VS: From the Archives…this book recently got a terrific 4.5 Star review from Sophia at the Books of My Heart Blog – she’s been working her way through basically all the Sectors novels and I’m so thrilled and honored AND her critiques are spot on. She gets me and my characters but she also brings up a few things for sure.
As with all my novels, there was more than one motivator behind the plot. I’ve actually wanted to write this book for many years, including the plague part, but other books always seemed more pressing to my Muse and me. Then when the pandemic began and life became so stressful, I was having a hard time writing a single word of anything. The plot I felt most drawn to was this one, in part because I was setting it in a relatively small colony community and probably in part to work out some of my own anxieties over COVID-19 on our planet.
This is the second time I’ve written a novel set in the Sectors with a doctor as the main character (the other is Star Cruise: Outbreak) and I wanted to be as careful as possible to make the two books very different. I invented a completely alien cause for the outbreak in the older book (but grounded in a lot of research of plausible facts) and adapted a more ordinary one for this new book (again grounded in facts). The doctor in the other book is a military veteran, seasoned and hardened by everything she’s seen and done. Saffia, the heroine here, is on her first assignment after medical school.
The original inspiration for one aspect of this book was a probably apocryphal story I read as a teenager, where a woman and her mother went to a city (Paris maybe?) to attend a big festival or World’s Fair. I think this was in the late 1800’s.The mother died in their hotel room unexpectedly of plaguelike symptoms and the city went to huge nefarious lengths to cover up her death, even redoing the entire hotel room while the daughter was at the police station answering questions (I remember the new wallpaper and the smell of the paste as she returned to the room) and trying to convince the daughter she was crazy, hadn’t traveled with her mother, etc. etc. I think she may have even been put in an insane asylum until the Event was completely over. All to preserve the ability of the Fair or whatever the event was, to go on. I found it all very intriguing and as you’ll see in my book, I’ve used the concept of the terrified authorities trying to deny the illness issue to some extent, although I took things in a different direction.
Another influence on me was the idea of a small colony dependent on the annual influx of the rich tourists, which is a mixed blessing to say the least. I have relatives who live on a small island that has this paradigm and while the people and places in my book are completely fictional and not based on anyone or any place real, I remember going there as a child and of course we counted as “almost villagers” because we weren’t rich and we were there to stay with my extended family, so I probably heard a lot of unvarnished discussion about the season and the ‘off islanders’. And in the offseason the colony in my book makes its credits by fishing and other activities, as is often the case in a small resort town where the tourist income isn’t year round. I also wanted to capture the feeling of living in a very small, insular town, which has its good and bad aspects.
(I think that’s one of the draws for me in cozy mysteries or in the early seasons of “Murder She Wrote” – the community itself. Not that my novel is a mystery, other than of the medical type.)
So the new doctor is part of the colony and yet she’s not. I brought in other elements from my previous Sectors’ world building, although the book is standalone and a reader doesn’t have to have read any of the other Sectors novels to read this one. But if you have, you may see a few familiar names and organizations referenced here and there.
There’s a somewhat mysterious indigenous alien race to whom the planet belongs and I enjoyed writing the Chief Ranger Micah Navonn and working in the mystical elements I like to have in any science fiction book I write. Not everything can be explained by science, not even in the far future!
I had a long career on the business side of the NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab and I had a little fun tying a plot development or two to contracts, fine print and treaties! No worries, I don’t quote any of the fictional legalese in the novel! But it was secretly amusing to me to reach back to my own previous experiences.
I’ll also confess that I love to binge watch reality shows about behind the scenes at zoos and also “Yukon Vet” and maybe some of the aspects of life on the colony planet might have been a tad influenced by those viewing experiences. An author draws inspiration from literally everywhere in the world around them. I’m not the kind of writer who keeps notes of conversations overheard going on around me to use in books later – that’s not my thing – but it all does go into the mysterious mixing ground of my subconscious for my Muse to draw upon.
I’d like to write more books set in this colony, probably at least one or two more about Saffia and Micah, and then maybe others as the main protagonists, but it’ll depend on how much the readers enjoy the story in this first tale.
The blurb: Newly graduated from a prestigious interstellar medical school, Dr. Saffia Mandell has been assigned to the Haven Two colony on the galaxy’s outer rim as the only doctor for some 2000 human residents. She’s counting the days until her five years there is up, trying to adjust to rural living after life in the crowded Inner Sectors and fighting her attraction to Chief Ranger Micah Navonn. She’s dreading the upcoming tourist season when the rich and pampered will descend on the planet for the scenic wonders and novel sports opportunities and no doubt inundate her little clinic but the colony depends on the seasonal income to survive.
As the senior official for his people, the Calinurra, the indigenous inhabitants of Haven Two, Micah enforces the treaty, regulates the tourist permits, patrols the forests and resists his fascination with Dr. Mandell. He never expected to be involved with a human woman and doesn’t want to believe in the concept of a fated mate. He wants to keep his life simple and isn’t ready for any long term commitment. Besides Saffia keeps proclaiming she’ll be leaving when her appointment is up in four and a half years so why should he risk his heart?
Then a ship arrives unexpectedly carrying a very ill little girl and soon the deadly virus is spreading through Haven Two. The colony authorities are desperate to cover up the problem to preserve the all-important tourist season and Saffia and Micah have to work together to battle the outbreak, the local administration and their undeniable feelings for each other.
Can the colony survive? And will Micah and Saffia be able to move past their fears about entanglements to act on the mutual attraction?
An 87K word novel of the far future…
The excerpt. Saffia is speaking:
“Do I hear the patient from the space ship out front?”
“The girl’s father, yeah.” The clerk whistled and lowered his voice. “He’s spitting solar flares.”
“Didn’t like being told to come to the clinic?” She tried to keep her self-congratulation at being right about the yacht owner’s entitlement issues from showing on her face.
Cracking his knuckles, a habit she made a mental note for the nth time to ask him to break, Henry nodded. “Didn’t like that, doesn’t like waiting in the main room with everyone else…I put them into room two as soon as it was available.”
Taking a deep breath, Saffia headed toward the exam rooms. “Thanks, Henry.”
He gave her an airy wave and walked toward the desk. “In a month all our patients will be like this guy, or worse, mark my words. Clinic at the resort only handles the easy cases. Or the big tippers.” He sounded as if he rather enjoyed the thought.
It must get really bad here the way everyone keeps talking about the offworlders. Musing about the difficult ethics of a doctor receiving tips from patients, Saffia threw her shoulders back. She knew this post would have its challenges when she was assigned so best to get on with the next exam. As she got close to the room, she reminded herself it had also been made clear to her the annual influx of the rich and bored for three months of the season was the lifeblood of the small colony and had to be not only endured but welcomed. Lucky the tourists don’t pay my salary. They want a doctor with a greater depth of expertise and experience than the resort’s physician-for-hire, they have to receive care on my terms. Delivering thorough, modern healthcare was an achievement she prided herself on, no matter how annoying the patient, but she didn’t have to let them trample her in the process.
She knocked on the door and let the portal slide open as a harassed male voice yelled, “Come in.”
“I’m Dr. Mandell,” she said, entering the room with an easy stride and staring directly at the man who stood beside the examining table in a stance as if he was ready to pick a fight. She wasn’t going to be cowed, not in her own clinic. His gaze lowered first and he moved aside, muttering “About time.”
“We’re the Fremington-Ulms.” The richly clad wife rushed into the awkward silence, raising her eyebrows as if the name should have meaning for Saffia, who said nothing, waiting for more information and remaining unimpressed. “And this is our daughter.”
The other woman in the room wasn’t introduced, nor was the hulking bodyguard. Saffia assumed the woman, who was dressed in plain sand-colored garb and holding the little girl’s hand, must be the nanny.
Giving the room’s occupants a generic nod, Saffia made her way to the medAI interface and pulled up the details of the nurse’s intake notes. “The room is too crowded,” she said over her shoulder. “Can the other gentleman please wait in the lobby?”
Mr. Fremington-Ulms began to bluster in irritated sentence fragments growing progressively louder.
Who does he think is going to menace him in this room? “Or in the hall perhaps?” Saffia suggested mildly. “The incidence of violence on Haven is infinitesimally low this year.”
Frowning as if he was unsure whether she was joking or being rude, the father made a curt gesture and the guard slipped outside.
The room immediately felt bigger to Saffia.
“She’s never sick, doctor,” said the mother, wringing her hands. “This was the closest system with a Sectors’ trained physician so we came here—”
Cutting across the narrative, Saffia asked, “How long has the child been sick?”