The Thumbs Up Man

A breather from the day. Time to clear your mind, engage in your own alternate reality. A need to stretch your legs, take in fresh air.


On a Walk Down a Road Through Trees

Photo by Sharon Hughson

I go for walks a couple times a day. Even when the clouds take over the sky here in Seattle, I like to walk and let my mind wander to the alternate realities in my head.

Going for a walk is a common activity. We see each other out there every day, we walkers.

When I pass someone I smile and say, “hi.” The most common response is a strained smile and “hi.”

Some people thin their lips into a grimace and try to blend into the background like the Predator.

The Predator

The Predator

Some people act as if I am the air and do not see me.

I would say most people fall into one of those three categories.

I thought I had seen every response imaginable.

Until the thumbs up man.

Courtesy Jay Malone Flickr Creative Commons

Courtesy Jay Malone Flickr Creative Commons

He wore thin framed glasses that complemented his wiry build. Like my best friend from high school he had short wavy burnt red hair. That’s who I thought of at first.

I hadn’t seen my friend since 1997 though. Spring Break that year I flew to Minneapolis the first week of April. A freak snowstorm hit, I remember. The freeways had been empty.

In the middle of the snowstorm we drove to the theater to see Private Parts, that Howard Stern movie. Like the roads the theater had been empty.

Movie Theater

However, the thumbs up man was not that friend.

Still, the man had given me a thumbs up.

What was I supposed to do with a thumbs up? My normal “hi” no longer felt adequate.

Maybe I did know this man?

I was positive I did not.

Was he wishing me luck? If so, for what? Perhaps the thumbs up man had come from the future to wish me luck for something that has not happened?

What do you think?

After we passed I realized that the thumbs up is a brilliant greeting. I mean, look what it did for me.

So, the next time you pass someone on a walk, instead of saying the standard “hi” greeting why not give that person a thumbs up?


Dogs and cats! Living together! Mass hysteria!

Do you live in an alternate reality?

In a recent New York Times article radio astronomers reported they had seen the markers of the beginning of the Big Bang, The article reminded of one of physicist Dr. Guth’s other ideas: parallel universes.

Spock from the Mirror Universe

Spock from the Mirror Universe

I won’t go into the physics, which entails inflation theory. Needless to say, the implications are manifold.

From what I understand of the idea the physics must be consistent across the universes because the particles from which the universes began are all the same. Balls will not fall up and Hogwarts does not exist.

Or could it exist?

Hogwarts Castle--Under the Cover of the Universe?

Hogwarts Castle–Under the Cover of the Universe?

A different roll of the evolutionary dice and humans or human-like creatures could evolve to have the ability to manipulate matter, or maybe they develop cybernetic implant technology that gives them the ability to shape the world around them. No wands needed.

Maybe your mirror universe self has mastered the powers of creation?

Let’s say these alternate universes exist. Alan Guth was spot on about the cosmic background ripples after all. Let’s say the alternate realities are there under the blanket of the universe. How do we travel to these alternate realities?



Sliders delved into the idea of alternate earths (the first season was wicked awesome. After season two I couldn’t stand to watch it). They traveled to these alternate realities via a wormhole.

Maybe travel to an alternate reality or universe is possible through a simple change in your state of mind as was used by Christopher Reeve’s character to travel back in time in the movie, Somewhere in Time.

Somewhere in Time

Maybe Stephen Lawhead had the right idea? In The Song of Albion Trilogy Lewis Gillies, a student at Oxford, finds his way to the Celtic Otherworld of Albion. He travels there by circling a Celtic cairn at just the right time of day.

Maybe there is a village, like Wall in Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust, where on the other side lies the faerie realm?

Maybe my own Tir Alaind is real? Maybe Hogwarts is real? Maybe Patrick Rothfuss’s Four Corners of Civilization is real?

Maybe our minds aren’t imagining these alternate realities? Maybe our minds are simply peeking under the blanket of the universe and seeing what our eyes cannot see.

The Consequences of Time Travel

If you see me standing in line at the market, or in any line for that matter, and I have a spaced out look, chances are this is my thought:

Not only do I never have enough time to write, but my reading list is growing like a geometric progression.  I have to figure out how to slow time, build a time machine, or read faster and organize my time better.

Of course, what’s the easiest of those options? Hint: it’s not the last one.


Let’s say that someone went into the local ice cream parlor and left the keys in the ignition:

The keys are in the ignition

Speed Limit: 88 mph

Sweet. Just make sure the time computer isn’t set to 1955. Now you can read as much as you want. Ignore the world.

“Wait, wait, wait,” you say, “You can’t reset the past. That’s not how the DeLorean works.”

“Right, right. Wrong time machine.”

I would have to go back in time, kill my former self, take over his role and that’s how I would reset time.

Or, would going back in time alter the threads of time, maybe creating a new one where I die on the timeline at the exact moment I appear in the past thus keeping continuity?

OK, OK, this is why time travel gives people headaches.

Freezing Time

Not Science Fiction Anymore

Not Science Fiction Anymore

This is the idea I like the most. Let’s say I could exist outside of time? Something similar to an Alcubierre Warp Bubble (not science fiction, by the way). I would still need an energy source, but let’s ignore that plot-breaking problem. Then I could exist outside of time. I could read and write for as long as I want while the world around me is paused.

But, but, but then I would age. My wife and children might notice when I suddenly appear as:

Read list is done. Finally.

Reading list is done. Finally.

Back to the Beginning

Looks like I need an even more improbable confluence of events: a cure to aging and the ability to freeze time. Now there’s an interesting premise for a story.

Back to organizing my life. Or, rather, back to spacing out.

A Review of The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman

I have read almost everything Joe Haldeman has written. As I have mentioned before, I was lucky enough to have him as a professor for the classes Writing Science Fiction and Genre Fiction Workshop at MIT.

Hemingway Hoax

The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman

Well, I had read almost everything. The Hemingway Hoax is a novella, which is why I hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Plus, I thought the story would be about Hemingway, and I wasn’t all that interested in reading a story about Hemingway. Still, Joe wrote the story, which means it had to be good, so I gave it go.

What a fast read. True, it’s a novella, but Joe’s writing is simple, crisp and clean. Whenever I read his stories I am reminded of the classic science fiction writers like Heinlein and Asimov who got their point across without too much fluff. Raymond Carver was the same way. They could write powerful sentences with one or two brushstrokes.

From Goodreads:

John Baird had not expected to be killed.

The accepted academic penalty for literary forgery is academic disgrace. Which was why Hemingway scholar Baird, tempted by looming financial disaster and a plausible conman, had not anticipated death at the hands of an interdimensional literary critic. Still less had he been prepared to be pursued and killed through alternative world after alternative world.

The Hemingway Hoax is about Hemingway, but there is much more to the story: time travel, interdimensional travel, beautiful women, and a main character who experiences different possible realities for his life, remembering each and everyone one of them from one reality to the next.

I could see some of Joe in John Baird, and at the end of the novella Joe even admits that one of the incarnations of John Baird is based on himself, but personally I think that Joe is in every incarnation of John Baird.

If I have one criticism, it’s the ending. The story ended in such a way that I had to re-read it a few times in order to understand what had happened, and I become annoyed when I have to do that, especially when the rest of the story has been so engaging. I won’t ding Joe for that because it could just be me being daft. After all, this novella won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novella.

Still, a good, fast, short read. Haldeman’s writing always whisks me along while spinning a good yarn. That’s why I like to read his stories.

If you are going to give Haldeman a try, and I recommend that you do, read The Forever War. It’s a novel, but it’s short, to the point, and deals with a topic most science fiction writers can’t penetrate. War. Joe experienced the Vietnam War, and the grittiness comes through in The Forever War.

A Review of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

I’ve suffered from a bout of mental incontinence lately that has affected not only my blogging, but also my writing. I have been writing every day, but the words have come out in forced drips. Not pretty, but I pushed through and now everything seems to be fine.

During that period I became engrossed in the latest novel by Joe Hill, NOS4A2. The novel is a wild, trippy ride through the inscapes of the mind meshed with the story of one woman’s struggle to relate to her loved ones and the world around her.


Joe Hill writes a good story. I loved the idea of inscapes, and especially the call out to Mid-World from the Dark Tower Series. The overarching story of how Vic McQueen deals with her gift (or curse) and her conflict with the antagonist, Charlie Manx, drive the story.

My main criticism is that at times I felt that the narrative could have been tighter, and in fact a review I read on Amazon nailed how I feel:

NOS4A2 is epic in length, but not in scope.’

Vic McQueen is the best part of the story. She has a gift or a curse, depending on your point of view, and her life unfolds in response to this gift (or curse). Joe Hill nails the reality of mental illness with his portrayal of the evolution of Vic’s character. I felt a great deal of sympathy for her and pulled for her throughout the novel. Vic is the classic tragic heroine.

Charlie Manx is a real-life villain. What he does is horrible, but when seen from his point of view you can understand why he does what he does. You understand why he thinks what he does is right. In that way Charlie is not a caricature, but I never sympathized. There are points in Charlie’s history where Joe Hill could have tweaked a few events and made Charlie a villain for whom you feel sympathy, thus making Charlie deeper, but that never materialized.

Outside of Vic, the real delight is the idea of inscapes–how everyone has their own perception of reality and that each of our perceptions of reality are linked. These perceptions of reality can become separate worlds whose extent are limited only by our imagination. It’s a powerful set of ideas that Joe has put out there.

Unlike Horns, Joe Hill’s previous novel, I was able to set aside NOS4A2 when I needed to sleep–except for the climax. The last hundred or so pages flew by.

In the end what makes NOS4A2 a good novel is the sum of the positives. Like I said, the prose could be tighter, but the lead character, Vic McQueen, and the story itself pull this novel together and make it a good read.

If you like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere or The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King, I think you might like NOS4A2.

I will say that after reading NOS4A2 I now want a Rolls Royce Wraith.

Rolls Royce Wraith

The Asymptotic Ending

asymptoteAs I come to the end of my novel I find that the effort required to write is increasing exponentially in proportion to how close I am to the end.

All of the threads in the story are coming together and my mind is working overtime to hold all of them in place.

Plus, I have a fear that the story will not come to an organized end.

The last two scenes of The Tome of Worlds are an epic city siege of Koronan and an exhalation of sorts before the second novel begins. Even though I know how the battle turns and how the story concludes itself I find myself not wanting to put the protagonist, Aedinn Finn, into the fray.

These fears remind me of an awful story I wrote years ago called Threads of TimeI wrote the story during the summer of 1999 while I was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Sign

Los Alamos National Laboratory Sign (Photo credit: Cavalier92)

I had just won an award for science fiction writing at MIT, and I thought quite well of myself, so I tackled a story I had wanted to write for some time on the question of faith–God, destiny, and all of that.

In Threads of Time, the protagonist, let’s call him George, started to have dreams about a place that existed outside of time. The place he imagined outside of time was a bar where notable figures from throughout history came and mingled with each other. Each person within the bar thought they were dreaming, but while they were there they were inspired to the achievements for which they became known.

Einstein was there. Newton. Hemingway. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but that was not the point of the story. Threads of Time was about an approaching nexus.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went with the idea that every time we make a decision, two possible realities are created–one reality for each decision you could have made. With billions and billions of people throughout our history there would be an exponentially increasing number of threads in the human existence.

In Threads of Time a nexus approached where all of the threads created throughout human history were coming together to one point.

Much like my novel.

In Threads of Time George had to push the human race through the nexus through an act of faith.

I was hoping I could do the same with The Tome of Worlds.

Threads of Time was a good short story idea, but in the end I could not bring the story together.

Oh, I finished it. Wrote an ending, but the ending was not satisfying. The story was my attempt at dealing with my own questions about and issues with the subject of faith.

As you can see, I didn’t deliver.

And now, as I come to the end of The Tome of Worlds, I feel that the curse of Threads of Time is coming back, but in a bigger way since The Tome of Worlds is much more massive.

If only I could dream of the bar, go there, and be inspired to finish the story.

Writing the penultimate scene as I wrote the rest of the novel, on faith and instinct, isn’t going to work, I realize. I have to organize the last battle, something I loathe doing, but I see no other way around attacking the problem.

Yesterday I drew a map of Koronan, which I had yet to do, because up to this point the only part of the story that took place in Koronan was the beginning when Aedinn Finn was imprisoned in Kol Uthera. He never went outside the Tower. epic battle scene

I needed a battle map, similar to the maps I used when I played Dungeons and Dragons and Mech Warrior with my D20 dice.

Up to this point I had avoided any advice on writing, because I’d had my fill of writing advice. I have stacks and stacks of writing books that I read long ago. The last thing I wanted to do was read another piece about writing, but I needed a nudge.

I came across this site on writing fantasy battle scenes.

Common sense, really. Just organization, but I needed to see the advice even if I knew what I needed to do.

The point of my rambling in this post is that even though I have well founded fears about the end of the novel the way to attack those fears is to just write. Just do it.

Even if I go back and scrap the entire final battle scene just write it.

I wish a bar would open in my dreams and help me finish the novel, but that’s not going to happen.

However, I will go to a real bar when the novel is done.

Would you go to another dimension, another reality, to help if asked?

The Worlds Within started with a simple musing on my part, probably influenced by Harry Potter and Neverwhere. What if someone from another dimension, a parallel universe, came to me and needed help? What if I could never return? Would I go? Would you go?

English: Map of Narnian world as described in ...

English: Map of Narnian world as described in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me it would depend on my situation. When I first conceived of The Nyre Lands my personal situation was far different, but now if Janus Riberin appeared in my room asking for aid I would politely turn him down, because I have a family. I am happy here in this reality. As you read The Worlds Within, I hope you come to understand and feel what Aedinn Finn goes through as he comes to realize, as his memory returns, the consequences of the choice he made.

You will notice in Harry Potter and Neverwhere that the protagonists are in similarly poor personal situations. Harry’s family is horrible to him. His cousin bullies him. Consequently, Harry has a low opinion of himself. Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere has a bossy girlfriend, whom he seems destined to marry, a miserable job and low self esteem–just like Harry. Would they have willingly gone to the other realities had their situations been different? In Harry’s case, yes, of course, but in Richard Mayhew’s case I daresay he might never have seen Door lying there on the sidewalk. His own personal unhappiness is what opened his eyes to Door while other people stepped past her.

Aedinn Finn might never have seen Janus Riberin sitting in that chair, or perhaps Janus Riberin would never have come to Aedinn had Aedinn’s situation been better, because Finn would not have been open to coming with Janus to The Nyre Lands.

Which brings me to my final point. The Worlds Within would not have entered the mind of the person I am today, because my subconscious would have politely turned down the offer. No thank you, I am happy.