Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book Signing

If you're in New Hampshire, mark your calendars. Two weeks from today, on Saturday, December 14th, I'll be at Mansfield's Books and More in Tilton, NH, signing copies of Resist the Devil from 2:00 to 4:00.

Friday, November 29, 2013


I've been using the writing software Yarny for over two years now, and I'm ready to tell you what I think of it.

What it is:

Yarny is a cloud-based program intended to help writers create their work. It can be used effectively for fiction or non-fiction, and for novel-length or shorter works. You can organize your text into chapters, or 'snippets', and keep reference information handy in tabs on the right-hand side of the screen. There's a color-coding feature, and Yarny keeps track of your wordcount automatically.

What I don't like:

  • If you don't have the internet, you can't work. This is my biggest complaint. I like to think about my stories when I'm driving and then write things down at the first opportunity. There's a reason I have an ultra-portable netbook computer with a car charger. Yarny's internet-only limitation is a serious drawback.
  • Formatting is almost nonexistent. There's no way to make text bold or italicized, you can't choose your font and you can't format your work for self-publication or submission. When you're satisfied with your content, you have to export it and then format it. I don't mind this limitation very much except for the lack of italics. Book titles and such are easy to miss when I'm going through the exported file afterwards. A work-around is to put a unique string of characters before every place where italics are needed, then use the 'find' function in the exported file.

    What I like:

    • Yarny saves your work automatically.
    • Yarny keeps track of your wordcount. You can easily see the wordcount for each snippet and the total wordcount for the entire project.
    • You can color-code the snippets. I like to use the colors to keep track of how far I've developed each chapter. Second-draft chapters are pink, for example.
    • You can store information or ideas in a separate section. This section is well-organized, reasonably versatile and does not affect the wordcount.
    • You can have several projects going in Yarny at the same time.
    • Because my work is saved to the cloud, I don't have to worry about losing it if my hard drive crashes. Of course, it's always wise to export on a regular basis, just in case - oh, please, no! - anything happens to Yarny.
    • It's free.

      All in all, I like Yarny a lot and use it heavily. If you have reliable internet access and don't mind typing into a separate file when you're offline and pasting it into Yarny later, you may find this software very useful.

      My original post about Yarny: Cat Protection Software

      Thursday, November 28, 2013


      I want to wish a very happy Thanksgiving to all who follow this tradition. I'm spending this day, my favorite holiday, with family as usual.

      Wednesday, November 27, 2013

      Cover Art Reveal: A Fallen Hero Rises

      From M Joseph Murphy:

      I'm excited to finally share with you the cover of my upcoming novel, A Fallen Hero Rises. It's been out to beta readers since September. I'm sending it off for a final proofread later this month with a scheduled publication date of late December, early January.

      I created the cover myself. The stock photos purchased come from Fotalia and Pixabay.

      Tadgh Dooley wakes up on the planet Maghe Sihre with no memory of how he got there. He’s wounded, near death, in the care of a monastic group called the Brotherhood of Tyche. But he has more than that to worry about. The way he came to Maghe Sihre created a crack in an interdimensional prison called the Void. And something fell out of the Void: a powerful artifact called The Sword of Kassandra.

      Tadgh is also more powerful than he suspects. He is fod sel-onde, born with the ability to warp the fabric of reality.  Every time he uses his ability, the Void cracks open further.  If it cracks too much, the prisoners will slip out.  The results could be catastrophic.

      Can Tadgh gain control over his power before it's too late? And what does the appearance of the Sword of Kassandra mean for the people of Maghe Sihre? 

      Monday, November 25, 2013

      Halloween Week Giveaway Winner

      Book blogger Amber of The Mile Long Bookshelf held a Halloween Week giveaway on, yup, the week of Halloween. I was very honored to have my book Resist the Devil chosen as one of the prizes. I'm afraid I was not very honorable in waiting three weeks to get around to sending it to the winner.

      So, apologies and congratulations go to Orli.

      And thanks go to Amber.

      Saturday, November 23, 2013

      Launch Day Set for The Sandfruit People

      The Sandfruit People will be available in both print and ebook editions beginning April 16th, 2014. If you're American, you can look forward to reading it after you've done your taxes.

      I'll post pre-order information as the date gets closer.

      Friday, November 22, 2013

      Tumbling After

      Luke Bellmason's NaNo-novel, day three:

      Among his other life-threatening injuries, LeVant had lost an arm and eye in the attack. The arm was quickly replaced. They had scanned his existing arm, mirrored the resulting 3D model and fabricated a bio-mechanincal replica within twelve hours. The operation to attach the new arm had taken barely more than two hours, but the eye would take longer.
      A Corp doctor, dressed in the light blue robes of the Corporation Medical Division, explained to Taylan that a replacement would have to be grown from live cells extracted from LeVant’s good eye. This would take at least two days, and she shouldn’t expect him to regain consciousness before then anyway.
      Taylan had stayed with LeVant in the ward aboard the Corporation’s Medical ship all night and all the next day. She felt sorry for the fact that there had been no one else who had visited him. Apart from a procession of corporate officials and medical staff, there had been no family of friends to come to see him.
      In the weeks since they’d arrived in system, she had not had much contact with Kerrin LeVant. He’d been so wrapped up in Corporation business. All the stuff he’d been preparing for over the last eight years on their voyage from Earth had come real. Taylan realised that the time on the ship on the way over here had been like a holiday compared to the work they’d both been thrown into since they’d arrived.
      She’d used the excuse of her own injuries to keep herself aboard the hospital ship, but they were not nearly as serious as the ones he’d suffered. He’d lost so much blood before the med team had been able to get to them and on the evac shuttle they’d struggled to stabilise him. It had been touch and go whether he’d make it. Now, he was over the worst, but he still had not woken up.
      Eventually Taylan herself fell asleep, though she fought it. She knew what horrors awaited her in her nightmares and didn’t want to have to experience it all again. She had considered asking for the drug the top corp executives used which kept them awake with no ill effects, removing the need for sleep completely and allowing them to work continuously without fatigue, but the medic had advised against it in her condition.
      She had been right to fear her nightmares. Each was a more intense rendering of the events of the previous day, but prolonged and unceasing. While the actual explosion and its aftermath had lasted less than half an hour before they’d been lifted out, in her dreams no help came. The explosion continued outward, through the crowd in front of her, splitting alien and human bodies open as she watched helplessly. It split her own body open and continued through the air into the sky and out into the orbit of the Earth fleet and the station. And when it was all over, she would wake up in the hospital chair and the explsion would start again, destroying LeVant as he lay in his medical bed, taking him apart slowly, atom by atom, in a never ending cycle of destruction.
      When she finally did wake up, she burst into tears only to discover that LeVant had woken up and was sitting bolt upright in front of her. He leant into her and put his new arm gently around her shoulders. It felt warm and soft, but it was unmistakably mechanical. Even more so when LeVant stretched around to put the other arm around her. She sobbed for several minutes while he comforted her, before realising that he was probably in some considerable discomfort himself.

      “I was supposed to be the one doing this,” she said. “I wanted to be here for you when you woke up,” she managed, through tears.

      “You are,” said LeVant, unsteadily. “It’s a welcome sight, let me tell you.”

      “Do you know what happened?” Taylan asked, suddenly recalling all the things she had rehearsed in the hours she’d waited.

      “Last thing I remember was sitting down, next to you,” he said. “Then waking up here about fifteen minutes ago.”

      “So you don’t know about the bomb?” He stared at her, open mouthed. Taylan worried that she’d said something wrong and that the shock was probably the last thing his body needed right now. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have told you right out like that…” LeVant shook his head,

      Taylan was scared to speak, frozen in time just like she was in her dreams. She watched LeVant go through the different reactions to this new information.

      “Is that why my arm hurts so much?” He said. Taylan couldn’t stand it any longer. She sprang from her seat and ran from the room, her legs barely able to carry her. She desperately looked around for somewhere to throw up and managed to make it to a sink in a room on the opposite side of the corridor. As the contents of her stomach drained slowly into the sink, she had the thought that she wasn’t supposed to be here.
      The thoughts started to come; she wasn’t trained to be talking LeVant in his current condition, she wasn’t supposed to be in his room, she probably wasn’t supposed to be on a Corporation ship without being on official ELIJA business. Then her panic spread wider; she was six light-years from her home planet, she’d nearly died and if she had been killed her parents wouldn’t even have found out about it for another six years. For all she knew, her parents might even be dead!
      She started hyperventilating and stood up from the sink, only to be hit by an intense dizzyness. Two medics were there in time to catch her as she went down into a faint.
      She had no idea for how long she was out, but the ward’s artificial lighting system had been set to night mode. She looked up from her bed to see LeVant sitting there beside her.

      “Hey, seemed only fair I should return the favour,” he said. She smiled back at him. It filled her with an enormous sense of relief to see him there. His strength, his familiarity. It was comforting.

      “Did they tell you?” she said. “Everything?” 
      He nodded and lifted up his artificial arm to show her.

      “This was what was bothering you?” Taylan gave him an apologetic sort of look.

      “It all seemed like too much to take in at the time.”
      LeVant picked up a stack of smart paper and showed it to her. “I’ve been catching up on events, I’ve got to get back to work pretty soon or I’ll never make the time back.”

      “You’re going back to work already?” Taylan said.

      “I have to, can’t afford to lie around here. The timetable won’t stop just for me. I’ll be in the next room if you need me.” Then he kissed her on the forehead and turned to leave.

      “Wait,” she said.

      “Please, just a minute longer.” She grabbed a hold of his hand and then couldn’t figure out if it was the real one or not.

      “Listen,” he knelt by the bed and leant in closer to her, “when we’re out of here and you’re feeling better I’ve got the most amazing surprise for you.” She looked into his one remaining eye. “I’m going to take you to meet someone, if you can keep a secret.”

      “What? Who?” She said, but he just laughed softly. Now, it felt silly to be acting like giddy school children, but the excitement on LeVant’s face made him seem like a nine-year-old at Christmas who knew what presents she was getting.

      “You’ll never believe it,” was all he said. Then he left.

      Thursday, November 21, 2013

      Discouragement in Writers

      The days are getting short and cold here in New Hampshire, and that's got me thinking about moods. I've known some people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Apparently people who suffer from this become depressed if they don't see enough sunlight. The treatment seems to be to get away from me - they move far away to some place I've never been, like Arizona, and feel much better.

      We writers, of course, tend to be very moody people. Not all of us have a disorder like SAD, but I think most of us have times when we get very discouraged for one reason or another. In a tough world economy, people tend to feel like art of any type is unimportant, and it's hard to take an objective look at your own work and know if it's any good or not. Add to that the fact that writing tends to be a rather solitary job, and compound it with the reality that most of us are at least a little bit reclusive, and you've got a fertile environment for discouragement.

      I'm not here to dole out some kind of cure, or try to make you feel guilty if you're discouraged. I have to admit that I don't even know whether your writing is any good or not. But if you're feeling discouraged, I can tell you I've been there. And I'll probably be there again, since moods tend to go in cycles.

      Right now I'm feeling energized and seeing nothing but possibilities. So since I seem to be the one standing on a rock at the moment, I'd like to offer a hand to anyone struggling in the mud. Another day it will be my turn to slog through the mud, and someone else's turn to reach out a hand to me.

      Here are some thoughts that have helped me when I've been discouraged:

      • All the great writers were once just ordinary people who wrote something without knowing if anyone was going to like it or not. Probably every single one of them got discouraged sometimes, and if they had quit, the world would be without so much great literature.
      • Easy writing is like airplane crashes. It happens so rarely that when it does, we remember it. The vast majority of flights are uneventful and the vast majority of writing takes work. It's extremely rewarding work, but it's sometimes hard. Because of that, I have a right to feel proud of what I've written. If it were easy, it would be like turning on a water faucet. The water may be delicious, but I can't take the credit.
      • Feelings and facts are two different things. They're both real, and they're both important. If I feel discouraged or lonely, or just don't feel anything at all, then that's my reality at the moment. But those feelings don't necessarily line up with any facts. If I feel discouraged, that doesn't mean my work isn't worth something. If I feel lonely, that doesn't mean I'm alone. And if I don't feel anything, that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of great stuff in my future.
      • I don't have to follow someone else's rules. One of the most wonderful things about creative writing is that each author's work is unique. That's because it's an expression of a unique individual, produced in a unique way. But when I see what works for another writer (wordcount quotas, for example), I'm tempted to feel like I'm not a 'real' writer unless I do it, too. Trying to fit into someone else's mold can be extremely discouraging. I think it's important to find what works for your own unique style and situation, and not worry about the rest.

      Wednesday, November 20, 2013

      The Company

      From Luke Bellmason:

      I’ve fallen way behind with my NaNo this year, so I’ve had to abandon the idea of writing the novel in the month of November. However, I think the story is interesting enough to continue with so I’m going to write the 30 parts I would have written and had roughly planned out. It might take until the end of December or beyond, but who’s counting?
      2 The Company
      The investigation into the bombing began almost immediately. As usual, each of the three sides of the Earth Expedition wanted their own people on the investigation and the local aliens had both a police investigation and a branch from the government. Despite the huge number of people on the job, or maybe because of it, none of them found anything. This was as expected.
      Warbur waited a discreet amount of time after Dita had left the scene, then followed him to the Capital city of Tho-Tewr-Turl. ‘Turl was a stark contrast to Tok-Cenb; an industrial hub with factories pumping out smog and manufacturing consumer goods in an early example of an emerging capitalist economy.
      The Vonbekians had managed to accomplish all this before the Earthers had arrived and the smog in the atmosphere had allowed astronomers to identify Vonbek as a planet that was not only inhabited, but also in the latter stages of an industrial revolution.
      Current estimates placed the most advanced sections of Vonbekian society somewhere around the middle of Earth’s 20th Century. Only later, before the first ships were ready, did the Earth astronmers detect the tell-tale traces of nuclear explosions in the Vonbekian atmosphere. It seemed that Earth history was being followed all too closely. This single fact had thereafter been used to justify every interference made by the Earth Expedition.
      The factory on the outskirts of ‘Turl was older than most of the others which had been built around it later. It’s original function had already been outmoded by various engineering advances and several attempts had been made by the owners over the years to update its machinery to keep up with current technology. To Warbur, every building in the whole district was as useless as the other, age made no difference. On the Corporation ships they had fabrication systems which could fit on a desk and manufacture anything.
      The owners of the block had been only too happy to rent it out to the newly formed company. ‘The Company’ was how Warbur and Dita referred to it too. It had a nice, anonymous ring to it. Their ‘front’ was the newly formed branch of xeno-linguistics. They ran a language teaching service and provided translations into English. They did not have many customers, but since they were being secretly bankrolled by the Earth Government, this didn’t really matter. The company had recruited many new teachers and linguists who were interested in this new field of study. Invariably these aliens were pro-Earth and among the most intelligent of their species; precisely the kind of people they wanted to recruit.
      Warbur drove the car along the newly constructed highway from the airport and turned off into the side road and finally into the factory car park. There were a couple of lights on at the top of the building and only one other vehicle in the parking space next to his.
      He found his way inside the factory through a low door and climbed the long shallow stairway up through seven or eight flights to the top floor. There, he saw the tiny offices from where the lights eminated and the single figure crouched over a desk.
      Dita was reading from a computer screen and Warbur could see clearly from the images and vid-clips that he was studying the Earth-Encyclopedia entry on ‘Terrorism’.

      “It’s all rather depressing, isn’t it?” Said Warbur as he entered. “Remember that everything you read about in there happened over centuries, seeing it all compressed down like that might give you the impression that humans aren’t the kind of people you would want visiting your planet.”

      “Hmmm,” said Dita, “seems like there’s plenty of Vonbekians who think that already.”

      “We aren’t proud of our past,” said Warbur, “but we always hoped you could learn from our mistakes. That was one of our reasons for coming here.”
      Dita closed the display down and pulled out some sheets of paper that had been lying on the desk beneath it.

      “Do we know any more about the attack?” He asked.

      “Not really, it was a bomb, planted some time before the presentation took place. No word on whether it was a trigger or a timer. There’s not much we can piece together.”

      “So what do we do now?” Said Dita, looking up at Warbur.

      “We figure out who planted it, and why.”
      Dita handed the papers to Warbur. There was a list of names, photos and details, all written in English.
      “These are all the people we know about who belong to the Separatist movement. You’ll remember I told you about them before, but until now they’ve been content to merely talk about getting rid of the Visitors from Earth and holding demonstrations.”

      “So something must have changed,” Warbur mused.

      “What were the motives for terrorist acts?” Asked Dita, “in Earth history, what did they hope to achieve?”
      Warbur sat and studied the names while he thought about Dita’s question.

      “Terrorists were usually people out of power, marginalised, who felt they were being ignored or persecuted. Minorities usually. Many governments saw them as criminals and refused to even talk to them.”

      “We refuse to negotiate with terrorists!” Dita quoted from the encyclopedia entry.

      “Despite that, these groups often achieved what they wanted; exposure in the media, and recognition from whoever they were targetting.”

      “But their methods?” Said Dita, “civilian targets, indiscriminate bombings.”

      “It made them almost impossible to stop, and the methods worked. That’s why they used them. They often achieved what they wanted, though sometimes only after years and at great cost. Would the people on this list fit that profile?”
      Dita went to a larger, older computer at the back of the office and turned it on.

      “We have a couple of agents in the Seperatist movement, we had them recruited last year at your suggestion.” Warbur nodded.

      “What level?”

      “Intel mainly, we get updated about what’s happening, but not near the top level. Pretty weak stuff really, but from what we’d been hearing we hadn’t considered this group to be much of a threat. Are you sure they’re responsible for the bombing?” Dita asked, then started opening some of the files which had popped up on the screen.

      “I admit, it’s very odd.” The old computer was not a Corporation model. It was at least thirty years old, pre-dating even the formation of the seven companies that eventually created the Corporation.
      Non-corp technology was now almost impossible to find, but it was vital they used something which Warbur knew had not been made by the ‘enemy’. That computer Dita used had more processing power than all of the computers on the rest of the planet combined. Almost everything in the office that Warbur had provided them with was a relic from Earth’s twentieth century and the spycraft that went with it was even older than Warbur was, but it had to be this way. Vonbek was at a stage of technology roughly equal to the post-atomic age and there were strict guidelines and agreements about what technologies Earthers could bring down, or even talk about. If ELIJA stumbled onto this office and found computers, a large scale scandal would ensue which could jeopardise the whole expedition and lose favour back home.
      “Here we are, the Separatist leader. No Earth name I’m afraid, but we have given her the codename ‘Ysna’.” Alien names were unpronouncable, so the four letters of the postcode for the location they were born in could be used. It made for some interesting combinations. Warbur went to look at the file which Dita had brought up on the screen.

      “We should bring her in. I’d like to ask her a few things.” Said Warbur.

      “I think we could handle that, but where?”

      “Some local office,” said Warbur. “The local police station if there is one, I can arrange the necessary orders, whatever you need.”


      Monday, November 18, 2013

      The Children of Tok-Cenb

      Here's Luke Bellmason, sharing the first chapter of his NaNoWriMo novel:

      It was easy to tell the first wavers from the second wavers; as the shuttle approached the surface of the planet, the second wavers were all standing at the panoramic forward windows of the upper deck, while the first wavers, like Victor Warbur, remained in their seats.
      Warbur had seen Vonbek many times before, and was more interested in watching the passengers. Taylan was the focus of his attention at this moment, and when he glanced around at his fellow passengers he could see that she was the focus of theirs too. It was perfectly understandable.
      Firstly, she was young. About twenty-eight years of age and full of health and energy. Secondly she was enthusiastic, a trait that many of the first wavers had long since lost in the decade that they’d all been here, and thirdly she was single.
      There was very little chance that she’d be interested in the slightest in any of the boring old men who’d found themselves assigned to this particular excursion down to the planet, but that didn’t seem to bother them Warbur observed. It was more of a case of fixating their playful fantasies on someone who was completely unavailable and yet real, rather than whatever dream woman they had created for themselves over the years to maintain their sanity out here.
      Most of them had families of course, but they were either back home in the Earth system, or were living here and so were part of the everyday mundanity that had become the dull background to their existence.
      Taylan’s attention was not on them. She was standing next to the man who was only a little older than her, but who was already in one of the most senior positions within the Corporation.
      Between the three of them, Warbur, Taylan and ‘corporation boy’, they represented the three main factions of the Earth Expiditionary Force, which was the whole point of having them attend the presentation on the planet. It was yet another official engagement that some senior executives at the top of the chain of command had decided would make good press for the propoganda machine which even now, almost ten years after they’d arrived at Vonbek, was still trying to persuade the alien population that this was a great, bold new era for them.
      Since the ‘couple’ had arrived on the shuttle, at the station in orbit, the girl and the corporation representitive had been inseparable. They hadn’t said more than three words to anyone else, yet had talked constantly to each other all the way down. Corporation boy was quite knowledgeable about every aspect of the alien economy, politics and social make-up as any high-climber in the corp would have to be, but Warbur knew he’d studied it all from books and reports. There was a huge difference between knowing something and experiencing it, as Warbur had. Many of the early reports had been proved wrong and assumptions made about the alien society and the way it functioned had been shown to be far too simplistic.
      There were many facets to the society they had encountered. contact with one group or local authority did not guarantee that another would want to have anything to do with them. There was no central leadership as such, everything was local. That was what was so brilliant about the ‘children’. It had been a very useful ploy, to get at least one small group of aliens on their side, though at the time it had been nothing more than a solution to the language barrier. As Warbur listened, he heard the corporation’s representative recite the standard version of the events to his companion.
      “You see, they had this problem with communicating with the Aliens when they first arrived,” he began. “It seemed like an intractable problem. How do you understand a language that you have no basic understanding of? It’s totally alien, in an alien culture where you can’t even figure out context. What you do is you find a bunch of children and you teach them English.”
      “Why English?” Said Taylan, showing her true colours as the ‘independant observer’.
      “It had to be something, I guess they could have picked Spanish or Chinese. In a way, it didn’t matter. Once we’d taught them one Earth language, we could translate it into any other. English is universal enough that most of the who countries who contributed to the Expedition would agree to it being the lingua-franca.”
      Taylan extended her left arm and tapped something out on her wrist, notes to be reviewed later. Then she looked back out at the approaching planet. It was close enough now that Warbur could see the greenish tint of the sky starting to illuminate the upper part of the troposphere.
      “So they picked a group of children on the planet and taught them English,” prompted Taylan, who knew the story anyway.
      “Yes, but they didn’t bargain on how successful they would be. I mean, all they did was leave a few tablet computers lying around in a village where they knew they’d be found and load them up with language apps. You know what happens when you give technology to children. The adults largely ignored it, I mean they knew where it had come from, but the children, oh they figured it out.”
      At this point in the story, Warbur decided to make his introduction. He could not bear to hear this story, his story, being told by someone else.
      “After one week they’d mastered the alphabet,” he said from his seat, “after two they could match words with images. After three weeks they knew most of the rules of pronunciation, syntax and grammar. By the end of the first month, they could read, write and speak fluent English.” Warbur stood up and walked to the window, next to Taylan and the Corporation Representitive.
      “And after two months they had hacked into the Earth Government communications network,” Corporation Boy said, no doubt trying to embarrass Warbur. It had the opposite effect.
      “The alien children who were selected were nothing special, but there are gifted children in every group. Once we began to educate them, we discovered that their minds were easily as advanced as our own.
      “But you can’t educate someone to a higher level than yourself,” said Taylan, “they might be even smarter than us given the proper training.”
      “Ah well, that would be the Corporation’s department,” said Warbur, “I believe their AI programme is going to do all this and more.” He said this knowing full well that the Corporation’s AI programme had been five years away from fruition for the last twenty years, and was an intense source of embarrassment to them.
      It suddenly occurred to Taylan to introduce her friend to the Government Offial and she turned to Warbur and said, “this is John LeVant of Corporation Operations,” they shook hands.
      “Victor Warbur of the Earth Government,” said Warbur, keeping things deliberately vague. “And you must be ELIJA,” Warbur chuckled at the girl, noting the insignia on her suit.
      “Yes, Selina Taylan of Earth League Interplanetary Joint Alliance,” she shook Warbur’s hand. “So, you’ve actually met these children?” She asked. Warbur smiled, wryly.
      “I helped to create them. I set up the project after initial contact with the aliens, that was over ten years ago. They’re all grown up now. The boy your friend mentioned, the one who hacked into the comms network, he’s the one we’re going to meet.”
      The shuttle set down on an open grassy plain about a kilometre from the town of Tok-Cenb. There were fewer people than Warbur had anticipated, but then aside from its importance to the Expeditionary Fleet, Tok-cenb wasn’t that remarkable. In reality it was little more than a mining village, with one ‘mayor’, one ‘elder’ and a few ‘councillors’. These titles were approximations of course, but the translation between English and the native tongue had always been tricky.
      The Children had made this small town famous around the entire planet, but this didn’t seem to have had much of an economic impact on it, in the ten years Warbur had been coming here, he’d observed very few changes aside from the rapid maturation of its citizens. Vonbekians aged about at about twice the rate of humans and seldom lived beyond the age of thirty-five solar years. Still, it was disappointing to see such a poor turn-out, especially with the visitors here.
      They all waited for the ramp to descend at the back of the shuttle and walked down into the damp, barely breathable air. There was no fanfare and no applause, since both of these practises would have been totally unknown to the locals, but one alien did approach them and extend an appendage in a very human-like way. This was the ‘boy’. Now a full grown adult and a long time acquaintance of Warbur’s.

      “Mr. LeVant, Miss Taylan, this is Dita.”
      Warbur knew the Second wavers would have studied the aliens during their trip, but now as he watched for their reaction, he knew they were realising the great gap between the idea of a thing and the reality of having it stand in front of you. The aliens were squat creatures, about four feet high, and were an odd shape. Three legged, three-eyed, three armed and arranged somewhat like a three-pointed star when seen from above. The arrangement extended right down to their toes and fingers, three on each arm and leg.
      Both LeVant and Taylan were not merely speechless, but breathless, hyperventilating. Warbur waved a hand and a crewman from the shuttle rushed forward with a portable oxygen container.

      “You’ll have to excuse my friends, they’ve never met an extra-terrestrial before,” said Warbur.

      “It’s ok, I remember the first time I met a human. It was stressful for me too,” said Dita, in perfect English.
      They followed the alien, LeVant and Taylan gripping on to their masks as they walked, to the stand. It was nothing grand, but a simple stage built onto rocks and packed down straw. There was seating for the humans along the front, while the Vonbekians required only a clear space to rest, folding their rear two legs together to form a kind of seat.
      Warbur had studied the schedule for the day’s presentation and knew that, like most Vonbekian events, it would take up many hours and be intersected by multiple stops for refreshments and informal chats. They never did anything in a hurry.
      LeVant offered the seat next to Warbur up to miss Taylan, then took the seat on the end. Some of the other officals who had come down on the shuttle with them took up the seats in front and behind them and Dita sat at the back of the group.
      The Mayor took to the stage and began speaking in the local dialect, which was immediately translated into whichever language was necessary by the computers in each human’s headpiece. The speech was standard, non-threatening and bland. Designed, it seemed, to offend no one and to welcome the new visitors to their humble planet. The effect of hearing second hand and spoken in the same flat automated voice that they listened to all day every day did little to counteract the soporific effect this had on each individual. This and the stifling air they were breathing between puffs on the oxygen cylinders had most of the human audience teetering on the verge of sleep within a minute of the Mayor’s address.
      They were all suddenly brought out of it by a large explosion, which eminated from just behind the stage and expanded out into the audience. It took out the stage so completely that those who had been standing on or near it were instantly vapourised. The front four rows of people were killed either by the blast or the lethal shards of rock which were thrown outwards. Anyone behind that was in with a chance of surviving, though random luck seemed to determine the severity of the injuries suffered.
      Warbur been forced back on top of Taylan, but LeVant who had been on the end had been hit. He was still alive, but barely. One by one each survivor rose from the ground to see which of those around them had not made it. Dita came forward from the rear and went straight for Warbur, picking him up and shaking him to his senses. Warbur could see Dita talking at him but could hear no sound at all, his ears were filled only with a single tone, like the feedback from a faulty microphone. Taylan stood and then saw LeVant and rushed to his side.
      The Vonbekian response was slow and disorganised. The crew and security from the shuttle were on the scene long before any of the local emergency services had arrived. The injured humans, including LeVant, were bundled onto the shuttle and flown back up to the fleet’s medical ship. Taylan went with them, though she was able to walk to the shuttle herself. Warbur elected to stay behind and assist the security services in making sure any vital evidence was not lost and the scene was left as undisturbed as possible.
      “What happened?” Dita asked Warbur, once the worst of the ghastly situation seemed over. Warbur had to consider his response.
      “It was an attack I believe,” he said.
      “An attack?” Dita repeated. “I don’t understand, what kind of attack.” Warbur didn’t quite understand it himself, but could think of no other explanation.
      “Nothing like this has ever happened on your planet before?” He asked. Dita shook his head.
      “There have been wars, fights in the past, but this, I don’t see how it fits with what you are saying. Where are the attackers?” He looked about him, seemingly puzzled by the concept.
      “It’s called terrorism. It’s something we used to be very good at on Earth in one period of our history. And it looks like now we’ve brought it to with us to your world.”

      Sunday, November 17, 2013

      Catching a Glimpse of a Wild WriMo

      Today and tomorrow, I'd like to share some NaNo-related entries from Luke Bellmason's blog. I'm a little late with them, but I think you'll enjoy them just as much.

      In a few days I am going to be taking part in NaNoWriMo. For those that don’t know, this stands for National Novel Writing Month (though actually it’s International).
      The idea is that during the month of November you have try to write a 50,000 word novel. This might sound difficult but 50,000 words in 30 days works out to about 1,666 words per day, and there is no stipulation in the rules which says the novel has to be any good.
      NaNoWriMo is all about getting people writing, and the emphasis is on volume rather than quality. For writers who do lots of planning (but very little writing) this is an opportunity to change things up. Instead of editing and stressing over minor details of plot and character you just write. It’s a bit like jumping on a motorcycle, pointing it towards the sunset and heading off into the unknown.
      One of the best things about it is that you’re doing it with thousands of other people and there’s a lot of support given to participants, with writing events across the whole month both online and off. The groups are also divided into regions so you can find out who’s participating in your area and maybe even go along to a write-in and meet some of them.
      Everyone wants to know what you’re writing and how far along you are, and yes there’s a healthy sense of competition involved. Dare I say you even get a buzz out of beating someone who was ahead of you in word count the week before. As writers crash out and fall by the wayside, you’re determined that ‘this won’t happen to me’ and it pushes you on.
      You aren’t allowed to start writing until midnight on the first of November, but you are allowed to plan your story out before this. I’ve been working on my idea for this year’s NaNo for quite some time and I’m actually really looking forward to starting work on it.
      The story revolves around the first Earth expedition to an alien planet. The first wave has already been established, first contact has been made and a small colony of humans are living on the alien world.
      All of the main characters are based on my favourite characters from various spy shows and books.
      The theme is going to be a kind of mash-up of science fiction and spy thriller. Think John LeCarre meets Philip K Dick, or Isaac Asimov meets Ian Fleming.
      The hard problems of preventing bacterial contamination and translating the alien language have already been solved by the first wave of the expedition. As the novel starts the second wave have arrived from Earth and one of the three main characters has spent the last seven or eight years travelling aboard and interstellar ship to reach the alien world.
      There are three main factions on the Earth side; The Earth government who are the official representatives of all of the planets in the solar system who funded the expedition. The Corporation who provided almost all of the technology used to reach the alien system. And then there’s the UN type organisation called ELIJA, which stands for Earth League Interplanetary Joint Alliance.
      Obviously there are multiple tensions between these three groups. The Corporation has been granted licences to sell various Earth technologies to the aliens, whose technological level is equal to that of Earth in about the year 1950. This means the Corp can look forward to many years of profitable technological advancement at a slow and steady pace as they drip feed everything from washing machines and refrigerators all the way through to iPods and jet packs over decades and decades. Meanwhile the Earth force is trying to establish a more permanent colony on another planet in the alien solar system which is a sort of Mars like planet that requires extensive terraforming before it can be made habitable. Then on top of all this ELIJA is ensuring that all the rules governing ethical behaviour and law is observed and neither faction exploits the Aliens.
      The aliens themselves are also split into different groups. One is what you might call the pro visitors, who represent the younger generation who have grown up in the shadow of Alien visitors and to find them exciting and interesting, while on the other side are the Separatists who want the aliens to go home and leave their planet as it was.
      My idea is to use all the tropes of spy fiction but in a totally new setting which is a blank canvas of my own creation allowing me to play around with hi-tech spies and the like without Earth history getting in the way of things. Which is another way of saying that I’m too lazy to do any real research on the last 200 years of global politics and making up your own global politics is more fun anyway.
      I’ll be posting each day’s chapter (assuming there is one) on my blog the following day so you can all read along and see how the story develops in real time, plus you can add your own comments and ideas as we go along and I might even incorporate some of them into the story!
      I did try NaNoWriMo in 2011 (with a story called vampires versus zombies) but only got as far as Day 15. So this time I’m hoping to get at least a little further if not finish the whole thing.
      Please check back for more updates and watch this space on and around the 1st of November to read the first opening chapter!

      Saturday, November 16, 2013

      NaNoWriMo 2013

      One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies goes like this:
      Alien: Best laid plans of mice.
      Human: And men.
      Alien: What?
      Human: Best laid plans of mice and men.
      Alien: Oh. No, I don't think men had much to do with it.

      I had every intention of participating in (and winning) NaNoWriMo '13. The book was going to be called Sixteen Thousand Nights. I already had an outline as early as last winter.

      But I had to sit out this year. November's half over and I'm just getting back into blogging. I'm happy to be promoting Resist the Devil and getting The Sandfruit People ready for release, but I do miss the adrenalin rush of NaNo. To everyone who is doing it this year, I want to let you know I'm thinking about you and look forward to joining you again one of these Novembers.

      Friday, November 15, 2013

      The Slaver's Tale: Development Notes

      It's always a treat when Luke Bellmason blogs about how he creates his stories. Here he is:

      Having just completed a story about a miner, the next Tale in the series follows on with the miner’s sort of evil counterpart; the Slaver. For a long time I wasn’t sure what the “evil miner” would be. As I explained in the intro to the Canterbury Tales Vol. 1, I originally came up with six main character types and a ‘good’ and ‘evil’ version of each one. For example the good Trader was the Merchant, and the bad one was the Smuggler. There’s a Bounty Hunter (good) and an Assassin (bad).
      Slaves were a commodity in the original Elite and the players manual describes a little about how some spacers who ejected from their doomed vessels could sometimes be blown up in their pods, or collected with a fuel scoop, when they would become slaves!
      In my story, the lead character uses slaves to mine out huge asteroids because minerals just aren’t worth very much and slaves are free labour. If she had to pay everyone for their work, there wouldn’t be any profit in mining! Of course, this is a very current topic with half the world working in horrendous conditions to mine precious minerals and do menial assembly tasks so the other half can have their smart phones and cheap clothes. Of course many of these consumers are themselves slaves, wage slaves or trying to earning thier way out of accumulated debt each day. Then there’s the troubled history of my own country with the slave trade and the extensive benefits the British Empire and its contemporaries gained through effectively having thousands of unpaid workers. In fact it seems like any global superpower has got where it has through the exploitation of people.
      I’m not sure how much my story is going to be able to address these issues, probably not much since it’s only a short story and I intend to focus more on the plight of the characters and their actions rather than moralising about history, but it’s in my mind nonetheless.
      I’m also thinking about the robots and how the word actually comes from the Czech word for forced labour, by way of K. Capek’s story ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’. Ironically, the Slaver doesn’t use the robots to do the actual mining because it turns out they’re not very good at it, at least not as good as slaves. This is largely because robots can’t be ‘motivated’ to work harder like sentient beings can. When I say ‘motivated’ I of course mean the stick rather than the carrot, but thereby hangs the central point of the Slaver’s Tale and I don’t want to give you too many spoilers before the story itself comes out.
      I know roughly what kind of ending I want, but have been stuck on the details. I realised some way into the planning stage of the story that to really work out the ending I needed to know precisely how the mining operation worked. I’ve also been watching a lot of Mission: Impossible and playing GTA:V which relies heavily on really well thought out and planned heists, so my brain is sort of in a certain place with this Tale.
      All this has led me to the biggest bit of development I’ve had to do for any of the Tales so far, and that is to work out exactly how the Slaver’s operation functions. I used to love this kind of thing when I ran Role Playing Games. I would spend weeks constucting huge space stations or ships (kind of a similar activity to drawing up maps for Fantasy games) on the basis that you never really knew where the players were going to go.
      So without knowing how my story is going to end, I’m building everything without knowing which bits are going to make it into the story. Probably most of this stuff will never make it into the story, but it’s fun working on the background anyway. It also reminds me of a video game setting as well, which is appropriate given the general theme of the Canterbury Tales.
      It’s interesting to plan stuff like this though because you never know what’s going to come out of it. I could discover a gap in a wall where one of the characters keeps a set of cutlery, because it reminds her of home, and this could become a crucial plot-point, there’s just no telling! I could even turn the whole thing into a text adventure level or something.
      I can’t guarantee that the following doesn’t contain spoilers because I haven’t written the story yet, but I will forgive you if you find it all too boring to read. Anyway, if you do like knowing things like exactly how many spare rolls of toilet paper are keep in the lavatories on level 109, then this is the blog entry for you!
      (note. names for alien races, planets and characters I haven’t come up with yet are usually marked with four letters ‘yyyy’, etc. If you want why not suggest your own names.)

      The operation is a mineral mining facility spread over a large area within an asteroid field. It is one of several dozen similar facilities run by the Dosians.
      Since raw mineral ore is relatively bulky to transport, it is not profitable to ship it back to the homeworld. Therefore the ore is processed on-site. Multiple minerals are processed and even a few precious gems are found among the ore.
      Even in its processed state the minerals themselves are very low profit, so large quantities are required to make the operation viable. Unpaid, slave labour is used to mine the ore from the asteroids and in the processing plant. Robots are also utilised in the mines, but are not considered efficient enough to be used as miners. The robots are instead used mainly to control the slaves remotely (security) and to perform various other specialised and routine maintenance tasks.
      The facility comprises a Main Hub where the central administration and accomodation is housed, along with the processing plant and loading dock, a Storage Warehouse, where containers of processed minerals are stored for collection by bulk freighters and multiple Asteroid Mines where ore is collected.
      + MAIN HUB
      This large asteroid lies at the centre of the facility. It was originally mined out as part of the facilities construction and the mined ore was used to construct much of the infrastructure.
      The topmost part of the Hub comprises of two separate exterior structures; the ‘Palace’ and the Shuttle Dock.
      ++ The Palace is the living accommodation of the Facility Director (FD) and houses all of her living quarters, food stores, life support, power plant, communications and other ancilleries. In the event of an emergency it can be jettisoned and survive for up to three months in space.
      The Palace is connected to the Shuttle Dock by two subsurface tunnels, sealed at each end and in two mid-points. All supplies are moved through here each month when the re-supply shuttle arrives with the Bulk Freighter.
      ++ The Shuttle Bay provides storage and maintenance for three personal shuttlecraft. These are medium sized, short range interplanetary shuttles which are generally used by the FD and her staff to travel around the facility.
      ++ The Security Station is manned by robots and monitors all of the facility, thousands of cameras trained on all the slaves wherever they are. Should trouble arise in any location, Security sends in guards to deal with it using whatever methods seem appropriate. Though given the low value of an individual slave there is rarely much regard given to their safety. Any slave which shows even the slightest sign of stepping out of line is normally met with lethal force and riots are dealt with similarly.
      ++ Robot Maintenance & Control (RMC) is where all robots are repaired, maintained and programmed. All robots working out in the asteroid field and in the processor are autonomous. Their programming is set and updated at regular intervals during their routine maintenance cycle. The robots themselves are much more expensive than the slaves, but they last longer in the harsh environments of the mines and processing plant. Damaged or malfunctioning robots can be brought here from the mines and replacements sent out as necessary.
      The basic unit is the Rossum-4260K, which is a multi-purpose unit ideally suited to heavy industrial environments. This unit can be then fitted with a variety of modifications to serve as guards, miners, loaders, maintenance, engineers or almost any other task. Their programming is basic and usually specialised to a particular task. Their human interaction protocols are limited unless fitted with specialist upgrades.
      Robot Types;
      FL-49: These are sophisticated command units with high-level AI used in the Security Station and in the Hub Admin section. They are capable of near-human level speech and can interpret instructions given to them into programming commands which are then downloaded to the lower level robots.
      (All RM-4260 units are interchangeable and can be reassigned and reprogrammed at the RMC.)
      RM-4260K-D: Guards
      Used for processing slaves and keeping order in the mines. Fitted with stunner-prods, gas tanks and guns should things get out of hand. Interpersonal interaction units are fitted to allow limited communication with the slaves. These units also have security monitoring systems which relay back to the main Security Station on the Hub.
      RM-4260K-S: Miners
      Though they don’t do any real mining as such, they are configured to set up the tunnels, lay down the extraction equipment and generally assist with operations.
      RM-4260-E: Engineer
      These are configured for construction and more specialist mining procedures, such as the installation of lift shafts, habitable modules and other such structures. They do not work on other robots, but can recover them to be sent to the RMC on the Hub.
      RM-4260-R: Loaders
      Used in the various loading and unloading docks around the facility these robots operate a wide range of bulk lifters, haulers and plant machinery. Anywhere there’s ore, product or other supplies to be moved, loaders are used.
      RM-4260-T: Maintenance
      These are the robots which repair and maintain the other robots. Most work in the RMC on the Hub, but each asteroid has its own maintenance unit which can take care of minor faults and repairs.
      [The slaves have nick-named the different types of robot based on their designation letter; R=Robbie, E=Eddie, S=Sammy, D=Davy, T=Tommy. So instead of calling them guards, a slave might say "Look out, Davy's coming." Nobody knows who the slave who came up with this was, but it seems universal that sentient beings in harsh environments will do anything they can to lighten up their dreary lives or to 'humanise' machinery.]
      ++ The Power Plant consists of four starship class power cores. The Processor consumes 98% of the total power output of the plant, but at any one time only two of the cores is required to be operating at full power. Normally though the load is spread over three cores working at 33% capacity each. This allows for peak requirements to be met more easily and reduces overall wear and tear on the reactors.
      There is a secondary backup system in place should the main cores fail for any reason, but this system would not be able to power the Processor.
      ++ The Processor takes up almost the whole of the inside of the asteroid. Some of the upper sections have admin offices, control rooms and ancillery accommodations, but the operation of the processor is largely automated so only rarely does anyone need to come down here. There is a lift from the Palace into the admin section of the processor, and from there most of the interior can be accessed if necessary, but this is rarely required.
      The main processor takes ore from the sleds, analyses it and subjects it to various chemical and mechanical processes. Slave labour is used throughout many of these procedures, but due to the nature of the environment slaves don’t last more than a few weeks on the job. For this reason, being assigned to the processing plant is considered a death sentence and is used as punishment for low productivity. After one week slaves will be sent back to their asteroid having learned their lesson, but most don’t recover from the experience and soon find themselves back as their failing health leads their productivity to drop even further.
      ++ The Loading Dock is where the containers are loaded with processed minerals ready for transport back to the homeworld. The containers are lifted out by automated tugs which take them to the storage facility.
      Containers of processed minerals are brought here from the Hub for storage. Once a month a bulk freighter from the Homeworld collects the full containers and leaves empty ones. The warehouse itself is carved out of a spent asteroid, the second one to be mined after the main hub asteroid. Everything here is automated, from the tugs to the unloading and storage to the loading of the freighters. There is no life support or habitable areas so any maintenance must be carried out by robots.
      + THE MINES
      Each asteroid has its own designation based on its position/bearing relative to the Hub and its distance. In this way an infinate number of designations may be generated as new asteroids are added to the operation. At a certain point the distance of mines from the Hub becomes economically unviable, at which point the operation is shut down and the vital components (processor, power-plant, vehicles, robots) are removed to a new site.
      A mine consists of several common features, with precise configuration being dependent on mineral content and asteroid size/shape.
      ++ The Docking Point is a universal access port fixed to the outside of the asteroid. It is similar to the the Shuttle Bay on the Hub, but is on three levels. All personnel are shipped through here including Slaves and Robots. Other equipment can be shipped through here also, but large machinery is moved through the Loading Bay.
      ++ The Airlock is a system of interconnecting passageways and chambers connecting the Docking Point to the interior of the mine, which is kept at standard pressure. Robots may use the Docking Point as an open area, but other personnel need to lock their vessels to the airlock doors inside the bay.
      ++ The Security Area is immediately behind the Airlock and is designed to handle Slaves in and out of the mine onto and off the Slave Transports. The section is run by Type-D robots. As slaves pass through the section they are routinely searched and scanned for any prohibited materials. They are also logged in and out with thier ‘tags’ and any slave with a malfunctioning or missing tag is sent for re-tagging.
      ++ The Robot Control Area is a section immediately behind the Security Area and inaccessible to any slave. Here all routine maintenance is carried out and robots are cleaned and serviced. Anything more major requires the robot to be shipped back to the Hub.
      ++ The Loading Bay is where the raw ore is loaded onto Ore Sleds to be shipped to the Hub. The ore is fed up through the mines along a complex series of grav-feeds and belts. When a slave loads a cart it’s mass is recorded and logged to that slave’s tag. That ore is then fed through the system to the Loading Bay.
      ++ Living Accomodations for the Slaves are basic in the extreme. In one small area there is a food unit which dispenses food pellets and water at pre-programmed intervals and sleeping racks. There’s little room to move around and three or four slaves might have to share one sleeping rack. There’s no communal area for socializing, but this rarely becomes a problem since outside of the four hour sleep cycle slaves are expected to be hard at work trying desperately not to be at the bottom of the week’s productivity list.
      All vehicles around the facility are automated and controlled by a central computer on the Hub. This avoids traffic conflicts and manages the flow of materials, slaves and robots throughout the whole operation. Shuttles may also be controlled by this system or flown directly by a pilot.
      ++ Ore Sled – These are large vessels designed to carry ore from the mines to the Hub. They are basically a huge cargo hold with an engine and guidance system attached. At the hub end they dump out the loose ore into the processor.
      ++ Container Barge -
      slave transport
      personal shuttle
      ++ Bulk Carrier – This is the ship which turns up each month to collect the loaded containers and ship them back to the homeworld. It is manned.
      Diosian Alphabet
      alef – aleph
      bet – beth
      daleth – dalet
      zain – zayin
      cheth – het
      teth – tet
      kaph – kaf
      peh – pe
      tzaddi – tsadi
      qoph – qof
      tau – tav