Friday, December 19, 2014

ASCENSION MAKES GREAT TV, ONLY S0-SO SF

Syfy's nifty intergenerational Ascension


I just finished watching Syfy’s three-part miniseries ASCENSION, and I’m suffering from whiplash.  The plot twists in this science fiction cross between THE ORIENT EXPRESS, PEYTON PLACE and FIRESTARTER had my head spinning.  But despite the wobbly knees, I’m glad I took the roller coaster ride with this SF thriller, if only for its pulse-pounding third leg and spectacular conclusion.

Like another of Syfy’s more recent series, HELIX, ASCENSION begins with a great premise (but suffers from a slow start).  What if the Kennedy-era Orion Project to send an interstellar, intergenerational ship into deep space fueled essentially by nuclear bombs had actually been implemented? 
 
We join the Ascension 51 years into its 100-year flight to Proxima Centauri, just as the murder of a young woman on board reveals deep cracks in the calm fa├žade of life on the ship.  There are tensions between upper decks, where the privileged classes live, and lower decks, where the workers toil with fewer amenities.  There are the usual intrigues between the appointed captain and the sly council members who govern the ship.  And, of course, there are romantic/sexual liaisons of all kinds going on, some for political reasons, many violating the strict rules constraining marriage and reproduction in a society in which the privilege of having children is determined by computer.

Even more tension is created by the captain’s decision to assign the investigation of the murder to his Executive Officer, rather than the ship’s Chief Safety Officer.  XO Gault (Brandon P. Bell) uncovers a world of resentment simmering among the Lower Deckers, and thinks he has his suspect in the Stockyard Manager, Stokes.  Until, that is, Stokes disappears.  Off a ship in deep space.

All along a young girl, Christa (Ellie O’Brien), keeps warning anyone who’ll listen that things are not what they seem.  She has visions, you see.  And, well, other talents.  Which, it turns out, has been the entire point of Ascension.

****SPOILER ALERT***

It is impossible to go much further in this review without giving the whole story away.  And since I’ve read a number of reviews in which some folks feel Syfy perpetuated some kind of bait-and-switch with ASCENSION, I feel it’s my duty to inform you, so you can decide for yourself to watch the show or not. (It’s available on demand or through Hulu if you missed it the first time.)

So here goes:

Ascension never left Earth.  The huge ship is sitting in a warehouse monitored by scientists (in particular, by the son of the man who conceived of the project, a man obsessed with the outcome).  Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows, fantastic!) is fanatically attached to the ship and its residents, but he will tolerate no interference in its inner workings, even refusing to help the ship’s passengers in a major crisis.  The experiment must be allowed to proceed.  The results they have been seeking all these years are imminent.  (No, I’m not going to tell you everything!)

I’ll admit I was ready to give up on ASCENSION when this “secret” was revealed in the first segment.  Really?  We haven’t seen this before? (CAPRICORN 1 comes to mind, as well as numerous episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.)  But there was that endgame to be revealed—what is Enzmann after?   Bellows plays the scientist as such a complex character—is he a good guy or a bad guy?  And how far can Christa’s talents take her?  Then, too, Trisha Helfer, of BATTLESTAR GALLATICA fame, is intriguing in her role as the captain’s wife and director of the corps of courtesans dedicated to making life pleasant for the male upper crust (and keeping her supplied with state secrets).   Oh, and all the SF homage references--an "I Grok Spock" sticker on a car, the name Fritz Leiber chosen for a disappeared scientist.  I stuck with the series through a so-so second segment.

My reward was a third segment that kept me on the edge of my recliner.  As every good suspense writer should, creators Adrian Cruz and Phillip Levens and additional writer Melody Fox, amped up the adrenalin by piling one problem after another on our heroes in the last hour until it seemed there was no way they could escape.  And the last ten seconds?  Not to be missed! 

That said, ASCENSION makes good television, but not so good SF.  We are never given an explanation for the gravity on board ship—or the fact that never in any crisis do they lose it.  This is a shipload of the “best and the brightest” (they make a point of this several times), wouldn’t you think they’d notice?

The show’s creators obviously want to show a closed society based on 1963—fashions, music, etc.  But the ship’s people have invented new technologies (MRIs!), why wouldn’t they refashion their clothes in 50 years?  Or write a new song?  Or make movies or TV shows for entertainment?  Kennedy was a big proponent of the arts; his ship wouldn’t have launched with just scientists and technicians.  

And where are the old people?  At the big party for assigning new birthrights, the only deaths acknowledged are the recent murders.  Wouldn’t some old folks have died throughout the year, allowing for more births?

Science fiction is not just about the hard sciences.  It’s also about sociology and psychology and linguistics (no new slang?).

Some things to remember if Syfy wants to take ASCENSION into the future with a full series, which, given the number of lingering questions in the plot, the network clearly hopes to do.

PING PONG

If you haven’t scooted over to the SFR Brigade Page on Facebook to check out Laurie’s beautiful cover for her novella Farewell Andromeda, what are you waiting for?  Go!  And congrats, Laurie!

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MISSION SUCCESS
Laurie's Journal

I switched blog dates this week, so I could do a short post to let everyone know my debut cover reveal for Farewell Andromeda went up on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade blog today. Woohoo!

The announcement also includes the blurb for Farewell Andromeda. Since it's an exclusive reveal, I can't post the cover here just yet, but I'd love for you to jump on over and check it out:

Farewell Andromeda--Exclusive Cover Reveal!

Really love the artwork (I will hug it and pet it and squeeze it and call it George), but let me know what YOU think!

ON BEING "ALMOST THERE"

Now that I'm finally coming up on my debut, I wanted to share some thoughts as a pre-published author with others in that status. Believe me, I know how discouraging it is not to get that invitation to the big dance.

You watch the published authors celebrate their debuts and launches and successes and you wonder when it's going to be your turn--your time.

Your published friends have their kinships with other authors from their publishing houses or presses, or their group of published peers, and you're often left feeling like you're on the outside looking in.

My advice to you is nothing you haven't heard a hundred times before. Don't give up! The good great new is there's never been a better time for writers--and with more options for being published--than there are today. But it also comes with a bit of advice to use this time to educate yourself. There's access to more information and how-to's than ever before, and now is the time to learn the ropes.

I want to mention a recently discovered a self-help book (recommended by SFR author Pauline Baird Jones) for writers called Write. Publish. Repeat. It's full of great advice and practical information, because--trust me--this whole debut author experience comes with a huge learning curve. I'm learning about product funnels and promo strategies and all sorts of new information. This may be a brave new publishing world, but it's a brave new promotional world, as well!

If you do choose to go independent (or some form of it), there's a wealth of information, advice and ideas for strategic promotion in this book. Even authors that publish traditionally through large or small presses may find it a valuable tool, since many authors are pretty much left on their own to promote their work.

Current Goodreads Rating: 4.39 from 859 Ratings and 268 Reviews

UPCOMING EVENTS

We're just starting to put together an exciting list of upcoming dates here at Spacefreighters Lounge! 2015 is looking to be a HUGE year for us!

Watch for these dates:

January 19 - Release of Farewell Andromeda (my authorly debut!) and SFR series launch

January 21 - Title and cover reveal of my SFR novel (and series) on SFR Brigade blog

February 2 - Release of Sharon Lynn Fisher's long-anticipated SFR ECHO 8

February 22 - Release date of my debut SFR novel

February 24 - Launch of Donna S. Frelick's debut novel, UNCHAINED MEMORY

And may I humbly mention that each of the above three upcoming SFR novels were all RWA Golden Heart Finalists!

PING-PONG

Many, many congrats to Pippa Jay for being a finalist in the prestigious EPIC Awards with her SFR novel, GETHYON, in the Science Fiction category. 2015 EPIC AWARD FINALISTS. BTW, the EPIC Awards is one (and possibly only) competition that not only has a specific Science Fiction category, it also has a separate and distinct Science Fiction Romance category! Hurrah for EPIC!

Congrats Donna, for launching your Facebook Author Page. If you'd like to follow Donna, you can "like" her page here: Donna S. Frelick/Author

Sharon, as one of the biggest fans of this fabulous novel, you know I've been waiting f-o-r-e-v-e-r for the release of ECHO 8! So excited it's almost here!


Friday, December 12, 2014

LOOK! CUTE CAT PICTURES! AND FACEBOOK




Please Like me.  Now.
This post is not about a cat.  But my cat Blanca has the power to attract your instant attention, to suck you in, to make you hit Like and Comment “How adorable!” on Facebook.  In the mysterious promotional algorithm of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, that makes Blanca a winner and the person who posts pictures of her a promo genius.  Blanca thus joins the ranks of semi-naked guys, cute toddlers squeezing puppies and sunsets from exotic locales in fostering the all-important INTERACTION on Facebook.


I had no problem eliciting Interaction (I thought) until I established my Author Page on FB.  I had noted Pippa’s frequent “arrghh!” moments about not receiving posts from people she was Following, but being a FB newbie, I didn’t understand what that meant.  Then I set up my Author Page, which as FB is very quick to tell you, you should have if you are posting stuff about a professional endeavor (like writing/selling books).  I got a bunch of Likes right away.  I thought I was doing well.

But I noticed I was posting and no one was responding.  No Likes.  No Comments. The helpful information about traffic on my Page that FB is happy to provide told me my posts were only “reaching” a tiny fraction of the people who were Following my Page.  Wha …?  But, of course, I could pay to Boost my posts, if I wanted to.

How could this be?  My personal profile posts go out to all my Friends, except, apparently, the ones who have actively stopped Liking anything I post.  But the Evil FB Gnomes had decided within a couple of weeks who will see my posts and who will not?  And those who have Liked/Followed my Page had no real say in whether they receive my posts or not?

After about a week of genuine confusion (Was I doing something wrong in posting? Was my computer screwing up?), I found the answer in a fellow Golden Heart sister’s FB post.  She had resorted to the “cute toddler” ploy, using a pic of her grandson dressed as a garden gnome to get everyone’s attention.  Then she recommended her readers just sign up for her newsletter to ensure they got the information they need about her books.

I asked her what was going on.  She says you must have virtually instant interaction with your Page posts from a certain number of people to “convince” FB to send it out to others.  She says the magic numbers are ten people within 30 minutes!  (Of course, you will not find these actual numbers anywhere in the FB rules or Best Practices.  FB merely says you must have Interaction to ensure your spot in the competitive News Feed.  Yeah, like we couldn’t stand to lose a few of those “suggested posts”.)  The ten people wouldn’t be so hard to get, maybe, but within 30 minutes?  I’m sure I’m not the only one with friends scattered all across the country (and the world).  Everyone is supposed to be hanging around their phones/iPads/computers just waiting for me to post?  Or must I also leap into the Boiling Cauldron of Despair that is Twitter to tweet to everyone that I’m posting on FB so check your FB NOW, ’kay?

Now maybe my friend has it wrong.  Maybe you just need some interaction. Still, it’s clear from the constant offers to Boost my posts that the fewer “reaches” I get, the more FB benefits.  FB hopes I get desperate and cave to its offers in the end, paying to get the Gnomes to do what they are there to do in the first place—show my posts to the people who are Following my Page.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the deep pockets of the corporate world that FB is trying to exploit to keep its juggernaut rolling.

I’ve often said my sales skills are so bad I couldn’t sell Girl Scout cookies in a high school cafeteria, so I knew promotion would be the hardest part of being successful at my writing.  But seriously, must it really be that difficult to do something that should be so simple?

The FB Page duplicates some of my personal profile AND it duplicates some of my website.  Still, I set it up to communicate easily with readers, if and when they should come, something that is not so easy to do with either of the other two formats.  Now I need a newsletter, too?  Jeez!  And as a reader, I would feel overwhelmed by the constant bombardment to Look Here!  Read This!  Keep Up with Me!  (I generally don’t interact as a “fan” with any of my writing idols.  I don’t have time.)  

Is it too much to ask to be able to focus on a few of the most efficient ways to reach readers?  And to have Facebook cooperate in that effort, rather than constrict it every way possible in a not-very-well concealed campaign to extort cash from its professional users?


PING PONG

--Congrats to Pippa on her EPIC Award for Gethyon!  What a great early Christmas present and a terrific way to end a fabulous year!

-- I've been hearing great things about Fortune's Pawn for a long time, Laurie.  Guess it's time to read it, huh?
 
Cheers, Donna



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pippa's Journal - EPIC news!

First up, apologies for my absence. November/December have really kept me busy, and it's not going to ease up until Christmas when I'll finally get a short breather for a few weeks. Right now I'm trying to tie everything up for the 19th December before I take a few days completely away from the internet, and with my final release for 2014 on that day. I also have edits due in for Zombie Girl, edits for Keir, two book tours running together, and I got zapped by a cold on Monday. >.<
But today I had some awesome news in my Spam folder. Yeah, not where you'd expect to find anything of the sort, lol.

My YA SF Gethyon, already a SFR Galaxy award winner earlier this year, is an EPIC eBook Award finalist in the science fiction category. Woot! This is my first time in the finals since I became published, and one of my ambitions as an author (I'm a sucker for shiny things). It came as a huge surprise - I'd seen someone tweet about making the finals yesterday, but with my inbox devoid of any notification, I assumed I'd missed out yet again. Just as well I periodically check my Trash and Spam folders in my email account!

And I have shiny things!





Winners won't be announced until mid-March, so still a way to go yet. But even if this is as far as Gethyon gets, right now I am a very happy author.

Next week Laurie is occupying my Wednesday spot with an exciting piece of news too - it's all systems go for the crew at Spacefreighters Lounge! And now I have to get back to work pimping and working on the next potential award winners. :P

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fortune's Pawn: 7 Reasons Why I Loved This SFR

Hiya, fellow SFR fans. Sorry I've been MIA for the last couple of weeks, but there are big things happening behind the scenes. Big things. I'll be sharing some of my news in future posts. (We're not quite at T-minus Dishville yet.)

Meanwhile, I do get to dish on something else--my latest SFR reading experience: Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach.

I've had a number of "you gotta read this" messages from peers over the course of the last couple of months, but like everything else, that advice got shuffled off unto my conveyor belt of "Things I Will Do Someday When I Get to Them."

When Someday finally rolled around, I was so glad I plucked up this gem.

So what did I enjoy about this novel? Let me summarize my thoughts in just seven quick sound bytes (because, honestly, I think I could talk about this novel all day).

1.  Fascinating Heroine
Notice I didn't say "relatable." There's no way 99% of society can relate to this awesome mercenary of the distant future and her incredible mech suit, which she's christened Lady Gray. Lady Gray is her respected and cherished partner, custom armor she dotes on and has sacrificed for. An empowering agent who seems to give her the gifts of omnipotence and invincibility. Who transforms her into a superhuman wonder. You get the impression that nothing can touch her once she dons Lady Gray. That idea, you'll soon discover, is totally wrong. Bad, bad things live in this universe.

2.  Intriguing Set-Up
The heroine, Devi, is driven to achieve her ultimate goal. The man in her life and their on-again, off-again, just-in-it-for-the-minute relationship is no match for her ambitions. She's independent, career-oriented and beyond the influence of mere male persuasion. Proposal of marriage? Pshaw! Not when the adventure of a lifetime is calling. She's determined to win a security position on a ship called the Glorious Fool, a sought after gig that's led many a talented merc to graduate to the ultimate prize of mercdom--being accepted into ranks of the elite Devastators. Or else to meet a horrible, untimely death. More typically, the latter. But the MC isn't intimidated by the mere threat of death. Onboard this battered cargo ship, her density awaits. Or so she believes. Truth is, Devi is about to meet her match.

3.  Deceptive Hero
I didn't know what to make of the hero at first. He doesn't seem your typical hero material and he isn't employed in your typical hero's job. He's a...well...he's a cook. Yes. A cook. Oh, and he babysits the captain's daughter, too. Umm. Okay, he's got those classic good looks, he's an all around nice guy to the heroine and he does have the ponytail thing going on, but....yeah. He's a cook.

4. Alien Aliens
I love me the Xith' cal! Devi's first introduction to the aggressive, killing-machine alien species is actually quite humorous. Her second encounter is anything but. The Xith' cal are somewhat reminiscent of the Alien franchise bad boys, but bigger, badder, meaner and much more mobile. The stuff of pizza-driven nightmares. Can anything be badder or more deadly than the Xith' cal, you ask? Surprise! Yes. There is one thing. The cook. Wait! What? The cook? Seriously? Yes. Seriously. The cook. *evil grin*

5.  The Deep, Dark Secrets
I got to the end of this novel and I still didn't have a handle on what's really going on. But I mean that in a good way. I got a sense that there's "stuff" going on at a much deeper level than one book can reveal. It's going to take time to unravel. The conspiracies, secrets and paradoxes seem incredibly dark and complex. All the more reason to read on. Upon finishing, Fortune's Pawn, I immediately ordered Honor's Knight, book two in the series. Oh, and the third novel, Heaven's Queen? Here's a hint how great this series promises to be. Heaven's Queen just got named as one of the top Sci-Fi readers' picks of 2014 on Goodreads. Have I mentioned I can't wait to read on?

6.  The Motley Crew
A richly drawn and imaginative cast of characters rounds out the heroine's "down times" with the bonds of camaraderie and the celebration of contrast. From the touchy (alien) pilot, to the gentle, compassionate, but mysterious (human) roommate who wields a Force-like-power, to the peer/rival macho he-man (human) fellow merc, to the authoritarian (human) captain, to the darkly autistic, chess-playing (?) daughter, to the....well, the ship's doctor was a real twist. Like in...OMG! No spoilers. You just have to read it for yo'self. Really! Oh, and there's also the cook. Did I mention the cook? *snarky grin*

7.  The OH NO! Conclusion
The conclusion is one of those OMG-she's-alive-but-yet-it's-ripping-my-heart-out endings. Ann Aguirre's Grimspace series comes to mind as having a deeply angsty storyline, but Rachel Bach really has The Touch. She handled the novel's end game with an amazing aplomb. I am in awe. It's clear the relationship is going to take time to develop and overcome a mine-field of obstacles and set backs, but that's okay. I can be very patient when a series of books is so well-crafted it can hold me in a state of thrall while I get there.


IN SUMMARY
I've been craving another SFR that I can rave about for quite some time now, one of those stories that ticks all the boxes for me. I found it. Fortune's Pawn is a flawlessly-written, mesmerizing and ambitious tale that highlights all the good things that great Science Fiction Romance can aspire to be.

Your mileage may vary depending on the type of story you prefer. This book probably isn't for those who crave books with a lighter tone or that are heavier on the romance elements. I think readers who enjoyed John Scalzi's Old Man's War series would thoroughly enjoy Rachel Bach's characters and voice.

And one more thing. As peer Pauline Baird Jones often says, a rising tide floats all boats. I can't help but think this book is going to do nothing but great things for the SFR genre as a whole. My hat's off to you, Ms. Bach. The Paradox Series looks to be a SFR dynasty in the making.


Want other opinions? Read more reviews of this novel:
Cuddlebuggery
The Book Smugglers
The Midnight Garden: YA for Adults
RT Book Reviews

Quick, Fun Related Read:
My Book, The Movie (The author's casting for her novel, if it were a movie)

Recommended Reading: *****
Before the debut (and subsequent success) of Rachel Bach's Fortune's Pawn, she wrote a Hell-Yes! article about her MC for The Book Smugglers that I highly recommend to all SFR writers who've been struggling with the whole ugly gender-in-SF thing. The title of her article is Upsetting the Default. Really. Check it out.

You can find Fortune's Pawn and other books in the Paradox Series on Amazon and at other booksellers.

Friday, December 5, 2014

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: SCIENCE+ROMANCE


Stephen in pursuit of Jane--nerdy/irresistible.

Stephen Hawking is the most remarkable scientist of our times, the Einstein of our generation.  His theories of time, the origin of the universe, black holes, even the possibility of alternate universes have startled the scientific world and caught the imagination of the public.

Hawking has strong beliefs and is not shy about expressing them.  He is absolutely in favor of manned space exploration.  He believes artificial intelligence may provide the answers to survival in a future fraught with environmental and other dangers, but AI itself represents a threat we may not have the brain power to overcome.  He believes in alien life—and thinks we should be grateful we haven’t encountered any.  He emphatically does not believe in God.

That we should know so much about this man and his ideas is a tribute not only to the impact of his expansive mind, but to the force of his personality.  Hawking is not the kind of scientist to hide in his classroom or his lab and keep his theories to a select few.  He has sought to share his theories of time and the universe with as many people as possible, through a series of popular books (A Brief History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell), public appearances, television shows and so on.  His charisma has made it work.

All this despite the motor neuron disease that has progressively stripped him of the use of his body since the early 1960’s.  He was a young man, still a graduate student at Cambridge, when he was first stricken with the disease related to ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and given a few years to live.  He’s 72 years old now, confined to a wheelchair and forced to communicate by minute movements of his facial muscles, but his mind as sharp as ever. He’s living proof of the power of mind (and will) over matter.

But he didn’t accomplish the triumphs of his life alone.  With him for most of the journey was his wife of thirty years, Jane Wilde Hawking.  They met as graduate students, shortly before Hawking’s diagnosis, and were married despite the grim prognosis of the disease.  Hawking has said that Jane gave him “something to live for” at this crucial stage of his life.

The story of this romance (and its eventual demise) is told in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, in theaters now.  Actor Eddie Redmayne does a magnificent job with the role of Hawking, capturing both his nerdy youthful exuberance and his mischievous humor later in life.  Redmayne also manages to convey subtle emotion through the tortured constriction of Hawking’s body as the disease progresses.

In some ways, Felicity Jones, in the role of Jane, has the tougher job trying to avoid being upstaged by all the dramatics going on across the boards from her.  That, of course, was Jane’s problem, too.  Hawking’s needs overwhelmed her at times, especially after children were added into the mix.  (The Hawkings had three.  As Hawking explains cheerily to a friend in the film, “Different system.  Automatic!”)  The requirements of his fame were no help, either.  (The real Jane once said that her job was to remind Stephen that he was not God.)  Jones conveys this sense of handling everything with aplomb while teetering on the edge of desperation beautifully.  

Still, though Jane’s a good Christian, she’s no saint.  When she joins the church choir under the direction of a handsome, recently widowed musician, complications ensue.  She resists the temptation, only to find her husband has fallen for his new nurse.  (And male reviewers say romance novels are unrealistic!)

In this somewhat sanitized version of Jane and Stephen’s story, the breakup of their long marriage is amicable, Jane and Stephen each marry their lovers and stay friends with each other, and there is a HEA of sorts as Stephen accepts an award from the Queen.  The real story is a bit messier, of course. Although it’s true that Jane and the choir director are still happily married, Stephen and the nurse didn’t fare so well.  Jane and Stephen are still friends, though. (It should be noted that the film was based on Jane's autobiography, Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.)
 
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING may have followed a timeworn pattern of similar inspirational movies.  Still, it had many moments of true emotion and fine actors in the leading roles.  And for those of us who write SFR, who can resist a true story that mixes science and romance?   

Cheers, Donna