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Archive for July, 2016

After my last post Origins: the earlier versions of ‘Julie Smythe’ I thought it was time to go back to young Celoan/ Caroline to see what she’s doing now that her mother’s time-stream has changed. As Julie’s story is now upbeat and ongoing rather than tragic and ending with a voyage into the mists of a modern Avalon, what will Celoan do? She doesn’t need to spend time searching for her lost mother and father(s); in the new time-stream they are sitting on the other side of the breakfast table asking her whether she’s finished her school work for today.

So young Celoan/Caroline is getting an outing in the next volume of Watchers. She has a school assignment to complete, and the book she needs in the household library has gone missing. A comment by a friend/colleague sent me, and Celoan, off looking for lost libraries. Does the destruction of a library mean the loss of knowledge — or its wider distribution, if the break up of the library means that the books go into wider circulation? Celoan has her own solution to that problem.

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The Tale of Priestess Celoan

Of all the stories I have put on to Kindle, The Ballad of Julie Smythe has been re-written more frequently and more completely than all the rest. Parts of the plot were laid down as long ago as 1972; but even the version currently on Kindle is not entirely satisfactory, and at some point I will take it down and rewrite the central section.

An earlier version of the Ballad produced the attached appendix, which the friend who reads through my stories for me read and approved. It describes enough of that version of Julie’s adventures to explain why I scrapped that version it was desperately sad and the ending was bitter. The current version at least allows Julie and her friends to retain some purpose in existence, and they manage to get the Rulers to pay attention to them before it is too late.

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… because there is very little science in it. There’s the interstellar drive (but no one understands how it works, so that hardly counts) and the Rhuaans’ wonderful link-into-the-mind computers, but what else is new? Why not set the Graham Bradley stories in the modern world?

It’s infuriating that ideas which were ultra-modern when I first thought of them, like the carry-about callers (now mobile or cell phones) are now everyday items. But I decided to leave the Gray stories in a distant future, because this allows me to explore human interaction with other intelligent species. In the Gray stories, humans are the most numerous intelligent race but they are not the dominant race. How would humans interact with creatures that are more intelligent than them in some areas, although possibly not in others — and how would the other intelligent species interact with humans?

The running joke in the Gray stories is that even in this distant future, a lot of old technology still exists and is used every day. This is a reflection on humans’ refusal to give up tried-and-tested means of doing things, even when there is a more technologically advanced way of doing it; and sometimes the old method does actually work best. So when Gray needs an effective means of transporting bulky and fragile industrial products across post-war Cray planet, he constructs canals.

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I found the basic storyline for Watchers 2: the Nightshift summarised in an article by a friend — you can read a summary of the article here. I looked up the published version of the original story, but alas! I can’t give you the link to it online because so far I haven’t found it on the web.

What clinched it as a Watchers story was the dragon. I’m always a sucker for dragon stories; especially when the dragon plays a positive role. This dragon, rather than being an agent of destruction, brings about justice — although Julie would have preferred to temper justice with mercy.

(I haven’t told my friend that I’ve borrowed the story — don’t want to cause embarrassment!)

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Chapters 10 and 12 of Kimball’s Kiss mention a weapon called a ‘star blaster’, which ‘absorbed energy from the star, then sent it back … it blew the star up using the star’s own energy. They destroyed dozens of our stars’.

I encountered this hideous weapon in the pages of Michael Shaara’s brilliant short story ‘All the Way Back’, first published in 1952. (There is an introduction to it here.) I read it in the early 1970s in an anthology of science fiction stories, and was immediately hooked by the concept of the super-race destroyed in a terrible war, that then comes ‘all the way back’.

Kimball’s Kiss is different from Shaara’s story. Shaara’s long-destroyed ruling race were the Antha, who turn out to have been humans. The long-lost rulers in Kimball’s Kiss were not human and the war was not a nuclear war.  But in Shaara’s story the war began because of a decimation, and in Kimball’s Kiss Aoan’s decimation of the Gustu rebels is traditionally blamed for the war. As in Shaara’s story, the rebels won through destroying the rulers’ star systems by blasting their stars.

So far as I remember — and as it’s over forty years since I read ‘All the Way Back’, my memory may be wrong — the central message of Shaara’s story was the innate violence and destructiveness of humanity, which made them unfit to colonise the rest of the galaxy. They had to be confined to Earth forever. Shaara wrote against the background of the Second World War, when it appeared that humanity was about to destroy the whole species and even the whole planet. Now humanity’s dreams of reaching Mars are looking less like a dream and more like the future. The horror of the star blaster ( = the nuclear bomb?) seem far in the past.

But discussions this week in the UK Parliament about the need to renew Trident and retain the UK’s nuclear capability remind us that there are still violent and destructive humans on the planet, whom we may need to fight in the future. And more recently I have returned to the star blaster in a story of Gray, Aoan and their friends in their new Empire. Violent and destructive humans are often called ‘mindless’ — so how come human violence and destructiveness is so often linked to idealism?

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One of the subplots in Dragon Girls is the civil war in Volyn, which Gray tells Susie is between Poland and the Ukraine. No, I didn’t make it up: Volyn or Volhynia is a real place. It used to be a kingdom in eastern Europe, and at the time of writing it’s a region straddling the frontiers of eastern Poland and western Belarus and the Ukraine. You can read about it here.

The war in Volyn was a late addition into Dragon Girls. When I was writing the final version of the story in the first decade of this millennium, it was clear that the eastern frontier of Europe was likely to be an area of future unrest. Parts of Belarus have historic links with Europe, while other parts look east rather than west. The eastern part of the Ukraine is more Asian in culture; the western part has historic links to Europe. It is just the sort of area in which bandits like Gray Bradley would get involved.

Dragon Girls was all ready to go when civil war broke out in the Ukraine! Honestly, I had nothing to do with it … I held the story back in hopes that matters might settle down, but the issues are too complex to settle quickly, and eventually I decided to publish anyway. In Dragon Girls, Gray manages to settle Volyn through trade and economic development. I wish it were so easy to settle the deep and bitter divisions in the Ukraine.

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Template cover Watchers 2a

The Dragon of Justice: cover design by Helen Lerewth

Watchers 2: The Nightshift is free from Friday 22 July until Sunday 24 July. Find it on Amazon.co.uk (Amazon.co.uk)
and Amazon.com (Amazon.com)

Julie Smythe and her co-workers Lynne Saunders and Nodens the holy greyhound are called to a murder scene. Their task is to ensure that justice is done and the innocent are guided to safety — without being murdered themselves or destroyed by the spirits of hell.

Incidentally, the NORMAL price for ‘Watchers’ volumes is $0.99, not $1.31 as suggested on the Amazon.com search page.

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