Thursday, July 30, 2015

For space nuts, it's an exciting time to be alive

NASA photo of Pluto
It has been an exciting week for space nuts. In some respects the biggest news-grabber was the discovery of “Earth 2.0”, a planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star a little larger than our sun, in the Goldilocks zone. It's fourteen hundred light years away, so we won't be visiting soon, but although I'm not quite as excited as some, the discovery adds weight to the already impressive argument that we can't possibly alone.

Personally, I'm much more excited about the data from Pluto.

I'm not a scientist, just an interested spectator. I was expecting a barren, frozen rock rather like our own moon, swinging around the distant sun in its wildly eccentric orbit that sometimes means Pluto is closer to the sun than Neptune. I was wrong. Frozen, sure. But just a rock? Uh-uh. Pluto has an atmosphere. Pluto is not covered in impact craters – which means it is geologically active. Pluto has canyons, and Pluto has solid, water ice mountains as high as the Rockies. All this on a sphere smaller than Earth's moon. Exactly what size is one of the many things NASA's New Horizon probe has been able to calculate, as reported here. And that's one of the things that interests me. Our moon has negligible atmosphere; Pluto's can be measured. It seems that heart-shaped thing is a glacier. There may be organic molecules on the surface. This article on gives a great, potted explanation of what has been discovered so far.

The reason I find all this so fascinating is mainly because of the water ice, and the organic molecules. It has been speculated that Earth's water came from asteroids. Pluto is the largest known object in the Kuiper belt, the source of comets and asteroids. Perhaps just such a body collided with the early Earth, contributing its water and its organic molecules to the primordial mix?

I watched and rewatched the footage which Voyager sent back to Earth during its encounters with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune back in the eighties and nineties. Until now, that data was all the scientists had to play with. They learned so much about the outer planets from that data and it still forms the basis of many of their theories. The New Horizons mission has answered some questions and raised many others. The Dawn comet mission is set to send back more data as the host comet plunges towards the sun. And Kepler continues to discover more exoplanets. Meanwhile, work is proceeding on the James Webb space telescope, set to replace Kepler. Who knows what it will discover?

It's an exciting time to be alive.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Teaser - A Superhero's Fall #urbanfantasy #scifirom

It's the seven week summer holiday for my monsters, so rather than leave my post at Spacefreighters Lounge completely empty, I decided to share a few favourite snippets from my books while I read my way through someone else's by dedicating some serious time to reading.

This week I'm sharing from my superhero romance When Dark Falls, and my heroine Nocturnelle has decided jumping off a tall building is preferably to her recent encounter with the villain of the story...
A Superhero Romance Novella
Goodreads | Available from...
Amazon | All Romance eBooks
Kobo | iTunes | Oyster | 
Google Play | Smashwords
I'm going to die...It was an idle thought. Would she? Falling from this height, without her skin to hold her back, would it kill her? She'd never put such a thing to the test.
And she wouldn't now. She tugged at the skin at her back. It tore as she pulled. The black membrane fluttered uselessly in a mass of tatters and holes, sending her into a spin.
No! She'd lost chunks of it to the super-cooled sarcophagus. Resistant to bullets, blades and heat, but not to extreme cold it would seem. Black lace wrapped her in a deadly embrace as she tumbled.
I should have left with what I had...
And now she was plummeting to her death for the sake of a moment's curiosity. A cold calm flowed over her. The tattered remnants of her canopy flapped wildly in the wind. The ground sped toward her. Certain death.
And so Dark wins. Fury blazed in her heart at the thought. No. Never. She shrugged the folds back in. Shortened them. She couldn't repair the damage, but she could use the shorter length to glide, to slow her down and minimize the impact. Maybe. Anything would help.
She extended her arms with the shorter folds. There were still holes, but not as bad as the main canopy. The wind caught the leathery wings and slowed her. Still not enough. She angled herself, trying to change her headlong plummet into a wide spiral. The ground was still coming up too fast. She mentally steeled herself for the impact, and wrapped her arms and loose skin around herself at the last instant.
The ground hit. Pain slammed into her, and tossed her across the tarmac like a wind-driven rag. Smacked into her head and knocked all feeling into oblivion.


On the 1st of August I'm popping back to the internet briefly to take part in an exciting 11 author Scavenger Hunt on Facebook from 5pm EDT (that's 9pm in the UK). There will be an intense few hours of games, giveaways and chat, plus the Scavenger Hunt itself. Keir will be part of the ebook bundle, and I have a surprise giveaway during the event itself. Stop by and say hello! (click the banner to find the party page).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Super Space?

Some of our recent blogs about the horror elements in Science Fiction got the wheels of my imagination turning at a pretty fair clip. Like most of the commenters, I don't appreciate horror when its nothing more than a blood-and-gut fest, but I totally love being chilled and terrorized by the unknown. I love being creeped out by the goosebump-raising question of "What's out there?"

Recently I watched a documentary done for Smithsonian Channel called Hunt for the Super Predator. It was about a mysterious unknown beast that lurks in the depths of the Southern Ocean off Australia. Pretty chilling blurb, yes? Well it gets better.

Eleven years ago, a 9' Great White shark nicknamed Shark Alpha was tagged off the coast of Australia by filmmaker David Riggs and his team as part of a large-scale tagging research project to study the movements of Great White sharks. But only four months later, Shark Alpha's bleached tag washed up on the shores of Australia without the shark attached.

Via recorded data from the shark's tag (a sort of marine "black box"), researchers followed the movements of the shark up and down the Australian coastline for hundreds of miles, until four months later when she was apparently pulled or pursued at very high speed to the depth of nearly 2,000 feet down the side of the continental shelf, where the tag recorded a sudden temperature change from 7 degree C to 25 degrees C (about 46 degrees F to 78 degrees F).

What did that mean?

It meant this 9' apex predator had apparently been chased and eaten by something much bigger and more aggressive. Something that lurks in the depths off southern Australia. The sudden change in temperature indicates that Shark Alpha (and tag) was completely ingested, and the tag became bleached by the stomach acid of the monster that gobbled her up.

What the heck EATS a 9' Great White Shark, you ask?

Although there were rampant theories that the "teenaged" Great White must have been swallowed by a massive kraken, a gigantic Sperm or Killer Whale, a prehistoric Megalodon, a monstrous squid or even (chuckle) Godzilla, researchers knew the beast in question wasn't fictional or extinct, and the body temperature of whatever had consumed Shark Alpha was too high for that of a whale. Also, being air-breathers, they haven't been known to dive to such depths.

From photographs documenting the marine life in the surrounding area, evidence began to mount up that something colossal was attacking the local sea life. A photo of a whale sporting a well-healed bite out of his back with a five-foot bite radius was one piece of evidence. Photographs of other Great Whites with monstrous teeth patterns raking up their bodies added more weight to the theory that "something's out there." The sum of all this evidence led to the profile of a super predator measuring approximately 35' in length. The Great White's ancestor, Megalodon, measured up to around 70', but since it's been extinct for 2 million years it was ruled out as the perp.

The culprit was determined to be, in all likelihood, another, massive Great White shark--possibly 35' in length. A Great White of that size would be enormous, much larger than any individual ever documented on film, the largest of which have been between 20'-25' feet. However, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest Great White Shark ever found measured 37' long, with a close runner-up measuring 36'. The 36' foot shark was reportedly captured in the 1870s off Port Fairy in South Australia, while the 37' shark was caught near New Brunswick, Canada, in the 1930s.  If these measurements were accurate (they were not scientifically verified), a 35' specimen living in the ocean depths is not completely beyond belief.

Here's a link to the entire Super Predator documentary in wide screen format on YouTube. 

This documentary really got me thinking about super predators in space. Imagine colonizing a newly found planet. The world has all of the necessary requirements going for successful settlement--breathable atmosphere, habitable temperatures in the Goldilocks zone of its local sun, and ample water, most likely in the form of ocean or great lakes. But what terrors might be lurking in the depths of those unexplored alien waters when we're not even sure what may be prowling the oceans of our own world?

Aliens aren't a big part of my current SFR series, Inherit the Stars but there is one reference to an alien creature from an aquatic world called a Gagibeaste (Gah Jee Beast). This creature is so massive that the bone from one of its flippers is large enough to serve as the long bar in an ocean-themed tavern on planet Banna.

I didn't elaborate on the creature in the story, but I see it in the Library of Fictional Natural History in my head as a gigantic marine Eagle with a smooth, whale-like skin, long flippers in place of wings for front appendages, long talons for gripping as rear appendages which fold back along the body for streamlined swimming, and the business end of the predator sporting a massive, razor sharp 10' beak. To strike, the Gagibeaste overtakes its prey using its powerful flippers, then bites into it with its beak while it pulls its hind talons forward to grip the unlucky victim while it feeds. Pretty frightening visual, isn't it?

Although SFR normally centers on the romantic relationship in a future, alien or high tech setting, I think a story that's the SFR equivalent of Jaws in Space could be a really thrilling read, especially if the romance is well-grounded in the struggle to survive.

What are your thoughts about a romance that also deals with alien super predators? Have you ever run across a Jaws in Space (/Alien Worlds) SFR or do you think it's a pretty rare commodity in our genre?

Have a great week.

Friday, July 24, 2015


 In the second of our occasional series of tandem movie reviews, SL crew members Laurie A. Green and Donna S. Frelick offer their opinions on this summer's blockbuster reboot of the story of a girl and her cyborg, TERMINATOR GENISYS.


I enjoyed TERMINATOR GENISYS's fresh take on an old icon that felt much like the STAR TREK reboot--familiar story lines, but with surprising twists. Some of the dialogue is even a rehash of the original, though the lines may be coming from an unexpected source in this re-envisioned future (and past). I viewed the standard version, although it was also released in Real 3D and IMAX 3D.

Without offering up too much spoilery, this latest installment harks back to the original 1984 version featuring Kyle Reese's dramatic trip through time to save Sarah Connor from assassination by the rogue Skynet artificial intelligence operative, except that the timeline has been altered. Now there's a brand new bit of evil software to defeat in the form of Genisys, which is revealed to be the predecessor of Skynet, the system that unleashed nuclear holocaust upon the human race. There's also a new villain in a familiar persona who spurs some incredible internal conflict for Sarah and Kyle.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to the title role (along with a bit of F/X magic) made a perfect fit for the original "old...but not obsolete" Terminator model, Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800,  delivering a few moments of humor to break up the non-stop action. As for the rest of the cast, well...I'll have more to say on that later.

"Uhnode" and company are up against some super high tech opponents, including the melty T-1000 model, and an even newer technological-assassin incarnate. Some of the special effects in Genisys are updated and flashier than the original, even spliced into what looks like original footage, and the time-traveling element is a bit more involved in this storyline. All and all, it's a fun and fresh retelling, but in spite of some extreme action scenes, lacks the dark intensity or desperate romance of the original movie.

My overall rating: I think it's a GO as an exciting summer side-trip into a dark and re-imagined timeline, but with a caveat that you shouldn't expect it to live up to the pure genius of the original.

Now, a few words about the cast.

T-800 Terminator: No complaints whatsoever about Schwarzenegger's return. He's the perfect, and only, actor who could be effectively cast in the role, IMHO. I loved seeing him reprise the role that helped make him an icon.

 Emilia Clarke
Sarah Connor: At first glance, I wasn't keen on the "new" Sarah, but as the film progressed she seemed to grow and meld into the role and some of her expressions even mirrored those of the original personality. I was thoroughly, utterly shocked to discover that the actress was Emilia Clarke, better known as Daenerys Targaryen in the HBO hit series Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin's Fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I'm a huge fan of Daenerys and I never realized it was the same actress playing the role of Sarah until I read more about the film after viewing it!

Michael Biehn
Kyle Reese: Now here I had some issues. Although Jai Courtney is an accomplished actor, probably best known for his bad-guy portrayal of Eric Coulter, a Dauntless faction leader in DIVERGENT, I just couldn't get a feel for him as the new Kyle Reese. Michael Biehn's quiet, brooding, smoldering presence is an incredibly tough act to follow, but I think another DIVERGENT actor, the man who played Four (Theo James) may have made for a much more convincing Kyle. There also seemed to be a lack of chemistry between the new Sarah and Kyle, and the  love scene that was so moving in the original version was very much missed in this new rendition.

John Connor: Ouch. I simply had no feels for the new John Connor, played by actor Jason Clarke. The brooding (seems it's genetically passed down), intense John played in the 2009 release TERMINATOR SALVATION by Christian Bale will always be in my mind's eye as the real-deal John Connor (even with the actor's in-production outburst incidents). No offense intended to Jason Clarke or his considerable acting talent, but I couldn't ignore his resemblance to comedic actor Bill Murray, which totally killed the tense atmosphere for me. I kept expecting him to break out in a joke or a song, ala GHOSTBUSTERS.


I’m a fan of the TERMINATOR series—bad Terminator, good Terminator, John Connor-dominated TERMINATOR, Sarah Connor-dominated TV TERMINATOR. I’ve pretty much enjoyed them all.

And just in case I had forgotten, I got to see them all again in the latest entry into the series, TERMINATOR GENISYS. Every incarnation of the sentient cyborg from clunky to slinky, from evil to self-sacrificing. Every iteration of John Conner, from battle-hardened cyberwar vet to mom’s protected cub (and even one we hadn’t seen yet). The only thing this movie lacks is Sarah Conner as the innocent she was at the beginning of the very first TERMINATOR film. In this re-imagining of the TERMINATOR story, the Sarah Kyle Reese finds when he returns to 1984 to save her is no virgin when it comes to the battle between human and machine.

If all this in one film sounds a bit chaotic, trust me, it is. Like Jim Kirk, time travel in any form gives me a headache, and the “fractured timeline” in TGEN produces a doozy. Unlike the events at the beginning of J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK, which allowed a seamless transition to an alternate Trek future, the event that alters the past in TGEN just serves to confuse things. Everything needs constant explanation from that point on, mainly because you have a central character, Kyle Reese, who remembers one timeline, but has been thrust back into another.

Sarah Conner is not the only character changed by the new timeline, of course. I won’t explain who else is changed fundamentally, for fear of giving the whole show away. It’s an interesting twist, but not very believable. And your headache will definitely get worse just trying to figure out how it could happen.

Then there’s the whole problem of characters meeting themselves on another timeline. Not supposed to be able to do that, though, what the hell, who can time travel anyway, right? Finally, the end of the film contains a huge time travel faux pas committed merely in the interest of sentimentality. Can’t tell you what it is for fear of spoiling. Just wonder how many caught it.

Sarah Connor, godmother of SFR heroines
Arrgh. Okay, I did enjoy some things about this movie. Arnold reprising his role as the T-800 (good version) was funny and charismatic as always, though the explanation of why a cyborg should age did not convince me. The usual summer blockbuster CGI slam/bang/boom-fest was entertaining, but not worth the extra money you’d have to spend for 3D or IMAX. On the other hand, the acting was merely competent; no one stood out except Schwarzenegger. Certainly Emilia Clarke is no Linda Hamilton.

So, mission call? This film is a GO only for die-hard TERMINATOR fans or the kind of people who see everything that comes out (like me). For everyone else it’s a NO-GO. Wait for the DVD.

Cheers, Laurie and Donna

Thursday, July 23, 2015

When is it SF - and when is it horror?

I noticed in a Facebook feed that Prometheus 2 is scheduled to hit the movie theatres in 2016. And having just googled the movie, it seems Alien 5 is on its way, too. Here's the post. Excuse me while I unboggle my mind.

Ahem. Back to business. As it happens, these movies segue neatly into one of those silly “which one are you” tests littering the Facebook feeds. This one was “which SF hero from the eighties are you?” Mine turned out to be Ellen Ripley, which amused me because Morgan Selwood in the series of the same name owes a tiny bit to Ellen Ripley. And that in itself is amusing because I have not, and will not, see any of the Alien movies – including (of course) Prometheus 1 and 2. So what I know about Ripley comes from the media.

I can imagine a few of you readers are frowning, but it's like this, see? You know how we endlessly discuss science fiction romance and what it really IS? The same can be said about SF fantasy, or SF horror. And while I love my SF and my fantasy, I do not like horror. This is one of the reasons for my aversion to zombies, vampires, and dystopian storylines. I've explained in the past how I see SFR as a spectrum depending on the emphasis placed on the romance arc. The same thing happens in SF horror. As far as I'm concerned, Alien is a horror movie set in space. Who can forget the iconic tagline “in space no one can hear you scream.” It has all the classic elements of a horror story – a monster; the high-tech, even more isolating equivalent of a haunted house; and a trapped bunch of people dying one by one. In a similar vein The Thing (set at an Antarctic base) is most definitely a horror movie, as the being in question morphs from one form to another, obliterating its (trapped) victims as it goes.  Arnie's Predator was very similar, with even less of a passing nod to near-future SF. And let's not talk about Alien vs Predator.

No thanks, not my thing. As far as I'm concerned these movies are gore fests which I place firmly in the same category as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the Thirteenth. Not going there.

At the other end of the spectrum, horror stories can have more of an SF feel. Lovecraft's novella, At the Mountains of Madness, is one such. Lovecraft is known as a writer of horror. As a younger person, before my aversion to horror flared, I read all his Cthulhu mythos stories. For me, At The Mountains of Madness came across as SF more than horror. A more recent example is Apollo Eighteen, which is sort of thriller/horror/SF. (See? Genres mix)

I'm sure you can all think of other examples. As for me, I'll wait with bated breath for Star Wars VII. That kind of SF/fantasy is right up my alley.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday Teaser - A Demon Revealed #timetravel #romance

It's the start of the summer holidays for my three not so little monsters, which left me with a dilemma. I had the choice between leaving my Tuesday spot at Spacefreighters sadly deserted...or I could post a few excerpts. So while I spend the next seven weeks reading and hopefully discovering some new favourite reads, I thought I'd share some of my favourite snippets from my own books. 

This excerpt is from my time travel romance Keir, and very early in the story. So far Quin has had no real clue to her companion's identity, cloaked and hooded as he is. But captured as they attempt to pass through a small village, the truth is revealed to her. Happy reading!

Muted sunlight flashed from a blade in motion. Quin wriggled in panic, expecting a fatal strike on her companion’s undefended back. Instead, the sound of ripping cloth filled the air as Caiman slashed the robes and rags into useless tatters, stripping Keir’s head and back to reveal the so-called demon underneath.
For a moment, Quin stared. No. No, it can’t be...
Her chest locked tight, and her blood went cold. Now, too late, she understood the nickname given to him and how the legend had misled her into believing the Blue Demon might be the sentiac she’d sought. His bare torso was the rich blue of an evening sky, his long, unkempt hair a knot of black curls tangled at the nape of his neck. Deep black tattoos, resembling some form of runic lettering, were carved into every inch of his skin. No monster, but no normal man either.
A thread of disappointment wound over her surprise. All that searching, all that effort to find the sentiac, and she’d been so wrong.
“See, girl? That is the Blue Demon, a curse on the city of Adalucien and friend to nae living soul.”

A Science Fiction Romance Novel
Goodreads | Available from...
Amazon | All Romance eBooks
Kobo | iTunes | Oyster
Google Play | Smashwords
Print available from... 
Amazon | B&N | CreateSpace
The Book Depository

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Greeting all!

I apologize that I won't have a regular post on Monday due to heavy deadlines at both my day job and in my authorly life, but check out the Smart Girls Love Sci-Fi site for their FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION! (Just click the image above to be hurled to the event at warp 10.)

I'll be a guest poster this week, and there'll be lots of fun and giveaway books and prizes for all you lovers of SFR--including a couple of copies of INHERIT THE STARS! Pippa and Donna will also be guests. Here's the upcoming schedule with the Spacefreighters crew appearances underlined and in blue:

Today! July 19 - Pippa Jay & Lyn Brittan

Monday, July 20 - KS 'Kaz' Augustin  & Corrina Lawson

Tuesday, July 21 - Laurie Green & Misa Buckly

Wednesday, July 22 - Donna Frelick & JA Kenny

Thursday, July 23 - Melisse Aires

I may also be back this Friday with Donna for a Siskel & Ebert style review of the motion picture Terminator Genisys.

Have a great week!


Friday, July 17, 2015


Atticus Finch--Now and forever a hero.

Most of us have a manuscript or two under the bed or on a dusty shelf somewhere that should never see the light of day. Maybe it’s the first novel we ever attempted, before we knew how to properly construct a plot. Maybe it’s a romance with a hero and heroine that just didn’t have any chemistry. Maybe it’s that SF/fantasy epic with so much worldbuilding it collapsed of its own weight.

For whatever reason, those stories never made it and now rightfully reside in the graveyard of lessons learned, never to be resurrected.

But, of course, our names are not Harper Lee, and we didn’t write one of the Great American Novels in To Kill a Mockingbird. Up until this week, Ms. Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, was known to have written one book and one book only, a beautiful, inspiring tale of a small-town hero standing strong against mob mentality, of racism and fairness, of a little girl’s precocious understanding of events that shook her world. 

Having grown up in the South in the 50s and 60s, with a passionate belief in civil rights, I found both inspiration and vindication in this book when I read it as a young teenager. The impact doubled when I saw the classic movie with Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch—I’ve had a major crush on Peck ever since. He was everything a hero should be, in my mind. Not swaggering, just upright. Not shouting, just speaking the truth in that deep baritone. Doing what was right despite the danger. Then going home to tuck his kids in at night.

In the midst of the civil rights struggle of the 60s, what Atticus Finch did in that book set in the 30s took on massive significance.  It was not easy to stand with the black community in those days. You could lose your friends, your social standing, your job, your home. In extreme cases you could lose your life, as several civil rights workers did. But marching in Selma or riding the buses in the Freedom Rides or signing up voters in Mississippi was the right thing to do. And for me, since I was too young to do those things, just defending them to my racist classmates and family was the right thing to do, too, though I’m not sure I changed many hearts.

So now after all these years, we learn that Harper Lee has written another book. Go Set a Watchman was released this week to much fanfare—public readings, celebrations in her hometown, champagne at publisher HarperCollins. And the big reveal? Turns out Atticus Finch was not a hero after all. Underneath it all he was just as racist as his neighbors. In this new book he shows his true colors as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and an active opponent of desegregation. Say it ain’t so.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so, as it turns out. This book is not new, but rather is the rejected first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of those dusty manuscripts that has been hiding under a bed for 55 years. When Ms. Lee took it to New York years ago in search of publication, she was advised to go back and focus on the story we’ve come to love—Scout’s memories of her father and the trial that gripped the town. Thank God she did. The rest was quite properly discarded. 

The manuscript only came to light at all because Ms. Lee may now be suffering from dementia and is not in control of her faculties. (You may notice there have been no interviews with Ms. Lee, and no recent photographs.) The sister who protected her in her decline died recently, opening the way to exploitation by those who want to “build her estate” by any means possible. So something that should have been forgotten has been dredged up and served to a public that would love to have a new work from this beloved author.

But not this. Never this. Consider that the Atticus Finch we know from To Kill a Mockingbird would never have been capable of doing what he did if he had been a racist. He might have done his best to defend a client, but he would not have visited the client’s home, supported his family, gained the trust and respect of the black community. In a town the size of Maycomb, everything is known of everybody. His connections to the KKK would also have been known, and his true sentiments would have prevented him from going the extra mile, if only because he would have been reluctant to cut himself off from his white neighbors.

No. You will never make me believe Atticus Finch was a racist. I don’t care whether Harper Lee’s own father was a racist or became one under the pressure of desegregation. That is irrelevant. Atticus is a fictional character, a great and lasting one. His legacy deserves to remain unspoiled.

I won’t be buying a copy of the “new” book. I won’t be reading it. I protest, in the best spirit of the 60s. And I’m going now to burn every moldy manuscript and first draft I have hiding around the house. Just in case.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ordering pizza from Pluto

Like everyone else even remotely interested in space, the Universe and everything, the close encounter with Pluto has my mind completely boggled. Water ice? On Pluto? That is going to have huge ramifications. I'm all agog waiting for  the scientists to produce their theories which may well have implications on the development of life on Earth.

Since I'm not a scientist, I'll wait and see. But the encounter with Pluto does raise another point, often ignored in science fiction. It takes over four hours for data to transmit from the New Horizons ship back to Earth. Let's extrapolate on that. Imagine you're a crew member on the New Horizons ship and you have an attack of the munchies. You ring Earth, a copy of the Domino's flyer from ten years ago in your hand.

“Hi, I’d like to order the peperoni, please. With anchovies, no pineapple.” (Wait nine hours)
“Sure. Would you like garlic bread with that?”
I think your pizza might be cold before it was delivered.

Real time conversations are even more of a problem in space opera if you’re planet hopping. If light can take years to go from one star to us, how long would it take any other type of signal? (We’ll leave out sound waves, which don’t move through a vacuum.) Answer – same as light. About 300,000km per second. Sure, that’s fast. But having a conversation with someone, say, four light years away is going to be a tad tedious.

And yet, so often space opera ignores this fact of physics and has folks chatting from spaceship to planet, or planet to planet, as though they were using Skype back in the 21st Century on jolly old Earth. A case in point is the famous scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader’s Executor is chasing the Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field. Admiral Piett was delighted to be able to tell Vader the Emperor was on the line, so the star destroyer could be moved out of the asteroid field in order to send a clear signal. And then they had the little chat, the Emperor’s ominous figure dwarfing Vader, down on one knee, while he plotted betrayal.

Now, let’s think about this. The Emperor is on Coruscant, Executor is down in the Imperial boondocks, messing around near Hoth. I’m not suggesting the exchange was impossible. No, let’s put that another way. It’s impossible without some sort of futuristic device. Even within our own solar system, it takes anywhere from 3.4 – 21 minutes (depending on how close the planets are to each other) for a a signal to go from Mars to Earth.

It’s a known problem, though. Ursula Le Guin was the first to dream up a device which could enable people on different planets to converse in real time. She called it the ansible. The name has wheedled its way into the genre, rather like ‘hyperspace’. Elizabeth Moon wrote a whole series of books (the Vatta saga) around a company which specialised in setting up ansibles in orbit around inhabited planets, and maintaining them. And the subsequent danger when the ansibles were sabotaged, a bit like taking down the telegraph line across America in the Old West.

I don’t call them ansibles, but since my books involve much planet-hopping, I had to come up with something, which I suppose is an ansible by any other name. A multi-dim transmitter is a device which uses one of the many dimensions of space, a dimension which is not available to physical entities like ships, to transmit a signal from one place to another. They can be fitted to ships, but they are expensive.  Needless to say, if you don’t have access to an ansible or its equivalent, you can’t have a real-time conversation over a long distance.

What ways have you seen for getting around this limitation? Or is it simply ignored?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Don't Expect Aliens To Look or Think Like You - by Liza O'Connor

The chances are, a sentient alien WON’T look anything like us.
Life is incredibly diverse, just look at some of our sentient beings on Earth

We shouldn’t expect other sentient beings on other planets to look like us. In fact, we don’t resemble any of the top 24 sentient beings on Earth, not even our cousin primates. And while they may or may not pass our human test for sentience, (depending on who evaluates the test), I’m quite certain we’d fail any test the other animals established to determine sentience. Can we communicate emotions by changing the color of our skin? No? On the Octopus’s test it’s a required feat.

We’d also fail the memory test run by the elephants and sheep.

While the dolphin and killer whales are not only adept in their languages, they have taken the effort to learn to hand signals, whistles and voice commands of the humans at Sea World who make them do stupid  tricks all day. Since none of us understand a word of their languages, we’d fail their language tests.

Then there is my dog Jess. I am a hundred percent confident that she fully understands the English language. But do I understand dog? Not at all.

And if the ant were to derive a test, the ability to track and communicate with the nest would be extremely important. We would fail dismally.

Any of the animals above could realistically become the top sentient being on another planet. Just because our ancestor climbed out of tree doesn’t mean that will happen elsewhere.  If a planet is covered in water, it is more likely the Octopus, squid, dolphin or killer whale who would swim up and claim dominance. My money is on the Octopus. Seriously, who needs a prehensile thumb if you’ve got a great many gripping tentacles?

Nor should we expect all sentient beings on other planets to be water based like us. (In case no one has mentioned this, humans are mostly comprised of water.)  However, on Titan, sentient life could be methane based. And since we’ve no idea how it might form itself, we might not even recognize it as a living creature. Or even see it. A great many of our sentient animals such as the Octopus are great at blending in with the background.

As for the most likely to become space travelers: I vote for the Octopus.

Its brain has many complex features like ours, it’s very smart with amazing problem solving skills. Add to this, it has longer, more flexible arms, plus it has NO BONES. This would make it an excellent candidate for traveling in space. As any astronaut will tell you, bones deteriorates in low gravity.

Also, Octopi can adapt to almost any environment. And their ability to hide in plain sight is phenomenal. They could make themselves look like a piece of furniture or a pillow on the couch. While the Octopus can live out of water for a short time, any ship built for them will certainly be filled with water, which would lower radiation exposure during travel.  Throw in some crabs and fish, and they have a replenish-able food source.

I’m sure you’re thinking, hold on, won’t the ship short out with all that water. Not if a flexible, non-leaking barrier seals all the electronics.

So if someday you are sucked up into a ship belonging to aliens, don’t be surprised if the aliens look rather like the octopus.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Liza O’Connor has recently published book 1, The Gods of Probabilities of her first Sci-Fi series The Multiverses, and yes, there are sentient Octopi, as well as an Ocean dwelling humanoid with gills.  Book 2, Surviving Outbound, you meet a sentient blue cow, and in book 3, you meet an entire herd of the sentient bulls and cows. In book 4 Surviving Sojourn, you’ll discover one of the humans, is actually a different species that looks quite similar to us, but has the ability to alter their size. You’ll also discover two highly intelligent T. rexes, but don’t ask to dine with them. They aren’t friendly at all and would prefer to dine on you than with you.
Investigate these sites: