Friday, June 22, 2012


Mark Roman, author of The Ultimate Inferior Beings, talks about his book and its quirks. Visit his website or Like his Facebook page.


What are the origins of The Ultimate Inferior Beings (TUIB)? That is, what kinds of ideas or inspirations kickstarted its creation?

The initial idea was to write a send-up of some of the really naff ideas one comes across in sci-fi films, books, and TV series. Silly character names containing more punctuation marks than letters, ridiculous technobabble, English-speaking aliens, heroes who know what they’re doing, and so on. In the early drafts, all the humans had the same silly namejXqQ?:&Vwhile the aliens had names like Chris, Jeremy and Randolph. In fact, at the time, the book itself was called “jXqQ?:&V”. The main character, jXqQ?:&V, was made captain of The Night Ripple in a simple case of mistaken identityha, ha.

The funny thing was, no one liked the idea. I can kind of see why. Anyway, I did a U-turn and gave the humans sensible names like jixX, fluX, twaX and so on.

Are there any themes or motifs in TUIB that you would like readers to know about?

The main theme of TUIB is that, although humans have achieved so many incredible things —science, art, literature, footballdeep inside we’re all a little bit bonkers. In fact, the book goes further and suggests that all extraterrestrials are also, very probably, a little bit bonkers. I’ve no evidence for this, of course, but even here on Earth we are not the only potty species (see lolcats). Proof indeed.

Are any of your characters based on or inspired by people you know? Did
any of your own quirks end up in their personalities?

Being a scientist by profession, I encounter mad scientists just like fluX on a daily basis. I also know quite a few half-crazed obsessives like twaX. Others are sinister, like the saboteur, anaX, and a few are a little deranged, like the mad alien Jeremy, so I’d better not name any names. My own quirks found their way into Henry, although you’ll need to read the book to find out what he’s like. And I have a terrible sense of humour, so I’m a lot like LEP, the ship’s computer. I actually find many of his feeble jokes quite funny.

What are the ideal circumstances under which you would be writing?

The ideal circumstances are when I am really, really, really bored. Writing presents a marginally preferable way of killing time. But I once I get started, I actually enjoy it.

Are you currently working on any new books? Will the Mamm aliens or the
crew of The Night Ripple be returning someday?

I’ve made a few false starts. I don’t know if any of the same characters will survive into the next book. I didn’t kill too many off in the first, so maybe.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings is available at: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

REVIEW: The Ultimate Inferior Beings / Mark Roman

TITLE: The Ultimate Inferior Beings
AUTHOR: Mark Roman
PUBLISHER: Cogwheel Press
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 300 pages (paperback)

Recommended for fans of science fiction comedy (such as the Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams, The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, and the Doctor Who series) and British humor

Science Fiction—Comedy

The Ultimate Inferior Beings is a space adventure that is written with a satirical lilt. While technologies are described, there are no lengthy scientific explanations.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings includes enough mystery and intrigue to keep you turning the pages while taking the time to enjoy each scene.

Third person omniscient. The narrator has a very distinct storytelling voice and every so often will address the reader. Each character’s thoughts and motivations are explored, and at times the perspective is fairly limited.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings takes place in the distant future in which humans have colonized space. The story begins when a starship that had been making the journey from Earth to one of its most remote colonies, Tenalp, arrives with all of its crewmembers mysteriously deceased. As explained in the book’s brief introduction, the residents of Tenalp are hilariously bad at everything. Therefore, after much deliberation, the Tenalp government determines that the best way to find out what happened is to send another starship on an identical mission.

jixX is a landscape architect who happens to be appointed captain of The Night Ripple, the ship that is sent on this mission. Although he repeatedly protests that his “flight experience” consists of him sitting on his pilot father’s lap as a child, he is given little choice in the matter. jixX is very much the everyman—not especially bright but smart enough to realize how ridiculous the circumstances are, making him likable and easy to sympathize with. His personality and physical features are left intentionally vague, and in some ways he represents the reader’s position in the story. He is the only somewhat normal character in this world of oddities.

The rest of the cast is a downright madhouse of colorful, peculiar personalities. Soon after taking off, jixX is introduced to his relatively useless crew: a carpenter who has only ever worked with wood substitutes and is obsessed with real wood, a scientist who is adamant that God left puns in the English language and that uncovering these puns will prove His existence, and a rather psychopathic gynecologist, who is also the only woman on board. In addition, jixX soon uncovers a mysterious stowaway who has made a career out of her ability to hide. And then there’s LEP, the ship’s highly incompetent central computer with an entertainingly lame sense of humor and no sense of direction.

It is LEP that suggests the name “Mamm aliens” for the race of slimy green blobs that jixX and his crew stumble upon after they enter the Pseudogravitic Continuum, a bubble universe through which they are meant to pass on their way to Earth. The Mamms’ civilization is centered around the almighty brick, and among them is a group of religious fanatics who believe in the Ultimate Inferior Beings—a race of beings so bad at everything that they will one day destroy the universe. One of these fanatics, Jeremy, uses circuitous reasoning to determine that humans are these beings and that he is the Chosen One who must destroy them. Jeremy’s blowhard speeches satirize the kind of roundabout arguments often heard from real-life fanatics, religious and otherwise, and it is up to jixX to stop him and save humankind.

Given what we are shown of the Tenalp civilization, Jeremy, despite his erroneous thinking, probably has a point. The bulk of the book’s humor comes from watching just how incredibly daft the characters, especially those in positions of authority, can be while still believing in their own flawed logic and inherent superiority. And then there are the scientist’s “discoveries” in the English language—messages found in the Periodic Table that convince him that he is getting closer to finding proof of God’s existence.

At the back of the book is a Glossary defining some of the terms used in the novel—and then some. All technologies and locations are explained in the narrative itself, and so the Glossary isn’t required to understand what is going on. Rather, it serves as an entertaining bonus feature that partially explains some of Tenalp’s characteristics (such as why all citizens of that planet have lower case names ending with X) and provides as another opportunity to enjoy Roman’s unique wit.  In addition, there are appendices describing the evolution and history of the Mamm aliens, a bonus story, and another one of the scientist’s pun proofs. Finally, there is what I initially believed to be a hysterically worthless index of the kind that might have been created by the citizens of Tenalp, featuring words such as “me” and “that.” However, it turns out that Roman has pulled a fast one again—it is in fact a puzzle.

The Ultimate Inferior Beings is written with a very distinctive attitude, and at times it feels as though the narrator himself is a character in the story, making quips about the situation as he describes it. And yet this voice never gets in the way of the story itself—rather, it lends to the book’s offbeat atmosphere. While verisimilitude isn’t a priority in a story that features green blobs with posh Oxbridge accents, the universe is nevertheless believable in its own quirky way. It is easy to become immersed in the story’s many absurdities and to become quite attached to its wonderfully eccentric style. Original, clever, and droll, Roman has created a thoroughly enjoyable work of science fiction comedy that will appeal to anyone who appreciates intelligent humor.

The Kindle version has a table of contents at the beginning.

This book is pretty G-rated – no adult language, no sex scenes, no violence (other than bricks smashing through windows and an explosion in space)

Mark Roman is a scientist who lives in London with his wife and two children. He has published around 80 papers, reviews, and book chapters under a different name and has worked in a number of fields from architecture to astrophysics.

RELATED: An Interview with Mark Roman

Book Trailer:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

REVIEW: Vespa / Dean Lombardo

TITLE: Vespa
AUTHOR: Dean Lombardo
PUBLISHER: Active Bladder
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback—very limited), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 190 pages (paperback)

Recommended for fans of science fiction horror such as Stephen King's monster novels, films such as Alien, and Syfy original movies

Science Fiction—Horror

Vespa is a shriek-inducing scare fest with a spattering of scientific facts to add verisimilitude (but no lengthy techno-babble sequences). The ending is left ambiguous in the tradition of old-fashioned monster movies that ended with: "The End—or is it?"

This one’s a real page-turner. From the tantalizing prologue featuring a jungle encounter with the titular wasps to the rapid sequence of gross-but-fascinating creature attacks, Vespa barely lets you stop to breathe as it relentlessly barrels through scene after scene.

Third person omniscient. But for a handful of inner musings and descriptions of characters’ fear, the narrator remains largely distant. The descriptions of the gruesome events are objective and at times clinical in their precision.

As pointed out in the Author’s Note at the end of the novel, “vespa” is Latin for “wasp” and included in many scientific names for varieties of the insect. Perhaps that’s why Lombardo chose it for the title of his novel—the monsters featured in Vespa are giant insects that perhaps fall under the category of “wasp” but turn out to be so much more.

Following the prologue, in which the reader is given a glimpse of the wasps, called el monstruo by the South American natives, we are introduced to Dr. Thomas Goodman, a mild-mannered entomologist and good-natured family man. Due to his reputation as a bug expert, Goodman is called upon by the government to help bring an invasive insect species under control. He travels to Devil’s Den, the informal name of a forest preserve in Connecticut, and begins his research.

The novel jumps between Goodman’s scenes, which form the central plot, and vivid depictions of the wasps’ attacks on the residents of the area around Devil’s Den in a rather cinematic form. One moment, we’re watching Goodman examine a larva, the next we’re witnessing a brutal attack on a helpless child.

The wasps are a well thought-out species, with every detail of their behavior and biology carefully depicted. Their origins and motivations are only briefly touched upon—essentially, they were driven to expand their territory by deforestation and are seeking to reproduce. They are foot-long creatures with powerful stingers that lay their fist-sized eggs inside their victims, who are buried in the mud so they can’t seek help. Once the larvae hatch, they devour their victims on their way out. In other words, they do to humans what real-life wasps do to other insects. Except there’s a twist when it comes to these wasps—turns out they are capable of even more.

As a writer, Lombardo is, in a word, merciless. The definition of horror is fiction that intends to frighten its readers, inducing feelings of horror or terror, and Vespa certainly succeeds in that aspect. As the novel progresses, it grows increasingly disturbing, and it is clear that the author has no qualms about upsetting the reader. In fact, that seems to be his primary goal. Although there are a handful of good guys to root for, the aptly named Goodman among them, the novel chiefly focuses on the wasps and what they are capable of. Anyone is fair game, and the characters soon fade into the background.

The idea of a giant parasitoid isn’t original, but the execution in Vespa is spot-on. It is a nasty, simplistic monster story, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. The characters are left under-developed, as they are chiefly expendable plot devices that provide the framework for the main attraction. Nevertheless, the writing is intelligent and effective, sometimes twisting into vivid descriptions of a victim’s view but mostly keeping the language clean and efficient. This approach serves the author’s purpose well, allowing the narrative to roll forward without distractions. The tension remains high throughout, making for a fast-paced and stomach-turning read.

There is no table of contents in the Kindle version, and the chapters are not numbered.

There is some adult language.

As with most books in the horror genre, there are a lot of disturbing scenes that are described in detail. Do not read this book during your lunch break unless you’re on a diet.


Dean Lombardo is a self-proclaimed Gen X'er born in Norwalk, Connecticut, and educated at the University of Rhode Island where he was screened out of every creative writing course before settling on a Journalism degree. He makes enough bread to feed his own children by serving as a writer in the information technology industry.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Ross Harrison, author of the science fiction novel Shadow of the Wraith, answers questions about his characters, inspirations, and writing process. Check out his blog, Like his Facebook page, or Follow him on Twitter.

One of the most difficult things about writing a novel is naming your characters. What prompted you to choose these particular names for your heroes and villains?

Sadly, there’s no particularly interesting story behind any of them. I can tell you what some of them started out as, though. Travis didn’t start out as Travis; but I forget now what he was. He also wasn’t an Archer—it took some cycling through different names to find one that I liked, and that fitted.

Miller started out as Anderson, which I later decided was a terrible name. Jin Li started as Nathan Kang; which I then decided was slightly stereotypical. Bastian Faust started as Hans something—again, stereotypical.

As for the aliens, sometimes I’ll follow the foolproof method of taking a normal name and making the Cs Ks or sticking the odd X or Z in and it’s magically transformed into an alien name! Okay, I try to stay away from that, but sometimes it works (I think Zak would agree). Of course, I don’t always have any idea how they’re meant to be pronounced. I’m still not sure if Jindor is meant to be "gin" like the drink or "yin" like…uhh…yin yang?

Mostly, for aliens, I start with a letter, and then see what comes next. Usually, after a minute of sticking in letters, taking them out again, putting them back in in a different order, and trying out hyphens, I have a name. Or a garbled string of random letters; in which case, I’ll swear at the keyboard and put in "Billy."

Which part of your novel did you most enjoy writing and why?

I enjoyed most of it, because of the way I just let it all come to me; meaning that I’m just as surprised by every twist and turn as the reader hopefully is. For that reason, the twists are probably the more memorable parts for me, writing-wise, because of how exciting they were. They were a lot more exiting for me than they probably are for any reader, simply because I’m the writer, and I had no idea they were coming!

But I liked lots of bits. I liked the bits with Rialen. It wasn’t that easy to get across what I was trying to say, but then that was a problem of the character, too, so it worked out well.

Which part was the most difficult to write and why?

If there were lots of bits I liked, there were probably an at least equal number of parts I didn’t. As memorable as the twists were, even more memorable was the one part, on the dead Necurian planet, where the team is in a room. I wanted them to leave the room. I couldn’t for the life of me think of the words to simply get them up and out. I knew why they had to leave; I just couldn’t make them. I then gave up writing for a year. I suppose that’s writer’s block.

There are other things, too, such as space battles. They’re difficult to write simply due to how easy it is to get carried away and describe too much unnecessarily. The battle at the end is huge, and could have taken up a hundred pages on its own, but it would have been almost entirely irrelevant. It also wouldn’t have been particularly entertaining. So I had to find the right balance of describing some of it, and keeping it in the picture, without making it the main focus of the final chapters.

Did you have any sudden inspirations or epiphanies about Shadow of the Wraith while you were writing it?

Most of my sudden inspirations and epiphanies came in the middle of the night when I was half asleep and too tired to get up and write them down. Subsequently, I forgot 99% of them.

Do the twists count here? The Travis twist was the first one. I thought, "I’ve written myself into a big hole here. How is he going to get out of OH MY GOD, WHAT IF…"; and there it was. One of the biggest and most important bits of character development in the book. That one epiphany also spawned book three (or four—I haven’t quite decided the order yet), Rialen’s character, and an entire species.

There was also the Baorshraak twist, and some smaller bits that came up, which I hadn’t planned at all, and yet everything that had gone before lent itself perfectly to the new ideas. Perhaps it knew all along where it was heading, and just didn’t think to let me know.

One of the most interesting things about the main character, Travis Archer, is that he seems very aware of the stereotypes he embodies (and he seems to do his best to embody them to the fullest). What types of things in his backstory drove him to behave this way?

It’s a mix of things:

Travis is a big fan of heroes—the more stereotypical the better. Clint Eastwood’s cowboys are his favourites.

He’s a bit of a loner. He lives alone, on an almost deserted planet. He works alone. Since becoming a freelance bounty hunter just over three years previous to the events of Shadow of the Wraith, the only real company he’s had, other than his bounties, are old films he’s watched since childhood. These have sunk into his already slightly eccentric mind and shaped his character quite a bit.

He also feels a desperate need to be a hero, and to always do what’s right; to do what others won’t. This then emphasises his heroic self-image. This need stems mostly from who his father was and the way he died. It is almost as though he has to make his own life mean something in order to ensure his father’s life/death meant something.

Of course, he has no particular delusions that he is a hero, and in some regards that’s part of the problem—he won’t stop trying. But he lives a lot of his life in that moment a lot of men feel just after coming out of an action film. You can watch them walking out of the cinema, and know that at least half of them (or us) are imagining themselves walking out into the dazzling sunshine in heroic slow-motion.

We know that he’s a hero. But I don’t think he’d believe us.

One of the most memorable characters in Shadow of the Wraith is the beautiful and mysterious Juni Lien. What can you tell us about her?

Juni is a difficult one to talk about because, as you say, she’s mysterious! Her motives for joining the team aren’t entirely clear. Travis offers her a lot of money, but with her skills she could easily make several times that with less effort than tracking down a ghost ship.

Juni’s very cold and hard to begin with; something she has found necessary in her line of work. She is surprised and somewhat appalled at the lack of professionalism displayed by Travis and his team. They are all ex-military (or police, in Jindor’s case), and that is the degree of professionalism she expected from them. But as Faust is quick to point out, there really is a reason they’re not soldiers any more.

As time goes on, Juni’s motives start to become clearer to us, just as they start to lose clarity for her. Try as she might to avoid it, she finds herself beginning to like the team and their quirky (read: ‘ridiculous, bordering on inept’), but surprisingly effective ways. Nonetheless, she is a professional, and always gets the job done. If her motives and the wellbeing of the team do not align, then that’s just the unfortunate way of things. She has learnt, after all, that attachments just get in the way.

What was the first idea you had for Shadow of the Wraith, and how did the story grow from there?

Shadow of the Wraith started out as a story about how humans came to leave Earth, and was to detail the journey to their new home. It was very boring.

I’m not sure how it changed into what it is now, though. Not with my memory. I think I condensed the entire story idea into a single prologue, and then got started on a different story direction. One with a ghost ship.

This ghost ship was to be the sole focus of the story. But eventually, a bounty hunter named Travis Archer stumbled into the story, got himself hired to fight the Star Wraith, and discovered that it wasn’t entirely what I thought it was. We can thank him and his team for uncovering the rest of the story.

With the abundance of space adventures ranging from the classic Jack Williamson novels to Star Wars spinoffs, readers have become accustomed to certain conventions of the genre. As a writer, how does that affect your own world building?

I would carefully say that it doesn’t.

I’m aware, of course, of certain conventions such as the obvious big, sprawling, galaxy-spanning nature of space opera, with larger than life characters, and whatnot. But what is the point in creating entire universes if you can’t do with them whatever you want?

I wouldn’t knowingly trample all over any beloved conventions, of course, but I will do my own thing, and there is a possibility that it won’t conform to convention. If I want some of my aliens to be humanoid and eating sandwiches (f.a.o. Gary Gibson!), then they will be and do just that.

I’m well aware that my books contain things that the more hardcore sci fi fans might not like, and that’s perfectly fine. They don’t have to suffer through it any more than I have to write hard military sci fi. But it’s not like I’m saying "that’s wrong, it should be like this."

Most readers will, I think, see the book for what it is—simple fun. Something to relax with and enjoy. Certainly not something that is trying to rewrite any rules! As if I could.

Shadow of the Wraith is available at: Lulu Marketplace (hardcover), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)