Saturday, 24 December 2016

Xmas Salutations

A tumultuous year, with lots of things happening, both good and bad.  So it will be interesting to look back at things in a year's time and see what has happened.  Until then, enjoy the holiday.

Friday, 16 December 2016


BigDog is a quadruped robot created in 2005 by Boston Dynamics in conjunction with Foster-Miller, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station.

One day, after watching You Tube videos of BigDog in action, a phrase popped into my head, “It’s all Big Dog’s fault that I died yesterday under a mountain in Afghanistan.”  At that point I was in the middle of writing another novel called The Bureau, my H P Lovecraft meets The Professionals as a Cthulhu Mythos story mash-up.  However, the phrase stuck in my head, and the only way to get it out was to sit down and write the story.

It's set about 60 years in the future, and tells what happens when Sergeant Lara Atsuko Tachikoma, of Second Platoon, Bravo Squad, of the Confederated States Marine Corps 1st Combat Armored Suit Reconnaissance Company are sent on a Search & Rescue mission.

My blurb for the back of the book:
For Sergeant Tachikoma aboard CSN Hornet it was just another day in the Corps.

Then an order came down the chain-of-command proving the truth of the old adage that the only easy day is yesterday. Now the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Company is preparing to fly into Afghanistan and rescue an Alpha Detachment of Special Forces Snake-Eater that had crashed their Aries sub-orbital space-plane during a Top Secret mission.

After dying in a nuclear explosion, she wakes up the next morning to find herself going crazy reliving the same day all over again. She decides it's better to get even with those who blew her and the rest of the Company up. Her plan is simple; stop the bomb going off, and get on with the rest of her life.

How hard can it be?
Let me know if you think the blurb is lame.  I'm to close to the story to be able to tell.

Friday, 9 December 2016

New Scientist Articles

I found a couple of New Scientist articles that are I think quite interesting, though I will add the caveat that this is the scientific equivalent of the tabloids or broadsheets i.e.: newspaper journalism reporting.

The first is on bigotry called, Super-you: Use your better instincts to crush your inner bigot.

This article spoke to my core professional interests, and I recommend it as a starter to understanding human behaviour.

The second article is on superstition and is called, Super-you: You have a superstitious mind – to protect you.

Yes, but no was my reaction to reading this. Yes true for 95% of the human race, but not true for about 5% of the human race.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Species Imperative

Species Imperative is the 10th anniversary edition of Julie Czerneda's trilogy: Survival, Migration, and Regeneration.  I read this book because it was highly recommended in reviews for its portrayal of aliens.  Czerneda has a background in biology and it shows in her writing.  That's a compliment.

Let me start with the negatives.  The omnibus edition is so heavy I had to wear my wrist braces to hold it while reading.  I can forgive this book being so long because it's an omnibus of three long novels; so no complaints here about the length of the story as I did with George R. R Martins first Game of Thrones novel.  I'm not averse to long books, just books that go on too long.

Second nit-pick was the romantic sub-plot that runs through the three novels.  I found it intruded into the plot and could have been edited without affecting either the main story or the protagonists development, but other people may well disagree.

The third nit-pick are the titles.  For me, they were too on the nail and gave away the plot, but there again I'm a writer who has a background in psychological medicine, and I'm sensitized to things that seem obvious to me.

What I loved about this book was the biology, the way the aliens were described and developed and the overall story arc.  It was a compelling read, as in I found time to pick the book up and dip into it, whenever I had a twenty minutes or so to read.  This isn't a military SF novel despite the fact that the plot involves the destruction of worlds as an implacable alien force literally eats everything in its path.  There are some descriptions of battles and skirmishes, but the focus is on the biology driving the aliens actions (there are several factions).  And I really felt for the plight of the aliens who were not just humans with rubber foreheads.

So check it out, it's a hefty read, but well worth your time and effort.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Span of Empire

This is the third novel in the Jao series, the first two novels in the series I reviewed here and here.  I bought the The Course of Empire on a recommendation that it had interesting aliens.  Given I'm writing a bunch of aliens where my Beta reader said I could do with upping my game, I gave it a go and fell in love with the story.  The sequel, The Crucible of Empire, hit all the spots, but K. D. Wentworth who brought so much to the series died fighting cancer.  Therefore, this third volume David Carrico has to take the torch and carry it forward.

From listening to the Baen podcasts I know that Carrico wanted to do justice to Wentworth's characters, but I inferred from what he said that he needed the freedom to do his own thing.  Without giving away any spoilers, what we see in this story is the addition of new aliens, a nice expansion of the Ekhat position, and as a result a culling of those characters that weren't driving the plot forward.   I was also left wanting more, which is always a good sign in a series.  This story felt fresh and has the potential for some real plot fireworks when forces collide.  Recommended.

For me the take away was the aliens, and this book and another I will talk about next time are making me rethink my portrayal – description of and interactions with – the aliens in my second novel, which I'm currently working through to address the deficits in my story telling.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

New Mac Mini

After nine years of using my old Mac Mini it came time to part ways.  Mostly amicable, but the old girl was getting slow and crochety.  A bit like its owner, and the limits of my patience was frayed to its limits from the machine's sluggishness.  After a discussion with my partner, we scraped together the money, which effectively means all my disposable income has been spent for the next few months.

After a suitable amount of anxiety in getting said machine connected, files updated, getting the settings from my back-up transferred, and moving all my work across I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Things are now moving along at a respectable pace: programmes open promptly, picture processing is no longer like watching paint dry, and all is well.   Colour me content.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Bad Dog

The reason I started writing about Sergeant Lara Atsuko Tachikoma, of the Confederated States Marine Corps 1st Combat Armor Reconnaissance Company, Second Platoon, Bravo Squad, came after a phrase popped into my head one day, while I was stuck writing something else.  The phrase was: 
It’s all Big Dog’s fault that I died yesterday under a mountain in Afghanistan.
I say this, but the truth is that I wrote the idea down and put it to one-side as I was in the process of writing another story.  The good intentions to put it aside and finish the novel I was then writing it didn’t work out so well.  

As a cognitive behavioural therapist I know the difficulties around changing behaviours that are triggered by beliefs, and where behaviours are functional, there is little benefit in trying to change the beliefs that drive them.  In this case I wanted to write, so whether or not I continued writing the other novel, or changed to the new one didn’t matter, because neither was being written on commission.  I'm not yet a professional author under the yoke of meeting a deadline for a commission, which is probably a very good thing, as I had neither the experience nor skills to meet such a task while writing fiction. 

However, the first thing I do when I have an idea for a story is to sit down and write a pitch line.  The one line pitch for Bad Dog was Starship Troopers meets Ground Hog Day.

Except that Bad Dog is not really a homage to either, in spite of the shared surface similarities they have.  Heinlein’s novel is a story about service and citizenship, while Bad Dog discusses military service from the implications arising from putting all your troops in power armour, and the social implications where gender equality in war becomes a practical reality.

While Sergeant Tachikoma repeats the same day throughout the story, as in Groundhog Day written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, the McGuffin driving the story is based in Buddhist philosophy.  Whereas, in Bad Dog the McGuffin I used for the story is based in the idea that we live in a holographic multiverse where all possible outcomes from any event can happen.  

This SF geekery draws heavily on the theories of Professor Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is also the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute.  On reflection I thought while the pitch line was certainly high concept it didn’t really describe what my novel was about.

So I came up with a new pitch line that was closer to other sources of inspiration, namely VOTOMS meets Stargate SG-1.

However, the problem with this is that VOTOMS is a real niche show even by the standards of SF fandom, which means that it will probably fly over the heads of most people who read Bad Dog, with the likely response being huh?  While those that know of VOTOMS will no doubt be going why is she ripping off our favourite show?  And while Bad Dog shares with the well known Stargate franchise, the idea of the military travelling to other worlds, the limitations imposed by the physics behind the pillars in Bad Dog make for entirely different stories; as I have to account for the lack of control over where the pillars go, and when they allow the characters to go there.

So again the pitch line didn’t hit the spot, no matter how zingy it might sound.

The importance of a pitch line, or what is called in the film business a logline, is that it encapsulates the concept of the story in one easy to understand sentence.  So I went back to the beginning, and thought through what my story was about and constructed a pitch line that was less high concept, but more authentic to the voice of the novel:
When an American Special Forces Detachment crashes in Afghanistan, Sergeant Tachikoma's Company of Marines are sent to discover what happened to them.  But the local Warlord fears the evil Afrite will be unleashed evil into the world if the Americans find the ancient, alien pillars under the mountain, and he has conspired with the Chinese to destroy Sergeant Tachikoma's Company with a nuclear bomb.
For me this encapsulates everything that was in the high concept one-liners I had written before, but made Bad Dog a separate thing in its own right.  In the process of doing that I came up with a short synopsis that could be used on the back cover.
For Sergeant Tachikoma aboard CSN Hornet it was just another day in the Corps.

Then an order came down the chain-of-command proving the truth of the old adage that the only easy day is yesterday.  Now the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Company is preparing to fly into Afghanistan and rescue an Alpha Detachment of Special Forces Snake-Eater that had crashed their Ares sub-orbital space-plane during a Top Secret mission.   

After dying in a nuclear explosion, she wakes up the next morning to find herself going crazy reliving the same day all over again.  She decides it's better to get even with those who blew her and the rest of the Company up.  Her plan is simple; stop the bomb going off, and get on with the rest of her life. 

How hard can it be? 
While I was writing the above, thoughts started to unfold in my mind, about why I was driven to explore why I wrote Bad Dog in the first place.  The answer being it’s complicated, but the bottom line is that I was telling a story by running my character through a gristmill, and throwing problems at her to make her life as miserable as possible, because as an author that's the way we roll. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Military Science Fiction: Part 3

Welcome to part three where I talk about the other military science fiction series I think are good because I have read them more than once.  Again in no particular order of preference:
The Dorsai series by Gordon R. Dickson.
The Posleen series by John Ringo.
The Freehold series by Michael Z. Williamson.
Stark's Crusade trilogy by Jack Campbell.
I read the original Dorsai trilogy at an early age –  and later followed Dickson's expansion of the core books into the Childe Cycle.  To brutally honest the expanded universe books do not stand up to repeat readings, but Tactics of Mistake, Soldier Ask Not, and Dorsai! are favourites of mine.  There's also Lost Dorsai and The Spirit of the Dorsai, which are two collections of shorts stories and a novella, which are OK, as in worth reading once.  However, they share the problem I have with the Childe Cycle of being works where the author's ambition to write about progress versus conservatism resulted in them forgetting that stories have to be interesting beyond the message.

I have a love hate relationship with the Posleen series by John Ringo, which actually should be called the Aldenata series, but everybody I know who reads these books remembers the Posleen: ravenous aliens that call-back to the Mongol Hordes.  However, my love, hate relationship is down to the technology rather than any heavy handed message.  I just have a failure to suspend my disbelief when Ringo describes light speed velocity shots being fired inside the Earth's atmosphere.  Despite that throwing me out of the world I find myself enjoying the adventures of the various groups, and who can forget the crew of the massive tank called Bun Bun fighting the Posleen with nuclear shells.  I also like Tom Kratman's Watch on the Rhine, but it's not to everybody's taste, especially those who don't get black humour.

Freehold is the first book by Michael Z. Williamson, and while the libertarian message is front and centre I can forgive it because the story has characters that one can root for, and the rest of the series: The Weapon, Rogue, and Contact with Chaos are well worth reading; with the latter being particularly good because of its outstanding portrayal of a civilized society restricted by the limitations of resources to stone age technology.  In fact I would go so far as to say that the idea of a society restricted by its technology that is forced to work within the limitations of it means is pure SF at its best.  I can also recommend his Ripple Creek series for SF private military contractor action.

Finally, Stark's Crusade by Jack Campbell, a pseudonym of John G. Hemry, was an early trilogy of novels written before the Lost Fleet series took off and propelled him into the big league (a definition for this being sells lots of books).  Stark's Crusade is the only series of his that I've re-read, which is why it is here in my list.  What makes this series stand out for me is the matter of fact way things go wrong in the first novel that marked the stories out as trying to say something different about military operations.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Fantasy Fiction Formula

This was one of the books I took with for my holiday in Provence, though I saved it for last, because I chose to read it as part of my interest in developing my writing, so work not fun.  However, the book was a revelation and I wish it had been published four years ago when I first started writing.  Though this assumes that I would have had the sense and wit to make the most of it back then, which is not a given.

Deborah Chester is the person who Jim Butcher learnt to write under.  For those of you reading this and thinking writing to a formula is somehow wrong, stop and put your assumptions to one side.  The formula referred to in the title is the list of things that a novel needs if it's going to work as a story.  In short, this is a book about the craft rather than the art of writing.

I'm now using it to help me work through my second novel and it has also helped me to understand the feedback I received that said my first novel was not straightforward enough.  What I can do to address this feedback is limited by my writing ability and all I can do is work at upping my game.

For anyone who is writing I can wholeheartedly recommend reading this book.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Once I Was Young and Computer Savvy

My first job with computers was circa 1974 when they were vast machines that occupied air-conditioned halls, tape decks were a thing, and programs were entered using punch cards.  Home computing was Sinclair ZX81s and I aspired to owning an Apple II, but never did.  My first computer being an Apple Macintosh, which I got in 1988.  The late eighties and early nineties I was there at the forefront of home computer use and could walk into a design studio and sort out SCSI cabling issues with aplomb.

After nearly twenty years of having the same internet service provider I find myself having to set-up a new email address, and as a result change my FaceBook, Amazon, eBay and other account settings.  To say that this has been frustrating is an understatement.  I've been reduced to shouting at my computer in frustration, which on a scale of one-to-ten rates about an eleven for pointlessness.

And don't get me started on spam filters that sent every confirmation email into a special place that would only appear after repeated logins to my new domain.

To add to the total joy, I also find that my blogger contact forms won't update to send emails to my new address, even though I've changed the email setting, and furthermore, to make my life especially miserable, the blog lost all the links on my blog list.  And then there's Yahoo, where I'm forced to change the address of each list I subscribe too individually.

And I used to take such things in my stride.

Then this morning Susan's car wouldn't start, because the battery had died.  My truck is currently in Aldershot being serviced and getting its MOT, so this was the icing on the cake of a very stressful week where I've not managed to do any work on my novels.

The good news is that I guess that sometime next week my friends will receive an email from me with my new address.  Ah the bliss!

Monday, 3 October 2016

En Provence

We've been to Provence, courtesy of my friend Holly's parents, who so generously invited us to come over and stay with them for a week.  They spoilt us rotten with good food, excellent wine and took us out for a dinner in Gourd.

To help us digest the feast we wandered around the fortified town.  Exploring the path attackers would have to take to force their way into the town in the Middle-ages.

We also went to Lacoste.

Lacoste is where the infamous Marquis de Sade had his castle.  We walked down from the ruins through a labyrinth of stone passageways, exploring the nooks and crannies in the hot sunshine.

The map shows the ruined castle, where we started, and we went right through the town to the bottom left and back around to visit the church too.

Then Holly bought us lunch at the Café de France, which was delightful.  Afterwards Susan was fair tuckered out by all the walking.

You can read about the Medieval Faire we went to in Venasque here.

During the rest of our holiday we managed to swim almost every day, with Susan taking delight in wearing her favourite pink bikini.

Also, while relaxing, and being away from the internet I was able to sit and read some books, which I shall review in passing in due course.  But of course all holidays have to end.  Too soon it was time to travel back on the superfast Eurostar for our return home.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Eleven Weeks

Burglary Dog from VOTOMS: the series that inspired Bad Dog.

Eleven weeks is how long it has taken me to get the end of edits my Beta reader flagged in the fourth draft of Strike Dog.  Now all I have to do is write a bunch of new scenes and fill in a lot of extra world building background details to replace the chapters removed in the edit.  I'm obviously relieved to have gotten through what became quite a slog, not only for me but also I imagine for my Beta reader who went above and beyond the call of duty.

However, I now have a much more realistic view of how long it takes to write stuff when one is working as well, and without the day job things would be a bit tight.  So it's relief not to have money worries, even if that comes at the cost of not being as productive as I would like.

As they say, life, no one gets out alive, and there are no promises.

Soon I will start on what I'm calling the fifth draft of Strike Dog, but before I do, I plan on doing some polishing on Bad Dog.  I spent a weekend away seeing friends, who both read an earlier edition of my novel, and discussing the rejection feedback, in between hanging out with my godson and his sister.  The consensus being that the feedback was sufficiently vague it was impossible to make substantive changes to the novel.

We discussed taking out some or all the third-person point of view sections, which are in the novel so that the reader always knows what's going on, even when my protagonist does not.  I had been considering removing some and restructuring the novel to have a prologue and epilogue that would have most of the third-person parts of the story to top and tail the main story, but this was shot down on the grounds that reader would lose the perspective of the villains.

I also thought about just having a first-person story, but then I'd be left with a novel that was only 57,314 words long, which means it just isn't long enough to sell: and that really would mean a re-write that would break Heinlein's third rule of writing.

So now I'm pondering the ineffable qualities of writing: the gestalt that is a novel, the synergy of plot, character and style from which a story emerges.  All of which is just a fancy way of saying novels are made of words put into the right order to tell the tale you have in mind, which is harder to do than it looks.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Cultural Appropriation

Another week of churn on the internet over cultural appropriation, which just beggars belief.  It makes me want to say to all parties on both sides of the debate, tone it down, because what's happening is not discussion but flame-wars across the social media.  Wars where no one takes prisoners and you eat your wounded.

I get we should not use other peoples culture to mock, shame, or abuse people.

However, I can't help think that the worst case of cultural appropriation is the use of political correctness, the roots of which lie in Soviet era censorship, and during the 1970s was a term that was used ironically against orthodox thinking.  Now we live in a world Orwell's Big Brother would be proud of, where we don't learn from history, because we've forgotten history.

I'm all for politeness and civility, and to those that think there comes a time when one has to get angry or get their inner Hulk on, I say far better the injustices of living in a land under the rule of law than one without.  Why, because a smack in the mouth often offends.

Besides, what is culture, how do you measure how much you own, and who actually controls it?

I would argue cultural appropriation is neither good nor bad, but rather what happens when we live in an inter-connected multicultural world.  In short, don't treat people as things and enjoy eating curry's, tacos and wearing sombreros, which is just the Mexican word for hat that again can be traced back through history: the Spanish introduced them to Mexico and the wide-brimmed hat can be traced back to Mongolian horsemen.

And given this is a writing blog about fiction, remember that there are no new ideas isn't just about story tropes.  It also describes societies throughout recorded history, which is the equivalent of the metaphor that writers stand on shoulders of the giants who came before them.  We are not single points in the space-time continuum, but the product of something that can be traced back to beginning of the universe.  We are all, as Carl Sagan said, made of starstuff.

TL;DR: cultural appropriation is, to paraphrase the social anthropologist Piers Vitebsky, part of the human condition.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Breaking Rules

Last weekend was a busy one, starting with a birthday party on the Friday night, followed by archery practice first thing on Saturday morning with a BBQ in the afternoon at a friend's place, with Sunday seeing us at the last short metric club county competition.

So we were both grateful that Monday was a Bank Holiday. Hence no post last week.

See excuse above.

However, I've been busy writing too and I've just broken one of Heinlein's rules:

Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order

Well, sort of – I've been gnawing away at the feedback I received from my novel's rejection:

... it aroused some interest, unfortunately it lacked the straightforward narrative...

Though if I'm cutting myself some slack, then this could be interpreted as editorial input to re-write my work.

At one level I'm struggling to interpret what this meant and even emailed asking for a clarification, but I don't expect an answer any time soon.  But I really want to sell my novel. So something must be done however, however given the parlous state of publishing my options are limited.

I tried one editor from the big five who requested the chance to read my work, but I heard nothing back.  

Also, many of the big publishing house will only take submissions through an agent, and I've not had much luck there either.  Though after reading Kristine Katheryn Rusch's blog I think it would be wiser to use a solicitor to negotiate a contract rather than relying on a literary agent.

My other option is to self-publish, which I'm considering, but from what I've read I would need to up my output to generate interest and a sales stream.  Given it has taken me three and a half years to write three novels, two of which are still being edited, I'm not sure how realistic this path is for me.

So, over the last week I've restructured Bad Dog to try and make the story more straightforward, helped in part by reading Jim Butcher's Live Journal blog.

I now have a novel with a Prologue and Epilogue, which I understand is not at all fashionable today.  I've also added a short story as an addendum to the main story, telling the reader what happens to my hero afterwards when she goes for officer training, which I cut from my sequel for pacing reasons.

The plan is to add a new chapter to what Jim Butcher calls the 'Swampy Middle' of the novel, and revise another chapter by re-writing a third person POV from my heroes first person POV instead.

Just getting to this point was a serious chunk of work.

In the meantime I'm progressing on the edits on Strike Dog and considering my options on what I want to do to make it a better novel.

What's frustrating is the amount of time this is taking, but unless I can make more money writing than doing the day job, then I guess it just sucks to be me.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Military Science Fiction: Part 2

Continuing from last time, my next group are books that are series, which again I've re-read on a regular basis, and are listed in no particular order of preference:

The Heritage Trilogy by Ian Douglas.

Tales of the Starwolf by David Gerrold.

The Honor Harrington series by David Webber (first three).

The Confederation series by Tanya Huff.

I have lost count of how many times I've read and re-read The Heritage Trilogy by Ian Douglas, a pseudonym of William H. Keith Jr., who I first came across when I read a BattleTech book called Decision at Thunder Rift.  

Some parts of The Heritage Trilogy is now rather dated, as in we are in the time where certain events have happened that didn't, which when reading the first trilogy you have to sweep past.  I should also mention that the trilogy has two sequel trilogies and I'm equally besotted with them despite some hoary old clichés.  

In short, it's Marines in Space and I love it because it captures the Marine esprit de corps.

Tales of the Star Wolf roots can be seen in Gerrold's Yesterday's Children, which was later revised as Starhunt.  The former is basically a Star Trek story with the serial numbers filed off: evident in original ending of Yesterday's Children where the captain is proved right, whereas in Starhunt Gerrold's protagonist suspicions of the existence of an enemy ship shadowing them is proven right.  

Then Starhunt was expanded by the addition of a sequel series called Tales of the Star Wolf a three volume compilation of: Voyage of the Starwolf, Middle of Nowhere, and Blood & Fire (which is much easier to get hold of as an omnibus than the trade paperback individual editions).  What's interesting about this series is the way Gerrold revised and refined the core story through several iterations.

On Basilisk Station is the first book in David Webber's Honor Harrington series, and in many ways it's the best because it's a lean mean, tightly written novel.  

As a series it only loses its way around the end of book five, which I know will offend some fans, but as Webber said in a Baen podcast his original intention was to have Honor die in book seven.  Choosing not to kill her has actually caused problems with the over arching story arc that was originally planned.  Well, if only I had his problems with my series.  Colour me envious.

Finally, for this tranche of books, Tanya Huff's Confederation series that starts with Valor's Choice, which is a blatant retelling of Rorke's Drift.  

Despite that, the book is engaging because the main character is likeable, and the sequels move the plot forward in an interesting manner with the reveal of the Others: plastic aliens want to be your special pal.  

The sixth book, An Ancient Peace, is no longer purely military science fiction because the main character has left the Confederation Marines and is working as a private contractor for the Confederation: I would class it as mildly military, a not uncommon trait of military SF series.  By that I mean the characters act as civilians rather than soldiers who follow a chain-of-command.

NB: I'm surprising myself with how much I want to write and so there will be several more parts to this series as I work through my military SF collection.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Military Science Fiction: Part 1

I think it's safe to say it's common knowledge that I like to read military SF.

I often see articles about favourite military books I've read, but how does one compare say the Cruel Sea with All Quiet of the Western Front?  I ask because that's the same problem one has when asking for the top military science fiction stories.  So what I decided with this piece was to list books that I've re-read over the years, which must mean they have the indescribable something all good books have: or at least they do to this reader.

In no particular order let me start with these four books, which are all arguably standalone novels:

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein.

We All Died at Breakaway Station by Richard C. Meredith.

Passage At Arms by Glen Cook.

Even though The Forever War spawned two sequels: The Forever Peace and Forever Free – the first is thematic sequel that is not set in the same universe or at least if it is I can't see it.  The second was written years latter and while the characters from the first novel's story are the protagonists of the story, the story itself has different concerns and what I consider a Deus Ex Machina ending.  

However, The Forever War remains one of the significant military novels of the 20th Century because it manages to meld the emotional realities of conflict with a vision of the future changing what it means to be human.

Starship Troopers is probably the second book on this list that really needs no introduction by me, but it's a seminal military SF novel, and is so because Heinlein wrote it as a didactic work.  

People argue about the book incessantly because it stirs up a strong emotional response.  I've always read the story as a retelling of the birth of democracy in Greek City States, where a citizen's duty was to protect the state.  For me, this is proof that not only do we not learn from history, but we forget everything history might teach us.

Meredith's book, We All Died at Breakaway Station, does what it says on the cover.  

The story describes a desperate battle over a space station in what I would describe as a transhuman setting.  Unfortunately, Meredith died young at the age of 41, so he's not as well known today as he might have been had he lived to write more books, but what he did write are all well worth reading.

Cook's story, Passage At Arms, is Das Boot in space and is no worse for it.  Cook is better known for his Black Company series, but Passage at Arms exudes atmosphere and tension like there's no tomorrow.  Edit, because I forgot: it's also technically the fourth book in a series, but reads as a stand alone novel, and is head and shoulders above its prequels.

I shouldn't have to extol the virtues of either the Haldeman or Heinlein, but if you haven't read these four novels, then I suggest you check them out.  Finally, not a novel, but rather a collection of short stories:

The Compleat Bolo by Keith Laumer.

This volume compiles all of Laumer's Bolo short stories and while I've only read the collection once I've have read many of the stories more than once.  

What I like about the Bolo series is that it's about AIs fighting to save mankind from aliens and Laumer manages to rise above the tropes of the genre.  Though one could argue he was creating the tropes, given how long ago these stories were written.

More to come in part two.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What About the Writing?

I have been remiss in doing diary updates of my writing progress.

I've heard back from one of the Big Five publishers who have rejected my novel. They said, it aroused interest, but the narrative wasn't straightforward enough. I've been processing that feedback and thinking about my writing.

Bad Dog is an overcoming the monster plot: the monster being the atomic bomb planted to destroy a pair of alien pillars found under a mountain in Afghanistan. Said pillars being the equivalent to Arthur C. Clarke's monoliths.

I have mentioned that one way of looking at my first novel is that it's like John Ringo was writing in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Armored Trooper VOTOMS.

It could also be described as Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day directed by Harold Ramis.  Except that while it has more action than Starship Troopers, it doesn't have Bill Murray being funny.

So, I'm working on re-writing/editing of my second novel Strike Dog.

The plot of which is a voyage and return, as described by Christopher Booker in his work The Seven Basic Plots, which is actually seven traditional plots plus two modern plots (mystery and rebellion being the new plots that only appear in modern novels - where modern means anything post Jane Austen).

My third book, Ghost Dog, is a quest.  This has come back from my Alpha reader with informative feedback that it needs more tension in the first third of the book.

So my plan, if you can call it that, is to have a different plot for each book in the Bad Dog series.  This is assuming I can sell my trilogy which is in serious doubt at this point, but I'm not intending to give up.

Still, given my age, time is not on my side.

If I can sell either my first or second book, then I have to think of a rags to riches story, a comedy (what Booker calls a comedy is really a plot revolving around mistaken identities and confusion), a tragedy (all too easy in the world of Bad Dog), a mystery and a rebellion. The latter probably being the hardest plot to fit into my overarching story arc.

However, the main try-fail cycle I face at this point is writing characters who each have a different voice and who don't come across as complete jerks. Wish me luck, I may be some time.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Alex Stewart

It's no secret that Alex and I go way back.  I really enjoyed his latest book Shooting the Rift, so much so that I asked my friend to tell us a bit more.  Just a few questions to promote him and his work.  I hope you all enjoy getting to know my friend and colleague more, and now without further ado...

Tell Us About Yourself?

Alex Stewart, and sometimes Sandy Mitchell, the pseudonym I've used on my Warhamer 40.000 novels for the Black Library. Addicted to SF since being introduced to it at an impressionable age by my grandmother, who never missed a Godzilla movie or an episode of Thunderbirds. Professional writer since the mid eighties, when my first short story appeared in issue 2 of Interzone - the first debut story they ever published.

What’s The 140 - Character Story Pitch For Shooting The Rift.

There aren't 140 characters in Shooting the Rift; that's a bigger cast than War and Peace!

Oh, right....

A young exile tries to make a new life for himself and prevent an interstellar war.

Where Does This Story Come From? 

Pretty much everything I've read and enjoyed over the years, filtered through my own perceptions and life experience. The same thing every writer does, I suppose.

What Makes This Story One Only You Could Have Written? 

The second part of the first sentence above, I guess. Science Fiction in its current incarnation strikes me as very much an American genre, so approaching some of the standard tropes from a British cultural perspective, while retaining the narrative vigour and sense of optimism of the US model, was an interesting challenge.

What Was The Hardest Thing About Writing Shooting The Rift?

Finding the right narrative voice. After doing so many of the Ciaphas Cain books in the first person I really wanted to use third person for this one, to distinguish it from my Black Library novels, and went through several abortive attempts at the early chapters. It was only when I threw in the towel and finally let Simon tell the story in his own way that it really started to gell.

What Did You Learn From Writing Shooting The Rift?

To trust my characters more. Or, to put it another way, follow my instinct rather than over-think the narrative technique.

What Do You Love About Shooting The Rift?

It's the first novel I've written to a publishable standard that's entirely my own work. Much as I love playing around in the 40K universe, which is a fantastic and infinitely versatile setting, and wonderfully textured, there's a lot of satisfaction in having done my own worldbuilding this time round.

What Would You Differently Next Time?

Every story's different, with its own demands; so, everything. On the practical side, try not to push the deadline so close. (But I always tell myself I'm not going to do that, and I always do.)

Give Us Your Favourite Paragraph From The Story.

I can't: to me, they're all interrelated. It's like asking which is your favourite girder in the Forth Bridge.

What's Next?

A light-hearted fantasy novel for Baen, with the working title of "A Fistful of Elven Gold." After that, a new 40K novel in the Ciaphas Cain series, then whatever I can successfully pitch.

NB: More info on Wikipedia.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Living History

Susan caught my arrow in flight (grey line, to the right  roughly in line with the aircraft) – click to enlarge picture.
Today at archery practice, now part of our regular Saturday morning exercise regime for the last eight months, I got to try out Susan's Longbow.  I guess I was pulling it at around 22lbs, given my draw length.  It makes one respect the skill of those long dead British archers who fought at Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt.

If I ever have the need to write an archery scene in a novel I should be able to nail it.

Friday, 29 July 2016

If it Bleeds, it Leads

I was commuting to work yesterday when the driver announced that our train was delayed because someone dropped their phone on the track at Earls Court station.

The London Underground runs pretty much like clockwork until something happens to cause a hiccup to the service.  So now all the trains were held up, and a backlog of passengers were waiting to get on at each station, which meant the tube became packed to bursting point.  This led to more delays, due to the bodies of people pressing against the doors, which stopped them from closing and further delayed my journey.

This of course doesn't make the news: thousands of people delayed getting to work because some numpty drops their phone.  Neither did the suicide/accident on another line, which my boss commuted in to see me on, told me about.  So some news is more newsworthy than other news.  I say this apropos of the recent events in Europe, which are quite frankly appalling.

However, this reminds me of when I did my first degree in Photography & Film Studies, a joint course run by Trent & Derby Polytechnics (now both universities, but this was a long time ago), we did a six-week media studies module to understand reportage.

At the time,  the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was facing down the National Union of Miners led by Arthur Scargill.  Everyday we would read all the newspaper reports of what was happening.  Our mission being to study the slant each paper took in presenting the news (newspapers being a major source of news then, unlike now where they are dying dinosaurs unable to make money).  This is where I learnt that news is coloured to suit the agenda of the paper's owner's (what can I say, I was young and naive and didn't understand this stuff, and this is what an education is for).

Bottom line, it's all about the money.  What sells, what doesn't.  And what sells is not reportage of events per se, but the emotional content of an event targeted at the reader.  Psychology in the service of capitalism, which is why reports of all the terrorist attacks in the Middle-East go largely unreported by mainstream Western news sources.

What has this to do with stories?

I would argue that human beings understand the world through the stories they tell each other, and I would further argue that of all the things that are different between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is our story telling.  Stories of heroes and villains, and my choice of the picture of Ozymandias from Alan Moore's Watchmen is down to the trope of a person so smart they can assimilate and process all of the world's news and come up with a plan to fix humanities problems.

This is escapism, but it can also inspire hope, because hope allows us to carry on and in time move on.  However, this is not a promise of a better tomorrow, only that tomorrow will be different.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Sadness & Distractions

There comes a time when the only way to deal with the horrible things that have happened in the world is to distract oneself with other stuff.  Britain may have voted for Brexit, but that doesn't mean we don't share in grief from acts of terror.  I wish all my French friends well.

As for distraction I have work: my NHS clinical practice; and there's my writing and doing article for the Galactic Journey blog too.  And then there's archery to fill in the spare time that's left.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Nail Your Novel 2

I reviewed Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books & How You Can Draft, Fix & Finish With Confidence by Roz Morris here.  I liked it so much I bought both her other books and I have just finished reading Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters To Life.

Having finished my first novel Bad Dog, which is at a publisher being read, I've been using the space to consolidate my writing given the feedback I have received from my Beta readers of my second novel Strike Dog, where the main thing I took away was that my characters weren't differentiated enough, and even where they were, they were annoying jerks.  Roz Morris has some interesting things to say about both of these problems in this book.

I finished reading her book this morning just in time to received the feedback from my Alpha reader on my third novel Ghost Dog.  Fortunately, having written the first drafts of all three novels in 2013, time really does give one a sense of distance when having to deal with criticism, even very constructive criticism.  So this is me trying to assimilate advice and put it into practice as I work on re-drafting the current versions of both sequels.  As such, I can strongly recommend the Nail Your Novel books to anyone who is struggling to write a novel to a professional standard.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Science For Fiction 2016

I wrote about going to this conference last year.  The conference is run by Dr. David Clements at Imperial College.  I was able to take this week off work and so was able to attend.  So midday Tuesday I toddled off to meet my beloved for lunch before in the green and pleasant quad at Queens Lawn.

On my way there I was accosted outside Gloucester Road tube station by a camera crew from RTT who were interviewing old people about he results of the Referendum for Turkish TV.  I answered that correlation was not causation and just because you can show that everyone who voted leave were older people, without passports etc doesn't mean this is causation.  And that regardless of the outcome we have to live with our neighbours, and it's not worth dying over.  I blamed all three parties for the lack of political leadership.  So, that was my brush with fifteen minutes of fame, which was probably set aside by the attack in Istanbul.

As I write this not only has this week marked the end of an era for Britain, but the end of Boris Johnson's chances to become Prime Minister.  Try saying that in Darth Vader's voice for the full effect, but enough of politics.

Some of the authors who came this year to Science in Fiction.
After lunch with my partner, I went to the first talk of the afternoon, which was called General Relativity – a Beginners Guide by Dr. Toby Wiseman.  It was pretty good, but I would have liked him to have compressed the presentation down and carried on from where he ended, because while having an expert explain both Special and General Relativity is good, looking at where physicists are going next would be more helpful to me as a writer of science fiction.

Then we had a break for tea or coffee and biscuits.

Next was a talk called Observing Gravitation Waves by Dr. Peter Wass, which was all about LIGO: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.  He described the work and the future launch of LISA, which my partner had some small involvement with the LISA Pathfinder satellite that was testing the concepts that will be used aboard the three satellite space-based observation laboratories.

Finally, to finish the first day's presentations was Dr. Nikolina Nakic's talk on Epigenetics.  I found this a little dry, because a lot of it was down amongst the details rather than giving the big picture overview, which I think would have been more helpful to the lay audience.  Though I could be wrong about this, being biased from knowing a little about epigenetics from my own work in mental health.

Afterwards I went and got Susan from her workshop which is in the basement of the building, and we went off to have a lovely Indian curry at a restaurant.

Wednesday morning I dithered about cycling in with Susan to Imperial College, because it had rained the previous night, and didn't want to have to cycle home if it rained again.  In the end I chose to face my fear of getting wet and felt suitably virtuous from cycling there and back again, because the exercise is good for me.  We did observe that I'm fitter this year than last, because I was less puffed out when I got there.  Archery practice really does increase one's fitness.

The first talk of the day was called New Physics at the LHC by Dr. Dave Collins.  The talk was partly about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider, but also about the data being collected each time the machine is run as the power is ramped up.  What was interesting for me was the new physics part or the implications the standard model of physics: the discovery or confirmation that neutrinos do have mass and the implications for the standard model and super symmetry, and in particular that if the LHC cannot find the particles that String Theory needs then things will get very interesting for physics.  Exciting times.

Then we had a break for coffee and tea

Afterwards we were run through the exciting discoveries in our Solar system in a talk called The Atmosphere of Planets by Dr. Ingo Mueller-Wodarg.  This presentation ranged from the discovery of methane on Mars to Titan with its oceans of methane and atmosphere so thick it would make the smog of Beijing look like a clear summer's day.  In passing mention was made of plumes of Enceladus and other astronomical delights of Saturn's system from the data acquired by the Cassini-Hyugens space mission.

After a most excellent lunchtime buffet came the outstanding presentation of both days when Dr. Tim Evans presented his research Networks – From eBay to Ancient Greece.  I almost don't know where to begin to start describing the range of this presentation that started with simple concepts of data or nodes and the creation of networks and then morphed into how we construct maps to allow us to understand the territories described by information.  My interest in particular was to do with one of my novels where a character is constructing a map of network where the nodes only send packets of information at particular times intervals.  Fascinating stuff that was about connections and truly lived up to the idea of synergy: creating more from the sum of the parts.

During the tea break I had the chance to exchange a few words with Dr. Evans, and he since very graciously emailed me.  There was so much to think about, totally inspirational stuff.

The final talk of the conference and the day was Artificial Intelligence by Dr. Marek Sergot who led an open discussion on the topic.  I enjoyed this, because listening to and asking questions of a world class expert is always good for stimulating story ideas.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Perfidious Albion

The majority of British subjects have just proved themselves to be economically ill informed.

I could be wrong, and I will wait with bated breath to be proven wrong.  If the politicians adroitly manage the changeover, by keeping London's position as an economic powerhouse in Europe, and the economy doesn't tank, then all will come out in the wash.

Meanwhile, all we can do is wait and see what happens.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Crucible of Empire

I hadn't planned on reading the sequel to The Course of Empire so soon, but my partner decided she did and went and bought a secondhand hardback from Amazon, so how could I resist?

The story starts two years after the end of the end of the previous book and introduces a fourth race to the Jaoverse.  If you want a synopsis then I recommend reading Amazon or Goodreads.  The plot has enough shenanigans going on to keep the reader engaged, but what I liked most was the alien culture building.  I was sucked into the world and society of the Lleix, so much so that when we start to see them through the eyes of the Humans and Jao it's quite a shock.

On other matters, I've been busy writing for the Galactic Journey blog, which takes a lot of time because I have to research everything to make sure it's not anachronistic.  For example, making sure I didn't use the phrase male gaze, which was not coined until 1975.  Still, I like a challenge, and it makes a change to write outside of my usual areas of interest.

On my own writing, well that's been interesting.

Currently, I'm working through another edit of Strike Dog, folding in my Beta reader's criticisms and suggestions, and I'm up to chapter five, which is 13,597 in out of a total of 95,768 words.  So a start, but what this doesn't tell you is that chapter four has yet to be written.  Though I have 6,682 words from an earlier draft cut and pasted into my novel, it requires a drastic rewrite, because the reason those words were cut in the first place was because they were a dreadful info dump.

In the meantime, my beloved is re-reading Ghost Dog, but before she started, she decided to re-read Bad Dog.  Guess what?  She found some typos.  Only four, which to be fair isn't many, but still a shock for me, and I imagine that given another set of eyes or a longish break, more could be found.  However, they were mostly trivial things like an extra and an the, but there was one character name error, and a line that needed revising to reflect changes made in an earlier edit of the novel that I missed.

Cést la vie.  Gnashing of teeth.  Until next week, take care.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

An Update

I was reviewing my writing progress or lack of it a couple of weeks ago.  I discovered that I effectively hadn't written anything to do with my two unfinished novels for two months.  So I restarted work on Ghost Dog.  The first day getting back into the writing was difficult, and I only managed to work through 2766 words, which was a bit rubbish.

Over the next two weeks I found my writing mojo and finished the remaining 39,174 words.  This was an out loud read-through and edit of the third draft which means it's now ready to send to my Alpha reader for her input.  When she sends it back I will do another quick revision to get it ready to send out to my Beta reader.

As a result, I've now started work on the next draft of Strike Dog, having read my Beta reader's feedback.  One thing is becoming clear to me, it seems I'm completely tense deaf.  Not sure what I can do about this, because given my age, educational background etc. it will be hard to change.  Not because I can't remember the rules, but because I'm oblivious to the changes in tense when reading.

What can I say?  Must try harder.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Shooting the Rift

A disclaimer, just in case you don't know, but Alex Stewart is a long-time friend of mine and therefore I'm probably biased in my review.  So I'll get that out of the way right now: go buy this book.

OK, plug finished.

I really liked Shooting the Rift.  The story felt very comfortable to me.  It had the feel of putting on a pair of slippers and dressing gown and curling up in comfort.  At times the book read like yesterday's future of tomorrow, but Alex managed to remind me that the future will be unevenly distributed and the mix of tech levels as his protagonist travels from one world to another.  Shooting the Rift features a fascinating melange of cyberpunk in a trans-human future where mankind has spread out across the stars; so while this is not full-fat, high caffeine, raw meat science fiction, it is in the tradition of grand sweeping space opera.

I'm so glad that I really enjoyed reading this, because so often when I read friends books they're OK but, they don't grab me and make me want to read the sequels.  The denouement of Shooting the Rift leaves everything with the promise for more.

Quite frankly I want more and it can't come soon enough.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Bad Fan

I'm a Bad Fan.

Let me expand what I mean when I say I'm a Bad Fan.  I tend to do my own thing when it comes to buying CDs of bands I follow or the books of authors I read.  I find I'm always behind on the latest new thing because I'm still enjoying the last old thing I found.

For example, take the band Garbage.  I discovered them when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was first on TV after buying the soundtrack for the series that had all the songs from the band that appeared in the show when the characters were hanging out in the Bronze.  That was back in 1999 and I probably bought my first Garbage album in 2001/2.  As I said I'm not quick when it comes to getting on the band wagon.  So this old fogey has been following Garbage for about 14 years, and the band has been around 20 years.  That pretty much defines not being on the bleeding edge.

I only recently got their last new album Not your Kind of People, which is great, mostly because I'd forgotten about it and there is another new album coming out soon: Strange little Birds.  And don't get me started on Blackstar by David Bowie, who along with Kate Bush I use to buy every LP (vinyl record for those who are too young to know what an LP is anymore) as it came out during the seventies and early eighties, but there again I reiterate I'm a Bad Fan, because I buy/listen/read/consume things at a pace that suits me.

Beginning of rant.

Anyway, on the internet in the last week we've had the usual foolishness of of people telling me what kind of SF there is and who likes what.  Warning this link takes you to Damien Walter being judgemental and dividing the goats from the sheep in his Eight Tribes piece.  I will state here that I intensely dislike being herded into a tribe.  It's divisive and serves no useful purpose.  Furthermore, my experience is that while some fans self identify as a fan of a particular part of the genre, lots of us (me) like to taste more than one thing.  To then extrapolate that certain parts of fandom – those into Military Science Fiction – are part of a right wing tribe that is just a poor ad hominem attack on those that Damien Walter's doesn't understand or like.

All this sort of piece does is divide people, and I'm not happy with being defined by a genre I read.  My reply to anyone who thinks that this is reasonable is sod off.

End of rant.

On a related note Paul McAuley wrote a rather nice piece on the Clarke Award in response to Nina Allan's Last Hurrah blog.  To quote Paul:
Science fiction, perhaps the most protean of genre fictions, is somewhat harder to define. We know it when we see it, but it includes a vast variety of different kinds of fiction; its borders are vague; it overlaps other genres, including literary fiction. But in all of those different kinds of science-fiction works, there's perhaps one unifying factor: rather than exploring reality, science fiction is interested in exploring the limits of reality. Rather than analysing and universalising individual human experience, it's interested in analysing the reality of the universe and measuring it against human values. It's about change and difference, and the consequences of change and difference.
I particularly like the, exploring the limits of reality, which is apposite given what science has to say about local versus non-local reality or if you prefer our biological versus our mathematical understanding of the universe we live in.

So that's it for another week, and I have to find my centre and get on with finishing off an article I'm in the middle of, rather than fretting over stuff on the internet that upsets me.

Saturday, 14 May 2016


Running late again due to the knock-on effects of the time it took me to sort out my computer.

I think it's clear from previous posts that I'm a fan of Jack McDevitt; in particular the Alex Benedict and Priscilla Hutchins' series.  Though I was rather disappointed with the last Hutchins book Starhawk, which I thought added little to the series story arc or character development.  Thunderbird is a sequel to his 1996 novel Ancient Shores, which was a novel I really enjoyed.

However, while the writing is good, the plot of Thunderbird was rather disappointing.  

Not in the same way as Starhawk, which added nothing to the series, but because of the direction McDevitt decided to go with the idea of a stargate that can take one to other worlds.  For me, while the characters made perfectly acceptable decisions, they were the wrong characters to be telling a story of exploring strange new worlds, seeking new life and alien civilizations, and boldly going where no one has gone before.

It's unlikely there will be a sequel to Thunderbird, which is another reason why it felt disappointing. 

There again, I never expected a sequel to Ancient Shores, as the novel is self-contained, and ends with the puzzle solved and hope for a new journey.  I'm reminded of the adage that a sequel written many years after the original is generally not improved by the passage of time, because the author will have grown and changed.

Other than that my spare time has been taken up with dealing with computer issues, archery practice and my job, which has meant a failure on my part to progress the draft of my third novel.  This is quite troubling to me as it indicates a failure to adapt, as the Marines would say, but it reflects the demands of my job and why I hadn't been writing while working full-time.

At some point I will have to make a decision on what I'm going to do if I sell my first novel.  Until then I have the luxury of waiting and seeing what happens.

NB: Please excuse my overly critical voice of a writer whose work I greatly admire.

Friday, 6 May 2016

En Passant

I have been a bit distracted by a combination of work and life.  Last weekend was full on archery with Saturday mornings practice being followed a whole day of shooting on Monday, which can be read on my other blog when I post it up.

I was also very busy time at my job, which left me feeling drained.  So, after work on Wednesday, I walked over to Orcs Nest and bought the latest copy of Miniature Wargames & Battlegames magazine, and at the same time bought a Star Wars X-Wing Punisher miniature (Imperial super bomber), which was appropriate as it was May the Fourth.

I don't really do the Star Wars Day thing, mostly because I forget and in this case far too focused on work.

When I got home I read on Twitter that Gene Wolfe had equated the term Sci-Fi as equivalent to a racial slur beginning with the letter N.  I'm boggled by this, and you really couldn't make this shit up and have anyone believe you if you wrote it.  I'm not as old as Gene Wolfe, but I'm old enough to be older than a large portion of SF fandom and I can't see the point of getting wound up by the term Sci-Fi, which was coined by Forrest J Ackerman in 1954, which was before I was born, so it's been around a long, long time.

Some people get sniffy about using Sci-Fi and some even prefer to use the term Speculative Fiction over Science Fiction, but at the end of the day it's down to personal choice, and I don't think that anyone has a leg to stand on if they compare the term Sci-Fi with a racial slur; at best it's over egging the argument, at worst it's downright offensive.

Colour me miffed.

Thursday was shopping and today I just took it easy and opened my new Star Wars miniature and re-organized how I numbered both my Imperial and Rebel Forces.  These things are important you know!  Anyway, it was fun unpacking all the bits & pieces, fitting the flight dial together and sorting out all the tokens and packing them away in order for when I next get to play.

So another week with no writing done – well apart from doing blog entries and compiling stuff for another article for Galactic Journey's blog.

Friday, 29 April 2016

And So It Begins

It's the beginning of the Hugo Wars where the forces of lawful good versus chaotic evil.  Oh sorry, that was the plot-line of Babylon 5.  My bad.

Looking at the works there's a lot to like and my feeling remains the same: read the stories and if you like it vote for it.  If not, then vote no award and ignore the political machinations.  I can't help but pull on my cynic goggles and say that the only real winners here are those that benefit from the column inches in what passes for the mainstream press.

Anyway, a pick of some of my favourites on this years Hugo list.

First the Retro Awards

Novel: Slan by A.E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science-Fiction, Dec 1940).

Best Dramatic Presentation: The Thief of Bagdad written by Lajos Bíró and Miles Malleson, directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan (London Films, United Artists).

Hugo 2016 Nominees

Novel: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, directed by J.J. Abrams (Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bad Robot Productions; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

And separately I'm pleased to see.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Andy Weir.

As for the whole brouhaha over who nominated what and why all I can say is that after four years of discussions by various people on the internet ranging from the famous to the obscure (I include myself in the obscure) I fail to see anyone changing their minds about their positions, which I take as a cue for saying, "we'll all have to agree to disagree."

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Course of Empire

After last week I started another book – The Course of Empire by Eric Flint & K. D. Wentworth, which meant I didn't get very far into the story and because I only tend to read on Sundays meant it took me longer to finish it.  Eric Flint is one of those authors who seems to write a lot of books with other people: or perhaps I should say other people write books with him?  As such, it makes it difficult to know what part of a book's story is down to which writer.  This bugs me because I like to get inside the head of an author through their writing.

However, saying that I enjoyed his Boundary series, written with Ryk E. Spoor, and I needed something to dispel the disappointment from giving up on the last week's book.

I really enjoyed The Course of Empire.  It wasn't the page turner in the way that say a Jim Butcher novel grabs one, but I found myself drawn to pick up the book over the course of the week and read a few more pages (so much so that I spent time reading it when I should have been working on Ghost Dog).  By the end of the novel I wanted to read the sequel, which my partner Susan had gone and ordered, while I was still ensconced in the story of the Jao occupation of Terra.  There's also a third volume coming out, stalled for several years by the fact that K. D. Wentworth died, called Span of Empire with a new co-author – David Carrico – coming out in September of this year.  It will be interesting to see how the change of co-author affects the telling of the story.

Other than that I've done diddly-squat this week on my own novel.  Hopefully next week will be more productive.  Catch you all later.

Friday, 15 April 2016

United States of Japan

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but when I saw the book United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas I just had to buy it.  The question though is the story as good as the cover promises? 

Unfortunately, I can't tell you because I got to page 143 and had to stop.  I read the end and that was even less convincing so I put the book down unfinished.  Ultimately, it came down to various things within the novel that threw me out of the narrative and by page 143 I was fed up with reading the book.  I've thought about saying a lot more things about why, but decided that muzukashi desu neh – it is difficult – sums up my position.  So, in short, not my cup of tea, it may be yours.

Sorry to be so negative, but look at that cover.  Isn't it awesome.

You can now read an article of mine on Galactic Journey.  I'm very pleased to have been invited to write for Tak Hallus's blog and you can expect to see more from me.  I imagine once a month but could be wrong.

Writing wise, I been working through Ghost Dog doing an out loud read through, which is harder than it sounds.  I only managed to edit 15,429 words this week because of the day job, which is going OK and makes me think about stuff that I may even get around to writing about at some point.  So that's it for another week, see you all on the bounce.

NB: This review is a learning experience, in that it made me realize I don't have to write reviews of things I don't like. After all, my opinion is no more valuable than anyone else's.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Larry Correia at Forbidden Planet

Larry Correia was at Forbidden Planet today signing his new book Son of the Black Sword and any of his other novels that anyone wanted signed.  I've really enjoyed his work ever since I bought his first novel Monster Hunter International.  I can tell you how much I liked it by how many times I've re-read it, and though it's very much a first novel with all that entails, the story makes me laugh out loud.  Everything he's written since has just gotten better as he progresses as a writer.

So it was a real pleasure to meet him at Forbidden Planet and press the flesh and get a few books signed.  I was also very fortunate to meet his lovely wife Bridget,  and I got to schmooze Jim Minz or should I say he very kindly talked to me and I told him about my novel and I said,
It's VOTOMS meets Stargate as if John Ringo were writing an Arthur C. Clarke novel.
Which is now the official elevator pitch of my novel after Jim said that sounded interesting.

So, I came home with copies of Hard Magic, Spellbound and Dead Six, the latter written with Mike Kupari, all signed by Larry, who was really nice and took the time to chat to everyone.  I also picked up a copy of the novel Shooting the Rift from Baen Books by my long time friend Alex Stewart.

SpaceX Falcon 9

Watched this last night on the live feed and was stunned by the landing.  Rocketry has become exciting again and a new generation of scientists and engineers are leading the way into space.  It looks like Heinlein was right, private enterprise will make space accessible not NASA.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Summer Knight

I have finished the next Jim Butcher book, and yes as usual I'm late to the series, but hey I got there in the end.  I'm not a critic, I'm a writer and so what I say is from this perspective.

I read Summer Knight in one day and Jim Butcher manages to draw me in despite the fact the books are light on rockets, robots, rayguns or 9mm gun action.  However, there is something compelling about the world that Harry Dresden lives in.  More importantly Jim Butcher clearly has a plot, and by plot I mean a story arc for the series that drives the narrative forward.  It doesn't hurt that his writing is smooth, like treacle running down the side of a glass: it makes you want to know more – and he avoids obvious denouements – in short he surprises me.  I'm always picking apart plots and thinking about how something is going to be resolved, so it's nice to have a book end in a way that surprises me.

I've even bought the sequel, and it waits on my to be read pile.  I can't give a better recommendation than that.

As for my writing, I've just finished off revising an article that was commissioned, which I will tell you about more later when it's announced/published.  Now it's back to work on polishing my third novel, resisting the temptations of starting a new story, which is hard because there's something compelling about facing icy wastes.  So this week ends with 17,825 words edited and I'm now at the beginning of Act 3 of Ghost Dog.


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