My Favorite Book: Henry’s Stories Anthologies

Henry's Stories: Volume 1

Henry’s Stories: Volume 1

Henry's Stories: Volume 2

Henry’s Stories: Volume 2

This is really two books, Volumes 1 and 2, but I’d be saying the same thing twice, so I won’t waste your time.  Over the past decades, I’ve written many shorter pieces of fiction. Several have appeared in magazines and paperback anthologies.  A few years ago, I set up a web page, like a blog, where I’d serialize my fiction, posting about a chapter’s worth every MWF.  The idea was to reach those people who never read books, and yet spend hours each day reading on the web. I kept Henry’s Stories going for two years, pushing out reprinted stories, serialized novels, and new fiction, hoping to grow an audience.  That never materialized.  Gathering an online audience is harder than it looks.

Instead, I took those same stories I’d been giving out for free on the web and assembled them into books.  Those sell just fine.  Who knew?

Since this is a wide-ranging collection of stories, some of them are difficult to describe.  I had to put Catacomb in Volume 1 since it had triggered more fan mail than everything else, but I also tried provide a mix.  Volume 2 has a few stories that I consider some of my best.  However, people tend to buy just the Volume 1 when they’re unsure of what they’re going to get, so its sales are much higher than Volume 2.

Maybe someday I’ll do a Volume 3, but that will depend on whether I have time or not.  I tend to write some short fiction just for fun, never intending them for publication.  Some are experiments, and to be truthful, a lot of experiments fail.

But if you’re a novel-only kind of person, you’ll miss out if you never sample these.  Remember, they are still out there on my website for free.

So, these permanent homes for my shorter works where new people can discover them are my favorites.

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My Favorite Book: Captain’s Memories

Captain's Memories cover

Captain’s Memories

This part of the saga is something like an anthology of shorter works.  I’ve heard this structure called a ‘fix-up’ novel, where short fiction is blended into a novel-length story. I’ve been calling it ‘comb anthology’ where short stories are interleaved with chapters of a backbone story.

I’ve been writing stories of the Terraforming Project saga since the seventies, and I’ve known from the beginning that they had to be consistent and that someday they would be combined.  I have reprinted many of my short fiction in other anthologies, but I’ve been saving the Project stories for this one collection. It was a joy to fit them all together.

But I had to have that backbone story as well.  After a little thought, I brought one of my favorite characters back on stage.  She was the first, from a 1977 short story, and then re-appearing in a novel that we have yet to reach in this time line.  So this is very much her story, her memories as she teaches the history of the Project to her students.

Now, I’ve been selling the novels under the label ‘The Project Saga’ since Star Time came out, and yet, none of the others ever mentioned the Project.  In a sense, this is the first book of the saga and the others were prequels to the Project.  But that’s just marketing.  They are all part of the same big story I’ve been hinting at since Star Time.

From this point on, the Solar System is changed.  It’s an engineering project like no other.  Humanity hasn’t discovered faster than light travel, and yet it needs more places to live.  With the tractor-pressor technology that was adopted from the abandoned engine left in Star Time, it has been enhanced and developed to a power where planets and moons can be moved, and terraforming becomes a usable option.

I’ve been writing this story all my life, and putting it all together makes Captain’s Memories my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: In the Time of Green Blimps

In the Time of Green Blimps

In the Time of Green Blimps

Back in Star Time, I planted a few seeds that meant little or nothing to that story, but provided the framework for this one. In one, the Australian scientist that was interested in genetic engineering, after a hundred years, has resulted in Australia’s dominant industry.

Genetic engineering has so much potential, both for disaster and for cool concepts, and I dipped into both.  The real-life GM enhanced crops we read about in the news are just a hint as what is possible. Where will we be in a hundred years, and what kinds of disasters should we look out for before they have a chance to happen? But if I had more time, I would have written two books about this era, instead of the one, flying the world in a green blimp.

Another stage in the saga is the political evolution.  With a world-wide disaster, I imagine there would be dozens, perhaps hundreds of monarchies, none of which would be terribly interested in evolving into more populist forms.  We’ll just have to see how that develops in these books, won’t we?

Another seed left from Star Time, and developed in Kingdom of the Hill Country is the changing destiny of our first immortal character.  If you’ve been reading along, then you’d know the Gnomes true identity, even if none of the book’s characters do.  We’ll be seeing more of this in future books.  If you have no idea what I’m writing about, sorry. I do have to protect some spoilers, you understand.

There’s another concept that I’ll be using that shows up in this book.  A world-wide catastrophe leaves scars in humanity’s view of the world. After radiation flares that left damage to the atmosphere, no one lives in the mountains anymore, even after that damage has healed.

Well, that’s enough background.  The story is about the characters, after all. This story takes place in a time where technology has recovered to current standards, although obviously many things developed differently.  Still, with a guy with a smartphone hoping for a future making videos and a rich girl using her influence to make a name for herself in the entertainment industry, the story sounds contemporary. Parts of their story were very hard to write.

Much of it takes place in the (current) Midland Commemorative Air Force hangars, where so much aircraft history lives.  It’s a fitting place for one last seed from Star Time to blossom. No one remembers the aliens, but in the first chapters of the first book, there’s a hint that one last engine was lost, and where it stayed for decades.

So, with a storyline that still brings emotional twinges and with the beginning of humanity’s next space age, In the Time of Green Blimps is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Tales of the U’tanse

Tales of the U'tanse

Tales of the U’tanse

It was plain from the very beginning in Star Time that this saga I was writing had two branches, and it wouldn’t work to combine them in one novel.  No matter that this was hardly the traditional way to write a book series, the off-world branch of humanity needed its own books.

Strictly speaking, Tales of the U’tanse isn’t a novel, but rather a collection of tales covering the first few generations of the human race as slaves on the planet Ko. Their masters, the Cerik, have no lips and could not pronounce human, coming up with u’tanse instead.

‘Adam and Eve on a new planet’ sounds romantic, but those first few generations have some very tough problems. Uncontrolled, the limited genetic diversity would normally doom such a population with birth defects and infertility. In this case, however, Sharon from Star Time was a very capable psychic, able to control the cells of her body and she was able to weed out defective gene combinations just prior to conception. Still, it was a life-long task to raise as many children as possible to conserve what genetic diversity they had.

But her abilities added new complications.  How do you raise a telepathic child to have an independent mind? How can you prevent a community of telepaths from becoming a hive mind?

And there is the question, if the U’tanse ever find their way home to Earth, will they still be human?

With these big questions forcing the early culture of the U’tanse into a shape alien to most of us, I still wanted to write clearly human stories, with people struggling to find their own way in life.

As a writer, I also had to constantly watch out for anachronisms. These people knew practically nothing of American culture, other than a few mentions in the Book, written by their ancestor. Creating a new culture is fun, though.

Cover art was an issue.  From the beginning, I wanted a different look for the saga — different from my YA adventure novels.  The first two were near-current time, and I managed with Photoshop work.  But starting with Tales of the U’tanse, I went searching for character art for the covers, and found an artist in Germany who did a very good job creating the look of the U’tanse, cousins all, living on a world with a poisonous atmosphere.

So, with stories creating the culture of the U’tanse and being able to shape this new branch of humanity, Tales of the U’tanse is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Kingdom of the Hill Country

Kingdom of the Hill Country

Kingdom of the Hill Country

As I was writing Star Time, I introduced a couple of young kids, with just a hint as to their future. (Hint was given by a prophet, so it was pretty reliable.) Kingdom of the Hill Country was my first opportunity to carry the story line into a new generation, and I wanted to do it justice.  It helped that the action took place near home, so I could drive out to my locations and verify what everything looked like.

This was a post-apocalyptic novel, but I didn’t want to haul out the trite deserted landscapes that seem so popular in movies.  Yes, there was a big disaster that destroyed civilization as we know it, but this was set a few years later, when people were putting their lives back together. People on farms were farming. People in cities were finding new ways to make a living. This was a story of renewal, and the pivotal events that could turn civilization in one direction or another.

We have a horse at our house and friends that are big horse lovers, so it was natural to have as a heroine a girl struggling to bringing back horses that were hurt severely by the supernova flare.  Her dedication was making its mark, but when lawless bandits moved into the area, she ran up against the struggling city-state of Austin, and the young man, the son of its ruler, who was trying to expand its economic zone.

I enjoyed examining the political ramifications of a collapse.  No matter how I looked at it in those times, democracy was doomed. The default governance of humanity seems to be a man in power, with possibly a council to help. Part of the interest of the plot to me was seeing how a democracy became a fake one, and then chose to become a monarchy.

Another theme in this novel was the idea of a prophet, who could tell the future accurately, but who could not change anything that he saw. There is a question here: how much does a prophecy influence events? And how can a man live with a future set in stone?  I visit these ideas several times in the bigger saga.  If people with psychic abilities exist, why are there so few of them?  Why has humanity bred out that trait?

The cover art was fun.  I composed the image from photos I’d taken in the area, including the Falkenstein Castle near Inks Lake, with character photos taken by my wife.  The result is maybe too much like a romance novel cover, but I can’t object.

So, from battle tactics, to the birth of a new nation, to a struggle between a man and a woman with different views of the future, this was a fun story to write and is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Star Time

Star Time

Star Time

As a college student, I wrote a novel in long-hand, in three-ring binders.  There was a genius inventor who fought an aerial battle with aliens using his high-tech car to rescue the girl.  This was even before I could type, and it wasn’t all that good.  But that germ of a novel was re-written many times over the decades until it acquired real characters and a more in-depth plot. I don’t even think the names of the characters stayed the same.

During this long growth period I wrote many other stories, some of them appearing in science-fiction magazines, some of them languishing as early drafts in my file-cabinet — but a large number of them shared common history. As I started writing more novels, I also started crafting this very big story, one where individual novels were just chapters in the longer saga.

With this larger structure outlined, confident of the direction it would go, I began a re-write that became Star Time. The very real possibility of Betelgeuse going supernova (which I overheard being discussed by a couple of scientists at a convention) became the triggering event that splits this alternate history off from our real world. This was a bigger story than the adventure novels I had been writing.  The cast of characters ranged from astronomers in Australia, to a telepath in Wimberly, to a race of alien scavengers — but that genius inventor was still there, still willing to put it all on the line for the girl.

I had started a big playground for my ideas. I could craft an alien race that was very different from us — more than just people in rubber masks — and yet one that had its own history and logic. I could design and use a new kind of physics, with its own limits and rules. And I could write a computer intelligence character, based on research I’d read about with its own limits, but with its own potential that I’d never felt had been properly explored before.

And I knew, from the beginning that this was just day one of the bigger story.  Not all sub-plots had to be resolved in the page count of a single novel.  Now, I have an aversion to cliff-hangers.  I want each book to come to a satisfying ending, but I had more room to develop the ideas.

So, when it was completed, Star Time became my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Beneath The Amarillo Plains

Beneath the Amarillo Plains

Beneath the Amarillo Plains

When it comes to blending my personal history into my fiction, I brought out a few extras this time.  I grew up in Amarillo Texas, from first grade through two years at Amarillo College.  When I finally gave in the requests from friends and family to write a story set in Amarillo, I decided to use a lot of familiar places.  Jeff’s house was my house on Tyler Street. The streets he walked were the same ones I walked when I had my newspaper route.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the same Amarillo as it was when I grew up.  For one thing, the Amarillo High School that I attended burned down the year after I left.  They built a new one, but in a new location, forcing redistricting.  So my Tyler Street house is now in Tascosa High School’s district.  Oh, well, I adapted.

My sister Mary Solomon still lives in the area, at Lake Tanglewood, and is quite a respected local artist, so I gave her a small walk-on part in one scene.  But the many visits to Lake Tanglewood let me give a little more flavor to the scenes I set there.  The first scene of the book in fact was a blending of a high school event I attended, just moved to Tanglewood rather than Palisades.

Karen, Jeff’s helper in the mystery story, was loosely based on a girl I knew, and Hank, his best buddy was a mix of several friends I had growing up.

And this is a mystery, no doubt about it.  While Jeff’s brain tricks were slightly fictional and might be considered science fiction, that’s a minor point.  It was when I was considering various plot ideas and remembered adventures I had as a kid, that I remembered the link to Pantex and what an open mystery it was at the time.  Everyone knew it existed, but no one was allowed to talk about it.  Yet, this was normal life and no one considered it all that odd.

It was a lot of fun to bring all these items together, to relive parts of my past and to fold them into a new fictional character.

So, with so many personal memories and with a chance to build a mystery story, Beneath the Amarillo Plains is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Breaking Anchor

Breaking Anchor

Breaking Anchor

It would make my life easier if I just wrote one kind of novel — some easily classifiable category.  Many of mine fit my Small Towns, Big Ideas label, but some do not.  This is one.

Chicago isn’t a small town.  Traveling brought me many times through the Chicago area, and I was fascinated by the Chicago River, which flows backwards.  I’ve also loved the idea of sailing, and if I had been just a little wealthier, I would have bought the exact same sailboat that Tommy and his father Nick used to sail Lake Michigan.

The story doesn’t start out science fiction.  The oddness creeps into the story bit by bit as Tommy discovers the secrets that his father had hidden. Most of the story, in fact, centers on the sailing, where high school aged Tommy has to rescue his father’s friends and keep them out of sight of the Big Evil Corporation that is trying to keep those secrets from coming to light.

Prior to writing this story, I had listened to the Furled Sails podcast, where there were many fascinating stories of the people who live their lives sailing the world’s seas.  I would give a lot to join their number.

Things don’t get seriously weird until the climax — but that would be telling.

This was a fun book where I got to pull a lot of odd-ball ideas out of my hat and weave them together, adding texture to fill in the gaps that started the mystery.

I have a loose outline for a follow-up book, if I can find the time to pull it all together. Breaking Anchor is hardly a cliff-hanger, but there are some issues that the sequel would resolve.  One life-time doesn’t seem long enough to get everything done, does it?

So, my love for sailing and the Great Lakes and Chicago, combined with a hatful of science fiction ideas make Breaking Anchor by favorite.

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My Favorite Book: The Copper Room

The Copper Room

The Copper Room

My wife is a workaholic.  She always schedules more than a reasonable person can accomplish. So one idle science-fictiony thought caught in her brain and she mentioned it over and over for years — the idea of a room where you could go inside and time outside would stop.  It’s a place where you could catch a nap and go back to the world ready to tackle your tasks.

Canton, Missouri, a little college town on the side of the Mississippi River seemed the right place for this story. Now I needed a copper room.

Now, there really are copper rooms.  It’s a metal cage where outside electrical influences are kept out. I’ve seen them in laboratories where delicate instruments are calibrated. But this time I wanted a full-sized room where Jereomy’s inventor uncle built his room with an adjustable time rate.

The name ‘Jereomy’ is the result of my habit of collecting names.  Dozens of people I meet, clerks, restaurant waitresses, and people I meet randomly, especially those with name-tags, get asked about their name.  I ask what the name means, how it’s spelled, and what ethnicity it came from.  I keep a note of interesting names and occasionally one of these appears in my stories.

Jereomy and his girlfriend Lil get caught up in the room, jumping through the future with no way to get back to their own time. It was an interesting problem. Where do you stop? Civilizations rise and fall and nobody can predict what will happen in the future.  Do you accept the current status, with all it’s faults, or close the door and jump another hundred years into the future and hope it’s better.

I had a lot of fun, taking one simple location, Canton on the river and seeing it progress through collapse and rebuilding.  I also had the opportunity to toy with genetic modification problems.  Might we have genetic-Chernobyl’s, where the area is contaminated with chemicals that trigger gene shifting where animals could leech code from one species to another?  And what might the result of that be to the human race?

As is often the case, I ‘invent’ a gadget and give it limits.  Then it’s up to my characters to solve the problem it creates.  Jereomy and Lil had a particularly tough time of it, and I’m proud of the way they handled it.

So, with one-way time travel and a new future of the human race, The Cooper Room is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Bearing Northeast

Bearing Northeast

Bearing Northeast

In 2009, I had an opportunity for a big Canada trip, starting in Saskatchewan and traveling east, stopping in Montreal for the Worldcon where I picked up my Golden Duck award for Lighter Than Air. After that, we kept going east, up the St. Lawrence, until we turned north through Quebec and took the lightly traveled route into Labrador.

A lot of this trip was taken on faith — that there really would be a place to get gas, because the map sure didn’t show any towns, and we were still in the region where people didn’t speak English.

It was a lovely trip, mostly on gravel roads, where the tundra landscape only rarely hinted at human presence.  Then, half-way across Labrador, we stopped at Churchill Falls, a company town dedicated to keeping the massive hydroelectric power plant running.

I was captivated by the culture and the life these people lived in this isolated location.  I knew I’d have to write a story set in this place.  I even had my hook.  These people didn’t have to pay for electricity — what was the point?  So what could a person do in this far north location if he had unlimited electricity?

I also wanted this to be a road trip story, so that I could include some of what I had just seen in my trip. I even started it in Crescent City, California, where a metal cylinder falls out of the sky, showing a GPS bearing off to the north-east.  I also wanted to include Twitter.  When I travel across the country, I tweet interesting events — my character would do the same.

So my guy Seth and his big sister Biz travel northeast, with not a clue as to what they might find, but he has his buddies with him in his pocket.

This book was short, as far as word-count, so I felt permitted to experiment with the format.  The messages between friends were formatted like a twitter app. Images and links were real. I set up real twitter accounts for each of the characters and tweeted the text that showed up in the novel. The ebook version even has live links.

I also included a image banner at the beginning of each chapter.  Some illustrate things in the book.  Some are scenes I took on my trip that Seth would have seen too.

So in spite of the fact that this book never took off and has sold poorly, Bearing Northeast is my favorite.

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