Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds

In perhaps a moment of foolishness, I’ve officially signed up to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year – which is where I’ve set a goal (along with many, many others) to write a novel in a month. More specifically, 50,000 words. My books so far have been just over 70,000 words – so, assuming I succeed and hit that 50,000 word mark, what I write will be a good first draft. Or, another way to look at it, the clay to mould a book out of.

What I’ll be writing is: Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds, the third instalment in my Settler Chronicles series (this is book 1, book 2 has a couple more drafts to go).

Currently (and I reserve the right to change things as I go) Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds is a horror/romance mash-up with plenty of action planned with references to Alice in Wonderland.

This morning I started (my outline was pre-written), and now I’m almost 2000 words in. I’m curious how my productivity will go and how my planned story will morph.

And, I’ve signed up with an author friend (you can find her stuff here)

Sadly, words written for my blog don’t count.

a sneak peak of Day 115 on an Alien World

The writing and editing is done, my first novel almost ready to share! Right now, I hope to be publishing in October. It’s a stand alone story, but will be the first of a series about a new colony on a far off planet I’m calling Settler Chronicles.

Here’s the description for Day 115 on an Alien World:


This morning Gary Holbrook watched his wife die.

When he signed up for a brand-new colony on a desolate planet, there was a catch – the mission was for married couples only. Without a suitable spouse, he reluctantly married a woman he’d never met: Margo Murphy, a grubby entomologist who liked butterflies.

Starting with a crash landing upon arrival, everything had gone wrong. Accident after accident had robbed them of colonists, and their desperately needed skills, while damaged and broken equipment had stalled their efforts to make a viable colony. It just seemed bad luck.

But then Gary reads Margo’s journal, and the circumstances surrounding the accidents and her death become suspect. Now, in a race against time, he must unmask a saboteur.

The first communications window with Earth – their only chance to ask for help – is fast approaching, and someone needs to be alive to make that call.


You can find the first two chapters over here

I’ve also started a mailing list for those interested in Day 115 on an Alien World and my other science fiction work along with some other fun stuff. Sign up here:


Shifting Reality – book review

I just finished Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen. It’s been out a while, but I just stumbled upon it (it’s science fiction – so the story won’t be outdated for at least several more centuries).

The story is set on a space station filled with competing factions from bored, purposeless youth, to criminals to law enforcement, with a military base on top (plus geckos and chickens). Told from a single point of view, the story is fast paced with plenty of action.

Melati is from the worker class – originally taken from Indonesian, culture, heirlooms and all. Since they are low in the station hierarchy there is not a lot of options for this group – ice mining, small business, crime and selling their bodies. Melati works at a military support unit on the station caring for ‘constructs’ – people created for a purpose (how exactly is never explained). These people go on to become soldiers, technicians and pilots, but first they have a short childhood.

One of the minds to be installed into a group of construct children isn’t right. Melati realizes the problem isn’t a simple computer glitch. Her investigation takes her down an interesting rabbit hole of secret societies, internal politics, enemy factions and aliens.

Melati isn’t an stereotypical hero. She’s a compelling character caught between two worlds (plus she’s gutsy). Fitting in in either place is a challenge for her. Mostly she’s trying to do the right thing – even if it isn’t popular. The story has unexpected twists and turns that kept me reading. I’ll be going on to read the second book.

a mid summer update

love-in-the-mist

A wonderfully alien looking seed pod from love-in-the-mist. It’s been years since I’ve had to deliberately plant these, and they still come up every year.

It’s hot and smokey here (the smoke’s from the fires in the B.C. interior, fortunately nothing near by is burning). The garden is happily growing and I’ve been keeping busy with a plethora of projects. Since I stopped my monthly garden updates a few months ago, I thought I’d give a general update of what I’ve been working on.

Growing stuff

I’ve cut the water to the beans in the front yard. They all have lovely pods, so if all goes well, they’ll be dry enough to harvest by the end of the month. Potatoes are also ready to harvest, as will soon be my onions. The winter cabbages are putting on nice heads and we’re getting all the cucumbers we can eat.

And check out my hairy melon:

melon

Isn’t it delightfully hairy?

I planted some bigger fruit producers late winter including an apricot, cherry, assorted currants and gooseberries. All are doing well. As is my deck based lime tree (which will come in for the winter).

So far the only seeds I’ve collected have been from the Alexanders (a perennial relative of celery) – we had enough to eat their shoots this year. Not bad for an early spring crop.

Other random projects

Miso – I started a batch out of soybeans with a friend last night (will have to wait at least 6 months to taste it). Now I’m thinking of making a batch out of my homegrown tiger eye beans – mostly because I could call it tiger miso.

Tempeh – we started a batch last night and I’m struggling to find a spot the right temperature for it to ferment. I have no idea if it’ll work out or not.

There’s a watering system that needs to be put in – I have the stuff and having a working watering system would simplify my life. The hard part right now is most my ground is cement-like, so if I want to dig anything in I’ll have to wait until the rains start.

Writing

Settler Chronicles book 1 – I’ve started my final edit, at this point I’m just wordsmithing. My cover should be ready this fall (October) and I’m on track to release then. I also have the first draft of the second book written.

I put up the first scene on this blog a little while back (see here). Should I put up more of this book here? Perhaps the first couple chapters. Let me know in the comments below.

Deep Trouble – A current day action-adventure I’m co-writing with a friend.  I’ll put up the first chapter soon (it was titled ‘Benthic Adventure’ until a friend pointed out that most people don’t know what benthic means. Perhaps it is best I don’t try to surreptitiously improve readers vocabulary in a fluffy, fun action adventure story)

And I’ve started drafting another story for Wattpad – science fiction with lots of action (I’ll share more on this soon).

Reading

Solitude – a non-fiction book by Michael Harris about how creativity grows out of solitude. So far I’m enjoying it. I’ll likely write my own review, but for now there’s a review here.

The Nakano Thrift Shop – a novel by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from Japanese. I’m trying to broaden what I read, so this one is quite different from what I normally read. It’s about the relationships between the quirky staff of the thrift shop, and I’m quite enjoying it (although I will need a good action book when I’m done). There’s a review here.

rambling with a cherry on top

Rainier Cherries

Pitted cherries – in total 10lbs of them. This batch went into the dehydrator to make tasty snacks.

I’ve been pitting a lot of cherries lately which is one of those repetitive tasks that keeps my hands busy and leaves me room to think. One of the topics I’ve been pondering is artificial intelligence because I’m about to delve into a near final (I hope) edit of my science fiction novel where one of the characters is an AI.

After the picture above, I feel need a segue such as AI is like cherries… hmmm, nope I can’t think of a witty ending. So how about, here’s some thoughts about AI with a cherry on top?

What will artificial intelligence look like?

No doubt machines have more computational power than a human, but when a machine becomes aware will the first thing it does be to turn on the humans around it like Hal or humanity in general like Skynet? Or will it spend its time trying to figure out how to be human, like Data? Or will they just take all our jobs as news stories suggest?

Will humans be replaced in the workplace as news stories suggest? My job requires specialized, technical knowledge with a peppering of creative thinking – it’s a good human job but perhaps in a few years it could be great job for AI. I’d bet a AI would be faster and more accurate.

As a tangent – would a post-job society free me up to focus on being human? Perhaps. There’s an interesting article about that here.

Or will they be one of us, like Lovely in the the long way to a small angry planet (there’s a nice review here)? Will we discriminate against aware AI? Humanity does have a long history of discrimination. Will AI discriminate against us? Will AI even want anything to do with us? Or will they keep us as essentially pets? Will they even care about us at all? Maybe they won’t identify us as intelligent.

Lots of fodder for thought.

dried cherries

In the end, 10lbs of cherries turned into this.

Reading Fiction (my bookish secret)

beetle on a pin

This beetle has nothing to do with this post – I just find bug collections fascinating.

Years ago, a friend hooked me on romance novels. For a while that’s all I read. Almost every Saturday, I’d pack up the stack I’d recently read and trek down to the used bookstore where I’d trade for a new stack. I have no idea how many books I’d cycled through when it dawned on me – the novels were all the same story. I know some people love a formulaic romance story but, it turned out, not me.

My major complaint is that none of those books stick out in my mind. I can recite off the formula but not a single character name. Stumbling upon Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, hidden on the same shelf as the others, dragged me out of my formulaic rut. Even though Outlander is at it’s heart a romance, it has so much more going on and a protagonist I relate to and remember.

I now look for more complex stories preferably set in fantastic environments like a far off space station or a medieval world drenched in magic. Overly flowery prose bogs me down, and I prefer action to keep my attention (if a book is critically acclaimed as literary fiction I’m unlikely to read it even if doing so would make me a better person (what this really means is I’m happiest reading entertaining fluff – but don’t tell anyone)).

Some books draw me in and I can’t put them down while others languish in perpetuity with a bookmark part way through (I never pick them up again).

Recently, I came across a space opera series with cyborgs that I couldn’t put down (The Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker). While one the other hand, I tried to read two other space opera books (which were the first in series) where I didn’t even make it halfway in either book before I realized I just didn’t care. Based on the description, I should’ve liked all three series – so why did only one of them strike a chord with me?

Pinpointing what draws me into a story has been a challenge – it’s like unpacking ikea furniture and trying to determine if all the pieces are there. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • The protagonist needs to be imperfect but basically moral – and I need to like her/him (I know the anti-hero is a current trend, but that just doesn’t work for me). They could have terrible pasts where they’ve done less than moral things requiring atonement in the present. They can even be committing crimes in the time frame of the story with good reason.
  • I need a diverse cast of characters doing believable things. I want secondary characters to be interesting, even quirky – and I want to be able to tell them apart (unless they’re clones). Recently, I put down a book because it painfully failed here*.
  • The writing needs to be accessible and friendly with a touch of optimism. A requirement I’m currently testing by trying some Horror (Bird Box by Josh Malerman, which is creeping me out but I can’t put it down).
  • Every book has a typo somewhere – and I’m okay with that. However, continuity errors drive me nuts. Recently, I read a book with a ton of characters. Partway through the book a few of the characters ran into each other. They had never met or made contact of any kind – yet they knew each other’s names. I put down the book at that point.*
  • Bonus points for any story that can pull off a bit of humour (The Space Team books by Barry Hutchison pull this off well, kinda like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies)

So, what draws you into a novel?

* as a note – I will only be sharing titles of books I’ve enjoyed and recommend as I’m not comfortable writing negative reviews – the exception is Crime and Punishment, reading that left me clear on two points: killing two women with an axe is a crime and punishment is making me read about the protagonist wine about it.

Solaris book review

9cd3e-alien

My alien mascot

Solaris by T.M. Catron is a quick, fun read setting up what I hope with be a run of future adventures. It’s the first of a new space opera series.

It’s about a small crew on an independent ship that are smugglers anonymous transporters. In need of a new crew member, they stop over on the Captain’s home world. We are introduced to her home based complexities and why she’s chosen life on a ship. A new crew member is found with a too perfect resume just as they are forced off world.

I like a strong female protagonist and the Captain is certainly that. Her new crew member is intriguing with special skills that could make for interesting future plots. The book (novella?) is pure escapism – and sometimes that’s exactly what I need.

Settler Chronicles – just a taste of the first chapter

I’m going to be brave and share the first chapter of my book. I’m still wordsmithing the text, but I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m aiming to launch the entire thing as an eBook later this year.

Part of the reason I’m ready to share is because I submitted this chapter to a podcast run by two professional editors. They read it and gave a critique here. I found their comments helpful (although it was weird to hear someone read my words aloud) and they left me feeling ready to share.

Settler Chronicles is about a group setting up a colony on a far away world. Nothing goes according to plan then they discover a conniving plot one of the settlers has set up to ensure the colony fails. Will they catch the saboteur before it’s too late…

14:21hrs Day 114
“Mayday, mayday, mayday.”

Hovering by the control room door, Gary Holbrook kept his eyes glued to the monitor as Joan Taggart’s voice crackled over the radio.

“Right engine’s down, left’s responding sluggishly. Have to land. Over,” said Joan sounding infinitely far away—and for practical purposes, she was. Outside, beyond the safe colony walls she was piloting Shuttle 2.

In the control room, the main monitor displayed Joan’s forward cockpit view. Towering spires of rocks extended towards the sky in all directions and Shuttle 2 was losing altitude bringing the rough terrain closer and closer. Acting Captain Craig Spares leaned over the duty officer, Lucas Ordaz, to get a closer look at the landscape.

Gary took two more paces to towards the main video feed. As the ship’s doctor, he felt outside his element, but unwilling to leave. He happened to be walking by when he heard his wife, Margo’s voice over the radio – she was on the shuttle with Joan. Taking a deep breath, he tried to forget that he hadn’t taken time that morning to ask Margo why she was going.

“There,” Craig said, pointing to a piece of landscape that looked the same as the rest. He picked up the microphone and pressed the transmit button. “Shuttle 2, there’s a flatter region at your 2 o’clock, aim for that. Over.”

“Margo get your helmet on,” Joan said, unaware she was transmitting. “Control, say again about landing site, over.”

“Your 2 o’clock.”

“They don’t have helmets on,” whispered Gary, his eyes fixed on the screen displaying the shuttle’s forward view. All sensors showed that Thesan’s atmosphere lacked oxygen. If the bubble of the shuttle’s hull was compromised, their atmosphere suits were all that would keep the two people on the shuttle alive.

“Dr. Holbrook, get ready to receive casualties,” said Craig without looking away from the monitor.

Gary didn’t move; rescuing Joan and Margo was impossible. The colony’s only other shuttle lay trapped beneath a mangled hangar door.

The three of them in the control room watched helplessly as the shuttle’s flight pattern grew more erratic, creating the illusion that the pillars of rocks were dancing and twisting. As the shuttle got closer, the rock formations appeared to be grabbing at it with Lovecraftian tentacles. Watching made Gary feel sick to his stomach, but he couldn’t turn away.

A single rock tower loomed in the display. In a split second, the monolith of pock-marked grey consumed the view. The display went black, and Joan’s life sign monitor winked out.

“Can you get any visuals?” demanded Craig. Lucas looked down to the secondary screen in front of him and began searching the video feeds. “Margo, can you hear me?” transmitted Craig, seeing that Margo’s life signs remained strong.

“It appears she got her helmet on in time, but she only has 25 minutes of air. No, make that 20 minutes,” said Lucas reading Margo’s suit sensors. He turned to Craig. “Her suit has a leak. She needs to fix it right away.”

“Margo, do you hear me?” said Craig into the comms system. There was no reply.

“Can you bring up her helmet cam?” Lucas turned back to his display.

“It appears to be damaged, look.” Lucas switched the main display view. The screen showed mostly black with a few patches of smudged light.

“Okay, keep trying the other cameras.”

Lucas flipped through views until he came to the shuttle’s cargo hold view. The camera, once showing the shuttle’s interior, now surveyed the grey landscape. Harsh blue light from the brighter sun illuminated the area. They could see a slice of the valley floor surrounded by finger-like rock formations. The crushed forward section of the shuttle could just be seen at the top of the screen. Debris littered the landscape between the two sections.

“Margo, please respond,” transmitted Craig.

The three of them stood in silence as they waited. Gary closed his eyes hoping to hear Margo’s voice.

“There, movement,” said Lucas pointing to where the valley floor moved. Gary too another step closer to look. A grey mass extended upwards. Thick waves of what appeared to be viscous drips slowly revealed the mass to be a human form.

“Is the valley floor liquid?” asked Craig.

“It shouldn’t be, but I can’t get any in situ details,” said Lucas. “All the shuttle sensors died in the crash.”

To Gary it looked like thick mud coated Margo’s suit. With muddy gloved hands, she was trying to wipe the sticky goo off her visor. After a few moments, she must have got enough muck off to see the aft part of the shuttle wreck. With viscous fluid reaching halfway up her shins, she started wading towards the wreckage.

“Ten minutes of air,” said Lucas.

“Margo, respond,” said Craig again.

Gary watched Margo emerge fully from the sludge and walk to the aft section. Mud clung to every surface of her suit.

“There’s no way she’ll find a tear in her suit covered in gunk,” said Lucas, checking the sensor readings once again.

Margo stopped and stared directly at the camera. Gary couldn’t make out her face under the smeared surface of her helmet. Alarms must be going off telling her she was leaking air. Why isn’t she trying to fix her suit?

“Five minutes.”

Margo turned and stepped out of view.

“Bring up her helmet camera,” snapped Craig. “Margo! Respond!”

“Leave her alone,” said Gary his eyes fixed on his wife’s life signs. “Let her have some peace.”

“She’s out of air,” said Lucas slumping into his seat.

On cue, Margo’s life sign monitor winked out.


And that’s all I’m sharing at this point. What do you think? Please comment below.