Category Archives: Classic science fiction

Science fiction: Time Travel and Robots

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Two books on robots and time travel…perennial favorites.

But first.

Are you curious about social media and want some hard numbers? Check out this interesting blog by Jeff Bullas as to, who and how many, are on our favorite websites.

http://www.jeffbullas.com/2014/01/17/20-social-media-facts

So robots and time travel:

While blogging about time travel recently, several readers commented that The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein was one of their favorite time travel novels. I hadn’t read it.

So I did.

Door into Summer

And really enjoyed it. I recommend it strongly to time travel enthusiasts.

Dan Davis, a brilliant electronics engineer, creates the invention of a lifetime…a robot that does almost anything called Hired Girl. His best friend, Miles, becomes a partner and they hire a curvaceous Belle Darkin to handle the administrative side of the fledgling company. Dan immediately falls in love with her.

The salesman inside Miles wants to get the product out the door and make money right away while the engineering mind of Dan wants to make sure it will work. His fertile imagination already has two more robots on the drawing board: Windows Willie and Protean Pete, named after his sidekick cat, Pete.

Pete accompanies Dan everywhere. Well, almost everywhere.

And when Miles and Belle collude to take over the growing company, Dan nosedives into depression at their betrayal, and signs up with Mutual Insurance to take “the Big Sleep.” Then he changes his mind, but keeps the contract on him. Half drunk, Dan goes to confront Miles and Belle about their deception. After a scuffle and threats, Dan is knocked unconscious where the two discover his ticket and bundled him off into the cryo crib to get rid of him, sending him thirty years into the future.

Heinlein deftly uses cryogenics to get Dan into the future where he discovers a time machine that will transport him back into his past to right the wrongs done to him.

Time travel like this can be tricky, but Heinlein weaves a delicious story of revenge that satisfies at all levels.

The character of Dan is especially well drawn as he continually has new ideas popping into his inventive mind on how to make life easier for the average housewife, even years in the future. And the machinations of time travel and how to use it are a fun read. The exploits of Miles and Belle are also interesting as you read how Dan tries to thwart them.

Fruit of the Gods

Dan’s robots assist the ordinary person, making his or her life easier. They have no independent intelligence. However, in Fruit of the Gods by Gary Naiman, robots have evolved in intelligence and form the army that supports twelve global corporations called the Consortium.

This science fiction dystopia peeks into a future where nuclear war, political terrorists and a devastating earthquake plunge the world into chaos, poverty and starvation. Humans roam about unemployed, and economies have collapsed. Only the mining of algae off the seabed and conversion to a food called “manna” prevents worldwide starvation.

The Consortium is the ruling body that dispenses the manna and tries to run the world efficiently through robots. With all this unrest, underground rebels led by top scientists plan to bring down the Consortium.

To avert a takeover and bring down the insurgents, the current leaders bring in their top spy. Enter 0021, or Lucinda, and her robot companion, Gog, who are sent to ferret out rebel activities, but instead uncover the truth of what is really happening.

While Naiman’s Amazon reviews are glowing, it took me a little while to warm up to the story. It was well written, I just struggled to follow hints and clues as to what was happening.

Still, it moved along well and is an interesting story along the lines of IRobot by Asimov. If you like robots, dystopia stories and spy games, then you will like this.

 

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A Stunning Space Opera

IMG_0174Thirsting for an old fashion kickass space opera with a gritty detective trying to track down a missing rich Earth girl turned Belter rebel as things get weirder and wilder?

Welcome to Leviathan Wakes: Book One in the Expansion Series.

James S. A. Corey is the pen name for Daniel Abraham who wrote the fantasy series The Long Price Quartet, starting with A Shadow in Summer.A Shadow in Summer

Which I enjoyed.

So, I had expectations.

In Leviathan Wakes, two main protagonists form the structure of the story. The first is Detective Miller who works for the Earth company Star Helix Security on Ceres station built on a large astroid deep in the Astroid Belt.

Detective Miller is a Belter who is a cynic and a nihilist and doesn’t have faith in the moral judgement of others. Control of information is how you get others to do what you want and he doesn’t trust anyone else to decide what needs to be done. His current partner is an Earther who is not well received by those of Ceres and he struggles to understand why he is not accepted among them. Living in the Belt creates humans with different mind sets and tension develops between the “Inner Ring” of Mars and Earth and those whose lives have never touched ground or breathed natural air and live in the “Outer Planets.”

Jim Holden is XO on the Canterbury who watches his ship, a civilian ice hauler, blown up when he takes a team to investigate a mayday signal from a stranded ship Scopuli. It’s a setup. Furious, he believes that people should be given the truth and trusts mankind to do the right thing.

An idealist.

So, he broadcasts on full power, “My name is James Holden, and my ship the Canterbury was just destroyed by a warship using stealth technology and what appear to be parts stamped with Martian navy serial numbers. Data stream to follow.”

And starts an interplanetary war.

At first Mars is suspected of engineering a war they most likely can win. But the answer isn’t that simple as big private corporations become involved along with Earth’s daunting military. Events turn strange when Eros station becomes infected with an alien pronto virus and the stakes for humanity escalate as the virus mutates human biomass into different alien forms.

Full of action with interesting characters, I couldn’t put it down. My expectations were met, and exceeded. Along with an interesting mystery story, a bit of romance, some dramatic space fights, threatening aliens, Corey investigates how much and what kinds of information are safe to share.

Leviathan WakesWhich was good since the Northwest was under siege from a massive snowstorm, and I had nothing to distract me and nowhere I could go. I curled up and just enjoyed the story.

Opposite from Scalzi, (see previous blog) Corey’s acknowledgement is a short third of a page and uses first names only when he thanks his New Mexico Critical Mass writers group. It is in an author interview provided later that you realize the George mentioned is George R. R. Martin and the Walter is Walter Jon Williams. The group is more like the science fiction writers’ mafia.

The idea of a writers group is one the fledgling author should consider. Being in a writers group has benefitted me immensely, and while we are yet to be powerhouse names, their ideas and suggestions have been invaluable. A thoughtful and supportive group is an asset to any writer and I recommend joining one.

Also in the interview, the questioner asks Corey how much research did he do on the technical side of things, and how important was it to be realistic and accurate. This is a dilemma most space opera stories have to face. The science has to be believable, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the story. Corey calls it the “working man’s science fiction.” In fact when asked how the Epstein drive works, he answers, “Very well.” And leaves it at that.

It’s a tricky rope to walk when writing about possible future technologies and science. I agree with Corey, that the story is the thing and the science and technology should be believable enough not to interrupt the story.

Because after all, science and technology constantly change. What may seem impossible today, may be probable tomorrow.

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How Readers Pick Books

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To select the first five books that I want to read for 2014, I followed Mark Coker’s study on how ebook buyers discover books.

http://blog.smashwords.com/2011/09/how-ebook-buyers-discover-books.html

Surprisingly, or maybe not…word of mouth is still the number one way readers select books.

So my first selection breaks my rules of only reading science fiction because Peter at Powell’s became wildly enthusiastic  telling me about The Lies of Locke Lamora by Stephen Lynch. Peter is the science fiction and fantasy expert and lives and breathes books at the number one bookstore in Beaverton. So, when I asked what would be his top pick for me to read….I listen…and listened…and finally  grabbed the book he was waving around out of his hand and bought it.The Lies of Locke Lamora

The second method of selecting what to read…is, of course, reading a new book by a favorite author. Often if I like one book in the series, I go on to read the whole series. But for my next choice, I just went with a favorite author who has a new book out.

The human DivisionSo, The Human Division by John Scalzi is my second choice.

Besides, I wanted to add military science fiction to the list as it’s a popular genre with my readers. Also, Scalzi has great humor and action. Every book I’ve read of his, I have enjoyed.

No brainer

Lists are a third way people often select what they read. So I went to Goodreads, Amazon and Google to look at what books are making the 2013 most popular science fiction lists.

Time bound by Rysa Walker struck my fancy because of the subject matter. Also, she won Amazon’s breakout novel award for 2013. Not a bad list to be on. Here is a new author, that is number four on Amazon’s science fiction best selling list and sounds like something I might like. Timebound

Getting onto a top selling list is crucial if an author wants to sell a lot of books. Unfortunately, it can be a matter of serendipity. Somehow the story gets the attention of a few readers in a sector, and then a few more, as the word spreads. Next thing that author jumps into a top one hundred list and that propels the book forward. The more lists, the more readers, the more sales. People do check what everyone else is reading. And people love to make lists and share what they like.

So that brings me to number four, which is reviews and story summaries. Once a reader decides he wants to find a book, he may gather several titles that pique his interest. In deciding how to narrow his choices down, he looks first at the cover and then, the story blurb. What is the story about? Does it sound interesting?

I found Reality Check on a list and also under “if you like this, then you’ll like…”Reality Check

I am not a YA reader, but I will cross that line if the story sounds compelling. So a compelling story blurb is important if you want to appeal to readers. Three young adults leaving Earth for various reasons and starting out on a new world appealed to me. So I read the reviews, which for the most part were very positive.

A word on reviews…

I don’t think there’s a book in existence that hasn’t had at least one troll give it a poor review. Even the Bible probably has a review that criticizes the continuity of plot, or lack of depth to certain characters. People have opinions and some give opinions when in a poor frame of mind. That’s life.

However, I do read reviews and consider the comments…and so do a lot of people when making their selections. Time and money is too precious to waste on an awful book and reviews give guidance by people sharing their opinions on what they liked and didn’t like. Taste does vary, but a really good book, one worth reading, often has a majority of readers that like it. So good reviews are important.

The Snow QueenAnd last for this group, The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge. I read this long ago and really liked it. I’m now working on my next novel, Someone’s Clone that uses the viewpoint of a clone. So, I want to revisit this book because of the subject matter.

And that is my fifth reason for selection. Subject matter. If you like time travel, you gravitate towards that. If you like military scifi, that’s where you head. You may wander off course occasionally to try new pastures, but usually the reader will return to his favorite subject matter, and for me that usually means science fiction.

Here are my first five for 2014. I’ll read others, too, as they come along. Sampling the new and grabbing up classics I may have missed.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Stephen Lynch

Reality Check by Christopher Nuttall

The Human Division by Scalzi. Goodreads list

Time bound by Rysa Walker

Snow Queen Joan DeVinge

For something new with classic science fiction themes, you might take a look at my series and see if one catches your fancy. Check out the right hand panel and get the New Year off to a fun start.

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Selling Science Fiction

IMG_9518Officially, it’s the Christmas Holiday.

At one time I loved this holiday, but lately…not so much. I feel like I’m deluged by ads and retailers trying to get me to buy, buy, buy. Brown Thursday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday…aargh! My email boxes overfloweth.

What happened to good old fashioned holiday cheer? Or the true meaning of why we celebrate this holiday? The birth of Christ.

At one time having a birthday the day before Christmas felt exciting, but lately…also not so much.

Time sure flies.   2014 you say?

So, I decided to perk up the holiday and sign up for several holiday bazaars and book signings in order to increase book sales, and get in the spirit. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not a marketing guru…far from it, but for me person to person sales is the most fun and often the most effective way to sell. I can twitter and tweet like a bird all week long and it doesn’t impact sales.

I love exploring science fiction via my blog, but I’m not sure it sells that many books.

I am following the current advice to write another novel and today my proof is due, and my sixth book in the Alysian Series, Touching Crystal, will be published within a week.

But, book signings and holiday bazaars usually sell my books the best.

It’s the person to person thing.

Also, I’m hoping all the decorations and buzz will propel me into the holiday spirit. And maybe sell a few books at the same time. I’ll let you know.

A side note: Looks like the supposedly spectacular comet Ison fizzled out when it came too close to the sun.New Image of Comet ISON

But, that’s a good thing, right? Besides, there’ll be others sparking up our night sky. (Apophis is one that will threaten again in 2029.)

And hopefully, they’ll all go their own merry way, too.

Book Review: I’ve been talking about newer science fiction books recently, so I thought I’d mention a classic this time around. It seems odd to me with the deluge of new books out, I’m finding it hard to discover a really exciting new science fiction novel.

the man who folded himselfI had put The Man Who Folded Himself  by David Gerrold on my book list a while ago, and then my book club assigned it to read. It was nominated for both Hugo and Nebula. Also, Gerrold is known for his Star Trek episode of “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Recently, he has several other new books out.  Maximum Gerrold: Thoughts on Technology and the Future was a non fiction that looked interesting. Also, “The Martian Child” was made into a movie and won Hugo and Nebula.

Time travel is a theme I write about, (it’s also briefly in the new book coming out) so I eagerly looked forward to reading this selection.The Far Side of the Sky

David Gerrold takes time travel to the extreme, and if we actually had time travel, it might work that way. So, maybe it’s better we don’t. He postulates that every time his character goes back in time, he creates a new timeline. He compares it to painting over a painting. The character goes back in time and creates or “repaints” a whole new universe of events.

The Martian ChildNow, I get that, but soon Gerrold’s book is populated by iterations of the same man caused by his dancing in and out of time. A future him visits the current him while both travel to a younger version in the past. A constant party flows with versions of the protagonist that pop in and out at all stages of his life.Maximum Gerrold

While the book espouses several interesting concepts and moral questions concerning time travel, I soon was overwhelmed by the various characters of the same person and the inclusion of several sex scenes. At one point there are passionate sex scenes, not only with several male versions of the main character, but there crops up a female version from another timeline

And she has a whole spectrum of her time traveling self.

Still, it is a short and interesting read if you are a time travel enthusiast

Which I am.

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Current Science Concepts or Themes in Science Fiction

IMG_9503Have you noticed?

I have.

Certain current science concepts and themes are cropping up in best selling science fiction.

One theme sparked by current science discoveries is the search for new habitable planets. Thanks to the Kepler mission, scientists are now sorting through hundreds of possible candidates for a new Earth.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/18/us/planet-discovery/index.html

Interestingly, our scientists are sending robots first to investigate other worlds…just like the alien robot that crashed onto my world of Alysia.

Hmmm. Maybe it came from Earth?

Because that’s what we’re doing now on Mars.

Nanobots is also a current theme. I sent a link two blogs ago on remote control miniature robots. One of my favorite scenes in my forthcoming novel Touching Crystal (out in November 2013) concerns saving two hostages using remote controlled flying nanobots.

Lots of fun.

The Risen EmpireScott Westerfeld has a great scene in his Risen Empire that also does this, only he sends in a horde of nanobots and you don’t get to sit in the “cockpit” with  Richard Steele like my readers do in Touching Crystal.

Several recent novels by well known prolific writers touch on the theme of robots that are self-replicating and can reconfigure themselves into whole new forms as their environment changes.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/07/m_block_self_assembling_cube_robots_mit/

Self replicating nanobots are the source of possible world disaster in Larry Niven and Matthew Harrington’s new novel The Goliath Stone.

The Briareus mission took nano machinery out to divert an Earth crossing asteroid and bring it back to be mined, but things go wrong and nanobots go wild, creating a whole new entity that threatens Earth.The Golith Stone

Dr. Toby Glyer, is the genius behind the nanotechnology and uses it to effect miracle cures on Earth…long life, disease free humans with strong libidos. Now he must find his partner, William Connor, and stop the incoming danger.

While the concepts and technology of this novel were intriguing, the dialog and action bogged me down.

A lot of sitting around and guessing what game the elusive William Connor played.

New EarthWell known and prolific writer Ben Bova just came out with his newest in a series called New Earth. He uses both the theme of discovering habitable planets and medical nanotechnology that enables health and long life.

Of course, everything gets carried much farther than current technology.

Science fiction writers do that….Until eventually, it becomes reality.

Like Niven, he ascribes a dangerous element into his nanobots, but does not ban them from Earth like Bova does.

Maybe he should have.

In both, the current themes and science are interesting, but the writing could have been better and more engaging.

In Bova’s New Earth, a long term exploration ship is sent to an exciting new world that appears habitable for humans. While the eighty year trip to New Earth takes place, the passengers are put in a cryogenic sleep, unaware of a global warming crisis on Earth.

Here is another current theme much discussed nowadays…global warming.

In the story, global warming has caused Earth’s cities to be inundated and weather to shift. Economies are on the brink of disaster.

A global weather shift is also a theme I use in my forthcoming novel, Touching Crystal, but that event is caused by a destructive comet.

Several popular movies, Deep Impact and Armageddon  in 1998 portrayed how we might respond to an advancing asteroid or meteorite. Recent asteroid activity and the crash of a meteorite in Russia has reignited this theme. (See Feb. 2013 blog)

In the novel New Earth, the political leaders choose to abandon the expedition in order to attend to their own world crisis.

The expedition lands and discovers highly advanced friendly aliens that carry human DNA. The natives claim to have been born on the planet, which turns out to have a hollow metal shell. They deny having interstellar travel capability, but insist that they are human. Everyday technology is highly advanced, yet no cars, or manufacturing are visible. Nothing adds up.

The Earthlings are suspicious and the exploration team divides into several factions. The main character falls in love with one of the human appearing natives and trusts their leader’s offer of friendship. Other factions in the landing team mistrust the natives. They continually warn that the natives have ulterior and dangerous motives. The story sets up a nice conflict among the two groups as to who can be trusted and what motives drive both humans and aliens.

While parts of the story bog down a bit, Bova throws in a surprising twist towards the end, which keeps the reader flipping the page.

For me, what carried the story were the interesting dynamics of psychology: from the world leader abandoning the expedition for his own local concerns to the whole exploration of the human psyche and how various individuals reacted to first contact.

Humans can be a bit paranoid when confronted by new and unknown things…and aliens, well, who knows whether they can be helpful friends or world destroying enemies?

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Filed under Alien and human bonding, alien life forms, Alien worlds, Aliens in Science Fiction, artificial nature, Ben Bova, Best selling science fiction, Classic science fiction, Cutting Edge Science ideas, Disaster Fiction, Discovering new a Earth, first contact, gene modification, genetic manipulation, hard science, Hard science fiction, Mars, Medical science fiction, Microbots in science fiction, Robots in science fiction, Science Fiction book review, science fiction series, space travel, Uncategorized

Species Symbiosis: Pets in science fiction

IMG_0193Two new kittens tear across my feet, jump and land in a tussle of ferocious claws and fur, wrestling with each other. Tails flick, haunches wiggle and soon one is soaring through the air with a mighty pounce.Image 3

Nothing like two new cats  to distract my gaze from the wet, chill weather that has moved into the Northwest.

So, throughout history and even into fictional alien worlds has humanity attempted to bond with other species.

A treecat in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series springs to mind. A sense of communication and symbiosis wrapped around Honor’s neck much like a pelted scarf.OnBasiliskStation

Sky DragonsOr the dragons of Pern by Anne McCaffrey that humans imprint on the hatching grounds and forge a telecommunication link that can transcend even time.

Robin Hobb also carries out this theme of telepathic dragons in her own dragon series. The more recent ones being Blood of Dragons and City of Dragons. Also in her Farseer trilogy, the young boy hero bonds with a wolf.Royal Assassin

The Zero StoneAndre Norton’s The Zero Stone starts a series where the ship’s cat ingests a strange seedpod and evolves into an entity that names itself Eet and follows the hero as his companion into adventures.

Timothy Vaughn writes in Dragon and Thief about a dragon alien, named Draycos,  that blends onto the young hero’s back and legs, but can leap out into three dimensions to interact at need. Talk about getting a wild tat.Dragon and Thief

In the Liaden universe,  several family cats are cameoed and even a tree appears to communicate with the Delm of Korval, dropping magical seed pods whenever necessary.

John Scalzi’s hero, Jack Halloway,  battles to prove sentience in a small furry creature that he befriends in Fuzzy Nation.  Human and creature face off in a legal battle against the big business of  Zaracorp that has its own plans for their alien world.51CG59JWAeL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

If you’re searching for a story of alien and human bonding, here are just a few samples of species symbiosis in science fiction .

Do you have any favorites?

We humans form friendships and alliances with other species on our own Earth, so why not with aliens from other worlds? From dolphins to horses, cats to dogs, many other species have enriched our life and eased the drear of coming winter with adorable gamboling and warm, cuddly affection.Kittens copy

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Favorite Science Fiction

IMG_0174We all have our favorite science fiction novels…some I have already mentioned throughout the year, but the other day I saw the novel Slan listed and thought of a few others, not as well known, that are also favorites of mine.

Written in 1946 by A. E. Van Vogt, Slan is classic old science fiction that has endured through the ages. It was a favorite of my father’s who handed over the paperback for me to read.

The story revolves around a mutant class of humans that are smarter, faster and can read each other’s mind. They are being hunted down and killed by the Slancurrent brutal world dictator, Kier Gray.

Part of the story is told from the eyes of nine year old Jommy Cross who watches his parents murdered, and is forced to run and hide from those who would kill him for his “differences.” He hooks up with an old mean woman named, Granny, who proceeds to use his talents for criminal purposes.

All the while, he searches for others like him who are on Mars and threatening war with Earth and the “normals.”

A second point of view comes from Kathleen Layton, the ward of the world dictator Kier Gray. She is also a slan, on the inside of the politics and eventually she meets up with Jommy.

Coming out right after WWII, this is a story of man’s inhumanity to man, and fear of those different. Originally, the story was serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, so there is a pulp like feel to the writing.

And has a theme similar to the X-men.World of Null-A Kindle

Still, after all these years, I remember it as a favorite along with the World of Null-A and the Weapon Shops of Isher also by A. E. Van Vogt.

Another remembered favorite is local author, Ursula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven.

She received recognition for The Dispossessed and the Left Hand of Darkness, but it’s The Lathe of Heaven that I remember best.

Lathe of HeavenWritten in 1971, The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr who discovers that his dreams become reality. Disturbed by this, he puts himself into the hands of a psychotherapist who soon uses George to play God, changing the world and reality for his own purposes. When he urges George to dream of a world without racism, they both wake up to everyone the color of gray. Wishing for lower populations and less crowding, brings on an alien attack and war. Trying to make a better world, nothing turns out as he expects.

With seven Nebulas and five Hugos, Ursula Le Guin has made a name for herself in the science fiction community, and this little gem will wake you up in the middle of the night and make you think.

A third classic scifi I haven’t mentioned before is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The 1959 novella won a Hugo and in 1966 it expanded to novel size and  won a 1966 Nebula.Flowers for Algernon

Algernon is a mouse who becomes very smart through an experimental brain operation. Charley is a person who has a 68 I.Q. He volunteers to become the human experiment for a similar operation. As the mouse gets smarter, so does Charly. We see the changes in intelligence through his diary writing.

Once happy sweeping the floors, Charly’s intellect progresses with both good and bad results. He soon realizes laughter of his fellow beings wasn’t as good natured as he’d thought. However, soon his intellect surpasses even the scientist who monitors him and he is offering solutions for solving the energy problem and other world ills.

Then, the mouse begins to regress…and Charly fears for his own future.

A gripping and poignant tale of what might happen through man’s experimenting on improving intelligence, and it’s consequences.

Also made into a movie called “Charly,” starring John Travolta.

It won an Oscar.

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Cutting edge science in science fiction

IMG_0174I have now reached a timeline in my Alysian series where I have to peer into the future for what tech might be current in my stories.

This is fun.

At best, it’s a guess…but an informed guess, as I investigate a lot of the interesting science research going on currently.

Check out Ray Kurzweil’s newsletter for what scientists and researcher are now working on. http://www.kurzweilai.net

In my current novel, Touching Crystal, out in November, (fingers crossed),  I use micro robotics to enable a rescue of two kidnap victims that are being held on one of Alysia’s moons.

This was a fun scene to write. So, imagine my delight when last week the newsletter came out with an article on current research in this field.

http://bit.ly/17K5epK  Check it out.Microrobotics

There’s also been a lot of talk about discovering Earth-like planets with the recent Kepler Mission that wants to find “Goldilock” planets habitable for humans.

This was a theme in the most recent novel by Ben Bova called Farside.  I had not read much Ben Bova, and especially not recently, so this struck my fancy.

Ben Bova is a six time Hugo award winner, former editor of analog, editorial director of Omni and past president of Science Fiction Writers of America.

So, worth a mention.

How could I lose?

FarsideFarside is located on the side of the moon that never faces Earth and therefore is an ideal location for building an astronomical observatory. Telescopes on Earth have detected an Earth sized planet circling a star that is less than ten light years away…but is it habitable? Is there an atmosphere? Can it support life?

But building on Farside is a dangerous undertaking. An airless surface, constant bombardment by radiation, 270 degree temperatures, incoming micrometers…

And those are the easy challenges…

Competing jealousy, a chief researcher who is hell bent on winning a Nobel prize, tangled politics, love and murder all up the ante.

Someone lets loose dangerous nanomachines that used in the body can make one immortal and protect against radiation and disease, but if configured another way they eat through certain metal.

And on the moon that can be extremely dangerous.

Say murder.

I found this particular story one that I really wanted to enjoy. It had all the elements in it, but I had a hard time believing some of the characters or getting involved. I did find myself rooting for the plodding Grant Simpson, the construction engineer who does most of the work, but is considered just another “grunt” by those he serves.

I found it hard to believe the chief of research and leader of the project could be so obsessed with winning a Nobel prize that he was willing to jeopardize his project.

And I found the writer and editor in me trying to analyze the writing. Bova writes smoothly, describes adequately, but somehow the characters felt like they were being moved around on a game board that had an obvious ending.

Still, I do want to introduce Ben Bova because he is so prolific and has won numerous awards for his writing.

The Exiles TrilogyTwo other novels that got higher reviews were The Exiles Trilogy and Star Conquerors.Star Conquerors

I might give him another chance and read one of these…and report back. Anyone else out there have an opinion here?

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Does Science Fiction have a Gender Bias?

IMG_9503Is reader gender important in science fiction?

I’ve been led to believe that men and women read different types of stories.

In our writer’s group we have four women and two men. When we only had one male, the criticism was always…give more description and detail. What do the walls look like? What are they eating? Wearing? Facial features?

Then we added another guy.

Suddenly we were talking about action in the story!

Myths of the MirrorI put a lot of action in my stories, but our fantasy writer does eloquent description and engaging characters. Check out Myths of the Mirror by D. Peach. I have been learning a lot from her on how to paint details and characters into my story.

Now, suddenly, with another male voice in the mix, the comments have become…when are they going to DO something?

We don’t know what color his protagonist’s hair is, or if  eyes are blue or green…but Ted writes compelling military action stories.

Check out  http://www.perihelionsf.com/archives/blasche001.htm “To Dance With the Ladies from IO6” by Ted Blasche. When the women fussed at him, he said that he wants the reader to engage his own imagination to create the character…and plot and action drive his stories.

Both work.

Why am I blogging about this?

Because as a writer, I need to figure out my audience, and I’m not so sure science fiction is as male dominated as some might think. Or that women are all about pretty description and intense emotion in a story. I know I’m not. I like both.

I was brought up short when one of the female readers from my book group critiqued Rendezvous With Rama by commenting that she really liked how clean and straightforward the writing was. Several chimed in that David Weber just put in too much description.

Is such a thing possible?

I had thought Rendezvous With Rama dry and needing more description. I wanted to meet the aliens or have the ship on some dramatic mission, rather than have our solar system be just a fuel stop.Rendezvous with Rama

Plot, character and description is a three pronged stool and the writer needs to keep in mind the audience he, or she is aiming at while writing.

Thank goodness, science fiction is also malleable. It can be intellectual with lots of science like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, or laden with love and emotion like The Time Traveler’s Wife by Niffenger. It can be a mystery like Kathryn Rusch’s Retrieval series or military like Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

The fun is that you can write a variety of sub genres under the cloak of science fiction. Caught in Time is a basic time travel romance with a war thrown in for the guys. A Dangerous Talent for Time is more a quest story, almost young adult, as two main characters are in their late teens, early twenties. Then, Cosmic Entanglement has a murder mystery. Past the Event Horizon takes place on a starship and is very Star Trek with a space battle and emphasizes the science and physics of space . Space Song involves pieces of all elements: romance, military, mystery, science, young adult.space-song-cover-smashwords

So, today I’m wondering how to connect with my audience, and is there a gender bias there? Anyone know of any research along those lines?

Next week I’ll be in Nashville giving a talk on “Time Travel and all things science fiction,” and signing books. Also, a big wedding, and later, a hot card game with relatives. So, timing on when I get my blog out may be influenced by wild social activities. Fingers crossed.

Fair warning.

Next question is: Does science fiction have an age bias? What kind of science fiction is read by young, middle-aged and the mature audience? Is it different? Is there a preference that is determined by age? I know my twenty something daughter, who rarely reads science fiction, got caught up in The Hunger Games trilogy. Was it the plot or the characters? Maybe both.

And what group or subset is reading the most science fiction? Young kids? Old guys? Housewives?

Today, we ask questions of the universe. Tomorrow we seek answers.

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Best Selling Science Fiction: A Matter of Taste

IMG_0165Steam-punked!

I was wading through my list of ten novels that I proposed to read this year (see Jan/Feb blog) and pulled Ganymede off the pile. Cherie Priest is a local Seattle author whose novel Boneshaker was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula award (2012). She also won the Locus award for Best Science Fiction. (2011) A local author, an interesting cover, a strong recommendation on Amazon…

I was willing to try it, and put it on my list.

Although currently living in the Northwest, I have lived a large part of my life in the South, so when the story started with a New Orleans madam, I was intrigued. Fairly quickly, I realized that this is the sequel to Boneshaker and that is when doubt began to creep in. Steampunk! It’s the hottest genre around here, but I’m old fashioned. Give me a ship, stars and an alien and I’m happy.Ganymede copy

Still, I read on… until the zombies showed up. Zombies are not science fiction in my world, and I put the book down. Apologies to Cherie Priest who I can guarantee has sold many more books than I have, but…zombies are another matter, and not science fiction by my definition.

So I picked up In the Company of Others by Julie Czerneda. And barely put it down until I reached the end of the 564 pages in the novel.

Loved it!

In the Company of OthersHumanity has reached out and not found any intelligent alien lifeforms. So, Earth begins terraforming worlds for millions of eager explorers. One low-level fungal plantlike form  has been found, the Quill, an iridescent strand of matter that wraps around a human wrist, bringing a pleasant feeling and comfort, until for some unknown reason it mutates and turns deadly.

And spreads rapidly throughout the worlds.

Any humans landing on terraformed worlds are killed violently and mysteriously. All the new worlds are banned.

Earth closes down in quarantine, leaving eager immigrants and stationers stranded on various space stations. Frantic ships who Earth turns away are forced through desperation to impale themselves onto the outer ring of stations. Most stations are destroyed through riots and diminishing resources. Only a few survive.

Humanity chokes and stagnates.

Dr. Gail Smith, brilliant scientist, hopes to wipe out the Quill. After intensive study, she finds clues that suggest one human, Aaron Pardell, may have survived the Quill and provide the key to understanding and destroying them. Her search leads her to Thromberg Station.

Chapter one starts with a bar scene and resulting riot in Sammie’s Tavern when the “Earther” woman  enters looking for Aaron Pardell.

Aaron now lives by himself on Thromberg station, a found child, raised as an “Outsider” in his now dead father’s ship, the Merry Mate II that is welded to the station’s outer ring. Stationer, Immie (immigrant) and Outsider (ships attached to the ring) all jockey back and forth through several riots and uprisings trying to survive the intense crowding and limited resources. Aaron is accepted by a small group from Outward Five even though touching him brings on intense pain for both Aaron and whoever touches him. He is an odd young man with gloved hands and strange sensitivities. His large, muscular best friend, Hugh Malley, protects him as well as he can since they both were orphaned early and rely on each other to survive.

The book bubbles with plots of station politics, of intrigue by the University that funds Gail’s project, with the military who guards her and with her own secret plan to search for the answer that will clear out the Quill and open the stars for humanity. Within all these plots are stories of both stressed and tender relationships that show the lengths that humanity will go for each other as each dreams of a better future. And a story of a fascinating alien lifeform that functions unlike any human alive, and so is very misunderstood and difficult to figure out.

A great read. True science fiction detail and world building with complex human emotion.

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