The premature explosion of a rocket harpoon fatally damages the spaceship Starbuck III, a whaling vessel dedicated to hunting the giant space whales Balaenoptera Tregannae. But was the explosion an accident or sabotage?
One of the few survivors is Billy Baddoff, crewman second class. Only the luck of a low cabin number saved him from certain death in the vacuum of space.
Hunting space whales is highly controversial, even though the giant beasts show no signs of intelligence and endanger human space colonies with their relentless appetite for rocks. But though he considers the creatures dangerous pests, Billy had no political motive for signing on aboard the Starbuck III. He only needed a job. Though having his ship blown up underneath him may just harden Billy’s views, provided he makes it off the rapidly failing vessel first…
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Some background information:
- Whaler is a science fiction short story of 4200 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published before.
- Stories about space whales are a staple of science fiction to the point that space whales have become a cliché in themselves. This does not stop new space whale stories from being told however. Indeed, a story featuring space whales, That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone, even won the Nebula award for best novelette in 2011.
- Nonetheless, I have never liked space whale stories, because most of them are heavy-handed environmentalist messages disguised as science fiction. Usually, they are sappy as hell as well.
So I decided that one day I would write the space whale story to end all space whale stories, a story where the space whales are not sentimentalized peaceful creatures but dangerous pests to be exterminated. Whaler is that story.
- But even though the basic premise has been in my mind for many years now, the actual initiating spark was a writing exercise where you grab two random words from a dictionary site and write a story around them. My words were “harpoon” and “rocket” and I immediately thought, “Okay, that sounds like a space whale story.” So Whaler was finally born, almost twenty years after the first tentative idea.
- The name of the spaceship Starbuck III is obviously a reference to both Moby Dick and Battlestar Galactica (but then Battlestar Galactica is full of references to Moby Dick). The Enderby Corporation, which operates the Starbuck III, is yet another Moby Dick reference.
- The scientific name of the space whales, Balaenoptera Tregannae, is a combination of the Latin name for an earthly whale genus and the name of a writer responsible for a particularly sappy space whale story I disliked a whole lot. It’s not the only bad space whale story out there and indeed, I have seen and read worse. But this was the only one where I could reliably identify the writer.
- I actually did hear “What will you tell your children?” chanted at people working in supposedly environmentally harmful industries at a demonstration back in the 1980s. Even back then, I realized how utterly stupid that particular chant was, because the children knew that the supposedly harmful industry was keeping their fathers employed. And fear of your Dad losing his job was huge among the children of the 1980s, so nobody would even think of asking that question. Unlike Billy, I did not get into a physical altercation with the chanter, however.
- Come to think of it, Whaler is probably as much the result of my issues with the environmental movement of the 1980s as it is the result of my intense dislike for space whale stories.
- The cover image is a public domain photo of a humpback whale copied into a photoshop-generated space scene.