Category Archives: Alternate Universe Stories

On science fiction book clubs

Sometimes I just have to get out and mingle with those who like the things I do.

Scary thought, I know.

Here I’m talking about book clubs…science fiction book clubs.

I found a congenial group at the famous Powell’s bookstore at Cedar Crossing outside of Portland, Oregon. Powells is very innovative and therefore appears to be thriving in this age of online book retailing, although they were selling books online even before Amazon was.

Immediately after Orycon, they set up a long table of local science fiction and fantasy authors who personally signed their books for any avid reader.

I was one.

It was a great event. The place was a buzz. Actually, it was mobbed.

Real life Star Wars characters showed up. Special deals were offered. A party atmosphere prevailed. Kids ran freely about laughing.

Now the thing about book clubs is that you have to read what the group picks. In the case of my mystery group, they picked Pashazade by Jon Grimwood and I discovered a great new author that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. It was science fiction, too.


Sometimes the choice is a book that you have already read. Last month we read Ready, Player One by Ernest Kline. (See my January blog) Luckily, I only had to skim over it and refresh my memory in order to add to the discussion.

This month the choice was The Magician by Lev Grossman. I saw the sequel, The Magician King, on Locus Online’s list of top fantasy books of 2011, so I was looking forward to reading the first in the series.

The story is about Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant but unhappy teenager. He is an odd duck with just a few friends. He becomes fascinated with a children’s fantasy series about a magical land called Fillory that makes his real life seem dull.

The first words in the book are, “Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.” In the beginning, Quentin is preparing for his college interview, but when he goes for the interview he unexpectedly ends up stumbling through unfamiliar woods onto the grounds of an elite secret college of magic. Rather like Harry Potter walking through the train station’s wall into another world and arriving at Hogwarts. After a rigorous testing and interview process among many other hopefuls, he does a magic trick that everyone does notice and he is one of very few admitted.

He feels that his dream has come true and Brakebill is where he was always meant to be. Quentin’s life at Brakebill College has a taste of Harry Potter and a touch of Narnia with a large dose of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. As Quentin learns all sorts of magic, he meets new friends and develops a romance with a talented young magician and student named Alice. (Yes, really) Eventually, he gets grouped with five other final grade student magicians called “the Physicals” because the do physical magic. Stuff happens.

After graduation, Quentin and Alice move in together and party dissolutely with the others Physicals back in “the real world” until one of Brakebill’s students, an on and off again friend of Quentin’s named Penny, burst in on them to announce that Fillory really does exists… in an alternate universe or on other plane of existence, and he has gone there. He wants to show them the way. The group from Brakebill decide to go, and after a few incidents, Quentin gets them to take off and plunge through the waters of the fountain to eagerly explore this exciting and wonderful land of his childhood fantasy stories.

But Fillory is no fairy world and is a  darker more dangerous place in real life than it was in the children’s fantasy books. The group meets several intriguing talking animal characters, giving the novel a touch of Narnia. They discover themselves in the middle of an ongoing war. The action amps up with a deadly showdown with evil inhabitants and Quentin almost dies. He searches out the Questing Beast at the end, with his final wish being to let him go home. And yet…being a financial adviser with shiny shoes looking out a high rise window isn’t what he wants either. So…

I leave you to find out what he chooses to do…for the sequel.

I enjoyed the story, but I expected more. So much more could have been done with the magic and Quentin seems to always be drifting through life, searching for something interesting to do.  While the writing had flashes of brilliance, I had to make myself read it to finish, rather than have the story sweep me along.

Still, sometimes you have to try something different and reach out to a new experience in order to live a richer life. Maybe that was what Quentin had in mind for himself in the end.


Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, Best selling science fiction, fantasy, magic, science fiction series

Science Fiction Time Travel

Because I’m writing Science fiction, I’m always on the lookout for cutting edge technology or new, interesting science discoveries.IMG_0174

Right now, I’m working on a space travel adventure, Past the Event Horizon, and am keenly aware of all the difficulties traveling in space entails. It’s dangerous out there in the void.

So when I ran across an intriguing article entitled, “Using the Quantum Vacuum as a Propellant” in the Spacetimes magazine…

I went Wahoo!”  It’s the Internet, so of course, it’s all true.

But just think if we could do that…

The article begins: “Imagine if it were possible to utilize the very vacuum of space as a source of propellant. If a spacecraft needed only to provide power, and not carry propellant, what would be the possibilities? A spacecraft equipped with such a propulsion system would have a Specific Impulse (ISP) that is many orders of magnitude higher than current propulsion technology. The limiting design parameter would then be the power density of the local power source. Mission planners could design reference missions to include multiple orbits and inclinations – the latter typically requiring the higher delta-v. A mission could incorporate multiple destinations. Perhaps most importantly for space exploration, transit times could be drastically reduced.”

It states that scaling to power levels specific to human flight will enable one year transit time to Jupiter.

That’s quite a time saver.

Okay, I don’t pretend to understand the math or the science that follows in the article, but what a neat idea for using in a starship story. Not only are transit times impossible in space, the nearest gas station is a bit far if you run out of fuel. What if you could use the vacuum of space to keep you going. Or say, dark matter? Hmmm.

Just a thought.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I wanted to also highlight some self-publishing authors, in addition to the well known ones that always appear on the lists publishers make. I got a lot of authors who touted their own book and wanted a mention.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had to do the same, but I’m looking for an e-book that you as a reader have read and think it should be mentioned because it is just that good. Authors tend to have a bias about their own work. I certainly do. Ask me, they’re great!

The big traditional publishing houses have well worn tracks of marketing and long established connections in the industry, but the new Indie author is totally confused about how to get his book noticed.

I know because I’m one.

So here’s an Indie review for a book you might just like.

The Kronos Interference by Edward Miller and J.B. Manas

Time travel has always intrigued me. It’s what I write about. It asks: What if you could go back in time? What would you do?

That is one of the questions Jacob Newman faces when he is called in on a top secret mission to an alien ship deep in the ocean and he discovers a globe that allows him to time travel.

Jacob is a high level scientist who comes with a difficult past. When he suspects the alien globe will take him back in time, he knows what he wants to do. He wants to save millions from dying…by killing Hitler…

Oh no, another holocaust story, and haven’t we had enough of those?

But wait, let me read a little further because the writing is good. No grammar, spelling or awkward phrases to throw me out of the story. The sentences flow and disappear into a developing plot.

And the main character feels real. He leaves his wife dying with cancer to answer the call of a national emergency, but not without angst. “Be back soon, honey. Got to change the world.”

He carries a picture of his beautiful grandmother, Anna, who died at Dacha. He wants her tortured life to be different. Did I mention that he was Jewish? Well, yes.

So I’ll read on a little more because the plot is now getting complicated and compelling. Mystery is piling upon mystery as Jacob travels to 1944 and World War II to kill Hitler, and I’m worried for him.

At my house, dinner needs to be served, laundry needs to be done, but I’ll just finish one more chapter…maybe two. Oh dear, there’s an interesting twist to the story. Aliens in time? The action is getting more exciting amidst some serious questions concerning humanity’s morality.

What? Pizza delivered an hour ago and when did it go dark outside? Laundry can be done tomorrow because right now I need to figure out what’s going on in this story, and I might as well finish this chapter, or maybe the next.

Starting with an attractive cover, professional formatting and compelling writing, I found that I couldn’t put this time travel mystery/thriller down. The story has a good balance between thrilling action and interesting character development, while posing very real philosophical questions on the advisability of tweaking time for whatever reason.

The ending draws out a bit, but then there are quite a number of ends to tie up in a delightfully complicated plot involving time travel, aliens, murder and, oh yes, Hitler, who makes a cameo appearance.

If you like time travel, I recommend this one. You won’t be able to put it down.

What’s your favorite science fiction novel? Leave a comment or e-mail me.


Filed under alien life forms, Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, Cutting Edge Science ideas, ebook science fiction, first contact, Indie authors, Indie Science Fiction Authors, science fiction, Science Fiction book review, Science Fiction Mystery, time travel, WWII

Science Fiction Discoveries: Unknown and Known

A new science fiction author and story is like unwrapping a Christmas present…you never know what you’ll find.

A gold bracelet or a pair of socks.

I must admit that when I saw the wrapping of Craig Gehring’s book, “The Nirvana Effect” I was excited.

The cover is beautiful. I flipped through the pages and it looked like the man knew how to format. I settled in for an exciting read.

My expectation had been for a far future novel populated by a world of extraordinary minds…I leapt to that conclusion because of the cover image. For me, the cover was eye candy and I was salivating.

Unfortunately, I found myself in the deep jungle, a Jesuit missionary, who discovers by spying on a native ceremony, a drug that unlocks the power of the human mind. A tribal youth discover this drug and uses it to bring about a prophecy and set  himself up as a god. The Jesuit priest takes the drug and ponders the morality of bringing the drug to the wider world. The two fight back and forth for power in order to follow the path they desire.

While there are exciting car chases, a rekindled romance, a rescue for the abducted heroine, and some philosophizing on the morality of who should have super powers, there isn’t a lot of science in this science fiction. It’s a story that has been done before. The super medicine out of the jungle that will change the world…and who should have control over it. And the ending doesn’t really end. A lot is still unresolved and you expect another book (or books) is in the wings to finalize everything.

Still… There is a lot of action and a bit of romance. The writing is good and reads well. It might be just what you want for a summer beach read.

So I ran to a known writer to a novella that won the Hugo in 2010…and was about Time Travel.

How could I go wrong?

Charles Stross has come on the science fiction scene over that last ten or so years to great acclaim. He has been nominated for six Hugos and won two. Palimpsest was a 2010 novella winner.

Now I knew Charles Stross. His Merchant Princes Series is one of my favorites. I highly recommend it, even though it is rarely mentioned and you  hear more about his other books. There are several books in the series starting with The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, Clan Corporate, The Merchant War, The Revolution Business and the last I read, The Trade of Queens. The story involves a family that carries a special gene that enables them to look at a certain pattern and walk from one dimension of history to another.

The story starts in 21st century America, but the heroine discovers her murdered mother’s necklace and while staring at it, is catapulted into a Medieval dimension. Cool. There she discovers her”family” she didn’t know about who has gathered power by walking dimensions bringing back drugs or medicine. The ability is carefully guarded within the “family.” The series goes on, and she discovers still another dimension of 18th century America, while trying to escape assassination by family members. So you have Steampunk, Medieval, and modern all at once and soon they are at war with each other because of…yes, getting control and having power.

So I was excited to try Palimpsest.


In this story, the Stasis has mastered the time gate and steered mankind away from the brink of extinction innumerable  amount of times. Against the background of the sweep of existence lined out like a powerpoint display, weaves the small thread of Agent Pierce’s life. Pierce is a newly recruited member of the Stasis. To be accepted into the Stasis, one first has to kill his  grandfather. Then twenty years of training ensue. As an agent for the Stasis, Pierce struggles to find his way through the maze of history (and uhistory) as unknowns attempt to assassinate him. The agents of the Stasis can go back in history and rewrite. (that’s what a palimpsest is: a piece of paper that has been written on and then erased and rewritten over)

As his existence expands and replicates over these vast stretches of time, he discovers alternate timeline and other selves that embroil him in a battle with the Stasis and the unresolved fate of humanity itself.

While the concept appeals to me, the several lectures on the history of the solar system, set up in powerpoint style, only serve to bog down the reader with its immense sweeps of history. Think Sagan’s billions and billions, and then add a bunch of trillions. The few strands of Pierce’s life are interesting, but he is a confused entity and therefore the reader is confused as to what is actually happening.

At least at the end, we get it and at least here, there is an ending of sorts.

I wondered if it was just me. Then I read a few Amazon reviews and it wasn’t. The novella has won the Hugo, but it isn’t a knock your socks off story…nor a gold bracelet.


Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, award winning scifi, Best selling science fiction, Hugo winners, Indie authors, Indie Science Fiction Authors, modifying humans, science fiction, Science Fiction book review, Science Fiction Mystery, science fiction series, Science fiction world building, time travel