The premise is interesting enough- terrorists are holding the Dutch to ransom, threatening to breach dykes and canals and flood the country. A top Amsterdam detective and two undercover cops are the best hope of stopping them in time.
But all the action happens off-page, and the reader is left with a tension free trudge, as coincidence is piled on coincidence, and the threat is rendered ever more laughable. Even worse, plot development was mostly delivered by way of long, stilted, info-dumps of dialogue as one character after another explained the reasons for their actions or showed off just how cleverthey were for figuring something out.
I kept reading to the end, in the hope that the story would shift up a gear and provide a worthwhile climax.
This is a fascinating story of how the bubonic plague nearly hit New York’s harbours at the height of the second world war. Almost as fascinating as the original “Wyoming incident” is the run around the writer went through to find out about it.
This is the story — kept secret at the time, still largely unreported today — of how the most infamous disease in history broke into New York City in the midst of World War II. This is the story of the ominously-named “Wyoming matter,” and how it took me months to track down evidence it ever happened.
Part 4 of Pickers is published on Saturday, finishing the serial. It’s the crazy action, big fight, obviously inspired by Mad Max 2 and Fury Road finale, and it was rather fun to write. If you’ve been putting off reading it until all four parts were released, then today’s a good day to get started on Part 1, and you should be caught up just in time.
Publishing it as a serial changed the shape of the story, and probably forced me to get it finished earlier than I would if I’d written it as a novel. There will be a revised ‘Director’s Cut’, full length novel version released some time after its Amazon exclusivity runs out, where I may change the pacing a bit to suit the new format. I don’t know if I’ll ever do a serial again, but I have got some ideas for a series of novella length tales, each self contained, but with recurring characters- the project after the one I’m currently working on.
Writing Pickers has made me think about the way I’ll build stories in the future. Other events that have been going on whilst I wrote it, have made me think again about the sort of tales I want to tell, and the characters I want to put in them. I’ve been watching the Sad Puppies, and reading a lot of commentary about them, and it’s made me change the people I write about.
You may not know who the Sad Puppies (and their friends, the Rabid Puppies) are, so I’ll attempt a quick explanation.
It’s one of those truisms, that science fiction is really about the present, not the future. Thoughtful SF has always included commentary on contemporary issues. Recently, those issues have included gender, race, sexuality and others that make certain types of reader uncomfortable. This ‘liberal crap’ is supposedly spoiling good old fashioned sci-fi, where square jawed white men rode around in phallic spaceships and rescued dizzy buxom blondes. The genre, they cry, has been subjugated to the will of ‘Social Justice Warriors’.
(They seem to think that saying someone is willing to fight for the rights of people other than themselves is an insult. That tells you almost everything you need to know about them.)
The Sad/Rabid Puppies decided they were going to save one of SF’s big awards, the Hugos, from the SJWs, by flooding the ballot with works they approved of, over ones by dirty women, foreigners and deviants. Long story short, the Hugo awards were announced on Saturday, and none of the Puppy approved works won. Somehow, they’re claiming this is a victory.
There’s a lot more detailed and knowledgeable writing on the whole farce, if you go looking for it (here’s Wired’s take).
As a writer, and a reader, I’m on the edges of SF fandom. But I’ve been following the Puppy saga (and the equally ridiculous and horrible Gamer Gate nonsense), and reading a lot of commentary on it. There’s a bias. The commentary almost all comes from the left, SJW side of the argument. Almost everything from the right, Puppy side slips into name calling and self pity quickly. I’ve learnt a lot, and I want to apply some of it to what I write. I want to be more inclusive in the characters I create and the subjects I cover. The Puppies have convinced me to let my inner SJW out.
In so many ways, Pickers is the sort of story that the Puppies say they want to champion. It’s a big, crazy adventure, where violence is far too often the answer. But it’s laden with all sort of things they’d hate.
The Pickers are a family- Remy, his daughters Maxine and Veronique, and Veronique’s husband Tony. The story is driven by the women as much, if not more than, by the men. They’re not there to be constantly rescued, or to stay in safety as the men do the daring work. Without Veronique’s intelligence and technical ability, they would not have the information that starts the adventure. Without Maxine’s bravery and gunsmithing, they wouldn’t even have survived long enough to get to the adventure.
Maxine and Veronique are mixed race. Early on in the writing, I applied one of the lessons I learnt from Puppy coverage. Far too often, when creating a character, we turn out someone who looks like us. I hadn’t quite done that- I knew Remy should have daughters- but I hadn’t really thought about their race. So I took a step back. Did they have to be white? The story was taking place in multi racial (albeit post apocalypse) Europe. Why shouldn’t they be mixed race?
This decision actually added depth further along in the story. Remy and his daughters were out in the bad lands because they had left their old home, a secure community known as The Valley. Why did they leave? Well, their mother was black, and as the only black kids in an insular white community, they were subject to the little town’s racism, even if it was rarely expressed directly. After the death of his wife, Remy’s dissatisfaction at her, and their daughters, treatment, was one of the driving forces behind their exit.
There are other elements that undermine the Puppy ideal. Without lecturing on the subject, climate change is taken as a given, the way the world got to be in such a state. No equivocation or denial for me, or some made up disaster. Maxine is bisexual, and there’s at least one polyamorous relationship. All of these add depth to the world. None of them is irrelevant or gratuitous, though that’s what Puppies would likely say about such details.
I’m carrying forward some of what I’ve learnt into my current and next projects. I’m writing a Rain and Bullets short at the moment, reviving something I started a few years ago, now that I’m more sure how it goes. In the original, I created a supporting character, an MI5 agent, and he came out white and male. As I did with Solstice, I asked if any of my friends wanted to give their name to the character, and Dennis became Amanda. Why did the agent have to be a man? They didn’t, though I hadn’t given the subject any thought in the earlier version of the story.
The project after that should be a series of novelette or novella length tales. Sort of like a television series, where every episode is mostly self contained, but there are arcs and ongoing plotlines running between them. I’ve started working out what characters are needed. None of them, yet, has gender, race, etc. specified yet. I’m working out what their role is, which archetypes they represent, first. The rest will come along later. I’m not quite rolling them up like a D&D character, but there’ll be some element of randomness in assigning sex and sexuality etc.
So, I’d like to say a thank you to the Puppies and the Gamer Gaters. Things I’ve learnt as a result of reading around the issues raised has expanded the scope of what I want to do, and the people I want to write about.
I’m not sure that’s the sort of result they were hoping for.
The National Front were in town on Saturday, all ten of them. I went along to get some pictures. Mostly, I needed shots of Police doing crowd control, as reference for a planned book cover, but getting some images of the white shame parade was also a plan.
I ended up wandering around for a while, before the yobs finally came out of the pub. I saw a, completely unrelated, gathering of- I think- Palestinians; a wedding party on a vintage bus; some graffiti; and (though I didn’t get any pictures) a junior athletics event.
Finally, the knuckle draggers made their way toward Piccadilly. Here, they met a much, much larger group of anti-fascists, and had their speeches drowned out by a sound system. After an hour or so of posturing, they were ushered onto a double decker (they didn’t fill it) and taken away.
These ‘White Pride’ marches seem to be happening more often, but the turnout is dropping incredibly each time. Those of us who go along to take photos or chant are really giving them more attention than they deserve. But, hey, I had an interesting afternoon out around town.
As the Labour Party is trying to tear itself apart rather than pick a new leader, it seemed like a good time to read up on their greatest Prime Minister*.
At times, this book felt like it was a satire on the current state of British politics, dressed up as the biography of an unjustly forgotten politician. There’s the tyranny of charity- the way the ‘Big Society’ could never work because the donor gets to decide who the deserving poor are, and punishes anyone not behaving the way they are expected to. Inequality propped up by the system (and Tory support for that system). Other Labour PMs who were more interested in having the post on their CV than doing anything useful with it. The big egos with talents that don’t match up, who think they should be running the party rather than the quiet little man who’s a little too far to the Left for their liking. (They failed, and the little man oversaw the creation of the NHS, welfare state and much more.) Trouble with the unions and even, after losing the 1951 election, a vote from the membership that had the Party establishment crying that there had been a (non-existent) Communist infiltration.
Clement Attlee was a son of an upper middle class family who seemed destined for dissatisfied normality, until he started doing charitable work in the East End. Appalled by the inequality he saw there, he shifted, gradually, to socialism and, eventually, membership of the Labour Party. Never the greatest public speaker, he nevertheless garnered respect for his organisational abilities, commitment and fairness.
Attlee quietly worked his way to leadership, outmanoeuvring the more flamboyant candidates who believed they had an automatic right to the post. He acted as deputy to Churchill in the Second World War, and surprised many by becoming Prime Minister in 1945. His one full term in power (the second saw a vastly reduced majority and the Government fell apart due to party infighting) changed the nation drastically. Despite terrible finances- exacerbated by the behaviour of the USA- the NHS and welfare state were created, and key industries nationalised. Everything the Tories have been trying to destroy ever since was created between 1945 and 1948.
After defeat in the 1951 election, Attlee stayed at the head of the Labour Party, something that would never happen nowadays. He remained in place until he could be sure that his role would go to someone on the Left of the party, understanding how bad a drift toward the Tories would be in the long run. In retirement, he quietly faded away, so that most of us, nowadays, know very little about him.
Attlee himself didn’t help much in preserving his memory, either. He kept no diary, and wasn’t given to long winded explanations of his stances. As portrayed in this book, you could almost think of him as the biggest of egos in a profession full of big egos. Unlike the others, however, this ego wasn’t tied to an insecurity that needed everyone to know how great he was. Attlee was always confident of his own decisions, and rarely felt the need to explain them. He comes across as a man so confident that he barely cared what others said of him.
The introduction of the book says it was written in 1997. Still, it managed to get in some barbed comments about the Blair style of leadership, even at that early stage. But if it was a sly satire written about the state of the nation in 2015, the message would be fairly obvious. It’s the little man, with the unfashionable ideas and poor presentation skills, who could be the one Labour really needs if it is to survive and prosper**.
*Sure, Blair was PM for much longer, and did achieve some good, but he didn’t change the country as drastically and positively as Attlee. And let’s not get started on all the negatives tied to Blair’s time in power.
** I’m a member of the Green Party. I’m most interested in Labour as the party we’re replacing, ideologically, as it slides to the Right and makes itself irrelevant as any sort of opposition.
Next time someone tells you there’s been no ‘global warming’ for some arbitrary number of years, just point them at this. Most of them are too depply buried in their superstitious need to deny to comprehend, but it might get through to one or two.
The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F (0.81°C) above the 20th century average. As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880–2015 record, at 61.86°F (16.61°C), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°F (0.08°C).
Switzerland might be a desirable place to live—certainly in general, but also as a way to avoid the effects of climate change—for a few reasons: It’s landlocked, which means it’s buffered from rising sea levels. And officials in Switzerland appear to be taking climate-related threats seriously—which is not the case in much of the rest of the world. The country was the first to submit a contribution to the international climate agreement, promising to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. (In the United States, for comparison, President Barack Obama’s new energy plan would require a 32-percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.) But that doesn’t mean Switzerland is impervious to the effects of climate change. Warmer temperatures mean more melting snow—Switzerland has lots of it—which means higher risks of flooding and rockslides.
Now, the 1980’s generation who served in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet was not exactly the epitome of political talent, but the Labour Party of the time would have seen today’s successors to Norman Tebbitt, Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe et al as dream opponents by contrast. Yes, the modern Tory Party is as mediocre as it has ever been, not only intellectually, but also in terms of moral fibre. With the odd exception here and there, today’s Tories are neither intelligent, nor ethical, nor courageous. Defeating them therefore, for anyone with a half-decent brain, really should just be a matter of holding one’s nerve.
For what it is worth, I do think there are some half-decent minds in the higher echelons of the current Labour Party. I would probably not accuse the likes of Harriet Harman, their fill-in leader, or Andrew Burnham, their present ‘pin-up boy’, of being dim-witted. But I do seriously question their nerve. We need only examine their public behaviour during the run-up to the forthcoming leadership contest to see their shortcomings.
You may not know about this. I only heard about this case because I was in Cumbria for a couple of days last week, and it was on the local news. It didn’t make it onto the national news, though the trial of another teen, who ‘incited’ a terror attack in Australia (which also never happened), did.
One of these teen terrorists is white, the other is brown, and muslim. Guess which is which.
He loaded his cargo on to the Empire Candida cargo ship for the first leg of the journey to the Tunisian port of Bizerte with the Germans in hot pursuit. When the ship came under fire from a U-boat, Douglas had an idea.“I think our Tiger is going to go hunting,” he said as he climbed into his tank and turned its guns on the submarine.
Pure Boys’ Own adventuring. Of course, if they made a film of it, the major would somehow become an American