Every Tuesday night, a new episode of the Functional Nerds podcast is posted at www.functionalnerds.com with hosts Patrick Hester and John Anealio chatting with authors like Blake Charlton, James Enge, L.E. Modesitt, and more. In addition to running the podcast, Patrick edits and records podcasts for www.sfsignal.com (for which he was just nominated for a Hugo) and author Mur Lafferty and can be found at www.atfmb.com. But beyond podcasting, he recently signed with Agent Bob Mecoy and is marketing his first science fiction series to publishers. His Space Battles story, “First Contact,” is his first SF short story sale and has a lighter, more humorous flair than many of the others.
BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?
Patrick Hester: You contacted me about the anthology. At first, I was flattered but uninterested; I’ve had a hard time with short fiction. I think I’m wired for novels. It wasn’t until a second message that I thought I should at least give it a try. Now, I’m glad that I did.
BTS: This is your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “First Contact.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?
PH: Yes, this is my first anthology sale. I like an adventure, and this anthology lent itself to the kind of story I wanted to tell. “First Contact” has a pilot and his navigator out on the rim looking for the enemy. They’re at war, and what they find is more than they bargained for. Where this came from is complicated. I had two ideas for a long time and neither one worked right until I decided to put them together. In this case, a fighter jockey on the rim was one half-written story, and the second part, what they find, was actually a different, earlier story.
BTS: Does it tie into any of the other fiction you’ve written?
PH: I have two universes that I write in. Yes, this ties to one of them. If I sell more stories, you’ll get to see more of this universe. 🙂
BTS: Yours is one of the more humorous stories in this collection. What’s the trick/challenge to writing humor successfully?
PH: Oh, boy. It has to be natural. You can’t force it. I know writers who try to force it and you can tell.
BTS: You recently signed with an agent and have some novel series in the works. What can you tell us about those?
PH: Yep, I have an urban fantasy series, set in Denver (where I live). First two books are written and currently being shopped by my agent, Bob Mecoy (http://www.bobmecoy.com/). My pitch for the first book is: SAMANTHA KANE: INTO THE FIRE is a 95,000 word, fast-paced, first-person detective story, full of adventure, magic and flagrant smart-assery. The book follows a week in the life of my protagonist, Samantha Kane, as she tries to hold her family together while learning to control a new power growing inside of her. Before it kills her.
BTS: You are also a master podcaster, constantly busy. How’d you get involved with that and where can we find and listen to your work?
PH: A few years back, I became aware of the idea of an author platform; essentially, this comes down to your visibility, online presence, marketability and networking. I was already blogging and dipping my toes into the burgeoning social media platforms, and podcasting felt like a natural progression, so I did a little research and started producing my own podcast at www.atfmb.com. This got the attention of John DeNardo from SFSignal, who was talking about a musician named John Anealio. Anealio and I started chatting. He was doing his own podcast and we decided to meld the two, creating the Functional Nerds podcast (www.functionalnerds.com). About twenty or twenty-five episodes in, we approached DeNardo about producing a podcast for SFSignal.com as well. He liked the idea. Today, Functional Nerds puts out a new episode every Tuesday (we’re nearly at a hundred), and SFSignal.com has two episodes a week, Mondays and Thursdays (we have passed a hundred episodes!). And we just got nominated for a Hugo for that.
BTS: Congratulations! What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?
PH: There are some things on the horizon for Functional Nerds, but John and I are still in the planning stages so I probably shouldn’t say too much just yet. I have a space opera I hope to add to my agent’s plate soon. Also, I’ve been working on a space western series, a throwback to the old-time serials I used to watch with my grandmother years ago. But I want to get the novels published first.
My blog, All Things From My Brain: http://www.atfmb.com
The Functional Nerds Podcast: http://www.functionalnerds.com
The SFSignal Podcast: http://www.sfsignal.com
Here’s a sneak peek at Patrick’s Space Battles story, “First Contact:”
“I hate this.”
“Know what? I love it.”
Xyn banked hard to port to let the chunk of rock in front of them pass by harmlessly. The asteroid belt before them was full of such natural missiles whizzing past, and this had been a little stray rock breaking away from the rest of the group. The nav deflectors would take care of the smallest bits, but he’d need to keep his eyes open for
the larger rogues. Seated behind him, Zian manned the scopes and watched for League ships. “Best hit the shields, Z. We’re getting close now.”
“You would love this,” Zian replied sourly. “All alone on the Edge. Two hours from the nearest help and looking, actually looking, for League ships. It’s madness!”
“It happens to be our job to look for League ships. We signed on for this when we joined up in the first place. Besides, it’s fun! We’re actually on the Edge, Z. On the other side of these rocks is the Great Unknown! Billions of worlds could—no, should, be out there just waiting to be discovered. When this war is over, we’ll be able to go out there with the fleet. We’ll be explorers, not fighter jocks.”
“Why do they always hide in asteroid fields anyway?”
“No clue. Maybe they’re looking for something.”
“Who knows? Shields in place?”
“Good. Keep your eyes peeled for—”
Alarms started squealing and the HUD lit up with fireflies seconds before the ship shuddered and shook violently.
“What the hell?” Xyn banked hard, kicking the thrusters up to max and spiraling away from the attack.
“Where’d they come from?”
“No idea! They just appeared—the scope was clean and then they were just there!”
“Some sort of cloak…?” The ship shuddered again, and again Xyn took her into a spin, trying to come around and bring his own weapons
to bear on the enemy fighter. “I can’t shake em…”
The forward view flared and popped as the fire from the enemy pulse cannons impacted the shields and lit up the debris from the asteroid field. There was something different about the fire, coming in faster than he was used to with League ships. He needed to get them away from that fire if they were going to make it out alive.
Staring out the view, he got the craziest idea he’d ever considered. Throwing the engines into full, he tucked his tail and flew for cover.
“What are you doing? You can’t go into an asteroid field!”
“I can, I just shouldn’t. There’s a difference.”
Setting his course for the biggest asteroid he could see, Xyn made a beeline for it while the cannon fire intensified behind him.
“They really don’t want us going in there,” Zian commented. “Huh.”
“The ship is different. Computer can’t identify it.”
“Great. That’s what we need, the League with new ships. Intelligence should’ve warned us.”
“Maybe they don’t know?”
“Dump the power from the forward shields into the aft. I won’t be able to avoid all the fire if I want to keep us on course. Too many asteroids, not enough room to maneuver.”
“You do realize that you’re insane, right?”
“I’m a pilot. Part of the job description.”
“If you get me killed, I will haunt you.”
The ship lurched as the League fighter found its mark. Xyn let them hit the aft shields, then pulled back on his speed just enough to make it seem, he hoped, like he’d been damaged. Behind him, Zian was muttering about energy signatures. “What was that?” he asked.
“The energy signature is all wrong.”
“New ships and a new energy source? Intelligence my ass. Kobo will lose her mind.”
Kobo was Fleet Commander, Third Division, and Xian’s mother. She never wanted him to enlist, but the war kept dragging on with mounting casualties and fewer pilots. Convincing her to let him sign on became easier over time. Now he was one of the best pilots around, according to his direct superior.
Waiting for the League fighter to close the distance between them, Xyn kept his eye on the giant asteroid looming before them and the fighter behind them. When the computer told him he was in trouble, he counted to five, then fired his aft torpedo. The torpedo shot out and shattered into a thousand pieces halfway between his ship and the enemy, each bit of what looked like shrapnel glittering with energy. Arcs jumped between them, dancing along to build strength and intensity. The energy web expanded. The enemy fighter altered course, trying to avoid collision, but the net formed too fast. As soon as the fighter struck the corner of the web, it contracted,
wrapping the fighter in crackling energy, rippling across the hull.
Momentum kept the ship moving forward, but the pilot would not be able to navigate or fire weapons for a few seconds.
“Got ’em!” Zian whooped.
“Only slowed ’em. We still need the cover of the asteroid field to turn this whole thing around. Put the forward shields back up.”
Xyn turned hard to port, already feeling the pull of the giant asteroid before him.
“Um,” Zian said. “We’re pretty close.”
“Hush,” Xyn ordered. The ship shuddered violently. He guided her around without crashing, but it was closer than he would’ve liked. Diving to put the asteroid between him and the enemy, Xyn started firing torpedoes at seemingly random targets. Each torpedo impacted after they passed, shredding the rocks, scattering debris behind them.
“Why blow up the rocks?”
“Makes it harder for the enemy to follow us, all that garbage flying at ’em. Hold on to something.”
The sleek ship curved, banked, and spun to avoid the chunks of rock that could easily destroy it. Xyn charted his course by relying on his sight alone, what the old-timers called ‘seat of the pants’ flying.
The only path he saw open to them was to pass through the asteroid belt. Rocks of all sizes zipped along; most he avoided, some landed blows that shook the ship. The trip was shorter than it felt, then they were staring out at open space and into the Great Unknown.
“Calm down, I know what I’m doing.”
As he stared out at the deep, dark nothingness between galaxies, Xyn wasn’t actually sure he believed that statement. Keep it together, he thought.
Xyn kicked the engines back into maximum, trying to build up a little speed and bring his weapons to bear. The League pilot was better than he gave him credit for. He expected to have more time. The shields flared and popped.
“What in Fel is that?”
“What?” Xyn launched an aft torpedo, but the League pilot shot it down before it could even arm. New coordinates popped up on his HUD. He blinked. “That…what is that?”
“I don’t know. Something big out here where there isn’t supposed to be anything.”
“No wonder he’s trying so hard to kill us. We better have a look.”
“Can we kill the enemy first?”
“Don’t rush me.” Xyn spared a glance at the shields. “We have forty percent left on the shields. That buys us time.”
“Great. I will haunt you. I’m not kidding about that.”
The League ship’s fire intensified. Xyn cut his engines, spun the ship and started firing wide of the League fighter, driving it to bank starboard. Trailing it with fire, he landed a few blows, but not enough to do any real damage. Kicking his own engines back up to full, Xyn shot towards the asteroid belt. Angling his course, he skirted the edge, cutting a zig-zag pattern in and out, heading towards the coordinates Zian fed to the HUD.
“I—What? The computer doesn’t even know what that is.” Zian breathed.
Through the forward port, he saw a massive ring, wider in diameter than any ship of the line. Lights pulsated all along the rim, bits of energy arcing along the surface. Xyn found his eyes fixed on the armada of League ships assembled before the ring. More ships than he’d ever seen together in one place before. The reports he had seen said the League couldn’t pull a fleet like this together. Obviously, they were wrong.
“That,” he said to Zian, “is the end of this war.”
Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).