Review of “The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton

Great premise and I love that it’s bio hard science fiction, a sub-genre that I wish there were more of. Especially given recent advances in genetics, neuroscience, and prostheses, I feel as though there are lot of questions related to the intersection of science and society that the genre could be addressing, but isn’t.

The novel was written in the late 60’s, and some aspects of it haven’t aged well. All of the characters with any agency are educated, scientifically-minded, white men, and it was honestly difficult to tell them apart by anything other than their names and blunt descriptions. Counterpoints were Peter Jackson and Officer Willis, who had unique and well-crafted dialogue that I enjoyed reading “aloud in my head” if that makes sense.

The exposition is fairly heavy-handed, with technical (but at least interesting) info dumps roughly every other page. Like many thrillers, this novel is overwhelmingly plot-driven, with little in the way of introspection, reflection, or emotion shown by any of the characters. However, at least the hooks are laid well throughout the story — I definitely wanted to keep reading to find out what happened, and though the ending seemed a little too easily and quickly tied up, the journey was thought-provoking.

I’m glad to have checked off a classic I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. Overall: enjoyable but dated, interesting but hardly enthralling.

3/5 Stars

Recap of MarsCon 2019, Saturday

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series MarsCon 2019

Most of my Saturday at the con was taken up by meetings for RavenCon programming (in particular the new Science Track, for which I am very excited!). However I did get a chance to browse the dealer floor, the art room, and attend a couple of panels.

In How Does One Write Near-Future Science Fiction?, panelists Patrick Dugan, Jason T. Graves, Drew A. Avera, and Gray Rinehart were moderated by Jim Beall. Unfortunately, though Jim was quite well prepared (a wonderful thing in a moderator), the authors on the panel did not seem to be well-suited for the panel topic, as most did not seem to have a lot of stories set in the near future themselves. However, most were writers of Hard Science Fiction (which is not necessarily the same thing). This mismatch is hardly the fault of the panelists, but perhaps Programming can take a note for future cons.

Though the panel did not spend much time actually answering the question posed in its title, I did walk away with several nuggets of useful information. One suggested way of avoiding the pitfall of having certain readers get too caught up in the numbers or “realness” of the story elements as if they are meant to be predictions is to a) generally avoid numbers all together if possible, and b) stick to explication only where you actually have expertise or knowledge based on research, leaving the rest implied. We discussed the questions of whether near-term science fiction has to also be hard science fiction to be good/enjoyable (not necessarily, and Neuromancer was offered as a counter-example), and also if near-term science fiction needs to attempt to predict the future to be useful (generally no).

I later attended The Big World of Small Press and Indie Publishing, featuring Michael Thomson, Leslie Heath, Melissa McArthur, Kacey Ezell, and moderated by Chris Kennedy. The panelists were all in some fashion indie or small press authors and/or publishers, with a good bit of diversity in how it was implemented (full-time, part-time, completely indie, traditional + indie, etc). All generally agreed that the major benefits to small press and indie publishing were: much more rapid turnaround at all points of the publication timeline (editing, feedback, cover selection, proof, release, etc), a much greater degree of control and input by the author at all points in the process, a more personal connection with everyone involved, and generally a larger percentage of the overall pie. The two major downsides being that mass exposure is much less likely or perhaps impossible, and that the author is expected and required to take on more (or complete) personal responsibility for the product at every step of the process.

The panelists listed the following mistakes they have made in the past that future indie or small press authors should avoid

  • Series sell the most, and waiting too long to continue a series can kill its inherent momentum.
  • Always read a contract, or even better, get a lawyer to look over it (it’s probably cheaper than you think).
  • Don’t forget about pre-marketing, and make sure to do the work to build up a community around a work before releasing it.

Further big news from the con, though it was not particularly con-related… I found out that I got in to the advanced fiction studio at The Muse Writing Center in Norfolk that I applied to last week! I’ll be starting that on February 4th, and I’m looking forward to focusing on my sequel to Red Soil.

Sci-Fi Story Elements That Really Hook Me!

For well over a year now, I’ve been spinning my wheels on a sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers. Despite the well-known writing advice that the first draft will be crap and you just have to power through it, somehow the three drafts I’ve started and scrapped so far seemed to have more wrong than merely being ordinary first-draft crap. Something really fundamental felt like it was missing.

So I finally took a break from trying to write the fourth do-over and decided to just freewrite about what I love in the sci-fi novels that I read. I analyzed my very favorite speculative fiction novels for common threads, and tried to distill them into individual motifs. The results were enlightening, and subsequent work has helped me re-plan and restructure the work-in-progress to better align with the elements of speculative fiction that I find exciting.

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Camp NaNoWriMo: Red Soil II

It’s just a few days to July, and I’ll be using Camp NaNoWriMo to jump-start a first draft of the sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers. Having moved from Boston to a much lower-stress pace of life in Virginia a couple of months ago, I’m now through the post-move transition and ready to draft some fiction again! Incidentally, Camp Nano was what led to the initial draft of Red Soil as well, so it’s fitting that the sequel will begin its life the same way. I’m also excited that several members of my writing group are joining in, plus some friends of ours as well!

Here’s my working “back cover” premise:

Yoo Sun-Hee has been left in charge of Hellas-Dao, a Mars colony caught in a power struggle that now ripples across the solar system. Surrounded by enemies and unsure of her allies, she must somehow defend the colony against all comers and navigate a path to freedom. Meanwhile, the thousands of colonists under Sun-Hee’s watch don’t see eye-to-eye on the best course for the future. As governments and mega-corporations battle for supremacy of interplanetary space, those living on the red soil of Mars descend into infighting and faction. A single spark could set off violence that will destroy the colony — or its hopes — from within.

Questions I’d like to explore:

  • How do we construct a functional society from factions that vehemently disagree over fundamental values, to the point of active hatred and violence? Is separation the only/best choice?
  • When loyalty to principle conflicts with loyalty to those we love, how do we decide which takes precedence?
  • When is it morally permissible to disobey legitimate orders or reveal secret information you promised not to reveal? (Thinking about Ed Snowden, Reality Winner, et al here.)
  • What is the line between freedom fighter and terrorist, and who gets to decide? Is the difference truly just in the eye of the beholder? Are there ends so important that they justify morally questionable — or even reprehensible — means? (This is a touchy one… I’m by no means intending to justify terrorism, and I do believe there are both hard lines and gray areas. I find the broader question interesting though, from a social, political, historical, and not mention contemporary perspective.)
  • If we truly had an opportunity to “reset” a government/society and shed generations of precedent, what would we build?

I’m excited to begin!

If you still haven’t ever picked up a copy of Book 1, Red Soil Through Our Fingers will be FREE at Smashwords from July 1 to July 31 as part of their annual July Summer/Winter sale.

Design of The Hellas-Dao Mars Colony

The story of Red Soil Through Our Fingers takes place against the backdrop of Hellas-Dao, a Mars colony owned and operated by the Rekos-Breland Xenomaterials Corporation (RBX). Though the setting is obviously fictional, I wanted to make sure that I incorporated much of what we already know about Mars and what future Mars colonies might look like. Though I have a background in aerospace engineering, neither Mars nor Mars colonization architectures were my area of expertise. The process of researching defining the setting for the novel was a lot of fun.

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