Hard Drop Sale Long Weekend!

It’s that time again – starting first thing this Thursday morning, May 29th, get your Hard Drop ON SALE at Amazon. For a limited time, through Sunday night, you can get your hands on this “balls to the wall action thriller” (per one enthusiastic reviewer).

Now is a great time to check out the first book in the Hard Drop series – with more to follow later this year. Check it out here and see for yourself.

And if you’re a Prime member, as ever, Hard Drop is available for FREE via the Kindle Online Lending Library!

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The pictures that inspire Hard Drop

Like Hard Drop but prefer a more visual approach to SciFi world-building? Sadly, I can’t claim to be much of an artist, but thanks to the wonder of the internet, I am able to draw inspiration from people who are mindblowingly good. Check out the artists and images that inspire the Hard Drop series on Pinterest at the Hard Drop Board, where I am constantly amazed by new, incredibly detailed and improbably stunning artwork from a variety of artists. Go check it out, and check out their pages, too – you won’t be disappointed!

Sci-Fi Inspirations: Halo

For anyone who has read Hard Drop, it will be pretty darn clear that I’m a Halo fan. Not, mind you, in a ‘best FPS shooter/sci fi franchise ever OMG’-kind of way, but in the sense that I appreciate its engaging, simple-but-dynamic gameplay and storytelling.

More than any other game or franchise, Halo manages at once to be everything to everyone – at once qualifying as a simple, entry-level military-style shooter and as an intense, bullet hell cooperative or multiplayer experience, able to satisfy ‘real’ gamers (by which I mean FPS gamers with talent and fast-twitch reactions, of which I am not one), a blockbuster, deep-lore franchise with spin-off novels and a simple, stereotypical cheeseburger buddy action movie replete with absurdly over-the-top characters (Sergeant Johnson, anyone?) and meme-ready one-liners.

It would be difficult to argue that the series is market-leading for the realism of its gameplay (Call of Duty might take those honors), the intricacy of its weapons systems (Borderlands or perhaps Bioshock), the diversity of attacks possible (Bulletstorm), the depth of its lore (Skyrim, Bioshock, again, Assassin’s Creed), or even the uniqueness of its characters (although it is hard to resist the ultimate strong, silent appeal of Master Chief), but at the same time it is impossible (or at least foolhardy) to deny the appeal of the total package. Admittedly, several of the above-mentioned ‘market-leading’ games are sandbox-style, sprawling, build-your-own-adventure games, and so not directly comparable to Halo – but then, that’s the point. It’s difficult to imagine Halo as anything more than what it is: a very nearly on-rails shooter with a few easter eggs (ammo, weapons) if you turn that extra corner. And yet, that doesn’t matter one iota: the whole thing, put together, is so damn fun that it’s impossible to complain.

What Halo does, in my opinion, better than anyone else is provide solid, unquestionably appealing ingredients which players can then apply in any number of ways to great effect, unlocking a cotton candy veneer of wish fulfillment in the storyline. The systems of other games, including Call of Duty, require greater buy-in, or owe greater debts to realism, or else require the framework of the story to intrude on the gameplay experience (e.g. Assassin’s Creed or Bulletstorm, where you are never able to forget the game dynamics completely), but Halo is the ultimate in what you see is what you get.

The result is an impressive, blockbuster franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. Every new game adds a slightly new dynamic, tweaks leveling, adds new weapons or enemies, but the underlying concept – the user-enabling, all-purpose combat platform – remains cheerfully, gleefully the same. It is this unrepentantly happy approach to science fiction, combat, and story that I have tried to incorporate in my writing – and I am pleased to see, from a number of my reviews, that I have succeeded in doing so.

Did Amtrak just find the answer to Space/Time travel?

I was as blown away as anyone by the speed of Amtrak’s response in creating its writer residency program. The quick turn of events, from a quick retweet to a full-blown shot in the arm for the image and relevance of the ailing service, was yet another example of how powerful the internet and social media truly is.

However, that story is well-told and, frankly, boring.

What is interesting about the Amtrak story is that it has allowed the company to take what has typically been seen as a drawback to its service (namely the time required to travel from one place to the next) and turn it into a benefit. It has enabled writers to drop out, plug in, enjoy the scenery – and go to work. And that, for the right person, can be a powerful thing.

Being a sci-fi enthusiast, I immediately thought of the next step – the possible implications for space travel. Space is vast, as has often been said as well, and we are typically used to regarding this as a massive drawback. And, truth be told, it very likely is an obstacle that we may never learn to overcome.

But, just for a second, imagine a universe in which we do travel between the stars. In this world, science fiction has typically employed one of two conceits to overcome the time gap: the first, faster-than-light travel, decreases the time between two points though wormholes, warp drives, or other bending of space. The second, cryostasis, requires freezing the human body in time to offset the aging process as the vessel travels within the constraints of current ability and physics.

But perhaps, inspired by Amtrak, there is a third option: maybe it is possible that, instead of avoiding or attempting to overcome the time barrier of the journey, humanity instead embraces and celebrates it? In the aftermath of digital age, where artistic, scientific, or any other works might not require massive storage, or heavy materials for their creation, might not the long voyages in space offer potential to think, to collaborate, to produce and to refine? Might we not achieve our greatest masterworks while in limbo, waiting to begin our future on a foreign world?

Maybe, as Amtrak is currently suggesting, a little extra time between points isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Why SciFi Matters (#1): Bringing Science Home

Statistics are tricky things, in particular statistics based on survey interpretations, and without meaning to jump too hard onto this bandwagon, I have to admit I was floored and embarrassed by the recent finding that suggests 25% of Americans think the Sun revolves around the Earth.

This is pathetic, not just because it suggests that a quarter of the country is scientifically stuck in the time of Galileo (or before it), but also because of the sheer, willful ignorance that is required to support this view. You would literally have to be blind to avoid the various depictions of our solar system with the sun at its center these days. You would have to studiously avoid all manner of educational websites, textbooks, science texts, or even cartoon illustrations to believe otherwise.

On the one hand, I want to believe this was confusion, a rigged survey, a wording issue, but even that is hard to defend, because this isn’t a tricky question (not something like ‘How many moons does Saturn have?’ or ‘Why is Pluto not considered a planet?’). This is a basic, fundamental concept, a logical extension of gravity, and a building block for vital, larger ideas such as galaxies, space exploration, and the potential for life on other planets. It is perhaps the fundamental relationship that dictates how we view the universe and our place in it. And 25% of Americans, a country that likes to consider itself at the forefront of research and development (although we have, for essentially our entire existence, imported science and tech advancement instead of growing it at home), have this basic, critical concept embarrassingly wrong. In other words, as far as space is concerned, they don’t even make it past page 1.

Even worse, despite the checkered history of scientific concepts in media (from Journey to the Center of the Earth to Armageddon to The Core to 2012, with dozens of issues in between), this is not a question it has gotten wrong. Anyone who has watched Danny Boyle’s 2/3 brilliant movie Sunshine will not be in any doubt as to where the sun belongs in our system. Nor do any of the planets in Halo, or Star Wars, or Star Trek (as far as I know) have suns revolving around them. Even Doctor Who, a show often noted for its fantastical elements or departures from scientific accuracy, does not violate this principle.

I suspect this phenomenon is a growing one, in America in particular, and is a function of a whole generation of students who have managed to pick up only a modicum of science, perhaps even actively avoiding it in their university studies, and have then coasted on into the warm embrace of sitcoms and Sportscenter (not that there is anything particularly wrong with either, but you’re not going to hear about gravity or space in a meaningful way on them).

And yet, this is exactly why science fiction matters: because it allows people who would never otherwise consider scientific principles to encounter, absorb, and digest them. And willingly, at that! Granted, scifi is not always accurate (Sunshine has a whole host of problems, as do all of the above-mentioned films), but in general, the more extravagant the departure from reality, the more likely the audience leaves the theater googling ‘Can the sun really go out?’ (or if phasers are technologically possible, or lightsabers, or sonic screwdrivers). And that, in itself, is no bad thing.

In short: science matters, basic scientific facts matter, and scientific advancement matters – for us, for how we see ourselves, for how we approach our world, and yes, for our long-term survival potential. However, the rise (or persistence) of willful, apathetic ignorance creates a real barrier to social advancement. Science fiction offers a very powerful tool for smashing through that barrier, and we should embrace it as such.

Sci-Fi to light up your holiday weekend

If you’re looking for a change of pace, an excuse to stay in bed, or a fun way to work through your food hangover this weekend, take a look at Hard Drop, a “balls-to-the-wall action thriller” (Amazon review) and sci-fi shoot-’em up that follows a group of elite troops as they are deployed into the heart of a civil war. Available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and at Smashwords, Hard Drop delivers a “good old rock ’em, sock ’em fighting military saga” (Amazon review) that will entertain you from start to bullet-riddled end.

Take a look now, for only $2.99!

Things that are surprisingly SciFi (but don’t get credit for it) Part 4: Recycling

The 1960s – and 2001 – made a strong case for future materials and space age manufacturing, what with their gleaming grey, smooth megastructures and match-cut-level sleek designs. Manufacturing, then, was the future – the ability to take organic, wood, oil, and metal inputs and come out with a self-evidently artificial, unnaturally aerodynamic, custom-built (and single-purpose) products.
This, of course, was the appeal of the space age: that we could make anything we needed to, cheaply and to order, and that we should feel no shame about waste as a result.
But plastics, at least the first generation, were not limitless: they were brittle, they were inflexible, they were very susceptible to heat or cold, and they did not decompose productively, once they had failed in their primary (and only) use.
Recycling is the unsexy child of that first wave of innovation; the undesired progeny of the excesses of synthetics production. Recycling was (and in the US, generally speaking remains) the unwanted, uncool patch job on the torn jeans, the obvious darning on the dress – it was, at best, an acknowledgment of scarcity. At worst, it was an expensive, inefficient method for pointing out how imperfect and unsustainable the space age really was.
But recycling is underrated.
Even now, recycling does not solve the issue of limited resources completely (indeed, it is likely that nothing can), but it re-awakens the potential in these items, and points the way forwards for material mining and usage. Recycling is not universally cheaper than mining new materials, but it generally does require less expenditure of energy to repurpose a material already converted into plastic, or aluminum, or other alloy, than it does to produce a fresh batch. Both through advancement of technology and through the accelerating scarcity of key materials, the recycling process has come a long way since its days as the lead nerd in the after-school specials.
And, dare I say it, recycling is pretty damn SciFi.
No, really. Consider the simple case of a spaceship made of single-use plastic and metal and sent to the stars to seek a new home. Sleek and sexy? Certainly, but also, almost certainly doomed to failure. Once broken, individual pieces of the vessel would be hard or impossible to replace, and would be dead weight once broken. Carrying spare parts would be theoretically possible, but between the need to use the space for food and life-support machinery, and the prohibitive cost of excess weight during lift-off, having significant stock of duplicates would essentially be a non-starter.
Only recycling – by which I mean the modern process of recycling, including separation, refinement, and production of new material – would allow such broken items to be used again.
And think past the flight itself: once landed on a foreign moon, settlers would have little use for their former cargo bays, thrusters, or even most navigation equipment (assuming, of course, this colonization is a one-way trip). Stripping material from the spacecraft and bending or welding it into place might be a temporary solution, but in the long term, the creation of a stable, inhabitable colony would require more stable building materials. As a result, a colonization ship would need to include a recycling unit as a core piece of equipment, both for mid-flight maintenance and in order to reuse the components of its spaceflight for the purpose of colonization.
Recycling isn’t flawless, it’s not cheap in terms of energy expended, and it may be a stopgap measure for a runaway consumerist society, but it is very SciFi.