Interstellar Colonization or Soap Opera? #scifi #space #books #interstellar

arkwrightArkwright – the name of a pivotal character and a wonderful title – is a story based on interstellar travel that is rooted in real physics, limited by the speed of light. No warp drives here. Author Allen Steele divides the story into four “books” plus one “interlude,” each separated by at least a generation. While the interstellar project spans the whole story, each “book” stands alone.

Book One, the first third of the story, follows a science fiction writer who gets rich and uses his money to create a private foundation dedicated to interstellar travel. This section is set in the world of 20th century scifi, though it could really be set in any industry, and – considering the money the writer must accumulate – probably should be. If you read classic scifi the name-dropping will be fun, but the famous names are only part of the backdrop.

The characters’ various relationship issues are featured but don’t follow through the entire story. My favorite quote comes from a character complaining about science fiction stories.

Everyone who writes about space travel gets it wrong… the people who write it either pay no attention to science or simply get it wrong…if you want to distinguish yourself from all the other fellows who are writing science fiction… get the science right.

Steele embraces this advice and offers his fascinating premise for getting space travel right. It’s a grand idea backed up with awesome technology, which I won’t spoil here. This doesn’t mean the rest of the story’s science is ho-hum. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and especially bioengineering and terraforming exceed our current abilities, but don’t seem to violate getting the science right. There’s even a bibliography if you’d like to check for yourself.

Relationships and hook-ups are featured (Sex mostly occurs “off-screen)”
Given Steele’s nod to the early 20th century’s Golden Age of scifi, which is often considered short on characterization, it seems odd that Steele spends most of his time on relationships. Discussions of the starship are fairly short and often feel like a backdrop. This seems doubly odd since the book’s description calls Steele a “highly regarded expert on space travel and exploration.” I would have liked more from his expertise.

If you’re keen to follow the starship plot, you can skip Book One and Book Three. There’s enough recap in the others that you won’t miss anything – perhaps the structure reflects the story’s beginnings as a serial.

Steele has a habit of shifting back and forth in time as he writes, using flashbacks or a structure where a character tells you the outcome and then goes back to relate the events. I got used to the style easily enough. It does result in characters “telling” their story which is a supposed no-no for modern fiction where “show, don’t tell” is the writing tip.

What others say
Arkwright has an Amazon Sellers Rank in the top 16% of its category of Hard Science Fiction – that’s a popular book. There are 65 customer reviews that average 3 1/2 stars – not bad. Complaints reflect my review – too much “soap opera” instead of the starship promised in the description.

Even reviewers giving the book 5 stars note that the “science fiction doesn’t start until well into the book,” but if they liked the cross-generational family dramas, they liked the book.

What is Hard Science Fiction?
Since both fans and critics notice the emphasis on relationships, it makes me wonder about the Hard Science Fiction category. Certainly the notion that hard science fiction is mostly about detailed technology is wrong. How many technical terms must authors throw in – or replace with common English – to gain or shed the category?

In my own series about a colony on Mars, I try to get the scienceGLORY Ebook 300 dpi (200x300) right. Settlers have technical training to keep their life support equipment and robotics operating (the robots are rather cool if I do say so myself). Some have relevant university degrees, but they’re people, not walking technical manuals. Their mission is more like the real-life Mars One and less like NASA. They face danger, have conflicts, and explore the Red Planet as they try to build a home on Mars. Some of my readers today may step foot on Mars tomorrow – or morrowsol as Martians say – and will be able to tell me how well I did.

Reviewers who have commented on categories, though, call Glory on Mars hard science fiction, so I followed their lead and added that category on Amazon.

Glory on Mars and Born on Mars are available now. The third book will be out later in 2016.

Subscribe to my readers’ club and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Check out Glory and Born, post reviews, and let me know: Hard science fiction?

Mysterious Jungle Mounds #poem #poetry #nature #science #earthworm #fact

Deep in Colombian jungles
Rise mysterious mounds,
Twice as high as humans stand,
No one knew what they’d found.

Seen from the air they’re a puzzle.
Are they what Mayans would leave?
Or built by ancient farmers?
The Spanish? or even ETs?

Reality’s better than any dream,
And crazy, I understand.
I prefer the real world.
Gee, nature is grand!

Now we’ve finally got the scoop!
It’s earthworm poop,
It’s earthworm poop.
Piles and piles of earthworm poop.

Gee, nature is grand!

by Kate Rauner

worm-mdThanks to, the University of Montpelier in France, the Technical University of Munich in Germany, and U.K.’s University of Exeter. “It’s a fantastic paper—really exciting and compelling findings,” published May 11, 2016 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Weirdest Planet Ever :D in #scifi #books

Inverted WorldHere’s a science fiction tale where it helps to know your concave from your convex, spheroids from hyperboloids, centrifugal forces from angular velocities, and y=1/x. But if you don’t, just follow bewildered Future Apprentice Helward as he joins a secret directorate in a city built on tracks. The tracks are continuously ripped up behind and laid down in front, because the city must keep moving or be destroyed.

I had never before read Christopher Priest’s classic from 1974, Inverted World. The book contains more thoughtful speculation than violent action. The book is 40 years old, so don’t expect cutting edge physics.

I found the gradual reveal of this truly weird world fascinating. Conveniently, apprentices are kept in the dark, told they have to experience the strange time and space effects outside the city for themselves to understand. That trope allowed me to travel with Helward as he learns both puzzling and terrifying things about his planet. Things that threaten his life, his city, and his relations with friends and family – including the wife in his arranged marriage. Like many works from that era, the restricted woman’s role dates the book.

The story opens with a prologue that seems to have mistakenly landed here from a different book, but have faith – towards the end it all comes together. Helward is often puzzled by what he sees (me, too!), but I found events interesting enough to keep reading. Just when I thought the weird world had been explored and the tale would end, a twist opens up a new aspect of the world’s strange physics. In the end, Priest does explain what’s going on.

I’ll avoid spoilers. Late in the book, women finally take some independent action in this male-dominated world. It’s a woman who discovers what’s happening and explains it to them. She admits she’s no expert, and Helward counters with contrary evidence – since I just went through those experiences with him, his arguments are compelling. But there’s evidence for the explanation, too.

Priest leaves even more up in the air – the ending is uncertain and you can decide for yourself what Helward finally believes and what’s likely to happen next.

That may sound like a knock on the story, but I’m still thinking about it – still going back in the book to re-read sections. What’s real and what’s perception? Does the final explanation truly account for Helward’s experiences? If not, what’s actually happening? The rulers’ secrecy serves the story well, but does it make sense from a social point of view? Whether being left with questions is good or bad depends on your tolerance for ambiguity.

I’d love to talk to someone about the story.

What others say
Inverted World gets 4 1/2 stars from 41 Amazon customer reviews. Most readers love the “topsy turvy” physics and the final twist, but not all of them. Complaints say the final twist was too rushed. This probably comes from the heavy use of “explaining” in this part of the story. “Explaining” or “telling” is one of the fatal errors in writing, at least according to current writing tips.

Others say the physics was fantasy rather than science fiction (though I think this is pretty common in modern scifi, too.) Some readers had better ideas about dealing with the social problems in the city than Priest had.

GLORY Ebook 300 dpi (200x300)If you prefer your scifi with feet firmly on the ground – even if that ground is on Mars – try my story. Eight settlers have journeyed to Mars to establish a colony. Now Emma and her team are about to join them. Days before the launched, one of the colonists commits suicide. Something’s not right on Mars.

O Pluto, Pluto! Wherefore art thou #Pluto? #space #NASA #science

Tis but a moniker that yields strife;pluto-in-true-color_2x_JPEG-edit-frame
Thou art thyself, though not a planet.
What’s planet? It is nor rock, nor atmosphere,
Nor dwarf, nor comet,
Nor bow wave in the solar winds.
But intermediate twixt them all, and unique,
Orbiting the Sun.
Retain that dear perfection
And doff attempts to classify.
Oh, be some other thing!
That which we call a rose
By any other name
Would smell as sweet.

By Kate Rauner
With apologies to The Bard

Thanks to and Plutophiles everywhere.

Just Saw Mercury #mercurytransit #space

sun porjected - sorry, but the dots of sunspots and Mercury too small to show up in the photo

sun projected – sorry, but the dots of sunspots and Mercury too small to show up in the photo

Mercury is transiting the sun – right now! With our small telescope projecting onto a piece of white paper (never look directly at the sun!) I can see a sunspot group and a dot of shadow. Had to check twice over an hour to see that dot had moved relative to the sunspots – to be sure it’s Mercury. Cool.

Wonderful Story Takes Us Inside Real & Imagined Societies #scifi #space #firstcontact #alien

BimtiBinti is an unexpected scifi novella – highly successful in Amazon’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Read subcategory – 4 1/2 stars with lots of reviews. Complaints center on the story being too short and readers wanting more!

Author Okorafor offers a tale of human contact with a strange (not anthropomorphic – hurray!) alien species, but centers on a real life human society that will seem alien to most Anglo readers. That culture is beautifully evoked and Okorafor is not afraid to interrupt action with beguiling descriptions.

While there is one violent episode, the story is about Binti’s enigmatic relationship with her own culture – honoring her heritage while moving far beyond to attend an interstellar university. The story abandons some of the “common wisdom” rules of fiction that dictate action and denigrate characters telling the reader anything – which proves rules are meant to be broken by talented authors.


She encounters thoughtful alien adversaries and prevails through her own growth and sacrifice rather than bang-up violence. Her mathematical abilities, which are magical, make her uniquely suited to encounter this alien race. Her bravery and intelligence endear her to readers – and perhaps open our eyes to the customs of our own kin here on Earth today.

Bimti shares her journey to a strange place. Thoughtful readers will enjoy this short (55 page) novella with a scifi flare. Scifi fans of the more common shoot-em-ups will find the story short enough to hold their interest in a setting with a different feel. Give this novella a try.

If I Could Have a Second Life #Haiku #poem #poetry #nature

Ravens flying highCommon Raven 2
Calling, diving, barrel-roll
Have more fun than I

By Kate Rauner

More of my poems about Corvids here:

Crows Funeral

Crow and Pitcher