Tag Archives: fiction

Older heroes, possibilities and problems

Every so often I get into the mood for a re-read of David Gemmell books and sooner or later I tend to get to his first and in my opinion finest book, Legend – A book saw the induction of what was probably Gemmell’s most iconic character – Druss the Legend. One of things that for me makes Druss interesting is that he’s an old man of sixty, marching to a battle he believes he will not survive. In so many stories revolve around the young hero, in which the older mentor plays a significant but nevertheless supporting role. Why though send the apprentice if the master is available? The older hero comes with a few complications but offers some possibilities his/her younger counter struggles to match.

Occasionally you will come across criticism of the hyper competent protagonist, who does seem old enough for the skills they possess (see the Force Awakens or heck the first Star War films for an examples of this)  It becomes a lot easier to explain how the hero has the skills they have, when with the extra years on the clock, they’ve effectively had time to go everywhere and do everything. In the case of Druss,  even though he is by the start of Legend already old and creaky, he has a lifetime of experience, mostly of not getting killed, contacts everywhere and a towering reputation. Another example of this kind of character can be found in Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, whose main character, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, is an aging demon hunter.

As well as the skills the character can be granted from the outset, there is also the opportunity for a maturity that a younger character might not be able to show. An older person comfortable with their abilities may not feel they have to prove anything. Equally however, the character could be clinging to a fading youth as well has degrading mental and physical capabilities. That latter point leads us on to the made draw back of older main characters.

Those extra years on the clock at the start, mean that less years are available in the future. Should a writer’s older character prove commercially successful, using that character might be difficult or impossible depending on what happened in their first story. In later books Gemmell spent a lot of time on Druss’s earlier years, which put you firmly into prequel territory with all of it’s attendant problems. The other main problem with an older character depends a little on the medium of the story, if it is anything visual (TV, film or even comic book) well the rather brutal fact is that young people are usually more attractive than older people. The visual medium will therefore tend to place emphasis on best looking members of the cast, which generally means at the younger end of the scale. Obviously there are exceptions but really female characters hit harder.

So there we have it, some light musing on the topic and for any writers out there perhaps look at your work and wonder whether your characters should be given a few extra birthdays.

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A Basic Introduction to Logistics

The Logistician

Logisticians are a sad and embittered race of men who are very much in demand in war, and who sink resentfully into obscurity in peace. They deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. They emerge during war because war is very much a fact. They disappear in peace because peace is mostly theory. The people who merchant in theories, and who employ logisticians in war and ignore them in peace, are generals.

Generals are a happy blessed race who radiate confidence and power. They feed only on ambrosia and drink only nectar. In peace, they stride confidently and can invade a world simply by sweeping their hands grandly over a map, point their fingers decisively up train corridors, and blocking defiles and obstacles with the sides of their hands. In war, they must stride more slowly because each general has a logistician riding on his back and he knows that, at any moment, the logistician may lean forward and whisper: “No, you can’t do that.” Generals fear logisticians in war and, in peace, generals try to forget logisticians.

Romping along beside generals are strategists and tacticians. Logisticians despise strategists and tacticians. Strategists and tacticians do not know about logisticians until they grow up to be generals–which they usually do.

Sometimes a logistician becomes a general. If he does, he must associate with generals whom he hates; he has a retinue of strategists and tacticians whom he despises; and, on his back, is a logistician whom he fears. This is why logisticians who become generals always have ulcers and cannot eat their ambrosia.

Unknown Author

A few months ago I did couple of posts on the subject of warship types what I thought might be useful and interesting is a short and very basic primer on the subject of military logistics and how a science fiction/fantasy writer can and probably should account for it in their work. I’m going to be mentioning some good and bad examples as well as some history books which I’ve found useful.

What Is Logistics?

At a very basic level logistics is the science of getting the what a military force needs from the centers of production (farms, factories, whatever) to the military forces directly in contact with the enemy, while at the same time moving backwards casualties, prisoners etc, etc. This is often referred to as the lines of communication and exactly what is a military force needs depends on the setting. This will involve not only transportation but also stockpiling, storage and distribution.

Early Logistics

The most basic supplies any force will require are food and drink, in a pre-industrial setting like Lord of the Rings, that can to a certain extent be obtained via foraging or outright looting. It is worth noting that for most of recorded history, an army moving through your area was a disaster, regardless as to which side it or you were on. If half a dozen soldiers with swords decided they were going to take your last milk cow, polite refusal probably wasn’t going to achieve much. The advantage of this kind of system is that there really weren’t any lines of communication for an enemy to threaten, the big problem however was it placed a serious time limit on how long an army could stay concentrated in one area. After a while all of the resources would be consumed and an army would have to move on, disperse or starve. This is where we get the whole concept of Scorched Earth; if an attacking army is faced with a region where the resources have already be consumed or destroyed, then the time it can spend in that region is severely limited. This could be a major factor in siege warfare, where the attacker could be in just as much danger of starving as the defender. So while Tolkien might be one of the founding father of Fantasy, given how how it it described, Sauron would have a hard time his armies from starving in Mordor. A fiction work that at least touches on the complications of pre-industrial logistics is Juliet McKenna’s Chronicle of the Lescari Revolution. On a final note prior to the development of the railways, movement during the Winter months and armies either dispersed or retired to winter encampments. Even in more modern times there have been battles and campaigns that have petered out because weather conditions meant supplies could not be moved up to the front.

Logistics in the Industrial Age

My men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas.

General Patton

Up to the Napoleonic Wars it was possible for an army to at least to a certain extent live off the land, gun powder from enemy sources was usable and individual soldiers could cast their own bullets provided they could obtain lead. However somethings like cannonballs, had already passed beyond what troops in the field could make or obtain for themselves.  During the close of the nineteenth century technology changed logistics became increasingly complicated. Improvements in transportation and storage, were matched by expansion in the volumes and types of supplies needed by an army in the field. As the above quote indicates by the middle of the twentieth century oil had become the one of the dominate resources, especially for an advancing army but in general terms an army needed an unbroken line of supply leading from the factory gate to the front line and here in lies both a complication and opportunity.

An army on the advance is inherently moving away from its logistical support, while the Defender is retreating a long its own lines of communication. This means the attacker needs to be careful not to advance too far in case it out runs its supplies and leaves itself vulnerable. Even if it is advancing with no meaningful opposition in its path, an army can be brought to a grinding halt by lack of supply. The term for this that I have come across and used in my work is Logistical Brake. If you are looking for a real world example, any book covering the war in the Western Desert between the German/Italian forces and those of the British Empire is ideal, since this conflict was being fought in the open desert, which mean other complicating factors weren’t present. What you will notice as you read the history of the Desert War is how often the lines of communication were the objective. Each sides commanders sought to get through or round the opposing side to cut supply lines, since no matter how strong an armies position was, it would be worthless unless supplies could be brought to it.

Logistics, Ships and Ship Design

There is a myth that in the days of sail ships were powered by the wind, the reality is that it all depended on human muscle. Raise anchor? Human muscle. Do really anything with the sails, human muscle. Like any other engine humans required the right fuel. During the age of exploration diseases like scurvy would cut a swath through crews because it wasn’t understood just how necessary fresh fruit and vegetables were, plus storage was somewhere between difficult and impossible. In theory however, if a vessel could be kept supplied with fresh food and water, it could remain at sea for extended periods. This was best demonstrated by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars where ships of the line blockaded continental ports for years at a time. With the coming of the steam engine a ship could be freed from the whims of wind and tide, but only as long as the fuel held out. Take a look at the two pictures below.

CalypsoHMS_CamperdownThey are respectively HMS Calypso and HMS Camperdown, looking at them you could be excused for thinking they belong to totally different time periods with Calypso perhaps being a part of Admiral Nelson’s fleet. In fact they were built at the same time – the early eighteen eighties. The difference was Camperdown was a battleship, designed to operate within European waters, Calypso was a corvette (later re-designated a cruiser) intended for places like the Pacific, where refueling points would be few and far between. In the modern navies, it is the proud ranks of fighting ships that get the attention but if you care to glance across this Wikipedia page, listing the current strength of the US Navy, you will notice that the list of non-combat support ships is longer than those that in time of war would do the fighting. An expensive necessity if the US Navy is to operate more than a few days out from its home ports.

Once fuel became a factor, the time a ship could spend at sea became far more limited and many’s a captain undoubtedly developed ulcers watching their ships’ fuel levels drop lower and lower. A fully armed, undamaged vessel might be required to turn away from a fight or not be present at the critical moment, all because it had to leave for re-supply. One fascinating demonstration of this is the hunt for and destruction of the German battleship Bismarck, where on either side ships were either forced out of the chase completely or unable to crack on the extra bit of speed that might have made all the difference. I won’t attempt detail the saga – I couldn’t do it justice – but I do recommend Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Bismarck by Ludovic Kennedy, it is now a somewhat old book and some research has become available since its publication but is an easier read for the newcomer.

Logistics and Writing

So now that we’ve covered the very basics of Logistics there remains one big question – why the heck should a writer give a two hoots about logistics, the reader wants action! Well for a start there is realism. If the work in set in a historical period, if it is to be a living, breathing world, then it needs to follow reality of that time. Whatever it costs the writer in time a research, will rewarded with a deeper work in which the reader can more thoroughly immerse themselves.  If your characters are operating in any kind of military capacity, where the next meal for themselves or those under their command is coming from, will always be a consideration.

The other reason, and this is possibly more important, is the sheer possibilities for drama it offers the writer. The General aware that if the snows doesn’t clear soon there will be famine in the camp, The starship captain hunting the alien raiders with with only fuel to search one solar system, the trooper in the front line trying to conserve ammunition as the enemy closes, this is all the stuff of drama. It may seem like a tiresome detail in fact for anyone writing any sort of military fiction logistics will be one of your most useful plotting tools.

until next time

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Good, Bad or Indifferent?

I started this blog entry two weeks ago, I meant to get it done before going on my holidays but… well that just didn’t happen so I’ll have to see if I can pick up the thread again.

 

If you haven’t been paying much attention to the recent fuss over the Hugo science fiction award then I for one am in no position to criticize  since I’ve only vaguely been listening to what turned into a fairly unedifying spectacle. So what the heck was it all about? A group calling themselves the Sad Puppies made a public attempt to push through their nominations by gaming the voting system. On face of it a clash between liberal and reactionary elements, the latter being a white-boy club trying to keep ‘thems girls and blacks out of ‘our’ competition’, much like the whole Gamersgate thing of a few months ago that I paid even less attention to.

On further examination though, the situation is… less clear cut.

Going be what I’ve read, there is no doubt that the Sad Puppies included in their numbers some individuals who seemed to be unpleasant pieces of work, unfortunately it would appear that exactly the same could be same of their opposition, respectively Theodore Beale and Benjanun Sriduangkaew AKA rage-blogger Requires Hate. While I think it was probably right that the Sad Puppy nominations were ultimately voted down, I also think that no matter what some say, this was far from a victory for anyone.

Let me give an excerpt from Guardian Newspaper:

A snapshot of today’s sci-fi publishing industry – as opposed to the fandom that ultimately underwrites the industry’s business – does not show a diverse picture. Both bookshelves and cinema screens are currently dominated by the Matt Damon/Andy Weir vehicle The Martian and its archaically old-fashioned (and vastly overrated) SF. The lead sci-fi news story of recent weeks is Ernest Cline’s high seven-figure advance for a third novel, which will presumably pander to exactly the same Beavis and Butthead demographic as Ready Player One and Armada.

I’ve highlighted the line I find the most important. I enjoyed The Martian* while the winner of last years Hugo for best novel was Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, left me underwhelm. The idea that someone doesn’t like the Martian or does like Ancillary Justice does not in anyway offend me. What I do find unacceptable from both side of the Sad Puppies argument is the sense that you are not permitted to have your own preference.  Certainly I’ve heard individuals attempting to get in a few digs about self-publishers and the supposed crap they produce, which mostly rolls off my back because it is so blatantly self serving. What I do find irritating however is the self proclaimed experts – such as the one above – who plainly believe the average reader should not be allowed to decide for themselves what they enjoy.

It is unfortunate that we don’t appear to be will to accept that what constitutes ‘good’ is a deeply and purely personal determination. There is no such thing as single right answer but we don’t seem to be able to do that, instead we seek to make the whole thing adversarial and in the case of Hugos, slightly pointless. So let us all perhaps try to remember in future that works of fiction are primarily a form of leisure and whether we judge a book to be good or bad is according to whether it entertained, not whether it made the right political message.

 

 

*although I have low expectations of the film

 

Additional information on the whole saga can be found HERE

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Berezina

This is just a shout for my friend Jan van Embden who has published his first book: Berezina. A historical novel set around  of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Apparently my self publishing success encouraged him to try his hand, which is nice – normally I get counted as a warning to others 🙂

Regards

On Amazon UK and Amazon.COM

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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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Short Story – Gorilla in the City

For the past few months I’ve been going to a writers group and I have decided to start putting up the results. This one is referring to somethings that are going on in Ireland at the moment.

 

Gorilla in the City

 
Officially it is now autumn. Back when I was a kid and people were still arguing whether global warming was a real thing, that actually used to mean something. The summer holidays were over, the schools had started back and each day, nightfall came a little sooner. Now the months we used to call autumn are really the summer, by which I mean a heat you can actually enjoy. What was the summer, most people now call The Hot. For six months the whole countryside just burns up and you’d be hard pressed to understand how this island was ever called the Emerald Isle.

 
The wife didn’t want to move to Big Smoke, didn’t want it so strongly she became the ex-wife. But I was tired, tired of breaking my back trying to plant and get in crops on either side of The Hot and failing at least one year in three. Thought I’d find opportunities, found politics instead.

 
Saw the party members in their big cars where everyone else walked. Saw their big houses with watered lawns when other struggled to find enough to drink and I wondered how did it go so wrong? How did we hand so much to so few for so little? Some say it started with the abolition of the Seanad. Others that when The Hot began people panicked and looked to those who claimed to have easy answers. Me I think it was an almost inevitable consequence of a culture that saw crooks and chancers as heroes instead of a cancer.

 
Well we’re going to change that. Or least I hope we are; maybe I’m too old and cynical to be a real rebel. It’s going to be bloody work; there are good girls and lads who are going to die because they don’t know they’re on the wrong side or even that there are sides. I’m going help to bring fire and blood to the streets but for a few more days, I’m going to enjoy autumn in the city.

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GUEST BLOGGER: Catherine Brophy

Something different this time, a guest blog from fellow self publisher Catherine Brophy with a little personal tail of science fiction.

BUT IT’S ONLY FOR NERDS!

I suggested Science Fiction.   There was a sharp intake of breath and startled show of the whites of their eyes.  You’d think I’d suggested barbequing a baby!

Let me explain.   I’m in a book club.  It’s all women.   They’re all bright, they all work and they all love a challenge.   We have just one rule… no cooking.   We’re not one of those book clubs that cook elaborate meals get tiddly and only make passing reference to the book.   We don’t have the time for cooking elaborate meals. We’re all working women, we have lives, we love reading.  You can open a packet and pull a cork but that’s the max for hostessery.

Over the years we’ve read everything from classics to chick-lit, biography, history, science, travel, philosophy, you name it, we’ve read it… except science fiction.   That, it seemed was a challenge too far.
“That stuff is only for nerds,” they objected, “teenage boys and losers with no friends…”
“I’m married to one of those nerds.” I said.
They were taken aback.  They know my husband and like him… well duh… he’s intelligent and funny and thoughtful and warm.
“He loves science fiction” I ranted on, “ and fantasy/alternative universe/time travel… all that stuff and he also loves philosophy, classics, history, travel and regular fiction.   They’re not mutually exclusive you know.   Maybe you’ve been watching too much “Big Bang Theory”
They shuffled their feet and looked sheepish.
“But isn’t it mostly … well… rubbish?” they asked
“Have you read any?” I countered.
“Well no….”
“It’s like everything else there’s the good, there’s the bad and the horribly ugly.   The trick is to read the good stuff.”
“So suggest something.” They said.
Now I was in a quandary.   What should I suggest?   My friends were unaware of the infinite sub-categories within Sci Fi/fantasy genres so my choice was wide.   Too wide.   I thought of Frank Herbert’s Dune but reckoned it might be too long to start with.   I toyed with King Rat because I love China Mieville. (‘My job,” he said in an interview “ is not to try to give readers what they want but to try to make readers want what I give’, Fans often demand that their favourite writers churn out more of the same, this limits the writer and keeps them from writing their best.)  I flirted with The Terror by Dan Simmons.  But I finally choose Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs partly because I’d read it recently and partly because I thought it was an easy introduction to sci-fi fantasy genres… and oh yeah… because it’s beautifully written..

The book club read.   They loved it.   Some have converted and are asking for further recommendations.   The rest are at least willing to admit that it’s not entirely rubbish.   Success.
So now  that I’ve opened a few people’s minds why don’t some of you try my latest book… it’s a comedy and hey… everyone enjoys a laugh don’t they?

 

burning night

A COMEDY ABOUT MONEY, FAME AND THE CELTIC TIGER

The Celtic Tiger is in his prime and the Kerrigans are splashing the cash.  They have made it big time, so eat your heart out you small town snobs!  But Daddy’s-girl Kirsty wants International Celebrity and devotes herself to this dream. She crashes Madonna’s Christmas party but that doesn’t help.  She goes on Big Brother and causes a stir but doesn’t help either,  However, when a You Tube video of Kirsty goes viral, fame arrives with a bang.   But Tracey O’Hagan, a blast from a shady patch in the Kerrigan past, has appeared on the scene. She’s mad. She’s bad. And she’s definitely dangerous to know.
Burning Bright is told in the voices of Kerrigan family members and friends.   It’s funny. It’s believable. And it will definitely make you laugh.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Catherine Brophy is a writer, story-teller and broadcaster.   She writes film, T.V. and radio scripts and she also writes short stories. Her previous novels are The Liberation of Margaret Mc Cabe and Dark Paradise.   She lives a blameless life in Ireland but escapes whenever she can.   She’s been rescued by a circus troupe in Serbia, had breakfast with a Zambian chief, ate camel stew in the Sahara, and was kicked by a horse on the Mexican plain.

On kindle and paperback

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