Archive | November, 2020


29 Nov

Hi everyone

If everything goes well – touch wood – I hope to finish Fighting for the Crown’s first draft tomorrow.  There will be a lot of editing, as usual, but hopefully it will be ready for release in a couple of weeks or so.  I’m also hoping to get through the second batch of editing for Little Witches, but – realistically – it will probably be released sometime closer to Christmas than I would prefer.  We shall see.

The current title for the next Ark Royal book is Drake’s Drum, which is both a reference to the legend ( and a nod to the poem. 

My planned schedule is:

Dec – The Right Side of History (SIM21)

Jan – The Family Name (Zero)

Feb – The Face of the Enemy (SIM22).

I’m still thinking up new ideas for Fantastic Schools IV (stories suitable for younger readers) and V.  Any thoughts or concepts would be welcome. 


SIM Audio Update

19 Nov

Hi, everyone
The good news is that the audio version of Oathkeeper will be going live on 19th January – links for pre-order will be provided when I have them.  By then, barring accidents, the eBooks of Little Witches and Fantastic Schools III (including The Cunning Man’s Tale) should also be live.
The bad news is that Tavia Gilbert’s professional life has taken her to the BBC and she’s had to leave the SIM series, but Podium has lined up a replacement narrator: Saskia Maarleveld, who previously narrated the Zero Enigma books.  Please welcome her to the series and feel free to check her work out elsewhere.

Snippet – Fighting for the Crown (Ark Royal)

10 Nov


From: Admiral Paul Mason, Director of Alpha Black, Special Projects

To: Admiral Susan Onarina, CO Operation Lightning Strike


As per your request, my department has spent the last two weeks conducting an extensive post-battle analysis of Operation Thunderchild.  This has not been an easy task.  The much-touted bioscanners were nowhere near as efficient as we were assured – surprise, surprise – and the urgent need for a retreat from the targeted system ensured a significant lack of late-stage data.  In short, there is a sizable question mark over both the data we collected and our conclusions and I would be remiss in my duties if I did not bring that to your attention.

However, a number of things can be said with a fair degree of certainty.

The BioBombs were less effective than we had hoped.  They certainly lacked the punch of an enhanced radiation weapon.  However, once the biological agent had established itself on the planetary surface it spread rapidly.  We believe it achieved effective continental saturation within two or three days of its deployment, destroying the virus’s chain of communication as it spread.  It took longer for the viral package within the infected hosts to break down, but it is clear that the biobombs took their toll.  The infection was uncontainable without extreme measures.  We assume the virus was as reluctant to cut off a limb to save the body – if I may use a crude metaphor – as ourselves.

It cannot be denied, as some officers pointed out, that the biobombs are weapons of genocide.  The counter-viral package is far more effective, and dangerous, than the tailored viruses released on Earth during the Age of Unrest.  It is also clear that the virus is unable to counter the infection without doing immense damage to its organisation and communication.  In short, unless the virus finds a way to counter the threat, we can expect to eliminate the infection from our worlds in very short order.  This will, however, condemn the virus’s hosts to death.  Our attempts to save hosts under laboratory conditions have had mixed results.  We cannot offer any sort of guarantee the host will survive, even in ideal circumstances.  The infected hosts on occupied worlds are certain to die, if we release the biobombs.  Frankly, if our backs were not already pressed firmly against the wall, I would urge the PM and the other world leaders not to deploy the biobombs.  We will be killing millions so billions might live. 

That said, I am not sanguine about the virus’s inability to devise a response.  Biological weapons do not survive, obviously, in the vacuum of space.  The virus can rearrange its ships along more human lines, relying on communications networks and datanodes to handle matters rather than blending viral matter into the control systems.  We expect some degree of early awkwardness, if the virus tries, but it does have access to experts!  If nothing else, it can simply copy our designs and integrate human systems – and our electronic servants – into its fleet.  I don’t know if there would be some improvement in efficiency – the virus does not appear to have problems handling its fleets, despite relying on biological networks – but it would certainly make it harder to get the biobombs onboard.  The marines might have to storm the entire ship to wipe out the enemy presence.  It would be considerably easier to simply insert nuclear bombs, then detonate them as soon as the marines withdraw.

A more serious possibility is the virus copying the biobombs and deploying biological weapons of its own.  It has, so far, been reluctant to commit population-destroying atrocities – although it has shown a frightening lack of concern for civilian casualties – but that may change if it feels truly threatened.  As strange as it may seem, the virus may well regard its losses so far as effectively immaterial; a real threat to its very survival may provoke a nastier response.  We simply don’t know.  But, as I said, our backs are against the wall.  We have no choice.  We must use every weapon at our command to win before we lose everything.

It is my very strong feeling, Susan, that we should launch Operation Lightning Strike as quickly as possible.



Chapter One

“Do you hear that?”

Richard Tobias Gurnard turned over, momentarily unsure of where he was.  In bed, with Marigold … they were in London, he recalled suddenly, visiting the capital city before they reported back to HMS Lion.  He sat upright, blinking in confusion as the emergency lighting came on.  The hotel room, a grotty singleton that was all they could afford in London, had an air of unreality, as if he was still asleep.  He glanced at his wristcom and frowned.  It was the middle of the night and yet …

He felt a frisson of fear as he heard the scraping sound in the corridor outside.  The hotel was relatively quiet, he’d been assured; the manager had made a point of assuring his guests that the walls were completely soundproofed.  It wasn’t the sort of place that served breakfast in bed, or did anything beyond the bare minimum.  The peeling paint on the walls, and the scent in the toilet, suggested the owner simply didn’t give a damn.  And yet …

“I can hear an alarm,” Marigold said.  She sat up next to him, arms crossed over her breasts.  “Can’t you?”

Tobias listened, carefully.  The alarm was very faint, if indeed it was an alarm.  He wished, suddenly, that he’d paid more attention to the emergency procedures displayed on the wall.  His CO would have a lot of sharp things to say, if he knew; he’d insisted the gunboat pilots had to learn as much as possible, even if – technically- they didn’t have to know anything outside the scope of their duties.  Tobias felt his ears prickle as the scraping sound grew louder, wondering – suddenly – if the manager was trying to sneak into the room.  It was possible.  He’d certainly heard a lot of rumours about cheap hotels in London.  And yet …

The wristcom bleeped an alert.  Tobias glanced at it and froze.  BIOLOGICAL CONTAMINATION DETECTED, LONDON.  Sheer horror held him paralysed for a long chilling moment.  Biological contamination meant that someone had deployed a biological weapon … no, that the virus had gotten loose in London.  He remembered the sensor recordings from the previous mission and shuddered, helplessly.  If the entire city had been infected, they were screwed.  They had no weapons, nothing beyond their masks.  He hadn’t thought to bring an emergency kit.  It had honestly never crossed his mind he’d need it.

Marigold swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood, hastily donning her clothes.  Tobias followed suit, eying the wristcom as if it were a poisonous snake.  He wanted to believe it was a false alarm, but … his mind raced, trying to determine what they should do.  The room wasn’t airtight.  It certainly wasn’t isolated from the remainder of the hotel.  A viral outbreak in the right place – or, rather, the wrong place – would spread through the hotel very quickly.  The scraping sound grew louder.  Tobias cursed under his breath, wishing – for the first time – that Colin had accompanied them.  His former bully turned marine would have been very helpful in a tight spot.  But Tobias had never even thought of inviting him.

“Someone is right outside,” Marigold said, so quietly she was almost subvocalising.  “That lock isn’t going to hold up for long.”

Tobias nodded, curtly.  He was brave, as brave as brave could be, behind a computer terminal … or, he admitted to himself, when he put his hands on his gunboat’s controls.  It was easy, somehow, to pretend he was still playing a game even when he flew the gunboat into combat with a fleet of enemy ships.  But in the real world, he knew he was a coward.  He’d put on some muscle since joining the navy – Marigold and his CO had convinced him to spent more time in the gym – but he was all too aware he couldn’t push anyone around.  Sweat trickled down his back as he donned his mask.  No one, absolutely no one, had a legitimate reason to break into their room in the middle of the night.  The manager – or the police – would bang on the door, then wait for the occupants to open it.  Whoever was on the far side, they weren’t friendly. 

The lights went out.  Darkness, warm darkness, enveloped them.  Tobias sucked in a breath as Marigold activated her wristcom, using it as a makeshift torch.  They hadn’t thought to bring flashlights either.  Tobias hesitated, then picked up a chair as he heard the lock starting to give way.  It wasn’t an electronic lock.  The lock and key were something out of a period drama.  Tobias suspected, in hindsight, that it wasn’t as charming as he’d thought.  The lock could be opened by anyone who had the key, a copy of the key or the tools and skill to simply pick the lock.

He took his mask and pressed it against his face, then picked up a chair and waited.  In hindsight, he should have brought his pistol.  Military personnel were required to be armed at all times, in a world that could shift from peaceful harmony to screaming chaos in the brink of an eye.  His CO would probably scold him for not being armed … Tobias prayed, as the lock clicked, that the CO would have the chance.  The door opened, so violently Tobias almost dropped the chair.  A shadowy figure rushed into the room, running towards Marigold.  No, towards the light.  Tobias panicked, bringing the chair down on top of the figure’s head.  It crashed to the ground, then kept crawling forward like a giant crab.  Tobias stared in disbelief – blood was leaking from a nasty wound to the head – and then brought the chair down again.  The figure – the zombie – didn’t seem to notice.

Tobias realised his mistake, a second too late.  The zombie infection was in complete control of the host’s body.  Crushing the zombie’s head wouldn’t kill the host.  The host had died when the infection had taken root, then built control structures within the body.  He felt a stab of pity as the zombie reared up, hands lashing out towards him.  He kicked the zombie as hard as he could – not hard – and then brought the chair down again and again, breaking the zombie’s legs.  It wasn’t enough to do more than slow it down.

“That was the manager,” Marigold said.  The man had once been jovial – and sleazy enough to make Tobias want to take a shower after shaking his hand.  Now, his body was a mangled pulp that was somehow, absurdly, still trying to advance on them.  “We have to get out of here.”

“Got it,” Tobias agreed.  He checked his wallet was still in his pocket – he had a feeling he’d need ID, when they ran into the police or the military – then keyed his wristcom.  There was no update, nothing to indicate the authorities were already moving to contain the threat.  He hoped – prayed – they were.  They should be.  The military had plenty of experience deploying troops to counter everything from riots and terrorism to outright viral infections.   “Where do we go?

“Out of here,” Marigold said.  “Quickly.”

Tobias nodded as he made his way to the door and peered outside.  The corridor was dark and silent.  His imagination insisted it was as dark and silent as the grave.  He told that part of him to shut the fuck up, then forced himself to think.  The hotel wasn’t that big.  If the manager had been infected … it was possible the other guests had also been infected.  If there were other guests … it was that sort of hotel.  Tobias cursed under his breath.  He didn’t have any night-vision gear, no way to see in the dark.  And even if he could, the viral particles were too small to see with the naked eye.  He touched his mask, checking – again and again – that it was firmly in place.  Breathing deeply might be enough to get him infected.  He wouldn’t even know until it was far too late.

And the moment they see our lights, they’ll know we’re there, he thought.  The virus didn’t even need to do that.  If there was a sufficient concentration of viral matter in the air, the virus would be aware of their presence even if it couldn’t infect them.  He wanted to go back to the room, barricade the door and wait for the police, but he knew that might just get them killed – or worse.  The zombie behind them was – somehow – still alive.  We have to move fast.

He glanced at Marigold, her face pale and worried, then told himself to be brave as he inched down the corridor.  The carpet felt soft under his feet, their passage making no sound at all.  He thought, just for a moment, that he could hear men and machines in the distance – helicopter blades clattering against the humid summer air – but the sound didn’t seem to be coming any closer.  Ice washed down his spine as he remembered the reports from the last mission.  The infected world had been hot, very hot.  The virus had been able to survive in the open air, to the point that opening one’s mask was effectively committing suicide.  He found it impossible to believe the virus could last indefinitely in the British weather – it would rain sooner rather than later, if he was any judge – but it could do a lot of damage before it died.  Someone who got infected, without ever knowing they were infected, could do one hell of a lot of damage before they were tracked down.

The air grew warmer as they reached the stairwell and looked up and down.  Tobias tried to think what to do.  In a video game, they would head upwards and find their way to the roof and then jump from rooftop to rooftop until they reached safety.  The real world was much less obliging.  Colin and his comrades might be able to get out of the trap that way, but Tobias had no illusions about his lack of physical prowess.  He’d always been picked last for games … he put the memory out of his mind as he started to make his way down to the ground floor.  The stairwell was cramped, narrow enough to make him feel almost claustrophobic.  The darkness seemed to reach out and touch him, as if monsters were lurking within the shadows.  He shuddered, helplessly, promising himself he’d move to a lunar city or an asteroid settlement as soon as his enlistment was up.  His country hadn’t treated him very kindly.

Lights flared, outside.  Tobias flinched, hefting the chair as if he expected someone to come crashing through the windows.  He’d known the windows were there, but … he stared into the darkness.  The lights just added to the air of unreality.  He forced himself to move faster, reaching the bottom of the stairs as the sound of helicopters grew louder.  The building rattled as the aircraft flew over the hotel.  It felt as if they were only an inch or two above the rooftops. 

Marigold shined the makeshift torch ahead of them, then froze.  A body was lying on the ground, a child … Tobias stumbled backwards, swallowing desperately to keep from throwing up inside the mask.  The body was a shifting mass of … he recoiled, unwilling to look at the figure.  It had to have been a child, but the body was so badly warped that he couldn’t tell if it had been male or female.  The darkness swallowed the body as they picked up speed, hurrying towards the door.  It was closed and locked.  Tobias gritted his teeth, suddenly very sure there was something nasty right behind them, and hit the door as hard as he could.  The lock shattered.  Tobias blinked, then stumbled outsight.  Blinding lights struck them a second later, so bright his eyes hurt even after he squeezed them tightly shut.  Marigold whimpered.

“DO NOT MOVE,” a voice bellowed.  “DO NOT MOVE!”

Tobias froze.  His eyes were still closed, but he could hear men running towards them.  The light dimmed suddenly.  He risked opening his eyes and saw three men in heavy-duty HAZMAT suits.   Their eyes were hidden behind their masks.  He shuddered, suddenly all too aware that the troops could be infected themselves.  And yet … he couldn’t move.  He could see more troops on the other side of the road, guns pointed directly at Tobias and Marigold.  He wanted to scream at them, to insist they were pointing their guns at friends, but he couldn’t say a word.  The troops didn’t know any better.  Tobias himself didn’t know any better.  The virus might have already gotten its hooks in them.

He offered no resistance as they were shackled, then pushed towards a large open-topped lorry.  The troops pressed samplers against their necks, testing their blood for any traces of infection.  They relaxed, slightly, when the tests came back negative.  Tobias wanted to suggest they be unshackled, but the words caught in his mouth.  A handful of other people were already in the lorry, their arms and legs shackled to metal railings.  They looked as shell-shocked as Tobias himself.  The troops half-pushed, half-lifted him into the lorry and shackled him beside the others.  Marigold followed a second later.  Tobias gritted his teeth as the UV lights grew stronger.  In theory, if one of them were infected, the infection wouldn’t spread to the rest.  In theory …

The virus managed to get a foothold in the city, he thought, numbly.  A pair of helicopters flew overhead, spotlights stabbing down at the ground.  What else has it done?

The lorry lurched into life.  Tobias gritted his teeth as the vehicle rumbled down the eerie street.  The sky was still dark, but the spotlights lit up the community with a blinding light that cast out the shadows.  There were hundreds – perhaps thousands – of troops on the streets, all wearing masks if they weren’t wearing HAZMAT gear.  A row of AFVs sat beside a barricade, one clearly thrown up in a hurry.  Tobias shivered.  He’d walked past the barricade only a few short hours ago, back when the world had made sense.  The barricade hadn’t even been there.  London had shifted from an old city, repaired and rebuilt after the Troubles and the Bombardment, into a Lovecraftian nightmare, a horror from the days biological weapons had been deployed by terrorists and rogue states alike.  He’d heard the stories – he’d studied the official version in history class and the unofficial version on the dark web – but he’d never really understood the reality.  It had been nothing more than history to him, until now.  He shuddered, again and again, as they drove past more troops,  They looked ready for anything.  Tobias devoutly hoped that was true.

“STAY IN YOUR HOMES.”  A police car drove past, blue lights flashing as the message was repeated time and time again.  The racket was so loud Tobias was morbidly certainly no one, absolutely no one, was still asleep.  They’d be having nightmares long after the night was over.  “STAY IN YOUR HOMES.  STAY OFF THE STREETS.  IF YOU FEEL UNWELL, CALL US IMMEDIATELY …”

“No one will listen,” an older man predicted.  He looked to be the sort of person Tobias had disliked once upon a time, a schoolyard bully grown up into a manager bully.  His walrus moustache wriggled as he spoke.  “They’ll all be trying to get out before the infection gets them.”

Tobias said nothing, but he feared the older man was right.  The infection had clearly gotten its hooks into the district.  He’d heard rumours about emergency plans, from the careful evacuation and sterilization of the infected area to its complete destruction by nuclear weapons.  Tobias doubted that any British Government would authorise the use of nuclear weapons on British cities, but the government might be desperate.  The Prime Minister was in a precarious position.  Tobias didn’t follow politics and even he knew that.  Decisive action against the virus, at the cost of hundreds of innocent lives, would either boost the man’s career into the stratosphere or utterly destroy it.  In this day and age, it was hard to tell which.

The vehicle rattled to a halt.  Tobias watched, grimly, as the soldiers unhooked the rear of the lorry and started dragging the prisoners out.  He’d been through mil-grade decontamination procedures before, when there hadn’t been any real threat.  The process had been strict, but not that strict.  This time, they could take nothing for granted.  Tobias doubted they’d see their clothes again, after they went through decontamination.  It was rather more likely that everything they wore – and carried – would be incinerated.  The military wouldn’t take chances, not now.

“I’m not infected,” the older man protested, as he was half-carried out of the lorry.  “I’m not infected!”

“Be quiet,” a soldier growled.

“Do you know who I am?”  The older man glared at the soldier, trying to stand upright in shackles.  It would have been comical if it hadn’t been so serious.  “I’m the managing director of Drills Incorporated and …”

“I said, be quiet,” the soldier repeated.  He hefted his shockrod menacingly.  “You’ll be checked as quickly as possible and released as soon as we’re sure you’re uninfected.”

Tobias kept his thoughts to himself as the older man quietened.  He wanted to protest, but he understood.    The soldiers really couldn’t take anything for granted.  For all they knew, the entire lorry-load of prisoners was infected.  They had to be careful, very careful.  And if that meant treating civilians – as well as Tobias and Marigold – like dangerous terrorists …

They don’t have a choice, Tobias thought, glumly.  They don’t have any way to be sure we’re not infected.  And nor do we.

Updates (Little Witches+)

9 Nov

Hi, everyone

It’s been a very mixed week.  On one hand, The Truthful Lie and Debt of War came out in close succession.  (If you liked them, please review.)  On the other, we’ve been having home improvements done, which made it impossible to do much of anything past Monday.

I’ve just completed the first run-through of Little Witches, following the feedback I got from beta-readers.  Lots of little changes … some bigger than others.  I’m hoping to have it published within the month, but there are two more edits to come (and we still need a cover, of course.)  I intend to write the next three books in a fairly tight stream, for reasons that will become apparent in Little Witches.

I also intend to start work on Fighting for the Crown (Ark Royal) tomorrow.

I hope you’re all keeping well <grin>.


PS – we’re still looking for stories for Fantastic Schools. Why not write one? <grin>

OUT NOW – Debt of War (The Embers of War III/Angel in the Whirlwind VIII)

8 Nov

The Commonwealth Civil War has stalemated, but both sides—desperate to win at all costs—are looking for ways to end the fighting before everything they’ve built is turned to ash. King Hadrian, on the edge of madness, searches for allies who might help, at a price. His enemies, all too aware the battle is far from won, search for long-forgotten truths that might tear the king’s forces apart and end the war in a single blow. For Admiral Kat Falcone and Commodore William McElney, caught on opposite sides, everything they’ve ever loved is at stake.

William knows a secret, a secret that may end the war if he and his friend Kat can work together long enough to use it. But powerful forces are arrayed against them, intent on fighting the war to the bitter end. One false move and they’ll both fall into fire…

…And hundreds of planets will burn with them.

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The Last Jedi Problem

7 Nov

I was going to write this as part of a bigger essay, but it probably does better as a singleton.  Normal commenting rules apply.

The Last Jedi proved to be a highly controversial movie when it came out and several years (and a pair of underperforming follow-ups) have done nothing to redeem it.  The movie is both objectively and subjectively terrible, with widespread character assassination, shrilling and – bluntly – a complete disregard for the factors that made Star Wars popular in the first place.  However, that alone is not enough to seriously damage a franchise.  The far more dangerous aspect, and the one that did serious damage, was the response to criticism.

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.

This is a cunning tactic, in the short term.  If you regard your critics as misogynists and racists (and homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes (etc, etc)), and insist this is true regardless of all evidence of the contrary, you can delegitimize their complaints.  This absolves you of the responsibility to listen to their complaints, let alone act on them.  Who wants to give even the slightest hint of legitimacy to misogynists and racists (etc, etc)?  No one. 

It’s easy to see why someone would feel that this is a reasonable tactic.  The Last Jedi was not cheap.  Disney invested a hell of a lot of money in the franchise.  Delegitimizing the critics, at least in theory, saved the producers from having to admit they’d made a serious mistake.  In practice, it undermined the franchise by making it clear that the producers simply weren’t interested in listening to criticism, let alone improving upon their work.  It’s possible to argue that The Last Jedi, Solo and The Rise of Skywalker made money and therefore the producers weren’t too far wrong.  However, the franchise significantly underperformed after The Last Jedi.  Given the sheer magnitude of the fanbase, this should worry anyone with an eye to the bottom line.

The producers and their supporters argued that the fans were over-entitled.  There’s some truth to this.  However, it is also true that vast numbers of fans kept the faith from the moment Return of the Jedi rolled the last credits until Disney produced The Last Jedi.  Those fans purchased books, computer games, toys, endured the prequel trilogy … in short, they were emotionally invested in the franchise.  It is not unreasonable to feel that one has a right to expect a reward for such investment, even though – objectively speaking – the fan has no claim on the producers.  Nor is it unreasonable to feel personally insulted if you’ve been called a misogynist, a racist or one of a dozen other things you know you’re not.

This touches on something I’ve mentioned before.  A good-faith attempt to address the complaint, by accepting it is valid or explaining why it is not, would have gone a long way towards solving the problem before it got out of hand.  It might not have satisfied the critics, but it would have convinced outside observers that the producers were taking the complaints seriously enough to write a refutation.   Bad faith responses – calling someone a racist, for example – simply undermine credibility.  It suggests, very strongly, that there is no good answer to the complaints.  And once you start insulting people, any hope of a peaceful solution goes straight out the window (not least because it’s impossible to prove a negative.)

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.

It is not easy to see things from someone else’s point of view.  A very rich and powerful person, with all the trapping of his wealth and rank, simply cannot grasp how carefully a poor person must manage money.  He can very easily push for supermarkets to stock only expensive foodstuffs because, to him, they are not expensive at all.  He cannot understand that he’s just made life harder for the poor person, who now has to somehow find the money to pay for food or starve.  Said rich and powerful person might push for criminal justice reform without thinking through the consequences, because – at base – he does not have to face the consequences.  The man who lives in a gated community, with a private security force, doesn’t have to deal with criminals on the streets.  He cannot understand why the poorer people would sooner lock the criminals up and throw away the key.

And because he doesn’t understand that, he doesn’t understand why the poor hate him.

People are not generally selfish.  But they are motivated by self-interest.  If you fail to take someone’s self-interest into account, and to accept that their feelings are valid, you should not be surprised when they come to hate you.  If you delegitimize their feelings, and effectively delegitimize them, they come in turn to delegitimize you.  And then they don’t pay any attention to you.  Why should they?

Going back to The Last Jedi, the producers were attempting the impossible.  They wanted a movie that would both appeal to the fans and the general public.  To do the former, they would have had to assess what made Star Wars popular in the first place and do more of it (the thinking that led to the Thrawn trilogy).  To do the latter, they would have had to streamline the plot as much as possible.  Instead, they ended up with what was once called – quite aptly – a beautiful disaster.

This could have been avoided.  A clear-sighted assessment of what viewers – both fans and the general public – wanted could have been done.  (As Marvel did when it started creating the MCU.)  It would have required, however, an understanding of their fanbase – and what the fans wanted – and this was verboten.  Instead, they drove away their fanbase without bringing in replacements.  They chose to attack their fans instead of accepting they’d made a mistake and trying to fix it.

But, in this day and age, admitting a mistake can be fatal.

OUT NOW – THE TRUTHFUL LIE (The Unwritten Words III)

3 Nov

Sorry for the delay.

How can humans stand up to the Old Gods?

Reginald, now King, is struggling against the rising tide of the Old God entities. He knows that his army alone cannot defeat them, even with cold iron that can contain them and free enslaved humans. But as cities burn and farmland is devastated, the people have been easily convinced by cultists to turn to the Old Gods.

In a neighbouring kingdom the weak young ruler, fallen prey to an entity that promised him the world, starts his campaign to fulfil that promise, adding to the threats heading towards Andalusia.

Reginald’s best hope is that Isabella, his sorceress Queen, and Princess Silverdale, his talented sister, can learn enough about the entities and their relationship with the human realm to find a magical way to defeat them. But, as time is running out, shattering news arrives from the Golden City…

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SIM: The Magical Community

3 Nov

Another piece of background …

The Magical Community

The magical community does not have, despite the efforts of some political figures, a coherent existence in any real sense of the word.  There is no overall unifying authority and, given the nature of magical society, it is extremely unlikely that any will arise.  The handful of magical aristocrats who remember the days of the empire, when they ruled magic, are heavily outnumbered by the remainder, who prefer to savour what independence they have from the rest of the world.  Magical society, therefore, tends to be touchy, challenging and insistent on respect, even when such respect is undeserved.  It is also, in a curious paradox, an association that stretches right across the Allied Lands and beyond.

Geographically, there is no magical ‘country.’  A map of the magical community would look like flecks on paint, scattered over the rest of the Allied Lands.  The majority of magicians live within estates – often centred on a nexus point – magic-heavy towns and beside their mundane neighbours.  The magical community is more of an collection of bloodlines and schools – and a handful of townships – rather than anything else.

The community rests on four poles.  First, the magical families and their bloodlines, carefully tended to ensure newborn magicians add their diversity to the whole.  Second, the quarrels – associations of magicians linked together in blood-brotherhood.  Third, the guilds, which serve as alliances and unions of magicians in a specific line of magic.  Fourth, and finally, the schools, which impart a degree of shared community and cultural understanding into the ever-growing community. 

The sexism so prevalent in the remainder of the Allied Lands is rare amongst magicians.  Female magicians have full legal rights.  To treat a sorceress as somehow lesser, or to assume her husband speaks for her, is to court death.  The magical society is also quite accepting of homosexuality, although there is an expectation that powerful magicians will have children to ensure their genes are passed down to the next generation. 

As a general rule, magicians are prideful and touchy.  A magician is entitled to demand respect within his domain, even from more powerful magicians (who, in turn, are expected to refrain from deliberately undermining their host).  To enter a magician’s home is to commit oneself to behaving; the magician, in turn, must extend formal guest-right to his visitors.  (A magician is legally within his rights to do whatever he likes to an intruder.)  Magicians may enter employment, apprenticeships and patron-client relationships, but only under very precise contracts that detail precisely the obligations of each party to the other.  The idea of outright servitude is abhorrent to magicians, at least when they’re the ones in servitude; it is rare, to say the least, to encounter a magician willing to become a servant. 

Navigating magical society, therefore, is quite difficult for an outsider.  Magicians are often achingly polite, but also willing to push and jostle people to assert their strength and test the newcomer’s strength.  It is quite easy to give offense and quite hard to apologise.  A magician can issue a challenge to a duel at any time, although the challenged party has the right to determine how the duel is fought.

Magicians rarely admit, openly, that anyone has the right to judge them (unless in very specific circumstances).  There are few magicians, therefore, willing to enforce the rules outside their domains, let alone serve in a magical police force.  (The White Council’s Mediators are the closest they get to an outright law enforcement body.)  Those who openly break the rules, from bad manners to meddling in dark magic, are normally shunned by the remainder of the community, rather than stopped.  A handful of magicians believe dark wizards – as opposed to necromancers – should be stopped, but the remainder of the community fears setting precedents that might eventually be used against them.

Magicians assert, if pressed, that they mature slower than mundanes.  This may or may not be true.  It is also a reflection on their society, an acceptance that a childish mistake need not haunt an adult for the rest of their live.  If a child – or someone legally a child, such as an apprentice – commits an offense, they don’t have to face the full consequences.  Cynics assert it is a way to keep children and apprentices under control for longer than mundane communities, but it serves a valuable purpose.  Newcomers to magical society can learn the rules before it’s too late. 

As a general rule, magicians are highly educated.  They could generally read and write well before the New Learning reshaped the world.  They were also told horror stories about what happened to young magicians who made mistakes, including ‘The Magician Who Made a Foolish Oath’ and ‘The Witch Who Got What She Wanted,’ both warnings of the dangers of entering obligations with other magicians. 

The magician community exists slightly apart from the mundane one, under the terms of the Compact (actually a collection of agreements between magicians and aristocrats).  Magical families enjoy near-complete independence from the mundane governments, as long as they refrain from any kind of political interference.  Magicians who do interfere, directly or indirectly, are regarded as having broken the Compact and can therefore no longer claim its protection.  Just how far this goes has never been truly tested, with both magicians and mundanes careful not to put too much pressure on the relationship.  As a general rule, magicians who are closely involved with mundane affairs – Queen Alassa, for example – are not considered part of the overall community and therefore free to honour their obligations to their people.

Magicians generally look down on mundanes, even the newborns and those dependent on the mundane community.  The belief in magical superiority is not altogether unfounded, given the use of magic to make life easier for magicians and mundanes alike.  The average newborn, moving from a village to a magic school, will move from poverty to what might as well be a wonderland; hot and cold running water, magical lightning, etc.  It is unusual for mundanes to have any legal rights in magical communities and homes, although magicians who prey on mundanes are generally shunned by their fellows.  A magician who kept enslaved mundanes in his home would be looked down upon, which wouldn’t always translate into freeing the slaves.  In general, few magicians within the greater community care enough to bother.

Politically, there are three different factions within the community.  The Isolationists believe that contact between magicials and mundanes is bad for both sides and therefore they should separate themselves as much as possible, for their own good.  Given the power, they would seal off magical areas and encourage the development of a parallel society.  The Integrationists believe that magicians and mundanes should live and work together, on the unspoken assumption there are no real differences – besides magic – between the two.  The Supremacists believe that magicians have the de facto right to rule mundanes, on the grounds of superior power, and magicians should become (more of) an aristocracy.

Given the absence of any real government, and the pressing need to fight the war against the necromancers, the political strife has been largely muted.  Now the necromancers are gone, that may be about to change …