Friday, 19 August 2016

Military Science Fiction: Part 2


Continuing from last time, my next group are books that are series, which again I've re-read on a regular basis, and are listed in no particular order of preference:
The Heritage Trilogy by Ian Douglas.
Tales of the Starwolf by David Gerrold.
The Honor Harrington series by David Webber (first three).
The Confederation series by Tanya Huff.
I have lost count of how many times I've read and re-read The Heritage Trilogy by Ian Douglas, a pseudonym of William H. Keith Jr., who I first came across when I read a BattleTech book called Decision at Thunder Rift.  Some parts of The Heritage Trilogy is now rather dated, as in we are in the time where certain events have happened that didn't, which when reading the first trilogy you have to sweep past.  I should also mention that the trilogy has two sequel trilogies and I'm equally besotted with them despite some hoary old clich├ęs.  In short, it's Marines in Space and I love it because it captures the Marine esprit de corps.

Tales of the Star Wolf roots can be seen in Gerrold's Yesterday's Children, which was later revised as Starhunt.  The former is basically a Star Trek story with the serial numbers filed off: evident in original ending of Yesterday's Children where the captain is proved right, whereas in Starhunt Gerrold's protagonist suspicions of the existence of an enemy ship shadowing them is proven right.  Then Starhunt was expanded by the addition of a sequel series called Tales of the Star Wolf a three volume compilation of: Voyage of the Starwolf, Middle of Nowhere, and Blood & Fire (which is much easier to get hold of as an omnibus than the trade paperback individual editions).  What's interesting about this series is the way Gerrold revised and refined the core story through several iterations.

On Basilisk Station is the first book in David Webber's Honor Harrington series, and in many ways it's the best because it's a lean mean, tightly written novel.  As a series it only loses its way around the end of book five, which I know will offend some fans, but as Webber said in a Baen podcast his original intention was to have Honor die in book seven.  Choosing not to kill her has actually caused problems with the over arching story arc that was originally planned.  Well, if only I had his problems with my series.  Colour me envious.

Finally, for this tranche of books, Tanya Huff's Confederation series that starts with Valor's Choice, which is a blatant retelling of Rorke's Drift.  Despite that, the book is engaging because the main character is likeable, and the sequels move the plot forward in an interesting manner with the reveal of the Others: plastic aliens want to be your special pal.  The sixth book, An Ancient Peace, is no longer purely military science fiction because the main character has left the Confederation Marines and is working as a private contractor for the Confederation: I would class it as mildly military, a not uncommon trait of military SF series.  By that I mean the characters act as civilians rather than soldiers who follow a chain-of-command.

NB: I'm surprising myself with how much I want to write and so there will be several more parts to this series as I work through my military SF collection.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Military Science Fiction: Part 1


I think it's safe to say it's common knowledge that I like to read military SF.

I often see articles about favourite military books I've read, but how does one compare say the Cruel Sea with All Quiet of the Western Front?  I ask because that's the same problem one has when asking for the top military science fiction stories.  So what I decided with this piece was to list books that I've re-read over the years, which must mean they have the indescribable something all good books have: or at least they do to this reader.

In no particular order let me start with these five books, which are all arguably standalone novels:
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.
We All Died at Breakaway Station by Richard C. Meredith.
Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein.
Passage At Arms by Glen Cook.
Even though The Forever War spawned two sequels: The Forever Peace and Forever Free – the first is thematic sequel that is not set in the same universe or at least if it is I can't see it.  The second was written years latter and while the characters from the first novel's story are the protagonists of the story, the story itself has different concerns and what I consider a Deus Ex Machina ending.  However, The Forever War remains one of the significant military novels of the 20th Century because it manages to meld the emotional realities of conflict with a vision of the future changing what it means to be human.

Starship Troopers is probably the second book on this list that  really needs no introduction by me, but it's a seminal military SF novel, and is so because Heinlein wrote it as a didactic work.  People argue about the book incessantly because it stirs up a strong emotional response.  I've always read the story as a retelling of the birth of democracy in Greek City States, where a citizen's duty was to protect the state.  For me, this is proof that not only do we not learn from history, but we forget everything history might teach us.

Meredith's book, We All Died at Breakaway Station, does what it says on the cover.  The story describes a desperate battle over a space station in what I would describe as a transhuman setting.  Unfortunately, Meredith died young at the age of 41, so he's not as well known today as he might have been had he lived to write more books, but what he did write are all well worth reading.

Cook's story, Passage At Arms, is Das Boot in space and is no worse for it.  Cook is better known for his Black Company series, but Passage at Arms exudes atmosphere and tension like there's no tomorrow.  Edit, because I forgot: it's also technically the fourth book in a series, but reads as a stand alone novel, and is head and shoulders above its prequels.

I shouldn't have to extol the virtues of either the Haldeman or Heinlein, but if you haven't read these four novels, then I suggest you check them out.  Finally, not a novel, but rather a collection of short stories:
The Compleat Bolo by Keith Laumer.
This volume compiles all of Laumer's Bolo short stories and while I've only read the collection once I've have read many of the stories more than once.  What I like about the Bolo series is that it's about AIs fighting to save mankind from aliens and Laumer manages to rise above the tropes of the genre.  Though one could argue he was creating the tropes, given how long ago these stories were written.

More to come in part two.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What About the Writing?


I have been remiss in doing diary updates of my writing progress.

I've heard back from one of the Big Five publishers who have rejected my novel.  They said, it aroused interest, but the narrative wasn't straightforward enough.  I've been processing that feedback and thinking about my writing.

Bad Dog is an overcoming the monster plot: the monster being the atomic bomb planted to destroy a pair of alien pillars found under a mountain in Afghanistan.  Said pillars being the equivalent to Arthur C. Clarke's monoliths.


I have mentioned that one way of looking at my first novel is that it's like John Ringo was writing in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Armored Trooper VOTOMS.

It could also be described as Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day directed by Harold Ramis.  Except that while it has more action than Starship Troopers, it doesn't have Bill Murray being funny.

So, I'm working on re-writing/editing of my second novel Strike Dog.  The plot of which is a voyage and return, as described by Christopher Booker in his work The Seven Basic Plots, which is actually seven traditional plots plus two modern plots (mystery and rebellion being the new plots that only appear in modern novels - where modern means anything post Jane Austen).

My third book, Ghost Dog, is a quest.  This has come back from my Alpha reader with informative feedback that it needs more tension in the first third of the book.

So my plan, if you can call it that, is to have a different plot for each book in the Bad Dog series.  This is assuming I can sell my trilogy which is in serious doubt at this point, but I'm not intending to give up.  Still, given my age, time is not on my side.

If I can sell either my first or second book, then I have to think of a rags to riches story, a comedy (what Booker calls a comedy is really a plot revolving around mistaken identities and confusion), a tragedy (all too easy in the world of Bad Dog), a mystery and a rebellion.  The latter probably being the hardest plot to fit into my overarching story arc.

However, the main try-fail cycle I face at this point is writing characters who each have a different voice and who don't come across as complete jerks.  Wish me luck, I may be some time.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Alex Stewart


It's no secret that Alex and I go way back.  I really enjoyed his latest book Shooting the Rift, so much so that I asked my friend to tell us a bit more.  Just a few questions to promote him and his work.  I hope you all enjoy getting to know my friend and colleague more, and now without further ado...

Tell Us About Yourself?

Alex Stewart, and sometimes Sandy Mitchell, the pseudonym I've used on my Warhamer 40.000 novels for the Black Library. Addicted to SF since being introduced to it at an impressionable age by my grandmother, who never missed a Godzilla movie or an episode of Thunderbirds. Professional writer since the mid eighties, when my first short story appeared in issue 2 of Interzone - the first debut story they ever published.

What’s The 140 - Character Story Pitch For Shooting The Rift.

There aren't 140 characters in Shooting the Rift; that's a bigger cast than War and Peace!

Oh, right....

A young exile tries to make a new life for himself and prevent an interstellar war.

Where Does This Story Come From? 

Pretty much everything I've read and enjoyed over the years, filtered through my own perceptions and life experience. The same thing every writer does, I suppose.

What Makes This Story One Only You Could Have Written? 

The second part of the first sentence above, I guess. Science Fiction in its current incarnation strikes me as very much an American genre, so approaching some of the standard tropes from a British cultural perspective, while retaining the narrative vigour and sense of optimism of the US model, was an interesting challenge.

What Was The Hardest Thing About Writing Shooting The Rift?

Finding the right narrative voice. After doing so many of the Ciaphas Cain books in the first person I really wanted to use third person for this one, to distinguish it from my Black Library novels, and went through several abortive attempts at the early chapters. It was only when I threw in the towel and finally let Simon tell the story in his own way that it really started to gell.

What Did You Learn From Writing Shooting The Rift?

To trust my characters more. Or, to put it another way, follow my instinct rather than over-think the narrative technique.

What Do You Love About Shooting The Rift?

It's the first novel I've written to a publishable standard that's entirely my own work. Much as I love playing around in the 40K universe, which is a fantastic and infinitely versatile setting, and wonderfully textured, there's a lot of satisfaction in having done my own worldbuilding this time round.

What Would You Differently Next Time?

Every story's different, with its own demands; so, everything. On the practical side, try not to push the deadline so close. (But I always tell myself I'm not going to do that, and I always do.)

Give Us Your Favourite Paragraph From The Story.

I can't: to me, they're all interrelated. It's like asking which is your favourite girder in the Forth Bridge.

What's Next?

A light-hearted fantasy novel for Baen, with the working title of "A Fistful of Elven Gold." After that, a new 40K novel in the Ciaphas Cain series, then whatever I can successfully pitch.

NB: More info on Wikipedia.