“The Seeker Star” by Susan Jane Bigelow

Action, Aliens, Politics, and Romance: The Seeker Star by Susan Jane Bigelow

"The Seeker Star" by Susan Jane Bigelow

“The Seeker Star” by Susan Jane Bigelow

Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of the Kindle edition of The Seeker Star as part of a review exchange.

Author Susan Jane Bigelow did something I thought was impossible: got me to care about a socially conservative, misogynistic country. The country in question is protagonist Violet Grayline’s homeland Gideon on the planet Nea. Centuries earlier humans abandoned Earth in exchange for settling three planets in a distant system. In Nea’s Gideon, women’s primary functions are bearing and raising children. Gideon men and the church hold all the power.

The Seeker Star opens with the beginning of the end of Violet’s marriage. Since she cannot bear children, her husband abandons and divorces her. Thankfully Violet has her Aunt Melody on her side. Melody helps her niece through the initial storm, then gives Violet a mission: find her sisters Marta and Beth, who’d gone missing after they’d left Nea, and bring them home.

I like Violet a lot. She’s smart, plucky, and determined. Bigelow does a great job fleshing out her character. Violet’s transformation from a conformist young woman into—well, I won’t spoil it for you—makes perfect sense.

Normally I’d start reading a series with the first book (in this case, The Daughter Star), but jumping into the Grayline Sisters’ universe with The Seeker Star wasn’t a problem. Bigelow deftly weaves exposition into the narrative, so you quickly get a feel for the worlds (note the plural) involved. The scope here is huge, and Bigelow provides the right amount of information to hold your interest and keep the pace moving.

I’m not sure what else I can write without spoiling the story, so I’ll keep this brief. Through Violet’s eyes you’ll learn about the cultures and struggles of peoples of three different worlds. You’ll root for Violet and her allies while wondering about the motives of others she meets on her journey. And if you’re like me, you’ll want Violet to succeed in her quest to bring change to Gideon. You’ll understand why she loves her country, warts and all.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Seeker Star, and plan to read The Daughter Star soon.

Valley and Ridge Sunset - photo by Nancy Brauer

Geology for the masses

Valley and Ridge Sunset - photo by Nancy Brauer

Valley and Ridge Sunset - photo by Nancy Brauer

If you’re in the New River Valley or Roanoke area and enjoy geology or just being outdoors, I’m leading a FREE geology walk along the Huckleberry Trail through the VT YMCA Open University. It’ll be on Sunday 10/28 from 1 pm – 3 pm. Here’s the writeup.

Huckleberry Trail Geology Walk

Stroll two miles of the Huckleberry Trail from the New River Valley Mall through the Coal Miners Heritage Park and learn about the geology under your feet! We’ll cross three faults and outcrops with rocks from 500 million-year-old shales through 300 million-year-old coal beds. Barring torrential downpours or snow, the walk will be rain or shine. Wear comfortable shoes and, if you wish, bring your camera, a sturdy bag for rock samples, and your curiosity. Nancy Brauer is a Jill of all trades with a Master’s degree in geology from Virginia Tech. FREE

Sunday, October 28, 1-3pm

Start at trailhead at NRV Mall parking lot, ends at the Coal Mining Heritage Park parking lot in Merrimac

If you’d like to get a crash course in the geology of the New River Valley, consider signing up for the Backyard Geology class I’m teaching earlier in October. It was really well received when I taught it in the spring. :)

Backyard Geology

Thanks to the Pulaski and Salem Faults crisscrossing the New River Valley, there’s a wealth of geology in our backyards. After a brief overview of the kinds of rocks in our area, we’ll talk about how they got here and how they affect where we live, work, and play. Nancy Brauer is a Jill of all trades with a Master’s degree in geology from Virginia Tech. She’s a freelance programmer, graphic designer, and writer who flexes her geology muscles when hiking. $30

Date/Day/Time/Location: Wednesdays, 10/10-10/24, 6:30-8pm, Y Center Conference Room (1000 N. Main Blacksburg)

See the VT YMCA’s Open University page for online registration and the link to the fall course catalog.

The wholly unnecessary Stadium Woods controversy


When in doubt, use a picture of a dog in a football uniform fumbling a football.

It’s hard to believe that there’s a kerfuffle over the fate of Virginia Tech’s Stadium Woods. For those of you thinking “Stadium what?”, Stadium Woods is an 11-acre old-growth forest remnant in the middle of Blacksburg that miraculously has been left alone over the years. The VT Athletics Department plans to build an indoor football practice facility there.

According to the university’s 2006-2016 Master Plan Update (33 MB PDF) and the 2009 Master Plan Land Use Update (15 MB PDF), Stadium Woods is an environmental greenway. It’s cited multiple times for its importance for stormwater management. The master plan documents show the proposed practice facility where the tennis courts currently are on the south side of Washington Street. So why on earth is the building suddenly slated for the north part of Stadium Woods?

Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer wants it there.

This information comes from a report written by VT Forestry professor Dr. John Seiler. In the third section of the document Seiler writes:

At a January 20, 2011, Virginia Tech Arboretum Committee meeting, the members were informed by Matt Gart, University Landscape Architect, of the plans for a new indoor athletics practice facility. Mr. Gart informed the group that there were “alternative sites” but that “Beamer wanted it here” (“here” being the north end of Stadium Woods, Figure 6).

I was stunned when I first read this in February. Stunned and outraged, so much so that I got in touch with the founding Friends of Stadium Woods members and offered my help with web design and graphics. (I created and maintain the Save Stadium Woods site.) Beamer is a minor deity in these parts, but can he really point at a patch of land and say “Drop a building there”?

Nah. But the Hokie football money-making machine might be able to.

Recently I’ve learned more about the proposed indoor practice facility, including why “part of the project will involve removing 30 feet of elevation and moving approximately 80,000 cubic yards of dirt from the woods” (source).

Indoor football practice facilities are the latest weapon in the college football recruitment arms race.

In order to stay competitive when trying to woo high school football players and their parents, one must have a state-of-the-art indoor facility adjacent to the stadium and/or outdoor practice field. All of the cool kids are doing it!

  1. Clemson, according to a March 30, 2012 story on orangeandwhite.com:

    “We’re trying to build a nationally-competitive program, and that’s something we haven’t had in a very long time,” [Coach Dabo] Swinney said. “We’ve accomplished a great deal in three years, and there’s a lot more work to do. But this facility is another step. … We’re going to be recruiting-ready all the time,” Swinney said. “When they drive up, they’re going to see extreme commitment. All the elements are in place.”

    Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips noted that “every school we play is very heavily invested in facilities” and called Clemson’s new building “another step in the direction” of making the school’s athletic facilities second to none.

  2. University of Virginia, according to an August 2011 Daily Press story:

    Less than four weeks after Virginia Tech formally announced its intentions to begin building an indoor practice facility specifically geared toward its football program, Virginia is getting into the act with its own indoor facility plans.

    U.Va. football coach Mike London confirmed plans for the facility are in the works. During his time as a U.Va. assistant coach from 2001-04 and ’06 and ’07, plus his current two-year tenure as the Cavaliers’ coach, he has seen firsthand what an indoor facility could bring to his program: practice time uniterrupted [sic] by poor weather, and a key recruiting tool.

    “The obvious benefit is the opportunity to continue to practice in the case of inclement weather, and to continue to train and develop the players in season and out of season,” London said. “The auxiliary reason would be for the recruiting standpoint, to be able show that we’re committed to provide the best facilities available and possible.

    “Let’s face it, in today’s culture and today’s society, young men are coming out there looking to see the benefits that can be provided to them. You want to be able to provide opportunities from an academic standpoint. I think it covers all bases, without a doubt, but at the same time if you’re going to compete and say you want to compete for championships and try to attract the top level student-athletes that are out there, then some of the things they look at and use in their decision about where they’re going is where do you train, how do you train, in the even inclement weather occurs where to you go, what’s your weight room look like?”

    Similar remarks in appear in an August 2011 Daily Progress story.

    “Those boys down the road [referring to Virgnia Tech] are building one and we need to build one,” said an interested UVa party. “Because if we don’t respond, we’ll definitely be second fiddle.”

    Building a new facility, probably where Onesty Hall now sits, would show how serious a commitment Virginia is making to restoring its football glory. Recruits notice. Recruits ask.

If my hypothesis is correct, a key reason why VT Athletics wants their new practice facility where about half of Stadium Woods now stands is recruitment. To compete with other football programs, an indoor practice facility must be similar to existing ones, which means adjacent to an outdoor field and at the same elevation. In theory that makes it easier to recruit better football players, which means better Hokie football, which equates to millions of dollars of funding to Tech in various forms, not to mention all of the business deals that hinge on Hokie entertainment.

I understand that football is an important part of the Blacksburg economy, but for cryin’ out loud, could we build the new facility on the original site and spare the over 250-year-old trees? You know, like it’s been planned since at least 2006? Pretty please?


Baltimore bound

Balticon 45

This Saturday through Monday I’ll be in august company at Balticon 45, a long-running sci-fi/fantasy convention held in Baltimore, Maryland. (The con begins on Friday 5/27/11, but I won’t be there until Saturday.) If you’re within driving distance, please stop by and say hello! Balticon is a big event with lots of artists, entertainers, games, vendors, and cosplayers. Something for everyone, indeed.

I’m especially looking forward to reconnecting with three fantastic writers I met at SheVAcon in March: Elaine Corvidae, David Forbes, and Leona Wisoker. Bring on the con parties! I think the Science Fiction Title Chain game will be a blast, too.

Here’s my schedule, should you want to catch up with me.

Saturday 5/28/11

5:00 PM — Small Press Publishing Round Table
Back by popular demand. Small press publishers discuss how they work with artists and artists discuss how their experiences working with small press publishers have been awesome or could be improved.

6:00 PM — Grand Openings (round table discussion)
Once upon a time (in a galaxy far far away)… So, how important is a good opening? What does it need to pull the reader into the story? How can it cast light upon mood, setting, character, tone, and still work as a hook for the reader? Discuss favorite openings, and tell why they work so well. What actually is the “right” beginning for the story? How does a writer figure out if the story on paper’s starting too early, too late, or at the right time?

Sunday 5/29/11

10:00 AM — Nancy Brauer, Michelle D. Sonnier and Patrick Thomas Autographing

12:00 PM — My Favorite Planet
What fictional (or non-fictional) world would you most like to visit or inhabit? Why? Describe it. Past, future, or alternative Earths are also gratefully appreciated.

4:00 PM — Motivation — Why Ask Why?
Does it matter why characters act the way they do? How to explain them to your readers.

5:00 PM — Science Fiction Title Chain
It’s a game! The audience provides the words for a science fiction story or novel’s title, the panelists arrange them in a more or less coherent order and each panelist comes up with a descriptive synopsis. The audience votes on the synopsis they like best!

8:30 PM — Nancy Brauer — Reading
I’ll read from Strange Little Band, Strandline, and/or short stories. Audience’s choice. :)

Kindle and print books. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43602175@N06/4070018782/

Happy RaEW!

Kindle and print books. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43602175@N06/4070018782/

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43602175@N06/4070018782/

I was having trouble coming up with a catchy title for this post, so I decided to be cryptic. RaEW stands for “Read an Ebook Week”. Seeing how Smashwords crashed this morning from a deluge of hits, I’d say it’s off to an enthusiastic start!

In honor of “Read an Ebook Week”, I’ve made my dark paranormal romance Strange Little Band half off on Smashwords this week. Use coupon code CT43G to download SLB for a mere $1.50!