Robots Make Damned Expensive Janitors

From Year 5601, available on 2 September 2020:

“Imagine a task so mundane that only a robot could do it: say, swabbing a deck. Now, assume that in order to do it efficiently you need a conscious brain. You’ll only do the one thing, but it requires a conscious touch.”

I wrinkled my forehead. “You’re smarter than me. I can’t picture that.”

She smiled. “You flirt a lot. Did you know that?”

I did not know that, but it made me stop frowning.

She slid closer to me on her lavender couch and pressed her soft feet against my leg. My right hand grabbed them before my brain even knew they were there. My brain liked it, so I sat still while she resumed talking. “Let’s say that this is deck thirty, the captain’s deck, in the gold chambers. Now, the captain won’t abide just having a robot wash his deck and assume it’s gotten all the dirty bits. The captain will demand that there is no debris, no missed spots, and everything is uniform and up to specs.”

“Any good android could do that, and a robot can too. I’ve seen them do some particularly intricate tasks in the food-service industry.”

“That is true, but this robot has to be able to reach under furniture and reach up into the crevices of the wall to kill those damnable spiders.” She shuddered at the thought. It made me squeeze her soft feet. Kumiko paused, looked at my hand, and smiled again.

I felt myself flush. “Gods, I do flirt a lot.”

“It’s okay. I’m liking it.” She let her smile grow to a grin. “You’re my color, remember?”

“I remember.” We looked at each other long enough to make me uncomfortable, so I changed the subject back to our discussion. “So, what I think you’re saying is that we would need a robot that can do intricate scans, make independent decisions based on that analysis, be nimble and maneuverable, and reach anywhere from floor level to the tops of ten-to-twenty-foot ceilings.” She nodded. “Sounds like a damned expensive robot.”

“Or, you can give a human the barest amount of credits to live on and ell will do that for you. Then you can use that damned expensive robot to do a couple of intricate jobs that humans used to do.”

“Gods, we’ve trained our bots to replace us, but only in the good jobs, not the shitty ones.”

Excerpt: Opening Chapter of Hard As Roxx

To purchase a copy of Hard As Roxx, click on smarturl.it/HardAsRoxx

Up There, Somewhere

05 May 2137—6:57 a.m. Central Africasian time.

The desert is a damned desolate place for a woman on a motorcycle and a baby in the sidecar, but it suited Roxx. She’d read somewhere that the Sahara used to be hard dirt and scrub brush, but by the time she and her daughters reached it, humans had already sucked the life from it like a thirsty cat at the throat of a limp rat. Gone were the pockets of drying grass, low trees, and brush that fed the indigenous wildlife. In their place were fluffy sheets of dirty dust, covering a hundred years’ worth of desert flotsam. She’d been riding in dark silence for hours, in part to let the girls sleep and part because there was no way to be sure the area was as abandoned as it appeared. The thing about predators is that you never see the good ones. Maybe you’ll catch a whiff if you’re lucky enough to be downwind of their attack or skilled enough to recognize the setup.

I best be skilled. My luck is shite.

She’d stumbled across a trio of them two days prior when her group was emerging from the tattered remnants of the Congolese jungle. Roxx had gotten careless, and the men came out of nowhere, cutting Roxx off with their battered pick-up truck and ancient rifles. They made the mistake of aiming a gun and sexual remarks at Jazz, her ten-year-old daughter. She still wore their blood on her boots as a reminder to be more vigilant. Jazz made her abandon their heads to the scavengers, but Roxx would have remembered the lesson better had she kept them.

For endless miles, the Sahara’s low hills scraped along the indigo night, rising and falling beside her like silent, subterranean giants beneath an endless ocean of sand. Jazz called them sand whales—smooth, silent, and deadly. It was all very lovely unless you kept in mind something dangerous could be lurking behind each dune. There were no street lights, but Roxx’s day/night glasses picked up enough residual starlight to allow her to keep the bikes dark. Their pattern of movements would have been the perfect symphony of hushed obscurity except for one thing: Roxx never was any damn good at being discrete. A six-hour ride through the mind-bending boredom of the desert night had become more than she could bear in silence. With silence came memories, and with memories came the realization that she and her daughters might never live long enough to reach any place even approaching safety.

So, fighting sleep and tedium, she called upon one of her demigods, the Lord thy Pavarotti, and at a sacred seven seconds past the seventh hour of the seventh day since their escape, she flipped the switch on her Indian’s dual speaker array and lit the crimson hell out of the quiet morning air. She rode there for a time, sailing through her desert dawn with her god singing “Nessun Dorma.” Hers was a gentle deity and never minded when she sang with him each dawn—always translated into English by her language implants —Puccini’s words, directed to her baby.

None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!

As could have been predicted—were she the sort to bother making predictions—within seconds a single point of light emerged from a dune behind her with the wind whispering the sounds of a gruff engine’s growl above her bike’s operatic roar. The light was a half-mile back and closing fast. Roxx accelerated. Beside her, the two companion bikes matched her movements. Her trio of vehicles and the pursuers continued racing through the dunes for a full minute. Without slowing, she reached forward, pulled her rifle from its vertical holster next to the front wheel, turned, and squeezed off a single shot. The warm air carried the sound of breaking glass as the desert returned to darkness. Seconds later, the din of the engine behind her stopped. The winds carried the faint smells of food-derived organic fuel mixed in with human sweat.

Roxx pulled her scarf down, freeing her nose and mouth, and waited.

Stay stopped, mate. You only get the one warning.

Over her pounding heart, Pavarotti sang, and she sang aloud with him. “Set, stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!” She wondered how long she’d been crying.

It’s never bloody dawn in Africa.

Lit by starlight, Roxx could just make out the dim figures of two men pushing a motorcycle up and over a sand dune. She doubted they’d be back. Roxx restarted her bike, and the two clones hummed into action with her. The long road ahead took a gentle slope upward, twisting and rising above a high dune. Roxx followed it upward, accelerating her bike to north of eighty miles per hour. She powered over the rise, going airborne for no other reason than because she could, and she was Roxx. Even before the bike touched down, she was breathless, exhilarated for a second before remembering the baby was with her. Shit. Beside her, safely ensconced in her covered sidecar, Jessi slept on as though she’d been floating on clouds.

It’s not like she can fall out. Besides, you can’t be safe all the time.

Here in the higher elevations, the sand dunes grew steeper, swept into low mountains by the harsh north winds. In another day or two she’d reach the coast, and if reports were accurate, the terrain there would have been scraped flat by the same winds, taking with it her cover. She’d need to find provisions before then. The final leg to the coast might prove to be a full-on run for safety. But the minutia could wait—the sight before her was magnificent. As far as she could see, crimson hues from the dawning sky painted the dunes into a churning, red ochre sea, the waves rising and falling in blood-tinged solitude. Only bits of blue at the cool fringes of the horizon reminded her that she and her girls were still motoring through North Africa instead of some forsaken Martian valley. Roxx imagined she would like Mars almost as much as she did this place. She’d never seen the desert, much less one the scale of the Sahara, but couldn’t have been more at home had she been born to it. It was quiet. It was unforgiving. It was hard, and it was beautiful. It was Roxx personified.

Even the sky here is red.

Her uncle had taught her that dusk’s brilliant colors weren’t the work of some universe-building supernatural force, but a lingering reminder of the faint, radioactive pollution that bent long light waves back to earth. It wasn’t glorious, he’d say, but rather a reminder to humans of what death they’d wrought. She didn’t care. Unc was wrong. It was glorious; the tears told her it was. A bloody Rembrandt, this guy, God.

After another twenty miles, she slowed, unable to distinguish one low hill from the next. They were somewhere south of the ends of the earth, but north of hell, so at least her daughters were safe. For now, that was enough. She glanced down, pushed a button, and the navigational readout on her modified 1940 Indian Chief displayed fourteen degrees, forty-three minutes north by fifteen degrees, eighteen minutes east. She was well into the Chadian desert. With one hand, she pulled a scarf across her mouth, shielding her nose and lips from the desert wind. Before her, on the hardened sand that passed for a road, long shadows clutched at the undulating dunes; deeper black and reddish hues painted the landscape ahead like a madman’s abstract. Since they’d reached the Sahara, they had seen few traces of life and fewer traces of man. She’d heard God was dead, killed in the 21st-century apocalypse that shattered society. Here, she guessed, must be where he would have asked to be buried. Roxx pulled the black Indian to a halt, and Jazz’s high-tech 2133 Rogue bike hummed to a silent stop behind her, as did the third bike in her party, driven by Roxx’s unwanted guest.

I let Jazz bring one toy, and she picks that kaking thing. She knows I don’t trust bots.

Robots were so pervasive the term had been shortened to a suffix: workerbots, medibots, nanobots, even sexbots. Roxx disliked them all and spat out the term bots like an ethnic slur. Still, even she recognized that the motorcycle bringing up the rear was an amazing piece of technology, especially considering it had been hand-built by her late uncle. Its driver, an elegantly crafted robot, was Jazz’s masterpiece assembled from specifications Unc left before his sudden death. Roxx assumed her daughter chose the bike and its mechanized driver as a means to feel closer to the old man. Having his prized work with them pained Roxx as much as it gave comfort to Jazz. However, the girl asked for little, and whatever small bit of peace she could give her during their escape, she would.

To Roxx’s right, in the Indian’s bullet-shaped sidecar, her baby still slept peacefully, with wisps of blond hair spilling from under her blanket. A giant teddy bear, aptly named Bear, sat a protective watch from the floor, his yellow polka-dot bow tie giving him an air of distinction. Roxx lowered the sidecar’s convertible top and smiled at the wafting scent of cornstarch she used to keep Jessi dry. Still beaming, she bent to kiss her baby’s forehead and stopped. Waves shook her, wracked her sides, her hands tremulous like the quaking earth, until she sank to her knees and grasped the edge of the sidecar for support. Jessi couldn’t die, she just couldn’t. She couldn’t let it. Roxx pressed her lips to the soft skin of her angel’s forehead and allowed herself to cry, dousing the baby in tears. After a moment, then another, she gathered what remained of her shattered resolve and turned to check on Jazz. Her older daughter had not stirred and was likely asleep as well, secure inside the automated bike.

“Another night with the girls safe.” She spoke as one might utter a prayer after waking. There was no relief in her words, however, no lessening of anxiety. “Another day of hiding from the whole kaking world.” Roxx slid her goggles down to her neck, and as she’d done often in the past week, watched her sleeping girls: Jessi, with fair skin, iceberg blue eyes, and hair like corn silk, and Jazz, with caramel skin, inquisitive eyes, and a too-wise-for-her-years demeanor. Both were innocent of any crime unless perfection were a crime. The girls were so beautiful it hurt to look at them.

“Must be love.” Roxx wiped tears and mascara from her cheeks, turning again toward the rising sun. “Only love hurts this much.” She looked up at the sky and shouted. “How can I do this? How do you expect me to protect them against the whole goddamned world?” She was talking to that god bloke, but once again, he didn’t answer. Shrugging off her weakness like an unwanted cloak, Roxx folded her shaking hands across her chest and studied her bleak surroundings. “Good thing I’m bollocks at geography. If I knew how far away the desert was, I might never have tried to get here.” She scowled, shaking doubt from her mind. “We had no choice once the soldiers found out about Jessi. We had to run, even if the desert was as far away as the moon.”

 The phrase the soldiers used stuck in her mind: Post-term abortion. Jessi had been discovered and condemned to die. The soldiers admitted it in the end, and the flashes of news reports they’d picked up en route north confirmed it. Their words sickened her even more than if they’d just had the courage to call it an execution. Not only the baby, but Roxx would be killed too, and Jazz too, in case she carried whatever genetic flaw had allowed her mother to conceive a second child. They would be dissected and examined, and no one would dare protest. Governments would stop at nothing to ensure no one found out about the woman who successfully conceived a second child—at least not until all the rich people of the world had been cured of the genetic solution that limited women to one pregnancy. One Woman, One Child. That was the law. Humans, acting under the guise of bioterrorism, had usurped their gods and made it Nature’s law as well. No one was going to let a single mother from an impoverished part of Africa upend decades of peaceful oppression.

Roxx stood, her long, slim legs straddling her graceful motorcycle, watching as the morning sun kissed the desert awake. It was her morning ritual, watching the sunrise. She was looking for something here in the Sahara, but still didn’t know what.

The desert shows you nothing. You must find everything.

The old Tuareg saying had become her mantra. No morning prayers, only a firm restatement of the day’s agenda: survive another day. Flipping the day-night switch on her opaque glasses, she scanned 360 degrees to the horizon. There was only endless sand, a cool, distant sun, a few rusting hulls of grounded hovercraft, and stray tracks and scat from crossing camels herded by desert nomads. The abandoned machines meant they were nearing human populations. The nomads could be peaceful or most decidedly not. The machines were old and certainly not military grade; she doubted even Jazz could salvage useable parts. If there were people here, odds were they wouldn’t be better armed or trained than she was, and amateurs didn’t worry Roxx much.

Good. Me and soldiers don’t get on so well. To the northeast, shimmering in the early sun, were distant wisps of smoke. Must be another refugee town up there someplace. Maybe we can get a bit of food and some fresh water.

She sat down and started the Indian. Obediently, the two other bikes whispered to a start. Roxx flipped the scarf over her face.

Another step closer.

Closer to what, she didn’t know, but they had a chance. Her daughters could live and love, perhaps wed and have kids of their own. There was a future to be had, and she would find it for them or die trying. After a week of backwater towns, villages that had regressed seemingly to the eighteenth century, and roving bands of the desperate and dangerous, she had yet to find a safe haven for the girls. Here in the Sahara Wilderness District there was no real government and communities consisted of little more than glorified refugee camps until you reached the shores of the Mediterranean. Roxx heard stories of tremendous wealth on the coast and technology that few in her part of the world had ever seen.

Jazz would fit right in someplace like that.

The brilliant preteen likened their desert crossing to ancient mariners navigating the ocean to discover a new world. Hope crested before them like a silent wave, flowing against the grey ebb of hopelessness that had been their former home—the southern African district called Africasia. Roxx felt the promise that led them north as surely as she could feel the wind that carved ripples in the desert sand. At that moment, perhaps in response to her thoughts, the wind rose, and the Sahara’s ochre dust came alive, dancing mini-cyclonic ballets. It was an omen, Roxx decided, pointing them to freedom. The cloud of sand blew north and east, toward her grandmother’s home.

If the sand wants us to see Gran, that’s where we’ll go. Maybe Jazz is right. Maybe this bloke, God, ain’t dead yet. Maybe him and me can be mates. She smiled. It was a faint gesture that none, but her daughters, could have detected. The Tuareg were wrong about the desert.

Roxx accelerated and headed northeast after the sand cloud. The other bikes in the party resumed their places behind her. Following a sudden gust of wind was as good as any other course, she reasoned, and her grandmother was certain to give them at least a few days’ shelter. Roxx and her girls fled their home with no plan, except to survive. There’d been little to take. The clothes they wore. Some food. Weapons. Her late uncle’s prized bikes. Hope. She heard whispers of another life in the frozen north that used to be Europe—and remaining in her South Africasian home meant certain death. Even whispers of escape were enough, so she pointed their bikes up there, somewhere and began.

Roxanne Grail was never one to overthink a problem.

Excerpt: Ordinary Dust

Readers, below is the opening to my science fiction novel, Ordinary Dust, which premiers late in 2020 or early 2021. It is the second or third release of my new Aligned Worlds™ series. (I haven’t decided which one; they are all independent books.) If anyone is interested as performing as a beta reader, and thereby getting an early (free) look at the book, or any in the series, let me know in the comments below.

 

Cheers!

Ordinary Dust 1.0

Blurb:
On a planet where nothing matters as much as status, a twenty-five year-old woman who has always been treated like “ordinary dust” by her family, bonds with her fourteen-year-old nephew and tries to carve a life for herself. When they are both forced to leave home, traveling to distant planets, they will find their idyllic lives will never be the same again. Full of adventure, romance, and suspense, this novel is half literary fiction romance and half science fiction / crime thriller.

Excerpt:

1 – The Goddess Appears

Year 1909 of the Grand Epoch (1909 GE): Findlay Nevrose

I had known Mara, or at least the divine physical form that she secreted beneath her layers of drab cloth, for three months before I was able to convince myself that she was real. She was a puzzle that I would spend the entirety of my childhood seeking to unravel, but that night, just past the zero hour that began our twenty-six-hour day, she was a chimera, a perfect vision of silky flesh in a tattered white shawl that I deemed obscene due to its attempts to barely cover her naked flesh. I was no more than nine years old then, a mere wisp of a man-ling, and before that night no more interested in the ways of feminine adulthood than I was in the mating rituals of fong beasts, but as her storm blew her out of the bathroom and past my door, I became interested in the ways of this one woman to the exclusion of all else.

My life changed, at that moment, solely because I had to wee. I’d emerged from yet another dream about waterfalls, and this time I was determined to have my water fall in the loo rather than my bed. I would have made it all the way, I imagine, except that at that moment this cloistered angel flew across my open doorway and in her haste knocked me from my feet. Though I fell immediately, she barely stumbled, faltering just enough that her shawl briefly fell away from her and I caught sight of her nude flesh: perfect, slender legs that tapered into long, delicate, impossibly curved feet; taut, round buttocks that protruded just enough to allow my eyes to glide over their curves and to the small of her back; rivulets of wet hair that fell provocatively to her mid-back; and though as fleeting as the wakening from a dream, the barest glimpse of the side of one perfect, nippled globe.

Announcing the Aligned Worlds™ Sci-Fi Series

Experts say you shouldn’t write the second book in a series until you know if readers will like the first one. I wrote six. After eighteen solid months of writing, I created a bold new sci-fi series that I’ve decided to announce now. Introducing the Aligned Worlds™ future fiction series.

This is a new genre of sci-fi, one I’m calling Future Fiction. It’s not as dry as hard sci-fi, not obsessed with starships and war like space opera. This is scifi for the rest of us: fun, sexy, and innovative. Remember when reading science fiction was fun? Well, it is again.

Aligned Worlds Series.jpg

There are elements of epic sci-fi, fantasy fiction, utopian and dystopian sci-fi, space opera, cyberpunk, and literary fiction all woven together seamlessly. Put simply, these books are my best work ever. These are character-driven books featuring unique leading characters that span human  and non-human organics, artificial life forms (androids, robots, Artificial Intelligence system) and other characters that don’t fit easily in categories. I have always believed that great sci-fi is only as interesting as their characters and worlds in which they are found. That is why I’ve spent a great deal of time in world-building, creating believable societies full of amazing beings that you will identify with.

Take a successful future fiction story and transplant it on 21st-century Earth. If it doesn’t still work, it’s not a good story. These stories would work in any setting. But I’m hoping you love the ones I created.

Each of the novels in the Aligned Worlds™ series  is an independent story, meaning you can read them in any order. However, they will be released roughly in the order I have intended they be read. Some of the books (Bohemian Stars, Twenty Million Billion Leagues from Detroit, Stars Aligned) feature and ensemble cast that appears in more than one book. Others (Year 5601, If a Robot Play the Blues) are one-off novels that stand completely separately. (Although there may be cameo appearances.) Importantly, there are no cliff-hangers here. You need not have read any prior book to understand the one you’re reading.

I despise cliff-hangers. They’re mostly an excuse for sloppy writing and plotting.

So, what, you may ask, is “future fiction?” It is broad-ranging fiction that includes what we’ve come to call sci-fi, but de-emphasizes the science element in favor of world-and-character building. I focus more on building interesting plots and surprising twists than spending whole chapters explaining precisely how space-time travel works, or how  intergalactic propulsion systems correspond to simple and quantum physics. I’m guessing readers care more about what happens during and after the “jump” than how many clicks wide the jump gate they passed through was.

Ever flown through space in a jaunty convertible? Ever wanted to? Turn on your imaginations and read these books.

Make no bones about it, however. This isn’t “soft” science fiction either. The books are full of aliens, androids, over a dozen worlds, advanced technology, magic tech, sex, war, and rock and roll. You will understand how things work; we just won’t obsess over them. There are flights of fancy, moments of turmoil, with laughter and tears abounding. This isn’t about science. It’s about fiction.

According to MasterClass’s post on science fiction literature, “the classic elements of a science fiction novel include:

  • Time travel
  • Teleportation
  • Mind control, telepathy, and telekinesis
  • Aliens, extraterrestrial lifeforms, and mutants
  • Space travel and exploration
  • Interplanetary warfare
  • Parallel universes
  • Fictional worlds
  • Alternative histories
  • Speculative technology
  • Super-intelligent computers and robots”

I’ve combined these elements in a complex new universe with elements of fantasy and cyberpunk to form future fiction, which emphasizes what life might be like in the distant future. Importantly, individual story lines are most important that the technology or world-building that surrounds it. Instead, my stories create believable worlds with robust enough detail that you can suspend belief and focus on the characters.

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 11.09.46 PM
Future Fiction comprises the best of Speculative Fiction in a cohesive, integrated manner

Let’s you and I, together, make future fiction a literary staple. We begin our journey on 2 September 2020, with the formal release of Year 5601. Interested parties can pre-order a version for Kindle software now, on Amazon.

I’d love to tell you which writer’s books these are like, but I honestly can’t think of any. Instead, I can share that I was inspired by John Varley, Robert Silverberg, Douglas Adams, and Robert Heinlein, although I’m crap at remembering what I’ve read and I never read fiction when I’m writing. So inspired doesn’t mean “copied.” It might not even mean “vaguely similar to.”

If you’re interested in a bit more about each book, a brief blurb follows below.

Year 5601 (September 2020)

After 5600 years in space, a young woman is tasked with vetting a planet that might, finally be a home for the thousands of people on her GenShip. More certain is her growing fear that her ship’s captain might be insane.

Mya Landric has lived all of her life aboard the Rebibe, a generation ship that launched 5600 years earlier from a dying planet Earth. Everything aboard the Rebibe is tightly regimented via color-coded bars—status, career aptitude, even whom you date or marry. Mya is stuck in the ship’s middle status layer, unnoticed by anyone and unhappy about it. Now, however, the captain and the ship’s AI have tasked her with the most important job of her life: investigating a planet that might, finally, be a home. There’s just one nagging problem: Mya and her small group of friends are beginning to believe that their captain has no intention of letting them land there.

Bohemian Stars (Late 2020 / Early 2021)

A group of six talented musicians travel through space-time to the distant future to either save the galaxy from interplanetary war, or have the most fun anyone’s ever while had failing to do so.

Four people from Earth, all of them in somewhat dire straits, are pulled through space-time portals to a world thousands of years and half a galaxy distant. There’s Tariq, running for his life in 1935 Mississippi; Estelle, busking her way into deep trouble in 2018’s Venice, Italy; Danika, caught in a violent uprising in 2014’s Ukraine; and Hoshiko, who’s just not like the other girls in 2068’s Tokyo. Once through their portal, they meet experienced “traveler” Jemini Starr, who despite her youthful appearance, is over a century old. Together, the group will either form the most kick-ass band the galaxy has ever seen, or save it from interplanetary war.

Ordinary Dust (Late 2020 / Early 2021)

On a planet where nothing matters as much as status, a twenty-five year-old woman who has always been treated like “ordinary dust” by her family, bonds with her fourteen-year-old nephew and tries to carve a life for herself. When they are both forced to leave home, traveling to distant planets, they will find their idyllic lives will never be the same again. Full of adventure, romance, and suspense, this novel is half literary fiction romance and half science fiction crime thriller.

Twenty Million Billion Years Past Detroit (TBD)

A tall, dark, alien stranger from the far side of the moon leaves 1970s Detroit to lead a team to investigate twin planets that orbit a distant star. Both of the planets share the same orbit, but miraculously, never collide. There is something odd going on with those planets, and Herk Delacroix’s team, cruising in the starship Dolomite, needs to learn what it is before its too late. A fun romp through the galaxy.

Stars Aligned (TBD)

A team travels to distant star system to discover the dangerous secrets of the alien species there. There is evidence the planets themselves might be in danger, and the worlds’ residents are too busy squabbling over technology and magical tech to do what’s required for their own survival. Jemini Starr and Herk Delacroix return to lead the way.

If a Robot Play the Blues Do It Still Be Funky? (TBD)

An android named Riley breaks free from the cycle of abuse artificials are subjected to and begins a journey to prove his own personhood. He attempts to prove his consciousness through music and along the way discovers that a soul comes with a dark price.

Year 5601 – Excerpt

By way of introduction, here are the opening paragraphs of my new novel, Year 5601, available for preorder now on Amazon, and widely available on 2 September 2020.

Hello, dearest reader.

The cramped cubby that holds my desk opens to the expanse of the entire universe, the single factor that makes life at work bearable. Each day, if a period of time with no sun can be called a day, I sit at my monitoring station sending out coded messages to beings that I long ago became certain do not exist. I am Communications Officer Mya Landric, a professional psychotic whispering hallucinations to space phantasms in the vain, paranoid hopes that they are watching me and will reply. I would much rather be doing almost anything else, but when one’s aptitude light is barely in the green range, one doesn’t get to choose. Someone—organic or inorganic—decided my key strengths were listening to static and talking to myself, and so here I am, doing both things, although I am pretending that my talking is taking the form of a journal that I will share with god knows whom.

We have been monitoring the universe for millennia, ever since Year 1552, a period of 4,048 years. In that time, we only received a single response—a cry of desperation from a shattered ship full of refugees that my ship, my home, the Generation Ship Rebibe, answered. That was during the year 5107, under the helm of the glorious Mavis Davis. Captain Davis rescued the refugees but was disheartened to learn that they neither remembered where they were from or even how long they had been adrift.

I cannot imagine how excited and then how disappointed the Rebibe’s citizens must have been. We had been lost at cosmic sea, tirelessly looking for a new home since our launch on 1 January 2197, the date that marked the beginning of our 5,600 year voyage. The planners of the trip believed that the crew would find a habitable planet in “only” one to two thousand years. The first target, reached in 1552, proved to be too hot to sustain life, in contravention to all of our science. Universe one, humans zero. The second target, reached 500 years later, was effectively destroyed by an asteroid as we neared it. The universe, proving once more how big an asshole it is, allowed the Rebibe to get close enough that our citizens could almost see it with their naked eyes before blowing it all to hell. One day it was there, within clear sight of our sensors, and the next, only the remnants of a vibrant explosion and radiant energy remained. The Rebibe set out to parts unknown after that, with only a vague sense of where another star system with habitable worlds might be.

If you’ve never been to space, let me tell you—parts unknown is not a place you want to go.

Cover Reveal for My New Sci-Fi Adventure!

I am pleased to announce that my new science fiction adventure, entitled Year 5601, is now available for pre-order for users of Kindle software. It will be more widely available, including in paperback form on 2 September 2020.

For now, I just wanted to share the title and cover art, as well as a bit about the book. I think it’s my best work to date, with more to come. This is the first book of a series of independent novels that take place in my Aligned Worlds™ universe, and I think sci-fi fans of all types will enjoy them.

Click to Pre-Order Year 5601!

After 5600 years in space, a young woman is tasked with vetting a planet that might, finally be a home for the thousands of people on her GenShip. More certain is her growing fear that her ship’s captain might be psychotic.

Mya Landric has lived all of her life aboard the Rebibe, a generation ship that launched 5600 years earlier from a dying planet Earth. Everything aboard the Rebibe is tightly regimented via color-coded bars—status, career aptitude, even whom you date or marry. Mya is stuck in the ship’s middle status layer, unnoticed by anyone and unhappy about it. Now, however, the captain and the ship’s Artificial Intelligence, CAMLO, have tasked her with the most important job of her life: investigating a planet that might, finally, be a home. There’s just one nagging problem. Mya and her small group of friends are beginning to believe that perhaps their own Captain Bligh has no intention of letting them land there, and Mya most definitely does not wish to be the Rebibe’s Fletcher Christian.

Emotional, hopeful, and enthralling, this future fiction epic is the first novel in a series of epic adventures in the Aligned Worlds™ universe. Stay tuned for space-time travel, pointless wars, androids and robots, alien life forms, love, sex, and rock and roll, all on planets you’ll have to read about to believe. It’s going to be a wild ride, and Year 5601 takes you there with a roaring start.

If you love sci-fi, you’re gonna want to read these books!

Review: Dawn, by Octavia Butler

My rating: **** out of 5 stars.

It’s difficult to decide on a numerical rating for a book when you aren’t certain what you were supposed to feel about it. Have no doubt, Octavia Butler’s Dawn, the first volume of the re-titled Lilith’s Brood trilogy is a well-written piece of science fiction. Most who have read it would place it among the classics of sci-fi, and I wouldn’t argue with them based on how it was plotted and crafted. My problem is with the main characters.

You see, I hated all of them.

That by itself would normally send me permanently out of the book, were I not trying to learn something specific from the author. In this case, however, I suspect that maybe I was supposed to hate them all. Without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t read the books, Lilith, the protagonist, is among the few remaining humans who have been captured (they would say rescued) by the alien Oankali following a devastating nuclear war. Earth is effectively incapable of sustaining life, but the Oankali have decided to save the remaining human population. The catch is that the aliens only deal in what they call a trade: they will repopulate the Earth, but only doing so via a merging of their tentacle-creature DNA with humans.

The Oankali are immediately grotesque to Lilith, which is made clear via a bit of exaggerated prose showing the human’s fear and loathing. Eventually, however, she comes to trust at least one of them, Nikanj, with whom she forms a bond that includes what we are told is the alien’s form of sex. The problem is that Nikanj is never remotely likeable. His and his kind’s form of bonding is essentially chemical coercion combined with the humans’ having developed Stockholm Syndrome. Lilith is complicit and though the book reads as though we are supposed to be rooting for her and not those who oppose or want to harm her, I found myself agreeing with them at every point.

Now, were I to stop there, I would call this masterful. We see the story from her perspective, and though we try, we can’t love or agree with her. We are given the others’ viewpoints and embrace them. Except the others are horrid. One tries to rape Lilith. Others try to rape other females. So, I hate them even more than I hate her, but less than I hate the Oankali.

This is a book with no one to root for. I finished it and admired her ability to tell the story, but in this case, the kindly (slave Massa) Nikanj is odious, and Lilith, playing Uncle Tom with no Cabin, is just as odious. Given the author’s cleverness, I have to assume that is what we are meant to leave with–that survival requires us to make bedfellows that leave no heroes in the end.

It is a clever device, I suppose. However, I knew well that lesson before I began the book. And make no mistake; I didn’t like the book, not one little bit. I hated all of the characters, and though I started book 2, I hated those characters even more. I gave up on it. Perhaps I’ll try book 3.

Maybe I wouldn’t have liked Ms. Butler in person. Maybe too much of the author is in the book. Or, maybe she was a bloody genius, and I was supposed to feel exactly what she made me feel.

With that expectation in hand, I gave the book 4.0 stars. But I don’t have to like it.

4.0 out of 5.0 stars, but not a book I’d recommend to non-pessimists.

The Button Collector – FREE!

For those looking for something to read, but who are on a limited budget, I am making one of my short stories, “The Button Collector,” free for all. It is one of the lead stories in my anthology, Stories In Analog, available from Amazon.


“The Button Collector” is a short story about Moshe Zacharias, an old man trying to survive in changing mid-1960s New York City. Here’s the blurb from Smashwords:

“Old man Zacharias only wanted to be left alone to collect, and perhaps even sell, his buttons in the small shop his late father left him. Life, he would find, wasn’t that simple.

In one of the lead short stories from the anthology, Stories In Analog, an old man tries to survive the cultural upheaval of his New York neighborhood as it transitions into the 1960s. The neighborhood toughs won’t leave him alone, however, and Zacharias will have some hard choices to make.”

Those interested in obtaining a pdf version of the story can download via the link below:

The Button Collector

The rest of you can find a copy on Smashwords at the following link: Download from Smashwords! The story is available in .mobi (Kindle), epub, .txt, and pdf formats. You can also read it on Smashwords’s online reader, if you’re interested (though pdf is easier).

Download a copy, and let me know what you think! Cheers.

Write Me No Problems

When I think of writers of future fiction, I think of the admonitions of almost every good manager I ever hand. “Don’t tell me problems,” they would say, “bring me solutions.”

Fiction writers could keep that advice in mind, and in particular, authors of future fiction or so-called speculative fiction. It is not particularly speculative to grow a view of the future that is seeded in the past. To be sure, I would guess your Fine Arts instructors told you to keep it real and imbue your writing with a sense of reality. They are wrong, however.

Let me say this aloud, or at least as aloud as a blog can be: if those people knew everything about writing there was to know, they’d be supporting themselves via books and not teaching. No one does. No one can. The act of writing, just as the act of reading, is interpretive and subjective. What is “real” to your instructor is simply short-sighted and pessimistic to me.

I am reading a short (so-called speculative) fiction collection at the moment, one that I will review when I chug through it to the end. As you can probably guess from the proceeding sentence, I am not enjoying it. The author can write. Her details are well balanced. She is imaginative. In a few of the stories, she’s created lead characters I could get behind in a longer work–perhaps even fall in love with. And, looking to the alternate future or near futures in which these stories are set, the problems that have been will always be.

Her Black People do Black People things, deal with Black People problems, and feel some Black People kind of way about them. They talk about, whisper about, think about, or be about White People and their White People ways. And I do not want to read this nouveau-racist bullshit.

I lived through the 60s, 70s, 80s, saw things improve in the 90s, thrived in the 00s, and watched us backslide in the 10s. I have no interest in reading about a future wherein the writer speculates that what has gone wrong will go wrong, or just as bad, that what other writers say will go wrong will absolutely do so. Speculation requires imagination.

Y’all don’t hear me.
source.gif

I’ma say it again, so Stephen A doesn’t get more upset. Speculation requires imagination. Stop writing whiny, broken, unimaginative, falsely dark and legitimately pessimistic stories. Instead, think about what a solution would require and then build me a world where it happens. Show the struggles involved, the opposition thereto, and maybe even give yourself permission to imagine that it can be done.

Here’s a master-level tip: not all happy endings are completely happy. There’s room for laughter and tears, even together.

70a1839de9c437a0f6153a7bae5d7deb

Future fiction writers lead by example, irrespective of whether they want to or not. The very first use of the word robot was within a sci-fi play detailing how artificial, forced-labor workers revolted and rose up to kill their creators. A century later, engineers worry about the same problem. Know why? Nobody bothered to write about the solutions.

Whether you pen a tome that takes place in the next millennium or next week, don’t just sit on your whiny ass bemoaning the problems in the universe. Fix them, in your head at least.

Bring me no problems. I don’t fucking want to read them. Write me some solutions. Those, we can all use.