Friday, 22 December 2017

Next Cover - Mark I

So since my next book has reached the proofreading/critique/editing phase I've started working on the cover, so here is the Mark I. Based on previous experience by the time I reach the Mark XIII I should have something useable!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Reading List

Well with Christmas fast approaching I thought instead of banging on about my writing I'd just share some books/stories that I've found entertaining, including several excellent ones you can read for gratis if you feel like joining

Okay lets start with the series currently known as 'Empire of Man' but I will always think of as 'March To The stars'. This series of books is by David Weber and John Ringo and it may well be the first thing I read by either of them. Back in the days wen Kindle was something you did with firewood I had to visit the Forbidden Planet bookstore in London to get my hands on US imprints that had no UK publishing arm. I must have picked up 'The March Upcountry' on two or three visits and been rather dubious about the cover art. Finally I bit the bullet and bought and I cannot tell you how many times I have re-read that series over the years, it hooked me on David Weber's works in particular and was what really got me into the military sci-fi genre.

A very different group of soldiers are the Time Commandos from Simon Hawke's 'Timewars'. In an era when past wars are being used as a surrogate battlefield by the great powers of the 26th Century a special team is charged with preventing any permanent damage being done to the timestream. As the series goes on they find themselves dealing with terrorists attempting to hold the past to ransom to force the powers to abandon time travel. The big twist in the series, and a large part of why I found it so entertaining, is that a myriad of fictional figures such as Robin Hood, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Three Musketeers are all real in this history and the commandos find themselves embroiled in those characters stories. The series is finally available on Kindle so now is the 'time' to read it.

Jack Campbell's 'Lost Fleet' is a great space opera series, with a firm emphasis on people and tactics rather than super technology. Captain John' Black Jack' Geary went into a escape pod after making sure his crew escaped when their ship was attacked in the opening exchanges of an interstellar war. A friendly fleet finds him but that's where Geary's luck runs out. Not only has it been a hundred years since he went in the pod but the same war is still raging and both sides are on the brink of collapse. If that weren't bad enough Black Jack Geary is a legendary military leader in the folklore of his side in the war and since the fleet that rescued him has been caught in an ambush guess who they expect to rescue them?

Now about those threads over at

'Arose From The Azure Main' is massive series of posts telling the story of the Britain of 1980 being displaced in time back to the year 1980. Politics, pop culture, trains, its all there in fascinatingly well worked out timeline. Might help if you have some familiarity with the major UK political figures of the 1980s, but still excellent if you don't and the creator has turned part of the story into a series of books as well.

'The Fireflies of Port Stanley' is alternate history but it isn't sci-fi. it is nonetheless a cracking story, wherein a bureaucratic error sees a trio of obsolete tanks sent to the Falkland Islands where they are lovingly preserved all the way up to 1982 and the Argentine invasion. It's well written and great illustration of the butterfly effect.

'The Anglo-American Nazi War' is dark to say the least. It's premise is that a Soviet failure at Stalingrad leaves Nazi Germany in control of Europe throughout the 40s and 50s until the war turns apocalyptically 'hot' at the start of the 60s. Bleak and unflinching but also engrossing and well written.

Anyway those are my suggestions for some Christmas or New Year reading, hopefully it was useful and I will be back to pontificating shortly.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Death of all Salesmen

I'm old enough to remember the time before the first VCRs came and just how expensive tapes were when they appeared. Any number of stores popped up renting tapes, many of them (here in the UK at least) small independent. A few years later Blockbuster reached our shores and the independents vanished as the all conquering juggernaut came to utterly dominate the market. Blockbuster seemed to have an unassailable market position, until new technology made it's market disappear. The same fate has befallen all too many other well known brands in recent years, is society fated to go 'shopless' as well as cashless in the future. I discussed how money might work in a futuristic interstellar society, so now I'm going muse on whether the experience of spending that future money is really going to be so utterly different.

So first off lets exclude bars, clubs and restaurants. The need for shard social settings isn't likely to go away unless you rewrite human psychology. Let's focus on retail, the pure exchange of goods and services for money. Services are probably the thing most immune to all pervasive power of online shopping. Even if you imagines some of those services being automated, assuming anyone would want to visit say a robot barber, they are still going to require a bricks and mortar location for their business. One ironic consequence of the advance of digital commerce is that many of those little specialist retailers driven out of business by cavernous superstores and supermarket chains determined to put a store on every corner. The ASDA/Walmart might disappear but the local baker, butcher or tailors shop may re-emerge as viable enterprises. You could imagine a universe where retail is divided up between a few massive corporations and a legion of little family businesses, co-existing in distinct niches. Some future shopping mall may not be dominated by glittering high tech store fronts, but by shops selling bespoke and handcrafted goods.

There are also any number of goods where people want to touch and try them out before they buy them, whether its a dress or a sofa people want to see how they look or feel before they commit to them, people are very tactile when it comes to purchasing, just watch people poking and prodding the fruit in any grocery store for proof. Also how often do people go and look at a product in physical store before they go hunting for the best price online? Imagine the irony if future online retail giants have to create 'showrooms' for their potential customers.

One other dystopian possibility is that a future world might really have all the retail carved up between megacorporations all desperately fighting for market share. Imagine the shopper being offered some form of discount scheme. A 'loyalty card' where the loyalty part is taken very seriously by the store issuing it, a scenario in which the brand you shop with is akin to gang colours or national allegiance.

In the end if you want to send your character down to the shops for a pint of blue milk you're probably on solid ground...

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


In addition to adding an email option to the blog I've also added a short list of links to what I've found to be useful resources as well as links to my book. I thought it might be helpful to explain why I chose them. provides that one thing every writer needs when they are trying to create a workable story, feedback. It's a 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' setup where basically you accumulate credits for critiquing other peoples work and when you have enough credits you can post your on work on their weekly list and get feedback from other writers. You can even put up a chapter or two of a novel and find people willing to critique it and do proofreading. The site has subsections dedicated to different genres and while you will get honest responses the site places an emphasis on civility and providing constructive criticism.

DAZ 3D is a freebie program by a major producer of 3D models and its the software I used to make most of the elements in the 'Secession' cover. Yes a lot of the models do cost money but there's also a whole load of free models out there from multiple sources because the program is largely compatible with the commercial program Poser. If you have the time and the patience you can do some very cool stuff with it and create a cover that reflects what you had in mind even if you can't draw a convincing stick figure.

The International Skeptics Forum, formerly the James Randi Educational Forum, may seem like an odd place to recommend to writers. It's underlying mission is to provide a space to debunk the myriad of conspiracy theories that seem to plague us today, but it also has sections on education, technology, history, politics and a host of other topics. If you want some freewheeling and occasionally not NSFW discussions to stimulate the brain its a great place. is dedicated to the 'what if?' genre of science fiction and fantasy. It covers not only alternate 'real' history, but also alternate ideas based on popular culture, if you ever wondered what if character X chose differently in your favourite book/TV show/movie you'll probably find it there somewhere and if you don't your more than welcome to create your. The sections on pre1900 and post1900 alternate history are a great resource even if your interested in 'straight  history'. There's a lot of very knowledgeable people there and many of the 'what if?' discussions illuminate the why and how of what actually happened and provide a wealth of factual information. There's also some fabulous timelines and stories at the site that make great reading and I'll probably talk about some of my favourites in a future blog.

Monday, 4 December 2017

What now?

So yesterday I published 'Secession' on Amazon and now the obvious question is what do I do now? I've had enough experience of the online world to not expect it to be an overnight success, its going to take time and effort to reach any sort of take off, assuming I'm not just kidding myself about it being anything other people would want to read.

That's certainly a topic I'll come back to, especially if I find anything that really works and is worth sharing. What I'm probably going to be spending most of my time on now is the next book, or books to be honest. I have a Victorian steampunkish novel that I've had someone proofreading and I've deliberately left it to one side before I come back to it and apply their results. One lesson I've learned from Secession is to not get caught up in endless rewrites.

Beyond that I'm 45,000 words into a Secession sequel and about the same number of words into a sequel to the steampunk novel. That's the thing, even when I think 'hey I'll just kick back and watch some TV tonight' I still somehow end up doing some writing. Right now I have a miserable cold and yet here I am typing away to write this blog. At some point writing ceased to be a hobby and became more of a compulsion or an addiction. Still at least its cheaper than alcohol :)

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Its out!

So as you may be able to guess my book is up on Amazon in Kindle format. It has been a very long journey from the original idea to this day and an awful lot of people contributed to getting Secession Campaign and I hope I've remembered to give everyone a nod on the front page. Links to the US and UK Amazon pages are to the left if anyone is interested and you can read the first couple of chapters for free. In addition I thought it would be nice to give a little bit extra to those who've had the iron constitution to keep reading my blog so here's an excerpt from the first combat in the book. Captain Henry Moses is commanding TF106, the Alliance force, and Captain Gina Colbert commands the 'mutineers':

Secession: TF106

Henry considered what the captain of the Vigilant had to say, she had only told him something he had already concluded for himself but he still had one last move to play before he conceded. “As an alternative Captain Colbert you could recognize that the orders issued to you are the ones that are invalid and illegal and stand down. We would then proceed to Ezekiel and seek to persuade the authorities there to also obey Alliance law and carry out the arrest of those individuals accused of sedition and treason. That is the only reasonable option to defuse this crisis.”
Gina choked down the desire to say something like, good one. It wouldn’t fit with the seriousness of the moment, “No, Captain I’m sorry but I and the men and women serving under me have made our choice. We will not let you pass. I would deeply regret having to fire on you and your brave crews but I will do so if you attempt to jump to Ezekiel.”
Henry settled back in his seat. Well that’s that, he was sure everyone from Admiral Suarez upwards would want a piece of him, but it couldn’t be any clearer for the record and the inevitable board of inquiry that Taskforce 106 had been faced with no choice but to withdraw in the face of a superior hostile force. He was about to advise Captain Colbert of his decision, and that its consequences would entirely rest on her and those who had issued her orders, when he suddenly had the decision wrenched from his hands.
It was hard to blame Henry Moses for not noticing that Pale Horse and Bloody Sword had failed to maintain their position behind the screen of warships. His focus and that of every officer in Taskforce 106 was on the threat from the ERG. That the two transports were running parallel with their escorts instead of being tucked safely behind them was a trivial problem, or it was until Pale Horse’s targeting system began to track one of Force Alpha’s fast destroyers.
That triggered a chain of action and reaction that moved too fast for any rational thought to overtake it. The ERG Light Cruiser Crossbow locked on to Pale Horse in near automatic response. Seeing one of the ships they were supposed to protect being locked up Mombasa targeted the Crossbow, the battlecruiser Valiant targeted Mombasa, and at that point somebody, or possibly several somebodies given the conflicting data that was retrieved later, fired.
The shields on the light cruiser Crossbow shimmered and flickered for an instant before snapping back into rock solid stability as it was hit by Mombasa. Even as they were stabilizing Crossbow fired its entire primary armament right into Pale Horse. The transports shields didn’t flicker; they shattered and half the rounds dumped their energy straight into the hull, almost breaking the transport in half, with air, fragments of molten metal and bodies billowing out into the vacuum.
Before Mombasa could launch another broadside Valiant intervened. Mombasa’s shield stopped the incoming rounds in a blaze of luminescence, but it was the last contribution they would make as the generating nodes overloaded and burned out leaving the ship practically naked to the next attack.
After that space was filled with weapons fire and the ships of Taskforce 106 found themselves on the receiving end of practically all of it.
So if that seems like something you would like more of:

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bad Ideas

I’ve drawn plenty of positive inspiration for my writing from books. When I was young just the fact that they ended and left me wanting more was enough to encourage me to scribble away. I’ve even found inspiration in reading the blurb on a dustjacket and imagining the plot it describes, which usually bears no resemblance to what’s inside the covers of course. As I’ve mentioned before the idea for the Pioneer Wars came out of a discussion about an apparent plot hole in someone else’s story idea. There is though a great deal of inspiration to be drawn from books that are poor or just outright awful.
As I said a really good book can be a source of inspiration, but it can just as easily become a seemingly insurmountable challenge, a piece of greatness you can never hope to even get close to matching. A bad book on the other hand encourages you to think 'I know I can do better than that and if they got published..' A bad book however can offer much more than that, after all as a writer you learn by trial and error, so why not seek to speed up your learning by examining the mistakes that others have made? Courtesy of various bad books I've learned that proof reading is not optional, that cool ideas do not equal a plot, that starting a story and hoping an ending pops up is a bad idea and that writing a book because a particular genre is 'hot' right now is seldom going to work well.

So what I'm saying is that as writer if you invested your time and money in a reading a really bad book you can console yourself with the thought that it was an educational experience. :)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


So the game 'Star Wars Battlefront 2' was due for release and video ads showing the protagonist of the single player campaign(i.e. the part with an actual story) were doing the rounds. The character is an imperial soldier and a lot of the comments I saw on YouTube were hoping that she stays with the Empire and doesn't get 'redeemed' and join the Rebellion. I had two thoughts on that. Firstly, yeah the redemption arc is kind of predictable and secondly that those people are probably going to be awfully disappointed.

The problem is that you are usually going to want your leader character to be relatable, someone the reader will like, or would like to be. If you have that character on the side of what are indisputably the bad guys then sooner or later your reader/viewer is going to get frustrated with the situation. The various ways to try and justify the character's actions don't really help. If they are under duress, secretly working against the bad guys or simply oblivious to how evil their side is then they either are actually on the good side already or the writer is just postponing their moment of redemption.

You could of course have a villain who is just unremittingly evil, with no redeeming features, problem is that gets old very quickly. The unrelenting villain can become more of a plot device than a character, only really existing to create a threat to the heroes and/or justify the 'bad' things the heroes have to do. You can tell how hard it is to write a unrelenting villain is the way that writers will eventually start trying to give them some depth and texture. A classic example is the Klingons from Star Trek. Back in the era of the original series they were nothing more than the living personification of the 'Red Menace' a largely one dimensional threat with zero context. Wind forward to the Next Generation era and they've become a warrior race with a sense of honour and a complex cultural background. It's almost inevitable its going to happen with the unrelenting villain, either they cease to be unrelenting or they're given a backstory to explain their behaviour and make them more sympathetic, they just become too one note to hold the interest of the writer, never mind the reader.

The 'redemption' character arc is here to stay, it's too powerful and too appealing to let go of, the best you can hope for is that the writer will be clever enough that you wont see it coming, or inventive enough to keep you hooked with a charming monster of a villain.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Finding the time

It's one of those things that people sometimes say, 'Oh if only I had the time I'd write'. Now leaving aside the implication that somehow time is the only requirement for creating story, characters and dialogue there is the question of how hard is it to find time to write? My own personal experience is that the mechanics of writing has gotten so much easier than it was in the days of pen and paper, or the typewriter. I personally could never get the hang of the latter, especially as I'm the sort of writer who likes to blast out a chunk of text then go back and fix any mistakes or sections that just don't flow. The arrival of the word processor was a god send, although of course at first that meant your were still tied to the desk where said word processor lived.

The advent of the laptop computer may have made it theoretically possible to write anywhere, but in practice I found them clunky and awkward. The only time they were really useful was when you were sat in a hotel room somewhere. the devices that have really freed up writing time for me are the smart phone and the tablet.

With these two devices I can write anywhere whenever I have a free moment and I can make what I write accessible on my computer via cloud storage. It just opens up whole knew opportunities with devices that you really can take wherever you go and are genuinely convenient, so my advice as far as computing goes is have a desktop for home and use a tablet or a decent sized smart phone for everywhere else.

The other thing that's changed is that you used to have to be a little bit anti-social when it comes to writing, you are going to want to spend those spare moment tapping away instead of discussing sports, movies, or what you did last weekend/are going to do this weekend. Again the smartphone and the tablet have come to the rescue here. At lunch time I often walk into the canteen at the office and find a dozen people there. The overwhelming majority of them with headphones on, glued to a screen and watching YouTube, or a video downloaded from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Now it's easy to sit there obliviously typing away, so long as you don't succumb to the blandishments of YouTube yourself.

An added bonus of the inability of people to put down their smartphones is that nobody ever asks what your doing and then follows up with an endless string of questions about what your writing. I find nothing is more likely to kill your enthusiasm for a story than having to repeatedly summarize it for people who have zero interest in your genre of choice and will inevitable utter the words 'Oh if only I had the time...'

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


And yes this one is about cover art, a topic that if you look back at the old blogs has plagued me for as long as I have been working on the 'last' draft of Secession Campaign and here is the final version of the cover:

And if you've checked the name of the file, yes there were indeed versions A through O. Now the question is was it really worth all the effort? I have to say I think it was if only because I can recall a couple of instances where a really bad cover out me off a book. Now lets be clear about what I mean by a bad cover, I mean something that looks like it was thrown together as an afterthought. The two instances I have in mind were the opposite of one another stylistically, one was very simple and one was quite busy in terms of visual elements but both were lacking in any creative effort and like it or not falling down on one part of a creative effort doesn't inspire confidence in the rest.

My cover is a mixture of 3D rendering and postwork in a paint program and given that this book is about space war something like it is almost mandatory in the genre. On the other hand if your book is a Victorian romance then maybe some text and a few 'curlicues' are all you really need so long as its clearly yours, not just some piece of clipart from the internet with some Comic Sans text on it (Comic Sans is just a no, trust me).

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Would you...???

I'm going to start this blog by proposing that you as a writer are faced with one of the three opportunities:

A - A film company is remaking movie X and wants you to write the script

B - A publisher wants you to write a new addition to popular fiction series Y

C - Famous author Z left an uncompleted work and their publisher wants you to finish it.

Each of these offers of course with the requisite promises of fame and fortune, so the question is would you take any of these offers?

So here's my take. As far as A goes the response has to be, 'which movie?' If someone is planning to remake Casablanca or Citizen Kane then it has to be a big fat no. The simple truth is that the best you can hope for with a classic is that the critics and film buffs won't call for your summary execution. On the other hand there are plenty of movies that had the potential for greatness and fell flat, that might be a challenge worth taking.

B is another 'maybe' scenario. There are series that have enough 'white space' in them that a new story could fit in easily, consider James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, new stories have been created around those characters for years and some of them are pretty good. On the other hand there are series with a tight narrative structure where a new story would be downright ridiculous, who in their right mind would take on creating a fourth chapter of 'The Lord of the Rings' for example?

C is by far the easiest to answer, basically no, nyet, non. This option is a poison chalice. The fundamental problem is that whatever you do, however brilliant you plot and dialogue and it is never going to match up with what the fans of the author imagined, you are doomed to disappoint whatever you do.

So would your answers be the same or would you bravely throw yourself into the fray?

Sunday, 29 October 2017

All In The Game

So movies based on video games have not had a shining history, regardless of the quality of the cast, the effects, the cinematography, they all seem to fall down when it comes to story telling. What is the apparently insurmountable problem with writing a good video game movie?

Once upon a time games had zero narrative, no one felt the need to provide a detailed backstory for Pong, or Pacman or Space Invaders. Over time though narrative began to creep in even if it didn’t amount to much more than ‘the princess has been captured jump around all these platforms to save her, which of course brings up one of the earliest, and most infamous, game movies, ‘Super Mario Bros.’ This set a something of a template for future failure decent budget, decent cast (Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper included) and yet rejected by critics and the paying public alike as a disaster.  There are plenty of versions of what went wrong, but it can all be stripped down to a fairly simple issue. The makers of the film had a story in mind, however it had nothing much to do with Mario and Luigi. The film effectively applies a thin veneer of Mario Bros. over a generic story to little or no effect, appealing neither to Mario fans nor the general viewing.

This set something of a pattern for video game movies, a few name checks from the game pasted into a generic movie plot in the hope of a quick pay day before anyone notices how poor the film is. Now to be fair stripped of the gameplay elements the narrative of a game could quite often be comfortably fitted on a post-it note. In recent years though narrative has become a much richer affair in gaming, games like Bioshock, Prey or Red Dead Redemption are to a large extent driven by their story rather than simply treating it as an excuse for the action. This would seem to make things easier when it comes to creating a game movie, but I think it's actually made things worse.

For one thing more complex narratives has gone hand in had with the development of 'open worlds' and multiple ways to play the game. it wasn't uncommon in the past for what looked like open maps to contain 'invisible walls' to make sure the player stuck to where the designers had actually filled in the details and allowed interaction. Now the trend is towards games where you can wander where you like and interact with everything. This goes hand in hand with offering the player multiple options to complete a particular objective, you can kick in the doors and shoot everything that moves or slip in and out without anyone knowing your character was ever there. This makes for entertaining gameplay, but a nightmare for anyone trying to write an essentially linear film script. You may create a good script, but it doesn't necessarily reflect the experience of the majority of players and unless your story can resonate with those completely unfamiliar with the game, well lets say that to date it seems no one has managed that latter achievement.

There may though be a more fundamental problem at work though, when you've lived a character's life vicariously, whether it's Max Caulfield from 'Life is Strange' or John Marston from 'Red Dead Redemption' is there really enough appeal in simply sitting back and watching someone else's take on the same experience to ever make a successful box movie?

Monday, 23 October 2017

Bullet Time

I've done a couple of blogs about some of the social issues in a future universe, but this time I'm turning to the topic of future firearms and why there may never be 'a last bullet'

Whether its called a blaster, a phaser, or just a beam weapon science fiction loves what they like to refer to in modern military parlance as directed energy weapons. Stripped down to its basics a directed energy weapon does away with a projectile in favour of a focused beam of energy, lasers being the best known example. Science fiction stories assume that you can turn something like the HEL MD into a rifle or pistol sized weapon. While we're all familiar with the way all manner of technology has been miniaturized to the point of being handheld, but in doing so the power requirements have been massively reduced. For a DEW this is obviously not a viable option, the power it can deliver to a target is the whole point of the thing. This is going to not only require a battery with quite astonishing storage density, but there is also the issue of converting the charge into the battery into a beam of energy. The laws of physics dictate that is not going to be 100% efficient, there's going to a be certain amount of waste energy, and waste energy usually manifests itself as heat. So now your DEW needs either active cooling, fans or refrigeration, or some kind of radiator and if you want dissipate that heat quickly it's going to be a big radiator.

Now in a science fiction universe all these problems can be resolved, infinite storage and perfect energy conversion are a snap if you can imagine a universe with teleportation and FTL. The thing is though why would anyone put in the effort to begin with? Turning HEL MD into a rifle is going to be a long evolutionary process and what we have right now works pretty well, indeed you can argue that from a caveman throwing a rock at an animal to the state of the art railguns being developed for next generation warships is an unbroken line of projectile weapons. Simply put guns work, they get the job done so why would anyone want to spend the time, effort, and money on making your blaster/phaser possible?

The Star Trek phaser actually illustrates one of the better reasons to invest in a handheld DEW, the power can be dialled up or down depending on the situation. Now the nice neat delineation between a stun and lethal setting is a little unlikely, but the idea of a weapon that could be varied from simply inflicting pain at the bottom end of its range to a lethal shot at the top end is not unreasonable is not unreasonable and offers more flexibility, particularly valuable in our current day world where combatants are often hard to tell from the innocent bystanders.

The other big attraction is ammunition, both the weight of it for the soldier and the logistics of supplying it. Modern firearms can eat through ammunition at a frightening rate and despite the tendency towards smaller calibre ammo with lighter rounds the weight is still a burden for the soldier who faces the dilemma of carrying enough into battle for extended combat or risk running out because supplying ammo to a fast moving front line is a challenge for any military organization, especially if your means of delivery is liable to come under attack and you can't just make more out in the field. Now with a DEW the soldier effective can make their own ammo, they just need an energy resource to tap into, that might be anything from a solar panel to a power socket in some home or factory. Lifting the burden of worrying about ammo would be a major incentive to adopt energy weapons on a wider basis.

Now this isn't a matter of one side of this being right or wrong, really it's just to show that you can make an argument for whichever approach you want to take with weapons in your story, you can justify sticking to the tried and trusted bullet or go with a light show of different types of DEW. Only thing I can't come up with is an explanation for why so many beam weapons in TV and movies seem to fir a burst that travels at about walking pace...

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Critiquing Critcism

Be warned this is more of a ‘this really annoys me’ blog than a discussions of themes and ideas. A couple of years ago a multiplayer online game called World of Warplanes(Here after referred to as WoWP) was launched. The company behind had previously had great success with a WWII Tank game and would go on to have further success with a WWII naval warfare game. WoWP though became the black sheep of the family, meeting devastating criticism on it’s launch and being generally regard as an unplayable mess. Most people who wanted to multiplayer air combat action stuck with a rival game called War Thunder, WT for short. Fast forward to last week and the makers of WoWP release a brand new revamped version of the game. Several well known youtubers who were painfully familiar with the original bit the bullet and gave the new version a try. Their opinions were by and large favourable, 2.0 might not have the depth of WT, but it was playable and more importantly fun.
This would seem a pretty innocuous conclusion, however the comments sections for these videos were flooded with people vehemently insisting that WT was far better, that the youtubers in question should be discussing WT instead and that WoWP 2.0 was clearly garbage, the latter based not on playing the game but simply on looking at a Youtube video of the game. 
This unfortunately is pretty good example of the kind of criticism you see far too much of on the net. Firstly a robust effort to ‘protect’ some cherished book/movie/game in the face of the mere suggestion that something else in the same genre might be worthy of people’s attention and secondly the willingness to attack, or praise, a work based on nothing more than second hand information or peripheral issues.

I may have been very negative about Star Trek Discovery in my blog Retcon Factor 5! But that was based on sitting down, watching the show and seeing what the show delivered in the way of characters and story. I hope at the very least I expressed a coherent view of why I didn’t like it. And that’s the thing about criticism, if enough people take the time to explain why they liked or didn’t like a work that can be good thing, a way for the creator to learn what did and didn’t work with the audience they want to connect with. That’s what makes it so frustrating when online communities seem to want to praise/destroy a work based on everything about it except it’s actual content.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Last Word Part 2

So here's the concluding part of 'The Last Word'. Remember, if you liked it tell your friends, if you didn't tell your enemies. :)

The Last Word-Conclusion

“I am afraid you will have to settle at seven Mister Gray,” the words were delivered by a cool female voice that came from the hallway behind Carmichael.

Carmichael turned slowly and saw a red haired woman stood there, smartly dressed and more importantly holding a small revolver pointed at Carmichael with a steady hand that suggested some considerable experience with firearms. The light in the room suddenly increased as the lamp on the bedside table was turned up.

“I would move very carefully Mister Gray; you wouldn’t want to unsettle Miss Collier.” Luscombe’s voice had lost its querulous and rasping tone, except that Carmichael now realized the man in the bed could hardly be Luscombe.

Cautiously Carmichael turned back to face the figure in the bed and now he could see that the lines in the face and the sunken cheeks were the product of skilfully applied stage make up and the white hair nothing but a wig, one that the man in the bed began to remove along with the whiskers and uttering a sigh of relief as he did so, “Who are you sir?” Carmichael demanded.

“My name is Augustus Fancy, perhaps you have heard of me?”

“I have of course heard of the most famous private detective in the country, I have an obituary prepared for you in my files.”

Rosalie Collier let out a snort that might have been a suppressed laugh but Augustus Fancy looked far from amused, “Under the circumstances you will forgive me if I do not find that particularly flattering.”

Carmichael ignored that, “Clearly you have uncovered me but I am at a loss as to how you could have done so.”

“Have no fear Mister Gray Augustus will be only too happy to explain.”

The words were uttered in a tone that seemed affectionate rather than disparaging and Augustus Fancy smiled in response.

“Well since I have listened to Mister Gray’s account of his actions it seems only fair he listen to mine, and after all he did ask.” Fancy had been wiping the make-up from his face with a cloth and now he cast it aside and all traces of amusement disappeared as he fixed his gaze on Carmichael, “I was hired by the brother of a gentleman named Clark Morris to investigate his death, I trust you are not going to be so crass as to deny knowledge of him?”

Carmichael decided to say nothing and Fancy continued with his explanation.

“As it happened there was a quite venomous sibling rivalry amongst the three Morris brothers, the one who approached me wished to prove that the other surviving brother was guilty of the murder. Needless to say I was able to swiftly prove that Clark Morris had not fallen victim to any familial jealous, whilst at the same time proving to my own satisfaction that he had indeed been the victim of foul play.”

This time Carmichael was spurred to respond, “But I was most careful to ensure that Mister Morris’ death would appear accidental.”

The look that drew from Augustus Fancy was one almost of pity but his words were harsh, “And there lies the eternal mistake of the amateur criminal. You entered a place, you committed a dastardly murder, and whatever you may have done to mask that fact cannot eliminate the imprint you have left behind you. That imprint may go unnoticed by others Mister Gray but not by me.”

Being permitted to see past the normally affable and charming exterior of the detective to the ruthless analytical mind that lay beneath shook Carmichael but he did his best not to give the detective the satisfaction of showing it, “But even if you found this ‘imprint’ you speak of it could not have pointed to you to me.”

“It did not,” the detective admitted, “But it caused me to seek out every piece of information I could obtain on the life and times of Clark Morris, including reading his obituary, and there I found your written confession to the crime.”

Now Carmichael could no longer continue even the pretence of composure, “What nonsense is this? I did no such thing!”

“Oh but you did sir, in five simple words you revealed everything, ‘recently engaged to be married’, you do remember the words your ‘higher power’ compelled you to write I trust?”

Carmichael did remember all too well and dread crept over him as he admitted, “it was not the spirit that commanded me, I added that detail at my own volition.”

“Because of course you could not deny your drive to craft the most precise and complete obituary, even if meant including a detail that had, according to my investigation, been known only to Mister Clark Morris and his intended as he had yet to seek permission from the lady’s father. A detail I have no doubt he revealed to you as he pleaded for life, a detail that turned my entire focus upon you Mister Carmichael Gray and a detail that leads directly to my discovering your next intended victim and concocting this ruse to ensnare you.”  

Carmichael was immune to the venom in the words, all he could think of was how he had finally failed the muse that had called him to action, “And now you have had your say I imagine you intend to summon the constabulary?”

“Naturally, the body of circumstantial evidence I have amassed, plus the statements that myself and Miss Collier can bear witness to should be more than adequate to see you charged and convicted; assuming that you choose to prolong the agony by protesting your innocence. However if I judge you correctly I do not believe that will be an issue.”

Carmichael shook his head, “No I will not sully my calling with such falsehoods. I have failed in my duty and I must be punished for that.” He reached for the inner pocket of his coat, and halted as he sensed Miss Collier gun hand tensing, “I am not reaching for a weapon, simply an item that I wish to pass into your custody rather than the churlish hands of some dim-witted constable.”

“Very well Mister Grey but be quite sure that if you try any trick Miss Collier is an excellent shot.”

 Slowly Carmichael drew a long white envelope from his pocket, its condition immaculate despite the length of time he had been carrying it with him.

“And what does that contain Mister Grey?” The detective enquired.

Carmichael’s lips quirk into what might have been a smile, “Can you not surmise that for yourself?” Without another word he let the envelope flutter to the floor and lunged. He did not throw himself towards Miss Collier in an attempt to escape, nor did he try and grapple with Augustus Fancy in some undignified effort at petty vengeance, for if the detective had been the instrument of his downfall Carmichael Gray knew he had been its architect. Instead he threw himself towards the large sash window that looked out on to the street.

For the last time Carmichael Gray felt the power reach out to aid him and he was oblivious to the pain as he crashed through the glass and plunged downwards, instead he felt a brief moment of satisfaction before he met the pavement and oblivion claimed him.


Augustus Fancy climbed out of the bed and walked to the ruined window, a brief inspection of the figure lying on the pavement confirmed that they would require the services of a pathologist rather than a physician.

Behind him Rosemarie Collier has retrieved the envelope, “And have you deduced the contents of this my dear?”

Augustus turned to her, trying not to appear smug and not entirely succeeding, “It was not any great feat to do so; it can only be the obituary of Carmichael Gray, written by the only hand he would ever trust to do it justice.”

Friday, 13 October 2017

Short story: The Last Word Part-1

So rather than rambling on about writing I thought I would share some of mine in the shape of the first part of a short story. This is based in the same universe as one of the novels I'm writing and when I was fleshing out the backstory of one of the characters this idea came to me. The concluding part will be up after the weekend:

The Last Word

Carmichael stood in the shadow cast by a street light and watched the door of the house that was his target; periodically looking away to check the time on the pocket watch he carried. If his timepiece was correct then he had no more than five minutes to wait until the moment to act arrived. His black topcoat and hat made him all but invisible with only the paleness of his thin face having the potential to betray him if any random stranger came strolling along the street, an eventuality that previous reconnaissance had proven was most unlike at this hour of the night. There was only one person that Carmichael was anticipating seeing the street tonight, indeed his entire plan centred on that individual making an appearance.
It was some four minutes later when the door of the house opened and a figure slouched out on to the street, a stocky figure with the collar of his coat pulled up to obscure his face. The gesture did nothing to disguise him from Carmichael. The man’s name was Roker and he was valet to the owner of the house. More to the point he was the only servant who actually lived on the premises and he had a habit of slipping away once his master had retired for the evening to drink and carouse at a public house with a highly dubious reputation. It was not behaviour that Carmichael would normally have approved of but it suited him quite well tonight.
Watching until Roker disappeared around a street corner Carmichael stepped out of the shadow and walked across the road, his stride measured so he was neither running nor creeping, simply a man about some ordinary business, certainly not a man planning to commit murder. Carmichael worked to maintain that manner as he climbed the short flight of granite steps and reached out to turn the door handle, he did catch his breath as he laid his hand on the cold metal but no passer-by would have noticed that, nor the small sigh Carmichael released as the handle turned and the door opened.
He closed the door behind him quickly and quietly and began to examine the hallway he was standing in. There were no sounds beyond that of a ticking grandfather clock set against wall and the hallway was in darkness. Fortunately for Carmichael his eyes remained adapted to the night and he was able to make out sufficient detail to proceed with his task. A rug ran down the centre of the hallway but the stairs themselves were bare polished wood. Carmichael was prepared for that, his shoes possessed soft rubber soles rather than leather and combined with Carmichael’s light tread they made almost no sound as he ascended the stairs.
There were four doors along the upper hallway but only one of them had a flickering thread of illumination leaking out beneath it. Carmichael marched up to it and cautiously opened it, prompting a voice to call out, “Roker? What are you doing…” The voice trailed off as the light revealed the figure of Carmichael filling the doorway.
The man in the bed was white haired with mutton chop whiskers that couldn’t hide how sunken his face was and the dim light of the lamp set beside the bed simply emphasised the lines and wrinkles in his face. He was holding a leather bound book in his hands that dropped to the bed covers as the man abandoned it and reached for the bell pull beside the bed.
“That will do you no good Mister Luscombe; we are quite alone in the house.”
Luscombe removed his thin, gnarled hand from the bell pull, “Curse that drunkard Roker!” He looked at Carmichael with a glare that was perhaps intended to be intimidating but his weak eyes and the half-moon glasses precariously perched upon his nose robbed it of any power as he commented, “If you have come to rob me sir then you have chosen the wrong establishment. The bulk of my money and valuable are safely within the vaults of Baring & Co. You will find little reward in robbing me.”
“Then it is fortunate for me that petty theft is not my goal.” Carmichael responded calmly.
“Then what the devil do you want?”
“Why your life Mister Luscombe, my name is Carmichael Gray and I am here as the agent of your overdue demise.”
Luscombe removed his reading glasses and squinted at Carmichael, “I am quite certain I do not know you sir, so what injury can I have inflicted on you to justify such an action? Or has one of my relatives become so desperate for their inheritance that they have hired an assassin to dispatch me?”
Carmichael could see that Luscombe didn’t take his statement seriously; yet. “Mister Luscombe I am motivated neither by malice nor profit, I am here because your recent illness should have been the end of you and you cannot be permitted to cheat fate. This is your time to die.”
Luscombe stared at Carmichael and then actually began to laugh, which swiftly degenerated into a coughing fit. When he recovered his composure his expression was one of disdain, “Utter rot, a man makes his own fate sir. If you know anything of my life you will know I have escaped death a dozen times, where were you on those occasions?”
Carmichael ignored the final question, “I know a great deal of your life sir, indeed a study of it was essential to my craft.”
“You call murder a craft?”
“No Mister Luscombe, acting as the agent of fate is my calling. My craft is the writing of obituaries.”
There was dead silence in the bedchamber for few moments and when Luscombe broke it his tone was one of utter incredulity, “Am I to understand that you intend to murder me, simply so you can write my obituary?
Carmichael expression became pained, “Nothing so crass sir, it is quite the opposite indeed, it is through my obituaries that the fates tell me who it is that I must seek out and dispatch on their behalf.”
“That is preposterous, surely you must see that?”
Carmichael could tell Luscombe was playing for time but there was plenty to spare and he had found engaging with the soon to be departed sometimes elicited details that could be used to put a final polish on their obituary as they entertained the futile hope that some such revelation might gain them a reprieve. “It is not preposterous Mister Luscombe, there comes a moment in the composition of one of my obituaries when the pen seems to move of its own accord, the words coming from some other place and when that happens I know the person in question has been marked out by fate.”
“Fate as informed by your prejudices and opinions no doubt.” Luscombe sneered.
“Again you misjudge me. For years I worked at my craft without the fates calling to me, I was well regarded by those publications that employed me and it is their practise, though not one they publicize, to have a certain portfolio of obituaries to hand for prominent individuals whose age or actions meant death hovered close to them. For years I simply wrote those pre-emptive obituaries and placed them in my files against the day they were needed.”
“Until one day you decided to turn to murder?”
“Not murder sir, ensuring the proper order of things. As I said for years the fates did not call to me and then one day I was working on rewriting the final word on a gentleman who had vanished and was presumed deceased and for the first time I felt another hand moving my pen, guiding it to create something greater than I could have fashioned on my own.”
“Oh let me guess, the gentleman in question had the impertinence to turn up alive.”
Carmichael had warmed sufficiently to his subject that he missed the sarcasm of Luscombe’s remark, “Exactly and it troubled me greatly, why had this other, this higher power, imbued my writing with such grace if not to commemorate the passing of this man? I brooded over it for days until finally I understood.”
“That you are stark, raving mad? A lunatic who should be in strait jacket? Good god man how many people have you killed for your insane beliefs?”
“You Mister Luscombe will be the eighth, and since it is clear you have no useful remarks to offer I must be about my business.” Carmichael had taken half a step before he heard a sharp metallic click behind him.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Retcon Factor 5!

This blog was inspired by watching the new Star Trek Discovery and given the topic there will be spoilers, there will however be quite a bit of rambling before Discovery gets mentioned.

A retcon is:

in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.

One of the best known examples is where Darth Vader reveals he is Luke Skywalker's father in 'The Empire Strikes Back'. A revelation made all the more shocking given Obi Wan told Luke Vader murdered his father when they met in 'A New Hope'. This retcon, that Obi Wan lied to Luke, was sufficiently exciting and added so much to the story that fans embraced it. The same cannot be said for the infamous Dallas retcon where an entire season of the show was revealed to have been a dream.

These two instances lie at opposite ends of the retcon spectrum. Fans embraced Vader being Luke's father and it added a whole extra level to the conflict between them. On the other hand the Dallas retcon produced a mixture of fan outrage and media ridicule. Overall Dallas is probably more representative of the reaction to retcons, so if you have a well established fictional universe with a detailed canon you should perhaps be cautious when it comes to retconning, or just go full speed ahead and launch retcons left right and centre. This is where the spoilers start in case you hadn't already guessed.

I'm not even going to touch on the changes to the look of the Klingons, or the rather grimdark atmosphere even before the Federation gets into a war with them. Let's start with the lead character being Spock's foster sister. This comes as quite revelation as given the occasions on which the subject of family and loved ones came up in scenarios Spock was involved in. Somehow though the fact that his foster sister was infamous in Starfleet history never came up. Now it's just about possible to accept that maybe this just never came up in conversation for some reason, but this really cannot explain the subject of Prototaxites stellaviatori and the 'Spore Drive'. The basic idea is that there is a network of spores that at some quantum level forms a network that spans the galaxy and can potentially allow for instant travel across light-years. This is an incredible piece of technology, that simply does not exist at any future point in the Star Trek universe that viewers have seen. One might simply say this is a technology that fails and thus is never brought up, except that Discovery makes it clear the drive has its risks, but it does work. Even if it was too risky for Starfleet one has a hard time imagining that not one of the enemies they encountered over the next century felt the same way. Then even if you are willing to imagine that Discovery has another twist up its. sleeve, the captain demonstrates the network by putting Burnham in a chamber and showing her distant parts of space. Now there is simply no rational basis on which Starfleet is going to abandon a technology that lets them view hostile space without risking ships.

Now of course it's possible that Discovery will come up with ways of explaining the problems with the spore drive away, but frankly they shouldn't be putting themselves in that position. There are any number of holes in the Trek canon they could have chosen to expend what is a talented cast and production crew on. Likewise Michael Burnham is an interesting character without retconning a spurious connection to established characters. I'm still hoping for some brilliant twist that's going to make this all come right, but I can't saying I'm expecting one.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Money Makes The Universe go Around

So economics may not seem like something you want to work into your story, especially when you consider the short shrift given to the whole 'trade dispute' idea that opened 'The Phantom Menace'. In the real world though economics is at the heart of major historic events. Hitler's rise to power was fuelled by the economic disaster of the Great Depression. The American Revolution was set in motion by a dispute over taxation(which may have been what Lucas was trying to invoke). So if economics can be an intimate part of  real history surely you can weave into a fictional universe?

For Secession Campaign I have a major power(the Alliance) taking on a band of rebels(the Pioneer Republic) where the numbers stack up heavily in favour of the Alliance. In theory the alliance can afford to take the long view and fight a slow steady war of attrition against the rebels. Dramatically that wouldn't have been very satisfying, something had to put the Alliance under pressure to win the war fast. The answer I came up with was economics, the territory controlled by the Republic created the wealth that propped up the economy of the rest of the Alliance. Take that wealth away and the Alliance is facing a crash on the scale of the Great Depression.

In a universe of interstellar travel and trade there are other economic issues that have fascinating implications. We're living in a world where currency is increasingly digital, but that depends on a global computer network able to handle transactions in a fraction of a second.  If your universe lacks Star Wars instantaneous communications (or Star Trek replicators for that matter) what happens when you have to pay for something one planet and your bank is on another? Your going to need an honest to goodness hard currency, it may even be the case that your currency has to revert to the ancient system where coins had to made of something intrinsically precious, Silver, Gold, Unobtanium. Of course what if what constitutes precious differs from place to place? Perhaps your interstellar civilization runs on a barter economy.

All of this has potentially dramatic implications. In a fictional universe where currency is dependent on some precious material then a major find of said precious material could be the catalyst for competition and conflict. Where there is no currency any interplanetary power may behave in a thoroughly feudal manner, with taxes paid with foodstuffs, raw materials, manufactured goods, or even labour if a world has nothing else to offer. Tax collectors in that situation won’t be accountants sat in an office building, they’ll be the kind of people willing to make others part with their worldly goods to keep the state running.
Even if you have no interest or need to work economic matters into your story itself it can still play a valuable part in world building, helping to add texture and context to the back story. It can provide motivations for your characters and obstacles  for them to overcome. In the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G. "Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems" and problems help to drive plot.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


Two of may favourite series of books have acquired spinoff prequels in recent months, Jack Campbell's 'Lost Fleet' and David Weber's 'Honorverse'. Both these prequels are set centuries before the main series and attempt to flesh out the history of their respective universes. The big difference is that where I really enjoyed Campbell's 'Genesis Fleet: Vanguard' I gave up on 'Manticore Ascendant: A Call to Duty'. There were a couple of minor reasons for my different reaction and one major reason. the minor ones were that unlike Lost Feet the main Honorverse series is still full of loose ends that need tying up and this is the third or fourth spinoff that's been launched, also in in contrast to previous Weber stories where the protagonists tend to be charismatic and super competent this time he, perhaps deliberately, has gone against type and created a protagonist who isn't at all charismatic, in fact a character I found positively aggravating

Neither of these things would have been a deal breaker, what made me give up was the book's continual attempts to build up dramatic tension around the fate of what amount to fixed points in the Honorverse, that is things which fans know full well are going to survive until the time of the main series books. it just struck such a false note with me that I couldn't finish the book. Now this isn't an issue specific to Manticore Ascendant, it seems to be a common problem with prequels, a genre which seems to be on the rise recently.

I had much the same problem with the Gotham TV series, the show set when Bruce Wayne is still young and centred around Detective James Gordon. It also insisted on cramming the cast full of characters from the future Batman canon. This meant that every time on placing some character in peril it's invariably one that we know is still around in the future and after a while it just becomes irritating.

Prequels don't have to be fall into this trap, I enjoyed the Genesis Fleet novel and Rogue One was a great movie. Both created an array of new characters and locations where the individual outcomes were unknown even if when you where it all ultimately leads. I suppose its the difference between real danger like skydiving versus the illusion of danger you get on a rollercoaster.

In essence I guess my view is that if you're going to create a prequel either avoid characters protected by the plot armour of future events or at the very least acknowledge their invulnerability and avoid putting them in phony peril.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Word Count

So after a long time I've finally decided to revive the blog. In the interests of full disclosure I'm finally about publish my first book on Amazon so I'm in desperate attention seeking mode. Now why didn't I just keep the blog going all this time instead of letting it lapse? Well to put it simply I work full time so there's only so many opportunities to sit down and write. That creates a dilemma, do I spend the time working on the next chapter of the book? Or do I put up a blog post, or respond to the latest posts on my Google + communities, or that thread that's grabbed my interest? Every word I write for one option is one less I'm going to have to time to type for the other, not to mention the time taken to come up with an idea for what to write.

Throw in the fact that I'm not the most social of creatures and the problems multiply. other people seem to have endless energy for talking about themselves, but I'm just not that interesting. That by the way turned creating an 'about the author' for the book something of a challenge, so I basically wound up writing about the things that influenced my writing in thoroughly meta manner. The practical upshot is I can't guarantee I'll be posting every day, but you can be sure when I post it will because the subject interests me, not just to fill the awkward silence.