Thursday, February 16, 2017

Margaret Fieland has an Amazing Story!

Science Fiction author Margaret Fieland is here to tell us an amazing story about her time in Europe as a college student. Her story proves that Mom knows everything. Please welcome Margaret Fieland!

ET, Phone Home

I am the author of four science fiction novels that take place on an alien planet, Aleyne, several hundred years in the future. Many of the problems my characters experience were informed by my own, especially those from the summer I spent as a co-op in the Netherlands and then traveling through Scandinavia.

During my sophomore year at the University of Michigan, I discovered an organization that placed students in math and science in other countries for practical work - for what would now be called co-oping. The organization's primary objective was to exchange students among the various European countries, but we managed to start a branch at U of M. I eagerly joined, and successfully lobbied a couple of my math and computer science professors who agreed to sponsor a foreign co-op student for the summer.

When I applied for a placement the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I thus had a preferred status; as someone who had worked for the organization, I went to the front of the queue, so to speak. Since I speak fluent French, I asked for France, Belgium, Luxembourg, or Switzerland, countries where French is spoken.

But placements for students from the United States were limited, and I was offered a spot in the Netherlands, at the Agricultural University of Wageningen, assisting a professor of mathematics.

I had a room with a family that lived a mile or two outside of town. They showed me what would be my room, which had a comfortable bed, dresser, sink, and a window with a view of the surrounding countryside.

“And your bath will be on Saturdays,” my hosts concluded.

Once a week? I was used to washing my hair every morning in the shower. So I phoned my mother. Fortunately Mom was a lot more cosmopolitan than I.

“Water is expensive,” she said. “Try offering them more money and see if they'll let you bathe three times a week.” She even suggested an amount.

It worked {phew.}

After borrowing an old bicycle from my hosts, I went into town, where my first stop was the bicycle repair shop and my next was to introduce myself to the professor I'd be working for.

His first task for me was correcting the students' latest set of exams. He provided me with two things: a paper with the correct answers, and a list of phrases in Dutch. One of them was the Dutch for “Nonsense.” I still grin every time I recall that.

In relatively short order, I found a sorority willing to make me a member for the summer and ballet class in town - I was passionately fond of ballet at the time - and signed up for lessons. It was there that I had my next lesson in cultural insularity.

"I'm an American," I responded when asked where I was from.

"Oh, so am I," a diminutive student replied. "I'm from Nicaragua. How about you?"

"I'm from the United States." And that is how, to this day, I respond when asked what country I'm from.

But soon, being then as now, a voracious reader, I faced the knotty problem of finding reading material in a town without any large bookstores. Hurrying down to the local library, I asked what I needed to do to join: pay a small fee and fill out a form.

The library's supply of books in English was quite small, but fortunately they had a couple of bookcases full of books in French, including a lot of Georges Simenon. So I spent my summer reading through the library's entire supply of Simenon's Maigret novels, some of his others, various memoirs about the war, a memoir by a French doctor, and several French science fiction novel, as well as a French translation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

My French was fluent, but reading science fiction in French was still a challenge; it's hard to make sense of a made-up word when the word it's derived from fails to spring to mind. All of this went into the experiences of my characters as they struggle with an alien language and culture.

After classes broke up for the summer, I went to visit a friend. She lived in North Holland, way out in the country, and not everyone spoke English. Still, I managed with gestures and the piece of paper with my destination written on it.

When my internship was over, I deposited most of my luggage in the depot in Brussels and spent three weeks traveling through Scandinavia. I barely managed to retrieve my things, as the day I'd allocated for it turned out to be a religious holiday. Fortunately, the depot opened at 6 AM, and my flight wasn't until 10 AM.

What would I have done if I'd failed to pick up my things in time? You guessed it: phone Mom again.


This is a scene involving Terran Federation Senator George Cromwell, one of the secondary characters in the novel. In the midst of tricky treaty negotiation, which are not going well, Cromwell decided to visit his brother, who is working some distance from where the hover bus let him off. Cromwell probably knows about as much Aleyni as I did Dutch.

Cromwell nodded. Perhaps Tom's duties prevented him from taking the morning off. Cromwell followed his benefactor across the almost-empty market square.

“Avan,” his benefactor said in Aleyni, “I have a favor to ask of you. My companion here needs a ride out to the camp the Terran scientists have.”

“You mind riding in my cart?” The farmer pointed to where a single shaggy nagga was harnessed to a wooden cart. A couple of baskets, one of purple fruit, the other of an orange vegetable, waited to be loaded.

“I would be grateful for your kindness,” Cromwell replied in Aleyni.

Shortly thereafter, he found himself seated beside the farmer, Avan, while they jounced along. By using a mixture of Common, Aleyni, and the occasional gesture, they managed to keep up a lively conversation. The orange-skinned vegetables, his companion informed him, made an excellent stew, when sliced and cooked along with the beans reposing in a third basket.

“Do you soak those beans?” Cromwell asked. “My mother always soaked hers overnight.” He mimed pouring water.

“These I do. The little brown ones, you don't have to.” The man paused. “How long you here for?”

“A while, I expect.” They'd arrived at the dig, and Cromwell descended.

“Thank you for the lift. If you make it to Aleyne City, I'm at the Port Hotel. I'd be delighted to treat you to a meal.” Cromwell stared at the farmer's retreating cart. The man had gone out of his way to drop Cromwell off here, simply because his table companion, some kind of relative, asked him to. They'd been as kind as his grandfather and his cronies. Not like the scum scrambling around the Federation Senate, seeking only to line their own pockets. Cromwell frowned. His preconceptions were suffering a major rearrangement. Still, he'd come to visit his brother, and that's what he planned to do.


Colonel Rob Walker always does his duty, even when it means risking  shaky relationship with his family. When he's ordered to bring the treaty negotiations between the Terran Federation and the Aleyni to a successful conclusion, he's determined to do just that, even when both sides would rather he fail. How can Rob pull off a miracle and avoid a war, one where both sides could be destroyed?


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Author Bio:

Born and raised in New York City, Margaret Fieland has lived in the Boston area since 1978.  She is an avid science fiction fan, and selected Robert A. Heinlein's “Farmer in the Sky” for her tenth birthday, now long past. In spite of earning her living as a computer software engineer, she turned to one of her sons to put up the first version of her website, a clear indication of the computer generation gap. Thanks to her father's relentless hounding, she can still recite the rules for pronoun agreement in both English and French. She can also write backwards and wiggle her ears. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Melusine, Front Range Review, and All Rights Reserved.  She is the author of  Relocated, Geek Games,  Broken Bonds,  and Rob's Rebellion published by MuseItUp Publishing, and of Sand in the Desert, a collection of science fiction persona poems.  A chapter book is due out later this year.

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