2015 Wrap-up

LET me begin by saying I hope you all had a great Christmas, and I’d like to wish all my readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Pahrump, NV) a Happy New Year.

So 2015 is all but gone, and 2016 is just around the corner. Will it be any better? In hindsight I don’t think ’15 was all that bad. ’16 could end up being a lot worse, but I’m optimistic. On the political front, I really don’t think the GOP has much of a chance; if having a lying, bigoted misogynist like Trump as front-runner really means that he’s about the best they can offer, then as far as I’m concerned they’ve already lost. My money’s on Sanders this time around.

But enough of that. I want to keep this short because, well, The Expanse episode five isn’t on yet, so I’m in the middle of binge-watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (I only ever saw a couple of episodes when it first aired) and I want to get some dinner and watch some more. So:

On the writing front: I’m still working on the storyline for the Artemis sequel. With the week before Christmas being taken up with all the prep for the big day, I got maybe fifteen minutes in on that. This week’s been lighter so I’ve made a bit of progress but I still have quite a way to go.

On the subject of Artemis, I’m expecting some editing work to be coming my way from my copy editor, but with the holiday I have no idea when that’ll hit. I’ll update the WiP page when I have something.

And on the subject of works-in-progress, so far no luck finding an agent for Smoke & Mirrors. What I did find was a publisher that usually doesn’t accept unagented submissions, but has an open submission period through ’til the end of January. For them, I have to boil my six-page single-spaced synopsis down to no more than three pages of double-spaced. Basically all I can do is slice out more and more detail and compress what’s already there, and hope what’s left still does the story justice. It might sound easy, but it’s surprisingly hard.

Tomorrow I’ll be getting back to that and hopefully finish it in time to get it out before New Year’s Day. Not that that’s important, but it gives me kind of a mental target to hit.

That’s all for now. Time to get some grub and get back to ST:DS9.

Until next time . . .

Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter – @RodDuncan


THE short: A damned good book. Most definitely five stars, and a must-read for fans of steampunk and alternate history.

THE long: I was in the bookshop looking for gifts. I happened along the SF/F aisle, where I saw Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan. It caught my eye because it was face-out on the shelf rather than edge-out and so I saw the cover, and was intrigued.

They say not to judge a book by its cover. What a crock that is. You can’t HELP but be fascinated by a good cover. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve bought for no other reason than they had bloody good cover art. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, for example, and John Varley’s Titan, Wizard, and Demon (aka The Gaian Trilogy).

But I digress. I saw this book. I was interested—but I didn’t buy it, because I was looking for gifts for other people, not for me.

Then my wife said I should have picked out something nice for myself, too. So I went back and grabbed it and gave it to her. And then, Christmas evening, I unwrapped this package, and there was Unseemly Science.

I opened it eagerly . . . and found that it was the second book in a series. Shit. I really wanted to read it. But I didn’t want to read it until I’d read the first book.

Long story shortened: Next day, went back the bookshop. Bought The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (the first book in the series). Went home. Started reading. Today (that is, the day after starting it), finished it.

And DAMN it’s a good read. The only reason I didn’t read it in a single day was that I was busy the first evening and had to put it down.

So, the gist. Elizabeth Barnabus lives a double life—her alternate persona being that of her fictional brother, a private investigator. Why the double identity? I think I can say without it being a spoiler, because it’s revealed in the first couple of pages anyway. You see, Elizabeth lives in an alternate Britain in which women aren’t permitted to own property or manage businesses, so to be able to work as an investigator she needs to be able to disguise herself as a man. (That’s a simplification; Duncan has built an intricate world in which Britain is cut in two, the north and the south being very different places. But I can’t say much more on that without introducing spoilers, so I’ll leave it there.)

As to the story itself . . . Elizabeth is commissioned to find the missing brother of a duchess. Along his trail she finds murder and betrayal, is chased by the dreaded Patent Office, and even joins a circus. No-one is who they seem. The story twists and turns like a maze of alleys on a foggy London night. And the atmosphere of the story is to match—the settings are dark, dank, almost Victorian. (Is it Victorian? There are a good number of clues that say not—but I don’t want to give anything away.) It would make an excellent movie, I might add. I couldn’t put it down; I’ve been stretched out on the sofa most of the day, reading. A very satisfying read, indeed.

Is it steampunk? I’d say so. There are purists out there who might disagree—but at the end of the day, purist definitions are meaningless. If the readers say it’s steampunk, then it’s steampunk. (I mention this because I’ve read comments from some people saying that Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and its sequels aren’t steampunk because they’re set in America and not England. I say they’re wrong. Purists can go way too far sometimes.)

So now I’ve finished The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, I’ll be starting into Unseemly Science just as soon as I can (i.e. later this evening). Note that the third book in the series, The Custodian of Marvels, will be on bookshelves on February 2. I for one am going to be having a hard time waiting for it.

Until next time . . .


THE word fascist is being thrown about quite a bit recently, especially in the context of Donald Trump in the wake of his lies and bigotry. Until fairly recently I hadn’t really given much thought to the meaning of the word. I mean, we all know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about fascist governments, or at least we should have a pretty good idea, right? (If you don’t, remember that Wikipedia is your friend. Off you go. See you in a minute.)

The trouble comes when we use the word fascist to describe an individual. What does it mean in that context? Until recently I have to admit that I didn’t really know. So I did a little research—and you know something? Most of the definitions I found were far too abstract and didn’t really explain it in any useful way.

Then I came across a really interesting article (which I should have bookmarked, because I’ve lost it) that explained it nicely. Here’s the gist:

First, you have to persuade people that things used to be good, but now they’re bad. You can lie your arse off about it, too, or at least exaggerate and cherry-pick facts that support your position. When most people think about the past, there’s a natural tendency to remember the good bits and forget the bad, so that helps. Conversely, the present is filled with fears you can play on, and you can gloss over the good stuff easily, or lie, or just plain ignore it. Easy. And you can guarantee that you’ll be telling a bunch of people just what they want to hear, and that means Hey! Instant followers! The ones intelligent enough to know you’re spouting shit will walk away, but you don’t want them around causing trouble, anyway.

Next, find someone to blame for taking away the good times and leaving everyone with the bad, sucky present. Again, easy. Just pick a minority, and off you go.

Then, tell your followers that all that’s needed to sweep away the bad times and bring back the good is to sweep away the minority you blamed.

Last but not least, promote someone, probably yourself, who promises to do the job as leader of your new movement. If this person is charismatic and a good talker, so much the better. Et voila, you’re a fascist.

Hitler managed it pretty well in his time; the German economy was in a bad way because of the cost of war reparations, and all Hitler had to do was blame the jews and promise to fix things, and it was just what the German people wanted to hear.

More recently, the whole Hugo Awards/Sad Puppies thing, in which Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) was accused of being a fascist. How does that stack up? Well, we have the good-old-days/sucky-present thing, in that the puppies said real sci-fi is written by white hetero guys and is all about good ol’ white hetero males using ray guns and spaceships to save helpless, inferior gals, just the way it used to be in the golden age of sci-fi (i.e. any time before about 1980, I guess). And they got their panties in a wad over the fact that modern sci-fi isn’t just about the tech, but often casts women (gasp!), and people of colour (shock!), and LGBT people (horror!), as major characters in stories that tell us something about the real world, written in some cases by non-white, non-male, non-hetero people. Oh, they don’t like that. Who to blame? Well, the feminists and the gays and the women, of course. And so along comes Vox Day, saying he’ll teach everyone a lesson by sabotaging the Hugos, and then we can go back to sci-fi that looks like it was written in the 1940s. Does that make him a fascist? Going by the definitions as given above, I’d say yes, it sure does.

Last example: Donald Trump. Good times/bad times? His campaign slogans certainly try to make it look that way; Make America Great Again as a campaign slogan implies that times were good and can be again, and just the title of his book Crippled America implies that things are bad today. Who to blame? In Trump’s case, just about every group he can mention—Mexicans, Syrians, muslims, the list goes on. And who’s going to save us from all this, if not The Mighty Trump himself? So in my book, that makes Trump a fascist. Absolutely, positively, no question about it.

Until next time . . .