Archive | June, 2017

Starting Now–Ask A Writer

22 Jun

I’ve been thinking about this for some time.

Ask A Writer

I get a lot – I mean a lot – of questions about writing, editing, publishing and everything else the aspiring writer needs to know. And – as I had a lot of help from more established writers myself – I do try to answer the questions, although I can’t always provide more than generalised advice. As many of the questions I get are duplicates, I’ve decided to formalise (sort of) the process with Ask A Writer.

Email me your questions and I will answer them, if I can, in a blog post. I’ll start listing the answers below, once I get some.

Please include as much detail as you can, but remember that the blog post will be public so use false names or pick your words carefully if you’re concerned about someone seeing it <grin>.

What I Will Do:

· Generalised advice on writing, editing and formatting.

· Generalised advice on dealing with issues such as editors, agents, publishers and taxmen.

What I Will NOT Do:

· Read or edit your plot, synopsis or manuscript. I don’t have time to do this for everyone. (There is a list of editors I can vouch for on my site.)

· Offer legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. My advice if you need legal advice is to get a lawyer familiar with the laws in your location (and/or which laws govern your contracts.)

· Offer accountancy advice. I’m not an accountant.

· Answer questions that have already been asked, answered and listed below.


Up For Pre-Order–The Longest Day (Ark Royal X)

22 Jun

Up 1st July!

A Stand-Alone Novel Set In The Ark Royal Universe!

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles

The first major alien offensive against Earth has been blunted, winning humanity time to deploy new weapons and prepare new tactics as Earth’s space navies prepare to take the offensive. But the enigmatic aliens have plans of their own – a full-scale attack on Earth that will either win the war in a single stroke or lose it.

The stakes have never been so high. The fate of humanity itself is in the balance. And, as battle rages across the solar system, as humanity finds its back pushed firmly against the war, millions of people – military and civilian – struggle for survival, knowing that victory will come with a very high price …

… And defeat will be the end of everything humanity holds dear.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from the links here: US, UK, CAN, AUS

Quick Notes

21 Jun

First, Bookworm is now available on audio <grin>. It’s the first of four, so please feel free to check it out.

Second, The Invasion of 1950 is now available in paperback.

Third, The Longest Day will be up for pre-order soon. It will go live on 1st July.

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles

And The Gordian Knot (Schooled in Magic 13) will be coming soon.

The Gordian Knot–Snippet (1)

20 Jun

I’m not sure if this will be the final version, but it’s pretty close to it.


“And I’m glad to announce that both of our picks for replacement Charms and Healing tutors have accepted their offers,” Grandmaster Gordian said. He allowed himself a thin smile at the whisper of relief that ran around the table. It had been a long meeting, even though they’d had a break for lunch. No one really wanted to prolong it any further. “They’ll arrive tomorrow and take the oaths in the Great Hall.”

He leaned back in his chair, silently enjoying the moment. Too many of the senior tutors were strangers to him, either through loyalty to Gordian’s predecessor or through ambitions of their own. He could count on them not to do anything that would actively harm Whitehall itself – their oaths would see to that – but he knew better than to expect them to follow him unquestioningly. And it was difficult, even for an experienced political warrior like himself, to edge them out of their positions. They couldn’t be dismissed for anything other than gross misconduct.

“You’ll be invited to watch and bear witness, of course,” he added. “Now, before we break up for the evening, is there any more business?”

Professor Lombardi cleared his throat. “The election of a Head Pupil,” he said, flatly. “I believe we are running short of time to nominate one.”

Gordian nodded, keeping his face expressionless. The senior tutors had the right to elect the Head Pupil for the year, if they wished to use it. He’d refrained from raising the issue, half-hoping they’d choose to leave the matter in his hands. There were pupils – several pupils – that he would prefer not to see elected.

“Very well,” he said. “Nominations?”

“Emily,” Sergeant Miles said, immediately. “I believe her record speaks for itself.”

“She had to retake four of her exams,” Gordian said. It was hard to keep the annoyance out of his voice. His feelings about his most troublesome student were decidedly mixed. “That does not suggest a sterling academic record.”

“She failed the exams because she was summoned to war,” Sergeant Miles countered. His voice was unyielding. “And because she was … involved … in that mess in Beneficence.”

Gordian groaned, inwardly. No two accounts of what had happened in Beneficence seemed to agree on everything, save for one detail. Emily had saved the city, somehow. If the more extreme reports were to be believed, she’d battled a god. Gordian wouldn’t have believed it himself, if he hadn’t read the reports that hadn’t been made public. He couldn’t help hoping that the full story – or at least the version he’d heard – never leaked out to the rest of the world. Too many sorcerers – and religious sects – would see it as a challenge.

“There are others,” Professor Gaunt said. “Melissa has very definite potential.”

“But she’s politically unacceptable,” Gordian said. “She was disowned from her family.”

“She does have the talent,” Gaunt insisted. “And she is … more aware of social situations than Emily.”

“Cabiria has talent,” Professor Thande said.

“She was suspended for a year,” Gordian pointed out. “What about Caleb or Cirroc?”

Sergeant Miles snorted. “And how many students have actually saved the school?”

Gordian met his eyes. The hell of it was that Sergeant Miles was correct. Emily was the only student who had saved the school. By any reasonable standard – certainly in terms of achievement – she stood head and shoulders above the rest of the students in her year. There had never been any sign that Emily wanted, let alone expected, to be Head Girl, but everyone else probably expected her to walk into the post. And she deserved it.

And yet, she was a menace too. He’d wanted to expel her last year, when he’d become Grandmaster. Putting her on probation – and forcing her to work with Professor Locke – had been done in the hopes of keeping her out of trouble – or convincing her to quit. It wasn’t as if she would have had problems finding a place at another school, somewhere well away from Whitehall. Gordian certainly wouldn’t have stood in her way.

She’s not evil, he thought. He admitted that, privately. But she’s disruptive.

He kept his face impassive as he contemplated his options. Nothing had happened openly – not yet – but he knew that more and more important figures were growing … concerned about Emily. Child of Destiny, Necromancer’s Bane … she was a knife that could cut both ways, something that could reshape the world or damage it beyond repair. A sorceress who’d bested two – no, three – necromancers would be alarming enough, but her … innovations had started a chain reaction she might not be able to control. And she didn’t seem able or willing even to try.

And she owns the school, Gordian reminded himself.

Gordian wouldn’t have believed that, either, if Emily hadn’t shown an astonishing prowess at manipulating and duplicating Whitehall’s wards. Even now, a year after she’d told him the full story, he still found it hard to come to terms with it. The Founders of Whitehall had been lost in the mists of time, known only by a handful of stories that contradicted each other more than anything else. And Emily had gone back in time, taught Lord Whitehall and his fellows the secret to controlling a nexus point, then returned to the present. It was unbelievable.

It was also intolerable. He was Grandmaster, not her. He’d worked hard to secure a position of boundless power and influence, only to see it turn to ashes. He couldn’t have a student in a position to overrule him, perhaps even remove him from the school. He’d already started a very quiet program to do something about the whole situation, but he doubted he’d have time to complete it. Too many people wanted something done, now. And they were pressuring him to force her to divulge her secrets.

He cleared his throat. “Emily has earned her reputation,” he said. “I do not dispute that. But would she be a good Head Girl? She is not the most … sociable of students.”

“She has a gift for making friends in high and low places,” Sergeant Miles reminded him, dryly. “And that has saved her life, more than once.”

“She’d be required to do more than make friends,” Gordian countered. “The Head Pupil has to do everything from organising the mentorship program to carrying out a project of their own. She would be distracted from her work.”

“The same could be said of almost anyone else,” Madame Rosalinda said. The Housemother smiled at him. “And while she is not that friendly with anyone outside her circle, she doesn’t have many enemies either.”

She tapped the table, meaningfully. “Melissa has been disowned from her family. Cabiria is seen as … as something of a freak. Pandora’s marks are too low to justify promoting her into the Head Girl role. Jacqui and Cerise are … are too power-hungry to take on the role without causing problems. And The Gorgon is …”

“The Gorgon,” Gordian finished. What, in the name of all the gods, had Hasdrubal been thinking? Allowing a Gorgon to study at Whitehall? “Are there no promising prospects amongst the boys?”

“None who match Emily,” Sergeant Miles said. “Cirroc and Johan are both working on Martial Magic, while Caleb … has shown evidence of moral weakness. And those three are the best of the bunch.”

Gordian pressed his fingers together, hiding his irritation. Jacqui had been his choice for Head Pupil, although Cirroc would have been a close second. The Head Pupil would find a multitude of doors opening for her, when she left Whitehall. It would give Emily the skills she needed – and probably keep her out of trouble – but it would also paint an even larger target on her back. Her enemies didn’t need more reasons to step up their plans.

She might decline the nomination, he thought. Does she understand that that would be held against her?

“Let us vote,” he said, instead. In hindsight, maybe he should have raised the issue with a handful of tutors privately. If nothing else, he might have been able to get Jacqui or Cirroc nominated before he held the final meeting. “All those in favour of Lady Emily, raise your hands.”

He counted, slowly. “Ten in favour,” he said. Five tutors hadn’t voted, although that didn’t prove anything. Professor Thande wasn’t known for caring that much about the position – or anything beyond his alchemical experiments. Gordian was surprised he’d even bestirred himself to put Cabiria’s name forward. “The motion passes.”

“As it should,” Sergeant Miles said.

Gordian shot him a sharp look. If he were forced to be honest, one of the reasons he’d allowed Sergeant Miles to take Emily to the war was an unexpressed hope she wouldn’t come back. The war could have lasted months, if not years. She might have been killed or moved straight to a more regular apprenticeship. Instead, she’d bested her third necromancer and returned to Whitehall.

“She’s due to re-sit her exams tomorrow,” Gordian said, calmly. There was one last card to play. “They’ll be marked immediately afterwards. If she passes – if she can enter Sixth Year – I will inform her of her nomination.”

There were no objections. He hadn’t expected any.

“I’ll see you all at the Last Feast,” he added. “Until then … dismissed.”

He kept his face impassive as his senior tutors filed out of the room, some clearly intending to head down to Dragon’s Den for a drink before the students started arriving to re-sit their exams. When they were gone, he sealed the wards and sat back in his chair, forcing himself to think. He was caught in a knot of conflicting obligations, of promises he’d made and rules he could not break …

And others are already moving against her, he thought. He’d heard rumours. Some of them had been nightmarish. What will happen when their plans come to term?

Review: The Thing In The Woods

20 Jun

-Matthew Quinn

There is very little that is completely original in The Thing In The Woods. I’ve seen these tropes before in a dozen horror movies. The idea of an isolated American town with a dark secret – in this case, a ancient man-eating monster and a cult that worships it – is hardly new. And yet, the story does have an undeniable charm.

The teenage hero of the story – James Daly – is an outsider in the community, someone who dreams of leaving. (Most of the characters either want to leave or protect what they have.) When he has a close-encounter with the monster, he finds himself targeted by the cultists and trying to escape a web of deceit and conspiracy. The villain is someone who very clearly started out with good intentions – the protection of the community – and went steadily off the rails, something that eventually turns some of his supporters against him.

In some ways, the book doesn’t develop some (or all) of its themes. There are hints of a greater story that never seem to come into focus – government involvement, perhaps – although there might be a sequel that tackles the question of just how much the government did know. (The government goes to some trouble to buy silence from the survivors, at the end of the book.) You could wonder if the book spotlights those who want to defend their community or those who just want to leave … but, at the same time, the book touches on the hopelessness of being trapped in such a community. Intentionally or not, the book points to some of the reasons for Trump’s victory in 2016.

The Thing In The Woods is a fairly short read, but quite a decent one. I actually wanted to say more about it, but little came to mind. You’ll enjoy it if you like horror stories mingled with urban life.

And it’s up on Kindle Unlimited as well as Kindle <grin>.

Cat’s Maturity

10 Jun

A handful of readers of The Zero Blessing noted that Cat was unusually mature for her age (she’s 12). I would dispute part of that – Cat isn’t always as mature as (perhaps) she should be – but she is more mature than the average twelve-year-old. And there’s a reason for it.

Zero Blessing Cover R2 FOR WEB

Cat was raised on the assumption that she would (potentially) take over the family estates, businesses and patronage networks when her parents died. She and her sisters were given quite a bit of training in estate management as well as magic – she knows, at least in theory, how to keep the family’s properties going. Obviously, she doesn’t know everything and she has no experience whatsoever, but the building blocks are there. Cat was given an upbringing that was designed to prepare her for her future role. As her parents believed she would eventually develop magic, they never actually stopped those lessons.

Cat … probably didn’t pay as much attention as she should have done, particularly as she grew more and more convinced she didn’t have magic. She doesn’t know all of the major players of her parents and her generation – she didn’t attend many parties and gatherings – although going to school is meant to correct that problem. But she does understand the basics, which will become more important as she grows older.

Rose had something similar, although on a much smaller scale. She grew up in a community where children were put to work almost as soon as they could walk. She understands the importance of keeping the farm going, of doing everything from milking cows to mending fences every single day. Her parents assumed she would marry a farmer and go off to live with him, not study magic. She wasn’t taught how to read and write beyond the very basics – Cat was – but she did pick up the habits she needed to apply herself in magic school.

This isn’t something that happens in (most) of our society. When I die, my son will inherit my savings, property, car and book collection, but he won’t inherit any connections I might have made in my life. I don’t have either a patron or a network of clients. I certainly don’t have tenants on my land. Publishers aren’t going to publish my son just because he’s my son; anyone who owes me a favour isn’t going to automatically extend it to my successors.

Even for the handful of genuine dynasties out there – the Clintons, for example – it isn’t easy to keep the patronage network going when the original founder dies. Our society dislikes nepotism and regards it as evil, even when the person who benefits isn’t actually bad or incompetent. (Although such dynasties generally do weaken as future generations forget how the world actually works.)

No one in Shallot would raise eyebrows at Cat’s father passing his holdings – including the patronage network – to her or any of her siblings. It’s just the way of things, as far as they are concerned. Ideally, Cat’s goal would be to pass on the holdings to her own siblings – just like any feudal lord. Obviously, things aren’t going to work out that way.

Idle Thoughts and Updates

9 Jun

It’s been an interesting few weeks, for sure.

Right now, I think I’m still a little in shock about the election results. Truthfully, I didn’t blame May for calling the election (and she had a run of bad luck) but she also dropped the ball multiple times. That tends to happen when you have politicians who don’t even have to win election to get into office – they can’t even muster voters, let alone inspire the people. My preliminary analysis – I’ll write more later – is that May failed to keep the BREXIT coalition together, at least partly because she proposed a set of horrible policies and because she looked weak on terrorism. I don’t know if a Tory-DUP government can actually work – and frankly it’s one hell of a dangerous gamble, because the numbers are too small to provide any certainty – but I suppose it’s better than the alternative.

My general belief is that May would be well-advised to move ahead with BREXIT as possible, then pass the buck to another Tory to lead the party into the next general election.

Anyway, on to somewhat less political matters.

I’m currently 13 chapters into The Longest Day, which appears to be shaping up reasonably well. (It’s classed as Ark Royal X because I don’t think I can class it as II.5.) It’s actually quite different from the majority of my recent stuff, as it follows an event – the Battle of Earth – rather than a single starship or fleet (or person.) This allows me to fill in some of the blanks from the earlier books – something I had in mind from the start – and explore a few other aspects of the universe, such as the different nationalities involved in a major war. Keeping everything moving along at the same pace is a bit of a challenge.

I’m hoping to get it up for pre-order by the end of the month and go live on 1st July (touch wood) but we will see.

I’m still torn on what to write afterwards, though. I’m leaning towards The Gordian Knot – SIM 13 – but that would mean switching a few books around, as Graduation Day needs to come out fairly close to The Gordian Knot. On the other hand, I can leave Cat’s Paw and it’s sequels to mature for a while.

I do plan to write the ‘male teacher in a magic school’ story at some point. Given the plot I have in mind, it might make sense to write it as a stand-alone in the Bookworm universe, although it might not fit quite right. I could stick it in either Schooled In Magic or The Zero Blessing, but it would have the same problem. (Probably less in TZB.)

Beyond that, a couple of people suggested an urban fantasy that wasn’t a thinly-disguised romance novel and someone suggested a cross-dressing story – boy pretends to be girl, for whatever reason. I do plan to give that one some thought, although – in the real world – I think it would be a little unrealistic. Coming to think of it, I do have my semi-Roman story universe to dust off and write.



Book Review – Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

5 Jun

(Jonathan Allen, Amie Parnes)

“Why aren’t they with me?”


“For both sides, Hillary was the perfect symbol of everything that was wrong with America. At times, Trump and Sanders would act as the right and left speakers of a stereo blaring a chorus on repeat: Hillary’s a corrupt insider who has helped rig the political and economic systems in favour of the powerful.”

-The Authors

There is very little I can say about Shattered that has not been said already (and then repeated, time and time again.) You would get the high points just by digging through a multitude of online book reviews. But I digress …

The book purports to be a detailed study of Hillary Clinton’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to become President in 2016, although – as most of the sources are unnamed – it is difficult to know how seriously to take it. (Hillary’s supporters have denied many of the suggestions regarding infighting within the campaign.)

Ironically, the book actually goes easier on Hillary (and Huma) than you might expect. It does make the droll observation that everything changed, between 2008 and 2016, apart from the candidate herself – and that was the problem – but otherwise it is relatively gentle in many parts. While it pulls no punches about the email issue, it does highlight the simple fact that Hillary never really acknowledged just how serious a problem it was – and while she was never charged with anything, the affair exposed her repeated lies to the press and the public.

Hillary’s core problem, it seems, was that her campaign staff were often hilariously out of touch with modern America. Their data-driven campaign didn’t seem to take into account the simple possibility that the data itself might be flawed, or that ‘ground truth’ was often different from the models. Hillary, therefore, was blindsided by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – she never anticipated having to actually fight for the nomination. Indeed, the Clintons tried hard to clear house in Washington between 2009 and 2015, pushing other potential candidates out of consideration. This had the ironic side effect of clearing the way for Sanders, as he was the only Democrat (for a given value of Democrat) who put forward a serious challenge.

Beyond that, Hillary never appointed anyone with significant decision-making power – she preferred to keep her supporters divided. Worse, she valued loyalty over competence – and refused to allow anyone to speak truth to power. This ensured that the campaign lurched from side to side, providing moments of unintentional humour – one media interview that should have been a doddle turned into a nightmare because there was a misunderstanding about who should give the interview – and nightmarish errors of judgment. Hillary simply never came across as likable, nor did she show calculated ruthlessness when necessary. Although the book doesn’t discuss the problems at the DNC – and the charges that Hillary’s supporters rigged the nomination – it does highlight Hillary’s failings in not washing her hands of certain people as quickly as possible.

In the end, the core lesson of Shattered is that many of the problems were with Hillary herself. Her history was too great an issue to surmount. Giving speeches for money – speeches that never became public – weighed her down, as did the email server issue. She simply couldn’t connect with the common person – the ‘deplorables’. And she was never able to escape the shadow of Bill, Chelsea and Huma.

Worse, Hillary was never able to put forward a coherent rationale for her campaign – why was she even running for President? ‘I’m with Her’ could easily – and did – turn into ‘it’s all about ME.’ For all its flaws, ‘Make America Great Again’ is far more inspiring. Even that turned against Hillary. Arguing that ‘America is already great’ fell in deaf ears in places that that were demonstrably suffering economic hardship.

Indeed, Hillary may well have run into the growing cancer within the Democratic Party – factionalism. The Democrats, as I see them, are a set of constituencies, each of which has its own demands. Balancing those demands is not easy. Hillary simply lacked the ability to do it. Among other things, she needed to paint herself as both Obama’s successor and her own woman. Trying to plug either one too far would make the other impossible.

It is difficult to know just how seriously to take Shattered. The lack of genuine sources makes it hard to know who is speaking – among other things, the authors could not have any access to Hillary’s private thoughts. And the people speaking to the authors were doing so in hindsight, after losing the election. But if most of the book is true, one may ask – quite reasonably – how Hillary came so close to winning? She certainly thought she held all the cards. But pride normally does go before a fall.

Overall, the book is worth a read. But – like all such books – it has to be taken carefully.

(On a different note, my copy – and every copy I saw in various shops – looked as though it had been hacked out with a buzz saw. This seems to be a common problem these days.)

Snippet – The Longest Day (Ark X)

5 Jun

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles


Tadpole Prime

No human had ever visited the Heart of the Song. No human ever would.

The Tadpoles – as their human opponents had termed them – didn’t really believe in cities. It wasn’t necessary, under the waters, to live in a compound, let alone sacrifice some of their freedoms to convenience. Even the giant factories they’d built, first on the surface and then in orbit around Tadpole Prime, felt profoundly unnatural to them. Something was lost, they thought, even as their race advanced into space. Ideas – the currency of their society – were slowly giving way to a bland uniformity that was as unnatural as the cities themselves.

It was something that disturbed them, although they would never have admitted it. Their whole society was based on freedom of movement and association. The disparate factions lived or died, stood alone or amalgamated, based on their ability to attract new voices and adapt to new circumstances. Being trapped in an echo chamber, where no new ideas could germinate and grow, was their racial nightmare. And yet, as they clawed their way into space, it seemed to be on the verge of coming true. They knew it …

… And yet, they didn’t know how to deal with it.

The Heart of the Song was the closest thing their race had to a genuine capital city, hundreds of metres below the waves. It was holy ground, sacred to a race that had never really developed anything resembling a religion. A human would have wondered at the lack of opulence, but the Tadpoles cared little for grandeur. All that mattered was that the area possessed excellent acoustics. All the factions could send representatives, if they wished, and be heard. And then a consensus would be reached.

Hundreds of thousands of Tadpoles floated in the water, adding their voices to the song as it rose and fell. Millions of seedlings rushed through the liquid, unnoticed by their older brethren. The Tadpoles knew – and accepted – that most of those seedlings would never grow to maturity, never claim the intelligence that was their birthright. It was the way of things, as unquestioned as the laws of physics themselves. Children only had value when they reached an age to join their voices to the song.

The war had not gone as planned, the Tadpoles acknowledged. It was … frustrating. They’d spent a great deal of time studying their enemy, since First Contact, yet they clearly hadn’t learnt everything they needed to know. The song – the consensus – admitted those points, then moved on. There would be time for recriminations and improvements later, after the war. Their enemies had proven themselves adaptive, alarmingly adaptive. It was not a pleasant thought.

The original plan has failed, the voices urged. Let us take the offensive directly to their homeworld.

The song echoed backwards and forwards for hours. There were advantages to taking the offensive, but there were also disadvantages. And yet, did they dare wait? They’d determined that they shared a region of space with an aggressive, ever-expanding race. Much of the material they’d captured had been incomprehensible – and their alien prisoners very alien – but it was clear that humanity had practically exploded into space. It was sheer luck, the song acknowledged, that they’d encountered humanity when the Tadpoles held a tech advantage. A decade or two later and it might well have been the other way round.

They are already learning to adapt our technology to serve themselves, the voices insisted, grimly. Time is not on our side.

Then we should speak to them, other voices injected. Try to convince them to share the universe with us.

The song wavered for a long moment. Not all of the factions had been keen on war. Wars were risky, they’d insisted. There was no way to know if humanity would fight like the Tadpoles of old or something different, something not bound by the song. But human history seemed to be one continuous liturgy of war. The Tadpoles didn’t understand the reason humans had put so much energy into warring amongst themselves – the captured files were readable, yet incomprehensible – but they were frightened. It was impossible to avoid the belief that the galaxy, the utterly immense galaxy, might not be big enough for both races, even though they could have shared a hundred worlds without problems.

They are inventive, the war factions said. Let us dictate terms to them after we have won the war and removed all danger to ourselves.

They are too dangerous to exist, another faction added. We must destroy them before they destroy us.

The song hissed with indignation. Humans were an intelligent race, the only other intelligent race known to exist. They did not deserve to be exterminated. And yet, the risk of leaving them alive had to be admitted. The Tadpoles were creative, but far – far – less innovative than their opponents. It was all too easy to believe that the humans might come up with something that would tip the scales decisively against them. And then … human history was full of examples of what winners did to losers. If they were prepared to crush people who were their biological equals, the Tadpoles asked, what would they do to aliens?

Let us win the war, the song said. We can worry about the aftermath afterwards.

New ideas flooded through the gathering. An offensive, targeted directly on the human homeworld. It might not succeed in occupying the system – the Tadpoles admitted that the system was heavily defended, even if the human factions didn’t work very well together – but it would devastate the human industrial base. Follow-up raids could target their remaining colony worlds, crippling their space navies for lack of spare parts and maintenance. And then the war would be over, bar the shouting.

And then we can dictate peace terms, the factions said.

It would be risky, the song agreed. But there was always an element of risk in war. They’d thought they’d prepared for everything, but the humans had surprised them. Losing so many carriers to a single ancient ship – a ship so old it had never registered with them as a potential threat – was galling. It was also a grim reminder that, for all of their technological prowess, they could still lose the war. The song was unanimous. They had to win. They didn’t dare lose.

And if the offensive fails? A lone faction asked. What then?

It will not fail, the war factions sang. The fleet will be strong enough to retreat, if necessary.

The lone faction was unimpressed. And what if you’re wrong?

Then we will deal with it, the song insisted. The decision had been made. A thrill of anticipation ran though the gathering. Until then … we must win this war.

Chapter One

RFS Brezhnev, Deep Space

Captain Svetlana Zadornov slept with a gun under her pillow and a knife hidden by the side of her bunk.

It was, she felt, a reasonable precaution. Mother Russia expected her womenfolk to be mothers, not starship officers and commanders. There were only a handful of women in the Russian Space Navy and almost all of them had been harassed – or worse – during their careers, even though they’d all been officers. Svetlana’s uncle, Sasha Zadornov, was a high-ranking member of the Politburo and even his name wasn’t enough to deter the troglodytes who resented a woman intruding into what they saw as a purely male sphere. It was sad, but true – she’d discovered as her career progressed – that her skills in starship command and maintenance were less impressive than the ability to injure or kill someone who thought a mere woman couldn’t possibly offer any resistance to him. Knifing two officers and one rating had done more for her reputation than winning a coveted gunnery award.

And then they sent me to Brezhnev anyway, she thought, coldly. Her lips quirked into a nasty smile as she lay in her bunk, half-asleep. And didn’t that come back to haunt them?

It wasn’t a pleasant thought. Everyone conceded – officially, at least – that Svetlana was qualified to command one of the Rodina’s starships. But there had been no question of giving her a carrier command, let alone one of the modern destroyers or survey ships. She was a woman, after all. They’d given her Brezhnev, a destroyer so old that she’d only been refitted with artificial gravity two years ago. Giving the ship to anyone would have been a calculated insult, but giving Brezhnev to her … it galled her, sometimes. She knew her scores were higher than half of her classmates at the academy.

But if I’d been on one of the modern ships, she reminded herself, I might have died at New Russia.

Her intercom pinged. “Captain?”

Svetlana snapped into full wakefulness. One hand gripped her pistol, automatically. It wasn’t likely that the message presaged an assassination attempt – or worse – but she hadn’t survived so long without taking a few basic precautions. “Commander Ignatyev?”

“Please can you come to the bridge, Captain,” Commander Misha Ignatyev said. “Long-range sensors have detected something you need to see.”

“Understood,” Svetlana said. Ignatyev was nearly thirty years her senior and bitterly resentful at having been passed over for command, again. He wouldn’t call her to the bridge unless he had a very good reason. “I’m on my way.”

She swung her legs over the side of the bunk and stood, feeling the gravity field wobbling around her. Brezhnev hadn’t been designed for artificial gravity and it showed. Her cabin, so tiny she could barely swing a cat, looked oddly slanted to her eyes. Half the lockers were embedded in the bulkhead, high enough to make retrieving anything on the top shelves very difficult. But the design would have made perfect sense, she knew, if the ship hadn’t had a gravity field of its own. There were times when she seriously considered turning the gravity generator off and keeping the crew in zero-g.

Which wouldn’t please the engineers, she thought. The engineering crew weren’t much better than the rest of her crew, although they’d fallen in line after she’d proved she knew what she was talking about. She pitied the poor butterflies who concentrated on acing the political reliability courses at the academy rather than learning how starships actually worked. A hint of technobabble and they’d be drowning helplessly, unable to make a decision. And the engineers would take ruthless advantage of them.

She reached for her jacket and pulled it on, then inspected herself in the mirror. Her blonde hair was cut short, a mannish hairstyle that gave some of her aunts fits of the vapours every time they looked at her. They twittered endlessly about how poor Svetlana would never get a man, let alone fulfil her duties to Mother Russia. She pursued her lips in annoyance, silently cursing the old biddies under her breath. They knew she was sterile, damn them. Children were simply not a possibility.

And it isn’t as if we are still facing a demographic crisis, she thought, as she strapped her pistol into place. We don’t need every woman turning out four kids before she turns thirty.

She glared at her own reflection. Her face wasn’t as sharp as she would have liked, but she was mannish enough not to seem automatically female in male eyes. Most men, she’d come to realise, looked past hints of femininity as long as the woman in question behaved like a man. Sharing crude jokes and defending her territory – with a gun, a knife or her bare hands – wasn’t pleasant, but it was the only way to get respect. And while she doubted she would ever see a carrier command, she knew she’d done well. That was all that mattered.

Opening the hatch, she stepped into the command corridor and walked down to the bridge. A pair of armed spacers stood guard – no naval infantry on Brezhnev – and saluted her as the hatch hissed open. Svetlana made no response. Instead, she stepped through the hatch and onto the cramped bridge. It felt uncomfortably warm. The temperature regulators were probably on the fritz, again.

“Captain,” Ignatyev said. He was a short, dumpy man with a white beard, easily old enough to be her father. His competence was unquestioned, but he lacked the connections to rise any higher. “Long-range sensors picked up hints of turbulence in the distance.”

Svetlana sucked in her breath, sharply. The Earth Defence Organisation had been holding an exercise designed to get the various national navies used to working together, but – as far as she knew – none of the planned operations were taking place anywhere near Brezhnev’s patrol route. Her ship hadn’t been invited to take part, of course. The Russian Navy considered the ninety-year-old destroyer an embarrassment, even though she was a near-contemporary to the British Ark Royal and she’d been kept in active service all that time. But most of her systems were still outdated …

Her armour isn’t outdated, Svetlana thought, coldly. Brezhnev and her sisters had been designed for a very different environment. And that might give us a fighting chance.

There were no holographic projectors on Brezhnev, of course. She bent over the tactical officer’s console, examining the very vague readings. They were faint, faint enough to make her wonder if they were seeing things. Space wasn’t quite as dark and silent as civilians believed and her sensors were old enough, despite the refit, to pick up on something that wasn’t actually there. But she had heard about the alien tramlines. The mysterious contact – if it was a contact – was on a vector that suggested it might have come from the closest tramline …

“Keep us in stealth,” she ordered. “Helm, inch us towards the contact.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman said.

Svetlana glanced at Ignatyev. “Send a FLASH message to Putin Station and Pournelle Base,” she ordered. “Inform them that we have detected a contact and are moving out of position to attempt to pin it down. Attach a full copy of our sensor log too.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ignatyev said. He lowered his voice. “The Kremlin may not be pleased if we abandon our patrol route. Or if we alert Pournelle Base.”

“We have standing orders to investigate all sensor contacts,” Svetlana reminded him, fighting down a flicker of annoyance. She didn’t mind having a lively debate with her XO, but not where her crew could hear. “And the Kremlin ordered us to copy all alerts to Pournelle Base.”

She sat down in her command chair and strapped herself in, then keyed her console to bring up the latest set of standing orders. Ignatyev might well have a point. The Kremlin might be unhappy if Pournelle Base was alerted ahead of time, even though she had standing orders to do just that. But she also understood the reasoning behind the standing orders. The human race was at war and, like it or not, the defence of the solar system and Earth herself was being coordinated through Pournelle Base. They had to be informed of any prospective threat to humanity’s homeworld.

A low rumble ran through her ship as the drives picked up speed. Svetlana glanced at the readouts, hoping and praying that the sensors hadn’t decided to start seeing things. She had enemies back home – her family had enemies. Moving out of position to investigate a sensor contact that turned out to be nothing more than a random energy flicker could be made to look bad, if the wrong people got hold of her sensor logs. And, in the constant battle for patronage that defined modern Russia, it was a given that they would get hold of it.

We don’t need an external enemy, she thought, sourly. We’re perfectly capable of fucking things up for ourselves.

But we do have an external enemy, her thoughts reminded her. And so does the rest of the human race.

She sighed, inwardly. Eighteen months ago, alien forces had attacked Vera Cruz and a handful of other colonies along the rim of explored space. Aliens! Svetlana hadn’t believed it at first, not until her uncle had confirmed it. The entire human race was under threat! She’d been concerned, when it finally sank in, but everyone had believed that the space navies could handle the threat. The Multinational Force assembled to cover New Russia, the largest and most powerful formation assembled by the human race, was invincible. Twelve fleet carriers and over fifty smaller ships, as well as New Russia’s formidable defences. The aliens should have hit the defence and bounced …

Instead, they’d blown it to hell. Svetlana still couldn’t believe it, even though nearly a year had passed since the battle. The aliens hadn’t just beaten the fleet, they’d destroyed it. Sixty ships, including twelve fleet carriers, wiped out in less than an hour. The panic had been overwhelming, when the news had finally sunk in. If the British hadn’t had a single ancient carrier that had been able to stand up to the alien weapons, the war might already be over and humanity would have lost. Svetlana had no idea what the Tadpoles – as the British had termed the aliens – had in mind for a defeated humanity, but she doubted it would be particularly pleasant. Human history showed everything from enslavement to outright extermination.

And we have armour too, she thought, glancing at her status board. Half the icons were dark … she hoped that meant the computer nodes were having problems, again. She was fairly sure they were. Brezhnev was tough, but she’d be in real trouble if she’d lost all of those systems. We might be able to take one or two blows from the aliens before they finish us.

“Captain,” the tactical officer said. “The turbulence is getting stronger.”

“Slow to full stop,” Svetlana ordered. It was an old rule of thumb. Anyone she was close enough to see was close enough to see her too. “Passive sensors?”

“Picking up flickers of power distortion,” the tactical officer reported. He looked up, his pale face suddenly paler. “Captain, power distribution is very similar to the alien masking field reported at New Russia.”

“Then we’re too close,” Ignatyev said.

“Perhaps,” Svetlana agreed. She studied the readouts for a long moment. There was definitely something out there. Something big. If she’d had a proper tactical expert … she buried the thought with all the other resentments. The Navy had sent its finest people to take part in the defence of New Russia, where most of them had died. “Tactical, keep probing for insight.”

“Aye, Captain,” the tactical officer said.

Svetlana leaned forward. Ignatyev was right. They were already far too close to the unknowns for anyone’s peace of mind, let alone hers. But they did have some advantages, ones she wouldn’t dismiss in a hurry. The unknowns couldn’t risk using their active sensors without risking detection – the solar system was seeded with listening stations and scansats – and Brezhnev was radiating almost nothing. It was unlikely, highly unlikely, that the aliens would get a sniff of her presence, unless they had some piece of tech that the human race had never heard of.

And that isn’t entirely impossible, she reminded herself. She’d seen too many images of plasma bolts tearing through carriers as though they were made of paper. If they can see through their own stealth fields, we may be in some trouble.

“Contact,” the tactical officer hissed. His display filled with red icons. “Captain, I have thirteen – perhaps fifteen – carriers and over a hundred smaller ships.”

Svetlana felt her heart sink as she studied the readings. The carriers were all too familiar now, their elegant lines a silent mockery of crude human ships. She’d seen too many images of the alien ships, too, to mistake them for anything else. There were no deployed starfighters, as far as her sensors could tell, but it hardly mattered. The aliens had arrived in force. And if they couldn’t be stopped, Earth would fall.

She kept her voice steady with an effort. “Launch two probes on ballistic trajectories,” she ordered. “I want them to pass through the middle of the enemy formation.”

“Aye, Captain,” the tactical officer said.

Svetlana looked at Ignatyev. “Do a course projection,” she ordered. She suspected she already knew the answer, but she needed to check. “Where are they going? And when will they arrive?”

Ignatyev bent over his console. “Earth, Captain. They’ll be there in less than five hours unless they reduce speed.”

Shit, Svetlana thought.

She’d assumed as much. Earth was still the centre of the human sphere, still home to seventy percent of the entire human race. The industrial nodes orbiting the planet couldn’t be replaced in a hurry, even if the remaining colonies pooled their resources without the normal human bickering. God knew that New Russia had already been lost to the enemy. And who knew what was happening there? Svetlana knew better than to believe everything she heard on the datanet – the Russian media parroted the government’s line, unlike its western counterparts – but some of the horror stories might have some basis in fact. The Tadpoles might be enslaving the entire population.

“Send another FLASH signal,” she ordered, curtly. There was a risk of detection, but it had to be borne. Earth had to know what was heading its way. “Scatter the message – I want a copy sent to every naval base in the system. Inform them of our contact, then attach full copies of our sensor records.”

“Aye, Captain.” Ignatyev didn’t argue. That, if nothing else, indicated just how serious matters had become. “Signal sent.”

“They’re ignoring us,” the tactical officer said. The alien ships were flowing past Brezhnev, seemingly unaware of her presence. “They didn’t even pick up the drones!”

“It looks that way,” Svetlana agreed, dryly. It was good news, she supposed. The drones were sending a constant feed of information back to their mothership, telling her things she hadn’t wanted to know about the enemy fleet. Earth would have some warning of the oncoming storm. “When they pass us, bring the ship about. I want to shadow them all the way to Earth.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman said.

Ignatyev shot her a questioning look. Svetlana ignored it. She didn’t have time to explain her reasoning, not now. The alien ships were still too far from Earth to be tracked by the orbital defences, let alone the starships that made up the combined Home Fleet. Brezhnev had to stay close to them, whatever the risk. If the fleet split up under stealth, Earth wouldn’t have the slightest idea that anything had happened until it was too late. Humanity’s homeworld was a pretty big target, but it wasn’t the only one.

Long-range kinetic strikes on the Jupiter Cloudscoops or the asteroid mining colonies will do a great deal of damage, she thought. Maybe not enough to cripple us, but enough to make it harder for us to recover.

“Launch a relay drone,” she added. “Once it’s in place, establish a relay laser link. I don’t want them getting a sniff of us.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ignatyev said.

Svetlana’s lips twitched. If the aliens detected Brezhnev, the ship would be blown away before her crew had a chance to take any sort of evasive action. She didn’t dare make any radio transmissions when the signals would be passing through the alien formation. That would be pushing her luck too far.

Another shiver ran through the ship. “We’re moving into position, Captain,” the helmsman reported.

“Laser link established,” Ignatyev added. “Captain, the time delay …”

“I know,” Svetlana said, sharply. It would be at least an hour before her alert reached Pournelle Base. Earth’s defenders wouldn’t have that long to prepare to defend the planet against the oncoming storm. “It can’t be helped.”

She shivered, a cold sensation running down her spine. To her, it was a tactical problem; to Earth, it was life or death. Mother Russia was about to face its most severe threat since Hitler’s invasion or the Central Asian Wars. And so was the rest of the planet. Humanity’s homeworld was about to be attacked.

And they don’t even know the enemy is on the way, she thought. Her messages were speeding towards Earth, but they wouldn’t have reached their destination. There would be people sleeping on Earth, or going to work or school or whatever they did all day … utterly unaware of the nightmare bearing down on them. They don’t have the slightest idea what’s coming.

Her blood grew colder. They’d know soon, she told herself. The entire planet is about to go to war.

Yet More Updates

2 Jun

Hi, everyone

Good news first – I’ve completed the first draft of Becalmed, which is – technically – an Angel in the Whirlwind spin-off. The events in this book will have some effect on the second arc, which is hopefully going to start sometime later in the year (depends on sales and stuff), but I wrote it to be as stand-alone as possible. It’s really an attempt to blend space opera with eldritch horror, rather than a straight-up MIL-SF story.

In addition, I’ve also completed a set of edits for The Invasion of 1950, which was an eye-opener in many ways. My writing has come along considerably since I wrote the first draft of that book. The new version is uploading to kindle now, so if you try to update it in a couple of days you should get the newer text. (I’m going to ask Amazon to push out the updates, as they are considerable, but they may refuse.)

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles Invasion of 1950 final cover

The next project, which I will start in a few days, is The Longest Day, the first of two planned stand-alone novels set in the Ark Royal universe. After that …

I’m torn. Part of me wants to do SIM 13, but it’s only been two-three months since I wrote Fists of Justice (which is selling well, BTW) and I need more time to consider where next to take Emily and her friends. The other part of me wants to do Cat’s Paw, which is Book I of The Unwritten Words, the Bookworm successor series. I’ve also been messing around with a semi-historical novel – I’m not sure if it will be historical, alternate history or straight-up fantasy – called The Unkindest Cut. I might be able to fit that into Bookworm instead – there’s certainly room for it after the chaos of Full Circle – but that will limit what else I can do with the story.

That said, it would be interesting to have both Cat’s Paw and The Unkindest Cut and then have them collide later on.

I’ve also been messing around with a spin-off set in either Schooled in Magic or The Zero Blessing – probably the latter, but I don’t know yet. The provisional title is The Alchemist’s Apprentice, although she will be more of a servant than a genuine apprentice.

(That said, I have also finalised the plot for The Zero Curse, which I will probably write in August. Snippet here.)

In other news, we’re currently in Malaysia <grin>