Archive | November, 2015

Honorcon 2016

29 Nov

It is with very great pleasure that I announce I will be attending HONORCON 2016; Raleigh, North Carolina. If you’re in the area, please don’t hesitate to drop by and say hello.

(Mind you, I’ll be terribly shy, so feel free to make conversation <embarrassed grin>.





Something That Is NOT Satire

28 Nov

There are some articles that deserve to be fisked, as done by people like Larry Correia. One of them popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday: Starship Troopers: One Of The Most Misunderstood Movies Ever (Calum Marsh).

And really, this is an article that needs Larry’s touch, because I lack his skill at pointing out the gamut of untruths and misinterpretations. But I’ll give it a go.

I wasn’t expecting the movie version of Starship Troopers to be any good. Despite its reputation in certain circles (mainly those, including Paul Verhoeven, who haven’t read the book) Starship Troopers is not a ‘blood and gore’ splatter-fest. Indeed, one of the reasons I put the book down the first time I picked it up was because there was very little actual action in the novel. Starship Troopers exists on many levels, but at its core it is both the story of a young man maturing into an adult (and becoming a military officer) and a digression on the nature of society. The movie took the first part of the story (tuning out the second part entirely), dressed it up in blood and gore, added a romance that was largely platonic in the novel and, in generally, completely ruined it.

In short, Starship Troopers: The Movie is little more than literately character assassination. About the only thing it has in common with the book that actually matches is the title!

The reason I was not expecting the movie to be a great success was because I thought it would be hard to translate the book’s concepts onto the big scene. How does one represent the philosophical side of the novel without boring the audience to death? Paul Verhoeven did not, it would seem, even try. His movie started life as something completely different and, though some fluky mischance, he somehow acquired the rights to call the movie Starship Troopers. As a stand-alone movie, there is little to recommend it; as an interpretation of Heinlein’s novel, it is appallingly bad.

There is, for example, no suggestion in the novel that the government (and frankly, it isn’t a military dictatorship) provoked the conflict with the Bugs. Indeed, there is a strong hint of a reluctance to go to war that surprises many, I think, who only hear about the book through hostile propaganda. Nor are the Mobile Infantry anything like as incompetent as the movie suggests – and powered combat armour, a trope that Heinlein may well have invented, is completely missing from the movie. And, perhaps worst of all, there is a morale inversion between the source material and the movie. In the book, a recruit’s wrist is broken by accident; in the movie, Sergeant Zim deliberately breaks the recruit’s wrist. (This is not the only scene that suggests the movie deliberately warped the book beyond all recognition.)

Calum Marsh suggests, in his article, that “resulting film critiques the military-industrial complex, the jingoism of American foreign policy, and a culture that privileges reactionary violence over sensitivity and reason.” Ignoring the simple fact that neither of the first two played any significant role in Heinlein’s book, the third suggests a reading of international affairs that is more than a little naive. It has been proven, time and time again, that “sensitivity and reason” may not be bad things, but they tend to leave us defenceless against enemies who see them as little more than proof of our weakness. How many times do we have to learn the lesson, over and over again, that appeasing one’s enemies only tends to delay war, rather than prevent it? As the saying goes, it takes two sides to make peace, but only one side to make a war.

Further down, Marsh notes “the conclusion makes a point of deflating any residual sense of heroism and valor: we see our protagonists, having narrowly escaped death during a near-suicidal mission, marching back to battle in a glorified recruitment video—suggesting that in war the only reward for a battle well fought is the prospect of further battle.”

Again, this is a dangerous attitude. Very few wars are fought and won in a single battle. Victory in one battle does not, alas, mean the end of the war. Yet this too is a lesson that has been forgotten by too many of our political leaders. Wars are messy things, the enemy tends to get a vote and there will be many advances and retreats before the war finally comes to an end.

Starship Troopers: The Movie is neither funny nor smart. Part of the reason for that is that the source material is very definitely not satire or parody. The other reason is that it is a simply appalling rendition of a well-known and well-loved book – and, even viewed on its own, it simply isn’t a very good movie. And because it bears the name ‘Starship Troopers,’ it cannot be viewed on its own. In short, it has not been misunderstood.

And if Starship Troopers was a human being, it would be suing for libel.

Guest Post: Adventures in Editing

24 Nov

Going Over A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, Twelve Years Later

By Barb Caffrey

My newest novel, A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, has just been released as an e-book through Twilight Times Books. I’m extremely happy about this – if I weren’t, there probably would be something wrong with me – but as my friend Chris Nuttall knows me more because of my editing, I thought it might be interesting to talk about the unusual task I recently undertook – editing my novel, twelve full years after it was initially completed.

You see, my edit of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE was unlike anything else I’ve done to date. Over the last twelve years, I’ve become a working editor, and have gained a great deal of ability during that time.

But as you may know (as I’ve guested at Chris’s blog before), I also lost my husband Michael ten-plus years ago. He was a much more experienced writer than I, and far more adept as an editor, while I sat down and did the actual work of writing A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE in 2002 and 2003…and revised a bit during 2004.

Then my husband died. My life was upended. For a long time, I wondered why I was still alive at all – but for whatever reason, I just could not give up.

I kept sending my work around to publishers and agents. I garnered a few good comments, but no sales, mostly because both novels in the Elfyverse are comic young adult urban fantasies with a great deal of mystery and a dash of romance, besides. They are relentlessly cross-genre works, and that makes it harder for me to "brand" myself – a concept that’s taken root in the ten-plus years it’s been since Michael died, and refuses to die.

Though, granted, even before it was called "branding," readers tended to classify authors by what they wrote, less formally. Dorothy Sayers, for all her erudition, was classified as a mystery writer (with later mysteries sometimes being additionally labeled as romances due to the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane relationship). J.R.R. Tolkien was classified as a fantasy writer for good reason – and yet, he also was a gifted religious scholar (so, for that matter, was Sayers). And C.S. Lewis, despite his Chronicles of Narnia, was often categorized as a Christian apologist due to books like THE FOUR LOVES and MERE CHRISTIANITY – yet he, too, was a gifted scholar.

So, if these three giants of literature could get labeled as only one type of writer, when they actually wrote many different types of things in their careers, what chance do I have as a relatively new writer?

My father has a saying: Don’t fight it, accept it. And that’s basically where I’m at with regards to branding…but, as always, I digress.

After many years of trying to find a publisher who understood what I was doing, I found Lida Quillen at Twilight Times Books. She liked my work. And it’s because of her that both halves of the Elfy duology have now been published (book one is called AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE).

The point I am trying to make, about editing A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE twelve years after I wrote it, is that while I recognized these words as my own, I saw them in a brand-new light. Because I have edited so many books (over sixty, maybe as many as seventy) in the past few years, I was able to see my work in the same way someone else would – or a reasonable facsimile, at any rate.

On my blog, affectionately known as Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse, I wrote in May:

…you have to be in the right frame of mind to see what is actually in your own manuscript rather than what you think is there… What I try to do with the Elfyverse is to be consistent. I want to tell the best story I can. I’ve improved my actual writing mechanics a great deal since I originally wrote ELFY in 2002-3, and I want to reflect that…but I don’t want to take all the life out of the story, either.

And make no mistake about it: This is a full-on edit. It is not editorial changes, which is a much different animal. This is my own take on my own work, yes, but it’s also my older and wiser self editing my younger and more exuberant self, while trying to keep track of all the details — you may feel free to read “keep all the balls in the air” if you wish — at the same time.

You might be asking, "So, Barb. How is a full-on edit different from editorial changes?"

When you are dealing with editorial changes, you move more quickly through your manuscript – at least, I do – and you aren’t as concerned with the intrinsic wholeness. You have to believe in your editor, and trust that he or she knows your writing well enough that you won’t be steered off-course…and you have to trust that you will make the right changes in the right ways.

But in a full-on edit, you are looking at everything. Word choice, even if no one else has mentioned it. Whether you should add something at the beginning, because you now have two books where you once had only one. Whether you need additional scenes to clarify things, and if so, what?

And when you’re done with your edit, you go back and make whatever changes are necessary.

In other words, I analyzed my manuscript as if it were written by someone else. I saw where it had weaknesses, as well as strengths. I tried to shore up those weaknesses. And I looked for ways to be consistent, without messing with my earlier style whatsoever – as, over time, I’ve become a slightly different writer.

Maybe you have another question at this point, something to the effect of, "So, Barb, what’s the difference between a full-on edit and a rewrite? Especially since you’re talking about adding things or rewriting them?"

A full-on edit is meant to help you, as a writer, figure out what else needs to be added to complete your novel and make it the best novel you are capable of writing. It is not a rewrite, because those usually mean you’re starting from scratch, and you might use some of what you had before – or you might not.

It’s a matter of emphasis, mostly. Analytical skills, perhaps. And certainly a matter of thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and sticktuitiveness…because when you edit for yourself, you have to believe you can see it as someone else does.

That’s not easy. It might even be the next thing to impossible. But in this case, I felt it was the only way to get the job done…and I’m happy I was able to do it.

If you are looking to do some self-editing, whether it’s for a novel, short story, or anything in between, keep the following things in mind:

After you finish your draft, put it aside for a couple of days, if at all possible. (If time is short, get up, do something else for an hour or two, and come back to it.)

When you do go back to it, read it aloud, slowly. Read it as if you’re reading someone else’s work, and try to find weaknesses. (You may not like doing that. But if you can find at least some of your own weaker areas, it will help your editor and/or your publisher down the line.)

Then, go back and ruthlessly cut away anything that does not need to be there. If you have an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs (I often do), prune them back. If you use too many "thens," prune them back. If you shift tenses for no apparent reason, for goodness sake, go ahead and regularize those tenses.

And by all means, do not rely on spellcheck or grammar check, especially if you write fantasy or science fiction. They may help you from time to time with an obviously misused or misspelled word, but because grammar check still sees "She said" as a simple sentence rather than an attribution phrase/dialogue tag, it’s going to try to change your work and make it look – and read – wrong. (Plus, we F&SF writers often have words the spell and grammar check will hate. In my own work, the Elfy’s language of Bilre is often flagged unnecessarily.)

If you keep all these things in mind, you may gain some insight into how to revise and edit your own work. That will make your editor and/or publisher much happier down the line, and also should help your readers enjoy your work a great deal more, besides.





Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy/Comedy/Mystery/Romance

Blurb: Young Bruno the Elfy and Sarah, his mostly-human teenage girlfriend, are in deep trouble. Bruno’s Elfy mentor Roberto the Wise is about to be sacrificed by a Dark Elf, and Sarah’s parents have decided to help the Elf rather than the Elfy. Things look bleak and are getting worse by the minute, but Bruno and Sarah have a number of allies — human, Elfy, and ghosts — that the Dark Elf can’t possibly expect. Can young love, desperation, and great unexpected power win out despite it all?


Short, Funny Exclusive Excerpt from chapter 2:

While driving toward the mall, Rebecca asked, “Bruno, Samuel said you wanted to go to the mall. And that you have money?”

“It may sound trivial, Rebecca, but I know I have to go to the mall. It’s important.” He wished he could explain these odd feelings he had. Were they like his long-dead father’s talent of clairvoyance, or not? He sighed, adding, “Yes, I have money. My backpack made it.”

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk?” the pack asked querulously.

Bruno told it, “You’re not.”

“Yes, Samuel told me your backpack talks…” Rebecca put in. “Human beings, even magically talented ones, are not used to talking backpacks.”

“Your loss,” the pack said.

Bruno shushed it again, this time adding a few small pats in the bargain. The pack muttered a bit more, then was still again.

“Sorry about that, Rebecca. My backpack has a mind of its own.”

“So I see. But if it keeps speaking, you’ll never pass for one of us.”

“I promise I’ll behave,” the pack said sulkily.



Barnes and Noble:

Sample chapters:

The Barbarian Bride (The Decline and Fall of The Galactic Empire III)

23 Nov

And now … the conclusion!



From: Marius Drake and Roman Garibaldi: Two Lives, Two Loves, One Empire (4502 A.D)

Ah, what is to be said of Marius Drake and Roman Garibaldi that hasn’t been said a thousand times already?

They were the two most famous men of their generation, perhaps the two most famous men since the ‘Band of Brothers’ punched through the Asimov Point and won the final battle of the First Interstellar War. They are the subjects of countless biographies, ranging from works claiming that one was the true hero and the other was the villain to works suggesting they were both deeply corrupt, symptoms of the decline and fall of the Federation. There are works that suggest they were victims, helpless to do anything but play their role, and works that suggest they were playing a game with each other that cost billions upon billions of innocent lives. And last, but far from least, there are works that suggest the two men were actually lovers and the final war between them was a tragedy on the scale of Romeo and Juliet.

Indeed, history has truly hidden both men behind a shroud of nonsense.

That said, certain things can be said with a fair degree of certainty.

The Federation was dying. It’s government – the aristocratic and corrupt Grand Senate – was steadily sucking the lifeblood out of the countless innocent worlds in its thrall, destroying the economy that kept the Federation alive. Worse, the military was becoming deeply divided, with officers building little fiefdoms and patronage networks that were steadily corrupting the once-great Federation Navy. The purges that followed the Blue Star War only made it clear, to the smarter officers, that the only hope of permanent safety was in power. It should not have surprised the Grand Senate when one of them, Admiral Justinian, kicked off a civil war by mounting an attack on Earth.

Admiral Marius Drake rose to prominence during the attack, commanding the defence of Earth. Despite his own shabby treatment by the Grand Senate, Drake remained a noted Federation loyalist, a man who refused to accept the sundering of the Federation or the thought of claiming power for himself. His loyalties were noted; Drake was placed in command, eventually, of the fleet that would seek out and destroy Admiral Justinian’s little empire once and for all.

Less is known of Roman Garibaldi’s early life; it is known he was the sole survivor of an attack on an asteroid settlement, one who joined the Federation Navy and graduated from the Luna Academy with a First, but much else remains a mystery. It is clear, however, that he briefly took command of Enterprise during the ill-fated Operation Retribution and, in the aftermath, was marked down as an officer of rare promise. Indeed, like so many other youngsters, his rise up the ranks was rapid. War was no respecter of deadwood; hundreds of older officers, men who had gained their postings though patronage and connections rather than merit, had been killed in the early stages of the Justinian War. By the time Admiral Drake led his fleet into Justinian’s home system, Roman Garibaldi had assumed command of a starship.

Unknown to either Drake or Garibaldi, the Grand Senate had come to fear Drake as much as they had feared Admiral Justinian and his fellows. Accordingly, as soon as Drake defeated Admiral Justinian once and for all, they ordered an assassin, attached to Drake’s staff, to kill him. The assassin miscarried: Drake’s closest friend died saving his life. In his anger and rage, Admiral Drake led his fleet back to Earth, disposed the Grand Senate and took power for himself. After declaring himself Emperor Marius, he even killed the final members of the Grand Senate personally.

It did not bring peace. Unknown to the Federation, a powerful alliance of humans and aliens was lurking just outside the Federation’s borders. The Outsider Federation had taken advantage of the Justinian War to lay its final plans for an offensive that would shatter the Federation, freeing hundreds of thousands of worlds from its grasp. Now, as Roman Garibaldi assumed command of Fifth Fleet, the Outsiders moved, launching an invasion of Federation space.

Already weakened, the Federation reeled under their blows. The economy, pushed to the limits by the Grand Senate, started to collapse, despite everything an increasingly desperate Emperor Marius could do. Political unrest and strikes mushroomed through the Core Worlds, while thousands of out-worlds joined the Outsiders or declared independence. Indeed, given his example, there were no shortage of military personnel wondering if they could take power for themselves.

Hope shone, it seemed, when Admiral Garibaldi won the Battle of Boston, stopping the Outsider advance dead in its tracks. The Outsiders reeled back in shock, contemplating – for the first time – that they might lose the war. Emperor Marius travelled to Boston, where he met Admiral Garibaldi; together, they led an offensive towards Nova Athena, homeworld of one of the Outsider Federation’s known leaders. But there, faced with defiance, Emperor Marius ordered the bombardment of the enemy world, threatening to exterminate uncounted billions of lives. Admiral Garibaldi moved to stop him …

… And the maddened Emperor opened fire on his ships, then retreated.

The stage was set for the final confrontation between the two greatest men of their generation … and a war that would determine, once and for all, the future of the Federation.

Chapter One

In the end, personal loyalty proved to be more important to the Federation Navy than its ideals or the Federation Constitution. But then, perhaps that was not surprising. The only way to rise in the ranks was through joining a senior officer’s patronage network. Being promoted on merit was a thing of the past.

-The Federation Navy In Retrospect, 4199

Nova Athena, 4101

“The Outsider shuttle is approaching, sir,” Lieutenant Sofia Thompson reported. “They’ll land in the shuttlebay in five minutes.”

“Have the passengers scanned thoroughly before allowing them to enter the ship,” Admiral Roman Garibaldi ordered, numbly. The world had turned upside down, once again. “Once they’re cleared, bring them to the briefing compartment under guard.”

“Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Thompson said. She frowned. “Sir … they might not like being scanned and searched.”

Roman laughed, harshly. “And I don’t like running the risk of someone bringing an antimatter bomb onto the ship,” he said. “We’re not going to take chances.”

He looked up at the console, watching grimly as the shuttlecraft approached the superdreadnaught. No matter what he said, he doubted the Outsiders would try anything so stupid – Valiant was hardly the only superdreadnaught in Fifth Fleet – but he wouldn’t have believed that Emperor Marius would attempt to commit genocide either. A great many certainties had toppled since Admiral Justinian had launched his attack on Earth, sparking off a series of increasingly-bitter civil wars. And the Outsiders, his bitter enemies up until an hour ago, had to be almost as confused as himself.

The shuttle vanished from the display as it landed in the shuttlebay. Roman watched through the monitors as armed marines surrounded the craft, then motioned for the occupants to come out with their hands clearly visible. Everyone was jumpy, now that they were caught in the middle of yet another civil war. Roman had made a career out of knowing what to do at the right time, but he honestly wasn’t sure what to do now. He and his fleet were renegades, to all intents and purposes; he wondered, absently, just how many of his crewmen were considering burying a blade in his back. Bringing his head back to Earth would be certain to earn his assassin a rich reward.

Or a date with a firing squad, he thought, mordantly. The Emperor has become increasingly irrational.

He shuddered at the thought. Emperor Marius – Admiral Drake, as he’d been at the time – had seemed a strong leader, the sort of person Roman could follow into the fire without hesitation. Roman had wanted to be like him, even as he’d started to build a legend of his own. And he’d followed Admiral Drake until he’d been promoted and given command of Fifth Fleet. Even then, he’d wanted to make Emperor Marius proud of him. He would have done anything for his mentor …

Except commit genocide, he thought. In hindsight, there had been far too many worrying signs before Professor Kratman came to see him. God alone knew what had happened to the Outsider POWs, but after the Battle of Nova Athena he wouldn’t have bet money on them surviving for long. I couldn’t kill billions of humans on his command.

His intercom buzzed. “Admiral,” Elf said. “We have two guests; Senator Chang Li, the former Representative from Nova Athena and General Charlie Stuart. The remainder of the crew are the shuttle’s pilots.”

“Have the pilots held for the moment,” Roman ordered. “Is the shuttle itself safe?”

“Yes, Admiral,” Elf said. “There’s nothing more dangerous than a pair of fuel cells and a couple of pistols.”

Roman let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. An antimatter warhead would be shrugged off by the ship’s shields, if it detonated outside the hull, but a bomb that detonated inside the ship would blow them all to atoms. The Outsiders had to know they’d lost the war – or that they had, before Emperor Marius opened fire on their world – and they might have taken advantage of the brief truce to destroy Valiant. What hope did they have, other than the vague prospect of clawing the Federation as they went down?

“Take Chang and the General to the briefing compartment,” he ordered, tiredly. He wanted – needed – a rest, but he knew he wasn’t going to get one. “I’ll join you there in a moment.”

He closed the channel, then looked at the display. Hundreds of icons were scattered around the system; Fifth Fleet, surrounded by a cloud of starfighters, keeping its distance from the remaining Outsider ships and planetary defences. God alone knew what would happen, if some jumpy idiot pushed a firing key at the wrong moment; Roman knew, deep inside, that the only real hope for survival was an alliance. But even that wouldn’t be enough to save them, if Emperor Marius acted quickly. Roman knew, all too well, just how easy it would be for the Emperor to snatch the fleet train, then Boston itself. Losing the fleet base would doom his fleet to eventual irrelevance.

Unless the Outsiders can supply us, he thought. But they can barely supply themselves.

“Inform Captain Palter that he has tactical command of the fleet,” he ordered. “He is to hold position and wait for orders, unless we come under attack. If so, he is to break contact as fast as possible and head for the system limits.”

“Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Thompson said.

Roman sighed, then rose and walked through the hatch, passing the armoured marine who stood outside. The corridor beyond was deserted, the crew at their combat stations … he wondered, suddenly, just what would happen when the red alert finally came to an end and crewmen started to talk. There would be crewmen, he was sure, who would think nothing of genocide, who would care little for Outsider lives if their deaths ended a pitiless war. And some of them would be loyalists, loyal to Emperor Marius. A handful might even have been covertly inserted onto his crew to watch Roman himself.

His hand dropped to the sidearm at his belt as he walked down the empty corridor, even though he was sure he was alone. The crew were armed, all of them; they’d faced enemies intent on actually boarding starships several times in the past. If even a handful thought to mutiny against his authority, either in the Emperor’s name or merely to prevent another round of civil war, there was going to be a bloodbath. He wasn’t even sure he could count on the loyalty of the marines …

Elf will keep them in line, he thought. But where will she stand?

It was a bitter thought. The marines prided themselves on being loyal to the Federation, on standing up for its values even as everyone else abandoned them. He had no reason to doubt Elf’s loyalty to the Federation, but what would she make of it now, after Emperor Marius had tried to commit genocide? It wasn’t as if they’d fired on aliens!

He paused outside the hatch, taking a moment to gather himself, then opened the hatch and stepped into the briefing compartment. Elf stood against the bulkhead, wearing her light combat armour and carrying a plasma rifle in one hand; two other marines, wearing heavier armour, stood against the far wall. Senator Chang Li and General Stuart sat at the table, both looking tired and wary. Roman couldn’t help thinking, as he cast his eyes over Stuart, that the Outsiders preferred far more practical uniforms than the Federation Navy. Stuart’s uniform looked to be almost completely devoid of fancy gold braid.

“Senator, General,” he said. “I am Admiral Garibaldi. Welcome onboard Valiant.”

He studied them both as they rose. Chang Li was shorter than he’d expected, from her file; her long dark hair framed a middle-aged oriental face. She’d been a Senator on Earth, he recalled; she’d been the sole Senator from the out-worlds before Admiral Justinian had launched his attack on Earth. Roman reminded himself not to underestimate her or her people, even though the Federation Navy had won the engagement. The Outsiders had to have been plotting their campaign long before Admiral Justinian started a civil war.

And the Emperor had some inkling there were unfriendly alien races out beyond the Rim, he thought. It couldn’t have made it any easier to deal with the Outsiders when they finally showed themselves.

General Stuart was a complete unknown, according to the files; indeed, only a handful of data packets from deep-cover agents had provided any information at all. He’d been the enemy commander at Athena and Boston, putting Roman to flight in his first major engagement; the Outsiders, it seemed, hadn’t adopted the Grand Senate’s policy of shooting defeated admirals out of hand. It would give him a chance to learn from the mistakes that had led to defeat, at Boston, assuming the war didn’t end quickly.

“Admiral,” Chang Li said. “Thank you for receiving us.”

Roman shrugged, not entirely sure what to say. He’d assumed, prior to the battle, that he – or Emperor Marius – would be dictating surrender terms, hopefully ending the Outsider War once and for all. But instead … he was forced into an alliance with his former enemies, now the Emperor had gone mad. Roman couldn’t help feeling torn between two competing loyalties; Marius Drake, the man who had sponsored him, and the ideals of the Federation, the ideals he’d upheld even as others had abandoned them.

And the Emperor did try to kill us, he thought, grimly. If it had been just him, he would have taken a starship and fled beyond the Rim, but he knew he wouldn’t be the only target of the Empire’s wrath. We don’t have any choice but to fight.

“The Emperor has gone mad,” he said, bluntly. He had never been a diplomat. “He was prepared to fire on your homeworld.”

“I know,” Chang Li said. Her voice was oddly accented, something that surprised him. “I thank you for saving my people.”

“At the cost of putting my people into terrible danger,” Roman said. He had no illusions about their chances of success. Even if the Emperor didn’t take and hold Boston, forcing him into a direct offensive though the system’s Asimov Points, they’d have problems battering their way to Earth before the Federation’s superior industry took effect. “The Emperor has to be stopped.”

“We agree,” Chang Li said. She cocked her head, perhaps in recognition of his concerns. “I am prepared to offer your fleet all the support we can provide.”

“That would be useful,” Roman said. “But what can you provide?”

“Relatively little,” General Stuart said. His voice was gruff. “We lost too many ships at Boston, Admiral. I believe that was your work.”

Roman nodded, curtly. He wasn’t about to apologise for winning a battle, even though the consequences had come back to haunt him. He’d baited a trap and the Outsiders had fallen for it, giving him an excellent chance to tear their fleet apart. And he’d weakened them so badly that the counterattack hadn’t met any serious challenge until it had crossed the stardrive limits and attacked Nova Athena itself.

“There’s no point in dragging up the past,” Chang Li said. “We must look to the future.”

“Of course,” Roman said. “What can you offer us?”

“Right now, four battle squadrons and a few hundred smaller ships,” General Stuart told him, shortly. “Our fleet train, thankfully, remains largely intact.”

“Assuming the crews don’t desert when they realise just what they’re facing,” Chang Li added.

“The Federation is unlikely to show any mercy to independent freighters supporting the Outsiders,” Roman pointed out. “Tell them that all will be forgiven if they help us win.”

He sighed, inwardly. In hindsight, the Grand Senate’s policies – their semi-legal monopoly over interstellar shipping within the core worlds – had driven hundreds of thousands of independent shippers out to the Rim. They’d signed up with the Outsiders and started hauling supplies for them, while the Federation Navy was forced to depend on a badly weakened fleet train. The Grand Senate had chosen to concentrate on building warships, rather than the logistics the navy needed to support them. But then, until recently, the Federation Navy had been able to depend on a network of bases throughout explored and settled space.

“And what will happen,” General Stuart asked, “if we do win?”

Roman understood, just for a second, the maddening problem facing Emperor Marius. The Federation’s problems were impossibly vast, far too great for a single man to fix. And yet, tearing the Federation apart would be just as bad. Humanity hadn’t survived a number of alien threats by being disunited.

And, coming to think of it, he thought, what do we do about their alien allies?

He cursed under his breath. Humanity had long since abandoned the curse of racism, at least against their fellow humans, but it was a rare human who would agree that aliens should have equal rights. The memories of the First Interstellar War ran deep, even though it had been almost two thousand years ago. Aliens weren’t welcome on human worlds; hell, they were rarely welcome on their own homeworlds. And the Outsiders had managed to drum up at least two alien races who were willing to fight alongside them against the Federation. It would be easy for Emperor Marius to turn the war against a crusade against aliens and their human dupes …

Of course he can, he thought, grimly. The process was already underway by the time we won the Battle of Boston.

“I think we should settle that after the fighting is over,” he said, flatly. He didn’t want to rule, but was there any choice? Sundering the Federation would be disastrous. “The Emperor still has a great many advantages. We may wind up merely prolonging the war.”

“Agreed,” Chang Li said. She shot her comrade an unreadable look. “We can determine how the future will look once we know we will have a future.”

Roman nodded in agreement, then leaned forward. “How quickly can you get your ships here?”

General Stuart looked uncomfortable. It couldn’t be easy, Roman knew, discussing classified information with someone who’d been on the other side until literally two hours ago. Hell, he didn’t find it easy. He just knew there was no choice; his crews would die unless they won the war and saved themselves. It crossed his mind, as he waited for Stuart to answer, that Admiral Drake had faced the same problem, after the Grand Senate had tried to kill him.

And they did kill his closest friend, he thought. Emperor Marius had never been quite the same afterwards. Was it that which pushed him off the deep end?

“We should be able to assemble most of the remaining ships within a month, perhaps less,” Stuart said, carefully. “But that will open up some of the systems we hold to counterattacks.”

“There’s less danger of that than you might think,” Roman assured him. “We massed most of the Federation ships in the sector at Boston for the counteroffensive.”

“Unless the Emperor sends out new orders on the way home,” Stuart pointed out.

Roman shrugged. There were hundreds of stage-one colony worlds along the Rim, dozens of which had changed hands several times since the war began. None of them were useful, save perhaps as a source of untrained manpower; there was little to be gained by wasting time and effort capturing them for the umpteenth time. The Asimov Points, on the other hand, would be useful, but the Emperor didn’t have the mobile forces – yet – to secure them.

He expended too many of the stockpiled fortresses to secure the routes to the core, he thought, darkly. It would be a headache he’d have to deal with, if he lived that long, but for the moment it was a blessing. We were planning to secure the other Asimov Points as we consolidated, after winning at Nova Athena.

“It shouldn’t matter,” he said, out loud. “The key to victory has been what it always has, ever since the First Interstellar War. The capture or destruction of the enemy’s productive capabilities.”

He looked straight at Chang Li. “How much can you produce and how quickly?”

“Our missiles and ships are better, ton for ton, than their Federation counterparts,” Chang Li assured him. Roman nodded, impatiently. He’d been on the receiving end of Outsider technical ingenuity more than once. “However, we simply cannot match the Federation’s sheer weight of production. I’ll give you the complete figures, if you wish, but … well, we can only produce a tenth of the missiles they can produce in the same time period, even though our facilities are more efficient.”

“Assuming that their production nodes don’t suffer from more disruptions,” Stuart offered, ruefully. “There were a lot of strikes over the last two years.”

“Which were broken,” Chang Li reminded him.

“Even so, the workers weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the whole affair,” Stuart said. “I suspect their production has been quietly nose-diving for months.”

“They’ll do whatever it takes to get it back up again,” Roman said, quietly. “We need to move fast.”

He keyed a switch, displaying a starchart. “I’m going to take Fifth Fleet back to Spinner,” he added, after a moment. “If the Emperor has secured Boston, retaking the system will be an incredibly costly battle. I don’t dare give him the time to dig in.”

“Understood,” Stuart said.

“You two can return to the planet, then organise your ships to meet us at Spinner,” Roman said. “Assuming we can retake Boston, we can push onwards to Earth as quickly as possible, before the Emperor has a chance to rally his defences.”

Chang Li blinked. “You intend to take the offensive so quickly?”

“There’s no choice,” Roman said. Stuart nodded in agreement. “If we don’t take the offensive now, he’ll take advantage of his production capabilities and crush us like bugs.”

On The Importance Of Plain Speech

21 Nov

My paternal grandmother, may she rest in peace, was a Lancashire Lass. Born and raised in Bolton, Lancashire, she was taught to be plain-spoken, in the manner of those times. The folk of Lancashire and Greater Manchester didn’t see any value in tip-toeing around the truth – my grandmother certainly never did. She was always calm and polite – she rarely raised her voice and I never saw her cry – but she always told the truth, as she saw it.

To Grandma, it was always better to tell the truth. It was better, she thought, that a bride should be told she looked bad in her chosen dress before the wedding, even though the bride’s feelings might be hurt by the remark. Better a cut, she would have said, than a broken arm. She would have made both the best and most terrifying of editors, I think; she had the right attitude and the willingness to tear something apart, just to make it better.

She was, in many ways, an immensely strong woman. My grandfather died when her son was very young and she brought my father up alone, in an age where single mothers were far rarer than they are today. She remained in the same house in Bolton as my father married and moved to Edinburgh, where he had me and my siblings. She would come up to Edinburgh to play with me when I was a child and, even after she grew too old to play with us she still did her best to keep in touch with the family. And yet, she tried hard to maintain her independence. She refused to move in with us until barely two months before her death.

I cannot help but think Grandma would have looked upon the current feminist movement (and many other PC movements) with scorn.

I’m sure there were more than a few assholes who used ‘plain-speaking’ as a cover for … well, being assholes. (They were, of course, the forerunners of internet trolls.) Certainly, the folk of that time would have thought nothing of peppering their speech with racial slurs, considering them nothing more than mere figures of speech. But the rise of political correctness has done so much harm to plain-speaking that we may be paying the bill for years to come. There are times when no amount of tip-toeing about the truth will help.

Just as there is a fundamental disconnect between hard science and soft science, between the objective and the subjective, there is a fundamental disconnect between political correctness and reality. Reality doesn’t change just because the terms of the debate have been altered.

You see, the original idea behind political correctness was that people shouldn’t set out to cause offence. And that isn’t actually a bad idea, as far as these things go. But the nebulous concept of ‘offence’ has been allowed to overwrite reality. The fear of offending someone – anyone – leads to self-censorship, that most damned of censorship, rather than facing up to the simple fact that certain unpleasant truths must be spoken, that certain unpleasant facts must be faced squarely.

The problem lies in the simple fact that PC demands a reversal of the standard accuser-accused dynamic. In a civilised world, the accuser must prove the guilt of the accused; the accused does not have to prove his innocence. But when PC is involved, the accuser is allowed to claim that he or she is offended, regardless of the objective truth of the words. The mere act of saying ‘I am offended,’ perhaps followed by charges of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc, seems to be enough to put the speaker on the defensive. But any fool can claim to be offended by anything.

This whole concept has been undermining the modern world for decades.

It isn’t hard for anyone who doesn’t have their head in the sand to realise that Radical Islam poses a threat to the entire world, up to and including every last Muslim. But politicians, rather than coming to grips with this unpleasant truth, seem unwilling to say it out loud. Watching the reaction to the Paris Attacks from many political quarters has been downright sickening. Donald Trump’s poll numbers jumped, I suspect, because Trump came right out and pointed his finger at the threat.

But one doesn’t have to look at that to see just how badly PC has eroded the fabric of our world. The current epidemic of ‘cry-bullies’ on American campuses comes, at least in part, from the simple failure of academic authorities to stand up and tell increasingly pathetic student protesters that their behaviour was unacceptable. But PC makes it impossible for administrators to do anything of the sort. (Expelling the entire football team at Missouri would have been an excellent step to restore sanity to the campus.) There are times when you just have to say NO – like you would to a child – rather than indulge adults in childish tantrums.

It is not easy – and I say this as a writer – to face up to critical remarks. There is a tendency to be angry with the person who points out the plot hole in chapter 10, or that you killed the hero’s love interest (chapter 13) back in chapter 5. And yes, writers encounter more than their fair share of critical remarks. Nor is it easy to respond with careful thought when one faces criticism from the outside. But failing to grasp that, at worst, the jerkass has a point can only lead to contempt.

Trying to put lipstick on a pig doesn’t magically turn the pig into a beautiful girl. It just makes you look stupid. Anyone who doesn’t have a strong reason to convince themselves that the pig is a girl can see that. And telling them that the pig is a girl merely convinces them that you’re a deluded idiot.

Because, you see, reality doesn’t change. And trying to put lipstick on a pig doesn’t magically turn the pig into a woman. And, most importantly of all, having the safety and security to allow yourself delusions about the world surrounding you doesn’t mean that others won’t suffer for your mistakes.

Up Now – The Black Sheep (A Learning Experience III)

17 Nov

Up NOW!  Feel free to share!

The third stand-alone book in A Learning Experience

In the wake of Earth’s collapse into chaos, Captain Hoshiko Stuart made the mistake of speaking her mind – and was exiled six months from Sol to a naval base in an unexplored and uncontacted sector. Placed in command of a single squadron of starships, she expected nothing but boredom.

But when she discovers an alien race threatening to exterminate all other races within the sector, Hoshiko and her squadron are drawn into a war to stop them, even if it means forging an alliance with aliens who may themselves become a threat to humanity and building an empire that may alienate her from her family once and for all.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, read the Afterword and then purchase the book from Amazon HERE!

Coming Up …

11 Nov

Hi, everyone

First, a piece of good news. The Black Sheep is completed and currently being edited for spelling, grammar, continuity, etc. I’m hoping to have it up on sale by Monday or Tuesday – as always, there may be unanticipated delays.

a learning experience book III -300 reso

Second, Wedding Hells is currently undergoing it’s line-edit and the cover is being finalised. I’m hoping to have the eBook available for sale in 6 weeks, probably less – keep an eye on this space for updates.

My current plan, as I mentioned earlier, is to write the third and final book in The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire. After that, I’m torn between They Shall Not Pass (Empire’s Corps 12) and Vanguard (Ark 7). After that … well, I think it’s time I returned to the universe of The Royal Sorceress, if I can overcome my writer’s block and complete the plot. I do have quite a few ideas, but tying them all together is taking time.

As always, I have more story ideas than I know what to do with. I’ve got an idea for a high fantasy where the widow of a sorcerer sets out to avenge her husband, even if it means sneaking into a castle and assassinating a prince. Then I have a trilogy in mind, set in the same universe as Bookworm, where the death of the Witch-King unlocks powers that have been sealed away for a very good reason.

I’ve actually been giving a great deal of thought to a story following the course of a global conflict, a third world war. (I was quite displeased with Ghost Fleet.) The problem, of course, is outlining such a war – should I stick with the old idea (China, Russia and India Vs. US/NATO) or try to come up with something new? I think, assuming it doesn’t go nuclear, that there will be a brief and violent spasm … and then a long pause as everyone rushes frantically to rebuild their arsenal of modern weapons and develop new ones. (Space-based weapons, for example.)



Review: Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

10 Nov

-P. W. Singer, August Cole

This is the second-rate book, if I may steal a line from Brian Aldiss, about which there has been a great deal of third-rate talk.

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

Ghost Fleet was billed, not to put too fine a point on it, as the spiritual successor to Tim Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. Unfortunately, it lacks the effortless balance between the overall war and the individual characters caught up in the fighting that made Red Storm Rising such a great book. As it was, I came close to simply giving up and returning Ghost Fleet to the library on more than one occasion. The only thing that kept me going were hints of a greatness that never truly materialised.

For one thing, Clancy humanised the Russians even as he made them (or at least their leaders) the villains of the story. The reader can follow why the Russians feel that war with NATO is their only hope for survival. Ghost Fleet, however, does not present a convincing reason for war. The Chinese seem determined to start a war … why? Nations generally do not risk war, certainly not with nuclear powers, unless they feel there’s something significant at risk. But in this book, China already appears to be on the ascendant before triggering a war with America. Indeed, the Chinese leadership seems to spend too much time duelling with lines from Sun Tzu instead of actually plotting a war.

Leaving that aside, the book does offer some interesting insights into future war. The authors warn of the dangers of using computer chips from China, some of which (in real life) have backdoors built into the hardware for later exploitation. This gives the Chinese an excellent chance to cripple the United States, force America out of the Pacific and land troops on Pearl Harbour. However, at this point, the book fizzles. The United States introduces new weapons of its own, including spacecraft and railguns, yet the war is not over by the time the book comes to a conclusion.

Furthermore, while Clancy effortlessly weaved his POV characters into the story, Ghost Fleet fails to do it anything like as convincingly. The only character of real note is an USN Captain who is haunted by his father’s failures as a father, while repeating the same mistakes himself. A female marine turned assassin offers some interesting colour to the story (as does a Russian officer attached to the Chinese forces), but neither of them are particularly memorable.

The book does make note of social chances between now and the war. On one hand, it has a naval office make a passing reference to his husband; on the other, it illuminates the danger of forced and ultimately pointless ‘diversity.’ Racial tensions within the future United States have not abated in this book, a problem made worse by Chinese sleeper agents. As in real life, the people who pay for these problems are rarely the ones who started them in the first place.

Overall, Ghost Fleet really has too many problems to earn more than three stars from me. Red Storm Rising is still the king of modern war stories.

Flying Out On Foggy Mornings …

5 Nov

Sorry, but I need to rant.

For various reasons, none of which are particularly important for this post, the three of us went to London the previous Sunday. (1st November-4th November). Unfortunately, we plumbed for flying with British Airways, rather than taking the train. Under normal circumstances, travelling from Edinburgh to London on the train takes around 5 hours, so we thought it was a no-brainer (even if we were limited in what baby supplies and suchlike we could bring.)

No such luck.

What we didn’t know, at the time, was that fog was rolling into London. Bad fog. Really bad fog.


So we got to Edinburgh right on time – and that was where things started to go wrong. Boarding was delayed for nearly 20 minutes, give or take a few; thankfully, British Airways allowed us to board first, letting us get Eric onto the plane and then sit down before the rest of the passengers started to board. We waited …

… And then the aircraft captain told us about the fog. And that we would have to sit on the ground for at least three hours before take-off.

Now, the fog was bad. I’m not questioning the air traffic controllers when they decided it would be better to wait and see what happened, rather than risk flying to London and then being unable to land. But what stuck in my craw was that we’d been ordered onto the plane and then told to wait. I don’t think so many people would have minded if we’d merely been asked to wait in the terminal, where there was food, drink and entertainments. As it happened, several people demanded to be allowed to leave the plane, one man swearing loudly that he wouldn’t be flying with British Airways again.

To give the stewardesses their due, they were calm, composed and professional throughout the long and bitter wait. There was no food, save for what we’d brought ourselves. Drinks were (eventually) served. But we waited, and waited, growing more cramped at every moment (to add insult to injury, Eric remained awake until just before take-off, which meant we had to either hold him on our laps or supervise him carefully as he crawled) until the pilot finally told us we’d been cleared for departure. By remarkable coincidence, this was just before the three-hour deadline, after which we could (perhaps) claim compensation. The plane took off and the flight proceeded to London – the flight was remarkably smooth, right up until the landing. That was alarmingly bad.

The airport was drenched in fog when we arrived, literally. I could barely see more than ten metres as we made our way off the plane and were driven to the exit, where we picked up the pushchair and made our grateful escape from the airport. And the fog started to lift as we drove towards London, although it was still hanging over the city until Tuesday.

Going on an aeroplane, these days, is a fraught experience. Security is populated by idiots who honestly believe that any liquid over 100ml is a potential threat or that making people take off their shoes ensures safety. (It says a great deal about security in a British airport that the Richmond/Newark TSA, by comparison, were models of professional behaviour.) But it’s a great deal worse when the airline management is so lacking in concern for the people who pay them for the flight that they are prepared to countenance a great deal of unnecessary discomfort for their passengers. Like I said, asking us to wait in the terminal would have gone down much better. They would have known we wouldn’t be taking off on time long before we boarded the plane.

<incoherent furious muttering>

Idle Thought …

5 Nov

One of the problems with space opera, particularly books like Ark Royal, is that almost all Great Powers are spacefaring powers by definition. There’s no easy way to represent the differences between – say – the Britain and France of the Napoleonic Wars . A land-based power in space opera would be easy to smash flat, so they are all naval powers. However …

Imagine a universe where many systems are linked together by wormholes (or warp points, whatever.) Maybe some of those wormholes are artificial. Space warfare is based around the warp points, as in the starfire universe … unless you are prepared to spend lots of money on giant FTL ships. On one hand, these ships are staggeringly expensive; on the other, they give you a degree of tactical flexibility no non-FTL ships can match.

How does that sound for a setting?