Georgia Rose posts an interview with multi-genre author, EJ Lamprey, writer of cosy whodunits and sci-fi.
I adore SF, but in a narrow vein. It has to be cheerful, and positive, and a bit exciting. Star Trek, Dr Who, the Stargate offshoots (but not the final gloomy one) had me riveted to my TV. A Town Called Eureka was my favourite series. I cut my teeth on Asimov, romped through Douglas Adams, but on a reading front nowadays lean more towards the Terry Pratchett type than heavy-duty SF.
It has taken a few years to build up recognition for EJ Lamprey and it wasn’t the lightest decision to start with a new name. Sensible writers put out as many books as possible under one name, no matter what the genre, and let the readers sort it out for themselves, but any follower of this blog knows that I am unable to grasp the principles of sensible. I did try to write the new book as EJ and found myself establishing lively retirement villages on distant planets, with purple squishy Major Horace types now having additional hands to the alarm of the female residents. Tchah. It seems that for me, a separate genre needs a separate name.
Having a different name also affected my writing style. A year or so back I joined a monthly competition writing SF microstories, and Joanna Lamprey learned to compress ideas and concepts into a tightly-written 600 or 700 words. As all EJ Lamprey’s patient readers know, she has barely reached her first cup of tea in 700 words. I don’t mind them being known to be linked, but this way you know what you’re getting with each.
Enough idle chatter. Please welcome Joanna Lamprey to your Kindle. There is a book of stories (ranging from microstories to a darker and fast-paced novella) on free promotion for 5 days – click on the cover below to be transported to your local Amazon. Time has been out a while, but I have never promoted it: the title story was so very alien to EJ’s style, because the heroine is not very likeable. It was recently completely revamped, with the shorts added, and while Lucy is still a foul-mouthed self-centered piece of work, I’m happy with the collection. You know by now how I feel about free, but this is a good cause, because there is also a new launch of a new mini-series, and I’m really excited about that.
The new series is based on a newly-settled planet nicknamed Place, and the first book, The Talian Project, is lovely. Everything that I like about SF – engaging aliens, bizarre indigenous animals, exotic eco-systems – came into play, along with a community of settler types, some human greed and political machinations, and a cheerful love-affair. I was originally enraptured by the idea of steampunk, so Place is decidedly retro, but there is not enough clockwork to satisfy the purists (well, none) and it is more of a space Western. Apparently. A sensible writer would pick a proper genre and work it, but we’ve already covered sensible.
The planned three books are novellas which will eventually be published in paperback as one novel, so Book One is short, breezy, and if you don’t love it I will eat my camel saddle. It is, to use a really EJ word, charming, and also nicely suitable for the Young Adult market (yes please) in a way the whodunits have never been. That’s available right now on a special pre-order price if you click on the cover below. Be quick – it goes up to full price* tomorrow night.
*It’s a novella. Full price is only $2.99, but a bargain is a bargain.
You know when you buy a new car and suddenly start noticing how many of the same colour or make are on the road? I own a Toyota IQ and would have sworn I had never seen one before I bought mine. Well, they aren’t all over the place, but I’ve seen several since. (The other ones are usually tidier. And cleaner.)
It was the same when I started writing my steampunk novella. It has pretty much grown organically, one of those books that wakes you up in the middle of the night with a must-not-forget idea, and I would have sworn there was hardly a book out there in the genre. Huh. Hundreds, that’s all.
The most frustrating thing about the genre is the number of people determined to put it in a box, label it, and give it rules. If I mention it, on Twitter especially, you may be sure at least two people will sternly tell me which guideline books I must read first.
Okay, my usual books are whodunits and there is most definitely a set of rules for classic detective fiction, but (a) that’s been hugely popular for a hundred years and more and (b) the rules are actually way more flexible!
Steampunk has to have Victorian clothing? Come on. Brass and clockwork? Surely optional. It just hasn’t been around long enough to have such dull restrictions. For my money, there is steam technology, there is exuberance, and there is an SF overlap that takes it out of the Victorian / historical era. THAT’s steampunk. At its best it is absolutely joyful.
Anyway, Place is out with my wonderful, brilliant, long-suffering readers at the moment. So far so good, the feedback is very positive (albeit occasionally puzzled, especially with the regular whodunit beta readers).
Here’s the cover and the planned blurb. I’d love your comments. Just don’t tell me I broke the rules. I didn’t break my rules!
A laughing love affair was the very last thing Abby expected to enjoy on Place, an unfashionable planet with a tiny mining community. She’d been told the community had a decidedly retro lifestyle, the bugs were as long as your arm, the camels looked as though they were on steroids, and the neighbours were stone-age goblins, but no-one had mentioned the rather yummy Brad. Her doctor had tried to offer a thread of hope when he recommended Place; life in a dead-and-alive backwater was her last hope of survival. Young, adventurous, not prepared to write off her only option without a fight, she reluctantly agreed. She hadn’t expected to find a life that would utterly delight her.
She also hadn’t been told about the Talia, because no-one knew about them. They were several thousand years away in space and time, and no-one in Place would ever suspect their existence, but the Talia were even more interested in Place than she was.
This light-hearted steampunk novel, first in a mini-series of three, introduces the eccentrics and absurdities of life set in a future our great-grandchildren will know, but lived in a way our great-grandparents would have found more familiar.
No secret that I do enjoy my SF as long as it doesn’t bog itself down in technology or take itself too seriously, and as a commuter I particularly enjoyed flashfiction collections, because you don’t get so caught up in the story you forget to get off the train (miss one station, tops). So this anthology is going to be pretty good news for anyone who enjoys a good variety in their SF. There are of course a few flashes of serious technological cleverness for the purists, but most of the stories are fascinating whatever your genre. Or, as the press release puts it, this is an eclectic selection of stories by both established and emerging sf authors, ranging from traditional character-rich tales to cutting-edge speculative fiction
The press release went on as follows:
The Future Is Short: Science Fiction in a Flash, an anthology of 57 microstories by 31 authors, edited by Jot Russell, Paula Friedman, and Carrol Fix. Lillicat Publishers 2014, ebook editions available June 29 through traditional online stores, print version forthcoming July 2014.
Step through the borders of reality in these 57 evocative tales by 31 science fiction authors.
Discover wonders and horrors of science and speculation in this sparkling collection. Swift to read but unforgettable, each story evokes a universe, a concept, a feeling human or alien.
These tales, each under 725 words, hold truth and laughter, comedy and tragedy. For instance: aliens take a novel view of a most human pastime in Perihelion editor Sam Belloto’s “What’s Past Is Past.” A Palestinian woman’s brilliant medical breakthrough carries a cutting barb, in Andrew Gurcak’s “Collateral Damage.” Unlike NASA, prizewinning British author Andy Lake asks, “Did Curiosity kill the cat?” Despair and horror turn to hope—perhaps—in Carrol Fix’s “Rebirth.” Revolution may come too late for the inter-species lovers of “Sentience,” by award-winning author Paula Friedman. One man’s decision will save or condemn a civilization in much-published Richard Bunning’s harrowing “Meek Survive.” Mike Boggia’s “Everyman Dies, But Not Everyman Lives” locates the heart of human-nonhuman encounter.
You should get it. It’s a cracker, and at $4.99, a very good deal.
Theme: A container (anything – pillbox, space station).
Required Element: eccentric pet .
‘Excuse me. You, the lady with the dragon—if you could step over here, to the Zoological control desk?’
The blonde sighed and changed direction, the little dragon on her shoulder hissing and ducking its head as it braced itself against the turn. Her hover trolley, obedient to her wristband control, was waved forward and up onto the table. Johnson sympathized, but graveyard shift or not, it looked good on his record to stop the occasional passenger. Not to mention the chance to see a dragon close-up. . .
He went swiftly through the two boxes of shimmering clothing, then looked dubiously at the third one, glass-topped with tiny ventilation holes, half-filled with writhing slender black worms winding themselves into flowing knots.
‘Dragons only eat live food.’ She looked bored, dug in her shoulder bag and produced a slim box, taking out a cheroot and putting it between her lips. She half-turned her head for the little dragon to burp flame and light it. She drew deeply and looked back at Johnson, smoke trickling from her nose in scornful plumes. ‘Do you need the paperwork?’
‘Yes, please. That’s a lot for one little dragon.’
‘Immigration Law allows us to bring in everything we need for our personal use. I’ll be on Earth three months. That’s a three month supply.’ She handed over a sheaf of papers. ‘Proof of ownership, his sterilization, and his vaccinations. All up to date.’
Johnson flipped through the papers, then looked up, formalities over, ready to chat. ‘That seems to be in order. He’s a beauty. A pet?’
‘Part of my act. I’m an exotic dancer.’ She smiled for the first time. ‘I think people come to see him as much as to see me.’
‘I’m not surprised. I’ve never seen one close up. Where will you be performing?’
She handed over a courtesy pass to a well-known club instead of replying, and he thanked her and pocketed it after a glance, smiling. He looked covetously at the dragon, which was staring intently at the container, and on an impulse popped the container open, picked up the first worm his fingers touched, deftly re-sealed the top, then offered the treat. The dragon gave a hoarse shriek and tried to leap away, brought up short on its tether.
‘He’s not allowed to take food from anyone but me.’ She looked both startled and annoyed, and he flushed and put his hand back on the container, ready to replace the creature. One worm near the lid was convulsing particularly vigorously. Thread-like spores suddenly appeared all over its skin, then dropped free and vanished into the depths of the box. It was so quick he almost thought he had imagined it.
‘Livestock brought to Earth has to be sterile.’ He frowned. ‘Did that thing just spawn?’
‘They excrete from multiple orifices. They’re fairly disgusting, actually. Crap all over the place.’ She was looking annoyed again, but he shook his head worriedly. No-one but him on graveyard shift, and a choice to make—believe her, let them through, potentially spark a career-ending eco-balance nightmare? Confiscate the worms, and risk the port being sued for starving a creature worth five years pay? It had been a long day and he was tired, and wanted to get away. She was the last passenger through, the paperwork was in order. . .he glanced at the worm writhing between his fingers and his eyes widened as the black rubbed off, revealing the iridescent colour they were warned about, trained to recognize, from the first day on the job.
After the press conference, and the presentation of the very generous reward, the Earth President of Zoological Control hung back for a word. ‘Well spotted, my boy. Cleverest way I ever saw of smuggling drug worms. So much for dragons being lucky, eh? Not so lucky for her.’
‘Pretty lucky for me, sir.’ Johnson grinned. ‘The reward, and all. I might buy myself one now!’
Theme: “the day after the end of the world” or irrevocable changes in a way of life.
Required Element: something that used to be abundant and is now nearly or completely depleted.
Required Element: some kind of conveyance (chronal-challenged time machine or humble butter-making yak with cart).
So what do we do? Ann’s voice sounded frightened and Tony’s reply was quick and impatient.
There’s nothing we CAN do. The only way we could possibly reverse it would have been for Central pull us back, and try again for an hour earlier, so we could stop that stupid bitch before she sprang into action. If there was still a Central. Which there isn’t.
No need to call her a stupid bitch, Ann said mildly and Tony sprang up and paced.
No? What WOULD you like me to call her? How many times, how bloody many times, was it drummed into us? Do nothing. Observe only. No contact. Do not, repeat do not, change anything in any way? How many times, Ann?
Ann’s mental voice strengthened. You don’t need to do it telepathically, when she can hear. She feels bad enough.
He rounded on her, his whole body radiating rage, and opened his mouth. A guttural grunt emerged—a really good ear might have made out words. Ann heard it as “hab gew tried talkig?” and shrugged.
Mary turned back to face them, her eyes under the heavy brow ridges cold. So they don’t talk. Doesn’t mean they can’t talk. Babies learn. These bodies have vocal chords. We have to keep trying. She added aloud “ee cag do id.”
We wouldn’t have to if you had followed orders, Tony flung at her and she shrugged her heavy Neanderthal shoulders.
You’re the leader. ACT like a leader. Okay, one little mistake, I wiped out the future as we know it. I have said sorry every way I can think. Fact remains, the far past is now our present. We control these bodies. We can survive. We can learn to speak. Or we can sit here hating each other and weeping over the biggest spill of milk in all time until we turn to dust. I want to live.
The biggest experiment in human history – sending three minds back thirty thousand years into Neanderthal hosts, on the most extraordinary research trip ever—boils down to Mary wants to live, Tony was bitter, but there was no real heat in it. She was right. He hated her for what she had done, but that hatred had to dissipate. Life—even if it was just one foot in front of the other—had to go on. He sank back down onto the boulder, his enormous unfamiliar head in powerful horny-palmed hands, to try to think, to plan. Mary was right, he was the leader. Two hours ago, the most brilliant man of his generation. Now a Neanderthal youth, accompanied by an elderly Neanderthal woman and another who was probably his sibling, and facing the biggest challenge of his life.
Two plans. He lifted his head at last. We have to find others—we’ll never survive alone. You two had better do that, they might attack me on sight. And I’ll start working on a message. He looked at the sheer granite face of the rock rising behind them. I’ll carve it into that. Maybe, he smiled bleakly, future scientists will work out how to whisk us back. It will take days. Weeks. If it works, we’ll be straight out of here instantly, so I won’t add the last word unless you’re both here. If it doesn’t . . . well, we start life again. Go.
As they finally left he wearily started the search for a stone he could use as a chisel, and another that would do service as a hammer. If he survived long enough to leave the message, if it worked, what then? Where then? A time machine, perhaps, to come from a crude chisel and chunk of rock? Hope was all that was left.
Every month I do a story in the SF competition on LinkedIn – this month’s theme was resurrection, and the elements to be included were a glass of wine and silver coins (bit of a genre crossover, to be sure). This story wasn’t used, in the end, I replaced it with another, but it was darker than my usual and I rather like its understated nastiness.
Harris paused unseen in the doorway, adjusting to the dim light and unpleasant mix of odours before approaching the old man’s sickbed. The nurse touched the old man’s arm to rouse him, then slipped away, and Turner stirred, rolling his head on the pillow and opening rheumy eyes.
‘Harris.’ His voice was a breathy husk. ‘What news?’
‘All good, sir. The clones should be fully mature in days.’
‘Excellent. Excellent! How many?’
‘Four—better than I hoped.’
‘And the woman? Beautiful?’
‘Early to tell, but yes, I believe she will be. ‘
‘She was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.’ Turner mused, and wheezed a chuckle. ‘Getting her DNA was worth your fees just on its own. You’ll thank me, too. You’ll enjoy her.’
‘Er, I don’t think I should, sir. Not very professional.’
‘My dear chap, you won’t be able to resist. No-one ever could. I shall insist. The other three are all me?’
‘They are, sir. I do need to remind you they will only have an active adult lifespan of months. A year at best; less in view of your plans for them.’
‘That’s longer than the doctors are giving me, and I don’t really care what happens to them afterwards. In view of—as you say—my plans, I doubt I’ll last six months, but I shall die a happy man. You’re still no closer to resurrecting me permanently in them?’
‘Sir, no. I did warn you. When you die, they become inanimate. Presuming they outlast you.’
The old man shrugged. ‘When can you start linking my consciousness to them?’
‘Within the week. Will you start with the woman?’
‘I want to, but I won’t. I’ll start with one of mine. I want to experiment with the degree of sensation before you start linking the next. I ordered four cases of the world’s best wines ready for this. If any of the boys has a particularly healthy liver, link him first.’
‘They’re all perfect and identical copies, sir. Your own liver managed seventy years before it started failing.’
Turner wheezed another chuckle. ‘It got the occasional break while I was getting on with the tiresome interruptions of living. This boy won’t have interruptions, but yes, even with my plans for him, it should last six months. The last pleasure taken from me, the first to be recovered, a simple glass of wine. Have you named the clones in your case notes?’
‘You’ve always referred to the woman as Desiree, so she’s in my notes under that name. The males are just the glutton, the sensualist and the spare.’
‘Well, the glutton hardly needs a name. He won’t be getting out much. My sensualist, though, he can take my nickname. Burner Turner, they called me. Burned through the sheets in over a thousand beds in my time. I tell you, Harris, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. Burner having Desiree, with me experiencing both. Even more than the orgies.’ His raddled old frame shuddered in anticipation.
Harris swallowed, repelled, and was relieved when the nurse returned and sternly ordered him from the room. He returned to his superb lab and paused, as always, in front of Desiree’s pod. Cool, remote, inanimate, she stared back. He had bribed his way into the clinic where the real Desiree flickered toward the close of life, and she had opened her eyes unexpectedly as he drew off the DNA tissue. Glorious eyes, shockingly out of place in the frail parchment of her ancient ruined beauty, the eyes of a woman totally confident of her impact, adored and desired to the point of madness, arrogant and knowing; the only woman to ever reject Turner’s money and power. She had laughed at him, but it would be Turner’s corrupt and depraved soul that directed her clone. Harris reminded himself again that the original Desiree would never know, but a trick of the light seemed to scatter a handful of glinting silver coins over the pod as he turned back to his desk.