Short Story – Impact in…

This is going to be interesting and it’s probably going to hurt quite a lot as well.

Those were the first two thoughts to cross my mind when there was a bang from behind, an explosion of air and the oxygen mask dropped down in front of me. I automatically pulled it on, certainly different from my last plane crash, which was ohhh… 1917. A Forker managed to bounce me in my Sopwith Camel and stitched a line of bullet holes across the engine. I was lucky – it didn’t catch fire, otherwise I would have sizzled all the way down. Still I broke both my legs and it totally put me off flying for fifty years. The nice lady beside me who had been bending my ear about her daughter, the one whose PHD graduation she was going to attend, starts screaming. Damn shame about the daughter; she’s going to end up associating her moment of triumph with her mother’s death. Oh well what can you do?

I look over my shoulder and… hey, would you look at that! The plane just sorta ends a couple of rows behind me. We have us some full on structural failure – air crash investigation here we come; bloody modern rubbish, at least my old Camel stayed in one piece. The screams around me are fading now as oxygen deprivation kicks in. I consider pulling on her face mask and decide against it; she might come round again and that would be no kindness. With that decision made, all I can do now is sit back and enjoy the ride, so to speak.

Funny whenever death gets close I can always feel my brain speed up, I’ve tried drugs, sex, even rock and roll, any substance or experience that would give that same rush without the pain of actually dying. Never found one and obviously I haven’t enjoyed every death. My first time in particular sucked. Just before that Roundhead soldier stuck his sword through my throat, I remember dropping my pike, pissing my pants and screaming like a little girl. I guess it’s a bit like sex; the first time is never much good, just most people don’t get to have another go.

I suppose I could go find this daughter, tell her how proud her mother was. But then I get awkward questions like ‘how are you still alive?’ and hell I’ve been asking myself that one for centuries. Still this is one is going to be interesting. I’ve been stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, drowned, burned, overdosed and on one really memorable occasion, got stamped to death by an angry bull elephant but I always come back from it. This time round though I’m going to get smashed to smithereens; I wonder is this the one that finally kills me? Well soon find out.

Wow, this is taking longer than I expected. Come on, come on, I got things to do! I wonder how much longer to impa-

 

 

 

POSTSCRIPT: This one is the result of a writing group I attend, the word limit was 500 with the prompt - An immortal is a passenger on a jet that is going to crash

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Battle Fleet Universe – The Fuel Industry

For an observer from the early part of the century with its reliance on petrochemicals, it may come as a surprise that that only a few decades later the oil industry has largely withered away, with only a few industrial processes continuing to use oil and its byproducts. For energy generation fusion has become Earth’s principal power generation technique.  The principal source of fuel for this, is the harvesting industry that has been constructed around Saturn.

refinary 3

With Helium-3 concentration in Saturn’s atmosphere at about 10 parts per million, fuel can be harvested from the planet’s upper atmosphere by dedicated atmospheric skimmers. The cargo of these vessels is then transported to the refineries that orbit the planet, which separate out the useful elements. While some of these such as the Kyŏn Three platform pictured above, are government owned, the majority are owned by publicly listed corporations – many of which were businesses that converted from being oil companies.

Once purified the Helium-3 needs to be transported to Earth. This work is largely carried out by a type of vessel known as Slow Boats

slowboat approaching Earth

These vessel are not equipped jump drives, instead they spend months making the transit between Saturn and Earth in Real Space. Since once they have climbed out of Saturn’s gravity well they coast the rest of the distance, they are unmanned for the majority of their journey. It is only during the passage in and out of orbit that for safety and legal reason these vessels boarded by a pilot.

Slow boats fleet make up the majority of traffic within the solar system, operating in a steady stream, their passage is timed to create a continuous supply of fuel to Earth.

Slowboat & pilot 1

Interstellar Tankers

Interstellar fuel transports are by comparison much rarer. The majority of interstellar tankers are part of Battle Fleet’s logistical train. Those in civilian or government operation, serve mostly in the support of the colonies. Currently Earth has two colony worlds, Dryad and Landfall. A slow boat system is already in place for Dryad but in both cases tankers are used to support transports on route and bring in additional fuel where short term demand outstrips local transportation.

tanker 2

While the fuel source has changed, one fact that after fifty years remains the same is the fuel supply lines remain the lifeblood of civilization and society, as their security remains a primary concern for both militaries and governments.

 

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Open letter to Smashwords – Why I won’t publish further books through your system.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been trying since December to rectify my payment status so that I receive the royalties I am due. I have an email on record stating that Smashwords has received my W8-BEN form so I may legitimately avoid the 30% withholding tax element. I have emailed about this matter repeatedly but received no useful response. Whether it be a matter of corporate policy, bad management or weak staffing, it is clear you have no interest in dealing with this issue. I have now set my account to hopefully receive the remaining 70% and will in due course claim the withheld funds from the IRS.

However this adds to Smashwords other great failing. Namely the amount of time and effort required to use your publishing system. I have through Smashwords published two novels and a novella. In each case the amount of effort required to prepare the file is much greater than either Kobo or more importantly Amazon.

Given the low number sales I have made through your system as opposed to through Amazon, this makes the man hours required to prepare my next book for Smashwords economically nonviable. Therefore in October when I release my third book I will advise the small number of customers I have through your system to buy via Kobo or Amazon.

Yours faithfully

Edmond Barrett

With apologies to any readers inconvenienced.

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Ships of the Fleet – Sparrow Class Destroyer

Background

The end of the Contact War found Battle Fleet facing a number of unique challenges as it moved forward into the post war period. Under the pressures of the conflict, the first generation of human starships had designed and built without any fundamental understanding of many of the key technologies. Instead human designers were forced to copy blindly without an understanding of why particular features were necessary. The post war Foundation Program promised to solve this problem (see entry RIVER CLASS for more details) but in the short term the Battle Fleet faced both a serious capability gap and a danger that without growth, political will for what was in effect a stateless military might fade. So while it was important that the fleet begin to make good its wartime losses, it was equally important not to financially commit too deep to a generation of ships which were likely to become obsolete in a fairly short time frame.

sparrow full burn

This combination of factor effectively ruled out the simplest option of building another batch of the comparatively large and expensive Storm Class Cruisers, however the option of building a smaller design out of off the shelf parts promised more possibilities. While the first generation cruisers had been constructed in what were in effect government shipyards, post war a number of commercial enterprises had entered the sector. The fleet was keen to widen the sector and a class of small ship offered the chance for several companies to gain warship experience.

Design

With speed of the essence, much of the design followed what were at that time established conventions – the hood over the main turret and the bridge mounted below the turret. Still there were some innovations within the design. In all previous designs the missile launchers had been internal to the hull but in such a small ship there would be no room for reloads, so instead these were mounted externally and angled nine degrees off the horizontal. Another break with convention was the mounting of the maneuvering engines.  Set in an X formation rather than the usual cross layout, this was found to offer better performance. This layout reduced the possible firing arcs into the broadside but with the existing turret layout on Sparrow this was found to be acceptable, although it has not been repeated.

Sparrow angles

The design of the bow structure and the housing for the jump drive was another deviation from fleet practice. Formed into an open ‘butterfly’ design, this layout was both lighter and radiated heat better than the fleet’s standard ‘ram bow’ layout. Unfortunately it also gave a stronger radar return, making the vessel a more obvious target and so was not repeated in later warship classes. However the design was to prove highly influential in first generation of civilian starships.

Service

Sparrow entered service in 2038, with the other 8 members of the class following over the next three years. In their first five years in service the Sparrows were engaged in an extensive series of trials and exercises mostly within Earth’s solar system. At the end of this period the fleet had come to the conclusion that as combat vessels the Sparrow Class was of marginal value at best.

While in theory the plasma cannon was capable of striking targets at up to seventy thousand kilometres, the single mount, with it fairly low rate of fire, under combat conditions struggled to hit targets beyond thirty thousand kilometres – suicidal range against an armed opponent. While the lack of armour or even splinter protection, combined with the limited point defence grid meant fighters would present a serious threat.

Battle Fleet had however always accepted that the Sparrow Class would be stepping stones to more capable designs and the experience gained fed into later designs. The development of the light plasma cannon for example, can be traced directly back the Sparrows.

Ambush 2

As a small but homogenous  group the Sparrows were frequently used by the Fleet Tactical Development Section to field test new tactics and frequently ‘role-played’ as much larger ships. Additionally a large number of second line duties fell with the capabilities of the class, particularly perimeter patrol.

The expectation had been been that the class would serve for eight years before being downgraded the pure training ships. The discovery of Dryad, followed by the establishment of Earth’s first extra-solar colony and the greater than expected success of the River Class Cruisers, extended the Sparrow’s front line career to more than fifteen years. With their small heat sink, operations outside of Earth solar system were difficult but the type freed up larger ships for service elsewhere. The aftermath of the abortive Temple invasion of Dryad in 2041 was the only time members of the class spent significant time away from Earth.

Sparrow firing 2

While the class had not been built with upgrades in mind, the lack of armour meant relatively easy access into the ship’s structure, while the fleet’s rapid expansion and need for training ships, meant class continued to be useful enough to justify re-engining and re-reactoring at the end of the 2040′s and it was only in 2059 that the class was finally reduced reserve.

Conclusion

It has often been the case that smaller ships fail because designers or administrators expect too much. The Sparrow class represent a rare occasion where a small ship exceeds expectations. While always ships of modest capabilities the Sparrows continued long beyond their intended lifespan to prove useful in a variety of roles. There most useful role however was to indicate a minimum size for a true starship and all follow on designs having been at least fifty percent larger.

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Writing when you’re INSPIRED!

There’s that old saying that everyone has a book in them. Personally I’ve never believed it. Now I do think anyone who reads has a book in them but maybe that’s just splitting hairs.

There another saying that might not be as old but one I do believe. It runs thus: only writing when you are inspired is fine – just as long as you are inspired every day.

Getting into the writing ‘zone’ is time consuming.  Writing is more time consuming. Good writing is… Well I’m sure you’ve worked out the pattern.

The reason I say this, is that at the moment I’m having a bit of an attack of real life: which is probably going to go on for the next few months. But if I plan to get anywhere with the writing then I have to keep writing during this.

That’s the thing with writing, if you plan to do it, then you have just to do. None of this Inspiration nonsense, just crack on.

 

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Ships of the Fleet – Resolution Class Battleships

Background

Prior to the introduction by the Aèllr Confederacy of the heavy plasma cannon, there was major and times ill-tempered debate within Battle Fleet on what exactly the battlefield role of battleships actually was. The fleet’s first two battleships carried the same guns as the cruisers, just simply more of them. In terms of firepower these two vessels had only two to three times the gun power of contemporary cruisers, while at the same time being substantially slower, more expensive and less flexible.  Where battleship and cruiser design significantly diverged was in terms of armour. With significantly thicker armour plate, a battleship could absorb fire that would cripple their smaller brethren.

Fortitude and Resolution Jupiter

Resolution on manoeuvres close to Jupiter, her half sister ship Fortitude can be seen in the distance.

This combination of factors resulted in three competing schools of thought within the fleet. The first saw the battleship as the primary assault ship, that would shield the smaller cruisers during the approach. The second saw them defensive units, best kept close to Earth and fixed installations, in essence a mobile fortress, drawing fire away from the cruisers. Which in turn would take the offensive role, out manoeuvring the enemy. The final school saw battleships – even as the Fortitude was under construction – as expensive and unnecessary luxuries which reduced the number of all important cruisers the fleet could field. In all three cases, the battleship was seen as of secondary importance to the cruiser.  The lessons drawn from the Contact War was that speed and maneuverability trumped physical defence.

The arrival of the heavy plasma cannon drastically shifted this balance of power between the two types. A ship so equipped, could strike catastrophic blows from ranges beyond that of cruiser scale guns, while the battleships heavy armour would shrug off counter fire at all but the closest range. Thus a single battleship could dominate a region of the battlezone, leaving any cruiser opponent with only the options to run or be destroyed. While somewhat alarmist in tone, the global media’s claims that the Aèllr’s two Rqwe class battleships would smash aside any human warship, were not too far from the truth. It was therefore critical that Battlefleet possess ships with heavy plasma cannons.

Design

When news of the new Aèllr weapons broke, work on the second of the Fortitude class ship was halted immediately. Unlike her elder sister, this ship was little more than a bare frame. While starting from a clean sheet would have been in most respects been more desirable, it would have significantly delayed the introduction into service. Therefore while the fleet undertook a crash development program to design its own heavy plasma cannons, the ship designers attempted alter the Fortitude design to accommodate these new weapons.

Resolution profile

This task was significantly complicated by the fact that the actual dimensions of the weapons, was this point an unknown. In the end the diameters of the turret barbettes were widened by sixty centimetres, the widest that could be accommodated by the hull that currently existed. This turned out to be barely large enough for each turret to accommodate a pair of the Mk I Heavy Plasma Cannons. Turrets weren’t the only major system that had to be enlarged; the new guns were expected to have greater power requirements. While four McDonnell Douglas LR47 fusion reactors powered Fortitude, these would be barely able to meet the new designs expected requirements and certainly have no reserve of power. Lacking time to develop a next generation reactor, McDonnell Douglas instead opted to essentially size up the LR47 into the LR48. Once again the ship designers were forced to incorporate major design fittings, without knowing the exact dimensions of the components. To compensate the main boat bay amidships was reduced to allow space for fuel and stores displaced by the larger reactors. Although they had attempted to avoid changing the external dimensions of the ship, they were at this point forced to lengthen the ship by three metres to compensate to storage space displaced by the enlarged armament and power plants.

Fortitude and Resolution comparison Not all changes were forced upon the designers. The Fortitude design had four of its plasma cannons in double sponson mounts. It was suggested these should be maintained as a secondary armament. However with the plasma requirements of the main armament still unknown, this was rejected. Instead the fleet mounted heavy calibre railguns, in two side mounted turrets. While these mounting came to be regarded as overly vulnerable, the guns themselves became a standard feature in Battle Fleet cruisers and battleships, with a central role in the fleet’s doctrine.

There were by now serious concerns whether the basic design would withstand so much tinkering, with questions by raised in the press whether the ship would be effective or even safe. However senior fleet officers continued to hold faith in the ship and eighteen months after work was halted, construction resumed on the hull now being called Resolution. A final consequence of the ‘battleship scare’ was the expansion of the class. Instead of a single converted Fortitude, the fleet was authorised to build a total of three ships – Resolution, Renown and finally Resplendent.

Service

Resolution’s launch in was a highly publicised event; unusually for the fleet, a large numbers of officers were made available to the media, to praise both the ship and its design team. This, it was announced, was a vessel that could tackle anything. In private however the fleet was deeply worried. Resolution’s main armament was already showing all the signs of equipment that had been prematurely entered into service. Technologically immature, there were serious and as it turned out, justified concerns regarding the reliability of these weapons.

Upon commissioning, Resolution immediately became the flagship of the Home Fleet and for the next three years spent her time developing new tactics for co-operation between cruisers and capital ships. Certainly it became clear that against a Heavy Plasma Cannon armed ship, an unsupported cruiser would almost certainly be crippled or destroyed before reaching a range at which its plasma cannon could defeat capital scale armour. Assuming the battleship’s gun worked.

Resolution close up1Possibly the fleet’s most carefully guarded secret during this period was that Resolution’s gun didn’t work. It was much later admitted by the ship’s captain, during this period in service, Resolution completed only one full firing drill with all eight guns still operational. Analysis of serviceability would show that on average, only four guns were functional at any given time.  In service the guns quickly showed themselves to have an appetite for coolants that was nothing short of ferocious. Additionally they drew significantly more plasma from the reactors than even the worst-case expectations, with much of this extra power wasted as muzzle flash; consequently Resolution became noticeably sluggish when the armament was in use.

The result of all these factors was a ship of at best marginal combat value and a number of officers quietly advocated that the main armament be replaced with the less powerful but more reliable Plasma Cannons. These calls were however resisted; in a sense the fleet was determined keep up appearances, not just to external threats but also at home. With the Fortitude seen somewhat unfairly as a failure, politically the fleet could not afford to admit that very expensive Resolution was currently even less useful.  The Fleet needed to to maintain an illusion of strength until the heavy plasma cannons could be made to function. In this regard Resolution was a success. The Aèllr were startled by the speed with which the fleet had responded to the Rqwe class and at the three planets negotiations, Resolution provided an impressive centrepiece to the fleet’s show of strength. In 2055 Resolution was returned to dockyard hands. The primary purpose of this refit was to replace the original Mk I guns with Mk III’s, already successfully fitted aboard the second ship of the class.

The Renown and Resplendent, entered service in 2053 and 2055, these ships gained from the experience of their elder sister. Fitted from outset with Mark III Heavy Plasma Cannons, they avoided much of the reliability issues that had plagued Resolution. Upon commissioning, Renown replaced Resolution as the Flagship of the Home Fleet, a role she was to maintain until the Titians entered service six years later. Over the course of their careers all three ships of the class have all served as flagships for Battle Fleet’s three fleets.Line astern

While the entry into service of the Titians removed Resolution’s status as top-flight units, they remain to this day an integral part of the fleet and are expected to remain in service until at least 2069. To date, Renown is the only member of the class to have fired in anger when on the 07/10/2059 she destroyed a Tample raider pursuing the German transport, Bremen.

Conclusion

Despite their troubled beginning the Resolutions have long since become a mature and effective weapon system, capable of matching their expected opponents. What they weren’t however was an economic response to the Aèllr challenge. In real terms Resolution were per unit, the most expensive starships the fleet has ever constructed. (Note costs of the upcoming Warspite class remain unknown at time of writing) Additionally the cramped interior has made updating the ships difficult, contributing to a relatively short expected life span of twenty years. Despite this the Resolutions can be said to make the start point of Battle Fleet as a major multi-system military force.

Resolution one

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E-Book Covers – Refresh, Redo or Rebrand?

During December I finally got around to what had for a while been on my mental to-do list for a while, namely to change the front covers for the e-book versions of both the Nameless War and the Landfall Campaign. I was never entirely happy with my first efforts and as a consequence of my ongoing Ships of the Fleet  project my 3D modelling skills are definitely better now than they were three years ago. I did wonder whether this would have any effect on actual sales.

And the answer a month and a bit down the line is…. maybe.

December probably wasn’t the best time to undertake this change if I wanted to try to study the effects of this change. Over Christmas a lot of new e-reader devices hit the market simultaneously and obviously that has an effect on sales. Still my sales, which after the glory days of just after the launch of book two, had been bobbling along at under a hundred per month, close to doubled. Also I did notice that my Amazon ranking has on average improved. But a lot of different and in many cases uncontrollable factors could be coming in play. So far so ambiguous.

The relevant the cover art for e-books – given that the image will be the size of a postage stamp on the screen of an e-reader – is subject to debate but the whole exercise has got me thinking. The conventional advice is that you get everything right before publishing. But in the case of cover art is there a right answer?

Below is one of my childhood favorites. The edition I read was one on the left, the one on the right is I assume the current edition.

ExamplesSo, same book, same title, same author, different cover; or perhaps we should say different branding.

Back in the days of yore (so ten years at most) when books only existed in dead tree format, they would get printed in runs of hundreds to thousands, depending on expected popularity. If the book did well enough to justify further runs then every so often a new edition would be prepared with a new cover.

Why update at all? If the cover on the left was judged good enough in the seventies or eighties when the copy I read was presumably printed, then what’s wrong with it now?

Well obviously times have moved on. Styles and expectations changed but also the familiar can slowly become the ignored. No publisher wants their titles to lie gathering dust and an old familiar cover become easier for the book buyer to pass over on route to something newer and shinier. This applies to really everything that can be bought and sold, so even if the product remains unchanging, the wrapping needs to be refreshed every so often.

But returning to e-books. As I’ve said before, once an e-book hits the digital shelves it could potentially stay there forever. Unlike the finite shelving of a physical bookshops there is no space limitation. But this means that a given title is in competition with every other book available and with each new year thousands more books will join it.  Again, as I have said before, the self publisher has to think into the long term. At the very least a the cover art will likely have to rejuvenated every few years to keep up with style changes. But should we be thinking in terms of ‘the very least’?

Unlike physical books the digital cover could, if the mood took you, be changed on an almost daily basis. Now that would probably be over the top but perhaps the self publisher should be thinking in terms of having two or three covers and cycling through them every six to twelve months. Just enough for them not to fade into background.

I’m not selling this idea as part of the next get-rich-quick self publishing scheme. I have no evidence to back this line of thought up.  But possibly it is something to be added to the self publishers tool box. If you want to compare my old cover to the new, the links to Amazon below are the new, I haven’t got round to updating the Smashwords.

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords and paperback.

The Job Offer, available on Kindle Kobo and Smashwords

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