Lunar Base Lost Query

Title:
Lunar Base Lost

Category and Genre:
Adult SCI-FI

Word Count:
89,000

Query:
LUNAR BASE LOST is set in an underground moon colony that lost contact with Earth after nuclear war broke out over fifty years ago. Lunar Base Three hangs on by maintaining a strict society and limiting its population. Isabela (Izzy) Rodriguez is assistant to Presider Barbara Graham. Barbara’s more relaxed policies, like making physical exercise optional for some colonists, have politically split the moon base. When Matthew Graham and his wife become pregnant, their unborn child exceeds the population capacity. Barbara must be euthanized. Since Matthew opposes his mother’s policies, Barbara suspects the pregnancy is politically motivated and urges Izzy to run for her office. As the baby’s birth looms, Izzy and Matthew campaign for the colony’s votes. When Matthew exposes Izzy’s secret after Barbara dies, the election spirals into violence and jeopardizes the survival of the moon base.

First 250 Words:
Each time the curtain fluttered, Izzy, and those that needed to be here and those that didn’t need to be here but were here anyway, would jump. Once when the nurse came out, a quiet gasp echoed off the round metal walls. But the nurse silently picked up a stethoscope from her supply cart and went back behind that curtain.

One new life, one old death.

Izzy had dutifully done her job a few hours before and got the custodial staff to move several stacks of folding chairs to the bottom floor level of the Hospital Tower. Most members from the Assembly were sitting in them now, although Izzy couldn’t see her dad anywhere.  Off duty specialists and novices from the Nuclear Plant were sitting or standing around the bottom floor too. Of course, they would be there to congratulate their boss if what happened happened.

She looked up at the curious heads on the ledges of each level that ringed the round, white metal Hospital Tower. Izzy recognized just about everybody except those on the top level, six levels above the open atrium on the bottom floor. The distance and the fluorescent lighting up there made most of them shadowy, although she did recognize Billy Smith looking down. Big for his age, Ten-year-old Billy had fractured his leg a couple day shifts before when he fell in the AgCenter. He shouldn’t be here now, but this was the Hospital Tower, so of course he should be here.

The Enceladus Archive

When I was ten years old, I got an idea for a book. The story would be about a lonely eleven year old boy, growing up in rural Minnesota, whose only friend was a robot. To everybody else this robot looked like a normal human, but this lonely boy knew the robot’s secret. I started jotting down ideas in my diary and planned on starting to write it, but I was ten and other things had more priority and well, I was ten.

Time moved along.

Those early ideas I wrote in my diary led to other ideas and eventually I studied theatre and then playwriting and wrote plays. A lot of plays. I write at least one new play every year if not more, and do the playwright thing – sending work out, having readings once in a while, getting productions once in a while. But for some reason this early, early idea of that lonely boy and that robot never really left me. And I had always wanted to write novels as well, so I thought, okay, I better explore this project.

It took me about seven years from start to finish, and what was one novel became three. The original idea evolved, so now the lonely eleven year old became a lonely sixteen year old. The robot best friend became the main character’s older, less than supportive brother, and instead of a robot, he became a cyborg. That led to a lot other questions. How did this cyborg get to rural Minnesota? Why does he look like his brother? Who made the cyborg? All of those questions caused the story to expand into a much larger canvas. An exhausting, rewarding project.

Now that the writing is done, what happens now? That’s the next question. I’ll update this blog with what’s going on with the novels. Onto the adventure….

Purpose of HR Pioneers

One of the first items we focused on was the purpose of the book. Early on we agreed the book needed to be much more than a memoir. As we met and talked about the project, a real direction emerged. We decided to explore all sides of the HR function at Control Data; how it started, how it was organized, the initiatives it began, and how the initiatives turned out (good, bad, or in-between). We began to think of the project as a text book that would accurately describe the history of Control Data’s Human Resource function.

So with that purpose in mind, our next question was who would be interested in it? We identified three main audiences:

  • Business Colleges
  • HR Professionals
  • Anyone interested in Control Data history

The shape of the book took form. The first chapter would be the starting point that would document the history of Control Data, giving the rest of the information a context. The next chapter made the next logical step of exploring how Control Data structured the HR function in the company, how the HR function expanded, and how its role with employee relations developed. The middle chapters would then examine the various internal initiatives and business ventures pursued by the HR function – Employee Advisory Resource (EAR), Prison Industries, Business Advisors, and so on. The last chapter would then document what happened to some of these business initiatives after Control Data split apart into various child organizations.

So with the purpose set and the outline laid out, the research and writing could begin!

Meetings Over Meals

The research for HR Pioneers pretty much started in restaurants. Jim Morris would set up meetings with Norb Berg, Frank Dawe, and Gene Baker over supper, and the five off us would meet. At first we met in a Greek restaurant right next to the Epicor building where I work, then other places along I-394 like the Olive Garden and the Macaroni Grill. Since I work days, it was the most convenient to find a restaurant close to Epicor. So I would wrap up some afternoon projects and then head to a restaurant, hungry and with notebook in hand.

These meetings were a terrific way for Jim, Norb, Frank, and Gene to visit too. As they shared memories back and forth, I got a great sense of the corporate culture at Control Data. Right away I could see these four really enjoyed working for the company and with each other. They passed along a lot of their history as they remembered the different projects and events they participated in during their Control Data careers. I would only ask a question when something wasn’t clear or when I wanted to get more information on a certain subject. Most of the time I would be busy scribbling notes, trying to keep up with the conversation and the information flow.

Now restaurant tables are not exactly the largest, so it was always a challenge finding room for my notebook and my plate of whatever I ordered and my glass of raspberry ice tea. As I didn’t want my dish to get cold, I did need to eat and take notes at the same time. So I used these meals as an opportunity to practice eating left handed while I wrote right handed (I’m right-handed). This actually worked okay, and I learned to order meals that had stuff I could stab at easily with my left hand. I also made sure to use a smaller notebook. That did mean I had to turn the notebook pages more often, but it was just enough space for simultaneous eating and note taking. Those early meetings were invaluable, interesting, and quite fun. I gathered the starting information I needed to begin research on the book.

One Big Elephant

I mainly remembered CDC from their Control Data Institute commercials that aired during Saturday morning cartoons. I knew the company had developed computer technology, but that was about it. Jim explained Control Data was one of the most innovative mainframe computer developers and manufacturers in the 1960s-1980s. Seymour Cray was the first of the company’s many superstars, and that name caught my attention. So naturally I thought the book Jim was proposing would be about the technology developed by Control Data. But surprisingly that’s not the book Jim wanted to write. Instead he wanted to create a book that recorded the history of Control Data’s social business initiatives.

So here’s where I learned this book would be in much more controversial territory. As Jim explained, Control Data experienced a major financial downturn in the late 1980s and was eventually split apart and renamed as Ceridian Corporation. This fact was “the elephant in the room” we would need to address. Many people, former employees, past investors, and company observers were all still angry about what happened to Control Data. Abundant reasons and theories exist as to why the company declined, the main one being CDC missed the personal computer explosion. And why did the company miss the PC revolution? A big finger of the blame pointed at the subject Jim wanted the book to explore – the policies and initiatives pursued by the company’s Human Resource function.

As I researched Control Data over the next three years, I found out this “elephant in the room” was a very large, interesting elephant. Many articles I researched and people I interviewed stated the company’s social businesses were good in theory, but did little for the company’s bottom line. Then other articles and individuals would argue the opposite view, that the HR innovations had little to do with the company’s decline. No way around it, this book would be much more than a point by point corporate history. It would need to examine the validity of an approach to corporate ethics and social responsibility.

The CDC Journey Begins

HR Pioneers: A History of Human Resource Innovations at Control Data Corporation will soon be published by North Star Press. I started this book five years ago with a team of former Control Data executives –Norb Berg, Frank Dawe, Jim Morris, and Gene Baker. The project has been a terrific journey, and for the next few blogs I will write some “behind the scenes” entries about my experiences from researching to writing to marketing and now, publishing. It’s been quite an honor to tell the story about the HR innovations and social business initiatives launched by Control Data Corporation. Much of this history did not exist in much detail before, and some information that did exist was either inaccurate or misunderstood.

I’m a playwright by passion, so how did I end up writing a historical book about Control Data Corporation’s approach to business and community ethics? In a roundabout way it started at the Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis. Kristen Gandrow, the playwrights’ liaison at the time, connected me with the New Prague City Council. New Prague was nearing its 150th anniversary, and a group of local historians had written a rough draft for a historical pageant. They needed help from a playwright to shape it into something they could perform. Since I grew up near a small Minnesota town like New Prague, Kristen thought I would be a good match for this rural town pageant.

I met Jim and Janet Morris, two leaders in charge of developing the project. They gave me a tour of New Prague, a stack of stuff to read, and introduced me to several people who knew the local history. The rough draft of the pageant was also full of historical details. So after I got well acquainted with the town story and Czech culture (the town was settled by Czech immigrants, and so, New Prague), I started shaping their script into a more performable piece of theatre. Jim and Janet were really happy with the play we developed. Unfortunately the historical committee didn’t have the resources in time or people to stage it (sigh). But they paid me, so the project had a halfway decent outcome.

About eighteen months passed. I had just finished a whirlwind fall during which three of my plays were performed at nearly the same time. Now all those productions were done and I was in that “well, what can I do next?” mode. I got a phone call. Jim Morris. It turns out he was an executive at Control Data Corporation, and he had a project he would like me to consider, could we meet over coffee? I said yes, and my CDC journey began.

Steve Jobs, Tough Boss

I recently finished reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Given my day job in software development, I found the history about Steve Jobs’ co-founding of Apple, ejection from Apple, and triumphant return to Apple very telling. I identified with the world and culture of the book quite well. He was a tough boss and hard to work for; he especially drove the first Macintosh team nearly crazy. I kept asking myself whether I would be one of the developers Steve liked or hated. He had no time for who he considered morons, but you have to respect his results. His constant, nonstop passion for creating simple electronic devices created some pretty revolutionary tools. I’m listening to a Pandora station on my iPhone right now.

The book is a terrific examination of the main debate over computer technology. Should it be open source or closed source? Open source is the approach championed by Bill Gates of Microsoft, creating an operating system that can run on multiple computer brands. The software and the hardware components of the system are developed by separate companies. However Steve Jobs advocated a closed source strategy where Apple developed both the operating system and the computer hardware. That strategy gave Jobs control over all aspects of the final product, but made Apple devices more expensive and sometimes under powered. But by being a closed system, Apple could ensure customers had a consistent experience with the device.

So which works better, open source or closed source? Walter Isaacson concludes that both actually work well – it really depends on what kind of computer user you are. If you like to fiddle with your computer, a Windows system is better for you. If you just want it to run, better get a Mac.

I’ve talked to other people who have read this book, and an inevitable reaction to Steve Jobs is just how difficult he was to his co-workers and his family. He was uncompromising and difficult. Even when he became very ill, he really didn’t change all that much. Many of the people interviewed for the book talked about his “reality distortion field” which Steve pushed his view of reality on everything around him. It was quite a skill, because it allowed him to have a razor sharp focus on developing a great computer device. It ultimately killed him as well, as he thought he could cure his cancer through diet and exercise. A great read about a driven, tormented genius.

Shakespeare. Author.

It’s an election year! Debates are raging and people are taking stands on various issues. They are right and the others are left! So I’m going to jump into the middle of a very important, very critical issue. And I have a point of view which I will vehemently argue. So. The issue at hand. Did Shakespeare write his plays, or was he just a rube for some educated nobleman? My stand… Here goes…  Shakespeare actually wrote the plays.

One of the main arguments against him is this verse carved on his grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake, forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man who spares these stones,
and cursed be he, who moves my bones.”

The argument goes that since this poem isn’t very good compared to the poetry in his plays, Shakespeare actually wasn’t much of a writer. Well, true, this poem isn’t very good. But I suspect the reverse is the case – that Shakespeare wasn’t the author of his epitaph, but he wrote everything else. People generally do not plan for their own funerals. More than likely one of his actor friends came up with this piece after Shakespeare’s death. The town fathers asked the actor to write something Shakespeare-like, he wrote up this piece that was carved into the stone. I’ve been to Holy Trinity Church at Stratford. He’s buried right in front of the altar, and there’s also a little bust of him mounted on the wall. It has all the trappings of a small town boy done “good.” The Stratford-Upon-Avon leaders had these modest commemoratives made and then moved on with their busy lives.

The argument that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays also doesn’t jive with how plays are created. The playwriting process is always the same. You write a script that looks really brilliant on the computer screen (during this time, parchment). You then have a table reading with a group of actors, and the blemishes and concerns emerge. Some combinations of words are hard to say. The director feels this scene would be tough to stage and suggests ideas. An actor complains he/she doesn’t have enough to do. At this point in the process, it’s about negotiation.

Now imagine the actors of the King’s Men, in rehearsal, reading the new play. The King’s Men are the most popular theatre company in London and the play opens in three weeks.  Since the nobleman who was really writing the plays wasn’t in the room, somebody would have to take copious notes and run them to said nobleman. The changes would need to be written pretty quickly, and then the script runner would need to hoof it back to the theatre. What if Richard Burbage, most likely the director of these plays, didn’t like the changes? More script running. Supposedly the King’s Men created over thirty plays in this way. I think somebody would’ve gotten crabby and blabbed.

The other part of the argument is whether Shakespeare had the knowledge to write the plays. How could a small town man possibly know about all of those things written in the plays? Only an educated nobleman could have the time to understand the world and all its intricacies. (Given my background, this argument really raises my hackles.) Again I think the reverse is true. Only someone who came from a small town could understand the world in this way.

A small town like Stratford is similar to a large town like London. Stratford had its upper classes, and it would be filled with a variety of people doing a variety of interesting professions. Shakespeare would’ve learned a lot from that community. But like a lot of young rural men, he wanted more of the world and ended up in London. You can gather a lot of knowledge in a short period of time, especially if you’re ambitious and that’s what it takes to get where you wish to go. Shakespeare’s plays have characters both noble and common. If the author of the plays was a nobleman, he’d have a hard time identifying with grave diggers and drunks. But a kid from Stratford would know these people very well, and rubbing those common characters up against royal characters would make a foundation for some incredible playwriting. Evidence enough, methinks.

Descartes’ Bones

Rene Descartes was one of my favorite philosophers in college, mainly because “I think, therefore I am” was (and is) such a powerful, simple concept that explains why we are who we are. At the time I was also fascinated by the existential playwright Samuel Beckett, so I got permission from a philosophy professor to write a paper like a play, where Descartes and Beckett met and debated the nature of existence. My professor liked what I wrote and gave me a good grade, but he thought the paper would make for a pretty boring play. I didn’t disagree nor did I care about his play review, I was just relieved about the grade. I have no clue where that paper is now.

A few months ago I was listening to Science Friday on NPR, and they talked about Russell Shorto’s book, Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. It had been a long time since I had thought about Descartes, so that night I downloaded the book and started reading. It began with a chapter on Descartes’ life and philosophy, but the book’s premise was focused on something pretty macabre– what happened to Descartes’ remains in the centuries after his death. His bones were dug up and re-buried a couple times, and his skull went missing only to appear again later in the nineteenth century. Most recently the skull was used to showcase computer facial imaging technology in Japan.

The book chronicles how his remains were used to promote different ideologies, and I found that aspect of the book compelling. For instance, Descartes had died in semi-exile in Sweden, basically banished from France. However sixteen years later he was considered an important French thinker, so off his bones sped to France (minus the skull) as a national symbol. After his skull turned up again in the nineteenth century, some scientists used it to advance the quasi-science of Phrenology – the belief that the size and bumps on a skull can determine a person’s intelligence. It turned out that Descartes had a small skull, which helped debunk that theory.

The only aspect of the book that didn’t hold up as well for me was when the text linked the arguments over Cartesian and Non-Cartesian philosophy to the current conflict between conservative and liberal thought. The struggle is similar, but Carl Sagan in Cosmos argues the conflict began when the Socratic Method championed by Plato (asking questions to achieve knowledge) trumped the Scientific Method championed by Ionian scientists (conducting experiments to achieve knowledge). So you could argue the struggle between faith and reason has been going on in various ways in various forms during various times. But that criticism is a little thing, I really enjoyed Descartes’ Bones. If you are in the mood to read a different, semi-odd history book, consider this one.

Jumping In!

I have planned to build a website for quite a while. It was one of those “I should do that somehow” tasks that never quite seemed to happen. I’ve been saving material in folders on multiple computers for multiple years now, but squeezing in study time and then development time was tough. I finally cracked open an instruction book, cranked up the tunes, and got busy.

You’ll see I’ve written a lot of plays (Lately I’ve worked on books too). I’ve actually written more than what you see here, but these pieces are the ones other people have supported. Obviously I’m hoping you’ll support them too. I also get asked quite a bit about what I’ve got coming up next, so if you’re interested, this site will be a great way to find out.

I hope to keep this site an active place. Plays are really conversations in front of audiences, so blogging has some similarities. I’ve got some interesting subjects planned, so please come back again! They’re only words, they don’t bite. Well, at least not physically.