Pickers


Kalashnikov Electric Motorbike, Anyone?

Harking back to an earlier Garth Owen book These bikes are just the sort of thing the characters in Pickers would have been riding around on.

Kalashnikov company, the one that makes AKs, started making electric bikes. They have been already ordered by Russian Army and Moscow police. Till next year fifty or more electric police bikes gon

Source: Kalashnikov Electric Motorbikes | English Russia


DARPA are planning my Pickers bikes

In Pickers, one of the characters gets a two wheel drive electric motorbike, that she puts to good use all the way through the story. It seems the US military, through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is going one better, challenging manufacturers to come up with hybrid versions, with generators that can run on almost any liquid fuel to recharge the batteries.

If this sort of technology trickles down to the civilian market, I might start thinking about taking motorbike lessons.

The U.S. military has been talking about “stealth motorcycles” for years. As of this month, two tech outfits have what seem to be viable prototypes that will both be funded for another revision.

Source: The U.S. Military Is Getting Serious About ‘Stealth’ Motorcycles


Pickers- post climate change action and adventure

Pickers-cover-200Available from Amazon.

The Lost Picture Show is home to films yet to be made, putting a twist on genres and playing with plots. Grab some popcorn, settle down, and enjoy.

In a climate changed future, Pickers travel the badlands between towns and farms, salvaging what they can from before the collapse.

One family of Pickers is about to start a search for a prize that could change everything.

Remy and his family are on the hunt for a seed bank, hidden away before climate change crashed everything. The trail has led them to a hidden bunker, and what they find inside is going to set them on a long journey, back to the community they ran away from ten years ago.

With a grain blight ravaging crops in France, the seed bank could be the only hope of finding resistant strains and saving the country’s remaining towns from starvation. Remy, Maxine, Veronique and Tony are determined to break into the vault and liberate the seed lines. However, they are in Spain, and they will have to cross the country, dodging ravaging bands of Raiders, and get over the Pyrenees before they’re even in France. And then, there is another obstacle. Only one valley over from their destination is the community they ran away from ten years earlier. The people of The Valley would be ideal recipients for a bounty of seeds, but will they welcome Remy and his family back after all these years?

Pickers was first released as a four part serial last year. This collected edition has had sections re-written.


Two wheel drive electric motorbike? Yes please

Early in part one of Pickers, Maxine finds a two wheel drive electric motorcycle, and claims it as her own. I wrote it in knowing it was a possible vehicle, but not knowing whether any existed yet.

Well, it appears that Yamaha have developed a range of prototype electric bikes, including at least one which is two wheel drive. Their two wheel drive bike is built for the street, whilst their electric off-roader is only rear wheel drive. I’m sure that could be fixed, of course.


Upsetting Puppies for fun and profit

Pickers04-cover-200Part 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.


Pickers 3: The Valley

Pickers3-cover-150Out on 1st August.

Part 3 of 4- The Valley

Remy and his family have made it back to The Valley, which they left ten years before. Now they have to persuade the town- led by Remy’s brother Julien- to give them the resources they need for their expedition to the seed vault.

But there are problems. Raiders block the best route to the vault, and not everyone is happy to see them back after all these years.


Pickers 2: The Trip

Pickerscover02-150The roads were mostly memories, scars through the landscape. But the rough, pockmarked surface generally grew smoother around settlements. It made sense for the route to and from the fields to be easier.

They had just rumbled off rough track onto a tarred single lane which arced away to the right, disappearing behind the gentle roll of hill down to the valley floor they travelled along. The surface change made little difference to the quality of the ride in the wagons. The big wheels and long travel suspension soaked up the ruts and potholes with ease. Maxine accelerated, and the pitch of the whine from the electric motors and rumble of the tyres rose. Behind her, Remy said, “Let’s not go so fast. Something is not quite right here. I’ll go up top and have a look.” He turned in his seat and stepped directly onto the short ladder to the roof hatch.

In the passenger seat, Chloe watched as Remy stood, halfway up the ladder, whilst the captain’s chair unfolded from its storage place in the roof. She turned to Maxine, who was now sitting up straighter, paying more attention to the road ahead and off to the sides. “What could be wrong?”

Maxine opened her mouth to say that she didn’t know, but recognised what her father had seen before she spoke. After a knowing nod, she said, “There’s no crop in the fields, just wild grass. They haven’t been tended.”

Remy reached down to the rack beside the ladder and took one of the hunting rifles, then climbed all the way out onto the roof. The hatch slammed down as he kicked it into place. Maxine reached down to the centre console and clasped, without looking for it, the pistol she had stowed there. She nodded, reassured by its presence, but it was a move that had Chloe wondering where her catapult and darts were. “There’s probably nothing to endanger us.” Maxine said. “Farms and settlements are abandoned all the time. We just like to be on alert when we spot things like this. Just in case.”

“I’m going to get my catapult.”

Sat with the catapult in her lap while she twisted a dart in her hand, Chloe felt silly. Inadequate, certain she would be no use if there was any trouble. She looked across at Maxine, watching the way her eyes scanned the road ahead, then darted left and right, checking the fields and the slope of the hill. She told herself that she wasn’t going to fall in love with this pretty, dark woman, the way she had with her friend Tania. Probably not, anyway, she only had a few days on the road with her.

“Smoke up ahead.” Remy’s voice came from a speaker above them, making Chloe jump so that she poked the dart into her thumb. Maxine looked across at the noise, to find Chloe shaking her head with embarrassment.

“Hold tight.” Maxine warned, as she spun the steering wheel hard and they turned sharp left off the paving and into the grass. The tall vehicle leant a long way over, and Chloe held tight to the arm rest. She hoped Remy was strapped in up above.

They could see buildings up ahead now, and the wagon straightened out to head toward them. Chloe pulled herself up straight in the seat again, and looked out of the window to her right. Wagon two had accelerated to catch up with them, but was still running along the road.

The grass was wild and high, it would have come up almost to Maxine’s shoulders. But it barely reached higher than the bottom of the doors of the wagons. They left a cloud of chaff behind them as they cut a line across the field.

There were two buildings ahead, at right angles to each other, with a gap between them filled in by a low wall. Both single storey, they were constructed from jigsaws of light brown stone with roofs a patchwork of red tile and corrugated metal. The shorter building had two storeys and several windows, whilst the longer one was a tall single story with blank walls facing them. Something on the other side of them was burning, sending a dark smudge of smoke up into the sky.

Ahead of them, the colour and texture of the foliage changed, to the golden green of wheat nearly ripened. Maxine slowed the wagon and turned left to keep from going through a viable crop. “Track ahead of us.” Remy said through the speaker. Maxine pulled on the steering wheel to stand up from her seat a moment, nodding when she spotted the stone littered line her father had been referring to. She aimed for it, heading for a strip of darker greenery that ran parallel.

They reached the deep green strip, and the wagon tipped forward. Suddenly, the foliage was as high as the windscreen. Chloe’s hand slapped the console in front of her as she stopped herself being thrown forward. Remy shouted some words she didn’t recognise, and could only presume were curses.

Just as suddenly as they had dropped into the gulley, they hit the bottom, splashing into shallow water. Maxine twisted a control on the steering column, sending more power to the motor driving the front wheels, and they soon regained their lost momentum. The grass and reeds were denser and taller in the stream bed, but they gave way to the mass of the wagon. They started climbing the opposite bank.

As the wagon left the channel, its nose reared up, front wheels off the ground. Maxine twisted the power controller again, transferring drive to the rear pair of axles. They passed the point of balance, and the front end came back down again, bouncing once before Maxine had the power back to all six wheels equally and they were accelerating away from the obstacle.

Now they were raising dust, rather than hay, as they raced along the track. A spur from the gravel covered road turned sharply around the end of the farm house. Maxine scrubbed off speed as they approached, then turned in sharply. They stopped sharply on the cobbled yard, and Maxine was out of her seat almost immediately, pausing only to grab her 9mm from the middle console.

Pickers 2: The Trip is available from Amazon on July 18th. Pre-order it now.

Pickers 1: The Find is available now.


Pickers part 1

Pickerscover01-150In a climate changed future, Pickers travel the badlands between towns and farms, finding what they can to salvage from before the collapse.

One family of Pickers is about to start a search for a prize that could change everything.

Part 1 of 4- The Find.

Remy, his daughters, and his son in law, are on the hunt for a seed bank, hidden away before climate change crashed everything. The trail has led them to a hidden bunker, and what they find inside is going to set them on a long journey, back to the community they ran away from ten years ago.

Pickers 1: The Find, is out now.


Pickers

The bunker echoed with its first human sounds in decades, the slap and squeak of rubber soles on marble flooring.

A slight figure sprinted out of the corridor into the three storey atrium, hurdled a chaise and slid to a halt in a crouch. With a sweep of her legs, she turned to face back the way she had come. There may have been the hint of amusement in the eyes as she looked back down the corridor.

Her black hair was cut haphazardly, and a scarf covered her mouth so she didn’t have to breathe all the dust she stirred up. Only her eyes and a slit of dark skin around them were visible. Dressed in loose trousers, dark body suit and light jacket and with an old courier bag over her shoulders, she had weapons and exploration equipment carefully secreted about her body. She was ready for the men who chased her.

Her name was Maxine, and it was her job to be the decoy. She was enjoying it more than she should.
She couldn’t yet see her pursuers, but they made enough noise to compensate for that. They were doing what they were supposed to, following her into the residential wing so she could lay a trap for them. Now that she had them here, she had to work out what that trap would be.

White circles in the ceiling were light domes, diffusing the daylight far above that had been channelled through mirrored light tubes. Rectangles set into the wall lit up with uncertain flickers. They would be powered by the mini nuclear plant far below the floor. Even after all these years, the automated systems still worked, which was impressive. Maxine studied the newly illuminated room, doing a tactical assessment.

The atrium was circular, with only one entrance on its lower level, the one Maxine had entered by. A semi-circular balcony looked down from the level of the first floor opposite the corridor, a dark wood double door at the mid point. Curved stairs led up to the balcony, and a jumbled mix of marble and bronze statues were gathered around the walls. So far, so much like the plans Maxine had seen.

Darting toward the nearest statue, Maxine jumped up on to its hunched shoulders and pushed off from its head to grab the balustrade of the stairs, clambering over them. It saved her whole seconds over the less flamboyant route from the foot of the stairs.

The double doors swung open easily, opening onto a darkened room. As more motion sensing lights turned on, Maxine closed the doors behind herself and drew a seat across to barricade them. It wouldn’t hold for long, but she only wanted to create a small delay. She studied the tableaux revealed by the lamps.
She was in a large dining room, dominated by a long table. Three desiccated figures were sat before their final suppers. Judging by their attire, two women and a man. One woman was sat nearly upright in her chair, head twisted toward the door and mouth open in what could as easily be a smile as pain. The other woman, across the table, had slumped forward into whatever she had been eating.

The man sat at the head of the table. There was something lopsided about his head. As Maxine neared him, she recognised what was wrong. Most of the left side of his skull was missing. She walked around the back of his chair and there, still clutched in the leather wrapped bones of his right hand, was a large semi automatic pistol. The fingers snapped off as she pulled the weapon from them. On the table beside the man’s meal was a box of cartridges.

Outside the room, there were voices, shouts of orders, then a hammering as her pursuers tried to force their way in. She held up the gun. Pulling back the slide to chamber a new round, she didn’t like the feel of it. She had seen too many guns disintegrate under test firing to trust this one. There was a .38 revolver in a holster under her arm that she did trust, and a 9mm on her hip, but she wasn’t sure the guys on the other side of the door were worth the expense of bullets. She felt like improvising.

False windows in the walls looked out onto idealised visions of the world before, back when there had been abundance. They looked like nothing Maxine had ever seen. She imagined they bore little resemblance to the world that had led the occupants to build this bunker, either. Under the windows were long tables laid out with the pretty and pointless possessions the rich folk hiding here had felt were important. An array of big watches caught Maxine’s eye. There was a pile of pashminas and shawls in silk and cashmere beside the watches. She wrapped one of the soft wool scarves around her fist and picked up the heaviest, most unnecessarily knurled of the watches.

Beside the doors, there was an override switch for the room’s lights. Maxine turned the lights off and stood beside the switch as the battering on the door began to splinter the chair barring it. It gave way, finally, with a creak and crack, and the door pushed open. Two figures entered, back lit from the atrium.

“She be here?” the nearest one said.

“Must be. None else to go to.”

“Why no lights?” said a voice from the balcony.

“She hide. We find her.”

“We find her, we do her good.” the nearest one said.

Continues in Pickers 1: The Find, which is released on July 4th. You can pre-order it now.

Pickers 2: The Trip is released on July 18th, and can also be pre-ordered.

Pickerscover01-150 Pickerscover02-150


Coming soon- Pickers

Pickerscover01-150Pickers breaks down perfectly into four parts of roughly equal lengths, so I’m releasing it as a serial before collecting it into a single volume. The serial will only be available from Amazon, but it will be in their Select programme. So, if you have Prime or Kindle Unlimited, you can get it for free.

Part 1: The Find and Part 2: The Trip are available to pre-order now. They come out on July 4th and July 18th.

In a climate changed future, Pickers travel the badlands between towns and farms, finding what they can to salvage from before the collapse.

One family of Pickers is about to start a search for a prize that could change everything.

Part 1 of 4- The Find.

Remy, his daughters, and his son in law, are on the hunt for a seed bank, hidden away before climate change crashed everything. The trail has led them to a hidden bunker, and what they find inside is going to set them on a long journey, back to the community they ran away from ten years ago.

Pickerscover02-150Part 2 of 4- The Trip.

Remy, his daughters, and his son in law, have been travelling the badlands for years. But now they have found out about a hidden seed bank in the French Alps. With a grain blight ravaging crops in France, the seed bank could be the only hope of finding resistant strains and saving the country’s remaining towns from starvation.

Remy, Maxine, Veronique and Tony are determined to break into the vault and liberate the seed lines. However, they are in Spain, and they will have to cross the country and get over the Pyrenees before they’re even in France. And then, there is another obstacle. Only one valley over from their destination is the community they ran away from ten years earlier. The people of The Valley would be ideal recipients for a bounty of seeds, but will they welcome Remy and his family back after all these years.


The wonderful world of Mad Max rip-offs

As I’m writing a story inspired by Mad Max and the whole post apocalypse road warrior genre, I’ve been watching quite a few eighties era rip offs of the original.

A fair few of them are mentioned on this list, and I’ve gone searching for the ones I haven’t seen yet. Be warned, you are not going to encounter high production values, subtle acting or coherent storytelling if you follow me down this path. But most of these films are enjoyable in their own clunky ways.

(Don’t tell anyone I told you, but many of these films can be found, complete, on YouTube. Often ripped from VHS copies, the reproduction can leave a lot to be desired. But, as so many of them are currently unavailable any other way, this could be your best chance of seeing them.)

Source: The 10 stupidest (and most shameless) Mad Max rip-offs


A portable solar cooker, just what every Road Warrior needs

I keep finding cool kit that I could incorporate into Pickers. This solar grill is just the sort of thing you might need if you were trekking around a harsh wilderness. No fuel, no smoke (unless you overcook your meal), light, and portable, my characters would probably have one stored away somewhere.

Source: The GoSun Grill Is a Portable Solar Cooker | Digital Trends


Indoor Farms- a vegetable patch in a cupboard

These indoor farms look cool. They’re not hydroponics, which the builder thinks is too complex for general adoption, but use a “smart soil” to regulate water use and nutrient release.

I don’t think they’d work in the world I’m building for my current story, but I could imagine them in some of the better off parts of the world I created for Sounds of Soldiers.

Source: This Indoor Farm Can Bring Fresh Produce to Food Deserts | WIRED


I hope the security services aren’t recording my YouTube history

So, I’m working on the next book to be published under the Garth Owen pen name. The working title is Pickers and the high concept pitch is “Mad Max goes green.” Having broken it down into chapters and major scenes, then looked at my current writing pace, it’s not going to be ready by the middle of next month to tie in to the release of Fury Road.

A slightly longer synopsis- Pickers* wander through the (mostly) abandoned badlands after a climate change driven collapse, finding old equipment and technology that they can rescue, repurpose or recycle, selling it on to settlements. The story is about a family of pickers- father, two daughters and the husband of one of the daughters- who have been chasing a particularly precious treasure trove, and the journey they take once they find directions to its location. The treasure isn’t oil, or even water, and the action takes place in Spain and France, rather than unspecified desert.

I’m setting it up such that guns and ammunition aren’t yet vanishingly rare, but other, older weapon technologies are more likely to be used first. So I’ve been watching quite a few YouTube videos about bows and catapults. Which is how I found my new hero Joerg Sprave.

Joerg’s a jolly bald fellow with a crazy imagination, lots of skills, and one of the scariest laughs ever**. He builds things like pump action pencil launchers.

Or, at the other end of the spectrum, a machete launching “crossbow”.

It was an aside in one of his Slingshot Channel videos that inspired me to arm a secondary character with a catapult that she uses to launch darts fashioned from nails. I’m not sure how many of his other creations I could realistically use in the story, but you never know.

I’ve also been researching stuff such as thermite and napalm, but those probably aren’t things I should mention on an open channel.

*I admit it, the title’s inspired by the TV show American Pickers.

** It’s not the laugh itself that’s scary. The laugh is rather jovial, and occasionally gleeful. It’s just the way that he lets it out just after demonstrating another piece of destructive hardware.