Archive | May, 2020


28 May

Hi, everyone

I’m currently 25 chapters into Oathkeeper.  It seems to be going well, although there will be the usual round of edits, edits and more edits until it gets released.  I’m hoping for July, although I can’t make any promises about it (yet.)

Knife Edge will be released sometime in June, hopefully fairly soon.

I’m currently working on the plot for the last three (planned) Schooled in Magic books.  Planned titles are: The Right Side of History, The Face of the Enemy and Lone Power.  The last might be changed – I’m not sure yet.  Possible alternatives include The Heart of All Things and Child of Destiny.

My rough plan for the next few months:

June – Lady Heiress

July – The Last Guardian (stand-alone, possibly part of new series)

Aug – The Halls of Montezuma (TEC18)

Sept – The Right Side of History.

I’m still going backwards and forwards on when I’ll be doing the next Ark Royal book.  I’ve also been looking at doing the next Their Darkest Hour book, now I’ve brushed up the plotline and suchlike. 

Let me know what you want to see.


OUT NOW: Debt of Honor (Angel in the Whirlwind/The Embers of War)

22 May

A year ago, the war against the Theocracy ended. But it didn’t bring peace.

Admiral Kat Falcone was lucky—her side won the war. But without an external threat, Kat’s homeworld government, the Commonwealth, begins to burst. The galactic war may be over, but there is a civil war on the horizon.

The king and parliament disagree over the Commonwealth’s future. The Commonwealth’s first recession is plaguing corporations. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. And the colonies are demanding their share of power. The Commonwealth has become a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode.

Meanwhile, the Theocracy is making one final, desperate bid for power. As the external threat looms and the internal threat grows ever larger, Kat and William will need to join forces in order to save the Commonwealth. But it may already be too late.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase (Ebook, Paberback, Audio) from the links here: USUKAUSCAN

Snippet – Oathkeeper (Schooled in Magic 20)

15 May

Prologue I

Emily dreams.

She knows she is dreaming, although she doesn’t know how.  The dreams are a blur of visions, of things that happened and things that didn’t happen and things that happened, but happened differently.  She sees faces – Alassa, Frieda, Jade, Cat – in places they’d never been, doing things they’d never done.  The dreams are so confusing that she can barely follow the thread, if indeed there is a thread.  And every time she wakes, the dreams are gone.

In her dream, she is a firstie again, in a class she shouldn’t have taken.  Not yet.  She sees herself – and Jade, and Cat, and Aloha – running through the valleys and mountains, trying to escape the orcs.  Sergeant Harkin leads them, bellowing encouragement as he fights to buy them time.  She sees an orcish blade slice through his neck …

She wakes, tears stinging her cheeks.  It didn’t go that way!

And then she dreams again.  The orcs are surrounding them, closing in … each one a shambling parody of the worst of humanity.  She wants to run, but there is nowhere to go … Jade is dead, Cat is dead, Aloha is dead … Alassa is dead.  Alassa wasn’t there … the alternates buzz through her dreams, each one bringing new horrors.  She dies, the last of the team to fall.  The orcs take them, doing unspeakable things before they finally die; the orcs hand them over to Shadye, who takes her power and uses it for himself.  Whitehall falls, the wards shattered, the walls cracked like eggshells.  And a new monster is born. 

But it didn’t go that way!

She tries to focus, tries to break out of the nightmare.   It didn’t go that way!  She tries to recall what really happened, how they escaped from the orcs … some of her memories are missing, her imagination trying to fill in the gaps and failing.  Others … she twists, crying out in her sleep.  The dreams haunt her, mock her.  Nothing is real.  Everything is real.  All is real and nothing is real …

They’d been on a forced march.  She remembers that much, although it’s hard to be sure.  Not in the dream.  And they’d been attacked by Shadye’s minions.  And she’d escaped and …

The alternates surge forward, driving her memories – the real memories – away.  She dies, and wishes she lives.  She lives, and wishes she died.  Her friends die, time and time again; her tutors and mentors curse her name, curse her for what she brought to their walls.  She lives long enough to see everything broken, to see a dark and hungry god unleashed upon the land.  She watches, helplessly, as a nightmare moves north, killing everyone brave enough to stand against it.  Brave or coward, it matters not.  They die.  The world dies.

But it didn’t go that way!

The memories surface, briefly.  She’d made a deal.  She’d made a promise.  And she’d sworn an oath to the Unseelie.  And she’d saved her friends.  And …

Emily wakes, to a bed drenched in sweat.  The dream overshadows her mind.  She isn’t sure if she is awake, or if she still dreams.  The waking world seems a fragile place, weak and frail compared to the realm of nightmares.  She fears she is losing her mind, she fears she is trapped forever within the dream.  She blinks …

… The alarm rings …

… And the dream is gone.

Prologue II

The chamber would have horrified any normal man, Rangka knew.  It would have horrified him, in the half-forgotten days before he’d embraced necromancy.  It was a barren cave, the walls unmarked by paintings or runes or anything else that would have marked it as the home of an intelligent creature.  Servants scurried about, trying not to catch his bright red eyes.  They knew he could kill them – or worse – on a whim.  There was no point in being loyal if one knew it would never – could never – be recognised, let alone rewarded.  Their master was mad.

Rangka knew it to be true.  He was mad.  He was the oldest necromancer known to live, a feat he couldn’t have managed if he hadn’t kept some grip on reality, but he felt the madness howling at the back of his mind.  It didn’t bother him, even though he knew – on some level – that it should.  The person he’d been – the name he’d abandoned long ago – would have been horrified to know what he’d become.  That didn’t bother him either.  The person he’d been was dead and gone.

Power throbbed through the air, his awareness reaching out to encompass the approaching armies trudging their way through the ashy mud.  Neither of his prospective allies had come alone, knowing – as well as himself – that the rewards of treachery could be great indeed.  Thousands of orcs, creatures raised from the depths … and, behind them, slave-soldiers bound to their master’s will.  He drew his awareness back, slightly, as the other two necromancers made their shambling way through the caves, their mere presence sending Rangka’s servants fleeing for their lives.  One necromancer was a nightmare beyond comprehension.  Three in one spot heralded the end of all things.  Reality itself seemed to hang on a knife edge as the necromancers faced each other.  The only thing keeping them from trying to kill each other was the certain knowledge that the one who didn’t join the early confrontation would be the winner.  And yet … the chamber hummed with tension.  Being together, being so close, felt unnatural.  It was the one thing, Rangka acknowledged privately, the necromancers had in common with their enemies.  They should not be together.

He wanted to reach out with a spell to sooth their tempers, to make them listen to him, but he knew such subtle magics were beyond him.  He’d paid a price for his power, a price he hadn’t realised until it was too late.  He had immensely destructive spells at his fingertips – power burned through his veins, threatening to burst out and consume everything if he lost his grip – but he could no longer cast the simple spells of his childhood.  They were beyond him, despite his power.  He could no longer shape the spellwork to make them work … and besides, the others wouldn’t be affected.  They were creatures of magic now, not men.  They couldn’t be manipulated through magical means.

Rangka braced himself, trying to shape his arguments.  Cold logic told him they should work together, against the common foe, but logic and reason had no control over them.  He found the idea of sharing the risk and the reward difficult to comprehend, even though – again – cold logic told him there would be enough rewards for everyone.  It wouldn’t last, he knew.  They would battle their enemies until they were victorious, then battle each other until there was only one, standing in the midst of a dead world.  A dark god, a power beyond imagination … a hungry creature that would eventually – inevitably – starve.

No!  He refused to think about their fate.  It could not be true.

He looked from one to the other.  Bersuit was a hooded man, his skin blackened and burnt by fires until it was unnaturally charred.  He was the most human of the necromancers, yet – perhaps – one of the most dangerous.  His body looked humanoid, to the naked eye.  Rangka could sense things writhing under the cloak, things that defied even his sensors.  Gerombolan was a walking skeleton, wrapped in blue fire.  His red eyes were the only hint he so much as had a face.  It wasn’t clear how he walked.  And Rangka himself was a rotting corpse, animated only by his magic.  He’d long since ceased to care.

“Dua Kepala is dead,” Rangka said, curtly.

“Good.”  Bersuit’s voice was as cracked as his soul, a rasping screech that would have deafened a normal man.  “His lands will be ours.”

“And so is Shadye,” Rangka said.  “They were both killed by the same person.  A sorceress called Emily.”

“The Necromancer’s Bane.”  Gerombolan’s voice was utterly inhuman.  “They say she is our doom.”

“She has killed two of the most powerful of us, in less than five years,” Rangka said.  It was hard to measure time, in the Blighted Lands.   “They’re dead and gone.”

“And so their lands are ours,” Bersuit hissed.  His armies were already laying claim to Shadye’s former territories, doing their level best to avoid the Inverse Shadow.  “So what?”

Rangka stared at the hooded man.  “How long until she comes for us?”

“She will not kill me,” Gerombolan said.  “I am beyond death.”

“Shadye thought the same,” Rangka reminded him.  “He was wrong.”

He understood, better than he cared to admit.  Necromancers died all the time.  A sorcerer who was unable to handle the sudden burst of power would be destroyed by it; a newborn necromancer, a beacon of power to those with eyes to see, could be killed by an older necromancer before he had a chance to establish himself, seizing lands and human livestock to make something of himself.  And even the older necromancers weren’t that old.  The Blighted Lands were a constantly-shifting morass of endless scrabbling, wars and treacherous backstabbing.  They were penned in, held prisoner by the terrain and the ever-watchful guards.  There was nowhere to go.  Shadye had attacked Whitehall and Dua Kepala had crossed the Desert of Death and neither had returned alive.

“How long will it be,” he repeated, “before she comes for us?”

The words hung in the air.  It was hard to believe a lone girl could defeat one necromancer, let alone two.  The stories he’d heard credited her with killing ten necromancers – or a hundred, or a thousand – and he knew that wasn’t true, but neither Shadye nor Dua Kepala had survived their wars.  Rangka had heard enough to believe there was some truth to the story.  It was a rare magician who took on a necromancer and lived to tell the tale.  A lone girl killing two – or more – necromancers was difficult to believe.  And yet it had happened.

“We will end her, if she comes,” Gerombolan said.  “She will feed us …”

“If we survive long enough,” Rangka said.  “We cannot let her come to us.”

He pointed towards the walls – and the distant mountains beyond.  “We must fight now, before she comes for us.  We must get over the mountains and ravage the lands beyond.”

Gerombolan made a hissing sound.  “And how do you intend to achieve this … wonder?”

“By working together, we can break through the mountains,” Rangka said.  “If we combine our powers, and our forces, we can break into the lands beyond.  And then there would be no stopping us.”

He saw it, a vision on the verge of becoming reality.  The Allied Lands had been lucky.  They could hide beyond high mountains, impassable oceans and passes guarded by a network of fortresses and walls.  They couldn’t match the necromantic forces in hand-to-hand combat, or sheer power, but they could slow them down immensely.  If the mountains were to be destroyed, or merely weakened, the armies could advance through the rubble, an endless wave of blood-maddened orcs and monsters and slaves …

His rotting mouth fell open in a smile.  It was going to be glorious.

He spoke on, telling his allies his plans …

… And, all the while, preparing to betray them the moment they outlived their usefulness.

Chapter One

“I have grown to hate mirrors.”

Emily stood in the spellchamber, eying the mirror warily.  It was the only object within the chamber, a large freestanding mirror big enough to show her body from tip to toe.  There were no magics surrounding it, nothing suggesting it was enchanted – or a gateway to an alien realm – but she didn’t feel any better as her image looked back at her.  She looked … tired, tired and worn.  The dreams, the dreams she couldn’t remember, had disturbed her more than she cared to admit.

She rubbed her eyes, feeling them narrow as she studied her reflection.  Was her hair a little darker?  Were her eyes a little harder?  Her bearing a little stronger?  Six months of apprenticeship, six months of everything from magic study to tests that were disguised missions, had changed her, in ways she was only beginning to appreciate.  Void was a good teacher, she acknowledged.  He knew things she’d never known existed.  And yet, she was slowly starting to realise he also had his own agenda.  The missions she’d carried out on his behalf had served a greater purpose.  She just wished she knew what it was.

Forget it, for the moment, she thought.  Right now, you need to stay focused.

She studied her reflection thoughtfully.  She hadn’t changed that much, had she?  It was hard to be sure.  Void had kept her hopping, practicing magic daily.  She’d grown used to being his student.  And yet … she rested her hands on her hips, studying herself in the mirror.  The black apprentice robe was strikingly simplistic, nothing more than a shapeless black dress.  Void had given her very clear orders not to wear anything else, even hairpins or the snake-bracelet.  She’d let her hair fall down her back and left the transfigured snake in her bedroom.  He wouldn’t have told her to wear as little as possible if he hadn’t had a good reason.

“Emily.”  Void stepped into the room, his face calm and composed.  “Are you ready?”

Emily turned to face him, clasping her hands behind her back.  Void was inhumanly tall, easily a head taller than himself.  His face was oddly timeless, framed by dark hair that seemed to have grown a little longer in the past few months.  It was hard to remember, at times, that he was literally old enough to be her great-grandfather.  And yet … she could sense his power, bristling around him like a thunderstorm.  He wasn’t making any attempt to mask his power.  No magician her age had such a presence.

“I think so,” she said.  They’d gone over the spellwork time and time again, assessing each and every section of the spell.  It was easy to see, now, why so few magicians risked casting the spell, even when it would have come in handy.  Being in two places at once wasn’t as simple as it sounded.  “Are you?”

“I’m not the one who has to cast the spell,” Void said.  He moved past her, peering suspiciously into the mirror.  “If you want to back out, now is the time.”

Emily shook her head.  She understood the risks.  The books he’d given her to read had discussed the risks in graphic detail.  They’d even included illustrations that – Void had told her – were surprisingly close to reality.  But she also knew she couldn’t step back now.  Mastering magic – and using it – had become her cause.  She wanted – she needed – to keep going until she reached the top.  The possibility – the very serious possibility – that there was no top didn’t deter her.

And yet, she reflected as Void paced around the mirror, such power came with a price.  It was harder and harder to remember, sometimes, that there was an outside world.  The missions he’d sent her on, over the past few months, had felt like distractions from her real work.  The ever-growing pile of letters from her friends – and others – rested on her desk, largely unopened.  It was hard – now – to keep track of what was happening in the outside world.  She had to force herself, sometimes, to go outside.  Even meeting her friends was difficult. 

She yawned, suddenly.  The dreams – the dreams she couldn’t remember – nagged at her mind, tormenting her.  She’d wondered if they were a sending, a subtle attack from one of her enemies, but it was hard to imagine a spell that could reach through the wards.  Void’s tower was practically invulnerable, even to a magician who operated on the same level.  Emily had lived in the tower for months and yet she knew she hadn’t even come close to learning all its secrets.  It was bigger on the inside, with chambers and lairs she barely knew existed.  She wondered, at times, what might be within the structure she didn’t even imagine existed.

Void glanced at her.  “Are you ready?”

“Yes.”  Emily unclasped her hands, steadying herself.  “I’m ready.”

“Stand in front of the mirror,” Void instructed, as if he hadn’t gone over the details time and time again.  It was a measure of how dangerous the spell could be, if the casting went wrong, that he’d practically nagged her into memorising each and every detail.  It was so out of character for him that she’d studied the spell and all its variants extensively.  “Make sure your entire body is reflected in the mirror.”

Emily stepped forward until she was standing right in front of the mirror.  Her reflection gazed back at her.  Emily studied herself again, silently grateful she couldn’t see any differences.  The reflection was a reflection, not an alternate vision of herself.  Her other self was dead, or trapped on the wrong side of the dimensional barriers.  She’d studied every book she could find on mirror magic and none of them had gone any further than shaping a pocket world on the other side of the mirror.  The meeting with alternate timelines was – apparently – unprecedented.  It was unlikely she’d meet her other self here.

She looked up and down, from tip to toe.  She was encompassed within the mirror.  The wall behind her looked utterly bare, sensibly bare.  There’d be nothing and no one else to be caught up within the spell.  Void had said it was possible to cast the spell with a smaller mirror, or no mirror at all, but it was better to start small.  Emily’s lips twitched at the thought.  It was rather like learning to juggle and starting with knives and daggers, rather than chainsaws.  The danger was only minimised in comparison.  It didn’t go away.

“Start the spell when you’re ready.”  Void’s voice was very quiet.  He’d masked his power so thoroughly she couldn’t sense his presence.  It was hard to remember he was even there, even though he’d told her – time and time again – not to even consider trying the spell without him.  “Or step back, if you’re not up to it.”

Emily lifted her head and looked into her reflection’s eyes.  Magic sparkled through her, pervading every cell of her body.  She’d grown more and more used to thinking of it as a part of her, as much her as her arms and legs.  It was a danger as well as a boon, Void had cautioned her, yet … it was hard to believe it could be dangerous.  And yet, she knew it.  The danger of forgotten how she did things – and then losing the ability to improve upon her spells – was very real.  And if she fell into that trap, she’d peak.  She’d never get any better.

The spell glimmered in her mind, a remarkably complex piece of magic.  She’d seen the spellwork back in her first year, but … she hadn’t been able to follow it, let alone cast it.  Now … she could see how the different sections interacted, how they worked together to create a duplicate of herself.  No, not a duplicate.  Two minds in one body.  One body in two minds.  A balance between the two … she kept her eyes open, focused on the mirror, as she gingerly brought the spell to life.  The magic surged around her.  She felt as if she were caught in a hurricane, as if she were being shoved and yanked to one side … her head spun, unable to cope with the sudden shift in sensation.  She felt …

She stumbled, the magic sparkling out of existence.  “Blast!”

“Calm,” Void advised.  “I didn’t expect you to get it on your first try.”

Emily felt her cheeks flush, even though she knew he was right.  She’d done more, in a few brief seconds, than many other magicians would ever do.  It would be a long time before she matched Void, before she was a Lone Power in her own right, but she was already well ahead of many others.  She scowled at the thought, reminding herself not to get too conceited.  She’d met too many magicians who thought having magic made them little gods to want to go the same way herself.  They’d thought …

“I know.”  Emily put the thought out of her head.  She knew better.  She wasn’t going to go that way.  “I wanted to impress you.”

“You already have.”  Void sounded surprisingly warm.  She felt a thrill of pride.  “But you have to proceed at your own pace.  There’s nothing to be gained by trying to go too fast.”

Emily nodded as she looked back at her reflection.  “I’m going to try again.”

“Then try,” Void said.  “Once more.  Just once.”

Do or do not, there is no try, Emily thought.  She had a feeling Void would not have approved of Yoda, if they’d met.  Sometimes you try as hard as you can and still fail.

She took a long breath, then lifted her head and started the spell again.  This time, the surge of magic felt stronger, more focused.  She felt something pulling at her, but also pushing at her … she was being pulled in two directions at once.  She wanted to resist, to fight the feeling even though she knew that trying would be the worst thing she could do.  She had to give into the sensation, somehow keeping control while giving up control … a year ago, she wouldn’t have had the discipline to make the spell work.  She wouldn’t even have been able to believe two contradictory things at once.

A thoroughly unpleasant – and indescribable – sensation ran through her.  She stumbled to the side, her legs quivering uneasily.  The world was dark.  Her eyes were closed … when had she closed them?  She opened them … and found herself staring into her own face.  The mirror … no, not the mirror.  Her counterpart … her head spun as she realised she was staring into her own face, her true face.  She’d split herself into two bodies …

“Do I …?”

She stopped.  Her voice sounded odd in her ears.  Both sets of ears.  Of course … she didn’t normally hear herself talking, not as if she was a different person.  She’d read something about it somewhere, although she couldn’t remember the details. Alassa had joked that people who fell in love with the sound of their voices did so because they couldn’t hear themselves …

“Incredible,” she – they – said, as one.  It was hard to disentangle themselves completely.  They were the same person.  “Do I really look like that?”

Her perspective shifted.  She was looking at herself.  Her other self.  She could see Void standing by the wall, watching them with thoughtful eyes.  She understood, suddenly, why he’d insisted she wore as little as possible.  It might have been safer to be naked, the first time she’d tried the spell.  But she couldn’t have done that, not in front of him.  Or anyone, really.  She felt her thoughts starting to fracture … her perspective shifted again, until she was looking away from Void.  It felt weird, as if she was in two places at once … she was in two places at once, one mind in two bodies.  She looked down and saw her other self look down too.  They hadn’t split completely, then.  They were still intermingled at a very primal level.

“Good,” Void said.  His voice was suddenly hard, hard and commanding.  “And now, turn away from each other.”

Emily tried to turn, but it was hard.  Invisible ropes seemed to be holding her firmly in place, keeping her and her other self looking at each other.  She felt her mind switch bodies time and time again, Void blinking in and out of view with each shift.  It felt odd, so odd … wrong, yet not painful.  She found herself taking a step towards herself … her head spun as she struggled to stay still, to stay in two places at once.  Her vision blurred, very slightly, as she forced herself to turn.  It felt as if she were doing something fundamentally wrong …

“Emily …”

She looked at Void.  “What?”

Her master seemed surprised, his eyes going wide as Emily’s legs buckled as she fell to the ground.  He hadn’t said anything.  It hadn’t been his voice.  Emily felt her vision start to blur again, growing worse with every passing second.  Her other self … she was suddenly in the other body, staring at herself on the floor.  She couldn’t follow what was happening, she couldn’t understand it and …

“Emily …”

The voice echoed through her mind.  It wasn’t real.  It wasn’t real.  And yet, she felt her thoughts start to fragment.  She was in two places – no, many places.  She was already on the floor, yet it came up and hit her … darkness swallowed her, pain surging through her body.  And …

Void’s face came into view, hazily.  “Emily?”

“I …”  Emily swallowed hard.  Her head hurt.  Her memories … she felt a twinge of pain as she realised she’d literally been in two places at once.  It hurt to even think about what had happened and yet she had no choice.  “What happened?”

“You didn’t disentangle yourself correctly.”  Void helped her to sit up, then conjured a glass of water from the air and held it out to her.  “You split your body into two, but you didn’t quite managed to split your mind.”

Emily sipped the water, gingerly.  It tasted pure, so pure it was practically tasteless.  “It felt … wrong.”

“It does, yes.”  Void sounded pensive for a long moment.  “Even trying can feel like committing suicide.  The trick is to maintain your mental integrity while tearing it in two.”

He smiled, humourlessly.  “And if you can grasp the contradiction,” he added, “you’ll be one step closer to making it work.”

“I’ll try,” Emily said.  Her memories felt weird, as if she’d collapsed and watched herself collapse … as if she had two sets of memories.  She supposed she had, in a sense.  “I thought I heard someone calling my name.”

Void frowned.  “You might have imagined it,” he said, slowly.  “Your thoughts were being split in two.  You could have been thinking to yourself, hearing your own thoughts.”

“… Maybe.”  Emily wasn’t so sure.  The voice hadn’t been hers.  What did her thoughts sound like anyway?  She knew how to recognise someone else, by their mental voice, but … what would her own thoughts sound like?  She thought she’d know her own thoughts.  And yet, it had been oddly familiar.  “I don’t know.”

She passed him the glass, which sparkled into nothingness as soon as he took it, and tried to stand.  Her legs felt weak, as if she couldn’t quite stand by herself.  Void held out a hand, allowing her to lean on him as she stumbled to her feet.  The mirror was a pile of shattered glass, lying on the floor.  Emily winced, despite herself.  The Heart’s Eye mirrors had shattered too, when they’d broken contact with the alternate dimension …

“No more magic today,” Void said, firmly.  If he noticed the way her mind was wandering, he said nothing.  “Go back to your room and rest.  Eat dinner in bed, if you don’t feel up to joining me.  Or sleep.  We can go through the spell tomorrow before we try again.”

“Yes, sir,” Emily said.  She was suddenly very aware of her own tiredness.  Her body felt weak and worn.  Her magic felt as if she’d pushed it right to the limit.  The concept seemed so simple, but turning it into reality had nearly killed her.  She felt a stab of pain in her head and shuddered, trying not to be sick.  The simplest concept could be the hardest to make real.  “How long did it take you to master the spell?”

Void gave her a sidelong look.  “I’d say it isn’t a spell one can ever truly master,” he said.  “It depends on your ability to control magic, true, but also your ability to … separate your thoughts and then merge yourself back together.  My old master made crude jokes to ensure I got the point.  I couldn’t afford to think of myself as two people or reintegration would become impossible.  You’ll have the same problem.”

“I see, I think.”  Emily wasn’t sure that was true.  “And what happens if something happens to me?  I mean, to one of me?”

“It depends on the spell.”  Void shook his head.  “Go get some rest.  We’ll discuss it later, when you’ve had time to consider what happened and then try again.  And don’t try it without me.  You cannot afford to be alone if something goes wrong.”

Emily nodded.  “I understand.”

“See that you do,” Void said.  “Do you need help to get back to your room?”

“No,” Emily said.  She thought she could walk to her room before she collapsed.  “I can make it on my own.”

“That’s what they all said,” Void told her.  She remembered, suddenly, that he’d had students before her.  “And they were all wrong.”

Updates – and Pre-Orders

11 May

It’s been a hard few days, but I have finally finished the first draft of Knife Edge¸ which is pretty much the direct sequel to Favour The Bold.  I’m not sure when it will be released yet, as I have editing and suchlike to do, but I’m hoping for early June.

Debt of Honor, the next Angel in the Whirlwind book, launches on the 19th (or thereabouts) of May.  If you want to pre-order, feel free to hop over to the Amazon page.

We’re still working on getting Fantastic Schools I up, but it should be soon.

My current plan is to write Oathkeeper, Schooled in Magic 20, next, followed by The Lady Heiress (Zero 8).  The planned title for Knife Edge is The Halls of Montezuma.

And, in other news, my friend Jagi Lamplighter recently released The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering (Books of Unexpected Enlightenment Book 5).  If you like SIM, why not check out the series?  Book One is free!


Musings on Picard and the Star Trek Franchise

11 May

Picard failed to grab me.

It’s hard to say why.  Jean-Luc Picard embodies – or embodied – the ethos of Star Trek, in both his strengths and weaknesses.  Picard is both a highly-intelligent and highly-moral man, but – at the same time – he has a tendency towards both self-righteousness and a pollyannaish view of the universe that undermine his character.  Picard may be a better man than Sisko, in my view, yet I would sooner have Sisko in the captain’s chair if hard decisions have to be made.  Picard wanted to keep his hands clean.  Sisko had fewer qualms about getting his hands dirty if necessary.

This alone, however, is not enough to kill a show.  A series about a character who learned better – or reshaped the universe to suit himself – would have to start with a character in a poor position.  The real problems, however, are deeper.  To understand why, we must ask ourselves a simple question.  Why did Star Trek go mainstream in the first place?

I think the answer is fairly obvious.  The original series consisted of a number of individual episodes (there was only one two-part episode) that touched upon a wide range of themes, ranging from battles with hostile powers to humour, love stories and encounters with strange – and very inhuman – aliens.  If you didn’t like one, you might like others.  Star Trek itself embodied the IDIC principle, for better or worse.  The Next Generation followed the same basic idea, with a new crew and a new ship that did … well, pretty much the same as the original series.  There were a number of two-part episodes, but – by and large – you didn’t need to follow the series from the start to understand what was happening.  By the time all good things – hah – came to an end, this formula had played itself out.  The next series would have to be different.

Deep Space Nine was different – it was set on a space station, ensuring the crew could never drop into warp and outrun the consequences of their actions – but, for the first two seasons (and for some considerable distance afterwards) it remained bound to the episodic formula.  There was a story arc, but that arc didn’t become all-consuming until the final two seasons.  It worked, because of the arc; the arc had time to take root because of the episodic formula.  In theory, Voyager could have gone the same way.  There was no way the crew could drop in to a handy shipyard and patch the holes in the ship.  In practice, it didn’t do so well.  The writers seemed incapable of producing either a retreat to the Next Generation formula or striding boldly into the unknown.  That is not to say Voyager was bad, but the rot was starting to set in.  Enterprise failed for pretty much the same reason as Voyager, with a twist.  The fans wanted something that was both completely different (because it was set in the pre-federation universe) and the same (because it had to live up to the carefully drawn out timeline the fans held in their hearts).  It stumbled and fell. 

At this point, it became clear the producers no longer understood their own show – or what made Star Trek great in the first place.  The rebooted movies might have been spectacular, but they were not Star Trek.  They were conventional action movies that alienated fans without drawing in any new fans.  The producers themselves had reached the limits of the overall formula.

It isn’t easy to write stories set in utopia.  Iain M. Banks wrote the Culture novels, set within a far more advanced universe, but most of his stories featured the Culture’s enemies, the Culture’s misfits, or the Culture’s immigrants.  Only one novel can truly be said to feature mainstream Culture citizens.  It isn’t a coincidence that this happens when the super-advanced Culture is facing an Outside Context Problem, an issue it can’t solve with super-technology.  In some ways, Star Trek has the same problem.  It’s not easy to write stories when there is relatively little at stake. 

Discovery had all of Enterprise’s weaknesses, but added a few of its own.  It was a series of interlocking episodes, each one telling part of an overall story.  None of them were stand-alone.  Viewers had to start at the beginning, or be hopelessly lost.  This, combined with a flawed premise, badly weakened the show.  It might have done better if it hadn’t been Star Trek.  Again, like the movies, Discovery alienated fans without drawing in any new fans.  This was, I think, quite predictable, even before the political BS started.  It might have been wiser to set a story in the post-DS9 universe.

Picard should have been that story.  However, it managed to copy most of Discovery’s mistakes.  On one hand, it started another series of interlocking stories that locked out fans who didn’t get interested right from the start.  On the other, it played political games and overrode common sense in a bid to make political points.  It’s not unreasonable, for example, for the average Federation citizen to have qualms about providing a new home for members of a race that has been both an enemy and an ally over the last two hundred years (particularly as they had an empire themselves, with plenty of spare room).  The logistics of shipping billions of people across interstellar space would have been daunting, even without the political concerns.  And then we have the problem of feeding and caring for the refugees.  In theory, the Federation could handle it.  In practice, again, there would be issues.  It is easy to reduce the real-like migration crisis to politically-correct soundbites, but such soundbites rarely acknowledge the problems caused by uncontrolled migration.

Jean-Luc Picard himself suffers from a degree of character assassination.  It was in character for him to take a political stand, but unwise of him to stake his career on an all-or-nothing approach.  (Really, Picard should have been dishonourably discharged for failing to destroy the Borg when he had a chance.)  He should have realised this was a dangerous path to take, instead of being surprised when his superiors accepted his resignation.  This is also true of the Federation itself.  Why does it – now – discriminate against artificial life forms?  Why does it discriminate against ex-Borg?  Picard himself is an ex-Borg.  It feels, very much, as though the Federation has fallen into darkness.

Perhaps it got better.  But it wasn’t Star Trek.

It might have been better to develop a completely new show.  It wasn’t as if there wasn’t room.  A starship patrolling the post-war universe?  Perhaps trying to sort out the mess caused by the war?  Dealing with political factions, insurgents, terrorists … and other threats, trying to move into the former enemy space.  Hell, why not just turn the New Frontier books into a movie?  We could have had the grim awareness that life isn’t perfect, mingled with the dream of a rosy and idealistic future. 

And, at the very least, it wouldn’t have alienated so many fans.