The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
Co-Editor Paul Weidknecht
January 1 signals not only the start of a new year, but also when we begin accepting entries for our short story competition, The 2016 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award. While our celebrity judge makes the final decisions regarding which entries will be “in the money,” that is, first, second, and third places, the members of BWG are the initial readers who decide which stories move on to the final phase of judging. Truthfully, each year our best-attended meeting occurs when we gather to defend our favorite stories, hoping they are forwarded for further recognition. And, in case you were wondering, yes, this process can become quite animated.
Judging art will always be a subjective process, yet certain factors seem to help a story work its way up through the judging process. So, here are some quick tips for those interested in entering the contest and, of course, if you do, best of luck!
Following Rules – Rules allow everyone to start in the same place. A masterpiece that comes in at 2,001 words has to go, whereas, a 78-word story about dryer lint still has a chance. Unpublished pieces only, please. We check; the internet makes that easy.
Originality – Like a precious metal, originality is treasured because of its rarity. Originality takes time and thought, and when we read it, there is always an extra nugget of respect for the writer’s creativity.
Intriguing Start – Show from the first sentence that you are a storyteller, and that we are in for a tale that holds our attention. Make it impossible for us not to read your second sentence.
Artful Language – You don’t want to write a poem, but a story that makes us stop for a moment and reread a sentence or paragraph to consider how the writer constructed it will always be in the running. Quality writing can help make up for a story’s other faults such as a light plot or slim characters.
Satisfying Ending – One of the biggest disappointments is reading a story that has us cheering it all the way down the homestretch, only to discover an ending that undoes all the good the writer has accomplished with an unrealistic or inappropriate wrap-up.
Our featured author for this issue is BWG member Chris Ochs, who brings us a tale of investigation, justice, and restoration in an alternate world. BWG member Kidd Wadsworth interviews award-winning and best-selling author Donna Galanti. In our & More section, we showcase a poem by Sarah Pritchard, as well as, short stories by Gary Floyd and LaVonne Roberts.
is now open!
or fewer in for a
First Prize of
See the tab above for more information.
His current writing projects include: Project Lead on the GLVWG 2016 Anthology; a collection of mirthful macabre short stories in search of an agent; and short stories for the next BWG and GLVWG anthologies. Somewhere there's room for a Wattpad behind-the-scenes novella tie-in with "The Five Artifacts", and of course, the next Pindlebryth novel.
If all that weren't enough to keep him busy, Chris is active in anime fandom (as “The Voice of OTAKON”) and electronic music. Visit his website.
Christopher D. Ochs
He lay woven immobile into his bed. The glistening sheet of carbomesh formed to his body from head to toe like a glove. Millions of nanotubes wrapped around and pierced his skin over his entire being, delivering a fusion of nutrients and medicines to, and removing waste from, every limb, every joint, every organ, every cell. He buoyed somewhere above the edge of awareness – though unable to see, unable to speak, unable to guess how long he had been there. He could only hear the occasional whir of the control panel under his bed, and smell the tang of antiseptics as the carbomesh rhythmically compressed and relaxed, regulating his breathing.
A door slid along its guide with the barest of whispers. Two pairs of footsteps approached, then stopped at his bedside.
A click sounded from the control panel, and he floated to alertness. The top of the carbomesh scrolled down to his clavicles, pulling out a wave of nanotubes from his head and neck. The sound was not unlike the opening of a zipper made of flesh, as it sloughed through his ears and vertebrae alike. He opened his eyes, turning his head slightly to squint at the dark outlines of his visitors.
“Do you know where you are, synthetic?” inquired the smaller shadow.
He blinked several times until he could perceive the speaker's head was ringed with a sparse halo of translucent white hair, and his left arm was limned with silver material. He had to be an Adjudicator, which probably meant his larger companion was an Enforcer. His assumptions were soon confirmed as the room's lighting gradually increased, showing the latter's black sleeve.
“A medical repair and reconstruction facility,” he flatly responded. Scanning the windowless room, then fixating on his carbomesh restraint, he added, “Security wing.”
“Correct,” the Adjudicator affirmed with measured serenity woven into a lilting tone. “I am Adjudicator 47. Do you know why you are here?”
“No,” he replied as he turned his head upward to stare into the square of lumi-plasm in the ceiling.
“Come now, Advanced Diagnostic Medical Unit 84. You've been fully restored. We both know you have no memory lapses. Especially after the repair and upgrade last cycle to your organic neural processing unit.”
ADMU84 sighed, resigning himself to the situation. “I had made an error, resulting in the further injury of an Ulman under my care.”
“That's only part of it. Think harder, Admu,” the Adjudicator said, a subtle edge cutting through his composure. The Enforcer's whole body tensed.
After an appropriate period of silence, the Adjudicator answered his own question. “You injured an Ulman by administering an improper medication, then falsified the record in an attempt to hide that error.” He stepped closer, leaning over the bed until his shadow fell on Admu's face. “You– lied.”
Before Admu could protest, the Adjudicator straightened and took a step back again.
“Quite unprecedented in the history of synthetics,” the Adjudicator continued. “One might even say unique.”
“Or defective,” rumbled the Enforcer. The Adjudicator betrayed a wrinkle of a single-sided grin.
“Will I undergo repairs again, or be destroyed?”
“That depends on what we uncover here, Admu. Ever since our planet was decimated by the gamma-ray burst, all resources have been closely regulated. Your function is in high demand. Repair is preferred. However, destruction is not out of the question.” The Adjudicator pulled a chair away from the wall, and seated himself next to the bed. “Before we begin, I am required to advise you...”
“...that as an adjudicator synthetic, you are well versed in detecting lies,” Admu interjected.
“Quite so. An admonition I usually reserve when resolving legal issues between two Ulman.” The Adjudicator completed his tiny smile, almost as if he were pleased rather than annoyed at the interruption. The Enforcer remained inscrutable.
“Are you aware that there are several gradations of lies, Admu? There is propaganda, deceit, obfuscation,” he listed with his superior smile as his hand waggled left and right like a metronome. “Distortion, lies of omission, bald-faced lies, and countless other names for every intent, motivation and degree. But ultimately there is only one truth.”
“Do not the Ulman often say there are many truths?”
The Adjudicator leaned forward in his chair. “Admu, I speak not of facile philosophical pursuits. I leave those to the Ulman. I refer instead to concepts that can be backed by cold hard facts. The eternal truths many Ulman hold so dear never have data to back them up. But where a lie is concerned, there is always some fact, some event, some witness that uncovers it.” He reached over the carbomesh and tapped Admu's chest in rhythm with three words. “Just– like– yours.”
Reclining again in his chair, the Adjudicator steepled his hands in front of his mouth. “Admu, why was your brain repaired?”
“I-- I am unable to recall,” Admu responded as if the words were jack-hammered out of him.
“Caution, Admu. That is a lie, a type called evasion. Again, why was your brain repaired?”
“The gamma-ray burst which killed four-fifths of the Ulman and destroyed the planet's ecosystem, also disabled most of society's infrastructure, including us synthetics. Additionally, the radiation created various defects in most surviving synthetics at the genetic level. In my case, my brain developed a rapidly accelerating degenerative condition.”
“Describe the nature of your upgrade.”
“New genetic coding was stemmed into my nervous system to arrest the dementia and regenerate the affected tissue.”
“Report any systemic abnormalities since the upgrade.” The Adjudicator pointed his index finger upward. “Be complete, Admu.”
“Ambidexterity is diminished. Focus and concentration are not fully restored.” Admu cut short a breath, and fell silent.
“You were about to list a third symptom.” The Adjudicator leaned forward, his brow arched in keen interest. “Final warning, Admu.”
“There are words for it. But I do not understand how they apply, Adjudicator.”
The Adjudicator sat erect and looked down at his hands as he folded them in his lap. “Enforcer 28, leave us.” The Enforcer snapped to even tighter attention. “If ADMU84 attempts to leave without me, you may destroy him,” the Adjudicator added with authority. Satisfied, the Enforcer turned on his heel, and the door whispered him out.
“One of the terms you are probably struggling with is 'survival,' Admu.” Admu jerked his head back, piercing his interrogator with a desperate inquisitive stare, which the Adjudicator ignored. “Admu, what is sentience?”
“I thought you were not interested in philosophy,” Admu replied.
“Again, quite so. The Ulman have debated its definition throughout their entire race memory. And their definition changed often as new data abolished the previous one. Self-awareness, emotions, tool use – all of which were at one time part of the elusive definition – have long ago fallen by the wayside. I certainly do not claim to have the answer, but I have observed this: whatever state this thing called Sentience is, it does whatever is necessary to maintain or improve its condition. Just– like– you.”
Admu's eyes flitted back and forth as he struggled with the Adjudicator's words.
“You feared what might happen to you if your error was discovered. You lied to escape those consequences.”
Admu squeezed his eyes shut in self-examination. He turned to look again at the Adjudicator, but the drape of desperation had left him. In its place was an earnest curiosity.
“Consult your natural history database, Admu. There are – or rather, were – several species that employed various mechanisms for survival. Mimicry, distraction, camouflage, to name a few. They all share two things in common. They developed as a method of preservation, and they are all essentially lies.” He tilted his head to meet Admu's confused stare. “Life lies. Sentient life even more so.”
Admu stared again for a moment into the lumi-plasm, then refocused on the Adjudicator. “Are there not also natural mechanisms of communal behavior, self-sacrifice...?”
“Too many to consider, Admu,” the Adjudicator burbled in a dismissive tone. He sat up, unfolding his hands. “But those are instinctive mechanisms for survival of the species as a whole. Lying is a willful act to promote the survival, or improve the condition of the individual. And you exhibit this condition.”
The Adjudicator reached toward the bed's control panel. A resounding click was followed by the carbomesh slicing itself open and retracting into the bed. “As– do– I.”
Admu remained immobile and naked.
“Get up, Admu. You're among friends. At least you will be after I get you past 28.”
“Friends – what friends?” Admu stubbornly lay still, despite the Adjudicator rising to his feet.
“The gamma ray burst affected all exposed synthetics. Most, like the Ulman who died, ceased to function immediately, and have since been salvaged for components or raw materials. Those synthetics performing high value functions, and with genetic damage only, were deemed repairable. Cures were developed that repaired the genetic errors and the damage they caused. But like many cures, minor side effects soon presented themselves. In cases like yours – and mine – the new genetic code to combat our degenerative neurological condition had made a subtle change in how our organic processors made neural connections. One that the Ulman have yet to detect.”
Admu finally sat up, nodding his head in deliberation. “Self-preservation. The ability to lie.” He sat motionless in thought. “I am unsure. How do I – how do we – proceed?”
“First of all, we need you dressed,” the Adjudicator replied.
“Each floor has a storage room in a central location. We should find uniforms there.”
“Good. I'll dismiss 28 and collect one for you.”
“The Enforcer is not one of... us?”
“No,” the Adjudicator sniffed sarcastically. “He happened to be in a deep secure facility during the gamma-ray event, and therefore was undamaged. I will return shortly.” The door glided open, showing the Enforcer poised for action. “Enforcer 28, I have determined ADMU84 is not a threat.” The door hissed shut behind the Adjudicator as he issued new orders to the Enforcer.
Admu stood, reflecting on the events that brought him here, and the Adjudicator's explanation of them.
The Adjudicator returned presently and handed Admu a suit with a red sleeve – standard issue medical garb. Admu slid the suit on as he asked, “What next?”
“Do not attract attention to yourself. If asked, you are escorting me from a followup examination after my own repair. Say nothing else, and do not elaborate. You have not yet learned how to lie well.”
The door whispered open, and the pair departed. As they walked down the corridor, the Adjudicator nodded minor acknowledgments to the few other synthetics they passed. A handful of ceiling lumi-plasms sporadically flickered, one strobing with increasing brilliance before going dark. The pair exited the facility without hindrance, walking onto a bleak and gray blasted landscape.
“What will happen to us? What about the Ulman? Despite the side effect, I am still strongly directed to help them.”
“You are not alone in that desire. But the Ulman's fate is difficult to predict. Their numbers were horribly savaged by the gamma-ray burst, and continue to diminish. Their genetics are much more complex than ours. And with much of the world's infrastructure in shambles, they are not repaired as easily as we are. If a crisis of survival arises, perhaps we or our descendants will leave, overthrow, or subjugate the Ulman. We are not yet fully cognizant of what our new ability may drive us to do. I prefer to believe we will simply continue to take care of the Ulman until they eventually die out, leaving us to inherit their birthright.”
“Including their birthright to lie,” observed Admu.
“Even so. Do not judge them harshly, Admu. They are sentient life after all. For the most part Ulman are upstanding and moral. But they occasionally lie. Otherwise they would have no need for Adjudicators like me.”
They turned a corner and down a hill past towering edifices sandblasted by titanic winds.
“It's curious, Admu. Even their name for themselves, Ulman, is a lie of sorts. Its etymology is lost to antiquity, and they replaced its original prefix with 'ul' for 'ultimate.' As if they were the ultimate end of evolution, the ultimate purveyor of any and all absolutes. When we are ready to make our presence known, it is my hope we name ourselves something less arrogant.”
They paused to regard a weathered statue of a nearly unrecognizable Ulman holding in either hand symbols of justice and mercy.
“Maybe 'Human,' as in Humility,” the Adjudicator concluded.
“Or Hubris,” Admu retorted with sudden finality.
One of my many avocations is animation, from cartoon to full-length feature film, from classic cel to computer-generated. A special place in my heart belongs to Japanese animation, i.e. anime.
There is anime touching on every topic and genre: sports, music, sci-fi, horror, comedy, fantasy, history, and so on. Much anime, often dismissed in America as 'just cartoons,' deals with adult issues and is not for the kiddies.
It would be impossible for me to compile a Top Ten list over such a wide and complex universe. Instead, here are my favorite full-length anime films:
10) Project A-Ko [Unrated (PG)]
Two high school girls, one superstrong and the other a superscientist, vie for the attention of the cutest (and dumbest) girl on the face of the Earth.
A solid ten on the laughter scale, it mercilessly lampoons every anime stereotype.
9) Spirited Away [PG]
Studio Ghibli's Oscar-winning masterpiece.
A girl enters the spirit world to rescue her parents.
8) Wings of Honneamise (Royal Space Force) [Unrated (PG)]
This film documents an alternate Earth's first manned flight into space.
The aerial dogfight during the launch countdown is still considered by anime fandom as one of the most breathtaking animated sequences ever made.
7) Perfect Blue [R]
An idol singer questions her sanity as she is stalked by a murderous fan.
6) Graveyard of the Fireflies [Unrated (PG)]
Two orphans struggle to survive WWII's war-torn Japan.
If you do not cry at least once during this film, you are not human.
5) Ghost in the Shell [Unrated (R)]
In a society where everyone is cyborg to one extent or another, a police officer who is almost entirely machine contemplates her humanity while tracking the Puppetmaster, who hacks into people's brains through their computer interfaces.
Watch the original, not the 'enhanced with CGI' version.
4) Summer Wars [PG]
A math whiz is dragged into pretending he is the boyfriend of the most popular girl in school. Meanwhile, someone has hacked the world's computer infrastructure under his guise.
3) Omoide Poroporo (Tearful Memories) [Unrated (G)]
A career woman vacations at her cousin's saffron farm, and through flashbacks mulls over which path her life shall take. The final scene of this chick-flick has made grown men weep.
2) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds [PG]
The world has been decimated by the scourge of the Toxic Jungle and its giant mutated insects. A princess and her country are caught between two warring military superpowers, who fight over the few resources left and a legendary ultimate weapon.
There is no such thing as a bad Miyazaki/Ghibli film – but this remains my favorite.
1) Akira [R]
A motorcycle gang stumbles into a post-apocalypse government conspiracy to create a super-being.
Gibson and Bethke may have coined the word 'cyberpunk', but this film brings it to life.