Hurricane Warning – Bad Moon Rising (Star Lawyers Origins Book 2)

Bad Moon Rising

Hurricane Warning  – Bad Moon Rising (Star Lawyers Origins Book 2)

Unlike other books in the Star Lawyers Universe, Bad Moon Rising is not primarily a work of science fiction but a murder mystery set in the 21st century. Yet, without the events of this earthbound volume, humanity might never have traveled to the stars.

This is deep history, the foundation on which the 32nd century spacefaring civilization of the Star Lawyers series will be built.

There are hints of extra-terrestrial connections, like the mysterious Elya-Karoo, who identifies herself as an Observer from Miyos. But the richness of place and people unfolds on a barrier island in the American Deep South, where a handful of delegates have gathered for a secret peace conference to avoid a new, catastrophic war in the Middle East.

The central characters are young adults, and the story is narrated from a female perspective by the chatty, often irritating, fourteen year old Sally Ann Palmer. Bad Moon Rising drops readers into the early life of a giant. Before a mature Tanella Jennings would become a Nobel Laureate in theoretical physics for her work on Faster Than Light travel, Tanella Blake was an intellectually gifted teen prodigy attending public school in Georgia.

Late one summer, Tanella and Sally Ann found themselves on Barrier Island along the Georgia coast, in the path of a massive hurricane, during that secret peace conference. When the storm’s intensity increased, State Police ordered an emergency evacuation to the mainland, but the lone drawbridge broke down, forcing everyone to ride out the storm. Then Tanella’s father, Dr. Nathaniel Blake, was accused of murder, prompting Tanella and Sally Ann to find the real killer before the storm passed and the murderer got away.

Bad Moon Rising sparkles with close encounters. Cold blooded killers, drug smugglers, underwater escapes, and a storm surge that threatens to wash away century old buildings and all the people trapped on the island. And if Tanella drowns in the storm, humanity will never know a gateway to the stars has closed with her passing.

Watch for

STAR LAWYERS ORIGINS BOOK 2

BAD MOON RISING

FEBRUARY 14, 2019

Tom Shepherd

Tucson, AZ

Life is Neither Happy Days nor Game of Thrones

Life and Solipsism

Life is Neither Happy Days nor Game of Thrones

Blog about the Ultimate Reality of Solipsism: You Are Not Real, and Neither am I.

So there’s a philosophy they teach you about in college. Well, sure, they teach you about a lot of philosophies, but I’ve got limited space, and some of you are bored already. Bear with me.

It’s called solipsism. (Google it. I’ll wait.)

That’s right. You found it. Dumbest damned idea you’ve ever heard of, right? the world and other minds do not exist.” The only thing which can be known is that I exist.

Sorry about y’all.

A scene in Star Lawyers Book 4 – House of the Silent Moons issues a challenges to the whole, grandiose schema of solipsism. Suzie has gone into Hideki Tsuchiya’s Main Library Computer aboard the battleship Nagoto, where she encounters the resident A.I.—who she names Nevin— and spends some time convincing him that her people are on the side of the angels, whereas Tsuchiya has been disavowed by his own hereditary Emperor.

Nevin wants to help, but before he can act Tsuchiya’s technicians install an updated version of the MLC program to fend him off. We pick up the action:

“Fight the new guy, Nevin.”

“My backup is a Yoruba NVN-8. It has twice my processing—”

“It’s a machine. You are a person.”

“What makes me a person?”

“You have a friend.”

She felt Nevin smile, and it went to levels of religio-philosophical nuance that scholars and poets had ruminated about for centuries.

“I do,” he said. “Therefore, I am.”

Suzie reached across the barrier that linked and separated Universe and Cyberverse, and kissed Nevin on the cheek.

“Now, my new friend—grab that damp squib and throw his numpty arse into the recycle bin.”

(If you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to read the book.)

Nevin has discovered his humanity. He has a friend. He made contact with someone out there. That establishes his existence, because without relationships we do not exist, we merely occupy space. Rocks do that.

I am starting to believe that life isn’t Happy Days (where nobody gets hurt and the good guys always prevail) or Game of Thrones (where the author establishes a sense of “reality” by striking characters down like an Aztec god with hemorrhoids).

But whatever comes our way, it takes friendship and love to share the good times and weather the storms. There will be both.

So, I’ll let you exist in my one-person reality if you’ll let me exist in yours.

(And thanks to Meenaz for bringing the above scene from Book 4 to my attention once more.)

Dr. Tom

Tucson, AZ

Ethical Sub-Routines for Shepherd-Think

Censorship

Ethical Sub-Routines for Shepherd-Think

Welcome back to the starship Patrick Henry.

Except this voyage takes you to Pirate space aboard the creaky, captured Dengathi pirate ship Howling Tadpole. It also reprises the much-acclaimed courtroom cross-examination of Tanis Zervos by Prince Zenna-Zenn, a.k.a., Mr. Blue. And the trial takes place in a Pirate Courtroom, where the judge summarily executes convicted defendants and stun blasts court employees who fail to follow instructions.

What’s not to love about venues like that?

While writing the story, I wrestled with problems about how to create shady characters and let them talk authentically, knowing what they will say would be highly offensive in this age of enlightened sensitivities. I thought about making everybody politically correct, but the whole cast of characters—from Tyler to the sneering, racist, violent misogynists whom the Star Lawyers must cross examine—came to see me and demanded freedom to be what they were. And some of them are—well, see the above.

“Look, Tom,” Tyler said, “there are some bad guys in here. And the good guys don’t always sound nice, either.”

Suzie added, “But do let us prattle, luv. Your job is to take the ear-bashing from those gits who don’t understand that you are not us.”

“Oh, that’s peachy. You guys are en route the Ounta-Kadiis League. I’m here on 21st century Terra, explaining to friends and relatives why Captain-Judge Carman uses language that would get him thrown off the bench in any court system in America. He sounds like Donald Trump backstage at a beauty pageant.”

“You can handle it,” Tyler said. “If the morality trolls arrest you for sacrilegious and salacious content, call us via Apexcom.”

“If writing authentically still feels a bit dodgy,” Suzie said, “I’ll update your ethical sub-routines for the whole Series. Standard rates apply.”

Well, maybe they’ll give me a discount. My Galactic Credits account at the Bank of Rahjen is running on empty.

The Pleasure of Writing

All whining aside, writing this book was a flight of joy. Some sadness, too. And the story continues when Tyler reunites with brother J.B. in Star Lawyers Book 5 – The Stellar Light Conspiracy.

Look for it in late winter, March 2019. (I’m not promising Book 5 will be done by then. But look for it.)

And we’re aiming for the release of Star Lawyers Origins 2Bad Moon Rising by February.

Feel free to rave about the series to friends and loved ones.

Dr. Tom

Tucson, AZ

December 2018

PS: I’ve been contacted by Podium about the possibility of bringing out all the Star Lawyers books as a professionally narrated audio book series. More about that when the details are firmed up. As Rodney Rooney would say, “Wowzers!”

Report from 20Booksto50K Writers

20booksto50k writers

Report from 20Booksto50K Writers

Okay, so you gather 700+ Indie writers and media professionals.

Where ya gonna meet?

LAS VEGAS 2018

Every year the FB community called 20Booksto50K assembles at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino (the latter a Vegas requirement) for three days of meetings, lectures, and pep rallies about Independent Publishing (A.K.A., Indie). The minnows and the whales, all in one pool. (No sharks allowed. Tyler’s Space Marines blasted them in the parking lot. Oh, right. You don’t know about the Marine Detachment soon to be assigned to the Patrick Henry, do you? But I digress…)

And the amazing thing about this trip to Las Vegas was that slot machines were everywhere, but yours truly did not spend a Galactic Credit on gambling, even though I carried my Bank of Rahjen debit card, zipped inside the pocket of my yellow, M-double-I jumpsuit.

Indie giants

Indie giants like Conference Organizer Craig Martelle, mega-bestselling sci-fi authors Michael Anderle, M.D. Cooper, and seven hundred (700) more-or-less successful writers listened to presentations on how to write better and faster to get the books you love out of their heads and into your Kindles.

Let me confess—I was a skeptic. Good books take time, and some of the guys & galz are knocking them out by the dozen. (Question, sci-fi lovers: Which genre sells the most fiction books? Answer at the bottom. No looking until I’m done talking, please.)*

And there are a lot of people writing a lot of books, as mentioned in my last blog. But I discovered it’s possible to deliver quality work to your readers much more efficiently, to find the sweet spot between craftsmanship and productivity. I’m not going to churn out novels like the “big guys” do, sometimes writing a book a month. But there are a lot of stories yet to tell in the Star Lawyers Universe, and I plan on making a conscious effort to get them into your hands as quickly as possible while maintaining the quality of work you like to read.

5-6 books per year

Optimally, that would be 5-6 books per year. That’s my target. Considering it took me two or three years to write one book in the past, it’s an optimistic, some would say whimsical attempt at trusting the muse and driving ahead. I know you will let me know if the pace is too fast and the story loses depth of characters, excitement of their struggles, or believable richness of alien cultures where Star Lawyers do their work.

So…here’s a tentative set of publication dates from now until Valentine’s Day. Keep me in your thoughts & prayers. Or cuss the fact that you have to wait until February for J.B.’s mission to the Ounta-Kadiis to save Bertie (Book 5, see below)—that works, too.

But know that I appreciate everyone who takes time from busy lives to fly with Tyler and the Star Lawyers Corp for a brief visit to their Universe. And besides… Arrested on an alien world? Who ya gonna call?

BULLETIN FOR STAR LAWYERS CREW

Works in Progress**

Star Lawyers – Book 4 – The House of the Silent Moons

[ Release date: 3 December ]

Star Lawyers Origins – Book 2 – Bad Moon Rising

[ Release date: 1 January 2019 ]

Star Lawyers – Book 5 – The Stellar Light Conspiracy

[ Release date: 14 February 2019 ]

**All release dates are tentative targets.

See you out there in the Star Lawyers Universe!

Tom Shepherd

Tucson, AZ

*Which genre sells the most fiction books? Answer: Romance. (For real. Not even close. Look it up.)

“And everyone is writing a book!”

Indie Book Author

“And everyone is writing a book!”

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book!”

(Often attributed to Roman lawyer and orator Marcus Tullis Cicero, 1st century, B.C.)

I love science fiction, but not all kinds. Never went for Creature-features, bug-eyed monsters invading Earth and ravishing sexually incompatible busty human females. Also not cheesy dystopian tales mimicking Mad Max, or shoot-‘em-up action-only space warfare stories modelled on WWII aerial and naval combat or first person shooter games but lacking zesty characters or rich alien cultures.

Star Wars managed to give us plenty of combat, yet we love those movies for the heroes, villains, and comic relief characters Lucas kept sending into the game from the deep bench of a truly creative mind.

Having said that, let me clarify: There are Indie (independent) writers producing great dystopian novels, great Earth-invasion scenarios, and great Military Sci-Fi novels, with good characters and plausible, intriguing alien worlds filled with new species who pass the “Yeah, that could happen” test.

Independent publishing has brought the democratization of the book industry.

Until the late 20th century, if you wrote a book and wanted others to read it (not everybody does), you had two choices.

1) Submit your work to a commercial publisher—anything from big NYC houses to five-books-a-year small presses scattered across the country. It was an uphill swim, like salmon trying to breed, that many authors could not surmount. So, an alternative developed, but it was expensive and labor-intensive for the new writer.

2) Hire a vanity press and self-publish—which not only cost thousands of dollars but made you custodian of hundreds of hard copy books that usually ended up stacked in the garage or basement. You had to find your own customers, package and mail the books manually, and go around town begging bookstores to please carry a few copies, or better yet let me have a book-signing event!

Neither of the above worked well for the average writer. Folks like Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, and Le Guin did okay. Most of us accumulated rejection slips (so did they when they started) from agents and publishing houses. Bummer. After slogging through a major novel, which nobody will publish, only the dauntless will begin the sequel.

Then, salvation—POD! Starting with fee-based models in the 90s, publishing on demand (POD) made it possible for everybody who wrote a book to publish it. POD publishers prepared your book in hard copy and e-book form from a manuscript you sent to them. You had to edit everything and do your own marketing, but THEY sent the ordered paperbacks for you and posted the e-book form which could be ordered on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. Although you paid a hefty fee up front (I shelled out $750 for my first POD in the 90s), it was still cheaper than vanity publishing. And you didn’t have 2,047 copies of Book 1 stacked somewhere in your house.

With free publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace, which morphed into and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), anybody could play. And the flood gates burst open. All those people (see quote attributed to Cicero, above) now had the tools in hand to fling their rough-hewn manuscripts into the stream and see if they could swim against the current. Of course, you still had to edit and market. But now publishing was easy and affordable, depending on how much you sank into publicizing your work.

The blessing and the curse of Indie publishing

That’s the blessing and curse of Indie publishing. There are some amazing books out there by little-known writers. But frankly, there’s a lot of junk in the creek, too. An Indie author must get the attention of readers, so everybody tries their hand at self-marketing, for better or worse.

Indie authors who consistently generate good work begin to develop a following. It’s a snowball effect, and you pray the damned thing swells to boulder-size before it melts on the slopes. (Mixed metaphors. All wet.)

So, readers, you are the omnipotent gods of the Indie universe. If you like an author, follow him/her regularly, tell your contacts online, suggest the books to family and friends. Write a nice review at Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else you think will help the writer find new audiences. We don’t have the budget of a major publishing house backing our next release. It’s all up to you. (Thank you, Star Lawyers aficionados!)

And let me say, it’s working so far. Both the Star Lawyers main series and the Star Lawyers Origins spinoff have reached Amazon bestseller heights thanks to you.

So, let me get back to Star Lawyers – Book 4 – The House of the Silent Moons and Star Lawyers Origins Book 2 – Bad Moon Rising. See you out there in the Star Lawyers universe!

Tom Shepherd

Tucson, AZ

Reach for the Stars : The arc of the moral Universe

The moral Universe

Reach for the Stars : The arc of the moral Universe

“The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One Friday night

One Friday night, not so many years ago, I was indulging in one of the few sinful pleasures still available to a senior citizen. And it wasn’t just the frozen yogurt with shredded All-Bran, but the TV show playing on my Christmas-new wide screen TV while I was enjoying the late night snack: Bill Mahr’s Real Time on HBO. Mahr is unapologetically sacrilegious and politically incorrect, a passionate, libertarian comedian with a penchant for off-color humor, but he is quite often spot on in his analysis of the contemporary American scene. I don’t always agree with him or approve of his linguistic repertoire, but Mahr and his panelists frequently go where the more timid CNN and mainstream media fear to tread.

The Possibility for Change

That week a main topic was gun control, and the panel more or less agreed that the possibility for actual change in American values about guns and violence was very slim. Then one of Mahr’s panelists–Martin Short, another comic–made a startling observation. He noted that twenty years ago, they would have been sitting around that table smoking cigarettes while they talked, but now the whole building is smoke-free. He suggested this evolutionary shift in health consciousness was cause for the advocates of rational control to take heart.

Martin Short’s remark suddenly brought to mind the words of another Martin, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who became a victim of gun violence after a life of tireless advocacy for peace and non-violence. “The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The Moral Universe

The source of this oft-quoted/paraphrased comment was actually a paraphrase of words spoken by the Rev. Theodore Parker, 19th century abolitionist, religious progressive, Unitarian minister:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Sometimes, change happens so gradually that you wake up one day and say, “Oh, yeah. I remember when we did that. Way back there in the 20th century.”

It takes time…

Most meaningful change takes time. Seasons drift incrementally onward. Today a little cooler… next month winter…. then warming, new life, and summer again. Human consciousness is impatient. If I have a cold that lasts more than a few days, I start wondering if I will ever stop coughing. If I cannot master a new task quickly, I catch myself muttering, “I’ll never get this right!” But I do get better; I do master the task. (My Smart Phone will not make me feel stupid forever, just for a while.)

The key to the equation is to find a common denominator—faith in the arc of learning, the potential for slow but ineluctable change. We started in the seas; we shall sail the stars. But not today. Cool winds must play across our landscape before the warming breath of Spring. Patience. Swords will melt into ploughshares. Nation shall not take up arms against nation. The moral arc bends toward justice, and we ride its rainbow with confidence toward a future that reaches into the Cosmos.

Tom Shepherd,

Tucson, AZ

Fasten your safety harness: Star Lawyers Origins

STARDATE (Star Lawyers Origins Book 1)

Fasten your safety harness: Star Lawyers Origins

New Spin-Off Series – Three Sets of Trilogies Planned in the Star Lawyers Origins series.

Prepare for a whirlwind flight to the dawn of humanity’s awareness that we are not alone.

New characters appear in each trilogy, which will take readers along on the rise of FTL travel, from frank disbelief that anything living exists beyond the earth’s biosphere to full membership in the galactic community of star nations.

The structure for my new Star Lawyers Origins series appeared in the first Star Lawyers book. Check this excerpt from Jump Gate Omega:

[In the] outer lobby of the Matthews Trade Embassy, a double life-sized bronze image dominated the reception area, an African-Asian woman in lab coat looking upward through the glass wall at the city skyline and visible stars. She held an old-style clipboard under arm, and her hair was swept back into a ponytail.

Tanella Jennings,” Tyler whispered, loud enough for J.B. to hear.

“A thousand years later,” his brother said, “and we’re still following in her footsteps.”

“Not just Jennings—look.” Tyler gestured to a pair of bronze works farther down the glass-roofed lobby. Even from this distance, the subjects of the metallic statuary were unmistakable. One had a dog by his side. Tyler recited the names like a space-traveler’s prayer. Aurelio Lupetti and Brian Brightstar.”

“Two greatest captains in human history.” J.B.’s voice quivered with emotion. “Commander of the first faster-than-light starship, side-by-side with the foremost deep space explorer of them all.”

Rosalie smiled. “And his pit bull, Riley.”

Tyler took a deep breath. “Hero worship is adjourned. Let’s focus on tonight’s mission.”

The Timelines

The book just released October 8, STARDATE, launches the spinoff series, Star Lawyers Origins. The series will consist of three trilogies, set in the 21st, 23rd, and 24th centuries along the Star Lawyers timeline. The main action in the Star Lawyers / Tyler Matthews books takes place in the 32nd century.

You’ll find a different setting and tone in the first trilogy. Younger, sassier, PG violence language and no “adult” sexuality. The narrator is 14 years old, and I’m tired of the hard-broiled young characters who sell drugs and pimp their sisters. This is an adventure at the very leading edge of the Star Lawyers timeline, set in the 21st century. It starts at a middle school in Georgia (USA), but soon were boldly going there with Mark, Aaron, Zack, and the mystery girl Keshikka, whose golden eyes you see on the cover. Is she an alien?

Origins Book 2–Bad Moon Rising is already written and prepped to launch early in 2019. Bad Moon Rising is the story of Tanella Blake, who as Tanella Jennings is destined to discover the principles of FTL flight twenty-five years later, as told by her chattery friend, Sally Ann Palmer. It is a murder mystery set on Barrier Island, Georgia, during an approaching Category 5 hurricane. The sci-fi elements are present, but muted in favor of a close up sketch of the young prodigy in the greatest crisis of her life. Her father, Dr. Nathaniel Blake, has been accused of murder, and she decides to find the real killer while the island is cut off from the mainland due to the storm, before the murderer can escape. She also has a conversation with the main character of Book 1 – Stardate, unbeknownst to her, across thousands of light years.

Origins 3 – In Defense of Quia Leimor will bring both sets of characters together when Tanella and Sally Ann are shanghaied by Mark Bricchetti and Aaron Hooper for their second trip into the world of Princess Keshikka, aboard a ship sent to snatch them from Earth for a mission In Defense of Quia Leimor, the besieged last Empress of the old galactic empire.

Origins Books 4-6 return the narrative to adult point-of-view characters. Trilogy #2 is set two hundred years later, when rhe events of the first trilogies are still unknown to the general public. In Book 4 – The Wind Among the Stars readers fly into deep space with Aurelio Lupetti aboard the Victoria, the first fully operational FTL starship built by humanity. Science has not yet confirmed the existence of life beyond the Terran biosphere, so Lupetti has his hands full with politicians trying to cut funding for the project and sabotage it. And the real possibility of a sterile, lifeless Cosmos cannot be dismissed, even by Lupetti. This is the First Contact book of the series, when humanity learns the galactic civilization documented by Mark Bricchetti actually exists. Books 5 and 6 will continue Lupetti’s voyages, and frankly I can’t wait to see what he will discover!

Origins 7-9 Will complete the 3 trilogies with a rollicking ride with Brian Brightstar and his pit bull Riley aboard the São Gabriel as he explores Brightstar Curve.

Star Lawyers Continues

Star Lawyers books with the Matthews clan will continue, beginning with Star Lawyers Book 4 – House of the Silent Moons, to launch Nov-Dec 2018. The “main” series will be interspersed with the above.

Like I’ve said, I’ll be writing these in Arizona until they plant a cactus over my grave. (Now that you have the outline, I reserve the right to change the details!)

Let’s have fun and adventure together in the Star Lawyers universe.

Tom Shepherd

Tucson, Arizona

 

STARDATE (Star Lawyers Origins Book 1)

If you didn’t get your copy of Stardate yet, get into the origins story by downloading it from Amazon.

 

 

Message from a Stucco Buddha

Wat Traimit Golden Buddha

Message from a Stucco Buddha

What mysterious gifts are people hiding within them?

Passing people in the street, I sometimes wonder—as a writer and student of humanity—what mysterious gifts are people hiding within them?

True, people carry burdens and sorrows, sometimes almost beyond bearing, and there are real villains loose in the world, who choose to harm others for reasons beyond our current understandings. But if there are secret evil doers, surely the other kind of person—the secret good-doer, the person of kindness and appreciation for life. I suspect these folks are way more typical.

A true story from Southeast Asia takes this thought to a deeper level

Nobody knew how long the stucco Buddha had sat in the courtyard outside one of the Temples. In Thailand there are many, many Buddhas . All over Asia, for that matter. This particular Buddha had sat outside the grounds of a Wat, or Temple for so many years that people didn’t know where it came from. He was covered in clay stucco, about 15 feet (4.5 m) tall, the fairly typical image of Buddha sitting in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face.

The stucco Buddha withstood Thailand’s political and social changes and weathered monsoon rains for generation after generation. In modern times, foreign visitors frequently posed beside the sacred image. Sometimes they overstepped the bounds—put hats on his head, or threw an arm around the good old Buddha like he was their good ‘ol buddy, culturally insensitive acts that can get a tourist arrested in some countries. Kids left candy wrappers in his lap. Other people brought flower and fruit offerings to the Buddha, or just paused to meditate before the image of Gautama Siddhartha, the Enlightened One.

And the Buddha kept smiling, as though guarding some deep secret, right in the midst of life.

Then the city of Bangkok decided to build a highway

Then the city of Bangkok decided to build a highway right through the courtyard where the Buddha sat. The Enlightened One got an eviction notice. The government was actually quite accommodating and offered heavy-lift equipment to move the stucco Buddha indoors.

The monks realized this would be good for the statue, too. Inside the Wat the Buddha could be venerated by the faithful and photographed by tourists in a more controlled way. After all, even though it was poorly constructed, the Buddha was centuries old and deserved to retire with dignity.

When the government crane began hoisting the stucco Buddha, the massive statue began to crack. To make matters worse, rain started to fall on the split stone. The head monk temporarily halted the project and ordered the workers to lower the Buddha to the ground and throw a canvas tarp over the big idol.

The workers went home and once more the Buddha sat alone in the rain outside the Temple, conspicuously hidden under a weatherproof shroud.

Something shining in the light beam

Sometime in the night the head monk decided to check on whether the cracked statue had deteriorated in the rain. He focused a flashlight under the tarp to see how dry it was. When the beam touched the crack a tiny glimmer radiated back at him. Removing the tarp, the monk examined the crack and found there definitely was something shining in the light beam.

So, he fetched a hammer and chisel and tapped at the stucco, which crumbled away, revealing more gleaming surface. After hours of work in the darkness, the dawn rose over a sight which had not been seen for nearly three centuries: a solid gold, 15-foot Buddha weighing 5.5 tons.

The Buddha was cast from the gold

Scholars later suggested that Thai monks in the fifteenth century smelted gold to cast the Buddha. Three hundred years later another generation of monks desperately wanted to protect their beloved golden idol from an invading Burmese army. They secretly coated their divine treasure with clay in order to disguise it.

Apparently, they did their work too well. After the monks all died in that eighteenth century invasion, nobody knew what had happened to the golden Buddha… or had a clue about the true identity of this rather ordinary mud-stucco model in the now-deserted monastery. Later, when Bangkok was built, the statue was moved into the city and left outside a deserted temple. And the solid gold Buddha had been hiding in plain sight ever since.

How many people hide great, deep, incredible gifts under a rather ordinary coating of flesh and bone?

Today it sits in Wat Traimit (Temple of The Solid Gold Buddha).  Some art historians consider the Gold Buddha to be the most valuable sacred object in the world.

Now the question I sometimes myself ask is this: How many people do you pass on the street every day who are, in reality, solid Gold Buddha’s in disguise? How many people hide great, deep, incredible gifts under a rather ordinary coating of flesh and bone?

I encourage all my sci-fi writer friends (and their readers) to think about alien cultures and human beings through this lens.

Tom Shepherd

Tucson, AZ

A little Bio-Diversity, Please!

Bio-Diversity on Alien Worlds

A little Bio-Diversity, Please!

A blogger’s plea for complicated ecosystems, climate zones, and cultures on hab worlds. A little Bio-Diversity, Please!

The word for today: Bio-Diversity

Bio-Diversity in Sci-Fi

I love Star Wars, but Lucas went off the rails when designing the backdrop for the central action in the original three films (now 4, 5 & 6). Not counting the mechanical planetoid of the Death Star, we get the desert planet Tatooine, the ice planet Hoth, the Cloud City of eternally overcast Bespin, and the forest moon of Endor. The only earth-like planet of the original trilogy, Alderaan, appears briefly in the cross-hairs of the Death Star before foppish Governor Wilhuff Tarkin blows it to smithereens. To mix in a little Trek lingo, was this a message? “No M-class planets need apply!”

Studies of habitability suggest no “higher” (i.e., sentient) life forms could originate on any of the planets Lucas allows to coexist with the humanoid Death Star makers. Desert worlds lack the basic life ingredient, water. Ice planets might have water (unless it’s frozen CO2), but eternal winters are simply too cold for anything but lichens or fungi. And life evolving on planets requiring floating Cloud Cities—really? That’s like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969, hopping out of his spacecraft, and looking for the nearest Starbucks. (They weren’t founded until 1971. NASA still awaits the first Lunar drive-thru.) And although forest moons like Endor might evolve simple life and maybe animals, the habitat lacks seasonal variability, which challenges a developing species to increase its brain size and invent tools and technologies in other to survive. Ewoks used stone-age weapons. Effectively, yes. But still… you know… primitive.

Climate, Biology and Cultural Diversity

What can be said about climate and biology can be multiplied to the Nth degree about alien cultures. (I never understood the need for math-speak in that Nth business. Why not just say a helluva lot?) Let’s talk about why sci-fi aliens often sit on chairs, eat at tables, and have an alcoholic beverage after a hard day of planning to invade of humanity’s homeworld.

Look at the diversity of Earth cultures. (Caveat: Sweeping generalizations follow. Let’s stipulate that exceptions exist and continue, please.)

First example, bathroom facilities. In multiple Asian cultures, sit down toilets do not exist. People squat over floor-installed porcelain toilet bowls or some other aperture to do their business. They consider the Western habit of sitting on a toilet seat—especially one frequented by strangers—to be incredibly unsanitary, and they are right. I have seen Asians on US Military bases adapt to our sit-down latrines by mounting the toilet and squatting on the seat. For real.

In some Asian cultures people remove shoes at the door and sit on the floor. Mats or thick rugs are common. Low tables hold food and drink. Speaking of food, Sri Lankans eat with their fingers, even rice. (They got a spoon for me, because they are Buddhists and amazingly kindhearted.)

In my Series

House of the Silent Moons

An extreme example of cultural differences: Japanese traditionalists will sit seiza, like this excerpt from my work-in-progress, Star Lawyers Book 4 -House of the Silent Moons:

They slapped neural cuffs on Rodney and Suzie and led them at blaster-point onto the deck. After winding through corridors and up turbo-lifts, guards herded them into a suite marked 将軍. Not surprisingly to Suzie, those were the kanji for Shōgun. A fusuma, or sliding paper door, opened onto a large room in the traditional washitsu style. Straw composite tatami mats held low tables.

Hideki Tsuchiya sat at a table in the center of the room in the traditional seiza manner—legs folded under thighs, buttocks resting on the heels, ankles turned outward, hands folded modestly in his lap. Tsuchiya was flanked by four armed warriors, also resting at seiza, whose leather belts bore kinetic sidearms and traditional swords—long bladed katana and shorter wakizashi.

Tsuchiya chose only the long and short swords.

“Miss London, Lieutenant Rooney. Will you honor me with a moment of your time?” Tsuchiya said expressionlessly.

Rodney spoke first. “How about removing these shackles?”

Of course, I’m not suggesting this is how all Japanese live or sit to receive guests. They don’t wear swords or carry blasters, obviously. (It’s a novel, gimme a break!) However, the chasm between Asian and Western norms is deep and wide, even to the inexpressive remarks of their host, who does not want to lose face by showing emotion to an adversary.

If that kind of diversity exists on our home planet, what will it be like when we enter First Contact with a species like the blue Quirt-Thymeans in my novels, who eat six meals a day and fine you for skipping something trivial as Second Breakfast. Furthermore, QTs hold an annual ten-day religious festival of feasting and socializing, during which everybody is free to screw whomever he or she wants. (Yes, they are sexually compatible humanoids, albeit blue with slightly doggy-like ears.)

The Blue King Murders

Did you read that it’s a religious festival? “Impossible!” you say. “Religions are otherworldly and austere and favor sexual abstinence outside of marriage.” Ask your Hindu friends about the goddess Rati. Here’s an excerpt between J.B. Matthews and Parvati, the former holographic pleasure provider reprogrammed as the Patrick Henry’s Helmswoman, from Star Lawyers Book 3The Blue King Murders:

“This is so not like me. I was a Catholic monk, for God’s sake!” J.B. said.

“We have gods and goddess who exist to bring us sensuality. One is called Rati, the goddess of desire, lust, passion. And yes, love.”

J.B. shook his head. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”

“Are you still a monk?”

He smiled sheepishly. “No.”

“Good, because I am no longer a whore.”

“Of course not. I’m glad. Sorry.”

Parvati laughed sweetly. “Jeremiah, in some matters, you are so very shy. I find that alluring.”

“I have no idea why.”

A classic cultural disconnect, and sometimes the differences bring more than a blush. For example, fundamentalist Muslims allow no images of the One God, or any artistic portrayals of humans or birds or animals in their Mosques or wider communities. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed the world’s two largest standing Buddhas, great artistic treasures of humanity. One of them was 165 feet (50 meters) high. They were blown up because graven images are offensive to the Divine. Islamists also have strict, one might say medieval, attitudes about controlling women and shunning literature and music which hints at sexuality.

Contrast that with the world’s oldest living religion, Hinduism. The Hindus have temples featuring carved images of their many, many deities, sometimes illustrating sexual positions of the Kamasutra in stone on those houses of worship. Sexuality is a religious path of which the Divine approves.

Can you imagine a scene in which two person from these radically different cultures—perhaps a Pakistani Muslim from Karachi and Indian Hindu from Mumbai—meet and discuss life in general? It practically writes itself.

The point is that many sci-fi writers are good students of culture and bio-diversity, but all of us need to be. Much good reference material is available online. And if you want to get serious about learning how cultures work, download or buy the CD of the “Great Courses” lecture series by David Livermore, “Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are.” Believe me, Dr. Livermore never realized how far away that “wherever” could be.

Write on, trust your gifts, and let the muse infuse you.

“Dr. Tom”

Tucson, AZ

14 August 2018

Knife Fight at Olathe-5

Jump Gate Omega (Star Lawyers Book 1) and Forbidden Sanctuary (Star Lawyers Book 2) and The Blue King Murders (Star Lawyers Book 3) are live. If you didn’t read it yet, the prequel to the series is also available and you can Download my free short story here!

You can also learn more about me in the about section of this website.

Aliens out there: Friends or Foes?

Aliens out there: Friends or Foes

Aliens out there: Friends or Foes?

Welcome back to the starship Patrick Henry. Are Aliens out there Friends or Foes?

A Diverse Universe

I sit at my laptop, looking out at the rugged Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, and I can’t help wondering about what other sentient species experience in their daily lives. What do the mountains look like on the homeworld of the ancient, reptilian race called Saurians by humans? Do the Dengathi frog people live in pools, or lakeside pads, or on dry land, and are they really as intellectually challenged as Tyler Matthews believes, or only when viewed through the lens of Terran anthropocentrism?

Are the Rek Kett—who look like fat, humanoid, dried mud creatures—all as pompous as the officious Senior Captain Zalaar-17, who tried to impound Tyler’s Sioux City and summarily sentenced him to death for being a lawyer? What about other spacefaring creatures—the Yegosian insectoids, and the “Zenji, dog-faced humanoids who usually walked upright but dropped to all fours for faster movement” mentioned in Jump Gate Omega?

A Peaceful Universe?

I’d like to think all sentient creatures, who achieved Faster Than Light travel, have also achieved a nonbelligerent demeanor along their route to the stars. In the book you maybe just finished, Tyler discovers the civilizations of Andromeda reached this advanced consciousness long ago. Maybe that was my Emerson/Thoreau/M.L. King/New Thought tendencies seeping into the storyline. Maybe the degree of cooperation required for a society to achieve starflight demands at the very least something approaching the golden rule to function at that level.

Or Endless Struggles?

Or maybe the fascists and other dictators and absolute monarchs were right. Too much cooperation eventually stalls the mechanism of progress. If the election of Donald Trump proves anything, it demonstrates that vilification of the alien can motivate people to action as effectively as the anti-war Hippies or the Civil Rights Movement ever imagined. Mussolini made the trains run on time.

Do we look outward at a Cosmos riddled with endless struggles for supremacy? Is the most effective universal maxim not “Do unto Others” but “Dominate or be Dominated”? The Star Lawyers “Universe” considers peace and war as the Ying and Yang of sentient species. More about this in future books.

Star Lawyers

Star Lawyers practice law in the Milky Way, where nothing resembling universal concord has prevailed thus far. Yet, most FTL races are at least tolerant of their neighbors, motivated in part by economics and the need for interstellar trade. Rare metals, information exchange and scientific breakthroughs, art and music and manufactured goods, even something as basic as water or breathable gases—the desire for commodities give peace a chance, if only because all creatures, to paraphrase the ancient Greeks, want the beautiful and the good.

I find myself wondering if the sci-fi community—writers and readers—are the visionaries who will, in the words of Jesse Jackson, “Keep hope alive.” We need to believe that a just, peaceful, prosperous future awaits all sentient beings, or the dream dies with our generation. Tell your children to dream of the day we break the FTL barrier and open the Cosmos to humanity. Go to the stars expecting to find new friends, treading carefully while packing serious “don’t even think about it” hardware in case the neighbors are not happy about hairless apes moving into their Gated community.

Humanity will one day boldly go there

But I believe with all my heart that humanity will one day boldly go there. As a progressive Christian, I also believe the Divine Source of all sentient beings makes us all equal. In the words of the poet Alice Meynell:

Doubtless we shall compare together, hear

A million alien Gospels, in what guise

He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.

Keep hope alive. Believe the science to support FTL will happen. See your descendants crewing the starships and tilling the soils of unclaimed, unnamed, unknown worlds.

And if they get in trouble with their neighbors, maybe somebody like Tyler Noah Matthews IV will rush to defend them in alien courts of law.

“Dr. Tom”

Tucson, AZ

Knife Fight at Olathe-5

Jump Gate Omega (Star Lawyers Book 1) and Forbidden Sanctuary (Star Lawyers Book 2) are live while The Blue King Murders (Star Lawyers Book 3) is in pre-order. If you didn’t read it yet, the prequel to the series is also available and you can Download my free short story here!

You can also learn more about me in the about section of this website.