Mark Alpert’s New SF Thriller: The Orion Plan

One of the books I’ve been waiting to read is Mark Alpert’s The Orion Plan, due out on February 16th. My friend Todd Jepperson was lucky enough to get to review and adanvce copy and I’m lucky enough that he’s asked me to present it here on Nerdwrites.


by Todd Jepperson

In Mark Alpert’s The Orion Plan, available Feb. 16, 2016 from St. Martin’s Press, Earth finally makes contact with an alien species, and it’s not pretty. When a strange, meteor-like object is observed travelling at unbelievable speeds on a direct collision course with earth, NASA scientist Dr. Sarah Pooley makes what she thinks is the most difficult phone call of her life. She contacts the United States Air Force to warn them of the impending destruction of all of New York. The object is 34 meters wide and traveling at 83,000 miles per hour; it’s big enough to punch a hole right through the shell of our planet, and possibly even destroy it.

Except it doesn’t.

Dr. Pooley watches as a large part of the object is ejected, and only a small part changes course and heads for a hillside in the park. A full-scale military search is launched, but they’ve got the landing site completely wrong. Dr. Pooley tries to show them the error of their plans, but who is she to be smarter than military scientists?

Enter Joe. A homeless former Doctor of medicine who happens to be sleeping on the hillside the night the probe slams into it. He sees a second shot at life in the gleaming black sphere. Afterall, wouldn’t someone pay large amounts of money to recover such an expensive piece of technology? So, he does what anyone down on their luck would do. He hides the probe, and tries to locate someone who will pay big money for it. Too bad he’s not the only one on the hillside that night.

A couple of street tough “homeboys” also come to investigate who might be making noise in their part of the city. They expect rival gangs, but find poor old drunk Joe sleeping in his box in the mud, so they stomp him out pretty good. They try to take the probe, and that’s when things get strange. The probe bites, and when it does, the bite leaves a mark in a bad way.

What begins as a somewhat slow introduction to the wide range of characters accelerates into a wild ride of Earth’s last stand against otherworldly invaders. Although there are a few seemingly random detours along the way, Alpert has brought to life a species that is so vastly different from the “little green men” cliche that you won’t soon forget it. “Naomi” is a literary wonder in her own right, and Alpert has definitely done his homework. The characters are extraordinarily developed, with the exception of the hispanic gang of boys, and the way Alpert envisions interplanetary encounters is incredible.

The Orion Plan is a smart, creative work of Sci-fi art that will reward the patient reader with several new ideas and a whole new crop of fears. Pick it up on,, or wherever it is you prefer to shop for books.

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Long Time, No Post

Forgive me, Word Press. It has been 2 years since my last post.

Life happens, time passes, and some things must fall to the wayside. My tale of woe? In brief: My mom passed away. Then my dog died. (Yes, it is beginning to sound like a country western song.) Then I had to have surgery. (All better now.)

It took me about two years to grieve, heal, and get back to a place where I almost recognize myself again. I have started to look around the landscape and pick up some of the dropped balls, one of which is this blog.

At least, I have been writing during this unplanned hibernation. I’m giving my novel of the zombie apocalypse one more polish and then it will finally be done. And I have a few new shorts stories ready to send out into the world. One of them has been sold to Odd Tree Quarterly. (More about that when I have the pub date.)

So…time to get back in gear.

One brief post today.

Tomorrow, a special treat. My friend Todd Jepperson has written a review of what looks to be a great new book by Mark Alpert, which I promised to post here on Nerdwrites.

And now, after a long work day, it’s time to make dinner and watch Arrow, Supernatural, and the iZombie episode I dvr’d yesterday.

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Supernatural: Angels, Demons, and the temptation to be human

Just a quick note after watching tonight’s episode of Supernatural

Yep. ***SPOILERS*** so if you haven’t watched it yet don’t read farther.

At the end of last season Castiel became human. Tonight in “Heaven Can’t Wait” we saw that Crowley seems bent on completing the hand that Sam had almost dealt him right before the angels fell to Earth: becoming human.

It made me wonder if we’re not headed to a new theological cocktail where demons and angels trade places, first becoming human and then transitioning to fill the shoes of their opposites by season nine’s end. Is there a halo in store for Crowley? Stranger things have happened. And—it does follow a certain logic: if an angel can become a devil as Lucifer did, why can’t a devil become an angel?  There are certainly enough vacancies to fill in Heaven right now thanks to Metatron’s spell that a determined ex-demon might be given wings for some really good behavior and a healthy dose of redemption doing good deeds to help the Winchester boys and Kevin.

But more importantly: what TV theme song will Cass sing next? (For those too young to be in the know, that was the theme from Greatest American Hero that Cass sang as a lullaby tonight. And, yes, nerd that I am, I still know all the words by heart.)

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LOTR MOOC: better late than not at all

Due to circumstances beyond my control (c’est la vie), I have been forced to take a few weeks of vacation. This does not mean I have 14 days I can devote to sitting in the grass under a large tree in the Shire and waiting for Bilbo’s birthday to arrive (which as all good LOTR fans know is September 22). I have not even had time to delve into writing mode because of the important business (not at all party business) needing attention in my life right now. However, I do need to do something for diversion and bit of relaxation for the sake of maintaining my sanity. Or more accurately, for maintaining my usual nerdy, yet still socially acceptable, insanity.

Therefore: I signed up for the MOOC offered by Vanderbilt University through Coursera called “Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.” It’s “a university-level English literature class—a multi-genre, multimedia tour of how literature, film, and games engage in the basic human activity of storytelling” that covers the literature of Tolkien, Spenser, Keats, Browning, and others, Peter Jackson’s movie The Fellowship of the Ring and the Lord of the Rings Online game.

When I first heard about the course through Kathryn E. Darden’s Middle Earth Times, I told myself that I really did not have time for it and I despaired over the missed opportunity to delve into the literature and films I love along with fellow nerds (at least 40,000 at last count for the enrollment).

The course started on September 9th.

I avoided reading articles about it that first week. Why torture myself?

By the weekend, I had gone to the site and read the course description at least twice. Inner voices nagged at me. The main culprits: J.J.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson. Not to mention hobbits – four hobbits – and a cast of other characters never far from my imagination.

So, here we are with the course well into its second week. I enrolled today. My poor olde laptop won’t support LOTRO, so I won’t be able to do the “Distinction Track” of the course, but there’s plenty to do in the general track, especially now since I’m such a late starter. Still, it feels good to finally give in and get started, much as Bilbo must have felt as he ran down the path after Gandalf and Thorin’s company.

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Well. That Didn’t Work Out…

In my last post on January 1, 2012, I said I’d take a the year and read through the works of Shakespeare. All of them. Starting with one I hadn’t read before: King John. Sounded like a good plan. Definitely still something I’d like to do. Some year. One year and 6 months later, my volume of Shakespeare’s Histories is still on my nightstand with the book mark set in the middle of Act II, Scene I. Let me pause here while I go get it and put it back on the shelf with the other three volumes in the set.

Shortly after that well-intentioned post, I had to grab the opportunity to move my 90 year-old mother from Missouri up to Indiana. The move, a difficult first three months with her in and out of the hospital several times, and a year and a half of steady overtime added to my full time job to help cover her rising care costs ate up most of my time between that post and this one. In other words: life happened. And thought I love Shakespeare, I love my mom more so something had to give.

Not that I haven’t been doing a bit of reading  in my spare moments. Some book reviews and a few posts for

I’ve even a bit of work on my own zombie stories. And I have, for sanity’s sake, been watching Game of Thrones, Supernatural, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey and Doctor Who. I actually went to see The Hobbit, The Avengers, and Star Trek: Into Darkness (twice so far). So life hasn’t been all work, just mostly work. I’m not saying that’s going to change anytime soon. I may just find the enough energy to write a few blog posts this year though. Here’s hoping.

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The Bard and the bridge of the Enterprise (or Why a Scifi Nerd Loves Shakespeare)

Yesterday I announced my New Year’s resolution to read the complete works of Shakespeare in 2012. Two points to clear up about that: what Shakespeare has to do with my science/science fiction/fantasy nerdiness and the story of what lead to my resolution. When I said you could blame it on Charlie Rose and his series of shows called “Why Shakespeare?” that wasn’t entirely fair. You’d also have to blame it on Star Trek and my great Aunt Fritzie.

The Bard got his hooks in me at an early age. It all started becauseMiniature volume of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew we had this set of miniature books in our house. Still have them. (Picture at right.) I would pick them up and examine them long before I could read a word on their pages just because of their size. I thought, “If they’re so small they must be made for kids.” Also, their covers were interesting: each book bound in a different color and texture of leather. Then, inside, filmy thin pages like those in my Bible so I thought they must be important books. My mom told me I could look at them if I was careful. The set had been given to her by my great Aunt Fritzie who at one time worked as a cook for the Barrymores.  I had no idea who the Barrymores were or why there was an illustration the beginning of each book showing a young, but balding man with ruffles around his neck. I didn’t really care; I just wanted to be able to read the little books. Once or twice a year, I would try to read one of them, but even after I’d learned to read well in school, I couldn’t make heads not tails of what was going on in those pages. (FYI: the Barrymores mentioned were Drew Barrymore’s grandparents. Her grandfather John Barrymore, noted for his stage portrayals of Hamlet and Richard III.)

Third grade, fourth grade fifth grade, still not much luck. I knew each of the little books contained one of Shakespeare’s plays, but aside from the titles and figuring out that dramatis personae was the list of characters, the contents remained a mystery. Then…

Star Trek. First show I begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch. Little did I know that while glued to the TV set following the voyages of the starship Enterprise, the Bard was beginning to seep into my brain. As Duane Morin wrote in his Shakespeare Geek blog, “Every good geek knows that Star Trek is loaded with Shakespeare references.” “Dagger of the Mind,” “Conscience of the King,” “All Our Yesterdays,” “By Any Other Name” —all episode titles from the original series and all references to Shakespeare.  The trend continued in the movies. The title Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country refers to Hamlet’s famous “to be or note to be” soliloquy: “…the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn/No Traveller returns…”

So fellow nerds, the Bard’s probably already got his hooks in you, too. Next time you quote Star Trek, remember you just may be quoting Shakespeare.

By the time Star Trek the Next Generation arrived, I’d read many of the Bard’s plays, see most of the film versions, even caught a few stage performances. Watching the first episode of STTNG, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the new series, but I was willing to give it a try because of Picard’s love of both Shakespearean drama and “tea, hot, Earl Grey” —both loves of mine. In short, a perfect circle: Star Trek leading to my love of Shakespeare, Shakespeare leading me back to Star Trek.

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Blame it on Charlie Rose: A nerd’s 2012 Shakespeare resolution

So, I’ve been pondering New Year’s resolutions and decided what one of them will be: to read the complete works of Shakespeare.


Blame it on Charlie Rose, the hero of my better self, who with his passion, gentle humor and endless curiosity never fails to engage my mind and curiosity through the discussions on his PBS talk show. Occasionally, he chooses a topic on which to build a series of shows, the most recent being “Why Shakespeare?” After looking at his website, I found that it started back in November, but I’ve been behind on watching the shows in my queue.

Just today, Rose’s December 28th show caught my eye because of the lineup: Liev Schreiber, Jim Schapiro and Ken Branagh. Hadn’t heard of Schapiro until today, but the names bookending his are very familiar. So I watched the show and it stirred my fascination with Shakespeare once again.

Liev Schreiber talked about performing the Scottish play and the music of the language found in Macbeth’s speeches. Ah, yes. Familiar territory for me. The sound of Shakespeare’s lines has drawn me in from the beginning—the flow of one word building upon the next, the rhythm of the lines, the familiar juxtaposed with the strange. Even before the meaning of even one line of the Bard’s work became clear in my mind, it was the words’ music that made me listen, read, want to understand.

Jim Shapiro spoke of King Lear, a play I have not read and never seen performed. Schapiro, a Columbia University professor, has an upcoming book called The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1806. Hearing Shapiro explain why Lear speaks to him made me understand a little more why I’ve heard so many of the actors I admire speak of looking forward to the opportunity to perform the lead role when they attain the appropriate age with all the longing that adolescents use when saying, “I can’t wait till I’m old enough to get my driver’s license.”

Then, Ken Branagh discussed the importance of continuing to ask Rose’s question, “Why Shakespeare?” Branagh recently reread King John (another of the plays I’ve never read) and commented on how pertinent it was for today’s world. “If you read King Johnright now and then put it down and…pick up The Economist” and read about the Greek debt crisis….” Hmm. Perhaps I should read that one, I thought to myself.

My set of Shakespeare's works. Taking my first look at King John.

And so the New Year’s resolution popped into my head. I got up, pulled down my boxed et of Shakespeare’s works and found the volume containing King John, put it on my nightstand, and then decided I’d need a bit of outside pressure to live up to the challenge. Blog, the muse, demanded, so blog I have.

What have I gotten myself into?

Succeed or fail in this 2012 resolution—at least that will be something to blog about.

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Zombies & Supernatural: When Spooky Seeps Into Your Psyche

So…maybe I’ve been working a bit too long on writing zombie stories. And much too into Supernatural. I just saw an ad for a restaurant—a photo of barbeque ribs—and the first thought that came to mind was: Ew. Look at that charred, ripped open ribcase. Granted, it’s accurate and vegetarians the world over would agree with my assessment of “Ew.” However, I’d say it’s a sign that after I finish my novel of the zombie apocalypse, I’d best give my psyche a break and write about angels and puppy dogs and rainbows. Like that’s gonna happen. Maybe hot angels (like Supernatural’s Castiel), werewolves and, well, I can’t really think of a cool equivalent for rainbows. Although, I did, just today, start toying with the notion of a story with a hot leprechaun —sort of a Tolkienesque Elvish take on leprechauns with nothing at’all wee about these folk. Just the way my mind works.

Back to the ribs. I know exactly why my mind slid so quickly into the goriest interpretation possible: I’d just watched “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester” from Supernatural, season 4. That’s one of those episodes where vengeful ghosts tear apart those who done them wrong in life. (Lots of episodes where that happens, so not a spoiler for those who are caught up on the Winchester boys’ adventures.) Why re-watch season 4 when the new season just started this past Friday? Such a silly question. One episode a week is just not enough Dean, Sam, Bobby and Castiel.

Aside from that, I’ve been looking forward to the next half season of Walking Dead. (That’ll be a long wait, since I dropped down to just basic cable, but at least I know the new episodes will be out there soon.) Oh, and what did I do last weekend to take a break from my zombie novel? I wrote an unrelated zombie story for an eBook anthology (due out by Halloween; more on that later).

As a change of pace, I did watch the latest Doctor Who episode tonight, but it seems that didn’t take my thoughts far enough away from gore and blood. Perhaps if I watch the Pan Am pilot before I go to bed? But no. Set in a time when women turned to flying the friendly skies in form-fitting outfits to search for adventure and/or a husband—that might be the scariest scenario of the evening.

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Okay. So, I’m late in talking about and in listening to the podcast Nerdist Writers Panel #8 from June 12, 2011. (Been slaving away at finishing up my zombie novel, so not much free time.) But now that I’ve listened to this podcast: woot! So good, I’ll probably listen to this one a second time.

This panel consisted of Amy Berg (Eureka); Ben Edlund (The Tick; Angel; Supernatural); Angelina Burnett (Boss; Memphis Beat). Not only were there a lot of inside stories from TV shows I love, but there was an avalanche of great advice on writing.  I strongly recommend it to any of you aspiring script writers out there. Or just fiction writers who want to take some tips from episodic TV to tighten up plots.

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Knights of Badassdom…Needest us this?

Oh yes, dost we ever. Steve Zahn (Treme), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (our Firefly connection), and Danny Pudi (Abed on Community and a Chicago native), among others, all in a very silly movie where LARPing meets supernatural meanies…what’s not to like? At least the trailer looks good:

It’s causing a buzz at Comic-Con. Will the film turn out to be as good as the first glimpse? Could this be the Galaxy Quest of larperdom? I hopest so. I haven’t seen a really fun flick since Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog hit the web back in 08.

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