Archive for the ‘Iskander Series’ Category

Masquerade for Spring?

January 6, 2012

I asked my publisher what the release schedule was for Masquerade and he said he hadn’t arranged an editor for it yet. I had to remind him that my wife and I were doing the final edits again as we had done that with The Wildcat’s Burden and produced an acceptable manuscript. He’d agreed and had the final since August, but had forgotten. A good thing Google has room to keep all my correspondance or I’d never know what I had done.

So…sometime in the Spring is the release date. I don’t know how I will start the buzz with that vague target. I guess the thing to do is assume it will appear in April until it doesn’t. He will probably get back to me sometime about the cover and I can remind him that I sent him an iStock picture that he agreed would be a good foundation for a cover. I might have a better idea for release date after that.

Masquerade is my Iskander series version of the old ‘Man in the iron mask’ trope, except Gisel soon learns who he is, but the where he is proves more difficult. I do have a real iron mask in the story, which is more that the original man had—the sources say the mask was of fabric and the iron merely poetic exaggeration. The suggested identity of the original has been anyone from the manservant of an important French nobleman of the 17th century to the real Louis XIVth, but they are all guesses. Gisel knows who her quarry is but has to prove it before the rescue can begin.

The cast in the story includes old hands like the Crown Prince of Lingdon and his uncle the Duke of Marsden; the villainous Zagdorf (of course); Hannan Badry the oceanographer and Gisel’s friend up until the breakup of the relationship with Henrik Matah (so sometime a bit testy as Gisel’s superior officer); Sergeant Crockley, Gisel’s faithful side-kick; Marc Chronon still trying to become Gisel’s lover; and a few other standbys. New characters portrayed include Countess Felicie d’Bormonde, the missing man’s sister; a fisherman called Reeny; Henrik Matah’s new girlfriend, Katya, the daughter of Count Bergrund, the Iskander steelworks landlord; the cause of the whole problem, Chancellor Marin, who hopes to have the Empire save his neck; and the brave Dowager Duchess of Burgundene who takes her time to decide if Gisel is trustworthy.

Masquerade is a bit different than the other Iskander stories in that the young Gisel is in this over her head, and spends much time and energy trying to keep allies in order. The lesson she learns best is that dynastic quarrels can turn around to bite you.


Free Novella: New Website

January 20, 2011

I’m announcing a free story on my website at  now. The website has been recovered from the scam outfit that stole it and has been recreated in an entirely new form. On the home page you will see the cover illustrations of my four published novels as well as the one due out in March. I’ve also added cover-type images for work in progress and the free novella.

“Gisel Matah and the Slave Ship” takes its background from a paper sent to me by a historian friend. She put together the story of the founding of Sierra Leone as a colony in which to settle released slaves. Over a hundred years or so, the project ran into problems, opposition, and the need for compromises. Gisel, my young officer protagonist of my Iskander series novels, runs into most of those problems during the few days she’s in charge of the captured ship, and trying to find a safe place to release the slaves aboard. I tell the story as entertainment, but Gisel in her conflicts with her impatient commanders, tells the true story of the African colony in miniature.

The e-book downloads I offer are not all perfect – I find ePub is a bearcat of a format. I used two different programs to convert my manuscript, one a free download and one a free online service, and I guess they were worth what I paid for them. Not exactly, because I’ve seen lots of online traffic about the problems between Kindle, Kobo, and Nook versions and the tweaking publishers have to do to produce a clean file. The html and the pdf downloads are far better files.

What else is new? I’m thinking of using my old blog site as a location for my MuseItUp Publishing releases, starting with “Rast” which is due out in March. It’s not that I want to keep the publishers separated but that the Iskander series novels are alternate world SF and Rast is a high fantasy. Some writers caution a writer not to muddle the genres, although I don’t think SF and Fantasy fight like cats and dogs. The posts I’ve added to trailowner recently have brought in a few different people and doing that is what this promotion business is all about.

Remember, you can download the free novella, “Gisel Matah and the Slave Ship” right now from . (The pdf version is the cleanest read.)

I Can’t Stop It.

November 8, 2010

I’ve had a couple of posts about Mindstream, the last novel I completed and the one I should be paying attention to if I want it published where it would be most noticed. I should also be beginning the promotion for Rast, that will be released in five months or less. I have another novel, Masquerade, being polished with my friends in the local writers’ group, so the rewriting and the critiquing of other members’ chapters should be another place to focus.

Instead, I’ve started something new. Another Iskander story – this time a novella, short enough to give away as a promotional gimmick. The Iskander stories need something to make them more widely known, and I figure I know of enough inline writers’ and readers’ sites where I can offer it as a freebie. I have a feeling that my intended title, “Gisel Matah and the Slave Ship” should draw the necessary interest.

I didn’t think of the story until recently. The idea came from an academic paper a friend sent me, about the origin of the Sierra Leone colony in Africa. She is currently revising it as one of her publications on her way to a PhD in military history. I don’t think I’m using anything that isn’t already known history – about the origin of the colony as a place to settle released slaves, and about the way the British army found they needed African units in the West African climate. I’ll have her read it to check, if she has the time.

My story takes place on the western side of the ocean, not the eastern, when the frigate where Gisel is marine officer stops a ship on the high seas. The commanders wish they could let the ship go, because its presence disrupts some of their plans – but Gisel has the bit between her teeth. These poor slaves have to be freed and found a safe refuge. She’s senior officer placed on the captive ship, with strict orders not to do anything without the squadron commander’s explicit approval, but radio communications are sketchy at times – and let’s face it, this is Gisel. She’s certain to twist the situation to fit the solution she thinks is required.

Every time I think I should take a break from writing, look at other things and spend more time on promotion and networking – another story comes along. It seems that I have something missing in my life if I haven’t a story to tease into shape. I can’t stop.

Character Interview – Henrik Matah 2

September 11, 2010

TWV: Welcome back, Dr Matah. I was hoping you’d tell us about some of your work this time – and how you determined the development path you did.

“The choice of path wasn’t mine alone, of course. I discussed our options with not only the engineers but with all the other departments represented in the Iskander mission.”

TWV: A very quick recap for those unfamiliar with the problems of the Iskander is probably in order here.

“Yes, the commercial charter that was to take us to fulfill our development contracts on the colony world N-3 – to begin the basics of its technological development – went astray and brought us to an alternate Earth, called by its inhabitants Gaia. We did not know how to find our way back to ‘our universe’ – still don’t – and so we have had to build ourselves lives on Gaia.”

TWV: If any Earth people were to find themselves stranded on the 17th century Gaia, I’d suggest the hundred and ten specialists on the Iskander were probably the best qualified to cope.

“We did have advantages in that way, but even so, starting to build a technological infrastructure on a world without technology has been a labourious business.”

TWV: You had some useful technology on the Iskander that could be put to work in short order.

“We have the automated production facilities, but they were totally inadequate for the volumes of production we needed, even at the beginning. We had to start an industrial development.”

TWV: The steelworks and the steam engine plant?

“Yes. Not very innovative, but it made sense to follow the path the Industrial Revolution did on our world. We not only needed to produce and sell desirable products immediately to earn ourselves a living, we had to start training the local people to use them – to be able to repair and to build them, and of course, to need them.”

TWV: And the war materiel was your earliest product.

“I’m not proud of that, but war fighting innovations were the most profitable, at that stage. The people with the most money were the rulers and nobility in a 17th century kind of culture and they were the ones whose political squabbles most often led to open warfare.”

TWV: And Iskander’s assistance to the Autarch of Tarnland, fighting to free his country from the nations who had ruled it for a hundred years, resulted in spectacular victories that opened everyone’s eyes to the value of Iskander technology.

“Yes, but don’t think it was only our improved muskets, our cavalry revolvers, and our rifled cannon that gave his armies victory. You mentioned our useful technology that had travelled with us on the Iskander. The radios we had brought to help us in our development work on N-3 provided the Autarch’s forces with the instant intelligence that wins battles. While his opponents struggled to find their way through the ‘fog of war’, the Autarch’s commanders had Iskander officers with the radio communication links at their elbows – and satellite imagery from the orbiting starship – to provide sure information on which to base their actions.”

TWV: And the radio developments have been almost as successful as desirable products as the war materiel.

“Yes. Somewhere around 15% of all European merchant ships now carry radio receivers that give them accurate time for navigation and accurate, timely weather reports broadcast daily from the Iskander in its stationary, equatorial orbit.”

TWV: And many households and establishments have receivers to listen to the Iskander news broadcasts, as well as the advice and instruction programs that offer everything from cooking and health information to lessons in accounting and agriculture.

“Yes indeed. We have to admit we include healthy doses of propaganda with the news and information – nothing dishonest, but with a clear modern Iskander viewpoint instead of the time honoured, and often mistaken, Gaian ideas.”

TWV: And these radios are sold to anyone? Isn’t Iskander careful to keep strategical secrets?

“Oh sure, but we are mass producing the receiver chips aboard the Iskander. Not only does no Gaian know what principles the advanced radios operate under, they have no way of knowing how the components are made. No disrespect to the Gaians but they could no sooner reverse-engineer these radios to learn our communications technology than a monkey could understand electricity from toggling a light switch. All the radio users know is that putting the receivers in sunlight, to power them, enables the programs to come out of the speakers.”

TWV: I see. However you use a different path with the steam engine technology.

“Yes, because we are using steam as our instruction medium for creating the beginnings of a technological culture. We want Gaians to learn steam and become good mechanics, and good workers for our future developments. Mastering steam will result in a future work force that can handle the really modern technology many years in the future – perhaps in the world when the children and grandchildren of the present Iskanders will need them.”

TWV: Yes, this is a forever story you are building. I wish I had more time and space to continue this, but I must close now. Please come back sometime and tell us more about turning a simple world into a modern, complex one – and the pitfalls that must be avoided, too.

Character Interview – Dr Henrik Matah, Director of the Bergrund Industrial Complex.

September 1, 2010

TWV: Welcome to The Wildcat’s Victory, Dr Matah.

“Call me Henrik, I don’t have time for titles and rank.”

TWV: Yes, of course. Do I see where Gisel got her own impatience with formality?

“You mean from me? Strange idea – I don’t think she takes my part in anything.”

TWV: If you say so. But to go back a little – surely you have frequent noble dignitaries visiting Bergrund? Who deals with the issues of protocol?

“Count Bergrund used to, and now his daughter Katya – my wife – takes care of massaging royal egos and noble sensitivities.”

TWV: Ah – you have married again? I didn’t see an announcement.

“We had a quiet family wedding about a year ago. It was a busy time at the works, so we didn’t want to be interrupted by some huge social occasion.”

TWV: And Lady Katya was accepting of the situation?

“Why should she not?”

TWV: Grand weddings are the norm on Gaia, especially if the union is one of social significance. I would have thought she might have been keen to show off her catch. You were a very eligible bachelor.

“Ahem. (Looks embarrassed) Perhaps not in the situation – you see … well. She was …”

TWV: Pregnant? So you have a new family?

“A son, Agraj Bjorn. Named for my father and Katya’s, as is the custom here. But I assure you she is enjoying a great deal of social life since the child was born. She also presides over protocol and arrangements at official Iskander functions, and has become a regular visitor at the royal court in Stadholm.”

TWV: Indeed? Iskander and the royal family of Tarnland are close friends? I thought from some of Gisel’s problems that there had been a cooling of relations in the past year or two.

“Hmm. I don’t like getting into politics, but there was a situation for awhile. We were able to fix it.”

TWV: Really? What happened?

“My idea, in the end. I merely cut the Autarch in as a partner in the Iskander Steel Enterprises. He gets 20% of the profits from armaments and seems very content.”

TWV: Then you are a consummate politician after all. You and Gisel are alike in that. But that isn’t the whole of the Iskander holdings, is it?

“Not by any means. Steel Enterprises is the armament factory – then there is Iskander Steam, that builds the boilers and steam engines; Iskander Maritime, our shipbuilding; Iskander Aviation, our new aircraft factory; Iskander Electric; Iskander Domestic … makes stoves, refrigerators and all that … well, you get the idea. We didn’t put everything in the same basket.”

TWV: And where does the Iskander-Felger Partnership figure?

“It too is separate, and has dealings with all the other Iskander enterprises on its own account. Even the young people have a firm of their own.”

TWV: Who? Gisel and Yohan?

“Yes. They have a company called Industrial Fastenings. Makes threaded bolts, nuts, wood screws, springs – lots of items needed for Gaian entrepreneurs to modernise their own factories.”

TWV: Really? Gisel is into nuts and bolts – seems very mundane for a gal with her reputation.

“Not at all. She and Yohan are very shrewd. Fastenings and springs are fundamental to upgrading the industrial infrastructure of Gaia. The nuts and bolts, as it were.”

TWV: (Chuckle) Yes I see. So it’s very profitable?

“(Laughs) Very. I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t turn out to become the richest of all the Iskanders. She did have a head start with prize moneys and awards for service to other governments – then the salaries and bonuses from the Partnership.”

TWV: So, what do you think her holdings are worth?

“Oh, you’d better ask her. But she started with about twenty thousand Ducats when the Partnership started – say about four million Dollars in your currency. Probably adds a million a year now – or would if she didn’t have all the outlays for her own interests,”

TWV: The women’s rights thing?

“Yes – and the Workers’ Brotherhood. But let’s say no more about that – she’s in a very deep game there and I wouldn’t want to make things difficult for her.”

TWV: But you do approve of developing the social background of Gaia’s workers as well as their technical skills?
“It’s all of a package … isn’t it? You can’t run an industrial revolution with serfs and peasants.”

TWV: As the Tsars of old Russia found out.

“You mean Lenin’s revolution? Something like that, but we hope to be able to manage the extremists better. Industry needs a social democratic basis to thrive, but … that’s politics again. I’m an engineer. Ask me about Iskander’s technological developments, not it’s political strategies.”

TWV: I certainly will, but perhaps another time? We’re about out of time for this interview. Perhaps you’ll return soon. You can bend my ear with your engineering enthusiasm.

Character interview – Colonel Elias M’Tov; Chief of Iskander Security

August 8, 2010

TWV:    Welcome to The Wildcat’s Victory, Colonel. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

“Nice place she has here. I must say our Wildcat does well for herself.”

TWV: And well for Iskander, would you agree?

“I don’t begrudge her a thing. She has done us proud – but then I always predicted she would.”

TWV: Really? I felt you were really down on her at the start.

“Well, she was a brat. She needed a strong hand to set her on the right course.”

TWV: A strong hand from you.

“Who else? Henrik Matah is a genius but a terrible father; Yvan Korchik was a fairly good mentor and instructor for her on the voyage, but a bad influence with his leftist and contrarian views. Maria Hather was a better influence but if I’d left Gisel to her she’d have been steered into a medical career … not a bad outcome, but we needed more.”

TWV: Gisel’s mother was a physician.

“(shrugs) I’m not a believer in family professions. My father was a baker – would you believe it? He was actually disappointed when I chose a career in Space Command. No. I do not think families offer the best background for developing young people.”

TWV:    I expect he made terrific bread.

“You better believe it, but society doesn’t live by bread alone.”

TWV:    So where did you come from … on Earth I mean?

“The Bronx – what was left of it after the worldwide sea level rose. Building a 10 metre concrete wall around New York was only half a fix. Water has always seeped into the city through the substrata – even in the 20th century – but the rate of seepage at modern sea levels meant half the city taxes went to water pumping. Then there was the crippling maintenance and replacement cost.”

TWV: Seems your US wasn’t the powerhouse we are used to.

“The whole coastal US was a disaster zone in the twenty-third century when I was a kid – no one had the resources or wealth to maintain all their coastal assets with that sea level rise worldwide. If it wasn’t pumps it was the dykes failing.”

TWV: Which explains the effort put into colonising other worlds. How many colony worlds like N-3 were there?

“Who knew? Half of them were corporate ventures, and commercial privacy meant they were secret ventures – until the corporations developed them to the point they were able to be chartered as new worlds … when no other company could horn in and settle it with their own squatters.”

TWV: Hmm. Sounds like the wild west, and a setup for all kinds of abuse and oppression.

“Yes, that’s why leftists like Korchik could slip through the cracks in the personnel selection security. I don’t deny there were colonies where the settlers were treated like slaves. There were stories in the news all the time … some had to be true.”

TWV:    But I’m still interested in your family and your career in Space Command. Can you tell us more?

“The family was originally Russian Jew … but that was way back in the twentieth century. My folks were more Russian than Jew – they sent me to a Greek Orthodox school. I signed on with Space Command when I left high school – and the force put me through college and staff training when I was in my thirties.”

TWV: And before that? You served in some kind of airborne service, I believe.

“The Intervention Force – yes. We were the people inserted into troubled colony worlds to reconnoitre and prepare for either a peacekeeping force or a Universe Bank take-over. We parachuted in from the edge of space – always dangerous as we’d fall supersonic in the rarified atmosphere.”

TWV: Sounds exciting.

“More than exciting if you couldn’t control your fall. Could get an arm ripped off.”

TWV: And then in Arrival you broke an ankle teaching Gisel how to parachute land.

“Don’t remind me. Damned embarrassing. I was way out of training for such a drop and should have given it more attention.”

TWV: So that was where you learned parachute assaults, covert operations … spying?

“All of that. I wound up commanding one of the top battalions.”

TWV: But you also commanded spacecraft there – you had the experience to command the Iskander.

“Intervention Force is a young man’s game … young woman’s, too, we had a lot of good covert agents. But I moved to the bridge of spacecraft when I left staff college. Logged a dozen missions  before the Iskander one.”

TWV: Thank you very much for sharing this Colonel.

“My pleasure … always glad to set the story straight.”

TWV: These interviews seem to be filling out details not covered in the novels. Will see who I can interview next time. Meanwhile skip over to my other blog on writing topics at

The Wildcat’s Burden

February 17, 2010

You can find The Wildcat’s Burden at the publisher’s site —

I post the whole of chapter one below.


The Wildcat’s Burden by Christopher Hoare, © February 2010. All rights reserved.

Chapter One – Riot

Major Gisel Matah, military governor of the city of Skrona in liberated Tarnland, stepped onto the concourse at the top of the Town Hall steps as the mob reached the Great Square. Her four Iskander security guards fanned out around them as the two officers accompanying her scanned the approaching crowd.

“You were right, Major.” Captain Jans commanded the cavalry of the garrison, the same 3rd Light Cavalry she’d led in the last campaign the previous year. “The demonstration has turned into trouble, but my troopers are ready.”

Gisel studied the crowd a moment, all displaced Lubitz settlers. They had genuine grievances, but she wasn’t about to let them bring their anger into the streets. The mob streamed down the three major arteries into the square from Hagriche Park where their leaders had inflamed them with speeches. The words they shouted were incomprehensible but raised fists and brandished iron bars and pick helves told her everything she needed to know.

“Return to your squadrons, Captain Jans. Seal off all the exits from the square once the mob is inside. Leave the main avenue to the naval docks open. Keep your sabres sheathed unless I order otherwise. Your officers will herd the protestors south against the dockyard walls.”

“Yes, Major, but I will leave you a half troop here to support your Peace Officers.”

She turned her head to fix him with a fierce stare. Her men had started bending her orders of late – something they’d not presumed to do with her instructions before. Almost in the last month of her pregnancy, they treated her as a delicate flower instead of the fierce Wildcat. She scowled and shook her head. “I may waddle like a goddamned duck, but I can still shoot straight.”

Jans grinned and saluted.

As he turned away she softened her tone. “I appreciate your consideration, Captain; a section will do. My husband will be grateful for your care of me while he’s away.” Yohan bitterly railed at her commanders, who refused to allow her maternity leave, but clearly they did not want the pregnancy to diminish her Wildcat persona. Ha! Thanks, guys.

The Lieutenant of the Peace Officers, once a sergeant of the town militia, regarded her expectantly. “My men are in the street behind the building, Governor. What are your orders?”

Gisel eyed the crowd that streamed into the square. Mostly men, but she could see women and a few children running between the groups of ruffians. “Form your men into a single line across the concourse, about fifty paces from the bottom of the steps. Hold firm to keep the mob from reaching the building.”

He licked his lips. “Yes Governor . . .. There are . . . a lot of them.”

“I see that, but I have backup for you.” She scanned around the tiled rooftops of the tall buildings opposite, looking for visible heads. “My riflemen are waiting on the far side of the roofs for my order to move forward. You understand that I do not want to have them open fire, but if your men are threatened I will so order them.”

“Thank you, Governor.” He threw a loose salute, pivoted about, and marched away.

She had selected his detachment recruited from the Lubitz citizens to keep order against their countrymen. The Tarnlish Peace Officers were patrolling the rest of the city. The genocidal dissension between the two groups wasn’t new – it had been ongoing ever since Iskander captured the city five years before. Forty percent of the inhabitants were from Lubitz and they disputed the inevitability of returning Skrona to the Tarnlish crown.

Their anger had caused this riot. A group of Lubitz citizens had accepted an offer to travel to new lands outside Tarnland where they would build new homes. It was a good deal for the new settlers, but their fellows remaining behind demonstrated against reducing their numbers and power.

She was as much a target of the anger as her fellows. Her first successful undercover mission had opened the main gate to let Lord Ricart’s Iskander cavalry columns take the city. Since the stranding of the starship Iskander on Gaia seven years before, their technology had revolutionized the 17th century world. But the changes that had improved the lives of many had diminished the power of others. Those who had lost, hated them.

Everyone assumed her governorship had been a reward for her early success. She knew better – it was no reward – the position she held required her to take actions she hated. She believed any action ethical when defending herself, but keeping order over an unruly populace narrowed her options to a knife edge. Tarnland’s rulers expected her to seize these ringleaders and hang them – but she wouldn’t. Neither would she let loose the cavalry sabres to cut down rioting citizens – unless she had no option left.

A movement to her right made her turn her head. The Peace Officers in full riot gear marched into the square in single file. She caught the Lieutenant’s eye and clapped her hands together. He turned to march backwards as he gave an order. The men raised their riot shields and clapped their riot sticks against them in a loud cadence to their marching steps.

The ominous sound echoed across the square as the men marched into position. Most of the oncoming crowd slowed but some picked up rocks to throw. The Peace Officers pulled down their face shields and turned to face the crowd. They locked their shields into a continuous wall and braced themselves against the expected onslaught.

Gisel turned to gesture to one of her orderlies in the doorway. “Bring me a loudhailer.”

The clatter of hooves heralded the arrival of a dozen cavalrymen. She smiled as she recognised the leader – Sergeant Major Cubbins, one of her most reliable men of the 3rd Light Cavalry the previous year. He now commanded the new D Squadron as Iskander built up the battle-scarred battalion to full strength.

Those in the mob who had resumed running forward slowed to a walk at the arrival of the cavalry. With their eyes on the horsemen, they edged across the square to about twenty metres from the riot police – throwing stones at them. Behind the first ranks of the mob she recognised Nakred the rabble-rouser and Davadis the hot-headed reporter for the Skrona-Lubitz News – a fledgling free press that Iskander had encouraged. Gisel ruefully acknowledged the paper she allowed to operate fanned the flames of the Lubitz citizens’ resentment.

Her orderly reached her with the loudhailer and she switched it on to put to her lips. She gulped a deep breath, not quite full with her babe pressed up against her diaphragm. “Pavel Nakred,” she boomed, “permission to hold this gathering is rescinded. Disperse these people at once.”

“Not until you have heard our grievances,” he shouted back.

“Order your people to cease throwing stones.”

“Their anger is too strong for me to so speak. You may shout with your huge voice machine.”

Gisel signalled to the sergeant of the Assault Infantry Company, near the door behind her. In a moment, the riflemen climbed over the roofs to take up positions where they could shoot down into the crowd. She fixed her gaze on Nakred. “Order your people to disperse before I quench their anger with rifle bullets.”

Nakred and his companions turned to stare up at the surrounding riflemen. After a minute’s argument he faced her again. “I don’t believe you will do it.”

A movement beside him revealed one of his bodyguards carrying a firearm – possibly a cavalry carbine. He seemed ready to aim at her. Fear for her unborn child lanced through her.

She covered her belly with both arms as she turned to the sergeant. “Your sharpshooter. Quick!”

He shouted into his radio and a shot rang out from a window above them in the building . The armed man threw up his hands and collapsed with a shriek.

Her heart pounded in her breast and she felt sweat break out all over her forehead and down to her shoulders. She had thrown down her biggest trump – would he call her bluff? “There’s one. Do you want to see a hundred fall? A thousand? I have killed that many on the battlefield – I can do it more easily here.”

Those at the rear of the mob shouted. At first she thought they wanted to know who had fired, but the sounds turned to cries of alarm. Gisel could see into several of the thoroughfares from her vantage point. The cavalry appeared in the distance, horses shoulder to shoulder. Good for Jans – he had judged his moment to a tee.

All around Nakred and Davadis the mob milled about, bending toward the fallen man and gesticulating. No doubt they shouted to one another, but their voices were lost in the din of the mob. Nakred emerged from the milling crowd, his voice indistinct. “You . . . killed . . . cousin. I accuse . . . cold-blooded murder.”

“Order your people to disperse or there will be more. Do you see the cavalry advancing down the avenues? I have only to give the order for them to break into a charge.”

“Never!” He stepped out of the mob, arms on hips. “Shoot me down, you bitch. I will not move from here.”

Gisel caught Sergeant Major Cubbin’s eye. The old soldier’s face looked grey but he nodded his head toward the riot police, now standing motionless and unengaged.

She caught his meaning – a good idea. “Lieutenant!” she said in a lower voice. “Take six of the riot squad forward and seize that man. Arrow formation. Sgt Major, take your horses in support.”

This had to work. If the mob resisted the police advance she’d have no choice but to order the riflemen to fire. Her pulse pounded like a jackhammer. It all depended on the execution – her men must act before the crowd realised what they were doing.

She needed to hold the crowd’s attention. She raised the loudhailer again. “Pavel Nakred, if you want to discuss your settlers’ grievances, I am willing to listen. But this square must be cleared first. Send the people to the Autarch’s Avenue and leave by way of the dockyard wall.”

“No! You will not intimidate us. Your Wildcat trick is -”

His words dried up as the wedge of riot police charged him. He attempted to dodge back to his escort but the two flanking columns of cavalry horses pushed the dense mass of rioters closed. The riot squad seized him and frog-marched him away, even as his protective escort reacted. These men were armed, Gisel could see several muskets and at least one more stolen Iskander firearm. Their attempts at rescue were beaten back by the sabres of Cubbins’ men. Three of the rioters fell before the rest fled into the crowd.

Gisel watched the mob mill about, some running forward, some back. At this point she expected anything. They could rush forward to attempt a rescue or they could break and flee in terror. The riot squad did exactly the right thing – testimony to the painstaking effort she’d put into their training. They marched forward again, beating their riot sticks against their shields, closing their ranks around the withdrawing men and their prisoner.

Gisel raised the volume on the loudhailer. “Your ringleader has agreed for you to disperse,” she boomed. “Leave the square. Go down Autarch’s Avenue to the dockyard walls. Go quickly and I will hold the cavalry back. All of your grievances will be heard. I give you my word.”

The mob wavered, their voices loud and shrill. Davadis stood firm, shouting at her but drowned out by the din.

“Oddr Davadis,” Gisel boomed again. “Your chance has failed. Do not lead more of these innocents to their destruction. The demonstrators are dispersing – their protest has been heard. Go in peace.”

She found herself holding her breath as she watched. The Sgt. Major’s small cavalry force regrouped against the front rank of the mob. No one attempted to rush forward to pull them from their mounts. That in itself said the nerve of the rioters had been broken. As the cavalrymen urged their horses slowly against them the mob fell back, sweeping Davadis and the remaining ruffians away with them.

The crowd changed from a pattern of angry faces to their retreating backs. Women rushed to grab up their children; men hastened to shield their wives. Gisel let out a long breath. Her hands trembled, but this time she’d won. Governorship as a reward? Hell no, it was torture.

The Wildcat’s Burden

February 12, 2010

Released today by Double Dragon e-Books

The Wildcat's Burden

Find it at

Alternate History novels.

October 31, 2009

Enough of the economics, my interest lies in writing fiction. However I expect I will use some contrarian economics in an alternate world scenario some time. Keep reading for the promise below of some free plot suggestions.


I see a lot of alternate history that starts with an event not happening, or turning out in an a-historical way, but what about impulses that try to go against the stream of history?

What about a successful class war in Medieval times? Watt Tyler tried to overthrow a cruel feudal society in 1381, as did many others, so how might their revolutions have turned out?

What if slavery was outlawed by the church in the early 16th Century? (Religious integrity overcoming economic interest.) Would Spain’s empire have foundered? What about all the later plantations in the New World?

What about the technical advances in the 1700s, that could have led to the Industrial Revolution taking off then – steam pumping engines, canal building, dyeing, cotton spinners, and knitting frames, etc? What they lacked in order to start the industrial ball rolling were the social conditions. These, if I recall correctly, were the agricultural advances that enclosed the common farmland and created a large dispossessed workforce, the colonies that supplied cheap raw materials, and the captive markets in those colonies for cheap manufactured goods – especially cotton products.

In my novels I wanted to bring together the ideas of starting an Industrial Revolution in a society not otherwise prepared for it, and that of the interactions between people with outlooks like our own and those of an earlier age. Like Samuel Clements (Mark Twain), who was so fascinated with the idea of juxtaposing our common sense with attitudes frozen in backward societies that he wrote “A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur”, I wanted to explore the interactions between moderns and people of an earlier time.

How would one create a scenario where a static society could be pushed enough to start it moving in a new direction? First, you have to pick a society – and select something that readers are already fascinated with. In our history, between 1650 and 1720, we have all the elements of swashbuckling adventurers (although strictly speaking, the buckler went out in Shakespeare’s time), sailing ships and cannon (seafights and pirates), revolutions and wars (Marlborough and Prince Eugene against Louis XIV’s marshals), and some good diarists (Pepys) to provide the day to day life as background.

This gives rise to my Iskander scenario.

My group of people with modern ideas and knowledge have to be brought into this earlier society, and they have to be persistent enough to overcome the inertia of ideas inimical to the developments they want to introduce. I didn’t see any alternative but to have them arrive together by some vehicle (a starship), and have no means of avoiding the task I set them (they are in an alternate Earth and cannot get back). The starship is just a taxi and becomes a geosynchronous satellite and communications base – I wanted to keep the focus on the realistic aspects. (No whizzing around the stars in space opera, and no funny-face aliens.)

There is a choice between bringing them into our own 17th – 18th Century world or a completely different one. If I chose ours, I need to have them act within already known parameters and events. I felt that limited me to another very English or American colonies what-if, since only a selected few foreign sources have been translated into a language I read. By picking a markedly different alternative world, I could use the culture of the period but set it in other parts of Europe, or even the world.

Early drafts were criticized as having too weak a story tension. These poor local inhabitants with their gunpowder weapons presented no danger to my modern whizz kids. This was before the Iraqis and Afghans demonstrated that the perseverance, doggedness, and outright cussedness of a less technically proficient society could outweigh all that modern technology could bring against them. (One more proof of the old military dictum that the spirit of the soldier is worth more than all the secret weapons imaginable.) Before 2006 I had to counter the impression of technological invincibility by introducing earlier stray starship invaders who arrived 200 years before and conquered the largest empire in the alternate Earth. (The Carthaginian). By the time my people arrive, these other strangers have clamped down an interdict on any technical advance which could upset the status quo of their empire. They thus provide a second and larger obstacle to my group’s success.

Ideas about the Multiverse hold there has to be a historical bifurcation to get into an alternate timeline, and I chose to have the Carthaginians win the Punic Wars. There was no Roman Empire on Gaia, the name of this alternate Earth.

I know there could be some weaknesses in my scenario, but throughout my emphasis has been on creating publishable character driven novels – and their requirement is different than a wargame or sim-type scenario. I propose to suggest possible openings and scenarios for a number of alternate history plots over the next few weeks (just think, some FR** novel plots that I’d like to see but don’t have the time to work on).

Differences and Comparisons in an Alternate World.

August 29, 2009

The main reason for using an earlier alternate Earth as scenario for a novel or a series is the freedom to explore events that did not happen in our world. I’ve already covered the absence of a Roman Empire. A bigger distortion, following critical suggestions from early readers, was the introduction of the prior arrival of another group of off-worlders – the crew of a lost star-cruiser from yet another alternate Earth. Yeah, I felt it stretched credibility too far as well.

This criticism of my original scenario took place near the summit of the hubris under which the Bush administration took on two wars that they thought would be walk-overs. My critiquers didn’t accept that any society without advanced technology could pose a threat to a modern intrusion. Hello, Iraq and Afghanistan. We now know better – in fact I knew better then – but I felt I should cater to the beliefs of my potential readers.

So I added the Trigons to the series, conquering the indigenous Greco-Carthaginian Empire about two hundred years earlier. I had felt the indigenous empire was all too capable of getting the better of my hi-tech arrivals, and so I postulated only a couple of hundred Trigons who had intermarried to the point that they had become a foreign aristocracy who devoted most of their energy to protecting their privileges from the locals – much like the Normans in 11th/12th century England. I did keep my intention of showing that a lack of technological expertise doesn’t mean the local antagonists are incompetent, and also that in any conflict situation it is morale, belief system, and courage that wins every time. Unless you happen to be sitting in Langley, Virginia, and bombing some helpless individuals in Pakistan, but then the degree of arrogance displayed is counter-productive to any future settlement.

The Trigons were from a society technologically more advanced than my Iskander Earthlings, but they were a military crew, capable of operating their star-cruiser efficiently, but no more capable of maintaining or replacing it than would the modern crew of an atomic submarine be of doing the same to theirs. When refueling or major maintenance is needed on any of these modern ‘wonders’ they have to be taken to the specialist installations to have the work carried out by a whole new team. No wonder then that the Trigon conquerors lost not only the use of their star-cruiser in the intervening 200 years, but also the ability to maintain a technologically advanced society. They are right back to the same 17th century infrastructure that the locals had created.

Which brings me to the reasons for picking the late 17th century for my Gaian society. Firstly it has to be the romance of the period. In Earth history this is squarely located in the middle of  “Three Musketeers” territory with all the excitement of swordfighting and sailing ships. The early financial empires, the Fuggers and the Medici, had begun to give way to national banks in Venice, Holland, and England. The primitive broadside warships of the Armada period had given way to the standardized ‘rates’ and fleet tactics of the Anglo-Dutch wars. Ships and mariners could undertake routine ocean voyages – not without periodic disasters, but more certainly than could the sailors of Philip and Elizabeth’s time. The pike was being superseded by the musket and bayonet, and field artillery had become more of a battlefield weapon than the old cannon hauled by teams of oxen. The early glimmers of science were beginning to make way against the dead weight of revealed knowledge and superstition.

The next reason has to be the availability of good historical records of the period. I have to admit that my depth of research would be considered scanty in a history department, but with two good  works to bookend the period available, I can easily find extra publications to expand on particulars. For my window into the thoughts, society, and actions of my 17th century Gaians, I found Samuel Pepy’s Diary to be a valuable source. For my guide to the politics and campaigns of the period I find Sir Winston Churchill’s biography of his ancestor John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to be more than adequate. I have a collection of history books that I have accumulated over the years – almost too many to detail, but I’ll mention some – “European Economic History”; “25 Centuries of Sea Warfare” and N.A.M. Rodger’s “Naval Histories of Britain”; “Western Civilization”; “By the Sword”; “A Brief History of Science”; “The Lore of Ships”; “Anne of England”; “The Old European Order”; as well as all the instant sources to hand on the Internet.

I particularly like the date, 1670, the year in which a young woman called Julie d’Aubigny was born. For readers who find my heroine Gisel Matah to be a bit too hard to believe, I’ll mention something of what is known about “La Maupin”. Julie was born to the wife of a minor nobleman, Gaston d’Aubigny, a secretary to the Compte d’Armagnac. Gaston had two passions in life – womanizing and sword fencing – and having no sons to train devoted his attention to his daughter. Perhaps he also thought he should give her some advantage in life to protect her from men like himself. Anyway, by the time Julie was sixteen she could better most of the men who came to her father’s Salle – his swordfighting gymnasium at the Count’s chateau.

Julie was also somewhat precocious, becoming the mistress of the Count at the age of 16, and going on to a collection of lovers – male and female – over the following 20 years. She also had a husband who she lived with once, a fellow called Maupin who the Compte d’Armagnac had selected to prevent scandals should she become pregnant. Julie sometimes fought as a man and sometimes as a woman, and had at least one lover with whom she operated a fencing school. She also had a fine, if untrained, contralto voice and sang in opera in Marseilles and Paris.

Her most notorious exploit was the time she attended a ball given by the King’s brother, the Duc d’Orleans, dressed as a man. She attempted to seduce three young noblewomen at the ball, leading to challenges from three courtiers who were their escorts. Julie readily accepted the challenges, dismissed their complaints that the streetlights were out with the observation that the moonlight was sufficient, and defeated all three of them. King Louis XIV, the “Sun King”, was furious at her wounding three of his courtiers and wanted her thrown into the Bastille. One account says that Monsieur, the King’s brother, interceded on her behalf, but the version I like says she had an interview with the king herself and charmed him into forgiving her.

Julie died young, giving up her wild life and the Paris Opera in 1705 to enter a convent, where she died a couple of years later. She deserves a new novel to be written about her – to complement the one written in 1835 – but I’m not sure whether to attempt it. As my historian friend at the University of Calgary says, my French isn’t up to original research. She did suggest a couple of English language sources I might try, but … we shall see