Sunday, October 31, 2010

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Something BIG Is Coming in Science Fiction Romance (Updated 11-03)!

In light of some Very Exciting News, I'll be counting down to a special event in the next few days.

Each new image will reveal another part of the mystery. Check back this evening for the full reveal!


space nebula

Christopher Columbus

A Female Pirate

Eden

In Love....


Once you see all of them, they will add up to....

Oops, the transmission cut out there. Guess you'll have to tune in, won't you?

;)


Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 28, 2010

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A Chat With Pauline B. Jones About Her Big A** Series

The Key

Having recently finished Pauline B. Jones’ science fiction romance GIRL GONE NOVA and her steampunk romance novella TANGLED IN TIME (both released by L&L Dreamspell), I wanted to learn more about the creative mechanisms behind the stories. The more I read, the more I realized the author had created an extensive universe for this series. It’s a mix of military space opera, time travel, romance, action-adventure, and steampunk. If you think that’s quite a lot going on, it is, hence I invited the author to chat with me about her work in more detail.

The Galaxy Express: Having recently read your science fiction romance GIRL GONE NOVA as well as your steampunk novella TANGLED IN TIME, I’d like to chat with you about the universe you’ve created, one that began with THE KEY.

First, let’s talk about the world. Clearly, you went to a lot of effort to create a fully realized one. As a whole, and without spoilers, how would you describe the universe the characters inhabit? What can readers expect from the setting?


Pauline B. Jones: Thank you so much for having me here to talk books, Heather. I love talking books and of course, I love talking about my books (it would be a bit odd if I didn’t.)

Let’s see, what to expect. Hmmmm. To paraphrase LT JG Holden from Operation Petticoat, “In chaos there is opportunity.”

While an uneasy peace has been achieved at the end of THE KEY, power vacuums can cause as much chaos as tyranny. And there is this cache of recently unearthed alien technology and weaponry to mismanage and misuse. (I call that the “oops factor” a phrase coined from my son. His “oops” is usually accompanied by an innocent/hopeful/surprised/I-did-not-see-that-coming look.)

The most dangerous and troublesome (for characters AND author) is the time/space portal, of course. When I started GIRL GONE NOVA, I was not going to go near time travel. I’d written a time travel once before that made my head ache figuring it all out. GGN, on the other hand, almost made my head explode. I fought the plot for too long, finally relaxed and turned it loose and had a great ride with it.

Of course, the great/challenging thing about time travel, and the repercussions of it rippling back and forth in time, is that it makes for lots of interesting conflicts and challenges for characters (and author) to overcome. I have conceded this battle, though, so there will be more time travel and we will find out what the deal is with the mysterious Dr. Smith and meet an aspiring Evil Overlord. He might even get defeated. I haven’t managed that part yet. He’s a wily and wicked aspiring Evil Overlord, but I’m sure my characters will triumph.

Or my head will explode and my heirs will have to figure out how to end it.

TGE: If readers were to ask me if any of the books can be read as stand alones, I would actually recommend they start with THE KEY since some characters appear in more than one book. Plus, there are plot threads that have the potential to be explored in future stories. But that’s just my take as a reader. What’s your perspective?

PBJ: I try very hard to make each book able to be read as a standalone, but I do think readers will enjoy the experience more if they start with THE KEY.

One of the hardest things to do is present enough back story for clarity without spoilers of previous books. I tend to go scant on the back story, but I will admit, it is getting harder as the series progresses. In particular, GIRL GONE NOVA, TANGLED IN TIME, and my in-progress novel are much more connected as an over arching story line plays out. But each story does (and will) have an ending. I don’t do cliff hanger endings because they annoy me.

Did you originally intend to start a series, or was it more lucky chance that you were able to write spin off/continuing stories?

Oh, definitely lucky chance. Prior to this series, most of my books were stand alone. I did have a loosely connected three book series with three brothers, but the family relationship and the lawmen angle were the only connections between the three stories and novella. There was no cross over in the plots.

When I wrote THE KEY, I was just following my muse, but as I got near the end, I found myself reluctant to leave it. I liked outer space and wanted to keep “playing” there. For one thing, the shoot outs and explosions can be MUCH bigger and the black moments are a lot blacker in space.

When I started GIRL GONE NOVA, I (again) had no plans for more than a loose connection with future books, but as the plot progressed, it got too big, even for one of my BABs (big a** books). I realized there was more going on than I at first thought (helped by a beta reader saying, “I think there is more going on here than you realize.”)

I looked closer, started asking a lot of “what if” and “what are you up to” questions and realized I had a story arc that needed more room to develop.

One thing that struck me about the stories was how much they involved the alien artifact trope. I’ve been a fan of that trope very much over the years. What inspired you to incorporate such elements into your series? What kind of alien artifact books/films/shows have you enjoyed?

I will admit I got the idea from the Stargate TV shows. I love the idea of unintended consequences and the “oops” moments that come from pushing something you shouldn’t or stepping through a doorway (or into a wormhole!) before you know what it will do.

Alien artifacts are like “Paint, don’t touch” signs. You know you shouldn’t, but you do it anyway. And then these wonderful complications and problems spin out in interesting ways that require your characters to rise to challenges and shoot at bad guys, and blow things up, and win the day. What could be more fun than that?

It’s also very “fish out of water-ish” and I’ve always liked that trope, too.

Let’s see, stuff I enjoy: I’m a Trek fan and loved the new Trek movie. I thought it was a fun JJ Abrams thing (red ball and all), because I loved Alias, too. I think I have a thing for gals who can really kick tush, but can also cry and fall in love. Love, love, love Linnea Sinclair. She delivers a great story from first to last page. Love the Lost Fleet books and Laiden Series (I’ve read five and plan to read them all). Darkship Thieves and Orson Scott Card’s Ender books. Actually, I think Ender’s Game was my first SF book. I have no excuse for not following up on that genre thread when I’ve wandered through most other genres at one time or another. (I think the answer lies in the last question and my response. Lol)

TGE: I also think it’s important to mention that this series involves time travel elements. However, the device plays an integral role (as opposed to the device being just a catalyst for a romance). Based on the nature of the time travel involved, who would you say is the audience for this series? This is an “If you like…” question I’m thinking of here.

PBJ: My core inspirations (way back when I was germinating as an author) were Alastair Maclean (loved his over the top action, the twists and turns), Elizabeth Cadell (good characters and a sense of humor), Georgette Heyer (awesome characterization and plotting) and Mary Stewart (nice blend of suspense and romance). You will notice there isn’t an SF or SFR author there and I feel that lack keenly. I feel like I have a lot of catching up with the other SFR authors in “talking the talk” and navigating the tropes.

I did have a reviewer compare THE KEY to a Linnea Sinclair and I thought that was a wonderful compliment, because she is my favorite SFR author, hands down. Did I mention I really like her books? (grin) As I’ve been working my way through the 100 Must Read SFR list from this blog, the books are so diverse and so individual, it’s hard to say, this book is like that, or that book is like this—which is probably how they ended up on the list.

Really good storytelling, IMHO, makes readers go hunting for books “like that,” but in my author hat, I sort of hope they don’t find one just like mine. LOL!

But—and this is what is so cool about SFR—despite all the years of authors boldly going places, there are still plots and places for a new author to boldly go. Or something like that. lol

Switching genres has allowed me to flex my writing muscles—and plots—in directions I couldn’t go with my non SFR. I really love turning my imagination loose with time travel and warp drives and Steampunk and just seeing what ends up on the page (though my editor always hopes for a book under 100,000 words. =8-0)

TGE: One advantage of science fiction romance is the freedom to create a variety of cross-genre stories. In your case, you began mixing steampunk with military SF space opera. At first glance, the mix seems oxymoronic, but I felt that the steampunk elements in TANGLED IN TIME felt pretty organic to your existing universe.

Given the above, would you conceptualize TANGLED IN TIME as more of a bridge story, a “side story,” or something else altogether?


PBJ: It’s definitely a bridge story, though it was intended to be a short, stand alone story in an anthology (and I think and hope it can be read and enjoyed all by itself—though I hope readers won’t stop there). My target length was 7,000. When I hit 6,000, I knew I was in trouble, but some people were submitting two stories, so I thought, okay, 14,000 and then I blew past that. It stopped short of being a grown up novel (much to my editor’s relief!), so will release as a novella.

What was fun, and what turned it into a bridge story, was when the mysterious Dr. Smith turned up. I wasn’t expecting that. I was even more surprised by what he was after and why (you have to read it to find out, which is mean, I know!). But that built the bridge and launched the next novel in the series, which is also a mix of SFR and Steampunk.

I love that I can do that. I love that I can gather up the various genres and sub-genres like a handful of dice, roll them, and create new patterns, and even sub-sub-genres. And I’m glad I have an independent publisher who is happy to let me roll the dice—even really odd dice.

Tangled in TimeTGE: Speaking of military SF, there’s a lot of that element in these books as well. I learned a lot of cool-sounding military lingo! What kind of research did you do for that aspect of the series?

PBJ: Obviously, doing a lot of research about SF and time travel wasn’t possible (though there are a lot of time machines available for sale in various places—untested, of course). I did do some general searches on the internet that netted some… interesting stuff about alien incursions. I also had a NASA scientist as a beta reader. She was awesome and helpful and one of my other beta readers is a long time SF author with great instincts.

(Example of NASA scientist help. When I was writing TANGLED IN TIME, I asked my husband a question about an element of my steam power and if he thought it would work. He was unable to process the whole fiction aspect of the element. I ran it past my scientist and her response was, “Its fiction. You can do what you want.” Lol)

It was kind of funny, because I did more research about the US Air Force than any other element in the book. My Earth ships are AF and I wanted the characters to sound like AF, though with the whole SF twist. I happened onto to the slang site that was very fun (but I had to only use stuff where I could use context or have reasonable reason to explain what it meant). I also got a lot of help from my son, who was exploring ROTC when I wrote THE KEY. He’s the one who pointed me toward the SERE training, for instance.

I still run my battle and fight scenes past him and he usually has a suggestion for more fighting or exploding, which you may have guessed that I like.

TGE: Doc, the heroine in GIRL GONE NOVA, is very much an “extraordinary heroine” in my opinion, in the sense that she has special abilities. Also, she owns guns and isn’t afraid to use them (yeah, baby!). But that’s just me. How would you describe her appeal as a romance heroine?

PBJ: From the comments I’ve received, and from some of the reviews, I think it is the combo of her strength and her weaknesses that make her appealing, and the journey we all make in discovering who we are and how we fall in love and how that changes us—or that’s what I hope!

I like these comments in a review from Long and Short Romance Reviews:

Doc is probably the most creative and inventive character I’ve met to date…She is strong, reliable and confident, everything that makes a good soldier better. What makes her remarkable is how well she knows herself and her abilities. Watching her manipulate her talents to fit each new obstacle was fascinating. She also grows and changes more than almost any character I’ve ever read as well. Moving from cold and wondering if she even had a heart, Doc becomes what she terms ‘a real girl’ before it’s all over...


I like the “real girl” comment, because for Doc, that is her internal journey: from extraordinary to her version of normal. One thing I do know, from years of contact with extraordinary/ordinary women, they may not travel in space, but they overcome their obstacles and deal with their trials with courage and humor. I try to ground my characters in that place, because they are, IMHO, real life romance heroines. And I hope that is what resonates with readers when they read her story.

TGE: We’ve covered a few of the major elements that make up your series, but is there anything else you feel potential readers should know? Where can they find your books?

PBJ: I spent too many years not reading SF and SFR because I didn’t do that well in the sciences in high school. I wonder how many women out there avoid the genre because they, like I used to, think they wouldn’t get it or understand it. They are missing out on some amazing—and fun—books. If you love suspense, but are tired of gore and serial killers, then I urge you to check out SFR, because it’s loaded with suspense, high adventure, touching romance and science that even this non-geek girl can understand. (And I might also point out, the science might be grounded in the real, but it is still fiction and fictional. At least mine is. Lol)

You can find my books at most online retailers, such as Amazon, B&N, and at digital retailers, such as Fictionwise and All Romance (ARe). The fastest route to find either a print or digital edition is to go to my website: perilouspauline.com

Thanks again for having me, Heather. I may not be the typical geek girl, but I am a TGE fan girl. :-D

Aww, shucks! Thanks for coming aboard.

Related posts:

Catch A Rising Star: Pauline Baird Jones
Steampunk Romance Watch

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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Androids Among Us

This is why I love Japan:




My favorite part is about halfway through the video when she darts her eyes back and forth. Spooky and scintillating!

Check out more of Ms. Astro Girl (in Nihongo) here.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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Stinky Heroines Are Sexy, Too

Never Love a Stranger

I usually know what I want in my science fiction romance, but there are times authors give me something I didn’t know I wanted. Occasionally the experience arrives in the form of an entire story; other times it’s merely a detail. And lucky for me, it’s always a pleasant surprise.

Case in point: A scene in Ellen Fisher’s NEVER LOVE A STRANGER (one of two science fiction romances she wrote). As you may recall, the author made her backlist available on the Kindle (I interviewed her about the experience here). At .99 cents, the novella is a steal, so I ordered it.

I finally had a chance to read the story. Basically, it involves a hero and heroine on the run, time travel, a Big Brother type institution known as the “Bureau,” and a romance with hot sex. (And this was before the forthcoming sci-fi romance film THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU—looks like Ellen Fisher was ahead of the curve!).

Now, the opening of the story begs for suspension of disbelief. I mean, it starts off with the heroine discovering a naked man in her kitchen. We get lots of details about all of his luscious parts. The story could easily have veered toward camp (hello, KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS!), but the author grounds it with a lot of realism. Not only that, but she melds the romance pretty seamlessly with the skiffy elements. Of which there are plenty. NEVER LOVE A STRANGER is one for the romance crowd, but the story directly embraces social commentary and themes.

But what I’d like to blog about specifically could only happen in a science fiction romance. It’s because Ellen Fisher mixed SF, romance, and love scenes that I discovered what I did about my reading tastes.

It also involves a major spoiler. You know me, I prefer to avoid spoilers if at all possible. But one part of this story struck a particular chord with me, especially since I didn’t know it was an element that would resonate with me. However, it’s an SF trope that many of us enjoy reading about, and I promise not to go into any other detail.

So what exactly had me grinning with satisfaction? Read on:

I’m going to quote the specific scene. To set the stage, the hero and heroine have been on the run for a while, and haven’t had a chance to shower. But they are in a safe place, and about to make love. Spoiler Alert: The hero is an android.

Here’s the scene:

“James,” she objected, trying to push her knees together. “Don’t. I’m all sweaty.”
He held her legs apart with no effort. “It’s all right, Annie.”
“But I stink,” she said plaintively.
“No. You smell wonderful, as you always do.” He looked up and gave her a quick flash of his lady-killing grin. “I suspect you taste wonderful, too.”


The heroine then silently contemplates the exchange: “The reminder that he found her attractive, no matter what, sent a stab of pleasure through her.

After reading that passage, I was like, “Heck, yeah! Sign me up for that fantasy right now!” I’ve never actually thought about it before, but here’s a quality I can appreciate in an android lover: one who doesn’t register body odor that’s gone ripe. Or who might even be able to reconfigure his neural net so that even the rankest body odor smells like roses. Or simply doesn’t have the same prejudices toward musty armpits that a human lover might.

I enjoyed this scene for a few reasons. One is the sheer fantasy of having a lover who doesn’t care how you smell (a particular concern where female monthly hormone changes are involved). Another is that James is an android lover—so very exotic!

I also like that the author didn’t shoehorn in a shower scene just so the heroine could be pristine. Yes, one could argue that she found another way around having to deal with an odiferous heroine, but still, I felt it was both organic to the story and an exploration of how intimacy might be different with an android lover. I mean, wow, how refreshing. What freedom that promises, to not have to worry about overwhelming one’s lover with unpleasant body odor.

Well, I’m sure that wasn’t what you were expecting about Ellen Fisher’s NEVER LOVE A STRANGER, but there you go. Now tell me I’m not alone—have you ever come across something in a book that tapped into a fantasy you didn’t know you had?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, October 24, 2010

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Breaking News: SFR Authors To Be Released in Germany

I have wonderful and exciting news that I’m finally able to share with all of you:

Twice this past year, LoveLetter Magazine broke the news that three science fiction romance authors will be released in Germany. They are: Ann Aguirre, Eve Kenin, and Linnea Sinclair! First, I’d like to extend my congratulations to the authors. Best wishes for many happy sales.

This is big news for several reasons. First, Germany is (according to this 2008 article) “the second largest book rights market in the world after the US.” This means, in addition to their obvious great taste, German readers read international novels. On a side note, if you’re interested in learning about the German romance market before LoveLetter launched, click here to read “An Introduction to Germany’s Romance Scene.” The article is quite an eye-opener, especially given that around 2003, “Futuristics, audio books and military romances are also hard to find in Germany”.

Secondly, LoveLetter has been steadily reviewing science fiction romance novels for some time now. Founder and Editor Kris Alice Hohls and her team have been featuring our beloved subgenre for the magazine’s readers in conjunction with my monthly column. That’s incredible advocacy on Ms. Hohl’s part, and I count myself amazingly lucky that I get to be a part of it all.

Keep in mind that the magazine’s readers can’t simply go out and buy the books reviewed and/or the ones I write about. (If, like me, you’ve ever been a fan of international entertainment fare that’s not available to you for purchase—sometimes for decades—you can understand their frustration). So the fact that German readers can finally sample a few of the current science fiction romances for themselves is a cause for celebration!

Which brings me to the third point: German publishers are starting to take a chance on science fiction romance. That’s quite a risk, especially given how much of a risk the subgenre is for American publishers. I heartily salute them. While we can hope that romances in an alternate technological setting (whether in the future or past) will translate well internationally, there’s no guarantee. Still, my fingers and toes are triple crossed.

A final point I’d like to make is that how well science fiction romance succeeds as a viable subgenre depends on a whole lotta factors. Authors have to give readers something fresh and exciting to read. Publishers need to know there’s an audience for the stories and also how to market them. Readers who enjoy talking about said books have to reach many, many other readers. Ultimately, everyone involved has to be ready for change.

I believe there’s an applicable saying here…a very simple one, really: “Change is good.”

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Friday, October 22, 2010

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A Special Announcement for Kimber An's YA Novel SUGAR RUSH

Sugar Rush

Longtime science fiction romance fan and advocate Kimber An is, after seemingly ten gazillion years of writing, is now a published author! Her debut is SUGAR RUSH (Decadent Publishing), a Young Adult novel. Congratulations, Kimber An!

To celebrate the release of her book, Kimber An is hosting a Cyber-Launch Party at Enduring Romance on Saturday, October 22, 2010 (that’s tomorrow!):

It will run from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Alaska Time. Feel free to pop in and out and you will be entered to win a free eBook of SUGAR RUSH and an Alaskan moose plush toy and maybe some other goodies.


In the meantime, I asked her to share a few details with us about her debut book:

The Galaxy Express: In three sentences, tell us three essential things about your debut YA novel SUGAR RUSH.

Kimber An: Ophelia, the heroine, is sixteen years old and has a reserved personality. She does not start the story kicking butt. Falling in love brings her subtle courage into sharp focus, however, enabling her to eventually win the day.

TGE: What kind of science fiction romance/paranormal elements can readers expect from the story?

KA: Ophelia is an action figure-collecting geek and believes the bad guys to be alien/human hybrids. Adrian, the hero, favors all things Tolkien and believes the bad guys to be vampires. Their romance clashes the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres, and then melds them. The science is soft, but I'm hoping to expand it in future stories.

TGE: Where can readers go to learn more about the book?

KA: Decadent Publishing's Young Adult page.

Sugar Rush is the only story there right now, but there are three more YA authors coming up and they will be co-blogging at Enduring Romance starting next Saturday. They are Rebecca Royce, Leslie Soule, and Vanessa Barger.

TGE: Is there anything else about SUGAR RUSH you’d like to share?

KA: I would like to thank you, Heather, and all the blog buddies here at the Galaxy Express for encouraging and inspiring me to achieve publication. I believe it was here that I first learned about Decadent Publishing, in fact! Sugar Rush is the first in the Ophelia Dawson Chronicles and I will work diligently to get the next story out soon.

***

Read an excerpt from SUGAR RUSH. And here’s the blurb:

Running and screaming will have to wait. A blood-sucking dead guy may be a vampire to you, but he’s an alien/human hybrid to Ophelia and she really must examine his olfactory nerve under a microscope first.

Ophelia longs to be free, free of Diabetes, free of her ex-boyfriend, free to live. Something transformed Martin and made her his drug. If he has his way, she’ll never achieve the freedom to learn his true nature and origin.

Adrian’s the new guy in school. He faked his identity to get close to Ophelia, knowing the monsters who took his Diabetic sister would try to take her, too. Then, he’d have them. But, he knew better than to get too close.

Oh, yeah, he did.

Seriously.

***

Many happy sales, Kimber An!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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Caught in the Cover Crossfire: ENEMY GAMES by Marcella Burnard

Enemy Games Marcella BurnardHow about this cover for ENEMY GAMES, Marcella Burnard’s second urban fantasy science fiction romance? Thanks to the author’s generosity, we’re getting a very early sneak peek at the cover.

Naturally, I was very excited to see the cover, because it means we’re that much closer to another mainstream print SFR being on shelves. My first reaction, though, was wow, Berkley Sensation really wants readers to believe this is an urban fantasy at first glance because urban fantasy is hot right now. Makes sense, right? Sales should be strong and robust.

And cha-ching—the heroine even sports urban fantasy’s Signature Squat!

I’m trying to keep an open mind, so here are what I think are some of the cover’s positive qualities:

* The cover is professionally done

* The overall theme is consistent with the author’s first book, ENEMY WITHIN

* The setting is gritty, and connotes action-packed adventure

* It features a strong, kick-butt heroine

* Her body language is sending an enticing invitation to heterosexual male readers, which might result in more guys giving science fiction romance a try

* She’s holding some kind of laser gun and she’s firing it (hopefully at the villain, heh heh).

* It’s a “pretty” cover that many readers will undoubtedly find eye-catching, perhaps influencing sales

* At least the heroine isn’t sporting a tat, which is one of the big codes for UF

Is the cover for ENEMY GAMES a cause for celebration? Frankly, I’m torn. As we well know, science fiction romance authors are no strangers to publisher attempts at disguising the subgenre. It’s one of those “that’s the reality of publishing” situations. On the other hand, sacrifices have to be made in order to draw new readers to what is still a niche subgenre. If an urban fantasy cover helps sales, who am I to complain?

But the cover for ENEMY GAMES so blatantly screams urban fantasy that I must question what will be accomplished by such skullduggery. The last thing we want is a bunch of upset urban fantasy readers who might otherwise have given science fiction romance a try without such obvious lure tactics. Unless, of course, those same readers come and tell us that their expectations are simply for a good story, regardless of whatever subgenre is between the covers.

Uh, right.

On a related note, Smart Bitches recently had a post (Poll: When the Cover Matches the Contents) on the cover-story disconnect. In that thread, readers were primarily discussing how the cover models frequently look differently than the characters. In the case of ENEMY GAMES, seems like the entire subgenre is off. Perhaps someone didn’t get the memo that the story is a science fiction romance. Either that, or something was lost in translation. Take a look at the background: I’d be surprised if the story takes place anywhere inside an abandoned warehouse.

Still, I appreciate the fact that there’s not a half-naked, headless hero on the cover. Even though the art department seems to have traded paranormal romance for urban fantasy, at least the weapon is a step in the right direction. And despite everything, I’m definitely excited about starting this series.

That’s my take on the subject. What’s yours?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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Agent Z. Is In Love!

Yes, dear passengers, it’s finally happened for me and it’s not pretty. My heart palpitates. I drool. I spend long hours staring at my love, which causes cramps in unmentionable places. I can’t eat. I’m warped by jealousy. My love, unfortunately, is not returned and this causes me untold agonies. No matter how badly I yearn, I know I must suffer, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Unless I’m willing to do something nefarious, which, of course - I am.

I’m plotting to steal the object of my desire - there’s no other way because, you see, my love belongs to another. But I must have it. I MUST!

It?

Oh? You thought I was talking about some delectable space captain or something? *giggle*

Nah! No way would I allow myself to get into this state over a mere man. Don’t you know me a little better than that?

No, no, no. My love is, of course, a space ship. The most beautiful, streamlined, luxurious craft I have ever seen. I MUST have it.

Take a look at The Most Beautiful Space Ship In The Galaxy:




*sigh*

I’m just not sure how I’m gonna get my love away from that fierce-looking gal (who totally deserves to be an SFR heroine, by the way) and her half human/half reptilian alien brother.

But I shall plot and I shall plan and when I win the object of my desire, I’m inviting every single one of you on a vacation to my favorite inter-galactic destinations. Heather, can I borrow Chef?

Be seeing ya!

Agent Z.

Agent Z

Sunday, October 17, 2010

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Interview With TRUE BELIEVERS Author Maria Zannini

True Believers

Maria Zannini's latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS (Carina Press). Seems like we’re discussing a new SFR release just about every week these days. Thrilling, to say the least, especially since many of them are ebooks.

Anyway, Maria Zannini is one author who has been waiting, writing, and waiting, and writing some more in anticipation of a good market for science fiction romance. What an exciting time for her—and readers who need more stories to glom. Here’s the premise of TRUE BELIEVERS:

Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.

Today is the release day for TRUE BELIEVERS. I had the opportunity to interview Maria Zannini about her latest book. Her answers are chock full of fun stuff. This includes a contest news for readers as well as an excerpt, so away we go!

The Galaxy Express: On your site, you share that you “write spicy Science Fiction and Fantasy that titillate some and torment others.” What compelled you to mix science fiction and fantasy with romance at a time such blends are so niche?

Maria Zannini: I write what I like to read. I want my science to make sense, the fantasy to be magical, and the romance to be spicy.

TGE: Please tell us all the juicy details of your sale to Carina Press, TRUE BELIEVERS.

MZ: After I had finished True Believers, I sent out half-hearted queries. Half-hearted because I knew I had committed the mortal sin of science fiction. I let my hero and heroine fall in love.

Several agents were interested, and one even offered representation if I added a battle scene and toned down the romance. Around that same time, I had back-to-back eye surgeries that kept me blind and off my computer for weeks at a time. By the time I was whole again and contacted the agent agreeing to her terms, she had left the business.

I trunked True Believers, thinking no one would ever want a science fiction story with a lusty heroine, an immortal who didn’t live by human mores. I didn't think about the story again until Angela James burst out on the scene at Carina Press. It didn't take a Mack truck to hit me to realize this was where True Believers belonged.

Probably the funniest part of this story was that my editor asked for more romance—not less. I was happy to oblige.

TGE: What type of setting and characters can readers expect from the story?

MZ: What is space opera if you can't glimpse inside a starship? But this story also takes you to the high desert, a military complex hidden deep in a lake, and even inside the hard drive of a sentient computer.

And the characters!

Taelen Jessit doesn't want to own up to a forced vocation, not if it means being neutered for his trouble. And Rachel can't let her guard down. Not ever. The last time she did, she killed someone accidentally.

In the mean time, the government is plotting the genocide of an entire species and the AIs have evolved beyond the scope of human programming.

Everyone in this story is going for broke because it's all or nothing when there's so much at stake.

TGE: Do you have an excerpt to share?

MZ: Here's a scene where the main character, Rachel, is meeting her father at an archeological dig site where she's working. Rachel's father is none other than the legendary Gilgamesh, formerly of Sumer.
***

Rachel jumped off the dark and sullied surface of the altar. Gilgamesh's baptisms had a tendency to end in blood.

“Why am I here?”

Gilgamesh kissed her on either cheek, then pulled her floppy hat off her head. “Can't a father see his daughter for no reason at all? I thought you'd be pleased with this find. I was being helpful.”

Rachel rolled her head back already wishing this visit was over. “Oh, please. You do nothing if it doesn't help you first. Why did you bring me here?”

He grinned at her, amused with her response. “You are direct. You get that from me.” He handed the hat back to her. “You didn't return my calls when you were in Prague or Israel.”

“I was busy.”

“Too busy for your father?”

“If you wanted to see me all you had to do was show up.” She shook her hat at him with a scold. “At Prague you disrupted the entire assembly with that game of musical lights. And in Israel, you scared the poor curator into cardiac arrest. There was no reason to set off every alarm in a five-block radius.”

Gilgamesh chortled, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “You have to admit, that was very funny.”

“Apa! Israel thought it was a terrorist act. They put the entire country into lockdown!”

“That's what made it funny.” He huffed at her. “You have no sense of humor. You get that from your mother.”
***

TGE: What was the most challenging aspect of writing TRUE BELIEVERS? The most fun?

MZ: I loved working on the battle scenes because I spent many happy hours debating with my husband on how the scene would progress. He's a crack battle strategist and it was great fun planning an attack.

The other thing I enjoyed was the research. Everything in the book is based on actual technology. The 'com-web', the communication grid in True Believers is based on HAARP technology (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program).

The sentient computers evolved from conversations I had with the sister of one of my best friends, a computer scientist at NASA. (She works in the private sector now.)

But the Nephilim connection came from the surprising and inexplicable lack of information. I was fascinated with these people and decided to give them a scientific explanation for their existence and apparent disappearance.

TGE: How did you become the newsletter editor for the Online Writing Workshop?

MZ: That was a case of being at the right place at the right time. Initially, they were looking for a graphic artist to spruce up the appearance of the newsletter, along with a full time editor. The publisher liked my ideas and hired me for the redesign. But it was my sparkling wit and audacity that let her try me out as an editor. (—or at least that's how I remember it. LOL.) It's been a happy marriage ever since.

TGE: What’s the most useful advice on the craft of writing that you ever heard?

MZ: Don't assume that a rejection is carved in stone. The opinion of every agent or editor is subjective. You could very well have caught them on a bad day, or it could have reached someone who simply doesn’t like certain tropes. Keep trying different people, different queries. If you continue getting the same response, find yourself a hardnosed crit partner and figure out what's keeping the manuscript from getting a contract.

Thank you, Heather for being such a gracious hostess. If I may, I'd like to pose a question to TGE readers.

How close are we to creating truly artificial intelligence? And should we embrace it or fear it?

Contest time! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention "Maria Zannini" anywhere with a link to my blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.

PS And if you're a real pal, you'll go to RT Reviews and vote for my novel, MISTRESS OF THE STONE. Go on. You know you want to. It's got pirates, and ghosts, and sexy shifters. Check out this month's excerpt and judge for yourself!

Maria Zannini

Follow Maria here:

Blog
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***

Ms. Zannini, thanks so much for your time, and for your art.

Wow, if all of that isn’t enough to make us TRUE BELIEVERS, I don’t know what is. Happy reading!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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Where Is “The Mammoth Book of Sci-Fi Romance”?

Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2

I know there are much more important things to worry about, but wahhh, where is my hypothetically titled “The Mammoth Book of Sci-Fi Romance”? I want to read it. Where can I buy it? What’s that, you say? You mean it doesn’t exist? Wahhhh!!!

I didn’t find it at Amazon, that’s for sure. Naturally, there’s a MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE and a MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE 2 (*waves to science fiction romance author Nathalie Gray who has a story in it!*). Over at Amazon, I noticed there’s quite a few Mammoth books available. For example, there are Mammoth Books of

*Scottish Romances
*Monsters
*Vampire Romance (1&2)
*Special Ops Romance
*Alternate Histories
*Erotica
*Irish Romance
*Regency Romance
*Time Travel Romance

…and the list goeth oneth. Then, while perusing a post at SF Signal, I just learned about a submission call for THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF STEAMPUNK.

Okay, so that steampunk one sounds fun, but after my last post, I started to wonder why no one seems to believe that science fiction romance is worthy of a spot in the Mammoth series. Yes, I know: SFR is still a niche subgenre. Books with “paranormal” in the title will automatically sell more copies. Many readers still aren’t sure if they’re ready for a combination of SF and romance. Fingers in my ears la la la.

But.

Anthologies are a great way to sample not only the work of a variety of authors in one tidy package, but also new types of stories. Readers make an investment with minimal risk. It’d also be a chance to feature stories by both established and new authors. And if a publisher thinks there’s a market for “Special Ops Romance,” why not sci-fi romance?

I also dig the idea of further disentangling SFR from horror-based paranormal romance. However, if a print-first version is seen as too much of a risk, why not a digital-first version? Or start with a sure-fire seller: “The Mammoth Book of Erotic Sci-Fi Romance.” While we're at it, let's throw in a "Mammoth Book of Steampunk Romance." I’m beggin’ ya, here.

Alas, perhaps it really is too soon for such a big step. I’ll concede that anthologies like the Mammoth series usually happen after a subgenre is well established. Certainly, for the sake of the authors’ livelihoods, it might be better to wait until the market is boiling than to throw the stories into a simmering pot.

But all of those obstacles, worthy opponents though they are, still ain’t gonna stop me from putting a bee in your bonnet…!

What are your thoughts? Would a “Mammoth Book of Sci-Fi Romance” be premature right now, or is it time to gather signatures for a petition?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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RT Blog Features Interviews With IMPULSE POWER Authors

There is some serious science fiction romance love in the air this week. The RT Blog just posted an interview with Samhain Publishing's IMPULSE POWER authors Nathalie Gray, Robert Appleton, and J.C. Hay! (Thanks to Nathalie Gray for the link.)

Impulse Power

In Get Ready For Three Sci Fi Space Operas, the authors answered "questions about the project, their individual novels and their science fiction inspirations."

Here's an excerpt from Nathalie Gray:

SFR stories are about more than love in zero-g. They’re frontier stories, humanity rising (or falling), people uniting against a common enemy or dissolving into wars. SFR in general and Impulse Power in particular is about transcending time and place, while always keeping what makes us who we are: the relationships important to us. Plus, we get to shoot up stars and shit!


Robert Appleton has this to say about SFR heroines:

To me, nothing speaks SFR like a kick-ass space babe who gets emotionally compromised along the way. Emotion, strong women, and space-wide kickassery: three things every reader should expect from Impulse Power.


J.C. Hay shares what readers can expect from the IMPULSE POWER stories:

For me, there is a great epic sense about the three stories. None of these stories are about small changes – the fates of worlds hang in the balance. With the romance in the foreground, you get this great dichotomy wherein our concern for the characters keeps this big epic story from feeling distant, while that same larger world helps to make the romance feel larger than life. It’s one of my favourite things about SFR, and something I think it does really well.


Now, tarry no further! Click on over for more terrific coverage.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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Gini Koch’s SFR in LOVE AND ROCKETS Anthology (DAW)

Science fiction romance is making yet another bold advance into genre territory: Author Gini Koch (ALIEN TANGO) sold a science fiction romance short story to the DAW anthology LOVE AND ROCKETS! Congratulations, Ms. Koch!

Love and Rockets

LOVE AND ROCKETS promises plenty of “science fiction and romance sittin’ in a tree” action. The collection was edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Kerrie Hughes, and Lois McMaster Bujold.

Check out the product description at Amazon:

Space...the final frontier. Or is it? Many say there's no frontier more forbidding than a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. But what if one's a human, and the other's an alien? Here is an original collection of space opera stories where authors take love (unrequited or not), on a spaceship, space station, or planetary colony, and add enough drama, confusion and mayhem to ensure that the path to true love-or short-term infatuation-is seldom free of obstacles.


Can you say “Squee!” boys and girls? So that we could learn more about Gini Koch’s contribution, I invited her aboard The Galaxy Express for a chat and a virtual chai:

The Galaxy Express: Congratulations on the sale of your science fiction romance short story to DAW's LOVE AND ROCKETS anthology. How did this anthology evolve?

Gini Koch: Thanks! I'm really excited to be included.

As far as I understand it, the editor (the awesome Kerrie Hughes) proposed the anthology to DAW, they agreed, Kerrie went and found authors she wanted to use and, while she was compiling, she met my agent, who suggested me, and the rest is history.

TGE: What's the title and premise of your story?

GK: "Wanted" is written under my Anita Ensal pen name. The premise is finding what you really want when you least expect it. "Wanted" is set in the future, in the Asteroid Belt. Evie's running away from something, gets stranded in the vast emptiness of the Belt, Cal saves her, and we see if they'll come together before the Galactic Police catch up to her.

TGE: Are there any special ingredients that went into the making of this story?

GK: Lots of Lady Gaga. LOL. I'm very musically oriented for writing, and for whatever reason, it was All Lady Gaga, All the Time, in order to get this story written and written well. My husband now never wants to hear "Paparazzi" or "Speechless" again.

TGE: What were the joys—and challenges—of writing a science fiction romance short story as opposed to a novel?

GK: OMG, do we have the time for the challenges? LOL

Well, I'm a natural novelist. I have no issue writing long, and novel structure comes easily to me. I enjoy writing shorter fiction, but it's much, much harder. For the LOVE AND ROCKETS anthology, I truly had 15 false starts before I hit on "Wanted", including one I was really happy with that I submitted to Kerrie. We talked about what she didn't like about it (felt like it was from a novel universe instead of being on its own) and I went back to the drawing board. Once I hit on the "Wanted" story, even that went through a variety of revisions. When I finally realized whose POV the story needed to be in, though, it flowed easily from there.

The joy was being able to create a love story that resonated with a limited number of words, while also creating a world that feels real. This is a quieter story, very focused on deeper emotions, and I really enjoyed it, and the characters. I can honestly say I fell in love with Cal while writing him, and I hope readers do, too.

Alien TangoTGE: What's the release date? Where can readers find the anthology?

GK: Release date is December 7th (yes, the same day as ALIEN TANGO* releases. December's gonna be busy for me!). You can find LOVE AND ROCKETS in all the major bookstores wherever DAW books are stocked and it should be available online as well. I don't know if there will be an ebook version, though I'd guess there will be.

TGE: What else can readers look forward to from you in the near future?

GK: Well, December 7th has LOVE AND ROCKETS along with ALIEN TANGO releasing. Then on January 4th, 2011, I have another Anita Ensal short story, "Being Neighborly", coming out in another DAW anthology, BOONDOCKS FANTASY, this one edited by the wonderful Jean Rabe. It's not SFR, but I really love the characters in Being Neighborly, and hope readers will, too. And the lead story in Boondocks Fantasy is from Gene Wolfe, so the company is amazingly awesome.

April 5th is when the 3rd book in my Alien series, ALIEN IN THE FAMILY, releases. And then ALIEN PROLIFERATION is coming in Winter, 2011. So, it's a busy time for me, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

Many happy sales, Ms. Koch!

To learn even more about the anthology, read this interview with editor Kerrie Hughes at Flames Rising.

Now, it gets even better: LOVE AND ROCKETS will come hot on the heels of SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH (November 16), an anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. SONGS features a science fiction romance story by author Linnea Sinclair, among others. (Read more about Ms. Sinclair's "Courting Trouble.")

And don’t forget that a steampunk romance anthology and a cyberpunk romance anthology are both forthcoming from Samhain Publishing--thanks to Senior Editor Sasha Knight.

As far as science fiction romance anthologies, seems like we had a drought for a while, and then, Boom! —an explosion of growth. Okay, maybe not an explosion, but definitely some grand fireworks.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

*ALIEN TANGO cover art by Dan Dos Santos

Sunday, October 10, 2010

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Should Birth Control Be Covered In Science Fiction Romance?

For some reason, this topic just popped into my head the other night. I don’t recall having blogged specifically about the role of birth control in a science fiction romance with a futuristic setting, so here goes.

Peter Paul ReubensWhen reading a science fiction romance, I generally don’t care if an SFR hero and heroine have no birth control concerns. The primary reason is that I like the fantasy of it not being an issue in my reading. If it’s there, I’m not going to complain, but neither do I ding authors for not bringing it up during the course of the story. Some stories demand it or have plot/worldbuilding elements related to it, and power to them. Still, going into detail regarding birth control is not a prerequisite for me.

Another reason is that I have this thing where I automatically assume that because it’s a futuristic setting, science has streamlined birth control methods to the point where they’re automatic and almost invisible. I don’t really know what those methods are, heh, but I'm happy to assume they are there. If I were reading a contemporary romance, my expectations would be different. Yet presented with a futuristic setting, I entertain the possibility that science has taken all the work and stress out of it.

I like the fantasy of birth control being executed by advanced technology—and this goes for both the hero and the heroine. I’m also thinking in terms of a point when there’s more gender equality in the fictional universe of SFR, especially as it relates to romance tropes and hero-heroine dynamics. In other words, it's refreshing to think that heroines aren’t expected to have 100% responsibility for birth control. Neither do I expect heroines to be virgins and grappling with the issue for the first time. It’s freeing to believe that technology has leveled the playing field and removed all of the risks for both hero and heroine. In general, why shouldn’t SFR heroines have the same freedom as heroes to satisfy their sexual urges without penalties?

For instance, the idea of nanotechnology modulating ovulation or sperm output—wow! (Come to think of it, that concept could even be the focus of a science fiction romance.)

Maybe I’m just a big weirdo geek, but I have fun creating this little worldbuilding detail for the stories I read. Or maybe it’s all a justification for the fact that I want the hero and heroine to make love with the ultimate freedom. No surprise bambinos until they’re ready. Another possibility is that I’d rather read about other details, like what kind of space ship or gadgets the characters use.

And yet—I don’t want to risk dismissing what might be an important element to cover in science fiction romance. What are your thoughts on birth control in this subgenre?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 7, 2010

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Jackie Chan and the Science Fiction Romance Connection

For readers new to Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s current Failure of Imagination series at Alien Romances, she recapitulates in Failure of Imagination Part III: Education that

The overall general topic I've been tackling in these posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com is how to improve the general reader/viewer's opinion of the Romance Genre - particularly SFR and PNR.

As if that weren’t super enough, in Part III, she unveils this little gem:

So a writer must know what blinders her audience is wearing, blinders the audience is not aware exist. The writer must know the limits of the audience's imagination.


After reading the above, my mind started spinning all sorts of webs. I recommend you read the article in its entirety since it was in the back of my mind as I wrote this post. Ms. Lichtenberg explored the idea that Americans have developed blinders on their imaginations in the pursuit of other interests. She postulates that such blinders limit the sorts of entertainment that we might otherwise enjoy. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. Therefore, I have a few thoughts on the concept of audience “blinders” and would love to discuss them with you.

My perspective is from the audience/reader point of view. However, I’d like to illustrate my points in the form of a story..

In 1995, I attended the second annual Otakon in State College, PA. Otakon is a convention that focuses on “East Asian popular culture.” I was a big anime fan (still am) and looked forward to spending a few days there with my boyfriend (now husband) and a friend of ours.

My husband and our friend wanted to watch some of the martial arts films being shown at the convention. (This was before RUMBLE IN THE BRONX (1996) reignited American interest in Hong Kong films.) They were already fans of such fare as ULTRAMAN, KAMEN RIDER, and the Godzilla franchise.

I was not, however, a fan of teh chop socky. Or anything live action, regardless of whichever Eastern country gave it birth. Big irony, isn’t it, considering how much time and money I spent on my anime pursuits.

At the time of the convention, I knew about martial arts films, but the only thing I really knew about them were that they featured a lot of fights. Wall-to-wall fights, it seemed. Just the thought of watching an endless parade of fight scenes left me weary, and I remember being more than a little cranky at the prospect of a martial arts marathon.

“How could I possible relate to any of the characters?” I asked myself. Where were the heroines in these films? Did they even exist? What about romance? More importantly, would they have a plot, or were the plots merely a hook on which to hang a bunch of fights? Plus, I hadn’t heard any of them occurred in outer space settings. What was the point in even trying?

To put it bluntly, I had on a big honking pair of blinders.

My husband was really excited about seeing the films, so I acquiesced. So we watched a film. Then we watched a few more. And then something magical happened:

My blinders dropped away. How, you may be asking? Well, one film changed it all: DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994) starring Jackie Chan.

That day, literally overnight, I became a fan of martial arts films. I’ve given some thought as to why that happened:

*I was already a fan of Japanese animation, which is probably a big reason I even entered the room where the films were being showed.

*My first exposure was to a really good film. DRUNKEN MASTER II is regarded as one of the classics. But don’t take my word for it. TIME Magazine included DRUNKEN MASTER II in its top 100 films of all time.

*Since my initial exposure was to quality films, I learned that the good ones had great characters and a lot of depth, especially if one factored in the films’ cultural subtexts, which, as I later discovered through my own research, are legion.

*I learned about how stylized the fighting is in these films. The choreography and feats reminded me of ballet (which I had taken for ten years as a child—had that primed me in some way?). The point isn’t always who wins, but how the opponents fight.

*I learned that in martial arts films, women could fight just as well as the men.

*I saw the films with someone whose opinion I trusted. Apparently, my husband must have known on some level that I would enjoy the genre if I would just give it a try. Plus, his commentary while viewing them helped me interpret some of the elements that were new to me.

*I was part of a niche audience, and that factor made the overall experience a unique one. I felt privileged, like I was part of an elite group.

Take a quick peek at the Japanese trailer for DRUNKEN MASTER II:



So in light of Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s terminology, I had experienced a failure of the imagination when it came to martial arts films. Looking back, I think one of the biggest reasons I had on blinders was fear of an onslaught of mindless fight scenes. The superficial violence factor had overwhelmed me, so much so that I initially refused to discover if could even enjoy a single film.

I wanted to share this story because I see a connection with science fiction romance (and horror-based paranormal romance before its heyday). I think there’s a potentially larger audience for the subgenre, but could the reason we’re not seeing them surface yet be because of the blinders they are currently wearing?

When I reflect on my aversion to the superficial violence in martial arts films, I can’t help but wonder if some audiences feel the same way about the science in SFR. Or about the romance elements (SF fans, I’m looking at you).

I’ve read so many anecdotal comments by readers who say they initially resisted horror-based paranormal romance, but now they’re fans. I wonder how their blinders fell off?

While I agree that it’s great if authors “know the limits of the audience's imagination,” I would challenge readers to assess whether they are wearing blinders when it comes to a particular genre, and if the blinders are truly necessary. That said, I see a distinction between subjective taste and blinders. Audiences aren’t going to like everything, but as Jacqueline pointed out in her article, are we limiting ourselves without realizing it?

Using myself as an example again, there really weren’t any valid reasons for me to snub martial arts films. Given my love of anime, the fact that I did so made me a hypocrite. I was blind to a rich cinematic experience that was right in front of my nose, one that all of my other interests had been pointing to all of my life. All I can say is, thank goodness for Jackie Chan.

What are your thoughts on “blinders”? How can authors find out more about them? What can authors do in their stories to help readers remove unnecessary blinders?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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"A Gentlemen's Duel": A Short film with Steampunk Mecha and Romance!

I discovered A GENTLEMEN'S DUEL at SF Signal and just had to share:



If anyone wanted to write a steampunk romance with stuff like this (whether parody or serious in tone), I'd be in heaven.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

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Steampunk Prosthetics

Well here’s an item I never thought I’d be blogging about in a million gajillion years:

When I was a youngster, I had a neighborhood friend named Betsy. We lived on a street that had numerous families with kids, great streets for bicycling, and lots of wooded areas to explore. I remember visiting Betsy’s house at least a time or two. However, despite the idyllic memories, the only thing I can recall with any certainty about Betsy is that her father had a silver hook for a hand.

I have a distinct memory of studying his hook up close and personal as he showed it to me. It looked shiny, heavy, and sharp. Obviously, I must have been curious and asked him about it—either that, or I stared inappropriately as children are wont to do. I recall him talking to me about it, but I can’t remember anything he said. I only remember being simultaneously fascinated and shocked that such a thing could exist outside of fairytales. Even as I write this, other memories surfaced, such as Betsy’s father using his hook in some everyday fashion, such as holding a newspaper. In retrospect, I’m not sure which intrigued me more—his hook, or how much he’d adapted to it.

I hadn’t really thought about that memory of Betsy’s father until recently, after finishing a few steampunk romances featuring characters with prosthetic limbs. I think my early exposure to such a device primed me to respond to them with strong interest when my love affair with genre stories began. I feel strongly attuned to such a story detail even now.

WILD CARDS AND IRON HORSESOne of the steampunk romances I recently read was WILD CARDS AND IRON HORSES by Sheryl Nantus. The story is set in an alternate universe Old West and features the exploits of hero Jonathan Handleston who is preparing to play the poker game of a lifetime. What sets him apart from other players is that because of a war injury, he has a brace to provide support for his crippled hand. But not just any type of brace.

His withered hand is encased by a steampunk exoskeleton!

You can bet your sweet bippy that my anticipation spiked when I first learned about it in the story. The big set up is the mystery surrounding how Jonathan’s brace factors into his card playing. And with the stakes of this particular tournament so high, there are those who view his condition with deep distrust.

While I probably should have been more excited about Samantha, the genius engineer heroine, it was the hero’s steampunk exoskeleton that really got my heart pumping. Whether fact or fiction, I am in awe of people and characters who have a prosthetic limb. Plus, I want to know more about how it works, what it feels like to have one, and especially what's going on at the point where real flesh meets artificial limb. I simply find the prospect of such an interface both terrifying and cool—is what they mean by morbid curiosity?

Burning Up AnthologyAnother story that rejuvenated my interest in prosthetics was Meljean Brook’s “Here There Be Monsters” from Berkley’s BURNING UP anthology. This steampunk romance launches her Iron Seas series and focuses on the adventures of Ivy—another brilliant engineer!—and her encounters with a treacherous outlaw called Mad Machen. It’s set in an alternate, late Victorian-like setting where the English are still reeling from an infection of steampunk nanoagents perpetrated by an enemy known as the Horde.

Ivy has two prosthetic arms and hands that are identical to real arms and hands (except for their color). While they didn’t factor into the story as a plot device, they were a nice worldbuilding detail that lent this heroine an exotic air. In fact, the hero has a prosthetic foot…and then there are the references to other characters with prosthetic limbs. “Here There Be Monsters” was a veritable smorgasbord of steampunk prosthetics. Happy dance!

Finally, in George Mann’s THE OSIRIS RITUAL (A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation), one of the secondary characters has a whole body riddled with various steampunk devices and prosthetics. The macabre nature of the character (whose name I won’t mention to avoid spoilers) reminded me yet again why I find historical and/or primitive prosthetics so dangerous and yet endlessly intriguing. Peg legs, wooden teeth, you name it—I can’t get enough of the ways human beings have adapted to the loss of a limb over the centuries.

And if such wondrous steampunk prosthetic devices “existed” in the past, what will the fictional future hold?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Written on

SFR News & Links for October 2010

The Iron Duke

New releases

THE IRON DUKE – Meljean Brook

After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power — and fear — of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

Mina can’t afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and despite the nanotech enhancing her body, she barely scratches out a living in London society. Becoming Rhys’s lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him…and the Iron Duke’s ruthless pursuit makes him difficult to resist.

But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans — and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

Read an excerpt.

GambitGAMBIT – Kim Knox

Captain Chae Beyon is a hustler, a mercenary pilot, a wounded woman who prefers her men to be easily thrown aside.

Daned Traern is a first-caste Ladaian bound by tradition and DNA to protect his race. He’s willing to align himself with the hot space captain if she’ll transport him home in time to ensure the right candidate is crowned—and thus prevent a bloody war.
Disguised as Chae’s sex toy, Daned is erotically bound to her through living gold, alien tech designed to increase pleasure. When he frees himself, their passion only increases…but succumbing to temptation will bind them together—permanently.

But there’s more at stake than their needs. As Chae is dragged into a world of insane princes and sentient stones, hired killers hound them across the quadrant.

And then, as only her lousy luck would have it, Chae must choose between the good of the galaxy and her own heart…

Read an excerpt. For more information about GAMBIT, see my recent interview with Kim Knox.

True BelieversTRUE BELIEVERS – Maria Zannini

Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known.

Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods.

Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.

Sales

Diane Dooley sold a romantic SF novella to Carina Press! The (working) title is BLUE GALAXY. Read the announcement post here.

Sweet Cover

Gini Koch recently unveiled the cover for ALIEN IN THE FAMILY, the third book in her Alien series. Click here to see all the Technicolor glory of cover artist Dan Dos Santos. For more coverage, debut SFR author Diane Dooley recently blogged about Gini Koch’s covers here.

A contest to watch

The November issue of RT Book Reviews has a feature on Writing with the Stars, RT & Brava’s 2011 Writing Competition. I scanned the feature of ten finalists, my hopes not all that high given the low profile science fiction romance has in major contests.

But stop the press! Writing with the Stars has one finalist with a science fiction romance story!

KC Klein is the scribe behind DARK FUTURE, a “sexy futuristic time travel.” (Which reminds me…remember my recent post on time travel romances?). She describes her reaction to the news about finaling in The Ugly Truth at If You Give a Girl a Pen….

Let’s support KC Klein by voting online for her story. Voting begins on October 11, 2010, at RTBookReviews.com. Click here (scroll down) for the “online voting overview.”

Galaxy Express passenger Maria Zannini also made the cut with her historical romance, MISTRESS OF STONE. Good luck to all of the finalists!

eBook news

At Dear Author, you can discover What’s Coming Next for eBooks?

Cool science

At Alien Romances, Margaret L. Carter delivers news of Robot Skin:

Would a robot that can process several kinds of sensory input, including touch, and can pass the Turing test (carrying on a conversation that can't be distinguished from talking to a human being) -- a big step we haven't reached yet -- deserve to be classified as "human"? What would it take for an artificial intelligence to become entitled to "human rights"?


Catherine Asaro
explored this very issue in SUNRISE ALLEY and its sequel, ALPHA. I think the news has implicationsuses for future science fiction romances featuring androids, robots, etc..

Steampunk Romance

Read quotes from early reviews of Pauline B. Jones’ TANGLED IN TIME steampunk romance novella (L&L Dreamspell). Here’s a snippet:

"Jones packs a wallop of a story in Tangled in Time. Humor and suspense abound in a tale filled with action and suspense. The diversity between Carey and Olivia in manner and speaking is portrayed with engaging wit and the chemistry between the two is fun and highly entertaining. Fans of Jones will recognize favorite characters from The Key and Girl Gone Nova, an added bonus. This novella will appeal to readers across genres, offering romance, suspense, and mystery all wrapped up in an intriguing Sci-Fi plot that grabs the reader from beginning to end." Midwest Book Review


A new blog called Steamed! features all kinds of articles on “writing steampunk fiction.”

Here’s an interesting one called “A Case for Steaminess in Steampunk” by Theresa Meyers:

While the Victorian era was indeed a little more straight-laced about the kinds of affections that could be touted in public, we must remember that this is steampunk. Perhaps being a little steamier requires us to be a little more punk about our perceptions of the era and let those relationships out in the open.

After all, if a woman can wear her undergarments on the outside without steampunk social circles batting an eyelash, why should we not have more steaminess in our steampunk stories?


Well said, and I think it dovetails nicely with my previous article at Dear Author, The Case for Steampunk Romance.

Now it’s your turn at the mike. Have any science fiction romance news or links to share?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Written on

Eyes Only: Agent Z’s Latest Mission

The following message was extracted from the classified files of Intergalactic Troublemaker, Agent Z., for the passengers of The Galaxy Express .

On a remote station orbiting Planet Fei Hung, in a darkened section known as Cutthroat Alley, Heather slipped into the seedy, dimly lit bar. If the place had a name, she didn't know. She only knew that Agent Z had requested a meeting in this nondescript watering hole. She would have missed the entrance, too, if Z hadn't told her about the unusual alien script carved roughly into the hatch.

Leave it to Agent Z to pick a classy dump like this, Heather noted, wincing as her boot made contact with a patch of gag-inducing muck. Advancing further into the haze-filled establishment, Heather looked around surreptitiously for her colleague. As her gaze swept over the bar, she noticed a couple of Orangutaniums in a heated discussion over large mugs of ale. A spike headed Fock'toth sat there as well, methodically tapping a clawed hand upon the surface. Her dark eyes promised death.

Heather peered toward the back. There, in the shadowy corner: a mysterious, hooded figure. Bingo. After ordering a strawberry flavored gargleblaster, Heather made her way to Agent Z's table.

A silver goblet was before Agent Z, barely touched. Heather tossed her boss-of-the-plains onto the table along with her drink and sat down. "Hey, girl. Got your message. Must be something important for you to have called me all the way out here. What's up?"

Agent Z. downed her gargleblaster. "I'm in trouble, Heather. I need your help. I need it bad!"

Heather ordered Z. a couple of more gargleblasters. "Tell me more."

"I've gone and sold a book, Heather."

Heather raised her glass. "And about time, sweetie. So what's the problem?"

Z. groaned. "Heather, I'm an intergalactic spy! I'm secretive. I operate undercover. How the hell am I going to continue with all my daring acts of derring-do with a bunch of screaming fans following me around the universe, begging me to sign their various body parts and urging me to write faster? Huh? What am I going to do?"

Heather stared at Agent Z incredulously. For all her spying brilliance, Z. could be an incredible dumb-ass sometimes. Heather pulled a beautiful moleskin notebook out and tossed it at Z. "Start taking notes. We’re going to create a respectable alter-ego for you."

Z. looked at her blankly. "Respectable? Me?"

"Take another drink, Z. And start writing."

Z. nodded and picked up her pen.

Heather leaned back, twirling a lock of hair thoughtfully. "Your name is Diane Dooley - that has a nice ring to it. You're a devoted wife and mother..."

Agent Z. let out a snort of disbelief. But she kept writing.

***

Congratulations, Diane! That is superfantasticwonderful news!

From what I know about BLUE GALAXY (working title), it’s a romantic SF with a space opera setting. The story features colorful characters, political intrigue, and betrayal all wrapped up in a shiny, action-packed plot. It will be released by Carina Press.

To learn more about Diane Dooley, visit her blog at www.dianedooley.wordpress.com.

Is this the year for debut science fiction romance authors, or what?!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Friday, October 1, 2010

Written on

Whee!! I Have A Kindle!

Yes, 'tis true: I now have a Kindle. A recent string of good luck, in combination with the new low price of $139.00, enabled me to purchase my very first e-reader.

I’ve wanted one for a very long time—even before e-readers existed. You see, one of my favorite places to read is on my back, on a bed. For years I would daydream about reading stories on an electronic device that would either be embedded in the ceiling or hang from it, mostly so my arms wouldn’t get tired holding up a book. Well, now that dream is even closer to reality, ha ha!

After opening the package, I couldn’t believe how tiny it was. Practically like holding a large postcard. The new plastic smell was so strong I ended up sniffing my Kindle about five or six times while it was charging up. Yes, I’m primal like that.

Girl Gone NovaThe first ebook I loaded onto it was Pauline Baird Jones’ GIRL GONE NOVA. What timing, too, because this book was next in my queue of ebooks to read. I’ve been frustrated the past eight months or so because my digital TBR pile has been really piling up, but I was limited to reading on a desktop at night. I don’t get headaches, but as the evening goes on, eye strain was becoming an issue. Plus, I was stuck in a chair that wasn’t conducive to a relaxing position. During the day, I’d read my paperbacks as time permitted. Now, I have the choice of reading print or digital during those periods my daughter wants uninterrupted time to do her role plays.

Sweet.

I really love reading on an e-reader. I love that it’s so light and that I can hold it in one hand in between advancing to each page. While reading GIRL GONE NOVA, I also read the text a lot faster—partly excitement, I’m sure, but I remember reading about a study that revealed people read electronic documents faster than paper ones. Regardless, I had no trouble becoming totally absorbed in the story. Didn’t miss the print book experience at all. It was just the story and me.

It almost goes without saying that there’ll be an explosion of e-reader sales this coming holiday. All of those readers will be looking for something to read, and seems to me that’s a good thing for science fiction romance. I know I’ll be buying a lot more ebooks.

What about you? Will you be putting an e-reader on your holiday wish-list? If you already have one, what’s been your experience with it?

Joyfully yours,

Heather