Sunny days

the crew movin out

Photo: a patrol through marijuana. Today’s subject: events that guide my writing.

Some bad stuff in the past exerts a strong influence over what I write today. The weather has me thinking about this right now.

It was in these sunny days of late September that some tough experiences went down.

The sky was azure, perfect. Beautiful weather. The temperatures during the day were warm enough to work up a sweat, but not stiflingly hot. The nights and early mornings were cool, cold up in the mountains. The Milky Way was on full, glorious display as I sat behind my machine gun.

You can’t adequately describe how electric and deadly it all felt. Combat.

Beneath the azure sky, the pinprick stars, the ghostly dawn. The cold shock of water as I waded through it at 0200 hours. The reek of marijuana. The radio calls. The brute weight of gear, shortness of breath.

My teeth chatter thinking on it, my hand shakes.

And that’s the problem.

In the quiet hours the past comes to visit me, it pads up behind me like a sneak thief. You can run as much as you like, but sooner or later you tire, you slow.

And there it sits, waiting.

For how long, I do not know.

For decades, generations. Long after the last shot, the pain remains.

Maybe my M-4 has been re-tooled at the arsenal, maybe Anniston, and has been handed back out. Or perhaps it slumbers in a crate, placed in reserve status. It could also be that nothing was done to it and it was given to a Basic outfit, to be used until entirely useless. All these fates are possible for the weapon once named after my oldest child, a chunk of steel, aluminum and plastic carried into some of the worst places on Earth.

The weapon and my body escaped.

I have not. There is no Anniston for old soldiers. The fleshy part of the weapons system can’t be re-barreled, have a few springs replaced, or get hosed down with Cerakote.

A shame.

No, we have what we have. Memories best left alone. Experiences no one understands. Wordless gaps of knowledge.

This. This is why I write. To communicate, to share. To illustrate.

To let those we left behind know what we did over there. Even if it’s in a science fiction format. Maybe better in a sci-fi format because then you can distance yourself from the words.

Words are a record, an echo, Plato’s shadows on the cave.

They are what we use to transmit the knowledge of good or evil.

I heard someone say once that it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes. This is true, and there is no better reason for why people should read and write. We can’t predict the future, but we can look at the past and draw appropriate lessons from history. This is why I write; I have a duty to entertain, but also to inform.

What am I getting at?

I guess what I want to say is not to go to war unless you have a damn good reason.

Why? Everyone involved gets a life sentence. Men, women, children, the guilty and the innocent. Everyone remembers.

I do, and I shiver.

Especially on these crisp, sunny days.








Service Dog Down


No, the dog pictured above is not Rick Boreham’s service dog, the dog in question. It’s my dog, Dixie. She’s the reason I don’t have a service dog myself, the VA offered me one once.

Here’s the reason for this post- Rick’s dog got hurt, and he started a GoFundMe page for the operation- apparently the Australian version of the VA does not cover veterinarian costs for service animals. A shame.

Well, I chipped in a modest amount, and if you can go ahead and pitch in as well. These dogs make a difference, I see them all the time at the hospital.

Rick has gone out and done the thing for God and Country, and part of the eventual result of him doing so was receiving a Combat Stress service dog. Now she’s hurt.

I think we can extend the VA’s motto to include a worthy ally who has paid the price of admission.

“To care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

For Nomi, the service dog.

What are you, exactly?


An answer? Zeroes and Ones.

There’s a short list of books which rank among my very favorite reads. Among these are Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, and recently The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham. Something these works have in common is the concept of eternal, or at least extended, life through digital storage. Of course, they propose different mechanisms for this to happen, but the underlying thought is the same.

One of the intriguing, exciting, thoughts that both books explore is the effect that this digitization would have on society as humanity expands to the stars. Both authors delve into the negatives of such societies, as well as the upsides. This is amazing stuff.

So imagine my excitement when the Wall Street Journal released an essay by Michael S.A. Graziano this weekend entitled “Will Your Uploaded Mind Still Be You?” Right up front I must mention that Dr. Graziano is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton, and the essay is derived from a book he has coming out called “Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience.” I’ll include a link to the article, but it’s of limited value to those who are not subscribers. For obvious reasons I can’t cut and paste the article here, but there’s nothing stopping me from discussing it.

The essay is amazing, and it’s timely arrival is quite a coincidence as it dovetails with my recent deep-dive into The Cruel Stars. Dr. Graziano states that replication of the mind and memory will eventually be possible, if two conditions are met. First, a simulated mind structure must be built. Second, one would need a complete brain scan, a map of all the neurons in the brain and how they interact with one another. This scan would then be overlaid onto the artificial brain.

The good doctor states in his piece that the first condition is nearly feasible with current technology and engineering (a definite surprise to me), but the second condition is decades or possibly centuries away. He cites the fact that a complete map of a roundworm’s brain with 300 neurons was recently completed by a team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It took ten years to complete.

The human brain has 86 billion neurons.

However, Dr. Graziano is confident that the technology to do “life transfers” will absolutely exist one day, and we should think about the ethics now.

If I was having a conversation with the Doctor, I would mention that the conversation has already started with Altered Carbon and The Cruel Stars. After all, how much of what we currently use on a routine basis started out as pie in the sky sci-fi stuff? An excellent example would be the humble smart phone. My eighteen dollar Chinese piece of junk can build an atomic bomb, given the correct inputs. Fantasy has a tendency to become reality.

And here I return to another subject that Dr. Graziano touches upon in his essay, how a human expansion into space may only be possible with a digitization of the mind. After all, we don’t do well with tedium or cosmic radiation. He proposes that “people” on the long, slow journey possible with current technology would be uploaded into an onboard cloud, free to do whatever, speak to whomever during the decades long journey.

Subjectively, they could be at Bondi Beach down in Australia while their electronic minds  travel via the slow boat to Alpha Centauri or something. When the ship arrives, they can imprint into a robot or a clone, the possibilities are endless.

The impression I got from the article was that this stuff is going to happen.

The implications are endless. Haves and have nots. Religion. Culture. Schooling. Military service.

Digital immortality?

Dr. Graziano is right. We need to think this over, because it is coming.

Morgan and Birmingham have started the conversation.


Exciting Mars stuff


Image by Space X.

Some pretty cool space developments, it looks as if Space X has been requesting hi-res images on Mars for… drumroll… landing/colonization sites. Lord, these people are awesome.

Really cool article here. By all means, check it out.

These people are serious. I guess what I fear most is that our one good chance at making this work will be screwed by some horrible development, like a large rocket blowing up and frying everyone aboard (causing a predictable heavy-handed knee-jerk reaction), or some other negative development. I also wonder if maybe some malign actor from a competing company will try their hand at industrial sabotage- after all, Space X isn’t sucking as hard from the taxpayer tit as some do, to the tune of many billions for little result. I could name names, but I don’t think I have to.

Speaking of the government, it looks as if the USAF is expanding its famous test-pilot program for space operations. Click on this link to find out about this; you know stuff is getting serious when the guys with the guns want to expand operations into the ultimate high ground, space.

This is really an active, hopeful time for space exploration. Really the most active time since the sixties for serious efforts toward deep space exploration; I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. About damn time.

Elon Musk and others on his wavelength want to expand into space for reasons of species continuity (and a tad of the old pioneer spirit), I think that’s a really good idea. Not to mention economic exploitation of unknown assets out there- it’s hard to tell what we may come across out in the asteroid belt, on the moon, etc.

Think heavy industry. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could move the really nasty stuff off planet, and mine the minerals that are floating around out there? It would be an elegant solution. Transport, of course, is the primary obstacle. But if we could get the costs down with economies of scale it would be great. Leave the strip mining and ore processing to space. If there is no environment to begin with, then industrial plants in the hard vacuum make a lot more sense out there than say in the middle of a residential neighborhood down here.

I dunno. I’d be happy with a decent little city on Mars within my lifespan. Space travel as a boring routine. The beginnings of real economic expansion within the solar system. If I can see that, then I guess I’ll die pretty happy.

Hopefully a while from now, of course.

But I want to see this stuff before I go.


Help Wanted


Painting by Dean Cornwell, 1924.

Hey readers.

Right now I’m in a bit of a lull between projects and I need a hand with something. Maybe I’ve put out this request before, but I don’t think so.

My beta crew is awesome, I’ve received a fair bit of feedback on my latest manuscript, the unnamed alternate history. But there’s something missing.

I’d like feedback from women. This is important to me for a number of reasons.

First, it would be stupid to ignore the feedback of a bit over half of the human race.

Second, there is a woman’s POV in the book, I’d like to get it right. She’s an important character; as I wrote I liked her more and more. Am curious if her voice, tone, is realistic.

Finally, even though this is a war novel based in an era when war was primarily a male occupation, women and thoughts of women are never far from the concerns of the Joes in the book. Let me return to the first point. I risk ignoring half of the human race at my peril.

So I won’t.

This is a specific appeal- I’d very much like to have some female betas.

If you are interested, you can reach me through the “contact” tab on this website’s main page.