Aimless Wandering…

Staring at a blank screen. All white. Waiting to be filled with words. What words though? A dozen story ideas percolate in the upper layers of my subconscious, grasping them is like grappling with fog. I know if I grab harder, push more, pin the thing down and try to examine it I’ll find the thread at its core to follow. But is it ready? Am I ready? If I pull at the thread will it unwind? Dissipate back into fog after the first few feet? Which to grasp at? There are too many…

For the first time in three to four years I cleared my freelance roster, I had no deadlines looming, no things that needed to be done. I was free to write… But what to write? For a few days I did little more than open a word document and wonder what I should use to start filling that blank page. Which story idea? Which would lead somewhere? I was at a loss. At a loss I turned to what was easy, the role playing game I am working on has a list of things that need to be done. The obvious answer to the sense of gnawing indecision was to start with the first bullet point and work down. I want to write fiction though. I have the lofty goal of writing a novel manuscript this year, and yet, faced for the first time in years with the prospect of having that time I found myself doing what? Idly wondering where I should begin and actively finding other ways to fill my schedule. Avoidance, in other words.

Since late last year I’ve been catching up with a writer friend of mine regularly, and we’ve been pulling apart each other’s work. After schedules pushed our meetings back this month we finally had the chance to catch up again tonight. It was nice to talk. It was nice to mutually lament the maudlin state of indecision and the generally felt lack of progress. The talking itself was spur enough to get me moving. I am reminded of a favourite quote:

“You can’t edit a blank page.”

Variously attributed to either/both Nora Roberts and Jodi Picoult.

I must pick something, and I realise now it doesn’t really matter what. I must pull at that string, whether it leads to fog or somewhere else entirely.

I came away tonight from that catch up with a sense of purpose renewed: just pick something. I have a number of story ideas, I might pull at a few and see what unravels. Maybe they will be worth following, maybe they won’t be ready yet. But at least I have some drive returned.

We didn’t have much work to share with one another tonight, but in conversation I recovered my drive to get words down, to start something, to get things flowing again… Maybe I needed the break, even if it was just a few days, to reset myself, to stop looking at the whiteboard schedule, now empty, and wonder ‘what comes next’, and just push forward with a few things to see where they lead. It was good to talk, and good to be reminded how important talking is. I have to stop now though, there’s a blank page calling my name…

Dogs of War, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Dogs of War is a science fiction novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky…

Ok. So, here’s the thing. I have wanted to write this review since I turned the last page and sat back in breathless marvel at the work I had just experienced. In equal measure I have dreaded writing this review too, there is so much I want to say that I’m not confident I’ll be able to articulate.

I loved this book, conceptually it is stunning, it is characterful, it is harrowing, it is all too real, and it makes you ask questions… It is also written in a number of voices that lift the characters from the page. If a book can achieve all those things, and Dogs of War does, it is an exemplary book, a work of art, and I thoroughly suggest you stop reading this and just get hold of a copy.

If I had to guess, I would suggest that this book is set in the not-too-distant future, maybe 50-80 years from now. It could even be closer. The main protagonists in the story are bioforms, genetically modified hybrid creatures, part human, part animal, part manipulation, and part technology. They are intelligent, enough to serve their function in a warzone, and integrated with a range of technologies. Rex, Honey, Dragon and Bees are wonderful, each an individual fascinating in their own right, and bound together by circumstance.

It is a curious book, staccato, the action begins in a warzone and moves, moves, and moves again. Each time the tempo and pace, the focus and problems, shift significantly. Nonetheless it is one whole story, a Frankenstein’s tale for the modern age that poses some very real and very frightening questions that are relevant now, today.

The first chapter sent me reeling, what was unsaid and implied made what was said that much more powerful and impactful. The space carefully carved out between the words instigated a chain of concepts, themes, and implications that would echo through the book.

Dogs of War begins in a warzone, gonzo action that throws up moral and ethical quandaries like leaves tumbling in an Autumn gale. It moves to the International Criminal Court and questions of identity and person-hood, of rights and obligations come thick and fast. There are questions raised of independence, morality, free-will and concerns for the future all intertwined. It is a world and a story that is within believable reach of where we sit today.

Making choices is the price of being free.

– Rex

Freedom of choice brings with it a shackling to consequence and ownership; the role of actor also brings an acceptance of responsibility. This feels to me the central fulcrum around which the wonderful character of Rex pivots. Each of the characters is artfully set-out, but Rex is the one we share the most time with, who we share point of view with. This realisation grows, as he does, and defines the journey to self-identity, and beyond.

Humanity, just as it is not constrained by skin colour, gender, or nation, is not a condition penned into any one shape.

-Dogs of War

This is a book that asks deep questions, and one where we, as readers, struggle along with the characters trying to resolve them. It is about morality and ethics, technology and the use and misuse of it, person-hood and artificial intelligence. It is a book that takes a stunning look at the coming and inevitable event horizon, and pauses a moment to really think, and to really feel.

I have skirted mapping out the plot and have avoided revealing too much (I hope). I have opted instead to sketch out my thoughts and impressions, and I hope that is enough. There is much more to be said… Honey, beautiful architect of hope that she is. Dragon, as cold as one would expect, yet not. Bees… oh yes Bees. Cloud computing in physical form and masterfully rendered. George, a perfect bastard. So much more…

When I started Dogs of War I met a monster, by the end I was bleeding in sympathy with the same. What a magnificent story, and for Rex, what a beautiful character arc…

I have failed, I think, to capture the intelligence and brilliance of this book, managing instead only the echoes of the thoughts and feelings it caused. All I can say in the end, I suppose, is that Dogs of War really is a wonderful book.

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

With the Amazon series swiftly approaching I thought I had better, finally, pull my finger out and read Good Omens, by authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I admire both authors greatly, and I am, in retrospect, somewhat surprised at myself for not having read it earlier.

I picked the book off my ‘unread’ pile (a teetering stack as is only good and natural) somewhere shortly after Christmas, and it didn’t take me long to chew through to the end. My initial thoughts, after the first few pages, were ‘why did this take me so long?’, and for that I’m sorry to say, I have no good answer.

This is a book about the apocalypse, the biblical one, in case anyone was wondering about ancient Mayans and alien invasions (though they are all in there somewhere). It’s also about the apocalyptic bungling of the apocalypse, with the major players all stumbling (and sometimes reeling, staggering, fumbling, and doddering) from one catastrophic and unforeseen muck-up to the next.

As I read the first few pages, the combination of writing style, twists of imaginative force, humour, and humanity, all felt so familiar, I am a great lover of both author’s other works after all. Familiar and not in a tired way, the sort of familiarity that breeds bored disinterest, but the familiarity of relaxing with an old friend. The familiarity of wriggling into a well worn armchair with a favourite drink at hand. It was embracing, comfortable, and absolutely wonderful.

I really don’t want to spoil this book by giving away too much, though I seem to be one of the last people on Earth to have decided it’s finally time to crack the cover. So suffice to say only that Good Omens is a book full of humour (as we would expect), wisdom, and heart. All these are present in abundance.

It never ceases to amaze me the way these two authors manage to shine a light on, or otherwise highlight, the foibles of our all-too human selves. All our strengths masked as the fumbling and general intention to do right or the dogged stupidity of never giving up. All our weaknesses gently mocked and placed in contexts that reveal them as the absurdities they are. There are messages throughout this book, perhaps more relevant today than when it was first penned (Pollution replacing Pestilence in the Four Horsemen quartet of the end times, being the most obvious).

All in all Good Omens is a wonderful book, one I was glad to read and gently angry with myself for not having read sooner. I am looking forward to the Amazon series greatly. Though I believe they must have had a hell of a job (no joke intended) in getting all the aliens, Atlanteans, Tibetan Monks, Witch Hunters, Bikers of Apocalypse, hell-hounds, demons, and angels lined up for shooting-wrap cast photo.

It will be fun!

Trouble on Omned III

Trouble on Omned III is an adventure I penned for the Star Trek Adventures role playing game, published by Modiphius. I am thrilled to see it hit release!

You are called away from a routine science mission to intervene and mediate a dispute that has erupted on Omned III, on the border between Federation space and the Talarian Republic. Inhabited by the Shean, Omned III is teetering on the brink of civil conflict. While few in numbers, the Shean possess an insular and rigidly structured society, with the ruling and military classes living in a single large space station while the working classes live on the planet’s surface.

The Shean of Omned III are infected with a subtle parasite that manifests as an apparent genetic disorder, which they call the ‘Omned Curse’ meaning that they age at a vastly accelerated rate.

A vaccine farmed on the surface of Omned III prevents this debilitating disorder from taking hold but in the last month, the vaccine shipped from the surface has failed to take effect. With unprotected newborns suffering, and recent cases of the disorder beginning to activate in adults, tensions between the upper and lower castes are at a breaking point.

As the situation deteriorates even further, can you find a way to avert Shean civil war and help find a cure for the Omned Curse?

While a plain Word document is nice enough, it can’t match a nice LCARS layout!
(which was designed by Matthew Comben and laid out by Thomas Deeny).

Trouble on Omned III is the fourth adventure I have written that has made it to release, with another five, for the Infinity Role Playing Game, on the way. I hope those people who play it have at least half as much fun as I did writing it!

You can find Trouble at Omned III in the Modiphius online store, here. Or on DriveThru RPG, here.