Space Marine Ajax

 

The first novel in my new series, a blend of Norse myths, military science fiction, and a good old fashioned Bug Hunt…

Ajax answers the call of duty and becomes an Einherjar space marine, charged with defending humanity against hideous alien monsters in furious combat across the galaxy.

From the deepest parts of uncharted space an alien menace emerges, devouring all that lay before it, a great swarm that scours entire star systems of all organic life. This space borne hive, this extinction fleet, makes no attempts to communicate and offers no mercy.

Unified against a common enemy, humanity fights back, meeting the swarm with soldiers upon every front.

This is the story of fearless warriors who are sent to fight the wolves at the gate, by power armor and pulse rifle they must prevail, else humanity is all but doomed.

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Junk Empire

 

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The new year dawns with me gearing up to re-apply myself to the grind stone of Necrospace, a military science fiction series published by Severed Press that I have been working with for the last several years. At present I have four books in the series completed, with the first three being focused on the story of Samuel Hyst, a salvage marine from a brutal corporate society who finds himself caught up in events that affect humanity at large. All he wanted was a paycheck and pathway out of debt.

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The fourth novel shifts focus to a supporting character from the core trilogy and we are shown a glimpse of the fierce world of the elite mercenaries that stalk the ruins of this scrapyard universe. Since completing those I have taken something of a break from the world of Necrospace and written the first novel in what will be a trilogy about clone troopers striving to save humanity from extinction at the claws and jaws of an alien swarm from deep space. I traded in the futuristic pulp noir of Necrospace for the strange equilibrium of Norse mythology and alien invasion scifi. It was a wild ride, and one I am glad I took. So now I have two series I am working on, with the first of the new series coming out soon and the next Necrospace shortly after, from then I’ll be writing one and then the other in what I hope to be a very productive year.

As I prepare myself to dive back into Necrospace, I find myself planning out the next four books before launching. There are a great many meta-plots and sub-plots at work throughout the first four books of Necrospace, and it is important for me that there be closure. I want to give the series plenty of room to breathe, for not just the epic journey of Samuel Hyst to reach its final conclusion, or for the mystery of the Gedra to ultimately be revealed, but for the Necrospace realm as a whole to reach a milestone that yields a satisfactory series finale. As keen as I may be to develop this series into a number of feature films or an episodic for streaming/television, not to mention my day dreams of table top role playing games, board games, and video games, all of that is a distraction until I am able to complete the robust tapestry that you (the reader) and I (the storyteller) have embarked upon creating.

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As any of you who have enjoyed the first four novels of the series know, there is much that can happen in the span of four novels. As much of an intense journey as the first half of the series has been, you can expect just as much, if not more, from the next half. In the course of the novels we will re-visit our salvage marines, hunt forgotten technology on wasteland planets, and pursue scrap bounties to the edge of the universe. We will fight mutated nightmares, struggle against devastating alien technology, battle space pirates and corporate security forces in equal measure, and we will ride to war with the Folken once again.

Necrospace is rich with salvage, and soon the next chapter in our search for freedom and fortune will arrive. Time for me to get back to work. Until that day…

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Wizards, Jedi Knights, and Superheroes

… and Space Marines?

When it comes to the world of books, video games, films, and merchandise we certainly live in what you could call the Golden Age of the Expanded Universe.

The entire premise of the new film Star Wars: Rogue One is predicated on a single line of dialogue from Return of the Jedi – “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”

And I think that is amazing.

Everywhere you look it’s Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, or something equally vast. You would not believe how many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars branded  items are in my house right now. Being an old hand when it comes to fandom myself, there are plenty of Warhammer 40k and World of Darkness novels and games sitting on my various shelves and awaiting me in a few stashed bins. This isn’t a new sort of phenomenon, though I’d say we have firmly moved into territory where ‘expanded universe’ is the standard now for most entertainment.

There is a strong economic incentive to be sure, as a single product like the video game HALO can become a franchise that presents consumers with not only video game sequels but apparel, toys, board games, novels, and movies. In fact there are many video games that are working with this idea, and again it isn’t an old one, it’s just that it has now become the standard operating procedure. Didn’t get enough from the video game? No problem, we have a few novels you can read while you wait for the blockbuster film to hit theaters in the fall. On and on it goes, so shut up and take my money!

The creative incentive cannot be overlooked, and honestly I think this is where the desires of fandom have really blended well with the world of entertainment commerce. As fans we want an immersive experience, and other than we happy few who have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since we could read this wasn’t much of an option for people who had interests outside of Star Wars, comic books, and bad 80’s cartoons. Once we devour what you’d call the ‘core material’ we fans want to start experiencing the world and the characters from a multitude of perspectives, in whatever form those take (novels, films, games, comics, toys, etc). With the long-term franchises, like Star Wars, there’s always the discussion of what is canon and what isn’t, and that’s unavoidable with things like Star Wars, which as undergone so much change. The same could be said for Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, as those creative lines (originally miniatures games that became a full entertainment empire), even if on a smaller scale (ha!).

The franchise and expanded universe that has my engine purring is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, predominantly because there has been a single creative mind at the helm of the franchise since the beginning. Certainly she has worked with many collaborators through the years, but unlike a film, which is by its nature exceptionally collaborative, the novels (which are the core material) are hers. Much the same could be said of the works of Tolkien and his Middle Earth.

The idea of creating an expanded universe for NECROSPACE is a relatively new one to me, as I had originally intended for Trade War (released this week by Severed Press) to be the third and final novel in a trilogy. As I started work on another story I thought perhaps it would be the start of a new trilogy, also set in Necrospace, though that story went in a different directly entirely. After that I’ve started two different novels, and have many notes for a third, that are unrelated even if somewhat interconnected. There are just so many stories I want to tell in the Necrospace universe that exist outside the tale of Samuel Hyst, for his I believe is done. In some ways deciding to make a Necrospace expanded universe (using the first trilogy as my core material) was something of a survival tactic. I was around 10,000 words into the parallel story of a stranded Augur Corp special operative on a wasteland planet and a Red List mech-warrior trying to stay one step ahead of the law when I realized that it did not belong in the same book as the 15,000 words that followed the Dire Swords mercenaries as they brawled with other contractors over alien WMDs. I’ve got notes at a chapter or so that I originally cut out of Trade War that are likely going to be shaped into a story about the life and times of a Helion battle trooper, as I have used them as antagonists often in Necrospace and its high time we saw the world from their side of the rifle.

It could be awhile before there are any Necrospace video games or comic books, and I do have other genres to explore (as evidenced by how I took a break from space marines and crafted a novelization of Ember Days), but I do want to finish those stories, and I like to believe that there are folks out there who enjoyed the adventures of Samuel Hyst enough that they’ll give a few new protagonists a chance.

In the meantime?

I’m going to finish watching A New Hope with my son… his first time seeing it!

 

 

 

Realism in Military Science Fiction

The title of this post sounds like a contradiction in terms, and on the surface perhaps the idea of a genetically altered human warrior wielding a heavy plasma cannon against unimaginable horrors from deep space sounds a bit… sci-fi, but come on, plasma cannons!

Well… plasma cannons, awesome though they may be, only get us so far.

Just in case I get too preachy later on, the point I’m attempting to make is that a story has to ring true, even if its about space elves fighting jelly monsters.

The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is that the story is going to be more impactful to the audience if there is a degree of realism, with a specific contemporary sensibility. I’m not talking about making the ‘hard science’ of the afore mentioned plasma cannon sound convincing. I’m not talking about creating an alien/cyborg/mutant/etc enemy that makes sense in light of our current understanding of physiology and biology. All such things are just plot devices and set dressing directly informed by our current scientific knowledge and awareness. Realism when it comes to the technology and biology of a story, explicitly a military science fiction story, is of less consequence than realism relative to the characters themselves.

Perhaps I’m beating a drum that has been well-worn by writers before me, but this it my time, and I’ll take my moment thank you very much.

If a story’s core appeal (or message as it were) is “look at how cool their tech is!” or “gosh this hero is an unstoppable badass!” then once our world develops a similar technology or gets bored with flawless heroes, as an audience, we will not be engaged and that story will likely recede to join the miasma of other genre titles. Not that this is a bad thing, because the world needs pulp, and I’ve certainly contributed my fair share of such (and will be contributing a great deal more), but I’d argue that tech-based-pulp is ultimately destined to be surpassed by our own real-life advances.

The books that really stick with us, in specific regards to military science fiction, are stories like “Forever War” and “Starship Troopers” precisely because they focus on the men and women who live through those stories. Sure the cool ships and equipment those characters interact with are exciting, but what hits you is the characters themselves. This may be an old argument, but it is the human experience, or better yet Personal experience of the story, by the characters, that has the real staying power that transcends the ever-advancing technology of our rapidly evolving modern civilization.

To write military fiction, whether it is historical, contemporary, or science fiction, that ‘rings true’ takes something of an effort on the part of the author, in my opinion. If the author is like myself, and not a legitimate combat veteran, then I think it is important to talk to such people. Even in the most far-fetched science fiction setting, I think that a convincing and accurate portrayal of military personnel is important. Not actually the specific nationality, creed, or equipment, but more the intimate experience of war and the physical and psychological consequences of those experiences.

Truth be told that is an easy gauntlet for me to throw down to my peers, given that I am a military contractor by trade, and so while I am not a combat veteran I spend countless days and weeks in their esteemed company. In fact you could say that much of my work in NECROSPACE is a direct result from transitioning from being an independent filmmaker to being a military contractor. The notions of patriotism and the realities of economics are two powerful forces at work in all such men and women, in my experience, and working alongside them has affected both my writing and my tastes in military science fiction.

I find there to be little value, beyond momentary pulp entertainment (which is still awesome), in bigger-than-life protagonists. There isn’t much to glean from the shallow character arc of “Master Sergeant John Mack” who is the Marty Stu or Mary Stu of the usual genre fare, beyond the mindless fun of reading about a peerless badass of a character overcoming all obstacles against ridiculous odds. I am less interested in the story of a superman in power armor than I am an average soldier with an M4 (or the scifi pulse rifle equivalent). The reason is that I’ve never met super-soldier John Mack in real life, but I’ve meet hundreds of regular people who draw a modest paycheck and carry a rifle.

Realism in our portrayal of the future soldiers in military scifi is about creating protagonist characters who are not perfect warriors. Soldiers who make mistakes, who question their own loyalties and motivations, who can’t help but to bring the horror home with them, are the kinds of characters that I want to read about, and the kinds of character I do my level best to create. Whether they are a ragtag militia of scrappy folk heroes fending off an alien invasion or an elite team of space marines about to drop into hostile cyborg territory, and no matter how far-fetched or fantastical their technology happens to be it is the realism of their humanity that will ultimately engage me as a reader.

Tentacle monsters and plasma cannons are the flashy packaging that will bring me to the table, but the authenticity of the characters is what will make me a fan for life.

Marine Cadets Wanted

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REAPER– Resource Exploration And Procurement Engineer Regiment

Welcome Citizen, to a new life of adventure, including meal plan and hazard pay! Because Grotto Corporation is heavily invested in exploration and military ventures there is always a place for stalwart citizens, twenty-five standard years or younger, willing to risk life and limb for incredible wages and a sense of accomplishment.

As a REAPER, your primary function will be to serve as foot soldiers and salvage specialists for militarized expeditions into regions of both mapped and unmapped space in search of raw materials ready to be exploited.

To claim or re-claim machinery, equipment, and building materials from former battlefields, space hulks, and otherwise abandoned facilities.

Base wages for training and transit time are nearly twice that of the average workforce assignment, and all recovery and combat duties come with additional hazard bonuses.

See your local recruiter for details.

Sign up today!

Risky Fiction

Honorable men, well, they die hard, but they still die.” — Nicola (the film Bunraku)

As an author I want to create a sense for the reader that, once the series is firmly established, anyone could die.

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I have approached my scifi military series ‘Necrospace‘ with this in mind. I know that for the most part (unless I surprise myself at some point) my main protagonist Samuel Hyst is going to survive any given book so that he can be around for the next installment, because though we may visit some subplots, this series is his story.

Until it isn’t.

Do I plan on killing off my main character?

Not really, but I’m open to it, which is why I’m building up all the supporting characters. I don’t know who is going to get killed in this book or that book, because I’m following this story only a few steps ahead of my readers (keeps it fun to write!). Maybe there will come a point in the series where its time for Samuel to meet his end and for one of the other characters to step onto the main stage. In the first book ‘Salvage Marines‘ all of the supporting characters began on equal footing as far as development, though as we go into the second book ‘Dead Worlds‘ not all of the supporting characters survived the first story, and now new ones are taking their place in book two, though a core group of supporting cast have now managed to survive not only one but two installments. They are growing as characters, and while not to the degree of the protagonist, I am confident that I could, if I wanted to, kill off Samuel Hyst and pass the protagonist torch to a supporting character who is ready to take the lead.

As an author I like having that option, and as a reader that is exactly what I want out of a series. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dresden Files, but I know that Wizard Harry Dresden is never going to die, at least until the author decides to write one last novel and call it quits (because final installments all bets are off!). I want to create a story where we have multitudes of characters who can take center stage when a protagonist bites the big one. I’m not writing from so many perspectives as George RR Martin or anythying, though I am certainly taking a page from his style and continuing in my Necrospace series without the certainty that it will always be “The Samuel Hyst Show”, and that he might die or disappear and someone else could take the helm.

I’ll miss Samuel, if he goes, the same way I miss several of the supporting characters in Necrospace who have already come and gone, but that is what I like about what I’ll call ‘risky fiction’, the fact that after the setting and the characters are established the crosshairs of mortality could come to rest on anyone, even the protagonist of an on-going series.

That’s the great thing about stories… those characters that you loved and hated can rise and fall over and over again, in all their glory.

“I live. I die. I live again!” — Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Gold and Glory

“There is time enough for civilization when we are at war” — Wargir proverb

I love space marines.

Whether they are the genetically engineered super-soldiers of the Warhammer 40k universe, the Terran marines of the Starcraft games, the seminal warriors of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, or the hundreds of other incarnations of these future soldiers throughout sci-fi fiction, films, comics, and video games… I think they are awesome, and I have been meaning to contribute to this genre myself for a long time.

And so I give you the first installment of the Necrospace series … SALVAGE MARINES

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The synopsis:

It is the Age of The Corporation. The common man toils under the watchful eye of the elite and their enforcers. The rules of law have long been replaced by the politics of profit. The dark ages of feudalism have returned with capitalistic ferocity. There is no peace among the stars of mapped space and business is booming. Samuel Hyst is an indentured worker who seeks to better his fortunes by joining the ranks of a militarized deep space salvage operation as a hired soldier. The young man’s hope is to earn enough hazard wages to pay off his debts and expatriate his growing family away from the totalitarian industrial society ruled by Grotto Corporation. To reach his goals he must survive a grueling tour of duty in Necrospace, a name given to the abandoned scrapyard quadrants of a war-torn universe.

This is a novel that I have had simmering in the back of my mind for several years, and it finally clawed its way to the top of my list of writing priorities during the 2014 National Novel Writing Month. I worked with my favorite editor Terry Bland and we got this thing polished and ready for press as of last week. I’ve decided to set this book up for an Amazon Pre-Order, with the title being available on March 1st. If you pre-order then the ebook will be loaded to your Kindle/Cloud on March 1st. It will be DRM free so even if you don’t have a kindle device you can read it on your computer, and the print edition will be available on that same day.

Why a pre-order?

You aren’t a famous author OR even in brick & mortar bookstores, so why bother?

My answer is Reader Awareness.

I’ve been writing and publishing for some time now, and before that I was making movies and distributing them. One key element that I’ve never fully managed was a ‘proper release’ of any book or film. By the time a book gets finished I’m already moving on to the next project, and I haven’t given enough time and effort to promoting the book. Usually that shows in the sales numbers, and at the end of the day the sales numbers are just as important as the story… because if people are buying the book (or borrowing through Kindle Unlimited) then that means the Story Is Being Told. That’s right, I’ve realized that being an author, or more specifically being a storyteller, is just as much about the ‘gold’ you get from sales as it is the ‘glory’ you get from telling a good story.

The purpose of a story is to be told (in this case read) and the more people who read this story the more that purpose is realized, and as a storyteller that feeds my soul. What puts food in my belly (and my family’s) is that the people who read this story paid to read it. I know it sounds hilarious to even say it, but honestly it has taken me this long to see that increasing Reader Awareness in what drives sales, which feeds my soul and my belly. By giving myself a few weeks to promote the book before it is released gives me a chance to make sales, which boosts sales rank, which raises visibility on the Holy Grail of publishing (Amazon Top 100 in genre). As such here I am, working on a blog that I hope gives a bit more insight into the novel, to entice you to pre-order and experience the story in depth.

It feels Good to tell people about this story, because I think this one is worth sharing, especially in these troubled times. We live in a world not dissimilar to that of Samuel Hyst and his comrades, and we can see our own struggles reflected on the page (or kindle screen), even if in a more dramatic science fiction action kind of way. I see myself in this story, at various moments, behind the eyes of several of the characters, as I see other people I’ve known in my life. I imagine that you will too.

Space marine stories are generally rather grim, and this tale is no different, though it does have a unique element that sets it apart from most space marine genre fiction. Samuel Hyst has a choice. He is not defending earth from alien invaders, nor is he fighting the forces of some galactic evil. Samuel’s situation hits us closer to home because he is a debt-slave, and only marginally more dramatically than what we see reflected in our own modern world. Our protagonist chooses the life of a mercenary, a salaried corporate soldier to be exact. At any point in his troubled journey he can ‘opt out’ and return to his civilian life, unlike the average space marine protagonist in the greater genre. Samuel Hyst explicitly fights for money, that is his ‘gold’. He tells himself that he will use the money to escape the corporate world and find a new life, that is his ‘glory’. We must struggle alongside him to reconcile his dubious occupation with his humanity, his goals more elusive than he ever imagined, knowing that we don’t get the ‘easy out’ of saying that we are ‘defending earth’ or ‘fighting evil’. In many ways, the excerpt below illustrates the struggles, of both mind and body, that Samuel must endure as the story unfolds.

“The wargir waved an invitation to Samuel and the marine trudged up the dune hill to join the mercenary in surveying the battlefield. The fighting was all but finished, and for the first time that day Samuel began to feel confident about the mission.

“Well, uh,” Samuel wracked his brain for the other man’s name. Imago. “Imago. Looks like we won,” said Samuel off handedly as he sat down next to the mercenary, “Good day for Grotto and bad day for Helion. Can’t say it feels all that victorious though, a lot of bodies out there that belong to us.”

“Hyst Samgir,” the mercenary said, “you must understand that when war is stripped of ideology, all that remains is the simple reality that it is nothing more, and nothing less, than the violent redistribution of wealth.” He cocked his head at Samuel as they sat perched upon the burned out hull of a Helion battle tank. “Anyone who says differently is just trying to lower your pay rate.”

As a defense logistics contractor and a self-published author, in many ways I feel as if I’m right there alongside our protagonist while I work to balance the Businessman and the Storyteller during my own quest for Gold and Glory.