Archive | September, 2013

Publication Dates: Update

27 Sep

Hi, everyone

Just a short update on publication dates.

Schooled in Magic has just had its first major edit by Christine Amsden. Ideally, I hope to do a final run-through by the end of October. After that, the eARC should be coming out in January and the book itself should be published in April, all going well. Books II and III will be conceptually edited, but I have yet to formally submit them. Book IV is currently in the advanced planning stage.

The Very Ugly Duckling (Bookworm II) is being edited now and should be available in Kindle format in January, with a dead tree edition several months later.

Watch this space for further details.


To The Shores: Edward’s Mistake?

26 Sep


One of the many – many, many, many – problems with the first few books in the Left Behind series is the simple fact that the characters KNOW what sort of book they’re in. None of the main characters – and few of the secondary characters – really question their own beliefs, let alone the story behind the mass disappearances in chapter one. They KNOW they’re in a post-Rapture story where the devil will rule the world for seven years, prior to the return of Jesus Christ, and there’s no point in actually resisting him. This leads to much painful logic-bending on the part of the authors, who must somehow present the characters as heroes while leaving them doing very little that is actually heroic.

[Example; one of the main characters is assigned to serve as the Antichrist’s personal pilot (completely ignoring the fact that you have to be in the USAF to have even a hope of serving as the pilot of Air Force One) and doesn’t seem to contemplate the virtues of ditching the plane over the Pacific Ocean. Let’s make the devil work for his fun.]

The foresight granted the main characters robs the books of their chance to be anything other than painful reads. Because everything is pre-determined to be pre-determined (the plot is not only worked out, but known to the characters) there’s no meaningful struggle against futility. Not only are they deprived of the fun of working out that the missing people were not taken away by aliens, but the whole world walks into a trap which is so clearly advertised that it might as well have T-R-A-P painted on top (and the authors would probably argue that it did.)

In the real world (or in a universe created by a semi-competent hack) the level of foresight shown by the characters is much more limited. For example, we look back at Hitler’s decision to advance to Stalingrad, Churchill’s decision to try to hold Crete, Japan’s decision to fight the Battle of Midway … and we wonder just WTF they were thinking. None of those decisions can be said to have worked out very well. But if were try to ignore the benefit of 60 years of hindsight, it becomes clear that there were strong reasons in favour of taking those decisions. No one can ever launch a gamble knowing the outcome in advance; all they can realistically do is stack the deck in their favour.

The politicians, soldiers, sailors and airmen who make decisions do not have the benefit of looking back, or the time to carefully consider every option. One can over-analyse a problem to death, if one tries – but then, one might simply run out of time. They have to make their decisions based on the facts available at the time, not what might emerge in the future. If you believe that the hill is only defended by a company of enemy soldiers – and you have a full regiment – you might make the call to attack … and only then discover that the enemy has a full division dug in and you’re rather badly outnumbered. In hindsight, you screwed up; in foresight, not so much.

My point is this; genuinely stupid (at the time) decisions are actually quite rare in history

I mention all this because several recent reviews of To The Shores challenged the whole setting of the story, suggesting that Edward, Jasmine, et al walked into a trap that was blindingly obvious. Naturally, I don’t agree; they might have walked into a meatgrinder, but they didn’t do it intentionally or through stupidity. Unfortunately, illustrating this directly within the text is not easy. One has to make it clear that the characters don’t know everything – and certainly not the blurb at the back of the book. For all they knew, the story was How We Stayed On A Luxury Island While The Diplomats Argued And Chased Local Women.

There are several points that, I thought, I had made clear in the text and should certainly be taken into account.

One – Avalon is making contact with Wolfbane, a successor state of unknown size and composition, let alone military might. If Avalon is significantly weaker than Wolfbane, Wolfbane might be tempted to take over (or vice versa). Thus, both sides have a vested interest in picking somewhere neutral for their talks. There will be very little for spies to discover about relative fleet sizes and suchlike.

In short, the decision to use Lakshmibai was not a wholly free one.

Two – Lakshmibai is a very minor world. (Think Iceland, compared to the US or the USSR, or some Third World microstate.) The files they had on the planet were out of date as no one was particularly interested in collecting data, even before the Empire abandoned Avalon. Furthermore, even if the planet did give them trouble, it was utterly helpless against the starships. Any rational actor, they decided, would assume that wiping out the diplomats would be followed by brutal retaliation and therefore put up with their presence as long as necessary. What they missed was that the bad guys were both NOT entirely rational and engaged with other off-world factions.

Three – both Avalon and Wolfbane were paranoid about each other. The security precautions both sides took (sending away the starships, for example) were designed to stop the other getting an unfair advantage. Compared to that, the threat from the planet’s inhabitants barely registered.

Four – Edward took advantage of the opportunity to give the CEF an exercise, allowing them to practice deploying across light years. Wolfbane didn’t object to this (although they sent no matching contingent) because the CEF didn’t alter the balance of power decisively in Avalon’s favour. Both sides were more worried about starships than ground forces.

Obviously, you may read the text and disagree (even allowing for the fact that you read the cover blurb). My point, however, is that people do make mistakes, based on what they know at the time, that look extremely stupid in hindsight. YMMV, of course.

Escaping a Black Hole

11 Sep

If there is one thing that Obama’s current problems with Syria – and his own big mouth – indicate, it is that we have fought the War on Terror for twelve years and we are still no closer to actually escaping the crux of the problem. This is the one true failing of the Bush Administration and Obama, who tried to brand himself as the anti-Bush, has failed to cope with it too.

The problem can be summarised as follows. We are at war with a strain of Radical Islam that seeks the destruction of all other ways of life (including Muslims who don’t share their beliefs). This ideology is closely linked to states like Saudi Arabia, where the Royal Family cannot crush it without risking their own position, and festers in places where law and order are a joke. In places like Libya, Egypt, Palestine or even parts of Afghanistan, the Islamists often seem the better option when compared to tyrannical governments.

Once in power, or closely linked to power (as in Saudi), these so-called Islamists will do two things; they reshape local society to fit their views on what a society should be like and they begin spreading their ideology as far as they can. Naturally, there is no thought of surrendering power. Like all other ideological movements throughout the century, the radicals are convinced that they know best. The views of those who disagree with them are clearly misguided and can be disregarded. (And then those who disagree are exterminated.)

However, it is our ties to the Middle East that pose the gravest danger. We need oil from the Middle East. Without oil, the global economy would break down. This means that we cannot afford to manhandle Saudi Arabia into dealing with the terrorists; there are limits to how far we can push them in the right direction. This gives Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states an advantage that they use to manipulate global affairs in their favour. It also helps to fund the spread of the Saudi-approved version of Islam, which produces terrorists and insurgents for the wars in various countries. (Those schools in Pakistan that provide cannon fodder for the wars are funded by Saudi Arabia.) This is the improvised explosive device that must be disarmed carefully – or the world will shiver when it finally detonates.

You think not? Osama Bin Laden would not have been a menace to global society if he hadn’t been extremely wealthy. Funding a full-fledged terrorist network, complete with base camps in Afghanistan, was not exactly cheap. It is funding that made the difference between a tiny band of fighters and an international terrorist network. It is this funding that we have to cut off at source.

Which brings us back to the crux of the problem. If chaos spreads out of Syria, it will weaken the Middle Eastern governments and further destabilise the world economy. No matter the truth of the claims that chemical weapons were used, Obama and his cabinet have to worry about the effects of not intervening just as much as they have to worry about actually intervening. But why should we have to worry about this at all?

Oil. If sources of oil are threatened, the economy will take a nasty hit.

Not that this is the only problem. Let us consider just how many European countries rushed to invest in Libya once the sanctions were lifted. Somehow, those countries discovered that Libya suddenly had colossal leverage over them when there were political disputes. (Indeed, maintaining the balance between offending a dictator and offending the rebels, who might inherit Libya, was a major headache during the Libyan Intervention.) When those investments were threatened, Western Governments generally backed down. The jingle-jangle of money made it harder to take action against Libya.

Put crudely, we are effectively paying for the noose our enemies intend to wrap around our necks.

To some extent, the Bush Administration did attempt to come to terms with this problem. If Iraq were to be liberated, Iraqi oil could flow into the global market and make it harder for the Saudis to manipulate the world in their favour. However, the occupation was poorly planned, at least partly because few were willing to admit that opening up those reserves of oil was as important as spreading democracy and the rule of law.

However, the Bush Administration (and now the Obama Administration) have not gone far enough.

We will not win this war until we show those who follow this destructive ideology that it is a road to hell. In order to do this, we must show them that they can achieve nothing for themselves. The glory days of Islamic civilisation are long past and the Islamists, all unwitting, are destroying the spark that might allow Islam to regenerate itself. Very little, save oil, is produced in the Middle East. Where Israel made the desert bloom, the Arabs have not. One might well conclude that oil was a curse, not a blessing. When the oil runs out, the Middle East will collapse.

It is this dependency that we have to overcome.

We got a clear warning during the oil boycott. We didn’t listen.

We got a clear warning when Saddam invaded Kuwait. We didn’t listen.

We got a clear warning when it became clear that OBL had strong ties to Saudi Arabia. We didn’t listen.

We got a clear warning when Putin started playing with energy exports to manipulate Europe. We didn’t listen.

We should have unleashed a project on a greater scale than the Manhattan Project, one to research new sources of energy and, perhaps more immediately important, conserve oil. (I read once that if the US produced cars to EU standards, demands for gas would drop sharply. I don’t know if that is actually true (automobile requirements are different) but it’s definitely something to research.) Cold fusion. Space-based solar-power collectors. Geothermal power. Improved nuclear reactors. Instead of a ham-handed search for inefficient ‘green’ energy, we should be searching for ways to reduce the oil dependency and escape the black hole.

Or we could just start drilling in the US, which the Greens seem to have blocked.

This will allow us to win. Can they drink oil? No – and absent a buyer, oil is largely worthless. Without the funds coming in from the West, Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing states will be thrown back on their own resources. Their governments, held up by oil, will collapse. Let their population see, as comprehensively as the Russians saw in 1991, the essential bankruptcy of their system. Let ‘Islam is the only solution’ be tested in real life, without a lifeline from the West.

This is what we have to do.

They know it. Do you think that it was a coincidence that an anti-fracking film was sponsored by Abu Dhabi?

Time is running out. Oil is essentially a finite resource; it can and it will run out. (A book, Twilight in the Desert, argues that Saudi Arabia is already approaching the end of its oil reserves.) The time to escape this black hole is now.

Too much time has already been wasted. Either we deal with the problem now or our descendents will look back and curse our names.

(A short introduction to Fracking and its potential can be found here.)

More Catching Up (Sorry)

8 Sep

Just another piece of catching up … <sorry>

I’ve had the editing notes from TTB for Schooled In Magic and put them into the manuscript. As always, this process feels ghastly, but it has to be done. I was left wondering at just some of the problems that crept through my writing and remained in the text until they were pointed out to me. My editor did a very good job and, importantly, demonstrated that she had actually thought about the material. This is not only flattering to my ego, but it helps to have someone watching for consistency as the universe expands onwards. I’ll post a note when I have a release date from the editor.

The Very Ugly Duckling (Bookworm II) has been provisionally accepted by Elsewhen Press. I’ll let you know additional details when I have them.

My next project, I think, is the stand-alone Knight’s Move. This will be followed by Democracy’s Might (Book II of Democracy’s Right) and probably Hard Lessons (The Empire’s Corps VII). I’ve also got the core idea of Retreat Hell, which will be Book VIII of The Empire’s Corps, firmly fixed in my mind; all I need to do is tie it down and then start writing. Not sure where it fits into the schedule yet.

Anyway, I hope you’ll be reading them when they come. <grin>


(Not) Learning from Experience

4 Sep

There are very few fields of study or training where one enters on the same level as a person who has been there for years. As a piece of advice to young would-be British soldiers has it, the people you meet in the recruiting office are actually quite senior and experienced soldiers and you do NOT know better than them. Maybe you think you’d immediately be streamlined into the SAS or the Paras would be so damn glad to have you they’ll snatch you out of Catterick ITC before you even get started. If you’re lucky, such conceits will be lost with only the minimal amount of sneering from the sergeant you meet.

(As an aside, there is at least one story (and probably more) about a young British recruit who turned up for training convinced that he had joined the SAS.)

My point is that the people who have been doing something for years, generally speaking, know what they’re doing. Someone completely new is unlikely to understand how the organisation works, at least without some experience of their own. In a sane world, that automatically makes their opinions less important than those of experienced men. The fact that the world is not sane is neither here nor there. <grin>.

It’s been a long path for me to become a writer and, along the way, I have had a LOT of people offer helpful and well-meaning advice. (I still have a long way to go.) Some of that advice came from writers, editors or people who were very knowledgeable about the field – people who, in short, could be assumed to know what they were talking about. And I discovered, as I went on, that many of them did know what they were talking about – and even most of those I disagreed with had good reason to tell me what they did.

Which, in a somewhat roundabout route, brings us back to Heidi Yewman. You may remember that I wrote about the whole My Month With A Gun affair here and here. Having lost her slot in Ms. Magazine, Ms. Yewman managed to convince The Daily Beast to carry the remaining three parts of her article – and, in addition, wrote a comment on the debate her article caused. Apparently, people were mean to her.

What she doesn’t seem to realise is that she thoroughly deserved it.

I said this before, so I’ll summarise. Despite being worried about guns, to the point where she actively campaigns to ban them, Ms. Yewman committed the cardinal sin of knowing almost nothing about the weapon she chose to carry. By her own admission, she was a completely unsafe pair of hands for a loaded gun – and her reactions to actually carrying a weapon are pricelessly funny. Why, I would like to ask, didn’t she bother to get any training – or even read the instruction manual?

Her actions were thoroughly idiotic. She was called on this – and, instead of realising that her detractors might have had a point, complained that people were being mean to her. No one had any obligation to refrain from pointing out how stupid she was being. I suspect that, no matter what she said, Ms. Magazine realised the depths of her misconduct and decided not to publish the rest of her work. Put off by online comments? Please! Even a simple internet magazine can turn off comments!

This idiocy pervades the rest of her article. She leaves the gun lying around carelessly, clearly (despite claiming to be hyperaware of its presence) forgetting that it was there (or, for that matter, that her son was nearby). Then she frets about telling her son how to get into the gun cabinet … worrying that her son (like the son of a nameless friend) will commit suicide with it.

I wouldn’t poke fun at suicidal thoughts. God knows I’ve had them myself. But really … do you think that a gun is necessary to commit suicide? There are no shortage of ways to kill yourself, ranging from jumping off a cliff to taking an overdose of pills. If you are genuinely worried about your son committing suicide, get him some professional help! Even a friendly ear can help someone on the brink of ending it all.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, a day or so later her son comes home, having forgotten his keys, and knocks on the door. And Ms. Yewman panics! Should she get the gun? And what good will it do her, she asks herself, if the gun is kept in a safe while repairmen are in the house?

The funny thing is … all of these risks were present before she got a gun. As I see it, the odds of a rapist repairman or a murdering salesman didn’t really change when the gun entered the house. All that really changed were the odds of either intimidating them into backing down or shooting them if they tried to rape her.

And she became scared when she went out and about with the gun.

The funny thing about that is that I have had similar reactions. But I didn’t have them to a gun. When I first started driving, I felt much the same as her; would a single mistake on my part kill someone? Or even crash my instructor’s car? My first trip out on a road was terrifying and I’m sure I gave the instructor more than a few gray hairs. But I grew more comfortable with it as I learned how to actually drive. I’m pretty sure that Ms. Yewman would have grown comfortable with the gun too, if she got some proper training and carried it for longer. But that would undermine the central point she is trying, however poorly, to make.

Ms. Yewman has successfully proven one thing – she is not competent to handle a gun. Her problem, however, is generalising this to everyone else; she is not competent, ergo everyone else is not competent either. I don’t think that one has to be mad about guns to see the flaws in this argument.

Nor has she bothered to provide many examples for her readers. Perhaps, the cynic in me wonders, the blogosphere dissected the first part of her article so thoroughly that she decided to stay away from specifics …

I could go on, but I think I will focus on a separate point that should be mentioned.

The world is not safe. Bad things can and do happen to good people. Ms. Yewman lived inside an invisible protective bubble that shielded her from the true nature of the human beast – and the animal waiting to be unleashed when civilisation falls. That bubble also shielded her from the simple truth that people who disagree with her don’t have to keep their mouths shut. This attitude does her no credit.

And the gun she carried was not dangerous. The mindset she carried with it, on the other hand, was extremely dangerous. It is the mindset of a sheep who wishes that all others were sheep too – and denies the existence of the wolf, while wearing down the resolve of the sheepdog to serve and protect. But reality cannot be wished out of existence, no matter how much one may try.

In many ways, that attitude is the most dangerous of all.

Let us imagine a gun-free world. God has ordained that guns may no longer fire. Any weapon that isn’t powered by muscle will simply not work. What would happen then?

Ms. Yewman might assume that it would be paradise. But it would be hell.

You see, the strong can beat the weak. Until the invention of the firearm – hence the old saying about Sam Colt making men equal – the strong kept the weak firmly in bondage. For every princess in a castle (and many of them had truly awful lives) there were at least 10’000 peasants working in the fields, slaves in all but name. You go up to one of the strong in such a world and start preaching about human dignity and the right to life and he will laugh at you. In such a world, might makes right.

Still want to get rid of guns?

For further info, check out:

The Universe of Knight’s Move

3 Sep

Story background.  Comments welcome.

Humanity’s exploration of the universe was greatly accelerated when renowned scientists White and Hamilton successfully opened the first gateway into hyperspace, an alternate universe that allowed faster-than-light travel, in 2145. Although hyperspace was exceedingly dangerous, at least at first, human scoutships started charting the links between hyperspace and normal space, locating a number of Earth-compatible worlds within easy distance of Earth. It was the dawn of the great expansion as human nations, corporations, religious groups and suchlike stroke to lay claim to a world or worlds of their own. By 2200, over a hundred worlds had been settled and humanity was continuing to expand. Even first contact – in 2245 – failed to halt the expansion.

Politically, this led to a dangerously unstable situation. Claim-jumping, quiet ‘accidents’ that wiped out small colonies and even piracy became common, followed by small wars. Eventually, after First Contact, Earth’s most powerful governments founded the Terran Federation, believing that humanity would need one force to keep order and one voice to speak to other alien races.

This did not go down well with everyone. The Federation was the creation of the most powerful governments and, unsurprisingly, they rigged the system in their favour. If the Federation hadn’t encountered the Dragons (as humans came to call them) it is likely that there would eventually have been a major civil war within human space. Not only was the system rigged, the Federation put the interests of the core worlds (and national power blocks) ahead of the interests of humanity as a whole. This was asking for trouble.


The Dragons (as humans came to call them; their real name being completely unpronounceable) evolved on a hot dry world from reptilian ancestors. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that their basic creed can be summed up as ‘to the victor the spoils’ or, more bluntly, ‘might makes right.’ Early wars on Prime Sphere were fought over access to water, farming land and other valuable resources. The senior clans granted access to lesser clans in exchange for submission and obedience. However, as any appearance of weakness was seen as an invitation to attack, the clans were ruled by despots, who were replaced when they grew old. Draconic Kingship in those early days was a thoroughly Darwinian process. All it took to establish legitimacy was to defeat the previous King.

When they finally reached space and started to explore, they were already primed to build an empire. The network of clans, ruled over by the Emperor, had only two ways to cope with the existence of alien life. Aliens who submitted to the Dragons were treated as slaves, but allowed to live. Aliens who refused to submit were ruthlessly destroyed. By their lights, accepting aliens as slaves was a gesture of mercy from ruler to ruled; indeed, the tradition had its origins in how the early clans assimilated the survivors of other clans. However, for obvious biological reasons, the alien slaves were never actually able to become part of the power structure. The best they could hope for was to be considered an advisor to a senior nobleman.

The official first contact between the expanding Terran Federation and the Draconic Empire took place in 2534, when a human scoutship – the Santa Marie – stumbled across an alien starship of unknown design. It’s attempts to transmit the first contact protocols were ignored; instead, the alien ship closed into engagement range and opened fire. The scoutship was destroyed, but the CO had time to transmit a distress signal and ensure that his ship would not fall into hostile hands.

Post-war investigations revealed that the Dragons had, in fact, captured a number of human colonies that had been established by rogue settlers at the very edge of human space. The encounter with the Santa Marie had been a deliberate attempt to test humanity’s mettle, as was the series of brief and violent encounters between the Terran Federation Navy’s Frontier Fleet and the Draconic Navy. However, once they had learned enough, the Draconic Emperor opened communications with the Federation and explained that the whole affair had been a ghastly misunderstanding. The Santa Marie had, by raising its shields, committed an act of aggression by their lights. This was, of course, abject nonsense, but it was accepted by the Federation. As the brief encounters between the TFN and the Dragons had largely shown the superiority of the TFN’s systems, the Federation decided that it had little to worry about from the Dragons. They could not have been more wrong.

The negotiations eventually settled on a border, which the Dragons barely bothered to pay lip service to, let alone take seriously. ‘Raiders’ hit human worlds on their side of the border, while contacts were made with smugglers, pirates and others who might be willing to assist the Dragons. Ten years of largely undeclared war followed, which was generally ignored on Earth. Indeed, there were plenty of politicians who believed that the colonies were actually provoking the attacks, or using them as an excuse to build up their own military power. The net result was that nothing substantial was done about the growing threat.

Meanwhile, the Draconic Empire realised that their opponent was more formidable than it seemed. Although the TFN was actually weaker in hulls than the Draconic Navy – and its technological advantages didn’t last, once the Dragons started researching them – the Federation itself was huge, far larger than the Draconic Empire. Worse, it possessed a formidable industrial base that could be converted to military production very quickly. Accordingly, the Draconic Empire planned for a quick campaign. The core of the TFN would be smashed, followed by a drive on Earth. Humanity would not have time to switch to a war footing.

The formal war began in 2545 when Draconic raiders attacked a Federation colony at the edge of the border. Unknown to the Dragons, the attack accidentally killed the daughter of one of the Federation’s most prominent Senators (along with nearly four million other humans.) Outraged at the media coverage, the Federation Government declared war and sent nearly half of the TFN to Jackson’s World, the closest military base to the border. Once organised, the task force was ordered to proceed into Draconic Space and push them back, hard. As military campaigns go, it was poorly planned and rested on a series of unfounded assumptions about enemy culture, technology and planning. The results were disastrous.

Unknown to the Federation, the estimates of the Draconic Navy’s fighting forces were way off the mark. When the task force entered the Starlight System (home to a race that had been discovered and enslaved before they had even mastered fire) they were jumped by a vastly superior enemy fleet. The ensuring battle saw almost all of the fleet destroyed, with only a handful of survivors. Worse, far too many humans were taken prisoner and brutally interrogated by the Dragons.

Once they had satisfied themselves that they had destroyed the fleet, the Dragons drove over the border and invaded over ninety inhabited human worlds, paying special attention to Jackson’s World, where the defenders were still reeling from the loss of the fleet. Indeed, the Dragons themselves were surprised by their easy series of victories. It seemed like humanity’s final hour was at hand.

However, a number of ships had survived the destruction of the fleet and launched desperate attacks on enemy supply columns. These attacks eventually tapered off, but they caused the Dragons to delay long enough for TFN reinforcements to be rushed to the war front and start slowing the enemy down. The direct drive on Earth was stopped in the Maximilian System which, although it had been a costly victory, provided a major boost to Federation morale.

Of post-war importance was the capture of Bottleneck, a star system that happened to sit on the only safe hyper-route into the Fairfax Cluster. The colonists there were cut off from the Federation, the Dragons expecting that they would fall into their hands like ripened fruit. It was an understandable assumption, but an incorrect one. By the time the lesser clans started probing the edge of the cluster, the colonists had set up a defence force and managed to stymie their advance.

The war settled down as both sides started to dig in for the long haul. In occupied space, the Dragons rounded up anyone who had served in ‘useful’ professions and enslaved them, dragging them back into their territory to work in the factories. Others, deemed useless, were simply exterminated, often through the use of poison gas or biological weapons. Their worlds were settled by the lesser clans, who used the remaining humans as slaves.

Ten years after the war had begun, the Dragons launched their second major drive on Earth. Intended to crush human resistance before the humans could push their advantage, it turned into a major disaster as the advancing fleet ran into a far stronger human force in the Wolf 359 system and was eventually destroyed. (Few Dragons ever surrendered in the war, nor did humans once they found out what fate might await them if captured.) The destruction of the fleet allowed the TFN to start raiding behind occupied lines – and, eventually, to start raiding into enemy territory itself.

This – intentionally – kept the Dragons off-balance as the human race completed its switch to war production and started pumping out thousands of new starships, starfighters and other weapons. Worse, for the Dragons at least, humanity’s Special Operations Executive had started making contact with the billions of slaves within the Empire. A campaign of work sabotage and suchlike was rapidly underway, while human infiltrators armed and trained resistance movements in the massive camps the aliens used to house their slaves. The whole problem was made worse by heavy-handed purges that not only aroused hatred and fear among the slaves, but also wiped out vast numbers of technically-skilled slaves the empire needed to keep producing war material.

The climactic battle of the war came in 2576, thirty years after the war began. Having located a sizable shipping yard, the TFN slipped a major task force behind enemy lines and attacked the star system, then lingered in the targeted system. The Dragons had no choice, but to send a large fleet to intercept … at which point the second TFN task force appeared in the system and attacked the enemy fleet from behind. Once the work of destruction was completed, the fleet withdrew, taking advantage of its position to attack a number of enemy-held worlds as it retreated. This staggering success was followed up by several more deep-strike raids, targeted on the enemy’s infrastructure. Slowly, but surely, the Draconic Empire was losing the ability to fight.

From then on, only the Dragons themselves were in any doubt about the outcome of the war. Humanity’s war production had skyrocketed, with thousands of fleet carriers, superdreadnaughts and naval transports – and a literally uncountable number of starfighters – being manned by the vast resources of manpower the Federation had built up over the years. Indeed, if there hadn’t been a desire to liberate the occupied worlds, it is quite likely that the war could have been ended much sooner. Instead, the occupied worlds were liberated by the end of 2571, followed by a headlong invasion of Draconic Space. The final battle, over Prime Sphere, illustrates what truly won the war. For each starship and orbital defence station that defended the world, there were literally a thousand human capital ships.

When the high orbitals were lost and the Terran Marines prepared to storm the planet, the Emperor, his heirs and most of the planetary population committed suicide, taking with them the last threads holding the empire together. Most of the smaller clans promptly claimed to recognise humanity as superior and tried to make deals with the TFN, although such terms were harsh. The discovery of death camps and worse on the occupied worlds fuelled a demand for indiscriminate revenge. In hindsight, the Dragons were luckier than they deserved.

The Treaty of Prime Sphere, which officially ended the war, was effectively forced on the Dragons (which sociologists swore would be more meaningful to them) at gunpoint. Put simply, all war-capable starships were to be handed over to the TFN, all slaves and POWs were to be liberated, all occupied alien homeworlds were to be freed and the Dragons were not to attempt to rebuild their empire. Unsurprisingly, while the large majority of the remaining Dragons accepted the treaty, quite a few refused to honour it and went renegade. There was also a growing feeling on Earth and the Core Worlds (most of whom had been untouched by the fighting) that the teams of the treaty were too harsh.

By 2575, the situation in the former Occupied Zone and Draconic Empire can reasonably be described as chaotic. Dragons who were landed on the occupied colonies are supposed to be being repatriated to their empire, but many of them don’t have a place to go. Raiders and pirates, often rogue Dragons, are raiding the colonies at will, despite the best efforts of Frontier Fleet. Meanwhile, many of the liberated alien worlds are demanding protection, Federation membership (a worrying request, as the Federation was purely human) and/or revenge on the Dragons, many of whom are chafing under the treaty’s terms.

Many of the colonies are restive in the aftermath of the war, even outside the Fairfax Cluster. Quite a few of them feel that the Federation betrayed them in the lead-up to the war, or abandoned them after a ‘too clever by half’ Admiral lost the Battle of Starlight. In the Fairfax Cluster, there is also a growing awareness of their own independence – and their reluctance to accept the Federation’s authority.

Although the undisputed victory of the war, the Federation is struggling to cope with the aftermath too. Hundreds of millions of servicemen are being demobilised and thrown onto an employment market that is trying to switch back to civilian production. War contacts are being cancelled, causing economic shockwaves that are threatening to plunge the Federation into chaos, while the rise of war profiteers is causing unrest in the Federation Senate. The last thing the Federation needs is more conflict.


Officially, the Federation is a direct democracy, ruled by the people. Unofficially, those who pay the bills call the shots – and the national blocks surrounding Earth (worlds settled by nations on Earth) – pay most of the Federation’s operating costs. Corporate worlds pay much of the remainder, giving them a considerable advantage in manipulating the Federation to pass laws in their favour – and, as they consider a considerable percentage of the economy, they have influence out of proportion to their size.

The Federation is headed, officially, by the President, who is directly elected by the people. It is, however, a largely powerless post. Real power rests in the hands of Congress and the Senate. While all independent worlds are guaranteed a seat in Congress, additional seats are assigned by population sizes, giving the older worlds and multi-star blocs a decisive advantage. (The United Stars of America, having seventy worlds under its control, has over a hundred votes in Congress.) The Senate, again, is divided up by population size. Smaller worlds, even working in unison, do not get a vote.

Below the Federation, there are a multitude of competing interests and power structures. For example, there are multi-star power groupings that wish for greater independence now that the war is over. Others want the Federation to be more flexible (at least in their interests) or merely a greater say in what happens. Still more want the Federation to enforce their positions; national power blocs, for example, do not wish to see their member worlds secede as it would dilute their voting power in the Federation Government. Most of the outer worlds want some degree of independence from the Federation.

On the face of it, the Federation’s current challenge is rebuilding the former Occupation Zone and repatriating most of the alien refugees stranded on human worlds. However, the stresses and strains that were papered over during the war (particularly the exact legal status of the Fairfax Cluster) are threatening to unleash a second round of war.


The Fairfax Cluster is difficult to define. It sits on the other side of the Bottleneck (hence the name; Bottleneck Republic) but Bottleneck itself is not actually part of the Republic. It consists of around seventy worlds and ninety additional star systems on the other side of a semi-permanent hyperspace storm. This inaccessibility allowed non-corporate interests to stake the choicest claims, with the net result that the planets are thoroughly eccentric by the Federation’s standards. These include Fairfax (a representative democracy), Jehovah (a theocracy), New Texas (a semi-democracy), Galt’s Gulch (semi-anarchist) and Buckingham (an aristocracy.)

Each member world contributes roughly 10% of its GNP to the Republic, which uses it to build up the Colonial Militia and native industries. The Republic had to work desperately to produce war material when the Dragons cut them off from the Federation, resulting in a number of interesting and innovative designs that proved an unpleasant shock when the Dragons finally attacked.

Apart from a handful of basic agreements, the Republic has no power to control the internal affairs of its states. For example, there are no laws on weapons transfer and/or registration that are binding on the entire Republic. It is fairly easy for commercial interests to purchase an ex-military light cruiser, if they try. Slavery, too, is common on some worlds. Unsurprisingly, there is a considerable amount of friction between the different states that make up the Republic.

The Federation’s official position is that the Bottleneck Republic is part of the Federation and, as such, is bound by the Federation’s laws. However, these laws have not been enforced since the foundation of the Republic and most citizens consider themselves independent.

Apart from this defiance of the Federation’s laws, there is also the question of alien refugees. The Bottleneck Republic is considerably more xenophobic than Earth and the other Core Worlds (this is true of most outer worlds, who bore the brunt of the war) and does not want to deal with the problem. There are few worlds in the Fairfax Cluster that would willingly take the refugees, even for a short period – and none that would consider extending citizenship to them.


Starships open gateways into hyperspace to travel faster-than-light. As hyperspace is a dangerously high-energy dimension, most crews prefer to avoid actual fighting within hyperspace. Navigation is aided by a series of navigational beacons that can be detected within hyperspace, allowing starships to triangulate their position.

Hyperspace is marred by storms caused by gravity wells and random energy fluctuations. The Great Wall (preventing a direct passage from Earth to Fairfax) appears to be permanent, others come and go as the fancy takes them. The Federation Survey Service monitors the progress of storms within Federation space and beams warnings out to spaces. Most ships prefer to avoid storms entirely; brave crews can shave hours off their journey time by skimming the edge of storms.

The Federation Communications Network beams messages through hyperspace, using a network of communications beacons (linked to the navigational beacons). It can still take days to get a message from one end of the Federation to the other, despite the most advanced AIs in service constantly massaging the network. Among other things, a message cannot be sent through a storm.


In normal space, starships fight with phase cannons, quantum disrupters, pulsars and antimatter missiles. Starfighters are armed with tactical phase torpedoes, which can penetrate a starship’s shields if fired from sufficiently close range.

Planets are defended by Orbital Battle Stations and Planetary Defence Centres, which are protected by powerful force fields. In order to capture a planet, the orbital defences have to be reduced and ground forces landed to take the PDCs on the ground. Battering them down from orbit is possible, but it does untold damage to the planet’s ecosystem (which didn’t stop it happening during the war).

My First Alternate History Novel: The Invasion of 1950

2 Sep

The year is 1950, but not the 1950 we know. The Second World War ended in 1943. Hitler never declared war on the United States and is currently master of an empire that stretches from the Atlantic coastline of France to the Ural Mountains in Russia. Hundreds of millions are dead or enslaved as Hitler’s followers make his dreams real, but the Fuhrer is still not satisfied. To the west, Britain remains independent – and, beyond it, the United States of America.

Since 1943, the world has enjoyed an uneasy peace.

That is about to change …

[As a matter of principle, all of my self-published books are DRM-free. You can do what you like with them (well, at least anything you can do with a paperback book.)]

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