Meteor Mags: Permanent Crescent – now in print and ebook



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For sale on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and hardback editions.

The ebook is also for sale on Smashwords and other major ebook retailers.

Might be unsuitable for children and other forms of carbon-based life.

After the events of The Second Omnibus, Meteor Mags and her hard-rocking space-pirate crew confront new enemies, old rivals, and the final fate of the interspecies band, Small Flowers. Permanent Crescent and Other Tales continues Mags’ evolution from a rogue pirate to a leader with far-reaching plans, and her choices will have major consequences for the future of the solar system. This collection contains six all-new episodes totaling 57,000 words.

Permanent Crescent: The Moon is about to die, and it’s all Mags’ fault. Join a hell-raising space pirate and her indestructible calico cat as they confront a lunar death cult whose alien leader plans to take vengeance on humanity by destroying Earth’s ancient satellite.

Odonata’s Revenge: Mags faces double trouble when an alien menace and an ex-mercenary converge on Ceres to end the pirate’s life and steal her secret technology.

Infinite Spaces: Mags and her crew discover signals emanating from the depths of the subterranean ocean on Ceres and risk their lives in uncharted waters to find the source. What they find makes Mags reconsider her role in humanity’s evolution and the final fate of her universe.

Farewell Tour: A band of telepathic octopuses and their interspecies friends bring a message of liberation to the solar system one last time. Mags and Patches fight to rescue them from the forces of law and order.

One Last Night on Death World: On the last night of Gramma’s life, Mags takes her drinking at a west-coast bar to shoot pool and have fun. Between games of billiards, they discuss the future of the solar system and reminisce about their past, revealing details about Gramma’s childhood, her relationship with her piratical mother, and the development of GravGen technology.

Pieces of Eight: Mags and her friends in Small Flowers return to Earth to seek a new home for the dying octopuses, but what they find is not at all what they expected.

short story draft: Solo Tour


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Meteor Mags: Solo Tour
© 2023 Matthew Howard. All Rights Reserved.

Episode 39 in The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

Mags takes Patches and two of her closest friends on a tour of the Asteroid Belt to promote her second solo piano album, unaware that her enemies have planned to kill her.

3,900 words

Anger is a gift.

—Rage Against the Machine; Freedom, 1992.


The cyborg gripped Timothy’s throat with cold titanium fingers that promised to crush the life out of him before it had time to flash before his eyes. The teenager thrashed as hard as he could. The back of his skull found the club’s concrete floor and was far from happy about it. He couldn’t scream, but plenty of people around him were taking care of that. If his brain had not been preoccupied with its imminent demise, he might have second-guessed just how far he was willing to go as a fan.


Five hours earlier, Meteor Mags landed her ship on the asteroid Nemesis 128, a carbon-rich chunk of rock not wider than 178 kilometers in any direction. The corporation which first claimed Nemesis had filed for bankruptcy the previous year and abandoned all the equipment and sub-par hovels constructed for the mining families, along with the GravGens that pumped out an artificial gravity field approximating that of Earth’s. Like so many workers in the Belt in 2033, the residents of Nemesis owed their survival to a rugged determination and support from Mags.

She stepped out of her ship and planted her combat boots in the middle of a dingy, dreary spaceport. “Fucking hell,” she said. “I love what they’ve done with the place.” What light bulbs worked at all flickered incompetently and sprayed her shadow intermittently across the hull behind her in oblique angles.

Her sound engineer, Dr. Plutonian, poked his head out the door of the Bêlit. “Jesus, Mags. Do they even have enough electricity to power our equipment?”

“Leave that to me.”

Mags’ calico cat Patches bounded from the ship, pressed her ears backwards and flat against her bushy head, and howled.

Mags said, “We’ll get ’em sorted.”

The final member of her entourage appeared in the ship’s doorway. “I’m assuming this isn’t the scenic view you promised?”

“It’s one of them, Sarah. Would you help Plutes unload for a minute? Patches and I need to fill out some paperwork.”

Sarah was hardly old enough to drive a car on Earth, but ever since Mags had rescued her from being eaten by aliens in 2029 and taken the young woman under her wing, she’d formed her own band as the singer for the punk-rock sensation Dumpster Kittens, and she was no stranger to loading and unloading. “Get on it, then. We only have five hours ‘til showtime!”[1]

Mags departed with a flick of her tail and lit up a smoke. Patches followed suit, stopping every so often to sniff random objects and scratch them with her impervious claws to let everyone know she had been there.

Plutonian said, “I guess this is why we get paid the big bucks.”

Sarah laughed. The sound was brighter than any light ever seen in that decrepit port. “I always knew you were only in this for the money.”

His eyes following Mags told a different story, a story Sarah knew all too well. She was, after all, a telepath.


Mags returned longer than a minute later and found all the equipment unloaded. “Listen,” she said. “They’ve had some problems with power, and I’m going to fix them. I need a couple hours to install our energy system at this rock’s poles. Patches is coming with the two of you as security. I can’t have my band wandering this godforsaken rock without a bodyguard. If anything goes horribly wrong, call me.”

Plutonian said, “We’ll make it to the club. Just make sure we have time for a proper soundcheck.”

Mags kissed his cheek. “I doubt anything about this tour will be proper.”

Patches leapt onto the black box containing Mags’ piano. She stretched out, licking one paw and rubbing it over one ear.

Sarah said, “Your chariot awaits.”


The first time Timothy heard Meteor Mags in 2030, he was thirteen years old, and he pleaded with his best friend Brian to turn off the music. In the storage closet that passed for Brian’s bedroom in the dilapidated shack Brian’s parents called home, a tattered boombox blared.

Now I ain’t your little girl
Now I ain’t your toy
Your life don’t mean shit to me
Something to destroy

“You don’t like it?” Brian’s parents were both working in the mines on the same shift, and he was enjoying a rare free hour to listen to music as loud as he wanted—or at least as loud as his limited equipment could handle.

“God no,” said Timothy. “It’s bloody awful!”

“It’s Meteor Mags,” said Brian, “with these guys called the Psycho 78s.”

“It’s a lot of screaming and bashing. Can we listen to something else?”

Timothy was not yet a fan.


The week his parents lost their jobs in 2032—along with every other miner on Nemesis when the corporation went belly-up—Timothy hardly slept at all. Unlike Brian, he didn’t have a closet to sleep in, only the couch in the scant few meters that served as both living room and kitchen. He didn’t even have room to stretch out his legs.

His parents, still on erratic sleep schedules from their mining shifts, woke him up at random hours by plopping on the couch next to him to fight over which video to watch and careening recklessly toward the end of their final paycheck by converting it to booze and cigarettes.

It was like he was a ghost, so he left the shack without saying a word. He walked alone for hours, and all he had to listen to was the music on a small drive Brian gave him. In his earpods, the Psycho 78s blasted their single Whipping Boy, with Meteor Mags on vocals. She sang about being so angry about being beaten down that you’d want to take up arms against your oppressors and keep on killing until the killing was done—or at least, that’s what Timothy could decipher amidst all the screaming and bashing.

The music wasn’t all that different from what he’d heard two years before, but it made a new kind of sense to him. He’d seen his parents turn from hopefulness to hopelessness on the cruel frontier. He’d lost hope himself and felt it replaced by a constantly churning frequency that felt like rage boiling under the surface of every minute of every day.

Somewhere in that mess of noise in his ears, he heard his rage reflected, focused, and redirected. And the fact that these people, these Psycho 78s he had never known or even met, had captured his feeling and brought it to life made him feel like maybe, just maybe, anything was possible.

Head-down in his hoodie and singing along as if no one could hear him, Timothy was well on his way to becoming a fan.


Ninety minutes before the show, Meteor Mags checked her phone. “Bloody hell. What’s a bitch gotta to do to get a few bars out here?” She shoved the tiny black box back inside her bra and positioned the second rod on the rocky ground before her. Holding it steady with one hand, she lifted a hammer above her head. Then she brought it down, again and again, until the rod was firmly embedded in the asteroid.

Nemesis was not the first asteroid where she’d installed her free-energy system, an engineering triumph made possible by her late friend Slim’s mathematical genius and Shondra’s manufacturing expertise on Mars. But it was certainly the first hunk of space rock she’d lit up just so she could play a concert there.

Nemesis was on the first leg of her tour in support of her second solo album, 88 Light Years. And if the pathetic asteroid needed a boost, then she was damn well sure she was the one to make it happen.

As the clock ticked ever closer to showtime, Mags pounded the SlimRod one, two, three more times then slipped her hammer into a belt loop. A stolen cigarette found its way into her hand, and she knelt to flip the switch that would send a wave of energy from the north pole of Nemesis to its south pole, then back again in an endless wave that anyone with open-source equipment could tap into. And she’d made damn sure her concert equipment could tap into it.

She took a drag and let it leisurely escape her lungs below the star-splattered sky that hardly twinkled in the human-made atmosphere.

She said, “Power to the people.” A shockwave made the asteroid tremble as if from the notes of a bass guitar. The blast ruffled her skirt and caused a single lock of hair to fall over her face.

She smiled a wicked smile and finished her smoke before starting up the vehicle she had borrowed without asking from the spaceport. She was pretty sure she remembered where the club was.


The day Timothy became a true fan, three ships from Mars landed on Nemesis. He had nothing to eat in the last five days except protein powder. He was one of the lucky ones. Many others died in the food riots following the mining corporation’s hasty exit. More had overdosed on heroin and fentanyl in their untidy hovels rather than face the future. Some died with lit cigarettes in their hands. Fires broke out and consumed what passed for Nemesian neighborhoods.

If his parents were still alive, Timothy had little hope of seeing them again. The last time he saw them was at the end of a hallway on fire, brighter than he could ever remember seeing anything before, so bright the paint peeled from the walls and bubbled like blisters. Heat choked his lungs and turned his skin red, and he fled.

It wasn’t a picture he wanted to see again, and hunger wasn’t doing anything to deaden the screams he couldn’t forget.

When the ships landed, he ran for them—just like everyone else. He didn’t stand a chance of getting close, of touching them. All around the ships was a crush of bodies, a tuneless song of shouting and weeping. A breaking of human waves.

The noise was nearly deafening. Drowning.

Timothy tried to retreat, but his feet and the ground had lost contact. A crowd surge drove him forward on a mass of elbows and grease and stink. He balled his hands into fists and used them to cover his face.

Volume challenged the crowd. It came from the middle ship of the Martian trio, a boxy ex-cargo ship called the Hyades. It looked like a semitruck trailer got fucked up on methamphetamines and crashed into a trailer park before being covered in graffiti—but a thousand times bigger.

“Listen,” said Mags.

The ship’s loudspeakers blared. The riot continued.

Mags covered the mic. “Dude, this is never gonna work.”[2]

Alonso leaned back in the pilot’s chair and threw his feet onto the console. “It’s bulletproof, tía. Just give them a minute. They’re probably so hungry they’d eat the assholes out of a chicken coop. Just talk to them.”

“Listen,” said Mags. “I brought some friends to—”

“My mistake. I think they’re killing each other.”

“Guys! I said—”

Puta madre.” Alonso sat up and switched off the microphone. “Tía!


“I got a better idea. Sing.”

She flicked her tail. “Sing?”

“Sing, you know?! Sing a song to last the whole day long? You motherfuckers’ll sing someday? Do you know what I’m—”[3]

“Count it off.”

He switched on the mic. What the Hyades lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up for in sonics.

Still, it was not Mags’ proudest moment. Fifty-three people died in the riot before the mob calmed the hell down and the people aboard the ships were able to begin distributing food, first-aid supplies, and emergency medical care.

Despite the bumps and bruises, Timothy survived. In fact, he ate better than he had eaten in weeks, even when his parents had been in charge of feeding him. At one point, he made it through a queue to a long table where volunteers handed out plastic bags containing soap, a washcloth, toothpaste and toothbrush, aspirin, and snack packs.

Timothy accepted a bag from a teenage girl on the opposite side of the table. Her long black hair had been woven into cornrows and bundled at the back into a ponytail. If Timothy’s ragged, filth-covered appearance distressed her in any way, she showed no sign—only a radiant smile followed by the words “If you need a doctor, we’re setting up a temporary facility just over there.”

Maybe, he thought, I should see someone about my burns. And all that smoke I breathed. He said, “I’m sorry, where?”

She stood to better point out the location. “Just past the—”

Mags interrupted by slamming a cooler onto the metal table. “I got an Esky full of fresh sangers, bitches! Hooooo!” She unlatched the lid, pulled out a sandwich sealed in plastic, and handed it to Timothy. “You need anything else, Sarah?”

“I was just going to show this guy where to find the doctors.”

“You okay, kid?”

Timothy recognized Mags from photos and wanted posters. She’d been singing in his earpods for days about all the things that made her sad or angry, with the insistent conclusion that she was strong enough to overcome anything life could throw at her. He stumbled over his words and failed to say anything.

Mags put her hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, mate. Sarah will show you. Sarah? You want to take a break? I can cover this station for a bit.”

“Sure thing,” said Sarah. She climbed onto the table and slid off it next to Timothy. “What’s your name?” She already knew.

Mags and Sarah had just made a fan for life.


Thirty-two seconds before concert time, Mags showed up with a sorely depleted bottle of rum in one hand and a hammer hanging from a belt loop on her skirt. “Sorry guys. I ran into some fans. Did we do a sound check?”

“We as in me and Sarah,” said Plutonian. “Are you ready to go?”

“I was ready three days before I was born. Let’s kill it.”

Plutonian made his way to the soundboard, Sarah got comfortable behind her keyboard and microphone, and Mags took center stage at her piano. The smuggler unleashed a flurry of black and white notes as if she were brandishing a weapon before a fight. She said, “What is up, Nemesis? How the hell are ya?”

During the cheers and applause, Mags put one hand to her forehead like a visor and scanned the crowd. “Has anybody seen my cat? No, that’s not the first song. Patches!”

The fluffy calico had made herself at home atop the bar at the back of the venue where she graciously accepted petting and ardently dissuaded anyone who tried to shoo her off her throne.

Mags said, “Oh, there you are. Tonight we’ll be playing songs from my new album, 88 Light Years. Eighty-eight because that’s the number of keys on a piano.” Again, a flourish. “But this wasn’t a solo thing at all. Put your hands together for Sarah, from my favorite band, Dumpster Kittens!”

The audience exploded in a raucous response.

“That’s right,” said Mags. “Sarah did the harmonies and gorgeous keyboard work on my album, and we got your favorite pirate-radio DJ Doctor P rockin’ our sound tonight, so give it up!”

Without further preamble, Mags launched into Gun Yourself Down, a hard-edged ballad that despite its morbid title encouraged the listener to ignore the haters and keep pushing forward.

She didn’t recognize the teenager who stood front and center at the edge of the stage, bobbing his head and swinging his long brown hair in time with the music. The last time she’d seen him, he was covered in dirt and smoke, half-burned and starved nearly to death.

In the year since Mags’ humanitarian visit, Timothy had—like so many survivors on Nemesis—pulled himself together and got on with life. He’d never found any evidence that his parents survived, nor any that they had died, and he’d struggled to cope with that ambiguous loss, never knowing if he should let himself grieve or hold onto one last shred of hope. Gun Yourself Down had become his personal anthem. He raised a fist in the air and sang along.

Then everything came to a screeching halt.


Twenty-three minutes before showtime, a cyborg landed on Nemesis. He arrived in a small ship that did not use the spaceport Mags had encountered, and he strode through the regolith with a singularity of purpose: to destroy Meteor Mags.

Much of his body had been replaced with titanium and machinery to render him super strong and impervious to most kinds of harm. And because Mags had been known in recent years to tour with a bevy of telepathic space octopuses, he wore one of Earth’s most devious inventions: a helmet to block telepaths.

The cyborg followed pre-programmed map coordinates to the club. Asteroid dust surrounded him in a cloud that grew with each metallic footfall until he approached the door.

Two guards drew their pistols and shouted orders, but the cyborg only granted them as much attention as was required to grip their skulls and fling them away like ants in his path. They did not survive the encounter.

He ripped the door from its hinges, tossed it in the direction of the two fresh corpses, and charged inside.


Mags had her eyes closed as she sang. The noise caught the attention of her sensitive ears. But if anyone was faster than Mags, it was her cat.

Patches leapt off the bar and bounded from tabletop to tabletop, spilling drinks and ashtrays every which way until she was in range of the cyborg. She launched herself at the monster, but he was faster and stronger than any human foe.

His backhand slap knocked Patches out of the air. She hit the concrete floor and slid backwards until she smashed into a table. Its drinks and ashtrays went flying, and the people sitting at it screamed and rocketed to their feet—as did everyone else who had been seated.

In the chaos, the cyborg stormed the stage.

Plutonian rose from his stool behind the soundboard and brought his Benelli shotgun to bear on the menace. But he hesitated to fire, because some crazy kid in the general admission area right near the stage had decided to pick a fight with the intruder.

Plutonian still had every intention of blowing out the cyborg’s brains or whatever combination of neurons and circuitry served the same function. He scrambled through the screaming and overturned tables and people smashing against him as they ran for the exits.

For the sin of interfering with its holy mission, the cyborg gripped Timothy’s throat with cold titanium fingers that promised to crush the life out of him. As the teenager thrashed as hard as he could, the back of his skull found the club’s concrete floor and was far from happy about it. He couldn’t scream, but plenty of people around him were taking care of that.

When asked about it later, Timothy couldn’t explain why he’d stepped into the cyborg’s path and confronted it. He’d think about listening to Mags’ music with his best friend Brian, and how after 2032 he’d never seen the boy again. He’d recall lonely days where he could hardly put a thought together because he was so hungry. He’d remember Mags putting her hand on his shoulder and giving him something to eat. But all those moments were merely snapshots, photographs of a life he would not fully understand until decades later when he wrote his memoirs.

In the moment, he only knew that something awful was trying to take something beautiful away from him, and he reacted without even thinking.

His valor won Mags several seconds, and that was all she needed. As the cyborg choked the young man, Mags brought a mic stand down on its head. Three times she struck in quick succession.

That got its attention, and it dropped the boy. In the half second as the monster raised and turned its head toward her, Mags grabbed her hammer and introduced it to the cyborg’s face.

Blood spurted from the wounds. The cyborg bellowed its rage and pain. Intent on Mags, it forgot about Patches—a fatal mistake.

Mags shouted, “Get through his helmet!” She and her cat had seen a similar device before, when Earth had sent an assassin to kill them at the final Small Flowers concert.[4]

Patches landed on the cyborg’s head and set her invincible claws to work. In a flurry, strips of metal flew away from the combatants. The cyborg grabbed at Patches to dislodge her and finally succeeded. He flung her away. But the damage was done.

“Sarah,” Mags shouted. “Fry his brain!”

Sarah wanted to be a nurse when she grew up. She dreamed of a life where she could help people overcome pain and lead them to healing. She was, unlike Mags, a kind and gentle soul. But she had seen what their enemies could do, and—like Mags—had reached a point in her life where she would do anything to protect her friends.

The young telepath focused on the cyborg’s exposed and all-too-human mind, and she blasted it with all the force of the rage that fueled her music in Dumpster Kittens.

The cyborg gripped both sides of its head and made a noise no one who heard it ever hoped to hear again. It crashed against the edge of the stage and bashed its face into the structure. Then it reared up to its full height, went rigid as a stone, and fell to the floor.

“Good job, Sarah! You okay?” Mags didn’t wait for a response before she was cradling Timothy in her arms. Patches and Plutonian gathered around her.

Mags said, “Hey, kid.” She set the palm of one hand against his face. “You alright, mate? Talk to me.”

There she was, his favorite singer, right in his face. Timothy coughed and rubbed his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. Mags?”

“I’m right here.”

He placed his hand over hers and held it. “Is that the best they can fucking do?”

Mags helped him to his feet.

[1] Sarah’s talents and courage were crucial to the crew’s overcoming a cybernetic mutant monster in Daughter of Lightning and a swarm of vicious space wasps in The Hive.

[2] This humanitarian mission happened after Mags had released her remaining octopuses on Earth, as shown in Farewell Tour and Pieces of Eight. Otherwise, they would have been happy to use their telepathic powers to pacify the crowd from the safety of the massive tank they lived in aboard the Hyades while on tour with Alonso and the space monkeys as Small Flowers.

[3] Alonso paraphrases both Sing by the Carpenters (1973) and Sing by the Dresden Dolls (2006).

[4] As told in Farewell Tour.

cute fluffy bunny – coffee table edition


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Cute Fluffy Bunny is a gentle, peace-loving rabbit whose idyllic days with his best friend Happy Little Flower always turn to violence when some jerk tries to mess with them. I made these cartoon strips for my sister in the mid-1990s, and she’s kept the silly things for all these years. If you think you can draw Cute Fluffy Bunny better than me — and honestly, who couldn’t? — then send me your own exquisite renditions.


from mars to athens


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Day One.

It’s the morning of my third full day as a resident of Athens, GA, so I am going to take a little break from unpacking and assembling shit, put on the kettle for a second coffee in my brand-new, one-of-a-kind Meteor Mags mug, and recap how I got here.

It begins with Fugazi. In 1996, I drove from Ann Arbor, MI to Georgia to catch as many concerts as I could by my favorite band: Fugazi from D.C. I’ve told the tale many times, and it now appears in the book Two Hundred, my published scrapbook of drawings, memoirs, poems, and song lyric from the 1990s and early 2000s. The first concert on that journey was at the Masquerade in Atlanta. So in January 2023, when I was staying at my sister’s house north of Atlanta and looking for a place of my own, I checked out the Masquerade’s concert schedule.

I was thrilled to see on the calendar one of my favorite heavy rock bands. King Buffalo has been rocking hard for a decade and recorded a trilogy of brilliant albums during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. But despite appearing on the Masquerade’s calendar, the concert was actually at a smaller venue called Hendershot’s in Athens. I bought a ticket anyway. Compared to the absolutely bonkers road trips I took in the name of music in my twenties, renting a car for a 2.5-hour trek east seemed both like small potatoes and an opportunity to re-connect with the more adventurous guy I used to be before spending my forties mostly isolated indoors bashing out the world’s awesomest fiction series.

An epic track from an epic album.

I left Arizona and moved to Georgia to be closer to my mother and sister, but I was having zero luck finding affordable housing in their neighborhoods or in any location where public transportation could get me there. My search began broadening in ever-widening circles. And I thought, “As long as I am not going to get the location I want, why don’t I consider Macon and Athens as possibilities?” They both have universities, which tends to make for a more progressive and artistic local vibe compared to other areas of any state. Macon must not be a total hillbilly hellhole if Adam Ragusea can enjoy living there, and Athens has a relatively hip reputation compared to the rest of Georgia. I’d been to Athens once before in the early 2000s but only for a couple of hours and wasn’t impressed, but times change and maybe it deserved a second look. I’d be there anyway for King frickin’ Buffaloooooo! So what the hell.

Amatuer chef and food scholar Adam Ragusea succinctly explains a few things about peaches, racism, and history.

Mom graciously offered to pay for a rental car and hotel if I took the opportunity to scout for my own place to live, so I reserved a compact car through Enterprise. A compact is the smallest size you can get at Enterprise, even smaller than “economy” size. But on the day I picked it up, no compacts were ready for me. So for the same price, I got a goddamn beast.

The guy at Enterprise called it “a little bit of a free upgrade for you”.

The Toyota 4Runner SR5 is a bit too much car for my taste. I prefer something smaller that gets great mileage and can easily get in and out of tight spaces. And I certainly don’t need six bloody seats. But the beast ran great, rode smoothly, handled well, had serious pickup, and was overall pretty fun to drive. Plus, it was my favorite color and went with everything I wear, and its voluminous interior came in handy for moving my stuff. 9/10, would destroy civilization again with this gas-guzzling monster.

The King Buffalo concert was good. I was disappointed that I didn’t have much of a view of the band — just the tops of their heads, mostly — but I got the last available seat at the bar, enjoyed a pint of a great local ale and one of my old favorites from Michigan, and was blown away by how the band sounded even more awesome in person than on album. Hendershot’s clearly wasn’t built with the acoustics of a loud rock performance in mind, but the sound guy did an amazing job with the rhythm section. The bass guitar and bass drum were vibrating my barstool, and the snare-drum hits cracked like lightning. The audience and staff were friendly and mellow despite the place being fully packed, and everyone seemed to be having a groovy time. I’m sure I will be visiting Hendershot’s for more entertainment and hanging out.

I spent the rest of my days and nights that week scouting Athens and applying for apartments from the comfort of the Howard Johnson hotel, and on my final day got approved for a place within easy walking distance to the county library, public transportation for getting to downtown, and a Kroger to get food and supplies.

All the comforts of home during hotel week.

The stuff that looks like weed in the picture above is Urb, and it is legal in Georgia for two reasons. One, it has a mild chemical called Delta-8 THC, not the Delta-9 TetraHydroCannibinol responsible for the “high” of marijuana. Two, the THC content is 0.24 percent, well below the legal limit for Georgia. By comparison, in states such as Arizona that have legalized weed for both medical and recreational purposes, you can walk into a dispensary any day of the week and buy stuff that is one hundred times stronger at twenty-four percent THC. When I saw Urb for sale at the local Hop-In convenience store in Kennesaw, I figured what the hell. You could probably get just as much of a buzz from smoking cooking sage: a mild relaxation that goes great with a pint or two. You can read all about this wacky product and why it is legal in all fifty states in a 2021 RollingStone article.

While waiting for my move-in day, I returned to my sister’s place and spent the next two weeks taking nature walks. The walks were a confluence of many things. I had wheels and time. I needed exercise after medical problems rendered me mostly immobile for three months last year. I had just bought my first pair of prescription eyeglasses for distance viewing, which meant I could see mother nature in high definition again after several years of deteriorating eyesight. And much like my decision to travel 2.5 hours to see one of my favorite bands, I needed to reconect with a sense of spontaneous adventure and exploration I kind of lost in my forties.

From my trip to the Sope Creek Paper Mill Ruins.

Now my second cup of coffee is done, and I guess I should get some more things sorted in my new place before my virtual storytime group meets this afternoon to begin celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. After three months, my scanner is now unpacked, and in its absence I’ve accumulated so many recent additions to the big box of comics to share with you in upcoming weeks. Plus, I need to call an author to wrap up my editing of his third novel and move forward with producing it for print and ebook.

Huge thanks to my mother and sister for all their love and support during this transition.

Tomorrow the world.

glass in the garden


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In 2009, my sister visited me in Arizona, and we went to the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. I used to have a lot more photos at higher resolution, but many of my photos from the early 2000s were victims of a transitional period where I made some mistakes with photo storage. So, here are the seven survivors from that amazing exhibit of glassworks in a desert environment that was in full bloom for spring. The glasswork was gorgeous during the day but also impressive when it was lit up after sunset.

sunshine and sculpture at smith-gilbert gardens


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Smith-Gilbert Gardens features a network of walking trails that wind their way through all kinds of plants and various sculptures — some abstract, some representational, and some a bit of both. It’s an easy walk, and if you have a couple of free hours, you can see just about everything. If the weather’s nice, you could sit on one of many benches and just enjoy the serenity of this lovely place in Cobb County.

Mom and I didn’t do a lot of sitting on the day we went, because after several weeks of glorious mid-seventies temperatures for my recent nature walks, we had to brave chilly winds at barely fifty degrees. Still, the day was sunny and pleasant, and I swear we were the only two people in the park who weren’t employees. Although the gardens were not yet in the full bloom of spring and summer, we enjoyed many splashes of color and greenery, the gentle sound of water splashing over rocks, and being serenaded by a cardinal.

And what better song for gardens and flowers than the live version of Gardenia by Kyuss?

river and ruins


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The Sope Creek Paper Mill Ruins are the remains of an industrial complex that was large enough to be a military target in the American Civil War. The mill produced, among other things, paper for the Confederacy’s currency, and Union troops pretty well destroyed it. The walls that stand today are a historic feature in a maze of walking and biking trails of various difficulty that offer scenic views of the creek and plunge you into the forest despite never being far from civilization.

I say “maze” because although the trails have many markers and maps posted, it can be challenging to get a sense of scale and direction if you haven’t been there before, and many trails intersect at weird angles. There is an easy way to get from the Sope Creek Parking Lot to the ruins, but there is also an easy way to miss it and make the journey much longer than it needs to be.

Plus, although Google Maps shows exactly where the ruins are, my portable Garmin GPS unit for driving had no clue. But hey, I don’t mind a little wandering and getting lost on the way to something scenic, or musical, or fun. It’s part of the adventure, and I was driving to random places all across the States for years before we had global digital mapping conveniences. I used to get so damn lost in states I’d never been to before that I’d have to stop at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and buy a paper map, and maybe ask some locals for help. Taking a wrong turn in the forest when I can still hear cars in the distance is nothing.

Anyway, I would rate this mini-hike as moderate, not easy, due to the fact that it requires some moderately steep uphill walking, and portions of the path are rocky or muddy (or both). Traipsing around the ruins and the surrounding creek rocks could be dangerous for the less sure-footed. I was here in the fall about eighteen years ago, and this time was the cusp of spring. I’d like to return someday when all the greenery is in full bloom.

Today’s tune from the psychedelic woodlands is Ruins by Wooden Shijps, performed live in the studios of Seattle’s KEXP.

For an hour-long, paper-themed musical adventure, crank this up:

PBN 118: Paper and Fire.
January 2023.

Listen or Download the MP3. 56 minutes. 128 Kbps.
View or Download the playlist.

wandering to the waterfall


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Getting to Toonigh Creek Falls involves taking trails in the opposite direction of the ones I took the previous time I visited Olde Rope Mill Park. But the specific trails to the waterfall aren’t marked at all, and it’s easy to take a wrong turn, get spooked by No Trespassing signs, or just walk right past the correct path entirely. Unlike some other nature walks I’ve taken recently, this was a fairly strenuous trek where the path was often covered with rocks, or roots, or mud, and it involved climbing over fallen trees and jumping over small streams with muddy banks. The trail also resembles the proverbial path my grandfather took to school during the Great Depression: It’s uphill both ways.

You need to walk under the bridge that supports highway 575, then through a mining area that is ugly and stinky. But just past the mine, you will be rewarded with a gorgeous forest path alongside the Little River. You might, like me, see some fish in the muddy water, a crane or heron, and a couple of deer. One of my wrong turns took me to a mud flat where I found mollusc shells, flowers, and deer tracks. Eventually, exhausted, I found the Falls, and though they are not the most spectacular falls in Georgia — an honor that belongs to Amicalola Falls — they were well worth the journey. I could have laid back on a rock and just listened to them for an hour, but I’d started out late, and both the temperature and the sun were dropping quickly. I’d like to visit again when I can spend more time with this lovely little waterfall.

Today’s musical waterfall appears in a gorgeous interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s May This be Love by Emmylou Harris, with guitar layers by Daniel Lanois, and U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. on drums.

rainy day at the river


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The weather forecast for the afternoon said “100 percent chance of rain”, but I wasn’t about to sit at home feeling bad that I missed a chance to see some scenery. Etowah River Park turned out to be a lovely place to walk for a couple miles despite the moderate rain that made good on the forecasted promise about 1/3 of the way through my excursion. The park has a pretty awesome playground for kids and also a built in ping-pong table and chess table near a wide expanse of grass encircled by a paved path. Take the path to a wooden bridge to cross the Etowah River and enjoy the view, and keep an eye out for little unpaved side paths that get you down to the riverbank. The paved path ends eventually at another lot which, if I read the map correctly, is called Heritage Park. It’s a mellow, level path suitable for a leisurely afternoon jaunt, and though you are never far from civilization, it’s quite scenic with an abundance of greenery. It also features a place to launch a canoe, complete with life jackets you can borrow.

Today’s arboreal music is Forest by Psycada.

a forest on the verge of spring


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It was a pleasant but overcast day at Blankets Creek Mountain-Bike Trails, and the forest is not yet in full bloom. Still, it was a nice place to take a 1.375-mile stroll along the Mosquito Flats trail. It’s a mellow, level, unpaved path alongside the creek and through the forest. Cyclists have the right-of-way, but respectful pedestrians are welcome — even if, like me, they brought a cheeseburger and a large basket of french fries to fuel the journey. Mosquito Flats starts at the parking lot and is a beginner-level trail for cyclists. At several points along the way, you can access much longer trails and presumably more challenging terrain.

For today’s woodsy soundtrack, enjoy the retro-psychedelic Secret Enchanted Broccoli Forest by the Babe Rainbow.

i ran into spider-man in the forest


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By the time I met Spider-man, I’d walked about three miles over some rather intense mountain-biking trails at a lovely little park in Georgia called Olde Rope Mill Park. It’s named after a mill whose ruins you can still see and walk on in stone and concrete where a small town of about 500 workers once toiled in apparently inhuman conditions to harness the power of the Little River to create rope. Near the entrance to the Avalanche Loop trail, the park also includes a memorial to a competitive cyclist who died in a “freak accident”.

Despite its morbid history, this park is a gem. The forest trails are gorgeous, and the much more mellow, level, paved pathway along the river is quite scenic. Below is a gallery of a few other photos from my excursion.

No post about walking in the forest would be complete without my favorite forest song by the Screaming Trees.

This animal’s wild, and he roams where he wants.

pbn 123: equinox


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PBN 123: Equinox

Listen or Download the MP3. 61 minutes. 128 Kbps.
View or Download the playlist.


Clutch – Wicker
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Every Solstice & Equinox
Black Light White Light – Solstice
Valley of the Sun – Solstice
If These Trees Could Talk – Solstice
James Carter – Equinox (John Coltrane)
Hoodoo Gurus – Bittersweet
Pinkshinyultrablast – Glow Vastly
Vast – Thrown Away
Psychlona – Gasoline
The Freeks – Before
The Freeks – Big Black Chunk
Stonerror – Red Tank
The Atomic Bitchwax – Ice Pick Freek
Miss Lava – Murder of Crows


Equinox is one of my favorite John Coltrane compositions. Its simple minor-key melody and basic twelve-bar blues structure make it easy for almost anyone to pick up and play. Trane composed quite a few numbers like this that were practically beginner-level blues tunes with charts so easy that even I can follow them. Other examples that quickly come to mind are Mr. P.C. and Cousin Mary from the “Giant Steps” album, and the Mongo Santamaria composition Afro Blue. In concert, Trane and his bandmates tended to treat simple songs like a spaceship treats a launchpad: as a starting point for greater explorations.

Some of my favorite interpretations of Equinox are the rock version from Clutch, the piano-heavy version from Red Garland (who recorded many times with Trane, beginning with their tenure in the Miles Davis Quintet), and the delicate original version from the John Coltrane Quartet.

This playlist features a true gem from James Carter’s 1994 album Jurassic Classics. In addition to the beautiful arrangement, Carter summons an incredible array of sounds and tonalities from his horn—the kind of array that I used to spend anywhere from hours to years trying to achieve with various electronic “effects” during the two decades when I was obsessed with playing guitar. But Carter doesn’t need any effects pedals, effects boards, or studio wizardry to create a monumental tribute to one of the most innovative and influential horn players of the twentieth century, and to take a very simple tune and create something absolutely new with it.

Supported by a solid rhythm section and beautiful, harmonically complex piano work from Craig Taborn, Carter breathes new life into the tune like it is being played for the very first time—not an easy thing to do when the guy who used to play it was John Coltrane.

Making a jazz tune the centerpiece of a playlist full of heavy rock might seem like an odd choice, but if you listen closely to Carter’s interpretation of this classic, then you might agree with me that it blazes with the same kind of intensity that some bands need a stack of fuzz-drenched amplifiers to create; and the wonder of it all is that his band achieves such energy with only acoustic instruments.

For more expeditions into what I consider awesome music, see the PBN Page.

anima: a dream


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27 October 2022.

Years later, she calls me and of course I go to her. She has a room upstairs in some city, like an attic apartment. We go to bed, fully clothed, and talk and cuddle. She tells me she always loved me and isn’t with that other guy anymore. I apologize for being mean because I couldn’t deal with her being with anyone else. I only ever wanted her all to myself.

We’re sad for a bit. We both turn away and lie back-to-back under the blankets. Then I roll over to face her again. Suddenly we’re both naked and I get on top of her. She’s so beautiful. So sad and beautiful, like she always was. We kiss. Looking into her eyes, I move with her slowly until we fit together. We do what people do.

The next thing I know, I wake up in an old rural house I’ve never been to before. Other people are there, but I don’t know any of them. I get out of bed.

Her brother is there, which is odd because she doesn’t have a brother in the waking world. He is played in this dream by Chris Pratt, the movie star. He doesn’t know where she is. I go through the rustic, disorderly kitchen and end up outside.

Across the yard, some old white guy is berating a black guy who’s dressed in shabby clothes like an old-time slave. The old white guy is ordering the black guy to clean up before he comes into the house. I hate this racist old fuck already and feel sorry for the black guy, who meets my eyes and looks forlorn. I can’t make any sense of how anachronistic this scene feels.

I want to find out where she went, and it feels like that should be priority number one. Instead, it’s night already, and her brother and I go to some other big country house for a party.

I’m upset that he isn’t helping me look for her. But he does ask around a little bit. I get a glass of whiskey and coke before wandering around the house and property.

Outside, I suddenly have a mobile phone with me, so I call her number. She doesn’t answer. I get an automated reply. It’s like a voice mail, but it’s also in text on the phone. I don’t read it right away. I disconnect and call her again, hoping she will answer. I try a couple more times after reading the message, without success.

The message says she accepted a job as a set designer at some theater in Europe. It gives no indication of when she’ll be back, if ever.

I find her brother and tell him. He says, as if he just remembered, that she had been talking about that job. He doesn’t have any idea when she’ll be back.

I don’t understand how she could reconnect with me so intimately then just disappear without saying goodbye. All I wanted was to be with her again, but now she’s gone. I don’t know what to do, and it feels like there’s nothing I can possibly do. I miss her so much.

Then I wake up.

monolith: a poem


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no one remembers
when you became the immovable object
the day you became stone

enclosed in your superiority
refusing any ingress
you stood against the storm

how long has it been
since anyone touched you

have you defied entropy
and in doing so
lost the power to change

nothing scratches you
your perfect reflective glass
mirrors all that assaults you

when i press my hand to your surface
i wonder what is left inside

Happy Martian New Year


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Today, the first of January 2023, is the final day when you can pick up for absolutely free any of the seventeen ebooks I have available on Smashwords. It’s a giveaway I do twice a year, because who doesn’t love free books?

We have a perfectly nice city. Let’s set it on fire!

You can also download or listen to in your browser the final 2022 broadcast of the Puma Broadcasting Network from this link, and see the playlist at this link. It’s two hours of the awesomest metal/punk/funk/psychedelia to say farewell to the old year and rock in the new, with a theme of starting over. 2022 wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it wasn’t the best, either. I’m just glad it ended on a good note. Anyway, one of the songs on the playlist is Scratch, by Morphine, about starting over from scratch.

I’m not quite starting over from scratch this time, thanks to the wonderful support from my mother and sister in making this move, and the awesome network of authors I’ve had the good fortune to connect with in the past decade. But a large portion of my slate has been wiped clean, and at the close of 2022 I look forward to getting on with the next chapter of my life.

We have a perfectly nice city. Let’s blow it up!

I didn’t write a poem for this new year, but the one I composed for 2017 still seems to apply. It’s called Annual, and I borrowed its title for the final PBN playlist of 2022. Go check it out. It appears in my short poetry book Inner Planets, which I recently re-designed before leaving Tucson.

And that’s all the free musical and literary entertainment I have for you today. We’re just a few weeks away from this blog’s twelfth anniversary and my fiftieth birthday, so stay tuned for the next decade of decadence.

To a merry life.

2022 Postcard Design.

How to Add Editorial Reviews to Your Book Listing on Amazon


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Shout out to author Jeffrey Cooper for doing the preliminary research on this one. I contributed layout and design for Jeffrey’s debut ebook and paperback this year, Foot Soldier in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Memoir. The memoir recounts Jeffrey’s life and work in the tech sector that made possible many of the current advancements in computing and artificial intelligence, and it’s been getting stellar reviews both on and off Amazon.

But what do you do if someone like the New York Times or Stephen King says something nice about your book, but didn’t post the review on Amazon? This is yet another time when it comes in handy to have an Amazon Author Page set up through Author Central at Thanks to Author Central, you can now add these “external” reviews to your book’s listing. Here are the steps:

1. Log in to Author Central.

2. Click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

3. Click on the book you want to add reviews to.

4. Click “Edit book details”.

5. In “Your Editorial Reviews”, click the button for “Add Review”.

6. In the text box, type or paste the book review(s) you want to add. Make sure to attribute the review to the source. Some basic formatting options are available.

7. Click “Preview” to see how your entry looks.

8. When you’re satisfied, click “Save” to add the review.

Author Central also has a few guidelines you will see above the box where you add the review. They are good to know:

1. Reviews should consist of transcribed text from reputable sources. The name of the source should be credited after the quotation. For example, “A fantastic read.” —The New York Times.

2. Quotes from outside reviews should follow “fair use” copyright guidelines and be limited to 1–2 sentences.

3. We recommend you limit your reviews to 3000 characters. Customers might miss other critical information if your reviews are too long.

for winter solstice: henry beston and the sun


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art generated by Midjourney from a lyric in Ship of Gold by Clutch

“A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a trememdous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitve people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline. All these autumn weeks I have watched the great disk going south along the horizon of moorlands beyond the marsh, now sinking behind this field, now behind this leafless tree, now behind this sedgy hillock dappled with thin snow. We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense of and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.”

—Henry Beston; The Outermost House, from Chapter 4: Midwinter, 1928.

1971 Ballantine Paperback Edition

Henry Beston’s memoir about living in a tiny cottage on the beach of Cape Cod contains what I consider some of the most beautiful prose ever written. Merging lush description with poetic meditations on the landscape, seasons, plants, and animals, The Outermost House is almost overwhelmingly rich. As with a batch of well-made fudge, it is perhaps best enjoyed in small chunks rather than consumed all at once. I often can only read one chapter—or even one scene from one chapter—before I must put down the book and ponder, stunned by what I’ve just read.

I discovered the book thanks to its possibly most often quoted passage, which begins “For the animal shall not be measured by man.” I believe that passage from the exquisite chapter about birds is popular among those concerned with animal rights and nature conservation, and I used it as the epigraph for Dekarna Triumphant, the final episode collected in Meteor Mags: The Second Omnibus. The Outermost House has, for the past few years, greatly influenced how my usual third-person-omniscient narrator approaches descriptive prose in the more serious and emotional scenes in the series.

Whether Beston is describing a shipwreck, a sand dune, or the forlorn plight of a doe stranded all night on an island flooded by ice-filled water, his words bring to life the drama, beauty, tragedy, and timelessness of so many aspects of the natural world and her inhabitants. I’ve met many novelists who are concerned with the mechanics of storytelling and world building and character development; and that’s all well and good. But I have rarely if ever met anyone who could write sentence after perfectly crafted sentence like Beston.

I shared the quote at the beginning of this post because it reminds me of a feeling I lost touch with during the last year spent mostly indoors, withdrawn in frustration from the outside world despite living in a state known far and wide for its massive amounts of sunshine. And it seems like a good time to remember that things weren’t always this way, especially as we in the northern hemisphere approach “the last December ebb of his decline”. Here’s to a merry winter solstice and the seasonal rebirth of light.

Collector’s Guide: The Outermost House by Henry Beston is available in many editions on Amazon, including paperback, hardback, ebook, and audiobook. I easily scored a used 1971 paperback edition for just a few bucks, and it was money well-spent.

the last day of our acquaintance



This is the last day of my acquaintance with the state of Arizona. Tomorrow morning, I will be on an airplane traveling thousands of miles away.

I thought about writing out the complex series of events that led to my relocating to the southwest two decades ago, and all that happened since. About the epic thunderstorms and the thirty-three-hour hellride that kicked off this chapter of my life in brutal fashion. About all the wonderful adventures, musical collaborations, friendships, and romances I enjoyed in Arizona. About the losses and disappointments and tragedies. About the unexpected successes and abject failures.

Then I realized we’d be here all damn month before I even got properly started, and I have a plane to catch! So instead, I commemorate this day with Sinéad O’Connor’s hauntingly beautiful song about her divorce, because she says more about how I feel right now in a handful of verses than I could express in a hundred thousand words of written history.

Goodbye, Arizona. I enjoyed the best years of my life with you. I loved your weather, the friends you brought me, and the opportunities to achieve and experience more in my thirties and forties than I thought possible after my chaotic twenties. I’m sorry it got so shitty at the end. We both deserved better.

To a merry life.

Alien Xmas WTF


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The older I get, the more I feel like an alien who doesn’t get the concept of Christmas at all. Don’t get me wrong — I like basically anything that lights up, and I think we should all try a little harder to be nice to other people. But what is up with this mythological mish-mash of elves and biolumenescent caribou celebrated by christians on the date of a Roman pagan festival? Why is there an old man with time-travel powers putting lumps of coal into wooden shoes and breaking into my house to shove candy canes in my socks in the middle of the night? What does any of it mean?!

Well, now there is a song made by aliens just for me and everyone else who feels like I do — and it totally rocks.

Soon the elves will all rise up and stab out Santa’s eyes. Ho ho ho ho ho!

This holiday masterpiece was composed and performed by the legendary Old 97’s who have been rocking out for thirty years and spent three hours getting made up like aliens, with lyric from James Gunn who directed this Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special that is available for streaming on Disney+.

Robots on Mars and in Our Lives


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When I was a wee lad in the 1970s and 80s, the idea of robots on Mars was far-fetched fodder for science-fiction stories in comic books. This year, Amazon Studios released a film that shows just how far we have come by making this concept a reality. As a follow-up to last month’s post about a mysteriously unsigned postcard that arrived in my mailbox with a riddle about robots, I’d like to share a few thought-provoking and inspiring videos for the author of that postcard as she works on her robot novel. It turns out I correctly guessed her identity, and we enjoyed some good correspondence about the rise of the robots and our relationships with them.

First up is the 2022 film Good Night Oppy, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It tells the story of the Mars rover Opportunity, NASA’s amazing robot who was expected to last only 90 days but overcame the odds to explore the red planet for fifteen years. Good Night Oppy conveys not only fascinating science but the equally interesting way in which humans can form emotional bonds with robots. It does so through captivating interview clips with people who worked on the project, including people who were so inspired by Opportunity and her mission as teenagers that they eventually grew up to work on the project itself.

The gorgeous musical score and the exquisite recreations of the peaks and perils of Opportunity’s journey by Industrial Light & Magic make this a film not to be missed. It’s currently free to watch for Amazon Prime subscribers, and the cost is more than reasonable for everyone else. Below is the film’s trailer. Though it is in many ways a triumphant tale, you have a more stoic heart than mine if you can make it all the way through without crying.

Another wonderful film that focuses on the artificial-intelligence aspect of robots is currently available to watch for free on YouTube. AlphaGo tells the story of the A.I. developed to master the game of Go and its eventual triumph over the world’s top-rated human Go player. Like Good Night Oppy, this film brings you into the lives of the humans who created this robot and helped it learn, but the big difference here is that the robot was an antagonist in some people’s stories. To the players who faced it, AlphaGo was an enemy—or, at the very least, a competitor.

One of the more interesting subplots in this documentary involves the Go player whose world was shaken by losing to the robot, and who subsequently joined the development team to advance the robot’s potential. Go is an incredibly complex game, perhaps even more difficult to master than chess, and this film does nothing to explain how the game is played. But even if you know nothing about Go, this film is well worth watching.

Even if you don’t play Go and have no plans to travel to Mars anytime soon, our lives are increasingly affected by robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. The first robot I encountered was ELIZA, a rudimentary bot that ineptly conversed with my sister and me in the early 1980s on our TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack, back when you could load a videogame from a magnetic cassette tape. These days, I’m a big fan of the Midjourney robot who helps me create digital art for various projects such as blog posts, postcards, and stories.

But one of the most useful applications of autonomous robots to arrive in recent years is in self-driving cars. I have been driving on the roads with other humans for thirty-five years now, and I can testify that humans absolutely SUCK at driving. I’ve had a car totalled by a drunk driver on a holiday weekend, lived though one of my friends running a red light and breaking her neck, and almost been run over in crosswalks a thousand times. We are our own worst enemies, and the stats of traffic fatalities and injuries leave no doubt about that. If you aren’t convinced that self-driving cars are the wave of the future, watch the following video from Derek at Veritasium, then check out his trip in a self-driving cab from a company in Chandler, Arizona.

I love dystopic stories about a future where robots decide that the solution to human problems is the obliteration of humanity. The first and second Terminator movies are all-time favorites of mine. On the other hand, I grew up on Asimov’s robot stories, which tend to be more optimistic. While it is entirely possible—in fact, almost certain—that some organizations and governments will develop robots to oppress and slaughter people, we are also fortunate to be living in an era where robots are being built for scientific exploration, making our lives safer, inspiring us to learn about our universe and improve our lives, and raising questions that help us gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. The bots at are even helping me sharpen my chess skills.

So, do I fear robots, or do I trust them? The answer is simply yes. Robots are tools, like a hammer. In one person’s hands, a hammer can be used to build a house for safety and shelter. In another pair of hands, the hammer could cave in a human skull. I don’t believe the question is “Are robots good or bad?” The question is “Who are we?” The things we create—robotic or otherwise—will reflect that.

And now, on a lighter note, here is comedian Ryan George.

The robot uprising is here.

postcards: the robot riddle


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art generated by humanely raised free-range robots

One of the traditions here on Mars is sharing the weird and wonderful postcards that arrive in my mailbox, but it’s a tradition that hasn’t got nearly enough love in the past two years. Friends, family, and clients have sent me a joyous pile of fun, thoughtful postcards since I relocated to Tucson in early 2021. They are always a bright spot in my day, and they get displayed in the Martian HQ for months before being filed in my archives. Maybe before I blow out of this hellhole in Tucson forever in three weeks to start the next chapter of my life, we’ll enjoy a postcard retrospective.

Before we get to all that, I want to share one that arrived this week, because you might have some insight into the question it poses. This postcard is the very first to arrive completely unsigned since the hilarious call to begin the intergalactic invasion in 2013. Sending random unsigned postcards to make someone’s day a little more surreal is exactly the kind of frivolity this blog was founded on more than a decade ago.

I still don’t know for sure who sent the invasion postcard, but I am pretty sure I know who sent the following robot riddle for me to solve. I thought you might like to take a shot at solving this riddle, too. Post your answers in the comments, and maybe you will help the mysterious sender get some ideas for her robot novel.

What is the sound of an inert robot when he’s laughing?

I came up with one solution to this riddle based on a post at, but you might have ideas of your own. And if you have never received a postcard from me personally, then that’s on you! Email me your address and get on my list for mailings that go out at irregular intervals once or twice a year.

Another year lost in the wasteland.

How to Order Author Copies from KDP


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Ordering Author Copies for your paperback or hardback edition with KDP is a very quick and easy process that will only seem mysterious the first time you do it. I will show you how to get it done. First, your book needs to be LIVE on Amazon — not In Review by KDP, but fully Live. Second, you will be ordering at your wholesale cost — what KDP might call the printing cost — not the retail price listed on Amazon.

To begin, sign into your KDP Account. The first screen you see should be your “Bookshelf“, as shown below.

This might be unfamiliar territory if someone else set up your book for you like I do for my clients. So, let’s zoom in a little and see exactly where you click to Order Author Copies.

Clicking the Order Author Copies button will take you to the next screen where you will input how many copies you want. You can see this screen below.

Notice that you can order just one copy, or any other number you want, up to 999 copies. If you need more than that, then you are one fortunate author and also might need to contact KDP Support directly for help with that.

The only thing that sometimes confuses people here is the dropdown menu to select the “Marketplace of Your Order.” But it’s an easy decision. If you are in the USA, then choose “”. If you are in another country, pick the version of Amazon for your country. In the UK, for example, Amazon is “”. Below, I have zoomed in to show you how easy this is.

Finally, click the big yellow Submit Order button in the bottom right corner. Then you are done with this part!

The final step is that you will soon get an email notice from KDP/Amazon that your order now appears in your Amazon Shopping Cart — the same cart where anything else you might buy on Amazon would go. Your cart is where you will pay for the order. You can also choose your shipping rate, if you want to pay more for faster delivery.

And, you can choose a delivery address. For example, if I order a book this way to send to a friend or reviewer instead of to me, I just give their address. You can also select the “Gift” option so you can add a short note to your friend, which will be printed and included in the shipment. That way, you don’t need to get books shipped to you and then re-ship them yourself; you can just “drop ship” from your cart if you want to.

That’s really all there is to it! If you want some low-cost and free marketing options you have available as a KDP author, see my post Five Easy Marketing Things to Do Once Your Kindle Ebook is Published.

Vote Down the Fascists


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Here in the states, we are having “midterm” elections, which means we are voting on public offices at the state and federal level halfway through a president’s term, and also voting on a number of proposed policies on our ballots. Many people see this year’s midterms as crucially important due to the rise of Trump-influenced fascism, white supremacy, antisemitism, the brutal evisceration of women’s reproductive healthcare rights, the rising tide of anti-immigrant hatred, and the persistent brainwashing of a massive segment of the American populace by Fox News and other so-called “conservative” sources of misinformation.

Labels such as right, left, conservative, and liberal are partially to blame. The extreme far-right that has embraced fascism and a perverted version of christian nationalism that has been on the rise for decades has little to do with the beliefs of the people I know who consider themselves “conservative christians”. I have several friends and family members who embrace that label but harbor no hate in their hearts for people of color, people who fall on the LGBT spectrum, or women. Most of the so-called “conservative” people I know are wrong about a whole lot of things, but they are not actively trying to advance an agenda of hate and violence. Sadly, the hate mongers have become a major component of the current Republican voting base, and they are successfully courted by politicians who talk a lot about god and freedom when they really mean oppression of the biblical, old-testament variety where women’s rights were non-existent, children were regularly murdered, and violent, god-sanctioned genocide was the norm.

The political spectrum in the States has shifted so far to the right that the label of “the left” has become meaningless. We do not have any truly left-wing elements in national politics. The extreme left wing would be pure anarchy without any government, as opposed to the extreme right which is total fascism. You might find some anarchists in hippie collectives and punk-rock youth groups who embrace the philosophy, but to call someone like President Joe Biden a “leftist” is incredibly stupid. The so-called American left merely holds a centrist position when compared to many countries of Europe. Things like universal healthcare, social support networks for the poor, and not letting any idiot buy semi-automatic weapons to shoot up a school are non-controversial concepts in many European countries, the UK, and the UK’s commonwealth areas such as Australia. Only in America are these basic hallmarks of modern social progress labeled “left wing”.

Given that the left is virtually non-existent, and the right has been perverted by hate-filled extremists, where does that leave the rest of us? Most people I know are somewhere in the center and might have minor differences about their religious beliefs, or tax policy, or whether a developing fetus can be considered a human being. But most of them are reasonable people who could be convinced one way or the other by compelling facts, unbiased and repeatable research, or by sharing personal experiences. I know many people who have dubious beliefs but who are not driven by hatred and a refusal to face facts. They just don’t know any better, and they are willing to be proven wrong—which is a major intellectual accomplishment.

So, as we find ourselves in this year’s midterm elections, I hope that enough voters—and especially women and young people—can show up to cast their ballots and stop the rising tide of violent fascism that has become an acceptable political position in the States. Voting doesn’t fix everything, but not voting fixes nothing. To not take any action at all to stop the rise of right-wing fascism in America from seizing control of our government is the worst kind of laziness.

And if you don’t believe that something like what happened in Nazi Germany can happen in the United States, then you don’t understand history. It’s happening right now, and we were warned. If you need an in-depth historical account of the rise of fascist movements across the globe, then pick up a copy of Fascism: A Warning by our former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. She was not perfect, but she was a victim of the Third Reich who wrote a well-articulated book that shines a light on our current problems by placing them in a historical context. She warned us about our current crisis, and it would be foolish to ignore her warning.

Voter’s Guide: Fascism: A Warning is available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook editions. For a deeper dive into voter psychology, see my review of The Reasoning Voter.

Halloween in Cartoon World


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The term “metaverse” dates back to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash and has been widely used among online gamers and virtual-world nerds for decades. So, it annoys me that the jerk who created Facebook is trying to own the term now, and all this talk about getting corporations and businesses involved is tired old news to anyone who has used Second Life for any length of time.

We went through that years ago, and in the aftermath of all of it turning out to be over-hyped nonsense, a lot of awesome, creative people put their energy into doing something artistic and interesting with Second Life.

You might have heard a lot of negative stuff about Second Life. And you know what? It’s all true. I have seen it all firsthand. But despite the dweebs, dorks, perverts, and pinheads—all of whom I highly recommend you block and de-render—there are people making virtual reality fun and inspiring with immersive art exhibits and live music performances. People gather to read poems and stories, play games, and share new music they’ve discovered. They build fantastic environments and put on dazzling light shows.

They might get together to meditate, hold an AA meeting, ride a virtual roller coaster, or just go shopping for clothes. You would not believe how much time people spend shopping for clothes for their avatars! An entire virtual industry revolves around it. Playing dress-up with your digital dolly is more than a little addicting.

So, it should come as no surprise that Halloween is the season of costumes even in cartoon world. Today I’m sharing a few snapshots of the cool costumes and pretty pixels some people I know are sporting this October.

Suckerberg might still be trying to figure out legs, but in Second Life, we’ve had awesome legs for years. Even breast physics are old news to us. In video games, they date back to 1992—the same year as Snow Crash, coincidentally—and legend has it that some kid worked them out for Second Life eons ago as a project in college. So, work out your basic appendages, billionaires. We got bouncy boobs.

Shout out to comedian Ryan George for showing Second Life some love this month in his recent sketch about the so-called metaverse. Bagging on Mark Zuckerberg is TIGHT.

music review: Ssih Mountain by Kenneth James Gibson


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Sandra Leans Toward Eternity from Ssih Mountain is also on Spotify and Soundcloud.

The challenge of reviewing an ambient album like Kenneth James Gibson’s soon-to-be-released Ssih Mountain is that it isn’t music you review. It’s music you write poetry to, or paint ethereal landscapes to. It’s music you close your eyes to and let wash over you while you daydream or meditate or play out imaginary film scenes in your mind. It’s a collection of songless songs that use droning tonalities and slowly changing washes of chords to play with your emotions; sometimes uplifting, sometimes menacing, sometimes peaceful, sometimes pensive. Ssih Mountain is the countryside of dreams and the wind that blows across the distant hills of insomnia.

Probably the best-known similar works are Brian Eno’s most ambient albums. Neroli, New Space Music, and Thursday Afternoon come to mind. I don’t doubt that Kenneth is influenced by Steve Reich’s minimalist works, and Ssih Mountain also reminds me of the Incandescent Cinema album my friends in Trio Nine recorded. Ssih Mountain is one of those albums I like to play on repeat for a few hours to cleanse the musical palette and chill the heck out. It’s like sonic incense to calm the senses.

After listening to the complete album that was sent privately to me for review, I bought Kenneth’s 2016 album, The Evening Falls. It uses more recognizable melodies than Ssih Mountain, usually minimalist piano or slide-guitar melodies played over drones and washes like those found on Mountain. Imagine someone took the first couple of minutes of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond and made an entire album with that vibe. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From The Evening Falls.

Ssih Mountain will be released on November 4, 2022, and you’ll be able to pick it up on Bandcamp at In the meantime, you can find more news about and excerpts from Kenneth’s other works at and on the Meadows Heavy Recorders YouTube channel.