Archive | September, 2014

New Novel–First Strike!

30 Sep

The best defense…

A massive alien power looms over humanity, claiming Earth as its territory and humanity as its slaves. They’ve already taken over one colony, yoking hundreds of thousands under their brutal rule. Every tactical exercise, every simulation, every simulation gives humanity zero chance in a defensive campaign.
Earth’s only chance to win the coming war – is by striking first.

Admiral Tobias Sampson has a few dozen cruisers; the Hegemony has a hundred superdreadnoughts alone. Earth controls nine star systems; the Hegemony rules almost a thousand. But attacking isn’t the only surprise humanity has up its sleeve…

Starting a war with an enemy a hundred times stronger is insane. It’s desperate. And it’s Earth’s only hope.

Download a Free Sample, then buy from Amazon (Paperback, Kindle, CreateSpace) or Smashwords.  As always, comments and reviews are very welcome.

“It’s honestly brilliant – a space opera tour de force I want to see the next book of."
-Glynn Stewart, author of Starship’s Mage

“A story of alien threats and human resourcefulness that isn’t simply a contest of gadgets and ray guns. Nuttall knows the real ingredients of war are from within: greed, treachery, arrogant disdain, devious double crossing and misdirection. Both human and alien.”
-Mackey Chandler, author of the Family Law and April series

One Thing You Shouldn’t Do On Kindle …

24 Sep

… Or anywhere, for that matter.

I get a lot of emails from people who want to be writers themselves. Mostly, they tend to ask for advice – as if I knew something that would make anyone who possessed it an automatic success. And what I do, because I got help from other writers myself when I started, is explain that the only key to any success in writing is hard work.

I learned two things, in particular, from Eric Flint.

One – writing requires practice. You have to write at least a million words before you have anything that is even remotely readable. Yes, really. I cringe at the thought of my readers looking at some of my early works.

Two – writing requires a form of double-think (the ability to believe two things that contradict one another.) The writer must believe that his work is the greatest piece of literature since Oliver Twist … and, at the same time, must believe that his work is not worthy of being used as toilet paper, let alone publication.

Why? The writer must have the confidence to enter the writing world and, at the same time, understand that he or she has a great deal of work to do. No writer is EVER capable of judging his own work. Writers can miss the major problems and the minor problems, simply because they know what the book is supposed to say. That’s why a decent critic – and an editor – is a MUST for any writer who seriously intends to write. They can make the difference between a publisher considering your manuscript or kicking it out the door, without even bothering to write sarcastic comments.

In the past, writers were dependent on publishing companies to get published. The publishers provided a barrier between the general public and the hundreds of pieces of simply awful writing that were sent in by hopeful authors. Kindle (and other e-book publishers) has changed all that, at least to some extent. Anyone can publish on Kindle …

As I’ve noted before, the good news is that anyone can publish on Kindle; the bad news is that anyone can publish on Kindle. This causes problems because young authors who haven’t worked for years developing their writing start trying to sell their wares. When they do, they get attacked – sometimes savagely – by readers who don’t feel any obligation to soften the blow.

Obligations? Most people – me included – have problems being critical to our friends and family. I see something they’ve done and I bite down the urge to point out that its crappy. A writer’s mother – for example – probably won’t make critical remarks, even if the story is thoroughly awful. Anyone else, however, will certainly struggle to restrain themselves from making caustic remarks – “why the hell are you wasting your time doing this when you can’t even spell ‘cat’?” The unwary writer, expecting plaudits, may find himself hammered by a through dissection of just WTF is wrong with his work.

This hurts. Unless you’re a complete hack, your writing is your heart and soul. Having someone come up to you and make unpleasant remarks about your baby doesn’t make you want to listen, it makes you want to punch them in the face, then do unspeakable things to their corpse. Or, perhaps, you want to explain to them, in great detail, why they’re wrong – or to defend your work to the bitter end.

This is essentially pointless. There are two types of critic; the helpful dude and the troll. The former will not feel inclined to continue to help you if you reject his advice so openly (even if he’s wrong, he’s got the wrong idea because of something YOU wrote); the troll gets his jollies from forcing you to work yourself into a tizzy over his words. You are merely feeding his sick ego when you rant and rave on the internet over how someone doesn’t get your work – and feeding trolls is stupid, in any online forum.

The real trick, of course, is learning to tell the difference. I always tell myself not to respond to negative remarks, but to consider what is actually being said. Someone who offers useful feedback – “this word is spelt wrong” – is a helpful dude; someone who doesn’t offer useful feedback is a troll. Thank the former, ignore the latter.

I mention this because there has been a spat of comments on one of the facebook groups I frequent, concerning a particularly unpleasant piece of work. Now, that alone would not be worthy of comment. Kindle has seen more than its fair share of works that are over-priced, poorly edited, worse researched, badly formatted, given horrible covers, plagiarised (and copied from other works produced by the author, which may not be plagiarism per se), etc, etc.

However, the author – who has the same attitude to his works as other authors – has been responding badly to criticism. He has insisted that his reviewers are trolls, cited the opinions of his friends (and at least one person who may not exist) and refused to believe that they’re actually pointing out very real problems with the book. Worse, he has spammed Amazon with samples of his book and tried to game the rating system. (And one reviewer has written a 5-star review that is anything, but.) Readers have not responded very well to his defence.

This has always left me with mixed feelings. I have never believed that an author should be above criticism, particularly when they produce works like … well, SONICHU. (About which the less said, the better.) On the other hand, there are times when the barrage of criticism (even when not actual trolling) becomes unbearably akin to bullying. I’ve had moments in my writing career when I felt backed into a corner by trolls, even when some of those trolls were probably making sensible remarks. Whose side should I be on?

Well, that of common sense, of course.

Writers need thick skins. At the same time, they need to understand that critics are the most valuable resource a writer can have. There’s nothing to be gained, as I have said above, in treating the critic as a troll.

So … if you want to write seriously, listen to the critics.

Musings on the Referendum Result and the Future

21 Sep

I generally prefer to wait a few days before commenting on anything, no matter how important. It adds a certain perspective – and besides, the first reports, no matter how optimistic or dire, may be wrong. This time, however, two interesting and quite significant events have taken place, both of which bear examination.

Scotland voted NO. And Alex Salmond, the driving force behind the referendum, has resigned.

I have no doubt that people will be arguing for years over why the vote went the way it did. Did the YES campaign overplay its hand? Did the case they made for Scottish independence prove unconvincing? Did Salmond’s lustful grab for power put more voters than just myself off voting him into the position of President of Scotland? Or was it his unfortunate resemblance to Tony Blair, another politician who preferred style over substance, that deterred the voters from supporting him? Or was it the activities of thugs on the streets of Scotland who tried to silence NO supporters who turned voters against independence?

It is quite possible, of course, that one or more of those answers are correct, but I suspect we will never truly know.

Salmond’s resignation is interesting in and of itself. Did Salmond feel he should no longer lead Scotland when his cause was defeated so comprehensively? Or did he want to jump before he was pushed? The SNP would not be kind to a leader who suffered such an agonising defeat, one that calls the very existence of the SNP into question. Or, perhaps most depressing of all, is he hoping to remain in the background and wait to see what happens?

If Salmond leaves politics for good, he will finally win some of my respect. The cynical side of my nature, however, suggests that Salmond is merely waiting to see if there will be an opportunity to re-enter politics.

And David Cameron may well have given him the opportunity.

The NO campaign’s panic, when the polls started to suggest that the YES campaign would win, led them to make all sorts of promises. Those promises must now be carried out, or the politicians who made them will be exposed as liars. I have no doubt that certain politicians in Scotland are already contemplating the prospects for a second referendum, should those promises not be kept. They will make it seem, rightly or wrongly, that Scotland’s choice to remain in the Union was conditional on those promises being kept. If they are not kept, they will start to agitate for a second referendum.

But keeping the promises will cause other problems for the UK.

Put bluntly, the post-Act of Union Parliament largely abolished the independent nations of Scotland and England. Politically, Scotland and England were effectively part of the same country. There was no such thing as a Scottish MP, merely an MP who happened to represent a Scottish constituency. The argument put forward by YES campaigners that Scotland voted against the Iraq War, but got the war anyway, is essentially nonsense. British MPs voted in favour of the war.

The Scottish Parliament’s creation by New Labour was, at least in part, caused by the belief that Labour could rely on Scottish voters (and, to be fair, there were few Conservative voters in Scotland after the Poll Tax.) This had the accidental effect of creating a democratic headache where Scottish MPs could vote on English matters, without English MPs having similar rights in Scotland. England, you see, did not have a separate Parliament; Westminster was effectively both the British Parliament and the English Parliament. This was bitterly resented in England, for obvious reasons.

As such, granting Scotland additional powers will cause considerable resentment in England.

There is a way forward – actually, two ways forward.

The first would be to create an English Parliament, which the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. I suspect this will be opposed by both Labour and Liberal Democrats, as both parties may benefit more from Scottish MPs than the Conservatives.

The second would be to seek near-total devolution, for everyone.

As I see it, the core problem with large organisations – and governments are VERY large organisations – is that they have serious problems dealing with little details. This leads to rules and regulations that are actively harmful, because the laws cannot be adapted to suit every situation. The rule-makers may have the best intentions in the world. They simply lack the omnipotent perspective to see just how their ideas work in the real world.

I used to work as a drone in a very large organisation. The guys at the top would issue directives that made no sense to us, at ground-level. But none of our arguments could get them changed.

Let me suggest something like this.

Take a school, for example, or a hospital. Make the headteacher or director (whatever one calls the boss of a hospital) responsible for running his building, but also grant him the powers to actually handle the job. For example, headteachers actually have very limited powers over everything from staffing to discipline. Give them the ability to tackle problems without having to appeal up the chain. In fact, extend this principle to everywhere. Put matters concerning Edinburgh in the hands of Edinburgh City Council; matters concerning Glasgow in the hands of Glasgow Council, etc, etc. Devolution to the max!

But would this work in real life?

I don’t know. But I suspect that reducing the distance between politicians and the people on the ground would make it easier for them to concentrate on important matters – and, just incidentally, understand what effects their decisions are having.

YMMV, of course.

On A More Blog Related Topic …

17 Sep

On a more blog-related topic than the Scottish Referendum …

First, I’ve completed the first draft of Barbarians At The Gates II: The Shadow of Cincinnatus. I’m hoping to get some responses from beta-readers soon, then forward it to the editor. I hope this is considered good news.

Second, I’ve done the first major set of edits for Work Experience (Schooled In Magic IV). This was the usual hair-pulling session, but most of the suggested edits were good ones; it’s always useful to have a very critical eye going over the manuscript. I hope there won’t be many more sessions before the final version can be sent for publication. Hopefully, the book will be out in a few weeks, but no promises.

I’ve outlined the plot for Book VI, but I’m not sure when it’s going to be written.

Third, I’m currently working on the plot for Hard Lessons (A Learning Experience II) and I hope to start writing it on Monday. (By then, I may know if I’m going to be living in an independent Scotland or not.) Annoyingly, I had an idea for a book set between ALE and HL while I was making notes for the plot, so there may be a Book III that takes place between the two. We’ll see.

Fourth, Castalia House is producing a forthcoming MIL-SF anthology series entitled Riding the Red Horse. I’ve contributed a short story entitled A Piece of Cake, which is the origin story of the hero of Warspite (Ark Royal IV). I don’t know if the story will be available elsewhere – I’m going to have to think about that – but we shall see. If this becomes a regular series, I will probably try to contribute more work in the future.

I think that’s all for the moment. Feel free to comment on any or all of the above.

Chris

One Final Post

17 Sep

Tomorrow, Scotland goes to the polls, to decide if Scotland should separate itself from the United Kingdom or not.

You’ll notice, of course, that I haven’t used the word ‘independence.’

Why? The SNP isn’t promising us independence. All it is promising us, in reality, is a chance to become a smaller state within Europe. ‘Independence in Europe’ is a lie, for the very simple reason that Scotland will not even begin to have the real or potential clout of the UK, vis-a-vis the EU. Nor can we count upon the EU choosing to accept us, even if we wanted to join (and do we?) There are strong reasons for the EU to refuse to allow us to join without making major concessions to Brussels.

But let me put that aside, for the moment.

Frankly, I’m sick of the whole referendum. The YES campaign has managed to do remarkably well on a gossamer-thin tissue of wishful thinking, polliyanish naivety and emotional manipulation. The NO campaign, in the meantime, has lost itself in the simple fact it doesn’t have as attractive a cause as the YES campaign.

Much of this, alas, has to do with the state of modern politics. Events move slowly, but reports of events travel very fast. There are times when the only realistic thing to do is to hold steady and grit one’s teeth as one travels through a storm, but politicians have lost sight of the wisdom of such a course. Instead, we have politicians panicking and scrambling to make concessions (thus projecting an atmosphere of fear) when the polls take a sudden downswing.

There is no such thing as perfection. There is no way to prevent teething troubles, no matter what you’re doing. No matter what you do, there will be problems. The only question is how well you handle those problems, when everyone and their uncle is screaming in your ear that you have to change course. Politicians either trim their sales to the wind or stubbornly stick to the course they choose, both of which can lead to disaster.

I’d feel sorry for them, really, if they hadn’t done so much to make such a situation inevitable.

But, back to Scotland …

I don’t know which way the vote will go. Once, I would have bet that it would be a NO. Now, watching the fumbling idiocy of the NO campaign and the shameless manipulation of the YES campaign, I have my doubts. All I can really do now is go to the polling station tomorrow, cast my vote and pray.

But one thing is clear. If Scotland votes YES, we will face a long period of prolonged instability and uncertainty. This will be the greatest divorce in history, bar none. If there are benefits from the faux-independence offered by the SNP, it will be a long time before we see them.

That’s my final word on the matter. If you’re Scottish and you’re going to vote in the referendum, read around the subject and think, coldly and logically, about just what sort of ‘independence’ Scotland might be offered. Read my earlier two articles, if you like, or see what else is available on the web.

And then cast your vote.

Emotions and the IndyRef

8 Sep

[I wasn’t going to comment more on the whole issue of Scottish Independence, but what I read in the newspaper today made me think.]

As a child, I envied Mr. Spock.

Why? The ability to suppress one’s emotions, to not HAVE any emotions, seemed ideal to me. My time at school was not happy. It would have been far easier if I hadn’t had any feelings to hurt, or no need to invest my hopes in ambitions for the future that were continually squashed. Emotions seemed dangerous to me. A person in the grip of emotion could – no, would – do dangerous things that would make no sense, in the cold light of day.

Indeed, so many problems our police forces have to solve are caused, not by cold calculation, but emotions running riot.

So I don’t trust intense emotion. Does that make me a cold fish? I don’t really have any feelings about that, one way or the other <grin>.

The ‘YES’ campaign for Scotland is basing its campaign primarily upon emotion. Independence seems a worthwhile dream for us all because … well, who doesn’t want to be independent? Not to have to put up with parents, teachers, banks, bureaucrats, lawyers, policemen and everyone else who, in all manner of ways, curb our personal independence? We thrill to movies like Braveheart (which was stunningly inaccurate, as a depiction of the real Wallace) and allow the tidal waves of emotion to push us onwards.

The SNP has taken advantage of this by invoking Robert the Bruce. This is particularly annoying to me because no one in their right mind would want to live in the Scotland of Robert the Bruce (or, for that matter, the England of Edward I, II and III.) By our standards, they were hellholes for the vast majority of the population. Indeed, the whole issue of the Scottish Wars of Independence was far more blurred than the SNP cared to admit.

I agree the stories are thrilling. And they lead to heartening emotions.

But sometimes these emotions lead us to mistakes.

I write all this because I read in yesterday’s paper that the ‘YES’ campaign has moved ahead of the ‘NO’ campaign for the first time. Personally, I’m sceptical. No one rang me and asked for my opinion. The only true large-scale opinion poll will be the referendum itself.

However, Alex Salmond has used this to boost his campaign.

I’m distrustful. No, I’m rather more than just distrustful.

Emotionally, I will happily admit the issue has a certain appeal. Cold calculation, however, suggests otherwise. Indeed, I have a feeling that Salmond himself understands the weakness of his case, because he is piling on the emotions in the hopes of making the voters drunk on them. (How many stupid decisions have you made when drunk?)

The ‘NO’ campaign has a weakness. It is, basically, campaigning for the status quo, while there are people who think that chance is always good or that they will benefit from the new Scottish order. There are few emotions to be found in the status quo.

But cold calculation calls the SNP’s claims into doubt.

The morning after the referendum, we will open our eyes to a new world. I think it behoves us to think long and hard about where we want to go – and what it will cost us to get there.

And, while we’re at it, stop thinking with our emotions.

Chris

PS – I found a pamphlet supporting the ‘YES’ campaign in Morningside Library. I’m not actually sure if it was an official publication or not, but (quite apart from the sheer level of wishful thinking) it included a section on the prospects for the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo! I think there are more important issues to think about where independence is concerned.

Coming Books …

7 Sep

In-between moving into a new home and writing BATG II (this probably isn’t a good sign) I’ve been working on plots for various future books. Comments are, of course, welcome.

Bookworm will have a Book III in November (hopefully); The Best Laid Plans. Unless the plot proves to be too short for use, there will be a final book, currently entitled The Last Full Measure. Alternate titles: Full Circle or The Root of All Things.

The Royal Sorceress is currently having problems. I’d like to do a book set in India (this would be Raj India) but the first two plots I came up with would be too akin to Necropolis to be really usable. The alternate would be a visit to alt-America, during the war. I’m not sure yet which way to go.

The Empire’s Corps will proceed with Never Surrender, which will pick up the plot threads left dangling by Retreat Hell. I may focus it entirely on Jasmine and the POWs, then have another book go back to Avalon. After that, there will be First To Fight (Ed’s origin story, which I’m planning to be a chatty book like The Living Will Envy The Dead), Culture Shock and The Year of a Thousand Emperors. The problem is depicting a multi-sided galactic civil war.

I’ve actually given serious thought to having the main character be a reporter-type person who keeps on getting captured by various factions, thus bearing witness to the war even though she will never get to write her story. An alternative will be to have the story be led by a mercenary in command of a fleet of ships, who keeps swapping sides depending on who has the better deal. I don’t think he’d be very sympathetic though.

Culture Shock would be set on a medium-sized colony world that is told it has to take in a few hundred thousand refugees or see them die in space. The colony world’s leaders agree to this, only to discover that the newcomers aren’t entirely compatible with their society and putting them together might have been a mistake.

I need a follow-up to The Thin Blue Line too <grin>

Too many projects, too little time …

Chris