Monday, 24 October 2011

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

What begins as a fun, nimble little mystery in the first act soon kicks into comedy-action-adventure high gear when junior reporter Tintin, with his brave dog Snowy, stumbles upon boozy Captain Haddock (an excellent Andy Serkis), whose family legacy may prove pivotal in a race to uncover the secret of the Unicorn.

From that point on, it’s more or less non-stop comedy—some fizzles, most of it works—with gags ranging from jaw-dropping blockbuster chase antics to throwaway background humour. Captain Haddock works brilliantly for the most part: he’s unpredictable, endearing, and colourful in all the ways Tintin himself isn’t. While the youngster is well played by Jamie Bell, he’s mostly just there to work out the clues for the audience. Tintin and Haddock make for a good double-act, though: brains and brawn, cunning and in-over-his-head rashness; together they’d make a good Indiana Jones.

The plot is a by the numbers mystery/adventure/treasure hunt, complete with bumbling detectives (so-so comic support from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), exciting sea plane action and hidden clues, but it’s brought to life in gorgeous visual style. While the script only comes alive in fits and starts, the whole film is bursting with rich detail, and is given added depth by good, solid use of 3D. The virtual camerawork throughout is stupendous.

One extended chase sequence through the flooding streets of a North African city is so dazzling and dizzying it reminded me why no other filmmaker can match Spielberg when he lets his imagination out for a spin. Another action scene, told in flashback, depicts a breathless pirate showdown in a storm, and features some of the most playful transitions I’ve seen since Ang Lee’s Hulk. There’s a pretty good villain, too, played by a wily Daniel Craig.

Snowy, while definitely smarter than your average cute canine, is also given to chasing cats, digging up fossilised bones from the desert, and gobbling sandwiches at decidedly inopportune moments. In other words, he’s an instant audience favourite.
All in all, it’s a rollicking good adventure, one of Spielberg’s most fun movies in a long time, and I’ll be buying it on Blu-ray next year.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Prizes galore! Uncial Press 5th Anniversary Celebration

Here's a quick reminder of the birthday celebration currently underway at one of my excellent publishers, Uncial Press. Prizes handed out every day throughout October, including a KOBO and a Kindle! And my own Basingstoke Chronicles is the giveaway book on the actually birthday, Oct 13th. Head on over there right away...


We are Five Years Old! Five years ago this month--on 13 October 2006--we released our first titles. Since then we've released more than a hundred extraordinary ebooks, written by some of the most talented authors in the industry. So we are celebrating. And inviting you to celebrate with us. We'll be giving away an eBook A Day all through October. On 13 October, our anniversary, we'll give away a KOBO loaded with five of our ebooks. Come 26 October, we'll give away a Kindle, with eight more ebooks.

All the details are on our Birthday Party page: , including what you have to do to enter either the eBook-A-Day scavenger hunt or the KOBO and Kindle drawings.

Jude & Star
Uncial Press

Friday, 30 September 2011

'Writing a SF Novel' Contest Winners!

Here are the five winners in my ‘Writing a SF Novel’ contests. A huge thank you to everyone who entered. I hope you enjoyed reading about Sparks in Cosmic Dust. It’s available to buy now in either ebook or audiobook format.  

Without further ado, congratulations go to:
Part One: Nels Wadycki 
Part Two: Ilona Fenton
Part Three: Cathy Pegau
Part Four: Jessa Slade
Part Five: Natalie Damschroder
I’ve already contacted the first three. Jessa and Natalie, please email me at  and I’ll send you your prizes right away.



Friday, 23 September 2011

Writing a SF Novel: Part 3

My Sparks in Cosmic Dust celebration continues. I'm at bestselling SF author Shawn Kupfer's (47 Echo) blog today, with WRITING A SF NOVEL: PART 3. Join me for some insights on science fiction worldbuilding, and a chance to win a free ebook!


Monday, 12 September 2011

Writing a SF Novel: Part 2

To celebrate the upcoming release of my SF novel, Sparks in Cosmic Dust (September 26, 2011, Carina Press), I’ll be posting a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to book launch. I'll also be giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with a special Sparks giveaway. The winners will be all announced on release day on my own blog:

Here’s where you can find the other installments:

Part 1: Concept (Aug 31)—Contact: Infinite Futures Blog
Part 3: Worldbuilding (Sep 23)—Shawn Kupfer’s Blog
Part 4: The Writing Process (Sep 26)—Cathy Pegau’s Blog
Part 5: Publication (Sep 28)—Carina Press Blog


Survivor: The Deep Space Heroine

Heroines in space opera science fiction have generally conformed to one of two types: decorative damsel or Amazonian warrior, the former in constant need of rescue, the latter all but indestructible yet waiting (though she might not realise it) to be conquered by the hero. Both are iconic male fantasies that cross most fiction genres, and neither really interest me. The plausible science fiction heroine, to me, exists somewhere in between.

I also think the trajectory of feminism into futuristic space opera is overstated, on the whole. In the vastness of deep space, without society’s laws to support or even encourage equality, I find it unlikely that any more than a few women would achieve a position of sustainable power over men. Sure, advanced weaponry would help level the playing field, and she might get to perform all the same jobs as her male colleagues—think Kaylee in Firefly—but unless she’s in some sort of existing hierarchy that demanded obedience (eg military), I think a woman would have to be exceptional to convince her male counterparts to serve under her. That’s why lady pirates have been rare throughout history. Outside the law, it’s survival of the fittest.

But that’s not to say women in deep space wouldn’t be strong characters. On the contrary, they’d have to be formidable survivors. Especially in spaceships or colonies without atmospheres, death would be a constant factor. Anyone living under such conditions would be cautious and pragmatic to a fault. A hardness of character, an instinct for the preciousness of human company, would govern the deep space dweller. And cunning, rather than obvious ambition, might best serve those who don’t immediately command obedience.

Varinia Wilcox—glamour girl with a haunted past

The celebrated strip poker queen of Kappa Max, an asteroid colony beyond the official outposts, might sound like a throwback to the worst sort of damsels in distress from old SF. But Varinia is probably the most cunning survivor on Kappa. She’s managed to remain undefeated—read celibate—throughout her contract, over a year, and it’s made her extremely rich. No one knows about her “coining” (astral projection) ability, but it enables her to cheat whenever she likes. It also ruined her previous career as a model in the inner colonies, through an incident that exiled her to deep space and forced her change her identity. Her new reputation as the unattainable goddess of the outer colonies draws punters from far and wide.

But she can never leave until she’s lost (had sex with a client) five times, as per her contract. So she’s trapped: either keep winning and getting rich OR let five complete strangers have their way with her. Time is running out. She can’t feasibly keep winning forever. She needs a way out.
Teaming with handsome-but-wounded roughneck Solomon Bodine, she hatches a plan to escape Kappa Max for good. But where can she go, and how can she get there? What she needs is to lie low for a while, to have a fresh start.

A chance meeting with cynical ex-doctor Grace Peters offers hope—a prospecting gig on a faraway alien moon, Zopyrus. But to pull it off, Varinia will have to adapt to an entirely new way of living. Hard manual graft, meagre rations, long hours swinging a pick axe: how can a model turned bordello glam girl possibly cope with that for ten months?

One of my favourite parts of writing Sparks in Cosmic Dust was the chance to reveal the characters’ pasts gradually, using their strengths and weaknesses in a given situation as windows to who they were before Zopyrus, and how they might be changing. They all have secrets, some more crucial than others, and the fate of the expedition is never certain.

Varinia’s desire to return to her happy, contented former life is symbolized by her decision to purchase a damaged mare to take along on the expedition. The animal has been ill-used as a beast of burden, but like her, it has survived against all odds. But can it ever be truly happy again, so far outside its milieu? Here’s another concept sketch I did:
Varinia Wilcox might be the most interesting of my SF heroines because she isn’t a natural leader. She doesn’t know engineering or how to pilot a ship or how to kill anyone. Everyone takes her for granted because of her looks. And no one would ever have imagined her digging for precious elements in a dark mine alongside a roughneck, a fugitive, a wily old doctor and a border criminal.

But she has the most important quality in an alien environment: the ability to adapt. And those who adapt...survive.

With this second installment, I’m giving away an ebook copy of my SF novelette Godiva in the Firing Line (Damnation Books, 2009). To enter, simply send an email to with SPARKS GIVEAWAY TWO in the subject line. Don’t forget to give your name.

Good Luck!

Sparks in Cosmic Dust is available to pre-order now at Carina Press and on Amazon Kindle.



Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Creating a SF Novel: Part 1

To celebrate the upcoming release of my new SF novel, Sparks in Cosmic Dust (September 26, 2011, Carina Press), I’ll be posting a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to book launch. I’ll also be giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with a special Sparks giveaway. The winners will be all announced on release day here on my blog.

PART 1: CONCEPT is now up on the Contact: Infinite Futures blog.

And don't forget to check here over the coming weeks for details of where to find the other installments.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Book Review: Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau

Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Liv Braxton's Felon Rule #1: Don't get emotionally involved.

Smash-and-grab thieving doesn't lend itself to getting chummy with the victims, and Liv hasn't met anyone on the mining colony of Nevarro worth knowing, anyway. So it's easy to follow her Rules.

Until her ex, Tonio, shows up with an invitation to join him on the job of a lifetime.

Until Zia Talbot, the woman she's supposed to deceive, turns Liv's expectations upside down in a way no woman ever has.

Until corporate secrets turn deadly.

But to make things work with Zia, Liv has to do more than break her Rules, and the stakes are higher than just a broken heart...

89,000 words

I thoroughly enjoyed this SFR espionage novel. The worldbuilding is very good, the main characters are vivid and vivacious. The build-up was a *little* slow for me--mainly because I didn't much care for the mother--but once Liv (our gutsy heroine and narrator) starts her new undercover job as PA to corporate hotshot Zia, the tension, both dramatic and sexual, really begins to crackle. It never lets up.

This is the sort of story that doesn't really need a villain as such. They are there, but the real enemy here is circumstance. At its heart, Rulebreaker is a tender and poignant love story between two people who absolutely can't end up together, but absolutely MUST. Recommended to all SFR readers, and for those curious about the genre but have yet to give it a whirl. You'll find Ms. Pegau's future world easy to relate to.

BUY LINK (Carina Press)

BUY LINK (Amazon Kindle)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

SF Novel Excerpt - Sparks in Cosmic Dust

My science fiction novel SPARKS IN COSMIC DUST has an official release date of September 26, 2011 at Carina Press. Head on over to my website to read the first two chapters.

Meanwhile, here's the blurb:

The final frontier is shrinking. Interstellar Planetary Administration sanctions are forcing the border colonies of deep space into extinction. Kappa Max is one of the last major cutthroat outposts, home to the lawless and the lonely…

Varinia Wilcox, the star attraction of a lucrative bordello gambling house.
Solomon Bodine, spurned by his lover and looking for distraction.
Clayton Barry, AWOL and a few drinks away from having to live in the gutter.
Lyssa Foaloak, a double-crossing criminal who'll kill anyone for a few credits.

Four strangers, each with secrets that could cost them their freedom, are desperate to get off-planet. They meet Grace Peters, a cynical ex-doctor with an intriguing offer: a six-month trip to a faraway moon where she claims a stunning fortune awaits.

But this adventure is no easy escape. Danger, passion, secrets and madness await. Can they survive the mission, and each other, to make it out alive?

87,000 words

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books Adapted Into Movies

While reading Ray Bradbury's brilliant short story 'A Sound of Thunder' the other day, I couldn't help thinking what an awesome movie it would make. A time travel safari company, dinosaurs, adventure, a mind-bending finale; it's classic SF stuff. But when Hollywood tried to adapt it, the best they could do was a cheap-looking (despite being big-budget) and poorly executed FX actioner that didn't really expand upon Bradbury's ideas in any compelling way. It starred Edward Burns, Catherine McCormack, and Ben Kingsley--three really good actors--but wasted them all. Even reliable genre director Peter Hyams stumbled badly.

So let's see the RIGHT ways to adapt sci-fi/ fantasy books

Book(s): Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien)
Movie(s): Lord of the Rings (dir. Peter Jackson, 2001-3))

Jackson injected moments of real poetry into his epic adaptation of Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece. The movies are an unusual but winning mix of scope, intimacy, schlock and art. While not as magical as the books, they're near-perfect in terms of storytelling and technical virtuosity. And full of genuine emotion.

Book: Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne)
Movie: Journey to the Center of the Earth (dir. Henry Levin, 1959)

Changing the German protagonists into Scots does nothing to diminish this charming adaptation of Verne's classic subterranean adventure. It's fun, exciting, and James Mason is the ultimate Verne scientist, going head-to-head with dinosaurs, the unknown, and an opinionated female companion (surprisingly the best departure from Verne's novel, played by the formidable Arlene Dahl). Even Pat Boone is well-cast, and gets to croon a few folk songs along the way.

Book: Contact (Carl Sagan)
Movie: Contact (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1997)

Sagan's visionary but cluttered novel was condensed and sharpened in every way by an excellent screenplay that keeps the focus solely on its heroine, Ellie Arroway. Zemeckis brings his usual visual panache to the tale of mankind's first message received from outer space, and the lonely, driven stargazer who uncovers it. Jodie Foster gives the performance of a lifetime.

Book: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne)
Movie: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1954)

James Mason, in his other, much darker Verne role, plays the brilliant-but-twisted Captain Nemo, master of the undersea realm, bent on vengeance against mankind's war-mongers. He's the polar opposite of Kirk Douglas's fun-loving rogue, Ned Land. The contrast of the two forms the heart of this marvellous Disney adaptation. Genius production design brings us the definitive Nautilus, impeccable interiors, and the famous giant squid battle. In my mind, the film's better than the book.

Book: The Mysterious Island (Jules Verne)
Movie: Mysterious Island (dir. Cy Endfield, 1961)

Harryhausen's giant creatures steal the show in this exciting adaptation of Verne's survival story. The original novel isn't fantasy, it's more like Robinson Crusoe with a bigger cast of characters, and the iconic balloon escape is pretty much the only action sequence that remains intact. Still, a strong, rugged hero, good monsters, and Bernard Herrmann's inspired score more than make the grade for a classic family adventure.

Book: She (H Rider Haggard)
Movie: She (dir. L. Holden, I. Pichel, 1935)

Hammer made a pretty good version in 1965, starring Ursula Andress, but it lacked the ambition of this Golden Age feast produced by King Kong's Merian C. Cooper. Sure, the performances are a little stilted, the pace leisurely, and the Arctic setting is nowhere near Haggard's original. But there's a genuine otherworldliness to the huge sets, the costumes, and overal scale of the production. Helen Gahagan isn't a beauty like Ursula Andress (or even Helen Mack, who steals the hero's heart early on), but she's a commanding presence. A good effort overall, if not a patch on the book.

Book: The Time Machine (HG Wells)
Movie: The Time Machine (dir. George Pal, 1960)

Charming version of Wells's classic time travel tale. It looks good, feels right--Rod Taylor is a fantastic Victorian hero--and there's just enough food for thought amid the family-oriented goings-on in the eight-thousandth century. Better than the 2002 remake, though the first twenty minutes of that one are brilliantly done.

Book: Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)
Movie: Starship Troopers (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1997)

Verhoeven gets rid of the power suits and other infantry tech, and gives them machine guns instead. This immediately makes them vulnerable, and when the first combat mission starts, they're chopped up big time. It's a huge SF war film with amazing aliens and a tongue-in-cheek fascist overtone. Nowhere near as intelligent as Heinlein's novel, it's still a genre extravaganza I'm glad they made. Endlessly rewatchable.

Book: Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)
Movie: Robinson Crusoe on Mars (dir. Byron Haskin, 1964)

One of the more interesting adaptations on the list, this is a fairly obscure SF film that tends to make a big impression on viewers who don't know what to expect. It's a smart, well-thought-out survival tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars with his pet monkey. Watch how the filmmakers turn staples of the novel--pirates, Man Friday, procuring food and drink, using items from his crashed ship--into imaginative science fiction. Good stuff.

Book: War of the Worlds (HG Wells)
Movie: War of the Worlds (dir. Byron Haskin, 1953)

Updated from Victorian London to 50's America, this is one of the best SF films ever made. It's tense, scary, snappily scripted and acted, and there's a genuine sense of apocalyptic menace as the alien invaders tear across the world in their impenetrable ships. One thing that usually impresses me about these 50's/60's SF/F films is the casting of the male lead. Here it's Gene Barry, a relative unknown at the time. He's a strong, intelligent actor, and he gets a lovely female co-star in Ann Robinson. I like the Spielberg/Cruise remake as well--it nails the novel's subjective point of view--but this original is the one against which all alien invasion movies are measured.

Book: Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Movie: The Curse of Frankenstein (dir. Terence Fisher, 1957)

Most film buffs rate Karloff's 1933 original as the definitive adaptation of Shelley's tale, but I disagree. I find the eponymous doctor himself far more interesting than the monster. Here he's played by Peter Cushing, who strikes sparks off the script, the scenery and every thing else in the first of Hammer's legendary horrors. Good support is given by Hazel Court and Robert Urquhart, and of course Christopher Lee as the ill-fated monster. The film might lack the poetry of Whale's original, but it makes up for it with a far more complicated protagonist.

Book: Jurassic Park (Micheal Crichton)
Movie: Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Crichton's ingenious concept of a dinosaur theme park allowed him to explore genetic engineering and science ethics in a very clever, readable novel. Spielberg hand-picked some of the best action set-pieces and kept several intelligent conversations intact for the movie. Goldblum's Ian Malcolm gets all the best lines, while the CG dinosaurs made history. It's scary and enormous fun. One of the definitive summer blockbusters, and a very good cautionary SF tale (Crichton's forte).

Thursday, 30 June 2011

New Cover Art: Sparks in Cosmic Dust

Croco Designs came up with this colourful, exotic cover for my upcoming SF adventure novel Sparks in Cosmic Dust. It instantly captures the alien wildness of the faraway moon, Zopyrus, and the story's ebullient air of mystery. This is the largest-scale book I've written (in word count and scope), and features some of my most complex characters. Check out the official blurb from Carina Press:

The final frontier is shrinking. Interstellar Planetary Administration sanctions are forcing the border colonies of deep space into extinction. Kappa Max is one of the last major cutthroat outposts, home to the lawless and the lonely…

Varinia Wilcox, the star attraction of a lucrative bordello gambling house.
Solomon Bodine, spurned by his lover and looking for distraction.
Clayton Barry, AWOL and a few drinks away from having to live in the gutter.
Lyssa Foaloak, a double-crossing criminal who'll kill anyone for a few credits.

Four strangers, each with secrets that could cost them their freedom, are desperate to get off-planet. They meet Grace Peters, a cynical ex-doctor with an intriguing offer: a six-month trip to a faraway moon where she claims a stunning fortune awaits. But this adventure is no easy escape. Danger, passion, secrets and madness await. Can they survive the mission, and each other, to make it out alive?

The release date for this one is September 26th, 2011 at Carina Press. Can't wait!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D

Say what you will about the "soulless" brand of movie mayhem served up by the likes of Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer and Roland Emmerich; roll your eyes at the crassness of it all; but have no doubt: audiences love this stuff. They're not being hoodwinked or manipulated into seeing anything they don't want to see. They, we, I know exactly what I'm paying my tenner for.

On the way out of a screening of Emmerich's 2012, someone described the experience as "like an apocalyptic rollercoaster." And that's a pretty fair summary, if you ask me. These are sensorial thrill-rides, state-of-the-art theme park attractions as much as they are movies. Audiences want to be blown out of their seats by the audiovisual experience. As long as the plot is coherent, the characters are likeable enough for us to care whether they survive or not, there's an occasional laugh throw in to preserve that rollercoaster giddiness, well, there's your formula for this sort of thing. I can imagine select 3D scenes from this third Transformers film playing to sell-out crowds in any Universal Studios or techno theme park.

Dark of the Moon has stupendous scenes of destruction, perhaps even surpassing the aforementioned 2012. Director Bay's robot battles are epic. The hour-long showdown in a battered Chicago is worth the admission price alone. Vehicular carnage, military firepower, transformer face-offs galore--this sequence has it all, including skyscrapers being crushed and toppled by giant robot snakes. The 3D, too, is stunning, with a daredevil freefall by Josh Duhamel and his special ops rangers into a maelstrom of robo-carnage being the standout. It's eye-popping stuff, and just when you think Bay has peaked, he ups the ante tenfold until your brain can barely process what he and his filmmaking wizards have wrought with their limitless FX budget.

The series' throwaway humour is as hit-and-miss as ever, with John Turturro's oddball Agent Simmons and his even weirder German sidekick (Alan Tudyk) generating the most laughs. Ken Jeong is atrocious in his brief (but not brief enough) role as a paranoid office worker--probably the most grating comedy performance since Chris Tucker's screechy turn in The Fifth Element. Other series newcomers include John Malkovich and Frances McDormand; the former is given nothing to do, while the latter is good fun in her role as the brassy National Security Chief.

Duhamel and Tyrese are solid as ever in their stock gung-ho roles. Shia Laboeuf goes hysterical once too often but at least his character, Sam Witwicky, wants to join the action this time around. Brit model Rosie Huntington-Whitely is sweet as his new girlfriend, Carly, and makes a decent replacement for the Fox (whom I did miss, I have to say). In the transformers' cast, Leonard Nimoy makes a great contribution as the powerful and crucial Sentinel Prime.

I'm going to recommend Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D to anyone who enjoyed the first movie, those who love action on a grand scale, or anyone who wants to see the potential of 3D technology. The SF prologue, including a nice alternate history reveal during the Apollo 11 EVA, showcases some breathtaking 3D framing and depth design. And the extended finale in Chicago is the must-see action event of the summer.

It's pretty much indefensible as anything but a thrill-ride, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one, as did the (astonishingly multi-cultural) audience at my IMAX 3D screening. It runs a bit long at two and a half hours, but once the Chicago sequence starts, you'll be gripped to the end.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Four Sci-Fi Classics I'll Never Forget

Since I’d read SF off and on since primary school, I was more than a little surprised/excited when I came across the list of books chosen for Orion’s SF Masterworks series several years back. You see, I hadn’t read most of them—hadn’t even heard of some. And being such a painfully slow reader, I knew I had to get cracking if I wanted to improve as a SF writer.

My first title from this new line was Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, a tense, wonderfully intimate post-apocalyptic thriller. But I’d already read his earlier work, The Shrinking Man, and knew how great Matheson was. A couple of Wells novels later—quality, but again, I knew what to expect from ol’ H.G.—I decided it was time to “discover” an author unfamiliar to me.

1. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Bester I’d heard of by reputation—a titanic reputation—and of his two most revered works, I chose this one because I loved the title. It smacks of the grandiosity and mystery Star Trek purports to pursue but rarely does: exploring the unknown regions of the universe, etc. Well, as it turns out, neither does The Stars My Destination. Bester’s anti-hero, Gully Foyle begins the story marooned in the wreckage of his spaceship. After subsisting for weeks on his own, he sees another ship approach. But rather than stop to help, the vessel speeds away and leaves him for dead. From that moment on, Gully is a man driven by revenge—an insane, unquenchable revenge that transforms him from an illiterate janitor to a sophisticated criminal and phenomenal “jaunter”.

Jaunting is the most ingenious use of teleportation I’ve ever come across. It’s a part of human evolution in Bester’s future. Some can do it and some can’t, but the idea of mass teleportation, entire populations migrating across the world by the power of thought, frankly blows my mind. Gully’s such a single-minded guy, his quest is so dangerous and nuts, you can’t help but root for him. I love the unpredictable story. It follows through on all its early promise and keeps going. By the end, I was ready for anything. Bester scored a knockout.

2. Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

The set-up of this one is incredibly simple. A mysterious object of vast proportions is found drifting through our solar system, and only one ship has time to rendezvous before the object reaches perihelion. It turns out to be a massive, artificial cylinder, and better still…it’s hollow. The international investigating crew decides to venture inside…and one of my new favourite SF adventures begins.

I’d started another of Clarke’s books a few years before and found it too dry. But Rama fascinated me from start to finish. There’s an addictive anticipation from chapter to chapter, and you’re floating, climbing, even cycling alongside the crew every inch of the way. Nothing compares to a truly alien mystery, and the secrets of Rama amount to a very special SF read indeed. I’ll be revisiting this one often.

3. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Our very own Shawn Kupfer’s recent novel 47 Echo reminded me that I hadn’t read any Military SF in a while, and that it was about time I gave The Forever War a chance. It had languished on my shelf for a couple of years, and I don’t know what I was expecting. An author friend of mine cited it as one of the three best SF books ever written.

It’s certainly up there, I have to say. It’s no Starship Troopers clone; instead, Haldeman really nails the insulation/isolation of a soldier’s tour of duty across light-years of space. Over the course of the story, the time dilation he experiences from constantly travelling at near the speed of light means that while he’s aged only several years, Earth has advanced many thousands of years. He returns to civilization periodically, but things have changed beyond all recognition. He and Marygay, his fellow trooper and the love his life, develop a lasting bond I found extremely moving.

Haldeman’s unfussy prose works so well because there’s so much going on between the words. His world-building is rich and the protagonist, Private Mandella, displays deep humanity underneath what Audie Murphy referred to as “a weary indifference” to war. This is a great book.

4. Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

Be warned, this one’s a bit of an oddity. It’s a dense, first person account of an extraordinary out-of-body odyssey that spans the entire life of the cosmos and beyond. We meet myriad worlds, alien life-forms ranging from crustaceans to conscious galaxies, and even the Star Maker himself, the great Creator. I don’t know what Mr Stapledon was smogged on when he wrote this but I’ve never seen this many SF ideas packed into one novel. He penned it in 1937, which is kind of staggering because it means he probably coined more SF concepts in Star Maker than anyone else has in a full career.

It’s tough going in places due to the relentless bombardment of ideas without a proper narrative. The author also drifts outside SF throughout; he’s spiritually/philosophically inclined. But he’s also a poet, and I really lapped up the eloquence of his prose. My imagination reeled for days after finishing it. As trailblazing SF, it’s a one of a kind.

SF Book Review: Ender's Game

I read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game for the first time last night. I’d caught snippets of controversy over the years, heard bits and pieces about the plot, and I even recall one of my favourite film directors, Wolfgang Petersen, was attached to make it as a Hollywood blockbuster at one point (um, good luck to anyone who tries!). I’ve had such good luck with my run of SF classics recently, I thought I’d give this immensely popular novel a try.

Six-year-old child prodigy Ender Wiggin is the youngest of three siblings with unlimited potential. They’ve all been monitored by the military authorities, and Colonel Graff, charged with selecting a child to be groomed for eventual leadership in a pending war against the alien “buggers”, picks Ender. His brother Peter is cruel and heartless, while his sister Valentine is too nice to ever hurt anyone. Ender, meanwhile, possesses the best attributes of both, from a military point of view. He is compassionate enough to make friends and inspire loyalty, but he also has a single-minded survival instinct that is cold and calculating. Graff reckons that with sufficient training, he can coax Ender into becoming a military tactician to rival Alexander the Great or Napoleon.

Did I mention Ender is only six?

Throughout his time in Command School, a top secret orbital station, the best and the worst of Ender are brought out—his will to succeed, to become master of the battleroom, sees him progress up the ranks with astonishing speed. He makes friends and enemies along the way, and is deeply haunted by memories of his cruel brother and the sister he loved. Graff is ever present behind the scenes, pulling the strings, manipulating the young genius into becoming the best he can be. The stunning third act is full of twists and turns as Ender must struggle to realize his true, frightening potential.

Wow, talk about a provocative novel! I’ve seen it listed as Young Adult, but there’s no end to the moral, ethical, political, social, and futuristic themes raked up here. Card doesn’t dwell on any of them, doesn’t preach; he tells his story the simplest way he can and lets the reader do most of the heavy lifting—if they want it. Because it also works as an exciting science fiction tale, a coming-of-age story, with a memorable climax.

Ender might be very young but he thinks and behaves with an ever-increasing maturity almost immediately. There’s nothing condescending here. He’s also prone to nightmares, and is shaped not just by Graff and the endless battleroom games, but by those around him. He has to contend with bullies, rivals, abusive teachers, personal demons: all of us have something in common with Ender Wiggin. Card’s triumph here is the complexity he gives these boys and girls struggling to become men and women before their time. At their age, it might all be about winning games and points, but they’re constantly aware there’ll be a time when those games and points will end lives. We feel that responsibility weighing Ender down, and his will to overcome it becomes ours, vicariously. We don’t want these children to ever graduate from the battleroom. But if they must, let it be under the leadership of someone with compassion and not just a killer instinct. Humanity must graduate intact.

Everyone needs a Valentine to temper their Peter.

I can’t begin to say how much I enjoyed Ender’s Game. It’s a one-of-a-kind children’s SF war story that isn’t really for children at all. I’m telling everyone I know to read it (if they haven’t already), and I can’t wait to see what the sequels are like.

That makes six GREAT sci-fi novels in a row for me now. The previous one was Frank Herbert’s Dune; next up is Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky. SF has always been my favourite genre, but I had no idea there were so many masterpieces out there, waiting to be discovered.

This is Robert, signing off for now.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Amazing Steampunk Trailer From Carina Press

In anticipation of Steampunk Week at Carina Press (the last week in April), the staff there have put together this utterly gorgeous trailer showing off seven steampunk titles. My novella, The Mysterious Lady Law, is among them!

How's that for a visual feast?

The individual titles are:

The Mysterious Lady Law by Robert Appleton
Badlands by Seleste deLaney
The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale by Christine Bell
Photographs and Phantoms by Cindy Spencer Pape
Island of Icarus by Christine Danse
Steam & Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape
Like Clockwork by Bonnie Dee

Thursday, 17 March 2011

EPIC Award Winner 2011 - Sunset on Ramree

On Saturday 12th March, at Williamsburg, Virginia, Epicon announced Sunset on Ramree as the 2011 EPIC Award winner for Best Historical Fiction!! Fabulous news and a great honour. The Eppie is the highest accolade for a digitally published book. It's not only the first time I've won one, it's also the first for my publisher, Eternal Press. A special thank you to all my readers who've emailed to let me know how much they enjoyed the story. For those who haven't yet had the chance, you can learn more about history's deadliest crocodile attack here!


Three More Book Contracts With Carina Press!

Exciting news! The contracts just arrived for THREE upcoming books, all to be published by Carina Press! Sparks in Cosmic Dust is an epic sci-fi adventure novel with romantic elements--I'm currently editing it with Deb Nemeth for a September release. Alien Velocity is a re-release of my EPIC Award SF finalist, Charlie Runs Rings Around the Earth. And finally, Prehistoric Clock is a steampunk time travel adventure (short novel) I'm hoping to make into a series. Yep, this lot will keep me busy while I tackle my long-in-the-offing haunted house novel this year. I'll post updates on all these projects along the way.

In the meantime, you can read a bit more about them here.


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Author Spotlight & Lady Law Contest

I'm appearing in the Author Spotlight this week on Cate Masters's blog. Join me there for some fun behind-the-scenes insights, and be sure to leave a comment for your chance to win a digital copy of The Mysterious Lady Law.



Friday, 25 February 2011

Jaq's Harp - SF with a Fairytale Twist

I haven't read this one yet, but I'm dying to. Jaq's Harp by lovely SF Romance author Ella Drake has one of the most imaginative premises I've come across in a while. I love it when old myths and fables are given the twisty SF treatment. Check this out:

In a world of floating islands and bio-engineered beans, the bad guys are taken down by agents of the Mother organization—agents like Jacqueline "Jaq" Robinson. Instead of accepting her next routine assignment, she sets out on a mission of her own—to destroy Giant Corp, the company responsible for her sister's wasting illness. Jaq must steal her cure from Giant's headquarters high above the city...even though she'll be brought face-to-face with Harper English, the man who left her to go deep undercover at Giant.

For Harp, Jaq had been a distraction the mercenary thought he couldn't afford. But once he sees her again, Harp knows he's made a mistake. Even though she vowed he won't have her again, it's clear they still have a powerful attraction. Harp's determined to get a second chance with Jaq—if they can escape Giant Corp and get back to solid ground in one piece...

20,600 words

A futuristic Jack and the Beanstalk, anyone? With added biotech beans? You just know this one's gonna rock.

Read an excerpt here!

Jaq's Harp is available now as an eBook from Carina Press

and also as an Audiobook!

To learn more about Ms. Drake and her fabulous dark paranormal and SF works, click here!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Top Pick Review for The Mysterious Lady Law!

AmyC at Night Owl Reviews gave my steampunk novella 4.5/5 and a Top Pick rating! And the best part: she cited my two favourite Victorian authors, Haggard and Wells, in her review. :doffs bowler hat to AmyC:

Here's a snippet:

"Mr. Appleton’s voice reminded me of all the great classic books I loved to read, Haggard, Wells—so I was absolutely thrilled to find a modern day book with the same tone. Mr. Appleton’s Victorian London was very well done and I wouldn’t hesitate to read more of his works or recommend him to Steampunk fans."

Read the full review here

Friday, 4 February 2011

New Release: The Temporal Man

Two new releases in one week -- both involving fantasy and historical England! But that's where the similarities end. You see, The Temporal Man runs alone.

Just like its eponymous hero, this imaginative novella is hard to pin down. It's a high fantasy tale involving time travel, romance, out-of-time travel, sea battles, temporal mountain climbing, swashbuckling, and other unpredictable adventures. As a storyteller, you'll find me at my most wistful and escapist in The Temporal Man -- and I dare you to come along for the ride!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like outside of time? For disillusioned young waitress Rebecca Green, those words become startling reality when a mysterious stranger arrives to literally turn her world upside down.

Sam Morrow is on the run. He’s being pursued across time by four dangerous men from his past, including the deadliest swordsman in France. But now that he’s found the girl of his dreams, it might just be time to stand and fight. Rebecca has an idea—to recruit the best swordsman in eighteenth century England—but will aristocratic Percy Torrance dare miss his wedding on Monday for an unprecedented time travel journey?

Pulse-pounding duels, sea battles and a daring mountain rescue punctuate this tale of romance on the edge. From the distant past to the far-flung future, there’s no hiding from fate. Hold on tight to The Temporal Man.

Novella, 26,000 words

The eBook version is available now (priced $3.99) at:

Moongyspy Press
Amazon Kindle
All Romance Ebooks

The paperback edition is coming soon from Amazon!

(A quick note to all my Esther May Morrow fans: I'm not quite finished with her yet!)

Monday, 31 January 2011

New Release: The Mysterious Lady Law

And there she goes! Wind all clocks back to 1899, hold your breath (London was rather smoggy in those days) and delve into the exciting world of airships, giant burrowing machines, and all manner of steam-powered awesomeness. Today, The Mysterious Lady Law makes her debut at Carina Press. Come and find out what all the fuss is about...

In a time of grand airships and steam-powered cars, the death of a penniless young maid will hardly make the front page. But part-time airship waitress and music hall dancer Julia Bairstow is shattered by her sister's murder. When Lady Law, the most notorious private detective in Britain, offers to investigate the case pro bono, Julia jumps at the chance—even against the advice of Constable Al Grant, who takes her protection surprisingly to heart.

Lady Law puts Scotland Yard to shame. She's apprehended Jack the Ripper and solved countless other cold-case crimes. No one knows how she does it, but it's brought her fortune, renown and even a title. But is she really what she claims to be—a genius at deducting? Or is Al right and she is not be trusted?

Julia is determined to find out the truth, even if it means turning sleuth herself—and turning the tables on Lady Law...

The eBook is available at:

Carina Press (20% off!)
Amazon Kindle
Diesel Ebooks
Books on Board

Or downoad the audiobook from Audible (a first for me!)

Tally-ho, dear readers! Hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, 29 January 2011

Early Reviews for The Mysterious Lady Law

I have to say, my new publisher Carina Press has done a tremendous job of marketing The Mysterious Lady Law in the run-up to its release. Usually for a small press author, letting the public know that your book even exists is a long, laborious process that has you multi-tasking like crazy for weeks, even months on end, often to little reward. So it's a huge relief to know your publisher is working just as hard in that same endeavour. Trust me, that isn't always the case.

Carina (a digital imprint of Harlequin) uses a handy website called Netgalley, through which prospective reviewers can request a free ARC. And through todays's inexhaustible social networking magic, those early reviews can (hopefully) spark that elusive, cyber-alchemic reaction that spreads word of your book in avenues you never knew existed. It's a bit of a gamble--what if the reviewers hate your book--and there's no guarantee of anything, even if they like it, but Netgalley is one of the best ideas I've come across for eBook marketing.

Here are a few of the early reviews I found for my steampunk debut, The Mysterious Lady Law (officially released in 2 days!):

"...succeeds in capturing the spirit of the classic "Whodunit" detective fiction. With the added steampunk element, it's quite the imaginative romp...I hear-tell that this story is Robert Appleton's first go at steampunk. I think he wove a fun little tale, and hope he has plans to write in the genre again." 4/5 -- Alisha, My Need to Read

"...filled with adventure and wonderful steampunk gadgets ...It is interesting to see if a dance hall girl, detective and aging adventurer can outwit the formidable Lady Law. I recommend this book to lovers of steampunk and lovers of mysteries." -- Kathy, Inside of a Dog

"Journey into a steampunk reimagining of Victorian London in The Mysterious Lady Law. Robert Appleton has penned an entertaining mystery that starts off with a bang and ends in a mostly satisfying way. I liked Julia, Al, and Holly, the tale’s protagonists. They’re interesting characters with unique voices and their energy buoyed the story." -- Shayna, Joyfully Reviewed

"Robert Appleton does an excellent job of realizing this world and building the bits and baubles up a piece at a time... Overall, I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the mystery. I was kept guessing on what was coming right up to the end and I was left satisfied with the story we were given." -- Kelly, Reading the Paranormal

See you at Carina on Monday!


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Love Romances Cafe Awards 2011!

Nominations for the Love Romances Cafe Awards were announced yesterday. Claire de Lune received two: Best Sci-Fi/Futuristic Book and Best Cover. My uber-talented co-writer Sloane Taylor also received nods for her brilliant erotic books, French Kiss and French Twist.

Shout-outs also go out to my fabulous blog friends Clare London, Tabitha Shay, Ella Drake, and Melissa Bradley, who all earned nominations!