All posts by alexis

Prologue to the Future

With a new novella in the Science Fiction Romance anthology Pets in Space 5, a question was posed to all of the authors – what sparked your story?

Here’s my answer and then some.

I wanted to write a PISA story with a trauma service animal.  But some elements of the story have existed in my imagination for a long time. My heroine Mercury’s psychic gift to change the laws of probability around her and so change her luck, and that of her friends and enemies—her psychalchemy—was in my idea notes from twenty years ago.  Even then, she was one of a team of xenarchaeologists studying alien ruins. Her love interest was supposed to be somebody else. He’ll be a good hero when his time comes but he’ll have to find another heroine.  Mercury is taken!

My hero Haze is original to Pastfinders. He had to have a reason to be at the ancient archaeological site, so it became an official visit in his capacity as a biologist with the planetary government. He also had to have PTSD that crashes down on him.  Haze evolved from there. And Rusty, the alien trauma service creature, evolved to be what Haze needed.

What put everyone together was the title. “Pastfinders” is what the xenarchaeologists call themselves after their starship, Pastfinder.  On the barren planet Tellus, under ancient alien ruins, there is a buried, eroded past to be discovered. Haze has his own buried past—the trauma that left him with PTSD and in dire need of a sympathetic service animal. The planet itself has a lost geological history that the colonists want to recreate, by making a long-dry river flow anew. In writing the story I made these lost and found pasts intersect.

Speaking of intersections. . . .

The project next up for me is the final revision of the second book in my Starways series.  In the first book, Witherspin, the Pastfinders’ leader Svetlana Tai surprised me by horning in to demand some stage time.  Witherspin’s heroine is actually mentioned by Tai in Pastfinders:

“The Crate is sanctioned by an elaborate legal agreement engineered by an interstellar lawyer at Avend University in Wendis. She’s old Azurean, just as you’re old Tellan.”

“From one of the early astronaut families on Azure.” Haze nodded.

“And you’ll never meet a more precious, sanctimonious rule-head than Nia Az-Courant.”

Evidently Tai disliked the lawyer in question.

In the second book, Starmaze, Tai and her merry crew of archaeologist-adventurers turn out to play a major role. They are not just harmless scientists. And some significant action in which they involve themselves takes place where my PISA3 story Starway was set – the Starway interstellar hotel.

Further ahead in the Starways series, Haze and Rusty joining the team is going to change the Pastfinders’ future. And that starship of theirs will turn out to have a secret past of its own. It was salvaged after a fierce little interstellar war by a group which stayed out of the war but salvaged some of the war’s wrack and ruin. So the starship Pastfinder was in its past life a storied warship named Gallant.  It still has its original identification plate. Aircraft restorations are famous for this:  almost all that’s left of a rare old aircraft may be the original manufacturer’s data plate, but with great enthusiasm and expense, the aircraft is remade around it.

In the case of Gallant/Pastfinder, more than the nameplate was salvaged.  Its engine was intact.  It so happened that its role in battle was a fast—very, very fast—attack cruiser. In the possession of the Pastfinders, this souped-up starship may turn the tide on future battles too.

Time will tell!

Guest Post by Laurie A. Green: And Then There Were Four

 Again this year I’m delighted to have a story in the best-selling Science Fiction Romance anthology Pets in Space 5.  Here my fellow PiSA 5 author Laurie Green shows us the charming pet in her story. (I want one!)

The StarDog

This is the fourth story I’ve written for an annual Pets in Space® release with each of the previous ones including a StarDog as a pet and/or working partner. Not one to give up on a theme, for Pets in Space® 5 I decided to write another StarDog adventure, but go back in time and center the action around one of the very first bio-engineered dog-cat-weasel-mongoose DNA blends named CaSandra—or Cassie, for short.

Being creatures created in a lab, the StarDog names are all drawn from their particular production series. The three StarDogs in previous stories were a K-series (Katrina from StarDog), L-series (Luna from Courting Disaster), and M-series (Maura from SpyDog), so their stories take place in later timelines. CaSandra is, of course, from the C-series and so one of the earliest StarDogs. Her story is set five calendars (years) before any of the others. She’s literally a protype and still in the testing phase.

Like the StarDogs and SpyDogs who will come after her, Cassie is extremely perceptive and intelligent. She was created to serve as an intelligence asset and is highly inquisitive and attentive. Very few details escape her attention!

In my story Juggernaut, Dekessa “Dek” Garr is the acting commander of a security team and she meets CaSandra and her handler, Telon, for the first time in this scene: (Edited for length.)


He reached down beside his chair and lifted an object onto the table by a handle set into the top. The rectangular box appeared to be made of punched polymer with wire mesh on the side facing her.

“Say hello to the commander, CaSandra,” Telon said.

Two little golden paws pressed against the mesh from the inside. The creature attached to them gave a high-pitched bark, followed by quiet chattering.

Startled, Dek backed off a step. The animal’s soft amber eyes studied her from behind the mesh with its shiny nose molded tight to the thin bars.

“What in Empora’s Hades is this?” she demanded.

“There isn’t a name for what she is,” Telon answered quietly. “She’s a bio-construct, a first-generation prototype with canine, feline, weasel, and mongoose DNA.”

Dek raised her gaze to the stranger. “Bio-constructed for what purpose?”

His eyes went dark and deep, like the ocean just before a storm. “I’m not at liberty to discuss that, Acting Commander.”

This guy was going to be nothing but trouble. Good thing she’d been trained to handle trouble in all its masculine forms.

He reached for the wire mesh screen—

“What are you—”

—and flipped it open.

Dek backed off another step and gripped the stunpulse secreted in a pocket of her field uniform. The golden creature exited its crate, eyeing her cautiously, and sniffed the air. Its pointed ears twitched before it bolted up Telon’s sleeve and perched on his shoulder, chattering quietly in his ear.

The man nodded and met Dek’s eyes. “Cassie says she’s on your side. And she’d like you to release the weapon you have hidden in your uniform.”

The little beastie squeaked again.

“Please,” he added.

Dek dropped her chin, squinting. “Is this creature telepathic?”

“Not exactly,” he replied.

The bio-construct leaned toward Telon, nuzzling the side of his face…and purred. Huh. Just like the kitten she’d had as a kid. The man reached up to stroke the animal’s head. Cassie craned her neck and closed her eyes, emitting a happy gruff-gruff.

Dek’s heart warmed a degree or two.

Gigadam thing’s adorable.

She displayed her empty hand. “Tell her if she behaves, she has nothing to fear from me.”

Telon grinned. “You just told her yourself, Acting Commander. She understands you perfectly.”


JUGGERNAUT

The Inherited Stars Series

By Laurie A. Green

A security commander must decide if she can trust a mysterious stranger and his bioengineered StarDog when the secret underground site she protects is threatened.

I hope you’ll join Cassie and company for their high-stakes adventure in Pets in Space® 5.

Author Laurie A. Green Website

illustration by Adrian

The Blessing of the Animals

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis.  Even in this COVID year, a lot of mainstream churches held the Blessing of the Animals – possibly by drive through! And why not?  Pets have comforted so many people during shutdowns and quarantines.  Even those without pets have been made happy by seeing pictures of pets on Facebook.

Again this year I’m delighted to be in the Pets in Space 5 Science Fiction Romance anthology.  A dozen stories NYT and USA Today bestselling authors have concocted wonderful stories about space and starships, romance and adventure, and helpful, companionable, mysterious or surprising pets. I know Pets in Space 5 will entertain our readers. And I hope it helps some of them through a bad night or bad day. That’s what a good story with heart can do.

My PISA 5 story is Pastfinders, and here’s an excerpt from it:


The scratching came again, the unmistakable sound of blunt claws on tent fabric. Haze eased away from Mercury. He got his feet under him in a tense crouch and touched the flap of the tent. His heart pounded as he anticipated what he’d see, or not.

The flap opened to reveal a creature looking up at him. It was compactly dog-sized but unlike anything Haze had ever seen. Except it had the eyes he’d dreamed about, large golden eyes with diamond-shaped pupils.

He stared at the creature in wary wonder. Its wide, feathered head had long flexible ears and a hooked beak. It had wide shoulders and a thick ruff of feathers lighter in color than the rust-brown fur on the rest of its body. It stood on front paws with blunt, tent-scratching claws. It had taloned back feet. And a long tail with a feathery tuft at the end.

The strange compassionate eyes didn’t leave Haze. The creature put a paw on his knee.

His wariness melted. The reflexes of a lifelong biologist remained. Breaking off eye contact—animals consider direct eye contact potential threat—Haze slowly extended his hand, palm up, below the creature’s shoulder—animals take a hand reaching for their head as a threat.

It sniffed his hand.

He slowly raised his hand to its ruff. The feathers felt much colder than the air. This was an unexpectedly detailed encounter to be just a dream. Haze was puzzled. “Where did you come from?”

It wagged its feather-tufted tail in such a doglike, Dusty-like movement that his heart warmed.

Behind him, Mercury rolled up with a puzzled little sound. She looked over his shoulder and gasped.

“Do you see it too?” Haze asked. “Or am I dreaming?”

“What is that?!”

“I dreamed about my old dog. I had a nightmare and it led me to safety.” He looked into those strange, compassionate eyes again and some of the tension that had his nerves stretched taut eased.

She put her hands on his shoulders. “That is not a dog!”

“The eyes were the same. My old dog was named Dusty because his fur always picked up the dust in the street.”

The long, flexible ears pointed toward him. The early sun picked out reddish notes in its fur and its feathers. He heard himself ask, “Can I call you Rusty?”

The creature cocked its head as though trying to understand him.


Get Pets in Space® 5!  A portion of the first few weeks’ profits go to Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that helps our service veterans and first responders. 

 

 

Omen

Photo by Mark Montague

I spent the summer in Reno, Nevada, leaving – fortunately – just before the wildfires in California got bad enough to drop the visibility and air quality for weeks.  Nonetheless while I was still there my fiancé took this photo from his driveway.  A fire just across the state line in California created this pyroculumlus cloud above  the updraft from the fire. The fire even generated a firenado – a fire tornado – the first that ever made it into a National Weather Service forecast. On top of the terrible COVID summer, there was no way to see this cloud at sunset other than as a sign of crises to come.

 

UNDERLAND

A powerful book, this, and beautifully written.  Author Robert Macfarlane explores the caverns, crypts, mines, tombs, glacial caves, underground nuclear waste storage facilities (!), subterranean rivers, and forest root systems beneath our unknowing feet. He meets able guides in all these realms, people who know their way through the caves or mines or catacombs.  And he ponders how human technology can change the world.  The striking book cover painting represents a holloway – a road so well traveled that it’s worn way down into the ground.  Specifically, it’s looking through a holloway toward a nuclear blast.

Highly recommended.

HOUSTON, SPACE CITY USA

Texas A & M University Press 2019

Here’s a book of photographs of Houston emphasizing the connection to the Apollo program. The photos are as inevitable as astronauts, as exuberant as the space-themed murals and painted traffic signal control boxes around town, and as subtle as the Hermann Park statue of Sam Houston pointing east – toward  a full moon in the night sky.  In addition to the photos, author Ray Viator includes well-researched information about the inception of Johnson Space Center and its ties with area universities and research centers. But the images are why I leafed through the book again and again. Not sure which was my fave, but maybe the Hubble-telescope-inspired, meteor-fragment-containing window at Webster Presbyterian Church.

Recommended!

 

BECAUSE INTERNET

To the strict constructionists who think the Internet, including email, texting, Twitter, and all, is ruining the written language – this book says, “Well, no.” Author Gretchen McCulloch is a linguist who approaches Internet language as more like informal speech than like composed, grammatical writing. For once in the history of linguistics, there’s plenty of such material for her analysis. The informal, spoken word very seldom got documented in ages past.  Now it does.  She has real fun with it all and makes the reader better appreciate the casual, fluid, inventive qualities of Internet language and, for that matter, everyday speech.  Recommended!

 

Journey to Maars

 

Writing science fiction almost always involves world building. When an opportunity arose to actually see what real world building looks like, I jumped at the chance—and that’s how I found myself on a journey to maars.

To two of them, as a matter of fact.

A maar is a shallow, flat-bottomed volcanic crater, most commonly formed when hot magma close to the surface comes into contact with groundwater, triggering a steam explosion.  (There are other mechanisms:  in 1977 scientists got to watch an Aleutian maar form, over a period of a week and a half, caused by permafrost being melted, then flashed into steam, by magma.)

With water being one of the defining elements of maar formation, it isn’t surprising that maars commonly fill with water to become lakes, disguising their volcanic origins.  And so it was with the maars I saw.

A friend offered to fly me in a small airplane to view two maars near Fallon, Nevada.  I sat in the left seat and did most of the flying; although I’m rated in sailplanes, not airplanes, a wing is a wing is a wing, and I found the airplane easy to fly—if perhaps not quite as satisfying as a sailplane would have been. Speaking of flying, as we approached the maars we could clearly see the runways of Naval Air Station Fallon, better known as the home of the Navy’s famed Top Gun school.

The Fallon maars are known locally as the Soda Lakes and at one time were mined for alkaline minerals.  The region is still geologically  active:  there’s a geothermal power plant close by, and the United States Geological Survey lists the Soda Lakes as potential volanic threats, in part due to their young age:  they were formed no earlier than 6,000 years ago and possibly as recently as 1500 years ago . . . almost yesterday.

Soda Lakes are the only Nevada volcanoes listed in the annual threat assessment compiled by the USGS, but just over the state line there are many more.  It may surprise you to learn that the USGS estimates the odds of an eruption in California in the next 30 years is about one in six!  World building, indeed.

Military Connection – Guest Post by Veronica Scott

Soldiers at sunset

Once again this year I have the honor to be a part of the science fiction romance anthology Pets in Space.  Part of the first months sales, including preorders, will be donated to Hero Dogs, a charitable organization that provides service dogs at no cost to veterans of the U.S. military and first responders. In this guest post, fellow Pets in Space 4 author Veronica Scott talks about that. She also gives us a suspenseful excerpt from her story.


Back when Pauline B. Jones and I decided to create the first Pets In Space® anthology, we wanted to find a charity to support that had a strong connection to serving military veterans. We decided on Hero-Dogs, Inc., a small nonprofit doing great work providing service dogs to veterans (and first responders).  Over the four anthologies, including this year, we’ve had many authors with military ties in the family and at least one who was a veteran herself.

My father and my uncles served hitches in different branches of the military so I grew up with a great respect for the job soldiers do in support of our nation and our freedom. My late husband was on active duty in the USMC for three years and then rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Reserves at the time of his death (which was not related to his military service). I was a military wife in the early years of our marriage!

I also typically write at least one of my main characters in every book as a Special Forces soldier, either active duty or retired. Their strong ethos or character, rock solid belief in each other as a team, and lethal combat capabilities, combined with their ability to crack a joke at the worst moments, and to be tender and caring to their loved ones really appeal to me.  Respect must be earned in SOF circles and huge sacrifices are often made, by the service member and/or by their family.

So for all those reasons, I felt very strongly that our efforts with PISA needed to benefit the veteran community in some real fashion.

Pauline and I loved the idea of putting together a fun set of stories including pets and scifi romance but we very much wanted to have a higher purpose as our guiding principle for whywe were doing the anthology.

For my story in this fourth anthology, I have three military veterans involved – Third Officer Steve Aureli of the Nebula Zephyr (my interstellar luxury cruise ship), his Aunt Dian and her alien ‘dog’, Charrli. Of course Dian and Charrli have a lot of backstory and aren’t what they seem on the surface. They’re veterans of the Sectors Special Forces Z Corps, which means Charrli is very smart and telepathic with Dian. I liked the idea of making Charrli a darling little dog who could be carried around in a purse but who actually has all this ferocious military style training and abilities. He’s not afraid of anything, not even alien idols!

Usually I start with the concept of the pet for my Pets In Space® stories and develop the plot from what the animal ‘suggests’ to me but this time my jumping off place was legends about tourists having bad luck after removing rocks from national parks as souvenirs.

Of  course since I’m writing science fiction, I then took the entire topic a step further and gave my ‘rock’ some scary attributes, the ability to do real harm and a bit of carving to justify referring to an idol’s curse in the title.

It seemed to me the idea of tourists and souvenirs fit in very nicely with my interstellar luxury cruise ship Nebula Zephyr, and then since an entire deck of the ship is devoted to recreating a beach from the planet Tahumaroa Two, it was logical for the rock or ‘idol’ in question in my story to have come from that planet and need to go back there. This led me to ponder who in the crew would be likely to become involved with returning a rock and I decided it was time for the Cruise Director, Juli Shaeffer, to get her story.

The excerpt:

Who was going to believe her, without a vid from the Ship’s Artificial Intelligence monitors to prove she hadn’t suffered a hallucination? Charrli had obviously seen the rock too but even if he was a retired Z Corps asset, no one but Dian was likely to believe him. “We’re screwed,” Juli said to the dog, stroking his silky ears. “I’m glad you saw it too though or I’d doubt my sanity right now.”

A breeze ruffled her hair and then a gust of wind blew sand across the beach in a glittering spray. Juli stood and picked Charrli up. As she turned, she realized Dian and Steve were bearing down on her.

“We thought we’d better come check on you,” he said. “Are you sure you’re ok?”

Handing the unresisting dog to his owner, Juli said, “I—we— saw something odd and we came to investigate.”

Dian was staring into Charrli’s eyes. “I’m getting a mental picture.” Jaw dropping, she pivoted to gape at Juli as another wind gust blew her skirt around her knees. “He’s sending me a projection of what appears to be the rock you showed us in the groundcar when we gave you a ride. Did you bring it up here? Because Charrli is concerned about it.”

USA Today Best Selling Author Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything.

Blog: https://veronicascott.wordpress.com/

Grab your copy of Pets in Space® 4 today! For a limited time, Pets in Space® 4 brings together today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors to help Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that helps our service veterans and first responders. https://petsinspaceantho.com