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science fiction romance

Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Vicious Circle, by Elle E. Ire

If you pay regular attention to my postings, you know I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for female assassin characters (two words: Black Widow). And if you’ve been following Boosting the Signal, you also know that QUILTBAG books are highly relevant to my interests as well. What happens when you put these two things together? You get today’s featured book: Elle E. Ire’s SF romance Vicious Circle. The author has an excerpt from the work for your consideration today, introducing the assassin Cor–whose goal is to decide between fleeing her Guild, and seeking a life with the woman she’s coming to love. But things are complicated, for Kila’s hired Cor to kill her abusive brother, and surely she won’t want a relationship with the woman who carried out that death for her. Or will she? Check it out!


Vicious Circle

Vicious Circle

I spent a restless night on the too-firm couch with a couple of neon pink throw pillows under my head. In the darkness, the house creaked and groaned with each gust of wind off the bay, and I wondered how many generations of her family had lived here. Kila left the window open, and the smell of salt air carried on the breeze. Desert-raised as I was, the ocean attracted me as any novelty would, and I strained my ears to hear each lapping wave against the village docks.

The moonlight shining through the shutters lit the entire suite in shades of bluish white. Kila’s shadowy form tossed and turned on her wide mattress, and I resisted the urge to go to her and offer comfort from her nightmares. After all, there was a good chance my upcoming mission here caused them. She might reject or resent my concern. At last, she settled and snored lightly in a most endearing manner.

I strangled in my own needs, inner voices of reason and desire arguing amongst themselves until I wanted to shout them down regardless of waking the household. What in all religions’ hells was I thinking, anyway? Suppose Kila did want me, with all my violent traits and psychological failings. Suppose I slipped into bed beside her right now. What then? I came to do a job. Though I didn’t intend to be seen or get caught, once that job ended, I couldn’t exactly take off with the girl in tow. She didn’t deserve a life of running with me, hiding from the Guild’s punishments.

And I certainly couldn’t stay on Lissex.

Could I?

For years, I belonged to the Guild. They provided a sense of family and stability. I needed that, wanted that, and hadn’t had it since I’d left. Kila’s parents might accept me if I proved myself to them. It was just another type of trial, not so much unlike those the Guild subjected me to. Less painful, less physical, but no less challenging.

I stood and paced in the darkness, bare feet sinking into plush carpeting. I’d lost my mind. I couldn’t stay here. Kila wouldn’t want me after I killed her brother, no matter how much relief that act gave her. I’d still be a painful memory. And what if the Guild found me here? They’d out me as an assassin, make it obvious I was the one who killed her brother. They’d ignore Kila. They didn’t harm innocents. But she’d watch them hunt and capture me, perhaps kill me before they could haul me back to the underground fortress to execute me there. I didn’t want her to see that.

Throwing myself on the couch again, I buried my face in the pink pillows and covered my head with my arms.


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Boosting the Signal, Carina Press

Boosting the Signal: Lonely Shore, by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen

Earlier this spring I featured fellow Carina authors Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen, with their debut SF novel Chaos Station. Book 2 of that series, Lonely Shore, is now available from Carina, and so Jenn and Kelly return to follow up on the tale of Felix and Zander with a peek at another character–Zander’s brother, who is very motivated to track down his sibling and find out what’s happened to him! Check it out.


Lonely Shore

Still Searching

Brennan Anatolius signed the holographic invoice and with a few key swipes sent it back to his assistant for routing to the appropriate department before closing his wallet’s interface. Darkness settled around him like an old, worn blanket. The emulated sunset beyond his office’s windows had come and gone God knew how long ago—he’d noted it, in the vague way you’d notice the air circulators switching off on their usual cycle. Nothing to worry about.

Leaning back in his chair, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. He should go home. His wife, Roz, was waiting for him and she’d been damned patient these last few weeks. She knew how hard it had been to almost catch up to his youngest brother on Chloris Station, only to have Zander avoid him so completely it couldn’t be an accident. But what, really, had he expected?

After falling into the black hole of Allied Earth Forces covert ops, Zed had stopped carrying a wallet. Any messages sent to his official, AEF-sanctioned account had gone unanswered. Then there’d been the viral holo of Zed and his team saving a bunch of civilians against orders—followed closely by the end of the war. Brennan had been sure that Zed would contact his family then. But he hadn’t. Six months had crawled by without any contact—until Zed’s override code had been used on their family-controlled station, Chloris.

Brennan slouched into his chair, a posture he’d never allow himself during business hours. He had to be calm, in control, a CEO worthy of his father’s legacy. Part of him knew that worrying about Zed wasn’t helping his health—the doctor had suggested his recent bout of insomnia was due to stress. Brennan figured it just gave him extra time to track down his brother.

He pushed forward and pulled out his wallet again. All right. The last lead he’d gotten was about a week ago, when the Chaos had passed through the gate near Mars. He tried not to think about how close Zed had been to their family’s home station of Alpha—Anatolius Industries’ oldest and most luxurious station, in orbit around Earth. Brennan had already established that the Chaos hadn’t docked on Hemera Station at the Hub—the central location where all the galactic gates led—but it wouldn’t hurt to check again.

In the back of his mind, he knew his search was fruitless. The only reason he’d found a trace of Zed before was that Zed had been desperate to get aboard Chloris to help an old friend. His little brother had skills. If he wanted to stay hidden—and clearly he did—Brennan wasn’t going to find him.

Still, he had to try.

When his wallet chirped with an incoming call, Brennan almost let it go to mail. Until he saw the name accompanying it. He scrambled for his wallet, fingers shaking.

“Zed? Zed? Please don’t have hung up!”


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Book review: In the Black, by Sheryl Nantus

In the Black (Tales from the Edge, #1)

In the Black by Sheryl Nantus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer before I begin: Sheryl and I are both Carina Press authors, and she has been featured on my site’s Boosting the Signal column, promoting this very book! This book was not, however, received as part of that column promotion, and I’m reviewing it on my own recognizance.)

Sheryl Nantus’ Tales from the Edge series was pitched to me as heavily influenced by Firefly–and anything that invokes Firefly is a surefire way to get my attention. My Browncoat inclinations certainly see that influence right in the very title, since “the Black” is common parlance for space in that universe, and there’s also a Marian Call song of this title! (Which you should listen to. But I digress!) Certainly the scenario is Firefly-like, with the action being set aboard the Bonnie Belle, a so-called Mercy ship whose task it is to bring a crew of courtesans to a mining outpost so the miners there can have some hard-earned time with them. And if you know Firefly at all, you’ll also recognize the Guild that runs the Mercy ships as being reminiscent of the Companions, including giving the courtesans power to blacklist problem clients.

Nor did the book disappoint once it reeled me in. This is more or less SFR, but with rather less R than I expected. The primary plot is in fact a murder mystery, which erupts once the Belle docks at the mining outpost and one of the courtesans is discovered killed in her quarters. This gives the reader a rather tasty helping of intrigue as well, since there’s bucketloads of drama as to how both the Guild and the mining outpost will handle the ensuing investigation. Our two lead characters, Captain Sam Keller and Marshal Daniel LeClair, are not terribly complicated characters. But they’re likable and have good strong chemistry together, both from a romantic standpoint and from the standpoint of working together to investigate the murder.

I should also mention that while the worldbuilding was a bit light, just enough to give you the scenario with the Mercy ships and with military trauma in our heroine’s background, it was not non-existent. There’s a nice scene between Sam and Daniel when he’s telling her something of his own history, and he mentions growing up on Titan and swimming with other young people in a lake. Details were not heavily sketched in in this scene, but the simple fact that this was on Titan does raise rather interesting questions as to when Titan was terraformed in this particular universe.

And while there is indeed a romance between our two leads, it surprised me that there was actually no on-camera sex to be found–especially given that most of the action is taking place on board a Mercy ship. This is actually absolutely fine by me, because that’s actually exactly how I like to see a romance handled. So mad props to Nantus for that, because she certainly revs the imagination with what Sam and Daniel get up to off-camera. For me as a reader, leaving those shenanigans to the imagination actually makes them more fun.

I liked the supporting cast as well, though it was inevitable that I kept imagining the Belle‘s female engineer played by Jewel Staite and the ship’s medic played by Sean Maher. I also kept imagining the ship’s AI as voiced by Morena Baccarin and the senior courtesan in the crew as played by Gina Torres. Because what can I say? Browncoat.

And needless to say, I’ll be reading Book 2 in this series very soon, since the aforementioned medic does in fact star in that installment. For this one, four stars.

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: In the Void, by Sheryl Nantus

Boosting the Signal continues to technically be on hiatus on the grounds that I am frantically trying to pull the last of Victory of the Hawk out of my head. HOWEVER, a few folks have asked me to run pieces for them anyway! And I said sure, as long as they could get me completed pieces without me having to make any tweaks to them.

One of those people is fellow Carina author Sheryl Nantus, who y’all may remember sent me a piece for her Carina release earlier this year, In the Black. Sheryl’s back now, because Book 2 of that same series has released! Folks, I give you In the Void. In this piece, we’ve got one of the crew of the Belle having a sneaky suspicion about the goals our next hero in the series had better be setting for himself. Take it away, Sheryl!


In the Void

In the Void

Diego! Mon ami! How’s it going…yeah, I know it’s been a while since I got in touch. Been a busy few weeks on the Bonnie Belle but I guess you heard about that. Bad business, crazy business with one of the girls getting murdered.

You got it all? Man, that’s fantastic. Your buddy was cool but I told him I’d rather deal with you direct ’cause we’re buddies. Yeah it was a bit of a lie but he was getting a bit too greedy asking for a tip and between you and me I know he gets enough of a cut. Besides, I like dealing straight-on with my suppliers.

I’ll pass on your condolences to Bianca along with the new curtains. She’s taking it hard but who can blame her? Still life goes on like the Guild wants and we’re turning and burning hard for every landfall with Captain Keller taking us in the black and keeping us safe.

Keller? She’s a damned good captain, better now that she’s gotten a bit o’fun with Marshal LeClair. I know we’re not supposed to know but he keeps coming ’round to inspect the Belle and make sure we’re all fine and ends up in the Captain’s cockpit more often than not, if you get my drift.

It’s good for her and for him and for all of us—well, maybe not Sean. He’s one of the boys, a fine medic and a sweet Irish who’s been around almost as long as Kendra. I think. You know they don’t like to talk about where they been or what they were before signing up to be a Mercy man or a Mercy woman.

He’s got a look about him like when a gear’s been worn down, the edges catching but not quite right—you get what I’m saying? I know it’s tough for everyone out here on the edge but he’s looking a bit more frayed than usual. Sometimes he gets this look and I know he’s not here on the ship and he sure as hell isn’t a Mercy man. He’s gone elsewhere and it’s got to be an awful place from the expression on his face. Then he comes on back to us and makes a joke and tries to hide from the pain.

Can’t blame him for getting tired of being out here. He’s getting older and there’s not a lot of old Mercy men. I know, I know, mature men are better lovers and all that but Sean’s getting to the point where he’s gonna have to figure out what he’s all about without the Belle.

Anyway, thanks for the supplies. I know the Dragons appreciate our business and you know I appreciate you coming out here to meet me. I’ll probably have a bigger list next time—got two cabins empty and I just know the new courtesans are gonna want to redecorate and that’s bad for me and good for you.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: In the Black, by Sheryl Nantus

Hey, I get to help a fellow Carina author out with release-week promo, how awesome is that? Because Sheryl Nantus has just dropped a brand new science fiction romance, In the Black, and if you’re a Browncoat who’s thinking that title has an awfully familiar ring to it, you wouldn’t be far off. I’ve seen Sheryl citing Firefly as an influence on her story, especially with how her heroine’s the captain of a ship full of high-class courtesans! Just the sort of job I could see an AU Inara taking on.

And now I TOTALLY want that fanfic. But until I get it, here’s a newcomer to the Belle, with a real simple goal–settling in, with the help of Jenny the mechanic, who is apparently this book’s Kaylee, and who apparently has the goal of some side dealing, hmm? Check it out!


In the Black

In the Black

You from Diego? My name’s Jenny. That box you’re carrying got the stuff I agreed upon with D? Great—come on this way. We’ll talk in my quarters, I don’t want the captain seeing us doing business. She’s not hardcore but I don’t want to put her in any sort of compromising position. Climb down in here.

Hey there—look out for that pipe! It’ll take your head off if you smack it hard enough. I’ve got more than my fair share of bruises from that ventilation shaft. Took me only a few weeks aboard the Bonnie Belle to learn my lesson and duck. Just follow me and don’t take any side trips—you get lost in here easy enough and I don’t got the time to track you down.

The Belle? She’s a fine ship, a good ship. A Mercy ship but don’t let that stop you from admiring a good piece of work. I know Mercy ships got all sorts of reputations and we run hard, taking the courtesans from base to base to keep the miners happy but it’s what’s underneath that counts—and mechanics like me are what keeps them running to make everyone get what they want.

It might not seem very glamorous, crawling around the undercarriage of a big ship like this and keeping out of the way of the women and men above but I don’t mind. The new captain, she’s a nice one. Sam Keller—she lends me books and stuff and we talk a lot about things. She’s new to the Guild so she needs help getting settled and doing what a captain does when you land on a base full of horny miners all wanting to get to the men and women ‘board the Belle. Don’t know what she did before she decided to sign on with the Guild but she’s got ghosts in her mind. Ex-military, I figure, since she likes those damned combat boots and don’t want to wear nothing but her old fatigues. Which is fine except she’s got to make the presentation when we make landfall and those guys don’t want smelly old boots and stained green pants. Well, not stained in that way, if you get my drift.

The crew? Fine folk as long as you know your place. I don’t want to say too much about them ’cause we work different jobs and all that. Usually you keep the same crew for months, maybe years unless one of the courtesans asks for a transfer or buys out her or his contract – that’s how we got Halley. She transferred in after a catfight on another ship and hooked up with Bianca. Only ones here who might be able to buy out their contracts might be Kendra or April but I wouldn’t ask them ’bout it. Not good manners. Lots of the women stay around and take a second tour or third ’cause it’s what they want to do. Plenty more get caught in the company store trick with the Guild and end up owing everything they have. I stay ahead of the game and so does the captain but it means we don’t get a lot of fancy stuff like hot showers and all that. But I’m saving up for a ship of my own, one of those fast cutters like you see here on my wall.

Good, good. Just what I needed. Gotta keep the washing machine going otherwise I’ll be up to my ass in dirty laundry and those women, they don’t like recycling their sheets if you get my drift. Don’t seem important to you and me but they got paying customers who don’t want any evidence of who’s been ’round before them.

Here’s your cred stick. Just what I agreed on with Diego and don’t let him stiff you on your cut for making the delivery. Let me show you back to the landing bay otherwise you’ll get lost and I’ll end up asking Belle to find you.

The computer AI, silly. She’s smarter than most anyone I know and she keeps the ship straight and level. She sees everything ‘cept what she’s not supposed to ’cause of her Guild programming. Still don’t want her having to trace you through the shafts so keep close behind me and I’ll get you out of here in a jiffy.

There, see? Easy to avoid smacking your head when you keep your wits about you and keep your head down. Don’t worry I always got a list of stuff the courtesans want so I’ll be in touch. Diego knows I’m good for a few extra creds whenever we make landfall where guys like you can meet us.

Yeah, the landing bay’s huge. Trust me it seems mighty small when you’ve got a mob of hungry men waiting for their turn with the courtesans. They all behave however else they’ve got to deal with Captain Keller and she doesn’t take kindly to any misbehaving. Not until they’re behind closed doors and all.

After all, like the ad says – “Everyone loves a Mercy woman”.

See you In the Black!


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