Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 27 February 2011

What Is Science Fiction Part 3 - Skin

In my inaugral blog I mentioned that I had submitted Skin for the Amazon 'Breakthrough Novel' competition.  Now that competition is capped at the first 5000 entries and although there is no quality control on content I'm certain that most of the entries represent what the authors believe to be a potential winner.  The reality is likely to be different, however.

Anyway, the first round, where the book pitch is evaluated, is over and 4000 books have been eliminated.  Skin is still in there with 999 other books.  I think quiet optimism would be a misplaced emotion at this stage however it is a good start.  The next round, where Amazon editors evaluate the first 3000 - 5000 words of each book.  750 of the remaining books will be eliminated at this stage.  That means by the 14 March I will either be eliminated or in the final 250!

Looking forward, what's the next stage if I do get through this round?  Well, ultimately, the winner gets a $15,000 publishing deal with Penguin US and an award ceremony in New York.  If I get through to the final 250 I'll get the US Visas organised - a small investment - just in case.  Meanwhile Lorraine is looking for a frock!  I'll update on progress after the results of the next stage.

This is a suitable point to provide the SciFi bit to Skin.  This is more integral to the story so I will need to withhold more of the details than with the previous novels (Parallel Lives and The Journeymen) as I don't want to spoil the storyline for anyone reading this before Skin.

The backstory is about a company called Korbins that has a manufacturing plant locally.  One of the scientists, Fabin, has developed a technique to extrude artificial skin from organic polymers infused with the DNA of the target recipient.  In tests he has found that mice have repaired extensive skin damage quickly and that the skin matches the colouration of the area repaired.  It has also been noticed by Fabin and one of his colleagues that mice treated with the artificial skin also appear to have fantastic regenerative properies.

I finished the main draft of skin in about 2007 and a year or two later I read a New Scientist report about a research team that had developed a technique to grow artificial skin using donor DNA.  The process, unsurprisingly, differs quite significantly from the method I concocted for the book however it is interesting that the concept was mirrored in part.  However, I shall not be suing the scientists :-)

The next blog will discuss the backstory to DLF, which has just passed the 2/3 point.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What is Science Fiction? Part 2 - The Journeymen Backstory

In my last blog I discussed the back story to Parallel Lives.  In this blog I'm going to discuss The Journeymen back story.

In The Journeymen we learn about a planet nine light years away which developed a civilisation that explored incessantly, it's flora, fauna, geography and then extended to the exploration of space.  When it found a suitable planet (ours) it set up a colony that thrived.  Meanwhile, back on the home planet, relations started to slip, eventually resulting in a terrible war that killed billions of people and destroyed an entire continent.

That was tens of thousands of years ago.  About six thousand years ago the planet has recovered, provides a benign autocracy, has eleminated the need for war and has almost forgotten about the devastating wars.  Except that the wars left the bio-diversity too limited and the planetary population has started to decline. 

Contact with the original colony has been lost for tens of thousands of years.  Unfortunately much of the technology that they had developed previously has also been lost so it is decided to send a team of people on a multi genrational journey to the old colony hitching a ride on a comet that is known to pass by both planets on a two thousand year orbit.

Three generations and one bloody battle later with some of the people tasked to travel on the comet, the Sons of Arlgon, the Journeymen find themselves stranded on Earth, with the descendants of the original Colonists still preserving the required genetic material although many have interbred with ther indigenous population.  The technology is gone, there is no swift resolution possible.  So the Journeymen resolve to preserve the Colonist genetic lineage, while propelling the technology on Earth to provide the tools to get the genetic material home, at whatever cost necessary.

Fast forward to today and we find ourselves on a planet that is being driven to self-destruction by representatives from an alien race in a drive to develop the technology needed to get teh Colonist genetic material home.  In the middle of this one IB (interbred), Tom Roberts, finds that he is a pawn in a Journeyman plot that results in many people losing their lives.

In my next blog I'll explain the backstory to Skin, my latest published novel.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

What is Science Fiction? Part 1

As a genre, Sci-fi is as broad as any other.  I like to think of my books as being thrillers that hang off a Sci-Fi branch.  As a comparison think of the Spy genre with books ranging from those written by Ian Fleming to John Le Carre.  If you've ever read any Le Carre, especially his George Smiley novels, you will appreciate that they are truly about the craft of spying.  However, if you take the representation of the Bond books in films, they are clearly about adventure hung off a spy genre branch.

I suppose that a book is Sci-Fi when it asks the readers to accept an unproven scientific basis which could be a minor part of the story through to a full blown element - think of any Star trek episode and you have a fully immersive Sci-Fi environment where you just have to accept interstellar travel, transporter beams and alien races are an integral element of each storyline.

So, what do I ask my readers to accept, if not believe in?

In Parallel Lives the story is predicated on the concept of a multiverse.  Mathematically multiple universes are considered to be likely, especially according to superstring theory.  Taking a pragmatic view it is reasonable that there may only be one universe, the one we inhabit, two or more universes, possibly totally unlike each other, and potentially an infinite number of universes.  In the infinite model there is an unlimited scope for variety but also for similarity - infininty goes a very long way.  Where Parallel Lives asks the reader to accept an unproven truth is in the concept that two or more universes could have the same physical properties (a major leap of faith) and that some of the universes could develop from the big bang in more or less the same way to the point that planets circling relatively minor stars could develop the same geographically.  Moreover, on a subset of these planets, the human population can develop in a very similar manner to ours, for example (let's keep this personal). 

The idea is that in an infinite number of universes, if the development of one parallel uninverse down to more or less the population existing now is possible then technically there could be an awful lot of them.  Of course they wouldn't be identical - I don't know if an identical universe is more or less likely than a very similar one but an identical universe provides thin Sci-Fi pickings - so the minor differences in them is the defining element.

in Parallel Lives the premise is that a small number of people are connected in some way with their analogues in other universes such that extreme emotion is conveyed across the universes.  Typically this is when the fortunes of any given person takes a bad turn in one life or another and they suffer a terrifying, painful death.  If we buy into the concept then we can assume that  most of our analogues in parallel universes have had a life as boring and humdrum as ours, but a few will have suffered a fate we haven't, at least not yet. It could be the drunk driver that swerved the opposite way, or even the bad decision to get in his car, that has decided the fate of an analogue we've so far avoided.

So much for the Sci-Fi - Parallel Lives is based on an acceptance of this but the story is about how a govenmental agency attempts to manipulate one person, John Staples, into seeing events in other universes his analogues exist in, in an attempt to use information gained in that way to predict what might be about to happen in our universe.  John's boss and his wife find a way to spring John from the clutches of the government agency but find themselves fugitives from the secret service, with a showdown on a cliff side in Devon bring the story almost to an end.

Which is where the comparison with Fleming is more appropriate than Le Carre - The Sci Fi is the vehicle, but the characters and how they resolve the issues in the story, are the drivers.

In part two, I'll discuss the background to The Journeymen, which at least keeps within the bounds of this universe!  Beyond that, in part three I'll chat about Skin and in part four, DLF

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What does a SciFi Writer Read?

All writers need to read - nobody is a literary island.  To write SciFi needs at least a basic understanding of science, I would suggest, however too complete a knowledge could possibly act as a barrier.  The aim, for me, of writing SciFi is to present an alternative version of reality that could, just maybe, be real.  Sort of.

On my Kindle right now is a book I downloaded just after Christmas in the Amazon Christmas sale.  Produced by the team at New Scientist it is called 'Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze?' currently selling for £3.98, I bought it for £1.  If you've ever read New Scientist you'll know that near the back page they hand the magazine over to the readers who pose and collectively answer science based questions, hence the book title. 

At variance with the majority of the magazine, where virtually every statement and assertion is qualified - probably life changing, almost certainly the most powerful generator etc the weekly questions and answers are a mixture of genuine expert opinion mixed with semi-plausible intuition and plain bonkers answers.  It's the latter that are the fruitful resource a SciFi writer needs, mixed with the offbeat ideas people come up with.

Probably only a small fraction of the content of this book will permeate into my future writing, at least consciously, but every fifth or sixth topic brings a 'hmmm' thought to me as I read.

Another piece of reading I've undertaken has been some of the Kindle discussion groups on Amazon.  I've mixed feelings aboout these - I feel there should be a real use for them but in reality I find the forums I end up looking at, although interesting sounding topics, often end up with a bunch of writers pitching their books at each other, the result being everyone talking, nobody listening.  Occasionally I find myself blindly pitching my titles to these forums even though I realise nobody is reading, only writing.

I did stray onto one thread that should have been of interest to writers and readers alike, and to be fair it was predominantly readers contributing, a couple of writers including myself plus an angry person hiding behind a handle serving bile at virtually every post, which almost stalled the thread at one point.  The topic was titled How Much should Kindle Books Be?'  Given that writers want to make money from their books, otherwise they would find a way to give them away, and that readers want to buy books at as fair a price as possible, this should have been a fertile ground.

However, it looks like I made a heck of an assumption about readers.  My position is that ebooks don't require anyone to kill a tree, log, pulp and then convert it to paper, bleach it in chemicals, ship, print, bind, store and distrubute it - all costly actions that are needed by printed books - I believe that ebooks should be a fractional cost of the three dimensional variety.

Many of the readers sounded like they believed themselves fortunate if ebooks were at least as inexpensive as paperbacks and some even suggested that ebooks costing a little more than the paperback equivalent wasn't necessarily outrageous.  It was a small group of contributers so may not have been representative, however I think many believe the artificial price of ebooks - often a straight translation of print book costs - is not offensive.  My guess is that in most cases the authors don't gain any share of the greater markup and certainly readers don't!

I did stumble across one interesting book on the forum, though, titled '101 Amazing things to do in Great Britain', costing £0.71.  It's on my Kindle now for reading later in the month.

My latest book, DLF, has reached a crunch point.  I've left the story at a cliff-hanger and, although I know the resolution of the issue, I need a good run at writing it.  I estimate it will take about two hours to draft the first run-through and I just didn't have the time to do that last night, so it will have to mull around in my head for another day or so.  I did promise to reveal the meaning of the title in the first blog, so I'll reveal that today and my plan is to lay out the ideas behind the story in future blogs.

DLF, naturally enough, stands for Digital Life Form, but I guessed everyone would have worked that out.  In case it isn't too obvious these are the space-borne bacteria that arrive on the backs of meteorites; silicon is their food, electricity is their water and programming code is their DNA.  You'll have to wait for a more detailed explanation of what the book is about, though.

I also intend to explain some of the background to my published books on Amazon (for Kindle) and Smashwords (for Sony eReader) in future posts.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Inaugral Blog

Following on from reading Mark Coker's guide to getting the most out of Smashwords ( I've created my first blog, to let anyone interested in my books to follow my progress.

The story so far is that this year I've published three books that have sat on a hard drive for some time:

Parallel Lives
The Journeymen

Intially on Amazon in Kindle format: and, after getting some grief from a friend who'd snaffled a Sony eReader from somebody he knows, on Smashwords.

If you've checked out those links you'll immediately notice that I'm never knowingly undersold!  My books are all available for $1 apiece, which works out at around 1000 words a Cent on average (or in real money about 1300 words a penny).

I'll update on sales progress on those three books in future postings.

Bang up to date my most recently written novel, Skin, has been entered into the Amazon breakthrough novel competition and is through the first round.  To be fair the first round is based on the fastest finger principle - I was among the first 5000 entries submitted.  The next stage is based on the blurb I submitted:

'When Rory Callum walked into Kuwait, barely alive and the only survivor of an ill-fated Special Forces operation preceding the shock and awe phase of the second Gulf War, his lack of memory and the violent, unresolved murder of his colleagues ensured that, for Rory, his Special Forces days were over.

Some years later finds Rory working for Max on the edge of the law, often straying across it, as an undercover industrial spy, inserting himself as an agency worker to discover what next year's cornflakes marketing strategy is, or the launch details of a new promotion. However, his new task is more involved; a deep insertion into Korbins to find out what their new, secret discovery is.

Groomed and primed by the gorgeous but sexually disturbed and violently dangerous Melinda, who can manipulate identities and histories effortlessly, Rory finds himself employed as a trainer in Korbins and begins a process that results in him being targeted by murderous hired thugs, being chased by the Secret Service determined to understand what happened in Iraq years earlier and as an unwitting pawn for Fabin, a seriously complicated and evidently mad scientist in a fast paced and violent story that reaches all the way up to the offices of the British Prime Minister.

In the hard-hitting and complex ending Rory finds his memories released as he races to defeat Fabin and his ex Royal Marine employee, Ron Danvers.

This hard-hitting and complex story of revenge is based in the near future but heavily underpinned by the events leading up to the second Gulf War, which forms a significant back story. The pace is relentless and fast flowing as the truth behind the missing weapons of mass destruction debacle is revealed.'

While I'm waiting for my destiny in the competition I'm working on my fourth novel, DLF.  Currently I'm up to 35000 words and so far at least three characters have died, about my nornmal hit rate for the first third of a book!  I'll update in future blogs about the progress of DLF and will explain a bit about it, starting with deciphering the acronym