I read Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast when it came out in 1980 because I was reading everything about Heinlein. Also, I had read the serialized teaser published in Omni Magazine in 1979.
One of the consistent criticisms of Heinlein’s work is that the middles of his books are always too long, and Beast was the epitome of this. The majority of the book is taken up by the four main characters arguing with each other over minutiae that does very little to progress the plot or the character arcs. The only good part about it are the many in-jokes aimed at his fans, but for my money, it was not enough to carry the middle.
In my career as a fan of science fiction, the only writer who gives Heinlein competition for middles that are way too long is Stephen King.
It was announced in 2019 that a “parallel” book to Beast, titled The Pursuit of the Pankera, would be published. The advance publicity for the book claimed, “…unknown to most fans, Heinlein had already written a ‘parallel’ novel about the four characters and parallel universes in 1977. He effectively wrote two parallel novels about parallel universes.”
I was unconvinced. It sounded too much like all of those Shakespeare plays that were ‘discovered’ long after his death and were later shown to be forgeries. Still, I would have to read it.
I am now convinced that Pankera is a genuine work of Heinlein. How am I sure? Because the middle is way too long, and is generally taken up by the four main characters bickering about nothing.
The first 100 pages or so are almost identical to Beast, and then the plot goes off at a 90° angle, which I’m sure is no coincidence.
Both Beast and Pankera are stories about four people who build a machine capable of transitioning between universes and attaching it to their airplane. The airplane’s autopilot, Gay Deceiver, becomes a fifth character in the story. You’ll no doubt recognize many of these universes as science fiction mainstays. This puts them on the spectrum between parody and homage of these other stories.
503 pages with only about 200 pages of actual story.
I know what you want to ask: Why are you using Numbers when Excel is so much better and more versatile? Excellent question! I ask myself that all the time.
There are many things you can do with Excel that can’t be done in Numbers, and it often seems like I find a new one every day. Let’s face it, Numbers isn’t intended for the same users as Excel.
That being said, I don’t like Excel and I don’t even have a good reason for it. Maybe it’s a natural aversion to monopolies or something. Maybe it’s dedication to a brand – I’ve been a loyal Apple user since the days of the Apple ][. Well, maybe not that loyal. I don’t like iPhones or iPads. But you should ask me about iGlasses sometime.
Regardless. I ran into a problem while creating a spreadsheet in Numbers. I was about to relent and create it in Excel when I ran into a similar problem.
How to Return the Last Occurrence of a Value from a List of Values. Here’s my problem in detail:
The Practice Items column is a list of the songs I’m currently practicing on the piano, and I want to keep track of how much time I spent practicing that piece and when I practiced it. The column in question is Last Practiced. I want a polite warning if I haven’t practiced a piece in a while.
The problem was getting that column to return the Last Time I Practiced It. For instance, I practiced Adele’s Someone Like You on April 4 and April 5, and I want April 5 to show up in the last column.
After messing around with Numbers for longer than I really should have, or longer than the problem really merited, I tried to do the same thing in Excel. To no avail. I was starting to feel really stupid.
So I googled the problem and found that different authors had presented three different ways to do it in Excel. And none of them will work in Numbers.
I was about to give up and use an Excel spreadsheet when my stubborn streak kicked in. There HAS to be a way to do this! So I made another pot of coffee and dug into it.
I used the template from the Excel solutions and modified the elements of the equation that returned errors in Numbers. My stubborn patience was rewarded.
If you came here looking for this solution, here it is: Ta da!
This is from the Someone Like You cell: IF(ISERROR(VLOOKUP(G4,Practice Item,1,0)),””,INDEX(Practice Item:Date,MATCH(G4,Practice Item,1),2))
The important part is INDEX(Practice Item:Date, Match(G4,Practice Item,1),2).
The if-iserror statement is simply so that it won’t put the last date on the list for items that I haven’t practiced.
The short answer: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The Duolingo app, a quasi-free online tool for getting started in a foreign language, has been much in the news lately. The Duolingo team has been fairly successful in gamifying language learning by turning into a competition. How easily we are manipulated, right? This is what we do with kids — “Let’s play a game and see who can clean their room first!”
Well, it worked on me, which probably says volumes about my emotional maturity. I thought I would just take the app for a test drive to see what it was about, and picked German seemingly at random. The first few lessons taught me some basic vocabulary. Frau. Mann, Kind, Hund, Katze. Hallo. I thought, this isn’t so hard.
That was in 2015. Little did I know at the time that Duolingo is akin to a gateway drug. Today, I am taking classes at a local Deutsche Schule, have an online native speaking tutor, attending a local Stammtisch twice monthly, read novels in German, reading the news at Deutsche Welle, watching TV shows on Netflix with German language options selected, playing video games with German subtitles, and wondering how this all came to take up so much of my attention. It’s not like I ever had an urge to read Goethe or Nietzsche in the original.
There is a Facebook page for German learners using Duolingo. There are probably several. About once a week, a new member will ask, “How did y’all get started learning German?” The answers could probably be set up to be selected from a drop down menu:
I have a German lover.
I want to visit family in <German speaking country.>
My firm’s HQ is in Germany.
I want to live and work in Germany.
I’m studying philosophy, and I need to read Kant in the original. (I don’t buy this one. Being able to read Wilfrid Sellars in the original English certainly doesn’t help.)
None of these reasons apply to me. Instead of simply shrugging my shoulders and making vague hand-waving gestures, I made up a reason:
“I found this puzzle box on one of my recent campaigns. Solving the puzzle was difficult, and it contained a letter in German. Pre-reform German, with lots of references to arcane knowledge. I had to battle a dragon, three trolls, and a horde of undead in order to retrieve it, and I’m not about to let a language class stand between me and reading the damn thing.”
Nobody asks me why I study German anymore.
I was grossly misled by the early steep learning curve. I now appear to be eternally stuck somewhere in the pre-intermediate skill level, measured on how difficult the books are that I can read. I know I’m learning new words, but still struggle with prepositions.
And, as you all know, it’s much easier to read and understand the spoken language than it is to create new sentences from scratch. Friends at the Stammtisch have become accustomed to my silence, and show great patience when I do try to make a contribution to the dialogue. Sometimes, the whole table, including the native speakers, grows silent in anticipation while I navigate the grammatical minefield.
I need to schedule a trip to Bavaria for research for my next book. Never mind that the story takes place on other planets.
It’s a widely-held belief that writing is a form of catharsis — not only for the author, but often for the reader. It’s all about our author’s and the stories they want — and sometimes need — to tell.
Catharsis isn’t so much the airing of frustration,s as it is the process of letting those frustrations brew down and condense into the fuel that drives the creative spark; the fuel that leads you to reassert your imagination, your creativitiy, your humanity. It’s the reclamation of the possibility of a better world, a world that isn’t so extractive, and that retains the elements of the fantastic that we can visualize as being a part of it.
You hold in your hands twelve stories written by people who have passed through the corporate world with their creativity intact. Some are realistic; most are fantastic. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed gathering and bringing them to you.
I work from home, and those of you who also do this know that there can be some awesome good points and frustrating bad points.
First off, you have to love the commute, which goes from my bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen to pick up a cup of coffee, then to the study to log into my remote office. In truth, the traffic in the hallway can sometimes slow me down, making the trip 10 or fifteen seconds longer.
One of the downsides is that The Employer expects me to be online and productive by six in the morning, which necessitates waking up at – ugh – 05:30. This is my fault, though, as it was one of the many selling points I used to convince The Employer to let me work remotely.
What’s the advantage of working remotely? You mean, other than the fact that the current population of the San Francisco Bay Area (depending on how it’s defined) is about 7 million, and the entire state of Oregon has only about 4 million people? Really?! You have to ask?
I’ve never been a fan of crowds. In spite of the mega-cool music, I’d’ve gone insane at Woodstock, probably to be discovered by the cleanup crew, curled up in the fetal position under a rock. I lived in Los Angeles during the summer after my sophomore year in college. I didn’t like the town before I lived there, and spending three months there didn’t improve my attitude any. Though, I’ve been told that L.A. has matured since then.
Don’t get me wrong – Los Angeles is a fine city. But it’s not for me. Big cities are a fine place to visit but … you know the rest. Besides, I’ve been conditioned by a lifetime of weird decisions, and I can’t think of L.A. without thinking of the old Freddy Martin song, Pico and Sepulveda.
However, I sometimes get tired of sitting in my study all the time, and take full advantage of the remote technology to work from a local library.
We have some very fine libraries near-by. Though that depends on what you mean by near by. The Monmouth and Independence libraries are close enough to ride a bike to, but they’re closed on Sundays, so I sometimes use the Salem Public Library or the Corvallis-Benton County Library. The Salem Library is closer, bigger, and very comfortable, but because of the way the highways are routed, it takes just as long to drive there as to Corvallis.
All of these libraries have comfortable places to set up, and provide power strips for the electronics, and free Wi-Fi. Though I’m paranoid of open public Wi-Fi, so I alway bring my own. All of them have free parking within walking distance, except for Salem, but it has free parking on Sundays.
So, that’s it. That’s my favorite aspect of working remotely. The only downside I’ve encountered to working in a library is when I have Skype meetings. Then I pack everything up and go somewhere else.
My Freshman novel, Memory and Metaphor. Available in digital, paperback, and hardback, today, February 1, 2019, at Amazon, Barns & Nobel (bn.com) and Lulu. You can get signed copies from me, also. The best way to do that is to order it through the publisher, Paper Angel Press, and tell them I sent you, and said you could have a signed edition.
Civilization fell. It rose. At some point, people built starships.
A millennium after the Earth was abandoned to climate change and resource depletion, Sharon Manders wakes up in a body that used to belong to somebody else, and some say she was a terrorist. She has no idea how she could be digging for Pleistocene bones in Africa one day, and crewing on a starship the next. That was just before she met the wolfman, the elf, and the sex robot.
Struggling with distressingly unreliable memories, the expectations of her host body’s family and crewmates, future shock, and accusations of treason, Sharon goes on the lam to come face to face with terrorists, giant bugs, drug cartels, AIs, and lawyers.
All things considered, she’d rather be back in 21st Century California.
I started this project in 2013, writing the first 15 thousand words in a fever during a long weekend. We all know what happened after that, right? Yeah, it progressed slowly, a couple thousand words at a time for two years.
I presented it at a Writers’ Clinic at BayCon in 2015, and the critics were generally impressed. Enough so that I was encouraged to press on and finish it. One of the panelists gave me the calling card for her agent saying, “She’s looking for a good space opera.”
Turns out she wasn’t. Or, at least, wasn’t looking for my space opera.
After putting the final touches on the book in the fall of 2015, I spent the next two years trying to find an agent. To no avail. Literary agents, it would seem, are much more difficult to impress than panelists at the BayCon Writers’ Clinic.
The project languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten.
Then there was WorldCon in San Jose, California. I was feeling pretty good about myself for reasons unrelated to writing. I had lost 30 pounds on a new diet, made some new, very cool friends in the Royal Manticoran Navy, and it was a gorgeous day in the South Bay. I wandered around the vendors’ area, purchased a few books for future reading, and admired the crafts of some very imaginative and creative people.
And stumbled upon the booth of Paper Angel Press. I don’t remember, at this late date, who it was crewing the booth, but she mentioned that they were looking for new writers.
I took their business card, and when I got back home I dusted off the digital manuscript. Made some changes, and submitted the first 10 thousand words.
Then forgot about it. I went back to daily life, lost more weight, and considered ideas for a new writing project.
The publisher, Steven Radecki, sent me an email two months later. He wanted to see the rest of the manuscript!
So, here we are. Five months later, and the book will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble (bn.com), and Lulu on February 1.