J. Grace Pennington has published four science fiction novels. They each have a unique bent to them, but this one is very different. Each book is a standalone, but as with any series, you get more of the story if you read them all in order. In Reversal Zone, the main character, Andi Lloyd, becomes the only one who can save the ship and crew. Can she do it in time?
About the Book
After weeks of boredom, Andi is excited when the Surveyor is called upon to rescue a freighter that mysteriously vanished in uncharted space. Excitement quickly turns to unease when the ship encounters an unknown phenomenon—a cloud that appears not to exist. But with the freighter's crew in danger, the Surveyor has no choice but to venture into unknown territory.
As soon as they enter the cloud, its unstable effects wreak havoc on the ship. They're flying blind. Every piece of equipment is malfunctioning. And every member of the crew is unable to think straight or act like themselves—except Andi.
Now she's expected to guide them through the predicament with no previous command experience and no one to turn to for support. And with each passing hour, it becomes clear that if they don't escape the cloud soon—they won't escape it at all.
“Four degrees starboard.” Crash pointed, leaning over August's shoulder and peering at the navigation display.
I sat in the visitor's chair on the port side of the bridge, watching as everyone went about their business. Once I'd helped Olive, the nurse, finish unloading the new medical supplies, there was nothing to do in sickbay other than refill a few prescriptions, which the Doctor liked to do himself. Thus Olive had gone to find her husband, our first engineer, and I had headed to the bridge.
I couldn't remember the last time things had been so uneventful.
Uneventful for the Doctor and Olive and I, anyway. Things did not appear uneventful for the Captain and Guilders.
The Captain sat ramrod straight in his chair on the little platform in the command pit, glowering at Crash. Crash ignored him, remaining draped over the back of August's chair.
Normally the bridge was one of my favorite places to be, second only to sickbay. I loved the open space to the front and both sides, the view of the stars as they sped past, even the sober gray-blue color of the walls. I loved seeing how smoothly things ran, like the workings of the most intricate electronic device, and I loved the disciplined aura of the bridge team working together to get everything done.
But today, it was different. The color was the same, and of course the stars hadn't changed much. The atmosphere, however, had something added to it, and that something was Crash. The room even felt smaller, as though it couldn't contain two big personalities at once.
“When I left, they were still in Delta thirty-five-sixty-seven,” Crash explained, straightening up and facing the Captain. “That's as far as I can guide you for sure. Pretty soon after that they disappeared from the scopes.”
The Captain frowned and leaned forward. “I'm still not clear as to why you left them.”
Crash paced away from August, whose face relaxed slightly.
I bit my lip. No matter how much I'd missed Crash, it was never long before he began to irritate me.
“I told you. DeMille hired me to guide the Pigeon through some of the uncharted sectors to the rendezvous. But Captain Dooley is just a little too set in his ways, and didn't ever listen to me, even though DeMille said he had to.”
“That doesn't surprise me,” Guilders said.
I shifted in my chair, trying to quell the restlessness.
“I saw I was doing no good, and Dooley obviously didn't like having me there, so I left. They were getting into territory even I hadn't explored, anyway.” Placing his hands on his hips and standing with legs apart, he faced the Captain. “Don't know if you know Dooley. A very... possibly the most serious and emotionless man I have ever met. Not a hint of fun or romance.” He wrinkled his face.
The Captain sighed. “No, I don't know him.”
“But he sounds like an entirely satisfactory person to me,” Guilders said without the slightest change of expression.
I couldn't stop an amused snort, and Crash looked over his shoulder at the first officer. “What was that?”
“Nothing, sir,” said Guilders. For a moment, I thought the “sir” carried a hint of sarcasm, but his face remained unchanged.
“Mr. Crash,” the Captain questioned, “do you have any idea at all what could have happened to the Pigeon?”
“No idea whatsoever.”
The Captain cupped his clean-shaven chin in his hand and frowned. “This doesn't add up. A ship doesn't just... disappear.”
“Well, this one did.”
Guest Post by the Author
I have a confession to make. I love movies. I love the craftsmanship that goes into making a truly excellent piece of cinema. I'm a serious film buff who will lean over and whisper behind-the-scenes trivia to my boyfriend every time we watch something together. I inhale making-of featurettes. I don't just have a top ten favorites list, I have a top fifty.
But that's not the confession. The confession is that lately, I actually like television shows more than I like feature films.
It may be partly because I'm busier, which makes it much easier to find time to watch something twenty or forty minutes long than squeeze in a full two hours. But it's also because you can form a much stronger bond with the characters than you can in a single movie. I love stories for many reasons, but first and foremost I love them for their characters.
Granted, you can get to know people much better in a book than in a movie, because you can delve into their inner thoughts and feelings in a way a visual depiction never can. But still, nothing can beat getting to know someone over the course of many stories, seeing them act and react over a large span of time, watching them grow and advance in the world in more time than can fit into a single book. In essence, a series is the TV show of the literary world.
And since I've watched a lot of TV shows, I've been able to identify a couple of pitfalls to try to avoid in my series.
1-Jumping the Shark
Okay, so I'm not the only one who has identified this. The term was coined after an episode of Happy Days where the writers, having run out of better ideas, had their character Fonzie water ski over a shark. It's basically any point in a series where something ridiculous is inserted because the story has run out of steam and the storytellers just throw something in that doesn't fit in order to keep their audience interested. Even the best series can fall prey to this—one of my all-time favorite shows, Friends, started to lose traction several seasons in and incorporated an ill-fated romantic attraction between two of the characters that eventually fizzled out without really adding anything to the overall arc of the series. While the actors were able to pull it off enough that it wasn't a complete disaster, it was disappointing to many of the fans.
The core problem? These series went so long they ran out of things to do. The amount of interesting things for a set of characters to do is not infinite. And attempts to prolong a series past its natural “expiration date” often leads to shark-jumping that shatters the suspension of disbelief and bores the audience. The solution? Planning. Plan out exactly what the series is going to look like, from start to finish. Craft an entire, complex story that contains only what it needs to. You can't run out of ideas if all the ideas are already there from the beginning.
I did this early on for my Firmament series—I planned out all the books before I even wrote the first one. That doesn't mean I'm not willing to change the plan if I need to. As I learn more about writing, I tweak it. But I'm not going to just keep going aimlessly just for the sake of continuing it. If anything, over time I've condensed it. The series went from twenty-four books to eighteen, but it still begins and ends the same way with the same basic plot points in between.
2-The Customer is Always Right
This may be true in retail, but it's not the case in storytelling. Audiences and readers may think they know what they want, but they don't. They may clamor for their favorite character to be saved from death, or for their favorite pair to become romantically involved, or for a series to continue past its end date. But while authors may not be perfect, they are the gods of their own stories. Nobody knows the characters like they do. No one else has spent the amount of time and effort on the stories that they have.
One of the most famous examples of this is Sherlock Holmes. After years of fame, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of writing his famous detective and decided to kill him off so he could move on to other things. As a diehard Holmsian, I certainly wouldn't love this decision, but Doyle's cave to the public's pressure didn't produce the best results. He resurrected Holmes in body, but most of the stories penned after that are missing a great deal of Holmes's spirit. It would probably have been just as well for him to have left it alone and moved on to the things that his heart was truly in.
A more recent and more frustrating example is the television show Once Upon a Time. Originally a brilliant, charming premise involving fairytale characters cursed to live in our world, over five seasons it has gone far beyond jumping the shark—it has jumped whole oceans in its absurd attempts to revive the spark that once made it such a great series. But the last straw came when the writers, pressured by certain factions of their fanbase, added an LBGT storyline in one of their recent episodes. Unfortunately, it did them no favors because it had nothing to do with the larger series arc. It was clumsily inserted to appease the clamoring public, but at the end of the day it didn't even do that. The conservative viewers weren't happy, for obvious reasons. The LBGT viewers weren't happy, because it wasn't handled in a way that respected their community. And the neutral viewers weren't happy because it distracted from the story in a completely unnecessary way.
The solution? Once you make your plan, stick to it. Not at the exclusion of truly superior ideas, but don't change your series plan simply because of pressure or fear of the reaction if you don't. For my series, I do accept feedback from other writers, people whose ideas about story I trust and respect. But there are some things I have planned for future books that I know certain people won't like. Does that make me cringe a little bit inside? Yep. But I wouldn't have planned it if I didn't believe it was best for the story, so I'm sticking to it.
This book is the fourth in the series. The first was published four years ago, in 2012. I'm not getting them out as quickly as I'd hoped, but I know I'm doing the best I can and so I try to be content with that. I try to follow my imagination where it wants to go, within the bounds of the principles of good writing and the parameters I've set for this set of eighteen stories. In the end, I hope that it isn't truly eighteen different stories. I hope that it's one, grand overarching story about a young woman who comes of age in a time when the firmament of space is just a simple shuttle ride away.
About the Author
J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk, and writing them down since age five. Now she lives in the great state of Texas, where she writes as much as adult life permits. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading good books, playing movie soundtracks on the piano, and looking up at the stars.
You can find out more about her writing at www.jgracepennington.com.
Grace is generously offering three prizes. A signed copy of each of her three previous novels in the series. They are each standalone stories, but they are also connected. If you would like to read more about them, you can read about them here: Radialloy, In His Image, Machiavellian.
To enter the giveaway, please fill out this form.
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