When I wrote about a pandemic

Well, sort of.

Portal is about two kids getting trapped in an alternative universe. The universe they ended up in was like ours, but a couple hundred years behind us technologically. I set it up that way because I wanted a bit of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court feeling to the novel — the kids had to figure out how to make do without modern inventions — no cars, no planes, no electricity . . . But then they use their middle-school knowledge to actually make a difference.

But why was this world a couple hundred years behind ours? I didn’t exactly have to explain this; my premise was that anyt event could split off another universe, as in Everett’s many-worlds theory. (Did I ever mention that I once saw his son perform at the Somerville Theater? I digress, however.) But I thought it would be an interesting plot point. So early on in the novel I had the kids figure it out: native Americans had a horrible disease (I called it drikana) that the first European explorers brought back with them. And it devastated Europe, the way that, in our world, smallpox devastated the Americas. The story of Guns, Germs, and Steel in reverse. Eventually Europeans built up immunity to the disease, but in the meantime the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution were delayed, and so the world the kids found themselves living in was still primitive compared to ours.

And of course the kids had no immunity to drikana. One of the kids comes down with it, and both end up quarantined, wondering if they will survive. Much drama and pathos ensues.

Having used this plot element in Portal, I didn’t trot it out again in its sequels, Terra and Home. But this nagged at me a bit — if I wanted this bit of realism in novels (that otherwise weren’t realistic in the slightest), I really should have had the threat of disease be a pervasive concern whenever you traveled to another world. If I were writing these novels nowadays, this threat would have loomed a lot larger, I’m sure.

What do writers write about now?

As the quarantine approaches infinity days long, I keep staring at the novel I’ve been working on, and I keep not working on it. Life seems to have passed it by, turned it into an artifact of a now forgotten world. Even though it’s, you know, science fiction.

I was also reading a well-received novel about life in modern Manhattan called Fleishman is in Trouble. I found it unbearable and gave up about a third of the way through. These people didn’t have real problems — they had no idea what was about to hit them.

And I wonder about TV shows. Grey’s Anatomy has been chronicling the lives of hot, horny doctors in Seattle for about a hundred years. They’ve dealt with ferry accidents and tornadoes and hostage situations and just about everything else — except what hit Seattle in real life a couple of months ago. How are the writers going to handle that? (How are they even going to film a TV show?

These are stupid things to be thinking about, I know. But the smart things to be thinking about are kind of, you know, terrifying.

Stay safe!

“They” is the word of the year

So says Merriam-Webster.

Here’s Benjamin Dreyer celebrating the decision in the Washington Post. As long as I’ve been around, people have been using “they” to refer to a person whose gender was unknown or irrelevant — and then, perhaps, feeling guilty about it. Or, we tried to recast the sentence to make the person in question plural, or we held our noses and used the awkward “he or she.” That dodge has become more than merely awkward as an increasing number of people reject the binary he/she as their pronouns of choice.

Merriam-Webster is fundamentally descriptivist, so this accolade doesn’t mean they are saying “they” must be used in this way. On the other hand, other organizations, like the American Psychological Association, have endorsed the usage. But what’s most important is that my cold-eyed editors reached the same conclusion earlier this year. There is, of course, no higher authority, This means that you can feel confident that you are doing the right thing when you use the singular “they.”

Go ahead. You know you want to.

OK, fine, just one more rave review of “Home”

Here you go:


Home (the portal series, book 3 ) is an alternative history adventure book. A masterpiece, Richard Bowler’s work on this is spectacular. In this epic coming of age sequel to TERRA, earthborn Larry Barnes discovers his ability to move through the multiverse via a portal of his own creation. A powerful and dangerous ability, Larry seeks the council of a priest named Affron, who has the same ability but when Larry discovers affron has disappeared from TERRA, he risks following him to Elysium leaving his friend pasta behind.

Let’s put aside some of the reviewer’s tiny mistakes, like getting my name wrong and allowing the character name “Palta” to be autocorrected to “pasta”, and focus on her uncanny perspicacity and critical judgment. Reviews don’t get any more perceptive than this.

A couple more rave reviews for “Home”

I’ll stop this soon. I promise. Here’s one 5-star review:

This is book 3 in the Portal series. It is readable as a stand alone novel, however it will be less confusing and more enjoyable if you read Portal and Terra (books 1 and 2) first. This is a good addition. Where it really shines is the multiverse. Lots of fiction tries to tackle the whole multiverse thing, but few do it well. This book does it well. Makes it well worth the read. The plot and characters are also well written and interesting. They aren’t why I would pick up the book, but they carry it. Great addition.

And here’s another:

This is such a fun story overall that it is very hard to not find yourself completely immersed with the feeling that you are literally walking alongside the characters themselves. “Home” may sound like it is yet another “futuristic” story that is like so many out there, but this one is really so different and so well-written that you will find yourself not wanting to put this one down. It is a great read that will leave you wanting so much more. I really hope to find myself reading some more of these stories, I couldn’t have hoped for anything more than what “Home” gave me.

If you still don’t want to read it, I’m not sure what I can do to convince you…

First reviews of “Home”

This one is titled “A Fun and Grand Adventure”:

This story is so much fun! I love historical stories and getting to explore places of the past. This book takes it a step further and has created alternate histories that our hero, Larry, can visit through a power to make portals. In this book, Larry is in ancient Rome, trying to save Affron who has disappeared from Terra. The story is just complex enough to keep it interesting, but I never got confused. While I really enjoyed Elysium and the mysteries that it held, my favorite part of this book was the relationship between Larry and his best friend Palta, forced apart during the book their bid was interesting and full of depth. The story is fun, action-filled, and really interesting. I loved the alternate world that Richard Bowker has created. I would definitely recommend this book.

And here’s one titled “Super Entertaining”:

It seems like authors and audiences are obsessed with futuristic tales with alternate worlds colliding or fighting for power; I began HOME a bit skeptical, thinking there would be no original premise. I was utterly wrong.

The multi-universe created by Richard Bowker is just marvelous. In the story, Larry our hero has a unique power that allows him to “jump” from universe through universe via a portal. After attempting to follow and save a priest with whom he shares this gift, he needs to leave his soul mate Palta behind.

I struggled a bit at the beginning, connecting the dots –lots of names to learn- and figuring out who was whom; once I got accustomed to the names and terms, I enjoyed the book much more. I love the pondering question, that brought some self-reflection on humanity: where is home?

So, um, what are you waiting for?