Monday, April 29, 2013

Excerpt: The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival

Prologue—Objects, Subjects, and Beginnings

A tall, dark figure, clad in formal Victorian eveningwear, strode briskly down the shadowed street, casually swinging his silver-embellished walking stick. No carriages had passed in the last half-hour, and only one hansom cab had wandered by ten minutes before, its horse’s hollow hoofbeats echoing between the buildings. The gas street-lamps were long since lit, but between them were patches of deep darkness, patches entirely too broad for comfort in these circumstances. Beneath the brim of his silk top hat, eagle-sharp grey eyes darted about, studying the shadows, alert and aware. For well this man knew that danger lurked in the gloom this night, danger peculiar to him alone; and he was alone. So very alone.

But not for long. He was headed to a specific destination. To the one man he knew he could trust, the one man who would stand at his side regardless of danger—for had he not done so, many times before? Was not this the reason for the deep, if largely unspoken, bond of friendship between them?

His friend would help. There was no doubt in his mind on that point. Already today two attempts had been made upon his life, and well did this man need help.

"Not far now," the words breathed past thin, pale lips. "Almost ther—"

The words died on said lips.

A hulking, brutish shadow materialised from the alleyway in front of him. The elegant man in the top hat ducked just in time to avoid the lead-weighted bludgeon that swung through the space his head had occupied fractions of a second before. Instead, the silk hat took the brunt of the blow, flying across the sidewalk and into a puddle in the gutter, its side crushed. Flinging up his cane and grasping each end in his hands, the gentleman dropped into an Oriental horse stance, and prepared to do battle.

"’Ere, now," the other figure said, in a coarse growl. "Hit’s th’ end o’ you, it is. Me superior won’t be ‘arvin’ it, an’ Oi means t’ see ‘e don’t ‘arve ta."

"You can try," the gentleman replied, calm. "But better men than you have tried, and here I stand."

A guttural, angry sound emerged from the assailant, and the cudgel swung again, this time with enough force to crush bone. Deft, the gentleman caught it with the center of his cane, but to his chagrin the walking-stick, his weapon of choice in many a similar street altercation, chose that moment to give up the ghost. It snapped in two, splintering and cracking. He snarled his own irritation, and flung the pieces aside when he realised there was not enough left to use as a decent weapon.

Then he began to flit and weave as the other man smirked and lunged at him, swinging the club repeatedly, as hard as he could. It was a dance of death, and one wrong move by the gentleman would have serious, possibly fatal, consequences.

But the man in the evening dress was not without weapons; no, his best weapons were permanently attached to his person. The alert grey eyes watched, looking for some opening; and when he saw his chance, he struck like lightning. A fist shot out at the loutish face, catching the hit man squarely in the mouth just as he realised his danger and started to shout for help. All that came out was a grunt, however, and the assassin fell to the pavement as if pole-axed, with both lips split.

The gentleman hissed in pain, grabbing his fist with his other hand for a moment to let the worst of the discomfort pass before examining the damage.

"By Jove, he has sharp teeth for such a troglodyte," he murmured, peeling off the ruined black kid glove to expose the bloody knuckles beneath. "Completely through the leather and into the flesh. I shall have to have this disinfected, for certain. No time for that now. Go, man!" He turned swiftly to resume his journey.

A crack resounded from the brownstone close at hand, and the man felt a spray of stone chips strike the side of his face. He flinched, and a sharp curse left his lips. He took to his heels and rounded the corner of the street, then disappeared into shadow.

* * *

Not ten feet away from the gentleman, though invisible to him, an elegant blonde woman in a white lab coat stood between tall, electronic towers. Behind her, concentric rows of computer consoles were manned by two dozen scientists, engineers, and technicians. Surrounding all of them was a huge, domed room carved from solid pink granite.

The woman stood for long minutes, silent, watching.

Finally one of the technicians broke the electronic silence.

"So, Doc, whaddaya think?"

"What do you think, Jim? How were the readings?" The woman turned toward him.

"I’ve got bang-on, Dr. Chadwick," Jim noted, glancing down at his own console, brown eyes darting about as he surveyed his readouts. "But I can’t say for everybody else."

"Rock steady at Timelines," someone else called.

"Sequencing looks good…" another said.

"Software’s running nominally."

"Hardware’s humming right along…"

On it went, from console to console. Finally the woman nodded.

"Perfect," she purred in deep satisfaction. "We’ve got our subject. Page Dr. Hughes and have her come down."

"On it, Doc," Jim grinned, reaching for the phone.


For more, or to purchase this and more books in the series, go to my website,

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hey there

by Stephanie Osborn

April has shaped up to be a VERY busy month for me! "It's Elementary!" Month has seen me speaking at the Gathering of Southern Sherlockians at the historic Read House Hotel in downtown Chattanooga TN, where I spoke on the research I did into the Victorian era for my Displaced Detective novels, as well as a sneak peek reading of an excerpt from a new steampunk novel that's not out yet. It's also seen me the busiest panelist at 221bCon, which was described as a "paradigm shift" in Sherlockian fandom! Yet to come are a couple of talks at the Huntsville-Madison County Alabama Public Libraries. It seems that they are reading Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes this month, and want me to come in and discuss my views of Holmes and the research I did for my books as well!

In fact, I'm staying SO busy that I haven't had a chance to throw down some cool new blog posts. I'm sorry about that. I'll try to do better in future, but every blog post written is less energy/creative spur to write a chapter of a new book. No, the well isn't infinite in depth, I'm afraid. One of my best buds, Travis S. Taylor, well - I swear the man is really The Flash in disguise. I honestly don't know how he does all he does! He seems to have boundless energy. I don't. I love to write, and when the words are flowing, I will lose all track of time. I will push and push to get to the end (or rather, the middle, because I don't write in sequence, but rather like movies are filmed). But when I'm done, I'm wiped. It'll be time for a break, in order to generate enough energy to write the NEXT book. Even Travis has told me it's normal for that to happen, and he occasionally emails or texts me with word that he's letting the steam and smoke out of his computer (aka taking a break)!

So, since it IS "It's Elementary!" Month for me AND the local public libraries, next week I'll put up some Displaced Detective excerpts!

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, April 15, 2013

We Aren't The Only Ones, Part 5 and Final

by Stephanie Osborn

As promised, the Chinese space failure. Excerpted from A New American Space Plan, by Travis S. Taylor and myself, from Baen Books.

It should be noted that the Chinese space program is considered a branch of their military, at least in part, and therefore is subject to much secrecy. In point of fact, it is only in recent years that there has even been a Chinese space program apart from that needed to develop ICBMs. In addition, upon the fall of the Soviet Union, much of that space agency's history came to light. We do not have this advantage in gleaning information about the Chinese space program, so this section is quite short relative to American and Russian space history.


China’s space program as such began in the late 1950s, under the auspices of their Ministry of Aerospace Industry, and Chairman Mao Tzedong. At that time it consisted mostly of work on intercontinental ballistic missiles, as we were at the height of the Cold War, and they were responding to what they considered potential threats from both the U.S. and Russia. They seemed to have no particular interest in manned space flight for several more decades.

Upon Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping emerged as China’s leader, and canceled many missile programs and anti-missile defense programs considered important at the time. However, long range ICBM development did continue, as well as the Long March series of launch vehicles, enabling them to compete in the commercial launch industry. When the Cold War ended, Deng stepped up his commercialization of China, and moved away from the blatant use of communist revolution rhetoric in the naming of vehicles, and toward ancient Chinese religious and mystical names. This included, for example, renaming the Long March rockets “Divine Arrow.”

He split the Ministry into two parts in 1993: the China National Space Administration (CNSA), responsible for space policy and planning, and the China Aerospace Corporation (CASC), responsible for execution of the program.

Shortly thereafter, China had its first public space program disaster.

In February of 1996, the launch of the first Long March 3B heavy launch vehicle went drastically wrong. Carrying Intelsat 708, a commercial telecommunications satellite, the rocket failed almost immediately on liftoff as a result of an engineering defect, deviating drastically from its launch trajectory at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. It crashed twenty-two seconds later and slightly more than one mile (slightly under two kilometers) from the launch facility—directly on top of a village. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, under government control, reported six killed and fifty-seven injured, with eighty houses destroyed. Unofficial reports, however, place the death toll at well over 500 people.

Three years after this disaster, Shenzhou 1 was successfully launched—unmanned—on the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Rebublic of China in 1999...China is a member of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. However, its space program, despite the “corporate” designation of half of it, is entirely military-run, and in 2007 it shot down one of its own dead satellites.


So far, since the Long March disaster in 1996, the Chinese space program has been ambitious and successful. They have specified their intent to go to the Moon and to be the first humans to land on Mars. If they continue like this, they may well beat everyone in the doing; they seem to have the will and the political backing to advance, while the West is mired in political in-fighting and lack of apparent interest.

Despite our failures, I think it can safely be said that the US space program as put forth by NASA has hardly had quite so spectacular or horrific failures as have occurred elsewhere. We have not dropped any rockets on any small towns; we have never deliberately and with foreknowledge gone forward with completely inane designs. We have not wiped out a significant portion of our rocket team by requiring them to sit in the same field with the launch vehicle. Speaking as someone who has worked side by side with fellow American space flight controllers, I can honestly say that we have done the best we could do to keep our colleagues safe within reason - for space will never be completely safe. It is inherently an inimical environment, and one in which no human would live for a minute without layers of protection, whether that protection be physical, procedural, or otherwise. I have been a part of that protection, in a manner of speaking. It is a task that I strove to do to my utmost, and it is something of which I will always be proud.

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, April 8, 2013

We Aren't The Only Ones, Part 4

by Stephanie Osborn

A bit more on the Soviet space program's failures, then on to China next week. Excerpted from A New American Space Plan, by Travis S. Taylor and myself, from Baen Books.


In 1971 the Soviets put up the world’s first space station, Salyut 1. Sort of like our Skylab, it was expendable and there was a whole series of these stations, military and nonmilitary. It was generally a successful program.

Except for the first flight to Salyut 1, Soyuz 11.

Soyuz 11 was the only manned mission to Salyut 1. All went nominally until it came time for reentry. At that time, the pyrotechnic bolts that were to release the service module from the reentry module fired simultaneously instead of sequentially. This in turn jolted open a breathing ventilation valve at an altitude of 104 miles (168 km) and bled the reentry vehicle’s atmosphere off into space. As it was located underneath the seats, the cosmonauts couldn’t locate and plug it fast enough to stop the loss of atmosphere. And due to the cramped conditions and the presence of 3 crew members, space suits were not worn for these early flights.

Flight recorder data later indicated the crew went into cardiac arrest within forty seconds. Within 212 seconds (less than four minutes) of the separation, the cabin pressure was zero. As a result, ground control lost communications with the crew long before the reentry comm blackout should have begun, realized that conditions were off-nominal, and began emergency preparations for the landing. The crew was found at the landing point, dead inside the cabin. Attempts were made to perform CPR by the service crew, but it was much too late.

In 1975 Soyuz 18a had the first ever manned launch abort. It’s forward momentum carriedit some thousands of miles downrange, nearly into China—which the Soviets were on particularly bad terms with at the time. It came down in the mountains again, sliding down the side of one, and nearly toppling off a cliff. This time, tangled parachutes saved the cosmonauts by snarling in the trees and preventing the sheer drop. The crew was pretty banged up.

In 1980 a Vostok rocket blew up on the launch pad. Forty-eight people died.


It should be noted that, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian space program has, to my knowledge, not suffered a single major setback that has resulted in loss of life.

Next week as promised: The Chinese space program.

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, April 1, 2013

We Aren't The Only Ones, Part 3

by Stephanie Osborn

Part 3 of this series takes us into the Russian manned program, specifically the Soyuz and the problems it experienced from the very beginning, as excerpted from A New American Space Plan, by Travis S. Taylor and myself.


Soyuz 1 was the first flight of the Soyuz spacecraft. It was also the Soviets’ first in-flight death. The craft was known to be faulty to begin with. The engineers reported over 203 design faults—not faulty equipment, not improperly installed, faulty design work, before the launch. Unfortunately, by this time Soviet leaders had caught moon fever. They wanted to beat the Americans to a manned landing, and they wanted to take advantage of the delay caused by the Apollo 1 fire. Oh, and they wanted to celebrate Vladimir Lenin's birthday with some fireworks. Big fireworks.

Vladimir Komarov was the primary, and Yuri Gagarin was his backup. The situation was so bad that Gagarin tried to get Komarov bumped from the primary position, because he knew that he was considered a national hero and therefore not expendable. He hoped to get the mission delayed until the problems could be fixed. He failed.

Soyuz 1 was launched, Komarov aboard. Its mission was to rendezvous and EVA with Soyuz 2. As soon as it got on orbit, one of the solar panels failed to unfurl, so the spacecraft was running on low power from the get-go.

The Soyuz 2 crew prepped themselves for a repair mission. Thunderstorms overnight at Baikonur fried the Soyuz electrical systems, so Soyuz 1 was on its own.

Then the “orientation detectors” (I assume this means gyroscopes or star trackers or some such, or maybe not) decided to malfunction, rendering maneuvering difficult. Then the automatic maneuvering system died entirely, and the manual system went on the fritz.

Once the maneuvering system went down, the flight director decided to abort the mission. At this point, everything looked like a happy ending.

Except this was a new ship. With new details. Like a thicker heat shield, and a correspondingly larger parachute. Remember those design flaws? Guess what? Nobody bothered to make the chute receptacle any bigger. In their brilliance, technicians used wooden mallets to beat the parachute into place.

So the drogue chute came out, but the main parachute didn’t. Simple enough: Komarov deployed the manual parachute. Which promptly tangled in the drogue chute. He hit the ground at an estimated 89 mph (140 km/hr).

The ship exploded.
The Soviets didn’t have too many manned firsts after that, and they never made it to the moon with a crewed lander. The same year we landed on the moon, they managed a docking and crew exchange of Soyuz 4 and 5. (The Soviets claimed that this was the world’s first space station.) Unfortunately when it came time to come home, Soyuz 5’s service module failed to separate, and the capsule with service module reentered nose first. The cosmonaut inside, Boris Volnyov, hung from his straps until the module’s struts burned through and it broke away, enabling the capsule to right itself before the hatch also burned through—the gaskets were already burning and filling the cabin with noxious fumes. But then the parachute lines tangled, and the landing retros failed, and while Volnyov walked away from that landing, he broke his teeth. He landed in—yes, you guessed it—the Ural Mountains instead of Khazakhstan, and with the temperature outside at -36°F (-38°C), he was forced to walk several kilometers to the cabin of a local.

-Stephanie Osborn