How to share knowledge

An idea for a science fiction story that I don’t want to write because I can’t imagine any magazine would want to buy it, but it leads to a question for the audience.

If a time traveler came to me (assume I’ve already vetted him, so I know he’s legitimate. As an example, see my story “1-9-4-blue-3-7-2-6-gamma-tetrahedron”) and gave me a cure for Covid-19, how could I get it to the people who need to have it? Obviously, he’s not handing me seven billion doses of a medicine or vaccine, but the knowledge for how to make it (perhaps its chemical structure). I’m not a doctor, not even a working scientist. How could I get someone in a position to listen to me, believe me, and test this cure in order to get it into production?

If my time traveler handed me a personal spaceship, or a ray gun, something physical and obvious, all I would need to do would be to demonstrate it to a reporter, or even just post a video of it online somewhere and share it with all of you. But if that breakthrough through time was a bit of vitally important knowledge that had to be put into production, what could I do with it to actualize it?

Let one go

The president, the governors, the mayors can order businesses to shut down. And if they do, the store around the corner, the conventions I attend to sell books, even my own publishing company may cease doing business for a while. But none of them can order us to re-open. They can only provide a safe environment in which we will want to re-open for business. If the president wants to call himself the supreme galactic authority, who cares? I have a lot of problems with the president, both his actions and his inactions. But his latest mal-de-bouche should not be causing all these pile-on attacks. Every time he opens his mouth, he declares his irrelevancy. It’s okay to let one go.

Figure out your goal before deciding how to get there

This is why Donald Trump has a very good chance of being re-elected: Democrats are so wrapped up in political purity that they’re willing to see the president re-elected, rather than vote for a Democrat who isn’t as “pure” as their chosen candidate. And this is one reason I am not a member of their political party. I am enough of a pragmatist that I will do what I can for the good of the country, even if I have to hold my nose while I vote. I am also urging you to find that clothes pin and hold your nose if you have to. Because honestly, I don’t think Joe Biden is the best choice for president, even among the “declared” candidates in the recent scrimmage for the nomination. But I do think he is the best chance we have now to end Donald Trump’s presidency sooner rather than later, and that is a necessity.

Breaking my long political silence

Since my first book was published in 2008 (The Presidential Book of Lists), I’ve avoiding talking about my own politics. And in truth, I could find the good in and the bad in presidents from both major parties. So, rather than alienate half of my potential readership, I kept my mouth shut.

Earlier this week, however, I was watching Don Lemon’s program on CNN. He started a broadcast with five minutes of clips from the president’s daily coronavirus briefing/pep rally—a briefing I had watched live earlier in the day, talking back to the television as I frequently do. Don showed those clips, and then quoted the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And I realized I’m mad, too.

I’ve spent nearly four weeks in the house, not going out, not seeing anyone. And I’ve been angry, telling myself that this isolation hasn’t mattered—and that it won’t matter—until everybody spends several weeks in the house at the same time, to give the virus time to die out.

But as I was watching those clips of the president, and listening to Don asking why I wasn’t angry, I realized my anger at my non-quarantining fellow citizens was misplaced. It’s not their fault: they’ve been getting such mixed messages.

My assumed clear vision of reality in the near future is based on a long history working in and reading science fiction, where we foresee events just like this one. If our leaders had sufficient backbone to talk about these problems—which the president’s scientific advisors seem to recognize all too well—we might already be on the down-slope of this pandemic. But we’re not.

So I’ve come to a decision: I’ve decided that not every president can rise to the occasion, especially not the one we have right now. I think each and every one of his predecessors would have been able to, regardless of his inherent strengths or weaknesses. This one, however, has not. He is a clear and present danger to the long-term health and well-being of this country.

His constant need for adulation, his unending focus on the concept of enemies, and his ceaseless attacks on reporters, the press, and his predecessors, are now emphatic, improper, dangerous distractions from the important issues of the day. When the economy was doing well and we were not yet suffering from this virus, the distractions were fine, keeping him from doing any real harm. But now that we actually need a leader in the Oval Office, we do not have one.

His eagerness to “re-open the economy,” to get us back to business, has nothing to do with scientific or medical reality, and everything to do with his tunnel-vision that a soaring stock market will lead to his re-election. A true leader would not need to pat himself on the back at every turn. A true leader would not need to be thanked by the governors of the states for deploying supplies. A true leader would not attempt to practice medicine without a license while standing at the podium. A true leader would not be thinking about the economy, would not be thinking about re-election, would not even be considering political party labels at this point. A true leader would put all that aside, and focus solely on generating the medical treatment we need today, the testing ability we will tomorrow, and the prevention ability we need long term. A true leader would be standing behind that podium wearing a face mask, to encourage his fellow citizens to protect themselves and each other. A true leader would be telling the people: we are in the midst of a horrible event, something that will kill and injure many people, and the fall-out from it will damage the country, and change the way we live. But we will get through it. And then a true leader would make us believe it, and believe that he cares. Donald Trump is not a true leader.

I hate that it has come to this, that I will be forced to vote against a candidate in the upcoming election, rather than for a candidate. But I can not, in good conscience, do anything that will cause Donald Trump to be re-elected.

And even though he sounded rational at today’s Friday briefing (other than calling a virus “intelligent,” “smart,” and “genius”), simply the fact that I would say “sounded rational today” when talking about the president tells me he shouldn’t be the president. I want and expect my president to sound (and, more importantly, be) rational every single day.

So, back to the question everyone asks when looking at the cover of my book, The Presidential Book of Lists: From Most to Least, Elected to Rejected, Worst to Cursed: Fascinating Facts About Our Chief Executives: they focus on the word “worst” in the subtitle, and ask me who was the worst president. I’ve spent the last 12 years saying “each president has had good and bad traits,” not wanting to alienate anyone (because everyone asking the question wants me to say either the current president, or his immediate predecessor, and they’ve wanted that since the book came out). I still can’t say Donald Trump is the worst president in our history, but he’s definitely not the president we need right now.

#donaldtrump #president #coronavirus #covid19

A second live(ish) performance of my fiction

After receiving generally encouraging responses to my first video reading of a short story of mine, I’ve done a second. “Fermat’s Legacy” was my first professional science fiction sale when it appeared in the September 1992 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Also included is a brief commentary of my writing of the story, and how it intersected with the real world. Again, on YouTube. Enjoy!

Performing my fiction, live(ish)

Any number of my writer friends have been posting videos of themselves reading their fiction to a variety of on-line, on-going “conventions” (which are taking the place of the real-life, in-person conventions we’re all missing). I’ve decided to join the trend. My first effort is “Mars is the Wrong Color,” a short-short which originally appeared in the October 1, 2008 issue of Nature Magazine. I figured I’d announce it on my blog first, before telling all those other conventions. Please check it out, and let me know what you think.

Oh, right, you need to know where it is. It’s at this link (on YouTube).

Free E-books

fb-logo-300pixel-revThings are difficult for us all, and they’re going to get worse before they get better.

Fantastic Books’ sales are off, in large part because we’re missing out on conventions (which had been a major source of sales for us), and in part because the economy as a whole is dropping. But we expect to take a major hit in the coming weeks because Amazon (the major book retailer in the US at this point) recently announced that they will not be accepting shipments of “non-essential items” for at least three weeks. That means, among other things, books.

There isn’t much we can do directly about those things, and they’re going to hurt all the small publishers out there. But there is something we can do for the readers (who may also be having trouble getting those books they want and need):

Fantastic Books is offering free e-books for readers. Take a look through our catalog (, check out the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Other Books, and Gray Rabbit tabs. When you find the book you’ve been wanting to read (as long as we offer an e-book version), email us at sales [at] fantasticbooks [dot] biz. Tell us the title, and whether you read epub or mobi (Kindle). We’ll reply with a copy of the ebook.

We’re not asking for any payment. But we (and our authors) would be thrilled if you could post a review of the book: Good Reads, Library Thing, your friends list on Facebook… even Amazon (though I’m still grumbling about them). And when the economy picks back up, or you see us at a convention, think about buying another book.

Thanks, and happy reading!

Mensa Convention Weekend

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that this is going to be another convention weekend for me. This time, it’s Central New Jersey Mensa‘s Snowball 46 Regional Gathering. While the hotel is 28 miles from my house, CNJMensa is in Region 2, so it’s not my Region 1. Thus, I won’t be working (well, I’m sure some business will be discussed), but will be enjoying myself (well, I do that at all the RGs, anyway). Also, I will be on stage: Saturday at 10:30am, I’ll be talking about “A Century of Asimov.” It’s the same(ish) talk I’ve been giving since last July, talking about Isaac Asimov’s place in science fiction, and my relationship with him in his final years, since January was the centennial of his birth. I expect I’ve given the talk just about everywhere that’s interested in hearing it, and that I’ll be retiring it soon. On the other hand, I’m always happy to be proven wrong, and available to talk to groups far and wide. Hope to see lots of you this weekend!

Unexpected smile

Unexpected smile this evening. I was taking care of some Mensa business emails, and one of them ended:

“P.S. – I recently had dinner with my mother, who is not a Mensa member. Not normally a big reader, she was nevertheless enthusiastic about the book she was reading. When I asked for details, she handed me a dog-eared, heavily worn copy of The Presidential Book of Lists. Thought you might like to know.”

Looking to take a leap

Nearly four years ago, I realized it was February 29th, and I wrote “Did you take a leap today? (It is, after all, Leap Day.) I did. Not going to talk specifically about my leap, except to note that I felt nervous doing it, and somewhat excited after I’d committed to doing it. Hoping it works out.”

Well, it didn’t work out. It was a small thing to most people, but rather out-of-the-ordinary to me. And while nothing ultimately came of it, I found it rather exhilarating to do.

That leap has been on my mind this month, because on Saturday, once again, it will be Leap Day, our quadrennial calendrical anomaly, which really means next to nothing in the average life. But once again, I want to take advantage of it, and take a leap of some sort. I don’t know what my leap is going to be, but I deserve to once again feel that frisson of possibility.

I hope you, too, take a little leap of some kind, and that it works out better for you than my last one did for me.

And, just to add a little more spice to this Leap Day, it’s occurring on a Saturday. Leap Day occurs only once every four years, but Leap Day on a Saturday comes only once every 28 years (the last was in 1992, the next will be in 2048).