The Scientific Method

Microscope ( Image by felixioncool from Pixabay )

Sean tilted his head.

“It’s a jar of dirt.” Dylan sounded disappointed.

“That’s not dirt,” Emily added. “I’ve seen dirt. That’s not it.”

Sean and I gave our daughter a questioning look. She shrugged. “I’ve been studying different things with the microscope you bought me last year. Dirt is mostly what I’ve studied since that’s all there is around here.”

We laughed, but held the jar out for the kids to see. “The thing is, sweet pea, this wasn’t solid when we found it and put it in the jar.”

“Yeah, it was liquid. Which is why we thought it was oil.”

“How did it turn hard so fast?” she asked, reaching out a hand to touch the jar.

I pulled it out of her reach before she could even graze it with her fingertips. I shot her a warning look that made her pout. “We don’t know what it is, and now this turn of events is mysterious.”

“Sorry, Em. It’s just not safe.”

“But it’s in a jar.”

“And it seems to have changed within the jar. Who knows what could happen if you touch the container now,” I said.

“You’re touching it,” Dylan pointed out.

Sean gave him the mind-your-tongue look. “We’re grownups.”

Dylan rolled his eyes.

“Well, what if the grownups put a sample under my microscope and let me take a look?” Emily flashed her sweetest smile.

“Oh, no sweet pea, I don’t think that’s a great idea.”

“Pleeeeeaaase?” Dylan and Emily pleaded together, clasping their hands and dancing in place.

I looked to Sean for backup, but should have known right away that was useless. He merely gave me the same puppy eyes as our kids.

Georgia popped her head in from the kitchen. “Alright, you lot. Have fun with your science experiments. I’m out.”

We all waved goodbye to the kids’ grandma and heard the screen door slam behind her as she left. I listened to her car engine turn on in the driveway and the crackle of the tires over the pebbles. I’d have no backup from her.

“Maybe we could just put a little piece on a slide.”

“Sean—”

“We handle the sample ourselves, with gloves and tweezers, slide the glass onto the microscope, and supervise her as she looks through the lens.”

Emily nodded vigorously and looked at me with wide eyes. Dylan followed suit until finally even Sean was begging for the experiment.

I let out an exasperated breath. “Okay, we’ll take a look under the microscope, but no touching, either of you.” I emphasized the point with a severe finger wagging.

They nodded in unison. Sean and I grabbed the materials while the kids went to Emily’s makeshift lab in the tool shed to prep the microscope.

“Sean, are you sure this is a good idea? What if the stuff is radioactive?”

“It would probably be glowing if it was radioactive.” His sweet smile that had first enticed me to marry him played across his face.

“Sean, I’m serious. We don’t know what this stuff is.” I held up the jar and squinted at the substance. It was still in the new solid form it had taken almost an hour before.

“Honestly, Phil,” Sean said, “I think it’ll be fine. It might just be some kind of fossil thing. Like the tar pits, but once we removed it from its environment, it solidified. Change in temperature and pressure and all that.”

I smiled. “So you’re a scientist now?”

“I’m just trying to be practical. Not let our imaginations get the best of us. Besides, we’re always encouraging the kids to be curious and discover the world.”

“I know, I know. But telling them to be curious in theory is great. Letting them do something that could be dangerous is different.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. Now let’s get out there before Em starts shrieking for us.” Sean leaned in and kissed me, pouring in every ounce of reassurance he could offer.

Out in the tool shed, the kids had cleaned the desk space, sanitized the microscope, and pulled out fresh glass slides. They both wore gloves and greeted us with big grins.

Emily reached out a hand with a slide. “Here, put a sample on this.”

Sean and I glanced at one another, having one of those moments that said oil or no oil, we have all we need right here. I opened the jar and let my partner chisel off a piece with the tweezers. It came off easier than expected, like it was a clump of dirt.

He placed the fine powder onto the slide and placed it under the microscope. Emily started to adjust the slide, but I stopped her with a stern glare. She paused and let her dad do it for her.

“Alright, Em, just the microscope and its controls,” Sean cautioned.

She nodded. Dylan stood nearby and followed his sister’s instructions when she asked for more or less light and help adjusting the lens.

“Well, what do you see?” Dylan asked eagerly.

“Definitely not dirt.” She kept her eye on the microscope lens. “It doesn’t have the same composition as what’s in our backyard.”

“What composition does it have?” I asked.

Emily looked up at us and shrugged. “Not sure. Nothing I’ve seen, but then again, I haven’t seen much.” She laughed.

Dylan nudged his sister to let him take a look. He pressed his eye to the microscope. “Whoah, cool.”

“What’s it doing?” Emily pushed her brother out of the way again to see into the lens.

But even Sean and I could see what was happening. The sample from the slide radiated a blue glow. I grabbed my partner’s hand and took a step forward to pull the kids away, but Sean stopped me.

“Relax. It’s probably a microbe thing, like the Bioluminescent Bays.”

“Fascinating,” Emily exhaled.

“What is?” Dylan peered around the microscope at an angle, trying to get a look at what his sister was seeing.

“Its composition changed. I still don’t recognize it, but it’s different than before. Almost like a kaleidoscope.”

Emily stepped back and let Dylan look again. She turned to me with bright eyes almost the same as the sample’s glow. “Papa, look.” She pointed at the jar we’d left on the desk.

The substance had changed once more to liquid, but this time almost translucent, and also glowing blue. It didn’t just glow though; it pulsated, like it was sending out a beacon.

“That’s…odd.”

“Okay, we’re definitely in a sci-fi flick now, Phil. This has gotta be alien.” Sean’s face was lit by the jar’s blue light, giving him almost a panicked expression.

“Enough science project for the night. We’ll find a lab to send this to in the morning.”

The kids began to protest, but I put a hand up in silence, indicating the final word.

“Your papa’s right, kids. We’ve played enough with this new thing for one day. Let’s get you both to bed now.” Sean turned to me. “Wanna lock it up in something for now?”

I nodded. While Sean escorted Emily and Dylan back to the house to get them ready for bed, I emptied out an old steel toolbox to put the jar in. With my hands still in gloves, I picked up the sample slide from the microscope and looked around, unsure of what to do with it for a moment. Before I could decide though, it began to squirm and move on its own.

This is a continuation of a short story called “Better Than Fiction” which I serialized for my blog. See the other parts here: Part 1 | Part 2

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Mixing Genres

This is the second installment in a short story called “Better Than Fiction” that I’ve decided to serialize. Let me know what you think in the comments! See the first installment here.

Pile of carbon fuel (Image by SeppH from Pixabay)

“I really thought we’d finally caught a break,” Sean whispered.

I kissed the scruffy cheek of the man I’d married so many years ago. “This is just a bump.”

We climbed into the rusted, old Toyota Tacoma, its doors squeaky with good use. “Who knows,” I beamed, “maybe we discovered a new element. That’d be even better.”

Sean rolled his eyes. “You watch too many sci-fi movies, Phil.”

“It’s only fiction until it becomes true. Then it’s just science.”

Sean laughed, grasping the jar in his hand. “Maybe we should get a second opinion. I mean, we don’t know how oil is supposed to move in a container. Maybe the prospector was just trying to swindle us. Get us to tell him where we found it and take it for himself.”

“I think you’ve watched too many mystery thrillers.” I grabbed his hand as we drove back to our little shack on the countryside.

“But seriously, Phil.” Sean furrowed his brows, concentrating his stare on the black sludge in the jar. “If it’s not oil, then what is it? We hit a pool of it at our drill sight.”

I shook my head, keeping my eyes up ahead. “What if it’s alien? And the government was trying to cover it up.”

Sean let out a snort and squeezed his partner’s hand. “Mixing genres now?”

“Hey, it could happen.”

We pulled into our driveway, laughing at all the ridiculous possibilities of what the black sludge could be. The kids were already waiting for us on the front doorstep and came running as we got out of the car. Emily jumped into Sean’s arms and Dylan embraced me around the waist.

“We missed you.” Dylan’s voice was muffled as his face was buried in my stomach.

“We missed you, too.” I ran a hand through my son’s hair, thinking he needed a cut.

“What’s for dinner?” Sean asked Emily.

“Nana made chicken pot pie. And I helped.” She threw us both a proud smile.

“That sounds great. Can’t wait to eat it.”

We walked back together and found my mother in law prepping the dinner table. “I’m sure you boys are hungry and tired.” To the kids she said, “Go wash up now. Let your papas breathe.”

Sean hugged his mother and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks for all the help, ma.”

She touched a hand to his face and smiled. “Of course, sweetie. Anything for the family.”

I gave her a hug as well. “Georgia, you’re an angel.”

“Hush now. Sit down and eat.” She gave them each a playful pat on the shoulders and put the meal on the table.

Emily and Dylan came back, hands still moist from the wash. They helped their grandmother by setting out the pitcher of tea and the basket of dinner rolls. We all sat down and joined hands to say grace. Sean led the prayer as he always did.

“Dear Lord, we thank you for this hot meal we are about to receive and the home you have provided. We thank you for the family that keeps our house warm and the love and joy we share with one another each day. We ask that you keep us safe and never wanting for anything. May we be able to pass on your blessings, in your name Lord. Amen.”

The kids, Georgia, and I echoed the, Amen, just before the hot dishes got passed around. Sounds of laughter filled the dining room while Emily and Dylan told us about their days at school the past week we’d missed. They told us of their friends, their homework, their upcoming science fair projects, and the quarrels between cliques.

“Papa, did you find what you were looking for out in Fairmont?” Emily turned her inquisitive face to me.

I looked to Sean for a moment before answering. “No, sweet pea. Not quite.”

“So what did you find?” she persisted.

I chuckled. “What makes you think we found anything?”

Emily smiled wide. “Dad put his bag in the closet right as soon as he got home. And you just said, ‘not quite,’ which means you found something.”

Sean gave a hearty laugh. “C’mon, Phil. You know nothing gets past Em. She’s the smartest in the family.”

I sighed. “Alright, we found something, but we’re not sure what. We thought it might be oil, but the prospector said it wasn’t.”

“Can I see it?” Their daughter’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

Sean put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m not sure that’s safe, Em. We don’t know if it’s dangerous.”

“Aw, c’mon dad. Let us have a look,” Dylan chipped in now.

Sean and I looked to Georgia who merely shrugged and began cleaning up the dinner table. I glanced at Sean and raised an eyebrow. He put his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, but it stays in the jar. Don’t open it.” The chair gave a low screech as I pushed it back, away from the table, and made my way to the front door closet to retrieve the jar from Sean’s pack.

I removed the jar from the bag and nearly dropped it. In the time since we’d found the liquid and put it in the container, it had solidified. “Uh, Sean?”

He walked over, the kids close behind. “What’s wrong, Phil?” I revealed the jar, filled with a now rock-solid substance.

A Bump in the Road

Green blue oil film wave (Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay)

At first, we thought the black liquid was oil, that we’d struck it rich and that we’d be able to retire and live in leisure. We actually started writing down all the ways we’d spend the money.

Our first choice was an estate out in the country, with wide open spaces for the kids to run around. We had such grand dreams to finally get Emily the Little Laboratory Kit she always wanted. We reveled in the vision of seeing Dylan’s face when we brought home the Fender Stratocaster he’d looked at with longing every time he passed Moe’s Music Store window.

All those dreams shattered though when the local prospector said, “Sorry, gentlemen. Not oil.”

Sean’s face fell. “What?”

The prospector shook his head. “This isn’t oil.” He tapped the mason jar my partner and I had brought in.

“Well then, what is it?” My heart sank to my stomach.

He shrugged. “Don’t know, but not oil.”

Sean looked at the prospector with suspicion. “How do you know?”

“Been around oil my whole life.” The prospector leaned forward. “This looks like it, but see how it moves when I tilt the jar?”

The prospector tipped the container to the side and showed us the slow, sludgy movement of the black liquid. “Oil don’t do that.”

I grabbed the mason jar back from his hands. “Where can we find out what this is?” I took Sean’s hand and gave it a squeeze. The look I gave my partner said, Don’t give up hope.

The prospector gave another apathetic shrug. “Some lab, I s’pose. I’m no scientist.” I pursed my lips and nodded. “Thank you.” We rose at the same time and walked out to our truck.

This is the first installment in a short story called “Better Than Fiction” that I’ve decided to serialize. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Maddison Stoff: Android Court Transcription — BURNING HOUSE PRESS

What an absolutely incredible piece of fiction! Click the link below to read the full story.

Official – Subject To Final Review P R O C E E D I N G S (9 :45 a.m.) CHIEF JUSTICE GIBSON: We’ll hear argument f this morning in Case 84-2532, Android Rights Coalition verses The People’s Republic of America. TX-38 ORAL ARGUMENT OF TX-38

via Maddison Stoff: Android Court Transcription — BURNING HOUSE PRESS

Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: Feed by Mira Grant

I went on vacation, so I’m getting to this review a bit late. Spoilers are also ahead, so read at your own risk if you plan on picking up this book.

feed_blog It’s the first in the Newsflesh trilogy, taking place in the U.S. after a zombie apocalypse has occurred. Except it’s not really an apocalypse, because the premise shows a world that essentially operates much in the same way as before, with running electricity, political intrigue, and defined geographical territories. The biggest difference is the undead that have consumed certain areas of the world and a virus that needs to be kept in check with constant blood testing and special medical precautions.

Much like we have the TSA to ensure weapons don’t make it through airports, this world includes blood testing machines to ensure visitors to a building aren’t carrying the illness that causes zombies to rise. The whole zombie aspect plays in the background of this world and its story much like the wars and protests and other world news play in the background of our reality and daily lives. This is what made the book such an interesting concept to me. It’s a revolution of sorts, of the human race, and yet aside from the obvious, nothing’s changed.

The other biggest change is the source of news and media. Per the novel’s storyline, when the zombie outbreak occurred, big news media didn’t properly warn the citizens of the iminent danger, while bloggers and independent publications did. Thus, in this new world, bloggers and social influencers are the trusted and credible sources of news. To be honest, that sounds pretty familiar to me already, growing up a millennial in this Internet age, where my main source of news comes from my Twitter feed, and I’d sooner trust Buzzfeed to give me the real details before I trust Fox News.

The zombie storyline in this book plays more of a supporting role, adding a supplementary layer to the real story, which is dirty politics and freedom of the press. The story follows brother and sister bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason, along with their sidekick Buffy Messoinier, as they trail the presidential candidate Senator Peter Ryman on his campaign across the U.S. Sabotage soon follows, with cases of the virus popping up and wreaking havoc at Ryman’s campaign events, killing innocent bystanders. The Masons and Buffy investigate until they find the truth, but it’s a dangerous game and by the end, two of them end up dead.

The most prominent flaw I found in the book was the overspecific use of blogging and social media jargon. I know it’s called feed, which is a play on words based on a news feed and what zombies do to live humans, but there was so  much banter between characters that was hyperfocused on the tech and blogging community, that it felt a bit “insider baseball.” I have a bit of a background in blogging and media, so it wasn’t necessarily hard for me to follow what they said most of the time, but for someone who knows nothing about click through rates, content sharing, and metrics, it can become exhausting.

Overall though, I was rather surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and how much I cared about the characters in the end. I just might continue with the next one if I find I have time.

Have any of you read this book or others like it? What are your thoughts? Do you have recommendations based on this novel? Let me know in the comments!

Check out more reviews here!

Meagan Reads SciFi: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve been participating in the MadLibs Reading Challenge 2018, and I chose this book as one of the “noun” categories. Be warned that spoilers are coming ahead, so if you plan on reading the book, do not pass this line!

Annihilation is a relatively short read, but don’t let it’s small size fool you. There is such a complexity of character and plot happening that the writing itself very much resembles the way the biologist, the main character, views the world around her.

Even though VanderMeer wrote the story so that none of the characters had names, it didn’t create for a lack of depth with each one. I felt a particular kinship with the biologist though, as most of the story unfolds from her point of view.

She tells the story with a clinical voice, especially at the beginning, in which she constantly talks about observation and analyzing the environment around her, whether it’s in a lab, at a tidepool, or even in her own marriage. She makes it clear that observation holds more value to her rather than interaction, and I felt such a relief in seeing a female character that emphasizes this point without being villainized.

Through her habit of observation, she remains apart from her ecosystem, and never becomes a part of the ecosystem. I think after recent conversations I had with a friend of mine about how I’m so quiet all the time and I rarely tend to interact with people, it felt good to see another woman portrayed this way, but not made to be evil.

That doesn’t mean that her tendency toward introspection and observation didn’t irk those around her. It’s made clear in her flashbacks to her marriage with her husband, one of the lost souls to the previous Southern Reach expedition to Area X, that he was vexed with her habit of retreating into her own observations and never letting anyone in, emotionally. When she volunteered to go as part of the next expedition, the psychologist was also annoyed at how little she could get out of the biologist.

Now, as to the plot of the story, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t entirely know what it’s point is or where it’s going (as there are two more books). I do know that I enjoyed the scenery VanderMeer created with the plant spores that created actual writing on the wall and seemed to have its own life.

Throughout the book, the reader knows there have been various expeditions into Area X to study the phenomenon happening, but we know as much as the explorers do. There is no source or origin for why these mutations are happening or how. There is no explanation as to why they are researching and exploring Area X. Do they think it’s dangerous to the world as a whole? Is there still a world outside of the Southern Reach and Area X? If there was an apocalypse, was this the source?

The explorers and reader don’t even know where the entrance point is to Area X. There’s no recollection of how they got there, and more worrisome to the mysterious government agency in charge of the expeditions, they don’t know how anyone could have gotten out. The biologist’s husband returned from the expedition, but he was the first to do so and he did not return as himself.

One can assume that despite their strained marriage, the biologist entered Area X to find out what came back, because if it wasn’t her husband, what was it, and what else came through? We start to catch glimpses toward the end when the biologist discovers the journals of previous explorers, of which there were many more than the Southern Reach disclosed to present expeditions.

As the book comes to a close, the reader sees there’s something strange going on in the way of clones, doubles, or doppelgangers. How they come to be and where they go is still to be determined.

The one thing I wish I had seen more of in the book were the animals and other plants. There was such a  high focus on the living writing on the walls of the tower/tunnel that the reader didn’t actually see much of Area X’s other creatures, except for a brief appearance of a wild hog that comes close to the expedition’s camp.

When I’ve talked about this book with friends, I’ve described it as the kind of story that fans of Archive 81 would enjoy, and I stand by that statement. I’m definitely itching to find out where the biologist’s journey takes her in the end as she follows her husband’s path deeper into Area X, so I will be picking up the next book.

Has anybody else read this book? What did you think? Do you have theories as to what Area X is exactly and how it came to be? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir (Image from Goodreads)

I feel like it’s been a while since I picked up a book that made me really excited and breeze through it so fast, even with a full-time job and part-time grad school. Andy Weir’s The Martian did that for me. I read it as my 24th book for my 26 book reading challenge (almost done!) for the category “a book with a great opening line.”

If memory serves me right, the opening line of this book was, “Well, I’m pretty much fucked.” That’s a really strong start in my opinion. It immediately sets the character’s voice as someone who has a sense of humor in the face of overwhelming odds, and that’s who Mark Watney, the main character, is. Throughout all the terrible things that happen to him, he never loses that smart ass attitude. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud several times while reading, and that is not something that happens often when I read a book.

I admit, I watched the movie first. Listen, I’m an adult now, so I can’t pull that, “I’ll only watch the movie/TV show after I’ve read the book,” crap anymore. There’s just not enough hours in the day.

There’s something to be said for watching the movie first in this case. Personally, it helped me wrap my mind around all the science and technology described in the book. Weir’s writing is heavy with specific jargon and tremendous scientific detail. It was written in a way that did not overwhelm me or make me feel lost, but I do think having the movie in the back of my mind helped with interpreting what was on the page.

The story truly is an adventurous space romp with the added legitimacy of attention to detail about what is real science. At least it sounded like real science to me, so good enough.

Now, truth be told, the writing itself is nothing spectacular. It relies on some pretty shallow character development and the pacing could use improvement. Sentence structure is also lacking, as most of the book is written in frustratingly short, clipped statements.

However, even with the lower quality writing style, the narrative itself never really suffers. It maintains its entertainment quality and at the end of the day, in my book, that’s what counts. Sometimes, it’s fun just to have fun with reading.

I’d like to end this post with a note about Mark Watney’s character that I noticed immediately. He reminded me so much of another fictional person that I adore from a show called Killjoys on SyFy: Johnny Jaqobi. So, if you’re a fan of that show and that character, then I think you’ll like this book.

Have any of you read The Martian? What are your thoughts on the story and characters? Let me know in the comments!