Category Archives: J. H. Tabbott, author – books and articles

JHT author notes, books, short stories, promotions, reviews, articles, and upcoming events.

Water Clerk – Table of Contents

Water Clerk

Part one: Getting acquainted

A.  Forward – purpose of this book

B.  The preliminaries

1.  The key players – charterers, brokers, owners, operators, Customs, Coast Guard, agents, shippers, receivers, forwarders, terminals, & Customhouse brokers, vendors.

2.  The rule to watch – charter parties, government regulations, local practices.

3.  The types of cargo and vessels – break bulk, drybulk, tankers, containers, reefer, ro/ro.

4.  Logistics – What you’ll be managing

5.  Documentation – The types of documentation – government, international trade, surveys, & reports you’ll be handling.

C.  Types of agency service

1.  Liner services – containers & break bulk shipments

a. Brief history

b. Distinguishing features, agency service requirements

2. Tramp services – container, break bulk, full and part cargo bulk

a. (Very) brief history

b. Distinguishing features, types of agency requirements  (Full agency, husbandry, charterer or owner protective, third party representation)

D.  Role of agency services

1. Owners agency (Husbandry) – responsibilities to the owners

2. Charterers agency – responsibilities to the charterers

3. Full agency – responsibilities to both the charterers and owners

4. Third party protective agents – (usually) responsibilities to shipper, receiver, or their representatives.

Part two: Getting things done

A.  Owner agency logistics – philosophy and importance 

1.  Understanding typical vessel functions & equipment

2.  Maintaining a very complete database of vendors.

3.  Keeping accessible records of past vendor performances & billings

4. Understanding local limitations

5. Communicating

B.  Charterer agency logistics – philosophy and importance 

1.  Understanding typical cargo operations, loading & discharging equipment

a. Break bulk handling equipment

b. Drybulk handling equipment

i. Types of cranes

ii. Loaders and unloaders

iii. Ancillary equipment – bulldozers, bobcats, etc.

c. Tanker discharge equipment

i. Chicsands

ii. Hoses

iii. Tanks

d.  RO/RO handling equipment

2.  Understanding stevedoring  – stowage, labor, and other mysteries of life.

a.  Stowage – how it may affect the cargo operation

i. Ship factors

ii. Labor factors

b.  Labor – how it may affect the cargo operation

i. Skill

ii. Gangs and gang size

iii. Labor rules

c.  Weather – how it may affect the cargo operation

i. Safety of labor

ii. Cargo safety

iii. Safety of terminal and/or vessel

3.  Understanding the charter party requirements

a.  The time restrictions on each port call

i. Laydays & laycan days

ii. Demurrage & dispatch

iii. Statements of facts – Importance to charterer

iv. Off-hire & on-hire

4.  Local knowledge  – terminals, tides, and restrictions

a.  Maintaining a very complete database on terminals

i. Each berth restrictions on draft, LOA, GRT, and beam

ii. Tide restrictions at or on approaches to terminal

iii. Elevation of dock

iv. Clearance (elevation) and reach of cargo gear

v. Key phone contacts – manager, dock office, & gate

vi. Any typical scheduling problems

vii. Any typical cargo handling related problems

b.  Maintaining a complete database on port restrictions

i. Pilotage tidal restrictions

ii. Bridge elevations and channel dimensions

iii. Vessel transit restrictions such as no pass zones, daylight restrictions, etc.

iv. Any local regulatory restrictions or requirements (Customs or Coast Guard)

v. Anchorage locations & restrictions

c.  Availability of layberths or anchorages for emergency repairs or temporary lay-ups.

5.  Communication logistics

a. Coordinating each movement of the vessel within the port

i. Pilots, tugs, and line handlers

ii. Officials, surveyors, port engineers, and port superintendents

b. Coordinating with the key cargo handling personnel

i. Terminal contacts – harbormasters, terminal managers, security personnel

ii. Stevedores, shippers and/or receivers

c.  Keeping principals properly informed

i. Charterers, owners, shippers, receivers, operators

ii. Terminals, stevedores, Customhouse brokers & Freight forwarders

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The Tides of Earth – Chapter 3 – A Thump in the Night

Prelude The Expanding Sea of Earth cover 1

At 1:06 AM all was quiet. The lights outside the Kangdong palace shone brightly, making the surrounding countryside seem even darker. A moment later those lights went out, leaving the palace in deep darkness. Guards at the surrounding gates grabbed their portable radios, but found them just as dead. A van approached the main gate, but its lights went out too. It rolled to an unexpected stop short of the gate. A moment passed, and emergency lights began flickering on about the palace. Security teams sprang to alert. A blackout here wasn’t normal. Their Valishnikovs were held at ready as they approached the van.

Neither Seo-Yeon Koh nor her companions knew why the van had died. It was less a question than why the palace and perimeter lights had failed. That was serious. Moments later, the gate guard’s nervous approach was also serious. Mistakes are made when circumstances are unexpected. Cautiously, she announced her name before stepping out of the van “I am Leiutenant Seo Yeon Koh, Command Security Guard. We are returning for duty! I am stepping out of the van.”

She was the nearest to the door, and climbed out slowly. But she was sure they would recognize her… she was bodyguard to the Supreme Leader’s wife.

Recognition came quickly. The gate guard even seemed relieved, though still cautious. “Why did you stop and turn off your lights?” He asked.

Seo-Yeon quickly realized the palace lights, the perimeter lights, and the van’s dying were all connected. Bad! “Our car died when the palace lights went out. Do you have power at your post?”

“No!” The guard shook his head.

“Then we are under attack. Do you have a radio? We must contact the palace!”

“It is not working! We tried!” He looked at her, his dark sunken eyes imploring for answers.

Everyone had climbed out of the van now. They were the reliefs for the CSGs within the palace. Immediately, she knew they must get there. She turned to her companions. “It is an attack. We must get to the palace!” 

She saw the determination on their faces. They’d trained for this, though never dreaming it would happen. Then their expressions changed. No longer looking at her… looking behind her. She turned, only to see the palace lights again go off, replaced by an eerie and silent darkness. Then came the rumble. It was low and muted, but steady–like something unstoppable.

“Do you have your car?” She asked the now frightened gatekeeper. She remembered seeing an old one–a GAZ. Decrepit compared to the UAZ Hunter. Decrepit enough? She hoped. 

Seo-Yeon had been well educated, so she recognized the EMP attack quickly enough. And EMPs played hell with most electronic and electrical systems. But an old Russian GAZ might not have an electronic ignition. As long as it wasn’t in use, it might still run.

She turned to her companions. “Quick! Push the van to block the entrance gate. Then we go to the palace.” She faced the gate guard again. “You! Start your vehicle. We will need it. And if your radios begin to work, call the palace. Inform them we are coming. We do not want to be shot by our own comrades.”

She entered the guard post and picked up the phone. Habit! She knew it’d be dead. An engine roared to order behind the shed. Good!  The palace was over a kilometer down the road. It’d be tight, but they could all fit in the GAZ.

There was an explosion in the distance. She froze, then looked toward the palace–still a dark shadow. But to the South, there was light in the sky above the tree line. She knew immediately what happened. There was a small armory back near their barracks. She guessed it was gone now. 

As the GAZ took off, it bounced down the road uncomfortably under their weight. Another explosion, but this time up by the palace. The helipad lit up in flames. And now there was a new noise–a harsh thumping sound coming directly from the palace. A second later they could see the new menace, silhouetted by the growing flames. One by one, impossibly, all the vehicles in front of the palace seemed to disappear. The thumping was accompanied by an unpleasant, almost groaning sound. And Seo-Yeon realized they were being crushed, ground into the dirt. The GAZ lost power. Two of the cars by the palace exploded.

“Stop! Out of the car!” She ordered. Now she felt mild panic. “Get away from the car!”

They obeyed. And in a panicked moment later, with a heart-wrenching crunch there was no GAZ… only the tailgate and rear bumper remained, partly embedded in the roadway. Now terror seized her. She saw it too in her comrades eyes. She couldn’t–could not afford to–imagine what could ever have done this. If she did, she’d freeze “On foot,” she ordered and led them on.

Ahead she saw the flames reflecting off the palace windows. But after another twenty meters she could see another obstacle. A long row of freshly turned earth blocked their path. Unexpected, this! It looked as though a giant plow had dug a deep gash into the ground… the rumbling sound! It had been the earth being split open.

Dirt was piled over a meter high on either side of the ditch, which looked over two meters deep. It extended East and curved North around the palace grounds. And it extended West… toward the park and the great pond. But she still heard the rumble. Why? The roads were clearly cut off. She listened. Then she heard it. Another low rumble, not quite in sync with the first. There were two invisible plows!  And then there was only one. The nearer one had stopped.

Her companions were looking at her, wondering–she guessed–what she was thinking. Why she hadn’t just led them across the ditch? It took another moment, and then she knew. Not just the roads! She thought of the great pond. “Hurry! We’ve got to get across! Quickly! And stay together!”

They scrambled over the top and slid down the soft earth into the ditch. Climbing up the other side was more difficult. Clumps of dirt came off in their hands as they clawed their way back up. When the second roar stopped, they heard a new noise. Seo-Yeon screamed, “Help each other. Quickly, over the top!” The first ones helped pull the next ones up. As the wall of water rushed past the spot where they’d just been, it tugged at the pants legs of the last to make the climb. But his companions held strong–a human ladder pulling him to safety.

“What the hell!” One of them said. 

“The escape tunnels,” she explained, out of breath herself. “They have flooded the escape tunnels so no one can leave.” She made a mental calculation. From the time their car had died until now… really it wasn’t much more than a few minutes. Not enough time to unlock and enter the tunnels, unless that was the first choice made. Unlikely. “Come, our leader needs us, and he is waiting.”

***

Outside the entrance to the palace seemed like controlled chaos. Now Seo-Yeon could see the thin remains of the vehicles that’d been crushed. Flames raged across the driveway where the cars spilled their fuel, and it burned higher over by the helipad. The palace guards were evenly spread out and armed, expecting the worst, and trained to defend until death. She could see their tension in their stance, and see it change when they recognized her team… walking in slowly, hands over heads. The palace itself was still dark. Only the flames illuminated the exterior.

Inside the massive lobby, Gun Gyeong Lee, leader of the palace guard, met her. It was immediately clear he had as many questions for her about what they’d seen on the outside, as she had about what he’d seen on the inside. 

“Any troops on the roads?”

“No, it all started just as we arrived at the gate…. Was the palace able to order reinforcements?”

“No. The radios worked for a few minutes… the signal was jammed! Does anyone outside know what’s going on here?”

Seo Yeon frowned helplessly. “Does anyone here know what’s going on outside?

Their eyes embraced each other in silent understanding. No one knew…

***

At 1:07 AM, Ryu Yong Sook’s barracks shook from the shock of an explosion. He jumped from his bed amidst a confusion of arms, legs, and shouting–as his fellow pilots grabbed their flight suits and gear to ready for battle. Where the battle was coming from didn’t matter. It was already here. Ryu looked furtively out the window and could see flames engulfing a jet far across the field. A loud hammering noise ruptured the night and punctuated the urgency. Getting their planes in the air to meet the aggressor was first order of business.

Shoving his feet into his shoes, he raced out the door and toward the tarmac. There was another explosion on the field. Clearly their planes were being targeted. He was the fastest and sprinted past other pilots in his wing. He had almost run past it, when he came across the first truck. He tripped and stumbled in a depression in the ground, but caught himself. It took a moment for him to realize what he was looking at. The vehicle had literally been squashed, as though some giant had crushed it under its foot. The pavement around it was also compressed–he’d tripped over its lip. He paused, stunned, then knew he must get to his plane. 

The hammering got louder. Now there was another explosion–this time at the head of the flight line. As new flames leapt up, he saw the silhouette of the next plane in line… for a moment. Then another loud clap, and its entire tail section disappeared. Yet the cockpit and wings were still there. Another clap, and the next tail section was gone. He remembered the truck… then remembered his plane.

He had to save it. It was the greatest freedom he’d ever had. His honor and his privilege. He raced blindly toward it, ignoring the thunderclaps, ignoring the hollering and growing warnings of his comrades. 

One of his ground crewmen caught up to him and shouted “Too late! Too late,” and pulled at his shoulder. Ryu Yong shook him off and ordered him to release the tie-downs. Ryu grabbed and pulled the wheel chocks. He needed to get into the air. Fast!

Everyone was shouting now, his fellow pilots imploring him to stop. As he mounted the pilot ladder to climb into the cockpit, they grabbed and pulled desperately at his legs to stop him. Another loud clap, closer, louder! Now they gave up and ran. He climbed into the cockpit. 

Now the loudest clap. The nose of the plane next to him momentarily reared up into the air then crashed to the ground. It was all surreal. He tried ignition… nothing!

The next clap deafened his ears. Ryu felt his plane buck up, then sink back, and he knew he would never fly again. Another clap, and the plane to his right did the same. No one will fly tonight, he now knew. 

He sat in his cockpit, unafraid. Any fear he may have felt before had been drowned in adrenalin. Any fear he felt now was buried deep in his future. For certain, he would never know the freedom of flight again…. 

Across all North Koryo, military bases, villages, and cities had blinked into darkness. Nothing new for most– blackouts were common. But efforts of soldiers and technicians couldn’t restore power.

And at 1:07 AM–in earshot of anyone living or working near a military facility–came the sound of explosions. Military armories combusted. Missile sites collapsed into rubble. Roads to secret labs were rendered impassable. Destruction of even the largest of military installations took little more than minutes. Yet all personnel were accounted for, with only a few cuts and scratches. And within two hours the unseen aggressor ran out of targets. 

But here and there emergency lights, once flickering back to life, stayed lit. Hospitals were minimally affected. Their generators still worked. Commercial flights were unaffected–international flights through Koryo airspace were too risky, so virtually non-existent. A single Koryo military flight lost all power, yet miraculously set down–fully intact–in the middle of a potato field. An amazed pilot reported that after he departed unhurt, its tail section was totally destroyed. And along its southern border, military outposts later reported what they thought to be a systematic carpet-bombing of the mine fields separating the demilitarized zones to the North and South. Even so, in a most significant night, no communications leaked across North Koryo’s border.

***

Seo Yeon’s details about her dash to the palace made one thing clear to Gun Gyeong Lee. All exits had been cut off. He would send guards to check the tunnels, but doubted she was wrong. Outside was a disaster. Yet there were still no aggressors to fight. No way even for the Supreme Leader to order a counter-strike.

He wondered briefly about the Moon message–the mysterious warning all had seen mere days ago. Official news said it was another American capitalist ploy–a Hollywood style trick. Unofficially, he’d read a translation from the Chinese a friend had given him. But if that were true, there should be years before any attack. This attack is right now, and real! He worried. Do the Americans now have this technology? If so, all could be lost. He sent Seo Yeon to guard the Supreme Leader’s wife, and ordered her companions to relieve their counterparts. He doubted anyone would be going anywhere for a while. Now, all he could do was wait.

***

At 3:00 AM Kangdong time a phone unexpectedly rang–the hard line to China’s Premier Chou. Supreme Leader hurried to take the call, his wife by his side. Seo Yeon obediently followed, and listened quietly at a discreet distance while the Supreme Leader. 

The Supreme Leader was angry, and insisted this was the American’s fault. He wanted to immediately counter-attack. Then he became very silent. The longer the Supreme Leader listened, the more color drained from his face. Twice he tried to interrupt. Twice he fell back silent. This was strange… and this frightened Seo Yeon.

After an interminable time, the Supreme Leader of North Koryo–Chairman of the Worker’s Party, Chairman of State Affairs, and Supreme Commander of the People’s Army–slowly, submissively nodded and agreed to whatever it was Premier Chou had said. Then he hung up. 

“Our great ally, Premier Chou,” he intoned–half authoritative, half subdued– “has negotiated safe passage to Beijing… until this immediate crisis is ended. A helicopter will be here in five hours. Only family and six staff will go. Transport will be arranged for all other when needed.”

Seo Yeon Koh knew immediately she would only go on the later transport….

What she did not know is that later transport would never come. 

Chou’s words to her Supreme Leader had been far more specific. North Koryo’s military power had been thoroughly gutted. The mine fields separating them from South Koryo now lay waste. The military could no longer protect him or his family.

But the danger wouldn’t come from the Americans or even the South Koryo forces. They had been ordered to stand down. The danger would come from the disaffected… the North Koryoan people and military who’d soon see the world in unfiltered clarity. When this happened they’d hold him responsible for their long suffering. No palace guard would stop them from seeking revenge.

So the compromise–Chou would give Supreme Leader and his family political asylum–permanent exile. The Americans would agree to a substantial demilitarization of the Koryo peninsula. Both the Americans and the Chinese would share the responsibility and expense for mending North and South Koryo. The re-united nation would remain independent of both. And, as was most important to the Terran Council, Koryo’s participation in the world vote would be guaranteed… an elaborate horse-trade, but a little something for everyone.

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The Tides of Earth – Chapter 2 – Wake-up Call

Prelude front cover

Mike immersed himself in thought. Today was Show and Tell. They’d demonstrate to the United Nations the full power of the K’Laadian weapons. The decision, while returning to Earth in command of this ship–their prize–had been difficult. But there was no going back. We’re in it now! It’ll only get tougher, because now they needed to buy or pry away the political support they’d need to build a planetary defense.

They found no other choice. Humanity had to be defended, but the captured weapons were too powerful–too dangerous entrust to any one government… even more dangerous to share with all. The K’Laadian’s view toward human civilization may have been cold, but it hadn’t been entirely inaccurate. With these weapons, mankind could tear itself apart.

Creating an independent council was Maggie’s idea. Completely independent from Earth governments. Never to interfere with earth’s local affairs. Maggie’s plan. But it was Tracy who’d recognized the full truth. 

They had already learned too much themselves. Earth’s governments and competing factions would never stop seeking control of the technology. Their knowledge would always make them a target–a threat not only to themselves, but to their families. That same risk would face all who joined them.

Mike glanced at Tracy and frowned. She still scanned the globe nervously. The harsh new reality meant end to any chance at a normal life. Self-imposed exile… for them and anyone they recruited. But harder for her, Mike knew… a life now defined by morbid duty and dashed dreams.

Tracy interrupted his thoughts. “You’re sure the canisters are ready? All the parameters right?”

“We’ve prepared all we can,” Maggie answered instead. “The practices have been successful. Targeting software has been perfect. No reason to believe it’ll fail now. And better us than the K’laadians picking targets.”

“We’ve got it covered.” Mike reassured. “Listen, the UN needs a demonstration. They’re just going to get a bigger one than expected.”

“There’s an understatement,” a thin smile broke on Maggie’s lips, “but we haven’t come this far to fail now. We stick to the plan. There must be full cooperation to hold a worldwide vote. No government interference! And certainly no exceptions for dictators! It’s everyone’s choice! Whether to fight or to flee–all humanity must decide.” Maggie shook her head, “they’ve got to learn to work together.”

Well, this ought to do it! Mike mused…. There’ll definitely be some soiled britches today.

Maggie inhaled deeply and reflected… Khreseea, their former captor, had been right about one thing–humanity was immature. But she had been wrong about K’laadia ruling Earth. Humans didn’t like being told what to do. Millenia of genetics and conditioning stood in the way. We have to decide for ourselves.

“Time to make the phone call.” Maggie said. “Mike, lock targeting. Engage the moment I hang up. We need to wrap this up before the UN goes in session.”

Mike leaned back and took a deep breath, ready. “Won’t be a problem. Targets are all tagged. I expect we’ll be done in two hours.”

“No casualties?” Tracy frowned. She didn’t want to jeopardize public support. More so she didn’t want it on her conscience. The UN demonstration would be a piece of cake. This unscheduled pre-demo operation is what worried her.

Mike smiled sympathetically. “We’ve done all we can, but there’s no guarantee. We hit the targets fast enough–before they can man their weapons–and we’ve got a pretty good chance. You’ve seen it work. If all goes well, best their military will be able to do is stand by and watch.

Maggie listened to the exchange, looked down at her com station, and shuddered. It’s time! No choice! She’d accepted it, now hoped she was right. Here on out everything they did would be under intense scrutiny… and they needed all the public support they could get–even for this!

At 00:30 AM Beijing time, morning of the UN general assembly program, Maggie reached out to Premier Chou. It took another ten minutes for his staff to get his translator, although the K’Leestra47’s computer could translate if needed.

“Premier Chou, my apologies for disturbing you at this hour,” she didn’t know if there was a proper protocol…” but there is some urgent business concerning North Koryo, and only China can help resolve it.” She heard a torrent of words in the background that she couldn’t understand, then the interpreter answered. It amounted to one reciprocal pleasantry, and then–as she interpreted it–a “what the fuck do you want”–or a close approximation thereof.

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A Mighty Dwarf – the naming 2007 OR10

Just yesterday,  I was excited to see that Dr. Megan Schwamb, who discovered 2007 OR10, had decided to name it.

 I had somewhat randomly chosen this dwarf planet to use in my novel–Prelude: The Expanding Seas of Earth.  Moreover, early this month I had contacted both Dr. Megan Schwamb and Dr. Mike Brown, and asked why no one had ever named it. I even offered my suggestion for a name–mentioned in my author notes (see below)  

Dr. Brown promptly replied to my inquiry, saying to stand by–the name would be coming very soon. A nice surprise! Technically, his right to name it expired in 2017 (after ten years). And no one has bothered in the two years since… until now.

Dr. Megan Schwamb and her colleagues have now provided their favorite choices, and invited astronomy fans to help select which one will be officially submitted. Hopefully, some preferential consideration will be accorded them. After all, they found it.

I also hope they won’t be offended that my story’s characters used it for target practice…. I can assure it was all for a good and necessary cause, and that no major planetary features were harmed in the exercises.

And while anyone can now officially submit a suggestion to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), I won’t be among them. I think those who found it should still have final say. These are the people whose work and dedication inspire us to look outside our small world… and dream. 

From my author’s notes:

Heavenly Bodies  

Kuiper Objects – When this story was written, 2007 OR10 was still the correct designation for the dwarf planet Maggie’s crew uses for target practice. However, by the year this story begins, someone will probably have already named it–thus a potential story flaw.

Naming rights for 2007 OR10 expired in 2017, so technically anyone can name it. The International Astonomical Union adjudicates this, and there are strict guidelines as to length and type–for instance, no pet names.

Professor Michael E. Brown***(Caltech), who held the rights, never officially named it. However, he did nickname it “Snow White” for being bright. He has a healthy sense of humor–it was the seventh dwarf planet his team had discovered since 2002.

Dwarf planets must either be very bright or very large to be detected. It was later determined 2007 OR10 was larger and reddish in color, suggesting presence of methane frost. So the nickname no longer quite fits. The good news, from my perspective, is that Snow White had a sister named “Rose Red”. Serendipity methinks! Still, I restrained myself from calling it “Rose Red” in the story. If someone named it otherwise between 2017 and publication, I’d have egg on my face.

Thankfully, given the transit time round trip between K’Laadia and Earth, Khreseea could only have uploaded Earth’s Kuiper Belt data prior to 2017. Thus they couldn’t have learned the new name.

***2007 OR10 was discovered by California Institute of Technology astronomers as part of the PhD thesis of Megan E. Schwamb, who was at the time a graduate student of Michael E. Brown.[15] (cit. Wikipedia). Hopefully, she ultimately gets to name it (only seems fair).

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The Tides of Earth – Chapter 1 – The High Blind

Prelude front cover

FYG – The Tides of Earth starts off four days after The Expanding Seas of Earth ended. But to make it accessible to readers who may not already have read Expanding Seas, it was necessary to quickly establish the where’s and why’s of what Maggie and her crew were about to do. 

My natural instinct is to hew toward subtlety–something I enjoy when reading–but which doesn’t always work when there’s a ton of detail readers need. So I’ve tried to use it sparingly, but to avoid heavy-handedness bringing readers up to speed. Still, by the end of the first  two (short) opening chapters, I trust readers will have a handle on the main events of the first story. 

Obviously, if you see it differently, now would be the ideal time to tell me. I can still tinker with my words up until actual publication, and will consider thoughtful comments. The copy below is already result of some well placed suggestions made by my local critique group. Previous readers will find symmetry  between this opening chapter and that of The Expanding Seas.  It’s deliberate. I liked the idea of the story having come full circle.

For newcomers, please note I try my best to assure the science in my stories is within the realm of current scientific knowledge and theory, and to avoid including “made up” science. Real science offers more than enough incredible ideas to be explored. And I think it’s very important for people to understand the difference between the two.

The first chapter is below–more of a teaser, but with hints of the backstory. I’ll post a chapter each week. So without further ado, I hope you’ll enjoy…

Prelude: The Tides of Earth – Chapter One – The High Blind

The Earth shone brilliantly below. Sparse clouds crabbed aimlessly across its seas and continents. The moon–brighter than seen from any of its crusty shores–peeked around the horizon. Occasionally, a glint of light–as a stray satellite caught a beam of sunlight. Maggie drew a deep, appreciative breath–awed by the beauty and satisfied that conditions would be perfect for today’s precision operations.

The control room’s wall and ceiling screens provided a clear uninterrupted image of everything outside the ship. There was reverent silence. No one wanted to disturb the stunning view.

Mike sat at the center weapons console and checked his settings once more. Adjustments weren’t really needed, but with what was at stake…. He’d check still again.

Tracy hardly breathed. A loose blond bang flopped across her forehead. Gone were her perfect tresses, cultured in life before their own ship had been hijacked. She squinted, bit her lip, and scanned the screens intently. No telltale signs of an attack. A comfort. Earth’s major powers may have agreed to cooperate, but only because there weren’t viable options. All it took was for one of them to take a pot shot.

“Frightened?” Mike asked.

“No,” But Tracy barely moved her head. Her eyes were still drawn toward the panorama. 

“Don’t be. Even if they could see us, our defensive canisters would take out any missiles… besides, why wouldn’t they want to know first what they’d be up against!” Mike offered a reassuring smile. 

Tracy took a deep breath and returned to surveying the screen.

Sorry kid, Mike thought, but it was you who convinced us! 

Today was Show and Tell. They’d demonstrate to the United Nations the full power of the K’Laadian weapons. The return to Earth with their prize had been difficult. The decisions they’d made were harder. But there was no going back. 

We’re in it now! Mike knew. It’ll only get tougher from here. Whatever it took, they would buy or pry away whatever government support they’d need to build a planetary defense. We can do it, he promised himself. We are formidable!

Next chapter: Wake-up Call

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Water Clerk

Water Clerk      About Water Clerk

 I have just resumed working on this vessel agency handbook after a lengthy hiatus concentrating on my (more fun to write) first science fiction novel.  And as I progress I will periodically post excerpts for those rare  few souls interested.  Please note these aren’t  in finished form. Those posted here will be further edited for readability and content–a most tedious but necessary process.

I’ve learned much about writing and publishing over the past five years, so have found that setting and making deadlines is as important in writing as it is in handling a ship’s port call.  Thus target date for official publication of Water Clerk is March 15, 2020… the “Ides of March” (for those liking literary drama). 

In the meantime, I shall welcome comments, critiques, and questions regarding the excerpts posted here.  Constructive dialogue can only benefit the project . With no further ado, below find the Introduction and the Table of Contents for Part One…. 

WATER CLERK:  Forward

The purpose of this book is to provide not just an understanding of a vessel agent’s role, but an introduction to the basics of agency operations and logistics, and—finally—a better understanding of the problems of agency management. It is a tutorial of the “hows” and “whys.”
A newcomer to this industry is typically thrust immediately into situations where their awareness and independent judgement are as important to their survival and success as their ability to memorize procedures and accurately complete paperwork. The hand-holding period where the more experienced agent shows how certain things are done… is invariably short. If you are new, very soon you will be on your own. That is the typical pace.
Some newcomers thrive on the novelty of the business, the variety of new responsibilities, the pace, the odd hours, and the early opportunity to be entrusted to work on their own. They feel invigorated. Many others will find these same conditions only stressful. Everyone are gaited differently. It may not be right for everybody, but the marine industry tends to grow on you.
Today’s vessel agents need to learn patience and a myriad of other skills—including, ironically, when not to be patient. The better your personal knowledge and your understanding of how things work, the better you will be able to react, respond, and grow into your job. And the more valuable you will make yourself to both your customers and your company.
The title of this book, “Water Clerk”, is a diminutive label a close friend and ex-sea captain once joked was the common term for vessel agents in Europe. It deliberately suggests an unimportant role.
However, the truth is that a vessel agent can have a greater impact upon the costs, the success, or the failure of a port call than any other player. It is up to you to remember that the only way your role as a ship agent will ever be unimportant, is if you personally make it unimportant. If you learn your trade and accept the responsibilities it entails, you will become the knowledgeable and dedicated ship agent your customers and your company needs.

Note:  As I put together this handbook, I was faced with two difficulties. The first was how best to organize the material into a natural progression, where readers could assimilate the concepts first, then consolidate that knowledge by seeing actual practices. The second difficulty was determining how to cover the incredibly dull basic materials without readers committing suicide or avowing to become an accountant instead—two roughly equal choices.

However, it is extremely important the terminology provided is clear and accurate, because many are legal concepts. And in the maritime community, huge sums of money can ride on getting details right.
So I came to the following compromise—to issue this hazardous warning:

Be advised that materials in sections Getting Acquainted, Types of Agency Services, and Roles of an Agent are, at points, both mind-numbingly boring yet absolutely essential to learn.
I have added  comments, where possible, to break the bleak monotony. However, I recommend—if getting bored to tears or passing into REM sleep—temporarily jump ahead to the section Getting Things Done. 

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PREFACE to PRELUDE

Below find my first stab at writing a preface for my novel PRELUDE. Not so amazingly, I hadn’t even thought about writing one until reading Mary Ann de Stefano’s highly informative article on the Florida Writers Association website – http://floridawriters.net/front-matter-matters/

I greatly welcome any comment or critiques anyone has to offer on its content, style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It will help me to improve it. Thank you!

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Preface

My family has always been drawn to the sea, in one way or another, and though I never had the chance to meet many of my forebears, that draw has always influenced my choices in life. It led me to a life of working with ships, and to owning boats. And while working for ships is akin to a kind of slavery – ship movements will dictate to all your working and sleeping hours – leaving the shore on one’s own boat is utter soul-quenching freedom.

But before having the freedom of owning my very first boat, I enjoyed the delicious freedom of escaping into books…classic sea stories, adventures, and finally the joy of classic science fiction. This last discovery wasn’t bound by the oceans of Earth, or by the humdrum world around me. Now there was the promise ships could sail to the stars, and every day life could begin a new adventure, as scientific advances redefined the world around me. I experienced sheer delight in exploring the joys and dangers these new tales dangled before me. I wanted to see the future. And I wanted (most of) it to be real.

Unfortunately, I also come from a long line of cynics. I’ve been cynical in my professional and personal life, yet when it comes to worldview, I see a different picture. I see the hopefulness of the future I dreamt of when reading all those exciting SciFi tales. I still nurture and preserve my optimism. 

Yet the most common trope in science fiction and fantasy today is dystopia. These apocalyptic futures no doubt reflect a newer generation’s feeling their parents have really screwed things up. In reality, it would take many more years of substantial screwing up to even begin delivering those apocalyptic visions. Importantly – thankfully – there is always a ying to offset the yang of misfortunate tides. Plus, regardless of how dysfunctional modern times may seem, it is easy to document how much very better human society is on the whole, when compared to any times past.  

So when I undertook to write this novel, I unabashedly wanted it to reflect reality in a positive light. I believe the stakes feel more dramatic when the science is real – actually feasible.

People are basically both good and bad, with varying degrees of both within each person. So while we may have entire groups of people who will sign off and accept the worst kind of brutality and destruction, we still have equally measured groups who will fight such brutality and aspire to produce gentility, growth, and fairness in the world. And amazingly, as a society, these people will mix, change sides, learn to be better, and sometimes learn to be worse than their best selves.

Over the long term though, with occasional stumbles, human society slowly learns how to be their better selves. And while I doubt that will ever be universally achieved (I am still a cynic), that clearly must remain everyone’s long term goal.

And that is why demanding reality is so important. Ergo that’s why I love science, which helps bring truth to reality. While I am no mathematician, scientist, or technical expert, I read and drink up the latest in the theories of everything. I respect the process and the incredible people whose minds make these great new discoveries in truth. And while there is so much absolutely fun science fiction out in the world that wink-winks at actual scientific fact in order to move characters most impossibly through time and space, I prefer to keep mine at least grounded in current theories. 

Human society invents. And inventions are still the best catalyst for positive change. However, when people are unable to differentiate between what is real science and what is false, they can be misled by the opportunists (especially those political types)  to adopt a skewed vision of reality that can lead society toward those apocalyptic speed bumps we might otherwise avoid. 

Facing reality, demanding real science instead of a politically induced stupor, is the best weapon humanity has against dystopia.

I began writing PRELUDE to satisfy one ‘what if’ that piqued my curiosity, and which seems rarely (never?) addressed in any invasion tale I’ve read. So I combined my love of ships with my love of science, reality, and science fiction, and I’ve set sail to put my own spin on the classic invasion yarn.

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Preparing for ANNIHILATION – a book review

Annihilation

I read this book some months ago, with hesitation. The further I read, the more hesitant I was to proceed. In truth, this hesitation had nothing to do with the quality of Mr. Vandermeer’s prose or his prolific imagination. He creates an strange and intriguing world within a world, and sets his characters on a dangerous expedition into the unknown – all the exciting elements you could want in a science fiction story.

So what is my problem?

Probably, because when I’m reading I look for new revelations in each chapter. Stories of exploration usually offer not just new challenges at each turn, but new clues to the puzzle the author has created. Characters piece together the clues, bit by bit, until one reaches an Eureka moment, where the puzzle – or at least an important part of the puzzle – is explained.

The basic conceit of the story – which has been given away worldwide to anyone who’s seen the trailer for the movie – is that a  part of the country (by its native landscape, I’d assume Florida) has been overtaken  by a strange phenomena. No one who’s gone in has ever returned (no, they’re not retirees). Moreover, the boundary for this area is ever expanding, posing a threat to the entire country and perhaps the world.

No explanation is given (that I remember) why it is not being closely observed by satellite. So the government’s intrepid team enters with only rudimentary detail of the layout of the land around their entry point.  Here is where the story begins…and it is not too far from where the story ends. The abounding mysteries of the place overtake them very quickly, and the events almost as quickly dissolve their confidence in themselves and their teammates.

And the abounding mysteries pretty much remain mysteries through to the end.  Vandermeer presents his troupe with many questions, but with little by the way of answers – except, perhaps, about themselves and the human condition. Unfortunately, I wanted more. While I kept getting frustrated at not being offered some insight as to why this event was occurring, I kept up hope of being rewarded in each next chapter.  I kept hoping until it was too late. I’d finished the book.

My one final takeaway, reading the last page, was that this story was clearly intended to be continued. I seriously considered checking to see if a sequel had already been written,  but my discouragement at being left empty-handed won out. I never checked. I see now that two sequels have been written, and I’m seriously tempted to give them a shot. After all is said, the first did keep me reading and did raise questions I wanted answered. Who and why come immediately to mind. I’m very leery though whether I’ll find the answers I seek in these later books.

Maybe Hollywood will offer more answers in the movie version.  I know I’ll see it.  Vandermeer has created a rich, fascinating, visual world, so Hollywood’s version should at least look gorgeous even if it winds up a “gorgeous but dumb” blonde joke on theater-goers.

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PRELUDE – A New Cover Story

Prelude laserbeam full cover with spineOne  interesting thing about the original image for the cover is that there were two small disc-shaped elements hovering together near the planet’s surface.  As they were angled and aligned identically, and as each had a notable center, it strongly suggested something had passed through those centers – thus creating the effect.

This odd effect seemed a shame to waste, especially since my story does include the use of several forms of energy beam.  Suzanne Johnson*, who is not only patient (with my questions), but also immensely talented, came to my rescue with this (above) reiteration.

Unless some inspired publisher throws money at me and insists  on using their own cover art, I consider this a keeper.  So how does this grab you? I’d love to hear feedback.

*To see other of Suzanne’s work, her website is: http://dsjohnsonbooks.com/gallery

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