Tag Archives: Science fiction

The magic refuses to die

It’s 26th May in Australia, but still the 25th in the USA. It’s a momentous anniversary, the first actual release of that juggernaut, Star Wars. That was the film’s name back then. No ‘episode 4’. No ‘A New Hope’. That would all come later, when George Lucas realised he had a really, truly block-buster on his hands. People queued around the block to see it at the thirty-two movie theaters prepared to take a risk with this science fiction movie produced and directed by a little-known newcomer. There you go. You never can tell.

It’s interesting how closely the date matches the release of the new Star Wars spin-off, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, made his mark in that first movie all those years ago. Forty-one, to be exact. It never ceases to amaze me at the series’ longevity. I can understand the movie catching the imagination of 1977. It was fun, had a smart-mouthed heroine prepared to take charge (still too much of a rarity) and it had lots of TECH. It was understandable tech.  Space-capable fighters  flying in space as they would in atmosphere. Moving from planet to planet in the same time as it would take to drive across town. Blasters that looked a lot like your average pistol. All the planets seemed to have pretty much the same gravity and all of them had atmosphere humans – and most aliens – could breath. Lots and lots of aliens, most of them humanoid. And wow, gosh space ships! And star destoyers like great big aircraft carriers in space! And fighters and the Millenium Falcon, with dirt on them and scratches and things.  As if somebody had actually used them! And fights and explosions and this AMAZING baddy!!!

The science was lousy, but who cared? I certainly didn’t.

I suppose movies, like most things, are a product of their times. The Vietnam War had ended (with the US having to admit defeat) but the Cold War was still on. The Berlin War stood proud. Kids did atomic bomb drills (in US schools, anyway). Star Wars was an escape, another world to enjoy when this one didn’t offer much. It’s ancient history that the first movie led to a second, and a third, then a flood of Star Wars books of variable quality. The magic refused to die. So George made his prequels, with Darth Vader as a cute eight-year-old and his future wife as the Queen of Naboo. I never could see what Padme saw in the petulant, teenage Anakin. A lot of other people couldn’t either. The prequels were universally panned.

And still the magic refused to die.

A new generation of kids grew up to hate Darth Vader (or love him if you were a bit weird, like me) and love Han, Leia, and Luke. Disney bought the franchise, causing deep concern amongst fandom. But it was a smart move from the studio, which has been repaid in spades for its apparently large investment. Star Wars toys and merchandise had never vanished from the shelves. Now they returned with a vengeance, along with the long-awaited movies, the animated Star Wars: Rebels in the vanguard. It’s no secret that I thought The Force Awakens was derivative crap. But at least Star Wars was back. Rogue One was very good. The Last Jedi I think drew a thick line in marker pen under the old guard. Let’s hope Star Wars 9 really will be A New Hope. (Haha). We have some new characters to watch – Finn and Po and Rey. We’ll see.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56323217

I have hopes for Solo. It’s a return to the roots. The new young actor Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the role of Han Solo, has big shoes to fill. Think Han and you see Harrison Ford, who owned the role in the earlier films. However, from what I’ve seen it’ll be a fun romp taking place before the events in A New Hope (the original one). There’ll be no Force, no Leia – but there’ll be Lando Calrissian (played by Billy-Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back). Sure, it’ll be predictable, it won’t offer anything deep and meaningful that’ll leave you cogitating for days.

You know what? In these dark and dangerous times, that’s fine by me.

 

Blog Tour – Scavenger’s Mission

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Alisha’s skills are so far beyond a normal cadet’s, that the Colonel is concerned many could die trying to learn them. Especially when they are required to collapse their chute. That will send them into a state of terror since they have been taught a collapsed chute is the equivalent of death.
Upon thinking back to the reasons she wasn’t afraid, even the very first time she collapsed her shoot, Alisha suggests they buy a wind tunnel. Logan, has never heard of such a thing.
She explained when she lived in Flatland, which has no wind whatsoever, she would daily go to the wind tunnel, don a baggy suit, hand over two hundred dollars and spend an hour soaring about in the tunnel. Thus, she never equated having winds rushing up from below to ‘dying any moment now’.
For your entertainment I located a youtube that shows exactly what should happen in a wind tunnel…if you aren’t afraid, click here.

It does look like fun!

Savenger's mission 400X640

Meet Alisha: A young woman who refuses to live the life her parents want.

In a single month, Alisha Kane has gone from a wealthy debutante to street girl to scavenger.  While testing her new flying skills in the Cully Canyon, Alisha incurs a near-death crash landing. She’s “rescued” by a colonel of the SkyRyders and her life changes forever.

Meet Logan: A SkyRyder colonel in charge of a sleepy fort with little to do other than arrest the occasional scavenger.

For the first time in his life, Logan’s attracted to a young woman, only she’s probably a scavenger and he’ll have to arrest her.  But first he offers her a shower and food while he checks on his crew. His Videographer has captured her extraordinary flight through the Cully and her flying is astounding!

He forgoes arresting her and puts his career at risk by asking MAC to assess her skills and integrity as a potential SkyRyder. If he can get Alisha into the SkyRyders, it will be his greatest contribution to the Corps.

Meet MAC: the Artifical Intelligence that runs the SkyRyders Corps.

Upon seeing her arrival, MAC upgrades Alisha’s test. Her flying skills are not just excellent; they exceed what was previously thought possible. MAC classifies her as its top asset and soon she proves her value.

But…the SkyRyders remain a male dominated Corps where Alisha’s sense of right and wrong often clashes with her superiors. How long can a rebellious young woman survive in a regimented Corps?

Excerpt

Alisha pouted and frowned over the list, finally drawing a line after the third item. “Is there a wind tunnel in Fort Capital?”

“A what?”

“A wind tunnel. You know, it’s an arcade ride. You put on this huge suit and pay a hundred dollars to fly about a vertical wind tunnel for a half-hour.”

“I doubt it. Not many kids have a hundred dollars to spend on something you can find by walking outside the mall.”

“It’s different from a horizontal wind. This simulates what you feel when you collapse your catcher mid-air.”

“Terrified?” Logan asked.

“See? That’s what I’m concerned about. To a normal Ryder, collapsing your catcher is the equivalent of death. Yet most of these maneuvers require the flyer to collapse their catcher. And I can tell them how to do it, and we can practice on the ground, but if they freeze in terror during the unfamiliar sensation of air rushing up from the ground, I can’t open their catcher for them.” She met his gaze. “I can’t save them from dying.”

Logan sighed. He refused to accept that, of all the incredible skills she possessed, only three were going to be transferable to other Ryders. “Any idea how much a wind tunnel costs?” He walked over to his computer and started typing a query to MAC.

“Actually, I do know. I was a frequent patron of the one in Flatland. The guy who ran it said I could have bought my own tunnel for the amount I spent at the mall. I knew my parents wouldn’t actually let me have one, but I asked him for the price so I could dream. He said a new tunnel goes for about a million, but you can buy the old ones, without the new security features, for two hundred and fifty thousand. Actually, I prefer the older ones. They have higher speeds.”

Logan almost stopped typing when she told him the cost. He knew the Corps’ budget was painfully tight this year. He’d never get approval, not even for the used version. But given its importance, he typed in the maneuvers Alisha had listed as teachable if she could remove the fear of falling from the equation. He sent it off to MAC. It was all he could do.

LINK

The SkyRyder’s Series, Book 1

Scavenger’s Mission

AMAZON

About the Author

Liza O’Connor lives in Denville, NJ with her dog Jess. They hike in fabulous woods every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Having an adventurous nature, she learned to fly small Cessnas in NJ, hang-glide in New Zealand, kayak in Pennsylvania, ski in New York, scuba dive with great white sharks in Australia, dig up dinosaur bones in Montana, sky dive in Indiana, and raft a class four river in Tasmania. She’s an avid gardener, amateur photographer, and dabbler in watercolors and graphic arts. Yet through her entire life, her first love has and always will be writing novels.

OTHER BOOKS BY LIZA O’CONNOR

SCIENCE FICTION

The Multiverse Series

Sci-Fi Soap Opera with humor, romance, and science

The Gods of Probabilities

Surviving Outbound

Surviving Terranue

Surviving Sojourn

 

Artificial Intelligence Series

Sci-Fi/Romance

Public Secrets

Birth of Adam

 

The SkyRyders Series

Sci-Fi Romance

Scavenger’s Mission

Scavenger Falters-coming 2017

Scavenger Vanishes-coming 2017

 

I’m busy #amwriting but I also talk about genre

Starfield shipThe title says it all, folks. I’m writing up a storm – or trying to. Writing is just like any other pastime – cooking, hockey, netball, swimming, tatting. If you stop doing it, the skills atrophy. But I’m around 6k into what will be a longish short story, and it’s all coming back to me. Like riding a bike.

Meanwhile, pop on over to this week’s post on Spacefreighters, where I talk about genre and what it means in science fiction romance.

Science fiction romance – caught between a rock and a hard place

Talking about what constitutes ‘romance’ seems to be a bit like climbing over the fence into the lions’ compound knowing they haven’t been fed for a while. But I have to say I find the debate a little bit perplexing when it comes to the genre I mostly write – science fiction romance.

couple on the beach silhouetteOn the one hand, the born-again romance readers insist that without a HEA (happily ever after ending, for those not in the know) or at the very least a HFN (Happy For Now) then the story doesn’t qualify as ‘romance’. On the other hand there’s more than a suggestion from the science fiction fraternity (I use the word deliberately) that all that soppy love stuff doesn’t belong in science fiction.canstockphoto19778842

I’m not really a romance reader and I’d be the first to say that my stories are SF action/adventure with a strong romance arc. Mostly. I think. And we get back to the old question of genre.

Back in the very recent past we didn’t have a science fiction romance genre. You had a choice: science fiction or romance. So you took your chances. Have your book panned by the hard-line SFers who didn’t want any of the smulchy squishy stuff, or have your book panned by the romance die-hards who protested your story wasn’t a romance because it wasn’t the raison d’etre of the plot.

Let’s consider my latest effort, Crisis at Validor, because… just because.

Is it a romance?Picture of cover for Crisis at Validor

I’ve included the Romance Writers of America definition of romance.

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

  • A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
  • An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. Click here to better understand the subgenres within romance.

So that’s what the RWA had to say. Let’s get back to Crisis at Validor.

Is it a love story? Yes. Two people who had been in ‘love’ in their teens meet up and find the ember still glows

Is it the main plot arc? I believe you can tell this by asking the question – if you take out the romance would you still have a story? And the answer to that (IMO) is also yes. (But the romance raises the stakes for both parties)

So it’s not a romance, it just has a romantic arc with a couple of non-specific squishy scenes. I think.

Is it science fiction?

Is it SF? When we’re discussing speculative fiction (which we are) Orson Scott Card gives a very interesting definition of the difference between science fiction and fantasy. “If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it’s science fiction. If it’s set in a universe that doesn’t follow our rules, it’s fantasy.” “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” p22. On that definition Crisis at Validor certainly is SF.

Is it hard SF? No, it’s not. It’s space opera which the purists consider to be ‘soft’ SF. But it is SF, with non-humanoid aliens with their own politics and their own problems, space ships, inter-planetary travel and the like. There’s no magic, even if inter-planetary travel is pretty slick. If you want an explanation, see my post on planet hopping.

But I’m sure as hell certain that with that cover and that romance arc, it won’t be popular with the ‘straight’ SF community. I recently saw a request by a prominent SF writer (female) who is collecting data for a degree. She wanted the names of women who have published in science fiction since 2000. That’s fine – but she very specifically states that she doesn’t want straight science fiction romance.

And that, folks, sums it up for me. Pick your cliché

  • rock and a hard place
  • devil and the deep blue sea
  • out of the frying pan into the fire

The fact is, we have to pick a genre when we publish. I’ve opted for the soft and squishy SFR option – and I firmly believe that if you can classify Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago as ‘romances’ then there’s room for romance arcs that don’t necessarily end up as HEA or HFN. I’ve said before I see the SFR genre as a continuum, and I hold to that view. There’s room for all kinds of nuances on that line.

I’d love to hear your take on this debate.

The one Rule of Writing you should never break (IMO)

Those who know me would realise that I raise an eyebrow at the mere mention of the Rules of Writing. You know the ones; thou shalt not use passive voice, thou shalt avoid ‘that’, ‘as’, ‘just’ and ‘there was’, thou shalt not use adjectives and yay, verily, thou shalt not use adverbs. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. They are sensible guidelines to consider, NOT “rules” Somebody was supposed to have said, “There are three rules to writing. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.”

BUT… the title says it all, doesn’t it? There is one rule you break at your peril, and that is

 

Do Your Research

I was involved in an interesting discussion with writers of science fiction, based on a blog post about whether the ‘science’ was important in science fiction. Specifically, the author discussed a scenario in a novel where a spaceship in deep space begins to slow down when the engines fail. There was some to-ing and fro-ing over how important it was that this would not happen. Without any drag in the almost complete vacuum of space, inertia would keep the ship travelling at a constant speed unless something else intervened. It transpired that the writer of the novel had based her ‘research’ on a few science fiction movies. This is not a great move when you consider films like Star Wars, where basic physics is either misunderstood (this ship did the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs) or ignored. Think fighters zooming around in space as they would in atmosphere, and making a quick trip to Bespin without a hyperdrive, just to mention a couple.

People who read science fiction tend to be interested in science. Authors should at least do their readers the courtesy of trying to get it right. I grew up on Asimov and Clarke, who made sure their science was plausible, and basic facts of physics were either adhered to, or if not then explained. Jack McDevitt does the same. Somebody is going to say, but what about faster than light travel (FTL)? That’s impossible. Sure. But that’s a recognised trope in SF, commonly used in space opera to move the story forward. And as I explained here, planet hopping might not be as silly as it sounds.

A similar thing can be said of historical fiction, which I have also written. Before I wrote about a lad beheaded with a sword – just for fun – I found out how this could be done and what would happen. If you’re interested, here’s the answer – murder by decapitation. When I needed to write a scene where muskets were used, I researched muskets. Here’s the post about that. Writers of crime novels face the same situation. You’re going to kill somebody. Is the mode of death feasible? How long does it take? What evidence is left behind etc etc.

I suppose not everybody will agree with me. After all, the story is the thing, is it not? And since I’m a Star Wars fan, I can hardly disagree. But I still think Lucas et al could have done their homework and come up with something more accurate and still just as exciting. Even a few nose thrusters in the fighters would have helped. And maybe the hyperdrive could have been damaged, in need of repair, but still barely operational. Sure, there’s a little more room in speculative fiction for invention. After all, it is ‘fiction’. But I think there’s a limit. Even when I wrote Black Tiger, which is about a were-tiger, I took care to find out about real tigers, the legend of were-tigers in India, and the role of tigers in Hindu theology.

So what do you think? Am I being self-righteous? Do you expect to find real science in science fiction? Real history in historical novels? Or doesn’t it matter to you?

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

Jack 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.

Let’s talk about admirals

Cover of The Iron Admiral: ConspiracyI have a penchant for men in uniform, the more brass the better – provided, of course, the body in the uniform matches my expectations. I know admirals are usually older guys – in our society, anyway – and I haven’t changed that. But in my science fiction romances, guys in their forties will still have the bodies of twenty-year-olds.

And this is the gentleman on the cover of ‘Morgan’s Choice’, Admiral Ashkar Ravindra.

They’re both hunks, but they’re very, very different men. Saahren is a farmer’s son who was beaten up and left to die during an uprising on his home planet. He was lucky; a visiting doctor patched up the broken bones and his shattered face, then gave him a home until he joined the Star Fleet Academy, where he rose through the ranks on sheer ability. He never had much time for women and even though his fame has spread, he still avoids emotional entanglements. He has his reasons.

Ravindra, on the other hand, was born to his position. He’s a member of the ruling military class, in fact a subset of that group from which the admirals are often chosen – provided they have the ability. His father was an admiral, as was his grandfather. His parents arranged his marriage to a suitable woman but even while his wife was alive, when he was away from home he could take his pick of willing partners. The thing about Ravindra is that he doesn’t quite fit the traditional admiral mould. He bends rules when it suits him, sees things from a different perspective. That’s why he has been assigned to a command on the outskirts of Manesa society.

They both meet women. But whereas for Saahren it’s love at first sight and a long learning experience as he fumbles his way through falling in love, for Ravindra the relationship grows in very different directions.

Here’s an early encounter between Saahren and Allysha Marten.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” He glanced over his shoulder at his fallen opponent. “Let me see you to your quarters.”
The alarm faded from her face as she sized him up. “I’m Allysha Marten.”
“I know. I’m Brad Stone.” He’d very nearly said Chaka Saahren. He’d better keep that fact to himself until he could find out what her objection was.
She smiled and his heart fluttered. “Thank you, Brad Stone.”
“Where do you live?”
“The mine. In the old ptorix mine manager’s quarters.”
He walked beside her, not too close, not too fast, through the tunnel of jungle that led to the mine. “You’re comfortable with the ptorix?”
“Yes. Very. Where I come from—Carnessa—we live together peaceably. Well… mostly. I grew up with Tors.”
Tors. That must be her word for ptorix.
“And that’s how you understand their computer systems?”
“I suppose. I can speak their language and that always helps.”
He almost stopped. “Their language? But that’s very difficult.”
She laughed, a low, musical chuckle. “Not too bad if you learn as a child.”
The mine’s metal doors gleamed in the lights around the entrance. Saahren pressed the lock and the personnel door slid open. He stood aside to let her go first, along the wide central tunnel that led to the control room.
She turned off into a side tunnel. A few more steps and she stopped in front of a stairway. “I live up there. Thanks again.”
Those wonderful eyes held him for just a moment and then she was gone. He stared after her. He should have asked her to dinner or a drink or … or… Idiot. Fool. Standing there like a tongue-tied teenager. She smiles at me and I melt. She speaks and I just listen to the lilt in her words.
He sighed. I’m in love.

Here’s an early encounter between Morgan Selwood and Ravindra.

The officer reached down, grasped her shoulder in one hand and pulled her upright so fast her feet left the ground. He let go and she swayed, regaining her balance. The light winked on the gold sunburst on his shoulder.
Well, well. Her heart beat steadied. Maybe she wasn’t for the firing squad just yet.
“Welcome back, Morgan Selwood.”
She stared at him, straight into slit black pupils in an amber field. She was supposed to look down, wasn’t she? Well, fuck him. She wasn’t beaten yet.
“You have not yet learnt manners, I see.”
“Where I come from, meeting a man’s gaze shows honest intent.”
“You are not where you come from.”
He struck her face. Her head whipped around. She staggered sideways and stumbled to her knees, her cheek stinging. She hadn’t even seen him raise his hand. He hauled her effortlessly, one handed, to her feet again. He must be enormously strong. His fingers must have left dents on her shoulder.
“So. Let us start again.” That even, baritone voice. He might as well have been at a cocktail party.
No, she wasn’t where she came from. Wishing she could rub her cheek, she bowed her head. “Admiral.”
The word stuck in her craw. She fixed her gaze on his rank insignia. Daryabod—Full Admiral. Second only to Daryaseban—Grand Admiral in the manesan fleet hierarchy. A very, very powerful man. Another bastard admiral.

So, folks… how do you like your admirals? Or generals, or whatever? I’d love to know.