Archive | December, 2011

The Royal Sorceress: Sultan Napoleon I

31 Dec

Sultan Napoleon I

There was nothing auspicious about the birth of Napoleone di Buonaparte in 1769 on Corsica. Born to a poor family on a poor island (although the family considered itself to be local aristocracy) the young man was largely brought up by his mother, who forced him to undergo severe hardship to toughen him up. It was sheer happenstance that directed him towards a military career and he was lucky enough to secure a position in a French military school in 1784.

It isn’t actually clear if Napoleon actually possessed any magic. France never developed a testing system for magic until 1825 and, owing to the prevalent religious opinions of the time, many French magicians kept their heads down or fled to Britain. Some reports make it clear that Napoleon in fact possessed a limited amount of Charm, although this may well be exaggerated. When he wanted to be convincing, he could be extremely convincing – and he held the loyalty of many of his followers throughout his entire life. Charm may have played a role in his development, but others who commanded equal amounts of loyalty had no Charm to aid them.

Despite hostile propaganda, Napoleon played no role in the long period of unrest that gripped France, ending with the Battle of Paris in which the French Army brutally crushed the rebellious French underclass and allowed King Louis to start a reign of terror. However, as a Corsican (Corsica having been seized by the British during a moment of French weakness) Napoleon was expelled from the École Militaire. The reasoning has been lost to time, but is generally believed to be because the Corsican population (including some relations of the young Napoleon) enthusiastically welcomed the British invasion. It seems likely that the general historical record is accurate and Napoleon never actually returned to his homeland. Instead, he joined a small convoy of former French students and officers who were making their way to Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire (often conflated with the Turks in European writings of the time, although the Ottomans were as much a multicultural entity as the British Empire) was going through troubled times. What had once seemed certain dominance of the (known) world was slowly giving way to military decay. The once-great institutes of the Janissaries, the civil service and even the religious authorities were giving way to sloth and heading towards collapse. Turkey – once feared throughout the Mediterrian – had suffered a series of defeats that suggested that its power was on the wane. Those who tried to reform the state found it an extremely difficult (and sometimes lethal) task as they were opposing entrenched interests of both a military and religious nature.

Precisely how Napoleon came into contact with Sultan Selim III (1789–1809) is uncertain. It seems likely that Selim, who wanted to copy the improvements made by Peter the Great (known as Peter the Mad in Turkey) to the Russian military, would seek out the Frenchmen who had been trained in one of the world’s more famous military academies. The young Napoleon soon found himself in charge of creating a reformed military force that would, originally, complement the Janissaries. It was at this point, according to his official biographer, that he converted to Islam. Precisely how seriously he took the conversion is unknown, but he soon acquired three wives (including a relative of the Sultan himself) and was talking with apparent conviction on the value of Islam towards a reformed military. His first book – The Prophet and the Army of Allah – was written in 1797.

Put simply, Napoleon’s argument was that the Prophet’s campaigns against the infidels in the Arabian peninsula showed lessons for the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire. Learning from the Prophet’s successes meant studying the reasons for the Prophet’s successes – and of his failures. This made him a number of highly-placed enemies among the religious elite, who tended to prefer simplistic answers to such issues, rather than open a debate on the finer points of Islamic history that might start Muslims thinking about the current state of Islamic society. It also brought him a new friend in the form of Imam Abdul Al-Hamada, whose belief that many of the clerics were flouting the true nature of Islam made him a worrying factor for the religious elite. Indeed, his blistering denunciations of them as innovators had made him even more enemies than the young Napoleon.

By 1808, Napoleon’s reformed army – although smaller than the Janissaries – had a fair claim to being the most powerful and capable Islamic army on the planet. Napoleon commanded it in the battles between Russia and Turkey in 1804-1807 and rapidly earned a reputation as a good and capable commander. His actions stamped out the revolts in Serbia and Greece before either one could make serious headway, but his reluctance to trust in Allah (or so the conservative factions charged) made him more enemies back in Turkey. When he returned to Constantinople in 1809, he was targeted for assassination by the Janissaries, who had been spurred on by the religious elite, along with the Sultan himself. Napoleon’s life was saved, however, by what was later interpreted as the direct intervention of Allah. His bodyguards cut him free of the ambush and helped him to escape to the army camp near the city. There, he discovered that the Sultan – his patron – had been murdered and that the religious elite were in control.

A weaker man might have hesitated, but Napoleon acted at once. His army marched on Constantinople at once, gathering support from other reformers as he moved. The conservative factions appeared to believe that they could merely order the soldiers to stop and they would, but Napoleon knew his men better than that (and besides, many of the men had heard harrowing tales of what the Janissaries intended to do to their captives, once they surrendered.) The Battle of Constantinople – sometimes referred to as the Second Siege – lasted barely two days and ended with Napoleon’s troops breaking into the Palace and capturing the ringleaders of the coup. Napoleon promptly ordered them executed, along with most of the captured Janissaries. Precisely how many people died in the bloody aftermath of the coup is not recorded, but by the time it was over Napoleon was the unquestioned Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

He didn’t allow this opportunity to go to waste. Most of the religious elite that had added to the Empire’s stagnation were butchered over the following weeks and months. The Janissaries were broken and disbanded, many sent to remote colonies instead of being allowed to remain near the centre of power. In their place, Napoleon expanded his own army – the Army of Allah – and instituted a program of conscription and gradual reform. He also founded the official clerical school in Constantinople; all Mullahs would have to be certified by the school before they were allowed to practice. Mullahs who spoke out against the Sultan were removed, condemned as infidels and executed.

Many of the changes Napoleon made were positive. He disliked slavery and ended the practice throughout most of the Empire (although, needing men for labour battalions, he often used his enemies as serfs). The position of Jews and Christians within the Empire was much improved; he removed the hated religious tax and stripped the complex laws of the Ottoman Empire down as far as possible. It wasn’t long before Turkey was on its way to producing weapons and other equipment for war. Flying columns of the Army of Allah soon secured Mecca against Arab raiders and safeguarded the Holy City from barbarians. He even started reforming the Ottoman Navy, although he was under no illusions as to how long it would last in the teeth of a vastly superior British Navy.

The British war against the Barbary Pirates provided Napoleon with a chance to prepare his own plans for Ottoman ‘provinces’ and their over-mighty governors. In 1830, he personally led the Army of Allah through Palestine and into Egypt, which was still ruled by the Mamelukes. They claimed to be subordinate to the Sultan, but in reality answered to no one, apart from their leaders. Napoleon allowed them to challenge the Army of Allah and then smashed them with staggering ruthlessness. For all their barbarity, they were no match for what was, effectively, a modern army. The occupation of Egypt, the breaking of the Cairo mob and the establishment of a new government lasted less than a month, although refugee Mamelukes would continue to cause trouble in the south for the next thirty years. Napoleon’s armies took vast numbers of prisoners and sent them to work on the planned Suez Canal. Most of them didn’t live to complete their sentences.

With the humbled Barbary States paying homage to the Sultan, Napoleon was able to thrust his control out along the North African coastline. His armies crushed slavers, burned out pirate nests and eventually secured control of North Africa. Reformists followed in their wake, introducing modern methods to the population and slowly reforming the states. Those who protested too loudly were transported to the work camps of Suez. By 1835, Napoleon could justly claim that he had reinvigorated the Ottoman Empire. And he was far from finished.

American Revolution in SPACE…

31 Dec

So I was dared to come up with a new twist on the ‘American Revolution in Space’ trope…

There’s tension between Earth and some of the colonies, which have started demanding more rights and a say in what happens to them. The governor of one colony has been talking to the rebels on one hand and plotting their military suppression on the other – as it takes months to send troops from Earth, he’s stalling while his hammer arrives and he can use it to crush the rebels.

The main character is really not much more than a bureaucrat. He’s the governor’s secretary and he discovers what his master is planning. Horrified, perhaps believing that the colonists aren’t such bad fellows, he ends up betraying his master – and somehow winds up leading the revolution. Because Earth isn’t going to let it slide – and troops from Earth are on their way to put down the rebellion…


The Royal Sorceress Sequal

30 Dec

Something I’ve been thinking about is a sequel to the Royal Sorceress, set about a year after the first book. Sir Talbot Buxomly (a Blackadder reference), newly home from India, has been assassinated – and his killer may have used a new kind of magic. Gwen is assigned to investigate by Lord Mycroft, who feels that Sir Talbot’s death (on the verge of discussions between Britain and Russia about the looming threat from the Ottoman Empire) has political motivations. Unfortunately, a rather alarmingly large number of people have good reason for wanting Sir Talbot dead.

Oh, and if his killer isn’t found, the conference is bound to fail and war may loom on the horizon.


Brainstorming: Aliens In The UK?

26 Dec

I’m looking for a little help with one of my latest ideas.

Basically, the Earth has been invaded by an alien empire for various reasons (Earth is in a strategic location and they want it for power-projection capabilities). The aliens are roughly 50 years ahead of us; their FTL system is ‘slow’ and while they can call for reinforcements, it takes several months for them to receive any from their homeworld.

The story itself is focused on Britain, as there are plenty of stories about the United States being invaded. (Obviously, the US, France, Russia, China, and so on are also getting invaded and clobbered by the aliens, but the story is set in the UK.) Having spent a few months prowling around the system, reading the Internet and surveying us from orbit, the aliens manage to hammer most of the military in the opening round. They then land in London and try to capture the PM, which doesn’t work, before expanding out to occupy the remaining cities. The aliens are fairly brutal, which makes them even more unpopular than they were before.

Things I would like to brainstorm.

What happens to the UK if it gets effectively cut off from the rest of the world? The banking industry probably crashes hard, but that isn’t the major issue. What about food and suchlike? The aliens will probably starve large parts of the population by accident.

How can an insurgency be fought and maintained in the UK? Britain is largely a disarmed society. What happens when – if – the aliens resort to brutal methods to keep the population in line? Or, for that matter, what happens if they feed people in return for submission?

What about the role of the Royal Family. If King Charles is killed, along with Willy, that makes Harry the King. Can he be used as an effective rallying point or not?

Can nukes be used as a last resort? The aliens can shoot down missiles launched from Earth, but tactical nukes could probably be slipped into their bases. What about chemical or biological warfare? Could Earth devise a way of infecting the aliens with a disease?

Are there any other issues that should be considered?


The Shadow World–a brief guide

24 Dec

Explaining the Shadow World to an inhabitant of the Mundane World is extremely difficult. A person born to the mundane world thinks in terms of cause and effect, logic and reason and other such clinches. When confronted by a Map of Merlin, the Mundane person would find it impossible to grasp that the map actually is the territory and it is possible to use the map to step instantly from one place to another, no matter the distance between them. Very few mundane people can hope to survive and prosper in the magical world; those who do are often regarded as a little mad by their fellows.

Perhaps the best explanation is that the Shadow World and the Mundane are reflections of one another; indeed, one of the easiest ways to slip accidently from one world to the other is through a looking glass. Where science dominates the Mundane World, Magic (in all of its forms) dominates the Shadow World. The creatures of human nightmares – ranging from goblins to elves, faeries, gods, anthropomorphic personifications and demons – inhabit the Shadow World. Humans are very low on the food chain; indeed, one of the most common causes for a Shadow Human choosing to abandon the Shadow World and moving into the Mundane World is a close encounter with a far more powerful being. Curses and hexes from gods and demons, which cannot be removed by any human agency, have no power in the Mundane World. However, the price for embracing the Mundane World is becoming mundane. A sorcerer who chooses to become mundane loses all of his power in the process.

While the Mundane World follows the strict law of cause and effect, the Shadow World is far more slippery. Time does not follow a straight line; it bends and twists back on itself, often causing problems for the more restricted thinkers. Conflicts have been known to start between different factions in the Shadow World because both sides believed that the other started it – and, from their points of view, both sides are perfectly correct. It is not possible to actually rewrite time – insofar as time can be said to exist within the Shadow World – but it is possible for some people to experience an alternate future, which they manage to prevent from having taken place at all after using the temporal geography to walk into the relative past. Some scholars believe that alternate timelines can be viewed through the Shadow World – while the Mundane World hews to its single timeline – but this has never been proven.

One important part of the Shadow World’s laws is that the symbol for an object is – in some sense – the object itself. The simplest example of this lies in personal names, which are always closely guarded within the Shadow World, if only to prevent them being used against the person. All humans and many other creatures within the Shadow World tend to go by chosen names rather than risk having their real names exposed by their enemies. Names can also be used to summon gods, anthropomorphic personifications and demons, although this is commonly believed to be unwise. Such creatures are less limited in the Shadow World than humans and can take advantage of a badly-prepared magician to break free and wreck havoc.

Connected to this, oaths and curses have very real effects within the Shadow World. To promise to do something and then fail to do it – deliberately – can have disastrous effects as the oath rebounds upon the one who swore it. Curses can also shadow their target, although curses are inherently less powerful than oaths, being wished upon someone rather than sworn by their target. However, curses can be diverted through protecting one’s true name and most – human – curses can be easily removed.

Where humans are concerned, the rulers of the English Shadow World are the Thirteen Families, thirteen bloodlines that consistently produce powerful magicians. According to legend, the Thirteen Families were given their patents of nobility by Elizabeth I of England (who was reportedly of elfish blood) after they bred with Faerie women and produced the first human magicians. (This is of doubtful accuracy, as Merlin, Friar Bacon and a number of other famous magicians existed prior to Queen Elizabeth. But it is in the nature of the Shadow World that two contradictory things may be true at once.) Each of the Thirteen is headed by a Master who is styled after his family (so the Master of Burghley Family is always Master Burghley) and, upon investiture, takes on the debts, obligations and oaths of the family. Precisely how new Masters are selected from the ranks of their families is a closely-guarded secret, which leads to a great deal of speculation from outsiders.

The Thirteen Families have a habit of inviting newcomers to join them through marriage to a member of the family. These marriages are generally arranged by the Family Master and the family member selected to be the bride or groom has little say in the affair. However, outside maintaining the all-important bloodlines (and breeding new strength into the family from outsiders), there is little concern about adultery or outside romances. Marriage oaths do not prevent adultery (through careful wording), but they do generally prevent the birth of illegitimate children.

As a whole, each of the Family Masters has a seat on the Council of Thirteen. Being composed of the most powerful magicians in the Shadow World (or of men who have the allegiance of the most powerful magicians) they have the power to make their will felt throughout the human side of the Shadow World. They also have considerable power to affect the non-human entities, although that power is badly limited and is only rarely invoked. In public, the Council will claim that they do not wish to upset the delicate balance of power within the Shadow World; in private, they will admit that challenging the often far more powerful non-human entities would be very dangerous for humanity.

The Shadow World is policed – insofar as it is policed – by the Inspectors and the Enforcers. It isn’t actually clear precisely who the Inspectors work for, but they serve to keep the peace when it is threatened by human activity and protect humans who stumble into the Shadow World by accident. The Enforcers, by contrast, work for the Council of Thirteen directly and carry out its orders, policing human magicians who threaten the Council’s authority or the balance of power. It is often suspected that one day the Inspectors and Enforcers will clash directly – Inspectors have sometimes sanctioned members of the Thirteen Families – but for the moment there is an uneasy peace between both forces.

Outside the Council of Thirteen (and the Inspectors) there is very little law and order within the Shadow World. It has often been described as a ‘dog eat dog’ world, with many humans enslaved by other humans or non-human entities. Humans who stumble into the Shadow World are often very vulnerable to more experienced predators and can get into a great deal of trouble before they realise what is going on. The Inspectors rarely interfere and the grounds that allow them to interfere (on the rare occasions when they do so) are unclear.

Outside the human aspects of the Shadow World are the domains of non-human entities. Some of them, like the Faerie Court, can only be accessed with the permission of the Faerie – being allowed to leave is a different matter. The rules have a nasty habit of changing depending on which part of the Shadow World one enters, although almost every part of the Shadow World recognises the rights of insult and theft. To steal (and be caught) or to insult one of those entities within earshot can have the most drastic consequences, consequences that are enforced by the Shadow World itself. Many of the human captives within Faerie fell into their hands after accidentally transgressing the rules.

The precise nature of the gods (and demons) is imprecise and they tend to discourage questioners. It is generally believed that the gods walked the Earth when the barriers between the Shadow World and the Mundane World were weaker, giving rise to humanity’s religions and allowing the gods to feed off the belief expressed by their worshippers. Gods have been known to lose their power and fade away into the shadows, should they lose all of their believers, although the time-twisting nature of the Shadow World ensures that many still maintain a presence even when their worshippers are all dead.

Above – perhaps – the gods are creatures of vast power, but completely incomprehensible to human minds. Several of them have their own tendrils that leak into the Mundane World, while others seem to keep themselves to themselves, too alien for humans to understand. Even looking at such creatures can be fatal, while close contact can result in death, madness or physical transfiguration. No one has ever been able to communicate with them and they are generally believed to be above the law of the Inspectors. Their true nature is unknown.

Precisely why the Mundane and Shadow Worlds are separated by barriers is perhaps the greatest mystery in a realm of unanswered questions. Given the fact that the barriers started to appear during the time of Jesus Christ and were firmly in place by the time of Mohammed, it is generally assumed that God Himself dictated that the barriers were to protect humanity from the creatures that lurked within the shadows. No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain; the ‘gods’ within the Shadow World reserve their greatest hatreds for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Those who enter their territory rarely come out again.

There are no diplomatic relations between the Mundane World and the Shadow World. As far as the people who exist mainly in the Mundane World know, the Shadow World is nothing more than something rarely glimpsed out of the corner of one’s eye. The governments are not aware of the existence of the Shadow World and wouldn’t be able to interfere with it if they were. For reasons unknown, the fabric of the world seems to adapt to the presence of both worlds, allowing people from the Shadow World to walk unnoticed among the Mundane World.

It is difficult to explain the practice of magic within the Shadow World, as it takes a number of different forms. The most common form involves spells created with the Shadow Voice, a language that can only be spoken within the Shadow World, which – when recited by a person with a magical gift – invoke magic. An advanced magician is able to form new spells in the Shadow Voice and use them without relying on common spells. Other magic spells draw on the gods – there is, as always, a price for such power – or sacrifice humans or animals for magical power. Some magicians are capable of standing up to the more powerful entities, with sufficient preparation, while others are simply unable to touch them.

Despite the nature of the Shadow World’s society, there are places that are accepted as neutral ground. One of them is the Shadow Library, located in the part of the Shadow World that corresponds to Edinburgh. It is the largest collection of magical books in the Shadow World and can be consulted by anyone, provided they can gain entry to the Shadow World. Very few magicians would dare to risk causing trouble within the library. The library itself would turn on them. This does not, of course, stop them from using the library as a place for scheming, intriguing and plotting fiendish revenge against their enemies.

A second neutral ground is ‘Paddy’s Bar,’ tended by a man believed to be an Irish god (presumably the god of beer, but no one knows for sure). The first drink is always free; after that, patrons have to pay for each round of drinks with a story. ‘Paddy’ can be in multiple places at once within his bar and is never seen outside it. Whatever his true nature, he very definitely has the power to evict troublemakers (including Enforcers) from his territory. A number of his bar staff are, in fact, refugees from Enforcers or their former masters. What happens to them after they finish working in his bar is unknown. Inspectors have never attempted to enter his territory, for reasons unknown.

Rumour has it that Paddy’s Bar is linked to every bar in the Mundane World and sometimes Mundane people can enter the bar, enjoy the storytelling and excellent beer, and then return to the Mundane World, unsure of quite what happened to them. No one knows if this is actually true.

Aliens Infiltrators

24 Dec

Imagine a highly advanced civilisation, maybe like Star Trek’s Federation. This society is basically post-scarcity, so it’s fairly settled rather than expanding outwards into the galaxy at high speed. It’s also the most powerful force in the galactic neighbourhood by a long way, not unlike the US today.

And then one of its internal security services discovers an alien infiltrator. There’s an unknown race worming its way into the Federation, setting up the stage for a total power grab and humanity’s enslavement…

How does that sound?


Aliens in the UK?

22 Dec

Yet another idea going around and around in my mind.

There aren’t many alien invasion novels set completely in the UK. Ok, I wrote the Posleen in UK story (that may not count) and there are Nick Pope’s two excellent novels, but apart from that there’s very little – apart, of course, from The War of the Worlds.

It does make sense, unfortunately. From space, the UK doesn’t look very big, not when compared to America, Russia, China or even France. And while I like to think we can hold our corner at war, we don’t have the same level of deployable firepower as the US. Simple logic means that the US will get the brunt of any major alien invasion force – save, perhaps, for a Posleen-like horde.

So I was thinking about an updated WOTW. The Earth is being invaded by an alien force roughly 50 to 100 years ahead of us. All major countries are being hit, including the UK. The main body of the story, however, would follow the war in the UK, with slight diversions to other parts of the world.

How does that sound?

I admit I’m still thinking about the ending. I’d like to have one with hope, but it may have to be the aftermath of giving the aliens a bloody nose.