SciFi | Return of the Astrolance Chapter 1

Return of the Astrolance

©2020 Vernon Miles Kerr,

This post is a view into the writing process, latest edits in blue text.  VMK


A perfect society with a perfect history is impacted by shocking news.  Their Holy Book, “The Hitex” —  which describes “People’s” origin as having been birthed from” Planet” by ” Creator,” fully civilized — is brought into question, when a gigantic cave is found with artifacts indicating long occupation by People and much preparation for coming to the surface.

Even worse, a few years later, astronomers report an object approaching Planet at near light-speed. Doppler-distorted electro-magnetic messages in a strange code are received from the object.  This too, belies Hitex, since Hitex states that People are Creator’s sole children in “Universe.” 

When the code is broken and some sense made of the senders’ message it is determined that both “Strangers”, and People, having been faced with Earth’s imminent nuclear destruction had argued two competing methods for trying to save a remnant of humanity: People, using the method of 10,000 years in underground cities, and Strangers, setting off in a near-light-speed needle in a circular path that should have brought them back to Earth in 10,000 years, with only decades of elapsed-time on board.  The Strangers’ solution, using the craft, called The Astrolance, was good in theory, but the course’s unplanned passing near an obstacle, a dark-matter black hole, drastically exapands time-dilation to 100,000 years.

Now, Planet’s political and religious question becomes, what to do with the savages from the 21st Century?  How to help them, yet still preserve respect for Hitex and its formula for a perfect world?  Before this quandary is solved near catastrophe occurs for both Stangers and People.

Chapter 1

Renselr stood, barefoot as always, on the smooth alabaster veranda of his school, looking out over the radiating greens and yellows of forest and field which stretched to the horizon, far below. Normally, the comparison of the cool, white stone with the mollifying, warm morning air set him into a meditative state — but not today.

If this is what the Hitex refers to as “anguish,” I must be feeling it.

He frowned, set his jaw, as he absent-mindedly gathered and released the sash of his tokah in both hands, squeezing wrinkles into it, smoothing them out, squeezing again.

Why was I chosen to bear this burden?  What am I going to tell them?  How do I start?  Why me? Rulers of Fate, oh why me?

The sky in the East grew lighter.  Soon, Star would be breaching the horizon, and soon thereafter, his students would be arriving from the valley, below, meandering, chatting giggling, straggling, up the coiling marble walkway, as always.  They, and his Holoviewers around the planet, would have to be told.  He had prepared his notes. — scrupulously and agonizingly.  But still …

Those students present and those remotely-present were like his own children.  Nearly a century before, he had been granted authority over the education of potential adults. Each year’s harvest of infants were placed in nursery groups, each with a surrogate mother for five years.  After that, they became Renselr’s charges, until they had  passed a dozen years of age. On that milestone, Renselr graduated the brightest out to the Academy or to the School of Technology.  The remainder went to Crafts.  Renselr’s having charge of the most formative of Planet’s children was a responsibility he took seriously, but he never considered it a burden, until now.  How to tell nearly a million students that the nexus of all education, the Hitex, contained errors?  The Solons would take care of Planet’s adults, but the children had to be prepared first.

Renslr had decided on a timed release of information, in stages.  But, the Solons had given him only limited time to accomplish this. The adult supervisors in the dormitories would be getting a preview after school, each day.  Renselr knew that rumors would spread from there, but the complete version of the news would follow so closely, rumors wouldn’t matter

Not much sleep last night.  Not much in the past 14 nights, since they unloaded this cargo on me.

It was the downside of being the planet’s Father-pedant figure:  Public proclamations of the  Scholastic Assembly of Archaeology and Paleontology (SAAP.)

Rensler had been disgusted with the SAAP. There seemed to be some dark current of conspiracy in their digging around. They seemed to be subtilely implying, within academic circles, that each new shard of strange glass or seemingly artificially-formed metal, hinted at previous intelligent life on Planet. They wouldn’t come right out and say it — that would be blasphemy against Hitex, which teaches that all of People’s history began within the womb of Planet and somewhere Planet gave birth to People, fully formed, fully clothed, fully possessed of Hitex in the form of a spoken saga. Later, People had devised the method of making marks on fabric and later, paper, which represented words, and Hitex was given physical form.

Trauma had accompanied each of these eked-out “Updatings” to planetary philosophy — for the ninety seasons Resnselr had been tasked to it.  Long, long ago, many Father-pedants ago, SAAP was already whittling away the ancient myth of the People’s origins, (the myth of the spontaneous birth of the thousands of the Initial People from the womb of  Mother Planet.) The myth had not been rejected, merely modified.  The myth gave the People a sense of order, a sense of purpose. The Great Creator, creator of Mother Planet, had ordained  that she give birth to the People as fully prepared to dress her surface, to groom her. The People were delivered with the moral-imperative, fully developed and with primitive tools in their hands.

“Go,  prosper,  her thunder spoke. Dress my surface, coax the tiny buds and leaves from the cracks of rock. Build cities, explore Mother Planet, then explore the neighboring planets.”

These were the words of the Hitex.  The words of truth.  The miracle of the People’s spontaneous creation as a species.  Morally complete, prepared with tools and accompanied by the their domestic animals.

Now, how do I tell them there was no such miracle?

He morosely watched the Gardeners and Crafts people far below, filing out of the ground floor,  headed for their assigned husbandries. They would clear the under brush, transplant seedings, maintain cobblestone paths, perhaps lunch by a babbling stream — content in the knowledge that Mother Planet was pleased. A few would nap through the apex of Star’s journey through the sky — others would merely enjoy the shade, reciting to each other sayings from the Hitex.

The brightening sky began silhouetting other spiral towers on the horizon as Renselr stared blankly at the continual stream of air-conveyances (chariots, barges, and passenger-liners) silently  following their appointed paths, far above the clouds.  Refocusing, he tried to pull-together all of the pieces of these recent revelations.

An earthquake had uncovered an opening from which, it was argued, the Initial People might have emerged from Mother Planet.  Until now, “archaeology” was only involved with collecting (and arguing about)  mysterious shards of melted glass, a few tiny pieces of petrified bone, and seemingly “manufactured” chunks of hard minerals. If these were artifacts, from some prior intelligent species, then Hitex was false, or at a minimum, incomplete. SAAP had always throttled and impeded these announcements, giving only what was necessary to keep the trauma to a slow drip.

SAAP had secretly briefed Renselr, only weeks before, that the opening was sealed by the same manufactured mineral substance as those previously gathered chunks.  If this were the womb of Mother Planet the Initial People must have wanted to hide something.  Breaking through the mineral substance, the archeologists discovered metal doors, and within the doors, a cave.  The cave was too vast to explore, but the first room an anti-room more vast that an air-barge hangar, was littered with cast-off containers, what appeared to be rotting clothing of some sort, and a few mysterious metal implements.  Whatever the past of the progenitors, they wanted to leave it behind — forever. 

How to Approach a Poetry Assignment

How to Approach a Poetry Assignment

© 2020 by Vernon Miles Kerr,,

Hello writing students.  If you’ve been assigned the task of writing your first (or nearly first) poem, I think you might find this article a means of jump-starting your effort.  I hope so.

What is poetry?  It is the most advanced form of human communication.  It is far beyond mere rhetoric and far beyond any scientific treatise, because a well-written poem communicates on many levels all at the same time.  Yes, it communicates simple information, just as other types of writing do—but it also communicates emotion.  More than that, it transfers emotion from the poet directly into the soul of the reader. A poem communicates not just on a physical level but on a subconscious level and, perhaps, even a spiritual level as well. As my friend, mentor and former writing professor,  Dr. Manfred Wolf, wrote to me recently: “A good poem does have a certain Je ne sais quoi about it.”  More than just not knowing what it is that makes it a good poem,  a good one can leave you slightly stunned — if the poet is someone who really speaks to you personally.  In my case it’s Emily Dickinson.  Her short little poems are sometimes like acid cutting through the steel of my preconceived notions, and maybe my prejudices as well.

Here’s how I start a poem:  Write down what you want to say, in regular prose.  Assume your assignment is to write a poem about Spring.  Write down all the emotions you feel about Spring, positive AND negative — if you do have any negative feelings about it.  Those feelings might be negative for someone who has recently lost a loved one, where the happy sounds, fragrance and balmy breezes keep reminding that person of happy times they spent with their loved one.  It therefore winds up compounding their feeling of loss.

On the other hand, things are good or bad by comparison.  Use the soggy cold, muddy images of winter to emphasize the beauty, comfort and ease of springtime.  Use the quiet, lifeless woods of winter to showcase the riotous life breaking out in the spring such as squirrels chasing each other or mocking birds having song competitions across a field or woods.  Traveling to North Carolina from California, a few years ago, the woods around Mooresville were bare and the forest floor was brown.  Then one day, the dogwoods bloomed in the forest and they became  layers of white clouds, a cottony staircase marching up the hills between the ground and the, still bare, tops of the great hardwood trees.  The comparison between those delicate white flowers and the roughness of the tree bark and  dead leaves on the forest floor was very striking and memorable to someone seeing it for the first time.

The next step, after getting your emotions about your subject out onto paper, is start to pare it down. Throw away unneeded words; boil it down.  If you can imply something without even saying it directly, so much the better.  Experiment using synonyms and see what emotional effect the change of wording creates.

It’s not enough to provide information about the beauty of spring — or even a very accurate description of a springtime scene — if you don’t clearly communicate your emotional reaction to that scene.  Even better, would be to use it to show some psychological or emotional growth within you as the poem progresses.  The reader will be learning the lesson you learned right along with you as if they were re-living the experience of coming to an “epiphany” the same moment you did.

Go back and read a few poems by Emily Dickinson or perhaps Robert Frost.  Sip, don’t gulp.  Take a sip and roll it around in your mind and savor the taste like one would do with a fine wine. Read and re-read the same poem several times while meditating for a few moments at the end of each reading.

I haven’t said anything about rhyme or meter.  Songs have both, and poems used to. Now it’s optional.  Rather than being stuck in strict meter, such as Di dah, di dah, di dah, di dah, di dah … (iambic pentameter) try to make sure that (with or without meter) there is a pretty flow to your verses.  For an example of where little or no thought has been given toward maintaining a smoothly flowing rhythm in the mind of the reader, read a newspaper article .  Re-read your own poem when you think it’s finished.  Does its rhythm have the feel of a bumpy road or a beautiful new Interstate Highway?  If a rough ride, go back and flatten the bumps and fill in the pot-holes.  Above all, have fun.

For future hints and lessons, please follow using the block on this page.  VMK

Editing Your Writing

Nothing helps make your message more effective than simply re-reading it several times. You can do this in your mind, you can read it aloud, or even have your computer read it to you. Whichever of those methods you use, listen for cadence and flow. The flow may sound “choppy” if you use a lot of unnecessary conjunctions (but, or, yet, and, because, nor, since, that …) or even worse: compound conjunctions (as well, as well as, as long as, so that, even if, in order to …) Excise these whenever possible if it doesn’t detract from your meaning. Misuse or overuse of conjunctions is only one thing that causes a reader to trip and stumble through your work. By re-reading your work you will probably find other word or phrase-choices that detract from flow. Comments and Suggestions are welcome here.

Update – Nov. 17, 2019

As an excellent example of writing which flows beautifully see this Atlantic article by Yoni Applebaum, senior editor: