February 14, 2013 § 2 Comments
About a year ago, James Brown (aka Seti Net) asked me to write a short story to post on his website www.seti.net. This story is a tie-in to my novel, THE HALO REVELATIONS. I’m reproducing it here as an early anniversary celebration of the publication of the book. I hope you enjoy.
The Dragon Crown
J. S. Colley
…a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.
Matilda left her brother under the protection of the willow. Even though she was cold, she had taken off her shawl and tucked it around his shoulders. They hadn’t eaten since last evening meal, just before the Knights of the Dark Dragon came thundering into the village astride their painted warhorses.
Not far from the willow, she spotted a cluster of wild radishes and bent to pull them from the ground. They would be bitter, but better than no food at all. An almost-healed pox on her forearm reminded her of the horror they had left behind.
“Go,” her mother had said. “Take Jack and leave the village. You have survived the pestilence. It is God’s will.”
Her mother closed her eyes from exhaustion, but motioned her daughter to come closer. Matilda saw her own terrified reflection in her mother’s eyes when she opened them again.
“Take your father’s crown and go to the Far End. It is your only hope.”
At first Matilda didn’t understand what she meant, but then realized her mother was talking about the place spoken of in the legend of her great-uncle. He had traveled to the Far End—the place of the dragon—and was gone for many years. When he returned, her uncle carried with him a strange crown. He claimed it gave him great wisdom and, with it, he led the people of his small village into a time of prosperity. The other lords were jealous, for the dark dragons of their legend had left them nothing, and they were forever trying to capture her uncle’s prize for their own. After her uncle died, her father inherited the crown and became Lord, but now he had died from the Black Death, and those who coveted the crown had come to try and lay claim to it once again.
Matilda looked upon the crown as a family curse rather than a blessing and wished to never see it again, but she had done as her mother instructed and taken it, hands shaking, out of its hiding place. But would she have courage enough to venture to the Far End? She knew not. At that moment, she only felt an urge to take her brother and herself far from the village and the pounding hoofs of the horses and their evil riders.
Back beneath the willow, she watched as her brother ate the last of the radishes and, when he was finished, they crossed the shallow river.
Ahead lay the Far End. Here Be Dragons. That’s what was written on the maps Matilda had seen.
“Do we really have to go there, sister?” Jack asked.
“What other option is left to us? Would you rather go back to those men? Or the disease that took our family?”
They went silent for a moment.
“Do you believe the stories of our great-uncle?” Jack finally asked.
She looked ahead and did not answer him. Instead, she adjusted the strap of the heavy sack hanging from her shoulder.
“Let’s go. I would rather face this monster, benevolent or not, in full daylight than in shadow.”
The forest fell away to low shrubs and then short grasses as they neared the site. Matilda’s heart pounded as she caught a glimpse of the great beast through the foliage. It shimmered in the late morning sun.
“It must be sleeping,” Jack said.
At that moment, an oddly dressed knight came around the head of the beast. His strange armor glowed in the sunlight, like the scales of the dragon behind him.
“Who is he?”
“The man who lives inside the dragon,” Matilda said in a whisper. “So he really exists.” Her chest felt hollow when she looked upon him.
“Why must we face the dragon, Matty?” Jack whined, as he turned his back to both the dragon and the knight, and sat with arms hugging his bent knees.
“Mother said it was our only hope.”
“Hope of what? To be eaten? Or, worse, feel the dragon’s hot breath?”
“Has Mother ever told us wrong, brother? She would never put us in harm’s way.”
Matilda saw that talk of their mother had brought a tear to his eye.
“Best get it over with.”
Her heart pounded in her chest as she moved to show herself to the two strange beings—one large, brooding, and foreign, the other strangely familiar but terrifying nonetheless.
The knight turned toward the sudden noise, went down on one knee and shot a bolt of lightning from his wrist. It threw up dirt a few yards from where Matilda stood and it fell in clumps at her feet. She squealed in spite of herself and stepped back. She could hear Jack crying softly.
But then a strange sensation came over her, as if someone was watching her from inside her own body, and she was suddenly no longer afraid. She took the sack from her shoulder and, watching the knight, pulled the crown from the bottom and held it high for him to see. The knight did not move, but stayed near the sleeping dragon.
Place it on your head, something told her, and so she did.
Matilda fell back. She felt her brother’s hand on her shoulder, preventing her from stumbling to the ground.
“What is it, Matty?” Jack asked.
But she could not answer him, for what she was witnessing took her breath away.
“Can’t you see it?” she finally asked.
“This,” she said, and spread her arms wide.
“I see only the dragon, the knight, and the forest.”
What kind of dark magic is this? Suddenly she was frightened, and she snatched the crown from her head.
“What did you see?” her brother pleaded.
Matilda remained silent but held her eyes on the knight for a long moment, until the same calmness she had felt before came over her once again, and then said, “We have nothing left here, Jack. Our village is destroyed and our beloved parents are dead.” She did not say it to sadden him, only to make him see the truth.
Matilda watched the knight reach his arm out to them, beckoning.
“Shall we go on a grand adventure just like our great-uncle? What say you?”
“Will we see elephants?” He wiped his nose with his sleeve.
Matilda knew he had always wanted to see those strange animals.
“Elephants and creatures you have never even heard of, my dear brother.”
Just then, the silver dragon awoke and the ground beneath their feet rumbled.
Jack clung to his sister’s skirt. “I’m afraid.”
“There is nothing to fear.”
“Will we live inside the dragon, too?” He frowned in the way so familiar to her.
“Yes.” She smiled.
She pulled Jack’s hand from her skirt and together they walked toward the awakened dragon and the shining knight, with his arm still outstretched, and Matilda no longer thought of the crown as a curse.
February 1, 2013 § 3 Comments
A discussion was started on my Facebook page about a couple of movies: Looper and Beasts of the Southern Wild—two very different movies. Feeling my remarks would be too long to leave in a comment on Facebook, I decided to write a blog post instead.
This is a book DISCUSSION, not a review, so except SPOILERS.
I’m going divide this up into two posts for easier reading.
And, sorry for the long-windedness of the post, and sorry for all the different tangents—but, as the song lyrics go: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
I’ll start with Looper:
The premise of the movie is this: In the future, a mob-like gang uses illegal time travel to kill their “hits” and rid themselves of the bodies—all bodies can be tracked in the future but sending them back in time wipes out all traces. Eventually, something goes wrong, as things do, and the loopers—those hired to kill the unfortunate people—are forced to kill their future selves. Closing the loop, so to speak.
Here’s what I liked about the movie: The actor who played the young Bruce Willis did a great job recreating Willis’ mannerisms. That impressed me. Also, I like Bruce Willis and Emily What’s-her-name (the English actress, she does a marvelous American accent). I like the overall premises of the movie, but the science part of it…well, it isn’t very scientific.
So, here’s the parts I didn’t like so much:
Don’t get me wrong, I CAN and DO and WILLINGLY suspend my disbelief. It’s part of the enjoyment of a book, movie, play…whatever. If you don’t have to suspend your disbelief a little when partaking in a work of fiction, then why bother. But this movie just had too many moments of disbelief, and I went into suspension overload. I won’t go into lots of detail (there are way too many examples) but just know this had to do with the “rules” of time travel. The idea that a future-self wouldn’t remember the history of the present-self (the writer did try to interjected a work-around for this, probably knowing what a big plot hole it was) is just beyond my comprehension.
Here’s what really irks me, I think. The current popular thing for moviemakers and writers is to give their audience a (seemingly) complex and bizarre plot—a mind-blowing intrigue where the audience is never quite sure what’s happening. Take Inception as an example, the audience is left wondering which scenes are real and which are dreams. This example happened to work well, perhaps because the writers had a firm grasp of the plot beforehand. THEY knew what was what, even if we were never quite sure.
But here’s an example of one that didn’t work—the TV series Lost. The writers even ADMITTED they didn’t have any idea where the plot was going. Seat-of-the-pants writers might not find this disturbing—those souls who can write with no idea where the words will take them—but I’m not one of them. I, at least, have to have an idea what the overall theme of my work is. I usually have to know the ending, even if I don’t know how I’m going to get there. In the case of Lost, if you have a plane crash on a strange island and the survivors start to hear horrifying scary monster sounds coming from the forest, wouldn’t you, as a writer, have an idea what that monster was? Apparently, this wasn’t a consideration for the screenwriters of this series. They’d figure it out as they went along. Fiddlesticks, I say. I stopped watching midway through the first season.
Basically, I didn’t enjoy Looper because the writer didn’t work hard enough to enabling me to suspend my disbelief. It felt insulting. It’s as if the writer said, “I’ve got this idea: a man in the present is forced to kill his future self” and there wasn’t a plot hole big enough for him to stop and think twice.
Then there was the child killing. The reason the loopers have to kill their future selves is because a madman, the “Rainmaker” (I think that was the name) has taken over the syndicate and, for his own diabolical reasons, wants to eliminate all the loopers. The future-self character (Bruce Wills) evades being killed by his present-self and discovers the Rainmaker is a young boy in the present. (Are you following me?) He (Willis) has a series of numbers that lead him to three potential kids. He doesn’t have time to determine which one is the real Rainmaker, so he has to kill all three. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.
And now I’ll get a little political. Let me state that I don’t own a gun. I do enjoy skeet shooting and my family has a long history with guns. My grandfather and uncle were sheriffs, so there was always a holster hanging on the hat rack when I went to visit. And, believe me, if we would have touched it, my grandmother would have beaten us silly with a broom! There was a gun rack on the wall of the living room. But, my grandparents lived in a rural area and used the guns to hunt for food. I once watched my grandfather shot a copperhead dangling from tree—right in the path of the open-roofed Jeep I was sitting in. Could he have done something else? Maybe he could have gotten a long tree limb and tried to scoop it out of the way, but since the car shed was next to the tree, I think he probably made the right choice. But I digress…
I will keep my point simple: I believe the laws we have regarding guns need to be more strictly enforced. I don’t believe any citizen needs a gun that shoots hundreds of rounds per minute. Yet, I don’t believe gun control is the ONLY answer to our “shooter” problem—the idea that (mostly) young, mentally unstable (mostly) boys have turned so violent. I believe we need better mental health care. I believe we need to stop letting pharmaceutical companies sell mental health medicines that haven’t been fully tested and can cause more problems than they help. I believe we need a shift in our society—which isn’t something you can legislate. And I believe, just as I put responsibility on gun makers/sellers/owners, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, social workers, and family members, that Hollywood needs to stop putting so much emphasis on guns in movies—on blood and guts and gore, just for the sake of blood and guts and gore.
Do I approve of censorship? No. It isn’t all Hollywood’s responsibility. We, the consumer, need to stop giving them the incentive by buying their products. If they build it, and we don’t come, they will build something else. Parents need to PARENT! We have become a nation desensitized to violence just for the sake of violence. In the movies and on TV, we watch peoples heads being blown off and don’t bat an eye. In real life, when kids beat and kick a kid when he’s down, and he dies and they are shocked by it, where do you think they got the idea that such actions weren’t deadly? In the movies, the good guy always takes a licking but keeps on ticking—and sometimes even the bad guy.
It’s a very complicated issue. But I find it’s ironic the same industry putting out ads for strict gun control has so many guns in their films. And, if guns are banned in the future, how will they justify (or have us suspend our disbelief) having guns so omnipresent in their films? If they do, then it proves they don’t believe their own talking points—that gun control will get guns out of the hands of bad people.
Looper brought the hypocrisy of Hollywood to the forefront. If the Newtown tragedy was really a “game changer,” if it really was as horrific to them as they claim in their ads, if it really is “time” to do something meaningful, then they would do THEIR part—however large or small—to help lessen the occurrences. Why put out a movie with guns, guts, and gore, AND child killing, and so soon after this tragedy? Can’t they/we do better?
Yeah, I’m probably overreacting a little (or a lot)—but isn’t that the point? Hollywood ads regarding this issue intimate we all NEED to overreact—and rightly so.
Yes, to gun control legislation. Yes, to Hollywood putting up, or shutting up.
(P.S. I usually don’t get political. And, this, to me, isn’t political, just a personal opinion/reaction.)
January 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This is a good movie for six-year-olds or older, and someone who is sick and needs something to do. There are funny parts—like the part where the wimpy kid fakes like he’s drowning and a big old guy gives him CPR instead of the cute girl. There are other really funny parts, too.
It was worth checking out from the library.
Review by Joey (First Grader)
December 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As a gift to all those who found a Kindle Fire under the Christmas tree, The Halo Revelations is only 99 cents Dec 25-26th!
(Available in all countries.)
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas,
J. S. Colley
December 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
My your hearts be filled with the spirit of the season.
J. S. Colley
October 11, 2012 § Leave a Comment
An Interview with @SETINet (aka James Brown) Part I
When I first met James Brown on Twitter, I looked at his alien-head avatar and secretly wondered if he was some kind of kook. So, of course, I went to check out his website, Seti.net, to see just how afraid I should be. Turns out, the only thing I had to be afraid of was my own lack of knowledge concerning all the technical stuff posted there—charts and graphs and sky maps (well, those I understood a little).
July 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
An Interview with @SETINET (aka James Brown) Part III
- J.S: Could ET be enjoying old “I Love Lucy” reruns right now? Could we watch their old “I Love Klaatu” reruns?
SETI Net: It’s possible that ET could be curled up on the couch watching Lucy being told by Ricky, “Lucy, you got a lot of splanen to do,” but the odds are against it. For one interstellar communication takes a huge amount of transmitting power to overcome the distance between stars, even close ones, and to do that the transmitter and receiver would have to be pointed at each other with dishes the size of Arecibo. TV signals were never focused like that. They were intended to reach a wide area with as little power as possible.
The second thing is that the era of high power TV transmitters is coming to end here on Earth and really only lasted about fifty years. Now days your TV most likely comes from cable or from satellites both of which emit next to nothing that could be picked up by ET. The Earth as seen from space in the radio spectrum is beginning to become quite.
So watching for extraneous signals is almost a hopeless cause. It’s my belief that the only signal we have a hope of finding is a beacon intentionally sent from ETs home planet directly to our star and the planets surrounding it. That is what my station is optimized to find—a beacon.
J.S.: Well, it’s a relief ET might not see some of our less-than-intelligent TV shows in their first encounter with us. But, for an even more important question…
- J.S.: Will they come eat our brains?
SETI Net That actually is a serious question. There are plenty of examples from our own history that tell of the collision of cultures that ended with one or the other being enslaved or wiped out altogether.
It’s my opinion that, sooner or later, we will come to the point where we will simply have to roll the dice and take our changes. That’s the nature of it.
I say bring on the Brain Eaters.
J.S: Hmm, The Attack of the Brain Eaters—that sounds like a good title for a book…but I digress.
- J.S.: How much did SETI Net cost to build? How much did other SETI stations cost? How much does this cost the taxpayer? Could anyone build one? Is there a way to make money at this?
SETI Net: Over the years I have spent considerable money building SETI Net. At one time, I laid out $1,000 for a rotor to turn my antenna and another $500 for the antenna itself. I also bought a hard disk for one of my early computers that cost $1,500, and it had the amazing (for the time) storage capacity of 15 Megabytes. My first floppy disk drive cost $2,000 and so on.
The point is that changes in technology have brought the cost of duplicating SETI Net down to no more than about $2,000 total and dropping fast. I just bought a receiver from Amazon for $15 new that is as good, or better, than the old used receivers I bought for $500 each, years ago.
Other stations, like the ATA cost well over $30 million, none of it tax money, but that’s a whole different scale of system.
Could anyone build one? I don’t think so. It’s a labor of love and needs someone who has the ability to construct heavy equipment, like the rotors and dish, the knowledge of electronics the keep the hardware running, and the a wish to spend long hours writing software for new features.
That narrows it down to say 10,000 people in the world. My wish is that at least one of those people will contact me so that a second system could be constructed, to quickly find and resolve signals.
Is there anyone out there? Call—I’m waiting.
J.S.: Wow, those last two lines are appropriate in more ways than one. Did you realize your were doing that when you wrote them, or was it just a coincidence?
SETI Net – Not a coincidence at all. I have offered to work with anyone that has the time, money and inclination to build a second station. I could supply the software for no charge and work with that person to modify it for their station. So far no takers.
J.S.: I meant that you asked: Is there anyone out there? Call—I’m waiting. This is what you do with SETI—you ask if anyone (ET) is out there—you’re waiting! Thought the wording was “ironic” (not the proper use of the term, ironic, I know, but you know what I mean).
SETI Net: Irony is not my long suit, besides I don’t speak ET. I meant if there is anyone that wants to work with me, jump in.
J.S.: You say what you mean and mean what you say! I like that. But I saw some irony in it, even if that’s not the proper use of the term. J
- J.S.: What would be the effect of finding ET on the average person? Would finding ET be a threat to religion?
SETI Net: I really have no idea. I used to think that it would cause mass panic in the streets, but now I believe that the public has become so blasé about startling new ideas that it may not cause a ripple. After all, it’s a pretty well-established fact that the Universe Big Bang started from absolutely nothing (zero, nada), and that matter continuously pops in and out of existence all time, and there is not much conversation about it at all that I can find, let alone deep interest.
So, I expect people will greet the news with interest but no more than was afforded to, say, the declaration that Obamacare is constitutional.
Religion will not only not consider it a threat, it will find a way to embrace it to the point that may people, including the leadership of religion itself, will come to believe that it was predicted all along and what’s the fuss? That’s the nature of religion.
J.S.: You may be right—that it won’t cause much of a fuss. But I think that’s only if we merely receive a signal. If we are ever able to fully communicate with ET, they might have their own views on “God” and their own religion—or no religion at all. Maybe they’ll try to convert us to their ways—whatever they may be—like the Christian missionaries worked so hard at converting “pagans,” in our past. As far as the public’s reaction, we’ll never really know until it happens, I suppose. It would be interesting to witness, though.
- J.S.: Are there agreed-on protocols to follow when ET is found?
SETI Net: I have given a lot of thought to the “who/when/where” of announcing an actual verified signal. I know that there is a standard protocol in place to be used when it happens, but I also know human nature enough to know that it will all be tossed overboard at the first sign of an actual signal. This is what I will do:
First – I will tell no one for a very long time. I will use that time to make as many attempts at falsification as I can think of all the while recording every bit of data that I receive and all the actions I take. My SETI File Manager software automatically takes care of recording those actions for the most part and the Spectrum Analyzer automatically records the data. I will keep on doing this until I run out of ideas for falsification then I will wait some more and keep on recording. Then I will wait some more (you get the idea).
Second – I will contact the few people who I know in the SETI community that trust me enough to take me seriously (only three or four people). I will do that by phone but will record both sides of the conversation surreptitiously. I will ask for help validating the signal with any systems they know of that could cover the same part of the spectrum that I use. I will wait for their answer, which will take a long time because they would have to check with the owners of those systems and make their own explanations to them. This will almost certainly end the process as far as they are concerned because the owners of those systems (UC Berkeley, Harvard etc.) would never change their operating schedules to validate a signal that I pointed out. I will place those recordings with a lawyer with instructions to put them in a blind (unknown to me) safe deposit box and keep it closed until an unconnected second source validates my discovery.
Third – I will capture all the schematics, descriptions, and software source code from my station and have them placed in that same safe deposit box. Then I will move a copy of the data collected to that box. This makes up a baseline for the parameters of my station.
Fourth – I would make an announcement on all the on-line boards and then follow the standard protocol. Then I will continue on my way listening and recording the signal for as long as it is available. I would be available to answer any questions that came my way as honestly as possible hiding nothing reveling everything. I won’t attempt to write a scholarly paper because it would never be published nor would I write anything for the general media unless by invitation and then for a fee.
I fully expect that to be the end of it. No one will follow up because they cannot or will not. I will have to rely on the fact that I published the information and that I have the original data all locked up safe and sound where even I don’t have access to it and can’t be accused of “doctoring” it. Some day the signal would be seen again by one of the large institutions and I can start the process of proving that I was first.
I will not make a dime from it but will die happy.
J.S.: You really have thought that out! Always good to have a plan. And, I know how you feel about dying happy. My dream has always been to write a book and see it in print. Now that I have achieved that goal, I can die happy. I sincerely hope your dream comes true. (And it would make me very happy too, so bonus!)
- J.S.: What is it, exactly, that you’re looking for? How will you know when you find it? You use the term “falsification” a lot, what does it mean?
SETI Net: I’m looking for a beacon intentionally sent to be discovered. I expect it will be a single always-on signal of high purity and nothing else. No voice, no “I Love Lucy” rerun being beamed back—nothing. I expect this because that is what I would send if I were the ET wanting to be seen among the stars.
A single signal of high purity is a sure sign of non-natural signals. Nothing that we know of in nature can send this type of signal. It would not have any other intelligence in it, no coded messages, no voice or alien TV, because those all take extra power to send, make the signal look less “alien,” and reduce the range of the signal.
- J.S.: What are the odds that they will be found? What are the odds that SETI Net will find them?
SETI Net: The odds are near 100% that ET will be found. Simply counting the number of stars in an average galaxy (300,000,000,000) and the number of galaxies (several trillion) and the number of planets around those stars (estimated to be about 4/star) then the odds there being a second ET (we are the first) and near perfect.
They will be found.
How long will it take is actually the question to be asked. Ekers and Cullers in their book, SETI 2020, say that it should be before 2025. I think that is optimistic. It could be the end of this century, or even later, but it will be found.
The odds that SETI Net will find the first ET are next to zero. I’m an old guy without a long time left to come up with something. I once calculated the time it would take SETI Net to scan the entire waterhole and came up with the astonishing number of 3,500 years and that’s for one scan.
Does that depress me? Well, maybe a little. On the other hand, the next scan I start might be the one that yields pay dirt and what better thing do I have to do with my time—play golf?
J.S.: Hey, don’t knock golf. I love the game. But my shoulders and back don’t approve, so I won’t be playing much either. Good thing I have a sedentary job.
- J.S.: What about this magic frequency called “the Waterhole?” That sounds more like poetry than science.
SETI Net: It’s both science and poetry. My wife has a website on her computer that has a camera trained on a waterhole in the middle of Africa, and it’s fascinating to see the different species come together, in peace, to get that which is necessary for life for them all—water. I’m not saying that someone doesn’t get eaten once in a while but, for the most part, the lions and giraffes share the same bank and drink from the same water with small birds.
There is such a waterhole in space. It’s in the a part of the spectrum that is the quietest—no man-made transmissions are allowed and the absorption of radio waves by our atmosphere and natural noise generated by stars is at a minimum. It’s the perfect place to send a beacon and a perfect place to hear one.
It’s called the Waterhole because it is banded on lower edge by a natural signal generated by hydrogen in space, and at the upper edge by a second line generated by hydroxyl. The two lines, if combined, would make up what we know as water.
Sagan’s book CETI says this about the Waterhole:
What more poetic place could there be for water-based life to seek its kind than the age-old meeting place for all species: the water hole?
It’s where SETI Net searches, where the WOW signal was detected, and the most looked-at place for ET.
Sagan always did have the ability to make me cry. I miss the man.
J.S.: Me, too. Of course, I didn’t know him personally, but I was still shocked and saddened by his passing. I know a lot of people miss him.
- J.S.: Now, for my final question, again: Will they come eat our brains?
SETI Net: Quite possibly—nummies.
J.S.: That’s what I thought! But, seriously, thank you, Jim, for a wonderful interview. I’m very glad you agreed to do this it.
J.S.: That concludes the interview. I hope you had as much fun as I did. I’m sure Jim wouldn’t mind answering any question, if you have any.