Friday, 22 November 2013

Release of The Orphan Alliance

At long last, The Orphan Alliance (book three in the Black Ships series) is now live wherever eBooks are sold! 
The release price of two dollars will remain in effect until Nov 27. 
I prefer to offer a price break from the very start. That way, readers who’ve been patiently waiting for the new release don’t feel ripped off, two weeks into the launch, because I’ve suddenly come out with a sale.

The Orphan Alliance Third in the 'Black Ships' Series
An unlikely alliance of Humans and Midgaard has seized a foothold in the Dactari Republic only to be cut off from all support. For three years, our fleet has heard nothing from Earth except for an automated message warning of a highly virulent infection.
Now, a lone ship has appeared bearing fear, pestilence and hope and its presence forces a decision on fleet command.
We can destroy the ship and all the potential it represents, choosing instead to play out the hand already dealt to us, almost certainly leading to a steady decline in personnel. Our only other option is to embrace the deadly gift carried by the Pandora and become something new. With Earth at its most vulnerable, a decision must be made.
And the fight must go on.
(94,000 words)

To help place the title within the Black Ships ‘verse – here’s a nifty little infographic:
The two side series are novellas (ten to twenty thousand words each). I'll keep the prices of the novellas at less than a quarter of a full length story. The Orbital decay line will likely run to four stories, so It only seems fair to price the episodes at a level that won't penalise readers for picking them up as novellas rather than as a full length compilation.
  • The Black Ships is a full length novel beginning with the world as we know it, except for the presence of a small, medium-term manned presence on Mars. We find that there are others out there who may be interested in the resources of our solar system.  
    • Metamorphosis is a short novella that explores the background of Liam Kennedy, a character who shows up in The Black Ships. He plays a role in The Dark Defiance, so I thought I'd release his credentials to the public and introduce his young son, Tommy, who plays a major role in future stories.
  • The Dark Defiance is the second full length story. It takes place a decade after the first story, and follows the events of a trading crew. The Völund, one of the first Human vessels able to reach out to the fringes of a long dead empire, has been sent out to find minerals that aren't easily found near Earth. The crew soon find that business is a sure way to get drawn into your partner's troubles and they end up exposing Earth to a new risk.
    • Orbital Decay is a novella that develops the scientific and practical impact of discoveries made during the events of The Dark Defiance. Curiosity might just kill the cat (the cat being our species) this time.
    • Kill or Cure is a sequel novella (sequella?) that starts us down the path to recovery. Whether we miss a turn along the way remains to be seen.
  • The Orphan Alliance Is the latest of the full-length stories and it's set three years after the events of The Dark Defiance. It follows the challenges faced by our species as we deal with an implacable enemy to our front, and a crumbling home world to our rear. A way forward is offered, but it may mean the end of the species.
  • Counterweight is slated to be the fourth full length story in the series and it's set fifteen decades after the events of The Orphan Alliance. There's a sample at the end of The Orphan Alliance.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Blender and World Building - How a Picture Can be Worth More than a Thousand Words

A few weeks ago, I found myself stuck on a story. I’d been working on the outline for The Orphan Alliance - third in the Black Ships series - and I was starting to draw a blank. I went upstairs, got the coffee pot running and joined my daughter in the great room. She proudly pointed out the tower she was building. It was straight on the left side, with long extensions coming out from the right. 

She really does have a flair for architecture...

I told her she was on to something interesting. "Yeah, it's super neat," she said solemnly before scampering off to find more blocks. I sat down with a sharpie and sketched a rough outline of an alien arcology, based on her project. Arcologies are massive, single-structure cities and I’ve always been fascinated by the concept. My daughter pronounced it acceptable and awarded me with a crayon ‘Cause you have to color it now!’.

By the end of the afternoon, I had a passable model built on my laptop using Blender. Blender is a free, open-source 3D animation program with a very active and supportive online community. The process of creating and refining the image allowed my mind to start considering my fictional alien setting from a more practical perspective and I soon had a very detailed understanding of the city and its inhabitants.

This image is nowhere  near to the kind of quality that a real graphic artist would be able to achieve but, for a writer trying to initiate the creative flow, it’s certainly worth more than a thousand words.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

'Orbital Decay' Freebie on Kindle

Kill or Cure, the sequel to Orbital Decay, will be going live on Amazon this evening! As part of the celebration, Orbital Decay  will be free on Amazon Kindle-Select on May 9, 10, 17, 24 and 31.

These are zombie stories for folks who don't ordinarily read zombie stories. I know that sounds like I'm writing for a very restrictive reader base, but there are a heck of a lot of folks that don't read zombie fiction. The hard part is in convincing them that it's worth a try.

This story line grew out of research done by one of the characters in the Black Ships series, but it can be read as a stand-alone. It explores the results of longevity research run amok.

Even though this series of novellas will impact the main, Black Ships story line, it isn't necessarily a prerequisite for those who wish to go straight on to the next, full-length title, The Orphan Alliance (going out to beta readers next week). I don't want to force anyone to read zombie fiction so I've written the next main story with that in mind.

Here's the blurb for the freebie:

A Black Ships Novella - Fourth in the series - First in the Orbital Decay series

Detective Sergeant Ben Mark's life is falling apart. It's been a long, painful process for years but the pace has just accelerated dramatically. A suicide turns into the case from Hell as Ben realises that Dr. Mortensen was the victim of foul play.

And he may not be the last.

Ben's own life is in danger as he struggles desperately to uncover what Gaia Biodesign is doing on their orbital lab, and why they are willing to kill to keep it quiet. As he races to uncover the truth, he learns that the entire species may be the next victim.

Just as humanity is finally reaching for the stars, a terrible mistake may knock us back into the Stone Age.

If anyone is left alive...

(approx 18,000 words)
Get it for free on May 9, 10, 17, 24 and 31. Remember to check the price before clicking the download button! (links below)
Here's the blurb for the second in the series.
An Orbital Decay Novella – Second in the series
Even the simplest of plans can go horribly wrong.
Ben and his small group were only hours away from their destination. Just three more hours and he could have handed the four researchers over to government personnel, but an unfortunate military operation leaves them stranded in South Carolina.
Three more hours and the burden of responsibility would have been lifted from his shoulders.
The dead are dangerous enough, but the living are proving to be an even greater threat. As banks and distribution networks collapse, ordinary citizens resort to desperate measures and Ben’s group make a tempting target. As they fight their way forward, they are faced with a hard decision. Do they stop where they are and try to build a new life out of the chaos or do they push on?
Our species is ultimately doomed, but a new one will take its place, if it can survive the fall of its predecessor.
(approx 24,000 words)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

eBooks and the Myth of Market Penetration

Stabilization – it’s been a buzzword lately in the industry.  A lot of folks are claiming that eBooks are close to reaching some kind of saturation point and that they’ll stabilize at a certain percentage of the market. Usually the claim falls somewhere in the forty percent range.
There are a couple of things that make me think this might be wrong.
First, the reach of eBook stores run by companies such as Apple and Kobo is constantly growing. Both of those stores  give authors easy access to fifty countries.  Amazon now has separate sites for nine countries and sells to the rest of the world through the US site. 
The second (and more important) point deals with the fate of the brick and mortar side of book sales. eBooks are an incredibly disruptive force in the market. It’s not so long since the demise of Borders and, yet, folks still talk about stabilization as if nobody else could be in trouble. Barnes & Noble recently announced plans to close somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty stores a year for the next decade.
Call me a jaded cynic, but when a CEO tells us that they need to cut a few stores, it usually means that there’s still a whole iceberg of bad news sitting under the water. Add to this a bad holiday report,  where the Nook division showed a 13% dip for the nine week period leading up to years end, and you suddenly understand why they might be offering a free Simple Touch with the purchase of every Nook HD tablet.
B&N are one of the few remaining bastions of high volume paper book sales. Every time a company like this rolls over and stops swimming, the shift accelerates.  As the number of outlets shrinks, the efficiencies of the old model wither away. With fewer places taking large orders, the print runs will likely get smaller and the cost per unit will go up.  If the trend continues, we may even see the return of the book salesman, driving around their little territories with a vanload of books. Somehow, I doubt they can find anyone willing to hawk books to gas stations or corner markets anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I love bookstores. They’re a great place to pick up a pound of dark roast, a new novelty mug, a nice scarf and maybe even a few toys for the kids, but they haven’t sold me a book for two years now.
I know the graphic would seem to indicate that I want to see an end to paper books, but it isn’t the case. I just happened to think of it while writing this and thought it might be fun to make an image like that. Frankly, the more options that readers and writers have, the less chance that any one company or group will be able to get a stranglehold on the industry.
The reader is the gatekeeper now. It ought to stay that way.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Orbital Decay Free on Amazon until March 16

I’ve forgoten to post about this, but Orbital Decay is free until Saturday night, 16 March. It’s fourth in the series, but can be read as a standalone without any confusion for readers who are new to the series. For an un-publicised freebie, the response has been pretty good so far. It’s topped the High Tech and Horror (freebie) charts in a few countries after the first day.

The next book, under the working title of The Orphan Alliance is in my editor’s hands and should be out by the end of the month. It follows the fortunes of the Human/Midgaard alliance as they bring the fight to the Dactari Republic.

The next story on the whiteboard is going to be another fifteen to twenty thousand word episode in the Orbital Decay line.  

We’ll see what happens next for Ben and his small band of refugees as they race to save our species from the living impaired...

A Black Ships Novella - Fourth in the series
Detective Sergeant Ben Mark's life is falling apart. It's been a long, painful process for years but the pace has just accelerated dramatically. A suicide turns into the case from Hell as Ben realizes that Dr. Mortensen was the victim of foul play.

And he may not be the last.

Ben's own life is in danger as he struggles desperately to uncover what Gaia Biodesign is doing on their orbital lab, and why they are willing to kill to keep it quiet. As he races to uncover the truth, he learns that the entire species may be the next victim.

Just as humanity is finally reaching for the stars, a terrible mistake may knock us back into the Stone Age.

If anyone is left alive...

(approx 18,000 words)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Ten years I’ve waited. The new SimCity looks visually stunning and the game itself appears to have the best mix of complexity and usability. No more running pipes – just drop in your roads and your power, sewage and water are ready to go. So why haven’t I rushed out to pick up a copy?
You have to be online in order to play it.
It doesn’t matter if you just want to try a single player city, you have to connect to the EA servers in order to launch the software.  The servers are already maxed out and a lot of gamers are unable to get in. I’m a little leery of dropping a sizeable chunk of cash for the opportunity to be at the mercy of EA’s budget decisions.
And what happens down the road if they stop supporting the game?
The always online requirement works for games like Call of Duty because few players even bother with the single player campaign, they’re in it for the online play (and who wants to waste time on a campaign that’s ten percent gameplay and ninety percent cinematic anyway).
It works even better for Blizzard, where users pay a monthly fee to access their characters.
Maybe that’s the plan with Sim City? Perhaps they have plans to release DLC that requires a subscription fee. You download the ‘Space Exploration’ module and pay five dollars a month to use it… The digital rights management angle is probably the main reason for the always online requirement, but I have a feeling that they’re going to lose more sales from this requirement than they will from piracy.
Either way, if I can’t play it offline, I’ll pass for now.