Friday, April 30, 2021


Riding the Number Two slot on Netflix this week is a star-studded science fiction film about a trip to Mars that goes horribly wrong. The premise of STOWAWAY may be unlikely (we’ll get to that later), but the moral dilemma it presents to the human crew of the spaceship on its way to the Red Planet is a fascinating one. It’s a question, in fact, that has been explored many times in SF since writers have been contemplating taking on the challenges of space.

In this version of the story, written and directed by Joe Penna (ARCTIC) and starring Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim and Shamier Anderson (RACE, Wynonna Earp), a three-person crew is on its way to Mars on a vital research/colony restocking mission when they discover a launch engineer (Anderson) was injured and stowed away aboard the ship by mistake. (Actually, how this happens is not clear. They find him unconscious aboard the large main ship in orbit when they dock from their smaller capsule. How did he get there? How long was he unconscious in orbit before they found him? Yeah, big plot holes here.)

ANYWAY, now we have the dilemma. By the time the regular crew finds the guy, they are too far out from Earth to return. Resources on the long trip to Mars would be limited in any case, but adding an unplanned-for fourth person puts all their lives at risk, not to mention those of the colonists on Mars, who are depending on the supplies and experiments the ship carries. Add to that the damage done to the crucial carbon dioxide scrubber when the stowaway falls out of the ceiling. For some reason I will never understand, there is only one of these absolutely vital units on board, and it can’t be repaired, even with the 3-D printer on the ship and all the ingenuity of the world’s engineers at Ground Control. (The same problem plagued the crew on the Hilary Swank Netflix vehicle about Mars Away.) So, the expanded crew is going to run out of oxygen long before they run out of food or water.

 Anderson and  Kendrick in Netflix's STOWAWAY.

Of course, all these more or less “artificial” elements have been put in place to create a moral quandary for the members of our crew. The faceless, voiceless powers-that-be back on Earth are insisting that the extra weight be jettisoned out the airlock, and the man who represents the voice of hard science on the ship, biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), reluctantly comes to the same conclusion, though he would give the engineer a kindler, gentler death by injection. The ship’s female commander, Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), is conflicted but ready to do what it takes to save her crew. Only the ship’s medical officer, young Dr. Zoe Levenson, is prepared to break the rules to save the man who is a guardian for his little sister back home and longs to be an astronaut himself.

I won’t spoil the film by telling you how the crew resolves this dilemma. You’ll have to see it yourself if you want to figure that out. I will say that the film does have some nifty tech ideas, though the first part of the film is better than the last third.

What’s more interesting is that this premise goes way back to the early days of SF, to a short story first published in 1954 by Tom Godwin called “The Cold Equations.”* I was reminded of this by an excellent article in Slate by Laura Miller which puts this film in the context of a long line of similar “no-win” moral dilemmas set in space.

Godwin’s version of the tale, written as it was in the male-centric, hard-science days of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, sets up the male pilot of an Emergency Dispatch Ship, with only enough fuel to make his run delivering medicine to save colonists on a distant planet, with a female teenage stowaway, ignorant of the rule that states: Any stowaway discovered in an EDS shall be jettisoned immediately following discovery.  Though the “hero” is conflicted, especially because the stowaway is a “girl” who knows little of the harsh realities of the frontier of space, the “cold equations” of mass, velocity, and fuel consumption cannot be denied. In the end, the girl walks into the airlock of her own volition. I guess that’s supposed to make up for her ignorance in the story earlier. (I mean, if you ask me, she really should have known the basic rules of physics if she was in space at all. But it was the Fifties and the assumptions about women were appalling. Miller has some terrific things to say about those assumptions in her article.)

Part of our generation’s collective resistance to the notion of the “cold equations” (that is, that nothing can be done, science is science) is due to what came after the Golden Age of SF. In the New Age, female authors and others more interested in human relationships took a different approach: less enamored with the formulas of hard science, more inspired by how humans manipulated science to their own needs. The optimism of the Sixties culminated in Star Trek and Enterprise captain James T. Kirk, who didn’t believe in the no-win scenario, who famously reprogrammed Starfleet Academy’s no-win Kobayashi Maru test so he could win it, and who constantly demanded his ship’s engineer bend the laws of physics.

Finally, that belief that there was always a solution to the “cold equations” spilled over into reality in April, 1970, when the astronauts and engineers of NASA’s Apollo 13 recovered from what could have been disaster with little more than duct tape and determination. So, forgive me if I’m skeptical when I watch a fictional spaceship crew fumble with a malfunctioning piece of equipment, especially when they have a 3-D printer at hand and seemingly plenty of storage for spare parts. No one really needs to go out an airlock when they just need to refuse to believe in the no-win scenario.

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post provided by: 

"Netflix’s Latest Hit Continues an Argument Sci-Fi Fans Have Been Having for Decades," by Laura Miller, Slate, April 28, 2021. 

**The story can be found in anthologies such as The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I, Robert Silverberg, ed., Avon, 1970.  I've had my copy since high school, so it might even be in public domain by now.



Friday, April 23, 2021

Do SFR Authors Dream of Electric Lovers? #scifi #romance

Look, it's going to sound like a cliché but yes, my character Keir from my main SFR series did come to me in a dream. But nothing like the post title. When I first 'met' him, my dream was of a beaten, hooded man sitting hunched in a deep, dark dungeon. Nothing romantic about it. When I woke up with that haunting image lingering in my mind, I immediately wanted to write his story. To find out who he was, what he was, and why he ended up in that dark place, at the darkest point of his life. Which meant I needed someone to rescue him.

That was how my debut novel began, as a short story describing that scene, but no more than that. It was years later before I finally picked up that short and decided the mystery of Keir needed resolving. 

It turned out dreaming was also a great way to solve plot issues as I continued with it. Being a pantser on my first full length novel meant often writing myself into corners because I couldn't see ahead, or because I don't write linearly either having to bridge the gap between two scenes that seemed to have no connection. Thinking about a particular issue as I drifted off led to waking with a new resolution to a problem, or new ideas for another scene. I don't know that I'd recommend it on a regular basis, though. Sometimes doing that meant I didn't sleep well.

So for six weeks I literally ate, slept and breathed my novel. I couldn't think about anything else, which rather upset my husband. I think the obsession came from a decade of not writing and the intense boredom and loss of my own identity after years being a stay at home mum. Whatever, it's a depth of absorption I have never quite replicated since.

As for electric lovers... I do have one published SFR with an android character, and others unpublished with them. But I have never dreamt about any of my other characters except Keir, even if I try to think about them as I go to sleep, to try to write their stories. I often wonder why...

But maybe my new bedspread will help me dream of some more. Is this a cover befitting a SFR author?

So I'm curious to know - do any other authors dream of their characters, either before, during or after they write them? And what about readers, do characters come to you in your dreams after you've read about them?

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Historical and Legendary Stone of Destiny

Sometimes while researching story elements, writers stumble on some pretty amazing things. That's how I learned about the Stone of Destiny, a sacred rock with a history that stretches far back into the early UK, and with a legend that reaches back even deeper into our past. 

Here's what I found, with a brief wrap on how it all ties to one of my SFR works-in-progress. 

What is the Stone of Destiny?

It's an oblong block of red sandstone that's been used for centuries in the coronation of monarchs. The stone has had many names--The Stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone, Jacob's Pillow, the Tanist Stone, Lia Fail, and in Scotland Gaelic, clach-na-cinneamhain

What's the significance of the stone? It's complicated.

A Brief History (Short Version)

Legends of the Stone of Destiny's arrival in Scotland date back to about 700 BC. (Yes, 700 years Before Christ! More about that below).

Chapel at Scone Castle, where a replica
of the Stone of Destiny is now displayed.
Historically, we know the sacred stone was kept at Scone Abbey which is located near Perth, Scotland, and is believed to have been brought there from Iona (a small island off the western coast of Scotland) by Kenneth McAlpin in 841 AD (aka King Kenneth I, also referred to as the founder of Scotland). 

For centuries after, the Stone of Destiny was a sacred relic used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs.

Four hundred years later, during a 1296 invasion by King Edward I of England, the stone was moved from Scone to England and began playing an integral part in the crowning of the English monarchs and later, the monarchs of Great Britain. 

But its history in legend begins much, much further back in time. Some claim the Stone of Destiny dates back to biblical times and was once known as the Stone of Jacob and Jacob's Pillow--the very stone Jacob rested his head on when God revealed the ladder of angels to him in a dream at Bethel. Later, Jacob stood the stone on end as a monument to his spiritual experience, as referenced in Genesis 28: 10-22. 

The stone was later believed to have been transported to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah, via Egypt, Sicily, and Spain about 700 BC, and set up at the Hill of Tara, a neolithic site in County Meath where legends claim the ancient kings of Ireland were proclaimed. A few sources refer to Fergus Mor bringing the stone to Scotland more than 1200 years later, around 500 AD.

(Geologists, however, have determined that the artifact was quarried in the vicinity of Scone. But still other stories claim that the actual Stone of Destiny was hidden in a river by monks, or taken to the Isle of Skye, and a replacement stone was offered up to Edward I, so the mystery--and confusion--of its true origins deepens. Like I said--it's complicated--but here's a reference from the World History Encyclopedia if you'd like to read more details.)

Coronation Chair with 
the Stone of Destiny
under the seat.

After the Treaty of Union of 1707, the Stone of Destiny played a role in the coronation of the monarchs of the United Kingdom, where it was placed on a special shelf built under the seat of the actual Coronation Chair, and is part of the ceremony to crown new monarchs, and was last used in 1953 during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who still reigns today. 

But three years prior to crowning of Queen Elizabeth, the Stone of Destiny had been abducted and spirited away! The proper ownership of the stone has been disputed throughout the years, and this led to a stone-nabbing event by a group of Scottish national students on Christmas Day, 1950, after they broke into Westminster Abbey and made off with the Stone of Scone, believing it was the rightful property of Scotland. 

The sacred relic wasn't in Scotland for long. It was returned to Westminster Abbey four months later. 

In 1996, the Stone of Destiny was finally given back to Scotland with the agreement it will be returned to Westminster Abbey to be used in the coronation ceremony for any future monarchs. The artifact was carefully removed from its special shelf built into the Coronation Chair, a tedious six-hour task that was conducted by conservation experts, and taken by police escort on its 400-mile journey back to Scotland.

 This was a Really Big Deal, as this brief video shows. (Under 3 mins.)  

The Stone of Destiny in Modern Media

The Stone of Destiny has had movies made about its adventures (The Stone of Destiny, 2008) or been referenced on the big and small screen, such as The King's Speech and Highlander: The Series and two episodes of Hamish McBeth (Destiny, Part I and II). It was the central focus of a "stone-nabbing attempt" in the 2008 novel Rommano Bridge, and Terry Pratchett borrowed from its legend in creating the Scone of Stone involving the coronation of dwarf kings in his book The Fifth Elephant (Discworld Series). 

Stone of Destiny, Meet Stone of Tixor

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the existence of the Stone of Destiny in a documentary in 2021. Turns out, my future novel Draxis (working title) has it's own Stone of Destiny, called the Stone of Tixor (pronounced TIKE-soar), a rock that also plays an important role in the confirmation of monarchs. 

Originally, the idea of the Stone of Tixor evolved from a different legend--The Sword in the Stone--another rock that played a role in determining a future king. (One account--probably fictionalized---claims the Sword in the Stone and the Stone of Destiny are one and the same.)

Strangely, the Stone of Tixor has some very eerie parallels to the Stone of Scone--even though I'd never heard of it at the time I penned the original draft. The Stone of Tixor is a historical artifact that confirms the claim of a High Queen--a term which has a particular meaning and significance in this civilization. And it does so by reacting to the presence of mitochondrial DNA in an individual who carries ancient royal blood, so to speak. 

This doesn't happen by magic. The structure of the rock was altered at the molecular level by advanced scientists in the distant past so that it reacts in a specific way to a person who carries the maternal lines it was created to "sniff out." 

Problem is, if a candidate is presented to the Stone of Tixor for confirmation and the rock fails to validate their claim as a descendant of this special line, they face summary execution. Immediately. Would-be impostors, be gone!

And this creates a dilemma for Katrina Wells, a woman who has been abducted from her home and brought to Draxis to be declared High Queen, apparently in a case of mistaken identity. The first order of business foisted on her by her abductor is that she must pass the Test of Tixor. If she fails, she's dead. But if she refuses the test, she's just as dead.

For Katrina, it's the very definition of a no-win situation. 

Brief excerpt from  WIP:

Scene set-up: Katrina has been taken to the Hall of Tixor by an advisor to face her test.

Katrina turned a slow circle, taking in her surroundings. Skylights lit the gleaming floors of polished marble. More than a dozen ivory columns rose like silent, watching sentinels to the high ceiling. At the front of the room, a half-moon shaped dais surrounded a large, milk-white boulder. Katrina moved closer to get a better look. It seemed an ordinary rock with a rough surface, several inches taller than her height of five foot seven.

            “The Stone of Tixor,” her advisor said.

Spying a black device in an alcove on the opposite wall, she frowned. The object formed a giant X with silver glinting at the topmost points of two diagonal supports, looking malignant and…hungry.

            “What is that?”

            He followed her gaze and waited a beat before he spoke. “It is a tantier.”  

            “A tan-teer? What does it do?”

The advisor’s voice lowered. “In your words, it is a guillotine.”

            Katrina shrank back. “Why is it here?”

            He dropped his head. “It is here in the event you fail the test.”

            Katrina’s hand flew to your throat. “I’ll...I’ll be...beheaded?”

            “Only in the event you are not the rightful queen.”

            “But I’m not! That's what I've been telling you. I never made any such claim and I can't be who you think I am.”  She stared at the tantier, swallowing down cold horror. "You've made a mistake, and it's going to cost me my life."

            “Have faith,” he insisted quietly.

Until next time.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


A couple of big things happened on the literary front this week. And though I usually just keep my head down and write, these events were specific to my two chosen genres—romance and science fiction—so I paid attention.

On Tuesday the World Science Fiction Society announced its nominations for this year’s annual Hugo Awards for the best works in science fiction and fantasy, Astounding Award for Best New Writer, and Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book. Unique among literary awards, these SF honors are chosen from among the nominees by the members of the World SF Convention (WorldCon) every year. That means not only authors, editors and publishers get a say in who wins the awards, but also fans of the genre. Due to the limitations of the COVID pandemic, the 79th Annual World Science Fiction Convention, DisConIII, will be virtual, streaming from Washington, D.C.

In the past democratic ideal has sometimes worked more like mob rule in science fiction. Just a few years ago, the genre was turned upside down at the time of the Hugo nominations by the very idea that a woman—or a person of color—might win the top award. The World SF Society, which administers the award, and the Science Fiction Writers Association were roiled by a very open, very ugly controversy pitting the old guard of white, cishet males against a younger cohort of diverse authors—female, POC, LBGTQ+, the disabled, and their allies.

Though that process was painful, it did eventually break through the barriers to progress SF had built since the halcyon days of the New Age. And this year’s list of nominees is almost all women, people of color and representative of other diverse backgrounds. Amazingly, it looks just like any group of authors you might meet!

The Romance Writers of America® went through a similarly wrenching self-examination over the last two years, recognizing that the organization had A LOT of work to do in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. Year after year, our own contest to honor excellence in romance, the RITA®, ended up with virtually NO nominees of color, LBGTQ+ authors or any other authors representative of marginalized communities. Worse, the nominated books themselves were seldom representative of the world at large, with almost every one full of white, hetero couples unchallenged by any disability.


Given the RITA®’s many problems, a reorganized RWA® decided to retire the contest and institute a brand-new contest with more objective judging standards. This is the first year of the Vivian® Contest for excellence in romance writing, and the finalists were just announced this week. It may be too early to tell whether the hoped-for improvements can truly be found in this year’s nominees. There are a few more people of color among the Contemporary Romance author nominees, and from the book descriptions that translates directly into more POC in the heroes and heroines that populate their nominated books. (One of the nominees is an old friend from my days in the Virginia chapter of RWA, Tracey Livesay. Congratulations, Tracey!) There is at least one LBGTQ+ author (congratulations,Laquette!), though there may be others I don’t know about. The Historical Romance—Long category remains the stronghold of veteran, best-selling authors, but inroads have been made by a new generation in other categories. Congratulations, in particular, to our Golden Heart sister Valerie Bowman for her nomination in the Historical Romance—Mid category.

I regret to say the Speculative Romance category remains dominated by paranormal romance, though we did have a nomination in the Best First Published Book category (Choosing Theo: The Clecanian Series (Book One) by Victoria Aveline). One big reason for that is probably that SFR authors remain gun-shy about submitting to RWA contests. I really hope we get over that.

On the other hand, I was a judge this year, and I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed with the SFR books I was given to judge. That wasn’t unusual. I’m a harsh, but fair, judge. Not many of the books I read in any category made the grade. The great thing about the Vivian® Contest is that there is an objective scoring system in place. Judges can’t just say, “Not a romance,” and get away with it anymore.

This is Vivian®’s first year, and there are bound to be criticisms. I thought there were a few tweaks that could have improved the score sheet, myself. Still, I hope to have a book to enter next year, and I encourage more of you to enter, too.

Cheers, Donna


Friday, April 9, 2021

What Running Injuries Taught Me About Writing

Last fall I injured myself…twice!

You may know from reading the blog that in addition to being an author I am a martial artist. But did you know I’m also a lifelong runner? My love for running started in the 6th grade with track. In middle school, I found road races and cross country. I ran competitively in high school and lettered in cross country, indoor tack, and outdoor track every year for all fours years earning a total of 12 varsity letters. I was recruited to a Division I university where I competed mostly in the 800, 1500, and 3000 meters as well as cross country. I even met my husband at a road race! Over the years we’ve run many races together—at our own paces, of course, as he’s a lot faster than me. I’ve run trail races, tough mudders, and a few half marathons. I had even trained for a marathon and completed my first twenty mile training run…and then I got injured.

What does this have to do with writing? Stick with me.

As any athlete who is sidelined by injury knows, taking time off is hard. What’s even harder is training again after you’ve lost your cardiovascular fitness. It’s like starting from scratch. Fortunately, my time off wasn’t long, and I was running okay for a 47 year old lady. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my fitness level back to where I wanted before injury struck again this fall. Twice! 

I had a tear in my right posterior tibial tendon—an overuse injury—and a pulled left hamstring—from sprinting across the field when I was injured. duh! These injuries benched me for six months!! This was the longest time in my life that I went without running. When I started again—very slowly—my cardio was nonexistent. 

Running hurt. 

Running still hurts.  

The weather in NJ is getting warmer, and yesterday was a perfect day for a nice run in shorts and a tank top. I was able to run two miles slow, walk .3, run another mile, and walk .2 for a total distance of 3.5 miles. It hurt. It was slow. I was winded. But it was better than not running at all. 

By now, you’re probably demanding to know what this has to do with writing.

Well, this past Tuesday I finished writing my September release, Wilde Temptation, and sent it off to my editor (yay!). As I was running I reflected on how my writing habits changed as I neared the end of the story. I wrote 5 - 6 days and averaged 5600 words per week. And then one day I wrote 5,006 words in a single day that started at 9:30AM and continued for 17 hours until 2:30AM. The story flowed because I knew where everything was heading, but when I hit the last scene of the last chapter, I hit the wall. I just couldn’t stay awake. I slept for 4 hours and finished the book in the morning, but it took a toll on my body. I was exhausted for a few days after.

Yesterday, as I was running and feeling good about turning in my project, I couldn’t help compare these two activities. Since I hadn’t run in a week due to total “book focus” I discovered what little cardio I had gained from a month of training was lost again.

Isn’t that the same with writing? When you take too much time off, it’s difficult to get back into the swing of things.

Running and writing (and probably most everything else) seems to benefit me most when I do it with consistency and balance. When I find myself stepping away from the writing to do marketing, social media, live or virtual events, newsletters, blogs, etc, I find it’s harder to get back into the swing of things.

It's like I have to retrain my brain to write.

I do better when I am consistent, and I don’t feel like I’m tearing my body down. 

My goal going forward is to work on consistency (my martial arts side is thinking balance) in writing. It’s a matter of finding the perfect amount of words I can write each day that will offer benefits rather than hindrance. I am keeping track, and it appears 5000 words a week is doable. 

What goals do you set for yourself? Are you balanced with splitting your writing time with other activities? Have you ever wrote so much (over trained) that you needed time off to recharge and heal? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Stay safe out there!

K.M. Fawcett 

Romance with a Rebel Heart

Friday, April 2, 2021

Future armies

In the last several years we've had many memorials of past wars. 2014 was the the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War 1, In 2018 we commemorated the end of that war (the war to end all wars!). We still remember the anniversary of D-Day, 6th June 1944. Pictures of men in trenches, men sloshing through the shallows at Normandy, pointless bayonet charges against machine guns. 

But war has changed, at least if you're in our first world.

And as usual, SF got there first. Remember the Trade Federation's droid armies in the Star Wars prequels? Sure some of them were props so the Jedi could slash about with their light sabres without actually... you know... splattering body parts everywhere. (I was about to write 'blood' - but lasers cauterize wounds). 

The Israeli army is actively working on robot soldiers - and they're getting good. This video is about 4 minutes long.

The Trade Federation also had automatically controlled fighters. And the US military is doing that sort of thing right now. Someone sitting in front of a screen somewhere in the US can direct a heavily armed drone to a target in Afghanistan and take out a moving vehicle. Boom. No one on our side even gets dirty. 

Then there's the power of nanotech. We might actually find flesh and blood soldiers will be a thing of the past and droid armies will be so yesterday.

But assuming we still have real live soldiers, there is other tech. How about a soft suit which could assist people by giving them an exo-skeleton with engines to give them extra strength? Or liquid armour, as well as an exo-skeleton? References were made to Batman's suit, and Iron Man's capabilities. Then there's Star Lord's wonderful helmet in Guardians of the Galaxy. It forms around his head when he presses a button.

And I thought to myself, I'm already using tech like that in my stories. In my Dryden Universe stories the military uses liquid armour - that is, a seemingly ordinary material which becomes battle armour at the press of a button. Helmets sit in the neck piece of the space suit until required.

And that segued on into thinking about the changing face of battle. Maybe we're not all that far from the way we're headed.