Friday, July 29, 2016


The Enterprise under attack by a swarm of alien ships

Forget for a moment that the plot is full of holes big enough to pilot a starship through. Ignore for a second that the laws of even STAR TREK physics (and military protocol) are frequently violated. Try to remember that you have entered the cool, dark, magical place called a movie theater to have fun. Then sit back, munch your popcorn and enjoy the hell out of the best new TREK movie yet, STAR TREK BEYOND.

This third in the series of TREK films produced by J.J. Abrams is a nonstop thrill-ride, with some of the coolest special effects ever. A bored and uncertain Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is considering a career change during a provisioning stop on the fabulous new Yorktown space station. Seems he feels he’ll never live up to his father’s reputation in Starfleet. He even has the paperwork in for a desk job, but a rescue mission comes up first, requiring him to take the Enterprise out into uncharted space to pick up another ship’s crew stranded beyond a sensor-killing nebula.

The premise is nothing new, but the threat Kirk encounters in orbit around his destination planet is something else again. The ship is attacked by swarms of shield-penetrating fighters that strip the Enterprise of her skin and open her like a tin can. He and his crew are forced to separate the saucer and abandon ship in lifepods. On the planet below, small groups of the crew—Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a resourceful alien ally, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho), Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yeltsin)—face an implacable foe with a plan for revenge on the Federation.

Again, none of this is new, and, really, neither is any of the ensuing action to join forces again and 1) escape captivity on the planet and 2) stop the madman. But it is a lot of fun, with plenty of daredevil action, a believable and worthy villain (Idris Elba) with a reason for being, and a shipload of quotable quips between our characters. We aren’t surprised when our captain and crew win the day, and we aren’t surprised, either, when Kirk (and Spock, too, who has been having similar doubts) makes the right decision about his career.

This is a film that could be enjoyed completely without any reference to previous iterations of TREK. If you are not a fan, you might miss some things, but you would still have fun and like these characters for themselves. But if you are a fan of the original series, this film, in particular, pays conscious tribute to what had gone before. Spock is informed early in the film that Ambassador Spock (a character known as Spock Prime in the films) has died, and the death is cause for a deep examination of his life in Starfleet. He’s even shown going through Ambassador Spock’s personal effects, which include a photo of the familiar old Enterprise crew.

Sulu (John Cho) is shown meeting his male life partner and young daughter for shore leave on Yorktown, a tribute to gay actor George Takei, who played Sulu in TOS. And Kirk’s angst revolves around the celebration of his birthday (which happens to be the anniversary of his father’s death), much as it famously did in the best of the original TREK films, THE WRATH OF KHAN.

The new Triad
Best of all, however,  Abrams, his director (Justin Lin) and his writers (who included Simon Pegg, among others), have finally begun to get comfortable with what TOS fans refer to as the Triad—Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The relationship between these three characters is central to TREK; they are thesis, antithesis, synthesis; mind, body, spirit; id, ego, superego. That chemistry has to work or nothing works. And it’s not just the three of them together; it’s Kirk/Spock and Kirk/McCoy and Spock/McCoy. This film had scenes that explored each of those relationships. We’re not quite at TOS levels yet, but we’re getting there. (And, strangely enough, McCoy is the glue that holds this group together, not Kirk, as it was in TOS. I think that’s because Karl Urban most closely inhabits his character. He really is McCoy.)

So, yes, STB is a most definite GO. Just don’t expect more than an exciting visit with some familiar pals. It's too hot for deep thinking anyway. So relax into your seat and let the magic begin.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Building an alien society - Yrmaks

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / AlienCat

To coincide with the release of my latest Dryden Universe novelette, I decided this week to tell you a little about that 'verse's perpetual bad guys, the Yrmaks.

It's very easy to dream up a weird name and a sketch of an alien monster thing for a science fiction story. But if the creatures are going to work, they need to be placed in a setting, with a culture. Otherwise they're simply cardboard cut-outs.  In 'A Matter of Trust' and even in 'The Demon's Eye' the Yrmaks were the bad guys, a species given to piracy, which evidently didn't like Humans much. But when I wrote 'Eye of the Mother', I needed much, much more depth because their culture was a vital part of the plot.

So… come along and meet the Yrmaks. That's a pretty good impression of a Yrmak warrior at top left. I found him on CanStock just the other day, and he's an extremely good fit for the aliens in my head.

Yrmaks have been around in the Dryden Universe longer than Humans, because they originate from there (unlike Humans, who immigrated). They consider themselves to be superior to Humans, although they share some planets. They have scaly skin and yellow eyes, and their eye ridges go red when they are agitated. They have two hearts, one on each side of the chest. Although they have their own technology, they will steal Human ships, which tend to be better than their own, and use them for their own purposes.

The Yrmaks evolved on one planet, then spread to the stars. Their society is matriarchal and a theocracy. From their home world the Yrmaks revere a constellation which they see as the Mother (much as we can see the constellation Scorpio in our skies). As they spread among the stars, the shape of the constellation became distorted and its meaning was lost for later generations. But the more fundamental groups always come back to the Great Mother in the sky

Females are larger than males and do all the ruling. Priestesses, generals, and most merchants are female. Many more males are born every year than females. Males are either warriors, or workers. The warriors are immensely strong, and ridiculously brave to the point of being suicidal. They are not taken prisoner. Yrmaks will happily fight with each other if there are no Humans or other alien species around, often even then. Their society is very much clan-based, with each clan having its own secret language – although they share a common language for inter-clan communication.

Yrmak warriors gravitate naturally to piracy, raiding other clans and other species. On mixed worlds they will also take jobs such as bouncers, or general purpose thugs for gangsters. But not all Yrmaks are blood-thirsty brutes. Yrmak workers will take positions with merchants, and sometimes set up in less orthodox Yrmak society as merchants in their own right.

I'm sure I'll learn more about the Yrmaks as I write more stories. It's always fun imagining a completely new culture.

Oh - and while you're here, this is the new Dryden book - very much a romance. :)

Ella and the Admiral

When Admiral Goran Chandler suddenly turns up in Ella’s restaurant her comfortable world is thrown into turmoil. Ten years ago he’d been a senior commander, and captain of the frigate Antelope. She had been Lieutenant Bulich then, and he’d kicked her off his ship.

With unexpected danger threatening, and a killer stalking the corridors of the Hotel Majestic, Ella and the admiral must work together to escape with their lives before they can consider the events of ten years ago, and what they mean now.

Buy the book at Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday Teaser: The Call of the Sea #amediting #scifi #romance

It's the first week of my long summer break, and I wanted to leave you some excerpts for entertainment while I'm away. For a change I'm going to focus on works in progress rather than published books. This particular excerpt is from Reunion at Kasha-Asor, a side story in the Redemption series that didn't make its planned release date and that follows on directly from the end of Book One: Keir. It'll come out eventually. Maybe...
Anyway, in this excerpt (which may get cut from the final) Keir has decided the middle of the night is the best time to face his fear...
The sea called to him. It hissed and whispered over the sound of Quin’s breathing, over his own heart beating a rhythm in his head. Moonlight clothed the hut’s interior in silver light, fiercely bright. He lay on his back and stared at the ghostly outlines of the furniture.
Quin slept curled in a huddle, her back to him. For a fleeting instant, he considered waking her, but decided against it. This was something he wanted to do alone.
He slipped from the bed and reclaimed his sarong, knotting it around his waist. The chill sea breeze stroked his skin, and he shivered at its touch. With a last glance at Quin, he pushed aside the canvas covering of the hut door and stepped outside.
The beach lay empty, a dark, glistening ribbon scattered with weed and shells abandoned by the withdrawing tide. Silver tipped the edges of the black waves beyond. No sounds came from any of the other huts, but a few lone lanterns glowed along the walkways joining them, and on the docks close to S’rano’s ship. The sea’s whisper rose above the rustling of the trees behind the village. The white disc of the moon glared down at him. He stared up at it for an instant, following the pattern of craters and scars on its surface. Metraxi’s single satellite looked lonely compared to the double moons he had known on Salusan.
His gaze returned to the sea. The waves beckoned him, teasing as they swept in and out. Just a few days earlier, he had given into their embrace and tried to drown himself. Could he step back into the water? Did he dare?
His heart raced, his mouth gone dry. The sea lapped at his toes, and he staggered back, the cold shock shooting through every nerve. It set him gasping, squeezed his throat as if he were drowning all over again. His knees shook.
I cannot go back into the water.
The realization snatched the remaining air from his lungs. The thought of stepping back into the sea, trusting himself to the cold water even for a moment left him shaking. His skin prickled, his fingers gone numb.
Coward. He fisted his hands, sucked in a breath. Water is no monster to fear, no threat.
He took a step forward, forcing himself to move. Cold, wet sand sucked at his feet. The dark sea became a yawning void beneath him that threatened to swallow him.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch... (A Photo Blog)

In the tradition of sharing photos along with associated comments, here's my contribution.

Okay. Yeah. You got me. I didn't have time to come up with an actual blog this week, but you know what they say...a picture is worth a thousand words. So here's 19,000 worth. Bam! :D

I'm enjoying my first summer without a day job and I must say, "Ah, this is the life. Please pass me another raspberry iced tea." But that's probably a little further from the truth than I care to admit.

Aside from spending a good amount of time inside parked in front of my computer (hey, wait...isn't that what I did when I worked for a living???), I do have a little more time to enjoy some of my other previously neglected pastimes.

White Petunias
Liiiiiike [ta da]...enjoying the flowers in my patio garden.

The patio garden has marigolds, petunias, tomato and pepper plants.
A shady place to enjoy. Yes, that's a weeping willow...
though a pretty anemic right. It doesn't do
that well in our climate but it's well over 20 years old.

Purple Petunias


White Asian Lilly

Orange Asian Lilly

Tulips from earlier this spring.
White Tulips around a Black Locust.

We have a lot of Black Locust trees that we've planted
over the years. Black Locusts have beautiful clusters
of white blooms that smell really heavenly.

This is a cholla (choy-yah) cactus. We've eradicated acres of these buggers from the property because that have very nasty spines that are extremely painful for dogs, horses and people.

The soil and water conservation district actually paid us to chop them down and haul them away as a pasture improvement project.

The older ones have a very thick trunk at the base almost like a tree, and are so tough that they'll bloom months after they've been cut down.

We left this one stately old grandfather cholla in the front of the house as a legacy.

Each spring it flowers in these gorgeous, bright magenta blooms. We're just careful not to get too close to it.

My two house dogs, a pair of black and tan miniature long-haired dachshunds--one solid, one piebald--are more affectionately known as "The Minions" and "The Muppy Puppies."

Say hello to Katrina and Luna.

Katrina (solid) is eleven and we've had her since 2009. Luna (piebald) was just acquired this summer and is five years old. Both dogs came from the same breeder and are, in human terms, aunt and niece.

These two are the fourth and fifth mini-longhairs I've owned dating back to my teens. As you can probably guess, I'm very partial to the breed.

Here they are enjoying a little patio time.

Katrina (front) and Luna (back).

Luna is very curious. She wanders around to check everything out.

(Argh! Ya caught me in my slippers.)

Then there are the equine inhabitants of our little rancho--three Thoroughbreds and an Irish Sport Horse. 

Here they are grazing in the grass of our very, very dry pasture. (Pray for monsoons!) I'll explain who's who and what's what in the captions.

This is Blaze. She's dual registered as both a Thoroughbred
and as an Oldenburg after completing confirmation inspection
and being accepted into the sport horse registry.
This is Blaze (right) with our other Thoroughbred broodmare,
Soulful, or "Sofie." Blaze is the dam of Blazing Away.
Soulful is the dam of Echo Eight.
This is our yearling filly, registered as Inherit the Stars.
We call her "Star" for short. Her dam is Soulful.
Her sire is Stellar Rain, a son of Storm Cat and
millionaire race mare Stellar Jayne.
Velvet, our Irish Sport Horse, is behind her.
Irish Sport Horses are half Irish Draught and half Thoroughbred.
Velvet is more visible in this picture (on right). Her registered
name is Irish Touch, but she served a number of years as a
U.S. Blue Devils military mount, where she was known as
Midnight Mission. We bought her in Michigan as a four year old.
Her sire was imported from Ireland and named County Down Sam.
He was reportedly owned by a partnership that included Ted Nugent.
So now you've had the nickel tour around our place. Hope you enjoyed the photos.

Have a great week.