Armageddon Protocol Released

Armageddon Protocol, the first of my new cyberpunk military SF series is now out! Book 1 (with 2 and 3 soon to follow) is available on Amazon. Till the end of December, it will be 99 cents or the local currency equivalent. You can also borrow it if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

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I’m trying KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) for the first 90 days, so the book is only available on Amazon. I plan to release the series in other online stores later in 2017 unless the results from KU are absolutely boggling. I know everybody does not read on the Kindle, so please be patient.

Here’s the blurb:

During the last interstellar war, the Brood almost wiped out humanity. Now they’re back and they’ve brought powerful allies. The bio-augmented super-soldiers of StarForce must mobilise the human race for total war. Unfortunately, the people they protect think that the Federal Stormtroopers are a bigger threat than alien monsters. And they might just be right.

You can find the book right here:

Amazon.com

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


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Armageddon Protocol Preview

As I promised last week, here’s a preview of the first chapter of my upcoming cyberpunk military SF novel, Armageddon Protocol. It should be available before the Christmas holidays. 

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“Stormtrooper 13? Stormtrooper 13? What is your status?”

The words burst through the static as Orbital made contact from geostationary. It could just have been one of the radiation storms over Faith. It could also be the locals jamming our communications. When in doubt always assume enemy action, as my old drill sergeant used to say.

A chaingun ricochet overloaded the kinetic exchanger of my armor. I pulled out the splinter of ceramic and slammed a flesh-patch on my upper left arm to stop the bleeding. It hurt like hell.

Bullets chewed into the shattered wall in front of me. The double moons hung daylight-visible in the green-tinged sky. Snow blanketed the remnants of the concrete bunkers all around. I called up an insert on my helmet HUD to show the video feed from the drone circling overhead. Things looked exactly as bad as I expected.

A carpet of white covered the ruined city. New flakes were burying the corpses of the ambushed Enforcers. A column of sooty smoke spiraled into the sky from the wreckage of our white painted transport flitter.

I had already jumped out and got inside the ruins when the rocket hit. Guess I moved faster than the attackers expected. It looked like I was the only survivor. Lucky me.

Several hundred militiamen, armed with good old fashioned assault rifles, circled what was left of the building. The black and gray urban DPM colors of the Aryan Jihad looked just spiffy on them. They had taken the day off from terrorizing the enemies of white humanity to stick it to us Feds.

A swastika-emblazoned gunship strafed me with more chaingun bullets. Three locals wheeled a pulse cannon into an enfilading position on a roof across the street. Soon they would have a clear field of fire down to my current position.

I saw myself, a big man in ceramic armor crouched behind a shattered wall. A hologram of a red cross showed inside my mirrored faceplate. I gave a one-digit wave for the cameras. Some sharpshooter almost took off my finger. It was a good job that my gauntlets were there to protect my delicate hands.

“Orbital, this is One Three,” I said. “We seem to be experiencing a breakdown of the ceasefire. Request you engage personal weapon systems.”

It was a foregone conclusion that the ceasefire was dead but there are rules about these things. The Federal Government is big on rules.

A hiss of static and then Orbital came online again. “We have detected drone deployment, Stormtrooper 13. Please explain.”

Great. I was being shot at by a few hundred angry militiamen, and some Accord Observer was upset because I might offend the locals’ sensibilities by deploying an unarmed drone. I hate peacekeeping missions.

“This is One Three. I am under fire, Orbital. Repeat, under fire. Request you engage personal weapon systems.”

What bureaucrat had thought that it was a good idea to lock down our weapons before sending us out into the streets of Sternheim? Probably the same genius who had thought of making our armor white and putting large red crosses on our helmets.

The Observers claimed that it showed the Federal Republic’s peaceful intent. My theory was different. Making us walking headshot targets gave the locals somebody other than their neighbors to snipe at. A burning cross would have been more suitable for making friends with these guys.

“Status update . . .” More static. Something large exploded nearby. An anti-mech rocket? Damn. The Jihad had the big stuff now. For days rumors had abounded. They had supposedly acquired some new doomsday device from the Weapon Ship. It was the reason I was down here sweeping Sternheim. Why else would a Federal Stormtrooper be in this hellhole?

And, what a surprise, it had turned out to be a trap. It certainly looked like someone had been arming these bad boys with hardware above their pay grade. I had a suspicion I knew who.

“Die, xeno loving scum!” The threat had the flat tones you get from instantaneous machine translation. I didn’t speak this local dialect. The locals wouldn’t speak mine. Old Terra was a couple of hundred light years away. These were the boys who taught themselves Old Deutsch in order to be able to read Mein Kampf in the original.

The shout came from nearby. I heard the distinctive hum of a battlefield generator. I had a fair idea of what was going to happen next. It wasn’t going to be pretty. I checked the position of the pulse cannon on the video feed and moved out of the line of fire. I had less than thirty seconds till it cycled to full power.

Chaingun bullets carved another chunk out of the wall as the gunship targeted me. I heard a few catcalls as it whizzed by overhead. Somebody was enjoying himself.

I looked down at the useless reaper in my hands. Theoretically, the pulse carbine was the most powerful man-portable weapon on the planet. Unfortunately, its system electronics were locked down by the peacekeeping protocols. It did not look like Orbital was going to give me the override code anytime soon.

Some wit in Ordinance had stenciled Your Tax Dollars at Work along the barrel of the weapon. The joke was on us. Most of the locals did not pay Federal taxes. They paid deductible tithes to their churches instead. Said churches just happened to also be their militias.

Orbital’s communications were a barrage of static and random words now. Definitely a jammer. This had been planned. It looked like the locals were determined to bag themselves a stormtrooper.

I wriggled to a new position as bullets tore chunks out of the brickwork. Any individual round had only a low percentage chance of breaching my armor but the Jihad were throwing thousands in my direction. A single one might cause me some serious health problems if the kinetic exchange mechanisms failed again.

“Dave, read them the Riot Act,” I said, ducking my head as the chaingun tore chunks out of the wall.

My drone said, “Are you sure that is appropriate, Stormtrooper 13? An aggressive verbal response might be construed as provocative.”

Dave was in advanced diplomatic mode, courtesy of the peacekeeping protocols.

“Just do it, Dave!”

“Affirmative, Stormtrooper 13.”

The drone’s amplified words boomed out across the town. Simultaneous machine translation allowed me to understand. “Citizens, you are in violation of section 4, paragraph 2, of Federal Security Act 931. Cease and desist from this anti-social behavior. Disperse and return to your homes or face due penalties of law. Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day.”

That’s telling them, Dave, I thought. A burst of automatic weapon fire informed me that somebody had spotted Dave’s position.

Dave said, “Thank you for your feedback, Citizens.”

A blinking red icon on my heads up display told me that my drone was under attack. I could probably have worked that out for myself. It looked like it was time to take matters into my own hands.

I thumbed the systems override and bellowed, “Stop shooting at me, you inbred halfwits!”

My amplified and translated words boomed out from Dave’s speakers. I got the retranslation.”Please stop shooting at me, Citizens.”

Small arms fire and shouts of die, Fed were the considered response. There was something about minion of the Devil Machines in there too. Then came a wave of obscenities that the speech filters turned to static. Apparently, the Federal Government did not want the bad language of my fellow citizens causing long term damage to my self-esteem.

“Stormtrooper 13. Stormtrooper 13. We have detected damage to drone Dee Vee Zero Zero One Three. Are you acting in a provocative manner toward the locals?”

“Good guess, Orbital.” My amplified words boomed out over the square courtesy of Dave’s sound system. That probably confused the militiamen. It was time to give them my full and undivided attention.

“Stop shooting at me, or I’ll hand you your heads!” I snarled.

Dave thundered his saccharine-toned mistranslation. “Citizens, if you don’t stop shooting at me I will be forced to respond with extreme violence. I’m sure none of us will enjoy that.”

Dave was wrong about the last bit. After days of abuse, thrown garbage, and the odd sniper shot, I was about ready for some payback. I got jeers and catcalls as well as another rocket impacting on the side of the bunker. The building shook. Plaster clattered off my helmet. The structure was not going to take much more of this.

“Citizens, cease fire! This is your last warning.”

Dave managed the translation exactly right. His tone of voice left something to be desired in the menace department. He sounded like a kindergarten teacher threatening to take away a child’s milk if they did not behave.

“Stormtrooper 13. Please report!”

I unholstered my sidearm and checked the action. It was an old-fashioned Magnum revolver. Standard issue to stormtroopers. For those rare times when viral overload or hardshock EMP take out the systems on a reaper.

You never know when you’re going to need good old fashioned bullets. They can’t be locked down by peacekeeper protocols. Of course, the Magnum was supposed to be empty. The Arbitrators had even searched me before I dropped from Orbital. We wouldn’t want to upset the locals by arming their Federal oppressors now, would we? I still had that one bullet all stormtroopers like to carry in case we fall into the tentacles of the Assimilators. You don’t want to know how I smuggled it down.

“Stormtrooper 13, you have unholstered your sidearm. What is your situation?”

“Orbital, I am under fire. I am about to take measures for self-preservation under code three one seven.”

“Noted, Stormtrooper 13. Under the terms of the Accord, I cannot authorize the use of lethal force. Those are Federal citizens down there.”

Somebody was certainly covering their ass today. “Thank you, Orbital. I’ll try and be gentle with the voters. It is election year after all.”

The hum of the power generator reached its highest pitch. I hoped I had got the angle right. The wall melted as a high intensity, narrow focus pulse beam flared through it. Snow sizzled into a cloud of steam. At the same time, a grenade rolled in through one of the gaps in the wall.

So there I was, alone, wounded, outnumbered, surrounded, gunship overhead, flanked by heavy ordinance and armed with a single bullet I had pulled out of my ass. Under the circumstances, a few well-chosen last words seemed called for. “Citizens, you were warned!”

 

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Another Day, Another Year

It had to happen sooner or later, my birthday falling on a blogging day. As an inveterately lazy man, I am tempted to just make my excuses now and go in search of cake, but there are a few bits and bobs I thought I would mention before I do.

First up, Black Library has just released a huge part of its backlist onto the Kindle in the UK and Europe. Hurrah for that, and about time, I say.

Among the many great ebooks you’ll find my seven Gotrek and Felix novels and my four Space Wolf books. It’s really nice to see these books out there. Black Library have done their usual magnificent job of production. I guess I really will have to get round to writing up the author’s notes for them now. The good folks in North America are going to have to wait until January.

Secondly,the first six of my Kormak novels are finally available in print. I laid them out a couple of years back, and then with my usual astounding efficiency sat back and did nothing. Eventually a random brain cell misfired and reminded me that I really should bring them out just in time to miss the Xmas sales rush. You can order them from Amazon or your local book store.

Thirdly, Armageddon Protocol, my Judge Dredd meets Starship Troopers style cyberpunk military SF novel first mentioned back in January, is almost ready to go. I am just putting the final touches to it now. I’ll stick up a sample chapter in a week or two.

If you’d signed up for my newsletter you would already have been able to read it. Assuming all goes according to plan, the book should be out before Xmas. Here’s Trevor Smith’s brilliant cover. I am really pleased with it.

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Trevor is already at work on the cover for Extinction Event which promises to be even better.

And that’s it for the moment. I am off in search of cake.


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Nanowrimo Done

Did I win Nanowrimo? Yes, yesterday at about 10:30 am. I kept at it today just so I could get the badge for writing 30 days in a row. I am a sucker for gamification. Once I set out to collect badges, the completist in me keeps niggling away until I get as many as possible.

Badges

Do I have a novel written? No. Nothing like it. I have 50960 words in a collection of scenes arranged in a structure that bears some resemblance to that of a novel. It has a beginning and a middle, but as yet it has no end. It is certainly going to turn out to be longer than fifty thousand words which is the goal of Nanowrimo.

I think many of the individual scenes are great, and the order they are placed in suggests a narrative of sorts. But I have a long way to go before the first draft is finished, let alone the novel completed and edited.

Am I happy with what I have written? Strangely, yes. It is rough, but it is the core of a good book. It did not turn out quite as I expected it. What novel ever does? In this case, things deviated even further from my rough outline than usual, but that does not trouble me. I found answers to questions I did not know I had.

Enough of the question and answer format. I learned some things this Nanowrimo, as I usually do when I sit down to write, and as I all too often forget mere weeks after that writing is done.

The main thing is that sprints work for me. No matter how sick I was, and I was plenty sick this November, with vertigo and flu and RSI, I was never so sick that I could not set a timer for 10 minutes and write till the alarm sounded.

After the first sprint, it became easier to do the next one. Many a day, it would take me ages to set that timer. Once I did, I forced myself to write anywhere between 300 and 500 words.

Once it was done, I could talk myself into going for a second one. After that, I assured myself, I could give up for the day if I really wanted to.

But, by the end of the second timer, I was usually well on my way to a thousand words. I could probably achieve it in less than ten minutes, so let’s just set the timer again and start.

And I would hit one thousand words before the timer went, so why not keep on going until the end? At that point, it was only another four hundred words or so to hit the Nanowrimo daily goal of 1666 words, so why not just set that last timer and try for it?

Some mornings, once I hit the daily average, I was in spitting distance of two thousand words, which would give me a nice cushion against future failure. And so it went. On the worst days, there might be half an hour breaks between ten-minute sprints, but I still managed them in the end.

The main thing was simply showing up and doing the work. I think the structure of Nanowrimo, the daily badges, the charts that show your progress, the rewards for hitting milestones all helped motivate me on days when I otherwise might just have stayed in bed. There was also the social pressure of not wanting to admit failure having publically announced my participation.

To get all touchy-feely for a moment, even the fact that I knew I was participating in a once-a-year global event helped. People I know here in Prague were also involved in the project. I even attended a write-in. I am sure the fact that humans are social animals had something to do with my making progress.

In all of these ways Nanowrimo was useful and I cheerfully donated my money to the cause. (It did not hurt that I got another badge too, and a tasteful halo around my author picture on their site.)

Downsides? There were days when I was writing filler. I did the words just to boost my count, and I will most likely have to cut such scenes out when the edit comes. One or two will probably be distilled down into paragraphs. Others will go completely.

That said, there were days when I sat down to write scenes and I had no idea what was going to come out of them. Some of these scenes were pure gold. Characters would reveal their motivation. Huge plot points would be resolved in sentences of revelatory dialogue. Things that changed the direction of the whole book ambushed me. I would never have found these things if I had not just sat down and written.

In general, I tend to be an exploratory writer. Often things only become clear to me once the writing is under way. I often start with detailed outlines but still things mutate and change. Sometimes, I don’t know what I am really writing about until the book is well under way and something happens that brings everything into focus.

Scrivener helps. It makes it easy to write in scenes and shuffle those scenes into a new order with a drag and a drop.

Speech recognition helps when the RSI gets bad, but I ended up using it less than I expected. I am most comfortable at a keyboard I guess. The habits of more than thirty years are hard to change. Sometimes, for a change of pace, I used the Freewrite or speech recognition or Byword on the Mac. Shaking things up helps when you’re stuck or lacking motivation.

So here’s my formula for Nanowrimo. Use a timer. Work a little every day, usually in sprints. Use whatever text editor is at hand. Have a plan of sorts. Keep everything together in Scrivener. Cut and paste it in by the end of the day. Track your word count.

Oh and don’t trust the word counter in Scrivener, Byword, Ulysses or Microsoft Word. All of them came up long. I had a count that was over 50K in all of them. When I cut and pasted my text into Nanowrimo’s verifier, the total came up fourty-nine thousand and something words. Aim to write a few hundred words over 50000 in any of those text editors. Lesson learned. And that’s it, until next year.


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Nanowrimo Week 3

So it’s Week 3 of National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and I am still plugging away. I’ll be honest, it’s been a lot harder than I expected due to the resurgence of my vertigo. This makes writing on a computer anything but pleasant.

I’ve soldiered on and as of yesterday afternoon I had reached 40657 words. I’ll probably add at least another thousand to that total today so I am still on target to make 50000 words by the end of the month. If things go according to plan,touch wood, I’ll get even further.

I’ve made some discoveries in the last week. When you throw yourself planless and headlong into a new novel, the story can take unexpected twists. Several things about Extinction Event surprised me. One of them came totally out of the blue.

Our hero, Stormtrooper 13, is a sort of cross between Judge Dredd and a starship trooper. He had a chip in his head which records everything so that his memories can be uploaded and stored off-site. They can then downloaded into a clone body in the event of his death. He can also play these memories back in a virtual reality system, experiencing them again if he so chooses.

At one point, he comes across a bookmarked memory of how he met his now permanently dead wife. It was a strange, sad experience quite unlike anything I was expecting to be writing in a military SF novel. It showed the central character in a different light. I don’t know where such scenes come from. They just emerge onto the page.

A second development was the nature of the adversaries. Extinction Event is about the emergence of one of those world-shattering, civilisation-destroying mega-foes. I was expecting something like SkyNet. When our heroes finally encountered the menace, it proved to be something much more Lovecraftian. It turns out that my universe was stranger than I imagined. This will call for some rewriting of the earlier material, of course, but I am happy with it.

I am still finding the sprint is the way to go. I have been setting my timers for between 10 and 15 minutes and then writing as fast as I can.

I broke out the Freewrite at the weekend. There have been a couple of firmware updates that have made it more reliable, and I wanted to put the machine to work. In one way, the excellent keyboard combined with an e-ink screen is a disadvantage. I type faster than the words appear and I often don’t notice mistakes until I am long past them. I find in such cases the best thing to do is just ignore the errors and push on. I can clean up my typos later on something else.

The automatic syncing to Dropbox is a joy for this. It just works. I found with the Freewrite that I didn’t get any more written during my sprints than I would on a normal computer. I did get more words written in a shorter space of time because there were no distractions. I could not check my email or look at a website, so instead I wrote. In this respect, the Freewrite does its job.

On the worst days, when sitting at a computer was not an option, I dictated into my phone. I sat in my flat, spoke in short bursts then watched as my words were uploaded to Dropbox and automatically transcribed by Dragon Naturally Speaking. Once this was done, I cut and pasted the text into Scrivener.

Often for Nanowrimo, the key to progress is just to keep going. I did hit a point where I was stuck. I knew what my ending was, but I could not see how to get from where I was to there. So I did a reverse outline.

I wrote a brief description of the final scene, then asked myself what would be the logical step leading up to this. I wrote that scene and then repeated the process until I had gotten all the way back to where I was stuck. Once I had the outline done it was easy to start making progress again.

There were also times when I did not feel like writing the next scene in my outline. I gave myself permission to skip that scene for now and picked a different one from my reverse outline. I found myself skipping backward and forwards through it adding scenes here and there. This is not something I usually do. Normally I go for linear progress from start to finish with no shortcuts between. Still, needs must when the devil drives.

This did have the advantage of giving me clues as to what needed to happen earlier. Characters would refer to events that had already happened and clue me in on their outcomes. I don’t know why my subconscious found it easier to feed me information in this way, but it did. I could also see who survived the earlier battles by noting who was present in the later scenes.

Looking back at what I wrote last week, I can see that I coped with being stuck then in a similar way. I wrote a mini-outline that moved me forward and interpolated new scenes with old ones. It seems that even when I don’t do detailed outlines for a book and decide to wing it, I end up doing them later. I am sure there is a lesson here somewhere.

So, anyway, the end is in sight now. I have 10K more to do and a week to do it in. I should be able to manage to complete this book in time for the next blog post. That has the sound of famous last words. I guess we will find out.


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Nanowrimo: Halfway Mark

So it’s the 16th of November, and we’ve passed the halfway mark for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). On the 15th I hit 25079 words on Extinction Event, thus keeping me on target. I had hoped to be further along but as they say no plan survives contact with the enemy. In my case, the enemy happens to be a particularly pernicious case of vertigo. It leaves me dizzy a lot of the time and low-level nauseous for most of it. Not the best circumstances to be writing a novel under.

That said, I have soldiered on, relying on that old Nanowrimo standby, the sprint. By this I mean I set a timer for as long as I think I can stand it, sit down and just write my story. There have been times when the timer has been set for as low as two minutes, but here’s the thing– I can still write 100 words or more in two minutes.

According to Writeometer, my last two-minute sprint was for 107 words. If your goal is to hit 1666 words per day, you can do this with 16 two minute sprints. I don’t recommend this for purposes of getting into the flow, but it helps build the word counts.

Perhaps it is the illness, but I slammed into the wall with this book quite hard at the end of last week. I just felt like what I was writing was dull and not worth reading, and I had my doubts about keeping going. Today, looking at it, I can see it is no worse than my usual stuff, but back then I was cursing myself as useless.

It’s a reminder of how much of writing is a mind game. Just keeping yourself going can be a chore sometimes. To be fair to my critical faculties, I can see reasons why I had my doubts. While the individual scenes were readable, the cumulative effect was not achieving the effect I had hoped.

My original outline called for a chaotic multi-sided battle between a number of factions. It was a fight both epic and anarchic, with corporate mercenaries slugging it out with state-sponsored cyborg ninjas, an intervention from an alien hivemind, and our heroes caught in the middle. When I wrote it out scene by scene, it became schematic. I was so busy laying things out so they would be clearly understandable for the reader that I lost the sense of chaos you get in a real battle.

I eventually took myself aside, did a breakdown of what I had written and asked myself what had gone wrong. I then rewrote the sequence starting with an anarchic space drop and progressing to a much more exciting combination of the old scenes and new. I’m not saying it’s the best solution but it was a solution and it got things flowing again. Now the story is racing along again. Complications are piling up nicely, and I think I can see a way forward to the ending I had planned.

When I was younger, there was a good chance I would simply have given up when I started to feel like things were going astray. I had a nasty habit of doing that back then. These days, with a bit more experience under my belt, I know that there’s very little that can’t be fixed if the underlying story is strong. Things can seem hopelessly tangled, but they can pretty much always be untangled if you are prepared to put in the work.

Any other lessons? Yep, as the Bond title goes Never say never again. I swore after my experience stacking up five Kormak novels without releasing them that I would never do that again. Yet here I am working on the second military SF novel in a series without having released the first one.

I did this because I thought I was going to be editing the first one as I wrote the second one. It turns out that for the past week I haven’t had the energy to do both. The momentum of Nanowrimo pushed me to finish what I started in order to avoid the embarrassment of public failure. I have learned some interesting stuff from writing this book that I can feed back into the first book. I can also foreshadow some of the events of the second book in the first one. It’s all useful when you’re building a new universe, as I am with this series.

I am enjoying writing in this Judge Dredd meets Starship Troopers setting. It’s pretty grimdark, but I think it’s also very funny in places. Well, it makes me laugh anyway, and that’s half the battle.

Right, enough of this blogging, it’s time to get back to the actual writing. And that’s another secret of writing success, from the great Stephen King, it’s all about application. The application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Books don’t write themselves, no matter what some people might have you believe.


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