I Need a New Belt

I’ve fallen off of posting for a while, but I’m still planning to continue uploading my short story collection up here.

Today, however, I had another great weight loss milestone. I was wearing pants that I have to wear a belt with, and throughout the day I noticed that my belt was a little loose despite being configured as tightly as possible.

Long story short, my belt is no longer doing a great job of keeping my pants up, though I discovered this at home and not by having a tragic wardrobe malfunction in public.

I guess getting a new belt can be added to my list of things to do this weekend. I’m a little happy about this because I’ve been worried about not having as much gym time as I would normally get this last week and a half.

My next big focus has to be on getting rid of some of this belly fat. I’ve made really good losses elsewhere, but I’m not as concerned about them for health reasons and otherwise.

I’m thinking that some good core exercises will help, but I’m a little bit of a procrastinator, so I’ll start tomorrow.

Getting more disciplined with exercise overall is a good idea. I’m pretty disciplined (though not perfect, by any means) with my diet, but my exercise routine is anything but.

The Dust Part 2: Arrival

I think that before I really started working on the Dust, I hadn’t really thought of a whole lot of the setting, and then I just sort of made it up as  I went along.

You can tell that there’s some inspirations in mythological tales for the names, but there’s also elements of American culture and other things as well.

Irkalla is mythological, Nuada and Atreon are references to things (I think? Atreon may just be “It sounds cool”), and Aspera is based off of the Latin word for hope (or, more particularly, the saying “Ad astra per aspera”).

Extropy is named after the transhuman Extropian movement, while Providence, Liberty, and Opportunity are all inspired by early American trappings.

The little intro exposition for this piece is inspired by Biblical stylings, and it was really the first effort I made in defining the setting’s boundaries outside of the titular dust of New Haven. I don’t remember if this was the first or second story I wrote after Grace, but I think it came really close after.

Eynsford is inspired in name by the Eynsford-Hills of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, though I don’t know if there’s really any significance to the choice of the name. I’ve sort of taken to picturing him like Sadavir Errinwright (spelling?) from The Expanse, for no particular reason other than the beginnings of their names and their similar political role.

The focus of this story was to introduce who the Federals were in a relatively “objective” light. They’re the “villains” of the setting, but I wanted them to not be mustachio-twirling damsel kidnappers. They provide for their own, but they’re also willing to foster conflict and perpetuate themselves where they aren’t needed.

Apparently I’m really fond of Bradford as a military name. I feel like that’s due to the influence of a particular historical figure, but I can’t put a face to the name, as it were. Likewise, I think I got Mikkelsen from a random name generator, but I at least remember Mads Mikkelsen’s existence.

Or it could just be that I went with the first Swedish/Scandinavian name I could think of, though Rose isn’t a particularly Nordic name.


And it was recorded among the first arrivals that there were six-hundred thousand among the frozen. Around the binary stars of Aspera, there were six colonies: Irkalla on New Haven closest to the sun,  Providence and Liberty on Jefferson, Extropy on Narcissus, Opportunity on Atreon, and Dublin-II on Nuada.

Eynsford leaned back in his chair and sighed. Despite his triumph, he could not help but feel a bittersweet twinge of regret in the founding of a new empire. “So it is settled then?”

Aspera had never seen a real war. They were conspiring to shatter that peace. Such had been the vogue on old Earth, or so he had been told. Such things were far in the past.

Of course, so were shooting wars.

The reply came from a gravel voice with the patience of one rarely interrupted underpinned by the urgency of one used to making demands. “The coalition is solid. There is no reason for us not to cooperate. After all, New Haven’s resources are barred from us if we lack a military capable of taking them.”

“You always worry, Secretary Eynsford. Our worlds are more than capable of coming together to mutual prosperity.” Rose Mikkelsen was Aspera’s most dangerous woman, whether or not Extropy would formally pledge allegiance to her, and Patrick Eynsford had to admit that he had thought of her more than once when he was nursing a glass of wine alone after a diplomatic hearing. Her red dress was the sort of thing one expected to see at a gala, not the negotiating table, but he couldn’t help staring just a little.

That was her intention.

“I’ve already prepared replicants for deployment. Give the signal, and we’ll launch a precision strike on Irkalla and bring New Haven to its knees—if we can count on Providence for naval cover.” General Bradford’s rough voice and straightforwardness only added weight to Eynsford’s sorrow, and he found himself reflexively reaching to pour his new cabal drinks. The rumor was that the general was a quiet drunk. Eynsford felt the pressure of wearing his face very distinctly now. It was bad enough to want Mikkelsen and be so close to her without a chance of even the smallest romance, but to have Bradford cheerfully buying into the cult of destruction was too much for his stomach.

He poured each glass himself, passing them to the heads of state from the whole system—barring, of course, the unfortunates of New Haven. They would find out what had transpired the next day, when they found out that they had been condemned to die. He raised his glass, hoping that the poison inside would work on him the same effects their venomous coalition would work on Aspera.

“To the Aspera Federation, may it last beyond our days.”

The estimates had been wrong. Irkalla was not difficult to assail, and each combat replicant was worth dozens of New Haven’s soldiers. The first newsfeeds showed that the new Federal forces were capable of covering the ball of red dust with an ocean of blood.

The elites rejoiced, proclaiming a mission accomplished and anointing their followers with promises of land to settle and minerals to exploit. In exchange for New Haven’s resources, the Federation promised order, law, uniformity. Each citizen would be equal because of their inherent dignity, not their altered carbon sheathes, being the metric of their worth. The tiny settlements squabbling over water and held in the grasp of cybernetic warlords would see their world turned into an oasis and a model for the system.

But when they went on the broadcasts to announce the annexation of New Haven, the rebels punctuated it with violence. He supposed that frauds built on other frauds ought to be repaid in such a way, but the opposition raised a sleeping anger within him: the spite a booted foot feels as it plants its heel into a dissident skull.

Eynsford remembered the confusion in the moment. A bomb had gone off on the stage, turning his earlier proclamation of the Federation’s era of peace and stability into an ironic echo of itself. Bradford and Mikkelsen disappeared in the blast as he had been walking back to the seats. Only the premature detonation had saved his life, not that he had very much of his body left. The doctors were patching him back up, and the vat would regrow his flesh, but he felt he had lost something else, something more important.

The rebels had taken responsibility immediately,  wearing the labels heaped on them by the media with pride and defiance. On New Haven the Federal garrison was hit with a viral attack. Footage circulated of men and women clawing at their faces, the pirate streams reaching out across the mesh on waves of fascination and horror. An image of a soldier who had wandered into the dust and fallen in the scorching sun, his scarred body blackened by the heat was seared in Eynsford’s mind, a haunting image that was the talk of every newscaster on Jefferson.

The victim’s family could not be reached for comment, but that wasn’t enough to buy silence. Everyone had an opinion, and for a while it looked like the Federation might bring its guns on itself, dividing into cells and organs of disparate interest.

It was too early to be sure that the bombing was even a rebel act. There were factions operating behind the scenes, and there were many inside the Federation who would be happy to open up the higher echelons of control for themselves.

Eynsford wanted to cry in the cold blue nebula of the healing pod.

This was the image that had broken his sleep for months. From the first talk of exploiting the reserves of New Haven to the formation of the Federal state. Such a structure was beyond men and women, beyond humanity, somehow greater and more horrible and more terrible. The factories were retooled for war, their labors turned from plowshares to swords. The replicants were too few. Boys and girls were sent to war alongside them.

For every rebel they killed, more took up the banner. The most fervent agitators proclaimed that New Haven’s resources would be opened up all the greater with the extermination of its people. Instead of the expected capitulation, bombs went off on Jefferson and Atreon, the wages of sin. Eynsford’s people paid the price.

Eynsford had become accustomed to eating alone. At the state dinners there were too many ghosts, seats left unfilled by faction or by death. He tried to remember that his intentions had been pure, that this was the natural outcome of unification. The next day would show that it was worth it, that the small pieces of the system came together for a greater machine.

The filet mignon turned to ash with the sorrow. There had been no great intention, no great hope. Just the promise of opportunity. Each grasping hand reached for a rung above it, until the only move left was to claw past others for a clear hold.

He thought of the latest news, a troop transport holed by accidental friendly fire. Fifteen sons and daughters of the Federation who would not be returning home. He had killed them. Eynsford pushed the thought out of his head. Stray railgun rounds had killed them, nothing more or less than the uncaring calculations of a universe in which humanity was an accidental combination of particles and energy.

He wondered when his glass had become empty, and filled it once again. The bitterness washed the ash away, but it was only temporary. The next bite was just as barren as its predecessor. He got up and looked out the window. The light from outside washed over him, casting shadowy reflections across the polished steel surfaces of the flat.

Despite his folly, Providence looked the same as it had for decades before his birth. The same towers slid out of the ground and into the sky, their inhabitants had circulated like blood through the living organism of the colony, but the bones stood tall. The bombings had stopped in recent months. The rebels withdrew to their homefront. It would be over soon.

The security system gently chimed to announce authorized access. Eynsford didn’t bother looking to the doorway. He knew what had come for him. The first shot missed, shattering the window.

They hadn’t even bothered to send a professional. A tear rolled downward, battered by the wind. The second shot pushed him forward, and he felt the sensation of weightlessness.

The Dust Part 1: Grace

The first part of the Dust collection was inspired by the dust storms that occasionally sweep through the Phoenix area.

Out in the middle of the desert there’s not really anything to stop the winds and the sun, so the city winds up getting some pretty big storms. Monsoon season is pretty dramatic, but the dust storms are tremendous by themselves.

Continue reading “The Dust Part 1: Grace”

Writing Again

I’ve mentioned the Dust collection before. It’s my experimental science fiction collection that I have been using to explore writing methods.

One of my goals for it once upon a time was to get it to the point where it would be worth publishing.

I think I’m going to take some time to do a few more short stories for it and also update some of the older ones to fit into the continuity and post them here, since I don’t use the Wattpad account I posted them on anymore.

I’m open to criticism or feedback on these. Many are writing exercises, so they’re not exactly intended to be perfect, merely test my ability to do certain things.

God as Provider Against Fear

One of the things that has been a repeated source of God-centered conviction in my life is my own struggles with anxieties and fears of what lies in store for my future.

I have no doubt that many of these fears constitute a spiritual weakness of mine, a failure to appreciate what I have been given and a blindness to the charity of Providence. Although I deserve nothing, I fear that my comforts and worldly position will be lost, when in reality these are the least of my treasures.

Foremost among all fears is the fear of death. Other than fears of inadequacy and questions of our own identity, nothing can drive us more than the question of what will happen once we die.

God gives us eternal life because God provides the tools to resist any fears. We can overcome anything with the right help, and God will provide for our needs. It’s not that we should focus on the concept of eternal life because of what it offers us; having an eternity with God is pointless if you don’t have a now with God.

The role of eternal life is to give believers a reminder that we have a relationship with God through Christ that cannot be ended by any worldly force. It is only by choice, by the intentional rejection of God, that we can lose our salvation.

The degree to which one has to act in violation of godly principles to lose salvation is unclear. God is love and forgiveness, even when it is not deserved. Merely sinning is therefore likely insufficient to jeopardize salvation, but a lifestyle of depravity illustrates priorities that lie outside God’s kingdom, and it would be foolish to live in such a way that virtues extolled by God and the saints are lacking and expect to have one’s name in the Book of Life.

Paul’s famous musings on this matter in Romans come to mind:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”
*Romans 6:1, NASB*

One of the things that I’ve noticed in my faith walk is that many of my fellow believers worry about their salvation; this is not necessarily always wrong, but I think that it overlooks the main point of life.

God wants us to succeed, but to do so in accordance with His will.

We may not appreciate those successes, since they do not always follow the paths that we want to follow. However, this development leads us to improved character, and from there we find ourselves bettered by God’s plan, so long as we follow the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

When we are following God, we are earning our salvation; even though we will have moments of worldly weakness, we can strive to work toward our goals. An analogy for this is the notion of industry: not everyone can be successful, but people who strive for it are much more likely to do so.

Certainty can come in the form of an industrious pursuit of God.

If we do this, we will not automatically enjoy worldly success. This is a common heresy that has spread throughout the modern church, especially in America. However, as we follow faithfully we deepen our relationship with God, the loving Father, who will reward us with an eternal connection to Him. We also learn right principles of action from the virtues that come from that relationship with God, like self-control, being a good neighbor, and loyalty.

While these are not enough on their own to ensure worldly success, they are things that are important to have to avoid bringing destruction down upon oneself.

God’s support for us is found in both boldness and tranquility. We need fear nothing, for we are His children and servants. Through our service we can shine the light of the divine in the world, and while we may never have wealth or worldly success we can count on the auspices of God and trust that we will never be tested beyond what we can bear by the trials of the world. These difficulties do not come from God, and with the omnipotent Creator at our side not even death can take our hope.

Dream big and follow boldly.

Music for Today: Tobias Lilja’s “There Is No Other”

Since I’ve been writing about classical music here from time to time, now it’s time to go and ruin that by choosing entirely different sorts of music.

One of the more interesting musicians that I’ve found in my various musical dalliances is Tobias Lilja. He has an interesting mix between electronic, industrial, and just plain weird styles that I find incredibly appealing, not the least because of the incredibly deep layers of sound and the mix between dichotomous harmonic and heavily distorted/natural and synthetic sounds.

I find that the music that Lilja makes is both compelling and primal. It succeeds in running the gamut from highly intense to the surprisingly somber, and in his Medicine Sings Triptych he manages to create a driving, almost hypnotic experience with both incredibly intense elements and at times serene and wistful lyrics and instrumentation.

The particular song that I find myself revisiting most often, however, is “There Is No Other”. This was the song that I discovered Tobias Lilja from, in the form of a trailer for the roleplaying game Degenesis, which I’m including below.

However, I think the real strength of “There Is No Other” comes in the way that it showcases a mixture of intensity and sort of mystical, surreal tone. It opens one’s mind to wander, but also drives one forward, almost triggering a physiological response to the intensity of the effects.

You can find the original song on Spotify or on SoundCloud. Lilja also made a special mix for Degenesis, a tabletop roleplaying game, which can be found on SoundCloud, and another remix is available at his BandCamp page.

I think that listening to and comparing the different versions is very interesting as a highlight for the different ways that Lilja can use the same elements with different dressings to create an engaging listening experience.

Diet Milestones (Again)

One of the things that I worry about as I diet is that I could forget the reasons why I went on a diet in the first place and what the weight loss has brought me.

Just this week, I had two things happen to me that I hope to remember if I ever get the temptation to ease up and fall off the wagon.

First, I was stretching out one of my legs and I reached down to grab my ankle/calf region and felt nothing but muscle and bone. Admittedly, I never had a whole lot of fat around my ankles, but feeling that as opposed to having the little wiggling and jiggling I was used to was really sort of a “I did it!” moment.

The other thing that happened to me is that I was getting ready in the morning and I put on a belt (I typically wear business casual attire, with my shirt untucked: needing a belt at all is simply a consequence of losing enough weight that my old pants don’t fit me as well anymore), only to find that I was adjusting it to the smallest possible size.

The particular belt I had is one that I got just a few weeks into my diet, when I discovered that I had already become too small for my other belts.

I guess I’m going to need to replace it soon.

I’ve been a little put off recently by the lack of any visible weight loss, especially in my belly area, but apparently I’m still dropping some pounds, and that’s a good feeling.

Separation

After seeing his name on the list, he was almost relieved when the black car arrived at the far end of the street. At least he had a few moments left.

He turned to his wife. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she’d wait for him, but he wasn’t coming back. He bent over and kissed her forehead, trying to ignore the quivering of her thin nervous lips. They would put on a brave show for each other.

The only way that they would leave her alone is if he was there to meet the car as it pulled up. He drew in a slow, lingering breath and cursed himself in his own mind, wishing that he’d made different choices in his life. He ran his fingers through the dark tresses of her hair, falling as elegantly as ever like a funeral veil.

He could hear the motor pick up a little, the tires plowing a fresh path through the freshly fallen snow. If they had to go into the other house, they had been very efficient with their time.

He grabbed his coat from the hook, shrugging it over his shoulders. She said nothing, standing frozen in stillness. It was time to go, and he looked away, reaching for the door.

He could swear he heard a sob as he stepped out into the chill of the winter night.

Trying to Write a Character with Meaning

I’ve been trying to keep on top of writing recently, and while I’ve been fairly bad about actually writing anything fictional (at least on purpose), I’ve been doing some musing about why a lot of the stories that I’m coming up with the seeds for turn out to be non-starters.

Continue reading “Trying to Write a Character with Meaning”

You Should Know: China’s Gulags

“When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

A lot of people don’t have a good grasp on China. With the changes in its relationship and public branding, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a totalitarian Communist regime, not all so different from the Soviet Union with the exception of the fact that its market liberalization has saved it from economic ruin (though, perhaps, not entirely).

However, what a lot of people aren’t aware of is that China is perhaps the greatest human rights abuser in the world. Between its treatment of the Falun Gong and other religious and ethnic minorities, it’s no secret that rights in China go as far as the state permits them to.

However–and this should not surprise the astute reader–China goes beyond mere crimes against handfuls of citizens, and has turned portions of one of its provinces into gulags worthy of the Soviet era.

Why is this happening, and why isn’t it all over the news? The Chinese government has been regularly imprisoning its Muslim Uighur population, and it would likely be a surprise to the average citizen of the world.

The only answers can–and must–be cynical ones. The simple truth is this: our society doesn’t want to change, even if it’s necessary for evils to be ended. China exports cheap, relatively-well made consumer goods and other “necessities” of the modern age, and the cost of any significant action would be the loss of these comforts.

Even more cynically, it could be said that we don’t care because it’s outside our cozy daily lives. The atrocities of China are not blood on our hands, after all. We are not the ones building the fences, pulling the triggers, manning the crematoriums.

We are not Uighurs, but we are human. Every one of us must be conscious of the fact that with every dealing we have with China, we are being part of the machine that promotes what now appears to be heading toward not mere suppression and brainwashing but outright ethnic cleansing and genocide.

I’m not advocating military action against China, or anything like that. I believe such a thing would do more harm than good. However, we must be unflinching and unyielding in doing what we can to raise awareness. Our dependence on Chinese products is a major source of the problem; so long as we are chained by our dependency, we cannot stand up to the evils that we are facilitating.

One way to do this is by limiting our use of Chinese products. While this is likely difficult, as there may be no easy way to guarantee that products have not been fabricated at least partly in China, despite labeling, having even a little vigilance can help to choose alternatives to Chinese-made products that can limit the financial resources of its tyrannical regime.

I’ve also written to my Congressional representatives on this matter, and I suggest that each reader go to their government officials and demand an answer from them. We are permitting the worst evils of the 20th century to be repeated in the 21st century. Demand accountability.