Sunday, 27 December 2009

Thoughts on Part 1

Well Part 1 has been up for a while now and while I'm working on Part 2 I figured I might share some thoughts about this first installment.

The reality is, I don't like it very much. However, I knew that if I waited for something I liked I would never have posted anything. Ever.

I put a lot of hours into it and am very grateful to Neil Wile, a friend of mine in publishing, for his help and feedback which brought it to the point that at least allowed me to post it. Some of you may be thinking that I'm putting too much investment into what is, essentially, fan fiction. However, I wanted to write something that was of a more professional standard than a lot of the fan fiction I've read. Something that payed attention to story structure, language, punctuation and some of the do's and don't's of storytelling.

I've realised a couple of things in this process, first of all it has occured to me that posting the story in parts takes away from the flow of the story and might well make it harder for you, the reader, to get into it. This is why I'm considering getting parts 2 and 3 ready to be posted in quick succession. The only problem is when I think about how long part 1 took me to get to a standard I could live with, I worry that in the time it will take me to get the next two parts done any interest that may have existed will be lost. In retrospect in might have been smarter to post the story in two halves rather than, approximately, 6 parts of around 1500 words per part.

One of the things that Neil, in his infinite wisdom, was telling me was the difference between telling and showing in a story. I have tried to implement it in the work you see below but I recognise that future installments need to be more about showing and less about telling the reader what's happening and why. About showing you my characters and their story rather than explaining to the reader what's what. I hope to improve upon that in the parts to come.

Another thing that has really bothered me and has, perhaps, become apparent to you is that I have yet to describe my protagonist! I have a very clear picture in my mind of what he looks like and his life story and personality but have not yet found the place to put it in there in a way that feels natural. I know how I'm going to get his description into part 2 (a teensy bit cliched) and from reading other stories (a lot!) I also know that this is something I can get away with. I hope. What I'm not certain of is how much of his background is relevant to the story and perhaps might best be saved for future adventures. This story is, I think, meant to be part action, part character portrait and his background will come as a surprise to many. I don't want to give too much away about where the story is going but suffice it to say that the many options for moving it forward are slowing me down. I need to make some decisions and get on with it. I can always change my mind in the rewrites.

I know that the story as it stands has not attracted much in the way of readers or feedback for that matter but for the moment I am content to continue while the process challenges and inspires me. I hope that for the few that have read it there remains a curiosity about what happens next...I'll try not to keep you waiting too long. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Book Review: Cadian Blood by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

"Cadian Blood" is Aaron's* first novel for Black Library and to my eyes a truly exceptional piece of work that's going to be hard for him to follow. The story centres around the Cadian 88th Mechanised Infantry Regiment and their efforts to liberate the Imperial Shrine world of Kathur from the Chaos spawned 'Plague of Unbelief' and the many plague-touched (read Zombies) it has created.

The story is set during Abbadon's 13th Black Crusade and takes place on a revered shrine world that is some distance away from Cadia where the main action is taking place. This makes the presence of the plague, a feature of the battle around Cadia, a mystery and one which sits at the heart of this story.

Aaron's protagonist Warden-Captain Thade is a finely crafted character who very quickly establishes his bona fides as an experienced soldier and a reluctant hero, a symbol of hope in a situation that has little. His supporting cast are equally compelling and Aaron's ability to set the scene grabs you from the very first page and doesn't let go until you turn the last (At 3am in my case, with work...later that morning).

The story itself flows well, with each character viewpoint, Imperium and otherwise, adding immensely to the dark atmosphere that characterises a good 40K novel. His battle scenes build a very clear picture of the action in a way that never leaves you behind wandering what the hell just happened and the twists and turns of the plot are surprising and keep you wondering what will happen next.

Some stories destroy what suspense there is by leaving you in no doubt that the protagonist and co. will survive. Not so here. Who survives and how is not clear until the last pages and one is left with the feeling that while Aaron clearly likes his characters he's unwilling to sacrifice suspense on the altar of their survival.

I have tried to nit pick as, I believe, is expected from a review. I can't. It's a riveting read, driven by strong characters in a well thought out and suspenseful plot. For a first or for that matter a fifth novel it is tremendously readable and points to a real talent that I look forward to reading more from.

By the by it is also an excellent introduction to the 40K universe for first time readers. 40K atmosphere drips from every page but you won't need more background knowledge than the author provides to enjoy it.

SciFi fans! Read it now, thank me later.

*Please note: I have not used the author's first name to imply any kind of personal familiarity, for none exists. I have used it because his mouthful of a double-barreled surname doesn't really lend itself to snappy prose (some would argue that my writing style can hardly be called snappy and to them I stick my tongue out in defiance :)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Lone Wolf, a Warhammer 40,000 short story. (In parts)

Lone Wolf

An Imperial Guard Story

by Phillip Sobel

Part 1

Sergeant Reid Salinas dropped behind the wall as the lasbolt struck, showering him and the other men in cover with brick dust. He quickly peered over the wall and ducked as the movement brought a flurry of las and solid slug fire. The hot dusty air caught in his throat and, not for the first time, he cursed this Emperor forsaken planet.

It was the hot season on Pyrranis IV and his hefty flak jacket and pads, essential for survival in an urban combat zone were as much a curse as a blessing in the heat. They were pinned by enemy fire and all the while trying to stave off dehydration. They had to move forward, clear out the enemy and secure some shelter. Then the Armour, and the supplies they brought, would be able to advance and they could push the traitorous bastards back far enough to take the city.

In the heat Reid found his mind drifting back to his briefing on the Guard troopship en route to Pyrranis IV. This had been one of the most productive manufactory worlds in the sector until the planetary governor, Lord FarboĆ«r, had fallen to the worship of Chaos and led most of the world’s Planetary Defence Force and many citizen-workers into corruption with him. Eight months ago, in a night of unbridled bloodlust, he had led them in rebellion against the Imperium they had once served. Thus began a planet-wide war that had already claimed the lives of millions.

'We need to advance!' he said, angrily snapping back from his brief reverie. He looked each of his nine men in the eye. Some young and new to the squad and some veterans like himself. They were all filthy, covered in a paste made of dust and sweat, but this was their kind of war; they were the Athonian 107th, ‘The City Fighters’. Specialists in urban warfare, the most brutal and unforgiving of theatres, you got good fast or you died faster.

His men were tired, strained and dehydrated but they’d fight if he could point them at the enemy. 'Corporal Quala' He said turning to a stocky brute of a man with a face like thunder and the fighting spirit to match. 'Take trooper Zane, go through the ruins on the left flank and try to get up high. We need to know what we’re facing.'

'Yes Sir!' he replied, each word clipped and precise, and silently signalled to Zane. Watching their rapid and sure-footed departure Reid was struck by how fortunate he was to have Darle Quala as his corporal. They’d joined the guard at the same time and had served together since. The man was a real soldier’s soldier. Not charismatic enough for the officer corps but a fierce fighter who commanded respect.

Confident that his corporal would find a good position he tapped the Commbead in his right ear and reported to the platoon leader. 'Lieutenant Korba. Salinas, second squad. We’re pinned down amongst the ruins around the main square. I’ve sent Corporal Quala to scope out the enemy disposition. Is there any air support available?' His call was greeted with silence. He waited a few more seconds. 'Lieutenant Korba, Sergeant Salinas. My squad are pinned in the main square, request air support to dislodge the traitors.' Static hissed in response.

'Seems we’re on our own' he said, almost to himself 'we need to move.'

He gestured to the rest of the squad to follow him and led them, crouching, along the damaged wall towards a collapsed building to their right. Half the squad, covered by their fellow guardsmen, made the dash to the cover of the nearby ruins and then in turn covered the Sergeant and the remaining members of the squad as they ran to join them. Reid’s Commbead suddenly came to life.

'Sergeant Salinas, Quala.'

'Go ahead'

'I can see around forty of them in the temple with a variety of weapons, all traitor PDF.'

'Aren’t they calling themselves ‘Cult of The Blood’?' Salinas asked.

'Chaos loving scum can call themselves what they like sir, won’t stop me sending them screaming into hell!'

Salinas grinned savagely. 'No corporal I didn’t think it would.'

'I think they’re trying to lure us all forward, not sure why. The fire we’ve been taking is a fraction of what they have and I suspect there’s more I can’t see.'

'Good work. I’ve moved the squad right of our original position to another ruin. Don’t join us yet, you and Zane keep an eye on the bastards for me. I want to get the Lieutenant on the vox and see if we can’t rustle up some Vultures to blast them out and give us cover for an assault.'

Just as he was about to try the vox again, his earpiece crackled and a garbled transmission that he couldn’t make out, rang uncomfortably loud in his ear. 'Say again.' he responded, wincing.

'Second……confirm…position!' Korba’s frustration at the radio problems was evident in his voice.

'In the ruins south of the Ecclesiarchy temple in the main square, there are around forty Blood Cultists in the ruins of the temple possibly more. They have us pinned, we need air support' At last, he had his commander on the vox, perhaps now they could take the square and bring up the Armour. 'Quala! Get to my position fast!'

Moments later Korba’s voice crackled on the vox, 'Second squad, air power is on the way. They’ll make their run east to west, two minutes on the chronometer. Prepare to advance and link up with the rest of the platoon moving in from the east. The Emperor protects!' Reid smiled at that, indeed He does.

Quala and Zane ran up to the squad, bent low. Reid nodded his thanks to Quala and quickly outlined his plan. 'When the Vultures drop their ordnance we dash across the road to the ruins northeast of us. I want to charge them from the flank once the Vultures are clear, understood?' His question was answered with a chorus of affirmatives. With the practised ease of the well drilled they checked over their Athonian pattern wire stocked Lascarbines many of them muttering litanies of true firing to the weapon’s machine spirit. Reid watched the countdown on his chron. He motioned the corporal over. 'Flank charge’s the only way Darle. They look pretty well dug in.'

'Yes Sir, Vultures might not keep their heads down while we make a hundred metre dash across open ground. Flank charge through the collapsed east wall will make for a shorter run but we’re going to have to get into position fast before they can rally.'

Salinas smiled to himself, reassured that the corporal shared his assessment. 'We’re ‘The City Fighters’, fast is what we do.'

The corners of Quala’s mouth moved up in, what was for him, as close to a smile as he usually got. Salinas nodded his thanks and glanced again at his chron. 'Ten seconds!' he shouted. Already the distant roar of jet engines was getting closer fast. Suddenly, streaking in from his right two Vultures began their attack run. With their shoulder mounted wings, powerful engine and angular cockpit canopy they always reminded Salinas of a fast, viciously barbed insect he had encountered while fighting on Cruoris, a Jungle death world. Rockets streamed from underwing pods peppering the outside of the temple in explosions. Some of the rockets passed through the shattered window frames, some through gaping holes in the walls detonating within the already wrecked structure. And as fast as they’d arrived they were gone.

'Now! Go go go!' he bellowed at his men to shake the few that seemed frozen from the shock and awe of the airstrike. Quala echoed his order and through the billowing dust clouds thrown up by the violence of the strike the squad ran for the ruins. Once there Reid immediately led a rapid advance through the rubble of the buildings taking advantage of the cover where they could. This was how the ‘The City Fighters’ worked, he thought with pride. Through wreck and rubble to the throat of the enemy! Within half a minute they were poised to strike at the flank. As he was about to sound the assault into the temple movement to the right brought the whole squads’ guns to bear.

'Hold your fire!' a voice shouted 'Friendlies!', Sergeant Artino, a lean wiry man with close cropped blond hair, caked with dust and grime stalked forward at the head of first squad. His laspistol held firmly in one hand his sword in the other.

'Ready to fight?' Reid asked Artino hurriedly.

'For Athonos and the Emperor!' Artino answered with feeling.

They both turned to their squads and sounded the charge; their voices hoarse from the strains of the last few hours of fighting, they nonetheless got the blood of their men boiling. They rushed out of the ruins and into the smoke and fire with bayonets fixed.

To Be Continued…

Sunday, 13 December 2009

eBook Review (and related rant): "Dominant Species" by Michael E. Marks

I came across this book while trying to decide whether or not to buy a Kindle. I had outlined in an earlier post that the dearth of good books and more particularly a dearth of my usual reading fodder made it of little use to me. However, once I started writing I was advised that if I wanted to write I had to read. Not just the usual, I had to expand my horizons. Where better to search for and read books of many genres without futher cluttering my rapidly disappearing room than the Kindle store? ...It's amazing what you can justify when you really really want to buy something. What can I say? ...I am weak. Some of my points in that earlier post still stand but having invested in one I will now wait patiently to see how it develops.

Which leads neatly on to the reason I started to write this post in the first place. The book itself. Most of the books in the Kindle store have been 'converted' from their original print versions, however, Michael Mark's book "Dominant Species" only exists in the digital realm. I think this is the beginning of a trend that may be the future of SciFi. The argument that SciFi as a printed genre is dying is an old hat that has been argued on the "world wide" for a while now. It was recently revived on the blog of an author I've come to admire and many big names in SciFi writing joined in a spirited debate that extended to two futher blog posts. Do check out the posts and subsequent discussions, it really is a fascinating read. In the discussion I cited this book as a future model for the dissemination and futher development of SciFi in a publishing world that must cater to popular tastes to survive.

And what an entry to that model it is! The book tells the story of a top secret elite Marine unit trapped deep underground in a mysterious spaceship and their battle for survival against a mysterious and powerful enemy.The sub-genre of this book is military scifi which, while known for action and adventure, is not generally famous for the depth of its characters. However, the characters in this book display remarkable depth without losing the pace and action that makes this genre what it is.

In addition one of the arguments made in the above discussion is that we live in a world where Science Fiction is fast becoming Science Fact. It was suggested that this removes the sense of wonder experienced by the readers of early scifi with its exploration of the possible technologies of the future. Michael Marks seems to have embraced that reality and woven into the centre of his tale some of the technologies and ideas that NASA and DARPA are working on right now and in so doing has, for me, recaptured that sense of wonder at what the future holds. The fact that the future may not be so far off only serves to highten that wonder.

He often goes into almost Clancy-esque detail about the nature of the armour and weapons of the marines but for me the details never become burdensome and only serve to heighten the depth of the picture in my mind. His combat scenes are well crafted and take you to the very heart of the action in a way that almost has you ducking when the bullets start to fly. In combination with the twists of the story, the slowly uncovered mysteries and the very real characters he has a formula that will keep you gripped right up to the last page. The only irritating part of the book are the formatting errors throughout the text. They mar what is an otherwise fantastic book.

All in all I can't recommend this book highly enough to those of you with a Kindle and a taste for Military Science Fiction and even for those of you who have never really been drawn to this genre. Tense and action packed, it really is a terrific read.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Fleshing out the story...while battling with my mind.

Been sitting at my computer for a while with my pad and scratchy pencil writing away like there's no tomorrow. I'm still torn between writing a novel and writing a short story. I want a short story but the quantity of detail pouring out of my head lends itself to the length of a novel. Though some concepts in writing are common to both they are distinctly different exercises. Besides which I can hardly post a novel on my blog!

My main character is starting to take shape. I quite like the man. Which, I'm told, is a prerequisite to writing a story about him. I've even made some headway in developing the world upon which he is fighting and the enemy he's fighting against. I really feel that I'm getting bogged down in details that there is no room for in a short story but I just can't ignore all the little details! I forget, or fail to trust, that my readers will likely fill in the gaps from their imagination if I provide a clear enough picture of the now. A clear enough picture of a human being in conflict. Bring them into the action where it's life and death and the little details become of secondary importance...I think. That's been my experience of reading the beginning of a story where things aren't clear yet. Particularly when the author has chosen to thrust you into the action with little or no background beyond what you already know of the genre.

Which brings me to another challenge. I'm writing this story in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Who am I writing for? Am I writing for people who are already fans? Yes most certainly but I'm also hoping to appeal to a wider audience with the hope of drawing them into a fictional world that has entertained and inspired me for seventeen years! This seems like an almost impossible task. I must choose between one or the other. But how am I going to set the scene so that the unfamiliar reader can know enough to enjoy the story without my resorting to "infodump"? The inaccessibility of tie-in fiction to the general reading public is an issue that better minds continue to struggle with. Am I starting with too big a challenge? Should I just post my stories on the forums dedicated to the world in which I'm writing where everyone is generally on the 'same page'?

The above are a few of the many things I am really battling with to get this story down on paper in a way that grabs my audience by the throat and doesn't let go. I know I'm asking too much of myself at the beginning and that's one more thing to struggle with but I want to write something that I'm at least able to post without thinking, "that's just crap!"

If you, dear reader (writer or otherwise), have any answers or advice please do share them with me in the comments. I would appreciate any guidance I can get.