meow, cat, Siamese, catty

My Starship Cat Press Works

A comprehensive list of everything I've published under Starship Cat Press, all collected in one sticky posting.

Short Fiction



The Secret of Pad 34

Who would put a ceiling on humanity's expansion into space?

That's what Gus Grissom wants to know. While fishing offshore from Cape Canaveral, he glimpses a mysterious undersea city of unearthly geometries, marked with a strange three-armed cross symbol.

His efforts to research it bring him veiled threats from strangers at his door. Trouble blights an exemplary career. However, Gus refuses to be cowed into silence, and pursues every lead he can find.

HP Lovecraft wrote that we live on a placid island of ignorance and were not meant to travel far. This is the Space Race in a world where the Soviet Union is not our only adversary.



Time Slips

What if our most treasured verities were in fact wrong?

To be selected for Project Mercury and be one of America's first astronauts was a dream come true for test pilot Deke Slayton. But fellow Mercury astronaut Al Shepard kept telling old stories from his native New England, tales of monstrous entities like Cthulhu and Yog Sothoth. Earlier generations had viewed them as demons, but might they in fact be aliens, here long before humanity?

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meow, cat, Siamese, catty

The Second Time Around

For the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, American astronauts are going to be flying aboard a spacecraft that's flown before, and it will be riding on a previously-flown Falcon rocket. Furthermore, there's already one Crew Dragon spacecraft docked at the International Space Station, so this will mark the first time ever that two American spacecraft are docked there at once.

A decade ago, when the Space Shuttle was being retired, I was so bummed that I wrote some very dark pieces, including Mirrored Lives and Crisis of Vision. The Moon Mirror featured a geologist whose dreams of becoming an astronaut were rapidly fading, and in Bringing Home Major Tom the protagonist was clearly disappointed in how her timeline's space program was going. In Phoenix Dreams Toni reveals at a key point that no one has flown in space since before she was born.

However, now I'm starting to feel less glum about the future of spaceflight. Maybe SpaceX really can get us out of the rut we've been in for the past four decades, ever since the Apollo lunar missions ended. SpaceX has been selected to build the lander for the return to the Moon, and with the SLS stalled, it's not unlikely that they'll also be selected to provide the rest of the equipment. Missions to the Moon, especially if they develop into a long-term lunar presence, will give SpaceX an opportunity to practice and refine the things they'll need for Mars, which is Elon Musk's long-term goal.
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Writing Challenges

This week's Odd Prompts writing challenge from More Odds than Ends was from Becky Jones: “There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” (David Bowie)

The first thing I thought of was one of the later Chaffee Artilect stories, when he's traveling through paratime trying to help timelines make it over the hurdles that lead to the abandonment of spaceflight. He's entered one very close from the one where he began, right after a critical moment in Toni's life -- except it goes a little differently.

However, I decided that I really ought to find out just where that bit came from. Interestingly enough, the first thing that Google brought up for me wasn't "Starman," but "Space Oddity." I did some free association, thinking of PKD's Radio Free Albemuth and the Mike and the Mechanics song "Silent Running", and about how Reggie Waite used "Major Tom" as his handle in the Lovecraft game in "The Angry Astronaut Affair." I had some vague ideas about Shepardsport Pirate Radio and someone on Earth listening secretly. But I just couldn't get anything to gel.

So I decided to go back to my original idea, and went to look up the notes I'd made back in 2013 for that world -- and discovered that I never wrote down a whole lot of the stuff that I'd thought up while I was hauling cartload after cartload of merchandise in and out of three conventions in three weeks.

And there's the problem that the scene would be well into the middle of it, assuming that I actually write that part, and don't just subsume it into backstory -- so it's really hard to have this little sliver make sense without the stuff that's come before -- basically, he's arrived in this timeline and has sent his biological avatar down to Silicon Valley to begin the process of establishing an identity for himself, creating front corporations, etc -- and then realizes he's gotten to the area where Toni's apartment was, and then sees three hoodlums setting upon her. He rescues her, but not before she's injured in the scuffle, badly enough that the timeline hasn't yet developed the technology to heal her -- but he can do it aboard the spacecraft that is his primary embodiment.

==========================================================================================

Rescued

Toni awoke to a sensation somewhere between floating and falling. Her first response was alarm, not surprising given that her last memory was of three guys jumping her. After that everything got blurry.

Opening her eyes, she saw walls of an unfamiliar material, with multiple handholds. And then realized she was not alone. The dark-haired man who was watching her looked strangely familiar...

And then it clicked – she wasn't recognizing him because she'd seen him only in photographs and video, materials from long before she was born. But here he was in front of her, very much alive.

Or maybe not. "Roger? Am I in Heaven?"

His pensive expression gave way to a smile. "No, actually you're in orbit?"

"Orbit? But nobody's flown in space in decades, since they deorbited the ISS..."

"It's a long story, Toni. You've been badly injured, and it's going to take some time before you recover. Right now you need to rest."

===========================================================================================

He'll explain bit by bit as she's ready to assimilate it, and she understands why he chose secrecy rather than announcing himself and just handing everyone the plans they need to get off Earth. However, it's not really clear in my mind, mostly because I need to write several other books first to lead up to it.

Becky Jones got my prompt: "After the Poison Summer has gone," and came up with a chilling little bit that I really hope she'll develop into something bigger.

I did get a story done for the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. My story is set in the Grissom timeline, a rather dark one of a man on Mars who's having dreams of a little country house, until it becomes more.

If you'd like to participate in Odd Prompts, just send your prompt to oddprompts@gmail.com to get assigned a prompt in return. Or you can just check out the spare prompts and see if any of them tickle your creativity.

Indies Unlimited will have a new word and picture prompt up on Saturday. In the meantime, you can vote on the Readers' Choice Award for this week's offerings.
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

When It Rains, It Pours

After a weekend of dealing with the problems that happen when the location of a buried cable hasn't been properly recorded, today we have car problems. Fortunately I recognized the noise at once as being from the climate control system -- the blower door motor has completely crapped out, as the one on the other side did back in 2016. So we can use it until our appointment to get it fixed.

And that made me think of a story of mine that deals with an emergency and an unexpected change of plans. That story is "Starlight Running," the story of Kyle Petros and his desperate trek across the lunar surface to get help for his community after they suffer an equipment failure. What seemed a straightforward, if arduous, mission soon takes a strange turn as he realizes something dark and eldritch is seeking him...



Interestingly enough, it was originally inspired by The Commonplace Book of the Weird, an anthology of weird stories edited by Joseph Fink. The titular Commonplace Book was a slender volume owned by HP Lovecraft, in which he would jot ideas for possible future works of fiction. Some of these entries were little more than few words, while others were sizeable descriptions, almost outlines in their own right.

Fink's procedure in creating the anthology was to assign numbers to the entries, then use a random number generator to assign one to each of the authors he'd invited to participate in the anthology. They were to use their assigned commonplace book entries as prompts for stories, and were to account for all the elements of their assigned prompts in their stories.

As is often the case in such anthologies, there were some truly chilling stories and a few that felt as if the author were just mailing it in, going through their assigned prompt like a checklist and marking off each element. The first story, Kurt Chaing's "Tape," was a solid, workmanlike story in which the interactive nature of the titular cassette tape created a creepy sense of time out of joint, of the natural order of things being violated in a fundamental way.

But it was the prompt that really grabbed my imagination:


A very ancient colossus in a very
ancient desert. Face gone—no
man hath seen it.


At that time I was doing a lot of writing about lunar exploration and settlement, and immediately my mind seized upon the idea: what could be a more ancient desert than the lunar surface, that magnificent desolation that had awed the twelve Apollo moonwalkers? It took a little thought to bring all the necessary elements together, but I soon had what I considered a creditable story.

Unfortunately, it soon ran into a major problem in the markets of that time: it was neither fish nor fowl, and editors couldn't figure out how to deal with it. The weird elements were too much for the hard sf markets, and the technical details of astronautics were too much for the weird-fiction markets. After it bounced its way through all the available short-story markets of those days, I regretfully put it away in my files, hoping that maybe one day an anthology would pop up with just the right cross-genre focus that it might finally find a home.

And then everything changed when Amazon used their Kindle platform to open digital publishing to anyone and everyone. Suddenly publishing your own work no longer had the stigma of vanity publishing, and real people were making real money.

So I made "Starlight Running" available as an e-book through the Kindle.
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Writing Challenges

There's a new vignette challenge over at Sarah Hoyt's blog. My effort is a comment about the inability to suspend disbelief over a bit of vampire lore. I'm thinking the speaker may be Ursula Doorne from Shepardsport, since as an astronomer, she would be quite familiar with the physics of electromagnetic radiation.

marycatelli has a new vignette challenge over at her LiveJournal. Mine deals with linguistics, and the difficulty of dealing with a language with a lot of irregular forms.

Over at Victory Girls blog there's also a writing challenge. My response comes from the childhood of Cather Hargreaves, when he was still quite young.
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Change of Plans

Today I was going to write a post about planning and preparing. However, while I was working in the garden, I discovered the message from AT&T that I was clear to dig down a foot was wrong. Their cable was running right through the bed I was working, just inches below the surface. I’d mistaken it for a bush root and cut into it, cutting off our UVerse.

I have an appointment for a tech to come over tomorrow to put in a new cable, at which point the UVerse will be back. Then we just need to wait for the bury team to put it underground before the back yard can be mowed.

At the moment, my only Internet connection is through my iPhone. At least I have that.
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

The New Shortages

A year ago, as the lockdowns were disrupting not only lives but also supply lines, shortages suddenly became a problem for people trying to provision their homes for a life without the daily commute, without restaurant visits, without much of the activity that took them elsewhere. First toilet paper and other hygiene products vanished from the shelves. Then the meat department at the grocery store went barren. Canned goods became scarce.

Part of this phenomenon was the "two streams" system of supply in the US. One supply line went to grocery stores and other retail outlets, while the other one served restaurants, school cafeterias, and other large venues. With most of those places closed down and people staying at home, the retail supply line was overwhelmed and unable to keep up, while the aggregate supply line couldn't move product fast enough and things were backing up, to the point that farmers with contracts to companies in the aggregate supply line were having to destroy food to keep it from rotting and becoming a source of disease.

By the second half of 2020, things were beginning to stabilize, as a result of a combination of re-openings and adjustments by the companies handling supply. Shelves began to fill up again, and stores dropped quantity restrictions.

However, it seems that new problems are cropping up again. A few weeks ago, Alfredo sauce vanished from the pasta shelves. It might be possible to buy a jar of a boutique brand -- for three or four times the cost of the regular national brands -- but you couldn't get Ragu or Prego for anything.

Now store-brand pop is vanishing from the shelves. This shortage is peculiar because it's only affecting store brands. The name brands, both the big national brands and the smaller local brands, are still available (although sometimes the shelves aren't as full), but store brand pop can be scant or missing altogether.

For the last several weeks, Kroger's store brand canned diet cherry cola has been impossible to find at multiple stores. Most other flavors can be had, although sometimes there are only a few banged-up twelve packs to be bought. So I decided to see whether Meijer had an equivalent store-brand pop -- and discovered that the entire section of shelving devoted to store-brand pop of any flavor in cans was absolutely barren. Not even a single torn twelve-pack with cans trying to escape.

Yes, there were two-liter bottles, so it's clear the pop itself isn't the pinch point. And given that name-brand pop in cans was available, can manufacture wasn't the issue. It really makes me wonder just what's going on here.