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Mark Holm Memorial Library in Marron Hall on Sunday, Feb. 4.

Local authors went interstellar in 2023

2023 was a big year for bookworms everywhere. This year concluded strongly with a plethora of bestsellers worldwide, and with some true gems from local New Mexican authors.

Sci-fi lovers were indulged with new unique titles from local authors Sarena Ulibarri and Ness Brown who crafted stories about the extraterrestrial and other space oddities. Both have had success in publication and have plans to expand their authorship in the future, they said.

Ulibarri, a University of New Mexico alumna, has been publishing since 2012 and released two books in 2023. She published her novel “Steel Tree” in December – a sci-fi retelling of the Nutcracker.

She was inspired to take this classical ballet’s story into a new direction thanks to her experience seeing different variations of the performance over the course of several years, Ulibarri said.

“It took me a couple years to get it written and come up with the context that makes the science-fiction setting make sense … To transfer (The Nutcracker) to the far future with robots and aliens. I had a lot of fun writing it,” Ulibarri said.

In 2024, Ulibarri said she has a few stories being slated and going on submission.

Brown is an astrophysicist-in-training and released their novel “The Scourge Between the Stars” last April; Brown said they have received a warm welcome to the publishing world.

Their studies about the universe and the unknown have allowed them to exercise their muscle of curiosity and creativity, brown said, which they feel is respected in their writing. Their background in the science of space allows them to bring expertise to the sci-fi genre, Brown said.

Their novel follows Jacklyn Albright – acting captain of starship “Calypso” – and her crew as they travel back to Earth after a failed mission. Through the threats of interstellar space travel, the crew comes to realize that they may have brought back something extraterrestrial with them on-board.

“Before I entered grad school, I was a lecturer for six years and I taught a course called ‘Life in the Universe,’ which is all about astrobiology and the search for life in space. Some of the ideas that are present in ‘The Scourge Between the Stars’ come directly from my course material and from conversations I had with my students,” Brown said.

Brown has several projects in flux and hopes to announce their project involving fungal horror in 2024. “I think the next project will (include) zombie fungus … I hope people are interested in seeing a ‘Last of Us’ sort of scenario (in) a different world,” Brown said.

Brown said they are excited to see authors from marginalized backgrounds in the publishing space.

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“Something near and dear to me in publishing is making sure we elevate stories that haven’t been heard before or typically don’t get attention. I think it makes storytelling more robust and it’s better for the health and success of storytelling in the future,” Brown said.

With local authors' new plans on the horizon and recent releases on the shelves, 2023 was a great way to conclude and begin a new year of storytelling. With so many prominent novels set for release, the future in the publishing world is full of promise, diversity and memorable reads to put on your TBR list.

Kelsa Mendoza is the copy editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter at @kelsar4in.

Kelsa Mendoza

 Kelsa Mendoza is the copy editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached atcopychief@dailylobo.comor on Twitter at @kelsar4in.

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