Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Rough and ready - Echo 2, chapter 1

Chapter 1


“Three contacts on intercept course.” Called Pearce. “Probable missile attack.”
She called out a bearing. Coming in from behind. Probably the best news I could hope for now. I glanced at the engineering screens; the drives weren’t online yet. I touched the intercom.
“I know! Thirty seconds.” The transition from AltSpace was always the most dangerous. The manoeuvring drives were offline and the turbulence meant we were blind for several minutes. I’d destroyed three enemy battleships by being in the right place whilst they were helpless.
I looked up at Pearce. “Impact on our current position in forty seconds…mark.” She informed us. We would be moving, increasing the time to impact and the distance the missiles had to travel.
“Where’s the launch platform?” Somewhere there was a vessel that had fired on us. The fact they’d used missiles suggested it was quite a small ship with limited capacity energy weapons, probably a defence / interceptor or small escort ship rather than something the size of a colonial cruiser. It was unlikely that the missiles had Tnuke or halide isotope warheads but, if they did, a single hit or close proximity explosion would be the end of us. I wasn’t prepared to take the chance.
“Haven’t pinned it down yet.” Pearce was working through numerous wavelength scans to try and find the attacker. Ash’s fingers were dancing over his controls. I knew, without asking, that he would be activating the ship’s weaponry, both the defensive and offensive systems. For the moment there was nothing else to be done. Standard procedure was to seal all internal hatches during transition and Hemingrey, my first officer, had announced the close contacts over the internal comms system as soon as Pearce had identified them, and the rest of the crew should be making preparations for damage control. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the screen of one of the secondary stations that ringed the bridge. Lights were changing from red to green to red as the Bad Girls descended from their quarters on deck five to the armoury on deck eight where their armour and weapons were stored.
“Cavendish, join up with your team. Suit up then check out the passengers on the cargo deck.” Ordered Hemingray. I knew that Cavendish wouldn’t be happy, but I didn’t have time to do anything as Keyes’ voice came over the intercom at the same time as a line of indicators on my board turned green.
“Drives up, drives up.”
“Acknowledged.” Responded Hemingray as I pushed the throttles forward smoothly and slowly to avoid damaging the drives, reaching maximum acceleration of 40m/s/s over ten seconds.
The hatch opened with a hiss of pressurised rams and Dryden ducked under the leading edge, sliding into the helm seat as I slid out of the other side. Freed of pilot duties I could concentrate on responding to the threat.
“All yours.” Said Cavendish. I had my back to the hatch but could guess what was taking place. Before I could check, Pearce announced her success.
“New contact, twenty thousand klicks, same bearing, broadcasting Imperial naval ID. Four hundred tonnes interceptor. She’s changing to a predictive intercept course.”
If they’d attacked at twenty thousand kilometres it was touch and go whether we could outrun the missiles. I glanced at Hemingrey and she confirmed my suspicions with a nod towards Ash. He saw the gesture. “Stand by… weapons systems fully charged and deployed. Targeting radar and lidar active and ready.”
“Fire at will, Mr Ash.”
“Miss Pearce, make sure that ship’s alone.”
I turned towards the hatch. Cavendish had gone and now Echo was standing in her place. “Are we in the shit again?” She asked.
“No more than normal.”
She grinned in reply.
“Sir, I’m picking up a carrier wave from the attacker.” Called Pearce.
“Are they hailing us?”
“No, I think the missiles might be under control. They could take evasive action.”
“Take them down before they get much nearer, please, Mr Ash.”
“Tracking. Firing. One target destroyed.”
“Fifteen seconds to impact.” Cautioned Pearce. The missiles were near enough for us  to follow their tracks on the screen.
“Tracking. Bollocks!” muttered Ash. The missiles had started weaving.
“Pearce, contact them, find out what the hell they’re playing at.” Echo stepped into the ring of control stations.
I held out my hand. “One Captain on this ship.” So far this mission had been uneventful and I’d grown lax. But in a situation like this I demanded a clear line of command. I was captain and Hemingray was first officer. I respected Echo’ opinion but the crew had to know who to listen to and obey. Confusion had caused the loss of many ships. We could argue about it later but, right now, I had other things to worry about.
“Two targets destroyed.” Called Ash
Pearce glanced at me, looking for clarity after Echo’s instructions. “Not yet. I don’t want to give anything away.” I glanced at Echo and pointed to one of the secondary control stations. “Sit. Shut up.”
“New contact, bearing zero five by zero five. Range, fifty thousand kilometres”  said Pearce. Almost directly ahead.
“Maintain course.” I glanced at the screen. “As quick as you can, Mr Ash.” The last missile was almost upon us, but was using evasive manoeuvring. It delayed impact, but made it difficult to hit.  That was Ash’s problem. I was concerned about the new contact.
“Report, Miss Pearce.”
“Picking up stray transmissions from the ship ahead. Naval codes. Looks like a Destiny class colonial cruiser, on a similar track and accelerating at standard by one.”
“Final missile destroyed!” Shouted Ash
Hemingray’s hands slid across her station as she performed some calculations. She glanced up.
“We can evade but we’ll need to turn right now.”
 “It’s a modified Curtis trap.”  Declared Pearce. “I’m picking up faint returns to starboard.” The Curtis trap was one of the Navy’s piracy interception manoeuvres. With an aggressive gunship pushing us away from the gas giant that was our destination and a powerful ship in front of us, most captains would run sideways and try and evade the enemy, running into a second blockade that would be waiting outside normal scan range. Space was unimaginably huge and groundsiders thought that starships could travel freely but the laws of physics were difficult to oppose and the trap was remarkably effective. Starships jumped into real space in front of a planet’s orbit and allowed it to catch up with them. The Curtis trap pushed targets out of the orbital path. Most turned towards the system’s star and towards more, waiting, gunships. A small number would turn against the spin but, having gone wide enough to avoid the initial trap, making orbit could be difficult, particularly a high mass gas giant.
“Modified?” I asked. My expertise was fleet to fleet battles. Pearce had been a senior lieutenant on a colonial cruiser and had been involved in plenty of Curtis traps.
“Evasive track missiles. In a standard trap the initial attack is meant to scare the shit out of the target, not blow it out of the system. Those three were meant to do some serious damage.”
Modified or not, the Curtis trap wouldn’t work today. The majority of starships were less than five hundred tonnes and lightly armed. We were large and heavily armed and could take on warships the size of the colonial cruiser with the expectation of winning. But not right now.
“All stop.”
“All stop.” Confirmed Dryden.
“Rotate one hundred and eighty.”
“Half rotation, aye.” We were going to take the fight to the interceptor. Bow forward, Ash could bring all ten laser turrets to bear and create a screen that would protect us from more missiles.
“Set course for the first contact. We’re going to go head to head and see who blinks first.” Nobody ever turned to face a Curtis trap. The small interceptor would have a relatively inexperienced lieutenant in command and In a few moments he was going to more trouble than he’d experienced since the academy combat simulator. “Warm up the Vulcan cannons.”
“If those are naval ships, just declare the ship as being on Commission business.” Proposed Dryden. “We can avoid a fight.”
I glanced at Echo. She shook her head. “We were attacked without provocation and, more importantly, without a challenge. This wasn’t standard naval protocol and I don’t think declaring as the Commission is necessarily going to help.”
I agreed. “Negative.” I opened the intercom. “All hands, prepare for combat. All stations report in.”

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I am not a free man, i am a number

What makes a truly great novel?
Blogspace is full of people who will tell you the answer to that question (and it invariably uses multiple use of the word 'edit')

I was wondering, is a novel only great if i understand what the author was trying to say?
Or, alternatively, can we be pursuaded that a novel is great if, after the fact, we understand what the author was trying to say?

I'll use a couple of examples. The first one isn't a book

You may have been to Portmerion - it's a village on the Welsh coast. if you've not, you might have seen it on the box as it's the setting for the original version of The Prisoner. It's very pretty, with italionate architecture and nooks and strange shapes and build on a 2/3 scale (although people manage to live there).
I hated it. it ticked the Trying Too Hard box and i couldn't understand what the architect was trying to do.We went to find the cafe.
Near the middle of the village there's a shed, with a film on repeating loop. In the film the architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, explains what he was trying to do. Lightbulb moment. When we came back out i looked at it in a different way and loved it

So, to a book. I've just read On the beach by Neville Shute. It's about a small city in Australia in the last 4-6 months before the radiation from a nuclear war arrives.
Rather than desperately trying to find a way to survive, they spend the time having dinner parties and saying 'don't worry it will all be over soon.'
i can't decide whether Shure was portraying some sort of colonial stiff upper lip, or how people behave when they believe there is no hope.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Although i don't understand it, PJ O'Rourke called it the best novel ever written. i hated it.

Having said that, i suspect that, even if i'd understood it, i'd still have hated's so turgid and small and I only continued to the end to find out how they eventually manage to save themselves.

SPOILER. They all die. It's just totally depressing

You may be looking for the hidden meaning in my book.

SPOILER. There isn't one.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Trapped 4/4

"Why is nobody moving on?"
"Because the hatches are jammed." Snapped Cavendish. "If they could get through, they wouldn't be hanging about. The reactor won't last much longer." She turned and stomped away. Something was bothering her, but it would have to wait. We were trapped in this compartment and it looked like we didn't have anything to get us out. I wasn't prepared to give up yet.

Think, damn you. Cursing myself wouldn't help.
"Why won't the hatches open?"
"The power supply was cut." Answered Nonaka. The power supply ran through the middle of the the bulkhead. We must have been close to the missile's impact point. There was no way to reconnect severed power lines and cutting our way though would take hours. Many compartments had manual hatches in case of situations just like this but, if there was one, then we'd be using it so i didn't bother to ask.
"Power cells."
"Tape power cells to the hinges and blow it open."
There was a pause as she thought about where to get power cells. I could see two laser rifles, but the capacitor charges wouldn't be high enough and they'd discarded their heavy weapons along the way. We came up with a solution at the same time, but she was quicker to give orders.
"Bad Girls, form up on me. Commander, get the crew down to the far end."
Nonaka herded the surviving crew back towards the entry hatches as Cavendish collected secondary cells from the Bad Girls' Ultima armour and, with some, fortuitously discovered sealing tape, fastened them around the hatch hinges. As she stepped away a blast of white light seared my eyes. in the vacuum there was no noise but, after a few seconds i could make out words from the confused babble coming over the comms. My eyes should have been recovering but i still couln't see and i realised that the compartment lights were out. This was confirmed as the beams from some of the Bad Girls' suits sent white beams across the darkness.
More shouting. "On your feet. Move out. Move now!" The voice was Gregory's rather than Cavendish's. Then i remembered seeing Cavendish at the centre out the explosion. As i looked for her i could see that the jammed hatches had been blown clear and had left bloody swathes across the deck as they carved through unfortunate crewmen. I could hear Nonaka doing a head count but was filled with dismay as he stopped at nine. Nine survivors. A moment later i felt a hand on my collar and then was sliding across the floor before being lifted throuh the hatch openings. The compartment on the other side was just as devastated and there were more bodies scattered about. A second missile had followed the first and had freed us, although the cost had been high.
"Gregory." i shouted.
"What happened to Cavendish?"
"She's fine. Just a bit dazed. Hall is making sure she gets out."
We were in the corridor that led to the shuttles. Several had already launched, but one was still in its cradle, powered up and ready. A handful of crew were already strapped in and we filled some more of the seats, but there were still spaces available. I could see Cavendish now, standing in the entry hatch, arguing with the pilot. She pointed a threatening finger then turned away and looked out into the dock. 
"We have to go." muttered Nansen. "The reactor isn't going to last much longer."
It was quiet for another minute, then Hall called Livingston's name.
"You have to tell her."
"She won't go without Ross." Ross, Cavendish's second in command and best friend.
Cavendish turned. "We are not leaving without her!"
"She's gone!"
"She is not. I'm still picking up her signal."
"What channel?" i asked.
"Nine." The security channel which the marines used routinely.
I reset the comms to channel nine.
"York to Ross." Nothing. "Ross, respond."
"Captain." Ross' voice was faint. She was using her suit comms rather than the ship's systems and was obviously on the other side of multiple bulkheads. "Have you made it to the shuttles?"
"Yes. You need to get here quickly."
"We're not going to make it. You need to launch."
"No!" shouted Cavendish.
"There's no way through. The reactor is going to blow. You have to go. York, launch the shuttle. Blessings of the Emperor to you all. Goodbye Cavendish. Ross out."
Cavendish stepped back from the hatch and slapped the control to seal the boat.
"Launch the shuttle." She said, quietly.

Curses, foiled

just when i was back in the groove and raring to write, i break my elbow. although typing with my left hand only isn't that bad, i'm thinking faster than i'm typing and it's going all over the place. still, that's what the editing phase is for

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Writer's Block

I've been working on book two for a while but it's been a bit of a struggle. I know the broad outline of the story and i'd managed to complete chapter one but then it all ground to a halt. Partly that wasn't a problem as i was editing book one and getting it on to Kindle, but there was a real pressure there.

i read this in The Musings of DS Taylor today     

If you don’t spend your days either writing, or thinking about writing, don’t tell me you want to be an author.

 He also said a lot of other useful stuff in this post. If you're a writer yourself, have a read.

For the last few weeks i've spent a lot of time thinking about publishing and marketting and selling book one, but hardly at all about the important stuff. Writing. Last night i spent a long time thinking about how to get the team out of the conundrum i'd put them in. By morning i had an outline for chapters 2, 3 and probably 4.

I suspect that i didn't actually have writers block, i just needed a rest. Now I'm back in the grove. Hurrah!

Friday, 16 March 2012

After the fuss dies down

It's been two weeks since i published. After a couple of days of good sales it's settled down to one every couple of days. I've just hit twenty copies sold, which i'm really pleased about.There are a few more expected from facebook contacts who are reading other stuff but the initial burst is over.

When i started down the publishing route, i set some goals -
1) Sell one copy - tick
2) Sell a copy to somebody who's not a friend - tick. The comms department asked me to write a guest blog on the PCT site and people whose name i've seen in emails got in touch and said they'd bought a copy
3) Sell a copy to somebody i don't know - tick
4) Sell a dozen copies - tick
5) Break even - there's still some way to go on that one. I need to sell around 60 copies in the UK to do that. (I've sold a copy on but, unless huge numbers of US readers start buying, i'm unlikely to see that money as Amazon will only pay up once they owe me $100)
6) Get a good, independent, review. I was really pleased to see Jim Graham get a fab review on Somebody wrote that writers only feel jealousy when other writers do well, but i really don't think that's true. There's room for all of us. Ross and a couple of other people retweeted about Jim's review so i'm not alone in thinking that. So, as soon as one of my readers puts a good review on Amazon, i'll try and use that as a tool to get a review site to have a look at Echo.

So future sales will be a long haul and i'll need to work at if i'm going to cover my costs and be able to pay Cathy for the cover to book 2

Happily it's not about sales. I wanted to be both a writer and an author. I've ticked the author box now, which makes me happy, but the real pleasure is in being a writer. Book 2, which has the working title Clarke (as in Arthur C Clarke) hasn't progressed too far as i wasn't sure what themes i wanted to explore. But i've had the space to give that some thought and i've got some ideas about that now.

7) Get an actual copy printed - loads of people are raving about Kindle and one person bought a kindle just so they could read it (i'm really flattered - happily they think it's a great thing for their holiday reading as i didn't want Echo to cost them £91). ebooks are great, but i think there's still something about having a book in your hands. Particularly if it's mine.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

An author, i am

i know it's been quiet recently. There are two reasons. firstly i was away last week. I have a real job, this stuff is just for fun, although it has brought in a tenner in the last few hours.

Secondly, i've been finishing the formatting and final read through ready for publishing.

And today, i published :-)

Sometimes, at work, you write a difficult / slightly controversial email and your finger hovers over the send button. Eventually you just have to say 'bugger it' and press the button. Publishing the book on Kindle has been a bit like that. There's been a bit of a psychological block.

What if i can't figure out how to upload it? - actually that was dead easy
What if i can't find it on Amazon? i couldn't, but Bill found it and kindly sent me a link - cheers mate
What if nobody buys it? as i said, so far i've made a tenner. I'm hoping if the people who said they would buy it do so, i'll just about break even but that doesn't matter. I am an author

Oh, and then there's the big one. What if it's rubbish?
So far six people have read it and the feedback has been good. There were issues around trying to stuff too much into the first couple of chapters, but i'm not the only one guilt of that. I'm reading something that wants to move apace, but sometimes pace just leads to overload. I'm hoping the readers will find out a bit more about my characters in each chapter. There might be action and adventure and blood and spaceships but it's really a story about two people (and their friends).

I'm still buzzing

So, if you've bought it, thank you. I really appreciate it. I'm blessed with good friends, most of whom will tell me if it's rubbish and demand their £1.95 back (come and get it!).

If you haven't, just click here