Archive | February, 2023

Updates (Post Operation)

27 Feb

Hi, everyone.

I have the operation on Thursday and returned home the following day. I currently have a very sore nose oozing pus and blood, stitches underneath my nose, a disrupted sleep pattern, and I have to drink through a straw, but on the plus side the sinus headaches seem to have gone away. The ooze appears to be normal, based on what the doctor told me. My wife thinks it’s getting better.

I’m taking it easy for a few days because my sleep is not very good at the moment, as you can imagine, and I am in constant discomfort. I have to sleep sitting upright or at least with my head raised, with gauze underneath my nose, which leads to cramps and aches. I’ll get back to the demon’s design as soon as possible. At current rate, I hope I’ll be able to write at least one chapter by Wednesday or Thursday. Apparently, the bleeding should stop around then. We shall see.

To be honest there’s not much else to say. I’m still experimenting with Dragon dictation software and marking out errors when they appear so the software has a chance to learn how I speak and write. It’s good for writing essays, like the review I wrote earlier, but less good for writing conversational text. But hopefully I will figure how to do that soon.

If you have time, please drop a review for fantastic schools six-it could use some love.

Hopefully, the next update will be something a little more interesting.


PS-here’s a cover reveal for your delight.

Amphibia Review

19 Feb

Still testing the dictation software …

I am going to be honest here, and admit it took me quite some time to get into Amphibia. The series looked interesting, but the first season was badly let down by its main character. I found Anne Boonchuy rather difficult to like, unlike Luz from The Owl House, and that made it hard to follow the series. Sasha, and Marcy when she appeared, are far more interesting characters, and while Sasha’s character flaws are evident she is still much more interesting to follow than Anne. In some ways, I can understand why the producer decided to go with the format that would show Anne adapting to her new world, but I think it was a dangerous gamble. It was not until the second season came along that I found myself getting into the show after which I went back and re-watched the first season. My second impression was a lot stronger, as the show also showed Anne becoming a better person as well as underlying how she became that way. Your mileage may vary, of course.

The basic idea of the series is that three teenage girls, Anne, Sasha and Marcy discover – steal – a mysterious magic box, which transports the three of them to Amphibia and scatters them over the world.  Anne is taken in by family of anthropomorphic frogs; Sasha finds herself poster, and later ally, of a toad warlord (captain grime); Marcy finds herself living the dream in the city of the newts, where she is recognised for her skills and feted by King Andrias, ruler of the world.  It rapidly becomes clear that Amphibia is far from a utopia and in fact there is a racial caste system in place. The frogs are labourers and the toads are thugs keeping them in line, while the newts rule over the entire world.  It also becomes clear that the world is built on the remains of a far more advanced civilisation, as well as hints of magic. The exact diversion between science and magic is not clearly stipulated. There are also a handful of other species on the planet, but they seem to remain out of sight.

The first season, largely focused on Anne, has her trying to fit into her new world, unaware that her adopted frog grandfather has made the decision to hide the magic box to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. It rapidly becomes clear that Anne and Sasha had a poisonous friendship, with Sasha dominating Anne and Marcy, and Anne takes some bad habits from this relationship and carries it into her new friendship with the frogs.  However, in a more healthy relationship, she grows into a better person, unaware that Sasha has signed up with captain grime and become his second-in-command. This leads to an unfortunate battle at the end of the first season in which the frogs emerge victorious, scattering the toads and sending Sasha and Grime on the run. Stop

The second season is split into two parts. First, Anne and her new family set off to Newtopia, where Anne is reunited with Marcy and make an alliance with King Andrias. Second, Anne and Marcy go on a quest to be charged magic box, while Sasha and Grime plot to take control of the entire world. Ironically, Sasha’s coup is defeated by Anne and Marcy, allowing King Andrias to take control of the magic box and unleash a far deadlier threat.  Our heroes-including Sasha-fight to stop him, but lose. Anne is transported back to Earth, along with her new family, while Sasha goes back on the run and Marcy remains a prisoner of the King.

The third season, again, is in two parts. First, Anne and the frogs try to adapt to Earth and find a way back to Amphibia. Second, Anne and Sasha must fight to stop the King-who is launching a full-scale invasion of Earth-and save Marcy before it’s too late. And when they win, they are sent back to earth good. To be honest, that ending really annoyed me.

Amphibia makes no pretence at being a serious ‘trapped in another world’ story. Many of the difficulties that would be faced by a more serious traveller are hand-waved, up to and including the language barrier. Quite why everyone speaks English is never satisfactorily explained. What it is, though, is a story about three people trapped in toxic friendships and how they learn to be better people, often by learning from the folks around them. Anne’s friendship with Sprig, who she comes to think of as a younger brother, is infinitively healthier than her friendship with Sasha. Her problems are Marcy are lower-key, but still there; Anne appeared to believe that Marcy could not look after herself and required assistance from Anne and Sasha to survive. When Anne reunites with both Sasha and Marcy these problems are far more apparent to her and she is able to navigate her way through them. I won’t deny that the final episode of the first season was painful to watch, as Sasha’s toxic manipulations are on full display, but it does have a happy ending of sorts.

This is true, in a sense, of both Sasha and Marcy too.  Sasha adopts Grime as a father of sorts, which means they are a terrible influence on each other. She discovers, too late, that her ruthless quest for power has not only cost her two other friends from the toad community, but also ruined her chance to make friends again with Anne and Marcy. By contrast, Marcy’s friendship with King Andrias appears to be far healthier on the surface, yet is entirely exploitative on his part.  King Andrias humours her, and treats her as a daughter, while subtly pumping her for information and laying his plans, which include a truly painful betrayal for Marcy, who didn’t have the slightest idea anything was wrong until it was far too late. In fact, misjudgements by both Sasha and Marcy unleashed absolute chaos and they both had to overcome their own floors to win the war and return home.

(In fact, you can argue that all three girls have their own character flaws but they also share in each other’s character flaws as well.)

In fact, a case can be made that the series showcases the failed attempts to come to terms with relationships as well as a successful one. Hop Pop tries to keep his grandchildren as children even though they’re going into young adults, and betrays Anne by hiding the music box for the greater good. Grime is introduced as a thug who is probably betrayed by his aim people when Toad Tower is attacked and destroyed.  King Andrias has a deeper history with two other heroes of bygone age but that friendship was shattered leaving King Andrias in a deeply vulnerable position and leaving him open to outside manipulations.

Amphibia works very well if you accept it on its own terms. The first season showcases the world itself, while the second is a fantasy quest – three really – and the third a combination of a trapped in another world story, an alien invasion and outright war against an overwhelmingly powerful threat. This sometimes leads to curious problems, including a fabulous FBI agent who might have gotten further if he had asked Anne what was going on instead of trying to kidnap her and the frogs, and the frogs themselves fitting into Earth remarkably well. Like I said, the show is not particularly serious.

(That said, there’s a part of me that thinks allowing Marcy or Sasha to lead the show would have worked better as Marcy is a more likeable character, while Sasha is much more interesting, in the same way Catra was more interesting than Adora in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.)

Unlike The Owl House, or the aforementioned She-Ra, shipping is much less predominant in fandom discussions, with most shipping pairing the girls up together rather than trying to pair them with every other character in the show. This probably owes much to the other characters being clearly inhuman, something which isn’t true of The Owl House.

There are, however, two major problems that need to addressed. First, because Anne is the main character, neither Sasha nor Marcy get anything like the development they deserve. Sasha, in particular, could have had more episodes in season three before being reunited with Anne and I am a loss to understand why she did not get more. Second, perhaps more seriously, I found ending a little disappointing. The girls are barred from Amphibia, the world thinks the devastating invasion was a hoax (which makes all the 9/11 conspiracy theories sound creditable), and they even go their separate ways to some extent, only reuniting years later. Their future roles are not unsuited, but I would have expected more. I am sure a few of them could have worked with the FBI, and everyone else, to help prepare for another possible invasion.  As Amphibia shares a universe with The Owl House, there really are other threats out there.

To be honest, I would have preferred a different ending.

Overall, the series works fairly well. The production values were excellent. The producers worked hard to bring elements of Thai culture into Anne’s character, as well-to a lesser extent-elements of Taiwanese culture into Marcy. Anne, and to a lesser extent Marcy, are proof of what can be done if one tries to create characters from a different background, complete with cultural issues and character flaws, rather than crafting Mary Sue-type characters. Amphibia has the great advantage of being a wholly new universe, with no sense that any previous characters are being replaced, and this works in its favour. One can quibble about minor details, such as Sasha’s unbelievable swordplay, or the issues caused by the girls originally being written as older characters, but overall I must admit I enjoyed the show. I’m sure there are any number of fan fictions out there that has the girls staying in Amphibia or at least remaining in contact with the friends they made in their New World. Or even taking a more serious view of the invasion of Earth in season three.

Like I said, Amphibia is not a very serious show and setting (I did wonder if the girls thought they might’ve been shrunk, instead of being transported to another world), but it is fun to watch. Anne does become a better person. I promise. It isn’t quite as good as The Owl House, but it still works very well.

Updates, and testing my new dictation software.

19 Feb

(Forgot to add – Fantastic Schools 6 is out, with a whole new Schooled in Magic novella. Please review!)

Hi, everyone.

This is the first blog post I have written with my new Dragon software. The software is still getting used to me, so I apologise in advance any mistakes you might see in the text. I had a bit of a health crisis last week and occurred to me that I should try to learn how to use dictation software before something worse happened. This is a bit of a learning curve so I’m going to keep trying. If nothing else, I can watch in the kitchen while talking and hopefully the software will let me get into something reasonably close to what I intended to write. So far, it has been tricky. I have made seven edits so far in this text.

The good news is that I am currently 19 chapters into The Demon’s Design.  I hope to have it finished by the first week in February. Brad is currently finishing the cover and I think you will agree it looks spectacular. I will share it on Facebook as soon as I get the final version.

The bad news is that I will be going into surgery on Thursday (hopefully). My sinuses had been a major problem, as you know, and I have finally been offered surgery to correct the problem. The doctor thinks I will be able to go home on the same day, and that I should be able to continue as normal, but obviously there’s a slight chance I won’t be able to return to normal for a while.  If that is the case, I will pick up the story as soon as possible.

By popular demand, I have decided that the next book I’ll write will be set in the learning experience universe. This is a prequel, set between A Learning Experience and Hard Lessons, with a provisional title of The Firelighters. I also have a stand-alone idea for The Empire’s Corps, but that one will take longer to mature. I do intend to write the sequel to The Stranded soon enough, but I have done a lot of fantasy lately. I wrote two fantastic schools novellas is about starting a new Schooled in Magic story.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

I also had a rough idea for a handful of other schooled in magic stories. One would follow the story of the first witch in Whitehall school.  (The software is having problems here-it rendered witch as something you can properly guess.) Another would follow a blademaster learning how to master the blade, either through forging her own or bonding to someone else’s sword. I haven’t decided which way to go yet. I kind of like the idea of sending someone to Stronghold, is that school hasn’t yet been featured. What would you like to see?

(Just to remind you, we are looking for more submissions to Fantastic Schools.)

The lone world is still being edited but I will post it as soon as possible.

You can also purchase, now, The Prince’s Alliance in paperback.

In other news, we just got back from visiting Manchester and Leeds. We dropped in at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, which was smaller than the one in London but still very interesting to visit (particularly if you’re interested in old Manchester as well). It was quite some time since I visited Leeds and it was very interesting to see how the town has changed in the last two decades. We also visited the Lego Discovery Centre in Manchester and the kids had a great deal of fun. The adults were rather less impressed. The centre is just not very big.

Writing this was something of a challenge. The software is learning to follow me, or so I am assured, but it has a habit of missing words or putting down a word that is so blatantly wrong it is hard to recall what it should be. My editor is going to demand more money, I am sure, if I start writing books using this software. Looking back at this page reminds me of when I first started, when paragraphs would often be completely incomprehensible and in hindsight I could not tell what I meant to say. I think I will be spending an hour a day trying to train the software before I can rely on it anything other than letters, or blog posts or things that I can write in a format, rather than a stream of consciousness. I have made quite a few more edits to this document. And actually that line got messed up too.

This could take some getting used to. I don’t know how David Weber does it.

If you see it any errors in this document, please be kind (grin).

(Now please excuse me while I go bash my head against the wall (grin)).

More updates will come as events warrant.


What Can One Say About Lady Emily?

3 Feb

I wrote this as a sort of prelude – a broadsheet article – for The Demon’s Design. Jane is the main character of The Muckraker’s Tale, included as part of Fantastic Schools VI (out shortly).

What Can One Say About Lady Emily?

The below article was written by Jane, Daughter of Gerald (aka The Muckraker) and published in The Whitehall Times, shortly after the defeat of the Sorcerer Void and the end of the Void Wars.  Lady Emily has not commented on the article.

The strangest thing about Lady Emily is how little is known of her.

This may seem odd, to many of my readers, but there is a point.  The average aristo child, born to a family magical or mundane, makes an impact from the moment they draw breath.  Their naming day is a public event, their birthdays are more about their parents than themselves, their achievements, no matter how minor, are feted as if they were the greatest or most unique achievements in the history of mankind.  They are pawns in their family’s endless battle for power and prestige, their lives mapped out in many ways before they reach their first birthday.  Indeed, in many ways, one can track the shifting ebb and flow of power politics by noting who is invited to birthday celebrations, who is considered a suitable ward, whose children are considered acceptable candidates for betrothal and so many other hints of favour and disapproval shown by the parents.  It is easy to mock such treatment of one’s children, but it served a vitally important purpose.  A family that did not constantly tend to its own position was a family that would soon find itself declining into irrelevance.

And yet, there is no recorded trace of Lady Emily’s mere existence until she turned sixteen.

There are stories aplenty about her, true, but little hard fact.  Her father is believed to be the Sorcerer Void, one of the most powerful and feared sorcerers in the world even before he mounted his bid for ultimate power, yet it has never been confirmed.  Void is listed as Lady Emily’s guardian, a position with the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood and yet one suggesting more distance between them than one would expect, if they were father and daughter.  It would not be out of character for Void, a man who worked hard to bury his own family ties, not to reveal the existence of a child, but it is odd.  If nothing else, his daughter should have had a chance to meet her extended family.

If her father is uncertain, her mother is a complete mystery.  There are few hints of Void having any sort of close connection to anyone, save Emily herself.  He did have a relationship of sorts with Princess Iolanthe of Parsee, but by all accounts the relationship was not sexual and in any case the timing simply doesn’t work out.  He also took a female apprentice, Lady Barb, who could have given birth to Emily, but again the timing rules against it.  Lady Barb’s apprenticeship ended under mysterious circumstances, but there is no serious suggestion she fell pregnant by her master or that she gave birth to anyone.  It is possible, of course, that Void impregnated one of his maids – perhaps the most likely suggestion – yet this would be somewhat out of character.  For all the fear and awe he inspired, there is no suggestion he ever took advantage of anyone.  The blunt truth is that we simply don’t know.

In fact, as far as anyone can tell, Emily simply appeared out of nowhere.

Her early career is well known, although it is difficult – even now – to sift through the rumours and parse out the truth.  Emily arrived at Whitehall – riding on a dragon, of all things – and rapidly established herself as one of the school’s most remarkable students, fighting and defeating a necromancer in her very first year.  She would also go on to befriend Princess Alassa and Countess Imaiqah of Zangaria, finding herself – by accident or design – in the middle of the struggles for power threatening to tear the kingdom apart.  It is safe to say that, in a year, Emily achieved more than nearly anyone else in recorded history.  She rose from complete obscurity to become one of the most famous people in the world.

Her greatest achievement, however, was the New Learning.  Emily introduced, through her friends, a whole new system of letters and numbers, followed by dozens – perhaps hundreds – of technological innovations that changed the world.  The printing press, the steam engine, the guns that allowed us to stand up to the necromancers, then the aristos … they all stemmed from Lady Emily’s fertile brain.  She made no attempt to keep them from spreading – indeed, she rewrote the laws of her barony to encourage sharing ideas and designs – earning herself the enmity of nearly every aristo and many senior magicians.  If this worried her, she kept it to herself. 

It did raise questions, of course.  King Jorlem of Alluvia, who would later lose his throne and head to a revolution, argued Lady Emily was embarking on a long-term plan to take control of the entire world, something that would have seemed fanciful before she appeared.  Academic Adana, an intellectual in the service of King Randor of Zangaria, suggested that Emily was little more than a figurehead, a pretty face introducing ideas developed by a committee of inventors to ensure the real developers remained unknown.  His analysis of Emily’s early work argues that her inventions were suspiciously mature, and showed no hint of passing through a series of experimental stages before the final design was shared with the entire world.  This is, of course, easily explained.  The early models Emily introduced were not, of course, finalised.  As she said herself, her designs – the steam engine in particular – have long since been superseded by designs worked out by others, who took her work and improved upon it.  She did not create a finished product and neither did any of the inventors who followed in her footsteps.

Emily’s career continued to develop, as the years rolled on.  She defeated a necromancer in the Cairngorms, took possession of the nexus point at Heart’s Eye (defeating another necromancer in the process), fought in the Zangarian Civil War (rumours she’d somehow lost her powers in the aftermath of the war were rapidly disproven), founded a university at Heart’s Eye, led a campaign to invade the Blighted Lands and defeat the remaining necromancers (and succeeded so well the depraved magicians no longer pose any sort of threat), all the while continuing to turn out newer and better innovations, both magical and mundane.  It should have led to a world of peace and prosperity.

It did not.  The Allied Lands had always been held together by the threat of necromantic invasion.  The sudden end of the threat unleashed social pressures that threatened to tear the edifice apart, pressures – we later discovered – that were stroked by Void himself, intend on taking over the Allied Lands to save them from themselves.  Emily found herself both blamed for the chaos – somewhat unfairly; she had nothing to do with problems that existed years before she was born – and charged with stopping him, even though it required her to take up arms against her (presumed) father.  She was, for better or worse, successful.  Void was defeated, but many of the problems that had empowered him remained.

I do not know Lady Emily personally.  Few do.  She has a reputation for being friendly, but reserved – and also, according to some of her classmates, a little odd, as if she’d been born and raised somewhere very different.  Indeed, this is a mystery.  A young woman raised in an aristocratic family or a sorcerous household would not display the compassion and respect Lady Emily does for those beneath her, nor would she devote any effort to helping them climb to heights of wealth and power they might have thought beyond them.  A common-born child might have had a different outlook on life, but she wouldn’t have the lack of automatic respect for the aristocracy that is clearly visible in Lady Emily.  It has been suggested she was raised by someone other than Void, but who?  What sort of upbringing could create someone like her?

I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that she’s here, giving us all hope for a better future.

I look forward to following her future career with great interest.