Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Murder Drabbles - Shiny New Toy


The latest in the Murder Drabbles series has been posted in the Indie-Book-Bargains newsletter (get a daily drabble and Kindle bargains from the website here: www.indie-book-bargains.co.uk). If you've not read the previous drabbles in the series then you will find them all here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/p/murder-drabbles.html

And if that hasn't satisfied your hunger for short and flash fiction then come and join the Facebook group dedicated to those forms:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/shortfictionreadersandwriters/

Shiny New Toy

To keep the urges at bay I devoted all my energies into finding the perfect blade. The task took longer than I expected with so much to consider. It couldn’t be too small, but if it was too large then where would I conceal it?

And then there was the shape. At first I was drawn by the exotic allure of a curved blade. I imagined it drawn across slender throats. Then I pictured the straight edge of a stabbing blade and I knew my choice had been made.

When it arrives it will be time for my next dance.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tuesday Tease - The Martian by Andy Weir

'The Martian' is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and yesterday the author Andy Weir joined us for a guest author interview (you can read the interview here). In an ideal world it would be enough for me to say that this is a superb read and that you should rush out and buy this book right now, but I understand you may need more convincing :-) With that in mind in this week's Tuesday Tease we have the opening of this book, read more below:

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Chapter 1

LOG ENTRY: SOL 6

I’m pretty much fucked.

That’s my considered opinion.

Fucked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.

I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.

For the record . . . I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”

And it’ll be right, probably. ’Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.

Let’s see . . . where do I begin?

The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send people to another planet for the very first time and expand the horizons of humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thing and came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love of the world.

Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. They got a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home.

Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Commander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.

What do you know? I’m in command.

I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crew die of old age. I presume they got back to Earth all right. Guys, if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do. In your position I would have done the same thing. I don’t blame you, and I’m glad you survived.



I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this. We got to Earth orbit the normal way, through an ordinary ship to Hermes. All the Ares missions use Hermes to get to and from Mars. It’s really big and cost a lot so NASA built only one.

Once we got to Hermes, four additional unmanned missions brought us fuel and supplies while we prepared for our trip. Once everything was a go, we set out for Mars. But not very fast. Gone are the days of heavy chemical fuel burns and trans-Mars injection orbits.

Hermes is powered by ion engines. They throw argon out the back of the ship really fast to get a tiny amount of acceleration. The thing is, it doesn’t take much reactant mass, so a little argon (and a nuclear reactor to power things) let us accelerate constantly the whole way there. You’d be amazed at how fast you can get going with a tiny acceleration over a long time.

I could regale you with tales of how we had great fun on the trip, but I won’t. I don’t feel like reliving it right now. Suffice it to say we got to Mars 124 days later without strangling each other.

From there, we took the MDV (Mars descent vehicle) to the surface. The MDV is basically a big can with some light thrusters and parachutes attached. Its sole purpose is to get six humans from Mars orbit to the surface without killing any of them.

And now we come to the real trick of Mars exploration: having all of our shit there in advance.

A total of fourteen unmanned missions deposited everything we would need for surface operations. They tried their best to land all the supply vessels in the same general area, and did a reasonably good job. Supplies aren’t nearly so fragile as humans and can hit the ground really hard. But they tend to bounce around a lot.

Naturally, they didn’t send us to Mars until they’d confirmed that all the supplies had made it to the surface and their containers weren’t breached. Start to finish, including supply missions, a Mars mission takes about three years. In fact, there were Ares 3 supplies en route to Mars while the Ares 2 crew were on their way home.

The most important piece of the advance supplies, of course, was the MAV. The Mars ascent vehicle. That was how we would get back to Hermes after surface operations were complete. The MAV was soft-landed (as opposed to the balloon bounce-fest the other supplies had). Of course, it was in constant communication with Houston, and if there had been any problems with it, we would have passed by Mars and gone home without ever landing.

The MAV is pretty cool. Turns out, through a neat set of chemical reactions with the Martian atmosphere, for every kilogram of hydrogen you bring to Mars, you can make thirteen kilograms of fuel. It’s a slow process, though. It takes twenty-four months to fill the tank. That’s why they sent it long before we got here.

You can imagine how disappointed I was when I discovered the MAV was gone.



It was a ridiculous sequence of events that led to me almost dying, and an even more ridiculous sequence that led to me surviving.

The mission is designed to handle sandstorm gusts up to 150 kph. So Houston got understandably nervous when we got whacked with 175 kph winds. We all got in our flight space suits and huddled in the middle of the Hab, just in case it lost pressure. But the Hab wasn’t the problem.

The MAV is a spaceship. It has a lot of delicate parts. It can put up with storms to a certain extent, but it can’t just get sandblasted forever. After an hour and a half of sustained wind, NASA gave the order to abort. Nobody wanted to stop a monthlong mission after only six days, but if the MAV took any more punishment, we’d all have gotten stranded down there.

We had to go out in the storm to get from the Hab to the MAV. That was going to be risky, but what choice did we have?

Everyone made it but me.

Our main communications dish, which relayed signals from the Hab to Hermes, acted like a parachute, getting torn from its foundation and carried with the torrent. Along the way, it crashed through the reception antenna array. Then one of those long thin antennae slammed into me end-first. It tore through my suit like a bullet through butter, and I felt the worst pain of my life as it ripped open my side. I vaguely remember having the wind knocked out of me (pulled out of me, really) and my ears popping painfully as the pressure of my suit escaped.

The last thing I remember was seeing Johanssen hopelessly reaching out toward me.



I awoke to the oxygen alarm in my suit. A steady, obnoxious beeping that eventually roused me from a deep and profound desire to just fucking die.

The storm had abated; I was facedown, almost totally buried in sand. As I groggily came to, I wondered why I wasn’t more dead.

The antenna had enough force to punch through the suit and my side, but it had been stopped by my pelvis. So there was only one hole in the suit (and a hole in me, of course).

I had been knocked back quite a ways and rolled down a steep hill. Somehow I landed facedown, which forced the antenna to a strongly oblique angle that put a lot of torque on the hole in the suit. It made a weak seal.

Then, the copious blood from my wound trickled down toward the hole. As the blood reached the site of the breach, the water in it quickly evaporated from the airflow and low pressure, leaving a gunky residue behind. More blood came in behind it and was also reduced to gunk. Eventually, it sealed the gaps around the hole and reduced the leak to something the suit could counteract.

The suit did its job admirably. Sensing the drop in pressure, it constantly flooded itself with air from my nitrogen tank to equalize. Once the leak became manageable, it only had to trickle new air in slowly to relieve the air lost.

After a while, the CO2 (carbon dioxide) absorbers in the suit were expended. That’s really the limiting factor to life support. Not the amount of oxygen you bring with you, but the amount of CO2 you can remove. In the Hab, I have the oxygenator, a large piece of equipment that breaks apart CO2 to give the oxygen back. But the space suits have to be portable, so they use a simple chemical absorption process with expendable filters. I’d been asleep long enough that my filters were useless.

The suit saw this problem and moved into an emergency mode the engineers call “bloodletting.” Having no way to separate out the CO2, the suit deliberately vented air to the Martian atmosphere, then backfilled with nitrogen. Between the breach and the bloodletting, it quickly ran out of nitrogen. All it had left was my oxygen tank.

So it did the only thing it could to keep me alive. It started backfilling with pure oxygen. I now risked dying from oxygen toxicity, as the excessively high amount of oxygen threatened to burn up my nervous system, lungs, and eyes. An ironic death for someone with a leaky space suit: too much oxygen.

Every step of the way would have had beeping alarms, alerts, and warnings. But it was the high-oxygen warning that woke me.

The sheer volume of training for a space mission is astounding. I’d spent a week back on Earth practicing emergency space suit drills. I knew what to do.

Carefully reaching to the side of my helmet, I got the breach kit. It’s nothing more than a funnel with a valve at the small end and an unbelievably sticky resin on the wide end. The idea is you have the valve open and stick the wide end over a hole. The air can escape through the valve, so it doesn’t interfere with the resin making a good seal. Then you close the valve, and you’ve sealed the breach.

The tricky part was getting the antenna out of the way. I pulled it out as fast as I could, wincing as the sudden pressure drop dizzied me and made the wound in my side scream in agony.

I got the breach kit over the hole and sealed it. It held. The suit backfilled the missing air with yet more oxygen. Checking my arm readouts, I saw the suit was now at 85 percent oxygen. For reference, Earth’s atmosphere is about 21 percent. I’d be okay, so long as I didn’t spend too much time like that.

I stumbled up the hill back toward the Hab. As I crested the rise, I saw something that made me very happy and something that made me very sad: The Hab was intact (yay!) and the MAV was gone (boo!).

Right that moment I knew I was screwed. But I didn’t want to just die out on the surface. I limped back to the Hab and fumbled my way into an airlock. As soon as it equalized, I threw off my helmet.

Once inside the Hab, I doffed the suit and got my first good look at the injury. It would need stitches. Fortunately, all of us had been trained in basic medical procedures, and the Hab had excellent medical supplies. A quick shot of local anesthetic, irrigate the wound, nine stitches, and I was done. I’d be taking antibiotics for a couple of weeks, but other than that I’d be fine.

I knew it was hopeless, but I tried firing up the communications array. No signal, of course. The primary satellite dish had broken off, remember? And it took the reception antennae with it. The Hab had secondary and tertiary communications systems, but they were both just for talking to the MAV, which would use its much more powerful systems to relay to Hermes. Thing is, that only works if the MAV is still around.

I had no way to talk to Hermes. In time, I could locate the dish out on the surface, but it would take weeks for me to rig up any repairs, and that would be too late. In an abort, Hermes would leave orbit within twenty-four hours. The orbital dynamics made the trip safer and shorter the earlier you left, so why wait?

Checking out my suit, I saw the antenna had plowed through my bio-monitor computer. When on an EVA, all the crew’s suits are networked so we can see each other’s status. The rest of the crew would have seen the pressure in my suit drop to nearly zero, followed immediately by my bio-signs going flat. Add to that watching me tumble down a hill with a spear through me in the middle of a sandstorm . . . yeah. They thought I was dead. How could they not?

They may have even had a brief discussion about recovering my body, but regulations are clear. In the event a crewman dies on Mars, he stays on Mars. Leaving his body behind reduces weight for the MAV on the trip back. That means more disposable fuel and a larger margin of error for the return thrust. No point in giving that up for sentimentality.



So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days.

If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

So yeah. I’m fucked.



Chapter 2

LOG ENTRY: SOL 7

Okay, I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and things don’t seem as hopeless as they did yesterday.

Today I took stock of supplies and did a quick EVA to check up on the external equipment. Here’s my situation:

The surface mission was supposed to be thirty-one days. For redundancy, the supply probes had enough food to last the whole crew fifty-six days. That way if one or two probes had problems, we’d still have enough food to complete the mission.

We were six days in when all hell broke loose, so that leaves enough food to feed six people for fifty days. I’m just one guy, so it’ll last me three hundred days. And that’s if I don’t ration it. So I’ve got a fair bit of time.

I’m pretty flush on EVA suits, too. Each crew member had two space suits: a flight spacesuit to wear during descent and ascent, and the much bulkier and more robust EVA suit to wear when doing surface operations. My flight spacesuit has a hole in it, and of course the crew was wearing the other five when they returned to Hermes. But all six EVA suits are still here and in perfect condition.

Excerpted from "The Martian" by Andy Weir Copyright (c) 2014 by Andy Weir. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Guest Author Interview - Andy Weir

We have a treat for science fiction fans in this week's guest author interview! One of my favourite reads of the year has been Andy Weir's 'The Martian' (read my review here) and he joins me for today's interview. Not only that we have a double bill as 'The Martian' will feature in tomorrow's Tuesday Tease - although you don't need to wait for that. Take my word and buy it right now :-)

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Andy Weir, and I’m a science-fiction writer.

What first inspired you to start writing?
I’ve loved sci-fi since I was a kid. My dad had an entire bookshelf full of classic paperbacks from when he was a kid. Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, the works. Reading those made me want to write my own stories.

Where did the idea for The Martian come from?
I was imagining a manned Mars mission, putting it together in my mind. Naturally, you have to account for failure scenarios and have plans for what the crew could do. I realized those failure scenarios made for a pretty interesting story.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history who would it be and why?
If I can affect history with the meeting, I’d pick Hitler so I could kill him. But to answer the spirit of your question: Richard Feynman. We could talk nerdy stuff then go have a beer. It would just be awesome to hang with him.

The Martian has an authentic feel due to the extensive research you did. What was the most interesting fact you learned from that process?
I learned that doing the math can create plot. The whole plotline where he has to make water came up because I did the math on what’s needed in soil for plant growth. Turns out he didn’t have enough water on-hand to make that happen, so I had to come up with a way for him to acquire some. And that let to one of the more popular subplots in the book.

What do you consider is the most successful aspect of the book?
I think people really liked the character of Mark Watney. He’s not deep, he doesn’t change throughout the story, and he’s certainly no literary masterpiece. But he’s an “everyman” that people identified with and rooted for. Getting people to like your main character is probably the most important part of writing a story.

How have you found the transition from self published to being signed up with a publisher?
It’s a dream come true. It’s what I’ve wanted my whole life. It’s certainly been a lot of work, going from my self-published version to the print version. Lots of editing and whatnot. But it was all a thrill because everything was new and exciting.

What advice would you give new and aspiring authors?
Write. I know that sounds silly, but that’s a major stumbling block for a lot of people. You can have an awesome five-book series in your mind, but if you never write it down it’s not a story. And, although it’s really difficult, don’t tell your friends about your story ideas. Telling your friends satisfies your need for an audience and saps your motivation to actually write the story.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my next book, tentatively titled “Zhek”.

Tell us about The Martian and how we can find out more.
The Martian is about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and has to use his wits to survive long enough for rescue.

Click here to buy The Martian from Amazon (and it's a fantastic read)

Blog Tour Stop - Frontiers by Jeff W Horton

As part of his blog tour supporting the release of the latest book in his 'Cybersp@ce' series Jeff W Horton has provided a guest post highlighting some of the key plot points and related facts they're derived from. I have to say I like the idea of the series and have just bought the first book. Read more about the latest book below:

Click on image to buy from Amazon

FRONTIERS: BOOK TWO IN THE CYBERS@CE SERIES

*A Dream to Unite Humanity...*
Scientists discover the technology to successfully construct Earth's first interstellar spacecraft, code named Frontier. Hank Reynolds, a gifted and courageous test pilot for the United States Air Force, is assigned to test pilot humanity's first interstellar spacecraft on a historic flight to Alpha Centauri. Under the command of the fledgling Earth Space Alliance the spacecraft will carry human beings to the stars, and beyond.

*A Plot to see it Fail*
Someone doesn't want to see this happen and will stop at nothing to see it fail--including murder... When Frontier is sabotaged, it leaves Hank stranded and alone to die in the Alpha Centauri system. With their dreams crumbling around them, will they be able to discover who is behind the plot to steal the alien technology, and to murder those closest to it?

Some Plot Elements & Facts Related to Frontiers:

-----In Frontiers, scientists build humanity's first spacecraft capable of interstellar flight, which a craft that can travel faster than the speed of light

o Fact: While Einstein's theory of relativity suggested Faster than Light travel (FTL) is not possible, many theories have been put forth as to how we might get around this galactic speed limit. Just think warp
drive or wormholes.

-----In Frontiers, the development of the interstellar spacecraft also results in the creation of an alternative energy source, helping to stave off a rapidly dwindling world supply of crude oil.

Fact: HSBC estimates the world will run out of crude oil with 40-50 years.

-----In Frontiers, several principal characters discuss how critical it is that the advanced technology be unveiled carefully and methodically to the world, or else the world could suffer catastrophic consequences.

Fact: The Drake Equation, as it has become known, which was first presented by Drake in 1961, is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the
Milky Way galaxy. Drake's equation takes into account that a number of such civilizations will end up destroying themselves with their own technology.

------In Frontiers, a public announcement confirming the existence of sentient alien life causes quite a stir among some segments of the world's population.

Fact: Studies like one by Paolo Musso, a member of the SETI Permanent Study Group of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences studies, and others, see no conflict
between Christianity and the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Click here to purchase Frontiers from Amazon

Sunday, 20 July 2014

August Short Fiction Contest

Image credit - Tom Long http://mrtomlong.tumblr.com/

Welcome to the latest Short Fiction Contest here on The Cult of Me. This month's image is provided by the talented Tom Long. You can check out some of his other art on his blog: http://mrtomlong.tumblr.com/. I'm sure you'll agree it's a deliciously dark image and a fine inspiration for this month's contest.

Remember that the prizes have now changed, if you win the prizes are available as an Amazon gift card or PayPal payment. 
  1. First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal payment
  2. Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal payment
  3. Thirds prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal payment
Entry to the contest remains free and the prizes come out of my own pocket, although I do make a little from advertising on this blog. So if you see something of interest then feel free to click on the links and purchase away! If you haven't tried my books yet then check them out at the top of the page, as well as buying a good read you'll be helping this contest.

Please make sure to check your story for typos before submitting. I don't mind a few errors, but my enjoyment of a story is diminished if I have to wade through too many.

I'll post the winning entries by September 1st 2014.

As with everything in life there are a few rules:
  1. Only one entry per person.
  2. The story must not be longer than 500 words.
  3. Closing date for submissions is August 23rd 2014.
  4. By submitting the story you grant me a non-exclusive license to post the story on this blog. I do ask that I post it here first.
  5. You also grant me a one time non-exclusive license to include the story in an e-book release.
  6. The judges decision is final.
Use the form below to enter your submission. After you've submitted please leave a comment on this page stating that you have submitted. And please help spread the word. Great stories deserve great readers!

As well as comments section below you can chat about this competition in any of the threads I've listed below. If you don't know the sites then entering the competition is a good way to introduce yourself. Note that these sites are not affiliated with the competition in any way!

KUF: http://www.kuforum.co.uk/kindleusersforum/thread-13760.html

Goodreads (UK Amazon kindle Forum group): http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/977021-michael-brookes-horror-science-fiction

Kboards: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,152168.0.html

If you've started you're own thread or discussion somewhere about this month's competition then let me know and I'll add the link to this page.

My Books on Goodreads