The Rising Author Tag

Hey all! It seems there’s a new tag making the rounds, and it honors new authors. And thanks to a friend of mine (a fellow author), I’ve been nominated! Wow, a chance to join other authors and talk about my writing. That plays to my strengths rather nicely…

Okay, so here are the tag rules:

  • Thank the person who tagged you.
  • Answer the questions they came up with.
  • Nominate four people to do the tag (no tagging the person who tagged you originally).
  • Come up with 10 new questions for the people you nominated.

The first one is easy enough. A special thanks to Rami Ungar for nominating me and keeping this site of mine active. Ever since I began writing for a living, my time here has predictably suffered. But I try to make the time to post updates and thoughts when it’s important. Here are my answers to the questions:

Tell us about what you’re working on or recently released.

The second book in my Formist Series, titled The Jovian Manifesto, was recently released by Castrum Press. Since that time, I’ve been working on the third and final installment, The Frost Line Fracture.

Where in the process of writing are you?

I just recently finished the tenth chapter, which brought me to about 24,000 words. Soon enough, I will be polishing off Part I of the novel and getting into Part II.

What is the most difficult part of writing the story at this point?

For me, the third installment in a three book series is always the toughest one to write. Not only do you need to come up with a compelling story that will live up to (or surpass) the first two, you also have to keep track of everything you’ve established so far to keep things consistent.

What about your main character do you like the most?

Well, the series has kind of shifted MCs. But for the second and third book, there’s a central protagonist. She’s tough, independent, and not afraid to be occasionally vulnerable.

What is your writing process/routine, if you have one?

Not much to say, I pretty much write when I feel inspired. I prefer to do it at home, but at times, the feeling strikes me when I’m out and about (usually at a cafe with my laptop).

Do you pants your way through a story, or do you plot it out?

I plot it out, always. I’ve never been a seat-of-the-pants person when it comes to writing. Before I start writing, I prefer to create a framework that addresses how it will all unfold. I don’t work out all the details in advance, just the bare bones of the plot. That leaves me enough room to improvise and add things along the way.

What are your characters’ musical interests?

Hmm, I haven’t really thought about it that much. But I imagine she would be into jazz and music that melds Latin and African influences. That’s her background and she’s big into poetry and travel.

What’s next for you in terms of writing?

Well, I’m working on the third installment in a trilogy. Once that’s done, I plan to start a new series (another trilogy) that will be set in the same universe, but takes place later, and with higher stakes!

If you could pick a narrator for your story’s audio book, who would you pick?

Tough call! I feel like I should say Morgan Freeman, but my gut says Idris Elba. Natural gravitas in either case, but Elba is freaking cool!

Share an excerpt or snippet, if you’re comfortable.

The place smelt like a Cronian pleasure dome on a Sunday morning. A crush of bodily odors, sweat, bad breath, hot food, and recycled air. It made Adler want to instruct his implants to shut down his olfactory receptors. Given the choice, he might even want to instruct them to shut down all his senses, make him forget where he currently was.

But that would deprive him of the lovely view, which he was taking from a upper tier overlooking the settlement’s main bazaar. Everywhere he looked there was the same signs of decay and turpitude. The same mix of people living in a transitional area between traditionalism and transhumanism. 

Hygeia. The name was practically a pejorative, as far as Adler was concerned.

During the Great Acceleration, Hygeia was one of many rocks in the Main Belt that was established as a stopover and refueling station for missions headed towards the Outer Worlds. Like Ceres, Vesta and Pallas, the first waves of workers and engineers had done a bang-up job establishing the necessary infrastructure, which included the docking facilities that serviced haulers and freighters.

However, the plan soon changed and a second wave of moved in, seeking to turn the asteroid into a self-sustaining colony. These people were responsible for hollowing out most of Hygeia’s rock and ice to make room for living quarters and speeding up its rotation to provide artificial gravity – roughly 0.8 of Earth normal. They also created the biome that ensured a steady supply of recycled air and water.

But as time went on and the Great Migration occurred, the asteroid gradually changed into a place for black-marketeers and people looking for sanctuary. Retros, Extros, and people who were somewhere in between all found themselves drawn to Hygeia because its unique combination of accessibility and nobody giving a shit.

Those qualities, which had always given Adler an aversion to the place in the past, were precisely why he found himself in Hygeia right now. When someone needed to hide, or to travel discreetly across the Frost Line, this was where they came.

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

The following is an article that I recently published with Universe Today. And since it concerns my recently-published novels, I felt absolutely obliged to share it here. Enjoy!

Hello all. I hope our readers don’t mind that I’m taking a bit of a diversion here today to engage in a little shameless self-promotion. Basically, I wanted to talk about my recently-published novel – The Jovian Manifesto. This book is the sequel to The Cronian Incident, which was published last year (and was a little  shamelessly promoted at the time).

However, I also wanted to take this opportunity to talk about hard science fiction and how writing for a science publication helped me grow as a writer. By definition, hard sci-fi refers to stories where scientific accuracy is emphasized. This essentially means that the technology in the story conforms to established science and/or what is believed to be feasible in the future.

So when I set out to write The Cronian Incident, I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, both in terms of technology and setting. Many of the ideas I came up with, and much of the material I drew from, was inspired from my work here at Universe Today. Since I joined the team in 2010 and became a regular member in 2014, I’ve had the chance to write about space-related news, as well as exciting research and scientific breakthroughs.

MESSENGER image of Mercury from its third flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

From the beginning, I felt that what I was writing about was inspiring me in my other major pursuit, which was to become a sci-fi author (something I had been pursuing for years). In fact, it was an article that I had just finished writing for our Guide to Space (The Planet Mercury) that inspired the entire series. After writing it, I began talking to a friend about how humans could make a go of life on Mercury, provided they had the right technology and followed proper precautions.

Basically, I said, Mercury is very metal-rich and close to the Sun, which would make it an abundant source of minerals and energy for our future selves. The only problem is that miners would have to remain on the dark side of the planet to avoid being incinerated. But since Mercury has a spin-orbit resonance of 3:2 – where it completes three rotations on its axis for every two orbits around the Sun – a single solar day works out to about 176 Earth days.

That means that as long as they stayed well-ahead of the terminator (the line between the day-side and the night-side) miners would have lots of time to pull ore out of Mercury without being cooked in their space suits! Meanwhile, I argued, permanent bases could be built in Mercury’s cratered polar regions, which are permanently shaded and have abundant supplies of water ice in them.

View of Mercury’s north pole. based on MESSENGER probe data, showing polar deposits of water ice. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory.

Inside some of the larger craters – such as Prokofiev, Kandinsky, Tolkien and Trggvadottir – bases could be built where miners would stay between work shifts. Water and building materials could be harvested in-situ, and solar arrays placed around the edges of the craters could gather all the electricity they needed. With the right technology, some of this could even be beamed off-planet to Venus, Earth and Mars.

My friend then indicated that it would be very hard to get people to want to live and work on Mercury, to which I suggested that perhaps only convict laborers would ever be sent there. That set off the light in my head, and before long, a much larger idea began to take shape. I didn’t just want to talk about Mercury and miners, but how we might go about colonizing the Moon, Mars, Venus, and beyond.

I also wanted to do a story that explored the reasons for why humanity became a multi-planetary species. This is an increasingly relevant issue, thanks in no small part to many high-profile individuals who want to see a permanent human presence established on the Moon and/or Mars in this century. These include Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Zubrin, James Lovelock, and the late and great Stephen Hawking.

Artist’s concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson

Here too, I have had the privilege of reporting on what these plans are and how they have taken shape over the past years. I’ve also learned a great deal about the history of proposals to colonize the Moon, Mars, and other bodies in the Solar System. While various works of fiction helped me learn how authors have addressed these proposals in the past (such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, et al.) there was also the theoretical work of scientists like Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, Freeman Dyson, Geoffrey A. Landis and others to draw upon.

Looking at this from a contemporary angle, I went with the idea that the main drivers behind off-world settlement will Climate Change and the accelerating pace of change brought about by the Technological Singularity (both of which are expected to culminate around the middle of this century). I also wanted to explore the long-term idea of terraforming, which was inspired by the Complete Guide to Terraforming series I was writing at the time.

This is where the hard part of hard science fiction came into play. In writing about colonies on Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (the Jovians and Cronians), I did my best to describe the settings based on what is actually known about these bodies. As for how people would live on them, that too needed to be dictated by what we know about their environments and surface conditions.

Artist’s impression of SpaceX’s proposed Mars Base Alpha. Credit: SpaceX

It was a fortunate coincidence that my day job happens to include writing about these very things. That way, when it came time to describe what it was like walking around on the surface of Mercury or Titan, or describing how Martian settlers lived on the planet over time, I had something solid to draw upon.

In short, The Cronian Incident owes its existence to my work here. It also owes its existence to Castrum Press, who published the book after the 18 months it took for me to write it (in the summer of 2017). It’s sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, was published a few months ago, and I plan to finish the series off with a third installment titled The Frost Line Fracture (which should be completed sometime in 2019).

So far, the reviews for the first two books have been quite encouraging. Of The Cronian Incident, Professor Abraham Loeb himself – the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science and the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University – said that it was “An exciting science fiction adventure into the technological future. An exhilarating read for scientists and fiction lovers alike.”

Artist’s impression of a possible lunar base. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

Various reviewers who posted on Amazon have also had encouraging things to say:

“This was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in some time. Its universe is vast in scope, its plot full of intrigue, its characters delightfully well rounded with just the right mix of flaws and strengths.

“This story was a good read that sucked me in and kept me wondering. I particularly enjoyed the world building aspects, and the overarching storyline which is clearly going to continue in the next book.”

“I really like how the action is taking place on various planets/moons of the solar system, and am eagerly waiting for further installments of the story.”

“Mr. Williams delivers an exciting tale in this story. It was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.”

The Cronian Incident (The Formist Series) (Volume 1) by Matthew Williams is a slow-paced, contemplative science fiction story that fans of The Expanse will really enjoy.”

The sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, has also been well-reviewed:

“I don’t think I’ve been so involved in a science fiction series since I read the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. I snapped up a copy of The Jovian Manifesto as soon as possible, having immensely enjoyed The Cronian Incident when it first came out.”

It’s much faster paced than its predecessor and features some pretty awesome action scenes interspersed into a story involving a conspiracy and a plot to counter the conspiracy. There were also some great twists along the way, which I won’t give away here, and I really enjoyed the characters, who were diverse and well-developed.”

The Cronian Incident by Matt Williams. Credit: Castrum Press

So far, the settings have included a penal colony on Mercury, the floating cities of Venus, domed cities on Mars, a Martian space elevator, circular enclosures on Callisto, honeycombed settlements on Ganymede, settlements within the ice of Europa, and spartan domes on Titan. But before the series is complete, I hope to include descriptions of what life is like on Earth, the Moon, and in the Asteroid Belt in the future.

Beyond that, I also want to get into writing about interstellar travel, since that will give me a chance to explore the concepts and ideas we covered in our article, “How Long Would it Take to Get to the Nearest Star?” And, if all goes well, I would like to write about the greatest science fiction draw of all. You know what I’m talking about – Aliens! No spoilers, but that story arc could involve an idea introduced to me by Professor Abraham Loeb himself – hypervelocity stars that can carry their planets along for the ride!

But that’s all stuff for another day and another discussion. In the meantime, I hope people here will check out this series and enjoy what I wrote. If not, well that’s fine too. In addition to keeping up with the latest in space exploration and scientific research,  honest feedback is the only way I will continue to grow as a writer.

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been completely derelict when it comes to this challenge. But I hope to amend that by finishing it things up and acknowledging all the books that have inspired me in the past.

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for this latest entry, I would like to select the Singularity-themed sci-fi classic Accelerando, by Charles Stross.

Have you ever read a book that felt it came along at exactly the right time? Or one that spoke to you and your particular interests at the time? Well, this was one such book for me. Rather than being a single story, this book is actually a collection of shorts that Stross wrote during the early 2000s, but which were all connected by a common theme. Essentially, the six shorts tell the story of three generations of the Macx family, and take place before, during and after the Technological Singularity.

What I loved about this book is how it takes a look at the near-future and how the accelerated pace of technological innovation will make life very interesting (and complicated). It also speaks about several key innovations that are expected, ranging from AI, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), nanotechnology, neural uploads, and commercial space travel.

Looking at the more distant future, it shows how these trends will lead to a breakneck pace of change that will leave most of humanity struggling to remain human. It also throws is some truly interesting and entertaining bits about extra-terrestrial intelligence, a possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, and humanity’s long-term destiny among the stars.

Basically, this book covered all the bases that I was voraciously trying to learn about at the time for the sake of my own writing. It made predictions, both realistic and fantastical, that just spoke to me. And what especially impressed was the way that Stross, writing these stories at a least decade prior to me reading them, predicted so many trends that were slowly coming true. As such, I consider this book to be both inspirational and quintessential to my more recent education as a science fiction writer.

Next up, I nominate Joachim Boaz and his blog, Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations!

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

And I’m back with another entry in the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’ve been very bad at keeping up with these, but I am determined to share my choices for the top ten most influential books I’ve ever read. So what I lack in punctuality, I hope to make up in sincerity and selection :).

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And here’s my third selection for the challenge, the post-cyberpunk classic The Diamond Age!

This book takes place in the 21st century after the world has been fundamentally changed by the introduction of nanotechnology. If Eric K. Drexler’s book The Engine of Creation was the authoritative treatise on how nanotechnology would change our lives, The Diamond Age was definitely the fictional counterpart. In this novel, Stephenson treated fans to his usual mix of weirdness, genius, historical and social commentary, education and growth.

For me, this book remains immensely influential, not because it introduced me to the concept of nanotechnology, but because it did so in a way that had such depth. Anyone who reads this is sure to feel that this book came along at exactly the right time to offer commentary on a concept that was slowly moving from the realm of science-fiction to science fact. And as this concept becomes more and more realized, I feel that this book will become required reading for people looking to understand the evolution of nanotechnology.

But, as I said, this book went beyond mere technological commentary, and contained some very interesting thoughts on social change, historical patterns, and the role of culture in development. While I didn’t agree with everything he asserted, it was interesting to see Stephenson detail how specific cultures may go about embracing technology differently, and how the pendulum of history can swing back and forth depending on the time and place and what means are available to people.

If nothing else, it got me thinking in a very serious way, like most of his works. And it was also delightfully fun to read and inspired me as a science fiction writer to take more risks and tackle issues I felt were previously inaccessible to me. Again, I highly recommend this book.

Okay, now for my nomination. This time around, I nominate the Tousled Apostle herself and a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Jamie A. Hughes!

 

Future Days Released!

Future Days Released!

Good news everyone! The anthology known as “Future Days” – a collection of 17 short stories by Castrum Press’ sci-fi authors – has just been released. And in honor of its release, the book is on sale now for $0.99 (£0.99 pounds in the UK). As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, one of the short stories is by yours truly. It’s titled “Jericho”, and its set in the same Universe as The Cronian Incident.

The plot revolves around a generation ship and a crew of settlers who are on their way to a distant planet. This planet has already been seeded by a breed of nanotechnology known as Seedlings, which terraform planets and build the colonists’ infrastructure in advance of a colony ship. But of course, some surprises are waiting for the colonists when they arrive!

The book is available on Amazon and will be on sale until August 31st! As of September 1st, it will be $2.99, so you better hurry!

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Cover Art Reveal for the Future Days Anthology!

Behold! When the anthology drops, this will be the beautiful artwork that adorns the cover! This anthology is a collection of short stories by Castrum authors and is being released in advance of a number of new books by said authors (one of which is the second installment in my Formist Series – The Jovian Manifesto). My wife thinks there’s a strong resemblance between the child wearing the jet pack and yours truly. Yeah, I suppose I can see it too! 🙂

For those interested, my own contribution is the story Jericho, a story that takes a look at a generation ship that arrives at its destination many centuries from now. The colonists are what are known as Seedlings, people who use advanced nanotechnology to seed and terraform other worlds in advance of colonists. When they arrive, their homes, cities, streets, industries, and all the basic amenities are already built. All they need to do is take their places among the colony and get things working.

This story takes place in the same universe as The Cronian Incident, thought not the same time frame. Speaking of which, stay tuned for cover art for the second installment in that series, The Jovian Manifesto!