Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author’s note: As the protagonist moves into the underworld of the subconscious through injury, sleep, suffering, and cojiba, he enters the negative space of the mind where he encounters shadowy inhuman figures and chases after the golden earrings. In this encounter, he has banged his head against a concrete floor in the basement of the museum in San Juan after an argument with the curator.

Your eyes don’t focus. A silhouette of an inhuman shape stands in front of you in the darkness of semi-consciousness waving a hand in your face. It asks, “What do you see?”
The ribbon of the golden earring chases itself around the edges of three lobes against the blackness of the void. “The golden earring. It’s mine. Give it back.”
A shadow speaks. “What would you do with it?”
“It doesn’t matter. It would be mine again and I could forget about the past. I could forget about her.”
“It does matter. History repeats for those who don’t learn its lessons or who forget. You of all people should know that. What would you do different this time once you had it back?”
“Put it in a safe deposit box for safekeeping. Just in case.”
“Just in case what?”
“I don’t know. Something bad happens. They cut my pension. I don’t become a full professor or worse, I lose my job. Who knows? You can’t be too careful these days. You can’t rely on anyone. The only person you can rely on is yourself.”
“The golden earring is not mine to give, it is yours to retrieve. It is yours if you fulfill your mission.”
“Mission? What mission?”
“To change history.”
“Change history? How?”
“By keeping your promise to save the tribe from the brutality of the Spaniards in one year.”
“What? Oh, you mean my conversation with the curator? Come on. That was just a throwaway line in the heat of an argument. Of course, I would save them if I could.”
“You would help the poor children of La Gonave if you could. You would take the time to get to know young people if you could. You would save all the Tainos if you could.”
Your head hurts in the numb intermingling of pain and confusion. “What do you mean, save the Tainos if I could? It’s a little too late to be saving a tribe five centuries in the past, don’t you think?”
“It is your promise. You have the power to change history. You can be the hero you have always wanted to be.”
“Yes. I have already submitted an abstract to the journal and they rejected it. Maybe they will take a rewrite. Are you with them? It won’t change the history of the Tainos for sure and doubtful it will do much to change ours. I just want my golden earring back. I will give you a reward if you return it to me.”
“You won’t be able to buy it with money.”
“I don’t have to buy it, I own it.”
“You don’t own it. It owns you. It is the boundary between your strength and your weakness. When you prove worthy to receive it, it will return to you without asking.”
“It’s just an earring.”
“It is so much more. It transcends the material and the spiritual. It transcends the past and the future.”
“Well, what does it matter? It’s gone and it isn’t ever coming back, but how exactly would I prove myself?”
“In your mind, you believe yourself to be strong, wise, and creative. Demonstrate your strength and not your weakness.”
“That is for you to choose.”
“What if I don’t choose?”
“You live with your irrelevance.”
“I’m perfectly happy with my irrelevance, but what happens if I don’t succeed?” Of course, you lie about that self-truth. Never show weakness. Your dad told you that.
“You will always be the man who never was.” the voice says fading into silence.
You don’t like mystical voices who speak in Zen riddles. The silhouette disappears and all you can see is the pulsating form of the golden earring. You reach for it, but it recedes. You chase after it into the black void. The faster you run the faster it moves away from you until it disappears into the far distance leaving you alone in the darkness of your mind.

Career Path

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Authors Note: This section introduces Professor Murphy. It gives his career aspirations and the motivation behind them. Alex Murphy is the narrator giving the story to a former student. When the professor narrates, he talks in the second person and in the present tense.


You are a tenured history associate professor at NYU. You have a love and hate relationship with your subject matter. You love telling the stories of history’s heroes but it makes your own life feel hollow. You’ve seen a statue of Columbus. The inscription says, “…testimonial of the values and virtues which the figure and enterprise of the great explorer has bestowed upon our people.” Why can’t you be a hero and have a nice statue of yourself in a public square somewhere? You could go for your own statue and you would be a deserving hero not a brutal conqueror like so many you’ve written about. You would make the phrase “values and virtues bestowed upon our people” to stand for something positive.
The problem with being a hero is typically you either have to kill or get killed. The only person you ever wanted to kill was your ex, so ruthless and calculating. You loved her once but she is the only person you genuinely hate. It burns you to the core that she is out there wearing your golden earrings given to her under her false pretenses. You can’t count the number of times you have fantasized about ripping them off her ears with one hand while the other hand chokes her neck beneath her gasping, redding face. Not that you care about the earrings themselves so much, it’s just the idea of it. She is out there flaunting her conquest at your expense. You want those earrings back more than anything, even the full professorship you have been fighting your whole career for.
The one silver lining out of all of this is that she has inspired an idea for a paper. You came across a line in an excerpt from an article in the “Journal of Modern Antiquities” about how trusting and open the Taino people were, the ultimate victims who swam out to greet Columbus with offers of cemi statues. In return, they were rewarded with torture and genocide. The imagery resonates with you. You feel a certain empathy towards the long-lost people. Your own cemi is the golden earrings given to your ex-wife. In return, you were rewarded with torture and humiliation. You wonder who had it worse.
The Tainos didn’t have it all bad, at least not before the Spaniards arrived. You wouldn’t mind moving to a tropical island and living near a beach with the natives. You like to camp on those rare weekends you can get away. You like DIY even though you never really have the time for it. You could live a simpler life with people who would admire you for your modern wisdom and skills. You would treat them right. You would be a god to them.
But life isn’t so simple. Their simplicity came with an awful price. If they hadn’t been so open and giving, maybe they wouldn’t have been so easy to kill. Maybe they would have given thought to defense and security. Perhaps there is a lesson for you to learn there.
They remind you of birds on remote islands nesting in the open leaving their eggs and chicks, that is to say, their gold, completely exposed on the ground for all to see, never developing any defenses other than their isolation, leaving themselves vulnerable to even small opportunistic predators like rats. A life without predators leaves one weak and defenseless. A life with unearned trust leaves one vulnerable and exposed.
A naive trust opened up the Tainos to conquest. As Columbus said in his journal, “…wishing them to look on us with friendship, I gave some of them red bonnets and glass beads, which they hung around their necks, and many other things of small value, at which they were so delighted and so eager to please us that we could not believe it.” Perhaps a little dose of reality on the motivations of men could have saved them. Perhaps a lesson on the value of things might have tipped them off. Perhaps there is a lesson for all to learn. That is your working hypothesis, anyway, for an article you have tentatively titled, “Case Study of the Tainos: What isolation in primitive societies teaches modern man about evaluating risk in modern times.” You submit an abstract and outline of the idea to the prestigious journal, “The Journal of Modern Antiquities”.


You wait. You wait some more. You figure it would be nice if they could at least let you know if they received the damn abstract. Well, maybe they didn’t receive it.
Long after you give up on the submission, you walk out to the mailbox and find a letter from the journal. Nothing good comes in the mail. You don’t have to open it. You know what it is. You bring it inside unopened and place it on the coffee table in your living room and stare at it for a while not wanting to open it. You fight the urge to know but you have to confirm the obvious. You tear the letter open and read it. No surprise. Another rejection.
A rejection letter. A formal rejection letter. It says your idea isn’t sufficiently developed for publication. It says more research needed. It says your hypothesis is not a hypothesis but at best a conjecture with no discernible null hypothesis to measure against and at worst an unprovable supposition on your part.
You feel like you are a victim again. Who judged it? What was the basis of their assertion? What are you supposed to do, go back in time to teach the Tainos how to combat failure of imagination? History is extracting meaning from the experiences of those that lived before us. History isn’t an experiment to be re-run. What do they want?
You don’t know. Fuck them. Some wizard of oz behind a curtain screwing with your career. Lately, you are feeling more Tainos than Columbus, more victim than hero. You’ve studied the heroes of the past, the men who made a difference. It’s killing you that you don’t.
You throw out the letter and walk into the bathroom. You wash the frustration from your face. You look into the mirror. You see an old person you barely recognize. You see a person whose life is passing him by.
If the old man in front of you died of a heart attack at this moment, no one would be any the wiser. If you died right now, it would be months before anyone even missed you. You have to die for something, not for nothing. Is death what it takes for your life to have meaning? Would it kill someone to give you some real recognition in the here and now? To acknowledge your hard work? Your insights?
The face in the mirror turns from yours to your father’s. What’s the point he asks? You are irrelevant. Life has no meaning. Death has no meaning. It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to leave the rat race. Let it go.
Getting beaten down is one thing but you are not giving in. You are not giving up. You will not go out that way. You are not your father. He is an embarrassment to you. You tell the old man to fuck off. You leave the miserable old man behind.


Another late night at the office buried in a stack of books and the lonely night glow of a computer monitor. You have to work harder. Tenure is the only secure thing you have. They can’t take it away from you without you completely fucking up but you want to be a full professor, not just an associate professor.
You want the challenge. You want the feeling that you are still a vibrant and creative man. You want to prove that your mind is fertile with ideas worthy of great minds. You want to prove that you are more than just a claven sitting at a bar throwing out random and irrelevant history facts.
You want the security. You want the extra money. Associate professor provides more than enough for you to get by but it still feels like you are living hand to mouth. Someday you would actually like to retire well enough off to enjoy it. You work for a living to pay the mortgage on your home and the endless stream of bills. After your divorce and the last stock market crash, you figure you are going to be stuck working until you are ninety years old.
You want the status. Your academic clock is ticking. Your life clock is ticking. You are over 50 years old. It’s not so late in the typical career to become a full professor. But there are a couple of hot-shot, younger associates breathing down your back with more publications than you. Publish or perish, that is always the mantra. With all the shit that has been going on in your life with your family, you haven’t been able to keep pace.
You could submit to the other journals, the ones desperate enough for the material to publish your work. The ones aspiring to the status of the journal. Perhaps an abstract to the “Journal of Caribbean Culture.” It would keep the NYU administration at bay. But the “Journal of Modern Antiquities” would put you in line for a full professorship and better standing in the community.
If the journal wants hard evidence, you need hard data. You plan to visit the museum in San Juan and a few archaeological sites in Puerto Rico to baseline the gulf between Spanish and pre-Columbian societies in values and technology.
Normally, you would look forward to spending time on a placid tropical island, soaking up the sunlight, finding a nice isolated beach, and observing the culture, where the culture to you mostly means rum tasting (and you have the t-shirt to prove it). You would love to take the time to snorkel with a manatee, kayak the coast, or hop on a fishing boat. You’ve worked hard for NYU for over two decades, and wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the few perks the job has to offer. But if you nail this paper, you can resubmit to the “The Journal of Modern Antiquities,” and finally lift yourself out of obscurity. You don’t have time for play. You don’t have the time for the pleasures of modern life. You book your flight on the day after the last day of finals in December for San Juan.

Prepping for Alien Invasion

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Author’s Note: A presentation called “An Alien Invasion from History” under the category of “Prepping for Alien Invasion” given by Alex Murphy at the “Prep Tech” conference.

Neology Note: New word: godifying. The opposite of demonizing.

“Why does our planet insist on either demonizing or godifying aliens? Aliens are either a parasitic infestation interested in pilfering our resources or have superhero superpowers in relation to our paramecium abilities. What if aliens are actually interested in us, for who we are?
“If aliens are capable of interstellar travel, their technology will be, quite literally, light years ahead of our own. Our technology will be Stone Age at best by comparison. If they are hell-bent on burning our species at the stake, their will be done. You will not be able to prevent it. You cannot control it. We all want to be the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. It terrifies us to think otherwise.
“I kept my notes from my college courses some thirty years ago. Do you know what was interesting after all these years?
“The little notes I made in the margins about the teacher, the other students in the classroom, stuff that was going on with me at the time, ideas expressed as questions.
“So what you ask? And I answer.
“If they have an interest in us, the interest will be in our humanities, not our science. It will not be in the physics notes we copied off the blackboard from the professor, it will be in the notes that reveal something about us, in the decisions we make, in the relationships we engage in, in how we live, in who we are.
“If we are decent, they might learn something from our deep ocean when they get lost in the complex seas of their technical civilization when they define themselves by their technical accomplishments instead of who they are or what they could be.
“They may be here already. Watching us. Studying us. Testing us. Testing us to determine if our species has matured beyond the paranoia of invasion, beyond the surrender of deification, to the point where they trust us to give the best of ourselves in a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship.
“So what course of action do you choose? When they come, how will you react to them? Will you shoot on-site or run for your barracks? Will you fall to your knees and kowtow? I think you better have something interesting to say. You better have something worthy to offer them.
“There is something you can do to prep. There is a way to move beyond fear. If you fear an alien invasion, look that fear in the eye, know you are going to die if they choose it, and understand how that fear drives you. Then ask yourself am I the person fear is making me be, or am I the person I want to be? Do you aspire to save the world? Or do you aspire to make the world worth saving? And then choose. This is the only true freedom you have in this life. And if you realize this power, you might have something of interest for the alien race to consider,” he pauses, “before they decide to eat you.
He pauses again waiting for the mild laughter to subside before continuing, “Heki bo-buya. It means don’t let fear stop you from giving the best of yourself. Thank you.”

A Setback

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Well, back in March I finally had what I thought was a ready draft of my latest story written. So I submitted it to my editor for review. She had lavish praise for the world-building including the Guacuno language and lots of favorable comments on some of the subplot stories and characters, but two almost obscure comments stopped me from opening the parachute on my happy landing. Paraphrasing, they are:
> I don’t believe the conclusions your main character reached in his closing speech. This is not the man we know.
> The language lessons would be okay if they showed the story progressing.

If the main character doesn’t work and the story drags because the stakes for the protagonist are unclear, basically the story is a failure. You don’t have to split my head open with an ax for me to pick up on the message. (Okay, you do. This is my third book and it took that many to finally realize why the books aren’t cutting it. But I do like the ax imagery).

My takeaway is this. What I’ve learned to do is to tell a plot and not a story. I really think I have some interesting ideas, characters, and scenes, but they all drift at the mercy of the plot. The protagonist and the response to the protagonist aren’t driving the plot. If they were, then it would be a story.

I picked up and read the book “Story Genius” which I hope will be really helpful. She describes a blueprinting methodology for sequencing scenes together and describing a technique for coordinating the inner world of the protagonist, the so-called third rail that powers the story, with the external plot within each scene, and much more. All based on the cognitive science of developing the empathy of the reader for the protagonist.

So I’ve been backtracking trying to blueprint my story for the last two months. I suppose it would be easier to start another story from scratch with this methodology, but I believe in my concept, the world-building, the language, all the characters I have created except the protagonist, and the structure of the book. I really like “Story Genius” idea of not only stating the misbelief but developing the history to support it. Every scene in the blueprint has to answer the question of why. It’s been painful and I don’t have much to show for all the effort, but I do think I have some promising ideas.

Some things that I am committed to:
> The point of a sci-fi book should be a great twist on a concept:
– Bluffdale: AI isn’t going to hunt us to death, it’s going to love us to death.
– Property of Nature: Gods have an obligation to make their sentient creations fit for a world without them
– Golden Earring: Meaning comes from the survival of those that cooperate the best in the present; not from the history of those that survived as the fittest.
> Great science fiction works in the seams between indifferent technology and deep meaning. This is the space I want to write in.
> While I agree that the inner world is important, I am turned off by excessive displays of emotion to reveal inner state. You can overwrite a scene in a book just as easily as you can overact in a movie.
> I will never resolve a plot with romantic love as the resolution of meaning or conflict. In science fiction, I think it is a sign of weak writing (unless the technology has something specifically to do with that).

So this is a lead-in for future posts I will try out in print on this blog and see how they feel. If you happen to read and have a comment on any of them, feel free to drop me a line at author.mike.angel@gmail.com.