Archive | December, 2015

Storm Front: The Collapse of the Reich

29 Dec


A couple of reviewers questioned the speed in which the Reich collapsed, once the protest movement went to work. While I understand their doubts, there are a number of countervailing points.

First, the Reich is economically on the brink. They’ve been stealing from Peter to pay Paul for years now and they’re running out of resources. (This is basically what happened to the Soviet Union in OTL.) The last thing the Reich needs is a prolonged period of instability, as it would cripple what remains of their economy. This is why Gudrun’s mother notes that costs are going up; the Reich has been trying to impose price controls, but such controls rarely work in real life.

Second, the nature of the protest movement – specifically, the fate of wounded or dead soldiers/SS – touches almost every German where they live. There are very few households in Germany that don’t have some contact with the military; theoretically, every German male is supposed to spend some time in uniform. (In reality, the numbers are somewhat lower.) It isn’t hard for everyone with a relative in the military to start wondering if a week or two without a letter means that their relative is dead … and that the government is covering it up. Even loyalists like Volker develop doubts when they think (and know, in his case) that their children are being expended and the government doesn’t even have the decency to tell them.

Third, Gudrun’s campaign basically starts an avalanche. The leaflets provide an excuse to talk to Volker (a former SS officer) about the fate of his son. Volker realises just what happened to Konrad and uses it as a gourd to start a union (not that this is the only reason for the workers of the Reich to unite.) The government’s failure to squash the first strikes only emboldens countless others who have suffered in silence for years, too fearful to raise their voices.

Fourth, the government is actually in a very weak position. Storming the factories would result in the destruction of a lot of very expensive machinery and the deaths of a significant percentage of the Reich’s trained manpower. Gunning down protesting crowds that include women and children might just start a mutiny. The best case for the government is that they might successfully stop the protesters, only to discover that they’ve crippled the Reich themselves. Their only real hope is to concede as much as they can, then work to undermine their concessions. Which leads to …

Fifth, the hawks in the Reich Cabinet deliberately set out to cause a riot towards the end of the book. Their thinking is that they can use special troops (i.e. men who won’t hesitate to butcher German civilians) to teach the mobs a lesson, then take advantage of the shock to re-establish control over the country. Instead, it sparks a mutiny. Soldiers who have been taught that their duty is to protect German civilians, soldiers who are already wavering because of the fate of their dead or wounded comrades, turn on the SS troops. The mutinies spread from there as an already badly-weakened structure starts to collapse.

Obviously, the trouble has only just started <grin>.

There’s another point that should probably be mentioned, although it’s not an easy point to make clear in the book itself. Gudrun isn’t as afraid of the Reich as, perhaps, she should be … because her father is a policeman and her boyfriend is an SS stormtrooper. She knows it isn’t safe to open her mouth and speak freely – she watches her mouth as closely as anyone else – but she feels safer because she knows the prospective enemies. This may not be a wise attitude, but it’s part of her.

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

Hi, everyone

(First, a quick reminder that you can download a free copy of The Empire’s Corps between 24-26 December.)

It’s been a strange year for Aisha and I.

Most important, of course, was the birth of our son Eric on 23rd December 2014. I find it hard to believe, looking at him now, that he was really so tiny when he was a newborn, to the point where I stared in disbelief at one of my nieces and wondered why she was so tiny. Eric learned how to crawl (like a rocket) in June 2014 and has been standing upright recently, although he has yet to manage to take his first step. He’s also eating mushy food and has recently started gobbling down adult food (once mashed up in the mixer).

Writing has been going remarkably well, despite the arrival of a baby. I completed the second Ark Royal trilogy (Warspite, A Savage War of Peace, A Small Colonial War), the Bookworm series with Full Circle and recently completed the first draft of The Barbarian Bride. I’ve also written two new The Empire’s Corps books, two new Schooled In Magic books and kick-started a new alternate history series, Twilight Of The Gods, with Storm Front. I’m currently planning to write Vanguard (Ark 7) followed by Sons Of Liberty and They Shall Not Pass (Empire’s Corps 12) … well, we’ll see.

Falcone Strike, the sequel to The Oncoming Storm, is due out in mid-January. I’m hoping to write several more books in the series, but I don’t have a signed contract or due date yet. My provisional titles are Unlucky, The Highland Line, The Hammer of God and Lightning Strike. These may, of course, change over the coming months.

Wedding Hells (Schooled In Magic 8) is out and doing well. My current plan is to write books 9 and 10 close together, because one of them is a fairly direct sequel to the other. Ideally, of course, I’d prefer to keep them as stand-alone as I could (I’m not a fan of massive books that only advance the plot a few inches), but for reasons that will become clear when you read the books that simply wasn’t possible.

In other news, I’ve signed a contract to bring the Schooled In Magic books out in audio format.


We attended EASTERCON in London, RAVENCON in the United States and NOVACON in Nottingham this year; the first two were larger than I’d expected (I was on a panel for the first time in my life) while NOVACON was smaller, but still pretty interesting. (As you can imagine, I bought a lot of books.) I’ve been invited to HONORCON as one of the guests of honour for 2016, so if you happen to be in the area please don’t hesitate to come along and say hello. I may be going to a couple of other conventions in the United States (we’re already booked for EASTERCON 2016 in Manchester) but I can’t guarantee anything. Please keep an eye on my blog for details.

Anyway, that’s enough blathering. <grin>.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year. And if you want to give me something for Christmas, please feel free to leave a review <wink>.


Happy Birthday, Eric

23 Dec

One year old today …


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A Christmas Giveaway – The Empire’s Corps

20 Dec

Hi, everyone

As a Christmas gift to my readers, it gives me great pleasure to announce that, between 24th December to 26th December, US time, The Empire’s Corps, the first book in the series, will be available for free download from Amazon Kindle. Click here for a free sample.


Please share this post <grin>


Snippet – Vanguard (Ark 7)

20 Dec



“Captain,” Commander Katy Shaw said. “We are ready to go where no man has gone before.”

Captain Francis Preston snorted, rudely. HMS Magellan and HMS Livingston had been probing the tramlines before Tadpole space for the last six months, only to find nothing beyond a pair of uninhabited worlds that would probably be turned into joint colonies. Nothing to sniff at, to be fair – the crew would be able to claim a bonus from the Survey Service – but nothing to shake the universe either.

“Raise Captain Archer,” he said, sitting upright in his command chair. “Inform him that we will jump through the tramline in” – he glanced at his console – “ten minutes.”

“Aye, sir,” Katy said.

Francis nodded, then looked around the bridge. The younger members of the crew, their enthusiasm undiminished by six months of nothingness, looked excited, while the older crewmen were checking and rechecking their consoles as they prepared for the jump. It was rare for a previously undiscovered tramline to throw up any surprises, but several survey ships had set out on exploration missions and vanished, somewhere in the trackless wastes of interstellar space. Who knew? The tramline could lead to anything.

“Captain Archer acknowledges, sir,” the communications officer said. “He says he still thinks you cheated at cards.”

“Sore loser,” Francis commented. Captain Archer and himself had played cards for the right to take point as the survey ships moved onwards and he’d won. “Tell him to hold position and wait for our return.”

“Aye, sir,” the communications officer said.

Francis learned forward. “Take us into stealth,” he ordered. “And then set course for the tramline.”

He let out a breath as the display dimmed, slightly. There was no way to know what was at the other end of a tramline without jumping through, which was why survey ships tended to operate in pairs. If Magellan failed to return, Livingston would head back to the nearest military base at once, rather than try to follow her sister ship. It would be tough on Magellan if she needed assistance, but standing orders admitted of no ambiguity. Maybe she’d fallen right into a black hole – it was theoretically possible – or maybe she’d run into a hostile alien race. It was the latter thought that kept the Admiralty’s planners up at night. Humanity’s first encounter with an alien race had almost been its last.

But the odds against meeting another spacefaring race are considerable, he reminded himself, firmly. It was sheer luck that we ran into the Tadpoles when they were at relatively the same stage of development.

He pushed the thought aside as the display flickered, warning him that they had entered the tramline. “Drive online, sir,” the helmsman reported. “Gravity flux nominal. I don’t think there are any surprises waiting for us in this tramline.”

“Good,” Francis grunted. He glanced at the green-lit status display, then up at his XO, who nodded. “Jump!”

The starship shivered, slightly, as she jumped down the tramline and into the unexplored system. Francis let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding as the display flickered and then rebooted, displaying a standard G2 yellow star. Most transits were routine, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, but an unexplored tramline might have an unexpected gravimetric flux that could cripple or destroy a ship. The odds were staggeringly against it, yet there was one tramline, right on the other side of explored space, that had eaten every starship that jumped down it. No one had returned to tell the tale.

“Jump complete, sir,” the helmsman said. “There were no problems.”

“Good,” Francis said. “I …”

“Captain,” the tactical officer interrupted. “I think you should take a look at this!”

Francis rose from his command chair and hurried over to the tactical console. There were at least two planets within the system’s life-bearing zone, both surrounded by the yellow icons of unidentified ships, space stations and radio sources. Hundreds of icons were swarming through the system, some clearly heading to an asteroid field and others making their steady way towards a gas giant. He felt his heart start to pound in his chest as the computers struggled to match the unknowns to something in its memory … and failed. They were staring at a whole new spacefaring race.

“Cloak us,” he snapped. Stealth mode rendered the ship almost undetectable, but there was no point in taking chances. Standing orders were very clear. No alien race, particularly one that could pose a genuine threat to humanity, was to know the survey ship was present until the various human governments could decide what to do about it. “Tactical analysis?”

“Impossible to be sure at this distance, sir, but I’d say their tech base is on a par with ours,” the tactical officer said. “I’m definitely picking up drive fields … they’ve got bases scattered right across the system.”

Katy leaned forward. “Are they using the tramlines?”

“I’m not sure,” the tactical officer admitted. “There’s three more in the system itself …”

Francis closed his eyes as he thought, rapidly. A race on the same level as mankind – and the Tadpoles – should certainly know about the tramlines that allowed starships to jump from system to system without having to cross the gulf of interstellar space. Mastering drive fields should certainly give them the technology to locate the tramlines and jump through them … unless, of course, they’d somehow managed to miss one or more applications of the technology. Humanity had certainly missed at least one before the First Interstellar War.

“We didn’t see any sign of them in the previous system,” he mused. “Did we?”

“No, sir,” Katy said. “We’ll go through the data again, but we were thorough. I don’t think we missed anything.”

“And if they don’t have access to the tramlines, they won’t be able to reach the system,” Francis said. He opened his eyes and studied the display. “They won’t be able to reach us.”

“Or they may have decided the system was useless,” Katy pointed out. “There was only one planet, sir, and it made Pluto look big.”

Francis shrugged. There were quite a few human groups that would have considered the system a perfect place for a settlement, one nicely isolated from the temptations of the modern world. But then, maybe they didn’t have access to the tramlines …or, perhaps, to the weaker tramlines the Tadpoles had learned to access. They might not have been able to progress much further even after they left their system.

Or they might have been able to access other systems through the other tramlines, he mused, and merely decided to leave a seemingly-useless system alone.

He glanced at the communications officer. “Have you been able to pull anything useful from their radio chatter?”

“Not as yet, sir,” the communications officer said. “I was expecting something visual, but everything we’ve picked up appears to be encrypted.”

“Or they’re so alien that we can’t understand their chatter,” Katy offered. “It took us months to glean anything from captured Tadpole databases.”

Francis nodded, slowly.

“Tactical,” he said, “do you believe we are in any danger of being discovered?”

“No, sir,” the tactical officer said. “Unless they have some detection system I’ve never heard of, Captain, we should be safe.”

Francis felt a stab of disappointment. Standing orders strictly forbade making any attempt at First Contact without heavy reinforcements on call, just in case the encounter turned violent, unless there was no other choice. If the aliens had discovered Magellan, he could have attempted to communicate with them and ensured his place in the history books …

“Then we will reverse course and jump back out of the system,” he said. “Once we link up with Livingston, we’ll make our way back to the nearest naval base. The Admiralty will put together a contact mission and, hopefully, we’ll be on it.”

“Aye, sir,” the helmsman said.

Katy frowned. “The nearest large-scale base is a Tadpole base, sir.”

Francis nodded. The Tadpoles had shown no real interest in the pre-space Vesy, but he was sure they’d be more than interested in a spacefaring race. And he was fairly sure they wouldn’t try to keep the information for themselves. They just didn’t seem to have the same capability for deception as humans.

He took one last look at the display, watching the alien ships, then nodded to himself.

“We’ll be back,” he said, as Magellan approached the tramline. “And we’ll have a great many friends with us.”

Chapter One

“Welcome back, Susan,” Mrs Blackthorn said. “Or should I call you Commander?”

“Susan is fine,” Commander Susan Onarina said, as she clambered out of the car. “It would feel strange to have you address me by rank.”

“Hanover Towers is diminished by your absence,” Mrs Blackthorn assured her. “But we are proud of your success.”

Susan kept the doubt off her face with the ease of long practice. She would have been surprised if Mrs Blackthorn remembered her as anything more than a trouble-maker, one of the girls who had been sent to her for disciplinary action. Her father had been an immigrant, her mother a shop-girl with few prospects … Susan had been a commoner in a school where a good third of the students had aristocratic, government or military connections. She had a feeling the headmistress had probably downloaded and read her school reports just so she could pretend to remember Susan.

“I’m glad to hear it,” she lied, smoothly. School hadn’t been that bad, all things considered, but she’d never really seen it as a gateway to wealth, power and success. That had come at the Luna Academy. “And I’m glad to be back.”

She sighed inwardly as she looked up at the towering school. It had struck her as a castle, when she’d first arrived as a twelve-year-old, but to her older eyes it looked as if its builders had been trying too hard. Four towers, two for boys and two for girls, surrounding a mansion, set within the Scottish Highlands. She winced in remembered pain at memories of long hikes over the mountains, although she had to admit that some of them had been almost enjoyable. There was definitely something to be said for a long walk followed by fish and chips in a cafe near St. Andrews.

And I never tried to skive off, she thought, ruefully. Father would have been disappointed in me.

“I’m sure you remember the way,” Mrs Blackthorn said, breaking into her thoughts. “But I’d be happy to escort you, if you wish.”

“Please,” Susan said. She rather doubted she’d be allowed to wander the school alone, even if she had been invited. Hanover Towers took its security seriously. The guards at the gates had checked her paperwork twice and then searched the car before allowing her to enter the complex. “It’s probably changed since I was last here.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Mrs Blackthorn said, primly. “Follow me.”

Susan nodded, curtly, as she caught sight of their reflection in the mirrored door. They made an odd couple; Mrs Blackthorn prim and proper, her entire bearing projecting the image of aristocracy boiled down to its essence, Susan herself tall and dark, wearing her naval dress uniform and her dark hair tied into a long braid that fell over her shoulder and down past her breasts. It hadn’t been easy to blend it, not when she was the daughter of an immigrant; she’d been sent to the form mistress twice for fighting before she’d found a group of friends of her own. The Troubles had ensured that the ugly curse of racism still bubbled, just under the surface …

She sucked in her breath as they entered the Welcome Hall, where a large portrait of Sir Charles Hanover hung in a place of honour, flanked by portraits of King Charles IV and Princess Elizabeth, the heir presumptive to the throne. Susan had met the princess, during a formal visit to the Luna Academy, but she couldn’t say she knew the lady, while too many of her schoolmates could. She sighed, remembering old pains, and then pushed them away firmly. Far too many of her former schoolmates had died in the war.

“I’ve arranged for the entire school to be present during your speech,” Mrs Blackthorn prattled, distracting Susan from her thoughts. “And then I thought you might want to have a more informal chat with some of the older students, the ones contemplating a naval career in the next couple of years. You can have that in one of the meeting rooms, Susan, and I will have tea and cakes sent in.”

“Thank you,” Susan said, tightly. It hadn’t been her idea to attend. Someone at the Admiralty had noted that she was not only a former student, but on leave and … requested … that she give up a day to visit her alma mater and address the students on the wonders of a naval career. “I’ll do my best to answer their questions.”

Mrs Blackthorn nodded and led her though another wooden door and down a long corridor towards the Great Hall. Unless something had changed since her time, Susan recalled, students weren’t permitted in the staff corridor unless they were escorted by a tutor or given a disciplinary slip. Being caught in the corridor – or in the wrong tower – would get a student in hot water, but that hadn’t stopped the more daring students trying to run through the corridor without being caught. She’d done it herself a few times before she’d found more interesting ways to get in trouble.

And there would have been no thrill if it wasn’t forbidden, she thought, ruefully. Did I really believe that it was daring to run down a corridor?

Susan smiled at the thought, then pasted a fixed smile on her face as Mrs Blackthorn led her through the doors and into a sideroom. She checked her appearance in the mirror as the headmistress hastily consulted with two of her tutors, then sat down to wait. It was nearly twenty minutes before she heard Mrs Blackthorn introducing her to the students, detailing her career in glowing terms. She made it sound as if naval commander meant Susan was in charge of the entire navy!

At least she didn’t have the students waiting all morning, she told herself. It had happened, more than once, when she’d been a student. The early relief at skipping classes had rapidly been replaced by boredom. She’d managed to land herself in hot water, the second time, by smuggling a book into the room. I guess I’m not that important.

She braced herself as Mrs Blackthorn’s speech came to an end, waited for her cue and then strode up onto the stage. A ripple of applause greeted her as she took the podium and peered down at the students. They all looked so young, wearing the red blazers, white shirts and black skirts or trousers that she recalled from her own schooling. Boys and girls were firmly segregated, even outside the Great Hall; they attended different classes, ate at different times and slept in separate towers. Finding a few minutes alone with a potential boyfriend had always been a challenge.

But it was worth it, she thought, as her gaze swept the room. It was definitely worth it.

“Good morning,” she said. She was tempted to make a comment about never giving a speech to an unwilling audience in her life – and then asking if anyone wanted to leave – but she knew it would only get back to the Admiralty. Mrs Blackthorn would bitch to one of the Old Boys and her career would go into the flusher. “I am Commander Susan Onarina, former tactical officer on HMS Cornwall and currently in line for Executive Officer of HMS Edinburgh. Mrs Blackthorn” – she nodded towards the headmistress – “has asked me to tell you about a naval career.”

She paused, studying the room. Most of the faces looking back at her, scrubbed clean of make-up or anything that might give their faces a little individuality, were unquestionably white, but here and there were a handful of darker faces, girls and boys descended from immigrants like her father. The Troubles had a great deal to answer for, she knew; being a young woman without connections at the naval academy would have been quite hard enough without her fellow cadets eying her suspiciously. Her father had worked hard to be more British than the British and even he had never quite been accepted. She had never known true acceptance until she’d passed the Middy Test.

“Apparently, there’s a great deal of wondrous things I am meant to tell you about the navy,” she continued, “and some of them are even true. You will see sights that no ground-pounder will ever see, if you join the navy, and you will get the chance to be part of something far greater than yourself. I have never regretted joining the navy and I never will. But I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you. The navy can also be the hardest, the most dangerous, career in the galaxy.

“Space is unforgiving. One single mistake, just one, born of tiredness or ignorance, can get you killed. Two of my fellow cadets, in the first year at the academy, were killed, one through carelessness, one through a mistake on the part of another cadet. Space doesn’t care about the colour of your skin” – she held her dark palm up for them to see – “or about your connections. The cold equations rule. If you miss with space, space will kill you.

“If you wish to become an officer, you have to endure four years in the academy, in sleeping compartments which make sixth-year bedrooms look tiny. And then you will have two to three years as a midshipman, sleeping in even smaller compartments. You will spend half your time as grimy and smelly, if not worse, as you were after completing a ten-mile hike around the countryside. And then, after you hopefully learn the right lessons, you will be promoted to lieutenant and your career will begin in earnest.

“If you wish to become a starfighter pilot, you will only have a single year of training before you get your fancy uniform and an assignment to a fleet carrier. But you’ll also have a far greater chance of being killed, if we have to go back to war. A starfighter pilot has a one in three chance of dying during his first skirmish with the enemy. And very few starfighter pilots, even if they survive, can build a career in the navy. My first commanding officer was one of the few – the very few – who did.

“If you wish to become a crewman …”

Susan paused. “I doubt that most of you do want to become a crewman, but they are the mainstay of the fleet. It is the crew who keep the ship going, not the officers, no matter how much gold braid they have on their uniforms. And a crewman is often in the best position to make a spacefaring career after they leave the navy. They’re the ones who master the technical skills merchant ships need.

“Life in the navy isn’t all fun and games. Forget the movies, particularly the trio starring Stellar Star; life in the navy is hard, dirty and the penalties for mistakes terrifyingly high. But it’s worth it. You may be among the first to meet a brand new alien race or you may fight to defend Earth or Britannia if another war breaks out. Thank you for your time.”

She saluted the students, then turned and marched off the stage as they began to clap, much louder this time. Mrs Blackthorn shot her a dirty look as she walked back into the sideroom, either out of irritation at how Susan had told the truth or simple annoyance that Susan hadn’t blathered on and on for at least an hour, like most of the other guests she’d been forced to listen to as a student. Now the students would have to be given a free period or sent back to class …

Mrs Blackthorn entered the sideroom and closed the door, firmly. “A bit blunt, weren’t you?”

“They can download all the sweet-talking recruitment blather from the datanet, if they wish,” Susan said, reminding herself that she was no longer a student and Mrs Blackthorn couldn’t give her detention any longer. “I told them the truth.”

“Some of them will give up on the thought of a naval career,” Mrs Blackthorn said, sharply.

“Good,” Susan said. “A naval life is not for everyone, Headmistress. We simply don’t have the time, at the academy, to root out those who simply do not belong before they make a mistake and kill themselves. The natural arrogance of the aristocracy has no place in space.”

She remembered the young girls and boys looking up at her and shuddered, inwardly. The school’s uniform policy ensured that there were no differences, on the surface, but the rich and well-connected kids had always had an advantage. Students like Susan had worked hard, knowing that some of their fellow students would always be elevated above their heads, even if their grades were pathetic. She knew she was lucky not to give in to bitterness … and that others hadn’t been so lucky. One of her fellow students had deserted his country in the years following the war.

“Be that as it may,” Mrs Blackthorn said, “you are still required to talk to students who are interested in a naval career. If you will follow me …?”

Susan shrugged and followed the older woman through another maze of corridors and into a comfortable sitting room. There were seventeen students waiting for her, all in their final two years if the markings on their blazers were accurate. She would have been surprised to encounter any younger pupils, even though they might well be interested. The upper years guarded career meetings with as much determination as aristocrats defended their clubs from the hoi polloi. Any younger student would probably be given a clip around his ear and told to piss off.

“Thank you for coming,” she said, as she took a seat. “If you have any questions, I am at your disposal for the rest of the morning.”

She waited, patiently, as a grim-faced teenage girl wearing a maid’s uniform served tea and cakes, passing out scones and jam with an unmistakable lack of enthusiasm. She was probably on detention, Susan guessed; Mrs Blackthorn had a nasty sense of humour when it came to handing out detentions and making an aristocratic brat serve the tea was precisely what she’d do. Luckily for her, the headmistress’s looming presence kept the students from mocking her or creating a mess for the poor girl to clean up.

“My father is the captain of a starship,” one pimple-faced youth said. Judging by his posh accent, he’d been born or raised in London. “He says he can get me onto his ship, if I do well at the academy.”

“That is … unlikely,” Susan told him, bluntly. The Old Boys Network pervaded the navy, much to her frustration, but it had its limits. “You’ll almost certainly never be under your father’s command.”

“But he’s a captain,” the youth whined. “Surely he can get whoever he wants …”

Susan smirked, inwardly. “First, you have to graduate from the academy,” she said. The movies, particularly the one featuring a midshipman with even more pimples than the boy facing her, had a great deal to answer for. “An acting midshipman who doesn’t have an academy record, no matter how clever he is, will not be promoted above that spot – technically, he shouldn’t have it in the first place. Then you are assigned to the ship that needs you, not the ship that wants you. You will only be sent to your father’s ship if he has a valid need that can only be filled by you.”

She shrugged and took a sip of her tea. “But really, would you want to serve on your father’s ship?”

“I have a different question,” one of the girls said. “How do you cope sleeping with the men?”

Susan bit off the comment that came to mind as two of the boys snickered and Mrs Blackthorn’s face narrowed in disapproval. “I assume you mean sharing quarters, instead of sharing bodily fluids,” she said. “You get used to it, really. Frankly, in the academy, you are normally too tired to do anything beyond hitting your bunk and going to sleep. Happiness, as they say, consists of getting enough sleep.”

She smiled, rather coolly. “Trust me on this,” she added. “You’ll have worse problems than spotting a naked man – or being seen naked yourself.”

“But it’s indecent,” the girl protested. “I can’t share a room with boys!”

“Then don’t join the navy,” Susan snapped. She rather doubted the girl really wanted a naval career, but it was quite possible that her family wanted her to serve. “The navy doesn’t change its requirements based on your preferences, I’m afraid. It only changes when there is a solid reason to change.”

Like the Battle of New Russia, she added, silently. She’d been in the academy at the time, but the she’d been just as scared as her tutors when the news sank in. We didn’t just get beaten, we got exterminated.

“I believe that naval officers sometimes write letters of recommendation for prospective cadets,” another boy asked. “How do I get one?”

“You don’t,” Susan said, flatly. “Letters of recommendation can only be written after the officer in question knows you in a professional capacity. You won’t get one unless you are a crewman who wants to become an officer. If your father” – she nodded to the first boy – “wrote one for you, it would get him in deep shit.”

“That isn’t fair,” the boy objected. “They’ll have an advantage …”

Life isn’t fair,” Susan said. “And really, don’t you think a crewman with ten years of experience will look better to the admissions board than an untrained boy?”

She looked up, surprised, as Mrs Blackthorn left the room, then returned, moments later, carrying a datapad, which she held out to Susan. Susan took it and blinked in surprise. It was a recall order, summoning her back to London as soon as possible. Someone had even arranged for her to fly via military jet from the nearest RAF base.

“It seems I have to leave,” she said, rising. Had Mrs Blackthorn already filed a complaint? It was possible, but unlikely. “I’ll hopefully get another chance to speak with you later in the year.”

“Thank you for coming,” Mrs Blackthorn said, once they were outside the building. “But really … did you have to be so blunt?”

“It’s tough out there,” Susan said, as she climbed into her car. “And in space, worse things can happen than writing lines until your hand drops off.”

It’s been one of those weeks.

16 Dec

It’s been one of those weeks.

The worst part, unfortunately, was Eric catching a minor flu (or something) a couple of weeks ago and developing a temperature. We rushed him to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics; he got better, then threw up rather badly on the previous Thursday, which meant another trip to the hospital. He does seem to be on the mend right now, but it was terrifying to hear him cry – I can’t wait until he’s old enough to tell us what’s actually wrong.

The good news, at least, is that I have finished the first draft of The Barbarian Bride, which completes the Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire trilogy. It’s currently due out in early March, but I’ll keep you updated. We may see it earlier.

I’ve also published Wedding Hells (Schooled In Magic 8), finally, and Storm Front. The former took far longer to edit than I expected, but … well, the final product is a great deal stronger for it. The latter is an alternate history novel, book one of a trilogy following a civil war in the Third Reich. You can read more about it in this interview.

My current plan, after running a poll on my Facebook Fan Page, is to write Vanguard next, followed by Sons of Liberty (The Royal Sorceress IV), They Shall Not Pass (The Empire’s Corps 12), Infinite Regress (Schooled In Magic 9). I hope to have a contract to write Unlucky (Angel In The Whirlwind III), but we don’t have any solid news on that at the moment.

[As of writing, my provisional titles for the series are Unlucky, The Highland Fling, The Hammer of God, The Legacy of War + 3 more yet to be determined.]

There have been some odd developments with Facebook recently – I haven’t been able to see, directly, both of my last two promotional posts. Others have seen them (I can see their replies) but the posts themselves are inaccessible. Clearly, not all of the posts are shown to the viewers. If you want updates, please join my blog or mailing list. The latter is only used for new releases.

In other news, Eric’s birthday is on the 23rd, so I’ll be taking that day off.


UP NOW – Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I)

12 Dec

A terrifying novel of an alternate reality that might have been ours …

In 1941, Adolf Hitler didn’t declare war on the United States. Now, in 1985, the Third Reich stretching from the coast of France to the icy wastes of Eastern Russia, appears supremely powerful. With a powerful force of nuclear warheads and the finest military machine on Earth, there is no hope for freedom for the billions who groan under its rule. Adolf Hitler’s mad dreams have come to pass.

And yet, all is not well in the Reich. The cold war with the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance is destroying the Reich’s economy, while a savage insurgency in South Africa – a war the Reich cannot win and dares not lose – is sapping its military strength. And, while the Reich Council struggles to find a way to save the Reich from its own weaknesses, a young German girl makes a discovery that will shake the Reich to its core.

But the Reich Council will not go quietly into the night …

[Like my other self-published Kindle books, Storm Front is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose. Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase the EBook from HERE!]

Simple Answers

9 Dec

So … yet another article (from July) popped up in my Facebook today (ok, you may now all groan at leisure.) This one suggested, not to put too fine a point on it, that Donald Trump’s surge was based on ‘less-educated Americans,’ with Trump’s support coming from those in direct competition with illegal immigrants for jobs. American doctors, for example, don’t compete with immigrants, but McDonalds workers do. This isn’t actually a bad point, but I think there’s another aspect to it that has gone unremarked.

Now, I’m going to start by talking about three different social classes. Social class itself, despite what certain people tell you, is surprisingly fluid – and it is nowhere near as simple as the ‘right-left’ or ‘high-middle-low’ structure. A person can easily belong to one or more social classes or move between them during the course of his life. The specific classes I intend to talk about are the ‘Hard-Educated,’ the ‘Soft-Educated’ and the ‘Working Poor.’

-The Hard-Educated generally go to university/college to study the hard sciences, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects, or medicine and its related subjects. What these all have in common is that they’re based on hard science. If you want to design a bridge, for example, your load-bearing calculations must be exact and based on objective reasoning. Trying to guess is not allowed. Hard-Educated tend to be aware of the limits of their own knowledge.

-The Soft-Educated generally go to university/college to study the soft-sciences; economics, social sciences (women’s studies, black studies, etc) and other related categories. These subjects are largely based on subjective reasoning, to the point that there may be a number of correct answers and the ‘right’ one is whatever the tutor happens to think it is. (Jerry Pournelle called these the Voodoo Sciences and he’s right.) Soft-Educated are rarely aware of the limits of their own knowledge; indeed, they have a nasty habit of mistaking expertise in one area for expertise in another.

[I separated hard-educated from soft-educated because the latter is what, I believe, the article meant.]

-The Working Poor consist of low-income households, rarely earning more than £1500 a month if they’re lucky. The parents may hold down two low-paying jobs, working from 7am to 8pm to provide for their children. They probably have a mortgage; they certainly have debts they need to service. There’s no chance of improving their lot because they’re already working themselves to death. They’re proud; they don’t like the thought of claiming benefits, or humiliating themselves in front of those jerks at the Job Centre, but they have no choice. The merest stroke of bad luck can prove disastrous. (For example, they may need a car to get from one job to another, but losing the car could cost them one of their jobs.) This article should give you an idea of what life can be like at the lower end of the scale.

All right, you may ask. What do these three social classes have to do with Donald Trump?

As a writer, I do my best to be a keen observer of human nature. One think I’ve noticed about the Soft-Educated is that they are far too intellectual for their own good. Their experience of the real world is often very limited. Therefore, they have a nasty tendency to come up with excuses for evil, provided ‘evil’ fits neatly into their preconceived worldview. They argue that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was justified because the attackers were ‘punching up,’ while the attack on the American Embassy in Libya was justified because of an anti-Islam video from America. This leads to all kinds of irrational behaviour, including strange alliances between feminists, homosexuals and radical Islamists, even though they should be natural enemies.

This happens, at least in part, because of the lack of objectivity in the social sciences. It’s easy to say that all the problems of the world are caused by rich white men, at least partly because rich white men don’t have a habit of shooting up newspapers when they’re insulted. There is, for example, no suggestion that the problems facing the black community in America are at least partly of its own making, or that the problems facing the Middle East owe their origins to religious strife rather than outside interference. Indeed, debating with a soft-educated student requires you to start by accepting their worldview. Or, in other words, to surrender before the debate even begins. (And then the debate itself consists of you being buried in buzzwords, rather than hard facts.)

The soft-educated dismiss the idea of simple answers. Everything is to be as complex as possible. A criminal is not evil, he’s the victim of forces beyond his control. Given enough time, and a complete lack of objective thinking, you can rationalise almost anything. Therefore, a student may genuinely believe that he or she is doing the right thing by shutting down free speech on campus, even though this is an absurd concept. The soft-educated are isolated from reality.

[As an aside, the soft-educated do see a simple answer, but only for when they are criticised. Anyone who disagrees with them is a racist, bigot, idiot, etc.]

This is not true, of course, of the working poor.

The principle difference between the working poor and the soft-educated is that the working poor are not isolated from reality. They cannot, for example, defer their debts endlessly. Nor can they find the time to get more qualifications when they have to work hard just to keep their heads above water. They are the ones who suffer when the minimum wage is raised because they’re the most easily replaceable in the workplace. Their jobs, at worst, can be handled by automated systems.

They tend to be conservative. Not Conservative (in the sense they’re members of the Tory Party, or Republicans in the US), but conservative. They are tough on crime because they’re its principle victims. There are no gated communities for the working poor. They are the ones who support harsh sentencing because it gets criminals off the streets (otherwise the criminals come back after they’ve completed their sentences, assuming they even do, and take revenge.) And they’re the victims of over-educated morons who believe that criminals are nice people who just need some love. The working poor know very well that criminals are bad people.

The working poor have no time for complex answers. Have you ever tried to tell your bank manager that the reason you missed your mortgage repayment date was because someone didn’t pay you last week, or because of economic factors beyond your control? Try – you’ll be laughed out of the office and your home will be repossessed. The working poor understand that there is nothing to be gained from deluding oneself. Four pounds does not magically become five pounds no matter how desperately you need it to be so.

And yet, they crave stability and certainty in their lives. They are at the bottom of the heap, or believe themselves to be at the bottom of the heap; they need, desperately, to understand the rules because their lives won’t survive a brush with the wrong side of the law. They understand, at a very basic level, that the world is not fair and it is rarely (if ever) unfair in their favour. The idea that there are different rules for different people is anthemia to them.

Because of all this, they want simple answers – they need simple answers. They feel themselves to be in competition with immigrants (and they are, as the article says) so they are strongly against immigration. They feel themselves to be threatened by crime, so they are strongly in favour of tougher sentences for serious criminals. They feel helpless against faceless government bureaucrats, so they are in favour of reducing the power of unelected officials.

And they want to be taken seriously.

The soft-educated do not take them seriously. Their basic picture of the working poor is, at best, Homer Simpson. A stupid buffoon who would be better off dead, someone who can be led by his betters. Guess who they think the betters to be? Whenever you hear someone talking about the need for a revolutionary vanguard to direct the uprising, they mean they see themselves in the leadership role. And, because they have a low opinion of the working poor, they don’t hesitate to smear anyone who steps out of line.

Accordingly, they are attacked mercilessly when they do. If someone raises a concern about immigrants, or non-white populations, they are accused of being racists. If someone asks why mosques connected to terrorism cannot be shut down, they are accused of being racists. And so on, and so on. The concept that there might be real reasons to worry, particularly if someone is already on the edge, is beyond the soft-educated. They already think they know the answers.

The working poor sees the soft-educated as having long since lost its collective mind. A man cannot turn into a woman (or vice versa), yet the soft-educated insist that everyone has to buy into something the working poor must see as a delusion. The soft-educated believes that Black Lives Matter is composed of heroes, valiantly fighting the scourge of racism; the working poor wonders why racism can only work one way, why intimidation, violence and property damage is a cause for celebration instead of mass arrests. The soft-educated believes that immigration is good for America; the working poor sees it as a deadly threat. The soft-educated change when the political winds shift; the working poor want the rules to be clearly defined and as un-intrusive as possible. The soft-educated believe they have a right to offer unwanted solutions to the problems of the world, the working poor wish the soft-educated would leave them alone.

But the problem is actually worse than an increasingly nasty war between the soft-educated elites and everyone else. The working poor believes, with reason, that the political class has lost its grip on reality, thus its credibility. Barrack Obama’s attempts to classify the Fort Hood shooting as workplace violence (and his pathetic response to the more recent atrocity), to say nothing of his willingness to play racial politics and spread disharmony, has cost him all of his credibility. Hilary Clinton’s increasingly desperate attempts to evade punishment for something that has cost many good careers, in the past, has cost her all of her credibility. Bernie Sanders, a socialist, has lost his credibility because the victims of socialism are the poor. Jeb Bush has no credibility because he has no identity outside his family. The political class, as a whole, simply has no credibility left.

Trump is successful for the very simple reason he is appealing to a social class that considers itself to be largely marginalised by changes over the last three decades, a social class that no longer believes the politicians in Washington mean well. Furthermore, he does not cower before the fury of the PC police, unlike so many other Republicans. The Republican Party is unable to provide a counter to Trump, or a more reasonable alternative, because it’s leadership is more interested in playing the political game in Washington than attending to the needs of its constituents.

But I doubt the Republican elite can find such a candidate. There is a strong difference between being uneducated and being stupid. The working poor are perfectly capable of seeing their true enemies and voting accordingly. It is the elites, I think, that have forgotten the difference between education and reality.

The Cry Wolf Syndrome

6 Dec

Back when I was working at the library, we had one of those days when something went wrong with the fire alarm and it went off four times during my shift (and more, apparently, later in the day.)

The first time the alarm went off, we did our job and hurried the students out of their desks, down the stairwells and out of the library, where we waited in the cold for nearly half an hour before the staff confirmed that there was a glitch and the alarm had gone off by accident. So we went back into the building and got back to work …

For twenty minutes. At that point, the alarm went off again.

Well, we were a little torn, but we knew better than to ignore it. So we chased everyone out again … blah, blah, blah … for ten minutes, whereupon we were told to go back into the building once again. And then – you’ve guessed it – the alarm went off twice more and we finished our shift having managed to get next to nothing done.

What happened, which should have surprised no one, was how grumpy the students became as we shooed them out of the building. It was the run-up to exam season, after all, and there just weren’t enough copies of the latest books. People were taking the textbooks and hiding them behind the stacks, for heaven’s sake. By the time the alarm went off for the third and fourth time, the students were actively arguing with us, insisting that it was yet another glitch and they didn’t have to leave the building. I shudder to think what would have happened if the fourth alarm had been a real fire.

That, in short, is the ‘Cry Wolf’ Syndrome, where endless false alarms keep people from paying attention to a real alarm.

As you know, I posted an article on the media and Donald Trump on Thursday. It got some interesting feedback, ranging from agreement to suggestions that Obama wasn’t actually the worst President since Buchannan. But it also raised suggestions that Trump genuinely is a fascist.

Ok, let’s assume, purely for the sake of argument, that Donald Trump really is a fascist, a Hitler-in-the-making who intends to enslave the United States and throw the rest of the world into the fire, etc, etc. Except … who’s going to believe it?

The problem with the MSM today is that it takes sides (and yes, I include FOX in this as well as CNN). When it has a favoured candidate (Obama, for example) the media will cheerfully refuse to print anything that doesn’t suit their favoured narrative, while pouring all sorts of scorn on his opponents. People are used to seeing Republican Candidate X (or Y, or Z) hammered for being a [insert something which is a sin in the eyes of the elites] on very flimsy evidence. And they wonder, quite reasonably, why a tiny mistake should lead to the destruction of a promising political career.

(As a side note, the praise and adulation poured on Obama, before he’d done anything to earn it, clearly went to his head.)

The point is simple. There’s only so many times you can hear someone crying wolf before you decide it’s just another false alarm. The MSM has simply proven itself, time and time again, to be untrustworthy. Why should anyone listen to suggestions that Trump is a fascist when the media throws a hissy fit at the slightest opportunity?

The morale of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ is that, eventually, you run into a real wolf … and no one believes you. It’s a morale the MSM would do well to keep in mind.

OUT NOW – WEDDING HELLS (Schooled In Magic 8)

5 Dec

After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.

But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy.

And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…

…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years.

Download a free sample, then purchase the complete book from the links on THIS PAGE!  And, as always, reviews are very welcome.