Archive | December, 2019

Gennady’s Tale (Schooled in Magic Novella)

31 Dec

Hi, everyone

Gennady’s Tale is the second Schooled in Magic novella, set roughly ten years before Schooled in Magic itself.  It’s a submission for the Fantastic Schools anthology, so any comments, suggestions, death threats, etc would be warmly welcomed (except the death threats, which will get a frigid reception <grin>)

You can start reading the series itself here –

Fantastic Schools –

Now read on …

Chapter One

“Clubfoot!  Clubfoot!”

Gennady stayed low as he ran into the undergrowth, trying to put as much distance between him and his father as possible.  The man had come home blind drunk, as always, and would beat Gennady to a pulp if he caught him before the drink finally sent him into a drunken stupor.  He’d been drinking more than usual lately, ever since Huckeba – Gennady’s elder brother – had married some poor girl from the neighbouring village and moved into her shack with his in-laws.  Someone had probably reminded him that his son was a cripple, a disabled boy in a world that cared nothing for disabled boys, and he’d gone home to take out his frustrations on his son.

He gritted his teeth as his ankle started to hurt, a grim reminder of why everyone – even his parents – called him Clubfoot.  It wasn’t a real clubfoot, he’d been told, but it was quite bad enough.  Gennady could barely keep up with the women, let alone the men.  He was weak, too weak to handle everything from farming work to late-night drinking and fighting that occupied the men when they weren’t working in the fields.  There was no way he’d ever be allowed to marry, let alone have children of his own.  His father would probably disown him, sooner or later.  There was no way he could pass the family’s tiny shack to a cripple.  Gennady’s younger brother would kick him out even if their father didn’t.  And no one would say anything about it at all.

The bitterness welled up, again, as the shadows grew and lengthened.  It wasn’t fair.  He hadn’t chosen to be a cripple.  He wasn’t one of the idiots who tossed axes around for fun and accidentally cut off their own legs.  He hadn’t done anything to deserve being the runt of the litter, the laughing stock of the village … he hadn’t.  His bones ached as he stumbled to a halt, gasping for breath.  The louts had beaten him yesterday, chasing him from the vegetable gardens and into the forests surrounding the village.  No doubt they’d hoped he wouldn’t come crawling back.  Gennady himself wasn’t sure why he hadn’t simply walked away and allowed the forest to kill him.  No one in their right mind ventured out of the village after dark.  The night belonged to the other folk.

He stumbled to a halt, feeling sweat trickling down his back as he looked around.  His father’s voice was stilled.  Gennady knew what that meant.  The old man had probably gone back to the shack, to take his anger out on his wife instead.  He felt a pang of guilt, mixed with relief that it wasn’t him getting the beating.  He knew he should be ashamed of himself for letting it happen, for doing nothing, but … he couldn’t help it.  He’d been beaten down so often that he knew he had little sympathy to spare for anyone else.

Why should I, he asked himself, when no one has any sympathy for me?

He forced himself to look around, warily.  Few people came this close to the Greenwood, save for the lonely, the lost and the desperate.  The tangled branches and undergrowths up ahead were an impassable barrier, even to a strong man with an axe.  No one in their right mind would try to get in, not if they knew what was waiting for them.  The other folk lived there, in a realm so overgrown the sunlight never shone.  They’d kill anyone foolish enough to enter their world.  Gennady forced himself to start moving again, giving the Greenwood a wide berth.  There were times when he thought he could hear a call, urging him to walk into the alien realm.  He knew if he did, he’d never come out again.

Birds flew through the trees as he kept walking, despite the growing pain in his ankle.  He forced himself to keep looking around, noting the mushrooms growing near the taller trees.  They didn’t look ripe, not yet, but they were edible.  If he was desperate … he promised himself he’d come back later to pick them, to take home for his mother’s stew.  If he could get them home, without having them stolen by one of the village louts, his mother might be pleased with him.  No.  He knew better.  She could never forget what he’d done to her, simply by being born.

It wasn’t my fault, he told himself.  It wasn’t his fault that the village woman had cracked jokes about Gennady’s mother lying with the other folk, before his birth.  It wasn’t his fault that her husband had come very close to kicking her and her cursed child out of the shack, throwing them into the cold to die.  I was just a child.

The thought didn’t comfort him.  How could it?  He was a cripple.  There was no place for him in the village, no place anywhere.  It was only a matter of time until he was exposed to the elements and left to die.  The village couldn’t afford to feed useless mouths.  Gennady knew, all too well, that his father only kept him alive because he was good at scavenging.  He had to be.  There was no way he could kill a wild pig or catch a bird or do anything useful for the village.  The day he stopped bringing home mushrooms or herbs or anything else along those lines was the day he’d die.  He knew it with a certainty that could not be denied.

He flinched as he heard something moving in the undergrowth, something big.  A wild pig?  A boar?  Hogarth, the strongest lout in the village, wouldn’t dare tangle with a wild boar in the forest.  Even the court who owned the village and the surrounding region of the mountains would hesitate to don his armour and try to hunt a wild boar.  The creature was strong enough to pose a threat to anyone, save perhaps for a sorcerer.  Gennady hadn’t met many sorcerers.  He’d been kept firmly out of their way the last time the roving wizards had visited the village.  He hadn’t really cared.  Sorcerers could be childishly cruel at times.

The sound grew louder.  Gennady forced himself to turn and inch away, resisting the urge to run for his life.  The boar – if it was a boar – would give chase, if it thought he was scared. It was all he could do to casually walk away, despite the sense of unseen eyes studying his back and trying to decide if he’d make a tasty meal.  Gennady had to struggle to force himself to breathe, despite a suicidal impulse to turn and walk towards the boar.  It would be over quickly and then his family could pretend he’d never existed.  He knew what happened, when someone was exposed and left to die.  Their families never mentioned them again.

He sighed inwardly as the sound died away.  He was moving towards one of the paths, towards one of the few safe ways to walk between the villages … as long as one wasn’t a tax collector or someone else who might be quietly murdered a very long way from civilisation.  Gennady had met a couple of tax collectors, overweight men gloating as they skimmed what little they could from the village … one had laughed, openly, as the villages sweated to meet their dues.  He’d insisted he was exacting revenge for everything the villages had done to him, once upon a time.  Gennady wanted to be like him, even though he knew it would never happen.  No one would be scared of him.  He’d just vanish, somewhere in the forests, and no one would give a damn …

… And someone was moving, walking down the paths.

Gennady froze, utterly convinced his father had found him.  His father … or one of the village louts.  It didn’t matter.  He’d get a beating no matter who found him.  He peered through the trees, breathing a sigh of relief as the walker came into view.  Primrose.  A girl who’d smiled at him, once or twice.  The only person who’d ever been nice to him.  He found himself staring, despite himself.  Primrose was beautiful, with brown hair that seemed to glow with light and health.  She wore the simple smock that all village women wore, now she was old enough to wed, but she made it look like a dress.  Gennady was smitten.  He knew he wasn’t the only one.  Every boy in the village – and the surrounding villages – wanted to pay court to her.  He was surprised she was alone, outside the stockade.  The custom of kidnapping brides might be outdated, yet it persisted.  Primrose would have no choice, but to stay with someone brave and bold enough to take her, marry her and bed her before informing her parents.  She would be his …

He found himself turning and following her, shadowing her, as she hurried down the path to a small clearing.  He wanted to call out to her, to tell her he was there, but he couldn’t find the words.  He could never talk to Primrose, not when she was the only village woman not to mock him for an ugly gnome.  The others were cruel, but Primrose … she was sweet and kind and simply wonderful.  He dreamed of impressing her, of convincing her that he was the one, yet … he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  There were boys in the village who owned – or would inherit – entire shacks, tracts of land, even a handful of sheep.  What did he have that could compete?  Nothing.  Primrose’s father would laugh in Gennady’s face if he came courting.  Of course he would.

Primrose didn’t look back as she made her way into the clearing.  Gennady followed, frowning inwardly.  It didn’t look good.  The clearing was small, too small.  It wasn’t a place to rest, when walking through the trees.  It was a place for meetings between lovers … he felt ice shudder down his spine as he saw Hogarth standing beneath the trees, a look of sadistic anticipation on his face.  The brute was waiting for Primrose … Gennady shuddered again, realising that he was looking at an ambush.  Hogarth was waiting for her and … Gennady’s mind shut down.  He couldn’t force himself to face what was coming.  The thought of Primrose being married to Hogarth …

He felt sick.  The village louts were big and bad, but Hogarth was the biggest and baddest of them all.  A walking slab of muscle, too dumb to count past ten without taking off his boots … and sadistic enough to beat up anyone who got in his way, even the older villagers.  Gennady had felt Hogarth’s fists often enough to know the bastard took delight in hurting people, in picking fights with people who couldn’t fight back.  The bitterness threatened to overwhelm him, once again.  It just wasn’t fair.  People like Hogarth had everything.  What did intelligence matter when it could be smashed down at will?  Why …

His stomach churned as Hogarth stepped forward, took Primrose in his arms and kissed her.  The sound was loud, possessive.  Hogarth held her tightly, his arms inching downwards … Gennady fumed with envy and hatred and bitter fear.  Primrose didn’t look happy, from what little he could see, but what could she do?  Hogarth was admired and feared by the entire village.  She didn’t want to marry him, but so what?  If Hogarth asked for her hand in marriage, his father would give Primrose to him.  What else could he do?

Hogarth looked up.  Their eyes met.

Gennady froze, suddenly unable to move.  He was too scared to try, too scared to even think as Hogarth pushed Primrose to one side and bounded towards the undergrowth.  Hogarth was the kind of person who’d make it hurt all the more, if Gennady tried to run … not that he could run.  Hogarth could run like the wind.  Gennady would start limping within a few seconds if he tried to run.  He heard Primrose say something, but it was too late.  He hoped she’d have the sense to run herself.  Hogarth would beat her for interfering with his fun.

“Clubfoot,” Hogarth snarled.  “You little …”

Gennady whimpered, trying to raise his hands to protect himself.  But they felt as if they were too heavy to move.  Hogarth was too close, his face a mask of hatred.  Gennady stumbled backwards, too late.  Hogarth punched him in the chest, the pain making him retch as he doubled over.  A second blow – a fist, a knee, he didn’t know – smashed into his face.  He thought he felt his teeth coming lose as he hit the muddy ground, instinctively trying to crawl into it.  But it was impossible.  A hand grasped his neck and yanked him upwards.  He found himself staring at Hogarth’s face.  He knew, with a certainty he couldn’t deny, that it was going to be the last thing he saw.

“Little filthy spy,” Hogarth said.  He drew back his fist.  “You wretch …”

Gennady barely heard him.  The pain was all-consuming.  He would have curled into a ball if he wasn’t being held upright, dangling from Hogarth’s hand like a cat might carry a mouse. It wasn’t fair.  It really wasn’t fair.  The thought pounded through his head, bringing stabs of pain and grief and something with it.  He couldn’t think.  He felt as though he was far too close to the Greenwood, to the other folk.  Blue sparks flashed at the corner of his eyes as Hogarth tightened his grip.  The world seemed to blur …

“This is it,” Hogarth said.  Gennady believed him.  He was going to die.  He was finally going to die.  And it wasn’t fair.  “Goodbye.”

His fist started to move.  Blue sparks flashed, a surge of twisted power flowing through Gennady and into Hogarth.  The bully screamed, his face contorted with pain.  Gennady stared, unsure what was happening as the blue light grew stronger.  His awareness came in fits and starts.  There was a blinding flash of light.  He was flying through the air.  Pain, pain, pain … and a sense of power that almost overwhelmed him.  Primrose screamed, the sound dragging him back to himself an instant before the darkness swallowed him.  Gennady opened his mouth …

… And the world went black.

He tried to think, but it felt as if he was trapped in mud.  Darkness crawled around him, as if he was on the very edge of going to sleep but somehow unable to shut down completely.  He heard voices mumbling, their words growing louder and louder … he heard his father’s voice, the shock yanking him out of the unnatural slumber.  The real world crashed around him as he sat upright, realising in horror that he was lying on a blanket in the hovel.  His mother was staring down at him, her stern face unreadable.  For a moment, Gennady thought he’d dreamed everything.  But the throbbing power within him was undeniable.

A face came into view.  A man, a stranger … short black hair, clean-shaven … Gennady winced inwardly, fearing the mockery that would be directed at someone unable or unwilling to grow a beard.  And dressed from head to toe in black … sorcerer’s black.  Gennady started, trying to sit up but unable to do even that.  Cold terror washed down his spine, mocking him.  He had to show proper respect or … he’d wind up being cursed or … or something.  And yet, his body refused to obey.  The dull pain was threatening to drag him back into the darkness.  He felt as if his body had been turned to mush.  Maybe it had. There was a sorcerer standing over him.

He felt his heart twist as his father stepped into view.  The man looked as if he’d sobered up the hard way, his hands twitching as if he was in desperate need of a drink.  Or to work off his frustrations by hitting someone.  Gennady frowned, inwardly, at the look in his father’s eyes as the old man peered at his son.  Fear.  Real fear.  It attracted and repelled Gennady in equal measure.  It felt good to have someone be scared of him, for once.  It felt good to have someone grant him respect, even though fear.  It felt good …

… And yet, it didn’t.

The sorcerer removed a gourd from his belt and held it to Gennady’s lips.  Gennady didn’t want to sip, but he had a feeling he didn’t have a choice.  The liquid tasted unpleasant, worse than the brackish water he’d been forced to drink over the winters, yet … he felt an odd surge of energy flowing through him.  His body tingled, jerking uneasily as he sat upright.  The discomfort would pass.  He knew it would.  He was far too used to pain.

“Gennady.”  The sorcerer sounded odd, as if he’d learned the language by rote.  It was very clear he’d been born and raised somewhere very far from the Cairngorms.  “Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”  Gennady saw his father pale.  He’d forgotten the honorific.  The entire family would be cursed if he didn’t fix it, quickly.  “Yes, My Lord.”

The sorcerer nodded, sternly.  “How much do you remember?”

Gennady forced himself to think.  He’d been in the forest.  He’d seen Primrose.  Hogarth had attacked him.  Hogarth had nearly killed him.  He’d …

“Power,” he said.  Blue sparks seemed to dance in the shadows as he remembered Hogarth screaming.  The brute had deserved it.  And worse.  Gennady liked the thought of making Hogarth suffer.  He’d done it.  Yes, he’d done it.  “I remember power.”

“Yes.”  The sorcerer smiled, very briefly.  “Power.”

Gennady swallowed, hard.  “What happened?”

“Magic,” the sorcerer said.  Behind him, Gennady saw his father flinch.  “Gennady, you’re a magician.”

Draft Afterword – Class Privilege

30 Dec

Hi, everyone

This is another draft afterword – thoughtful comments, critiques, etc, warmly welcomed <grin>. I’ll include links and a handful of references in the final version.


Afterword on Class Privilege

I’m going to start with a question many people will find, for all sorts of reasons, highly controversial.  Bear with me a little.

Does ‘white privilege’ even exist?

It seems to, based on the sheer number of thinkpieces published in a vast number of reputable (and not so reputable) journals and suchlike arguing that it does.  There are no shortage of people telling other people that they have privilege, then offering to run courses training them to acknowledge they have privilege and then … and then what?  There is no clear answer to that question, largely because the people who run such courses don’t want to put themselves out of business.

First, let me try to answer my original question.  Does ‘white privilege’ even exist?

My answer is rather nuanced.  I have indeed experienced a degree of ‘white privilege.’  But I had that experience in Malaysia, which is not – by any reasonable measure – a white-majority country.  Whites make up a very small percentage of the overall population, smaller still outside the bigger cities.  (When I lived in Kota Kinabalu, I was the only white person in the apartment block.)  This ‘white privilege’ came with a price, literally.  When I shopped alone, in places where there were no price tags, the price was generally higher than when my (Malay) wife and I shopped together.  Whites are generally assumed to be wealthy in Malaysia, which is one of the reasons the whole ‘beg-packing’ phenomenon is regarded with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance.  It’s also true that I got more respect from the local police than other immigrants, who seemed to believe it was unlikely that any white person in Malaysia would be anything other than a perfectly legal immigrant.  I was allowed to walk through a checkpoint for illegal immigrants even though I do not look remotely Malaysian.

In Britain and America, however, the question of ‘white privilege’ is a great deal more thorny.  By definition, a racial (or sexual or religious or whatever) privilege must apply to the vast majority of people who fit the bill.  White privilege can only exist if the vast majority of white people have it (in the same sense, perhaps, as men can be said to have ‘penis privilege’ and women can be said to have ‘vagina privilege’).  And it is by no means apparent that the vast majority of white people possess privilege.  It certainly doesn’t seem to provide them with any real advantages.  Indeed, in some ways, it provides quite the opposite.

The ‘privilege-checkers’ are fond of citing Peggy McIntosh’s famous 1989 essay, ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.’  McIntosh lists 26 of what she calls the daily effects of white privilege in her life, putting race ahead of any other factor.  However, the list is deeply flawed.  Not, perhaps, because it is inaccurate in her case, but because it is inaccurate for so many others.  We might break down her 26 effects as follows:

True (of the vast majority of white people): 6, 9, 17, 20

False (based on non-racial factors): 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 11, 13, 15, 21, 23, 25

Dubious: 5, 7, 12, 14, 18, 22, 26

Flatly Untrue: 10, 16, 19, 24

Many of her effects – the false or dubious effects – are oddly slanted, drawn from her personal experience rather than more generalist experiences.  #8 – “if I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege” is laughable from almost any other point of view.  Finding a publisher is not easy and only someone who’d spent most of her life in academia would argue otherwise.  #19 – “if a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race” – is odd because it is quite difficult to see who is driving a car or written the tax return until the drunkenly-driving car is pulled over or the auditor checks to see if the person claiming a million-dollar income is really drawing in so much money.  In both cases, there can be ample grounds for suspicion long before the person’s race is clearly recognised.

Others are flatly untrue, depending on personal conditions.  There is no way #1 fits me unless I cut my wife, my mixed-race children and all my in-laws out of my life.  The only way someone could fit #2 is through having vast amounts of money and a certain amount of social clout.  And really, one doesn’t need to be a different race to have neighbours who are not friendly or even neutral (#3).

It is fairly easy to believe, therefore, that McIntosh was simply wrong.

John Scalzi, the well-known science-fiction author, had a different way of looking at it.  He put forward an essay entitled ‘Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,’ in which he compared growing up a ‘straight white male’ to playing a computer game on a very easy setting.  This is a more solid argument than the invisible knapsack, as it is less tightly bound to specific advantages, but it suffers from a number of flaws.  Most notably, the obvious response is something that boils down to “I’m a straight white male and my life has been anything but easy and therefore Scalzi is wrong.”  This isn’t really helped by the simple fact that most ‘easy’ settings are really easy.  I tend to agree with this: my life wasn’t easy, even though – yes – I am a straight white male. 

It might be better to say that the advantages of being a straight white male are negated by being a friendless nerd with poor social skills, no gift of the gab and a shortage of money.  Indeed, one can even argue that ‘friendless nerd’ is right at the bottom of the social hierarchy.  Scalzi’s argument is better, as he’s talking in general terms, rather than specifics, but it still has problems.  People don’t think in generalities when they’re suffering and react badly to people who say they should.

In a sense, both McIntosh and Scalzi are talking from a position of privilege.  They recognise their own privilege, their own advantages, but they don’t realise that other white people – straight or not – don’t share their advantages.  (Scalzi did address this point in his ‘Double Bubble Trouble’ essay.)  This lack of empathy leads to problems when they both fail to realise that other white people face other problems and don’t, in any real sense, have privilege.  It’s quite easy to reap the benefits of certain issues – immigration, globalisation, etc – without realising that others, the people you don’t see, are suffering the disadvantages.  It is easy, for example, to push eco-friendly power plants if you’re rich enough to pay the increased bills.  If you’re poor, if you’re already spending money you don’t have just to stay alive, why would you support anything that raised your costs? 

And, when activists ask white people why they deny their privilege, could it be that they don’t have any privilege?

It is true enough that most power and wealth in the Western World rests in the hands of white men.  They make up the majority of political leaders, corporate directors, etc.  However, it is also true that the political-financial elite is a very tiny fraction of the whole.  The wealth and power they hold is not shared amongst the remainder of the straight white male population, let alone the entire population.  One may argue that wealth and power can be averaged out and so there is an even distribution of such things, but this doesn’t work in practice.  It is true, to use a simple analogy, that some writers make fortunes (JK Rowling, George Martin), and this suggests that all writers make fortunes, yet this isn’t actually correct.  The vast majority of writers cannot sustain themselves by their writing alone.

From the outside, looking in, this may not be obvious.  But from the inside, it is so painfully obvious that any practically any writer who heard a suggestion he’s one of the super-rich would laugh hysterically … and then dismiss the speaker, on the grounds the speaker is too ignorant to be taken seriously.  And he’d be right. 

It is this lack of perspective that gives rise to identity politics and the problems they bring in their wake.  A broke white guy, suffering the sort of poverty and deprivation that is commonly associated with the Third World, is not going to accept the suggestion he’s privileged.  And why should he, when he isn’t?  A writer struggling to enter the field and make a career for himself is not going to like suggestions that writers should be published on any other basis than writing skill.  Why should he, when it works against him (even if he appears to be given an unfair advantage)?  Indeed, one of the most ignorant statements I had to deal with was a suggestion that I was privileged for attending boarding school.   The school in question was deeply deprived, lacked the facilities to offer more than very basic classes (to the point that certain career options were foreclosed before I knew I wanted them), and was infested with bullies.  If being beaten up and/or insulted just about every day is privilege … I can’t take anyone who makes that argument seriously.  And why should I?

This leads to bitter resentment.  People who don’t have any privilege, in any real sense, resent it when they’re told they do.  People struggling to survive and build a career for themselves hate it when they’re told they have to work harder than others, as compensation for crimes they didn’t commit (and weren’t, in many cases, committed by their ancestors).  The idea that victimhood justifies further rounds of victimisation is bad enough, but when it’s aimed at people who didn’t commit the original victimisation it is considerably worse.  Why shouldn’t it be resented? 

Perversely – but unsurprisingly – the growing awareness of ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ fuels racism.  The more people are aware of different groups within society, the more they draw lines between themselves and other groups.  The more people see other groups as having an unfair advantage, one that comes at their expense, the more they hate and resent it.  And the more inclined they are to believe that other groups bring their misfortunes on themselves, rather than being the victims of forces outside their control.  People who feel they’re being nagged and pressured into making endless concessions resent it.  Of course they do.  And when they feel they’re being treated unfairly, they want to push back.

And they do, by arguing that other groups have privilege too.  Male privilege is countered by female privilege.  White privilege is countered by black privilege.  Christian privilege is countered by Muslim privilege.  Etc, etc … it’s all a terrible mess that promotes tribalism and encourages a cold war between groups that ensures old wounds will never close, with an endless series of ‘atrocities’ to keep the cycle going. 

Or, as someone more cynical than myself put it, divide and conquer.


But there is, it should be noted, a very real form of privilege.  Class privilege.

Indeed, pretty much all of the time, the person discussing ‘white privilege’ is actually talking about ‘class privilege.’  A person born into a higher class has more privilege than a person born into a lower class, regardless of the colour of their skin.  Obama’s daughters will have more privilege, for the rest of their lives, than a random white guy born in flyover country.  If you look back at the Invisible Knapsack essay, you’ll note that most of the effects credited to ‘white privilege’ are actually due to ‘class privilege.’  They would actually be true for someone born to wealth and power, who would be – in the West – almost entirely white.

A person with ‘class privilege’ has more than just money.  He has connections.  He grew up knowing the movers and shakers – and the next generation, who would become movers and shakers in their own right.  He probably met hundreds of celebrities, media personalities and many more, people who are either important or think they’re important.  The upper classes are a de facto aristocracy.  They marry amongst themselves; they rarely interact with people who are lower than themselves.  People like George W. Bush would probably not have risen so high if they hadn’t been able to draw on their family’s connections.  They can also count on the unspoken support of their fellows, even those who are technically on the other side, as long as they’re not too poisonous.  Class protects itself. 

One of the few things I will agree with the privilege-checkers on is this: the person at the top, however defined, often doesn’t realise what it’s like for the people at the bottom.  It is easier, from one’s lofty vantage, to divide people into subsets (race, gender, etc) than recognise that each and every person is an individual in his or her own right.  However, this also has the massive downside that the people at the top are often unaware of their own ignorance (like the person who insisted that going to boarding school was a sign of privilege) or how their well-intentioned words and deeds come across to others.

The point is that, if you’re on the top, it is easy to do a great deal of damage to the people at the bottom even if you have the best of intentions.  If you are well aware of your own ‘white privilege’ – which is actually ‘class privilege’ – and not a particularly deep thinker, you might assume that everyone who happens to share your skin colour also shares your privilege.  A moment’s rational thought would be enough to put the lie to this, but such people are rarely deep thinkers.  They grow up in an environment that does not encourage it.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that a wealthy – and liberal-ruled – suburb wants to embrace renewable energy.  The environment will be protected, but the costs of electric power will go up.  This is not a issue for the wealthy, who don’t mind paying an extra £100 per month, but a serious problem for the poor.  They don’t have the money to pay for power, leaving them powerless … collateral damage of a well-meaning, yet seriously misguided attempt to help.  If you lack the experience to realise that other people are different from you – and not just poorer than you – you will wind up accidentally hurting them.

            Percy: Oh, come now, Baldrick. A piffling thousand?  Pay the fellow, Edmund, and        damn his impudence.

            Edmund: I haven’t got a thousand, dung-head!  I’ve got 85 quid in the whole world!

If you live in a bubble, and most people with ‘class privilege’ do tend to live in a bubble, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing people by their group, rather than as individuals.  It requires close contact to separate the members of a different ‘tribe,’ for what of a better term, into separate people.  If you don’t have that contact, it’s easy to start thinking that ‘all X are Z’ and other fallacies that are strikingly hard to lose.  It’s also easy to start hurting the people who lack your ‘class privilege’ – and to feel, when they object, that they’re in the wrong.

The average senior politician, for example, has a great deal of ‘class privilege.’  He or she also has a great deal of protection.  So do the very wealthy.  People like Bill Gates can afford to live in giant gated communities, places where they never have to come into contact with the great unwashed.  They enjoy a degree of safety that someone living in a poor and deprived community does not share.  A member of the protected class, as Peggy Noonan put it, is protected from the reality of the world he/she helped create.  They can argue that a serial killer shouldn’t be executed, on the grounds that the death penalty is immoral, but they’re not the ones at risk.  The ones who are at risk – the unprotected; the poor, the people who cannot afford private security – feel otherwise.  And then they’re insulted by the protected, who cannot understand their point of view.

This tends to lead to amusing moments of naked hypocrisy.  The wealthy are all in favour of immigration, diversity and suchlike as long as they don’t have to endure the downsides.  If they do – if there’s even a chance they might have to endure the downsides – they change their minds very quickly and shout “NIMBY!”  This hypocrisy rapidly becomes sickening, which is at least part of the reason Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016.  The three main candidates for the Democratic nomination for 2020 – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden – all live in areas that cannot, by any reasonable sense of the word, be termed ‘diverse.’  Indeed, they’re pretty much majority-white … and expensive enough to preclude the average Trump voter from moving there.

Unfortunately, merely exposing the hypocrisy is rarely enough to stop it.

In theory, we live in a meritocracy, in which a person with sufficient merit can rise to the top.  In practice, we live in a world where people lucky enough to have the right parents have a genuine edge over the rest … an edge so pronounced that they are rarely aware of what life is like for people at the bottom.  This breeds contempt for the lower classes, a contempt that is being increasingly returned.  This is not a good thing.

Throughout history, there is a pattern that tends to repeat itself.  A very competent man, someone who climbs to the top, will be followed by a son or grandson who is foolish enough to fritter away everything his ancestor built.  In Britain, for example, there was a long string of very competent monarchs being succeeded by fools or weaklings.  Why would this happen?  Put bluntly, the competent monarchs had to struggle to earn their power and, by the time they were secure, they understood the limits of their power.  Their successors, born to power and privilege, lacked that awareness.  They pushed the limits too far and often got their fingers burnt.  But very few of them truly suffered for their crimes.  They had ‘class privilege.’


This is the crux of many of our modern-day problems.  On one hand, our political-financial-media-etc elites have become disconnected from the real world and consumed with a distrust, even a hatred, for those who do not share their views and the wealth that insulates them from the consequences of their own actions.  On the other, society has become infected with the virus of ‘identity politics,’ which makes it impossible to put the past in the past and, perhaps more importantly, focus on what’s important.  On one hand, we have a steady move towards a de facto aristocracy that cares as little for the ‘commoners’ as any of their more formal processors; on the other, we have a rise in nationalism and radicalism that could easily lead to disaster. 

Why?  Well, I’d like to put forward a quote that – I think – explains the growing problem.

“And when Johnny doesn’t get the job and gets frustrated and complains about it he’s told that he shouldn’t be bitter because he has all the advantages and privileges of being a white male. So here he is at age 22 or 23 wondering exactly which advantages he’s had all along here because for every major event he’s had in the last 5 years, he’s been shot down because of his race and/or sex.

“If he’d been passed over at one stage by 1 point, people like Johnny would probably shrug it off. But after a while when you see people stepping in line ahead of you at every line you go to, at some point Johnny has to start wondering when he gets to compete on even terms. But the answer to that from affirmative action advocates is “never”.

“You saw it happen once and you kind of shrugged it off which, I think is pretty normal. Would you have the same response be if that was the 30th time you’d seen it? And what would be your response if each time you saw it happen was a building block towards another future event? Isn’t that what we refer to as “systemic”?”

There are people who will say that the above quote is nonsense, that it isn’t true.  But that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that people believe it.

If you were born in some really high-class area and you happen to be white, there’s a good chance that you have a lot of privilege.  But if you happen to be born white in Hillbilly Elegy country, you might reasonably ask why you don’t have white privilege?  And then you might ask why people who have never worked a day in their lives insist that you do have white privilege?  And then you start thinking that these people are, at best, as ignorant and stupid as the person I mentioned above … and, at worst, that they are racist class warriors out to destroy you.

Is it any surprise that people like that voted for Donald Trump?

The point most privilege-checkers forget, I think, is that most people are self-interested.  They may not be selfish, not in the sense they will gleefully steal candy from children, but they will put their self-interests first.  Why would anyone vote for policies that will make their lives harder?  It’s not easy to get a job at the best of times.  Why would anyone want to make it harder?

But it gets worse.  The curse of identity politics is that it encourages people to think in terms of their identity – and ‘white male’ is an identity.  Instead of coming together as a united human race, we are being divided into tribes and judged by our tribes.  What may seem, to the people at the top, a scheme to redress historical disadvantages scans very differently to the people at the bottom.  They see it as nothing more than racism.  Not reverse racism, racism.

If you stack the deck against one group, for whatever reason, you are engaged in racism.  Whatever excuses you use, whatever historical justifications you invent, you are engaged in racism.  Instead of dampening racial tensions, you are inflaming them.  You are harming the people least able to cope with it, pillorying them when they dare to protest … and then acting all surprised when they vote against you.  Drowning men will clutch at any straws!

Look, I am a student of history.  I know that injustices have been perpetrated throughout history.  I know that people have often gotten the short end of the stick because of things – skin colour, gender – beyond their control.  But one does not redress such injustices by perpetrating them on someone else.  That merely makes them worse.

As a writer, I am not scared of even competition.  If a writer outsells me … well, good for him.  But if that writer has an unfair advantage that isn’t connected to writing – being black or female or whatever – it bothers me, because I can’t compete.

I’ve been told that, throughout history, writers were largely WASPs.  That might be true.  But it isn’t my fault, nor is it the fault of everyone else like me, and there is no reason that we should be made to pay a price for someone else’s misdeeds.  And, for that matter, it is not fair on non-WASP writers to have to face the suspicion that the only reason they were published was to fill a quota.  Why should they have to pay a price because someone with more power than sense thinks that quotas are a good way to rectify historical injustice?

As a historian, I am well aware that women generally got the short end of the stick throughout history.  But, as the father of two boys, I don’t want programs that profess to rectify this injustice by piling injustice on my sons.  Why on Earth would I want them to be at a disadvantage? And, if I have a daughter at some later date, I don’t want her to suffer a disadvantage either.  And everything I know about history – and human nature – tells me that she will.

Coming to think of it, my kids are mixed-race.  Do I want them to go through their lives unsure where they really belong?  Or if they don’t have a tribe of their own?  Or to have to waste their time calculating precisely where they stand on the indemnity politics roster?

A few years ago, I saw a marriage come to an end.  And the reason it came to an end, from what I saw, was that both the husband and wife were fond of dragging up the past, from minor to major offences, and neither one could move past it and travel into the future.  All relationships go through bumpy patches, but it is immensely frustrating to have the past dragged up and thrown in your face time and time again.  At some point, people just stop caring.  They get sick of being told that they cannot put it behind them and move on.  And so they get bitter and they end up curdled.

And they start saying “why should I care about the injustice done to them when no one cares about the injustice done to me?”

We need to put quotas – and suchlike – behind us, once and for all.  The past must remain in the past.  We need to ensure a level playing field, with everyone having an equal shot at everything from education to jobs; we need to ensure that the laws apply to everyone; we need to prove, as best as we can, that the best person for the job got the job.  I don’t say it will be easy, because it won’t be easy.  But it has to be done.

I’ll let Dale Cozort have the last word:

“If you look around the world you’ll notice something.  The real dead-end basket case countries and regions are usually the ones where old injustices or perceived injustices are most remembered and most important to people.  [SNIP]  None of this is to say that ignoring history is good, or even that ignoring old injustices is good.  The reality though is that both the villains and the victims of history are for the most part dead, or have one foot on the banana peel … [SNIP] … The other reality is that dwelling on those old injustices tends to lead to situations where the guys who would normally be holding up convenience stores end up running around with AK-47s and RPGs in the service of one side or the other in the dispute. 

“When that starts happening on a major scale, anyone with brains and/or money heads for the nearest exit.  You end up with a downward spiral as jobs evaporate and people fight ever more bitterly over the remaining scraps of value.  And of course a whole new generation of injustices are created, which will undoubtedly be used to justify the next round of victimizations.  ‘Get over it’ isn’t the perfect answer.  It does have some downsides, but it does work.”

Christopher G. Nuttall

Edinburgh, 2020

Merry Christmas

24 Dec

Hi, everyone

First, if you haven’t seen it already, the Christmas promotion is up and running. The books are free until the 26th, so feel free to download before then <grin>. 

Second, I’ve completed the first draft of Debt of War today.  That’s either the eighth book in the Kat Falcone series or the third in the Embers of War series, depending on how you look at it.  The first book is currently up for pre-order here.  Sorry it took so long – cancer got in the way.

And I also have a story in Chris Kennedy’s anthology here.

That said …

All things considered, 2019 was a LOT better than 2018.  I spent much of the previous year honestly unsure I’d see 2019, let alone December 2019.  I actually ordered presents for my family early, just in case I wouldn’t be around to give them personally.  It was, as you can imagine, a huge relief to be told the remaining growths aren’t live – and may just be dead flesh.  I’ve got another CT scan scheduled for January, which will hopefully say I’m completely clear.  Lymphoma can come back, unfortunately, but I’ll pray that it doesn’t.

And my sons just celebrated their birthdays in November and December respectively.  I think they’re suffering present-shock.  But they’ll have to wait eleven months for more.

Writing has picked up speed again, although I’ve had more down days – days when I just couldn’t do anything – than before.  The Family Pride and Favour the Bold did very well – Their Last Full Measure and The Right of the Line also did well.  Thank you to everyone who reviewed it – I’m hoping to do more next year, naturally.

I’m also hoping to explore some other universes, for various reasons.  Some of the ideas are just concepts I can’t explore in the current ones, others are larger storylines – maybe not quite Game of Thrones or Safehouse scale, but pretty big.  That said, I don’t know if my style lends itself to endless novel-sized chapters <grin> and I’m not particularly fond of them in any case.  We shall see.  I’ll post a list of ideas later, see what people have to say.

I do intend to write an essay on civilisation for new year, but we will see about that too.

General Series Updates

The Empire’s Corps

I haven’t decided, yet, if I want to write Knife Edge, the direct sequel to Favour The Bold, or Bread and Circuses, which is another side story.  There will be at least one more FTB book in the series.  Beyond that, I’m not sure yet.

Schooled in Magic

I intend to write Gennady’s Tale – a novella – next, for the Fantastic Schools anthology.  After that, there will be The Artful Apprentice, Oathkeeper, The Right Side of History, The Face of the Enemy and Lone Power.  That concludes the original planned arc.  I do have ideas for future books, but we’ll see.

The Zero Enigma

I intend to write The King’s Man soon, followed by either The Lady Heir or Kingdom of Ghosts.  I’m still trying to work out the big story plot, starting with a return to Cat.  I may also do a story following Isabella/Akin, maybe as a test run before doing a multi-hero story, but that might gobble up ideas for the big series.  (Of course, it would establish the status quo for Isabella before tearing it down.)

Ark Royal

There’s one more trilogy in the series, which I intend to start next year.  It’ll start with The Lion and the Unicorn.  I haven’t decided on the second and third titles yet.)

There’s also a short – 18’000 words – novella, which will be hopefully included in Chris Kennedy’s Chris collection (all written by authors named Chris (or close to Chris).  It was originally going to be part of the first book, but it was too early in the overall storyline.  That should be published before The Lion and the Unicorn.

A Learning Experience

For the moment, this series has concluded.  I do intend to start again, later on, but that’s going to have to wait.

Angel in the Whirlwind

The three Embers of War books are now done (save the editing, for the last.)  I’ve left myself room for more books so we’ll see.

Let me know – please – what you’d like to see.



21 Dec

FREE BOOKS!  (And, now I’ve got your attention, FREE BOOKS!)

Hi, Everyone


As a treat to my readers, and hopefully new fans, I’ve put a handful of books – all the first books in ongoing series or trilogies – up for free, between 24th and 26th December.  Check out the cover blurbs and details below, then download for free from Amazon!

(Please feel free to share this post as widely as possible)

The Empires Corps (The Empire’s Corps I)

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!

Ark Royal (Ark Royal I)

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?

There is a large sample of the text right here, then you can buy it from Amazon here.

Storm Front (Twilight of the Gods I)

In 1941, Adolf Hitler didn’t declare war on the United States.  Now, in 1985, the Third Reich stretching from the coast of France to the icy wastes of Eastern Russia, appears supremely powerful.  With a powerful force of nuclear warheads and the finest military machine on Earth, there is no hope for freedom for the billions who groan under its rule.  Adolf Hitler’s mad dreams have come to pass.

And yet, all is not well in the Reich.  The cold war with the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance is destroying the Reich’s economy, while a savage insurgency in South Africa – a war the Reich cannot win and dares not lose – is sapping its military strength.  And, while the Reich Council struggles to find a way to save the Reich from its own weaknesses, a young German girl makes a discovery that will shake the Reich to its core.

But the Reich Council will not go quietly into the night …

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase the Ebook from HERE!

Outside Context Problem (Outside Context Problem I)

When a UFO crashes near a top secret military base, the American Government realises that aliens have been spying on the human race for years.  But even as they rush to unlock the technological secrets in the alien craft, the aliens launch the first step in their plan to invade the Earth and enslave the human race.  With a giant mothership approaching the planet and the inhabitants promising peace and plenty, humanity must defeat a vastly superior foe with uncertain motives or lose its freedom forever.

On one side, a powerful alien force…

On the other side, a divided humanity…

The battle for Earth has begun.

Download a Free Sample and then buy it from Amazon here!

The Zero Blessing (The Zero Enigma III)

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 – USUKAUSCAN