Halloween Short Story – ‘Escape’

Another short story, this one written with Halloween in mind. It’s called Escape, and can be read here.

The ending is a bit of a horror story trope, with a ‘surprise’ that has been used countless times before. Even Terry Pratchett’s used it (although he was an expert at using and twisting storytelling tropes in fresh ways). But, even if you see this ending coming from afar, I hope you enjoy (if that is the right word) the short journey to that destination.

Something I’m enjoying with these short stories is the chance to experiment. Most of what I write is in third-person past tense, but to make things more involved in Escape, I’ve gone for first-person present tense. I wouldn’t be able to pull this off for anything longer, but for a short story I think it works. And if not, it’s only a thousand words. If you don’t like this one, there will be another story along in a couple of weeks.

But I might try something different with that one, too.

Anyway, you can check out Escape here, or through the short stories page.

If I Wanted Facts, I’d Read A Textbook

I recently bought a collection called Star Heroes: 9 Novels of Space Exploration, Aliens, and Adventure‌—‌9 novels for a ridiculously low price. As with anything that seems like too good a deal, I was initially dubious of the quality, but so far I have been pleasantly surprised.

starnomad_lindsayburokerThe first novel in the collection is Star Nomad, a sci-fi adventure by Lindsay Buroker, and it is a very enjoyable read‌—‌lots of action, a fast-moving story, and an interesting cast of characters. I’ve already bought the next book in the series.

When I’d finished it, I popped onto Amazon and read some of the reviews. The vast majority were positive, but, as with any book, there were a few one-stars. Although I personally didn’t agree with these, one of the complaints against the book got me thinking. A couple of reviewers took Buroker to task over the weak science in the book, with one especially complaining about her apparent lack of understanding of how craft would move in space.

That comment made me think of another book I read recently, Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves‌—‌800 pages, with about half of them explaining the science behind what is happening. In this book, manoeuvring in space is a precise, drawn-out procedure that can take hours, days, or even longer. Everything moves at a slow pace, because that is more scientifically accurate.

I enjoyed that book, and it was clear that Stephenson had done a great deal of research. There is no way I can vouch for the technical details, but even if Stephenson invented parts of it, it reads like fact.

seveneves_nealstephensonBut it is a very different read to Buroker’s book. Where Stephenson starts with a premise (what would happen if the moon exploded?) and uses science to plot his story, Buroker is more interested in the action and adventure, and putting her characters in different situations to see how they cope. Where Seveneves is serious (most of the time), Star Nomad is escapism.

But I’m also reminded of Arthur C Clarke’s statement that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. Today, we can do things with technology that would astound someone from a century ago. We can hold an entire library on a small, hand-held device, or we can travel the globe in a matter of hours. We can control computers with our eyes, and cars can drive themselves. So, in books set in the far future, or in alternative universes or dimensions, who’s to say what can be done with science? Just because something is impossible today doesn’t mean it will always be so.

Both books are science-fiction, but there are two parts to that description. Stephenson is driven by the former, and Buroker is more concerned with the latter. Yet it should be remembered that these books are both fiction. They are invented stories, not factual accounts, and to fully appreciate them we have to buy into the implausibilities. Yes, the way Buroker’s heroine throws her craft around cannot be explained by science as we understand it, but so what? It’s a fun read. It’s entertainment. And it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

When we read (or watch) fiction, we have to give ourselves that freedom to accept the ridiculous. It’s how we can enjoy James Bond films without concerning ourselves over the seemingly indestructible nature of Bond himself (how many lucky escapes can one man have?) It’s how cosy-mystery fans can ignore the implausibility of a Jessica Fletcher character who stumbles across, and solves, more murders over a series than many police officers would deal with in their whole careers. It’s how we can accept, for a couple of hours, that a hero can survive and win, despite being beaten so much that he should be in intensive care (see just about any action film for examples of this‌—‌most fights should be short and brutal, with both combatants soon out of breath or incapacitated from their injuries, not long drawn-out affairs with breaks for witty comments).

So were the negative reviews of Buroker’s book wrong? No. Reviews are personal opinions, not facts. And there is validity in the claim that her book is light on actual science. This clearly bothered some readers, and they would probably prefer something like Seveneves.

And that is fine. There are so, so many books out there. Even a specific genre like science-fiction contains a vast spectrum of books, including Stephenson’s hard sci-fi and Buroker’s sci-fi adventures. Not every book will appeal to every reader.

My opinion‌—‌and that is all it is‌—‌is that Star Nomad is a fun read, and gave me a few hours of solid entertainment. Which is exactly what I was looking for.

If I wanted to understand the science of space, I’d read a textbook.

Next short story – ‘Influential Friends’

Another short story for you‌—‌Influential Friends. You can read it here.

With these short stories, I’m exploring some of the characters that appear in the Dominions books. A Lesson In Death was about the main character, Rodin, and now it’s the turn of another characters, Genna.

She’s one of my favourite characters so far, even though she only plays a small part in the first book. She’s tough and smart, and she’s had to fight for everything she’s got. She’s the kind of person you’d definitely want on your side‌—‌you wouldn’t want to go up against her unless you had to.

From the first moment she appeared in Dark Glass, I knew there was far more to her, and as I work on Dominions IV, I’m delving into the vulnerabilities behind that rock-hard exterior. Her strengths, weaknesses, and her past are all being revealed, and it’s interesting watching her develop into one of the pivotal roles in the ongoing Dominions series.

But that book is not yet finished. For now, here’s a short story about one of my favourite characters. I hope you enjoy Influential Friends.

Dead Flesh (Dominions II) out now

Dead Flesh (Dominions II

The second novel in the Dominions series, Dead Flesh, is now available from all major e-book stores.

I’m really pleased with the way this book turned out, although it started as something totally different. When I first planned what was then simply called ‘Dominions 2’, I wanted Rodin (the main character) to pull off a daring rescue, but I had to work out why a mercenary would care enough to do this without being paid. Before he could charge in and be a hero, I needed to explain how he came to question his purpose in life.

That book didn’t work out. I liked big parts of it, but there was simply too much story. I think the first draft came in at over 150,000 words, and I was aiming for 100,000. And at that, it still felt rushed. I needed to cut it back, but I also needed to expand it. There was the big rescue, and all the build-up to that. There was another whole section about the person who needed rescuing, and how they got caught. And then there was Rodin’s journey before this, the part that needed to be there for his actions to make any sense.

As I worked on this, I realised that the initial section, where Rodin had his crisis of conscience, was pretty strong on its own. I looked at this part in more detail, and it started to grow into its own thing. Soon, it was clear that Rodin’s journey alone would be the second Dominions novel. The rest of the story could wait for the next book (although that didn’t work out, either. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother trying to plan these stories!)

As I said before, I’m pleased with how this book turned out. It’s dark, but it also has heart. There’s lots of action, but there is also lots of introspection. It answers some of the questions posed in the first Dominions novel, but also opens more loops.

If that all sound intriguing, check it out – click here to find out where you can get Dead Flesh. And if you’re interested in the start of the Dominions series, check out Dark Glass.

And next month I’ll release the third novel, Deep Water.