The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

The Wars of the Roses by Dan JonesThe symbol of the Lancasters was the red rose, the House of York white. These houses were the branches of the Plantagenet family. So one could say that England had a long civil war over which one’s pink.

Bad joke? Perhaps, but Dan Jones does a far better job explaining one of the most fascinating and war-torn eras in English history. The Wars of the Roses were fought between descendants of Edward III. The Lancaster branch began with Henry Bolingbroke, aka Henry VI, who overthrew the tyrannical and somewhat mad Richard II. The Yorks also traced their lineage back to Edward III, neither house descended from Richard II. The era was fertile ground for one Will Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, but Jones, who along with Peter Ackroyd (though not in collaboration), has been tracing English history across several books (The PlantagenetsMagna Carta) paints a much more interesting picture. In one of those ironies that mark English history so often, Henry Bolingbroke overthrew Richard II when the latter proved to be a rather incompetent leader, only to have Richard of York and his son Edward undermine and overthrow his grandson Henry VI. Had the legendary Henry V survived, Henry VI might not have been a weak and ineffectual leader. When he proved to be little more than a puppet of Queen Margaret, England’s nobility had had enough. But then Edward IV, generally considered a good king even by the rival Lancasters, met the same fate as Henry V, an early and unexpected death.

When his brother, Richard of Gloucester, found himself squeezed out of a post as Lord Protector for Edward V (one of the princes in the Tower), he ruthlessly seized the crown for himself. So Shakespeare got a few things right. Richard did, in fact, usurp the throne. And he was a hunchback, borne out when his body was discovered on the site of a church burial ground. However, no withered hand. And Richard did not kill nearly as many people on his way to his coronation as the Bard suggests. In fact, Richard had nothing to do with the Duke of Clarence’s execution, despite what Shakespeare suggests. Clarence got his head chopped off through his own efforts, being his era’s answer to the Duke of Windsor. Jones, however, points out another irony of English history. Richard III might have murdered his way to the throne, but he was actually one of the realm’s most progressive kings.

There are many legends about the Middle Ages and those who ruled England and Wales back then. Dan Jones has shown that the truth is much more interesting.

That Awkward Moment…

Billy Crystal typing in Throw Mamma from the Train

Orion Pictures

I generally go into a first draft expecting it may possibly need to go across the keyboard a second time. I pay good money for an editor. I’d like to make her job easier. But that also goes for novellas, which I use beta readers to edit. I generally assume by the time Stacy Robinson or the betas get it, there will not be major structural changes.

So when it occurs to me that Amargosa: Second Wave may need to be completely typed out again, it doesn’t bother me. I did this with Holland Bay for both an editor and an agent. (And then stopped because I’m out of rewrites. That one was started long ago.) When the one in beta comes back with some rough notes…

It started well enough. Tishla went to a beta I normally use, one I agreed to trade with, and another writer who looked at Warped. I also recruited another writer off a writer’s group I’m a part of. A week in, one of the betas asked, “Is this part of a series? Or did I not get the whole thing.”


I said it was part of a series but meant to be read on its own.

Then a week ago, I got back one of the beta reads. I haven’t looked at the notes yet (as of Saturday evening), but I got a message a couple days later. “So? Are you looking for places to leave my body?”

Ruh roh.

This was a common problem as I started this series. The First One’s Free was pretty disjointed, which is why it’s been rereleased as Before Amargosa with the storylines separated. When you’re starting out, you sometimes throw more into the story than need be. Tishla is the oldest of the three novellas to follow The Children of Amargosa, despite it being the last to be released. Broken Skies has a straightforward story: Admiral Austin tries to save his son, fails, and finds out there’s more going on back home than he originally thought. Warped is even simpler. Two geeks are given charge of a starship and try to figure out how to 1.) not slam into stuff going faster than light since they can’t see anything at that speed, and 2.) how to set off nuclear weapons without being total douchebags about it. Tishla?

In a nutshell, someone tries to kill her unborn twins as she tries to get the humans and Gelt on Gilead to pull together. That’s a complicated story when you think about it.

So I may have to do a complete rewrite even at this late stage. That will throw off the release schedule, but hey, this is independent writing. I feel no qualms telling the boss where to stick it when I’m late. I yell at him in the mirror every morning, and there’s not a damn thing he can do it.

Warped: The Challenger

WarpedBuy NowOkada and Lancaster find themselves in charge of a converted Navy ship called the Challenger. Given the history of the name, it’s an odd choice for a combat vessel. While the British have had several warships by that name, it’s usually associated with ocean research vessels and spacecraft, specifically an Apollo command module and the ill-fated space shuttle. In Broken Skies, we get a good sampling of names of lesser ships. It’s already established that the two classes of capital ship, designed and built by Earth and Mars, are named either for UN secretaries-general and geographic features on Mars. But the names all have combat histories. Troop carries are named for famous generals. But what about the rest?

I have a cross-section of names in Broken Skies. There’s an Ajax, the name of several British warships*,A and ships named Mercury and Etrusca, real and fictional planets within the Compact. But there’s no Enterprise (for obvious reasons), Endeavor, or Atlantis. At least not yet. But I wanted something a bit more benign than the name of a warship or a planet, which implies a degree of power. Challenger has been a name for scientific vessels.

But the Challenger is a midsized vessel as described in Warped. Obviously, it’s an existing vessel that has been refitted for Lancaster’s take on an Alcubierre drive. Hideki Okada is taken aback when he’s placed in command. A ship with rail guns and particle cannons? He’s used to ships built specifically to test new drive systems. He describes the first warp vessel, appropriately named Alcubierre, as about the size of a space shuttle.

At the beginning of Warped, Okada mentions that he’s been out of the Navy for three months when Cybercommand “retrieves” him. He’s stunned, of course, to find there is another warp ship when he had been with the Alcubierre since the beginning of its construction. So how did the Compact build another one so quickly? It’s quite likely some of the Compact’s accountants looked at the Star Wars franchise, bringing with them the financial philosophy that created both Death Stars: Why build one when you can have two for three times the price? The cheapskates in the Compact capital went with converting an existing ship to save money.

At some point, I’m going to have to render the Challenger (and a few other ships in this series) in 3-D. It’s a challenge (no pun intended), but it’d be great to actually see what this ship looks like.

*I wonder if “Ajax” in Gelt translates as “Francis.”

Friday Flashback: Space:1999

Back in the day, Channel 43 ran this back-to-back with Star Trek. Season 1 was really a reworking of the old UFO series, produced by creators Gary and Sylvia Anderson. When that idea fell through, they wrote a new story around the already-built SHADO moonbase about a facility where the dumping of nuclear waste is managed. An accident causes the dump to explode and sends the moon careening out of orbit. Space warps carry the now-free moon across the galaxy.

The Andersons split during season 1, and ITV wanted a second season. So Fred Frieberger, who made the last season of the original Star Trek so “memorable,” came in and added new characters. Amazing, since no one saw these Earth people during the first season. Martin Landau was terrific as Commander John Koenig, every bit as in charge as Captain Kirk, but more level-headed. Landau’s real-life wife, Baraba Bain, starred as Dr. Helena Russell, Moonbase Alpha’s chief medical officer and Koenig’s confidant and love interest. In season 2, they introduced the character that sent teen and preteen boys hearts (and pants) singing: the shape-shifting Maya, played by former Bond girl Catherine Schell. As I got older, I wondered what it’d be like to have Maya as a girlfriend. “Honey, I’m in a Marilyn Monroe mood tonight. Or maybe Halle Berry.”

Season 1 intro:


Season 2:

The Tudors by Peter Ackroyd

The Tudors by Peter AckroydThey arose on the thinnest of premises: Henry Tudor, grandson of a minor Welsh nobleman, claimed the crown of England on the basis that his grandmother had originally been married to Henry V. However, Tudor found himself pursued by the infamous Richard III, himself a usurper, at the bloody end of a period knogwn as the War of the Roses. So when Henry won at Bosworth Field to become Henry VII, he founded one of England’s best known dynasties: The House of Tudor.

Peter Ackroyd begins his history with the death of Henry and the accession of his son, Henry VIII. The virile, handsome heir to the crown took for his queen Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his older brother Arthur. (Now that would have been a bit of marketing luck for the crown: The first Tudor born to the crown named Arthur, and with Welsh blood to boot.) By then, the old rivalries between the branches of the old Plantagenet family, the Lancasters and the Yorks, had long since faded. The new king’s only real rival for power was the Pope.

And so this provided an opening for reform-minded clerics, lords, and commons to give rise to the great schism of the sixteenth century: Protestantism vs. Rome. Ironically, Henry VIII was not all that religious. He simply resented a foreign prince having final say in matters of government and in royal bloodlines. Plus, let’s not overlook Henry’s grandest desire, a male heir to carry on the Tudor name.

He managed to get his marriage to Catherine annulled while still on good terms with Rome, despite Catherine’s bearing him a daughter, Mary. Henry, like any monarch of his day, saw something he liked better in Anne Boleyn. So with Catherine cast aside and Mary essentially declared illegitimate, he married Anne, who gave him another daughter, Elizabeth. Still no boy. So Anne was accused of adultery and beheaded (not the nice, clean execution of the French Revolution, either. Axe men were notoriously clumsy at severing heads, often putting the condemned through several painful minutes of repeated hacking.) By now, Henry had fired the Pope as the head of England’s flock and branched off the Church of England. It’s premise: Henry could do whatever he wanted, and Rome had no say in the matter. This horrified Catholics all over Europe but caused rejoicing among Lutherans, Anabaptists, and a small band of anti-Papists in Scotland who would become known as Presbyterians. And what did Henry want to do? Marry Jane Seymour, who promptly bore him Prince Edward and died in childbirth. This made Henry sorry as Jane was likely the one queen he did love and, it must be said, finally gave him a son.

Ackroyd depicts Henry as a promising young king in the beginning and follows his reign as it deteriorates, like so many English kingships, into an increasingly paranoid effort to hold onto power. When he died, he left the young, rather sickly Edward VI to guide England. Had he lived past his teens, it’s possible Edward might have become one of England’s greatest kings, worthy of the name derived from the revered Edward the Confessor. Once he came into his own as monarch, he made the English clerics codify the Church of England as more than an independent bunch of Catholics. He also reformed the education system into something a bit more modern. Alas, he died before he could marry and leave an heir, which setup a succession crisis that makes the 2016 election look like a student council vote that got rowdy. The crown passed to the once-more legitimate Mary.

And Mary wasn’t having any of this Protestant business. Her favorite means of reasserting the authority of the Pope? Burning “heretics” at the stake. And she found a lot of heretics. But Mary also died young, most likely of cancer, which she originally was convinced a pregnancy by her co-monarch, Philip of Spain. That left one Tudor and no Yorks, Lancasters, or any remaining Plantagenets to follow. So Elizabeth took the throne.

I won’t rehash her reign here. She is the most famous of the English monarchs prior to unification with Scotland (brought about partially by her succession by James VI of Scotland, aka James I, he of the Bible fame.) And Elizabeth was her father’s daughter. She restored many of Edward’s reforms. Ackroyd depicts a woman unwilling to compromise her power with marriage and balancing somewhat despotic enforcement of her law (which was pretty mild for the age but worthy of Nuremberg in modern times) with uniting a people divided first by royal bloodlines then religious requirements. Had she left an heir, it’s quite likely successive Tudor monarchs would have guided England into its modern era, a more democratic constitutional monarchy familiar to even the Founding Fathers in America.

When References Go Stale

Star Trek communcator

But can you play Angry Birds on it? Source:

I just finished Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series last year. It amused me that, even in the 1980s, Asimov kept some of the dated references to computers and how the atomic gizmos worked despite clearly originating in the 1950s. Watching the original Star Trek, you see technology “centuries” ahead of where we were only to realize the first design for the flip phone, now obsolete but based on Kirk’s communicator, was first designed in 1973. The processors needed were still to slow to make that happen, and the batteries needed did not exist yet. Except in some MIT student’s dissertation.

So sometimes I have to wonder what’s going to be obsolete when I write the Compact Universe stories. I short circuit some of this by making part of the premise the cancellation of the singularity. (When your AI decides to kill everyone in a city and take it over, it’s time to not only reboot but to unplug HAL.) That’s why people don’t look like the Borg in my series. That, and more than one serious scientist has called singularity “wishful thinking.” I’ll leave that argument to them. By the time it happens, my work won’t have any relevance anyway. I’m not writing Jules Verne here.

But for the most part, I avoid things like data storage systems. Star Trek, in trying to look futuristic, already spawned the flip phone and the iPad, both within 15 years of that particular incarnation ending. Jeri Ryan, Seven of Nine on Voyager, said Janeway’s office computer looked really futuristic and amazing when she first saw the show. By the time she was cast, she owned a laptop much thinner and lighter than the bulky thing sitting on Janeway’s desk.

But space opera usually takes place in the future. You can be vague about data storage, transmission mediums, propulsion… Set it far enough in the future, and the concept of hard science fiction starts to become absurd as it smacks into Clarke’s rule about advanced technology seeming like magic. It’s the present day that causes problems.

Pay phone

Here’s a quarter. Call someone who cares.

As Jim Winter, I wrote a novel starting in 2007 called Holland Bay. It’s undergone several rewrites, becoming that novel every writer has that “takes years to write.” (Actually, it lay on my hard drive for months or even a couple years at a time between rewrites, so don’t let your cousin still working on that Mann-Booker Prize candidate kid you.) One scene, written about 2009 or 2010, has a corner boy beaten up and dumped off at an el station. Beaten and bloodied, he uses his newly shabby condition to act like a homeless person to shill for change. For a payphone. This novel is unpublished and won’t see the light of day until later this year. A payphone in 2017? I’m going to have to finesse that.


Act III: Get Out The Popcorn!

Millennium Falcon going to hyperspace


It’s the part of writing a novel every writer longs for: The final act. Forget The Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat or any of those other movie-writing guides that spell out how to plot a story. Let’s be honest here. Even Shakespeare, who wrote in the five-act format, wrote in three acts: Act I – setup the characters and situation. Act II – that big long part where everything goes into a tailspin. Act III – When worlds, those of the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) collide. And ladies and gentlemen, I am into Act III.

So far, Amargosa: Second Wave has had two main point-of-view characters, with a third added midway to break up the main storyline. Now, all three POV characters have had a revelation of sorts. One is trapped among the aliens and realizes her captor is not only not the evil witch previously thought, but she herself is a victim of the overlord’s oppression. One is starting to realize he not only is growing up, but he now has responsibilities beyond himself and his immediate group. He may even be (Cue lame trumpet music) The Chosen One! Fear not, I don’t mess with lame prophecies or mitichlorians or virgin births. In fact, I think this character has long since forgotten what a virgin is. And our alien among humans? Turns out one captor may be the key to this strange visitor from another planet bringing down the whole works, which would not bother the humans one bit if it happened.

But one change I like very much: Even on work mornings, I’m checking in at 1000 words. 1500 on Saturday, and 1300 on Sunday (when I’m writing this.) The New Year holiday, with an extra day off, helped, but being able to write for what really should be a light day if I wrote evenings instead of mornings on days when that shouldn’t be possible? Awesome! There is a very real possibility my next update will be announcing that it’s finished.

And then?

Drunkeness! Debauchery! Binge-watching Game of Thrones!

Warped: Okada

WarpedBuy NowHideki Okada is the captain of the Challenger, the Compact Navy’s first warp-driven combat ship. When we meet him though, he is having a Kirk-like moment despite looking rather like the missing Asian member of the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Okada is a nerd. That’s why the Navy pays him the big bucks. Or did pay him. At the start of Warped, he has said “Sayonara” to the Navy for cutting the original warp program. (Given Okada’s heritage, he probably said “Sayonara” literally.) In the beginning, we see Okada rather undignified on a beach enjoying the attentions of one of those rather attractive rejuvenated ladies I talked about last week. She finds a doughy forty-year-old nerd cute. Or maybe she just likes robbing the cradle, which is a whole new concept once life spans become indefinite.

Okada was born in Nagasaki, which gives him a rather skewed take on his mission to go vaporize a few million unsuspecting Gelt. But he is Pete Lancaster’s partner in crime, and while Okada is from a city once flattened by a tactical nuke, he finds himself talking Lancaster down from his outrage. Then again, Lancaster is the master of sarcasm. Okada is a bit more even-handed. He has to be. He’s a nerd who has been put in command of a combat ship. He has to balance the whims of the Navy brass with the inscrutable demands of Cybercommand (a cross between DARPA, the KGB/CIA, and Naval Intelligence.) And he has to get a technology that lay dormant for four centuries to work in an era when wormhole travel is taken for granted. So it’s no wonder he doesn’t really hit anyone over the head with what happened to his hometown until late in the story.

Originally, when I first got the idea for Warped, it had nothing to do with warp drive or the Alcubierre drive. I had a different concept of the Gelt and the Compact going to war, one that did not involve aliens with potatoes or a cult to Marilyn Monroe. The original idea was much, much darker, written to “Armageddon,” the instrumental from Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. However, I had a need to keep Admirals Austin and Burke in the series. Plus Broken Skies is pretty dark. By making Okada a professional geek with Lancaster as his fellow commanding nerd, it lightens the tone and makes him the straight man in the comedy of bureaucratic errors swirling about him.

Friday Flashback: The Strongest Man In The World

The last of Kurt Russell’s Dexter Riley movies sees Dexter ingesting a formula that makes him superstrong. Naturally, Joe Flynn (McHale’s Navy‘s Captain “Lead Bottom” Binghamton), as dean of the university, sees a chance for his school to win a power lifting championship. Strange, but not long after that, “juicing” became a thing in sports. And not a good thing, either. Kurt, you scamp!

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer

The Rise and Fall of the Third ReichThe existence of the Third Reich has confused many. How could such a blatantly evil regime rise in a supposedly civilized nation? In the first decades following World War II, historians suggested that it could take almost a century to unravel how the Nazis could, with the consent of the people, murder nearly ten million people.

But William Shirer was not a historian. He was a journalist and one who spent much of the 1930s inside Nazi Germany. He also witnessed and reported on the Nuremberg Trials. This allowed him to interview some of the major players, including Hermann Goering and Rudolph Hess. Historians criticized Shirer for writing a “journalist’s book” instead of following proper historical guidelines. But Shirer never claimed to be a historian. He simply combined what he had seen during Europe’s darkest hours with unprecedented access to a vanquished nation’s archives, captured after the fall of Berlin.

So how did a former tramp from Vienna, not even a German citizen, take over one of the most powerful nations in the world and get a population to walk lock-step with him? Fear was part of it, but Hitler’s rise owed as much to subterfuge against the old guard and schmoozing a military that never really was in his pocket. Once in power, he built an Orwellian state where kept the population from asking too many questions and the economy, bustling during the Great Depression, motivated them not to question things. Hitler wasn’t nearly the genius he conned the world into believing he was. He had a gift for reading and playing crowds, but Shirer passes along first-hand accounts of his mania, how he would lose his temper, how seduced he became by his early successes in Austria and Czechoslovakia. Had he stopped at Poland, that might have been the end of it. But with France, he opened a two-front war, found himself fighting a Britain that refused to collapse. It was not that he made the mistake of invading Russia that brought him down. His mistake was invading Russia knowing that the US and Britain would be cracking his defenses in the west.

And the German military was not very loyal. Weak in their resistance, they nonetheless spent most of World War II trying to kill him. Hitler survived mostly through dumb luck. A bomb in  brandy bottle failed to detonate. A conspirator managed to attract SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s attention. The bomb in Operation Valkerye got moved to where it would not harm Hitler. It is sheer luck that Hitler lived long enough to kill himself in 1945.

Shirer’s work is comprehensive and important, written in 1960 when the war was still fresh in people’s minds. There are some cringe-worthy moments. His attitude, for instance, toward homosexuals is most definitely a product of his time. And sometimes, his lapses into personal anecdotes can be distracting. But perhaps the biggest criticism I have with this otherwise seminal work on the Third Reich is his conclusions in an afterword written for the 1990 edition. At the time, Germany had been reunited. However, no one should kid themselves. It was not the uniting of two countries that had formerly been one. It was the peaceful retaking of a section of Germany from a puppet regime controlled by the dying Soviet Union. Yet Shirer seems to have ignored fifty years of history under the former West Germany. The former Reich is a land that fears the well-spoken and has only reluctantly stepped up its military activity. He states that he fears Germany cannot remain peaceful for long. Still, in places like Britain and America, the echoes of World War II have faded. Serious discussion of giving Japan nuclear arms has been heard as newer foes like North Korea make their menace felt. It’s a product of having lived in Germany as it evolved from a shell of the old Empire to the nightmarish Third Reich, but Shirer’s fears in 1990 don’t match with the beleagured power that now stands with France to hold the European Union together.