Tag Archives: space opera

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.MC Poster2

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.

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.

If you’re on Facebook, why not join us in the Scifi Romance Group? Keep up with what’s happening, have some fun.

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.

Buy it 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.

***************************

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.

*****************************

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

I’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?

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?

Star Wars Obsession

Reading somebody’s blog recently I was reminded about my own obsession with the Star Wars universe early in the life of the series. SW and The Empire Strikes Back didn’t have the benefit of digital enhancement. The special effects guys made their props in the old fashioned way – with models and blue-screen photography. The scenes with the running Taun-tauns on Hoth were painstakingly filmed, screen by laborious screen, using stop-motion animation. (Think Wallace and Gromit), while all that amazing hardware – Luke’s landspeeder, the sandcrawler, the magnificent fleet of Star Destroyers and the wonderful ‘Executor’ were all just little models hanging in a studio, to be brought to life by these wonderful craftsmen.

One offshoot of all this model making was, of course, the licensing of plastic model kit manufacturers such as Mattel to produce models for us afficionados to build. And build them I did, enhancing the stock models all the way. I built everything. Star destroyer, AT-AT (with tiny Luke running along beside with his grenade), X-wing, Y-wing, A-wing, B-wing, TIE fighter, Slave 1, the Imperial speeder bike…

As I built more and more, lovingly detailed to match what I saw in the movies, I started to want to build dioramas – small scenes from the movie, frozen in the act. Hence the AT-AT with Luke.

The picture up there is my piece de resistance and (apart from a model of DV himself) the only one I still have in my possession.

This is the crashed snowspeeder scene from TESB, the unseen AT-AT approaching from off stage. But this is no out-of-the-box snowspeeder. Well – it is. But I ditched the crummy pilot figures and substituted figures from a kit for a WW2 German troop carrier, suitably modified with helmets, webbing over their orange jumpsuits and even a little light sabre. The speeder’s cockpit was taken from a 33: kit for a Phantom jet fighter, which I could modify so the pilots were back to back. I also detailed the visible parts of the machine’s engine.

I think the snowspeeder kit cost $15. As I built it? Including the cost of the troop carrier and Phantom kits, more like $100.

Do you have any obessions you’d like to share?

Spaceships are sexy!

Just lately I’ve been asked questions along the lines of ‘what first attracted you to science fiction?’ I could always come out with sober answers about science and the future, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke yadayadayada. But the moment I fell in love with science fiction? That moment at the movies when the Imperial Star Destroyer (ISD) is chasing the Rebel blockade runner – Princess Leia’s ship. Remember? In Star Wars: A New Hope? This ship scuds across the screen, the planet below. You’re above it, as it hurtles past from top right. It’s past. You see the  ship’s drives and the blasts as it fires at – something. And then – Holy Shit! What in hell is that? I ducked. And that ISD just kept on coming and coming and coming.

It’s true. Spaceships are sexy.

As far as I can recall this was the first time a spaceship wasn’t depicted as streamlined (as in Buck Rogers etc). OK, that’s not true. The ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t streamlined, or ‘Enterprise’. But these ships were angular, with bits and turrets sticking out, which was fine in vacuum, of course. The ISD was depicted as an assault ship – an aircraft carrier and a troop ship combined, a huge, movable assault platform. With guys in sexy uniforms. Mmm. I loved it.

If that wasn’t enough, think of the scene in ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ when Darth Vader stands at the picture window on the bridge of his ship. The opening part of that sequence shows an ISD moving beneath the shadow of a monstrous ship. Ahhhhh. My fate was sealed.

Executor.

I purloined the picture (top left) from https://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Executor where you can find a few more facts about this seriously sexy ship.

Rest assured, these big capital ships aren’t the only ones that make my heart throb, but they’re a start. Come on, share. What’s your favourite space ship?

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.

Forget jet-lag – what about planet-lag?

Earth from spaceWhen you’re watching movies like Star Wars (any of ‘em) or Star Trek, do you ever wonder (as I do) what it would be like to planet-hop? Many of us have suffered from jet-lag on planet Earth. You get on the plane in Australia and you get off the plane in London and it’s all different.

Okay, so what’s all different? Well, the time, for a start. Good grief, I got on the big bird at 2pm and arrived in Europe at 5am the same day. I travelled for 25 hours and lost half a day. (As a small aside, this is a perfect example of why ‘time’ isn’t real. It depends entirely on where you happen to be – but that’s another story.) This displacement of the day’s routine does terrible things to our body clock, of course. It takes a few days for you to adjust to the time where you are and get back into the cycle of day and night. Time is just one, obvious, aspect of travel. There are so many other things that vary from place to place on our own little globe.

Have you noticed how every city smells different and that’s particularly true if you leave your comfort zone? For people like me, of European descent, going to Asia, for instance, where the lifestyle is… different? There’s the clothes they wear, the customs, whether people look you in the eye, the currency, the trees, which side of the road they drive on… Even if they speak the same language, it’s different. US, British, Australian English all vary from place to place even within their own countries, let alone one to the other. Let’s not forget the food, the music, the houses… I could go on and on. So could you.

Now let’s take that to a planetary level. All of the above may well be true, even where each planet is populated with humans. Let’s keep it simple and not add aliens. What else is different? What if the sun the planet revolves around isn’t the same G class sun as our dear old Sol? The light would affect your perception of colour. Gravity may vary, so you’d weigh less or more and the air would be different. Think about how that works just on our own planet. The atmosphere thins rapidly as you climb higher. This is a real problem for mountaineers who must acclimatise or wear oxygen masks, but the locals are used to it.

I’ve tried to hint around at some of these things in The Iron Admiral : Conspiracy when Allysha arrives at a new planet.

Good grief, it was like walking into a sauna. She hesitated until Sean’s hand on her back urged her forward. Moisture began to bead on her face, her shirt stuck to her skin and she was certain she could feel her hair begin to curl. The air tasted different, too; a little bit earthy and sweet. Not unpleasant; just not what she was used to and different again to the arid, dusty air of Brjyl, the only other planet she’d been to apart from home.

The ship had landed on a platform above purple and green forest that spread to the horizon on three sides. Blues and greens seemed brighter, somehow, and reds and oranges more subdued.”

Back to our planet and ‘time’. The length of the year (the time it takes the planet to travel around its sun) and the length of the day (the time the planet takes to turn on its axis) will be different. Can you imagine what that would do to the brain’s perception of reality? Then there are seasons, or lack of them. We can assume a planet where people can walk around unprotected has a magnetic field, otherwise we’d be fried on the spot.

I guess, in a way, all this explains why your Star Wars and Star Trek movies rarely venture down the path of real planetary differences. Sure, the scenery is different but the assumption seems to be that the air is breathable and thick enough not to exhaust anybody and the gravity’s fine. Otherwise it might end up being a pretty boring story.