Category Archives: Science fiction

Alex Carver: Gangsters in Space

Casimir (Cas) Dragunov’s big brother Nikolai is in trouble. Again. Nikolai was the reason Cas joined the Armed Forces of the Federation Planets (AFFP) in the first place, but after being court martialed and dishonorably discharged, he went from trouble to trouble, always relying on Cas to bail him out. This time, it’s different. When Cas arrives on Dormero Station to pay off Nikolai’s debts to crime boss Valen Massio, his brother is dead and Massio wants payment in the form of work, starting with the delivery of a mysterious package. Cas has little choice but to take the job, but he’s pursued by Massio’s rival, who also wants the package. Taking ownership of his brother’s decrepit spaceship and unexpectedly helped by a fellow soldier, Cas dodges and battles gangsters as well as security forces in a race to make the delivery, knowing that his military career, if not his life, is over.

Although it’s pretty straightforward, I really enjoyed this story. Carver doesn’t throw us too many curves, but he does throw a few good ones. Also, this is the first novel of a planned series. The author has introduced us to his world and his characters, and invites us to follow their further adventures. The questions left open at the end of An Unwanted Inheritance are no doubt springboards to those adventures. So while a richer story would have been possible, this isn’t a bad start, with solid characters and enough action to pull the reader through. I’ll give it 4 stars for story.

While the writing is a bit rough around the edges, it’s not bad. I noticed a number of sentences I would consider run-ons, but I’ve seen the same thing from other British indie authors. It’s less common from my fellow American authors. Maybe that kind of structure is in vogue on the other side of the Atlantic? Either way, the book is readable enough, so I wouldn’t downgrade the writing too seriously. Let’s call it 3.5 stars, with 4 stars for the overall rating. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

 I recently asked Alex Carver about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:

Cas Dragunov is an honorable man who finds himself in a situation where honor is hard to maintain. He insists he’s not a criminal but realizes that he’s become one in order to pay his deceased brother’s ill-gotten debts. Is his decision motivated by his sense of honor–a debt is a debt, no matter how it arose–or by his adversary’s long reach–there would be no place to run?

I think Cas is in an impossible situation. If he thought he could get himself beyond the reach of Valen Massio I suspect he would, but even if he did I think he would make arrangements to pay off his brother’s debt, just without breaking the law.

The first book in a series. Have you started the second volume yet? Can you give us any clues regarding the further adventures of Cas and his “crew”?

I have started book 2. It is about 75% done on paper. Some other projects have claimed my attention for the time being, but I hope to have book 2 done by early next year. In it Cas tries to find a solution for the problem of Ettie [a child he rescues en route to delivering Valen Massio’s package], while dealing with some of the problems arising from book 1.

In future books I hope to increase the crew by a couple, including a female–tentatively I am thinking of having the medic Cas met briefly in book 1 come aboard for some reason, but I don’t know the reason yet–and having Cas and crew try to find ways of earning money that are legal.

You’ve written a number of other books, including your Inspector Stone mysteries. How many of those preceded An Unwanted Inheritance?

An Unwanted Inheritance is my fifth released book, I released the first three books in the Inspector Stone Mysteries and Written In Blood ahead of it, plus a short story.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I am working on a sequel to my thriller, Written In Blood, which I hope to release in July. Together the books form the duology, Murder In Oakhurst, and may lead to a mystery/thriller series set in the countryside.

What advice to you have for readers or writers?

About the only advice I feel confident to give is, if you’re sure there is something you can’t do for yourself (I suck at making covers, and I know I do) pay someone to do it for you. If you want to be successful, you have to know your limitations, and not let your pride get in the way of asking for success.

Where can readers find you?

On Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

John Vassar: Cosmic Intrigue

Another review in my indie author series. I’m dropping the opening blurb henceforth. You’ve read it enough!


Once ravaged by famine, civilization has been rebuilt, partly on a decimated Earth but largely in massive orbiting colonies. United under a single Supreme Council and guided by the recommendations of a collection of machines known as SenANNs (sentient artificial neural networks), the human race at long last isn’t too bad off. But trouble is brewing beneath the surface. The security agency known as Delere Secos appears to have been breached. Two agents have perished under inexplicable circumstances, and now ex-agent Lee Mitchell, forced into retirement years earlier when he appeared to be showing signs of telepathic power, is brought back by the DS director to investigate under a cloak of utmost secrecy. In spite of skills grown rusty with disuse, Mitchell sets out to trace the tenuous leads and begins to unravel the enigma. Dogged by a more skilled agent who doesn’t trust him and connected directly to the SenANNs via an implant, Mitchell is drawn inexorably into a chilling plot concocted by the richest, most brilliant, and most reclusive man alive only to discover that even he is just a player in an intrigue crossing space and time.

Provider Prime: Alien Legacy is an intense, hard-hitting SF novel filled with twists and turns that don’t stop until the very last page. The pacing is about perfect, with the stakes constantly rising. Just when you it think it can’t possibly get any worse, it does, right through the denouement–if it can be called that. The characters are well-drawn and complex, too. The ending put me in mind of another SF novel I read a long, long time ago: Colossus by D. F. Jones.

The writing is solid throughout, although I did find the opening a bit confusing because of the unfamiliar and unexplained terminology being thrown around. If you can get through that, though, the explanations will fall naturally out of the story, and you’ll grow comfortable with it before long. Vassar’s handling of the action is better than his handling of emotional scenes, but there are no significant stumbling blocks. He gets the job done.

A word of warning is in order: some of the material is brutal, involving both physical and psychological torture. It’s not excessively graphic, but Vassar doesn’t pull his punches. Some readers may find certain scenes very disturbing. Nevertheless, the story rates 5 stars and the writing falls on the high side of 4, so I’ll be generous and give this one a 5 overall.

 I recently asked John Vassar about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:

The world of Provider Prime and the background for the story are complex. How long did it take you to build this world, and how did you go about it?

First of all, thanks so much for the interview invitation and for taking the time and trouble to review – both very much appreciated. As for creating the world behind Provider Prime, what a good question! I have a vivid imagination and a strong aesthetic sense (my mother and father were both art teachers) which is sometimes at odds with my scientific and engineering-centred education. I decided from the outset that although I wanted Earth in 2203 in my mind’s eye to be visually stunning, it also had to be scientifically feasible. How long did that take? As long as it took to write the book is the truthful answer, because I was still tinkering with the backdrop until the very last word. Even then it carried on throughout the editing process. For instance, I remember making precise calculations based around the global population figures after the Great Famine and working out if the Orbtown Programme (orbital cities) was actually a viable proposition. Luckily for me, it was!

Your choice of the word “complex” is appropriate. In some ways, the technology of 2203 is almost too advanced, the Orbtowns being a good example. Yet, in other areas Earth is still quite “backward.” Still no faster-than- light starships for instance, a common trope in 23rd-century science fiction. The conclusion of the story goes some way, I hope, to explaining those contradictions. As for the alien elements in Provider Prime, I make no excuse for including those. I have no doubt that we are not alone in the universe. To my mind the statistics make it a virtual certainty. What I did try to avoid is the “cardboard cut-out bad guy” approach and to give some depth to the characters on both sides of the confrontation. Maybe that’s my background in acting coming to the fore – looking for genuine motivation. I tried to make each character’s actions truthful.

In terms of how we see Future Earth in the novel, I simply let that unravel during the narrative. It’s mainly from the protagonist Lee Mitchell’s point of view, and I avoided “information dumps” where possible. The disadvantage of that approach is that the terminology, acronyms and jargon are left unexplained for the most part. I’m working on adding the “X-Ray” facility to the Kindle version to help with this! Overall, though, I’m fairly happy with my vision of 2203. It’s neither Dystopian or Utopian. It functions well on most levels and crime is at an all-time low, but as with any society throughout history there are hidden undercurrents.

In the story, the SenANNs undergo a sort of character growth of their own. Do you see them as actually evolving through the story, or are they merely becoming more adept at communicating with humans?

They are very different beings at the end of the story. Their collective intelligence as such has not suddenly increased, but their understanding of the biological mind and its sometimes irrational thought processes has grown immensely. The SenANNs (Sentient Artificial Neural Networks) have always understood that they needed some sort of symbiosis to reach the next level of their evolution. Actually, that transition was not easy to write because as you point out, throughout the book they are learning the nuances of language that we take for granted. I did use that aspect of the SenANNs’ development to introduce a little wry humour here and there.

Had you written anything before Provider Prime?

Yes, but luckily for everyone it will remain unpublished! I wrote a full length SF novel way back in the nineties. I used an Amstrad PCW8256 and floppy discs by the dozen. It did serve one useful purpose though – even though it was so dated in terms of technology it was almost laughable, I did not want to lose it altogether. As I re-typed it into Word from the manuscript I had printed off before Lord Sugar’s masterpiece finally gave up the ghost, I was inspired to write another novel. Provider Prime: Alien Legacy was the result!

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m laying out the straw man for the sequel to Provider Prime, which I’m hoping will hit the bookshelves later this year. This will be the second volume in the Alien Legacy trilogy. I’m also working on a series of short stories, the first of which (The Blue Page) is currently being submitted to the online SF magazines. The aim here is to eventually have enough for a stand-alone collection.

What advice to you have for readers or writers?

For readers, I think it’s healthy to step outside the box once in a while and take a chance on something that isn’t in your usual genre. Whenever I’ve done this it has given me new perspectives on my own writing and only occasionally have my preconceptions been accurate.

For writers – where do you start? With the eBook and online publishing revolution there are more opportunities now for new authors but exponentially more competition and a million ways to get ripped off. In the year since I first put Provider Prime on Amazon I’ve realized that there is a whole sub-industry out there geared to making money from indie authors – so please do your research before parting with any hard-earned cash. I think in the end success will depend on your levels of persistence and belief. Don’t give up.

Where can readers find you?

On my websiteFacebookTwitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. Provider Prime: Alien Legacy is available exclusively on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.uk (including Kindle Unlimited).

D. J. Cooper: Bite Size Chunks of Science Fiction

Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.


Scattered throughout the void, a collection of stations provide services to travelers and host meetings between wealthy executives who wish to avoid scrutiny of their business dealings. Si-Cross Four is one such station, but it’s hardly the place to be. “We were halfway between bigger and better places,” Detective Trackneathan comments. “Bigger to the left, and better to the right!” Track, as everyone calls him, is basically a good cop with a bad mouth. His attitude gets him into trouble time and again, and now he’s been suspended for simply doing his job: in self-defense, he’s shattered a criminal’s jaw, and Authority Four, the local security team, has to pony up for a mechanical replacement. They don’t like that.

Prosthetics are a way of life on Si-Cross Four. Following a biological disaster (referred to as an “outbreak”) some years back, many of its denizens now have mechanical limbs, and thanks to a shortage of funds and materials, many of those limbs are balky. Track’s own knee gives him incessant problems, so he knows what it’s like. Survivors of the original outbreak, gray-skinned and often missing more than one limb, are stigmatized as “Remnants.” Everyone is terrified of a new outbreak, so when a woman drops dead at Track’s door, that’s the first thing they think of. But Track isn’t so sure. Funny things have been going on lately. Remnants are vanishing, he’s being followed, his apartment is being broken into, investigations have been shut down, and he’s bombarded by strange messages that could only have been sent by his dead husband–messages that nobody else sees or hears. Are the decontamination drugs Track is required to take messing with his perception? Is he loosing his mind? Or is something sinister truly afoot? Suspension isn’t going to stop him from getting to the bottom of it. The truth turns out to be far more twisted than he could ever have imagined.

Missing Remnants was written for and is available on Radish, a mobile app that allows downloads to Android and iOS devices. It is not currently available through any other venue. Cooper wrote a couple of previous works that did not find publication, and this one is technically not published yet. She plans to revise and edit it further and either publish it through a traditional publisher or, failing that, go the indie route.

In reviewing it, I’m therefore treating it as an advance review copy (ARC) in which editing is not complete. From that standpoint, I can’t find much at all to pick on. The story is solid, the characters are well-drawn, and the pacing is about perfect. It’s a page-turner for sure. If anything is wrong, it might only be that the world of Si-Cross Four isn’t explored in quite enough detail. This is a short novel, around 47,000 words, partly because of the requirements imposed on authors by Radish. There is room for a lot more. And yet, I hardly noticed this omission while reading. It was only afterward that I started wondering about the nature of these outbreaks, the place of Si-Cross Four in the larger conglomeration of stations, and similar questions. So I don’t feel it’s worth dinging the work much on that account. I’d rate both story and writing on the high side of 4.5 stars, which means a 5 for all intents and purposes. With editing and maybe a bit of expansion, the final product could well be a 5. Great job!

I recently asked D. J. Cooper about the novel and her writing. Here’s what she said:

Detective Trackneathan (Track) seems a bundle of contradictions. He has a volatile exterior that gets him into trouble, yet he fawns over his robotic dog and spends his off-hours fixing disadvantaged people’s artificial limbs. He’s an experienced detective who seems to have the grudging respect of his superiors, yet he often portrays himself in this first-person narrative as a bumbling idiot. How do you see him?

That’s accurate! Track is good at his job but he has a history of cutting corners. The world he inhabits likes things to be done in a certain way, almost to the detriment of the end result. Track likes to find a shortcut. He’s grieving, he’s trying to pretend he’s okay, occasionally he loses his temper and lashes out in situations where tact might be the better option. He’s also carrying a long term injury to his right knee. He’s dealing with physical pain, grief and survivor guilt and sometimes just doesn’t rate himself highly.

I suspect there is a lot more to this world than you’ve told us. Track works for Si-Cross Four Authority, and other Authorities are mentioned. Can you tell us what these other Authorities are and how they are interconnected?

Somewhere in a wide universe, I see a system of space stations used almost like motorway service stations. Each station has a number. In this case, we’re on Si-Cross Four. The security team on the station has the corresponding title Authority Four. I worked in IT for a few years. Each cluster of buildings in London had its own IT department. It made sense for me to assume a similar premise for space stations! They are meeting places where ships can refuel and be repaired, and where executives who want to do deals face to face can avoid their every word being recorded. The word “Authority” is somewhat misleading. They keep the peace on their station and investigate crimes, but they have no say in anything outside of their microcosm. The wider system is overseen by a group no one sees. The people on Si-Cross Four are just there to keep their mouths shut and get on with their jobs.

I understand that Missing Remnants isn’t actually published yet. What plans do you have for it?

Like everything I write, I’ll sit on it for while and iron out more kinks. If I fail to find a traditional publisher for it, I’ll buy a cover and do what I did with my first two books: publish ebooks on most of the platforms and paperbacks wherever I can. It is becoming increasingly obvious that I do not have the time in the day to put in all the hours required as an indie author to find promo outlets which work without pushing myself into debt! Missing Remnants is currently only available to read on the Radish Fiction app for iOS and Android. The app is free and you can read the first three chapters of any book for free. Some books are totally free. Other books have a micropayment attached to chapter four onward.

I wish you all the best with that. It’s a wonderful story, so I hope you can find a publisher. In the meantime, what else are you writing?

I started serialising Iridessian Haunts when Radish asked for Halloween stories back in September. It was never featured in any of their collections but I’ve started, so I’ll finish. A team has landed on planet Iridessia. They are there to ascertain its viability for colonisation. Everything seems fine except for some big cats out by the third waterhole. Kanner and Nix are investigating a cave system near their temporary settlement. While they’re in there marveling at the pumpkin-like plants able to grow in a cave (I even mentioned pumpkins!), they see shadowy figures and eventually are possessed by an entity they have not encountered before on any planet. Essentially, Iridessia has everything, water, breathable air, land, ghosts.

When I can think of something interesting to say, I am also writing for Medium.com. Writers can be paid if paying members “clap” their articles and stories. If there is something I need more than time, it’s money.

What advice do you have for writers or readers?

For readers: Jump in and try an indie author. You can read a sample online or download one before having to part with any money. Some indie authors are quite good! If you happened to like what you read, we live for honest reviews. Also if the book was free, the author gets nothing, no royalties, zilch. I’ve heard people say downloading a free book is the same as getting a book out at the library. In the UK we have public lending rights, where libraries pay authors if their books are borrowed. It might not be much, but it is better than nothing. [Dale adds: In the U.S., libraries buy books, and authors get paid for those purchases.]

For writers: Don’t get to the end of writing the book and think you’ve finished. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to pay an editor. At the very least download a free grammar checker for your word processor. Do not hit publish until you know your sentences make sense! If you can get someone to read it for you who won’t automatically agree with everything you write, even better. Nothing should read as if it’s been badly translated from a foreign language. Not that I’m an expert, but I have been known to make sense on occasion. Even then you haven’t finished; you won’t sell anything unless people know about you.

Where can readers find you?

On my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, SmashwordsAmazon, Radish, and Medium.