Monday, January 31, 2022

#SnippetMonday - Renegade



In this snippet from Renegade, scientist Griffin encounters a gladiator hunter fighting with the new refugee Katana. Enjoy!

A female scream pierced the air from the direction of Overlook Point. 

Racing uphill, Griffin heard them before he saw them: the slapping thuds of hard fists on soft flesh that brought back sickening memories. He’d been too small, too weak back then to protect his mother. Interference had made the beatings worse. 

This wasn’t the time to recall nightmares.  

He careened to a halt at the sight of the new refugee, Katana—her nose bloodied, mouth bloodied, thermal suit bloodied—backing away from the biggest gladiator he’d ever seen. The hulk must have been at least six-foot-eight with a shoulder span that tripled his own.

Witty remarks and his usual charm wouldn’t stop a brute. He should leave right now, race to the nearest sentry on the wall, and make them ring the warning bell, but he couldn’t leave the woman in the hands of a damn gladiator. 

How would he save her without getting himself killed in the process? He hadn’t raised a fist since the day he vowed nonviolence, an oath he refused to break.  

The hulk punched Katana’s face. Her head snapped back, and for a suspended moment Griffin was a child again, paralyzed, clinging to Father’s bookcase, too scared to help Mother. Katana stumbled backward, tripping and landing on her butt in the weeds. She scrambled to her feet and grabbed— 

No! Not the telescope!  

She gripped the instrument over a shoulder like a bulky, awkward bat, and then swung for the gladiator’s head. 

The hulk leaned away. The weapon flew past and the gladiator rushed her. In a quick movement, he had her disarmed, spun around with her back pinned against his chest, and a fist yanking her hair back exposing her neck, the tender white flesh streaked with crimson. 

Weaponless, and without a plan, Griffin sprang forward. “Let her go!”



In the Survival Race, only the last man alive can win… but his competitor is the woman he loves!

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Book of Boba Fett works for me


Having now seen 6 of the 7 shows, I'm back to wondering what TheBook of Boba Fett is supposed to be about. Judging by ep#5 and #6, not Boba Fett. I'll keep watching out of curiosity but I do wonder what the producers were smoking when they set this show up. It has morphed into The Mandalorian.


Although I'm an unabashed Star Wars fan, I've found Disney's movie offerings in the franchise sadly lacking, most especially in originality. They were weak rehashes of the original trilogy and a meh attempt at Han Solo's backstory which flopped at the box office.I've had a lot to say about that in the past. 

The only really good movie was Rogue One, which took the instigating event for the very first Star Wars movie (that was the bit explained in the crawler rolling up the screen - see below) and expanded it into a real story - with brand new characters and no Force.

Disney seems to have learnt the lesson. The series The Mandalorian was a breath of fresh air. It lives in the Star Wars galaxy with many familiar references to ground fans like me but the story is fresh and interesting.

The Book of Boba Fett picks up on a minor chracter from the first trilogy, a bounty hunter who finds the Millennium Falcon and meets his 'death' in Return of The Jedi. In the prequel movie Attack of the Clones we learn that Boba is the cloned son of Jango Fett, the warrior whose DNA was used to clone all the storm troopers. Jango is killed in that film.

In the first chapter of The Book of Boba Fett, we see Boba reliving in flashback his escape from the Sarlacc (Return of the Jedi). Lying exhausted on the desert sand next to the remains of Jabba's sail barge, Jawas come along, steal his armor, and leave him to die. Then the Sand People arrive.

I'll leave it at that for those who haven't seen it yet.

The reviews indicate many people are less than impressed. Boba Fett became something of a cult hero in the fandom, so quite a few viewers of the new series will have had their own ideas of what the character should be and episode one did not deliver their expectations. I didn't see it that way.

The first episode is of necessity back story. Everybody wants to know how he escaped from the Almighty Sarlacc. That's not given a lot of screen time which didn't bother me, but apparently upset others.

As the episode progresses we learn a lot about the man who wears the (retrieved) armor. He's tough, a survivor, but like most humans, he's not invincible. This is not a super hero (or super villain) show. I particularly liked the way the writers evoked layers of character. No one is all good and noble. No one is simply evil. We also learn a lot about the Sand People and how they live in an unforgiving environment. That detail helps to give the setting depth.

What I thought was lacking in the first episode is where the story is taking us. In The Mandalorian we learnt very early that the show was all about The Child. But after seeing Episode 2, I think it's pretty clear. The Book of Boba Fett is all about Boba Fett. Each episode has two arcs: what Boba is doing now, having retrieved his armor in The Mandalorian, and another which shows what happened to him in his past life, in other words the events that made the man he now is. But now, having seen all but the last show, I'm back to that question - what is the show about? (See update at the star of this post)

Moving right along, I will be producing a monthly newsletter about books, writing, my current WIP, offers in the book world, and the like. If you think you'd be interested, here is my sign-up page.

If you're looking for new reading material for 2022, check out this bundle. As the poster says, these are romantic scifi novels. The 'blush free' bit means the sex scenes are non-explicit and infrequent. The romance is still there, but it's more about the action and adventure. Here's the link.

Better be quick - it finishes at the end of the month.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Rewind: Where does my book fit?

This is a repeat of an article I wrote back in 2018. The issue remains the same and it's something that's very important to me.

I sometimes wonder how big the market is for stories like mine. I can't in all conscience adorn my covers with beautiful male chests, although I'll admit I did try it, a long time ago. (See left) I suspect it worked, too, because readers at least read the blurb. But over time, my stories have become less explicit when it comes to sex, and I believe lots of man-titty signals explicit sex. On the flame scale, I wouldn't put my books at more than 2-3. They're not fade to black when the bedroom door closes, but you wouldn't want to use them as a 'how to'.

Science fiction is such a hard genre to define and the merge with fantasy is unavoidable. We write about 'science' that does not exist. It may in the future, but it's impossible now. Artificial gravity, forms of faster-than-light travel, advanced artificial intelligence, lifelike avatars, alien beings - the list goes on. It's not magic. We don't have magic in our SF worlds. But we can have shifters, vampires, strange alien psi powers and the like. Anything, really - as long as we claim a scientific explanation.

Anne McCaffrey's much-loved Pern series is one that has often been poo-pooed by the SF purists. It has dragons and mental telepathy, so it's fantasy. But the dragons are genetically engineered local species, with powers that evolved so the little fire lizards could escape the ravages of thread. Somebody once described the dragons as an ecologically sustainable air force. I like that. As far as I'm concerned, that's SF, not fantasy. As we say in the copyright notice on our books, "any resemblance to any person (or animal) is purely coincidental".

I actually find it harder to fit the romance half of the title. I'd be much more comfortable being in Science Fiction - romance. Genre, you see. It’s all about marketing. Into which pigeonhole does this book fit? I had some fun drawing a diagram to illustrate some of the complexities of genre.

 Some genres are pretty easy. In romance, the romance must be the focus of the plot, and it must have a happy ever after (HEA) ending or a happy for now (HFN) ending. I talked about the rules of romance here. But every genre has ‘shades of grey’ (yeah, yeah). Science fiction ranges between hard SF and soft SF. I discussed that here. On the hard SF – soft SF line, I’d put most space opera sort of in the middle. Star Wars and Star Trek would definitely be down the soft SF end, McDevitt’s books would be down the hard SF end. Romance has its continuum, too, often expressed in degrees of ‘heat’ (ie explicit sex scenes). In ‘sweet’ romance, the scene stops at the bedroom door. In erotic romance, the sex is explicit.

Now we get to science fiction romance, which is a combination of two genres. The SCIENCE romance – ROMANCE science line indicates what is the most important focus of the work. Would we have a story without the romance? Would we have a story without the science? I would suggest that real SFR should be down the science ROMANCE end – I think Avatar is a good example. Without the romance, there is no story. And in Avatar the explicitness of the sex component is most definitely ‘sweet’. Interestingly enough, one of McCaffrey’s early works, Restoree, is listed in science fiction. Yet Restoree is without a doubt science fiction romance, with a ‘sweet’ tag on the sex register. So SFR has been around for a while, mixed in with SF. But there isn't a lot. When I went looking, Linnea Sinclair's books were in romance, not SF.

It’s a pretty complex combination of components.

When I started writing, I knew I’d write SF because that’s what I like. But I wanted to add a bit of emotion to my writing. Most SF either seemed to leave out love and sex (Asimov), or it was so understated that it almost disappeared. An example of the latter is Moon’s Serrano series. SF was pulp fiction, with an expectation that it was fast-paced action-adventure. A response to a query I sent to a publisher around 2008 reinforced that belief. “Well written, but needs more action.” So I added more action. Still no cigar.

Okay, what about science fiction romance? Ah, but most SFR books are in the romance section. This has an advantage in one way, because romance sales are way, way more than SF. But it seems only a small subset of romance readers will read SF. Moreover, the expectation for the romance genre is that the romance is the core of the book. No romance, no story. I can honestly say that not one of my books fits that definition. Of them all, the Iron Admiral duo come closest and even with those two I had to do some serious tweaking for my editor to agree it had earned a romance tag.

We are told that sticking to one genre when writing is a good idea. And it makes sense. With that in mind, I resolved to write SFR, albeit with less emphasis on the romance. 

As far as SFR is concerned, I'm definitely going against the trend. I see more and more books that emphasize the sex. Reverse harem has become popular and sexual encounters with aliens and cyborgs is huge. It's a matter of personal taste, isn't it?

What’s the outcome? Well, if you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed read with a complex plot – come on in, sit right down. Would you like to call that pulp fiction? Sure. Will there be some emotional elements, some sex? Sure. Love is a powerful emotion, sex is a fundamental driving force. You’ll find those things in everything I write. Do I do my research? You bet I do. I try to make my science sound, my history correct, my settings convincing. 

And as it happens, SFR stalwart, Pauline Baird Jones, has just started a group for books like mine - and hers. Lots of action, lots of romance but the sex is not explicit. It's called Blush Free Books. If you're a reader who prefers to skip the steamy scenes, this might be a group for you. 

About Blush Free Books

Welcome to Blush Free Books, a website and newsletter dedicated to building a community of readers who love exciting, action-filled, and well-written books that are hotter than the clean and sweet, but close the door on the steamy scenes. 

There are communities aplenty for steamy and inspirational books, but there is an underserved group in the middle: readers who crave well-written books with all the action, suspense, excitement, and romance without the graphic sex. These stories have the edge-of-your-seat action with a hint of spicy language and some of the sexual tension not found in the cleaner-sweeter stories.

The group is not just for SFR. You'll find fantasy, crime, paranormal novels that all share that basic characteristic - the sex isn't explicit. If that's your thing, come on over and join us. Authors, you're invited, too. See you there!


Monday, January 24, 2022

Snippet Monday: Escape from Shar Burk

 Escape from Shar Burk is the third of my Morgan's Misfits books - three women working together bucking the strict class system in the society they live in. Each of the three books features a romance as well as a mystery in a space opera setting.

Shar Burk is an enormous space station run by Governor Soldar. He's as crooked as the proverbial dog's hind leg and he has an appetite for beautiful women. They never last long. Marisa was one of those beautiful women. But she got lucky.

Here's a snippet from early in the book:

"Do you remember the fall?" Chet's voice was soft, full of sympathy.

Marisa nodded. Every moment of it, in terrifying slo-mo. "Yes. I clutched at balconies trying to slow my fall, smacked hard against one. That was probably what broke my arm. I remember hitting my head against something and the pain as my face opened up. Then I hit the awning."

Marisa stared at the table top, at her hand holding the half-full mug and took a sip. Her hand shook.

"Sympathy," Toreni said softly.

"Yeah." Marisa took another, larger gulp from the mug. Sympathy was nice but it didn't get you anywhere. She'd get even. One day. Soldar, too. She'd see them dead. Both of them.

 The Misfits are off on another planet-hopping adventure.

When Chet, Toreni, and Jirra rescue Marisa, mistress of Shar Burk’s brutal governor Soldar, from certain death they think they’re just helping a fellow woman to a new life. But what did Marisa do to earn a death sentence? Is it just a couple of dictators flexing their muscles? Or something much more dangerous? They set off to follow a tenuous trail where Marisa discovers there’s a whole new world off Shar Burk space station and men much nicer than Soldar.

But by taking in Marisa, the team has been noticed by Soldar. Helped by a traitor in Fleet Intelligence, he’s on their trail before they discover his plans. And he wants them all dead.

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Space Opera/ Science Fiction Romance. There are some non-specific sex scenes. There’s action, adventure and politics in this adventure of Morgan’s Misfits. There are appearances from Morgan and Ravindra. Escape from Shar Burk is a stand-alone story. You don't need to have read the other books to work this one out.


Friday, January 21, 2022


I haven’t had a chance to review any SF films in a while here on Spacefreighters Lounge. I’ve been saving all those opinions for my podcast, My Moviehouse My Rules, now housed on SoundCloud. But there are a few interesting new titles to stream right now that SF fans might want to check out.

Let’s start with a film that’s generating quite a lot of buzz on Netflix, DON’T LOOK UP, starring just about everybody in Hollywood, but most notably, Leonardo di Caprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Timothee Chalomet, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Mark Rylance, Jonah Hill, and Ron Perlman. Written and directed by Adam McKay, who wrote THE BIG SHORT and produced the Academy Award-winning VICE, this is a dark comedy about the end of the world, that demise coming in the form of a giant comet headed straight for Earth.

Two scientists, nerdy-but-attractive Dr. Randall Mindy (di Caprio in tweed and glasses) and impulsive-but-beautiful grad student Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence looking much as she always does), discover the comet and try to get someone, anyone, to listen to their message of looming disaster. To no avail. The politicians (including the President (Streep) and her idiot son/Chief of Staff (Hill) are too concerned about politics; the media (Perry and Blanchett) are too concerned about “keeping things light” on their talk show. An “Elon Musk”-type tech genius (Mark Rylance) delays destroying the comet in vain hopes of exploiting its precious rare-earth elements. All of this is played for laughs, but the premise cuts a little too close to the bone to be laugh-out-loud funny.

McKay’s sentiments are obviously skewed toward the liberal side here, which may lead some more conservative viewers to avoid the film. But DON’T LOOK UP is more pro-science than against any particular political faction, sympathizing with all the scientists currently crying in the wilderness about climate change.

I wasn’t expecting much from the film, given the poor reception it got from critics (who called it too preachy). Instead, I found DON’T LOOK UP unexpectedly touching, thanks to the filmmaker’s repeated use of a single technique to bring his point home. From the moment the news of the comet becomes known, he shows everyday people absorbing the information via their phones, TV screens and tablets, at first with mild interest, then with increasing alarm. McKay checks in with folks at home at key moments throughout the film, not just Americans or Europeans, either, but people gathered around TV sets in huts in Africa, in slums in India, on islands in the Pacific. As the comet comes nearer, some people are in active denial (thus the title of the film), some are glued to their screens. But finally the object of doom is impossible to ignore—the thing is like a searchlight in the sky.

As humanity’s end grows near, we are treated to images of all that would be lost if the powers that be do nothing and the comet hits: wildlife in forests and savannas, birds on the wing and fish in the ocean, babies and puppies and rushing streams. Just flashes, but enough to remind us what a treasure this Earth is, unlike anything else in this solar system; unlike anything else we know within reach in this galaxy. It becomes clear that McKay isn’t talking about the fictional, unlikely, planet-ending disaster of a comet striking us. He’s talking about global warming, something that is happening right now, the response to which is equally inadequate, too little and too late, hampered by politics and denial.

Timothee Chalamet’s character, the relapsed Christian evangelical skater-boy Yule, provides a tiny, flickering spark of hope near the end of the film when he offers up a prayer around the family dinner table as doom approaches. Far from being a saccharine moment, in Chalamet’s hands, it becomes another touching scene when you least expect it. And, yes, I’ll admit to a taste for good corn when the film calls for it.

Of course, SPOILER ALERT! there is a problem with this film if you like happy endings. There genuinely isn’t one here, unless you count what happens to the despicable President Orlean. But those are the times we live in. Contrast that with the optimism of 90s disaster films like ARMAGEDDON (Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck) and DEEP IMPACT (Morgan Freeman, Elijah Wood, Robert Duvall). Yes, we lost lots of people and coastlines in those films, and heroes sacrificed their lives to save the world, but the world was saved in the end. And, perhaps more important, the citizens in those films trusted both science and their leaders. Just as we all did in those days. 

 Davis's troupe of players post-pandemic in Station Eleven.

The world does survive the apocalypse in a marvelously creative science fiction limited series streaming now on HBO Max, Station Eleven. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you want to engage with a screen project that deals with the effects of a global pandemic (in this case a type of flu) that kills off most of the world’s population in just a few weeks. There are advantages in engaging in a fictional account of such a pandemic and its impact; you can remove yourself from it to a certain extent and see it objectively. And at least the pandemic in STATION ELEVEN isn’t a lingering thing like our COVID struggle. The premise here is that the flu blew through its host population quickly and was gone, leaving its small reservoir of immune survivors to carry on and rebuild civilization as they could.

In this series based on the novel by Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel, we follow the intersecting stories of a young girl, Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), who is onstage in a version of KING LEAR when all hell breaks loose; the man who, by chance, becomes her guardian, Jeevan (Himesh Patel); Kirsten 20 years later (Mackenzie Davis), now the unofficial leader of a troupe of Shakespearean actors wandering the wasteland of the Great Lakes region; and various other characters, all loosely connected by a pre-pandemic science fiction graphic novel they are each intimately familiar with titled STATION ELEVEN. The series jumps back and forth between characters and timelines to fill in gaps in the plot, assembling a full picture of what happened when and to whom, eventually giving us a complete three-dimensional model of how everyone (and everything) is related. It really is the most remarkable piece of storytelling, bolstered by some wonderful acting, stark camera work and a jarring electronic score. The show does require patience, however, and it may not be for everyone. If you like complex, though, (and you’re fond of SF and Shakespeare), I recommend it.

In a similar introspective vein comes a film advertised as science fiction, ENCOUNTER,  starring Riz Ahmed, star of 2019’s Oscar-winning SOUND OF METAL, backed up by versatile Oscar-winning actor Octavia Spencer. Amazon Prime chooses to describe this film by writer-director Michael Pearce as a science fiction tale about a Marine veteran trying to protect his two sons from the threat of an alien invasion. But SPOILER ALERT! at the risk of putting you off the movie, I’m going to tell you ENCOUNTER is NOT about that, except in the lead character’s mind. I guess the producers (and Amazon Prime) thought that if viewers knew it was about a mentally ill veteran of the Afghanistan war kidnapping his children and taking them across country under the delusion that microscopic bugs were controlling people’s minds, it might not go over so well.

So the setup puts us in the Marine’s mind, and, at first, we go along with the alien invasion idea. We see what appears to be something streaking into the atmosphere, what looks like a tiny tardigrade invading the bloodstream of insects, a mosquito injecting microscopic beasties into a human bloodstream, news reports of widespread rioting and crime on the television. We meet our antihero Malik (played with unstinting credibility by Ahmed—what a fine actor he is!) in a hotel room that appears to be crawling with nasty bugs. He’s covering himself with bug spray and “researching” the invasion. He’s also planning to grab up his two sons, 10-year-old Jay and 8-year-old Bobby, (played with skills beyond their years by Lucian-River Chauhan and Additya Geddada) from their mother’s house because he’s convinced Mom has been infected by the alien bugs.

What follows is a tragi-comic road trip from Oregon to Nevada’s Groom Lake, where Malik believes the last uncorrupted base still holds out against the invasion. Meanwhile, the FBI is on his trail, thinking he is a “family annihilator,” someone who will kill his boys and himself when he finally snaps. Only his parole officer (Octavia Spencer), a good-hearted type who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, believes he will put his sons before himself.

The power of the acting is what lifts this admittedly strange and clunky vehicle out of the mud. Ahmed and both boys take the mundane to the next level here, making ENCOUNTER worth watching. And the end, far from being the disaster you might anticipate, is touching and even uplifting. I started watching this because I like Ahmed and I expected SF; I stayed with it because it had surprising depth. You might, too.

You can find these and more of my new screen reviews with old-school attitude on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, my Facebook Page app or on my podcast website at You can comment there, too, and tell me what you think!

Cheers, Donna