Why AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Failed, and Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ Succeeded.

They are both wrote about the decline and fall of an empire but observe how this comes to be through different eyes and resolutions.

Asimov’s approach in ‘Foundation’ is one of a historian. He describes how bureaucratic inefficiencies and a disconnected oligarchy caused the end of the Galactic Empire. He does so analytically and logically throughout ‘Foundation’ and ‘Foundation and Empire’. He changes in ‘Second Foundation’ when he introduces a proper protagonist/antagonist narrative. He had to. The first two books were an amalgamation of published short stories with a common theme. To continue the story beyond the first two books he had to shift style and construction. From ‘Second Foundation’ to his last Foundation book he continues the narrative in this way but never abandons the logic (as questionable it becomes) of the events to the end.

Herbert tells the same story but from a more traditional mythological saga approach. The story of how the empire falls and rises again is the story of the hero’s journey. It begins with Paul Atreides and ends with Duncan Idaho, the last “true Atreides” (I do not include those works by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson because those books were not part of the original vision). Herbert tells the story as a storyteller. Where ‘Foundation’ stresses the “Science” ‘Dune’ is all about the “Fiction”. AppleTV failed with its version of ‘Foundation’ because David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman tried to make it into something it wasn’t, a mythic saga. Nothing in the first book lends itself useful for this kind of format. Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ is systematically logical and few on character development. To adapt it, Goyer and Friedman used a familiar narrative, and it is the reason it feels more like a bad imitation of the worst ‘Star Wars’ tale. This is not the same for Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’. Herbert’s ‘Dune’ is a mythic saga. Other than changes by the director for running time and artistic interpretation it is the same story by Frank Herbert. ‘Foundation’ failed with audiences because it tried to be something it wasn’t, and ‘Dune’ succeeded because it was what people expected.


And He Called the Darkness Night

I remember the night I saw her sitting on the dock by our cottage on the lake under the newly risen full moon. Legs hanging over the calm, black waters of the lake, her silhouette casting a dark shadow on the wooden pier. I had awakened sometime past sunset and had stepped out of the old wooden house to smoke a cigarette. I thought I was alone until I sensed her presence. My companions and I had specifically chosen this place because of its seclusion so I was surprised to see someone this late in the evening. Having no one know of our whereabouts was important to us at this time so finding a stranger so close to our cottage unnerved me a bit. Before making my way towards our unexpected visitor I took one last drag from my cigarette and tossed it out into the grass.

I didn’t attempt to hide my steps as I walked onto the creaking wood of the pier because I was curious and didn’t want to startle her. When I reached the dock’s edge I looked down to have a better view of her. She had pulled her long white dress exposing her knees to keep it above the water. I couldn’t see her face but from the back, I noticed her long, straight black hair reaching down to the old wooden planks of the pier. She seemed not to have taken notice of me until I spoke.

“Are you aware that you are trespassing on private property?” I spoke. I startled her as if I had awakened her from deep thought.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I saw the house earlier today and thought it was abandoned.”

Not completely untrue. Few knew it was occupied and fewer still knew of its occupants.

“Well, now you know.”

I bent down and slid next to her. That’s when I turned my head and look at her face for the first time. It was a soft profile, nothing angular about it. A small nose with an even smaller mouth underneath it, a pronounced but well-rounded chin. Her eyes, though, were her most remarkable feature. Wide and almond-shaped, her irises were as black as the dark waters of the lake.

She was about to get up when I stopped her and introduced myself.

“Please, don’t go, my name is Steven Elbridge. I own this property”

“Hello,” she said in a soft melodious voice.

“And you are…?”

“Laila? No last name?”

“Just Laila.”

“Well, just Laila, what brings you out here this late at night?” I asked fascinated by this wonderfully delicate creature.

“I was walking along the beach when I came across the pier and decided to sit for a while. I like going out at night, especially on warm ones like this, to view the lake and to look up at the moon and the stars. Isn’t it wonderful?”

The beauty of nature is something I never tried to appreciate but on this occasion, sitting next to her, I understood what she meant.

“It’s the quietness, mostly, that I find so fascinating. It’s soothing and calm. It helps clear my mind and I feel, well, you’re going to think it silly, but it makes me feel like I’m part of it. You know, the darkness, I feel like its wraps itself all around me; keeps me safe and warm.” She added a soft giggle as she said the last words.

She wasn’t aware of how truly dangerous the darkness of the night can be. Things move around in the cover of night, terrible things, some of which can cause great harm. Tonight, though, she was safe sitting next to me. That’s when I noticed how quiet the night was. Not a cricket sang in the woods nor was there the occasional disturbance of the water by fish hunting for prey. It was silent except for her voice.

“Yes, yes, I guess you are right. It is wondrous.”

She laughed again. “You talk funny. You’re a bit strange. I bet you’re not from around here.” Laila’s expression then changed realizing she may have said something wrong. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. Sometimes I just blurt things out without thinking.”

“That’s okay, don’t worry.” I don’t know why but I felt like I needed to be apologetic. She was right, I wasn’t from around here and her observation could be a problem. An idea then came to me. “Would you like to come inside?”

“Oh no, no. I need to be going. I live on the other side of the lake and I should be heading back.” Laila got up and began to walk towards the beach.

“Maybe I can walk you home?”

“No, that’s okay. I can find my way back by myself. I don’t want to trouble you.” Not walking home with a stranger, smart girl.

“It wouldn’t be. I’ll just tell my friends inside-”

“Please, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” She said this as her bare feet reached the patch of grass before the path that led into the forest, and I had stood at the end of the dock. I  resist the desire to follow her but decided, for my sake and hers, not to.
“Will I see you again?” I shouted as she ran along towards the path in the woods. From a distance, within the forest, I heard her reply, “Maybe.”

I stood there alone for a few minutes contemplating what had occurred and wondered why I wasn’t following her. At least, for the sake of keeping our location a secret, it would have been wise to know where she lived. I shook my head of those thoughts, lit another cigarette, and made my way back to the cottage. Just before I opened the screened door I took one last look at the blackness of the lake and noticed the crickets were singing in the forest.

Inside were my three companions. Raffi and Simon were laying on the couch, entangled in each other’s limbs, scrolling on social media. Dar sat alone, as always, on a stool by the bar with a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. All three looked up and stared at me with big grins on their faces as if they had just shared a private joke at my expense. Dar took a sip of something dark red out of her wine glass before putting the cigarette out in an ashtray. The television was on, a newscaster’s voice was giving the local weather report. Raffi, the brasher of the two lovers, spoke first.

“So, Elbie, who’s the chick you were talking to?”

I felt annoyed by his question.

“Yeah, Steven, who was she?” Dar asked in her most accusatory voice. Dar could be very abrasive when she wanted to be. I calmed myself down before I answered them.

“Nobody, a local I think. We didn’t talk much before she had to leave.”

Simon, who was normally the quiet one, spoke up. “I think Dar’s right, Steve. Do you think it was smart to let her go? I mean, what if she tells someone we’re here?”

I could read the anxiety in his eyes. He always worried we would be discovered.

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Simon.”

“But what if she does talk? What then? Not smart, Steven, not smart at all.” Her anger showing, Dar stood up from the stool and approached me from across the living room.

I tried to reassure them. “She won’t. Besides, if she shows up again I’ll follow her and take care of it.”

“You’ll take care of it,” mocked Raffi.

“I said, I’ll take care of it.”

We three have been together for several years now and we’re like family. I met Raffi and Simon at a dance club in Soho, they were lovers back then too, in a night of hedonistic revelry. They were a pair looking for an adventurous night and I, well, I provided the entertainment. They have been with me ever since. Raffia and Simon weren’t your typical representatives of the LGBT community. There have been more than a few times when I’ve walked out on them because I found their antics a bit excessive. One particular “game” they were fond of playing was their sadistic version of “Monkey in the Middle”. That’s when they blindfolded and hand-tied their victim and proceed to use a baseball bat whenever their target got near to them. Another one of their escapades was “the pigeon drop”. That’s where the boys would indiscriminately push an individual off the roof of a building and bet on how big of a mess they could make when the person finally reached the ground. Most of the time, though, at least when they weren’t bored, they were tolerable and even mildly amusing. Yet, despite all their cruelty the bond they shared between them was so deep I have to admit I envied them. Their love for each other was so passionate I know death itself couldn’t tear them apart.

Dar was different. At seventeen, her mom kicked her out of their house and had been alone when we three found her. Dar wasn’t into guys, or even women, but was willing to do what she had to do to survive in the streets. We took her in, not asking for any favors, and soon found out she came in handy when we were on the hunt. Predators are what we were. She was particularly good with children and had an uncanny knack for putting them at ease and gaining their confidence. They trusted her and did everything she asked. We purposely looked for the ones people wouldn’t miss and preyed upon them. It was because of this that we ended up in the northern part of the state; to hide among the scattered cottages along the lonely, forested roads by the lake until things cooled off a bit and we could return or move elsewhere.

We had left the city when one of the human trafficking outfits we traded with got raided by local law enforcement. We got a tip from one of our associates that the police had arrested everyone at the house we dealt in. Dealers, by their very nature, were unscrupulous and I knew the one they had arrested couldn’t be trusted to keep his mouth shut. He would have easily turned me and my companions to the authorities on the promise of a lesser charge. I hadn’t lived this long by being stupid. So, Raffi, Simon, Dar, and I decided to seek refuge in a cottage I had purchased some time ago just for this very purpose. Here, with no one around for miles, we would rest quietly, so I thought. It was by complete surprise to me to find someone out on the dock that night.

The next night Laila returned. There she was, same dress, same lovely hair, and beautiful eyes, sitting on the dock as she was the night before. I approached her, just as I had, and sat down next to her. Same black waters, same night but with the moon a little less full than before. This time, though, it was she who spoke first.

“Hi, I want to apologize for leaving so quickly last night,” she said in that same soft tone I found so pleasing.

“That’s okay,” I said in a way that I found surprisingly mimicked her calmness. “I was hoping you would return.” She softly laughed at my remark. Same laugh as the night before.

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

I found myself strangely attracted to her, like a moth to a flame. The look in her eyes, the way her lips moved as she spoke, the way her dark hair cradled the pale skin of her face, all these things awakened a desire in me I hadn’t felt for a very long time. Her small delicate features, so child-like and innocent, contrasted with eyes so deep with age. A thought that had never come to me before slowly crept into my mind. I wanted her! I wanted to be possessed by her! If I could just sit next to her for all eternity I would be content.

We spoke for a while just me and her. We talked about the night again, the darkness, how calm and soothing it was. We talked about the ageless stars and the charming moon. We conversed for a few moments on the things that dwelt in the night, both real and imaginary. And I, listening to everything she said, felt so serene. She had a mystical presence that held a spell over me. Then the time had come for her to leave.

“Must you go?” I asked, almost pleading.

“I have to. It’s getting late.”

Laila got up and, as she had the night before, she made her way towards the beach and then to the path that led through the forest. But, unlike the night before, I decided to follow her. I had made a promise to my companions I now wish I could take back. I needed to keep our whereabouts secret, I told myself. I needed to take care of the danger she posed. As much as I desired her I knew her existence was a threat to us.

I let her get ahead of me just enough for me to see her yet not too close for her to notice me. The forest was dark, but my eyes were well enough adjusted for me to follow her white dress. I moved quickly yet watched where I stepped so as not to make a sound that would give me away. The insects helped to cover my movements for they had started back with their nightly music. Surprisingly, Laila mirrored my silence and agility as if she was aware I was following her. I thought it impossible and yet there she was in manner. She turned into a bend in the path, and I lost sight of her for the moment. As I followed I saw the path open up into a clearing and then the beach but no sight of Laila. She was gone! I looked back behind me, retraced my footsteps hoping I took the wrong way, but no other paths were leading another way. Laila had vanished and all there was, all I could see, were a few dim lights from scattered houses in the distance and a lonely beach.

“You lost her! Bullshit!’ screamed Dar. “We saw you talking to her for hours! Why did you wait so long?”

Dar and the two lovers had been watching Laila and myself as we talked on the pier. They saw how she got up and entered the woods and how I followed her. When I returned my companions were under the impression I had taken care of our problem. But when I explained how she vanished they all howled in disbelief. Raffi spoke then.

“I’m with Dar. You let her go.” Raffi was standing next to Simon who stood by the old plaid couch they normally occupy. “We saw how you were looking at her.”

In silence, I put out my third cigarette in the ashtray on the dinette set. I was seething with anger as I sat in the chair next to the table. It vexed me how brazen they were with their accusations. I was tired and heard enough. It had been a long evening and the last thing I wanted to hear was any more of their squabbling. They weren’t there. They didn’t know what it was like to be in Laila’s company. They certainly didn’t know how I felt when I realized I had lost her. It tore me apart. Not only because of the missed opportunity but she had vanished, and I wasn’t sure she would ever come back.

“I’m going to sleep,” I said as I got up from my chair and made for my room. “I suggest you three do the same.” They were all standing in the living room when I closed the door to my bedroom.

The next night I overslept again. Since leaving the city I had been ill at ease and had not been sleeping or eating right. It didn’t help that the provisions we had brought were proving to be unappetizing and, with the threat of discovery hanging over our heads, I felt very stressed. I awoke restlessly and feeling the burden of age. Shuffling across the floor of the bedroom I tried the door. It was locked from the outside! I banged hard with my fists and cried out loud for my release. At first, I heard nothing. Then I heard conspiring whispers coming from the living room before the sound of a key moving and tumblers shifting within the door’s lock. I pushed on the door hard, almost taking off its hinges, and entered the room. I let out a grieving wail at the scene that greeted me.

The great couch in the middle of the room was soaked with blood and in the midst of it was Laila’s lifeless body. She was in an upright sitting position, her arms marked heavily with multiple puncture wounds as they were stretched out along the backrest of the sofa. Her neck, in an unnatural and twisted position, had a heavy gash where her carotid would be. Raffi and Simon sat on either side of Laila, content and satisfied, as Dar sat on her favorite stool by the bar. Dar’s fangs still dripped crimson along her lip line from the meal she just consumed. I was enraged.

“What have you done?!” I screamed. I launched myself over the couch and landed squarely in front of the two men. In fright, they tried to escape but I grab each one by their shirt collars and threw them across the room. Dar hissed and jumped towards me. My fist caught her in her midriff, and she landed roughly on the dinette set breaking it. When I recovered I looked upon what they had done and came to the realization that they accomplished what I failed to do. We were desperate creatures with a consuming hunger and she, poor innocent sweet Laila, was nourishment. Even then, as tempting as she was to me, as much as I needed her, I refused to drink.

“What’s the matter, Steven? I know you’re as hungry as we are,” Dar chided from where the table now laid toppled over.

“She showed up like she had the two nights before,” added Simon as he recovered from hitting one of the living room walls. “She knocked on the screen door asking for you, Steve.”

“We let her in,” it was Raffi this time. “We told her you were sleeping and, well…”

“You said you’d take care of it!” Dar was up now and ready for another round. “Well, we took care of it! She won’t be telling anyone where we are! AND SHE WON’T BE VANISHING INTO THIN AIR ANYTIME SOON!”

Disgusted, I pushed a defensive Dar out of my way, went into the refrigerator, and pulled out one of the bags of blood we hastily robbed from a Red Cross blood bank we broke into before we left town. I tore hungrily into it, feeling the cold, dead fluid run down my throat, and when I could drink no more, threw the almost empty bag into the kitchen sink. It was cold and old, but it had done the trick. I was filled and the desire for Laila’s sweet offerings was quenched. I restored my composure and addressed my companions.

“Now that you have decided to take matters into your own hands you will now clean up your mess.” All three looked at me in indignation. “I meant NOW!”

I grabbed my pack of cigarettes from my bedroom as they began to straighten up the room and take out cleaning supplies. I avoided their stares as I stepped outside and made out to the pier. I listened to the crickets sing as I sat on the lonely dock and lighted my cigarette.

The next night I was awakened by a cry I had never heard before. A low-sounding moan and sob coming from one of the other rooms. I hurried out of my bedroom and made my way down the hallway to where I heard the commotion. It was coming from the lovers’ room. The door was ajar, and Dar was already there. Raffi was sobbing as he laid over Simon’s body on the bed. Simon! Vampires normally have a slightly pale complexion but even then, if kept well-nourished, we appear to have the resemblance of the living. Not so with Simon, not now anyway. He was ashen and thin in countenance and more worrisome, unconscious. His skin had become leathery and desiccated and there were scattered blotches like pox all over him. It did not seem possible for one of the undead, but he looked as if he was truly dead!

“Steve, please, help,” Raffi pleaded as he saw me enter. “I woke up as soon as the sun went down and normally Simon wakes up after me. But, tonight, he didn’t even stir. I shook him and he wouldn’t wake up! What’s wrong with him, Steve?”

I stood there next to Dar not knowing what to say or do. In the many decades that have passed since I’ve been turned, I never would have thought something like this possible. Yes, daylight can do us harm, even destroy us if we prolong the exposure. There is the blood of the dead that could make us ill, but we have always been good at avoiding it even if we were in short of supply. We weren’t carrion eaters. Even if we could not feed for some time, which has happened in the past, we only have to lay dormant, with the appearance of death, until we sense something living to nourish us. A scavenging animal or a person eventually stumbles upon us, and we feed. But this? I motioned Dar to grab a bag from the refrigerator thinking it would help. When she came back I tore a hole with my teeth and let the red droplets fall into Simon’s gaping mouth. Nothing happened. He remained still. I eventually drained the whole bag and watched the crimson liquid spilling out of his mouth. Simon was truly dead.

Later that night we buried our poor sweet Simon next to the grave he had dug for Laila. Two bodies, in the forest, one taken by violence and the other by some unknown agent. We sat in the living room, Dar at her stool, me on the couch, and Raffi, uncomfortable in the only chair left of the dinette set. Dar finally said something.

“I don’t get it. This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen. Right? I mean, am I right?”

“I don’t know,” I said. Raffi remained silent in his grief.

“Steven, do you think there was something wrong with the blood we took from the bank?” Dar had an unfounded fear of blood-borne pathogens. Maybe it was because of her previous occupation as a prostitute or of some experience from earlier in her childhood. She always checked her victims for needle marks before she bit into them. This is why I think she preferred children or young adolescents to feed upon.   

“I don’t think so,” I answered her. “We all drank from it, and we would have known right away if there was something wrong.”

“I think she had something to do with it.” Dar and I looked in Raffi’s direction, he had broken his silence. “Maybe she told someone we were here. They could have entered the cottage while we were sleeping and did something to Simon.”

“That impossible!” I said as I looked at him with astonishment.

“Why not?’ Raffi continued to argue. “How would we know? You don’t know where she went after you lost her in the woods. As far as we know, she could have lived in any one of those houses along the lake. When she didn’t return, whoever she told about us could have gone out to look for her and found us instead. We all heard the stories about vampire killers”

“Fairy tales,” snide Dar. “Stories vampires tell each other to drive the competition out.”

“We would have known. I would have known,” I said for it had happened before. Once, in the city, a burglar broke into a house I was staying in during the daylight hours. Because the sunlight was bad for us I always kept the windows well shaded as to not let even a sliver of sunlight in. As I laid sleeping I sensed the thief breaking in. I heard him noisily stumbling through the house looking for anything he could steal. He was surprised to see he wasn’t alone. He was even more surprised to see me lounge towards him ready to put my fangs into him. No, if anyone had entered the house while we were sleeping I would have known. Then a thought occurred to me that even I found hard to believe. But could it be?

“Do you two think that maybe it was Laila?” I asked. Dar rolled her eyes thinking I was taking Raffi’s side. “Not as Raffi suggested. Dar, do you think that maybe it could have been in her blood?” Raffi contorted his face in confusion as he tried to understand what I meant and Dar shook her head more dismissive than before. It pained me deeply to hear her response.

“I doubt it, Steven, she was fresh, warm, and clean. I know good blood when tasting it. Hers was sweet like a newborn. No, I think you’re wrong there. If anything, my money is on that filthy blood we stole.”

That’s when we ended our argument that night.

On the fifth night of our stay at the cottage, it was Dar’s turn not to awaken. As with Simon she had to succumb to the same ailment that had afflicted them. Raffi and I began to uncharacteristically worry. This is something that wasn’t supposed to happen to us and yet it was. Raffi still didn’t believe me when I said nobody has been in the house while we slept. He couldn’t, wouldn’t accept it. So, he took matters into his own hands. Some time ago he had purchased surveillance cameras just in case we needed additional protection from pesky onlookers. They were small, easily hidden, and could be synced to our smartphones. Later, we could watch the videos the motion-activated cameras recorded. Raffi planted three of them strategically around the rooms and at dawn turned them on.

On the sixth night of our stay, I was the only one left. Raffi was dead, really dead, just like the rest of them and I was not going to stay and be next. I thought that even if it was an unknown agent in our environment, tainted blood, or sickness, I prefer to meet my end as far away from this place as I could get. Let’s say it was something particular to the cottage, some virulent strain specific to our kind, would it not be wiser to leave than to prolong exposure? What if it was in the blood we consumed? Deer were plentiful in the woods. Then there was the occasional hiker walking alone. If the blood was tainted I could hunt for sustenance and not risk suffering the same fate as my companions.

Leaving Raffi’s rapidly putrefying corpse where it laid in his room, I quickly packed what I could take into a small suitcase. I only took a few things; a change of clothing, multiple passports if I decided to leave the country, and the couple of thousand in cash I always kept while on the run and loaded them into the Rover Ranger Sport we drove on our way to the cottage. I went back in to retrieve my phone and charger and that’s when I remember the surveillance cameras Raffi had planted the night before. Not wanting to leave anything behind that would incriminate me of some wrongdoing, I removed them from their hiding spots and placed them in a carryall I was going to take along with my luggage. That’s when curiosity got the better of me. What if Raffi was right. What if instead of something causing my associates’ unfortunate demise it was someone. I had dismissed the possibility the night before but now I couldn’t take the risk if I was wrong. Knowing it was one threat or the other bettered my chances to escape.

I looked for the app on my phone and opened it. I then scrolled down to the correct date, time, and camera angle in the recordings and tapped the screen to play. On my phone screen, I saw the living room as it would have looked when we slept. The room was heavily darkened by the shades I had erected yet you could still make out items as if it was lighted. All seemed calm and I was about to shut it down when I saw a shadow moving in the hallway leading to our bedrooms. The shadow became more defined as it moved into the living room and that’s when I almost dropped my phone in horror. The specter wearing a white dress moved to face the camera as if it knew where it was hidden.

“Hello, Steven,” said a familiar voice behind me. I turned quickly and faced the same phantom I had just looked upon on the screen. I could only think it was a spirit for it was Laila who spoke to me.

“No, I’m no ghost. It is me, Laila.” She spoke in the same soft melodious tone I had heard her use just three nights ago.

“But, but how?”

“You of all people should know of the hidden things that walk this Earth.”

“I saw you die. You were dead when we buried you. That’s your body in the shallow grave in the woods.”

“Dear, dear Steven. How can anything that has never been alive die?”

“I don’t understand.”

She gave me a feral smile before she continued. “Ever wonder where the monsters come from? You, your kind, and others? Have you ever known what begot the denizens of the dark? Hmm? The Night, of course!”

That’s when I understood. All the talks we had on the pier about the darkness of the night and of how comforting it was to her. Of how even the creatures of the night, except for me, shunned from her presence. Only she could steal our semblance of life. She could bring true death to the undead. It was then that I remembered what they had called her in that ancient biblical tongue. “Your name,” I said.

“Yes, my name.” She moved closer and I could feel the coldness of her breath on me. “Come now, dear boy, my sweet, sweet Steven. Come and hug your mother.”

-A. M. Holmes


Visualizing BIG Numbers

Millions, Billions, Trillion; we hear these terms used about large values so often people have become numb to their actual meaning. I heard a fellow employee asked one time what he would do if he won a million dollars in the lottery. He replied, “a million isn’t enough to do anything.” He had no clue how much a million is. So, let’s take the most common object and use it to illustrate what these values are.

A dollar bill is .0043 inches thick. A stack of 1000 one-dollar bills would be 4.3 inches which are also 109.2 millimeters. For the sake of mathematical simplicity, I will be using the metric system from here on. I will convert the here and there so people using “Standard” and are not familiar with the metric system can understand. I will also round-up from 109.2 cm to 110 mm because by the time we get to billions, trillion, and beyond that small difference becomes negligible (if you’re picky, you can go back and use the precise value I’m just too lazy to deal with it).

Back to our stack of a thousand one-dollar bills. A 1000 one-dollar bills are 110 mm. A million, which is one thousand, thousand one-dollar bills (1000 x 1000) on top of each other would be 110,000 mm tall, or 110 meters high (see why metric is easy? 1000 mm = 1 meter). 110 meters is approximately 120 yards, longer than the length of a football field. That’s a million one-dollar bills stacked one on top of the other. So much for my fellow employee’s statement.

A billion is one thousand million. 110 meters is .11 kilometers and when you multiply that by a thousand, to get one billion, (.11 kilometers x 1000) you get a stack of one dollar bills 110 kilometers (approximately 68 miles) tall. Mount Everest is 8.85 km (5.5 miles). 110 km is almost 12.5 times the height of Mount Everest. Twelve and a half Mount Everest mountains on top of each other would equal a stack of one billion one-dollar bills. Presently, there are 7.5 billion people in the world. What if each dollar bill represented one person alive today that stack would be 825 km (approximately 513 miles) tall or 93.75 times the height of Mount Everest! This is the height most low orbiting satellites travel at.

 Take a moment to think about this. A stack of one billion one-dollar bills stacked on top of each other representing each person would be tall enough to reach space. I’ll wait.

That’s a lot of people living on Earth today.

This is why I find apocalyptic scenarios that speculate the complete extinction of human being so far-fetched. One billion is a large number and seven and a half, well, you see. Even if you were to kill off 99.99% of the human population there would still be 750,000 people alive. 750,000 is the estimated number of humans alive 10,000 years ago at the dawn of agriculture and city-states. From 750,000 to 7.5 billion in just 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in geological time! Hardly an extinction event in human terms. Nothing human beings have created thus far can kill every man, woman, and child on this planet. Yes, the human loss would be devastating but not complete. We are as indestructible as the worst of any infestation. Considering the number of species that have become extinct by our hands, beginning with the megafauna around 12,000 years ago, animal life on Earth has more to fear by our presence than any other natural event. By the end of the 21st century, if present trends continue, the human population on this planet will reach 10 billion! Not even climate change will kill us all off but the human suffering will be incalculable. Now, let’s take it up a notch and see what a stack of one trillion one-dollar bills would look like. That is if we can.

A trillion of anything is thrown around these days with as little true meaning as a billion was decades ago. A trillion is, in fact, a huge number. We just saw that our stack of one billion one-dollar bills would reach outer space. Doing the math as we have done before, multiplying by one thousand, our stack is now 825,000 km tall (512,630 miles). The distance to the moon is 363,100 km (238,900 miles). That would make our stack a little over two and a quarter-time the distance from the earth to the moon. Another way to think of it would be to make two equal stacks reaching the moon with a lot of change leftover. The stack laid on its side would circle the Earth a little over 33 times! The United States’ national debt is now at $28.3 trillion and growing every year.

I’ll give you another minute to think about that one.

$28 plus trillion dollars is an amount in debt your great, great, great-grandchildren would barely make a dent in paying it off. And like I said, it grows every year. The United States would have to run on a balanced budget up to its quadricentennial to pay it all off. It’s just impossible. Yet, politicians are always talking about how cutting a million here, or a million there makes them fiscally responsible. Who are they kidding if it’s not their constituents? Quibbling over a billion dollars, and cutting vital programs in the process, seems a little like trying to empty an ocean with a teacup.

Now, I’m going to skip a great deal of order of magnitude and discuss another term widely used but little understood by the general public, infinity. Just what does infinity mean? To most people, it means “something that goes on forever”. But can anybody truly picture what “forever’ means? Is it to the end of time? Well, no. Because the universe has a beginning, the Big Bang and, if physicists are correct, there is an end. One theory states that the “End” will come when the universe has expanded so far that star formation will come to a complete halt because the matter will be so thinned out no material could clump to make new stars a quadrillion years in the future. That’s one followed by fifteen zeros. What stars are left would form black holes that would eventually, due to the escape of Hawking radiation, will slowly fade away in ten to hundred quintillion (one followed by nineteen or twenty zeros) years from now. The only thing left at this point is a thin soup of basic particles that too will eventually lose energy and decay after a huge amount of time (1 followed by 200 zeros years from now). At this time, in the far, far future, with no movement, no particles, not even enough energy to register, time cannot be said to have any real meaning, and, so, it can be considered the “End of Time”. But this is not infinity for it goes on forever. This is why physicists hate infinity for to them it means simply “I don’t know”.

There you are, working on equations that will solve the Grand explanation of Everything and after years of work your answer comes out as “infinity”. Talk about frustration. Yet, the general public throws it around like it’s a household word. There are Infinity Stones, infinite multiverses (redundant, really), infinite possibilities (but, really, only a few possibilities). Infinity is, in human terms, an unknown and one that, by definition, can never be known.

-A. M. Holmes

Author’s Note; I’m not going to include any citations for the piece because I went to Google for such things as “how tall is Mount Everest” and “how far is the moon”. If I could do this, so can you if you have any doubts. I do think my math is pretty sound but if I did make mistakes please point them down in the comments along with the correct answer. -A. M. Holmes


Defining Science Fiction.

I just listened to an intriguing podcast on Science Fiction with Damien Walter where he tries to answer, ‘What is Science Fiction?’ (https://damiengwalter.com/2021/07/20/what-is-science-fiction/). In it, Walter brings up what he calls the three fallacies concerning science fiction. He says science fiction is not a genre as it is more like an artistic movement, it is not just “speculative fiction”, and not entertainment. I agree with what he said about two of these fallacies and slightly disagree with him on one.

First, what I agree with. Having viewed and read science fiction since I was a small child I have been inspired to write science fiction stories. For most of my life, I’ve done this as a hobby, something I did as a form of expression, to tell stories to myself. Now, encouraged by my wife’s publications, I wish to take this hobby and turn it into something that I can share with others. One of my wife’s questions, she writes epic fantasies, was what specific subgenre I was writing in. Well, I never considered that because to me science fiction is just that, and to break it down to a subgenre, or a sub-sub-genre seemed to me to be a ludicrous idea. Why would I want to pigeonhole myself into a specific slot and limit my creativity? Why does a story need to be limited to a specific arbitrary group when it can be more than that? “Who’s your target audience?” she answered. So the idea is a marketing tool and not a real literary definition. I agree with Damien Walter in that science fiction, with its crossover into many media forms and influence is more of an artistic movement no different than, say, post-modernism. It is only defined into its narrow literary definition of “genre” and all its “subs” to make it easier for the people who market it. So, the difficulty in defining it comes from it not being a specific product.

Is science fiction speculative fiction? Yes, it can be. But is it speculation? Not necessarily so. If you take science fiction out of being a genre you can do so much more with it along other avenues of thought. Rod Serling’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ did this in many of their stories. It wasn’t always about the “if this now, this is where we’ll end up” but at times about “here we are, now take a good close look at it”. Science fiction is storytelling with one foot in reality and the other in fantasy. It is the combination of the imaginative and the rational into one narrative. Technology, physical phenomenon (e.g. time travel, black holes, etc.), and non-human encounters are aspects of the setting unless they are the protagonist/antagonist of the story. They do not define science fiction but are part of the framework. I think Damien Walter’s explanation of science fiction as the melding of the “Mythos/Logos” is very much true. It is storytelling using the abstract notion of creativity with the rationality of realism. It is a form of expression distinctly unique as in any other artistic movement, for a movement it is.

Is it entertainment? Now, here is where he and I disagree. The reason I want to be a published writer is not that I want fame or notoriety, or to make a butt-load of money but to tell a good story. Storytelling is one of the oldest endeavors that first evolved in humankind. Our ancestors told stories around the campfire to educate and, depending on the manner it was told, to entertain. You can make the daily hunt more interesting if you tell it in a certain way. Storytelling is entertainment and science fiction is or should be, about the story.

-A.M. Holmes


Transparency in Science

Scientific research, unlike how it’s portray on the screen, is a lot of work spending many weeks in just data collecting. After that, comes the many days compiling and evaluating the research.

I have heard a lot on social media lately about how “scientific researchers are concealing information from the general public” that the scientific community are “colluding to inflate the number of those infected with the coronavirus to embarrass the president”, or that they are just lying about the results. These people say that there is a “lack of transparency” within the scientific community and that everything they say should be doubted. All of this comes from the lack of understanding of how research studies are reviewed before its publication and why peer review is so important.

For science to work there has to be transparency but sometimes you have to wait for the results to be evaluated and peer review. The general public has a problem understanding the last two, especially peer review. When a study is first presented it must be gone over by experts before publishing. This is not, as conspiracy nuts like to suggest, to protect the “Science Oligarchy” but to catch any missed errors in the methodology, data collecting, margin of error, and conclusion. A good study is one in which the data suggest something not quite as expected. If your research supports your hypothesis too strongly, one has to doubt the legitimacy of the methodology, data collection, or conclusion. This is why evaluation and peer review are important. When millions of dollars can sometimes ride on the correct results, it can be devastating to a group if there are mistakes in their study. Sometimes, and the news media like to report on these, some research groups have faked data, or cheated in their methodology to get the results they want. They are rare (100s of thousands of studies are done yearly) because most are caught during the review process. Getting caught cheating carries a heavy penalty. Not only do you lose your job, your reputation as a researcher and options for future work in the science field is permanently damaged.

Here are several recent Sars-Cov-2 vaccine studies. all you have to do is find where to look and read them. Oh, and most news media reporters do not have the time nor the technical know-how to figure out what these studies mean. These are the two leading vaccine studies most heard on the news lately. if you follow me you’d know I share the stuff.

For the Oxford-AstraZeneca study, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31604-4/fulltext#seccestitle80

For the NIAID-Moderna study, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2022483

-A. M. Holmes


Do You Know What White Privilege Means?

[Before I changed my surname to Holmes I was Gonzalez. I immigrated to the U.S. in 1969 when I was 6 years-old. -A. M. Holmes]

If you’ve never felt like crying when you were a child because you didn’t look or act like the other kids and they made fun of you, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never felt angry because the “funny” characters on tv shows and cartoons look and sound a lot like you, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never felt intimated or scared when a stranger, who is White, yells at you; calls you names; threatens you with bodily harm, for no reason other than because of who you are, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never experienced all of the above, then you have no idea what White privilege means or what racism is.

Why I Want To Become a Writer.

Sounds like a silly thing an adult to write about. You would imagine that this sort of a subject belongs in some sixth grade English class. But after reading some of the comments in writing groups on social media I find a lot of people don’t have a clue why they want to write. Some said it is because they can’t find a story interesting enough so they think they can come up with one of their own that is better. Others think it is an easy way to fame and fortune and good marketing. And then, there are the ones who think, “Well, gosh, I have a really good story and people will think so too”.

I have to admit I fall into that last group. But, even though I’m a realist, I still believe people will enjoy what I create. Why?

Because storytelling is part of what makes us human beings. It’s in our nature and has been part of us since the time we gathered around the fire back in our hunter-gatherer days. Some of us like it and get better at it than others. For example, I see a pile of snow after a snowplow had come through and I imagine mountains and a valley and the people who live there. I see a forest and imagine what forest would be like on other worlds, what creatures live within it, who would visit it and why? I see the advancements in science and I imagine not a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world but one open to numerous, promising possibilities. Most of all, I see a good story and I imagine what it would be like to share it with an interested audience.

That is why I want to be a writer, to find my audience, to tell stories, and if on the way I become wealthy and famous, well…

The 4 Categories of Star Wars Fans

All 9 of the “Skywalker” saga not including the side “Star Wars” story movies.

I love all sci-fi from books to movies to tv series so there are times like these where I can step back and watch what makes a “true fan” of a particular franchise.

As an observer, I find that ‘Star Wars’ fans fall into 4 categories that have a similarity to religious divisions. They are as follows,

1. Those that love the original 3 (as shown in the theater) movies and read the books as canon. They don’t like the later movies (especially the ‘Phantom Menace’ and ‘The Last Jedi’) and had a stroke when “The Mouse” took over.

2. Those that love all 6 movies from Lucas (including the digitally remastered), read the books as canon. They feel a little weird about ‘The Phantom Menace’ and hate ‘The Last Jedi’. They feel apprehensive about “The Mouse”.

3. Those that love all 9 movies plus the side stories (‘Rogue Squadron’ ‘Solo’), love ‘The Mandalorian’, have never read any of the books, feel J. J. Abrams has done okay, and are open to see what “The Mouse” does as long as they don’t ruin it (whatever that means).

4. And those that love all things ‘Star Wars’ -the movies, the t.v.shows, the games, the merch, EVERYTHING. They have even gone to Disney World to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Of course, there are those that overlap and just like religious fanatics, the most conservative of zealots are the most vocal.

And don’t get me started on the ‘Star Trek’ fans and their Paramount/Bad Robot/CBS divisions.

Introvert, An Update

I find people frustratingly annoying. I find them to be more so when they simply do not understand me. It’s not that I don’t try. I believe it’s because they either think my antisocial behavior is an act, a quirk, or a mental illness. It’s really none of those things. I’m not an act to avoid certain responsibilities that I have (give me a task and I will complete it. If I need assistance, I will ask for it). It’s not a behavioral oddity I can just turn off (I’m not trying to be humorous or difficult, it just is). It’s not depression (my ASD does heighten my sensitivity to certain sounds, lighting, and touch. At such times I withdraw into a meditative mode in order to control the anxiety it produces) I’m happy with who I am in life. So, what advice can I give, what insights in dealing with a person like me can I provide other than to just “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE”? Not much, I don’t think. But here’s a few things I can say about what I go through that may help you to understand who I am.

“Working well with others.” I’m a high voltage electrician (“medium-high voltage” technically for I deal with 480 to 14,000 AC volts) in a steel factory maintaining load carrying equipment. I deal with breakers, motor-generators, and relays that provide the power source for steel manufacturing. Most of what I do is watch and record current readings and maintain certain levels of power usage. On occasions, and this is when it becomes exciting for me, I must troubleshoot and repair equipment that has failed. If I maintain things right or act proactively, these occurrences should happen, as they should, rarely. It’s a lonely job. Does that bother me? Nope. I “do my thing” at my pace when I want to and to the standards, I set for myself. My boss calls me a “self-motivator”. In truth, being alone to do a job is when I enjoy it best. Most of the time I can handle what issues crop up on my own. The exceptions are when I have work in substations (OSHA rules, not mine) or when a task requires other people to assist me. At those times I may get a bit “chatty” but that’s only me overcompensating. It’s me trying to be friendly. Inside I’m screaming because circumstances have placed me in a position where I must rely on others. I do work well with others and do appreciate people’s help but if given a choice I would rather that do the job by myself.

For most of my life, I’ve had to deal with the fact that I was different. I see things differently, think differently, interact (as awkward as it was at times) with others in a different way. Because of this I was often ridiculed or shunned quite often. This led me to my attempts to conform, to falsely mimic other people’s behavior in order to fit in. Over the decades I became quite adept at it giving people the wrong idea that I was a “social person”. What they didn’t understand is how much work it took to maintain this façade. It was exhausting. I couldn’t maintain it all the time and when I wavered my interpersonal skills would falter and people, including myself, would get hurt. At times I would say “I need some alone time” or do things like isolating myself. This did not mean I didn’t care for other people’s feelings it just meant I needed to “recharge”, to be myself, before I could continue. I couldn’t make and keep friends. Relationships were nearly impossible (it may have been one of the reasons why my first marriage failed, I couldn’t be honest with her). Many people didn’t understand this, I didn’t for the longest time, and this brought about both anxiety and depression. I was not happy with myself because I was not who I am. I saw conformity as an enemy of who I really am. Inside, in my world, in my “mind’s eye”, people and things were part of an outside tapestry of interactions, patterns, that were foreign to me. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s that I had difficulty in understanding it unless I stood back and exam it first.

And this brings me to why I relied on years of drug and alcohol abuse and finally mental health therapy in order to cope. In my introspective search, I have come to accept who I am and have become a happier person. Quitting drugs and alcohol have relieved me of those self-abusing crutches. Therapy and the use of mood-stabilizing drugs have lessened the anxiety I would experience. Accepting myself, my “differences”, has liberated me from much of what I have struggled with for so long. I can unleash my creative mind because I no longer must work under the yoke of conformity. Because of all that I have also forged a relationship with an individual, my wife, who loves and understands me. Does that mean I have stopped pretending who I’m not? Unfortunately, my present employment situation and lifestyle keeps me from doing so. The difference now is that I have made a refuge both mentally and physically that helps me cope with the insane world of having to socialize in order to maintain other people’s emotional needs. I know it makes me sound cold and uncaring maybe even sociopathic but it’s far from the truth. I can feel, I do have empathy, I just have difficulty expressing it. My wife knows this very well. She also knows that when I truly open up to you and show you who I really am you are very special to me.