Archive for May, 2008

Themes in the Iskander Series.

May 22, 2008

There are several themes in the Iskander series, with the principal ones the career of Gisel as a strong female protagonist, and the upheavals caused by the impact of Iskander’s modern knowledge and technology on the 17th century world of Gaia.

This time, I’ll deal with the chauvinism Gisel meets by quoting some passages from the stories. The first comes from Arrival, not yet released, which is set when Gisel is a 16 year old learning about the society she has become stranded in. In this passage Gisel visits an earl’s lady in her apartments in a castle.

She stopped on the landing and rapped on a wooden screen beside the curtain partitioning off the Lady’s solar. A maid poked her head through to look and then reported Gisel’s arrival to her mistress.
“Come in, Gisel. Is the Colonel with you?”
“No, I haven’t seen him, my Lady,” Gisel said as she entered. “I thought you might know where he is.”
Lady Blanche turned to the maid. “Aliss, go and find the Colonel and tell him I am free for the discussion he requested.”
The maid curtesyed and left. Gisel glanced about her, but the room was mostly hidden behind decorative screens – perhaps for Colonel M’Tov’s visit. Elethsis had mentioned something about protocol over the presence of men who had not been introduced by the master of the house.
Lady Blanche shifted slightly on her chaise to make room for Gisel. “Sit here beside me. Do you have needlework to do? No . . . would you like one of my pieces?”
“I’m afraid  I’ve never learned needlework, my Lady. Not a skill of mine.”
Lady Blanche stared at her and discreetly scanned her clothing. “You cannot sew, and you dress like a ploughboy . . . dear me. How will you ever find a husband?”
Gisel grinned. “I’m the youngest woman among my company – I’m more concerned not to let any of the men get too close. They’re all far too old to suit me.”
“Nonsense. That Commander Ascher seems a fine man. He’s not married, is he?”
“No, but he must be over thirty.”
Lady Blanche regarded her with narrowed eyes. “Pshaw! A man of thirty is in his prime. You are too fussy by far, young lady. Would you prefer a mere boy like my son – his head full of nothing but horses and tournaments?”
“Your son seems fine too, but perhaps a tad too young.”
Lady Blanche looked down at her needlework. “He is. And his father has a cousin in mind for him. What are your father’s plans – do you have an eligible cousin?”
Gisel shook her head. “Our relatives are far away and no longer accessible – even my Mother . . .” She stopped speaking quickly and looked away.
“There . . . there. It’s a sad thing for a girl to lose the guidance of her mother. But what is the status of your family in your own society? Does your father have an inherited title?”
Gisel wondered how to speak diplomatically of Earth’s more egalitarian society. “Except in a few lands, we have few inherited titles. Some years ago there were . . . excesses . . . and conflicts. The solution to those difficulties was to allow only the honors and acquisitions that a man or woman could gain in their own lifetime.”
The Lady Blanche stared. “Indeed? And how do the lower orders know their place?”
“Well, there are no lower orders . . . in theory. Status is gained by advanced education and professional attainments. My father is the director of our Engineering department, based on his PhD and his accomplishments . . . I suppose calling him Dr. Matah is equivalent to a knight’s title.”
“But how does your king account for his legitimacy? A ruler must come from a long and noble lineage.”
Uh-oh . . . this is where we start looking like rebels or outlaws. “The head of our society is called a Secretary General and is chosen from among all the representatives of the nations. The person retains office for eight years and then another is chosen. The hope is that we get the guidance of the wisest among us that way. When we left, the Secretary General was a woman of great distinction.”
The Lady Blanche’s eyes grew round and her lips trembled slightly. “May the Holy Flame preserve us! A woman. I’d suggest you not spread that knowledge too widely about.”

In Deadly Enterprise, Gisel is a mature young woman – only twenty years old but already a decorated veteran of several military actions. She meets the chauvinism of the Felgers, the merchant bankers, and attempts to keep her cool. The first passage is Yohan’s first impression of her.

Gisel decided to conceal her identity behind her assumed accents a few minutes longer. She walked past to the head of the steps, and then halted with a little cry. She pretended to trip and stumbled toward him.
Yohan Felger scanned the embankment, his mind so filled with the strange note that had brought him out into the streets, he barely gave the pretty young woman the slightest attention – until she almost fell into his arms.
“Be careful, young Mistress, or you’ll tumble down the steps.”
He let her pull away again, but she staggered and almost fell. “Ow. I think my ankle is twisted. May I prevail upon you to help me down those slippery steps?”
He dropped his arms and drew back. Her language was appropriately formal, but her voice held a definite foreign accent.
A gentleman must be careful for cut-purses and floozies plying their trade near the river, but this girl sounded respectable enough – even if she seemed alone. She was attractive rather than beautiful with a modest curve of bust under her kirtle and jacket – but her dark eyes held him. They were deep enough for a man to drown in. By her dress and speech, he judged her a servant from a good household – perhaps even daughter of a good family, forced into service by exile. He couldn’t see the responsible male companion who should be with her, but he considered her request.
“I’m alone, Sir, except for my boat’s crew. I hope you will not judge me forward for speaking.”

Gisel is not as diplomatic in chapter five with the young man’s father, after a firefight on the way to returning Yohan safely to the mansion.

“Who are you people? Where have you been, Yohan?” The senior Felger demanded. He was as austere as his entry hall, dressed in black, his face gaunt beneath a powdered white periwig. A trimmed pointed beard gave him a slightly sinister cast.
Yohan looked up but seemed unable to speak. Gisel answered for him. “I presume you are Yakob Felger, the master here. I’m Lieutenant Gisel Matah of Iskander Security – Lieutenant Chronon and I undertook to bring your son home through the city tonight.”
“Monstrous!” Yakob Felger stood in the middle of the hall, shaking with fury. “You have nearly killed him. Hertang!” he shouted to the older retainer. “go out at once to fetch the churgeon.”
The man glanced uncertainly toward the door. Loud shouts and crashes sounded outside.
“No need,” Gisel said. “I can treat him.”
Thrusting the assault rifle at Marc, Gisel pulled out her first aid pack. She bent over Yohan, noting his white face and gauging the amount of blood on his sleeve. She pulled her knife from its sheath and cut off the sleeve of his shirt, then opened the emergency kit.
Yakob Felger sent Hertang from the hall on an errand and turned to glare down at her. “How do I know you are competent? Have you not done enough harm?”
“I didn’t shoot at your son – ask Commandante Zagdorf about that. As for what I’m doing – I’ll do a better job than any of Lingdon’s churgeons with their potions and leeches. Now let me have some room to work.”
Yakob Felger glared for a moment and then stepped away.
Yohan’s wound did not seem to have gone deep, but it bled copiously. She sprayed Quik-clot into it. “How do you feel, Meister?”
“A bit sick, but it doesn’t hurt.”
“You’re feeling shock. I don’t think the ball hit the bone – it will heal quickly. Can you hold this gauze over the wound?”
“I think so.”
While she grabbed some antiseptic to clean the wound and prepared a dressing she heard Marc arguing with Yakob. “We undertook to protect your son from criminals in the night – we didn’t expect them to be wearing the Emperor’s insignia.”
“You ruffians are entirely responsible for what has occurred. How dare you accuse the Emperor?”
“We dare a lot,” Gisel snapped. “I’d think you’d be concerned your legitimate rights to do business here have been violated.”
“I will make up my own mind how I should concern myself.”
“It is as these friends say, Father. I went out to investigate their business request, and the Empire’s soldiers attacked us twice.”
“Friends? I did not give you permission to attend any secret meetings! I will speak to you later.”
Gisel finished sealing Yohan’s wound with a plastic spray and picked up the metal case of syringes. “I admit we acted behind your back – but only because Commandante Zagdorf  killed our friend Bertzin.”
Yakob Felger raised his chin, the corners of his mouth turning down. “Do you have proof of such culpability?”
Gisel shrugged. “Nothing that would hold up in a court of law. Surely what’s happened here tonight is evidence enough. Do the Felgers have freedom to do business – or does the Emperor keep you on a leash?”
Yakob Felger turned to her, breathing heavily. “The Felgers have freedom to pursue their legitimate business in the Kingdom of Lingdon. I understood the Iskander proposal to go further. Did not Bertzin report that I preferred dealing with the Emperor I revere and respect, over some chance enterprise of disreputable upstarts? You had your answer, why do you persist?”

From The Wildcat’s Victory, almost a year and a half later in Lubitz, a city she and Yohan helped save from a coup d’etat, she still has to be diplomatic when asserting the rights that women should enjoy.

“Thanks. If I can return the favour — these troublemakers, for example — I’d be pleased to help you.”
Rolt smiled. “I don’t think you need trouble yourself about them, Major.”
“Actually, I may want to . . . trouble myself, as you say.”
Gisel sought his eyes with a warm expression. “I’m not sure how much I’m authorized to tell you, but Iskander has an agent infiltrated into a radical group. What if he’s here? It would be a blow to our operation if you arrested him. Hung him, even.”
Rolt frowned. “Should I not have been notified about him?”
“I don’t have definite information; I merely think his presence a strong possibility. But we can’t afford to have anything happen to him.”
Rolt looked down at his desk and shifted a pile of papers from one side to the other. “Yes, I see that. But I have to stop their meeting.”
She could see Rolt’s anger at having this sprung on him and his plans questioned. It hadn’t taken long for him to become a typical jack-in-office. “What about placing some person of your own in the meeting? Learn more about the ringleaders.”
“If I had such a man, I would consider that. I have very few good people — wouldn’t want to have one’s throat slit.”
“When is this meeting?”
“I don’t know, yet. Why?”
“I would go to the meeting for you.”
“You, Major? Would that be wise?”
Gisel laughed. “When have I ever been wise? I think a young woman could infiltrate the group more easily than a man. They do have women involved?”
“Yes, some garment workers in the factory set up with Iskander’s new textile machines. They have complained about their pay. Cheeky little bitches! If they don’t like it, then let them stay at home with their children.” Rolt’s face darkened, but then he glanced guiltily into Gisel’s eyes. “Begging your pardon, of course. I find these newfangled ideas — ”
“Yes,” she said with a smile. “I run into those feelings all the time. I’d like to stay at home to be Yohan’s helpmate as well, but I don’t have the choice. These women may not either, if they are widowed from the war and trying to feed their children.”
Rolt stared down at his desk. “I suppose. I had not thought of it that way.”


World Building 4

May 18, 2008

The Trigons had fought the Skathians to a draw and secured their grip over the original Carthaginian empire, but they had been spooked by the power of the Skathians – and now they had no Sky Thunder to equalize the stakes. They began a panic program to educate themselves enough to develop weaponry that would enable the old Carthaginian armies to hold the borders of the Empire.

Replacing barrel-staved iron guns and serpentine powder with bronze cannon and corned gunpowder gave their armies the confidence to stand against massed cavalry. Placing these guns on mobile field carriages that could be moved by horses restored the mobility that the old types of artillery had forfeited. Arming their infantry with muskets as well as pole arms didn’t require their aging starship technicians to learn fabricating techniques beyond the metalworking that had been carried out for minor repairs in the starship’s repair shop.

At this stage, the local people could participate in the development of technology and weaponry and began to assume an almost equal role in the day to day activities of the Empire. The first Emperor, the Admiral, actively encouraged Gaians to learn Trigon knowledge about metal working and fabrication – as he actively encouraged his crew to marry local women and start half-Trigon families. While the crew had included about 20 female officers and other ranks, the actual number of fertile women of childbearing age was only 10. He had an eye on perpetuating Trigon power and leaving himself a legacy.

By the time the third generation of Trigons and half-Trigons reached an age where they could participate in the running of the Empire splits developed in the previously monolithic power structure. Too many of the descendants were no more than spoiled playboys, while many others held positions on the basis of their ancestry – for tasks beyond their abilities. Worse from a Trigon point of view, many of the Gaians who learned Trigon knowledge were able to outperform the Trigons in its use.

At this point Qeresh, the younger brother of an Emperor, put forward a plan that would have seen the pace of development increase irrespective of who would organize and run it, and whatever it did to the existing Trigon power structure that kept their control over an enlarged area of Gaia. While the cleverer among the Trigon rulers were prepared to accept the challenges, and bank on their abilities to keep themselves in the driver’s seat, the majority became fearful that they and their family dynasties would disappear in the process. They conducted a palace coup and forced the Emperor to order the arrest of his brother for treason.

It was never known who tipped off Qeresh, but he was able to organize the escape of nearly a thousand of his supporters and seize three galleons to sail away. The coup leaders sent warships after them but eventually all returned to report that they had not found the renegades. For almost a hundred years, Emperors sent out flotillas to find the descendants of Qeresh and his followers without success. Even the Emperor Zarl, who ruled when the Iskanders arrived, had sent out a few ships early in his reign to search in a new location. They expected that Qeresh’s technological developments would have been continued by the descendants and such activities would be impossible to hide. No such traces were ever found.

The coup leaders, and the new Emperor they soon placed on the throne, began the policy of forbidding innovation and proscribing intellectual investigation into any field of knowledge that might upset the status quo – the rigid hierarchical power structure that kept Trigons in control of the Empire. They even projected the directive beyond the Empire’s borders, setting up the spy networks that checked within the few sovereign nations of Gaian Europe for technological developments, and sending either secret groups of agents or sometimes bodies of troops to destroy them and execute the innovators.

When the Iskanders arrived and the Empire became aware of their activities, the Emperor at first suspected that they were actually descendants of Qeresh’s renegades. Commandante Zagdorf was one of the senior agents sent out to learn about them, and in the next novel of the series to appear, the prequel Arrival, readers will learn the degree of success Zagdorf attained.

A quick note on Book Tours

May 8, 2008

Checking my spam queue I discovered a comment to my post on the book tour from Dorothy, of Pump Up Your Book Promotion. Some useful info there, you might want to check under the Book Tour category for it — it was posted April 24th.

World Building 3.

May 8, 2008

Please see the earlier two articles on world building before reading this one – “Changing a World” and “The Scene on Gaia – more World Building”. They can be found below on this page or under the category New Directions.

This continues my lengthy article on the worldbuilding in my Iskander series novels. While I’ve developed a detailed history for the world, the Iskanders, and a number of the characters in the series, the need to keep the stories focussed on the plot as well as maintain their pace means that there is never room to write more than a sketchy background outline in the text. While some authors are apparently so loth to leave this hard work unused that they liberally sprinkle their plots with extraneous detail I maintain that the only world building fit to be displayed is that which immediately advances the action.

Having dealt with Gaian history up until the Trigons arrived two hundred years before the Iskanders I’ll continue with their impact on later Gaian history. They arrived in the same way as did the Iskander people – a wormhole jump sent them here instead of to their intended destination. Since they were the crew of an armed star cruiser, they had no trouble securing their safety, but unlike the Iskanders they had no technologists and experts to perpetuate their level of technology. Of the 200 aboard, most were marines and specialists trained to operate the starship, and only capable of limited maintenance of its systems – not unlike the crew of a modern nuclear submarine.

The admiral aboard set himself up as the ruler of the Carthaginian Empire by shear force, using the star cruiser’s armaments. He then appointed his officers as commanders of existing Imperial Armies to secure the borders and provinces that had broken away in the upheaval. Since they had no people trained to set up factories to produce copies of their advanced weapons – nor to produce ammunition for them – the armies at first remained equipped with their 15th century weaponry. The Trigons undoubtedly used the starship’s advanced weaponry on more than one target containing a level of resistance capable of defeating their ground forces. There are several locations on Gaia where the author knows the ground radiation level and pattern of destruction indicate nuclear weapons were detonated, but so far the Iskanders have not located any.

I’ll note here my use of such statements as in the previous paragraph. I could admit that I haven’t worked out these details, and that’s true, but what I am doing is keeping my options open. At a future date and in another novel as yet unplanned, I may want to have my characters affected by a discovery – of a nuclear ground zero in this instance – but until I start that novel I don’t know where I want this to be located. When the novel scenario is fixed I’m free to pull one of these rabbits out of the hat.

At some point in the war the Trigons ran up against the Skathian empire and a larger and more costly conflict ensued. The Trigon’s local levies were no match for the Skathian nomadic cavalry and so the star cruiser, called the Sky Thunder in Skathian memory, was used to decimate threatening Skathian armies. This resulted in the Skathian power being reduced in capability by the time the star cruiser became too unservicable to fly. In the same way that a nuclear submarine must return to its home port to be taken out of the water and literally stripped apart for maintenance, the star cruiser needed a maintenance facility on a world it could not reach. The Trigon armies fought on against the weakened Skathians without their air support, and were able to fight them to a draw, settling with a treaty that established buffer states to keep their peoples and armies apart. This is the treaty that the activity of the Iskanders has placed in jeopardy, as outlined in The Wildcat’s Victory when Gisel was able to use the peril to her and Iskander’s advantage. What? That doesn’t sound very ‘Golden Rule’. They might be our ‘good’ side and our heroine, but geopolitics is a rough game.

So that brings the Gaian history forward approximately another hundred years, but I’m not finished with the Trigons yet. There’s Qeresh and the renegade Trigons, as well as the Imperial decision to freeze Gaian technology to come. I’ll cover that in the second part of the Trigon story next time.

The Scene on Gaia – more World Building.

May 2, 2008

This week I’ll return to some more observations on world building in speculative fiction. I mentioned the implied scenario of the Earth my Iskander group left behind in an earlier post – it’s entitled “Changing a World”. I’ll continue with the world they arrived on.

I deliberately used the name Gaia, that James Lovelock used in his exposition of a general system theory consideration of the interactions between the Earth and its inhabitants. The name is also Greek, which fits in with my picture of this world as having had no Roman Empire and the language of scholarship being Greek instead of Latin.

As someone interested in history’s what-ifs, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch for me to speculate that with a bit more support from home (Carthage) instead of stubborn obstruction, Hannibal could well have conquered the Roman Empire during his twelve year campaign in Italy from 218 to 206 BCE. It would have taken a government friendly enough to the Barcas to build and maintain a fleet to support his armies – instead of sitting on their hands in animosity waiting for the brothers to fail. The Scipios made every use of this division of the Carthaginians.

However, in my Gaia, Hannibal did have a Carthaginian fleet to support him and they did defeat the Roman fleet that tried to prevent Hasdrubal, Hannibal’s brother (these guys really overused the name – it was also the father’s), from reinforcing his armies in 208. With the Roman confederacy broken up and the ailing Greek colonies in Sicily reinforced with Semitic colonists to take over the Roman cities, all traces of Roman power faded into insignificance.

As a result, the new masters of the Mediterranean (called the Central Ocean in my stories – what’s ‘middle of the Earth’ in Greek?) were a loose confederation of Greeks and Carthaginians, with the latter always more united and the Greeks always losing influence because of internal rivalries. The empire growing from this was more a trading and economic engine than the military one the Romans would have put together, and stretched from the gates of Kabul in the east to Spain in the west, and south across the deserts to sub-Saharan Africa.

The religion of the empire (and this is where we get controversial) would have been a synthesis of Greek and Carthaginian paganism with a strong spiritual input from the Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia (The religion still thrives among the Parsi of India.) and the Buddhism and Brahmanism of India. I suggest the Jews, Semitic brothers of the Carthaginians, would have readily integrated with these commercial overlords, as long as Abrahamic observances were protected, and the train of events that brought the religion of Jeshua son of Yosef into being would not have happened. (Apologies for mixing Aramaic and Hebrew names, I’m not a theologian.) The invocation of the common people in the European world on Gaia is therefore of the Holy Flame, a reference to the fire-worship of the Zoroastrians, but a spiritual synthesis that includes the Divine elements of all the religions thus incorporated.

This loose Imperial structure, more of a loose confederation than a centrally governed unity, lasted for about sixteen hundred years until the Trigons – another group of offworld starship castaways arrived and used the weaponry aboard their military star cruiser to conquer the existing power structures. That is a whole new situation which I’ll cover in another article.