Friday, June 11, 2021

When you look at the night sky, you're seeing an illusion

The Andromeda Galaxy

 I write science fiction – with an emphasis on the fiction bit. However, mindful of the 'science' bit, I try to adhere to the basic tenets of physics and what knowledge I have of astronomy. But let's face it, if you're writing fast-paced space opera, you need to have things like faster than light travel (FTL). And it has to be really advanced FTL, too. I think we tend to gloss over the facts about how vast space really is, in much the same way that politicians say 'one billion dollars' without batting an eye.

One billion looks like this in dollars. $1,000,000,000. Or put it another way, one thousand million. That's eye-watering money.  But it pales when you start talking about numbers in space.

Even within our little solar system with its unpretentious sun at the centre, the numbers are large. It takes about eight minutes twenty seconds for a photon from the sun, travelling at light speed, to reach Earth. Light travels at about 300,000 km per second, so that's about 300,000 X 500, therefore 150 million km – which is the average distance of Earth's orbit from the sun. In comparison, light from the moon takes a bit over a second to reach Earth, a distance of about 384,400 km. In this context, it doesn't sound like a huge number – but it took Apollo11 76 hours to reach the Moon. It takes months for (unmanned) spacecraft to reach Mars or Venus, years to reach the outer planets.

Once you start to talk about light years, the numbers are mind boggling. One light year is a distance of 9.5 trillion kilometres. If we wanted to visit Alpha Centauri, one of the closest stars to ours, we would need to travel at the speed of light (which is impossible) for nearly four and half years, so really advanced FTL would be a definite plus, especially if it's a love story. Sexual tension can only go so far 😉

The size of our Milky Way galaxy is hard to determine since we're in it. Numbers vary from 100,000 to 200,000 light years or more in diameter, so if Admiral Piett was right in saying that the Millenium Falcon could be on the other side of the galaxy by now – that's one hell of an FTL drive. (Of course, that galaxy far, far away might be much, much smaller than ours…)

Once we get outside our own galaxy, the numbers become… astronomical?  One of our nearest galactic neighbours, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million light years away.

That segues nicely (the distance, not the sexual tension) into another astronomical fact. Whenever we look at any object in space, we're looking into the past. If the sun suddenly exploded, we wouldn't know for about eight minutes. Alpha Centauri may have exploded in a nova three years ago but we wouldn't know about it for another year and a half. Fortunately for us, it's not likely to die a supernova death, which would cause major problems for life on Earth. But Betelgeuse, the red giant star in the Orion constellation, will do just that – if it hasn't gone already. It is 642.5 light years from Earth and has been behaving erratically of late. Whatever that means. It might have exploded centuries ago.

Whenever you look at the night sky, you're seeing an illusion.

And that leads us to constellations. Astrology is fun, but it's hard to imagine how planets and distant stars can have any significance in human lives. It's easy to see the planets move around the night sky. But stars move, too. We just don't see the motion because they are so far away. 

Take Orion as an example. Perhaps Orion would look the same from other planets within our solar system but over time the stars will move in relation to each other. This short video will show how much.


"It all goes to show that while we take the stars as unchanging guides, they are constantly shifting. Right now, if you want to make sure you're headed in the right direction, you find Polaris (the end of the "ladle" of the Big Dipper is helpful here). But in 3,000 BCE, the star Thuban was the north star. And if humanity hangs around for another 13,000 years, we'll get a new North Star: Vega, the most luminescent star in the constellation Lyra, and currently the second brightest star in the in the northern celestial night sky. Which means our descendants 13,000 years from now (or about 500 generations out) will have a much easier time pointing themselves due north. Something to look forward to!" [source]

Outside our solar system, maybe from Alpha Centauri, the constellations we know and love won't be visible.

And all of that gives lots of opportunities for space opera plots – on the understanding that we have super-duper FTL drives, fantastic air and water recycling systems, fabulous radiation shields, and artificial gravity. (My ships have all those, of course.)

Eye of the Mother is based on the premise that an important star in a constellation the alien Yrmak culture views as the mother deity in their religion has gone supernova. Planets in systems closest to the star can actually see it has exploded, while those further away can't see the constellation.

I've written another story which will appear in due course where the changing shape of constellations depending on the viewer's location is an important clue.

As much as I'm a Star Wars fan, I'd be among the first to agree the science in the shows is pretty ordinary. Star Trek is slightly better. Maybe. I'm happy to admit that I write a form of fantasy but I do my best to avoid magic in my books. That 'science' bit is important.

Friday, June 4, 2021

MY LONG ROMANCE WITH STAR TREK

This year marks the 55th anniversary of the modest beginning of a science fiction juggernaut, a phenomenon that spans not only decades but generations; the full range of media from television, films and animation to comics, novels, fan fiction and podcasts; and different universes, different ships, and different crews over time. This is the vision that creator Gene Roddenberry founded, and countless others have expanded upon, of a “Wagon Train in space;” a franchise that almost died aborning, but, like its most famous hero, would not accept the “no-win scenario” and thrived in adversity.

I’m talking about, of course, STAR TREK, which first aired on NBC in September,1966, as what is now known as The Original Series and survives today on the streaming service Paramount Plus as three separate ongoing series (with more on the way).

Most of you already know I’ve been a fan of TREK since its earliest days on broadcast television. I was already a science fiction fan when Kirk, Spock, McCoy (played, of course, by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley) and company appeared on my home TV screen. I had been reading New Age SF for a couple of years by that time, and I loved THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS. In fact, some of my favorite episodes of those shows had starred William Shatner (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Nick of Time” on TTZ, “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” on TOL).

So, I was inclined to love STAR TREK from the beginning. I watched faithfully every Friday night before it was canceled (a time slot that was normally a death sentence for such a show, but at my age, the only other thing I might have going was a babysitting gig). A few years later, when the show was in syndication, I watched with my college buddies in a beer-soaked lounge at the Coughyhouse, a campus hangout, during Friday Drink, when all you could drink could be had for a buck. You can imagine the intelligent comments that accompanied each episode.

I was among the devoted fans who thronged movie theaters in 1979, when Paramount, owner of the TREK franchise, bowed to pressure generated by Roddenberry and legions of fans at conventions across the country (plus the glittering promise of big bucks inherent in the success of STAR WARS) and released the first big-screen STAR TREK adventure, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. The film had all the elements of greatness: the original cast, other well-known actors in supporting roles, a big budget for special effects, and, best of all, a veteran Hollywood director, Robert Wise (of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, among many other films), behind the wheel.

But I, like many other fans, was disappointed with the result. The film leaned heavily into the special effects and forgot what Star Trek was all about—the characters, particularly the relationship between that triad of Kirk/Spock/McCoy that had drawn us to TOS.

Still, so many fans were so desperate to see TREK again in any form that they lined up to pay good money to see the film no matter how slow it was. (All we’d had for years besides the reruns, after all, was two seasons of bad animation and recycled plots in THE ANIMATED SERIES, which for me was little better than Scooby Doo in Space.) The success of the first film gave Paramount execs the financial incentive they needed to make more TREK films. And the next ones—particularly STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, in which Kirk’s nemesis Khan Noonian Singh, from TOS episode “Space Seed,” makes a spectacular reappearance; and STIV: THE VOYAGE HOME, in which Kirk and the crew must go back in time to 1980’s San Francisco to kidnap a pair of whales in order to save the galaxy—are far superior contributions to the TREK canon.

My first Trek fanfic novella ca. 1991.

By this time I was watching old TOS episodes with a new generation of my own family at home and becoming engrossed with the professional novels based on the series published by Pocket Books. Those books served as inspiration for my own writing efforts, and I wrote my first TREK novel about that time. Pocket Books wouldn’t take it—presumably because it had a strong female lead character and let Kirk take the daring step of showing personal growth—but I found an underground fan fiction press that loved it.

Orion Press published four of my novels and at least six short stories for sale to other fans online and at TREK conventions throughout the Nineties. I started going to the Shore Leave Trek con in Towson, Maryland, where I met my writing mentor SF author A.C. Crispin and Founding Fans Joan Winston and Jacqueline Lichtenberg, as well as other lifelong friends. And I learned the skills I needed to start writing my mainstream SFR novels a few years later.

I’m suddenly unearthing and airing out all my stores of TREK lore not only because of the 55th anniversary, but because I’m auditing an online course called “Exploring STAR TREK,” taught by my old friend and TREK con buddy Dr. Amy H. Sturgis at Signum University. Dr. Sturgis, a recognized expert in SF and fantasy studies and Native American studies, has a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and can speak or write at length on TREK or STAR WARS or Tolkien or any number of similar iconic pop culture subjects. Another TREK con buddy persuaded me to take the class with her, and we’re having a ball talking TREK with a bunch of other like-minded Trekkers. Some are newbies, some are lifetime fans, but we’re all there to share the love of this series that, as Dr. Sturgis points out, is both a reflection of our society and a propulsion into the future as it could be.

Gene Roddenberry believed firmly that history was a progression, an evolution of humankind in an upward direction. STAR TREK was his manifesto, one all of us who became Trekkers came to hold in common with him. May it live long and prosper.

Cheers, Donna

 

 

 

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

It's My Anniversary

 

May always has a special place in my heart. It's my wedding and my author anniversary. This year marks 28 years for the first, and 9 for the second. In 28 years I have raised three children to their teens. In 9 I have released 21 titles. Seems pretty good numberwise. 

And the weather has finally taken a turn for the better (typical Brit, huh?!). For our anniversary, hubs finally let me have some more chickens so I am now up to ten. 


And at the end of this month, the third book in my Redemption series will finally go off to my editor for release hopefully before the end of this year. Hurrah!

In the meantime, I am preparing for my second eldest child to leave his secondary school and become an A-Level student, just as his older sister ends her first year of university. So that's down to one set of school uniform to buy (another yay!). We have all survived a year of the Great Plague and are ready to move on (providing COVID is too...???). Fantasy Forest, the end of school, and hopefully conventions and concerts again. But I'm not holding my breath, just in case...

Writing Update

At the end of this month, the third book in my Redemption series will be off to my editor, hopefully for release before the end of the year. My long summer holiday is upcoming, which should give me more time to work on it. It's been a long time coming, I know. Funny how I originally intended a potential five books at two year intervals, which technically would have seen this book release in 2017. Ah, well. In the meantime, a number of in-between novellas and shorts have appeared instead, so it isn't as if the story hasn't moved on. As for book four...


Friday, May 21, 2021

The Recruit - An Adventure in the World of Draxis (Part One)

I debated a long while about posting this story, a tale set on the world Draxis, the planet that's central to my upcoming trilogy and frequently referenced in current stories in the Inherited Stars Series. 

You might think of Draxis as a legend comparable to the legend of Troy. For a long time the world wondered about this once-great civilization. Did Helen of Troy's face really launch a thousand ships? Did Achilles and Hector once engage in combat outside its gates? 

Did the great walled city of Troy ever truly exist?  

That question was left unanswered for centuries, until the ruins of Troy were discovered -- a vast, walled, Bronze Age metropolis  -- just as Homer described it and just where he said it would be. 

Now imagine Troy as an entire planet lost to time -- but buried in a very different way.

The Recruit was originally written as bonus material for Draxis--a scene turned inside out and told from a different character's POV. It needs no scene set-up or introduction. I hope you enjoy your first venture into the lands of Draxis, and that you'll come back for more of The Recruit in future blogs. 

The Recruit 

I go by the name Baranar. I will not tell you my real name. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the tale I must tell, because not many know of it. Long ago, a wise man of an ancient tribe on our sister-world, Earth, said that legends are a blending of many voices. This is my voice, and this is my one small thread to weave into the greater tapestry. Here is where it began…

The recruit walked across the wooden floor of Denarri Ranger Station. I listened to the cadence of his steps and studied the set of his head and shoulders. He had a bearing that exuded confidence and competence. My lips twisted into a sneer. More fodder for the farratoras. Another in an endless line of doomed men who came to the Tahila Death Ranger ranks to disappear from society. Or because he had a suicide wish. What crimes had this one committed?

No matter. Here, he’d pay for them all. And soon.

The average lifespan of a Tahila Ranger was three turnings of the moons. If a cadet had the skills to pass initiation—survive the onslaught of a maddened farratora pack or a killdrop by an adult penthis—he might defy the odds.

I defied the odds. For me, eight seasons had passed in the hell of twilight and terror called the Green Death. At twenty-eight suncycles, I’m the “old hand” here. The grizzled veteran. I didn’t survive this long by having new recruits as partners. 

Damn Cannar to the Fifth Hell.

The young man bent his head to speak to Cannar, the Denarri Marshall. The old fool nodded his silver head and raised a hand, pointing my way. The recruit strode in my direction.

Farratora fodder.

“You are Ranger Elite Baranar.” It wasn’t a question. I looked him over. Draxian genes stamped our breed with dark skin pigment, light hair and intense green eyes. What set this one apart was his carriage, the feel to him. Some might call it his aura, but I didn’t believe in mystical hebah.

“That’s my given.” My reply came as a growl. Like most here, my real name and details of my former life are subjects best left unexplored. Here, it’s considered the epitome of rudeness to pry, and social blunders often end in severed limbs…or heads.

“We’re assigned to collect herbs for the farmatechs in Sector Five.”

A take-charge sort, was he? No questions. No seeking of advice. No small talk. Right to the point, and bold enough to venture into the nightmare jaws of the Green Death without a shake to his knees. Overconfidence could be its own brand of suicide.

I glanced at Gallin, who stood at my right elbow. Though ‘friend’ is an alien word here, I respected Gallin as a peer.

“First rush,” I said.

Gallin grunted and shook his head. “Second hit.”

“Four tenkars.”

“Ten.”

The young man tilted his head, his expression telling. He'd guessed we were wagering how long he would last, and it wasn’t fear I saw in his eyes.

“A hundred tenkars and my sword, gentlemen,” he said in a calm voice, “that I survive this tasking.”

Gallin glanced down, then arched a brow. “Done.”


(To be continued in a later post.)

________________________

Thanks for joining me for the beginning of The Recruit. I'll post more of the story soon.




Friday, May 14, 2021

Intelligent Heroes and Strong Heroines

If you are a Doctor Who fan then you either love River Song or you hate her. Is there an in between? I happen to love her. She is tough, smart, sassy, and can slap the doctor silly. I hear actress Alex Kingston doesn’t pull her punches. For the non-Whovians, the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through space and time in his TARDIS and protects Earth from alien invasions. He can live for hundreds of years and cheats death by turning himself into a new actor. ;) River Song is also a time traveler. She and the Doctor don’t always meet in the right order, which makes dating and marriage difficult though they seem to manage. It’s really quite fun.

I loved the chemistry between the 11th Doctor and River. They had great banter.

From the Impossible Astronaut:
Doctor:  [smugly, just after explaining how he determined where the mysterious phone calls to President Nixon were originating from] ...And Doctor Song, you've got that face on again.
River Song:  [bemused] What face?
Doctor:  The 'He's-hot-when-he's-clever' face.
River Song:  This is my normal face!
Doctor:  [even more smugly]: Yes it is.
River Song:  Oh, shut up.
Doctor:  [smiling] Not a chance.

Also from the Impossible Astronaut:
Doctor:  Shout if you get into trouble.
River Song:  Don't worry. I'm quite the screamer. Now there's a spoiler for you.

My hero in RENEGADE, book 3 in the Survival Race series, is a scientist and thinker who doesn’t like fighting or gladiators. The heroine is, of course, a gladiator. It didn’t dawn on me until I was writing it that Griffin and Katana reminded me of the Doctor and River Song…well minus the time traveling and the living for hundreds of years…and oh, a lot of other stuff.

Griffin and Katana are opposites who turn out to have a lot more in common than they would have thought upon first meeting. They learn a lot about each other and themselves while forced to team up and work together to win the Survival Race—a gladiator blood sport where the last man alive wins. The following is a scene in which Katana tries to train a reluctant Griffin. Winning the Survival Race is the only way he will earn a spaceship to escape the planet. 

Katana returned to the couch to find Griff snoring. A swift kick to his legs jerked him awake.  

“Ow. What was that for?” 

“There’s no time for sleeping. You have to train.” 

“I can’t train while sleep deprived.” 

Could Griffin be any more clueless about the survival race? “Sleep deprivation is part of the training. A survival race can last weeks. You need to learn how to function on little sleep and lots of adrenaline.”

“You realize I almost died yesterday, right? I’m still healing.” 

She refrained from smacking her forehead. “Good. Then you’ll have a sense of what it’s like to hurt for the duration of the race.” 

“You’re not going to give up on this, are you?” 

“If you don’t want to be killed at the starting line, you need to train.” 

He groaned before getting off the couch. “Okay, fine. But if we’re going to train all night, let me put on a pot of coffee.” 

Was he serious? There were no luxuries like coffee in a survival race. She blocked his way. “No coffee.”

“Yes. Coffee. Excuse—”  

She punched him in the gut, and he doubled over, gasping for breath.  

Many gladiators had dismissed her over the years, but she’d be damned if she’d tolerate it from a man who’d never put on a thermal suit. She was the voice of experience in this partnership, and he needed a crash course in the survival race. 

“What the hell?”  

“You want coffee? Fight your way through me.” 

“You’re crazy.” He went around the other side of the sofa.  

She vaulted over the couch back and punched rock, solid abs. He’d tightened them in anticipation of the blow. Good. He learned fast. There wasn’t time to reteach these lessons. “You haven’t seen crazy. Now, hit me.”  

“No.” 

“What do you mean, no?” 

“I don’t want to hit you.” 

“Then kick me.” 

“This is ridiculous. If you want to train, then we should start from the beginning. How about the rules?” 

She grabbed his throat and an arm and swept his leg, throwing him to the ground hard. She simulated stomping on his head. “Rule number one: fight to the death. Rule number two: make sure it’s the other guy’s.”


RENEGADE is a stand-alone science fiction romance novel that is a part of a series in which each book’s couple finds their happily ever after. If you like...

  • Enemies to lovers stories
  • Strong female warriors
  • Genetically engineered gladiators
  • Couples forced to team-up
  • Action adventure romance
  • Fish out of water stories
  • Exciting scifi romances with a fresh twist
..then buy your copy at these major retailers and start reading today!


Stay safe out there!


K.M. Fawcett
Romance with a Rebel Heart
www.kmfawcett.com


Friday, May 7, 2021

It should have had a romance arc

 


Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of my favourite Star Wars characters. Timothy Zahn created him in the 1990's to fill the hole left when the last of the original Star Wars movie trilogy, Return of the Jedi, faded from the screen. The three books – Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command – follow on from one to the next, as Thrawn's Imperial forces advance on Republic planets.

Thrawn is a warlord who effectively takes over from the deceased Darth Vader and the Emperor. But he's a very different 'villain' if that's what you want to call him. As a military leader he is unsurpassed - cunning, innovative, and resourceful. Thrawn is an art connoisseur, able to assess an alien adversary's mental weaknesses through their art. This is a nice idea which certainly sets him apart. As is so often the case with Star Wars, one must avoid asking too many questions, and go along for the ride. However he does it, Thrawn wins again and again, devising brilliant tactics to achieve his aims.

I certainly wasn't the only fan. Thrawn became a cult figure who appeared in a few other Zahn novels. But since he wasn't created by George Lucas et al, it seemed Disney would relegate him to the 'legend' stream, as opposed to the 'canon' stream of Star Wars stories. Fortunately, the new owners had the sense to elevate Thrawn to canon status and he's used in the later years of the animated series, Star Wars Rebels.

Since then, Thrawn has achieved a starring role in a series of books that examine how he became a Grand Admiral in Palpatine's Imperial Navy and his relationship with Darth Vader. They were fun books, with some attempts to let us into what was going through Thrawn's mind by showing his point of view – something Zahn had not done before. That was interesting. As Thrawn would say. 😊

Carrying on from there, Zahn has gone back in time. I've just finished reading the latest Thrawn book, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising. This is the first of a new Thrawn trilogy about Thrawn in his early days in the Chiss Ascendancy before he went to join the Empire. This time, we don't get Thrawn's point of view but we're given a glimpse of his early days as a cadet through to senior officer via his relationship with a number of other characters who are used to illustrate Thrawn. Some love him, some hate him. Some support him, some plot to get rid of him.

And here is where I feel Zahn has missed an opportunity that I, and a number of fellow authors, would have grabbed with both hands. This book absolutely begged for, at the very least, a romance arc.

We first meet Thalias as a thirteen-year-old girl on board the ship taking Thrawn to cadet training, so he would be eighteen, nineteen. She's a navigator, somebody born with skills to guide space ships through space. But it's an ability that only shows up in very young girls – and fades in their early teens. Thalias knows she's finished as a sky-walker (that's what they're called). She encounters Cadet Thrawn in a corridor and he comforts the child who has just discovered her career is over. She never forgets and, much later, finagles her way onto Thrawn's ship. He remembers her, of course, and she's present at all his amazing battles from then on. But more than that, he takes her along on some clandestine missions – just him and her. And there are these 'fade to black' scenes. No hanky-panky, of course. But they stay for several days hidden away in close quarters, waiting to be picked up. What happened in that time is never mentioned.

Needless to say, these books are written for blokes so any hint of 'romance' would be met with outrage, so even if Zahn could write that stuff (and I suspect he can't) he would have ended up alienating the boys. There's not a hint of words like 'love' or 'kiss' or even holding hands and the fluttering of hearts. Even so, the Chiss have wives and make babies, so it's not that they're so very alien. In fact, the only apparent differences between Humans and Chiss is Chiss have red eyes and blue skin. There's more than a hint that the Chiss originated as a Human outpost, cut off during massive Galactic upheavals. So, surely there has to be some romance out there. Surely. But as it is, we'll have to use our imaginations.

Or you can go and take a look at the fan-fic that soon blossomed after the original Thrawn trilogy appeared. Not much imagination is necessary in that space.

It's a dense book, with six or seven POV characters and two different time lines – one in the present and the other in the past. We learn more about the Chiss culture, with the added complication that the Chiss characters change their names for various reasons. Apart from that, like all Thrawn novels, the book simply showcases Thrawn's apparent brilliance in working out his enemies and coming up with amazing strategies to win battles.

Worth a read if you're a Star Wars fan or if you like clever military sci-fi.

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