Archive | March, 2013

Outcast Updates–and Moving

30 Mar

Hi, everyone

There will be a slight delay on production of Semper Fi, owing to us moving from KK to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. I spent the day packing up the car – it’s astonishing how much junk we acuminated over the last year, even discounting my colossal number of books (God help us if we ever have to empty the family home in Edinburgh.) Now all I have to is worry about the stuff in the car until it is shipped to KL after us.

So I’m tired and stressed and resolving not to do it again (or at least buy more ebooks instead of just writing them …)

Anyway, I had something more important to mention than just whining <grin>

Previously, I posted a snipped on my blog entitled The Outcast, the first part of a side-story set in The Empire’s Corps universe. In it, a young girl – her parents and brother unjustly arrested by a very unpleasant government – flees her home. One version of the story would have sent her into space to join the Traders; the other would have had her becoming a Marine. I’d actually like to write both stories.

Obviously, they’re not compatible – I may do a different story on the training of the Terran Marine Corps.

Thoughts?

Incidentally, I hope you enjoyed my first political commentary – and thanks for the comments. You can now find it on my site.  The next one, I hope, will be reflections on the British involvement in Iraq.

Chris

Advertisements

A Question of Trust; Cyprus, the Banks and the EU

26 Mar

[My first piece of political commentary. Please be kind.]

The last few weeks have seen worrying developments in Cyprus, developments that are illustrative of both the problems the EU will likely experience in coming months and years and of the complete failure of the political leaders in the EU to understand the impact their polices have on long-term growth. As such, it is worth study by anyone interested in political developments.

A general narrative of the crisis can run something like this. In order to help fund the bailout the EU (mainly Germany) was prepared to offer Cyprus, the locals were expected to impose a tax on deposits in local banks. What that means, in practical terms, is that bank accounts over a certain level (national and foreign alike) were going to be raided to help fund the bailout. This promptly caused a major crisis of confidence in the island’s extremely important banking sector, as well as runs on the banks by small investors (which caused chaos when the banks were shut and sellers stopped accepting credit cards and cheques.)

[This narrative may not be completely accurate, but political narratives seldom are.]

As a general rule, taxes are paid on money one earns – once. You might be taxed £10 out over every £100 you earn, but the remaining £90 is yours. Most people promptly put it in the bank, where it can earn interest – on the assumption that it will be safe there. This is not a foolhardy assumption under normal circumstances; a bank is generally harder to rob than a house and has insurance allowing the bank to recover from a robbery, or at least repay the people who put their money in the bank.

This also puts money into the local economy. To use a set of simplified figures, if ten people loan £100 to the bank each, the bank has £1000 – which it can then loan to someone else, collect the interest when the loan is repaid and then use it to give interest to the original people. What this means (practical terms again) is that the banks rarely have vast sums of money on hand. The existence of your money in the bank is, to some extent, a legal fiction. What this means is that banks rarely have enough capital on hand to pay if all of their customers suddenly start demanding their money back.

One or two people demanding their money – or even several hundred, given the size of the average bank – isn’t a problem. If, however, confidence in the bank is shattered, every customer will want their money back before it is too late. This panic creates a run on the bank, which spurs others to demand their own money back … and eventually collapses the bank. Part of the reason European Governments have largely underwritten small investors is to prevent such a scenario from destroying a European bank.

This may seem absurd; bankers talk of billions of pounds (or dollars, or whatever) while the average saver may have little more than £10000 in his account, if that. However, such figures add up quickly. If we assume that a bank has 100000 customers, each with an average saving of £1000, it becomes clear that the bank actually holds £100000000. That is not a small amount of money.

What customers demand from their banks is, above all, safety – a guarantee that their savings won’t be plundered by the bankers. Who in their right mind would put money in a bank with a leaky safe or cashiers with greedy hands? And tell me – who would put money in a bank when the government of that country, egged on by the EU, has seriously proposed to loot it to pay off a foreign debt?

Cyprus may not go as far as the doomsayers have been predicting. But the damage has been done. The country’s banking sector, which is a major part of the economy, has lost the trust of its investors.

Every so often, if I may digress a little, there is public and political anger at the bonuses bankers receive, followed by calls to strip them of their golden parachutes – rewards, in the public mind, for making millions while costing the country billions. Legally, however, the bonuses are untouchable. The bankers cannot often be forced to surrender their gains, no matter how politically expedient it is to do so. If it were to happen, it would dent the faith of businesses in the rule of law. If a contract can be overridden at a government’s whim, then no contract can be said to be truly secure. This is the death knell for a free market economy.

You cannot retroactively declare something illegal without undermining your justice system. Writing laws to forbid such bonuses in future might make sense; God knows that bankers get paid more than the average working person in any case. Slamming them for acts, no matter how shameful, that were not illegal at the time is asking for trouble. Anything can be declared retroactively illegal. Anything at all. Just ask Cicero.

Trust is an important part of maintaining an economy. It is also something that is in short supply outside the West.

If you look at Third World countries that stagnate, despite vast infusions of foreign aid, they tend to have one thing in common. There is no non-family trust. People do not trust outsiders, other people who are not members of their own family. And why should they when there is no recourse to recover one’s money if it is lost? Or if someone related to the nation’s leader can take whatever he wants, without paying. Or if the size of the bribe you pay is what determines what, if any, justice you receive?

These countries have no trust – and, really, why should they?

What is this likely to mean for Cyprus – and the EU as a whole? Right now, the Government of Cyprus is working hard to prevent money from flowing out of the country … having woken up to discover just how badly the EU has sideswiped them. That isn’t going to calm future investors, is it? Why would anyone put money into a black hole? Even if the tax on deposits is completely scrapped, the damage has been done. The can of worms has been opened. Use whatever metaphor suits you best – a very dangerous line was crossed over the last two weeks. The long-term repercussions are going to be disastrous.

The EU has been working hard to claim that they are merely collecting Russian money – with a strong implication that the only reasons Russians would put money in Cyprus is for criminal reasons. (The Kremlin has been cracking down on Russians holding offshore bank accounts recently; make of that what you will.) This is untrue; all businesses that deal in Cyprus, national and international, run the risk of losing large chunks of their cash. Even if this was just a once-off, it would still do irreparable damage to Cyprus’s reputation as a safe investment. Worse, there is absolutely no guarantee that this couldn’t either be repeated – or spread.

Now that this precedent has been allowed to stand, what guarantees can you offer that savers in Britain, France or Germany won’t be hit too?

Brussels has been working hard to convince everyone that this is indeed a one-off, that it won’t be repeated. Does anyone feel like trusting them to keep their word?

<FX: clocks ticking, crickets chirping, owls hooting, etc …>

A Year and a Day in Kota Kinabalu

23 Mar

Today is my birthday – and just over a year since I came to live in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Last year, I was a mess. Life seemed to be twisting out of control; I was down, depressed and seriously considering ending it. I’d lost several things that were important to me in quick succession and I felt that my career was going nowhere.

Aisha – my wife – had been nagging me to move to KK and so I did. And it was an improvement. I’ve got some books published and I’m doing well on Kindle … I feel much better now, thankfully.

Living in KK is strange when I was used to Britain. It’s much hotter here, for a start; I have to use sun cream every time I go outside the house. KK itself is a strange mixture of British and Asian influences; at times, it is familiar and at times it is disconcertingly alien. The views are wonderful, very different to British wind, rain and mountains. On the downside, there’s a great deal of poverty here; far too many people barely earn enough to keep themselves and their families fed.

We’ve also done a surprising amount of travelling. We’ve been to South Korea in winter (bitterly cold, but lovely), Singapore (expensive), the Philippines and several places in Malaysia itself. Photos are on my facebook for anyone interested.

Next week, we’re moving to West Malaysia for several months. I’m not sure how to feel about that. Change isn’t something I handle well, sadly, and it will be difficult to carry on with my current writing project. On the other hand, it has to be done. Next time we move, we’d better plan it more carefully.

Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday, on facebook and elsewhere.

Christopher G. Nuttall

Kota Kinabalu, 2013

Semper Fi – Snippet

12 Mar

Just a taste of what’s coming…

Prologue

System Command, Commodore Rani Singh thought, with a flicker of genuine amusement.

It had been intended as a punishment. Admiral Bainbridge had not appreciated it when she’d turned down his advances and had promoted her sideways, straight into System Command, Trafalgar Naval Base. Everyone knew that System Command was staffed by those in disfavour with their superiors – it involved less paperwork than court martial and dishonourable discharges – and those assigned to Imperial Navy bases lacked even the opportunity for graft that their counterparts assigned to civilian systems enjoyed. Her career had come to a screeching halt.

Or so the old goat had thought.

Rani’s family had meddled with their genes for centuries, pushing the limits of genetic engineering as far as they would go without crossing into direct technological enhancement. At forty-two, she looked nineteen – and beautiful. Long dark hair framed a dusky face, with dark eyes that seemed both alluring and forbidding. The white uniform, tailored to hint rather than reveal, drew the male eye. Men had always stared at her, only to discover that Rani rarely shared her favours with anyone, even those who could help her career in exchange. But then, she’d always considered herself to possess some integrity. She had no intention of selling herself merely to gain rank, not when it would have destroyed her career in the long run.

It still galled her, four years after her assignment to Trafalgar, that it had taken her so long to understand the opportunity the Admiral had placed in front of her. She’d spent two months in a funk before resolving to do the best she could with what she had … and then it had hit her. System Command controlled everything, from personnel assignments to orbital docking stations for 15th Fleet; there was hardly anything in the system that didn’t require approval from her subordinates. A person with ruthless ambition and a complete lack of scruples – and loyalty to the Empire – could go far. She could even make herself a warlord in her own right.

She settled back in her chair and studied the orbital display. Bainbridge and his cronies couldn’t see the truth, but she could; the signs of decay and impending disaster were all around them. Rumour had warned her that the Empire might abandon Trafalgar long before she had received the formal notification, spurring her to make preparations for that day. The Grand Senate thought that she would shut the base down and then follow Bainbridge back into the Empire. Rani had other plans.

15th Fleet wasn’t as mighty as it had once been – seven battleships, nineteen cruisers and thirty destroyers – but it represented the largest force in the sector, enough to wreck several worlds. If, of course, it was used properly. Bainbridge just didn’t have the imagination to see the possibilities – and besides, he had links to the Grand Senate. Rani had none … and knew that the Grand Senate would be unable to respond to her plans before it was too late. If some of the rumours were to be believed, Earth itself was on the verge of catastrophe.

She keyed her personal console, sending a message to her allies. Putting the force together had been easy, so easy that she’d been convinced that Bainbridge was setting her up …. until she’d realised that even Imperial Security had too much else to keep them distracted. Now, her loyalists were on their way to the battleships, where they would take control, allowing her to secure the naval base without fighting. She already held the four orbital defence stations in her thrall.

Smiling, she listened to the first set of messages from her assault forces. Thankfully, the Grand Senate had ordered the Marines – who would normally have had a platoon or two on the battleships – to head towards the Core Worlds, instead of leaving them in place. Without the Marines, it was almost pathetically easy to overall the crews and take over the ships. It helped that she’d arranged shore leave for most of the crewmen before launching her operation.

“Admiral Bainbridge has been shot attempting to escape,” Colonel Higgs said. He was one of her closest allies, someone who had good reason to resent Bainbridge and his fellow aristocrats. She’d given him specific instructions to make sure that Bainbridge didn’t survive the coup. “And the ships are ours.”

“Excellent,” Rani told him. “Proceed with part two.”

Her smile grew wider as she contemplated the possibilities. If Bainbridge and his ilk wouldn’t allow her to rise in their Empire, she’d damn well build one of her own. And her Empire would be far stronger than theirs …

After all, who was going to stop her?

New Kindle Book–and Promotion

2 Mar

Hi, everyone

My latest Kindle ebook – Science and Sorcery – has now been uploaded to Amazon and can be downloaded from here. As an introduction to this book and my work in general, it can be downloaded for free on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th of March, US time. If you like my writing, please share this post and download a copy.

Years ago, the magic faded away and was gone. Now, it is back … and the nightmare is following close behind.

Strange events are being reported all over the globe. Werewolves and vampires, magicians and sorcerers … ordinary people are becoming monsters, or developing strange inhuman powers. But as the government, the military and religions struggles to come to terms with a radically reshaped reality, a dark force from the days before science is slowly working its way back into the world. If science fails to come to grips with sorcery, the world will plunge into a nightmare without end.

And time is already running out …

Download a Free Sample and then get it from Amazon here!

[As a matter of principle, all of my self-published books are DRM-free. You may treat it as you may treat any normal paperback book. And if you like, please review.]