Friday, April 29, 2011

Expert Assistance by Robert Collins

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To get out of debt, spacer Jake Bonner takes on two odd jobs. The first, chauffeur pop star Evvie Martini on her tour; the second, helping Daniel and Clarissa Rosen overthrow their planet’s tyrannical ruler. Unfortunately for Jake, Evvie finds out about his second assignment and, hoping to advance her career, invites herself to the revolution. From there the absurdity grows for Jake and his band of “freedom fighters.” Expert Assistance pokes fun at revolutions, pop culture, and some of the cliches of sci-fi.

My third novel, "Monitor," came out last year from Whiskey Creek Press. My second science fiction novel, "Lisa's Way," was released in 2008 by eTreasures Publishing. My first SF novel, "Expert Assistance," came out in 2007 through Asylett Press. I've had stories and articles appear in periodicals such as Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine; Tales of the Talisman; Space Westerns; Sorcerous Signals; Wild West; and Model Railroader. In 2007 Pelican released my biography of "Bleeding Kansas" leader Jim Lane, and before that a biography of a Kansas Civil War general. I've had six Kansas railroad books published by South Platte Press.

What will readers like about your book?
I hope they'll get a laugh or two, enjoy the novel, and maybe think a little about pop culture. One recent review compared the book to a piece of candy. I don't mind that. I have other novels with more serious purposes, but this was just for fun.

Why did you self publish?
This was my first published novel. The original publisher and I parted ways and I got the book back. I queried one small press but never heard back. In the meantime, I'd been self-publishing some of my nonfiction books. I decided that I might as well take over my fiction career as I had been with my nonfiction.

What is your writing process?
I write in the mornings. I have a goal of 4 pages a day. I don't always reach it, but I've had that daily goal for a decade now, so it's okay. I've written a lot over that time.

I need to have the plot set before I write. I might change the plot, but I need a destination before I can start. Sometimes I ponder scenes before writing them, sort of a mental first draft. Once I know where I'm going, and I'm ready to write, I just go to it.

How long does it take you to write your first draft?
Depends. In the case of "Expert Assistance," there was no "first draft." There was a script that became a short story, then a longer story, then a novel. Another novel I plan to republish myself went through several drafts over 20 years. It varies from book to book and story to story.

What inspired you to write this particular story?
Watching revolution episodes of "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek," and spending time writing for a newsletter for a fan group out of Chicago that did video parodies back in the late 1980s. Also, from wanting to poke fun at pop culture. Extra inspiration came from "Casablanca" and the "Hitch-Hiker's Guide" series.


The world that Odin showed Jake was a two-color planet known among spacers as a “wet rockball.” This was because Antioch Two had three continents and many islands, with the rest of its surface covered by water. The land areas consisted of rocky mountain chains, rocky deserts, and rocky coastlines. It was the sort of world that only a mineralogist could love.
“How long will it take to deplete these veins?” Jake asked.
“At the present pace, roughly twenty years,” Odin replied.
“All right. Tell me more about that dome.”
“Of course.” The dome image was replaced on the screen with a surface map. “The dome is located within three kilometers of a substantial river. That river is dammed to provide for both water and power.”
Jake looked at the image of the dome for a few moments. The exterior appeared fairly standard. It was a gray structure spiderwebbed by black support beams and silvery panel joints. “Dome” was the common name for such structures, but in reality it was a cylinder capped by an actual dome. The cylinder appeared to be about five or six stories tall, with the dome an additional story. It resembled every other habitation dome on every other rough planet that Jake had been to or heard about.
“All very above board, it seems,” he said at length.
“’Seems’ being the operative word, Jake. I cannot locate any detailed data on Antioch Two, such as the types of systems used, exact mineral output, or even if the world has been inspected for health and safety violations.”
Jake frowned and shook his head. “Odin, that doesn’t make sense.”
“Ordinarily, you would be correct.”
“But it seems that in this particular case, you are incorrect. Interstellar law does exempt privately-owned exploited worlds from most regulation.”
“But that law is supposed to cover asteroids and uninhabitable worlds.”
“So is Antioch Two. It appears from my investigation that the world is the personal property of Sordius Maxis.”
Jake leaned back in his chair. It took him a moment to digest what Odin had just said. “One man owns one of the richest worlds in human space?”
“That appears to be the case.”
“How could that be? How could one man own a planet? How could any corporation have let this gem slip away?”
“I have no information at this time, Jake. It appears that Maxis, or possibly his father, found the ideal loophole.”
“Or pulled off the con of the millennium.”
Jake suddenly smiled. “Which means beating him is going to be beating a conman. I may actually enjoy this after all.”
“Happy to have been of service,” Odin responded, with just a touch of digitized sincerity.


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