Archive | March, 2016

Eastercon Books

20 Mar

Hi, everyone

There’s been a major hitch in my plans for EASTERCON, Manchester.

Basically, ELSEWHEN PRESS normally sells a handful of my non-ELSEWHEN books at their stall, as well as the books I have published through them. Unfortunately, for various reasons, ELSEWHEN has pulled out of the Dealer’s Room, making it impossible for me to bring a handful of books on spec.

If you are going to EASTERCON – I know some people here were planning to go – and you want to purchase one or more of my books, please let me know by Tuesday and I can bring them with me.

Sorry for the short notice. I only found out myself yesterday.

Chris

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Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

13 Mar

-NK Jemsin

WARNING – Spoilers

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a tricky book to review.

Like Sorcerer To The Crown, which I reviewed earlier, I first heard of it being mentioned by the social justice crowd, which was a little off-putting. My opinion of social justice is not high; it overrides real justice by focusing on groups, rather than individuals. But as Sorcerer To The Crown was a better book than I expected, I decided I’d give The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a try. Overall, I rate it 3.5/5.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms follows the adventures of Yeine Darr, the daughter of a woman who ran away from her aristocratic roots to marry a barbarian man from a barbarian tribe. After her mother’s death, Yeine is summoned to Sky – the home of her Grandfather, who is effectively the ruler of the world – and declared his heiress. Or, rather, one of three potential heirs. As may be expected, Yeine is promptly drawn into a maelstrom of family secrets that may save her – or damn her forever.

The secret of Sky – the power that makes its ruler the ruler of the world – lies in a number of captive gods. These gods, the losers of a war fought in heaven, were bound to human service, making them both powerful weapons and jackass genies. (They have to do what they’re told by their masters, but they are perfectly capable of interpreting a careless command to suit themselves.) Using the gods, Sky has become the master of the world and one of the most hideously corrupt governments in history or fiction. Everyone in Sky is part of the family, but those who are pure-blooded are more important than those who aren’t. This should probably have tipped Yeine off, right from the start, that her promotion to heiress comes with a nasty sting in the tail.

At its core, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a story of two families; a human family and a god family. Yeine finds herself digging up the secrets of both as she struggles to make sense of her new surroundings, then discovering how she fits into a scheme that goes back millennia. It’s a tangled backstory that doesn’t quite make sense – Yeine, the narrator, is keen to point out that she’s explaining things in human terms – but it holds together reasonably well. Both families are reflections of one another, each influencing the other. There’s a great deal of very good world-building within the story.

And Yeine herself is a very likeable character. The conflict between the two sides of her nature – the highborn aristocrat and barbarian warrior woman – is very clear. She’s a child of both worlds and belongs in neither, which gives her insights that are not shared by either. On one hand, she understands the burdens of power; on the other, she understands the frustrations felt by those who are more capable, yet pushed down by people with better breeding. This is hardly a unique insight, but it stands out here.

At the same time, Yeine actually has very little agency. She is strong and determined, but she only makes one real decision in the whole book. It’s probably the best choice she can make, under the circumstances, but it is still odd. Honor Harrington has much more agency than Yeine ever shows in her first five books.

That said, there are several points that should be addressed.

Yeine does show, at several points, what I would call moral myopia. On one hand, she’s horrified at the treatment meted out to everyone who isn’t on top of the social order; on the other, she doesn’t seem to be aware of how barbaric the other side of her family is, with crimes ranging to an innition rite that boils down to ‘rape or be raped’ to a nasty habit of stealing men from other tribes and forcibly bringing them into the tribe. This may be deliberate, but it’s odd that it doesn’t get lamp-shaded in the text. (But it does get acknowledged on the author’s blog, so it’s probably just a case of unreliable narrator.)

Her main opponent, her cousin, is also stupid. This, again, may be deliberate – she’s pretty much the archetypical spoiled rotten bratty princess – but it’s irritating. It never seems to occur to her that Yeine can throw the succession to her rival, even though (or especially because) her rival is a drugged-up broken man. Would it not have been better to make a deal rather than engaging in pointless spite and puppy-kicking? (I was expecting the rival to reveal himself as a faker, but he didn’t – Jemsin surprised me there.)

Finally, the romantic aspect of Yeine’s relationship with the gods is quite annoying. On one hand, it has airs of forbidden or grossly unwise love; on the other, the book includes a number of scenes of divine lovemaking that are awkward to read. (This book is probably not suitable for anyone under 16.) Yeine even admits, at least to herself, that her mortal lover cannot compete with a god. Sexual betrayal is one of the themes driving the whole backstory, along with many other points.

Overall, there’s a lot to like in this book. The conclusion wasn’t exactly a surprise – I saw where it was going a long time ago – but it seems to work fairly well, following the book’s logic.

I’ll keep an eye out for the sequel.

SNIPPET – Infinite Regress (Schooled In Magic 9)

10 Mar

Prologue

“I want her gone!”

Lady Barb sighed. She’d had a feeling what the staff meeting was about, two days after Grandmaster Gordian had been formally invested with the robes and power of the Grandmaster, but she’d hoped she’d been wrong. The death of the previous Grandmaster – and Master Grey – had rattled more than a few cages in the White City. Far too many powerful people wondered just what sort of monster Void had introduced to Whitehall.

But Emily isn’t a monster, she told herself, as her eyes swept the room, silently gauging how much support she might expect from the senior tutors. She’s … she’s a very flawed person, but a great one. And Gordian …

Grandmaster Gordian dominated the room. He was a tall, powerfully-built man, with long dark hair drawn back in a ponytail. His face seemed somehow ageless, yet lined enough to make it clear he was no longer young; his dark eyes seemed to flicker backwards and forward as they moved from face to face. As the new Grandmaster, a word from him would be quite enough to end the careers of anyone in the room. Lady Barb doubted that many would dare to challenge him openly. But she had no choice.

She took a breath and leaned forward, drawing his attention. “You have no grounds to expel her,” she said, flatly. It was unwise to challenge a senior magician in his place of power, but she wasn’t planning to remain at Whitehall anyway. “She could challenge your decision in front of the council.”

Gordian stared back at her, evenly. “No grounds?”

He forced himself to calm his voice, then went on. “In her first year, the school is invaded by a necromancer,” he snapped. “A number of students are killed …”

“Before she killed the necromancer,” Lady Barb said. She wasn’t sure how Emily had managed to kill Shadye, but she had. “You cannot blame her for the invasion.”

“In her second year, the school is infested with a Mimic,” Gordian continued. “That … creature … would not have escaped, were it not for her!”

“You cannot blame her for that either,” Lady Barb said.

“She also conducted experiments that could have proven disastrous, if unchecked,” Gordian snapped. “She should have been expelled for those alone.”

He tapped the table, sharply. “In her third year, she goes to Mountaintop and leaves the school in ruins,” he added. “And in her fourth year, she kills a tutor!”

“Who manipulated her into issuing something that sounded like a challenge,” Lady Barb pointed out, curtly. It was true, but it wasn’t the version of the story everyone believed. “I don’t think you can blame her for that either.”

“She should have been expelled for her actions in Second Year,” Gordian insisted. “And all of that does not include the results of her conduct outside the school. The Ashworths and Ashfalls nearly went to battle because of her.”

Lady Barb pressed her fingertips together, a mannerism she knew had always irritated her father. “Grandmaster Hasdrubal was the one charged with determining her punishment for her actions,” she said. “He chose not to expel her. You do not have the legal right to retroactively overrule your predecessor and expel her from Whitehall.”

“I am the Grandmaster,” Gordian snapped. “I do have that authority.”

Lady Barb forced herself to meet his eyes. “If you expel her – a very big if – she will have no trouble finding a place at Mountaintop, Stronghold or Laughter,” she said. “They will be delighted to offer her a place.”

“Laughter is very exclusive,” Gordian pointed out.

“The core requirements are breasts and a vagina,” Lady Barb said, knowing the crudeness would irritate him still further. “And I assure you that Emily qualifies on both counts. Her marks in the exams were high and would have been higher still, Grandmaster, if she’d had more time to prepare. She will have no difficulty gaining admittance to any of the other schools.”

“Then let her go,” Gordian insisted. “They can have her.”

“That would be dishonourable,” Sergeant Miles stated. “She saved the school, Grandmaster; three times, by my count. We are indebted to her.”

“After plunging it into danger,” Gordian snapped.

Lady Barb leaned forward, calmly. “There is another problem,” she said. “She may be apprenticed to her … to her father. A girl with such remarkable talent, trained by a Lone Power of his reputation … the potential for disaster is staggeringly high.”

“There are any number of prospective sorcerers who would sell their souls to train under a Lone Power,” Gordian said. But he sounded a little uncertain for the first time since the meeting had begun. “Let her father take her, if he wishes.”

He doesn’t know, Lady Barb noted. Emily’s true origins had leaked in Zangaria, but they hadn’t leaked very far. He believes the cover story.

“I submit to you that allowing Void to take her would not be optimal,” Lady Barb said, gently. “Right now, she has friends at Whitehall and tutors she respects. There is time to shape her, to help guide her down a path that will keep her from becoming a danger to the Allied Lands. Letting her go will cost us that opportunity, once and for all. The very best we could hope for is that she would allow herself to be guided by other tutors in other schools.”

“And that would reflect badly on Whitehall,” Professor Locke stated.

“Merely expelling her for daring to save us would be bad enough,” Sergeant Miles added.

Gordian scowled. “There is no guarantee that a Child of Destiny will be favourable to us,” he pointed out. “Destiny may have his own plans.”

“Keeping her here is the best chance we have of ensuring that we can ride the rapids of change,” Lady Barb said. The prospect of Emily being apprenticed to Void was not to be borne. Void was dangerously unpredictable at the best of times. “We should not consider expelling her.”

“She is dangerous,” Gordian said.

“Not intentionally,” Lady Barb said.

“She is not a malicious student,” Mistress Kirdáne said. “I have never caught her playing tricks on the younglings, or being cruel to dumb animals.”

“One does not need malice to be dangerous,” Gordian said. “Letting her return to Whitehall goes against my better judgement.”

Lady Barb smiled, inwardly. She’d won.

“Allow me to propose a compromise,” she said, pressing her advantage. “You take her back as a probationary student.”

“That would mean she wouldn’t be taking the oaths,” Gordian said.

“But it would also mean you could expel her if things went wrong,” Lady Barb reminded him. Gordian wouldn’t want Emily to take the oaths, not when they were binding on the staff as well as the students. “Apprentice her to Sergeant Miles. She’ll need additional training in martial magic …”

“Out of the question,” Gordian snapped. “She knows quite enough dangerous magic already.”

And she’s quite capable of inventing her own, Lady Barb thought. She’d given a great deal of thought to taking Emily on herself, even though it would have meant staying at Whitehall for another two years. What will Emily do without proper supervision?

“Then let her work with me,” Professor Locke said.

“You already have one probationary student working under you,” Gordian said.

“I can use two,” Professor Locke insisted. He shot Gordian a look that Lady Barn found impossible to interpret. “My new … project … could use an additional pair of hands.”

“It could,” Gordian agreed. “And it would keep her out of trouble.”

Lady Barb scowled. “Emily is not short of enemies,” she said, flatly. “She needs training in protecting herself.”

“I rather doubt that will be a problem,” Gordian said. “She killed a combat sorcerer!”

“That doesn’t make her invulnerable,” Lady Barb snapped.

Gordian held up his hand. “My mind is made up,” he said. “I will summon Lady Emily to Whitehall and speak with her personally. If she’s willing to be a probationary student until I see fit to lift her probation, she may return for her fifth year. Professor Locke will ensure she is kept out of trouble. If not … she can transfer to another school. Whitehall has stood for a thousand years …”

“More like eight hundred,” Professor Locke said. “Although, to be fair, we have no idea when the castle was actually built.”

Gordian silenced him with a glare. “Whitehall has stood for over a thousand years without her and it will stand for a thousand more, with or without her,” he said. “One student, no matter how interesting she is, cannot be allowed to put every other student at risk.”

He rose to his feet. “Lady Barb, you may inform her of our decision,” he added. “And we will hold your exit interview after I have spoken to her.”

It was a dismissal, Lady Barb knew. A rude one, against all the etiquette that had been drilled into her when she’d been declared her father’s heir. And yet, a dismissal none the less. She thinned her lips as she rose, nodding in curt understanding. She’d have a long chat with Emily before taking her back to Whitehall. If nothing else, she had to be warned that the new Grandmaster wasn’t her friend …

She shook her head, irritated. It was going to be a far from easy year.

Poor Emily, she thought. May the gods help her.

Chapter One

Whitehall felt … different.

Emily could feel the chance as soon as she stepped through the main doors, leaving Lady Barb and Frieda behind in the Courtyard. The wards were different, no longer echoing with the personality of their former master. She felt a pang, deep in her heart, as she recalled the old Grandmaster, a man she’d loved and admired in equal measure. He’d given his life to save hers, back when the demon had infected the school. And he’d had enough faith in her to believe she’d survive the duel after his death.

He didn’t deserve to die, she thought.

She braced herself, then walked slowly up the stairs towards the Grandmaster’s office, her footsteps echoing in the empty hall. Lady Barb had offered to teleport Emily and Frieda to Whitehall, but Emily had insisted on hiring a carriage, even though it took longer. She’d needed time to think about what Lady Barb had said, when she’d come to fetch her. But now there was no more time to think. The wards grew stronger as she reached the top of the stairwell and walked down the long corridor, glancing from left to right as she realised that the portraits hanging from the walls had been changed. She didn’t recognise any of the figures looking back at her with disapproving expressions.

At least they took down the picture of me, she thought, wryly. She’d never liked that painting, although she did have to admit that anyone who used it to look for her was going to be disappointed. She’d never been that beautiful – or muscular – in her life. But is that actually a bad sign?

A large portrait of the former Grandmaster hung at the end of the corridor, by the door to the Grandmaster’s office. Emily paused to study it, silently admiring the artist’s talent. The Grandmaster stood in the midst of a crowd of hooded inhuman creatures, holding his staff in one hand and a book in the other; it was hard to tell, somehow, if he was fighting the creatures or directing them. She smiled in sudden amusement as she realised the artist had never seen the Grandmaster in person. His eyes had been drawn in shadow, instead of covered with a blindfold. She still shuddered when she thought of the Grandmaster’s missing eyes.

Former Grandmaster, she reminded herself, sharply. The man she’d come to see would not be pleased, Lady Barb had warned, if she treated him as a temporary Grandmaster. He holds the post now.

She braced herself, then cast a reflection spell and checked her appearance. Lady Barb had advised her to wear sorcerer’s black, a long dark robe that obscured her curves and made her look studious. It contrasted oddly with her pale skin, brown hair and dark eyes, she considered, yet it was probably better than wearing trousers or a dress. She’d considered wearing school robes, but that would have seemed presumptuous. Grandmaster Gordian didn’t want her here. The thought caused her another pang as she raised her hand and tapped once on the door, feeling a ward shimmering in response to her touch. Whitehall was the first true home she’d had, even before she’d come to the Nameless World. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving.

You’ll have to leave at the end of Sixth Year anyway, she reminded herself, as the door swung open. They won’t let you stay on as a teaching assistant until you have far more experience.

The Grandmaster – the former Grandmaster – had allowed visitors to step directly into his office, but Grandmaster Gordian clearly felt differently. Emily stepped through the door into a waiting room, dominated by a horse-faced woman wearing red robes and sitting in front of a wooden desk. The former Grandmaster hadn’t had a secretary either, Emily thought. She couldn’t help wondering if that was a bad sign.

She stopped in front of the desk, resisting the urge to curtsey. On one hand, it would be a sign of respect; on the other, the secretary might think she was being mocked. There was no way to know just how close she was to her boss, but she wouldn’t have the post unless her master trusted her completely. Or had bound her to him with unbreakable oaths. Emily shuddered inwardly at the thought, then forced herself to meet the older woman’s dark eyes.

“Lady Emily,” she said. Her voice was very cold. “Be seated. The Grandmaster will see you as soon as possible.”

Emily turned and saw the bench, placed neatly against the wall. She felt a flicker of irritation as she walked over to the bench and sat down, understanding that the Grandmaster was playing games. Alassa – and her father – had taught her more about such power plays than she’d ever wanted to know. By making her wait, he was making it clear that she was coming as a supplicant, putting her firmly in her place. She was tempted to pull a book out of her bag – either one of her textbooks or a novel Frieda had recommended to her – but she forcibly resisted the temptation. There was nothing to be gained by antagonising the secretary or her master. Instead, she toyed with the snake-bracelet and ran through some of the mental disciplines Lady Barb had hammered into her head. She needed to be calm when she faced the Grandmaster.

It was nearly ten minutes, by her reckoning, when a low chime echoed through the air. The secretary glanced upwards, her lips moving silently, then turned her head until she was looking directly at Emily. Emily resisted the urge to shrink backwards under the older woman’s gaze and merely looked back, neither resisting nor bending. There was a long moment of silence, then the secretary nodded curtly.

“You may enter,” she said, flatly.

Emily rose and paced through the door, clasping her hands behind her back as she entered the office. It had changed too, she discovered; the office was bare, save for a large wooden desk and a chair. A single scroll rested on the desk, but otherwise it was empty. The bookshelves and paintings had been removed, leaving the walls completely barren of anything to catch the eye. It served a double purpose, she realised, as the door closed behind her. There was nothing that would tell her anything about the room’s occupant, no hint as to his personality and disposition; there was also nothing that would distract her from him. The man himself, sitting behind the desk, rose to his feet and nodded once to her. There was no attempt to shake hands.

No chair for me, Emily noted, as Gordian sat again. The room felt very cold. And no Kava either.

That, she knew from her etiquette lessons, was a bad sign, a touch of calculated rudeness that made it clear she was far from welcome. A welcome guest would always be offered a drink, which could be politely declined. She pushed the flicker of irritation aside and studied Gordian for a long moment, wondering when the genial man she’d met last year had turned into a cold-hearted bureaucrat. But then, being given responsibility for an entire school had to change a man. And Whitehall was far more than just a school.

Gordian studied her back with equal interest. “Lady Emily,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

I wasn’t aware I had a choice, Emily thought.

She resisted the urge to say it out loud. Lady Barb had warned her to be on her best behaviour, no matter what provocation she faced. The Grandmaster would seize on any excuse to expel her from Whitehall, casting her adrift to an uncertain future. Emily had no idea what she’d do, if she couldn’t return to Whitehall. Go to Mountaintop? Or try Stronghold? Caleb had told her enough horror stories about that school that she knew she didn’t want to go there, unless there was no other choice.

“I do not want you at this school,” Gordian said, bluntly. She’d expected it, but his words still stung badly. “You are a disruptive influence. Whitehall’s existence has been placed in danger, because of you. The Kingdom of Zangaria has been turned upside down, because of you. The Allied Lands themselves have been changed, because of you.”

Emily kept her mouth firmly closed. It was true enough, she supposed, that Whitehall had been in danger because of her, but she hadn’t done any of it deliberately. She’d never even known about magic before Shadye had kidnapped her, let alone just how much power her knowledge – from a far more advanced world – gave her in the Allied Lands. And she had to admit that her changes, her innovations, had had bad effects as well as good. She’d unleashed forces that might never be tamed by the current ruling class.

“You are reckless, headstrong and dangerous,” Gordian continued. His voice was very calm, but she had no difficulty in hearing the underlying anger. “If it was up to me, you would have been expelled back in your second year. You chose to ignore rules devised for your safety and the safety of your fellow students. Grandmaster Hasdrubal should have expelled you on the spot. It set a poor precedent for later disciplinary action. Challenging a tutor to a duel …”

“He manipulated me into challenging him,” Emily said, unable to keep her mouth closed any longer. “If he hadn’t wanted the duel, he could have refused the challenge …”

“Yes, he could have done,” Gordian agreed. He made an odd gesture with his hand; it took her a moment to recognise that he’d conceded her point. “But a student challenging a tutor does set a grim precedent.”

Emily met his eyes. “And a tutor accepting a duel does … what?”

It was hard to keep the bitterness out of her voice, the grim awareness that Master Grey had meant to kill her leaking through. He would have killed her too, if she’d lost. And it would have been perfectly legal. There would have been some consequences for him, she was sure, but he could never have been charged with her murder. As far as the Allied Lands were concerned, an idiotic student would have been killed before she got anyone else in trouble.

Gordian ignored her point. “And then you turn Zangaria upside down,” he said, repeating his earlier point. “Teleporting out of King Randor’s castle, tearing his wards down in the process … what do you think that did to his reputation?”

“You’re the one who told me to divest myself of my holdings in Zangaria,” Emily pointed out. Hindsight told her she’d been wrong; hindsight told her that King Randor hadn’t intended to order her to unleash a holocaust on countless rebels and everyone else caught up in the blast radius. But by then it had been far too late. “He thought he could use me to his own ends.”

“I’m afraid you will find that’s true of almost everyone,” Gordian said. “And you have not – quite – divested yourself of your holdings, have you?”

Emily frowned. Alassa had patched together a compromise, ensuring that while Emily was persona non grata in Zangaria for the nonce she wasn’t exiled for good. Imaiqah would rule the Barony of Cockatrice in Emily’s absence. In truth, Emily wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She’d never wanted to be a great feudal landlady, she’d certainly never wanted to rule the lives of countless people she would never meet. And yet, throwing the Barony back in King Randor’s face almost guaranteed that whoever took her place would try to roll back her reforms. Imaiqah, at least, would hold the barony in stasis.

“They are no longer in my possession.” Emily said, flatly.

Gordian studied her for a long moment. “You should have been expelled several times over,” he said. “Do you understand that?”

“Yes, sir,” Emily said. It struck her, suddenly, that she should have been calling him ‘sir’ all along. Calling attention to it might have been a very bad move. But it wasn’t something she’d done with his predecessor. “I understand.”

“If Grandmaster Hasdrubal saw no reason to expel you, I have no legal right to do so,” Gordian added, slowly. “But I can refuse to allow you to return to Whitehall, if you refuse to attend on my terms.”

Emily waited, not trusting herself to speak.

“You will be a probationary student for a set period of time,” Gordian told her. “During that period, you will be under close supervision, from both myself and the other tutors. I will be keeping a very sharp eye on you. Should you do anything that concerns me, you will be formally expelled from the school. Your father will have no legal grounds for protest.”

She’d known it was coming. Lady Barb had warned her. But it still hurt.

“I understand, sir,” Emily said, quietly.

“A probationary student is apprenticed, until they are either removed from probation or expelled, to a tutor,” Gordian continued. “That tutor will take responsibility for their conduct, in exchange for which they will work for him in whatever manner the tutor deems suitable. You will be apprenticed to Professor Locke. He has a … research project that could use your input. Your free time will be his as long as he has a use for you.”

Emily scowled. She would have preferred to be apprenticed to Lady Barb or Sergeant Miles, but Lady Barb was leaving Whitehall and Sergeant Miles had too much else on his plate. She liked the history professor, yet she knew from Aloha that Fifth Year was hard, very hard. If she spent all of her free time, such as there was of it, on his project, how would she manage to keep up with her fellow students? She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with her life, after leaving Whitehall, but she did know that higher grades would help open doors in the future.

And besides, she thought, remembering the ring on her finger, I don’t want to let Void down.

“I understand, sir,” she said. She’d have to find a book on probationary students and read it quickly, just to discover what else she’d be expected to do. “What is his research project?”

“I believe he would prefer to tell you himself,” Gordian said. “It is his project, after all.”

He cleared his throat, then unwrapped the scroll. “Your exam results,” he said. “They would normally be sent out a week from today, but I made the decision to unseal yours early.”

Emily leaned forward, torn between anticipation and dread. She’d never cared about her exam results on Earth – it wasn’t as if they would have any bearing on her life – but on the Nameless World they were the difference between a brilliant career and remaining just another sorceress. She would never be poor – she could brew Manaskol, if nothing else – yet she wanted to do more with her life, even if she wasn’t quite sure what yet.

“You passed all of your exams,” Gordian said. It didn’t sound as though he was deliberately dragging out the moment, but it certainly felt that way. “Overall, I would have no hesitation – barring the current issue – in allowing you to progress into Fifth Year and take the courses you requested. As it is, there will be one major change.”

Emily felt cold. Lady Barb hadn’t warned her about this.

“You have requested permission to continue to study combat sorcery under Sergeant Miles,” Gordian said. “He ensured that you would take the theoretical side of the Military Magic exam, which you passed. However, I am not minded to allow you to continue in your studies, even in exchange for working as a teaching assistant. Your apprenticeship to Professor Locke will preclude any other such commitments.”

“I need the training,” Emily said.

She swallowed, hard. Nanette was still out there, along with Fulvia and countless other enemies who resented the changes she’d brought to their world. She needed to know how to defend herself. Lady Barb had taught her, more than once, that raw power alone didn’t guarantee victory. As it was, her enhanced magic made her a target for more than just the necromancers.

“Regardless, you will not be training under Sergeant Miles,” Gordian said, flatly. “It would not be proper.”

Emily fought down the urge to say something sharp and unpleasant. She needed that training, but there were several other options. Mistress Danielle had offered private lessons, after all. She made a mental note to write to the older woman once she escaped the office, then looked up at the Grandmaster. He was regarding her with an unreadable expression.

“I advise you to remain in Whitehall until the start of term,” Gordian added. “Griselda has the details of your classes, reading lists and other details. Collect them from her, then Lady Barb will show you to your bedroom. Your … friend … will also be staying here.”

“Yes, sir,” Emily said. Lady Barb had warned her to expect it, so she’d shut up the house before calling the carriage and heading to the school. Besides, there was only a week until the Fifth Year students were expected to return. A week sharing a room with Frieda wouldn’t be unpleasant. “And thank you.”

Gordian eyed her, darkly. “I’ve done you no favours, Lady Emily,” he said. His voice was suddenly very cold. “And I would advise you not to think otherwise.”

He pointed a finger at the door, which opened. “When you see Lady Barb, ask her to attend upon me when it’s convenient,” he added. “And I hope I don’t see you in here again.”

Because I’ll be in trouble, Emily finished, silently. And you’ll be expelling me.

She dropped a curtsey, then turned and walked out of the room. Griselda – Emily had to admit that the name suited the sour-faced secretary – passed her a sheet of papers as she passed, then nodded to the door. Emily walked through, feeling sweat prickling down her back, and caught sight of the portrait of the former Grandmaster. His death meant that nothing would ever be the same again.

Behind her, the door slammed closed.

Air Forces In SPACE!

9 Mar

This is just something that was mentioned on the Space Opera Facebook page. It got me thinking.

One of the tropes of space opera is that almost all space warfare is based on the navy, rather than the air force (Royal Navy or USN). And that does make a great deal of sense. The navies have far more experience operating big ships and using them to project power. Even a giant supercarrier is a far cry from an air base on the mainland. The air forces are geared around launching fighters and bombers, helicopters and drones – all relatively short-ranged craft. We can send the RAF to bomb France without much difficulty, but getting the RAF to China is a great deal harder.

What sort of universe would make air force-based military units more likely than naval-based?

Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, a number of technological advances.

-Ground-based defences are significantly more powerful than might be expected. Operating a big ship anywhere between Earth and Luna, during wartime, is asking for trouble. A PDC can clear local space of hostile ships with ease – as far as this universe is concerned, sending a fleet against forts is a guaranteed way to lose a fleet. (We might also envisage orbital fortresses that are far tougher than superdreadnaughts.)

-FTL drives are easy to miniaturise and VERY fast. A relatively small craft (an X-Wing-like fighter) can enter or leave FTL without needing a carrier, then travel to a reasonable destination without exhausting the pilot. The fighters are fast in realspace too and very nimble. They’re the only ones who can get within attack range of a fortress or a PDC without being swatted out of the sky.

-I’d assume some form of FTL communications too.

Obviously, there will be some capital ships in this universe. There will be carriers, I imagine, launching their ships from well beyond the PDC range. But no carrier can carry as many starfighters as a planet. There’ll also be freighters and survey ships – in fact, with this sort of tech, freighters will be as cheap as cars today.

But most planetary assaults, assuming they take place, will require the starfighters to clear the planet’s defences before the assault force can land.

How does that sound as a setting for a story?

UP NOW–They Shall Not Pass! (The Empire’s Corps XII)

8 Mar

The continuing adventures of The Empire’s Corps …

Despite the escape from Meridian – and a strike at the heart of Wolfbane – enemy forces are still advancing on all fronts. The Commonwealth, worn down by a year of hard fighting, is reaching the end of its tether, while Admiral Singh – having secured control of Wolfbane – is searching for the breaking point that will shatter the Commonwealth once and for all. Time is needed, time to bring new weapons and tactics into service, but time is the one thing the Commonwealth doesn’t have.

Now, with enemy forces closing on the industrialised world of Corinthian – Admiral Singh’s former base of operations – Colonel Stalker decides to make a stand. The Commonwealth will meet its enemies on the ground and destroy them – or die trying. They will not pass as long as a single marine remains alive.

But how much of Corinthian – and the Commonwealth – will survive the nightmare to come …?

[As always, my books are DRM-free. Download a FREE SAMPLE, read the AFTERWORD, then purchase the book from these links: US, UK, CAN, AUS.]

AND …if you haven’t given this series a try, you can download the first book – The Empire’s Corps – at a reduced price!

Another Politician Opens His Mouth …

3 Mar

… And starts spewing nonsense.

I refer, of course, to John Whittingdale, the UK’s secretary for culture, media and sport, who in a recent speech called ad-blockers nothing more than a ‘protection racket.’

To be fair to Whittingdale, he has a very minor point. A number of ad-blocker companies have been allowing certain ads through the filters, in exchange for payment. This is despicable. But the fundamental importance of ad-blockers remains very real. Advertisements account for a great deal of frustration, anger and suchlike, particularly when they are so prevalent that they cause the site to crash. And yes, this does happen.

I’m not a technical expert, so I’ll keep this simple. Text-only webpages are tiny, so tiny they can be downloaded effectively instantly. The larger the files one has to download, the longer it takes to view a particular page. Images take longer to download than text files, videos take longer to download than images. If you happen to have limited bandwidth, the time taken to download the ads as well as the page you want can grow exponentially. I’ve actually noticed a number of pages that require reloading several times because the download jams. All of those pages have quite a few ads.

That doesn’t include, of course, the tendency to include malware too. These days, one doesn’t need to visit dodgy websites to pick up something nasty. I suspect I got something unpleasant from TV Tropes and a couple of American news sites – I don’t know for sure, but I don’t have time these days to just browse at random. Why should we tolerate advertisers who try to infect our computers with crap? (And let us not forget the biggest piece of malware on the web, Windows 10.)

Call me jaundiced, but I very rarely click on pop-up ads (save for the X that closes them.) I certainly don’t click on random ads thrown at me when I’m trying to read a website. Whittingdale may believe that ad-blockers are costing advertisers money, but I think their falling profits have more to do with the irritation factor than anything else. People are turning to ad-blockers because the advertisers have pushed their advantage too far and now people are pushing back.

In short, annoying one’s potential customers is not a workable marketing plan. Nor is trying to get the government to take action to keep the tide from coming in. Print media has far more problems than a mere shortage of ad revenue. It would be far better if they tried to make ads simpler, designing them so they didn’t consume bandwidth and crash website, but that would require an understanding of just how their potential customers feel about them.

I don’t think any of them are capable of that any longer.

Scroungers, Chancers and Human Nature

2 Mar

One of the things about human nature that progressives have a nasty habit of ignoring is that a single (metaphorical) slap is remembered much longer than a thousand caresses.

This happens, I think, because we have a tendency to remember bad things because bad things can threaten our lives. Gaining a thousand pounds will have less effect on me than losing a thousand pounds, if only because the sudden absence of the money will force me to scramble to compensate for the loss. I might be unable to feed my family, for example, because some bastard nicked the money I was going to use to buy food.

The thing is, this happens on an interpersonal scale as well. Humans have a habit, as I have blogged before, of separating the world into ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ We see ‘us’ as a collection of individuals and ‘them’ as one vast hive mind. Therefore, to use a reference that will be familiar to my readers, the ‘Puppy-Kickers’ saw the ‘Sad Puppies’ and the ‘Rapid Puppies’ as a single unit, instead of a loose group that included people such as Sarah Hoyt and Vox Day.

Now, if you have a bad experience with someone from such a group, you will assume – perhaps consciously, perhaps not – on some level that everyone else from the group is equally bad.

What brought this on, I should say at this point, was an online rant about how people were showing much less sympathy these days. (I’ve managed to lose the thread, for which I apologise.) The writer was complaining about how he hadn’t been able to get his special needs catered for or something along those lines. And then I started thinking …

The problem with sympathy is that it has its limits.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that a guy you know has just lost his job. You think he has excellent prospects, so you loan him £100 on the understanding that he’ll pay it back the following week, when he has a job. The next week rolls around and, instead of paying you back, he asks for another loan. Don’t worry, he’ll pay you back next week. When you ask why he isn’t employed, he gives you a story that has your bullshit detectors ringing like crazy. And the next week, he asks for MORE money. How long would it be before you ran out of patience and refused to give him anything?

This guy is what we in Britain call a ‘scrounger,’ a person who lives solely on handouts from others (notably the government).

Now, there are plenty of people on benefits who have very little prospect of getting a job, either because they’re disabled or they have too many children to risk leaving the home. I’ve met people who were ashamed of being on the dole and worked hard to get off it as soon as possible, if only for their own self-respect. But when we think of scroungers, we think of people like these, people who milk human kindness for all its worth. We curse them for ruining it for everyone else. (If you want someone to blame for the Tory Government’s assault on benefits, look at these people.)

And so we get cynical about demands for more and more help.

The more and more absurd the demands for help become, the more pathetic the excuses, the more we start tuning them out and ignoring them. Students who want ‘safe spaces’ get sneered at because the real world is not a safe place; students who want speakers banned because they are ‘offended’ (note that said students could easily avoid going to such speeches) get mocked as pathetic cry-bullies, proto-fascists and thought police wannabes.

But this has dangerous effects on human interaction. The more such whining we hear, the less inclined we are to pay attention to it. And because we are becoming conditioned to regard whining as whining, we ignore people who have genuine problems because we have heard too much whining. If a convention manager is asked to arrange for wheelchair access – a perfectly reasonable request – he may refuse to handle it because he’s just finished enduring a whining fit from someone who is refusing to come unless a particular panellist is removed from the bill. And this isn’t remotely fair to the person in the wheelchair!

It gets worse. If one happens to need help, one does not get to dictate the terms on which help arrives. (I’m sure the Jew who was rescued by the Good Sanitarian was horrified at the thought of owing his life to an enemy personage.) You do not get to make a fuss when the food and drink you are given (which you are not paying for) does not meet your religious requirements. Nor do you get to engage in criminal acts in the country that has taken you in, at some quite considerable cost. All you do is you alienate people against you – and, because of human nature, they will regard your conduct as a sign of how everyone else like you will behave.

If you take advantage of someone’s generosity, do not be surprised when they turn against you.