Saturday, June 26, 2021

Attention: Book Hunters

 Looking for a new summer read, but not sure what kind of book you want?

Try this eclectic offering of free multi-genre e-reads from Prolific Works. 

You can choose as few or as many as you'd like to download. 

Who knows, maybe you'll find your next favorite author!


All-Genre Group Giveaway

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Recruit - An Adventure in the World of Draxis: Part Two

This is Part II of The Recruit, a short story which started with my last blog. For those who read the previous post, there's a brief recap below, or you can read Part I here:

The Recruit: Part I

If you'd prefer to read the entire story posted to date, you can find it here: 

The Recruit - All Parts to Date


In the last snippet post, Baranar had just met a new recruit to the Death Rangers--a company of hardened men who patrol the ancient, dark and menacing forest nicknamed The Green Death. 

Baranar and his peer, Gallin, wager about how long this new recruit will survive (not long) but the stranger counter-wagers them his sword that he'll survive the tasking. 

Then something catches Gallin's eye...


The young man turned away and made for the quartermaster stores to pick up his issued gear.

“Good wager.” I gave Gallin a smirk. “Tributes on your new sword.”

I turned toward the stores, but Gallin caught my arm, his voice like gravel in my ear. “Did you get a look at it, Bara?” His eyes twinkled with greed...or was it mirth?

I gazed at him, not answering. Not admitting my powers of observation were less than his.

A slow, hideous grin crawled over his lips. “He carries a Blade of Duumarr.”

I squinted, then frowned. “Not possible. The Duumarrakhan were all destroyed, twenty suncycles gone. And their swords with them.”

“Yet, no other would carry such a blade.” Gallin sank his teeth into his lower lip as if he needed to keep from laughing out loud. “Good luck to you.”

I glanced in the direction the young man had traveled. If Gallin was right…

“Duumarrakhan?” The word surged from my mouth in a hoarse whisper. Most who spoke that word followed it with a self-blessing to ward off harm. I wasn’t the superstitious sort.

Gallin grunted and a chuckle rumbled deep in his throat.

Duumarrakhan. Such a man would have good reason to conceal himself in the ranks of the Tahila Death Rangers. The Order of Duumarr had been hunted to extinction by High Priest Tigus over a generation ago. Or near extinction, so it now seemed. If one yet survived, his neck most certainly had a date with the Temple guillotine.

It might explain the confidence, the feel to the man. No man was more deadly, not even a seasoned Death Ranger. Still, those of the Order were trained to hunt and kill men, not farratora packs. Not the darkest of demons that roamed the Green Death and polished their fangs on treasure troves of human bones.

I knew if the farratoras didn’t kill him soon enough, I could help them along. I wanted to see nine seasons; I didn’t need an assassin at my back.

“My wager stands. First rush,” I muttered to Gallin.

I parked my hand on the hilt of my sword and followed the recruit’s path to the stores.


To be continued...

Friday, June 11, 2021

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

The Andromeda Galaxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 4, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first Trek fanfic novella ca. 1991.

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

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

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

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

Cheers, Donna