Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reproductive Oddities

Re-watching part of Animal Planets MOST EXTREME "Breeders" episode reminded me of the many different reproductive arrangements here on our own planet and how they might translate to alien cultures. Admittedly, the most extreme breeder on Earth, the tapeworm, wouldn't make a very interesting alien, because it's basically all sex organs with no brain. (Resisting temptation to make a joke about men.) Number two on the list, the naked mole rat, however, has possibilities. This subterranean mammal lives in a termite-like society. One female produces all the offspring (mating with her brothers and sons) and prevents the other females from breeding. Terry Pratchett adapts this system for a society of intelligent beings in his "Wee Free Men" series. The vast majority of his pixies are male. They dwell in beehive-like mounds, each ruled by a matriarch who is married to one of the older men. She normally has only one daughter among her myriad children; the daughter, upon coming of age, migrates to a different colony to marry one of their males and become the mother of that colony's next generation.

A wolf pack comprises basically one extended family, in which only the alpha male and female produce cubs. Since this restriction would limit possibilities for romance, my werewolves don't behave this way. One of Tanya Huff's "Blood" novels, though, features a werewolf pack in which only the alpha pair is allowed to breed. A custom of that kind could make a provocative plot hook if a young male wanted to mate and therefore had to leave the pack to strike out on his own.

Imagine an intelligent species with a social structure like that of an elephant herd. The basic unit consists of related females and their children, dominated by a matriarch, with adult males relegated to the periphery. A human man who fell in love with a female alien from such a culture would have to make quite an adjustment to fit in.

While I wouldn't really want to live like a wolf or an elephant, I've often envied the kangaroo's reproductive biology. Imagine the ease of giving birth to an embryo-size infant who then crawls into one's pouch, compared to the difficulty of bearing nine-pound babies. (Two of my four sons reached the nine-pound mark.) How convenient a working mother's life would be if she could just carry her baby everywhere in a marsupial pouch, where the little one could feed himself or herself at will. Moreover, a kangaroo is one of several animals that can temporarily halt the development of an embryo, effectively putting it into suspended animation, until conditions are favorable for pregnancy. A very handy trick!

Suppose an intelligent alien race had estrus cycles like many animals? The Vulcans of the Star Trek universe, whose males periodically undergo "pon farr," have monogamous marriages, but that need not be the custom for all estrous species. Ursula LeGuin's LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, of course, is well known for its hermaphroditic aliens who are asexual except during "kemmer" (estrus) and, during their fertile phase, become either sex at random. Jacqueline Lichtenberg's MOLT BROTHER includes reptilian aliens with the familiar two sexes and a heat cycle. When a female goes into heat, she invites several males to mate with her multiple times over the span of her estrus. In such a culture, would the female (not having a spouse) receive help in child-rearing from her siblings?

Consider fish: Some change sex from female to male according to environmental factors. Others, such as certain angler fish, have such a wild disparity between the sexes that at first biologists mistook the male for a growth on the female's skin. Much smaller than his mate, he attaches himself to her body and atrophies into little more than a tiny lump of sperm-producing flesh. It would be quite a stretch to make a romantic character out of an alien with a reproductive pattern like that.

How about insectoids? Octavia Butler's classic story "Bloodchild" focuses on intelligent, centipede-like females who lay their eggs in the bodies of young human men. The females show genuine affection for the human families they take under their protection; they try to remove the hatching grubs before the infants can harm their host. I once read a story about a humanoid, butterfly-like species whose females emit sexual pheromones, as many insects do. Females on this planet frequently have sexual encounters with visiting Terran men. The stimulation causes the females to lay eggs, but, sadly, the eggs are sterile because of the two species' biological incompatibility. If one of these creatures fell in love with a human male, she would have to give up her chance at natural offspring to be with him.

Come to think of it, a human character might face a major challenge in getting an alien partner to understand the concept of monogamous love. Or might the human lover choose to adjust to the alien's culture (whether it involved group marriage or something far more bizarre from our viewpoint)?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where I get ideas

Readers always ask me where my ideas come from. Today was a strange day. I had to bring my iguana, okay my daughter's iguana outside. And the animal nodded his head, letting me know he didn't want me to touch him. However, the cleaning lady was coming over--and I don't trust him around a vacuum cleaner. So anyway, out he went to the outdoor cage. And he decided on the way outside to display his annoyance with me and bit my sweatshirt. When I set him down, he still wouldn't let go. He's now outside, playing King of the Sweatshirt.

Then I come home and there's a bird in my kitchen. Luckily I just had to open the door and it flew out. When I went to the mall, my husband found a cool owl. The owl is kind of a puppet. His head turns. His eyes move. I knew he'd be perfect in a video--so I added him to my book. :) His name is Merlin. So between the bird in my kitchen and the owl at the store, I now have a recurring character for my new series.

As for the iguana, his behavior is very dragonlike. he too shall show up in my book. So I guess ideas come from my surroundings as well as from inside my head. The ideas are random at first, then slowly my subconscious puts them together and I have an aha moment. And I think, "I can use that."

When people ask me where the ideas come from, i can't always pinpoint their origination point. I just know that like refills the well. And I'm very excited about my current work as well as the book, Solar Heat, coming out Feb 5th. If you've never tried a futuristic, please give it a try and let me know what you think.
Susan Kearney

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Doomsday Romance

Margaret Carter wrote below:
This week the History Channel aired a two-hour special called LIFE AFTER PEOPLE, which explored how the world would change if the human race vanished.


It's not surprising that wood-frame buildings would succumb quickly to rot, termites, and lightning-set fires. But I was shocked to learn how much less “permanent” steel and concrete are than I'd thought. Moreover, modern concrete is less durable than the type used by the ancient Romans, quite a humbling thought. By a thousand years after our extinction, most of our cities would have become unrecognizable as such.


I'd expected books to hang around for alien archaeologists to read, though. Not so, unless they're fortunate enough to be stored in a desert climate and protected from sunlight. Ironically, the stone and clay tablets of our remote ancestors will last longer than any of our advanced information technology.

And Rowena Cherry added:

I also saw the program before it, which was about doomsday predictions from different civilizations all over the globe. Apparently, everyone agrees that the world will end in 2012.

Yesterday, I saw a news item about the ice caps now being thought to melt entirely in the summers in five years' time...which will take us to either the summer of 2011 or of 2012.

I (Jacqueline Lichtenberg) missed the History Channel LIFE AFTER PEOPLE and prior show. Normally, that kind of show doesn't attract me because the underlying editing thrust is to prod the viewer into believing "the worst" or "the horror of it all" -- or other alarmist agendas disconnected from reality by carefully leaving out salient facts (which I might happen to know -- which implies things I don't know being edited out presenting a false picture).

But both Margaret and Rowena are exactly correct to be monitoring what these shows are purveying. This kind of media slant is indeed where we get our unending flood of "crazy ideas."

And it's relevant because of all the viewers who believe the nonsense. Shows and books like this gave me much of the material used in the Sime~Gen novels -- the portrait of a nearly forgotten Ancient Civilization from before the Sime~Gen mutation pretty much fits the History Channel sketch Margaret has presented here.

However, I have more faith in the human spirit, in love, in loyalty, dreams, and the immortality through children.

If all humans were kidnapped by some galactic slave traders (who neglected to destroy Earth's ecology by stealing water and minerals, too), yes, Nature would reclaim our mighty works rapidly indeed. Escapees from interstellar slavery who returned (provided they could find the planet) wouldn't recognize it from ancestral tales.

Imagine being kidnapped along with most all humans from Earth just to provide genetic material for some huge hybridizing cloning operation!

But I can't see slavers getting us all! Some would remain, scattered here and there.

The remnants would rebuild -- something. And I like to assume what they'd build would be better in some way.

Referring to the series of 20 posts I did last year on Tarot, think about what happens when the physical structures and knowledge (buildings and electronic files) decay.

The IMAGE of all that we have done remains embedded in the astral plane (Akashic Record). Physical action of the people who remain as they rebuild civilization would recreate much of what we've got now -- but it would look different.

There is a theory in esoteric circles that WE have rebuilt Atlantis and are busy self-destructing as they did. (I used that theory in the two novels, MOLT BROTHER and CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS).

I think the driving force that makes such repetitions of past forms (errors and triumphs) happen, or makes us feel or think that such a recreation could happen, is the Soul Mate.

The Alien Romance field has elevated the Soul Mate story to something that can explore vistas of spirituality far beyond what can be reached in a mundane setting.

When two such Souls from different species find each other, their main occupation will be bringing down more Souls to this plane of existence, building family, tribe, nation, civilization -- hybridizing souls. And we all know about hybrid vigor.

For me, THERE -- in the story of the rebuilding of civilizations -- is where the passion, pyrotechnics, and hairy politics prevail. There is where the really profound alien romances happen.

QUESTION: do all species throughout all the galaxies have the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations -- or is that rise and fall a property of human nature?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, January 28, 2008

Shades of Dark--Sneak Peek #2

Continuing my propensity to torture my readers, here’s another SHADES snippet for your collection:


For two fugitive lovers, space has no haven,no mercy, no light—only...SHADES OF DARK

Before her court-martial, Captain Chasidah “Chaz” Bergren was the pride of the Sixth Fleet. Now she’s a fugitive from the “justice” of a corrupt Empire. Along with her lover, the former monk, mercenary, and telepath Gabriel Ross Sullivan, Chaz hoped to leave the past light-years behind—until the news of her brother Thad’s arrest and upcoming execution for treason. It’s a ploy by Sully’s cousin Hayden Burke to force them out of hiding and it works.

With a killer targeting human females and a renegade gen lab breeding jukor war machines, Chaz and Sully already had their hands full of treachery, betrayal—not to mention each other. Throw in Chaz’s Imperial ex-husband, Admiral Philip Guthrie, and a Kyi-Ragkiril mentor out to seduce Sully and not just loyalties but lives are at stake. For when Sully makes a fateful choice changing their relationship forever, Chaz must also choose—between what duty demands and what her heart tells her she must do.

…I saw Sully falling backwards, Gregor’s hands locked on his throat. I saw black-clad arms gripped around the stained, sweaty back of Gregor’s gray shirt. I was standing, Stinger set to stun, but I couldn’t get a clear shot. Sully and Gregor, tangled together, pushing and shoving, toppled into the small space between the table and the wall.

Ignoring the grunts and curses, I shoved the table away with my boot, giving Sully more room. I didn’t know why he didn’t just blank Gregor’s mind, shut him down then and there, but he wasn’t. Instead, he yanked on Gregor’s arm, wrenching it around. Gregor turned, knees coming up. Sully jerked sideways, Gregor moving with him. If Sully wasn’t going to use his Ragkiril methods, then I needed a clear shot. But they were too close.

I danced out of the way of a swinging leg just as Sully flipped Gregor over on his back, pinning his shoulders to the floor. A chair skittered sideways, fell.

Move, Sully. I have a shot! “Stop it, Gregor, now!” I took aim.

Gregor reared up, bellowing a guttural cry. Sully swung, smashing his fist in Gregor’s face. Gregor thrashed back, bleeding, cursing, twisting, reaching—

Something glinted in his hand. I saw the thin edge of the knife. “No!”

The room exploded.

I was flash-blinded, seeing nothing but light. I dropped to the floor, shielding my face, waiting for the intense heat from the detonation to roll over me. But I felt nothing. Heard nothing.

I jerked my face up, blinking. Light melted into haze. Still clutching my gun, I pulled myself onto my hands and knees. Sully was three, four feet in front of me, down on one knee next to Gregor’s body, fingers splayed. The silver fire of the Kyi whipped all around him, flowing over Gregor and past me, but it was nothing compared to the luminescence radiating from within Sully.

Sully? For a moment I wasn’t sure who I was looking at.

Jagged streaks of lightning striped his face like blazing tattoos, one down each cheek. More streaks disappeared beneath his black shirt, which barely contained the heated glow. It was Sully’s profile, it was Sully’s clothes. But this was not a Sully I’d ever seen.

I stared at him. His focus was fixed on Gregor.

The only movement on Gregor’s body was a thin trickle of blood flowing from his left ear. His gaze was riveted on Sully’s hands. His mouth was open in a silent scream.

This was not supposed to happen. You’ll control yourself because of her, Ren had said.

This was not control. This was... I shook myself, trying to process what I was seeing. The only thing I knew for sure was I had to stop this. Sully. Back off.

No answer.

Gregor’s chest jerked up, his body arching unnaturally, almost as if Sully’s fingers pulled him up. Pulling the life from him. Kyi energy sparkled in small bursts all around me.

Was this what would eventually happen to Thad?

“Sully!” I hissed. “Enough!”

Gregor’s gaze moved to me. He heard me. God. Gregor was still alive. Stark terror showed in his eyes. His throat moved convulsively. He panted in short, hard gasps through his gaping mouth, sounding more animal than human.

Another abrupt jerk on his body. Then Gregor’s right arm came up smoothly as if guided by the thick silver haze around it. His hand clutched the knife, bringing it toward his own face, his own throat—

“Stop this! Or I will!” I levered up on my knees and raised my Stinger, taking aim at the man who was ky’sal to me. And I screamed, in my mind, for Ren.

For two, three heartbeats, nothing happened. Then Gregor’s fingers spasmed. The knife fell, sliding off his arched chest, hitting the floor with a muted clink.

Keeping the Stinger on Sully, I grabbed blindly for the knife with my left hand, then shoved it across the floor behind me, toward where I remembered the door being. I wasn’t going to turn around and check. And in this silver haze, I wasn’t even sure I could see that far.

Stupid, I told myself when I heard the knife hit against something metallic. He wants a knife, he can think a thousand of them into existence.

Sully turned suddenly, his expression of intense concentration shifting to one of an almost detached curiosity. No, this wasn’t Sully, mercenary, poet and lover. But Gabriel, shape shifter, telepath, Kyi-Ragkiril.

I had no way of knowing if he heard my mental comment or had suddenly noticed I was there. But it was the first time he’d looked at me. A chill ran up my spine. I didn’t know this man kneeling a few feet away from me, this luminescent demon with lightning glowing in flashes under his skin. But I could taste his power. It was a cold thing, thick and astringent. It had no mercy.

And I had no choice.

“Gabriel, let him go.” Silver tendrils still writhed around Gregor’s partly suspended body. “I will shoot you.” And I swear, if you rip this gun from my hands, or in any way stop me from stopping you, you will be sleeping alone for the rest of your very miserable, very celibate life...

Linnea Sinclair --
RITA(c) Award Winning SF Romance from Bantam Spectra

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Margaret blogged about watching the Life After People program. I saw it too.

I also saw the program before it, which was about doomsday predictions from different civilizations all over the globe. Apparently, everyone agrees that the world will end in 2012.

Yesterday, I saw a news item about the ice caps now being thought to melt entirely in the summers in five years' time...which will take us to either the summer of 2011 or of 2012.

Last night, I saw a program about a very inaccessible area of the Sahara desert where there is graffiti proving (?) that people once swam there. The commentator suggested that NASA photos of the Sahara prove that there were once rivers in the Sahara (I thought there was once a sea, too). Something was said about the Earth tipping on its axis to explain why the Sahara desert was once a fertile area.

Before you make a 2012 list on the same principle as the movie "Bucket List" you might like to check out what a NASA scientist has to say.

On the other hand, and at the risk of saying something someone else has already examined, I am fascinated by the thought of prehistoric graffiti. I do have to wonder whether it is justified to assume that ancient graffiti artists drew accurate --insofar as a cartoon can be accurate-- representations of the world around them.

I'm not interested in writing a post-apocalyptic novel, but an alien romance offers fertile ground for an outsider to stare at graffiti and extrapolate.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another exerpt from Twist

Chapter Twenty-six

Jayne sat in the upstairs hall, his tail lashing back and forth like a snake. He was obviously displeased with me.
“Join the club,” I said as I ran down the stairs.
Trent had been moved to the clinic. He lay curled on his side on the metal table, the knobs of his spine exposed to a lantern that sat on a nearby rolling cart. A huge needle lay next to it. Berta stood next to him and wiped his face. Shane was by the window, watching the commotion outside as he pulled on a pair of rubber gloves.
I swallowed the bile that rose in my throat, which was considerable given the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten.
Berta bent over and spoke in Trent’s ear. “Abbey’s here,” she said. She looked up and smiled at me encouragingly.
“Hey,” I said as I walked up to the table. “You finally woke up.”
“Shane said I should go back to sleep.” I had to bend down to hear him; his voice seemed so distant. “Cause it’s gonna hurt.”
I looked up at Shane who was watching the two of us. “Anesthesia? I mouthed. He shook his head no.
“Yes, it’s going to hurt,” I said to Trent. “But you’re a ninja now. And ninja’s are brave and strong.”
“Do ninjas cry?” he asked.
“Sometimes,” I said. “When something really hurts.” I didn’t want him to be worried about trying to be brave.
“Ninjas are way cooler than pirates,” Shane said.
There he was with that line again. I wondered exactly what it meant and I gave him a puzzled look.
“Do you know any pirates?” Trent asked.
I arched an eyebrow at Shane. “A few,” I said. “But I know a lot more ninjas. And he’s right. They are cooler.”
Shane picked up the needle and handed me a piece of plastic. He pointed toward his mouth with his finger, and I quickly got the meaning.
“Put this in your mouth, and when it hurts bite down,” I said to Trent and he obliged. “That’s what the cool ninjas do.”
“You’re going to have to hold him,” Shane said.
I took Trent’s upper body, and Berta took his legs. I watched as Shane dabbed the base of Trent’s spine with alcohol and then inserted the needle.
The noise the boy made was wretched. Trent clamped his teeth down on the piece of plastic, and tears poured from between his clenched eyelids. I tried to soothe him. I don’t even know what I said beyond “Ninjas are cool” over and over again, but he seemed to respond, smiling up bravely at me when he could.
Shane backed off the plunger on the needle, and a cloudy liquid filled it. I was surprised; I’d expected blood. Shane frowned when he saw it.
“It’s over now,” I said as Shane pulled the needle away.
Trent didn’t answer. He’d passed out; from the pain or the fever, I didn’t know which.
Shane held the vial up to the candlelight and looked at it closely before placing it on a tray.
“What?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he picked up Trent and carried him to the wardroom. I stood at the door and watched as he gently placed the boy on a cot, and Berta pulled a blanket over him.
The look on Shane’s face was grim as passed by me again. He picked up the vial and left the room. I trailed after him with Jayne bringing up the rear as we once more went downstairs.
Shane attacked his work table. He lit several candles and prepared a slide with the fluid drawn from Trent’s back. I leaned against the edge of his sofa as he examined the slide and then went over to his desk and pulled down one of the thick books that sat on the shelf above.
Jayne looked up at me questioningly as Shane flipped through innumerable pages. Finally I saw Shane settle on a page and study it intently. He slammed the book shut and dropped it on his desk with a thud. He leaned over the desk with his back to me, his hair falling across his face. I watched as a long shudder moved down his spine.
“What is it?”
“Bacterial Meningitis.”
“Can you cure it?”
He laughed. It was mirthless, almost sinister. The sound gave me chills, and I rubbed the goose-bumps on my arms.
In one movement, he suddenly swung his arms and cleared his desk. Books, papers, binders, pencils and pens; everything went flying to the floor. Jayne jumped and ran under the bed. I heard a low growl in the cat’s throat and his eyes glowed with a strange gold light.
“How can I cure it?” Shane asked in a hoarse voice. “I’ve got nothing to cure it with. Nothing. No meds. Those were gone a long time ago, used up in the pandemic, where once again all I could do was stand back and watch people die.”
“We’ll go to the hospital, to doctor’s offices, pharmacies,” I said. “We’ll find some.”
Shane shook his head like he was talking to a child. “What do you think people have been doing for the past hundred years? I, myself, have cleaned out every stockpile of medicine in this city.”
He stretched his hands out in front of him, spread the fingers, and arched the palms. He looked at them as if he’d never seen them before.
“I used to think my hands were for healing,” he continued. He turned the left one over, and in a heartbeat his eyes took on that strange red glow that frightened me so. I watched with my stomach churning as that thing, that stabber, that life-sucker extended out of it. He held it up for me to see.
“This is all I’m good for,” he said. “This. Taking life. Killing. Ending it.” He took a step toward me. I wanted to retreat but the sofa was already pressed against my back. “I could save him,” he said. His voice was speculative. “I could change him.”
“No.” I shook my head fiercely.
“Why not?”
I didn’t like the look on his face or the fact that he’d taken another step closer.
“Save Trent. Save you. I could save everyone. Then we could all live happily ever after; at least while we aren’t trying to kill each other off.” Shane took another step. He turned his palm over again so that the thing in his hand stood straight up. I couldn’t help but look at it. “How bout it Abbey?” he said. “Want to live forever?”
I looked into his eyes. The red glow was still there, but it covered something else.
“No,” I said.
“Think of all the fun we’ll have,” he continued. He took another step.
“Stop it Shane,” I said. I grabbed his hand and wrenched it away. It was an old move, one I’d learned in my karate class. Twist the fingers back, and the body will follow. “You said you couldn’t change us before. What are you doing?”
The weapon in Shane’s palm retracted, and I watched the skin close over it so that his palm once again looked normal. It amazed me to see the opening coincided with his life line. If I traced it would it run on continually? Did eternal life show in patterns on the skin?
I looked once more at his face. His eyes lost their red hue as he looked at me for a long hard moment but I felt rage and frustration simmer beneath their surface.
Suddenly, Shane fell to the floor. It was if all his strength left him at once. He sagged down, his back against the couch and his head on his knees.
“No matter what I do, I can’t stop it. I can never stop it,” He said. His voice was shaky. Was he crying? “It never ends,” he continued. “It’s nothing but an eternity of death.”
I knelt down beside him. I touched his hair and let my fingers trail through the silky blonde strands. He looked up at me. His eyes were dark, practically navy, and they filled with tears.
“I told myself a long time ago not to care. Doctors aren’t supposed to get personally involved with their patients. I try to keep everyone at a distance because I know in the end they’re all going to die.”
I realized then his pain. His loneliness. His solitude. And the reason why he always ran hot and cold with me. He was scared of caring for anyone. He’d watched so many people die through the years; his brother, his parents, his friends and the people who lived and worked in this small community trying to stay alive. And now Trent was dying. Trent, who was probably as close as he’d ever come to having a child of his own.
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders; I pulled his head under my chin. I stretched my legs out so that one went behind him and the other over his lap and I pulled him close.
His body was tense, his muscles rigid. I stroked his hair and held on tight until I felt him relax against me. His arms crept around my waist and he wrapped his hands in my shirt. I felt it bunch up and move, exposing the bare skin of my back. He let out a long sigh and moved his head up on my shoulder so that I could feel the brush of his breath on the skin of my neck.
We sat still for a long, long moment. I continued to run my fingers through his hair. Jayne came out from under the bed and lay down beside me, his paws tucked up beneath his chest. His rumbling purr seemed louder than normal as it broke the deep dark silence that surrounded us.
“No one touches me,” Shane said quietly.
I didn’t understand, but said nothing, just continued with my fingers in his hair.
“They’re all afraid to touch me,” he said. “Afraid if they touch me they’ll become infected. They don’t mind when I touch them, as long as it’s medicinal, but they won’t touch me.”
I nodded. I felt his lips move against my neck as he spoke again.
“Physical comfort is a precious thing,” he said. “You’re the first person to give it to me in one hundred years.”
I didn’t know what to say. I’d only done what I wanted; I gave him what I felt he needed. I’d offered comfort. It was the most natural thing in the world.
“Abbey…” his voice trailed off as his hands freed themselves from my shirt and his fingers caressed my back.
I felt that touch down to my core. Heat coiled inside me. It bubbled and twisted and spread from the center of my body to follow the trail of his hand which moved gently up my spine.
“Abbey,” he said again. I turned toward him as he lifted his head from my shoulder.
“Abbey,” he whispered as I looked into his eyes.
They were blue. Very blue. For a moment I’d been afraid they’d be glowing with red fire. Instead, I saw something more dangerous.
Dangerous, yet so very very tempting.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Earth Without Us

This week the History Channel aired a two-hour special called LIFE AFTER PEOPLE, which explored how the world would change if the human race vanished. The program didn't get sidetracked by speculating on how our species might get wiped out. It simply postulated the instantaneous disappearance of all human beings. A rather unlikely prospect compared to a gradual decline, but that approach did allow vivid images of a modern city suddenly deserted. The probable scenarios at various intervals after our extinction were analyzed, beginning with "1 Day After People," going through a week, ten days, one year, etc., all the way up to 10,000 years.

How soon would the lights go out? In most areas, within a couple of days. Only the electricity from hydroelectric facilities such as the Hoover Dam, which doesn't need direct human intervention to keep producing power, would continue flowing for a long time. What would our pets do? Among those that could escape and attempt to live in the wild, small dogs and those bred for specialized but counter-survival traits such as short, pushed-in muzzles or stubby legs probably wouldn't last long. Cats were visualized as eventually forming thriving colonies in the vegetation-covered ruins of city skyscrapers, feeding on rodents and small birds. Both animals and plants from the wild would move into our emptied ecological niches with surprising speed (based on the example of how rapidly the wolf population in the American Northwest increased soon after a few dozen were released in Yellowstone). Mice, gulls, and pigeons grown used to depending on our food waste might undergo an initial die-off but would rebound. Cockroaches, needless to say, would miss the food we provide but wouldn't have much trouble surviving, since they can eat almost anything.

I was surprised at the pessimistic predictions of how soon our infrastructure would deteriorate without regular maintenance. A real-life example, a city in Ukraine abandoned twenty years ago, was shown. Buildings, although their shells still stand, are overrun with vegetation, and some species of wild animals are more abundant there than anywhere else in the region. While nonhuman nature is thriving, the structures are already so decayed that it would be impossible to resettle the city without razing it and starting over. It's somewhat cheering to realize from this example (a city where the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster exceeded that from both bombs dropped on Japan in 1945) that there's no danger of our making any part of the planet uninhabitable through nuclear war. None of those patches of blasted land where nothing would grow for thousands of years that we used to read about in post-apocalyptic novels of the 1960s. The earth is resilient and wouldn't miss us a bit.

It's not surprising that wood-frame buildings would succumb quickly to rot, termites, and lightning-set fires. But I was shocked to learn how much less “permanent” steel and concrete are than I'd thought. Moreover, modern concrete is less durable than the type used by the ancient Romans, quite a humbling thought. By a thousand years after our extinction, most of our cities would have become unrecognizable as such. "Tower and temple turn to dust," as the somber hymn says. More dismaying to me was the probable fate of our information storage media. Of course I knew electronic files aren't made to last, and I wasn't surprised that film, deprived of a climate-controlled environment, wouldn't survive long either. I'd expected books to hang around for alien archeologists to read, though. Not so, unless they're fortunate enough to be stored in a desert climate and protected from sunlight. Ironically, the stone and clay tablets of our remote ancestors will last longer than any of our advanced information technology.

I found this program sobering and yet oddly exhilarating. The image of the Earth starting afresh with nature reclaiming and obliterating all our works—only such monumental constructions as Mount Rushmore and the Great Wall of China are likely to survive mainly intact to the 10,000-year mark—fires the imagination. Last, the show speculated on our possible successors (assuming aliens don't drop in to explore and colonize, a scenario not mentioned on the program). Would one of the more advanced animal species evolve to fill our niche? Or was the development of intelligence such a one-time fluke that it's not likely to happen again on this planet? Chimpanzees were mentioned. That idea, however, overlooks the fact that chimps and other apes have undergone as many millions of years of evolutionary specialization as we have, since the era when an ancestral primate split into our two species. There's probably no turning back to the flexibility that would be required to enable them to evolve into a sapient species. At least, that's what I think from what I've read about primate evolution; I'm not a zoologist or anthropologist. The same principle applies to dolphins. Even if they have intelligence equivalent to ours, as some people believe, I can't see why our disappearance would inspire them to abandon their established niche in the ocean and return to land to build a technological civilization. So it would probably take far more than 10,000 years for any existing Terran life forms to develop into our technological successors. I'd put my money on the alien colonists.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Forbidden Relationships


There's some kind of spice, a charge (or maybe discharge) of emotional tension in doing the forbidden, the naughty, the unexpected. It's like crossing a line, going on an adventure, taking a dare -- being proved "right" somehow.

There's an expectation that others' opinion of you will change. Why?

Doing something for the first time is a kind of loss of virginity - a loss of "innocence." It doesn't much matter what the thing is. Skiing down a legendary slope, killing someone (on purpose or running them over by accident), or having sex.

When you do something you've never done before, it changes you. So you expect others to change their opinion of you. In fact, one thing that drives people to cross those lines, the taboos, is dissatisfaction with their current reputation.

Some of the things we do change us in good ways, make us stronger, more self-reliant, more capable of handling the world so that we can shelter children. Such things would be oh, maybe your first solo drive in your Dad's car, writing your first check, your first use of a credit card, your first stay in a hotel by yourself, returning merchandise to a store because it's defective.

These are landmarks on the road to self-reliance and dependability.

There are all kinds of things we do for a "first time" -- and later they just seem of no moment.

But each thing we do, each action we take, changes us as well as the world.

Remember, King David, the warrior King of Israel who wrote the Psalms which were sung daily in the Temple (which then was a tent), was forbidden to build the stone Temple because he was a blooded warrior, however righteous. He was a great scholar, a brave and powerful man, an artist of renown -- but that one task was forbidden to him and left for his son, King Solomon.

I've been thinking about that for a long time -- why King David was not given to build the permanent Temple. What quality had he attained that disqualified him from this task?

So this last week I was privileged to read Susan Grant's forthcoming (May 25, 2008) Harlequin SF-Romance, MOONSTRUCK, Book I in her Borderlands Series.

I do hope it'll be a long series!!!

MOONSTRUCK explores the ways in which having sex changes a person -- the first time, and what it means to be the only virgin on a starship full of tough customers -- and a peculiar type of "first time" when a jaded Captain used to "only sex" falls in love for the second time in her life, and discovers the unique experience of making love instead of "just sex" is more disturbing than ever she could imagine -- because it is with her enemy, her nemesis, the symbol of all that's despicable in her world.

Oh, Star Trek fans will love Grant's BORDERLANDS series. It's just what we've all been waiting for.

This starship captain is a woman with a sexual appetite and a lust for definitive action. She's carrying a huge emotional load that leads her to obsessive behavior and has distanced herself from all human contact because of that. Now, all of that has to change - fast - because she's been given a new ship to command and a First Officer (you guessed it) who was her enemy, her nemesis, the symbol of all that's despicable in her world. But that was before the war ended.

The BORDERLANDS universe will be familiar to some of Grant's fans, but MOONSTRUCK is an independent study in the reconstruction of a society fragmented for centuries by war. This novel introduces you gently to the universe that is so fraught with complexity you will live in it for years to come.

In fact, the Borderlands saga may owe as much to the turmoil in the Middle East as it does to Star Trek -- it is Nation Building seen from within. And as I've been saying in almost all the Tarot posts last year, the glue that holds this whole world together is LOVE.

Grant takes us on a love-venture (loventure?) into a relationship forbidden by religious and cultural rules, and forbidden by the common sense rule of the Service that sexual relationships up and down the chain of command do more harm than good, and forbidden by emotional rules about sleeping with the enemy.

This starship captain has few qualms about "just sex" with anything male, enemies included (remind you of James Kirk?). So no harm done? Right? uh-oh.

But after it dawns on her that it ISN'T "just sex" -- what then?

Doing something forbidden may have a certain spice to it -- but afterwards, is it worth it? What are the consequences and upon whom does the toll fall? If the cost is only to yourself, then it's nobody else's business. But if it involves another - that's a problem. If it involves two interstellar civilizations, that's something else entirely.

But if it weren't "forbidden" then there wouldn't be any consequences, right? It's crossing the line of "forbidden" that causes all the trouble -- not the act itself. Hmmm?

Or are things "forbidden" because some ancient ancestors got into trouble doing that thing?

Well, then but that was then and this is now -- rules have to change, right? The "forbidden line" has to move from generation to generation. No?

So we have to figure out what should or should not be forbidden in our own time. From scratch.

Should nothing be forbidden?

Should no action disqualify you for some other opportunity?

Is there some logic or reasoning that can be applied to select what taboos a culture needs?

Grant's first novel in her Borderlands Series could be viewed as a 3 of Swords process where the actions are crossing the lines of the forbidden, thus closing some options (as 3 Swords always does) and opening others.

See my August to December Tuesday posts for the 20 Tarot posts.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, January 21, 2008

Shades of Dark—Sneak Peek #1

I know, July seems a long way off to you. Me, too (even if my weather is likely more July-ish than yours right now). However, I'm very excited about my July 29th release from Bantam,Shades of Dark, which is the sequel to Gabriel's Ghost (2006 RITA Award Winner).

For two fugitive lovers, space has no haven,
no mercy, no light—only...

Before her court-martial, Captain Chasidah "Chaz" Bergren was the pride of the Sixth Fleet. Now she's a fugitive from the "justice" of a corrupt Empire. Along with her lover, the former monk, mercenary, and telepath Gabriel Ross Sullivan, Chaz hoped to leave the past light-years behind—until the news of her brother Thad's arrest and upcoming execution for treason. It's a ploy by Sully's cousin Hayden Burke to force them out of hiding and it works.

With a killer targeting human females and a renegade gen lab breeding jukor war machines, Chaz and Sully already had their hands full of treachery, betrayal—not to mention each other. Throw in Chaz's ex-husband, Imperial Admiral Philip Guthrie, and a Kyi-Ragkiril mentor out to seduce Sully and not just loyalties but lives are at stake. For when Sully makes a fateful choice changing their relationship forever, Chaz must also choose—between what duty demands and what her heart tells her she must do .

Since the first four chapters are already in the files section of my Yahoo Group(incentive to join, eh?), I'm going to post a peek from deeper in the book (Chapter 16):

The bridge's hatchlock thumped softly closed behind me.

Frowning, I twisted in my seat. We never sealed the bridge except for—

Del. All in black, like Sully always wore. Thermal shirt, dark pants but no long coat. I hadn't seen that coat since the first day he came on board. Except for that time in the Kyi.

He stepped toward me with an easy grace, his long silvery-blue hair pulled back in a braid.

"Problems?" I asked him.

He smiled and rested his hand on the back of my chair. I forced myself not to edge away but I was very aware of the pressure of my Stinger at my thigh. Which meant, very likely, so was he.

"Why do you equate me with problems, Chasidah? Perhaps I just crave the pleasure of your company."

"Where's Sully?"

"Ah, Gabriel is an excellent student. I could boast and say I'm an excellent guri, but the truth is, he is responsible for his success."

The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

Your helping Sully means a lot to him," I said, keeping all traces of emotion out of my voice, keeping my rattling duro-hards as still as I could. The man was reading me, sensing me. I couldn't feel it but I had no doubt.

"We were speaking of his appreciation earlier." His eyes were hooded. He slid his arm around the back of my chair, leaning closer.

This time I did edge away. "If there's something you want to talk to me about, I suggest you take a seat."

A whisper of heat stroked my neck then ran down my breasts.
I unhooked the safety strap with a jerk and pushed myself out of the chair. The Grizni on my wrist tingled. My pistol was one move away. "You're overstepping your bounds, Regarth," I said firmly. "I don't find your company pleasurable."

He leaned both forearms on the back of the chair, clasped his six-fingered hands together and looked at me, his smile wistful. "It's just culture and conditioning, lover. It has no real meaning. Not when I have worlds of delight to show you."

"I'm not interested."

"You love Gabriel. I understand that. And he loves you, angel. Oh, how he does. You're his greatest strength, his consummate addiction. But I can teach you ways to love him more. Make him love you more."

"The answer is no. It will be no tomorrow, no a week from now, and no a month from now. A year from now. The matter is now closed. If you raise it again, I will lock you in the brig."

He arched an eyebrow. "Is the bed in there big enough for two?"

Get off my bridge, Regarth. That's an order."

"Consider this." He unclasped his hands, splaying them apart. "I saved Philip Guthrie's life."

"We all worked to save Philip's life."

"What would you do, Chasidah Bergren Guthrie, to keep him alive?"

Fear shot through me. I couldn't help it. Fear and a rage so deep it burned worse than my hatred for Tage. I knew he felt it.

"I would kill you," I said tightly, "to keep him alive."

Del smiled lazily. "Interesting answer."

He straightened, took two steps slowly back and then turned and strode for the hatchway. It opened—illogically—with a flick of his hand in the air and a slight glittering of silver haze.

I stood by my chair, heart pounding, mouth dry, muscles rigid, hands fisted hard by my side, Grizni tingling with more intensity than it ever had before.

But it wasn't the Grizni I needed.

I rounded the chair quickly and headed for the ready room, slapping the palm pad so hard pain shot up my arm. The double doors opened. I punched my code in to the locked storage compartment recessed in the bulkhead and pulled out the rifle Philip had brought on board. The Kyi-killer.

I closed the storage compartment and slung the strap over my shoulder.

This was my answer. And his…

SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel's Ghost, coming July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

Something cascaded lightly through me—a gentling, a suffused glow. If love could be morphed into a physical element, this would be it. It was strength and yet it was vulnerability. It was all-encompassing and yet it was freedom. It was a wall of protection. It was wings of trust and faith.

It was Gabriel Ross Sullivan, answering the questions I couldn't ask. Not that everything would be okay, but that everything in his power would be done, and we'd face whatever outcomes there were together.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Alien romance and Pharmarchy

Pharmarchy. It's not a spelling mistake, it's a new world order.

As a word, Pharmarchy doesn't exist as far as I know --yet-- and I may have some trouble with a copy-editor when KNIGHT'S FORK gets to that stage, which will be very soon.

However, I've been doing world-building around my latest, sexually dysfunctional (by alien Djinn standards) sub-hero of KNIGHT'S FORK. He's the guy with the war-hand that is always on display, and the retractable equipment that isn't, and that isn't necessarily designed for pleasure, and that might or might not require a rub to get it to work.

I haven't been blogging or reading blogs, or comments on blogs until --briefly-- today. I see that "great minds think alike" again, at least as regards "spam". Linnea was the first friend to mention the inspiring value of spam. I think it was in connection with the naming of characters. Now, Jacqueline has commented on spam. I've remarked about what's in my spam, too.

If I were a female hyena, with a pseudo-you-know-what, I might be more interested in the pills, rubs, and creams that I could pop and apply.

And by the way, have you noticed the crafty reverse psychology in the warning about the possibility of four-hour continuous effectiveness? I don't imagine most males would worry until three hours and fifty-eight minutes had elapsed.

When I was at university studying Sociology, I recall that one book we were required to read was a Margaret Mead study from Samoa. (My apologies to Samoa if my memory is at fault.) I think those of us who discussed the primitive sex advice decided that the translator was pulling her leg. It was suggested that young men who wanted impressive packages should insert their privates into a wild bee hive.

It must be obvious that I was forever damaged by reading this ugly hoax at an impressionable age.

It seems to me that recent advertising has caused us to talk --and think-- about conditions that we would once consider too humiliating and embarrassing to mention as if they are normal (which they might be) and socially acceptable. And, of course, to accept pharmaceuticals as the obvious remedy.

I think my late father would have been horrified to see people on television make a song and a dance about diarrhea! I've never mastered the spelling of the word, I've had so little occasion to write about it.

Which brings me to Pharmarchy. Or Pharma-archy. As in mon-archy, olig-archy.

Maybe there is a more elegant word?

Instead of the warriors, or the politicians, or the priests, or the industrialists, or the traders ruling an alien world, I'm putting the pharmaceutical chemists in power. They're not "bound" by a Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, are they?

Hey, if every male in a world becomes dependent on a pill, and cannot enjoy an erection without one, imagine the power the Big Three would have.

Big Three Pharma, that is.

Rowena Cherry

Saturday, January 19, 2008

More About Twist

Another great reveiw from Romance Reader at Heart

Despite being lost in some of the nuances of the time travel plot on occasion, I still managed to devour TWIST in a day. It is action-packed, engaging, and definitely my type of read.

The heroine is kick-butt, but in a Sydney Bristow of Alias way, and her hero's torment makes him nothing short of hot. The plot is, quite frankly, one of the best post apocalyptic I have run across, rivaling the Crimson City series. Now for me, lover off all things Crimson, that is saying something.

There are detailed scenes that have me smelling the hospital antiseptic and shopping in the shack-like tents for provisions right along with the characters. Fabulous details and dialogue written by the author make it so.

So, if you enjoy the following few TV shows and movies—Mad Max, The Matrix, Xena Warrior Princess, and Stargate—then you really ought to love TWIST.

Shannon Johnson

And now a sample of Twist


Would I make it?
My feet pounded on the pavement, splashing through the puddles that remained from last night’s rain. Was it just last night that it rained? It seemed as if years had passed. They had passed. Still, the things they held were yet to occur.
Think about it later. Just run.
I had to get there on time. I just had to. I refused to think about what I’d do if I didn’t.
My hand tightened on the hilt of my katana as I ran. The scabbard was laced against my thigh. I didn’t even feel it; it had become so much a part of me in the time just past.
When I started martial arts training I never even considered the possibility that I would use the weapons to actually kill anyone. I think it just turned out to be one of those funny twists of fate. It was just something that happened.
My original life plan was to be an architect. Just like my dad. But in another one of those funny life twists he was killed in a freak accident. The last words he spoke to me were “We’ve got all the time in the world.” Then he stepped off the curb and got hit by a speeding car.
Like I said: Funny twists of fate. And here I was, caught up in another.
One more block. Luckily I was used to running. I ran every morning with Charlie—or used to. Lately my running consisted of “for my life” instead of exercise.
How many mornings had it been since we ran? Two, as far as Charlie was concerned. More for me.
Don’t think about it.
I saw the lights from Java Joe’s up ahead.
Shane had told me it happened when he left. When he got tired of waiting for me. How long had he waited?
The door opened and my heart skipped a beat as the light bounced off golden blonde hair and he stuck his hands in his pockets and moved down the sidewalk.
“Shane!” I yelled as I tried to run faster. She would be waiting for him, just past the coffee shop in the alleyway.
He didn’t hear me. He kept walking, and then he disappeared. He was in the alley. Shane had told me it happened in the alley. I gripped the Katana in both hands as I fronted Joe’s and raced on by. When I reached the alley I skidded to a stop.
“Hey, Lucy,” I called out. My heart pounded wildly in my chest; I took a deep breath and willed it into submission. If I made a wrong move, Shane would be lost to me forever.
Lucinda turned. Her bright red hair settled on her shoulders and she looked down her aristocratic nose at me. Behind her Shane stood as if hypnotized, his bright blue eyes staring off into the night as if he were waiting for something. If he only knew what fate this woman planned for him.
“How do you…” Lucinda stopped suddenly and looked over me appraisingly. “You know,” she said. “You did it. You opened the gate.”
“I did,” I said. I held the katana firmly in my right hand and stood balanced on the soles of my feet with my legs slightly apart. Ready…waiting…willing to do what ever was needed.
“I think I’ll keep him anyway,” she said with a flip of her hair. “It will be fun to watch him fight his nature.”
“He’s mine,” I said. “You told me yourself. He will always be mine, no matter what you do to him.”
“How about if I kill him?” she said.
I twisted the blade of my katana so that light from the streetlight was reflected into Lucy’s face. It also must have awakened Shane from whatever trance she put him in. He blinked and looked over Lucinda’s shoulder at me.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “What are you doing?” He looked in shock at the katana which was so much a part of me now that I barely noticed I was holding it.
“Lucy and I have some unfinished business,” I said.
“You told me you didn’t know her,” Shane said accusingly. My heart lurched at his tone, at the strangeness he felt around me. I would fix that. I had to fix that or I might as well have stayed where I was.
“Oh, Lucy and I go way back,” I said. “Don’t we?”
“Do we?” she asked.
“About a hundred years, give or take a few.”
“I’m out of here,” Shane said.
He took a step and Lucinda slammed him against the wall. With one hand closed around his throat, she lifted him in the air so that his feet dangled over the ground. She kept her eyes on me; even when Shane grabbed her wrist and kicked her in the side, she barely flinched.
“Put him down Lucy,” I said.
“Make me,” she replied.
I looked at Shane whose face was full of confusion. He was desperately gasping for breath. I had to make sure he stayed. If he ran I would lose him forever. So I said the only thing that made any sense at all in the current madness that my life had become.
“Ninjas are way cooler than pirates.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Terminator on TV

Did any of you watch the 2-part pilot of the new TV series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES? The plot premise appeals to me: Sarah and her son, John (future liberator of the human race), living on the run while John tries in vain to be a normal teenage boy and undergoes the usual conflicts with an overprotective parent, but in this case with additional layers of urgency. I also like the character of Cameron, the "good" Terminator sent back through time by John Connor to keep his teenage self alive. In comprehension of social customs and the ability to use colloquial speech and mimic human responses, she's much more advanced than Arnold in the second movie (which this series follows in the chronology of the Terminator universe). Almost too much so, because I'd hoped to see more "fish out of water" behavior from her. I expected her to embody the character type of the artificial intelligence caught between a desire to be human, or at least to appear human and interact with us, and her inability ever to quite shed her robot nature (like Data and the holographic Doctor in the Star Trek universe). Well, after only two hours of the series, it's impossible to say whether Cameron will or won't develop in that direction. The most inhuman thing she's done so far is to shoot Sarah's old Hispanic friend because he might "possibly" have lied. (Which brings up one of my pet nitpicks about action programs: Shouldn't our heroes be a bit more cautious about attracting the attention of the authorities by leaving bodies around? And wouldn't an advanced artificial intelligence have been programmed to exercise ordinary caution in that respect?)

The main SF issue this show brings up, however, is time travel. Cameron transports Sarah and John from 1997 to 2007 because Sarah was destined to die of cancer in 2005. In effect, they skipped over her death. Since there's no suggestion that they jumped sideways into another timeline, does this mean there's a record of Sarah's death (two years previously) in this future to which they've traveled? That could raise interesting complications if they run into any old acquaintances who know she's supposed to be dead. More important, what about the primary purpose of Sarah's crusade, to keep Skynet from ever being built? If this mission succeeds, John will never be in a position to send Terminators back to protect his younger self, and anyway there won't be any robots available to send. So far as I can tell at this point, the TV writers haven't given any thought to the time paradox problems. Which isn't too surprising, I guess; after all, this is TV. :) Wasn't there a series not long ago about a man who mysteriously received copies of the next day's newspaper and used the information to right wrongs? I never watched a single episode of that show, because Anthony Boucher dealt with that premise in a short story several decades ago. Boucher's protagonist summons a demon and asks only for a copy of the next day's newspaper. He tries many different methods of using his knowledge of the near future for his own benefit or to help others (e.g., saving the mayor from getting shot). Each time, his attempt to change the future creates a paradox, and he's caught in a loop that lands him back where he started. The obvious fact that the paradox issue didn't occur to whoever thought up the TV series premise kept me from having any interest in watching it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sex and Health


Here I'm connecting some dots -- maybe eventually they will form a picture.

Margaret Carter wrote in a previous blog entry here:
Almost as wild a fantasy is that sometime the day will come when our entire population will be entitled as a civil right to the kind of excellent and almost-free care I received at the Walter Reed army hospital. But that is politics, and I suppose a no-no for this space. :)

For my June 2008 column, I review Stewards of the Flame, an adult SF novel by the famous SF writer Sylvia Engdahl. Sylvia tackles Margaret's subject with a straight line extrapolation in true SF style -- AND adds a flaming romance laced through the entire discussion of the philosophy of medical practice.

If you're interested, see
And scroll down to JUNE. These columns will become available on this page sometime after publication date when they appear in print in The Monthly Aspectarian.

And with all the political noise lately, I have been thinking again about the health care delivery system -- and how we define "health."
Then Rowena Cherry wrote in her Sunday blog:However, if "sex-driven" were to be officially as important as plot and character, I'd also want to include action-driven, idea-driven, world- driven... and life (and literature) would get complicated. Some will say "action" is "plot".

And instantly I thought of a thousand things to discuss with regard to sex-driven plots. I learned a LOT about that topic from Marion Zimmer Bradley. I point the student at MZB's novel CATCH TRAP -- the car racing scene is a sex scene but you have to know how the writer constructed it that way to see it. Her Darkover novel, World Wreckers has the BEST alien sex scene I've ever read, and the entire plot of that novel is sex-driven.

She taught me how it can be that sexuality is actually the basis of all Art. Of music and dance, and imaginative story-telling, too.

Poul Anderson taught us how it is that all cultures, even non-human galaxy-spanning cultures, are rooted in the basic biology of sexuality (or at least of reproduction).

Our mores and religious and philosophical notions always take reproductive imperatives into account. How creatures reproduce determines the parameters of the cultures they can build to allow them to live together - even determines how large the groups can be and how much territory they require (population density).

So here we are in a world on the brink of plague (bird flu or otherwise), famine (bee hives dying off mysteriously), war (every direction you look), and death (an aging population). The Four Horsemen ride, and other than antacids, the most popular medication being counterfeited today has to be for various perceived sexual dysfunctions.

With all today's emphasis on pharmacological masking of sexual dysfunction, it's a wonder more romance novels don't tackle that philosophical conundrum.

What is the philosophical connection between physical sex, health, reproduction and love?

Where does the sexual experience come from? If it is primarily physical, of what value would such an experience be with a non-human partner? Or turn it around: what value would a non-human partner get from sex with a human?

Again, if sex is primarily a reproductive act, why mess around with a member of a different species?

It seems to me that the "aliendjinnromance" title of this co-blog implies that romance, as we discuss it here, is at least partly "magical" -- i.e. a thing of the spirit at least as much, if not more, than of the body.

So why is "aliendjinnromance" related to Science Fiction?

Perhaps romance, and its consequential full, ripe love, is primarily of the spirit. The healthy spirit seeks, and often finds, the true mate regardless of the body.

Thus, as soon as travel on earth became possible for large populations and people began mixing, intermarriages among different races became common.

Using a straight line extrapolation, as Sylvia Engdahl did for her medical novel, we definitely see that dispersing humans throughout the galaxy where they would encounter non-human people would produce intermarriages.

The science fiction premises possible in such a galactic civilization could explore issues of health, but most especially sexual health. What if an organ size mismatch could be fixed by medication or surgery? (would he?) What if frequency or volume adjustments had to be made to accommodate -- would he? Would she?

What about a human who was sexually dysfunctional falling for a non-human who didn't notice any impairment? But what if the impairment bothered the human who tried to fix it pharmacologically?

What would the non-human's opinion of pharmacological masking of sexual dysfunction be?

Oh, just think of the inter-galactic spam!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, January 14, 2008

Florida? South Carolina? California?

Nope, not talking about election primaries. I'm reminding those of you hither and yon that I'm hitting the road again starting next month. Here's my schedule for the next few months. I love meeting readers so if you're in the area, please do come by!

February 9th--Valentine's Day Multi Author Book Signing, Orlando FL : Barnes & Noble, Colonial Plaza Market Center, Noon to 2pm

February 29th-Mar 2nd--
Celebrate RomanceConference, Columbia SC

March 19th–22nd--
2008 Popular Culture/American Culture Conference, San Francisco, CA

March 29th-30th--Lake Co. Library
Festival of Reading, Mount Dora, FL

April 5th--Naples Press Club Author & Book Festival, Naples FL

April 6th--Pasco/NPR Writers Group 2nd Annual Conference, New Port Richey Library, FL

April 16th-20th--Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, Pittsburgh, PA

Honestly, I'm a really friendly person. Silly, even. Please don't be shy about coming up to me at a book signing or a conference and introducing yourself. Tell me which books of mine you've read, ask me about my characters…whatever you like. I don't bite. Well, I haven't bitten a reader in at least six three months. And they're just little love bites…

Hope to see you!

SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel's Ghost, coming July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

Something cascaded lightly through me—a gentling, a suffused glow. If love could be morphed into a physical element, this would be it. It was strength and yet it was vulnerability. It was all-encompassing and yet it was freedom. It was a wall of protection. It was wings of trust and faith.

It was Gabriel Ross Sullivan, answering the questions I couldn't ask. Not that everything would be okay, but that everything in his power would be done, and we'd face whatever outcomes there were together.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Plot, character, or something else?

Have you heard it said that all speculative romances, science fiction romances, or alien romances are either plot driven or character driven? Sometimes, I think there is, or should be, a third category: "sex-driven"!

However, if "sex-driven" were to be officially as important as plot and character, I'd also want to include action-driven, idea-driven, world- driven... and life (and literature) would get complicated. Some will say "action" is "plot".

I always start with the character in every sense of the word "character". Personality, morals, virtues, flaws. Everything that happens to my hero --and to my heroine-- happens because of a decision they made, because of who they are and "where they come from".

Does that mean that a character-driven book is like a snowball? Or a comet? Mine don't move that fast, and there are a lot of layers of accumulated dirt rolled up in it, if that is the case, not to mention the other debris, grit, and star road-kill.

Research is like the shark's fin in the surf. You don't need to see the body of it to know whether or not it's there. I love Research, and I do way too much of it, and I have trouble burying it, and sometimes it reveals insuperable difficulties. If my heroine is trapped with an immensely attractive and eligible hunk on a desert island, she might want to look and smell good. This could be a challenge.

Here's a glimpse into my mind.

Take unsightly body hair. It's a Romance. It's a Fantasy. (It's Insufficient Mating Material!) Does she have to have that problem? Can it be ignored? Yes.... but... well, that depends. Let's look into this, because it could be a rich source of comedy or conflict.

What do people do? There's threading. It's a bit like using tweezers, but done with fast moving twisted thread. Hence the name. I could thread my legs, but not my armpits. We can rule out solvents, creams, bleaches, chemical reactions. What is wax made of? Could one raid a wild beehive for the beeswax? Would it work? Would it be worth trying? Would mud do just as well? I think I heard that the Egyptians used mud. I also read somewhere that they used crocodile dung as a contraceptive sponge. (No! Not in a Romance, pause to roll on the floor at the thought of my editor's face.)

OK. Off to some beach to try the proverbial "razor" shell for myself. Maybe it would have been quicker, less painful, and altogether less scabby if I've visited snopes.

Are there people whom nature blessed with naturally smooth legs? Yes. OK. We will gloss over what is going on in her armpits, and bless her legs. Next...?

Broken jaws are quite a challenge. I talked to a lot of nay sayers who said I couldn't possibly write a Romantic hero with a broken jaw because of all the problems, and what it would do to his appearance (short term) and the dire problem if he were to break it a second time.

Cool. The hero has a strong motivation not to be a gentleman if the heroine has a penchant for slapping faces at the drop of a slur.

Wicked. The heroine is expecting a long haired, tanned, muscular, gorgeous hunk to swagger up the aisle on her royal shotgun wedding day. How will she react when some bald, starved, pale, weedy guy limps towards her? He looks like he's been starved and torturing into marrying her!

So, she refuses to marry him. Duh! That doesn't make them any less embarrassing and inconvenient. Royal "face" has been lost all round. So they have to be marooned somewhere until they go with the flow. Shall we give them all the mod cons? I think not. No buried cache of smugglers' rum. No fully loaded airplane full of supplies. Life is not a picnic!

Shoot them down in the sea. Wet her one and only dress. Make it shrink so she can't get out of it without help. Have it rain to keep her dress wet. Do like Mythbusters and the story of the shrinking jeans. Get in a cold bath in a tight dress, and discover the difficulties of undressing afterwards.

And then, there's the "Survivorman" stuff of day-to-day living... (If you have very good eyes, you can see that Survivorman, Les Stroud gave me the cover quote on Insufficient Mating Material). And that's not all by a long shot.

I haven't begun (in this particular blog) to get serious about the twin paradox, collapsing wormholes, unstable systems, scram jets, and governmental red tape.

Research can snowball, and I haven't even scratched the surface.

Rowena Cherry
Insufficient Mating Material

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I'd like to apologize to my fellow bloggers for not posting lately. My father has cancer and it seems like every week has brought another disaster. However he's doing better now and I feel like I can take a deep breath and concentrate once more on my books. And I am excited about my next book, Twist

Twist is a time-travel romance, and as the title implies there’s more to this story than the usual jaunt through time. Abbey knows little of her family history, but the time-twister she activates will open a doorway that not only leads to a devastating future, but enables her to learn her role as a Guardian. Shane’s life has been ripped apart and he blames Abbey, but no matter the outcome he’ll be by her side all of the way. Colby Hodge has done a fabulous job detailing this fictional world. There’s a delicious frustration factor that enhances the tension between Abbey and Shane, and it helps to give them a very realistic quality in both the present and the paranormal laced future. Twist has an imaginative storyline, vivid characterization and non-stop action that makes it impossible to set down.

Kimberly Swan, Darque Reviews

Thank you Kimberly. I'll be posting exerts through the next few weeks until the Jan 29 release date. See you next week.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Futuristic Medicine

Since I had surgery a little over a week ago, my brain is still mushy. So I don't really have a discussion topic to write about. In spite of the private room, strong pain meds, pretty good food (patients order off a menu nowadays), and very nice staff, I was glad to stay in the hospital only one night. Once the catheter and IV were taken out, there was nothing the hospital could do for me that couldn't be done at home. I've been thinking, though, about how medicine of the future might handle surgery and post-op recovery. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just be put into stasis right before the procedure and stay that way until recovery is complete? Just wake up weeks to months later, completely normal, without having to live through the discomfort and fatigue in between? I can visualize being placed in a suspended-animation capsule (well, it couldn't be literally suspended, or healing couldn't occur, but something like that) from which we'd emerge with no change in weight (unless that was the object of the treatment), plenty of energy, no pain, no loss of muscle tone. Beats those diagnostic beds in the STAR TREK sick bay, which always looked a bit uncomfortable to me. And I was lucky enough to be able to have major organs removed in the least invasive way possible, but wouldn't it be great if there were an even less invasive method? To indulge in a flight of fantasy, maybe having the diseased tissue teleported out of the body and the resultant internal bleeding stopped instantly?

Almost as wild a fantasy is that sometime the day will come when our entire population will be entitled as a civil right to the kind of excellent and almost-free care I received at the Walter Reed army hospital. But that is politics, and I suppose a no-no for this space. :)

One advantage in not being put into stasis for a month: I have plenty of time to read. My TBR stack includes over twenty books I've been waiting to get around to, including Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's latest Saint-Germain novel, BORNE IN BLOOD. Lately I've read Linnea Sinclair's GAMES OF COMMAND, the anthology MY BIG FAT SUPERNATURAL HONEYMOON, and Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES and THE LAST DAYS, among others, and reread parts of Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE (about why some societies survive while others crash and vanish). COLLAPSE and Diamond's classic GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL are superb sources of worldbuilding material.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Falling in Love


We call it "falling" in love because to be in love is to be at a lower potential energy state than we are as individuals.

What "falls" is your tension level that holds your psychological defenses up.

When those psychological barriers around your identity "fall" you are able to make contact with another in a deep and (ahem) penetrating way that binds two entities into one.

This is ordinarily signified by a Neptune transit. Neptune is famous for "dissolving" barriers or inhibitions.

Now consider the global political situation.

For a writer there is nothing more explosive dramatically than sex and politics.

Today we live in a world of "security" -- where even your identity can be stolen!

How much harder will it be for someone raised in this world to lower those barriers around identity and be able to really REALLY "fall" into love? (correlate with divorce rates?)

In physics, when two particles combine into an atom or atomic structure, they lose energy.

During the formation, energy is emitted in a packet, a spark, called a "packing fraction". The "packing fraction" is the energy a system does NOT have because it is a system, not individual particles.

It's the same with a couple in love. Together, they are bound by the absense of that packing fraction of energy. (thus a third person hitting that atom can disrupt the bond of the relationship by adding energy to it, blowing it apart).

The well known sensation of "security" that a woman feels in the arms of her strong lover obviously a universal experience, an important signal that you are "falling" in love.

What exactly is "security?"

The word has been so misused today, to apply to unusual search and seizure (having your hair spray confiscated at airline checking "security." )

Today "security" means being constantly on guard against intrusion, theft, and sneak attack.

But "security" is really the sensation of not having to be on guard. The sensation of knowing for certain that there exists NOTHING "out there" that might consider harming you or that would do so by accident.

This high contrast (i.e. conflict) between biological and psychological needs and our constructed civilization is fodder for thousands of romance novels (just as the Regency period is for novels about feminine independence).

Tell me what titles you've read lately that exploit that conundrum -- that "security" means today "on high defense" instead of "undefended."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, January 07, 2008

Judged by Your Peers: Contests & Writers

It's the start of the silly season again. What that means for many RWA members who are yet to be published is that the first three or so chapters of their novels-in-progress have found their way to the desks of published authors for judging in contests like the prestigious Golden Heart, HOLT Medallion, Touch of Magic, Daphne du Maurier and others. I've judged the major RWA contests and several of the local chapters for four years or more now (time blurs when you're on deadline). Because I'm published in SFR, I tend to get paranormal manuscripts to judge (though I have judge historicals and mysteries as well, lately). I've read some incredibly good unpublished manuscripts. I've seen some horrors.

I take time—a lot of time—grading each submission. These days, the chance for judge's comments are becoming rare so all you can do is plop a score down. I wrestle over the low ones because I know the printed matter sitting in my grubby little hands is someone's baby, someone's heart and soul, someone's sweat and blood and tears. But I have given low scores because the reality is, giving a high mark to a work that is simply not "there" yet is doing no favor to the writer. Sure, a high score will get you to the finals and read by a NY editor or major agent, but if your writing is sub-par, you're going to go down in serious flames at that point.

The sad thing is, I've yet to see a manuscript where someone actually Could Not Write. What I see are manuscripts where the flaws outnumber the plusses, where a writer is so anxious to get his or her story on paper that style and craft go flying out the window.

Some of the worst are honestly in the paranormal realm (though it may be that I simply see more of those because of my published specialty). But I think the paranormal (science fiction romance, futuristics, vampire/werewolf romance, fae, elves, etc.) has additional problems because, for the most part, setting isn't a given, a shoe-in, a throw-away. Setting and world-building are as important as character and pacing in the pages of a PNR/SFR.

So let's talk about some of the things NOT to do in your next contest submission in that genre:

  1. The character doesn't fit the world. You've constructed a society where people lives in unheated castles with no plumbing, but they have starships. They wear loin cloths but have laser pistols. Granted, you could explain that by creating some serious cultural schisms (ie: the Amish in today's society) but I'm not seeing that. I'm seeing a costume drama where the writer decided that being outer space would also be a Cool Thing to have in the story. It's jarring, it makes no sense and I have a hard time, as a reader, understanding how your character got to be where he is with no access to technology. Yet when he's kidnapped by The Bad Guys he automatically knows how to pilot an X-3 Razor Fightercraft and take it into hyperspace. Correspondence courses, maybe?

  2. The entire planet has the same weather, landscape, language and customs. Okay, maybe on a really small moon. Or, of course, if the planet's been colonized and/or terraformed and/or colonists lives in domes. The whole colonist-populated world has a different dynamic than indigenous. If you don't know how to build the societies and cultures on a planet, for Pete's sake, look under your feet. You're standing on one. Look at our cultural diversity, our weather patterns, our polar caps, our deserts, our rain forests. Yes, this is based on our position from our solar system's star (and other criteria related to that) but if you're positing a naturally populated world then it will be (if we're talking humans), in a similar set-up. But even Jupiter has weather. And Mars has polar caps. As an aside, I'm perfectly fine with the possibility that a political region (solar system, sector, quadrant or whatever) would have a "legalized" common language in addition to regional languages. English has become the common language of pilots on this planet. So a "standard" language over a sector or system is plausible as along as—AGAIN—you give a nod to the fact that there are regional languages, or at some point have been regional languages. I have a really hard time with manuscripts where everyone speaks ONLY English or ONLY whatever the outer space language is called. If nothing else, slang will differ by regions (what some of you call "soda" is called "pop" in other regions of the USA.)

  3. Things happen because you want them to: This is actually a common flaw that transcends genres. I've seen this problem in so many unpublished manuscripts. The writer forces an 'event' because that kind of event is needed. Yes, all writers make up the things that happen. But you have to set them up so they are logical to the plot, the characters, and the world. It's the logic and integration to the plot that are missing. I call it the "Just Happens To" syndrome. It's where coincidence and not conflict are fueling the plot. The heroine just happens to be walking down a crowded city street and a little girl just happens to drop her book bag and the heroine just happens to notice that (and no one else does) and pick it up and just happens then to go into a luncheonette where the waitress just happens to recognize the book bag as belonging to the hero's daughter (and the heroine just happens to be evasive when questioned about it) and just happens to call the hero on her cell phone who just happens to be across the street and he grabs a cop who just happens to be there so they can arrest the heroine for theft. Of course, it just happens that the hero is an attorney and he realizes the error and it just happens he needs a new secretary and it just happens the heroine just got her paralegal certification and so he offers her job to make up for his shabby treatment of her…and so on. It's a series of forced coincidences that stretch credibility after the third or fourth "just happens." Why would the attorney ASSUME theft? What kind of police officer would ASSUME a crime has been committed? Why wouldn't the heroine just say "I saw a little girl drop this, perhaps she lives around here?" Why in hell didn't she run after the kid and give her the book bag back? It's one big misunderstanding (also called the BM in writerly lingo) and flimsy coincidence after another, just because the writer wants the heroine to be in the same office as the hero. Or on the same starship. Or in the same castle.

  4. Nothing happens (as opposed to "Just Happens To" above). I judged a nicely written fantasy piece recently that had lavish settings and a possibly interesting set up in a otherworldly kingdom—and NOT medieval, which was a very nice change!—but nothing happened to make me care to continue reading. I met the princess, who was the female protagonist. We see her tutor, her boredom with same, we meet some of her father's royal advisors, we meet the king. We get a glimpse of some medieval/typical European types coming to speak to this king, but what we've really gotten is a very boring day in this young woman's life and a Home-and-Gardens tour of her castle. I guessed the fact that she's bored is the impetus to the piece, but I was bored, too. Although the castle and surroundings were really lovely. But I kept waiting for something to happen. I kept waiting for the writer to give me a reason to care about the princess. Other than she was bored and prone not to listen to her elders, there was nothing interesting about her. Being a princess isn't interesting enough. Granted, in real life, very few of us are on first name basis with a princess (a few drama queens, definitely. But a princess…). In fantasy, however, princesses are dripping off the castle walls. We have a plethora of princesses. Especially late teenaged ones who are bored with their tutors. Writing guru Dwight Swain advises to start your novel at the point of no return, at the point where something happens to your main character to force him on a path from which there is only one direction: into more trouble. Noted SF author Jacqueline Lichtenberg tells you that conflict is the essence of a novel's story. Listen to those wise words. Start your novel with (logical) trouble. Save the tour of the castle for later.

I have a feeling that those manuscripts I see that fall prey to these common and very fixable errors are because the writers don't have crit partners in place vetting their words. I can't stress the importance of crit partners. You, writer, know what you meant to say. But you may not have said so, and your brain—submerged and bloated by the writing process—isn't always capable of telling you that. You need to have "fresh eyes" vet your writing, especially before you send it out to be judged. And those "fresh eyes" should not be your mother or your best friend, unless your mother is Nora Roberts and your best friend is Jacqueline Lichtenberg. I'm not seeing bad writing out there in contest-land. I'm seeing common, fixable errors.

So BIC HOK! (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard) And get thee to a good crit partner. And you'll win the next contest you enter. ~Linnea

SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel's Ghost, coming July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

…and suddenly I love you beyond all measure is not just words but a heart, a soul bursting open, a stripping raw of all pretense. It is Sully, it is Gabriel, it is his tears on my face, his body in mine, our minds seamless. It is hopes and dreams and failures. It is apologies and a prayer for redemption. It is heaven and damnation.

All that I am is yours pales beside it.

It is everything.

It is love.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Alien Romance -- and a question of sub-genre

Do labels help or muddy the waters?
Do labels matter?

To some authors, labels, subgenres and categories matter very much, especially at this time of year with so many contests and polls taking place.

Should aliens, faeries, genie and dragonslayers (or dragon lovers) be split off from the demons, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters and other denizens of the paranormal?

Where should the psychics be? Did it make more sense when the genre was FFandP for everyone? Or, should we have newer, narrower labels.. for instance to keep the fairies out of the space ships? I'm not suggesting, just asking.

Labels don't fit my idea of what I write! Judging by the vigorous discussion taking place on the paranormalromance yahoo group --which I did not start-- a number of writers feel strongly that they don't fit in.

I thought it was interesting enough to blog about.

Linnea's zombies are alien, aren't they? Cool. Margaret's vampires are of alien origin. My aliens have extra senses, and they use the Tarot (and runes, and playing cards) and they think about sex a lot.

Some of us stretch our legs, metaphorically speaking, as we straddle genres.

Sometimes, within a series, different books veer over different imaginary lines of demarcation, at least, I think mine do.

With Insufficient Mating Material, the space ships aren't very important (IMHO) but they are there. The survival skills that Djetth (Jeth) and Princess Marsh need when they are shot down and marooned on a desert island are the same techniques that "Survivorman" Les Stroud might use. In fact, Survivorman was my consultant for the facts in the book... and he gave me the cover quote!

So, I'm quite contented for Insufficient Mating Material to be called almost anything. I'm even comfortable with "Fantasy" though the only "dragon" is a title, and the Djinncraft is supposed to be almost as explicable as any of the physics in Star Trek. It is a sexy book... but IMHO it's not Erotica because the hero and heroine (stuck on their desert island) are entirely monogamous once they get around to it, and there is a happy ending.

As long as a label seems helpful to the person recommending a book to someone else, I no longer fret about it. I'm not so cool when a critic denounces my book for being Erotica, when it isn't ... but my feelings are only slightly hurt with it being called Space Porn.

Best wishes

Rowena Cherry
Chess-inspired ("mating") titles. Gods from outer space. Sexy SFR. Poking fun, (pun intended). Shameless word-play.

"Racy, wildly entertaining futuristic romance,"~ Writers Write

LASR Award nominee

CAPA Award nominee

Mating Net in Trailer Awards

First Chapter Sampler (Susan Grant, Nina Bangs, Joy Nash, Rowena Cherry, Deborah Macgillivray, Jade Lee, Colby Hodge, Catherine Spangler, Kathleen Nance, Robin T Popp)