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Mountain Dew Energized Doritos: Only in Australia. You Don’t Want Them Anywhere Else.

Every time I stroll through the soft drink aisle and see the brand names Coke and Pepsi lining the shelves on either side – even now, nearing the end of my fifth decade on the planet – I think about my parents. Coke, when I was a child (and still, to some degree, today) was an adult beverage. “You can’t have it,” I hear my mother’s voice echo in my head. “It has caffeine.”

Back then, I didn’t know what caffeine was. But, I knew I wanted it.  So much of my youth was consumed by a longing to be older, to do what grown-ups did, to drink what they drank. And, as a result, I was primed to fall for the marketing strategy Mountain Dew employed in the 1980s.

An Interview with Jeffrey Fortney, Veteran and Author

Jeffrey Fortney is a U.S. Air Force and fire service veteran. He’s published several science fiction and action-thriller novels in the past decade. And I had the opportunity to interview him.

Entertainment in the Time of Pestilence

About two weeks ago (as you read this column), just as the coronavirus lockdown was beginning, I decided I needed a break from anything too contemporary, and to watch something “historical” for entertainment. I picked re-watching World Without End, the mini-series based on the novel by Kenneth Follett.

I wound up laughing at myself. It had been almost ten years since I had read the novel, and seven or eight since I watched the series. I had forgotten that a large part of the story deals with how the principal characters dealt with the Bubonic Plague of the mid 1300s.

An Interview with Fritz Freiheit

Fritz Freiheit: As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. It was the sixties, after all. By the time I went to college in the seventies, a bit more realism had impinged itself on my life, and I eventually settled on mechanical engineering as my major. While taking computer programming courses that were part of the engineering curriculum, I discovered that I enjoyed and was skilled in programming. Before I graduated, I decided I wanted to experience life in Japan. I wound up getting a job with Sumitomo Electric, part of the Big Four corporate conglomerates in Japan. I found myself in Osaka going through the professional training program (as the only gaijin/foreigner). Since they didn’t know what to do with a gaijin, I was given the unusual privilege of choosing what I wanted to do, and I choose to be a software programmer. They handed me some books and told me to write a 3D graphics driver – and I did.

After a year in Japan, I was offered a position in L.A. to write a Japanese version of a rule-driven database interface, which threw me into AI software development. Once again, I received several books, and I wrote a Japanese language parser.

I learned that there is a perspective that comes from thinking about thinking when developing software. Writing expert systems parallels novel writing – getting in the head of a character and telling a story from their perspective. I put myself in the mind of users, understand their goals, and write software to accomplish those goals.

A New Poem: pressing onto the place where the sun rises

Poet Jon Bishop reflects on this time of disease and anxiety.

An Interview with Author Melanie Nilles

Melanie Nilles is a prolific fantasy and sometime science fiction author. For example, she has written Legend of the White Dragon series and completed The Luriel Cycle trilogy in 2018. I had the opportunity to interview her recently.

A Universe without FTL

FTL stands for faster than light travel. This is one of the standard tropes of science fiction. It may involve warp drive that turns space travel into an analog for ancient sea voyages, or the trip may be instantaneous once you’re far enough from Earth’s surface. However, faster-than-light travel will require the discovery of new laws of physics that may not exist. This leaves us with the other options for traveling in a universe without FTL.

An Art Exhibit: Welcome to Atlantica

Check out some of the photos and videos from my better half’s solo art exhibition, now up at Fullerton College in Fullerton, CA.

Book Review: The Zero Blessing by Chris Nuttall

I read more science fiction than fantasy, but my family has seen all of the Harry Potter books more than once. The Zero Blessing has echoes of Harry Potter, but it is very different from the main characters to the world-building to the central plot.

The Paranoid Squint of Tim Powers

Tim Powers is my literary hero. He creates secret histories in which historical events are “explained” through fictional embellishments which completely alter history’s meaning. Secret histories have been written by Alexandre Dumas, Gore Vidal, Umberto Eco, and they are especially associated with genre writers like Elizabeth Bear, Steve Berry, and above all, Tim Powers.

Powers’ approach is rigorous. He never allows his fiction to contradict any known historical fact (and he knows a lot). He does, however, allow his fictional additions to make full use of magical and science fictional elements.

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