Tag Archives: space opera

I love spaceships #sfrb

Hi andAFFL-Button150 welcome to my worlds. It’s the first of April and we all know that’s April Fool’s Day, so the SFR Station has set up a blog hop entitled April Fools for Love. There’s a heap of great prizes, including here on my blog, so keep on reading.

If you’ve read my bio just about everywhere, you’d know I’m a fool for spaceships. One of my all-time favourites is Darth Vader’s flagshExecutor_and_escortsip, Executor. It took over from the smaller, but still very sexy, Imperial Star Destroyers. There they are, at right. I’ll never forget that wonderful scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader is looking out of the viewscreen on the Executor‘s bridge – and it eclipses an ISD! Whoa, that’s one big ship! I fell in love there and then. I saw the movie three times in the first week and I’ve watched it a hundred times at least. I’ve even been known to skip all the Skywalker stuff to get to THAT SCENE. My heart still goes pit-a-pat.

Closer to home, Morgan’s Choice has a new cover. The old cover had a spaceship on it, too. But I found this new spaceship and fell in love. I’m a tart, I know.MC Poster2

Kuralon-Rescue-ebook-webSo it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that for my Morgan’s Misfits stories I have added a very, very sexy spaceship. It was designed by Morgan, so it’s pretty special. And here it is, starring on the new cover for Kuralon Rescue. It’ll be on every cover of the Morgan’s Misfits books. If I get around to another one. Yes, you’re right, it’s a ship from DAZ, rendered by my wonderful cover designer, Rebecca Poole of Dreams2Media. But in MY books, the ship’s name is Vulsaur. It’s Admiral Ravindra’s personal yacht which was first introduced to readers in Morgan’s Return. Vulsaur comes to the rescue in Kuralon Rescue, and now it has become the Misfit’s own ship.

Ink_GvdRI expect you’d like to know how it got the name Vulsaur? Indeed, what is a Vulsaur? That’s a Vulsaur, that tattoo on young Ravindra’s shoulder. You’ll get all the answers in that short story. (Notice I’m not always obsessed with spaceships.) 🙂

Thanks for stopping by. Please share your favourite space ship stories. One lucky commenter will receive a copy of Ink, Supertech and the Iron Admiral: Conspiracy – don’t forget to tell me in your comment if you’d like the books as pdf, epub or mobi. Contest closes at the end of April, so you’ll have plenty of time.

We’ve set up an event on Facebook and we’d love you to join in at April Fools for Love. Things will be happening all through April. Prize winners will be announced on 1st May.

Do go and read some of the other marvellous posts in the SFR Station’s April Fools for Love blog hop.

PrizeListCroppedWe’ve got three wonderful prize packs for people who participate in our Rafflecopter giveaway. 

  • Grand Prize: $75 gift card + 18 ebooks

 

 

  • Second: $25 gift card + 12 ebooks

 

 

  • Third: $25 gift card + 8 ebooks

 

          CLICK HERE to enter

Teaser Tuesday – a piece from Morgan’s Choice #sfrgtt

MC Poster2Hi. It’s Teaser Tuesday again. Here’s a snippet from one of my earliest books, Morgan’s Choice. This is the first 230 words, where you’ll meet the main character, be introduced to the problem, and see the setting.

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Steam rose from Jones’ food pack, filling Curlew’s tiny common room with the aroma of beef stew. “That’s one month down.” He took the container out of the warmer and brought it the two steps to the table.

Morgan glanced up at him, still chewing, as he sank down on the bench opposite. She swallowed her own food. “Yeah.”

One month’s worth of the existing food supply gone. Another month, maybe a little longer if they rationed even further and then perhaps they’d be fishing Tariq’s body out of the cargo hold, wondering if a bit of cannibalism might be in order. The thought made her gag but at least it was an option. Running out of air—that was something else altogether.

She speared some more synthetic plast-food from her own food pack and lifted it to her mouth.

A staccato bleeping shattered the silence.

She flung her fork on the table, leapt through the forward hatch into the bridge and dropped into the captain’s chair, her heart pounding with a mixture of excitement and tension, hope and apprehension. She flicked off the wide-range scanner’s alarm and reached into the computer system with her mind to adjust the sensors to maximum magnification. Something had just come out of shift-space close enough to trigger the warning. Maybe she’d got it all wrong and Curlew was still in Coalition space. Because otherwise…

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Teaser Tuesday – The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy #sfrgtt

Teaser Tuesday banner

This week I’m going to post a snippet from one of my earliest books, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy. The book’s free pretty much everywhere.

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Cover of The Iron Admiral: ConspiracyThe Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

The galaxy teeters on the brink of inter-species war

Accused of an atrocity, ex-Admiral Chaka Saahren goes undercover to clear his name. Systems Engineer Allysha Marten, takes one last job to rid her of debts and her cheating husband. On Tisyphor, deadly secrets about the past explode, as Allysha and the undercover agent scramble to prevent the coming holocaust. When the ex-Admiral’s identity is revealed, she must come to terms with her feelings for a man she holds responsible for the death of innocent civilians, including her father. In a race against time, Saahren must convince Allysha to set aside her conflicted emotions and trust a man she barely knows to help him prevent the coming conflagration.

FREE ebook everywhere

In this scene, Allysha and Saahren are together in a secret garden, where they’ve found a commonly grown fruit tree. The question is – how to get at the fruit.

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She eyed the fruit hanging well over her head and his. “How do we get them down?”

“I’ll help you get into the tree and I’ll catch the fruit when you throw it down.”

He made a stirrup with his hands. “Here. I’ll hoist you up to that first branch.”

Balancing herself with her fingers resting lightly on his shoulders, she put her foot into his hands and pushed down. She slipped sideways. “I don’t think this is going to work.” She leant into him and started to giggle.

The scent of her invaded his nostrils; her breast pushed against his chest and set his pulse racing. Fruit. Think about fruit. He dropped his hands and straightened up. “I think you’d better turn around.”

“Okay. How’s that?” She stood next to him on one foot, one hand on his shoulder as he made a stirrup again, her foot grasped between his hands. She shoved down, trying to use his hands as a step but she ended up staggering against him, giggling helplessly. “That’s not going to work, either.”

He sighed and knelt down next to her, leaning forward a little to hide his erection. “Sit on my shoulders.”

She hesitated. “Are you sure? It won’t be a strain for you?”

“There’s not much of you. It won’t be a strain.” And at least he wouldn’t be in such intimate contact with her.

She swung a leg around his neck and settled herself down, hooking her knees under his arms. He stood, muscles bunching under the weight. “Okay?”

“Yes. You?”

“Fine.” He wished he was. He could smell her, female and alluring, his hands on her smooth skin, her parted legs around his neck. “Climb into the tree.” Please.

She grasped the branch and scrambled onto it, lifting herself with a foot on his shoulder. She turned around awkwardly and sat on the branch looking down at him.

“Go for the deep orange ones. Throw them down to me.” He raised his hands, ready to catch.

She reached up, wrenched the nearest off and tossed it to him. The over-ripe fruit splattered as it hit his hands.

“That’s one we won’t be eating.” He shook the sticky fragments away. “Do it gently or you’ll have to suck the fruit off my fingers.”

She chuckled. “Interesting thought.”

Far too interesting. He imagined her lips around his finger, her tongue… Concentrate, Saahren.

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Don’t forget to check out what else may be out there. On Twitter, use #sfrgtt

 

Linnea Sinclair’s “Hope’s Folly’ – SFR the way it ought to be

picture of Hopes Folly coverI’ve recently read Linnea Sinclair’s novel Hope’s Folly. Twice. I tend to do that when I really love a book, getting details I missed the first time around. If you’d like to read the book’s blurb, you’ll find it here.

Yes, I suppose this is a review. But for me, it’s also a statement of what works in science fiction – for me, personally, which, let’s face it, is what a review is – a subjective point of view. This is a writer I admire – right up there with my all-time faves. So let’s do the review thing. But if you’re a writer, take note of how well this story has been built.

Hope’s Folly is a love story, set in a time of political conflict and approaching war. The human Empire is being run by Tage, who has usurped the power of a weak and failing Emperor. Tage has decimated the ranks of the Admiralty, replacing senior fleet officers with people more likely to dance to his tune. But not everybody is going quietly. A rebel Alliance has risen to oppose Tage. Amidst the turmoil, the two alien species in the Galaxy see their opportunity to expand their own borders.

When the story opens we meet Admiral Philip Guthrie, who escaped the purge of the Admiralty by the skin of his teeth. He’s 45 years old, with a shattered right leg healing slowly and the weight of the deaths of many colleagues on his conscience. Tage used Guthrie to plan his purge. Now, Guthrie is determined to join with other Alliance leaders to build a new fleet and defeat Tage’s Imperial forces. But the Empire wants him dead and the Farosians want to capture him to swap him for their own leader, who Tage has imprisoned. On top of all that, Guthrie’s new flagship is a very old ex-fleet cruiser which was disarmed, decommissioned and used as a freighter, and he has to enlist a crew from wherever he can, knowing some of them will be plants.

Lieutenant Rya Bennton is the daughter of Guthrie’s captain and mentor, back in the day. A 29 year-old Imperial Security assassin, she turned rebel when her father was killed in that purge. She’s no dolly bird, tall and built with curves and a lovely ass – and a spare thirty pounds she could afford to lose. She remembers meeting Guthrie when she was a pudgy 9 year old and he was a 25 year old lieutenant who showed her how to fire a laser pistol. She, like Guthrie, has a love bordering on obsession with hand weapons. The description when Rya first sees Guthrie’s Norlack laser rifle is a wonderful piece of innuendo. In this scene, too, we see the connection between the two, the way they think alike.

“Is this,” she asked hesitantly, “what I think it is?”

“What do you think it is?”

“Norlack 473 sniper, modified to handle wide-load slash ammo.” There was a noticeable reverence in her voice.

He pulled the rifle out, hefting it. She had a good eye. Norlacks weren’t common. But recognizing it was modified for illegal and highly destructive charges … Then again, she’d seen it in action. “It is,” he confirmed, amused now by the expression on her face. It had gone from reverence to almost rapture.

“That is so totally apex.” Her voice was hushed. “May I,” and she glanced shyly at him, her eyes bright, spots of color on her cheeks, “fondle it?”

He stared at her, not sure he heard her correctly. Then he snorted, laughing. Fondle it, indeed. He handed it to her. She took it, cradling it at first, then running her fingers lovingly down its short barrel. Sweet holy God. He didn’t have enough painkillers in him to stop his body’s reaction to the smokiness in her eyes, or the way her lips parted slightly, the edge of her tongue slipping out to moisten them, as her hands slid over the weapon.

Ahem. Back to the review.

The love story between these two is gorgeous. Rya keeps insisting she has a huge crush on her commanding officer – that’s all. What would he see in her, anyway? And that thirty pounds… Guthrie keeps realising that not only is he too old for her, but he has a duty to her father’s memory to protect her, not lust after her. He also has to get his almost defenceless ship past Farosian raiders and Imperial warships, regardless of Rya and a broken leg. But circumstances fling them (often quite literally) together in what used to be Rya’s father’s ship as Guthrie tries to build a cohesive team from a bunch of disparate people who don’t know each other. And one of them is a mole.

So why did this story grab me and not let go?

Because it’s so real. In Linnea Sinclair’s universe the ships are not run by all-powerful artificial intelligences. To me, they’re not much different from what we have now, with engine rooms, weapons systems and the all-important environment systems all run using computers but with people running the show. Guys get to cut code, hack, mess about in the systems. The ships have blast doors. The pipes gurgle and knock, metal pings as it cools, or creaks and groans. Everything smells – hot engine oil, leather, soap, food, hair. The ex-freighter has a ghostly smell of oranges that comes and goes. And then there’s the cat. Captain Folly, who comes with the ship, leaves white fur all over the place and prefers women to men.

The people are real. Guthrie is tall, smart, the son of a rich family (which has its own drawbacks). But he’s not a superman. He makes mistakes, has his own foibles, calls himself a Galactic-class ass on more than one occasion. I’ve mentioned Rya’s issues with her weight. She’s also impulsive and not much good at saying ‘sir’. The secondary characters are just as convincing, ordinary people forced to cope with extraordinary circumstances.

The politics is real. I have a history degree and these things matter to me. I can see the Empire disintegrating in this way. If I were to be asked for a similar situation in our recent past, I’d go for Stalin taking over in the USSR.

As always with Linnea Sinclair, things move apace – except for the opening chapter, which I enjoyed more the second time around. This is the third book of a series and the first chapter orientates the reader, I guess. From there on, the author works on the basis of ‘if things can go wrong, they will go wrong’. Guthrie’s relationship with Rya plays as an underlying complication to all the other issues the two face. Take out the romance, and yes, you’d still have a great story. But man, you’d miss out on soooo much.

Oh, and before I finish, I must mention the sex scenes. They’re not many and they’re intense, steamy and sensual, but not a how-to manual.

I loved this book, I loved Philip Guthrie. He is very definitely my kind of man. Sigh. I’m too old to be a fangirl. Five stars. But you knew that already.

So that’s the review done. What can I learn as a writer?

  • Make the cause worthwhile – things people will lay down their lives for.
  • Engage all the senses.
  • Introduce a bit of quirkiness (the cat and the oranges).
  • Use humour.
  • Make sure ALL your characters are real people, with a mix of strengths and flaws.
  • Keep the pace up.
  • When your heroes are in trouble, pile it on.
  • Introduce the unexpected to add twists – but don’t suddenly introduce cavalry without the reader knowing it’s out there.
  • And probably other things like great use of words and getting into a character’s head.

Anything else you’d like to contribute?

Into which pigeonhole does this book fit?

picture of bookshelf filled with booksThe recent brouhaha over science fiction and science fiction romance has got me thinking about genre. It’s a necessary concept. When I walk into a bookstore (or look up an online bookstore) I don’t what to have to trawl through the eleventy-billion books I really won’t be interested in reading, so I’m glad the shelves are marked. Personally, I’ll head for the SFF section first (Science Fiction and Fantasy – they always seem to be lumped together). There, you’ll find books by Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon, Elspeth Cooper, George R. R. Martin, Jack Mc Devitt, C.J. Cherryh, Star Wars, Star Trek and also vampires, werewolves and the like. But not science fiction romance – not on physical shelves, anyway. I found Linnea Sinclair’s books in the romance section. The only reason I found them was because I was looking – I do not normally read romance.

Genre, you see. It’s all about marketing. Into which pigeonhole does this book fit? I had some fun drawing a diagram to illustrate some of the complexities of genre.

diagram of ranges in genreSome genres are pretty easy. In romance, the romance must be the focus of the plot, and it must have a happy ever after (HEA) ending or a happy for now (HFN) ending. I talked about the rules of romance here. But every genre has ‘shades of grey’ (yeah, yeah). Science fiction ranges between hard SF and soft SF. I discussed that here. On the hard SF – soft SF line, I’d put most space opera sort of in the middle. Star Wars and Star Trek would definitely be down the soft SF end, McDevitt’s books would be down the hard SF end. Romance has its continuum, too, often expressed in degrees of ‘heat’ (ie explicit sex scenes). In ‘sweet’ romance, the scene stops at the bedroom door. In erotic romance, the sex is explicit.

Now we get to science fiction romance, which is a combination of two genres. The SCIENCE romance – ROMANCE science line indicates what is the most important focus of the work. Would we have a story without the romance? Would we have a story without the science? I would suggest that real SFR should be down the science ROMANCE end – I think Avatar is a good example. Without the romance, there is no story. The science is of less importance. And in Avatar the explicitness of the sex component is most definitely ‘sweet’. Interestingly enough, one of McCaffrey’s early works, Restoree, is listed in science fiction. Yet Restoree is without a doubt science fiction romance, with a ‘sweet’ tag on the sex register.

It’s a pretty complex combination of components.

So what is this analysis all about? I’m reviewing where I want my own work to fit.

When I started writing, I knew I’d write SF because that’s what I like. But I wanted to add a bit of emotion to my writing. Most SF either seemed to leave out love and sex (Asimov), or it was so understated that it almost disappeared. An example of the latter is Moon’s Serrano series. SF was pulp fiction, with an expectation that it was fast-paced action-adventure. A response to a query I sent to a publisher around 2008 reinforced that belief. “Well written, but needs more action.” So I added more action. Still no cigar.

Okay, what about science fiction romance? Ah, but the SFR books are in the romance section. This has an advantage in one way, because romance sales are way, way more than SF. But it seems only a small subset of romance readers will read SF. Moreover, the expectation for the romance genre is that the romance is the core of the book. No romance, no story. I can honestly say that not one of my books fits that definition. Of them all, the Iron Admiral duo come closest and even with those two I had to do some serious tweaking for my editor to agree it had earned a romance tag.

We are told that sticking to one genre when writing is a good idea. And it makes sense. Let’s go back to that bookshop and see where we go shopping, how we go shopping. I can give an example from my own experience. I read Elizabeth Moon’s SF books. So I bought Speed of Dark. But that book, award winner though it is, is about her son’s autism. I wasn’t in the least bit interested. I had a similar experience with a Ruth Rendell novel that wasn’t what I had expected,

With that in mind, I resolved to write SFR, albeit with less emphasis on the romance. However, it meant I had to come up with convincing HEA or HFN outcomes for my protagonists. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it hasn’t always been a satisfying outcome for me – or my readers. I’m now going back and making some changes to Starheart, removing the HEA ending and downplaying the romance element. I’ll do some tweaking to Morgan’s Choice, too. Some of the rules of romance just don’t sit comfortably with me.

What’s the outcome? Well, if you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed read with a complex plot – come on in, sit right down. Would you like to call that pulp fiction? Sure. Will there be some emotional elements, some sex? Sure. Love is a powerful emotion, sex is a fundamental driving force. You’ll find those things in everything I write. Do I do my research? You bet I do. I try to make my science sound, my history correct, my settings convincing. I suppose, when it comes right down to it, I’d prefer to see my books in the science fiction section. Both they, and I, feel more comfortable there.

What I learnt from “Slow Lightning” or how to build a riveting plot

Slow LightningJack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning (or Infinity Beach in the US) was one of those books which I bought and had sitting on the shelf for – years, actually, and that was after the years of prevarication before I bought it. I don’t like horror, and the Stephen King quote on the front hinted at that. But then again, it had the Horsehead Nebula on the front, and McDevitt had been compared to Arthur C Clarke. Apart from that, I’d read A Talent for War and although I hadn’t been all that impressed, it had won some award. You know how it is. I succumbed, bought the novel and there it sat.

I dipped into the book in due course. I don’t like prologues, didn’t like the one in A Talent for War and couldn’t see any point in it, so I flicked on through to Chapter One, which was s-l-o-w going and it didn’t do much for me. I threw the book across the room and left it for another time.

When I tried again, I soon discovered I had to read the prologue. It’s McDevitt’s style. He poses a situation in the prologue, an event that happened some years ago, then spends the rest of the book unravelling that event. Mind you, I still say the prologue in A Talent for War was a waste of time.

Back to Slow Lightning. Okay, so the prologue describes a chase, a crash, a death. Remember all that. On to chapter one, where we meet Kim, whose clone-sister, Emily, had disappeared shortly after returning from a space voyage. And yes, that chapter is slow, as McDevitt labours the point that far in the future, man is still alone in the universe and what’s more, has lost the urge to push on and explore. Perhaps that latter part is a clue to what the author was trying to get across, a theme, if you will. If we lose the urge to explore, we stagnate. Asimov made a similar point in his Caves of Steel stories, and the fate of planets like Aurora.

The plot builds up, though. Soon, I was hooked, as Kim and her great friend Solly head off to investigate the mysterious events at Mount Hope. Here we get the sense of creepy hinted at by Stephen King, something evil lurking out there. Together, Kim and Solly work on finding out what happened to Kim’s sister, despite opposition from Kim’s employers via their powerful benefactor, who also has a stake in the story. The novel became un-put-downable.

By now I was reading a well-constructed mystery thriller, peppered with clues and red herrings, excitement and spine-tingling dread. What is out there at Mount Hope and what did it have to do with the space voyage Emily had been on just before she vanished? And then we get to the really good bit, when Solly and Kim steal a spaceship and retrace Emily’s journey all those years ago. They piece together what happened out there by collecting radio signals using a very wide array. The tech is totally plausible and the events believable. And then the creepy ratchets up a notch. This ain’t no haunted house – it’s a spaceship, way out in space, and we all know what happened in Alien. Altogether now… in space, no-one can hear you….

I’ve said before that what I really liked about this book was the detail. McDevitt paints a vivid picture of the planet Greenway and its history. He knows all about this Earth colony and he tells us without labouring the point. Just a few throw-away lines as he mentions a castle built by a tyrant a few centuries back, or explains that body shapes vary over time, just like fashion, as parents chose what their children will look like. He also describes his tech and the spaceship, and the amazing view of the great Orion Nebula and the stars of Orion’s belt – Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. You’re out there with them, open-mouthed as a wondering child.

Sure, there are a few things I’d pick on. It’s a high tech society where you choose whether to work or not. So where does the high tech come from? And what about farmers and food? And so on. It’s all glitz and glamour missing foundation. One other thing which my husband picked up on, the broken down dam which flooded the town. Um. Wouldn’t a broken down dam just resume the course of the original river? That is, a dam might flood a town – has done, many times. But the other way round? Not quite plausible. Having said that, I didn’t trip over that one on first reading.

I learned a lot from this novel. Do your homework, draw a map, develop the background so you can write with authority, even if you don’t reveal everything you know. Work out the details, because they add substance. One trick I’ve found McDevitt often uses is to have a character read a book, watch a movie, take part in a role play. You read about it and dismiss the scene as a bit of “adding substance” – and then later in the book, a character draws on that earlier experience to work something out. Nice.

This was a five star read if ever there was one. But on top of that, I learnt a lot about the gentle art of writing. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

Star Wars ISD – a good design, or not so hot?

Picture of an Imperial Star Destroyer

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Imperial_Star_Destroyer

Oh, man. The majestic Imperial Star Destroyer.  I’ve said before it was one of the reasons I fell in love with Star Wars. Here it is in all its glory. Bristling with weapons, a space-going aircraft carrier cum assault ship. According to Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, the 1.6km long ship carried 9,700 soldiers, 72 TIE fighters, 20 AT-ATs, 30 AT-STs and an assortment of barges, gunboats, transports, shuttles and Skipray blastboats. Look at it, all angles and details, with its huge bridge (complete with picture window) and shield generation domes. Be still my beating heart. I built the plastic model, of course, and added lots of spiky details. It was/is a thing of beauty, and a joy forever.

And yet, that’s not what the battle cruisers in my novels look like. Why is this so?

Not, as you might imagine, the copyright issue. Nor is it anything to do with streamlining. In space, streamlining is not an issue. (In fact, the space battles in the Star Wars movies were giggled at by most of us who know a little about space. Those fighters maneuvered as they would in atmosphere, diving and curving like World War I Sopwith Camels.) Getting back to the capital ships, provided they stayed out of a planet’s atmosphere, they could be any shape the mind can conceive. Let’s face, it that pointy bow is unnecessary, even if it looks cool. Same with the angled deck surfaces.

My reservations about the design are more about that bridge structure. Would you really put all your commanders in such an obvious place? I know it’s based on a sea-going ships’ superstructure but I think even in the world’s navies, the actual command centre is well-protected, within the ship. That great T-bone up there is an obvious target. Remember when, in The Empire Strikes Back, an asteroid collides with the bridge of one ISD and takes out the ship? Oops. And then the bridge of the great SSD Executor is hit by a rebel fighter in Return of the Jedi. Double Oops. What’s more, those shield generators must have a pretty mighty job to effectively blanket the whole ship from that position. Clearly, from the previous, with a certain lack of success.

So my ships aren’t pretty. They’re a bunch of rectangles stuck on top of each. The largest and lowest contains the hangars, the hydroponics, the artificial gravity generators, and down the far end, the engine rooms. The level above contains the troop accommodation and training areas, kitchens, workshops and the like, and the highest contains the bridge (although well down the decks) and Fleet accommodation. It’s a big ship, more like 5km long, plenty big enough to support a task force. And of course, it would usually have escorts to protect it. Although it carries quite a bit of its own protection in the hangars and the weapons (missiles and energy weapons) deployed around the decks. The shield generators are on the lowest level and carry charge to a network of emission sites over the hull.The ships have two drive systems, one for shift space when they travel enormous distances through different dimensions, and another for travel in normal space. Like Star Wars ships, they can make a jump within a system, arriving fairly close to a planet. The drives themselves use controlled nuclear fusion. Don’t ask me how. Just look at a star. We know it works.

So… would any of you care to share your observations or feelings about Lucasfilm’s creations? Or wax lyrical about your own?

The magic of book marketing

Picture of Amazon adIn the last couple of days, my book sales have escalated, propelling Morgan’s Return into the top 20 for space opera (which is the genre I write). Its predecessor, Morgan’s Choice, is also back in the top one hundred. Please understand, I won’t be giving JK Rowling a run for her money anytime soon. We’re not talking huge numbers, but it’s nice to have an audience. Very nice.

A few people have asked how I managed to do that.

The answer is simple: I haven’t a clue. As I said in the title, maybe it’s magic. Maybe a sprinkle of fairy dust landed on my shoulder, and caused Amazon to send out the ad at top left. If we exclude the possibility of fairy dust, I don’t know what I did to have Amazon send that out – but it did and my languishing sales took off. Maybe – and I’m guessing – it has something to do with the fact that Morgan’s Choice was in the top one hundred for several months a few months ago. Maybe Amazon thought it was worth telling people I’d written a sequel. But I didn’t pay for the ad. It’s sort of an adjunct to the emails we all regularly get, listing a selection of books in a genre you’ve bought. I usually get a list of my own books, with a couple of others, like that one there.Picture of Amazon suggestions

Let me tell you a few things that didn’t cause that spike in sales.

I’ve written a ‘good book’.

I don’t know what that means. ‘Good’ is subjective at the best of times and has different meanings. Does it mean it’s a great story? What you think is good, someone else will think is a crock. If ‘good’ means the book has been well-produced in that it’s been edited, has very few typos and is correctly formatted, well, yes my books are all those things. But again, so what? Readers don’t much care about those things. Writers do.

I advertised.

I have bought advertising but what I’ve bought for this book has not yet appeared. I’ve bought ads on The Romance Reviews and the-Cheap – even on the mighty Zon, where I paid $100 to be in the Amazon Book Club, which I feel was a waste of money. Morgan’s Choice was in a list of twenty or so books, not sorted by genre or anything else, a grab-bag listing for the day. I have seen no spike in sales that I could attribute to any sort of advertising. Except that headline one up there.

I participated in blog tours.

Not for this book, I didn’t. I did for Starheart, where I managed my own tour, and I bought a tour for Black Tiger because it was a different genre to my usual space opera. Again, in my experience, blog tours don’t really work.

I have a huge web presence.

Not really. I have an author page on Amazon, Omnilit and Smashwords. I’m on Facebook, but I recently whittled down my friends list to people I actually interact with. I have an author page with 400 ‘likes’. I have a website where I talk about writing and science, a separate site for historical topics and a third where I share my photos. (I’m a keen photographer.) I don’t do a newsletter. My name is on sites across the web where I’ve signed up but don’t actually participate. Oh, and I’m no longer on Google+ or on Goodreads. After all, how much time can a person spend updating sites? I also don’t touch the Kindle Boards.

I bought reviews.

At the time of writing, Morgan’s Return has no reviews on Amazon or anywhere else. I don’t ask for reviews, and I certainly don’t buy them. I have placed the book at two review sites on the basis of a free book for an honest review. Morgan’s Choice has a full house – one star to (a lot more) five stars. That’s okay.

I bash the book on Twitter.

Yes, I do some sales tweets. I’d be stupid not to – but that’s certainly not all I do on Twitter. I participate on Triberr and I’ve found a lot of great blog sites that way. The best way to turn people off is to shove your product down their throats. I don’t.

It’s on Kindle Select.

Morgan’s Return isn’t on the program.

It’s a cheap read.

Yes, it is. $4.99 is cheaper than the big league. But it’s not $0.99. There are two reasons for that. One, I work hard at what I do. I think I’m entitled to a fair compensation. And two, the readers of the planet aren’t stupid. If you give your book away, or undervalue a 100k+ word book, why should they give it any respect? To be sure, there are well-produced, well-edited, free or ultra cheap books out there – but there’s an awful lot of garbage, too. I don’t want my work to be automatically lumped into the garbage category.

What works?

I’ve stewed on that subject for a while. I don’t know why Morgan’s Choice took off, either, or why it suddenly declined. But there is no doubt that if one book takes off, the others are towed along in its wake. So…

Write more books. That’s it, in a nutshell. If you have a backlist, readers can discover one book, then happily go and read your other work. I do that all the time. If I find a writer I enjoy, I’ll dig out everything they’ve written. It’s a network effect, a web. The more books you have available, the more entry points you have, the more chances you have to establish readers as fans. This latest surge is an illustration. At the time of writing, Morgan’s Return was at 19 in space opera and Morgan’s Choice was at 27. What this means, folks, is that NEW PEOPLE ARE BUYING Morgan’s Choice.

However, I will add one thing; it’s easier if you write one genre. My space opera sells. My historical fiction novel, To Die a Dry Death, won a bronze medal in the 2011 e-lit awards and has a swag of excellent reviews from a wide range of sources. But it hardly sells. Some people have given it a try after reading my SF, and have been pleasantly surprised, but that’s rare. The same thing has happened with Black Tiger, which is just as fast-paced and action-packed as my SF – but it’s a paranormal romance. (Or at least, as close to a romance as you’ll ever see from me.) The reviewers on the blog tour all said the book was different from the usual paranormal, and they were surprised they enjoyed the read. Again, I have done the same thing, only the other way around. I remember buying a well-credentialed Elizabeth Moon book which became a DNF. It wasn’t space opera, you see.

So there you have it. You’ll find there are a whole raft of people offering to help you sell your books – for a price. By all means give them a try, people can’t buy what they don’t know about. Just bear in mind that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. I firmly believe word of mouth is the only real way of making sales. But why people decide to buy particular books is beyond me.

I’m sure not complaining and I’m ridiculously thankful to Amazon for that ad. And if it did involve a sprinkle of fairy dust, it’s all good.

Morgan’s Return – a sneak preview

picture of cover of Morgan's ReturnI’m on the last lap of preparing Morgan’s Return for publication. Just a few, nerve-wracking, spine-tingling tweaks to go.

Here’s the blurb

When you delve into ancient history you never know what strange forces you might unleash.

When Morgan Selwood and Admiral Ashkar Ravindra travel to Morgan’s Human Coalition to learn more about the origin of Ravindra’s people, their relationship is soon sorely tested. Morgan is amongst her own people and Ravindra is overprotective and insecure, afraid of losing her. But not everyone is keen to welcome Morgan home, not when they’d gone to all that trouble to get rid of her in the first place. Soon Morgan and Ravindra have a rogue Supertech on their trail with only one goal – kill Selwood.

Together, Morgan and Ravindra follow a tenuous trail back into humanity’s past, to the time historians call the Conflagration. But what begins as an innocent archaeological investigation escalates into a deadly peril for both humans and Manesai, when Morgan and Ravindra are thrust into the middle of an unexpected conflict. And that rogue Supertech’s still out there, itching for revenge.

And here’s a tiny excerpt.

Morgan and Ravindra’s ship is stopped and searched when they arrive at their first Coalition planet. Here, they are talking to the commander of the boarding party.

“You’re with a Coromandel admiral?”
She chuckled. “You know what they say? Join the Star Fleet and see the planets? Well, I did. We met when I was on leave a year or two ago. He offered me a job when I got out. And it really isn’t any of your business.”
To his credit, the man laughed. “If the docking fees fall through, you won’t be going anywhere. But I guess you know that.”
The other three troopers, still anonymous behind their helmets, joined their leader, their armored footfalls loud in the confines of the ship. He gestured the troopers to the airlock. “You run a tight ship… Admiral. Enjoy your stay on Iniciara.”
He stepped back into the airlock. Morgan slapped a hand on the hatch release.
Ravindra turned to Morgan, and raised his eyebrows. She would understand.
She shook her head. “No surveillance. They checked the holds and all the cabins. I wish I knew what they were really looking for.” She let out a breath. “We still have to get through Customs.”
“Would they recognize you for what you are?”
“A Supertech? No. They linked to my implant, of course, but the other piece of hardware in my head is hidden unless I want to advertise.”
“Well then. We have nothing to hide. We really are just tourists.” Ravindra used his sanvad to contact Davaskar. “Take her in, Captain.”

ET phone home? Really?

picture of a telephoneReal time conversations are a problem in space opera if you’re planet hopping. Why? Think about it. If light can take years to go from one star to us, how long would it take any other type of signal? (We’ll leave out sound waves, which don’t move through a vacuum.) Answer – same as light. About 300,000km per second. Sure, that’s fast. But having a conversation with someone, say, four light years away is going to be a tad tedious.

“Hi, I’d like to order the peperoni, please. With anchovies, no pineapple.” (Wait eight years)

“Sure. Would you like garlic bread with that?”

I think your pizza might be cold before it was delivered.

And yet, so often space opera ignores this fact of physics and has folks chatting from spaceship to planet, or planet to planet, as though they were using Skype back in the 21st Century on jolly old Earth. A case in point is the famous scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader’s Executor is chasing the Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field. Admiral Piett was delighted to be able to tell Vader the Emperor was on the line, so the star destroyer could be moved out of the asteroid field in order to send a clear signal. And then they had the little chat, the Emperor’s ominous figure dwarfing Vader, down on one knee, while he plotted betrayal.

Now, let’s think about this. The Emperor is on Coruscant, Executor is down in the Imperial boondocks, messing around near Hoth. I’m not suggesting the exchange was impossible. No, let’s put that another way. It’s impossible without some sort of futuristic device. Even within our own solar system, it takes anywhere from 3.4 – 21 minutes (depending on how close the planets are to each other) for a a signal to go from Mars to Earth.

It’s a known problem, though. Ursula Le Guin was the first to dream up a device which could enable people on different planets to converse in real time. She called it the ansible. The name has wheedled its way into the genre, rather like ‘hyperspace’. Elizabeth Moon wrote a whole series of books (the Vatta saga) around a company which specialised in setting up ansibles in orbit around inhabited planets, and maintaining them. And the subsequent danger when the ansibles were sabotaged, a bit like taking down the telegraph line across America in the Old West.

I don’t call them ansibles, but since my books involve much planet-hopping, I had to come up with something, which I suppose is an ansible by any other name. A multi-dim transmitter is a device which uses one of the many dimensions of space, a dimension which is not available to physical entities like ships, to transmit a signal from one place to another. They’re fitted to ships and planets have receivers.

Needless to say, if you don’t have access to an ansible or its equivalent, you can’t have a real-time conversation over a long distance.

Care to share your thoughts?