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Welcoming back Robert Swartwood to the Author’s Cafe with his new release, Walk The Sky (and a book giveaway)

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How about a little Western to spice up your work week? I’m happy to “reintroduce” a good friend who has been here before (though before I had that cool little bookstore/cafe image above), Robert Swartwood. Author of horror, suspense, and thrillers (including one of my favorite reads, No Shelter, with the butt-kicking Holly Lin) has dipped his toes into a Western genre for his brand new release, Walk The Sky.

Check out Robert and his work on his site, follow him on Twitter for some off-the-cuff food remarks. Plus he’s got some swag to give away, so read through and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Ladies and gents, Walk The Sky:

One of my favorite genres is the Western.

And I say this as someone who hasn’t watched nearly as many Westerns as he should.

In fact, considering the amount of Westerns out there, I’ve probably seen only a handful.

But for some reason it’s still a favorite genre.

Yes, there are tropes that seem to constantly pop up — the anti-hero, the cavalry, show down at high noon, and wanted posters, just to name a few — that our understanding of life in the “old west” is probably nothing like what it was really like to live back then.

Still, the setting seems to make for great storytelling, or at the very least, exciting storytelling.

Walk the Sky, a short novel I co-wrote with the late David B. Silva, is a subgenre of the Western: the Weird Western. It starts out as a typical Western — two men on the run from a posse — but then quickly veers into supernatural territory.

It was great fun to write, but also challenging, as we tried to stay true to the time period.

A lot of the Westerns you see on TV nowadays take liberties with the setting and characters and even weapons. Originally there was a scene in Walk the Sky where a jar of gumballs falls off a table and shatters, sending a scatter of them everywhere. A friend who read an early draft did some research and found that gumballs hadn’t been invented during the time that the novel takes place. It wasn’t a big problem — we easily changed gumballs to penny candy — but still it was something we initially overlooked.

Another thing we needed to research were the weapons used back then. When we think of Westerns, we immediately think of six-shooters and Winchesters, but many of those guns weren’t invented until the early 1900’s, and as Walk the Sky takes place in 1875, we needed to be conscious of which weapons that were featured (we didn’t, for instance, want to feature a gun that wasn’t invented for another three years). Sure, we could easily have fudged the weapons to make them work, but it was important to us to keep the setting and time as realistic as possible.

And that, I think, is one of the reasons I enjoy the Western genre so much. Nowadays there’s just so much technology that it makes it almost too easy for the good guys and bad guys. But back then, there were no cell phones or computers or Internet. If someone was in trouble, they couldn’t easily send out a text message. It helps ramp up the suspense. And it also helps us remember a time when we didn’t take all our technology for granted.

ABOUT WALK THE SKY:

Things are bad for Clay Miller and George Hitchens.

For starters, they’re on the run from a posse out for blood. Then, as they ride through the Utah desert, the two come across the crumpled body of a young boy on the brink of death. The boy can’t speak, but it’s clear he’s frightened of something nearby. When asked what’s got him so scared, the terrified boy writes three letters in the dirt …

DED

By nightfall, Clay and George are tied up in jail. They can’t move. They can’t speak. They can do nothing but listen to the boy, outside, screaming for his life.

Yes, things are bad for Clay and George.

And they’re only going to get worse.

Walk the Sky is available in paperback and on Kindle (US and UK) at a special introductory price of 99 cents.

Enter to win a free copy of the paperback at Goodreads.

What’s your favorite Western, either book or TV show or movie? Let us know in the comments section by Friday 4/19 midnight EST, and Robert will gift five copies of the Kindle edition to random participants.

Many thanks, Robert, and much appreciate the kind giveaway. Wanna win an e-copy of Walk The Sky? THEN DO WHAT HE SAYS.

steve

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Naming characters: The Upside of Creativity, and a Trap

A writer-centric post today on one of the most enjoyable parts of being a writer – the creativity it allows me. Specifically, in making up names. I’ve talked before about naming settings (cities, planets) and items (vehicles, weapons, ships), but this post is strictly about naming characters…and a trap one can fall into.

A few months back, I did a beta read for a friend, and one of my critiques was alliterative names. It was a fantasy novella, out of my usual comfort zone of reading, so I didn’t know if that was a theme or style fantasy used. However, after the fourth character was introduced whose name started with a V, I was completely lost. I felt it made it difficult for the reader to follow, especially when a story has several characters that impact the overall story arc using that letter.

Let’s do a little quiz. Here is a photo still from one of my all-time favorite movies (and guilty shoot-em-up pleasures), Aliens. It’s a picture of two of the most visible and popular characters (not to mention two that survived quite long, so they had plenty of screen time). It’s Hicks and Hudson; everyone knows those names. What’s the quiz? BEFORE you scroll down to the answer, answer this – which one is Hicks, and which one is Hudson?

Answer: It’s Hudson on the left, Hicks on the right. Even I to this day sometimes mix them up thinking back to the movie, as they are in so many scenes together, they are integral to the plot arc, and their names start with the same letter.

Maybe you got it correct, maybe not, but the point I’m illustrating is that characters need distinct names from each other, and ones that aren’t overly clichéd (and by clichéd, I mean Cliff Stone for the tough guy, Melvin Poindexter for the nerd, Vlad Bloodworth for a vampire, and so on – they can take away from the story).

I fell into this trap with my first novel, Gabriel’s Redemption, and it wasn’t until the second story in the trilogy was released that someone called me on it. I never caught it. And it was pretty bad, I must say. Two very different characters, one the ultimate bad guy in the book, and one a heroic captain. One was MacFarland, one McTiernan. Holy crap, what a boo-boo.

The reason? I’ve used random name generators online for many character names, and I just keep hitting Refresh until one catches my eye. One that sounds right for the character and is easy to say (a popular character named Varsonofy Panteleimonovich Krestovozdvizhensky is going to stop the reader in his or her tracks). I had MacFarland from a previous idea and put it into the story, but when I got to needing a name for a ship captain later on, I resorted to the random name generator, and it looked good. Never made the connection.

So…did you get Hicks and Hudson correct? Any name issues you’ve run across in books, or traps you’ve fallen into?

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I’m now syncing *sideloaded* books across multiple devices. Here’s how…

Just a little quickie tech-talk post today. Last week I picked up my first iPad* a few days after buying my son an iPad 1 and falling in love with it.

* Why is this significant? Because I’ve been a Mac-head since 1986 (lugged a Mac SE-HD to college in 1988 as my portable computer – ah the memories of trying to find an open AppleTalk port in the computer lab). I’ve been an iDevice-head almost since the iPhone hit stores, and swear by them. But I never pulled the trigger on an iPad – to me, it was a tweener. I have an iPhone 4S and a MacBook Pro – why get something that’s between them? Boy, was I mistaken…love at first swipe.

Over the past few days I’ve been customizing it, installing apps and music, some videos, and generally just hugging it to death. I might even name it. But last night, something magical happened (Steve Jobs’ words, not mine). I found out it syncs books.

What I mean by syncs books is that I can read an ebook on my iPhone, and pick up where I left off on my iPad, and vice versa. I’m not tied to one device, or having to remember what page I was on.

I can hear you now:

Steve, you’re an idiot. Syncing last page has been available for Kindle since day one, and Nook, and Kobo. Where have you been, moron? 

Ho ho, I say! Those devices and apps do a fine job of syncing books purchased through their stores, of course. All of them do. (Well, my Nook app experience has had some issues, swearing I’ve been on page 115 of Randolph LaLonde’s Spinward Fringe now for two weeks.) It’s part of the allure of “read anywhere” and technology in the cloud. I’m not talking about that. What I mean is:

iBooks will sync SIDELOADED books across devices.

Try that with your Kindle or Nook. Sideloading is taking an ePub file and ‘manually’ loading it into your device. I can do that with my Nook Color, an Android tablet and read with Aldiko, my mother can do it with her Kindle, and I can even click on a mail  attachment with an ePub file on my iPhone and have it ‘sideloaded’ to my Stanza app. But sideloading means the store behind the software won’t sync across devices – it won’t even know you have the file.*

* There is a way with Kindle by emailing the .mobi file to your @kindle.com address, but if you’ve acquired an ePub file, conversion is another step, and if you have ‘questionable’ material or perhaps ill-gotten files, giving Amazon access to those files may not be desired.

So what do I do when a fellow author sends me a copy of his/her book to read? Or I pick up a file off Smashwords? Or a public domain book? iBooks to the rescue. It WILL sync last page/collections/bookmarks across devices for any file, store bought or sideloaded.

On all iDevices, go to Settings > iBooks > turn ON Sync Bookmarks and Sync Collections. Now here’s the real key – you need to upload via iTunes in order for the sync to work. Drag the ePub file into iTunes, connect the various iDevices, and sync that book file to all of them. Poof, done. Now ANY ebook you load onto your iPhone will sync with the iPad, other iPhones, iPod Touch, whatever through iCloud.

So now I’ve begun collecting all of my ePub files (I’ve sideloaded plenty into various apps) into iBooks, and I’m ready to read anywhere, anytime.

Did I get anything wrong? Was I behind the times and everyone knew this? How do you guys read sideloaded books?

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Gabriel’s Journey, the complete trilogy with bonus Zero Point prequel, on sale 33% off while I’m away! Spread the word?

While I’m away, the price gremlins will play! Last week I ran some two-day sales on the individual books in the Gabriel series; starting today, the complete collection of Gabriel’s Journey (including the Gabriel: Zero Point prequel) will be on sale for 33% off. Hey, that’s almost one third!

The regular price is $8.99 (which is a steal, IMO, if you consider the combined costs of the three: $3.99 + $4.99 + $4.99 = $13.97). Through June 10th (when I get back from my woeful, terrible, difficult business trip to the Mediterranean), this sucker’s on sale for $5.99, or slightly more than a Taco Bell Five Buck Box (which might be gastronomy’s worst nightmare).

Gabriel’s Journey is now available for $5.99 for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. Sorry, I won’t be running this one through Smashwords for Sony/Kobo users (long story short – they take forever to push a price through to Sony/Kobo, meaning they’ll take forever to change it back).

If you could be so kind as to pass along the word, I’d greatly appreciate it (and I’ll reward!). Nothing would be more exciting than to return from the slog of two weeks of work on a cruise ship to a huge sales report. Well, perhaps there are a few more exciting things, but at the moment they escape me.

I’ve got some ready-made tweets if you want to use them. When I get back, I’ll randomly select TWO peeps that tweeted and give out a $10 Amazon gift card to each. If I do well in the on-board casino, I’ll make it THREE.

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #Kindle from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbchy #RT

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #Nook from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbbRd #RT

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #iBooks from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbbNT #RT

You can tweet ‘em or Google+ ‘em; as long as they’re tagged with my info I’ll see ‘em. And feel free to Facebook ‘em, but I won’t see ‘em. I threw in the towel on FB long ago…

THANKS!

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How about a little book trivia? Prizes, I promise…but no cash.

Just for funsies (yes, that is a word – squiggly red underlined notwithstanding), I thought I’d do a little first line matching challenge. I currently have seven published works out there (not including Gabriel’s Journey, which is the compilation of four books), and each obviously has an opening line. Some may be obvious, some obscure, so give it a shot if you’re up for it.

Prize winners will receive e-copies of ALL SEVEN, via email.

How does one win? Below are my seven* first lines, each with a number. After that are the seven stories’ names, each with a letter. COMMENT with your matches (like 1-B, 3-E, etc.). Saturday night at 9PM ET I’ll end the commenting. I will award THREE sets of prizes, so there will be three winners. If more than three are completely 100% correct, the first three that commented get the prizes. If fewer than three are correct, I’ll give three prizes to the highest number correct. And if there are more than three with the same highest number correct, we go back to expediency. Make sense?

* Those of you with good math skills may notice there are actually eight first lines. One is NOT associated with a currently published work as a red herring, but IS the first line (as it stands) of my current scifi WIP, so you get a little sneak preview.

Ready? Set? GUESS:

1 – They say it’s the first thing that goes when you get old… or was it the second thing?

2 – “Which one is he?”

3 – The warship glided through the inky blackness of the Canaan system. 

4 – Maybe a second glass of wine will help my nerves.

5 – Louis Mullins knew he’d die one day; he just didn’t know until a few hours ago that today was that day.

6 – Evan dove into the clear blue water, leaving the safety of the catamaran behind, and swam deep, adjusting his goggles as he kicked.

7 – The first thing Tomas Katoa saw when he opened one blurry eye was a front tooth.

8 – My life changed on the way to the train station after work.

A – Gabriel’s Redemption

B – Gabriel’s Return

C – Gabriel’s Revenge

D – Gabriel: Zero Point

E – The Awakening

F – Special Delivery

G – Opt-Out

GO!

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Today launches Gabriel:Zero Point with special weekend pricing

The official day is officially here – the official launch day of Gabriel: Zero Point, the prequel novella to the Gabriel science fiction-adventure trilogy! Those of you who have read the series can find out more about how Gabriel came to be the man waking up in the seedy Jamaican hotel room at the beginning of Gabriel’s Redemption, and those of you who haven’t yet dipped your toes into the trilogy can start with a bite-sized story (22,000 words) to lead into the overall arc.

It wouldn’t be a launch without a proper promotional price (and a hint of a very cool contest to come). But first – the story:



GABRIEL: ZERO POINT

Prequel Novella to the Evan Gabriel Trilogy
Evan Gabriel wasn’t always a feared and respected North American Federation Navy Commander. Before dangerous missions to the ice-bound planet of Poliahu, the deadly jungle world of Eden, and politically corrupt Mars, he was a simple recruit, fighting to make his mark in the elite Naval Special Forces…and was part of a top-secret military experiment that would change his life forever.Zero Point tells the tale before the science fiction/adventure trilogy, a tale of a young man faced with difficult choices and dangerous trials. Fans of the series will see part of the mysterious past Evan Gabriel carries with him, while readers new to the series get a preview of what is to come in a military man’s haunted life.

Zero Point is the true beginning of Evan Gabriel, and his story is just getting started.


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I did mention special promotional pricing, right? For THIS WEEKEND ONLY (ending Sunday night the 15th), Zero Point will be less than a cup of coffee from a gas station. A whopping $.99 (£.77 for my friends across the pond). It’s currently available for Kindle US, Kindle UK, Nook, and Smashwords for other platforms (Smashwords is notoriously slow for distributing to Sony, iBooks, Kobo, etc. so I knew it wouldn’t be ready for today – Smashwords.com it is, sorry.)

         

Then watch this space Sunday night for an announcement of the Zero Point “spread the word” contest. I need all of my friends’ help to get the word out about the new release, so I’ll be giving away Amazon Gift Cards daily, plus a KINDLE FIRE or NOOK TABLET to one lucky winner at the end.

Hope you guys and gals pick up a copy, and hope even more that you enjoy it (and if you do, a review goes a long way for us struggling authors).

 

P.S. Hey look, it’s my 100th WordPress post…

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New Update: Steadily increasing Nook sales due to not doing KDP Select?

UPDATE AS OF 2/29 – SEE BOTTOM OF POST

I took a peek at my months sales figures for Barnes & Noble Nook ebooks this morning, and something caught my eye. I looked back at January’s numbers, and figured out what it was. As of February 17th, my Barnes & Noble sales exceeded January’s entire monthly total. January was my best month to date for Nook, so I peeked back at December…and saw a trend. Where this trend comes from I have no way of telling*, but I’m liking the trend.

* As a marketer at heart and by trade (my degree is in marketing, and I’ve been doing marketing essentially my entire adult life – from putting flyers under windshield wipers for an ice cream parlor to putting together a complete social media program for my company), not knowing where a sale came from, not being able to track what methods work and don’t work based on measurable end results, absolutely kills me.

November of 2011 was a decent month for Nook sales. December was 40% better than November (nice, I can pay the wine bill!). January was even better, a 50% increase over December (hey, more wine!). And now February has exceeded January by the 17th of the month. Why? I can’t be sure, but I have a guess.

I think there’s a strong possibility that my steadily increasing BN sales may be due to me NOT choosing to go KDP Select.

A lot of my blog visitors are readers, not authors, so very briefly on KDP Select: Amazon launched an exclusive program called Select in early December that authors sign up with for a 90 day period during which time they are NOT allowed to sell/distribute/list excerpts/give away their ebooks through any other method. Not sample chapters or excerpts on a blog, not Nook, not Kobo, not Sony, not iPad. In exchange Amazon allows authors to give away their book for free up to five days during that 90 day period (among other ‘benefits’, none of which I see as an advantage by any stretch). I’ve come out against KDP Select for many reasons which I won’t get into here (maybe later), but in a nutshell I feel going exclusive through one channel is business suicide (not to mention pissing off owners of Nooks, Kobos, Sony Readers, etc. that would no longer be able to buy my books). However, a boatload of authors have jumped onto the Select bandwagon, which leads me to this hypothesis:

There is now less competition in my genre, meaning my books rank higher and are more visible to potential readers in Barnes & Noble’s systems. All of those authors that latched onto the Amazon bandwagon gave me a better opportunity to provide science fiction/adventure to Nook users looking for books.

Nook sales are still a very small percentage of my overall sales; Kobo, Sony, and iBooks even less, but it’s still a percentage. And it’s a growing number, so far. I have no intention of cutting off that percentage. Barnes & Noble had a 70% increase in Nook e-reader sales this past holiday season over the previous season. The iPad is still by far the most popular tablet (over 60% market share), and the iPad 3 is set to be announced March 7th. Kobo is a massive player in Canada, having 36% of the market compared to Kindle’s 25%. Why would I want to ignore those markets, small percentage or otherwise?

And readers – would I have pissed you off by going Amazon only with the Gabriel books?

UPDATE: As of Feb 29 (so some stragglers may still show up after month’s end), my Nook sales have increased by over 70% over January’s totals. To recap – since the kickoff of KDP Select, Nook sales are up 40% from November to December, up 50% from December to January, and now up 70% from January to February (and keep in mind this month is 2 days shorter than January). I’m starting to think there’s something to this theory…

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Redemption, Book 1: Back Office Troubles

When Santander arrived, Gurnett and two other security men had two plant workers seated in chairs in a back office. One of the security men was training an odd-looking handgun at them. As Santander approached, one of the plant workers stood up and pointed. “That’s him, that’s the guy who set me up for this!” he yelled.

The handgun butt smashed into the worker’s stomach, and he sat back down hard, gasping for breath.

Gurnett shook his head and looked back at Santander. “Never learn, do they?”

“No, I suppose not,” he replied, avoiding Gurnett’s face. “So what’s the situation?” he asked the non-gasping individual.

The second worker gulped nervously, looking alternately at the other worker, who was just now catching his breath, and his questioner. “You’re the security chief? You runs things here, right?” he asked.

“Correct,” said Santander, crossing his arms.

“Dural has been pocketing vials, skimming from the top of our production. I walked in on him today. I gave him a chance to explain, but he just threw your name back at me, saying you know all about it, and then accused me of stealing production equipment!”

“So you’re Rechichi?” he asked. “How long have you been here? What’s your position?”

“Four months, sir. I handle post-processing for most of the final compounds, prior to packaging. Same as Dural.” Apparently unsure of where this conversation was going, beads of sweat began to appear on his upper lip.

“And Dural?” Santander asked Gurnett.

“Two years. One of our best men,” he answered.

Rechichi was now sweating profusely, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. “I’m not lying!”

“No, I don’t think you are,” Santander replied evenly. “Wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose.”

He held his hand out to the security officer, who passed over the handgun. “Codes,” he said. The security officer flashed arming codes for the weapon to Santander’s neuretics, and the handgun powered up.

“Wait!” screamed Rechichi, holding his hands up, palms out, in protest. “You can’t do this!”

Santander raised the weapon, the tingle in the grip indicating it was armed and fully charged. “Of course I can. I run things here, remember?” And he fired.

The handgun wasn’t silenced, so a loud piercing clangggg filled the small office. The depleted uranium pellet shot from the barrel, accelerated by magnetic fields to over six thousand miles per hour, and smashed through the plant worker’s skull. The entry wound was tiny, matching the pellet’s 3 millimeter diameter, but the resulting exit wound wasn’t nearly as neat. The back of Rechichi’s head exploded onto the wall behind him, and his body flew backwards out of the chair, onto a large plastic sheet. A small hole was visible in the back wall, now dripping with brain matter and blood.

Damn, Thao, what the hell is this thing?” Santander asked the security man, looking in wonderment at the weapon.

The security man who had given Santander the gun smiled. “Miniature railgun, sir. Made by Strittmaier out of New Berlin. Newest tech on the market. Undetectable to electronic or neuretic scans too. Cost me a month’s pay to afford it.”

Santander nodded. “I like it. No recoil, that’s fantastic.” He turned it over in his hands a few times. “A little loud though. Gurnett, look into getting some of these. And reimburse Thao for having to buy his own.”

Thao beamed. “Thank you sir.”

Santander looked over at Dural, whose wheezing had completely stopped. Even his breathing had stopped as he stared behind him at the carnage that was his coworker.

“Dural,” Santander said.

Dural’s head snapped back. “Yes, uh, sorry. Thanks Mr. Santander. He just walked in on me, he shouldn’t even have been on shift. Won’t happen again, I know you need those vials, and I’ll keep them coming.”

“I do need those vials. What I don’t need are morons working for me.” He raised the pistol again, and fired twice into Dural’s chest. The body toppled over to rest near Rechichi, two holes blown clean through his chest, the chair back, and the wall. The dual clangs reverberated off the ceiling and walls.

“Hot damn, I love this thing!” he exclaimed, handing it back to Thao. “Gurnett, you gotta get me one. First on the list, hear me?”

Gurnett nodded. “Absolutely. Sorry again to bother you.”

“Not a problem, I needed a little release,” Santander answered. “Nice touch with the plastic sheeting, makes cleanup a lot easier.”

He strode from the room, whistling.

***

GABRIEL’S REDEMPTION is Book 1 of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/

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New excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge, Book 3, releasing in December!

Coming into the home stretch to get Gabriel’s Revenge, the final installment in the bestselling scifi-adventure trilogy, released! Here’s a bit from an early scene:

 

Gabriel felt the tension of the bridge atmosphere ratchet up a notch as he pushed his way through the hatch. The last time he had been here, several hours ago, he had created quite a scene. He caught more than one surreptitious glance his way from the bridge crew. He gritted his teeth and pulled himself hand over hand along the railing set into the back wall of the bridge, towards McTiernan.

“Commander,” the captain said as he noticed his presence. “You’re looking much more rested.”

Gabriel squeezed one hand on the railing, slowing his approach to a stop. He gave a slight push downwards and his feet hit the deck. He straightened his other hand and pinched the material of his pants on the side of his thigh, coming to attention as best he could in zero-G.

“Captain, I must apologize for…”

“At ease, Commander,” McTiernan interrupted, holding up a hand. “I understand. I do. I’d probably be in the same mindset as you right now if I were in your situation. No need to apologize. I’d apologize to you for calling you back before the transit, but you’re needed.”

McTiernan tapped an icon on his command chair armrest. One of the wallscreens at the front of the bridge flickered, then came to life, showing a tiny blinking icon against the blackness of space.

“We received a tight-beam transmission from this ship a few minutes ago. Actually, ship is far too strong of a term.”

He pressed a few more icons and data streamed along the right side of the screen. “It’s twelve feet long, not much bigger than a communications drone, and heavily shielded. Honestly without the transmission, we would have never seen it.” He gave a small smile. “We’ve got the best sensors in the business, and supposedly the best sensor operators as well.” He cleared his throat and one of the bridge crew cringed and ducked his head a bit.

Gabriel pursed his lips. “What was the transmission?”

McTiernan nodded to his communications officer. “Put it up, Ensign.”

Giroux turned to his console and tapped at it. A tinny voice came from the bridge overhead speakers.

“NAFN Richard Marcinko, this is Corporal Lewis Grienke aboard the MDF packetship Shadow. Coded message for Commander Gabriel. Please respond.”

Gabriel turned to McTiernan with his eyebrows raised. “There’s a man in that thing?”

McTiernan nodded. “Yes, we were as surprised as you. Damned thing is less than five feet across. Must have been like flying in a coffin.”

An image of the drop capsules screaming through the atmosphere of Poliahu flashed across Gabriel’s mind. “Been there, done that.” He squinted at the image on the screen. “Have you responded?”

“Yes, Ensign Giroux confirmed the receipt of the tight-beam with our own. The corporal is asking for you personally and will not release the message without your code.”

Gabriel shook his head. “I have no idea what code he’s speaking of, but I guess you’d better get me on the line with him.”

McTiernan waved his hand to Giroux and he opened a channel. “The packetship is still half a million miles or so away, so there’s a three second lag each way.”

Gabriel nodded. The overhead speaker beeped with the opening of the comm link.

“Corporal Grienke, this is Commander Evan Gabriel. I received your transmission, but I do not have a code.”

After a few seconds, the overhead speaker crackled. “Thank you sir, voice code received and accepted.”

Gabriel glanced at McTiernan, who merely shrugged his shoulders. “Didn’t think it would be that simple,” he said in a low tone.

“He found us, Commander,” McTiernan replied. “He probably isn’t too worried about imposters at this point.”

Gabriel nodded. “Go ahead with your transmission, Corporal.”

Before the voice returned, Giroux called out. “Captain, I’m receiving a data stream overlaid on the transmission. It’s clean. Shall I put it up?”

“Go ahead, Ensign, same screen.”

The image of the ship and its statistics disappeared, replaced by a schematic of the solar system. The Ryokou wormhole was a green square, surrounded by several red dots, with Mars a flashing yellow circle. Numbers scrolled down one side of the screen showing distances, projected armament, positioning, open corridors, and other tactical data.

“Commander, I have a message from Major Andon,” Grienke’s voice continued. “He sends his regards and his congratulations for a mission well done on Eden, but has a significant warning to pass along. And yes sir, he used the word significant. You should be seeing the data I collected on my flight out. It was…tight…getting through undetected, as the wormhole approach is littered with Chinese fighters armed to the teeth. I’m sure they didn’t see this packetship, but they probably picked up the wormhole transit. I fully expect them to know you’re on the way. Major Andon’s warning is that these fighters have orders to shoot the Marcinko on sight, no questions asked.”

Several seconds passed in silence. Gabriel squeezed the railing hard enough to make his knuckles go white. “Just like Eden,” he said under his breath.

Grienke went on. “I’ve sent you the data on the wormhole area. I’m also sending you data on the Mars blockade ships as best as we can detect. The bulk of the Chinese ships are at Ryokou, only a handful around Mars. They seem to be putting quite an effort into blocking your entry into the system. Major Andon has also enclosed data on the situation on the ground, which is a second packet I’m sending you.”

Giroux raised his hand. “Received, Captain.”

“Corporal, stand by to be picked up,” said McTiernan.

A few seconds ticked by as the light speed transmission went out and was answered.

“Ah, sir, I’m supposed to continue on to Calypso to be attached to the MDF training force. This mission sort of dovetailed with my schedule, blockade or not. Lucky me, right?” A small laugh came through the speaker. “And while it’s a bit tighter quarters than I expected, I’d rather keep going than join you in a firefight. No offense, Captain.”

“None taken, Corporal,” McTiernan replied. “Safe travels, and thank you for the information.”

“Thank you, sir, and good luck. Shadow out.”

McTiernan shifted in his command chair to face Gabriel. “What is it with the Chinese connection?”

Gabriel shook his head, still staring at the solar system schematic. “Wish I knew, Captain. But I get the feeling we’ll find out soon enough.”

***

Enjoy the genre, like the scene? Get into the trilogy with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption, and book 2, Gabriel’s Return, available for all e-book platforms using the links on the right of this page. Thanks for stopping by!

 

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Review: The Prodigal’s Foole by RB Wood

REVIEW: 

Demons and magic, shotguns and explosions.

That’s how I described The Prodigal’s Foole by R.B. Wood to my 11 year old son who asked me what the book was about. His attention span is short (what 11 year old’s isn’t?) so I had to summarize, and there’s so much more. Hence, a book review.

First of all, I have to say the opening of the book might very well be my favorite of any I’ve ever read:

“The old lady next to me in the window seat died somewhere over the Atlantic. I know because she told me.”

How’s that grab you? It certainly grabbed me, and never let me go.

This was my first real dip into urban fantasy, and I have to say I loved every minute of it. Wood weaves a complex story with excellent characters, believable magic (is that an oxymoron?), and humor into a hard-to-put-down novel. And when I found out that this was his first work, I was even more impressed. The writing style, the sentence structure, the plot consistency, the nice use of flashbacks, the editing, all are truly top notch.

Symon Bryson is a reluctant magic practitioner called back into action by old friends to combat a growing menace from Hell, and to help find a missing friend. He has to face not only this new danger, but his own dark past as well. The Catholic Church plays a large role in the story, and is not bashed (a la Dan Brown) nor praised (a la, uh, not sure…televangelists?), but portrayed in a modern, realistic way that fits well into the overall story.

The characters are fleshed out very nicely, and the team dynamic is excellent. And can I say Symon Bryson is one of my new favorite characters in any book? His wisecracking, inner emotions, and pop culture references kept me entertained throughout. Wood even pokes fun at some of the more ‘fantastic’ fantasies out there (one line I remember is when a character suddenly morphs into an animal, a person in the room says, “Where do her clothes go when she changes?”).

And here’s the bottom line. Like most readers (I think), I “see” the story as I read it, and in some cases they remind me of other stories or movies. And even though there are no vampires (thank goodness) in The Prodigal’s Foole, I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie Blade with Wesley Snipes. The characters, the modern setting, the demons, the weapons, the action, all mixed together like one of my favorite movies of all time – which meant I truly loved this book.

And the best part? It sets up very nicely for more stories in the series. I’m looking forward to more from Mr. Wood. The Prodigal’s Foole was definitely one of the best novels I’ve read this year…and he’s got me peeking into the Urban Fantasy genre now.

Find The Prodigal’s Foole here:

Amazon (Kindle) • Amazon (paperback)Smashwords (multi-formats)

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