Archive | August, 2016

Updates …

30 Aug

Hi, everyone

It’s been a very busy three weeks for me.

First, I’ve finished the first draft of Ragnarok – the third and final book in the Twilight of the Gods series (otherwise known as the Nazi Civil War). I’m just waiting on the cover and some editing before uploading it to Kindle – the paperback edition will probably be along a couple of weeks or so afterwards. I’ve also signed a contract to bring all three of the books out in audio, so hopefully they’ll be available in a few months.

Second, I’ve completed the second set of edits for UnluckyAngel III (I might have to change the title). I don’t have a due date yet, but hopefully it will be out soon.

Third, in line with my ongoing plan to bring more books out in paperback, I’ve just completed the edits for all three Outside Context Problem books and intend to edit No Worse Enemy and When the Bough Breaks tomorrow. Hopefully, they’ll be out in paperback in a few weeks too. (The Empire’s Corps has already been reissued.) If you have already purchased the eBooks, you should be able to get the updated versions from Kindle.

Fourth, my current plan is to write The Hammer of God – Angel IV – starting from next week, wrapping up one arc and setting the groundwork for a second. I hope to have it completed, at least in draft form, before I go to Fantasy Con By The Sea, but it may have to wait until I get back.

Fifth – and final – I’m looking forward to HONORCON. Hope to see you there!


Reissued, The Empire’s Corps!

29 Aug

Reissued, in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, Audio and Paperback, The Empire’s Corps! Book I of a best-selling 12-book military science-fiction epic. Purchase a copy now – US, UK, AUS, CAN – and then check out free samples from the later books here! (And if you already own the kindle edition, you can get a FREE update from Amazon.) Download a free sample, then purchase your copy now!


You Should Never Speak Truth To Power…

The Galactic Empire is dying and chaos and anarchy are breaking out everywhere. After a disastrous mission against terrorists on Earth itself, Captain Edward Stalker of the Terran Marine Corps makes the mistake of speaking truth to power, telling one of the most powerful men in the Empire a few home truths. As a result, Captain Stalker and his men are unceremoniously exiled to Avalon, a world right on the Rim of the Empire. It should have been an easy posting…

Well, apart from the bandits infesting the countryside, an insurgency that threatens to topple the Empire’s loose control over Avalon, and a corrupt civil government more interested in what it can extort from the population than fighting a war. The Marines rapidly find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of political and economic chaos, fighting to preserve Avalon before the competing factions tear the world apart. They’re Marines; if anyone can do it, they can.

The battle to save the Empire starts here.

All reviews, comments and shares welcome!

Race Fail IV: Or Perhaps We Should Just Shut Up About Race

24 Aug

Hopefully the last. But who knows?

Of all the reactions to the fireside report, the most depressing – and the most predictable – was this one. And it included this quote:

Not surprisingly at all, people lost their fucking minds. Wait. Let me be more specific: ignorant, racist assholes lost their fucking minds. Why? Because they’re ignorant, racist assholes.”

It is a general rule of debate, particularly when dealing with people who learned to debate on the internet, that anyone who plays the race card is:

a) unable to back up their arguments,

b) aware that he/she is unable to back up their arguments

c) trying to appeal to emotion in the hopes of concealing ‘a’ and ‘b.’

It does not work. Well, it can make someone – who is insufficiently immunised to the general level of what passes for debate on the internet – back off in disarray, but it cannot change the cold hard facts on the ground. Indeed, all it really does is force people who want to question not to question, which is no way to actually win an argument.

And while the – unnamed – author of the above rant does try to back up his assertions, it runs into two major problems.

First, the report methodology is so badly flawed that the results are effectively meaningless. This is acknowledged, to some degree, but the authors fail to grasp just how bad this actually is. It is impossible to separate black – or non-white – authors out from the herd with any degree of genuine reliability, thus their conclusions may be completely inaccurate.

Second, the report fails to take any other factors into account. Why were the submissions rejected? Was it the first submission for a particular writer or his tenth? (Or whatever.) Did the writers follow instructions? Were their submissions suited to the anthology? In short, was every factor – apart from race – excluded from the study?

My BS meter started ticking the moment I read the summery. I do have some experience in these matters, as a writer, a slush reader and (to some extent) an editor. As I have noted before, at no point was I ever asked for my race; indeed, I was rarely asked for anything more than contact details, email address and suchlike. I find it highly unlikely that any editor could comb through a batch of submissions and successfully weed out the ones sent in by non-whites, not without excluding a great many white authors too.

In short, I don’t believe there is a problem.

The reason I don’t believe there is a problem, going all the way back to the first article I write on this topic, is that writing skill is not dependent on race or gender or sexual orientation or whatever. I have read and enjoyed books by people from all walks of life – and people about whom I knew nothing. I rarely bother to do anything more than read the back cover of a book before I decide to read it or not – I certainly don’t bother to look up the author just to make sure he fits my preconceptions first. And really, what sort of idiot does?


The bitter irony of this whole affair – and the original Race Fail – is that writing and publishing is a field where racism shouldn’t have any real influence. It is easy, if you happen to own a store and you don’t want any black employees, to make sure that no such people are ever hired. You always interview your staff beforehand, don’t you? But for a publisher? It’s not so easy to make sure that no non-whites get through the door. A writer who is genuinely fearful of being rejected on the grounds of race can easily assume a false identity – and, with all communications over the internet, who’s to know?

(True story – I never met any of my publishers before they purchased and published my books.)

But this article – and the response to it – touches many buttons. And some of them have really been jabbed too many times already.

I think it is fairly safe to say – and studies have confirmed this – that mandatory ‘diversity sensitivity training’ not only heightens awareness of diversity, it makes the problems it sets out to solve worse. People, as this report notes, resent being treated like dull children (particularly when whoever wrote the instruction book really needs some sensitivity training himself <evil grin>). You go into the training thinking of your fellow employees as your friends, your comrades in the struggle to remain sane in the workplace; you go out seeing them as a minefield of triggers, people who can explode (and cost you your job) at any moment. What person wants to risk exposing himself when anything can be taken as a ‘microaggression?’

And you can’t even be told what not to do because the rules keep changing!

Everyone has – or has heard of – a horror story about ‘affirmative action gone mad.’ The lousy employee who cannot be fired, no matter how badly he behaves, because he would claim discrimination and sue the company. Or the total incompetent who was promoted over more qualified people because he met some diversity quota. Or the guy whose violent threats were ignored because of his religion. Or the employee who told an off-colour joke and was summarily sacked.

And in the publishing field, where racism is largely irreverent, it is the sudden demand for non-white authors and non-white characters instead of good authors and well-rounded characters.

All of the above stories might be hugely exaggerated, of course. But the bad ones are the stories people remember.

The problem with most suggestions for ‘diversity’ is that they come across as hugely accusatory. There isn’t a person alive who likes being accused of something, particularly when they know damn well that they’re not that something. Each of the proposed ‘national conversations about race’ start with the assumption, clearly stated or implied, that racism exists and it’s all the fault of white people. No one likes being accused of anything …

… Particularly when, as now, the accused has to defend himself from a charge of racism (and it is impossible to prove a negative) instead of forcing the accuser to prove his guilt.

The point – when it comes to fandom – is that fans should be fans. There should be no such thing as a white Star Trek fan or a black Star Trek fan – just Star Trek fans. Star Trek fans do not, as a general rule, want to attend a conference where all the panels sound off about diversity – they want to attend conferences where they discuss how best to pry Star Trek away from JJ Abram and give it to someone who really understands the series. Diversity merely draws lines between fans, making them hate and suspect one another rather than enjoying their fandom.

Honestly! The whole ‘black stormtrooper’ debate – if it was anything more than a marketing ploy – could have been solved easily with two lines of dialogue.

Poe: You don’t look anything like the guy they used as the clone template.

Finn: They flushed him out of the cloning program. That guy couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Just imagine the laughter echoing round the cinema after that!

Look at it this way. You have a nice little Star Trek convention. Then all those Babylon 5 fans want to join, bringing with them panels about why Babylon 5 is completely original and vastly superior to Deep Space Nine. You object to this – on the grounds that you run a Star Trek convention – and they make a fuss about discrimination. All of a sudden, you’re the bad guy. And then fans of Transformers arrive and start a feud over the most important question in their fandom – is there any fate too cruel for whoever wrote the live-action movie? And then three different factions of BSG fans arrive …

… And by this point, you’re no longer a Star Trek convention and pretty much all of your original fans have gone.

It’s not a good analogy. But I think it explains why fans are growing annoyed with diversity.

It’s never easy to balance the need to appeal to old fans and draw in new ones. The Force Awakens, despite its colossal problems, largely manages it. Star Trek 2009 largely failed; Ghostbusters 2016 failed completely. And part of the reason Ghostbusters failed was because it failed to keep the original fans as well as failing to draw in new ones. It’s writers and producers showed utter contempt for the fans and so they moved away.

But really, appeals for ‘diversity’ are even worse. Because the people screaming the loudest for diversity are not the ones paying the bills.

They’re not the ones suffering either. Opinions of affirmative action and positive discrimination tend to go downhill sharply when there is a very real risk that the holder might be affected. It’s poisonous for the very simple reason that merit is perceived to be sorely lacking in anyone who got ahead because of it. And because humans are tribal creatures, one bad experience with someone from another tribe contaminates relationships with the rest of the tribe.

And this is tragic. Because we are all individuals.

Science-fiction does not have a race problem. What it does have is a number of commenters who just won’t shut up about race.

And this is destroying us. Because diversity is largely irrelevant to writing. It doesn’t matter if the latest set of Hugo winners are white or black or bug-eyed monsters from mars – all that matters is that they are good writers. Why talk about the colour of a writer’s skin when you can talk about their work?

‘Racism,’ once again, is being used as a stick to beat people. And people are tired of it.


One of the best pieces of advice I was given, for an ongoing relationship, was to build on the positive rather than dwelling on the negative. And what’s positive about publishing, particularly in this day and age? It can be done without anyone seeing your face, without anyone knowing who you truly are. If you are genuinely concerned about being rejected because you are not a straight white male, give yourself a penname and remain in the background until your books are published.

Rejections happen. Yes, they do; you may just be starting out, you may have made a tiny mistake, you might just be unlucky enough to encounter an editor who has a headache when he reads your work. But do not give up! Keep going, keep learning … don’t stop! And don’t tell yourself it’s futile. We live in an era where people such as myself can make a living merely through publishing on Amazon Kindle. It is not hopeless.

Many of the suggestions put forward by commenters are badly flawed, threatening to divide fandom more rather than bringing it together. Their focus on skin colour rather than merit is laughable, particularly in this industry. All they are doing is poisoning the well.

Writers should be writers, first and foremost. Characters should be characters, first and foremost. Let us concentrate on what unites us …

… And remember, it’s meant to be fun.

Race Fail III: Quality and Incomprehensibility?

22 Aug


One of the comments made about the recent Fireside Report – and its ultimately flawed methodology – is a suggestion that Science-Fiction written by non-whites (I have a peculiar loathing of the term ‘People of Colour’) is harder for whites to understand. Such works are written from a very different cultural background and can be quite different from more mainstream pieces of work. Accordingly, editors – who are overwhelmingly white (and politically liberal) reject these pieces of work.

Is this actually true?

I agonised backwards and forwards over this question for hours before deciding that the answer was ‘maybe.’

Some time ago, I read The Satanic Verses. I found it to be a rather tedious read. Indeed, I suspect that it would have vanished without trace, if Khomeini had kept his mouth shut. I certainly have no great inclination to read it again.

Now, the reason I mention that particular book is that I was told, some time afterwards, that it was written in a distinctly Iranian style. Indeed, that in many ways the book was a masterpiece. I have no idea if that was actually true or not, but I didn’t think much of the book when I read it – I considered it to be grossly overrated. But yes, it’s possible that I don’t have the cultural background to meet the book on its own terms.

But really, one doesn’t need to look for a non-white author to run into cultural incomprehension. Many of Jane Austin’s novels suffer badly from ‘Values Dissonance,’ simply because the cultural background of the novels is very different to modern-day British society. Even Sherlock Holmes can run into problems because readers are often unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Victorian/Edwardian society. Unlike more modern books, these books are written by people who assumed – correctly – that their first readers would understand the background and wouldn’t need detailed explanations of why Lydia marrying Wickham – who was in his late 20s to her 15 – was so important (instead of having him arrested for statutory rape).

There are plenty of more modern books – Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell, for example – where the author does an excellent job of explaining society while at the same time telling an entertaining story.

Is this true of non-white writing?

I don’t know.

Certain non-white writers – NK Jemisin in particular – are very good at explaining their world to us in the course of their story. Both The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Killing Moon establish two very interesting worlds – The Killing Moon showcases a very different society and renders it comprehensible. (This book deserves extra credit for not only devising the society, but explaining why other societies regard it with genuine and understandable horror.) Other books – science-fiction, fantasy, thrillers – may be written by non-white writers, but writers who are culturally identical to their white counterparts. It is simply impossible to tell the skin colour of the authors by reading them – and really, why would you want to try?

In fact, the suggestion that black works are somehow incomprehensible to white readers carries a very odd set of implications.

Publishers – smart publishers, at least – need to publish books that sell. It’s every publisher’s dream to get his hands on the next JK Rowling. If there are books that are incomprehensible to the vast majority of the reading public, why would publishers publish them? Why indeed?

Now, I suspect that someone will put forward an argument that boils down to ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Publishing books written by non-white authors may turn off white readers, but it will attract new black readers. Is that actually true?

I suspect the answer to that question is no. The problem facing publishers – and comic writers, movie producers, etc – is that the people who make a fuss about including diversity are not the ones buying their product. People buying books don’t buy them because they give a damn about identity politics, they buy them to be entertained. White readers may be put off because of an invasion of Social Justice Bullies; black readers may be put off by characters that are effectively pandering or stereotypes (or grossly unrealistic) rather than actual rounded characters.

The blunt truth about publishing (as I have noted before) is that publishers get far more submissions than they can possibly handle. It isn’t uncommon to have your work rejected after you failed to hold the slush reader’s attention for more than five minutes. Things that prove you’re a sloppy writer – not following submission guidelines, for example – can get you rejected without ever having your work read. It is highly unlikely that the editor will pay enough attention to you to determine your skin colour, if you’ve bothered to include it in the cover letter. Black or white or whatever, if your work doesn’t meet the minimum standards, it’s going to be rejected.

But if you get through this barrier, you generally get to work with an editor.

Editors are wonderful people – behind every successful author stands an editor. Imagine them as the typical Drill Instructor from Camp Pendleton. They’re not out to be liked, they’re out to shape up your work so it succeeds in the open market. The editor will say things like ‘your plot hinges on Abdullah not being able to inherit his mother’s wealth without a wife – why is this so? You haven’t explained it.’ And you will realise that it is a great deal easier to correct these problems before the book hits the presses and people start asking these questions in reviews. A good editor can turn a promising manuscript into a great one.

(To put this in some context, each of the Schooled in Magic books has had two editors poking and prodding at it.)

And so, if there are cultural references in your books that are incomprehensible to your audience, an editor should be able to point them out and show you how to improve them.

But there is a seductive way to cope with the problem, in the short-term, that leads to long-term disaster. Insist on publishing writers because of their skin colour rather than their talent! Insist on staffing your publishing division with men and women who have nothing in common with your audience! (Although a cynic would probably say this was already true.) And accuse anyone who doesn’t like your work of sexism, racism or simply being unwilling to meet your book on its own terms.

And while this may get you somewhere in the short term, in the long term it will merely discredit publishing still further.

The problem with many of the proposed solutions (to a problem that may not actually exist) is that they are fundamentally misplaced. They represent earnest solutions that are, at best, purely cosmetic. It is more important, for example, to have a black editor or a female publisher than to actually put competence ahead of ability. They prefer to parcel out the deck chairs on the Titanic than patch up the hole before the ship sinks.

The market always wins. Always. And if what you’re producing isn’t selling, you have a problem. Not your readers. You.

Race Fail II: Measuring the Unmeasurable

18 Aug

One of the fundamental problems facing bureaucrats – among others – is that, as they lose touch with what’s actually important, they find themselves struggling to find newer and better ways to measure things. For example, bureaucrats charged with monitoring education in a given country might decide to judge a school based on how well its children do in a single exam. But this leads to the inevitable end result of teachers deliberately teaching to the test and a slow rise in the number of exams until actual learning is pushed out of the classroom.

The bureaucrats in this example are not openly malicious. But, in reducing thousands of helpless children and hundreds of even more helpless teachers to numbers, they have done vast damage to education. The children are trapped in a school system that is severely dysfunctional, while teachers have no choice but to cooperate on pain of losing their jobs.

When it comes to writing, what’s actually important?

It does not matter if the writer is black or white, male or female, straight or gay; it simply does not matter. All that matters, the only thing that matters, is writing skill. You need to be a good writer. That’s all.

Now, writing is actually a learned skill. To put this in some perspective, I started writing in 2004, had my first rejection in 2005 and kept going until I finally enjoyed some success (through self-publishing) in 2012. I had my first book contracts with small presses within the same year. That’s eight years of rejected manuscripts from various publishers.

And when I look back at my first manuscript, I cringe. I made a whole string of mistakes, any one of which would be more than enough to justify the rejection I received. What was I thinking?

Ok. Why am I saying all this?

Last week, as my regular readers are aware, this article was published. I responded to it on my blog. (As you can tell, I wasn’t impressed.) And quite a few others have also responded, ranging from Larry Correia  and P Clark to NK Jemisin. Jemisin, in particular, attacked the publishing industry in a savage bundle of tweets.

Now, the problem facing the publishing industry is two-fold. First, they have no way of knowing the race of whoever submits a story unless they are told specifically. I have never been asked my race, not once. Second, they have to concentrate on what sells – what makes money – rather than anything else. But leaving all that aside for the moment, Jemisin asserts that she – a well-known (and very good) black author – received a number of hasty requests for short stories in the wake of the fireside report.

I find that quite believable. The cognoscenti who govern much of the publishing industry these days are more sensitive to appearance than reality, to feels rather than cold logic. Their instinctive response, when faced with such an (apparently) damning report, would be to seek cover by virtue-signalling as loudly as possible. Jemisin, quite rightly, scorns this pathetic attempt to take cover. But there seems to be a shortage of other black authors they can look up in a hurry.

Or is there?

The thing about affirmative action (or positive discrimination or whatever else you want to call it) is that it is poisonous. Anyone who benefits from it – or appears to benefit from it – arouses suspicion that they did not truly earn whatever they got, that they did not truly deserve it, that they are profoundly unsuitable for it. These suspicions might be completely misplaced, but they are not easy to dispel. And if something happens to confirm these suspicions, it can be disastrous.

If someone comes to me and says ‘X is a great black writer, my response would be ‘so what?’

Skin colour does not have anything to do with writing skill. What does it matter if X is black or white, male or female, etc, etc?

But if someone comes to me and says ‘X is a great fantasy writer,’ my response would be ‘cool, I’ll look him up!”

Because I read fantasy, among others; I’ve read and enjoyed writers from Rowling to Sanderson, Jemisin to Clarke. I love fantasy books! I’m not saying that I have enjoyed every fantasy book I’ve read – I have a whole list of books I didn’t like – but generally I will try a new fantasy author at least once.

The point here is that people are becoming increasingly suspicious of ‘affirmative action’ policies. If you have to market a writer on the grounds that he or she is non-white, or homosexual, or whatever, it strongly suggests that their submissions were accepted because of those traits. And none of those traits have anything to do with writing skill! Being marketed as a ‘diversity’ writer might easily damage a writer’s career outside the elite literacy circle.

People read to be entertained, not hectored. People are turned off by being scolded, for being told they should like this instead of that – this probably explains why the recent Ghostbusters movie was a flop.

What counts in writing isn’t the colour of your skin, it’s the number of satisfied customers.

I’ve been reading fantasy and science-fiction since I was five (I learned to read early). In all of that time, I have only ever deliberately looked up an author’s appearance once. (I was going to meet him at a convention.) I do not, as I said in the last post, waste my time looking at the author’s photograph before I buy or borrow the book. I read the blurb, decide if I want to read the whole book and then do as I see fit. Is there any reader who does otherwise?

If you are a writer – of any skin colour – prepare yourself for rejection. You will be very lucky if your first completed story – or novel – gets through the first set of gates. Do not give up. Write your next story while waiting to hear back from the first. (That’s what kept me going when I finally got the rejection letter.) Submit that story, get on with the third … and keep going.

Do not fall into the trap of assuming you’ve been rejected because of colour, gender, politics or whatever. The editor doesn’t know you from Adam. Trust me on this – no editor has the time to waste looking you up. If you haven’t told him you’re [whatever] he doesn’t know.

And keep writing. Success comes with hard work.

I wish there was a shortcut, but there isn’t.

Don’t be a [whatever] writer, to borrow Heinlein again; be a writer who happens to be [whatever].

Long-term Projects

18 Aug

Here is a question for my readers.

As you know, the Twilight of the Gods series will be wrapped up within the month (maybe six weeks, depending on the cover) and The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire was recently completed with The Barbarian Bride. I have been spending the last few days – when I wasn’t writing Ragnarok – scribbling down notes for two space opera trilogies. So … which one would you like?

The Social War

Historically, the Social War was perhaps the oddest revolution in history. The Italian cities didn’t want to gain their independence from Rome, they wanted to be Roman. In this far-future take on the concept, there would be a revolution for better status against a hegemonic power.

The Young King’s War

The Galactic Empire has recently reunified after a prolonged period of unrest, under the rule of Emperor Hadrian I (the Old King). In a bid to cement his rule and ensure a steady succession, Hadrian I has crowned his son Hadrian II (the Young King) as co-Emperor. But as Hadrian II grew older, he started to resent the sheer lack of actual power (to make matters worse, his brothers had power of their own) and started to plot against his father, triggering a massive civil war. (Loosely based on the Revolt of 1173–74.)

So … choose one?


Past Tense: Freedom and (Women’s) Rights

15 Aug

Any feminist who is against modern technology is an idiot.

-John Ringo

Fair warning – spoilers for Past Tense.


Back when Past Tense was being edited, Christine Amsden (one of my editors) asked why Julianne – Lord Whitehall’s daughter – came across as weak and unconvincing. (We did a little fiddling to make it clear that she had a more important role in the commune than was apparent at first glance.) But Julianne’s weakness – and she is weak – owes a great deal to her position in life.

Let me put this into some context.

When you are a child, the level of freedom you enjoy – even something as simple as going to bed at 9pm or 10pm – depends on your parents. You have no inherent right to set your own bedtime – your parents set it for you and you have no ‘legal’ recourse. Your parents have the right to make decisions for you and supervise your life. The average parent, I suspect, does not see his or her children as being capable of making his own decisions.

This is how women were largely regarded in the past – and in present-day states like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

To use Saudi Arabia as an (extreme) example, women are allowed to work … provided they have permission from their male guardian (father, brother, husband). It does not matter, legally speaking, if the woman wants to work; if her guardian says no, she can’t work. She is regarded as a minor in the eyes of the law; she has no legal recourse, no way to escape. She can’t even leave the country without permission from her guardian. Her freedom is wholly contingent on what her male relatives are prepared to permit her to do.

This was unfortunately true throughout much of human history. Women who were allowed to manage their own affairs were quite rare. Even a Ruling Queen might be expected to concede power to her husband. A woman accused of adultery could not legally defend herself; a woman who separated from her husband would find it very hard to get a divorce (and she might lose her children, if there were children). Those who say that women were protected in those eras ignore the simple fact that women were powerless, that their protection depended upon women playing the role society handed them. A woman who stepped outside society’s norms – by becoming a prostitute, for example – also stepped outside its protections.

You might ask why women didn’t resort to extra-legal measures. Why not poison a wife-beater … or simply slit his throat while he slept? But a person born during that time would know the answer. Without the husband, who would look after the wife and children? Who would provide for them? The husband’s relatives might take the house, kicking the wife and children out; the wife might discover that she had no legal standing unless she married again as quickly as possible. And if she’s too old to bear children again, she might not even be able to remarry.

And there were other problems. Women were often smaller and weaker than men – and medical care was awful. Death in childbirth was quite likely; infant mortality was staggering. (Julia Caesar, the wife of Pompey the Great (perhaps the richest and most powerful man of his time) died in childbirth.) Women did not have an easy time of it even when they were wealthy and powerful (or married to the wealthy and powerful).

Julianne has a striking amount of freedom, by the standards of her era. (Emily notes that Whitehall is the most progressive father in his era, which isn’t saying very much by the standards of ours.) And yet there are limits to how much defiance she can show. She cannot stand up to her father without running the risk of being ordered to marry someone her father chooses – or worse. Sneaking around and learning magic from Emily – like a Saudi girl learning how to drive – is her only realistic course of action.

Because it was Christine who said this, I thought of Cassie Scot, the heroine of four of Christine’s books.

Cassie Scot is a squib, if I may borrow the Harry Potter term. She’s the daughter of powerful magicians – and sister to several more – but she has no power of her own. And this has inevitable consequences.

Throughout her four books, Cassie is constantly objectified. Not in the sense that she is treated as a sex object, but in the sense she is constantly treated like a minor child. She is powerless in her community. Her very safety depends on protection from her parents; later, when she loses that, her (eventual) love interest makes decisions for her, meddles freely in her life (sometimes without telling her) and generally continues the tradition of treating her as a cute but wilful child, rather than a grown adult in her own right …

And the hell of it is that he (and her parents) has a point. Cassie may act like a confident adult, but it’s based on other people, rather than on her inherent power (she has none) or human rights (she has none of those either). She is staggeringly vulnerable. And so is Julianne. And so were far too many women throughout history. The powerful women were often the ones who were born to power, like Queen Elizabeth.

There’s an article about Game of Thrones I read a while back (I haven’t read much of the books or seen the TV series.) This was often true of real life too. Queen Elizabeth I was a skilled ‘man-manager,’ even though she was the Queen. Her sister (Mary Tudor) and her cousin (Mary Queen of Scots) were far less skilful. Elizabeth was in consent fear of what would happen if one of her courtiers gained enough power to just take her, which hampered her ability to be an effective war leader. (Her generals would often ignore her orders, justifying it to themselves on the grounds it was what she would do, if she was a man.) This lead to an erratic balancing act that came all too close to disaster.

And while commoner women were often good at carving out niches for themselves, they were almost always very much second-class citizens.

These days, women have rights – and legal recourses. If a marriage goes badly wrong, a woman can go to court and get a separation. A woman can live on her own; a woman can work to earn money, to live a life apart from her former husband. And medical care has advanced to the point where death in childbirth is relatively rare and women are no longer enslaved by their reproductive systems. But this was not true in the past. Our understanding of the past is always limited unless we grasp the limitations faced by the men and women who lived during that era.

It was never suggested, in my entire life, that my parents would determine who I (or my sisters) would marry. But I have known people (boys as well as girls) who knew that their parents would eventually choose their marriage partners. They often felt they couldn’t defy their parents, because in doing so they would defy their entire community. This problem would not be strange to our ancestors, even those a mere century before us.

There is no shortage of romantic stories about women going back in time to marry a brave highlander, a handsome cowboy or a swaggering pirate. But most of those stories tend to overstate the romance and understate – badly understate – the hardships of the time. Or how few rights a woman would have, if her husband turned nasty.

And that is something we really need to remember.


It isn’t easy to bring this front and centre in Schooled in Magic, even though the powerlessness of powerless people has been a major theme in the book from the start.

Magicians are believers in power, nothing else. After female magicians became relatively common – after the ‘Curse’ was understood and defeated – sexism largely faded from the magical community. As happened in our history, the growth of self-made powerful women boosted the position of all women. Emily does not face blatant sexual discrimination in much of the series because she’s joined a community based on equality, with men and women competing on equal terms. Even during Past Tense, her position is somewhat ambiguous – Whitehall and Bernard consider her a honorary man (although they would never express it that way). Emily has relatively little to do with the other girls in the commune, save for Julianne.

Even in the ‘present,’ Emily doesn’t really spend any time with ‘normal’ girls. Alassa is royalty – and the heir to the throne. Imaiqah is from a merchant family, where daughters are educated and certainly expected to play a role in the family trade. Aloha and Cabiria (and Melissa) are from magical families, where power – magical power – is more important than gender. (The Gorgon, not being completely human, doesn’t count.) Only Frieda (and Nanette/Lin) come from profoundly (and not without reason) misogynist societies and neither of them really want to talk about it. Obviously, there are servants and suchlike – in Whitehall, in Zangaria and Cockatrice – but Emily doesn’t sit down to talk with them. They would be too awed by her to say a word.

Indeed, even back on Earth, Emily never had the opportunity to develop feminine social skills, let alone masculine ones.

Which means, unfortunately, that there are large swathes of her society that she won’t truly understand, or will only be dimly aware of … a problem that will only grow worse as she grows older.

A Rock and a Hard Place

12 Aug

Part … something … of my series on the US election.

Is it terribly wrong of me, as I start writing what will be (hopefully) the final post on the coming US election, that I have Anything You Can Do on the brain? I just keep imagining Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton singing it …

Trump: How do you keep getting away with it?

Clinton: I’m a Democrat!

Ok, I’ll be serious now.

Before I go any further, I will say that Donald Trump is a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, this isn’t saying very much. This year, both parties seem to have found themselves candidates who – in a rational world – would have been dismissed out of hand. It doesn’t bode well for the future.


But there is no realistic alternative. A mass swing of Republican voters to Gary Johnston will probably hand victory to Hillary Clinton (in the same way Ross Perot handed victory to Bill Clinton); a mass swing of Democratic voters to Jill Stein will probably hand victory to Donald Trump. Neither the Greens nor the Libertarians have the nation-wide influence required to have a realistic chance at the Presidency, something that has made their politics more absurd than usual.

The problem facing both major parties remains the same – they are held together by the certain knowledge that a break-up will hand permanent dominance to their rival. America has problems now, but a party in unchallengeable control over the US would be far worse – at best, there would be the baleful influence of the Scottish SNP, at worst there would be the staggering corruption and unaccountability of the South African ANC. American politics might become more representative, more reasonable, if both parties separated at roughly the same time, but I would not care to count on it.


Donald Trump has been excoriated for daring to suggest that the 2016 election will be rigged, if he loses. And yes, it was a staggeringly irresponsible thing to say. But tell me … given what we now know about how the DNC’s selection process was slanted in Hillary’s favour, is it actually wrong to worry about Hillary trying to rig the national election?

The results of a nation-wide election must be above suspicion. There must be no doubt that the winner is the genuine choice of the majority of the country (or at least of those citizens who can be bothered to vote.) Hillary’s conduct and Trump’s claims both call the results of the election into question (before the election has even been held) and undermine the fundamental basis of American democracy. If the winner cheated – or even if vast numbers of people believe the winner cheated – does the US even have a democracy? Will the entire country just go along with it?

Michael Ramirez / Weekly Standard

And another issue that has reared its ugly head is Hillary’s health.

There is evidence – not conclusive evidence – that Hillary is dangerously unwell. Is this actually a valid concern? We do not know, but the simple fact that the Clinton Campaign hasn’t dowsed the fire – by releasing her medical records, for example – is worrying. Once again, they act as if they have something to hide.

I can understand being reluctant to be seen to bow to pressure. Demands that the campaign do this or that will always lead to more demands, forcing the campaign to keep jumping through hoops to prove this or that. But there comes a time when allowing rumours to fester merely lets them get out of hand. The campaign must answer the questions as quickly as possible.

What is the current state of Hillary’s health? Does she have any health conditions that threaten her ability to do her job? Can she handle the stress of the Presidency, a post that has wrecked the good looks of every previous President? Is there a possibility that she might die in office, dumping the job on her ‘policy wonk’ VP?

And if Hillary cannot handle the job, we need to know now.


And then we have the question of Putin’s involvement in the DNC email scandal.

The United States (and Hillary) doesn’t have a leg to stand on, if it wishes to complain about foreign countries interfering in American elections. Putin has ample reason to be pissed at America – and Obama/Hillary personally – for American involvement in Eastern European elections. Obama’s clumsy attempt to convince the British electorate to reject BREXIT was a flop, at least in part because it was clumsy and foolish.

And – to be blunt – the fact that Putin might have released the emails does not detract from the simple fact that the DNC was engaging in criminal activity.

The problem facing Putin – and every other foreign leader – is that he has very good reason not to want Hillary Clinton to become President. Clinton played a major role in a foreign policy based on wishful thinking, rather than realpolitik; the collapse of US influence over large swathes of the world owes a great deal to America losing sight of the cold realities of the world. In some ways, this has worked in Putin’s favour; in others, it raises the spectre of a collapse of American power that will leave a vacuum, a vacuum Putin doesn’t want to fill.

From Putin’s point of view, a businessman would make a better partner. A smart American President would understand Russia’s concerns, then come to a mutually-beneficial agreement that would benefit both sides. A businessman would also understand the value of keeping one’s word, of sticking to an agreement, of remaining consistent even when the world threatens to turn upside down. Trump is probably not Putin’s ideal American President, but he’s better than Hillary Clinton.

There might be something to be said for the prospect of blackmailing Hillary after she wins the election, but Putin – I suspect – would see it as a ‘high-risk, low-reward’ option. Hillary’s ability to keep secrets is seemingly non-existent these days. If it leaked out that Putin was blackmailing her, she’d be impeached and the US would be far more inclined to confront Russia wherever possible. Taking revenge by damaging Hillary’s chances of getting elected would suit Putin far better (and besides, if Trump is grateful, that’s an added bonus).


The core of the problem, as I noted earlier, is that the government has simply grown too big to function efficiently. This has allowed the growth of a political elite, which – through an incestuous relationship with the media and big business – has secured control over most of the levers of power. And, like most aristocracies throughout history, the elite has lost touch with the commoners and, in doing so, it has provoked resistance and rebellion.

This shouldn’t be surprising. A group – isolated from the rest of the world in gated communities – can fall prey to all sorts of delusions, once it has lost touch with reality. It is easy to believe that pushing social change is a good thing, if one happens to be isolated from the effects of one’s changes. The religion of ‘social justice’ would not have taken root if the elite had not started to class people as numbers, rather than living breathing individuals. And it is easy to believe that one’s opponents are doing it because they are evil, not because they have a valid point.

If government does not represent the interests of the voters, why should the voters continue to vote for it? Neither the RNC nor the DNC asked this question, which is why Trump crushed all of the elite candidates for the nomination and Hillary Clinton’s nomination is tainted by the suggestion she cheated. The average American is increasingly sick of the political elites – Donald Trump, for all of his flaws, seems more connected to the population than Hillary Clinton.

The credibility of the political elite – and the government – is gone. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Hillary wins the election – and, a year later, there is a disease outbreak in New York. Would anyone believe Hillary if she told them to keep calm and carry on? No; her reputation as a habitual liar, a person who lies even when there is no need to lie, is well-established. Realistically speaking, would anyone believe Hillary when she talks about anything? And Trump, it must be admitted, has the same problem.

But Trump and Hillary are merely the tip of the iceberg. The true problem lies in the growth of government, of the political elite, of government bureaucracy, of endless regulations …

… In short, Atlas Shrugged is starting to seem alarmingly plausible.

Throughout history, there have been a number of failed revolutions.

These tend to fall into two categories. On one hand, we have revolutions – like the 1905 Revolution in Russia – where the forces of reaction eventually regain control and crush all opposition. On the other, we have revolutions – like the French Revolution – where the rebels win, only to give birth to the next generation of tyrants. Napoleon and Stalin were both born out of chaos, taking advantage of the collapse of the old order to establish their own order; they were both able to build power structures that favoured their dominance. There were no counters to their power – they couldn’t allow them to exist.

The handful of successful revolutions occurred, at least in part, because there was an alternate power structure up and running when the revolution took place. Parliament won the English Civil War because it controlled many of the levers of power; it’s later failure to keep the revolution occurred because Cromwell centralised power in his hands. The American Revolution succeeded – both in separating America from Britain and in creating a whole new governing structure – because, again, there was an alternate power structure, which morphed into the federal government.

Where are the alternate power structures today? Gone.

And part of the reason they are gone is because the left – and to some extent the right – has savaged them. Freedom of speech, the freedom to express dissident viewpoints, has been curtailed. People who question Obama are called racists, people who dislike Hillary Clinton are called sexists, people who have concerns about Islam are accused of Islamophobia … this is done, not out of valid concern, but out of a desire to delegitimize dissenting opinion. If you can play the ‘race card’ against your opponent, you win …

… At least in the short term.

But a person who raises valid concerns isn’t going to be satisfied by a barrage of “racist, Racist, RACIST!” They might be cowed, they might scurry backwards, they might kow-tow to the whims of social justice, but they won’t be satisfied. Their concerns will not have been addressed, merely driven underground. People resent not being able to express themselves, people resent being accused of evil and bad thinking … particularly when they know, all too well, that they’re nothing of the sort. We live in a world where the merest hint of dissent can lead to destroyed careers and broken lives. Why would anyone consider this a good thing?

And the rules change at random. What is right at one point may be cause for shunning the next. People are becoming neurotic, because they don’t know what will offend someone next. Justice is a joke when the race, or sex, or whatever of the criminal becomes more important than the crime. People are scared, people are angry … people no longer trust. The idea of honest debate has been lost, replaced by people who – on one hand – virtue-signal like there’s no tomorrow and – on the other hand – people who take pride in saying the most outrageous things possible.

You know, like Donald Trump.

There’s no room for compromise because there’s no good faith. There’s no belief that one’s opponent is a man of goodwill, even if he disagrees with you.

And if the political elites want to know who to blame for this, they can start by looking in the mirror.


I’m betting on Donald Trump.

I know, he’s a poor candidate and likely to make a worse president. But he has two advantages that – I think – need to be taken into consideration.

First, Hillary is an even worse candidate. It is impossible to believe a word she says without independent verification. Nor does she have the ability to inspire her supporters – Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton could and did. Instead, she comes across as a self-righteous entitled nagger, so tone-deaf she doesn’t realise just how bad she sounds. Her past hangs over her like a thundercloud, constantly reminding people of her weaknesses and moral failings. And who knows what scandal will next pop out of nowhere to bog her down, once again.

Donald Trump can be inspiring. Donald Trump’s past lies outside politics. (And really, what can Hillary use against him that can’t be turned back on her?) Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air to an electorate thoroughly sick of elitist candidates.

Hillary’s only real advantage is being a woman. It is why she suggests that it is time for a woman to occupy the Oval Office. But even that is a problem. Hillary’s conduct does not suggest tender feelings for other women, particularly the ones who get in her way. Modern feminists might like the idea of a female President, but shudder at Hillary’s obvious contempt for her husband’s affairs and her willingness to smear his lovers. Why should they vote for her?

The issue is not that there are plenty of reasons to vote for Trump. The issue is that there are plenty of reasons not to vote for Clinton.

Second, there’s the ‘Shy Tory’ factor.

In 2015, the British Conservative Party (The ‘Tories’) won a decisive victory in the general election, a victory that was not predicted by the opinion polls. One of the theories advanced to explain this oddity was that Tory voters weren’t admitting to being Tories – they felt that openly expressing their political affections would have negative effects on their lives. And in this day and age, it would be true. A Tory voter would be called all sorts of horrible things by self-righteous left-wingers.

But that didn’t stop them casting their votes for the Conservative Party.

I suspect that the true number of Trump voters is much higher than estimated, even by the alternate media. Like I said, people resent being treated as public enemies for daring to have an opinion of their own. A vote for Trump is a quiet rebellion against self-righteous social justice warriors, humourless prats who sneer at ordinary people who merely want to live their lives in peace. It is a blow struck against the PC Police, an expression of the resentment and rage people feel at being told how to live their lives, at being insulted and talked down to by idiots who don’t have the slightest idea how the real world works …

… Trump isn’t much. But he’s all they’ve got.

Depressed yet?

Snippet–Ragnarok (Twilight of the Gods III)

9 Aug


Berlin, Germany, 1950

It was very quiet in the Reichstag bunker, deep under Berlin.

Karl Holliston kept his face impassive – and his mouth closed – as the uniformed flunky displayed photograph after photograph on the big screen. Four cities, all in blackened ruins; the charred remains of hundreds of thousands of bodies clearly visible towards the edge of the blast zone. The dead were the lucky ones, Karl told himself; the survivors, if they somehow managed to escape the Einsatzgruppen waiting outside the cities, were doomed to die lingering deaths as the radiation worked its dark magic on their bodies. No medical treatment could save their lives, even if the Reich cared to try.

And we wouldn’t, Karl thought. They’re Untermenschen.

But no one would have cared about his opinion, if he’d given voice to it. He was just Heinrich Himmler’s aide.

“Four cities,” Field Marshal Albert Kesselring said.

Himmler showed no emotion as he leaned forward. “Four cities that rose up against us,” he said, his voice utterly dispassionate. “I saw no reason to waste the lives of our soldiers in teaching them a lesson.”

“The Americans have already announced that they will cancel the trade deals,” Speer said, flatly. The civilian licked his lips, nervously. “They’re calling it mass murder.”

“Tell them to tell it to the Indians,” Himmler said. His face twisted into a sneer. “Or to the Japanese.”

Kesselring slapped the table, hard. “It was decided that nukes would not be used …”

“… Unless the Reich itself was at risk,” Himmler said. “I determined that the Reich was at risk.”

Speer looked incredulous. “You plan to argue that a bunch of religious fanatics in the desert could somehow threaten the Reich?”

Himmler gazed back at him, evenly.

Untermenschen cannot be allowed to revolt,” he said. “It would give other Untermenschen ideas.”

He nodded towards the map. “Or do you believe that we can continue to hold the Lebensraum in Russia if the Russians think we can be beaten? That they can drive us out of the lands we won by the sword? Or that we can keep our access to oil if the Untermenschen tribes revolt against us? We needed to take strong action and I took that action.”

“You used nuclear weapons on four defenceless cities,” Speer said.

“I destroyed four cities that would have been destroyed anyway, in the fullness of time,” Himmler countered. “Were we going to leave the useless Untermenschen alive?”

No, Karl thought.

He smiled to himself. The Arabs had been foolish to side with the Reich. They might have chafed under British rule – they might have feared and hated the Jews as much as the Reich itself – but the Reich intended to enslave or exterminate all Untermenschen. And the Arabs were definitely Untermenschen. They had gleefully assisted the Reich to drive out the British and slaughter the Jews, only to discover that the Reich intended to slaughter them next.

“I did what I had to do,” Himmler said. “The Fuehrer’s death made us look weak. If I hadn’t taken action, who knows how far the revolt would have spread?”

Karl nodded in agreement. Adolf Hitler might have been declining in his later years – he flinched away from the thought hurriedly, knowing that expressing it meant death – but no one had doubted he ruled the Reich. And there had been no designated successor. The three men at the table – Himmler, Kesselring and Speer – were collectively the most powerful figures in the Reich, yet none of them had a strong claim to Hitler’s title. Who would take the throne?

Himmler should, Karl thought. But the other two fear him.

“Never again,” Speer said. “The decision to deploy nuclear weapons will not be left in your hands.”

“Oh?” Himmler asked. “And you intend to enforce it … how?”

“There will be a new division of the military specifically charged with handling nuclear weapons,” Kesselring said. “They will take their orders directly from the Reich Council, no one else. There will be no nuclear release without authority from the very highest levels.”

That’s not an answer, Karl thought.

He weighed up the odds in his head. There were a dozen crack SS units deployed near Berlin, but there were also a number of Wehrmacht infantry divisions … all on high alert since Adolf Hitler had died. If the power struggle over who should succeed Hitler turned violent, there was no way to know who would win. Karl had every faith in the Waffen-SS, but would Himmler order them to attack the Wehrmacht? Or to slaughter the other members of the Reich Council and present the Wehrmacht with a fait accompli?

“The revolution begun by the Fuhrer must be completed,” Himmler said. “If we have to deploy nuclear weapons to reach our goals, we will deploy them.”

Speer looked even paler than usual. “Even at the risk of war with America?”

Himmler snorted, rudely. “Do you really think the Americans would sacrifice New York or Washington for the sake of Untermenschen? Or the British? We could turn Britain into a radioactive slagheap and they know it.”

He cleared his throat. “The Americans will moan and whine because that is what Americans do,” he said. “They won’t risk war with us.”

“They crushed the Japanese,” Speer said.

“Little yellow men,” Himmler countered, dismissively. “We rule, directly or indirectly, a third of the world. We have millions of men under arms, hundreds of thousands of panzers, aircraft and u-boats; we are far stronger, far more formidable, than Imperial Japan. And we have nuclear weapons. We can destroy them.”

“They can destroy us,” Speer said.

“They will not risk their existence by waging war against us,” Himmler said.

Kesselring tapped the table, sharply. “We have a compromise in mind,” he said. “You – the SS – will be given Russia as your private domain. You’ll have complete freedom to reshape society any way you choose. In exchange for this, you will accept the position of the Reich Council and surrender the SS’s claim to nuclear weapons.”

Karl looked at Himmler, wondering how his ultimate superior would react. The SS already ruled much of Occupied Russia, enslaving or slaughtering the Russians while slowly establishing massive settlements on the soil. Himmler was being offered something he already had. And yet, the SS didn’t have an entirely free hand. They still had to contend with the Wehrmacht and Speer’s civilian bureaucracy. To be rid of that, to create a land where the Volk could live free and hold up its head with pride …

And we would grow strong, he thought, as our success attracted more and more Aryans into the Reich.

It wasn’t ideal, he knew. Germany itself would not be transformed so radically. The civilian bureaucrats were already objecting to some of the more important transformations – and their influence would only grow stronger if the SS concentrated on Russia. But the Reich Council’s control would not last. It would grow weaker and weaker until the true masters took their place at the head of society.

Himmler took a long moment to compose his reply. “You believe this will appease the Americans?”

“This is not about the Americans,” Kesselring said. “This is about preventing a civil war.”

Karl had to fight to keep his face impassive. He’d known what was at stake – everyone knew what was at stake – but he’d never heard it expressed so bluntly. There were just too many competing factions within the Reich, all held in check by Hitler. If the Reich Council couldn’t put together a compromise to stabilise the Reich, the entire edifice would go down into civil war. And that would utterly destroy the Reich.

“The Americans are not our greatest threat right now,” Speer added. “Our greatest threat is ourselves.”

Himmler barely moved for a long cold moment. “Very well,” he said, finally. “You’ll have your control over nuclear weapons.”

“You will still have a seat on the council,” Speer said.

Karl nodded, inwardly. Speer was the weakest member of the triumvirate. What was control over the economy, over the factories and farms, compared to control over the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought to expand the Reich? Speer needed Himmler to keep Kesselring in line, just as much as he needed Kesselring to keep Himmler in line. No doubt Speer expected to slowly extend his influence eastwards, no matter what agreements were made. He’d assume the SS couldn’t handle its own economy.

He allowed himself to relax, just barely, as the three men discussed the practicalities of their agreement. It wasn’t what he wanted – what he knew Himmler wanted – but it was enough to keep the triumvirate happy. And, in the long run, the SS would reshape Russia into a paradise, a good example to the rest of the Reich. It might take decades – or more – but eventually the entire Reich would follow in their footsteps.

And as long as we never lose sight of our goals, he thought, we will prevail.

Chapter One

East Germany

28 October 1985

The village was a blackened ruin.

Hauptsturmfuehrer Hennecke Schwerk barely noticed as he stumbled through the ruined streets, heading east. He’d lost contact with his unit – all that remained of his unit – two days ago, during the chaotic retreat from Berlin. Now, the handful of men surrounding him were the remnants of a dozen units that had been hammered so badly that they’d shattered, only a handful of troopers surviving long enough to escape the caldron and make their escape to the east. He walked over a body – male or female, it was impossible to say – barely registering its existence. There was no way to know if the dead person had been a loyalist, a traitor, or merely a poor innocent civilian caught up in the maelstrom washing over the Reich

He shook his head, feeling a sudden surge of anger. There was no such thing as an innocent civilian, not now. The world was divided into loyalists, men and women who would give their all to preserve the Reich, and traitors, men and women who would tear it down and spit in the face of everything the Reich had achieved since Adolf Hitler had taken power in 1933 and reshaped the world. And the traitorous civilians had turned on the Waffen-SS and driven them from Berlin, driven them east …

They will pay, he promised himself. They will pay.

He shivered as a cold wind blew from the east. They’d been meant to take their winter clothing with them – the Waffen-SS had plenty of experience fighting in colder climes – but the offensive had been organised in such a tearing hurry that they’d ended up outrunning their logistics network. East Germany was nowhere near as cold as the Urals – or even the garrison towns near Germanica itself – but it was still cold now. He wrapped his arms around himself as he kept walking, somehow. They’d make it back to friendly lines and then …

The Waffen-SS was not supposed to lose. It had never lost, not until now. Hennecke had grown up on stories of the black-clad stormtroopers fighting the French, the British, the Russians and a dizzying series of subhuman opponents who couldn’t hope to stand up to the Reich. The Waffen-SS had always taken the lead in fighting, from the coldest realms of Germany East to the darkest depths of Africa. And it had never been bested, not until now.

At least we lost to fellow Germans, Hennecke thought.

The thought wasn’t reassuring. He’d been told, time and time again, that none of their opponents could hope to match them, man for man. Even the vaunted British SAS or the American Marines were no match for the SS. But they’d faced their fellow Germans – the softies of the west – in combat … and lost. Berlin had been held so strongly that thousands of blackshirts had died, even before the panzers had come to their rescue. Hennecke knew how close he had come to death, more than once. What sadistic god had deemed that he would survive long enough to flee Berlin and join the retreat?

I am strong, he told himself. I survived because I am strong.

He shivered, helplessly, as he heard a dull roar in the distance. An engine, he thought; he couldn’t tell if it was a panzer or a truck. Watching the panzers come at him had been a nightmare, leaving him with an odd flicker of sympathy for the bandit Untermenschen who’d faced the armoured vehicles on the steppes. For once, the panzers hadn’t been on his side … he didn’t want to look behind him, but there was no choice. And yet, there was nothing, save for plumes of smoke rising in the distance.

Perhaps they’ve given up the pursuit, he thought, numbly. Perhaps

It was wishful thinking, he knew. German soldiers – the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS – were taught to take the offensive and keep taking the offensive. And if their opponents were in retreat, their formations scattered and their command networks a joke, the soldiers were taught to take advantage of it. How many Frenchmen had gone into the camps, back during the war, because they’d been caught in the open and captured? How many Russians had been mown down by the advancing panzers because their leadership refused to even consider the virtues of retreat? He’d thrilled to such tales, back in the past …

… They didn’t seem so funny now.

He glanced up, sharply, as he saw something flicker at the corner of his eye. The overcast skies were clear – thankfully, the enemy wouldn’t be able to peer down on them from orbit – but that could change in a hurry. He hadn’t seen a friendly plane ever since the Wehrmacht had broken the lines around Berlin. The Luftwaffe was full of traitors. Almost all of their surviving pilots had sided with the rebels, bombing and strafing the loyalists as they retreated eastwards. Perhaps a handful of soldiers, some wounded, wouldn’t be a tempting target, but he knew they couldn’t take it for granted. The hatred he’d seen unleashed over the past few months was terrifying.

“Don’t get caught by the loyalists,” his superiors had warned. “They’re not taking prisoners.”

They kept moving, driven onwards by the grim knowledge that the only way to survive was to reach friendly lines. But where were the friendly lines? Hennecke thought they were moving east – he’d lost his personal compass somewhere in the retreat – but what if he was wrong? They could be moving north or south … And yet, the devastation surrounding him – the destroyed villages, the shattered roads – suggested that they were on the right track.

But he hadn’t seen anyone outside his group for days.

Another farming village loomed up in front of him. Common sense suggested they should walk around it, but he was too tired to care. The village had been wrecked as thoroughly as the previous village, save for the church. It stood alone, surrounded by ruined buildings and piles of blackened debris; outside, a dozen men and women dangled from ropes, their decomposing bodies suggesting they’d been hanged weeks ago. He shuddered, even though he’d seen worse horrors during the advance westwards. Who knew why the villages had been hanged? And who knew who’d done it?

He didn’t bother to issue orders. In truth, he was unsure if any of his companions would follow them. Instead, he walked straight into the church and looked around. It felt oddly peaceful, despite the horrors outside; he had to fight the urge to just slump down in one of the pews and collapse. There were few churches in Germany East – he’d certainly never been in one – but, just for a moment, he could understand why the religious took comfort in them. And then he started to search the building, looking for food or drink or something they could use to survive.

“Nothing,” he said, twenty minutes later. “Nothing at all.”

He shook his head, bitterly, as they made their way back into the cold afternoon. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but the air felt colder, as if winter was coming early. German citizens were meant to keep emergency supplies somewhere within reach at all times – it was something the Nazi Party taught in schools – yet the church had been bare. But then, the coddled folk of Germany Prime felt safe. They had no reason to believe that they might have to fight for their lives at any moment, that they might be attacked … let alone that the entire country might be attacked. The risk of nuclear war had declined, hadn’t it?

And so they stopped building shelters and worrying about life after the blast, he thought, bitterly. And so they turned on the guardians of the Reich.

He swallowed, hard, as he heard an aircraft high overhead, but when he looked up he saw nothing. A friendly aircraft, perhaps? Hiding within the looming clouds? Or an enemy aircraft hunting for panzers to plink from the sky? He’d heard whispers about entire SS panzer divisions wiped out by enemy aircraft, whispers he’d studiously ignored. But now, all of a sudden, those whispers seemed all too plausible.

Gritting his teeth, he peered into one of the ruined buildings. Someone had already been through it, he realised; they’d torn through a shattered wardrobe, taking clothes and whatever else they could find in a desperate bid for survival. The only remaining clothes were clearly designed for a teenage girl. Normally, he would have been reluctant to wrap them around his body – there was no hope of actually putting them on – but now there was no choice. The laws against cross-dressing – cross-dressers were automatically sent to the camps – were no longer important. All that mattered was staying alive long enough to reach friendly lines.

“Bitch,” one of his companions muttered.

He held up a pair of blue jeans, clearly intended for someone a great deal slimmer than the average stormtrooper. Hennecke felt his lips thin in cold disapproval. There was no shortage of clothes from the textile combines in Germany East, but whoever had owned the jeans had preferred to buy American-made clothes off the black market. The single pair in the house – he pretended not to see his companion stuff the jeans into a bag – had probably cost more than everything else in the wardrobe put together. He knew precisely what his father would have said – and done – if he’d caught Hennecke or any of his siblings with American clothes, but their family lived in Germany East. They knew, all too well, just how cruel and uncaring the world could be.

And besides, buying American clothes helps them to fund wars against the Reich, he thought.

He took one last look at the remaining clothes, then led the way outside. There was no way to know what had happened to the original owner. She might have been evacuated by the rebels, she might have hidden somewhere in the countryside … or she might have been rounded up and shipped to the camps by the loyalists. Or she might have been raped and murdered by prowling stormtroopers. Rape was officially forbidden, but discipline had been breaking down even before the retreat from Berlin. The Waffen-SS hadn’t known what to do with a rebellion and a civil war, rather than yet another pacification campaign.

Let us hope she made it out safely, he thought.

He was too tired to be angry with her, really. No one had really expected a civil war, not when the Reich had held together since 1933. Everyone knew the Reich would last a thousand years. But now, old certainties were falling everywhere. No one knew their place any longer. Soldiers were turning on their officers, workers were turning on their managers, women were turning on their husbands, collaborator governments were starting to savour the taste of freedom … nothing was the same any longer. And, no matter who won the civil war, it was hard to imagine things going back to the way they were before the rebellion. The old certainties were gone.

Darkness was falling when they finally walked into friendly lines. A handful of stormtroopers, looking reassuringly competent rather than refugees; a couple of armoured vehicles, hiding under camouflage netting; an officer, looking as though he was definitely in command. Hennecke was relieved, even though he rather doubted the officer had experienced the maelstrom of Berlin. He had the supercilious air of a man who hadn’t had his confidence knocked out of him.

Heil Holliston,” Hennecke managed. “Herr Sturmbannfuehrer.”

The Sturmbannfuehrer looked him up and down for a long moment. Hennecke realised, in a flash of sudden horror, just how awful he must look. He was a Hauptsturmfuehrer, yet he couldn’t be said to have taken command or done anything, really, apart from lead a handful of men to safety. But he’d lost touch with his unit during the retreat …

Heil Holliston,” the Sturmbannfuehrer returned. His gaze moved to the other men. “Go to the tent, report to the officer there. You’ll be fed, watered and assigned to new units.”

Hennecke felt cold. The Sturmbannfuehrer spoke of stormtroopers as if they were animals …

He watched his men go, suddenly wishing he’d never been promoted. It had been a battlefield promotion, the kind of promotion he’d dreamed of before he’d discovered what it entailed. He’d led men into battle; he’d watched them die, even as he’d been spared himself … going back to the ranks would be a demotion, but he would almost welcome it. The war hadn’t been what he’d been promised. It had never been what he’d been promised.

“You should have taken command,” the Sturmbannfuehrer said, coldly.

Hennecke said nothing. He knew the Sturmbannfuehrer was correct. He’d outranked everyone else in the little group. He could have issued orders, he could have done … done what? There had been nothing he could have done, save for continuing the retreat until they reached friendly lines. But they’d shuffled into the lines like Untermenschen slaves doing their best to avoid a full day’s work. His men had looked pathetic …

… And so did he.

A pair of stormtroopers seemed to materialise out of nowhere. Hennecke had been so absorbed in himself that he hadn’t seen them coming. The two men looked absolutely perfect; their uniforms clean and tidy, their boots and buttons shined until they almost glowed, their faces utterly impassive. It was clear that they had never seen combat.

“Take this swinehund to the pen and hold him there,” the Sturmbannfuehrer ordered.

Hennecke had no time to protest before the two stormtroopers frisked him – removing his pistol, his knife and a handful of tools – and then frog-marched him through the concealed camp. It was larger than he realised, he saw; a dozen tents, all carefully hidden under netting and guarded by SS stormtroopers. One tent was clearly set aside for the wounded; he glanced inside, ignoring the grunt of complaint from his escorts, and winced as he saw thirty men lying on the hard ground. A pair of medics were doing what they could, assisted by five young women, but it was clear that they were badly overworked …

He stared in horror until his escorts yanked him forward. He was no stranger to blood and gore, but the sight before him was horrific. Men had lost arms and legs, their bodies hideously mutilated … even if they were somehow rushed to better medical facilities, their chances of ever living a normal life again were slim. It made him realise just how many men might have been killed by their own side – a mercy kill – or left to bleed out and die during the retreat. The medics had strict orders – standing orders – to concentrate on the soldiers who could be saved. There wouldn’t be anything, not even morphine, for the ones who had no hope of survival.

And some of the ones left to die could have lived, with proper treatment, he thought.

His escorts kept dragging him forward until they reached the pen, a small region fenced off and guarded by armed stormtroopers. It didn’t look very secure – Hennecke was sure he could escape, easily – but he knew better than to try. The stormtroopers guarding the fence wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him down if they caught him trying to escape – and no one, least of all their superiors, would give a damn. Hennecke was an embarrassment. It was quite possible that he’d be taken out and shot within the next hour. Or perhaps they’d just slit his throat.

There’s probably a shortage of bullets, he thought, morbidly.

He glanced at his fellow prisoners as his escorts thrust him into the pen, then marched off to torment someone else. A number of soldiers – he was still the highest-ranking, he noticed – a trio of older men in civilian clothes and a pair of young women. He wondered, as he found a space on the ground, why they were being detained. If they were insurgents – or whatever one called treacherous rebels – they would have been shot already. Maybe they were just hostages for someone’s good behaviour. Neither of them seemed inclined to talk to him or anyone else.

There was nothing to do inside the pen, so he lay down on the hard ground and closed his eyes. He’d long-since mastered the art of sleeping whenever he had a spare moment, even though the ground was uncomfortable and there was a very real prospect of being shot by his own side. But it still felt as if he hadn’t slept at all when he was woken by the guards, who escorted him and the other soldier prisoners out of the pen and down to where a grim-faced Brigadefuehrer was standing. He honestly wasn’t sure how long he’d slept.

“You cowards fled,” the Brigadefuehrer snapped. His gaze raked over the prisoners, cold and hard and utterly devoid of mercy. “You could have fought. You could have organised yourselves. You could have given the rebels a bloody nose. Instead, you fled.”

Hennecke resisted the urge to say something in his own defence. There was nothing he could say. The SS was looking for scapegoats. And if they’d chosen him …

“You should be dispatched to the camps,” the Brigadefuehrer added. “But we have need of you here. You’ll be assigned to a penal unit instead. If you survive …”

Hennecke barely heard the rest of the speech. He’d heard horror stories about penal units. A soldier who was assigned to one would be allowed to return to his unit – his record wiped – if he survived a month in the penal unit …

… But the odds of survival were very low.

It might not matter, he told himself. In the distance, he heard thunder – or shellfire. The odds of any of us surviving are very low.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

7 Aug

The RNC, the Republican Party elite, is currently dealing with the consequences of its own stupidity (which I would have used as the title, if I hadn’t used it before.)

Their hatred for Donald Trump is not based on ideology, personality or even a genuine concern that Trump is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. It is the far more understandable sense that Trump’s success has rendered them irrelevant, that Trump has literally stolen the Republican Party from under their noses. And that is precisely what Trump has done. They are caught between a number of options, all bad for them personally even if they are not bad for the Republican Party.

Trump, like it or not, is now the Republican Nominee for President. I do not believe that the RNC can remove him, at least not legally; I rather doubt Trump can be pushed into resigning from the race, not when he has stood firm and beaten some of the most powerful republicans in the country. As a current meme has it, Hillary Clinton had to cheat to beat an unelectable socialist (and even then she barely succeeded); Trump crushed his opponents and made himself unchallengeable.

And so the RNC is caught in a dilemma of its own making.

If they support Donald Trump, they undermine their own reason for existence. Trump did not come out of the RNC’s ranks; he took his case to the party’s rank and file … and won. Who needs the elites if the rank and file can choose their own candidate? But if they don’t support Trump, Trump will cry foul – and he will be right. Will the RNC effectively betray its voters by siding with Hillary Clinton? What future do they have if they try to throw the election to the Democrats?

In a very real sense, it does not matter if we see President Trump taking power in the coming year. The RNC has been crippled, holed below the waterline, by Trump’s success. They now have to justify their existence to a party that is understandably sceptical of their value and sees no reason to keep them around. Indeed, if the RNC suffers a number of defections to Hillary Clinton, it will only accelerate the transformation of the Republican Party. The rank and file will assert that the truth – that the political elite has more in common with each other than they do with the average citizen – has finally been exposed.

The blunt truth is, once again, that Donald Trump is not the cause of the problems facing the Republican Party. It would be rather more accurate to say, perhaps, that the RNC saw fit to abandon the interests of large numbers of Republican voters – people who have been disparaged, unfairly, as ‘poor white trash.’ In playground terms, the elite forgot their roots as they sucked up to the ‘cool kids’ – the media and political elite – and sneered at everyone below them. Instead of accepting the Tea Party movement as a gentle rebuke from the party faithful, the RNC crushed it. Instead of using Republican majorities to push back against Obama, the elite chose to roll over for a truly unsuitable President. And, in doing so, they created a mass of party members desperate for a leader, for a fighter, for someone who will stand up for them.

And they see Donald Trump as that fighter.

The elites may argue that Trump is a hideous candidate for President. And, from their point of view, they’re right. Trump’s success calls their power base into question. But now he’s the one they’re stuck with.

There is an emotion I call ‘Nag Rage.’ It is a tidal rage of frustration with people who nag, people who talk down to other people, people who sneer … it is an incoherent wave of pure anger that leads to shouting and violence because, in the end, all it wants is for the nagger to shut up. The average American – the average western citizen – is fed up with being nagged, fed up with being told he’s wrong, fed up with being insulted and mocked by people who have no conception of his life … in short, he hates being made to feel powerless. Trump’s success is based, mainly, on appealing to a demographic that feels that it has been abandoned by the elites …

… And it is right.

The RNC had an excellent opportunity to mend fences during the Tea Party era. It might have been able to save itself, perhaps, if it had put forward a more sensible candidate during the early selection process. But instead, it backed Jeb Bush …

… And failed to realise that, for vast numbers of their voters, Jeb was not part of the solution, but just part of the problem.

Trump, in short, is precisely what they deserve.


I was challenged, after writing the previous article, to put forward any reasons why anyone should vote for Donald Trump. I found three:

First, President Trump would not have the tame Congress or media President Obama has enjoyed. There would be a great deal more scrutiny of his decisions while in office, a great deal more involvement from other politicians. They might even succeed in rolling back a great of the executive power Obama has amassed over the last eight years. In short, with Republican majorities, Trump would have to produce results.

Second, whoever takes office next year will have the task of nominating a number of replacement Supreme Court judges. Would the average Republican really want to put that power in Hillary’s hands? Think about all the rulings that will have to be made over the next few years. Do you want, for example, limitations on free speech because of vague ‘hate speech’ concerns? Or post-birth abortions? Or transgender bathrooms? What about gun rights? Schooling? Religious freedom?

Third, he isn’t Hillary Clinton.

Obviously, that sounds snide, but there is a grain of truth in it. Obama did well in 2008 – and he did – because he wasn’t Hillary, because he represented an alternative to a repeat of the Clinton Years. Donald Trump may have very little political experience, but – as I noted before – Hillary’s experience in office shows us that she isn’t half as clever as she seems to think she is. Trump may actually be smart enough to nominate people who are genuine experts; Clinton, depending on which sources you read, doesn’t seem to be smart enough to do anything of the sort. Why didn’t she realise that things in Libya were going to hell?

Whatever else can be said about Trump, he has never played fast and loose with national security. Clinton has – the email server alone would be grounds for a trial and a long jail sentence, if anyone else had owned and operated the server. I don’t believe there are any real grounds to dispute that Donald Trump loves America, while there are certainly plenty of grounds to suspect that the Clintons owe no allegiance to anyone past themselves.

The American population, in short, has a choice between Trump’s mouth – and it is a very foul mouth – and Hillary’s crimes. (A line I gleefully stole from an earlier commenter. Sorry.)

And yet, would Trump make a good president?

It is easy to say that anyone would be better than Hillary Clinton. That obviously isn’t true. I can think of worse candidates for the post than either Clinton or Trump. But the fundamental problem facing Trump – and the Republicans – is that the qualities needed to get elected are different from the qualities needed to be a good president. Trump is an aggressive fighter whose instinctive approach to challenges is to hit back. That plays well with his base because they’ve wanted a fighter for the last two decades. But when it comes to building a working government, it isn’t such a great strength.

The blunt truth, as I have noted before, is that it is difficult to truly assess Donald Trump. If he does well, the media ignores it; if he makes a tiny little gaffe, the media turns it into a world-class disaster and then recoils in horror when Trump keeps marching on anyway. In theory, at least, he’s better-prepared for the job than Clinton; a career outside the political elite, extensive business experience, extensive high-level discussion experience, a genuine willingness to notice the real problems bedevilling the United States and try to come to grips with them. But in practice, any fool can make a fuss about anything when out of power – just watch countless opposition parties around the globe – and then fold when they are forced to actually tackle the problems.

Indeed, many of Trump’s more absurd statements play well with his base. Trump’s attacks on Khan (who was trotted out at the DNC purely to embarrass Trump) made perfect sense; Khan’s role was to delegitimize the concerns about Muslim immigration and terrorism and he had to be neutralised as quickly as possible. Trump’s attacks on the media delight his base because the media hasn’t given them a fair shake in years. ‘Poor white trash’ are the sole ethnic group the media is allowed to mock these days – and boy, do they get mocked. And support for Trump is seen as a blow against Political Correctness and the many absurdities running around America – and the West – these days.

People do have the right to protest peacefully, for example – the keyword there is peacefully. The average American, I suspect, recoils in horror from violent student protests and groups such as Black Lives Matter because they are very far from peaceful. Their message boils down to ‘give us what we want or we will get violent’ and often they get violent anyway. It makes people want more repression, not tolerance. Trump’s supporters believe that their backs are being pressed against the wall, that they have to fight or surrender. And the hell of it is that they have a point.

Trump, for better or worse, comes across as someone willing to stand up and actually fight for his base. And they will forgive him anything as long as he fights for them.

trump_cartoons trump-scandal

The blunt truth is that America, particularly over the last eight years, has become more and more polarised. Racial tensions are on the rise, fuelled by demands for ‘social justice’ and propelled by narratives that are often easy to disprove; the economy is in a mess, despite constant assertions that it is doing better; the media has been exposed as shrills for the political left; the political elite themselves have been proved to be uninterested in anything but power; freedom of speech is under savage attack; ‘justice’ itself is now a question of who you are, not what you did.

And it is fuelling both extremism and a desire to just lash out.

Is it fair, one may ask, to blame every homosexual in America for the court case that crushed a bakery? Of course not – there were plenty of homosexuals who thought the whole affair was nothing more than disgraceful bullying. But the incident fuelled anti-homosexual feelings because it gave weight to the ‘us against them’ complex that has dominated humanity ever since we crawled out of the ocean. Discovering that one group has ‘rights’ not given to others is a recipe for social unrest and disaster.

Most people want tolerance, nothing more. But the Political Left wants enthusiastic acceptance from everyone. The average person has no reason to care, one way or the other, if Bruce Jenner wants to be called Caitlin Jenner as he starts the transformation into a transgender woman. But the left wants everyone to celibate his transformation and recoils in shocked horror when people, asked for their opinion, question his claim to be a real woman.

“Silly ignorant rednecks – didn’t they know there was only one true answer?”

And the rules keep changing. No one knows where to stand. Legitimate concerns are ignored – those who raise them are mocked and belittled. And the net result is a great seething mass of anger that has now found a champion in Donald Trump. Trump is a rump, as Bill James noted, but he has a point.

The Republican Party had an excellent chance to take a stand against the madness enveloping America – and did nothing. Now … the RNC has managed to render itself irreverent …

… And it is faced with the choice of holding its collective nose and supporting Trump …

… Or betraying its roots and supporting Hillary Clinton.