Review of Glory on Mars by Kate Rauner

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If you’re a fan of hard science fiction, and I mean really HARD, then you will love this book. In fact, I’m inclined to say that it’s only on the borderline of sci-fi, that it’s more what I would call science faction, i.e. so close to being reality that it’s not even that futuristic. Indeed, many people reading this book are likely to live to see a Mars colony in their lifetime. If you loved the movie “The Martian” then this story is a great follow-up to keep your imagination well-grounded on the Red Planet.

The Mars base the author designed is brilliant. She has thought of just about everything imaginable and described it at a technical level detailed enough to make you feel as if you’re there. She has hab modules, jumpships, walkabouts, surface suits and any number of other goodies. At the least, you know she’s not just making this up because her engineering background truly shows. Since I worked as a NASA contractor for over 20 years, I found many familiar things in this story, from the space technological presence in Noordwick, The Netherlands, since I’d been there more than once, and other terminology such as “frangible nuts” used with explosives to release their hold in various spacecraft applications.

By the time you finish this story, you feel as if you’ve completed a tour of duty on Mars. Anyone who may aspire to go there someday can get a very sound idea of what it would be like, from eating worms to the various hazards that abound on a planet that is not fit for human habitation without serious, high-tech intervention. There are radiation issues, maintaining an appropriate pressurized volume with the correct oxygen mixture, psychological challenges, vehicles for getting around on the surface, sometimes at a great distance, and so forth. In this respect it is exceptionally well-done. The author’s knowledge and undoubtedly a whole lot of research is evident and available for readers to enjoy. The side stories were excellent as well, adding additional detail and background which I highly recommend readers take the time to enjoy. They’re not required, but add to its richness. Thus, as an outstanding science fiction novel, I give this book a strong five stars.

However, if you want a bit more than engineering and science in a story, there are a few things I would have recommended be included, had I been a beta reader for this book. I realize that all reviews have a high degree of subjectivity, and the comments that follow are strictly my opinion and may not be shared in the slightest by other readers, especially if all you want is hard sci-fi. Nonetheless, that’s part of the point of a review, to share one’s opinion, and why over all I give this story four stars, so here we go.

While the numerous characters clearly had different personalities, to me they were faceless. Their physical descriptions were lean at best and missing at worst. She did a great job giving them very diverse and memorable names, many of which implied the individuals’ international heritage, but I never was able to “see” them in my mind, other than perhaps Yin and Yang, which were handled in a very clever manner that worked. I like to be able to picture the characters in a story and didn’t feel I had enough description of the others to do so.

The point of view (POV) was limited to one member in particular named Emma, with whom I connected somewhat. One thing to be said about the single POV is that it does lend the feeling that you were Emma and experiencing what she did. Nonetheless, with so many characters, it would have been interesting to get into their heads and viewpoint as well. The first half of the book contained a lot of description about the base and getting things set up along with the challenges involved, which could have been handled through other crew member’s POV so the reader got to know them as well. This would have rounded out the other characters a bit more and provided an opportunity to describe their appearance.

A little more conflict among the crew members would have added a bit more realism as well. This was touched on a little, but it’s highly likely that roughly a dozen people confined as they were under stressful and sometimes life-threatening conditions would have had a few clashes along the way. There was some tension, but people simply aren’t that mature and logical all the time, even if they’re engineers. This I know, given I’ve managed them in my previous life.

Another thing that bothered me was the cat. As a cat owner and lover, I expected the cat to have a more significant role, perhaps along the lines of Pete in Heinlein’s “The Door Into Summer.” I couldn’t believe it that when this kitten was taken onboard as they began their journey that he was not immediately given a name! Maybe I’m just a crazy animal lover, but I can’t imagine that someone in that group wouldn’t have done so. At the least, when they arrived on Mars, someone already there would have done the honors, since it was that group who’d requested the cat in the first place.

The cat could have been worked into the plot more as well. The base’s AI even recognized the cat as a team member! Cats are curious, (Curiosity would have been a great name, in honor of a previous Mars mission) they get bored just like people, and he would have undoubtedly had some interesting experiences in the zero-gravity environment during the journey as well as once they arrived on the base. Mine get into trouble all the time in a regular earthbound house. Owning a pet isn’t simple and it certainly wouldn’t be on Mars. He could have caused any number of problems and conversely, even provided ways to solve others.

Why did the previous crew request a cat in the first place? Pets add warmth, affection, and a new dimension of “home” to say nothing of comic relief. He could have contributed an additional touch of reality to an unreal situation. I probably wouldn’t harp on the cat issue so much other than the fact the cat is so prominently displayed on the cover. I found this very misleading, since the cat played essentially no role in the story, whatsoever, other than a few cameo appearances, where he could have easily become an endearing and potentially major character.

That precious piece of visual real estate known as a book cover would have been much better used to fill other gaps in the story. It would have been very helpful to have a drawing of the base, for example, with all its modules and such, which was well-described in the text, but not always easy to picture. Any artist would have had a blast with that. It also would have benefited by some people as well, which could have compensated for the lack of description in the text. A newly designed book cover would be a great investment for this story and thus represent its content more accurately. Potential readers for this book include hard sci-fi fans, preppers into self-sufficiency, and cat lovers, based on the cover. The cat on the cover could actually turn off some readers who would enjoy it the most.

Speaking of preppers, a bit more of the self-sufficiency side of growing food, raising fish and so forth would have been great as well. The use of heritage seeds, saving some of the potato harvest to plant for the next generation, or even the use of aquaponics could have further enhanced the story and also fit nicely with switching viewpoints.

In spite of all my grumbling above, I truly did enjoy and appreciate this book and what it took to write it. As a physicist and former “rocket scientist” myself, I found very few things I wondered about on the technical side. There were a few places where I thought about making a few calculations, then reminded myself it was only a novel and to lighten up! It provides a realistic view and excellent vicarious experience of what it would be like to be a space pioneer. For that, I highly recommend it. Just don’t expect much from the cat.

You can pickup your copy on Amazon here.

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Hard Sci-Fi in Western Disguise

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I must say that this story started out a bit slow and even got to the point I consider monotonous. However, the fact it was so well written, nicely edited and rich with beautifully rendered descriptions coupled with enough suspense to make me wonder what was going on, I kept reading and was not disappointed.

The author did an excellent job of creating a new world to which Earthlings are immigrating to escape their own as it loses viability. The colonists have agreed to live a simpler lifestyle, similar to that of the pioneers who settled the American West in the 19th century. Settling a new planet is not a simple, matter, however, with a variety of new hazards including byproducts of terraforming including a marginally sentient species known as owylls, which are predatory yet seem to act at the command of a tall, mysterious bearded man. Colonists are being afflicted by an epidemic of a malady known as “The Lullaby” which renders its victims comatose while muttering a mantra that spreads the disease to anyone who hears or perceives it, e.g. in writing.

The characters aren’t particularly endearing and I thought any emotional or romantic development between them fell flat. Nonetheless, they were interesting enough that I’d like to know more about them and why they’re the way they are. The main protagonists comprise two brothers, Walter and Samuel Starboard, who are transporting their Lullaby-afflicted mother, Alma, to Marathon, the site where their transport ship is located. Rumor has it that a cure is available there plus they also hope to find their missing father. Bear in mind that this journey is essentially a trail ride through dangerous unknown and uncharted territory which involves horses for transportation, tethered mules, and a wagon carrying Alma.

Along the way they encounter the Bridge sisters, Virginia and Miriam, who join them. There’s a considerable amount of tension between them, particularly from Miriam who is clearly a bitter, angry woman with a reputation for using men. She does prove useful helping Walt care for his comatose mother, however. Hopefully in the next volume the author will reveal more about her, whom I suspect is a very wounded soul with an interesting past beyond what was revealed in this volume. The part that really bogged down the first half of this book was their tedious journey which provided graphic descriptions of the planet and a strong sense of place yet in my opinion dragged on longer than necessary; some readers may not make it to the best part.

But once things started to move, then move they did. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so won’t go into it other than to say all the questions that arose during the story to that point were answered and the plot, premise and details of the society of which the characters are a part was exceptionally well-developed, intriguing and enough to make me want to read the next volume of this trilogy. The irony of the title comes through amid numerous clever twists and turns, cool technology, most of which is environmentally friendly, and all sorts of other technological and societal goodies hard sci-fi fans like myself want and expect in a good read. As a former rocket scientist I’m always critical of the feasibility of the science in such novels and there was only one thing in there that seemed a bit of a stretch, so the author did well on that score as well.

World building is not an easy feat and getting all the details in place presents a challenge for any author. Derry has done an outstanding job doing so, established an interesting world with a variety of fascinating possibilities reminiscent of other sci-fi classics in print as well as film I wish I could mention but they would undoubtedly constitute spoilers.

If you like sci-fi adventure stories populated by ordinary people in an evolving off-world environment backed up by great imagery and detail, you will probably enjoy this story. It moves slowly at first (thus I only gave it 4 stars) but I admit that I stayed up way past my usual bedtime to finish it once it started to roll.

You can pick up your copy at Amazon here.

Sneek Peek at “Refractions of Frozen Time” (Star Trails Tetralogy Volume IV) and Cover Reveal (sorta)

I recently achieved a major milestone only authors or their families can relate to, i.e., uploading the interior of “Refractions of Frozen Time” to CreateSpace; now I await arrival of a proof copy. Like an expectant mother, I will finally get to hold my “baby” in my hands. I do my final edit with a print copy because it’s so much easier to catch typos and such when you’re reading an actual book. I suppose I could do the same with my Kindle but being old-fashioned there’s something about holding a physical book that delivers that final rush of accomplishment.

When “Refractions. . .” passes muster and is properly birthed it’s more significant this time than finishing another book. This is the fourth and final volume to a story I’ve been working on far longer than I care to admit. Wrapping it up was complicated, mainly tying up loose ends of all those “sub-plots galore” referenced in one of my reviews as well as maintaining consistency with regard to details such as Erebusite eyes.

But now it’s almost over, the end in sight. I never dreamed when I started that it would grow to four full-length novels. I suppose I should have known since I’m incapable of writing a short story; they always turn into a novel. So it should be no surprise that a novel turned into a series, right? In its entirety the tetralogy comes in at approximately 1520 pages. Holy cow, that’s a lot of writing, if I do say so myself.

I don’t think that I’m unique as an author in approaching this upcoming release with mixed feelings. It feels wonderful, yet lonely; exhilarating, yet sad. These characters are like virtual family and I’m going to miss them. Of course there’s a chance there may be sequels or possibly prequels. My muse, Kalliope, has planted a few ideas, but I’m seldom at a loss for something to write about. I may even write my NASA memoirs before diving into something else. Or maybe that book about astrology, religion and science. Then again, maybe not. Time will tell.

That said, let’s get down to business.

Those of you who have visited me just about anywhere on the web know why this is a “Cover Reveal—sorta.” My awesome artist, Steven James Catizone, finished up my covers earlier this year and provided the 3-D shot of all four books which I have posted somewhat generously in cyberspace. At the time I was naïve and didn’t realize that a “Cover Reveal” was a big part of the book promotion process. Oh, well, my bad. So here it is officially. You’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the weeks to come.

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If you’ve already read the first three volumes which include “Beyond the Hidden Sky;” “A Dark of Endless Days;” and “A Psilent Place Below” you are probably wondering how this saga is going to end. To be quite honest, I often wondered myself. And of course I’m not going to tell you. Muuhahahahaha! But I will include an excerpt as a teaser.

If you’ve at least read “Psilent” you have the context for this scene which picks up with Laren Brightstar on his way to Bezarna, a blackhole which serves as a prison planet to which he’s been exiled. He and a handful of others are on a space vehicle headed in that direction. (If you haven’t gotten to that point yet in the series, then what are you waiting for? You have plenty of time to read the other three books and come up to speed by the time this one is ready to go. Book links follow the excerpt.)

Excerpt from “Refractions of Frozen Time”

The Bezarna Express

Laren slumped back in his seat, staring blankly at the seamless curvature of the passenger compartment which was fully isolated from the rest of the ship. An unpadded bench followed the perimeter except for the alcove that led to the sanicube and where they picked up their daily rations. Sleeping cylls were stowed in the domed ceiling above, destowing at sleepzone onset. The ship was much larger than it appeared from inside. For all he knew there was a full crew somewhere above. He was reasonably familiar with RA-681s, like Igni’s, which were originally designed by the HIO for exploration, not warfare, and lacked weapon systems.

This one’s interior had been drastically refitted to suit its macabre mission, the area they occupied originally the cargo hold, supplies and replacement parts kept in a similar space on the starboard side. Whoever had designed it had been an obvious master at psychology as well as engineering. Six of his fellow passengers remained, three already resorting to their captor’s supposedly humane alternative to commit suicide via the airlock. If all prisoners opted for a fate that was known versus one that wasn’t then a perfectly good space vehicle would go to waste.

He straightened as a new thought chain developed. No doubt they were being watched, even with escape seemingly impossible. A successful escape you survived, he thought grimly, or it was pointless. Knowing the likes of Spoigan, Troy and Argo they probably tuned in on their situation using tachyonic video on a regular basis for entertainment purposes. They could even use such transmissions to scare others into submission, seeing those who’d been convicted hopelessly confined then witness how they dealt with their imminent demise. Undoubtedly witnessing someone choose the airlock rather than never-ending yet meaningless life on a blackhole made for good INTEGRATOR motivational material.

So what if everyone resorted to that? What if they had an empty spacecraft worth nearly as much as a small battleship on a heading toward Bezarna? Would they kiss it goodbye or bring it back?

He’d been around long enough to know that finances were seldom a driver for a dictatorship. Nonetheless, the quality of the vehicle made more sense if it was retrievable. And if that was the case, if he could fool them into thinking everyone had checked out, preferring to explode their earthly remains in deep space rather than face an unknown and possibly worse fate, maybe there was roundtrip possibility after all.

His eyes met those of fellow Clique member, Jirhod Rhodus, seated on the opposite side. Rhodus was quite a bit older than he was, perhaps even old enough to be his father, his once-blond hair interrupted with streaks of grey surrounding rounded features set with penetrating ice-blue eyes. A massive man, built more like an Erebusite than a typical human, he’d lasted as long as he had because no one wanted to mess with him. His demise had come when he’d insisted on an audit and recount from the election that brought INTEGRATION to Pi, one of only two remaining Neutral regions. As Deputy Territorial General he’d been vocal and effective, too much so, because he’d suddenly disappeared, a former Clique mystery now solved by his presence.

“You’re thinking, Brightstar,” the man said, his voice deep and resonant. “That’s dangerous, you know.”

Laren held his gaze and smiled, trying to figure out how to communicate based on the premise they were being monitored. A moment later he extracted his c-com from his breast pocket and psied his thoughts to it, then did the necessary coding to grant Rhodus access.

“Just playing a little mind game,” he said innocently, handing over the device. “Want to play?”

* * *

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BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume I
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/bV4PyiPVoDU
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Hidden-Star-Trails-Tetralogy-ebook/dp/B005JQNN2M/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-the-hidden-sky-marcha-a-fox/1112260474
Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3911767
Book Bubble Excerpt: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/2861/
Book Bubble Excerpt 2: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3131/

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A DARK OF ENDLESS DAYS – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume II
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/P_2sbLHvBj8
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Endless-Days-Trails-Tetralogy-ebook/dp/B007X5V1TE/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-dark-of-endless-days-marcha-fox/1112742769
Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3937890
Book Bubble Excerpt: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/2735
Book Bubble Excerpt 2: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3228
Book Bubble Excerpt 3: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3754

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A PSILENT PLACE BELOW – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume 3

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/-MTp9vUFLy0
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Psilent-Place-Below-Trails-Tetralogy-ebook/dp/B0082CW8QC/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-psilent-place-below-marcha-fox/1120000574
Create Space (print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3991023
Book Bubble: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/2752
Book Bubble 2: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3589/

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