D. J. Cooper: Bite Size Chunks of Science Fiction
Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.
Scattered throughout the void, a collection of stations provide services to travelers and host meetings between wealthy executives who wish to avoid scrutiny of their business dealings. Si-Cross Four is one such station, but it’s hardly the place to be. “We were halfway between bigger and better places,” Detective Trackneathan comments. “Bigger to the left, and better to the right!” Track, as everyone calls him, is basically a good cop with a bad mouth. His attitude gets him into trouble time and again, and now he’s been suspended for simply doing his job: in self-defense, he’s shattered a criminal’s jaw, and Authority Four, the local security team, has to pony up for a mechanical replacement. They don’t like that.
Prosthetics are a way of life on Si-Cross Four. Following a biological disaster (referred to as an “outbreak”) some years back, many of its denizens now have mechanical limbs, and thanks to a shortage of funds and materials, many of those limbs are balky. Track’s own knee gives him incessant problems, so he knows what it’s like. Survivors of the original outbreak, gray-skinned and often missing more than one limb, are stigmatized as “Remnants.” Everyone is terrified of a new outbreak, so when a woman drops dead at Track’s door, that’s the first thing they think of. But Track isn’t so sure. Funny things have been going on lately. Remnants are vanishing, he’s being followed, his apartment is being broken into, investigations have been shut down, and he’s bombarded by strange messages that could only have been sent by his dead husband–messages that nobody else sees or hears. Are the decontamination drugs Track is required to take messing with his perception? Is he loosing his mind? Or is something sinister truly afoot? Suspension isn’t going to stop him from getting to the bottom of it. The truth turns out to be far more twisted than he could ever have imagined.
Missing Remnants was written for and is available on Radish, a mobile app that allows downloads to Android and iOS devices. It is not currently available through any other venue. Cooper wrote a couple of previous works that did not find publication, and this one is technically not published yet. She plans to revise and edit it further and either publish it through a traditional publisher or, failing that, go the indie route.
In reviewing it, I’m therefore treating it as an advance review copy (ARC) in which editing is not complete. From that standpoint, I can’t find much at all to pick on. The story is solid, the characters are well-drawn, and the pacing is about perfect. It’s a page-turner for sure. If anything is wrong, it might only be that the world of Si-Cross Four isn’t explored in quite enough detail. This is a short novel, around 47,000 words, partly because of the requirements imposed on authors by Radish. There is room for a lot more. And yet, I hardly noticed this omission while reading. It was only afterward that I started wondering about the nature of these outbreaks, the place of Si-Cross Four in the larger conglomeration of stations, and similar questions. So I don’t feel it’s worth dinging the work much on that account. I’d rate both story and writing on the high side of 4.5 stars, which means a 5 for all intents and purposes. With editing and maybe a bit of expansion, the final product could well be a 5. Great job!
I recently asked D. J. Cooper about the novel and her writing. Here’s what she said:
Detective Trackneathan (Track) seems a bundle of contradictions. He has a volatile exterior that gets him into trouble, yet he fawns over his robotic dog and spends his off-hours fixing disadvantaged people’s artificial limbs. He’s an experienced detective who seems to have the grudging respect of his superiors, yet he often portrays himself in this first-person narrative as a bumbling idiot. How do you see him?
That’s accurate! Track is good at his job but he has a history of cutting corners. The world he inhabits likes things to be done in a certain way, almost to the detriment of the end result. Track likes to find a shortcut. He’s grieving, he’s trying to pretend he’s okay, occasionally he loses his temper and lashes out in situations where tact might be the better option. He’s also carrying a long term injury to his right knee. He’s dealing with physical pain, grief and survivor guilt and sometimes just doesn’t rate himself highly.
I suspect there is a lot more to this world than you’ve told us. Track works for Si-Cross Four Authority, and other Authorities are mentioned. Can you tell us what these other Authorities are and how they are interconnected?
Somewhere in a wide universe, I see a system of space stations used almost like motorway service stations. Each station has a number. In this case, we’re on Si-Cross Four. The security team on the station has the corresponding title Authority Four. I worked in IT for a few years. Each cluster of buildings in London had its own IT department. It made sense for me to assume a similar premise for space stations! They are meeting places where ships can refuel and be repaired, and where executives who want to do deals face to face can avoid their every word being recorded. The word “Authority” is somewhat misleading. They keep the peace on their station and investigate crimes, but they have no say in anything outside of their microcosm. The wider system is overseen by a group no one sees. The people on Si-Cross Four are just there to keep their mouths shut and get on with their jobs.
I understand that Missing Remnants isn’t actually published yet. What plans do you have for it?
Like everything I write, I’ll sit on it for while and iron out more kinks. If I fail to find a traditional publisher for it, I’ll buy a cover and do what I did with my first two books: publish ebooks on most of the platforms and paperbacks wherever I can. It is becoming increasingly obvious that I do not have the time in the day to put in all the hours required as an indie author to find promo outlets which work without pushing myself into debt! Missing Remnants is currently only available to read on the Radish Fiction app for iOS and Android. The app is free and you can read the first three chapters of any book for free. Some books are totally free. Other books have a micropayment attached to chapter four onward.
I wish you all the best with that. It’s a wonderful story, so I hope you can find a publisher. In the meantime, what else are you writing?
I started serialising Iridessian Haunts when Radish asked for Halloween stories back in September. It was never featured in any of their collections but I’ve started, so I’ll finish. A team has landed on planet Iridessia. They are there to ascertain its viability for colonisation. Everything seems fine except for some big cats out by the third waterhole. Kanner and Nix are investigating a cave system near their temporary settlement. While they’re in there marveling at the pumpkin-like plants able to grow in a cave (I even mentioned pumpkins!), they see shadowy figures and eventually are possessed by an entity they have not encountered before on any planet. Essentially, Iridessia has everything, water, breathable air, land, ghosts.
When I can think of something interesting to say, I am also writing for Medium.com. Writers can be paid if paying members “clap” their articles and stories. If there is something I need more than time, it’s money.
What advice do you have for writers or readers?
For readers: Jump in and try an indie author. You can read a sample online or download one before having to part with any money. Some indie authors are quite good! If you happened to like what you read, we live for honest reviews. Also if the book was free, the author gets nothing, no royalties, zilch. I’ve heard people say downloading a free book is the same as getting a book out at the library. In the UK we have public lending rights, where libraries pay authors if their books are borrowed. It might not be much, but it is better than nothing. [Dale adds: In the U.S., libraries buy books, and authors get paid for those purchases.]
For writers: Don’t get to the end of writing the book and think you’ve finished. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to pay an editor. At the very least download a free grammar checker for your word processor. Do not hit publish until you know your sentences make sense! If you can get someone to read it for you who won’t automatically agree with everything you write, even better. Nothing should read as if it’s been badly translated from a foreign language. Not that I’m an expert, but I have been known to make sense on occasion. Even then you haven’t finished; you won’t sell anything unless people know about you.
Where can readers find you?