Monday, April 30, 2007
Houston, we have lift off...
As always, it was wild. A crush. A zoo. Faboo. The most fun you can have with your clothes on. Exhausting. Draining. Silly. Enlightening. It was a total hoot meeting my readers, my Yahoo loopies ::waves to David:: and reuniting with old friends.
I'll post pictures on my website this week but I wanted to share with you all a wonderful thing: I met noted SFF author Barbara Hambly, one of my longtime favorite authors. I more than met the esteemed Ms. Hambly. I sat and talked with her for several hours.
I am--to quote my UK friend Lynne Connolly, who was also at the convention--gobsmacked.
I've read Ms. Hambly for years. The Silicon Mage is a top ten favorite. But there are so many others: Stranger at the Wedding, the Sunwolf and Starhawk books, her Star Wars and Trek books...oh, the hours of joy! You can see her booklist here: http://www.barbarahambly.com/hambooks.htm
Several times during the conversation I had to mentally pinch myself. Holy Crap. I'm talking to Barbara Hambly.
She is a gentle, gracious woman with large eyes behind round glasses. She listens intently and has that writer's slight perpetual puzzled expression that is a combination of thoughtfulness and curiousity. We talked industry talk, we talked of her new projects and mine. The whole paranormal romance thing interests her. I'm so very glad. I would love nothing more for a noted writer such as Barbara Hambly to come play in my pond. It would be a boon to this cross-genre.
And, holy crap, I met Barbara Hambly.
She's going to be Guest of Honor at Archon in St Louis this coming August. I'll be there as well, along with author Stacey Klemstein and, I hope, author Isabo Kelly. And another noted author: Jacqueline Lichtenberg.
I will definitely be gobsmacked.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
It's time to honk
Linnea organized an Intergalactic Bar and Grille party for readers, where ten authors of science-fiction romance did a spaced out version of wheel of fortune, and the house was packed. Not only that, those who came were ready and able to answer great (and not-to-challenging) questions about our books.
Janet Miller, Barbara Karmazin, Isabo Kelly, Susan Grant, Linnea Sinclair, Susan Kearney, Evangeline Anderson, Deidre Knight, Colby Hodge, and Stacey Klemstein (and I) put together thee or four gravity defying questions and a few fun prizes.
Susan Kearney, Susan Grant, PC Cast, Anne Groel, Deidre Knight, Colby Hodge, and yours truly were on Linnea's Starships and Swordfights panel workshop. Susan Kearney made a huge impression on the room (I hope!) when she told readers and writers that it is time science fiction romance came out from under the wing of paranormal... time science fiction romance lovers stood up to be counted.
The reason I am blogging today about what Susan said is that I had a jaw dropping conversation with a powerful gentleman (industry strength, not cover model) during the massive BookFair run by Katy Books in the Imperial Ballroom.
In effect, there seems to be a perception in some parts that there is a literary glass ceiling for science fiction romance, and it is in the avian armpit of paranormal. Now there is a mixed metaphor. It makes more sense if you think of paranormal as a big speckled hen with lots of multi-colored chicks.
While I was working on reviving my smile, three readers almost in succession came up to me and expressed their joy over science fiction romance as a genre. That is why I say that it is time to honk if you love aliens and space-faring humans in your romances.
Now, I'm off to look at the space center.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Latest About Life on Distant Worlds
Have you all read about the discovery of a potentially Earthlike, life-bearing planet orbiting a distant red dwarf star? That's an encouraging step toward the refutation of the pessimistic view that the reason the aliens haven't contacted us is that there aren't any—that life as we know it is so rare throughout the cosmos that it's statistically unlikely for any advanced extraterrestrial civilization to spring up during the lifespan of our species. Recent discoveries have refreshingly suggested that planets are a not uncommon feature of the life cycles of stars. Now we have concrete reason to hope that Earthlike planets aren't uncommon, either.
How likely, however, is it that their inhabitants, even if intelligent, will resemble us? Some xenobiologists maintain that the humanoid shape, bipedal with manipulative limbs free to handle objects and with a head at the top to house the brain and sensory organs, is a logical body design likely to be replicated many times over on a multitude of planets. That view might be cast in doubt, though, by the reminder that right here on our own planet, lots of creatures who share our favored habitat don't look anything like us. Cats, dogs, spiders, roaches, and ants, for example, live quite contentedly in our houses. And I see no intrinsic reason why, given a nudge in a different direction, evolution couldn't have produced sapient felids or canids rather than sapient primates. Nor would they necessarily have to become bipeds. In Heinlein's delightful novel STAR BEAST, it's assumed that Lummox, the hero's eight-legged alien pet, can't be kin to an intelligent species that otherwise resembles her because she doesn't have hands. Well, surprise, she develops manipulative forelimbs with maturity. What about non-mammals? On land, crustaceans, cephalopods, and arthropods (insects, spiders, etc.) seem poor candidates for brains large enough to harbor intelligence. In water, however, such species don't have size limitations. Sapient giant squids or crabs look perfectly feasible in an aquatic environment. The Creator (or the creative process working through evolution, depending upon your viewpoint) is capable of almost infinite variety. So should we expect a STAR TREK universe inhabited by dozens of alien races who look almost like us except for cosmetic variations? Or should we prepare for extraterrestrial neighbors in a myriad of forms we can only begin to imagine?
As a writer of spec fic romance, I of course opt for the former, because I want aliens my human characters can plausibly fall in love with. In paranormal romances, for example, I'm perfectly willing to suspend disbelief in extraterrestrial vampires who can pass for human. But in the primary-world cosmos, I suspect the latter will prove more likely.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
There was an article recently in the news about compensating the sibling who ends up living with an elderly parent and being the final care-giver while the other siblings live their lives.
Such a sibling sacrifices career building prospects, personal funds, and a huge swatch of their emotional well-being (i.e. the internal image of the parent held dear for the rest of life.)
Truths come out that don't otherwise impact the child's life.
So, this article suggested legal documentation (such as the Will) should provide compensation for the care-giver sibling.
In most families this would be considered a horrible travesty -- such care is given from love. If it's for money or material wealth, then the care itself is sullied.
So it's one of those situations that has to be thought about from all points of view (thus of course making it fodder for story ideas -- plot-bunnies under the bed.)
Our society has distanced this dying process by providing "hospice" care either in the home (by choice usually -- but it's the cheaper choice though it requires a family member be there at night at least) -- or in a hospital like environment. I've seen a couple really LOVELY hospice buildings, but I feel them as lonely and isolated. Family and friends visit seldom and for short times -- it's depressing.
But Linnea brings up a very interesting point in this regard. In Japan I think -- or maybe it's Microsoft or a combination -- there is a household chores robot in development. It's already pretty good and will be affordable - at least to rent when you really need it.
I've toyed with the dramatic elements of the emotional impact of being relegated to the care of machines.
A.I. shows some promise, but a real "personality" a human being can interact with is a long way off. Our robots show no signs of becoming "alive" as in the film NUMBER FIVE IS ALIVE.
But we have a very small generation getting set to give final care to a huge generation - the Boomers.
SF and Romance both have a great deal to say about the permutations and combinations of situations that could arise.
How about if a sibling care-giver is so badly "stuck" with a parental situation they can't physically manage, have put their own life on hold and feel they're getting older too fast -- and gets seduced into voluntarily becoming a vampire?
What if such a turned care-giver accidentally drank their parent dry? (or on purpose?)
How could the law deal with that? How could the siblings deal with that?
What if this happened a century ago and everyone in that situation is long gone except the vampire-caregiver? What emotional toll would that take?
What if there's a disease that evolves (like a virus) that kills vampires but not humans. After all, if vampires multiply and associate with each other, there's an empty ecological niche waiting for something to crawl in and occupy it, vampire infections.
Now the care-giver who voluntarily became a vampire gets this disease (he/she probably helped evolve) and another vampire has to give the last century of care to this sick elder (postulating a vampire would take a long time to die of a virus.)
Could love resolve that conflict? Maybe -- if ghosts are real in this built world.
At any rate, I think the plight of the final care-giver abandoned by family to go-it-alone should be closely examined and fiction is a good tool for that job.
Live Long and Prosper,
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Scutwork in the Future
Here's a link to an article by Ruth Rosen, "Why Working Women Are Stuck in the 1950s," on what she calls the "care crisis," connected to the way our culture has defined as "women's work" the routine maintenance of a household:
Linguist and SF author Suzette Haden Elgin's blog recently discussed this article over several days, generating hundreds of comments. Go to http://ozarque.livejournal.com and check the archives beginning March 3.
How will our descendants deal with this issue? The most optimistic images of the future envision true equality between the sexes. Later series in the Star Trek universe portray women filling the same professional, military, and political positions as men. I don't remember ever seeing a cleaning crew on any of the Enterprises. Probably robots performed that function. Replicators produced food, at least later in the chronology of the universe, although Neelix on Voyager often cooked from fresh ingredients. Surely not all civilians could afford replicators and robots, though. The protagonist of Robert Heinlein's DOOR INTO SUMMER invents cleaning robots, intended for the average middle-class family, but his earlier models do only a few specific tasks. In J. D. Robb's futuristic mysteries, set in the 2050s, women perform the same kinds of work as men (women officers are even addressed as "Sir"), and droids do household labor. In this universe, such inventions serve only the affluent. In less prosperous households, some human being must be doing the scutwork (defined by Peg Bracken in her I HATE TO HOUSEKEEP book as "chores any boob can do"). American society in Robb's universe includes an official, paid (presumably by the government) career of "professional parent." (A concept I approve of, since it would remove the "welfare leech" stigma for the subsidizing of stay-at-home parenthood, while recognizing that people who choose to bear children are performing an indispensable service for society as a whole. SOMEBODY has to produce a younger generation to keep the economy going when the rest of us get too infirm to work full-time.) But it's not implied that this person necessarily does all the cleaning and other chores as well as parenting. And even with robots (or human servants, for that matter) somebody has to organize and direct the work, maintain the schedules for family members, etc.
In the future, the achievement of true gender equality would, one hopes, render obsolete the assumption that household upkeep is "women's work" -- her responsibility to arrange, even if she doesn't personally do most of the tasks. It would also be nice to see the "scutwork" decoupled from the primary-parent role. If parenthood is recognized (with or without pay) as a full-time job, then it should follow that the person in this role shouldn't necessarily be expected to handle all routine maintenance just because he or she happens to be hanging around the house. Until the advent of universal access to robot servants, though, who will do this work? Would chores be divided according to the number of hours each adult works outside the home? Inversely proportional to income contributed to the household? According to personal preference? (What about the jobs nobody likes?) By a rotating schedule, a point system, or a lottery? These are a few potential solutions discussed on Elgin's blog.
As for the "care crisis" in general, one way to ameliorate the situation would be to make polyandry legal. Aside from moral and spiritual considerations (as a Christian, I of course believe in monogamy), a marital unit of one woman and two men would pragmatically solve a number of problems. (Why not polygyny? Because the female is the reproductive bottleneck, so to speak, and more women in a household would mean potentially more babies, so care-crisis-wise you'd be right back where you started. Besides, historically the harem system has NOT been associated with female empowerment.) Three adults per household would provide three incomes, a big plus in areas with high housing costs. You'd have three people among whom to divide the tasks of daily life. If babies and small children needed care, the role of stay-at-home parent could be rotated, with two income-producing adults always working. Moreover, the average man can't keep up, sexually, with the average healthy woman. Two men to one woman would be just about the right ratio. (Of course, there are down sides to this system. We'd end up with an even greater imbalance between single women and eligible men than we have now. And the male biological tendency to sexual jealousy might disrupt a polyandrous marriage. We can't expect all adult males to behave like the blissful participants in the group marriages of such novels as Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE.)
Anyway, unless we eventually become cosmic disembodied intelligences as in Arthur Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END (a prospect I don't find at all appealing), we'll always have the scutwork to deal with somehow.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Dresden Files Interview with Jim Butcher
Sunday, I spent an hour with Jim Butcher, creator of The Dresden Files then sat through his talk at a local bookstore, The Poison Pen in Scottsdale AZ. (he's a very good speaker -- and very funny too!)
It was very informative and enjoyable -- maybe 45 or 50 people turned out in a smallish bookstore.
He was born in 1971 and grew up on Anime, Spiderman movies, and modern adult fantasy - thinks visually of story in Anime and film terms and likes the Anime style of deep relationships and screaming hot action.
Patric asked a good question which I posed to Jim:
Is he satisfied with how his books were translated to the screen.
Jim said yes he is, the only real changes were cosmetic and for practical TV filming purposes.
The two we discussed were the switch from Dresden driving a VW Beetle to a Jeep -- and the reason was that a 6Ft+ guy getting in and out of a Beetle on screen would be funny/awkward every time it was shot whereas in his novels he can play it for laughs only when appropriate.
The reasoning for choosing a Jeep was consistent with the background point that Dresden's body field fries fancy electronics. Also the VW Beetle would be harder to shoot from various angles and catch Dresden's image inside -- but the Jeep is easy and thus cheaper. So he accepts that change.
The other visual change was the long duster changed into a fireman's jacket -- and Jim says that's fine since it's in keeping with the way Dresden uses fire. On the other hand he and I agree the jacket just doesn't have the right look -- the flowing leather duster would look better. I'm not sure of the reason for that change.
The wand becoming a hockey stick he can live with easily enough. The blasting rod we didn't discuss -- we only had an hour. But basically I agree that so far the TV version has only superficial changes necessary to make the budget work (fewer characters, less animation, fewer sets). If they do a second season and onwards I do hope they can increase the budget.
I have philosophy and writing-lesson material for several columns and the final episode of the first season airs tonight. I want to see that and then write some columns. They'll decide by June whether to do a second season - no word on the DVD yet. Of course as author of the books, Jim is the last to know!
I'm working on the July 2007 column and a few more that will feature bits from this interview.
My review column, ReReadable Books (because it's not worth its cover price if it's not re-readable) is published on paper in The Monthly Aspectarian, then posted to their website lightworks.com then archived on simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ so you can always look up prior columns.
Live Long and Prosper,
Creator of the Sime~Gen Universe
where a mutation makes the evolutionary
division into male and female pale by comparison.
Monday, April 16, 2007
More from the Cutting Room Floor : Games of Command
ADMIRAL’S OFFICE, I.H.S. VAXXAR
He knew how she took her coffee just as he knew how she took her gin and what vegetables she liked and how seedless black grapes, chilled, were one of her favorite snacks. After eleven years of following her, challenging her and studying her, he knew all of those minute, concrete details.
But he still, no matter how hard he tried, didn’t know how to read between the lines of those light-hearted quips of hers. You promise me coffee and I’ll do anything.
He wanted desperately to believe that even a mild flirtation existed in those and many other things she said to him, as he tried to ignore the fact that she also frequently traded quips with others. He wanted desperately to believe he wasn’t the “Tin Soldier” to her, was not a cybernetic construct that so many of his crew viewed as simply another extension of the ship. He wanted to be real and warm and as human as he could to her, and had no idea how to do that without making more of a complete fool of himself than he already had.
So as much as possible, he kept her with him, in unscheduled meetings, extended conferences, detailed inspections and whatever other ways he could think of to commandeer her time.
He heard her step through his office door just as he was retrieving two hot cups of coffee from the replicator set in the far wall. He held one out. She accepted it with a bright smile and sipped at it gratefully as he stood in silent, appreciative appraisal in front of her. Then she moved towards the chair in front of his desk, and there was the light, seductive scent of sandalwood in the air around her. He could see where her short cropped hair was still slightly damp around at the nape of her neck. He had to willfully restrain himself from reaching out to touch it.
He took his own chair and placed his cup on the desk to the right of the datafiles he had pulled as an excuse for this discussion. He granted himself another moment of the silent pleasure of just looking at her before clearing his throat, and selecting a thin crystalline file, pushed it into the appropriate data slot. “As long as we have to be on Panperra, we might as well acquaint ourselves with some of the Adjutant’s recent projects.”
Sass groaned loudly and leaned back in the chair. “If this is one of Kel-Farquin’s reports, I’m going to need a lot more than just coffee to get through.”
“If this were Kel-Farquin’s, I would have brought pillows,” he replied blandly, his tone hiding the deep pleasure he felt at her responding wide smile. “No, this is some data on the recent ion storm activity which Panperran sensors were in prime position to record. Now...”
And then Sass leaned forward, as he knew she would, in order to better read the data on the desktop monitor. And for the next forty minutes he had her total attention, and physical presence, all to himself.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Sarcasm, Irony... aliens don't "get" it
You Earthlings (humans, Terrans) are a funny lot. You don't speak the same language. You fight incontinently. You don't have a one-world government. You can't decide on one individual to lead you all --you don't even try!
It's no wonder we aliens shrug and go home when our extremely reasonable request "Take Me To Your Leader" causes such confusion and such unsatisfactory and inconsistent responses.
It's never the same leader. It usually turns out that whoever the leader is, he's not the Leader of all leaders. There was once a "she"... We had hopes of her.
And then, there's the human sense of humor. It makes no sense to us. In fact, there isn't just one sense of humor shared and enjoyed by all humans, which would be logical.
Any sentient being can understand that sudden bursts of malodorous gas and floating droplets of unmentionable matter in a confined space (and almost no gravity) are just cause for venting one's strongest and most appropriate swear words or else for laughing in manic despair.
But some of you cannot even talk sense. How is a highly intelligent alien supposed to know when you are using sarcasm or irony?
Do you mean what you say, or don't you? Sometimes, an alien could be forgiven for his confusion. It would be helpful to your alien cousins if you would show your teeth and heave your upper bodies to show that you think you are being pleasantly funny, and that you either do --or do not-- mean what you just said.
Sarcasm is when you Terrans say exactly what you mean, but in such a way that it makes your auditor uncomfortable.
The modern "Duh!" is much more useful.
"No sh-t!" is an obscenity which offends us beyond words, for reasons this alien has delicately hinted at above.
A --presumably rhetorical-- question, such as "Is the Pope Catholic?" or "Does a bear sh-t in the woods?" presumes that aliens have a wide understanding of your different cultures and the sanitary practices of wilderlife.
Besides which, a polar bear on an ice floe probably does not have that luxury. Nor for that matter does a captive bear in a concrete habitat mysteriously known as a zoological garden.
Irony is when you Terrans say the opposite of what you mean, but in such a way that it makes your auditor uncomfortable.
Making someone else uncomfortable, or finding "humor" in thoughts of another's discomfort seems to be a repeating theme.
Now this alien thinks about it, "pleasantly funny" may be an oxymoron ... a logical contradiction in terms.
We will leave you now. But We will be back!
Posted on behalf of a fascinated alien by,
author of the Gods of Tigron trilogy
(Forced Mate, Mating Net, Insufficient Mating Material)
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Talking with the Animals
Tolkien says in his classic essay "On Fairy-Stories" that the other creatures of nature are like foreign countries with which humankind has broken off diplomatic relations. He suggests that one desire satisfied by fairy tales, through the motif of talking animals, is the yearning to re-establish that lost connection with the other species who share our world. A taste of dragon's blood gifts the mythic hero with the language of beasts, thus helping him in his quest. Dr. Doolittle talks to the animals and gains a fresh perspective on the human race. WATERSHIP DOWN immerses the reader in rabbit culture and language. In CHARLOTTE'S WEB, Fern is still young enough to understand the animals' conversations, although it's implied that she is poised on the cusp, soon to outgrow that connection with nature. Primate researchers conduct simple dialogues with symbol-using apes. Many people believe dolphins have true language.
Of course, we might not like what we'd hear if our pets could speak to us. Garfield thinks of Jon as "the man who cleans my litter box." Still, imagine what we could learn about our world if we could communicate with creatures (like cats, with their night vision, and dogs, with their extraordinary noses) whose senses perceive the environment so differently from ours.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Once an Alien Lover, Always an Alien Lover
For me, it all started that summer back in the 1980’s when the original Star Trek aired in reruns every afternoon at four p.m. I mean, before that I’d certainly loved Star Wars, had read a little Arthur C. Clarke, but Trek was a new dimension. It tapped into my imagination, to those parts of me that loved King Arthur lore and believed in other realms—and probably into my sixteen-year-old hormones. I mean, come on! Who can’t love a brilliant, emotionally rigid alien who goes wild during his mating cycle, right? Ah, Spock and his Pon Far mating needs. When you’re sixteen, that’s heady stuff. Super intelligent, geek reaction? Maybe not, but I ate it up.
Of course, it was far more than that too. Spock mentally bonding with the horta? Realizing she was just a mother protecting her young? My brain was in overdrive. Aliens, with their supernatural abilities and natures, were capable of things I’d never imagined. Forget PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, forget WUTHERING HEIGHTS (my earliest romance roots, plus approved summer reading!) I had TREK! That fall when school reconvened, I was amazed to discover that a whole cadre of my fellow geeks had also discovered these reruns. Next thing I knew three of us had formed a power triumvirate, trading black and white headshots and debating whether Spock or Kirk was the hottest one. Interestingly enough, of the three of us, I now write sci-fi romance and another went on to write for Buffy.
Something started for me then, a new place in my writerly development. I’d always made up stories, passing the time as a lonely child of divorced parents by living in the make-believe realm of my imagination. But that summer of Star Trek, the stories inside my mind shifted, became other-worldly oriented. It just took fourteen years for me to translate the crazy ideas inside my head to paper. I wrote and wrote in the interim, but somehow—for reasons I can’t understand looking back—it never occurred to me that I could write what I loved and thought about the most. Maybe I needed permission? Maybe we all do with our creative selves.
I give all the credit to a little known, compulsively watchable show of alien romance, Roswell. From the first episode I saw in 2000, it was as if every idea I’d ever had floating in my head coalesced. Romance, aliens, sci-fi… it could all come together. This was a massive sea change for me. Within months I began writing fanfic (no, don’t run and don’t hide!) It’s amazing how many of my fellow sci-fi romance writers began just the same way. I think fanfic is a fabulous way for new writers to push their boundaries, to realize what they can get away with. It taught me to take crazy chances and not worry who went with me—even my fanfic readers. And trust me, there were times when, with my unconventional romance pairings, very few followed me. I guess I’m saying that fanfic toughened me up. And it gave me confidence to trust in my writer’s heart.
In 2004 I’d finished my first novel. Big clue to self: It had absolutely no elements of the paranormal. It was a deeply felt, emotional women’s fiction novel, and although it was well-received by many editors, was simply too edgy to sell. Twenty-two rejections later I decided that maybe—just maybe—some killer clue lay in my sci-fi writings. After all, that was what I’d spent four years writing in the fanfic world. It was what first stirred my imagination with Trek. Even though it seemed odd after trying my hand at a literary novel, I poured all my energy into the proposal for the Midnight Warriors series. And guess what? Being true to yourself pays off: The series sold very fast.
Lesson learned? Go with what you love. Trust your fantasies and the passions that drive you. No matter how off the wall, or unconventional, I think being real and writing what you love will—in the end—bring you success. If you’ve read my books, you’ll see shades of Spock and Pon Far still shining through. Because once an alien lover, always an alien lover… and I’m proud to carry that ID badge.
Monday, April 09, 2007
Where it all began--PART 2
Have fun! ~ Linnea
(from the original Chapter One... and the cutting room floor)
Something heated flared correspondingly inside Kel-Paten, his gaze taking in far more of her than he was used to seeing. At least, not while he was awake. He didn’t miss her playful tap on Dr. Fynn’s arm with the tip of her racquet as she strode by. “Whipped his ass, 5-4!” she rasped, still somewhat short of breath.
The CMO hid her laughter behind a well-timed coughing fit as Sass plunked down into the chair next to his own. She wiped her face with a towel draped around her neck. A series of soft chuckles followed around the room as the lettering on the Captain’s t-shirt became obvious for all to see:
“My name’s No! No! Bad Captain!
“Sebastian.” Pause. There was always The Pause. “You’re--”
“Late, I know.” Sass held up one hand as if to stave off his reprimand. “I apologize, Admiral. I’d every intention of being here on time. Even recheduled my game two hours earlier. But we—”
“And you’re out of uniform,” he cut in and made sure he didn’t allow his gaze to travel lower than Sass’ face. Interesting what dampness does to certain thin fabrics.
“I’d be later if I’d taken time to change,” Sass was pointing out. “But before you have me vented out the starboard exhausts for a total inattention to duty, at least allow me to state that I have read the entire packet and,” she said, swiveling one of the comp screens attached at regular intervals down the middle of the table, “my report has been filed and already disseminated to the staff.” She tapped at the “Report Waiting” icon flashing on the lower left.
“I assume you’ve all used the...” and she stopped, glancing at her watch, “...four minutes and forty three point two seconds that I was delayed to retrieve and review my report?”
Five faces, including his own, turned blankly to her. Only Dr. Fynn grinned back. Kel-Paten didn’t know if the CMO was just used to the petite green-eyed blonde’s diversonary tactics, or had known beforehand the report would be there. It didn’t matter.
From the conspiratorial nature of her grin, it was obvious she was the only one who’d read it
"Well, good, then it shouldn’t take the rest of you, Dr. Fynn excluded, more than four minutes and forty three point two seconds to do just that. And in that time,” Sass added, rising, “I’ll jog down the corridor to my quarters and grab a sweatshirt. Imperial issue of course,” she added, “before I freeze my butt off in here.”
The zip-front black sweatshirt with the Vaxxar’s signature slashed-lightning logo on the sleeves helped, but not much, Kel-Paten noted wryly as Sass returned to the ready room with ten point oh-eight seconds to spare. The sweatshirt, in generic extra-large, fell below the hem line of her shorts so that when she walked in all he saw were sweatshirt and nicely shaped bare legs... and nothing else. Oh, there were socks (also bright pink) and high-top sneakers (white), he knew, but that only made the illusion worse. It was only after she took the seat next to him that he let out the breath he’d been holding. Slowly.
When he turned back to the table five pairs of eyes regarded him expectantly: Kel-Fhay, the First Officer on his left; Kel-Arint, Chief of Tactical next to him. Then came his U-Cee-issue CMO. Her blue eyes held a a hint of amusement, so he passed over her quickly. His U-Cee-issue Chief of Security, Lt. Francisco Garrick, was opposite her. To Garrick’s left was Zahar Kel-Nilos. The grey-haired Commander had been his Chief of Engineering for fifteen years; he trusted Kel-Nilos, trusted him with his life and his ship and the lives of his crew. Hence, he was also trusted to be the only other officer allowed to sit next to the captain.
She, he noted, didn’t look at him but directly at Eden Fynn. He didn’t like the smile on either woman’s face.
Had he been prone to sighing he would’ve done so just then, but instead he eased himself up to his full 6’3” height’, well aware of the image he presented: an imposing figure in black with night-dark hair. Five diamond-studded stars glinted blue-white on his uniform’s high collar and were matched in their iciness, it was often said, only by the hardness of his eyes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a problem. It sppears we may have to do some damage control.”
The problem’s name was Shadow, or more accurately, Jace Serafino. Captain Jace Serafino though Kel-Paten’s tone as he said the rank relayed just how little respect he had for the often deadly, always flamboyant mercenary.
Serafino had quite a history, most of it conflicting, very little of it documented save for spaceport gossip and ‘tracker' legends. He was the illegitimate son of an Imperial nobleman and a prosti from the U-Cee pleasure world of Glitterkiln. He was defrocked Nasyry from the Warrior-Priest clan. He was a Q’itha addict and escapee from an Imperial Rehab compound. He was a reclusive and mega-weathly entrepreneur with a decidedly unorthodox philanthropic hobby. He was a bio-cybe crechling--one of Kel-Paten’s siblings--who’d been reported to have died at birth.
All were true. None were true. The only verifiable facts known about Captain Jace Serafino was that he had been very, very good at making trouble for the U-Cees and the Empire, now called the Alliance, and their mutual enemy, the Illithians. And he’d also been very very good at escaping from the clutches of all three.
Suddenly made patriotic by the prospect of two hundred fifty thousand credits, Serafino had agreed to participate in a little undercover work for the newly formed Alliance. Kel-Paten had been openly against the idea but had been out voted by the Defense Minister and Admiral Kel-Varen. So Serafino had been paid half the money, pointed in the direction of the Illithian border... and vanished.
It had been almost five months and nothing had been heard of him or his ship, the Novalis. However, two weeks after he’d left Kel Station, a lowly ensign in payroll made a not-so startling discovery--the other half of Serafino’s payment was also gone. For all intents and purposes it looked like he’d taken the money, and run. And was probably comfortably holed up in some rim-world nighthouse, enjoying the soft charms of a sloe-eyed prosti. And laughing his ass off at the Alliance.
So the Alliance did what the Empire always used to do when the Empire got pissed: they gave the command to unleash Kel-Paten on the problem.
“Captain Sebastian’s report noted all the leads we have relative to a last known location on Serafino,” Kel-Paten said. “Lt. Garrick, I want you and Lt. Kel-Arint to head up one team; Commander Kel-Fhay and Dr. Fynn will head the second. The captain and I will head the third. If he isn’t found precisely in one of those locations, I have no doubt, based on the accuracy of our information, that we won’t be very far behind him.”
“We don’t have any reason to believe that Serafino will be cooperative about returning to Kel Prime,” Garrick noted. “Your instructions, sir, if we encounter resistance?”
Kel-Paten leaned his black-gloved fists against the table. This answer was easy. “Kill him,” he replied evenly.
Then he straightened, his hands behind him in correct military posture. “You all understand the situation. Dismissed.”
A nodding of heads accompanied the squeaking of chairs as the command staff of the Vaxxar rose almost in unison and headed for the door. Sass swiveled in her chair, followed Kel-Nilos around the far end of the conference table.
He said her name before she could reach Dr. Fynn’s side: “Sebastian.” Pause. “I will require your attention for a bit longer.”
She turned and faced him expectantly. “Admiral?”
Kel-Paten opened his mouth to speak only to find his mind blanking as My name’s No! No! Bad Captain! stared back at him. Sometime during the ninety-minute meeting her workout clothes had dried and Sass had unzipped the oversized black sweatshirt. Her arms, folded casually across her chest, obscured the What’s Yours?
She looked up. “Yes?”
Damn her, damn her! Two hours ago, he’d chosen what he’d thought was the perfect topic to delay her after the meeting, something important enough to be believable. Something they could discuss, leisurely, perhaps over a cup of coffee. Something that... something that he’d obviously forgotten.
“Your... report was very thorough.” One-point-four-million credits they had spent perfecting his flawlessly synchronized cybertronic brain interface and that was the best he could come up with.
She cocked her head slightly to one side. Perhaps she knew of the amount and was just now realizing what a tremendous waste of funds it represented.
“Thanks. But it was just a distillation of facts. The original report was kind of repetitive.”
“H.Q.’s usually are.”
“Well then, just goes to prove the theory that bureaucrats everywhere share a common DNA. I never read a report out of our H.Q. at Varlow that was worth a damn, either.”
“I can imagine,” he replied and knew that if the fate of the Universe relied on his conversational abilities right now they’d all be in the proverbial shitter.
However, his terse sentence elicited a raised eyebrow from her. “Didn’t think you had to imagine, Kel-Paten. I was under the impression that there was little the U-Cees did during the war that you weren’t directly aware of. I’d thought our reports provided you with the bulk of your bedtime stories.”
Actually, he’d always saved reports on the Regalia’s captain for that particular time of his day. “I was naturally aware of any information deemed to be important.”
“Oh, naturally,” she said, her mouth quirking slightly into a smile. “If there’s nothing else, Admiral?”
“Nothing else?” He’d been contemplating the soft curves at the base of her throat. Her usual uniform’s high collar covered that area, and though he’d often seen her in the ship’s gym, it had been from across the room. He’d never been this close to her when she’d had been so interestingly out of uniform. So enticingly out of uniform. The temperature in the ready room shot up a few hundred degrees.
“Yes sir, if there’s nothing else you wish to discuss, I’d really like to go back to my quarters and change out of this gear.” She tugged at the slitted hem of her pink shorts, which only drew his eyes down to her bare thighs. His mind immediately responded by informing him just how quickly one could slide those pieces of flimsy pink apparel down and...
“Yes, of course. I’m sure you want to change.” He turned quickly and took his seat at the head of the table. With a few quick touches on the comp screen, he called up a selection of files of unknown subject matter, only peripherally aware they were there. But at least it looked as if he were doing something productive. “Dismissed, Sebastian.”
Sass inclined her head slightly. “By your leave, Admiral.”
He waited until the doors whooshed closed before he let his head fall wearily against the high back of the chair, his body throbbing. He was surprised the chair hadn’t melted.
He was still in that position, eyes closed, a half hour later when the Vaxxar’s red-alert sirens jolted him back into reality.
He almost collided with Sass in the corridor just as his com badge trilled, demanding his attention. He managed to slap at it with one hand and grab Sass’ elbow with the other.
“We’re right here,” he barked as he guided her forcefully through the double sliding doors that led to the upper-level of the bridge.
The two-tiered, U-shaped command center of the huntership was already frenzied with activity. Voices were terse, commands clipped. Every screen streamed with data.
Sass immediately bolted down the short flight of stairs to the scanner station to check incoming data. Kel-Paten slid into the left command seat and, with a practiced familiarity, thumbed open a small panel covering the dataport in the armrest and linked into the ship’s systems through the interface feeds built into his wrist. There were the microseconds of disorientation as there always was when he spiked in. The last thing his human vision focused on before his mind merged completely with the Vax’s cybermechanisms was Sass’ nicely rounded bottom, clad in fitted pale pink sweat pants as she leaned over the main scanner console below him...
Sunday, April 08, 2007
If I had to... could I?
Before I write about my sometimes alien heroines, I research the Earthly equivalent of the situations into which I dump them, and I like to think that if I were their age, in the shape they are in, and in similar circumstances, I could do almost as well.
But could I?
Could I purify and filter water without a commercial tablet or a store-bought gadget on my plumbing as Djetth (Jeth) does in Insufficient Mating Material? I know how in theory, and what I wrote passed muster with my survival consultant.
If global warming reduced my neighborhood to something close to a dust bowl, could I find water by making a solar still? Could I follow my own survival advice that I dish up in Insufficient Mating Material?
If I decided that I no longer trusted prepared, packaged foods from the supermarket, could I make pizza from scratch... on a hot rock?
Well, could I?
Maybe not pizza, if I didn't have yeast, but I might surprise myself. We women may be tougher than we think.
Actually, I used to make pizza when I lived in Dorset. I had a coal fired oven, which meant that I had to shovel coal into the fire box, wait for it to get really hot, and then bake. My paternal grandmother didn't have a refrigerator. She had a slab of marble in a cupboard under the stairs!
But as for doing some of the things Survivorman does.... I'm not sure, and I hope I never find out, but I pay attention, and I'm thinking of buying some of the best fire making tools I've seen him use on his show, and keeping them in my handbag. It won't do much for the shape of my bag, but a bit of extra weight-lifting should keep my arms and my bones in shape.
Insufficient Mating Material contains quite a lot of information from various survival sources and the consultative wisdom of Survivorman, Les Stroud. Like the alien hero, Djetth (Jeth), I took part in competitive life-saving at school. I still have all the badges that I earned. However, when I think back to all the mushrooms we used to gather in the local cow pastures at dawn, and the berries we picked from hedgerows in Autumn: hips and haws, elderberry, crabapples, blackberries, I wonder whether I'd dare to today, if I weren't desperate.
The problem is (for everyday people), practising making shelters by cutting down vegetation is not environmentally responsible, and experimenting with strange berries when I don't have to seems to be asking for trouble... and I don't mean experimenting in the way that Djetth and Martia-Djulia experiment once their alien romance heats up.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
J. D. Robb's Futuristic Mysteries
It's been a long time since I've discovered a series that engages me the way J. D. Robb's "In Death" mysteries do. Happily, it comprises so many books that I have a long time before I catch up (i.e., run out). The relationship between New York homicide detective Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke gives the novels their special appeal for me. It's often said that the male and female of the human race view each other as alien (men are from Mars, women are from Venus). A character in one of Heinlein's novels questions whether men and women actually belong to the same species. When Eve and Roarke first meet, they live in different worlds, so they feel "alien" to each other, a blunt-spoken cop devoted to the law and a rich, elegant man who made his fortune on the shady side of the legal line. And if "the past is a different country," so is the future of the 2050s in which these stories take place, making the characters slightly alien to us as readers, too. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) has said that in these books she set out with the intention of telling the story of their marriage, so that the first of the series, in which they meet and fall in love, is only the beginning.
What really fascinates me about their relationship is its underlying similarity to the marriage between Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy Sayers' mysteries. In both couples, a career woman marries a much wealthier man. In each case, both the man and the woman have trauma in their pasts (although Harriet's ordeal of being tried for murder pales beside Eve's harrowing childhood). Both couples met while one of the parties was a murder suspect. Both Eve and Harriet are emotionally gun-shy, finding it difficult to accept the possibility of love and, even after marriage, having trouble saying, "I love you," in so many words. Roarke has a counterpart to Lord Peter's impeccable Bunter, and like Lord Peter and Bunter, Roarke and Summerset went through the wars together, metaphorically. (Lord Peter met Bunter on a literal battlefield, in World War I; Roarke bonded with Summerset in the underworld of the Dublin streets.) A difference is that Bunter likes Harriet, while Summerset and Eve (to begin with, at any rate) share a mutual loathing. Roarke even enjoys, like Lord Peter, teasing his more cautious soul-mate by driving his fabulously expensive vehicle recklessly fast. Eve, like Harriet, sensitive about her husband's wealth, has a hard time accepting gifts. A proud, prickly woman and a suave, self-contained, but deeply passionate man, both of them intelligent and articulate—what a dynamite combination!
What's the common theme in these two series that I find so compelling? So far, I think it can be encapsulated as "trust and love overcoming pride and fear of vulnerability." Also, I'm always drawn to stories of people (human or not) reaching out to each other across chasms of difference to grow from alien-ness (or alienation) to intimacy.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Thoughts on the Non-human Hero
Thoughts on the Non-human Hero
By Jennifer Ashley / Allyson James
Rowena kindly asked me to guest blog here with thoughts about non-human heroes, since lately I’ve been writing many of them: Immortal demigods, dragon shapeshifters, were-panthers, genetically enhanced males, and my own made-up creatures.
I have to say that when I read or write paranormal or futuristic heroes, I never think: “But these guys aren’t human!” Perhaps this is because I’ve been reading fantasy and scifi since age twelve, and I’m used to alternate universes and allegorical worlds, but it never occurs to me to dwell on the non-humanness of heroes (or heroines).
I look at each hero, human or non, as a character. Whether he is a Regency cavalry captain or an Immortal demigod or a logosh from my Nvengarian series, I approach each the same way--he (or she) is a character with a history--wants, needs, quirks, flaws, and strengths. All characters have a background that makes them them. Whether or not they are homo sapiens sapiens doesn’t bother me at all.
Before I start a novel, I love to write my hero’s autobiography, beginning with where he was born, who were his parents, were they good parents or bad (or dead), what he had to struggle with while growing up, and how that shaped him.
It’s amazing what comes out when I free-flow a hero’s bio--I become him for a time. Whether he was raised in a rigid Regency household with an uber-strict father, or he’s a two-thousand-year-old warrior who learned to fight in a Roman legion--each hero’s background shapes him into something unique.
I think the most fun heroes I’ve created are the Shareem characters I write as Allyson James. These men were born in a factory from a mixture of donated DNA (no parents), then they were sexually enhanced and raised for one purpose only--to pleasure women.
The scientists claim they’ve taken all emotions from these men and turned them into the ultimate slaves--but of course they haven’t. Each of the Shareem has a distinct personality and a different way of dealing with their lives and fighting their genetic programming.
I am amazed at how much scope for character the background to the Shareem gave me. These men are not human, or maybe they’re super-human, but underneath, they are the most human characters I’ve ever created.
Do I have a point? Probably not. But I thought I’d share some of my techniques for creating heroes who are richly layered and unique. The alpha hero is the most popular type of romance hero (he really is), but he doesn’t have to be the same-old, same-old.
Dig into his background, figure out what happened to him in all the years before the story, and you’ll have a memorable character, whether he’s human or vampire or were-thing or an alien born in a vat.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Where it all began...GAMES OF COMMAND original files
Readers have also been clamoring for all those scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor.
I thought I'd lost a lot of the original, due to computer crashes and such. But I did come across a few files from 2001. They're not the FIRST original files but pretty durn close. I'll share them with you over the next few blogs...
Please note some names/scenes/settings may NOT match the book. This is the seed from which the book was sprouted.
ORIGINAL CHAPTER ONE from my notes dated 2001
Sickbay, Triad HUNTERSHIP Vaxxar
There might be worse things in the galaxy than a lethal alien virus. An admiral with an attitude, and an agenda, could well be one of them.
Chief Medical Officer Eden Fynn glanced at the time stamp in the corner of her screen. “Damn!” She increased the document’s scroll rate. There was a required staff meeting in five minutes, and she had fifty more pages to review. A second outbreak of Nar’Relian flu had inexplicably surfaced at three United Coalition spaceports in the past month, resulting in five more deaths. Finding a cure was now a race against time. She’d waited for two days for this critical analysis. Yet when it finally arrives, she had to go play Dutiful and Obedient CMO because Kel-Paten had his proverbial cybernetic knickers in a knot over something. Again.
“Cal, can you load these stats into my medalytic program? Got another command performance with the full staff in the ready room in five.”
The portly, gray-haired doctor smiled knowingly. “He’s overdue by about thirty-six hours this week, isn’t he?”
“The admiral just likes to be efficient,” Eden replied as blandly as the tired grin on her face would allow her.
“The admiral likes to see how high we all can jump, and when.” Caleb Monterro accepted the thin data-disk that Eden held out to him. “Be glad to help. We need some fast answers on this one. But I’ll tell you, I don’t envy your having to go to these meetings of his. Especially this late.”
"The admiral has his own view of time," Eden agreed as she straightened a stack of files on her desk. It was already a half hour into Third Duty Shift, which was Cal’s shift, not hers as ship's CMO. But medical work rarely respected schedules.
“It’s been different working with the Kel Triad these past six months." Cal absently tapped the thin disk against his palm. "Not like on the Regalia, with Captain Sebastian.”
“Tell me about it,” she quipped. A med-tech interrupted any further conversation, handing a new patient file to Monterro to review.
They parted with an exchange of tired smiles.
But, yes, what Cal had said was true. Their captain had her own way of doing things, and in Eden’s opinion, that to a great extent was what caused some of Admiral Kel-Paten’s problems. The other cause was a supposition she’d only recent begun to consider. It wasn’t one she wanted to explore further, right now. Especially because if she were right, and the bio-cybernetic construct in charge of the newly formed Alliance Fleet was actually experiencing emotions. Then she, as Chief Medical Officer, might just have to Section Forty-Six him.
She didn’t think that would go over well in the Triad part of the Alliance. It might even start another war. Then a puzzling virus would be the least of their problems.
The lift door pinged. She spent the short ride up to the Bridge Deck searching for more pleasant thoughts: the meeting shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half, two hours at most. That would leave her just enough time to get back to her quarters, change into some comfortable hiking gear and unwind with a leisurely late-shift stroll through one of the simdecks’ “Scenic Trails of the Universe” programs. It would unkink muscles now tense from hours of sitting. And maybe would unkink a mind tired from staring at medical data that made no sense.
Eden entered the stark ready room, a relaxed smile on her face. She only had to play “dutiful and obedient officer” for another ninety minutes and then she was free to do as she pleased.
Unfortunately, Fate and the Universe, as they often do, were just at the moment making plans of their own.
Ready Room, THS Vaxxar
Admiral Branden Kel-Paten noted the exact time of Dr. Fynn’s arrival in the same way he noted the exact time of every one of his officers’ arrivals: on a digital read-out in the lower left corner of his field of vision. The angular numbers were a bright shade of yellow-green, a color he'd found disruptive at first, as he'd found disruptive many of the bio-mechanical enhancements that had been added to his human form. He’d said something about the color choice to the Bio Engineers, hesitantly, as he'd been young enough then to still experience the emotion of shame. And the engineers had been sharp and caustic in their reply: he was a fifteen year old child and in no position to dictate preferences to these experienced and degreed professionals.
Truth was, he was more than just a fifteen year old child; he and eleven others had been human experiments, lab-bred from the best genetic materials available so that the Triad could produce five Senior Captains to helm and command the Triad’s five quadrants. But out of the dozen crèche-lings that had fertilized in the test tubes, only three had lived past their tenth birthday. And only one -- Kel-Paten, literally “Kel” (for the Keltish Triad) P.A.-Ten -- Paracybernetic Augmented Humanoid Ten -- survived past his fourteenth birthday and into enough human maturity where the mechanical enhancement procedures could begin.
The psycho-synthesizing had started three years later.
Over the years -- almost thirty more of them -- he'd gotten used to the putrid yellow-green color of his visual readouts. So now when he noted his CMO’s arrival it meant nothing, other than she was on time, and Sass wasn’t.
Oh, Captain Sebastian still had seventy-two point four seconds in which to arrive on time, but he knew she wouldn’t. The look she’d given him over the vidcom when he’d told her to be at the ready room at 2030 hours had portended that. She was off-shift at that time-- as most of his command staff would be-- and was scheduled to play a zero-g racquetball game at 2030 with a certain unmarried commander from Engineering who, Kel-Paten felt, was a little too attentive to Captain Sebastian lately. The info packet he’d downloaded from HQ after they’d cleared the ion storms could’ve waited until First Shift, until the “morning” as dirtsiders would say. There was no reason for a 2030 hours conference, other than such a meeting would keep Sass where he could keep a eye on her. And that was something he lately felt more and more inclined to do.
Sass... Captain Sebastian arrived at exactly 2034.43.2, her bright pink cropped t-shirt top and side-slit work-out shorts still damp from her recent exertions.
Something heated flared correspondingly inside Kel-Paten, his gaze taking in far more of her than he was used to seeing. At least, not while he was awake. He didn’t miss her playful tap on Dr. Fynn’s arm with the tip of her racquet as she strode by.
“Whipped his ass, 5-4!” she rasped, still somewhat short of breath.
(to be continued... more of the ORIGINAL Chapter One next time...)