Wonder (short story)

I used to look up into the night sky and wonder. Then I went there. Among the trillions upon trillions of stars, none had that kindred spirit I longed for.

I found a machine civilization, a sentient black hole (I called him Phil, which he enjoyed very much), and others that, despite all my progressive leanings and wish to understand, were completely alien to me.

The machines had advanced statistical models based on extensive exploration, and as far as they could determine, Earth was home to the only life that resembled Earth life in the slightest. They were delighted when the strange animal landed on their homeworld, and quickly assembled an ambassador whose form was based on the average of all the people they found in my ship’s database.

Determined to find someone like myself, I set off for the void past known space, to see if there was anything beyond. The machines, the black hole, and all the good friends I made there admitted (with some approximation of embarrassment) that they’d never considered such a journey, and helped me build an appropriate craft.


I zipped across the expanse for weeks, increasingly convinced the next ten billion light years would be much like the last.

Then someone said hello.

Unfinished Business (short story)

I have watched over this realm for billions upon billions of years. I watched as promising worlds failed. The first became a scorched wasteland. The second was too much of too many good things. The fourth and beyond were too far from my light.
The third seemed unlikely. A rocky runt shielded by its larger siblings. One of my children even slammed into it, turning its surface red with fire!


I was young then and full of conceit. The older stars told me to be patient and reserve judgement. They were right. Heat turned to warmth, warmth turned to water, water turned to rust, and rust turned to life. They told me I was too narcissistic, that my warmth was only part of it.


Life turned to dust, dust turned to life, life turned to curiosity, curiosity turned to contact. Many small visitors came from the third world bearing warmth of their own. The visitors went further and further out until they started to outrun me in our journey around the abyss.


The last moved on eons ago, and I’ve waited patiently for more life.


“It’s time to go, Sol.”


“But there could be new life.”


“Not if you stay. You’re the wrong kind of star for this phase.”


“I want to see if they come back.”


“Where do you think they went? You’ll meet them soon.”

Origin Story (short story)

“Ladies, gentlemen, valued et cetera. You’re probably wondering why I’ve called you here. I-“


“Get to the point.”


“Well I hoped to be a little more dramatic about such an important revelation.”


“Let the revelation speak for itself.”


“Fine. Adam, come on out and skip to the question and answer portion.”


Adam walked out on to the stage and froze once he got a look at the university auditorium filled to its 1,000 person capacity.


“It’s ok, they don’t bite.”


One of the doctor’s students stood up. “What is it? It looks like a man in a fox suit. I didn’t know you were a furry.”


“What? No, I’m not a…well, I am a furry, but this is no man in a fox suit. This is the best of a human combined with one of nature’s sharpest creatures. I named him Adam, after my late pet fox. Now, before we get to your questions, I have a little speech.”


“Will this be on the final?”


“No. Yes. Maybe. Look, just listen.”


“I think we’d all rather hear what he has to say.”


“Fine. Adam, you’re up.”


Adam took the podium. “Questions?”


“Did the doctor create you as a sex slave?”


“No.”


“Then why did he create you?”


Adam thumbed through his notes to the prepared answer. “Humans have all but eliminated physical labor through automation. Now the main limitation on progress is the human mind. Not anymore.” He turned the page on his notes, and tried to speak, but…


“Any thoughts about enslaving the human race?”


“The doctor made me promise not to enslave or kill anyone before he let me out of the cage.”


The audience gasped. “He keeps you in a cage? I’m reporting this to the ethics committee.”


“Don’t you people have a sense of humor?”


“You’re being kind of an asshole.”


“Blame the doctor. He made me.”

The audience broke out in laughter.

Mirror (short story)

Diana stopped at the edge of the soft shadow of the tree. Its trunk rose into the clouds, near black in the noon sun. The branches seemed to go on forever, one half of the tree green leaves, one half every color of the rainbow, and brighter than the low light should permit. Around her, the flat, grassy plain stretched to the horizon in every direction. The only sound that met her fox ears was the creaking of the branches and the rustling of leaves.

She continued down the crumbled stone path, looking at the ancient paw prints all along it. Every kind of paw was represented, and every kind of motion. Even some mech prints from the war, before the Tree revealed itself and put an end to cataclysmic struggles for all time. The path took her to the hollow in the center of the tree. Inside, she stood in the shining, shallow pool of water that came up to her knees.

“Anyone there?”

Insects swarmed into the hollow and coalesced into the shape of a fox, a mirror image of Diana. The bug-fox, a Keeper, grinned. “It’s been a long time since I had company. The Tree still won’t talk to me after what I did. What can I do for you?”


“I need guidance. My life’s gone to crap.”

“Colorful. You must be a vulnog.”

“Yeah. So can you help me, or should I go hang myself on one of these branches? There’s no way in hell I’m walking back to that life without some direction.”

“I can show you some images, but I can’t help you interpret them. The Tree is…weird. Speaks in riddles. Eccentric old fool.” The fox-swarm cupped its swarm-paws over its swarm-muzzle. “Hear that, asshole? Idiot.”

“Yeah…that’s. Interesting.”

“What? Next you’re going to say it’s all my fault the Tree won’t talk to me. Maybe if I just had a better attitude, right?”

“I’m sure the Tree contributes. Takes two to argue.”

“Yeah, and the Tree is trillions. I’m one. That’s hardly a fair fight. Look, I'm the first Keeper. You try maintaining a relationship for eons without the occasional fight. Anyway.” The Keeper melted into the pool, and Diana found herself in the middle of her home city, Luma.

“Didn’t think my answer would be here.”

“Like I said. Weird Tree. You think it’s going to take you to the village you grew up in, show you some event from your childhood, and everything will make sense. What happened here?” The Keeper followed Diana as she walked through the empty streets, looking up at the ruined buildings.

“I don’t know. It’s Luma, but…broken. Do you know anything about it?”

“Luma? Never heard of it. I got exiled to where you found me before people started building cities again. We call the planet Lumari, formerly Earth. Who names a world dirt? Seriously.”


Diana stopped in the middle of the street, then walked toward a storefront where a red fox was busy laying down a new tile floor. “That’s my stepmother. Crap. I know what this is. An earthquake turned most of the city to rubble when I was little. Civil society broke down. The family had a shop here. Why would she be remodeling in the middle of society collapsing?”

“Good place to hide something. Did your family have money before it all fell down?”

“We had…yes! Stocks. Lots and lots of money in the stock market. She died a few years ago, and told me our family had a good foundation. She always loved riddles. I hate riddles.”
“Huh. The Tree usually jerks people around more. Lemme guess. You need money.”

“Yeah.”

“And those stock certificates are probably still good.”

“Yes.”

“Who owns the building now?”

“I own it. I need to buy a hammer.”

“Lovely.” The illusion blinked away, and they were back in the hollow. “So, I was lying about being lonely. I’m actually quite introverted. Are you done here?” Diana nodded, and the Keeper flew away in a swarm. A hammer made of stone and wood descended on a vine and broke off, landing at her feet. "Now shoo."

Diana returned to Luma, recovered the stock certificates, and paid off her student loans.

Nikon D5600 review (updated for 2022)

Short answer: yes. You should get it.

Slightly less short answer: it’s good enough in enough situations that the main thing holding it back is the glass you plant on the front and, to a lesser extent, the technique and experience of the person on the other end.

I could not find a use for the included 18-55 kit lens. It’s a fine lens. It takes good pictures, focuses fast enough, and would probably cover most of the needs of most photographers. But next to the refurbished vibration-reduced non-kit 70-300 lens I bought with it, the kit 18-55 is completely useless. Absolutely pointless. I could have saved $50 and put it toward another lens.

The D5600 with a normal-person lens in the sub-pro category performs best with plenty of light. That’s true of any camera, but especially true of a camera with a crop sensor where most people will use it with lenses with apertures that, at best, open to f3.5. Lenses in the same price range that open wider are also generally 100mm and wider primes, so you lose versatility in exchange for more light. But the camera shoots in 14 bit raw. That’s trillions of colors, and gives you a lot of wiggle room on an underexposed photo.

What I’ve had to accept is it’s not going to shoot birds on a cloudy day with lenses I can afford to buy on a system that will probably be obsolete in 10 years. I won’t try to tell you it’s fine and good enough for all purposes like some reviewers, but what you can do with it is good enough that most people are better off spending the premium cost of a better body on a D5600 and better glass instead. You can rent that better camera and an above-average lens for much less than the premium you would spend on a D5600 and a better lens to know for sure, but I can guess how that would turn out.

There are some nice-to-haves it lacks that I’ll look for in the future when I move on to mirrorless. After I get all I can out of the D5600.

  • Presets: Most higher level bodies have two or more presets on the mode dial. You select it, set it, and everything returns there when you select it. I use manual mode a lot, and would like to have a preset for taking pictures of birds in the sky and for taking pictures of birds and bugs on plants. The ideal shutter speeds are at opposite extremes, and the automatic modes make some questionable decisions. A more advanced focusing and metering system would probably help with that.
  • More wheels: I can access all the settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed from any semi-automatic mode or manual mode by pressing a button and turning the dial. This is slow enough that I often miss shots.
  • More cross-type autofocus points: The D5600 has 11 out of the 39 total. The difference in precision stands out when I move to one of the old-fashioned contrast focus points at the outer edges. I avoid them when I can because they struggle on too many things.