Photo taken +-32,000 metres above sea level.

This is ZERO-G – the second book in the explosive Outer Earth Trilogy. Here are 5 things you need to know. 

1. It’s a direct sequel to TRACER

ZERO-G picks up six months after Riley’s adventures in TRACER. The events of that book were cataclysmic, and the impacts are still being across Outer Earth. Riley has done her best to move on, accepting an invitation to become a member of the stompers, the station’s law enforcement team – along with Carver and Kev, her two remaining friends from the Devil Dancers tracer crew. She’s moved in with her partner Prakesh, who is now in charge of the cavernous Air Lab. She’s doing everything she can to lead a normal life, but there’s a man on the station with a vendetta, a man who isn’t going to let her forget what happened…

2. It explores parts of the station we didn’t get to see the first time

When I finished writing TRACER, I knew I wasn’t done with Outer Earth. There were part of the station that I hadn’t even begun to explore, like the mining facilities and the stomper headquarters. I also wanted to delve deep into the hidden parts of the station, the places where bad vibes leak from the walls, where the lights flicker and that shadow at the end of the passage might be coming towards you. There’s always been an element of horror in this story, and it was something I wanted to bring out a little bit more with this book.

3. It’s got a new villain

Oren Darnell is dead, crushed by a door leading to the station’s fusion core. But Outer Earth is still home to some very nasty people. In ZERO-G, you get to meet one of them: Morgan Knox. He’s a disgraced surgeon who lives on the fringes of society, masquerading as a homeless exile while he gathers what he needs. Knox has a vendetta against Riley Hale, based on a dangerous obsession with Amira Al-Hassan – Riley’s traitorous crew chief, who she had to kill in self-defence. It’s been growing inside him like a tumour for six months, and he finally has everything he needs to carry it out.

And then there’s Janice Okwembu. Outer Earth’s former council leader is in prison, locked away, pending trial for what she did in TRACER. But she is far from out of the game…

4. It explores one of the scariest things that can happen in space

There are a couple of things that NASA and the crew of the International Space Station really don’t want to happen. One of them is fire, which can be murder in the cramped confines of an orbital module. In TRACER, there was plenty of fire, but in ZERO-G, there’s something even worse: disease. Specifically, a lethal virus called Resin. It attacks the lungs and the nasal mucosa, causing its victims to spray tendrils of black mucus, choking them to death in a matter of hours. It comes out of nowhere, blazing across Outer Earth, turning part of the station into no-go areas. If Riley is going to survive, she’s going to have to move faster than she ever has before.

5. It’s getting killer reviews

Seriously.

“As before, Boffard’s story moves lightning fast…the action is tense and brisk, a fine beach read for thriller fans.” – Publishers Weekly

“Taught and tough, with nerve-shredding tension and jaw-rattling pace” – Weekend Sport

“Boffard pulls out all the tricks of the thriller handbook, and stuffs Zero-G with as much heart-stopping action as possible, all written with a graceful pace that never lets up, but also never loses focus or hook…Zero-G is just about everything sci-fi Hollywood blockbusters wish they could be, but ultimately fail to be, making Zero-G as vital as it is entertaining.” – Starburst Magazine

What are you waiting for? Go pick it up!

(Amazon / B&N / Indigo Chapters)

The totally insane, completely true story of how we did a book reading in the stratosphere

THE GOPRO’S DISPLAY SAYS: CAM ERROR 130-0135.

 

It’s blinking at us, and we don’t know what it means. Well, we know what it might mean. It might mean that our entire mission has failed. Possibly disastrously.

My editor, my wife and I are standing in a freezing, muddy field somewhere in rural Gloucestershire. We’ve been up since 3am, and the last we saw of this camera, it was flying very fast into the sky, housed in a polystyrene payload box hanging from weather balloon. There was a copy of my book along with it, taped in view of the camera, but that’s gone. Vanished. We don’t know where, and we’re not even sure the camera will be able to tell us.

We have spent a very long time and a good deal of money to get that camera to the edge of the atmosphere, 32,000 metres up, to a place where the temperature is -55 celcius and the air pressure would boil the blood in your veins, and right now, we don’t know if we’ve succeeded or not.

Nothing for it. We’re just going to have to pull the SD card out of the camera, and have a look. We trudge back to the road, ten minutes away across boggy ground, our breath condensing in the freezing air. We cut the box open on the hood of the car, and extract the card. Then we wipe as much mud as we can from our shoes, and climb inside the vehicle. I brought my laptop along, and we slide the SD card in. As I open the relevant folder, all I can think of is: CAM ERROR 130-0135.

 

Let me backtrack.

 

I write science fiction. My first book, TRACER, came out in 2015. It was a crazy, high octane, insane action thriller set on a space station, and I was lucky enough to find a publisher (Orbit Books) and an editor (Anna Jackson) who were 100% behind it; so much so that they signed me on to write the sequels.

Usually, book promotion follows a fairly well-worn pattern. You do signings, post somewhat inane interviews on assorted blogs, visit bookstores, do giveaways, and generally try to let the world know that you have a book out and that it’s awesome. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But while on a promo trip for TRACER, I casually mentioned to Orbit’s PR, Gemma Conley-Smith, that I had an idea for the next book that was a little different

I’ve always been obsessed with space. And since I’m not smart enough to be an astronaut and don’t have enough money to buy a space tourism ticket just yet (I am a sci-fi writer, after all), one of the things I’ve always wanted to do was put something into space. Crude rocketry, high-altitude balloons, sneaking a dildo onto the space shuttle… whatever it took. What if, I explained to Gemma, we could send a copy of my second book into space? What if we could strap it to a balloon, with a camera, and get documentary proof that something I wrote had been out of our atmosphere? I knew it was possible. I’d seen it done. So why, I reasoned, couldn’t we do it with a book?

Considering that one of her authors had just pitched something completely and totally ridiculous, Gemma acted with remarkable restraint. She promised to think about the idea, and get back to me.

I have to admit, I never thought they’d go for it. Not in a million years. But over the next few months, it became apparent that the idea was starting to circulate within the Orbit team. Anna Jackson told me that they were knocking it around, trying to decide if it was worthwhile. One of the things she said was that just sending a book into space wasn’t good enough. Could we, for example, do an audio recording of me reading the first chapter or two of the new book, and have that play out as the balloon reached its maximum altitude?

 

Yes. Yes we could.

 

In early December, Anna finally gave me the go-ahead. They would bankroll the operation, leaving me to order the equipment and sort the logistics. We were going to do this. I was – finally – getting in on the space race. I will admit, when the confirmation e-mail came through from Anna, there may have been dancing. There may also have been ululating (look it up).

However, all these emotions were swiftly knocked aside by sheer terror. Because now I had to mastermind a space launch. An expensive, complex space launch in which a million things could go wrong, and leave my publisher holding a very expensive bag.

Still, I had time. We were aiming to launch in early January, shortly after I touched down in the UK to do promotional stuff for the book in question, ZERO-G (an equally awesome, equally high octane thriller which is available now, by the way). So I had a month and a bit. Sure, some of that month was Christmas and New Years, and sure, I actually had paying work to do, but I figured I could do it.

 

Here’s how you put something into space.

 

The theory is pretty simple. You attach a small payload to a parachute, and then attach that parachute to a helium-filled balloon. You let go, and watch as it gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Now, the balloon will keep rising no matter what, thanks to the helium, but as it climbs higher the pressure begins to increase, and it starts to grow larger. At some point –preferably somewhere gratifyingly high up – the balloon pops. When that happens, the parachute opens and, all being well, your payload drifts back down to earth.

That’s the theory, anyway. Actually making it happen is…interesting.

 

One

 

You need permission. You can’t just go launching something into the upper atmosphere without telling the authorities about it first; if my book hit a 747, the publicity might take care of itself, but I’d be too busy being in jail to enjoy it. Getting permission in the UK involves selecting a launch site, marking it on ordnance survey map, then sending it in to the Civil Aviation Authority. I’d selected what I thought was a pretty solid site: my uncle’s place in Buckinghamshire. Big field, outside London, friendly people to give us cups of tea. Perfect. I didn’t know then that the launch site would be the source of more sleepless nights than I care to admit, but I’ll get to that later.

 

Two

 

You need kit. By which I mean: helium balloon, parachute and cord, duct tape, polystyrene payload box, filling scales, rubber tubing, groundsheet, latex gloves, satellite tracker, SMS tracker, hot wire cutter, Stanley knife and freezer bags, as well as a camera (which my buddy JP at GoPro helpfully advised on) and battery pack for extra power in freezing conditions. In our case, we also needed a tiny iPod Nano, and a little speaker to play my sweet voice out of. We got most of this paraphernalia through SentIntoSpace.com, who exist specifically to supply stargazing imbeciles like me. Their head man Chris was very helpful, and didn’t laugh once when I told him what we were planning to do.

 

Three

 

You need helium. That was actually relatively straightforward. All I had to do was call up BOC, tell them I wanted helium, tell them what I wanted them helium for, convince them that I wasn’t a terrorist, fill out a ten page application form, pay them a lot of money, and then call again the day before I wanted the actual helium to be delivered. I ended up becoming rather good friends with two Mancunian gentlemen named Shaun and Andy, who became increasingly more bemused the longer they got to know me.

Four

 

You need to plan. Boy oh boy, do you need to plan. If there is one lesson I can take from this entire mission, it’s that you have to know the numbers. You have to have a very firm grasp on everything from how much your payload weighs, to how much helium you need, to how fast (down to two decimal points) your payload is likely to ascend and descend. Fortunately someone, somewhere (I don’t know who, but bless their cotton socks) had actually built prediction software, and put it online. By plugging various numbers into it, including the desired burst altitude and payload weight and ascent and decent rates, you can work out just how far your balloon is going to drift. I do not exaggerate when I say that without this piece of software, our entire mission wouldn’t have happened. It was that essential.

Five

 

You watch the wind. Wind is everything. The balloon is likely to drift, sometimes very far, and that can be a real problem. If we were launching in, say, West Texas, it wouldn’t be, because there’s desert for thousands of miles in every direction. But we weren’t launching in West Texas. We were launching in Great Britain. Which is interesting, because Great Britain is a very tiny island. There was a possibility – a very large possibility – that  our book would simply be blown out to sea. If that happened, it was game over.

And it sucks, because you can’t control the wind. It either works in your favour, or it doesn’t. End of.

Six

 

You become very particular about weight. Do me a favour, and go grab five paperback books. They can be sizeable ones, four hundred pages or so.

Go on. I’ll wait.

Hold them in two hands, stacked on top of each other. That is about as much as the average amateur balloonist can afford to send into space. It’s around 1.5kg, maybe a little less. Into that 1.5kg, we had to pack everything. Every bit of electronic equipment. The polystyrene payload box. The book. The parachute. The cord. Everything. If it was getting lifted by the balloon, it had to fit into that 1.5kg. I had nightmares about launching the thing, and just having the balloon sit there, maybe twenty feet in the air, completely unable to pull our by-now-way-too-heavy payload any further.

The bureaucracy is astonishing.

 

Like every organisation, it takes the Civil Aviation Authority a little bit of time to kick into gear after Christmas. They’re supposed to grant a ballooning licence within twenty-eight days (assuming all is in order, of course). When I phoned them up to ask politely where ours have got to, a stressed-sounding official named David Miller said he’d look into it.

And he did. He was as good as his word, and sent us full clearance the next day. There were a couple of caveats on the clearance. We had to launch between seven and eight in the morning. We had to give seventy-two hours notice of our intention to do so. And we could only launch when the wind was blowing between north-west and south-west.

Oh. Shit.

 

This was England, in January. The wind has never, ever, ever blown in that direction in January. The CAA had imposed this restriction for a very good reason; with our current launch site, wind in any direction other than the ones stated would blow the balloon directly into the flight path of Luton Airport. I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my time, but believe me, nothing made me feel quite as stupid as realising that our proposed launch site was completely inadequate, with less than a week before my book was due to be published. Even if we didn’t have the wind restriction, it was becoming very clear that the winter wind was simply too powerful. All predictions showed our payload ending up somewhere in rural France.

I went into panic mode. I tried to find the most westerly site I could, somewhere within driving distance of London which would see our balloon actually land somewhere in the UK. I settled on a tiny village called Ross-On-Wye, for no other reason than it was a preset in the prediction software and so (I thought) must have seen previous balloon launches. I phoned up Mr Miller, and very nicely asked him if we could change our location.

He said yes. I have never, ever been so excited to receive an official clearance for anything. We could launch, with no wind restrictions, although we’d still need to do it bloody early in the morning.

It looked like this thing was going to happen.

Things were looking up.

 

We planned the launch for Monday, January 18. The predictor showed our balloon landing somewhere in Cambridge, having reached a height of 32,000m. The weather was predicted to be cold and rainy, and we were going to have to somehow get out to Ross-On-Wye for 7am, but we were on track.

Anna, my editor, had patiently dealt with my panicked emails, and had by now taken receipt of an enormous box full of space equipment. I met her for a drink on the Thursday evening, and we had a good laugh about just how low-tech this actually was. I don’t wish to overstate this, but we were sending the book into the stratosphere wrapped in a Sainsbury’s sandwich bag. Yuri Gagarin went into space with more technology than this, but not much.

One of the things Anna mentioned prior to all this was something I completely overlooked. Our plan, remember, was to have a recording of me reading the book play out in the stratosphere. But that high up, the air density is a hundred times less than it is at sea level. There was absolutely no guarantee that the sound would even be able to be heard, let alone captured by the microphone on the GoPro. The problem was, we had absolutely no way of testing this short of finding a vacuum chamber. We talked about it, and decided it was just one of those things were going to have to live with.

The plan was for me to put this box together over the weekend. Then I’d rent a car, and my wife and I would leave London very early on Monday morning. We’d pick up Anna from her parents’ house in Cheltenham, forty minutes or so from Ross-On-Wye, then be at the launch site at half six.

I had everything I needed for the launch, including two massive tanks of helium, delivered by colleagues of Shawn and Andy. On Friday, I was more relaxed than I’d been in months. I felt ready. I had a plan of action, and I was pretty confident I could carry it all out.

 

Then on Friday afternoon, the whole thing nearly fell apart.

 

The problem started when I emailed Andy at BOC to tell him that I’d received the helium, and to thank him for his help. He came back more or less immediately, expressing puzzlement. He’d looked at my order, and although he could see I’d got the helium, I hadn’t ordered a regulator valve.

A whothewhatnow?

It turns out that you can’t just stick a rubber hose into a cylinder of helium and expect the gas to come out in a usable manner. Even if we succeeded in doing that, the resulting force of the compressed gas shooting out would be enough to blow a rather large hole in our balloon. I confirmed this with Chris, from SentIntoSpace. “This component is very important, please don’t open the cylinders without a regulator on!” he wrote. “Although it won’t shoot around like on cartoons it will be very loud and damage any apparatus you have ineffectively coupled.”

By now, it was three o’clock on a sunny Friday afternoon. The local BOC depot closed at five, and it was an hour and a half away, in Morden, a place nobody ever goes to. They did not open at weekends.

 

I have never hustled somewhere so fast.

 

It was slightly unnerving that the entire fate of our mission rested on whether Transport For London was working properly. A single delayed tube, a single passenger incident, and it would all have fallen to pieces. I’d already called the depot, where a cheerful Ukrainian chap named Peter assured me that he had the part and that he would hang around until I got there. I did not want to find out if he would keep his word beyond a reasonable time.

Tube. District line. Wimbledon. Change to the trams. Where the hell is the tram platform? Get on tram. Try not to murder schoolchildren. Get off extremely crowded tram. Run around the area for ten minutes trying to find the secret entrance to the massive BOC depot without getting run over by enormous gas trucks. Fortunately, as you can deduce by the existence of the story, I made it in time. Peter didn’t even charge me for the part. It was a small, vaguely dildo-looking piece of metal, but I held onto it as tightly as I could on the journey home.

Now I had everything I needed.

It was time to put this all together.

 

My wife arrived from Vancouver on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, while she slept off the jetlag, I set to work assembling the kit.

The hot wire cutter was useless, completely unfit for purpose, so I attacked the polystyrene box with a Stanley knife. Before long, the lounge in my parents’ home was a festive mess of tiny white fragments, and the box itself looked like it had been gnawed by a Rottweiler. I’d managed to cut holes approximately the right size. Holding my breath, I inserted the GoPro camera, facing outwards, and used the app to look at what it was seeing.

This happened to be a view of the outside world bordered by an enormous postbox of white foam. Clearly, I was going to have to do a bit more cutting.

Eventually, I got it sorted. The camera fit squarely in the thick wall of the box. Next, I attached the book to the box so it would lie flat, the cover in full view of the GoPro. This took a lot of duct tape, and a metal ruler, and even then I had no idea if it would actually hold when the parachute opened.

All that remained was to tape the parachute cord to the payload, along with a bunch of labels that essentially said “Hello, this box is not dangerous, please don’t call the police and have it blown up.” In our terrorist-obsessed society, this is apparently a real danger that space balloonists face.

 

After about five hours of work, I had the payload.

 

I went and got myself another beer, then put it to one side and rolled out the balloon.

I stood, staring down at it with an expression of mild consternation. It was a balloon, all right. It was exactly like those party balloons you blow into, only much bigger. I’d imagined that it would have some sort of valve system that I might attach the rubber hose to, but apparently what you did was simply stick the tube up the open end. It was the balloon equivalent of sandwich bags: as low-tech as it got.

This worried me. One of the things essential to the launch was putting the right amount of gas in the balloon. You work this out using the digital filling scale, holding one end tight and letting the balloon pull on the other end. This gave you what was known as your free lift, and once it reached a certain point, according to your calculations, you had the right amount of gas. The problem was that there was no way to attach the scales to the balloon itself.

I told myself I’d think about it some more. There had to be away. Probably would come to me just before launch. Sure. That’d be fine. They’d never sell me something if there wasn’t a solution, right?

More beer. A little audio editing, taking the previously recorded clip of me reading from the book, and inserting a period of silence before it so that it would (in theory) start playing from my iPod as the balloon reached its maximum altitude. Whether it would be captured or not would be something we’d only discover on the day itself.

Even more beer. Then food, then an early night. Here we go…

For the first time in history, I was grateful for jet lag.

 

Not mine. My wife’s. To get to Ross-On-Wye from London, we had to leave at half past three in the morning. For me, having been in the UK for a couple of weeks, this was pure torture, but for Nicole, it was half-past seven at night. She was doing the first leg of driving, and was way, way too perky for an hour like this.

I don’t have a lot to report from the drive out of London. We picked up Anna on schedule, and made our way down the road to Ross-On-Wye. By now, it was half past six, still pitch dark, freezing cold, very wet, but (thank heavens) only slightly windy.

We pulled up to the river side, which had a large, flat piece of grass that I’d scouted on Google maps earlier. It was rapidly beginning to dawn on me that this was happening. All the planning, all the stressful moments and sleepless nights, were coming down to this.

None of us wanted to leave the car. It was warm in there. We spent as much time as we could assembling the payload, propping it between the seats so that Nicole could work on it with her tiny hands, precisely positioning the components. But eventually, we decided to make a move. We did, after all, only have an hour window in which to launch this thing, and none of us had any idea how quickly we could fill the balloon.

 

Squelching out onto the grass, we put down our groundsheet, and began.

In the distance, a dog walker eyed us suspiciously. Other than that, there was no one around. We rolled out the balloon, and while I managed the helium, Anna and Nicole kept the balloon steady. Two things quickly became apparent. One, we should never attempted this on a freezing January morning. To fill up the balloon, you have to wear latex gloves, in case a stray fingernail rips a tiny hole. This means that for the duration, your hands are completely numb with cold. Two, even the tiniest breath of wind will send the balloon bobbing around like it’s suddenly come to life. There were several unnerving moments where it looked like it might careen straight into the ground, with who knows what consequences.

But the biggest problem came when we tried to work out how much helium had gone into the balloon. You’d never think it, but a balloon with even a tiny bit of helium in it really wants to fly, and requires a very sturdy anchor to make sure it doesn’t. Measuring its lift, using a luggage scale, with freezing hands, while trying desperately not to hold it done it so as to capture an accurate number, turned some of my hair grey.

We swapped in and out, taking turns to hold the tube in the balloon and handle the helium flow. By the time we were ready to go, we’d used most of the two canisters, and the balloon was a two meter wide beacon in the growing dawn. It was also twenty minutes past eight: way, way outside launch time, but there was absolutely no way in hell we weren’t letting this thing go. Under the massive balloon, already straining the ropes, the payload box looked tiny and fragile. It didn’t look like something ready to go into space. It didn’t look like something you’d even drop from a height of more than about two feet. But we were muddy, soaked to the skin, and more than ready to get this done.

While Nix filmed, Anna and I did a quick piece to camera. Then slowly, ever so slowly, we raised the payload box above our heads, and let go.

The balloon immediately caught a gust of wind, and shot towards the trees across the road. I may have squealed. I may have peed myself just a fraction.

But within seconds, the balloon was clear of the trees, and heading out into open sky. And it was climbing fast. 7m a second doesn’t look like much on paper, but let me tell you, it’s bloody quick in real life. Ever alert for disaster, I kept waiting for a dark shape to fall from the balloon: perhaps the camera, making a desperate bid for freedom. Didn’t happen. In under a minute, the balloon was lost in the clouds.

“Please work!” I shouted after it.

But first, we had to track it.

 

Say what you like about Spot Trace. The satellite tracking service is very expensive, and probably isn’t worth it for 90% of people, but its technology is flawless. Sitting in a cafe in the middle of Ross-On-Wye, having a much-needed cup of coffee, we were able to track the progress of our payload using an app. It was slowly making its way north, a little out of alignment with the projected flight path but still going strong.

I was live-tweeting, doing another piece to camera, outwardly in a good mood. Inside, I was shitting myself. I kept wondering what the little payload was up to. What kind of world was it encountering up there? Were the electronics working as advertised, or had they frozen up? Was the book still intact? Perhaps the payload had simply come loose, and was even now plummeting to earth. There was no way to tell, nothing to show its progress except the tiny little dots on the phone screen.

We piled into the car, and began the chase. Our plan was to drive in an easterly direction (more or less) in the hope that we’d be able to cover most of the distance to Cambridge by the time the balloon touched down.

In reality, we got no more than fifty miles from our launch site before things took a strange turn.

“Woah,” said Anna.

 

“What?” I said from behind the wheel. Anna was in the passenger seat, and Nicole was sleeping in the back, jetlag finally having caught up with her.

“It’s stopped.”

“What you mean, it’s stopped?” That didn’t make any sense. It had been up there for roughly the amount of time we expected it to be, but it should have been a couple hundred miles to the east by now.

Anna angled the phone so I could see. “Look. It’s sending out a stop signal.”

This meant that the satellite tracking had detected that there had been no movement for five minutes. We discussed it, wondering if perhaps we’d encountered a false positive: maybe the balloon was out of the winds, and was simply climbing vertically with no horizontal movement. Eventually, we decided to pull over at a petrol station, and wait until we got another signal. We also had a backup which would confirm, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the payload had landed. This was an SMS tracker, which would only come back with a response if the balloon was below the height range of cellphone towers. If it did, it would mean that the payload was on the ground. Either that, or it had come apart in midair, and the tracker had gone off on its own mission. Once again: we had absolutely no way of knowing.

But ten minutes after we pulled into the petrol station, we got the GPS signal. The payload had come to a stop about forty miles south of us, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Gloucestershire.

You may not know this, but rural Gloucestershire is beautiful.

 

It’s a world of open fields, ancient stonewalls, and tiny country lanes. We followed the signal, to a spot somewhere between Cheltenham and Chipping Camden, and parked the car on the side of a road bordered by farmers fields. There was no one about. On the face of it, this was an excellent place for our payload to have come down. With so much wide open space, it minimised the chances that it would have been caught in a tree, or landed on someone’s head, or otherwise put itself in a situation where we couldn’t get to it.

We piled out the car, and started looking. Nicole had the sharp idea of putting the coordinates from the satellite tracking app into Google maps, which would lead us right to it as opposed to giving us an approximation. We tramped along the edge of fields, doing our best to stop ourselves walking over any freshly planted crops. Mud crusted our shoes.

We spotted the payload from a good distance away, the bright orange parachute fluttering gently in the breeze. From a distance, we can see that the box was intact, but that was it. We high-fived as we walked up, a great gush of tension shooting out of us (or me, at any rate). This lasted until we got about twenty feet from the box, and saw the black lens of the GoPro camera. The red record light wasn’t on. The book, and the ruler it was attached to, had vanished.

Which just about brings us up to speed.

So we got something.

 

Not just something. We got the motherload.

The first video footage I loaded up began with a clear shot of my book suspended against the curvature of the Earth, with the sun glaring over the horizon and the blackness of space above it. Let me tell you, we went nuts. We just sort of screamed for a full ten seconds, like our team had just scored the game-winning goal.

I have won awards. I have received a positive to the question of whether my wife would marry me. Nothing, but nothing, made me happier than that little video clip. We’d done it.

A further exploration of the footage, however, made the victory a little bit more complicated. At some point in the flight, the tape holding the book to the payload box finally shook loose. With a jaunty jerk, the book flipped itself off into the atmosphere, never to be seen again. This meant that when the audio did start to play (and it came through loud and clear, thank you very much) it did so to an empty space filled with flapping tape. In addition, when the parachute actually did open, the shock shook the ruler loose.

I’m less worried about where the book is, and more worried about where the two-foot piece of metal ended up. I’m still waiting for the bit of local news where the reporter interviews a farmer who has had an unexplained livestock death.

 

We don’t know what caused the camera to fail on the way down.

 

I would have absolutely loved to capture the thump of the landing, but it wasn’t to be. Not that it mattered. The mission was a success. We got almost everything we came for, completed a difficult task which none of us had any experience in carrying out, and done something immensely, amazingly cool.

I’d put something into space. Not just something. A book that I wrote, a hundred thousand odd words that came from my head, suspended on the very edge of the stratosphere. Higher than Mount Everest, higher than a 747 flight path. Higher than most people can even conceive of. And not just that: my voice had played out there, too. How many human voices have been heard at that altitude? It sounds like a stupid question, but think about it. Add up all the astronauts and CapCom communicators and Felix Baumgartner, and it’s probably no more than a couple of hundred. Plus one.

It’s hard not to talk about this without making it sound like I have a Donald Trump-sized ego.  I don’t, I promise. But isn’t that just fucking awesome?

I could never have done it without help. Had Nicole and Anna not been there, it simply wouldn’t have happened. It would be a mistake to think that I was the mission commander here and they would just my support crew. To paraphrase Mad Max: Fury Road production designer Colin Gibson when he won his Oscar, it takes a lot of people to make me look competent, so just imagine how many it takes to pull off a space launch with my name on it – quite literally. This is without talking about the network of people who made this ridiculous caper possible from afar. I don’t wish this to devolve into an actual Oscar acceptance speech, so let me just say that without them, the mission fails.

You can see the footage in full below. Thank you for reading this far, and please, do buy my book. It’s been to space, you know.

ZERO-G – available right now!

 

Amazon UK / Amazon US / Amazon DE / B&N / iBooks / Google Play / Waterstones / Booktopia

 

Riley Hale may be the newest member of Outer Earth’s law enforcement team, but she feels less in control than ever. A twisted doctor bent on revenge is blackmail ing her with a deadly threat. If Riley’s to survive, she must follow his orders, and break a dangerous prisoner out of jail.

But this isn’t just any prisoner – it’s the psychotic former council member who nearly brought the space station to its knees. To save her own skin, Riley must go against all her beliefs, and break every law that she’s just sworn to protect. 

Riley’s mission will get even tougher when all sectors are thrown into lock-down. A lethal virus has begun to spread through Outer Earth, and it seems little can stop it. If Riley doesn’t live long enough to help to find a cure, then the last members of the human race will perish along with her.

Still need to read TRACER? You can pick it up here:

 

Amazon UK / Amazon US / Amazon DE / B&N / iBooks / Google Play / Waterstones / WHSmith / Loot / Exclusives / Booktopia

 

Our planet is in ruins. Three hundred miles above its scarred surface orbits Outer Earth: a space station with a million souls on board. They are all that remain of the human race.

Darnell is the head of the station’s biotech lab. He’s also a man with dark secrets. And he has ambitions for Outer Earth that no one will see coming.

Prakesh is a scientist, and he has no idea what his boss Darnell is capable of. He’ll have to move fast if he doesn’t want to end up dead.

And then there’s Riley. She’s a tracer – a courier. For her, speed is everything. But with her latest cargo, she’s taken on more than she bargained for. 

A chilling conspiracy connects them all. The countdown has begun for Outer Earth – and for mankind.

Crunch - Rob Boffard

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