Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Shifting backward in time...


Science fiction sometimes deals with the concept of traveling backward in time.  But, in real life, it looks as though western civilization is truly shifting backward in time, in terms of the basic human rights of women.

In 1973, Roe v. Wade gave women the most basic right of all:  the right to control their own bodies.  Public opinion remains pretty solidly opposed in the U.S. to any outright ban on abortion rights.  But, if present trends continue, it looks as though the right of choice may suffer the death of a thousand cuts.  Reactionary forces bent on shifting the country back through time to the 1950's on women's rights are again using underhanded, sideward legislative attacks to slowly but surely whittle down a woman's right to abort an unwanted pregnancy.  Texas has been one of the main battlegrounds in this ongoing war of attrition of late.  Now, Michigan has become the next battlefield where women's rights have suffered a defeat.

Ironically, in a time when the country is hotly debating insurance coverage, a new restrictive anti-abortion law passed by the Michigan State Senate uses insurance coverage rules as a weapon against a woman's right of choice.  Under this new law, a woman must purchase her abortion coverage under a separate rider, but is not allowed to do so if she's already pregnant.  (So much for the conservative battle-cry of not letting big government interfere with our insurance choices!)  So, basically, if a woman's just been raped and impregnated, she's out of luck unless she already bought a rider she would not have otherwise needed.  Just the latest in a parade of utterly unscrupulous tactics for taking down a woman's right to choose, not with an axe, but with tweezers.  The conservatives know they can't win this fight in a fair stand-up vote, so they hope to sneak in their anti-freedom agenda an inch at a time.

So, what is the end-goal of this anti-choice crusade?  What do the conservatives ultimately want the U.S. to look like?  Well, perhaps much like El Salvador does today.  What is little reported in the U.S. media is that El Salvador currently has one of the most brutal and draconian anti-abortion laws in history.  Women in that country are currently being imprisoned for years on charges of "aggravated murder", if they so much as suffer a miscarriage which the authorities consider "suspicious."  Once incarcerated, they are subject to beatings and severe abuse.  Abortion has been banned without exception in El Salvador since 1997.  (Those of us old enough to remember the 1980's remember Ronald Reagan's merry death squads in Central America, his support of right wing butchers in El Salvador, all in the name of freedom.  Look how wonderfully that all turned out.)

This cruel turn against women's rights in El Salvador is largely reflective of a general rightward shift in a largely Roman Catholic society.  The anti-choice group Si ala Vida (Yes to Life) in alliance with the ruling ARENA party has played a large role in shaping public opinion in a severely anti-choice direction.  (Ironic that a group so concerned with the sanctity of life should ally itself with the right-wing coalition ARENA, founded by the infamous war criminal and mass murderer Roberto, "Blowtorch Bob" D'Aubuisson, mastermind of the assassination of famed human rights defender Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.)  The Salvadoran Bishop Miguel Moran Aquino justified the anti-choice policy this way:  "We cannot accept any law that goes against life.  It is not a question of faith and religion, but of humanity."  

The sincerity of Bishop Aquino's pro-life statement must be called into question by another statement the Bishop made, in explaining to western journalists that he interpreted the current conservative shift in El Salvador a back-lash against feminist groups and their efforts to impose what he termed liberal social legislation counter to Salvadoran culture:   "They want to promote therapeutic abortion.  This would open the window to other kinds of abortions, then same-sex marriage and adopting children by homosexuals or lesbians."

Clearly, it's not about the sanctity of life.  It's about power, fear and hate.  Power of men over women, fear of progress and hate of those who are different.  That's the heart and soul of the rightward shift in western civilization which masquerades behind hypocritical fig-leaf slogans of "pro-life" and "godliness."  What is pro-life about a culture that slaughters thousands with predator drones?  What is godly or Christian about a culture where crowds howl like savages outside death houses in gleeful anticipation of executions?  Those who call themselves godly and pro-life are often the same people who blow up abortion clinics, kill abortion doctors and slaughter gays and lesbians however they can.  Oh sure, the public disavows support for such extremism.  But, put it into law, if only little by little, and they'll howl in support of that, too.  If conservatives got their way, homosexuals, women accused of abortion, illegal immigrants, the racially impure... any one who doesn't fit in with their simplistic, colorless view of life would be quietly exterminated, all in the name of godliness and pro-life.

No, it wouldn't be done openly.  The laws that permitted it would come about only slowly, bit by bit and from a dozen crooked angles.  As it was in Germany once upon a time... no one would notice.  Because, no one would want to.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Designs and Illusions...


"Meeting" is a strange tale of illusion and conflicting, often shattering realities, set largely in our nation's capital.

The real world of Washington D.C. -- real as we can make out -- seems little better of late.  Of course, the recent government shut-down wasn't the first in our nation's history, and sadly, almost certainly not the last.  It was by no means irreparable, but it most certainly did harm to the nation as a whole, to the tune of approximately $20 billion.  It wasn't just a rope around Old Faithful, or a handful of ruined vacations to national landmarks.  To thousands of government contract workers (hardworking middle class people, people with families) it was considerably more than an inconvenience.  It was, in effect a punitive lay-off which they did not deserve to have suffered.  It was also a slow-down in the economy, a delay in a lot of rent payments, a delay in food shipments.  The effects, both subtle and gross, go on and on.

Congress, of course, suffered no loss of pay.  The Republicans who arbitrarily decided they simply wouldn't do the jobs We The People pay them to do, got paid for doing nothing.  We essentially paid them to go on strike.  No, actually, they robbed us at gunpoint while going on strike.  Talk about taxation without representation!  So, what justification does the GOP give for shutting down the government simply because two votes, an election and a Supreme Court decision failed to go their way?  No justification needed.  They had the power to commit a legal form of terrorism, to hold a national economy hostage until they got their way, so they did it.  They didn't get their way, of course.  Obamacare is still on its way, and the GOP has never been more hated by the public.  But, don't worry:  They'll do it again.

So, why did they do it, even knowing full well they couldn't possibly win?  Why did their leader (or, figurehead?) John Boehner, who once spoke out against the idea of a shutdown, change course and condone this ludicrous and extremely costly spectacle?  Simple:  He caved to political pressure from the vocal, radicalized minority within the GOP.  The so-called Tea Party.  Yesterday's counter-revolution still trying to throw sand into the wheels of national progress.  They'll stop this country from moving forward, or destroy it in the attempt.  That's their only defining manifesto.  And, why did Ted Cruz, the ambitious young GOP pol lead the charge, even though the bulk of his own party opposed him?  Again, simple:  Personal gain and political ambition.  It didn't matter that he couldn't win.  He just wanted to be remembered by his hard-core right-wing base as the David who stood up to Goliath, as the right-wing firebrand who fought tooth and nail against Obamacare, which these reactionary TP (love that acronym) yahoos have chosen as the symbol of evil.

And, here lies a fundamental weakness in our system of government that will doubtless do more harm before we find the strength of will to change it.  Politicians who are charged with defending the rights and needs of the nation as a whole seldom do.  They're too busy looking after their own constituencies and districts--after themselves, in short -- to care about the nation as a whole.  E Pluribus Unum?  E Pluribus You're screwed!  It's everybody for himself.  Divided times breed divided government.  And, sometimes, apparently, no government at all.  The common good and the general welfare take a back seat to self serving politicians and their rich, deep-pocketed backers.  Treason?  Nope.  Just business as usual.

The question is, how much more of this can our democracy stand?  Do the legislative process or the rule of law actually mean anything if a party that can't get its way through either can simply shut it all down in a form of legal blackmail?  Each time they do, that many more government programs for the poor and needy are damaged that much more, and the poorest workers suffer the most.  (Not that that matters in the slightest to a party like the GOP which cares only about the rich, and would love to destroy many if not all social programs and regulatory agencies.)  So, is democracy in America to suffer the death of a thousand cuts?

Or, are we as a people going to stop impotently wining about government ineffectiveness, and actually do something about it?  How about passing laws of governance that prevent this sort of outrageous, if not treasonous behavior by our elected officials?  How about recalling those who won't go along?  How about passing serious campaign finance reform to keep special interest money out of politics.  (We passed that in Massachusetts, and the conservative pols simply refused to fund it!)  The right wing wind-bags keep screaming about taking America back.  Yeah...let's take it back.  From them.  How about we rise up as a nation and bury them under an avalanche of votes?  How about we create rules that actually make votes and laws count for something, and make the obligations of elected office sacred, as we have a right to expect?

This government can't just be an instrument used to bludgeon the nation for the selfish gain of those we elected.  Reality is supposed to be shaped by our collective will and principles.  Not by those we pay to uphold them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Buzzy Mag -- ALBUM

Attention, all lovers of SCIENCE FICTION, HORROR and Romantic MURDER MYSTERY...

Check out my short story ALBUM on Buzzy Mag at:


Steve Gallagher, an adventurous, womanizing test pilot falls for a beautiful female astronaut, only to discover that, on her last mission into space, she brought something back with her.  Something alien and deadly that has taken possession of her, and desires him.

Steve soon finds himself at the center of an escalating mystery as every woman he pursues dies mysteriously and horribly.  Can he find a way to destroy the alien evil that pursues him, before he becomes its next victim?

Addiction or Madness?

What is the technical distinction between addiction and insanity?

For instance, is America addicted to guns, or just crazy?  We can distinguish between kinds and shades of madness.  The guy who shot up Fort Hood was fanatical.  The kid who shot up Sandy Hook was crazy. The guy who shot up the Washington Navy Yard was delusional.

So, as a nation... What's our excuse?

The killing goes on, but Heaven forbid we should have a substantive or productive national debate about gun control.  The all mighty NRA will continue its broken record-like tirade, claiming that more guns are the answer, not fewer.  Through their mock tears and empty platitudes in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the NRA posited the theory that schools are targeted by the deranged and suicidal for one simple reason:  Schools are gun-free zones, and therefore vulnerable.  (Huh.  'Never knew the deranged and suicidal were that pragmatic.)  Of course, this argument fails to address mass shootings which take place at heavily armed facilities such as military academies and Navy yards, where the victims were not defenseless children but trained killers.  That crazy woman who just tried to plow her car through the White House gates in defiance of an army of cops wasn't even armed.  (What if she had been?)

A renowned (and published) American military sniper was, a short while ago, fatally shot by one of his own students, a troubled young man whose mentor apparently felt would benefit from channeling his dark impulses into focused gun use.  The mother of the Sandy Hook shooter apparently had the same reasoning regarding her son, whom she trained with her legally obtained firearms before he shot and killed her, a school full of kids and himself.  We're a country immersed in the culture of the gun.  It seems part of our national soul, part of our identity as a people.  Senseless shootings in our streets still shock and sadden us, but not to the point of getting guns under control, as other countries (Scotland, New Zealand, Korea, etc.) have effectively done in the wake of their national tragedies.  No, to us as a nation, gun control seems unthinkable.  Almost sacrilegious.  At the first feeble stirrings out of the Obama administration regarding the possibility of gun control, the gun nuts start hiding and stockpiling their precious firearms, conjuring disturbing images of underground militias and rural rebellion.  No matter how many mass killings happen, no matter how many schools or government installations get shot up, no matter how many innocent people die needlessly, the gun nuts will continue their stale litany:  "Just 'cause there's a few bad apples out there, they wanna ruin it for all of us."  They always seem to miss the larger point:  One bad apple is all it takes.  That's why we need gun control.  And, what is it that's being ruined, exactly?

Why do so many Americans cling to their guns?  Partly out of fear, naturally.  But, that's not the whole reason, or even the primary reason.  There are other ways of defending the home against intruders, after all.  Reinforced steel doors, alarm systems, panic rooms.  No, the gun is more, psychologically than security.  It's power.  More than that, it's identity.  Freedom, or at least the illusion of it.  It's bred into us, from the blunderbuss of the pilgrims to  the flintlocks of the revolutionaries, to the six guns of the old west, and perpetuated throughout our culture in romanticized celluloid images, made flesh in Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, etc. etc...

The gun has, for the American psyche, become both madness and addiction.  Some seem to equate disarmament with castration.  We've even perverted the meaning of the Second Amendment with artfully warped logic, conveniently ignoring that part about a well-regulated militia and twisting an amendment which was clearly about a nation's collective right to raise an army into the demented idea that an individual has a sacred, God-given right to own a gun.  (Not healthcare, of course, but a gun.)

We're not individually addicted to guns, but as a people we clearly are.  Like all addicts, we need to break that addiction, or it must inevitably destroy us.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In The Bloodstream...

In the Bloodstream: An Anthology of Dark Fantasy and Horror with an Introduction by Eden Royce

The love of horror is like a virus.
It gets into your bloodstream, causing an insatiable hunger for more. There is no cure, only the ability to soothe the craving until the need—once again—grows too great. And you crave:
  • Urban legends that are sickeningly real.
  • Attempts to cheat death that don’t quite succeed.
  • Creatures with power over this world and the next.
  • Twisted desires of the flesh that must be met no matter what the cost.
Just in time for Halloween and all its thrills, “In the Bloodstream” brings together some of horror’s most imaginative new writers. These thirty-one short stories will infiltrate your system and leave you wondering about that creaking outside the door, while satisfying your need for the darkly disturbing.
At least for now…
Satisfy your horror cravings by purchasing a copy today.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Once more into the breach...??

http:/www.lillibridgepress.com     (science fiction)

Tales of war.  Sadly, war is never limited to fiction.

And, once again, in the real world, our nation stands poised at the brink of war.  Or, does it?  Abandoned by his principal ally, England, our President seems to hesitate before committing us to military action in the bloody battlefields of Syria.  He passes the decision to Congress.  Or, does he?  A daring gamble?  An idealistic bow to the constitutional  province of Congress in having the solitary power to declare war?  Or, is Obama just passing the buck?  He dares the members of Congress to make the decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of action or inaction.  So, the politicians test the waters of public opinion in our divided nation, searching, as politicians will, for safe waters to sail.  Life and death for countless thousands of innocents may depend on decisions based on self-serving convenience, not law or morality.  The politicians dicker and play their games.  Protesters march through our streets waving their anti-war placards before returning to their safe homes where no bombs fall on their heads, no poison gas fills their lungs.  And, the killing continues.

The same tired, familiar arguments fill the news reports and Sunday morning talk shows:  We're tired of war.  It's none of our business.  It's not in our national interest to get involved.  We're not the world's policeman.  Blah-blah-blah.  We all feel that way, until we're the one getting robbed, raped or murdered in the dead of night and a passerby turns and walks away, not wanting to get involved, since he's not a policeman, it's none of his business, and there's nothing in it for him.  But, mass murder by a dictatorial regime of its own populace by nerve gas attacks is supposed to be the whole world's business; it's a crime against humanity, no less so, (in principle if not scale) than the Holocaust.  Each gas bomb the Assad regime drops on civilian populations is a mobile Auschwitz, Treblinka or Dachau.  It is the moral duty of the civilized world to intervene, to at least try to put a stop to the mass slaughter by whatever means necessary.  If not for the victims now targeted, then for the millions yet to come all over the world.  Do we want to live in a world in which despots know they can slaughter tens of thousands, including children, with poison gas, or any other weapons of mass destruction they may build or acquire, with complete impunity?  Any mass slaughter of innocents, whether by poison gas, as in Syria or Iraq, by machetes, as in Rwanda, or by simple gardening implements, as in Cambodia, should warrant the world's swift response, or the killing will go on forever.  History has taught us (or, should have) that inaction only leads to more killing.  (see Samantha Power's book "A Problem from Hell:  America and the Age of Genocide.")

Other arguments against intervention:

It's a civil war that's none of the outside world's business.  Intervention could escalate the conflict into an international proxy war and spill over into neighboring countries, attracting radicalized elements and destabilizing the entire region.  We can't trust the rebels; they are radical, America-hating Islamists.  Intervention would invite retaliation against the U.S. in the form of cyber-warfare attacks.

Hello?  All that's happening already and escalating fast, as a result of our inaction.  While the U.S. and Nato have stood by and watched, Russia and Iran have thrown their hands into the pot.  When it looked like Assad might be on his last legs, Russia propped him up by supplying him with arms, enabling him to drag the war out and kill thousands more of his own people.  As the fighting has dragged on, Syrian rebel factions have grown increasingly militant and anti-American, (Gee, maybe if we'd helped the Free Syrian Army...?)  and refugees and militant elements have streamed from Syria into Turkey, the fighting spilling over the border.  Assad, meanwhile, has allied himself openly and brazenly with the most America-hating Islamists in the world.  In short, passivity and non-involvement seem to be working as well for us as they did for Chamberlain.  As for cyber-warfare, that's been going on for sometime, too.  The Red Chinese, the Syrians and countless radical elements have been hacking us for years.  Yeah, cyber-warfare may be the next great battlefield, and we can't hide from it or stop it from happening by cringing in fear of it before the eyes of a world filled with bloody-handed murderers, who will always try to hack our systems and steal our secrets regardless.  We have to beef up our firewalls and fight back, not retreat.

Others say this situation should be handled by the UN or international coalitions.

  I agree, it should be.  Unfortunately, with Russia exercising its veto on the Security Council with one hand and fueling the conflict with the other, the UN isn't much help.  I guess that leaves the U.S., Turkey and France.

And then, still others argue we can't decisively win a war in Syria.

Who says we have to?  We can launch punitive strikes.  Maybe we can't cripple Assad, but we can damn well have a go at annoying him.  If the best we can be is a maddening mosquito buzzing about his ears and costing him many a sleepless night, that's better than nothing.

Bottom line:

Unless we throw our muscle into this already internationalized conflict, unless we show Assad in no uncertain terms that there is a substantial penalty for illegal use of chemical weapons against civilian populations, then he has absolutely no incentive to seek a negotiated settlement.  Bold and confident, with Russia behind him, he will fight on and the killing will continue, spilling over and getting increasingly worse.  Russia and Iran don't want an escalation with U.S. involvement any more than we do. If we hit Assad hard, again and again, if need be, it is likely his allies will nudge him toward the bargaining table rather than watch the situation dissolve into something they can't control.  Look at recent history:  Despite the denials of naysayers, President Clinton's bombing of Serbia led ultimately to the overthrow of the Miloszevicz regime and the end of a genocidal war.

There are never any guarantees about anything.  But, the best way to set out in this world is simply to try to do what's right.  And, to remember it's been wisely written:  All that evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review of Patricia Esposito's "Beside The Darker Shore"

Fans of Steamy, Sexy Vampire Romance Fiction...

Check out Patricia Esposito's dark, entrancing novel "Beside The Darker Shore."

And, check out my review at:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Manufactured Realities...


Science Fiction is about creating alternate realities.  Some of my stories involve fragments of shattered realities colliding head-on.  And, as always, we find the real world catching up with sci-fi in the shattered reality department.

Our democracy consists of a balancing act... more of a tug of war combined with a chess game, really... between constitutional law (in all its twisting evolution) and the popular vote (with all its demagoguery and shifting demographics.) The U.S. Supreme Court recently made two landmark decisions, both dealing with fundamental questions of civil rights.

One brought gay and lesbian Americans a step closer to realizing equality regarding the basic human right to marry and start a family.  The other may have been a major step backward for racial minorities regarding the hard-fought right to equality at the voting booth.

As to the first decision:  The court ruled that the voters in Sunny Cal did not have the constitutional right to arbitrarily define marriage in their own image.  Of course, a majority of states still do.  One conservative presidential candidate recently said "We can't have fifty different definitions of marriage."  But, as long as state legislatures insist on amending state constitutions, giving their constituencies the power to define reality, safe from the interference of "activist" judges, that's exactly what we'll have.  The reality of what is marriage, what is family, what is love, what is morality... will, for some time to come, depend entirely on which state line you cross and when.  As, apparently, will your right to vote.

Which brings us to the second decision.  The court basically decided it was time to rescind certain rules designed to guard against racist interference with the right of all citizens to make their voices heard at the polls.   Those rules aren't necessary anymore, apparently.  Conservative states with long histories of racism and bigotry can now be trusted to manage their own electoral processes without oversight.  The fox has had a religious revelation, it seems, and can now be trusted to guard the hen house.  We'll see.  Naturally, states can no longer deny citizens the right to vote outright; they can't deny them any right the Supreme Court has granted them.  Not outright.  Of course, that doesn't mean states can't chip away at those rights little by little, from several sideward angles at once.

Take for example another landmark Supreme court decision of forty years ago:  Roe v. Wade.  The decision that gave women the right to terminate their pregnancies (up to a point.)  The right to control their own bodies.  A right long since in established law, yet still hotly contested in "culture war" politics.  The era of domestic terrorism in the form of massive, often violent protests, abortion clinic bombings and murdered abortion doctors is largely behind us (hopefully) but states continue to gradually erode a woman's right to control her own body.  Texas has now launched a daring side-wind attack on abortion rights by attempting to impose a series of draconian medical standards which, like voting rules in some states, essentially (if indirectly) rob citizens of their constitutional rights.  The attempt in Texas, which would have banned abortion in that state for all intents and purposes was stopped (for now) by a Democrat senator (Wendy Davis) with determination, gall and sturdy feet.  She stood and argued on the floor in pink tennis sneakers for eleven hours straight.  The rules of filibustering require that she stand and argue past a midnight deadline, without leaning on furniture or taking a toilet break.  (Sounds like some bizarre pagan witchcraft ceremony or aboriginal coming-of-age ritual, doesn't it?)  During her speech, a heckler screamed from the gallery: "Abortion is genocide."  (Every time someone makes a statement like that, I feel tempted to ask them their opinion on the treatment of the Native American.  A guy like that probably wouldn't believe that genocide was genocide.)  Ah, the joys of democracy.  The efforts of those hoping to limit the freedom of women have been curtailed.  But, rest assured they'll find another side-wind from which to attack women's rights.

States will continue to try to create their own private realities.  The definition and value of human life, marriage and electoral fairness may for the foreseeable future differ radically from state to state.  A thirteen-year-old rape victim may have to dodge police, crawl under barbed wire and cross state lines to terminate her pregnancy.  A marriage between two people in a committed relationship of many years may for some time to come cease to exist when the plane, train or automobile they're riding crosses a state line.  And, whether your God-given right as an American citizen to vote is upheld may depend on which state you're registered in.  Kind of like walking through a series of parallel universes that are only miles apart, eh?  The law is our one hope for a single, unifying reality.  That unification comes hard.  Its taken a civil war, boycotts and riots in the southern states just to get us this far.

As a people, we'll never agree on everything.  But, it would be nice if we could agree on the basic premises of reality.  One law, with liberty and justice for all, equally.  One set of rights.  Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Heroes and Villains for a New Reality...


My science fiction novelette "Meeting" depicts a future in which reality is  constructed out of technology and artificial intelligence; countless bits of data that can be selectively re-shuffled to create new realities at will.  Science fiction in general has long warned us of advancing surveillance and data manipulation technology encroaching on our basic freedoms.

Once again, reality is catching up with sci-fi.  In this new age of on-line communication and increasingly wide-spread governmental data surveillance, a new kind of anti-hero has emerged:  cyberhackers.  Call them what you will.  Heroes or Villains.  Anarchists or whistle blowers.  Champions of freedom, or traitors.  They are an inevitable by-product of an age in which even democratic governments such as ours are amassing unimaginably vast databases that contain all our personal communications, presenting an enormous potential for oppression and invasion of personal privacy.

Edward Snowden is the most recent in a series of hackers who leak classified information to the public.  Some would praise him and some would bury him.  Some see him as a new kind of heroic American revolutionary who, instead of throwing tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxation without representation, breaks down the allegedly unconstitutional walls of government-classified information and adds a sorely needed degree of transparency to a dangerously opaque and increasingly secretive state of cyber-surveillance.  Others see him as a strutting egoist, a product of a narcissist generation which lives in their own artificial cyber reality, believing themselves above the law and seeing real life as being boundless as the Internet.

Whether you see Snowden as hero or villain, there is no denying that he and others like him have opened a badly needed national debate on the appropriate boundaries of governmental snooping and personal privacy.  Advocates of nation-wide governmental data collection on our private communications argue that such surveillance can be obtained only with the review and approval of the FISA court.  And, what is that?  It's a secret court for secret business.  It's a shadow court; a shadow cabinet that functions as an arm of the executive branch of government and is guided not by constitutional law, but rather functions like an unelected legislative body that weighs the pros and cons of whether to surveil or not.  It was set up to handle the monitoring of international communications for the purpose of national security.  If the NSA or FBI comes to them with a request for surveillance on a "U.S. person" (the definition of which is becoming increasingly vague) the FISA court's answer is supposed to be "no."

But, for how much longer?  In an age where we've seen our government illegally kidnap, detain and torture people in the name of national security, and even kill American citizens with predator drones... when national security can justify the Executive circumventing both Congress and Constitution in deciding what rights of privacy (or, even life itself) the rest of us have... Where then is the system of checks and balances between our three branches of government that is supposedly one of the cornerstones of our way of life?

Naturally, debates over the reach of the executive branch and the military pre-date the cyber age.  We've all heard of the unconstitutional mass-internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and of the excesses of the Nixon administration, exposed by the Watergate scandal.  But, cyber spying brings an old national debate into a whole new arena.  And, of course, the promises and dangers of the cyber age are not limited to the U.S.  We've all seen how the power of the Internet helped launch social uprising in the Middle East (the "Arab Spring") and how the Red Chinese government has tried (with only limited success) to control the Internet as an instrument of social dissent.   An organized campaign of cyber-espionage and cyber-virus warfare is being launched out of Red China against the U.S.  Cyber space, it seems will be the next battlefield, both for international conflict and internal social dissent.

As has always been the case when dealing with the Internet, few rules apply in establishing intellectual property.  The private sector has had to deal with this, and now the government must.  Rules have to be set, but they should be decided upon in open Congressional debate under the watch of an informed public.  The fate of our fundamental rights should not be decided in secret, in a shadow reality over which our democratic process has no control.  Our country has, after all, survived for over two centuries and prevailed against a succession of powerful enemies  without having to sacrifice our fundamental rights of privacy or freedom of peaceful assembly and communication.

The Internet promises to give the human race an unprecedented degree of connectedness and freedom.  Deciding how to deal with that wider realm of activity and knowledge presents a new challenge for our democracy.  People like Snowden believe knowledge should be free and unfettered for all.  Whatever else you may think of him, or what you think should be done to him, it is hard to resist that sentiment.  After all... knowledge is power.  And, human nature being what it is ... when the select few control that much knowledge ... Can freedom survive?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Are we still in Kansas?

http://www.lillibridgepress.com   (Science Fiction)

Venus Loop is a purely fictional story of a planet destroyed by its own pollution.

But, once again, reality is inching closer to the horrors of science fiction.  Our darkest fantasies seem to creep closer every year.  Wildfires.  Droughts.  Coastal flooding.  Now, tornadoes tearing their way across the plain states.  Storms breaking hundred year records coming one upon the other in just a few days.   (Where's the great and powerful Oz when you need him?)

Yes, Virginia:  It's global warming.  Complicated in its details, yes, but basically simple.  Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting from the burning of fossil fuels trap the sun's heat, causing the world to grow warmer, decade by decade.  As the temperature rises, glaciers melt, the sea level rises.  Which means more moisture and warmer air over the sea.  The result, of course, is more powerful storms in greater frequency.

I've been blogging about global warming for what seems like forever.  I've attended countless science lectures and demonstrations.  Here in Boston, the global warming awareness group 350 (Too late: 350, the scientifically calculated maximum ratio of CO2 in our atmosphere before we pass the point of no return has expired; we've reached 400) has held numerous rallies -- fun events in Christopher Columbus Park, with people wearing wet suits and swim gear, symbolizing the day Boston will be swallowed by rising sea levels.  The other day, I attended a 350 demo at Revere Beach.  Like all such demos, it had a catchy name:  Hands Across the Sand.  Less than a dozen people showed up.

Remember when the public was actually aware of the threat of global warming?  A failing economy and escalating culture war seems to have diverted our attention, even as our towns and cities flood, burn or sail off into the storm clouds.  What does it take to wake the public up again?  If a twister a mile wide tearing across Oklahoma doesn't do it, what will?  A major flood in Boston or New York?  The scenes of devastation in the storm's wake brought tears to the eyes of a TV reporter.  It made the bombing of Oklahoma City seem almost insignificant by comparison.  This time, there's no terrorist to execute; we can't reclaim control of our lives so easily this time.  (We could try a few more executions as sacrifices to the storm gods--the way our culture's going, I wouldn't put it past us.  I doubt it would help, though.)  Switching to clean, renewable energy sources and redesigning our cities to weather the existing damage might.  If there's time.

Time's running short, folks.  How many more wake-up calls do we need?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Snakebite Horror reviews "Desert Flower"

Vampire fiction fans...
Nate D. Burleigh, Author of "Sustenance" reviews my vampire novelette "Desert Flower":

"Tom Olbert's Novella “Desert Flower” brings two worlds together in an epic supernatural tale of lost virtue, friendship, love, and blood."

To read more:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

African American characters in science fiction

FLAGS - a science fiction novelette by Tom Olbert, published by Lillibridge Press

"In this dark and dangerous view of humanity's future, mankind appears hopelessly splintered into religious, racial, and cultural factions. In the middle of all this violence and chaos, two men meet as enemies: Jamal, a seasoned military veteran, and Matthew, a young idealist. Soon they are forced into an unlikely alliance when their two embattled societies are attacked by an alliance intent on their mutual destruction.
Jamal lives, his inner strength sustaining him and his faith. Even though Matthew survives, he appears hopelessly lost. Together, they struggle to conquer both their enemies and themselves. With war on all fronts, how can they stand united under flags?"


In "Flags", I presented a grim picture of a future in which interstellar travel and extra-terrestrial colonization, in placing greater physical distances between people, succeeds in taking racial and cultural segregation to the ultimate degree:  genocidal interstellar war.  The story demonstrates how enemies can become allies, later even friends when faced with a common foe.  How racial identity can bring former enemies together.  And, how racial hatred can become an infectious evil, corrupting the soul and ultimately destroying the very fabric of human decency.  It holds out hope (though only a slim one) that something higher in Man can rise above the dehumanizing effect of racism.


“The name of that world is New Bethlehem,” Matthew cried out, his voice cracking, his throat still sore from the gas as he strained against the two grunts holding him.  “I’m sorry to say I wasn’t there, no.  But, I wish to God I had been, if only to send more of you stinking Muslims to a just end!”  The fat man kneed him in the stomach, hard.  He doubled over in pain, falling to his knees, spit dribbling to the floor.  The fat man grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back, his wide, angry dark face staring into his.
            “I lost both my sisters in the first raid, you murdering piece of...”
            “Mohammed!” the captain barked, standing up behind the desk.  “Touch that prisoner again, and you will face court martial!”
            “But, sir...Jamal...” the man said with pain in his voice, turning to face his commanding officer.  “He killed those three men in the gunnery room and destroyed two of our landers.  Thirty-three men in all, dead because of this stinking...”
            “Fair kills.” the Captain said quietly through tight lips as he stiffly re-seated himself.  He stared at Matthew and gently shook his head.  “So much for the renowned Christian spirit of forgiveness,” he muttered sarcastically, drumming his long fingers together.  Laying his hands flat on the desk top, he spoke in the clear, hard tone of an officer.  “On your feet, corporal.”  The two grunts roughly stood Matthew up.  “Your homeworld, all other member states of the Black Christian Alliance and all galactic territories formerly under their sphere of influence are now protectorates of the Black Muslim Brotherhood.  You, corporal, are a prisoner of war and will be held here pending transport to our homeworld, Mecca IV where a military tribunal will determine your fate.  Take him to the stockade and book him on the next star transport out.”
            Matthew defiantly spat at the man’s desk as he was led away by the two soldiers.  A security alarm sounded, harsh and shrill.  The enemy captain swore under his breath and opened a com channel to his troops in the field.  The holo cube glowed and the terrified face of a Muslim ground force commander appeared, floating on the air, gray ripples of static passing through the man’s features.  “Lieutenant Achmed, Sector 5 reporting.”
            “What is it, Achmed?” the captain asked in an irritated tone, as if he had more important things on his mind.
            “Sir, we’re under attack!  All strategic sectors!  Landers and A.P.C.’s...we’re outnumbered and taking heavy fire!”  The sounds of artillery rumbled through the radio speaker, white flashes distorting the holo transmission.  Matthew’s heart soared with elation.  It wasn’t over!
            “Hold your positions, Lieutenant!” the captain ordered, his voice tense and angry.  “We’ll send for reinforcements from homeworld.”
            “Sir...” the static was getting worse.  “We’ve received offworld distress calls from our star squadrons.  Our home systems have fallen under heavy attack as well.”
            “What?!” the captain roared, rearing up behind his desk.  Matthew laughed out loud.  “That’s impossible.  The B.C.A. has no squadrons left!”
            “Its not the B.C.A., sir.  They’re bombing the Christian cities to hell!  And, ours as well!”  Matthew suddenly felt himself turning to stone.
            “Who the hell is?!”
            “See for yourself, Captain.”  The Lieutenant’s eyes looked down and the holographic scene changed to a ground level live-transmit image of invading troops disembarking from armored personnel carriers.  The words SECTOR 5 appeared in the lower left corner of the image.  The A.P.C.’s were marked with an emblem Matthew had never seen outside holotexts before:  An upraised white fist against the back-drop of a planet, a spaceship circling.  The emblem of the Darwinist Consortium.  Matthew stared in disbelief.  It couldn’t be.  As the armored shock troopers leaving the A.P.C.’s approached the transmitting holo camera, Matthew could make out their faces under their helmets.  Angry, screaming faces, pasty-pink in color.  There was no longer any doubt.  “Whites,” Matthew whispered in shock.
            The hologram scene changed again, the words SECTOR 12 appearing.  More invading white troops, more A.P.C.’s, but with a different emblem displayed on their flanks.  A bearded white head with a horned helmet, like the Vikings of ancient Earth.  The Odinist Empire, Matthew realized.  Was he dreaming?  The hologram changed again.  SECTOR 19 this time.  Same pattern of attack by white soldiers.  This time, the A.P.C.’s were marked with a white cross against a red background.  The White Christian Confederation.  How could this be, Matthew thought desperately.  Those three white nations had been mortal enemies for decades.  Why were they suddenly fighting under one command with a common objective?  Unless...Matthew’s blood froze.
            “Take the cuffs off that man,” the captain said, pulling on body armor and loading a plasma rifle.  “And, release those Christians in the stockade.  Issue them whatever guns we can spare.”
            His sergeant...the one named Mohammed...looked as though he couldn’t believe his ears.  “Sir...they’re the enemy.”
            “That is the enemy, moron!” the captain screamed, pointing at the holo projection as he ran towards the door.
            Matthew was too numb to think as they took the restraining cuffs off him and shoved a rifle into his hands.  All he could do was follow his enemy through the same door through which he had, a few short hours ago, followed the men that enemy had killed.  What now, Sweet Jesus?
As we enter Black History Month, let's reflect on how African American characters have been featured in science fiction over the preceding decades.  In the pulp sci-fi of the 30's and 40's and in the only slightly more contemplative SF of the 50's, hardly at all.  While science fiction was in its early days in many respects a trail-blazing genre, it was still, like any other marketed commodity, an avatar of a still segregated and bigoted society.  We could dream of bright, fantastic future adventures in interstellar space, but not of racial equality.  The imaginary heroes conquering the galaxy were as WASP-ish as they could be.

As society changed, SF reflected the changes.  STAR TREK broke daring new ground by introducing a weekly multi-ethnic, multi-racial cast to present the idealistic image of a completely integrated and diverse United Earth of the future.  The lead character, of course, the heroic order-barking Captain Kirk, was still as purely Anglo-Saxon as could be imagined.  The show's only regular African character was Lt. Uhura "whose name means 'Freedom'."  Memorable for her striking beauty and often outspoken independence, she did help to inspire a generation.  (Whoopi Goldberg, who decades later played the insightful space-traveling Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation said she was inspired by Uhura, since she was the only positive African role model she got to see on T.V. as a kid.)  But, when all is said and done, Uhura was allowed to be little more than a glorified telephone operator, and even Guinan little more than a bartender, though both characters had considerably more potential.  The Next-Gen character Geordi Laforge (played by Levar Burton of "Roots" fame) did break new ground both as an African American character and as a blind character.  But alas, not as a lead character.

Science fiction is what lets the next generation dream.  And, the historic absence of black faces among the pioneering heroes of popular science fiction is one more reflection of an evolving society that still has a long way to go.  Case in point, in the 70's, the parade of lilly-white faces in STAR WARS -- the blonde, boyish Luke Skywalker, the cowboy-like Han Solo, the venerable, bearded Obi-Wan Kenobi or the moral purity envisioned in the Caucasian looks of Princess Leia.  The dashing presence of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian was, at best, a distraction.

In the 90's, the first African American Star Fleet commander in the STAR TREK franchise was Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine.  A powerful and memorable figure, his character was introduced in bitter tragedy, in the aftermath of his wife's death.  Still grieving and unable to move on, Sisko is thrust involuntarily into the role of religious messiah on an alien world still recovering from its own great tragedy.  Watching the Sisko character evolve through the years of the show was interesting and unique.  In addition to being the first African American lead character on STAR TREK, he was also the first to raise a child on the show and undergo a religious conversion.  Though a very strong character, Sisko's potential was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the show had more of an ensemble chemistry than other Trek ventures.  (Sisko did not make full captain until late in the series.)  Avery Brooks, the actor who portrayed Sisko once commented about the show, in context with African American history, citing the bitter irony of the racial discrimination his father had suffered "all so I can climb through holes and fight monsters."  (Progress of a sort, I suppose.)

And today, as we enter the second term of our nation's first African-American president, and science fiction is slowly making its way back into popularity after a long post-9/11 low, how do African American characters fare in the genre?  Will Smith has become a familiar face in the SF genre, both as one of the farcical "Men in Black" and as the brave, wise-cracking Air Force fighter pilot in the high-budget corn-ball War of the Worlds rip-off known as "Independence Day."  His strongest and most serious SF role to date was "Legend" the remake of the now-classic post-apocalyptic "last man on Earth" tale which has been remade again and again over the years.  This was the first time we allowed ourselves to see a black man as the last hope of humanity, and Will Smith gave a strong performance; a welcome departure from the smart-mouthed clowning for which he was previously well-known.  Mr. Smith's latest project in the genre is an offbeat-looking far-future action film known as "After Earth," in which he plays a father struggling to keep his young son alive in a hostile environment.  Again, it's one man against the universe, and the brave face of humanity is African.

Perhaps African SF is the current frontier of the genre that dares to look to the future.  But, I'm sure it won't be the last frontier.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review of "Desert Flower"


Lovers of vampire fiction and creatures of the night --

Check out the latest review of my vampire novelette "Desert Flower" at the delightfully horrific site:  The Horror Palace: