Friday, October 28, 2011

I Read Books: The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Dreadnaught

1. Spoilers
This review spoils the six books in the original Lost Fleet sequence, which I reviewed here. Indeed the very existence of a sequel series to The Lost Fleet could be said to spoil the ending; some kind of resolution to the fleet's status has occurred, and even if it is still lost, it must nevertheless have stabilised it's position in some way. Nevertheless, consider yourself warned. Despite my most earnest wishes and the fact it would neatly tie this review together, I will not be spoiling the end of Dreadnaught. You can go to Wikipedia for that, or, perhaps better, read the damn book yourself.

2. Nitpicks unrelated to the content
John G Hemry, writing as Jack Campbell, has had great, and deserved, success with his Lost Fleet series. Amongst the positive results of this are timely publication of his books in this country and the re-issuing[1] of his earlier novels the Stark series and the forthcoming JAG in Space series (originally the Paul Sinclair series). Thank you Titan books.

However the renaming of the Sinclair series to describe it brings me to my nitpick[2]. This is a follow-on to the Lost Fleet series, but the publishers don't want me to be confused about this; it's still Black Jack Geary, still the Alliance Fleet, so they name the series The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, and as each novel in the sequence is named after a (capital) ship in the fleet, the novel's full name is The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught[3]. Which is biggest on the cover? The Lost Fleet. Or rather the LOST FLEET.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm actually in the target audience for these novels, as the insistence that "Yes, this really is a continuation of The Lost Fleet" slightly annoys me.  I know it is!  It's by Jack Campbell and the blurb on the back cover make it clear!  Why not use that space to say "Beyond the Frontier:  Black Jack Geary and the veterans of the Lost Fleet (also available from Titan Books) face a mysterious new enemy!"

Also, as my current title format for book reviews is "I Read Books: [Insert Book Name Here]" this means I have 3 colons in the title which just looks odd.  Anyway, I have wasted more words on this issue than it deserves, which is probably none.  This is superior military space opera - well thought out and morally nuanced but at the end of the day heroics will be performed and ships will be exploded - so expecting the marketing to be subtle and clever is silly of me.

3. Momentum
Dreadnaught's big problem is getting the story moving.  The first 5 Lost Fleet books all open with the fleet in the middle of enemy territory, and with time, space, logistics, enemy action and internal conflict all requiring action.  With so many constraints, any time things threatened to slow down, the next one reared up; if they avoided the Syndics then the internal divisions in the fleet flared up; if they fought the Syndics they needed supplies to repair and replace the losses etc.  The last one, Victorious, begins with the Fleet returned, but wars still to fight; it nearly bogs down in the politics at the start but then gets moving.

Dreadnaught starts similarly.  The transition from war to peace has revealed many fractures in Alliance society.  As Geary returns to duty with an interview with the political leaders of the Alliance, Fleet Headquarters does something very silly, which nearly causes a mutiny.  This attempt to kickstart the story doesn't quite work for me as the solutions seem obvious.  Geary is very popular in the Alliance, which worries politicians; those who don't know him worry he would be a dictator and those who do worry that someone will perform a coup in his name.  They make a deal with Geary; he and the veterans of the Lost Fleet will go and find out what's going on with the enigma aliens who we almost saw in Victorious.  Then we get a couple of chapters where Geary does the administrative dance with distant headquarters; interesting but saps momentum again.

4. To the Frontier... and Beyond!
After one last bureaucratic attempt to sabotage the mission, they get underway[4] and from there the story doesn't let up.  Some of the captains cause trouble, as always, and a detour to rescue prisoners of war is problematic in several different ways.  As they cross the frontier, the enigma aliens get more and more mysterious, an excellent choice by Hemry.  Everything the fleet learns makes them question what they think they know!  Unless Hemry pulls something really unexpected out of his writing bag mysterious aliens who try to hide everything are much cooler than weirdos with a privacy taboo that we know all about anyway. 

Meanwhile clues seem to show that not everyone in the Alliance wants or expects Geary and the fleet to return.  The ships - wartime builds in a war that had horrific casualty rates - are beginning to fall apart after a handful of years of (admittedly hard) use and the last order from Fleet HQ was to strip the fleet of half it's repair ships (Geary finessed this and left before any queries could return).  Finally we get a big battle and a new mystery.  What will happen? We have to wait until May 2012 for the release of The Lost Fleet: Follow-on Series One: Beyond the Frontier: Maybe That Should Be Beyond The Frontiers: Invincible.

Read This: If you liked the Lost Fleet series; it gives enough information to stand alone, but if you enjoy this, why not start from the beginning?
Don't Read This: If Old-School Space Opera is not your thing, even if it's been polished to a fine modern chrome-steel sheen.
Final Nitpick: Geary and Desjani are married but regulations mean they have to maintain a professional relationship on board ship, even when off duty and no one blinks an eyelid at this situation?  What what what?

[1] This may be the first time they've been published in this country. I don't know.
[2] To be consistent they should have renamed the Stark novels as Broken American Military Mutinies On The Moon series, although I've only read the first one.
[3] I'm okay with the alternative spelling as it differentiates this novel from the recent Cherie Priest steampunk novel Dreadnought.
[4] Or underweigh?  As in weigh anchor?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Write What You Know: Unreliable Narrator

Show me a reliable narrator and I have a Nigerian Prince with a cashflow problem I'd like you to meet.

I have a somewhat broader view of unreliable narrator than literary (etc.) criticism usually uses[1]. Without going so far as to say that all fiction is a lie, so all narrators are unreliable, I might note that no one is omniscient; that all narratives are edited; everyone has biases; and radical honesty is not popular or commonplace. Omission from a narrative is at least as important as what is actually said. My second drafts usually lose about a quarter of the sentences, although I then replace about half of the removed word count either within sentences or adding new ones (often brief bridging sentences replacing fully descriptive passages). What I cut out is just as necessary as what I leave in.

[1] Their definition is, of course, narrow enough to be useful for their purposes. Mine is broader for my purposes; story options.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Trafalgar!

Never forget what Villeneuve said before the battle:

What? Half my fleet is Spanish, we've been at sea for five months crossing the Atlantic twice, our best officers were killed in the revolution and we've barely had any sea-time to train new ones. We're up against a guy that beat me once before, and has only one eye, one arm and one leg[1]. On top of that, we're probably too late to clear the channel for an invasion of England.

This boss fight is bullshit.


[1] This is the clean, and incorrect[2], version of why 111 is known as Nelson's number. It is considered unlucky in cricket, and if following the lead of David Shepard, one should stand on one leg while a team has that score to avert it.
[2] Nelson never lost a leg.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Write What You Know: Food

As I see it my food options are:

1. Just make stuff up. Rename grains, beans, the animals with fantasy versions that do the same job. Frankly, this seems silly. I'm pretty much a full on Gygaxian naturalist; I like things to make sense, or at least follow rules. If I make up an animal, it takes the niche of another animal, or I have to construct a new niche for it. The second sounds like hard work and ends up a bit silly ("The Yakox, a small six-legged horned hairy herbivore spends autumns in the forest eating the nectapples, an apple that tastes like a nectarine and is bright pink.") If it fills the same niche, why change the name? Instead, fantasise it up in the details ("The Norland cattle are long legged with a black and white striped hide.")

2. Just use regular food. In this way I can bring all my cooking knowledge. I don't cook classical or medieval or renaissance style, but you know, faking it is easy, right? Instead of using a food processor, press everything through a sieve, and instead of using a sieve crush everything in a pestle and mortar. Instead of a nice cast iron ceramic pot, use a copper one, or a tin one, or a pottery bowl. Instead of the electric oven, use a cast iron stove, and instead of a stove use a clay oven, and instead of an oven use an open fire. It all comes out the same in the end doesn't it?

As I hope is clear, this is okay[1] if you don't spend too much time in the kitchens. Who cares if your fantasy Romans are using tomatoes and potatoes and chillies and other new world ingredients, and preparing them in ways that would require hours of back breaking labour. If we're in a castle, that's what the servants are for. If we're not in a castle we'll eat stew[2].

3. Restrict to Old World ingredients[3], and generally old school cooking. Since I want to maximise writing and minimise research for the first draft, I'm thinking basically North European. So lots of pepper, beef, apples, honey for feasts. Fish and Fowl as well. The rest of the time we're mostly eating porridge with vegetables and some sort of meat broth (because our heroes aren't going to do great deeds if they're half starved all the time). Imported luxuries include citrus fruits and spices. The further north you get the harder it is to make salt, so fat and ice cellars will be used as preservatives.

3a. Fantasy world! So why not have New World ingredients as magical stuff from far away? Chillies and tomatoes as exotic flavours, potatoes as magically nutritious foodstuffs[4] (also bananas). Sounds pretty good.

[1] Okay is not high praise from me.
[2] It's always stew. This is because when we're on our world spanning quest to find the Mighty Axe of Kloblock we need food that is light and lasts, which means dried. If we have a cooking pot, then with firewood and a supply of water we can cook our dried meat and beans and make something edible. It's always stew and always will be.
[3] Or New World ingredients if I fancy a challenge.
[4] Liking the idea of Elves having their own version of Three Sisters agriculture.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Write What You Know: Dragons

Dragons, I think, work best when they're in the far background, as a distant threat[1]. They have a tendency to hog the limelight if allowed on stage. This is okay if your novel is all about dragons. But I want to do something else, so dragons will do better as myths legends and travellers tales.

Dragons, as we all know, live on that bit of the map you've not been to, but your uncle's trading partner did. None of you ever saw a dragon, but that grizzled veteran who spends all day in the alehouse fought one in the war, although as he never tells that story without several drinks, which war and where is unclear. Dragons used to live here - after all Old Loggins dug up some dragon bones when he dug his new root cellar - but not any more. The last was killed by King Eros, or Cham the Mighty, or maybe Fal the Wightslayer.

Also, from fossil evidence dragons -> dinosaurs, which arguably gives us giants -> Gigantopithecus and orcs -> Neanderthals.

[1] Or promise

Monday, October 17, 2011

Write What You Know: Dark Lords

If I was going to write extruded fantasy product, I'd have to write it from the point of view of the young lad growing up with poor but honest folks somewhere in middle earth who discovers that he's destined to grow up to be the Dark Lord, overthrow the established order, and start a revolution.
- Charles Stross


As I've previously noted, and Charlie goes on to explain in his post, the problem is not Dark lords, it's having any lords.

At the time Charlie's agent said this was going to alienate his readers. However 10 years have passed since then, and fantasy is dark and gritty and the new weird is being overtaken by the new swords and sorcery[1]. Some authors have begun approaching this idea. The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan seems to be heading this way at the end (and it's publication date is around now, I type this so maybe we'll find out! Book Tralier here). K J Parker's novels are more tragedies, but from a certain point of view her protagonists who are so obsessed with their goals that they will tear down the world could be Dark Lords[2].

A really interesting one is in Well of Darkness, the first in the Sovereign Stone Trilogy by Tracey Hickman and Margaret Weis. It has interesting twists on regular fantasy tropes (Japanese Elves, Horse Nomad Dwarves, Seagoing Orcs) and a clear and smart turning to the dark side of the protagonist. It all turns crap in the second novel, and I never finished it. Something similar happened to this reviewer.

A Dark Lord is a fantasy supervillain. Supervillains tend to have the problem of motivation. Here though, that's easy. Nobles are bad. Even good ones. Magicians keep secrets, secrets that could benefit everyone. Elves tell us they're better than us, and when we ask for help, they tell us we can never be good enough. The king fights his war against the orcs, and we do most of the dying, but when we go home, he goes to a palace to hear songs of his deeds, and we go home to find we've missed the harvest, and taxes have been raised to pay for the war, and rebuilding the city. "If you do what we say, we will protect you" they say. And we do what they say, and we do all the work of protecting, and when we get home the village has been burnt by raiders and it turns out what we've been protecting is the nobles.

I think I'm on to something here.

[1] Probably not. But The New Swords and Sorcery is the subtitle of Swords and Dark Magic, an excellent anthology of stories from this subgenre.
[2] The real difference is that most of them aren't doing it because they think it's the right thing to do, as heroes do. Rather than gloss over the fact that saving the city will require the deaths of an entire nation doesn't matter, because they're just orcs, Parker's characters will acknowledge that these are real people and go ahead and kill them anyway. AND IT WON'T SAVE THE CITY.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Family Stories

During the war my Grandfather worked on the railways. However he was also a special constable[1]. Most of his job as a special constable was guiding convoys on his motorbike - getting lost being a serious concern when navigating at night in blacked out countryside with all the signposts removed to confuse Nazi invaders or saboteurs. Many of the convoys were Americans heading to or from Long Marston Airfield, adding an extra layer of possible confusion.

However my Grandfather, a very tall man[2], was occasionally called on by the local constable, a somewhat smaller man, to be the quiet threat in tricky situations. One day some travellers, probably referred to as gypsies at the time, set up camp in a field near the airfield. The Constable called on my grandfather to loom in the background. Arriving at the site, he pulled out his notebook, looked around, then spoke to the men watching him. "Well Gentlemen, I'll be back tomorrow to check on you vehicle and dog licenses."

The next morning they left. Different times.


[1] A lot of this kind of thing went on. With a large number of the country's men in uniform there were a lot of extra jobs that needed filling. Dad's Army gives a flavour of that, with the men of the platoon coming from their day jobs to drill with the Home Guard, and ARP Warden Hodges being the Greengrocer by day. As well as doing needed work, it turns out that being a special constable gets you a fuel allowance, something not to be sniffed at in heavily fuel-rationed Britain.
[2] How tall? I'm not sure. He seemed pretty tall when I knew him, but I was much shorter at the time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Write What You Know: Immortality

As I noted at the end of this non-descriptively named post classic writing advice is "write what you know"[1]. So the first element I'm interested in including in my novel is immortality. No not immorality. Stop that. I'm just going to throw words and ideas at the screen to see what happens so this doesn't really have a conclusion.

1. Excluding old age and disease, human life expectancy seems to be about 600-800 years. So death would not be unknown in a community of immortal-but-human people. However with accident, natural disaster and violence being the main causes of death I'd expect those deaths to cluster, and for there to be a really long tail giving a significant population of multi-millenarians[2].

2. Elves. Sodding Elves.

Here's an interesting thought from this guy's D&D campaign. Immortal Elves have a horror of death. As they age however, their diet becomes more and more exotic. When they have to give up their vegan diet they move from the Summer court to the Winter court. As they age in the Winter court they eventually become undead. Of course this ignores my statistical stuff above, but that's okay because these are Elves out of legend rather than naturalistic Elves. I don't really see a way of using this but it's interesting and makes the elves closer to folkloric and mythical roots rather than sub-Tolkienien pretty guys with pointy ears[3].

In one or other of the extended versions of The Lord of The Rings films, there's a scene where Elrond describes what happened at the end of the Siege of Barad-dûr[4], and he has the same haircut as he does 3000 years later. Brilliant! The only thing better would be if he took a scar during the War of The Last Alliance and still had it at the end of The Third Age.

Galadrial is even older. I don't recall exactly, but I think she's born during the Years of The Trees, before the sun or moon are created. Sadly no elves are awakened during the Years of the Lamps, when the world was still flat and everything lit by two giant lamp posts. No really. But nevertheless she's lived through a change of the entire cosmology, seen evil rise, and fall, seen kingdoms of Men rise and fall and generally a whole lot of history. Middle Earth's history is a fall from a golden age, so she probably sees each new battle as more petty and grubby than the one before.

3. What do you do with all of time before you? Back to sodding Elves, or in this case, sodding Space Elves, I recall in one version of Warhammer 40000 the Eldar followed paths for a time. So you might spend a century as an artist, then apprentice as a pilot or engineer until you master it, and then, it being a wargame, spend time as a warrior. Some got lost on the paths becoming Exarchs, Masters of the Path, who were simultaneously honoured for their mastery and pitied for losing their way and becoming obsessed with it. Interestingly, when ordinary Eldar formed Guardian squads as a militia, their leaders were those who had previously walked the Path of the Warrior and left it, using the experience gained in their previous career.

Ordinary ambitions do seem to fade a bit with all of time ahead. After a century you'd probably master any skill you had an aptitude for. Would you move on, or would you keep on, obsessively trying to creep towards perfection? Political objectives might be more durable, but then again there's this from my thoughts on Supervillains - having gained power, what then? An immortal ruler, no matter how revolutionary they are to begin with would eventually create a perfect conservative (small c) state, with change carefully controlled to preserve the state for the long term. No matter how pleasant it would be like one of those perfect utopias just ripe for Captain Kirk to smash with a speech about self-reliance and freedom of choice.

4. Vampires. Heh. I like the idea of vampires-as-immortals. They have a reason to hide their immortality - several in fact[5]. They exist parallel with, but not separate from human society. There's something to work with here.

But I went through a vampire phase 10-15 years ago and frankly had enough[6]. I'm also getting in the ring with Stephanie Meyer and behind her is a line of great Horror writers 114 years long. So, no.

However, for idiosyncratic reasons I tend to put Highlander if not in the vampire-genre niche, sitting next to it. Secret immortals, who can be killed by decapitation[7], with a mysterious and secret destiny[8].

5. Well, no conclusion here. I like the idea of secret immortals with an unknown agenda. Add to this rumours, legends, fakes and con men claiming to be these immortals and we've got something interesting, but not enough to build a story on. In fact I'd want to keep them in the shadows as much as possible because they would be much cooler that way. So I need more ingredients, which means more Write What You Know posts.

[1] "You write what you know because — like there's another choice? The trick is to try and know as much as possible."
— Lois McMaster Bujold
[2] Suicide would be the other big killer, but that would tend to occur in discrete cases.
[3] Ironically since I'm looking for human immortals this ought to be a better match, but frankly most of this type of Elves are just guys who live a few hundred years, you know, and love trees and all living beings man, except trespassers who must be arrowshot like a rack of kebabs.
[4] Elrond is already 3000 years old at the end of the Second Age.
[5] There's the blood-drinking thing. There's the consorting-with-dark-powers thing (usually these two aren't disentangled). There's the vulnerability during the daytime thing. And there's the people wanting immortality thing (including in this set people who want to study vampires because it's never for the benefit of the vampire).
[6] Which is not to say that I've gone cold turkey. This year I've read Anno Dracula and also watched Vampires Suck, an entertaining parody of the Twilight films which has several good jokes in. I especially like that the theme for the prom, [SPOILERS].
[7] The Kurgan seems to be driving the quest towards there being only one. It's not clear why the rest of them can't just get along. Supposedly the last one will be given power over all mankind, but, they're immortal, so why?
[8] Which we never find out because there was never a sequel. What's that? La la la, I can't hear you!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Depression

Scott Lynch is the author of two Fantasy Novels[1]. The reason he's not the author of three or four fantasy novels is due to depression, anxiety attacks and the break up of his marriage. He wrote about it with the skill of a professional writer and the bit that connected for me was this:

The worst aspect of my depression is what I've come to think of as "black dog time," when my enthusiasm for anything takes an Acapulco cliff-dive. It's a hard state of mind to describe-- in fact, it's a hard state of mind to even detect, and even once you have detected it it's hard to give a damn because you're, well, depressed. It's a mental cloud in which one remains perfectly capable of taking action, but primarily obsessive action, self-centered action. Not caring, conscientious, or constructive action. A depressive is supremely skilled at entertaining themselves now because now is all depression ever lets you have. It sharply retracts your chronological horizon. Now is everything, even if, to parahprase Patton Oswalt, now is consumed by sitting in bed and watching The Princess Bride 17 times in a row.


Yeah, I recognise that all right.

The whole thing is here.

[1] The essential The Lies of Locke Lamora, a con/heist/revenge novel and Red Seas Under Red Skies which is more of the same, but with pirates, more egregious cliffhangers and a plot that makes slightly less sense. The recommendation: Read Lies, and if you like it try RSURS.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fifty Thousand Words

Every November an event called National Novel Writing Month[1] takes place. The challenge is to write a novel of 50 000 words in the month, which works out to 1 666 ⅔ words a day[2]. I'm planning on having a go, if only to finish something. Firstly though, here's what I won't be writing:


1. Novelised versions of any of the stuff on this blog

Frankly none of them have the legs to be longer stories, which is why they got finished in their current form and stuck on the blog! Also:

ROBOT DEATH TANK - is a one trick pony.[3]

Carstairs and Topper runs into the problem of Topper - is he just a tophat, or is he actually Carstairs' partner? Or what? I prefer not to answer that question. It'd be like tracking down Bill Watterson and asking him if Hobbes is real or a figment of Calvin's imagination[4]. Also, I'd have to work out a mystery plot of some sort, and making that watertight is a good way of NOT writing a novel[5].

Professor Lovebody is a no because I am Steampunked out at the moment[6].

Major Squick could work, but would probably be a sub-standard comedy Flashman. Also researching the 19th century British Empire is a great way of NOT writing a novel. Just go and read Flashman and sequels. I can't lend you all of them as someone has wandered off with some of them. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The Ravenswood stories have some potential. On the other hand they're just me taking folk stories, folk history, apocryphal stories, fairy tales etc. giving them a bit of a twist and plonking them down in the Ravenswood. I don't object to a novel set in a folktale nowhere/everywhere place but it's a bit limiting as the people aren't characters but stereotypes and the events don't occur but have always occurred.


2. That fantasy novel I always intended to write more than 30 pages of

I've had this great idea of using Xenophon's Anabasis as the basis of a fantasy novel for years and years. An army of Greek Mercenaries marches into the heart of the Persian Empire, win the battle but lose the war, are betrayed and have to march back. Xenophon has prophetic dreams and everything[7]. It's hardly original, but I thought a modern gritty twist might lift it a bit. Also the sequel is a Fantasy Alexander[8] which almost writes itself.

It's such a good idea that I suggest you go and read The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney which has a fantasy Anabasis[9], and also a sequel Corvus that sets things up for a Fantasy Alexander. It's modern and gritty[10]! Damn it.


3. Supervillains

I've been thinking about Supervillains for at least three years now. I have a plot and characters and everything. Unfortunately it has Nazi human experimentation in the first act which is kind of harrowing to research, and frankly after reading about it I stop writing and just flop around in a grey haze for a couple of days. I could make it up, but that's going to be one or more of a. trivialising; b. disrespectful; c. disturbing in it's own right; d. disturbing on another level entirely.


4. A big modern talky novel

One problem with this is it tends to be about relationships and personal problems[11]. When writing I get bogged down in conversations and explanations and descriptions and so forth. The way to break out of this is to introduce some urgency; an emerging situation that requires at least the attention of the characters and usually some action by them[12]. In a non-genre novel this kind of thing can be easily overused, swiftly resembling a soap opera style lurching from car crash to affair to break in to house fire to children running away from home. Better to write a genre novel where these things are not just accepted, but expected.


5. Technothriller / Historical Adventure

These fall straight into the target area defined above. Unfortunately to do properly they require lots of research to work. It would be entirely possible to write a first draft and find that reality made the entire plot risible[13]. No, I need a genre where making stuff up is a positive attribute.


6. Science Fiction / Horror / Romance

Naah. Making stuff up for SF ties me in knots of research / plausibility / coolness / rinse-and-repeat. I'm not such a fan of horror or romance that I want to spend 30 days building a plot.

Classically, writing advice begins with "write what you know"[14]. So it's clear that I should write a nice fat fantasy novel. Or, as I'm aiming for 50,000 words, a nice slim one. Good work everyone! Now to come up with some stuff to go in it.


Next: Things that interest me to write about.

[1] With the hideous abbreviation NaNoWriMo
[2] Tempting! But my personal rule will be to write an integer number of words a day, unless quoting or reporting partial words in dialogue.
[3] Actual Robot Death Tank stories exist. I suggest checking out Keith Laumer's Bolo stories for an example.
[4] The answer is "Yes".
[5] A long-form Carstairs and Topper would mash together two Sherlock Holmes stories to make A Study in Bohemia, or unless it turned out to be a bit racy in which case it would be A Scandal in Scarlet.
[6] You can find Steampunk novels all over the place - Waterstones had a display of it a couple of months back. As noted I've had enough for a while so will not be recommending here.
[7] Socrates interprets it for him, and tells him off for asking the wrong question in the first place.
[8] Hardly original as two of David Gemmell's best novels follow just that template.
[9] Also a Katabasis. Hey, look it up if you can't keep up.
[10] Probably a bit grimmer than I would make it. The Ten Thousand make their way through by endurance and willpower, while mine would have been all about sudden forced marches, clever strategies, seizing forts and bridges by surprise and things like that. Something a little like the Chain of Dogs in Steven Erikson's Deadhouse Gates.
[11] Ugh!
[12] Hereafter referred to as an emergency.
[13] This hasn't always stopped other people.
[14] In Junior School they'd say "No aliens, magic, spies, gangsters, ghosts..." and list everything I wanted to write about, so all my stories were about going on nice walks and finding dead animals, or funny shaped trees or seeing ships and aeroplanes, except one time when they left spies out of the list by accident.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ROBOT DEATH TANK: Carstairs and Topper

It's the inevitable crossover between the two most "popular" fiction series I've created this year! Not available in 3D.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm sure you have guessed the reason for calling you all here. This crime has rocked our country house party, and I'm sure that we all want this cleared up before the storm that has isolated us blows over."

"You're right!" said Major Bellows. "The reputation of us all - indeed the reputation of the house itself - is in danger! If the good name of Little Hampton is besmirched I doubt I will be able to find a trout stream as good as this that will have me as even a weekend guest."

"Quite," said Lady Peabody, "I'm sure Major Bellows speaks for all of us."

"I began my investigation by trying to determine when the crime occurred and what everyone in the house was doing at that time."

"You don't mean to say you suspect one of us?" said Standish, monocle dropping from his eye socket.

Carstairs gave him an incredulous glance, then continued. "Topper determined the time as 12.07, yet the chambermaid heard a suspicious noise at 12.21, and I deduced that the latest the crime could have been committed was 11.54. A conudnrum indeed!"

"There was a ruby stolen as well?" asked Benson. "No, a conundrum, not a corundum," muttered Mrs Benson.

"I then attempted to determine who had a motive. Unfortunately like all house parties we are over supplied with them, ranging from jealousy, envy, revenge, blackmail, fear of blackmail, envy, greed, unrequited love, concealing another crime, worship of the elder gods, political ambition, madness and complete blithering incompetence."

"Also incompetence," said Duff-Johnson.

"Indeed. Topper even uncovered a ring of smugglers using the sub-cellars, but we left the rounding up to the children on holiday in the cottage. So having got nowhere on motive or opportunity, we examined the means by which the crime was committed. It became clear that the perpetrator would have to know many details about the house, including being able to collect a particular bottle from the wine cellar in the dark; have military experience on both the North West Frontier and in South Africa; speak fluent Japanese; be able to clean ladies boots to a fine sheen in a mere jiffy, or perhaps even faster; to stuff three birds inside one another, then serve it for dinner; to be able to handle a yak and make butter from it's milk; to be able to dance the merengue, and perhaps also play La Cucaracha; and have a familiarity with methods of putting down the undead. After hours of painstaking analysis, I have come to conclusion that only one person, other than Topper, fulfills all these requirements, and thus is the criminal. And that person is..."

"I say Carstairs - look at that!"

"For God's sake Duff-Johnson!" said Carstairs, picking the revolver off the mantlepiece. "Will you shut up for a moment? Do you want the butler to get away with it?"

"No look! Out the window! It's ROBOT DEATH TANK!"

They looked out the window and saw ROBOT DEATH TANK. They fled.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

ROBOT DEATH TANK: The Colonel and The Lieutenant

As the door closed the Colonel spoke. "Now listen to me girl. Up there you're a hotshot flyboy, and those kids piss their pants when they hear the callsign FudgeDragon. But down here, you're plain Lieutenant Martin and you will obey orders dammit! Am I makin' myself clear?"

"Yes Sir!"

"So enough of these hotdoggin' stunts. No more Split S landings. No more buzzin' the strip clubs. No more practical jokes. Do you know how long it's goin' to take to clean up your avocado strafin' run?"

"No Sir."

"Well you're goin' to find out, because you're grounded until the General's quarters are sparkly clean. You're on the maintenance detachment until it's done. Is that clear?"

Before the Lieutenant could answer the door burst open. "Not now Sergeant! I told you I didn' want to be disturbed!"

"But sir," gasped the Sergeant, "look out the window! ROBOT DEATH TANK!"

They looked out the window and there was ROBOT DEATH TANK. They fled.