One of the elements I like to include in my science fiction romances is a strong feeling of the richness of the myth and mystery of the planet where the action is taking place. I think this quote from Smart Girls Love SciFi blog’s review of my recent SFR, MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR, sums up what I'm striving for:
Scott blends fantasy and SF speculation effectively, I think, and the SF reads somewhat like a fantasy tale. Magic, oracles, prophecies all give it the rich epic fantasy feel. Another plus is Scott’s ability to blend various world cultures so that her worlds seem like a truly diverse galaxy of the future-not just Western world rehash.
So there’s science fiction and advanced technology in my novels but also that element of “otherness” that raises questions and possibilities. My heroes are usually Special Forces personnel from the Sectors (the universe where my stories take place). My military guys have seen a lot in their careers, fighting the enemy across the galaxy and they’ve learned not to be skeptical of powers that stem from sources other than the technology they rely on. Blasters don’t necessarily solve every problem!
For the planet Mahjundar, I envisioned a world where the older beliefs are fading, under assault from new gods favored by the local Empress. The heroine, Princess Shalira, has the knack for channeling the power of the legacy gods, but this ability is no longer respected or needed in the current political situation. The fact that she’s blind further reduces her status in society, to the point where she’s left facing a less-than-desirable arranged marriage.
Over the course of the novel, she and the hero, Major Mike Varone, face a number of challenges, some of which can be resolved by his high tech weapons and gadgets, others which only yield to her connection to the mysteries of Mahjundar’s past.
I also write a paranormal series set in ancient Egypt and have done immense amounts of research into the myths and lore of the Nile civilization, giving me a rich background from which to spin the more fantastic elements of my planets. I’ve also done less intensive research into other ancient world beliefs and customs, which helps me blend new mysteries for my SFR novels. And I also ask myself, What would be really cool to have happen on this planet?
Here’s an excerpt from MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR, illustrating my approach. The group is on their way to retrieve certain items from her mother’s tomb, but they need a key, which can only be obtained in an abandoned temple:
“We must make an offering.” The princess freed her hand from Mike's. “Could you open this pouch for me and set the items in my hands?” Fumbling at her belt, she detached a small red leather purse, which she held out.
Unknotting the rawhide strip at the neck of the purse, he removed ten different things loosely packed inside, carefully depositing them in Shalira's cupped hands. There was an iridescent feather from some rare bird, a sachet of rich perfume, an exquisite jade carving of a deer-like creature, ten tiny golden bells strung on a fine chain, and other miniature treasures he’d no time to examine. One for each god, I suppose.
“This is the last item.” He laid an enameled brooch encrusted with baroque pearls on top of the pile in her hands and tucked the small purse away in a pocket.
Tightening her fingers around the precious hoard, Shalira raised her arms. Bathed in sunlight streaming from the skylights, she chanted in a variation of the Mahjundan language that his hypnotraining hadn’t included. Her voice was lyrical, mesmerizing in the way the rhythm rose and fell. Realizing he was dizzy, Mike blinked hard, reaching to steady himself against the red block.
Within the chamber, a humming had begun, like an accompaniment to the chanting, but in a much deeper tonal range. The strange sound vibrated through his spine and behind his ears in an unpleasant way. As if a breeze had sprung up inside the room, the dust and debris on the floor shifted hither and yon, moved into small piles. It was as if he and Shalira were cut off from the others, isolated on the island of the dais by sound and a wall of wind. Now the princess lowered her offering toward the block’s surface. Mike reached out, guiding her hands toward the closer of the two oval depressions. Electricity tingled through his nerves, blue fire danced in the air and he couldn’t release her fingers. His hands supported hers.
This time there was no invisible shield to prevent him from touching the stone. Contact with the altar hit Mike like ice water. Shivering, he felt Shalira trembling violently next to him, but the princess continued her ritual with no break in the song, although her voice grew wobbly. At last, their hands separated, and he jerked his fingers back. Shalira held one final, lingering note, suddenly opening her cupped hands.
The gifts she offered drifted the last few inches into the stone oval. One by one, as if falling through thick glue, the items touched the rock and disappeared in showers of red, yellow and turquoise sparks.
Shalira fell silent, licking her lips and lowering her head. She took a step backward. Hastily, Mike reached out to steady her and prevent her from toppling off the edge of the dais. Head against his chest, she leaned into him. “Is the offering accepted?” Her whisper was so thready he could barely hear the words. “Is there a key in the other bowl?”
“Lords of Space, there is a key.”
The story for MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR:
An attempted assassination left Princess Shalira blind as a child and, now that she’s of marriageable age, her prospects are not good because of her disability. She’s resigned herself to an arranged marriage rather than face life under the thumb of her cold stepmother. But then she meets Mike Varone, a Sectors Special Forces officer sent to Mahjundar by the intergalactic government to retrieve a ship lost in her planet’s mountains. After Mike saves Shalira from another assassination attempt, she arranges for him to escort her across the planet to her future husband. She’s already falling hard for the deadly offworlder and knows she should deny herself the temptation he represents, but taking Mike along to protect her is the only way she’ll live long enough to escape her ruthless stepmother.
But what should have been an easy trek through Mahjundar’s peaceful lands swiftly turns into an ambush with danger around every turn. Shalira’s marriage begins to seem less like an arranged union and more like yet another planned assassination. The more they work together to survive, the harder it becomes to stop themselves from falling in love. Caught in a race against time, can they escape the hostile forces hunting them and make it off the planet?
Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, 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. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories. Two time winner of the SFR Galaxy Award, she is also a 2014 National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award Winner.