To celebrate the upcoming release of the final installment of The Formist series, we’re going back to where it all started in The Cronian Incident!
Read on for details, excerpt, and a chance to win a signed copy of the book!
The Cronian Incident ( The Formist #1)
Publication Date: September 2017
Genre: Science Fiction
Jeremiah Ward was just another convict, a disgraced investigator who once worked the Martian beat, now serving his sentence in a mining colony on Mercury. When a member of a powerful faction goes missing on Titan, Ward is given an opportunity he cannot pass up. In exchange for investigating the disappearance of this figure, he gets a clean slate and a second chance.
But, the deeper Ward digs the more secrets he finds. Instead of investigating a missing person’s case he becomes embroiled in a centuries-old conspiracy and Ward comes to realize his one shot at redemption may cost him his life.
They stood two by two. In standard squad formation, moving onto their target area.
In front, Bern and Valeri stood, there arms held squarely at their sides. Durand could see that their hands were twitching. Valeri was attempting to hide it by crossing her arms and tapping out the rhythm of some unheard melody against her bicep. Bern however couldn’t decide what to do with his hands, and kept wiping them against his trouser legs.
Durand and Chayond were fortunate that way. In their hands, the equipment bags hung. Though relatively light, they were just burdensome enough to require both hands to carry them. They did not have to worry about idle hands or telltale signs of nervousness as they waited for the elevator to finish descending.
“Remember, no talking,” said Valeri, reminding them as the elevator came to a stop. The doors slid open to admit them to the station’s main hub. Bern nodded forward, and the four stepped out onto the platform.
Evening was now upon them, with several bright lights shining down from the station’s vaulted ceiling. Through the station’s dome, a thick grey haze was just visible. The faint traces of light reflected off of Saturn’s disc turned what would have been the black night into a deep, murky twilight.
The four of them were quickly swallowed up by the din of chatter, footsteps, and the sounds of a computerized voice making announcements in Anglish, Franz, Deutsch, Chin and Swahili.
The station was filled with hundreds of locals milling about, moving from one transit lane to another. Few paid them any attention as they walked through the crowds. Why should they? To onlookers, the group’s blue and orange coveralls designated them as maintenance staff. To all recording devices and sensors in the area, their ID tags also designed them as such.
Still, Chayond felt a tinge of panic every time the bag he carried rattled. None of their party would fare too well if they were stopped for inspection. Chayond felt himself looking at the few Gendarmes mixed in with the commuters out of the corner of his eye. If Bern saw him, she would certainly backhand him across the face. Of course, she would wait until they were no longer in public before doing so.
It seemed to take a terribly long time to cross the main floor. At the far end, they began to descend a flight of stairs, and Chayond felt a little better. The bag was rattling louder, luckily it was being drowned out by the whooshing noise of hypertrains coming and going inside their tubes. The dull, monotone computerized voice continued to announce the arrival and departure of trains, though it was becoming more difficult to hear. The noise was like a cushion that began to cloak their every move.
Valerni motioned to their left as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Commuter traffic continued to pour around them, which made maintaining their tight formation somewhat difficult. Still, they held in their two-by-two stance, moving towards the left track – and to the small door that led to the maintenance tunnel. No one followed them there. All the commuter traffic was drawn to the tubes and left what appeared to be a maintenance crew alone.
As soon as they were through the hatch, the noise stopped. The busy station was now sealed behind the pressure door. The only sounds now the gentle hissing of the tunnel’s pressure controls. of course, Valeri’s commanding voice. Checking her chrono, she made a quick consult of their timetable.
“We’re on schedule,” she said. “Let’s keep it that way. Move out.”
The four collapsed into a single line, moving down the tight tunnel as quickly as they could. Durand threw the strap of his bag over his shoulder and Chayond did the same. Their steps became fast and heavy, their work boots striking hard against the metal grates that lined the floor. Heavy pipes and ducts controlling the settlements flow of fresh water and air whizzed by their heads. The high pressure and heat combined to make the going very uncomfortable.
Yet still, they moved. Rigid discipline and a clear purpose driving them onward. Until they reached their destination and set up, they could not relax.
When they finally came to the hatch that would admit them onto the platform that they wanted, they had all broken a good sweat. Only Valeri appeared to not be out of breath.
“Alright, pay attention because we don’t have time to dither.” Reaching into the pocket of her coveralls, she retrieved a small handheld. She held the transparent device up. Displayed on it was a single-frame. A man’s face.
“This is David Lee,” Valeri said. “He’s the Formist the Chandrasekhar’s sent on ahead to do their dirty work. Our intel says he’ll be travelling alone by the time he gets to the line. So that’s when we take him down.”
She tapped the screen. Lee’s image was replaced by a video feed of him standing with a woman. They stood close to each other, a degree of intimacy clearly implied by their body language.
“This is our contact. She is the one who provided us with Lee’s itinerary. According to her, Lee will be here at the time indicated, and he will be alone. However, if we find that they are together, then something’s gone wrong and we’ll need to take them both down. There can’t be any suspicion on her.”
“Who is she?” Durand asked.
Valeri shrugged. “Didn’t ask. neither should you. All you need to know is, she’s not our target. If it comes down to it, we take them both down. we leave her behind for the authorities to collect. Any other stupid questions?”
Durand was sufficiently shamed and shut up. Bern though had some thoughts on that score and offered them freely.
“Probably some just whore from the Yellow Light District. Point is, she’s a fucking patriot and gave us this information. So she’ll understand, I’m sure.”
All heads in the group nodded. A rumble shook the tube, indicating that a hypertrain was going by. It was nothing more than a passing tremor. No sound made it through the sealed pressure doors.
“That’ll be the 2115 to Cassini now,” she said, smiling. “Our Dr. Lee will be making the next one. Better suit up.”
Durand dropped his equipment bag on the ground, kneeling down to open it. Chayond did the same, placing his bag on the floor and separating the tabs on the seal. As Durand began removing their change of clothes, the others began to disrobe. The suits Durand passed out looked like something reptilian, scaly surfaces the same color as mercury. They were thin, no heavier than a stack of thermal blankets, with hoods at the top and small terminals on the left arms.
Valeri and Bern quickly became half-naked, their sweating frames glistening from the tube’s lighting. Quickly, they pulled the silver skins over their coveralls and began doing up all the clasps, sealing the suits around themselves and firing up the cells that powered them.
Durand tossed a suit aside for himself before handing one over to Chayond, who hesitated. His head was swimming from all the heat, the run had left him drained and full of endorphins. Still, he was aware enough to feel damn apprehensive. Accepting the suit seemed like a terrible step, one from which there was no turning back.
Durand noticed his hesitation. “Hey, you good?” he asked. Chayond glanced quickly in Valeri direction. She looked up from her suit to shoot him a look of disapproval and he quickly averted his eyes.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he replied, taking the suit in hand and unzipping his coveralls. Somehow, one look from Vslero was enough to silence any doubts, or enough to scare him into compliance.
A moment later, all four members of the team were suited up in their new vestments. Everything from their necks down was now covered in specialized material. Valeri pulled the last piece into place, pulling the hood up and covering her hair.
“Remember,” she admonished. “Make sure your sticks are charged just right. Too much, and his implants might rupture. that’s the last thing we want.”
All heads nodded again. Chayond interpreted the mention of the sticks as an order to distribute them. Reaching down into the bag, he began pulling them out, one by one. Four slender truncheons, a small console on one side, contained a power indicator, an electrical port, and a few controls. He handed the first to Valeri, passed out the second and third, kept the fourth for himself.
Each team member inspected the sticks to ensure that they were set at exactly the right power level before sliding them neatly into the waistband of their outfits. Each stick connected with the suit’s internal power supply.
“Alright, let’s power them up,” ordered Valeri. “Let’s see if these things were worth the price.”
“Doubt that,” Bern said sarcastically. “ they still better work.”
As one, Bern, Durand and Chayond pulled the hoods up over their heads and engaged the suit’s power supply. Three low-frequency squeals sounded out in the tube, and where three men with silver skins stood, suddenly there were just three faces. The rest of their heads, like their bodies, were now cloaked in advanced stealth fields.
Valeri smiled. “Not bad.” She pulled her mask into place over her mouth and eyes and put her finger to the terminal on her arm. It took less than a second before she completely disappeared from view.
“How do I look?” she asked, her voice filtered and modulated by the mask.
“Like nothing at all,” replied Durand.
“Good.” She suddenly reappeared, removing the mask and hood. “Then be ready. If the target escapes, we may not get another chance. So make this one count.”
Author Guest Post
Hello all! Let me start by introducing myself. I am Matt Williams, an author who has had the honor of being featured in a blog tour hosted by R&R Book Tours. As you might have noticed, my first book, The Cronian Incident (part I of the Formist Series), is on tour here right now.
But what I wanted to share was how my experience as a science writer for the publication Universe Today helped me to realize my dream of becoming a hard science fiction writer.
By definition, hard sci-fi refers to stories where scientific accuracy is emphasized. This essentially means that the technology in the story must conform to established science and/or what is believed to be possible in the future.
When I set out to write The Cronian Incident back in 2015, I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, both in terms of technology and setting. Many of the ideas I came up with, and much of the material I drew from, were inspired by my work at Universe Today. Since I joined the team in 2010 and became a regular member in 2014, I’ve had the chance to write about space-related news, as well as exciting research and scientific breakthroughs.
MESSENGER image of Mercury from its third flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
From the beginning, I felt that what I was writing about was inspiring me in my other major pursuit, which was to become a sci-fi author (something I had been pursuing for years). In fact, it was an article that I had just finished writing for our Guide to Space (The Planet Mercury) that inspired the entire series. After writing it, I began talking to a friend about how humans could make a go of life on Mercury, provided they had the right technology and followed proper precautions.
Basically, I said, Mercury is very metal-rich and close to the Sun, which would make it an abundant source of minerals and energy for our future selves. The only problem is that miners would have to remain on the dark side of the planet to avoid being incinerated. But since Mercury has a spin-orbit resonance of 3:2 – where it completes three rotations on its axis for every two orbits around the Sun – a single solar day works out to about 176 Earth days.
That means that as long as they stayed well-ahead of the terminator (the line between the day-side and the night-side) miners would have lots of time to pull ore out of Mercury without being cooked in their space suits! Meanwhile, I argued, permanent bases could be built in Mercury’s cratered polar regions, which are permanently shaded and have abundant supplies of water ice in them.
View of Mercury’s north pole. based on MESSENGER probe data, showing polar deposits of water ice. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory.
Inside some of the larger craters – such as Prokofiev, Kandinsky, Tolkien and Trggvadottir – bases could be built where miners would stay between work shifts. Water and building materials could be harvested in-situ, and solar arrays placed around the edges of the craters could gather all the electricity they needed. With the right technology, some of this could even be beamed off-planet to Venus, Earth and Mars.
My friend then indicated that it would be very hard to get people to want to live and work on Mercury, to which I suggested that perhaps only convict laborers would ever be sent there. That set off the light in my head, and before long, a much larger idea began to take shape. I didn’t just want to talk about Mercury and miners, but how we might go about colonizing the Moon, Mars, Venus, and beyond.
I also wanted to do a story that explored the reasons for why humanity became a multi-planetary species. This is an increasingly relevant issue, thanks in no small part to many high-profile individuals who want to see a permanent human presence established on the Moon and/or Mars in this century. These include Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Zubrin, James Lovelock, and the late and great Stephen Hawking.
Artist’s concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson
Here too, I have had the privilege of reporting on what these plans are and how they have taken shape over the past years. I’ve also learned a great deal about the history of proposals to colonize the Moon, Mars, and other bodies in the Solar System. While various works of fiction helped me learn how authors have addressed these proposals in the past (such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, et al.) there was also the theoretical work of scientists like Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, Freeman Dyson, Geoffrey A. Landis and others to draw upon.
Looking at this from a contemporary angle, I went with the idea that the main drivers behind off-world settlement will be Climate Change and the accelerating pace of change brought about by the Technological Singularity (both of which are expected to culminate around the middle of this century). I also wanted to explore the long-term idea of terraforming, which was inspired by the Complete Guide to Terraforming series I was writing at the time.
This is where the hard part of hard science fiction came into play. In writing about colonies on Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (the Jovians and Cronians), I did my best to describe the settings based on what is actually known about these bodies. As for how people would live on them, that too needed to be dictated by what we know about their environments and surface conditions.
Artist’s impression of SpaceX’s proposed Mars Base Alpha. Credit: SpaceX
It was a fortunate coincidence that my day job happens to include writing about these very things. That way, when it came time to describe what it was like walking around on the surface of Mercury or Titan, or describing how Martian settlers lived on the planet over time, I had something solid to draw upon.
In short, The Cronian Incident and the Formist Series owes its existence to my job as a science writer. It also owes its existence to Castrum Press, who published the series, beginning with the first book n the summer of 2017. The sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, was published a few months later. The third and final installment, titled The Frost Line Fracture, was rel
So far, the reviews for the first two books have been quite encouraging. Of The Cronian Incident, Professor Abraham Loeb himself – the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science and the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University – said that it was “An exciting science fiction adventure into the technological future. An exhilarating read for scientists and fiction lovers alike.”
Artist’s impression of a possible lunar base. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings
Various reviewers who posted on Amazon have also had encouraging things to say:
“This was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in some time. Its universe is vast in scope, its plot full of intrigue, its characters delightfully well rounded with just the right mix of flaws and strengths.”
“This story was a good read that sucked me in and kept me wondering. I particularly enjoyed the world building aspects, and the overarching storyline which is clearly going to continue in the next book.”
“I really like how the action is taking place on various planets/moons of the solar system, and am eagerly waiting for further installments of the story.”
“Mr. Williams delivers an exciting tale in this story. It was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.”
“The Cronian Incident (The Formist Series) (Volume 1) by Matthew Williams is a slow-paced, contemplative science fiction story that fans of The Expanse will really enjoy.”
The sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, has also been well-recieved:
“I don’t think I’ve been so involved in a science fiction series since I read the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. I snapped up a copy of The Jovian Manifesto as soon as possible, having immensely enjoyed The Cronian Incident when it first came out.”
“It’s much faster paced than its predecessor and features some pretty awesome action scenes interspersed into a story involving a conspiracy and a plot to counter the conspiracy. There were also some great twists along the way, which I won’t give away here, and I really enjoyed the characters, who were diverse and well-developed.”
“Excellent and fascinating story. For those of us readers who have joined the Interplanetary Accord, the second book in The Formist Series doesn’t disappoint! More action, more planets and moons, all interspersed with a valid political story — one that makes you think.”The Cronian Incident by Matt Williams. Credit: Castrum Press
“Lots of action, character development, plot twists… I also really love the whole premise of the book(s), colonization of our solar system. Realistic science fiction rather than fairly tail stories based on unrealistic advances in technology that would make Albert Einstein do multiple palm to foreheads.”
Prof. Abraham Loeb chimed in on this installment as well, saying:
“Exciting plot with a good foundation in science. This is not surprising given the author’s expertise as an excellent science writer for Universe Today. Inspiring ending. Highly recommended!”
So far, the settings have included a penal colony on Mercury, the floating cities of Venus, domed cities on Mars, an Earth and Martian space elevator, an O’Neill cylinder in space, circular enclosures on Callisto, honeycombed settlements on Ganymede, settlements within the ice of Europa, spartan domes on Titan, and the rotating interior of a large asteroid.
Beyond that, I also want to get into writing about interstellar travel, since that will give me a chance to explore the concepts and ideas we covered in our article, “How Long Would it Take to Get to the Nearest Star?” And, if all goes well, I would like to write about the greatest science fiction draw of all. You know what I’m talking about – Aliens! No spoilers, but that story arc could involve an idea introduced to me by Professor Abraham Loeb himself – hypervelocity stars that can carry their planets along for the ride!
But that’s all stuff for another day and another discussion. In the meantime, I hope people here will check out this series and enjoy what I wrote. If not, well that’s fine too. In addition to keeping up with the latest in space exploration and scientific research, honest feedback is the only way I will continue to grow as a writer.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s Matthew Williams was born in to science fiction. He enjoyed many of the infamous SF franchises of the time and read many of sci-fi’s most influential works. As an adult, Matt marvelled at those SF novels which stood the test of time, while making valuable observations of the human condition, and he decided to create his own novels.
As a professional writer for Universe Today, Matt is well-versed in many nerdy topics ranging from: spaceflight to terraforming, Earth sciences to physics, and the future of human space exploration. He has interviewed many of today’s top scientific minds and NASA personnel, and been a featured speaker at astronomy societies. His articles have appeared in such publications as Business Insider, Science Alert, Phys.org, HeroX, Pionic, Gizmodo, Futurism and IO9.
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