Archive | December, 2018

2018 – A Personal and Political Reflection

31 Dec

But in the privacy of his own mind he admitted to himself that, yes, it had changed. If he’d allowed the odd voice in the centre of his skull operational control over his mouth, which he’d never do, he knew better than that, but if he’d said it, it would have said: They’re waiting for something to happen. We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.

The Power, Naomi Alderman

2018 should have been a great year.

My youngest son was born in November 2017. I should have had a chance to get to know him, while preparing my oldest son for his move to a different nursery and moving house myself. Instead, even as 2017 turned into 2018, I was starting to cough badly. It took months of experiments with various medicines (and my wife’s insistence that we go private and shell out for a CT/MRI scan we couldn’t get on the NHS) before we found out that I had lymphoma. It was just in time. I collapsed on the day I was supposed to have my first chemo and wound up spending three weeks in hospital. It turned out that I had a nasty chest infection that had made the lymphoma considerably worse (or vice versa).

It was probably the most worrying three weeks of my life. There were times when I honestly thought I wasn’t going to get out of the hospital bed alive. I was moved between the haematology and high-dependency ward twice. Even after I did get out – and got sent home – I had problems walking (and then I caught an infection that drained me again). I feared I would never be able to work properly again. I was lucky to finish Para Bellum and then write The Alchemist’s Apprentice before I caught yet another infection. Cry Wolf (The Empire’s Corps 15) has been delayed because of a combination of influenza and chemo brain. Right now, I’m just waiting for a scan to tell me if the final treatment was enough to slay the monster and let me return to a normal life.

I’ve had health and mental problems for most of my life, but this was scary. (One of the doctors said I seemed to have been far too accustomed to discomfort, which probably does me too much credit.) The sensation of my body steadily breaking down was frightening, all the more so because no one seemed to know what was wrong. They thought I might have asthma or even stress-related problems before realising the truth. (Credit to Aisha for insisting on the scan.) Lying in that hospital bed, browsing the internet – it was two weeks before I was even able to scribble down ideas for books that may never be more than a handful of notes in my notebook – I had far too much time to reflect on my life and the world at large.

In many ways, of course, I was lucky. Ten years ago – or thereabouts – I would have been very lucky to survive. (It was odd to avoid the chemo brain until the fifth treatment, or so I have been told; the other side effects were no walk in the park.) In many ways, everyone alive today is lucky too. We are wealthy and privileged beyond words compared to our parents and grandparents. If you don’t believe me, think about this – there wasn’t anyone in 1918, from the richest to the poorest, who could afford the kind of medical care, let alone freedoms and luxuries, that we have today. The world was still a big place. Today, a mere eighteen-hour flight is enough to reach practically anywhere on Earth. I find it hard to comprehend, sometimes, just how many limitations our ancestors faced. They would find it impossible to comprehend the things we take for granted.

And yet, we fear for the future.

You can see traces of this everywhere, if you bother to look. The rise of nationalist parties across the EU. Riots and racial/ethnic/racial tensions on the streets of Europe. The ongoing culture wars in the United States. Growing fascist powers to the east, fragmentation to the south; political and social elites increasingly separated from their people. And a rise in books speculating about the next great war, from a Russian invasion (yes, I wrote one) to an Islamic takeover of Europe. And while you may think that is silly, it’s worth noting that the years before the First World War were marked with countless books anticipating the conflict and the fall of the old order.

In some ways, of course, this was inevitable. The Cold War froze some conflicts – European borders were largely inviolate during the Cold War – and placed limits on others. Both sides were nervous about a relatively small conflict turning into a global holocaust. However, the Cold War also sowed the seeds of future conflict, in ways both subtle and gross. The conflicts in the Balkans, for example, had time to fester before outright fighting finally broke out after the Berlin Wall fell, while the United Nations (really, a pipe dream from the start) rapidly sacrificed all claim to any form of moral authority. The delusion that all countries were equal would have been laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic. It was nothing more than something to be cynically exploited by governments with no regard for the rules.

Other problems could have been avoided, if men with vision had looked ahead. There was no need for Western Europe to have a massive crisis of confidence, for want of a better term, or to try so desperately to stamp out nationalism. But the fear of populism and militarism – which had helped propel Hitler and Mussolini into power – ran deep. The European Union started life as a worthwhile project, but it was based on a fundamental contradiction. It was not the USA, a union of states, but a union of nations. The technocratic elite that gained control of the European Union wanted – needed – to think of themselves as above the populations. They saw themselves as knowing better than the proles. This was not, of course, a recipe for social harmony.

The crux of the malaise that currently pervades both America and Europe is that the governments have effectively lost touch with the people they are supposed to rule. They increasingly see themselves as the natural rulers of the world, issuing orders that suit their interests (because they can no longer comprehend that not everyone shares their interests) and cracking down on dissent (however expressed). The elites have not wholly been wrong – this has to be acknowledged from the start – but they have not always been right either. And, when they have made obvious mistakes, they have declined to learn anything from their experiences. One might even say that they have not paid a price for their mistakes.

This creates a problem where the benefits of controversial issues – from immigration and open borders to currency integration, trade treaties, and globalisation – have not been spread evenly. One may argue – many do – that immigration (or any of the other issues I mentioned) has been good for Britain (and America and Europe) and this may actually be true. However, the people who have reaped the benefits are not the people who have had to cope with the disadvantages. It came as no surprise to me that London was strongly for Remain, in the BREXIT referendum, while the parts of the country that had lost out (or saw themselves as losing out) voted for Leave. Why should they support something that had not, or they thought had not, benefited them?

A smart government(s) might have acknowledged this point well before the situation reached boiling point. Instead, governments and politicians decided that it was better to use propaganda than try to come to grips with a problem they had largely caused. Anyone who disagreed was smeared as a racist or a sexist or a bigot or … well, a deplorable. Careers were destroyed, lives were ruined … people became scared to speak out.

Let me use a silly example and move on from there. There were essentially two groups that criticised The Last Jedi. One group felt that it was a poorly conceived, poorly written and poorly directed movie that laughed in the face of previous canon (and expanded universe/legends canon). They had legitimate complaints. The other group was composed of misogynists and racists. Their complaints were not legitimate. The response from the film’s producers and supporters, however, was to smear the first group with the second. The bad apples in fandom were used to attack the rest of fandom.

The Last Jedi is just a movie. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter what happens to Star Wars. But what happens when this approach is taken to … well, everything? Over the last few years, we have found out. It isn’t pretty.

This created a situation that George Orwell predicted in 1984:

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended.”

And so we come to the core of the problem.

Western society’s great advantage was not racial, but social. Western society attempted to practice the Rule of Law, rather than the Rule of Force. There was a belief, sometimes tragically misplaced, that no one was above the law. It didn’t matter who you were, or what you were. You were not above the law. This relied upon a high level of social trust, which was rooted in a belief that no one could act like a robber baron with impunity. It is no coincidence that Britain’s rise to global power coincided with the rise of a high-trust society, where contracts were honoured, money could be lent and recovered and the law was supreme.

For a high-trust society to work, it had to maintain both the appearance of fairness and the power of the law. On one hand, the people who were guilty had to be proven guilty (the state had to prove their guilt, not the accused their innocence); on the other, the police and courts had to have the ability and the will to bring the guilty to justice. Deterrence, as always, is based on both the ability to do something and the will to do it. The problem was that both the appearance of fairness and the power of the law were beginning to slip, in so many different ways.

I could name dozens of ways in which this is corroding society. I’ll settle for a handful of the most dangerous. The media (particularly in America) largely abandoned the concept of equal and unbiased reporting, choosing to become – as one cynic put it – Democratic Party operatives with by-lines. The rise of identity politics ensured that people were irreversibly separated, with solid lines drawn between one ‘identity’ and the next. Multiculturalism, Affirmative Action and other well-intentioned attempts to address social inequality only made them worse. And the rise of mob cultures on the internet – in which someone can be found guilty and punished a long time before they can have a fair trial – is threatening to tear us apart. The rules don’t just keep changing, although that is bad enough. Now, someone can be retroactively punished for something that was innocuous at the time, but social death now. People are scared, people are resentful … people no longer trust. The bonds that hold society together are fraying.

Humans are intensely tribal creatures. At base, people see the world as ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ We see ‘us’ as a group made up of individuals, because we are sensitive to nuance within our group, and ‘them’ as one vast hive mind. Cold logic, of course, will tell us that that isn’t so. But when emotions are running high, cold logic has little to do with it. Why should we do anything to help one of ‘them’ when there is no guarantee it won’t come back to bite us?

The Rule of Law helps us to overcome such problems. But what happens when the Rule of Law no longer exists? And what happens when our leaders keep pretending that everything is normal? What happens when the Emperor has no clothes?

There is a bitter sense of betrayal spreading through society. Large numbers of people feel that they have been betrayed by their governments, their media, their churches, their … everything their ancestors had once trusted. They feel that either us wins or they win. It doesn’t matter if you think they are wrong to feel this way. The point is that they do feel this way. And so they turn to political outsiders because there is nowhere else to go. People like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage – even Milo Yiannopoulos – are not the cause of society’s problems, but symptoms. Trump’s supporters cling to him despite his flaws, not because of them – and they do that because Trump tapped into a growing feeling that traditional politics and political elites had failed. Leave won the BREXIT vote because the EU showed no willingness to learn from its own mistakes. And, even now, the EU has learnt nothing from the endless string of disasters plaguing Europe.

I wish I felt better about the future. I wish I thought that a combination of illness and depression had destroyed my confidence in the coming years. But it’s hard to have faith when society seems to have forgotten hard-earned lessons from the last four hundred years, when society seems intent on stamping out the study of history (warts and all) and plunging forward heedless of what might befall. I think we will pay a high price for our recklessness.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am wrong.

Happy New Year! <grin> (And yes, I am perfectly aware of the irony of wishing everyone a happy new year after everything I’ve said … <bigger grin>)

Christopher G. Nuttall

Edinburgh, New Year, 2018/9

Free Books!

23 Dec

Hi, everyone

As a Christmas gift to my readers, three of my bestselling books – Ark Royal, The Empire’s Corps and The Zero Blessing – will be available to download FREE from Amazon Kindle between 24th and 26th December, US time. Please feel free to snatch a copy … and, if you want to thank me, please leave a review <grin>

Merry Christmas!



The Zero Blessing

Caitlyn Aguirre should have been a magician. Her family certainly expected her to be a magician. But by the time she reached her twelfth birthday, Caitlyn hadn’t even managed to cast a single spell! In desperation, her parents send her – and her magical sisters – to Jude’s Sorcerous Academy, her last best chance to discover her powers.

But as she struggles to survive her classes without a single spell to her name, Caitlyn starts to uncover an ancient mystery that may prove the key to her true powers …

… If she lives long enough to find it.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from Amazon here – US, UK, AUS, CAN

Ark Royal

If you wish for peace, prepare for war.

-Royal Navy Motto

Seventy years ago, the interstellar supercarrier Ark Royal was the pride of the Royal Navy. But now, her weapons are outdated and her solid-state armour nothing more than a burden on her colossal hull. She floats in permanent orbit near Earth, a dumping ground for the officers and crew the Royal Navy wishes to keep out of the public eye.

But when a deadly alien threat appears, the modern starships built by humanity are no match for the powerful alien weapons. Ark Royal and her mismatched crew must go on the offensive, buying time with their lives And yet, with a drunkard for a Captain, an over-ambitious first officer and a crew composed of reservists and the dregs of the service, do they have even the faintest hope of surviving …

… And returning to an Earth which may no longer be there?

[Like my other self-published Kindle books, Ark Royal is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose. There is a large sample of the text right here, then you can buy it from Amazon here.]

The Empire’s Corps

You Should Never Speak Truth To Power…

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

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

The battle to save the Empire starts here.

Click here to download a free sample, and then buy it from Amazon here!

Hitler: Nemesis

18 Dec

-Ian Kershaw

In the previous volume, we saw how Adolf Hitler took advantage of the post-war chaos in Germany to establish himself as a leading politician, eventually managing to manoeuvre himself into a position to take supreme power. A combination of bribes, lucky judgement and the weakness of his enemies allowed him to secure his position, with the reoccupation of the Rhineland the crowning glory of his march towards the Fuhrer. Germany celebrated Hitler’s success; the young men and women fooled themselves into believing that they shared his success. They were soon to share in his nemesis.

Hitler: Nemesis covers the period between 1937, when Hitler was at the height of his power, to 1945, when Hitler killed himself to avoid capture. Like the previous book, it is both a biography of Hitler himself and a social history of Nazi Germany, focusing on the moments when the ‘Hitler Myth’ conflicted with reality. It is also a seething indictment of weakness and folly amongst Hitler’s enemies, both inside and outside the country. The internal opposition to Hitler was always weak and divided, unwilling to take the risk of assassinating the Fuhrer until it was too late; the outside opposition was equally unwilling to stand up to Hitler until it was too late. Munich, as Kershaw makes very clear, was perhaps the last chance to stop Hitler without major bloodshed. It was a chance the West allowed to slip out of their hands.

Central to this, of course, is the character of Adolf Hitler himself. He had always been a gambler – and, as a gambler, was lucky rather than good. He understood his early enemies very well, but failed to grasp that Churchill and Stalin were considerably tougher than the British and French politicians who allowed him to rape Czechoslovakia. Worse, from his point of view (but not for us), was that his early successes went to his head. When he overruled his generals, the first few times, and was proven right … he took it as a sign that he would always be right. Thankfully for humanity, he was often wrong. Germany might well have been able to hold out for much longer, perhaps even secure better peace terms, if Hitler had listened to his generals a little more.

Hitler was, in many ways, increasingly unable to focus on a single subject even before the war started slipping out of his control. He would issue vague orders, then change his mind; he would give nominal authority to some of his subordinates, but make sure they couldn’t turn their new position against him. He was, in short, more interested in securing his power base – and, later, his legend – than in preserving Germany. This had disastrous effects on the war effort. No one could have handled the vast number of offices Hitler collected under his banner effectively, not at once. Hitler was, simply put, the worst kind of micromanager, in the worst place for one to be.

The state Hitler built was, inevitably, a reflection of his haphazard approach to government and policy. His individual subordinates competed with each other to please him, rather than focusing on uniting against Germany’s growing list of enemies. This ensured that they couldn’t unite against him, which was probably what he wanted, but it also weakened Germany at the worst possible time. It also led to a demented approach to ridding the state of everyone Hitler and his followers considered undesirable, ranging from war-wounded to the Jews. It is horrible to contemplate what a more efficient Nazi Germany would have done.

Hitler himself, Kershaw makes clear, did not issue specific orders regarding the mass killings of Jews. He seemed oddly unwilling to commit himself, unlike Himmler and the really fanatical Nazis. At the same time, there is no doubt that Hitler knew what was happening and approved; there is certainly no suggestion that Hitler ever intervened to save Jews – or anyone – from his pogroms. The idea that Hitler was innocent in such matters is thoroughly absurd.

As the war worsened for Germany, Hitler withdrew more and more from his people. He grew increasingly reluctant to see anyone, even his closest followers. The love and admiration the German people had once felt for him was gone, replaced by fear of an increasingly-powerful administrative state. Hitler himself may have conceded, as early as January 1945, that the war was over and Germany had lost, but he did everything in his power to keep the Reich fighting until the bitter end. His death was an escape from the horrors he had done so much to unleash upon his people. The Germans who followed Hitler followed him into hell.

Hitler did face internal opposition, although it was weak, unfocused and more given to infighting than actual action. There were a handful of churchmen who spoke out against the regime, worrying the Reich’s administrators, but their efforts came to nothing. (The church’s refusal to speak out against Hitler will go down as a black mark on its record.) The military opposition faltered, at least partly because of a long-standing fear of what would happen after Hitler’s death (not, it should be noted, an entirely unjustified fear). Hitler himself seemed to have the luck of the devil. The handful of attempts to assassinate him that came close enough to actually work only made his position stronger.

In the end, what was Hitler? He was a monster, plain and simple. His single-minded determination to make war, in the belief that it would redeem Germany, dragged his people into the fire, while his failures as a war leader and his lunatic eugenics policies ensured that Germany would lose the war. Once he had started, he couldn’t stop. His obsession with negotiating from a position of strength, impossible after the Western Allies were solidly established on the European mainland, made certain that there would be no peace short of the destruction of Nazi Germany itself.

It is hard to be sure that Hitler was the most evil man in world history. Stalin was probably responsible, directly or indirectly, for killing more people than Hitler. Mao, Saddam, Genghis Khan … there were others who were as thoroughly unpleasant as Hitler, lacking – in many ways, the redemptive aspects of Napoleon. But it cannot be denied that Hitler is very much amongst the top ten most evil men in human history.

There are few people today who can truly be compared to Adolf Hitler. Certainly, no American President comes close to the sheer unrelenting monstrousness of the man. One can pick and choose aspects of Hitler’s personality and apply them to everyone from George Washington to Donald Trump, but none of those comparisons is remotely fair. Indeed, very little could be more flattering to Hitler and insulting to any American President. The overused claim that ‘X is Hitler’ does nothing more than weaken our resolve to stop any future Hitler-types from gaining power. How would we recognise one when we saw one?

It might be easier to draw a comparison between 1919-1933 Germany and modern-day America and Europe. Faith in everything from the government to the media is declining rapidly (not least because of the ‘X is Hitler’ comparisons); immigration is provoking ethnic and racial tensions, there’s an economic crisis, people are growing increasingly desperate … people are crying out for a saviour. But who will save them? Will it be a Reagan … or a Hitler?

In conclusion, there are few other biographies of Adolf Hitler that come close to the sweeping magnificence of Kershaw’s two volumes. I highly recommend them.

Out Now – The Alchemist’s Apprentice (The Zero Enigma V)

14 Dec

A Stand-Alone Novel set in The Zero Enigma Universe …

Five months after the House War, the city of Shallot is on edge. The Great Houses plot and plan against one another, while the magicians rebuild and the common folk fear another outburst of fighting. And one young nobleman has a plan.

Rebecca is a half-caste shopgirl in an apothecary, dreaming of an apprenticeship that will allow her to rise out of poverty and finally make a name for herself in a city that has no use for her kind. But when her master undertakes a commission for an enigmatic young nobleman, she finds herself drawn into a maelstrom of criminals, ambitious nobles and a plan that may shake the foundations of the Great Houses themselves …

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

Snippet – Cry Wolf (The Empire’s Corps 15)

9 Dec

Formerly The Pen and the Sword

Prologue I

From: The Death Agonies of Empire. Professor Leo Caesius, Avalon University, 46PE.

As we have seen in previous volumes, the Fall of Earth managed to surprise nearly everyone within the Core Worlds, save for a handful of far-sighted visionaries. Earth had been the centre of human civilisation for centuries, the cradle of the human race and the heart of the Empire itself, that there was a permanence about Earth that seemed … well, permanent. It was almost impossible to grasp the fact, intellectually as well as emotionally, that Earth was gone. The core of the Empire could not be gone.

But it was.

Earth’s significance did not just lie in sentiment alone. Earth was the home of the Grand Senate and, thanks to the presence of hundreds of interstellar corporations, the heart of the Empire’s economy. It is literally impossible to estimate just how many billions of credits passed through the Solar System each day, nor how many trillions had been spent on the system’s vast industrial base. Nor was Earth insignificant in other ways. The naval presence alone – and its support system – cost millions of credits every year. Every element of the Empire’s military might had its HQ on Earth – even the Imperial Marines were formally based on Earth – and no officer could be truly said to be going places unless he’d served a term on the homeworld. And, of course, the endless stream of immigrants to newly-settled colony worlds came, by and large, from Earth.

And now it was gone.

It took time, perhaps longer than many people realise, for word to spread. When it did, when it reached the rest of the Core Worlds, people were disbelieving. Earth could not be gone, they told themselves. It took time for understanding to arrive and, when it did, it brought terror in its wake. Love it or hate it, Earth was gone. And it had taken the core of the Empire with it. Planetary governments – and governors – awoke to the fact that they were on their own, corporations realised that vast amounts of money and assets had simply vanished, naval units realised they would never get orders from home – they would never get orders again – and independence movements across what had once been the Empire took heart. Their prospects for gaining their freedom had never been better.

The chaos was not long in following. A handful of unpopular governors fell, only to be replaced by governors who could no more handle the crisis and calm the chaos than their predecessors. A handful of ambitious naval officers declared themselves warlords, only to discover that ruling a vest-pocket empire was nowhere near as easy as they’d believed. And others, seeking stability, found that there was none to be found in the ruins of empire. It truly seemed like the end of times. It was no surprise that radical religious factions, some old and some new, spread like wildfire. The people wanted hope. It was hard to find as the madness gripped the remnants of a once-great civilisation.

But, even during the darkest days of the Fall, there were some who were trying to bring back the light …

Prologue II

Tarsus was dying.

It was not, the man in the dark suit mused, a quick death. There was no fleet of angry starships preparing to scorch the entire planet, no giant asteroid on its way to strike the surface with the force of a million nukes, no dread disease steadily working its way through the population and killing everyone it touched … no, it was the slow death of economic collapse. The men and women below didn’t realise it, not yet, but the Fall of Earth had done immense harm to Tarsus and the remainder of the sector. They simply couldn’t grasp that things had changed. How could they? There had been economic downturns before – the man in the dark suit owed his position to the previous downturn – but nothing so drastic. The Empire had seemed immortal …

… Until it was gone.

He stood at the window and peered at the streets below. It was near midnight, but the city was still humming with life. The men and women hurrying up and down the streets didn’t understand the new reality, not yet. They didn’t believe what had happened. Earth was hundreds of light years away. They didn’t understand that Earth was – that Earth had been – the core of an economic system that covered thousands of light years, nor did they realise that its absence meant utter chaos. The man had seen the reports, the ones his political enemies had tried to hush up. No one really knew what would happen when reality finally hit the population. It was so utterly unprecedented.

And yet, there was a twinge of fear running through the air. People knew that something was wrong, even if they couldn’t put a name to it. The smarter ones were already hoarding food and fuel, something that was technically illegal … the dumber ones were flocking to the entertainment complexes, trying to forget about the shadow looming over the city. They tried to close their eyes to the steadily-growing signs of decline – businesses closing, banks calling in loans, hundreds of thousands already out of work as the economy contracted – even though it was an exercise in futility. If a rising tide lifted all boats, as the finest economic theorists asserted, what happened when the tide was receding? The man didn’t want to admit it, not even in the privacy of his own head, but he knew the truth. There was nothing to be gained by trying to hide from it. The wealthy and powerful would be the last to fall, perhaps … but they would fall. It was the end of the world.

He turned his eyes towards the distant Government House, where the First Citizen and his cronies were trying to find something – anything – that would save their bacon when the population realised just how thoroughly screwed they were. The man admired their determination to blind themselves to inconvenient facts, even as he held them in utter contempt for their failure. They’d built their system on the assumption that nothing would ever change, although everyone knew that change was the only universal constant. They simply didn’t have the determination to do what needed to be done. They were weak when they needed to be strong and strong when they needed to be weak. The man rolled his eyes in disgust. They gave the population what they wanted, but not what they needed.

His eyes sought out the distant spaceport, half-hidden in the darkness. The police and security forces were already rounding up the Forsakers, preparing to deport them to … the man didn’t know where they were going, let alone when. No one did. All that mattered was getting rid of them. But the man knew it was an exercise in populist pointlessness. The Forsakers might be a drain on society, but deporting them wouldn’t solve anything. They weren’t that big a drain on society. The whole thing was nothing more than a desperate bid to win approval from a population that was about to discover that it had bigger things to worry about than the wretched Forsakers. The government might see a blip in its approval ratings, for a day or two, and then reality would assert itself once again. And Tarsus would continue her slow slide into chaos.

But chaos brings opportunities, the man thought. Who knows what the future may hold?

He smiled, coldly. He was a popular man – and his party was a popular party – but they had been deprived of real power. They’d won enough of the popular vote to be included in government, yet the governing coalition had successfully blocked any of their proposed legislation. It was maddening – the man knew his party would share the blame for mistakes that were none of their doing – but it could not be helped. The party structure that had governed Tarsus for over two thousand years was almost impossible to change. And yet, it was based on an economic system that no longer existed. It was dead. It just didn’t know it.

Not yet, the man told himself. In some ways, the government’s refusal to face up to facts worked in his favour. Let them exchange worthless favours for a few more weeks. Let their promises be exposed as worthless. Let them thoroughly discredit themselves. And then, we can take over and put the world to rights.

He poured himself a drink, then turned back to the window. A shuttle was taking off from the spaceport, the twinkling lights vanishing in the cloudy skies. A storm was brewing. The man could feel it in his bones. He raised his glass in a silent toast to the future and took a single sip. The wine was worth savouring. He had a handful of bottles, locked away for special occasions, but once they were gone they were gone. There would be no more scotch from New Aberdeen until someone rebuilt the interstellar economy from scratch. The man doubted he’d live to see it. His projected lifespan was over two hundred years, but rebuilding the Empire would take thousands.

But I can start the process, he thought. Tarsus wasn’t a bad place to be, if one happened to have ambition. The planet was close enough to Earth to maintain valuable links, both with the homeworld and the other important worlds, yet far enough from the centre of power to be relatively safe. There is opportunity here, for the man who dares to reach out and take it.

His intercom pinged. “Mr. Secretary, the First Citizen requests your presence at the cabinet meeting tomorrow.”

The man smiled. “Does he indeed? How nice of him.”

It was not, he knew, a request. He’d be expected to rubber-stamp a decision made by the First Citizen’s inner circle. There was no point in trying to object, not now. But – in time – he would avenge every humiliation the wretched ruling class had inflicted upon him and his supporters. The rulers had thought their position unchallengeable. They’d certainly sealed up all the normal avenues to power. But the Empire was gone. Who knew how far an ambitious man could go?

He took another sip of his wine. “Inform the First Citizen that I would be deeply honoured to attend his meeting,” he ordered, dryly. “And tell my wife I will be leaving the house early tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir.”

The man finished his drink, then took one last look at the streets below. They were still brightly lit … that was going to change. The man had no illusions about just what would happen when the truth finally slammed home. Tarsus, one of the most stable worlds in the sector, was about to undergo a massive shock. The wildfire sweeping over the once-great Empire would burn the planet to ashes.

But we will rise from the ashes, he told himself. He silently catalogued his plans and preparations, reassuring himself that he’d covered all the bases. There was a certain element of risk, of course, but he’d minimised it as much as possible. And we will build a better world.

Chapter One

It will come as no surprise that the single most distrusted entity within the Empire, from the moment the decline began to Earth’s finally collapse into madness, was the media. It is difficult to say for sure, but it seems unlikely that many people believed what they were being told.

– Professor Leo Caesius. Crying Wolf: The Media and the Fall of the Empire.

It was a dark and stormy night, Clarence Esperanza narrated to himself, as he surveyed the chain-link fence between him and the dark industrial estate. It was a dark and stormy night, damn it!

He smiled – white teeth flashing in a dark face – as he looked for an easy way to get over the fence. He’d always enjoyed adding little flourishes to his work, even if half of them were gleefully stolen from ancient writers hardly anyone – and certainly none of his readers – had heard of. It wasn’t theft, not really. It was … all right, maybe it was a kind of theft, but it was in a good cause. Clarence knew, without false modesty, that he was no writer. He lacked the skill to string words together in a manner that would comfort the powerless and afflict the powerful. Whatever skill he’d had in writing, once upon a time, had been ground out of him by a creative writing course and ten years as a reporter. It was no comfort to know that everyone else had the same problem.

An aircar flew overhead, heading north towards the spaceport. Clarence glanced up at it, then returned his attention to the fence. The estate had been abandoned two years ago, according to the city files, but someone had taken precautions to make sure that no one could get in or out of the massive complex without going through the gates. Clarence had expected to find a whole string of holes in the wire – cut by the homeless, looking desperately for somewhere to sleep that wasn’t damp and cold – but there was nothing. Gritting his teeth, he checked his gloves and started to scramble over the fence. It was harder than it looked and he nearly fell twice before he got over the wire and landed on the far side. The sound of his feet hitting the ground was terrifyingly loud in the silent night air. He ducked down, expecting to see a night-watchman heading towards him. The estate was certainly large enough to merit someone on duty at all times.

And my press pass probably won’t be enough to spare me a night in jail, Clarence thought, as he listened for the sound of approaching footsteps. The watchman might show him the door or he might call the cops. There was no way to know how the cops would react. They wouldn’t risk abusing a journalist, but a night in the cells was hardly abuse. And the editor will give me hell for being caught.

He smiled at the thought. The tip-off had been vague, but it had come from a trustworthy source. Something was going to happen tonight, in the vast industrial estate. Clarence would have preferred more details, particularly a clear idea of precisely what was going to happen, but his source had gone silent. That wasn’t uncommon, in a world where talking to the media could get a source fired and blacklisted … he shook his head. The risk of getting caught was high – press pass or no press pass – but it had been a long time since he’d done anything worthy of the great reporters of the distant past. He’d spent the last five years taking official statements and trying, desperately, to put his own spin on bland pap. One might as well add spice to fried mush. No matter how much spice one used, it was still mush.

His smile grew wider as he stood and slipped further into the industrial estate. A chunk of it, according to the files, had been turned into living space for the Forsakers, but the remainder was still empty and cold. He glanced into a giant warehouse as he passed the door, seeing absolutely nothing inside. The building itself was designed to survive everything the planet could throw at it, but the owners had declined to turn it into a homeless shelter. Clarence snorted in disgust as he took a quick snap of the interior, then resumed his walk into the estate. It hadn’t escaped his notice that the number of homeless camps – and beggars on the streets – had been increasing recently. There was probably a good human interest story in there, somewhere. And perhaps a story asking precisely why the estate had been abandoned when it could be turned into a homeless shelter.

He walked around another warehouse and stopped, dead, as he saw the second fence. The owners might have deeded part of their territory to the Forsakers, willingly or not, but they’d clearly been determined that the Forsakers would not leave the handful of warehouses that had been put aside for them. This fence was even newer than the last one, with barbed wire on the top. Clarence wouldn’t have cared to bet that it hadn’t been electrified, if not alarmed. The owners looked to be selfish bastards. They probably wouldn’t give a damn if some poor hobo touched the fence and got a nasty shock …

Wankers, Clarence thought.

He put the thought aside as he peered into the semi-darkness. Nothing was happening, as far as he could tell. A small fire burned merrily outside one of the closer warehouses – a handful of people clearly visible in the light – but little else. It looked like a homeless camp, not … he shook his head. It didn’t look as if anything important was happening within the darkness, certainly nothing demanding his attention. Shaking his head, he walked over to the nearest abandoned warehouse and scrambled up a ladder onto the roof. The air felt colder, somehow, as he lay on the rooftop and looked towards the Forsaker camp. Nothing was happening.

Waste of time, he thought, as the cold started to seep into his bones. I should have stayed in bed with my wife.

He allowed himself a moment of irritation, then reminded himself to be patience. The really great reporters didn’t sit in their offices and wait for someone to bring them the news. No, they went out and got the news. Sometimes, it went badly wrong and then they were the news … Clarence shook his head, again. Nothing was going to go wrong. He was just going to wait a few hours and see what happened, then sneak back over the fence, call a hovercab and go home. His editor would have a few nasty things to say if Clarence turned up at the office without a story – or hopped up on stims – but he’d understand. It wouldn’t be the first time a tip had turned into a giant waste of time. Clarence reached into his pocket, produced his recording spectacles and placed them on his nose. They were a pain in the ass to wear, but their recordings had saved his bacon more than once. If nothing else, they’d prove he hadn’t been doing nothing at the dead of night.

Although I am doing nothing, he thought, silently starting to compose his latest story for the newspaper. I’m lying on my chest on a freezing cold rooftop when I could be having naked time with my wife.

Another aircar flew overhead, lights flickering in the darkness. Clarence did his best to ignore it, telling himself that the aircar wasn’t looking for him. It wouldn’t take military-grade sensors to pick him out on the rooftop, but who would give a damn? He looked like a hobo himself – he’d been careful to dress as a dockyard worker, rather than a flashy reporter – and it was unlikely that anyone would care about a hobo in an abandoned estate. It wasn’t as if there was anything worth stealing … not really. The only thing of any value within the estate was the buildings themselves. It wasn’t as if a small army of hobos could pick them up and carry them away.

Which won’t stop the police chasing the hobos out if someone makes a fuss, he thought, grimly. There was another human interest story there, he was sure. The homeless simply want a roof over their heads when they sleep, just like the rest of it.

It was nearly an hour – and he was on the verge of giving up – when he heard the faint sound of engines. He tensed, peering into the darkness. A small handful of trucks were pulling up at the distant gate. Were they coming for him? He silently calculated a handful of ways to get out of the estate in a hurry, although – as policemen started spilling out of the trucks – he had a nasty feeling that there would be no way out. It looked as if the police had arrived in force, ready for war. He could see men wearing helmets and body armour, carrying shockrods and neural whips in the foreground, with others – armed with real weapons – hung back. They looked ready to intervene at any moment.

His blood ran cold. This was wrong. The police did not come at the dead of night, certainly not to a harmless estate. It was hard enough to get them to come out when one lived in a middle-class estate in the heart of the city, let alone the homeless camps and ghettos along the edge. But now … a shiver ran down his spine as the policemen moved forward in eerie silence. He tapped his spectacles, making sure they were recording the scene. The policemen moved through the gates and straight towards the warehouses …

Someone shouted. A handful of men appeared, carrying makeshift weapons. Clarence winced, unsure if he should laugh or cry. The Forsakers were carrying baseball bats and iron rods, nothing really dangerous to a man in body armour. They didn’t even have a chance to try before a flurry of stun bolts left them lying on the ground, twitching helplessly. The policemen marched over them, abandoning all pretence at stealth. Clarence covered his eyes as the policemen turned on the lights. The estate was suddenly bathed in brilliant white light.

“ATTENTION,” a voice boomed. The warehouse seemed to shake with every word. “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Clarence covered his ears, a fraction of a second too late. He couldn’t help thinking, as he turned his head to capture as many details as possible, that half the city had been awoken by the racket. The warehouse district was large, but it wasn’t that large. He watched, feeling a twinge of sympathy, as dazed Forsakers stumbled out of the warehouses. The policemen grabbed them, male and female alike, and snapped on the cuffs before forcing them to lie on the ground and wait. Clarence made sure to record it all. The public wouldn’t be sorry for the Forsakers unless they saw the poor bastards being made to suffer.

And it is so pointless, he thought, as a crying child was made to sit next to her mother. What does it matter?

He shuddered, helplessly. The Forsakers had a bad reputation. They were lazy and arrogant beggars, walking around in their traditional clothes as if the world owed them a living, utterly unwilling to abandon their primitive culture and join the mainstream. Everyone knew the Forsakers were a drain on the planet’s public funds … until they actually ran the figures for themselves. Clarence had, more out of curiosity than anything else. The Forsakers weren’t draining the planet dry. They weren’t even claiming a percentage point of a percentage point of the government’s budget. The government spent more on bureaucracy than it did on public aid.

A scream rent the night air. Clarence scanned the scene before him, then zoomed in on a young girl who was being harassed by two policemen. One of them was holding her, the other had his hand up her dress … Clarence shuddered again, as a senior officer marched over and rebuked the two coppers, who didn’t look remotely repentant. Clarence wasn’t really surprised. The news file in the office contained lots of stories about policemen who abused their powers, stories that the editor had killed on the grounds they’d incite social unrest. And some of the stories had been a little hard to believe … Clarence swallowed. It was clear, now, that the stories had some basis in truth.

But that doesn’t mean they’re true, he thought. The poor girl, crying silently, had been dumped with her fellows. Just that they could have happened.

The dreadful night wore on. Clarence watched, helplessly, as the policemen stripped everything out of the warehouses and piled them up in the trucks, then marched the prisoners to the gate. He filmed everything, from the crying children to the broken spindles and other primitive tools that were part of the Forsaker heritage. The policemen seemed to take an unholy delight in breaking things, although it was nothing but spite. There was certainly nothing to be gained by smashing tools the Forsakers would need …

It hit him in a moment of insight. Dear God, he thought. They’re deporting the bastards!

Clarence swallowed, hard. It couldn’t be true, could it? There was nothing to be gained by shoving the Forsakers on a starship and tell them never to come back. He ran the calculations in his head and scowled. It would probably cost the government more, in the long run, to deport the Forsakers than to keep them. Hell, there was no reason the Forsakers couldn’t be given land and told to farm it if they wanted to stay alive. But they’d already been evicted from lands they’d held for generations. The big farming corporations had wanted the land for themselves and the government hadn’t had the will to say no. Who cared about a bunch of weirdoes in outdated clothes when there was money to be made?

Not that the price of food went down, Clarence thought, coldly. He made a decent living, but even he had noticed that the cost of living was steadily inching upwards. God alone knew what was really happening in the countryside. The Forsakers were evicted for nothing.

He looked towards the spaceport in the distance as the rest of the pieces fell into place. The Forsakers were easy targets. Harmless, by and large; unarmed, certainly. And easily demonised by radical politicians. The pressure to do something about them was overwhelming … no, had been overwhelming. It was clear the government had decided that deporting the Forsakers was a concession they could afford to make, although it was pointless. Clarence hoped, in a moment of naked horror, that the government actually was deporting the Forsakers. There were nastier things that could happen …

This will not stand, he promised himself, as the police started to drive away with their prisoners. They were heading towards the spaceport, at least, although he knew that proved nothing. There was plenty of room for a mass grave in the wastelands beyond the spaceport complex. I’ll tell the world.

Clarence rolled over and stood, hurrying back towards the ladder. The show was over, as far as he could tell. He had to get his story out before the Forsakers were actually loaded onto a starship – or sold into slavery or whatever other horrible fate the government might have in mind for them – and deported forever. He’d make sure the people knew what was being done in their name. He silently reviewed the footage he’d recorded as he slipped down the ladder and ran towards the fence. The Forsakers weren’t popular, but the right footage – carefully chosen – would change that. He’d have the entire population shouting in outrage by the time he was done.

Scrambling over the fence, he fled into the darkness. There was no sign of anyone on the streets, not even a handful of homeless or a patrolling police car. It was easy to believe that he’d imagined everything, he thought, as he reached a diner and called a hovercab. If he hadn’t had the footage, it would have been hard to convince anyone that it had really happened. It was so unthinkable that … it was unthinkable. The government was harsh, at times, but it wasn’t monstrous …

Hard times make people do monstrous things, he thought, as the hovercab dropped him off outside his apartment. And people who think they cannot be called to account can be the worst of all.

Clarence allowed himself a tight smile as he sat down in front of his terminal – his wife had long since gone to bed – and started to review the footage and write the story. It would make his career, he was sure. Every reporter yearned for something that would make him famous, something that would change the world. The truly great reporters had been household names, once upon a time. They’d exposed corruption, they’d caught criminals … a couple had even had flicks made of their lives. Clarence wanted that kind of fame for himself. And he would have it …

He finished writing the story, uploading it and the footage to the newspaper’s server, then went to bed. His wife shifted uncomfortably as he climbed under the sheets, but otherwise didn’t moved. Clarence didn’t really blame her. She’d been up for most of the day, first taking their son to nursery and then handling her job. Clarence would have liked to be the sole breadwinner – he didn’t like the tired look in his wife’s eyes – but there was no alternative. He simply didn’t bring in enough money to ensure a good start in life for his son.

Things will be different, he silently promised his wife. And they start from tomorrow.

And he was right. The following morning, he received an email that told him he’d been fired.

The Future of The Zero Enigma

5 Dec

The Alchemist Cover FOR WEB

First, The Alchemist’s Apprentice is starting the first set of edits now. Hopefully, I will be able to publish it by the end of the month.

I’ve got a handful of ambitious plans for the universe. First up is The King’s Man, a story about a young magician who joins the Kingsmen and finds himself battling a plot to bring his country crashing down. Then … well, I’m not sure. I have a plan for a story following a young sailor who sails to Hangchow and finds herself caught up in a civil war, as well as one following an older teacher who gets assigned to Jude’s (with a secret mission to catch a spy), and one following a young woman who wants to kill the sorcerer who murdered her family … (actually, I’m not sure if the last one would fit into the Zero Universe, but we will see.)

And then I have a grand plan for a crossover featuring Cat, Isabella, Rebecca (TAA) and the hero of The King’s Men. I’m still trying to decide how it should go and, more importantly, how it should be formatted. I wrote the first books in first-person, but it might be better – with multiple characters – to go for third. My basic idea is … there are a lot of ‘magic goes away’ plots, but what about a ‘magic gets more powerful’ plot? Cat and her friends – and enemies, etc – find themselves dealing with an incredible crisis and great secrets from the past. And war, ghosts and a lot of other things that happen when society starts to fray …

I’m not sure how many of the earlier books will be written first, however. I do need The King’s Men and perhaps the sailor book, but otherwise … we shall see. I may also need to separate out the Isabella side of the story from the others.

What do you think?


Rough Planned Schedule

2 Dec

Hi, everyone

This is my very rough plan for the next few months … which is subject to change without notice <grin>

December – The Pen and the Sword (The Empires Corps 15)

January – Cursed (Schooled in Magic 17).

February – The Right of the Line (Invincible 3, Ark 14).

March – The Ancient Lie (The Unwritten Words II)

April – (unsure as yet, perhaps A Learning Experience 6 or Zero 6)

May – Debt of War (Kat Falcone.)