Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Another Torment Nexus story on the verge of coming true: The Burn Out

Publishing science fiction can be a mad scramble between getting it in print and it starting to come true in real life. 

My recent story "The Burn Out" (in Fission #3, available here) features a pop star. But he's not the story. Like many rich young musicians, he uses something to keep his edge sharpened, and like many rich young musicians, it's the younger female fans that provide it to him. 

In his case it's a combat soldier implant.

The unit was optimized for combat soldiers in shock—like after a bullet wound. It instructed the sympathetic nervous system to shut some things down and dialed other things up to compensate. The telemetry package monitored the activity of the ganglia. Gully Foyle said, and this sounded like much more fun, that the upgrade allowed the user to experiment with changes that beat anything you could get out of a needle. 

Because anything that changes the human body or brain is going to be used for porn first and recreation next. 

For our hero, use of the technology ends about as well as can be expected, and that's coming from me, the person who hates the trope "there are some things man was not meant to know."

Pic of a tweet. An SF author says they invented the Torment Nexus as a cautionary tale and a Tech Company says "At long last we have created the Torment Nexus from the classic sci-fi novel 'Don't Create The Torment Nexus.'"

Evergreen Meme

Anyway, in the grand tradition of the Torment Nexus, the kind of technology referenced in the story has been invented and is being openly bragged about. 

You should be able to get it on the Dark Web within a year (winky smiley) but you oughta read my story before you use it.                                                                 

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Burn Out and Paul Kossoff--My SF story about Fandom


I’m a fan. I became a fan when my musical taste came on-line in late 1971—which I think of as “The year Led Zeppelin IV was released.” Since then, fandom has occupied most of my time, energy, and money. Any attention span I have left over, I spend writing. Sometimes I combine the two, as I did in my story “The Burn Out.

cover of Fission #3
Fission # 3 

I was born at the wrong time to absorb the British Blues Boom as it happened. Tons of Sobs, Free’s first album from 1969, was on my Must Buy list as I worked backward from ’71. On the list also were Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck. All the heavy rock bands worked the same Blues coalface back then, and the similarities between Truth (Jeff Beck’s first), Led Zeppelin I and Free’s Tons of Sobs are plain. The band slams through such classics as the barnstorming lust locomotive, “The Hunter” (Albert King) and the deathbed macho boast “Goin’ Down Slow” (St. Louis Jimmy Oden, via the Howlin’ Wolf version). Free’s sound is raw and aggressive, testosterone-laden sweat flying from the speakers.

Free comprised four white British teenagers (15-18 at the time of recording) and it seems bizarre that they should attempt songs with lyrics begging the listener to write the singer’s mother and tell her the shape that he’s in (and moreover, that his health is fading and he needs forgiveness for his sins). They do, they pull it off brilliantly, and a lot of that credibility comes from the guitarist, Paul Kossoff, who effortlessly soars through the solos with a gossamer-light feel underlying a snarling attack that rages continually against the dying of the light.

Koss, 17, almost certainly did not know that he himself was going down fast. He was dead inside eight years.

I never saw Free live. The ban split up when Kossoff’s drug problem became too hard to handle. Koss made efforts to get clean but never got back to full health. I bought his solo album, Back Street Crawler (1973) but despite its solid white blues feel, and a guitar sound like heavy whipping cream poured over double chocolate cake, something about it seemed off—it conjured up its own title, let’s put it that way.

When I heard that electric folkie John Martyn had taken the faltering Kossoff under his wing in 1975, I was elated. I put aside my anti-folk bias and ventured to Leeds to see them play together. I went with a friend. As we neared the auditorium in the late afternoon, we heard an inordinately loud Marshall-amplified Les Paul. The rehearsal/sound check was underway. Koss was the only person who could produce those sounds from a guitar, and the realization stopped me in my tracks.

“Probably just a roadie,” my friend said, urging me along. I was 16 at the time and that is still the most cynical thing anyone has ever said to me. I assumed I’d hear more that evening, so I moved on without objecting. My assumption proved to be incorrect.

I wasn’t a big John Martyn fan. I knew his Solid Air of course, and “I’d Rather be the Devil” (Skip James) but I had little interest in a man who was perpetually drunk and had what we nowadays call a “problematic” relationship with women. He was a rowdy folk singer accompanied on this tour by an even rowdier stand-up bass player (Danny Thompson) and a drummer (John Stevens). I didn’t know, going in, that shenanigans had started much earlier in the day. Koss had already got himself punched by the offended boyfriend of a girl he coveted, followed by a beating from Martyn himself for lying about the incident backstage. But I heard about all that much later.

I knew Koss would not come on stage until the encore, but John Martyn kept me interested in the meantime. He played an acoustic guitar with a pickup taped across the soundhole as well as a contact pickup taped to the body. The signal was fed to an Echoplex effects box, producing a hypnotic, pulsing reverberation above which he played chords and melody. Married with his famously slurred voice, the effect was hymn-like and meditative, an effect that was shattered every time a song ended and the band recommenced swearing at one other.

Eventually, Paul Kossoff appeared, swigging from a bottle of Crème de Menthe. The bottle was half empty and Koss made a strenuous effort to finish it during the set. Together the band played three songs.[1] I was delighted to hear him play live but I noticed a significant deterioration between his playing during the sound check and the post beating, post liquor evening performance. He had less than a year to live. Koss died on 19th March 1976. He was 25 years old.

There are two stories out there giving a cause of death. The book Heavy Load claims “Unconfirmed reports have Kossoff picking up some pills before the all-night flight ‘off some dozy bird who was hanging around’.” No source for the information is given in the book.[2] Later, it presents this version: 

“Paul’s death certificate read cerebral and pulmonary edema. Drugs didn’t appear to be in his system. Sandie, Paul’s girlfriend at the time, says drugs are what led up to the tragic conclusion that day but did not cause his death on the flight. ‘No one told us that you should not fly with a blood clot condition for about a year,” says Sandie. ‘And after his heart attack and the blood clot in his leg…I think the altitude moved the clot to his lungs’.”[3]

A second book, Free at Last, elaborates on the first claim. Bandmate Terry Wilson is quoted as saying,

 “Paul was on his way out. He'd died earlier; his heart had stopped, about a year earlier in England when we were back there after the first record. Paul was in the hospital and they brought him back and told him if he ever did drugs again he wouldn't live.” Wilson goes on, “There were times when Paul had so many friends around who just wanted to comfort him. […] I walked into his room and he had a couple of his friends there that brought some barbiturates and some other stuff. I walked in and was so pissed at the girl who was there. Her name was Leslie I think, but went by the name of Dale. […] A day later we were on the plane going to New York to play Atlantic Records the new album when Koss died—from the very drugs Dale or Leslie or whatever her name was scored for him. It turned out he had gotten heroin, valium and Seconals from her.”[4]


I have participated in various fandoms ever since that late 1971 musical fangirl awakening. Whether it was Led Zeppelin, or Star Wars, or Harry Potter, I’ve long been immersed in fan culture and hung out with the fans. The realization that a fellow fan may have killed a hero of mine really frosted my cookies.

I understand a fan’s dedication to the object of their fandom. The word is a shortened form of ‘fanatic’ after all. Anyone who has observed a weeklong argument on social media over whether a Star Destroyer could defeat the USS Enterprise knows that fandom is serious business, and anyone who has seen a young girl in tears outside a concert hall because she got to touch the star’s hand knows that emotions run sky high. I was 55 years old when my current crush answered a question of mine on a fan forum, and I told everybody who would listen that he’d written back to me. I didn’t wash my eyes for a week. I’m quite aware what a fan will do to get close to a star.

Write what you know, they say. To get the bad taste out of my mouth, I wrote a short story about a tween fan who gives a gift to the member of the boy band she most admires but then has to watch helplessly as the gift puts him on a self-destructive path . I’m a science fiction writer, so the gift is not a drug, but a technology. 

That story, “The Burn Out,” is featured in Fission #3 from the British Science Fictions Association (BSFA). The online anthology is available to BSFA members and the print version can be obtained from Amazon right now.


[2] Heavy Load: Free by David Clayton & Todd K. Smith 2nd Ed., 2002 p 248

[3] Ibid, p 249

[4] Free at Last: the story of Free and Bad Company by Steven Rosen, 2001 p 168-169

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Whole Lotta Long: identity of the Stick Man on Led Zeppelin IV cover revealed

Led Zeppelin's fourth album is untitled. It's known as IV or Four Symbols, or Runes, or Zoso (one of the 'runes' looks like those four letters, stylized).  Back at the time of release, Atlantic sent out type blocks with the symbols on them so the album could be listed and correctly typeset in the Hit Parade charts, but that was of no use to punters, who still couldn't pronounce it. Let's call it IV.

The cover of IV famously shows an old building, half torn down, with a tower block visible through the demolished wall.  On the remaining part of the old wall, there's a photograph of an old man in a countryside scene, bent double under a load of sticks. 

Cover of Led Zeppelin IV as described in the text

The symbolism seems clear enough-- the old ways are being replaced by the new, and the old man in harmony with nature (taking from it only sustainable twigs rather than destroying it) has given way to a new paradigm. 

Mystery has always surrounded the identity of the old man. The official story is that Robert Plant (the lead singer) found the photo in a junk shop in the British Midlands (alternatively, in Berkshire) and that's it. Fans have sometimes been unable to consider the photo as simply a found object and prefer to read extra significance into the man. The fans' stories have ranged from the photo depicting Aleister Crowley (an occultist - guitarist Jimmy Page is a student of his methods) to the photo showing George Pickingill, a farm laborer more excitingly known as the Father of Modern Witchcraft. 

Good news! There has been a breakthrough in identifying the man and the photographer. The BBC is reporting that the 'original' photo has been found.  I'm not sure what 'original' means in this context, as Plant must have thought he was buying the only copy. (People didn't make a lot of paper copies of photos back in the day.)  The beeb describes it thus: 

The figure is most likely Lot Long from Mere in Wiltshire, photographed by Ernest Farmer.

Brian Edwards, from the University of the West of England (UWE), found the original picture when looking through a photograph album for other research.

"I instantly recognised the man with the sticks - he's often called the stick man," he said.

The article shows the photo in situ on a photo album page, with three other photos taken by Ernest Farmer. The album is dated 1892 in Farmer's handwriting.  The photo itself is labeled "a Wiltshire Thatcher."

Mr Edwards then set about researching thatchers from that time period, and said his research suggested the man pictured was Lot Long, who died in 1893.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Why blog? It's essential for writers!


This is a blog. At one time, anybody who wanted to write had a blog. 

In the mid-nineties, search engines heaved into view. If someone wrote a blockbuster piece on their Page on the World Wide Web, no one except their mom would be able to find it. Some people who were terminally online, for nineties values of terminally online, would visit their favorite pages and write about them on their own page. The search engines, on learning that someone had linked to a webpage, would be more likely to index that page and show it to others. (Search engines ranking sites by the number of links to them is still a thing thirty years on.)

These early online people were logging the web, web-logging. Blogging. My blog, which started in 2006, was also a place where I could write about music, art and news. I could express myself to my full capability.

Blogs can help writers in many ways

They can serve as a base camp, establishing personal credibility and stability, as well as demonstrating expertise in your craft. Publishers can see your passion and commitment to your cause or genre. A long-term, regularly updated web presence gathers more search engine credit and ranks higher in searches. 

A blog is also platform for advertising your pieces. Publishers rarely pay for press junkets or book tours these days, and so the burden of raising public awareness of your writing falls on you. There are not many places where you can just say, “Hey, I got a story published. Here’s the link! Hope you like it!” I mean, try it sometime. If you do it on someone else’s Facebook, or do it too often on your own, you’ll get unfriended. To build an audience, you need regularity as well as quality of output.  And pieces on blogs keep your name in the readers’ minds between published articles.

As I became more interested in writing fiction, I let the blog languish. I took a class from Bob Cohen and I’m following it up with a college class on non-fiction writing helmed by Scott Hays, both at Saddleback.  I’m working my way back to regularity – updating at least once a week.

A daily writing discipline is healthy practice for a writer, as well.

What’s my audience? My blog gets about 27K views a month. That’s tiny, given that most of the views will be people who clicked on a Google result, realized it wasn’t for them and clicked away immediately. That’s why I’m taking the class right now!

Finding Blog subject matter

What should you write about? Writing is writing. If the plot twist in your latest story or research on your article has you banging your head against the wall, close the document, open Blogger or Medium or Substack or Wordpress and write a couple of hundred words about your garden, your motorcycle engine rebuild or if all else fails, what your cats did today.

There! Blogging done, writing practiced, and head cleared, all in one sitting.

Taking notes

A blog can also serve as a notebook. You’re in Starbucks and a couple opposite is arguing? Write a character study. Sunset is fantastic today? Describe it. Incredible writer M John Harrison does this on his microblogging site.

Writing “story behind the story”

As well as publicizing stories and articles as they are published, your blog can support the work you have out in the wild. I recently wrote a short horror story about a plant biologist on the Welsh coast encountering ghosts of Vikings. It drew on a trip I took to that area to study seaweed. When the story is published, I’ll follow up with a blog post about my long-ago trip. Seaweed’s really interesting!

What do I write about? Here’s the frequency listing for the labels on the posts.

Word frequency listing for Peromyscus blog (same as sidebar)

So go start your own blog!

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Fission #3 now available for BSFA members to download

 Coming soon: 

Artwork for Fission #3 via BSFA website

My story "The Burn Out" is in great company in BSFA's Fission #3. I have a lot to say about this story, as soon as the book reaches the stores. 

If you are a member of the BSFA you can now download the ebook here. The print book will be available soon on Amazon. I'll keep you posted. 

Here it is: Fission #3, The Burn Out:  How Paul Kossoff inspired an SF story of Fandom.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Emanations Zen (ed. Carter Kaplan)

I am extremely pleased to let you know I have a piece in Emanations Zen (ed. Carter Kaplan) published just yesterday, October 3rd. 

Emanations Zen Cover Artwork

My story, "Cargo Cults," is an observation of an alternate reality, where South Sea Island "cargo cults" serve to bring bounty from aerial vehicles that use the landing strips. The story explores an aspect of cultural appropriation and its ramifications. 

I have not had a chance to read the other stories in the anthology yet, but the list of authors is extremely promising. 

You can buy Emanations Zen from Amazon today. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Book signing: Blood Fiction v 2 October 8th

Everyone is invited to a Blood Fiction book signing on August 8th, 2023 at 12 noon in Orange, CA.  The host is the legendary Book Carnival.

Blood Fiction Volume 2 curated by Mark Sevi--book signing

Many of the authors featured in Blood Fiction v2, including me, Lyle Hopwood, will be there along with snacks. 

Address is: 

Book Carnival

348 Tustin St. Orange, CA 92866

Phone number 714-538-3210

If you've read my story, you may not want to look anything up on Google Street View. You still have a Thomas Brothers map, don't you? 

If you haven't read my story, you can pick up a copy on the 8th! 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Marc Bolan at home, playing Suneye (video), London Rock (video)

 The first blockbuster T. Rex record was "Hot Love," released in the UK on 12th of February, 1971. 

That date neatly marks the demarcation between me being a child, about whom I can remember very little, and being a teen. "Ride a White Swan" was released in October 1970, not charting until January 1971, but to me, the two weeks between Swan moving down the charts and "Hot Love's" release were the difference between ancient history and things that happened to me personally. 

As my infatuation with T. Rex grew, I worked my way through the back catalogue as money allowed. The Tyrannosaurus Rex albums - My People, Prophets, Unicorn and Beard of Stars instantly became favorites. The prior T. Rex album - the eponymously named T. Rex - took a little longer to gel with me. I preferred the early acoustic tracks over Marc Bolan's burgeoning electric guitar workouts.  The direction had been obvious from the last track on Beard, "Elemental Child." In fact, if I'd had any ability to browse singles in those days, I would have heard it much earlier on "King of the Rumbling Spires," released as a single in 1969.  (But there was no chance of that.)

Something changed between T. Rex (the album) and "Hot Love." Marc Bolan made a quantum leap from the worked-over-many-times fey Hobbitesque boogie of "Woodland Bop" or the harder but still ovine ambiance of "One Inch Rock." He simultaneously avoided the hamfisted-Hendrix sound of "Elemental Child" and the crosslegged chirpiness of "Woodland Bop" and landed a solid gold slab of 1971 pop.

I was intensely interested in T. Rex by that point, and bought all the magazines and weeklies I could afford to read more about Marc's life.  I would have been overjoyed to see the little clip above, of Marc Bolan at home playing a few seconds of "Suneye," from T. Rex (the album). Seeing it today, after all these years, takes me back to the magazine-collecting years. In fact, I AM overjoyed to see it. What a talent, and what a sad loss that he died so young. 

The clip is from the documentary London Rock, released in 1970. By the magic of the interwebs, it is available on YouTube. I hope it stays up as the whole thing is a time capsule of the era when British rock got over its love affair with Blues and started to branch out.

Thank you to MrDomin099 Stone for uploading this precious glimpse into the past. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

International Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19th

Ahoy, Matey! 

September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.


Founded last century by John Baur and Mark Summers, ITLAPD was first disseminated to us scurvy landlubbers by Dave Barry in 2002.

Taking part is pretty simple. You sprinkle your speech at will with Pirateisms on September 19th. You don't have to dress up or get on a boat unless you want to. 

Sixteen men on a dead man's chest! 

Yo ho ho and a bottle of milk!

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Dragon Fruit ready for harvesting


Dragon Fruit looking good. I'll pick them today. The top left, dark variety is a Zamorano and the the pink/red ones are Delight. The first one flowered on the 1st August, so it's been 46 days - I might have left it two days too long. (As they ripen, the fruits start to be wiggleable, like a kid's loose tooth, get softer and redder, and may get a split in the dark area where the flower used to be attached.)
I don't want to whinge too much, but it's about time! They've been a lot of work. I've spent all day today repotting and staking the cuttings to get ready for fall, about the fourth of fifth full day this year. They grow like weeds, and it's important to keep them pruned or they branch out everywhere. (The rootstock should only have to support one stem until the cactus is old enough to flower, when you can let it branch out.)
The ones at the back (common or garden Lowe's or Home Depot variety) grew well but didn't flower this year so I have to make a decision whether to discard them and plant the cuttings of the varieties that did flower or leave them another year to see.

Delight is supposedly delicious while people mostly just describe Zamorano as average. I'll do a taste test in the next few days.

I owe a lot to Richard at Grafting Dragon Fruit. Not that we've ever met, but his videos are so informative and he's so cheerful and enthusiastic it really makes me want to succeed!

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

I'm in me mum's car (broom broom) redux

 In 2014 I posted a short video of a person in their mum's car (brum, brum). It was a mildly popular, shortlived meme that I just loved for some reason.  (The original write up is here.)

I'm always happy to find out what people are doing years  down the line. Where's Star Wars Kid now? What happened to the little girl with the teeth looking nonplussed in the car? Have any of the people in the Distracted Boyfriend Meme gotten married to each other yet? 

Anyway, we found out what happened to the person in their mum's car.  He came out as a transgender man, and it made the Daily Mail. 

Tristan Simmonds, who was formally known as Trish, won thousands of fans in the 2014 with a skit where he drove his mother's car on the now defunct social media platform, saying: 'I'm in my mum's car, broom broom.'

Since then, the viral star, from Huddersfield, has been updating followers with news about their life - and came out as a trans man in 2021.

In a video shared on Youtube, he explained that he had first come out to his parents in a letter followed by an emotional conversation and that they were supportive of his decision. 

Thought you ought to know.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Nine Dioptres (short story) now available for Kindle readers

A family stand on a river bank of poppies, and look at London on the opposite bank
Art by Emma Howitt for IZ Digital "Nine Dioptres".

Gareth Jelley of IZ Digital has kindly made available an EPUB version of Nine Dioptres for those of us who prefer to read on our Kindle.  To download the file, click the green button below. 

For people without Kindles, or who prefer not to press strange buttons on the internet, the story is also available to read at IZ Digital's website at the link below.  

Nine Dioptres

‘I can’t see that far,’ said Aminah, and bit her lip. Why admit that to the stranger? Suddenly overcome with self-pity, tears came to her eyes. Nuada waited until the black-robed figure was ready.

When Aminah spoke, it was with a sob: ‘I’m going blind, Nuada. Every day I see less and less!’

Nuada led her below. ‘Wait here. I can help you,’ she said, and got her bag. She took out her left eye and fitted a microeye into the socket. She peered into Aminah’s eyes, one after the other. Then she sat back, calculating something. ‘You aren’t going blind. It’s just myopia, which is easily corrected with lenses.’

‘I couldn’t wear a machine on my face,’ wailed Aminah.

Monday, September 11, 2023

September 11, 2001

Today’s the anniversary of 9/11. It took place in 2001, long enough ago that students entering the university system this past couple of years were not even born when it took place. It’s starting to fade in living memory and become history, that peculiar domain where historians shuffle facts around until they appear to form a pattern, and then write a book about how that pattern is a thing, a fact in itself, and how this new reified thing was inevitable.

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center – and the other attacks that day – took place in a world with a nascent internet, the process of pattern-making started early. It was one of the first events to be promptly evaluated for slotting into pre-existing patterns, and the conspiracy takes started early. Within minutes, in fact. President Kennedy’s assassination may have spawned more, longer and more elaborate theories but they took a while to grow legs, while 9/11 had its conspiracy theorists firing up the ol’ modems* and spinning their ‘findings’ before the literal dust literally settled.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons (no photographer credit)

I’m not going to rehearse those theories as it’s a futile task. It only adds to the churn. All I’ll say is that within 50 years we’ll get the World Trade Center Deniers who will present plenty of evidence that the WTC buildings never existed and the whole shebang was fabricated to bring the US into open conflicts in the Middle East. Today, thousands of Chat GPT (and similar) queries are generating millions of words of text and hundreds of thousands of pictures, which when put together will cast doubt on anything seen on the internet. There’ll be no such thing as verifiable, original footage.

Maybe that will be the last nail in the coffin of the pattern-matchers – if any and all takes can be fabricated, it will become difficult to wend a path through facts to find any spurious patterns in the data. We’ll just have to see.

On 9/11/2001, as I got ready for work in California, I switched on the TV. I didn’t normally do that, and I have no idea why I did that day. California is three hours ahead of New York. I turned on the cable news to hear a newscaster solemnly intone, “Smoke is rising from the North Tower. The South Tower collapsed minutes ago**.”

I looked at the live picture on the screen and tried to work out what those words could possibly mean. The only two towers I could think of were in the book of the same name by J R R Tolkien. But the picture was not of Middle Earth. It was a city, shrouded in smoke. The announcer talked some more and it eventually penetrated my foggy mind that a World Trade Center building had collapsed – and now another one was on fire. A few minutes later, The North Tower collapsed in a horrific blossom of crushed concrete dust. There was consternation onscreen.

I glanced at the clock. It was 7:30 AM, and I needed to get to work. No one knew what had happened. It’s hard to describe the lack of further information. Today, almost all of us have a high-quality video camera in our pockets. You can’t have a mild row in a suburban street without half-a-dozen bystanders flipping phones out of their pants and recording every detail. Each one can be uploaded to a service and available to watch within minutes. But only 22 years ago, it was a rare occurrence for someone to have both a video camera and the presence of mind to point it at a source of danger rather than leg it out of there as fast as possible. Photos of the planes hitting the towers and the plumes of flame started to come in but still, nothing about it made sense. How could two jets hit two buildings in Manhattan? And something hit the Pentagon building! All aircraft were ordered to land by the FAA!

I’m not sure if I heard about the crash of Flight 93 before I left for work. I know I didn’t see until later the footage of George W Bush reading to a class of schoolkids when an aide whispered something to him and a look I’ve never seen before came over his face. He stayed with the children for a few minutes, apparently not wishing to cause panic, before being hustled to safety.

Once at work you start going about your business, of course. Everyone had a theory, but everyone had work to do. Even so, we would continually drift away from our desks and go to the conference rooms, which had TVs fitted for audio-visual presentations. Our company was (and is) a huge firm performing blood tests on patients all over the US. Vast numbers of vials of blood were shipped around the country from where they were collected to where they could be tested. 

It’s a minor thing among all the horrors that happened on 9/11 (and subsequently) but with all air traffic grounded, we had to find alternate means of getting specimens to the laboratories. Most tests are routine, in the sense that you would be extremely pissed to be told you had to have a second blood draw because your prior specimen didn’t make it to the lab before it denatured, but you wouldn’t suffer a major setback. But other tests are irreplaceable. The “before” samples taken before an operation or cancer treatment saved to be matched with “after” samples. Chemotherapy levels after dosing. Prenatal tests taken from chorionic villi. Drug levels for such things as Gabapentin. Cerebrospinal fluids, bone marrow samples. You don't want either of those done twice.

The logistics departments moved heaven and earth to get everything they could stabilized, if possible, and shifted onto trains and trucks.

One batch of a few hundred specimens could not be recovered and all had to be redrawn. That insulated crate was in the hold of Flight 175 when the plane hit the South Tower. Strange to think that when history is being written and some bright spark has an idea about 9/11, they’ll call for DNA testing of the few preserved pieces of the WTC*** and they might find evidence of a bunch of people who were never in the towers or on the planes, present only as samples in glass vials. 

That could cause a few new conspiracy theories.

*All right, it wasn’t that long ago. Many people had cable internet and/or T1 lines, whatever they were.

**That’s from memory, not an exact quote.

*** Most of the rubble was rushed to a landfill, which is more grist for the conspiracy mill. The landfill was called Fresh Kills.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Sunless and Nine Diopters (short stories) available at IZ Digital

A reminder that you can read two of my stories, Sunless and Nine Diopters, at Gareth Jelley's remarkable IZ Digital, the webzine companion to Interzone magazine

Full disclosure: It's actually "Nine Dioptres" but you're unlikely to die from reading half a dozen words spelled in British English. 


Tomey placed his feet carefully on the network of life support tubing, grabbing at handholds as he moved from the cable side of the Rambler’s hull to the outward side. The ship slid upwards, cables screeching.

Soon, the ground vehicles were no longer visible. To the west, green veins of copper ore shot through the orange rock of the treeless Lono Hills. The mangled ground formed a circle near the foot of the funicular, the green, white and yellow squares of farms filled the horizon to the east, and to the south the garden-roofed skyscrapers of the city flourished like a jungle streaked with black crevasses. The cold, hard metal of a liquid oxygen pipe burned Tomey’s hands, and he switched his grip, cursing under his breath.

Nine Dioptres

‘I can’t see that far,’ said Aminah, and bit her lip. Why admit that to the stranger? Suddenly overcome with self-pity, tears came to her eyes. Nuada waited until the black-robed figure was ready.

When Aminah spoke, it was with a sob: ‘I’m going blind, Nuada. Every day I see less and less!’

Nuada led her below. ‘Wait here. I can help you,’ she said, and got her bag. She took out her left eye and fitted a microeye into the socket. She peered into Aminah’s eyes, one after the other. Then she sat back, calculating something. ‘You aren’t going blind. It’s just myopia, which is easily corrected with lenses.’

‘I couldn’t wear a machine on my face,’ wailed Aminah.


Cochineal and Prickly Pear

This is less showy than most of my garden photos, but even more botanically interesting. I planted a prickly pear cactus pad a year or so ago and it's growing. It's rooted and has put out new little cactus pads.
It's also growing a bunch of fur-covered insects!
Oh no!
But look - the insects are Cochineal. That's right, they're red food coloring. The red food coloring that is labeled cochineal is made from ground-up opuntia-eating beetles.
I am not planning on making my own food dye, however. The beetle-fur is pretty gross and my finger was stained for hours!

I had not realized it was marketed under any name except cochineal, but Wikipedia says it is also called Carmine and has food dye numbers where approved: "Specific code names for the pigment include natural red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120."

So if you're vegan, watch out for those dyes.


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