having some starting-point ideas about what you think you want to do is essential. But the next step is research. I had seen others’ fictional space stations. As I’ve noted in a previous post, within my lifetime I’ve experienced the progression from a time before we had real-life space stations, till now.

I love research. My sister would tell you that there have been times when I seemed likely to happily delve into research forever, and never resurface to write stories at all. And when it came time to create my own space station, I certainly didn’t need to start from scratch. I had loads of wonderful data, ideas, and extrapolations to build from. I “just” needed to do the research.

In this case, I took my “DIY project” online. The more thinking about space stations that I did, and the more research I piled up, the clearer it became that I had a lot of choices. In part to help me think through each possibility clearly, and in part to make good use of my research time, I created blog posts about several different space station designs. Even though I ultimately decided not to use them for Rana Station, I wanted to consider them. I blogged about Dyson Rings and Spheres, Bernal Spheres, and O’Neill Cylinders. But for several reasons, for Rana Station I settled on a chain of super-sized Stanford Torii.

Visualizations of the interior of a toroid space habitat: a landscape of the interior, and a cutaway of the interior with homes and landscaped plants.
Visions from the Ames Center in 1975: © NASA; artwork at left by Don Davis. Artwork at right by Rick Guidice.

Always Thinking About Space Stations

The longer my readers and I spend on Rana Station, the more aspects of it will become relevant, and the more ideas I can explore. It’s not enough to do the research and have ideas about how things should be set up. The science fiction novelist’s mission is to both entertain and explore science-based thought experiments. The cool ideas we cook up will only gain traction if they’re smoothly inserted into an engaging story when they become relevant.

The idea of uplifted police dogs on a space station will tend to intrigue the kind of people I’m writing for. But it’s my job to keep then intrigued and engaged once they’ve arrived on-Station. That’s why I’m always working on new story ideas. Always seeking better ways to visualize my characters in greater depth. It’s why I’m interested in new forensic science developments, and new discoveries about dog cognition.

And it’s why I’m nearly always thinking about space stations.


The illustration at the beginning of this post is ©2022 by Lucy A. Synk. This painting was first unveiled on my monthly newsletter. Learn more about how it was developed and why it was painted in my recent post, “A Vision From a Different World.”

Many thanks to NASA and JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, for the photos in the montage of people working inside the ISS. Floating on the left side of the montage, Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Michael Hopkins put together extra sleeping space for astronauts during a “crew handover.” The sleep unit is the Crew Alternate Sleep Accommodation (CASA). It can be converted to a storage rack when it’s not an emergency bunk. They installed it in the European Space Agency-built Columbus laboratory module. Hopkins later became the first astronaut to transfer to the US Space Force.

The NASA photo at what is to us the top of the image shows Astronaut Kate Rubins working with the Biomolecular Sequencer. Her experiments with it yielded the first DNA sequencing in space. In the third photo (from JAXA), Astronaut Norishige Kanai exercises on the Advanced Resistive Device (ARED). Designed to fight muscle loss in space, it has proven to work much better than the previous unit. The Rubins and Kanai photos came from a NASA story about preparations for a new moon mission.

Two Photos You May Remember

I used the less-than-mouthwatering array of contemporary space food on an earlier blog post, “Growing Rana Station’s Agriculture.” Many thanks to original sources NASA and Wikimedia Commons!

I also used the two vintage views inside a Stanford Torus, in A Vision From a Different World.”  These 1975 paintings are ©1975 by NASA. They were painted by Don Davis (torus interior landscape) and Rick Guidice (cutaway view). I am deeply grateful that NASA has made this resource so freely available.

On a background of plastic straws, a photo of The Ocean Cleanup’s haul of waste plastics after a day’s run, and a mountain of baled plastic waste in Boise, Idaho.


By Jan S. Gephardt

Which eco-dreams will fuel the solutions of tomorrow? The climate change challenge has put fire in many bellies. It’s inspired the imagination of people all over the world. And well it should! Our future depends on those clever ideas and ambitious visions.

But not all eco-dreams work out the way we expect.

“If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Characteristic wisdom from Mrs. Roosevelt. (Many thanks, Be An Inspirer).

A Brilliant Idea

Back around 2009-2010, a Japanese scientist-inventor named Akinori Ito developed what he hoped could be a solution to two problems: the global ballooning of plastic waste, and the fact that petroleum production was controlled by a small number of countries who’d formed into a cartel to collude on prices.

Plastic is made from petroleum. What if he could devise a practical way to use thermochemical decomposition – a process called pyrolysis – to retrieve useable petroleum from waste plastics? The earliest online references to Ito’s process that I could find date to about 2010. He created a “home pyrolysis unit,” which he called the Blest Machine. It could be used on a consumer level, and dreamed of scaling the process up. He formed his Blest company for that purpose.

Ito’s Process

As Michael Luciano described the process in Design World, Feb. 21, 2017, “Plastic waste is placed into a large bucket inside the machine, where the temperature inside slowly rises to melt and eventually turn the plastic into a gas. Upon entering its gaseous form, the plastic passed through a tube into a water-filled container, where it cools and forms the oil. The final product can be burned in this form, or further processed into gasoline, diesel, or kerosene.”

Wow! Talk about an eco-dream with potential! Even if it just stayed on the household level, perhaps people could form co-ops to collect enough gasoline, kerosene, or other petroleum products to create a supplementary resource. Unfortunately, the most recent reference to the Blest Machine or Ito’s process that I could find is from 2017.

Akinori Ito’s Blest Machine, at top in a display, at lower left set up on the floor and ready to work. At right, Ito demonstrates his machine to a group of schoolchildren.
Akinori Ito’s Blest Machine showed up fairly often in news articles, on waste management and engineering websites and in demonstrations by the inventor. I couldn’t find online references newer than 2017, however. (See credits below).

An Eco-Dream of Energy Independence for the USA

Back in 2015, we were still talking about a future in which we might become energy-independent. Hydraulic racking had begun to be deployed widely enough to prove its worth in that respect . . . and to raise a whole bunch of questions about “What is it doing to the groundwater?” And “How can it be a coincidence that we’re having earthquakes in fracking country?”

My focus in the blog post then was the opening of the Bakken Formation, which was experiencing boom times in 2015. Still reeling from the Great Recession, people were flocking there for good-paying jobs – then arriving and discovering there was no place to live and the winters were colder than they could possibly have imagined.

Images of oil fields and two of the mobile-home developments that sprang up all over the Bakken Formation region.
The oil fields of the Bakken Formation extend from North Dakota into Montana. In the early 2010s at the end of the Great Recession, people rushed to the area to work in fields newly opened by hydraulic fracking. Mobile home boomtowns like those above sprang up nearly overnight, to house them. (See credits below).

Eco-Dreams of an Oceanic Application

I first learned of the Blest Machine through an online video in 2014. At first I was dubious. It sounded too good to be true. But I checked into it and discovered that a lot of people were taking it seriously. After I’d originally reposted the video, I wrote an update and posted that on my blog in 2015.

In my blog post, I speculated about scaled-up applications that might help to deal with ecological obscenities such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In passing I mentioned that a young engineer (named Boylan Slat) had proposed ideas about how to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other global gyres, which also are collecting plastic waste.

Speculating as Science Fiction Writers are Known to Do

In my post, I asked a question: Could the pyrolysis process of Akinori Ito be combined with cleanup ideas such as those of Boylan Slat, to both supply the need for energy independence from the oil cartel and deal with plastic waste?

“Yes, yes, I know,” I concluded my post back then. “I’m WAY over-simplifying. My idea is impractical for thousands of immediate reasons. But what if they can be overcome? The key to any innovation is first to think of the idea, then solve the problems that currently make it impractical. Simple? Easy? No. Worth considering? We won’t know till we consider the possibilities for a while.”

A world map illustrates the five “Ocean Gyres of the World;” an iconic photo of a baby seahorse clinging to a 2-ended swab with a plastic shaft.
All five ocean gyres of the world contain greater or lesser Garbage Patches. The most famous is the Great Pacific. The iconic “Sewage Surfer” photo © Justin Hofman (used with his permission) shows a baby seahorse in the Indian Ocean Gyre, clinging to an entirely unsuitable “stalk of seaweed,” instead of better-rooted support. The photo won Hofman honors in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2017. (See credits below).

Well, it’s Been a While. Where do the Eco-Dreams Stand?

In my 2015 post, I reported that Boylan Slat was planning to launch his first efforts through his organization called The Ocean Cleanup “next year.” So, then, what’s “the rest of the story”? As far as I can tell, The Ocean Cleanup is going strong. Their objective is to clean up 90% of floating ocean plastic pollution. They’re now actively collecting waste plastics from all five major ocean gyres.

Since the first effort, they’ve learned a lot and refined their techniques for tracking, sourcing, and collecting plastic waste. They’d love to tell you all about it (and show you why your generous donations would be put to world-saving use). They’ve also branched into the much knottier problem of river cleanup.

Oceanic Waste Management

Inevitably, of course, there’s a question of “what do we do with it once we collect it?” They most emphatically don’t want to hand it off to irresponsible “recyclers” like those who helped create the problem in the first place. In 2020 they launched a proof-of-concept project, The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses. This sold-out prototype demonstrated that, “plastic caught in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch . . . can be recycled into high-quality consumer products.”

However, their specialty and strong point is collecting the trash, not recycling it. “In the future, we no longer intend to create our own products; instead, we will work with partners to develop products using The Ocean Cleanup Plastic. This will allow us to focus on our core mission of cleaning up.”

On a background of plastic straws, a photo of The Ocean Cleanup’s haul of waste plastics after a day’s run, and a mountain of baled plastic waste in Boise, Idaho.
By sea or by land, we’ve created literal mountains of plastic waste that we must now deal with sustainably. (See credits below).

How About Energy Independence?

Since 2015, the United States has indeed achieved energy independence on the fossil fuels front. According to Forbes author Robert Rapier, the US has been a net exporter of coal and gas for a while, now. That status does not appear to have changed, even during the Pandemic. Rapier points out that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) determined the US to have been energy independent in 2019 and 2020. So, since before the Pandemic hit. He also offers a primer on what “energy independence” means as he uses it.

The US is able to cut off Russian oil imports, unlike some European countries that are dependent on Russia for gas and oil. Unfortunately, we’ve continued to flirt with other oil-producing autocrats, and our national energy sources still remain all too heavy on the fossil fuels. Mr. Biden recently opened up some federal lands for gas and oil leasing, against future need, which I wish he hadn’t.

The most depressing part is the continued heavy emphasis on fossil fuels – which are causing our problems in the first place!

But What Happened with Pyrolysis?

Those eco-dreams have a murkier story. My 2015 blog post mentioned several startups that seemed to show promise. One was a company in Utah called PK Clean. It later changed its name to Renewology, still making efforts to scale up the chemical recycling of plastic.

Renewology and the City of Boise, Idaho formed a partnership im 2018 to turn waste plastics into fuel. They introduced what they called an “EnergyBag” program to collect consumer plastic waste at people’s homes, and bag it separately so it could be used for the program. By 2019 the “EnergyBags” were piling up, but not being used for fuel. In 2020, Boise renewed its “EnergyBag” program, but with a different destination planned for the plastics collected.

PK Clean/Renewology also launched a partnership in Nova Scotia with a company called Sustane Technologies in 2017. There was a glowing update in 2018 about how they were seeking approval to convert plastic waste to fuel. An update overview from Sustane in 2020 does not mention PK Clean or Renewology, but Sustane does claim to use a pyrolysis system, purchased from a Utah companyto create synthetic diesel fuel. So, maybe it worked, there.

The building and even the signboard are the same. Only the name changed from PK Clean at left to Renewology at right. The two photos, along with an aerial view of the Sustain plant in Nova Scotia, are placed on a background image of a literal wall of “Energy Bags” stockpiled in Boise, Idaho.
Whether they called themselves PK Clean or Renewology, the City of Boise, Idaho (background image is a wall of Boise’s “Energy Bags”) never reached the desired result with them, and they now appear to be out of business. Sustane Technologies in Nova Scotia (see their plant in the aerial view with the local landfill in the background) may have found the key to using pyrolysis, however. (See credits below).

Investigative Reporting Tells (Most of) the Rest

I finally found my answers about PK Clean/Renewology from a Reuters investigative report published in 2021. Pyrolysis, at least as Renewology attempted to implement it, had proved unsustainable. Plastic waste is more easily burned to create energy, but there are toxic byproducts, and burning is still a contributor to the greenhouse effect.

Of the Blest Machine in 2017, Luciano wrote, “there are some relatively unanswered questions regarding the true extent of the Blest Machine’s reduced CO2 emissions and what happens to discarded chemical compounds during the conversion process.” Any inefficiencies an “discarded chemical compounds” would tend to scale up with attempts to use the technology at scale. At a guess, that’s probably what happened with the Boise and Nova Scotia efforts.

Keep on Following Eco-Dreams

The hard truth is that not all promising technologies work out – certainly not immediately, and maybe never. If you’d asked me to bet, in 2015, whether Akinori Ito’s pyrolysis or Boylan Slat’s eco-dreams to clean up the ocean would succeed better, my money would’ve been on the pyrolysis.

Which goes to show that science fiction writers only look like prophets of the future later, if they guess right!

The fact is that either initiative could have failed, depending on luck, management decisions, technical problems or a thousand other things. And either initiative also could have succeeded brilliantly, as it appears The Ocean Cleanup mostly is. Were both worth trying? Absolutely.

Eco-dreams can’t turn into a better future for us and our planet if we don’t even give them a try. No new technology or process is easy at the start, or it would already have been done long ago. And maybe we shouldn’t give up too soon, even on something that looks as if it failed. Sustane Technologies is keeping its cards close to its chest at this point, but there may yet be hope for Akinori Ito’s plastic-to-fuel pyrolysis eco-dreams, too.


Many thanks to Be An Inspirer, for the Eleanor Roosevelt quote. All montages are Jan S. Gephardt’s fault. The upper photo of Akinori Ito’s Blest Machine comes from MB&F, AKA Maximilian Büsser & Friends (on display with a green background). The other two came courtesy of The Civil Engineer. Deepest gratitude to both!

Photos of the Bakken Oil Fields at their height in the early 20-teens came from a variety of sources. I’m indebted to Zack Nelson/AP, The Williston Herald, and The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington (where I found it), for the photo of repair work on a pipeline leak near Blacktail Creek outside Williston, ND in 2015. Many thanks to Gregory Bull/AP and NPR for the 2011 photo of the company-owned “man camp” (long, straight, prefab rows), also near Williston. Deepest gratitude to Tim Smith Photography, for the photo of row after row of new mobile homes installed near Watford City, ND. Also to KERA News for the gorgeous, uncredited photo of a pump-jack at sunset near downtown Sidney, Montana in 2015.

Thank you very much to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Their 2018 blog post “The Plastic in our Oceans,” provided the illustration-map of the Earth’s five ocean gyres. And I continue to be grateful to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 competition and to photographer and copyright-holder Justin Hofman, for permission to use his “Sewage Surfer” on my blog, including my original post.

So. Much. Plastic Waste!

Many thanks to Public News Service for the photo of the huge pile of plastics in Boise, Idaho in 2018. At that point they still had faith in Renewology. The Ocean Cleanup provided the photo of their “catch of the day,” a mountain of recovered plastic waste on “System 002’s” deck in October 2021. And I owe The New York Times thanks for the background photo of colorful plastic straws. It originally illustrated a story about their use by hotels and resorts.

Thanks to a whole lot of people for the “Renewology Woes” montage! The background photo, from 2019, is a literal wall of “Energy Bags,” from Reuters and photographer Brian Losness. Thank you! Big piles of “Energy Bags” were still sitting around in Boise, long after the bloom was off the Renewology rose. Eventually, those bags did produce energy, BTW. They even did it through a form of pyrolysis: they were burned to power a cement plant. Yes, burning produces thermochemical changes. Unfortunately, also toxic wastes.

Reuters and photographer George Frey also provided the 2019 photo of the Renewology sign in front of the company’s Utah building. I was somewhat amused to note that there are only two changes in 2019 from the photo of the PK Clean sign in 2017. Thank you, Waste Dive, for that photo. It’s credited to PK Clean, but we know they’re not answering anymore. The only differences in the photo from 2019 were the words on the signboard and the mounds of plastic waste. The building, and even the sign’s support structure, look exactly the same.

And Yet, Possibly an Eco-Dreams Grace Note

Finally, I’m also grateful to Sustane and the CBC for the 2018 photo of the Sustane Technologies plant. It’s located 25 km north of Chester, Nova Scotia, close to the Kaizer Meadow landfill, which supplies it with waste. In a 2020 article it says it turns about 90% of the municipal waste from the landfill into reusable materials. About 50% becomes pelletized biomass. And somehow they’re turning the 20% of their feedstock that’s plastic into synthetic diesel through pyrolysis.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.

Equal civil rights for all

The Future We Want – Part 3

By Jan S. Gephardt

Now here’s a radical thought: a country where equal civil rights for all is a reality. Do we have any such place in the world today? I can’t say for sure, but I do know one thing. The United States is currently no such place.

Yes, I know Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence said it’s “self-evident” that “all men are created equal.” But even he and his fellow rich, white, male, slave-owning revolutionaries didn’t mean that literally.

I have been hearing a wide variety of exceptions and variations on this quote all my life, mostly to point out ways it’s not true or fudge the “rule,” rather than to seriously embrace the idea that it actually, like ever happens. Because, of course, we realize it doesn’t.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." - Thomas Jefferson
(Courtesy of Quote Thee).

Equal, with Rights?

The rest of the “all men are created equal” thought immediately links equality to rights: “that they [the “all men” who are equal] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” But, to quote another popular phrase, “The devil is in the details.” Certainly, Thomas Jefferson didn’t think “all men are created equal” meant all of humanity. Considering how he treated Sally Hemings, he certainly didn’t mean either women or slaves.

Nor did the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights clearly establish just exactly what “unalienable Rights” the Creator (or, more practically, the government) might have endowed upon them. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is a bit too vague and sweeping to be helpful in a court of law. It certainly can’t, and never did, guarantee equal civil rights for all.

I spent four weeks in July 2020 discussing the First Amendment alone, and how difficult it is to nail down specifics. If you’d like to see those posts, they start with “Freedom of Religion: Is the First Amendment an Aspiration?” (July 2, 2020) and run through “The Importance of Freedom of the Press” (July 29, 2020). But the quest for equal civil rights for all goes beyond the First Amendment.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
Chief Joseph: “The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.”
Harvey Milk: “All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”
(See credits below).

Equality and Equity

It would be easy and convenient if equality and equity were the same thing, achievable by simple weights and measures. But they’re not. Equality means everyone gets exactly the same treatment, or pay, or goods, or whatever. And in some cases that’s exactly the right approach.

Two people do the exact same job for a company? They should be paid equally – even if one is a woman or a member of a minority. That’s not to say that if one does extra work s/he shouldn’t be paid a bonus. But again, each should get an equal chance to earn that bonus. That’s simple fairness.

Sometimes it’s that easy, but most of the time It’s not. To echo Napoleon the Pig in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it becomes a problem when “some animals are more equal than others.” When the goal is actual, genuine equal civil rights for all? Oh, that’s never been easy! In fact, lately it seems to be growing harder and harder to secure.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." - George Orwell
(Courtesy of Magical Quote).

A Tale of Two Little Girls

Here’s another equality/equity hypothetical situation. Say there are two smart little girls. One lives in a nice suburb, goes to an expensive science camp in the summer, and has a grandma in another city who likes to take her to the theatre and kids’ museums whenever she visits. She is well-traveled, well-fed, in excellent health, and her education never lacks for enrichment.

The other kid grew up in a series of shabby, drafty apartments, in between stints of living in the family car. She’s always hungry. She lives in a dangerous part of town, where people sometimes find dead bodies on the street or in their yards. Her mom works two jobs and can’t stay home with her much, so her auntie keeps an eye on her, along with her three cousins, whom the auntie favors. They never go out because Auntie’s immigration status is “iffy.”

Do these two little girls, of equivalent intelligence, both have an equal chance to do well in school? Of course not. That’s where the question of equity comes in. The first little girl has all kinds of advantages the second one can’t access without extra help from the school and the community. Help she may or may not (probably won’t) get, depending on where she lives and what the State Legislature’s priorities are And, as we all know, these priorities are rarely in the best interest of smart little girls in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

In the “reality” section, the differences in resources are extreme between three kids looking over a fence at a baseball game. One stands on a whole pile of boxes, one can see over, standing on one box, and the littlest one is standing in a hole. Can’t see over at all. In the “Equality” section each kid stands on a box. The tall kid can easily see over, the middle kid is unchanged, and the little one stands on his box but still can’t see over. In the “Equity” section, the tall kid didn’t need his box. He can still see over. The middle kid is unchanged. He can see over, too. The smallest one now stands on two boxes, and can see over the fence! In the ”Liberation” section, all can see, without the aid of boxes, because there is no fence.
(See credits below).

What’s the End Goal?

The reality in which we live is far different from any abstract ideal of equality. And even equality needs adjustments in how resources are distributed, to provide true equity. The cartoon above offers a fourth state, “Liberation,” which deserves consideration as well. But, for today, let’s just focus on equal civil rights for all. And let’s define “equal civil rights for all” as equitable access to opportunities, equal protection under the law, and an equal say in how we are governed.

I’ve talked about equity and equality above. This series, “The Future We Want” focuses on not only what kind of future we want to live in, but how science fiction can help us form a vision of that future. A vision is essential, if we’re to achieve almost any goal. But what do we see around us? Certainly not equal civil rights for all! We must apply a large dose of imagination for that.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
(See credits below).

What Would Equal Civil Rights for All Look Like?

Equitable access to opportunities implies no glass ceilings, no systemic racism, and no history of apartheid and genocide – or appropriate reparations made, to recognize such a history. There’d be no antisemitism, no Islamophobia, or any other religious or ethnic bias. It would allow no gender, sexuality, identity, or age bias. (I’m already imagining the groans about political correctness, but wait! There’s more).

This hypothetical system also would accommodate for differently-abled candidates. We’d ideally be able to work out a system much like the “blind auditions widely adopted by symphony orchestras and other, similar venues. What system could we use? Mm. Good question. But I’d welcome ideas in the Comments, about how to achieve more equitable access to opportunities for everyone.

Equal protection under the law would yield racially proportionate rates of conviction and incarceration – something we’ve never had in the United States. It would end the need for Black parents to give their children “The Talk” about what to do when they are (inevitably, no matter what they do) stopped by police. It would end the criminalization of poverty and the routine abuses to persons experiencing houselessness. And it would mean public defenders’ offices were as well-funded and prestigious as prosecutors’ offices.

“I've always been driven by the concept of equal justice under the law, but only the rich can pay great sums of money for legal assistance and that puts them at an advantage over the poor.” -Samuel Dash
(Courtesy of Moonsling).

How about the Civil Rights the Civil Rights Movement Fought for?

An equal say in how we are governed would mean no gerrymandering (this a bitter issue with me right now, living as I do in the proposed-to-be divided Kansas Third District). It would mean that it would never be illegal to offer water and a sandwich to would-be voters standing in line for hours. It also would mean that no voters would have to stand in line for hours!

That there’d be widely-available mail-in balloting. That there’d be more than one drop-box for ballots in enormous districts such as Harris County, TX. And that all election officials would act in strictly nonpartisan manner.

An equal say in how we are governed would – in the United States – mean changes in the Senate (it’s extraordinarily undemocratic). Also, probably the abolition of the Electoral College (a system which routinely renders my Kansas-based vote for President irrelevant every four years). Both of these institutions were compromises designed to keep smaller states and minority populations from being drowned out by the influence of larger states. Neither “fix” is improving equity today in the way the Founders hoped.

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock
(See credits below).

Science Fiction and Equal Civil Rights for All

We need to see imagined worlds where it is possible to reach for, and maybe even achieve, more equal civil rights for all. In my opinion, one of the very best ways to do that is to create compelling, interesting stories about the future that show people what this concept would look like, feel like, and be like. Speculative and science fiction writers, this is our moment! Some of you may want to wallow in dystopia, but please! Offer us hope as well!

I care a great deal about equity and equality. It is one of the major themes that informs my science fiction. I designed Rana Station, the setting for most of my XK9 stories, as a place where all-too-fallible humans (and a couple of other species) try to create a place that helps all residents reach their full potential. But developing a vision for our world will need more than one small indie press, and more than one little-known writer advocating for better visions of the future.

It will need many more of us. It will need leaders in the field to stand up and say “this is worth writing about!” (thank you Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson, for two examples of writers who are). Science fiction has changed the real world in many ways already. It’s time for us to do it again. And a good place to start is creating a vision of equal civil rights for all.


Many thanks to Quote Thee for the Thomas Jefferson quote-image (originally from IZQuotes, but that page wouldn’t function for me). I also appreciate AZQuotes for the Harvey Milk quote; Quotesgram for the one from Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and BrainyQuote for the one from Chief Joseph (Montage by Jan S. Gephardt). And I’m grateful to Magical Quote for the Orwell “All animals” quote-image.

Angus Maguire created the “Reality-Equality-Equity-Liberation” image for Interaction Institute for Social Change, which holds the copyright and granted permission to use the image. I appreciate all! I created the “The Job of speculative and science fiction” image with some help from Chaz Kemp’s licensed Nebula 2 artwork, © 2021 by Chaz Kemp. This image was first used for my “Looking for Hope” post.

I’m grateful to Moonsling for the quote-image about equal protection under the law from Samuel Dash. I first assembled the quote from a tweet by the Rev. Raphael Warnock (now US Senator Warnock) in November 2020. It’s now reformatted slightly and discovered that the background photo is originally from the Baltimore Sun, taken at the Maryland primary election, June 2, 2020 by the multitalented Karl Merton Ferron. Deepest appreciation to all of them!

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