Friday, May 27, 2016

Special Forces and the threat of technological disruption

War on the Rocks asks whether emerging technologies threaten the mission of Special Forces.

What happens when the capabilities that we give to special operators can instead be deployed by amateurs? How will the special operations community respond?

. . .

To complete its missions in an increasingly chaotic world, U.S. special operations forces (SOF) must learn to rapidly adopt technologies that may only be months old. Just as machine intelligence transformed the professional chess circuit — today’s top chess teams are human-machine hybrids — so too must SOF evolve and drive emerging capabilities more deeply into its operational elements.

Fortunately for those involved in planning, training, and executing sensitive and special operations, no nuanced actor has yet synthesized all of these new tools into a precise instrument. But there are signs of experimentation by America’s potential adversaries, most notably in the special operations campaign run by the Russian government during its annexation of Ukraine.

. . .

For years we’ve been seeing an exponential increase in computer and communication capabilities. Exponential growth looks linear until it hits an inflection point. Are we there? Perhaps. The iPad 2, released in 2011, was more powerful than the 1985 Cray-2 Supercomputer, which cost $35 million in today’s dollars.

This comparison illustrates the commoditization of so-called “national technical means.” What was once the sole provenance of nation states can now be purchased at the corner store, and the downward price pressure on these capabilities is not limited to the digital spectrum. Unmanned aerial vehicles with cutting-edge optics, built and used by nation states for over half a century, are now available for the cost of a meal at a modest restaurant.

Combining sensors, actuators, transducers, and other analog and digital components hereto unknown provide a potential generational leap in asymmetric capability by non-state actors and non-elite units of potential competitor nations. How can we continue to man, train, and equip the best special operations forces in the world when the same capabilities they employ, which cost us billions of dollars to acquire and train up, are available to a weekend hobbyist for a few hundred dollars?

There's much more at the link.  Thought-provoking reading.

I suggest one place to start would be with Israel.  It's a highly technological society, reflected in the training and equipment of its defense forces.  It's facing terrorist opponents who are doing precisely as the above article postulates;  using over-the-counter technology to aid their operations.  Hezbollah has already deployed unmanned aerial vehicles operationally, and operates a drone base in Lebanon.  It's also intercepted radio transmissions from Israeli drones and used that intelligence operationally.  (The same was done more recently, in more sophisticated fashion, by US and British intelligence.)

Israel can probably teach us a lot about how to counter such dual-purpose technology.  I agree with the article's premise;  such technological overlap is going to make the life of our Special Forces troops - not to mention conventional forces - a lot more tricky.


Rest in peace, Sir. Mission accomplished.

I don't mind admitting that this report brought a tear to my eye.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector ... served ... with the 96th Bomb Group in 1945 as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, flying eight combat missions over Germany during the spring of the war's final year. On four of these missions, his plane came under heavy fire. One almost proved catastrophic, and the plane returned to base with holes dotting its wings.

. . .

On May 6, Rector stepped foot on British soil for the first time in 71 years. The group first visited RAF Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon.

Rector toured Battle of Britain Bunker, an underground command center where fighter airplane operations were directed during D-Day. After climbing back into the sunlight, he told Jowers he felt dizzy. She grabbed one of his arms, and a stranger grabbed the other.

There, just outside the bunker where Winston Churchill famously said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," Rector died quietly.

"He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done," Jowers said.

. . .

Before repatriating his remains to the United States, a small service for the fallen hero was planned in Britain. It did not remain a small service.

"They just wanted something very simple. And when I found a little bit of background out about Melvin, there was no way we were going to just give him a very simple service," Neil Sherry, the British funeral director in charge of Rector's service, told ITV London News. "I wanted it to be as special as possible."

Though Jowers expected no more than four people, word of Rector's war record reached the American and British Armed Forces. The American Embassy donated a flag to drape over his coffin, and the room filled with servicemen and women and London historians who had never met Rector but wanted to pay their respects to their spiritual brother in arms.

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend clicking over there and reading it in full.

Here's a British news report on MSgt. Rector's funeral.

May MSgt. Rector rest in the peace he earned the hard way.



Here's your timewaster for this morning.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

Someone took an awful lot of time and energy to put that together.  Well done, sir or ma'am!


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ammunition, and the storage thereof

I've been having a couple of interesting days sorting through my ammo stash, re-inventorying and re-packing everything so I know where I stand.  I've been astonished by how much I've accumulated in certain calibers and cartridges, particularly the ones I used to use to train disabled and handicapped shooters.  I won't have to buy ammo in those calibers for a few years, I should think.  Still, it's nice to have a decent-size reserve on hand, particularly if another 'ammo panic' follows the Presidential elections later this year.

I have to give a shout-out to a couple of suppliers (and no, they're not offering me any inducement, incentive or payment to mention them).  I needed more .30-caliber ammo cans, which I find very useful for storing smaller quantities of quality ammo, as well as practice ammo in bulk (putting the latter in .50-caliber cans can make them very heavy indeed - too much so for my fused spine's load limit).  After much shopping around the Internet and in local stores, I found the best current value for money came from in Ohio.  They offered brand-new .30-caliber metal cans for only $8.99 apiece.  Including shipping to Texas, they worked out to $13.51 each, which is only a couple of dollars more than the price of used, rusty and battered ammo cans at a local store.  I was happy to pay the difference to get factory-new production cans.  They arrived today, and are exactly as described - brand-new and unused, in perfect condition, and well packed against damage in transit.  I'll be buying from again.

When it comes to storing ammunition in bulk in ammo cans (i.e. not in the original boxes), I've found the anti-corrosion bags from ZCORR to be very useful indeed.  I bought 10 more of their .30-caliber ammo can liners this week, and have already filled more than half of them.  Each, inserted in the can empty, then filled, will hold 1,000 rounds of 9mm. ammo, or 750 rounds of .40 S&W, or comparable quantities of other calibers and cartridges, depending on size.  I also toss in a few silica gel desiccant bags. They seal water- and air-tight, so even if the seal on your ammo can is old and worn, its contents will still be protected.  They're very useful, and I highly recommend them from my own experience.

There are conflicting approaches to the conditions under which ammo should be stored.  Some (including myself) prefer to keep it in climate-controlled conditions, so that it doesn't get too hot, too cold or too humid/damp/moist/whatever.  Others argue this isn't necessary unless you're planning to keep it in stock for years, even decades, because quality ammo should be able to take normal summer and winter temperatures for a decade or more without degrading.  They point to military ammo storage in containers, in the middle of desert heat in Iraq and Afghanistan, as proof of that.  I'm not so sure.  I've known ammo to 'go bad' in very hot conditions during my previous military service.  Furthermore, degraded propellant can produce dangerously high or low pressures (high in that it can burst the breech;  low in that it can lodge a bullet in the barrel, a so-called 'squib load', which makes the next round you fire . . . interesting.)  I guess, if you plan to use it within five years, it probably doesn't matter much;  but I'll continue to store mine in the house, rather than in the heat/cold/whatever of the garage.  I just feel safer that way.

I'd dearly love to know, however, why I've ended up with odds and ends of ammo.  How did I come to have 37 rounds of 7.62x54R - a cartridge I haven't shot in years, and for which I don't currently have a rifle in my collection?  (Time to get one, maybe?  Ducks hurriedly to avoid swat from wife.)  And why 79 rounds of 8mm. Mauser, when I sold my rifle in that caliber even before my 2004 injury?  As for the half-box of 7mm. Remington Magnum, I've never owned a firearm chambered for it!  How on earth did it get into my stash?  Oh, well . . . I guess friends who shoot those cartridges and calibers are about to get lucky.


When cellphones become more irritating than helpful

Miss D. and I have just 'upgraded' our cellphones.  I say 'upgraded' in quotes, because it's not really a technological upgrade.  Our new units are a lot cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy 3 and Note 2 that we respectively replaced, and their performance is probably on a par with our earlier units.  However, we simply don't need all the bells, whistles and fancy features of the current-generation (and much more expensive) Galaxy 7 or its equivalents, so when Miss D.'s phone began to show signs of wearing out, we bought much cheaper replacements through the upgrade program.  Our two phones together cost less than half as much as a single Galaxy 7, which is much more to our budgetary taste.

I've got to give credit to Verizon:  the upgrade process (online) was about as painless as it could be.  We backed up all our data, called the support number, had the old phones 'disconnected' and the new ones 'connected' to our accounts (in a wireless sort of way), and were up and running within half an hour.  However, that's where the fun started.  Our new phones are from different manufacturers to our old ones, and their setup software and implementation of Android are different.  It took a while of poking and fiddling to figure out how to configure them to our liking.

One of the most frustrating things was that changes were hidden under innocuous settings that bore no outward relation to what the phones were doing.  For example, Miss D.'s phone would announce loudly, "Verizon Wireless" before receiving or dialing a call.  We couldn't figure out for love or money why it was doing that, and it rapidly got on our nerves.  Miss D. confessed she was on the point of throwing the phone into our town's water reservoir and switching service providers entirely, she was so frustrated by it.  I had similar issues configuring a couple of features where I knew precisely what I wanted, but couldn't get the phone and/or its apps to provide it to me.  Frustrating indeed!

This also exposed an issue with Verizon customer support centers.  Some are run by the company, with no excess charges or overhead.  Others, however, are franchises, charging far more for the same phones than Verizon itself, and "making up" for the difference in price by (loudly) claiming to offer "superior customer service" as a justification.  I found that argument unconvincing, to say the least.  After one such franchise unabashedly tried to get me to pay three times more for my new phone than Verizon itself wanted to charge me, I rapidly began to lose faith in its objectivity - and that's putting it mildly!

Fortunately, in the 'big city' nearby we found a Verizon-owned and -run customer support center.  The staff there were very helpful, and although the nice young lady assisting us was initially as puzzled as we were by the loud announcement of the carrier by Miss D.'s phone, she plugged her way through menus and settings to find the culprit.  It seems, on that particular make and model of phone, a setting will make it announce the identity of the cellphone service provider it's using before each call, incoming or outgoing.  Apparently this is so you always know whether you're using the 'home network', or roaming and using a different provider.  We found that an intensely irritating feature - as Miss D. observed bitterly, some software engineer deserves to be hit upside the head with a clue-by-four for not realizing how irritating it would be, "and his manager too, for approving such a dumb idea!"

At any rate, with that setting disabled, the phone is now blessedly silent about such matters.  My few problems have also been sorted out, and our new phones are serving us as efficiently as we hoped they would.  Kudos to Verizon for having some smart and helpful people staffing its support centers.

Aah, technology . . .


A naval terrorism threat?

I wonder why we haven't seen more coverage of this story in the mainstream media?

At least five officers of the Pakistan Navy received death sentences in a secret military trial for allegedly trying to hijack a Pakistan Navy vessel to attack a U.S. Navy refueling ship, Daily Pakistan reports.

The officers were convicted of planning and orchestrating the September 6, 2014, attack on the Karachi Naval Dockyard located at Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast. The attack was thwarted by Pakistani military personnel with purportedly two attackers killed and four arrested alive (some sources cite 10 killed, including four rogue naval officers).

The attackers allegedly attempted to hijack the F-22P Zulfiquar-class frigate Zulfiqar, the lead ship of its class, with the intention of using the ship’s missiles to attack a U.S. Navy refuel vessel in the Arabian Sea (other sources claim that the target was a U.S. aircraft carrier).

There's more at the link.

The Chinese-built frigate is armed with eight C-802 anti-ship missiles, among other weapons - the same missile used by Hezbollah to attack the Israeli corvette Hanit in 2006.  Eight C-802's probably wouldn't sink a 100,000-ton aircraft carrier, but they'd almost certainly cause enough damage to put it out of action for a long time.  If they were targeted on a replenishment tanker, they might well sink it, particularly if its cargo of oil fuel and other supplies (possibly including munitions) was ignited.

I'm not sure that we've heard the whole story about this attempt.  Five officers, most of them junior, would not have been able to take over and operate a modern frigate without assistance.  What about the rest of the crew?  Did the conspirators have an entire jihadist crew trained and ready to take over?  If so, what happened to them?  If not, how did they propose to succeed?  The unanswered questions are, if possible, even more interesting - and alarming - than the guilty verdict.

I wonder whether we'll ever find out the whole truth of this affair?  I suspect the powers that be would really rather we didn't, on the basis that what we don't know can't be used against them . . .


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A few examples of writers' Web sites

A big "Thank you!" to everyone who responded to my request for input yesterday.  I'm considering how to proceed with the various options open to me.

So you can get an idea of what's out there, here's an interesting article discussing ten different writers and their Web sites, showing how the latter fit into their marketing activities, help them earn a living, and introduce new readers to their portfolio.  I wouldn't fit any of the ten in terms of my 'mix' of books, blog and interests, but they give a pretty broad picture of what can be done.  For example, what sort of writer would you think has a Web site like this?  (Click the image for a larger view.)

There are many more examples at the link.

I'm not sure how my Web site should look.  Should I go for the old-style English country gentleman's office, complete with overstuffed leather chairs, overflowing bookcases, and a dog by the fireside?  Or a Colonial look, with me pursuing a marauding elephant through the garden with a double rifle while Miss D. serves tea on the verandah, sweetly calling to me to leave the chase until I've had a scone with jam and cream?  Perhaps a Texan look ... barbed wire strung around my desk as I sweat over the keyboard, with a red-hot brand poised threateningly next to my imperiled posterior, held by a hand with a tattoo on the wrist reading, "Write faster, dammit - OR ELSE!!!"?


Is the progressive Left taking a leaf out of the Marine Corps' book?

That's the intriguing idea posited by Timothy Birdnow in this article.  Here's an excerpt.

A thought occurred to me the other day, which does actually happen to me now and then; the whole of modern culture, the political correctness, the way the left approaches the rest of us, is very much a kind of boot camp for communism. The purpose of military boot camp is to break down the individual, to wed him to the group, to get him to believe things and do things that are clearly irrational, and to get him to obey orders unquestioningly. In the military this serves a real purpose, because a soldier has to act in ways contrary to personal interest and security.

Here is a good explanation of the purpose of boot camp from a Marine drill instructor:

“You have to train 18-year-olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death.

This act defies all logic, goes against all human instinct, and takes one of the most intensive acts of psychological reprogramming to overcome.”

Which is precisely what the Progressive Left must do; convince the public to defy logic, to defy human instinct, to fundamentally reprogram the American citizen.

The article continues:

“Another thing that is important is that everything they do is for a purpose, a rehearsed, manufactured, and engineered purpose.

It is about something else entirely.


“The most important single thing to know about boot camp is that it is 100 percent designed to reprogram children and civilians into warriors. It places within them a sense that they are expected to do important things, far more important things than could be expected from other 18-year-olds. This is all happening during one of the most intensely stressful periods of your life, when you are kept isolated from contact with your family and friends and taught that everything you were before entering the Marines was weak and lacking any real value until you too are a Marine. Cults are made this way too. I’m just saying. But in all seriousness, the psychological transformation of boot camp is a very intense and intentional effort by the Marine Corps to make warriors able to fight and kill out of kids who have just barely left high school. From the point that you graduate boot camp, you will be different and have parts of the Marine Corps culture as part of your psyche.”

See where I’m going with this?  Everything the Progressives do has a purpose, and usually not the one that is stated by them. Gay marriage, for instance, or transgendered bathrooms, or Black Lives Matter uprisings, have little to do with fairness for homosexuals and everything to do with breaking down the dominant culture.

It recruits a certain number of children or young people and turns them into social justice warriors, telling them they are fighting for freedom and justice. Those who won’t joint the campaigns are seen as the enemy, and are forced into silence through shaming, through bullying, through acts of aggression. You are taught that everything you were was weak and pathetic, oppressive and, well, wrong or even evil. You have to change, to become one of them.

Some of the ways that this is done is through a series of extremely well planned and timed events that, by themselves, are meaningless, but when strategically combined together will change a person.

The idea is to change people. While some won’t go along, many others - particularly the youths - will embrace the change, become social justice warriors.

There's much more at the link.  Challenging and recommended reading.

I've long known how all-encompassing are the demands imposed by Communism, Marxism, socialism, or any other kind of far-left-wing 'ism' on their followers.  I saw it at first hand in Africa, where hard-left-ideology terrorists thought nothing of blowing up infants so long as they could kill an enemy soldier by doing so, or gutting the corpse of a babe in arms and using its body to smuggle weapons through police roadblocks.  (Think I'm exaggerating?  I'm not.  Those things really happened.)  That sort of ideology dehumanizes those professing it, and they proceed to dehumanize all the 'converts' to their cause.  It's the only way they can succeed, and they know it.

For myself, I hold to the teachings of Christianity.  Those teachings tell us that there will come a Judgment for all of us.  I wouldn't like to be in the shoes of those who did such things when that time comes . . .


Sadly, "attack dog" Cato is no more

One of my favorite characters from the classic Pink Panther movies, Cato, is no more.  Burt Kwouk, the actor who portrayed him, has died.  From his obituary:

As well as answering the telephone and dealing with the inspector’s daily needs, Cato’s chief role was to keep Clouseau vigilant by attacking him whenever he least expected it. Their encounters became a running joke throughout the Pink Panther series and the scenes involving their preposterous karate-style sparring – interspersed with loud screams – generally resulted in the destruction of Clouseau’s flat and Cato himself being knocked out, usually because of one of Clouseau’s underhand tricks.

. . .

Although Kwouk appeared in three James Bond films (including the spoof Casino Royale in 1967) and had a successful subsequent career on British television, his fondest professional memories were of his time in the Pink Panther films, and his friendship with Sellers endured until the actor’s death in 1980. “I learnt a lot from Peter,” he later recalled. “Particularly how to be 'second banana’ – by which I mean like a straight man to him.”

He was sanguine about Clouseau’s affectionate references to Cato as his “little yellow friend”. “They can call me anything they like,” he once said, “as long as I get paid and my name is spelt correctly.”

. . .

In 1964, having appeared as a baddie in Goldfinger, Kwouk was offered the part of Kato (later changed to Cato) in A Shot in the Dark. After reading the script Kwouk turned the part down. “I couldn’t see the point,” he recalled, “the character didn’t have a lot of screen time, didn’t say very much, and kept getting knocked down.” His agent eventually persuaded him that he needed the money and Kwouk accepted the role.

“Peter Sellers made me,” he said later, “there’s no doubt about it. He raised me to higher level and was a very generous actor, he kept finding ways for Cato get a bigger laugh.” Despite Sellers’s eccentricities Kwouk maintained that they had a good working relationship. “Peter was odd,” he admitted, “but few geniuses are not odd. I learned a lot about comedy acting just by watching his eyes before a take.” Cato proved so popular that he was written into all but one of the subsequent films. “I loved playing the part,” Kwouk recalled, “but it was mayhem, half the time I was petrified I was actually going to get hurt by one of Peter’s wild lunges.”

There's more at the link.

How can I resist so obvious a temptation?  Here are all the great Inspector Clouseau vs. Cato moments from the classic movies.

Classics indeed!  Thanks for the laughter, Mr. Kwouk.  Rest in a Clouseau-free peace!


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I need your feedback, please

With the publication of my latest book, the time has come to look at my publishing activities overall, including this blog (which consumes up to 2 hours every day, finding material, preparing articles, and putting them up).  Blogger is a free platform, which helps, but it has limitations.  I need to think about a dedicated author Web site, which will include this blog, and also look into book promotion and other activities.  This will probably be accompanied by a legal framework for my writing, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

The problem is, my blog doesn't generate any income.  I don't want to generate funds by burdening my readers with advertisements.  I know how I loathe them, so why should I inflict them on you?  (Besides, I use ad blocking software, and I daresay many of you do as well.)  However, if I'm to invest in the services of a Web site designer, pay for hosting and ongoing upgrades, and migrate my blog to a new platform, I need to find some way to pay for it all.  Following my year-long hiatus in publishing, due to health reasons, I don't have the spare cash available to fund that sort of thing right now.

I've thought about setting up a so-called 'tip jar', where readers can make an ad hoc donation using Paypal.  Unfortunately, such income isn't regular or reliable.  One month I might do very well;  the following month, I might be left with unpaid bills.  It's just too chancy.

I'm therefore considering setting up a Patreon account, just as many other authors and artists have done.  Patreon offers fans of an author or artist the opportunity to sponsor him or her on a regular basis, usually in return for sneak previews of their current work and/or a free copy of each book as it's published.  I'm more than willing to adopt a similar approach, but I don't know how many readers will be interested in it.  If I can find a thousand readers willing to contribute $5 per month, there are no worries.  If there are only a hundred readers willing to contribute that much, and/or if average contributions are only a dollar or two . . . not so good.

I know other authors have succeeded in raising more than enough for such needs.  Luminaries such as Howard Tayler (creator of Schlock Mercenary) and Zach Weinersmith (of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal fame) are relying on it to fund their operations.  Can I also succeed?  I guess that's up to you, dear readers.  So, I'd be grateful if you'd please tell me in Comments whether you'd be interested in and/or willing to fund my operations through a regular monthly donation, and if so, approximately how much.  In return, you'd get a free copy of every book or story I write, as soon as it's published, and probably a sneak peek every month at a chapter from my work in progress, as well as a discussion of current projects.  I might also throw in some options like using your name for one of the characters in a book, in return for a donation.  (I promise not to kill off your namesake too messily - unless you want me to, of course!)

I know some of you simply can't afford anything due to the circumstances of your lives.  That's fine.  I'm never going to insist on support in return for access to my Web site, or anything like that.  All I want to do is investigate what's possible right now.  If there's sufficient interest, I can start planning to contract with a Web designer and get things moving.

Thanks in advance for your feedback.


Yay! - and Thank You!

Approximately 23 hours ago, the announcement of my new Western novel 'went live' here and elsewhere.  It was, of course, ranked approximately nowhere at the time, since no-one knew until then that it was available for sale.

As of a few moments ago, 'Brings The Lightning' was ranked #730 (paid) in the entire Kindle Store at (out of well over two million e-book titles in the store).  It had also reached the ranks of:

Not bad for less than a full day on the market!  Of course, short-term sales trajectory isn't as important, overall, as longer-term sales performance.  Nevertheless, this is a great start.  I hope the book's early success will be sustained.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your support.  As always, it's you, my readers, who make this possible - and worthwhile!


Monday, May 23, 2016

Why did I publish through Castalia House?

That's a question I knew I'd be asked on the publication of my Western novel.  It's actually a little disingenuous, because what the questioner(s) really mean is, "Why did you publish with Vox Day?"

Vox, a.k.a. Theodore Beale, the Managing Editor of Castalia House, is one of the most hated and vilified members of the science fiction and fantasy community, and roundly rejected by most of those with 'politically correct' opinions.  Personally, I think he's more sinned against than sinning.  He's been the target of vitriolic personal abuse over his non-politically-correct viewpoints, and the object of bitter personal attacks.  He was expelled from the Science Fiction Writers of America, SFWA (arguably illegally, because its own standards and procedures were not followed in the process).  Vox, not being a shrinking violet, has responded in kind and taken the struggle to new levels, particularly with his so-called 'Rabid Puppies' campaign to destabilize the Hugo Awards.

I've been surprised (and disappointed) by the number of people who react negatively to Vox Day solely on the basis of other peoples' opinion of him.  Without ever having met the man, or spoken with him, or corresponded with him, they condemn him out of hand.  A good example came from an author I otherwise respect, and whom I'd met from time to time.  In 2015 Marko Kloos withdrew his novel from nomination for a Hugo Award because Vox Day's Rabid Puppies had supported its inclusion.  On Facebook, he added:

I think Vox Day is a ****bag of the first order, and I don’t want any association with him, especially not a Hugo nomination made possible by his followers being the deciding factor. That stench don’t wash off.

I was profoundly disappointed that Marko would have made such a statement.  It wasn't like the man I thought I'd come to know.  He later apologized, but I think the damage was done - more to Marko than to Vox, I fear.  That's only one example of the extreme reactions against Vox Day that have circulated on the Internet from those who have, as far as I know, never had any direct contact with him at all.  They're taking their cue from others.  That's intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice.  There's no other way to put it.

I first came into contact with Vox Day over the boycott of Tor Books for which I called last year.  (You can read all my articles on the subject, including quotes from Vox, in reverse chronological order at this link.)  I'd never spoken to him before - in fact, at that point I'd barely heard of him, since I'd never been (and still am not) a member of either the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies campaign - but he picked up on my challenge to senior Tor staff members concerning their bias towards and lies about people like me.  He became an ally in the campaign, and a very welcome one too.  I spoke with him on more than one occasion by telephone, and corresponded with him via e-mail.  I found him nothing but gentlemanly, polite and supportive.

Since that time I've continued to exchange e-mails with him from time to time.  When I recently put up on this blog a 'teaser' chapter from my proposed Western novel, he clearly liked what he saw, because he approached me within 24 hours and offered me a three-book contract.  I hadn't expected that at all, but I was honored that he was willing to take a risk on a first-time effort like mine in a moribund genre that had been declared all but dead by every major publisher out there.  I kicked my preparations into high gear.  This morning's publication of 'Brings The Lightning' is the result.

Vox was my editor in getting the book ready for publication.  He stated up front that he wanted to 'make a good book better', not try to remake it in his image, or make it into something it wasn't.  I found him a very effective editor indeed.  He went through my manuscript and made many proposed changes, averaging two or three per page, but did so on the basis that these were his suggestions rather than his demands.  I was free to accept or reject each of his proposed changes.  In about two-thirds of cases, I went along with his proposals.  They did, indeed, make the book better.  In the remaining third of cases, I went with what I'd originally written, or re-wrote a few lines, because I felt it fitted in better with my vision for the book and what I hope will be the series into which it will grow.  Vox accepted that with aplomb.  The man's a gentleman.

There will doubtless be those who'll be disappointed that I've chosen to publish with a man, and a publishing house, that they regard with the same revulsion as the Devil regards holy water.  To them I can only say, go read what my friend Larry Correia had to say about Vox last year.  I endorse his sentiments.  I don't share all - or possibly even most - of Vox's opinions, but then he's never asked me to share or support them in any way, shape or form.  He's merely tried to be the best editor he can be, and help me be the best writer I can be.  I'll be damned if I condemn him because of past history or exchanges to which I wasn't a party, and in which I had no involvement at allNot my circus, not my monkeys.  I certainly won't demand that he embrace political correctness.  As you've probably noted from my blog header, that's not exactly a position I embrace myself!

Vox shares my perspective that the 'classic' Western genre is ripe for revival.  I've grown very tired of romance or erotica masquerading as Westerns - to my mind, they belong in a different category.  I'm also fed up with the historical inaccuracies and fantastically high body counts of many so-called Westerns that are nothing more or less than violence porn (and sometimes actual porn as well, given the number of sex scenes they contain - something that would be anathema to every one of the great Western authors).  I tried to write in the classic style, and Vox actively tried to help me do that.  I appreciated his input.

Castalia House is a small publisher at this stage, but it's grown in stature and in the diversity of its offerings.  I'm honored - deeply honored - to join authors such as Jerry Pournelle and Martin van Creveld in its stable.  I've read both men for years, and their books are numbered among those in my permanent library.  (I note with amusement that Dr. Pournelle is a past President of SFWA.  That says a great deal about how that organization has changed since his tenure, epitomized by its treatment of Vox Day, and by Dr. Pournelle's willingness to be publicly associated with him, notwithstanding that.)  More recently, I discovered the work of John C. Wright through Castalia House, and have been enjoying it.  I look forward to continuing this Western series with Castalia and Vox Day, and I may in due course write some science fiction and/or space opera for them as well.  We'll see what readers think of this initial offering through them, and take it from there.

Thanks, Vox, for making my book much better than it would have been without your help.  You are (literally) a gentleman and a scholar, Sir, and I've enjoyed working with you.  I look forward to doing so again.


My first Western is published

My first (and hopefully by no means my last) Western, 'Brings The Lightning', has just been published by Castalia House.

It's been a labor of love for me, because I grew up on a steady diet of what I'd call 'classic' Westerns;  Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, the 'English Westerns' of J. T. Edson, and the like.  In military camps across Southern Africa, paperback copies of their books were in circulation.  One sometimes had to wait to get hold of two or three copies in order to finish the story, because missing pages at the beginning and end could make the books a little impenetrable;  but one knew there'd be more copies floating around at the next base.

I particularly strove for accuracy and historical authenticity.  I've gotten very tired of reading (and watching) Westerns where the weapons, or the food, or the wagons, or the clothes, weren't period-correct.  The real thing was fascinating;  the impact of the Industrial Revolution on so many areas of life was still making itself felt, so that from generation to generation, lives would be lived very differently.  I was able to take my time while writing it, assemble a fairly decent reference bookshelf or three, and make sure that what I wrote was as accurate as I could make it.  (I may have gone a bit too far in that direction for some readers, judging by early reviews, but it doesn't seem to have stopped them enjoying it.  So far, as I write these words, the book's already garnered four 4-star and six 5-star reviews.  That makes me very happy!)

The initial release is an e-book.  A print edition will follow within weeks, as Castalia House gears up for it;  and there may be some special news on that front, too.  (Later on today I'll put up an article about how I ended up at Castalia House with this book, and offering some thoughts on my experience working with them.  It's been a lot of fun.  You can read their perspective on that here.)

I hope you enjoy reading 'Brings The Lightning' as much as I've enjoyed writing it.  The sequel is already under way, to be published (hopefully) about this time next year.