Beyond the Stars: Infinite Expanse | Out Now!

Beyond the Stars: Infinite Expanse has hit shelves (or, at least, Amazon) and we’re already #1 bestseller for new releases in the Science Fiction Anthologies category! Infinite Expanse will be available until the end of August at the sale price of only 99¢, or free with Kindle Unlimited.

“This popular anthology includes 11 brand new tales from familiar names as well as a couple of stunning debut writers. Don’t miss their mind-blowing stories of alien encounters, space battles, and epic empires in the latest volume of this prestigious space opera series.

Join us, as we take you on a voyage through…the Infinite Expanse.”

And as a taster, here’s the first page or so of my story, “Oresa” about intergalactic espionage agent Threnody Winters and her mission to bring hope to a dead planet:

According to her employers, Threnody Winters carried hope in her hands.

To her, it just looked like a sample canister. And after four interstellar jumps, six local space transfers, countless station layovers, and lines—oh, so many lines—she was starting to wish she could put the damn thing down.

She heaved her side-satchel onto the duraplastic table. The customs officer—a middle-aged person with short-cropped hair, red-brown skin, and station coveralls—popped the magnetic seals on the bag and started passing their hand-scanner through Threnody’s luggage.

The bag had started out crammed, the seals strained to bursting. A change of clothes, toiletries, an insta-shower box complete with shampoo compatible with most station hygiene units, data chips with preloaded books and an immersive city builder simulator (Watch Your Utopia Grow in Real-Time!), petty cash chits in every mainstream denomination for the vending bots, an expanding pocket tent, and lightweight bedding—everything one might need for a layover in a station port.

Now? Now she could probably leave it in a shuttle kiosk station and wouldn’t miss it. At least she didn’t have the tent anymore; that had been confiscated by the hostel on Ophi Station. She’d figured she’d lose it, but not before the halfway point in her journey.

So close. So close to delivering her burden. So close to completing this job. One last local space tug and then…

“—to declare?”

Threnody blinked. “What?”

“I said, do you have anything to declare?” A quick scan of the officer’s face with her optical interface implants pulled up their public ’net profile. Which was scant. They hadn’t selected a gender identifier, sticking with the default undisclosed, and their name was under a privacy lock. So much for the personal connection approach.

Threnody held up the canister. “Sample capsule. For research purposes.”

The officer tapped their scanner-headset, aimed the scanner-pad hand at the canister. And scowled. No doubt displaying glitchy data, courtesy of the scrambler integrated along the backside of Threnody’s belt.

They tapped the scanner again, then huffed. “We’ll need to inspect it. For contraband.”

“Contraband,” Threnody said, injecting every syllable with bewildered disdain.

“Could you place the item on the table…”

“Oresa” by R.J. Howell, Beyond the Stars: Infinite Expanse

And if you enjoy Science Fiction/Space Opera tales, be sure to check out the rest of the Beyond the Stars series!

BEYOND THE STARS: A Planet Too Far
BEYOND THE STARS: At Galaxy’s Edge
BEYOND THE STARS: New Worlds, New Suns
Best of BEYOND THE STARS
BEYOND THE STARS: Unimagined Realms
BEYOND THE STARS: Rocking Space <–I have a story in this one, too!

And now…BEYOND THE STARS: Infinite Expanse!

A Month of Books: September

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher: Another recommendation from someone (else) I know, and I have found a new favorite writer! It reminded me fondly of both The Paladin of Souls and the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold, mixed with the laugh-out-loud humor of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and the whimsy of Princess Bride (the movie more than the book), while being something entirely of itself. And, oh, was this hilarious. To the point that, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, I self-banned myself from reading this while at work. Because I have a very loud laugh and I work in a very small library. It’s got romance! And laughs! And swords! And property lawyers (who are heroes)! And some very disturbing things hanging out in trees…

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher: Because of Swordheart, I needed more by T. Kingfisher. I’m siding with the author and saying this is a kid’s book. Albeit, a somewhat dark kid’s book, but kids tend to like dark anyway (or, at least, I did when I was a kid, so…). Honestly, it’s a cute read. I’d been anticipating funny based off of Swordheart, and this is less laugh-out-loud funny, more wry, but the magic is wonderfully whimsical and I love the idea of an armadillo as a familiar.

All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy by Martha Wells: I’m on a novella-spree here it seems, this time, skittering over into sci-fi. I just love the inversion of the idea that if humans were to create sufficiently intelligent AI, that AI would undoubtedly kill us. In All Systems Red, said sufficiently intelligent AI…mostly just wants to be left alone to watch its entertainment dramas. Humans are strange and stressful and difficult to anticipate (and yet, as much as it insists it doesn’t care, SecBot/Murderbot…does; truly, it’s fascinating to pick apart how Wells wrote a character who, ostensibly, desires a bare minimum of human contact and whose only goals are to watch the next episode of its soaps, and yet, manages to make that character extremely compelling). Also, there’s an echo of horror in these (especially All Systems Red and Rogue Protocol, more adventure-thriller for Artificial Condition and Exit Strategy), that eerie kind that I associate more with the creepier Doctor Who episodes, which I very much enjoyed. All Systems Red is an easy novella to binge-read. What am I saying? They’re all easy to binge-read! Case in point, while dog-sitting, I devoured the other three books in the series in a day and a half and am hyped for Network Effect’s release in May of next year. Can’t wait, can’t wait! And, oh, Exit Strategy was an excellent conclusion, though I’m thrilled to learn there will be more.

Why Kill the Innocent by C. S. Harris: While typically I range toward the speculative in my reading tastes, I do so enjoy historical mysteries set pre-modern forensics era*, and this one is a series that I’ve been following for a few years now. The thing I so enjoy about this particular series is the author note at the end, where Harris discusses what parts of the novel were drawn from historical fact, what was supposition, what was entirely fiction, and what was amalgamations of real historical events or people crunched together. This fascinates me. The mystery was one of those where there are so few suspects I kept casting around for that someone that didn’t fit, and though I worked out who was behind it before Sebastian (mostly because of a single development where, if you thought about it, only one character would know that other character intimately enough to successfully frame him), I utterly failed to work out the “why” so it was still a satisfactory mystery.

Who Slays the Wicked by C. S. Harris: And because I’m on a historical mystery kick, book 14 of the series! I’m very behind on these. Anyway, this one is almost an opposite of the previous. With Why Kill the Innocent there was a dearth of suspects, in Who Slays the Wicked, they’re practically teeming. While I wish the red herring suspect wasn’t so obviously a red herring (that Sebastian insisted on suspected for no other reason than it served the plot), the final twist was ultimately satisfying and made a disturbing amount of sense. I’m pleased it went that route, and looking forward to the next one (Who Speaks for the Damned, April 2020).

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: On a whim, I watched the BBC mini-series adaptation on Amazon, and had the sudden urge to compare/contrast the book to the show (because that’s how my mind works?). BUT I realized I hadn’t read the book in years so cue reread! I hadn’t realized just how subtle stuff is in this one, particularly the sections with Vetinari and the business meetings. I see why, for the show, they gave Adora Belle Dearheart more emotional beats, and transferred some of Moist’s a-hah! moments to other characters. I also see why some of the side-plots with the clacks towers were lessened or removed, so for a more in-depth viewing, definitely read the book (in some ways, it’s like Lord of the Rings; the adaptation alone works wonderfully, but reading the book adds a whole ‘nother layer of nuance). As for the end, the show is more cinematic and dramatic (which, of course) and the book, less so. But the book brings up character conflict right at the end that I hadn’t been expecting and, I think, forgot was there. Still. It’s Discworld, therefore, Sir Terry Pratchett, therefore, absolutely brilliant. Still one of my favorites.

Finder by Suzanne Palmer: More sci-fi! This time, with overtones of a western with an almost Macgyver-esque way of approaching problems (How do you disable space security drones? Answer: vibrating dildos, tennis balls, sticky candy, and foil. How do you fool a gangster into flying a spaceship in your path? Answer: a very fancy suit and a bundle of junk covered in lots of lights). Midway through, the story took a somewhat unexpected jink and there was an extended almost-side quest that didn’t, initially, seem to fit BUT it all comes together rather neatly in the end, and the final bit of trickery Fergus uses is brilliant. Trust that the middle does, in fact, link up with everything else is all I can say. I’m hoping there’s a book two (which it seems like there is; it’s labeled as book one), but Finder also stands alone fairly well. There’s a lot of unanswered questions at the end, which feels like setup for a series (a trilogy, at least).


*My theory for my favoring mysteries set pre-modern forensics is that it tends to be more about talking to people and putting together clues than necessarily putting together evidence. Also, I like reading fair-play mysteries more than mysterious thrillers, personally, because I like to try to work it out myself (I’m usually right about half the time but rarely work out the underlying motive before the characters do). I also love speculative mysteries, but those are a bit rarer to find (especially ones where the murder isn’t a stepping stone to a more traditionally epic plot).

Two Months of Books: June & July

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass: *Inarticulate squealing noise* READ IT. Read it now. Okay, so this is by one of my all-time favorite writers, though under her pen name, and I have been waiting for a new book from her for years. And it was definitely worth the wait and then some! As a caveat, I do note that it starts off slowly, building the characters and showing them gaining the skills they’ll need later for the heist, but it means I got to enjoy Romy’s voice and narration that much longer. The world is richly detailed and a joy to submerge myself into, the characters are a fascinating delight to get to know and magnificently flawed, and there’s a lining of hope trimming this magic-heist adventure fantasy. Also, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to read. Counting down the months to the release of book two, A Conjuring of Assassins! (As a side-note, the cover art for book two was just released and it’s as gorgeous as the art on book one.)

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: The more I read this, the more I came to the realization that this book wasn’t for current-me. Teenager-me would’ve not only have devoured this book in days, but it would’ve gone down as one of my ultimate favorites that I’d carry with me well into adulthood. Adult-me is, unfortunately, too genre-savvy: I called too many of the twists, the conventions, the setups, and I was very rarely surprised, but because of the natural distance of an epic narration, I wasn’t emotionally invested enough that I didn’t care. It’s a very long book to feel ‘meh’ over. Perhaps this is a side-effect of being a writer and a student of story structure, perhaps epic fantasy of a traditional, Tolkien-esque style no longer interests me the way it once did. I would, however, recommend this to readers who love the epic fantasy structure, who adore the genre and its tropes, and want something different (because this book with it’s many female characters subverts that worn, tired “men on a quest to save the world, the only women are servants and walk-ons and maybe that princess” story that is so, so common) OR readers who are just coming to epic fantasy, and aren’t well-versed in the expectations and characterizations of the genre.

A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell: This is a fascinating re-imagining of Holmes and Watson that takes the original source material and (brilliantly) turns it on its head. In A Study in Honor, civil war has broken out in a near-future USA, and Captain Janet Watson, after losing her left arm (a problem if you’re a surgeon), has been discharged and sent, unmoored, into civilian life in Washington D.C. with a fritzy robotic arm that doesn’t fit and few prospects. One thing leads to another, and she encounters Sara Holmes, who is brilliant, baffling, and has an air of secrets and danger. I usually don’t read near-future sci-fi, preferring mine space-faring and operatic in scope, but as disturbingly possible a future as O’Dell paints, it’s also not entirely dystopic (though, erm, leans more heavily in that direction). It’s fantastic, and I look forward to reading book two (The Hound of Justice). Highly recommended.

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer: Pirates! Swashbuckling! Romance! Adventure! Also, I find it fascinating to look at how romances differ for their marketing demographic. In a straight HEA romance, it’s usually marriage that’s the end goal. In this M/M HEA romance, it’s not just marriage. It’s also acceptance, discovering others who are like yourself, and finding a safe space to be. That’s what makes this a HEA end. Similarly to the contemporary romance a few months ago, historical romance is usually not my jam, BUT I appreciated how much diversity there is in this. It’s a pleasant change to most romances, especially historical romances that are usually viewed through a straight, white (almost always female) lens. My one minor quibble (and seriously, it’s minor) is how much the two characters who look like brothers remark on this similarity, and I quibble this only because (I want to say) most people do not have an accurate mental picture of what they themselves look like, particularly facial features and maybe hair. I can see comparing skin color just ’cause you can hold your arm up next to the other person, but not faces. It’s an observation I would’ve personally preferred be something only other characters remarked on, but this is a quibble.