To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/
If you are planning to vote for this criminal for four more years, you don’t wanna read this post.
I am not gonna talk about any of the good things that this criminal prexydent has done… because there aren’t any. He has only caused me loss and pain and financial hardship. And it is fairly obvious he won’t win four more years… unless he cheats, which he has publicly promised to do.
And I am not gonna talk about how he and his gang of senatorial hypocrites are stealing another seat on the Supreme Court. It is obvious that they can’t be trusted to tell the truth. They said when they stole Merrick Garland’s seat that it was because it was an election year and the people must decide. But this seat opened up much closer to an election day and suddenly the rules are different. But I am not gonna talk about that.
And I am not gonna talk about how he thinks he can further punish all of us who are against him by making the most right-wing court in recent history with a six to three edge so that he can destroy the Affordable Care Act, all progress in the battle against climate change, women’s right to choose, and any other progressive change that may come up under the next three or five prexydents if we succeed in getting rid of him.
And I am not gonna talk about how thoroughly racist he is, sending unmarked and unidentified militias into cities protesting the police killings of unarmed black people just so they can stir up more violence and help him make his case that black crime is out of control in Democratically run cities.
And I am also not gonna talk about how this orange-skinned man is insulting black and brown congresswomen like Ilhan Omar, calling them unpatriotic for serving in the Congressional seats that voters gave them, based not on their qualifications for the job (they are much more qualified than he is for his job) but solely on the color of their skin and the religion they embrace.
I am not gonna talk about how some real law-enforcement official should’ve removed him from office for crimes already committed a long time ago.
So, I am not gonna say anything further about or against this criminal clown that has killed so many of us and continues to scheme about our ultimate demise and his personal profits. He does bad things… especially to my blood pressure. I need to not talk about him anymore. I am gonna vote during Texas early voting, in person, to make sure my vote gets counted. And I am not gonna vote for a Republican ever again. I am simply not gonna!
I have been using the book-reviewing service called Pubby to get readers to actually read and review my books. I have barely gotten any readers to pick up and read one of my books since I first started publishing my work in 2007. And I get it. Beginning authors, no matter how good they are going to be later, are not so very good on the first, second, or even third try. My family is reluctant to read anything I have written because I pester them too much about it. My children are all creative in their own way, and consumed more by their own projects than by anything I have done. And when my wife reads anything I have written, she becomes laser-focused on what is unusual about how I use grammar and how things are spelled.
“You can’t spell that word like that!” she insists.
“But honey, it’s a made-up word that I made up myself.”
“That makes it worse, because the word it makes me think of is a bad word in the Philippines, even though it is spelled nothing like your word for butterflies thinking of ear wax.”
“Okay, I guess I have to change it then.”
But Amazon doesn’t like your relatives writing book reviews anyway. And their rules knocked out a couple of reviews I got from other writers with whom I had a deal for exchanging reviews. So, this review service was supposed to help with the problem. You read books from Pubby’s list and write a review to get points that you can put toward getting your own books reviewed. That seems both reasonable and equitable to me.
So, I started with some of the best books I have written and began getting them reviewed. So far, Snow Babies has gained four five-star reviews. Sing Sad Songs and Recipes for Gingerbread Children have each added three five-star reviews.
And it began to concern me.
It seems that some of the truly terrible writing that I was reviewing were getting overly-generous amounts of five-star reviews, along with their twos and threes. And the closer I looked at some of the comments in the reviews of my books, which were somehow read in only one or two days, were merely restatements of what other reviewers had already written. It was entirely possible that I was getting reviews like I was because writers were slapping an empty five-star on there to justify earning their points to get their own books reviewed. They weren’t actually reading the stories themselves.
I am not going to complain about mere suspicions over a five-star review. But I was looking for proof that people read and like my books. And I expect to see some lower grades on my work. That’s part of how you know things are real. Not everyone likes every good book. The best books ever written have their detractors.
So, I went with my most recently published book, Laughing Blue. I chose the free-review-copy option and gave the reader every opportunity to dislike my book of boring old essays. And I got back a five-star review with some actual proof that the reader did read it and enjoyed it.
Now I feel better. But I would still like to see some three or four-star reviews, and I would definitely survive a one or a two. It would make me think the whole thing is a bit more honest than it has seemed at times.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be… according to Mickey.
Canto 111 – Evil Coffee Makers Boil
The Leaping Shadowcat and The First Half-Century both came out of jump space together into the system of 1232 Ardonnis, the home system of the high-population world called Coventry. Immediately, the situation became the silent-operatic equivalent of Beethoven’s Knock of Doom in the Ninth Symphony. Daaat Daaat Daaat Dooooh! Three hundred of the Imperium’s newest space ships, ships of the line, tenders, and support ships were all arrayed against the two ships of Ham and Ferrari’s tiny rebel fleet.
Ham leaned on the pilot’s control panel and let his jaw drop as he gazed out the Shadowcat’s viewport at them.
“I see the Bregohelma!” he cried. “Admiral Tang is out there himself!”
“We are so dead!” moaned Duke Han Ferrari. The Duke twisted the right end of his handlebar moustache nervously. “I will surrender myself to them, and maybe they will spare you and the crew of the Shadowcat.”
“Give me some credit, Duke,” said Ham sullenly. “I may not be the famous space hunter, Ged Aero, but I can be a hero too. I will NOT desert my friends.”
“Hey, Ham-boy, old Jester!” The call came from the command deck of the fighting space frigate, The First Half Century. “Do you see what I see out there?”
“Yes, Goofy, I’m afraid I do.”
“Wow! Old Jester, I mean literally WOW! We can win glory in battle like this against impossible odds!”
“Goofy, we are going to die! Don’t get all hammy over it! We have to make them pay for it the best we know how.”
“Oh, you got it, Ham-ster! I am putting the Crown of all Stars on my head right now. I can use the powers of the Ancients to defeat this bozo!”
Ham slapped his right hand over his forehead in total frustration. There was a good reason that Mammy Aero had once banned little Ham and little Ged from playing with the demented little goofy child. That boy just wasn’t entirely right in the head.
“Belay that! You don’t need to melt your brain to die in this battle. You need to fight the way they taught you back at the Space Academy. We need to go down with honor.”
The video communicator snapped on and showed a smiling one-eyed Goofy with the three-orbed alien thing pulsing yellow, orange, and lime-green lights all over the bridge of the military ship. Goofy’s crew were resolutely manning battle stations in the background. Ham could also see the unearthly Tesserah thing pulsing and glowing with menace behind the Goof.
“What’s that Tesserah thing doing?” I asked the view screen, feeling I had to insert myself into the dire problem to find some sort of sensible solution.
“That, old Scientist-Jester, is an Ancient weapon now fully primed and ready to be used against the enemies!”
I have to tell you, I was more than a little alarmed as a scientist and scholar. This situation seemed sure to end only one way. We would be atomized by space-born weapons systems or torn atom from atom by Ancient alien energies. Even I didn’t see a way out.
“I order you to stop what you are doing right now!” said Duke Ferrari, trying to take command of the situation.
“No, your Duke-ness. I can do this! Watch!”
Goofy Dalgoda made a face like he was having a painful bowel movement, and then the space between the Tesserah and the Imperial Fleet was suddenly ablaze with alien energy, like a strange ochre lightning in the vacuum of space.
Fifteen Imperial ships disintegrated before our disbelieving eyes.
“Wow!” I said, being the first one able to speak. “Mr. Dalgoda? Are you actually able to direct that power?”
“Yessir, old Mr. Science Dude! I can drop that beam on the head of a pin.”
Ham was suddenly smiling again. He was a very handsome man when he smiled. “Let them have it, then, Goof! Give ‘em all you’ve got!”
The Goofy One did not have to be told twice. Blasts arced out into space on all sides of his ship. For three hundred and sixty degrees all around, the small capital ship laid waste to larger and more powerful space behemoths. The Wargod Class Dreadnaught called The Benjamin Franklin, ruptured like a dried gourd and spilled its disintegrating seed into surrounding space. The Nimitz Class Fleet Carrier, the Colonel Green, launched a thousand fighters as it rolled over in space and dissolved. One by one all of the fighters winked out of existence too. It was like watching silent fireworks. It was all I could do not to shout “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” There was a terrifying beauty in so much fire and death.
“Goof?” asked Ham anxiously, “Can you target the Bregohelma?”
“Oh, Ham-boy! We have to make the old red bird see all of this destruction first!”
A huge blue bolt of energy surged out of the Tesserah and painted a wide swath over the most populous of the cities below on the planet. Everyone was suddenly sick to their stomach as almost a billion innocent beings on the planet below were consumed by alien energy.
“Trav! What have you done?” cried Ham.
“I did just what the crown said I should. I used my mental connection with the Tesserah to start cleansing the planet below us.”
“Trav!” wept Ham. “They were on our side!”
As Ham pleaded, I suddenly saw Commander Dana Cole on the view screen. She had a laser weapon in her hand. “Forgive me, Ham!” cried Dana Cole as she cut off one of Trav’s arms with the laser. “He’s possessed by that alien thing! I have to stop him.”
Trav Dalgoda was still laughing as he used his remaining arm to gesture and make a smaller blue splash of energy launch toward the planet.
“Forgive me, Trav. I do love you,” said Dana as she sawed off his other arm. Trav was still smiling as he tried to gesture with a foot. She cut the leg off too. Then the other leg. Finally, with a destroyed look of regret on her face, she cut off Goofy’s head. The crown grew dark and the Tesserah grew silent.
All of us aboard the Shadowcat were still stunned. Trav had nearly saved us from catastrophe. Then he made everything a billion times worse.
“We can still win,” growled Ham resolutely. “I can crash the Shadowcat into the bridge of the Bregohelma and destroy Admiral Tang.”
Trav’s former command, the frigate, was battling the last remaining ship of the line, and apparently winning. We actually could rule the day if we made the ultimate sacrifice Ham was suggesting. All on the bridge of the little safari ship looked each other in the eye and nodded yes to it. Ham fixed the navigational controls on the target, dead center on the bridge of the Admiral’s Flagship. Full throttle we began to plunge toward her.
In my mind, the symphony had reached a crescendo, cymbals clashing, drums rumbling, and violins soaring. I was prepared to die in that instant, as we all were.
Sinbadh, the Lupin space cook, stuck his head in the doorway to the bridge.
“Ham,” he said, “ye has made me poop meself!”
Ham laughed bitterly.
No king rules forever.
No man we know of lives eternally.
The planets and all the stars have their appointed ends.
Through science and observation and logical extrapolation….
We learn how small we really are in the vast universe around us.
And we see how impermanent everything is…
We are made from the dust of exploded stars. All elements beyond helium and hydrogen were formed in the flaming hearts of distant, ancient suns.
And when we die, we dissolve back into the elements from which a volatile and creative planet with a life-filled biosphere created us. And may decide to create us anew.
So, we will one day be mere dust again. Free to create something new.
We are but the words of the puzzle, making one crossword one day, and another anagram the next.
But the stories we make of those random, meaningless words…
Are the reason for existence.
And they are just as eternal and undying as anything else is.
And there-in lies the reason for hope.
My title doesn’t mean that I am free from writing space books. These bizarre little sci-fi satires keep reeling out of the space between my ears. My head is full of science fiction froo-froo. And it has to go somewhere. So, in honor of Book 3 of the AeroQuest series being free this weekend (through September 22), I am posting today more AeroQuest art.
I was a middle school English teacher. And part of that job is to build reading skills. But that is a challenging thing. Especially if you work for a poor rural school district with limited budgets and very little ability to buy computers and the necessary software. After all, being a reading teacher in the upper grade levels of public schools is HARD. Can you figure out a child’s reading level with teacher-made Cloze tests? Do you know how to tell a book’s reading level just by sampling the concept density, vocabulary load, and sentence lengths in the beginning, middle, and end of a book? Do you know where to find the readability information in the student’s History and Science textbooks? And did you know there is no formula anywhere to cover how you match up kids to books they will actually read and like without becoming a mind-reading trusted friend of every kid in your class?
Seriously. Even if you are a teacher certified to teach reading, they do not teach you these things below the doctorate level in teacher-training schools. I had to teach myself before I could effectively teach them.
The fact is, life-long readers are made by book-reading parents who read to their children a lot before they ever come to school. Those kids get to school and top the lists of readers no matter what reading or literacy test you give them. They benefit from a reading teacher they can talk to about books, but they don’t need them. They know how to teach themselves. And kids who don’t catch fire in their reading ability thanks to an enthusiastic and gifted kindergarten, first, or second-grade teacher are never going to learn to read for fun, or probably ever read anything not assigned by their boss with job-loss consequences ever again after leaving school. Some kids burdened with dyslexia, ADD, or even mental illness of some sort are never going to read at all… without intervention.
And high-stakes State tests that have been all the rage with Republican governments who want to prove teachers make too much money, don’t even measure reading skills and compare results to see how much kids have gained every single year. They don’t want to give teachers credit if they take it upon themselves to actually teach students to read better. That is not what capitalist economies want to measure. They prefer to see how well students conform to norms and standards… to make an obedient working class that doesn’t cost too much because they think for themselves.
But a good teacher teaches kids to read or read better. They do it in spite of the huge challenge. There are ways to do it.
Pictured in this post are four books that I have read aloud to my classes. And walked them through the stories with word banks, guided-reading worksheets, focused discussions about theme-setting-character and whatnot. I tricked them into caring about what happens to the main characters because you learn to care about them as people (meaning both the characters and the student readers who invest themselves in those characters.)
I have used these books to make students laugh, as when Mr. Sir is shooting at yellow-spotted lizards in Holes. And I have made them cry, as when the family learns how Tom was killed in the Battle of Shiloh in the book Across Five Aprils. And I have horrified them when it is revealed what happens to old people and defective babies in The Giver. You can literally make students love good books if you are willing to share them hard enough.
I have never tried to get students to read books literally naked as my Paffooney might be suggesting. I don’t think the school boards I have worked for would’ve liked that very much. But it is a triumph of teaching when you can get them to figuratively immerse themselves in books to that degree.
But teaching reading is something all schools need to be doing. And I have to tell you, they are not doing nearly enough anywhere in Texas. And maybe not in the rest of the United States either.. Now that I can teach no more… I am left despairing. But not because of lack of belief in kids and good books.
This book of mine is in a free-book promotion this weekend.
Click on the link, get a copy for free.
When he walked through my classroom door for the first time in August 1988, the start of his seventh grade year, Jorge Navarro was a tiny little third-grader-looking thing. But one of the first things he ever told me in English was that he was a cowboy.
He had two older brothers. Sammy was an eighth grader that year, and Jose was in tenth grade. So, I already knew his brothers. Big strapping lads. They didn’t speak English really well and couldn’t read. But they were smart in a pragmatic, workman-like way. They all three came from a ranch down in Encinal, Texas. Fifteen miles closer to the Mexican border than where I was teaching in Cotulla, Texas. But they were not Mexicans. Their grandparents and parents were born in the USA, and their great grandparents, and possibly further back than that had lived on the same ranch-land all the way back to when everything South of the Nueces River was Mexico. These were Tejanos. Proud Americans from Texas. Hard-working, dedicated to the ranch owners who paid them to do what they loved, getting the most agricultural benefits possible from the dry South-Texas brush country.
Jorge was, at the start, a little man with a big voice in a small package. He was smarter and could read better than either of his brothers. He could even read and translate Spanish, which, of course, was his native language. And he had strong opinions that you could not argue with him about. He was a cowboy. That was opinion number one. He not only rode horses, he fed them daily, curried them in the morning to loosen the dirt and stimulate the production of natural oils that kept their coats shiny, and he even told me about the times he bottle-fed newborn colts when their mothers were sick.
And he strongly believed that a boss, or a teacher in my case, should never ask someone to do something that he didn’t know how to do himself. That was opinion number two. And he held me to that standard daily.
You should never use bad language in front of a lady… or a teacher, was opinion number three. He had a temper though. So, unlike most of the other boys, on those days when he lost it, he apologized as soon as he was back in control of himself. It made the girls giggle when he apologized to them, but that was an embarrassed reaction. He impressed them. They told me so in private afterwards.
He had a cowboy hat in his locker every day. You never wore a hat inside. Strong opinion number four.
And when he was an eighth-grader, he almost doubled in height. But not in width. He was what they call in Spanish, “Flaco,” skinny as a rail. He was taller than me by the time in mid-year when he started competing like his brothers in rodeos. And he was good. Something about the way his skinny, light frame could bend and twist under stress allowed him to stay on a barebacked horse longer than his brothers, or even the older men. He was pretty good at roping steers too. But it was the bareback bronc riding that won him trophies.
This is not a story about someone overcoming hardships to succeed. It always seemed like Jorge was blessed with it from the beginning. But it was the fact that he did what was needed every single day without fail. You could depend on it. He had a code that he followed.
The drawing that started this story is one that I did for him. I gave him and every member of his class that asked for one a copy made on my little copier at home.
And he taught me far more than I could ever teach him. Jorge Navarro was a cowboy. And you couldn’t argue with him about that.
Today I almost skipped writing a blog post. And why? The air outside in Texas is gray with smoke from fires in California. It makes it hard for people like me to draw breath. I know it is important to practice going without actual air to breath in order to be prepared for the future. But I guess I am too much of an addict to fresh air to go too much longer in a de-regulated future where you have to be born wealthy to afford air.
And COVID still has me down. My son has returned to the job of guarding the prisoners in the jail of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office where he got infected once already, and may be risking re-infection. And my wife is back in the classroom now with students who have no other options than to go back to the brick and mortar school. She has diabetes. They may be infected but have no symptoms. Nothing to worry about, right?
But writing is like breathing. Once you’ve developed a metaphor-making gland in the primitive part of your brain, you have to be able to let it out. If you only breathe in by reading and watching old movies, and never breathe out, your lungs will at some point explode. Or you will drown in your own similes which only writing something can be a ventilator for.
Don’t get me wrong. I live for reading good books and watching good movies. But I don’t feel really alive on days when I don’t write anything.
So, the result is a post like the one for today. It is writing something… but it seems slightly off, slightly askew.
I have been watching a mega-binge of Don Knotts movies, and other old movies that I haven’t seen in some time… some since childhood. I have been pretty much isolated and alone in my bedroom since March. No more Uber driving… ever. No more substitute teaching. Not even taking someone to school in the mornings on school days.
And my father is dying. He is in hospice care, suffering from dementia when he’s awake, the result of Parkinson’s Disease. He is sleeping most of the time now. They don’t know when… but they think it will happen soon. And I will be stuck here in Texas while he’s in Iowa. My sisters in Iowa and Missouri are planning to take care of Mom and most of the arrangements are already done. But it is still going to be very hard.
For right now, things are a little off. My full-color, technicolor life is in black and white for the time being. My computer is crashing once a week. I am having to re-type the letter “o” so often it becomes a habit to type “oooo” and then delete any extra “o”s that may appear. But taking a day off from writing does not seem to be an option.
Canto 110 – Ship to Ship
It was the commander on the bridge of the Bregohelma who first spotted it as it came out of jump space.
“What the hell is that?” he complained in a nasally voice while looking out of a face that was not the face of a weasel, but that only obvious because DNA scans had proved he was human and he didn’t have a tail. He looked around the bridge for someone to give him an answer to his question. But almost everyone on bridge duty at that moment was an undead rot-warrior, a skeletal dead body reanimated with electronics and controlled by a computerized brain. And all of them, at that moment were still trying to compute how to get the answer out of “Hell” since that was where the commander had requested it from.
“That looks like a… dinosaur,” said Wormheart Toadsucker, who was only slightly less dead-looking and probably less intelligent than the rot warriors. “You know, like the ones on the planet Dionysus.”
“It can’t be one of those. It’s in space. It just appeared in far orbit around the planet.”
“You should have one of the smart ones scan it,” said Wormheart. “I need to go alert Admiral Tang.
“Okay, which of these mud-brains is a smart one?” The commander looked at every vacant-eyed face on the bridge and then started scanning himself. Amazing things began popping up on the scanner-screen report.
The red-armored admiral appeared on the bridge moments later with the boot-licker Wormheart groveling along behind him.
“So, what does it appear to be?” asked the admiral in his ultra-creepy modulated voice.
“Well, it’s a kind of starship like I have never seen before. The scanner computer can’t completely identify it. It seems to be some sort of alien artifact from the time of the Ancients.”
“Ah, that might explain the weird dinosaur shape. The Ancients were of so much higher a tech level than we are now that many of their relics seem totally inexplicable to us.”
“Yes, but this one has a primarily human crew. They are not even mostly Galtorrian/human fusions like you might expect. Just plain Earther types.”
“And it is coming towards us under power.”
“Are the shields up?”
“Um… they are now.” The commander quickly corrected his oversight.
“Find out what they want.”
As soon as the admiral commanded it, a visual appeared on the commo-screen. The Lizard Lady herself appeared in the middle of a bridge full of oddly-dressed human crewmen.
“Are you not an Imperial spy, Captain?” Admiral Tang asked, lowering his voice to basement levels of creepiness.
“I am. And I have stolen a flagship of the new fleet you will face if you try to invade the Outpost system of Tron Blastarr.”
“That is remarkable good work, um… what is your name?”
“I am an original Galtorrian, simply called Lizard Lady.”
“You will be remembered as a hero to the Imperium, Lizard Lady.”
“Ah, but the mission is not yet fully complete. We need to pull up to your ship and dock. This is Ancient technology, and we will need your brilliance to fully control it.”
“Very well… we should be able to…”
Suddenly another sleek spaceship of Ancient designed popped out of jump space directly beside the dinosaur-shaped ship. After a few moments in which no one had time to do another scan, the new, sleek ship disappeared once again.
“We are moving in to dock with you now, Admiral,” said the Lizard Lady as she gave orders quietly to her pilots and then swiftly left the bridge before Tang could ask her anything.
The dinosaur ship lurched forward and was approaching at an impossible docking speed.
“Shields on maximum! Back away from them fast,” ordered Tang, obviously sensing a trick. “Fire everything at that ship now!”
Lasers, plasma cannons, nuclear missiles, and Gauss cannons all fired at the incoming ship. It did not fire back. Instead it ignited and blew up in what would have been a spectacular fireball if it had blown up in an oxygen or hydrogen-rich atmosphere. The shock-wave nearly obliterated the Bregohelma as it was, but apparently it was too far distant for the resolution of the mission that the Lizard Lady had planned.
Dr. Hooey’s time ship, the Star Wars, materialized in the Bregohelma’s cargo bay.
The door of the phone-booth-like thing opened and the Lizard Lady stepped out to confirm her present location.
“Is it the proper cargo bay?” asked Dr. Hooey from inside the time ship.
“It is,” she answered. “Now that we are in the proper place, we only need to move to the proper time.
“Very well. The time according to which of the prophecies?”
“Yes, according to all of them.” She stepped back into the time ship. It made its normal grinding sound, and promptly disappeared into the near future.