Monday, April 30, 2018




Free Promotion Begins May 1st

Get the Acclaimed Space Colonization Tale

Part One of the Forlani Saga

Go to https://www.amazon.com/Life-Sentence-Forlani-Saga-Book-ebook/dp/B01MCUIHXY

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


See You at Ravencon!

     Jim and John will both be participating as guests at Ravencon 2018 at the Kingsmill Holiday Inn Williamsburg on April 20-22.  Each will moderate two panels, serve on another panel, and do a reading.  We hope to bring Spy Station to a whole new group of fans and hopefully meet up with our local Klingon friends pictured above. They show true devotion to honor! This con is always fun and full of surprises.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


This Con Was a Blast!

Mysticon is an annual event held in Roanoke, Virginia at the base of the famous Blue Ridge Mountains.  It draws 400-500 visitors and has an ambiance all its own.  This year John and Jim were invited as guests.  We took part in a number of sessions, chairing two each.  John was drafted at the last minute to lead one of his, on the Marvel comics universe (comics being a major focus of the con), and did such a good job that he was commended by the organizers.  He also chaired a session on "All Things Sherlock," especially the latest media versions.  Jim chaired "Let's Take Flight" and "Judging a Book by its Cover." . In addition, they did a signing and two readings from the Forlani Saga novels, joining scores of authors who shared their new works with the fans.  

Like most cons, this one covers a wide range of genres from science fiction and fantasy through horror and steampunk, besides hosting an extremely popular cosplay competition.  It is unique in that it includes a great many sessions on film.  Jim had the pleasure of watching four new films by production crews from Virginia an was particularly entertained by a horror-comedy flick entitled "The Last Air B&B" and a screen version of Lovecraft's "The Beast in the Cave." All in all, over 120 short and feature length films from every continent but Antarctica, many of them premieres, were shown.  Several popular media guests were present to represent the acting and production side of film-making.   For many years, Mysticon has also extended a welcome to professional wrestlers.  This year's guests included ECW hardcore legend Tommy Dreamer and his lovely and multi-talented associate, The True Original Gata (Monique Dupree), along with Jimmie Valiant.  Nor was music left out, as bands Bella Morte and The Vailix, along with DJ metro Angel, led the Saturday night concert.  The musical enthusiasm spilled over into the onsite restaurant/bar at night, as a cosplayer in dinosaur array had a host of adults and kids dancing through the evening.


With a pleasant venue at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood, Mysticon is a great three day experience.  But planning ahead is recommended, as the main hotel fills soon after the event is announced and badges may become scarce as the conference date approaches.  The Roanoke area is a hotbed of interest for speculative fiction, film and cosplay.  Many enthusiasts are drawn from the entire surrounding Middle Atlantic and Appalachian region.

Saturday, January 27, 2018



Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds
Choose one of these forms to copy and complete
Send it as email attachment to me at
 jimgaines3@earthlink.net
I will combine all anonymously and send them all back to you with some comments!





Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds Activity Sheet

Group 1
Planet name:
Characteristics:










Creature General Class: Aquatic

Creature name:

Physical Description:






Advantages and disadvantages:






Psychological characteristics:




Family and Social formations:







Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds Activity Sheet

Group 2
Planet name:
Characteristics:










Creature General Class: Insect

Creature name:

Physical Description:






Advantages and disadvantages:






Psychological characteristics:




Family and Social formations:



Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds Activity Sheet

Group 3
Planet name:
Characteristics:










Creature General Class: Reptile

Creature name:

Physical Description:






Advantages and disadvantages:






Psychological characteristics:




Family and Social formations:



Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds Activity Sheet

Group 4
Planet name:
Characteristics:










Creature General Class: Land-living arthropod (spider, scorpion, etc.)

Creature name:

Physical Description:






Advantages and disadvantages:






Psychological characteristics:




Family and Social formations:



Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds Activity Sheet

Group 5
Planet name:
Characteristics:










Creature General Class: Airborne

Creature name:

Physical Description:






Advantages and disadvantages:






Psychological characteristics:




Family and Social formations:




Interbuilding Creatures and Worlds Activity Sheet

Group 6
Planet name:
Characteristics:










Creature General Class: Mammalian non-carnivore

Creature name:

Physical Description:






Advantages and disadvantages:






Psychological characteristics:




Family and Social formations:





Tuesday, January 23, 2018



Characterization and Sexuality in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

     Several month ago, I promised a return to the analysis of this fascinating film to supplement what I said earlier about its espionage element.  It is now time to look at Valerian and Laureline as a couple.  Here, as with the earlier topic, Luc Besson departs from the usual paradigm of space opera and science fiction in general.  When women are present in the genre, which is not always the case, they assume a passive function from the earliest days of Flash Gordon or Rocky Jones serials.  They are usually simple objects of sexual desire, sighing Dale Ardens or Vena Rays waiting to be won (usually rescued from alien menace) by the heroic beefcake male leads.  This model persisted well into the 50's and 60's in the case of spacegoing women like Ann Anderson in It!The Terror From Beyond Space or “Irish” Ryan in Angry Red Planet.  There were some mild exceptions, as when Beverly Garland's Claire Anderson in It Conquered the World tries ineffectually to kill the okra-like alien or when Gloria Talbott's Marge Farrell struggles psychologically with her doppelganger husband in I Married a Monster From Outer Space.  However, it is usually men with weapons who eventually get the job done (in the latter case, with an assist from German shepherds).    The woman's options are limited, even as  Claire takes up arms in a fit of romantic jealousy and Marge tries to get help from her gynecologist.  Anne Francis's ingenue role of Altaira in Forbidden Planet and Faith Domergue's more intellectual Ruth Adams in This Island Earth still fit within this category, despite certain nuances. 

     Those women who did display sexual strength or aggressiveness in early sci fi films were often portrayed as fiendishly motivated to the point of ridicule. Cat Women of the Moon is a comical example of this, as are the more serious (?) Queen of Outer Space and Queen of Blood.  Since the latter was based on a Soviet forerunner, one can see that this pattern of female passiveness was not strictly limited to Hollywood.  Queen Cleolanta of the Rocky Jones television series and its spin-off films, while not really a man-killer, is unmistakably labeled as a freakish woman, plagued by penis envy and troubled relations with the males on her homeworld of Ophiucus (oddly pronounced on screen as something close to “officious”).  Only at the end of the plot loop and under the benign influence John Banner's Bavarro (in his pre-Sergeant Schultz days), does she do a “face turn” and assume a more properly passive approach to things.

     Of course, later movies did begin to widen the role of the spacewoman, giving her unprecedented strength, as demonstrated by Sigourney Weaver's Ridley in Alien or Helen Mirren's Tanya Kirbul in 2010.  Neither female figure, though, is really involved in an intimate relationship, so the impact of a strong female presence in the heterosexual couple is not realized.  Star Wars' Princess Leia, is certainly a special case, for her complex character evolves from adorable supplicant to tough prisoner (“Aren't you a little short to be a storm trooper?”) to worthy comrade warrior, to deliverer of Han, to slave, to Diane Fossey-like ewok-whisperer to legitimate hookup for Harrison Ford.  Despite this depth, it is the nearly porno image of Slave Leia that seems to stick most firmly in the memories of many fans, to the point that some objected to her posthumous turn as a senior stateswoman in Last of the Jedi.  In fact, it is worth noticing that other women in the latest Star Wars films have met with increasing hostility from some audiences that decry the “feminization” of the series.  This can be linked to a backlash that has grown to include certain critics of Blade Runner 2049 and even Wonder Woman.  Part of the sci fi public is unusually troubled by the tendency to present female protagonists in more realistic and multi-dimensional roles.

     It is in this context that we must consider Valerian.  Besson shaped his film uniquely and developed the comic strip original in interesting ways.  For one thing, he did not allude to Laureline's background as a time traveler from the medieval world, perhaps because Americans still see fainting damsels in distress rather than the strong, independent female figures that often appear in the real Middle Ages, from Joan of Arc to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie de France to Louise Labé, Héloise d'Argenteuil to Hildegard von Bingen.  Besson is able to reference Laureline from the beginning as a very matter-of-fact person who, though not unmoved by Valerian's beautiful face, rejects his status as a tombeur de filles with a huge digital black book.  She makes it clear that she will not consider consent unless he shapes up and undergoes a major psychological shift.  This effectively reverses the sex roles, making the “normal” factor of heroism irrelevant.  They will have to cooperate as equal partners in a common mission whose outcome does not necessarily entail a sexual reward for the male.  Moreover, Valerian is the one who is allotted the duty of self-examination that is normally foisted off on the object of desire.  His position is complicated by the fact that he doesn't seem to know where to begin because his previous line of conquests has been so effortless. 

     Into this dilemma comes the crucial catalyst of the shape-changer Bubble.  The dance that Bubble performs before the goggle-eyed Valerian is far more than a standard Hollywood set piece.  In fact, the numerous nods in the performance to motion picture precursors such as The Blue Angel and Cabaret only serve to underline the fact that this performance tops them all, inasmuch as it goes beyond the level of illusory seduction to hit at the very heart of desire.  Bubble is the ultimate in seduction, yet her real shape can never succeed in attracting Valerian – only offering him a ghost of pleasure.  The spy becomes aware of this through the shock of revelation and simultaneously develops the quality of compassion, as he realizes that the ultimate in sexual attractiveness is all the more painful to the seductress than to himself, the object.  Bubble's unrequited love becomes an exemplum to Valerian, leading to a discovery of humility that has more in common with chivalric romance than the explosathons of most contemporary action movies.  After Bubble's sacrificial death, Laureline can finally judge the questing knight who has shown his worthiness, not through self-realization of a predetermined destiny, but through the agonizing elective process of change. 


     Yes, this is conceptually “deep.”  It postulates a level of appreciation much more intricate than the standard fare of movies and television, just as the savoring of a fine wine requires more than the instant gustatory satisfaction of a bottle of Coke that is always going to taste the same.  It is worth the time and the effort.  If sci fi is to remain a viable, inventive genre in this rapidly changing world, it depends just as much, if not more, on this type of psychological inception as it does on the refinement of eye-catching design or special effects. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Capek and the Talinians of Forlani Saga


     Karel Capek was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but his writing career coincided almost precisely with the period of the first Czechoslovakian Republic, between World Wars One and Two.  He was a close associate of the Czech president Masaryk and thus at the crossroads of all the developing political theories of the time, from Communism to Fascism.  These new ideas are often reflected and satirized in his works.  Best known perhaps for coining the term "robot" in the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), he was never afraid to deal with dark, dystopian perspectives.  These sort of visions predominate in the novel War With the Newts, originally in Czech, and thus known by various titles in the many languages that it was translated into.

     Capek's newts originate on Earth, in the Pacific near Indonesia, where they are discovered and quickly bred and exploited by humans, who also experiment on them scientifically.  Soon they proliferate to form a slave race that performs all sorts of work on and under the water for their masters, who scorn and mistreat them.  Eventually they revolt, at first secretly through sabotage and clandestine activities, and eventually in an open conflict.  Because they quickly neutralize human navies, far less at home in the water than they are, the advantage swings to their side and they begin to aquaform the Earth into an ideal liquid habitat for them, leaving only a few grim islands where the surviving humans in turn become their subjects.

     This work, which was rapidly recognized as a political allegory, parallels Wells's War of the Worlds and Food of the Gods in many ways, especially in the disorganized and pathetic reactions of human beings to the "invaders."  It serves as an implicit influence for all sorts of modern sci fi works, from the Planet of the Apes movie cycle to such B-movie examples as Empire of the Ants and more thoughtful efforts like Alien Nation and District Nine.  Even the recent zombie cycle The Walking Dead can list Capek as a distant relative.  

     For us, War With the Newts offered both rich biological source material and opportunities for social commentary.  We started in our universe with the postulate that evolution on alien worlds could be very different from that on our planet, which was shaped by various cosmic accidents that could take place in varying ways in other systems, or not at all.  Why not a planet where the evolutionary thread was never interrupted by a Permian extinction, so that amphibians became the alpha life form?  There is nothing to prevent an amphibian life form to develop with all the manipulative limbs of a human -- or even more.  Of course, the approach to fire might be radically different or even absent, but undersea volcanic sources could even furnish the beginnings of a metal technology. Furthermore, being amphibians, newt-like creatures would not be excluded from exploring on land and accessing many resources available to mammalian or other evolutionary groups.

     Our newts in the Forlani Saga universe come from the watery world of Talini, where they developed advanced organization, communication, and technologies. They were not a space-faring race until they experienced First Contact with neighboring planetary civilizations and though they do not excel in space transport, they can travel as passengers with relatively little trouble between systems.  There are numerous parallels for this on our own planet, from Filipino sailors serving on supertankers to African bush pilots of aircraft that their own nations could not build (at least not in the present economy).  Moreover, their adaptability to many divergent liquid environments allows them to become valuable "manpower" on many worlds, fostering a remittance system to their own relatives and the possibility of sooner or later having fleets of their own.  

     In Life Sentence, the reader first encounters Talinians in work teams on the aquaplanet Song Pa, where they engineer jobs for the resident squid-like inhabitants who possess a higher tech level.  Disguising his identity as an indentured human worker for the Song Pai, our protagonist Klein toils alongside Talinian crews in his daily duties.  Their mutual communication takes place via electronic tablets, since humans, Talinians, and Song Pai have vastly diverse vocalizing systems that render sound communication virtually impossible.  Klein exchanges favors with a Talinian nicknamed Fatty, who provides valuable information to the Earthman and later delivers news of his survival to Entara and other friends on Forlan. This allows them to re-establish contact with him just when he most needs their help, for his pursuit of revenge leaves him severely injured and near death (again).  

     In the second novel of the series, Spy Station, Entara and her eldest daughter Ayan'we, delegates to the Zonal Peace Conference form a strong alliance with the chief Talinian delegate, the wise old Kee'ad of Tionar.  They bond with other species, as well as AI individuals of the Robotic Guild, to campaign for peace between bellicose factions, as spies for the warmongers attempt to subvert the conference for their own purposes.  Tionar also becomes an important friend for Ayan'we as she faces difficult choices in her private life.  At the end of the novel, he accompanies the Forlani who leave the space station and helps Ayan'we reach Earth, where she plans to solve her life problems with Klein's daughter Amanda. Other Talinians are already busily working to salvage civilization on our world, which has been decimated by a plague that nearly exterminates the natives.  Henceforth, human Earthlings may not be exclusively dominant, but may share their planet with Talinian and robotic colonists.

     Our Talinian newts are one way of exploring the possibilities of evolutionary plurality.  Their approach to conflict will be quite distinct from human "normalcy." Their priorities in existence will offer relativistic alternatives to the ones we take for granted.  The possible permutations of a water-based life form are unlimited and can make contemporary speculations like Waterworld or Aquaman quite limited in comparison.  Just imagine how the very notion of place takes on whole new dimensions in the eyes of an amphibious creature that was never framed by human precedents!  


Monday, November 20, 2017



Forlani Saga Newsletter #4

Hello again to friends of the Forlani Saga,  

Fun at the Book Fair at Cityspace in downtown Charlottesville.

We'd like to thank all of you who came out to get your copies of Life Sentence and Spy Station at the Charlottesville Book Fair yesterday, and a special welcome to our new members: Martin, Jean, Ben, Bob, Dave, Crystal, Emily and Becky.  It was a fine event, expertly organized by Carolyn O'Neal of the Blue Ridge Chapter of Virginia Writers Club.  We were especially happy to say hello again to some readers who had already enjoyed Life Sentence and who shared their admiration with us.  

Short Story Published

Recently our short story "Whipping Boy" was published in the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity 2017 Anthology.  It deals with a time in the relatively near future (22nd century), when our loaded prisons begin to accept substitutes, first typical humans and then later clones, for criminals rich enough to pay the System to avoid serving out their sentences in person.  When one clone begins to realize he is different from some of the other prisoners and to ask thorny questions, fellow inmates begin to reveal the bitter truth.  Will they tolerate this naive, but curious newcomer or subject him to prison discipline?  Will he ever live to get his own tattoos?  The anthology is a limited printing, but we plan to republish this story with others in a collection.

Spy Station Gets 5 Stars

The first reviews are in on Spy Station, released weeks ago, and they are top rate -- five stars on Amazon.  We hope the rest of you who have ordered the book will add your voices as soon as you can.  Just go to our page and scroll down to the Add A Review button.  https://www.amazon.com/Spy-Station-Forlani-Saga-Book-ebook/dp/B075R3V1RH 

Life Sentence and Spy Station are a great gift bargain

On Amazon Kindle, you can get either novel for $2.99 or both for $5.98.  The printed books are $18.50 and $12.00 respectively.  Treat yourself to a great reading experience, too.  This is the time of year in Iceland, the world's top country for literacy and rates of reading, when people stock up on books for their long winter nights and we should imitate that example.

Next Events

We have been invited to speak at several conferences.  These include the Agile Writers Conference in Richmond in January, Mysticon at Roanoke in February, and Ravencon in Williamsburg in April.  We plan on adding some local signings in the Fredericksburg area as well.  More to come on these and on the progress of the third series novel, Earth Regained.  For now, we wish you Happy Holidays and continued fine reading.  Jim and John Gaines