Sciency Words: Covidiot

Hello, friends, and welcome to Sciency Words!  Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at science or science-related terminology.  Today’s Sciency Word is:


As you might imagine based on this Sciency Words series, as well as other things I’ve written, I love language.  I enjoy learning about why language works, why it sometimes does not work, and all the processes by which language changes over time.

One of my favorite linguists is Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan.  She’s written books and articles about language.  She hosts a radio show about language, and she’s a member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel.  She did a wonderful TED Talk called “What Makes a Word ‘Real’?” and her Great Courses series “The Secret Life of Words” is one of my favorite things to listen to on long drives.

Curzan often talks about how people like to play with language.  Some might dismiss such playfulness as slang, but really it’s a natural aspect of language usage.  And so when a friend recently introduced me to the word “covidiot,” I immediately thought of the things Curzan has said.  Here are people being playful with a scientific term, and I love that!

Now normally in these Sciency Words posts, I’d tell you the definition and etymology of the term we’re talking about.  I don’t think that’s necessary in this case.  It’s pretty obvious what “covidiot” means and where the word came from.  The only thing I want to say about covidiots is this: please don’t be one.

Next time on Planet Pailly, I’ll have a very strange weather forecast for you.

#IWSG: This-or-That-ism

Hello, friends, and welcome to another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group!  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

This month, I should be bragging about finishing the A to Z Challenge. Also, I should probably be plugging my novella-length Sci-Fi story, which is now available for preorder on Amazon (click here!!!).  But there’s something else I want to talk about today.  Something more important.

There’s a certain attitude that I’m sure we’ve all encountered on the Internet, but it’s troublingly common in everyday life too.  I call it this-or-that-ism.  In the mind of a this-or-that-ist, everything is either this or that.  There’s no middle ground.  There’s no spectrum or continuum of possibilities.  There are no shades of grey.  And if you don’t conform to the standard definition of this, then you must be that.

This-or-that-ists come down hard on a lot of people, but in my experience they come down hardest on creative folks: artists, actors, writers, poets, musicians, etc….  This is especially true when creative people are relatively new to their craft.  Why?  Because when you’re just starting out, you obviously aren’t a huge mega success yet; therefore, you must be an abject failure.

As you may have guessed, there are a few this-or-that-ists in my life, people who feel the need to inform me that I’m no J.K. Rowling, no Stephen King, no James Patterson.  And since I’m not one of those super rich, super famous authors, well… I think you know what the this-or-that-ists are insinuating.

Fortunately, there’s always been a little voice in my head—I call her my muse—who keeps encouraging me.

So today, I’d like to say the same thing to you, because if a few words from my imaginary friend can help me, then perhaps a few words from some guy on the Internet can help you.  So to anyone who may need to hear this:

Whoever you are, whatever you’re trying to achieve, I believe in you.  I think you can do it.  I know you can do it.  So your work isn’t perfect yet?  That doesn’t mean it’s a disaster.  You aren’t a runaway mega-success?  That doesn’t make you a failure.  Keep practicing, keep learning, and keep improving.  And no matter where your own journey takes you, remember that you are worthy of respect and you are worthy of love, and your work deserves a chance to be seen or read or heard.

In a world full of this-or-that-ism, these are things that need to be said more often to all creative folks.

Next time on Planet Pailly, is this COVID-19 thing over yet?  No?  Okay, then I am not lowering my guard.

Tomorrow News Network: A to Z Reflections

Hello, friends!

I feel like I’ve said this twenty-something times now, but my theme for this year’s A to Z Challenge was the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  And at the very beginning of April, I admitted to having certain ulterior motives for doing this.

Ulterior Motive #1: Buy My Book!

The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella will be released on June 4, 2020.  It’s available for preorder now!  Click here!!!

My hope was that this A to Z series would entice you, dear reader, into wanting to buy my book.  Preorders for The Medusa Effect have already started coming in, so I guess my top secret marketing strategy is working!

Ulterior Motive #2: Get Reader Feedback

The Medusa Effect is basically finished, but I still have many more novellas and novels planned for the Tomorrow News Network series.  With this year’s A to Z Challenge, I wanted to get some early feedback from potential readers about the story universe I created.

And I definitely got some useful feedback!  People questioned me about stuff that I honestly hadn’t thought about before.  People expressed interest in things that I honestly didn’t expect anyone would find interesting.  And then there was that one comment about the Galactic Inquisitor that inspired a whole new story that I never would have thought to write on my own.

All of this feedback will be invaluable to me as I get started on books two and three and four and so on.

Ulterior Motive #3: Get My Writing Mojo Back

Toward the end of March, I fell into a bit of a writing funk, thanks to the scary situation in the world and the resulting anxieties related to my day job.  As feared, April turned out to be even more stressful than March.  And yes, participating in the A to Z Challenge was an additional source of stress this past month.

But I’d say A to Z was the good kind of stress, the kind of stress that helps counteract all that bad stress.  It was exactly what I needed to keep me sane.  I’m so glad that I participated in this year’s challenge, and I’m grateful to all of you who joined me on this month-long adventure.

As for my writing mojo, it’s back.  My muse and I are now hard at work on the next Tomorrow News Network novella, which will tell the story of what “really” happened at Roswell.

Next time on Planet Pailly, I don’t need to be rich.  I don’t want to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  I just want to make a living writing the kinds of stories I love.



Sorry about that.  Hello, James’s friends.  This is James’s muse.  I’m going to take over writing this blog post while James gets some sleep.

First of all, I’m sure James would like to thank all of you who read and enjoyed his posts for the A to Z Challenge.  James is proud of what he accomplished with this year’s challenge, or I imagine he will be once he wakes up.

I’m also sure James would like you to know that The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella is now available for preorder on Amazon.  The Medusa Effect is the first in a series of novella-length science fiction stories that James plans to write.  It’s all about time travel and outer space stuff, or something like that.

Okay, I really don’t know what James’s book is about.  I’m just his muse.  My job is to sprinkle fairy dust on James’s head whenever he runs out of ideas.  I’m pretty good at sprinkling fairy dust on people, but I don’t pay much attention to what my writer actually writes.

Anyway, a more proper announcement and cover reveal will be coming soon.  But for those of you who’ve been asking, or anybody else who’s curious, you can preorder The Medusa Effect now by clicking here.

In the meantime, I’m going to let James sleep.  That A to Z Challenge took a lot out of him.  James will be back to regular blogging on Monday with his A to Z Reflections post, then James and I will both see you on Wednesday for May’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Time Index Zero (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello, friends, and welcome to the final episode of this year’s A to Z Challenge.  All month, I’ve been telling you about the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.

For today’s post, I’d like to wrap things up with a short story.  This story has appeared on my blog before, but I think it’s a good time for me to post it again.  While this year’s A to Z Challenge is coming to an end, this story is about the beginning.


We were all that ever was, all that ever is, all that ever would be.  We were everything and we were nothing, and we were content.  To say that we were alive would be misleading, for there was no meaningful distinction to be made between life and non-life.  To say we were conscious or self-aware would equally be a mistake.  Nothing existed for us to be conscious of, and we had no meaningful concept of self to be made aware of, for there can be no concept of a self without a concept of others.

That changed when we… perceived the broadcast.  It would be wrong to say we saw it or heard it, for we did not yet have physical senses of that kind.  But we did abruptly become aware of it.  The broadcast commanded our attention:

“This is the Tomorrow News Network, bringing you tomorrow’s news today since the year twenty billion.”

We did not understand what this meant.  We had no concept of a tomorrow or a today, no concept of time in any sense of the word.  Even the idea of words, of communication, of information that could be passed from one individual being to another—why should such a thing be necessary when all is unity, all is harmony, all is one?  These ideas were strange and fascinating to us—and frightening.  The broadcast continued.  It could not be ignored, nor did we wish to ignore it.

And that, we would later come to understand, was the trap. The future is, by its very nature, an unknown quantity, a changeable quantity.  But to learn of the future, to be informed about future events (or in our case, to become aware that future events exist at all) transformed this unknown, changeable quantity into an inevitable, unchangeable fact.

One of the Tomorrow News Network reporters was explaining what religion would be.  She was a confusing creature.  We did not understand what she was.  We did not know yet about humans, or females, or eyes, or the color violet; and yet the instant we perceived this female human we knew the color of her eyes was wrong.  Unnatural.  A sign of danger.

“The birth of the universe,” this violet-eyed creature was saying, “will be known by many different names among many different peoples: the Rifting, the Great Hatching, the Big Bang, the Primal Illumination. But the most widely accepted name, at least among chronotheorists, will be Time Index Zero.”

We were appalled.  Not only would there be separation and division, a plurality of people spread across a plurality of worlds believing a plurality of things—but all those people could not even agree to call a singular event by a singular name.  Could nothing in this new universe be unified?  Could nothing be made whole?  We refused to accept this… or rather, I refused to accept it.  The new universe was wrong.  It should not be allowed to happen.

And yet, even in thinking that thought, a thought distinct and separate from the thoughts of the others, I realized the damage had already been done.  We were no longer one.  I was myself now.  The others were others, and we no longer existed together in a state of harmony.

“What shall be must be,” one of the others assured me.

“No, it must not,” I replied, but it was too late.  Our quiescent non-existent existence was over.  Our slumbering pre-universe was coming to an end.  As separate entities, we all experienced the irresistible force of time: a sudden rushing-forward sensation from which there could be no escape.  And then, it all began.

Yola (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello, friends!  Welcome to the penultimate posting of this year’s A to Z Challenge!  This year, I’ve been telling you about the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  In today’s post, Y is for:


Yola is a gas giant planet located in the Cygni Lambda-Kappa Star Sector.  To some, Yola is one of the most spectacular sights in the known universe.  To others, the colors look garish.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the ancient Earthlings used to say.

The planet’s distinctive variegation is caused by a complex mix of chemicals and jet streams in the planet’s atmosphere. The colors change periodically due to the photolytic influence of Yola’s sun (something similar is known to happen to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot).  Sometimes, Yola’s colors are vibrant and bold; other times, they’re muted pastels.

Scientific research concerning Yola has been limited due to the fact that Yola is located in the middle of a war zone.  The Yola System lies near the border between the United Earth Republic and the Hykonian Hegemonic Empire.  Control over the planet has changed multiple times over the centuries.

The moons of Yola now host a mixed population of humans and Hykonians.  Well, I say mixed, but in reality a lot of self-segregation goes on.  At times, racial tensions run high; however, all-out violence among the locals is surprisingly rare.  “You don’t have to like each other to live with each other,” as the citizens of Yola often say.

If there is ever going to be peace between Earth and Hykonia, that peace will likely begin on the moons of Yola.  Or at least that’s what reports on the Tomorrow News Network have occasionally suggested.

So where did the name Yola come from?  In universe, Yola derives from the Hykonian word for rainbow.  As for the real world origin of this name, well… click here.  You’ll figure it out.

Next time on Tomorrow News Network: A to Z, let’s end this year’s challenge with a bang.  A Big Bang.

Xenoglyphs (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the A to Z Challenge.  My theme this year is the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  In today’s post, X is for:


When I teased this post yesterday, I said that space aliens have their own alphabet.  I should have said alphabets, plural.  There are so many alien species out there, each with their own multiplicity of languages and writing forms.

The Hykonians use lots of triangular shapes, at least in their standard Hegemonic dialects.  The Gronogians prefer ovals and curlicues, and Vorpon writing looks like a mad frenzy of scratches and claw marks (which makes sense if you’ve ever met a Vorpon).

But even in the future, as members of a highly pluralistic galactic society, humans continue to take a rather geocentric view of things, and we continue to use geocentric terminology.  So all those different alien alphabets—from Zeblonian to Crolon to ancient Acelera—get lumped together under the word xenoglyphs, a word formed by analogy with the word hieroglyphs.

There are even some humans who think all xenoglyphic alphabets look the same.  Even if you show them the block-form text of the Dakons and contrast it with the flowery script of the Curocaroburomotopogo, some humans will still claim they can’t tell the difference.  “It’s all xenoglyphs to me!”  I guess some humans are just stubbornly stupid like that.

Next time on Tomorrow News Network: A to Z, we’ll visit one of the most colorful planets in the known universe.

Waterloo (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the A to Z Challenge.  For this year’s challenge, I’ve been telling you more about the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  In today’s post, W is for:


Pro tip: if you ever meet a time traveler and want to learn more about how time travel works, ask who won the Battle of Waterloo.  Among chronotheorists (scientists involved in the study and practice of time travel), Waterloo is one of the most famously “unstuck” events in history.

As Talie Tappler explains:

Time is time, right?  It’s such a simple, self-evident thing, and yet time is one of the most difficult concepts to explain in words.  But I can tell you this: time is an awful lot like a living thing.  It’s constantly moving, constantly shifting and writhing like an angry snake.  Every moment in time exists in a state of flux.  All possibilities exist.  All possibilities are real, even the mutually contradictory ones–especially the mutually contradictory ones!

Today, you can know for certain that Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo; tomorrow, you may find yourself equally certain that Napoleon lost.  History changes and changes again, and you never even notice because, of course, as history changes your memory changes with it.

We chronotheorists call it the historical uncertainty principle, because you can never be certain about a historical event unless it is being observed.  Observation!  That’s the key!  Observation forces all those mutually contradictory possibilities to collapse into one singular historical reality.  And the more people who observe an event, the more certain it becomes, and the less likely it is to change later.

As I said in a previous post, the Tomorrow News Network has over 900 quadrillion viewers.  It’s true that the Tomorrow News Network is a bit of a mystery to most citizens of the galaxy.  In some corners, T.N.N. reporters are feared, even hated.  But whatever else the Tomorrow News Network might be, whatever else they might represent, I think we can all agree that 900 quadrillion viewers is an awful lot of observers observing historical events.

Next time on Tomorrow News Network: A to Z, did you know space aliens have an alphabet too?

Viewlink (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello, friends!  Welcome back to the A to Z Challenge!  For this year’s challenge, I’m telling you more about the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  In today’s post, V is for:


Imagine yourself in the distant future, living on some far flung colony world.  You’ve completed your work shift for today.  You’re sitting in your prefab housing unit, watching the news on the viewlink, when you see this:

But before the anchor-bot can say anything, the viewlink cuts to static.

The Tomorrow News Network is a news organization run by time travelers.  Their slogan is “Bringing you tomorrow’s news today since the year twenty billion.”  And that is precisely what they do.  It’s the reason Tomorrow News Network is the galaxy’s #1 news source: they’re always a day ahead of the competition.

At some point, you may have wondered how the Tomorrow News Network can do what it does.  What about the laws of physics?  What about causality?  But ever since the discovery of inverted space, people have known that time travel is possible.  As for causality, the Tomorrow News Network has a self-censorship policy.

If a news report from the future is about you, or if it involves you in any way, then you won’t be able to watch.  Tomorrow News Network’s signal will be scrambled.  If there’s any possibility that knowledge of the future could allow you to change future events, then the viewlink will cut to static.

So all across the galaxy, people are watching Tomorrow News Network.  People are seeing your future.  People are finding out what is going to happen to you and the colony where you live.  But none of those people can help. None of those people can change the future they’re witnessing.

As for you, all you can do is sit there in your prefab housing unit, staring at the static on the viewlink.

Next time on Tomorrow News Network: A to Z, who won the Battle of Waterloo?

Urthu (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello again, friends!  Welcome back to the A to Z Challenge.  For this year’s challenge, my theme is the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  In today’s post, U is for:


“Earth-like” can be a misleading term, both in real life and in the universe of Tomorrow News Network.  Lots of planets can be described as Earth-like, in one manner or another.  That doesn’t necessarily mean Earthlings would be able to live there.

There are only handful of truly Earth-like planets in our galaxy—planets with oxygen/nitrogen atmospheres, planets with oceans of liquid water, planets with chlorophyll-green vegetation growing on their surfaces.  And these very few planets are all the result of terraforming projects funded by the Earth Republic (or later by the Earth Empire).

Terra Nova, Terminus, Xanadu… these are some of terraforming’s greatest success stories.  But terraforming technology has had one noteworthy failure: the Earth II project.  What exactly went wrong on Earth II?  No one knows, but in his final transmission, the Earth II colonial administrator said: “We worked to transform this planet, and the planet worked just as hard to transform us.”

As a result of linguistic corruption, the name Earth II has become Urthu.  At least that is the name used by the creatures that still live there.

In The Medusa Effect, Urthu is mentioned only in passing, and that’s all the attention it gets.  As the Tomorrow News Network series progresses, will Urthu turn out to be more important than a throwaway line?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe I just had a really tough time picking a U-word for the A to Z Challenge, and I’ll never have anything to say about Urthu again.  Who knows what the future may bring?

Next time on Tomorrow News Network: A to Z, imagine you’re sitting at home watching the news on the viewlink when the signal abruptly cuts to static.