Friday, September 29, 2017


Imagine you have the wherewithal to create your own TV space adventure series. You’ve always been a fan of Star Trek, so you model your universe on the one presented in that classic show: your crew is diverse, your captain is both decisive and flawed, your ship is beautiful and your conflicts reflect those of today’s society. But imagine, too, that you’re Seth McFarlane, creator of the irreverent animated comedy Family Guy and the Ted movies. That means your space adventure/homage to Trek must be funny, too.

The result, of course, is The Orville, McFarlane’s new SF show, now running Thursday nights on Fox. Instead of the bleak dystopias dominating television these days (Walking Dead, Colony, The 100, The Expanse), The Orville offers a vision of a bright future full of shiny starships, abundant energy and peaceful cooperation between species. 

Early-Trek optimism infuses McFarlane’s work, from the sleek ship exteriors to the clean, colorful interiors lit to banish all shadows. Plot lines may bring some conflict among the crew that includes not only humans of color, but also beings of several alien species. (After all, Captain Ed Mercer’s ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson is his Executive Officer.) But The Orville is no Rosinante; no one is getting killed in a disagreement with another crew member here.

Largely because of McFarlane’s true love of Trek and his dedication to the underlying principles of that show, The Orville has some strong points right out of the gate. The characters are likable, the universe is a place you want to spend time in. Watching the first episode, I felt like I was exploring an old neighborhood. It was familiar, but just different enough to intrigue me. I even enjoyed watching McFarlane ham it up as the Captain. There was love behind every Kirkian pause and posture. And, after a while, I stopped thinking of Mercer as a Kirk wannabe, seeing him as a new, slightly wacky, but touching, character.

The second episode is even better, as the captain and crew of The Orville deal with an ethical dilemma drawn from our own times. A mated pair in the crew from a planet of all males reproduce and deliver a female baby. (Don’t ask. I have no idea how this works.) This happens only rarely on their planet, and almost always the baby is given a sex-change operation immediately. But the Chief Medical Officer on the Orville refuses on ethical grounds. Which is the set-up for one of Trek’s cultural sovereignty vs. universal ethics debates. You can probably guess that the universal right of a being to choose its own path wins out. The only thing missing is an impassioned plea from Jim Kirk. 

Fox just moved the fledgling show from Sunday nights (where it would have been subject to interruption throughout the football season) to Thursday nights. It already has a solid audience, debuting in the Top Ten in its first couple of weeks, according to TV Guide magazine. The move should help, not hurt. McFarlane has his own huge following who will go with him, but The Orville has a wider appeal to the vast Trek audience that is currently being dissed by CBS. (More about that later.)

The Orville’s biggest drawback is that it seems McFarlane’s not sure just what he’s doing with the show. Is it a comedy? The jokes fly fast and furious, and several characters seem included just for laughs, but some topics seem more serious. Is it a spoof? The plots are generally not broad enough for parody, so I’d have to say no. Should we watch the show as a straight-up space adventure? Umm . . .

No matter what the thing is, I’ll continue to watch. It’s too much fun to miss, and I confess my DVR is already full of dark and depressing.

For the first time since 1966, I haven’t bothered to watch the pilot episode of a new Star Trek series. This latest iteration seems promising enough, set ten years before the original series five-year mission, at a time when the Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire. The stories are told not from a captain’s POV, but from that of a junior officer, a woman of color at that. There’s even a gay couple on board the ship. So, what’s not to like?

CBS All Access, that’s what. The network and the producers of the show propose to air only the pilot on broadcast television. (That happened this week.) If you want to watch the rest of the series you’ll have to pay for CBS’s new All Access streaming service. Um, no.

Unlike the producers, who obviously live in New York or Los Angeles, I live in rural North Carolina. Maybe some of you out there can relate—maybe you live in a small town, or out on the prairie or in an underserved suburb. Here in the hinterland, streaming is slow and expensive. I’ve got enough Internet connection for social media and work. But downloading a show? Takes hours. I only do it (through my free On Demand service) if I absolutely have to, and then I download, record and watch later. The idea of paying for a streaming service—Netflix, Hulu or CBS All Access—doesn’t make much sense.

I can’t help but think that Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, is rolling in his grave right now. He would have hated to think his creation would increasingly be available only to an elite few. The future he envisioned was more open and democratic by far.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I've finally seen "Passengers"

I've finally had a chance to watch Passengers. How soon a movie makes its way to DVD is a good indication of how well it did at the box office, so that sounds a lot like 'not too well'.  I know a couple of other Spacefreighters ladies reviewed the movie a while ago, but I thought it was worth adding my two cents' worth. 
You can read Pippa's review here and Laurie's here. They fundamentally disagreed with each other 😊

Actually, a friend of ours recommended the title to us, so Pete and I sat in the lounge and watched it on the big TV.

WARNING: There will be minor spoilers.

Credit: Sony pictures - starship Avalon
First things first: I LOVED the space ship. It takes the form of a double helix spiralling its way through space at half the speed of light, and it's pretty realistic.  

It's traveling in normal space, scheduled to arrive at its destination after 120 years, carrying five thousand passengers and about 260 crew to set up a new colony. But things go wrong when the ship encounters an asteroid belt. Jim (Chris Pratt) is shaken out of suspended animation and finds himself the only person awake on the ship, with 90 years to go. Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) joins him after he's been alone for a year. The way in which she joins him is probably the most contentious – and most important – issue in the whole movie. Some saw it as 'stalkerish' and 'creepy'. But I felt it was all about the essence of what makes us human, and how we consider choices. The audience is presented with the unspoken words – what would you have done?

From there, the plot became a bit predictable. There's not too many places you can go with two people in a faulty spaceship carrying over five thousand other souls. The part where Jim gets the knowledge he needs to tackle the faults is a little too convenient – and conveniently transient, as Pippa pointed out in her review. 

When the credits started to roll I turned to Pete and said, "I can see why it wasn't so popular at the box office." He agreed with me. Perhaps it's because we have been conditioned to expect science fiction movies to have lots of excitement and adventure. Although things hotted up a bit in the last third of the film, I have to agree with reviewer Owen Gleiberman, who said, "There isn’t much to “Passengers” besides its one thin situation…. it's like a castaway love story set in the world's largest, emptiest shopping mall in space." Read the full review here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Faster Than Light Update #chooks #books #cosplay

This is Pippa Jay reporting for duty...

Some of you may have noted my absence from social media despite the end of the summer holidays. Some personal issues plus my new job (even though it's only a couple of shifts a week), the extra time and effort I've had to devote to the chooks, and a general despondency (probably a touch of SAD as the weather took a very definite autumnal turn just as the monsters went back to school after a very hectic and occasionally stressful last two weeks) led me to deactivate my Facebook account temporarily (maybe) and to avoid my traditional venue to chat on Twitter. While the scary health issues have been resolved, I'm still finding social media too 'noisy'.
But I know many of you have loved the chook updates and some were super concerned about the first batch of chicks that you've followed along from the arrival of the eggs to their early adulthood, especially as it turned out they were all male, throwing their future into doubt.
I'm happy to say that this weekend, my five beautiful boys went to a new (if possibly temporary) home on a ten acre site with assorted other fluffy and feathered friends. Potentially temporary because the new owner will continue to try finding even better forever homes but the boys will always have a place with him if not. It would be nice if they could end up with some hens of their own somewhere. I'm following them still so will let you know if they move on elsewhere.

Marvel and Firefly are now coming up to four weeks old and have been happy to move into the newly vacated nursery coop now my boys have gone. Just in time as they were starting to flutter out of their enclosure in our summer house! Unfortunately it looks like Marvel is a cockerel - after the last batch we know a bit more of what to look for. He's a fraction bigger than Firefly, has a more pronounced comb emerging, and is bullying his sibling. It's especially heartbreaking after almost losing him to hatching issues and bringing him back from the edge, but that's the reality of animal ownership. At least now we have somewhere we know is a good place to take him.

Plans are afoot for us to demolish our current set up of two wooden coops and run in preference for a single larger plastic coop (the wooden ones are prone to red mite infestations, and these little buggers suck blood and can seriously harm the health of chickens) with a larger run. This will improve the chooks' health, and give them better security and more space, as well as making life easier for us. The run will be a walk in version - at the moment we have to crawl around in the current run as it's only three foot in height. We'll also have a better view of the chickens from the house to keep an eye on them. This will happen over the winter, and we hope to buy a couple of new hens, possibly of a different bantam breed , as our hatching adventures have only given us one hen out of 12 eggs!
Our older girls have now stopped laying and stopped being broody ready for winter. It looks as though Kyru - our second oldest at three years - may have reached the end of her egg laying years like Scoop (now five and eggless for the past two). They're still our pets though, but this is why we need some new blood - Pitch, Effie and Fizzgig may well stop laying after the next season if two years productivity is typical for the breed. The girls are also moulting but my poor Fizzgig apparently decided to do it en masse and spent a few days horribly half naked. She currently looks like a cyborg chicken - the blue pins that will become new feathers look scarily like circuitry! But I'm happy to see the new growth - I was on the verge of making her a jumper to keep her warm. Apologies for the shaky photos - she's a fidget and won't keep still for a second!

Nor-Con is in less than two weeks though my post on that will be slightly delayed due to the release of Pets in Space 2 featuring crew member Laurie (check out her recent posts for more info on that). Currently I'm rushing to remake youngest's Luigi cosplay because he's outgrown the previous one (damn growth spurts!), while my newly turned 13yo (yes, I now have TWO teens in the house and boy do I know it) still needs a belt and scabbard for his Witch-king. Must get back to it. Meanwhile, Unexpected is still with the proofreader with no news on a release date as yet.
Transmission ends...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Courting Disaster: Character Takeover

Let me tell you the story of how my upcoming release Courting Disaster: StarDog 2 came about. It's kind of a twisty tale...just like the novella.

Instead of me rehashing my initial struggle, here's the video that explains how I ended up writing for Pets in Space 2, better known as Embrace the Romance.

Clearly a case of two characters asserting their strong wills on their author. It happens. (I think most authors can relate.)

It's true that Captain Navene Jagger and Ketsia Tayah were always destined to be together. They were two minor--but important--characters from the novel, Inherit the Stars. The ironic thing is, they never met in the novel. At least, not on the page. You'll find out a little more about what went on behind the scenes in Courting Disaster.

Jagger was actually Sair's (the hero's) nemesis in Inherit the Stars, as the former fiancé and co-ed flight academy roommate to Drea, a.k.a. Captain Mennelsohn who pilots the iconic prototype stealth ship, Specter. Jag was doggedly determined to win Drea back and probably not the most likable character in the novel.

I had my work cut out for me in turning him into a true hero.

Courting Disaster takes place three years (calendars) after Inherit the Stars. In the opening, Jagger is still pining for his lost love. He alternately blames himself and the universe for his loss.

To make him into a hero, I had to get deep inside Jagger's head to uncover the lonely, longing soul that lurks there, completely shielded by the competent, ego-driven, upwardly-mobile military captain the universe sees.

Jagger's pride is about to meet its Waterloo.

Ketsia Tayah was a teenage Tectolian slave owned by the Ithians in the novel. Young, beautiful, naïve, tragic, but utterly charming, she was a victim of terrible circumstances and someone Sair took under his wing when he self-appointed himself as her guardian. (There's more to that of course, but I'm going to avoid spoiling the twists in Inherit the Stars. *grin*)

Let me share a little something with you--a snippet the world has never seen before (with the exception of one or two critique partners in the long ago and probably forgotten).

This is a scene I wrote nearly ten years ago, and it's from the manuscript for the final novel of the series, Inherit the Vengeance. In that novel, the Courting Disaster adventure would only be told in brief retrospect. Courting Disaster evolved into the full story, with the addition of a feisty little StarDog who had a cameo in the original Pets in Space story, StarDog.

(Haven't read the first yet? Grab your free copy right here: StarDog )

First reveal of two short excerpts from future novel Inherit the Vengeance:

Conversation between Drea and Sair:

"About Jagger and Ketsia." Drea jacked a hand on her hip. “I know your paternal instincts are going to come out, and I’m not sure how Jagger is going to take that.”

Sair clenched a fist at the mention of the Carduwan captain’s name. Senior captain now, and on a direct course for an admiralcy, or so the House of Planets rumor turbine said. That near-catastrophe in the Bradley Rift had turned into a political game-changer...and a major rocket-boost for the man's career.

Drea had been in love with Jagger once. She still loved him as a friend. After five calendars, Sair was still coming to terms with that. And now. Ketsia.

Scene between Sair and Jagger a short time later:

Sair motioned Jag closer. “Let me fix your tie.”

The captain stepped up to him, straightening his spine and dropping his gaze.

Sair tugged the knot loose. “One word of advice.”

“What’s that?” Jagger’s expression radiated tension, like the man was prepared to duck a swing.

“Don’t even think of doing to Ketsia what you did to Drea.”

Jagger made eye contact and gave a Sair a slight nod. “Everyone's allowed one huge mistake in their life. Mine was being such a selfish ass that I lost Drea.” He fingered his tie when Sair finished and stepped back. “I'll never make that mistake with Ket.”

“Good.” Sair gave him a solemn nod. “Because if you hurt Ket, the galaxy won’t be big enough to hide in.”

Jagger’s eyes twinkled and his mouth twisted into a wry grin. “From you, or from her?”

“Both.” Sair held back a smile. “And don’t take that as an idle threat.”

Inherit the Vengeance won't be released for at least two years. There are other stories in this series--or universe--that need to be told in order for the reader to understand the history and high stakes of the continuing adventure.

So while we're on the subject...

Inherited Stars--Okay, it's a Series and a Universe

So you may have noticed my split personality about my Inherited Stars Series...or Inherited Stars Universe...or Inherited Stars Series Universe.

I recently had a long talk with myself about how to deal with this dilemma and the discussion went something like this:

Me: Will I make up my mind already about Inherited Stars? I call it a series, a universe and a universe series. I think I may be confusing readers, so...which is it?

Me2: Well, it's really both.

Me: No, no, no. I need some consistency. Pick one.

Me2: That's difficult. Because if I call it a series, that's confusing, because the series spans four different timelines and readers generally expect a series to involve familiar characters and a continuing storyline.

Me: So it's really not a series.

Me2: No, it really is. These different timelines are all interconnected.

Me: reality, it's several connected series.

Me2: Not really. Because it's a huge saga that spans history and generations, and each timeline in the series--er, universe--adds its own piece to this overarching tale, and there are references in each story to things that happen in other timelines.

Me: I'm beginning to see why readers might be confused, because we, the author, very certainly am.

Me2: So how do we fix this identity crisis?

Me: Let's start at the beginning. How many books have I released in the series?

Me2: Three. Soon to be five.

Me: In which timelines?

Me2: Inherit the Stars, StarDog and Courting Disaster are all Timeline 3. Farewell Andromeda is Timeline 4. The upcoming The Outer Planets is Timeline 1 and soon after, I'll be kicking off a trilogy in Timeline 2.

Me: So it sounds like Timeline 3 is my anchor. It's been the focus. It has the most stories to date, they are in the same time and share some of the same characters, amIright?

Me2: Iamright.

Me: So that's the series. The Inherited Stars Series is aka Timeline 3. That's the timeline I made central because it happens at a very crucial point in the history of the universe. All the other books are related and will add backstory and frontstory to the over-arching saga, without being an actual part of the series that shares the same characters, hence they are Inherited Stars Universe stories.

Me2: Hey, I think I like that!

Me: Of course I do. So, to recap. The Inherited Stars Series is a part of the bigger Inherited Stars Universe, but readers will know when they pick up a story in the series, it's going to include Sair, Drea, Jaeo or one of the other familiar characters, right?

Me2: That's right.

Me: And when they pick up an Inherited Stars Universe story like Farewell Andromeda or The Outer Planets, they'll know Sair, Drea, Jaeo and company will not be in the story, but there will be definite ties to the series. Yes?

Me2: Yes!

Me:  I think I've solved the conundrum.

Me2: And so do I.

Coming Tuesday, October 10th -- a new story in The Inherited Stars Series
Courting Disaster: StarDog 2
released as part of
Sequel to both
Inherit the Stars and StarDog (free on Instafreebie)
10% of all pre-orders and first month's sale will go to benefit
Me: I do realize I now have to change the series banner above as well as the cover of The Outer Planets, right? 
Me2: Yeah, I do. *sigh*

FREE   *   FREE   *   FREE   *   FREE   *   FREE   *   FREE

The authors of Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 are offering a chance to win a FREE PRINT COPY of the story collection which includes 12 all new stories, 11 of which are new additions to science fiction romance series. This book is YUGE! All you need to do is go to this site and answer one simple question (hint: the answer is just above in bold print) for your chance to win!
Me: Have a great week!