Back from Flipside

I’m back from Flipside, my annual trek out into the heat of Central Texas for a wild weekend of art, Rangering, sunburn, and the occasional bit of whiskey. I’d actually had some notion that I would get the next column on exploring new solar systems written while I was out there, but that didn’t happen. Clearly I had some kind of temporary insanity to have forgotten just how insane it gets at Flipside. So instead of that, I give you a few highlights from that crazy weekend in the woods.

I airbrushed about a dozen people, including a few of my signature feather jobs, some leopard spots, a full-torso tiger, and some surprisingly good dragon scales. I was very happy with that last one, not only because it came out so well on my first attempt, but because it turned out that the girl I painted them on was the same girl who inspired me to learn the airbrush eight years ago. Back then she was on her honeymoon, and I saw her being painted as a leopard, and it looked so cool I decided I wanted to learn how to do that. This time she was having her eighth anniversary, and I gave her dragon scales.

I also did some Rangering. For the uninitiated, Rangers are volunteer mediators and part of the safety crew. We walk around and look for safety problems. We mediate conflicts. We look out for people who might be in trouble. We do a lot of things you might think cops do, except that we’re not cops. We don’t actually enforce anything. The folks who run the event can enforce something, but about all we do is remind people what they agreed to when they arrived. So I did one and half “dirt” shifts with all the walking around that this implies, finished off my shift-lead training with an “assistant Khaki” shift, and then did my first solo “Khaki” shift as the shift-lead on Sunday morning.

The effigy burn was fabulous. It was an almost fortress-like tower with winged figures gracing all four sides, but when it burned, it took on the look of a flaming chalice and later a flaming horned mask. And then it all came down, nice and safe. My compliments to the build team. On a more personal note, I spread the ashes of another author in the effigy on the morning of the burn. She was a long-time Flipside attendee, and I think she would have liked that.

Physically, I came through it pretty well. I kept my sunburn to a minimum, really only getting one spot on my shoulder that I missed with the sunscreen. I kept sufficiently hydrated and cool, and I actually ate pretty well. Probably the worst I got were some very sore knees from all the walking and a pretty serious case of sleep deprivation. I was getting those droopy, unfocused eyes on the final drive back into civilization, so I promptly did a face-plant onto the sofa as soon as I arrived. Eventually, I got a shower and slipped into bed for a proper rest.

I also had a lot of fun hanging out with my wife and many of our friends.  Those are tales probably best left at Flipside, but I did want to give a shout out to the folks at Purple Taco and at KFLIP.  Also, doing my shift-lead work in Rangers, I got to see more of the work of the event organizers as they did their best to balance the desire for individual expression vs. the need for community safety.  With all the flame-cannons and marauding tree-houses wandering the event, it’s a tough job.  My hat is off to them.

I will say, though, that probably my biggest surprise of the weekend was running into people who were reading my book, Beneath the Sky. After doing the launch at the beginning of May, I had split my focus between working on the next book and preparing for Flipside, so I had mostly put that one out of my mind. So it really caught me off-guard when several folks told me that they had bought it and were either reading it already or looking forward to it in their in-pile. Somewhat flabbergasted, I could only say, “Thank you. I hope you like it.”  Maybe I’ll come up with something better in the future, but for now that’s all I’ve got.

So now we go back to the normal schedule. Exploring those new planets should come around next Monday.

So, what cool thing did you do over Memorial Day weekend?

SF Emergency

No, I’m not desperate for some sci-fi. I’m just thinking about emergencies in science-fiction.

Over the weekend, I got some education on emergency response. I go to an annual campout near Austin called Burning Flipside. It’s something of a smaller version of Burning Man, topping out near 2500 instead of 50,000. We set up a small city out in the country for several days, have a party, and when it’s over, we pack the city up, and haul it out of there, doing our best to leave no trace.

In any gathering that size, particularly with as much alcohol as I see out there, there are bound to be some problems, accidents, and general snafu’s, so we have a few different safety teams, ranging from fire to medical to “rangers”. I’ll spare you the long history of these rangers, mostly because there are others who can tell it far better than I can. However, they’re the boots on the ground at these events, taking long walking patrols on the lookout for problems. Some folks mistakenly view them as cops, but they are not cops. They’re closer to park rangers than Texas Rangers.

So, anyway, I’ve been a ranger at Flipside for going on six years now. This past weekend was our second annual cross-department safety training, and we also got some brief training on the federal government’s Incident Command System (ICS). We’ve already had separate training on what to do if a campfire gets out of control or if someone falls and breaks an arm, and we’ve had several years of experience working smoothly across the departments to deal with minor incidents like this.

But if the shit ever really hits the fan, that’s when you want something like ICS. It’s designed to keep communication flowing to the people who need it, get workers where they need to be, and to not overwhelm the supervisors who need to make time-critical decisions. This was the third overview I’d seen, but it was my first time going through a mock incident as an exercise.

Holy shit!

Sufficed to say, it’s a lot different on paper than it is when you’re moving through it. It was both exciting and terrifying, and that was just an exercise where there was no real risk. I imagine the real thing would be another exponential factor up on the OMGWTFBBQ scale. I’m proud to say that we didn’t completely fuck it up, but we also saw a lot of ways to do better.  So yay, the exerise served its purpose.

So what does any of that have to do with sci-fi? Well, not a lot, but all that excitement and terror made me realize that there’s Drama there – yes, with a capital D. Situations like that make for great stories because then we can experience that adrenaline roller coaster without actually being at risk. Certainly, movies and television have provided plenty of these, but sci-fi is my genre of choice, so I find myself thinking about emergency situations in SF.

I’ve actually seen a few of these, though usually from the point of view of the would-be victim. For example, a woman’s air car malfunctioned and climbed up out of the atmosphere while she had no environment suit, so an orbital patrol managed to intercept her. Most of these are cases where stupidity or malfunctions send the characters into harm’s way, only to have them be rescued by some kind of rescue force.

But after that mock exercise, I find I’m interested in reading about it from the point of view of the rescue force. I’ve heard of a hospital series by James White called Sector General, and it sounds a little like a sci-fi version of the TV show “e.r.”. I think we’ve got a few of them rattling around our library, but I don’t think that’s really what I’m looking for. Instead, I find myself thinking more about that old 1970’s TV show “Emergency”, about some fire fighters and paramedics in Los Angeles. They got called out on everything from false alarms to epic disasters, and I find myself wanting to read some sci-fi stories similar to that.

Why sci-fi stories? As in, why not just buy the DVD’s?

Well, for starters, I’m a geek. Ok? But more than that, sci-fi can really complicate some of these emergencies:

  • Are they on the other side of the moon part of the time?
  • Is the black hole causing time dilation issues?
  • Sure, you can reach their location, but can you match velocities?
  • Are they so far off that the best you can do is talk them through a self-rescue?
  • Is your ship on fire? Sorry, you can’t just run out into the vacuum.

So I find myself thinking about rescue stories where a shuttle with a misfiring engine is dropping out of Jupiter orbit. Or perhaps a land-crawler on the dark side of Mercury is stuck with the fiery dawn slowly approaching. The real life events of Apollo 13 are a good example of this kind of tale, but I’m also thinking about situations where there is enough mobility to actually mount an intercept mission.

Alas, I don’t know of any such stories. Maybe they don’t exist. Maybe they wouldn’t really be as interesting as I imagine they would be. Or maybe they just haven’t been written yet.

Can anyone point me in the right direction, or am I going to have to write these myself just to be able to read them?