Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Tardigrade Christmas (a different Christmas story...)

Blika lived in Mossland with her clone sestras, gathering and sucking the delicious juices of detritus and algae. Never looking up or in much of a hurry, she lumbered from frond to frond on eight stubby legs in a gestalt of feasting and being. 

Blika led a microscopic life of bloated bliss—unaware of forests, human beings, quantum physics or the coming singularity…
A sudden fierce wind wicked her water away. In a burst of alien urgency, she wriggled madly for purchase on the frond as it shivered violently in the roaring wind. Blika lost hold and the wind swept her into a dark dryness. Her liquid life-force bleeding away from her, Blika crawled into herself. The moss piglet felt herself shrivel into oblivion.
No, not oblivion… more like a vast expanse…
She had entered a wonderland of twinkling lights in a vast fabric of dark matter. Where am I?
It occurred to her that she had never thought such a thing before. Am I dead? She’d never thought about existence before either. What has happened to me? And where are my sestras? She felt an overwhelming sadness. Something else she’d never felt before and wondered why she hadn’t. Did it have to do with that liquid that had always embraced her with its life-force? 
Here, in the darkness of space, she felt alone for the first time, separated from the plenum.
“Welcome, sestra!” boomed a large voice.
Blika beheld a being like her with eight arms and hands, seated on a throne and wearing a jeweled crown. “Why do you call me sestra?” Blika asked.
“Because we are ALL sestras! You are a Tardigrade, aren’t you?” She waved all eight arms at Blika. “Well, I am your queen!” She looked self-pleased. “You are in Tunland now! The land of awareness. And now that you are self-aware, you can do anything! We’re special,” the queen ended in smug delight. The folds of her body jiggled and shimmered.
“Why are we special?” Blika asked.
“Because we are!” the queen said sharply, already losing patience with her new subject. “Don’t you know that you can survive anything? Ionizing radiation. Huge pressure. Boiling heat. Freezing cold. Absolutely no air. And no water…”
 Blika gasped. Water was the elixor that connected her to her sestras and her world… her…home…
“How do you think you got here, eh?” the queen mocked her with a sinister laugh. Blika cringed. The queen went on blithely, “So, where do you come from, piglet?”
“I’m trying to find my way home…”
“Your way? All ways here are my ways!”
“But I was just thinking—”
“I warn you, child…” The queen glowered at her. “If I lose my temper, you lose your head. Understand?”
Blika nodded, now missing her home even more.
“Why think when you can do!” the queen added, suddenly cheerful again. “First there is BE, then THINK, then DO. Why not skip the think part and go straight to the do part? In Tunland we do that all the time,” she went on blithely. “And, as I was saying, here we can do anything!”
The queen grabbed Blika by an arm and steered them through the swirling darkness of space toward a box-like floating object. “This is my doctor’s Tardis…”
“Doctor who?” Blika naively asked.
The queen shivered off her annoyance and led them eagerly through the door and into her kingdom.
They entered a strange place of giant blocks and whining sounds beneath a dark swirling sky.
The first thing Blika noticed was the huge tardigrades floating above them like dirigibles! Others were dressed in suits holding little suitcases and walking into and out of the huge blocks through doorways.
“We’ve crossed into another dimension—my universe,” the queen announced cheerfully. “Here you can do anything you want. So, why be tiny and feckless when you can be huge and powerful!” She studied Blika. “This is your moment to do what you could never do before. Think of the possibilities! You too could be huge!”
Blika stared at the strange world of smoke and metal and yearned for her simple mossy home.
As if she knew what Blika wanted, the queen quickly added, “But you can never go back home!”
“Why not?” Blika asked, disappointed.
Because, that’s why!” the queen shouted.  Squinting, she added, “It’s too late. It’s just not done! Once you’ve learned what the colour green means you can’t erase its significance!”
“But I still don’t know what the colour green means,” Blika complained. “And, besides, I think you’re wrong. Becoming self-aware doesn’t stop you from going home. It just changes its meaning. And if I can really do what I want, then you can’t stop me. I’m going home to my family.” 
The little hairs on the queen bristled. Then she grew terribly calm. “I won’t stop you, but…” The queen pointed to the floating tardigrades above them. “My water bear army will. I sentence you to remain in Tunland forever for your crime!”
“I haven’t done anything…yet.”
“You’ve broken the law of thinking before doing. In Tunland you have to skip that part—”
“You just made that up—”
“Doesn’t matter!” shouted the queen. “Sentence first, verdict afterwards!”
“That’s nonsense,” said Blika loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first.”
“Hold your tongue!” said the queen, turning a shade of chartreuse.
“I won’t,” said Blika.
“Off with your head!” the queen shouted at the top of her voice, pointing to Blika with all eight of her appendages. The water bear army hovered over Blika, taking aim. They were going to get more than her head with those lasers, Blika thought, and scurried for cover faster than her stubby eight legs had ever moved before. She was doomed—  
Then, just beyond her sight, she saw—no felt—something far more significant than the colour green…or a huge bloated water bear army about to shoot her…
Water! She could taste it, smell it, hear it. Blika rejoiced with thoughts of her green home.
The water came in a giant wet wave of blue and silver and frothy green. Tunland sloshed then totally dissolved. Blika surfed the churning water. That green! She knew what it was! Blika reached out with her deft claws and snagged a tumbling moss frond. It finally settled and there were her sestras! So many of them clinging to the same green moss! She’d found her family! She was home! Yes, it was a different home and different sestras, but it was also the same. Love made it so…
For the first time, Blika looked up … and saw a bright star…


 ~~~

Tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets, are plump, microscopic organisms with eight clawed legs. Fossils of tardigrades date to the Cambrian period over 500 million years ago. Over 900 species are known. 
Tardigrades were first described by the German pastor Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773 and given the name Tardigrada, meaning “slow stepper,” by the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani. 
Tardigrades reproduce asexually (parthenogenesis) or sexually. They mostly suck on the fluids of plant cells, animal cells, and bacteria.
Tardigrades survive adverse environmental stresses including:
                High and low temperatures (e.g., -273°C to +151°C)
                freezing and thawing
                changes in salinity
                lack of oxygen
                lack of water
                levels of X-ray radiation 1000x the lethal human dose
                some toxic chemicals
                boiling alcohol
                low pressure of a vacuum
                high pressure (up to 6x the pressure of the deepest ocean).
Tardigrades respond to adverse environmental stresses through “cryptobiosis”, a process that greatly slows their metabolism. Tardigrades survive dry periods by shriveling up into a little ball or tun and waiting it out. They make a protective sugar called trehalose, which moves into the cells to replace the lost water.
You could say that the water bear turns into a gummy bear.
Tardigrades have revived after a 100 years of desiccation. The antioxidants they make soak up dangerous chemicals and tardigrades can also repair damaged DNA from long term dry-out. In low oxygen, the tardigrade stretches out, relaxed muscles letting more water and oxygen enter its cells. The tardigrade’s cold-resistant tun also prevent the formation of ice crystals that could damage cell membranes.
Tardigrades survive temperatures, pressures and ionizing radiation not normally found on Earth. All this raises questions of origin and evolutionary adaptation. How—and why—have tardigrades developed the ability to survive the vacuum and ionizing radiation of space? Some suggest that it’s because they originated there. Scientists argue that they developed extreme tolerances from Earth’s volatile environments (e.g., water bodies that freeze or dry up, and undergo anoxia). But, if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere. So, where is “home” really?…

#tardifolk


My Book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press explores this creature and many other interesting things about water. Look for it in Spring 2016 on Amazon, Chapters and in bookstores near you.

Monday, November 30, 2015

An Interview with Lucia Gorea Author of “The Impaler”

Who was the real Count Dracula? A bloodthirsty vampire? A medieval prince? A ruthless tyrant? Or a famous voivode who skillfully defended his land?

In 1442, on a somber morning in Wallachia, Vlad and his younger brother, Radu, bid farewell to their weeping, heartbroken mother. Their father has given them to Sultan Murad II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, to prove his loyalty to the Turks.

One of the boys will adapt well to captivity. The other won’t…

The Impaler tells a gripping true story of passion, betrayal, resentment, and revenge—and an obsession to conquer and rule.

****
Excerpt:

The prince invited them all to an extravagant feast, but they could have never guessed the cost...Vlad orders his servants and soldiers to board up the hall immediately. The beggars look at the vagrants, the sick ones look at the food, while the mothers look at their children, holding and squeezing their tiny hands. Then everyone turns their heads to their right to see many serv- ants bringing in large planks of wood and metal. They start boarding up the room under the terrified looks of the poor and sick. Ready to leave the great hall, some head toward the exit, but Vlad’s soldiers block their way. 
Others, the more pious ones, give thanks to the Lord for such a copious feast. They knock themselves over, trying to escape. They push each other and drop the food they hid in their sleeves or underneath their caftans. It falls to the floor. Now they know they are cornered. Wherever they look, they see soldiers and servants. They are nothing but a herd of cattle trapped within the gates of a stable when the storms and thunders hit the plains. Torches are brought in. Burning torches. 
Vlad still stands, unflinching. “You will never go hungry from now on. You will never suffer from hunger or thirst, from pain or aches. Your burdens will be lifted.”Startled beggars and horrified vagrants throw themselves on the floor and cover their heads.When Vlad nods, servants and soldiers set the hall on fire.

****

I recently caught up with Lucia in Vancouver, BC, at UBC after her class and took her to the Flying Pig for drinks. We ordered maple-bourbon smashes and I asked her about the resent release of her debut novel, The Impaler:


1.     Your novel “The Impaler” was released by Black Opal Books this past October and tells the tale of Vlad, Prince of Wallachia—otherwise known as Count Dracula. Some will see this as another version of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula legend. Is there any similarity? What is the main difference in your story from the Dracula legend and how would you describe “The Impaler”? 
I believe the only similarity between the two versions is that both Bram Stoker and I based our novels on the same character, Count Dracula. We both placed our stories in medieval Transylvania and described the bloodthirsty prince through our own perception. 
The main difference between our novels is that Stoker associated Dracula with vampirism. He portrayed Vlad as a bloodthirsty vampire.  He based his novel solely on his imagination, creating an imaginary character. He has never set foot in Transylvania. 
My novel is based on facts. The events, names, places and characters in “The Impaler” accurately portray Transylvania and Wallachia of the Middle Ages during Vlad’s reign. I was born in Transylvania, visited Vlad’s castles, and studied this historical figure in school.

2.     What inspired you to write “The Impaler”?
The idea of writing a novel on the real prince Dracula, also known as “The Impaler,” came to me a long time ago, when I realized that he was wrongly perceived as a vampire and that very few people knew that a real historical figure existed behind the fantasy character.  I do remember vividly the moment I decided to tackle this subject. A few years ago, I was waiting in line at a grocery store in Portland, Oregon where I used to live. The clerk asked me where I was originally from, and when he learned that I was born in Transylvania, he asked me if that place really existed and if vampires lived there. I joked and told him that there were vampires in Transylvania and that I was one of them, to the bemusement of the other shoppers. He really believed me and said that he had never seen a vampire before. That was the moment I knew my mission was to inform people like him that Count Dracula really existed, that he was a real prince, and to inform readers about the significant role he had in the medieval history.

3.     I know you did a lot of research to assure historical accuracy. Can you tell us a little about that process? 
You are right, Nina. This historical thriller is based on extensive research that I conducted using chronicles, biographies, pamphlets and historical materials in both online and paper format. It was very important to me to convey the real story of Vlad Dracula, the prince of many faces, and to accurately portray this controversial historical figure during his reign in the Middle Ages.

4.     Vlad is painted with vivid detail—the nuances of his complex and paradoxical character flow with a chilling reality. What process did you use to achieve that?
I have always been fascinated by Vlad’s persona. I remember studying Vlad Dracula in my history class in high school. His powerful image haunted me through the years. I admired his strength and skills, and his ability to rule in a lawless country. I was appalled by the gruesome atrocities he committed. But were there any other ways to defend your land, your country and religion in the Middle Ages?
I used the present tense to depict Wallachia and Transylvania of the 15th century. This is because the scenes unfolded in front of my eyes, like a vivid movie with clear images, distinct voices, sounds and colors. I could hear the protagonists’ dialogues, I could feel their emotions, I could see their facial expressions, the clothes they were wearing, and the interiors of the medieval castles. I could sense their anger, or resentment, their love or hatred. In fact, I visualized everything. I felt I literally lived in the Middle Ages, and that I was part of the story.
It seemed that I was either the spectator at times, one of the protagonists, or the narrator. There were times when I could hardly remove myself from the scenes I depicted so passionately and get back to reality.
It has been by far the most thrilling and fascinating literary adventure I have ever experienced.

5.     You are an acclaimed poet and teach writing at UBC in Vancouver. Do you think that your poetry background had any affect on your prose writing for “The Impaler”? 
It surely did. My poetry background allowed me to get in touch with my inner feelings and perceive the protagonists’ emotions in depth. The use of metaphors, epithets, comparisons, and analogies in the novel gives the story a more realistic and humane aspect that the readers can easily identify with.
6.     Can you describe your writing process for completing this book? How long did it take to finish?
Writing this novel was an assiduous project and required extensive research. I first started by brainstorming ideas and gathering the information I needed about the places, characters, historical facts and events I was going to depict in the novel. I consulted many online and paperback chronicles and articles for accuracy and relevance to my story. I researched several books and catalogues at local libraries and learned about medieval life, food, clothing, literature, arts and culture, as well as social diversity. I also read about the Ottoman Empire and the role it had in medieval history. The next step was to create the outline—the skeleton of the story. Then I started building on what I had and developed, as accurately as I could, the life of the real Prince Dracula. It took me a little over two years to complete the book.

7.     Tell us a little bit about your current writing project.
I am currently working on a couple of projects. One is a fictional novel on dating and relationships, yes, that’s right, the new trend that millions of people around the world experience nowadays. It is entitled, “How I Met You Online.” The other project I am working on is a book for non-native college students, “100 ESL Board Games.” I’m also translating fairy tales and legends, as well as poetry from Romanian into English.

8.     Where can we find your other books?
My books can be found on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Kobo, Kindle, BlackOpalBooks.com, All Romance, Alibris.com, and other fine retailers where books are sold.

Thank you, Lucia!



Lucia Gorea is a Canadian poet and writer who has authored fourteen books, award-winning poems and articles. Some of her books include Welcome to America!, Journey Through My Soul, ESL Games and Classroom Activities, Yukon the Polar Bear, and Speak English for Success.
Originally from Transylvania, Romania, Gorea graduated from the University of Bucharest with degrees in English, French and Linguistics then earned her PhD in English and Education from Atlantic International University. She taught various post-secondary English and writing courses in the USA before settling in Vancouver, Canada, in 2005 to teach and write. Gorea founded Poetry Around the World, a multicultural reading series in Vancouver to help promote non-native poets and writers, and hosted radio and television poetry shows. Lucia Gorea is also a professional translator and was selected as keynote speaker at The 8th International Symposium on Translation, Interpretation, and Terminology in Havana, 2013. Gorea’s interest in history inspired The Impaler her debut novel.

Lucia Gorea lives in Vancouver, B.C. and teaches English at the University of British Columbia, Mosaic Language Centre, and Atlantic International University. She is currently writing her second novel. Visit www.luciagorea.com to find out more about her writing.