Q. Who did your cover and what was the design process like?
Alejandro Colucci did the cover for The Lucky Starman. This is the third of my books that he has created the cover art for—three in a row—and they have all been phenomenal. On the previous one, I actually received a comment asking if it was available as a poster and I have never had anything close to that happen before. For The Lucky Starman, we wanted to maintain the motif of the space-suited hand from the first two books. We also wanted to include something unique to this book. Based on some of the themes in the story, Alejandro designed the cover you see, which evokes the old line from Shakespeare, “Alas, poor Yorick . . .” I think the cognitive dissonance between the title and the image is perfect. When you read the book, I hope you’ll agree.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The Lucky Starman is the third book in a series that stretches across close to two centuries of Earth time, two different stages of “near future” Earth technology followed by a postapocalyptic setting, and two starflights with the attendant effects of relativity. In addition, the three books form a continuous story, the events of one follow immediately after the conclusion of the preceding book.
In this situation, I found the most difficult aspect of writing the third book was maintaining consistency with the first two and keeping the timeline feasible across all three. For example, people in Leif’s twenty-first century usually have an implanted chip that interfaces with their phone and with other networks. Since this is obviously made-up technology (although perhaps not that far off!), I had to make sure that I kept the capabilities of the technology consistent across books. In the first book, there is a scene, after Leif receives a new, upgraded chip on his return from the first starflight, where he angrily deletes a lot of annoying apps that came with it. In The Lucky Starman, he needs to have certain apps available, so I had to be sure there was a reason he still had them. Similarly, the books include multiple events with dates in a period from 2055 (when Leif enlists) to 2252 (the conclusion of The Lucky Starman.) Not only do the dates need to match across books, but the time between the events needs to work. At one point in the drafts, when I looked at the story prior to a starflight and then events occurring after the flight, I realized that it was implying the ship had gone faster than light. Needless to say, adjustments to the draft were needed.
The near-constant back and forth checking on these proved to be the hardest part of the writing.
Colin Alexander has a new post-apocalyptic sci-fi book out, Leif the Lucky book 3: The Lucky Starman.
Is Leif really lucky? Stranded in orbit, viewing a destroyed civilization on Earth through the screens of a starship almost out of fuel and food, he doesn’t feel that way.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that.
As the starship Dauntless returns from a successful mission to the planet called Heaven, Earth holds no attractions for Exoplanetary Scout Leif Grettison. He wants only to complete the mission and leave for another star, along with ace pilot Yang Yong. In fact, he would be happy spending the rest of his life flying the starways with her.
But they and the rest of the ship’s skeleton crew awaken from hibernation to find Earth’s solar system dark and silent—no signals, no responses to their transmissions. When they make orbit, the magnitude of the disaster becomes clear: An apocalyptic war has killed billions and destroyed every last source of power and tech that 22nd-Century humans relied on to survive.
Getting down to Earth is only the beginning of Leif’s problems. Those few who survived the apocalypse are still divided, fighting over what’s left. The disastrous re-entry to Earth leaves him with no resources or allies. He lands in the middle of a makeshift family that needs him more than he’s comfortable with and hears stories—even nursery rhymes—that speak of a lucky starman. For once, he’s the only person with tech—but if he’s caught using it, they might kill him.
Can a man back from the stars end the warfare on Earth, or will he make it worse? Can he save a family that might become his? Is he everyone’s lucky starman?
Warnings: Combat situations (one-on-one and armies), named characters die
About the Series:
These are the adventures of Leif, who some have called the Lucky. They begin in the year 2069, when humanity’s last chance for peace is the first ever interstellar mission. However, when you believe you have thought of everything, the universe has a way of showing that you haven’t.
What do you do when it goes wrong, when you can’t call for help, and when adventure leads to deaths? If you survive one journey, what do you do next?
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“Leif, we have a problem.”
I heard Charley’s voice as if from a great distance. The post-hib blur was a dense fog in my mind. I recognized the words but could not grasp their meaning. In my defense, I hadn’t even sat up in the hibernation unit yet; its bath was still draining.
I wrenched off the mask and cannula and removed the port from my arm. Then I sat up with a profound groan. Nearly four and a half years’ hibernating did more than blur the brain. Every muscle was stiff. I was surprised my joints didn’t squeak. Multiyear hib did not get better with repetition. I blinked and tried to bring Charley’s face into focus. Dr. Charles Osborne, I told myself. Our ship’s physician. He was supposed to be with me when I came out of hib. He had dark brown skin on a kindly round face, short black hair, and a closely cropped beard.
“Leif, we have a problem,” he repeated. “Yang needs you on the bridge.”
Why did there always have to be a problem? Why couldn’t someone say, Leif, life is great, and the world is beautiful. Why don’t you come share it? But, no, that’s not the way my life goes.
I groaned again and managed to say, “What?”
Charley shook his head. “I don’t know. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t get your equipment off first. I’m, I don’t know, worried. Here’s your OJ. Yang asked you to skip the gym. She really wants you on the bridge as soon as you can get there.”
That bit penetrated the blur. Yong had woken me early on the flight to High Noon, the very first starshot, when the ship’s computer tried to abort the mission after a hib failure. What was it this time?
I downed the orange juice with sugar in one fast chug. Having come out of four previous multiyear hib stretches on starflights, I had learned that the best way to return to the status of a functional human was to follow a carefully escalating workout routine in the gym. It felt awful while I was doing it, but it worked. There would be a good reason if Yang Yong wanted me to skip it. And the good reason would be something bad. Count on it.
I blinked again. “Can I at least get dressed and grab a couple of protein bars from the caf?” I did manage to get the croak out of my voice.
“I’m sure,” Charley said. “Just grab ’em and go to the bridge.”
“I’m on it,” I said. “Where’s the famous laxative pack?”
Charley had that in his other hand. The constipation from hib on an interstellar flight would not, in fact, kill you, but there were times I wished it would.
Once Charley left, I pulled myself out of the unit and stood up, shivering. My muscles shook trying to hold me upright. At least I’d done this often enough to know what would hurt most and how to manage it. The biggest problem was the knee that had been surgically rebuilt after I was wounded on Mindanao back in 2062. That was why I had left the Rangers and the service, and with each long hib, it got harder and harder to return it to normal.
No help for that. I settled for cursing long and loud while I toweled off. Then I pulled on the ship’s polo shirt with its NASA emblem over the left breast and my name, Grettison, embroidered below it. The starshot emblem of a gloved hand clutching a star above STARSHOT xv was stitched over the right breast. Ship pants, ankle socks, and ship boots completed the outfit. We were obviously decelerating at one gee because my weight felt normal, so I didn’t need the SureGrip soles for the StickStrips on the deck.
I pulled open the privacy screen around my unit and stepped out onto the hib deck. All the other units I could see were off. My adrenals squeezed immediately and I felt a sense of panic. Then my mind pulled its memories through the post-hib blur. Of course nearly all the units were empty and off. We had put the colonists down on the planet called Heaven, meaning only seven of us were on the Dauntless for the return to Earth.
I did a set of breathing exercises and got my heart rate and blood pressure under control. It wouldn’t do for me to have a stroke before I heard Yong’s problem. Maybe afterward, if it was bad enough.
With my legs wobbling under me, I took the lift to the deck where the caf was and grabbed energy bars. I took the time to eat one of them and chug another sugared orange juice. I needed to get to the bridge, but I also needed to not fall on my face when I got there.
When I entered the bridge, two energy bars swallowed and two more in my pocket, one of the chairs swiveled around. Yang Yong, pilot-in-command of the Dauntless, stood to greet me. She was a petite and slender woman with high cheekbones and brown hair cropped as short as mine. Small, yes, but there was nothing soft or delicate about her. She’d been a crack attack plane pilot for China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force during the Troubles, which meant we had been on opposite sides of the fighting. Opposite sides, hell. She had damn near killed me on Mindanao when she bombed my platoon’s position the day the world almost ended.
Fortunately, our relationship had evolved from there. We were now two sides of the same coin and had decided to spend our lives flying through the universe together. It’s not that either one of us ever used the L‑word, but we knew what we meant to each other.
She did not smile at me. She did not even give me her tight little grin. I knew her well enough to tell that she was tense, though no one else would see any difference in the way she held herself.
If Yang Yong was tense, something was very, very wrong.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“I don’t know. We are not receiving anything.”
“Nothing?” I tried to wrap my mind around that and let my hand drop from the pocket with the energy bars. They could wait.
“Nothing,” she repeated. “We are inside the orbit of Pluto, and there is no signal from the International Space Commission. I have sent transmissions to Earthbase, NASA, and CNSA. We have received no response, and enough time has elapsed for a reply to reach us. Before you ask, I have checked over our equipment. It is fine. The solar system is silent.”
Colin Alexander is a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Actually, Colin Alexander is the pseudonym for Alton Kremer, maybe his alter ego, or who he would have been if he hadn’t been a physician and biochemist and had a career as a medical researcher. His most recent book, The Lucky Starman, is his ninth and the third of the Leif the Lucky novels. Colin is an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Away from writing fiction, his idea of relaxation is martial arts (taekwondo and minna jiu jitsu). He lives in Maine with his wife.
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