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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mining asteroids - another kind of gold rush?

If you're interested in future tech at all you will have come across stories about mining asteroids. It has been a feature in SF stories over time. Linnea Sinclair's stories like Rebels and Lovers and Gabriel's Ghost talk about mining platforms, out in the long dark to mine floating rocks, and abandoned when the lode ran out, or other reasons.

I've had my turn, too. One of the arcs in my story Starheart is about what happens at a mining platform orbiting a gas giant. Workers are employed to mine the moonlets - or asteroids - orbiting the planet. Think Saturn and you're about right.

As usual in my stories, there's a romance - but there's also a mystery surrounding this mining platform and what happens there. Here's an excerpt that goes with the image at the top of the post.

Santh shouldered his pack and joined the line of brand new miners waiting to disembark onto the Tabora mining platform. He scratched at his hair, now ridiculously short and almost black. They could have hung him upside down and used him for a sander. He'd never forgive Brian. He'd said short but he'd been cut so close he was almost bald.
   The line shuffled along, ten men aiming to earn a fortune and go home rich. The fellow in front of him stood a whole head taller than him with shoulders to match, while the one behind, about his height, was stick thin. All types, from all over, all after a fortune. Once in the airlock, the pace picked up.
   He stepped out of the hatch and onto the platform, so like any other space station. Their boots clanging on the floor, the men were herded out of the docking area and into the platform itself, most gazing around them. He was probably one of the few who'd actually been to this gods forsaken joint before, drab utilitarian form-work disappearing into the distance above and below, covered with bad paintings of various landscapes to hide the shabbiness.
   A man dressed in maroon Company uniform waited for the new arrivals.
   "Are we all here?" he said, smiling when they'd gathered around him.
   Well, he should know, shouldn't he? He went through the names, ticking them off on a sheet. Santh almost forgot his adopted name was Jim Jonson.
   "Welcome to Tabora. My name's Mister Orlando," said smiling boy in the maroon suit. "I'll show you your accommodation first, then I'll take you on an orientation tour."
   Santh tramped along behind Orlando, who led them to a lift. The man was quite cute, nice butt, but he had one of those smiles with too many teeth. The car zoomed up eight levels, where they straggled out again into the accommodation block.
   At least they each had their own room. If you could call it that. Santh dumped his pack on the bed. Standing here if he held out an arm and stretched a little he could touch the wall on the other side of the bed and the other way he could touch the closet door with his elbow bent. The shared ablutions block was down a fenced-off walkway. They'd built the accommodation around one of the utility cores, lots of vacant space punctuated with walkways and aerials. If you peered, you could just pick the gray matt floor bottom maybe two hundred meters down. Not a great place for anybody afraid of heights.
   A man emerged from the next cell, grimacing. "Not exactly the comforts of home."
  "Just somewhere to sleep, I guess." Santh held out his hand. "I'm Jim. Jim Jonson."
   Dark eyes lit up in a pale face. Santh's hand was grasped like a lifebuoy. "Ace. Ace Connor. You been here before?"
   "No," Santh said, easing his hand away. "You?"
   "Me neither."
   Orlando ordered everyone back into the lift and took them to an observation platform. Eerie light flooded the room. The entire far wall appeared to be transparent, giving an uninterrupted view of the gas giant Tabora. Rivers of red, orange, brown and grey drifted together in whorls and swirls like oil on water. It was almost romantic, a silent, perpetual dance, slow and stately.
   "Looks peaceful, doesn't it?" Orlando said. "The winds down there blow at quarter of a million klicks per hour. But don't worry. If you ever get buffeted by the wind, you'll have already been crushed to a pulp by the gravity, so you won't notice."
   He'd made his point. Quite a few people sucked in an audible breath.
   "For any of you who didn't realize, this isn't a real window, by the way. It's a giant screen showing you sensor data. Now, if you'll look carefully here," he pointed at a dark, ragged line barely visible against the planet's light. "You'll see a ring. That's what we mine. Go out there, break up the asteroids, bring them back in the hopper of your vehicle. They are fully shielded, tough little buses specially designed for this environment so you'll be quite safe if you follow the rules."

 Starheart is the third of the Ptorix Empire series and is completely stand-alone. It's available everywhere.  

SH cover payhip

Freighter Captain Jess Sondijk has her life under control until the Confederacy’s Admiral Hudson boards her ship in a search for contraband. Sondijk and Hudson have their own set of questions.
For Jess, it’s a matter of her husband’s perhaps not so accidental death. For Hudson, it’s that somebody’s trading with the alien Ptorix – and offering them a large enough prize to induce them to part with their beloved starhearts, the jewels they call the windows of the soul.

While Jess’ interests are more personal — abducted friends and family — Hudson’s are broader — the end of his career at best and interspecies war at worst — in a deadly game of political intrigue, murder, and greed.

Which will win, following hearts’ desires or chasing starhearts, with the stakes higher than either is willing to pay?

This book contains sex scenes and strong language.
Buy the book at  Amazon Nook Kobo Apple Print

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spring Is Coming!

Back from half term holiday, and this week I'm going to be a typical Brit: I'm going to talk about the weather (and not just because Greta posted about it last week, lol). Just over a week ago when temperatures had began that small rise hinting at the end of winter, we were swiftly plummeted back into the cold and even had snow. That's not unheard of for the time of year. I've seen snowy Valentine's Days, and the year my youngest was born the older two were making snow bunnies for Easter with their dad (although it was an early Easter that year).
But now the temperatures have taken a definite upward swoop, well into double figures, and the plants are registering the change. Snowdrops have been open for a week, and now the crocuses and other bulbs are up and opening, and green buds are on the hawthorn bushes as we walk to school. And this morning I spotted a couple of frogs in the pond...well, shall we say 'celebrating' the warmer weather? :P
We're still not free of a risk of ice and snow, or at least several hard frosts in the coming weeks, but I can feel the change in the air, see it in the surroundings. And it means I've survived winter. I suffer from SAD, and increasingly over the past few years it seem to have hit me harder and harder each winter. Not so this year. I think despite the cold we had a brighter winter - more sharp cold and clear skies rather than the terrible damp greyness that feels like it's lasting forever. We had days cold enough to numb the skin on my legs which hurt like hell on getting back into the warm, but being out in the sun makes such a difference to my mood. So I'm feeling more hopeful as we move into 2017, despite the horrendous political mire both sides of the Atlantic. Sigh. Still, there's good stuff to come...

Status Update
Keir's Shadow is progressing, but mostly as notes emailed to myself. It's probably my weirdest method of revising to date, but ideas for fixing the plot holes mostly occur while I'm off on my morning walk. I've added over 8K words already, but haven't really got far past the first chapter, patching other random scenes, and fixing the closing scenes. It gives you some idea of how much of a mess this work is in...

I was super excited to learn this morning that one of my favourite authors is coming to the UK in a couple of weeks! Being as my chances of going to the US were pretty minute (plus I'm not sure I want to go there in the current conditions), I'm amazed at getting the chance to meet Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies and related zombie books. I'm sure I've raved enough about my love for the books for it to be obvious. He'll be visiting three locations in the UK and one in Scotland, and you can find details HERE if interested.

Cosplay Update
I finished youngest's Luigi cosplay just before the half term holiday, then finished part four of a super secret five part project last week. I can't tell you about those until the SFR author who commissioned it has done their reveal. ;) The final part requires further design consultation.
In the meantime I've moved onto eldest's Tauriel cosplay, which includes fletching some arrows. The arrows will never be shot (you're not allowed fireable weapons at most conventions anyway, so the string will be coming off the bow we're taking) but I used to do archery so I want them to look as convincing as possible.

Chook Update
With the warmer weather, I've been spending some time out in the garden with my girls. And they've been busy - we're now getting one or two eggs a day. After her traumatic encounter with the fox last year, Kyru appears very reluctant to venture outside the coop anymore, but the others are enjoying the return of this extra freedom.

Left to right: Kyru, Scoop, Pitch, Fizzgig (Effie behind)

Back to the job hunting...

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Expanse: Seven Reasons Why You Should be Watching This Show

First, I'm going to make a guess.

You're here because you love science fiction in more ways than just books.

If so, trust me, if you're not already doing so, you should really check out The Expanse, SyFy Channel's original series that is just starting its second season. Why? Because it's everything good science fiction should be--told within the framework of a darkly imagined future, with terrific characters, factual science (which is neither boring nor dumbed-down) and very high stakes.

For booklovers, this television series was based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey, which is actually the writing team of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. I got to see Ty Franck in action with a panel of Caltech scientists and this author can hold his own with the most brilliant minds. Getting it right was very important to him.

The series "went deep" with the books, pulling in characters from connected novellas to round out the cast and the story. I haven't read the books yet. I'll save that for a time after this series ends--which hopefully will be in the distant future. This one's a keeper.

Some describe it as "Game of Thrones meets Battlestar Galactica" and though the tag fits it's also a little superficial. I haven't fallen this much in love with a sci-fi series since the demise of Defying Gravity, which was never given a chance to find an audience due to network politics and a DOA time slot late on Sunday night. 

I really don't want to see The Expanse fall into the same pit, so I've made it my mission to spread the word. If I were ever to write straight sci-fi, this would be the kind of story I'd want to tell.

Here are some insights from the author team, because what writer out there doesn't want to know what it's like to stand on the deck of a ship you created on a page years before? (Hey, we can all dream, can't we?) They also discuss their system for collaborating. (Cool insights for authors, but readers may prefer to skip it.)

I could give you a hundred reasons why this show rises above the rest, but instead, I'll key in on just seven things that make The Expanse so remarkable. And I'll do it with clips so you can get an actual taste for this world.

Number 7.
The future. It's 200 years from now, but a time that still reflects much of the here and now. The slang has changed and the language has evolved, but the basic needs, desires and struggles of humanity are the same as we begin to colonize the solar system. In this clip, the cast explains the complex world-building behind The Expanse.

The wide diversity of the cast is just one element that seems dead-on. As we start to colonize our solar system, I believe it will be a global effort and that means the colonies will reflect global diversity. The future won't belong to, as Ty Franck put it during a Caltech panel discussion, "white guys in space." And true to that thinking, this is not a "white guys in space" series. In fact, it's also not a "guys in space" series. It's shot through with strong, tough-minded female characters--engineers, politicians, military officers and even marine gunnies.

Number 6.
The characters. Holden--reluctant leader. Miller--jaded cop. Chrisjen--driven politician. Naomi--brilliant engineer. Amos--mechanic and bad-ass loose cannon. Alex--ice trawler pilot with a eye-brow raising past. The story begins with three story threads--Holden's, Miller's and Chrisjen's--that become closely interwoven as events unfold. Julie Andromeda Mao is a minor character who creates the glue for all the plot threads. Detective Miller, the cop from asteroid Ceres, is assigned to find her because a missing person report was filed by her fabulously wealthy father, and Miller ends up chasing her halfway across the solar system. Solving the case is not his primary objective. She is. Holden, a newly drafted Executive Officer on an aging ice trawler is soon on her trail too, but for different reasons. What happens to Julie Mao (no spoilers, but....OMG, wow!) will create huge political complications for Chrisjen. (Who, BTW, has one of the most spectacular wardrobes ever created for television.)

To get a better sense of these multi-layered personas, here's an introduction in the actor's own words.

Oh, and let's not forget Roci. More about her in Number #4.

Number 5.
Realism. The title of this clip is Zero G Gunfight. Two hundred years in the future no method of generating reliable artificial gravity has been invented yet. There's some gravity generated due to movement, such as thrust gravity, spin gravity, etc., but much of the time, it's just plain no gravity. So what do they do to avoid floating about? Two words. Mag boots. Sometimes the gravity cuts out unexpectedly--like in the middle of a firefight--and then they need to have knowledge of the laws of physics to save their butts. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. James Holden uses his head--and his boot--to work through this dilemma.

The production teams' devotion to realism was also highlighted in the Caltech panel. They actually have a person responsible to ensure the starfield shown in the background of the space scenes depicts the correct stars and orientation to the particular point in space where the action happens. Has anyone even thought of that before for a sci-fi television series?

Yes, amazing realism.

Number 4.
Attention to detail. Here's one example. What do you do after you inherit a Martian gunship from a vaporized destroyer? Disguise it. Stat! Starting with the transponder that identifies the ship.

James Holden explains that Rocinante means "work horse" in Spanish. But it also carries a meaning in popular folklore. Rocinante was the name of Don Quixote's horse when he went on his impossible quest and dreamed his impossible dream.

Coincidence? I think not. One of the episodes is titled Windmills.

Number 3.
Seamless science. Case in point--Flip and Burn: High G Ship Maneuver. They get the science right, but still make it suspenseful and fascinating. No, Virginia, "suspenseful science" is not an oxymoron, and you don't necessarily have to blow things up to make a scene dramatic. (Though there is plenty of that, too.)

This is one of my fave scenes to date (but there are probably too many to count).

So what's "the juice"? In the "Science Behind The Expanse" panel at Caltech, the writers explained that high G events such as what James Holden called a "flip & burn"--or flipping the ship around to fire the engines in a new direction, or merely to slow down by counteracting acceleration--refer to the heavy gravity produced by the thrust of a starship pushing the passengers toward the rear of the vessel. This causes the blood vessels to stress and capillaries to burst, especially in the eyes. "The juice" is a formula that makes the arteries and blood vessels more elastic during the time the ship is moving forward rapidly in space, exerting huge pressure on the human body. Fascinating stuff.

Number 2.
Sexy times! Yup. There's sexy times in the asteroid belt--some of it in Zero G. But sorry, no video! The only clip I could find was overdubbed with cheap porno music, so I'll spare you that. You may have gotten a glimpse of Holden's sexy times in the Number 6 characters video above. The relationship is short-lived, but very, very important for Holden's character and for an understanding of what drives him on this quest to tilt with windmills.

Number 1.
Expect the unexpected. This is the pivotal scene in the first episode that sets everything in motion. Our prime crew (James Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex and the medic) is sent out in the Knight, one of the shuttles from ice trawler Canterbury (aka "The Cant") to investigate a distress signal originating from a derelict ship called the Scapuli.

They board the Scapuli to investigate and THEN...well, just see for yourself.

If you're not convinced by this point that you must see this show, then it's probably not for you. (Move along, move along...)

But to quote a few hundred thousand rogue belters, "Remember the Cant!"

P.S. I've reference the Caltech panel on "The Science Behind The Expanse" several times in this blog. If you're interested in viewing it, you can find it on YouTube (just click the title above to be linked). It runs about an hour and a half and discusses the Epstein drive and many other topics in more detail. Many thanks to fellow SFR author Sabine Priestley for bringing it to my attention in a Facebook post.

Have a great week!

Friday, February 17, 2017


For most science fiction writers who aim to send their characters into space the big technical hurdle is overcoming vast distances. We spend a lot of time thinking about ion drives and hyperspace and jump nodes and wormholes and the like, trying to decide how our starships are going to get around the galaxy. If you ask me, STAR TREK’s warp drive was just about the coolest idea ever. I just wish I’d thought of it.

We spend much less time thinking about something with which we have a lot more experience—gravity. Well, we can have a lot of fun with such toys as gravity boots, anti-grav sleds, spinning space ships or stations or the loss of artificial gravity when a ship comes under attack. Some of us can have even more fun writing scenes set in parts of the ship without gravity, for, um, various reasons.

But as a writer of science fiction romance (and most emphatically a non-scientist), I can’t tell you how the artificial gravity (AG) works on my starships. I’m not of the centrifugal spin camp—too clunky for smaller ships that might find themselves in a three-dimensional space battle at any time. I have to trust that some future genius has invented an electromagnetic field that can be generated within my ships to mimic gravity, the loss of which can sometimes be used to dramatic effect.  Sorry, all you real physicists out there. Just hold your noses and read on.

But Isaac Newton’s little darling can cause trouble in other areas of our stories, too, primarily because mass has a relationship with gravity. We send our characters to all sorts of planets in our adventures, and we envision exotic flora and fauna and alien creatures for them to interact with. But what about the size of those planets? Are they bigger or smaller than our Earth? If they’re smaller, our characters will tend to bounce all over. (Think Neil Armstrong on the moon.) If bigger, our manly heroes will be dragging and gasping within minutes. Face/palm!

The bad-guy aliens of my Interstellar Rescue series, the Grays, hail from a planet slightly smaller than Earth, which accounts for their short stature and slender limbs. That is also why they find Earthers of particular use as slaves—our larger frames and musculature developed on this planet make us good workers. However, we can be a physical danger to them, so they mindwipe us and use another large species as guards, the Ninoctins.

In my current work in progress, Follow the Sun, a group of human slaves escapes a labor camp and hijacks a Gray ship. Overcoming the skeleton crew of alien officers would not otherwise be a problem, but moving is awkward on board the Gray ship, where the AG is set for the planet of Minertsa. Let me just say the fight choreography for those scenes was challenging!

So, what about you? Met any good technical writing challenges lately?


Very bizarre weather you're having Down Under, Greta!  More evidence of the supposed "hoax" of global warming. Here in the mountains of North Carolina, we finished out another year of extreme drought in 2016, the warmest year on record. This winter has so far also been very mild, with very little snow (which I won't complain about) and close to record-breaking temperatures. Meanwhile, New England suffers under snowstorm after snowstorm. Welcome to the future, y'all.
Cheers, Donna