N.J. Tanger’s “Ascension”: Masterfully Written Science Fiction

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This intriguing and suspense-filled tale intricately describes what it might take to reach an interstellar destination, both in the way of motivation as well as technology, to say nothing of the type of individuals who would assume such a feat.

Nathan Beauchamp, a member of the writing team known as N.J. Tanger, is the sole author of this episode in the Universe Eventual series which expands upon the workings of the interstellar vehicle, Chimera. The ship is designed to support a population comparable to a small city for years to come through hydroponics and other self-sufficiency techniques. It provides holographic scenery reminiscent of Earth; possesses a sophisticated power system; and includes a political structure drenched in intrigue.

The conspiratorial reason for leaving Earth is fascinating and smolders with much of what is seen in today’s corporatism-saturated world. Colonization is motivated by their destination’s rich deposits of ecomire, which I assume to be the next generation of uranium, i.e., it represents a powerful energy source rarely found elsewhere and motivates a power hungry (both literally and figuratively) corporation to finance the venture. Furthermore, they intend to maintain their tentacles in those making the journey through whatever means necessary. Some colonization efforts are about survival, others about profits, this one possessing elements of both.

New but intuitively familiar terminology provided a unique and convincing environment. For example, referring to the enforcement arm as “regulators” was cold and effective. The personal agenda of various characters provided plot complexity, but without over-populating the story. Yet, the massive dimensions of the ship, the number of those onboard, and their evolving culture and social strata were conveyed effectively. The main character, Ashley Samuelson, was credible and relatable, personalized further by the first person narrative point of view and the intimate details of his personal life and relationships, including a romantic one.

One of the most clever sci-fi elements serves as the mainstay of the plot and that is the means by which the Chimera is guided by its navigator with the support of a few assistants, one of which is Ashley. To travel through the esoteric, paranormal dimension described as “fractal space”, “stitches” are laid to form a connection between Earth and their ultimate destination through “The Everything”. Once this pathway is laid, other ships will traverse it more quickly, so the implication is that they are creating a wormhole. This is accomplished through the combined efforts of the navigator, who’s enclosed in a mysterious spherical work station, where he or she is psychically entangled with the ship’s artificial intelligence. This combination of thought energy provides the creative power to chart its course, stitch by stitch, an interesting play on the apparent consciousness/matter interface implied by quantum theory. Navigator assistants deal with resolving any paradoxes encountered along the way.

Not just anyone can perform this critical navigating function, so when their existing navigator dies unexpectedly of mysterious causes, it presents a significant threat, not only to their mission, but their very survival. The quest to find a new navigator combined with investigation into the death of the original one provides various provocative insights into the risks of AI as well as allowing it to interact with a human.

This complex tale is presented via a masterful style that demonstrates some of the most delicious prose I’ve seen. As a writer myself, I savored numerous vivid descriptions, such as a look of “distilled hatred”; “her angry, beautiful, treacherous eyes”; “stumbling my way into the truth”; “fear masqueraded as anger”; as well as several others.  I suppose the fact such jewels jumped out at me as exceptional descriptions could be considered throwing me out of the story, but for me it was in a good way. Some of the imagery was nearly blinding, which is not easily achieved without slowing down the story. However, the literary precision was such that the descriptions integrated with the action and increased the suspense, which made various scenes play out like a movie in my mind. The author’s skill itself made this tale a joy to read.

This story is part of the Universal Eventual series, yet stands alone. However, if you’ve read any of the other stories, it helps fill in a few of the gaps. It has been a while since I read Chimera and this makes me want to read it again. If you enjoy meaty hard science fiction with plenty of advanced technology and intrigue while maintaining a strong human element with philosophical implications as deep as you care to go, all of which is packaged with strong, skillful writing, I highly recommend this story.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Star Agency Chronicles Book 2: The Voyages of the Seven”

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This second book in the “Star Agency Chronicles” series does a great job of expanding the cultures of the alien worlds to which “the seven” have been transported. In this story, they embark on specific journeys that resemble interstellar “sightseeing” in some respects and yet transform more to quests for others. The characters are further developed, at least some of them, as they meet the challenges thrust upon them inherent to their specific missions, greatly adding to the suspense and intrigue. Ruby’s situation is particularly fascinating and her evolution and growth especially well done. At this point, she is my favorite character. I love her spunk and courage coupled with emotional vulnerability, easily seen as a person who is hard on the outside yet soft on the inside.

The relationships between the various youth are credible and demonstrate nicely the complexity of teen emotions as they interact with each other, especially those of the opposite sex. Some have romantic possibilities while others are simply platonic. Jealousies arise as romantic interests are not reciprocated but directed elsewhere. The characters and their personalities are integrated nicely into the story, giving it more depth.

The aliens are definitely more enigmatic versus the first book, though I would have liked a few more reminders of what they look like. The interactions between the different alien worlds are further developed as well, introducing their various agendas that introduce numerous new plot twists, conflict and mystery in which the young characters are entangled.

I wish the author had not given two of the characters such similar names, i.e. Larissa and Lara, especially since Theo has taken to calling Larissa, Lari, which makes it even worse. The two are clearly different people, but it’s still slightly confusing, sometimes yanking me out of the story as I figure out which one is involved when all the characters are together. Maybe in the next volume one of them can acquire a nickname that will make each stand apart more clearly.

You’ve gotta love Lara, who shows signs of being slightly autistic, probably afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. Her inability to filter what she says adds tension as well as raw honesty which adds to the interpersonal dynamics of this chosen group of youth. Larissa, though you see more of her in this story, is not nearly as well fleshed out as a character. A few of “the seven” have not gotten to “show their stuff” yet, which I assume will occur in the next book.

I give four stars to this entertaining and imaginative hard sci-fi series suitable and undoubtedly directed to teen and young adults.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Last Day! Star Trails Tetralogy Box Set 99c!

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Today is your last chance to get your ecopy of the entire Star Trails Tetralogy for only 99c! The box set includes “Beyond the Hidden Sky,” “A Dark of Endless Days,” “A Psilent Place Below,” and “Refractions of Frozen Time” as well as “The Star Trails Compendium.” Descriptions of the individual books can be found below as well as at the series’ website, www.StarTrailsSaga.com.

STAR TRAILS TETRALOGY DESCRIPTION

Close families share everything.  Including consequences.  When one of the HIO’s premier terralogists refuses a job offer from a wannabe despot the chain of suspicious circumstances which quickly follow scatter his family across the galaxy.  Torn apart by space and time, will each survive long enough to be united ever again? 

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Volume I: BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY

A move to another planet that goes horribly wrong.  A power hungry man’s obsession with another’s abilities.  Suspicious circumstances that scatter a family across the galaxy.  Will rescue efforts succeed or make the situation even worse?

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When the Brightstar family leaves fog-shrouded and predictable Mira III for Cyraria they have no idea their comfortable lifestyle is about to end forever.  Even before the starcruiser arrives, shocking events transpire that comprise a parent’s worst nightmare.  Not only is their fourteen year old daughter, Creena, missing but it’s clear her father’s ruthless and power-hungry nemesis plans to exploit the situation to promote his own selfish ambitions. Formidable and lethal challenges await as increasingly suspicious circumstances scatter them across the galaxy.  Will they survive long enough to be together again?

“Sneek Peeks” on Bublish:

REVIEW SAMPLES

“The story begins at warp speed as space travel and its theory weaves throughout the tale of a family separated by mishap and kept apart by intent.” – Editorial Review

“The author’s colorful and animated word sketches give the reader the feel of actually watching or being right in the mix of the story. She brings personality and quirks to the characters as they develop through expressive descriptions and dialogue.” – Amazon Reviewer

“I am an author as well as having taught junior high science for a number of years and think this read would be a fabulous addition to classroom libraries as well as “the hungry for sci-fi lovers” personal bookshelf.” – Amazon Reviewer

“Although geared for the YA market, it is suited for sci-fi audiences for all ages who will thoroughly enjoy the talented professional writing of Marcha Fox’s wonderful expeditions.” – Amazon Reviewer

“All her characters, even creatures on the planets, are outstanding examples of a writer totally in touch with the depths of the subconscious mind, all interacting with their roles of good and evil with hidden spiritual messages as one experiences their own individual growth of consciousness.” – Amazon Reviewer

 ALL AMAZON REVIEWS OF BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY

BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY on GOODREADS

Volume II: A DARK OF ENDLESS DAYS

Opposition’s lethal temperatures are more than a simple ballome can’t withstand.  Designing and building a heat-exchanger is the only way they’ll survive.  Obtaining the needed components, however, is another story.

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On a hostile planet like Cyraria terralogists are in high demand and Laren Brightstar is one of the best.  Regional governors compete for positions at the territorial level based on their economic achievements, allowing those with terraforming skills to demand a high price.  Refusing to work for those with devious intent, however, has an even higher price.  Thus the Brightstar family discovers when they’re plunged into a web of political intrigue on a planet cursed with lethal weather where survival can never be taken for granted.  Will their missing daughter return with help or will she remain trapped forever on an alien world?

“Sneek Peeks” on Bublish:

 

REVIEW SAMPLES

“Young people can identify with the children in the family, but this series is for people of all ages. Marcha does transport you to outer space, way into the future, and you will believe you are there with the Brightstar family.” – Amazon Reviewer

“In the vein of old science fiction literature this story could end up as another classic. Its original, with all the components, technology, other world and races, and a contact with Earth.” – Amazon Reviewer

“Written in a technically proficient yet engaging style this book is sure to captivate science fiction lovers of all ages!” – Amazon Reviewer

“Fox once again does an exceptional job building character and making her created universe a reality. I can’t turn a page without picturing the story in my mind and visualizing each character.” – Amazon Reviewer

 ALL AMAZON REVIEWS OF A DARK OF ENDLESS DAYS

A DARK OF ENDLESS DAYS on GOODREADS

Volume III: A PSILENT PLACE BELOW

Taking refuge in the Caverns is like a dream come true.  But the dreams generated by their mysterious depths promise death or worse.  Is forewarned really forearmed?  Or another lure into the Integrator’s grasp?

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Going underground to escape Cyraria’s harsh climate brings more than a few surprises besides the hospitality of an indigenous race known as the bnolar.  The caverns feel strangely like home, but shortly after their arrival prophetic visions in the form of veridical dreams alert them to upcoming danger.  Incarcerated in a territorial prison, Laren Brightstar is about to receive and refuse Augustus Troy’s final offer, after which he’ll be exiled permanently to a place from which there is no return.  Will Dirck and Win’s rescue succeed?

“Sneek Peeks” on Bublish:

 

REVIEW SAMPLES

“The specific and very detailed description of the places and of the characters say so much about the author’s capacity to depict all of it with words, making your imagination start running freely in the process.” – Amazon Reviewer

“[The author] has created an entire world and its inhabitants along with various languages and races that each have unique abilities and qualities. Her extensive knowledge in science is evident in the explanations that are utterly believable.” – Amazon Reviewer

“A highly intelligent and prolific read, you really get a feel for the authors experience given she had a career at NASA. Speaks to the insight and depth of the book, well thought out and concise.” – Amazon Reviewer

ALL AMAZON REVIEWS OF A PSILENT PLACE BELOW

A PSILENT PLACE BELOW on GOODREADS

Volume IV: REFRACTIONS OF FROZEN TIME

A discovery that links two dimensions of time.  A prison ship’s dirty little secret.  Esheron has answers but can they access them before it’s too late? 

VIDEO

The discovery of a mineral that manipulates space and time provides the potential to reunite the Brightstar family at last.  Controlling it, however, is another matter.  With the Integrator closing in on the ability to destroy anyone for whom they have a mindprint, finding the secret of manipulating the two dimensions of time becomes a matter of life and death.  But is time their ally or another enemy?

“Sneak Peeks” on Bublish

REVIEW SAMPLES

“Author Marcha Fox has a gift for explaining the science. The detailed world she creates in the Star Trails Tetralogy is genius, so well thought out and crafted. As the Brightstar youngsters observe and understand their surroundings, their conclusions can be coloured by their Miran schooling, but when they break old habits and open their minds in order to survive this hostile planet they now call home, these children achieve the incredible. Quite Beautiful.” – Amazon Reviewer

“What sets this apart from run-of-the-mill ” space operas is Fox’s experience during her tenure at NASA. She draws upon her technical expertise and enhances it with fact-based theory that gives this as much of a ‘what-if’ perspective as you can expect within the genre. The moral and philosophical questions also give us much to reflect upon.” – Amazon Reviewer

“[The author’s] creativity and imagination never fall short but always leave me wanting more. Each character has been carefully crafted and developed. I enjoyed watching the children develop and grow from bickering teens to collaborative young adults. The final climax had me shivering as the forces of dark and light came hurtling together into an unexpected and shocking end.” – Amazon Reviewer

ALL AMAZON REVIEWS of REFRACTIONS OF FROZEN TIME

REFRACTIONS OF FROZEN TIME on GOODREADS

BOX SET BUY LINKS

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1kAJxRn

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/550675

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set/id1007498996

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set-marcha-fox/1122157702

Stock Photo Copyright: kjpargeter / 123RF Stock Photo

Over 1500 pages of Hard Sci-Fi for 99c

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Don’t you just hate serials?  Doesn’t it drive you crazy when you’re deeply entrenched in a story then abruptly thrust to the edge of an annoying cliffhanger? Worse yet, when it means waiting months or even longer before the next book comes out!

With a box set those frustrations no longer exist. No waiting, no additional purchases, everything is right there, in this case 1500 pages of a hard sci-fi family saga ready to transport you to another realm.  If you’re unfamiliar with this tetralogy, you can learn more at the series’ website or explore the individual stories in the excerpts included with the “Book Bubbles” at the author’s site on Bublish.  If you’re already a fan, now’s your chance to get them all for a bargain price.

Each book has been released separately to 5-star reviews.  In addition, this set includes the Star Trails Compendium with terms, definitions, and detailed background information on the stories’ planetary setting.  As a physicist I’ve made science an inherent part of this series which the Compendium exploits in a special section for parents and educators with ready-made discussion ideas and lessons plans designed to stimulate interest in science and engineering.

Whether you’re simply a hard science fiction fan or a science teacher looking for a ready-made extra credit package, this series is for you!  So what are you waiting for?  Blast off now with the Brightstar family for a gripping interstellar ride across the galaxy!

Grab The Star Trails Tetralogy ebook Box Set while it’s only $0.99 and save $5.00!

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1kAJxRn

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/550675

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set/id1007498996

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set-marcha-fox/1122157702

Stock Photo Copyright: kjpargeter / 123RF Stock Photo

Spend the Summer on Another Planet

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In case you missed it earlier, here’s another reminder that the entire Star Trails Tetralogy, over 1500 pages of classic hard science fiction, is still on sale as a box set for only 99c from July 1 – 4. The price has NEVER been this low and won’t be again for a long time, so grab a copy now. Why? I’m celebrating the first anniversary of when the box set was released on July 3, 2015.

Each of the four novels are included as well as the Star Trails Compendium, which includes background information on Cyraria, a glossary of terms, and a section for parents and educators who want to use the series to stimulate discussions and learning of the various scientific principles. Remember, I’m a physicist and take great pains to assure the science is accurate, sci-fi excursions notwithstanding. You can learn more about the individual books at the series’ website.

Examples of what reviewers are saying:

“A magnificent space opera of epic proportions.”

“Master storyteller of the highest caliber.”

“In the vein of old #scifi literature this story could end up as another classic.”

“Drops us off in an imaginative world similar to Star Wars or Star Trek.”

Anyone who loves hard science will lap this book up.”

“Sci-fi at its best. This space opera is fast paced and action packed and will leave you breathless.”

“Imaginative hard scifi with real-life characters.”

“Everything a good sci-fi book needs including an author who knows her stuff.”

If you love hard sci-fi, what do you have to lose for 99c?

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1kAJxRn

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/550675

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set/id1007498996

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set-marcha-fox/1122157702

Stock Photo Copyright: kjpargeter / 123RF Stock Photo

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

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I’ve always loved that quote, which illustrates one of the many absurdities in the English language. And speaking of time flying, I can’t believe that on July 3 it’ll be a year since the Star Trails Tetralogy Box Set was released! Seeing the series as a box set was my goal as soon as I realized the Brightstar’s story wasn’t finished with the first volume, but had only begun. Considering it ultimately took four books that comprised 1500 pages, there was definitely a lot more to tell! So, I’m celebrating the first anniversary of this life milestone by selling the entire tetralogy this weekend for only $0.99 USD.

I started working on “Beyond the Hidden Sky” so long ago I hate to admit it. There were definitely a few life obstacles in the way between the late 70s and now. During that time I finished having my children, got a physics degree, moved from Utah to Texas, became a grandmother (and now a great-grandmother) and fulfilled my dream of working for NASA. Believe it or not, the degree and NASA gig were specifically to prepare me to be a better science fiction writer. I kid you not. I took “write what you know” to heart and I hope it shows!

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The first book was revised more times than I can begin to count. It was initially written on an archaic device known as a typewriter and then went through at least three different word processors, (Word Star, Word Perfect and Microsoft Word). In fact, artifacts from those earlier electronic versions brought some pretty mysterious characters into the first few electronic and even print versions, until I figured out how to get them out.

Much of what was science fiction at the time, such as my rendition of the internet, Craig’s List and a Bitcoin lookalike, became science fact during this lull between writing and publishing. Needless to say, this required upgrading the technology numerous times. Now, at the rate things are advancing, it won’t be long before the entire series is in the realm of science fact, except, perhaps, for cristobalite or devenite crystals. But you never know, given they’re busily creating new elements these days as well as making new discoveries in quantum physics.

Thus, to celebrate the box set’s birthday on July 3, I’m marking it down to $0.99 USD for the USA’s Independence Day weekend ONLY (July 2 – 4 for those outside the USA). So, if you’ve been waiting for a super-giant sale to get your copy, this is it! If you’re unfamiliar with the series, you can learn more about it and see the reviews at the series website, www.StarTrailsSaga.com.

Pick yours up at any of the sales outlets below.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1kAJxRn

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/550675

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set/id1007498996

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-tetralogy-box-set-marcha-fox/1122157702

Stock Photo Copyright: kjpargeter / 123RF Stock Photo

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Review of “Alien Affairs” by Scott Skipper

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This fast-moving tale was one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in a long time. Not only did I find numerous scenes laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it had enough suspense for me to stay up into the wee hours of the night to see how it ended.

Ironically, one of the reasons I bought this book was because one of its reviewers gave it a poor rating simply because it was politically incorrect.  And they were right, it certainly is.  And therein was where I found most of the humor. The snarky, cynical comments were such an accurate reflection of the state of the world today that you either laugh or cry.  I, for one, prefer to laugh.

The story begins with the Roswell incident back in 1947, with which any UFO nut like myself is duly familiar. The author did an excellent job of recounting the incident and blending those individuals mentioned in the historical record with fictitious characters.  In fact, it’s difficult to tell where the truth (which is undoubtedly out there) ends and speculation begins, placing this story within that popular sci-fi subgenre where fact mingles comfortably with supposition.

This version of the incident begins when a counter-intelligence officer recovers an e-reader the surviving alien was trying to destroy. They discover that it activates when picked up and displays alien writing on its screen, but shuts down a few moments later, leaving the person slightly light-headed. The device eventually winds up in the hands of the CIA where Miles Ashly, a linguist, and Lambert Gray, a cryptographer, are tasked with the translation and soon discover that as they begin to recognize certain words that the device “speaks” the word telepathically, providing the pronunciation, then eventually starts teaching Ashly the language.  When they uncover the aliens’ “Mission Plan” they are horrified to discover that their intent was to exterminate the human race. Once the failure is apparent to those back on Tau Ceti, a new attempt will be made which they expect will occur around 2016.

The author marches through time, taking us to the present while tying in various historical events, such as the race to the Moon as well as other presidential administrations.  Eventually Ashly retires and decides to teach the alien language to his grand-niece, Carrie Player, telling her it’s the language of the Dogon people. Years later, when he’s on his death bed and Carrie is an adult, he tells her the truth and advises her to write the CIA a letter about her special skills when she graduates from college. She does and, as expected, they hire her.  It takes a couple decades but eventually the dreaded day arrives when three UFOs are discovered on a course toward Earth.  Their plan is not to kill everyone overtly, but rather render everyone sterile, so they would die off over time. The reason for this action is because Earthlings are a potentially harmful, belligerent race that poses a potential danger to other civilizations in interstellar space.

Eventually contact is made with the incoming craft and Carrie converses on her cell phone with their leader, a grey, almond-eyed alien named Deshler, and the real fun begins, starting with her assigning the theme from The Twilight Zone as his ring tone.  Her goal, as expected, is to talk him and his crew out of completing their mission to exterminate the human race.  Various remarks about how our government operates as well as conducts international relations definitely were politically incorrect.  For example, Carrie’s question during one conversation where she asked, “We have many parasites who live off the work of others. Could you use your sterilization stuff selectively? There are plenty of people I would like to stop from reproducing.”

The POTUS is not shown in a positive light, either, which would undoubtedly be offensive to some if you projected his identity to an actual person. Frankly, depending on your political persuasion, he could be from either major party, both of which are laughable these days, if you maintain your objectivity and sense of humor. Thus, those of you who can see our current state of affairs for the FUBAR it is will appreciate the satire and what is a rather convincing tale with enough credibility to make you wonder, as good fiction should.

The dialog is convincing but includes quite a few f-bombs, so those who prefer less graphic language may want to look elsewhere. If you’re a UFO fan you’ll recognize numerous familiar stories and names which provide authenticity and credibility as they interact with Skipper’s characters.  Depictions of how the various government agencies would react to the situation’s developments are believable, the characters diverse and engaging, the technology described sufficient to satisfy hard sci-fi fans.  The story would make an excellent mini-series with its outstanding balance of humor, suspense, and UFO lore, somewhat like a cross between The X-Files and Men in Black. I found it sci-fi at its best with any political incorrectness contributing to its authenticity.  I’m actually glad that it’s the first book in a series and look forward to reading the sequels.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon here.  (Affiliate link)

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.

Another One Bites the Dust

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Year, that is.

I suppose that title gives some clue to my age, at least to those who remember its context. They go by faster and faster. I’ve always liked the analogy comparing life to a roll of toilet paper, i.e. it goes faster toward the end. Scary but true.

Every December I always look back at the list of goals I made the previous year to see how I did. I usually achieve most of them, which is a testimony for writing them down so you don’t forget what they are. Of course that works both ways. If you don’t record it then you may forget to pursue it in the first place but on the other hand, if you finished something without listing it then it could slip into the past unnoticed, meaning you don’t take credit for it. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need all the credit I can get.

Fortunately, I have tangible proof of at least some of the things I accomplished. Some have been hanging over my head for years. For example, finishing up my science fiction series, the Star Trails Tetralogy. I think I originally said the final volume would be coming out back in 2013. Hahahaha! That sure didn’t happen. But this year it finally did. Refractions of Frozen Time came out in March, about the same time my contractor, Tracy, finished up remodeling my sunroom into a guest room. I could have quit right there and taken pride in my achievements, with due credit to Tracy, of course. Both those goals had been on my list for years so those were biggies.

But once all four books were complete, then I set to work putting together the box set I’d envisioned ever since I realized my story would require more than one book to complete. I had some extra incentive to get that one accomplished when I agreed to share a book fair booth with three other authors. It took a lot more work than expected, but somehow I finished that one, too. Yay!

Then I had a couple nonfiction ebooks I wanted to get in print. Particularly Whobeda’s Guide to Basic Astrology and The Family History Fun Factor. Done! I still have one more to go but plan to get that out by the first of 2016.

So I’m celebrating and invite you to join me.

GIVEAWAYS!

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I’m giving away 3 copies of the Star Trails Tetralogy Deluxe Box Set here.  All books are autographed by yours truly and it includes a fun swag pack of goodies, too.

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If you’re interested in astrology, sign up to win one of three autographed copies of Whobeda’s Guide to Basic Astrology here.

Both giveaways end December 13 which will hopefully allow enough time for the winners to receive them by Christmas. (Sorry, USA only)

 

 

Here are some other deals you might like. If you have any sci-fi fans on your holiday gift list, remember you can always “gift” them a copy.

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THE SAPPHIRAN AGENDA

The Sapphiran Agenda, backstory of Thyron, the telepathic walking plant everyone loves in Star Trails, is now FREE on Smashwords here.

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BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY

Star Trails Volume 1, Beyond the Hidden Sky, is free if you join my Preferred Readers here.

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STAR TRAILS TETRALOGY EBOOK BOX SET

Get the entire Star Trails Tetralogy box set electronically for half-price on Smashwords here.

Promotional price: $2.99
Use Coupon Code: VP22Z
Expires: January 5, 2016

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WHOBEDA’S GUIDE TO BASIC ASTROLOGY

Get Whobeda’s Guide ebook for 75% off here.

Promotional price: $0.99
Use Coupon Code: QD49E
Expires: January 5, 2016

If you’d like a paperback copy you can get one for 20% off at Create Space here.   Use Discount Code 4KCHSKEW

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may you have a prosperous New Year!  Meanwhile, I’m going to go back and work on that list for 2016.  After I take a nap.  I’m pretty tired after realizing how much I actually got done this year…

 

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.