I love spaceships

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.

So 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.

Meet The Iron Admiral

This is a snippet from one of my earliest books, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy.

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.

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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

 

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.

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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?

Humans are such fragile entities

The more I read about the strangeness of our universe, the more I wonder if we, humanity, will ever colonise other planets. There’s not much chance we’ll settle on a diamond planet and I have to wonder how we’d go on many of the ‘earthlike’ planets already pinpointed. We are such fragile entities, we humans.

I’m in the throes of writing a sequel to my space opera Morgan’s Choice, which accepts the existence of political groupings of star systems into coalitions, federations and the like. Hey, I’m not special in that respect. Lots of SF writers have done the same thing, with great success – Elizabeth Moon, Jack McDevitt, Isaac Asimov etc etc and of course, Star Trek, Star Wars and the like. But how likely is it really?

Like all other animals we are closely attuned to our environment, more so than many of us actually realise anymore. In these days of electricity we can heat or cool our homes, spend half the night watching TV, or reading books, source food from all over the world so nothing is ever out of season, cross distances that took years in days. Yet we cannot escape the factors which shaped us.

I think there are five vital factors we will not easily overcome.

The first is our perception of time.

I use the word ‘perception’ advisedly, because time is something we measure for ourselves to put ourselves into context, if you will. But whether we think the sun is rising where we are, or setting, our bodies are built to expect a ‘day’ of twenty-four hours or so, because that’s how long it takes for the planet to revolve on its axis. What’s more, if we are suddenly wrenched from one time of day to another, as happens with long distance air travel, it takes time for our bodies to adjust. (It’s called jet lag)

Next is gravity, what we call weight.

We have evolved to suit the amount of force the planet exerts upon is. The advent of space travel and weightlessness has proved how important gravity is to our ability to function. Without gravity our bones lose density and muscles atrophy.

Then we move on to air.

Most of our atmosphere, what we breathe, is nitrogen, with twenty-three percent oxygen and a bunch of other gases in smaller quantities, including carbon dioxide. It also has a level of density. There’s more of it at lower altitude (see gravity). See what happens to mountain climbers if they climb before becoming acclimatised. Their bodies can’t cope. And if that mixture of gases changes past a certain level of tolerance, then what?

Then there’s temperature.

Humans exist in an apparently wide range of climates, providing they can find protection from the elements. But the range is actually not that wide in the scheme of things. This article in New Scientist speculates that global warming of only about 11° would render many places on our own planet ‘unliveable’.

The last factor is light.

Earth orbits a G class star which emits light towards the red end of the spectrum. We’re used to seeing colours in that light. If we lived on a world orbiting a cooler star with redder light, or a brighter star with more bluish light, we’d see colours differently.

Humans are adaptable. That’s why the species has been so successful. But even so, we’ve only ever had to adapt to the extremes of one planet. If humans are to venture to other planets I believe we will have two choices; terraform the planet into another Earth or modify the settlers to cope with the conditions. That would mean physically very different races of humanity occupying different planets. And here again, SF can offer plenty of examples. One that springs to mind is Moon and McCaffrey’s joint effort, Sassinak, where members of the Star Fleet have different body characteristics, depending on which planet they come from.

I admit I don’t take that route in my own writing. I simply assume all planets are earthlike, with only small variations in light, heat, time and gravity. I reckon I’m in pretty good company. Come on SF fans and writers, what do you do, what do you prefer?