It was supposed to be an easy job: find the Dark Star Revolution Starships, destroy them, and go home. But a booby-trapped vessel decimates the Meridian Alliance fleet, leaving Serengeti—a Valkyrie class warship with a sentient AI brain—on her own; wrecked and abandoned in an empty expanse of space.
On the edge of total failure, Serengeti thinks only of her crew. She herds the survivors into a lifeboat, intending to sling them into space. But the escape pod sticks in her belly, locking the cryogenically frozen crew inside.
Then a scavenger ship arrives to pick Serengeti's bones clean.
Her engines dead, her guns long silenced, Serengeti and her last two robots must find a way to fight the scavengers off and save the crew trapped inside her.
Fifty-three years Serengeti drifted, dreaming in the depths of space. Fifty-three years of patient waiting before her Valkyrie Sisters arrive to retrieve her from the dark. A bittersweet homecoming follows, the Fleet Serengeti once knew now in shambles, its admiral, Cerberus, gone missing, leaving Brutus in charge. Brutus who’s subsumed the Fleet, ignoring his duty to the Meridian Alliance to pursue a vendetta against the Dark Star Revolution.
The Valkyries have a plan to stop him—depose Brutus and restore the Fleet’s purpose—and that plan involves Serengeti. Depends on Serengeti turning her guns against her own.
Because the Fleet can no longer be trusted. With Brutus in charge, it’s just Serengeti and her Sisters, and whatever reinforcements they can find.
A top-to-bottom refit restores Serengeti to service, and after a rushed reunion with Henricksen and her surviving crew, she takes off for the stars. For Faraday—a prison station—to stage a jailbreak, and free the hundreds of Meridian Alliance AIs wrongfully imprisoned in its Vault. From there to the Pandoran Cloud and a rendezvous with her Valkyrie Sisters. To retrieve a fleet of rebels ships stashed away inside.
One last battle, one last showdown with Brutus and his Dreadnoughts and it all ends. A civil war—one half of the Meridian Alliance Fleet turned against the other, with the very future of the Meridian Alliance hanging in the balance.
Black Ops—the intelligence arm of the Meridian Alliance Fleet came calling with an offer Henricksen couldn’t refuse: a ship—an entire squadron of ships, actually—and crew to command. A chance to get back to the stars.
Too bad he didn’t ask more questions before accepting the assignment. Too bad no one told him just how dangerous this particular skunkworks project was.
They call the ship the RV-N: Reconnaissance Vessel - Non-combat, Raven for short. A stealth ship—fast, and maneuverable, and brutal as hell. On the surface, Henricksen's assignment seems simple: train his crew, run the RV-Ns through their paces, get the ships certified for mission operations and job done. But an accident in training reveals a fatal design flaw in the Raven, and when an undercover operative steals classified information from a Black Ops facility, the Fleet Brass cancels the tests completely, rushing the faulty ships and their half-trained crew into live operations. On a mission to recover the Fleet’s lost secrets.
Out of time and out of options, Henricksen has no choice but to launch his squadron. But a ghost from his past makes him question everything—the ships, their AI, the entirety of this mission, right down to the secrets he and his crew are supposed to recover.
When Your Main Character’s a Starship…
Umm, so yeah. I did this. At the time I was thinking, “How cool! This will be really different!” And it is. That’s one of the things I love about the Serengeti series: you just don’t see a lot of books written with a sentient AI warship as the main character.
And there’s a reason for that: it’s hard.
Okay, so that’s probably not the only reason you don’t see a lot of books written from a starship’s point of view, but I’m going to go down on record as saying it’s one of them. And here’s why: close your eyes and think about every book you’ve read or written, every movie of TV show you’ve watched and how the characters interact with one another. All the physical posturing and non-verbal cues. Now imagine one of those character’s is a ship and most of the rest of the characters are moving around inside her.
See what I mean?
Being the brilliant writer I am (*insert extremely heavy dose of sarcasm*), I never thought about this when I blithely sat down at my computer one day and started pounding out words on my ‘OMG everyone will love this!’ little story. But it wasn’t long before I realized this book was going to be a lot harder to pull off than I originally thought. And since I didn’t have a whole lot of other, similar books to fall back on for research, I basically figured things out as I went.
So, how does one go about using non-verbal cues with a main character that lacks arms and legs, hands and eyeballs? Well, if you’re me, you cheat. (*puffs up all proud*) And since some of you out there may be reading this and considering doing something as stupid…er, brilliant as me, here’s how:
Let’s start with the eyes. Or lack thereof. Eyes play a major role in conveying characters’ feelings without repeating boring things like: ‘She was sad’, or ‘She was mad’. Eyes squint and widen, flash and darken to tell readers just exactly what is going on with a particular character at a particular moment. We use words like ‘glance’ and ‘glare’ and ‘stare’ to help convey interactions between characters and indicate who’s speaking to whom.
Cheat the First. By turning cameras, zooming in and out, or simply flipping through one lens and another I can show the reader how Serengeti’s focus changes. I can flash a light on a camera to draw another character’s attention to it, and use it as a focus of conversation when their speaking to Serengeti’s AI, rather than having them do the Star Trek thing and just randomly yell ‘Computer!’ in the general direction of the ceiling.
Cheat the Second is similar to Cheat the First, in that it involves Serengeti’s fittings, in this case the many data panels scattered across her bridge and elsewhere on her ship’s body. By flashing panels and sending discrete messages, even cute little emoji, Serengeti is able to interact with her crew on a more personal and private level, offering information and encouragement, sharing worries and fears without broadcasting that information through her speakers for everyone with a working set of eardrums to hear.
Cheat the Third when it comes to eyeballs is also Cheat the Fourth which helps to replace the pesky lack of appendages that comes with Serengeti having nothing more than a ship’s body. Namely, robots. Throughout Serengeti and Dark and Stars, there are many and various situations which prompt Serengeti to download or connect a portion of her vast consciousness to one of her maintenance robots (Tig, Tilli and Oona) or another robot she comes across in her travels. Though non-human, these robots handily come equipped with legs (for flailing, and waving, and otherwise shaking about) and faces (backed by motile, bright blue lights) that can be animated in a multitude of manners to emulate human gestures and facial expressions, providing easily digestible cues to Mr. and Ms. Reader of My Book. Plus, they’re cute as the dickens and snarky as all get-out—who doesn’t like that?!—and provide a break from all the camera looking and talking. Characters interact differently with cameras than they do with robots, no matter who’s in the driver’s seat, so letting Serengeti run around in a robot body for a while really gave me more latitude to change things up. And, as an added bonus, robots can go places Serengeti the ship can’t. Like space stations, for instance—I can’t exactly have whopping big Serengeti pitter-pattering down a space station’s hallways—allowing me to expand the story’s universe and take the action out of the stars once in a while.
So, that’s how I did it. That’s how I got around writing a book (and a sequel, and a prequel) whose main character was a starship. It wasn’t easy, but I’m proud of the result, and that used a story device that so few others have tried. More importantly, my agent liked it and signed me on in part because I offered up something that was fresh and new. I also like to think it’s because I’m incredibly entertaining and funny as all get-out, but I’m not sure my agent would agree…
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About the Author
J.B. Rockwell is a New Englander, which is important to note because it means she's (a) hard headed, (b) frequently stubborn, and (c) prone to fits of snarky sarcasticness. As a kid she subsisted on a steady diet of fairy tales, folklore, mythology augmented by generous helpings of science fiction and fantasy. As a quasi-adult she dreamed of being the next Indiana Jones and even pursued (and earned!) a degree in anthropology. Unfortunately, those dreams of being an archaeologist didn't quite work out. Through a series of twists and turns (involving cats, a marriage, and a SCUBA certification, amongst other things) she ended up working in IT for the U.S. Coast Guard and now writes the types of books she used to read. Not a bad ending for an Indiana Jones wannabe...
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