Thursday, April 25, 2019

SFRB Recommends #89: Big Bang by Elsa Jade

He was never meant to be awakened. In the matrix of genetically and cybernetically enhanced contract killers, he was the Omega -- brought out only the last resort, the final answer, the end times. But crash-landing on the planet Dirt made Cosmo just another cowboy, albeit one with a time bomb in his massive body forever set to 00:00:00:01. 

Vic Ray thought she was so smart. As a reformed black-hat hacker, she cracked every code ever put in front of her. Except the one that explains people. But then she found out about aliens. Turns out, though, Cosmo Halley is worse than any people. At least she doesn’t have to be nice to a killer robot to get what she wants: Off this world. 

But when an old enemy and a new one join forces to expose the CWBOIs on Earth, Cosmo and Vic will have to figure out what it means to love before everything they know is lost forever. Can the Spirit of Christmas -- peace, goodwill, and spiked hot cocoa -- teach a cyborg and a misanthrope to believe in a future together? 

This story features sheltered cyborgs and a hacker with a chip on her shoulder. It's delicious- Vic has a folder on her hard drive labeled "pr0n" that confuses the heck out of Cosmo. Secondary characters return from earlier in the series. It can stand alone, but is probably better after reading either Mach One or Delta V.

Slade does a good job of portraying the little interactions and words that shape our self-images. Both Vic and Cosmo grow during the story. A hefty dose of humor rounds out an enjoyable book. There are some Christmas themes, but the story doesn't depend on it being Christmas.

This recommendation by Lee Koven.

Book site: Big Bang by Elsa Jade

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Alien Lessons by @LibbyDoyle9

By Libby Doyle 

Imagine you’re a miner in space, digging ore from the bowels of an inhospitable planet. An alien creature is stalking your fellow miners, burning them to a crisp. You’d want to kill it wouldn’t you? Of course, you would. But suppose it turns out you’re the invader?
All you Trekkies out there may recognize this as the plot of the classic Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark.”
The alien creature turns out to be a horta, a silicon-based life form. The miners had tunneled into the horta’s egg chamber and were callously destroying her progeny. They didn’t know the nodules they’d found were eggs. To make matters worse, the horta was the last of her kind, charged with tending the eggs until a new generation was born. Thanks to Captain Kirk and Spock, who mind-melded with the creature, the humans were able to learn all this before it was too late for the horta. The miners agreed to safeguard the eggs, and the horta agreed to stop incinerating the miners, even to help them.

“The Devil in the Dark,” is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I like its lesson – that our hatred of one another often stems from fear, ignorance, and miscommunication. In fact, one of the reasons I adore science fiction is what alien characters can teach us about ourselves.
Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, used its alien characters to hold a mirror up to one of the most vexing (and wonderful) aspects of the human condition: gender.

Human male Genly Ai travels to the planet of Winter to entice its inhabitants—the Karhadians—to become part of the Ekumen, a confederation of planets. The Karhadians are a sexless race. To reproduce, they enter kemmer, which is like estrus in animals. At that time, they can turn either male or female depending on who catches their fancy. If they turn female, they can become a mother. If they turn male, they can father a child. After kemmer, they return to complete androgyny.
I love this bit, when Estraven, a Karhadian, asks Genly about women:

“Are they like a different species?”

“No. Yes. No, of course not, not really. But the difference is very important. I suppose the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one’s life, is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners—almost everything. . . . It’s extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones.”

And this passage isn’t the only one that makes you think. When Genly sends a report back to his superiors, he says: “The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be . . . ‘tied down to childbearing,’ implies that no one is quite so thoroughly ‘tied down’ here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be – psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally[.]”
What a concept! The book is filled with these nuggets.
Now, you may say to me, Libby, this is the Science Fiction Romance Brigade blog, and you haven’t mentioned a romance yet! But I consider Left Hand to be a love story. Estraven and Genly face extreme hardship together, and love grows. When Estraven enters kemmer, there’s a spark of attraction, but their situation precludes romance. It doesn’t matter. This novel is one of the most profound depictions of love I’ve ever read, and Estraven is a total [expletive deleted] hero. Really, it’s beautiful.
The Left Hand of Darkness also touches on another theme near and dear to my heart, which happens to be where it gets its title. A religion described in the book believes in the unity of all living things, expressed in the precept: “Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light.”
I started writing my own books before I read Left Hand, and I was excited to discover this theme. My own Covalent Seriesfeatures the concept of Balance, the equilibrium of light and darkness, order and entropy, love and hate. I was inspired by yin and yang and covalent bonds, which are formed when two atoms share a pair of electrons to create a stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces. 
The hero of The Covalent Series, the alien warrior Barakiel, derives his power from Balance. His powerful enemies mean he needs his hatred. He needs that energy. Lucky for him, he meets the heroine, Zan O’Gara. She’s his left hand, the light that balances his darkness. He’s good for her, as well. His race, the Covalent, view sex as one of life’s great joys, casual or committed. For them, sex is never, ever a source of shame. Through her alien lover, the human Zan learns to throw off the shame of her past.
That’s why I love science fiction romance as a genre. All those opportunities for our cross-species lovers to learn from one another.

Libby Doyle is the author of The Covalent Series. To learn more, visit

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Mix and Mash (Up): Writing Science Fiction Romance Fairy Tales by @aw_cross

by A.W. Cross

Genre mash-ups are nothing new, especially in science fiction. The versatility and speculative nature of SF integrates so seamlessly with other literary genres that many science fiction mash-ups have become genres in their own right.

And I adore mash-ups. Two of my favorite science fiction mash-up genres are science fiction romance and science fiction fairytale retellings. And my ultimate favorite mash-up? Science fiction romance fairy tale retellings. It’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it SFR-FTR for short!  

I love fairy tale retellings because they can be entwined with pretty much any genre, and it’s always fun to see what fresh perspective setting a familiar, old tale in a new setting, culture, or time period will bring. Fairy tales themselves have been told over and over, changing a little (or a lot) with each retelling, and it’s a practice that I think will be around as long as we are. Why science fiction and fairy tales? Well, I write social science fiction, which tends to relate SF from an anthropological view and is concerned more with the effects of technological advances on society, rather than the technology itself. And social commentary is, of course, what fairy tales are all about. They were a way to discuss social issues, morals, and warnings that reflected the concerns of the time in which they were told. The two fit perfectly together.

But writing SFR-FTRs isn’t straightforward. It’s crucial to make strategic decisions about which elements of each genre to keep and which to discard. The fundamentals of the genre the fairy tale is being combined with must be compatible and serve to enhance the fairy tale, rather than obscure it. The conventions expected for each genre—in romance for example, you must have an HEA—need to be respected, or you’ll end up with a mash-up that doesn’t appeal to readers of either genre. Luckily for mash-up authors like myself, there is a saving grace in the form of themes, tropes, and archetypes which are universally understood by readers and act as the glue that holds the mash-up together.

Another difficulty with fairy tale mash-ups in particular, is figuring out which of the original fairy tale story elements to focus on and which to twist. Although it can be tricky, this is one is one of my favorite aspects of writing SFR-FTRs. So how do I do it in order to craft a successful story?

Because I combine science fiction, romance, and fairy tales, I usually start with the most difficult part—which scientific concepts will mesh with which fairy tale. Sometimes, the answer is obvious. For example, Pine, Alive is a retelling of Collodi’s Pinocchio. When I was reading fairy tales for my research, the inspiration hit me the minute I picked Pinocchio up—Pinocchio as a sentient android and the struggle of sentient machines to be “real.” Conversely, with the next in the series, Clara, Dreaming, it was the science that came first. I’d been thinking about the concept of dream manipulation when a fairy tale presented itself—The Sandman, itself a retelling of Ole Lukøje, the Dream God.

Once I’ve decided which concepts to pair together, I then have to pick which elements to include. I always try to preserve certain aspects of the fairy tale I’m using, including the theme and major events that are crucial to the progression of the story. I try to keep character tropes if I can and will also sprinkle little easter eggs and names from the original stories as much as possible.

So what do I change? Gender is something I often swap. I like to have my protagonists be female and changing character gender can be a good way to freshen up the retelling with a different perspective. The setting, of course, is always changed, since I move it to a futuristic, speculative world.

Roles are another thing I like to play with, and that can often add interesting dimensions to the story. For example, in Pine, Alive, I took the cricket and made him into a man—and a love intertest for my now-female android Pinocchio. He still plays a familiar part in my story to the original in that he watches over her and tries to keep her out of trouble, but he now also has a story of his own.

And finally, I add in romance. A lot of fairy tales—especially the ones most popularly retold—already feature a romance, but that isn’t necessary to the ones I choose, because turning a character that normally isn’t a love interest into one, is always a fun way to twist the retelling. And finally, even if there already is a romance, such as in my Sleeping Beauty retelling Rose, Awake, I like to tweak it so it’s still a different romance than the original.

My goal in my mash-ups is to combine all of my favorite genres into a story that is familiar enough to readers who already know and love these tales, but present them in such a way that it feels new and exciting. Hopefully, if I’ve done it right, they’ll love those mash-ups as much as I do!

Author Bio:
A.W. Cross is made of 100% starstuff. She lives in the gorgeous wilds of Canada with her family and a deep nostalgia for the 80s.

Free short story: Rose, Awake:

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