Friday, 30 December 2016

Vote: Picking A Paperback Cover

January comes from the Roman god Janus, a two-faced deity of doorways. So, it’s fitting to end the Year of Doom with a post that looks back to the electronic versions of Kingdom Asunder and ahead to the paperback release.

I plan to use CreateSpace, but, as well as stressing over typos, I need to decide which cover to use. So, please take a moment to cast your eyes over the artwork below and vote on which you prefer. If you’re on Twitter, you can vote there, or you can vote using the poll on the upper right hand side of this blog, or you can just reply to this post with your preference.

Not made a paperback via CreateSpace before so giving a timetable is tricky, but I’d guess at least a few weeks will be needed to sort through the formatting pish.

But that’s not all I have planned for next year.

Forthcoming Stuff of Excitement in 2017:
January = Journeys, a fantasy anthology featuring Black Sails, by me
24 January = Saint Francis’ Day (will probably do a sale)
January/February = hopefully get Kingdom Asunder, physical edition done
Latter half of 2017 = Traitor’s Prize, the sequel to Kingdom Asunder, is anticipated

Possible extra stuff = I may well have stories in a couple more anthologies, and there’s just the smidgen of a chance that Sir Edric will return in Sir Edric’s Kingdom.


Friday, 16 December 2016

XCOM 2 (PS4) Review

I really enjoyed Enemy Unknown for the PS3 (never played the expansion/DLC) and was delighted when the sequel came, after some delay, to consoles. I wrote this review right after completing a single playthrough on the standard (Veteran) difficulty, and amended it following the 1.02 patch (which makes some improvements I’ll mention below).


The doom counter of the previous game more or less makes a return, with the Avatar project. It’s an unknown project of alien dodginess, and if the counter fills all the way and the countdown hits zero, it’s game over for mankind. The counter can be reduced by progressing with story objectives and completing missions, and advances sometimes naturally over time, and sometimes in response to mission failures.

A second part of the overall strategy are the Dark Events. These are basically Bad Things (for example, doubling the cost of new recruits for a month, or rapid Avatar project progressions) that can happen. When you have a choice of mission you’ll need to weigh up the Dark Event that particular mission will avert, the potential rewards and how difficult it is. But you can only do one. The others (usually two) will go undone and those Dark Events will not be averted. XCOM 2 doesn’t give you a pain-free option.

Missions usually have a turn timer. Fail to complete it within that turn and, at best, the mission is chalked up as a failure and a Dark Event proceeds, or, at worst, your squad will not be evacuated and everyone still on the ground will be captured. I’m not one generally in favour of such things, but it does actually work very nicely because you can’t just crawl forward with multiple overwatches and one chap running forward. It creates stress between the need for safety (losing soldiers is very easy) and the time limit on the mission, so you need to take risks and use your limited resources wisely. Do you use a one-shot heavy weapon on the first enemies you meet to maximise the chance of killing them without suffering any damage at all, or do you save it in case more difficult enemies lie ahead?

Otherwise the mechanics are very similar to the previous game, with full and half-cover, multiple classes (four to start with, the Psi class requires a new structure in your base), and flanking bonuses. The skills have been nicely rejigged.

There’s a wide variety of customisation on both a cosmetic and gameplay level. You can alter the appearance, voice, name, nationality and biography of every soldier, and equip them with a variety of armours, weapons and extra items (grenades, ammunitions, medkits and so forth).

The classes (I have limited experience with the 5th, Psi) are extremely well-balanced. Not only that, but at each rank (past the first, which assigns class) there are two skill options of which one can be picked. Most of these present interesting choices, and can feasibly be used to create substantially different soldiers (you might have two Sharpshooters, and make one focused on pistol skills and the other on sniper rifle skills, both being very useful).

You can also create your own characters in the character pool, which means they’ll persistently appear in your games. So you can have Zhuge Liang, Nicephorus Phocas, Arthur Wellesley and Benjamin “Dizzy Rascal” Disraeli in your squad. Unfortunately, and unlike the PC version, it does not seem possible to either export your soldiers so others can download them, or to download any (excepting some the developers made). That said, still a cool feature.

The counterpart to the missions is, of course, base-building. This time the base is an old alien ship, but functionally it’s very similar to the old base. It’s been streamlined, which is usually code for dumbed-down, but here the streamlining actually works very nicely. Facilities can be upgraded, often by employing engineers (which may reduce research times on Proving Ground projects, or increase radio capacity), so you could choose to have two bog standard radio facilities or just one, but fully upgrade it. However, whilst facilities are affordable, getting everything is tricky so, as ever with XCOM 2, you need to prioritise.

One big advantage of the base aspect over the previous game is that the latter was a bit passive. You had to wait for aliens to do things. Here, there’s always *something* to do, whether that’s contacting new rebel groups, scanning for Intel, visiting the Black Market or doing missions.


Surprisingly, Firaxis has managed to make the story both less linear and more interesting than the last game. The narrative’s a bit stronger and there’s a fair degree of flexibility as to the order you do things.

The basic story is thus: the aliens won. Earth is under their control and Advent (think a global version of Vichy France) is governing a cowed people subject to widespread propaganda campaigns.

You, the Commander, get rescued from stasis by Bradford (the only main character to survive from one game to the next) and set about building a resistance movement and slapping the aliens across the face with the giant haddock of righteous indignation.


As you’d expect, these are a bit step up from the previous game. There are some graphical glitches, with the frame rate occasionally stuttering (not a major issue with a TBS game) and the camera can sometimes be dodgy when trying to throw a grenade (only for the roof to get in the way). Generally, a good-looking game without being ground-breaking.


The main characters are nicely voiced, but the soldiers are where the improvement really comes from. No longer does the vaunted world-wide organisation only recruit people able to speak in an American accent. Now they speak in American, British, French, German, Spanish and Italian accents. A few more (Japanese, Chinese etc) would’ve been nice but there’s substantial improvement.

The effects of weapons fire and grenades remains good, and there are now fire effects, so you can hear the sizzle as the building around you is consumed by flames (and might partially collapse).

Music is good but prolonged loading times can make it a bit wearing (see the Bugs section).


I’ve only played it once (hard to guess play time because I took a long break in the middle, but it took me perhaps 20-30 hours), but I think the game will have excellent longevity. Even on the standard difficulty it can be a serious challenge, and with two higher tiers and the Iron Man mode (no loading, it auto-saves after every action) there’s a lot of replay value.

Maps are procedurally generated, meaning you can’t just memorise the layout of critical missions.

The first thing I did after finishing it was start a new game on the same difficulty, but Iron Man mode.

Bugs and Other Issues

There are numerous bugs. Most are minor. Sometimes when an alien arrives their appearance is a little glitchy. The old XCOM problem of shooting through walls recurs (although this seems to be true for both humans and aliens).

More seriously, the game does crash sometimes (I’d guess once every 8-10 hours or so for me). The auto-save is so frequent it doesn’t result in much, or any, lost progress but obviously it’s still not great. Load times are long. Very long. Early game it’s fine but late game you can be looking at 5 minutes plus. However, Firaxis have recently released a patch which reportedly fixes that problem. [Update: with the 1.02 patch this doesn’t appear as bad. I’m fairly far into an Iron Man campaign and the problem seems diminished or absent].

Also, if you get a free mini-DLC be aware at least one item (the ski-mask, I think it is. In appearance, a balaclava with mouth and eye holes) means you can’t use a character with it. [Update: the 1.02 patch seems to have mended this].

Most importantly, you can make characters from the UK. Or Scotland. But not England or Wales. This is clearly in need of correction.

After two very late missions (the game tells you when you reach the point of no return), there are cutscenes which are followed by a few minutes of black screen, then the scenes replay and all continues normally. Just be aware of this.


A fantastic game that improves in almost every way on its predecessor, but which is hampered by technical flaws mostly corrected by the patch. I’d say it’s a 9/10 with the patch, and 8/10 without.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Interview with Brian Turner

Today I’m joined for interview by Brian Turner, who is author of the recently released fantasy Gathering (Chronicles of Empire book 1), as well as lord of the SFF Chrons manor (an excellent forum where people into fantasy and science fiction can discuss writing, reading, books, film and so forth).

There’s an ensemble cast rather than a single (or a couple) stand-out POV characters. Why did you choose to go down the route of many POVs, and what did you feel the advantages were?

As some people have noticed, the inspiration for the Chronicles of Empire series came from role-playing games. One huge difficulty was taking that experience and giving it life outside of those limitations.

But if I were plotting and writing from scratch, I would definitely have focused on no more than 3-4 max. The more main characters there are, the more difficult it becomes to pull off successfully.

I found it horribly, horribly, challenging. I was lucky in that I had a great developmental editor in Teresa Edgerton, who wasn’t afraid to tell me when I was going wrong.

The sole advantage of an ensemble cast, though, is that you can tell a more complex yet complete story. That’s why they’re so common in film and TV. But with novels, it requires a disproportionate amount of effort to try and make it work. There’s a clear reason why most books are focused on one main character, even in the presence of a strong supporting cast.

Seven main characters travelling together is the hallmark of a writing genius* but it also somewhat limits the scope of action. Presumably in later books (a bit like the Fellowship of the Ring) the group gets split up for separate adventures?
(*I may have used a very similar approach in Journey to Altmortis).

That already happens to a degree in Gathering, and it will do so to a degree in other books. Ultimately, the story is about how these characters work for and against one another in the longer telling of it.

At no point do I ever think about sending people off on journeys to make the writing easier - such events must make the writing harder because it has to make the story more complex and self-referencing.

A story about an ensemble cast must remain a story about an ensemble cast, and not a collection of individual adventures.

It’s clear from reading the book that you’ve done plenty of research when it comes to historical influences. What particular sources did you find useful for world-building a (mostly) medieval fantasy?

I’ve read a huge amount of history over the past 20 years as research for the Chronicles of Empire series. The aim has always been to use that to make the world of the story seem more real, even if I’m limited with how much world-building I can share.

The big challenge has been to move away from political history and into social history, and focus on the details of daily life that make the everyday experience both extraordinary yet ordinary.

Any good history book will do that, whether it’s second-hand commentators such as Edward Gibbon, John Julius Norwich, Terry Jones, Ian Mortimer, Francis and Joseph Gies; or first-hand sources, such as Thucydides, Polybius, Tacitus, Suetonius; and outstanding historical fiction and fantasy fiction writers such as Colleen McCollough, Ken Follet, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Fabbri, George R R Martin, Joe Abercrombie, David Gemmell ... and so on and so on.

Pedantic classical question: you made the chariot teams yellow, blue, green and red, like Rome. Except Rome had a white team rather than a yellow. Any reason for the difference?

Simply because it made all the colours primary ones. And while I’ve used history as a great source for inspiration, it made no sense to simply repeat everything if I found it better to personalise it.

A good example is that I abandoned the Theory of the Humours from ancient and mediaeval medicine, and replaced it with a colour-based theory of philosophy. This is why prime colours became all the more important, and why changing the whites to the yellows was more consistent with the worldview I’d created.

Although largely fantastical, there’s also a sci-fi element. Why did you opt for this, as opposed to going for a fantasy-only approach?

Simply because I hate the way that thousands of years of ritual folk magic has become abused by the modern fantasy genre. It’s no longer treated with any respect, and instead largely appropriated for simple power fantasies. Ironically, it’s RPGs that have driven this development.

So my first act with writing about my own RPG adventures was to invoke Clarke’s law about suitably futuristic technology being indistinguishable from magic. That way, any element relating to RPG magic could be swapped out for future technology.

I wrote a science fiction novel based on the same world, set 2,500 years in its future, then connected their stories. That forms the core plot arc in the Chronicles of Empire series.

Then, in the character development process, I gave each of the seven main characters their own individual belief system and developed it accordingly. There is magic in Gathering - but it’s based on real-world ritual magic, with the personal and social meaning it’s meant to have.

The Gathering is the first book of the Chronicles of Empire series. Do you know how many entries there will be, or have an approximate schedule of releases in mind?

I’ve posted something about that here: About the Chronicles of Empire series. There are 6 books in the core Chronicles of Empire series, with potentially as many as two trilogies that will support and complete this.
However, the writing needs time to grow properly. With only one character, an author just has to get a character from A to B. With seven characters, everyone is transecting each other’s scenes and development arcs. It requires time to consider and account for the effects of this on each one, as well as plot and continuity.

I suspect it’s going to take about 2 years to write each book, but I won’t rush to release anything I’m not happy with. Conversely, I won’t allow the story to stray and meander either. I have a very clear sense of focus, but not everything comes into view immediately.

Being vague, the ending is a natural break point in the story. Will the sequel continue immediately afterwards or (my guess) will there be a few months/years interval?

The story does continue shortly after, but the structure for the second Chronicles of Empirebook, Awakening, is going to be very different. Gathering takes place over just 6 days, but Awakening must cover around 3-4 years. That’s going to be a tough sell for a character-driven story, even with its far more pronounced emotional highs and lows.

Away from writing, how do you like to relax?

My social outlet has been the chronicles forums SFF Chronicles - science fiction and fantasy forums, and it’s also been a great place for critical feedback, as well as meeting some truly wonderful people.

I also read a ton of books, about 2:1 fiction to non-fiction. I’ve been making a big point to read different genres, and outside of my preferred topic areas. I figure anyone who wants to be a good writer needs to do that.

I’m especially enjoying the thriller genre at the moment, and the way the writers there focus on being concise while driving pace. When I’m burned out from reading I always pick up a Lee Child novel.
I’ve also discovered some amazing hybrid authors - those with normal publishing deals, but also self-publish - who write exceptional and polished cross-genre novels, such as Jo Zebedee and Ralph Kern.

There's also a book called Kingdom Asunder by a writer named Thaddeus White I need to read as well. [Sounds like the sort of splendid book everyone should buy – TW].

Beyond the next books in the Chronicles of Empire, what are your writing plans for the future?

Chronicles of Empire is going to keep me very busy for a long time. There’s so much I could cover outside of the main story. If I’m lucky, the Universe will grant me time enough to write a WWII thriller series after all that.

Thank you for having me.

Brian G Turner

The pleasure was all mine,


Friday, 2 December 2016

Review: The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides

I re-read this history (which is nearly two and a half thousand years old) recently, and it’s still amongst my favourites. The edition I have is published by Penguin, with translation by Rex Warner and introduction/notes by MI Finley.

Thucydides wrote an account of most of the Peloponnesian War, which occurred in the 5th century BC between Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies. It lasted decades and was rather complicated. Unlike some other ancient conflicts there weren’t persistent strong characters who defined the war (the exception might be Alcibiades, but only to an extent) which may be why it’s not quite as well-known as the Second Punic War or Alexander’s campaigns.

The author himself was an Athenian who played a brief role in the War before being exiled. He then spent years writing of the conflict, but appears to have died before he could finish it.

Thucydides wrote in a precise, factual manner. Although some elements are guessed at (the specific wording of speeches, for example) most of these are guided by speaking to witnesses or documentation. Although sometimes coloured by personal views (he was not a fan of Cleon), he does not appear biased in general terms for or against Athens, Sparta, Syracuse or any other player in the game, and is not afraid to condemn his own side when he felt they were in the wrong.

His approach (contrary to many ancient historians) of including specific numbers where possible and giving detail as to battle and siege where it existed enables a more lively and accurate account to come out. Whilst written with a cool, calculated hand, Thucydides does a great job of portraying success and plight as the fortunes of war ebbed and flowed.

As he himself wrote, this is intended to be an objective account of what happened that will stand the test of time, and on that score it’s a clear success.

The sometimes dry style and willingness of the writer to use an eight clause sentence if that’s what it takes to write what he wants to write may mean this isn’t ideal for a beginner to classical history (that said, I got it fairly early on and didn’t have particular problems). The footnotes and appendices do a good job of explaining what needs to be explained. There are also several maps in the back (perhaps a few more would’ve been helpful, though maybe I’m being picky).

The only real downside is that the book is unfinished, but it is still substantial, covering over two decades and 600 pages.

I’d advocate reading this after Thucydides, but can also strongly recommend the excellent single volume history of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Kingdom Asunder – out today

Kingdom Asunder, the first part of The Bloody Crown Trilogy is out today, huzzah!

It’s available at a discount (60% of the full price) for the first week of release, so do snap it up now.

The story revolves around the civil war between (and tempestuous relationships within) the Houses of Penmere and Esden. It’s brimming with ruthless she-wolves, scheming traitors and grim knights, dripping with gore and betrayal.

As it’s release day, there are no reviews yet on the retail sites but there are a few early ones here, on Goodreads.

Kingdom Asunder can be purchased in many places (if you buy through Amazon UK you may wish to use this affiliate link, which gives a small commission to the cancer charity Macmillan):


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Kingdom Asunder – out this Thanksgiving

What crime is more unforgivable than treason?

Princess Karena is all that stands between the House of Penmere and ruin. The King, her brother, was gravely wounded in a failed assassination attempt, and once-loyal followers are flocking to the treacherous Usurper's golden embrace.

But Karena knows the surest defence is attack, and will stop at nothing to destroy any rival to her brother... or herself.

Against her, the Usurper musters a vast army to crush Penmere once and for all, but in a war of treachery those closest to you can be the greatest threat.

The above is a description of Kingdom Asunder, which releases on 24 November and is available for pre-order. It’s a fantastic story of the civil war between (and tempestuous relationships within) the Houses of Penmere and Esden, brimming with ruthless she-wolves, scheming traitors and grim knights.

Buy KA at Amazon US 
Buy KA at Amazon UK

Buy KA at Kobo
Buy KA at Barnes & Noble

Kingdom Asunder is also discounted for the pre-order and first week after release, down to just $2.99 (after which it’ll rise to the standard price of $4.99).

Pre-order reviews aren’t permitted on Amazon, but there are a few here on Goodreads.

It’s a great book, people. It’s going to win big, so big, because it’s written by a winner, a guy who knows how to win. It’s got the best words, folks, we all know it. We’re making a trilogy here, the best trilogy you could ever dream of. And the readers are gonna pay for it.

So, if you want some escapism from the world of politics, there’s no better time and no better price than Kingdom Asunder, an epic fantasy a million miles away from 2016.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Colour Psychology and Anatomy of an Advert

I’m quite good at knuckling down and churning out words, but when it comes to marketing, the other side of writing (which involves 1% of the time but is as important as the 99% spent writing), I’m a bit less fluent.

This time, I decided to try and make a bit of use of the old psychology. A few years ago now but I do have a degree in it, and have vague memories of colour psychology (McDonalds has red and yellow in its advertising because the colours influence you to feel hungry and want to impulse buy). It’s worth noting that colours can and do mean different things in different cultures. Red is not always bad. Green is not always good.

In addition to considering colour, there’s the contrast versus complementary aspect to consider. Colours close to one another on the spectrum (yellow and red, for example) often go smoothly together. However, a stark contrast (black and white’s the most obvious) can create a stronger visual impression. The most important thing is to avoid clashing colours. Purple and green are not your friends. And don’t festoon the screen with every colour of the rainbow. Clarity is useful because the reader’s eye gets drawn the way you want it to, and the reader won’t get annoyed with having a face full of rainbow vomit.

For impulse buying, which books generally are, it’s better to use warmer colours. There is a notable exception, which is blue. I have no idea why the coldest of cold colours might encourage impulse buying, but there we are. If you’re selling a car, I’m not sure why you’re reading this for advice, but you want to take a more functional approach (green or blue, and black might work).

It’s also important to avoid the bullshit factor. I saw an ad a couple of years ago for one of those card games that are based on a TV series. “It is a life-altering experience!” the narrator enthused. Now, for a five year old, maybe it would be. And that’s the target demographic. Someone with the power to nag their parents to buy something. But if it were aimed at me, my response would be concise and Anglo-Saxon, and would not involve me spending money.

Use language that fits your book. Try and use a font that either fits well or at least doesn’t clash (using military style fonts for a romance or sci-fi lettering for an alternative history of the Roman Empire would just look wrong).

Anyway, I’ve wibbled about this for quite some time. But the point of an ad is to be seen, the information digested easily and (if it’s a low cost impulse buy) attract someone into buying it in short order. Below I’ve got the advert for Kingdom Asunder, currently up for pre-order on Amazon, with annotations explaining why I included each element.

I also did a smaller banner with some of the same elements (because slapping a whacking great advert in the middle of every blog would be obnoxious). I went for red rather than blue because I felt it stands out more (I considered red for the large banner but blue seemed a better fit for it. The two ads take a different time to read, and whilst the red is more arresting the blue feels a little easier on the eyes).

So there you are, a basic guide to making a banner ad. Remember, focus on colours, have no bullshit, include a call to buy and, most important of all, click and pre-order Kingdom Asunder.


PS If you’re a chap going on a date, try a red shirt. As well as ruining your life expectancy in Star Trek, red shirts make men more attractive to women (to a statistically significant degree). Unfortunately, ladies, the colours you wear make no difference to how attractive gentlemen find you.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Interview with Teresa Edgerton

Today I’m joined by Teresa Edgerton, author of Goblin Moon (which I’ve read) and Hobgoblin Night (which I have not).

I really liked the world of Goblin Moon, it felt distinctive and intriguing, almost like an extra character. What was your inspiration? And, assuming the location changes, how similar/different is Hobgoblin Night?

Yes, I wanted it to feel like an extra character. I put a lot of effort into making it that way — although it was the kind of effort that was fun, too.

My inspirations were eighteenth century Europe, old movies, and the classic historical adventure novels I had loved reading when I was growing up. The location does change for Hobgoblin Night ... or rather I should say the locations change, because events are unfolding in different parts of that world.

Some of the characters have moved across the sea to a setting which is more reminscent of Colonial America — so not so very different. It did allow me to work with American folk magic, which I enjoyed doing. That’s the main setting, but other characters are visiting more exotic places, like the country of the Trolls in the far, frozen north, or moving south to a city that is slowly drowning in its own lagoons, like Venice. Meanwhile, there are characters busily at work constructing a powerful engine they hope will draw on the “magnetic” properties of the moon in order to raise a sunken island, where they expect to discover the secrets of ancient magicians.

The secrecy, conspiracy and subterfuge reminded me of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Was Baroness Orczy an inspiration?

Oh most definitely an influence, but one of many. Rafael Sabatini’s novels were probably a bigger influence: Scaramouche, Venetian Masque, Captain Blood. There were a couple of Georgette Heyer’s books, more adventurous than her usual fare: The Black Moth, The Masqueraders. Although I love many, many of her other books, too, and they may have had a more subtle influence. Then there was the Reverend Doctor Syn (the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh), hero of a series of novels by Russell Thorndike.

One of my characters — having read Goblin Moon you’ll know which one I mean —adopts a number of aliases as the story progresses, and most of those names reference the heroes of those books I’ve just mentioned. Rather like Easter eggs hidden in the story for readers who love classic swashbucklers. I won’t give away any of those here.

On a related note: do you read history as well, and how much research did you do for the setting (or was it based on your pre-existing knowledge)?

Yes, I read a lot of history but not so much about things like politics and battles, more about all the odd and unexpected things that set each era apart, and also the ways that magic was practiced historically. Just a lot of things that relate to writing and editing speculative fiction, not just these books. In fact, I was able to find a lot more sources on the 18th century, including some fabulous primary sources, when I was researching The Queen’s Necklace which is set in a different world but one that is similar in many ways to Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night. I think I searched every public library within a thirty mile radius, although now, of course, there are online bookstores, like Amazon and AbeBooks, which are great for finding the kind of out-of-print history books I would have killed for when I was writing Goblin Moon. I already knew a fair amount about the period, but what I was surprised to learn was just how much more interest there was in magic during the 17th and 18th centuries than most people imagine, certainly a lot more than I imagined, and it was all mixed up with natural sciences, philosophy, and medicine. 18th century medicine is a marvelously fertile field for digging up fantastic details about that period, and the most bizarre things in Goblin Moon are based on things that really happened.

I've read Goblin Moon, but not Hobgoblin Night. How much time passes between the two books?

It’s never said explicitly. Several months at least, maybe as much as a year.

Although not a horror, Goblin Moon does have something of a creepy undertone. Does Hobgoblin Night develop in a similar vein?

There are parts of the book where I would say that is true, but there are also places where the supernatural is treated in a more light-hearted way. There is one particular ghost, Uncle Izrael Barebones.

The three protagonists, as I recall, have overlapping plot strands but mostly plough their own furrows, each a distinct character facing very different problems. How difficult was it making these strands separate but complementary?

All the different storylines were developing organically at the same time, with each one influencing all the others as I wrote, so there no problems I can remember in that way. I always knew how they all fit together, although sometimes there were developments that surprised me very much when they suddenly turned up. There was one scene where my swashbuckling hero did something I did not expect at all, and I sat up and thought, “So that’s the kind of person he is; I had no idea.”

The two books form a duology, but do you think you'll return to the world and characters at some point?

In Hobgoblin Night there are three short stories – one originally written for a magazine and the others for anthologies — which I’ve included along with the novel in the TBP reprint. They were written at different times, and one is a folktale of that world, and another features a main character from the duology but at a time earlier in his life. I don’t think I am giving anything away by saying that, even though he’s not immediately identified and he’s using an alias, because it’s one that he’s used before. That one’s a story about highwaymen and smugglers. The third story is unrelated, except that the idea behind it — the Celestial Bed, which was a real invention — was brought to me by a friend who said, “I just read Goblin Moon. You’ll be interested in this.”

So I’ve already done it to some extent. For a while I did toy with the idea of a sequel taking place about twenty years later, involving the children of some of the main characters in a sort of steampunkish setting. And I started and abandoned a prequel telling how our hero ended up in the revenge business. Of the two, I’m more likely to go back to the prequel, because I did write a rough outline and a few chapters for that one. It begins very much like a horror story.

When you aren't writing/editing, what do you like to read? Outside of writing, how do you like to relax?

To answer those questions in reverse order: outside of writing, my favorite way of relaxing is reading. I used to be involved in a lot of different creative things — I was very crafty — but right now my life pretty much revolves around books.

For fiction: fantasy, science fiction, 19th novels (Dickens and Austen in particular), the occasional mystery novel. I’m reading a lot of romance novels on days when I am writing or editing, because I find them more relaxing. On days when I’m not writing or editing I catch up on my SFF reading.

For nonfiction: anything that catches my fancy at the time. Aside from research, my interests seem to flit from one thing to another.

What are you currently working on, and is there any ETA for release?

I’m still trying to finish The Rune of Unmaking series, but right now there is no ETA for release of the next book. I’ve realized that, with everything that still has to happen to bring all the story lines together, it’s going to be a four book series rather than a trilogy, and I’m about halfway through the third book. When I thought I was going to have to fit it all into just one more book there was a point where it was so overwhelming and daunting I found it hard to get up much enthusiasm about writing it. Once I realized that it didn’t have to be that way my enthusiasm revived amazingly. But I’ve a lot of obligations for my business as a freelance editor that will take me through the end of the year. With luck I can return to my own writing in January.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Review: Abendau’s Legacy, by Jo Zebedee

I received a free copy of this in return for an honest review.

Abendau’s Legacy is the final part of dark sci-fi series The Inheritance Trilogy. Warning: there are, necessarily, spoilers for the events of Abendau’s Heir and Sunset Over Abendau below.

Abendau’s Legacy takes place very shortly after the end of Sunset Over Abendau. The Empress has reclaimed about half her empire, the other half loosely coalescing around the idea of a republic. Kare, her son, is forced to confront not only his fear of her but also try to keep his wayward son in line and the rest of his family safe.

There’s an interesting approach of having a relatively small cast but many POV characters, and the author does well to capture the differing perspectives (most of the time you’d know whose viewpoint you were seeing through even if unaware of their name).

The heart of the book is the strength of the characters and their sometimes fractious relationships with one another. It’s very emotive (sort of Hobb meets Abercrombie in space).

Generally, the plot works well. There are some little twists that are credible but also surprising (a tightrope to be walked with twists), although one late [minor] twist felt a little jarring/unnecessary. Weaving together the various plot threads was very well-balanced, particularly late on.

The story’s tightly focused on the characters, smaller in scale and more intimate than sci-fi can sometimes be. It’s more about people than the action (although there’s no shortage of that).

Here and there the turns of the plot were predictable, which, at those times, did reduce dramatic tension.

Obviously, this is the third book of a trilogy. To my mind, it’s at least as good as the previous book (Sunset Over Abendau) and if you’ve bought the first two you need have no qualms about buying this one.


PS Note on review policy, submissions etc: I very rarely review fiction any more. If I’ve reviewed something of yours in the past and have nothing on, I might be interested. However, right now I’ve got five books to read (and my own to promote), so the window is definitely closed until 2017 at the earliest. How this changes going forward depends on things that are strange and mysterious.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider (20th Anniversary Edition) - PS4

Rise of the Tomb Raider was a timed exclusive for the Xbox One, which has recently made its way to the PS4. However, PS4 players can benefit from getting all the DLC included, a VR mode (for those of you who are moneybags) and all outfits, including an extra exclusive one.

But is it worth getting?

In a word, yes.


The gameplay is very similar to the predecessor game that rebooted the franchise. Climbing mountains and icy walls with your axe, swooping down ziplines and murdering endangered species all make a return. The crafting system of the previous game has been deepened, with more options for making your own ammunition, enhancing weaponry (some mods carry across all weapons of a certain type, so you won’t spend all your time upgrading pistol A only to then get pistol B and have to start over) and giving yourself more storage space for crafting materials or ammo.

In gunfights I have the combat prowess of a drunk in a cat flap, which makes me a bit wary of assessing such things. My approach, where possible (and it’s often possible) is to snipe enemies with a bow and arrow (which couples nicely with the colour-system where enemies are yellow if other enemies can’t see them and red if they’re in line of sight of their allies). On the default setting I found the combat relatively easy, so those of you who are skilled at shooting may want to bump it up.

You’ll be able to get the vast majority of extra skills (upon levelling up) by the time you finish the main game and these can fit nicely with your playstyle. One I especially liked was a slight change to the targeting system whereby a different symbol was used for a headshot. Others increase damage resistance, improve special ammunition types etc etc.

There’s also a large variety of outfits. As well as the cosmetic changes some offer bonuses to gameplay. A significant number (16 or so) are immediately available. Others are acquired by story progression, beating certain challenges or being bought (with in-game currency). There’s a really nice mix of hot or cold weather, urban or adventurous, and modern or old-fashioned armour.

There is also a lot of side content, ranging from finding optional tombs (bit larger and seemingly more frequent than the previous game), to smashing laptops, helping out other people and so on. There’s a really nice mix of extra content and you do get some bonuses for completion (expedition cards, credits, or tools that help you in-game).


Tomb Raider, over the decades, has always had a slightly predictable approach to stories. Lara has Daddy issues, ancient treasure, massacre wildlife etc.

In her latest quest to find beautiful, long-lost archaeological sites and then utterly destroy them, Lara’s in Siberia. After a largely cinematic prologue, you get a short but sweet introduction to the mechanics of the game. Lara, being nuts, has gone to a lost city in the desert. In Syria. After destroying a priceless historical site, the action shifts back to Siberia.

She’s chasing an artefact her father (of course) was after, taken by a Prophet from Constantinople into the middle of nowhere, to a city called Kitezh. As you may have guessed, Lara’s not the only one after the treasure. [As an aside, the Byzantine flavour to the story and relics you discover is something I really liked].

Stories have never been the strong point of Tomb Raider, and whilst there aren’t many surprises along the way the story does hold up. That’s largely due to the strength of the additional characters and the backstory for Kitezh, which holds up well.


The graphics look great. Not only close up, but distant vistas of icy mountains or desert cities, in snowstorms or at night, the world looks fantastic. Sheets of ice and light flooding through windows look very atmospheric, and all the outfits (mentioned above) feature in the cut-scenes so there’s no weird disjointedness of giving Lara a Siberian ranger outfit only to discover when she has a chat with someone she’s changed her top.

If I were being utterly finickity, maybe fire could be a little better and likewise the large ammunition that gets used very late in the main campaign (you’ll know it when you see it, as you get some very fun toys to play with at that stage). Generally, though, environments and characters look great.


Camilla Luddington, Lara’s voice (and motion) actress is on top form, backed up by good performances all round. I especially liked Jacob’s voice. It would’ve been easy for him to come across as a bit of a damp rag, but instead he’s like a mix of Father of the Year and a universally popular political leader.

The music blends well into the game, and sound effects are good too. I especially enjoyed the sound of dragging a man below the ice as the final gasping bubbles of air escape his lungs, but that might just be me.

Longevity and replayability

Obviously this’ll vary depending on how much side-content you digest in the main campaign and whether (and how much) you indulge Croft Manor and the Expeditions (and, if you partake in multi-player stuff, that too). For me, the main campaign took perhaps 25-30 hours.

The individual areas are nice and large and, overall the game is substantially bigger than the reboot predecessor.

I went through Croft Manor, and must admit, even as someone who liked collecting documents and relics in the main game, I found it pretty boring. I’ve only had a quick go with Expeditions and I think they’ll add a bit more replayability. The Baba Yaga DLC (included in the main game) is the best of the DLC/extra modes. Fairly beefy in size and good fun.

This won’t apply to most people, but at some point I’ll likely replay it in German (playing videogames auf Deutsch is how I stop mine going 100% rusty). There are also many other language options available (a few more for audio, a lot more for text). This is likely limited to the European edition.

I cannot comment on the VR as I'm just a poor boy from a poor family.

Bugs and Other Issues

Very few. The only real problem I had was the 1.04 patch which meant your game crashed after 15 seconds. However, the crashing no longer happens (bit perplexed why, as there’s been no 1.05 patch, but the game runs fine).

It can also be irksome when you’re hunting for relics to hear Lara repeat the same bloody advice over and over when you press R3 for survival instincts. Not that I’m some sort of compulsive collecting completionist lunatic.


I’ve played a number of Tomb Raider games over the years, probably between half and a third of all the games in the franchise. This is my favourite, by a long distance. Great gameplay, enough game to sink your teeth into without feeling the portions are too small, and a plethora of additional modes and features. My only gripe would be a lack of a camera mode, which would fit very nicely here.

Score? 9/10.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Explorations Special Offer

For one week only Explorations: Through the Wormhole has been cut in price from £3.99 to £0.99.

The sci-fi anthology, with stories set in a common universe, features my short story Dead Weight. It’s really rather good, easily the best Chinese smuggler sci-fi I’ve ever written. There are also stories by sci-fi bestsellers such as Richard Fox, Ralph Kern and Jo Zebedee, as well as 10 other authors.

Kingdom Asunder will be out very soon, all being well, but in the meantime you can enjoy my short story (and others, of course) in Explorations for less than half the price of a cup of coffee.


Friday, 14 October 2016

Sex and Sexiness in History

Society can move backwards as well as forwards. In the 14th century, a man would probably get a far harsher sentence for cutting down a large oak tree than he would for raping a woman.

This wasn’t because Edward III was a fundamentalist tree-hugger. It was because large oaks were cultivated and deliberately kept straight so the trunks could be used as rafters in large structures and as the masts of ships. Growing one took a damned long time, so if some pesky peasant cut down a tree your grandfather planted, the blighter would probably end up swinging from the nearest (intact) tree.

That explains the harsh penalty for arboricide. But if a man raped a woman, then (unless it was a nobleman’s daughter, in which case he’d probably round up a posse and hang the culprit summarily), it’s unlikely she’d bother reporting it. If she did, it would be unlikely to go any further. If it did, the man would probably not be found guilty. If he were, he’d probably be given a small fine. In short, being a nobleman’s daughter was a good thing to be.

Language is another area of drastic change over the centuries. A four letter C-word is one of very few to actually become considered more vulgar over time. Words like ‘mischief’ and ‘naughty’ are now so soft that any parent would use them in front of any child. However, way back when, they referred to things like going out on the rob, or an evening of rape. [Sadly, this sort of attitude still exists today. Recently, soldiers in South Sudan, in lieu of wages, were given permission to commit rape].

In fact, women had fewer rights under the Normans than they had centuries earlier under the Anglo-Saxons. Now, I’m not claiming there was equality in the 9th century under Alfred the Great, but there was a greater measure of it, for women, than they had under the Norman kings. Aethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, actually ruled Mercia in the early part of the 10th century. It sounds bizarre that society could move backwards, but this does happen. Progress is not a straight line, and nor is it an inevitability.

After the Normans came the Tudors, and their final monarch was Elizabeth I (some argue that this was actually the perfect system of governance, where Parliament had power but the monarch did too, ensuring a steady hand on the tiller whilst also enabling a democratic element. So, neither mob rule nor tyranny, but a combination of monarchy and democracy). During this era, women began to gain still more equality with exceptional individuals becoming doctors or writers. The proliferation of literacy meant many women started putting together practical books about cookery or medicine.

It should be stressed this was still unusual, but a combination of Protestantism winning the religious war over Catholicism (and Bibles being written in English) coupled with a strong female monarch helped to encourage female literacy.

A small aside: during this era showing one’s cleavage was considered absolutely fine (even Elizabeth I did it). However, a lady baring her arms or legs was considered beyond the pale. Only the lowest of the low (washerwomen) would do such a thing. So, a long-sleeved V-neck top would be fine, but a short-sleeved t-shirt would be considered a bit racy.

Showing one’s hair or covering it up is another area where modern fashion can be radically different to history. Hats were much more commonplace even 60 years ago, and centuries past they were ubiquitous. For women, this often entailed totally covering the hair. Loose hair could be seen as a sign of, ahem, paid-for friskiness.

So, where are we now? Not in the best of places. In many parts of the world (most particularly the shrinking territory of black flag lunatics) women are considered property, or slaves, and are forced to utterly cover up. Their rights in all areas are curtailed or utterly secondary to the whims of their husband/master. In the West, there are generally good standards, although there are still black spots (banning the image of a healthy woman in a bikini on the London Underground or the wearing of the burkini in France).

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Friday, 30 September 2016

Two Ways To Create A World

Before I wrote Bane of Souls, I did a lot of world-building in preparation. At the time, this was unusual for me, but I didn’t feel time pressure because I’d only started working on it whilst trying to get a separate (and doomed-to-fail) story traditionally published. So, I tried to do as much background work as possible. Continuity was a big weakness of mine, and having background info ready and waiting helps both keep the world consistent and provides immediate ideas for little snippets you need (for example, social habits might include smoking, visiting cockpits and bare knuckle boxing).

This stood me in good stead, and the world created served as the foundation (with later additions) not only for Bane of Souls, but Journey to Altmortis and a future trilogy (first part, Kingdom Asunder, due for a December release).

However, I accidentally discovered a completely different approach when writing comedy. My world-building for Sir Edric was zero. I made up the incidental aspects (brandy being Andelic, elves having Greek-ish names, the Ursk eating humans) as I went along. Reviewers praised the world-building but, whereas I’d put months into Bane of Souls’ background, I’d done sod all for Sir Edric.

I’m a cautious sort of chap, and my writing method probably reflects that. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that the most neglected aspect of the comedy went down very well.

This does, I think, highlight an important point that’s relevant to both approaches. You’re not writing a guided tour of the lovely, or horrid, world you’ve created. World-building only matters insofar as it touches the characters and plot. And as showing is almost always better than telling, it should be, at it’s best, indistinguishable from the story. It’s the antithesis of an info-dump, the desire is to get the reader to learn about the world without even realising they are.

Maybe that’s why the Sir Edric approach worked so well. There’s little description, but a lot of action and dialogue. An inspiration for this is the approach adopted in Outlaws of the Marsh, a Chinese classic I bang on about sometimes. It’s brimming with action. You don’t need to be told Sagacious Lu is hard as nails, you learn it when he flings a gang of thugs into the nearest cess pit.

So, maybe a lot of background work isn’t just unnecessary, but a backward step. After all, I’m not here to write a guidebook for the Kuhrland or Denland or Felaria, but to write an entertaining story.

It’s worth pointing out a substantial difference between the two styles, though. I write comedy, for Sir Edric, from a single perspective. The eponymous knight is the centre of the story, the world, the perspective. Just about everything is filtered through his prism (hence why attractive women will get more description than plainer ladies). Kingdom Asunder and other serious writing is done from multiple perspectives. This means getting continuity right for both the world and things like timing the plot is more complicated.

I think the single POV approach of Sir Edric lends itself more naturally to spontaneity, as well as making it easier to keep things consistent. It’s not an area where there’s a right or wrong answer, because the two approaches both have merit, but I think it’s interesting that, even for a single writer, the two can work despite being completely different.


Friday, 23 September 2016

PS4 Pro: Why It Has Already Failed

I have a bad habit.

Every console generation, I buy at the wrong time. Within a year, often within months, a better version of the console (a slimmer one, or one with a bigger hard drive) comes out. Like clockwork.

This time is a little different, though. Because both Sony and Xbox have more advanced consoles which are souped-up versions of the existing generation. I’m focusing on the PS4 Pro, both because it’s just been announced and because I have a PS4.

It is a stupid idea. A strategic blunder.

In basic terms, this either sells well and succeeds, or poorly and fails. If the latter, that’s obviously a failure. But even if it sells well, there’s a problem.

Sooner or later, the PS5 and Xbox RandomNumber will come out. But who, beyond the rather rich, is going to want to buy one? A few years after that, the PS5.5 and Xbox RandomNumberB will come out. You’ll then be left with an invidious choice: buy the slightly better console that has the same range of games but will cost extra for a second console purchase, or go without and stick with the peasant version.

So, I imagine many people will wait. Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft aren’t getting the console sales they hoped for, because the public are wary of their dodgy generation-and-a-half ways. Game sales are down, console sales are down, and everyone makes less money.

Consoles aren’t like mobile telephones. You spend for convenience. If you want to incrementally improve your gaming experience and have the dosh to throw around, the PC is there for you. PCs are more powerful in every way, games can be played without worrying nearly so much about backwards compatibility. Yes, they’re fiddlier and costlier, but that’s the trade off.

Consoles = cheaper, more convenient
PCs = more expensive, better experience

I didn’t spend a couple of hundred pounds on a black box to spend even more on another black box a year later to play the same games.

Maybe I’m just more of a skinflint/poorer than other people, or just a bit old-fashioned (that latter point is almost certainly true), but the PS4 Pro seems stupid to me. Anyone wanting continual improvements can get that already. The whole point of consoles is that they’re easy. You splash out once every seven years or so, plug in and play.

Another problem with the PS4 Pro is that to get the most out of it, you need a 4K TV. And the VR. Which also means a camera. And probably a couple of Playstation Move peripherals.

I might be wrong (I’m into F1 and classical history so I’m well aware I’m not Captain Everyman) but it seems too expensive for most people whilst offering too little (the games are the same) just a few years after the initial PS4 launch. Far better to have that for a PS5 launch, and have a VR bundle for those who want that, no?

As an aside, the Xbox Scorpio, or whatever it’s called, is a good chance for Xbox to strike back against Playstation in the console war.

Late additional bit: fresh from an underwhelming presentation, Sony’s delighted PS4 owners a little bit more. Bethesda, who wanted Fallout 4 mods on PS4 in June (they came to Xbox One in May), have said they’re cancelled, and squarely blamed Sony for that. Mods are also not coming to the PS4 version of Skyrim.

If you’re a huge Bethesda fan, that’s a great disappointment. I do like Bethesda’s games (less taken with Fallout than Elder Scrolls), and find this to be unsurprising but bad news.

There are suggestions (following the news that a farming simulator game will have mods on the PS4) that some form of mods may yet happen for Fallout 4/Skyrim on the PS4, but that remains to be seen.