Not Dead Yet

You may once again be forgiven for thinking that I might have finally succumbed to the enticing pull of the hereafter. But I haven’t. I just haven’t written anything. Which is different.

After writing about too much Star Wars, I ran out of things to write about. Infinity War? Iron Man and Captain America will die. And Loki. Cyberpunk 2077? We’ll see it at E3. And…done.

If you’re in need of any more Hero’s guides, let me know. God forbid you find yourself out in the deep blue sea, surrounded by super-intelligent sharks that can swim backwards and you haven’t read a guide on how to handle the situation.

In terms of proper writing, I have just crossed the 85,000-word mark of my fifth novel today. Which will, when released be my sixth. And it will be book five of the NEXUS series. Yes.

If you read my books and can count, you may wonder what happened to book four (which should be my fifth novel but will actually be my sixth, except in terms of release, in which case it will indeed be my fifth. Just to clarify). I haven’t written it. My books do have slightly different tones, and some are too different to write from the same mindset. These two, to, have two too different tones. It’s true. So I’ve been unable to get myself in the right mood to write book four, but book five has been going fine. It is, if you are curious, taking a pinch of the noir from my thriller, Acts of Violence, and adding it into the mix. Not so much as to bring it out of the NEXUS series, but enough that I can’t write it and a lighter, more space opera-ish one at the same time (which is entirely in the style of Blades).

Aside from this I have been doing entirely pointless things like painting garden statues. I walked into Homebase just after Christmas and came face to face with a load of Star Wars characters. Naturally, I thought: I should paint those. So I did. Well, I (badly) painted Yoda and R2 and then lost the urge.

Yoda & R2D2 unpainted Yoda & R2 Painted

Then I decided to sculpt stuff out of polymer clay, which is the natural progression of painting polystone garden statues. I made Superman. Kind of. I am now working on a full figure of the main character of my current book. So if it looks wrong…well, it’s you who’s wrong. It’s going okay, except that I have no idea what I’m doing.

 Superman head sculpt   Figure sculpt

I also have a three-legged cat now. His name is Hop.

No doubt Thanos will demand that I return to say I told you so when dust is bitten, but hopefully I’ll think of something to say before then. So…bye. Bye then.

Bye.

Blades of the Fallen: Meet Mara

Last in this short series of character spotlights is Mara, Vanguard inquisitor.

Mara

Mara graduates into the Vanguard at the same time as Solan and Rialen, easily matching the intelligence of the former and skill of the latter. She is the first of them to be sent on a mission: a hostage situation on an alien world. Something is off from the start – there are no Necurians among the hostages and these aliens don’t like anyone meddling in their affairs, so why call for the Vanguard?

The mission goes bad. People die. Mara kills. The natural compassion of Necurians is pushed aside by necessity and her specialised inquisitor training allows her to cut her way to the hostages with ease. But if she survives, she won’t soon forget that huge blade, or the mountain of a so-called ‘man’ who wields it.

Blades of the Fallen is coming 1 August.

Now meet:

Solan
Rialen
Ailan

Blades of the Fallen: Meet Ailan

Next up is the moody teenager, Ailan Suhn. Sent to try talking him round, Solan and Rialen quickly realise he is more than just a typical teen.

Space Katana

Suhn is dangerously sympathetic to the so-called ‘Fallen’: those men and women who do not adhere to the conventional ways of Necurians. He feels that they are unfairly treated and vilified for simply wanting to do their own thing. He identifies with them. Perhaps even feels as though he would find his place among them.

But when he witnesses a brutal murder committed by one of these misunderstood people, his sympathy disappears. He becomes obsessed with hunting down the killer, now the symbol of those he suddenly hates more than anything: the Fallen. He’s in over his head, but he won’t let anything get in his way; least of all the laws of other, lesser galactic races.

Blades of the Fallen is coming 1 August.

Now meet:

Solan
Rialen
Mara

Blades of the Fallen: Meet Rialen

The second character in this short series of introductions is Solan’s closest friend, Rialen Solaax.

Rialen's Katana

Seventeen-year-old Rialen has already developed his psionic abilities beyond the reach of most students and likes to meet Solan’s lectures with practical jokes and displays of aptitude his friend is yet to attain. Twenty-two-year-old Rialen is a powerful inquisitor with anger problems.

The murder of a Vanguard agent in front of his eyes drives the practical jokes and rash, thoughtless actions from Rialen’s repertoire. His only focus becomes joining the ranks of the Vanguard and protecting his people.

But when the ferocious killer again drives a blade through someone he cares for, Rialen’s anger may get in the way of him preventing the same fate befalling a friend he feels responsible for. If he can’t get a handle on it, will he become what he is fighting?

Blades of the Fallen is coming 1 August.

Now meet:

Solan
Ailan
Mara

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.

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.

No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky splashscreen

Science fiction is arguably the most freeing genre to write in. Almost any other genre can be slotted into it, and the range of hard to soft sci-fi means a writer/director/artist can do just about anything he or she wants. It’s one of the main reasons I’m drawn to write sci-fi (science fantasy, in my case).

No Man’s Sky, an upcoming game from Hello Games, seems set to relight the fire under our imaginations and renew our love of sci-fi. This isn’t the bleak dystopian or post-apocalyptic sci-fi that we’ve got used to lately. This is the colourful, vibrant frontier imagined in so many 70s and 80s sci-fi book covers. Sean Murray, the game’s creator, specifically credits the cover artwork of Chris Foss as inspiring the game. That is his view of what science fiction is.

I was watching when the game was first announced and have been looking forward to it ever since. I wrote an article about it not long after, saying:

During Spike’s VGX 2013 awards – catastrophically co-hosted by Joel McHale – a little game studio called Hello Games showed us a glimpse of their new game, No Man’s Sky. In the midst of games such as The Last Of Us, Titanfall, Grand Theft Auto 5, etc., this unknown game – from the tiny group of indie developers of Joe Danger – stole the show.

No Man’s Sky is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. We could buy the game on release day and we’ll have died of old age before we’ve explored every planet in it. A single planet could easily be the size of Earth. Think about that for a moment. Think about a game like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. It takes a while to wander around them, doesn’t it? No Man’s Sky has Earth-sized planets that you can get out of your spaceship and walk around. You could probably spend a few months exploring every inch of a single planet (on foot). There are billions and billions of these planets. Actually, I think the number is eighteen quintillion, give or take.

This is all made possible by the procedurally generated worlds. To put it simply, it would be impossible for the Hello Games team (initially 4 people) to create the galaxy and planets and lifeforms by hand the way other games are done. The team, therefore, created a system whereby they put in rough blueprints, and then the game takes those blueprints and their constraints to create unique flora and fauna, planets, terrain, weather, etc. The game does this on the fly as you play – it isn’t preloaded. And those constraints ensure that there’s a degree of realism to how and where plants grow, the physiology of animals, and so on. This results in players experiencing worlds that the developers themselves have never seen.

Most importantly to someone like me, it creates a much more real sense of exploration and discovery. You are literally, and quite genuinely, discovering these digital worlds and creatures that no one has come across before. That said, I can imagine the novelty could wear off after a while, especially when you start to recognise elements – ‘oh, look, that mouse has the same head as the dinosaur three planets ago’.

Sean Murray is reluctant to say too much about the lore of the universe and the storyline of the game. Which makes sense – it’s a game about discovery, after all. It sounds, though, like the story will be quite loose and in the background. Rather than having goals, we’ll have reasons to do things. This is where our imaginations will take over.

I’m not too sure what kind of things we’ll be able to do. We can mine, we can shoot things from our spaceship, and we can buy new ships and equipment. Other than that, it’s a bit of a mystery. My biggest concern for the game is that it will rely too much on the player’s sense of wonder and expect us to keep playing for the sense of discovery. As I said, the novelty of this won’t last long, so there needs to be actual gameplay that keeps us playing.

No Man's Sky

That said, we will no doubt end up creating our own storylines, our own narratives to go along with what we’re doing. That will be a fresh take on gaming for some people – we’re used to being told this is who you are, this is what you’re doing, and this is why you’re doing it.

I’ve said before that I hate how most games throw in a story as an excuse for shooting anything that moves, and that proper writers, like Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword, etc.), need to be employed from the start to create an immersive, properly next-gen (now current gen, I suppose) game. I might even write another post ranting about that at some point. But the equal of creating a story-rich game is perhaps to do just what No Man’s Sky seems to be doing: let us create our story.

It won’t surprise regular readers (or as regular as you can be with my infrequent ramblings) to hear that I have my own ideas for games if anyone was foolish enough to give me a game studio. No Man’s Sky is, amongst others, the kind of game I would want to make. Create a rich galaxy, a background story, and let the player do whatever they want. I want to craft a galaxy and its inhabitants and then let the player loose to make their mark on it.

Of course, I would want to go a little further – put more options and whatnot in. That would mean more funding. More funding means more constraints by a publisher. There’s a reason most games these days are so formulaic. The publishers are terrified of putting money into something that isn’t tried and tested. Much better to take a game that sold well, put a new coat of paint on it, change the name slightly, and push it out into the wide world.

Hello Games doesn’t have this problem, because they are indie developers. This is probably the only reason they are able to do what they are doing. Sean Murray worked at EA, so he knows the industry well enough to know to stay away from becoming the industry.

Anyway, there are many articles out there about No Man’s Sky, so there’s not much point in me going on and on. If you’re interested enough to have got to the end of this article, you’ve probably already read some of those other articles.

Suffice to say I am looking forward to become a frontiersman.

Reviews and Amazon Rants

It means a lot to get good reviews. It means quite a lot to get a good rating, though slightly less than a well thought out review. It also means a lot when Amazon decides ‘f*** you, we don’t like you having nice things, so we’ll delete your best reviews’. Though it means a lot in a different way.

They’ve been doing this for a while now on Amazon itself, and since taking over Goodreads, they’ve started doing it there. I’m certainly not the only one noticing the reviews disappearing – and only ever 5-star reviews, it seems. I can’t speak for the deleted reviews of others, but the ones that have disappeared from mine have been from review bloggers, writing detailed, unbiased reviews. Not family members raving about how the books are the best things ever.

Amazon has claimed before that they won’t allow authors to post reviews on books in the same genre as they themselves write. Aside from the fact that this is pathetically stupid and is pretty much censorship, it doesn’t seem to be enforced. My best reviews are written by a sci-fi author, and they’re still there.

Other authors have contacted Amazon to demand to know why this is happening, and Amazon claim ignorance. They say that it’s most likely because of the reviewers removing the reviews, accidentally reviewing the book – I can’t quite get my head around that one – or leaving the site (Goodreads). That doesn’t quite allow for the fact that I asked one reviewer if she knew why her review had disappeared from my book on Amazon, she emailed Amazon to ask why, they said they would put it back, and then never bothered. So what the hell are they playing at?

But that’s enough ranting about the somewhat disgraceful Amazon.

I received one such review just the other day, from The Review Hart. I requested the review months ago – just after I published Acts of Violence, in fact. She scheduled me for August, and I forgot about it. With terms like ‘haunting’, ‘spectacular’, ‘gripping’, and ‘fantastic’ dotted throughout, the review turned out to be very much worth the wait. And it’s a 4-star review which means A) people are more likely to pay attention to it than a 5-star, and B) it’s less likely to be deleted by Amazon.

In fact, reading the review kind of made me want to read the book!

In other news, we have a more definite date for the next anthology, Wyrd Worlds II: September 20-21. Mine will be the first story in the book, and is a sequel to Kira.