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VULCAN’S FURY: A Teaser

Vulcan's Fury: The Dark LandsThe rough draft of VULCAN’S FURY: THE DARK LANDS is nearing completion! Of course, it won’t be published for a while yet, as it has to go through the red ink car wash of the editorial process. But it’s definitely time to start teasing you about it! Herewith is the premise of the story:

A few thousand years after Old Rome was destroyed in Vulcan’s Fury, as the ancient world’s fiery ruination was known, the descendants of the Roman Survivors finally achieved what their predecessors had not: domination of the entire known world, all save the Dark Lands. Hidden behind a barrier of smoldering volcanoes and the deadly Haunted Sea, the Dark Lands were at the heart of fearful legends of terrible beasts, and worse, that had once feasted upon the flesh of men.

But ancient tales held no fear for Princess Valeria, daughter of Caesar Tiberius Claudius Augustus, Emperor of Rome. Enthralled by reports of strange happenings along the coast and bored by the life of a young noblewoman, Valeria begs her father to allow her to travel to the coast of the Haunted Sea to indulge her curiosity. Tiberius grants her request, anxious to see her safely away from Rome, where the Senate is plotting against him. Together with her closest companions, including her enormous hexatiger, Hercules, Valeria sets off on her adventure, unaware that she has become part of a chain of events that could once more bring humanity to the brink of extinction.

And now, a small snippet (caveat: totally unedited, as yet!) from the book for your enjoyment…


The beast wove its way with great care through the lush vegetation as it stalked its prey. It stalked its prey in slow, sinuous movements, so low to the ground that the white fur of its belly brushed against the manicured grass. Its coat of black stripes against dusky orange made it nearly invisible as it wended its way among the shadows, its long fur-covered tail trailing behind it like a serpent. Through the sweet fragrance of the many flowers in bloom it could make out the smell of Man. It was a pungent mixture of sour human sweat, spices and wine on their breath, and the oil and polish used on metal and leather. Drawing in a silent breath, it could make out eleven individual Man-scents nearby. They were not prey, but obstacles standing between the beast and the one it truly sought. The prey-scent was altogether different from those of the Men, for the prey was a young human female. She, like all living things, had her own unique scent. But here, amidst the many flowers, it was difficult for the beast to locate her, for she smelled much like a flower herself.

Hearing a deep voice call out, the beast froze, its amber eyes staring through the foliage in the direction of the Man-sound, its six legs tensed to seize an opportunity to attack, or to turn and flee. One of the Men, far to the beast’s left, crashed into the greenery, calling to its fellows, no doubt hoping to have found the monster stalking them. The other Men, demonstrating far greater wisdom, remained silent. But even standing still as a stone, the Men made noise. The great beast could hear their tense breathing, whispered Man-speak, the subtle sigh of grass as they shifted weight from one foot to another, and the clink of metal on metal or the soft squeal of leather. Only one among them, the eldest and most fierce, was truly silent. Of the Men the beast now faced, he was the only one it had any reason to truly fear. The beast likely would have chosen a more direct approach to reach its prey, save for this particular Man. The others were as helpless, bleating goats compared to him, and it was the fear of this one Man that dictated the beast’s oblique approach.

Certain now that it had not been detected, the beast used the noise made by the Man beating through the greenery to mask its approach. Still staying low to the ground, it moved forward in a series of rapid but silent steps, its tail low to the ground, shifting slightly from side to side to help it maintain perfect balance. After a momentary pause to make sure it remained undetected, it made another dash to a dense hedge, beyond which lay the prize. After sinking to the ground, it slowly, ever so slowly, crept forward until it could see through the hedge. Just beyond the living wall was a large circle of grass upon which stood the humans. At their center was the prey, and beside her was the One-To-Be-Feared, the metal armor girding his chest gleaming silver in the sun, as did the helmet with the red crest. He was never far from the prey’s side, and his eyes were never still.

With a tremor of excitement, the beast saw that those eyes were now fixed on the Man still stomping through the greenery. The Man gave a startled yelp, then cried out in pain as he stumbled upon the nest of bees the beast had earlier steered well clear of during its approach. The Man crashed back through the hedge into the grassy circle, slapping at his tiny tormentors. The other Men laughed at their companion’s antics, and even the attention of the One-To-Be-Feared was riveted on the spectacle.

It was an opportunity the beast could not pass up. Backing away from the hedge, the beast quickly retreated several paces. Then, turning back in the direction of the humans, it dashed forward. At the last possible instant it leaped into the air, clearing the hedge with room to spare, before it landed on the grass on the far side. Dashing past the nearest Men, it let out an ear-splitting roar as it bore down on its small human prey, her defenders too far away now to save her.

The prey, eyes wide, whirled around and beheld the nature of her doom. She opened her mouth and screamed…


P.S. This post is part of a giveaway contest – click here to learn more!


December Update on VULCAN’S FURY

Vulcan's Fury: The Dark LandsVulcan’s Fury has been coming along nicely, and I’m on track to finish the working draft by mid-January 2016, if not before. My target is 100,000 words (that’s just a rough estimate, obviously), and I’m at 89,000 now, so we’re getting there!

That brings me to a strategic decision I’d like to get your input on. In the past, I’ve generally alternated projects between story lines. For example, I wrote Legend Of The Sword (one of the In Her Name novels), then Season Of The Harvest, then jumped back into the In Her Name universe to write Dead Soul, then Bitter Harvest, etc.

I honestly can’t tell you why I originally decided to do things that way, but after a lot of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that a better way might be to take a story line – be it something new like Vulcan’s Fury or in an existing universe like In Her Name – and just keep writing until the story line is finished (which, in the past, has typically wound up being a trilogy), then publish the sequence of books as they’re completed.

As with most things, there is good and bad news with that. The good news is that for those who enjoy Vulcan’s Fury (and I hope that’s most of my fans, because in my mind this story is in some ways akin to In Her Name: Empire), you won’t have to wait too terribly long to get the whole thing, although it’ll probably still take a year-plus, as I can only write so fast.

The bad news, such as it is, is that if I do this we won’t be returning to the In Her Name universe until after the Vulcan’s Fury story line is finished. But once we do, you’ll get a big dose of bad-ass Kreelan warrior mayhem.

Anyway, I’d appreciate any input you might have on this, so please feel free to post a comment below!

P.S. Hey, if you haven’t already don’t forget to enter the holiday giveaway contest!


December Giveaway: Autographed Redemption Trilogy Set

To help celebrate the holidays and the coming New Year, I decided to run another little giveaway for my fans! The prize this time is a complete set of the Redemption Trilogy books – Empire, Confederation, and Final Battle – autographed and with a personal dedication to the winner. While I can’t say that it’s worth anything other than the cover value of the books themselves, there are very, very few of these sets out there (maybe only two or three), so I hope this will be a bit of a treat for the winner!

rewards-fuel-contest-twitter2

This contest is also going to be a bit different, as it’s going to be for points, rather than a random drawing. There are multiple ways to score points, like joining the newsletter (note: even if you’re already a subscriber, just sign up on the contest page again if it allows it, as that list is separate from the “real” list), sharing the contest info with your friends, or retweeting. It’s all in a few button clicks and takes no time at all.

So toss your hat in the ring and head on over to the Giveaways Page to enter! Good luck!


Pre-Production of REAPING THE HARVEST Audiobook is Complete

reaping-the-harvest-cover-new-300hI received some exciting news this morning from the narrator who’s been working on bringing the last of the Harvest Trilogy books to audiobook format: the initial cut of REAPING THE HARVEST is ready for review!

What happens now is that I have to review the entire recording and send any feedback on necessary changes to the narrator (to be honest, based on the initial cut he provided, I’ll be surprised if there are very many). I hope to have that completed by the middle of next week.

So, with any luck, we may be able to get the audiobook published just in time for Christmas! Once it goes out, it will be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

Keep your fingers crossed, and I’ll let you know when I have more…


I’m In Internet Purgatory!

Well, this was a frustrating discovery that I just made today: my server was at some point blocked by ATT.net for abuse. It would’ve been nice of them to tell me (and give a reason why). Ugh. Anyway, what that means is that if you’re on att.net or one of their affiliated service networks like sbcglobal.net, bellsouth.net, or pacbell.net (there could be more, but those seemed to be the main ones), you can send email to my email address on this domain (authormichaelhicks.com), but any email I send to you – including the offers of free books and giveaways – will be blocked. I know that this affects roughly four hundred folks on my mailing list.

Needless to say, I’ve emailed the ATT.net folks in hopes of getting out of internet purgatory. In the meantime, if you never received the four free books I promised you, please contact me from the email address you used to subscribe to the list and I’ll use an alternate sending address to get the goodies to you.

As the saying goes, “It’s always something!”


What’s Coming Next: VULCAN’S FURY – THE DARK LANDS

Vulcan's Fury - The Dark LandsNow that MISTRESS OF THE AGES is on the street, I thought I’d fill you in on the next project I’m working on, titled VULCAN’S FURY: THE DARK LANDS.

My apologies to fellow Star Trek fans, but VULCAN’S FURY has nothing to do with Vulcans like our beloved Mr. Spock. Rather, this book is something of an alternate history of ancient Rome with a sci-fi twist. The feel of the story thus far reminds me quite a bit of both EMPIRE and the books of THE FIRST EMPRESS trilogy, although set against the backdrop of Earth, rather than outer space.

The premise of VULCAN’S FURY is that the civilizations of the ancient world were destroyed by an asteroid impact. Pockets of survivors emerged after what was later called The Long Winter, among them a group of Romans who had managed to preserve their culture and a vision to build a New Rome come the day they could again live under the open sky. When the First Spring came at last, they found the world had forever changed: the boundaries between land and sea were all but unrecognizable, and even the positions of the stars in the sky had changed. Many animals recorded in the now ancient records of the first Survivors were gone. Over the centuries that followed, other creatures, some wonderful and others terrible, appeared, sent by the gods to replace some of those that had been taken away.

A few thousand years after Old Rome was destroyed, the dream of the Roman Survivors had become a reality. Vulcan’s Fury, as the impact event was known, had become a distant but poignant memory of how wrathful the gods can be, and it was the duty of every Roman to see that they were never angered again. Over those many years, the Roman Empire had finally brought to heel the entire known world, save the Dark Lands. Hidden behind a barrier of smoldering volcanoes and the deadly Haunted Sea, the Dark Lands were at the heart of ancient legends among the Romans of terrible beasts, and worse, that had once feasted upon the flesh of men in the earliest days of the First Spring.

But ancient legends held no fear for Princess Valeria, daughter of Caesar Tiberius Claudius Augustus. Enthralled by reports of strange happenings along the coast and bored by the life of a young Roman noblewoman, she begs her father to allow her to travel to the coast of the Haunted Sea to indulge her curiosity. Tiberius grants her request, anxious to see her safely away from Rome, where the Senate is plotting against him. Together with her closest companions, including her enormous hexatiger, Hercules, Valeria sets off on her adventure, unaware that she has set in motion a series of events that will change the history of the Empire, and all Humankind, forever…

So, that’s a bit more than you would get in a typical book blurb, but I wanted to give you more of an idea of where the story is coming from. I don’t have a publication date yet, of course, but as of this writing the manuscript is already at 41,000 words, so it’s moving along pretty quickly. I also don’t know if it will be a standalone or not – we’ll just have to wait and see!

Lastly, for those who have been wondering, MISTRESS OF THE AGES was not the last book of the IN HER NAME series. The story of the Kreelan Empire and Confederation of Humanity isn’t over yet. :-)


Farewell To Leonard Nimoy

Live long and prosper...

Live long and prosper…

Like so many others, I must sadly bid farewell to Leonard Nimoy, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. His portrayal of Spock in the original Star Trek series left an indelible impression on me during my formative years. As one of my elementary school friends recently recalled, my main interests back in those early days were things military and Star Trek, and she was not far wrong. The timing of his death was something of an irony for me, as I had just started to go back through the original series only a week or so ago after not having watched them for many years.

As a boy, my head was filled with the universe of Star Trek and its characters, along with the historical events of the Apollo program and, later, the Space Shuttle. Sometimes I probably forgot which was which. When you’re a child gifted with an active imagination, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose. But back in those days, were I granted a single wish, it very likely would have been to be a member of the crew of the Enterprise. Had I been able to step through the barrier separating reality from imagination, I would not have hesitated.

Of all the characters, I identified most with Spock. While I wished that I was more like Kirk, the truth is that I was a hopeless nerd (something that hasn’t changed much). If you think about it, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was a nerd, too. But he showed that nerds could be strong, compassionate, caring, and just. Spock was the perfect TV role model for kids like me, and Leonard Nimoy brought it off flawlessly. Now, I’m not going to say that I’m anything like Spock, or Leonard Nimoy for that matter. But he represented something worthy and noble to which kids like me might aspire.

Nimoy, of course, had talents that went far beyond his portrayal of Spock. I have to confess, however, that I didn’t really follow his career outside the narrow confines of Star Trek, and I suppose that his intensely strong typecasting as Spock might not have done his acting career any favors. Be that as it may, I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing him in other roles (notably as William Bell in the wonderful sci-fi series Fringe), and no one can deny that he was an immensely talented actor and creative mind.

But to me, the boy who sat glued to the tube every night waiting for Star Trek to come on, the boy who would later cast aside a secure government career to write science fiction stories, he has always been, and always shall be, Spock.


The Mars One Mission: Should We Go?

Mars OneThe other day some of my Twitter friends commented on how badly they were feeling about the people competing for acceptance by the Mars One Mission, which is a private venture that hopes to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. The first launch is planned for 2024, and the venture announced that the 200,000-plus applicants had at last been whittled down to the final 100 selectees, who face a very rigorous process to identify the teams who will actually fly the missions. The kicker is that these missions will be one-way, and some (perhaps most) critics believe the crews will have a tragically short life-span once they reach their new home. Some seem to feel like this is a needless and hideously expensive tragedy in the making, while others — the applicants among them, of course — look at it as the opportunity of a lifetime. What say you?

My own take on it is that if I were about 25 years younger and unattached, I would have applied myself. I believe that Homo Sapiens is, at heart, an explorer, and the stars have beckoned us from day one. That’s not to say that there isn’t more to explore here on Mother Earth, but outer space has limitless possibilities if we can work our way through the technological challenges. We have proven we have the ability to get to the Moon, and I personally believe that we’ve had the technology to reach even farther for some years.

Unfortunately, once the Space Race was over, the world’s governments largely lost interest in manned space exploration. But with the emergence of (hopefully) viable commercial ventures like Mars One and others, we may very well be entering a Golden Age of space flight. But the exploration of space has its risks, as it always has. The Mars One crews may perish soon after landing, or they might not make it at all. But if we never pushed outward, never accepted risk, our ancient ancestors never would have left Africa to colonize the rest of the planet, to mention nothing of the many exploratory missions recorded in our more modern history.

But there’s another reason I believe that we need to leave our planetary cradle, one that’s far more imperative: the long-term survival of our species.  You can pick your doomsday scenario, or maybe we simply run out of resources on Earth, but the bottom line is that all of our eggs are in one planetary basket. It doesn’t matter if we screw up the Earth or something else does it: if our biosphere is badly damaged, we’re screwed. We need to start building a new nest, and I think the time is upon us.

Getting back to the Mars One adventurers, I’m very curious about how you view their circumstances. Are they to be pitied and mourned in advance? Are they heroic explorers? Or something else entirely. Let me know what you think!


Out On The Road, Expanding My Comfort Zone

My wife and I have been out on our annual summer RV vacation since early June, which is the main reason I’ve been fairly quiet of late (and no, I haven’t forgotten that I have books to write, believe me!). This year we’ve been touring through New England, and have seen and done a lot of amazing things and visited some magical places. We’ve also been through the usual assortment of hair-raising situations that might make saner folk question just what the heck they were doing out on the road in the first place!

As Bilbo Baggins once told Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” I think Bilbo must have had a lot of experience with RV travel, and I’m tempted to have that quote painted on the side of our rig.

There was more than one occasion during this summer’s trip (well, and most of the trips we’ve taken before) when I thought to myself, “Just what the HELL am I doing out here?” This thought would usually run through my mind in such joyful situations as driving through a straight (or, even better, turning) construction zone with barrels, cones, and/or Jersey barriers positioned no more than a foot away from either side of the rig, although at the time it seemed like only inches. Or grinding up (or, worse, zooming down) steep, twisting country roads with blind turns. At night. In pouring rain. With hail. And meteors. Or trying to squeeze the rig through narrow streets of quaint little towns that would be a tight fit for my bicycle, because the GPS said that was THE best route to get to our destination. The infernal device, which I call Gertrude, forgot to mention that we needed vaseline to get through. Or our destination was intentionally located by its proprietors in such a difficult to access area that guests would never want to brave the hellish roads to leave and would stay forever (cue up Hotel California by the Eagles). The RV park where we’re staying right now has its own graveyard. I kid you not.

So why do my wife and I go through this self-inflicted hell on wheels, rather than just staying at home in Sarasota, floating in the pool with tropical drinks with little umbrellas in hand?

Because, to us, the rewards have justified the madness. It doesn’t matter so much that we’re in an RV, as opposed to driving a car or flying and staying in a hotel (although we prefer RV travel because it’s our own place with our own stuff, and we can take the cats). What matters is that we’re out experiencing the world, warts and all. We’ve seen so many places and done so many things that so many people never get around to. And every time we go somewhere, we come away with the thought, “Wow! There’s so much more to see and do here!” And while driving The Beast can be a challenge, I can also look back and say, “Hey, I did that – and survived!” It’s a confidence builder, and certainly has given us lots of great fodder for stories to tell over a good meal with friends.

Beyond that, it’s the mental attitude, which takes you far beyond traveling the highways and byways in an RV. The words of John F. Kennedy’s “We chose to go to the moon speech” come to mind:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

I thought about Kennedy’s words a great deal when my books took off back in 2011 and I was faced with the opportunity to leave my career government job and begin a new career as a full-time author. But that meant leaving all the security and benefits – a stable and pretty much guaranteed income, excellent health care, and good retirement benefits – of my government job behind. By contrast, working as an author has no guarantees. I have no idea what my income may be next month or the month after that, and I have no idea how well any given book will do when it’s published. I have no retirement plan beyond what I choose to make for myself. Our health benefits are far more expensive than as a Federal employee. I do everything for the business, from writing the books to doing the taxes, and sometimes – like driving the RV – it drives me nuts. And everything is uncertain; there is no safety net. In short, it meant that I, and my family with me, made the decision to step out onto Bilbo’s fabled Road in a big way.

It would have been very easy not to. I could have stayed comfortably in my Hobbit hole, just as it would be comfortably easy to stay in our house and not venture out in our RV. But had I done that, I would never – at least until I retired in another dozen or so years (with the understanding that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one, and those days may never have come) – have been able to do the things we’ve done these past few years.

Far too many people let life pass them by because they’re afraid to test the boundaries of their comfort zone, and I’m not just talking about travel. It’s about making the most that you can of life. It’s about doing the things that you want or need to do, but that mean taking some measure of risk. You’re afraid you won’t succeed, or in some cases you’re afraid you will and aren’t sure if you can handle it. I can’t tell you if you’ll make it or not, and you should never let anyone else tell you that, either. But I can tell you this: if you never try, if you never open the door to your Hobbit hole and set foot upon the Road or look up at the moon and decide to do what is hard, you’ll never, ever know.