Blades of the Fallen: Meet Solan

As we draw closer to the release of the third book in the NEXUS universe, I thought I could write a brief series of introductions to some of the characters in the book. The cast of characters is not as broad as in previous books, but there are still a handful to meet. These men and women are agents of the Vanguard, the Necurian people’s first and last line of defence.

Solan's Katana

Eighteen-year-old Solan Ashar sometimes remembers to check his arrogance before he lectures his fellow students. Mostly, he forgets that he hasn’t even started his training for the Vanguard yet, let alone graduated. Twenty-three-year-old Solan is full of doubt and worry. He is an inquisitor of the Vanguard, but is the responsibility of this role too heavy? Is the darker side of his new position too much to bear?

The moment teenage boy is suddenly forced into adult is the moment he witnesses the brutal murder of a Vanguard agent. The moment his ideas of a noble, adventurous life of sailing the stars and spreading peace to undiscovered races is shattered by the wrathful and merciless face of reality.

If he is to help bring a murderer to justice and uncover the truth behind a spate of child abductions, Solan will have to come to terms with the contrast between his once rose-tinted view of the Vanguard and its true nature.

Blades of the Fallen is coming 1 August.

Now meet:

Rialen
Ailan
Mara

Blades of the Fallen

 

Blades of the Fallen Cover

Finally, here is the cover for the third NEXUS book: Blades of the Fallen! And it comes with a release date: 1 August 2017. Pre-order now!

The murder changes everything. The Vanguard is supposed to protect against such violence, not fall victim to it. But even the so-called ‘Fallen’ wouldn’t kill without reason. Would they?

The murderer changes everything. The Fallen keep to themselves, living comfortably separate to other Necurians. But he is dragging them towards war. Why is he so convinced that it’s the Vanguard’s fault?

The inquisitors have changed. As teenagers, they witnessed the murder in front of their eyes. Five years later, they wield the authority of the Vanguard, and they will hunt down the killer. The motives must be uncovered. Because even the Fallen would not kill without reason.

NEXUS is a non-linear series in which every book has some kind of connection to the others. Although best read in order for more background and understanding, they each stand alone. Blades of the Fallen takes place over 100 years before the first book of the series, Shadow of the Wraith.

As always, I ‘designed’ the cover, in so far as I drew some stick people and blocks and arrows, and then Arianne Elliott interpreted that into something that looks like actual stuff and things.

Blades of the Fallen can be pre-ordered for Kindle and for all other e-readers direct through Smashwords. Links for the paperback and for other outlets such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. will be added to the book’s page here when they become available.

Book 3 Cover Taster

Book three of NEXUS is slowly creeping closer, though working seven days a week until midnight is slowing down its progress. The cover is ready, but I don’t want to reveal it until I know when the book will be released.

I will probably also start putting out brief character spotlights as the release gets closer and, obviously, announce that release when I know it. Until then, here is a little square of the cover. Look, it has a foot! A sci-fi foot!

Book 3 Tease

You may have noticed my Facebook and Twitter (oh, and G+…) banners change. That was your first taste!

So until I know more, I’ll try and put out more guides for surviving unlikely situations you’ll definitely find yourself in should you happen to be some kind of Hero.

Newsletter and Stuff

mailchimp

Actually, no stuff. Just newsletter. You probably noticed when you came to the site that a pop-up asked you to subscribe to my new newsletter. I’m a little late to it, but I thought it was about time to start building up a list of people who might like to support me and who might be interested in new releases and, occasionally, whatnot.

The pop-up itself I can’t customise any more than giving it a 5-second delay, which is annoying because who’s going to know if they want to sign up within 5 seconds?

Anyway, the newsletter will be very infrequent: mostly when I have a new release or something changes with a current book, and in the rare event that I actually write multiple decent blog posts. I will also keep an eye out for other interesting news and stuff with which to fill them out. So, expect something like 2-3 per year…

If you closed the pop-up but this invigorating, rallying cry has changed your mind, there’s a link to the quick sign-up form at the top of the sidebar. Thanks for your support (not a guilt trip).

Still Alive

You might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I had died and decided that in this new state of unliving, I would abandon my blog. This is, you will be ecstatic to hear, not the case. I have been busy with a death that doesn’t belong to me, the following despicable family behaviour, a job, a new car (it has GT on the back!), moving house, trying to get internet, and making my beta readers cry.

Yes, finally, the third book in the NEXUS series is (kind of) finished. I started writing it as soon as I finished Temple of the Sixth and set it aside time after time to write Kira, Acts of Violence, and Kira Part II, but at last the most abused book I’ve worked on is nearly ready. It still needs a bit of rewriting and then editing and proofreading, but it’s not too far off now. Hopefully.

Trip To Space

After this stop-start, stop-start, I hope at least the next two books will come quicker and smoother, but thinking about other projects is what got me into this four year crawl in the first place, so let’s ignore that for now.

So, sooner or later I’ll be posting again with a synopsis and release date…or just a cover. Or a rant about another film.

Birth of the Superhero

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman

When hard times come our way, we begin to look once again to superheroes. When we think of children who were bullied in school, we tend to think of the kind of person who always had his nose in a comic book. While this is a stereotype, it’s one that exists for a reason. But was such bullying born from this fact, or did those bullied children escape it by turning to the pages of their comic books and find hope in the heroes they found there?

The actual origins of the superhero are perhaps arguable. It’s closely tied to the debate over what makes a superhero. What is the difference between a hero and a superhero? When do they make the leap from masked vigilante to superhero? That’s a whole other article, and really we’re talking here about how superheroes became so popular. So with that in mind, we’ll go with the assumption that a superhero is someone who has talents exceeding the norm (such as the genius intellect of Batman or Iron Man or the former’s formidable martial skill) as well as a selfless desire to help others.

So while we had, in the early 1930s, characters like The Shadow and The Phantom, the rise of the superhero really came in the late 1930s. Superman came first, in 1938, with Batman (or rather, the Bat-Man) coming soon after in 1939. To me – and many others, I think it’s fair to say – these two are pretty much the superhero templates. Superman is the blueprint for most of those heroes with superpowers, and Batman for those without.

While Batman was an amalgamation of many heroes who went before him – The Shadow, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, etc. – Superman seems to have been born not so much from a desire to compete with someone or something else but as an answer to the issues of the day.

But perhaps there’s a more personal story behind it for Superman’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel. Siegel’s father, a shop owner, was killed during an attempted robbery in 1932. That’s the year before Superman was created, though that initial Superman was actually a villain and…well, nothing like the Superman we know today. However, author Brad Meltzer believes there’s a link. Siegel’s father is killed and so his teenage son creates an invulnerable, superpowered being to fight evil and stand up for good. Siegel never once mentioned his father’s death in fifty years’ worth of interviews, but it makes sense to me.

Superman’s own origin story contains the loss of his parents. The physical destruction of his home planet could perhaps parallel the perceived obliteration of his own life, thanks to his father’s death. Perhaps. It’s a fairly romanticised view of things, but I think it holds some spark of truth.

Meltzer even found, in his research, a letter published in a paper the day after Siegel Senior’s death. It spoke of the need for vigilantes during the Depression. The letter was signed by A. L. Luther.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

We’ll never know for sure how much of a role the death of Siegel’s father played in Superman’s creation, because Joe Shuster (the character’s other creator, on the art side) and Siegel died in 1992 and ’96 respectively. After all, the heroic version of Superman didn’t come about until, I believe, six years after the death of Siegel’s father. So perhaps all of this is our need to see a dot-connecting story where there is none.

But what about for the general public? How did superheroes become so popular with them? How did they become such an inspiration and symbols of hope? Well, that’s probably a lot more simple.

Again, this was during the Great Depression, and Superman’s early foes weren’t of extraterrestrial or supernatural origin. There were no Doomsdays or Brainiacs (the first supervillain Superman faced wasn’t until 1939 and even Lex Luthor didn’t show until 1940). No, the first of Superman’s enemies were corrupt politicians and businessmen and common criminals such as profiteers, gangsters and those who engaged in domestic violence. He even destroyed a slum in his beginnings, in order to force the government to build better homes for the poor. Perhaps inspired by the general disillusionment with officials such as the police, Superman was originally portrayed as a vigilante, just like Batman, and was wanted by the police.

Batman started his career with wanton death and destruction, unlike the Batman we know today, but he was still a crime-fighter. He still went after ordinary criminals in the beginning. His very first enemy was Alfred Stryker, a chemical company executive who tried to have his partners murdered. After two successful murders, Batman intervened and threw Stryker into a vat of acid. Because that’s how he rolled.

So, while such characters are an obvious choice of villain, thanks to their infinite nature, the fact that all this arose during the Great Depression was surely no coincidence. In real life, there was little justice to be had for those who lost their jobs, their homes, and who starved to death.

Some colourful fools wearing tights and leaping about the pages of a comic book were, perhaps, not entirely consoling to these people, but for those not hit quite so badly, maybe seeing corruption and crime brought to light and shut down in those pages offered a little comfort.

Most of us turn to some form of escapism in times of distress, and to see similar distress being countered and defeated in your escapism feels good. It gives some kind of hope. Even though there isn’t a real Superman to swoop in and save your day, even that spark of hope can be enough to get you through.

Making them even more relatable to people is the fact that so many superheroes have tragic origin stories. Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him when he was a child. Superman’s entire home planet was wiped out, his own parents along with it, and he feels completely alone and isolated on Earth. These origins don’t only give the character a reason to do what he does, but such a human loss can be understood by just about anyone. In this way, even the most alien (literally) of super-beings can be relatable.

Captain America Punches Hitler

The best example of comic storylines mirroring real life is probably Hitler. Adolf Hitler. There’s no clever subtlety there. He was simply…Hitler. He appeared as an enemy of many members of the Justice League of America, as well as Marvel heroes. If this doesn’t prove my point, I’m not sure what does!

Captain Freedom (not to be confused with Captain America, to whom people sometimes give that name as a joke) was created during World War II for the sole purpose of fighting agents of the Axis. In 1942, a Superman cover depicts the Man of Steel riding an American bomb towards the ground, amid a squadron of US fighter planes.

As Marvel’s Stan Lee said, comics were fighting Hitler before the American government was.

Though blatant propaganda, these patriotic themes and front covers fueled an explosion of public interest. World War II was the beating heart of comics’ Golden Age. Some villains, such as the Red Skull, were inspired by Axis soldiers while, again, many heroes were created solely for the purpose of fighting Nazis and, later, the Japanese.

None of these is more iconic and recognisable – particularly since Marvel took to the big screen – than Captain America. The huge surge in American patriotic sentiment was the reason behind Captain America’s creation. In fact, even with America nearly a year from entering the war, the cover of Cap’s first issue has him punching Hitler in the face (remember the film?).

Hitler, naturally, banned such American animations. Except for Mickey Mouse, who was his favourite (and probably was never depicted punching him in the face).

Author Gardner Fox, who worked on comics at the time, probably put it best and most succinctly:

‘I used superheroes’ powers to accomplish what I couldn’t […] Superheroes were my wish-fulfilment figures’.

To me, this is exactly why so many turned to comic books and why their popularity soared.

At the end of the war, only the strongest of superheroes survived the resulting decline in interest. Sales plummeted and publishers were forced to close, even after cancelling title after title.

But superheroes have risen once again. And this time, they’re more mainstream than ever before. Our cinemas are packed with them, our TVs deliver them to us every week, our T-shirts display their logos in an (often unintentionally) ironic manner. Some day, they’ll fade away once more, but no doubt they’ll only resurface again. Until then, let’s hope they continue to bring us hope, inspiration, and simple entertainment.

Batman

This article was originally written for Uproar Comics.

Suspending Disbelief: The Line

This is another article I wrote for Uproar Comics.

Suspend Disbelief

When it comes to films, games, and even books, we’re often expected – and required – to suspend our disbelief concerning certain things. Giant, transforming, alien robots…okay. Scientist turns into a big green monster when he gets miffed…fine. Peter Quill floats in space for a minute and survives?! Absolutely unacceptable!

That was the complaint about Guardians of the Galaxy (a year ago now) that sparked in me the question: where is the line? And why is it there? I don’t expect to be able to answer the question, or make a coherent argument with whatever it is I’m about to write, but that’s not going to stop me from diving in.

So let’s start with that complaint. Guardians of the Galaxy: a superhero film (kind of – I’d argue about that, but it’s irrelevant) about a group of criminals coming together in a distant part of the galaxy to prevent an already-powerful blue person from using an alien artefact to wipe all life from the surface of the planet Xandar. Yep, all good so far; why there’s barely any disbelief to suspend.

The aforementioned group consists of a human kidnapped by aliens as a child, an artificially enhanced green assassin, a big red angry man who takes everything literally, a bipedal talking raccoon, and a talking tree monster. All fine. Nothing untoward there.

However – and here is where the film apparently crosses that line – what GOTG seems to have drawn the most criticism for is a scene where Gamora the green assassin finds herself floating in space. Quill, the human, gets out of his ship and puts his breathing mask on her. A minute later, they’re picked up by another ship and they’re both fine.

‘How unrealistic’, people said. Unlike the talking raccoon arguing with the talking tree.

First off, let’s look at what happened in the film versus what would happen in real life.

Fiction

Guardians of the Galaxy

Gamora’s ship is destroyed, leaving her floating, unconscious, in open space just outside the atmosphere of where they’ve come from. Quill, in his leather jacket and t-shirt, gets out of his own ship and floats over to her. He takes off his mask, which allows him to breathe, and puts it on her. As he watches her, his eyes and face begin to freeze over and he loses consciousness. Shortly after, they are picked up by another ship, and as they tumble into the cargo bay – or whatever – he wakes up. Seconds later, so does Gamora.

Reality

Let’s assume that Quill was a real person, floating just outside the atmosphere of Earth, without a spacesuit. What would happen to him? That’s rhetorical; I’ll tell you:

  • Ebullism – The low pressure of a vacuum means the boiling point of Quill’s body fluids drops below his body temperature, causing the formation of gas bubbles in said fluids. His blood won’t boil, but he will swell up to twice his normal size. Which will hurt.
  • Within about 15 seconds, the lack of oxygen will cause him to lose consciousness. He’d then die a couple of minutes later. If he tried to hold his breath to extend that time, that air would expand rapidly, rupturing his lungs.
  • Although it’s a touch chilly, he wouldn’t freeze to death, because the vacuum means the transfer of heat would be so slow, the lack of oxygen would get him first.
  • The sun’s UV would burn him quite unpleasantly, then it would join other things such as gamma radiation and X-rays to damage his DNA. In turn, this would cause mutations and probably cancer.
  • He would, however, have about one or two minutes to be rescued.

Going by memory alone, I think Quill is exposed to space for between thirty seconds to a minute. After removing his mask, he did indeed lose consciousness pretty quickly. So the most unrealistic part of that scene seems to be that he didn’t swell up, he didn’t burn, and he froze over. We could argue that he only froze on the surface and that this might happen (I’m not a scienceer). How fast he would swell and burn, I don’t know; perhaps it would take longer than he was actually out there.

So that leaves the DNA mutations and cancer. But where are they?

AstronautNot here, in our solar system. Are they being exposed to the same things as they would just outside Earth’s atmosphere? In the same quantities? I don’t know. Do you? Do the complainers? Would so much time travelling in space, on different planets, etc, have changed the way his body would react to things? Someone probably knows, but it’s not me. Perhaps the NASA advisor they used for the film knows.

So these people can deal with a talking raccoon (in the same universe as a god of thunder, teleporting mutants, and gargantuan ‘celestial beings’ whose skulls are used as cities floating in space), but the fact that the rest of the film after this scene didn’t deal with the tragic loss of Peter Quill to cancer is too far over the line. Interesting.

What if it was Superman in space? Would the same people be annoyed that he survives rather than dying horrifically?

The line is different for everyone, of course. My grandmother would never watch something like Guardians of the Galaxy – or indeed Superman – because they have ‘weird aliens’. There’s plenty of things I’ve watched that made me roll my eyes, though I can’t think of any now.

Beyond the Guardians

Shadow of the Wraith, Kindle coverI’ve complai…uh…mentioned before a 3-star review I’ve had on my first book. According to the review, it lost a star due to taking ‘an unexpected turn into fantasy territory’. I won’t bother mentioning the inane nature of complaining about a science-fantasy novel having fantasy elements (oops, I just did), but this is perhaps her line. When sci-fi becomes science-fantasy, she can’t suspend her disbelief any more, perhaps. Star Wars is fine until the Force comes into play. Likewise, mine was fine until telekinesis came into play. Or, as she called it, ‘use his “special powers”’. Not that I’m bitter.

And what about within the book? If someone went into it, open to the inevitable fantastic elements of a science-fantasy novel, where might their line be then? The telekinesis, telepathy, etc, that are possessed by one of my alien races? The not strictly realistic space battles? The androids? The dragons? I suspect the last one might be a line for a lot of people. Until they open book two and discover immortal ‘gods’, angels and zombies. Technically not zombies actually. But the dragons are alien animals, not creatures of myth. Does that help? It might help person A but not person B.

What about CSI? ‘Enhance!’ ‘Enhance more!’ ‘Enhance again and zoom in on that reflection in the reflection and enhance!’ Most people can’t quite suspend their disbelief enough for that, but others can. Perhaps it depends simply on how much you know – or think you know – about the subject in question.

I hope you don’t think I’m going anywhere with this, or making any kind of point. Because…I’m not. Maybe I should. But I won’t. Don’t be annoyed – I told you at the start this wasn’t going to go anywhere! It’s simply a question that can’t be answered. Not by me, anyway.

So, what’s the line for you? What was the last thing that made you roll your eyes and groan?