Archive | April, 2017

Brief Update (Sorry)

22 Apr

Hi, everyone

I’m currently 19 chapters into Wolf’s Bane, Book 14 of The Empire’s Corps. If all goes well, I hope to have it uploaded and ready for purchase in a couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy it <grin>

The bad news is that I’ve pretty much decided that it will be the last book focusing on the Avalon Marines, at least for the moment. I need to go back to the Core Worlds and spend some time – and books – exploring what’s happened there, with Belinda, Glen and ex-Prince Roland. And the Commonwealth needs a rest too.

After that, I’m going to be working on Becalmed, which is a stand-alone spin-off of Angel in the Whirlwind. It’s something I’ve been meaning to explore and … well, it fits neatly into that universe. (And it provides a break between the two planed Kat Falcone story arcs.) After that, there will be the first stand-alone book in the Ark Royal universe – The Longest Day, which will tell the story of the Battle of Earth.

I’ve been tossing around a few ideas for later stories. I’ve been considering a return to the Imperium Universe, largely focused on the eventual and probably inevitable civil war. I’ve also been messing around with a spin-off, either for SIM or The Zero Blessing universe. I’m not sure, yet, which universe would take it better.


Book Review: The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age

16 Apr

-James Kirchick

TL:DR: a good overview of the problems facing Europe, but somewhat limited.

Reading this book, I cannot help but think of The Lost Continent, a book exploring the effects of the financial crisis on Europe. This book, in some ways, reads like an updated version. James Kirchick takes us on a tour of Europe, exploring the fault lines that are threatening to rip the European Union apart. He examines the threat posed by Putin and Russia, the rise of neo-fascist movements in parts of Europe and the political and social earthquakes triggered by mass immigration. It is, in many ways, a very interesting read.

Many of the problems he points to are serious threats to peace. Putin’s rise to power in Russia – and his tightening grip on the countries surrounding Russia, as well as his political influence in Europe – is a very real threat. Like most bullies, Putin is smart enough not to bite off more than he can chew – a combination of other threats and a genuine reluctance to go to war are enough to keep the West from doing anything solid about the threat. And, like most bullies, the only thing that will stop Putin is a creditable threat of force, a threat that no longer exists. Would NATO go to war to defend the Baltic States? There is a very strong possibility that the answer is no.

At the same time, Kirchick does not realise the true extent of the problems facing the European Union. It was suffering from a severe crisis of both legitimacy and credibility prior to the migrant crisis, a problem that has only gotten worse because the EU governments – mainly Germany and Sweden – have tried to hide the scale of the problem rather than come to terms with it. By attempting to marginalise anyone who spoke out against immigration (mainly by calling them racists), EU leaders made it impossible to have a real conversation about immigration. This ensured that voters would come to believe the worst. Accordingly, vast numbers of voters had no choice, but to turn to the far-right parties … the only ones pledging to do something about a serious problem.

Kirchick does acknowledge this as a problem – and even concedes that such voters have a point – but he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. Perception plays a major role in determining how people feel about … well, anything. The perception that the truth is being hushed up, that those who speak out will be suppressed, that the politicians are idiotic or openly contemptuous or hostile to their own people, drives voters to the right. Sympathy – with refugees or foreigners in general – has its limits, particularly when people feel they’re being taken advantage of. Those who see themselves being forced to bear the burden of bad decision-making by governments – the migrant crisis, the Greek crisis, etc – think of themselves as victims. They think their interests have been marginalised to suit someone else.

The voters may be wrong to believe this. But telling them they’re wrong, without even giving them time to vent, is not helpful. And this goes double when the government’s credibility has been shot to hell.

Kirchick does not, in fact, touch upon the most important factor of all in Europe’s rise to power – the rule of law. The West developed a framework for ensuring that the law applied equally to all, regardless of their race, religion, gender, etc. Our ideal is that everyone is equal under the law. One may argue that this doesn’t work out that well in practice – that the rich and powerful can escape punishment for their crimes – but that is our ideal. The perception that certain segments of society can have their own laws, that their laws can supersede ours, that they can escape punishment for horrific crimes, that our governments and police forces are reluctant to investigate for fear of being called racists is undermining faith in the rule of law. And when the rule of law collapses, it is replaced by the rule of force.

This is the core of the problem facing the EU. No one has any real faith in it, no one feels any loyalty to it, save for the people who benefit from it. And why should they? It is a bureaucratic monstrosity that is fundamentally unaccountable and resistant to reform. The EU – and mainstream European politicians – have made so many mistakes that voters have no reason to trust them – and, again, why should they? The politicians are incredibly detached from reality. How many mistakes can they make before they lose everything?

Kirchick argues that the solution to Europe’s problem is greater unity. But this is fundamentally unworkable. One cannot fix an unfixable edifice, nor can one restore confidence simply by decreeing it so. Doubling down on failure is not a winning strategy, not when it will only further undermine the EU governments. The only way to begin restoring confidence is a through house-cleaning, the removal of politicians with no grasp at all of reality and a firm return to the rule of law. And, perhaps, a recognition that the push towards European unity has gone too far.

But I don’t think this will happen. The rot may already be too deep.

The EU’s creators saw fit to undermine nationalism – believing, perhaps correctly, that nationalism had played a major role in unleashing two world wars. But, in doing so, they undermined society itself. Too much nationalism is dangerous, but so too is too little nationalism. Those who have no loyalty towards society have no inclination to defend it, when another challenge comes along. But the credibility and trust gap led – inevitably – to a new form of nationalism, one that hated and feared the EU. Worse, perhaps, the new nationalism is potentially very dangerous because it cannot be easily shaped into well-worn channels. It is a form of incoherent rage that will not, that cannot, be safely targeted. Nor will it listen to reasoned agreements and honeyed words from those who have no credibility left.

The End of Europe is an interesting read. But it’s blithe faith in European unity – and the scorn it shows for those who do not appreciate the benefits of the EU – are symptomatic of a far wider problem: the simple failure of dreams and bureaucrats to understand that the real world does not kowtow on command. People vote in what they see as their own best interests, rather than the interests of the EU as a whole; people care more about themselves, their families and their countries more than anything else. There is no cold awareness of reality …

And reality does not go away when you close your eyes.

Doctor Strange – Movie Review

12 Apr

I find myself with curiously mixed feelings about Doctor Strange. On one hand, I enjoyed much of it immensely. There was, as always with Marvel, a nice balance between exciting action, moments of reflection and flickers of humour that made me laugh even in the darkest moments. The solution to the major crisis is very well-played, standing in stark contrast to the battles that ended both Avengers movies. And yet, there were moments – mainly in the adaption of the original comic to the big screen – that grated on me.

The original Doctor Strange was an a-hole, to put it mildly. He only got better after his near-fatal accident and years of training. The movie version is less of a pain in the butt, even before the accident. In some ways, the movie version comes across as a decent guy when we need to think of him as a prat. This is not, however, the real problem. The re-imagined Mordo is also a decent guy, if a little rigid in his thinking. His fall from grace at the end of the movie – in the stinger – actually cheapens the character. I couldn’t help thinking of just how badly Green Lantern messed up its source material, although – in this case – in reverse.

In the original comics, Mordo starts out as a bad guy – the Ancient One’s greatest apprentice who also happens to be evil. He actually pushes Strange into committing himself to his studies, just by providing the motivation to think of something beyond himself that Strange lacked. (Nice job fixing it, villain.) In the movie, Mordo – a man unable to see the world in anything more than black and white – falls to evil through his determination to rid the world of it.

This does add a layer of tragedy to the (genuine) friendship between Mordo and Strange – it’s clear, even at the end, that they genuinely like one another. But at the same time, it provides a layer of excuse for Mordo that was lacking in the comic-book character. This is not someone who is out-and-out evil – and I think this was a mistake, because the world needs to be reminded that evil does exist. This ‘fallen from grace’ theme pervades too many of the Marvel movies and I find it more than a little annoying.

It also undermines some of Strange’s character. Instead of giving him a reason to fight, the movie puts him in places where he has to fight. (And it removes the plot point that the original Ancient One knew very well that Mordo was falling into evil.) I can’t help comparing it to Thor, but that fitted in with Marvel canon.

Overall, this was a good movie. It stands very well on its own – there are hardly any mentions of other parts of the MCU – and remains focused on its characters. But while people may complain about race-swapping some of the older characters, the real problem lies in how they are used. Their flaws are cheapened and so too are they.

YMMV, of course.

Snippet–Wolf’s Bane (TEC 14)

11 Apr

Wolf's Bane (type 2)


From: The Day After: The Post-Empire Universe and its Wars. Professor Leo Caesius. Avalon University Press. 46PE.

Materially speaking, the Battle of Corinthian – technically, the Corinthian Campaign – was not a decisive encounter. Wolfbane did not lose enough men and material to ensure its defeat, nor did the Commonwealth gain enough of an advantage to reasonably claim to have the upper hand. The loss of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, spacers and civilians did not affect the balance of power. In many ways, the battle was as meaningless as the skirmishes over Cantor, a stage-one colony that swapped hands a dozen times during the course of the war.

But, politically, the Commonwealth won the Battle of Corinthian.

For the first time, the Commonwealth lured the Wolves into fighting on terrain of its own choosing, using its technological advantages to offset the enemy advantages in men, machinery and firepower. Admiral Singh, now unquestioned ruler of the Wolfbane Consortium, bore the sole blame for a campaign that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed many of Wolfbane’s most powerful military formations. And while her position was – on the surface – secure – she knew as well as anyone else that her defeat might lead to her fall from grace. Resuming the offensive, therefore, was simply impossible.

It must have been frustrating to Singh to know – as she did – that the Wolves still held a considerable advantage in military tonnage. A direct strike at Avalon itself might have ended the war in their favour, despite the growing array of firepower the Commonwealth had assembled to defend its capital. An noted military theorist like her – like most admirals, Singh’s experience in extensive naval combat was purely theoretical – could hardly have failed to note the possibilities, all the more so as uncovering Wolfbane would not have weakened her position notably. And yet, launching such an offensive was politically impossible.

And so the war paused, while the universe held its breath.

The Commonwealth, too, was aware of the weakness of its position. Technologically, it held a considerable advantage; materially, it was outnumbered and outmatched. The Wolves could afford to lose more than the Commonwealth in any major battle – indeed, the loss ratio in almost all major encounters was two-to-one in the Commonwealth’s favour – and production of the new weapons and technology was hardly keeping up with demand. Given time, Singh and her allies would rebalance themselves, purge the naysayers and resume the offensive.

Worse, there were rumours that the Wolves were developing their own advanced weapons and technologies. While Singh had been badly worried by her first – and bruising – encounters with Commonwealth weapons, she was too experienced a naval officer to allow herself to panic. The Commonwealth had surprised her, true, but it had not produced a single workable silver bullet, a weapon that would render the entire pre-collapse Imperial Navy obsolete at a stroke. Given time, she told her allies, the Commonwealth’s advantages could be negated and their weapons duplicated. And she was right. It was ruefully acknowledged by the Commonwealth – during and after the war – that the new weapons were never as advantageous in the field as their designers proclaimed.

The window of opportunity for taking the offensive, for knocking the Wolves back on their heels, was therefore closing rapidly. For all its advantages, the Commonwealth might still lose the war – and with it, all hopes of replacing the fallen Empire with something better, something that would weather any future collapses with ease. The fate of the war – and humanity itself – hung in the balance.

Fortunately, Edward Stalker had a plan.

Chapter One

Admiral Rani Singh had never been one to despair. She’d worked her way up the ranks through ability alone, even though jealous and amorous superiors had done their best to put her down. She still smiled whenever she remembered Admiral Bainbridge, the randy old goat who’d done his level best to destroy her career after she’d declined his advances. The old man had transferred her to System Command, never realising the power he’d put into her hands until it was far too late. She’d never given up, even when she’d lost Corinthian to the Commonwealth and had to flee to Wolfbane. She was mistress of a hundred stars, unchallenged ruler of a small empire of her own … and weaker, perhaps, than she dared admit, even to herself.

She stood at the window, staring out over the city. Tryon blazed with light, towering skyscrapers reaching up to touch the very edge of the atmosphere. Governor Brown, whatever one could say about him, had done an excellent job of putting Wolfbane’s economy back on a sound footing. The corporations were happy, the network of industrial nodes were humming along, producing an endless supply of everything she needed to extend her empire still further. And if someone didn’t want to acknowledge Wolfbane as the new mistress of the universe, she had more than enough firepower to crack any defences. Opening up hundreds of colonies for her corporations had been easy.

And yet, the war with the Commonwealth had taken a dark turn.

She gritted her teeth in frustration. She’d talked Governor Brown into starting the war, pointing out that the Commonwealth’s growing technical superiority would eventually turn it into a major competitor, perhaps even a threat. And she’d been right. If anything, she’d underestimated the Commonwealth’s advantages. But Governor Brown had been assassinated, she’d taken command … and made a serious mistake.

Rani admitted that, in the privacy of her own mind. She’d allowed herself to be duped, believe – because she’d wanted to believe – what her intelligence agents were saying. And, perhaps, because she wanted to return to Corinthian, to recover the world she’d lost so many years ago. But it had been a mistake. Hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost, dozens of formations had been smashed …

She lifted her head, staring at the towers. They seemed to look back at her, mockingly. She had no illusions about the industrialists who ruled the planet, who bowed to her only because they feared her. Governor Brown had known how to talk to them, how to balance the dozens of competing factions in order to keep them happy and himself on top, but Rani didn’t have that advantage. Diplomacy had never been her strong suit. The industrialists respected her military might, appreciated her willingness to use force in defence of their interests, but they didn’t like her. And now they thought she was weak, she knew all too well, they would be plotting against her.

And I can’t strike first without losing the war, she thought, grimly. She drew herself upright, centring herself. They’ll rip the industrial base to shreds if I try to purge them.

She lowered her gaze, peering down into the darkness below the glowing towers. Wolfbane had a large and growing population, a population that was only kept in line through liberal applications of the carrot and the stick. Governor Brown hadn’t helped by conscripting every technical expert for a hundred light years and transporting them to Wolfbane, forcing them to work to maintain and expand the planet’s industrial base. There had been a shortage of trained technicians, Rani recalled, but in the long run it had been a mistake. Countless workers now had good reason to be angry at the regime, the skills to turn their anger into action …

And they were too valuable for her to purge. She’d started training programs, of course, handing out rewards like candy to anyone who passed, but the demand for trained manpower was endless. Rani couldn’t afford a crackdown, even on men and women her security officers knew to be subversives. She could only hope that she could keep the lid on long enough to win the war, which would allow her more freedom of movement. And yet, she knew that wasn’t going to be easy. Resuming the offensive, after Corinthian, would probably provoke open rebellion.

She looked up, her eyes seeking out the starships and orbital battlestations protecting the planet. The corporations had demanded that she protect their homeworld – despite the risk of a major attack being almost nil – and she hadn’t been able to refuse them. But it tied down hundreds of starships she could have taken to Avalon, if she’d had a completely free hand. It wasn’t as if the orbital stations couldn’t protect the planet …

And I’m down here in the fortress, she thought. I can’t even go back to orbit without looking weak.

Her lips twitched in amusement. Governor Brown – or one of his predecessors – had created the fortress, apparently under the delusion that it represented an effective defence. Rani supposed it would be, against unarmed civilian rioters or even enemy soldiers, but it would be worse than useless against an enemy who gained control of the high orbitals. Hell, it was just a big target, one that would attract KEWs like flies to rotting meat. Unless, of course, Wolfbane managed to duplicate the Commonwealth’s force field generator. Now that would give whoever had ordered the fortress the last laugh …

… And Governor Brown hadn’t even been in the fortress when he’d been assassinated.

She turned, composing herself, as she heard the door open behind her. Only a handful of people had access to her private apartments, although she was honest enough with herself to admit that even the most extreme precautions wouldn’t keep out a truly determined assassin or stop someone transporting a nuke into firing position. The fortress was designed to take a nuclear strike – the designer had layered the building with starship-grade hullmetal – but she had her doubts. Civilians, in her experience, rarely understood the realities of combat.

“Admiral,” Paula Bartholomew said. “I have an intelligence update.”

Rani nodded, tiredly. Paula was loyal, she had to be loyal. She’d betrayed General James Stubbins, then the Commonwealth … there was a good chance that, if someone found out the truth, that they’d charge Paula with betraying Governor Brown too. Rani disliked using someone with such flexible loyalties, someone who might desert her at once if she were offered something better, but she had no choice. Besides, Paula was smart enough to understand the weakness of her own position. No one would defend her if Rani decided to have her killed.

They made an odd couple, Rani had to admit. She was tall, dark-skinned and dark-eyed; she held herself with a military bearing that was an unspoken challenge to every man in the room. She’d learnt, back at the Naval Academy, that the key to earning respect was to do nothing that might dampen that respect. Admiral Bainbridge’s promised rewards would have been worthless, if her subordinates had believed – correctly – that she’d prostituted herself to earn them. And Paula was short, blonde and pretty in a way that owed everything to the body-shops. Her shirt was unbuttoned just enough to reveal a hint of cleavage, drawing the male gaze and short-circuiting the male mind. Rani was less impressed with that than Paula might have hoped – power was more interesting than sex, in her opinion – but she had to admit that it worked. Anyone who underestimated Paula would regret it.

She met Paula’s eyes. “Spit it out.”

Paula looked back at her, evenly. “Mouganthu and Hernandez had a meeting this afternoon,” she said. “We couldn’t get a bug into the meeting chamber itself, but we do know it lasted for at least three hours before Hernandez returned to his aircar and flew home.”

Rani lifted her eyebrows. “And you’re only telling me about this now?”

“Mouganthu had his security staff put the tower in lockdown,” Paula replied. “Our agent didn’t have a chance to send a message until 1900.”

“I see,” Rani said. “Were they alone?”

“Apparently,” Paula said. “Our agent wasn’t in a good position to be certain.”

Rani nodded, turning back to the window. Mouganthu Tower was clearly visible in the distance, glowing with light against the dark sky. Hernandez Tower was on the other side of the fortress, out of sight. Mouganthu and Hernandez … two of the most powerful men on the planet, perhaps in the sector. Their meeting – and a secret meeting, one without aides or secretaries – boded ill for her. And yet, she could do nothing. She couldn’t insist they opened their doors to her spies, could she?

She looked back at Paula. “And the others?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, as far as we can tell,” Paula said. “Tallyman may have been invited to the meeting – there was some encrypted traffic between the towers – but we don’t know for sure.”

“Of course not,” Rani said.

She shook her head in annoyance. The Wolfbane Consortium was built on genteel – and sometimes not so genteel – competition between corporations. Governor Brown had encouraged it, insisting that it kept them sharp and himself on top. But he’d created one hell of a problem for his successor. She knew her intelligence staff would decrypt the messages eventually – she was sure of it – but by then it might be too late.

Or the messages will look innocuous, on the surface, she thought. We won’t understand the hidden meanings.

“Keep an eye on the three of them,” she ordered. “And see if you can find an incentive for Straphang or Wu to cooperate with us.”

“Wu is bidding to get the next set of naval contracts,” Paula said. “Straphang is facing financial troubles and probably trying to reduce her exposure. We could probably make them both decent offers.”

She hesitated. “But none of them would be completely convincing.”

Rani nodded, irked. The corporate leaderships were practically an aristocracy in their own right, just like the never-to-be-sufficiently damned Grand Senate. She was surprised Governor Brown hadn’t created a peerage system for them. But, whatever their titles, the leaderships kept one eye on the future at all times. They’d make preparations for all eventualities, including one where she fell from power or was brutally overthrown. And they certainly wouldn’t commit themselves to her …

“Do it,” she ordered. Keeping as many directors as possible on her side was important, at least until the war was won. “And then …”

Her wristcom bleeped. “Admiral, this is Tobias,” a voice said. “I have an update for you. I think you’ll like it.”

“I hope you’re right,” Rani said. She glanced at Paula, who shrugged. “I’ll meet you in my office, half an hour from now.”


Professor Tobias Jameson was a young man who looked older, thanks to the abuse he’d suffered during his short career at Mouganthu Industries and then at the University of Wolfbane. He’d been very lucky, according to his file, to even get a place in the university, after he’d upset his corporate sponsors. Insisting that there was a better way to do things – that modern tech hadn’t reached its limits – had won him no friends. Ironically, it had also won him a job after Governor Brown had realised that the Empire was gone.

“Professor,” Rani said. She liked and trusted him, insofar as she liked and trusted anyone these days. It hadn’t saved Jameson from an extensive security check before he was allowed into her office. “I trust that you have good news for me?”

“I do,” Jameson said.

He took control of the projector and displayed a set of holographic images. “As you know, we have concentrated a great deal of effort on finding ways to either counter or duplicate the Commonwealth’s force field generator,” he said. “This has not proven easy, Admiral. Some of our researchers are still in deep denial about the whole thing.”

Rani snorted, rudely. She’d been in denial too, but it hadn’t lasted. Theory might insist that force field generators were as plausible as alien invaders bent on fighting their way to Earth and crushing humanity; practice told her that force field generators were a reality. Her sensors hadn’t had flights of fancy when they’d reported missiles striking the force fields and detonating harmlessly. If the Commonwealth ever ironed out the bugs – if they ever managed to produce a force field that wrapped the entire starship in a bubble – the war would come to a very quick and unpleasant end.

And our researchers refuse to believe that it is even real, she thought, tiredly. They don’t have the right mindset to keep pushing the limits of the possible.

“Thankfully, we do have some researchers who dug deep into the theory behind starship drives and suchlike,” Jameson continued. “Their conclusion, after working through a number of computer models, was that the force field is actually a manipulation of the starship’s drive field. In a sense, they have converted the standard drive field into a rocket – and diverted the rest of the output into a forward-facing force shield.”

Paula leaned forward. “Wouldn’t that slow the ship? I mean … the drive is pointing forwards. Right?”

“According to our computer models, probably not,” Jameson said. “The missile – or whatever hits the force field – does not hit a solid barrier. Instead, it is torn apart by a series of tiny, but intense gravimetric fluctuations. The same is largely true of energy weapons, we think. An energy beam would be scattered long before it reached the hull.”

He paused. “This wouldn’t necessarily be true of the large-scale force shield they used on Corinthian,” he added. “They’d have fewer concerns about shooting back in that case.”

Rani nodded in irritation. “However it works,” she asked, “can you duplicate the system?”

Jameson hesitated. “Yes and no,” he admitted. “We … we don’t have the technical skill yet to … to make the system actually work.”

“But you know how it works,” Paula protested.

“The Commonwealth Navy has effectively designed its own realspace drive,” Jameson said, flatly. “Their drive units are considerably more flexible – more innovative – than anything the Imperial Navy ever designed, let alone put into production. I do not believe that we can rebuild a standard drive unit to project a force field, not without tearing the whole thing apart and rebuilding it from scratch. We are working on designing our own drive system, but it will take months to work out the bugs and put it into production.”

Rani ground her teeth, but she couldn’t say she was surprised. The Imperial Navy had simplified everything over the last three hundred years, ever since technological advancement had come to a halt. Most starship engineers really did nothing more than removing a broken component and replacing it with something new, if – of course – there happened to be one in stock. And God help the crew if the automated diagnostic system happened to fail. The components were over-engineered – they had to be – but they couldn’t be repaired. A starship that ran out of spare parts was doomed.

And training up better engineers would take more time than we have, she thought. They’d have to be taught how to think first.

She pushed her frustration aside. Taking it out on Jameson would feel good, but it would be cruel and ultimately worthless. It certainly wouldn’t get her anywhere. She’d learnt – the hard way – just how much damage a single yes-man could do. If the Grand Senators had learned that lesson, she suspected, the Empire might not have collapsed.

“However, we did come up with something else,” Jameson added. “Actually, two other technological surprises. Both of them are built on missile drive systems.”

He altered the display, showing a pair of modified missiles. “It’s actually easier to fiddle with a missile drive unit,” he explained. “The drives are cruder and considerably overpowered, if only because they’re not expected to last very long. Their additional power reserves gives them a chance to reformat their drive fields before burn-out.”

Rani nodded, impatiently. “And you believe we can use this?”

“We can,” Jameson confirmed. He held out a datapad. “They may not be enough to give us a decisive advantage, Admiral, but they will give the Commonwealth a fright.”

“I hope so,” Rani said.

She sighed, inwardly, as she scanned the datapad. Technological development proceed in fits and starts, it seemed. There was nothing to be gained by threatening the researchers with dire punishments if they failed to produce. Hell, they couldn’t be blamed for their problems. The Empire had abandoned research and development centuries ago. Rediscovering the scientific method alone had taken longer than she cared to think about.

And each research project costs, even if it fails, she thought, sourly. They’re drains we cannot afford.

She looked up at him, feeling a flicker of hope. If he was right, if the technology actually worked, she might just have a chance.

“These weapons,” she said. It was hard to keep the excitement out of her voice. “How quickly can they be produced?”

“We can modify existing stockpiles of missiles within a couple of weeks,” Jameson said. “I believe the finalised version, once we start churning them out of the industrial nodes, will be a great deal neater, but …”

Rani forced herself to calm down. They hadn’t discovered a silver bullet, even if the missiles worked as advertised. And they might not. She had to keep that in mind, no matter how excited she was. But …

“Start adapting a number of missiles,” she ordered, shortly. She didn’t have time to be too careful. “And then prepare briefing notes for my officers.”

“Of course, Admiral,” Jameson said.

And if these weapons do turn the tide, Rani thought, I can deal with my enemies here at leisure.

Quick Update–FOJ, TZC, ETC

7 Apr

Good news first – I finished the first draft of Fists of Justice (Schooled in Magic XII) on Tuesday – hopefully, I’ll get the first batch of editing done on Saturday and the manuscript itself off to the publisher. There will be another batch of edits, perhaps too, but at least things will be moving along.

Better news, sales of The Zero Blessing have been very good. And so I’ve drafted out the plot for The Zero Curse (Book II).

Even better news – I’ll be starting Wolf’s Bane (The Empire’s Corps 14) on Monday or Tuesday, depending.


New Paperbacks/Audio!

5 Apr

It is with very great pleasure that I announce that you can now purchase The Zero Blessing, The Long Road Home, Reality Check, The Thin Blue Line and Retreat Hell in paperback <grin>.  Check out the links on my site!

Zero Blessing Cover R2 FOR WEB

And you can also download We Lead in audio!

The CYA Rule

5 Apr

I’ve actually been meaning to write about this for some time, as it is one of the problems with modern society, but two recent kerfuffles brought it into sharp relief. Unsurprisingly, the least important one is the one that drew more attention from the media and political commenters.

A week or so ago, it was revealed (from a 2002 interview) that Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States of America, refuses to be alone with a woman not his wife, nor drink alcohol at gatherings where she is not present. This fifteen-year-old titbit has drawn a wide range of comments, which can be roughly sorted into two sets.

The first set praises Mr. Pence for avoiding even the mere prospect of a political scandal that could doom his future hopes and aspirations. (A smaller subset praises his loyalty to his wife.) Even a groundless accusation of sexual harassment – even a hint of one – could tear Pence’s career to shreds. Therefore, Pence is doing the right thing. Just think, they argue, how much trouble Bill Clinton might have avoided if he’d followed a similar rule!

And let’s face it – there is a lot of truth here.

The second set condemns Mr. Pence for sexism and/or misogyny. One subset insists that, by refusing to treat female interns and suchlike as equals, Pence and his fellows are limiting their career prospects. Mentorships and suchlike are important in a great many fields – if women are denied the opportunity to work with someone higher up the ladder, they won’t make as much progress as their male comrades. The other major subset states that Pence et al are effectively blaming women for tempting them (rather than keeping their desires in check) and/or overstating the risk of a sexual harassment accusation.

And let’s face it – there’s a lot of truth here too.

On one hand, being a politician in America (particularly a Republican) means being neurotic about not doing anything that might be taken out of context and used against you. A closed door meeting with a female intern (or someone more senior) could be construed as a potential opportunity for sexual harassment. It is impossible to prove a negative – mud sticks, particularly when your enemies want it to. You therefore have no choice, but to avoid anything that might prove career-wreaking.

On the other hand, it is impossible to build a close relationship between a prospective mentor and mentee (if that’s the correct word) in public. If you can’t hold closed-door meetings, you can’t discuss anything confidential and yes, it is a very short step from this to excluding women altogether, because you will feel (reasonably) that you cannot trust your female subordinates. And yes, because of this women will have far more reduced opportunities than their male counterparts.

In a world run by good actors, there would be no presumption of guilt. A charge of sexual harassment – of anything, really – would be investigated carefully, then dismissed if found to be baseless. There would be no need to fear damage to one’s reputation if one had done nothing to damage one’s reputation.

But our world is not run by good actors. Bad actors do not hesitate to take an accusation and run with it, tearing careers apart. The accused will find himself alone, abandoned by his former friends and allies, as the howling grows louder. By the time the truth comes out, if it ever does, it is too late to repair the damage.

And so the only wise move is to practice the CYA Rule – Cover Your Ass.

I’ve worked in places where hardly anyone had any faith in the bosses. Those places tended to feature a lot of obsessive documentation, rigorous hewing to the rules even when they were clearly pointless … everything would be fine, as long as you could show that you followed procedure. No one trusted anyone else, with good reason. I was glad to leave.

You see this everywhere, if you look. A doctor who sees a patient might be 99% sure that the patient doesn’t need an expensive scan or medical procedure. But … CYA! Better to insist on doing the expensive scan or procedure rather than get blamed for not doing it, if it comes back to bite you. Pointless HR rules and regulations? CYA! All those boring safety talks no one heeds on aircraft? CYA! Pointless security checks at airports? CYA! No one can be blamed as long as procedure is followed – no one cares if the patient dies, as long as the operation was a success.

A couple of weeks ago, the Trump Administration and the UK announced a whole series of new and bothersome restrictions on in-flight baggage. The internet exploded with grumbles, quite reasonably. (The TSA has a bad reputation for stealing stuff from bags, so no one wants to put a laptop in their suitcase.) Trump got a lot of stick for it. But consider – if there genuinely was a warning that terrorists were planning to use rigged laptops to blow up aircraft, just how much stick would Trump get for ignoring it? The only wise move is to move ahead with new restrictions …

… And insist, if there genuinely is a terrorist attack that brings down an airliner, that they did everything they could to protect innocent lives. Why not? On 8/11, Osama Bin Laden was a minor nuisance with delusions of grandeur; on 10/11, he was a supervillain and the greatest threat since Hitler! How much stick did Bush get for ignoring potential threats after 9/11 proved that the threats were real?

We live in a society where far too many people think, when something goes wrong, ‘who can we sue?’ And right now we are reaping the punishment.

And the other kerfuffle?

This link popped up in my Facebook feed a day or so ago (more commentary here). The LA Times professes itself surprised by declining arrest rates in Los Angeles and goes to some trouble to try to look at reasons. This is not, as more aware people will note, a new problem, nor is it localised to California (or even the USA). The Ferguson Effect – where policemen feel that they will not be supported by their superiors if something remotely controversial happens – is in full swing. Policemen are doing as little as they can get away with because they believe, not without reason, that they will be thrown to the wolves if something goes wrong.

And this is a reasonable attitude. Who wants to be tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of public opinion – a court spearheaded by those who can shout the loudest – when they know their lives will be ruined? Why do the job when you might wind up the next target of the mob? Why put your life at risk when your superiors will happily betray you just to please public opinion? When the bonds of trust break down, it’s CYA time. And the principles of CYA do not allow you to take risks when there’s no safety net.

Most policemen I know will agree that bad – i.e. corrupt – policemen should be taken off the streets. They will have no sympathy for them whatsoever. But there is a significant difference between a genuine accident and outright malice (or doing the right thing and winding up in trouble anyway)… and if people are penalised for accidents, they’ll do everything in their power to avoid doing anything that could lead to an accident.

There’s some chuckling – even gloating – online about the Mike Pence affair, from both sides of the political divide. And yes, it does have its absurd side. But policemen not doing their jobs because they’re concerned about personal repercussions is far more dangerous …

… And far too many of our society’s current problems are caused by men and women who are trying desperately to apply the CYA Rule instead of doing their jobs.