Archive for the ‘Guest blog’ Category

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Future Space Travel

Let’s assume that we’re using a drive that doesn’t rely on controlled explosions. Make the control mechanisms as complex and high tech as you like, but you still only get forward momentum by making something go bang. So what does that leave us? Space sails? Nice idea – and originally a science fiction one (sigh) – but impractical. Space isn’t empty, a cloud of dust could wreak havoc and the sail would have to be so large it could take days to reach the damage. The sail enthusiasts have said repair-robots. When there’s a technical problem, someone always says robots. When there’s sexy but unsound idea – like a space sail – the human reaction is to add more and more tech to try and make it work. Humanity is programmed never to admit mistakes.
​NASA’s said to be working on two drives: “Alcubierre”, that distorts space; and the “EM”, that provides a better, stronger form of propulsion by using microwaves reflecting back and forth to (somehow) produce an asymmetric forward impulse. Which is good because the idea that humanity will be confined to the Solar System forever is just so wrong it hurts. Surely the universe couldn’t be so cruel? But this does open up a major problem: where do we build whatever craft will take us to the stars? Or even to the outer planets? Do we set up a vast manufacturing facility on the moon? Or conveniently discover anti-gravity (after figuring out what gravity actually is, as opposed to what it does) so we can build on Earth then float the craft into space?

​Actually we do neither. Nor do we set up a Navy Yard (sorry, Star Trek) in Earth orbit (or, as implausibly in J.J.Abrams’s reboot, somewhere in Kansas – how did they get the Enterprise up into space from there? And why?) Aside from the technical problems – did someone say ‘robots’? – mining and transporting the necessary raw materials requires machines and space craft so huge that building them would take years and consume most of our natural resources.

​The solution is hinted at in Netherspace. It’s not totally original, the late and wonderful Iain M. Banks began the idea, but we tarted it up some.

​Turn asteroids into spacecraft.
​Hollow them out, fix up living quarters, add a space drive – the Alcubierre space warp or NASA’s EMdrive – and away you go, protected from radiation and collisions by several hundred feet of rock. Because spacecraft do not need to be streamlined. They do not have to look pretty. All they have to do is take humans safely from point a to b (and we are reminded of the old cartoon in which a middle-aged businessman is talking to a car salesman, saying: “I want something that will get me from a. to c. without b. knowing.”) Okay, you may have to smooth them out to get a sensible centre of gravity. Spin them to increase that gravity. Still far, far easier than trying to build a cruise liner in space. And there are hundreds of thousands of them, all shapes and sizes, parked up in orbit and not that far from this very planet. Bit like a used car lot, really.

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The wonderful people at Titan Books have kindly including the BookBeard in a blog tour from the authors of Netherspace. So, expect a review (I’ve just finished the book today) shortly and an awesome guest blog post from authors Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster.

Author of the action packed Into The Guns William C Dietz, has kindly written a guest blog explaining how his latest novel came to be.

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William C. Dietz
October 24, 2016

Birth Of A New Series

Where do my stories come from? In my case a new series is usually inspired by something I observe in the world around me. And the America Rising series was no different. While reading an article I noticed that all of America’s strategic petroleum reserves were located in the south. That was sufficient to remind me of the American civil war, and the fact that the south not only continues to be a bastion of conservative thought, but home to many libertarians. And according to the Libertarian Party Platform, “…we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.”

The first part of that sentence sounds okay, to me at least, but the last five words are troubling. They could be interpreted to mean that individuals are in no way responsible for helping others if they don’t want to especially via the mechanism of government. To my mind that suggests a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” attitude toward society in which every man and woman’s first obligation is to take care of themselves, and to hell with the elderly, the sick and the poor.

What if something terrible happened? I wondered. What if a swarm of meteors devastated much of the Earth’s surface, and threw so much particulate matter up into the air, that the amount of sunlight reaching the planet’s surface was severely reduced? Crops would fail, people would starve, and a great deal of civil unrest would result.

Libertarians have never been able to compete effectively with the two major parties in the United States, but if society fell apart perhaps they could I decided, especially in the south. And that, as I mentioned earlier, is where all of the country’s petroleum reserves are located. Things came together in my mind, and boom! I was off and running. Into The Guns is the first novel in the America Rising trilogy.

Having created a dystopian scenario the next step was to populate it with characters both good and bad. Samuel T. Sloan is the Secretary of Energy when the meteors strike—and is on an official trip to Mexico. Due to the chaos it takes weeks for Sloan to make it back to the U.S. where forces working for the libertarian oligarchs intercept Sloan and lock him up.

Meanwhile army lieutenant Robin Macintyre is escorting a column of civilian refugees across a mountain pass, when a secondary disaster cuts her unit off from the military chain of command, and forces “Mac” to fend for herself.

Eventually both characters will play important roles in the fight to reestablish the America that was—and will meet during a desperate battle deep inside of enemy territory.
Into The Guns is available online and in bookstores now.

For more about me and my fiction please visit williamcdietz.com. You can find me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/williamcdietz and you can follow me on Twitter: William C. Dietz @wcdietz

Malcolm F. Cross, author of Dog Country, reviewed here, has very kindly taken the time to write an intriguing insight into the thinking behind his exceptional debut novel.

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Democracy by the dollar: Mercenaries, crowdfunded regime change as part of the service economy, and why I wrote about gengineered dog-soldiers in Azerbaijan.

January 2011. For the people on the ground, the Arab Spring was (and continues) to change the very fabric of their lives. It meant a lot more to them, and always will, but it changed my life too. I wasn’t a protestor, just watching it take over the news cycle. And it got me thinking. I wanted to do something about the brutality and the bravery I saw, something about the issues that had never affected me and the struggles I would never have to fight for. I wanted to make their story my own, and I couldn’t. Maybe, I realized, I shouldn’t.

But isn’t that the story that is mine? The story of the white westerner intervening where he (inevitably he, because this culture I’m part of has systematically failed its women) wasn’t wanted? In a place he didn’t — couldn’t — understand?

Whether it’s Vietnam, the Gulf, Bosnia, or Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Libya, Kenya, the Congo, Nigeria or even Ireland, the modern military policy of intervention away from home is a thorny one. One that can compellingly be argued has done more harm than good. Much of it is couched in terms of bringing about the downfall of dictatorial regimes, arguably all in an attempt to recapture the moral high ground of Hitler’s defeat in 1945. The search for that high ground has poured fuel into the engines of hatred, racism, and human suffering.

It’s a story that’s changing, however. Both for the better and the worse. The rise of the private military company, the sanitised way to refer to guns for hire, is impacting interventionism.

Look back to ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, explaining his part in the 1960s Congo Crisis by saying,

“Killing communists is like killing vermin. Killing African nationalists is like killing animals. I don’t like either of them. My men and I killed between five and ten thousand Congolese rebels during the twenty months I spent in the Congo.” – http://www.massviolence.org/chronology-of-the-democratic-republic-of-congo-zaire-1960-1997#outil_sommaire_1)

Now compare that to Tim Spicer, speaking about the 1997 Sandline Affair of Papua New Guinea,

“I’ve always said that in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone there was nothing wrong with what Sandline was doing because we were there at the request of the democratically elected governments. But it attracted a lot of attention and played into the hands of people who felt that this was not a good way of doing things. The idea was well before its time. There was a huge amount of suspicion, mistrust and poor connotation attached to the security business at that time.” – ( http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/may/20/comment.military )

There are those fighting to turn private military companies, PMCs, into a regulated industry. Open, honest, as dependable and morally upright as any national army. On the other hand, Blackwater Security has been rebranded twice, first as Xe Services, and then as Academi, after the well-publicised killings in 2007.

Somewhere between the rise of PMCs, the Arab Spring, and the shifting nature of capitalism, I found the story I wanted to turn into my debut novel, Dog Country.

It seemed so logical to me. It still does — not that I really think it’s a workable system. Libya’s people were begging for international aid, much as Syria’s are now, desperate to overthrow the dictator over their heads. And while poverty is a major problem in these nations, there’s still money. A fond assumption I have is that almost everyone has five dollars. It might be a huge sum, or a meagre one, but whether it’s saved over weeks or fished out of pocket change, a person has five dollars. There are more than five million people in Libya — twenty five million dollars buys a hell of a lot of military hardware.

I checked – Kickstarter prohibits crowdfunding for weapons, but it doesn’t prohibit funding people capable of holding weapons.

There are some funny ideas in this world — there are Libertarians who believe, genuinely, that the free market economy can function as a form of governance in and of itself. I don’t really agree, but what would a working free market government, rather than a failed one, actually look like?

Assuming a state had formed on that basis, its free-market security forces would naturally be willing to fight someone else’s wars. And, assuming no monopolies or profiteers — very unlikely, but let’s make that assumption — they could provide this service cheaply and efficiently.

So. Why not?

Why not crowdfund the revolution?

Why not write a story about the kind of person this capitalist culture might create as a product, and send them off to explore what this kind of interventionism might be like? After all, western culture and toxic masculinity push very hard at turning young men into people willing to do violence and eschew emotional intimacy. Given genetic engineering, why bother breaking young men into shape when it’s possible to build someone from scratch? Or skip some development time and start with a dog. After all, we’ve been genetically modifying dogs to make them into what we want for the entirety of human history.

The only question I had left was where I’d send my corporate-designed soldiers. I wound up going through a list of authoritarian regimes, and I picked one off the top — Azerbaijan. It was an arbitrary choice, one I’m not entirely comfortable with fictionalizing given the wealth of human rights abuses the Aliyev regime are perpetrating even now, but in a way that made it a good fit for the story I wanted to tell.

A story about western interventionism that didn’t whitewash away the damage interventionism can bring about, a story about people-powered revolutions. More importantly, a story about the experiences of those who leave their homes, travel around the world to a place they never knew existed, and fight in wars they have no reason to care about.

Because of interventionism, there is a generation of (mostly) men who now know what it is to be an alien stranger, not entirely wanted, far from home. Dog Country is, I hope, a story about finding a way to come home afterward.

The good folks over at Solaris Books offered me a guest blog and editor of the brilliant anthology Two Hundred and Twenty One Baker Streets stepped up to offer his thoughts on that most enigmatic of characters, Sherlock Holmes.

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Hey there, and thanks for having me on the Bookbeard’s Blog. I hope my own modest beard serves in this illustrious company…

So, with less than a week to go (at time of writing) before the release of my first anthology, Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, I’ve been asked to write about the reinvention and appropriation of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. It’s an interesting question, and “reinvention” is, truthfully, an engaging idea. To reinvent; to invent again; to create what has been created already, because in creating it again we are both creating something new and shedding new light on the old.

Baker Streets has been described in more than one review as “fan fiction,” generally in a positive way, and while that term invokes a fairly specific body of work – informal, unpublished, unpaid, often written without permission – the comparison’s not unreasonable. Apart from anything else, the fourteen women and men I brought together to tell the many stories of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are fans; nearly half of them have published Holmes pastiches elsewhere, and at least one of them was recruited when she overheard me talking about the project at a con and jumped on me: “I love Sherlock Holmes!” And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And what fan-fiction – pastiche – reinvention – call it what you will – does is democratise art. If you’ve studied lit-crit to any level, you’ve almost certainly been sat down in front of a copy of Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” in which the French literary theorist tells us that the author, as owner and authority, “dies” as soon as her work is published. As soon as the work is read by others, it becomes theirs; their experience of it, their interpretation, becomes the truth, pre-eminent over the intent, reported or imagined, of the original.
Pastiche legitimises the reader’s new authority. “This is what I saw in the original,” says the author, “and so I rewrite it in that light and share it with you,” and – not accidentally – the new author dies with publication, and the reinvention is reinvented by a new round of readers. Sherlock Holmes, reimagined and rewritten scores of times, filmed, recorded and set in board, roleplaying and computer games, belongs to everyone.

The irony of course being that the very idea would be anathema to Sherlock Holmes himself. As an investigator, picking up the miniscule clues for which he’s famed, he depends on finding the objective truth, free of interpretation and bias. He knows that that scuffing on your shoe, and that smudge on your cuff, and that hair on your shirt, means you’re a philandering war correspondent for the Times, and in his eyes, that’s all those things can mean. If there’s one truth – one perfect, objective truth – always findable at the heart of any mystery, then how can there be many truths within the man himself? How can there be many Sherlocks?
Maybe there can’t. What Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets shows us is that, from seventeenth-century Worcestershire to 1960s New York and from the townships of Pretoria to the fantastic world of the Seven Lords Wizard, Holmes himself (or herself) is the same. The same acerbic, short-tempered, superior, wild, dangerous champion of truth, striding impatiently through the lies and misdirections wherever you find him.

What the reinventors do, with Holmes, is summon him to their worlds, like the wizard’s assistant Wu Tsen in Tchaikovsky’s “The Final Conjuration.” They summon the old bastard to witness injustice and fight exploitation – the oppressive government of Emma Newman’s “A Woman’s Place,” the sexual predator of Gini Koch’s “All the Single Ladies,” the strange, murderous cult of Kaaron Warren’s “The Lantern Men” – and, like any amateur demonologist, having summoned him, they often find him singularly hard to banish.
I suspect we’ll be seeing more of him.