Wednesday, 27 February 2019

February's Interview - J. D. Richards

February's Interview - J. D. Richards

Q. Your book begins with Earth having been invaded, in fact colonised by an alien civilisation. So first things first, who are the aliens and where did they come from?

The alien race who first colonized Earth are the Siltekans. Throughout the book we learn Earth was being watched, and after The Great War (presumably WWIII) the Siltekans decided the timing was right to swoop in and take control. Earth became one of their many colonies, though because of its beauty was known throughout the universe as their Blue Jewel.
After a generation of colonization, it is clear to the human rebels that the sun is setting on the Siltekan’s empire, but rising for the Devisus. The Devisus are another alien race whose home planet is closer to Earth than Silteka, and naturally the Devisus want to ensure control of Earth doesn’t fall to any other galactic nation but themselves.
The story of The Blue Jewel is set against this classic Thucydides Trap backdrop, but focuses on the plight of the human rebels. Can the rebels succeed in pushing out the Siltekans? What are they to think of the Devisus? Will Earth ever be free?

Q. So we have human culture becoming overwhelmed by dominant alien cultures. Did you draw from any particular period of history for this theme?

Yes, absolutely! History buffs will notice the familiarities to the time period just before the Spanish-American War with the brimming conflict between the Spanish and the Americans, but the story is told from the perspective of the Cuban rebels (the rebels being the Earthlings in my novel).

Q. I notice your wife has done all the illustrations for this novel. How did that come about? Was it a case of her bringing your visualisations to life or did the visual ideas come from her? I guess I’m asking if it was your story influencing her drawings or if the drawings also influenced the story.

My wife Corina created the illustrations after I had completed the first draft of the novel. I love collaborating with my Sweetheart! She has such a gift for bringing out the beauty of her subjects with whatever she creates, and the chapter heading artwork of The Blue Jewel is no exception. One of the themes of the novel is the subtle beauty of humanity, and I feel her illustrations capture the tone of my writing. It really wouldn’t be the same book without the artwork.

Q. This is your first novel. How long did it take to write?

I started The Blue Jewel as a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project in 2017. I completed my goal of 50k words in November of that year, but didn’t reach the end of the story until New Year’s Eve (~80k words at the time). Editing took the lion’s share of the time until “done”. The final draft of The Blue Jewel wasn’t ready until early 2019 - all of 2018 was spent working with beta readers and a fantastic line editor, trudging through many drafts, a bit of wallowing, and finally the polish and illustration incorporation.

Q. There is an element of journey and travel in the novel. Both physically and mentally. Without giving too much away, where is your character headed and why?

The main character Cal is not the typical sci-fi hero. He faces some serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms from his childhood and suffers from extreme anxiety. Early in the novel he is separated from his family and the comfortable life he was accustomed to vanishes. Cal is forced to fight back and overcome his personal trauma to save his family, and over the course of his journey across the Sonoran Desert (Southwest United States - Arizona area) grows into the hero the book deserves.
It was important for me to capture what I find beautiful with humanity, and having a humble hero allowed for some tender moments in the book.

Q. Do you have a particular favourite road movie or book?

I seem to gravitate to this genre of “road” movies or books, but the one I can’t stop thinking about even years after first reading is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. I love the narrative, and the character transformations, and the fresh moments of self-discovery. It just feels so human, and looking back was a big source of inspiration for The Blue Jewel.

Q. What early memories do you have of becoming a fan of science fiction?

I remember wearing out our VHS copy of Star Wars: A New Hope as a kid from watching it so much. That was a sad day when it wouldn’t play anymore. At night as a kid I would sneak out of my room and convince my mom to let me watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with her after bedtime. I loved the stories, the exploration, and the bravery too. I always admired the heroes.

Q. Lastly, as a real life aerospace engineer, what can you tell us about your job? Are there any fictional sci-fi engineers whose brain’s you’d like to pick?

I think the biggest difference between engineers in movies and books vs. real life is the aspect of teamwork. Nothing complex is ever created by one individual - real life stuff takes scores of people working together as a team. The idea that one person could design the Death Star, or keep the Enterprise running, or build an Iron Man suit is just baloney.
That said, I’d geek out to spend an afternoon with Geordi La Forge from Star Trek. Even though he never had the solution at the beginning of the episode, Geordi never gave up and kept learning and experimenting and discovering until he had the problem whipped 50 minutes later. I admire his grit.

Q. Okay, just one extra question. Your book is available on the kindle. Do you have any plans to release it in paperback?

Not at this time. I think we would try for an audio book before we self-published paperback simply due to the costs of printing and other logistics. Digital formats are so easy to make an initial investment and then forever after capitalize without spending additional money - paperback just seems like too much of a gamble for our little book.

You never know what the future will bring. Thanks very much for the interview J.D.
The Blue Jewel is available here from amazon. For more information, check out J.D’s webpage here.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

February's Art - by Zhou Jia Sheng

February's Art by Zhou Jia Sheng


Thursday, 21 February 2019

February's Book - Illumination 1: Another future by Burkhard Voges

Illumination 1: Another future by Burkhard Voges

This month's featured book comes from German author Burkhard Voges. It's a fun Doctor Who / Hitchhiker's Guide type adventure with plenty of science and time complications.

The future. A possible future. Do the friends Alenia, Bernard, Colin, Denise and others live in a reality manipulated by forces that they do not control and understand? Everyone sets out in his or her own unique way in search of truth and enlightenment. At the same time they have to recognize again and again that reality is often not as it seems. Could it be that aliens, secret rulers or corrupt gods control and exploit the entire human race? And what does all this have to do with a Terran city on Mars in the year 2223? The experiences of Alenia, Bernard, Colin, Denise and others are bizarre, sad, but also humorous and profound. Will Alenia, Bernard, Colin, Denise and others get to the bottom of the mystery of their personal existence?

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

February's Story - Atmosphere by Chris Morton


by Chris Morton

It was dusk and a light drizzle filled the air as Tom Crookes exited the office building. Putting on his hat and tightening his coat, he descended the case hurriedly whilst below and around him, a number of umbrellas were one by one opening up.

Sneaking a glance at the large spaceship above, Crookes almost slipped on the steps, though it wasn’t out of surprise.

Jesus,” he heard when he bumped into a large fur-coated lady for balance.

He apologised and carried on down, looking skywards again, at the saucer of flashing lights and clumpy metal. It’d been there for over a month now, hovering silently – two hundred feet up, they say it covered half the city but somehow the rain managed to fall down anyway.

Reaching the bottom of the case, Crookes’ pace increased as he saw the vacant taxi. Limping through the umbrellas (‘gout’ the doctor had called it), his rather pathetic figure pushed and weaved. Swinging his briefcase, he called out for a ride:

Taxi,” he sang in a low, dull monotone. A murmur, hardly noticed.

Crookes lacked confidence, but he’d got off early that day. “Family business,” he’d told them. And they’d allowed it, just this once.

The mother, father, two brothers and their android – he watched as they pushed ahead.

Behind him someone was shouting.

They are here. Here to take us …

Closing their umbrellas, the family were already diving into the taxi’s opening doors, out of the spitting rain, and then a sudden breeze blew off Crookes’ hat to the paved curb of the sidewalk.

Make your peace before … salvation …

Bending down to retrieve it, he was knocked sideways by a youth on a skater.


So sorry,” said Crookes, approaching her in the cafe. His raincoat drenched, there was water dripping from his briefcase and his hair had frizzed into a cone of matted damp.

The woman looked up. Heavy eyes and red lipstick. She was wearing a large green dress that folded over her lap. Black tights and flat shoes.

You’re late,” she uttered, from behind her steaming cup.

I know, I … I know,” managed Crookes, placing his hat on the table. Red-faced, he slid onto the booth awkwardly. He took off his coat, picked up the plastic menu.

I mean, it’s not as if I have –”

Stop. I’m sorry.” He looked up. “I know. I –”

You what?” the woman tutted. “You tried?”

There was silence as she watched him study the menu again; as he failed to acknowledge her pain. Returning to her drink, she continued to eye him carefully, not trusting him.

He dropped the menu.

It’s been a long time,” he said, forcing a smile of strained lines. He stared across at her sadly, at the soft red hair, at the face he’d once loved. It was showing the signs of age now; these past few years, they must have been tough for her.

A long time,” he repeated, forcing the sad smile again. His blue eyes, faded rather than deep, tried hard to show empathy. His cheeks sagged and he reached for the menu once more.

This cafe was busy, bustling. Around twenty tabled booths and three times that many customers. Hot food was being served.

When the spaceships had arrived there’d been disbelief, denial and then terror and panic which had lasted almost a week. But the spaceships, one over every city, had just hung there, watching.

Panic had turned to inertia, then recline. And life had somehow continued.

I’ll have a coffee. American. Plus an omelette.”

Flavour?” buzzed the android waitress, its eyes hovering over the man and woman.

Yes, yes of course.”

If everything was to be believed, the higher powers had it under control. The presidents, the ministers – negotiations were underway.

Mushroom with tomato, basil and cheese,” interrupted the woman. Then to Crookes: “I assume your tastes haven’t changed?”

The innuendo intended filled the air, unspoken.

When the waitress was gone, Crookes smiled at the woman again.

How have you been, then, Ginnie?”

As well as can be expected,” she answered, eyes falling at her beverage (a steamy almond milk).

And how are …” the man gazed around. To the left of them was a large window with the blinds pulled down. A floral pattern.

They’re fine,” she muttered.


Charlie’s in kindergarten now.”

Oh yes?”

Crookes placed his palms on the table, coughed. “You know, I was thinking –”

And Esmeralda,” continued the woman. “She’s reading now.”


The woman’s gaze rose to meet Crookes’ hesitant expression.

Those little pads they had in first grade. The Trafalgar series, do you remember them?”

The Trafalgar …”

Hop and Fig. And their dog … what was its name?”

Oh, yes.”

Crookes glanced over to the right. A large family sharing a pizza.

You don’t, do you? Remember them, I mean.” He was like a child, she thought. She wanted to take his hand and for an instant she almost did. But no, she’d made that mistake. Trust – she’d trusted him before, and that trust had been betrayed.

Yes, er, no, I …”

The same as we had. In our grade one,” she continued. “The syllabus, it doesn’t seem to have varied much. But of course …” the woman paused, gazing at him some more and remembering. “That’s what alcohol does to you, doesn’t it?”

Ginnie, don’t.”

All those … those brain cells. They say it hits worst at the memory.”

Ginnie …”

The waitress had returned and the two humans were silent as Crookes’ coffee and omelette were placed on the table.

Ginnie, I’ve –”

Changed?” The woman laughed coldly. She took a sip of her drink, remembering her ex-husband.

For a few minutes neither said anything.


Ginnie, I’ve been thinking. What with, what with the way things are now. Out there, that …”

That spaceship?” The woman scoffed. “The end of the world.”

Yes, I –”

Armageddon.” The woman smiled ironically. “You think now that those things are here, I’ll come running back into your arms?”

No, of course not. But I …”

Crookes put down his fork and knife.

You’ll what, then? Tell me.” The woman’s red lips were pouting. “Tell me what you want, Tom?”

Knives and forks cluttered. There was soft music, the odd laugh or two mixed with murmured chatter.

Another chance,” Crookes mumbled, grasping for confidence, for composure. “Another chance to … I’d like to see them –”

Well, you can’t,” she clicked, straightening her body in defence.

But Crookes carried on: “My God, Ginnie. You must have known why I came here.”

You’ve something to say, that’s fine. But I’m not letting you –”

But, Ginnie,” Crookes pleaded, his right fist now tightening. “It’s only a matter of time. Why do you think they’re here?” he rationalized. “The size of that thing. You think they’re interested in negotiations? In a few months, weeks, even days, we won’t even … and you can’t let me –”


Their eyes locked together.

I just want to say goodbye.”

No, Tom.”

Goddammit, Ginnie!”

Crookes’ fist hit down on the table. The plate and knife clattered. His coffee spilled and the fork fell onto the floor.

You’re making a scene,” she hissed.

But now Crookes was standing.

What difference does it make what I do?!”

His voice had risen to a shout. Around them the other customers began to murmur in awkwardness.

A service waitress came over.

Is there a problem, sir?”

You’re goddamn right there’s a problem!”

The cafe had become hushed. All were now watching.

Take a look outside!” Crookes bellowed. “You think they’re here to make friends?” Swinging his arms madly, he raised his voice even higher: “You think they’re here to negotiate?!”

Put a sock in it, Mister!”

Tom, sit down,” the woman snapped. Her hands were shaking. “Just sit down, you’re embarrassing me, embarrassing all of us.”

Embarrass …”

Sit down!”

He fell back angrily, his face a look of mock exasperation. Still half-standing, he leaned forward clumsily, scrambling at his hat and coat. He picked up the dripping briefcase.

See you in hell, Ginnie.”


There were heckles as Crookes stormed through and to the doors. Outside, the lights and shadow of the spaceship hung there in the night, laughing down at him, blinking in victory. Through the panorama of advertisements that hovered from each and every building, life went on in the city, dancing its way towards the inevitable end.

We’re all going to die!” Crookes screamed. Again and again, he was unable to stop. “We’re all going to die! To die!!

To die,” he sobbed. Tears mixed with rain, and then a hand upon his shoulder.

He dropped the briefcase and turned.


I know …”

Tom, it’s okay.”

Both were now crying, falling into each other’s arms.

Around them, the pedestrians swerved.

Chris Morton is the creator of this blog.
He has released two sci-fi novels,
one collection of short stories
and a few other scribblings.
You can find his amazon page here.