Today, my blog guest is Mark Iles. He’s on a blog tour, so it’s probably a flying visit – maybe even in a spaceship (which my grandson would definitely like for his birthday in a few days’ time). I digress. I’ve known Mark for many years, having published two of his stories in my magazine Auguries – ‘Robins’ in #4 (1986) and ‘The Magician’s Assistant’ in #10 (1989), alongside such sci-fi luminaries as Charles Stross, Steve Lockley, Nick Daws, Michael Cobley, Steve Bowkett, D.F. Lewis, and Sydney J. Bounds to name a few. He also reviewed books for the magazine. That association continued and I illustrated move-by-Taekwondo move in his series of articles in Fighters magazine. So I’m particularly pleased that he has finally achieved his dream of getting his science fiction novel A Pride of Lions accepted and published. I hasten to add that I’d ceased being EIC of Solstice before Mark submitted his book and I didn’t see it until after it was accepted.
Mark is particularly pleased that A Pride of Lions was released on Friday 30th August and over that weekend it hit two notable highs on Amazon Kindle:
#1: books, Science Fiction, Colonists
#4: books, Science Fiction, military #4
An SF novel with a difference, A Pride of Lions looks at criminals in the future and how they might be dealt with. Thrown into the pot is a craving for revenge, a love interest, a psychopathic killer and the desperate battle for the very survival of humanity.
A Pride of Lions – Blurb
When Selena Dillon is caught in an assassination attempt on her planets ruler, she finds herself sentenced to 25 years servitude in mankind’s most feared military force, the Penal Regiments. Much to her surprise she enjoys the harsh military life and is quickly selected for officer training.
But something’s wrong, worlds are falling silent. There’s no cry for help and no warning, just a sudden eerie silence. When a flotilla of ships is despatched to investigate they exit hyperspace to find themselves facing a massive alien armada. Outnumbered and outgunned the flotilla fight a rearguard action, allowing one of their number to slip away and warn mankind.
As worlds fall in battle, and man’s fleets are decimated, Selena is selected to lead a team of the Penal Regiments most battle-hardened veterans, in a last ditch attempt to destroy the aliens’ home world. If she fails then mankind is doomed. But little does Selena know what fate has in store for her, that one of her crew is a psychopathic killer and a second the husband of one of his victims.
Can she hold her team together, get them to their target and succeed in the attack? Selena knows that if she fails then there will be nothing at all left to go home to.
A Pride of Lions - excerpt
In this scene Bryn Clayton, and his friend Singh Lacy, are involved in the counter-invasion to retake Bryn’s homeworld:
“All gone,” Singh said happily, eying his monitors. “They’re down; now let’s get the hell out of here.”
Even as Bryn hit the accelerator there was a deafening explosion and the little vessel slewed sideways. A shower of sparks exploded into Bryn’s face, momentarily blinding him, and he let go of the controls and grabbed at the sharp burns with a yell.
“Damn it,” Singh said, struggling with the dual controls as his friend cursed and rubbed frantically at his face, trying to clear his vision.
But it was too late. With a high-pitched two-tone warble the ship slewed towards the ground and ploughed into the side of a hill.
Flames erupted as the two men shook their heads in an effort to clear them and unstrapped themselves. Grabbing weapons and backpacks from the stowage under their seats, they leapt from the emergency exit and ran frantically over the grass to the safety of a rain-filled ditch a short distance away. Crouching in the stagnant water, they covered their heads with folded arms, expecting the ship to explode at any moment.
For a while the silence was broken only by the slow tick of cooling metal. Bryn breathed a sigh of relief and ran his fingers over the burns on his face, deciding that despite the stinging it was all still there and that there was nothing serious.
“Well,” Singh said matter-of-factly, checking Bryn’s burns and then spraying a fine cool mist of honey-smelling healing gel over them from the first aid kit in his pack, “at least the water’s warm.”
Bryn gazed at his friend. “Yeah but it stinks; a bit like your sense of humour.”
“Quiet, isn’t it? Listen. No birds, nothing at all. Not like before the invasion. It’s kind of eerie.”
“Personally, I’m just thankful we’re alive. The bugs must have seen us come down; we need to get the hell out of here.”
Bryn recognised the ruined city and bridge over the river that lay about a mile or so away. He’d arranged to operate in this area and no one had begrudged him that, given that this was his home world. If he was right then his town was about fifteen miles from their current position. He was about to impart this knowledge to Singh when, with a deafening roar, another landing craft appeared above them. Hovering, it disgorged its troops but remained overhead protectively for a moment, before shooting skyward once more. It was soon lost in the low-lying clouds, as she returned to her mother ship for more human cargo.
A small, thin sergeant strode up to the two friends. He planted both feet in the mire and, with hands on his hips, looked down at them and said loudly, “Hello chaps, tracked you in, of course. Thought it would be jolly nice of us to come and look after you. After all, we don’t want you wandering around aimlessly and getting yourselves killed, now do we? We’ll need you to give us a lift back out again when this is all over.”
“Rather decent of you, old boy,” Singh retorted, getting a dig in the ribs for his efforts from Bryn as he stared at the man’s greying goatee.
Just then the sergeant touched his ear-piece, twisted his head towards the city and said quite calmly, “Better take cover lads, there’s some beasties coming.”
“I don’t believe this guy,” Singh said quietly, looking up at Bryn, as they cocked their machine pistols.
“If I was you, I’d shut up and take cover,” Bryn replied from the side of his mouth, moving to the edge of the ditch and following the other men’s gaze as they too flung themselves into the trench and other concealments about them.
A few seconds later, the Manta came into view…
I’ve posed seven questions for Mark:
1. How far are you down the road for the sequel, The Cull of Lions?
I'm at around 24,000 words and the target is 60-80,000. I'm hoping to finish this early in the New-year.
2. You seem drawn to militaristic sci-fi, which has a big following. Has your naval career had a bearing on this, or have you always liked that sub-genre?
I've always been drawn to it and drew on my experience in the British armed forces. I'm also an avid fan of Babylon 5, Star Trek and such like. I'm a firm believer that someday we will indeed travel to other planets and stars, and if we do and those worlds are inhabited it will make us the invaders. Will we give up and go away? Of course not, we'll just land anyway and imagine what we'd do if the boot was on the other foot. Even if we don't meet other races mankind has always been plagued by war, and I can't see the future as any different.
3. What prompted you to write about a female protagonist?
The book kind of wrote itself. I had no intention of a female protagonist, it just happened that way. It's certainly unusual. My two youngest children are girls and you always worry about what will happen to them if both parents are no longer around, so maybe that had something to do with it.
4. Will The Darkening Stars series be a trilogy – or open-ended?
It's designed to be a trilogy but you never know. Once these books are finished another twist might occur to me and draw me back. The trouble with writing is that once you have an idea in your mind for a tale it haunts you until you write it down; and that, of course, is only the beginning.
5. Research is important for a writer. What kind of research do you do for sci-fi?
I read extensively, particularly technology news and anything at all about space – such as the
Martian colony projects, space engine development, and the many Earthlike worlds that are being discovered by telescopes.
I also research weaponry. It’s common knowledge now that the Royal Navy carried Laser weapons during the Falklands War, although these were designed to blind the pilots. The Americans have recently shot down target aircraft with beam weapons fitted to the phalanx point defense system and they’ve been working on a microwave laser called the Active Denial System, as a form of crowd dispersal. It’s claimed that within a few years such weapons will become standard. Although I foresee handheld lasers and so forth becoming commonplace I believe we will always have projectile weapons – although the ammunition is bound to change, perhaps becoming smaller and yet more lethal. This, of course, will allow us to load more ammunition.
Another area of interest is ancient civilizations, how empires rise and fall, and of course health issues. All of these can be transposed into the future. Likewise crime, which has always been with us and always will, but what kind of crime could there be then?
6. Okay, you're in a small café on an asteroid, huddling with three of your favourite writers (living or dead). One specializes in Sci-fi; another in Thrillers; the third in Short Stories. Who would they be, and what one – and different – question would you ask each of them?
For Scifi it would be Kevin J Anderson, his ‘Saga of 7 Suns’ is excellent. I’d ask how on earth he keeps track of so many characters and their traits.
Thrillers I’d choose Dan Brown. I really enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I’d love to know how he researches.
Stephen King is a great short story writer. His tale ‘The Boogey Man’ stayed with me for a long time and is about a man whose sleep is broken by his child screaming. When he investigates he finds his boy being attacked by a monster from out of the wardrobe [the rest excised, spoiler alert – Nik]. I’d like to know whether it haunts him as much as it does me.
7. How would you finish this statement: "I bet my readers didn't know (this about me) …”?
I’m often inspired by nightmares. I’ll wake up sweating and write it all down, then go downstairs to make some tea and toast and start to craft the tale.
Many thanks, Mark.
Mark works for Southampton University, and also as a freelance writer. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Auguries, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Right To Fight, Escape Velocity and Monk Punk. With an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo he’s also written non-fiction for Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, profwritingacademy.com and calmzone.net.
His first full length work was Kwak’s Competition Taekwondo, and he also has a short story collection entitled Distant Shores. A Pride of Lions is the first in The Darkening Stars series. Having written features and fiction for over 30 years Mark applied to do an MA in Professional Writing. A Pride of Lions had been bouncing around in his head for some time, and he seized the opportunity of the MA to produce this first novel as part of the course. Mark says it’s without doubt the best choice he’s ever made, as it really focused him, and that getting this novel accepted is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful experience. He’s now focusing on the second book in this series, The Cull of Lions.
Distant Shores: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Distant-Shores-ebook/dp/B008SD4KOS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347182066&sr=1-1
Kwaks Competition Taekwondo: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kwak%60s-Competition-Taekwondo-Mark-Iles/dp/B000FTHGFI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325614714&sr=1-1