Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Rules Concerning Earthlight
by Dale Ivan Smith and K.C. Ball

Waters of Lethe
by Ian Sales

Return of the Mayflower
by Gerald Warfield

Life Out of Harmony
by Rebecca Birch

Our Old Crossed Stars
by Travis Knight

Another Time in France
by Sylvia Anna Hiven

His Special Birthday
by Chet Gottfried

Sucks to Be You
by Tim McDaniel

8 Minutes, 15 Seconds
by Levi Jacobs

by Steve Rodgers

One-Way Ticket
by Milo James Fowler


Cool Facts About Cats
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Krell Brain Boost
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Contains Explicit Science

HARD SCIENCE FICTION HAS A reputation for delving deep into the science at the expense of the fiction, but “A Sword Into Darkness” by Thomas A. Mays, is a space combat story with memorable characters, intense drama, and spectacular futuristic technology. Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author David Brin endorses this breakout indie novel as “solid adventure, intrigue and speculative space-tech, from a rising star in military science fiction.” With more than 15,000 sales in the first three months (and still soaring), short-listed in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, this story has also earned the praised of #1 New York Times Bestselling author Graham Brown and award-winning novelist Jeff Edwards.

Naturally I had to see what the fuss was all about.

The premise has been a favorite of mine ever since “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. Spoiler alert: no ships sink in that classic tale of rabbits ignoring an oracle. “A Sword Into Darkness” begins with a dramatically sinking ship, but in spite of the title, there is no swordplay. A wee small voice in the wilderness, aka Gordon Elliot Lee, warns the world of impending doom, only to be dismissed as a lunatic who peddles conspiracy theories about an alien invasion. Fortunately, Gordon is an aerospace tycoon, so when NASA and the President shun his request for military support, he has the means to assemble his own space-based naval force built on the foundations of supposedly “fringe” science. He recruits the straight-laced Nathan Kelley, a bloodied naval warrior who’s skeptical but willing to do what Lee wants in return for a paycheck, and Kris Munoz, a tatted, pierced, purple-haired science geek who doesn’t need a plausible incentive to build atomic weapons and rocket ships. She just needs the resources, and Gordon supplies these.

Kris’ first “success” is a spectacular disaster for the lab but a great step for humankind. It’s also great comic relief in a story fraught with tension and deadly serious techno-rush jobs. Anyone who’s worked in an office and laughed at Dilbert cartoons will recognize the author’s familiarity with bureaucratic red tape and high-paid fools in positions of power. Mays, a Navy veteran with two degrees in applied physics, has fun with all the tropes of the genre, and honestly, what are tropes if not beloved classics? They become clichés only in unskilled hands. I have a weakness for Rambo, Clint Eastwood and guys who deliver one-liners like this: “I’m Gordon-god-damn-Lee, not some wacko in a tinfoil hat.” Lydia tells him straight up, "You’re an idle-rich tech wizard with an over-funded amateur astronomy bug, so some eccentricity has to be expected.”

Last month, I complained about fantasy in my science fiction, but you won’t hear me complain about too much humor. Nate tells Lee, “You have no idea how big a deal it is to meet the man behind Windward Tech,” and Lee replies, “Of course I do. I pay people a lot of money to make me seem as impressive as I am. If you weren’t in complete and utter awe of me, I’d have to fire a whole department of minions.”

Nate also delivers some swashbuckling lines: “I’ve shot missiles into Iraq, I’ve shot ’em into Syria, and I’ve shot ’em in Iran. Now I’ve done it in North Korea. I’m hoping to get a matched set of Axis of Evil commemorative plates for the I Love Me wall at home, but that would probably be in poor taste.” The job interview is a fun, witty scene that sets the stage for a classic hero’s journey.

The journey will take a while. “No one’s going to worry about something ten light-years away and forty years down the calendar right now,” except for Gordon-god-damn-Lee, whose thankless job begins with his first glimpse of a small oddity in the night sky. A yellow sun, Delta Parvonis, has started turning blue. Delta Pavonis is almost twenty light-years away, but the mysterious blue light that obscures Gordon’s view of Delta Pavonis is only ten light-years away.

What else could it be but an alien space ship on a direct line to Earth? Who’s in this ship, and why are they heading straight to Earth without warning? That’s NASA’s mission, Gordon figures, but NASA just dismissed him as a lunatic.

If the alien visitors were benign, they’d call first. “Radio signals are undoubtedly how they discovered us,” he reasons. “Signaling us is safer, faster, and cheaper,” though forty years to deliver a message is slow in the human scheme of things. “If it was just information they wanted, they could just call and ask us for it, with a lot less danger and energy expenditure. If it was resources, they could presumably mine them from a much closer system or belt.”

Nate follows the logic. “So, the only reason for them to come here is that they need something physical from us, like our resources or our women—Mars always needs women, after all. And because they didn’t call first or yet, we have to assume their intentions are hostile.”

darknessHe aces the job interview, but Nate isn’t sure he wants the job. “You’re who I need,” Gordon pleads. “Be the architect of Earth’s first space navy. Accept the most important calling in history: the defense of the whole planet.”

The next person Gordon needs is much easier to convince. Kris has just blown up her lab but is thrilled with what it means she has achieved, and even more thrilled when Gordon offers her a new lab and a paycheck. She calls his project K-Mart, as in the “blue light” special, though she’s the one employee who completely believes his alien invasion theory.

The rich, eccentric entrepreneur, the unrepentant science geek, the decorated but haunted Naval vet, and all their allies and adversaries, come to life in this novel as authentic humans we’ve all known and loved (or hated). Ridiculed, set back by government obstruction and industrial espionage, facing an unknown alien enemy, the motley crew is called to save the world, or as the title foretells, “to become the sword that holds the darkness at bay.”

Sophisticated readers may wince at a coffee-slurping woman who whoops and hollers like a pyro-manic cowgirl who loves guns and explosives, and so does Nate Kelley—for the first several years, anyway. That’s the thing about this novel: space travel takes a long, long, long time, so Nate has plenty of years to waste overlooking the hotness of his cool partner. The chemistry between Kris and Nate is obvious to readers but not to him, which creates plenty of tension and suspense for those who want human drama, love, and lust in their science fiction (Me! Me! I want it!). Mays is far more explicit about rocket science than sex acts, but anyone can write fifty shades of erotica, while hardly anyone can write pages of mind-blowing yet plausible science.

Some of the strangest terms in the novel come straight from real-life science: “Torpedoes already had a speed advantage over nearly any kind of ship, 50 to 60 knots versus 25 to 30. The engagements still moved at a snail’s pace compared to aerial battles or duels with cruise missiles, however. Supercavitating torpedoes, super-cavs, blurred that distinction.”

Supercavitation? I had to ask the author himself about that one. Mays replied, “Unfortunately, supercavitation is a very real thing and the real badness is classified. What I have written is at the limit of what you can get from open sources (I don’t wanna get in trouble at my day job).”

Other terms were easy to find online, which doesn’t mean I can define “brachistochrone trajectory” even after looking it up. The fastest way to get from one star to another, Gordon tells Lydia, “is to apply thrust the whole way. You point your exhaust towards home for half the journey, accelerating to some ungodly speed, and then flip around and accelerate in the opposite direction until you match speed with your target system. It’s called a brachistocrone trajectory and it’s only possible with something that can thrust for a long, long time.”

“Lagrange points” are also familiar to most hard-core science fans, I’m sure, but even after looking it up online, I stumbled through passages like this one: “For any two bodies in a gravitationally bound system, where one body is much more massive than another, there were points of gravitational minima and maxima, where another body so placed would be in equilibrium with the first two bodies and the whole system could exist in stable harmony. These were known as the Lagrange points, designated L1 through L5, and these were the points that the four constructs surrounding the drive were configured around.”

From the painstaking prose, it’s no surprise that Mays is a member of Atomic Rockets, a website for authors on a quest for scientific accuracy so they can write science fiction "the way God and Heinlein intended (Arlan Andrews’ Law).” Anyone, not just authors, can play with the online “toys” and design their own Planet Rangers Rocketships. Mays has a website full of detailed designs for the rockets and weapons his protagonists create.

I’m trying to avoid plot spoilers, but the back cover of the book promises space combat, so we know the occupants of the blue-light special are adversaries. Blood will be shed. Battles will be fought. Weaponry will be used to great effect. No fan of military combat myself, I confess to skimming past pages of detailed descriptions of rockets, weapons and battle strategies. I barely made it through paragraphs like this one: “A secondary bank of sacrificial capacitors dissolved into plasma, driving a spherical, inward-looking photonic mesh and an outer coil of superconducting wire. The resulting implosion compressed a solid core of lithium deuteride into a plasma as dense as the core of a star, forcing it to fuse. This plasma rebounded and exploded outward with nearly a megaton’s worth of pure energy ...”

And this one: “TAO, ASWE! I have active sonar contacts bearing 265 at 6200 yards and 342 at 5600 yards. Corresponds to previous lines of bearing, probable subs. Tracks 04012 and 04013 refer. Request permission to engage with over-the-side shots!“

Chapter Two is full of technical terms and details of a battle that suddenly seems insignificant, if alien invaders are on their way. Nate is on board a battleship, dodging enemy fire and facing life or death decisions: “Would their missiles be effective? How many innocent lives, collateral, would be lost? How would China respond? Would the strikes give the newly aggressive North Korea pause and make them pull back out from the DMZ, or would they drive them to use any nukes that escaped destruction?” The chapter ends dramatically, but when the novel ends forty years later, we don’t know how China and North Korea ended up.

So I emailed the author.

What was the trouble with North Korea all about? How did China, Russia, and India fit in? With the distraction of that alien spacecraft heading toward Earth, this subplot fell off the radar.

Tom replied: the sequel, “Lancers Into the Light,” has much more of an on-Earth focus, though it also delves deeper into the aliens’ philosophy and galactic society. “The Allies won, and now they have a running start at the resources of the entire solar system. The masters of all they survey, their focus is almost entirely external. And of course, there’ll be a whole lotta space battles.”

What about China and the other countries left behind?

“Their resource wealth is suddenly worth much less, their tech suddenly years behind their competitors. These are the seeds for aggression, espionage, sabotage, and hasty expansion. It’s a volatile mix that will lead to conflict as those left behind look for a leg up on the future. And that’s not even considering that wormhole.”

You’ll have to read both novels to see what Mays means by “that wormhole.”

In all, “A Sword Into Darkness” is a pleasant change from what passes for science fiction these days. Space opera fans are sure to love the sense of wonder and majesty in this novel. Fans of Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler should be up to the technical demands placed on the reader. Mays introduces well-developed characters into the suspense of a potential first contact scenario. He plants questions in the reader’s mind about the impending extraterrestrial visitors. To me, the final confrontation seems rushed compared to the glacial progress of events leading up to it. Still, the world’s first outer-space navy is described plausibly and built on a solid knowledge of physics and engineering—more than I’d like, I blush to confess. “Unrepentant nerds” (as Mays calls himself in his twitter profile) are sure to love every excruciating detail of this story of love and heartbreak, despair and triumph. (“A Sword Into Darkness,” Thomas A. Mays, Stealth Books) 4stars—Carol Kean


A Good Defense

I STUMBLED ACROSS WILL McIntosh last year when I read his novel, “Love Minus Eighty” (Orbit, 2013). I was absolutely blown away at how good the novel was. I had to wonder why I hadn’t really heard of him before. He’s an award-winning writer and has had his work appear just about everywhere. He either slipped under my radar or there isn’t enough buzz about him, when there really should be. McIntosh shines in predicting where we’ll take technology in the future. Lots of science fiction writers like to think of the huge advancements we’ll make as a society but McIntosh is probably a bit more realistic: we’ll put more technology into mobile communication devices and weapons than anything else.

In McIntosh's latest work, “Defenders,” in the near future the human race is being pushed to the brink of extinction. Alien invaders, known as Luyten (they aredefenders starfish-like beings, probably inspired by Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”), have landed on Earth and are slowly pushing mankind into cities before killing them all. They have superior weapons, size, and strength but that is not why they are winning. The Luyten can read our minds and know every move we are about to make. McIntosh jumps around in time and viewpoint early on. He gives us a good view of the hopelessness of the war without beating us down with details. We’re given just enough to draw the image ourselves.

One of the Luyten is injured and reaches out to humans for help. The humans capture the alien and study it. Through studying it they learn how the Luyten read our minds and decide to put them up against something they can’t read. The governments of the world pool together and build Defenders. Seventeen feet tall, three legs, no serotonin (thus the Luyten can’t read their minds), and built solely to be military tacticians and super aggressive. These genetic marvels will help humans fight back the Luyten.

Once the Defenders push the Luyten to surrender, humanity celebrates. The Defenders aren’t so happy; their sole purpose in life, and the reason that they were created, just gave up. Now they want a place of their own. They build a culture based on violence and humanity starts to see them as a new threat. But the Defenders need someone new to fight.

This was a novel that was truly hard to put down. The overwhelming sense of dread at the beginning makes the reader keep pushing on and the anticipation of terrible things to come will have you finish it in one or two sittings. The viewpoint characters were an odd, but somehow perfect, choice. We see the war over the course of eighteen years, mainly through the eyes of Kai, Lila, and Oliver. All three of these characters are well-balanced people who have heroic moments, but also cower in fear enough for them to be realistic. Their evolving outlooks on both the Luyten and Defenders are interesting to watch versus merely admitting: bad guys, we hate them.

The message of be careful of technology or what you let out of Pandora’s box will come back to haunt you is there, however McIntosh didn’t leave it as simple as that. While technology does get us into trouble, it can also be the thing that gets us back out. He really delves into human nature’s need to resist and overcome while showing us at the same time that technology is a tool we can use to build as well as a weapon to destroy.

The novel was a bit long in parts. The initial war was interesting, but it did drag on a bit, and the second war was almost a straight up rehash of the first. Where he put in just enough details in the first war to make it interesting, he put in too many in the second. Both sections could have been trimmed down a bit. And the ending was slightly abrupt. Again, we are left to draw our own conclusions; it seemed like there should have been a bit more.

Recently, at least on television, ideas of survivors facing off against overwhelming odds have gained in popularity (“The Walking Dead,” “Attack On Titan”). I doubt McIntosh is jumping on the bandwagon, at least purposely, but I think this novel will appeal to the same crowd that are fans of those shows. I don’t see this becoming a runaway bestseller but I do see “Defenders” becoming a sleeper hit that slowly gains a following through word of mouth. Definitely worth checking out. (“Defenders,” Will McIntosh, Orbit) 4 stars —Adam Armstrong


Fight Aliens, Die, Repeat

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” MIGHT BE the most easily-to-summarize film ever made: It’s like “Groundhog Day,” but ...

Five words in and you’re golden. Because “Edge of Tomorrow” might be an adaptation of a Japanese young adult novel (titled “All You Need is Kill”), but Far East teen lit isn’t really a close point of association for us the States. Here, it’s “Groundhog Day” with some modern movie sheen.

The comparison fits. Tom Cruise and Bill Murray are equally self-centered slimeballs (unlike the novel’s hero, Keiji Kiriya, who’s an OK guy) who find themselves the unwitting victims of a miraculous time loop. By reliving the same day on repeat, they’ll slowly shed their jerkish exteriors, becoming the good and decent men they were destined to be. And along the way, they’ll suffer all manner of gruesome deaths, which are far less gruesome in the context of the film. What’s a fractured spine or two when we all know there won’t be any lasting damage?

But there must be a “but,” and in “Edge of Tomorrow’s” case, the “but” is an invading force of extraterrestrials. That’s the conceit that forces Lt. Col Bill Cage (Cruise) to try and weasel his way out of combat duty and end up on the front lines of a D-Day-like offensive against a horde of creatures that can predict edge of tomorrowhumanities tactics far in advance. He’ll last all of two minutes (maybe) before a particularly nasty creature cuts him to smithereens. Cue Cage, waking up the day before in a cold sweat. Then, cue the rest of “Groundhog Day.”

“Groundhog Day” comparisons aside, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a fun little morsel of action-heavy science fiction. Cruise does what Cruise does best; that is, play the triumphant hero with a winning smile and reasonable amounts of charisma. He’s made far more charismatic by the actors around him, however. Standouts include Emily Blunt as a human wunderwarrior, and Bill Paxton as a futuristic R. Lee Ermey drill sergeant.

The carnage is well staged, the pacing is outstanding (at just under two hours, it’s the perfect length for an action film), and the liberal use of “Groundhog Day” creates a story that’s not quite brand-new, but definitely not boilerplate. It’s everything an audience could want in a summer blockbuster: short and loud and very fun.

It’s just not particularly deep. “Groundhog Day” took a time loop and ran in every possible direction—sex, greed, depression, insanity, near-superpowers—you name it. Murray’s character wobbled between superhero and supervillain. “Edge of Tomorrow,” on the other hand, is as straight-arrow forward as a time travel movie could ever be. Cruise is on a set path: become a warrior hero and save the world. Every time he wakes up yesterday morning, he’s moving in the same direction. It’s what makes “Edge of Tomorrow” both expertly paced and bafflingly uncreative.

There’s just one exception. Every so often, something (typically a truck or a training module) will thwack right into Cruise’s person. He’ll yelp like a cartoon Chihuahua and die instantly. It’s the one joke “Edge of Tomorrow” has up its sleeve, and it’ll overuse it until you can predict Cruise’s Looney Tune yelps with clockwork accuracy.

It all feels just a little inappropriate in a film aiming for the kind of militaristic science fiction like “Starship Troopers” or “Ender’s Game.” All without the slight satirical edge those films carry. “Edge of Tomorrow’s” military is both entirely too rough, and also a necessary roughness, as its enlisted characters waffle between great dumb brutes and warriors of the highest virtue.

And then there’s the ending, which you’ve no doubt heard about if you’ve entered the words “Edge of Tomorrow” into any nearby search engine. The film sets up its time travel rules and never waivers once, using its many repeats to drill in just how the loops work and why. And then “Edge of Tomorrow” proudly proclaims, “never mind!” and rips up the rulebook to make room for a neat Hollywood finish. It’s a particularly cornball way to end a piece of military science fiction.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is far from a perfect film, but its flaws are only evident if you start digging where you’re not supposed to. Let the lights go down and the soundtrack crank up, and you’ll spend the next two hours immersed in action movie joy. It’s a guarantee. And it’s also a guarantee that a few years from now, if someone asks you if you’ve ever seen, “Edge of Tomorrow?,” it’ll take a few minutes to remember just what “Edge of Tomorrow” was.

Popcorn entertainment in its purest form. (“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman, Warner Bros.) 3 stars —Adam Paul