Monday, 11 December 2017

Death of all Salesmen

I'm old enough to remember the time before the first VCRs came and just how expensive tapes were when they appeared. Any number of stores popped up renting tapes, many of them (here in the UK at least) small independent. A few years later Blockbuster reached our shores and the independents vanished as the all conquering juggernaut came to utterly dominate the market. Blockbuster seemed to have an unassailable market position, until new technology made it's market disappear. The same fate has befallen all too many other well known brands in recent years, is society fated to go 'shopless' as well as cashless in the future. I discussed how money might work in a futuristic interstellar society, so now I'm going muse on whether the experience of spending that future money is really going to be so utterly different.

So first off lets exclude bars, clubs and restaurants. The need for shard social settings isn't likely to go away unless you rewrite human psychology. Let's focus on retail, the pure exchange of goods and services for money. Services are probably the thing most immune to all pervasive power of online shopping. Even if you imagines some of those services being automated, assuming anyone would want to visit say a robot barber, they are still going to require a bricks and mortar location for their business. One ironic consequence of the advance of digital commerce is that many of those little specialist retailers driven out of business by cavernous superstores and supermarket chains determined to put a store on every corner. The ASDA/Walmart might disappear but the local baker, butcher or tailors shop may re-emerge as viable enterprises. You could imagine a universe where retail is divided up between a few massive corporations and a legion of little family businesses, co-existing in distinct niches. Some future shopping mall may not be dominated by glittering high tech store fronts, but by shops selling bespoke and handcrafted goods.

There are also any number of goods where people want to touch and try them out before they buy them, whether its a dress or a sofa people want to see how they look or feel before they commit to them, people are very tactile when it comes to purchasing, just watch people poking and prodding the fruit in any grocery store for proof. Also how often do people go and look at a product in physical store before they go hunting for the best price online? Imagine the irony if future online retail giants have to create 'showrooms' for their potential customers.

One other dystopian possibility is that a future world might really have all the retail carved up between megacorporations all desperately fighting for market share. Imagine the shopper being offered some form of discount scheme. A 'loyalty card' where the loyalty part is taken very seriously by the store issuing it, a scenario in which the brand you shop with is akin to gang colours or national allegiance.

In the end if you want to send your character down to the shops for a pint of blue milk you're probably on solid ground...

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


In addition to adding an email option to the blog I've also added a short list of links to what I've found to be useful resources as well as links to my book. I thought it might be helpful to explain why I chose them. provides that one thing every writer needs when they are trying to create a workable story, feedback. It's a 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' setup where basically you accumulate credits for critiquing other peoples work and when you have enough credits you can post your on work on their weekly list and get feedback from other writers. You can even put up a chapter or two of a novel and find people willing to critique it and do proofreading. The site has subsections dedicated to different genres and while you will get honest responses the site places an emphasis on civility and providing constructive criticism.

DAZ 3D is a freebie program by a major producer of 3D models and its the software I used to make most of the elements in the 'Secession' cover. Yes a lot of the models do cost money but there's also a whole load of free models out there from multiple sources because the program is largely compatible with the commercial program Poser. If you have the time and the patience you can do some very cool stuff with it and create a cover that reflects what you had in mind even if you can't draw a convincing stick figure.

The International Skeptics Forum, formerly the James Randi Educational Forum, may seem like an odd place to recommend to writers. It's underlying mission is to provide a space to debunk the myriad of conspiracy theories that seem to plague us today, but it also has sections on education, technology, history, politics and a host of other topics. If you want some freewheeling and occasionally not NSFW discussions to stimulate the brain its a great place. is dedicated to the 'what if?' genre of science fiction and fantasy. It covers not only alternate 'real' history, but also alternate ideas based on popular culture, if you ever wondered what if character X chose differently in your favourite book/TV show/movie you'll probably find it there somewhere and if you don't your more than welcome to create your. The sections on pre1900 and post1900 alternate history are a great resource even if your interested in 'straight  history'. There's a lot of very knowledgeable people there and many of the 'what if?' discussions illuminate the why and how of what actually happened and provide a wealth of factual information. There's also some fabulous timelines and stories at the site that make great reading and I'll probably talk about some of my favourites in a future blog.

Monday, 4 December 2017

What now?

So yesterday I published 'Secession' on Amazon and now the obvious question is what do I do now? I've had enough experience of the online world to not expect it to be an overnight success, its going to take time and effort to reach any sort of take off, assuming I'm not just kidding myself about it being anything other people would want to read.

That's certainly a topic I'll come back to, especially if I find anything that really works and is worth sharing. What I'm probably going to be spending most of my time on now is the next book, or books to be honest. I have a Victorian steampunkish novel that I've had someone proofreading and I've deliberately left it to one side before I come back to it and apply their results. One lesson I've learned from Secession is to not get caught up in endless rewrites.

Beyond that I'm 45,000 words into a Secession sequel and about the same number of words into a sequel to the steampunk novel. That's the thing, even when I think 'hey I'll just kick back and watch some TV tonight' I still somehow end up doing some writing. Right now I have a miserable cold and yet here I am typing away to write this blog. At some point writing ceased to be a hobby and became more of a compulsion or an addiction. Still at least its cheaper than alcohol :)

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Its out!

So as you may be able to guess my book is up on Amazon in Kindle format. It has been a very long journey from the original idea to this day and an awful lot of people contributed to getting Secession Campaign and I hope I've remembered to give everyone a nod on the front page. Links to the US and UK Amazon pages are to the left if anyone is interested and you can read the first couple of chapters for free. In addition I thought it would be nice to give a little bit extra to those who've had the iron constitution to keep reading my blog so here's an excerpt from the first combat in the book. Captain Henry Moses is commanding TF106, the Alliance force, and Captain Gina Colbert commands the 'mutineers':

Secession: TF106

Henry considered what the captain of the Vigilant had to say, she had only told him something he had already concluded for himself but he still had one last move to play before he conceded. “As an alternative Captain Colbert you could recognize that the orders issued to you are the ones that are invalid and illegal and stand down. We would then proceed to Ezekiel and seek to persuade the authorities there to also obey Alliance law and carry out the arrest of those individuals accused of sedition and treason. That is the only reasonable option to defuse this crisis.”
Gina choked down the desire to say something like, good one. It wouldn’t fit with the seriousness of the moment, “No, Captain I’m sorry but I and the men and women serving under me have made our choice. We will not let you pass. I would deeply regret having to fire on you and your brave crews but I will do so if you attempt to jump to Ezekiel.”
Henry settled back in his seat. Well that’s that, he was sure everyone from Admiral Suarez upwards would want a piece of him, but it couldn’t be any clearer for the record and the inevitable board of inquiry that Taskforce 106 had been faced with no choice but to withdraw in the face of a superior hostile force. He was about to advise Captain Colbert of his decision, and that its consequences would entirely rest on her and those who had issued her orders, when he suddenly had the decision wrenched from his hands.
It was hard to blame Henry Moses for not noticing that Pale Horse and Bloody Sword had failed to maintain their position behind the screen of warships. His focus and that of every officer in Taskforce 106 was on the threat from the ERG. That the two transports were running parallel with their escorts instead of being tucked safely behind them was a trivial problem, or it was until Pale Horse’s targeting system began to track one of Force Alpha’s fast destroyers.
That triggered a chain of action and reaction that moved too fast for any rational thought to overtake it. The ERG Light Cruiser Crossbow locked on to Pale Horse in near automatic response. Seeing one of the ships they were supposed to protect being locked up Mombasa targeted the Crossbow, the battlecruiser Valiant targeted Mombasa, and at that point somebody, or possibly several somebodies given the conflicting data that was retrieved later, fired.
The shields on the light cruiser Crossbow shimmered and flickered for an instant before snapping back into rock solid stability as it was hit by Mombasa. Even as they were stabilizing Crossbow fired its entire primary armament right into Pale Horse. The transports shields didn’t flicker; they shattered and half the rounds dumped their energy straight into the hull, almost breaking the transport in half, with air, fragments of molten metal and bodies billowing out into the vacuum.
Before Mombasa could launch another broadside Valiant intervened. Mombasa’s shield stopped the incoming rounds in a blaze of luminescence, but it was the last contribution they would make as the generating nodes overloaded and burned out leaving the ship practically naked to the next attack.
After that space was filled with weapons fire and the ships of Taskforce 106 found themselves on the receiving end of practically all of it.
So if that seems like something you would like more of:

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bad Ideas

I’ve drawn plenty of positive inspiration for my writing from books. When I was young just the fact that they ended and left me wanting more was enough to encourage me to scribble away. I’ve even found inspiration in reading the blurb on a dustjacket and imagining the plot it describes, which usually bears no resemblance to what’s inside the covers of course. As I’ve mentioned before the idea for the Pioneer Wars came out of a discussion about an apparent plot hole in someone else’s story idea. There is though a great deal of inspiration to be drawn from books that are poor or just outright awful.
As I said a really good book can be a source of inspiration, but it can just as easily become a seemingly insurmountable challenge, a piece of greatness you can never hope to even get close to matching. A bad book on the other hand encourages you to think 'I know I can do better than that and if they got published..' A bad book however can offer much more than that, after all as a writer you learn by trial and error, so why not seek to speed up your learning by examining the mistakes that others have made? Courtesy of various bad books I've learned that proof reading is not optional, that cool ideas do not equal a plot, that starting a story and hoping an ending pops up is a bad idea and that writing a book because a particular genre is 'hot' right now is seldom going to work well.

So what I'm saying is that as writer if you invested your time and money in a reading a really bad book you can console yourself with the thought that it was an educational experience. :)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


So the game 'Star Wars Battlefront 2' was due for release and video ads showing the protagonist of the single player campaign(i.e. the part with an actual story) were doing the rounds. The character is an imperial soldier and a lot of the comments I saw on YouTube were hoping that she stays with the Empire and doesn't get 'redeemed' and join the Rebellion. I had two thoughts on that. Firstly, yeah the redemption arc is kind of predictable and secondly that those people are probably going to be awfully disappointed.

The problem is that you are usually going to want your leader character to be relatable, someone the reader will like, or would like to be. If you have that character on the side of what are indisputably the bad guys then sooner or later your reader/viewer is going to get frustrated with the situation. The various ways to try and justify the character's actions don't really help. If they are under duress, secretly working against the bad guys or simply oblivious to how evil their side is then they either are actually on the good side already or the writer is just postponing their moment of redemption.

You could of course have a villain who is just unremittingly evil, with no redeeming features, problem is that gets old very quickly. The unrelenting villain can become more of a plot device than a character, only really existing to create a threat to the heroes and/or justify the 'bad' things the heroes have to do. You can tell how hard it is to write a unrelenting villain is the way that writers will eventually start trying to give them some depth and texture. A classic example is the Klingons from Star Trek. Back in the era of the original series they were nothing more than the living personification of the 'Red Menace' a largely one dimensional threat with zero context. Wind forward to the Next Generation era and they've become a warrior race with a sense of honour and a complex cultural background. It's almost inevitable its going to happen with the unrelenting villain, either they cease to be unrelenting or they're given a backstory to explain their behaviour and make them more sympathetic, they just become too one note to hold the interest of the writer, never mind the reader.

The 'redemption' character arc is here to stay, it's too powerful and too appealing to let go of, the best you can hope for is that the writer will be clever enough that you wont see it coming, or inventive enough to keep you hooked with a charming monster of a villain.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Finding the time

It's one of those things that people sometimes say, 'Oh if only I had the time I'd write'. Now leaving aside the implication that somehow time is the only requirement for creating story, characters and dialogue there is the question of how hard is it to find time to write? My own personal experience is that the mechanics of writing has gotten so much easier than it was in the days of pen and paper, or the typewriter. I personally could never get the hang of the latter, especially as I'm the sort of writer who likes to blast out a chunk of text then go back and fix any mistakes or sections that just don't flow. The arrival of the word processor was a god send, although of course at first that meant your were still tied to the desk where said word processor lived.

The advent of the laptop computer may have made it theoretically possible to write anywhere, but in practice I found them clunky and awkward. The only time they were really useful was when you were sat in a hotel room somewhere. the devices that have really freed up writing time for me are the smart phone and the tablet.

With these two devices I can write anywhere whenever I have a free moment and I can make what I write accessible on my computer via cloud storage. It just opens up whole knew opportunities with devices that you really can take wherever you go and are genuinely convenient, so my advice as far as computing goes is have a desktop for home and use a tablet or a decent sized smart phone for everywhere else.

The other thing that's changed is that you used to have to be a little bit anti-social when it comes to writing, you are going to want to spend those spare moment tapping away instead of discussing sports, movies, or what you did last weekend/are going to do this weekend. Again the smartphone and the tablet have come to the rescue here. At lunch time I often walk into the canteen at the office and find a dozen people there. The overwhelming majority of them with headphones on, glued to a screen and watching YouTube, or a video downloaded from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Now it's easy to sit there obliviously typing away, so long as you don't succumb to the blandishments of YouTube yourself.

An added bonus of the inability of people to put down their smartphones is that nobody ever asks what your doing and then follows up with an endless string of questions about what your writing. I find nothing is more likely to kill your enthusiasm for a story than having to repeatedly summarize it for people who have zero interest in your genre of choice and will inevitable utter the words 'Oh if only I had the time...'