Tag Archives: science fiction

Author Interview: H.C. Beckerr

H.C. Beckerr writes Christian science fiction. His recently-released novel, Shadow of Tunguska, is the second and final instalment in the Hill of Great Darkness series, “an epic sci-fi thriller that spans two millennia and two galaxies.”

Janet: Welcome, H.C., and please tell us a bit about yourself.

H.C.: Well, Janet, I’m just an old-fashioned farm boy from the midwestern area of the U.S. I grew up in a time where folks sent their children to Sunday School to learn about Jesus and learned the difference between right and wrong.

Janet: That’s not too long in the past, but we’ve sure seen changes. Are your novels set in the near future, or farther distant?

H.C.: The entire story line of Hill of Great Darkness/Shadow of Tunguska is set in the spring/summer of 2037. So, it’s just around the corner and, truthfully, the world isn’t much different then, than it is right now.

Janet: Twenty years from now! Where did the story idea come from? [May not need this one if you were inspired by those locations I ask about next]

H.C.: Here is where y’all will go…WHAT???? Believe it or not, the idea for this story came from The Davinci Code. Yup…. that book. I gotta admit, when I read TDC I was inspired by the writing style of Mr. Brown. Especially since I had just finished a Church History class at Brookes Bible Institute (now College) in St. Louis, Missouri.  I saw how the author took real history and ‘twisted’ it into a lie (a technique I call twistery). You see, fiction is always better when based on truth. And, in my case, I wanted to bring glory to God, not shame.

Janet: Fiction based on truth feels more real, doesn’t it? The Hill of Great Darkness books are science fiction and venture into space, yet they’re tied to real but mysterious locations on earth. What kind of research did that involve?

H.C.: That was the fun part. Book 1 is all about a location here in the Midwest known as Cahokia Mounds Historical Site, an area of earthen mounds built by the Mississippian culture between about eight hundred to twelve hundred AD. Somewhere in the latter years the entire culture disappeared without a trace. Sounds like sci-fi to me (or, as I like to call what I write; Chri-fi…Christian science fiction).

Anyway… Book 2 picks up three months after the end of Book 1. It really is not a sequel so much as the end of the story. I wanted to go somewhere else on Earth that would be just as much an enigma as Cahokia so I (more or less) immediately turned to the Tunguska Region of Siberia where, in 1908, some sort of cataclysmic explosion occurred. We are talking of a blast that was one thousand times bigger than Hiroshima. This event leveled over seven hundred square miles of deep forest. Now, there’s something to lie…um, I mean, write about!!!  

Janet: In your research, what’s the strangest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?

H.C.: That’s easy…. Cahokia Mounds at its zenith was a metropolitan area that was only equaled in size by Paris, France, which happened to be the largest city on Earth at that time.

Also worth mentioning is Lake Cheko in Siberia, which, according to eyewitnesses to the Tunguska Event, did not exist before that fateful morning in 1908.

That’s some cool stuff to think about!

Janet: Indeed! Now, your novels include strong female characters. Are they more difficult to write, as a male author?

H.C.: Not at all. The dynamics are individualized to the point that each character is a joy to create. And, if I may; the story itself is what allowed the characters to come alive. To be real.

Janet: Do you have a favourite character in the books?

H.C.:  That’s easy. Simone Sytte (that’s See-yet-tea). I don’t remember if I have shared this with you before, but Simone is a confluence of three people I have ‘met’. Her lineage as a Ugandan is from a young woman that I had taught alongside in a preschool class at my church. She was, if I remember correctly, from Kenya. I loved to hear her speak English with her deep African accent! Another person who is part of Simone’s soul is another lady from my church who was involve in our music ministry. A very strong Christian with the reality of not always being perfect. And…never hiding that fact. Thirdly… Simone’s physical stature is borrowed from a fictional character from (I know you’ve been expecting this) one of the Star Wars movies; Episode 2, on a planet where clones were being made into an army by a race of tall, slender aliens (and NO… I don’t believe in aliens. Ask me about that one sometime when you can afford the time…. Ha!).

Janet: Simone is my favourite character, too, as a reader, likely in part because she’s exceptional but not perfect – and she trusts Jesus even when there’s crisis all around her. Why is it important to you to include faith in your fiction?

H.C.: That’s probably the easiest question of all, Janet. My faith in the God of the Bible through His Son Jesus Christ is the only reason I write! I want to share the glorious hope of the Gospel message in any way I can.

Janet: Jesus used story, too! What got you started writing?

H.C.: Here is where you will get a laugh; In grade school!!! I can remember writing short little stories in 5th or 6th grade and selling them for a few pennies so I could get an extra half pint of chocolate milk… always an entrepreneur, LOL!!!!!!!

Janet: My friend, Kimberley Payne, would call you an authorpreneur. I love it. What do you like best about the writing life?

H.C.: Creating. That is the plain truth. To sit back, come up with an idea and start writing; all the while letting God have the reins to take the story where He wants it to go.

Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

H.C.: I think the main driving force behind Hill of Great Darkness was the fact that I refused to one day find myself lying upon my death bed wondering; What if I had only just tried? If a person has an idea or the urge/dream to write… write! Don’t worry about whether or not it will sell. Don’t listen to naysayers…WRITE!!!!

Janet: Simple advice, and wise. We never know until we make the effort. Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

H.C.: I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me. One day we will see our Savior face to face and I long/hope for Him to look at me and say, “Well done!” or…in the words of the President of the United States at the end of the movie Independence Day, “Not bad…not bad at all!!!

Janet: I love that song, too. And yes, one day… Now, from the profound to the superficial: Chocolate or vanilla? Morning person or night owl?

H.C.: C.H.O.C.O.L.A.T.E.  And not ‘white’ chocolate…I call that vanilla!  Morning or night, hmmm…that’s a tough one. Try getting back to me on that one after a gallon of coffee…

Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

H.C.: Gotta say, the beauty of God’s world where I live. The midwestern United States has a beauty all its own and I am so blessed to live here. Not to mention the fact that I grew up going on picnics to the Cahokia Mounds Site. Always loved that place… the mystery and grandeur of it all.

Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?

H.C.: You know, even Jesus needed some down time to recharge! I like to hike and bike ride out in the great outdoors. There is something ever so precious about being alone with the Lord, outdoors in His creation! Then, there is also worship. Whether alone (in the aforementioned outdoors) or corporately with my brothers and sisters. Life is so good when you are in love with your Creator and God! Amen!!!

Janet: Amen indeed. Thanks for visiting, H.C., and sharing these behind-the-scenes details. All the best with your writing and with life!

===

Shadow of Tunguska, by H. C. Beckerr

Shadow of Tunguska: Hill of Great Darkness Book II presents the final chapters of a saga that weaves together the tale of the surviving crew members of the space craft Magellan as they wake up in a top-secret lunar base station. On Earth, tensions mount as the nation’s masses face a worldwide economic takeover. Meanwhile, a small contingent of American explorers braving the Siberian wilderness make a startling discovery at the site of the 1908 impact of an errant black hole.

Shadow of Tunguska website: shadowoftunguska.com

H.C. Beckerr’s blog: shadowoftunguska.com/blog

Review: Jupiter Winds, by C.J. Darlington

Jupiter Winds, by C.J. Darlington | science fiction, Christian fictionJupiter Winds, by C.J. Darlington (Mountainview Books, 2014)

Grey Alexander and her younger sister, Rin, are “unconnected” –  illegal residents of a desert-like part of a dystopian future earth. Their parents disappeared when Grey was only twelve, and she’s supported her sister by making smuggling runs into a nearby city.

Now seventeen, Grey knows the danger is increasing, but nothing prepares her for the true scope of her enemies’ plans – or for what awaits her on the planet Jupiter.

In Jupiter Winds, that planet has actually be discovered to have a solid land mass under the giant red spot. It’s a place of strange beauty, complete with unusual creatures – which turn deadly when the winds blow.

Jupiter Winds is a good, clean read, with the classic elements of science fiction: adventure, danger, courage, and loyalty. Faith is an element, as well. Although Grey’s parents’ disappearance has made her doubt their Christian teaching, remembered snatches of psalms persist in trying to draw her back to trust God in a challenge that’s way more than she can tackle on her own.

I enjoyed the novel, and look forward to reading the sequel, Jupiter Storm.

As well as science fiction, C.J. Darlington also writes women’s fiction. You can read my review of Thicker than Blood here. For more about the author and her books, visit cjdarlington.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Recruits, by Thomas Locke

Recruits, by Thomas LockeRecruits, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2017)

Seventeen-year-old twins Dillon and Sean have never had a happy home life, but for the past ten years they’ve been imagining this amazing, gravity-defying train station that couldn’t exist on Earth.

Now they discover it’s real – and on another planet. One they can create a portal and step onto.

They may be the first gifted humans found on Earth, and an ex-military human from still another planet is assigned to train them. He, at least, sees their potential. Unlike the Examiner, who’s waiting for a chance to fail them and wipe their memories.

The twins face unexpected danger, and the authorities don’t believe their version of events. Suddenly it’s Dillon and Sean against the adults (with a few exceptions), racing against time to save an innocent man and possibly stop an invasion.

Recruits is a fast-paced, entertaining read that should appeal not only to young adult males but to anyone who enjoys a good, clean adventure. Written by a Christian author, the book doesn’t have a spiritual thread that I saw, and I consider it a mainstream novel.

Favourite lines:

…they probably saw the scar at the same moment, because Dillon dragged in the breath Sean had trouble finding. [page 13]

Baran’s voice was delicate, like he wanted to speak without actually disturbing the air. [page 305]

Thomas Locke is the pseudonym of well-known writer Davis Bunn. The Thomas Locke books are fantasy, science fiction and techno-thrillers, and for more about them and the author, visit tlocke.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Christian Speculative Fiction Anthology

What’s more exciting than having something published? Being published in the same project as a good friend or a loved one! Last year I celebrated the release of Hot Apple Cider With Cinnamon, an anthology with a short poem of mine that also included a true story by my mom, Beverlee Wamboldt, and stories from two others from my local writing group, Ruth Ann Adams and Laura Aliese Miedema.

RealmScapes - A Science Fiction and Fantasy AnthologyThis year I’m celebrating RealmScapes, an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, which has a story of mine and also a story by one of my sons, Matthew Sketchley. (His is better.)

Yes, I write suspense, but I also dabble in science fiction.

RealmScapes is a science fiction and fantasy anthology of 17 tales, each based on the idea of escape. It’s published by Brimstone Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Christians who write science fiction and fantasy are a small but mighty group within the larger family of Christian writers. For the past few years, those who can have gathered for the Realm Makers’ Conference.

As part of the lead-up to the 2015 conference, the organizers held a short story contest to benefit the scholarship fund. Matthew and I each entered a story, and while neither of us won, our stories are both included in the RealmScapes anthology, which released at the end of July, 2016.

I don’t yet have a contributor’s copy to hold in my hand, but I’ve read all the stories. If you enjoy these sorts of tales, do check it out. Print books are available through various online stores, but at present the ebook seems only available through Amazon. I hope that will change. Don’t feel like paying for a print copy? See if your local library can order one to share with the other patrons.

 

Review: Trial Run, by Thomas Locke

Trial Run, by Thomas LockeTrial Run, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2015)

With Trial Run, Thomas Locke delivers an international techno-thriller set just beyond our current technology. Gabriella Speciale’s research team has fled danger in the US and set up a secret base in Switzerland, where their experiments with out-of-body consciousness have resulted in an unexpected casualty.

In the US, a shadow group within the government wants to replicate their work for the purposes of espionage.

The third key players are two California university students, Trent Major and a girl named Shane Schearer. The information Trent receives in dreams from an older version of himself puts them in the shadow group’s sights.

This is one of those novels you start reading without a clue about what’s going on. In the hands of a skilled writer like Thomas Locke, it makes for a good ride. (If you want an easier entry, read his free ebook novella, Double Edge, which introduces Gabriella and Charlie Hazard and explains the experiments.)

Trial Run is book one in the Fault Lines series, and I suspect questions that aren’t answered yet will be resolved in future books. (For example, does Trent really see a future version of himself, or who is it really? And how does future-Trent do this?)

The writing is tight and evocative. Some of my favourite lines:

He felt it too. Like the dark had grown claws that scraped the skin off his spine. [page 9]

It was a warrior’s grin. A drawing back of every facial muscle, exposing the raw power of a man who knew the business of death. [page 278]

Part of the plot involves quantum theory, which is presented in small, layperson-level instalments. I didn’t get it, but apparently most people don’t, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Two minor things that did act as speed bumps: the use of “lay/laying” instead of “lie/lying” (I work so hard to get this right, myself) and the expression “Indian territory” for dangerous territory.

Revell is a Christian publisher, but Trial Run is a clean mainstream novel. If you’re looking for a faith thread, the closest you’ll get is one character’s unexplained compulsion to forgive select people. If you just want a fun read, this is it.

Thomas Locke is the pen name of well-known Christian author Davis Bunn. Under the Locke name, he’s writing this sort of near-future suspense as well as epic fantasy. I’ve reviewed his fantasy novel, Emissary, here. For more about Thomas Locke’s books or to sign up for his newsletter, visit tlocke.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Inner Sanctum, by Darlene Oakley

Inner Sanctum, by Darlene OakleyInner Sanctum, by Darlene Oakley (Lanico Media House, 2014)

In the mid 2100’s, with a global war raging, underground cities were established as refuges. The plan was to assess the inhabitants’ health at the 50-year mark and then seal them in until those on the surface considered it safe to bring them back.

Around 400 years after its founding, Aurora Cassle and her childhood friend, Den Maron, hold responsible positions in the underground city of Egerton. Aurora’s discovery that the population is declining in numbers and in health coincides with the finding of the forgotten door to the surface.

The mayor insists all citizens must remain in Egerton. Aurora and Den lead those who defy him through the doorway. Aurora’s and Den’s marriages have both ended by this point, and their childhood attraction revives during their early days on the surface.

I found the plot an interesting concept, very well thought-out and researched, especially in terms of how a colony could survive and what medical effects could manifest over generations. The first half of the novel takes place underground, the second on what the people begin to call New World Earth. It’s interesting to watch them rediscover, rebuild and work together.

In terms of story delivery, I couldn’t really engage with the characters. Everything felt a bit distant, except for a few disturbingly sensual encounters between Aurora and Den in the second half. That said, Inner Sanctum is a clean read, and there’s a Judeo-Christian faith element in the latter part as Aurora discovers records of the Old World Earth religions and finds parallels between the Egertonians’ journey and the Israelites of the Old Testament.

I love the cover.

Inner Sanctum is Canadian author Darlene Oakley’s first novel, although she has a long track record behind the scenes as an editor. For more about the author, visit Dar’s Corrections.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn

The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1999)

This is one of those novels that I loved on a first read and appreciate just as much (if not more) on subsequent visits when I can watch the hints and clues drop into place.

If Alistair MacLean were to have written a space thriller, it might look like this. Twists, turns, people who aren’t what they seem, and a protagonist I somehow trusted from page one even though his resume testified against him. (That might have had something to do with the way he dispatched three large, hairy aliens who picked a fight with him in a seedy spaceport tavern.)

Jordan McKell and his partner, Ixil, smuggle drugs for an interstellar cartel. (I’m very fond of Ixil, the alien with the two symbiotic, ferret-like “outriders.”)

The thing about McKell? You can’t stop him. So despite his unsavoury life, when he’s hired to lead a mismatched band of strangers flying a bizarre-looking ship across the galaxy to Earth, you know that somehow he’ll get it done. Despite increasingly strong opposition.

The Icarus Hunt is a chase. It’s also a puzzle, as McKell and his crew try to find out what makes this ungainly ship such a hot commodity.

This is a mainstream novel containing minor profanity, but otherwise what I’d class as a clean read. There’s violence, but it’s more punching or shooting than bleeding or screaming.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite science fiction author, and The Icarus Hunt may be my favourite of his stand-alone titles. He’s written over 40 novels, including some of the best ones in the Star Wars expanded universe, as well as numerous shorter stories. Along the way he’s won a Hugo Award and become a New York Times bestselling author.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth MoonThe Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey Books Mass Market Edition, 2005)

Spend some time in a high-functioning autistic man’s head, and you may be surprised at how much you relate.

Lou Arrendale is in his 30’s, employed with a small group of other autistic people in the computer division of a large pharmaceutical company. He works at pattern analysis, although he likely couldn’t tell you the purposes of the patterns he creates from what’s on his screen.

The time is our near future. Other than people using “handcomps” (hand-held computers – tablets, anyone?) the main evidence of technological advance is that many health issues, including autism, can now be treated at birth, and that people who can afford it can have life-extending treatments. Oh, and there’s more funding for space exploration again.

Lou was born before the new treatments came about, but far enough into our future that good therapies and alternative learning approaches were in place. He has learned the “rules” for social interaction. He sums it up on the first page of chapter one:

“Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think and saying what they want me to say.”

Now he has the opportunity to try an experimental procedure that may reverse his autism. He’s content with his life, except for the way some people react to him. Should he submit to this opportunity? Does he want to? What if he’s “cured” but loses who he is?

The Speed of Dark is a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of someone who’s in some ways not so different from us “normal” people. Author Elizabeth Moon has an autistic son, and I assume the realistic feel of the book is based on her observations and research.

Lou and his autistic friends have been trained to act as normal as possible. Normal is happy. Normal is good. It doesn’t frighten people. Nobody told them that not all normal people are happy, good or un-frightening. Or that not all normal people like the same music or activities.

His work, his fencing practice (with “normals”), his research into the experimental procedure, all shape and grow Lou. He discovers that most of his brain really is the same as everyone else’s – that in fact he’s gifted at pattern analysis and capable of university-level learning. But he doesn’t like those things that act as barriers to his relationships with those around him.

This is a mainstream novel, with mild (and one instance of major) profanity. It also includes a scene in Lou’s church where the priest talks about one of Jesus’ healing miracles (John 5:1-15) and echoes Lou’s own question. Does he want to be healed? Even if the healing doesn’t look like he wants it to look? [The novel places this miracle at the Pool of Siloam instead of the Pool at Bethesda, but the priest’s theology is sound.]

Not just for science fiction fans, The Speed of Dark is for anyone interested in the search for identity and who at times feel they don’t fit in.

Elizabeth Moon also writes classic science fiction (I thoroughly enjoyed the Vatta’s War series) and fantasy. The Speed of Dark won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novel. For more about the author, visit her website: www.elizabethmoon.com

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Legion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson

Legion Skin DeepLegion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment, 2014)

This is the second Legion novella, and I’m really enjoying the series. It’s an intriguing concept: what if an everyday-boring-normal guy is actually brilliant, but only because of his mental illness?

Doctors can’t quite label Stephen Leeds’ condition, but they think it’s a form of schizophrenia. Steve sees a host of imaginary characters called aspects. Each one is an aspect of his own personality, and each one is “unhinged” in his or her own way. Each is also an expert in some field of knowledge, based on what Steve has read. Fortunately for him, he’s a speed-reader and can also absorb audio books.

Steve has forty-seven aspects. The biblically literate will appreciate the “Legion” reference.

Here’s how he describes one of them:

Sarcasm was kind of her native tongue, though she was fluent in “stern disappointment” and “light condescension” as well. [chapter 1, page 4]

I love how he describes the office layout for the office building he visits, which is set up with a variety of informal, creativity-building opportunities:

Like a gorilla enclosure for nerds. [chapter 4, page 2]

Or this description of one of the engineers:

He wasn’t particularly overweight, but had some of the round edges that came from a life working a desk job. [chapter 5, page 1]

In this story, Steve must locate a dead body at the centre of high-stakes industrial espionage. With the minor complication that the other side has hired an assassin to stop him. At the same time, he struggles to manage his aspects, and he faces the possibility that he may be helpless without them.

Legion is a hybrid of science fiction and thriller, so it’s faster-paced than Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels. Same skill and deft touch, and a satisfying twist to the ending.

This is a mainstream novella, but I was surprised to find some mild profanity from this author.

Brandon Sanderson is best known for his epic fantasy novels, most notably the Mistborn and Stormlight series and the final books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. For a real treat, listen to the opening five minutes of the audiobook version of Legion: Skin Deep from audible.com at SoundCloud (narrated by Oliver Wyman).

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Cloak, by Timothy Zahn

CloakCloak, by Timothy Zahn (Silence in the Library Publishing, 2014)

In a secret room, two men make a choice: Will they kill one man to save a nation? Well, one man plus enough bystanders that nobody knows he was the original target. Turning him into a martyr would only give him more power.

So begins the best thriller I’ve read in a long, long time. A nuclear weapon is stolen in India and transported toward an unknown target, amid as many red herrings as the planners can spread. In the US, a technological breakthrough is also stolen: specially-treated cloth that, when draped over an object, presents the illusion of invisibility.

Readers know these thefts are linked, but the investigating officials don’t—until it may be too late. There’s a lot that readers don’t know, however, like who is private detective Adam Ross and why did he rescue a key person of interest from assassins—and then keep her away from the police?

Cloak has a large cast of characters, especially in the opening chapters to set everything in motion. Because of that, I’d recommend reading a fair-sized chunk to get started. Otherwise you may forget who’s who. After that, well, stop if you can.

Hugo-award-winning author Timothy Zahn is known for his science fiction novels, including best-sellers within the Star Wars universe. I hesitate to call Cloak science fiction, because except for that one piece of technology, it could come straight from tomorrow’s headlines. Perhaps it’s better labelled a cyber-thriller.

My favourite line describes a man as observed by the female police officer who approaches him:

…he greeted the sudden appearance of a uniformed cop with the kind of jolted wariness most people reserved for unexpected snakes in the garden. [Kobo version: page 6 of chapter 34]

Timothy Zahn is a master strategist, both in terms of military and politics. He nails every aspect of the plot, creating characters we can root for even when we’re not sure of their full game plan. All I can say about the ending is that you won’t see it coming. J

Cloak would make a fantastic movie, except that Hollywood would likely ruin it by adding sex and hardcore profanity. The novel contains mild profanity in places, and I could have done without that, but it wasn’t enough to diminish my overall reading experience.

[Review copy from my personal library.]