Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Tour of an Exovet Facility - Guest Post by Christian Schoon

Ever wanted to visit an exovet facility? Ever wished you could have a space-hound/alien-cat/amorphous-blob for a pet? (I mean, who hasn't?)

Well, you're in luck. As part of the Under Nameless Stars blog tour, I'm welcoming Christian Schoon onto the blog today. I loved space-vet-in-training Zenn Scarlett's first adventure, and now she's back again in book two! Over to Christian to tell us more about the weird and wonderful animals that an exovet may come into contact with, with a special tour of the Ciscan Cloister facilities!

(And be sure to enter the GIVEAWAY at the bottom of the post, where you can win both books as well as a Name Your Own Star Gift Package!)


Hey and thanks to Vicky for inviting me to break into your Earther net-stream for this leg of the Under Nameless Stars blog tour extravaganza. Vicky’s stop on the tour is especially noteworthy for both Zenn and I, since the new novel is officially on sale worldwide today!

So, we’re broadcasting at your now from the com shack here at the ancient Ciscan Cloister Exoveterinarian Training Clinic on the far eastern edge of Valles Marineris, Equatorial Colonial Admin Sector. I’m sure you’ll understand if our signal drops out now and then. You know how tough it’s been to get replacement parts for radios, or pretty much anything else, here on Mars ever since the trade rift with Earth started. Hard to believe that was two decades ago. Anyway, since I’m wearing one of the Cloister’s last functioning screen-sleeve uplink units, we can head outside as we chat. That way you can get a glimpse of the clinic grounds and meet a few of the alien life forms housed here at present.

As we walk over to the main infirmary building, you’ll notice the impressive rock walls on either side of the valley. The red rock cliffs are roughly 1,500 feet high in this part of the Valles, and if you squint you can see the barometric generators mounted on the canyon walls at regular intervals. The transparent membrane of bound-ions these generators produce stretches a sort of invisible “roof” over the valley, trapping air and water vapor inside. It’s thanks to these bary-gens that the valley floors of Mars are inhabitable, and more important, farmable, for the colonists here.

As we approach the huge infirmary building, you can tell by the immense sliding doors that this building is constructed to accommodate even the largest alien animals that are cared for at the Cloister. I’ll just poke my head in and… yes… there’s Otha Scarlett, Zenn’s uncle, at work on a whalehound. The hound is a young adult male, about 80 feet long, something like an over-gown otter, but with eight legs and an elongated snout packed with very long teeth. Otha is using the infirmary’s mechanical lift to raise him high enough to bandage what looks like a bite-wound on the ‘hound’s neck. The animal likely got this while rough-housing with his pen mate, a somewhat larger female. The owners of these two magnificent animals are hoping to get a litter of whalehound pups to take back and release on their ocean-covered home planet. And while the two are a prime breeding pair, whalehounds are reluctant breeders in captivity, so their owners are upping their chances of success by bringing them here, where the Cloister exovets have the expertise needed to encourage the ‘hounds to bond and mate. Whalehounds aren’t especially aggressive, but Otha is using the sedation field dish to calm the animal down as he stitches the wound and applies a coating of derma-plast sealant. The young ‘hound should be well enough to return to his pen, and his rambunctious girlfriend, in a few days.

Leaving the infirmary, we descend a series of stone steps to the area of the grounds where various other aquatic species are housed. Here there is an assortment of pools and holding pens. At the largest pool, we peer into the early morning fog that drifts across the surface and spot Brother Hamish shoveling something into the water from a large wheelbarrow. Hamish is the Cloister’s sexton, or all-round handyman. Or, we should say, handy-bug, since he’s a Sirenian Coleopt, basically an eight-foot-tall sentient beetle. The mist on the water lifts, and a huge, serpentine head emerges, followed by the 200-foot body of a Tanduan Swamp Sloo. The great, plesiosaur-like reptile paddles over to see what Hamish is up to and, once she realizes he’s feeding her, she lowers her tubular nose to the water and begins hovering up the pellets of dried insectoid flakes that he’s dishing out. We wave a greeting to Hamish, who rattles his claws at us in reply, then move along in our tour.

Setting out across the Cloister gen-soy field, we wade through the fragrant blooms of the waist-high plants and are surprised when we suddenly feel what seems like a pair of small, clawed paws gripping one of our ankles from behind. We spin around. But there’s nothing there! Now, we feel the paws clawing at our pants pocket. A moment after that, the air before us shimmers, turns a hazy violet-and-cream color, and then resolves into the shape of what looks like a cross between an Earther raccoon and a lemur, topped by a foxish head with large, tufted lynx ears. It’s the Cloister’s resident rikkaset, Pyewhakit.

Like all rikkasets, Pyewhakit’s fur is made of refractive, crystal-impregnated keratin that allows him to bend light and become more or less invisible at will. It’s an especially effective defense mechanism. Unlike Zenn’s companion rikkaset Katie, Pyewhakit never learned to use sign language. Nonetheless, as he sits up on his haunches and trills at us, it’s clear what he wants. Fortunately, we’ve brought along a handful of dried cat food pellets, which is what he smelled in our pocket. We offer him this, and he gives us a polite lick on our hand before he takes the food in his dexterous front paws and delicately consumes the crunchy morsels.

With Pye trotting along beside us, we reach what Zenn likes to call the Cloister’s “Rogue’s Gallery” of cages, pens and fenced paddocks. Here, a wide variety of alien patients and other long-term “guests” reside. The first large cage seems to be empty, its floor covered by a dense layer of dried leaves, branches and rocks.  I rattle the heavy chain-link fencing and stand back, as the cage’s occupant explodes up out its hiding place, throwing a rain of leafy debris and dust into the air. Pyewhakit fluffs his fur and promptly vanishes from sight. He’s wise to do so. The creature we’ve disturbed is a Sirenian bloodcarn – a thirty-foot, predatory centipede with a head section resembling an immense tarantula. It rears up, hissing as it lifts its bright orange body and hundreds of short, undulating feet up toward the roof of its enclosure. The bloodcarn was purchased from an illegal animal poacher at the black market in New Zubrin. Its owner bought it when it was a barely out of the larval stage, a mere three feet long. The misguided owner thought it would make him look cool to possess such a creature. But as it grew, he  realized he wasn’t prepared to care for a creature as big and vicious as an adult bloodcarn, so he abandoned the animal in a remote canyon, where naturally it came into conflict with the local settlers. After it was re-captured by the authorities, it was brought to the Cloister, where it will now have to live out its life in captivity. It’s a sad story, but people simply seem unable to learn the lesson that some animals do not make good pets and should be left in the wild where they belong. We don’t linger at the bloodcarn’s cage, but move on. After we’ve gone a safe distance, Pye allows himself to become visible again beside us.

We stroll on, passing by the enclosure of a pack of Procyoni yotes – buffalo-sized, hyena-like           scavengers with massive, bone-crushing jaws – then stop to listen to the nesting song of a pair of Akanthan axebill warblers, as the big, ostrich-like birds serenade each other with intricate harmonies that rise and fall as they bob their heads and shake their enormous, red-and-yellow-striped bills in time to the music.

Finally, we loop all the way around to the ruins of the old chapel building, the tiles of its collapsed roof littering the site where it once stood, the huge sandstone blocks of its fallen walls lying in disarray like great dominoes strewn by some giant hand. It was here that Zenn had a truly extraordinary encounter with a young sunkiller being treated at the Cloister. For those unfamiliar, the Greater Kiran Sunkiller is a creature that grows to have a 1,500 foot wingspan, drifting on the air currents of its homeworld like a colossal, two-headed pterodactyl. A birth defect in this particular sunkiller’s wings prevented it from regulating its altitude, and it was brought to be operated on at the Cloister. Unfortunately, just as it was about to be… oh… well, that’s actually quite a long story and we seem to be out of time, as the transmission window for this broadcast is closing. Something to do with upper atmospheric disturbances.

So, it’s time for me to say good-bye. Thanks again to Vicky for letting me give you all this brief tour of the Ciscan facility. And don’t forget to enter the blog tour contest and answer her question about Under Nameless Stars. I mean, really, what Earther wouldn’t want to win free books and a chance to Name Their Own Star?  Signing off from Mars, this is Brother Schoon and the other humans, Alien Sentients and animal guests here at the Ciscan Cloister. Cheers!


Thanks Christian! I still really want my own rikkaset...

On to the GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate the publication of Under Nameless Stars, Strange Chemistry is running an exciting competition with a different question at every stop on the tour! You can find out who else is on the tour here.

And you can find out the answers to all the questions by reading this extract of Under Nameless Stars:

Read an Extract:

Read and Share via Issuu.com

So, here is my question:

15. In the opening scene, when Zenn comes to, she's sharing the cage-crate with what other animal (besides Katie and Liam...)?
a. A bloodcarn
b. An indra
c. A sandhog
d. A skirni

Good luck! :-D

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 31 March 2014

Sword and Laser Arrived!

My contributor copy of the Sword and Laser Anthology has arrived! This is the first time I've seen one of my short stories published in print, so I'm pretty excited! Want to take a peek?

The story is called False Lights and involves pirates lost in the mysterious Rift Space. I had a lot of fun writing it, so I hope people also have a lot of fun reading it. :-)

I've got another two short stories coming out in anthologies soon, and it's still a race to see which will be my first ever published short story. It's looking likely to be the Sword and Laser story, but there's still a chance one of the others may leap ahead in the final stages!

I've dipped into a few of the other stories in the Sword and Laser Anthology already and there's some fantastic stuff in there. I'm very proud to be part of it, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Gretel and the Dark - Book Review

Gretel and the Dark
by Eliza Granville

Published Feb 6th 2014, Penguin Books UK

Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer - celebrated psychoanalyst - is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings - to be, in fact, not even human. Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

Years later, in Germany, we meet Krysta. Krysta's Papa is busy working in the infirmary with the 'animal people', so little Krysta plays alone, lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and more. And when everything changes and the real world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed... (Synopsis from Goodreads)


Part fairytale, part historical fiction, part harrowing story of Nazi concentration camp survivors, and part... something else. It’s quite hard to pin this book down as any one thing, as it weaves many different strands together, and until the end it is often quite hard to say which parts are really happening. I loved this; I was kept constantly surprised and was never quite sure what to expect next. I loved how the different stories and timelines mirrored each other, even the little snippets of fairytales that Greet and Krysta relate. I loved the darkness that crept through from the fairy stories into the other narratives, and vice versa, and the way the stories the characters told each other seemed to have a strange ability to affect reality (something that is emphasised even more by the end of the book).

This isn’t a fairytale re-writing though. Stories wind their way through the book, sometimes obscuring and sometimes revealing a little more of the real characters and the truth under all the stories. This is very effective, as the main character has obviously been through something so terrible that she has to almost dance around it, dipping in and out, winding magic and stories around it in order to be able to face it. At points it is almost as though the reader must slash through a forest of thorns made up of stories, like a protective layer, in order to get to the heart of the book. The darkness under the surface of most fairytales lends itself well to this, and we’re reminded that real life can be just as horrible, and that monsters really do exist. The ending finally pulls all these strands and themes together.

I have to admit that the ending at first came as a bit of a blow to me. When I began to see what was really happening I was disappointed; the book was strange, and seemed to be pulling towards something very unique and dramatic. This sudden change in direction, though not unexpected, was not what I was personally hoping for. It’s hard to explain without giving away spoilers, but it’s the kind of revelation that could perhaps spoil the book for certain readers. However, by the end of the book I came to really appreciate the ending for it was doing. The author is saying something about the power of stories and fairytales, and about memory and the truth we construct for ourselves.

I do wish that this could have been achieved without dropping one storyline so suddenly; some of the mysteries and developments in it felt a little pointless because of this, and could have been woven in better. The ending also unfortunately made a lot of the tension of this part of the story irrelevant, which was slightly frustrating when looking back. If you fear for a character and then find out that they were never in any real danger, or not the kind you thought they were in, it can sometimes cheapen the whole thing. Thankfully, this is not the major criticism that it sounds like it might be, as all the stories and characters tangled together in this book are connected in a way that allows for a satisfying end. There is a lot going on here that is very clever, and it is a captivating read from beginning to end.

As well as an intricate and interesting structure, the book is overflowing with absolutely beautiful writing, creating a strange, magical and disturbing atmosphere that fits the plot so perfectly. The author’s characters are larger than life, like fairytale characters, but they are also believable and flawed and fascinating. There is plenty of humour running through the book too, which is important in a story that doesn’t shy away from themes such as prejudice and selfish obsession, and the terrible realities of atrocities in Nazi camps. The beauty and the magic of the book contrast startlingly with its brutality, just as in many fairytales. This is a very well written and constructed book.

So, perhaps not quite what I expected and perhaps not quite the ending I was hoping for, but in spite of that, probably the right ending for this book. A fascinating and beautiful read and definitely recommended, especially for those readers like me who love fairytales and really believe in the power of stories.

I won a copy of this book on Goodreads, but was not required to write a positive review. Thanks to Penguin for sending a copy. :-)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

I'm Back!

So, it’s been an interesting (and very busy) time for me. Over Christmas and January I was doing an internship at Angry Robot, and since then I’ve been catching up with stuff and exploring some new opportunities. It’s been fun!

And of course, I’ve been reading some great books too! In addition to being piled with Angry Robot, Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A books (SO many amazing looking books!), I’ve finally started reading a series that I’ve been dying to try: Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist series. I’ve also been reading some great book club picks, including The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. And I’m currently LOVING The Copper Promise by Jennifer Williams. For Valentine’s Day I finally got to see Disney’s Frozen (adored it!), and I’m super excited that we’ve just got Netflix! I won’t tell you how far into The Vampire Diaries I am already, because that would just be embarrassing...

And so now, after a bit of a hiatus, I’m going to be kick-starting the blog again, getting back to posts and reviews. :-)

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the things coming up:

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The Copper Promise by Jennifer Williams
Assembly Code by Colin F Barnes
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville