Thursday, January 16, 2014

Another Pacific War Timeline: A Different Leyte Gulf

Here's another timeline from my alternate-history message-board for your entertainment. It's entitled "A Different Leyte Gulf."

In our world, the Battle of the Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in World War II and possibly the largest naval battle in history. After this battle, the Imperial Japanese Navy was a spent force and according to the Wikipedia, the survivors spent most of the war in their bases out of fuel.

However, the battle featured one of the most dramatic incidents in the war, the engagement off Samar. A group of U.S. Navy ships, including a bunch of lighter carriers, were ambushed by a Japanese force that included the Yamato, one of the most powerful battleships ever built. Usually the aircraft from a carrier can kill any big-gun ship before they get close, but if a battleship gets close to a carrier, it's the carrier that's in trouble. Thanks to the heroism of a group of destroyer crews who certainly suffered for it, most of the carriers were able to get away and the Japanese retreated before they could attack the American landing grounds.

This time around, thanks to Admiral Takeo Kurita being replaced by Nobutake Kondo before the battle begins--and as a result, some ships and units being configured differently--the battle will go rather differently. In particular the engagement off Samar, one of our luckiest breaks in the war, has the potential to go epically wrong.

Although sometimes it's hard to keep track of such a large battle, it's still a very interesting story. It's definitely worth a read. And he updates quickly, so there's always something new.

How I Would Have Done "Star Trek"...

In the non-political chat section of my alternate-history forum, there's a thread discussing how the different board members would've handled the Star Trek canon. It went from "what parts of the canon would you include" (the little-known animated series was discussed) to what aspects of the overall storyline would be included.

Here're my ideas:

*The Vulcans, having been traveling between the stars for centuries before humans developed warp travel, would have a substantial interstellar presence of their own. Them joining the Federation would be like the US joining Mexico or Costa Rica, depending on just how strong the humans get. The Federation would be various human worlds and less-advanced/powerful alien races, which would also explain why the starship crews are largely human.

*Hint that Surak was not such a wonderful person and the triumph of his philosophy was something more akin to totalitarian world conquest than the peaceful adoption of his ideas by all except the most irredeemably violent and deranged. Given how his ideas are as contrary to Vulcan nature as some extreme human philosophies are to our own, I imagine his ideas took a fair bit of violence and coercion to impose. The Romulans can be analogous to the survivors of the Alliance for Democracy fleeing the victorious Domination of the Draka to establish a free society at Alpha Centauri. The Time of Awakening, according to Star Trek canon, apparently featured severe warfare--this could be Surak or his successors imposing his ideas through conquest rather than the Vulcans being self-destructively violent until Surak calmed them. History is, after all, written by the victors.

This wouldn't make the Vulcans evil, mind you. Compare War Communism or Stalinism to glasnost, perestroika, or the reformed USSR the New Union Treaty would've created. The Vulcans could be embarrassed about the excesses of their ancestors or try to make excuses for them, but it's the Romulans who continue to hold grudges in the face of Vulcan efforts at reconciliation. The website had some really vindictive Polish nationalists who hate Germany and Russia who kept getting banned and sneaking back under new names, so I referred to the Romulans as "the Pole-Trolls IN SPAAAAACE..."

*Khan Noonien Singh's sleeper ship encountered some kind of space-time anomaly that catapulted them a fair distance from their intended destination. By the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation if not the original series, the elderly Khan is the ruler of the grandly-named "Great Khanate of the Milky Way" that, due to the small starting population and lack of an industrial base (at first), is actually a fairly small Augment polity with some primitive aliens in vassalage. A rival human state and fascistic-imperialistic foil for the democratic-socialist-ish Federation would be kind of cool story-wise.

*Speaking of democratic socialism, that the Federation was some kind of utopian state is essential for Roddenberry's vision, but it can be toned down a bit. I'd make the Federation a post-scarcity economy. If some form of socialism exists, it'll be the result of automation eliminating most jobs and the state eminent-domaining (socialism) or taxing (social democracy) the automated economy to provide the basics for the now-redundant population rather than letting everybody starve. There'd still be money (unlike canon) and still be jobs, but there'd be a guaranteed minimum income. Human nature is still human nature and "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" is something that's rather difficult to make happen.

*About the Gorn, when I was a kid my uncle had a tabletop game called Strike Team Alpha whose storyline I really enjoyed even if actually playing it wasn't that fun. STA featured an antagonist race resembling evolved velociraptors called the T'Rana. Their polity came off as basically Imperial Japan IN SPAAACE--they were expansionist and predatory and promotion was achieved by killing and eating failing superiors (chronic assassinations by warlike junior officers that plagued pre-WWII Japan and of course in Star Trek itself there's "Klingon Promotion").

*The Klingons would stay the same, although I'd tone down their militarism some to avoid people wondering how they can have an advanced scientific and technological society if only being a warrior is respected. The plan is to avoid "Flanderization." The Borg would stay the same.

*On a micro note, the bridge crew and especially not the captain are not going to be going on away missions, at least routinely. I suggested having a Marine commander character leading most of those, but the user whose handle is RCAF Brat suggested Kirk have been in Fleet Special Operations (i.e. Section 31, although if Starfleet is the Navy their having something analogous to the Marines makes sense) before an injury forced his transfer. He still likes going groundside and does it as often as he can, much to the consternation of the other officers. At least this would "lampshade" how dumb it is to send half the bridge crew to a planet at any given time. Kirk's promotion to Admiral in the films could be more like him being "kicked upstairs" for recklessness and foolish behavior that has made him too popular with the Federation public to court-martial after his return from the Five Year Mission.

*On another micro note, make Spock a full Vulcan rather than a hybrid. Even though Vulcans are superficially humanlike, they'd be very different genetically. If humans can't breed with chimps, how can we possibly breed with beings from another planet?

Overall, you'd still have Roddenberry's optimistic vision of the future and human potential, but it'd be a bit more subtle and realistic than this.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post: Chris Nuttall and The Empire's Corps

Hey everybody, I've got a special treat for you. It's a guest post from Chris Nuttall about his science fiction series, The Empire's Corps, originally published by Amazing Stories.

Take it away, Chris...

An Introduction to The Empire's Corps
by Chris Nuttall


When I was a child, I read the Foundation series and it left a great impression on me. (It must have done; collapsing galactic empires is one of my favourite SF themes, both as a reader and a writer.) The sheer scale of the story impressed me, as did the concept of making a new start and forging a new world from the ashes of the old.

In hindsight, of course, the series has problems. Psychohistory stretches my suspension of disbelief past the breaking point – the Mule hardly needed to be superhuman to pose a significant threat – and the ethos of the Second Foundation is chilling. They are, to all intents and purposes, a ruling elite that intends to slip into power when the Second Empire is established, using psychohistory and mental manipulation to ensure that resistance is not only futile, but inconceivable. (Gaia, in Foundation’s Edge, charges that their Second Empire will be held in a kind of living death, a judgement I cannot help supporting.)

Historically, of course, it isn’t really that easy to preserve an empire. As I see it, Empires start off by taking advantage of their natural assets and then have to work harder and harder to maintain their position. The British Empire is a case in point; at birth, the British maintained their control of the sea, giving them a significant advantage over France and other European empires. (The one time this slipped, during the American Revolution, the results were bad.) However, as the years wore on, the British had to work harder and harder to keep their position – and eventually gave up. Britain simply couldn’t afford to stay in the race.

This can be magnified by the governing system. Empires are generally run for the benefit of the rulers, rather than the ruled. Governments generally don’t want outsiders coming in unless they are fully integrated, which tends to ensure that the ruling class (however defined) decays into ignorance and incompetence. Imperial China is a good example of this particular problem--the Chinese Empire was completely unable to realise that the ‘Foreign Devil Barbarians’ were actually vastly superior to their empire. Indeed, the few Chinese who attempted to come to grips with this fact were defeated by their own people, not by the outsiders.

The fall of an empire can be disastrous, no matter how unpleasant the empire was or how many people welcomed its departure. Empires tend to maintain a monopoly of force in their territory and thus ensure peace; the sudden disappearance of that power can lead to civil unrest and outright conflict between the Empire’s former subjects. The collapse of the British Empire, for example, led to considerable bloodshed in India, Palestine, and Africa. Even with prior preparation for the transfer of power (as in India) the process can be incredibly rocky and establishing new governments can take time. Indeed, the empire might not have established local governments that can take over. (To some extent, most of Africa was better off under the European empires than it is now under home-grown tyrants.)

A sudden power vacuum can also attract outside powers. To some extent, this happened to Imperial China; the decline of the Chinese Empire drew in the European, American and Japanese powers. It also happened with the USSR (an empire in all, but name); as it weakened, NATO moved westward, something bitterly resented by the Russian government. And, of course, the barbarian advance into the Roman Empire is perhaps the strongest example.

While some historians claim there was no real shift in living standards after the fall of the Roman Empire, much of the evidence suggests otherwise. As Rome withdrew from the outer territories (including Britain), barbarians flooded into the abandoned territories – a series of events that included the eventual Sack of Rome. Nor is this really true of any other empire’s withdrawal from power. The decline and fall of an empire – and its replacement by a new order – can be hellish.

But it can make a great setting for a story.

In the universe of The Empire’s Corps, humanity has established a massive empire that stretches over a third of the galaxy. Humans are alone in the universe, but there are many different kinds of human; baseline humans, genetically-engineered humans, cyborg humans, all part of the empire or living on the margins. The empire, which has been in existence for over three thousand years (following its unification of the human race by force), is dying, a victim of its own success. And its leadership are unwilling to take the steps necessary to deal with the crisis before it overwhelms them.

This is a common historical pattern. To borrow (and probably misquote) a Japanese expression, the first generation of government is always supremely competent, the second is good enough … and the third is incompetent. This was certainly the pattern in the early years of the Roman Empire. Augustus Caesar was extremely competent, Tiberius was good enough … and Caligula was a mad incompetent. Bad luck certainly played its role; young men who Augustus groomed to take their place in government died with astonishing regularity, leaving Tiberius as the only remaining candidate. (The Romans blamed this on his mother, who was accused of poisoning the others, although the truth may never be known.)

Put in plain English, the first government was smart enough to take power and hold it; the second learned from the first … and the third, knowing nothing of the struggles of the first, allowed its understanding of power to slip.

This is partly the reason why aristocracy and monarchy are such poor forms of government. A lucky country may end up with a good monarch (a good monarch may not be a good man) and then discover that his son is a bad monarch. James I of England was capable; Charles I was so incompetent that he united much of the country against him, sparking a civil war that ended with his execution. (To some extent, Richard Cromwell also embodies this historical process.) Most importantly of all, there is no easy way to remove an incompetent monarch. Revolution is the only answer.

By the time of the series, it is already too late to save the Empire.

Instead, the story focuses on the people who struggle to keep some aspect of civilization alive. One group of Terran Marines is sent out to battle insurgents on a world called Avalon, where they are effectively abandoned as the final collapse begins. The Empire's Corps, No Worse Enemy, and Semper Fi follow them as they struggle to defeat the insurgents, face pirates scavenging in the ruins of empire, and deal with another successor state rising from the ruins to cast a baleful light over the galaxy. When The Bough Breaks goes back to Earth and charts the final collapse of the planetary government and the end of Empire, despite all the heroes can do to prevent it. The Outcast focuses on a trader struggling to survive as interstellar trade slowly grinds to a halt, threatening to bring down galactic civilization once and for all.

It is my intention to have the even-numbered books following the Marines on Avalon and odd-numbered books exploring different aspects of the universe. (Suggestions welcome.) I feel that the stand-alone books add depth to the series, instead of just focusing on the Marines (although When The Bough Breaks also features Marines, if on Earth rather than Avalon).

The series has its own page on my site where you can download samples (10+ chapters) of each book for free. And the Kindle books are DRM-free!

All welcome!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Marvel Short To Feature Classic Mandarin?

As you all no doubt know, although I enjoyed Iron Man III, I had a big problem with how they did the Mandarin. To make a long story short, they made him yet another White Military-Industrial Complex type with a grudge against Tony Stark, just like the first two, with the more "exotic" Mandarin being a drug-addicted British actor in dragon robes. Why? Because Shane Black thought the original version was racist and because Chinese money helped fund the production.

This has divided the fans, with some objecting to the classic Mandarin as a racist cliche and others defending him. Sufficient to say I'm on the side of the latter--although some depictions of the Mandarin were racist, it is entirely possible to have a non-racist powerful Asian villain. I even provided some ideas on how I would have done it.

Well, it looks like Marvel/Disney has listened to those of us who wanted there to be the classic Mandarin. This article from CinemaBlend reveals that in an upcoming short to be released with the Thor: Dark World Blu-Ray, we the audience will learn that the Ten Rings organization is thousands of years old and they're not pleased with their image being hijacked, let alone being hijacked by a British cokehead who's claiming to be their leader. Trevor is going to pay. And pay. And pay.

In the immortal words of Mr. Burns...



Hopefully we'll be able to see the real Mandarin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reconsidering My Andrew Patel Stories...

Earlier today I wrote a blog post that referenced how my supervillain protagonist tales "Ubermensch" and "Needs Must" starring Andrew Patel, a half-Indian biomedical engineer with a major Nietzsche obsession, weren't selling well. In 2013 I'd only sold nine copies of "Ubermensch" and three of "Needs Must," although people snapped up a lot of them for free when they were promos. This contributed to my decision to shelve a possible second set of Patel stories and put off creating an anthology of the first set, even though I already had a cover made.

However, I just re-examined my spreadsheet and although the stories didn't sell as well as "Beast of the Bosporus" and "I am the Wendigo" (my two best-sellers), there's a very big reason I'd overlooked--both stories were only made available in September.

They've only been available for a third of the year and yet "Ubermensch" exceeded the older and more popular (in its first few months at least) story "Melon Heads." If they sold consistently throughout the whole year at that rate, "Ubermensch" might exceed "Wendigo" (my best-seller, with 23 copies).

So although I'm still thinking superheroes/supervillains don't sell as well as creature or Lovecraftian horror, I won't be as harsh on Mr. Patel and friends. You may see the "Consequences" collection--four stories covering the battle between Patel and the superhero Silverbolt and its consequences--yet.

Review of My 2013 Kindle Sales

I've been keeping record of the short stories I've self-published for the Kindle and here are the results for 2013. The following are sales only--although I've given away a whole lot in promotions, promos are a means to making more short-story sales (in December I made only one sale until the "Christmas gift" and I made six more as a result) and in the long run, preparing the Kindle world for the coming of my novels.

*The best-seller has been "I am the Wendigo," with 23 copies sold. Since this is a reprint of a previous sale and is promoted as such, this isn't surprising.

*Next comes "The Beast of the Bosporus," a tale of Lovecraftian horror in the early modern Ottoman Empire. 17 sales. I've promoted this one via guest blog posts in different places and it's had reviews on multiple blogs. That it's been one of my best sellers hasn't been a surprise either.

*Now for the first surprise--"Illegal Alien." This has been a poor seller in the past even though it was one of my top-reviewed stories, but it takes third place this year with 13 sales. That's more than "Melon Heads," which was my first Kindle story and came out of the gate VERY strong.

*Now sales numbers start declining and the surprises grow less pleasing. My supervillain protagonist tale "Ubermensch" made nine sales in 2013, while the alternate-history spy tale "Picking Up Plans In Palma," one of my best-reviewed and thematically-deepest stories, has made only eight. "Melon Heads," once my best-seller, has sold seven copies. "Needs Must," the sequel to "Ubermensch," has sold only three. I set the Patel stories as freebies for a few days after Christmas and that helped move some copies of my other stories, but that's not the same as them selling themselves.

To be fair, I only published the Andrew Patel stories ("Ubermensch and "Needs Must") and "Palma" in September and I didn't promote them with blog posts here and elsewhere to the extent I did with many of my other stories. However, a faux crime news story intended to promote "Ubermensch" has gotten 25 hits but generated no sales so far. It hasn't been up all that long, so it may pan out yet, but still.

This will have its consequences. I'd planned two additional Patel stories to package with the first two in a Kindle anthology entitled "Consequences" (that I already have a cover for) but that's looking less likely. It might still happen, since they haven't had time to "earn their keep" the way the others have and a package of several stories might sell better than individual tales, but I'd still need to write the second pair and that might not be worth my time with a demanding graduate school schedule this semester. I'd also planned for another set of Patel stories featuring him facing off with a black-supremacist supervillain involved with the Nuwabian Nation of Moors, but that's definitely not going to happen.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Roman Legion Arrives In Westeros...

Those of you who are fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and related fan-fiction have got another treat for you today.

It's entitled "A Legion For Westeros." The gist of it is that the Ninth Legion, thought lost in Britain (although some recent evidence have suggested it wasn't), materializes in Westeros when King Robert Baratheon is on his fatal hunt at the tail end of the first novel, A Game of Thrones. After some initial communication issues, King Robert and his entourage start to get on quite well with the new arrivals.

Much more of the story is posted on my alternate-history message board than has been posted (yet) on fanfiction.net. All I can say is that sorts of interesting changes in King's Landing result from this spanner being thrown into the works at a most crucial time.

And the legionaries haven't even gotten to King's Landing yet. :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Jaime Lannister and Ned Stark, Friends? See "A Different Song"

A member of my message-board the other night started an alternate-universe Song of Ice and Fire fan-fic entitled "A Different Song." He's posted it on fanfiction.net, so people who aren't board members can read it and review it.

It diverges from canon around the time of the Battle of the Trident, in which Ned Stark becomes acquainted with the young Greatjon Umber. Rebel leader Robert Baratheon is wounded in his duel with Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen per canon and Ned takes the northern armies south to what he thinks is the undefended capital of King's Landing and his revenge on King Aerys II Targaryen for the hideous deaths of his father and brother. His scouts discover the Lannister armies approaching King's Landing and Ned heads south with his cavalry to try to delay them from entering the city, hoping to sow enough confusion for the rest of his troops to take them by surprise.

Only they arrive in King's Landing in time to witness the beginning of the infamous Lannister sack of the city. However, the Red Keep is under loyalist control and Ned heads there for a climactic encounter with none other than Jaime Lannister.

Only one kind of long chapter posted so far, but it's a lot of fun:

*Ned's interrogation of some Lannister bannermen with Jaime causes Jaime to realize his father Tywin intends to murder the entire royal family, including young children and Rhaegar's Dornish wife Elia Martell. Unlike in canon, there's now time to stop it.

*Ned takes on the infamous Gregor Clegane with Ice, a great-sword made of possibly-supernatural Valryrian Steel.

*A confrontation with the vile Amory Lorch, with the life of Princess Rhaneys at stake.

*Ned, faced with Jaime's desire to protect the rest of the royal family even though he's killed the king already, seems to have a softening attitude in regard to oaths.

And with several Targaryens still alive, Lannister common soldiers and nobles dead at the hands of the very angry Ned and his companions, and Northern soldiers in control of the Red Keep even though the rest of the city is falling to the Lannisters, the political situation is about to get really complicated.

I'm definitely keeping an eye on this one.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Silverbolt" Strikes Again

ATLANTA, Ga.--A group of alleged members of the Cazadores gang have been taken into custody after another attack by the costumed vigilante known as "Silverbolt."

According to police reports, Adamsville residents first reported gunshots around 10 p.m. Monday evening. Police arrived at a two-story rental house near Collier Park within ten minutes to find six men all alleged to be members of the Cazadores, a Mexican street gang reputed for its involvement in the synthetic drug trade. Several were unconscious and all six had been bound.

Preliminary interrogation revealed they had been attacked by Silverbolt, a costumed vigilante who has been involved in multiple incidents involving Atlanta gangs over the last year including an incident in East Point that led to the arrest of a fugitive wanted for murder. Police spokeswoman Teresa Jackson said four of the men have outstanding warrants and three will remain in custody pending transfer to the appropriate jurisdiction.

Mark Alvarez Abano, 22, of Adamsville-Parole violation, possession of "Alpha Z," a type of synthetic cocaine, with intent to distribute.

Eduardo Sanchez Santana, 30, of Decatur-Assault and battery, including an incident where the victim was in a coma for two weeks, as well as tampering with a witness.

Jimmy Grissom Vela, 19, of Birmingham, Alabama-Probation violation, possession of "Alpha Z" with intent to distribute.

Jose Garza Molina, 20, of Atlanta-Public intoxication, turnstile jumping, disorderly conduct. Molina was released on bail soon after the incident.

Jackson emphasized materials found during the investigation of Silverbolt's attack will not be taken into account when the decision is made on how to prosecute any of the arrested men. The involvement of the vigilante raises the possibility of planted or tampered evidence.

Jackson had the following words for Silverbolt.

"Whoever you are, I don't doubt you mean well. However, we are a nation of laws and your activities undermine that. No citizen can be permitted to take the law into their own hands."

She called on Silverbolt to turn himself in or at the very least abandon his vigilante campaign, citing the risk to his own safety and that of innocent bystanders.

Adamsville residents also reported a series of mysterious fires near the house as well as the appearance of a dark-skinned man who was not taken into custody as a result of the incident. One of the arrested men referenced a "doctor" who had some kind of practice in the house, but refused to speak further. Police advised residents to be alert for any further suspicious activity.

So who is this "doctor"? And what happened in that house that night? Find out in "Ubermensch," available on Amazon.com. Resemblances in the rap sheet to any living, real persons are purely coincidental.

December Writing Contest Results

The second phase of my writing bet with my friend Lauren (an extension from the summer until the end of 2013) is now complete. For the month of December, I wrote around 11,678 words.

Here're the results:

1. THE THING IN THE WOODS is now complete, with a current word count of 47,377. I wrote the ending in a series of marathon afternoon writing sessions, an ending that impressed the woman in charge of one of my writing groups with its beautifully-described grotesqueness. I gave the female lead some POV sections of her own and gave the (human) villain some close-to-death POVs.

This isn't the first draft--I've cycled chapters through one of my writing groups as I've written them and in the last batch, rewrote chapters even after submission before critique. I'm thinking I'm on the third or fourth draft at present--well, partially through. I made another pass through the first four chapters yesterday, around 20% of the length by word count. I'm hoping to add some meat here and there to hopefully kick it to 50,000 words, but I've also made a lot of micro-cuts. I'm thinking it's going to be a wash.

2. Around 1,200 words were written for other projects. This includes developing the Catalina Merrill harem-intrigue subplot in one of the later WASTELANDS novels a bit further, some more back-story for THE CYBELE INCIDENT, and touching on environmental policy and solar power some in my political book.

Graduate school for the coming semester is looking nightmarish in terms of the number of books I need to read, so I want to get as much done with THING as possible before the next semester starts. I'd like to have my Cobb writing group go over the entire manuscript (like they did in 2012 for BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS) and make one last set of revisions before I start querying agents and publishers. THING's shortness is a strike against it and I'd like it to be as good as possible (and hopefully get some ideas to extend it) before I do anything. Given the time the group will need to read it, I doubt I'll be sending it anywhere until February.

I don't known if Lauren will extend the bet or not, but my friend Emily has a short story/novella idea of her own and so the competition will continue.