Category Archives: Science fiction

Progress!

See the right sidebar? Those are my new covers for the first three Howard County Mysteries. The new editions, published by Red Tales, are now on sale all over the place. You should be able to find them at your favorite online store. Brick-and-mortar stores can order them for you, too. If you don’t mind the original covers, you can still get them at clearance prices at Serpent Cliff.

So that’s one big job for 2019 crossed of my list. Next up: Space Operatic! If you’ve been following me, you’ll have heard me mention it here and there. We’re starting the book design now. The novel will be released sometime later this year (release date to be determined). To whet your appetite, here’s a possible blurb for the back cover:

Curse be damned!

Roberto Maccarone has taken his company, Space Operatic, to the fringes of the solar system in pursuit of artistic acclaim. But in the cold dark of the Oort Territories where the culture scene is lower than that found in most petri dishes, Lady Luck plays hard-to-get. Maccarone’s theater blows up, a power-mad businessman tricks him into spying on a gang of malcontent miners, and a horde of ruthless mercenaries descend, guns blazing. Really, now, how hard can it be to stage a performance?

Some say a curse has followed the company ever since that incident on Titan, but Maccarone will never lose faith, especially since he’s discovered that the most fabulous theater in the solar system lies just next door, cosmically speaking. If only he could play that theater, Maccarone’s success would be assured! But the keys are held in the icy grip of the local Culture Minister, and nothing–not Maccarone, not obscene amounts of money, not even that guy who juggles flaming kabobs while singing an ancient song about how great America was–can pry them loose. Will it be fame for Maccarone and his troupe? Or unemployment in Beelzebub’s outhouse?

Let me know what you think!


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).