Archive | March, 2015

Equal and Opposite Reactions

30 Mar

It is a law of hard science that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

It is a law of soft science (like social science) that every action has a stronger reaction. Put differently; you push me, I push you back harder. Furthermore, unlike in hard science, it can take some time for the reaction to manifest in any meaningful way.

What happened – and is happening – in Indiana, USA, is a good example of action-(stronger)reaction.

October-18-2011-20-12-49-DoubleFacePalm The situation as I see it is like this. A Christian bakery, citing religious beliefs, declined to produce a wedding cake for a gay couple. The couple sued; the Christian business was eventually ruined. In response, Indiana brought in new legislation designed to make it explicitly legal, in future, to deny service to anyone on religious grounds. Unsurprisingly, this has been met with a storm of protest and rightly so.

Why did this happen?

When I first heard about this, my sympathies were largely with the gay couple. I know what it’s like to face discrimination and it must have hurt, badly, to be told they couldn’t have a cake. At this point, they were morally in the right; they could have gone to another bakery (I’m pretty sure this bakery wasn’t the only one in town), ordered a cake and posted bad reviews of the first bakery online. I admit I have no idea just how large the gay community is in Indiana, but as most decent people – at this point – would have agreed with the couple, the business would probably have taken a hit for it. In short, the free market would have sorted it out.

Instead, they sued and crushed the business.

There’s something you might as well call a ‘law of proportionate response.’ (Put differently, the punishment must fit the crime.)  If you are being picked on by a bully and you shoot him, chances are that you will be viewed as the monster, not him. A gross overreaction twists the situation completely. By bringing in legal hammers and smashing the business into rubble, the couple made themselves the villains. Even people who started out on the opposite side had to face the fact that the couple and their backers had set out to smash all dissent, that they had ruined two people for daring to try to uphold their religious beliefs.

But they discriminated, right?

Consider this, then. Would it be legal or right to force a bakery owned by a black couple to bake a cake for a KKK party – and sue them into the ground if they refused? Would it be legal or right to insist that a Jewish or Muslim butcher sold pork – and sue them if they refused? Or would it be legal to demand ‘morning-after’ pills from a chemist – and sue him if he refused to provide a very quick abortion?

This wasn’t a case of two people in disagreement agreeing to get along. This was a case where the bakers saw themselves as condoning a lifestyle they disliked on religious grounds. Not everyone will see that argument as valid, but they took it seriously. Furthermore, whatever it looked like on the surface, it struck at a very uneasy situation and created a dangerous precedent. Consider this; if you sue to demand an abortion from a doctor who has religious objections to it, you are forcing that doctor to participate in what that doctor considers to be child murder. Can you see, even if you don’t agree with him, why he might take that badly? Or why he might support a law intent on preventing other absurd lawsuits from gaining ground?

The whole lawsuit not only made the gay community look like bullies, it opened up a whole new can of worms. If a bakery can be sued for refusing to make a cake for a gay couple, why can’t a gay bakery be sued for refusing to make a cake for blatant homophobes?

Tell me why not. Tell me why this would be illegal when the first lawsuit was legal.

What happened – the bill being signed – was the far stronger reaction, a push-back against a community that had managed to make itself look like bullies. But yes, the critics are right to worry; this too opens up a can of worms. Religious discrimination is as stupid as any other kind – and really, given the emotions unleashed, do you really think that petty idiots won’t hesitate to crack the whip?

The free market would have sorted this out. Shame it never got a chance.


The gay couple would have gone to another baker and, as people do, spread the word of how they were treated at the first baker. The second baker would become more profitable than the first baker, as many people don’t approve of discrimination even though they don’t like the thought of [whatever is being discriminated against]. Eventually, the first baker would either moderate its stance or lose profits. As businesses are driven by profits, this would eventually prove decisive.

Most importantly, there would be no martyrs on the other side – and no sense that one side had become bullies.

Food for thought, no?


27 Mar

Just a very quick update.

I’m currently 28 chapters into A Savage War of Peace, which will hopefully be finished before I have to go to EASTERCON on Wednesday. I’m planning to finish the draft first, then mull over it while at EASTERCON and hopefully have it up once I get home. We will see.

After that, I intend to start Trial By Fire (SIM 7), followed by Falcone Strike (Angel in the Whirlwind II). RAVENCON may get in the way of TBF, but I can pick it up again once I get home.

I do have two other book series that require additions, so please let me know if you want Democracy III (and finale) or The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Darkest Hour II).

You can now pre-order The Oncoming Storm (Angel in the Whirlwind I) from Amazon here, although it will be a while before we get the details, cover, etc up and running. (I think the page now shows the correct price for the eBook, but it will be priced at $4.99 when it is finally available.) I did the editing last month, so hopefully it might be out earlier. We will see.

This is also the last chance to pre-order signed copies of anything for EASTERCON. If you want a copy held for you, please let me know before Sunday. If not, I will have 5 of each non-Elsewhen book to sell at the con. First come, first served. (If you’re going to RAVENCON, please let me know if you want anything held for you midway through April.)

On other news, Eric had his second set of vaccinations on Wednesday and took them about as well as could be expected – i.e. not very. But at least he’s sleeping better these days, which is good for my sanity. Thank God!


Love’s Labour’s Won: Playing the Blame Game

24 Mar

Warning – Spoilers!

A couple of reviewers had issues with Emily getting the blame for the events in the novel. While I understand their feelings, there are some reasonable reasons for her to be blamed by people who only know her by reputation (and, in one case, don’t like her.)

First, Emily is generally assumed to be Void’s daughter. While it is perfectly in character for Void to hide the existence of a daughter from everyone else (obviously, no one heard of Emily before Schooled in Magic) he should have given her a working knowledge of the magical/aristocratic community before sending her to Whitehall. Void’s powerful, but not powerful enough to take the prospect of accidentally starting a vendetta with two powerful families lightly. Ergo, she should have known the dangers.

Second, Emily has spent two and a half years at Whitehall and another four months at Mountaintop, schools that exist to do more than just teach magic. Like the English colleges and universities they were based on, they provide places for the elite to meet and get to know one another before they get into power. (Harvard and Yale serve the same purpose in America.) She might not be friends with anyone outside her circle, but she should at least know the major players and which side they’re on. It’s hard for them to understand why someone sent to those schools wouldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to make contacts among the elite.

Third, Emily is the Baroness of Cockatrice; she isn’t the heir-in-waiting (like Alassa) or an unconfirmed successor (like Alicia). In a feudal society, the ruler is solely responsible for what her people do. (“I was only obeying orders” is a legitimate defence, as it was in the Middle Ages.) It’s natural for people born in such a society to see her as the person who nearly created a disaster, particularly as it was a long-standing custom not to invite both families (and the grown-ups on both sides accepted it, as they didn’t really want to get into an open fight at knife-range.)

In short, they reasoned she should have known and taken steps to avert a potential disaster.

To add to this, Master Grey doesn’t like her, so he took the opportunity to call her out on what (he thinks) was a deliberate attempt to showcase her power or an immensely stupid decision to court disaster.

Lady Barb’s case is a little different. On one hand, she believes Emily (and everyone else her age) needs to learn to be self-reliant, or at least to have the wit to ask for help well ahead of time; on the other hand, she realises (and Emily doesn’t) that Emily is taking her friends, including Barb herself, for granted. She tries to tell Emily this several times through the book. (Hosting the Faire was a good idea, but Emily should have looked into what it meant and arranged for someone to coordinate it well before she completed Third Year at Whitehall.)

YMMV, of course.


Up Now–Love’s Labour’s Won (Schooled in Magic VI!)

17 Mar

Two families, alike in dignity…and armed with powerful magic…

The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire… when no other magician would dare invite them both.

And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all…

Read a free sample, then download the complete text from the links on this page!

A Savage War of Peace (Warspite II) – Snippet

16 Mar

Prologue (I)

From: Professor Scott Nordstrom, Dept. Of Xenobiology, Edinburgh University

To: Admiral Percy Finnegan, First Space Lord

Subject: The Vesy, Political Implications

Classification: Top Secret, Eyes-Only UK


As per your request, the Department has composed a long report based on our analysis of the reports from HMS Warspite. Data was, of course, limited; neither Warspite’s crew nor the Russian refugees (or their slaves) were trained observers, let alone alien research specialists. However, our conclusions have been filed and forwarded to you and the working committee.

That said, there are certain political implications that must be brought to your attention.

The Vesy are not, by any definition of the term, a threat to humanity. As far as can be determined from the orbital observations of their homeworld and the limited studies conducted on the ground, they were at roughly 1400s-level when contacted by the Russians and literally had nothing more advanced than swords, pikes and spears (they had invented the wheel). The Russians introduced gunpowder and, perhaps more importantly, human-style military tactics and political institutions, but nothing that could allow the aliens to pose a threat to their colony, let alone the rest of the human sphere. It is, of course, impossible to be sure just how quickly they would develop, with the knowledge that certain technologies are possible. We believe, however, that we would have around 200 years before the Vesy start experimenting with crude rockets, assuming they remain isolated from the rest of the galaxy.

I do not believe they will be permitted to remain isolated for long.

Their system represents a treasure trove for human exploration, research and development. It is well known, thanks to the hearings in Geneva, that their system possesses no less than seven tramlines, three alien-grade. As the Vesy lack both a unified planetary government and a space-based presence of their own, they are literally unable to prevent human factions (or the Tadpoles, for that matter) from passing through their system at will. Furthermore, studies of the Vesy themselves (and a biosphere that is very different to Earth’s) may bring huge rewards to the nations and corporations that start long-term research programs. Indeed, their viewpoints on technology may suggest new ways to expand and refine our own technological development, in much the same way as direct contact with the Tadpoles helped us to progress around known roadblocks and develop new technologies. There may be a considerable demand for Vesy researchers to work in human labs; if not now, then soon.

This will, obviously, lead to charges of exploitation. We have already seen demands, most notably from the Friendship League, that we should basically start a massive knowledge transfer program to assist the Vesy in learning to use modern technology. Many such NGOs have already committed themselves to preventing human exploitation of the Vesy. Others have seen their living conditions, which may be described as primitive, and insist that it is our duty – the so-called ‘Human Race’s Burden’ – to uplift the Vesy, on the grounds we know better than themselves what is good for them. Given that the basic tests determined that the general level of Vesy intelligence was comparable to human intelligence, it is unlikely they will take such a condescending attitude in good part. They may be primitive, but they are not children.

However, the introduction of relatively minor pieces of technology by the Russians caused a considerable amount of upheaval in their society. Introducing everything from modern medicine and weapons to computers and starships would turn their society upside down, literally. Their system of government would probably be shattered, all the more so if human social ideas are introduced. We might see disasters along the lines of Cortez’s invasion of the Aztec Empire, the Pakistani Uprising or even the European Winter.

Ideally, we should make no further contact with the Vesy. No matter how well-intentioned, contact between an advanced society and a primitive one is often disastrous for both. The former becomes smug and arrogant, confident in its own superiority; the latter falls apart or collapses into a society-wide depression and inferiority complex. I do not believe, however, that humanity will leave the Vesy alone. Even if the British Government bans all further contact with the aliens, the remainder of the world’s governments may have other ideas (and, of course, our NGOs will demand action and involvement in ‘assisting’ the Vesy).

With that in mind, sir, I have the following recommendations …

Prologue (II)

The bunker was buried ten miles below Delhi, so deep that nothing short of a major asteroid strike could hope to disturb the bunker and its inhabitants. There was no chance, General Anjeet Patel knew, of any outsiders being able to spy on the nerve centre of Indian Government, not given the sheer level of security built up around the bunker. The government could muster its forces, direct its military and hold secret diplomatic discussions, all in total secrecy. Indeed, it was hoped that hardly anyone outside India even knew of the bunker’s existence.

He stopped outside a mirrored door and waited, knowing he was being observed, his body scanned for bugs, implants and other surprises. His face looked back at him; dark skin, a short neatly-trimmed beard, a green uniform and a dagger hanging from his belt, a tradition the Indian military had adopted during the Age of Unrest, when an attack could start at any time. There was a long pause, then the door hissed open, revealing a barren conference compartment. It was empty, save for a table, a set of chairs, a drinks machine and a holographic projector. He stepped inside and saluted as the Prime Minister came into view.

“Prime Minister,” Anjeet said.

“General,” Prime Minister Mohandas Singh said. “Welcome to the lair.”

He tapped a switch and the door hissed closed behind Anjeet. “Take a seat,” he added, briskly. “We don’t have much time.”

“Yes, sir,” Anjeet said.

He sat down and took a moment to study the Prime Minister. Singh was an old man, having served in the government for most of his adult life, but his mind was clearly as sharp as ever, despite the calamities that Earth had suffered over the past decade. Who would have believed that there was such a thing as aliens? Who would have believed that a powerful interstellar race would wage war on humanity? Even now, with a second alien race known to exist, Anjeet still had trouble getting his head around it. The once-boundless immensity of space, just waiting for human expansion, now seemed confined and restricted.

“I assume you’ve read the classified reports from Vesy,” Singh said, without preamble. “The existence of a second alien race offers us an unexpected opportunity.”

“Yes, sir,” Anjeet said.

“The Great Powers,” Singh added, “are seriously considering declaring the entire system under quarantine. This is not, of course, acceptable to us.”

Anjeet nodded, bitterly. India had done well to survive, when the Age of Unrest had washed over the planet, but she hadn’t kept up with the Great Powers. Britain, France, America, Russia, China … they’d dominated the march into space, then the quest to settle as many worlds as possible. They’d set the rules and, deliberately or otherwise, they’d made it almost impossible for any of the smaller powers to match their expansion. The sheer mass of power they’d accumulated for themselves made them the masters of the universe.

But the Great Powers had been weakened, badly.

India had fought in the war, of course, fought on the human side. But India had had fewer ships and fewer colony worlds and so the Great Powers had taken the brunt of the conflict. It hadn’t taken long for the Indian Government – and the other nations that bitterly resented being relegated to second-class status – to see how this situation could be turned to their advantage. For the first time in fifty years, there was a very real change of catching up and surpassing the Great Powers.

They still have more ships, but most of them are old, Anjeet thought. We have newer ships built with technology we learned from the Tadpoles. The balance of power may even be in our favour.

“It is critically important that we weaken the bonds between the Great Powers,” Singh continued, “and Vesy provides a unique opportunity to drive a wedge between them. The Russians are already crippled; a dispute over the finer points of interstellar law can only make matters worse for the Great Powers. Their alliance was not exactly based on mutual trust and respect.”

Anjeet smiled. The Chinese and Americans had almost gone to war twice, before the Tadpoles had materialised out of the depths of space to wage war on humanity. It wouldn’t take much to set them at each other’s throats, at least outside the Sol System itself. No one really wanted to violate the Solar Treaty, not now. There was simply too much at stake … and besides, the Solar Treaty actually worked in India’s favour. How long would it last, he asked himself, when the Great Powers realised they’d tied their hands behind their backs?

“The first part of your mission is simple,” Singh told him. “You are to do whatever is necessary to take control of Vesy, preferably by working with alien factions on the ground and assisting them to secure their grip on the planet. Our long-term objective is to enter into an alliance with the Vesy, one that will be upheld by the body of international law that has developed since we started our advance into space.”

“Yes, Prime Minister,” Anjeet said.

He smiled, coldly. If half the reports were true, the Vesy were in a permanent state of war – and the Russians had made matters worse by introducing everything from gunpowder to metalworking and human military tactics. It would be simplicity itself, particularly with the aid of the Russian files, to find a faction that wanted human assistance. And once that faction was firmly allied with India, they’d have the weapons and supplies they needed to conquer the entire planet.

“The second part of your mission is much more complex,” Singh continued. “When the time comes, you will take the first steps in forcing the Great Powers to grant us – and our allies – a seat on the table. Your orders have already been prepared for you, General. Ships have been assigned to your command. All you will need to do is open your sealed orders and proceed as planned.”

Anjeet took a breath. He’d taken part in the planning sessions, when the original scheme had been conceived and developed. The Vesy hadn’t changed much, he knew; their existence merely serving as the trigger for a confrontation that could see India raised to the ranks of the Great Powers or plunged down into a second Age of Unrest. It was always hard to predict which way the Great Powers would jump, after all, and if they all allied against India …

But Russia is already broken, he thought, coolly. China and France licking their wounds after the war. That just leaves Britain and America … and their allies.

“I understand, Prime Minister,” he said. “When do I leave?”

“As soon as possible,” Singh said. “And good luck.”

Anjeet nodded. He’d need it.

Chapter One

“Go,” the coordinator ordered.

A single starship – a light cruiser – hung in front of the observers, illuminated by the pulsing light of a holographic star. Suddenly, a dozen starfighters appeared out of nowhere, spinning down towards their target. The cruiser brought its point defence online and opened fire, spewing out thousands of bursts of plasma fire at the starfighters as they closed in. One by one, they vanished from the display until only a couple survived to launch their missiles at the cruiser. Both missiles were picked off before they had a chance to do any harm, then one of the remaining starfighters was vaporised. The sole survivor turned and fled into the endless darkness of space.

“Simulation complete,” the coordinator said. “Victory; Blue.”

Captain John Naiser sucked in his breath as the handful of military officers watching the display started to babble amongst themselves. He’d been a starfighter pilot, back before the war, and he’d never seen any cruiser defend itself so effectively against a conventional swarm attack. But then, neither had the human pilots who’d fought in the Battle of New Russia, where the entire Multinational Fleet had been obliterated by the Tadpoles. They’d been caught by surprise – no human fleet had been able to put out so much point defence – and never had a chance to recover.

“The starfighter is doomed, I believe,” Admiral Yeager Soskice said. The head of the Next Generation Weapons program rose to his feet as the room lightened, his face glowing with triumph. “There is simply no way a swarm of starfighters can punch through the defences of a capital ship, not now.”

John felt his eyes narrow as he peered at Admiral Soskice. The man was a genius, of that there was no doubt, but he’d never seen action in his life. And he was the man who had fostered an unqualified XO on Warspite, when she’d left the Sol System on her mission to Pegasus. There was a very real danger that Soskice and his followers believed their own simulations, while any experienced officer would have known that real life was rarely so cut and dried. What would happen, he asked himself, if the cruiser’s sensors weren’t so effective at tracking incoming starfighters? Or if the ship’s plasma cannons overheated in combat and exploded, depriving the ship of some of her point defence?

“The simulation was rigged,” Vice Admiral James Montrose Fitzwilliam said. “You deliberately slanted the advantages in favour of the cruiser.”

“The simulation was not rigged,” Admiral Soskice snapped. “I programmed it to reflect the tactical realities …”

“As you see them,” Admiral Fitzwilliam cut him off. “I don’t think real life is so cut and dried.”

He muttered orders to the coordinator, who hastily reprogrammed the simulation. The lights dimmed as the simulation reset, then the starfighters zoomed down towards their target for the second time. John watched, feeling a pang of bitter regret, as they zipped from side to side, making it impossible for the cruiser to target them with any real accuracy. Nine starfighters survived long enough to salvo their missiles at the cruiser, four missiles survived long enough to strike home. The cruiser disintegrated in a blinding series of explosions.

“Target destroyed,” the coordinator said. “Victory; Red.”

“That simulation was rigged,” Admiral Soskice said, sharply. “You altered all of the variables.”

“The variables change constantly, depending on the situation,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said. “I will happily concede that, under ideal circumstances, the plasma cannons make life hairy for starfighter pilots. That’s what happened at New Russia, after all. But Ark Royal and her flyers managed to adapt to the new threat and deal some pretty effective blows against the Tadpoles. The day of the starfighter is not yet over.”

John smiled, feeling a flicker of admiration. Admiral Fitzwilliam had been Ark Royal’s XO, then her commanding officer, during the war. He would have gone down with the ship if he hadn’t been badly wounded at Alien-Prime and sent home to muster reinforcements. Since then, he’d commanded the MNF that patrolled the border between human and alien space, watching for signs the uneasy truce was about to come to an end. Unlike Admiral Soskice, no one could say he didn’t have any experience.

And he served under Theodore Smith, John thought, wryly. He wouldn’t have stayed on Ark Royal if he’d been incompetent.

“We must advance our own weapons and defences to ensure that we can never be caught by surprise again,” Admiral Soskice insisted. “Your … fixation with the glory days of the starfighter is holding us back.”

“I believe there are very real dangers in advancing forward too far, too fast,” Admiral Fitzwilliam countered. “You have read Superiority?”

John – and most of the other officers in the compartment – nodded. The short story had been required reading at the Academy, even though not all of them had agreed with its premise or the outcome. One interstellar power had thrown its resources into developing newer and better weapons of war; the other had continued to build the same old starships and weapons, even when the first power accomplished some remarkable achievements. But the newer weapons and innovations had never quite worked out in practice and there had been no time to get the bugs out. The first power, which should have won the war handily, had suffered a humiliating defeat.

“We are not talking about taking a new device and sticking it on every ship in the Royal Navy,” Admiral Soskice said.

“But you are talking about cutting starfighter squadrons and redirecting resources to smaller ships,” Admiral Fitzwilliam pointed out. “We still have a need for starfighters and fleet carriers, Admiral. And we cannot assume that we should cut a whole spectrum of weapons systems because conditions for deploying them are no longer ideal.”

John sighed, inwardly. The hell of it was that both admirals had a point. Starfighter pilots had taken the brunt of losses during the war – John had heard that only ten percent of the Royal Navy’s pre-war pilots had survived the fighting – and most of them had died because the Tadpoles had changed the rules. But, at the same time, humanity’s starfighters had managed to adapt and fight back. The starfighters hadn’t been remotely useless.

“We are not the only ones developing new weapons and tactics,” Admiral Soskice said, coldly. “The Americans, the French, the Chinese … they’re all working on developing new weapons they can use against the Tadpoles – or us! We should not allow ourselves to become complacent!”

“We’re not becoming complacent,” Fitzwilliam said. “The problem is introducing newer technology without causing major problems or accidentally creating new weaknesses in our ships and defences. Like Warspite’s first cruise.”

John cursed under his breath as all eyes turned to him. “Warspite lost power when she jumped through a tramline,” Fitzwilliam continued. “How many other problems would be caused by a failure to anticipate the demands of real life?”

Admiral Soskice glowered. “Captain Naiser, just what happened when Warspite lost power?”

Asshole, John thought, crossly. He’d known the admiralty was divided between those who wanted to experiment with newer weapons and those who wanted to rely on tried and tested technology, but he hadn’t wanted to get caught in the middle. Is there an answer I can give that will satisfy both of you?

“A problem developed that would have been caught, if there had been more time to test the drive,” he said, smoothly. There was no point in going over the full details, not now. One of the people responsible was dead and the other trapped on Pegasus. “I don’t believe it proves or disproves either of your positions.”

Admiral Fitzwilliam’s eyes narrowed. “Explain,” he ordered.

John winced, inwardly. When would he learn to keep his mouth shut?

Warspite should have had several weeks to run proving trials before leaving the Sol System,” he said. “That would have given us the time to catch all of those problems, as well as testing the tactical systems under combat conditions. We would have been able to integrate the newer systems into both the ship herself and the crew’s awareness of just what they can do.”

He took a breath, then went on. “There’s nothing wrong with newer technology,” he added, slowly. “But we need to test it thoroughly, to see how it works in combat and discover the flaws, before we can integrate it fully into our tactical planning. In this case” – he waved a hand towards the holographic simulation, which had frozen just after the cruiser exploded – “the first encounter with plasma cannons was a nasty fright and the enemy scored a victory, but we adapted our tactics to compensate. It would be unwise of us to rely solely on plasma weapons to defend our ships.”

“Indeed,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said. “Do go on.”

John had the uneasy sense he was being allowed to gather rope to hang himself, but he pressed on regardless. “Starfighters also do more than merely strike at other capital ships,” he continued. “They do long-range recon, dog-fighting with other starfighters and a number of other tasks. There is no reason to remove every starfighter from the fleet just because the rules of the game have changed. They may change again tomorrow.”

“They will change again,” Admiral Soskice said. “Change is the one constant in the universe.”

He nodded towards the simulation, sharply. “As a starfighter pilot yourself,” he added, “how would you handle such a situation?”

“Keep moving randomly,” John said. “Use decoys and drones, if I had them; spoofing software and ECM, just to make it harder for the enemy to target me. All tactics that we used against the Tadpoles.”

“Thousands of starfighter pilots were killed,” Admiral Soskice said.

“They knew the risks,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said, cuttingly. “We all know the risks.”

John grimaced as Admiral Soskice glared at his nemesis. It was a non-too-subtle reminder that Admiral Soskice hadn’t seen any real action, not outside simulators. And simulators could be altered to tip the balance in favour of one side or the other, if someone was prepared to take the time to try. God knew there were hundreds of trainees who enjoyed flying down the Death Star trench in the simulator, pretending to be Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, even though it wasn’t particularly realistic.

“Five years ago, we were taught that our technology was not the best in the universe,” Admiral Soskice said. His voice was under tight control. “Since then, we have struggled to catch up with an enemy who showed a remarkable skill in producing newer weapons and tactics at terrifying speed. We dare not allow them to get past us again.”

“And I say, again, that we are not opposed to new technology,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said. “We are just opposed to rewriting doctrine and decommissioning whole weapons systems because of the latest shiny thing. And that is what you are planning to do. You want us to stop building fleet carriers and starfighters and concentrate on small cruisers. Which is all well and good, until we run into a threat that requires fleet carriers and starfighters to handle!”

They’re both right, John thought. Assuming the Tadpoles hadn’t started building their superdreadnaught until they’d run into Ark Royal, they’d put a colossal starship into service in less than a year. Given that it took humanity five years to build a fleet carrier from scratch, it was not a pleasant thought. The Tadpoles might be quietly rebuilding their fleet and developing newer weapons even now. But neither of them will admit the other has a point.

He listened as the argument raged backwards and forwards, neither Admiral conceding a point. It was deeply frustrating, as well as worrying, that the tension had actually exploded into an argument in front of a small army of junior officers. The First Space Lord had told him, before Warspite had left Earth for the first time, that the disagreement between the two sides was already affecting operational readiness, but he hadn’t really believed it was so bad.

You should have known better, he reproved himself, as he glanced wistfully at the hatch. Several smaller arguments had broken out between various junior officers, all of whom looked prepared to bicker like children for their superior officers. Military protocol seemed to have gone out the airlock. You had to relieve your XO because she was utterly unsuited to the post.

His wristcom bleeped. “Captain Naiser,” a voice said, “report to the First Space Lord at 1500.”

John glanced at the time – it was 1430 – then made his way towards the hatch, which hissed open at his approach. Behind him, the argument had gotten louder; he sighed in relief as he stepped through the hatch and it closed behind him, cutting off the sound. Outside, a dark-haired woman was waiting, wearing a Commander’s uniform. John smiled, despite himself, as he recognised Juliet Watson, Warspite’s former XO. Unlike other officers who had been effectively demoted, she didn’t seem to bear any resentment.

“Captain,” she said. She definitely looked happier, now she was in the labs on Nelson Base, rather than a cruiser in deep space. “It’s good to see you again, sir.”

“Thank you,” John said. Someone had evidently been coaching her in social graces; absently, he wondered who and why. “It’s good to see you again too.”

“I’m just waiting for the Admiral,” Juliet said. “Is he going to be long?”

“They’ve probably started throwing chairs and tables by now,” John said. He couldn’t help being reminded of a bar fight he’d been caught up in at Southampton, years ago. “Is it anything important?”

“Just to brief him on the progress of our latest experiment,” Juliet said. “There should definitely be a way to generate a tramline from scratch.”

John frowned. “Isn’t that meant to be highly classified?”

Juliet shrugged. John snorted, inwardly. Admiral Soskice’s inexperience was showing; Juliet should have been assigned to a lab somewhere in deep space, rather than a warship or even Nelson Base. It was a great deal more secure than the Admiralty on Earth, true, but there were still too many officers and crewmen without security clearances passing through the space station. And Juliet herself would have been happy with a large computer, a simulator and a handful of trained minions to help her with her research.

“I need to visit the First Space Lord soon,” he said, instead. “You’ll probably have to wait for the Admiral. Do you want to wait in the officers’ lounge?”

Juliet nodded, vaguely. They walked along the corridor and through a large metal hatch. Into the officers’ lounge. It definitely looked nicer than anything set aside for enlisted personnel, John decided; one wall bulkhead covered with medals, while another held a large portrait of the King and Princess Elspeth. A third held a porthole that showed Earth rotating below the giant station. A steward materialised from behind the bar, datapad in hand, and prepared himself to take their order. John ordered tea for himself; Juliet hesitated, then ordered water. The steward bowed and retreated.

“I heard from Mike,” Juliet said, as they waited for their drinks. “He was asking if I wanted to meet for drinks.”

John concealed his amusement with an effort. Mike Johnston was Warspite’s Chief Engineer … and one of Juliet’s few supporters on the ship. It was alarmingly clear he was sweet on her, something that would have upset the Admiralty if they’d ever found out about it. John rather doubted that anything had happened, but it was another sign that Juliet had been completely unsuited for her post. On the other hand, he had to admit, she would probably have had more trouble if she hadn’t had Johnston’s support. Very few people would have risked pissing off the Chief Engineer.

“You should,” he said, finally. The steward returned and placed two mugs in front of them, then retreated behind the bar. “It would do you good to get out of the lab for an hour or so.”

Juliet smiled, vaguely. “That’s what they told me when I was sent to your ship,” she said.

“I suppose they would have done,” John said. He’d always hated being told that suffering was good for his character, if only because he doubted it was true. “You’ve been doing better here?”

“There aren’t so many distractions here,” Juliet said. “I can keep poking away at the problems that interest me, without having to worry about anything else.”

And as long as you stay productive, the Royal Navy will be happy to take care of you, John thought. He’d heard all sorts of rumours, most of which were unbelievable, about just how carefully the Royal Navy looked after its tame geniuses. And if you do come up with a way to create a tramline, they’ll remember you longer than Einstein or Tesla.

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, instead. “Are you going to see Mike?”

Juliet blushed like a schoolgirl. John couldn’t help thinking she looked pretty, even though he played for the other team. It was hard to imagine her having a serious relationship with anyone, but maybe it would be good for her. She simply wasn’t very experienced at relating to other people; indeed, she preferred machines to her fellow humans.

“I might,” she said. “I don’t know. When are you leaving the system?”

“I don’t know yet,” John said. Warspite had been held at Earth for six months, since her return from Vesy. He’d spent most of the time defending himself against various admirals, all of whom seemed intent on second-guessing every decision he’d made. “I think the First Space Lord might be about to tell me. I’ll let you know so you can make up your mind about going for drinks.”

“Thank you, sir,” Juliet said. “I’m supposed to remain here for the foreseeable future.”

“We won’t be,” John predicted. He glanced at his wristcom, then rose. “I have no doubt something is about to change, yet again.”

Economics, Again

15 Mar

There are times when I think Atlas Shrugged should be mandatory reading in secondary schools.

It doesn’t last, because Atlas Shrugged is one hell of a doorstopper. I first read it when I was 19, I think; I had problems sticking with it until the denouncement, even though I have read it again and again several times since then. I don’t think that most teenagers between 14 and 18 would welcome the chance to read Atlas Shrugged, even though they could learn some valuable life lessons from it. Indeed, I have actually considered trying to write a shorter version of the story, perhaps centred on two brothers. One who tries to keep the family business going, despite setbacks, while the other becomes a politician and idealist, proposing laws that undermine local businesses and eventually cause a collapse. It might actually be workable; instead of Galt’s Gulch, have the working brother emigrate to a US state that is actually friendly to small businessmen. Meanwhile, the other brother eventually gets lynched when the money runs out.

I mention this because of some of the comments made about the recent guest post; Why a Blue Collar American Doesn’t Want A Living Wage.

Like so much else, it all boils down to economics.

Every business, including mine, has operating costs. In my case, I have to buy computers, innumerable keyboards, pieces of software, artwork, internet access … as well as keeping a roof over my head, food in the kitchen and everything else I might need to stay alive and productive. If I can’t meet my operating costs, I go out of business.

A small business, like a bookshop, has far more operating costs. It must:

-Rent the building

-Provide power/water for the building

-Purchase new stock

-Pay taxes

-Pay the staff

-Pay insurance premiums

-Whatever I forgot.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the monthly operating costs for the bookshop are £10000. In order to remain open, the bookshop MUST make at least £10000 per month or the business will collapse. Furthermore, if the business makes just £10000, there will be no actual profit for the owners. At this point, the owner might just start wondering why he even bothers when he isn’t getting anything out of it. (And he won’t have a safety cushion in the event of a sudden drop in profits).

However, bookshops have problems competing with Amazon and other online sellers (EBay, for example.) Amazon can afford to discount books, while bookshops cannot without cutting sharply into their profit margins. What that tends to mean, for booksellers, that customers may find books they want on the shelves, then go back home and order them from Amazon, where they can be purchased cheaper. This means, in real terms, that a bookseller may purchase 1000 books each month, but be unable to sell more than 500 – and if it doesn’t bring in enough money to meet the operating costs, the business is doomed.

So yes, a mandatory increase in the minimum wage is a serious problem.

Most businesses pass the burdens of such laws on to their customers (or start looking for ways to replace cheap labour with machines). A bookshop cannot lower prices too far without encouraging more and more people to depend on Amazon instead. Therefore, the profit margin grows thinner … and may vanish completely. And, as I said above, if the bookshop doesn’t bring in enough money to meet the operating costs, the business is doomed.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that there are 10 workers, who work from 9-5 Monday-Friday. If they’re each paid $7 per hour, the total cost is $11200 per month. However, if they’re each paid $14 per hour, the total cost goes up to $22400 per month. Given how close most bookshops run to the margins, it isn’t too hard to see how a minimum wage increase, enacted with the very best of intentions, can prove disastrous to small businesses.

This isn’t the only problem, of course. If the price of hiring a new employee goes up, fewer new employees will be hired. Therefore, the number of entry-level jobs will fall … and do so at the same time as the costs of everything start to rise.

In short, the unintended consequences of something intended to benefit the poor will ensure that it actually harms them instead.

Ravencon Update

14 Mar

Hi, everyone

We got Eric’s passport, so it looks (barring complete disaster) as though we will be going to Ravencon in April. I’m hoping to get a table – updates will be made on my Facebook fan page – and sell some of my books. However, as I can’t bring very many, if you are coming and you want a signed copy, please let me know ASAP (I really need to place the order in a week or so.)

The books listed below are currently available in paperback (or should be available by the time the con rolls around). This is probably rather cumbersome, but it’s the only way I can deal with it at the moment.

Books available: The Royal Sorceress, The Great Game, Necropolis, Bookworm, The Very Ugly Duckling, The Best Laid Plans (I hope), Sufficiently Advanced Technology, A Life Less Ordinary, The Mind’s Eye, First Strike, Schooled In Magic, Lessons In Etiquette, Study In Slaughter, Work Experience, The School of Hard Knocks (I hope), Barbarians at the Gates, The Shadow of Cincinnatus, Ark Royal, The Nelson Touch, The Trafalgar Gambit, Warspite, A Learning Experience.

Check my Published Books page for links and free samples.

I estimate rough costs of $14 per book, but it’s something I will need to sort out.

I’m hoping to sort out some promotional materials as well <grin>. Any ideas would be more than welcome.

Hope to see you there.


Book Review: The Cassie Scot Series

12 Mar

1 – Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective (Free Sample, Amazon Link)

2 – Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot #2)

3 – Mind Games (Cassie Scot #3)

4 – Stolen Dreams (Cassie Scot #4)

Sometimes I try to read something different (particularly when I get given the first book in the series for free.) Cassie Scot is basically urban fantasy/romance; a very light read.

Reviewing the Cassie Scot series is an interesting challenge. There’s a great deal I like about the books, but at the same time there are hitches when my over-analysing complex kicks in and I start to wonder about the world-building and basic background. There’s also a problem with many of the major characters … but we will get to that in due course.

Cassie Scot, the protagonist (the stories are largely told in 1st person) is the eldest child of a very powerful magical family. Unfortunately, Cassie has no magic of her own, while the rest of her siblings do. (This is obviously not unlike Johan of The Very Ugly Duckling.) Obviously, comparisons are going to be made between Cassie’s condition and the squibs of Harry Potter, a comparison Cassie herself gleefully lampshades on the very first page.

“After the Harry Potter books came out, a couple of people called me a squib. Since I haven’t read them, I have to assume it’s a compliment.“

It’s not.

This isn’t a very comfortable place to be, it should be noted; Cassie’s family live in a town dominated by sorcerers, while her family has a nasty feud with another magical family. She is literally helpless against some of the threats she has to face on a daily basis. Worse, perhaps, the sorcerers are largely bad enough to make Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic not only seem decent, but an urgent requirement. (Indeed, several characters agree that most of their problems are caused by a shortage of actual government, but they fall out arguing over who should be in charge.) Given just how much seems to have leaked out, it’s hard to see why the existence of magic has remained a secret for so long. Maybe the sorcerers run the government <grin>.

[The world-building part of my mind keeps asking why anyone without magic stays there, as normal people seem to be cursed or hexed on a daily basis.]

In an attempt to separate herself from her family, Cassie has set herself up as a ‘normal’ detective, at least partly in the hopes of doing something about the unpleasant sorcerers who infest her town and pick on mundanes with evil glee. Even with her family’s protection, this is not the safest job in the world; I honestly don’t understand why she didn’t leave long ago. As the series progresses, Cassie is not only drawn into the feud between her family and their enemies, but into a whole series of supernatural threats against the entire community.

Cassie herself is a fun character to follow (I’m not convinced she’s the most objective of witnesses); brave, determined and unwilling to bow her head to greater force. She has nothing, but knowledge; the way she uses that knowledge, to gain advantage or beat people far more powerful than her, is admirable. I like her, although I don’t always understand her. The decisions her family makes in the first book (spoilers; sorry) should be enough to destroy any love she might have felt for them, particularly as they come alarmingly close to throwing her to the wolves. Uncovering the secrets her family and their enemies hold – including the horrific reason why Cassie was born without magic – forms a major part of the story.

Unfortunately, I can’t help thinking that Cassie is the only truly likable magician (or someone close to magic) in the story. I don’t think there was a single magician who was a decent person; indeed, the only person I can name who was, I think, was Evan’s mother. She calmly accepts the fact that Evan is in love with Cassie, even though Cassie is the oldest daughter of her family’s enemies. Power corrupts, as always; the trope runs right through the series.

One element I really didn’t like, at least at first, was the relationship between Cassie and Evan. They might have started life as school friends, but their relationship for most of the series was decidedly off-kilter. Evan is the typical controlling boyfriend; over-protective, stalking, taking decisions for Cassie despite her clear opposition … he might not have been quite as unpleasant as some of her other suitors (Cassie is targeted by hundreds of sorcerers who believe she has the genes for magic, without the power to defend herself) but I disliked him more than I cared to admit. He does grow up a lot in the final book, developing into a mature person who can actually be a good partner for Cassie, but I think most girls would have dumped him long before then. Think of a slightly warmer Edward Cullen and you get the idea. Their relationship is far from healthy.

Overall, most of the time, he wants a prize for basic decency.

Actually, that may be a little harsh. Given a chance to take advantage of Cassie, he doesn’t; given a chance to literally make Cassie marry him, he doesn’t. There are definite signs of a better character buried under the arrogance and entitlement (certainly when compared to the other suitors). That said, it doesn’t really help – IMHO – that most of the time he’s right. Cassie is in hellish danger and needs protection to survive. (She spends too much of the novel as a Damsel in Distress, although her attempts to escape that role disqualify her as a pure-blooded example of that trope.) Evan spends far too long hovering on the brink of ‘I must control you in order to keep you safe.’

It’s actually interesting to compare Cassie to Johan, even though they come from different worlds. Johan was abused far worse than Cassie and consequently had no intention of returning, when his powers finally developed. Cassie, on the other hand, wasn’t treated so badly and finds herself torn between a desire for independence and a desire to be truly part of her family. Johan made friends with Elaine, who helped to develop his magic; Cassie had to endure her creepy relationship with Evan. Johan tears his family apart; Cassie helps glue hers back together (after an outbreak of fighting between the two families that will probably sow the seeds for the next round of feuding.)

Mind you, I thought I saw parts of the ending coming, but the author still manages to surprise me.

Overall, the books are not particularly deep, but they’re definitely worth at least one read.

Book Review: The Arrival (The Displaced Detective, Book One)

12 Mar

Stephanie Osborn (free sample, Amazon link)

My grandma is probably responsible for my fascination with Sherlock Holmes. It was her, many years ago, who gave me my first copy of the canon stories, the 50-odd short stories and four novels about the world’s greatest detective. Since then, I have devoured many pieces of fan-fiction (even published Holmes novels are technically fan-fiction) and watched movies and TV serials featuring various versions of Sherlock Holmes, from the pipe-smoking original to the so-called ‘high-functioning sociopath’ of Sherlock. However, I have always had a soft spot for the original version of the character.

This isn’t too surprising, I feel. Holmes was a creature of Victorian London, not the modern-day world or a far-future starship. He fitted in there (like Flashman fits into the 1850s) perfectly, while moving him to other locations renders him less plausible as a character. Stephanie Osborn, however, has taken the unexpected step of moving the original Holmes from his world to our present-day world. And, surprisingly, Holmes fits in rather well.

To sum up a long story, a scientist – Skye Chadwick – discovers that alternate worlds are real, including those that only exist in our imaginations. Finding a timeline where Holmes dies in his confrontation with Professor Moriarty (shown in The Final Problem/The Empty House), Skye accidentally brings Holmes back to our world with her. Half of the story is centred around Holmes learning to understand the modern world, which he does with aplomb; the other half is centred around a mystery on the base, a mystery that Holmes can try to solve.

Unsurprisingly, as Watson isn’t included in the trip, the book follows a more standard adventure format than the canon. This is a challenge to any author, as depicting Holmes’s thought processes isn’t easy. However, Osborn does a good job of displaying both how Holmes solves puzzles – even when there are aspects of the modern world that are either beyond his comprehension or out-rightly offensive to his sensibilities – and displaying that her Holmes isn’t that different to the Holmes of canon (where he is largely seen through Watson’s eyes.)

Skye Chadwick herself is an interesting character; smart, opinionated and more than a match, in some ways, for Holmes himself. The dynamics between the two are genuinely interesting; Skye does her best for Holmes, but isn’t afraid to kick him in the ass if necessary. She contrasts quite well with Mary Russell, who (at least in the first two books, the only ones I read) is more Holmes’s pupil than his equal. Of course, Watson wasn’t his equal either, but John Watson was an established person in his own right.

One aspect of the book that will cause issues is the developing romance between Holmes and Skye. Purists to the Holmes canon will assert that Holmes had no interest in women, apart from the ones who bring him interesting cases. More cynical eyes will note that Holmes treated (canon) Irene Adler quite badly; she was acting in self-defence, while he was working for her tormentor. (It is notable that neither Irene nor Holmes express any doubt over Norton’s character; there is no reason to think of him as anything other than the good man she calls him, in her farewell note to Holmes.) And yet, Holmes thought highly of her because she had managed to beat him …

Just how sexual canon Holmes was is debatable. There is nothing resembling a sex scene in any of the canon books, because the mores of the time would have frowned upon it. (And can you seriously imagine staid John Watson writing sex scenes?) People have tended to call him asexual, not without reason, even though he does manage to charm women on several occasions. And yet, Holmes was not the sort of man to be attracted to a pretty face with nothing behind the eyes. Irene caught his attention because she might have been his equal, a woman with the intelligence, coolness and courage that Holmes respected. Would someone who was Irene’s equal, without the problem of a husband or a past history with Holmes, be more attractive to him? It is, at least, probable. I do not believe that anyone can reasonably dispute that Holmes had a heart.

It’s interesting to compare it to All-Consuming Fire, where Holmes and Watson (still in London) encounter the Seventh Doctor and his companions. At first, Holmes is more than a little disoriented when taken out of London midway through the book – the Doctor points out that everything Holmes depends on to do his job is no longer with them – but he gets better, much better, as the story goes along.

Overall, though, if you’re not wedded to canon The Displaced Detective is well worth a read.

Personal Responsibility (Or Not)

5 Mar

Written after seeing a handful of reports on Facebook.

One of the main problems with our current society – in both Britain and America – is the conviction that you simply cannot rise very high without a college/university degree. This is absurd – my old job at a university library was one I could have handled before spending three years at university – but it seems that most employers are reluctant to change. On one hand, I see their point; someone prepared to spend three years studying [whatever] is likely to be motivated to do well; on the other hand, just how useful are the university courses in preparing someone for real life?

However, most youngsters go to college/university … and, because these places tend to cost money, they take out loans to go. And that is where the trouble starts.

I’ve blogged before about the difficulty in paying off my student loans when I had the money to do it (a problem caused by bureaucratic stupidity). It was a great deal harder to think about them when I was working for minimum wage, unable to pay off even the merest fraction of my debts. Those loans would have followed me for the rest of my life, if I had not managed to pay them off. Students who are unable to pay them off will have them overshadowing the rest of their lives.

This is no idle matter. Credit ratings and other such issues depend on how well you repay money you borrow. Most people just entering the job market earn minimum wage and wind up living hand to mouth. (Assuming a bare minimum wage, a person in the UK would earn roughly £1100 per month.) If you happen to want to buy something expensive – a car, a house, a computer, etc – you are going to need a loan. Bankers are not going to issue loans to people who have a poor credit rating – and having student loans depresses your credit rating. This is common sense. If you borrow money, you have an obligation to REPAY that money; if you don’t repay it, you cannot claim to be surprised when no one agrees to loan you MORE money.

I write this because of a link forwarded to me about a student loan strike. To sum up a long story, a number of students of Corinthian Colleges (a degree mill in the United States) have basically stated that they intend to refuse to repay their loans. Their manifesto states that they blame Corinthian for their problems (a quick look at Wikipedia told me that Corinthian degrees are not universally accepted in the USA) and that they will not be paying back the money they owe.

They had a bad experience, I’ll grant them that, and I am not unsympathetic, but there are two problems with their stance.

The first is that they probably don’t owe money to Corinthian, which is a degree mill, but to lenders who leant them the money in good faith. Yes, they probably were taken advantage of, yet it was not the people who leant them the money who took advantage of them. The mere fact that their educational experience was bad doesn’t change the fact that they accepted an obligation to repay the loans.

Look at it this way. If you buy a new car at £15’000, taking out a loan to do so, and you crash it the day you take it home from the garage, you are still responsible for paying back that loan even though you crashed the car. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You borrowed the money and now you have to repay it, even though the car is totalled.

The second is that they didn’t do anything resembling due diligence before signing up with Corinthian. If a simple glance at the universally-accessible Wikipedia is enough to raise red flags, a student searching for a prospective place to study should know to be careful and check what he or she was being told before signing on the dotted line. Once again, the lenders are not responsible for staggeringly bad judgement shown by students who really should be old enough to know better.

To go back to the car analogy, if you purchase a car that turns out to be a lemon, you cannot complain to the bank that loaned you the money you used to buy it. Check out everything BEFORE you sign a paper that commits you to repaying a loan.

But there is another point that should be borne in mind.

The students are almost certainly unable to pay, not just unwilling. (It might take some readers a while to see this, as their letter practically screams entitlement.) You cannot really get blood from a stone, nor can you tap someone living hand-to-mouth for money they don’t have. Leaving someone to literally starve to death because they cannot pay their way isn’t smart, not if they owe you thousands of dollars. Their death or absence from the job market will leave the bag in lender’s hands.

So tell me … why are lenders still lending to students?

I’ve seen nothing in my career, either as a librarian or a writer, that suggests that college/university degrees are actually important. Much of my university course could reasonably have been compressed down to a single year, with a little effort. Indeed, if half the stories I hear about American colleges are true, less politics and social justice would probably ensure that more students wound up with usable degrees.

My very strong advice? Learn to take some responsibility for your own life and choices. Decide what you want to do with your life, then plan your educational journey to work towards that goal. Investigate each college thoroughly and don’t let yourself get attached to any of them until you know they’re good and their students go on to good jobs. Don’t take out money unless you are prepared to pay it back – and you believe that you WILL be able to pay it back before it blows your credit rating out of the water. And don’t be afraid to jump ship and complain if your lecturers are unqualified/politically minded/useless.

And don’t blame others, no matter how easy they seem to hit, for problems you caused yourselves.