DIY Space Station: Farmers in the sky

As I’ve been designing a space-based habitat that is home to the characters in my “XK9” novels, one of the recurring questions is how will these people feed themselves?

On the eve of the US Thanksgiving holiday, it seems an especially apt question.

Space Farmer by Jay Wong: if we’re out there, we’ll have to eat.

As you may have picked up from comments I’ve made in several of my previous “DIY Space Station” posts, I have some rather pointed views about agriculture in a space-based habitat. I’ve lived in or near farm country all my life, and I’ve been an organic gardener (I was even a garden club president once!) for many years. Of course I have opinions. 🙂

One thing’s certain: space colonists will have to eat–and for their habitats to be sustainable, they’ll have to produce food where they live. From Yuri Gagarin’s first space meal on Vostok 1 in 1961 and John Glenn’s first meal during the Friendship 7 mission in 1962 to contemporary experiments on the International Space Station, finding ways to fulfill this basic human need in space has been an ongoing concern.

An agricultural area in Kalpana One, as envisioned by Bryan Versteeg

The 1970s-era NASA project designers who created the Bernal sphere and O’Neill cylinder designs assumed that intensive farming, something like the industrialized agriculture that was beginning to become widespread at the time, would be most efficient for space. They designed a separate section for agriculture, the so-called Crystal Palace” of the Bernal sphere. The same kind of structure was planned for the O’Neill cylinder.

Perhaps the “Crystal Palace” made sense in the 1970s.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been near a feedlot or hog farm and smelled the “atmospherics” produced by intensive livestock farming, or if you’ve ever studied the health risks, carbon footprint or water use of such projects, especially as regards beef, but if you have the “Crystal Palace” plan should give you pause.

As I explained in my post on Bernal spheres, we’ve learned a lot about the perils of such practices since then. There’s also growing evidence that all beef, chicken, salmon, and other meat proteins are not equal: the intensively-farmed versions are markedly inferior. Why ever would we take those methods into space?

Not actually healthy for anybody: cattle on a large feed lot.

In a relatively small, enclosed system such as a space habitat, everything must be recycled. There’d only be room for highly efficient agricultural methods. Intensive livestock farming is still livestock farminginherently inefficient, compared to many other protein sources.

Of course, there’s a question of exactly what does “efficient” mean?

During the recent drought, for instance, California almond farmers have been taking tremendous criticism over their thirsty almond groves. But in general nuts are an excellent source of protein. In a smaller, closed system with a controlled water cycle, trees’ value must be considered in terms of the nutrition and oxygen they produce, not only the water they consume.

Almonds ready for harvest.

Unfortunately, when you look at nutritional protein sources, animal-sourced protein (including eggs and some milk products) tends to be better-suited for human metabolisms than most vegetable sources. A balance of both sources is best, nutritionally–but how do you get meat, milk and eggs in a space habitat where there are no wide-open spaces for healthy animals to roam?

Aquaponics systems can sustain quite a variety of plant crops, but also can produce animal protein from fish, shrimp, prawns, etc. That might provide a partial solution. 

An aquaponics “family plot” grows a wide variety of plants.

Certainly ventures such as Sky Farms in Singapore are pushing the envelope on the potential to grow more food in a smaller “footprint,” and they’re doing it with aquaponics. But so far they’re growing mostly salad greens, not almond trees.

The rotating towers of Sky Farms are designed to make sure all plants get adequate sunlight in a vertical planting scheme.

Sky Farms brings up another important point: the space station designers of the 1970s envisioned farming as something that happened in separate, “agricultural” areas. Yet contemporary trends are opening us to more urban agriculture options. “Farms” aren’t just out in the country anymore. They’re popping up in vacant urban lots and in greenhouses on urban rooftops.

This community garden in Kansas City, KS is not far from my home.
SkyHarvest in Vancouver has located its rooftop greenhouse within biking distance of many of its regular restaurant clients. Their website has a great short video about how they operate.

Another recent trend in urban plantings are so-called “green walls,” planted with a variety of species to create visual interest, produce oxygen, and help clean the air. I can’t imagine those would be hard to adapt for edible plants.

The company that makes this vertical planting system is called–appropriately enough–Greenwalls.

And of course, space-saving espaliered fruit trees have been around for centuries.

An espaliered peach tree at historic Le Portager du Roi (Vegetable Garden of the King) at Versailles, France

Another idea gaining traction lately has been “green roofs.” One has only to look at Bryan Versteeg’s visualizations of Kalpana One to see that I’m not the first person to think of putting them on space habitats.

Bryan Versteeg beat me to the idea of green roofs on a space habitat: this is part of his visualization of Kalpana One.

In addition to providing pleasant green spaces and oxygen, they’d make ideal garden plots if the soil was deep enough. Urban rooftops all over the world support similar green roofs and rooftop gardens.

This rooftop garden in Portland, OR supplies the Noble Rot Restaurant.

If agricultural efforts are integrated throughout the entire space habitat, that changes the picture and the potential. Food could grow anywhere! Why not on pergolas hung with grapevines, squash, or tomatoes, for example?

This is a squash trellis, but lots of food plants grow as vines, which means they can grow up walls and hang from trellises or pergolas–providing yet more vertical growing options.

And while we might not see cattle wandering freely through the streets, we certainly might find “backyard chickens” or other, smaller-scale livestock growing operations (Rabbits? Goats?) tucked in here and there all over the station–another potential partial solution to the “where do we get our protein?” question.

Beyond aquaponics: could small-scale chicken farming be another source of protein on a space habitat?

None of this discussion has so far wandered into the areas of genetically-modified plants, that might be specifically adapted for high yields in small amounts of space, but they are likely to be developed, whatever we may think of GMOs (a discussion for a different post).

Another area that’s still in its infancy is cultured meat. Yes, right now one tough, relatively tasteless patty recently cost about $263,000 to produce, but the Dutch lab that produced it from beef stem cells is anticipating its products could be commercially available and viable by 2020.

The $263,000 burger, before cooking. Is cultured meat the future of protein in space?

While the question of how many resources such “cellular agriculture” might require is still open, it seems likely that the field will have evolved considerably by the time we’re building habitats in space. So maybe our descendants who venture forth to live on the Final Frontier won’t have to forego eating their favorite Kobe steaks after all.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jay Wong’s website, for his Space Farmer image, to Bryan Versteeg’s Spacehabs Gallery for the Kalpana One farm and green roofs images; and to Wikipedia and NASA for the “Crystal Palace” image (sorry–couldn’t find the artist’s name). 

I’m indebted to “Johnny Muck” for the beef feedlot photo, to Grow Organic for the photo of the ready-to-harvest almonds, and to Friendly Aquaponics for the photo of varied crop-plants in an aquaponics system. 

Many thanks to Urban Growth for the image of the Sky Farms tower, to Kansas City Community Gardens for the photo of the urban garden in KCK, and to SkyHarvest via Pinterest for the photo of their rooftop greenhouse. 

Thanks greatly to Greenwalls Vertical Planting Systems for their photo of a contemporary “green wall.” Go to their website for more beautiful examples. 

Thanks also to Paully and Growing Fruit for the photo of the espalliered peach tree at Versailles, to Noble Rot of Portland, Oregon, for the rooftop garden photo, to Organic Authority for the squash trellis photo, and to the Denver Library’s website, for the photo of urban chickens. And finally, thanks to the Daily Mail for the photo of the cultured meat patty.

When is it play, and when is it creative work?

A much-belated Artdog Quote of the Week!

I’ve been playing a little more than I “should” this week (always with the “shoulds” [insert quiet groan here]. You’d think I’d learn).

Last week, I finished my final editing pass on Going to the XK9s. It’s the (eighth draft of the) first novel in my planned “XK9 Series.

I sent it off to my editor, took a deep breath, and . . . OMG! Really wanted to get going on the next one!

I don’t know if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. I’ve been told that one should take a vacation, or at least a nice, relaxing break, after finishing a novel manuscript–especially after finishing the kind of fine-toothed-comb, line-by-line editing process, where you sweat ALL the details.

My problem with that? I’m bubbling over with ideas and energy for the next book. My XK9s are a pack of sapient police dogs who shake things up on their adopted space station home, while sniffing out bad guys. Writing about them is a lot of fun (as I hope reading about them will be).

I’ve also had enough experience to know that “flow” like this doesn’t happen all the time. It’s wise to hop on and ride it out, when it comes, which is what I’ve been doing, instead of writing blog posts (sorry). Every job feels like “a job,” sometimes–just not right now, for me.

So, then, am I relaxing? Am I working? Is it okay to say “yes”? If your work feels like playing, do we have to draw the line somewhere?

Gosh, I hope not.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Pinterest, via Betype, for the John Cleese quote, and to Marine L. Rot for the “creative flow” banner.

Is your book a high-value item, or a low-value item?

Last week I attended MidAmericon II, the 74th Worldcon, which was held  in my home metro area of Kansas City.

A very small segment of the MidAmericon II Dealers' Room, including a small press booth.
A very small segment of the MidAmericon II Dealers’ Room, including a small press booth.

As the author of a recently-finished (but not yet published) novel, I was a bit more finely attuned to the crosscurrents (perhaps “riptides” would be a better description) of opinion about publishing that could be observed in action at this convention than I have been in some time.

Between the panels, the readings, the parties (such as they were) and the Dealers’ Room, I encountered a wide cross-section of opinion about the “best practices” in publishing today.

More booksellers--or are they author collectives, or are they small presses?--in the MidAmericon II Dealers' Room.
More booksellers–or are they author collectives, or are they small presses?–in the MidAmericon II Dealers’ Room.

One practice I found particularly curious was the free book giveaways. Many of the smaller operations seemed to think that a good way to attract new readers was to give away books.

Samples, you know? So people can see how “good” we can write, and love us, even though we haven’t had a copyeditor look at our work, much less a competent beta reader–or even (God forbid!) a professional editor.

Yeah, no.

If on the first few pages I encounter characters using each others’ names in dialogue (“Fred, as you know, I always write good,” Ellen cried. / “Why of course, Ellen, your writing is always just dandy,” Fred gushed), and alleged words such as “alright,” then SURE, I’m absolutely going to love it (NOT). In such cases, the free sample is worth every penny I paid for it, and it is going to make me take every effort NOT to bother with that person’s work ever again (even if they later take a writing class and get a clue).

This is the kind of “indie” publishing that gives indie-publishing a bad name, because no gatekeeper–no qualified second opinion–was ever allowed in. This is usually because the author is afraid to do so.

"No! Please! Don't make me edit my book! I might have to murder some darlings!"
“No! Please! Don’t make me edit my book! I might have to murder some darlings!”

“They won’t understand” or “I swear, it gets better by Chapter Five” just doesn’t cut it. For God’s sake, people, study the craft! And beyond that, study best practices in marketing! Yes, I know, you are a Creator, and Heaven forefend that you should have to trammel your muse with such mundane things.

You have a choice: go on giving horrible warnings away for free, and dragging down the value of the product for all the rest of us. Or you can take a different view.

Two kinds of products: High-value and low-value

Okay, I’m taking a deep breath now, centering myself, and thinking calm thoughts. The main purpose of this post is to call attention to a basic marketing guideline I learned years ago when I was a direct marketer.

The rule of thumb goes:

If you are marketing a LOW-VALUE ITEM, you give away free samples and offer discounts. 

If you are marketing a HIGH-VALUE ITEM, you offer premiums, up-sell enhancements, and offer tie-ins. 

How does this work in practice? 

If you are marketing a LOW-VALUE ITEM, you give away free samples and offer discounts. A low-value item is a cheap throw-away. It isn’t worth much, but if you sell a whole honkin’ lot of them, you can make a profit on the cost-markup margin, because of the volume. Such an item doesn’t cost you much to give away a free sample, so it makes sense to give away a few, in the hope that people will like it, tell their friends, and buy more.

This is a standard in the marketing world. Experienced consumers (i.e., most of us) know how to interpret a free giveaway. If you give your book away, it places your book in a category I doubt many indie-pubbers want to be placed into.

If your book is a cheap, throwaway, piece of crap, then perhaps the free-giveaway marketing ploy is your thing. Do you write dozens of them a year, and fail to do any research? Okay, then! You’ve found your strategy! In my humble opinion, if you give your book away, you are as good as labeling it dreck.

Is this what you're selling? Then freebies are probably your best avenue.
Is this what you’re selling? Then freebies are probably your best avenue.

 

 

If you are marketing a HIGH-VALUE ITEM, you offer premiums, up-sell enhancements, and offer tie-ins. In this case, the item itself is far too costly to give away, and has a high intrinsic value. It takes a lot of time, effort and (dare I say) skill to create the item, and it can add lasting value to the owner’s life.

I would like to argue that a well-written book is a high-value item. The author has invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, and effort into it.

A book is a high-value item. It should be marketed that way!
A book is a high-value item.
It should be marketed that way!

First, there have been years of learning the craft and creating the best possible story. Then this author has engaged well-read beta readers, possibly a copyeditor, and ideally an outside, professional editor to vet and perfect the product.

In the marketing phase, discernment and effort have led to the production of a high-quality, well-edited edition, with an attractive, appropriate cover, and high production values.

Appropriate premiums might be a first chapter as a teaser (a time-tested approach used by big-name publishers), an author autograph, or perhaps background, “insider” information. Up-sell might include an illustrated, limited edition, a signed and numbered slipcovered collector’s edition, etc. Tie-ins could include an author’s newsletter, pins, prints of the cover or illustrations, short fiction related to the major work, etc.

Your marketing strategy is up to you, of course. But I’d say it pays to think carefully about your approach.

IMAGES: The photos from MidAmericon II were taken by yours truly. The “Wow! Free Stuff” image is from a UK coupon company page called Wow Free Stuff. The photo of  the distressed writer contemplating editorial scrutiny is from Margaret Snow’s blog post on the Damsel in Distress archetype. The “Horrible Negative Example” quote image is from The Quotery. The ironic sign-failure CRAPBOOKS photo is from the Stuck on Stupid Pinterest Board, via Curiousread.com and Thisisbroken.com. The wonderful image of the girl hugging the book is by ToucanPecan, and may be found on ToucanPecan’s deviantART page. Check out the whole gallery, while you’re there!

Readings as Worldcon networking venues?

I first started going to Worldcons in the 1980s. The times have changed, but the World Science Fiction Convention still moves to a different city in the world each year.

HeaderImage_092015This year it’s MidAmericon II in Kansas City, practically in my back yard. Next year it’s Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.

Wherever they’re held, Worldcons are a great place to meet science fiction fans from all over the world, and network with others in our niche of fandom.

The 1976 Hugo Award base, sculpted by Tim Kirk, changed the look of the award in subsequent years.
The 1976 Hugo Award base, sculpted by Tim Kirk, changed the look of the award in subsequent years.

Worldcon also is a place where innovations happen. Sometimes the innovations are accepted and continued from year to year. For example, at the first MidAmericon, held in Kansas City in1976, the base of the Hugo Award trophy was sculpted by Tim Kirk. Previous award bases had been rather traditional wooden trophy bases, but after 1976 the Hugo bases became more elaborate.

This year one of the innovations the concom is trying is a change in the parties that are held after-hours. Traditionally, these are hotel-room-centered parties, held in hotel rooms and suites by individuals, groups, or publishing companies.

They are traditionally a hotbed of networking between all the various players in sf fandom (bid parties for the right to host future Worldcons, or parties to promote other, regional conventions), and in the publishing industry (writers, editors, agents, and artists).

Arianne "Tex" Thompson came to her reading expecting a much smaller crowd.
Arianne “Tex” Thompson came to her reading expecting a much smaller crowd.

This year, however, all parties are to be held in the event space in Bartle Hall, in adjacent, tent-like lounge areas with couch-like seating and high, small-topped round tables. Traditional sf convention parties last well into the wee hours; these were closed down by the venue tonight at 11:30.

This severely limits both the number of parties that can be held (three, tonight), and the amount of networking that can be done at them (since you couldn’t have heard it thunder in those exhibit-hall parties).

I have absolutely no doubt that individuals will privately host parties in their hotel rooms, although the hotels don’t want them to. However, at the end of the panel schedule a totally new (to me) phenomenon cropped up: Author readings as networking opportunities.

My first glimpse of this was the comparative crowd that showed up for the first of three readings I attended today. The featured author was Arianne “Tex” Thompson, who writes alternate-history fantasy with an interesting twist. Authors are conditioned to expect very few people at their readings–for some reason they aren’t well attended. But so far the readings for this year’s Worldcon have been much better-attended.
C. Taylor-Butler read from the second book in her new middle-grades series, The Lost Tribes: Safe Harbor.
C. Taylor-Butler read from the second book in her new middle-grades series, The Lost Tribes: Safe Harbor.

When I returned for the back-to-back readings by C. Taylor-Butler and Tonya Adolfson (a.k.a. Tanglwyst de Holloway), I was treated not only to more engaging fiction, but also to a spontaneous discussion–actually, a veritable symposium–on indie fiction, audiobooks, and the ways that publishers, distributors, and reviewers game the system.

Tonya and her husband, John W. Farmer, also made a case for better–and better-remunerated–audiobook production values and standards. Their company, Fantastic Journey Publishing, is attempting to set new standards of excellence with full-cast audio recordings of not only Tonya’s books, but also those of other indie authors.

They made the case that indie authors who don’t do the diligent work of learning the craft, being edited professionally, and maintaining high production values for their work are feeding the double standard that plagues indie authors who do strive for excellence. Unfortunately, I completely agree.

Tonya Adolfson read from two of her books.
Tonya Adolfson read from two of her books.

I remember being a graphic designer during the 1990s, when something similar was happening in that field–any fool and his/her sibling thought that because s/he owned a copy of MS Publisher, that meant graphic design was “easy.” Good design isn’t, of course. It never has been. Thank goodness, a certain amount of sanity on that subject has returned–but in the meantime, there was some seriously stinko design foisted upon the hapless world.

It is my fervent hope that something similar will occur with indie publishing. Back in the 1980s when I first went to Worldcons, the only game in town for writers was publishers. You found an agent, you got published, if possible, and you played according to their rules. The networking parties were essential.

Today, it’s a wild new world, but the networking is as essential as ever. Where will we do it? Perhaps at each others’ readings.

IMAGES: Many thanks to MidAmericon II’s website for its logo. Thanks to the Hugo Awards archive for the photo with the 1976 base. The photos of Tex, Christine, and Tonya were taken by me, with their permission.

Space Station DIY: Bernal Spheres?

I needed a plausible space station for my fictional characters to live in. My research yielded such riches, I decided to share them with you in a series of “Space Station DIY” blog posts.

John Desmond Bernal
John Desmond Bernal

Today, let’s consider the Bernal Sphere. It’s an idea originally cooked up by John Desmond Bernal in 1929. Bernal was primarily known as a pioneer in molecular biology, but his concept of a spherical habitat in space seemed plausible enough for NASA to launch a more in-depth study in 1975-76.

Gerard K. O’Neill

That study led to Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill’s proposal for Island One, a relatively small Bernal Sphere. This was followed by the larger Island Two (which, it was hoped, would provide a more practical industrial base). By the time O’Neill got to Island Three, he’d evolved to a different shape, the O’Neill Cylinder (we’ll discuss that design in a future post). Other research rooted in the Bernal Sphere eventually led to a toroidal design, often called a Stanford Torus.

The wine-tasting party doesn't seem to mind if the world is inside-out.
The wine-tasting party doesn’t seem to mind if the world is inside-out.

What would it be like, to live in a Bernal Sphere? Artwork from the mid-1970s gives us a glimpse of an inside-out world, in which you could see the other side of the colony “up in the sky.” I don’t know about you, but I think that would give me terrible vertigo.

Recreation at the poles: nets and micro-gravity sex?
Recreation at the poles: nets and micro-gravity sex?

The artificially-generated centrifugal gravity would fall to nothing at the poles, which some have thought would make those good recreational areas. The illustration above envisions “Zero gravity honeymoon suites,” but doesn’t seem to consider the problems of space-sickness caused by microgravity, or the realities of Newton’s Third Law. Perhaps people would be better advised to enjoy their marital bliss in the 1-G areas, and play Quidditch at the poles.

Perhaps people could play Quidditch at the poles of the Bernal Sphere.
Perhaps people could play Quidditch at the poles of the Bernal Sphere.

The outside view shows a series of rings on one end, stacked next to the sphere. This would be the so-called “Crystal Palace” for agriculture to feed the population of 10,000 (on Island One).

External view of Island One, with agricultural "Crystal Palace" tori at one end.
External view of Island One, with agricultural “Crystal Palace” tori at one end.

Unfortunately, scientists and engineers in the 1970s were not much concerned about the issues involved in intensive farming, so they followed contemporary ideas, and designed their Crystal Palace to be a cow-, pig-, and chicken-hell. I wonder how much concern they had about overuse of antibiotics and methane production (perhaps they could use the latter as a fuel, but what about the smell?), as well as the relative economies of growing plant crops versus livestock. Maybe they just couldn’t imagine life without steak?

Livestock Hell in space? Maybe not such a good idea after all.
Livestock Hell in space? Maybe not such a good idea after all.

Ultimately, I decided the Bernal Sphere was not the design for my fictional space station. If I didn’t want to imagine living there, why would I try to make my characters do so? Might recall O’Neill apparently moved away from the original sphere-focused idea, too, once he looked into it more. But although my fictional Rana Habitat Space Station didn’t turn out to be a Bernal Sphere, the design gave me some interesting ideas. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration.

Earlier posts in this series have discussed space stations in popular culture and conjecture, and the idea of Dyson spheres.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the ever-invaluable Wikipedia, for the photos of John Desmond Bernal and Gerard K. O’Neill; to the NASA Ames Research Center for the 1970s-era artwork of the Bernal Sphere interior, exterior, and “Crystal Palace” cutaway detail; to the National Space Society, for the artist’s rendering of the Bernal Sphere recreational area; and to Entertainment Weekly for the Harry Potter Quidditch image. I appreciate all of you!

 

Finished—Sort of

You may have noticed (If so, bless you!) that I didn’t post much on my blog last week. What’s up with that? Massive stuff going on in my life, that’s what.

My first novel, finished in 1979, actually was written on one of these.
My first novel, finished in 1979, actually was written on one of these (manual Underwood).

I very recently finished a full draft of a science fiction novel.

This is the fifth novel manuscript for which I’ve been able to write “The End” in my adult life. The working title of the current opus is Going to the XK9s.

XK9s are forensic olfaction specialists, (dogs) whose universe-class noses make them something of a forensic analysis lab on four legs, and whose genetically-modified verbal-logic enhancements have pushed them over “the line” (wherever that lies, exactly) into sapience.

Rex looks a bit like real-life hero dog Lucas, who in 2015 saved his partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, after Frazier was ambushed by three assailants.
Rex looks a bit like real-life hero dog Lucas, who in 2015 saved his partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, after Frazier was ambushed by three assailants.

My protagonist is Rex, the “Leader of the Pack.” The other POV characters are his opinionated mate Shady and his somewhat beleaguered human partner Charlie.

My logline (still a work in progress) reads: A genetically-engineered police dog must innovate crime-solving approaches on a major case to prove his Pack is sapient and deserves freedom, before enemies—both from the Project that created them and from the criminal underworld—can destroy them.

I’ve mentioned “the novel” in past posts, most notably in the Space Station DIY series (an outgrowth of my research, since a large space station is the primary setting for the novel).

The XK9s were inspired by recent scientific explorations of dog cognition, recent discoveries of dogs’ ability to sense medical conditions by scent, and canine capabilities in search and rescue, drug enforcement, and bomb detection.

Present-day forensic olfaction specialists in training.
Present-day forensic olfaction specialists in training. Photo by Reed Young.

Since I travel in science fiction circles, I meet a lot of people who are “working on a novel.” People who actually have finished one are rarer, but simply finishing a draft doesn’t mean it’s done.

Publishing today: a whole new set of learning curves!

Very few people “take dictation from God” on the very first draft, most certainly including me. Once the novel is “finished,” the editing begins. In my case that means hacking through thickets of luxuriant verbiage to focus, polish, and pare it down to a streamlined, more readable length.

After that, professionals will review it. And after that . . . Oh, my. Publishing has changed almost beyond recognition since I worked with agents and editors in the 1980s. Lots of large learning curves ahead!

But meanwhile, it’s time to celebrate a nice milestone.

IMAGES: Many thanks to PenUltimate Editorial Services for the manuscript-finished typewriter image; to ABC News, for the photo of heroic Belgian malinois Lucas (read his story); to Gizmodo, Smithsonian Mag and photographer Reed Young for the photo of bomb-sniffing dogs in training; and to CyberSalt, for the “Good Luck” road sign.

Looking for something new and interesting to read? Consider these!

One of the things that seems to help our favorite authors more than just about anything we can do (beyond buying their books in the first place) is posting reviews–on Amazon, and on other sites. I know that some Amazon metrics seem to leave reviews out of the picture, but in other ways they help. 

I have been promising myself I’d sit down and write Amazon reviews of some of the books I’ve read recently, and I made good on that promise today. Once I’d started, it occurred to me that I should share some of them here, too. These are all science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novels that I have recently enjoyed. I hope you will enjoy them, too: 

Fluency and Remanence

By Jennifer Foehner Wells

Both of the covers are the work of artist Stephan Martiniere; Wells credits these covers with much of her early success as an indie publisher.

Grabbed me and wouldn’t let go! Thoroughly enjoyable

I ordered Fluency on the basis of a review posted on Twitter, and boy am I glad I did! This is an extremely interesting story of first contact that kept me wondering what would happen next, and happily “hooked” all the way through. I especially liked the complexity of the relationships and the excellent pacing. Jennifer Foehner Wells really knows how to write! (hint: buy the sequel, Remanence, while you’re at it!).

Gripping sequel adds to the stakes–this series just keeps getting better

Sequels often aren’t as good as the first book, but Remanence is definitely an exception to that. Jennifer Foehner Wells takes us deeper into the universe she has created, adds more fascinating non-terrestrials, and adds dramatically to the stakes. I found this just as gripping as the highly-readable first book, and I’m seriously frustrated that she hasn’t gotten the third one finished, as I write this. This is an excellent series. Buy this one when you buy Fluency!

Great news: Valence, the third book in Wells’ Confluence Series, is now in the works!

The Curse of Jacob Tracy 

By Holly Messinger

Supernatural terrors and engaging characters in the Old West 

Engaging characters and imaginative twists on folklore give this western gothic horror novel a special power. Holly Messinger is a promising new writer with interesting tales to tell. The push and pull between the main characters gives depth and resonance, the historical grounding is solid, and the monsters are vivid and challenging. The best news, once you’ve finished? There’s a sequel in the works!

A note about this novel’s cover: Designed by Jim Lin, the cover is an assemblage of images pulled from Shutterstock and Dreamstime. This is an increasing trend with some publishing companies. 

Ready Player One 

By Ernest Cline

The thrill of the game, and a hero with nerves of Adamantium

I’m not a big video game player and I also didn’t spend the formative years of my early adolescence during the 1980s, so at first I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this book, but my son insisted, and even made sure I saw the movie War Games and the documentary Atari: Game Over, in preparation.

I’m glad he did. This is a book about an amazing adventure. The stakes couldn’t be higher–either in the virtual world of the OASIS, or in the gritty reality of a collapsing mid-21st-century world in the grip of recession and the effects of global warming. The story chronicles an epic battle between Big Capitalism and the little man; good versus evil; quick wits, nerve and knowledge versus overwhelming force. You’ll laugh, you’ll howl with outrage, and you’ll love the nail-biting suspense that runs right down to the end.

It took some detective work, but I finally discovered that this wonderful painting of “the Stacks” that forms the background of the cover art is by Joe Ceballos. The Stacks are a compelling image in the book, and I dearly love Ceballos‘ visualization.

The Promise 

By Robert Crais

Suspect (2014) introduced us compellingly to Officer Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie, who play an important part in Crais‘ new book, The Promise. 

This engaging thriller lived up to all of my high expectations 

I was eager to read this novel in which Crais‘ longtime series characters Elvis Cole and Joe Pike meet up with Suspect principals Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie–and it totally lived up to my high expectations.

Elvis Cole makes a promise to a client–not realizing she has many more things to hide than she thought. Scott and Maggie get mixed into the case in the line of duty–but the dangers they face as a result range far beyond their normal occupational hazards.

This book kept me guessing right up to the satisfying conclusion. Scott and Maggie add an interesting new dimension to the adventures of Cole and Pike. I’d love to see all of these characters return for a third engagement sometime soon!

Another note on the covers: These, too are amalgamations from multiple sources, rather than being the work of a single artist. the Suspect cover is the work of MCJC Design, created partially from a photograph by Joseph Baylor Roberts, via Getty Images. The Promise cover is the work of designer Kaitlin Lim, built from the work of several photographers via Getty Images.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon for the cover art for: Fluency, Remanence, The Curse of Jacob Tracy, Ready Player One, Suspect, and The Promise.

The cover painting for Ready Player One by Joe Ceballos is courtesy of Motornomadics.