I've had a number of readers ask how new books are coming along. I guess I should give you an update.
As most of you know, I suffered a heart attack last November (my second, if anyone's counting). I've recovered from it, but I'm on additional blood-thinning medication, and will be for several months yet. In combination with the meds I already take for pain (from my 2004 disabling back injury) and other issues, this has had a nasty effect on my writing creativity. It's hard to get my brain to think (and write) creatively in a fictional world. It isn't a problem in terms of non-fiction; I'm able to keep up this blog, for example, and I'm working on a non-fiction book. However, novels have perforce been put on the back burner since then.
I'm glad to tell you that my wife has written another book, which I think is her best yet.
Look for it by the end of the month, if Amazon gets its publishing act together (they appear to be slower than usual at present). I'm busy with that process as you read these words. I'm glad editing and formatting aren't affected by my medications!
My current non-fiction book project is an examination of what's involved in preparing for emergencies. I'm focusing on practical, everyday concerns (for example, weather events, earthquakes or wildfires), not a TEOTWAWKI event such as nuclear war, the zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion. (If something like that happens, we're probably going to die, no matter how well prepared we are. Suggestions to the contrary are simply unrealistic, despite popular entertainment programming to the contrary.) I don't have a working title yet: I asked for suggestions here a while back, but nothing really "bit". (One suggestion was "Camping on Vesuvius", which I really like, but it doesn't really convey what the book's all about. Pity . . . it has a certain flavor to it, doesn't it?) At any rate, it's well under way. I hope to have it ready by late June or early July.
I have several fiction projects on the back burner. I work on them sporadically, as and when I find inspiration, but it's difficult right now. When I come off my new medications in a few months' time, I hope to get right back to work on them. They include:
- The sixth volume in the Maxwell Saga, "Venom Strike";
- The third and final volume in the Laredo War trilogy, "Knife to the Hilt";
- A sequel to "Taghri's Prize", as yet untitled;
- The fifth book in the Ames Archives Western series, also untitled;
- A Viking fantasy novel, of which you've seen three snippets in these pages already.
I very badly want to get moving with those books. (For a start, my income, and ability to put food on the table, depends on them!) Rest assured, as soon as my levels of medication permit (hopefully not too long now), I'll be hard at work.
To give you something to be going on with, here's a snippet from the sixth volume of the Maxwell Saga, "Venom Strike" - just to prove I'm still writing!
Tom knew there was something wrong the instant he slid open the door, and the detector in his chest pocket began to vibrate. He gave no outward sign that anything was amiss, instead pulling the door closed behind him as the lights came on. He looked casually around the outer office. The walls hadn’t been recolored in years, and had yellowed from their original pristine white to a muddy cream color. The desk was made of plain gray plastic, its surface and the chairs behind and in front of it slightly dusty, devoid of any evidence of use. Nothing was obviously out of place, but that didn’t mean anything when snooping devices could be smaller than the head of a pin.
He walked across the threadbare carpet to the corner kitchenette, putting down the bag in his left hand. As he took a sachet of coffee from a cupboard, filled the coffeemaker with water and started it brewing, he cast quick, covert glances around the room. None of the likely places to conceal a listening device or hidden camera showed anything suspicious. There was nothing to catch the eye in the inner office either. Its desk – twin to the one in the anteroom – and filing cabinet were seemingly just as he’d left them the night before. The room’s only concessions to comfort were a higher-quality chair behind the desk, and two moderately padded visitor’s chairs before it. The lights on the alarm panel were the same cheerful green as the previous evening, but the detector in his pocket continued to vibrate.
He kept his jacket on as he sat down, unlocked the drawer unit, and used a remote control unit to adjust the one-way vizpane in the outer bulkhead from its overnight opaqueness to a daytime transparency. Black letters on the outer surface proclaimed that this was the office of ‘HAGGARD INVESTIGATIONS’. He took a bacon and egg sandwich from the bag and ate it slowly, brushing occasional crumbs from his jacket and shirt, while waiting for the coffee to brew. He grimaced as he tasted the filling. The eggs and bacon were vat-grown substitutes, like almost all food served in orbit. The plant had got the flavor right, but not the texture – immediately noticeable to someone who’d eaten better-quality food over many years in space.
Pouring a cup of coffee, he swiveled his chair to look out of the vizpane and began to study the walkway outside. The pedestrians passing the window mostly wore utility coveralls or Service Department uniforms, tool belts jingling as they moved purposefully from their lodgings and flophouses to the day’s tasks. They’d have looked completely out of place on the more fashionable levels of the space station. He looked up and down the walkway, watching for people moving more slowly than usual or standing around idly, giving special attention to shop fronts and alleys.
It took him several minutes to spot the lurker, in an alley next to a saloon three doors down. The watcher kept out of sight, but hadn’t realized how strong the light was over the side door of the saloon. It cast a faint shadow of a human head and shoulders onto the sidewalk at the entrance to the alley. With that to guide him, Tom didn’t take long to spot the slight bulge that had appeared on top of a piece of molding on the saloon’s tawdry façade. It was almost certainly a surveillance camera, watching his office door and sending back its pictures to the person in the alley. He probably had a link to whatever bug had been planted in here, too.
Tom sat back in his chair and thought. The saloon’s watchman would normally prevent anyone loitering in the alley. That meant either the lurker had enough influence to be allowed to stay, or the watchman had been threatened or bribed into compliance. Briefly he considered calling his contact in the Terminal police, but dismissed the idea. Even if the snooper didn’t hear his call and disappear before a patrol officer could arrive, the cop might not be able to find out who was behind the problem. He needed that information, so he’d have to deal with this himself.
. . .
He opened the door to the service alley cautiously, looking around before going out. No-one was in sight – not surprising at this time of the morning, when the workers in this area would all be making last-minute preparations for the daily trash compaction cycle. He walked down the alley to the next block and took the escalator up to the next level. He emerged one block behind the saloon.
Easing up to the corner of the alley, he saw the watcher leaning against the wall of the saloon, looking down at something in his hand. He guessed it was probably a monitor for the camera he’d placed on the saloon’s façade. His back was to him – and even better, he wore a set of earbuds, presumably listening to the bug in the investigator’s office. Tom grinned tightly as he drew a pliant, flexible sap from a jacket pocket, hefted it experimentally in his hand, and eased forward.
Some sixth sense must have warned the watcher. As Tom covered the last step, he dropped whatever he was holding and whirled around, eyes widening in alarm, hand flashing into the open front of his coveralls. It came halfway out, clutching the hilt of a knife, but Tom didn’t give him time to complete the movement. He swung his sap viciously, catching the snoop across the left side of his head. His earbuds came out as his eyes went blank, unfocused, and he tumbled to the deck. Tom caught him and eased him down, trying to make as little noise as possible.
He was surprised to see that the man’s face looked Chinese, unusual in this sector of space. He squatted next to his victim, took the knife from the man’s hand and examined it carefully. It was of a design he hadn’t seen before, its blade almost twenty centimeters long, relatively narrow with a strong, heavy spine. The inside of the hilt and the back of the blade were flattened, as if they were half of a knife that had been divided down its length. Feeling inside the coverall he found a second knife, also flattened on one side, clearly the twin to the blade in his hand. It was in a scabbard that contained slots for both blades, one behind the other. He took it out, sheathed the first blade alongside its companion, and leaned the scabbard against the wall of the saloon.
Investigating further he found a small console, probably for the bug in his office. Another pocket held a thick wallet containing a printed message in a language he didn’t know, the equivalent of a couple of thousand credits in four different currencies, and a merchant spacer ID issued by the planet Calaba in the name of Yao Bao. A third pocket yielded a soft linen bag, closed with drawstrings, containing what looked and felt like a large number of gold taels.
The other pockets of the man’s coverall were empty. The only other thing of interest was a black medallion on a silver chain around his neck. Tom eased the chain over the man’s head and stood up, easing his aching thighs, to examine the medallion more closely. It appeared to be made from a thinly-sliced piece of stone. One side bore the image of a coiled snake, its body thick and heavy, brown in color with white geometric markings at intervals. The triangular-shaped head was raised, tongue flickering out. The other side bore several Mandarin characters inlaid in white.
He was peering at them when his feet were kicked violently out from under him. Toppling backwards, he dropped the medallion in a desperate attempt to break his fall. He succeeded, but wrenched his left arm as he landed awkwardly. Looking up, he saw his erstwhile victim lunging for the knives leaning against the saloon. Seizing the scabbard, the man drew a blade with blinding speed as he spun around towards him. His face was twisted in a malevolent scowl.
Tom didn’t try to grapple with him – there was no future in that with a man who clearly knew how to use the blade in his hand – and he didn’t waste time trying to stand. His right hand flashed into the left side of his jacket, seizing the butt of a pulser with a fat, suppressed barrel, dragging it from its shoulder holster as he kicked out frantically, trying to hold off his attacker long enough to complete his draw. He felt a burning sensation as the other’s knife cut through his trousers into his shin, but didn’t let it distract him as he brought up the pulser, its laser targeting beam automatically activated by the draw. He placed the bright green dot in the middle of his assailant’s chest and pressed the firing button six times, as fast as he could cycle it.
The sound of the shots was a series of low, distinct phuts. The first round struck precisely on the point of aim, drawing a grunt of pain from the man as the next five rounds rose up his body, the pulser climbing under the impetus of recoil. The last round hit the bridge of his nose, penetrating all the way through his brain and smashing out of the back of his skull. His head snapped back as he crumpled limply to the floor, the knife falling from his hand.
I hope you enjoyed that. Expect the book, God willing, in the second half of the year.