Archive | November, 2014

Yes, It’s More Updates

24 Nov

Hi, everyone

Yes, this is another set of updates. You may all throw things now.

<ducks hastily, then continues>

I’m currently at CH29 of Warspite. I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the week, then send it to be edited. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I also did the first set of heavy-duty edits for Schooled In Magic V: The School of Hard Knocks. There will probably be another set of edits to come, then the cover design, but I would expect the book to come out in February or thereabouts.

I have an ambition to write Schooled In Magic VI before the baby’s due date, on 22nd December. I can probably finish the first draft if the baby comes then, but this plan may wind up being discarded in short order. We shall see.

I attended NOVACON last weekend in Nottingham. My AAR is a bit boring compared to some of the ones from the US – I signed the contract for Bookworm III, held the launch for the paper copy of Necropolis, bought lots of books, etc. It was fun <grin>.

You can now buy paper copies of Lessons in Etiquette, Barbarians at the Gates, Necropolis and the Ark Royal Trilogy.

I don’t have an ETA for Bookwork III: The Best Laid Plans yet. I’ll update once I have one.

My current writing plan for the next few months:

Love’s Labour’s Won (SIM 6)

Democracy’s Price (Democracy III)

Never Surrender (TEC 10)

Falcone Strike

Wish me luck.

Chris

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The Tragedy of Marius Drake

23 Nov

(I wrote this in response to a review. YMMV)

Fair Warning – there are MASSIVE spoilers in this post. If you haven’t read The Shadow of Cincinnatus, you may want to skip the rest.

One of the most important issues in writing space opera – or having movies/TV shows that are effectively space opera – is that it’s all about the people. Great special effects are fun, but the people are truly important. This is far more important when handling an arc-based show like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). A show like Star Trek: The Next Generation is far more forgiving of characters that basically stay the same throughout seven seasons.

Babylon 5 showcases an excellent way to have characters grow and develop – or fall – over four seasons. (I tend to ignore the fifth.) Battlestar Galactica is far weaker in this respect; of all the major characters, only Baltar and Gaeta show any real character development, particularly after midway through season three (when, IMHO, the entire show lurched off the rails.) Gaeta, in particular, is worth observing. He starts as an enthusiastic young officer, bonding in particular with Baltar (on whom I think it’s clear he has a crush), but is rapidly betrayed by his father figures. Colonel Tigh tries to rig the election, Adama lets Starbuck get away with shooting Gaeta in the leg, Baltar betrays all of humanity when the Cylons invade New Caprica and (to add insult to injury) Gaeta is nearly killed for suspected collaboration, by people who don’t know he spied on the collaborators for the resistance.

In the end, it isn’t really surprising that he goes bad. When he sets out to do something good (calling foul on the rigged election) it results in humanity trapped at the mercy of their enemies. Life took a highly-idealistic young man and turned him into a butt-monkey. The mutiny against the fleet’s leadership – the only episodes of season four worth watching, was largely inevitable.

In many ways, Marius Drake has a similar problem.

Drake is a career military officer. He was a midshipman during the Blue Star War (70 years prior to BATG) and spent that time working his way up the chain of command. He doesn’t have any real experience of life outside the military, nor does he have any real sympathy for civilians. How can he?

Drake is a strong believer in the ideals of the Federation. He knows that individuals can be corrupt, but puts a great deal of faith in the Federation itself. Unlike politicians, Drake’s seen enough of life at the sharp end to know that relaxing and granting rights to aliens (there is a strong streak of xeno-racism in his makeup) is likely to end in disaster. To Drake, Justinian and his fellow warlords are traitors, because they cannot help, but weaken the Federation. Drake would not have considered overthrowing the government himself because it would have weakened the Federation. He took that oath seriously!

Drake, finally, is a believer in the ideals of the military. He might not expect people to obey orders unquestioningly, but he does expect them to obey orders. The military is a hierarchical organisation and Drake, as of BATG, is very near the top. Drake believes in being loyal to his subordinates and expects loyalty from them in return.

By the end of BATG, several things have gone wrong.

Drake was nearly killed by Blake, his aide, at the orders of the Grand Senate. This was an absolute betrayal, all the more so as Drake’s best friend was killed saving his life. (This had the unfortunate side effect of removing one of the few people who could argue with Drake as a friend, as well as a comrade.) Drake’s faith in the civilian government, already weakened by the discovery that his surrender terms had been repudiated, snapped. He led his fleet back to Earth, overthrew the Grand Senate and took power. (And executed most of the Grand Senators personally.)

Personally, I wrote that scene as the moment where Drake loses his own moral compass.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t end the story. Drake finds himself inheriting a mess, a mess he cannot solve with the tools at his disposal. He’s used to thinking in terms of military operations, not fixing a badly-weakened economy. (This is why most military governments, no matter how popular at Day One, tend to develop problems with remarkable speed.) The idea of weakening the Federation, of loosening control, is inconceivable to him. Drake has no illusions about the Federation’s (lack of) popularity. To surrender control, to let the economy breathe, would start a chain of events that would eventually tear the Federation apart.

And then the Outsiders attack.

Drake finds himself in the same position as Stalin, 1941. He needs to organise the Federation for war against treacherous rebels, despite the Federation’s economic weakness. Surrender is not an option. This is a man raised to believe that aliens are ready to stab the human race in the back at the first sign of weakness, facing a human faction that – horror of horrors – has allied itself with a pair of alien races. He views the Outsiders with as much enthusiasm as Stalin would view a Ukrainian Freedom Fighter who allied himself with Nazi Germany, complete with planned Final Solution for Russia’s teeming masses. (This might not, of course, be a logical view. But emotions are rarely logical.) By the time TSOC reaches its climax, he’s prepared to do anything to hammer the Outsiders so hard they never recover.

Now, if you don’t think someone would snap under that kind of pressure, I have a lovely white house in the centre of Washington to sell you <grin>.

This happens quite a bit, if you start out with strong moral principles. You compromise them, slightly. And then you compromise them again, slightly more. And again, and again, and again, until you can no longer tell right from wrong, or reach the point where you can justify anything to yourself, and keep telling yourself you’re doing the right thing when you jumped off the slippery slope a long time ago.

Drake’s real tragedy is this – the problems facing the Federation, the problems caused by over a century of mismanagement, are largely impossible to solve with the tools he is willing to use. Unfortunately, this is true of far too many military officers who take power by force.

Why didn’t this happen to Cincinnatus? His problem was much – much – smaller.

YMMV, of course.

Up Now – The Shadow of Cincinnatus

17 Nov

The sequel to Barbarians at the Gates is now available!

The warlords are gone, save one. Admiral Marius Drake, betrayed and almost killed by the Grand Senate, has seized power for himself in a military coup. Now, as Emperor Marius, Drake can work to restore the once-great Federation to its former glory. But now that the Grand Senate is gone, the Federation is starting to fall apart. The bureaucrats are running rampant, the corporations are demanding new powers, the colonies want freedom and Earth is collapsing into chaos.

Worse, on the borders, a new interstellar power has arisen and is bracing itself for an all-out invasion of Federation space. For the Outsiders, the descendents of those forced to flee centuries ago by the Federation, there will never be a better chance to smash their hatred oppressors, once and for all. To save the Federation, the Outsiders must be defeated – but the Federation may not survive long enough to land the killing blow.

Cincinnatus casts a long shadow … and those who pick up absolute power may not find it so easy to put it down again.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase a full copy from the links on this pageOr read the Afterword here!

Updates

9 Nov

Hi, everyone

Good news first. I’m planning to start writing Warspite properly tomorrow. There will be a gap Thursday-Monday (owing to NOVACON) but I hope to have the book drafted out by the start of December. I won’t be bored after that as my editor has sent me the normal massive list of edits for The School of Hard Knocks (Schooled in Magic V), which I will attempt to tackle once the draft is complete. I’m hoping to get the editing for The Best Laid Plans done at the same time, but it will depend on just how fast the editor turns it around.

I’m getting to grips with my new computer, which I am more or less reserving completely for writing. Thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions – I upgraded the computer to Windows 8.1, which helped to some extent, even through the missing start menu is annoying and the tablet-like display irritating.

We’re still preparing for the baby’s arrival, with an estimated due date of 22nd December (the kid is going to hate us <grin>). We attended several classes on how to take care of a newborn child, which left me wondering just how the human race managed to survive several thousand years without accidentally dying out. I don’t feel remotely up to the task of taking care of a newborn, but it’s a bit late to change our minds.

My current plan is to take January off, then start work – either on Democracy’s Price or Never Surrender. I’ll post a poll on my discussion board or Facebook page nearer the time to see what my fans want. After that, I think I will probably write SIM 6 and then something new.

Which leads to the next question … what would you like to see?

One idea I’ve had is centred around a tiny Middle East state – somewhere loosely akin to Dubai or Kuwait. This state used to be ruled by a pragmatic king, but since his death his son has proved to be a less than ideal ruler. The new king’s sister’s solution to this problem is to hire mercenaries to overthrow her brother, then take power herself. Needless to say, it doesn’t work out as well as she hoped.

Another idea is a bit of a detective story. There’s a VERY rich woman who collects expensive paintings – and one of them gets stolen. She didn’t exactly acquire all of them legally, so instead of calling the cops she calls a PI instead. The PI discovers a trail of deceit and deception that leads all the way to a very old family crisis. It would be something out of my comfort zone, which isn’t a bad idea. But we will see.

Let me know which one you want, if – of course – you want any of them.

Chris

Up Now–The Mind’s Eye

8 Nov

(Sorry for not posting this earlier – things got away with me.)

For centuries, men have been dreaming of telepathy, the power to read and influence the minds of others. Now, all around the world, telepaths are finally starting to appear. Men and women are developing awesome powers with the potential to dramatically change society. Governments are soon starting to become aware of them, even recruiting them, while striving to keep knowledge of their abilities hidden from the general public. But academic researchers too are discovering telepaths and it isn’t long before awareness of their existence starts to spread. But non-telepaths, ordinary people, don’t want to have their minds read or controlled; the telepaths soon find themselves widely regarded with fear and hatred. Inevitably, some of them want to fight back.

In this alternative history, albeit set in the near-future, Christopher Nuttall explores the likely impact of the appearance of telepathic abilities in some members of the human race. While telepathy and related psionic abilities have long been a mainstay of science-fiction, the impact of their emergence has not been as well imagined as, say, that of fantastic mutations. Almost everyone has something to hide, thoughts they wouldn’t want made public. Governments have secrets they wish to keep, whether for national security or just to hold on to power. How would the general populace react to mind-readers in their midst? How would telepaths respond when threatened by a frightened mob, or constrained by politicians fearful of the disclosure of scandals and long-buried secrets. Intelligence agencies would be both alarmed at the threats and intrigued by the possibilities. Would all nations respond in the same way?

And then there’s the endless possibilities for criminals and terrorists…

The Mind’s Eye was published by Elsewhen Press in a digital edition on 7th November 2014 and will be published in paperback in December 2014.  Try a FREE SAMPLE, then buy the complete book from the links here.

Love’s Labour’s Won (Schooled in Magic 6)–Snippet

7 Nov

Prologue

Ashworth House looked fragile, from the point of view of passing travellers who managed to look through the complex network of concealing and obscurification wards that provided the first line of defence. It perched on a hillside, a mixture of a dozen different styles from right across the Allied Lands, as if each generation of the family had added a whole new wing to the house. And yet, Melissa Ashworth knew, as she walked through the wards, that the house was far from fragile. The nexus point pulsing below the giant building ensured that no conventional attack could hope to breech the defences.

She felt the pull as soon as she passed through the last ward, an insistent tugging that compelled her to walk towards the centre of the house. Gritting her teeth – she was eighteen, not a naughty little girl to be summoned – she resisted the pull as best as she could, dragging her feet as she walked into the house. A handful of servants bowed to her as she passed, then faded away into the back of her awareness as the tug pulled harder. The Matriarch of House Ashworth was clearly impatient. By the time she reached the stone doors that barred the way into the central chambers, she was practically running – and steaming with humiliation.

The doors opened as she approached, revealing a single spotless room, empty save for a set of paintings on the wall, a wooden table and a pair of chairs. One of them was empty, Melissa noted as she stepped inside; the other was occupied by her great-grandmother, the Matriarch of House Ashworth. The compulsion snapped out of existence as the door closed behind her, but she knelt anyway. There was a long pause, then her great-grandmother rose to her feet.

“You may rise,” she said.

“Thank you, Lady Fulvia,” Melissa said. No one dared address the Matriarch by any other title, even grandmother. “I thank you for summoning me.”

“You may be seated,” Lady Fulvia said. “I trust your exam results were satisfactory?”

Melissa felt her cheeks burn as she sat down and looked up at her great-grandmother. Lady Fulvia was tall and inhumanly thin, with a face so pinched with disapproval that she looked as though she was permanently sucking on a lemon. It was a testament to her power that she was still alive – and that no one dared to mock her, even in private. Melissa would sooner have dealt with her father than the aging harridan. But no one would say no if Lady Fulvia chose to make Melissa’s business hers.

“I believe I passed,” she said, finally. “But we won’t have the full results for another week.”

“I suppose not,” Lady Fulvia said. “It was my fault for sending you to that school, even though it was quite unsuitable for one of our bloodline.”

“You told me I could not share the school with the Ashfall Heir,” Melissa reminded her, daringly. “And so I went to Whitehall instead of Mountaintop.”

“How true,” Lady Fulvia agreed. “But we still expect you to do your very best.”

Her voice hardened. “And you seem to have failed to make friends with Void’s daughter.”

Melissa winced at the cold scorn in Lady Fulvia’s voice. No one had known Void had a daughter, right up until the moment she’d arrived at Whitehall. The Lone Power was so eccentric he hadn’t even taught his daughter basic magic, although she had learned very quickly. But by the time Melissa had received orders to befriend the girl, it had been too late.

“A girl who saved the school, twice,” Lady Fulvia said. “A girl who crippled Mountaintop.”

“Yes, Lady Fulvia,” Melissa said.

“And you have failed to befriend her,” Lady Fulvia said. “That does not speak well of you.”

Melissa cringed. Lady Fulvia never hit her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. She had other ways to discipline them. None of them were remotely pleasant.

“But, no matter,” Lady Fulvia said. “There are other, more important issues to discuss. You are a young woman now, are you not? The measurement of blood-to-blood proves you are healthy and capable of bearing children?”

“Yes,” Melissa said, embarrassed.

“Good,” Lady Fulvia said. She gave Melissa a tight smile. “Because you’re going to get married. The Matriarchy of House Ashworth will fall to you, one day, and it is important that you have both the right husband and the right father for your children. I have selected you a suitable man.”

Melissa felt as though she had been punched in the gut. She’d known her marriage would be arranged, but she’d always thought – her grandfather had promised her – that she would have the final say in who she married. To hear Lady Fulvia say, so casually, that her husband had already been selected … she stared, unable to conceal her horror. There was no point in trying to argue, or fight. She knew the Matriarch all too well. Lady Fulvia would simply override whatever she said and the wedding would go ahead anyway.

“My Lady,” she managed finally. “Who have you selected for me?”

“Gaius, of House Arlene,” Lady Fulvia said. “He recently graduated from Mountaintop with impeccable marks and strong magic.”

It took Melissa a moment to place the name. House Arlene wasn’t a strong house, not by the standards of Ashworth or Ashfall. Their very lack of strength, however, made them ideal partners for Lady Fulvia. She could practically dictate the terms of the marriage contract, knowing they would have little choice, but to accept. But … what little she had heard about Gaius hadn’t been good. Women talked, after all, and stories were shared. Few girls had dated Gaius twice. She would have to write to them and find out why.

“You will be formally introduced to him at the Cockatrice Faire,” Lady Fulvia continued, seemingly unaware of Melissa’s innermost thoughts. “The wedding will be held on the final night of the Faire, once all the contracts have been signed. You and he can then enjoy the joys of married life.”

Melissa coloured, then frowned. “Lady Fulvia, I …”

“This is a great opportunity for you, and for your House,” Lady Fulvia continued, smoothly. “I would take it greatly amiss if anything was to interfere with the planned wedding.”

Shit, Melissa thought.

She hadn’t wanted to get married until after her graduation – as a married woman, she might not even be allowed to return to school – but she knew there was no point in arguing. Lady Fulvia would have had the contracts drawn up already, then gone through the formalities of gaining the approval of the family’s adults. The only person who might have been able to say no was Melissa’s father – and he’d died years ago. And she was not of age. She couldn’t refuse for herself.

“Go back to your rooms and prepare yourself,” Lady Fulvia ordered. “We will leave for Cockatrice in four days.”

Melissa winced, inwardly, as her mind caught up with what she was being told. Cockatrice. Of all the places they could hold the Faire, it had to be Cockatrice. It was not enough that she had to be pushed into a loveless marriage, was it? She had to endure her nuptials under the eyes of Lady Emily, Void’s daughter and Baroness of Cockatrice. But again, there was no point in arguing. Lady Fulvia had made up her mind.

She rose, bowed again, then stalked out of the door. There were letters to write, then clothes to pack. And then …

My life is going to change, she thought, morbidly. And who knows what will happen then?

Meet My Character Blog Hop

5 Nov

This is late. Very late. Barb tagged me in her post back in September and I haven’t done anything with it until November. In my defence, I was very busy …

I thought about focusing on a main character, but I tend to show enough about those characters in the stories themselves. So, here’s a side character who was viewed by the main character – Emily, of Schooled In Magic – as an interfering busybody at best, a sadist teacher at worst.

So, here we go.

What is the name of your character?

Master Tor. Like many of the senior magicians in the series, he has long since shed his true name and hidden behind an affection.

Is he a fictional/historical person?

No. He’s mine.

Well, sort of. Tor is partly based on a woman I knew at school, someone who always tried to push me in certain directions because “it would be better for me.” I found her very annoying, but with 15 years of distance between then and now, I can admit she might have had a point.

When and where is the story set?

Study in Slaughter covers Emily’s Second Year at Whitehall School, in a world that is either known as the Nameless World or considered literally nameless. (There are reasons for this beyond simple weirdness.) Master Tor is Head of Year Two, which effectively makes him Emily’s supervisor for the year.

What should we know about him?

It isn’t stated directly, because Tor isn’t the kind of person to discuss his past with anyone (particularly Emily), but he’s a newborn magician, from a magic-less family. He’s more than a little ashamed of his past, although (unlike most magicians) he actually shows a little compassion to the poor mundanes. You’ll notice that when he’s chewing out Emily about her unauthorised and VERY dangerous experiments, he points out that she’s a Baroness and she has thousands of people at her mercy, and that she might easily get a few of them killed through sheer carelessness. No other senior magician shows that level of concern for faceless mundanes.

In short, Tor is an academic bureaucrat, at least partly because he’s a very low power magician. Those that can, do; those that can’t, become academic bureaucrats. <grin>

What is the main conflict?

Tor pretty much gets on Emily’s bad side from the start. Having arranged to spend her Second Year sharing a room with her two best friends, she is not best pleased to discover that Tor has rearranged the rooms so she’s with two complete strangers. And then she discovers that he takes delight in making her consider and reconsider her assumptions, then poking holes in how little she knows of her new world.

Things really get out of hand when he catches Emily running unauthorised experiments. He’s horrified (not without reason) and threatens expulsion, then dire punishments. If the real enemy hadn’t appeared, things might have gotten a great deal worse.

Perversely, he does have a point. Emily needs to broaden her social horizons (she doesn’t make friends easily) and she really doesn’t know much about her new home. The experiments she carries out are genuinely dangerous. But the way he does it, like the teacher I knew, is counterproductive.

What messes up his life?

Emily, of course. No, that’s not entirely accurate. Tor is basically a convert to a society and, as such, one of its strongest defenders. His life is messed up by the fact the ONLY thing he has to claim respect is being one of Whitehall’s teachers, which isn’t that much in a world where there are many others more powerful than him.

In a way, that’s why he’s a federalist. He has much more sympathy for democracy than he would feel comfortable admitting, which is something of a tragedy. In many ways, he and Emily are natural allies.

What is Master Tor’s main goal?

Basically, teaching his students to respect the law as something above and beyond themselves. This is in striking contrast to the ‘might makes right’ attitude adopted by roughly 90% of the magical population (and a large percentage of the mundanes.)

What is the title of the book and where can it be found?

Study in Slaughter (Schooled in Magic III) can be found from the links here.