Tag Archives: scifi

Author Interview: Ian Hugh McAllister

Author Ian McAllister is a careful and calculating writer, which is why it takes so long to complete a project. He is currently engaged in a campaign to bring back real science-fiction, the science-based non-fantasy genre of such writers as Hal Clement.  Please welcome my friend and up and coming author to No Wasted Ink.

author ian hugh mcallisterHi Wendy, I am Ian Hugh McAllister, the ‘Hugh’ is only included in my author name to distinguish from the other Ian McAllister (the wolf books etc). I am a 58-year old early retired English ATC controller, originally from the Liverpool area. I’m also a lifetime airliner nut, and a keen traveller. I have lived in Dorset, close to England’s Jurassic Coast for nearly 35 years with my wife Simone. We have a grown up son.

When and why did you begin writing?

I have always written for pleasure, but it got real when I was encouraged to write a biography of my grandmother in 2011. Hilda James was Britain’s first female swimming superstar in 1920. The resulting book, Lost Olympics, was successful in that it saw Hilda posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2016. As she was the first celebrity to be taken on by the Cunard Line, I also started receiving invitations to join the cruise ship entertainment speaker circuit, and talk about her life and times.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I think that came with the publication of my first sci-fi novel To Visit Earth. The biography was an in-depth research project, and the book was pretty much an assembly job. Creating my own fiction is what I had always wanted to do.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

To Visit Earth centres around the closest Earth-approach by a comet in recorded history, some time in the not so distant future. The eventual result finds lunar geologist Lucy Grappelli injured and trapped in a crashed exploration vehicle, over 1000km from the established moon base and beyond all possible help. It’s a survival story with what I have been told is a worthy twist.

What inspired you to write this book?

I am a fan of the harder side of science fiction, having been brought up on it by my parents. I do read widely in all variations of sci-fi and fantasy, but hard sci-fi is very much my thing. 50 years on from reading my first science fiction, I have finally put my money where my mouth is and tried to prove I can publish something original.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I think I am developing one. I am an admin with a busy writers/authors group on Facebook (10 Minute Novelists), and I firmly believe we are told to follow far too many rules in our writing. This is leading to a loss of individuality in styles. A good example is the sweeping “show don’t tell”. Now with sci-fi of course, a certain amount of world-building, exposition, and even info-dumping is acceptable. I personally like a 50/50 approach to “show don’t tell.”

How did you come up with the title of this book?

This is another area that causes a lot of discussion in the writing group, and I have a stock answer. The expression “To Visit Earth” jumped out at me as I wrote the book. It is a short statement that is repeated in the text, but becomes a revelation, and pivotal to the story.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Now, I don’t want to drop a spoiler so I will have to be careful. I could say never discount the possibility of help from unexpected sources.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in
your own life?

This is a great question, and comes under another writing guide, “write what you know.” Suffice to say that I have had 35 years of experience of all points on the management spectrum. Several ex-colleagues and friends from ATC have named certain poor unfortunates, still desperately trying to manage sections of the business, as role-models for my management team in the book. If I was American I’d be taking the 5th, I believe you call it. However, I do retain that wonderful get-out clause, “No character in this work is intended to resemble any person, either living or dead… yada yada,” while making that evil Blofeld chuckle!

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you
find inspiring?

My first strong influences were the great pulp writers of the 1950s, I grew up with an entire bookcase of Galaxy and Astounding as my tool for visiting the universe. These had been amassed by the parents as they partied their way through Liverpool University in the early 1950s. Eventually, I settled on the Heinlein juvenile series (Have Spacesuit Will Travel retains a place in my all-time top 10 books). Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, James Blish, ah, many of the greats.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Definitely. I firmly believe that Hal Clement has shaped my aspirations. I have read and re-read all his books. The novel Mission Of Gravity and its associated works (later published as the collection “Heavy Planet“) is for me a seminal piece of hard sci-fi. Clement went as far as to publish a paper postulating the possibility of a planet such as his Mesklin. Would that I could produce something a quarter as good.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

A young 10 Minute Novelists member and friend, Jonas Meyes-Steger designed the cover, using a few written notes I sent him. Jonas is disabled, and currently finishing a self-financed university course. While many of us aspired to write and be published, Jonas dreamed of becoming a commissioning editor. I don’t think it’s a matter of record yet, but remember that name. That’s all I’m allowed to say.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Join a writing community. Read. Yes, in fact, read, read, read, and then read some more. Read in the genre you want to write, but extend your sphere of knowledge into all sorts of other places.

Then, when you are ready to write, learn the rules; Grammar, syntax, how to string a coherent sentence together. Recognise different styles, there are a lot.

Then, while knowing all that stuff, write. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules really. If there were, reading would be deadly dull. So break the rules if you want to, but break them well, and with reason.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I’m working on a sequel. I originally set out to write a heavyweight, stand-alone novel, but that’s what happens when you start to enjoy it. Don’t hold your breath, To Visit Earth took 20 years from original idea to published book! No, seriously, I have accountability partners nipping at my heels. I need to stick my neck out and say – 2021/Remnant Planet!

to visit earth book coverIan Hugh McAllister
Broadstone, Dorset, England

FACEBOOK

To Visit Earth

Cover Artist: Jonas Mayes-Steger
Publisher: Cloaked Press

AMAZON
BARNES & NOBLE

Flashfiction: SOS by Wendy Van Camp

SOS

SOS
a science fiction flashfiction by Wendy Van Camp

Lola stood on the crater edge, a tablet and stylus in her hand. Her ear itched, but there was use in scratching at it, her head was completely covered by her spacesuit helmet. She bent over and picked up a few of the grey stones and let them tumble from her fingers.

“Lola, have you finished your determination?” Professor McCranky – ahem – Professor McCranston, was tapping his wrist to indicate that time was passing.

“One minute!” Lola toggled the sensors in her helmet and a grid pattern appeared before her. She used the chip in her brain to interface with the tools in her suit to measure the cup-shaped crater. It was around 10 kilometers and had no central floor. A small one, known as an Albategnius C, or ALC. She spun in the light lunar gravity and then bunny hopped back to the rover. Before she entered the rover with the other students, she tapped her tablet to the Professors. He looked at her result and grunted. Then the group was off to the next stop.

Johnny nudged her. It would be a long ride to the next crater example. Topography was a required course at Lunar University. Learning to identify terrain was a survival skill on Earth’s single moon. Through his faceplate, she could see his dark eyes and skin. His father was seldom home on Luna Colony, he piloted one of the supply ships that made the trek between the Moon and Mars and the turnaround time was a long 18 months. That was one of the reasons why he started coming around her home dome, but over time they developed a friendship that had turned into something sweeter than either had expected. However, graduation was approaching. Soon both would need to make a choice about their future.

The rover stopped and the group of students tumbled out into the grey dust. The Professor tapped his wrist and then gestured for the group to spread out. Johnny touched her arm and then bounded off, leaping far too high in the air as if he were Buzz Aldrin exploring the moon on the first moon landing. Showoff. She took smaller steps and found the edge of the new crater in good time. She toggled on the measurement system and scanned the crater. This one she had seen before. She had visited it with her Mom and Dad on an outing years ago. The complex crater had to be close to fifty kilometers in diameter. She did not wish to approach the edge since the inner walls slumped to the bottom floor. Its archetype was isTriesnecker also known as TRI.

There was a crackle in her helmet. “Aiee! The wall is going down.”

Lola froze and then whirled toward where her friend had run off and in horror, she realized that the lip of the crater had collapsed taking her best friend down with it. She ran for the wall, not caring if she was putting herself in danger. Before she could reach the edge, a hand clamped down on her shoulder and stopped her forward motion. It was McCranky!

“It is too dangerous. Stay here. I’m going to send for help from the rangers.” The other students gathered together, their shoulders hunched, helmets tapped together to allow them to talk in private without using the radio. The professor returned to the rover.

Lola felt as if the air had squeezed from her lungs. Disregarding the professor’s instructions she made her way to the edge of the crater, inching forward until she could see over the lip. Down below, on the smooth floor, Johnny lay with his arms and legs spread wide. Was he dead? She sighed. When you’re gone. How can I even try to go on?

There was another crackle in her helmet. “SOS.”

“Johnny! Are you okay?” Her eyes widened and her breath came out in ragged gasps. Her oxygen levels were doing a wild dance. Was he crying out for help? Where were those damn rangers!

“The crater is an isSosigenes. SOS.”

“You asshole! Are you playing me?” Down below, Johnny pulled his legs and arms in and rolled over. He sat up and gazed up the long slope of the crater. He tilted his helmet to one side and shrugged his shoulders.

“Stay where you are, John. The wall of the crater could go down further. This is not a laughing matter.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Oh, and you are wrong in your determination.” The professor said. “The crater is known as an isTriesnecker.”

“Doh. A TRI? No wonder the wall collapsed.”

“This is why we take you out here to observe the craters. It is for your own safety. Next time, watch your step.” The professor put a hand on her shoulder and tapped his helmet to her for a private conversation. “Be careful, but stay here with him. We’ll get him out of there soon enough.”

“Thank you, Professor Cranston.” Maybe the man wasn’t so cranky after all.


SOS is a science fiction flash fiction. Maybe I was up too late at night studying topography when this little story came to my mind.  This is a little fun one with no connection to a future project.  A little YA adventure.

This story is also available to members of Medium. If you would like to support me as an author, please go to Medium and give my story claps. Clapping lets the Medium system know that my story is popular and it will gain more visibility.

Flashfiction: Sanctuary by Wendy Van Camp

Sanctuary

Sanctuary
A science fiction short story by Wendy Van Camp
255 words

“Bandit ship approaching.” Ship’s alarm sounds a warning. Sailors mind stations. Captain Alton Franks nods and grips his chair. Fifth attack this month. A captain had an obligation for his ship. No dying on his watch!

“Aim high off bandit bow. Only a warning shot.”

Midshipman Dustin Jacobs finds focus on bandit ship. Zap! Light zings through void. “Miss!”

“Good job, Midshipman.” What will occur now? Captain waits.

Lights flash on bandit ship. Rust. Black. Grassy. Black. It was a quiz for Captain Franks to work out.

“May I board?” Bandit sounds without warning on comm. It was a woman.

“Who asks?” Captain Franks said.

“I am Laura Quinn, Captain of this Martian Ship Lucidity. I wish to bargain with you.”

“You may board without arms.” Captain Franks nods to Midshipman Jacobs. Midshipman jaunts to airlock with gun on hip. Laura Quinn is brought to Captain’s public room.  A sailor stands guard.

“Sit down,” bids Captain Franks, pointing to a chair. Bandit Quinn sits.

Standing, Captain Franks points a digit at bandit. “Fifth attack this month. Why? What do you want?”

Laura Quinn is nonvocal at first. “Sanctuary from Mars. For my bandits and I. I did no wrong, but carry disfavor.” Quinn said softly.

“Political affair?” Quinn nods. This shifts opinion for Captain Franks, known minor acts can bring about political disfavor on Mars. Pity stirs him.

“I proposition sanctuary onboard USS Goliath.” An alluring grin of Laura Quinn, upon his proclamation, stirs Alton Franks. A worthy mission than thought of at start of his tour.


Sanctuary is a flash fiction from a challenge in one of my science fiction writing groups back in 2016.  We were to write a story without using the letter “e”.  This is not as easy as you might think.  The vowel appears in a great many words in the English language.  I thought mine turned out pleasant enough for a micro-flash.  I hope you will agree!

This story is also available to members of Medium.  If you would like to support me as an author, please go to Medium and give my story claps.  Clapping lets the Medium system know that my story is popular and it will gain more visibility.

Lit Up OC: Author Open Mic

Kean Coffee Tustin 2
Kean Coffee in Tustin, CA

I drove down the country road with anticipation, a small box of my books in the trunk of my vehicle and wearing comfortable, but nice clothing. I did my best to quell my nerves and remind myself that I’ve done this before, but it had been almost a year since I last performed an author reading in public. I felt that I might be rusty. This was no ordinary author series either. It was Lit Up OC, the series attached to my local writing guild and most of my writer friends attend it. Would I lose my voice? Would I blank out when my friends grilled me with writing questions that would go far beyond a typical layperson? Of the three authors reading, which one would I be? First? Last? I wasn’t sure.

What is Lit Up OC

I stumbled upon Lit Up OC around two years ago. It is a monthly reading series in Southern California located at Keans Coffee in Tustin. Local writers hang out with their coffee and tea while three authors read excerpts from their novels or a short story. Represented genre include mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, literary, memoir, you name it. You never know what is coming next. There are many events like this in nearby Los Angeles, but Lit Up OC is the only reading series I know of in Orange County. Our host, Madeline Tighe Margarita is the creator and organizer of the event. She handles the author introductions. Asks questions of the audience afterward about what they heard and what their impressions were in critique style. Then moderates a general question and answer session between the author and audience.

What I Read

Murder They Wrote Book Cover (blog)In December of 2017, I had a story included in a horror anthology called “Murder They Wrote” put out by Serial Sikk Publishing. The theme of the collection was speculative fiction that included a murder. My story, “We Can Rebuild Him” began as a writing prompt from an online science fiction writing club. The prompt was to write a story about a cyborg. I combined the prompt with the feelings I felt when watching the Kevin Bacon movie “Taking Chance”. It features an American escort officer returning the body of a soldier to his family. I combined this with ideas about cyborgs that I had gleaned from panels at science fiction conventions. The result was psychologically dark and although it was not technically about murder, it fits with the bloody theme of the anthology.

I read the entire story to the audience. My goal was not to sell books per se, it was for me to get out and perform a reading for the first time in almost a year. I practiced all week. Developing different inflections for the characters. Where to put in pauses for emphasis. Making sure that all technical terms flowed with proper pronunciations. Everything that I could do to make a good first impression of my writing to my peers.

What Questions Were Asked

Wendy Reads at Lit Up OC - Jan 2018
Wendy Van Camp Reads at Lit Up OC

After the reading, Maddie conducts a question and answer session. The first part of the session she asks the audience about what they heard during the reading and their thoughts about it. Considering most of the audience are authors, some with multiple books, the comments can be extremely technical and difficult to answer on the fly. I prepared to answer typical questions at the reading. The inspiration for the story. My writing voice. Experiences on the science fiction convention circuit. What national author guilds I belong to and why. The audience asked all that and more.

I’m told that I appeared articulate and that my reading was entertaining, even with the dark subject matter. Many were surprised that I had written a story in the horror genre.

I feel that “We Can Rebuild Him” is a good story to perform and I plan on using it as my main piece at the various readings I will do at conventions this year. While I don’t write dark, horror pieces as a general rule, it still showcases my current skill level as an author. If you are planning on attending WorldCon, you will hear me read this story at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading.

Kean Coffee Reading Audience 2
Lit Up OC Audience

Why Do Readings?

Many writers are introverts who feel anxiety standing up in front of people. I can sympathize with that. When I was a beginning teacher, standing in front of 30 teenagers and trying to convey English, History or Math to them, I felt challenged. Over time, I learned to be more comfortable in front of a classroom and to speak in a manner that is engaging enough to hold the attention of teenagers. If you can do that, you can speak to anyone! An easier way to learn this skill is to join the Toastmasters in your local area. There will be fewer spitballs on your back that way!

As an author, I like to find opportunities to be in front of potential readers and give them a sample of my work. This is why I attend book fairs, do readings at science fiction conventions, and read at local salons. When you get a chance to meet readers in person, you learn things about your own work or help you match the expectations of your target audience. While these events provide me with a place to do sales of my books, that is not my main focus. I am there to make an impression on readers in the hope that they will remember me later when looking for a new author to read. Not to mention, have a good time.

Final Word

Wendy Van Camp and Maddie at Lit Up OC
Host Maddie Margarita and Author Wendy Van Camp

Being the first to read, I was able to relax and enjoy the other two writers that night.  Both were accomplished authors and I enjoyed hearing their work. Afterward, I met people that came to hear me and to purchase signed books. I’m glad that I finally gave in to Maddie’s offer to read at Lit Up OC. It was a great experience and I hope to be back again once I complete my science fiction novel. However, I will be grateful that the next time I’m at the event, I will be in the audience posing “difficult” questions to the next set of authors!

Flash Fiction: Day of the Ficus

Day of the ficus (1)

Day of the Ficus
by Wendy Van Camp

genre: Science Fiction
Words: 500
originally published: Far Horizons, July 2017 issue & Quantum Visions 6,  2017 issue

RECOVERED INTERNAL LOG – MCC-457:

“Doctor Pearson, there is a message coming in.”
“Dammit. Who the hell is still up there, Buttons?”
“I am MCC, your Mechanical Cultivation Cyborg. I do not answer to Buttons.”
“Where’s the blasted microphone?”
“Three feet to your left and on the table, Doctor Pearson.”
“This is Doctor Mary Pearson of the EPA. I thought everyone evacuated. Who are you and why the hell are you still here?”
“Officer Roy Hayes. I helped with the evac, but I got cut off by…those things.”
“Don’t touch them! Repeat. Do not touch the plants!”
“I might not have much choice. They’re moving closer.”
“Where’s your location, Hayes?”
“Third floor near Forever 21. I’m trapped behind the display window with the manikins.”
“Stay put. We’re going to get you out of there. Out.”
“Doctor Pearson, I must protest. Nothing seems to kill Ficus Capillipes. How will we rescue Officer Hayes and save the mall?”
“There’s one thing that we haven’t tried. I need your help, Buttons. I still can’t see. Damn plant and its protective goop went right into my eyes. I should’ve sent your metal hide in there instead of going myself.”
“I was not manufactured for that purpose, Doctor. I am a cultivator, not a destroyer. It is against my programming.”
“This is your lucky day, Buttons. Get your mechanical gears in motion and lead me to the Sports Authority! I need gear.”
“I do not answer to Buttons.”
“Get your metal butt moving.”

#

“Third floor, Doctor. We are on level flooring again. Ficus at 3 o’clock, four feet away.”
“Take that, you nasty plant!”
“Doctor, you almost flamed me with the weed burner. Do be careful.”
“Just lead me to Forever 21.”
“Ficus at 8:30, five feet ahead.”
“Gotcha!”
“You there! I have a pistol. Stand down with the flamethrower.”
“Officer Hayes? It is Mary Pearson. We’ve come to rescue you.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Are you all right, Officer?”
“My leg got crushed. Can’t walk. The city PD contacted me. They’re going to blow up the mall. They don’t think there’s any other way to contain these mutant plants.”
“What about us?”
“If we can get to the roof, a helicopter will lift us out. Will that weed burner get us there?”
“You bet your sweet behind it will. Buttons, you’re going to carry Officer Hayes and be my guide. We’re counting on you.”
“I do not answer to Buttons.”
“Just lift the man.”

#

“Dr. Pearson, they are ascending Officer Hayes into the helicopter. You are next.”
“We would’ve never gotten this far without you.”
“I am too heavy for the helicopter, Doctor Pearson.”
“I’m sorry. If there was any other way….”
“I am only a machine.”
“You’re an AI. You have sentience.”
“The rope is around you, Doctor. You must go before they blow up the mall.”
“You’re a hero, MCC.”
“Call me Buttons.”


This original story was written during a month-long writing challenge in one of my online science fiction/fantasy groups. The prompt was to write a flash fiction of around 500 words composed entirely of dialog and consisted of three characters, one of which had to be AI.

This story appears on Medium.  If you like the story and are a member at Medium, please consider supporting me as an author by giving me “claps” via the Medium system.