Archive | February, 2014

Schooled In Magic–Available NOW!

26 Feb

Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses strange magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them. There, she discovers that the locals believe that she is a Child of Destiny, someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. She may never fit into her new world …

…and the necromancer is still hunting her. If Emily can’t stop him, he might bring about the end of days.

She knows all sorts of ideas and innovations that can be introduced to improve her new world, but will she have the time to teach her new friends how to make them?

Read a Free Sample, then buy it from Amazon Kindle, B&N or OmniLit

Annotations available hereWarning: spoilers!

And talk about it on my Discussion Forum!

If you like the series, please review <grin>

There’s No Such Thing As An Exclusive Writing Fan

26 Feb

Two days ago, I posted a short note on a article in the Huffington Post that suggested JK Rowling should give up writing and leave room for other authors to take over the market. I confess I didn’t do much actual research (headache, sorry) and I assumed (bad mistake, I know) that the author in question was where I was several years ago. No contracts, no published books, no real hope of getting them. I was wrong.

A check on Amazon revealed that the article’s author was actually a published author. I could be wrong, but judging by the book pricing she actually has a very good deal with a publisher (most small press produced books tend to be expensive). And yet she believes that JK Rowling is distorting the market? How can that possibly be true?

One of the arguments commonly put forward by the Entitled (as they consider themselves) is that the Haves are stealing from the Have-Nots. In their worldview, the world has only a finite amount of … well, anything … and someone who Has is effectively stealing it from those who Don’t Have. According to this line of logic, there’s only a million pounds or so in the entire world and it will never get any bigger, therefore the person with most of the money has stolen it from everyone else. This is the logic used to justify ‘redistributing the wealth’, a claim beloved of communists and people who have never lived in a redistributionist state.

It is, of course, a very flawed argument. The millionaire, having concentrated such wealth in his hands, might put it back to work and start growing it, perhaps by opening a factory and offering jobs to the poor. He pays wages, the employees use their wages to buy stuff, the people who make and sell that stuff get money from the employees … and, in short, the economy continues to grow. This is very well demonstrated by the sudden upsurge in food production in China after collective farming was abandoned by the Chinese Communists.

There are some circumstances, of course, where the argument may seem to hold water. A person who follows one football club will not, as a general rule, follow another. If there are ten football clubs in any given country, they will be competing for the attention of a finite number of fans.

But this is not true of writing.

Consider JK Rowling. She has written seven Harry Potter stories, two spin-offs and two adult novels. That’s (so far) eleven published books. And yes, they have been massively popular; she has legions of devoted fans and she deserves each and every one of them. But they’re not her exclusive fans.

Think about it. I read quickly; eleven books wouldn’t take me more than a week to devour, perhaps two weeks if I wanted to reread one or more of them. What am I meant to do while waiting for her to write the next book?

I go read someone else’s book, of course.

I’m a fan of David Weber. But I’m also a fan of John Ringo, Peter F. Hamilton, Tom Kratman, Iain M. Banks, Eric Flint … the list of writers I like is quite a long one. And, as I have a favourite publisher too, I have little hesitation in trying someone new from their stable.

There’s no reason why I have to be an exclusive fan of one author. There isn’t an author alive who writes fast enough to keep me content. Nor, really, am I making a massive commitment. Buying David Weber’s entire backlist wouldn’t cost more than a hundred pounds, assuming I didn’t try to buy any autographed copies or anything else that might be significantly marked up. I can buy Weber one week, Kratman the next … and so on, and so on.

JK Rowling does not force out other authors, nor is she stealing their fans. (Nor, for that matter, do they have any right to the fans. Fans have to be earned.) The later Potter books, IIRC, came out with a two or three year gap between them. What did those fans do in the meantime? They read other books (and wrote lots of fan fiction <grin>). A fan of JK Rowling might also be a fan of any of the other authors I mentioned. He or she might even be a fan of mine.

Authors rarely win fans through anything, but writing. A bad writer tends to attract negative reviews; eventually, the author will be discontinued. There are no shortcuts to success, as Pippa Middleton (sister of Kate Middleton) discovered when she tried to sell her book, nor is there any way to cheat. JK Rowling won her fans through very good writing. If you, or the writer of the article, write as well as her, you’ll get fans too.

But you won’t be stealing them from her, any more than she’s stealing them from you.

Because there’s no such thing as an exclusive writing fan.

The Definition of Success is Success

24 Feb

I spent most of today with a colossal headache, which didn’t really improve my mood, so I went out in the hopes it would make me feel better. I came back (after a long walk) to discover that Larry Correia had written an article fisking another article from the Huffington Post. The basics of the article boil down to ‘JK Rowling should stop writing and make room for other up and coming authors.’

I had a long response half-written in my head when I realised that Larry had said pretty much all I wanted to say. So I thought I’d say something else instead.

A writer’s success is measured by the number of books (and spin-offs) he or she sells.

That’s it. You can write a cutting edge story with infinite diversity in infinite combinations – and it might be a lousy story. You may win awards for being edgy, for addressing social problems and issues or speculating about the future, but ordinary readers may find your books inaccessible. JK Rowling is popular because she wrote a series of books that were extremely accessible (I actually started with Chamber of Secrets) and caught the public imagination. They’re not great literature, nor are they as clever as Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. But it’s a great deal easier to move from Harry Potter to Jonathon Strange than it is to go straight into the latter.

There isn’t that much super-original about Harry Potter. At best, they are classic boarding school stories with magic. (The Worst Witch predated them by over 20 years and includes quite a few comparable elements.) But JKR took a tired old theme, gave it new life and placed her own stamp on it. She more than earned her successes.

The writer of the first article would have us believe that JKR is crowding out other, newer writers. There is a limited amount of truth in this – publishers can only publish a certain number of books a year – but publishing is a business. JKR’s fans will make her next few books successes (I salute her for moving away from Harry Potter) and why should any publisher choose to turn down certain profits? Why, it would take the imperious curse to make them reject her in favour of a newcomer.

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to have a book rejected and I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt.

But this is what happened to me. I took the rejected book I thought would be a success – The Empire’s Corps – and put it on Amazon, then thought nothing more of it until a friend pointed out that sales were very good. I checked … and discovered that I had sold over a thousand copies. We ate that night <grin>. I went on; I wrote (so far) seven more books in the series and saw sales climbing higher and higher with each new book. I’ve had several Kindle bestsellers and a few glorious hours in the Top 100 selling authors on Amazon – and I’ve signed contracts with two separate small presses.

I’m not saying this to brag, but to prove a point.

If you have a book that you feel is bound to be a success, put it on Amazon and see what happens. Bypass the traditional publishing model and sell your wares directly to your customers and see what they make of it. If nothing else, strong sales figures are something you can take to potential publishers and use to show that you do have a market.

But I will tell you this. If you want to write professionally, work hard. Learn from JKR and the others like her, then actually write a book. Then write your next one, and your next one, and your next one. Writing is a skill you will need to develop as you go along. Very few people are automatically great (or at least sellable) writers. JKR took two years, IIRC, to get her first book published. I’ve been writing since 2005.

Eric Flint once noted that it takes about a million words to produce something sellable. Have you written those words?

For what it’s worth, JKR introduced a whole new generation to reading.  For that, if nothing else, she deserves her fame.

New Book – and Free Promotion!

19 Feb

I’ve just uploaded The Fall of Night, an older book of mine, to Kindle. As a free promotion for my fans, the book will be available free from 22nd February to 23rd February, US time. Check out the free sample, then download it from Amazon. All comments and reviews welcome.

If you like my writing, please share this post.

Europe, 2025.

Britain – and the European Union – is struggling to remain civilised. Unemployment is high, ethnic and religious tensions are rising sharply, crime is skyrocketing, the value of money is falling and the whole system is on the verge of collapse. Across the continent, united only in name, countless individuals struggle to keep themselves afloat and survive for a few more days.

But weakness invites attack and covetous eyes set their sights on the remains of Europe’s industry and trained population. As a military juggernaut descends on an unprepared continent, the remains of Britain’s once-proud military must fight to defend their country … or watch helplessly as Britain falls into darkness.

[As always, my books are DRM-free.  Download a free sample, read the afterword and then purchase from amazon here.]

The Very Ugly Duckling: Johan’s Mental State

19 Feb

A couple of reviewers have noted that Johan seems to verge between near adulthood and an immaturity more common to a twelve-year-old than a seventeen-year-old (never mind that some seventeen-year-olds can be quite immature, I know I was). Among other things, he loses track of what he can do, he doesn’t seem to see obvious solutions to his problems (although one of the solutions the reviewer mentioned isn’t actually possible) and he has problems controlling his emotions. This isn’t an inaccurate diagnostic, really.

Unfortunately, Johan’s mental state has been quite badly warped by his life prior to the story.

Johan grew up without magic in a family where magic is everything. From their point of view, he’s a cripple (at best) and a dread embarrassment (at worst). His mere existence calls into question the magic running through their veins. Think of him as a kid who is so severely disabled that he has no hope of living a normal life.

So Johan spent the first 16 years of his life trapped between two separate (but both bad) attitudes. One attitude sees him as permanently helpless, someone who literally cannot do anything for himself, the other sees him as a useless piece of s***. Basically, he spent most of his life facing well-meaning condescension or endless, merciless, bullying.

Making this worse was the simple fact that he probably could have created a pretty good life for himself, if he was allowed to leave the family permanently. There are plenty of positions for non-magicians within the empire. But his father refused to allow it, both out of the conviction that Johan literally couldn’t make anything of himself and out of fear that Johan, who was defenceless, would be captured and turned into a weapon aimed at the family.

So, by the time of the story, Johan is trapped in his own mind, trying to maintain some independence against a family of people who might as well be gods. (Imagine you were the powerless third son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane?) Of course he has problems coming to terms with the power he suddenly acquires, let alone seeing possible solutions to his problems. You’d have problems too. <grin>


The Scottish Divorcé and the EU

17 Feb

On the 16th of February, José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, said it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

This is no surprise to anyone apart from diehard independence-seekers, like Alex Salmond and the SNP. Salmond, in particular, has gone on the attack after Barroso’s statements, claiming that Scotland could keep the pound and join the European Community. But, in doing so, he betrays the same lack of awareness of international realities as shown by many other independence-seekers throughout history.

The European Union (and the currency union) is fundamentally a political project. If anyone was in any doubt about it, they would be well-advised to consider the circumstances in which Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland were allowed to join the EU, adopt the Euro and then cause major financial problems that – because of the shared currency – were far from localised. Greece, in particular, should not have been allowed to join; indeed, the financial and political data from Greece and the other countries were carefully massaged to suggest that they were cleaning up their act. The financial problems that have bedevilled the EU since 2008 are proof that they failed to clear up their act.

And so, regardless of Scotland’s ‘right’ to be an EU member (and that is arguable), the decision about Scottish membership will be a political one. Why should the EU accept Scotland as a newcomer to the club?

I can give several reasons against it, if you like. Britain is hardly the only EU country with a significant nationalist movement seeking independence. Spain, for example, is facing comparable problems in the Basque region. Why exactly should Spain support Scotland’s passage into the EU when it will harm Spanish national interests? Instead, I would expect the Spanish to demand a high price from Scotland, purely to make it clear to their own separatists that independence would come with a very steep price.

Or, if you think that the EU wouldn’t be so spiteful, consider this. The EU took in members who literally could not uphold their commitments. Does anyone think that the EU would care to repeat the experience? I would expect the EU to be very careful about accepting new members in future, probably forcing Scotland and any other potential candidates to open the books and allow the EU to conduct a full investigation of Scottish financial affairs, just to make sure Scotland isn’t lying to them. I confess, given how poorly the Scottish Parliament has handled money matters in the years since it’s inauguration, I rather doubt it will pass with flying colours.

In short, we could expect to pay a heavy price for joining the EU. Our independence would be badly compromised. Would we really be independent at all? At worst, we would be trading dominion by London (never mind the fact that two Prime Ministers in recent years have been Scottish) for dominion by Brussels. And, of the two of them, I prefer London.

But there are other problems. Would we keep the pound? George Osborne says no – and Salmond seems to have no alternative in mind. Assuming we did keep the pound, we would be at the mercy of the English treasury, just as Greece was at the mercy of the EU after the financial crisis began.

Salmond’s attitude seems to be that everything will change, but nothing will change.

This is delusional. Scotland and England have been linked closely ever since King James VI and I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, uniting the crowns of the two nations. Politically, Scotland and England have been united since the Act of Union in 1707. Scotland and England have been linked so closely together that families such as my own include members from both Scotland and England (as well as Malaysia and Ireland). We have hundreds of thousands of ties from banking to the military and educational establishments.

Separating the two nations once again would be a divorce on an unprecedented scale, far outmatching the separation between India and Pakistan. It would be hideously costly – if nothing else, we probably couldn’t afford it. We would be paying the bills for Salmond’s desire to become President of an independent Scotland for years to come.

And do we really want to be independent?

Let’s be honest here. There are nationalities in this world that probably should be independent, because they are often abused quite badly by the nations playing host to them. The Kurds, the Sikhs, the Tibetans … but Scotland? Is our nation really an occupied state?

I don’t think so.

So let me pose this question again. Do we really want to separate ourselves from the United Kingdom?

In my view, the answer is no.

Autographed Copies?

16 Feb

Hi, everyone

As I’m in Britain right now, I have received two requests for autographed copies of my Elsewhen paperbacks (see links below.) Is there anyone else in the UK who would like a copy at £10, including P&P? If so, please drop me an email with your requests before the end of March and I will attempt to accommodate you. Payment will, ideally, be through PayPal.

I can probably ship to the US/EU, but the P&P may be expensive; I’ll check up on it if anyone’s interested.

I’ll sort out the requests I get in March, then place orders and hopefully get them all dispatched before April.

Please let me know if you’re interested and, if so, where you want me to send them.


PS – as always, free samples are available on my website.

Snippet–A Learning Experience

9 Feb

Coming soon.  Comments, thoughts and cameo requests welcome.


Fnfian Horde Warcruiser Shadow Warrior

Earth Orbit

“You are sure this is the correct planet?”

Alien Savant Cn!lss barely refrained from clenching his clawed maniples in irritation at his superior’s doubt. Subhorde Commander Pr!lss wasn’t remotely qualified to serve as anything other than an expendable warrior, at least in Cn!lss’s opinion, preferably one sent to charge over barren ground towards an enemy plasma cannon nest. It would have improved the genetic reserves of the Fnfian Horde considerably if Pr!lss got himself blown away before he had a chance to sire children. Unfortunately, the universe being what it was, Pr!lss happened to be related to the Supreme Horde Commander, a qualification that had ensured his promotion to Subhorde Commander. It wouldn’t have galled Cn!lss so much if he hadn’t been convinced that his superior’s arrogance would get his entire crew killed one day.

He hastily bent into the posture of respect when his superior’s claws started to twitch, threatening immediate violence. Cn!lss was one of the few Hordesmen to understand, on more than an abstract level, just how far advanced the rest of the universe – or at least the significant part of it – was over the Horde. Indeed, one of the reasons for his commander’s near-constant irritation was the simple fact that Shadow Warrior had been designed for creatures of a noticeably different build. The Tokomak Warcruiser had had most of its original furnishings stripped out, but most of its bulkheads and internal passageways couldn’t be replaced. If the Hordesmen tried, it was unlikely they would be able to put the ship back together again.

“The data we recovered from the Varnar was precise, My Liege,” Cn!lss said. “This is the origin world of their damnable cyborgs.”

He allowed himself a faint smile. Years ago, the Varnar had started deploying a whole new force of cyborg warriors onto the battlefield. Their enemies had been driven from a dozen worlds before they had finally realised that the cyborgs were derived from a whole new race, rather than any of the known Galactics. And it had taken months before the Horde had been hired to track down the homeworld of the new aliens and kidnap samples that could be turned into new cyborgs.

“This is a primitive world,” the Subhorde Commander snarled. “They don’t even have fusion plants, let alone a proper space program!”

Cn!lss shrugged, clicking his forelegs together. There was no law against trading technology to primitive alien races – it was how the Horde had acquired their first starships – but it was clear that the Varnar hadn’t bothered to share anything with their human slaves. Indeed, it looked as though they’d never attempted to make open contact with the humans, even though they’d taken humans from their homeworld. But then, given how effective their cyborgs were, it was quite likely the Varnar wouldn’t want to do anything to draw attention to the human race. If the laws against genocide hadn’t been the only laws to be universally enforced, he suspected that Earth would have met with a fatal accident years ago.

“This is their homeworld,” he repeated. He could have pointed out that the Horde was still primitive and yet they flew starships, but it wouldn’t have impressed his commander. Like most Hordesmen, the Subhorde Commander sneered at the Galactics, rather than admitting that the Galactics were centuries ahead of the Horde. “All we have to do is capture a few samples and take them back for study.”

He looked down at the torrent of information flowing into the computers. For a primitive world – and one that seemed to be caught in a socio-political trap that had prevented them from settling their solar system – there was an impressive amount of electronic noise flaring away from the planet. The computers could translate the signals, but the tiny fraction Cn!lss had reviewed made absolutely no sense. It seemed as though the human race was completely insane.

“This section of their homeworld is the most developed,” he commented, tapping one large land mass on the display. “It will serve as a rich source of educated slaves.”

His commander clicked his maniples in disgust. Education wasn’t something that most Hordesmen took seriously, not when they could be drinking and fighting instead. And besides, most of them had an unspoken inferiority complex when they considered what the educated races had done. It didn’t stop them taking and using educated slaves whenever they had the opportunity. Indeed, Cn!lss had to admit there was great potential on Earth, once they taught the humans who was boss. A few strikes from orbit and the humans would be forced to surrender.

But, for the moment, they had other priorities.

“Find me some humans,” the Subhorde Commander ordered. “And then dispatch an assault shuttle to take them onboard.”

Cn!lss bowed his head in obedience.

It honestly never occurred to him, or anyone else on the Horde starship, that the information they’d obtained had been more than a little incomplete.

Chapter One

Montana, USA

“Absent friends,” Steve Stuart said.

His friends nodded in agreement as they sipped their beer. It had been a long walk from where they’d left the van to their camping site, but Steve had to admit that it had been worth it. Instead of going to one of the state parks, they’d chosen to walk out into the wide open spaces of Montana and set up a campsite of their own. Now, they sat around the fire and watched the flames flickering as darkness fell over the land.

“Absent friends,” his friends echoed back. “May they never be forgotten.”

Steve sighed, feeling – once again – the pain of loss. It had been seven years since he’d quit the Marines, seven years since he’d put his uniform away for good, but the memories refused to fade, no matter what he did with his life. Death was a part of military life, for good or ill, yet there was a difference between losing a soldier to enemy action and losing a soldier because politicians had tied the military’s hands. It would have been easier to take it, he suspected, if the enemy had simply killed his friends in honourable combat.

He forced the depression away and looked around the campsite. His brothers Mongo and Kevin, both taller than him, but possessing the same fair heads and facial features as himself, almost to the point where their faces could have been mistaken for triplets. Beside them, his oldest friends Charles Edwards – another former Marine – and Vincent Hastings, a retired Navy SEAL.

Military service ran in the family. The Stuarts had served the Kings of Scotland, then migrated to America and joined George Washington’s army, then fought in almost every war since the United States had won its independence. Hell, there had been Stuarts fighting on both sides during the Civil War. But now … in truth, Steve wasn’t sure if he could advise his sons – or his daughter – to go into the military. Defending the United States was important and there were few higher honours, yet … was it worth making such a commitment when one’s political leaders were worse than the enemy?

“He’s brooding again,” Mongo said. “Someone poke him, please!”

Stuart smiled. He could always rely on Mongo to cheer him up. “I have a gun and I’m not afraid to use it,” he said, quickly. “And I am not brooding. I am merely thinking deeply contemplative thoughts.”

“A likely story,” Edwards said. “Don’t you know contemplative thoughts are strictly forbidden in the Wolfpac?”

“Yep,” Kevin put in. “We wrote a ban on them into the charter.”

Stuart rolled his eyes. He’d started the Wolfpac – a band of amateur rocket scientists – as something to do after his retirement, but it had grown into a hobby. Building rockets and firing them into the air was surprisingly fun, even though they had never come close to their dream of building a manned rocket. But then, even if they had, somehow he doubted the government would have allowed them to launch it. It was bad enough when federal agents came sniffing around to determine who was purchasing rocket components and why. They never quite seemed to believe that the club was completely innocent of anything other than trying to have a good time.

“Then we should have barred you,” he said. Kevin was the black sheep of the family; he’d gone into combat intelligence, rather than the fighting infantry. But long experience in Afghanistan had taught him that HUMIT could be just as important as raids and roadblocks when it came to countering an insurgency. “You think too much.”

Kevin made a one-fingered gesture, then poked the fire meaningfully. “You think too little,” he said, as Stuart passed him the marshmallows. “These days, thinking men are required to win wars and rebuild societies.”

Vincent snorted, rudely. “We may be doing it in America soon enough,” he said. “Did you read the email from Tony?”

Stuart nodded. Tony, like Stuart and the rest of the Wolfpac, had left military service and gone back to the civilian world, but unlike them he’d opened a grocery store in Chicago. And then there’d been a riot – the food stamp system had broken down for several days – and Tony’s store had been robbed. Worse, he’d been threatened with arrest for attempting to defend his property with a shotgun and a bad attitude. It wouldn’t be long, Stuart suspected, before Tony abandoned his store and migrated to a state with a more robust attitude towards lawlessness and self-defence.

But it was something that nagged at his mind, whenever he let it. He’d been in Iraq, Afghanistan and several countries it would have surprised American civilians to know their troops had been operating, yet his country sometimes felt more alien to him than any of the foreign nations he’d visited. The old values, the ones he’d imbued with his mother’s milk, seemed to be fading away. Duty, honour and loyalty were just words, self-reliance a joke …

“Brooding again,” Mongo snapped. “Tony will be fine. He always is.”

Stuart shrugged. He had his doubts. Fighting the enemy had been simple, fighting the bureaucracy that was slowly strangling America to death was almost impossible. He’d once planned to open a gun store, but the paperwork had been too much for him.

“Look up in the sky instead,” Kevin suggested. “I think that’s the International Space Station.”

Stuart sighed as he watched the speck of light making its way across the darkening sky. He’d once had dreams of being an astronaut, perhaps of being the first man to set foot on Mars or Venus, but his dreams had been blown away by cold hard reality. NASA hadn’t gone back to the Moon, let alone the rest of the Solar System, while the Space Program had become a political football rather than a viable project. There were no dreams any longer for humanity, no Wild West waiting to take the restless and dispossessed. Instead, there was a decaying society. And, in the distance, he could hear the howl of the approaching wolf.

“That’s a satellite,” Vincent said. “I think NSA is peering down at us right now.”

“Probably,” Stuart said. “We’re a bunch of males out on a camping trip. Of course we’re a subject of interest.”

He sighed. He’d had enough experience with combat surveillance systems to know that they were terrifyingly good. He would certainly have hated to be on the receiving end. Technology had its limits, he knew, but when the United States cared enough to send the best the results could be remarkable. Plenty of insurgents hadn’t learned how to cover themselves before it was too late.

“Could be worse,” Kevin said. “Did I tell you what we saw in Afghanistan?”

Mongo elbowed his brother. “You mean what you saw while you were sitting in a comfortable armchair, sipping cappuccino, while we were slogging over the mountains?”

Kevin ignored the jibe. “There was a bunch of Afghani men making their way towards the base, walking cross-country in pitch darkness,” he said. “Then they stopped. We thought they were setting up a mortar, so we focused sensors on them and primed the guns on the base to return fire. And then there was an odd heat source on the ground.”

He paused. No one spoke.

“And then there were five more, lying together,” he continued, after a long moment. “There we were, all puzzled, trying to figure out just what the hell they were doing. Were they laying IEDs for us? But we didn’t normally patrol that area. Or did they intend to lure us into a trap of some kind?

“And then we realised what they were doing,” he concluded. “They were having a communal shit!”

Stuart laughed, despite himself. “And to think I thought intelligence pukes had exciting lives,” he said. “Wearing black suits, chasing and screwing women, diving out of high buildings …”

“James Bond isn’t real,” Kevin interrupted. “Although there was this time in Bangkok …”

“You banged your cock?” Vincent asked, innocently.

“Oh, shut up,” Kevin said, as the group chuckled. “But I won’t deny that intelligence can get a little hairy at times. There was this village we visited …”

“We’ve been to Afghani villages too,” Mongo pointed out.

“Yes, but you went in full armour and had a whole squad of tough buddies beside you,” Kevin countered. “I was alone, unless you count two more intelligence officers, one of whom was wearing a full veil.”

“And no doubt invited to marry one of the locals,” Vincent said. “Was she?”

“She talked to the local women,” Kevin said. “We told them I was her husband.”

“Poor girl,” Stuart and Mongo said together.

“Guys,” Charles said, suddenly.

Stuart looked over at him, feeling alarm shivering down his spine. The last time he’d heard Charles use that tone, they’d been under enemy fire seconds later.

“Look,” Charles said, pointing up towards the sky. “What’s that?”

Stuart looked up. A glowing light was making its way across the sky, its course erratic. “A satellite?”

“Too large,” Charles said.

“Maybe it’s a UFO,” Mongo said. He snickered. “Do you think they’ve learned everything they can from anal probes?”

“Always knew you were a pervert,” Kevin said. He stuck out his tongue in a remarkably childish manner, then looked back up at the sky. “But it must be a plane, I think.”

“A plane that’s coming closer to us,” Charles said, before Mongo could muster a rejoinder. “Why?”

Stuart stared. The glowing light was growing larger, coming down towards the campsite at terrifying speed. Instinctively, he reached for the pistol at his belt – he never went anywhere without it, no matter what the law said – as the light started to take on shape and form. It couldn’t be a helicopter or a plane, part of his mind insisted; there was no noise, not even a faint clattering sound. But he knew there were some helicopters, designed for commando operations, that were almost completely silent. And yet …

Why would such a helicopter come after us? He asked himself. His imagination could produce a few ideas, but none of them were actually likely. What do they want?

“It’s not a helicopter,” Charles said. He sounded more than a little alarmed. “Look at it.”

Stuart half-covered his eyes as a bright light seemed to shine down on them. It was hard to see the shape of the craft through the light, but it looked to be a crude spacecraft rather than the smooth UFO he’d been expecting. Indeed, it was little larger than a small executive jet, yet it hung in the air with effortless ease. The floodlight swept over the campsite, then started to fade slightly as the craft slowly lowered itself towards the ground.

It couldn’t be human, Stuart realised, feeling a sudden lump in his throat. The others were silent, lost in their own thoughts. There were VTOL fighters and tilt-rotor aircraft, but nothing as large and capable as the craft facing them. As far as he could tell, it didn’t have any exhausts or anything else that might have suggested how it worked. It might as well be magic. But, as the light faded away, he realised that the hull was scorched and pitted. Cold ice ran down his spine as old instincts awoke. Alien the craft might be – and he was convinced it was far from human – but it was a warship.

“Shit,” Vincent said, breaking the silence.

There was a dull crunching sound as the craft touched down. Stuart shook himself, then concentrated on observing as much as possible. There were no landing struts, as far as he could see; the craft had just settled down on the soft ground. For a long moment, all was still … and then the craft’s hatch opened. Bright light spilled out, illuminating strange alien creatures.

Stuart caught his breath. He’d expected, he realised now, tiny grey aliens. Instead, he found himself fighting the urge to panic as the aliens came into view. They looked like eerie crosses between humans and spiders, perhaps with some crabs worked into the mixture too, as if someone had stuck a human torso and head on top of a giant spider and merged them together. Each of the aliens had six legs, greenish-red skin and dark eyes set within an armoured head, as if they had no skin covering their skulls. They’d have difficulty walking on uneven ground, Stuart suspected, although as they pranced forward it became clear that they were more limber than he’d realised. It was impossible to determine their sex from their appearance. Or, for that matter, if they even had the concept of males and females.

He’d seen countless aliens on television and movies, ranging from men in bad makeup and poor suits to marvels of CGI. There was no reason, he was sure, that Hollywood couldn’t produce aliens as strange and inhuman as the ones facing him. But somehow he knew they were real. There was something about them that utterly destroyed any disbelief he might have felt, a sudden awareness that they were very far from human. Besides, he had a feeling that even a small human couldn’t have fitted into an alien-sized suit.

The sense of danger grew stronger as he realised what the aliens were carrying. Four of them were carrying silver tubes that seemed to be made for their hands, the fifth was merely holding a silver box in one clawed hand. He also had a silver band wrapped around his skull, perhaps a badge of rank. The silver tubes were weapons, Stuart was sure, even though they were nothing like any human-build weapon. But there was something odd about the way the aliens were holding them, as if they’d never used them before. And yet … that was absurd, wasn’t it?

Mongo leaned forward as the aliens spread out. “This is real, isn’t it?”

“Sure looks that way,” Charles said.

Stuart nodded in agreement, his mind working frantically. What was this? An attempt to make First Contact without trying to fly into the secure airspace surrounding the White House and the Pentagon? Or was it something more sinister? He found it hard to believe that any alien race invading Earth would bother with a handful of campers … unless, of course, they intended to dissect Stuart and his friends. Or interrogate them on the state of the planet’s defences …

Kevin took a step forward. The aliens chattered suddenly – a high-pitched clattering that only added to the sense of inhumanity – and raised their weapons. Whatever they were actually saying, the meaning was all-too-clear. Kevin froze as the aliens aimed their weapons at his chest.

Part of Stuart’s mind noted, dispassionately, that the aliens might not intend to use headshots – and, given their armoured heads, that might make sense. Or, for all they knew, the alien brains were actually located in their torsos, rather than their skulls. But it didn’t matter, he realised. The aliens weren’t acting friendly. Stuart had been at enough meetings in Afghanistan between Coalition troops and local villagers to understand what compromised a healthy respect for security … and what was outright paranoia. The aliens were acting more like they intended to take prisoners than talk to the humans facing them.

The unarmed alien – Stuart cautioned himself not to assume the alien was actually unarmed – lifted the silver box to his lips. There was another burst of alien speech, followed by a dull masculine voice coming from the box – a translator, Stuart realised. He felt a flicker of envy – a portable translator would have been very helpful in Afghanistan – as the alien voice grew more confident. It spoke in oddly-accented English.

“Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” Stuart said, when it became clear that no one else was going to speak. Perhaps the aliens would have tried French or Russian next if they couldn’t make themselves understood through English. “We understand you.”

There was another chattering sound from the alien. “You will board our craft,” the alien said. It – he, Stuart decided – pointed one clawed hand towards the hatch. “Step through the hatch and into the hold.”

“Wait a minute,” Vincent said, shocked. “Where are you taking us?”

“That is none of your concern,” the alien informed him. He indicated the craft again, his claw flexing open and closed. “You will step through the hatch.”

Vincent reached for the pistol at his belt. There was a flash of light so bright that Stuart moved to cover his eyes instinctively. Vincent’s body fell to the ground, a smoking hole in his chest. Stuart stared in horror; he’d seen wounds from gunshots, IED strikes and even training accidents, but he’d never seen anything quite like this. The damage would have been instantly fatal, the dispassionate part of his mind realised; Vincent had been dead before his body hit the ground.

He balled his fists, then forced himself to relax. The lessons from a dozen Conduct after Capture courses rose up within his mind. There would be an opportunity to escape, he told himself firmly. He saw the same understanding in the eyes of his friends. The aliens would relax, sooner or later, and they would make mistakes. And, when they did, their human captives would be ready. The aliens might have advanced weapons, but advanced weapons didn’t mean anything in close-quarter combat. No one knew that better than the soldiers who had fought terrorists and insurgents for the last twenty years.

Be a good little captive, he told himself, as the aliens motioned for them to walk forwards, into the craft. Vincent’s body was simply left on the ground. Part of Stuart’s mind wondered if it would be discovered before it decayed. What would a autopsy show if any traces were left when it was found? He pushed the thought aside and concentrated on observing the aliens. Bide your time and wait.

Retreat Hell: The Real World is a Messy Place

8 Feb

I apologise for the earlier posts.  I had problems uploading a readable copy.

The Real World is a Messy Place

The Empire’s Corps series (currently eight books on Kindle) is intended to serve two purposes. First and foremost, it is intended to be great entertainment, precisely the sort of books I like to read. Second, it is intended to illustrate many of the problems facing our world, be it the poor state of education (Reality Check) or the issues in dealing with an insurgency with insufficient resources (The Empire’s Corps) or the poisonous effects of bureaucracy and political corruption (When The Bough Breaks). One of those problems is just how politics can cast a long shadow over military operations …

… And how politics can lead to poor decision-making processes.

One of my readers suggested that the situation in Retreat Hell, the new novel in the series, was similar to the situation in To The Shores, the previous novel. That is only true on the surface (and not really even then.) The military issue of To The Shores was remarkably straightforward. All the heroes had to do was get from Point A to Point B before time ran out, which involved fighting their way through a succession of enemy strongpoints and mobile forces that tried to bar their path. There were, at least on the surface, no outside powers that might become involved, nor was there any need to pacify the galactic media or the locals themselves. The whole war boiled down to a simple march up through enemy defences.

Retreat Hell presents a very different situation.

The only thing worse than having allies, as Winston Churchill once pointed out, is not having allies. And allies can be very useful, particularly in the modern field of war. Our soldiers may be the deadliest on the planet, but when they are forced to interact with local civilians they have very real problems understanding or relating to them. Thus we have the problem of our soldiers becoming convinced that the local civilians are all against them, which tends to lead to abuse and a general lack of concern about their lives. And having the ability to put a local face on military operations helps to move the burden of the war onto our allies, which is the only long-term solution to some of the problems we face.

However, having allies also has its downsides.

It is a simple fact of geopolitics that every country has different political priorities. America and Britain grew powerful through command of the seas; France, Germany and Russia simply couldn’t afford to build formidable navies when they also had to build vast armies. In modern days, American attempts to limit the ABM commitment to Poland have been resisted by the Poles, who fear Russia (with good reason) and want a much greater sign of American commitment to their defence.

Our allies have also caused problems in the War on Terror. The requirement to use Pakistan as a supply line into Afghanistan has made it difficult for us to strong-arm Pakistan into abandoning the Taliban completely. Pakistan has been hedging its bets in the region, which makes a great deal of sense when you realise that the Pakistanis fully expect us to abandon Afghanistan sooner or later, while they cannot do the same because Afghanistan is right next door. Further, as our allies have local problems of their own, they cannot always support us to the extent we would wish. For example, the provisional Iraqi government was none too keen on the idea of turning against Shia militias in Basra and Baghdad, as these militias provided a key source of support (and would be potent enemies if turned against the government.)

For Retreat Hell, the Commonwealth is faced with a comparable no-win situation.

The insurgency on Thule is opposed to the Commonwealth. If it wins, and it has a very good chance of winning, the Commonwealth will be asked to leave Thule. If that happens, a powerful industrial node will be lost to the Commonwealth. Complicating matters is the simple fact that a hostile interstellar empire is right next door and is clearly supplying weapons to the insurgents, which raises the spectre of them handing the planet over to the outsiders as soon as they win the war (and thus tipping the military balance further against the Commonwealth.) And the hostile power might just invade on its own.

So what choice should the Commonwealth make? Send assistance to a local government that is far from ideal or leave it to sink or swim on its own?

If they don’t send help, they will lose access to Thule when the insurgency takes control. And the Commonwealth’s reputation will be called into question by every other planet facing internal troubles. But if they do send help, they will have work with their allies and their allies may want the Commonwealth to act in ways contrary to their own best interests. And they would run the risk of exposing their flanks to a sneak attack …

Which choice should they make?

Retreat Hell can be downloaded from Amazon Kindle; free samples are available here.

Retreat Hell (The Empire’s Corps VIII)–Out Now!

7 Feb

A new mainstream novel of The Empire’s Corps!

After the disastrous mission to Lakshmibai, the very existence of the Commonwealth is called into question by politicians on Avalon. But as the political firestorm mounts, a call for help arrives from Thule, a highly-developed world facing a major insurgency in the wake of the Empire’s collapse. Reluctantly, the Commonwealth deploys the Commonwealth Expeditionary Force to Thule.

But all is not as it seems. The insurgents are receiving support from off-world powers, while bare light years across the border, Wolfbane – another successor state to the vanished Empire – is preparing for war … and an old enemy plots her revenge. As the countdown to war begins, the CEF finds itself sinking in a quagmire of bitter hatred …

… And nothing more than pawns in a very deadly game.

As always, my books are DRM-free.  Download a sample here, then download the full version from Amazon hereAnd read the Afterword here.

Reviews and comments are always welcome.