Friday, August 2, 2013


A science fiction novel

As the last star fighter in squadron 111, Midshipman Henry Gallant is on his way from Jupiter to Mars. With the United Planets' fleet on the verge of annihilation, he can expect no help as he passes through the asteroid belt and threatening aliens. With so much uncertainty about the aliens' capabilities and intentions, analyzing the captured computer equipment in Gallant's possession could prove crucial. Unfortunately, it is his abilities that have been much in doubt during his tour of duty. In an era of genetic engineering, he is the only Natural (non-genetically enhanced) officer left in the fleet. Only bright and attractive junior officer Kelsey Mitchel has shown any sympathy for him. Now as his navigator on the last fighter in squadron 111, her life as well as a good many others, depends on Henry Gallant.

Gallant prepared to press the firing button to launch an antimissile into the center of the damaged saucer, but then he paused. He suddenly realized that he had the opportunity to discover important information about the aliens, if he could get inside the saucer and relay what he found to Captain Caine and GridScape.

“Kelsey, we’ve got to dock with that saucer and board it. Once we’re inside who knows what we'll discover?”

Kelsey grew alarmed, “No, no, no. Henry; is that even possible - in the middle of this chaos?”

“It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.” He abandoned caution and committed himself to the risky venture. Kelsey stayed silent and motionless for several long seconds. Then any reservations she had faded. She calculated the course to dock, matching the saucer's speed, course, and orientation so that they would be relatively stationary.

"Kelsey, you’ll have to remain with the fighter and use the lasers to cover my spacewalk, but if things go badly, I want you to break off," said Gallant, strapping on his gun. "I don’t know if the ship’s crew will offer any resistance.”

"I’ll inform Repulse what you’re attempting. Maybe they can provide covering fire if needed," she said.

“Great idea. I’ll send a video feed from my suit comm pin to our Eagle. You can let Repulse follow my progress and record everything that happens for intelligence analysis.”

With the aftermath of the violent space battle around him, Gallant prepared to spacewalk to the saucer. He sealed his mirrored armored suit and exited the fighter through his overhead hatch. The suit included an oxygen generator pack that maintained an appropriate atmosphere for him to breathe as he traveled in space. He traveled along the surface of the fighter using short bursts of gas to propel him and then released his umbilical line. Using his propulsion jets he propelled himself forward into the darkness. He looked for a way to enter the alien ship.

Gallant maneuvered the jetpack deftly. His suit shielded him from incredible extremes of temperature—up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit on sunlit surfaces and down to 150 degrees below zero on the shady side of the fighter.

Propelling himself forward, he tumbled and then straightened up. By using the communicator to connect to the fighter, he relayed information directly to the ship’s AI. He could also access the ship’s monitoring capability to see how the battle was progressing. Suddenly, the communicator notified him that an alien saucer was approaching. He could see laser shots flash near him. For a moment he couldn't breathe, and then he let his training take over and found the strength to go forward.

-What book and/or experience made you want to be a writer?

Science fiction novels provide wonderful adventures in unexpected places with unusual characters and strange circumstance. I’ve enjoyed them all my life including stories such as Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet series and it inspired a story that I wanted to share. Midshipman Henry Gallant was the result.


As a scientist and author specializing in technology innovation, H. Peter Alesso has over twenty years research experience at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). As Engineering Group Leader at LLNL he led a team of computer scientists and engineers in innovative applications across a wide range of supercomputers, workstations and networks. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a B.S. and served in the U.S. Navy on nuclear submarines before completing an M.S. and an advanced Engineering Degree at M.I.T. He has published several software titles and numerous scientific journal and conference articles, and he is the author/co-author of six books.

Visit his website. Check out his blog, and like his Facebook page.

Contact H. Peter -

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Hey readers,

Hard core hard sf. Nice.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Adult: Why, Just Why?

Hi folks,

As promised (threatened?) on Monday—another rant.

I write fantasy and a bit of sf. I usually read fantasy and a bit of sf and some mystery. I’m trying to expand my knowledge of the genres, and I’ve been reading some romance lately. Romance isn’t really my thing, but if it’s well-written and interesting, I’ll enjoy it.

At residency for Seton Hill a few weeks ago, the recently popular “new adult” genre was called into the spotlight. We discussed and defined it, and here’s what we came up with.

“New adult is young adult romance with sex that’s written for the 18-22 age bracket.”

College-age romance. Ok, fine. That age range was neglected for a while and not just in romance. When I was a kid, I went from reading “A Wrinkle in Time” to “The Sword of Truth.” That’s a big gap.

So new adult. I made it part of my “expanding mission” to read some of these. After all, keeping up-to-date on what’s selling (even if it isn’t in your genre) is important.

I’ve read a few series of new adult romance, and I’m done. I’m very done. I know the alpha male is a thing in adult romance. I know dangerous men are a thing in adult romance. I know submissive women are a thing in adult romance, and I know that “dark past” is a thing in adult romance. Is it me, or does new adult take these elements, blow them out of proportion, and throw them into the backstories of college age kids? Because, seriously, that’s what I’ve read so far.

The girls—they are brainless. I remember a lot of the girls I went to college with, and some of them weren’t that bright. But the girls in some of these new adult novels are a flat-out insult to the girls who attend college in real life. Maybe I just didn’t associate with these types of girls, but letting your boyfriend walk all over you (to the point of skipping class because it makes him happy) is not healthy or smart.

And submissive. Some of them are submissive to the point where I want to shake them and ask if they were raised by doormats. “My boyfriend told me to strip in public. Guess I’ll strip in public even though half my professors are watching.” Wow, just wow.

And can we talk about the backstories. “I was traumatized somehow (most likely brutally) before going to college.” Hardly any of the leading ladies had a good life before college. I know dramatic backstories make for interesting characters and lots of tension, but the drama doesn’t have to be so severe. And it doesn’t have to be the case for almost every main female character in the genre. If they are representative of the real-life population of female college students, we all have terrible lives.

The sidekick friends—they are actually worth reading for in most cases. They are often the fun, smart kids that I hung out with in college. Probably because they aren’t the center of the story. Who wants to read about college students who make good decisions, right? The friends often seem to have healthy romantic relationships too. Go figure.

And now for my real issue…

The men.

Oh. My. God. New adult took the alpha male and transformed him into this barely human monster. “I’m so badass I beat the crap out of people all the time and never get called out or arrested. And all the chicks love me for my mad beat-the-crap-out-of-everyone skills.” Um, no. If a guy is a black belt in karate and able to beat people but doesn’t, that’s attractive. There is nothing attractive about guys who beat everyone (except their girlfriend, conveniently) to a bloody pulp. That guy…he’s a loser.

What happens when super alpha male and overly submissive girl get together?

Nothing good.

Him: “I will follow you everywhere, honey. I’ll protect you from all the other guys who want to look at you, flirt with you, date you like a normal person, be your friend before your lover/protector/stalker, have fun in your presence (instead of treating every situation like the world is ending), and have a healthy relationship with you.”
Her: “Okay, (big, strong, hulking, crazy, obsessive, stalker-dude, dangerous, should-be-in-jail) boyfriend.”


How do guys like that get off being romance heroes? How is this romance and not creepy? How does this even qualify as romance? Isn’t romance supposed to end “happily?” I see no possible happy ending with a guy who acts like this.

And for the girl who says “ok, honey,” How can anyone be that stupid/submissive/na├»ve? How can they not see that their “wonderful” boyfriend is smothering them? How can none of their friends see it?

I read an article recently that called into question the job of genre writers to teach. We write likable characters because people won’t read characters they don’t like. Are we supposed to write likable characters to teach kids how to act? Isn’t that a parent’s job? The same argument has been put to TV shows. Whose job is it to teach kids how to behave and treat others?

Job or not, genre writers, we have an influence on tomorrow’s college students, like it or not. That doesn’t mean all our characters need to be shining examples of goodness, but the “good guys” (who are not specifically being identified and written as dark heroes) should not be less than one step up from the bad guys.

And therein lies my problem with most NA books. The characters are unrealistic. The plots are unrealistic. The actions of the “awesome badass guy” are often illegal and have no consequences, and the girls love their “awesome badass boyfriends” for being an “awesome badass” when they should be filing for a restraining order.

The genre is aimed at college kids, but let’s be real. High school and probably middle school kids are reading these books. There’s a lot of talk about girls and “strong female protagonists.” Again, it’s not our job to write all-around “strong” females, but we need to write likable females. There’s nothing likable about a wet blanket, and those wet blankets double as terrible role models. They show teen and preteen girls that the thing to do in college is get a boyfriend who is mentally and emotionally abusive, who will follow you everywhere, who will alienate you from your friends, and who will give you orders and expect you to follow them.

And it’s not just girls. Guys read romance novels. They won’t admit it most of the time, but they do. Notice the lack of discussion about “strong male characters.” “Strong” for guys means “physically…and nothing else.” There’s no talk of how male characters impact teen guys. There’s no talk of what teen guys learn as acceptable behavior from male characters. Guys reading NA learn that girls want them to stalk them, beat up other guys who look at them, treat them like property, and isolate them.

It’s no wonder there are so many misunderstandings when it comes to relationships at the college level.

I’m not saying to stop writing these books. Even if I was, no one would listen. It just sickens me that romance novels featuring abusive relationships get published and promoted as “intensely passionate” and “hot.” There is nothing attractive about abuse. These new adult books are like train wrecks. I wanted to put them down, but I couldn’t stop staring at the horror. What happened to romantic comedy? What happened to a bit of comedy in a serious romance? What happened to protagonists with normal moods and less-than-traumatic lives pre-story?

And it’s not just romance. I’ve seen it in urban fantasy, mystery, and especially science fiction (young adult dystopias are all about tragedy and traumatic lives). If I do a Google search for “upbeat books in (genre),” Google looks at me like I sprouted a few extra heads and started juggling kazoos.

Current and emerging authors, I beg you (and I know I’m not the only one), write fun. Write happy. Not every book needs to be upbeat. Not everything I write is, but some of what I write is. And more books need to be. It’s getting depressing. It’s said that popular books of an era reflect the overall mood of the public. Historians are going to look back at the early 2000s and shake their heads.

As always, thank you for reading. And readers, I ask this of you. Do not promote books that show abuse as fun, sexy, and romantic. For people who have been abused, it’s not ok that the subject is treated so lightly. And to people who view abusive relationships in books as sexy, fun, or romantic, pardon my French, but wake the f*** up.

@desantismt on Twitter

Monday, July 29, 2013

Prequels and Sequels: When They Don't Work

Good Monday,

It’s going to be a ranty kind of week. Bear with me. I swear they are informed rants.

Prequels and sequels. I understand the point of them, but really, why are some of them made? Books come in series all the time. Usually, books 2 through whatever further the story, develop the characters, and progress in a normal, coherent timeline. Same should go for prequels, but I’ve noticed this often isn’t the case. For example...

Apologies, Disney. You know I love you, but I’m lookin’ at you.

I’m visiting a friend at her school this week (someone who doesn’t study popular fiction? *gasp*). Amid catching up, we watched a few as-of-yet-unwatched Disney movies last night. Well, I’d seen one and upon deciding to watch it, told her “I’m not really sure why they made this movie.” The second, neither of us had ever seen. We took a shot in the dark.

Movie 1 was “The Little Mermaid III.” I know what you’re thinking. “They made a Little Mermaid II?” Yes, and they made a third one, too. Without giving too much away, LM3, semi-accurately subtitled “Ariel’s Beginning,” takes us back to before movie 1. “Beginning” here is deceiving because you expect it to be about when Ariel was very, very young—five or so. Not the case, she’s about 14 and still voiced by Jodi Benson. (That’s the most mature 14-year-old singing voice I’ve ever heard.)

The movie opens with Ariel and her sisters all pretty young. In keeping with untraditional Disney fashion, their mother is alive and has a healthy relationship with their father. Tragedy strikes, however, and mother is killed in an accident with a pirate ship. Father goes into a deep depression, which proceeds to last for ten years. Because it reminds him of his wife, he bans music from Atlantica. Jump ahead 14 years, King Triton is still dead inside, and Ariel wants change.

What can I say about this? In terms of understanding Ariel’s motivation to leave her mermaid life behind in movie 1, things make a bit more sense. Without spoiling, if her childhood was anything like what this movie portrayed, I can understand her wanting to escape. Otherwise, the two movies really don’t seem to match up. Things leave off on an upbeat, happy note at the end of LM3, so what happened between movie 3 and 1 on Ariel’s timeline that made her so desperate to leave? I feel that the LM miniseries explained much more.

Some important questions need to be framed before one writes a sequel or prequel. How necessary is it to the world the movie/book is set in? Does it answer questions not answered in other books/movies of the series? How vital is what’s presented in the prequel/sequel to understanding the characters and their motivations? Does it really further understanding of the characters and their motivations? I know this particular example is a Disney movie, and that I’m reading a lot into it, but these are important questions. As a writer, I don’t feel that LM3 contributed to understanding Ariel in the later movies. It’s a cute little movie, but it feels disjointed. It doesn’t feel as if it actually happened. After watching only LM1, I would not conclude that Ariel’s childhood was anything like LM3 portrays it, and there is the problem.

Movie 2 watched yesterday evening was “Atlantis II.” K, “watched” is too generous. We gave up about fifteen minutes in. Since the movie is only an hour and fifteen minutes long, that’s a fifth of the way through.—not a lot. At that point, my friend turned to me.

Her: “Do you know what’s going on?”
Me: “Not even a little.”
Her: “Wanna watch something else.?”
Me: “Yeah.”

Writers of all stripes, you never want this conversation to take place between people observing/reading/watching/whatevering your work.

And so “Atlantis II” returned to the back of the pile, most likely never to be watched again. So sad because A1 was such a good movie. A2 just didn’t make sense. I don’t review movies or books unless I’ve read/watched the entire thing, but I will do my best to describe what didn’t work.

The beginning of the movie was good. It began with a hook—two guys on a boat who are attacked by a giant monster with huge tentacles. That got my attention. I kept watching. After that, we flashed forward (downward?) to Atlantis. (I guess it was a night for locations beginning with Atlanti…carry on.) There’s a dubbed-over recap of the events of movie one while the camera shows us how Atlantis has grown and changed. Lovely—normal world.

Milo’s former team of researchers then drops in for a visit. Unexpected and “bam,” normal world is shattered. They come baring news of a monster attacking ships at the surface. So Milo and Kida pack up and head upwards. I don’t really remember the trip to the surface. The next thing I knew, they were being threatened by a dark-aura guy with a deep voice. They told him they weren’t afraid of him and then there was an inn with a lady, something about a curse, and the beginnings of an explanation.

This was about where we called it quits. After the normal world portion of the film ended, the new world of conflict made very little sense. Too much was thrown at us at once, and neither of us could keep up.

Lessons to be learned—prequels and sequels can only ride on the original story for so long. They need to be as carefully thought out and well executed as book/movie 1. They need to gain and keep my interest. I loved LM1. I liked LM2. LM3…eh. A1 held my interest. A2 did not, and I wish it were different. But I don’t think I’ll try watching A2 again, and I’ve seen LM3 twice. Unless I come across another of my friends who hasn’t seen it and needs to “watch it so he/she can check it off the bucket list, I doubt I’ll watch it again.

Another important concept to take away from this—writers often say that great characters can carry a story and keep readers. Not always the case. I loved Milo and company in A1. My love for them did not carry me through A2. Plot is important. Cohesiveness is important. That is all.

On a more modern note, “Monster’s University,” prequel to “Monster’s Inc.” is in theatres. If you haven’t, go see it. That is a great example of a masterfully accomplished prequel. I won’t talk about it because it’s still so new, but it explains so much of “Monster’s Inc.” while remaining its own story. I would have watched it and, more importantly, could have watched it without confusion even if I’d never seen “Monster’s Inc.”

As always, thank you for reading. And join me on Wednesday for another rant-ish post.

@desantismt on Twitter