Archive | July, 2015

Snippet – A Small Colonial War (Warspite III)

27 Jul

Prologue (I)

Published In British Space Review, 2208


With the benefit of hindsight, it is alarmingly clear that the Indians manipulated events on Vesy from the start.

They could not, of course, have known that HMS Warspite (and a handful of Russian deserters) would stumble across a planet of primitive aliens. Despite the presence of tramlines within the system that lead to Indian-controlled systems, they were certainly unaware of Vesy, if only because they could have laid claim to the system themselves long before Warspite arrived. However, the speed of their reaction – and their capture of Pegasus — suggests they had a plan drawn up for military operations long before the start of the crisis, which was hastily updated when Vesy was discovered. Vesy, therefore, merely provided an excuse.

I have to admit that they played their role masterfully. While we – and the other Great Powers – attempted to deal carefully with the Vesy, the Indians met them as equals, dealt with them openly and offered unlimited supplies of weapons and ammunition. Covertly, it is now clear that the Indians also encouraged their Vesy allies to wage war on our Vesy allies. The combination of weapons, technical advice, protection from orbital bombardment and the promise of much – much – more was decisive. Our base on Vesy, Fort Knight, was effectively smashed and our position destroyed. Captain Naiser’s decision to withdraw from the system cannot be faulted, at least on a tactical level. However, it left the Indians in possession of the system and in a position to rapidly expand their grip on the sector.

Politically, their objective appears to be two-fold. One: to secure acknowledgement of themselves as a Great Power, with all the rights and responsibilities claimed by the Big Five. Two: to secure control over Vesy, Pegasus and Cromwell, thus allowing them to claim ownership of both their tramlines and the star systems beyond. If left unchecked, the Indians will be in a position to dictate settlement of twelve known Earth-like worlds and untold numbers of stars and planets beyond. Their grip on the chokepoints represented by the tramlines will be unshakable.

It goes without saying that we cannot allow this land grab on an interstellar scale to succeed, regardless of the cost. The various treaties governing interstellar settlement are at risk. We claimed Pegasus, in line with the treaties; we cannot allow the Indians to invade and occupy the system permanently, if only to prevent other powers from trying to lay claim to Britannia, Nova Scotia and our other settled worlds. This precedent, if allowed to stand, will undermine the basis of interstellar settlement for hundreds of years to come.

Furthermore, the Indians have committed acts of war. They have killed – directly or indirectly – dozens of British personnel and civilians, as well as personnel from several different nations. We cannot allow them to get away with their crimes. It will make us look weak, unwilling to stand up for our interests – and, if we learned nothing else from the Age of Unrest, it was that weakness invites attack. Indeed, the Indians would not have dared pick a fight with us before the First Interstellar War gravely weakened the Royal Navy. With several other interstellar powers – if second-rank powers – girding their loins to overthrow the pre-war order, we cannot let this challenge go unanswered.

There is no room for a diplomatic solution. This is not a dispute over just which party discovered a new system first, nor is it a skirmish over mining rights between a pair of asteroid miners. The Indian occupation of Pegasus and de facto claim to Vesy is a naked act of aggression, cloaked in a tissue-thin set of justifications that have no millage outside India itself. Anything short of the recovery of Pegasus and the reopening of Vesy would be indistinguishable from allowing the Indians to get away with their actions.

The future of Britain as an independent spacefaring power is in doubt. I look to the men and women of the Royal Navy to take the offensive and show the galaxy, once again, the fighting spirit that saved Britain from collapse and took our nation to heights undreamt of by our ancestors.


Admiral Sir Joseph Porter (Ret.)

Prologue (II)

Government Bunker, New Delhi, India

“You do realise this is a gamble?”

Prime Minister Mohandas Singh nodded, not bothering to turn away from the starchart to acknowledge the presence of Chaudhuri Bose, his Foreign Minister. Bose had been a mistake in his opinion, a man forced on him by political realities. He simply lacked the nerve to do what had to be done, while Mohandas – in his own opinion – knew all too well that there were times when one needed to gamble. The future of India as an independent spacefaring power hung in the balance.

“I have sent the ultimatum to the British,” Bose said, when Mohandas made no response. “It will not be long before they respond.”

He paused, significantly. “Do you expect them to surrender without a fight?”

“They will be alone,” Mohandas said. “The Americans are having their election, the French are too concerned about their internal politics to care about either Vesy or Clarke and the other Great Powers are neutral. They will have to face us on their own.”

“They have more ships than us,” Bose pointed out.

“We have more modern ships,” Mohandas countered. He swung round to scowl at the Foreign Minister. Bose had simply never impressed him. Like all diplomats, he was far too prepared to compromise with his fellows, making concessions just to get them to sign on the dotted line. Hell, he even wore a western suit and shaved his beard. “And they cannot afford to weaken themselves any further.”

He smiled at the thought. It wasn’t pleasant to admit that India owed her present position – a fair match for a Great Power for the first time in a century – to the first human-alien war, but it was true. The Tadpoles had weakened all of the Great Powers, leaving them unable – and perhaps unwilling – to fight to maintain their supremacy. If the British swallowed their pride and conceded the Indian demands, they would be weakened … but if they fought, they would weaken themselves still further. A victorious war would cost them badly at a time when neither they nor any of the other Great Powers could afford to be weakened.

“They may feel they will be challenged again, if they concede our demands,” Bose offered.

That, Mohandas had to admit, was true. If there was one lesson Britain – and the other Great Powers – had drawn from the Age of Unrest, it was that showing weakness was fatal. They’d put that lesson to good use too, taking control of space and hammering any rogue state that showed itself inclined to cause trouble beyond its own borders. Until the Tadpoles had shown themselves, the British military had been primarily involved in punitive strikes.

And we wouldn’t have risked taking the offensive before the war, he thought, privately. We would have lost the shooting match.

It was a galling thought. India had worked itself into a position of power after the British had withdrawn from India, only to lose it during the Age of Unrest. The social unrest, the riots, the final war with Pakistan … they had all cost India dearly. They’d been slow to take advantage of new developments in drive technology and slower too to establish extra-solar colonies. By the time India could reasonably call itself an interstellar power, the Great Powers were way ahead of it. They’d flatly refused to grant India the honour of considering it another Great Power.

And it was something Mohandas wanted for India, wanted very much.

“We have a window of opportunity,” he said, flatly. “Five years, perhaps ten … the window will be closed. Or we may have a second war with the Tadpoles. We have to move now.”

He looked up at the starchart, thinking hard. The original plan had been to take control of Clarke – before the British could turn it into a major colony – and demand Great Power status in recognition of the fact they could not be dislodged without a major war. Mohandas would have happily returned Clarke to the British in exchange for that single concession, for the acknowledgement that India was completely independent of the rest of the human race. But Vesy … the discovery of Vesy had been a stroke of luck. Now, India would not only control access to two whole sectors, but an entire alien race. And who knew what the Vesy would become, given time?

But it also meant that British personnel were killed when we moved to secure Vesy, he thought, grimly. They may find it harder to back down.

Bose cleared his throat. “And if they do go to war?”

“Then they will have to rely on their navy against ours,” Mohandas said. He studied the starchart for a long moment, silently calculating vectors. It would take the British several months to put together a task force, if nothing else. His men would have time to dig in … if, of course, the British didn’t concede defeat without a fight. “And we will have more modern ships and the advantage of the interior defence.”

“I hope you’re right,” Bose said. He made no attempt to hide the doubt in his voice. “This could cost us everything.”

Mohandas nodded, curtly. Bose was right. It could cost India everything, although the Solar Treaty would ensure that losses were limited. India would be humiliated, her extra-solar interests would be claimed by the British and her navy would be crippled. They’d be the laughing stocks of the planet. Even the Tadpoles would be sniggering …

But the prospect of victory was worth the risk.

“Keep talking to the other powers,” he ordered. He rather doubted it would make much difference – the British were a Great Power, after all – but it was worth trying. “Convince them, if you can, to put pressure on the British.”

And stay out of military affairs, he added, silently. This is no place for milksops.

Bose bowed. “Of course, Prime Minister,” he said. “I shall pray for us all.”

Chapter One

Clarke III, Pegasus System

“The tin-cans are retreating, Governor.”

“Understood,” Governor Harry Brown said. “Did they inflict any damage?”

“I don’t believe so,” Lillian Turner said. She’d never expected to be manning a tactical console, but she was the closest thing to a tactical officer on the colony. “They merely exchanged long-range fire with the Indian ships and then bugged out.”

She sucked in her breath, feeling fear pulsing through her chest. She’d grown used to the thought of spending the rest of her days on Clarke; it might not be Earth, or even Luna City, but the rapidly-growing colony did have a sort of charm. The colonists had eyed her doubtfully for a few months, then decided her obvious willingness to work – and make up for the sins of the past – was a point in her favour. She’d even made a handful of friends. But now …

I may be sent back to Earth, she thought, morbidly. And who knows what will happen to me there?

“Keep monitoring them,” Brown ordered. The Governor hadn’t been one of her biggest supporters at first, but he’d given her a fair chance. “Let me know if they attempt to communicate with us.”

“Yes, sir,” Lillian said.

She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the viewscreen and sighed. Her dark eyes looked tired and worn, her dark hair was hanging down around her face; her pale skin looked too pale after months on Clarke, where the sun barely shined. She hadn’t had much sleep since the first warning message from Vesy … and none, since the Indian ships had jumped into the system and commenced a leisurely flight towards Clarke. They could have been at Clarke within hours, if they’d pushed their drives hard. Instead, they’d taken over a day to make a slow stately progress to the gas giant’s moon.

Probably wanted to make us sweat, she thought, darkly. They know damn well no one’s coming to help us.

Her eyes sharpened as new icons appeared on the display. “Governor,” she said. “They’re launching assault shuttles.”

The Governor rose to his feet and paced over to stand behind her. “ETA?”

“Thirty minutes,” Lillian said. He didn’t ask where they were going, but then there was no real need. There wasn’t anywhere else on Clarke III worth visiting, save for the colony and it’s two thousand colonists. “They’re not even trying to hide their presence.”

“They may be a little bit nervous about flying through the snowstorms,” the Governor said, curtly. “We’re nervous and we’ve been on this planet for a year.”

Lillian rather doubted it – the Royal Marines she’d met had been gung ho about diving into hurricanes and she had a feeling the Indian marines were very similar – but she kept that thought to herself. Instead, she tracked the Indian shuttles as they entered the atmosphere, monitoring them through the handful of stealthed satellites in orbit. The Indians would find them eventually and shut them down, she was sure, if they bothered to make the effort. Both sides knew the colony couldn’t hold out for long.

“My best guess is that they’re going to come down near Davis Mountain,” she said, as the shuttles dove further into the planet’s atmosphere. “That would put them within easy walking distance of the colony.”

“Looks like it,” the Governor agreed.

He stepped back and keyed his wristcom, then started to mutter orders to the scratch defence force. A handful of soldiers – mainly reservists – and a couple of colonial policemen … it wasn’t enough to do more than slow the Indians down for a few minutes. Lillian and the other colonists had been digging trenches and improvising traps ever since they’d gotten the word, but they simply didn’t have the men to hold for long.

And if the Indians get tired of our defiance, they can simply drop rocks on us from high overhead, Lillian thought, grimly. They can smash us flat if they don’t mind losing the colony.

It was a chilling thought. There had been an agreement – ever since the human race had started expanding through the tramlines – that colonies weren’t to be bombarded indiscriminately. Whatever the cause of the disagreement – or war – it didn’t excuse destroying the only thing keeping humans alive in the unforgiving vastness of interstellar space. But if the Indians had been prepared to allow countless people to die on Vesy, they might well be prepared to bombard Clarke into submission from orbit. They wouldn’t be able to use the colony for themselves …

They’ll want the colony, she told herself, hoping desperately that she was right. It would take them too long to duplicate our work.

Her console beeped, once. “Sir,” she said. “The Indians have landed.”

“Try and get a drone over there,” the Governor ordered. “I’ll have the defenders stand ready.”

Lillian nodded, clicking through the options on her screen until she located the drones and launched one into the air. She’d flown drones before, on Earth, but it was nowhere near so easy to fly them on Clarke. The snowstorms would happily knock a drone out of the air if she made a single mistake, leaving the colony without any eyes in the sky. Indeed, the Governor had banned flying drones in anything other than the direst emergencies. The beancounters on Earth would complain – loudly – if Clarke expended them all within the first month.

We should have flown anyway, she thought, as the drone made its way towards Davis Mountain. Davis had been a colonist who’d gone climbing in a protective suit, only to be caught in an avalanche and buried somewhere below the half-frozen ocean. We might have been able to improve the drone guidance systems before now.

She gritted her teeth as a particularly nasty gust of wind slapped the drone, sending it cart-wheeling across the sky before she managed to regain control. The RPV had a computer core that was meant to handle the basics of flying, but it hadn’t developed its own understanding of the environment yet. In theory, a drone that crashed could have the core salvaged and loaded into another drone – thus allowing the second drone to learn from the mistakes of the first – but in practice they simply hadn’t wanted to waste the tiny vehicles. That, she suspected, might have been a mistake.

“Contact,” she said. “Three shuttles; seventy armoured men.”

The Governor bent over her shoulder – so close she could smell the odour of tobacco on his breath – as the Indians came into view. The assault shuttles didn’t look that different to British designs – the war had forced the various Great Powers to standardise as much as they could – but the armoured combat suits looked more primitive than the suits she’d seen on Warspite. Their wearers were already starting the short march towards the colony. Behind them, a handful of light tanks rolled off the shuttles, one of them rotating a gun to point towards the drone. Moments later, the screen went blank.

“Contact lost,” she said, formally. “They’re on their way, Governor.”

“Noted,” the Governor said.

The minutes ticked by with agonising slowness. Lillian knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the defenders couldn’t hope to win, yet she also knew the Governor couldn’t simply order a surrender. Whatever happened afterwards, the colony could not be said to have surrendered without a fight. But as the monitors started to pick up the advancing forces, she found herself wishing the Governor would change his mind. She knew some of the men out there, girding themselves for a brief struggle. Some of them had disliked her – the policemen had kept a sharp eye on her for the first two months – but none of them deserved to die for nothing.

She winced as the radio buzzed. “I have nine armoured men in my sights,” Sergeant Harkin said. He was actually a retired soldier, someone who’d been demobbed two years after the war and secured a posting to Clarke for reasons that he’d never really shared with anyone else. Lillian liked him more than she cared to admit. “They’re advancing towards the first trench.”

“Engage at will,” the Governor ordered.

Lillian closed her eyes for a long moment as the first set of combat reports came in. The defenders fired a handful of shots, then fell back to the next line of defences, forcing the Indians to waste time clearing trenches that were already abandoned. A handful of Indian soldiers were caught in improvised traps – she felt a moment of vindictive glee as it became clear that a handful of intruders would never see India again – but it wasn’t enough to do more than annoy the advancing soldiers. They knew as well as she did that they had all the time in the world to clear the trenches.

“Nine intruders down,” Sergeant Harkin reported. “I …”

His message cut off. Lillian glanced at the sensors and cursed under her breath as she realised the enemy had hit his position with a missile. The remaining defenders were pulling back, but they were rapidly running out of space. It wouldn’t be long before the Indians were in a position to either storm the colony doors or merely blast their way through the prefabricated walls. Either way, the colony couldn’t hold out any longer.

The Governor evidently agreed. “Contact the Indians,” he ordered. “Now.”

Lillian swallowed as she tapped commands into her console. The Indians hadn’t even tried to open communications. She couldn’t help wondering if that meant the Indians had no interest in demanding and accepting surrender. The remaining defenders were still trying, but their position had been hopeless from the start …

“I have a link,” she reported. The screen blinked to life, showing a dark-skinned man with a neatly-trimmed beard. “Governor?”

The Governor cleared his throat. “I am Governor Harry Brown, Governor of the Pegasus System.”

“I am General Anjeet Patel,” the Indian said. He didn’t seem inclined to beat around the bush. “Your position is hopeless.”

“I understand,” the Governor said. His voice was tightly-controlled, but Lillian could hear the hint of anger underlying his words. “I wish to open talks …”

“My terms are quite simple,” Patel said, cutting him off. “You will order your remaining defenders to surrender and open the doors, allowing my men to occupy the colony. You will make no attempt to destroy your computers, your life support infrastructure or anything else that may be required. You may destroy classified files, but not anything relating to the colony and its personnel.”

He paused for a long moment. “For the duration of the present emergency, Clarke III will be governed under Indian military law. Your people – military and civilian – will have nothing to fear as long as they obey orders. Prisoners will be treated in line with the standard Luna Conventions.”

Lillian nodded to herself, unable to keep herself from feeling relieved. The Great Powers showed no mercy to insurgents, revolutionaries and terrorists, but the Luna Conventions applied to national troops who hadn’t been caught breaking the laws of war. It would have been insane for the Indians to act otherwise, yet the mere act of starting a war was insane when it would only weaken humanity. Who knew what the Tadpoles would do?

“I understand,” the Governor said, stiffly. “However, I am quite unable to acknowledge the permanent surrender of either the colony or the system itself.”

“That is understood,” Patel said. “My men will advance to secure the colony.”

His image vanished from the display. Lillian heard the Governor mutter a curse under his breath before keying his wristcom and issuing the surrender order. She felt an unpleasant knot in her stomach as she watched through the cameras as the Indians closed in on the defenders, who had dropped their weapons and were standing with their hands in the air. The Indians seemed to be trying to be reasonably civilised, but they were still careful to escort the prisoners – at gunpoint – into a tracked vehicle before opening the doors and entering the colony.

“Purge the classified files,” the Governor ordered, quietly.

He sounded defeated. Lillian felt a chill running down her spine as she keyed the command into the system, starting off a process that would wipe, reformat and finally destroy the classified datacore. The Governor hadn’t had many secrets, she was sure, but destroying his codes and ciphers was a tacit admission that all was lost. She nodded to herself as the destruction was confirmed, then verified; she glanced at the Governor, who was watching as the Indians slowly advanced though his colony. Civilians who stumbled into their path were told to return to their quarters and wait for orders.

“At least they’re not brutalising the civilians,” the Governor mused. He sounded as though he were speaking to himself, rather than to her. “But they’ll need them, won’t they?”

Lillian nodded. Clarke wasn’t a habitable world. It had taken two months of intensive effort to build up a life support infrastructure, let alone establish a geothermal power source and start mining for raw materials. The Indians would need to secure the colony, but they’d also need the men and women who made the colony work, at least until they brought in their own people and learned the ropes. They’d have to be insane to mistreat the civilians.

But the sick feeling in her chest wouldn’t go away. It felt like hours before the Indians finally stepped into the control centre and looked around, holding their weapons at the ready. Lillian hadn’t been so scared since the day she’d been arrested on Warspite. The Indian soldiers looked tough, determined and utterly ruthless. She’d been taught the basics of shooting – several ships had been boarded during the war – but she knew she was no match for them.

“Step away from the console,” one of the Indians ordered. “Now.”

Lillian obeyed, careful to keep her hands visible at all times. She had only been a lowly engineering officer, but she’d had the same training program as every other junior officer; she knew, all too well, that the first hours of an invasion and occupation were always the worst. The invaders would be jumpy, unsure of their ground, while the locals would be unwilling to tamely accept occupation. Accidents happened … and it was unlikely that anyone would care if the Indians shot her. The years when lawyers paralysed trigger fingers were long over.

Another Indian strode into the control centre, wearing a dress uniform. Lillian had to admit he looked handsome, but there was a coldness in his eyes she didn’t like. The men following him took the consoles and went to work, pulling up the operating subroutines and examining them quickly, looking for backdoors, viruses and other hidden surprises. Lillian knew they wouldn’t find anything more significant than a handful of porn catches the Governor wasn’t supposed to know about. Clarke’s system just wasn’t large enough to hide much more.

And we didn’t exactly expect occupation, she thought, sourly. We would have rigged the system thoroughly if we had.

“Governor,” the Indian said. “I am Colonel Vasanta Darzi, Governor of Clarke.”

Lillian saw the Governor tense, but he kept his voice under tight control. “Harry Brown,” he said, shortly. “Governor of Clarke.”

The Indian shrugged. “My men have occupied the colony,” he said. “From this moment onwards, Clarke will be governed under my law. I expect your people to assist in maintaining the colony for the foreseeable future, until the current … unpleasantness is cleared up. Under the circumstances, this may cause some awkwardness with your government; in the event of your people being threatened with charges of treason or collaboration, we will be happy to testify that you were forced to work under duress.”

And the Government might not buy it, Lillian thought. There was a fine line between working under duress – real or implied – and outright collaboration. And the people on the spot might not be able to see that line. They would be judged harshly by outsiders who had never been within a hundred light years of Clarke. If they feel otherwise, we may wind up going home to our deaths.

“My personnel should not be forced to work on defences or military-related projects,” the Governor said. “I believe my government would understand the need to keep working on life support.”

“That is understood,” Darzi said. “In the long term, your personnel will be free to relocate themselves to British territory or apply for Indian citizenship. If they choose the former, the Indian Government has already agreed to pay for their relocation and compensate them for their efforts on Clarke.

“However” – he held up a hand warningly – “I am also obliged to warn you that any resistance, active or passive, will be treated as a hostile act. Any attacks on my personnel or attempts to sabotage the defences will be severely punished, in line with the Luna Conventions. Insurgents and those who support them will face the death penalty. I advise you to make that very clear to your personnel.”

“I understand,” the Governor said, tartly.

Lillian cringed, inwardly. British territory hadn’t been occupied since the Second World War, unless one counted the social unrest of the Troubles. No one knew how to behave under enemy occupation …

“I do not, however, believe that my government will simply concede Clarke to you without a fight,” the Governor added. “In that case, I expect you to do everything you can to protect the civilian population.”

“In that case, we will certainly try,” Darzi said. Oddly, Lillian had the feeling he meant every word. India wouldn’t look very good if innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire. “But by the time your military can respond, if your government is intent on a fight, we will be ready.”

Quick Updates

26 Jul

Well, we’re back from Malaysia and still quite jet-lagged. Eric has developed a habit of screaming madly every so often (he’s also developed a new skill of blowing raspberries) so sleep has become increasingly foreign to us. I actually intended to start work today, but between the general lack of sleep and the remains of the cold I had to put it back until tomorrow.

That said, I did manage to start scribbling down notes for Schooled In Magic 10 – which is problematic, because I don’t have a precise idea of what’s going to happen in Schooled In Magic 9. Well, that isn’t quite accurate, but I don’t have a proper plot outline yet. But I have to write Wedding Hells first.

On an entirely different note, the wanderlust has struck again, so my wife and I are planning to try and spend some time in the USA before Eric needs to go to school. This leads to an important question – does anyone have any good recommendations for places to live?

Basically, I’d prefer a small or mid-sized town. Any suggestions?



Differences In Government And Compromises

20 Jul

Like most people watching the negotiations between America and Iran (and a host of other parties) I am struck dumb by the sheer scale of the concessions Obama and his team are prepared to make to Iran in the interests of getting Iran to sign the deal. The geopolitical naivety this shows is staggering, on a scale that makes Chamberlain look like a wise old statesman. (To be fair to Chamberlain, he thought he was buying time to build up the military; Obama doesn’t even have that excuse.) It is very hard to believe that anyone expects Iran to honour whatever agreement it signs, unless it’s an agreement that Iran can basically do whatever it likes. One cannot compromise with evil and Iran’s government is unquestionably evil. It’s willingness to brutalise its own people is proof enough.

But Obama and his team don’t seem to understand this.

Chamberlain may well, of course, have had the same problem. Almost everything Hitler did up until early 1939 fitted in to the European political tradition. Germany could reasonably want to reclaim its pre-1919 borders – and there was a certain amount of justice in it. Hitler was playing to that perception. Chamberlain et al simply didn’t grasp the true nature of their opponent, or just how far he intended to go. There’s no such excuse for anyone dealing with modern Iran.


So why are our politicians so blind to the danger?

There are several separate possibilities, but one of them lies in cultural differences.

The levers of power, in the West, are generally spaced quite far apart. Our politicians have to struggle to get elected and then they have to get those levers to work together if they want to get anything done. This tends to lead to compromises between politicians; the party in power will get one thing, the opposition will get something in exchange. There are relatively few politicians who cling to their principles because successful politicians are the ones who regard everything as subject to compromise.

This is never more true than during elections. In the US, each party must struggle to find the candidate who can command the broadest base of support. This isn’t easy. If Hilary Clinton draws support from younger voters who think it’s time for a woman to be President, she alienates others who look at her endless series of scandals and think she’s a national disgrace. Jeb Bush might appeal to some republicans, but others might see him as a trimmer or remember his father and brother in the White House. Thus we are served with bland politics as each party attempts to capture as large a constituency as possible.

In Britain, matters are a little more complicated. If a party controls half the seats in Parliament, it generally gets to rule the country to suit itself … assuming the PM keeps the backbenchers (non-cabinet MPs) in line. The PM cannot swing too far from the party line without alienating his backbenchers, which leads to revolts in the ranks and forces him to compromise with his own MPs.

Again, even when one party seems to hold a decisive advantage, there remains a great deal of compromise.

This isn’t true of states that aren’t democracies.

A successful dictator rules by concentrating the levers of power in his hands. Saddam, Stalin (and Hitler, to some extent) were strong because they permitted no strong subordinates. A rival centre of power is a potential threat. Given time, the dictator becomes deluded because he believes – at some level – that he’s always right (as people who aren’t yes-men tend not to prosper under his rule.) A dictatorship may be efficient, at some level, but the death of the dictator can lead to absolute chaos because there’s no one lined up to take the reins.

A successful one-party state rules by demanding political orthodoxy. (Despite its claims to being an Islamic Democracy, Iran is pretty much a one-party state.) Those who rise into power are almost always members of the party – they have to be, if they want to be elected – and know better than to break away from the party. The party is quite good at ensuring that newcomers toe the line.

This tends to ensure that the party’s rule isn’t threatened, despite glitches in the membership. Whatever else can be said about the CCCP, it did manage to retain power and prevent civil war in Russia after Stalin’s death (and prevent another Stalin from rising to concentrate all the levers of power in his hands.) However, the CCCP also illustrates the weakness of the system; not unlike the dictator, the party’s rule tends to ossify, corruption sets in and it eventually decays. This is true of any one-party system, including the ANC in South Africa and Iran’s government. There just isn’t any new blood coming in that isn’t already part of the system, nor is there any real responsiveness to the feelings of the general population.

What does this mean?

As far as negotiations with Iran are concerned, the consequences are two-fold. First, the Iranians simply do not see the value of compromise. Why should they? It isn’t part of their system. Second, the Iranians generally believe in their system, even though it seems like nonsense to us. They simply don’t – they can’t – compromise their beliefs. At the very least, the Iranians are unlikely to openly contradict their own system.

It is possible, I suppose, that Obama and his team believe the US needs Iran to fight ISIS and they are therefore reluctant to do anything to oppose Iran. This, again, is foolishness. ISIS is a lethal threat to Iran. There’s no reason Iran can afford to ignore ISIS whatever the US does.

Or, rather more likely, Obama merely wants to say he was the first President to make an approach to Iran, whatever the cost. He is, at base, an incredible narcissist. His actions since winning the White House suggest an approach to the world that is frankly delusional – I am reminded of the downright foolish collaboration between Charles II and Louis XIV. Such personalities believe that they – and only they – can make changes, that their mere involvement will be enough to sway the balance and convince previously unfriendly people to change sides. Putin was not impressed; nor are the Iranians. Why should they be?

But they are pleased. Obama’s willingness to seek compromise with the enemies of America has alienated America from its allies. Right now, the Poles and the Baltic States doubt America’s commitment to their freedom, the Israelis consider striking Iran alone, the Saudis start their own quest for nuclear weapons (which is asking for disaster as Saudi is the birthplace of Al Qaeda) and the world has become a great deal more dangerous.

And the cost – to the Middle East, to Iranians who hope for freedom, to the entire world – may well be very high.

I Never Listen To Political Speeches

18 Jul

It’s true, I don’t. A good politician can stand up and tell you a number of contradictory things – or things that fail the common sense test – and have you believing them. I prefer to read transcripts because that allows me to consider the words apart from any emotion caused by the speaker. With that in mind, I was careful not to actually listen to Mhairi Black’s maiden speech in the House of Commons, but read the transcript (here).

The speech, in many ways, sums up what is wrong with the SNP.

Commenters have been making a fuss about Mhairi Black being the youngest (at 20!) MP in the House of Commons. I am forced to confess that it does not give me confidence in her. A twenty-year-old simply cannot have the life experience of a person twice her age. When I was 20, I was in university – and, while I was developing my political ideas at the time, I wasn’t anything like responsible or experienced enough to stand as an MP. Youth is not a sin, to borrow a line from Heinlein, but youthful ideals rarely work out in practice.

I don’t know if the SNP leadership vetted the speech beforehand. (If I were in their shoes, I’d definitely insist on knowing what my MPs were going to say first.) However, it showcases the problems with the SNP.

Once we get past the tribute to her predecessor – and the somewhat tongue-in-cheek association with William Wallace – Mhairi Black tells us that historical Scottish communities, including her hometown of Paisley, have suffered from a considerable decline. This is true. They have also been blighted by the actions of Job Centres across Scotland (she claims that Paisley has the third-highest rate of sanctions in Scotland), a shortage of affordable housing and general bureaucratic indifference.

And she blames this on Labour. In fact, she calls Labour out quite sharply. I don’t fault her for wanting to explain what she feels are the cause of Scotland’s problems. However, as little as I like and respect Tony Blair, many of the problems in Scotland were caused or tolerated, directly or indirectly, by the SNP.

The core problem of a bureaucracy is what Jerry Pournelle summed up as the ‘iron law of bureaucracy.’ In any organisation, there are those who are devoted to the goals of the organisation and those who are devoted to the organisation itself. The second group will eventually, pretty much inevitably, take control of the organisation and control promotions within the organisation. What this means, when you look at Job Centres, is that the people at the top are more interested in staunching the outflow of money than considering the actual goals of the system – getting as many people as possible into work. A junior drone at the Job Centre will not be thanked for granting claimants benefits, as that will cost the system money. This is completely heartless – and completely unsurprising. Bureaucracies have no hearts.

This is only a symptom of a wider problem – big government. The government is completely incapable of providing every service it’s population might demand; indeed, as I have noted before, the more you ask your government to do the less it is actually capable of doing. And, because governments are bureaucracies, the iron law will come into effect and the bureaucracies will grow more interested in keeping themselves in being than trying to solve the problems. People interested in doing the latter will not be promoted into positions of power.

Fixing these problems requires a honest admission that big government is itself the problem. The SNP has not made that admission, nor do I expect it to do so. Nor, for that matter, has it gone out onto the streets and tried to actually help people on a micro scale. Instead, we are treated to political grandstanding over the English-only issue of foxhunting (which will only alienate England from Scotland, as it is an English issue) and a slow inch towards another referendum on independence.

If I were offering advice, I suppose I would offer the following.

-Accept that the referendum was lost and act accordingly. The Scottish people did not want to be either free of England or ‘independent in Europe’. Trying to suggest otherwise shows an alarming lack of respect for democracy.

-Stay out of English affairs. Yes, there is political mileage to be gained from making a fuss over foxhunting, but the long-term price may be disastrous.

-Reduce bureaucratic regulations as much as possible, particularly for new businesses. In fact, state that there are no pro-active regulations for any businesses hiring less than five workers. Reactive regulations can handle any problems caused by careless businessmen.

-Decentralise decision-making in schools, job centres and suchlike as much as possible.  Put power in the hands of the people on the ground.

I don’t expect the SNP to do any of these in a hurry.

The problem with revolutions – and the SNP is a revolutionary party – is that they go round and round. (Sir Terry was a very astute observer of human behaviour.) The SNP believes, if it gets its way, that it will immediately open the pathway to a land of milk and honey. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Instead of trying to understand and fix the system, the SNP wants to carp, criticize and ultimately smash it …

… Because, like all revolutionaries, they are more interested in power than anything else.

Deconstructing Emily

15 Jul

In honour of the release of Trial By Fire, I wrote a post on Emily <grin>. There are a handful of spoilers for Books 1-6, so read carefully. I’ve tried to keep spoilers for Book 7 to a minimum.  Comments would be more than welcome, either here or the discussion forum.


Emily is something of an unusual character for me.

In many ways, she’s probably the closest thing I have ever created to a self-insert, a character deliberately based on me. Obviously, she isn’t me (and her early life is very different), but most of her traits and issues are traits and issues that I had when I was growing up and, to some extent, overcame as I matured into adulthood. (Just how successful I have been in becoming a normal human being is, of course, debatable.) Emily, as of Book VII (Trial By Fire), is making progress on overcoming her issues, but has yet to succeed.

Emily has many good points as a character. She’s genuinely caring, she’s loyal, she’ll be ready to do almost anything to help a friend, she’s clever and she’s quite good at sticking up for others. However, she also has her bad points; she’s quite bad at noticing that other people are individuals and have problems (lack of basic empathy), she’s quite capable of slipping into her own world for days or even weeks, she doesn’t make friends easily and she’s really appallingly bad at sticking up for herself. The latter trait, in particular, has vexed some of my readers, who feel that Emily should be a great deal stronger by now. However, most of these issues come from shadows in her past that she has yet to overcome, let alone banish into the back of her mind.

My editor, reading some of the later books, accurately pegged that some of the older characters – Lady Barb, Master Gordian, Master Tor and even Master Grey – understand Emily a great deal better than she understands herself. This is something of an understandable problem. Emily would be a great deal less sympathetic as a character if she acknowledged that she was doing something wrong, or unwise, and did it anyway. I can only tell the story from Emily’s point of view and there are plenty of times where she lacks sufficient knowledge or perception to understand precisely what is going on.

Emily’s early life has been mentioned, if briefly, in the books. Her father left when she was very young and she barely remembers him. (And it’s possible she doesn’t remember him, that her memories aren’t real.) Her mother, in the process of crawling into a bottle, remarried when Emily was five; Emily’s stepfather was emotionally abusive while her mother was outright neglectful. Emily grew up having to fend for herself; she pretty much cooked for herself, picked her own clothes from second-hand shops, etc.

(On a side note, yes; this is abuse. If you think otherwise, please don’t have kids.)

This obviously had a major effect on her personality. Babies are not born naturally empathic; they generally learn those skills through interaction with their parents, siblings and eventually their fellow children. Emily simply didn’t learn these skills; her mother and stepfather ignored her when they weren’t being unpleasant, she had no real friends at school (they saw her as weird; she was too ashamed of her family to even consider bringing anyone home) and most of her time was spent reading books. She was (and is) capable of recognising abstractly that someone might have a problem, but isn’t so capable of recognising a problem before it gets rubbed in her face.

A couple of readers have compared Emily to Hermione Granger of Harry Potter. It isn’t a fair comparison. Hermione is an extrovert in many ways – she’s bossy, pushy and really didn’t lose any of her unpleasant traits even after befriending Harry and Ron – while Emily is pretty much an introvert. She and Hermione would probably not get on, if they met; she’d probably get on best with Neville.

Puberty did not improve her life. She not only had to cope with growing into young adulthood without the advice or support of her mother (who was either drunk or moaning about how horrible young men were), her stepfather actually started to take an interest in her. He never touched her, but he kept looking at her; she believed, and she might well have been right, that he would eventually force himself on her. She feared for her safety constantly; she took showers at school, wrapped herself in as many layers as possible and tried to stay away from him. It was not easy.

This tended to overshadow her relationships with her fellow teenagers. She feared ‘jerk jocks’ at a very primal level, but she also feared the ‘sticky girls’ (to borrow an expression from Sarah Hoyt); the cliques who banded together to go shopping, date the jocks and look down on everyone else. Indeed, one of Emily’s less pleasant traits is that she prefers to be in control of her friendships; her closest friends at Whitehall are people she befriended after they were largely knocked down to bedrock. She was, and still is to a very large extent, the classic outsider, the one with no hopes and dreams.

This added another wrinkle to her personality. Emily was smart enough to understand that she wasn’t likely to get anywhere in life. She could go to college/university, but all it would really get her was a mountain of debt and not much else. In a way, by the time Schooled In Magic opened, she was deep in depression and waiting to die. She believed – she genuinely believed – that there was no way out of her current state.

If you want to compare Emily to the young Edward Stalker (depicted in First To Fight) you can see they are radically different personalities. Edward Stalker, born into crushing poverty on a scale beyond Emily’s imagination, still had a thrusting drive that took him out of poverty and into the Terran Marine Corps. Emily simply lacked the self-confidence that she could better herself.

I can’t really exaggerate just how demoralising it is to feel hopeless. There’s no point in fighting if one cannot win. Emily knew she was on a sinking ship, if you don’t mind the metaphor, but she also knew the surrounding waters were full of sharks. Escape seemed impossible, so she sat down and waited to die.

And then Shadye kidnapped her.

You’ll note, at least at the start, that Emily’s instinctive response is to cling to Void. He’s pretty much the first person who actually saved her. She’s hurt when he tells her she has to go to Whitehall, even though she accepts his explanation that he’s a lousy teacher. She doesn’t start thinking about finding ways to get home, simply because she has nothing left back there. She’s already accepted her future in the Nameless World even before reaching Whitehall.

She changes, in some ways, at Whitehall because she knows life is no longer hopeless. She has magic. All of a sudden, she finds herself with a push to actually master something and succeed. She befriends Imaiqah almost at once because she needs someone to talk to and she recognises Imaiqah as being largely harmless. She starts learning to defend herself, particularly against Alassa, because she thinks she can actually win. It was a boost to her confidence to discover that most of her knowledge, her historical studies, are actually quite useful in the Nameless World.

Her slow progress to friendship with Alassa actually illuminates some of her less pleasant traits. She starts by seeing Alassa as nothing more than a bully, the stereotypical Queen Bee surrounded by a flock of admiring cronies. Even after Alassa gets badly injured by Emily, she doesn’t understand just how seriously the incident has undermined Alassa’s position. When forced to work with Alassa, Emily actually lectures her, rather than trying to be friendly. There were plenty of more mature ways to handle the situation, but Emily had yet to realise that Alassa was a person in her own right. That didn’t happen until Emily actually saw Alassa – broken and depressed – and realised that the Princess had fallen from grace. And it took being kidnapped and escaping – together – that blended the three of them (Alassa, Emily and Imaiqah) together into a long-lasting friendship.

(This is, of course, a reoccurring pattern. Emily befriends the Gorgon after the Gorgon is unjustly threatened with death, befriends Frieda after she is bullied savagely, comes to terms with Melissa after she is kicked out of her family … her relationships with people who aren’t broken down beforehand are rather more distant. She does get on with Aloha, after a rather bumpy start, but they’re not as close as she is with others. People outside her social circle tend to regard her as friendly, but reserved.)

However, it was harder for her to form meaningful relationships with older men. She did not have a bad reaction to Sergeant Harkin – because he didn’t pick on her personally – but as she slipped more into the Nameless World, she found it harder to cope with King Randor, Master Tor and – eventually – Master Grey. All three of them targeted Emily personally; King Randor clearly intended to exploit her, while Master Tor and Master Grey regarded her as a potential menace. (Master Tor, at least, had a set of valid points when he chewed her out, although she didn’t recognise it at the time; she conceded Master Grey’s points in Cockatrice.) The parts of her mentality that were shaped by her stepfather’s abuse made it hard for her to stand up to them, at least for herself. She was immobilised by her own fears.

This isn’t uncommon among bullying victims. Don’t fight back, they think, or you’ll only get hit harder.

Her relationship with Lady Barb was a little more complex. She disliked Lady Barb at first, then realised that the older woman was genuinely trying to be helpful. Over time, Emily started to think of Lady Barb as a mother, which caused problems when Emily took Lady Barb for granted (most notably in LLW.) It didn’t really help that Barb came from a very different society and tended to try to push Emily to think for herself, rather than guiding her footsteps. She knew the truth about Emily’s origins, but she didn’t really understand that Emily would react differently than someone who was a native.

Like I said, Emily is very bad at reading people. She didn’t really grasp that Jade was interested in her (at some level, she thought of Jade as a jock; a decent jock, but not someone who would be interested in her.) Nor did she recognise that Caleb or Frieda were actually interested in her – or, for that matter, that Jade and Alassa were dating.

This causes other problems, of course. Emily is not self-centred: she doesn’t believe that everything should be about her. She doesn’t begrudge Alassa and Imaiqah playing Ken even though she loathes team sports with a passion. However, it didn’t occur to her in SIS that they would want her to watch them play. Getting bored, she wanders off to do her own thing – in many ways, she was lucky the murderer chose that moment to make his appearance, as it might have caused a major rift between her and her two closest friends.

A final problem that should be borne in mind is that Emily simply was not raised within the Nameless World. (Most people expect her to be somewhat isolated, as she is generally believed to be the daughter of a powerful magician, but they think she should know more than she does.) Emily doesn’t grasp, at a very primal level, how the Nameless World actually works. There are social issues that natives take for granted that Emily doesn’t understand – in many ways, Emily isn’t too different from a condescending aid worker visiting an African village (if they bother to do that much footwork) and loudly proclaiming she knows the answers to every little problem the villagers have, even problems they don’t think are problems.

This is probably clearest in LLW. A reader noted that Emily was too politically correct in her response to the various problems she had to handle, but she couldn’t do otherwise. She might have missed the point of the parable of the prodigal son, yet she is correct (by our standards) to ask why the farm should go to the wastrel when his younger brother was the one who actually stayed home and worked the farm. (Why bother working hard when the rewards for slacking off are so much better?) However, direct line inheritance is very important in any such community and, by the pre-Emily laws, the older brother was the unquestioned heir to the land. A little later on, her revulsion at the thought of an arranged marriage with a child bride (certainly, again, by our standards) made it hard for her to consider another solution. In a sense, Emily is a reformer who doesn’t quite understand what she’s reforming.

(It touches, I feel, on the very definition of a hero. One can paint a confederate soldier, even one who owns slaves, as a good man. However, one cannot do that to a time traveller from our era, where slavery is generally accepted to be wrong. A man from 2015 who travels to 1850 and starts buying slaves to work the land is unquestionably a villain; alternatively, one who bought slaves to arm and train them to fight the slaveholders would be a hero.)

This also touches on one of my pet peeves. People have a common tendency to believe that a fantasy society must work on the same rules as our own. As a world traveller, I’ve noticed this even in our mundane world. Something that would be entirely acceptable in one country is shocking and even criminal in another. Emily is someone from a largely liberal society who has landed, without quite realising it, in a society that is actually quite stratified. (It doesn’t help that she spends most of her time in the most egalitarian place in the Nameless World.) What she considers to be harmless may not seem so harmless to the locals – or vice versa.

Even Whitehall, as Emily ruefully notes, would be shut down on Earth, with most of the teachers put into jail. There is a surprising lack of concern for health and safety, at least when it comes to learning; teenagers are armed with deadly weapons, they’re allowed to work with explosive materials, some of the spells they use can have nasty long-term effects (poor Broomstick) and discipline is harsh. To us, it sounds horrific; Mountaintop, with its Shadows, is actually worse. However, the Nameless World regards it as a necessity. Whitehall is a military academy, at base, and many students are expected – later in life – to fight against the necromancers. The magical side of the Nameless World, at least, is very aware of the growing threat.

In many ways, as Emily acknowledges, Whitehall produces more capable graduates than anything from the modern-day West. However, it is also quite bad at tending to emotional needs; indeed, anything that smacks of mental health care is taboo. (Who in their right mind would want to help the necromancers overcome their madness?) Students who have demons, like Emily, have to overcome them on their own.

However, by the time of Trial By Fire, Emily has actually made considerable progress in overcoming her demons.

Perversely, Hodge’s attempt to rape her was a blessing in disguise. Beating him convinced her, at a primal level, that she could stand up for herself. Discussing the whole matter with Lady Barb afterwards helped to organise her feelings. It strengthened her for her trials at Mountaintop and girded her against Aurelius’s manipulations. (Ironically, Nanette’s antipathy to Emily stems from her paternalistic feelings towards Aurelius; she assumed, perhaps correctly, that Emily was being groomed as her replacement.) And events at the end of Trial By Fire will only have strengthened her growth.

She has a long way to go. But she’s getting there.

UP NOW – Trial By Fire (Schooled In Magic VII!)

14 Jul

After a brief visit to the Blighted Lands, in hopes of recovering something useful from Shadye’s Dark Fortress, Emily returns to Whitehall for her fourth year, bracing herself for the exams that will determine her future. But as she resumes her education, she discovers that the shadows of the past are hanging over the school. A teacher wants to break her, some of her friends are acting oddly and, worst of all, a boy intends to court her.

But as she struggles to come to terms with her own past, she discovers a plot to kill her, a deadly threat that may destroy the entire school and a fight she cannot win, but dares not lose …

Read a Free Sample, then download it from the links on this page!  And then talk about it on the Discussion Forum!

And Now The News …

14 Jul

Hi, everyone

I’ve completed the first draft of Bookworm IV: Full Circle. I’m generally happy with the conclusion; I do have ideas for future stories set in the same universe, but probably not stories featuring Elaine, Johan and their friends. (And now here comes the editing …)

Trial By Fire has a preview up here; hopefully, it will be available for kindle purchasing by the 21st.

The provisional titles for SIM 8 and SIM 9 are Wedding Hells (I’m sorry; I couldn’t resist) and Infinite Regress. I do have a title for SIM 10, but it’s a bit of a giveaway so I’m keeping it to myself for the moment.

My current plan is to take a week or so off, then launch into A Small Colonial War (Warspite III). I’ve also started jotting out notes for Vanguard, which will start the third Ark Royal series, and The Black Sheep, (A Learning Experience III). I’m also intending to write The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Their Darkest Hour II), but that may come after The Barbarian Bride.

I’ve also managed to catch a cold. In Malaysia. Go me <groan>.


New Discussion Forum

5 Jul

I’ve not had particularly good luck with discussion forums in the past, but David has agreed to run a basic forum for me and a handful of other kindle authors. (Currently Caleb Wachter and Chris Kennedy, but we may add others.)

You can find it here –

Please feel free to sign up and join the discussion <grin>


Sins of the (Social Justice) Father

2 Jul

I meant to write this earlier, but I got occupied with Full Circle.

There’s a joke about a Scottish woman who paid £1000 to have someone research her family tree … and about how she had to pay another £1000 afterwards to cover it up.

It isn’t very funny, is it? I don’t think Ben Affleck finds it very funny either. He’s the actor who pressured an academic into covering up part of his family tree, including the fact that two of his ancestors were slave-owners.

I confess, the first time I heard of this particular incident, my inclination was to shake my head. I don’t know much about Ben Affleck, beyond the fact he’s an actor who campaigns for the Democratic Party and claims to be a mild liberal, but this made me roll my eyes. How exactly is this Affleck’s fault?

According to Wikipedia, Affleck was born in 1972. How exactly is he responsible for the sins of his ancestors? I’m pretty sure that there aren’t ‘many’ people out there who don’t have something embarrassing, disquieting or just plain weird in their family trees, if someone looks back far enough. Our ancestors accepted a great many things as normal that we now see as repulsive. Is there anyone willing to take the chance that their ancestors were without modern-day sin? Or to start throwing stones when said stones could easily be thrown at them?

So, why exactly should Affleck want to cover this up?

Call me a cynic, but I think it may have something to do with social justice.

The overall curse of ‘social justice’ is that you cannot escape either your society or your past. Social Justice Warriors blame the white man for every little injustice, past and present, in the world – not individual monsters, not people who didn’t know any better, but white men who are alive and well today. There is no logic whatsoever in attacking Affleck because a couple of his relatives traded in slaves, but would someone care to lay odds on it not happening? SJWs turn on their own at the drop of a hat.

This is absurd, of course. Affleck is not responsible for the crimes of his ancestors, any more than I am responsible for mine. It spits in the face of justice to suggest otherwise. But SJWs aren’t about justice, but revenge. Punishing the descendents of slavers – or people who merely share a gender and skin colour – only makes sense if you assume that ancestors are inseparable from their descendents.

And really, what sort of sense does that make?

If I’m being forced to be honest, I don’t really have much respect for Affleck. I don’t really approve of celebrities involving themselves in political matters. No matter how good an actor someone is, that doesn’t automatically qualify them to offer political advice. Nor do I approve of pre-emptively trying to duck the blame for daring to have unfortunate ancestors. But blaming Affleck for his ancestors is just pointless. So was trying to hide them.

Affleck is not responsible for their crimes. And if anyone claimed otherwise, he could have challenged them and demanded to know why it was his fault. Because such arguments simply don’t hold water when exposed to the cold light of day.

New Audiobooks!

1 Jul

Just up now …

Barbarians at the Gates:

The Shadow of Cincinnatus:

Barbarians at the Gates: The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire, Book 1 | [Christopher G. Nuttall]