After finishing An Austen Ensemble, I was ready to venture back into the world of speculative fiction. I love carriages, phaetons, barouches, curricles, tumbrils, and farm wagons, and all the details that go along with historical novels, but I was more than ready to MAKE SOME STUFF UP by the time I was done.
So… Thus came about my near-future story on an underground Martian base (as I blow a kiss to Elon Musk!) which takes place on a single terrible day in the lives of two astronauts.
I just got the book back from my wonderful editor, Gabriella West over at Edit for Indies, so I am just whipping it into shape before publication. I am also learning how to use Adobe InDesign for covers, because writing a novel for NaNoWriMo this month was not enough. (I peer dubiously at the schedule written on my hand… Was this the plan?)
Anyway, cover and blurb to follow soon! But here’s an excerpt while I get things ready.
Thanks for reading,
Best Martian Playlist
Tenacity Base, Tharsis Montes, Mars
“You should allow yourself to rest,” the AI assistant said, “as the vehicle is in crawl mode. You can close your eyes. Caleb is taking a surface walk to the solar array.”
Miranda half-reclined on the driver’s seat of one of the huge rovers, her feet propped on the locked steering wheel, her head tilted back. She stared at the line between the foil sheeting that partly coated the Martian tunnel and the raw rock beyond, her eyelids heavy. A few feet further and the tunnel disappeared into blackness. She tapped her tablet and spoke to the AI, Ero, through a painful yawn. “Shouldn’t I use the time he’s gone? You said you had a list of options…”
“Steps may be necessary today, but you’ll need to be rested. Shall I begin another album? I can make suggestions based on your profile.” Ero was originally one of Amazon’s proprietary personalities, so he was always trying to get them to try new music or binge-watch new series.
“No, just play the mix I listened to last night.” Miranda felt her shoulders ease and she relaxed for real, getting as comfortable as possible in the bucket chair as she sipped citrus-flavored water out of the tube in her suit. Her position would be ridiculously uncomfortable on Earth, but in the low Martian gravity, it was workable.
The tunnel was twenty feet tall; that was the current calibration on the digger machine that had gone through this tunnel first. And the walls, though still lined from the teeth of that machine, were relatively smooth, half-melted from the high heat that was used to fuse rock and dust into firm walls.
If the caves were natural, they’d be considered quite beautiful. Parts of the rock seemed to hang in long, vertical folds like the finest drapery on a Michelangelo statue.
The thick layers of magnetic foil sealed themselves to the magnetic crust of Mars and crinkled faintly as soft wheels pushed them into place. She could hear it in the pause between one of her songs and the next.
The rock wasn’t perfectly smooth, and the aluminum sheeting wasn’t shiny like kitchen foil, but Miranda could make out the wavy image of her own red and white insulated suit reflected back from the roof of the tunnel. Her reflection was surrounded by that of the huge maroon construction rover, which she affectionately called Ironman.
Miranda felt a sneeze coming and wiggled her nose futilely before sneezing three times in succession. She tried to point her face down to avoid splatter on her faceplate, but having just reclined, she didn’t entirely make it. Ugh…
Miranda released the double-locking ring at her neck with guilty pleasure, rotating it counterclockwise, and gratefully removed her helmet. These suits were streamlined, vastly improved from the first bulky EMU suits early astronauts wore, but a mask was still a mask.
Her hair was in a ratty ponytail, sweaty, and she used her hand to flick a little water from the reservoir tube over her face. She rubbed it over her forehead and cheeks with her gloved hand. Relief. Without the connection to the helmet, the purified air blew from an open valve past her neck. She used the tablet to shut off the suit and preserve its store of liquid oxygen.
With a low rumble, Ironman jolted sideways like a crab, repositioning further down the tunnel. Its spotlights illuminated the front and back rollers applying the foil sheeting up the walls and across the ceiling. Its flat center held the cylinders of aluminum foil like colossal rolls of metallic wrapping paper, and a large robotic arm slotted the next roll into place while magnetic clamps unwound a new section.
“You shouldn’t have your helmet off,” Caleb called down the tunnel.
Miranda flinched. As he came into the lights from Ironman, she saw he was suited in neon green, one of the upper-surface suits which were easier to spot on satellite or in the dark. “Shouldn’t you be at the array?”
“No. Ero just had me servicing tanks in the basin this afternoon.” He came down the tunnel like a lightning bug in the dim glow of her machine, his walk the weirdly bouncy one that they’d grown used to in Mars’s light gravity. His reflection bounced along with him on floor and ceiling as though he were skating on ice.
Miranda gripped the steering wheel, wondering why Caleb would lie, or if she truly was just going crazy.
With her helmet off, she couldn’t ask Ero, but even as she thought the question, her tablet lit up. A brief message from Ero read, “I apologize. I did not realize he chose to ignore the array assignment. Drones are recharging.”
Yeah, Ero would have told her if he knew Caleb was coming her way. She wished she could hit the gas on Ironman and drive away. Or maybe drive right over Caleb. “Do you need something?”
“Yeah. I need you to put your helmet on.”
Miranda used a rag to wipe her face shield before putting the helmet back on.
“Thanks,” Caleb said. “Ero’s telling me there are three new messages, but he won’t display them until you’re there.”
I don’t know exactly what makes me love a short story, but it has something to do with humor, surprise, and a “real” ending. I wish I could write them that way! Humor especially seems to escape me, and all too often my short stories turn into first chapters (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but sometimes they don’t have the ending feel that I want.
Anyway, that being said, I finally got to read the stories in 20,000 Leagues Remembered! And just in time for the Facebook launch party for the paperback.
There’s too many to write about every one, but here are my favorites, in no particular order:
At Strange Depths by Jason J. McCuiston – so clearly written, forgot I was reading. An eerie extension of the book just after Professor Arronax escapes.
The Maelstrom by Maya Chhabra – fantastic character study, dark and moody and richly textured. It braids Nemo’s former life with the present and has a satisfying end emotionally, possibly the best of the bunch for me!
The Silent Agenda by Mike Adamson – ha! A curiously engrossing fireside chat between a publisher and a translator as they plan to edit Verne’s work to oblivion. Great dialogue, makes a writer and book lover and historian just cringe! In a good way.
Fools Rush In by Allison Tebo – Cracked me up. The would-be thieves have great chemistry as a group. I wanted more! Juliette with her single-minded balloonist goals, Lopez depressed and fatalistic, Casper making glorious speeches at inopportune moments… probably the funniest of the lot.
Homework Help From No One by Demetri Capetanopoulos – Okay, wait, maybe this was the best of the bunch for me! I really tasted the ingenuity, danger, and wonder of the original with this one, and a great ending!
I enjoyed others as well, Raise the Nautilus by Eric Choi is great, particularly for hard sci-fi readers, Leviathan by Michael Winkle went all in from a sperm whale (cachalot’s) perspective which was super creative…
There’s a great little site called Instafreebie where you can try out new authors for free. It’s similar to finding free ebooks on Amazon, but it’s more helpful to the author, besides offering Nook, Kobo, etc. I’m part of a big science fiction and fantasy promotion where you can pick just one book or all of them! I submitted a new Christmas fantasy romance called That Christmas You Remember. Enjoy!
Survival is sanity, or so they say, but sixteen-year old Akemi has survived in such an unorthodox fashion that even her sister fears for her sanity. As part of an alien computer system, installed in a space station orbiting Earth, Akemi is both uniquely powerful and uniquely isolated.
When the space station explodes in the night sky, sabotaged by unknown enemies, Akemi survives yet again, but this time suspicion for the catastrophe falls upon her. Determined to discover who is truly responsible for the attack, Akemi and her sister set out to track the other suspects to a foreign world far from Earth.
Accompanied by capable Sam and irrepressible assassin Shara, they find themselves drawn into a political game with one of the most powerful aliens in the galaxy. With the perilous feeling that they are playing right into his hands, Akemi and her friends must uncover the truth about the sabotage without jeopardizing humanity’s fragile new status. Or exposing Akemi’s fragile existence.
I got to do a guest post a while back about ensemble fiction (books with at least 5 – 8 main characters), and these are my suggestions!
From Lord of the Rings to Ocean’s Eleven to Crash, I almost always enjoy ensemble movies. But my particular favorites are sci-fi ensembles like Independence Day or Inception. So, in their honor, I’ve put together a Top Five reading list for other science fiction (and ensemble) lovers.
(For my purposes I’ve left out classic authors like Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov and focused on newer authors and books you may not have read yet.)
1. Robopocalypse (Daniel H. Wilson)
This book is an explosive collision of I, Robot and The Day After Tomorrow – big, crazy violence and big, crazy heroes. You’ve got conflicted, noble robots and super-scary evil ones, heroes you love and heroes you kind of hate (in a good way). The story starts when the main human character finds a “hero archive” compiled by the arch enemy computer – who, despite the fact that he’s been decimating humanity, is fascinated by the heroes who fight him. I’m bugging my husband to read it so I can talk to him about it!
2. The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi)
This is the second book in the Old Man’s War series (which is generally fantastic) but this novel was the standout in my opinion, and could be read alone (though I bet you read the others, too!). In a cutthroat universe, the human military has developed a way to take the DNA of dead people (who’d volunteered for military duty but died before they could begin) and turned them into perfect clone soldiers. Following a group of these cold ghost soldiers as they come to life is a surprisingly emotional and satisfying read.
3. Bruiser (Neal Shusterman)
You might have read this in school in the last few years, but if you haven’t, put it in your to-read list! Yes, right now, I’ll wait…. Okay.
Told from four perspectives, this is the story of Brew, a young man who absorbs the pains and injuries of those he cares about, and almost destroys them in the process…Because without pain, you can’t learn and you can’t really live. And you can’t put down this book, either.
4. Agent of Change (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller)
This is the first novel of the Liaden Universe, and although the authors began it in the 1980’s, it’s been kept alive by a small but fanatical fan base and now contains upwards of sixteen books! The books are a mix of regency romance and space opera – lots of dancing, piloting, and matchmaking. (I understand they had some copyright problems, but I see that they’ve just released a new kindle version of this book for free! The cover is a little less awesome here- copyright issues, probably. But it’s free! Go get it!)
5. Revenge of the Sith (Matthew Stover)
It’s hard enough to write a good novelization of a sci-fi movie, but throw in a really lackluster script and angry fans, and you’ve got your work cut out for you. Incredibly, (some might say miraculously) this is an EXCELLENT book. I’ve never been a huge Star Wars gal, but this book converted me. Mace Windu and Yoda and all these people I’m vaguely familiar with suddenly came to life…and took my breath away.
I know this is woefully short, so tell me – what sci-fi ensembles do you love?