Book Review – Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

5 Jun

(Jonathan Allen, Amie Parnes)

“Why aren’t they with me?”

-Hillary

“For both sides, Hillary was the perfect symbol of everything that was wrong with America. At times, Trump and Sanders would act as the right and left speakers of a stereo blaring a chorus on repeat: Hillary’s a corrupt insider who has helped rig the political and economic systems in favour of the powerful.”

-The Authors

There is very little I can say about Shattered that has not been said already (and then repeated, time and time again.) You would get the high points just by digging through a multitude of online book reviews. But I digress …

The book purports to be a detailed study of Hillary Clinton’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to become President in 2016, although – as most of the sources are unnamed – it is difficult to know how seriously to take it. (Hillary’s supporters have denied many of the suggestions regarding infighting within the campaign.)

Ironically, the book actually goes easier on Hillary (and Huma) than you might expect. It does make the droll observation that everything changed, between 2008 and 2016, apart from the candidate herself – and that was the problem – but otherwise it is relatively gentle in many parts. While it pulls no punches about the email issue, it does highlight the simple fact that Hillary never really acknowledged just how serious a problem it was – and while she was never charged with anything, the affair exposed her repeated lies to the press and the public.

Hillary’s core problem, it seems, was that her campaign staff were often hilariously out of touch with modern America. Their data-driven campaign didn’t seem to take into account the simple possibility that the data itself might be flawed, or that ‘ground truth’ was often different from the models. Hillary, therefore, was blindsided by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – she never anticipated having to actually fight for the nomination. Indeed, the Clintons tried hard to clear house in Washington between 2009 and 2015, pushing other potential candidates out of consideration. This had the ironic side effect of clearing the way for Sanders, as he was the only Democrat (for a given value of Democrat) who put forward a serious challenge.

Beyond that, Hillary never appointed anyone with significant decision-making power – she preferred to keep her supporters divided. Worse, she valued loyalty over competence – and refused to allow anyone to speak truth to power. This ensured that the campaign lurched from side to side, providing moments of unintentional humour – one media interview that should have been a doddle turned into a nightmare because there was a misunderstanding about who should give the interview – and nightmarish errors of judgment. Hillary simply never came across as likable, nor did she show calculated ruthlessness when necessary. Although the book doesn’t discuss the problems at the DNC – and the charges that Hillary’s supporters rigged the nomination – it does highlight Hillary’s failings in not washing her hands of certain people as quickly as possible.

In the end, the core lesson of Shattered is that many of the problems were with Hillary herself. Her history was too great an issue to surmount. Giving speeches for money – speeches that never became public – weighed her down, as did the email server issue. She simply couldn’t connect with the common person – the ‘deplorables’. And she was never able to escape the shadow of Bill, Chelsea and Huma.

Worse, Hillary was never able to put forward a coherent rationale for her campaign – why was she even running for President? ‘I’m with Her’ could easily – and did – turn into ‘it’s all about ME.’ For all its flaws, ‘Make America Great Again’ is far more inspiring. Even that turned against Hillary. Arguing that ‘America is already great’ fell in deaf ears in places that that were demonstrably suffering economic hardship.

Indeed, Hillary may well have run into the growing cancer within the Democratic Party – factionalism. The Democrats, as I see them, are a set of constituencies, each of which has its own demands. Balancing those demands is not easy. Hillary simply lacked the ability to do it. Among other things, she needed to paint herself as both Obama’s successor and her own woman. Trying to plug either one too far would make the other impossible.

It is difficult to know just how seriously to take Shattered. The lack of genuine sources makes it hard to know who is speaking – among other things, the authors could not have any access to Hillary’s private thoughts. And the people speaking to the authors were doing so in hindsight, after losing the election. But if most of the book is true, one may ask – quite reasonably – how Hillary came so close to winning? She certainly thought she held all the cards. But pride normally does go before a fall.

Overall, the book is worth a read. But – like all such books – it has to be taken carefully.

(On a different note, my copy – and every copy I saw in various shops – looked as though it had been hacked out with a buzz saw. This seems to be a common problem these days.)

Snippet – The Longest Day (Ark X)

5 Jun

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles

Prologue

Tadpole Prime

No human had ever visited the Heart of the Song. No human ever would.

The Tadpoles – as their human opponents had termed them – didn’t really believe in cities. It wasn’t necessary, under the waters, to live in a compound, let alone sacrifice some of their freedoms to convenience. Even the giant factories they’d built, first on the surface and then in orbit around Tadpole Prime, felt profoundly unnatural to them. Something was lost, they thought, even as their race advanced into space. Ideas – the currency of their society – were slowly giving way to a bland uniformity that was as unnatural as the cities themselves.

It was something that disturbed them, although they would never have admitted it. Their whole society was based on freedom of movement and association. The disparate factions lived or died, stood alone or amalgamated, based on their ability to attract new voices and adapt to new circumstances. Being trapped in an echo chamber, where no new ideas could germinate and grow, was their racial nightmare. And yet, as they clawed their way into space, it seemed to be on the verge of coming true. They knew it …

… And yet, they didn’t know how to deal with it.

The Heart of the Song was the closest thing their race had to a genuine capital city, hundreds of metres below the waves. It was holy ground, sacred to a race that had never really developed anything resembling a religion. A human would have wondered at the lack of opulence, but the Tadpoles cared little for grandeur. All that mattered was that the area possessed excellent acoustics. All the factions could send representatives, if they wished, and be heard. And then a consensus would be reached.

Hundreds of thousands of Tadpoles floated in the water, adding their voices to the song as it rose and fell. Millions of seedlings rushed through the liquid, unnoticed by their older brethren. The Tadpoles knew – and accepted – that most of those seedlings would never grow to maturity, never claim the intelligence that was their birthright. It was the way of things, as unquestioned as the laws of physics themselves. Children only had value when they reached an age to join their voices to the song.

The war had not gone as planned, the Tadpoles acknowledged. It was … frustrating. They’d spent a great deal of time studying their enemy, since First Contact, yet they clearly hadn’t learnt everything they needed to know. The song – the consensus – admitted those points, then moved on. There would be time for recriminations and improvements later, after the war. Their enemies had proven themselves adaptive, alarmingly adaptive. It was not a pleasant thought.

The original plan has failed, the voices urged. Let us take the offensive directly to their homeworld.

The song echoed backwards and forwards for hours. There were advantages to taking the offensive, but there were also disadvantages. And yet, did they dare wait? They’d determined that they shared a region of space with an aggressive, ever-expanding race. Much of the material they’d captured had been incomprehensible – and their alien prisoners very alien – but it was clear that humanity had practically exploded into space. It was sheer luck, the song acknowledged, that they’d encountered humanity when the Tadpoles held a tech advantage. A decade or two later and it might well have been the other way round.

They are already learning to adapt our technology to serve themselves, the voices insisted, grimly. Time is not on our side.

Then we should speak to them, other voices injected. Try to convince them to share the universe with us.

The song wavered for a long moment. Not all of the factions had been keen on war. Wars were risky, they’d insisted. There was no way to know if humanity would fight like the Tadpoles of old or something different, something not bound by the song. But human history seemed to be one continuous liturgy of war. The Tadpoles didn’t understand the reason humans had put so much energy into warring amongst themselves – the captured files were readable, yet incomprehensible – but they were frightened. It was impossible to avoid the belief that the galaxy, the utterly immense galaxy, might not be big enough for both races, even though they could have shared a hundred worlds without problems.

They are inventive, the war factions said. Let us dictate terms to them after we have won the war and removed all danger to ourselves.

They are too dangerous to exist, another faction added. We must destroy them before they destroy us.

The song hissed with indignation. Humans were an intelligent race, the only other intelligent race known to exist. They did not deserve to be exterminated. And yet, the risk of leaving them alive had to be admitted. The Tadpoles were creative, but far – far – less innovative than their opponents. It was all too easy to believe that the humans might come up with something that would tip the scales decisively against them. And then … human history was full of examples of what winners did to losers. If they were prepared to crush people who were their biological equals, the Tadpoles asked, what would they do to aliens?

Let us win the war, the song said. We can worry about the aftermath afterwards.

New ideas flooded through the gathering. An offensive, targeted directly on the human homeworld. It might not succeed in occupying the system – the Tadpoles admitted that the system was heavily defended, even if the human factions didn’t work very well together – but it would devastate the human industrial base. Follow-up raids could target their remaining colony worlds, crippling their space navies for lack of spare parts and maintenance. And then the war would be over, bar the shouting.

And then we can dictate peace terms, the factions said.

It would be risky, the song agreed. But there was always an element of risk in war. They’d thought they’d prepared for everything, but the humans had surprised them. Losing so many carriers to a single ancient ship – a ship so old it had never registered with them as a potential threat – was galling. It was also a grim reminder that, for all of their technological prowess, they could still lose the war. The song was unanimous. They had to win. They didn’t dare lose.

And if the offensive fails? A lone faction asked. What then?

It will not fail, the war factions sang. The fleet will be strong enough to retreat, if necessary.

The lone faction was unimpressed. And what if you’re wrong?

Then we will deal with it, the song insisted. The decision had been made. A thrill of anticipation ran though the gathering. Until then … we must win this war.

Chapter One

RFS Brezhnev, Deep Space

Captain Svetlana Zadornov slept with a gun under her pillow and a knife hidden by the side of her bunk.

It was, she felt, a reasonable precaution. Mother Russia expected her womenfolk to be mothers, not starship officers and commanders. There were only a handful of women in the Russian Space Navy and almost all of them had been harassed – or worse – during their careers, even though they’d all been officers. Svetlana’s uncle, Sasha Zadornov, was a high-ranking member of the Politburo and even his name wasn’t enough to deter the troglodytes who resented a woman intruding into what they saw as a purely male sphere. It was sad, but true – she’d discovered as her career progressed – that her skills in starship command and maintenance were less impressive than the ability to injure or kill someone who thought a mere woman couldn’t possibly offer any resistance to him. Knifing two officers and one rating had done more for her reputation than winning a coveted gunnery award.

And then they sent me to Brezhnev anyway, she thought, coldly. Her lips quirked into a nasty smile as she lay in her bunk, half-asleep. And didn’t that come back to haunt them?

It wasn’t a pleasant thought. Everyone conceded – officially, at least – that Svetlana was qualified to command one of the Rodina’s starships. But there had been no question of giving her a carrier command, let alone one of the modern destroyers or survey ships. She was a woman, after all. They’d given her Brezhnev, a destroyer so old that she’d only been refitted with artificial gravity two years ago. Giving the ship to anyone would have been a calculated insult, but giving Brezhnev to her … it galled her, sometimes. She knew her scores were higher than half of her classmates at the academy.

But if I’d been on one of the modern ships, she reminded herself, I might have died at New Russia.

Her intercom pinged. “Captain?”

Svetlana snapped into full wakefulness. One hand gripped her pistol, automatically. It wasn’t likely that the message presaged an assassination attempt – or worse – but she hadn’t survived so long without taking a few basic precautions. “Commander Ignatyev?”

“Please can you come to the bridge, Captain,” Commander Misha Ignatyev said. “Long-range sensors have detected something you need to see.”

“Understood,” Svetlana said. Ignatyev was nearly thirty years her senior and bitterly resentful at having been passed over for command, again. He wouldn’t call her to the bridge unless he had a very good reason. “I’m on my way.”

She swung her legs over the side of the bunk and stood, feeling the gravity field wobbling around her. Brezhnev hadn’t been designed for artificial gravity and it showed. Her cabin, so tiny she could barely swing a cat, looked oddly slanted to her eyes. Half the lockers were embedded in the bulkhead, high enough to make retrieving anything on the top shelves very difficult. But the design would have made perfect sense, she knew, if the ship hadn’t had a gravity field of its own. There were times when she seriously considered turning the gravity generator off and keeping the crew in zero-g.

Which wouldn’t please the engineers, she thought. The engineering crew weren’t much better than the rest of her crew, although they’d fallen in line after she’d proved she knew what she was talking about. She pitied the poor butterflies who concentrated on acing the political reliability courses at the academy rather than learning how starships actually worked. A hint of technobabble and they’d be drowning helplessly, unable to make a decision. And the engineers would take ruthless advantage of them.

She reached for her jacket and pulled it on, then inspected herself in the mirror. Her blonde hair was cut short, a mannish hairstyle that gave some of her aunts fits of the vapours every time they looked at her. They twittered endlessly about how poor Svetlana would never get a man, let alone fulfil her duties to Mother Russia. She pursued her lips in annoyance, silently cursing the old biddies under her breath. They knew she was sterile, damn them. Children were simply not a possibility.

And it isn’t as if we are still facing a demographic crisis, she thought, as she strapped her pistol into place. We don’t need every woman turning out four kids before she turns thirty.

She glared at her own reflection. Her face wasn’t as sharp as she would have liked, but she was mannish enough not to seem automatically female in male eyes. Most men, she’d come to realise, looked past hints of femininity as long as the woman in question behaved like a man. Sharing crude jokes and defending her territory – with a gun, a knife or her bare hands – wasn’t pleasant, but it was the only way to get respect. And while she doubted she would ever see a carrier command, she knew she’d done well. That was all that mattered.

Opening the hatch, she stepped into the command corridor and walked down to the bridge. A pair of armed spacers stood guard – no naval infantry on Brezhnev – and saluted her as the hatch hissed open. Svetlana made no response. Instead, she stepped through the hatch and onto the cramped bridge. It felt uncomfortably warm. The temperature regulators were probably on the fritz, again.

“Captain,” Ignatyev said. He was a short, dumpy man with a white beard, easily old enough to be her father. His competence was unquestioned, but he lacked the connections to rise any higher. “Long-range sensors picked up hints of turbulence in the distance.”

Svetlana sucked in her breath, sharply. The Earth Defence Organisation had been holding an exercise designed to get the various national navies used to working together, but – as far as she knew – none of the planned operations were taking place anywhere near Brezhnev’s patrol route. Her ship hadn’t been invited to take part, of course. The Russian Navy considered the ninety-year-old destroyer an embarrassment, even though she was a near-contemporary to the British Ark Royal and she’d been kept in active service all that time. But most of her systems were still outdated …

Her armour isn’t outdated, Svetlana thought, coldly. Brezhnev and her sisters had been designed for a very different environment. And that might give us a fighting chance.

There were no holographic projectors on Brezhnev, of course. She bent over the tactical officer’s console, examining the very vague readings. They were faint, faint enough to make her wonder if they were seeing things. Space wasn’t quite as dark and silent as civilians believed and her sensors were old enough, despite the refit, to pick up on something that wasn’t actually there. But she had heard about the alien tramlines. The mysterious contact – if it was a contact – was on a vector that suggested it might have come from the closest tramline …

“Keep us in stealth,” she ordered. “Helm, inch us towards the contact.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman said.

Svetlana glanced at Ignatyev. “Send a FLASH message to Putin Station and Pournelle Base,” she ordered. “Inform them that we have detected a contact and are moving out of position to attempt to pin it down. Attach a full copy of our sensor log too.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ignatyev said. He lowered his voice. “The Kremlin may not be pleased if we abandon our patrol route. Or if we alert Pournelle Base.”

“We have standing orders to investigate all sensor contacts,” Svetlana reminded him, fighting down a flicker of annoyance. She didn’t mind having a lively debate with her XO, but not where her crew could hear. “And the Kremlin ordered us to copy all alerts to Pournelle Base.”

She sat down in her command chair and strapped herself in, then keyed her console to bring up the latest set of standing orders. Ignatyev might well have a point. The Kremlin might be unhappy if Pournelle Base was alerted ahead of time, even though she had standing orders to do just that. But she also understood the reasoning behind the standing orders. The human race was at war and, like it or not, the defence of the solar system and Earth herself was being coordinated through Pournelle Base. They had to be informed of any prospective threat to humanity’s homeworld.

A low rumble ran through her ship as the drives picked up speed. Svetlana glanced at the readouts, hoping and praying that the sensors hadn’t decided to start seeing things. She had enemies back home – her family had enemies. Moving out of position to investigate a sensor contact that turned out to be nothing more than a random energy flicker could be made to look bad, if the wrong people got hold of her sensor logs. And, in the constant battle for patronage that defined modern Russia, it was a given that they would get hold of it.

We don’t need an external enemy, she thought, sourly. We’re perfectly capable of fucking things up for ourselves.

But we do have an external enemy, her thoughts reminded her. And so does the rest of the human race.

She sighed, inwardly. Eighteen months ago, alien forces had attacked Vera Cruz and a handful of other colonies along the rim of explored space. Aliens! Svetlana hadn’t believed it at first, not until her uncle had confirmed it. The entire human race was under threat! She’d been concerned, when it finally sank in, but everyone had believed that the space navies could handle the threat. The Multinational Force assembled to cover New Russia, the largest and most powerful formation assembled by the human race, was invincible. Twelve fleet carriers and over fifty smaller ships, as well as New Russia’s formidable defences. The aliens should have hit the defence and bounced …

Instead, they’d blown it to hell. Svetlana still couldn’t believe it, even though nearly a year had passed since the battle. The aliens hadn’t just beaten the fleet, they’d destroyed it. Sixty ships, including twelve fleet carriers, wiped out in less than an hour. The panic had been overwhelming, when the news had finally sunk in. If the British hadn’t had a single ancient carrier that had been able to stand up to the alien weapons, the war might already be over and humanity would have lost. Svetlana had no idea what the Tadpoles – as the British had termed the aliens – had in mind for a defeated humanity, but she doubted it would be particularly pleasant. Human history showed everything from enslavement to outright extermination.

And we have armour too, she thought, glancing at her status board. Half the icons were dark … she hoped that meant the computer nodes were having problems, again. She was fairly sure they were. Brezhnev was tough, but she’d be in real trouble if she’d lost all of those systems. We might be able to take one or two blows from the aliens before they finish us.

“Captain,” the tactical officer said. “The turbulence is getting stronger.”

“Slow to full stop,” Svetlana ordered. It was an old rule of thumb. Anyone she was close enough to see was close enough to see her too. “Passive sensors?”

“Picking up flickers of power distortion,” the tactical officer reported. He looked up, his pale face suddenly paler. “Captain, power distribution is very similar to the alien masking field reported at New Russia.”

“Then we’re too close,” Ignatyev said.

“Perhaps,” Svetlana agreed. She studied the readouts for a long moment. There was definitely something out there. Something big. If she’d had a proper tactical expert … she buried the thought with all the other resentments. The Navy had sent its finest people to take part in the defence of New Russia, where most of them had died. “Tactical, keep probing for insight.”

“Aye, Captain,” the tactical officer said.

Svetlana leaned forward. Ignatyev was right. They were already far too close to the unknowns for anyone’s peace of mind, let alone hers. But they did have some advantages, ones she wouldn’t dismiss in a hurry. The unknowns couldn’t risk using their active sensors without risking detection – the solar system was seeded with listening stations and scansats – and Brezhnev was radiating almost nothing. It was unlikely, highly unlikely, that the aliens would get a sniff of her presence, unless they had some piece of tech that the human race had never heard of.

And that isn’t entirely impossible, she reminded herself. She’d seen too many images of plasma bolts tearing through carriers as though they were made of paper. If they can see through their own stealth fields, we may be in some trouble.

“Contact,” the tactical officer hissed. His display filled with red icons. “Captain, I have thirteen – perhaps fifteen – carriers and over a hundred smaller ships.”

Svetlana felt her heart sink as she studied the readings. The carriers were all too familiar now, their elegant lines a silent mockery of crude human ships. She’d seen too many images of the alien ships, too, to mistake them for anything else. There were no deployed starfighters, as far as her sensors could tell, but it hardly mattered. The aliens had arrived in force. And if they couldn’t be stopped, Earth would fall.

She kept her voice steady with an effort. “Launch two probes on ballistic trajectories,” she ordered. “I want them to pass through the middle of the enemy formation.”

“Aye, Captain,” the tactical officer said.

Svetlana looked at Ignatyev. “Do a course projection,” she ordered. She suspected she already knew the answer, but she needed to check. “Where are they going? And when will they arrive?”

Ignatyev bent over his console. “Earth, Captain. They’ll be there in less than five hours unless they reduce speed.”

Shit, Svetlana thought.

She’d assumed as much. Earth was still the centre of the human sphere, still home to seventy percent of the entire human race. The industrial nodes orbiting the planet couldn’t be replaced in a hurry, even if the remaining colonies pooled their resources without the normal human bickering. God knew that New Russia had already been lost to the enemy. And who knew what was happening there? Svetlana knew better than to believe everything she heard on the datanet – the Russian media parroted the government’s line, unlike its western counterparts – but some of the horror stories might have some basis in fact. The Tadpoles might be enslaving the entire population.

“Send another FLASH signal,” she ordered, curtly. There was a risk of detection, but it had to be borne. Earth had to know what was heading its way. “Scatter the message – I want a copy sent to every naval base in the system. Inform them of our contact, then attach full copies of our sensor records.”

“Aye, Captain.” Ignatyev didn’t argue. That, if nothing else, indicated just how serious matters had become. “Signal sent.”

“They’re ignoring us,” the tactical officer said. The alien ships were flowing past Brezhnev, seemingly unaware of her presence. “They didn’t even pick up the drones!”

“It looks that way,” Svetlana agreed, dryly. It was good news, she supposed. The drones were sending a constant feed of information back to their mothership, telling her things she hadn’t wanted to know about the enemy fleet. Earth would have some warning of the oncoming storm. “When they pass us, bring the ship about. I want to shadow them all the way to Earth.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman said.

Ignatyev shot her a questioning look. Svetlana ignored it. She didn’t have time to explain her reasoning, not now. The alien ships were still too far from Earth to be tracked by the orbital defences, let alone the starships that made up the combined Home Fleet. Brezhnev had to stay close to them, whatever the risk. If the fleet split up under stealth, Earth wouldn’t have the slightest idea that anything had happened until it was too late. Humanity’s homeworld was a pretty big target, but it wasn’t the only one.

Long-range kinetic strikes on the Jupiter Cloudscoops or the asteroid mining colonies will do a great deal of damage, she thought. Maybe not enough to cripple us, but enough to make it harder for us to recover.

“Launch a relay drone,” she added. “Once it’s in place, establish a relay laser link. I don’t want them getting a sniff of us.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ignatyev said.

Svetlana’s lips twitched. If the aliens detected Brezhnev, the ship would be blown away before her crew had a chance to take any sort of evasive action. She didn’t dare make any radio transmissions when the signals would be passing through the alien formation. That would be pushing her luck too far.

Another shiver ran through the ship. “We’re moving into position, Captain,” the helmsman reported.

“Laser link established,” Ignatyev added. “Captain, the time delay …”

“I know,” Svetlana said, sharply. It would be at least an hour before her alert reached Pournelle Base. Earth’s defenders wouldn’t have that long to prepare to defend the planet against the oncoming storm. “It can’t be helped.”

She shivered, a cold sensation running down her spine. To her, it was a tactical problem; to Earth, it was life or death. Mother Russia was about to face its most severe threat since Hitler’s invasion or the Central Asian Wars. And so was the rest of the planet. Humanity’s homeworld was about to be attacked.

And they don’t even know the enemy is on the way, she thought. Her messages were speeding towards Earth, but they wouldn’t have reached their destination. There would be people sleeping on Earth, or going to work or school or whatever they did all day … utterly unaware of the nightmare bearing down on them. They don’t have the slightest idea what’s coming.

Her blood grew colder. They’d know soon, she told herself. The entire planet is about to go to war.

Yet More Updates

2 Jun

Hi, everyone

Good news first – I’ve completed the first draft of Becalmed, which is – technically – an Angel in the Whirlwind spin-off. The events in this book will have some effect on the second arc, which is hopefully going to start sometime later in the year (depends on sales and stuff), but I wrote it to be as stand-alone as possible. It’s really an attempt to blend space opera with eldritch horror, rather than a straight-up MIL-SF story.

In addition, I’ve also completed a set of edits for The Invasion of 1950, which was an eye-opener in many ways. My writing has come along considerably since I wrote the first draft of that book. The new version is uploading to kindle now, so if you try to update it in a couple of days you should get the newer text. (I’m going to ask Amazon to push out the updates, as they are considerable, but they may refuse.)

FINAL Longest Day_flare_missiles Invasion of 1950 final cover

The next project, which I will start in a few days, is The Longest Day, the first of two planned stand-alone novels set in the Ark Royal universe. After that …

I’m torn. Part of me wants to do SIM 13, but it’s only been two-three months since I wrote Fists of Justice (which is selling well, BTW) and I need more time to consider where next to take Emily and her friends. The other part of me wants to do Cat’s Paw, which is Book I of The Unwritten Words, the Bookworm successor series. I’ve also been messing around with a semi-historical novel – I’m not sure if it will be historical, alternate history or straight-up fantasy – called The Unkindest Cut. I might be able to fit that into Bookworm instead – there’s certainly room for it after the chaos of Full Circle – but that will limit what else I can do with the story.

That said, it would be interesting to have both Cat’s Paw and The Unkindest Cut and then have them collide later on.

I’ve also been messing around with a spin-off set in either Schooled in Magic or The Zero Blessing – probably the latter, but I don’t know yet. The provisional title is The Alchemist’s Apprentice, although she will be more of a servant than a genuine apprentice.

(That said, I have also finalised the plot for The Zero Curse, which I will probably write in August. Snippet here.)

In other news, we’re currently in Malaysia <grin>

Chris

Out Now–Desperate Fire (Angel in the Whirlwind IV)

31 May

As the Commonwealth produces more starships and increases recruits, victory begins to slip from Theocratic control. This can only make the Theocracy more desperate to win…and more dangerous to fight.

After a mission to liberate an occupied planet ends in nuclear devastation, Kat Falcone—now a commodore in command of HMS Queen Elizabeth—sees firsthand just how far the enemy will go. Suddenly dealing with the war effort and a humanitarian crisis, many in the Commonwealth want a truce. Kat wants something else: to crush the Theocracy outright—and quickly.

Kat devises Operation Hammer, an all-out assault on the enemy home planet, Ahura Mazda. It is a bold and risky plan, but the enemy has revealed there can be no middle ground. Can Kat break the galactic stalemate and deal a deathblow to the Theocracy? As two empires prepare to fight the largest space battle in history, Kat must trust her instincts to save her people and avoid oblivion.

Download a Free Sample, then purchase it from the links here: US, UK, CAN, AUS

Reflections on Terror

31 May

We all knew Manchester was coming.

Of course we did. We knew our enemies. We knew how they like to spread terror. We knew just how far they are prepared to go to weaken and eventually destroy our civilisation. We knew that, sooner or later, there would be (another) major terrorist attack on British streets. We didn’t know the precise details, of course, but we knew it was coming. The cold-blooded murder of a number of innocent civilians – mostly teenage girls – was predictable.

Terrorists want us to be afraid. They want us to believe that anywhere could be a target, that the next man behaving oddly or woman in a full-body veil is on the verge of blowing him/herself up and taking countless innocents with him. Fear paralyses. Fear causes us to doubt ourselves. Fear … makes it impossible to think rationally and confront an overwhelming threat. And what is more fearsome than random destruction and death?

It is fear that will destroy us. From a purely materialistic point of view, the combined firepower of every terrorist group in the world is no match for a single Western power. As painful as every terrorist attack from 9/11 to Manchester were, they were nothing more than pinpricks. But they do not feel like pinpricks. Barring terrorists somehow getting their hands on nuclear or biological weapons – and we know they have been trying to do just that – their ability to hurt us is limited. It is fear that convinces us that that is not true.

Terrorists and schoolyard bullies have two things in common. First, they are often very good – instinctively good – at exploiting weaknesses to secure their position. The average classroom bully may not actually bully many children, but he or she will know how to use what bullying he does do to ensure that the other children will defer to him. It may not be nice to watch as a bully bullies, but it’s better than being bullied yourself.

Second, they are often very good at convincing people to make excuses for them. The bully had a troubled upbringing, the bully was abused or bullied himself, the bully is too scared to relax … bullies are masters at exploiting such excuses to prevent people in authority from taking action against them. Indeed, it is often easier, in this day and age – when teachers have little true authority to punish a bully – to blame the victim for being victimised. Witness the string of excuses made for terrorists ever since 9/11. If terrorists can present themselves as being justified, with plenty of useful idiots ready to agree that the terrorist is ‘punching up,’ or was somehow provoked, and other such stupidities, they can weaken our resolve to fight back.

Bullies do not need to be beaten into bloody pulps to force them to think twice about their actions. What they do need is to have it made clear to them, very clear, that such behaviour will not be tolerated and, more importantly, that their victims will be protected. One does not have to break a bully’s leg to show the sort of firmness that a bully needs to see. Terrorists, too, need to have it made clear to them that terrorism will get them nothing, but unmarked graveyards and eternal humiliation. But this is not easy. It is far easier for those in authority to put their fingers in their ears, pay the danegeld and pretend it doesn’t matter.

Our current situation is the result of major political misjudgements stretching all the way back to 1945. It is time to take a good hard look at the problem facing us and move to confront it before it is too late. We cannot co-exist with terrorists.

Back in 2001, I stated that – unless something was to change – there were only two possible outcomes to the conflict.

First, the election of hard right-wing governments when centre-right and left-wing governments proved unable to cope. These governments would destroy civil liberties in the name of protecting us from terror and, after the terrorist threat was destroyed, continue to seek out new threats to justify their existence. At best, we’d be looking at something akin to Franco’s Spain; at worst, Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia.

Second, the extremists would win. This would be worse.

The core problem with groups like AQ, ISIS and even the Taliban is that they have no true sense of governance. Put bluntly, they don’t know when to stop. Nor do they accept defeat, even a defeat mandated by their own rules. They – like every other extremist group throughout history – will keep reinventing the revolution as long as they can, seeking out new enemies to keep their populations from wondering if it is time to lighten up a little. Such groups practice ethnic cleansing, slaughtering everyone who doesn’t share their faith in every detail, mass population control (such as turning women into chattel) and constant brutality to keep the population in line. This would be utterly disastrous for everyone, up to and including the useful idiots. At best, Iran or Saudi Arabia; at worst, Afghanistan, Rwanda or Somalia.

Right now, far too many of our politicians believe they can sit on the fence and maintain the balance. They believe they don’t have to make the hard choices. But this has undermined both their position and faith in democracy – if the population believes the elites no longer represent them (a growing trend) why should they vote for them? Why not vote for the parties who promise to deal with a very real threat? Those who gloated about Geert Wilders losing the election on March 15 should, perhaps, be a little more concerned about the vast numbers who voted for him. And, perhaps, just how their attempts to squash Wilders look to voters who no longer feel that their leaders are looking out for them.

Our goal must be to defeat our enemies and uphold civilisation, without undermining the fabric of our civilisation. This will not be easy. But it must be done. The alternative is worse.

The Zero Curse–Snippet

22 May

I’m not sure if this is the prologue I’ll use, but I had the scene buzzing through my head.

Prologue

It was a hot summer day when I realised – for the first time – just how vulnerable I truly was.

I was ten at the time and, despite everything, I hadn’t given up hope that I might have a spark of magic. It wasn’t uncommon for magicians not to show much – if any – spark and tar before turning twelve, when they would be schooled in magic. Or so my parents kept telling me, as they tried to teach me more and more arcane disciplines in the hopes of shaking something loose. My sisters were streaking ahead and I …

… I hadn’t even managed to cast a single spell.

It was a hot month, the hottest on record. My sisters and I would have loved to spend it in the swimming pool or paddling near the beach. Our friends – Alana and Bella’s friends, more accurately – had already decamped, leaving Shallot for their country estates where it would be cooler. We wanted to go with them too, but we hadn’t been allowed to leave. Great Aunt Stregheria had come to stay.

I still find it hard to believe that Great Aunt Stregheria was my father’s aunt. She was a tall dark woman, the tallest I’ve ever seen, her hair hanging down in a long braid that signified she was an unmarried woman. It was easy to understand why. I couldn’t help thinking that she looked rather like a vulture, with an angular face and dark eyes that seemed to glitter with malice as she peered down at us from her lofty height. She was one of those unpleasant adults who firmly believed that children should neither be seen nor heard and she hadn’t been shy about making her opinions known. She’d been scathing about my failings in magic. And she’d drilled my sisters in basic manners until even Alana was sick of her.

I didn’t know why she bothered to visit us. I still don’t. She complained about everything, from the food to the heat. We were in trouble if we didn’t curtsey just right when she saw us and when we deliberately stayed out of her way. She expected us to wear our formal clothes at all times, even though it was far too hot; she expected to wait on her at table, as if we were common maids. She’d get up late, have a long breakfast and then spend an hour or two with Dad before … well, we didn’t know what she was doing. We didn’t really care either. We just wanted her gone.

One day, the hottest day of the summer, we managed to slip away early. Mum didn’t say anything to us, let alone drag us back into the house. By then, I think she was sick and tired of Great Aunt Stregheria making itself at home. She had a home of her own. I rather thought it was a cave somewhere high up the mountainside, but I doubted it. Why couldn’t she go back home and stop bothering us? Great Aunt Stregheria was the sort of person who gave magic-users a bad name.

There was a little marshy pond down by the grove, one we’d paddled in when we were younger. We thought it was just far enough from the house – while still being part of the grounds – to escape detection, at least for a while. Dad hadn’t given Great Aunt Stregheria any access to the wards, we thought. She’d have been summoning us all the time if she’d had control. We took off our expensive shoes and splashed through the water, enjoying the cool liquid against our feet. For once, even Alana was too relieved to be away from the witch to indulge in a little malice. We were, just for an hour or two, a normal trio of sisters.

It didn’t last, of course.

Great Aunt Stregheria came striding through the grove in high dungeon, her face twisted with rage. I don’t think she was mad at us, specifically, but she was mad. We froze, fear holding us in place as solidly as any spell, as she stamped towards us. I had no idea where she’d been, or what she’d been doing, but …

“You little brats,” she snapped. In hindsight, I suspect she wanted to take her anger out on someone. “Get out of there!”

Normally, we would have obeyed instantly. But we were hot and sweaty and very – very – tired of her. We didn’t move.

Great Aunt Stregheria lifted her hand and cast a spell. I saw a flash of brilliant greenish light, an instant before the spell stuck me – struck us. Alana screamed – I might have screamed too, I’m not sure – as magic flared around her. My skin tingled unpleasantly, as if I was caught in a thunderstorm. I had an instant to see my black hand turning green and warty before the world shrunk. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut as I splashed into the water, then jerked them open as my legs started to move automatically. The tiny pool – so shallow that it barely reached our knees – was suddenly huge.

I broke the water, just in time to see Alana and Bella become frogs. My head swam as I grappled with the sudden change. It wasn’t the first time I’d been transfigured, but … but … this was far worse. There were no safeties worked into the spell. I could feel the frog’s mind gnawing away at mine, threading to erode my thoughts. The water was practically hypnotic, pulling at me. If I hadn’t been panicking, if I hadn’t managed to hop out of the water, I might have been lost.

The spell on me wore off in an hour, although it wasn’t until two years later that I understood why. By then, Dad had literally thrown Great Aunt Stregheria out of the hall and ordered her never to return. The spell on my sisters lasted nearly a week before it finally collapsed. Dad was delighted, utterly over the moon. He insisted I had a definite magical talent. I had to have something, he reasoned, to escape such a complex spell. Our parents had been unable to unravel it for themselves.

I knew better. Alana and Bella had been trapped, but neither of them had been in any danger of losing themselves in an animal’s mind. Their magic had even fought the spell when it was first cast. But I had no magic to defend myself. The protective spells Mum and Dad had given me had never been anchored properly because there was nothing for them to anchor too. It was sheer luck that I’d survived long enough for the spell to unravel. I was defenceless. Anyone could cast a spell on me.

It was a lesson I should never have forgotten.

I was a zero. And being powerless was my curse.

OUT NOW–Fists of Justice (Schooled In Magic XII)

22 May

The war is over. But the scars remain.

Emily’s New Learning has been good for Beneficence. A true golden age appears to be on hand. But all is not well. The city’s largest businessman may be on the verge of collapse and there are rumours that one of the Great Gods has returned. The streets are on edge.

And, as Emily returns to Beneficence, she finds herself dealing with the darker consequences of her innovations …

… And a deadly plot from the dark past that may lead the Nameless World to utter ruin.

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