SPINWARD FRINGE, ORIGINS
A trilogy of novellas by Randolph Lalonde
In an era when most of the Galaxy is under the control of militarized, ruthless mega-corporations, one of the few remaining free societies is the remote Freeground Space Station. But events are threatening that independence.
When a group hacks into top-secret battle simulations and cleans the clock of the military's top trainees, Freeground brass recruit them for a secret "shadow ship" assignment to gather intel, new technologies and potential allies for the battles to come.
Author Lalonde describes Origins as "backstory, scene setters, the prequel I'll never have to write" for the Spinward Fringe Series (12 books so far). I haven't read the rest of the series, so i can't speak as to how it serves that function, but on its own Origins stands as an enjoyable, well written space opera.
The characters are likable enough and their interrelationships engaging enough that one is happy to cruise into battle with them. Lalonde wrote he wanted to create an experience that would "resemble that of watching a television show or movie." In that he succeeds.
There is a dark twist at the end (semi spoiler alert!) that leaves the fate of the main character unresolved, and this may disappoint some readers (maybe subsequent books in the series provide that resolution, maybe they don't), but I applaud Lalonde's willingness to take that bit of commercial risk. Recommended.
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UNIVERSE IN FLAMES
First Trilogy & Second trilogy by Christian Kallias
After generations of stalemate in the war between the Star Alliance and the Obsidian Empire, the Empire springs a surprise attack with powerful new allies and all but wipes out the Alliance.
The survivors flee blindly through hyperspace and end up near an unknown planet at the edge of the Galaxy. Soon a new Earth Alliance is formed with judicious lobbying by Olympian Goddess Aphroditis, who appears in a vision to Chase that sets him on a journey to discover his own destiny and previously-unsuspected fury powers. His success will be crucial to the survival of the new Alliance.
Enter Olympians, Furies (released from long imprisonment by Chase's twin brother and nemesis Argos), Asgardians and a dark unknown foe as Chase and the Alliance face one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another, losing ground while searching frantically for allies and answers.
I enjoyed the first trilogy, but on starting the second the formulaic construct of the novels became more obvious: Chase gets into impossible battles that he should lose but manages to find a brilliant way to win- usually via some previously unknown aspect of his Fury powers; the enemy inflicts devastating losses on the Earth Alliance, but it manages to survive and regroup and adapt. There are lots and lots of space battles.
Author Kallias does the formula very well and when I finished the second trilogy I wanted to continue journeying with these characters and find out what happens with the new enemy (not part of either side of the war) introduced toward the end of the second trilogy. The blending of space opera and mythology is a nice touch; if the third trilogy ever goes on sale I will buy it. Recommended for space opera lovers.
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Kicking and Screaming
Naked we come into this world and handsomely outfitted in a new pinstripe from Big & Tall, complete with a foulard tie, we go out of it.
At any rate that’s what happened to Nettie Polotnik’s husband Phil who had been dead nine years to the very day when our story begins. Philip Hart Polotnik had never been neat while he was alive (Phil died at age fifty-six, his skull broken in a car crash); he drank like a fish, played poker all night long and smelled like the nasty brown cigars he smoked (and those cigars were what killed him, according to Nettie! If it hadn’t been that accident it would have been emphysema like the late Johnny Carson)......
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There is no earthly explanation for what happened to me one terrible night last spring except that I was deeply depressed, seriously thinking of killing myself because I wasn't a celebrity (or at least rich, successful and sought-after) and had started having a real problem with alcohol.
I was in the newsroom (I'm a reporter in her mid-to-late forties; the exact date won't pass my lips in this cruelly ageist society. Also, my name happens to be Dorsey Corn and I don't like hearing jokes about it) doing my routine daily work when the invitation was tossed on my desk along with the rest of the morning mail, which I customarily read with a latte and a sticky bun or two. Little did I know this would be my last morning of relative peace and sanity!....
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The Silence of the Hacks , or What Really Happened to Hannibal Lector
I don't want to rain on little ole Thomas Harris' parade or put a spoke in his wheel--it's just that I'm sick and dog-tired of all these tenth rate so-called "writers" harvesting kudos and million-dollar advances for writing pure trash all the time.
I mean what's the point? Hannibal Lecter can go take a long jump off a short pier--so what if the Queen Herself knighted the slimy little jerk? It just proves what a tribe of perverted bums our Leaders are, don't it? Because you are never told the truth, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. You are once again being fed a LIE and right now I'm going to tell you the way it really happened (which is nothing like it's reported in the so-called News of the Day, Hannibal the Cannibal being the hot story of the moment).
Anyway, a bunch of us got together and said we wuz sick and dog-tired of the reading public being such a ninny, needing something as DUMB as mere cannibalism to get them to go to their bookstore and buy a book. At that time Hannibal Lecter was right here in Shoreline, Washington, which is the suburb of Seattle where me and my buddies live. He was hiding out here; it's the one place the cops would never think to look for him....
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Incident At The Dog Park
Steve began to remonstrate (that means like, protest a bit when you know you are in the right) and at the same time Reba, who always carries a baseball bat on her walks to send the tennis ball spinning a little farther and faster and also to protect against stalkers and suchlike-- Reba snuck up behind the cop. Just as the cop was saying, "The law states that each of you are subject to a $120 fine or you can appear in court with or without a lawyer to present argument--"
That was the exact moment when Reba hauled off and whacked the officer in the head with her Louisville slugger.
When the bat connected with the cop's skull, the sound was like a watermelon being dropped ten stories down to a cement alley.
Reba wiped her bat with handfuls of grass.
"That's one dead-looking cop," she observed....
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DARK MATTER (BK 1 of HADRON Series) by Stephen Arseneault
Want to send your name to Mars?
NASA is offering another chance to do so.
New submissions to send names aboard NASA's InSight lander will be accepted online through Nov. 1, 2017.
Jody is going! This is her boarding pass.
Reprint of article from Samantha Mathewson on Space.com
Want to send your name to Mars? NASA is offering another chance to do so.
When the InSight lander launches to the Red Planet next year, it will contain the names of members of the public, and you can submit your name for it to be included.
In 2015, the space agency invited people from around the world to add their names to a silicon chip that will be affixed to the InSight Mars lander. With nearly 827,000 individuals already signed up, NASA is now adding a second microchip, giving members of the public another chance to put their names on Mars.
"Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission's principal investigator, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet." [NASA Mars InSight Lander Mission Gallery (Images)]
NASA's InSight Mars lander is expected to launch in May 2018 and arrive at the Red Planet in November 2018. The mission, whose name is short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport," will study the planet's deep interior to gain a better understanding of the processes that helped shaped rocky planets like Mars and Earth.
Specifically, the lander will use a seismometer to detect "Marsquakes" (earthquakes on Mars) and meteor strikes, using the seismic energy of these phenomena to study material far below the Martian surface for the first time, according to the statement.
People can submit their names to be etched onto the second microchip. In doing so, they will earn "frequent flier" points, which reflect their participation in NASA exploration missions. Participants can also download a "boarding pass" with information about each mission that flies their names.
NASA's Frequent Fliers program spans multiple missions, including the first test mission of the Orion capsule, in December 2014. For that mission, more than 1.38 million people earned points when their names flew aboard the spacecraft, which is designed to help NASA astronauts travel to asteroids, Mars and other deep-space destinations.
NASA frequent fliers will have another opportunity to rack up points in 2018, when Orion and NASA's Space Launch System megarocket launch together for the first time. That uncrewed flight, known as Exploration Mission 1, will send Orion on a seven-day trip around the moon to test out many of the capsule's critical systems.
New submissions to send names aboard NASA's InSight lander will be accepted online through
Nov. 1, 2017.L
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Warm, grasping hands! Tan, muscular calves and legs!
Looking down at her body, Benaroya had to shriek with laughter. It was so perfect it was absolutely fantastic. What would the kids back home say if they could see her now?
She glimpsed her face in the rearview mirror. The lips peeled back, displaying a set of shiny white teeth—not apelike, but quite sharp—and a wet red tongue. The tongue poked out and touched the upper lip. Holy Moses! The eyes were a dazzling sapphire blue, alive with lusty humor. It was the face of a predator. A sleek, dangerous animal. Make no mistake about that. From here on, anything could happen.
But leaping lizards, it was a wonderful feeling, this being alive in a human body! She couldn’t help bouncing up and down in the bucket seat out of sheer exuberance. Graduation day. What a thrill. After months of training here she was, roaming the savage, backwater planet Earth, ready to begin her first assignment.
She remembered Omark’s briefing: “Never forget, these bushmen must eat other creatures in order to survive. Not a single one of their leaders—presidents, popes, kings, basketball players—has a shred of ethics whatsoever. Carry a weapon at all times and don’t hesitate to kill.”
Yet the California scenery was ever so pretty. There, just ahead, was some sort of fabulous monument. What could it represent? Aha: a giant taco, eighty feet tall, oozing lettuce, bits of cheese and tomato and a thick purple goo, possibly plum jam. She’d seen ever so many pictures in magazines. But the monument was made of plastic! Oh, how inventive. And the sweet little bushmen were lining up to get small, hot duplicates of the tasty food product.
Benaroya felt a pang of ecstasy. This trip was going to be thrilling. Already she liked her Brenda Starr body, so lush and supple, wearing a thin bikini, since the day was a scorcher. She had a closetful of other bodies back at the ship but the Brenda had seemed so very right. She could have slipped into a Mary Magdalene, or a Ruby Keeler in tap shoes, or Nelson Rockefeller or Dorothy from The Wizard or Toulouse-Lautrec, Zorro, Gertrude Stein, or any of a dozen others. These bodies had been reproduced from films and comics, police records, time-travel cubes and other devices. Each was a dead ringer for the original, down to the very freckles and toenails, EKG, blood-sugar level and condition of arteries. Not a one could be distinguished from the actual person! And this wasn’t easy, boy, because primitives look so much alike.
At the moment, Benaroya was moving much too fast. She hadn’t anticipated the impact of culture shock; this lightheaded, out-of-control feeling much like the “rapture of the deep” experienced by divers. She’d stolen the Mustang a mere ten
minutes ago and was already doing 90—wow! Such a kick to zoom past other cars, floating in and out of traffic, losing the police miles back, with their funny wailing sirens and flashing lights and cute, wide buttocks and slow reflexes. She knew they were hated and feared by everyone and this heightened her sense of drama.
Benaroya’s original body, the one she wore back home, was exclusively aquatic. (Rysemus was a thick-molecule “water” planet.) Her body was dolphinesque with a smash of semidivine Bright Lights class and glitter. Of course she’d never wear it here on Earth; it wouldn’t survive the rough frontier conditions; seawater would ruin the rippling chiffon fins, impurities would lock the gills--oh, the bod would be an absolute mess in no time. She kept it in storage back at the ship.
One of the motorcycle cops was moving up. She knew he was called “pig”--darling nickname!--and he would be terribly annoyed, so she slipped between a couple of trucks and lost him. The officer made radio contact with his reinforcement down the line: “Phil, intercept this baby. Black Mustang license H5428; red hair and a bikini; jumping lanes like she’s on speed or worse. Stop her! Before she wipes out some decent people,” at which point his voice trembled and he broke connection.
This officer was in pain. He’d fallen off his Harley the day before yesterday. Fortunately no colleague had been present to witness his embarrassment. He suspected a hernia but didn’t want to see a doctor and fill out all those fucking insurance forms. Benaroya caught this stream of images telepathically, and was puzzled--how very complex the sweet little bushmen were!
“Right,” Phil barked to empty air and waited for the suicidal redhead to enter his field of vision. This took longer than expected: Benaroya was jumping a median to slither south between lines of northbound cars; now she flew twice around a cloverleaf, giggling at the deathtraps of Stone Age engineering, drinking in the heady waves of larceny, guilt, greed, anguish and nervous agitation that flooded the sunbaked ether. Oh Earth, Earth, how ubiquitous is thy wide-screen insanity! (As Omark had orated this very morning at graduation exercises.) But soon she zoomed into Phil’s turf, and the busy little centurion was on her tail, using lights and siren to force her over.
Benaroya gave a joyful wave. She loved Phil’s Nazi-like helmet, his outraged sense of authority. She was drunk on industrial fumes, flocks of wheeling gulls, soot and tideflat and carbon monoxide, new leather and her own pungent, sun-kissed, unfamiliar sweat. It was a giggle to move this alien vehicle through traffic and suck waves of horror from other drivers who were pop-eyed at the beat of death’s approaching wings--zowie! The dial was hitting 110, 115, 120, flashing past billboards of Sea & Ski, Marlboro, Budweiser, and under enormous, spider-legged signs--San Diego! Santa Monica! Golden State! Hollywood!--names to roll on the tongue, sweet, remote echoes, exhilarating, tantalizing, incredibly exotic.
“God damn you crazy bitch pull over!” Phil screamed in an agony of frustration.
Benaroya was flying high. She flitted beneath overpasses, around curves, through a tunnel; wasn’t surprised when Phil hit an oil slick and was sucked, bike and all, under the eight screaming wheels of a semi. She came out in flat saltmarsh where hills cut the horizon, and was slowing to admire a produce stand heaped with brilliant oranges, avocados, watermelon, red and green and waxy yellow peppers, when her first Clash began.
To a Rysemian anthropologist, the Clash is the ultimate learning experience. How else can you learn all there is to know about a person? This woman drove a green Lotus and had one of those funny Earthie names (Benaroya probed her mind carefully) that sounded like Wolf, or perhaps Fox.
This Fox was a miserable being. It seemed other people sneered at her fat arms, thin hair, angry features, and at the fact that she was unbeautiful and not young. Her whole life was a waste. Salesgirls insulted her. She was never respected. She was no longer desirable. The world was rotten. Life stunk.
Benaroya found herself charmed and amazed. Why, the darling person relied completely on the judgments of humans! She thought that “life” meant the opinions of three billion bushmen. How quaint! How adorably provincial. Here was Fox, a taco eater, glamorous, entrancing, absolutely stuffed with pulsar power, being “unhappy.” Tee hee! Earthies were ever so ramified.
Fox whipped past the Mustang and cut in front with a glance of withering contempt. Seeing how it was done, Benaroya zoomed past the Lotus and also cut in sharply, with the same look of disdain.
Why in the world was Fox unhappy? The anthropologist probed. Yes indeed, it was because the other little Earthies sneered at her. But how absurd. They all did that to each other constantly. All competitive beings ripped at each other like cornered rats, but who cared? There must be a more important reason. Aha: it was because Fox’s husband ran around. But how silly! She should be pleased that the sweet little bushman was being hysterical somewhere else. Anyway, now was the time to cheer Fox up. Give her a race she would never forget.
The anthropologist tramped on the accelerator. This was going to be gorgeous. From Fox came a burst of confusing images: Benaroya had never probed a real Earthie this close and it was like a jolt of sour mash. Fox seethed with anguish. She was a volcano of wounds and grief, of tears, prayers and frustration that other humans forced her to keep under cover. Fascinating! Just like Omark had said. Earth was a powder keg waiting for a match.
Fox was increasingly angry at Benaroya. For what reason? Her chutzpah, her smile, the fact that she was free. Could such idiocy be possible? Earthies were so illogical. It seemed Fox craved being first in line. Excellent; Benaroya would show her some real fun.
“Do exactly as they do and you can’t go wrong,” Omark had said. How easy, how delightful it all seemed. She would become a top secret agent, make Omark fall in love with her, and be a credit to her planet.
Ahead was a sharp turn. Benaroya geared down to third, then to second, the Lotus moving up until they ran hub to hub. Benaroya looked across and smiled, winding it up, testing the silken mesh of gears--oh, how she adored primitive mechanics! But Fox would have none of that smile. Fox’s morning had been a roll of ratshit and she despised bubbly redheads; this was the kind of cheap slut her husband chased. Fox could hardly control her resentment. This redheaded floozie was disgusting!
Fox bent forward grimly, her knuckles white with tension. She moved an inch out of lane and barely, almost tenderly, touched the flank of the Mustang.
It was enough to send Brenda Starr spinning across lanes of traffic, around, around in highway roulette; landscape a whirling blur, horrified faces whipping in circles to a wail of horns and a shriek of burning rubber. Then the Mustang recovered and drifted broadside. Benaroya eased into line. So much for round one.
Fox settled back to enjoy her triumph. Benaroya slid closely behind the Lotus. Fox’s lips tightened. Hadn’t this stupid girl had enough? She floored the Lotus, putting distance between the two cars.
Benaroya went flat out with the tach up to 5000. At the next curve she dropped into third and pulled abreast of the Lotus, grinning and waving.
Fox exploded with a lifetime of suppressed rage. “You cheap slut! You cow! What right do you have to be happy!” Fox screamed, despite herself.
Benaroya blew a kiss, as they did in the films. Benaroya knew a lot about human death. She had personally strangled, drowned, shot, beheaded, and dissected scores of empty bodies to test their capabilities. They were fragile eggshells, but what did it matter? Bodies were unimportant; you could grow hundreds of them in the ship tanks. Sensing this attitude, Fox experienced a stab of fear. The girl was plain crazy! Either that or she’d swallowed a whole bottle of uppers.
The Rysemian nosed out to slip ahead with a brash wiggle of the rear end. Fox tried to control her emotions. What an impudent bitch! But anger never won a race, and her Lotus could beat anything on the road.
Fox whipped around the Mustang and cut back in, horns blaring contempt. She lifted the stiffened middle finger of her right band and punched air with it. Benaroya wondered if the gesture had some special meaning. The Lotus was boxed in for a moment; Benaroya crept up and tapped its rear bumper caressingly.
Fox screamed. She raised one fist in hatred. Now she could never rest until the Mustang had been forced off the road.
“Cow!” she shrieked.
“Cow!” Benaroya repeated.
The two women leapfrogged, grabbed the lead by turns, honked and yelled obscenities at each other. Brenda Starr displayed a stiffened middle finger whenever she caught Fox’s eye; it was wonderful; Fox seemed to go higher up the pole each time. Several motorcycle centurions were closing in, and now a bearded black man on a Honda 750 shot into view. He seemed infuriated. When he was even with the Mustang, he screamed at Benaroya, telling her to pull over.
“This is a citizen’s arrest,” he shouted several times.
Why was he angry? Fieldwork was certainly interesting. Benaroya sorted mental patterns busily. Now five contestants were racing in a tight, emotional little network. The more people who joined in, the more fun it became!
Signs kept flashing past: Magnolia, Burbank, Oxnard, bathed in a metallic yellow haze. The road narrowed here; it had been raised above ground level and was flanked by scrubby weeds, not crisp ice plant or concrete like the roads downtown. Along each side were rooftops poking through a blanket of smog. Exquisite! Earthie dwellings were so meltingly picturesque! And how lovely were the endless billboards, gas stations, the brick walls of housing projects or were they concentration camps?--oh, so many quaint, otherworldly sights to see!
But first there was a good race to be won, and a lovely Earth lady, Fox, to be shown a bang-up jolly time.
Benaroya did a snake dance between lanes to the tune of blaring horns. She crept up on the Lotus, pushed Fox to the railing, and tried to cut her off.
For Fox, this was the last straw. She jerked the wheel to give the Mustang a well-deserved slap; lost control, skittered toward the metal railing, and crashed through it.
The Lotus turned somersaults end over end. It appeared to freeze in midair at each bounce. Then it slammed down the embankment and shot across the intersection. It came to rest on a cyclone fence, teetered for a moment, and burst into flames.
Fox was pinned in the wreckage.
Her mouth gaped grotesquely. The boom of traffic drowned her screams. Benaroya bounced to a stop upside down. At that instant the Lotus exploded--BLAM!--like a hot gasbag; it shattered the windows of a barbershop across the way.
Metal, glass, and bits of human flesh rained down for a hundred yards in every direction.
end of Chapter One.
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Part III- Okanogan:
I write about how Jody and I meet in 1977 in the foreword to the 2015 Strange Particle Press edition of Passing For Human. It isn't long before Jody recruits me to help with the Irondale business. I'm young and inexperienced enough to be flattered to be entrusted with the bookkeeping. (Note to young self, "bookkeeping is not a thrilling piece of adult business, it's just an onerous repetitive pain in the ass.") But to be fair, Jody has been doing this alone for a long time and how I handle this will be an indicator as to whether I can be trusted with greater responsibility.
In 1981 we buy our first parcel of land in Okanogan County. By now I have learned how the business operates and how to communicate and sell. Jody is an excellent teacher.
Turns out our skills mesh wonderfully, where Jody is weak I excel; where I am weak she is strong. So while she writes full time, I am tasked with finding a new location where we can replicate the Irondale success.
There's no internet so research is via phone and mail and in person. After months of searching I find the place where county regulations, beautiful terrain, views and price align.
The plan is to buy a large tract of land at a 'wholesale' price, divide it into smaller parcels, and sell those to people in Seattle at a 'retail' price. This "spread," or difference between wholesale and retail, is our profit.
We do everything ourselves. We find the land and buy directly from owners. We sell the land for $99 down and $99 per month on a Real Estate Contract we carry ourselves. We tramp and measure and stake and take photos. We figure out how to divide what we buy and write the legal descriptions that make it so. We advertise in The Little Nickel using inexpensive classified ads and we meet people at the local Denny's Restaurant where rent is the cost of a meal plus generous tip.
We have no competition, no one is doing what we are doing. In later years others begin to offer similar terms, some of them legit and some of them scammers. But we have an advantage because society does not recognize our spousal relationship. For this technical reason we can buy two adjacent tracts of land as separate individuals and each of us divide our parcel into four pieces, giving us eight plots to resell. A married couple can only divide the same whole into four parcels. (And that's how to take a crappy hand dealt you and turn it to advantage!)
We enjoy quite a bit of freedom, but also there is no corporate daddy to fall back on; the bucks stops with us- for good or ill. Nobody funds our retirement account or provides us insurance. We take all the risks, we get all the rewards and we assume all the responsibility. It takes a bit of courage and a whole lot of ethics to pull that off successfully for decades.
So, we begin our Okanogan business in 1981, we model it after the successful Irondale Lots, which is built on Jody's successful Encyclopedia Britannica experience, and the last Okie property we sell is in 2007, just months before Jody dies. (We have a lovely time that summer clearing brush growing up in the road and find a big jade rock (OK probably not jade, but pretty) that takes the both of us to lift into the trunk to bring home.)
Over these 30 years we buy and sell hundreds of acres of land, dozens and dozens of individual parcels. By creating our own unique business model, to supply exactly what Jody needs to write full time (a modest but steady income from a few months part time work each year), she is able to spend her life doing what she loves; producing the body of work that we all are the lucky beneficiaries of.