Tuesday 24 July 2018

Background to the Cortii

First seen on the Space Trash Blog.

The Cortii are mercenaries. As we meet them in the Cortii series, they’re the descendants of a mercenary cult that has existed for more than eight millennia, since the pre-spaceflight era. As far as the humanoid population goes, the Cortii are deeply embedded in the popular consciousness.

'War, therefore, is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.' ~Carl von Clausewitz

The Cortii have been bodyguards, armies, spies, and assassins. They’ve toppled governments, supported rebellions and been hired to support – and prevent – some of the greatest crimes in humanoid history. They’re banned from active recruiting in Federated Planets Alliance space, the Nasdari government is wary of them, and the Atari ignore them unless or until popular opinion becomes vocal on the topic.

Beyond that, all the Cortiian fighters, the deriani, who are the only members of the force that the public has much to do with, have a mandatory minimum telepathic rating. Humanity as a species has a high percentage of members with some minimal extra-sensory talent, but that percentage is still a fraction of the general population, and there is widespread social distrust of those with some extra-sensory ability.

The majority of the humanoid governments embrace a peaceful ethos. FPA and Atari citizens, certainly in the central planets, see violence as anathema. However, at their borders, their armed forces are frequently engaged. Beyond that, information gathering, executive protection, and shipping security are still required, and the majority of central worlds citizens are unable to shake their early conditioning against violence. This means that the Cortii are, depending on cultural background and personal inclination, either a source of covert fascination, a menace to public security and personal privacy, or a necessary evil.

The Cortii are not the only mercenary force in space; there are a number, ranging from informal groups working highly localised missions to organisations that rival the Cortii in numbers, if not reach. Most of the other mercenary forces of note are drawn from frontier worlds and space outposts, and are by and large fully human, which the Cortii are not.

Every Cortiian, whether they meet the requirements to join the ranks of the deriani or not, is physically based on an artificially grown body. The historic intent was to have the Cortiian frontline force be based entirely on clone-type, replaceable fighters. However, despite several millennia of research, limitations on these artificially grown fighters remain. Most problematic from the point of view of the Cortii is a lack of ability to think beyond pre-defined strategy – or, to put it bluntly, they’re deficient in crazy.

The Councils of the magaii, the commanding elite of every Cortiian Base, therefore adapted the strategy. Rather than a fully artificial fighter, they use the artificially grown bodies to ensure that basic standards are met, but overlay those bodies with a partial genetic map and a personality and memory imprint from people showing a promising mix of attributes. Most of the time, the people from whom these imprints are taken are not aware it’s been done, and standard practice is to use children below the age of twelve, both because social conditioning has not yet been fully absorbed and because any stray memories of the process the donors may keep are more likely to be discounted. On rare occasions, the Cortii will accept adult volunteers, who are told that they will undergo genetic modification. However, the same technique is used on those adults, and the original bodies are disposed of.

The Cortii are additionally the only mercenary force also recognised as an independent government. Cortiians are not citizens of whichever spatial sector their Base happens to be sited in, and the Councils function entirely autonomously of local government. Attempts to bring Bases forcibly under the authority of the local government have historically never been met with success. Unsubstantiated rumour indicates that all Base Councils report to a central Council, but if this is the case, the secret of where this Council is housed is one of the best-kept in space.

The Cortii work on a set structure, which is the same on every Base. Each Base is commanded by an Inner Council, composed of five magaii, and an Outer Council of twenty-five. They are protected, and their orders are enforced, by a unit known as the akrushkari, whose numbers are variable but whose role is always the same. Directly beneath the Councils are unit commanders, or Cortiorai, each commanding a Cortia of twenty-four deriani. Cortii are further split into five sub-units known as Cantai, each under the orders of a Cantara, who reports directly to their Cortiora. Canta units can and do work independently of the rest of the Cortia for long periods of time, and solo assignments for individual deriani are not unknown. For those who don’t meet the required standards to join the deriani, Cortiian Bases require specialists in everything from inorganic chemistry to psychology to information infrastructure. These specialists rarely leave their home Bases; however, Cortiian citizenship is irrevocable, and deserters are hunted down until death can be proved beyond all doubt. There is no way to resign from the Cortii.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Websites 101

First seen on the Space Trash Blog.

Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you've accessed a website. They're almost impossible to avoid. If you're an indie anything, in my case author, having one of your own is almost a requirement if you expect to channel readers to your work without relying on the altruism (sorry, bug in my throat) of Facebook or Amazon.
  • The good: You can build a website without having a clue about what happens behind the pretty pictures and clicky things that take you to more shiny, interesting places.
  • The bad: Ignorance, say of something like the lovely new European data privacy laws (GDPR), is not a defence.
  • The ugly: If you don't know what's going on with your own site, you can't fix it when it goes wrong.
Website building is one of the instances where more knowledge can mean saving money. For example, my two domains hosted with Jollyleaf, plus basic SSL and all the webmail addresses I can eat, costs me $3.99 US / month (2018). The equivalent plan from Wix would set me back $10 to $14 per month, and that doesn't discuss email.

So here's the basics that I found out that I wish I'd known when I started setting up my website.


The magic words - key things to know

...'please' and 'thank you'. Seriously, I thought I was kidding about growing up under the rock.

  • Domain name: You need one of these. An IP address is a string of confusing numbers and decimal points, and, like Vulcan planet names, no-one can remember that shit easily. A domain name is like a custom licence plate for your car - at the most basic level, it's a custom name that humans can remember, linked in a database to the actual IP address where your website can be found.Pro tip - make it easy to remember, and make it logical. I'm an author writing as J C Steel, and my domain is jcsteelauthor.com. Simple, right?
  • Domain registration: This is how your domain name gets linked to your IP address. Generally, your hosting provider (keep reading, grasshopper) will handle this part for you, acting as a domain name registrar. ICANN is the Men In Black-style organisation behind domain name registration that you may want to read up on if you want to know more.
  • Web hosting provider: You need one of these, too. They're the people who rent you a certain amount of space on a physical server to actually store the images and information that make up your website. I use Jollyleaf, but I recommend that you do some pricing and feature comparisons online (PCMag often has handy 'top ten' lists), and figure out what you need and how much you're willing to pay for it.
  • Website creation tool, aka website builder: Unless you're a whizz with HTML (in which case, why the hell are you here??), you're going to need one of these, too. Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, Wix, Weebly - again, I recommend going and doing some hunting and figuring out your ideal features-to-competency comfort level.
  • Internet connectivity: ...yeah, if you're reading this, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you know about this one. You need it to build your masterpiece and access other peoples'.
If you have all of the above, you're ready to get started with your new website. If you're only in need of one site, and you aren't building a newsletter, doing any direct selling, and really just want an online presence you can put on your business card, you can go from there.
If you want to delve into the arcane and macabre, keep reading.

The arcane and macabre for websites 101 and beyond

  • CMS: it stands for content management system, and it governs, usually via a template (see 'theme'), how your website looks and behaves. WordPress will try and jam their favourite themes down your craw - don't feel obliged, there's a multitude to choose from out there. I use Divi, which lets me do (almost) anything I want, and leaves me swearing helplessly the rest of the time.
  • HTML: Yeah, unless you know exactly what you're doing and have hours to spend debugging lines, this is the 'oh-ha-ha-no' difficulty level. HTML is one of the basic programming languages underlying much of what you see online. Unless you happen to be an HTML expert, trying to code your own site from scratch will leave you with one of those lovely yellow text on deep blue background sites that screams 'someone tried to party like it was 1999'. More detail on HTML versus CMS can be found here.
  • Child Theme: Don't try to create one of these without backing up your site first. Really. A child theme will batten off your principal theme, and update with it, but maintain your custom elements (a custom copyright footer notice is a common use-case) through each update.
  • Custom email address: Not a must-have, but a nice way to brand your business communication. A lot of people will rely on Outlook 365 for this - personally I don't recommend it, it's expensive as hell and you can't download emails from there to storage or elsewhere in bulk. A lot of hosting providers will offer webmail on the side, and often for free. It's worth checking out, because it will save you money that you can then throw at something else, and you can still have your branded email address.
  • SEO: SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and at the simplest level, it's key words - the terms people are likely to type into a search bar to find you, your website, or your work. You want to make sure that when a search engine crawls your page, the key things you want to appear high in search results for are basically sending up flares and generally making themselves obvious. As I'm shite making progress on my learning curve with SEO, I'm going to suggest you type 'SEO' into a search engine and learn from people who actually know what they're talking about.
  • phpMyAdmin: Up top, I mentioned web hosting in terms of someone renting you space on a server for the files that actually make up your site. phpMyAdmin is one of the common database frontends (see also SQL) that stores and organises those files so that you can access the files when you need to. The function of the database itself is the internal referencing of your files so that when you click 'contact', you get the contact form of your site, and not a page advertising mail-order brides.
  • SSL: Means Secure Socket Layer, and short-form it's security that lets people clicking on your site have reasonable certainty that it's you. It's part of what governs the 's' in 'https', and the behaviour of that padlock symbol at the beginning of the website address. An SSL certificate is nice-to-have on a basic site like a blog, and becomes a must-have if you're planning something like direct sales, where you're handling financial information.
  • Add on domain: Now we're getting kinky. Basically, a domain works very much like a folder structure (you've set these up on your computer, or in your email client, yes?). For example, your root domain (dear Aussies and Kiwis, please don't get too excited here) would be your 'Documents' folder, and then when you open up 'Documents' you'll have 'Letters', 'Legal', 'Renos', which would be sub- or add-on domains depending on set-up. An add on domain can be accessed completely separately from the root domain from the perspective of the end-user. I have a root domain, accessed with jcsteelauthor.com, and an add on domain, byriteofword.com, both of which have a separate file structure and are accessed separately by users. Courtesy of Bluehost: An add on domain is a domain name which points to its own folder within public_html and appears as a separate website.
  • Site back-ups: I really recommend doing these. Your hosting provider may do them automatically, but 'doing' and 'giving easy access to' are two entirely different animals. I use Updraft Plus for my WordPress sites - it gives me complete control over how often I back-up, where the back-ups are stored, and best of all, hassle-free file re-install as soon as I install the plugin. Oh, and the basic version is free.
  • Images: I use Pixabay, Pexels, and UnSplash for free images (donations optional). It's not a good idea to simply nick shit from Google Images - it may be tempting, but first, you're very likely trampling someone else's copyright, and also the images are likely to be crappy resolution, which will make you look like an amateur. If you don't mind shelling out some cash, Shutterstock and 123rf have a wide range.of images.

That's all, folks

Well, no, of course it isn't. But if you've read this, and looked at a few of the linked articles, you should have at least a basic understanding of what you need and why in your website, and where you can go to learn more. Depending on your hosting provider, you may be able to drag and drop elements - Wix is good for this - or you may need to know everything from how to set up an add on domain to setting a POP3 email account.

In general, I support knowing what you're doing. It reduces the chances of you getting screwed on price, and it helps you understand what you can do, what you can't do, and what you really shouldn't do without making a full back-up first.

Happy webbing.

Friday 20 July 2018

Spatial politics and the Cortii

First seen on the Space Trash Blog.

...because you really can't call it geo-politics when it concerns a sizeable chunk of the galaxy.

Setting borders

Borders in space are tricky bastards, because you're defining a volume rather than an area. Setting borders in space is the art of picking your battles wisely, and the Cortii have been making a very healthy income from variations on that theme for a number of millennia.

To define the problem a little more precisely, habitable worlds are light years apart. In multiple directions. Add to that the fact that the deepspace drive used by most of the species in what we're going to loosely term 'civilised space' essentially bypasses normal space and goes from Point A to Point B, and 'border' becomes an increasingly stupid proposition.

It's all about location

It's possible to track a ship while it's in realspace, via any beacon or station or satellite close enough to get a ping off it. It's possible to eyeball the thing by actually physically getting it in scanner crosshairs. Locating a ship in deepspace has long been the wet dream of various militaries, and so far no one's reliably managed it.

This means that while spatial governments will map by sector (volume), the real power lies in the inhabited systems. No one in their right minds is going to take a deepspace jaunt to nothing, so logically, they'll pop out somewhere. When they do, they'll show up on a locator grid - as something. Just because the Ore Scavengerdropped into deepspace by Sector 14 Outstation doesn't mean you won't get the Peace of the Starsarriving in Core-Galax orbit. Juggling IDs is a favourite sport of any pilot who prefers to keep their business their business, and the more generic the hull and load-out, the better it works, because as long as the various militaries are foiled in their aim to track a ship through a deepspace jump, the more they focus on making a positive ID at Point A and Point B.

Snags with spatial exploration

Humanoid expansion began from what is now known as Central Worlds. There are four worlds that claim the honour of being the original human homeworld, and while it's pretty obvious which one actually is, sharing the honour - and the expenses - has historically been the way to go. The four worlds in question are spread across three systems, all within ten to twenty light years of each other. They were all human-settled before the first deepspace colonisation wave, they're all rocky planets more or less in the habitable zone, and if one or more of them was terraformed, it was successful enough, and long enough ago, that ruling it out of contention for the honour of being a homeworld would be tricky to prove. Also, not really in anyone's best interests.

Once deepspace drive got off someone's to-do list and into actual use, there were a series of colonisation waves. Given astronomical distances, untried tech, and an excess of optimism, most of the first Colonial Fleet vanished into the silence between stars and was never heard of again. Every so often, someone either terminally lost or scouting frontier worlds comes across a drifting wreck, a primitive humanoid settlement with no logical connection to the rest of the planet's biosphere, or a sizeable crater somewhere with odd trace elements welded into it.

Secession and profit

The Second Colonial Expansion was a bit more modest, a lot better controlled, and formed the basis of society as it is today. From Central Worlds, scoutships were sent to most of the nearby systems, looking for habitable planets, planets that could be terraformed, or systems that were completely uninhabitable but which had enough resources to make an artificial habitat worthwhile.

Because the kinds of people willing to head out into the void and try to start some kind of settlement generally have a strong independent streak, Central Worlds stopped getting much more than lip service from a number of their further colonies no more than a few generations to a few centuries later. Their desire to do something about this led to one of the earliest interstellar deployments of Cortiian forces on record, often on every side in the conflict.

When the dust settled into a stable orbit, Central Worlds and about fifteen systems formed the Federated Planets Alliance (at that point, pretty much a cake-slice-shaped sector of space with Central Worlds at the narrow end). The Atari Sector had hung onto a deep arc of territory fanning out and down from that narrow end, and the Hejjin'in Empire had claimed a chain of systems from Central Worlds that was more a crooked line heading out at at oblique angle to Galactic core than an actual sector.

Cortiian expansion

Since exploring brave new worlds is a chancy business even when people aren't trying to shoot your ass off, all three of the governments periodically hired Cortiian units aboard to do their dirty work. Above and beyond those contracts, the Cortii had a workable fleet, and turned the fees they made into more ships. During this period, they gained their first footholds in the various sectors, in exchange for services, or, not uncommonly, because they settled somewhere and proved far too expensive to dislodge.

Latecomers and interspecies alliances

The Nasdar Quadrant split off the Hejjin'in Empire about fifteen hundred years after the original split; in short, a do-over of the initial Sector War. The military was heavily concentrated in the outer borders of the Hejjin'in territory, and when they hit critical mass of younger offspring sent to cool their heels in the outer systems, the military seceded from the Empire - very successfully.

The Kendazi Union is an even more recent addition to the humanoid governments. It's also the government with the strongest interspecies links, since it was an non-human species that negotiated a deal with the Atari to exchange workers able to tolerate conditions and extract resources in various systems Corewards for tech and rights to the planets.

Until the Kendazi alliance, relations with the various non-human species was patchy at best. The Atari and the Cortii historically had the best luck with establishing relationships, and this was more or less because both have a high incidence of the various Abilities in their populations. Cortiians have a mandatory telepathic minimum for anyone serving in an active unit, and the Atari, culturally, are the most receptive towards Abilities, Ability research, and training.

Very much in brief, communication is highly reliant on perception. Molecular structure may be universal, but how it's perceived and described turned out not to be, and early attempts at communication started a number of rifts. In some instances, mental contact turned out to be equally fatal, but usually only to the participants. By and large, the success rate was notably higher, something which eventually lead to the formation of the cumbersomely-named Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation, where species is optional provided you have the Ability range in some Ability or other to deal with contact with other species without stroking out.

In short, ambition, aliens, expansion, and politics, oh my.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

A Book Geek

First seen on the Space Trash Blog.

Just what exactly would a book geek do, if one won the lottery?

Honestly, I might well start a bookstore. Except it would be an awesome bookstore. There would be a new section, a used book section, and there would be classes somewhere in book-binding, old-style press printing, and even manuscript illumination if I could find someone able to teach it. Papyrus-making. The works.

The bookstore part would look like a Hogwarts set, and there'd be tourist attractions like 'Print your own "WANTED" poster!' going on to lure people in and get them to buy books, read books, and play with books. There would be absolutely effing zero kitschy cushion displays and God-awful scented candles that smell of the wide-open chemical vats.

...I realised at this point in my daydream that I was probably a book geek. Possibly even a book junkie. Don't judge me.

I got hooked very young. I remember reading those truly terrible 'Learn to read' books from Ladybird - 'Peter and Jane saw a BUTTERFLY!!' is permanently scarred into my long-term memory from those - before my third birthday. I'd graduated to Barbar the Elephant and Wind in the Willows before age four, and George MacDonald Fraser and J.R.R. Tolkien by seven (explains a lot, if you think about it...).

Not completely illogically, one of my few fond memories of boarding school was the library. First, it was generally avoided and abhorred by the cool kids, and as a bonus, it was full of books. It was also in the oldest part of the school, and had been put together sometime in the 1800s. Some of the books dated from then as well. Before anyone asks, if there were ghosts I never saw them.

To keep the books that weren't actually antique, but were falling apart, in shape, a book binder would come in every so often, and open up a room which was normally locked. In there was all the paraphernalia needed to stitch and bind books, and if you showed a capacity to sit still and not break things, he would teach you book binding. Beyond the lure of being something to do with books that I hadn't known existed, book-binding also wasn't one of the school-approved 'hobbies' we had to spend 90 minutes doing on Saturday afternoons, like silk-painting, or photography. While it didn't get me out of those, it did interest me much more.

Shortly after I met the book binder (dayum, there should be a horror story in that line), I started surreptitiously writing. Very surreptitiously, in the back of classrooms as the balled-up bits of paper and flying elastic bands of an orderly academic environment ricocheted around me, and under my covers by torchlight after lights-out.

These days, I publish my books electronically, and most of my readers buy them electronically, but I've never quite lost that fascination with seeing a heap of pages turn into orderly sheaves, get stitched together, and gradually get turned into a book.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Weapons in the Cortii

 First seen on the Space Trash Blog.

So, what constitutes weapons in the Cortii?

Personal loadout, for some reasons I hope will be obvious, isn't usually made public. No one who survives Cortiian basic training underestimates the value of surprise in a fight. However, there are some standard items. Uniform regulations dictate a hand laser and a stunner on the belt; every Cortiian in an active unit will carry them, in addition to anything else.

A laser is a distance weapon 

The regulation-issue hand laser is a Cortiian model, and the grip doubles as a basic ID system; no one who isn't Cortiian can take the weapon and use it. That safety feature isn't a lot of use on a Cortiian Base, but off one, it's worth having. The weapon weighs about 500 grams, most of which is the power pack housed in the grip. The power pack is good for thirty single shots under normal conditions, and can be recharged from heat, which is convenient for a belt weapon.

It can be used as a cutting tool, but only gives about five seconds' worth; enough for a field amputation or to make basic door security seriously unhappy. It's fairly short-range (shooting anything much further away than ten metres with it will lose you power and accuracy). For anything between zero and five metres, and not wearing a personal shield, it's accurate and lethal. Current models, and anything issued in the last couple of decades, are shaped to be fired via a stud at the top of the grip that you depress with the thumb.

You can't stun with a laser

Contrary to popular belief, you can't recalibrate a coherent beam of light to stun. For occasions where prisoners are needed, deriani also carry a stunner. Again, the most common models are Cortiian-issue, and the exact specifications aren't available, but effectively, they use sonics as a short-term, short-range knockout.

The Cortiian models are more powerful than similar weapons in human space, mostly because Cortiians are both tricky and hard to put down. Turned on a standard human type, a Cortiian stunner will cause unconsciousness on the close range of an hour, and leave the target disoriented for some time after that. It will also quite possibly cause nerve damage, and it will almost certainly do damage to the bones of the ear. Turned against a Cortiian, half an hour's unconsciousness is about the best you can hope for, and an indirect shot or long distance will be result in less. The closer you are to your target when you set it off, the more likely it is to result in disorientation. Five metres is about the stunner's best effective range; slightly less in thin atmosphere, slightly more in denser environments.

Up close and personal

Because lasers can be disrupted by any of a range of personal shielding devices, most Cortiians also carry edged weapons.

Fighting knives of various designs are common, as are throwing knives. Longer blades are used, but less commonly, as they become increasingly hard to hide. Most deriani lean towards a dull finish, and dark alloys on their blades. By far the most common preference is for double-edged blades, but beyond that there are a number of options. A personal shield will not stop a blade; they move too slowly and the approach is wrong. You can expect any Cortiian to be a proficient knife-fighter; the majority will also be good with longer blades. The Cortii are fairly equally divided on the topic of custom blades; the main argument for is that they're harder for someone else to turn against you, and the main argument against is that if you become too used to fighting with a custom design, you become less accustomed to using a knife you can take from anyone else or a standard dispenser.

Some deriani also carry blunt weapons; mostly these tend to be pocket-sized, as, again, a full-length staff tends to be noticed. As staves of various sizes are both common and easy to fabricate, however, expect most Cortiians to be able to use a staff weapon. On a Base, the most common variants tend to be worn across the knuckles, or a weighted or telescoping cosh of some kind. Variations on two heavy weights with a thin filament connecting them are also common; if the weights aren't getting the job done, there's always the chance of garroting your opponent.


Every Cortiian will be proficient in empty-hand fighting. In this area, variation is key, and the more obscure the fighting style, the more likely you are to be able to come at an opponent in a way they don't expect and will have to invent wildly to counter. If there can be said to be a common hobby in the Cortii, hand-to-hand is probably it. It will be practised daily as part of any deriani exercise routine, and most people will have at least two styles that they're expert in, as well as a basic understanding of as many others as they can. It's one of the areas where real-world experience is invaluable, because a holosuit can only throw up combinations that already exist in its programming.

There are no rules 

The Councils have no interest in intervening in casual violence. The Councils will step in only if the situation looks likely to cause expensive damage; anything else simply saves them the trouble of weeding out the unmotivated, the unintelligent, and the unskilled.

Sunday 3 June 2018

Help, I'm a pantser

...in the beginning, there was a thought.

And the thought would not go away.

And the thought took root and multiplied.

And people in meetings spake, and asked: what were you drawing in your notes?

And lo, you woke up in the night, and the thoughts bore fruit.

And the next day, you started writing and didn't stop for air.

Writing as a pantser is actually pretty much exactly like that. Especially when your characters happen to be elite mercenaries, with years of training in breaking down defences. Mine progress remarkably quickly from polite reminders that it's been a while since I wrote to sleep deprivation techniques.

But 75,000 words' worth?

Actually, yes, surprisingly easily. Most of my manuscripts, after all the various levels of edit have been applied, work out to 85 - 100K words. I have no idea how someone can sit down, figure out exactly what is going to happen in a book...and then write a full manuscript despite that. I write books because I want to find out what happens, and the only way I can do that is to start writing. Well, that, and it's the only reliable way to make the voices in my head shut up.

A lot of people figure that pantsers don't plan and outline because they're either lazy, and will never finish a book, or because they're inherently disorganised and their books will be chaotic.

Would it perhaps surprise you to know that J. R. R. Tolkien was a pantser?

I think it's highly appropriate, therefore, that a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien pretty much describes how I feel about writing: Bilbo's walking song.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

But, as a pantser, how do you keep track?

Oh, I have some notes. But when I say 'some notes' I mean about a page and half of Times New 12pt, for things that keep showing up but I can't be bothered to devote brain-space to - Khyria's ID code is one of those things. Much easier to pull up a notes file, and copy and paste the darn thing. Then I don't drop consistency errors all over my readers, and I don't have to re-read my entire series again to track down one elusive reference.

Fine. I don't have to re-read my entire series often to track down one elusive reference. Happy?

Being a pantser does have one massive drawback. I hate SEO. I loathe it. If you want to write truly effective posts for SEO, or even something like a bio, you have to plan it. you have to have a list of keywords, and you have to have a system for getting them all in there without keyword stuffing.

I've compromised. That compromise is that I will never be great at SEO, but I will continue to enjoy writing.

Sunday 15 April 2018

Books and authors

First seen on the Space Trash blog.

...lying on my back on the library floor, staring blankly up at my bookshelves, I realised two things.

First: it's not hoarding if it's books; second, that I have a lot of series by female authors. Given all the unmitigated crap that occasionally hits the airwaves about 'women ruining science-fiction', and given the amount of sci-fi I read, it took me rather by surprise. I didn't, in fact, set out to collect books written by women authors. Actually, if I'm completely honest, unless I'm looking for some more of someone's work that I've already enjoyed, the author's name tends to be about the last thing about a book that I look at.

Generally, if someone's unwary enough to let me off my chain in a bookshop, my method of picking out books (yes, it's never 'a' book, kindly don't blaspheme) is to wander along the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, picking up random books that look interesting and reading the first few pages.

I like that first few pages, I buy the book - simple. If I like the rest of the book, when I've got it home and devoured it, then I'll take notice of the author - so that I can go and see what else they've written, and hang out in their metaphorical garden hedges watching to see when the next book may come out. Yes, I author-stalk. (Rabia Gale, I'm looking at you. W. Clark Boutwell, you too.)
From my unexpected vantage point on the floor (I was trying to clean - don't judge), for the first time in my life, I counted fingers and realised that, having used that method of book selection most of my life, I really do have a lot of books by women authors. C J Cherryh, Lilith Saintcrow, Anne MCaffrey, Dorothy Dunnett, Patricia Briggs, Rob Thurman, Michelle Sagara, Ann Aguirre, Laura Anne Gilman...I could keep going. I was almost relieved to come across half a shelf of Jack Campbell, a complete shelf and a half of Terry Pratchett (all hail to Sir Terry), a clump of Jack Higgins, the full Wheel of Time series, some Jim Butcher, a bit of Simon Green, and...yeah, I read a lot.

Basically, I like good writing, by which I mean a writing style that doesn't make me roll my eyes on page one, characters that aren't two-dimensional, and a plot that actually, well, has a plot. I don't select my books based on the shape of the author's genitalia.

Something that pisses me off no end is the sheer number of individuals (insert epithets of choice here, I'm a dirty-word intellectual trying hard to keep my blog mostly PG) going around claiming that 'men can't write fantasy' or 'women can't write science-fiction'. I call bullshit. J R R Tolkien, for example. C S Lewis. C J Cherryh, Octavia E Butler, Anne McCaffrey. I suffer violent urges when I read that J K Rowling is J K because someone told her that she'd sell fewer books as Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

I think at heart I feel that the only criteria that a book should be judged by is the quality of the writing. A good cover and a good blurb may well help to attract the reader's attention, but ultimately, you can have the best cover in the world, and unless that excerpt makes me want to read more, you're going back on the shelf.