Planetary Romance: The Darkover Series

Fighting a catman.

Fighting a catman.

At some point in the mid-to-late 1980s, I discovered my true home— a planet under a red sun. A planet called Darkover. Darkover was the brainchild of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley. It had its seeds in fantasies she wrote in her girlhood. The series became popular enough that she continued writing them all her life, and with the help of a co-author, after her death as well.

The Darkover series is, technically speaking, a sub-genre of science fiction called ‘planetary romance’. This is romance not in the modern sense of a love story. lust story or sex story, but in the older definition: “A work of fiction depicting a setting and events remote from everyday life.” In the planetary romance, the remote setting is on another planet. (Christian readers might be interested to note that C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy is also considered planetary romance.)

Many of the later Darkover novels were published with the word ‘fantasy’ on their spine, but the series was never fantasy except in the sense that science fiction is a subtype of fantasy. The ‘magic’ of the Darkover series is laran, which is the word for natural abilities in telepathy and telekinesis— abilities which are presented as scientifically verifiable.

Darkover is a planet you can get to without resorting to magic. It was settled when a starship out of Terra crash-landed on the way to a colony world. The survivors, with a touch of help from a mysterious humanoid race, the chieri and some hindrance from the hallucinogenic Ghost Wind, make a life for themselves on Darkover and develop a distinct culture. Since the world is metal-poor and has a fragile ecosystem, a technology based on the use of laran is developed.

A chieri and two trailmen meet a human woman.

A chieri and two trailmen meet a human woman.

In the later era of Darkover, the planet is rediscovered by the Terran Empire and incorporated into the empire, causing massive culture shock on both sides.

When I first discovered Darkover, I was a Neopagan. I’d given up on Christianity because of some uncaring people and some unanswered prayers for guidance. Through the Neopagan grapevine I heard that author Marion Zimmer Bradley was allegedly a Wiccan, though of course she couldn’t admit it in public. And so I started reading the books. The main religion of Darkover is polytheistic and thus appealing to Neopagan sensibilities. And the Free Amazons (later called Renunciates) of Darkover appealed to my emerging feminista side.

But now I’ve gotten mature. I’ve learned that ‘Question Everything’ applies to feminism. I’ve had experiences that lead me to embrace the Catholic faith and all its teachings. But the Darkover books don’t now make me cringe. In fact, there is still a place for me on Darkover.

In the book ‘Darkover Landfall’ which tells the origin story of the Terran starship crash-landing on Darkover, there is a priest, Father Valentine, of the ‘Reformed Catholic’ church. ‘Reformed Catholic’ sounds like a schismatic or break-away group (like the Protestant groups who broke away during the ‘Reformation’), but it seems like plain ordinary Catholic— the priest brought a Saint Christopher medal with him and the religion becomes known as the cristoforo faith. In one of the most recent books, written after MZB’s death, the cristoforos are demonized as anti-gay haters, but in the books written by MZB they always get credit for preserving knowledge in their monastery and for being good educators.

I think that is the genius of MZB and sci-fi writers of her era. They may have been involved in ‘progressive’ ideas, but they were writing for a mass audience and they knew it. They made room in their worlds for non-progressive character groups that weren’t necessarily villains, in order to give certain of their readers something to identify with.

Facebook Page: Cristoforos of Darkover – Marion Zimmer Bradley This is a very new page I’ve started to try to connect with fellow Darkover fans. In particular with those of us who for one reason or another appreciate the cristoforos. Since I’m sure that people like me aren’t very welcome in the standard progressive/feminista Darkover fan circles.

Don’t forget our BLOG HOP! The Saturday Spec-Fic Snippet is for writers of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) to share a few lines from one of our works, and to get to know one another. Read about it here:


NEW! Saturday Spec-Fic Snippet blog hop hosted here! #specficsnippet

Kitten Umberto making her first escape from the kitten box

Kitten Umberto making her first escape from the kitten box

For some time now I’ve thought of hosting a regular blog hop here at My Antimatter Life. Inspired by Poets United’s weekly Poetry Pantry, which is on Sundays, and by Weekend Writing Warriors which is also Sundays, the new blog hop is aimed at authors of ‘speculative fiction’— science fiction, fantasy, horror, maybe techno-thrillers. We welcome Christian authors in these categories, and conservative/libertarian authors, though we don’t limit it to these authors. We don’t allow erotica or ‘erotic romance’ or sex fiction on moral and child-friendliness grounds.

Rules: Write a blog post containing 8 to 12 lines from your work of speculative fiction. The snippet should be at the start of the post, though you may put a picture of your choice at the top of the post. At the end of your snippet, you may provide a link for readers who want more— perhaps on Wattpad you can post the whole chapter. Please, if your work contains any hard-core swear words (f-word, s-word) please remove them from your snippet.

Put the link TO THAT POST in the Inlinkz list below— in other words, you have to write your post, THEN join.

ON SATURDAY, please visit 7 of the other people on the link list and make a friendly comment about their work. (If Saturday is your Sabbath, you can visit on Friday and/or Sunday.)

If you are on Twitter, tweet your own post and perhaps 2-3 others you like. Use the hashtag #specficsnippet.

If this works out, it may turn out to be a weekly thing. Maybe. Or monthly?

The Link list is open NOW. It will close late on Saturday, Aug. 2.

get the InLinkz code



Creating ‘Book Covers’ for Wattpad Stories


Cover #1

On Wattpad, you are asked to provide a cover for your stories/articles/novels. This is easy if you are posting already-published material for which you’ve already obtained a cover. But what I’m doing over at Wattpad is posting a few poems and articles (my better blog posts), and currently a serialized short story. So I have to create covers.

For ‘Death Untimely’, I made 3 different covers with pictures I took myself. I went to to get them to the recommended size of 512×800.

Cover #2

Cover #2

I had no plan to create a great artistic cover. Just something that wasn’t too bad. I mean, even novelists who are published by The Big Boys sometimes qwetch about their book covers. And for a little short story I’m making available for free— well, I’m not going to spend money to buy a cover for that. Not when I don’t have any money.

Cover #3

Cover #3

So, what do you think of my three covers? Which do you think I should use? Vote in the comments below. Voting ends this coming Saturday. The story involved is available here:


Are you on Wattpad? I’d love to follow you there. My account is at I follow back whenever I can. I particularly love finding new Wattpad friends who write Christian fiction (Catholic, Evangelical, LDS or other), especially in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. I also like experimental or minimalist poetry. But I’m willing to try other things for my virtual friends.


Did you know: Baen Books is now on Wattpad with free books?

First Impressions of Wattpad

My Wattpad Profile

My Wattpad Profile

Wattpad: Is it useful for serious writers?

Margaret Atwood— not exactly an unknown writer— gave an interview on Why Wattpad Works. Famed indie-author success story Hugh Howey is also on Wattpad, finding it a way to connect with his readers.

Wattpad is a place where writers and aspiring writers can post works for the public to read. You can post sample chapters from a book you have written in order to find new readers. You can publish old short stories or poems you have previously published in small press magazines. You can even write whole books on Wattpad.

One thing that seems to work on Wattpad is publishing a story in parts— serializing it. I’m doing that with my short story Death Untimely. I’m dividing it into about 7 parts and I’m going to be posting them one at a time until completed.

It seems like the first thing you need on Wattpad is to get followers. How do you get followers? You follow other people— many will follow back.

I got started with a group of friends I have that mostly all write some form of Christian science fiction and/or fantasy. I checked their profiles to see who was following them, and I started following some of those people as well.

Since I’ve decided to get serious about Wattpad, I’m making a point of checking out the ‘What’s New’ section in the ‘Discover’ tab. I usually refine it by clicking on a genre— either fantasy, science fiction or ‘spiritual’, which is as close as Wattpad comes to mentioning the genre of Christian fiction. I read a story or two, vote it unless it’s porn or otherwise vile, and leave an encouraging comment. I got 2 new followers yesterday doing that.

Are you on Wattpad, or considering joining? Maybe we can help one another out. My Wattpad profile is, and if you follow me, I’ll follow you. I can’t spend TOO much time reading other people’s stories, but I try to look at a few every day. If you have a story there that you’d particularly like my opinion on, let me know (in the comments) and I will at least read the beginning of it and comment on it.

My Wattpad goals for today:

I’ve worked on my short story Death Untimely this morning, and I intend to update the first installment of the story. I also am going to take some pictures at local cemeteries so I can make a decent book cover for the story.




Death Untimely: Short Story/Flash Fiction?

Missing kitten Quodvultdeus came home! He's still mad about the name thing.

Missing kitten Quodvultdeus came home! He’s still mad about the name thing.

This post was originally meant for the Weekend Writing Warriors blog hop which I participated in last week.

Death Untimely

Rap! Rap! Rap!

“Let me in,” Sarah Schell shouted. “I know I’m dead, I know that, and I want to get in! I have a complaint.”

Rap! Rap! Rap!

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” said a weary young voice. “You don’t need to knock down the Pearly Gates.”

The massive gates creaked open, and Sarah knew she should be at least a little nervous, but she was too angry for that. She’d been cheated.


This is from a flash fiction piece I’ve just started working on, so it’s first draft stuff. My questions are: does the opening grab your attention? Are you curious about what happens next?

I realize for a lot of readers having a story main character who is already dead is a bit too intense. But this is flash fiction, or at least it’s meant to be. And the intended ‘market’ for this particular story is among a class of readers who can handle this kind of intense.

I have been thinking about doing a flash fiction piece for a long time now. I started one a few years back but didn’t know how to end it. But this one I know the whole story, and so it should get done soon. In fact, I’d hoped to have it finished already but I got sick this week.


Other News:

My missing kitten Quodvultdeus has been brought back from hiding by his mother, Hissy Calico. He now has teeth and has already used them to chew on my finger.

I’ve been arguing with Stephen King on Twitter over his recent hate speech. So far, the Kingster hasn’t noticed. Probably a good thing.

Today is the last day of NFP Awareness Week. Have you done something this week to make people more aware?

I am on Wattpad. I’m not sure how much good this form of social media is, but since Hugh Howey, famously successful self-published author, is on Wattpad I guess I should be, too. If you are on Wattpad, follow me at:   I follow back unless the person has smutty stuff on theirs (it’s a Catholic thing.)

OpiumCactusThis is my self-published book of experimental/strange poetry. I’m only putting it here because I want this picture in a sidebar and I can’t do it unless the picture has already been in a blog post. This is the blog post.

Writing Credentials: What You Need to Accomplish Writing Goals

The first book I ever bought for myself.

The first book I ever bought for myself.

This post is for the Five Year Project/Do You Have Goals bloghop.

The writing world has changed a lot with the possibility of print-on-demand and e-book publishing. As more members of the reading public have experience with not-ready-for-publication ‘Indie’ books, having writing credentials becomes very important.

When I was a child, I bought books by going into a bookstore (and begging mommy or daddy for money). The writers of the kind of books you see in bookstores have one kind of writing credentials— their books are published by big publishing companies who can afford to turn down second-rate writers. They also had high-quality proofreaders and editors to help each author make his book the best it could be.

Writers who are self-published or published by a small press no one has heard of also need writing credentials. But they don’t get it just by having a book out there in the marketplace. Small press authors have the advantage that their small press probably has a small number of readers already familiar with them who will look at their book and not mistakenly conclude it’s self-published. But for the majority of readers, small press authors too need writing credentials to prove to the potential reader that they are competent at their craft.

How, then, can you establish writing credentials? Here are some ways:

  1. Get some writing published in a paying or prestigious/known market. It can be short fiction, flash fiction, poetry or non-fiction articles. Anything to show that you aren’t the only one who thinks you can write.
  2. Get some influential people to read your book. No, I don’t mean trying to peddle it to Stephen King. Try some book-related blogger with a good following— or some following. Offer him a free copy of your book— ‘free’ as in you don’t demand a review in exchange, but just suggest they review it if they feel inclined to.
  3. Interact with quality writers online. Buy and review their books, suggest your Facebook friends follow the writers’ Facebook author pages, tweet when they have a new book out. Don’t try to self-promote your book to them, just be a friend. Just the fact that you associate with a quality writer will make your potential readers feel that you at least know what quality writing looks like.
  4. Learn to act like a professional writer. And by ‘professional’ I mean those writers paid royalties by a traditional publisher. They are the writers who interact most with the publishing world and with other writers; they tend to know how to act. How to learn? Subscribe to Writer’s Digest and read each issue cover-to-cover. Read books on how-to-write by actual authors you’ve heard of. My favorites are Lawrence Block, James Scott Bell and, yes, Stephen King (I used to be his #1 fan.)
  5. Avoid vanity presses. Savvy people know the names of the vanity presses— those deceptive presses who pretend to be traditional publishers, but accept any books as long as the author-victim can pay the fees.
  6. Keep on writing. Don’t publish just one book and then go into full time book-promoter mode. Keep on writing, keep on publishing. People who won’t take a risk on your first book may give one a try once you have five books out.

My goal update

I have some long-term writing problems that have, in particular, stood in the way of my finishing most writing projects. My goal now is just to get a novel or two finished.  But I get very inhibited when I sit down to start to write a new novel, I tend to give it up as a bad job by the next day.

So I’ve started a Scrivener project that is basically an idea file. Each ‘chapter’ is a different writing idea, and in it I put ‘scenes’ that can be notes on the idea, character ideas, or scenes from the work itself. If I get to the point where I am actually making progress on an individual project and want to concentrate on it for a while, then I’ll move the stuff to its own Scrivener project. If I can figure out how. (Note: before I bought Scrivener I used a free software, YWriter, which I could also use that way if I’d thought of it.)

I have two projects I’m cautiously optimistic about. One takes place on another planet, a colony of Earth, and the main character is an orphan girl with psionic abilities (mostly teleportation). The other is a contemporary piece about a former child star, now age 17, who announces to her progressive parents that she’s going to become a Catholic, but before that family fight can come to its conclusion, the girl is attacked by a vampire and ‘turned’. (I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t try to work on both of these projects at the same time.)

Do You Have Goals banner

How Stephen King uses the Head-Hopping Point of View

If only Stephen King didn't have to hate people like me...

If only Stephen King didn’t have to hate people like me…

This is a post from an older blog of mine. I hope you enjoy it.

What is head-hopping? When I first began reading how-to-write books, there was no such thing. Or at least, nobody had a name for it.

But now it’s the Worst Thing Ever that a writer can do. Head-hopping happens when you are writing in the third person point of view, and instead of limiting yourself to the thoughts and feelings of one character, you shift into the thoughts and feelings of another.

Recently I was reading a Stephen King novel, Under the Dome, which is pretty much like The Simpsons Movie without Spiderpig and the Boob Lady, and there it was. Head-hopping. Now, since Stephen King isn’t an unpublishable amateur writer, I guess this means that head-hopping is indeed a tool we can use.

The scene was about a shooting rampage being carried out by a young man with a brain tumor. As the scene begins the young man is our viewpoint character. Now, inside this young man’s head is not the most comfortable place to be. He kept looking at people he knew, thinking bad thoughts about them with swearwords in them, and then shooting them dead.

For one short paragraph of the scene, however, we experience the thoughts and feelings of one of the victims, from the point she sees the gun pointed at her to the time, after she is shot, that she fades off into the ‘nothingness’ of the non-afterlife. (Don’t worry, folks, elsewhere in the book we learn that even though there is no afterlife, we do become ghosts that can communicate with dogs after we die. Yes, the godless are illogical.)

After this paragraph we are back in the shooter’s head for the rest of the scene. The question is, why did Stephen King choose to use the head-hopping point of view here?

The young shooter had been the viewpoint character in a great many scenes and we got to witness him doing many horrible things, including other murders. Most readers, we would hope, were not too comfortable in this young man’s head. Most knew they weren’t supposed to be. But if you had gotten too comfortable vicariously whacking people along with this young man, Stephen King has a surprise for you.

The shift into the victim’s head gives you another very different point of view on the action. You comfortable hanging out in the killer’s head? Stephen King asks us. Step right over here, and I’ll show you what it’s like to be in the head of one of his victims! And we get to experience everything: seeing the gun, being shot, and fading off into nothingness.

If a reader had been getting complacent about the deaths— of which there are a great many in the story, many of them children— this is what restores the horror. We get to see what it’s like to be one of the victims that didn’t get away.

This, I believe, is a good use of head-hopping. First, the viewpoint character of the scene is a bad man victimizing others. If your mind had gotten dulled to the tragedy caused by any human death by the previous carnage in the book, hopping into the head of one of the random shooting victims wakes your sense that each death in the scene is an individual horror.

Now, this was a giant book in which King slaughters most of the population of a small town in Maine, and he frequently let readers inside the heads of characters about to be killed— in fact, the first viewpoint character of the whole book is the first to die. I think by the end of the story most readers have become indifferent to the deaths just because there were so many (and the characters were weak, and some hard for normal folks to identify with, such as the lady Congregationalist minister who was an atheist, but somehow not guilty of fraud and hypocrisy for keeping her job.)

But head-hopping, done right, can be a tool that the ordinary writer can use in similar circumstance. In the book Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, head-hopping point of view is treated like any other point of view, as something a writer might choose.