Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Monday, August 31, 2020

Life w/Bots


 Asimov’s Three Robotic Laws.

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot mus protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

Upon reflection, adding “except for jerks,” to the end of the first robotic law may not have been prudent. But damnit! How was I to know that they think we’re all jerks!

Some twelve or fifteen years ago I had a brainstorm. I’d do a series of one panel comics a’la The Far Side, that explored humanity’s place in a robotic world, at times playing off of Asimov’s three laws of robotics. It would be called Life w/Bots. And over the course of two days, I came up with ideas for something like 50 panels with captions. Enough in hand to launch a series, with the idea of selling or syndicating the series to publications or websites.

All I need to do to get this project underway was to sit down and draw the comic panel to go with them. I have some talent for art. But it is rather narrow. My interest in subject matter is also rather narrow. And ambition is not my strong point. Plus, I can get discouraged easily. Oh, I have plenty of excuses. But long story, short, my brainstorm ran aground on the reef of actually having to draw the darn things.

Part of the problem was that the style of  cartoons I pictured in my head were the very intricate ones you might find in Punch Magazine a hundred years ago. Knowing that I couldn’t do that, I settled on a much simpler style inspired by the work of Cyril Kenneth Bird, who signed his work “Fougasse” which did appear in Punch in the 1930’s & 40’s. And I produced the three cartoons that illustrate this post in my approximation of his style.

True, these newfangled robotic cats are easy to care for. But they're rather standoffish and independent. Snuggles, over there on my window still, is actually Agnes Willis’ robo-cat from apartment 731.

 However, drawing them was only half the problem. In doing so, I discovered another problem – one I’ve noted in my paintings as well. That is the problem of “framing” a scene – getting everything you need into the frame of the comic. I don’t have a visual mind. I can only get sort of an impression of the scene I’d like to do. But all to often I’ve found that my impression just can’t fit into a frame. I can’t find a point of view to “shot” the scene, as a movie director would say, so that even if I knew what I needed to be in the panel, I couldn’t picture how to stage it so that everything fit in the panel.

Still, the project remains in my files, after having been transferred from my old Mac “Pages” program to my current LibreOffice program years ago. I hate to see things go to waste, so I’m thinking that I’m going to try to turn those little gags into very short stories, and see what happens. I may post them here on the blog, or publish them in an anthology, or both… If I get them done, and they turn out okay.

But in the mean time, here are three cartoons I did produce.

 Art Flitter, the human foreman of Warehouse 73B, had, after three years of sitting at his desk with nothing to do, began to suspect that the small, sealed box labeled, “Do not open for 30 years,” which had been included in the “Welcome to Warehouse 73B” information packed that he'd been handed on his first day of work, contained an inscribed gold watch.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Keiree, A Novella, Coming 17 Sept. 2020



Yet another Mars story. It almost seems as if every writer of speculative fiction pens at least one Mars story. I suspect that one of the reasons Mars stories are so popular with authors is that to be even considered for membership in the Fraternal Order of the Aether, an author must submit a Mars story to the committee. It’s in their bylaws. So… Keiree is my Mars story.

Keiree is the story of the brilliant and wealthy engineer, Keiree Tulla, her chauffeur and love, Gy Mons… (Ssh! I’m getting to you.) ...and the silka cat, Molly. Deciding to escape scandal and start a new life on the distant planet of Fara V, they sign on as expedition crew members. Keiree as the director of the initial construction section and Gy, along with Molly, as a pilot with the advanced survey team. Upon completing their training, they were put in stasis pods to “sleep” away the centuries long voyage to Fara V. and stored on Mars awaiting their scheduled time to be uploaded to the vast settlement ship in orbit.

The expedition never sailed. After they were put in their stasis pods, but before they were uploaded to the settlement ship, a deadly plague swept through the solar system, laying waste to its planets and moons. Mars was not spared. Gy and Molly’s storage facility was quickly abandoned and then forgotten for seven hundred Martian years. When it was finally rediscovered, and Gy and Molly revived, they find that Keiree’s section had been stored elsewhere on Mars. Gy and Molly set out to find her, so they can face a familiar, and yet strange, Mars together.

Keiree takes place in the far future, after Mars having been extensively terraformed into an Earth-like world, but with its own unique quirks. The story is set in the fictional universe that includes The Bright Black Sea, The Last Star’s Sea, Beneath the Lanterns, Sailing to Redoubt and The Prisoner of Cimlye.

Keiree is a 34,000 word novella set on Mars. It will be released on 17 September 2020. The ebook will be free -- as usual -- in the ebook stores of Smashwords, Kobo, B & N and Apple. It will be priced at $.99 on Amazon and the equivalent price on Amazon's worldwide stores. I'll see if Amazon will match the free price of their competitors, but as you  may have noticed with my more recent books, they're not doing that much, or for long, these days. The mobi version of the story is available for free on Smashwords which can be side loaded and read on to a Kindle. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Origin Stories -- Beneath the Lanterns Part Two


Lantern Avenue in Lantera

In my last post I talked about how I decided to write a fantasy, even though I don’t like fantasies. And how I worked around that issue by writing a speculative fiction story set in my Nine Star Nebula “universe” (Though not in the Nine Star Nebula) after the collapse of the advanced human civilization that was sending colonist to the stars. Going this route had its pluses and minuses. Let’s start out with the use of language.

One of the ways fantasy often sets itself apart from SF and builds its fantasy world is in its use of language. Fantasies may use antique words or speech patterns, may use ornate, ethereal, or evocative language to create a sense of otherworldness. Consider the two examples below;

Sir George, Prince Daring’s squire, dressed in embroidered silks, gleaming chain mail, with an elegant dueling sword at his side, reined his tall stallion to a hault at Lady May’s bower gate. Leaning down to her, he solemnly offered her the single white rose he had carried like a pendant in his calf-gloved hand.

DeArcg Gyorga, the armsman of the Faror of Dartha, garbed in a flowing Sarafeld fabric tunic and cape, a vest of hammered Majah-steel chain mail,and wore the ancient sword of Taroon, bounding at his thigh, drew the reins of this magnificent silver-maned Darth as he came abreast of the manse gate wherein stood the Faroratha Mathia. He bowed to her from his high saddle, and wordlessly offered her a single Flower of Ashia that he had borne as his standard.

With the first example, you don’t need a glossary at the back of the book to picture the scene. But the use of everyday words may make the “fantasy” seem more mundane. A fantasy should carry one to new, strange, and wonderful world. Using the ordinary language of this world may make it harder to carry a reader away.

In the second example, with many made up names, titles, places, and perhaps new creatures, one gets a clear sense that you’re not in Kansas any more. A door has been opened to a new world. However, each new term must be described to, and remembered by the reader, all of which makes it harder for the reader to be carried away, especially if they are constantly tripping over unfamiliar words.

A Lanterna canal scene from the story

I tried for a middle course by using commonplace words, for the most part, but perhaps not used the same way in Kansas. Fro example, I used "poured stone" instead of "concrete." I was originally going to use different names for what I knew to be Earth animals, to suggest how far we were away from today. However, I realized that this would be cheating. The world I had set the story on was a human settled, terraformed world, inhabited by humans descended from our Earth along with Earth flora and fauna. The characters ride horses, and to call them anything but a horse, would be deceptive. And I needed to use Earth plants as well, though genetically modified so that exact names might not apply. Give this mundane backdrop, I felt that I needed to keep things as concrete as possible and create my new world by imagining a world strange enough that would transcend the mundane language I would use to describe it.

To do that, I chose a world with low gravity so that my characters could do things that could not be done on our world. I chose a world where the dawn to the next dawn “day” was a month long, divided into 16 ordinary “days.” I gave it an opaque sky that hid all the stars and obscured the two major lights in the sky – the Yellow Lantern that lit the day, and moved across the sky over the course of 16 days, and the dimmer, Blue Lantern that remained fixed in the sky and came to its own, after the Yellow Lantern had set. And I tried to make the cities and landscape as exotic,yet as logical, and as their location and historic background would allow.

Another Lanterna scene

Logic is a keyword in this case, for it tied my hands in some respect. For example, I had to keep close track on whether it was a bright day, or a dark day for any given scene, which meant plotting the story time wise much more closely that I usually do. I usually just keep the story plot in my head, committing to paper only the sequence of scenes where I need to consider time and distance traveled. In this story I needed to do that for every scene since I needed to know the exact day of the month to determine whether it was a bright, dark, or twilit day. And if I wanted a scene to occur on a specific type of day, I had to account for the time between scenes to get there. Plus, I had to take into account that travel would alter that timetable. The Yellow Lantern would rise several days earlier in Lanterna in the east than it would in Azera in the west. I had to determine distances and travel times to reflect that fact.

In addition, by making it a terraformed world, I had to assume that it would have a very carefully curated environment, that used a limited collection of plants and animals to create a self-sustaining, balanced, and benign environment. Lions and tigers, cobras, and mosquitoes and a million other plants and animals would not be introduced. This was a very artificial world, which meant that I was rather short of dangers, other than humans, that my heroes would have to face. I had to settle for feral dog packs as their greatest danger on the road, after rogue raiders.

I chose to make the setting is a sort of faux China, because of all the fantasies I like “oriental” ones the best. I threw in the Russian steppes, plus some tea gardens, and the various remnants of the Elder Civilization that they are the descendants of. I modeled the military units after those of the British in mid-19th century India. For the story itself, I have no idea where the inspiration came.

Caravan to Mirra

With those limitations and inspirations, I set out writing The Fourth Daughter, the working title of the story, since it is the story of a fourth daughter of a Queen, borne to please her husband who wanted a son. There were, however, other stories with that title, so I had to find another one.

Anyway, I had this daughter, who was unwanted by her mother, and so she was raised as the son by father in his regiment in the field. For the narrator and male lead, I wanted a mild mannered scholar who gets dragged across the world by the strange, devil may care fourth daughter. As usual, it has an episodic structure, with an anti-epic vibe, anti-quest. Though their fate has important consequences, the story focuses on their concerns. And instead of going on a quest, they’re simply fleeing for their freedom, if not their lives.

One of the things that made this story fun for me to write, was that I set it on a very specific “world” whose characteristics I had to respect to the extent of my understanding. There are hints throughout the story, if a reader had read The Bright Black Sea – but I purposely made no effort to highlight them. The narrator is unaware of their significance when he notes them. I didn’t want them to distract from the story, nor did I want to make the story into a puzzle. I just did it as a personal challenge, for fun of it. Another writer might have made the discovery of those clues central to the story, but I choose to keep my narrator in the dark about the Elder (SF) Civilization, at least in this story. Like all my stories, I left it open ended enough that I can always return to it, after I sell tens of thousands of copies. Don’t hold your breath.

The Reed Bank, second version

Because I like old fashioned stories, and use SF motifs mostly for color and exotic locations, I used a similar motif for my next story, Sailing to Redoubt. Though in that story society and the characters were much more knowledgeable about their origins, even if their technology wasn’t all that much more advanced. But I’ll get to that in the next installment of Origin Stories.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Origin Stories -- Beneath the Lanterns Part One

The Reed Bank

First, a bit of background. I spent over two year writing The Lost Star’s Sea, and it got to be somewhat of a grind finishing it. I vowed never again to write something that long. And I vowed never again to write a sequel to a book that sold less then several tens of thousands of copies. (I have since broken that vow, but it was a case of “any port in a storm,” I needed to write something...) Sequels appeal only to readers of the previous volumes, and not all of them, while with a new, standalone book, you start fresh, so anything can happen, including lightning striking.

So after The Lost Star’s Sea, I wanted to do something new, to appeal to a different, and wider readership. I felt that a fantasy that might attract new readers. Plus, fantasy had a significantly larger readership than that of SF. However, this plan, faced one significant issue – I don’t like fantasy, much. I do have fantasy books on my shelves that I’ve read and enjoyed, but these days, fantasies have pretty much fallen out of favor with me.

I don’t like many of fantasy’s most common tropes. I don’t like magic, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because with magic, anything goes. A writer can do anything in a story, it’s “magic” after all. Cause and effect need not apply. And then, there’s Evil, with a capital “E.” That unstoppable force of darkness that threatens the world because that’s what Evil always does. No motive necessary. And it is never defeated, for at least for as long as the publisher buys the stories. Nor am I fond of the other capital “E” fantasy trope, Epics. I like more personal stories. And I don’t like war stories – its a cheap, redi-built conflict, and especially those that glory in gore. And then we have the rivals to the throne trope, which is oh, so very common. And yet, I still wanted to write a fantasy.

But if I left out all the tropes that I didn’t like, did I have anything left to write a fantasy with?

The answer is probably no, but I did it anyway. Sort of.

What I did was write a speculative fiction book instead of a fantasy – in my mind. To make it a fantasy, I set the story in a post-SF world with the remnants of this SF world shrouded in mystery and legends. There is no magic in the story, though some unexplained SF elements pass a magic. There is no over arching Evil, only powerful people who are ruthlessly working to achieve a peaceful future for their kingdoms, despite the objections of their pawns in the game. It is not an epic, but rather one of my typical story about people caught up in the gears of statecraft, whose main concern is personal survival. It doesn’t involve a war. Indeed, indeed, I took delight in writing an adventure story featuring a swashbuckling character who drew her sword only once in the story, and none of the characters die in it. In essence I wrote an anti-fantasy fantasy, and had fun doing it.

Birdsong Square

For the speculative fiction elements, I could’ve started anywhere, but I chose to set it in the same “universe” of the Nine Star Nebula – tens of thousands of years in the future where humankind is sending out slower than light colony fleets to populate planets identified by robotic explores a suitable for human life. I set it on a world that has been terraformed for human life in this universe. If humans exist tens of thousands of years in our future, I doubt that they are much like us, but I didn’t care to explore their differences, nor try to make them relatable, so that we have today’s humans as our heroes. In itself that’s a fantasy. By setting the story in this common universe, I could use all the ideas I developed in the Lost Star Stories, at least for the legends of the Elder Civilization. But since that advanced civilization had mysteriously collapsed, I could set the story in a much more fantasy like setting.

I didn’t want to write a Tolkien-est type of fantasy, so I pictured China at the turn of the last century as my model. This would allow for a mix of the old and new ways with the introduction of industrial inventions like railroad and such to give it a distinct flavor. I then littered this landscape and history with the remnants of the Elders – some of them obvious, others not so much.

Caravans on the Steppes

Making it part of my existing universe had pluses and minuses, which I’ll explore in part two of the origins of Beneath the Lanterns. What I want to close with, is a sort of a cautionary tale. As I said at the beginning of this post, I knew that fantasy outsold SF, which was one of the reasons I decided to write a fantasy. (Other than just for the hell of it.) But only after I had written the story did I find out that I had completely misunderstood the fantasy market. (Not that it really matters.)

As you can see from the chart below, the fantasy genre is dominated by Paranormal & Urban fantasy, i.e. vampires and werewolves. If you spin that category into its own genre – which is certainly imaginable since it has, I would imagine, a very specific readership – and you’re left with a Fantasy audience that is probably not much bigger than SF. And thus, nullified my initial premise for writing a fantasy. And then, when you consider that epic fantasy came in second, and I wasn’t writing a million word, multi-volume epic, I was probably chasing a smaller market than SF with my book. 

You also have to take into account that Smashwords and Amazon have only so many different sub-genre categories. The only category that I could honestly list Beneath the Lanterns was in “Action and Adventure” and it seems that action and adventure stories are more popular in SF than in fantasy. So instead of chasing a larger market, it seems that I was chasing a smaller one – though in the end, I listed the book in both. Still, the best laid plans…

For some reason Blogger is linking all the captions to the first illustration, and every time I wanted to add a caption, I lost the image. NOTE 18 May 23: This appears to have been fixed. So here are the captions from top to bottom. The First is my  first version of  the Reed Bank Street, Azera in a very impressionistic style that I was playing around with at the time. The second is another version of the scene in the same style. I used part of this one for one of the covers -- I have never much liked my Beneath the Lantern covers. The next one down is Birdsong Square in a similar style. Then there is a scene of the caravan to Treafara that I did as a potential cover. And finally the graph from the Data Guy's 2018 Nebula Award  presentation  And below is another version of a caravan painting

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Hugo Awards 2020

This is another one of those post where I direct some comments at the clouds. In short, an opinion piece.

The Hugo Awards for 2020 have come and gone. Finally. Especially for the participants who discovered, to their dismay, that old men like to talk. And talk.

What made the Hugo Awards infamous this year was its master of ceremonies, George R. R. Martin. It seems that George has a hard time finishing things, including his anecdotes. His long winded rambles kept the contestants sweating as they impatiently awaited their fate – the thrill of victory, for the lucky ones, the agony of defeat for all the losers. I tend to feel sorry for all the losers, but then, well, they’re all volunteers, so I guess they took their chances, and lost.

I tried watching the recorded live stream of the show ( to see what it was all about. That lasted five minutes. Well, maybe it was closer to three before I bailed. Whatever entertainment value George possesses as a toastmaster, is lost when he’s just talking to a camera.

But many participants objected to more than just his tediousness. He apparently talked a lot about John Campbell, the golden haired editor of the best-est ever SF magazine, Astounding – at least according to its loyal band of geriatric SF fans. While it is possible that old George was just reminiscing about his youth, it seems more likely that he came to praise Campbell as a deliberate rebuttal of 2019 Hugo winner, Jannette Ng’s efforts to bury Campbell. Certainly, the anti-SJW faction of the SF fandom took it that way.

Speculative fiction by its very nature stories of today, looking forward. There should be no tradition, no orthodoxy in speculative fiction. Let the dead bury the dead. If you’re going to celebrate new books, it should be with today’s rising stars – not the remnants of stars that have faded from the main sequence. But that said, being no fan of awards for creative work, these award ceremonies can be as tedious, controversial, or as contentious as they’re wont to be. I don’t care.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

My Library -- Travels in Time

I thought I'd take a break from talking about musty old speculative fiction books from half a century ago, to talk about my small collection of musty old travel guides, from 80 to over a 100 years ago. Thirty or forty years ago, if I came across an old travel guide like the ones pictured above, and it was cheap enough, I’d pick it up.

I think maps are cool, and these books had tons of them, making them well worth a dollar or two just for all the maps that came with them. The Blue Guide to Switzerland alone had some 78 maps, many of them in full color. Below are just two of the many foldout maps found in these guides. The top one is of London, and the bottom one is of Paris.

In addition to maps, the books offered a wealth of information, including short histories of the country or city that were the subject of the books, guides to all the various monuments, and extensive lists of other books about their subject matter. The later books also include photographs of the sights described in great detail in the text.

Of even more interest to someone interested in life in the past, is all the everyday information they provided to help the tourist navigate a foreign land. This sort of information can be found at the beginning of the books, under the title of “Practical Information.” For example, A Satchel Guide to Europe, offered information on such things as, Planning the Tour, Selecting One’s Steamship, Clothing and Accessories, Money, and the comparative value of US vs European money, Cost of the Tour, luggage, passports… and the list goes on, including motoring, cycling, and travel by air (in 1928). Guides to single countries and cities would include information on railways, steamers, motor-buses, with typical prices, guides to tips, etc. And, as an extra bonus, most of them included ads for hotels, clothing, insurance, and books, that will take you away to a distant land, far, far ago.

And finally there are the notations one fines on old, secondhand books.

Pictured above are the books in my collection. Left to right, top to bottom.

The Blue Guides – Murihead’s (Findlay Murihead, editor) Switzerland With Chamonix and the Italian Lakes Published by Macmillian & Co, LTD London, and Librairie Hachette, Paris. 1923

The Blue Guides – Murihead’s Paris and its Environs Published by Macmillian & Co, LTD London, and Librairie Hachette, Paris. 1921 (Date written in the book in ink, “Aug 19 -1922” and in pencil, “Hotel Meurice Mrs ITH Scort” or something like that. There is some more writing on the back cover, suggesting that the owner went to London as well. (The time is not far off when only a few historians will be able to read cursive text.)

A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to London Over One Hundred Illustrations Forty-sixth Edition – Revised Published by Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd, London. An ad page has a small notation “London Guide, 1927-28, so I think we can take 1927 as the date of publication.

Guide to London Fifty-ninth Edition (An ad for the Dalbury Hotel, Knyveton Rd Bournemouth says “Please metion Ward Lock’s Guide 1952” so I think we can take that as this edition’s date.) Ward, Lock, & Co. Ltd, London (and Melbourne)

The Blue Guides Scotland (edited by L Russell Muirhead, the son of Findlay?) With a complete Atlas of Sctoland and 34 other Maps and Plans. Third Edition Published by Ernest Been Limited, London 1949 It used to belong to E. L. Wiregert. I carried this book around during my travels in Scotland, in 1973.

A Satchel Guide to Europe A Satchel Guide for the Vacation Tourist in Europe by W. J. Rolfe First Edition for 1913 Published by Houghton Mifflin Company Boston and New York.

The title Page form A Satchel Guide for the Vacation Tourist in Europe, 1913

There is an intriguing little mystery surrounding this book, so I’m going to go into a little more detail on this book. Consider the photographs below, of the left and right leafs of the Memoranda pages in the back of the book.

Right Page

Left Page
I’ll save you squinting at the photos. The entry starts on the right hand page and goes backwards to the left hand page. The title reads “Proposed Itinerary (JGE)” and in the corner above it “Aug- Sept 1914”

It then has a proposed itinerary starting with “Aug 19 – Wen – Hamburg” and JGE then spends the next two weeks visiting the various German cities before ending up in Rotterdam on Sept. 3. From there its on to Brussels, and then London on Sept 6th. JGE then proposes to spend the next two and a half weeks exploring England, including Cambridge, the Lake District, Liverpool, Southern England, and back to London, and Southampton, no doubt to catch a steamer home.

World War l started on the Western Front on August 3, 1914. So what happened to poor JGE’s Grand Tour? He or she wouldn’t have been on the steamer when the war broke out, and no doubt the winds of war were already being felt in America weeks before, so it seems unlikely that her or she would ever board a steamer for a Germany at war – if there still was passenger service to Germany (unlikely). And so it seems that the Grand Tour never happened, as there are no other notations in the book to suggest that it was merely postponed six or more years. I can almost feel the frustration and sadness of JGE, as his or her dream of trip of a lifetime goes up in the smoke of a senseless war. Life isn’t fair.

A Satchel Guide to Europe by Wilian J Rolfe The Forty-eighth Annual Edition, revised and enlarged by William D Crockett, Phd (professor of the Latin Language in the Pennsylvania State College Published by Houghton Miffling Company, Boston and New York 1928 (Owned by Charlotte J Dasenbrock, sold by De Forges Books de Luxe Milwaukee)

And finally,

A to Z(Zed) London atlas and index 30p or 6/ (shillings ?) published by Geographer’s Map Company Sevenoaks, Kent.

This one is mine. I picked it up during my Grand Touring of Britain in 1973, making it now 47 years old. Old. In the days before cellphones and GPS a book like this – a street map book of all of London --  in your back pocket was essential to not getting hopelessly lost. Alas, today, the print has gotten too small for it ever to be useful to me again…