Author Archives: sjhigbee

About sjhigbee

Science fiction/fantasy writer & creative writing tutor and book addict. I can't walk past a book shop or library and am considering therapy.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Austral by Paul McAuley

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The great geoengineering projects have failed. The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth’s newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice. Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She’s been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century.

I absolutely love this one. This first-person narrative by Austral grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let me go until the end. It very quickly becomes apparent that Austral is telling this story for the benefit of someone who she feels needs to know her family history, which is woven into this classic chase across the harsh peninsula as Austral and her kidnap victim try to stay one step ahead of those in pursuit – who aren’t necessarily the forces of law and order.

There is all the excitement and tension of their adventure as they encounter a number of memorable characters, some kind and helpful but most are nothing of the sort. This is a hard new land peopled by many refugees from a drowning world, which doesn’t engender soft fluffy feelings. I was waiting for the inevitable moment when the two fleeing finally bond – the huskie outcast and the rich, privileged child of a rising politician. But McAuley avoids that cliché. There is never a time when Austral can relax and feel her young companion will innately trust her.

Meanwhile, Austral’s unfolding story is one of abandonment of the promises made to keep Antarctica ecologically sustainable as once again, the vested interests of multi-nationals and capitalism trumps all else. The sub-species of huskies, whose DNA were edited to equip them for living and working on the land, are now no longer required for that prime purpose. Nor are they wanted by the normals, who fear their size, superior strength and stamina, so ensure the law enforces their instinctive reaction to keep them as far away as possible.

The other character that features throughout is the landscape itself. McAuley’s scientific background shows in the depth and detail of this harsh environment. I love the fact that mammoths have been brought back as a viable eco-system has started to be designed – until forest plantations swallow up the fragile landscape and inappropriate crops are grown to appease the appetites of a people with no appreciation or real knowledge of how this emerging landmass is being eco-engineered. It all sounds horribly familiar.

Any niggles? While I felt that Austral’s storyline about her own family history worked very well alongside the ongoing adventure, the one ongoing narrative thread I could have happily done without was the fairy story Austral’s young teenage companion was reading. It was the one part of the story that didn’t really convince me, both as something that would interest Austral, or its relevance to the other two plotlines and to be honest, I mostly skimmed over those sections. However that aside, this story has lodged inside my head since I’ve read it and notwithstanding that one false step, this is an extraordinary book. Highly recommended for fans who like hard science fiction and cli-fi (climate fiction). While I obtained the arc of Austral from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

 

ANNDDD…

Today Lillian at Mom With a Reading Problem is featuring Running Out of Space as part of the blog tour, including her interview – where she asks which breakfast cereal I’d like to be…

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Running Out Of Space by S. J. Higbee Blog Tour and Special Feature!

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Running Out of Space banner
This is my stop during the blog tour for Running Out of Space by S.J. Higbee. This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The blog tour runs from 11 till 31 October. You can check see the tour schedule here.

For a limited time Running Out of Space will be only $0.99 on Amazon

Running Out of SpaceRunning Out of Space (The Sunblinded Trilogy#1)
By S.J. Higbee
Genre: Science Fiction
Age category: New adult
Release Date: 11 October, 2017

Blurb:
Elizabeth Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…

I can’t recall whose idea it was. Just that me and my shipmates were sick of wading through yet another unjust punishment detail. So we decide to take ourselves off on a short jaunt to the lower reaches of Space Station Hawking to…

View original post 1,068 more words

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 18th October, 2017

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 The Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr

#epic fantasy #magic

The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world with world-building detail and an ingenious and disciplined magic system. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to his longest and bestselling fantasy series with volume nineteen, which marks the beginning of a new story arc.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

I’m really looking forward to this one as I’m a real fan of Modesitt’s writing. It is due to be released by Tor Books on the 31st October and I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

ANNDDD…

 

As part of the blog tour for Running Out of Space, I have posted my Top Ten List of favourite science fiction books set in space at Mel’s Shelves.

Teaser Tuesday – 17th October, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
8% An instant later she is flying at a wall. She recognises a print from the Dogs Playing Poker series by Coolidge, supposedly ubiquitous, but she realises this is the first time she has actually ever seen one, and then she hits. Hunter’s house is of distressingly solid construction. In a more modern dwelling this might cave in a plasterboard wall but not here. She slides down the wall and lands badly, and a huge shape, comically thuggish, blocks her view of the room.

BLURB: Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder.

As you can see, I’m not very far into this one and it isn’t particularly straightforward. I’m just getting used to the writing style which is quite wordy and literary. I loved Gone-Away World and enjoyed Angelmaker, so I’m hoping that I’ll soon fully bond with this one and the pages will start turning themselves…

Review of Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

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I have heard Jacey Bedford speak on a number of panels at various Fantasycons over the years and a couple of years ago, she did an inspirational workshop about submissions that helped me overcome my block about sending work out. So when I had a few pennies for my birthday, I ordered this science fiction offering. I’m so glad I did.

Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity. Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. So far…

I really loved Cara – she is desperate and frightened when we first meet her. Clearly used to dealing with the sleazier side of life, she doesn’t hesitate to sleep with Ben, the pilot who offers to take her off-planet, thinking it’s part of the deal. But over the length of the book, which includes chases, murders and helping establish a colony on a new world, Cara begins to find herself again. Bedford effectively depicts a woman struggling to put an abusive past behind her and build a new life for herself – and I really enjoyed the fact that it certainly isn’t all plain sailing just because she finds someone who cares for her.

I’m aware I may have given the impression this book is all about the romance, and while it is an element, it certainly isn’t the driving force or main theme of the book, which is far more mainstream epic space opera – that of corruption and the ruthlessness of big corporations. Once again, we have a future where it is huge capitalist corporations driving colonisation of planets. Inevitably, it comes down to profit – and you won’t be surprised to learn that when eye-watering sums of money are involved, the people running those corporations regard those in the way as expendable. It doesn’t help that they are a poorly regarded, eccentric cult with relatively few resources…

I loved the growing friction between the team of experts all with brain implants to boost their telepathic, empathetic and healing talents and the colonists who wish to establish an agrarian idyll where technology is replaced by horse and bullock power and industry is severely restricted. Bedford is very good at keeping the pace going with a series of adventures that keep the narrative ticking along at a fair clip, all the while steadily ramping up the stakes. While I love this genre, all too often I find the characterisation suffers in the middle of establishing all the world-spanning action – but it is the characters and what happens to them that is firmly at the heart of this one, which leads to an action-packed finale.

All in all, this is a cracking read and I shall be looking out for the next one in the series, just as soon as I manage to find some space on my bulging book shelves. Highly recommended for fans of entertaining epic space opera.
9/10

ANNDDD…

As part of the blog tour for Running Out of Space, Pippa Jay has interviewed me about stuff about me, writing the book and life in general…

Sunday Post – 15th October 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I don’t expect to have another fortnight quite like this last one anytime soon. I’m recovering from flu – but it’s taking its own sweet time to move on. In the meantime my nose is running like a tap, I have backache, tinnitus, headaches and a temperature and I’m really fed up with feeling this lousy. Oh, and on Wednesday, I self-published my first novel, Running Out of Space. Needless to say, the launch was very lowkey. But it is ‘out there’. On Amazon. I keep nipping across to have look… And despite feeling like something the cat sicked up, every time I look at the cover I find myself grinning…

I hope you have a good week and in the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I feel less like a snot-powered zombie and more like my old self by tomorrow night so I can resume my Creative Writing classes before my students forget what I look like.

This week I have read:

The King’s Name – Book 2 of The Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
The warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord King Urdo have finally united the land of Tir Tanagiri into a kingdom ruled by justice under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny. Soon Tir Tanagiri faces the blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms against former comrades and loved ones, fighting harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream.
This sequel that concludes Walton’s magical version of the Arthurian legend continues to deliver. See my review of the first book The King’s Peace. Marvellous writing and a wonderful, poignant ending that is still resonating with me…

 

The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son. Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?
I requested this book without realising it was a romance adventure this author had written relatively early in her writing career. But as it happens, although romantic fiction isn’t generally my go-to genre, I really enjoyed this sprightly, enjoyable adventure.

 

Wolfsbane – Book 4 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held
When an envoy arrives from the secretive Russian werewolf pack, Roanoke alphas Silver and Andrew Dare are instantly suspicious. Tatiana claims she has been sent to locate an heirloom, lost by immigrants centuries ago, but she and the alphas both suspect that Russia fears the strength of the newly-united, continent-spanning Roanoke pack. What Tatiana doesn’t realize is that her pack is willing to sacrifice even their own trained spy for their goals…
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this clever, nuanced werewolf world once more, after falling in love with the first three books – see my reviews of Silver, Tarnished and Reflected – and I am delighted to see that Held has decided to self-publish this book after her publishers took the decision to no longer continue with this series.

 

Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering
Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he? Sil knows there’s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.
I loved Vampire State of the Mind featuring a feisty heroine who helps to keep the ancient city of York safe for its human inhabitants. This adventure gives us more insights into the courageous, funny cast of characters when one of them is threatened. Or is he actually the threat? The Department for Otherworldly Affairs has to deliver a decision – along with a dead vampire… I really enjoyed this one and the snarky humour was very welcome as I sneezed and snuffled my way through the action.

 

A Local Habitation – Book 2 of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Toby Daye-a half-human, half-fae changeling-has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world had other ideas… Now her liege, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills, has asked Toby to go to the Country of Tamed Lightening to make sure all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary. It seems like a simple enough assignment-until Toby discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, and that if the killer isn’t stopped, January may be the next victim.
Another classy series that I started with Rosemary and Rue a while ago and taken a while to return to. This classic murder mystery, where the victims are picked off one by one as Toby desperately tries to unravel who is committing these crimes, is gripping and unexpectedly poignant at the end. There is a real sense of loss over the deaths, which I appreciated. No doubt about it – McGuire’s writing packs a punch.

My posts last week:

Teaser Tuesday featuring Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

PUBLISHED TODAY! featuring Running Out of Space – Sunblinded: 1 by S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series
by Sebastien de Castell

Friday Face-off – You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR! featuring Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Review of Waking Gods – Book 2 of The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week and a bit, in no particular order:

Saying Thanks to Great Teachers https://dogdaysanddelights.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/saying-thanks-to-great-teachers/ A moving tribute to a clearly remarkable teacher by someone who wants to say thank you. Before it’s too late…

Finding Inspiration in the Space Race – In the Spotlight Guest Post http://www.secondrunreviews.com/2017/10/finding-writing-inspiration-space-race-guest-post.html Yours truly musing on the impact that growing up during the height of the space race had on my expectations

Times they are a-changing (I hope) ~ on the prevalence of sexual harassment & on why we’re starting to speak up https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/times-they-are-a-changing-i-hope-on-the-prevalence-of-sexual-harassment-on-why-were-starting-to-speak-up/ Viv’s articles are always worth reading and I particularly enjoyed this one…

Richard & Linda Thompson, Sam Cooke and Charlie Rich – The Cry for Home! https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/09/26/richard-linda-thompson-sam-cooke-and-charlie-rich-with-the-cry-for-home/ If you love popular music, then swing by this marvellous site. I don’t know anyone who writes with such passion and knowledge about the music we grew up with.

We won Best Books And Literature Blog Of The Year! https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/we-won-best-books-and-literature-blog-of-the-year/ I thoroughly enjoy browsing this entertaining library blog where the staff chat about books in an approachable entertaining way. No wonder they won – congratulations, guys.

ANDDD…

Rainne Atkins has kindly invited me today to share my top ten fiction authors during my blog tour for Running Out of Space on her delightful book blog Just Books

 

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Review of NETGALLEY book Waking Gods – Book 2 of the Themis Files by Sylvain Neuval

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I’d heard a lot about this series and so was delighted when I spotted this one on Netgalley.

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force. Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

I make a regular habit of crashing series midway through and most of the time it is absolutely fine. However, I have a real sense that I would have enjoyed this book a whole lot more if I had read Sleeping Giants first as there didn’t seem to be a particular moment for the reader to bond with the main protagonists before the action all kicked off again. There was certainly plenty going on – those huge robots were suitably mysterious and chilling.

As I hadn’t read the first book, it took me a while to work out what exactly what happening with Themis and why only a very select number of people could control it. I was certainly startled when one of the main characters died – but there was a fair amount of mayhem and destruction, which was well depicted. It’s a tricky proposition to portray widespread annihilation and get the readers to really care for the thousands who have died, but this was one of most successful parts of this book. I was genuinely shocked at the sudden outbreak of violence and the extent of it. The deaths were also very well handled.

However, I didn’t really care as much for the main characters and their fates as I felt that I should and the narrative told in the form of recorded files meant that it read in places far more like a play. I suspect that this book is brilliant in audio form – but I missed the layers and nuances you get with characters’ gestures, given they were little more than talking heads throughout. That said, there was never any risk of my not completing it – the action was far too engrossing. While I obtained the arc of Waking Gods from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

ANDDD…

My debut novel Running Out of Space is featured today by those nice folks at the Daily Waffle, complete with an excerpt from the book.

 

 

 

 

Friday Faceoff – You have nice manners for a thief, and a LIAR!

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is dragons, so I’ve chosen Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Fantasy in December 2004, is a rather splendid dragon. Definitely eye-catching and I like the fact that he is clearly expecting to be served. If I’m going to be picky, the backdrop looks like a generic fantasy landscape – and this book is set in an alternate Victorian England where dragons are vying with each other for power and influence after the style of Trollop. So the backdrop doesn’t line up very well with the content. Other than that, I think it’s a solidly good cover.

 

This offering was produced by Orb Books in January 2006. I have to say my first instinct is ‘how boring’. A WHITE cover… really? And that very generic dragon didn’t really take a lot of effort. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, but when I consider just what an awesomely sharp, funny and memorable book this is – the cover simply doesn’t measure up.

 

This cover from Corsair was published in February 2013 and is far more like it! The deep rich crimson and embossed gold lettering and wheeling dragon is both classy and eyecatching. This is the edition that I read, so that also may affect my reaction to it – but the reason I picked it up off the shelf was because the cover caught my eye…

 

Produced in September 2017, this French edition by Denoël also features gold lettering and decoration. The background is darker, but I suppose they are going for a classic Victorian feel. I also like the visual impact of this one, though I doubt it gives the reader much idea about the story or genre of this very quirky, entertaining book.

 

This edition, published in 2006 by Triton is my favourite. I love the wonderfully detailed illustration. The power and menace emanating from that dragon is palpable, while the lettering looks beautiful. And the fact this dragon is engrossed in a book gives a major clue about the story. What about you? Which one of these do you prefer?

 

AAAND… some of you may know that my debut novel, Running Out of Space was published this week. Today I am featuring in a guest blog at Second Run Reviews talking about growing up during the space race – and how I felt when it all came to a halt.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

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I loved the first book in this series, Spellslinger – see my review here. So it was a no-brainer that when I saw this offering on Netgalley I would request it and was delighted to be approved.

It’s a few months since Kellen left his people behind. Now aged sixteen, Kellen is an outlaw, relying on his wits to keep him alive in the land of the Seven Sands. He misses home, he misses family and more than anything, he misses Nephenia, the girl he left behind. And when someone else turns up unexpectedly who carries a secret that’s all too familiar to Kellen. Kellen and Ferius resolve to help – but the stakes are far higher than they realise…

This one is such fun. While I had enjoyed the first book, this one is tighter in focus with a stronger, more coherent storyline. And of course Reiches, the incorrigible squirrel cat is back, giving us some much-needed light relief as the storyline becomes a whole lot darker. I love the relationship between Kellen and Reiches – it’s not remotely sentimental and although there is plenty of humour, it is always edged with the prickly sensibilities of the squirrel cat, which is convinced he is superior to all the pesky humans around him.

Once again, Kellen’s first person narrative pings off the page and immediately drew me into the story. While you don’t need the first book to appreciate this one, I would recommend it as having more Spellslinger goodness in your life can never be a bad thing. What I really appreciated is that in this slice of the adventure, we get to discover more about Ferius, the Argosi who inexplicably turns up in the first book. I thoroughly enjoyed her intervention during Spellslinger but felt a little unsettled that by the end, we still don’t know all that much about her motivation and why she sees fit to get involved in Kellen’s life. As Ferius and Kellen encounter another Argosi, we learn a lot more about how they operate and get a further insight into what makes Ferius tick – particularly when we see her vulnerable and unable to fight back.

The other highlight in this story is the addition of a really nasty antagonist. His manner of attack is chilling and left me wriggling with disgust – eww. We get to know him well enough that we completely understand his motives even though the people behind his horrible scheme remain disturbingly shadowy – until the end. Although I already knew that de Castell isn’t afraid to kill off characters, I was shocked at the death which certainly upped the stakes and injected a real sense of menace.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and it is highly recommended for fans of entertaining fantasy adventure. While I obtained the arc of Shadowblack from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

PUBLISHED TODAY!

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RUNNING OUT OF SPACE
SUNBLINDED: 1

by S.J. Higbee

 

Elizabeth Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…

I can’t recall whose idea it was. Just that me and my shipmates were sick of wading through yet another unjust punishment detail. So we decide to take ourselves off on a short jaunt to the lower reaches of Space Station Hawking to prove that fertile English girls can also deal with danger.
The consequences of that single expedition change the lives of all four of us, as well as that of the stranger who steps in to save us down in lawless Basement Level. Now I have more excitement and danger than I can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

 

And Hywela at Romance That’s Out of This World is starting my blog tour with a guest post by yours truly.

Running Out of Space is available on Amazon.com 

and Amazon UK  for an introductory offer until the end of October only!

Here is the start of the book, where it all begins to go wrong…

CHAPTER ONE

Yeah, I know – Basement Level on Space Station Hawking – what were we thinking?  But penned up on punishment duty with only the prospect of one chaperoned shopping trip had driven us to it. Though the charms of Basement Level wore thin as soon as we set off from the lift. One light in four was working – and then only in Dim mode. The corridors were half the width of the upper levels; a big problem as I’ve seen sewage tanks more wholesome than those walls. You wouldn’t want to brush against them wearing anything other than shipwear throwaways, while keeping off the walls was harder than you’d think, because we were wading ankle-deep in… stuff.

Jessica punched my arm. “Must be homely for you, Lizzy. Floor looks like your cribicle after you done tidying.”

Alisha and Sonja started sniggering.

“’Cept the smell isn’t as vile as your boots,” I replied.

Our laughter bounced around the filthy corridor, easing the mood for a couple of minutes but did nothing about the putrid smell. We struggled on a bit longer, until a grimy woman scuttled past, forcing us far too close to the walls. She didn’t even look our way, let alone thank us for making sufficient room.

Sonja and Alisha stopped.

“Let’s turn round. Unblocking the heads is more fun than this.” Sonja wrinkled her nose at the empty tunnel ahead. “Even the natives got sense enough to be someplace else.”

“We’ve gone promming around for less than a nanosec. And you wanna run back cos the scenery isn’t the same as on board?” Jessica clicked her tongue in scorn. “Starting to sound like those old nannies.”

Sonja flinched at the derision in her voice, but – being Sonja – wouldn’t lock horns with Jessica.

Breathing through my mouth, I straightened up. Jessica is right. So what if this is a dank disappointment? We didn’t come down here for the view – we came to prove we could handle ourselves when off-limits.

But Alisha grabbed Jessica’s arm. “Sonja and me reckon this is a vile place. We vote to head back. Tramping through filth is a tragic waste of shore leave.”

All argument ceased when the floor crud rustled and heaved behind us. A cat-sized rat scuttered through the litter into the gloom beyond.

I shivered. “It’s gotta get better sometime, soon. We’re snagging the next lift we see back to Trader Level.”

We continued trudging onwards for another ten minutes. Just as I was beginning to think the scuzzy corridor was leading into infinity, we turned a corner into a small plaza. With a blast of relief, I spotted the lift in the far corner and relaxed. Now we were nearly out of here, we could do the tourist bit. Truth be told, the word ‘plaza’ probably gives the space more credit than it deserves. While the lighting was brighter and the floor litter had been trodden relatively flat, the buzz that normally goes with buying and selling wasn’t here. Under the stink of rotting rubbish was the sharper stench of desperation.

I passed a trader’s eye over the ratty stalls. Everything I could see on display would’ve gone straight into our ship’s recycler. The food canisters were filthy without the benefit of even the most basic steri-scrub. And the water on sale might have shown blue on the pacs’ purity scales, but the readings must have been blixed, because that cloudy stuff wasn’t fit to pass your lips. Even the powdered water looked like sweepings off a shower-stall floor.

If we hadn’t come down here, I’d never have known this place existed. How many on Shooting Star know about it? This is what I joined the ship for. My heart was thudding with a mixture of fear and excitement. This was a hundred times better than trailing around the overpriced shops on Trader Level with a grumbling chaperone.

Though the people were a shock. There were no shades of yellow, brown, black, or white here – everyone’s skin was grime-grey. All wearing rags pockmarked with holes which only showed more scabby tatters, or dirt-scurfed flesh. I’d tried to blend us in. We were all in scut-gear with worn overalls and battered workboots. But we stuck out like a supernova on a dark night. Mostly because we were clean and well fed, while everyone here was stick-thin. Even the kids

The Cap always says we English merchanters take care of our own better than anyone else. What if he’s right? Because I couldn’t recall seeing any children in this sorry state back in New London.

Sonja gave some creds to a pathetic, sunken-cheeked toddler sitting on the trash-covered floor and in no time flat we were mobbed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids. None of us could resist their pleading, so we handed out all our shore-leave cash. Of course, one of us should’ve kept an eye out for trouble. But we didn’t. And when the children scampered away, I looked up to see we were now ringed by another group. Far more grown-up and dangerous.

***

I can’t quite believe I’m here… It’s taken such a long time to get it all ready and on top of everything else, I’m still struggling with this flu. But I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the book on Amazon – I keep clicking on it just to have a look. I’ve crossed a line – gone from ‘going to’ and ‘want to’ through to ‘done that’. I am very aware in the scheme of things, this isn’t rocking anyone’s world except mine – that the average amount an author makes with their first book is less than the price of a meal for two in a halfway decent restaurant. But this feels huge and I want to thank everyone who has helped to make it possible.