If you need an idea…

A previous post included an idea for a story, and a reader commented, “Nice that you have so many ideas, you can give some of them away!”

Ideas are the easy part, and to prove it, here are more ideas — for free. They’re mostly for speculative fiction, although they can be adapted. Ideas cannot be copyrighted, so if you see one you like, take it and turn it into something great.


This is a philosophical story about a human who tries to ensure a place in heaven by befriending the devil — Satan wouldn’t damn a friend, would he?

This is a thriller/martial arts story in which a freelance theologian travels to New Orleans for a showdown with the Seven Deadly Sins.

This is a humorous story in which a Florida bar owner identifies aliens among her customers.

This first contact story begins when the Moon suddenly disappears, taking with it Tycho Colony.

This cyberpunk story involves artificially reformed convicts who try to make their way in a society that doubts their transformations — transformations they themselves doubt.

This is a first contact story in which aliens have based their expectations of humans on a few horror movies that somehow fell into their hands.

This is the story of a gem broker who becomes obsessed over a new kind of stone discovered at a roadside market.

This is a heartwarming story set on a planet being terraformed where a family struggles with natural disasters.

This is a story about a ghost town that reveals its secrets to a wildlife biology team studying the creatures who have made homes in the empty buildings.

This is a romance story about the first marriages between humans and extra-terrestrials, which some states declare illegal because of claims that the humans have been coerced.

This is a military SF story about an officer who adopts alien tactics to win a war on an alien world, but is then condemned as a lawless warlord at home.

This story begins when a young woman recovers the magic sword she had hidden in a past life, but she can’t remember why she hid it.

This story begins with the first baby born after the human population exceeds the supply of souls for reincarnation.

This is a satirical fantasy about the suddenly failed disarmament talks between the cynical but well-read imps of the public library and the insular garden gnomes of the park next door.

This is TV movie about a sample of contagion sent to the future to speed up work on a vaccine, but it falls into the wrong hands.

This is a murder mystery set at a 12-step meeting where a detective discovers an apparent telepath who drank to blot out other people’s thoughts.

This is a young adult fantasy about a kind and misguided tarot reader who uses marked cards to provide more “appropriate” readings.

This story is set in a place that respects its various human sacred sites but unintentionally defiles a site sacred to bears.

This story is about children on a playground pretending they are Klingons and who are suddenly faced with a great and real test of their honor.

This is a ecological thriller about a university microbiology student who decides to poke around the local Superfund pollution site to see what’s there, and gets lucky, if you could call it that.

This story starts when a couple cannot agree on the genetic attributes they want to select for their first child.

This is a heroic high fantasy novel set during a hostage situation where a would-be rescuer must defy gravity to gain access to a floating city.

This is a culture clash story in which a superstition gets passed down among Mars colonists that Earth-born humans can sense the presence of water, and the colony desperately needs water.

This is an alternate ecology story in which a wrathful wood sprite endows northern Wisconsin wild animals with an understanding of hunting regulations.

Don’t write for dead people

By that I mean, don’t write info-dumps.

If you want to write fiction (and I know some of you do), you want to avoid information dumps. These are defined in the Turkey City Lexicon as: Large chunk of indigestible expository matter intended to explain the background situation. Info-dumps can be covert, as in fake newspaper or “Encyclopedia Galactica” articles, or overt, in which all action stops as the author assumes center stage and lectures. Info-dumps are also known as “expository lumps.”

For me, it helps to think of info-dumps in science fiction as writing for dead people. Often, science fiction is set in wondrous futures. Being compassionate authors, we don’t want our readers to get confused about these lovingly constructed settings (or alternate histories or fantasy worlds). So, we want to explain.

However, among the many ways to think about writing, we can consider science fiction as literature written for the people of its time and place. That means a short story set in the year 2200 is for readers in 2200.

If I set a story in 2023 — that is, in the present — I don’t need to explain a revolving door to readers. If you’ve never used one, you’ve probably seen one in movies or TV, so you understand the technology. If I write a scene about bored children playing with a revolving door (as a former child, I can attest to their entertainment value), I can simply show the rambunctious kiddos and the reactions from adults.

In the year 2200, bored children might get their hands on an invisibility suit. Alas, I’ll be dead in 2200 (you’ll be dead, too). If I pause the story to explain to you how the suit works because it’s made from a metamaterial that can alter how light bends and thus alter the movement of light throughout various parts of the material, then I’m writing for dead people: you will be dead. But, if I focus on what the children do with the suit, I can show you how the suit works.

It’s easier to write an info-dump than a fully realized scene or two, so to overcome my own laziness, I need to remember that the reader of the story lives in the future. In fact, in the future, you might own one of those suits and know all about it. Do you keep it in kid-proof storage?

(By the way, if you want to write a story about bored children who play with an invisibility suit, remember that ideas cannot be copyrighted, so you’re good to go. Have fun!)

How good is an AI at translation?

Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde: The Old Exchange of Amsterdam, 1670

Recently, artificial intelligence has generated dismay because it can produce pretty works of art, passable high school essays, poems that rhyme, and subpar short stories that bedevil but do not fool editors. AI started moving into translation twenty years ago, when it caused a similar disturbance in the force.

I’m a professional translator. Machine translation and computer assisted translation has improved over the years and joined the many technological tools available to translators. OmegaT is a free translation memory application that can give you a feel for how sophisticated these tools can be.

Yet despite (or because of) all this technology, “Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 20 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations,” according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Machines now do the grunt work, freeing up more opportunities for creative work, such as transcreation.

I specialize in translations from challenging sources. I won an award in 2016 for my translation of Confusion of Confusions, written by Joseph de la Vega in 1688, a delightful Baroque book that examined Amsterdam’s stock exchange, the first in the world. I made the translation for Spain’s National Securities Market Commission to use for an institutional gift.

So, how good is machine translation? Here are a few selections from the book comparing my translation with a translation by DeepL, currently one of the best on the market — and it’s good. You’ll see overall competent rendering with few howling errors. What it doesn’t do, in my opinion, is capture the music of the original, because Baroque prose is polished and playful. That’s why you should hire a human who likes challenges.

I will not look at machine translations before I start my work. I believe that their commonplace renderings would misdirect my task of rendering exceptional prose from one language into exceptional prose in another language: there is no intermediate side-trip of mediocrity on that journey.

The DeepL translation will be followed by mine, then the original Spanish.


There were three reasons for my ingenuity to weave these Dialogues, which I hope deserve the title of curious. The first, to entertain leisure with some delight that does not detract from the modest. The second, to describe (for those who do not practice it) a business which is the most real and useful known in Europe today. And the third, to show with truthfulness the tricks of the tricksters who dirty it, so that it may serve as a delight to some, a warning to others, and a lesson to many.

My translation

I came to devise these dialogues, which I hope worthy of curiosity, with three considerations in mind. First, to fill my spare time with a little delightful entertainment that would not be immodest. Second, to describe (for those not involved in it) a business that is the most authentic and useful known today in Europe. And third, to show truthfully the wiles used by the speculators who sully it, which for some will serve as a delight, others as a warning, and many as a lesson.

Original Spanish

Tres motivos tuvo mi ingenio para tejer estos Diálogos que espero merezcan el título de curiosos. El primero, entretener el ocio con algún deleite que no menoscabe lo modesto. El segundo, describir (para los que no lo practican) un negocio que es el más real y útil que se conoce hoy en Europa. Y el tercero, mostrar con veracidad las astucias de que se valen los tahúres que lo ensucian, para que a unos sirva de delicia, a otros de aviso, y a muchos de escarmiento.


The stock business is so widespread in this town that anyone who speaks of another subject is considered impertinent, and there are those who, without even knowing what they are talking about, think about it even in their dreams.

An enigmatic business, which is at once the most real and the most false in Europe, the noblest and the most infamous that the world knows, the finest and the coarsest that is practiced in the world. A collection of sciences and a compendium of entanglements, a touchstone for the shrewd and a mound stone for the daring, a treasure trove of profits and a cause of disasters.

My translation

The business of stocks is so widespread here that it would feel impertinent to speak of anything else, and there are those who only dream that they know what they speak of and even while dreaming do not cease to ponder it.

It is an enigmatic business, both the most splendid and most treacherous in Europe, the most noble and most loathsome known to the world, the most subtle and most vulgar practiced on the globe. It is the convocation of knowledge and compendium of turmoil, touchstone for the wise and tombstone for the rash, source of profit and origin of disaster.

Original Spanish

El negocio de las acciones está tan difundido en esta plaza que sienta plaza de impertinente el que habla de otro tema, y hay quienes sin saber ni por sueños de lo que hablan, hasta en sueños piensan en él.

Un negocio enigmático, que es a la vez el más real y el más falso de Europa, el más noble y el más infame que conoce el mundo, el más fino y el más grosero que se practica en el orbe. Conjunto de ciencias y compendio de enredos, piedra de toque de los sagaces y piedra de túmulo de los atrevidos, tesoro de ganancias y causa de desastres.


People of different customs, different nations and different jobs embark for this new world. Philosophers enter to find in these circuses how little the animal motorcycle differs from the violent motorcycle. Geometers venture, because they find in these circles some lines of what they call irrational. The astrologers get excited, presuming to see, among so many stars, theirs. The curious approach to learn something from those who know so many letters. The poet refines his fables, the jurisconsult his subtleties, the reflective ones their entanglements. The devout seek looks, the penitent repentance, and the pilots the heights that magnify, the winds that blow and the needles that sting. The barber enters happy because he has to shave everyone. Enter the surgeon to heal the sores, to use the patches in these battles and to get used to not heal the wounds at the first time. Enter the shoemaker, presuming to fit everyone into a shoe. Enter the tailor to cut the dresses. Enter the sculptor to get used to carving men of stone, for some do not feel the outrages nor rage seeking revenge. Enter the gambler to watch his luck, the lover to improve his appearance, the soldier to perfect his skills. The blacksmith to bring irons, the musician dissonances and fugues, the arithmetician to make accounts, the painter perspectives, far and shadows, the swordsman shortcuts for his reverses. Finally, neither the courtier is exempted from this business to get used to patience, nor the rustic to get used to contempt, nor the Frenchman to fury, nor the Englishman to pride, nor the Turk to noise, nor the Italian to disguise, nor the Fleming to phlegm, nor the German to arrogance, nor the Pole to flee, nor the Spaniard to curse.

My translation

People of diverse customs, different nations, and a variety of trades embark for this new world. Philosophers arrive to discover the little in this circus that differentiates the moto animal from the moto violento. Geomancers dare involvement because as they measure its circumference, they find some lines they call irrational. Astrologers become enthusiastic, boasting that they have spotted their own star amid all the others. The curious draw near to learn something from those who are so wise. Poets refine their fantasies, lawyers their subtleties, sophists their complications. The devout seek approval, penitents remorse, and ship pilots latitudes of glory, high winds, and sharp compass needles. The barber works happily because he can shave something off everyone. The doctor comes to treat wounds and apply bandages during battles and soon learns not to treat injuries right away. The shoemaker believes he can fit the same shoe to everyone. The tailor succeeds in clipping attire. The sculptor accustoms himself to carving men from stone so that some of them will not sense outrage and seek furious revenge. The speculator arrives to scrutinize his luck, the lover to improve his appearance, the soldier to perfect his wiles. The blacksmith brings iron, the musician plays dissonant fugues, the mathematician figures accounts, the painter takes perspectives and sketches shadows, and the fencer feints and lunges. Finally, no courtesan studies this business to acquire patience; no rustic to become inured to disdain, nor the French to fury, the English to pride, the Turkish to noise, the Italian to disguise, the Flemish to phlegm, the German to arrogance, the Polish to flight, or the Spanish to profanity.

Original Spanish

Se embarcan para este nuevo mundo gentes de diversas costumbres, de diferentes naciones y de varios empleos. Entran los filósofos para encontrar en estos circos lo poco que difiere el moto animal del moto violento. Se aventuran los geómetras, porque encuentran en estas circunferencias algunas líneas de las que ellos llaman irracionales. Se entusiasman los astrólogos, presumiendo divisar, entre tantas estrellas, la suya. Los curiosos se arriman para aprender algo de los que saben tanta letra. Refina el poeta sus fábulas, el jurisconsulto sus sutilezas, los reflexivos sus enredos. Los devotos buscan miradas, los penitentes arrepentimientos, y los pilotos las alturas que engrandecen, los vientos que soplan y las agujas que pican. Entra el barbero contento porque ha de afeitar a todos. Entra el cirujano para sanar las llagas, para valerse de los parches en estas batallas y para acostumbrarse a no sanar las heridas a la primera. Entra el zapatero, presumiendo que meterá a todos en un zapato. Entra el sastre para cortar los vestidos. Entra el escultor para acostumbrarse a tallar hombres de piedra, porque algunos no sienten los ultrajes ni se enfurecen buscando venganza. Entra el tahúr a relojear su suerte, el amante a mejorar su aspecto, el soldado a perfeccionar sus mañas. El herrero a traer hierros, el músico disonancias y fugas, el aritmético a hacer cuentas, el pintor perspectivas, lejos y sombras, el espadachín atajos para sus reveses. Por último, no se eximen de este negocio ni el cortesano para habituarse a la paciencia, ni el rústico para acostumbrarse al desprecio, ni el francés a la furia, ni el inglés a la soberbia, ni el turco al ruido, ni el italiano al disfraz, ni el flamenco a la flema, ni el alemán a la arrogancia, ni el polaco a huir, ni el español a maldecir.


And in spite of all these dalliances, disconcerts, ravings, doubts and uncertainties of the profits, there is no lack of means to know simply in which direction the majority inclines its suppositions, as much in the political as in the fundamental. And whoever devotes himself to follow them seriously, without passion that blinds him or whim that alters him, will not fail to be right many times, if not all. And, when he does the math, he will recognize that there is no more cunning than going after the game, and no more wisdom than going with the flow.

My translation

And despite the delusion, distraction, delirium, doubt, and dilemma that accompany profits, there are ways to easily discover where most opinions lean, both in policies and in fundamentals. Whoever dedicates himself to follow these opinions seriously, without blinding passions or changeable whims, will not fail to succeed often, if not always. And when all things are considered, he will realize there is nothing more astute than to pursue speculation nor anything wiser than to drift with the current.

Original Spanish

Y a pesar de todos estos devaneos, desconciertos, desvaríos, dudas e incertidumbres de las ganancias, no faltan medios para saber sencillamente hacia dónde inclina la mayoría sus suposiciones, tanto en lo político como en lo fundamental. Y quien se dedique a seguirlas seriamente, sin pasión que lo ciegue ni capricho que lo altere, no dejará de acertar muchas veces, si no todas. Y, cuando haga la cuenta, reconocerá que no hay más astucia que ir tras el juego, ni más sabiduría que seguir la corriente.

The secret of love

Foster Beach, Chicago. https://www.weatherbug.com/weather-camera/?cam=CHCMB

Lost your love?

I’ll tell you a secret. You lose people, not love. We all love people who died. Your love for them does not die until you do, and then we’ll say, oh, but how he loved his mother! And your love will still live, although you and she are dead.

What you need, what we all need, is the means to face another day that will not ask for courage like a soldier in battle, nor daring like an explorer heading into the unknown, nor love like the day your mother dies, but just another day, maybe gray. It will ask you to work in an ordinary job with minimal accomplishments and to eat another meal that is not a feast: an average day that counts for little and yet must be lived.

We lose days and people. Our lives unfold, tending toward average. And yet we can live extraordinary days amid irreplaceable people by giving what was not asked: courage and daring and love.

Starting today.