The Novel Series: A Tentative Plan

Okay, among other things I’ve been working on, I’ve been sketching out a high-level plan for the series of short novels I intend to write and self-publish. As of today I’m reasonably happy with the overall plan, so it’s time to focus on the first novel in the series, and also to get back to other projects on the priority list.

The Premise

The series is going to be set in the mid-23rd century, about 200 years after Earth has been conquered by an interstellar civilization called the Khedai Hegemony. Check out previous posts with the “Human Destiny” tag for my evolving thoughts about this setting.

The khedai are an ancient star-faring species, who have been annexing and uplifting other cultures for hundreds of thousands of years. They are reasonably benevolent, but also extremely paternalistic, imposing their rule on the subject cultures “for their own good.” Their rule over Earth has brought all humans peace and a very high standard of living, but at the cost of a great deal of freedom.

My lead character is Aminata Ndoye, a young Muslim woman of mixed Wolof-Egyptian descent, growing up in West Africa under khedai rule. She is sharp and very talented, and more than a little resentful of the “cage” in which human beings are living. At the age of sixteen, she gets the unprecedented opportunity to study for a place in the Hegemony’s space service (think “interstellar navy” or, more accurately, “space patrol”). She wants the stars, so she seizes the opportunity, and to everyone’s surprise she is one of the first humans to earn a position as an officer on the command track. All of which means she’s going to have a lifetime of fantastic adventure – but only if he can find a way to live with integrity in the Hegemony she resents.

An Editorial Comment

Okay. Why am I, a white American dude, planning to write a space-opera epic with a Muslim woman from West Africa as my protagonist?

My starting point is the observation that the protagonists of space-opera epics like this are almost invariably, well, white dudes. Which doesn’t make sense to me. If the human species is going to have a destiny among the stars, then either all of us are going to be a part of it, or it’s going to be a pretty miserable destiny after all.

The human characters in this epic are going to be as representative of human variety as I can manage. Which means there will be white dudes in the mix, but not out of proportion to their likely numbers, in a future that didn’t permit us white dudes to continue stacking the deck to our own benefit.

That’s not just an aesthetic choice. It’s central to the theme of the story. So I need my protagonist to be as different as possible from the generic unmarked-state character we usually see. That’s going to be a challenge to do well, but anything less strikes me as an abdication of responsibility.

Elevator Pitches

I have a series of eight short novels mapped out, as follows. I’m aiming for between 60,000 and 80,000 words for each novel. For each, I’ve listed Aminata’s current age and rank at that point in her career, and a very short plot synopsis which tries not to give away too many spoilers. For the first five books, I also have some notes about theme, expressed as a dialectic: the Hegemony’s guiding principles, and Aminata’s questioning reaction to them.

Book One

Aminata is age 16 through age 21 (2273-2278 CE). She is an Officer Candidate.

Aminata is invited to attend a newly established academy for humans entering the Hegemony’s space service, and she has the opportunity to become an officer, but only if she does very well. No one expects her to succeed, and indeed most of her fellow students fail the program, but she perseveres and becomes one of the first humans ever to gain a commission.

Along the way, Aminata becomes a competent pilot and ship-handler, and gains experience in space and zero-gravity operations. She gets a comprehensive education in the sciences, especially astronomy, astrophysics, and xenosociology. She gains a partial understanding of the Hegemony’s motives for conquering humanity, and begins to resolve the question of her own place as a human individual in such an ancient, vast, and diverse interstellar society.

The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization requires decision-makers with exceptional intelligence, perspective, and perseverance. Humans are not yet up to the challenge.

Aminata asks: Do I want the stars badly enough to strive for standards no one believes humans can meet, imposed by a society that excludes us?

This novel will recycle the already-written story “Pilgrimage” (and possibly the story “Guanahani,” as a prologue).

Book Two

Aminata is age 23 through age 25 (2280-2282 CE). She is a Subaltern.

Aminata is posted to the fleet escort Kadavi as her first active-duty assignment. She is widely regarded as excess baggage at first, and is given little opportunity to excel. But when Kadavi is sent into battle during the Arqanat police actions, her courage and initiative earn her a place.

After Kadavi is seriously damaged in the early battles of the campaign, Aminata is reassigned to another fleet escort, this time as a staff officer in the CIC, responsible for data compilation and tactical analysis. She becomes accomplished at computer operations and ship tactics, and earns the respect of her commanding officers for herself and for humanity. She sees the harsh side of Hegemony policy and how it affects the subject species up close. At the end of the police action, she is promoted to Sublieutenant.

The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization, if it is to be stable over thousands or even millions of years, requires strict discipline to constrain local whims.

Aminata asks: What gives the Hegemony – what gives any government – the right to deprive its subjects of their freedom, justifying it on the basis of what it decides is best for them? What is the Hegemony but the greatest of all colonialist empires?

This novel will recycle the already-written story “In the House of War.”

Book Three

Aminata is age 28 (2285 CE). She is a Sublieutenant.

Aminata is serving as a staff officer aboard a ship operating independently in a remote part of space, far from any possibility of help from the rest of the Hegemony. Something goes terribly wrong, the ship is badly damaged and the crew takes serious losses.

Aminata is one of the last officers left alive, and although she is seriously injured, she is the only one who can pull the crew together and lead them back to civilized space. Along the way, she gains deep knowledge of galactic-level computer technology and gains insight into why the Hegemony is bitterly opposed to sentient AI. At the end of the story, she receives one of the Hegemony’s highest awards for valor, and is promoted to Lieutenant.

The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization, if it is to permit organic beings agency and significance, cannot be permitted to fall under the control of sentient machines.

Aminata asks: Sentient machines can be frightening, but aren’t they living beings with their own dignity and rights? Is there no way for humans or their allies to live at peace with them?

Book Four

Aminata is age 30 to age 33 (2287-2290 CE). She is a Lieutenant, promoted to Subcommander at the beginning of the story.

Aminata is assigned as the Executive Officer of a warship assigned to the “eternal front,” a region of space where the Hegemony has a diffuse border with another interstellar civilization of roughly equal age and power. Here, the two interstellar powers have been engaged in an ongoing battle of wits and diplomacy for tens of thousands of years, the conflict occasionally flaring up into open combat.

Aminata finds herself in the middle of a Byzantine conflict over an inhabited star system in the contested zone, where both sides are playing an extremely long game and any move she makes might have consequences thousands of years into the future. Her commanding officer trusts her and assigns her a critical mission, and she is required to think quickly but very deeply to solve the crisis.

The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization requires decision-makers who can grasp objective reality on a very large scale, take a very long view, and think past their instinctive responses.

Aminata asks: What about the instinctive response of compassion? Is a civilization that’s willing to sacrifice millions of lives for the benefit of billions of others still worthy of allegiance?

Book Five

Aminata is age 34 to age 35 (2291-2292 CE). She is a Subcommander, promoted to full Commander at the beginning of the story.

Aminata is given her first independent command – the first human ever to command a Hegemony warship, thousands of years ahead of the usual timeline for such an achievement from a new client species.

Aminata is forced to develop her diplomatic and leadership skills, as she is now solely responsible for the actions and fate of her crew, drawn from dozens of different species and cultural groups. Even more of a challenge, for the first time she is in command of a significant number of other humans, and must help them to work productively with non-humans. When a sudden crisis turns up, placing stress on all the fracture points among her crew, her work is tested harshly.

In the process of holding her command together, and without really planning it in advance, Aminata establishes a new human ethnos (a distinctive, self-governing cultural group with its own laws and customs, recognized as such by the Hegemony).

The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization demands that its citizens practice tolerance and productive cooperation with others, even those who may have profoundly different biological or cultural characteristics.

Aminata asks: I agree, actually, but it isn’t always that easy. How do we teach people to productively deal with differences that appear irreconcilable?

Book Six

Aminata is age 40 (2297 CE). She is a Commander, promoted to Captain at the beginning of the story.

Aminata is given command of a frontier cruiser, a ship assigned to patrol space beyond the Hegemony’s control for several years at a time. Once again, a significant portion of her crew are humans, many of them members of her new (and growing) ethnos. Her command is explicitly designed as a test of the new ethnos on a mission regarded as important to the Hegemony’s future but not necessarily high-risk.

Aminata’s ship ventures from Sol out into neutral space, updating old exploratory data and otherwise verifying that there is nothing in the region to concern the Hegemony for at least the next few thousand years. Unfortunately, after several months the expedition discovers evidence that something is drastically wrong. Other Hegemony expeditions have gone missing, living worlds have been damaged by asteroid impact or other disasters, and so on.

The expedition discovers that a new interstellar society has appeared in the region, a Great Enemy, a horribly malignant culture devoted to unlimited, cancerous growth at the expense of all others. Aminata and her crew must fight a terrible battle just to disengage and run for home, hoping to warn the Hegemony of the danger.

This, and the following two stories, constitute the capstone of the series. All of the lessons Aminata and her allies have learned, all of the questions they’ve asked, come to the fore. Aminata becomes one of the Hegemony’s leaders against a terrible and unexpected enemy.

Book Seven

This novel picks up just after Book Six left off, with Aminata and her crew reaching Earth and the Hegemony only a few months before the advance wave of the Great Enemy. Aminata has to convince the Hegemony to take action, and she has to help humanity to prepare to defend Earth. When the Enemy arrives, she leads the defense.

Book Eight

This novel picks up immediately after Book Seven left off. Earth has been saved from the first wave of the Great Enemy’s attack, but more will come, and the Hegemony is in disarray as many of the subject ethnoi withdraw from the common defense. It seems almost certain that Earth and humanity will be devoured on the next pass.

Aminata and her crew go on a desperate quest, in search of a galactic power that even the Hegemony fears: the so-called Synarchy, which has ruled much of the galaxy continuously for billions of years. The result of the quest finally resolves humanity’s place in the Hegemony, and the galaxy at large, for thousands of years to come.

Course Correction, New Strategy

Most of September I spent dealing with illness and the demands of my day job. That gave me some time to do some serious thinking about my writing. I’ve decided that it’s time for me to try a new strategy.

To review the bidding: over an 18-month period from early 2015 to this summer, I concentrated on writing short genre fiction and sending the results out to the slush-piles of the pro markets. The result was seven completed stories (six short stories and one novella), thirty-nine rejection messages, and no sales.

I’m not actually all that discouraged about this. I did get one previously published story into this year’s Campbell collection, which got me a few new readers, and I self-published one novelette (Harmony’s Choice). Meanwhile, quite a few of those rejection messages were good ones, not boilerplate, and a couple of them were fairly lengthy. Clearly there’s no reason for me to believe I can’t break into pro publication by this route, if I keep at it.

The thing that’s causing me to rethink is this: I’m increasingly unsure whether the kind of short fiction that the pro zines buy is the kind of thing I’m most interested in writing.

Although I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the short forms over the past few years, by natural inclination I’m a novelist. I much prefer longer works, where characters, world-building, and plot have more room to breathe. It’s worth noting that several of those better-than-boilerplate rejection messages have been of the form, “I really enjoyed reading this, but it’s clearly meant to be part of a longer work.” See, the editors and slush-pile readers can sense it . . .

More than that, I seem to have a bent toward novel series. I grew up loving the kind of extended work that keeps coming back to the same large-scale setting, following the same characters through multiple plot arcs. Today, many of the concepts I come up with for genre fiction are similar in scope. There was a time when an author could build something like that with multiple pieces of short fiction in the pro zines. That seems a lot less likely today; the short-fiction markets are insanely competitive, even for the best and most well-established authors. That makes it impossible to depend on getting multiple installments in front of an audience that way.

I’m not giving up on writing short pieces for the pro markets, but at this point I believe that’s getting bumped down to second place in my priorities list. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on writing novels for self-publication.

Why for self-publication? Look, I’m in my fifties and my health is not all that it used to be. I don’t have time to spend years looking for an agent, and then more years looking for a publisher, with absolutely no guarantee that I’ll ever see a single sale. I’m willing to do a little more work on my end, and accept a low volume of sales up front, if it means getting work in front of an audience.

Now, the work-flow for this strategy is going to be a little different. I’m going to be focused on producing a series of short novels. Say, five or six stories that come in at about 60,000 to 80,000 words each. I’m going to try to produce a draft for the first one in six months – aiming to finish it by the end of March 2017 – and then pick up the pace for subsequent volumes in the series. I’ll be looking for an editorial solution that won’t break my budget, and I’ll probably produce my own cover art. Once I have a couple of finished volumes in the pipeline – say, by about this time next year – I’ll start releasing them to Kindle Direct, about one every three months. I have a marketing and promotional strategy in mind, although I’ll probably refine that as I get closer to the first release.

Meanwhile, if I do come across an idea that works as a stand-alone piece of short fiction, I will by all means write it up and send it off to the pro magazines.

So, for at least the next few months, here’s the list of projects in rough order of priority:

  • Non-fiction world-building book (“how to design star systems and worlds for realistic SF”)
  • Series of short novels set in the Human Destiny setting (space-opera genre with a dash of mil-SF in the mix, most or all of them focused on my Aminata Ndoye character)
  • Any pieces of original short fiction that may bubble up from my creative process
  • Push toward finishing my current fan-fiction projects (one Dragon Age novel, one Mass Effect novella, and a light editorial polishing pass on an already-published Mass Effect novel)

I’ll be updating the “Works in Progress” page on this site to fit, as soon as I have a rough outline of the overall plot arc for the Aminata Ndoye stories.

It’s a plan. No plan survives contact with the enemy, of course, but we’ll see how this one goes.

Personal Alert (15 September 2016)

Just a quick note to anyone who’s following any of my current projects.

I’ve been dealing with health issues for almost two weeks now. Most of that time I’ve either been in a great deal of pain, or currently not in pain but having to function in a sleepy fog due to the pain medication. The day job has been taking up pretty much all of my remaining spoons. I have been able to get a little writing done, but it’s mostly been low-impact stuff like revising an old story or producing some fan-fiction.

This is not life-threatening. Indeed, it could decide to clear up on its own any day now, and I’ve got a treatment plan that should have me back in operation by the end of September even if it doesn’t. Still, big projects like the world-building book, or my first space-opera work for self-publication, have been dead stalled for a while now. Patience, please.

Review: The Shannara Chronicles, by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

shannaraI don’t often post reviews here. Usually, when I do, it’s because I’ve come across something that surprised me in some way, that exceeded my expectations. Something that I find I want to call to people’s attention.

This time, it’s a TV series: The Shannara Chronicles.

The Sword of Shannara was a fantasy novel by Terry Brooks, first released in 1977. At the time, the American commercial market had not yet “discovered” the epic-fantasy genre. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings had attained considerable success, after some backing and filling in the 1960s involving an unauthorized American edition. Kathryn Kurtz published Deryni Rising in 1970, and Stephen Donaldson published Lord Foul’s Bane in 1977 as well. Still, it was Brooks’ debut novel that really cracked the door open for the genre. With an engaging plot aimed at younger readers, and illustrations by the Brothers Hildebrandt, The Sword of Shannara rocketed onto the best-seller lists. For the first time, we saw that someone not named Tolkien could attain significant commercial success in the genre. The book made Brooks’ career – as of 2016, he’s written dozens of novels, many of which have again made the best-seller lists, the vast majority of them set in the Shannara universe.

I was one of those who read The Sword of Shannara when it was first released: a twelve-year-old kid who was just discovering fantasy fiction, exactly the audience that Brooks found most congenial. At the time it was one of my favorites. Today, I have to admit that the story hasn’t aged well for me. Sword in particular is enormously derivative of Tolkien. Although plot and characters have moments of originality, the list of elements mapping directly to The Lord of the Rings is extremely long. The early Brooks certainly had a literate prose style, but he wasn’t very concise, and he kept succumbing to the temptation to write really long expository passages.

Okay, it was a debut novel, and many a new genre writer has had to find his voice by imitating his predecessors. Even the second novel in the series was much more original, and I understand Brooks has long since come to stand on his own as a genre writer. In any case, someone who has written as much outright fan fiction as I have can’t afford to throw too many stones!

Still. I read the first two sequels upon release . . . but then I lost track of the series and didn’t feel motivated to seek it out. A couple of years ago, I was actually rather surprised to discover just how many Shannara novels have been written, flying entirely under my radar.

I therefore had no reason to search out The Shannara Chronicles. Blame this review on a bad case of insomnia, which had me up very late the other night with nothing to do but browse Netflix on my tablet. A familiar name caught my eye, I tapped it open, and holy cow. An hour later, I caught myself thinking: That . . . was actually not at all bad.

The first season of The Shannara Chronicles was released on MTV early this year. It consists of ten hour-long episodes, which constitute a rather loose adaptation of The Elfstones of Shannara, the second novel in the series. (I understand someone else is sitting on the rights to The Sword of Shannara, which means we may never get to see an adaptation of it. A few characters and plot elements from Sword do appear in the TV series.) The entire season is now available on Netflix.

The early Shannara books are bog-standard epic fantasy: we have a set of Five Races, mysterious wizard mentors, evil sorcerers, magic artifacts, epic quests, hopeless battles, the lot. One interesting and original point is that the setting, the “Four Lands,” is not positioned in some alternate world or the Earth’s distant past. Instead, we’re looking at a future Earth, thousands of years after a nuclear-biological-chemical holocaust that nearly destroyed all human life. Geography has changed beyond recognition, humanity has diverged into several subspecies, and ancient magic has come back into the world once again. Still, travelers in the Four Lands often come across relics of industrial-era technology and lore. This theme is apparently more prevalent in the later Shannara novels, and it’s been back-filled into this adaptation of an earlier novel in the series.

The story here is not nearly as derivative as in Sword. Tens of thousands of years ago, long before humanity spread across the Earth for the first time, a great army of Demons was sealed away into a hellish plane known as the Forbidding. The seal on the Forbidding was held in place by a magical tree, the Ellcrys, which has ever since been in the care of the Elves. Now the Ellcrys is dying, and a few of the most powerful Demons have already escaped the Forbidding. When the tree dies completely, it will release all of the Demons to destroy the living world. Before that happens, one of the tree’s Elven guardians must take its last seed to a magic-source called the Bloodfire, to grant the Ellcrys rebirth.

Wil Ohmsford is the son (grandson in the original novel) of the hero of Sword. The Druid Allanon pulls him into the struggle, as the last surviving scion of an ancient Elven lineage and its magical legacies. While Allanon helps to defend the Elven kingdom, Wil travels with the Elf-princess Amberle and a human girl named Eritrea to find the Bloodfire. Along the way, they are helped and hindered by a diverse cast of humans, Elves, Gnomes, Trolls, and supernatural creatures. Wil must learn to control his magical inheritance, while struggling with his increasingly complicated feelings for both Amberle and Eritrea.

The adaptation of the novel’s plot is fairly close (Brooks himself has stated that he’s happy with the adaptation). The dialogue is much more colloquial than in the novel; characters speak more naturally and use slang expressions. There’s more graphic violence – bloody wounds are shown, and there are a lot of character deaths which involve a great deal of blood. There’s also a lot more focus on romantic relationships than in the novel, and a fair amount of nudity and implied sex. The overall impression is “Game of Thrones light” – take a well-known fantasy story, season with generous helpings of sex and violence, but in such a way as to aim toward a young-adult audience.

The series is another product of the booming New Zealander film industry. This shows, most of all, in the sheer visual impact of the production. Sets and scenery bear a lot of physical resemblance to pieces of the Tolkien films. In a few cases, I had to wonder if filming had been done in the exact same locations. One can also detect a lot of Weta-Workshop-derived expertise in costuming, creature effects, and visual effects. Visuals in general are superb, at a very high level for an hour-long drama.

The cast is packed with relatively young actors, drawn from all over the world. Astin Butler has some acting chops, injecting more than just good looks into his role as Wil Ohmsford. Ivana Baquero and Poppy Drayton play off one another well, as Wil’s adventuring companions and potential love interests. John Rhys-Davies brings some much-needed gravitas as the Elven King Eventine. New Zealander actor Manu Bennett does a very good Allanon: prickly, difficult, but also radiating sheer physical presence. (It was interesting seeing Bennett out of the pounds of albino-orc makeup he was forced to wear during the Hobbit films.)

The script is fast-paced, full of snappy dialogue and plot twists. At times the plot may be a bit confusing. There’s a lot of implied back story, geography, and lore, and characters seem to travel back and forth across the landscape with no clear plan. There are also at least two major plot-lines and several subplots going on at any given time, often in different locations. The production does make good use of establishing shots, to give the viewer hints as to which piece of the plot comes next. I’d advise sticking with the story, as it becomes easier to follow once all the major recurring characters have been introduced.

The early Shannara novels didn’t qualify as great literature. This series doesn’t qualify as ground-breaking film. Still, I found it quite entertaining and it had moments of strong character drama. Several sequel hooks remained open in the final episode, and the series has already been picked up for a second season. Well worth watching.

Time to Rethink

I believe I have a confirmed diagnosis.

Proximate cause: “A Fire in Winter” just picked up a rejection from Fantasy & Science Fiction. Once again it was a good personal rejection, one that indicates that C. C. Finlay personally read and enjoyed the story on its merits, even if it didn’t quite work for him.

Once again, an editor has taken the time to specifically identify the problem he saw with my story: a problem with pacing.

A little over a year into this sustained effort to sell short fiction to the pro markets, I’ve collected 38 rejection messages and made no sales. However, an unexpectedly large number of those rejection messages have been better than boilerplate. I’ve gotten several personal rejections with scraps of useful critique, from editors as busy as Neil Clarke and C. C. Finlay.

I’m making near-misses, which is not something to get discouraged about. That’s a sign that my game is just not quite up to the level I would need to start making sales.

The one consistent factor in the critique I’ve gotten has to do with pacing. Nobody seems to be complaining about the quality of my prose, or the characters, settings, or plots as such. It looks as if the primary factor that’s still getting in my way is that even my best stories are just not tight enough.

Okay, if the problem has a credible diagnosis, it can be fixed. I’ll need to work on that.

At the moment, I have two stories out in the slush-piles, one at Asimov’s and one at Compelling Science Fiction. I’m guessing these will collect rejections too, which is fine. I believe I’m going to pull all of my stories back to the inactive list for the moment, and spend a couple of months of my short-story time on pacing. Reading some lessons on the subject. Practicing writing tight scenes. Jotting down a dozen or so narrative seeds that I think I can turn into fast-paced stories. That sort of thing. Then, when I have two or three stories ready to go – probably completely new work – I’ll start the slush-pile queue up again.

Then we’ll see.

Progress Report (31 July 2016)

No major milestones in the past few weeks.

Work continues on the rough draft of Worlds Without Number. I’m working on the section which describes the “science of star maps” – the galaxy’s structure, the formation and evolution of stars, how stars are distributed through interstellar space, and so on. Progress is a little slower than I’d planned, but I’m still reasonably confident I can have this section finished sometime in August. I got quite a bit done just this weekend, in fact. I might also make some first-cut revisions to the section I released to readers and playtesters in early July.

Incidentally, one of my readers points out that Worlds Without Number is a bad choice for the title, because it comes too close to mimicking the title of a published SF roleplaying game. I’m going to have to find a new working title for this project. As soon as I find one I like as well . . .

The slush-piles continue to be unforgiving. “A Fire in Winter” caught a rejection from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which I found rather discouraging – I thought it was the kind of story they might like. Ah well. Off to the next market on the list. No new results for the other two stories I have out.

In all honesty, I’m beginning to re-think my strategy a bit. Not to give up on the traditional approach, but I’m beginning to think that the space-opera setting I’ve been calling the “Human Destiny” universe is just not likely to sell to those markets. I think I might just set those stories over in the self-publication track, along with the ones set in the Greek Heroic Age. Or I might take a hybrid approach for those, and keep a truncated pro-markets list for them. In short, I may send them only to the three or four markets I know will respond in days rather than months, on the principle that you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. Still debating.

I also spent some time this month researching my ballot for the 2016 Hugo Awards. This was a slightly less frustrating experience than last year. I applied the No Award option a little less liberally, although I did still consign one entire category to it. I believe I will resist the temptation to blog my ballot this year. The controversy hasn’t been stoked to as high a pitch this time, so it doesn’t feel as necessary to lay out my conclusions in public.

Spent some time this month working on fan-fiction. I published two new chapters of The Silk Revolution, and I’ve started doing a second-draft rewrite of All the Western Stars. I don’t like spending more than a slice of my time on fan-fic any more, but those projects do permit me to accomplish something significant with a relatively small investment of time. That can be important, given how much I’m juggling writing time against my day job and my declining health.

Speaking of which, good Lord, I have got to work on that last.

I learned a couple of years ago that I’m a diabetic. Fortunately, that was detected and brought under control before I could take serious damage to anything I would miss. My weight is a little high but under control, and my heart and blood pressure seem fine. The one thing that does seem to be giving me trouble is my legs. There’s some minor nerve damage, enough to make me a little unsteady on my feet. I’m also suffering an odd syndrome that some diabetics get, in which one leg – not both legs, just one – starts losing a lot of muscle mass and muscle tone. That means I walk with a limp now, and am starting to think about using a cane. Not to mention looking kind of odd and asymmetrical when I wear shorts.

On the other hand, my doctor seems confident that if I just get more exercise, I can halt or reverse some of the atrophy, and it would help me keep my blood sugar under control too. So now I try to get some walking in every day . . . and today I went to the local gym to do some work focused on the big muscles in my legs. Ouch. Less than twenty minutes, and my bad leg was about ready to go entirely on strike. It was genuinely difficult to walk out to the car and drive home. I can see that I have a lot of work to do.

Well, you know what they say. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Progress Report (6 July 2016)

As of today, the first section of Worlds Without Number is finished in rough draft, and in the hands of my Patreon backers and playtesters for review. This is the section in which the reader can design (or randomly generate) the stars for a specific stellar system. While people poke holes in that, I think I’m going to back up and write some of the descriptive sections that talk about the structure of the galaxy, the layout of nearby interstellar space, and how to draw star maps based on random or real-world data. Objective is to have that piece done in rough draft in early August.

Without having heard any reviewer comments yet, I’m reasonably happy with this first section of material. I’m already finding ways to make the “rules” more flexible and yet more detailed and realistic than what appeared in the last edition of GURPS Space. It’s really helping that I’m permitting myself a bit more scope in the kind of mathematics I ask the reader to use. Not to mention that I can typeset equations in the text in a way that was never available when I was writing for GURPS.

I’m seriously considering generating a small region of interstellar space with attached stellar and planetary data, just to show off how well the system works. Might include that in the complete draft of the book, or I might release it for free as advertising.

Stories in the slush-pile queue continue to collect rejections. “Pilgrimage” has just collected its eighth. One more market, and it’s going into the self-publication queue, possibly in time for a Patreon pre-release with the next big section of Worlds Without Number. We’ll see how the timing works out.

I really need to finish another story or two and get them into the queue too . . .

Meanwhile, it’s been a while since I did the obligatory plugs. My Patreon page is over here. I should also mention the one piece I have out in self-publication so far, the novelette “Harmony’s Choice,” which is available from Amazon. Thanks for your patience!