Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Blog Tour and Giveaway: Gates of Mars (The Halo Trilogy #1) by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

The Halo Trilogy #1

Genres: Science Fiction / Detective (hard-boiled) 
Publisher:  Pumpjack Press on Facebook
Date of Publication: June 16, 2020
Number of Pages: 336

Scroll down for the giveaway!

The year is 2187. Crucial Larsen, a veteran of the brutal Consolidation Wars, is working as a labor cop on Earth. The planet is a toxic dump and billions of people are miserable, but so what? It’s none of his business. He’s finally living a good life, or good enough. But then Essential, his beloved kid sister, disappears on Mars. When Halo—the all-powerful artificial-intelligence overseeing Earth and Mars on behalf of the ruling Five Families—can’t (or won’t) locate his sister, Crucial races up-universe to find her. 

In the Choke, the frigid, airless expanse outside the luxury domes, Crucial uncovers a deadly secret from Essential’s past that threatens to shatter his apathetic existence … and both planets. Blending science fiction with the classic, hard-boiled detective story, Gates of Mars is a page-turning, futuristic thrill-ride featuring a gritty, irreverent anti-hero, Crucial Larsen. The first book of the Halo Trilogy, Gates of Mars is the eighth novel by award-winning authors, Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall.
By Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

(To read chapter one, please visit Texas Booklover's blog.)
Fifteen nights ago

I like to sleep in the desert at night, without clothes.

The sight of the stars overhead, the sand under me still warm from the sun, the gentle breeze, the red rock cliffs lit by moonlight, the faint howl of distant wolves.

Wolves have been extinct for at least a century. And half the planet is an actual desert now—dusty shadows of dried up oceans and wastelands of plastic.

I’m pretty sure there weren’t wolves in the desert, but I’m using a shitty, lo-jack plug-in that was sold to me as what a 20th century desert might look like at night. The creators may have sacrificed accuracy to keep the cost down. It’s slowly punching up my debt, but it beats waking up to the dingy mushroom walls of my squat.

An incoming ving interrupts my red-rock desert dreaming. It’s a high-end reality feed, with audio. It better be important because I already paid for the desert plug-in.


“Essential Larsen.”

It is someone important. “Receive. Neck up only.”

The desert falls away from my ceiling and walls into pixelated dust. A new column of data nudges into my scroll, flickers and arranges itself into Essential. She’s full-framed and surrounded by grass and trees. I push the other feeds off to the side, even though it’ll cost me to keep the ads sidelined. But she’s worth it.

“Are you naked?” she asks. “You only headframe when you’re naked. You know I hate it when you ving naked.”

“Cut me a break. It’s early here on Earth.”

Essential won the Mars lottery. A few times every year, the Five Families hold a drawing to recruit new people from Earth to fill service jobs on Mars. They don’t really need them, the Earthers, I mean. Halo and the robots and the computers can mostly do it all, and they already have an army of permanent-resident employees. But I guess they like the variety of new faces. Or maybe they feel guilty for what they left behind on Earth.

Nah, that’s not it.

Whatever the reason, the lottery gives hope to the hopeless that there’s a chance they’ll get called up to Mars and have their debt cut in half.

Essential tried to get me to come with her on the companion ticket, but I want no part of their little pity zoo. Plus, I can’t stand space travel.

She’s been gone more than a month. I miss her.

“You’d like it up here,” Essential says. “They have animals. Real, wild animals.”

“So what? We have wild animals here on Earth.”

“Rats and raccoons and pigeons and coyotes don’t count,” she says. “It’s incredible. The stuff Mom used to tell us about. Bears. Wolves. And giraffes. Have you ever seen a giraffe? They are crazy looking. Strange and beautiful.”

“They’re cloned knockoffs. Not the real thing.”

“The real thing is long gone and not coming back. And even if it’s one step, or several, removed from bio-reality, it’s better than that fake wolf in the desert plug-in you’re addicted to.” She pulls up a bunch of grass and puts it to her nose. “This is real grass, and it smells good. Like, I don’t know, fresh and hopeful.”

She is standing in a terrascaped park in one of the domes on Mars. I saw a park like this once during an avatainment special about early efforts to create an atmosphere on Mars. They haven’t figured it out yet, so there are domes instead. For now, at least.

“I saw Melinda,” Essential says. “She looks great. She said to tell you hello.”

“Mel did not say that,” I say. “Mars has already turned you into a liar.”

Essential laughs. “You’re right about Mel, but she didn’t say you should drop dead either. I think she misses you.”

“Pretty sure she doesn’t miss me.”

I wave the homecube over. It’s an old square on its last roller and twice the size of the sleek new models. I should upgrade, but I’m too cheap. My debt is almost below neutral, and I’d rather spend my credits on mirror-gin and desert sleeping.

I select breakfast-three from the menu of options displayed in my scroll.

The cube rumbles and shakes and prints a rice bagelette, lightly toasted, with greencream spread and strips of smoked sheetmeat. It extends the food out on a degradable tray that immediately goes wobbly because the cut-rate material is never quite strong enough to hold the load. I grab it before my bagelette hits the floor. The cube rumbles back to the wall dock to recharge the food coil. And to subtract credits from my account and tell Halo everything about this latest interaction.

“Well, she should miss you,” Essential says. “And you should be here with me. It’s … interesting. I could use my big brother.”

“Don’t get yourself caught up in trouble,” I say, taking a bite. “Serve out your lottery contract and come home. It’s just debt relief.”

It might be the connection, but it looks like a shadow of worry clouds across her face, and that expression jolts a memory from our childhood.

When we were kids, we had it better than many. Not much, but a little. Essential used to save part of her meals and then slip out at night to share with a beetler. We had pretty good security in the building so she coded a program that fuzzed her location so Mom wouldn’t find out. It was good code, but not good enough. The cops came and it took a month to work out from under that flag. Mom wasn’t angry, I think she was even proud, but she could never say that out loud.

Just now, Essential’s face looked the same as when the cops showed up at the door to talk to Mom more than thirty years ago. It’s funny how that turned out, our responses to that interaction. She became even more rebellious; I became a cop.

Better to be on the right side of the badge, the side people are forced to respect—that was my thinking.

“I don’t think I’m coming back to Earth,” she says.

“Not coming back? Why? Did someone from the Five Families take a shine to you?”

Another ving comes in, this one from work. Tagged high priority, giving me seconds to break the ving with Essential before it overrides.

“I have to go. Priority ving coming in. I want to talk more about this, and soon. Until then, promise me you’ll be good. Okay?”

She smiles but doesn’t answer. Dammit, she’s already up to something.

The priority ving bumps the scroll, pushing off Essential.


“Captain Calvin.”

“Headframe and receive.”

“Crucial, are you nude? Humans are so puzzling. Get your uniform on and get down to the station fast. This is serious.”
"An indelible introduction to an interplanetary saga and its sublime characters." —Kirkus Reviews

"The authors' imaginations again run wild, this time a science fiction/detective series looking at what our lives may hold in the not too distant future if everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And they've done it with their trademark undercurrent of humor that lifts an otherwise dreary future into something resembling—do I dare say?—hope. Their best work to date. And the giraffes? You'll have to read Gates of Mars to find out. I'm already wishing they could write faster." —Renee Struthers, East Oregonian newspaper

"With twists and turns true to some of the best noir detective pieces—but with an other-world setting and futuristic society—along with psychological insights and connections, Gates of Mars is a riveting, unexpected story, filled with intrigue and change. Sci-fi and detective story readers alike with find Gates of Mars one of a kind, worthy of avid pursuit." —Midwest Book Review

Clark and Kathleen wrote their first book together in 1999 as a test for marriage. They passed.

Gates of Mars is their eighth co-authored book.

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