Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Next in the series...

So Ghost Brigades was a pretty good read, all in all, and now I'm on to the next in the series, The Last Colony, but it's not the last! I discovered a fourth book, Zoe's Tale, about one character from the last two books.

The Last Colony  is less about war, and more about the struggles of ordinary people trying to make a new life for themselves on a remote alien world, despite the machinations and secret plots of their own government and the threat of being wiped out by alien attack. It reminded me strongly of Allen Steele's excellent Coyote series, especially when (==small spoiler==) John Perry and Jane Sagan go sprinting off into the forest to rescue some of their colonists from ... whatever creatures are out there... I almost expected a boid to jump out at them!

It contains all the great plotting and wit you expect from Scalzi; the  (==small spoiler==) convenient box of tricks that Hickory and Dickory turn up with looks like a little bit of a rushed job - there might have been other ways to rescue the colony from that attack that weren't so much of a rabbit-out-of-hat, but I'd have a hard job inventing one that runs smoothly. Really I'm just mentioning this so that I have something to comment on. Makes me feel a little less intimidated as I write my own stuff. 

As for the Big Ideas behind the writing, I'll have to post about that another time. Got a few things to do now... bye.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

John Scalzi's ... Ghost Brigades

One thing I liked straight away about this book is that I found it in hardback in the library - always gives a book more depth and character - and the next thing was the cover art. I like! I like it in a boyish way, with a little of the same wow! gosh! factor of walking away from first seeing Star Wars on a big screen at age... ten? twelve? The cover has a space battle above a planet, anyway. Pretty generic, but it sets the scene. Inside back jacket tells me the artist's name is John Harris. Let me look him up... Aha. I see that he's illustrated for the likes of Allen Steele and Jack McDevitt, both of whom I've been reading in the past few months.

But onto the story. John Scalzi is a joker, which I learned from following him on Twitter. Read the opening of Ghost Brigades and you'll see an example... let me say no more. It was a neat trick, well pulled off. So far, I can see that JS is staying true to the war-in-space genre of the first in the series, Old Man's War (see my last post), expertly imagining future technology, alien technology, interstellar genocidal warfare, and what that might do to the human (and other) people who get caught up in the military mincing machine. This last part, the human story, is the only reason I would read the whole thing. What happens to people who live and breathe the disciplined and controlled application of deadly violence?

The world we live in is over-militarised, and I grew up in a town neighbouring one in which 'squaddies', ordinary soldiers that is, are trained, barracked and sent out to do our government's bidding, to do their dirty work. And from the few times I met those young, beer-inclined, very physical men, I've wondered what chance they ever had of enjoying a normal human life, if there is such a thing. They're trained to be tough, ruthless and to obey their commanding officers. Civilians stay in their comforable homes and feel horrified at the innocents being bombed, sometimes at the expense of their own tax money; meanwhile, the frontline soldiers often feel that they're paying the price for those civilians' comfort. There's something screwed up here; perhaps you can enlighten me and tell me why one group of people are turned into killers while the rest of us rest easy and veg out in front of TV.

Governments maintain armies to keep hold of their status and economic position, not essentially to keep you and me in beer and Pringles. (Is this turning into a rant? I'll stop here.) So thankyou Mr Scalzi for making me think a little. If your series is intended, in part, to be a meditation on the present state of affairs, I'd better keep reading until the end of Book Three to appreciate the fulness of your thoughts.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

John Scalzi's Old Man's War

Did you ever read 'Starship Trooper' by Robert Heinlein? It was fun as a teenager to read. Starships (obviously), space marines with jet packs, laser guns, lots of battles. Then I thought, hey, the 'Skinnies' and the 'Bugs' that the trooper fights don't get much mercy. Aren't they kind of people too? Does this breed or reflect a kind of contempt for the 'collateral damage' and civilian casualties in the wars waged by the Western world on those so-called 'hot-beds of terrorism'? The debate over this novel was long. Heinlein was talking about the need to cultivate a citizen's willingness to serve his or her country.

Along came John Scalzi, and in his debut novel published in 2005, 'Old Man's War', tackles the same subject with a number of major twists and updates. I saw it in the public library and snatched it up - JS is one smart writer. I haven't reached the full expose of what's going on in his world, but it does look like he's asking the questions I had - Does waging war deface the warrior's humanity? Is it enough to say 'Violence is human!' or, 'It's necessary - we gotta defend ourselves' ?

It's a well-told story, with well-imagined characters, but liberally peppered with blood, gore and post-human stuff. Maybe I'll let you know what I think when I've finished it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Other Authors

One blogging activity I'll be trying to do from now on is to mention the writings of other authors, particularly the independent or 'indie' writers like me who appreciate all the support they can get as they work hard to publish and promote their works amidst the cataract of books published daily. Doing this will strengthen the online community of writers and will broaden the scope of this blog. I may write some reviews.

So: in the last couple of days I've 'met' John A Ferguson, a Scottish writer of science fiction and fantasy stories. He's also a chemistry teacher, a Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and an ambitious writer active in several mediums. You can find his Amazon author page here or his own website here  to see what I mean. I've just bought his short ebook story 'Kindred Soldiers' which portrays the moral struggle of a young soldier fighting in a futuristic interstellar war.

OK, enough for now, must get busy and read.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Calling preview video

Here's a short promotional video I've done for The Calling. Thanks to the compelling artwork of Victor Habbick it looks great, and thanks to these short clips of the music of Iona, it sounds good too. OK, it's not professionally put together, and that's because I did it myself on Windows Movie Maker. Whatever you think of Microsoft, they give you a few useful programs now and again.

But I had a look at a few other authors' previews and this is the sort of format you see for a science fiction novel. I hope to put together a longer video later, in the style of a cozy chat with the author. Perhaps I'll play my own music track too! ("No, pleeeez, anything but that!" they cry.)


video

And if that doesn't work, follow this link to YouTube to see the video.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Towards Better Reading

I picked up a good read. "the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time", Mark Haddon. The narrator is a youth with Aspergers Syndrome. It's partly funny, partly bleak, partly amazing to see how his mind works. If you want to understand what this syndrome is like, read this!

There's also a writer named Lisa Genova, (her bio says 'holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience') her first novel "Still Alice" narrated by a brilliant neurologist slipping into Alzheimers, and two others she wrote about autism and stroke. Brings these 'ugly' words to life in full colour. Very human stories.

And by the way, The Calling is in print over at CreateSpace. But (and this is where it shows how I'm a beginner on a shoestring) I would seriously like to find an editor willing to help me sharpen it up even more. Perhaps another author who would like some similar help. I've become aware that this issue, the non-editing of independently-published books, is probably the biggest downfall of indie authors like me, in general. It has lead to a mountain of low-quality ebooks and I don't want to add a single pebble to that!

Friday, 21 September 2012

'The Calling' is out there!

Now The Calling is released as an ebook with Amazon Kindle, and very shortly will be available in print with CreateSpace.

The Calling (for those of you just joining the show...) is a science fiction novel written for 8 to 12 year-olds. It will be the first in a series called Beyond The Elder Stars. You can click the link to the right to find out more... but here's a quick snapshot of the story:


The man who saved Valin Derojan's life has been kidnapped by callous raiders from space. To regain his lost honour, Valin must attempt a hopeless rescue.


Merratol, his headstrong younger cousin, is seeking to avenge the murder of her father, and stows away. So he must protect her too! But wait a moment, now who's saving whom?


In the process of the rescue, they are enlisted by an elusive band of freedom fighters and catapulted towards a galaxy-wide war. They are trained to use powerful rings controlled by their own minds. But that means Valin and Merratol must get their raging thoughts and emotions under control. Are they up to the challenge?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Blig Ideas In A Shrinking World


I'm looking forward to making something bigger out of this blog. There's so much potential! I've been slowly contacting a few other authors, and this is what we aim to do:


A Grand Discussion tackling the BIG IDEAS of science fiction!



When?
- Whenever I find the time to organise it! Definitely not before September, hopefully before Christmas.


Who?
- Whoever would like to contribute their comments, but to begin with I'll be getting together with a few like-minded science fiction authors, scientists and engineers, and who knows, perhaps poets and people from other walks of life.


Where?
- Each core contributor who has a blog or web page will host one of the Big Ideas, with handy links to all the others.


Why?

Too often, the 'sci-fi' that's served up publicly is shallow, badly thought through, or more commonly still, shovelled out mainly for profit, pumped full of special-effects hormones, bloated with worn cliches. One reaches 'The End' often with a sense of deja-vu, or possibly with a sense of 'So what?'


And I say, enough!


Yes, noble gentlepeople of intelligence and wit, for too long your minds have been coddled and your eyes made sore with spurious laser blaster fire and convenient sprints into 'hyperspace'. Too many charred corpses have been strewn gratuitously across the page for no thematic reason; too many gelatinous aliens have parachuted into the plot to save an author's hide.


Now it is our destiny to turn the tide and to raise the bar, focus the lens and hoist the mainsail. Ahem.


As I was saying, the online debate will aim to delve into such questions as...


HUMANITY - What does it mean to be human? Or post-human? Where do you draw the line?
MANAGING SPACE - As we expand into space this century and eye asteroids for mining, what ethical and legal basis can we cobble together to guide mining companies?

HOPE - How can we as SF writers encourage scientists and technologists towards a hopeful future instead of the easy dystopian vision that's so common?
ALIENS - What do you think - are they out there? How can you be so sure? If we should meet with some, what would guide our interaction?

SCIENCE - How does SF interact with Science Fact? How best do I research my technology before writing? Does SF encourage real science or cheapen it?


The goals may be a little nebulous right now, but I see it as a way for we writers to develop our craft, to think through the science of our fiction, while building much sturdier bridges to the factual world we live in - to use SF as a lens to focus on the issues that concern everybody. The question of 'Hope' interests me greatly: Is science fiction any use to anyone apart from its writers, readers and viewers? Could it help to inspire scientists towards a better tomorrow?


Please note that this is all still a loose cloud of ideas-in-development. And this means that I welcome suggestions and contributions.


Apologies to Randy Stonehill for the loan and tweaking of his song title.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Too Much Science Fiction?

On the way home from two great weeks in Europe I bought a Peter F Hamilton novel in Heathrow to read on the plane. It tidily vacuumed up the rest of our loose British change, relieving my pocket of a considerable burden. But the book itself was far, far heavier! Wait, let me measure it: over four centimetres thick; 745 pages; I estimate well over 200,000 words. It's taken me nearly a week of dedicated reading to get within a stone's throw of the ending. It has about five separate plot strands, and very few explanations about what's going on.


How can someone write something like this? Has Peter Hamilton actually cloned himself, like some of the characters in his novel, to team-write this colossus?


I only found out that it's Part II of a series after I settled down with it on the Boeing 777 at 32,000 feet over Iceland.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Three Kinds Of Fire

It was a great weekend. It was busy. It was sunny! But finally, in between the soccer game we took the boys and their friends to, and the trip out to the lake,  this collection of three short stories got up there on Smashwords as an ebook.
It contains the first two short stories that I wrote since coming back to Canada - A Kind of Fire, and The Captive Guest. The third one started off as 'Oh, better write a quick short one to add to the other two' - and it turned out the longest! It's a 'what-if' story. The background draws on my past as a batchelor English teacher in the Middle East... What if someone I knew had been kidnapped with little chance of release? What if I'd been challenged to live what I said I believed? It's a kind of allegory too; symbolic of greater things, of the Great Meta-Story. Here's the link:






It's easy enough to sample the first 20% ofthe collection and cheap enough to buy the whole thing. If you want to review it, drop me a comment or email and I'll send you the free coupon code. In fact... Here's the coupon code. For all those who've read this far, go and help yourself to a free copy of the book.

Coupon Code: SK24X (not case sensitive. please don't share the code.)
Enjoy!

Before writing a review you need to register with Smashwords and download the ebook, but it's easy and hassle-free. Don't let that put you off!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Trafficked! for real

When I wrote my short story I knew the real world of human smuggling and trafficking was ugly, deadly and an evil that should never be. Right here is just some more web coverage, this time on the BBC. It doesn't take aliens from space to do this stuff.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Are you twitting?

So I've just enjoyed 48 hours with almost no internet, over the weekend while we were enjoying the outdoors down by the lake, then bbqing with friends.


Now time to return to (virtual) reality - I have read that many authors find Twitter helpful in getting to know people and getting their message out, so I've just signed up. My username is JohnXPeace. Give me a quick message if you're out there! 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Back to work

For the past few months I've been writing a fair number of hours per week, in between family time and part-time work. That's more regular writing than I've probably ever done before. It's been great to get into the groove and improve my style. 


That part-time work has had to increase recently, in order for me to support the family, so that for the summer I'll probably just have a few evenings and part of the weekend to write. But I don't see it as a loss - rather, the work time is fuel for more stories. Like today I met someone at work and we got to know each other. He's a coach who most enjoys teaching kids to excel in competitive swimming, but he's not found enough coaching to support himself. He isn't from this town, and feels a little alienated by the locals who, on meeting him for the first time, invariably ask, "Are you from here?" With me, it's obvious - they think I have a nice accent (although, as I keep telling them, it's them who have the accents!).


I can see this man has dreams he follows, even into the beginnings of middle age, and he's still looking for ways to realize them against all the odds. Maybe he or someone a little like him will become a character in one of my stories one day.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Amazon Author Page

Now you can catch me on Amazon, if you feel so inclined... the link is on the page bar above. I haven't worked out yet how to make Mindware Issues free on Amazon, but on Smashwords it is. Drop by the Amazon page and leave a comment or review - I'll send you a sneak preview of whatever I'm writing at the time.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Published on Amazon

Just so you know, writing (& writing about my writing!) isn't the only thing I do these days! Today I went to a beach and skipped stones, then had a bbq with friends and family in the SUNSHINE! Sun feels so much warmer after a Canadian winter!

 Anyway, today I also learned how to publish my 2 short ebooks on Amazon! Why not take a look if you haven't read them yet. And if you feel inclined, write a review. A balanced one is best, what you liked and disliked about it. Here are the links :



Trafficked! is available on Amazon as an ebook here:




Mindware Issues  is available free (or at least it's meant to be free) on Amazon.com here:



Monday, 30 April 2012

Mindware Issues on Smashwords.


Mindware Issues is a short story I wrote near the end of last year. After a little adjustment and putting together a simple cover image...

... I sent it off. Now it's up there on Smashwords, selling for $1. And Trafficked! has already sold... wait for it... TWO copies! That means I've broken even on my expenses. Whoopee! I bought the lizard picture for the front cover for $2.30.

You can find Mindware Issues  here . The site allows you to sample the first 30%. See the last post on this blog for advice about reading ebooks on your PC.

If anyone would like to try for a free copy of Mindware Issues or Trafficked! then you could, ummm, let's see, maybe offer to write an honest review of one. I can send you a coupon code so you can download the free copy. Probably Phil you shouldn't be the reviewer... family and all that. But I can send you the coupon code anyway, if you'd like!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Trafficked!

After a few days of preparation, I got the story published on Smashwords as an ebook. Here's the link..TRAFFICKED!.

There's the obvious theme of human trafficking, which is just one of those many evils that should never be. But it was fun to write, anyway! And it's cheap!

It's not released into Smashwords' Premium Catalog yet, so it's only available on the Smashwords site at the above link.

To read ebooks without a seperate ebook reader device, you can:

1) download the ebook as a pdf file and read it on your computer
2) download the free Kindle viewer software from Amazon here:

- and then you can read ebooks on your PC (must be one somewhere for Macs too...) I have the Kindle viewer and it works very well on my laptop.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Updated Cover ART

Here you go... the finished product. The story should be on Smashwords shortly. Their process for accepting new ebooks takes a week or more, so don't hold your breath.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

SmashWords!

Meanwhile, I've been working hard on another way to get published: ebooks. There's an amazingly useful resource called Smashwords- a site that allows you to publish ebooks basically for free - they take a reasonable slice of the sales, a much smaller % than traditional publishers.

To take a look, go to HERE.
I hope to have a few short stories up there soon. Today I'm trying to finish off my first front-cover-art, patched together from some free images I found on the web! Not exactly Class-A work, but I'm learning to use Paint.Net, much more complex than the little Paint program that comes with Windows. Here's a quick preview of it. Don't laugh! You don't know how amazingly well it fits the story!




Tuesday, 24 April 2012

STOP THE TRAFFIK!


 This is an article I wrote for our local newspaper. Their paper that day was full up with other great things, so this never made it to the light of day. Here it is, just a few months old but still very much up-to-date.



It was a chilly Friday night at the Italian Centre in Thunder Bay, so the meatballs and spaghetti on the menu were very comforting. However, the guest speaker, Andy Matheson of Oasis, spoke on a very disturbing subject.

The dinner was presented by Nu-Vision Ministry of Canada and First Baptist Church, as part of a weekend entitled 'Til We All Have Voices: Poverty, Complicity and Advocacy in An Unjust World'.

Andy told me with a grin that he and his wife Joan had travelled from the UK to tell stories. Although he described human suffering, he did so cheerfully, focussing on the people helped by Oasis, the charitable trust of which he is International Director. His aim in coming was to get us to try on the shoes of the poor.

He described living in Mumbai, India, years ago and trying to help street kids. He and his wife were gripped by the wrongness of it all, and opened a business where street kids learned a trade while spending time with people who cared for them. The first step kids had to take was learning to trust an adult.

Andy stresses that poverty is not primarily an economic situation, but a breakdown of relationships and a lack of life choices. Most of us can obtain healthcare, job training and access to a law court. Among the poorest people are those traffiked into modern forms of slavery, who have none of these freedoms.

In a video he showed Indian staff of Oasis in Bangalore, rescuing girls in their early teens who had been sold, often by their own relatives, into the huge prostitution industry in Mumbai.

Bringing it much closer to home, he then exposed the ugly underbelly of the chocolate industry. A little under half of our chocolate comes from plantations in Ivory Coast, often tended by traffiked people. They are not free to leave, not paid, but are physically abused if they resist. Many are in their early teens and have been forced away from their family with false promises. Oasis has engaged with the management of the largest chocolate producers, and carried out awareness campaigns and lobbying. As a result, Mars and Cadbury have agreed to market Fairtrade chocolate brands. Nestlé is still discussing the idea. Hersheys has apparently not shown interest.

Andy showed how anyone can help to build a world where everyone is treated fairly. It includes advocating for the poor, and what we choose to buy, but it's much more about building relationships with those nearby who have fewer choices than us. As a Christian, Andy believes that every person is created in God's likeness and therefore has great worth. Find Andy's book, 'In His Image: Understanding and Embracing the Poor', at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats. Oasis contributes to the 'Stop The Traffik' campaign, and both have their own websites.

Monday, 26 March 2012

'The Calling' gets its own blog!

A couple of posts back, I mentioned a novel that I've written. I'm in the final stages of preparing it for publication, so I've launched its own blog called The Calling. You can find it from my profile and here's a direct link: THE CALLINGI'll keep it updated as the book makes progress towards getting printed.


Since I wrote the post on the story, I've added a couple of layers to it. To me it seemed like there was only one main character, so I upgraded one of the minor characters - a girl - so she got sucked into the action and teams up with Valin. They both have lessons to learn about themselves, and I've worked on sharpening that theme so that it comes through loud and clear.


In order to send the story to a publisher I've had to write a synopsis. This is what publishers like. If they haven't requested the whole book, then I send a query letter - to sell it to them - and, along with the first few chapters, a synopsis of the story. Imagine compressing 57,000 words into  one or two pages of double-spaced text, bringing out the main themes of the plot and the development of the main characters. And it has to be in a way that grabs the attention of a busy publisher who has maybe a dozen or more similar manuscripts to read that day. Why should he publish mine? What makes it special? If you've ever thought of writing a book for publication, it's a challenge. There should be many books in your local library to guide you through the necessary steps. Get in touch if you are a total beginner and would like some tips.


Now it's back to work for me...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Was that winter?

A quick update on Canadian winter for those of you living in another country (or in BC, where you mostly just get rain, right? ;-) ) It was certainly a mild one, but a good first winter as a family.

Highlights:
  • sledding, or sliding, whatever you call it, with some Saudi friends. They loved it! Said they're more used to sliding down sand dunes in 4x4s!
  • hot chocolate after cross-country skiing
  • saying 'It's warm today' when it's -10C or above... makes a change from -20.
  • getting lost while skiing on a frozen lake with my wife, coming back the 'scenic route'
  • snowball fights with our sons - this was their first white winter
  • snow shoveling - it's good exercise and about the only way I meet the neighbours!
  • skating along the river in Winnipeg (see first pic below)
  • day trips to camp. (second pic) Undisturbed snow and lots of animal tracks. Walking on the lake ice with international students and seeing them get nervous at the ice groaning
Lowlights:
Now we're getting into the big thaw already, and the streets are filling up with slush and melted snow;
meltwater from the roof drips onto the drive and freezes at night


Monday, 6 February 2012

Thought control, 'menvring', and a small alien named Zewip!

The above topics play a role in a story I've written for 8-12 year-olds. It's almost finished. So if you were wondering if I'd actually been hibernating for the past few months, now you know.

The story started off as a tale I could tell our two boys at bedtime. Gradually I realised there was too much action and suspense to relax them before sleep, but I've read them the first few chapters in the daytime. Now it's finished bar a bit of last-minute improvement and fine-tuning, and I am going to get it published (do you hear that note of quiet determination?). Do you have a child in that age bracket who'd like to read it now and give me some feedback before the end of February? I can send you the story as an attachment. Here's what could appear on the back cover:
THE CALLING OF VALIN DEROJAN: The galaxy is torn apart in a struggle between the outnumbered forces of freedom and the dark legions of death. It's not the first time that barbaric Thagul raiders have screamed down out of the sky of Elmarune and attacked the nomadic tribes who live along the desert's edge. But this time they take hostage the man who saved young Valin Derojan's life, and he is faced with a stark choice: take on the raiders single-handedly to save his friend, or live the rest of his life in shame. In the adrenaline-rush struggle that follows, he realises that the freedom fighters are calling him into this galaxy-wide conflict. Is he willing to lay his life on the line for his friend?

I found a few pics like this on the internet for private use when I read it to my boys.

The story idea started, I think, as I watched our eldest son gobbling up book after book in the series of young-adult Star Wars chapter books. Yes, whatever you might think about SW as science fiction, when talking about kids and SF you at some point have to deal with the elephant in the room, so let's get to it. I think the Star Wars big-picture story has a lot going for it in some ways, in that it deals with the father-son relationship and gives the main characters a quest, throwing them into a struggle between good and evil. Apparently George Lucas, the original creator of Star Wars, said that he added the Force as a way of dealing with 'God' in his invented universe. Here's a quote from a webpage by Terry Mattingly at http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/mattingly.html :
The trilogy's creator was well aware that his work invaded turf traditionally reserved for parents, priests and preachers. George Lucas wrote "Star Wars" shortly after the cultural revolution of the '60s. He sensed a spiritual void...
The impact of Lucas' work has led some researchers to speak in terms of a "Star Wars" generation. A modern preacher who wants to discuss self sacrifice will be understood by more people if he refers to the death of Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi, rather than that of St. Stephen. 
The major issue I have always felt with the Force is that it's impersonal; it's almost like magic. The Force gives the Jedi control over matter and makes them stronger; the Holy Spirit waits for us to submit to God's way and answers our prayers as He sees fit. As Christians we are given authority, but only within the parameters of God's loving, pure rule.

Fair enough - Star Wars is only a story. It's not meant to portray reality, but young people growing up in a spiritual void grasp hold of these things and feed on them. It's a very compelling story for children. There's an order of warriors who have to keep themselves from darkness in order to battle the evil around them. I can identify with that as a Christian. It's what motivates me to live and do what I do. But sorry, the Force of Star Wars is in many ways closer to Buddhism than the Gospel.

Okay, this has been discussed many times over since Luke Skywalker first watched the sunset as he stood on Tatooine's dusty soil in the '70s. Is there any chance for another story to come along into the arena of SF adventure? Once I'd written most of this new story I realised I'd come close to plagiarism in some ways, or at least to creating a story that might remind the reader of the universe of X-wings and Yoda and Tusken Raiders. But that's almost inevitable, with such an all-pervading 'empire' of audio-visual thrills, games and toys filling many kids' lives.

There's plenty in The Calling of Valin Derojan that's charting a different course from Star Wars while tackling similar themes. The idea of enlisting in the battle between right and wrong requires a dash of reality: it's made up of the little decisions we make, the sort of people we have decided to be. So, can Valin control his thoughts enough, and handle strong emotions? This comes into the big SW too, but The Calling handles it differently, I think. Rather than having to tune in to the Force within, Valin moves towards loyalty to a person. Rather than just stilling his thoughts or emptying his mind, he has to deal with issues that caused his conflicting thoughts and this will eventually mean he has to die to his self-centred ways.

And instead of having the apprentice hero emerging from a broken family background, I wanted to show how things could be - not a perfect family, but my Valin knows his father, admires him, and has grown up within a solid framework of honour and hard work. But he still faces some serious issues. There are enough stories showing how lives can go so very wrong... how about one showing how it should be?

Anyway, that's enough of that. Writing all this out has helped me think through what the story is aiming at, and I need to go and edit it some more. So if you have a child in the (roughly) 8-12 age range who likes spaceships and adventures on other planets, let me know.