Category Archives: environmental issues in science fiction

Steampunk: Yes and No.

IMG_9518One of the more popular genres, particularly here in the Northwest is Steampunk. This is a growing sub genre of science fiction that is getting a lot of attention. What actually is it? That’s subject for hot debate.

See this link for an idea:

One of our own Northwestern writers is Mary Robinette Kowal whose series Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass and now her new novel, Without a Summer are considered in the Steampunk genre because of its Victorian flavor and scifi story.

Glamour in Glass

One of the main criteria for Steampunk is the Retro or Neo Victorian period of the novel. Usually there are factors of steam, (hence steam punk) or gears and levers in the technology. Many times dirigibles are used as travel and rebellion (hence punk) or a “grand adventure” is the plot.

The heroine or hero often is portrayed with leather helmet and round metallic glasses. Alternate history or time travel is used to arrive at the Victorian styled culture.

But what criteria makes a Steampunk novel is still being hotly debated.

AngelmakerEnter the novel Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway that I put on my list of to reads. An awesome cover with an intriguing title and the possibility of Steampunk drew me in. The writing started out rich and delicious. Joe Spork is a clockmaker in a Victorian styled world. He is happy fixing clocks in his lab tucked away in the city.

His father, Mathew Spork or “Tommy Gun,” now dead, was a notorious gangster and bits and pieces of the gang still linger about. One involves him in delivering an odd book that turns out to be a part of a doomsday device.

Also in the story is a retired international spy agent and spinster, Edie Banister.

The entire story is told in the third person present, which makes it sound like a manuscript for a screen play, i.e. “Joe Spork walks into the room and gazes about…”

Wore me out.

The initial dive into the novel was exhilarating, a quarter of a way through, I was  exhausted and put it down. The rich descriptions bogged down and the action struggled along. It had a cloud of Victorian haze over the story and I wasn’t sure what was going on…neither was Joe Spork.

If you are a Steampunk enthusiast, you may fair better. I was disappointed.

shipbreakerShip Breaker by Hugo and Nebula award winner Paolo Bacigalupi also skirts the boundaries of Steampunk. Often in Steampunk you find orphaned children and rebellion against the establishment. However, like his other novel, The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi also makes a strong comment on the environment. In this future, the seas have risen and drowned the coastal cities. Climate change has spawned “city killer” hurricanes.

The protagonist is Nailer, a teenage boy, who scavenges for copper amid the hulks of beached oil tankers. He struggles to meet his gang’s quota so that he can survive one more day. Off in the distance, he watches the clipper ships that use large high atmosphere balloons to pull them along at incredible speeds, and wishes that he could sail on them rather than scrounge in tight oily corridors of dead tankers.

One day he is reaching for a line of copper and falls into an oil pool and almost drowns. A teammate sees him, but abandons him, hoping to gather his “Lucky strike” for herself. This sets up the theme of loyalty in the face of adversity versus everyone for himself, let everyone else fall.

After a “killer hurricane” rips through the area, Nailer and his friend Pima comes across one of the beautiful clipper ships wrecked on coral from the storm. Excited at the rich find, Nailer also discovers a beautiful young daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate who is running from her father’s enemies and is badly hurt and trapped in the sailing ship. Nailer has to decide whether to let the daughter die and strip the ship of its luxuries, or save the “swank” girl and give up the claim to her as the rightful owner.

And even if he does that, he has to figure out how to keep it a secret from his drug addicted and brutal father who is definitely out for everything and anything he can get for himself.

Unbeknownst to him, there’s also an internal struggle within the powerful shipping company, and an assassin is out to kill or capture the young girl to protect other interests in the company.

ShipBreaker is a page turner and has several serious themes running through it.

Where it falls short is under the Young Adult category, so that while it has some violent action and important comments to make, you come away with the strong YA flavor to the novel.

Still, I couldn’t put it down.


Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, artificial nature, Best selling science fiction, environmental issues in science fiction, science fiction, Steampunk, YA science ficiton

Thrilling Hard Science Fiction

IMG_0174When is putting a lot of science in science fiction too much?

Well, it depends on the reader.

I picked Gravity by Tess Gerritsen to read in 2013 because it dealt with a crisis on a space station and that’s what I’m currently writing about. I wanted an author who was unknown to me and maybe to my readers, so that they might discover a new favorite author and find a hidden science fiction gem unfamiliar to them. Also, Tess did a lot of research with NASA and once had a successful practice as an internist before leaving to write and raise children–so she had the medical credentials for this story.  Finally, the reviews said that it was “a page turner.” I always look at the lists of suggested novels and read through the reviews to see other reader’s comments.

And I wanted to read a hard science fiction page turner by an author I didn’t know.

If you liked Michael Crichton, specifically The Andromeda Strain, then you will like this one.Gravity

The story: Dr. Emma Watson has been training to study living beings in space. When she is substituted unexpectedly for an astronaut on board the space station , she encounters a single cell organism that begins to regenerate out of control in the Space lab–with catastrophic results.

Emma struggles to contain the deadly virus, working with her estranged husband, Jack McCallum, who is back on Earth at NASA desperately trying to bring her home so that he can save her.

But the strange organism becomes too dangerous, and the contagion threatens Earth’s populace, so NASA refuses to return anyone from the space station. Emma races against time to find a cure while one by one all on board start to die, and Jack fights the forces of a frightened government well beyond the power of NASA.

This is a near future story that contains very believable science and lives up to its page turner reputation. The relationship between Emma and her estranged husband brings a human emotional element into the story along with the action and science. The clock is ticking and the spread of the virus could contaminate the entire world. As accident and mishap, coincidence and ignorance, blend together to fuel a crisis, readers who like science fiction thrillers will enjoy this.

So how near a future is this? We already have the International Space Station, but I discovered an interesting article that suggests that NASA is looking to place a hovering moon base in the near future. I thought my blog readers might be interested. If we do this, it means that after forty years, we will be exploring the moon again and possibly using it as a jump off place to go other places…Mars…Titan…

Colin Firth

And finally, I ran across this through a LinkedIn blog, and since I’m a fan of Colin Firth, I just had to pass it along. It’s how I feel about certain stories too.

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Filed under alien life forms, Cutting Edge Science ideas, Disaster Fiction, environmental issues in science fiction, gene modification, genetic manipulation, hard science, Hard science fiction, Medical science fiction, science fiction science, Science fiction thriller

Digging Deep

With the increasing wealth of ebooks, I have been thinking that we need several places that focus on a specific genre where self-published authors or small publishing houses with good stories can be found. Several are popping up on the web already. SF Signal is one that comes to mind. I want to be another.

Amazon does a great job, but the new writer or struggling self-published author gets lost in the algorithms that favor the traditional best sellers or the one day marketing wonders. Often these aren’t determined by the quality of the book, either. It’s hard to sell if you’re not on the best selling list and you can’t get on the list if you aren’t selling a lot. Rather a chicken and egg thing.

In addition, there are a lot of good science fiction eBooks out there that can’t be found on bookstore shelves or in libraries. So I want to occasionally highlight a new ebook author in the field of science fiction or fantasy. Bear in mind that I am writing my own series and reading new offerings from traditional publishers also, so this will be a carefully selected occasional thing in order to maintain my sanity.

But first, I want to give you a link to an amazing site that shows two timelines, one with books that have a science fiction concept (i.e. cloning) and then shows on the right time scale the reality of that idea. Fascinating. Take a look.

Having said all that, I want to introduce an ex-Seattle author and occasional Orycon panelist, Stoney Compton. Stoney has published with Baen books in the past, but has recently written an ebook “Level Six”, which sounded very intriguing to me. Plus it had an amazing cover. Check out his other offerings at Amazon.

He also claims to be a friend of Eric Flint. Awesome.

Level Six by Stoney Compton

There are certain books that I particularly like. One is the story of an interesting alien culture and how humans interact with them. Level Six is such a book,

In Level Six, humans have spread out across the stars and the Coalition ship Magellan has come to the alien planet Kiana to study the current inhabitants and investigate their potential. The inhabitants appear willing enough to let the humans onto their planet, even to the extent that the humans establish a government, drive their machines all over, dig in the ground and spread their ideas and culture to the Kians.

The native Kian inhabitants are human enough, but there are differences. One is that they are covered with a pelt of short fur with unusual tattoos all over it. Otherwise, they have the usual human form, can speak and communicate and have a developed culture. They worship the goddess Ki and are amazingly docile, but intelligent. Their culture appears primitive and simple. There are no signs of an advanced civilization that contains weapons, powered vehicles or modern technology. As the story develops, it becomes apparent that they are hiding deep secrets concerning their origins, alien nature and past.

The story contains a variety of characters. From the human Danny Gordon who falls in love with a native Kian, to the arrogant ship’s captain who calls them “monkeys,” an intricate tapestry of relationships develops, both on board the starship Magellan and on planet.

Stoker Payne heads up that part of the human exploration team that tries to unearth the secrets of the past through archeology. He finds nothing until he reaches level six, and there a startling find holds the key to the history and unique powers of the Kian people.

Stoker Payne becomes romantically involved with  Melanie Frasier, an astronomer, who is  on board the Magellan. She gets kicked down to the planet’s observatory by a bad ass boss. While looking through the telescope there, she discovers an incoming comet. It turns out that every  eight hundred years, an unusual comet sweeps in and alters the planet and the people…now it’s eight hundred years later and it’s coming back.

For me the story began slow as it established the various characters, human and alien, and initiating actions. As I read, things heated up and I couldn’t put the reader down. The story line is exciting, the characters well developed and the action builds to a climactic end.

If you like science fiction, interesting alien cultures and exciting apocalyptic events…then this one’s for you.

p.s. Don’t forget to check out my new book in the Alysian Series, Cosmic Entanglement. (see right panel) Available as ebook and paperback at Amazon. You met Richard Steele as the TimeMaster in the first two books, now here’s his childhood and how he came to run the Timelab. Plus, you meet his brother Braden who also makes his own mark.

Because I joined the Kindle Select program, tomorrow and Sunday, Cosmic Entanglements is offered free. If you are a Prime Member with a Kindle, it’s offered free for 90 days from March 1. So snap it up now!

Next week for sure: 

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Filed under alien life forms, ebook science fiction, environmental issues in science fiction, first contact, gene modification, Indie Science Fiction Authors, science fiction, space ship, space travel

Fuzzy Feelings

Sometimes I think that there are just certain ideas floating around in the ambience that come in waves, waiting for an author, movie producer or song writer to pick them up. Suddenly you have a flurry of stories about dragons, young magicians or vampires. For some writers and singers, the idea blossoms to become a best seller or hit parade song, while for others the idea withers on the vine because of various reasons. Timing, other commitments, distractions, competition.

Not that long ago it was endangered species and the environment. You do remember global warming, don’t you? The movie “Avatar?” Al Gore? The world coming to an end because of automobiles and clear cutting?

It was a hot topic.

“Fuzzy Nation” by John Scalzi uses this theme and, like the movie “Avatar”, the bad guys, Zaracorp, are mining the planet Zarathustra and destroying the ecology. But, Zaracorp’s entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet is based on being able to certify to authorities on Earth that the planet is not home to a sentient species.

Meet Jack Halloway, disbarred lawyer, smart ass surveyor and greedy prospector. Into his life drops, or should I say, sneaks through the dog door of his tree house, an adorable catlike furry creature that begins to show alarming traces of sentience.

Scalzi weaves a fun story around the situation, leaning heavily on legal legerdemain and witty banter. Interaction between Jack and his ex girlfriend, and her new corporate lawyer boyfriend, provides great dialog and interesting character development.

The story becomes more than the message and is filled with legal twists and turns. I thought it a fun light read. As usual, Scalzi puts his characters into situations where the best and worse of human nature rises humorously to the top.

So what is the current trending topic? Vampires are getting long in the tooth, and well, dragons are dragging. The web, gaming, and A1 intelligence looks promising. Going with this idea, I have in hand for next week “Ready, Player One.” By Ernest Cline.


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Filed under award winning scifi, environmental issues in science fiction, science fiction