GoodReads Review: A Talent For War by Jack McDevitt

A Talent for War: Alex Benedict - Book 1A Talent for War: Alex Benedict – Book 1 by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know some readers found this book boring. Perhaps they were coming at it as readers of the ‘blow stuff up, shoot anything that moves’ kind of sci-fi. Personally, I find that kind of thriller unsatisfying, whether it’s sci-fi or not.

I actually chose this book, not as a fan of sci-fi, but as a mystery junkie, and I loved it. Its a real slow burner, with a narrator who’s not some war-grizzled veteran, or retired gunslinger. Instead, Alex Benedict is an antiques dealer, whose mentor and uncle was an archaeologist and academic. Hence, this is sci-fi for history nerds, those of us who are familiar with long hours in dusty library stacks, pouring over the barely legible journals of the long dead. It’s one for those of us who know the crushing disappointment of excavating a promising archaeological site, only to get to the bottom of the hole and find absolutely nothing. It even has a little something for the English literature student, with a vital clue being hidden in a piece of heavily symbolic poetry.

This is not a book to read if you want a quick, cheap thrill. This is a book for cosy nights on the sofa, with the TV off, the cat on your lap and the wind howling outside. Like an expensive box of chocolates, this is a book to savour slowly.


NaNoWriMo 2017: Announce Your Novel

The Regulator coverWell, I’ve had quite a busy morning. The next NaNoWriMo challenge dropped into my inbox last night, and it was ‘Announce Your Novel’.

So after breakfast I duly headed over to Pixlr to cobble together a book cover for my story (paying a designer to do it is always the kiss of death for an unfinished work), and with a bit of assistance from the Flaming Text title generator this was the result.

Considering my graphics skills are extremely rusty I’m quite happy with that.

My next task was to come up with a synopsis and an excerpt.

Well the excerpt is still in my head, but I did manage to come up with a partial synopsis / book jacket blurb. I had to keep it simple, primarily because I’m not absolutely sure how the story will end yet, so for inspiration I drew on the micro-blurbs for the Alex Benedict novels by Jack McDevitt.

You can’t win a war when the people you expect to fight it for you are already dead. The Pavonovirus left entire civilisations ruined, the survivors scattered across planets locked in a perpetual quarantine. That’s how peace was gained on Orion’s Arm, not through the efforts of diplomats and governments, but through a random, indiscriminate act of nature.

 

At least that’s the official story. Then someone tries to frame Commander Neylan Haas for murder. Sworn to uphold the law, Haas now finds herself hunted by her own colleagues. Stranded on a quarantine planet, where the locals have a much more frontier approach to justice, she’ll have to resort to some unorthodox methods to unpick a decade old conspiracy and clear her name.

 

The truth, when it is finally revealed, will prove that some secrets are best left buried among the distant stars.

It needs a little work I’ll admit, but with NaNoWriMo the story is the priority, and it’s nearly time to knuckle down.


NaNoWriMo 2017: Creating A Character

Amongst all the aspects I’ve been thinking about for my NaNoWriMo story this year, my principal character is probably the one piece of the puzzle I am most sure of.

Her name is Neylan Haas and she holds the rank of Commander with the Solarian Regulators, the principle law enforcement agency for the Solarian Admiralty (think NCIS in space). She is an accomplished navigator and sat in the co-pilot’s seat on the Armed Pursuit Vehicle Abilene, until it crashed, stranding her on a plague planet with more of a frontier approach to law and order than she’s used to.

Science fiction female pilotFinding a look for her has been a challenge. Science fiction and fantasy art are awash with female characters. Sadly most of them are squeezed into skin tight outfits, masquerading as flight suits, and pictured in unrealistic pin-up style poses. All tits and bum. Not what I want for Commander Haas.

Fortunately, I stumbled on to this image yesterday. I don’t know who the artist is, but she’s as close to perfect as I could hope for, especially as I had planned to make Haas a red head.

Her uniform is not bordering on soft-core, her footwear is practical for someone in her line of work and I can tell that her jacket has been inspired by the Naval frock coats of the 18th century. Perfect for a navy style organisation.

As the majority of Neylan’s story will take place on a planet, rather than in space, this style of uniform also makes much more sense than a full flight suit, although I will no doubt have to provide her with some civvies too.

The other aspect of Neylan’s look I needed to deal with was finding her a prosthetic arm. This will play an integral part Female prostheticin the story and was probably the only part of her overall look that I considered non-negotiable.

I was surprised, and then not surprised, to discover that when it comes to art and even technical concept drawings, prosthetics for women are given little consideration. All the designs I could find were drawn with over-muscled men in mind, and as a non-engineer this was the one aspect of Neylan’s look that I really needed a visual cue for. But after weeks of searching things were not looking hopeful.

Finally though, and just at the point when I was about to give up, I found this image on Pinterest. It’s just what I was looking for; a fully integrated prosthetic arm, designed for an average female physique. It even matches her uniform!

So, that is Commander Haas in a nutshell, or as much of her as I can give away at this stage. Now, I have to give her a partner in crime…


NaNoWriMo 2017: The Opening Scene

Crashed spaceship

As part of my ongoing preparations for NaNoWriMo17 I have been mulling over my opening scene, which involves my principal character surviving a spaceship crash.

It’s taken me quite a while to find a little visual inspiration for this one. The ship needed to be able to fulfill a law enforcement role, so it had to look capable of speed and manoeuvrability in planetary atmospheres, as well as in space. It also needs to be big enough to require at least two crew, whilst comfortably accommodating the odd passenger.

As for the planet it crashes on, my first thought had been to make it a desert world, with a sparse, scrubby landscape, but I had already decided that the indigenous, intelligent race of this world would be bird-like in their anatomy. It seemed odd to drop them into a world with little in the way of vegetation!

I have to say, it’s been tough finding the right look, and I’ve gazed at some fabulous science fiction art over the last few weeks, but finally, I think I’ve found my muse; “Spaceship” by JongWoong Park. The size of the ship looks about right, compared to the human figure, she looks pretty nifty too, and the surrounding landscape appears temperate, without being too verdant.

The ship also benefits from having a livery similar to what I was contemplating for my spaceship, but more on that later…


NaNoWriMo 2017: Creating A World

Last year I mothballed an idea for a science fiction who-dunnit, featuring a law enforcement officer who is framed for the assassination of an alien diplomat.

Recently I decided to reprise the idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and in preparation I’ve been scouring the web for some visual inspiration. This is often how ideas start in my head, with a visual clue, or jumping off point, and I find it very useful to hang on to those clues, if for no other reason than to make sure my imagination doesn’t get too carried away!

For this story I had a pretty specific idea already of what my setting would look like; a high density alien city of ancient origin, built in and on a long dead volcano. Finally, I wanted it to be surrounded by a lake, or shallow sea.

Desktop wallpapers are a great source of inspiration for landscapes and cityscapes so I headed over to AlphaCoders to browse their impressive collection. Fortunately, I found exactly what I was looking for, or as near as damn it at least.

This fabulous image reminds me of a painting by John Constable and I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the old French style chateau with its compact, masonry walls and tiled roofs, and the gleaming, high concept towers that appear to be growing out of the rock, just as a city half buried in an extinct volcano would do.

The chateau in particular intrigues me. I know I don’t have to stick to every detail of the image, but the story involves not just the murder of an alien ambassador, but also a cold case. That cold case is the strange death of an elderly astronomer, and I need somewhere for an old man to call home. A crumbling chateau, or perhaps something a little more modest, but equally ancient, could be perfect.

Next I need to find my principal characters…


The Hollow

The Hollow was written for a Scribophile Flash Fiction contest and published in Heater Magazine on April 14th, 2015.

Excerpt

There was an empty space across the street where the girl once stood. It wasn’t a particularly interesting piece of pavement, framed by a pub and a betting shop, spattered with chewing gum and cigarette butts. It had been the girl who had made the space beautiful.

Every day for nearly a year she had stood there, playing her guitar for money. As regular as his heartbeat, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, the sounds of Flamenco had filled the narrow street and Vadis had listened. There was a tube station a few hundred feet away and Vadis had wondered at first why she didn’t play there, but commuters lived in a world of their own, with their headphones and their mobile phones. Her music was wasted on them. The drunks and the gamblers were her audience instead, unlikely appreciators on the sublime.

No-one had known her name. He’d asked around. No-one even recalled speaking to her. Perhaps she didn’t speak English. On the few occasions Vadis had plucked up the courage to cross the street and drop a few coins in to her guitar case, she had merely smiled her thanks and played on. It was a smile he would have emptied his bank account for.

To read the full story you can download Heater Magazine from Amazon.