To celebrate the release of her first novel, I was delighted to interview author Shannon Eichorn about topics near and dear to both of our hearts. If you’re at DragonCon this weekend, be sure to track her down in the armory and pick up a copy of Rights of Use for yourself!
For those of us not at DragonCon, Rights of Use is now available for pre-order at the link below! The book comes out tomorrow, so there’s no time to waste!
Look for my full review on Wednesday — this is definitely one book you’re not going to want to miss.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the 1960s, Project Blue Book assured America that no aliens visited its amber waves or shining seas.
Thirty years later, Project Black Book knows better and has the flying saucers to prove it, but they still can’t stop the body-possessing Kemtewet from scooping their pick of young women from Earth to host an alien queen.
Sarah Anderson yearned for an escape from her new life in Pennsylvania, but not for this: being kidnapped by aliens and faced with a choice between having a Kemtewet queen erase her brain or sharing her body with a Gertewet insurgent. Unless the Air Force can rescue her in time, it’s either death or a chance to make a difference in the galaxy, because with Sarah, the Gertewet have one last shot to end the Kemtewet Empire and free billions of humans subject to their body markets.
In a war over consent, only some things are black and white.
UFO sightings are one of my favorite mysteries, so your riff on “Project Blue Book” is one of the things that attracted me to your book. Do you believe that aliens have ever visited Earth?
The universe is so vast, and chemistry and life are at once so predictable and so surprising. Everything we know says it’s so unlikely that aliens have ever visited Earth. Space travel is harsh. Wide-open nothingness lies between stars, and everything we know about physics says that it’s going to take decades to get from one system to another — if there’s even life on the other side. If it’s even life that humans can communicate with.
I don’t think aliens have visited Earth, but I don’t know all the facts. Maybe I’m wrong. At the very least, I would love to see first contact in my lifetime.
If intelligent life is out there, whether or not they’ve visited us, do you think the government (any government) knows about it?
This is one of the things that makes Project Black Book so much fun to write. There’s a lot of grey space, historically and psychologically speaking. On the one hand, humans are terrible at keeping secrets for long periods of time, especially on a matter this big. If a government knew, it could very easily have leaked, as reported in a myriad of magazines and articles. We humans are very resistant to changing our beliefs, so that denial would keep any leaked news as fringe knowledge.
On the other hand, humans jump to wacky conclusions based on very little evidence and love to sensationalize it. I’m confident in the truth of the offical stories that many UFO sightings were really SR-71 sightings. I’m sure many really were atmospheric phenomena. But maybe not all.
Both premises end up with a lot of wild claims, a lot of government control, and a lot of dubious attitudes from the public. I don’t have enough information to guess which is right.
What would you do if you were abducted by the aliens in your book, either the Kemtewet or Gertewet?
I’d go with the Gertewet in two heartbeats: one to realize I should think it over, and one to say yes. The Kemtewet have pretty good systems in place for keeping abductees in line, so I wouldn’t have much of a chance. But I’d fight it every step of the way. I like being me. I don’t want to be forced into vicariously living someone else’s life.
How did your background as an engineer influence your writing and storytelling?
I was writing years before studying engineering, and to me, the technical details must always be a feature, not the focus. That said, my studies and job experience drove a lot of the questions I asked when I was worldbuilding. “If they have this technology, what else is it used for? How does it work, and what other consequences does that have?” I used that mindset as my guide, especially for symbiont-brain interfaces, teleporters, and security systems, but I’m not sure how much of that gets conveyed. After all, most of my characters don’t know how things work or why. They just have to deal with the implications and side effects.
I felt most like an engineer when I realized I needed to design the mothership before moving forward with revisions. I drew up a list of design requirements, driven by usage, security, and culture, and put together spreadsheets and did trade studies to figure out how big it needed to be. At the end of it all, I sat down with my drafting kit and laid out the one floor I actually needed for this book.
What future plans do you have for this series?
My plans for the Project Black Book series have grown since I started. Right now, I’m planning eleven books to tell the arc of the series. It’s like this: you plan three trilogies, nix a book you don’t feel like writing, realize you have a couple origin stories to tell, and that major turning point might as well be where your easiest character gets her own book.
But this is a big world. It’s got enough nooks and crannies and blatant opportunities for stories I’m not equipped to tell, because I’m just one person. I’m hoping to set up an open world publication process akin to Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press to let other writers in. That way, the Project Black Book stories can be as expansive as its world.
And finally, leave us with a short excerpt that shows why readers should check out Rights of Use!
Sarah had been afraid before. Like most kids, she’d known the skin-shrinking fear of the bedroom blackness, the lurking presence beyond the outer edge of lamplight. Like her old neighbors, she knew the soul-hampering fear of nature while hunkering under the stairs, waiting for deteriorating hurricanes to rip the roof off or crush the house with a shallow-rooted pine. Like seemingly no one else, she knew the isolating fear of her parents’ anger, the lonely nights spent trying not to listen to their arguments, wondering whether they would hit each other. Wondering whether her home would dissolve so soon after they’d moved her away from all her friends.
This fear was different, perhaps the first kind worthy of the name.
Nothing had come from the dark. Nothing had shredded the home. Nothing had split her family. But something she hadn’t known to fear had come out of the daylight, from the clear weather, and into the peaceful house and whisked her away.
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut and let the ragged breaths rock her body. Maybe if she wished hard, she’d find it was all a horrible mistake. They’d meant to break into someone else’s home and haul out some other teenager.
Her numbing lips tingled on the next hitching breath. She’d heard them search her house and pass up everything valuable until they got to her. Maybe they’d have taken anyone, even her parents if they’d been home.
She held her breath. Her head buzzed. Then she blew out. She couldn’t hide like this forever. Holding very still, she counted down to when she’d force herself to face the room. Three. Two.
Sniffling once and swallowing down her queasy stomach, Sarah set her chin on her knee, still hiding behind her folded arms, and opened her eyes. Three men sat with her in the tiny, circular white room.
Two sat out in the open like she did, burly men with tall, elongated heads and square features. Leather armor, scuffed and seared and accented in clinging, deep brown stains, encased most of their bulging muscles. Their dark beards pointed oddly, as if cut with three quick snips of scissors. Both men bore skin only a little darker than hers and greasy, black hair that ended sharply at their chins. One man’s face had started to wrinkle around his eyes and mouth, and a scar slashed over his eyebrow. The other man’s gaunt cheekbones stood out over his scraggly beard; it looked like a face made for crime.
Although their relaxed legs stretched halfway across the floor, covering a circular seam around the center, they gave her space and ignored her now. Their low voices filled the room as much as their musty body odor as they rumbled on in a language she didn’t know.
Sarah tried to sink further into the white, cushioned floor. It gave minutely.
The third man was older. Color had already drained out of his short, neat hair, and his thick skin sagged on his cheeks. The hanging console he sat behind blocked most of his face, but he occasionally leaned into full view to glance at her, his eyes worried.
About what? And if he cared, why wasn’t he doing anything?
When he peered at her again, she ducked her face into her arms. The more attention she avoided, the better, just like at school last year.
Another pang wrenched tight around her stomach. School was going to start again in three weeks. Last year, after moving to the North, the other kids had picked on her so much that she’d quit even trying to do well and just wished to get out.
I didn’t mean it! she thought to the void where other people said God was. A mere prayer couldn’t change what was physically happening, but at this point, it was worth a try. I’ll work hard again. I’ll put up with the bullies. Just let me go home!
Nothing changed in the tone or volume of the kidnappers’ deep voices. Hidden air vents still whispered harshly. Her heels still dug into the floor. Nothing magically changed.
She drew in a shuddering breath and held it. I’m still here. Maybe I can act like it. Maybe, for once in her life, something she did could affect what happened to her, unlike arguing about moving, unlike answering the bullies, unlike hiding out while her parents fought.
Unlike trying not to get kidnapped.
I’m still here. She blew out her breath and resettled her glasses on her nose, reassuring herself with their comfortable weight that something remained normal. Like everything else she’d experienced, she’d get through this.
Who was she kidding? She didn’t even know how she got there.
She remembered hearing them try the door, then the distinctive, woofing clap when it hit the foyer’s parquet.
She remembered listening to them search her house. Furniture screeched. Closet doors slammed. Heavy footsteps clomped up the stairs.
She remembered the younger one finding her in her closet, how she’d kneed him in the crotch, and his calloused hands had pinched tight on her arms.
She’d bit him on the way out, when the scarred man helped carry her, and the younger one had smacked her in reply.
Next thing she knew, they were in here. The men dropped her to the soft floor. She scrambled back to the gray wall—
Pain sparked across her shoulder blades. She lurched forward.
It took only a moment to equate “rippling wall” with “instantaneous death shock,” but then it was a quick lesson: don’t touch the wall. She sat well away from it now.
She couldn’t have completely lost track of time when he’d hit her; the men’s grip on her hadn’t changed. It was as if she’d closed her eyes in one place (her front yard) and opened them in another (this little white room). It’d make sense if she’d arrived here on the floor, but in the exact same position she last remembered? If she’d been knocked unconscious, why hadn’t the second man dropped her legs? They hadn’t just climbed into a car or shifted to a house down the street. Unless Zelienople had houses with shock walls and trap doors. After all, it was down the street from the cemetery in Night of the Living Dead.
But she didn’t think so.
I’m not in PA anymore. She swallowed against the lump in her throat.
What were they waiting for, yammering on as they were? Something the man at the console was doing? Or was it just a long elevator ride?
Heart pounding in her ears, she inched closer to the gray-haired man to peek at his screen.
The talking stopped and she did, too. She tried to breathe slower to not give herself away. Maybe they hadn’t noticed she’d moved much. Maybe they wouldn’t mind.
They eyed her warily, and she studied their bootlaces. Aside from getting her eyes off theirs, it let her notice how odd their boots were: round, sickly white cord ran between button holes along the shoes’ sides. They looked like someone tried to adapt Roman sandals to Pittsburgh weather. She wished they hadn’t.
The men started up their conversation again; she had feigned disinterest long enough.
Sarah sat in line with the console’s back. From here, she had only to lean to see around it. As she did, she caught the controller’s fingers darting about the screen—tapping here, sliding there, circling and pinching elsewhere. A little closer, and she’d see the screen, too.
The controller glanced at her and murmured something to the others.
The young one stood.
“No, please!” Scooting back, Sarah caught the controller’s stare again and held it. “Please take me back! I just want to go home!”
The young guy clamped down on her shoulders, holding her in place.
“Please, I won’t tell anyone.” She scrunched down out of his hold and stood up behind him to stare at the controller and his compassionate eyes. “Just take me home!”
The young guy caught her again, pressing down harder and wedging her against him. Right behind his feet, the trap door dropped down—an open exit!
Sarah elbowed his armored gut. He heaved a breathy grunt and bent over, arms flailing after her. She folded her knees, dropping through his hands. Then she dove for the hole’s edge.
The room beyond had no floor.
She’d meant to glide through, grabbing the hole’s edge to right herself. Instead, she flung her limbs out, catching herself over the impossible pit and wrenching her shoulder.
The room beyond wasn’t wider than this one, but it was a hundred times taller. Gold, marble, and opposing green walls converged very far away, and she didn’t see a ladder to climb down.
Strong hands lifted her by the armpits and pulled her to safety.
She couldn’t catch her breath. Her heaving pants stressed the grip on her armpits, but it was a reassuring pain this time. She’d almost fallen, almost pitched herself into the abyss—not a good way to get home.
The controller and the young guy both approached the hole and, swift as you please, dropped through—and landed sideways, feet on the marble wall. The scarred man let go and followed them.
What the hell had happened to gravity?
She edged closer, still afraid of falling, only to have the trap door slam in her face. Kneeling, she stared at it, picturing what she’d seen. With the men standing sideways on the marble wall, she could start putting the pieces together.
It wasn’t a pit. It was a hallway, seen from a door at the end. With her gravity sideways.
Sarah backed away from the hole and kept her distance from the wall. Sideways gravity?
She wasn’t in Pennsylvania anymore.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shannon Eichorn is a science fiction writer and aerospace engineer in Cleveland, Ohio. A graduate of the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writing Workshop for Young Writers in 2005, she also won a 2008 Nemet Scholarship for Excellence in Creative Writing. With her Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, she has supported aerospace testing since 2011. She lives with her domesticated mad scientist and two cats and can be found cosplaying at conventions, singing in a praise band, extolling the cuteness of supersonic wind tunnels, or smuggling books into her home.