Dune

The cover from my 1984 paperback edition

My wife asked for a book recommendation last fall, and I gave her my paperback copy of Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel, first published in 1965. She laid it on an end table, where it remained undisturbed for a week, long enough for me to decide it was time to read the book again before seeing the new movie adaptation.

It’s a marvelously complex text — I remember feeling overwhelmed on first reading it several decades ago, in a pre-Wikipedia era where reference guides weren’t readily available. Numerous characters, so many factions, references to centuries of history, technology both futuristic and otherworldly, healthy discourses on science, religion, psychology, and interstellar politics… there’s a lot going on in this novel. It’s not an easy read, and for that reason I consider it the science fiction equivalent to James Joyce’s Ulysses. On the fantasy side, the award goes to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

How does the novel work? Why has it inspired five sequels by the original author, a dozen or so sequels and prequels by other authors, a renowned televised miniseries, and now a second film? I think the novel continues to appeal because for all its complexity, there’s a very simple story that grounds the reader. The journey of Paul Atreides is a typical bildungsroman, featuring a young man who is at times entirely likable and at other times fully terrifying. He’s an unforgettable character, and his development is the reader’s guide through all the complexity.

On this second reading I noticed a distinctive feature, one which would probably be flagged by this era’s editors and writing handbooks and fiction workshop leaders. Never change character perspective, within a story or novel chapter — I’ve seen this “rule” against what’s often called head hopping invoked numerous times. But in “Dune,” Herbert routinely goes into the heads of several characters within a chapter, sometimes even in a single paragraph. It happens so often that I now refer to the author as Hopalong Herbert. The lesson here, I believe, is that good writing isn’t about following rules.

My wife did eventually start reading the novel and had a similar reaction to mine on my initial trek through this fascinating yet intimidating work. I advised having Wikipedia open on her phone while she read, but she couldn’t work up the interest to go beyond the first 20 pages. I can’t blame her — reading should be a challenge, but when it seems too much like work then there’s probably better things you should be doing. She is interested in seeing the new film when it becomes available on one of our streaming services, so its entirely possible she could become as intrigued by this story as I was when I decided to give the work another shot.

Unnaturally Quiet

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

My town’s public library has closed to visitors again due to the latest COVID surge. Patrons can request materials online and have them delivered to their cars when they drive up, much like the grocery store where I work.

Before the pandemic I’d go to the library on opening one or two weekday mornings. The building would be nearly vacant until children arrived with their parents around 10. I’d then hear young excited voices from the children’s section before leaving around noon.

It’s easy to imagine most of the library being quiet, but a placid children’s section seems unnatural.

This is one of the few times where I’ve written non-fiction for Friday Fictioneers.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

A little over a year ago, I announced my writing goals for 2021. It’s past time to compare what I’d planned against what I actually accomplished, as well as look ahead to 2022.

Giddy at reaching my Stretch goals for 2020, I raised the stakes of my writing ambition. Performance against those aggressive plans was at first glance very disappointing:

 Stories DraftedStories RevisedStories SubmittedTotal SubmissionsBlog Posts
Minimum96625156
Goal129950182
Stretch15121275208
ACTUAL84460112

I didn’t reach even the Minimum benchmarks in any of status levels. I did reach the Goal for total submissions (more on that later), but fell way short on my total blog posts. I also wrote last year about revising one of my drafted novels, and starting a new novel during National Novel Writing Month; these two goals also went unmet in 2021.

What happened last year? Why did I fail to reach most of my writing goals in 2021? I can identify two reasons:

  1. I attended 14 writing workshops, twice as many as I had in 2020. I learned a lot from these workshops, but they took a lot of time.
  2. I spent a lot of time researching literary journals and genre magazines – this is the main reason why I was able to reach the Goal for Submissions

It was actually a busy year for my writing – just not the type of busyness I’d expected.

I’m making the following changes for my 2022 goals:

  1. I’m going back to my 2020 goals for each story status
  2. Since I met my Goal benchmark for Submissions in 2021, I’m keeping these benchmarks for the coming year
  3. After considering whether to abandon any blogging goals, I decided to keep the benchmarks but with much lower numbers
  4. As the value I receive from workshops is certainly worth the time investment required, I’m adding these to my list of goals
  5. I still like the idea of returning to my novels, so I’m repeating the two goals I’d set for 2021 (revise one, draft another)

Here is my matrix of writing goals for 2022:

 Stories DraftedStories RevisedStories SubmittedTotal SubmissionsBlog PostsWorkshops Attended
Minimum633251006
Goal966501509
Stretch12997517512

Next January, I hope to look back on the previous year with more satisfaction than I feel now when reviewing my 2021 goals.

Unbearable Paradise

PHOTO PROMPT © Bradley Harris

Lyn hadn’t yearned for vacation’s end like she did now.

Her mother was bedridden from knee pain, and her father’s dementia led to acts such as placing laundry in the oven and dialing the number for his long-dead sister.

When she arrived two weeks ago, Lyn made appointments with several in-home nursing agencies. The contract with Aloha Care was signed 40 hours before her departure.

The following afternoon, Lyn walked alone for the first time. She gazed over the Pacific and its promise of a typically beautiful sunset.

Lyn cried, not wanting to leave but unable to bear staying longer.

Each time I write for Friday Fictioneers, half my time is spent developing the story and the other half with editing it down to the 100-word limit.

Day 663

My wife and I have been fortunate enough to spend the last three weeks on Maui, with four more days to go. Getting here is always arduous given the length of the flight, but the COVID-19 pandemic made this excursion a bit more challenging than it had been in the past.

***

Our airline didn’t require proof of vaccination or testing, but did mandate mask wearing throughout the flight. And with airports requiring masks for all visitors regardless of vaccination status, my wife and I had our faces covered almost nonstop for 14 hours. Not the most enjoyable experience, but there are worse fates during a global health crisis.

***

We were able to bypass the arrival restrictions, which are far more burdensome than those during transport.

The state of Hawaii requires visitors to quarantine for 10 days after arriving unless they provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result. I got my second Moderna shot back in April, and my wife has also been recently vaccinated after completing her obligation to the clinical study she’d been in. The week before our flight we uploaded our vaccination data to Hawaii’s online portal.

Before our connecting flight in Chicago, we checked in with a gate agent who reviewed our data and issued us temporary wristbands. I’m not sure what those wristbands did for us — we were waving our forearms at our destination to anyone who looked like an airline employee, none of whom seemed to take notice. We breezed through the airport without any further questioning or screening, and upon entering the car my wife’s parents used to pick us up, we finally took off and discarded our masks.

***

Our sons and nephew arrived a week later and weren’t issued wristbands despite having loaded their vaccination data to Hawaii’s Safe Travels site. They were asked some screening questions on arrival, then allowed to come in.

Briefly before his trip, one of our sons was exposed to two people who later tested positive for COVID. He followed the CDC’s guidelines on arrival and later tested negative. More evidence that being vaccinated and boosted pays off.

***

Mask wearing is mandatory regardless of vaccination status within indoor public spaces anywhere in Hawaii. Many businesses also require proof of vaccination before they’ll let you in the door; all who have so far have accepted a picture of a vaccination card displayed on a phone. In my estimation, these COVID precautions have been more than reasonable.

***

Many condos in the building where my family stays are owned by retirees. One couple we often see during our visits is a boorish pair who take a perverse enjoyment in broadcasting their political views to anyone within hearing distance. Doesn’t matter if people agree, disagree, or don’t give a fig about their beliefs, because for some odd reason they feel that being a pain in the ass is somehow beneficial to society.

We haven’t seen them on this trip, and the other day we heard they haven’t come out because they refuse to get vaccinated.

Good riddance.

I’ve lost patience with those who make health decisions based on politics. I don’t wish them harm, but I do enjoy knowing they’re being inconvenienced. Coming to Hawaii is a gift, a blessing, and if prefer the medical advice of a cable news program over that of the overwhelming majority of doctors and infectious disease experts, then you deserve to stay home.

***

But I don’t want to end on a sour note.

Four more days in paradise, then it’s back to our mainland home. The flight back will be difficult, but the memory of our time here will get us through. We are very fortunate to have returned after a long absence, and hope we won’t have to wait another two years before coming back. 

Back

Twenty-five days between blog entries is a considerably gap. Don’t have anything brilliant to say, but that’s never stopped me from writing before.

Just another Tuesday at dusk

After the COVID pandemic interrupted our annual sojourn, I’ve returned with my family to the land of routinely incredible sunsets and less frequent but still awesome moonrises. My wife and I arrived almost three weeks ago, and we don’t leave until a week from today. Yeah, we’re pretty fortunate.

Locals I’ve spoken with have commented that the wide-open spaces of the last two years were only briefly pleasant. Tourists have returned, in spite of the inconvenient but absolutely essential travel restrictions (and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next day or so).

Phone cameras can’t quite capture how magnificent the moon appears

We’re typically very active on our trips out here, but we’re taking it easy this year. No whale watches, no diving or snorkeling. Didn’t even take my first beach walk until yesterday. It’s a time to sit back and enjoy the warm weather and cooling ocean breeze, being thankful that we’re back at this amazing land after a too-long absence.

And that’s all I got for today. 

 

Retirement Party

PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Claire Fuller

“Where’s Mich?” asked Sonny. “All this waiting’s making me cuckoo!”

“He’s probably tired because of all that time he spends on the road,” replied Wendy. “And he probably picked up dinner at a drive-thru, so he may not be hungry.”

“Or maybe he got into an accident,” Professor Burke observed.

“Just be cool,” Chester drawled. “Have a snack if you’re antsy.”

Ernie sighed heavily. “We just want to have a goodbye party for the man, like we did last year for Jemima and Ben. Young people don’t recognize him anymore, just like me and Joe.”

“I’ll call him,” Lily said.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest. I actually did a bit of fun research for this week’s story.

Mysterious Protest

PHOTO PROMPT © LIsa Fox

Caleb assumed it was a prank, a solitary protest erected in defiance of an unjust system. The town he’d just moved into was rural, but every home looked modern enough for running water and sewage.

“Who owns that land on Duneview?” he asked a police officer he encountered one morning at a diner. “Where Hunt Drive ends?” It was a residential area, but there were no nearby houses.

“Dunno.”

“So you don’t know who erected the double-decker?”

“The what?” The officer then excused himself and left.

Caleb finished his meal, wondering how to find an answer to this minor mystery.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Unusual Delivery

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

This was always the most unusual delivery on Teddy’s route.

The outdoor firewood rack at the side of the house was a standard eight by six feet, yet an area had been cleared in the middle of the rack’s bottom for a double-paned basement window. In previous years, Teddy assumed this design was intended to allow light into a finished basement room. After this year’s delivery, he had to satisfy his curiosity.

After filling the rack, Teddy knelt down outside the window, covered on the inside by only a short valance along its upper third. He looked inside… and laughed.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Travelling Companion

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

“Amazing, eh?”

Stan knew he needed to respond. He’d avoided attention the last 29 hours, and if he could maintain the deceit through the remaining ninety minutes on this ferry, he’d be free. “First time I’ve taken this tour,” he said. “Yeah, the view’s impressive.”

“Harold Misner.” Harold extended his hand, which Stan shook. “From Peoria, family holiday. What brings you here?”

Warrants in three countries. “Stan, from Albany.” He’d visited his brother there several times.

A woman called to Harold, who excused himself. Stan looked out over the waters, wondering how best to deal with this new travelling companion.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.