Saturday, December 16, 2017

Snippet Saturday: Alien Contact #firstcontact #scifirom

Since Laurie has kicked off a new tradition of weekend excerpts, I thought I'd share one of my newest release before I go offline for Christmas. This is my first alien contact SFR, and in this snippet it's clearly not going well despite good intentions...
I will heal you... The voice, soft as starlight, caressed his thoughts and held the pain at bay. He floated in golden light, warm and comforting. The terrible agony and fear had faded to dim and distant aches, as if it had been nothing but a nightmare. He’d never felt so at peace or so safe. This was heaven.
The thought stabbed into his mind, jolting him from the calm. He remembered his ship rocking under weapons fire, shaking him in his seat like some helpless creature in the jaws of a predator. The blare of emergency sirens, and the irresistible yank of gravity pulling his ship downward in a crazy, out of control spiral. The impact that had shattered every bone in his body and left him choking in a toxic atmosphere.
Cold bled through him, and yet even facing those memories didn’t shake him out of the euphoria. Damn it, I must be dead. I was dying. And now I don’t care about any of it. That wasn’t normal. If he was alive he should be in pain, his craft a wreck around his equally broken body. He should be panicking over being stranded on an alien planet, while at the same time terrified his family would catch up with him. Especially dad. Yoran shuddered. Oh, frick. If he wasn’t dead, his father would surely kill him.
Relax. The voice that wasn’t really a voice poured more warmth and reassurance over him, and what little fear he’d felt through the fog clouding his mind disappeared.
Why worry? I’m dead. Nothing else can hurt me now. Except he was still thinking and, judging by faint twinges in his body despite the soothing warmth, still feeling. Remembering. Conscious.
Yoran opened his eyes, and white moonlight shone through the fractured plazglass of his front screen. Craggy spires of dark gray rock rose to either side of his view. The landscape was a stark, unfriendly monochrome, with no sign of possible civilization or help.
The euphoria sank into cold, gray despair. He hadn’t dreamt it. He’d crashed into that lifeless lump of rock he’d been trying to avoid as Chevelle’s siblings had pursued his ship and shot him down. Hell knew if he could take off again.
He groaned and closed his eyes, wanting to sink back into that sweet cloud of ignorance he’d surfaced in.
Wait a minute. If I crashed and was in so much pain, why am I okay now?
His eyes crept open again, and he dared to look down, half expecting to see the mangled mess of his body that somehow hadn’t woken him in agony. Instead, something the color and consistency of mercury wrapped his body like a skin suit, the soft gleam of moonlight undulating over it as it pulsed in time with his own heartbeat.
Seksumi!” Yoran leapt to his feet, ignoring the sudden rip of pain through his body as his legs threatened to give under him. But the strange wrap of silver simply moved with him. Worse, he felt it creeping up his neck, warm but smothering.
“Get the hell off me!” He swiped at it, scattering globules of it across the spaceship. He backed away, heart pounding, still trying to swat it from his body. As he retreated, the globules reformed into domed beads on the floor and ran together, forming a larger and larger puddle of metallic liquid that kept coming for him.
“No!” Yoran yanked the weapon from his belt, and fired repeatedly into the silver mass. Parts of it exploded, scattering splats in all directions that simply ran down the walls like water to rejoin the mass. But now it had stopped trying to approach him, forming itself instead into a defensive huddle.
“Get off my ship! Get away from me!” His hand shook as he kept the gun aimed at it. It rolled a few centimeters toward him, and he fired again. This time the silver menace, in a frightening burst of speed, shot up the wall of the ship and squeezed through a hole in the ceiling to disappear.
Yoran collapsed, his shaky legs no longer able to hold him up. Panting, he leaned back against the wall and tried not to throw up.
Love can come when it’s least expected... 

When an injured alien crashes on her planet, Soraya follows her instinct to repair and restore it despite the challenge of their differing physiology. But as she gets closer to her patient and he recovers, Soraya confronts a whole new form of existence...and a desire that could destroy her completely. 

Yoran chose exile in order to release the woman he thought his soulmate from a marriage contract she had no wish to fulfill, and almost paid for it with his life. Now he finds himself drawn to his alien savior. But how can he ask her to give up the only existence she knows when he’s already suffered the consequences of such a sacrifice himself? 

Buy links: https://www.books2read.com/u/bOaJYW

Friday, December 15, 2017

WAITING FOR THE SUN


Here we are, less than a week away from the longest night of the year, and I’m feeling the strain. Come back, sun! Don’t leave us here all alone in the dark forever!

It’s primal, this feeling of abandonment and loss as the Earth tilts and turns the face of the northern hemisphere away from Sol. Somewhere deep inside, my cavewoman-brain fears spring will never come again. I fight depression and a tendency to do nothing but eat and sleep. After all, bears hibernate, why not people?

I know I’m not the only one that does this. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real thing, recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, not as a separate disorder, but as a type (or “specifier”) of depression. Studies have shown that a percentage of the population (ranging from 1.4 percent in Florida to 9.9 percent in Alaska) exhibit the classic symptoms of SAD—depression in the winter months, with problems of oversleeping, lethargy, and a craving for carbohydrates. A slightly higher percentage of people in the U.S. overall may suffer milder symptoms of SAD, which tend to clear up rapidly if they are exposed to sunnier weather. (Of course. Who wouldn’t feel better if offered a two-week vacation in Cancun in the dead of winter?)

I have my own remedies for the relatively mild symptoms of SAD that afflict me this time of year. I get out in the sunlight (what there is of it) for some time almost every day—walking with friends is my favorite activity, but I have been known to play in the snow. And I do my reading under a full-spectrum light. The lamp I use gives me all the wavelengths of full sunlight, and at least 10,000 lux (the equivalent of being outside on a bright spring day).
Then, too, my office is on the south side of my house, built to take advantage of passive solar heating in winter. My cats agree it’s the best place to be on a sunny day in the winter time. (Which should encourage me to work, wouldn’t you think?)

Light therapy (as in exposure to a full-spectrum lamp) has recently been shown to be useful as treatment not only for SAD, but for other forms of depression, according to an article in the December issue of the AARP Bulletin. Says Norman E. Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C., the light works by stimulating the retina, which signals the hypothalamus of the brain, which, among other things, boosts serotonin.

Other studies have used LED lights, worn as a headset, to treat Alzheimer’s patients. Michael Hamblin, principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, reports that patients who wore the device for 12 weeks saw a dramatic improvement in their cognitive abilities, an improvement that diminished when they stopped wearing it. When they started wearing it again, they improved again. The scientists believe the light stimulates new cell growth and connections between neurons, a process called photobiomodulation. Though the experiment is in its early stages, they hope to expand its potential to the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury and other brain ailments.

So, until the sun begins its long journey back on December 21, remember that it is better to light a candle (or a whole bunch of them) than to curse the darkness. Let there be light!

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post taken from "Bright New Remedies," by Christina Ianzito, AARP Bulletin, December, 2017.
 
Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan (2014). Abnormal Psychology (6th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 179. ISBN 978-1-259-06072-4.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

I (still) have a bad feeling about this



It’s that time of year again. Christmas? Holidays? Yeah, I guess so. But just before the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere), has become the time for the latest Star Wars episode, and fans can’t wait for the latest offering, pre-ordering tickets, and queuing for hours for the first screening. I’m sure you all know I’m a die-hard Star Wars fan. Have been for many years, since I watched a movie that back then was just Star Wars. Later it became episode 4: A New Hope, after the little SF offering became a mega-hit and evolved into a franchise.

I was meh about the prequels, saw some hope in the cartoon Star Wars Rebels, (because Grand Admiral Thrawn), and waited in star-struck anticipation (tempered by the cynicism that comes with age) for the new dawn in The Force Awakens

It’s no secret that I was underwhelmed with the The Force Awakens. It was episode 4, rewarmed and with a few vegies added. Maybe a sprinkle of cheese. I won’t go into details, maybe there are still some people out there who haven’t seen Star Wars 7, and I expect that would be a good idea before they watch Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi. Way back in May 2017 I said I had a bad feeling about this and my opinion hasn't changed.

The size and importance of the Star Wars juggernaut was illustrated last weekend, when the cover of the Weekend Australian (a respected national newspaper) magazine was devoted to a head shot of Mark Hamill in Luke Skywalker costume for the new movie. Several pages were devoted to an interview with the film’s producer. I read it. Of course. And after reading that interview I (still) have a bad feeling about this.

The pattern was set by The Force Awakens. The heroine, a young girl (Rey), of unknown parentage, discovers by accident that she has Force skills. We are introduced to the senior villain (Snoke) and his apprentice (Kylo Ren), and learn of the First Order (in lieu of an empire) which is bent on oppressing the Galaxy. Oh, and there’s a band of brave rebels, led by General Leia Organa, bent on stopping the First Order. The film ends with Rey handing her/his light sabre back to the Wise Old Man (Luke Skywalker). This is all standard fantasy stuff and the parallels with A New Hope are obvious.There's even a precocious droid to rehash R2D2.

The stage is set and there’s no turning back. The director of  The Last Jedi had to build on that beginning.

Let’s take a look at my very favourite Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back (TESB). (Yes, it’s still better than Rogue One – which I thought was great). It's rare for a sequel to hit the heights of the first movie, but most people agree that TESB was better than its predecessor.

Luke has discovered that the Force is with him. Now it’s time to learn. His past mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, has voluntarily left the building, although he’s still around on the astral plain, to the extent that he can tell Luke to find the Jedi Master who instructed him. Now, I’m assuming after all these years, and if you’re still reading, a few spoilers won’t be amiss. Really, if you don’t know some of this stuff I’d have to ask which planet you just arrived from. After coming across young Skywalker in the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader has become obsessed with finding the young Jedi, which leads to the battle of Dagobah, which the Empire wins. However, Luke slips away to find the Jedi Master. One of THE greatest object lessons in TESB is the little green frog-like being who turns out to be Yoda. Luke’s looking for a great warrior, to which Yoda retorts, “Huh. Wars not make one great”. The whole episode on Dagobah is essentially spiritual as Luke learns the relationship between life and the Force, and the balance between good and evil, light and darkness. Then there’s the denouement. Luke fears for his friends, goes to rescue them, and faces his arch-enemy, Darth Vader, bent on revenge. The choice to fall down that exhaust vent after Vader informs Luke of his parentage is kind of symbolic. He’s reached his lowest point, mentally and physically. When he’s rescued by Leia and Chewie, there’s only one way to go.

Segue to The Last Jedi.

I’ve watched all the trailers. I’ve read a few analyses. Even now, I can see some inevitable similarities. A bit of new hardware appears in this movie, equivalent to my favourite spaceship, Executor from TESB. Snoke has a floating arsenal called Supremacy, and I’m guessing he's obsessed with finding the young Jedi who defeated his protégé, Kylo Ren. Rey has gone for training. We know who the Jedi Master is, but maybe there is another – the Bendu, who appeared in Star Wars Rebels, an entity of both the light and the dark. I’m saying that because of the reference to the ancient Book of Whills. So Rey will get trained. And one way or another, she’ll find out who her parents are/were. (Snoke? Surely not) Then there’s her friends, Po and Finn, who get mixed up in battles with the First Order. Is she going to have to gallop in and attempt to save them? Going by the trailers, the denouement scene involves Rey being tortured in a manner reminiscent of Luke being hit by the Emperor’s Force lightning in Return of the Jedi.

I hope that The Last Jedi isn’t going to be a thinly-veiled rehash of The Empire Strikes Back or maybe TESB plus a few bits from Return of the Jedi. There’s potential for it not to be. It seems Kylo Ren loses his mask, which was a bit of cosplay to emulate his late grandfather. What that means is another matter. Kylo (sans mask and with a scar over his eye just like Grandpa’s) is pictured piloting a TIE fighter. (Which is interesting, because all the other human pilots wear breathing apparatus.) Are we going to see a union of the dark and the light through Kylo and Rey? And that gets a bit sticky for me. Kylo apparently murdered all of his uncle’s Jedi students, and certainly his own father. Forgiving and forgetting… yeah, no.

The movie opens in Australia on 14th December, tomorrow for the UK and US. No, I haven’t pre-ordered tickets. No, I won’t be in the queues for the midnight showing. I don’t think I’ll even see the film at a movie theatre. But I’ll be hangin’ out for the reviews to see if I was dead wrong. Hoping I am, before I watch the DVD to form my own opinion.

Oh - and if you're looking for a last minute, something different present for a die-hard Star Wars fan, s/he might like one of my books - Dryden Universe, Ptorix Empire, and Morgan Selwood are all space opera. You'll be doing a struggling writer a favour too. Merry Christmas - or Holidays if you prefer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feel The Conflict: Anticipation Nerves for #TheLastJedi

Have you felt it? In two days time I'm off to see The Last Jedi and I can't help feeling conflicted about it. It was the same for The Force Awakens. I was so excited to see Star Wars return and not only with the original trio but a female lead, yet trepidation over how Disney would handle it. Ultimately I loved it, even if they did play heavily to nostalgia. No, for TLJ I have a whole bunch of new concerns.

1. Will it be as good? For my own personal definition of 'good' that is. Early reactions from the premier seem mostly positive, even super-excited. You can check them out HERE - caution, I didn't see any spoilers but only skim read a few to be sure. I really want to go in with an open mind.

2. Will it progress? While I loved the nostalgia of TFA, Disney can't rely on that forever. They need to move forward, take the franchise in their own direction, and have the characters and universe continue to grow. From what I've read of the first reactions, it appears they've done that.

3. Will it be a repeat of Anakin's story? I never really understood his fall into the Dark Side in the prequels, and they also took what little sympathy I had for Vader and be annoyed over his redemption in RotJ afterwards. I definitely want to see more thought out motivation and reasoning for any relationships, betrayals and redemptions in this new trilogy.

4. Will they rely on special effects over plot? My biggest issue with Valerian, shown this summer, was while it was visually spectacular, the plot was poor (actually, calling it 'poor' is being kind). I felt like they'd spent all their time, money and energy on making it look glorious and threw in the storyline at the last minute. The trailers for TLJ definitely show snippets of some spectacular space battles (where would SW be without those?!) but I hope there's more to them than that.

And lastly, does Luke Skywalker survive?! I'm not going to lie - I'm a Luke girl through and through, ever since I first saw A New Hope at the age of eight and had my very first crush on a certain Tatooine farmboy (sigh). I love angsty heroes. If they kill Luke off...well, I might never be able to watch another Star Wars film ever again. >.<

Next week will be my last post at Spacefreighters as I go offline for the Christmas holidays, but I will post a short, spoiler free (promise!) review to let you know what I thought and if I survived!

Status Update
While I only hit 11K in my final tally for NaNoWriMo, it was all new stuff for a book that will sit between books two and three of my Keir series. It's nowhere near complete but the bare bones are down so I can now build on those. I also finished edits for Reunion, which will be going to my editor at the end of this week. With luck it might finally be ready for release early next year. Right now I'm using a rare snowfall here in the more temperate end of the UK as inspiration to work on my winter solstice SF mystery, another project more than two years in the making (and still not done). Sigh. Maybe next winter...

Chook Update
My girls are NOT enjoying the snow. Yesterday my two older chooks - Kyru and Scoop - refused to come out first thing, although they did venture out later. As I result I've now put food and water inside their nest box, as the last thing they can afford to do in these temperature is to lose weight. After reading up on some advice, I offered them warm porridge this morning and put down some spare barley straw we had to give their feet some protection from the now frozen bark chipping we use in their run. The ungrateful whatsits turned their nose up at the food and refused to go onto the straw even when I threw in some of their favourite treats. However, they did eventually venture out, even if they mostly ended up on their perches. Tomorrow it's supposed to warm back up so hopefully they'll feel a bit better.

See ya!

Monday, December 11, 2017

On Writing -- Muse 0: Distractions 4

So, I did it. I opted out of the next Pets in Space collection...provided there even IS a next Pets in Space collection. For the last two years, I've invested a major chunk of my time in writing and revising two successive Pets in Space novellas, and in blogging, tweeting, FBing and promoting the collection. (A genuine and valuable learning experience!)

It was a very difficult decision to send an email to the organizers telling them in advance I was opting out, but my aim is to get back on my professional track and start kicking out more of my own titles next year. I planned to get right on it. I rolled up my sleeves to tackle my next two projects, and...

Well. Easier said than done, as it turns out. Distractions are the devil, and lately I've had my share of them.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

In just four days! Definitely a major distraction! How is a writer supposed to write when the anticipation (and/or dread) is so high? Please, please, please, Hollywood, don't ruin a standard in storytelling that's stood for decades--most of my lifetime, in fact--by turning out yet another glib, depressing piece of motion picture garbage. Don't do that to my beloved Star Wars. Don't you dare!

The movie trailers and previews look promising...
 



But, well, we've seen that before only to have the film do a big, fat belly flop.

Again, I say, don't you do to Star Wars what you've done to so many great ideas. Ruin them. I'm holding you accountable, Hollywood. Me and millions of other fans. I hope you're shaking in your boots right now. You should be!

This latest installment better darn well live up to the bar that's been set.

And we'll find out in just four days!

Taking on the 2017 SFR Galaxy Awards

Several years ago Heather Massey had a wonderful idea to create an award program for Science Fiction Romance that focused on different stand-out aspects of different books (and the occasional movie, graphic novel or video game). The whole point behind the awards was to help readers find books they'd really enjoy reading. We teamed up together to launch the first SFR Galaxy Awards for 2011. This year marks the 6th anniversary of the awards.

Recently, Heather contacted me to see if I'd have any interest in hosting the awards for 2017, because life was just a little too full for her this year. I agreed to take the reins, at least for this next round. And so the awards will go on.

Look for the announcements to begin posting the morning of January 30th in their usually pattern--one round per hour. We also have a new judge this year, and you can meet her, as well as get re-acquainted with our returning judges, on the SFR Galaxy Awards site.

I hope you'll tune in for the festivities when they roll out in January.



The Holidays
 
Tralalalalala. It's almost Christmas! Seriously. How did that happen? Wasn't it January just last week?

I love the holidays, but they do bring their fair share of time-gobbling must-do's. Shopping, attending parties and events, decorating, wrapping, and writing out cards.

Now that I'm retired, I have no excuse not to slow down and smell the Poinsettias, so I have to allow myself the seasonal break even though it's going to cut into my writing time. After all, the holidays only come once a year, and each year, there are fewer ahead to look forward to.

Life's too short not to celebrate.

But then...

A Personal Loss

This was a very sad event indeed, so I won't go into detail and depress everyone, but suffice it to say we recently lost a long-time friend to ALS. Of all the things I'm juggling right now, this one has been the most difficult to deal with. No amount of organization or planning can "fix" the loss of a friend. No amount of holiday festivities can overcome the sadness. No recounting the memories or the good times can bring back the past.

Sometimes life is like a steamroller. It's going to flatten you as it rolls on toward the future.

There's a movie called The Village in which the residents of the small town often gather to share a big feast. Before they begin, they say a prayer.

It starts: "Thank you for the time we have been given..."

Yes. That.

Sorry to end my blog on such a somber note, but of all the setbacks mentioned, grief has packed the biggest wallop of them all.

Thanks for stopping by. And have a great week.



Friday, December 8, 2017

SFR IN THE TIME OF #METOO


Okay, in case anyone needs a definition of sexual harassment/assault, I recommend we all start with author Chuck Wendig’s excellent (and hilarious) blog post on the subject here. I’ll wait.

Everybody got that? Good. I agree with Chuck’s base line: We all learned to keep our hands (and other parts) to ourselves in kindergarten, or we should have. It’s no longer cool to assume your sexual interests are automatically returned by everyone in sight, Austin Powers.  I would add that, as authors, if our heroes and heroines are having trouble following those rules in our stories, maybe we ought to rethink their actions. 


In this age of #metoo, there are at least a few outmoded science fiction romance tropes we might want to send back to spacedock for some radical reworking. 

--Fated Mates—It is undeniably romantic to think there is only one person out there for each of us. These stories speak to that yearning in all of us to mate for life, like swans or wolves. But perhaps we can agree that the time of the dogged, single-minded pursuit of the alpha male of his Fated Mate may be past (can we say “stalking?”). The heroine invariably knows nothing of this Fate; she isn’t “ready.” The hero must be steadfast in his courting and never give up! Acck!  I’ve read and enjoyed dozens of these, but I will probably never read them the same way again. Now they are just creepy.

--Abducted for (Whatever)—In the pulp-fiction past these stories were known as “Mars Needs Women” tales, but they’ve recently become more popular and “mainstream.” Earth women are abducted by aliens for use as sex slaves, mates, queens and similar biological fodder. The main point here is the lack of agency on the part of those Taken. The abducted rarely escape their fate; they must make the best of it somehow. Or worse, the abduction is portrayed as a good thing, with lots of fun sex and/or a rescue from a dull Earth life!

--Harems/Reverse Harems—According to Veronica Scott’s USA Today/HEA Blog, this is an up-and-coming sub-sub-genre of SFR, sometimes flipping the script to portray stables of sexy men-beasts owned by a lucky female. Is it any more humane to keep men as slaves for the sexual pleasure of women than the other way around? Doubtful.

--Coerced Sex and/or Violence—Do I even have to say it? Forget “safe words,” some things just go too far. Slaves forced to have sex, to breed, or to fight as gladiators may be historically correct and an idea that could be projected to alien planets, but when used as titillation in a romance, we approach sexual exploitation, ie. ick factor.

But even without wading in these murky pools, if we’re writing romance, by definition the issues of sexual dynamics underlie everything we write. We owe it to our readers to examine the relationships we portray on the page to make sure: Is the hero the kind of man he should be? Is the heroine his equal as they build a relationship? Alpha males are all well and good, but Neanderthal attitudes toward women should be the last thing a reader should expect in a genre primarily (though certainly not exclusively) written by women for women.

My first novel was a Star Trek fan fiction story titled Mindsweeper. In it, Captain James T. Kirk has been suspended from his post pending a hearing for sexual misconduct. (About time, you might say! Kirk is nothing if not an alpha male with a predilection for interaction with females that skirts the line of what is appropriate.). He meets a lone-wolf trader named Kate Logan, who asks him if the story is true.

“Does it matter?” he says.

“Does to me,” she says.

Right away, we know she is his equal, and not about to take any of his usual BS. (Turns out, he’s undercover trying to ferret out a Federation mole. The misconduct rap is part of his cover.)

The risk of sexual misconduct is part of the plot in Unchained Memory, Interstellar Rescue Series Book One, too. Psychiatrist Ethan Roberts is attracted to his patient Asia Burdette from the moment she steps into his office, but, as a professional, he dares not act on the feelings she stirs in him. She’s strong and independent, no longer in need of his professional help, and, most significantly, no longer his patient by the time circumstances drive the two of them into each other’s arms.

I even wrote a Fated Mates story in Trouble in Mind, Interstellar Rescue Series Book Two. But at the first sign of their mutual fate, the heroine reacts quite justifiably as if the hero violated her, and the hero is equally horrified at his own actions. It takes the couple almost another third of the book to reconcile.

The point is that I made sure in these cases to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and deal with it as part of the plot. My heroes and heroines struggle with their sexual dynamics before they earn their happily ever after.

As SFR authors, we have more freedom than do historical or contemporary romance authors to create the world we want for our characters. All the more reason for us to be conscious of the limits we place on the men and women of the futures we build.

Cheers, Donna


About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.