You Know You are doing something right when…

…Hollywood steals your ideas!

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I wrote the novel “The Watch” in 2016 after many decades of research into some of the darker corners of the origins of World War II. The novel explored the legend of the Spear of Destiny, from its moment of creation to its role in the occult influences on the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. Some of the stranger ‘high technology’ projects of the Nazi regime were closely related to the occult interests of Hitler and Himmler, “Die Glocke,” the Bell, was one of them.

In the novel I create a cave system in Antarctica where Nazi explorers discover a portal to an alternate universe. This is a place where time runs much, much slower than in our world. The Nazis take advantage of this to create a base in Antarctica from which they begin to emerge in 2032 – to once again attempt to establish their vision of a new world order.

In Chapter 53 of the The Watch I describe the discovery of the portal to the alternate universe. It is deep within a cave system.

After The Watch was published, several Hollywood agents and producers asked for copies of the book. One was a well-known producer for Netflix. On Netflix today you will find a movie about a cave system somewhere in the American desert where explorers find….you guessed it …a portal to an alternative Universe where time runs much slower than in ours.

Coincidence? No, that’s not plausible.

In the 1970s I wrote a newspaper feature about the descendants of slaves who still lived in the slave cabins of their ancestors on a Waynesboro, Ga. Plantation. I sent the story and photographs to an editor at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He promptly sent a reporter to a similar plantation in Alabama. His story won a Pulitzer prize.

In 1980 I wrote a science fiction story about the creation of a computer system using a massive organic brain. The brain’s first project was to gather images of faces from modern and ancient sources in order to create a program that could analyze facial features, an important element in the plot of the story. I sent the manuscript to Sci Fi magazines everywhere. It was never published (rightly so it was badly written). Later scientists posited the possibility of organic brain matter computers. Someone created a software program just like the one in my story – and called it facial recognition.

In 2010 I wrote a screenplay called “Faces” based on this science fiction story. In it I create a scene where the protagonist uses contact lenses in which micro-circuitry has been embedded. The lenses provide him with messages only he can see. A Hollywood producer sent the screenplay to Tom Cruise, who was filming “Valkyrie” in Germany at the time. Mr. Cruise did not pick up the screenplay. His next “Mission:Impossible” movie included scenes where he gets messages…you guessed…from contact lenses embedded with micro-circuitry. A little later ‘electronic’ contact lenses became a reality.

Am I pissed about this? No. There is always the possibility of independent co-invention. We see examples of it everywhere. Even so, I prefer to believe my creativity is being ripped off. At the very least – it would have been nice to have gotten a nod from Mr. Pulitzer, in the credits of Cruise’s movie, a mention in the back of a software manual…or a thank you note from those Hollywood agents or Netflix execs maybe…

The reality is that there is no ownership of ideas. You can’t copyright them. Rather than wingeing about being ripped off (is that what I am doing?) I would rather feel that creating original ideas that others use successfully is an indication that I am headed in the right direction. I would be upset if, after a life time of writing, nothing I had to say was worth stealing.

Sharkey & The Thunderjack

The Bahamas

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     There has always been the sea. It surrounds and nurtures each gem like island. It tempers the chill northern winds of winter and the humid heat waves of summer. Its currents bring tantalizing flotsam from distant and mysterious places far to the south. Its depths yield up bounties of food and sometimes treasure.  There are times when it tests a man’s mettle, tries his soul, and tempers both to produce a hardy breed of sailors who take pride in their power to live in harmony with the powers of the wind and waves. They are the Out Islanders. Here seamanship is the measure of a man. They each set out to sea in sturdy boats of horseflesh and heartpine, a prayer to the white man’s Lord on their lips – an incantation to Okolun, the ancient African God of the sea in their hearts. Born of the Yoruba in Nigeria, their religion became Haiti’s Voodoo,  Jamaica’s  Obeah – and here the Bahamas – Scratch. By any name, it is a powerful magic, the taproot of daily life that can shape the primeval forces of nature to make a man strong  – or to make him die.

            One day above all others is paramount in the demonstration of each man’s prowess under sail – August Race Day. This is the holiday weekend when sailors from each island of the Bahamas converge on a tiny cay off the East coast of Andros. Off the gently curving beach at Mangrove Cay they race their boats. The winner is the best sailor in the Bahamas. In the days before the race, the little community is alive with the excitement of preparation, the scheming of the crews and captains – the spell casting of the Scratchmakers.

            These are the men and women who keep alive the old traditions. They are said to have power over the winds and seas for long enough to help a captain win. The most powerful magic of all is that embodied in the bones of ancestors who were master sailors in their own time. Their bodies are often buried in ‘Banana Holes’ – deep natural pits in the island bedrock. As race day nears, the bones are resurrected and used in spell casting – then placed aboard the boats. The power of Scratch was not limited to the fortunetellers and spell makers – in the veins of some of the sailors runs the blood of ancient Yoruba priests. They and their ancestor sailors were men who had ‘Scratch’.

Sharkey & The Thunderjack tells the story of Eustace Whaley, leader of the community at Mangrove Cay at Andros Island in the Bahamas. He is acknowledged as the best of the Bahamian sailors, always a sure bet to win the August races, until, that is, the day he falls overboard and is savaged by a shark. His ‘Scratch’ is suddenly gone. Missing and arm and a leg, he is written off by the community. He retreats to a small island and for twenty years curses the Gods, the ocean, the community that shunned him.

And then…he decides to return.

The Sands of Phobos

A Cautionary Tale

Jack Rees

            Jake and Susan Lee huddled in the media room of their home in New Joplin. Neither could sleep. They were waiting.  Not for the cat five hurricane roaring in from the Arkansas coastline to blow over. The storms were getting to be old news. They both watched The Channel, hoping against hope that the screen would message them soon to say that their twins, Joshua and Samuel, were homeward bound. And that their four lives were not about to spiral into disaster.

            “I can’t sit here any longer.” Jake stood and walked to the central stair. “I’m going to check on the storm. Call me if you hear anything.”

            Susan smiled. It was a sad, half smile. He had come to know it well. He had spent every waking moment assuring her that the diabetes one was not her fault. It might have been a virus, there was no family history, no hint in her DNA. Yet Susan buried herself beneath a mantle of guilt. The cost of keeping her alive was soaking up every single credit they could earn. A new pancreas could have cured her overnight, but that was a cost only the Mega Rich could pay. They had hoped for a stem cell generated ‘faux pancreas’ in her abdominal cavity…but again Medical said they did not have the credits, it was for the Very Rich. As it was, Susan survived on seventy-five year old technology, an external computer that monitored her glucose and dispensed insulin.

            Jake stepped into the elevator in the center of their earth bag dome home. The floor above contained the living quarters and above that was the Grow Room. The house was just like thousands of others in New Joplin. All were dome homes mostly beneath the surface of the earth. The design was mandated after the insurance industry collapse, one cluster of powerful tornadoes too many throughout the mid-west, one catastrophic hurricane too many on the east coast. The Grow Room was where computers used an aeroponics system to produce basic vegetables and the host of medicinal herbs mandated by the Government. Artificial sunlight prolonged the growing cycle, except for the rare days weak sunlight would trickle through the transparent dome that crowned the home. Every home had a Grow Room and every householder was obligated to harvest and process the food and especially the medicinals. There were fines for failure to do so. It was irresponsible to become sick when preventive measures were available.

            The elevator stopped at a small observation platform at the crest of the dome. Jake could hear the roar of the wind and feel the vibration as the storm swept in from the south. He peered through the sheets of rain whipping over the surrounding countryside. Constant storms had stripped the Mid West’s earth bare except for grasses and small hardy shrubs. The air cleared between gusts of wind. The barren earth stretched for miles to the east. Somewhere, beyond the horizon, was the Mississippi. It was once a river, now more of an inland ocean. On its wasteland banks lived the poor and the hopelessly sick. They eked out an off-the grid life surviving on fish from the polluted waters and anything they could salvage from the ruins of the towns abandoned long ago by those with means.

            “Poor bastards!” Jake spoke quietly, a whisper hopefully unheard by the home sound system. He was startled as the sound system responded to the words. “Incoming video call for Mr. and Mrs. Lee…”  Jake returned to Susan. She was waiting, hands to her lips as if trying to hold back the fear of what might follow.

            “Sue, I’m sure the kids are fine, don’t think the worst ’till it happens!” They sat down on the couch in front of the media wall. It was already cycling through The Channel logo, boil water and air quality notices. The New Joplin Medical Center conference room faded from black. Both Jake and Sue gasped as they saw several men and women sitting at the table. Jake wrapped an arm around Susan, his chest tightening as he felt there was not enough air in the room. Their prayers for a quick message from a discharge nurse were not about to be answered.

            “The news is not good, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, but don’t be alarmed, we have a solution for you that can save Joshua and Samuel.” Jake felt Susan shrink and press into his body as she exhaled a low moan. Dr. Hernandez face was expressionless and Jake was surprised to see her in the company of others. In the past he had been sure she was an AI Android, perhaps even just a CGI.

            “I will explain the problem. Joshua and Samuel have been infected by a brain-eating amoeba, they must have been outside recently.”

            “Yes, they have. The temperature cooled to just below a hundred a few days ago. They went out to play in one of the local ponds.” Guilt started to fester in Jake’s stomach.

            “The source of the amoeba no doubt. No major damage has occurred yet. The amoeba has attacked their nervous systems. There is no damage to brain tissue. We can treat the problem, eradicate the infection and restore the nerve damage. Your boys will be completely healthy.”

            “Treat the problem? How?” Jake hugged Susan hard to his side. He could feel her silently sobbing.

            “Dr. Swenson here can create custom cells that are attracted to the amoeba, it’s called specific DNA signaling…anyway it means the cells seek out the amoeba and destroy them. One injection and both boys will be fine.”

            “It sounds awfully expensive.” Jake’s mind roiled with both hope and fear. Their two sons could be saved, but he and Susan could be separated and sent to Guest Worker Centers to pay off the debt. Many of the Rich were trapped by accident or illness that could not be paid with any amount of credits. The only solution was to refuse treatment, or spend months to years in Guest Worker Centers paying off the debt. In the old days they were called Labor Camps. Both he and Susan were caregivers in New Joplin’s main industry, one of the Retirement Centers for the ageing Very Rich. The work was bearable, made so by the occasional gifts of credits or luxury foods and medicines provided by Very Rich retirees in return for special services.

            The Guest Worker Centers were not so bearable. The few that returned had nightmare stories of six-hour work-days, forced recreation, re-education and exercise. The work was frightful. The ‘guests’ were used to process cadavers, human waste or the occasional animal. There were no wild animals left, other than exotic pets of the Very Rich. The Guest Workers would eat the occasional pony or dog, good meat compared to the usual daily fare in the Centers. Everything was processed by hand. Cadavers were de-boned for mineral recovery. Flesh was processed for oils, water and ‘recyclable protein.’ It was claimed that the factory grown ersatz red meat burgers in New Joplin’s Food Mart had a portion of ‘recyclable protein’ in them. A black joke surely. It was a fact that sanitized human waste was included in the mist blown nutrients fed through the city’s aeroponics Grow Room systems. The smell was undeniable.

            “There is a way for treatment to be provided at no cost.” The doctor’s voice broke through the Guest Worker Center nightmares. Both Jake and Susan sat forward, a glimmer of hope that the dark weight of the future could be lifted. “As you know, whenever treatment is rendered for the first time we are authorized to recover a DNA sample from every patient. When we entered the DNA data for your boys into the global database we received an alert from the IEA.”

            “IEA?” Jake already knew the answer, another glimmer of hope. He wanted the doctor to explain, to reassure Susan.

            “International Eugenics Agency, Mr. Lee. Their AI immediately authorized full treatment for Josh and Sam.”

            “Something good about their DNA?” Susan finally spoke, the hope, even relief in her voice was palpable.

            “Better than good, excellent. No indicators for future disease, every indication of longevity and superior physicality. Josh and Sam are exactly the kind of stock we need to produce future healthy and superior human beings.”

            Jake and Susan spared a glance at each other, relief already so evident in their faces.

            “You mention no cost. You mean nothing at all, no credits, no guest worker service? Nothing at all?”

            Dr. Hernandez motioned to a woman across the conference table. She was unusual for most ethnic types of the day, tall, blonde, very white skinned with bright blue eyes. Her features were sharp and angular, even stern. She smiled easily at Jake and Susan, her face starting to fill the wall-sized screen.

            “Mr. and Mrs. Lee, I am Ursula Hunter, a recruitment official for the IEA. We would like to bring Josh and Sam into the IEA development program. If you will sign an agreement with us to that effect, we will cover the cost of their current health needs. We will also cover their future healthcare costs.”

            Everyone had heard of the IEA’s ‘development program.’ No one knew for sure what it entailed, but the rumors ranged from simple collection of semen samples to the forced breeding of specially selected partners in places similar to Guest Worker Centers.

            “What exactly does that mean…’bringing them into the program’?” Susan did her best to disguise the tremor and the suspicion in her voice.

            Hunter smiled easily again and even managed a chuckle. “It doesn’t mean what you have probably heard. What we will do is work to see that Josh and Sam remain as healthy as possible in their future lives. They are both seventeen, academically gifted and – to that end – we would like to direct them in a way that will ensure careers and family lives that will benefit us all.”

            The view shifted to reveal the man sitting next to Hunter. He leaned forward, his unblinking gaze fixing on Jake. “This is where I can step in and help, Mr. Lee. I am Colonel McBride with OWSA, the Off World Service Agency. Your two boys are just the kind of guys we need in the service. There are a lot of wonderful opportunities for them. If you sign off with Hunter here, OWSA will get them into a university where they can train for any one of a dozen different careers off world.”

            Susan’s grip on Jake’s hand tightened. He pulled her a little closer. Everyone dreamed of an off world assignment. The credits were enormous, the food was amazing, healthcare was free and the work was easy depending upon where you worked. That was the good news. They both knew that the ‘offer’ in front of them meant that they were about to lose their children. They also knew that it was not an offer. They had little choice. The twins could die, or they could live while their parents spent decades in a Guest Worker Center.

            Hunter leaned back into view. “I would like to make one more suggestion that may help you to decide in our favor, Mr. and Mrs. Lee. It was your combined DNA that created these superior young men. You are not too old to have more children. If you agree, we will arrange for you to be exempted from the two-child restriction. We will arrange for Mrs. Lee to get a new pancreas. We will then move you both to a VR city in Colorado where you can get excellent healthcare and happily produce more children. As you can see we take the future of humanity very seriously. You and your offspring can play a very important role in rebuilding the coming race.”

            Jake squeezed Susan’s hand once more. This time it was a signal for caution. “Ms. Hunter, of course we will fully accept your offer. I am sure Josh and Sam will be thrilled at the prospect of off world careers.” He spoke carefully, hoping Susan would understand the new tone in his voice.

            Hunter’s expression changed, self-satisfaction oozing from a feint uptick in the corner of her mouth. “Very good. Your city attorney, Mr. Victor will process your agreement.”

            Victor’s face filled the screen. Each city had two attorneys, one for the Government and one for ‘the people’ as provided in the North American continental constitution. Victor smiled nervously as he operated controls on a console in front of him. “Please sit still, full face to the screen.” Jake and Susan sat upright. A green beam emerged from the center of the screen and scanned their faces. “Please sign, Mr. and Mrs. Lee.”

            Jake and Susan reached down to the arms of the sofa and placed their index fingers on a small pad.

            “Thank you, the document is signed and is now fully legal.”

            Hunter, McBride and Hernandez smiled as Victor left the room. “You will be hearing from us shortly. I suggest you start planning for your move to Colorado. Josh and Sam started their treatment several hours ago, so Dr. Hernandez here will have them on-screen in a few hours. Col. McBride will advise you later today on the off world assignments for Josh and Sam.” Hunter almost grinned as the screen went blank.

            “Careful!” Jake turned to Susan and whispered the word without moving his lips. Everyone suspected the sound and video systems in the dome homes. This was especially so just after a contract with Government. He then spoke normally. “Susan there is an awful lot of good to come out of this. Off world could mean NueLuna, one of the Moon settlements, maybe even one of the Mars colonies. And then there is your new pancreas, life in a VR city. Imagine it, better living in a secure city. No more caravans of the sick and poor from the wastelands begging for food and medicine.”

            Susan’s eyes were moist. She was on the verge of tears. “Yes, Jake, let’s do a search on the options.”

            Jake turned to the wall screen. “Search for careers on NueLuna, Moon Settlements and Mars Colonies.” The screen flashed white. The logo for GoogleGov faded in followed by a boolean search string.

            NueLuna was an artificial moon built in earth orbit at the L5 point. It was said the Mega Rich began planning the project and accumulating wealth to pay for it in 2020, shortly before the economic and climate collapse of the following decade. It was said to be heavenly. No images of life inside the planetoid were permitted. It fueled a massive service industry. The few remaining acres of arable land on Earth were used to grow organic vegetables and protected lamb, steer and cow herds. There was a steady traffic of goods and products on space elevators up to low Earth orbit. A secure shuttle service took everything to NueLuna. Specially selected couples were recruited from the Rich and Very Rich to be servants for the Mega Rich community. Others were engineers and environmentalists. Few ever returned to the surface.

            There were two Moon settlements. One was known simply as ‘The Bank.’ It was an underground facility dedicated to the acquisition and curation of existing and extinct food plant seeds, of extinct animal DNA, and digital files of approved books and art. It was considered the last safe place for the preservation of the greatest achievements of humankind. The inhabitants were curators, historians, biographers and the like. Service workers complained that it was like living inside a library. The other settlement was the Lunar Re-education Facility. LRF was a prison.

            The best careers were those supporting the Mars Colonization Project. It was still in its infancy, but everyone clamored for a chance to go. The cities on Mars were said to be havens of freedom of speech, of democratic self-government, of free wheeling trade and wealth building. Or so the recruitment programs put out by The Government said.

            The programs on the screen faded as McBride’s face came into view. “Mr. And Mrs. Lee, I have some exciting news for you. I have secured assignments for Joshua and Samuel Lee to the Mars Colonization Project. They will start their education in Golden, Colorado, not far from your new home. They will train as mining machine operators and will then be sent to Phobos.”

            “Phobos! Where is that? Not Mars?” Jake tried his best to temper the alarm in his voice.

            McBride partially suppressed a sigh. “Phobos is a small moon in low Mars orbit. It’s basically a pile of loose rock and sand. We mine it and package it in massive fiberglass containers. When the shuttles begin their descent to the surface the sand is used to absorb the initial high heat of re-entry. It’s called airbraking – by the time it burns off the hull of the shuttle can handle the remaining heat of the final descent stage. It’s a good job for the two boys. Phobos will be nothing but a sandy planetary ring in a few years. Then your boys will be allowed to join one of the surface colonies and IEA will find ideal partners for them.”

            Later that night Jake and Susan took off their communicators, climbed into their bed and pulled the heavy duvet over their heads. Free to speak, though still in hushed tones, they agonized over the day. “A lot of good has come of all this, Sue. Free healthcare!”

            “Jake, we are now breeders. What happens in ten years when I can no longer have children?”

            Above them the storm passed. For a few hours the smog and haze was blown away. NueLuna passed overhead, its crust of moon rock gleaming in the sunlight. Far away, the sands of Phobos burned with brilliant colors as a hundred colonists descended to a new life.

Wilbur & Niso Smith

Super happy to see the announcement from the Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation today of the six author shortlist for this year’s unpublished adventure novel award. My homage to the great adventure novels of the late 19th century, working title “Secret City of the Sun,” has made the shortlist. Honored to be among a list of new and established writers from across the globe.

Literary consultant David Llewlyn writes: ““It is a very strong shortlist. The six authors’ works encompass such a wide range of subject matter, within the broad genre of ‘adventure’ novels; a straightforward conspiracy, a Western epic, a Canadian odyssey, a medieval historical saga, a Boer War conflict drama, and a Victorian adventurer/spy novel set in Peru. I am always heartened by the creative spirit which seems to underlie this particular genre which allows free rein to an author’s imagination.”

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The Secret City of the Sun by Jack Rees

The Secret City of the Sun is the first of an historical high adventure series, and an homage to the great adventure novels of the late 19th century. The Confederacy is in ruins and the Federal Government is trying to suppress efforts to revive the Civil War by rebels determined to set up an exile Confederacy in South America. The British send an unwitting agent into the fray to recover weapons technology vital to the new Confederate effort. He is drawn into the struggle between the two enemies. It ends high in the Andes in the midst of the last surviving remnants of the Inca civilization – and the last battle between the blue and the grey.

BIO

IMG_2419A British journalist, Jack Rees has spent a career traveling through the Caribbean, South America and North America. In the Caribbean he explored shipwrecks and pirate havens.  He traced his way through the islands to Panama into Colombia and Peru.  He documented grave robbers and antiquities hunters, and followed illicit gem mining in the Matto Grosso.  He explored Inca ruins in Peru, tracing the route of Hiram Bingham in the Andes, and other early American explorers to the plains south of Lima.  He brought his family to the United States in the early 1970s and spent a year traveling with carnival road shows, a unique way of seeing America from head to underbelly.