Tag Archives: science fiction

Florida writer pens instant sci-fi YA classics

The Infinite Sea, by Rick Yancey. Putnam.  320 pages. Hardcover $18.99.

Gainesville resident Rick Yancey, whose young adult (YA) novels have already won many awards, is truly a phenomenon.

How often is a full-sized hardback title from a major publishing house priced below $20.00? Rarely. Yet here is one from a bestselling author with a first printing of 500,000 copies. A sequel to the extravagantly praised The Fifth Wave, soon to be filming by Sony for January 2016 release, The Infinite Sea continues to explore the essence of humanity and its binding principles. It is an experiment in daring, devastating “what ifs.” TheInfiniteSea

What is the importance of a promise? To the recipient? To the giver? To the social glue that makes civilization possible? Questions like these, many of which have biblical resonance, drive the action of this highly entertaining young adult novel. It is heartwarming to think of excited young readers discussing these issues, given flesh – even enhanced flesh – by the imaginative structure that Mr. Yancey has created.

As someone who has not read The Fifth Wave, I did feel myself at a disadvantage. Too much had transpired in the first book of the trilogy, events that could not be neatly encapsulated in the sequel but on which a full understanding depends. However, even while sensing this limitation, I couldn’t put the book down for long without diving into it gain. It is so compelling and addictive.

The characters we meet are a remnant of the seven billion humans who have perished in the cruel onslaught perpetrated by those known as The Others. Human civilization has collapsed, its values undermined, and its best qualities turned against it. Those who remain are a valiant team of children and young adults – none out of their teens – who hold the key, if there is one, to humanity’s redemption.

Their rat-invested, decaying motel is hardly a stronghold. Someone needs to lead them forward, as stasis is death. While they await the fulfillment of a promise made by Evan Walker, they realize that waiting is not quite enough. A determined young woman nicknamed Ringer takes off not only to find the missing member of their cadre, young Teapot, but also to assess the status of their larger surroundings. The remaining group members, led by Cassie and Ben, strives to forestall further disaster until Ringer can return with Teapot,  information, a plan, and perhaps with allies.



What’s missing in The Infinite Sea (that might be clear in its predecessor) is the nature of The Others, the motives of these usurpers, and their reason for allowing this remnant to survive. One is led to imagine that before humanity is utterly destroyed, the aliens must gain further understanding of the human species to enhance their own chances for survival on this crippled planet. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 18, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly and the December 25 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Yancey

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Novel blends popular genres to please wide range of readers

The Hadron Escape, by Lawrence De Maria. St. Austin’s Press. 203 pages (estimated). Kindle edition $2.99.

Billed as a “Cole Sudden CIA Thriller,” this latest offering from the indefatigable Mr. De Maria mixes a dollop of imaginary WWII history, present day secret agent intrigue, and a twist on a familiar sci-fi “what if” into an exciting and spirited entertainment. Both fun and funny, “The Hadron Escape” features sex-addicted women who are (with one grotesque exception) amazingly gorgeous and a skilled, wise-cracking operative whose cover is being a writer of thriller novels. HADRON(August2014)

In 1945, mad German scientist Erik Zyster tells SS Colonel Boltke he has discovered the corpse of a nonhuman being. Boltke’s mindset misunderstands “nonhuman” for Jew, but that is not the depraved doctor’s point. He explains, “He had no penis. No testicles no genitals at all.” While Boltke passes this off as a birth defect or sexual aberration, Zyster reveals that the internal organs are unusually sized and positioned.

Jump to 1967. Colonel Boltke has long ago transformed himself into Walter Bannion. Mr. De Maria places him in a small Vermont town near the Canadian border. He had escaped from Europe to Argentina and lived there as Walter Bruschi for many years. When the Israelis captured Adolph Eichman, Boltke planned and executed his next transformation, establishing himself as Bannion in early 1962.

Soon after a minor skiing accident, Boltke/Bannion is surprised by a visit from Dr. Zyster. Zyster tells of his escape from the laboratory he headed, his disguise as a Jewish survivor, and his life since. Then he tells “Bannion” about recent stories describing alien corpses with characteristics just like those he had shown the colonel two decades ago. He also conjectures that aliens where spying on U. S research near Roswell, New Mexico.

De Maria

After adding some speculation about nuclear physics research and space travel, the author launches his main plot. However, first he must have Mossad agent Etan Soul, who has been tracking Zyster, wonder about Zyster’s companion at the ski lodge. After Zyster kills Boltke, Soul kills Zyster, but salvages his attaché case –which he soon ships to Tel Aviv with whatever remnants of the doctor’s research it contains.

The present time: Mr. De Maria builds context about recent U. S. security agency concerns, agency rivalries, and high-tech issues. A top security official receives a mysterious intercepted message regarding the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest subatomic particle accelerator. The message was sent from Commerce, Georgia to a destination in Switzerland where the Hadron is located.  The encrypted transmission has symbols that Laurie Gibbons, the security advisor with a direct presidential pipeline, has never seen before. She learns that Hadron activity distorts electronic transmissions, posing a big problem for code breakers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 14, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 15 Naples and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Hadron Escape

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The future of climate change drives environmental thriller

The Year of the Bad Decision, by Charles Sobczak. Indigo Press.  352 pages. $16.95.

The premise of this frightening novel is that man’s activities do impact climate change – particularly global warming – on an enormous scale. Over time, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will raise the earth’s temperature beyond a level that will support human and most other life forms. CO2 will also deaden the seas. Tracing the accelerating changes out thirty years from today, Mr. Sobczak imagines the stages leading to inevitable doom and the bright idea that is meant to reverse the deadly process.  frontcoverBD.indd

Scientist Warren Randolf has carefully studied the plan to save the planet. It involves dotting the atmosphere with tiny mirrors to reflect light (and thus heat) back toward its source, cooling the earth to an inhabitable level. Meanwhile, CO2 scrubbers will cleanse the atmosphere. These mirrors are designed to self-destruct before the cooling goes too far. Warren discovers that there is a flaw in the system’s design: the self-destruction of the mirrors will not occur.

It’s Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” revisited.

Man’s recklessness since the dawn of the industrial revolution has created one disaster; his proud determination to correct the situation has created another. No one heeds Warren’s warning. They can’t believe his maverick viewpoint is correct.

Sanibel author Charles Sobczak mixes narrative, dialogue, and action to help readers understand a future of severe crop failures that can result either from the increase in CO2 or from the shrunken growing seasons resulting from blocking the sun’s rays. Worldwide hunger is the consequence of either petroleum industry greed or Green regulation miscalculation. Chaos and depravity seem assured.


Acting on his understanding of what’s coming, Warren Randolph moves from Chicago to Bozeman, Montana and sets up a survivalist compound on the outskirts of the town. He employs a “runner” to bring invitations to a handful of friends and accumulates a large hoard of foodstuffs and other supplies to last through the several years until the normal seasonal cycles are expected to return.

The day to day, season to season, and year to year lives of those in the Bozeman compound and those in other situations (government scientists and officials in particular)are given credible detail. The greatest capital is food, and the greatest future capital is seed. Though seeds stored by Warren are stolen when his compound’s larder is raided, there is a chance they can be replaced by seeds surreptitiously brought from a regional seed bank. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 20, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 21 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Sobczak 1 and here Florida Weekly – Sobczak 2

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“The Not Yet,” by Moira Crone

University of New Orleans Press. 272 pages. $15.95

Imagining a Mississippi Delta area significantly transformed by decades of ferocious hurricanes, Moira Crone takes us to a realm of islands where immortals rule and the rest live lives of aspiration or rebellion in a caste-bound, static society. Who wouldn’t want to become an Heir, a medical marvel with a replaceable designer outer body (prodermis) that keeps one looking youthful and in style? Who wouldn’t want to join the power elite and control the resources of the 22nd century United Authority (UA), its various districts and protectorates?

Who wouldn’t want to be taken care of by the administrative bureaucracies of WELLFI and WELLVAC? In Ms. Crone’s fascinating vision, at once inspired and grotesque, the health system is equivalent to the government. (Sound familiar?)

Moira Crone

How much room is there for new Heirs when the existing ones are immortal? How powerful is the incentive to become one when the path requires so many years of subservience and discipline and medical transformation? When the system works no better than the moral compass of its leaders?

The novel’s protagonist and narrator, 20-year old Malcolm de Lazarus, is a Not Yet. He has spent much of his life as a performer for the amusement of the Heirs. As an orphan who has been selected for Heir status, he has now approached the boundary-time for his remaking. However, something is wrong: the Trust established to maintain him – hypothetically forever – has been compromised. He sets out to determine the facts and to discover if it’s possible to restore his Trust (at once faith and funds).

Malcolm’s voyage, which moves both forward and backward (to the orphanage where he and others were raised), takes on a mythical feel while raising key philosophical questions about identity, loyalty, rules, and the limits of human wish fulfillment. 

What amazes about Moira Crone’s novel is not only the boldness of the premise, but also the startling minutiae of its execution. The Not Yet transports us to several distinct geo-political subdivisions of the UA, presents a wide range of crisply individualized characters that represent different classes, and conjures up over two centuries of imagined world history that leads up to the ongoing present of 2121. Crone extrapolates from today’s biomedical research to its fulfillment and application in the future.

That said, there are some difficulties for readers to overcome. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: April Read of the Month: “The Not Yet,” by Moira Crone

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A brilliant, post-apocalyptic gem from Julianna Baggott

Pure, by Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing. 448 pages. $25.99

This amazing novel, by prolific Florida State University creative writing professor Julianna Baggot, is stunning in its vision, specificity, and suggestiveness. Configuring a post-apocalyptic world of the near future, Julianna Baggott achieves nothing less than a profound inquiry into the nature and meaning of what it is to be human. This book is likely to become an instant classic. It is at once science fiction, moral fable, and coming of age tale. The prose is gorgeous, the scale is cinematically epic. When I finished reading it, I was sorry it was over. Fortunately, there are two more installments of “The Pure Trilogy” to come.

The “Pure” are those who were chosen to live in the Dome in order to survive the detonations that destroyed much and created a wasteland for the survivors kept outside. The detonations seem to have been a programmed destruction predicated on future renewal and rebuilding — like burning a forest to make way for new growth. Who chose the elite to be saved and educated as the leaders of a new order? Where was the line between altruistic tough love and simple, naked self-interest? The novel explores such issues with deep sensitivity and intelligence.

Pure is structured around the actions of and relationships among four young adults. The Pures are Partridge (son of the Dome’s leader) and Lyda. These teenagers are being groomed to take over leadership roles in the reintegrated world society, though Partridge has yet to prove himself and Lyda has been institutionalized as unstable (perhaps not yet effectively programmed or “coded”). Partridge, who has begun to doubt the history he has been taught, manages an escape to discover what really goes on outside the Dome. Lyda, wrongly believed to be his girlfriend, is sent out to lure him back.

Julianna Baggott

Those who live outside the dome include Pressia and Bradwell. They are both, like the other Wretches, physical victims of the detonations, which have disfigured everyone – not only with burn scars, missing limbs, and other bodily distortions, but also by being welded in the explosions to nonhuman beings and materials. Pressia’s damaged hand is fused with the face of a doll. Bradwell’s back is inhabited by birds whose wings rustle constantly. Pressia’s grandfather has a small electric fan lodged in his throat. These people constitute the highest order of life outside the Dome, above the Beasts and the Dusts.

Bradwell, like Partridge, is a rebel and a truthseeker. Eventually, fate (or is it complex external manipulation of their lives?) brings the four young people together. The future for everyone seems to be in the hands of this inexperienced and untested quartet. However, they meet some early tests quite well.  .  .  .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 1, 2012 edition of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Julianna Baggott pdf

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Nancy J. Cohen heads Naples Writers’ Conference

To see this article as it appears in the March-April 2011 issue of Fort Myers Magazine, click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Nancy J. Cohen

When Nancy J. Cohen retired from her first career as a clinical nurse specialist in order to write full-time, she continued keeping people in stitches. This witty writer, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree from the University of California in San Francisco, knows that vicarious adventure and the release of laughter are effective cures for what ails us.

Cohen’s most recent title, Silver Serenade, is a smashing good combination of two genres: romance and science fiction. Two highly motivated, extremely able, and extremely attractive characters have goals that both intersect and interfere. Jace Vernon, a young leader from the domain of Kurash, has been charged with the murder of his parents. Jace needs to bring the intergalactic plunderer, Tyrone Bluth, to justice so that his name can be cleared and his ancestral estate restored.  Government security agent Silver Malloy, an Earthling, has been tasked with the assassination of Bluth, but her motives are highly personal as well as official. 

Cohen manages the novel so that the missions of the two dynamic figures bring them into conflict even as an all-consuming passion draws them together. Jace cannot clear his name and prove that his own cousin had plotted the murders and framed him if Bluth does not live to testify. Silver cannot allow anything to interfere with her monomania about ending Bluth’s life as soon as she can. Jace and Silver are suspicious of one another, but form an uneasy, fragile alliance – one that is complicated by the magnetic attraction each has for the other.

They are both suffering from overwhelming personal losses. As Ms. Cohen puts it, “They both carried around enough emotional baggage to fill a cargo hold.”

The author draws a fascinating world of intergalactic politics, futuristic technologies, and clashing moral priorities. She also paints a delicious cast of secondary characters – a population drawn from the variegated worlds that intersect in her plot.

Principal among these is Mixy, the Elusian, who is bonded to Jace as his valet. Elusians, who have essentially emotionless lives, are programmed to bond with species whose emotional dimension is powerful. This bonding is not physical, but psycho-spiritual. Their garments absorb and reflect emotional waves from those to whom the Elusians are bonded, signaling the emotions by changing colors. Elusians have a kind of telepathic awareness of emotion – and they can magnify and retransmit it.

This characteristic provides a paranormal dimension to the novel, a dimension that links Silver Serenade to Cohen’s earliest books, written under the pen name of Nancy Cane. It also provides, in this novel, a good deal of comic relief, as the guarded feelings that Jace and Silver have for one another are vividly revealed through the warmer colors radiating from Mixy’s garments, creating some embarrassment. Mixy, appearance-conscious and finicky, is a delightful, over-the-top comic character who is almost unbearably loyal.

The sex scenes between Jace and Silver are hot and heavy, but in themselves do not resolve the issues of trust, respect, and conflicting loyalties. Nancy J. Cohen teases the readers along to see if Jace and Silver can each achieve mission success without abandoning the growing need each has for the other, and if the need transcends physical attraction.

But wait, isn’t Nancy J. Cohen the author we know from her popular “Bad Hair Day” series? The series with the catchy titles like Died Blonde, Highlights to Heaven, and Permed to Death? The series whose protagonist, hairdresser Marla Shore, gets caught up in crime-solving in South Florida’s resort towns while building her relationship with detective Dalton Vail? Yes, she’s the one. Cohen packs mystery, humor, popular culture, and plenty of attitude into this delightful series, and several of these books have been listed as best sellers by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Her next “Bad Hair Day” mystery, Shear Murder, will appear early in 2012 from Five Star Publications.

Nancy J. Cohen knows her worlds well, both the complex, imagined worlds of outer space, which she draws with sure-handed detail, or the more familiar worlds of the beauty shop and the sunshine state. Just as important, she knows how to craft plots, develop characters, and – what it all adds up to – satisfy her readers.

Aspiring writers can learn a lot from this talented and successful writer, who is also well-known for giving her time to writers’ organizations and speaking at conferences. She has served as President of Florida Romance Writers, and as Secretary for the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. 

Nancy J. Cohen

On April 9 and 10, Nancy J. Cohen will be featured at the Naples Press Club’s 9th annual Writers’ Conference / Authors and Books Festival. On April 9, she will be giving a keynote address at the Celebrity Author Luncheon, to be held at Vergina Restaurant on Fifth Avenue South. Cohen will discuss the digital devices that promise to morph tomorrow’s reading—and publishing—experiences. She’ll also delight and entertain attendees with anecdotes from her writing life.

On the morning of April 10, Ms. Cohen will present “Writing Fiction for Fun and Profit” as part of the Writers’ Conference.

Other Conference presenters include fantasy author Sandy Lender (conference chair); forensic mystery novelist Lisa Black; marketing guru Randy Jones; financial news reporter and editor Lawrence J. DeMaria; Diane Gilbert Madsen, author of the “Literati Mysteries” series and fact-checking expert;  and Zachary Petit, managing editor of Writers’ Digest.

Conference sessions will separate into three tracks: “Business and Marketing,“ “Creative Writing,” and “Journalism.” However, conferees will be able to switch from one track to another. A selected number of conferees will be able to schedule pitch sessions with representatives of Barringer Publications and Night Wolf Publications.

Registration for both the Luncheon and the Conference can be achieved by clicking on the Naples Writers’ Conference tab on the website http://authorsandbooksfestival.org.

Authors and publishers who wish to exhibit during the book fair along Fifth Avenue South on April 9, should check out the information on the same website and register via the Authors and Books Festival tab. [Note: exhibitor registration is now closed.]

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Double trouble in James O’Neal’s forsaken Florida

“The Double Human,” by James O’Neal. Tor. 336 pages. $24.99.

With “The Double Human,” James O’Neal continues to unveil the distinctive dystopian world he first offered readers in his well-received “The Human Disguise” (2009, now in mass market paperback). Though the new book succeeds as a stand-alone sequel, the earlier title develops O’Neal’s futuristic premise more fully. Thus, while any reader can enjoy “The Double Human,” readers familiar with “The Human Disguise” will get more out of the new title than those who aren’t. 

O’Neal’s futuristic setting, a mere twenty years into the future, is also in the aftermath of nuclear devastation, climate change, and widespread disease. It’s a gray world with crumbling roads, abandoned cities, and barely functioning government services. Dade County is now the Miami Quarantine Zone, officially outside of the United States, where lawless predators threaten settlers or detainees who would rebuild and attempt to care for the remaining population.

North of the Zone’s border is the Lawton District often patrolled by combat veteran Tom Wilner, a detective with the severely understaffed United Florida Police. Southwest Florida, from Naples to Sarasota, has been reclaimed by nature and largely depopulated: some diehard holdouts hang on there, along with vagabond settlers who cherish privacy, simplicity, and independence. 

And everywhere there are criminals, not all of whom are human. The population includes two rival humanoid clans with superior strength, miraculous recuperative powers, and  long lives resulting from an extremely slow aging process. Originally from Eastern Europe, these humanoids have birthed offspring who in many cases are ignorant of their genetic differences from the human population.  In “The Human Disguise,” we learn that Tom Wilner had been married to such a humanoid and is raising hybrid children.

Wilner is a thorough dedicated and highly skilled cop who needs to overachieve in the face of diminished law enforcement resources and infrastructure breakdown at every level. In a Florida bereft of sunshine and thus of its traditional economic life, Wilner finds himself in pursuit of a mysterious serial killer whose earliest murder goes back 50 years. Because the victims have puncture wounds on their necks, the killer is called “The Vampire.” He seems unstoppable.

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 1-7, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 2-8 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – James O’Neal pdf

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Linnea Sinclair’s Steamy Sci-Fi Saga

UPDATE:  A different version of this review appears in the May-June (2009) issue of Fort Myers Magazine. See Ft.Myers magazine – Linnea Sinclair

Hope’s Folly, the latest title by Neapolitan Linnea Sinclair, is a rapid-fire romp through futuristic political intrigue and high-risk passion. Aboard an aging and compromised spacecraft, Admiral Philip Guthrie attempts to thwart the plans of the corrupt Imperial forces. The Imperial leadership, against which the seriously wounded Guthrie has rebelled, is attempting to kill or capture him, and Guthrie, a leader of the newly independent Alliance Fleet, must use the only opportunity available, a failing antique craft smelling of oranges from its recent use as a cargo vessel.  To raise this conflict to a higher power, Sinclair puts a determined, talented, and attractive Alliance sub-lieutenant, Rya Bennton, under Guthrie’s command – and man she had fantasized about since childhood when she knew him as the best friend of her father – then an Alliance leader.


Sinclair’s imagined world is drawn successfully on many levels. First of all, there is her confident delineation of the shipboard technology – and especially the weaponry – that makes up the world of Philip, Rya, and the other characters. Tension builds around fixing the failed systems of “Hope’s Folly” in advance of an ultimate confrontation with Imperial might. Sinclair’s sure-handedness in describing the spacecraft’s myriad problems with power generation, armaments and defenses, guidance, and communication make this race against time credible and palpable to the reader.  Though for some readers there may be too much space given over to detailing the futuristic hardware, most will enjoy it. No Tom Clancy reader would find Sinclair’s techno-imaginings unwelcome.

Additionally, Sinclair lends sensuality to the hand weapons worn and wielded by Philip and Rya. Rya, especially, is attuned to the eroticism of weaponry. In “Hope’s Folly,” the weapon is as much embraced as worn. It hugs the body and is sometimes joined with it. The curves of the hand weapons and the curves of Sub-Lieutenant Rya Bennton are matched in shape, in seductive power, in explosive potential.

The tug of war between decorum and passion keeps the romantic intrigue smoldering. As the daughter of his best friend, as his military subordinate, and as a women 16 years his junior, Rya would seem off-limits to the smitten Admiral Guthrie. But Rya’s boldness raises the intensity of Guthrie’s temptation. Her proximity to him as the Folly’s chief security officer allows her to impress him with her skills and character while making each accessible to the other. Add the psychology of wartime, the sense that there may not be a future, and the postponement of pleasure seems a fool’s gamble. By alternating which of the main characters is the controlling consciousness of the narrative, Sinclair builds the reader’s appreciation of both Philip’s and Rya’s dilemma. There is a sure-handedness in the way the author enters the thoughts and emotions of her characters that makes them – at least during immersion in the story – convincing and compelling.

A good-sized cast of minor characters populates the closed world of Hope’s Folly. These include a suspected Imperial mole, a by-the-book commander who cracks under stressful circumstances, and several versatile specialist officers who perform their duties bravely. Each minor character is effectively drawn, and each participates in the range of perspectives on the dangers confronting this mission and the Alliance. Sinclair individualizes them with aplomb, and she weaves them into a cohesive team under Admiral Guthrie’s charismatic but sometimes challengeable command. Not the least of these characters is the mysterious Captain Folly, a feline who prowls the spacecraft. As Sinclair’s readers know, a cat always figures in her fiction, and this one seems to embody the spirit of “Hope’s Folly,” at once its mascot and namesake.

With Hope’s Folly, Linnea Sinclair builds on a secure reputation as a leading fashioner of science fiction romance. She straddles and blends these genres with a unique bravura and wit. Already a multiple winner of major literary awards in her field, Sinclair is likely to add to her collection with this latest title, due out from Bantam Books in late February.  linnea-sinclair

Linnea Sinclair will be the lead-off speaker at the Naples Writer’s Conference associated with the Naples Press Club’s 7th Annual Authors and Books Festival. The Conference, held on April 4 and 5 at the von Liebig Art Center in downtown Naples, will offer workshops on the craft and business of writing. Pre-registration is required. Authors and publishers will be exhibiting, selling, and signing their books throughout the Festival. This book fair, which includes entertainment, is open to the public at no charge. For more information visit the website http://www.authorsandbooksfestival.org or call (239) 593-1488.

SEE ALSO:  Linnea Sinclair and Linnea Sinclair (2)


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Ben Bova – The Future Is Now

Science fiction master Ben Bova is a man of many distinctions. He is the author of over 115 titles, both “what if” novels and nonfiction books. These include his well-regarded “Grand Tour” series – including such works as Titan, Moonrise, and Mars – which explore the ways in which humans might populate the solar system and the consequences of their expansive enterprise. Mixing adventure, romance, and scientific veracity, Bova’s works insist that readers learn something even while they are enormously entertained.

A recent thriller, The Green Trap, shows Bova’s versatility. A murdered greentrapscientist had been working on bacteriological processes that convert water to its component elements, allowing for the possibility of mass-produced hydrogen fuel. . . .

To see the entire article as it appears in the Jan-Feb 2009 issue of Ft. Myers Magazine, click on the link Ft.Myers magazine – Ben Bova

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BOOK BEAT 59 – Linnea Sinclair (2)

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   December 5-11, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

So, imagine yourself as a gorgeous, hardbodied chick – good-looking and toned because, like most of your kind, you’ve been genetically engineered a bit. You are a commander bucking for captain in a space warrior career in which there is still a bit of a glass ceiling for women. Your mission takes you to the low-class dirt planet, Earth, far from your own world of sophisticated technological advances and intergalactic transport. The subservient, robotic creatures that your scientists have devised, for “good reasons” of course, have undergone alterations and are now a threat – and Earth has become their breeding ground. Indeed, an Agent previously sent to report on these Zombies has instead been silenced by them.

You have been raised to think of Earthlings as inferior beings, and in many ways they are. Still, these “nils,” as they are patronizingly called, are not so very different from your people. Many of them speak a language that (conveniently) is almost identical to a language known to the humans in your world (or galaxy or system or whatever it is). They have a rudimentary technology, and their security organizations are not unlike the Guardian Force in which you serve. Their projectile weapons are unexpectedly effective when your advanced armaments are compromised. As you later discover, they have, by comparison, an abundance of delicious fresh water as well as bliss-inspiring foods like peanut butter and pizza.

How backward could they be? 

Or pretend you are a homicide detective who works out of Bahia Vista – a mid-sized city on the Gulf Coast of Florida that could easily be mistaken for St. Petersburg. Ready for vacation, you are plunged into a strange case involving a mummified corpse and unusual computer-like gadgetry. Low and behold, this edgy, alluring alien babe named Jorie Mikkalah comes into your life, becoming a reluctant and mysterious partner in the mummy case, which suddenly turns into a crisis of cosmic dimensions.

It is a romance? Is it sci-fi fantasy? Is it satire? RITA-award winner Linnea Sinclair’s “The Down Home Zombie Blues” is all three. Most of all, it is great fun.

In watching the conjoined missions of Sergeant Theo Petrakos and Commander Jorie Mikkalah unfold, readers will find themselves readily accepting the premises that Sinclair offers. The author works two sides of the street in order to make her “what if” believable within the covers of the book. On the one hand, she herself has done the imagining and pretending in such detail – has created such a rich texture of circumstance and sensory experience and human psychology – that it is easy to suspend disbelief and join the adventure.

Beyond the credibility factor is Sinclair’s engaging flight of whimsy. The Tampa-St. Pete Florida that is the novel’s main setting takes on new dimensions as she embroiders it with the alien perspective of Jorie and her shipmates. Sinclair has fun with her genre as well, paying homage to the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” sagas through light-hearted allusions. It’s as if Theo Petrakos knows something about how Jorie’s spacecraft travels because he has grown up on Star Trek episodes. Jorie wonders how Theo, a nil, can grasp such advanced principles. And there is a Wookie-like being in a walk-on part.

Those of us who have watched enough “Star Trek” know how often viewers were teased with relationships or at least temptations between Captain Kirk and alien super-femmes. Sinclair has developed something like that, though Theo is not from the future. He is fully one of us. High-spirited sex spices Sinclair’s novel, which also probes serious relationship issues such as loyalty to the yearnings of the heart versus one’s responsibilities to duty and to the codes of one’s civilization. These two attractive figures wrestle with such conflicts in credible and meaningful ways.

But let me not turn “The Down Home Zombie Blues” into something heavy. Through her dynamic and well-conceived major characters, her rounded supporting cast, her engaging and far-ranging vision, her narrative skill, and her playful tone, Neapolitan Linnea Sinclair has provided a lively and provocative entertainment. And I haven’t even told you about the Tresh or the veterinarian, or that the title song is included.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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