My Favorite Bit: Kimberly Unger Talks About NUCLEATION

My Favorite Bit

Kimberly Unger is joining us today to talk about her novel, Nucleation. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this riveting debut science-fiction technothriller, a top-notch VR pilot encounters a disaster during the highest profile space-faring project of her career. Now she must unearth a critical truth: was her discovery due to a betrayal, a business rival, or a threat to humanity itself?

We are live, we are live, we are live. . .

Helen Vectorvich just botched first contact. And she did it in both virtual reality and outer space.

Only the most elite Far Reaches deep-space pilots get to run waldos: robots controlled from thousands of lightyears away via neural integration and quantum entanglement. Helen and her navigator were heading the construction of a wormhole gate that would connect Earth to the stars . . . until a routine system check turned deadly.

As nasty rumors swarm around her, and overeager junior pilots jockey to take her place, Helen makes a startling discovery: microscopic alien life is devouring their corporate equipment. Is the Scale just mindless, extra-terrestrial bacteria? Or is it working—and killing—with a purpose?

While Helen struggles to get back into the pilot’s chair, and to communicate with the Scale, someone—or something—is trying to sabotage the Far Reaches project once and for all. They’ll have to get through Helen first.

What’s Kimberly’s favorite bit?


Hey folks!  Thank you for taking the time to read a little about my favorite bit. 

My favorite bit of Nucleation is front and center from the very first page, in fact it’s the bit that got me to write the entire rest of everything.

Nucleation is a story about a top-tier pilot who operates robots (waldos) by remote from a billion miles away via a quantum communication link. When the story opens Helen Vectorovich is at the top of her game. She and her partner Ted have been awarded the very first, very public shift on a multi year mission that will open up a whole new set of resources for the Earth colonies. It’s a big deal, a big honor and they… are… rocking it.

Now, there are a couple of ways things can go wrong.  You’ve seen this kind of thing happen before, either to yourself or on a fail video shared on social media.  A quick BANG and it’s all over, like clicking “reply all” on an angry email. 

Or things go wrong as a cascade failure. Like, when you fumble an open jar of pickles, which gets pickle juice on the floor, which attracts the dog, who charges in so you step aside and slip on the juice, which causes you to bang your elbow on the counter, which then causes you to drop the jar which explodes when it hits the floor and showers the room with tiny pickles and broken glass and terrifies the dog, who now bolts and slams into your legs so you end up on the floor with a bruised butt and an aching elbow, covered in glass and pickles and your dog now hates jars of all kinds forever and your spouse looks around the doorframe and says, “are we out of pickles again?”

My favorite bit of Nucleation is a little like that.

It only takes one “impossible” thing to turn a high-value mission into a catastrophe.  There is nothing in Helen’s bag of operational tricks, there was no piece of software Ted could have run.  That mission was going to wind up a disaster from the moment they connected to the waldo. After the smoke cleared, the only thing Helen could affect was what happened next.

And this is where Helen’s story gets interesting for me. It would have been simpler to write a comeback story.  To have Helen get back on her horse and find a new partner and prove (for the umpteenth time) that she really is world-class at what she does. Helen finds a new top of her game, she crushes her rivals and gets back out there and whoo-ha maybe even finds love along the way. 

But I’m not a fan of the same straight line trod again and again, and neither, as it turns out, is Helen. Instead of focusing her efforts on getting back to the top, she instead focuses her efforts on solving the mystery behind her catastrophe.  She discovers, as she digs in, that she has a support system of friends in place beyond what the company regulations require. There’s a casual presumption of her competency and she reaches further and steps up to bigger responsibilities because they have absolute confidence that it’s within her scope.  Helen is able to find a new “top of her game” and it’s one that may fit her talents even better than where she stood previously. She’s not finding this through romance, through discovering her passion for cooking or any of the other more traditional female alternatives. Helen is a working professional, she drives her joy from being good at her job and her happiness is ultimately best served by finding new ways to stretch that.

So that disastrous cascade at the start is my favorite bit not just because I love writing fast-paced disasters-on-main, but it’s the moment just before Helen’s real potential gets a chance to kick in.

Thanks for taking the time to get all the way down here to the links!


Nucleation Universal Book Link

Tachyon Publications




Kimberly created her first videogame back when the 80-column card was the hot new thing. This turned a literary love of science fiction into a full blown obsession with the intersection of technology and humanity.

Today she has a day-job in VR, lectures on the intersection of art and code for UCSC’s master’s degree program and writes science fiction about how all these app-driven superpowers are going to change the human race

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