Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: Without Warning by John Birmingham

I have a couple reviews I'd forgotten to post about books I've read recently.  Here's the first one.

 I just went looking for After America , the sequel to Without Warning, in the Kobo e-book store because I want to know what happens next. There were a few times, tough to resist, where I was at work and feeling very tempted to hunch over my desk with the novel to get through another scene of this gripping book.

I loved the "Axis of Time" trilogy, although Birmingham wasn't able to maintain the same level of inexorable momentum through all three books. As an aside, the chapter of Weapons of Choice detailing the arrival of the multinational fleet to 1942, dropping right into the midst of Admiral Spruance's fleet bound for Midway, and the ensuing confused naval battle, is one of my favorite scenes in literature.

Without Warning manages to keep the same edge-of-your-seat and desperate-to-know-more tension that the early parts of Birmingham's first trilogy established. It starts immediately, just before the onset of the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq in 2003, with a wounded and disoriented woman in a hospital bed in France, her confusion becoming more profound as news reports come over a TV of an energy wave that has destroyed most of the population of North America. The US military, almost entirely overseas when this event occurs and the most powerful force in the world, is suddenly adrift without any civilian government direction.

Just like that, the world's one true superpower is gone, and the dominoes start to fall. Without the US there to balance the scales, nations go to war, economies crash, populations starve and factions fight for control of governments.

Even the events you can see coming with the relentless slide of international relationships manage to shock. The fear of a tragedy happening is one thing (such as hurricane Katrina relentlessly moving toward New Orleans) but the reality of that tragedy happening is quite a different feeling. It's DREAD versus HORROR, and Without Warning manages to make the reader feel both these things.

Some of the characters are difficult to empathize with, such as Jules the smuggler, or Caitlin the black ops assassin, but others truly shine. The POVs of Admiral Ritchie and Seattle city engineer James Kipper are the standouts of the book. Ritchie in particular may have the most sphincter-tightening exchange of dialogue in the book when he meets with an Israeli ambassador.

In the end, the new world order to which the reader and characters are becoming used to is suddenly turned on end, setting up a sequel that promises, if not the same sense of desperation, a similar level of tension and shock.

Great book.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have been a few different things in my life...a good student, a failed student, gas station attendant, pizza delivery boy, photolithographer, gypsy cab driver, trainer, fundraiser....and now I can add "published author" to that list!

You can find Told You So available at Pill Hill Press and

I am continuing to do re-writes on A Separate Breed, as well as making notes for another book that would be set in the same "universe" but only loosely connected.  Progress is slower than I would like, but still moving.

I've been using the beta for Scrivener for Windows this summer...amazing program.  I'm sure I don't use very much of the functionality, but the parts I have been using have been so incredibly helpful.  Highly recommended program for writers.  The Mac version has been out for some time, but the Windows version is still a work in progress, with the actual release pending in the next couple months.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hello Stranger!

Haven't posted since April, and this is just as short one with more coming soon.

Lots of good stuff happening for me.  I have a major function to go to engagement party.  Wedding will be next year but a big South Asian-style engagement party today.  She hasn't even seen the ring yet, though she's chomping at the bit for it.

Publication for "The Tree" in the anthology Told You So is getting closer and closer.  The editor says it goes to the printer on August 5...that's less than two weeks away.  They sent me the galley proof so I could check the copy for my story, and I was so proud to see that "The Tree" was placed first the book!

During all of this, I'm melting in my apartment in the heatwave hitting Toronto.   I kinda feel like this, but without the ghosts flying around:

It was hotter than internal human body temperature two days ago.  This will be my last summer without AC...I vow this on the bones of my ancestors!

On that note, happiness, love and peace, everyone!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden

A fantastic work of historical fiction by Conn Iggulden, detailing the journey of the man known as Temujin as he unites the various Mongol tribes and becomes the conqueror history would know as Genghis Khan. Iggulden has done a lot of research, including a trip to Mongolia, and he seems to have captured the Mongol "vibe" pretty well. Most of the main characters are fully realized, and the steppe atmosphere is amazingly well detailed. You can almost put your hands around the power of Temujin's personality as more and more people join his cause, and the inevitable and foregone conclusion to the story still manages to feel tense with uncertainty.

A good companion to this book would be a viewing of Sergei Bodrov's movie epic, Mongol, if only to firmly solidify the imagery of the steppes and the look of the Mongols themselves for the reader. The film has a slightly different interpretation of Temujin's rise, and is remarkable in its own right, but doesn't change the fact that Iggulden's book is a real keeper.

Highly recommended, and I look forward to checking out the two sequels.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review--Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

I probably would have a better opinion of this book if it had been written by almost any other author, but this is a Joe Haldeman book and I have come to expect far more from him than a story like Marsbound.  The main character is likable and believable.  The dialogue is realistic and typically Haldemanesque.  The story just didn't engage me, though, and it isn't helped by a group of aliens that I just wasn't buying into.  Haldeman knows to how create cool and weird aliens (see Camouflage, a really underrrated book) and unfortunately the Martians in the story only have the weird part of the equation nailed.  The other thing that was hard for me to swallow in the plot was the everpresent antagonistic relationship between the main character and her primary "opposition", a bitter and vindictive administrator...something just felt off about it. 

That said, the underlying idea in the book is a sound one, and I want to know where it goes with the sequel, Starbound

OK book, but in the context of knowing who wrote it, a little disappointing.

A Fortnight to Write

At my real job I've been stuck in this cycle of not using all my vacation time in the actual year in which it was generated.  As a result of this, I have two weeks worth of 2010 vaction time left over to use this year, and I am smack in the middle of week one (week two is to follow consecutively).

While I do have some other very important things to which I need to attend during this time, most of this period is earmarked as writing time.  The primary writing priority is in making a lot of headway in a rewrite and expansion of my NaNoWriMo novel, A Separate Breed.  As I was outlining the abandoned plotlines that needed closure and the extra background that needed to be added in order for certain characters to make more sense, I think I realized that they would not be adequate to give the book the additional length it would require.  I was stewing about this a bit on Monday as I made some changes to the first draft of the manuscript, trying to figure out what else there could be.  Was my story really that thin?

My writing style tends toward concision.  I'll never be someone to write 800 page novels or 10 book series.  I usually know what I want to say and I say it.

When I was finishing the first draft of the book back in November I had seen a news article that gave me an idea for a "next step" plot point.  It would have expanded upon the main situation of A Separate Breed in a logical way, but I didn't have time to include it and I wanted the story to be finished before the November 30 deadline.  So I shelved it, figuring I could use it in a potential follow-up novel.

Silly me.  That bonus bit of story, along with my other outlined items, is where my extra 25 to 35 thousand words are coming from.  No need to panic!  So now my original climax gets to just be a precursor to the real thing.

And we're supposed to be getting something like a half foot of snow tomorrow here in Toronto.  Blech.  This is really going to interfere with my scouting mission to an area of the city I need to write about.

Weather notwithstanding, this is my fortnight to write!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Abide Not By Ill Fortune

Here's a short piece from a few years ago:

I remember when I woke up early one Saturday, about four in the morning. Something had startled me from my slumber, and was immediately apparent in the absence of a dozing woman on the right side of the bed. I groggily sat up, looking toward the open bedroom door, using the tip of one ring finger to dislodge the crust from the corner of my eyes. I could just see the entrance to the bathroom down the hall: the door there was open and the light was not burning.

I wanted to go back to sleep, but despite being exhausted, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I knew why she was up, so I pulled on a pair of shorts and crept out to the living room. The light in the kitchen was on and I peeked in, seeing her sitting at the small dinette table facing slightly away and to my left, just barely allowing me to see the glum expression on the profile of her face. Resisting the urge to move to her side and ask her what was wrong, I watched her silently, her dark hair mussed from sleep. She was generally hard on her appearance after waking, self-deprecating without the humor, but I always thought that her hair in slight disarray made her more humanly beautiful, validating to me one aspect of the attraction I felt to her.

She wore an oversized San Diego Chargers t-shirt, her favorite sleeping attire, and was sipping a cup of tea, the purple box on the table indicating Darjeeling, the used teabag sitting on a napkin folded neatly into a quarter of its original size. She began to hum, and I struggled to figure out what the tune was. One instant it was the strain of a Strauss waltz, the next a Metallica riff—it was no song and every song, it was whatever she wanted it to be in that moment. To me it was an embodiment of her, unpredictable and comforting all at once, whimsical and beautiful.

As I rested my head against the wall, the humming ceased and she reached toward a thin vase in the center of the table, pulling one of two roses from the sparkling crystal. She always kept flowers on the kitchen table. She looked thoughtfully at the rose as water dripped from the stem onto the tabletop, inhaled its scent with her eyes closed, and sighed. I was reminded of a wedding we had attended the month before. It became apparent during the reception that she was becoming frustrated waiting on me to propose to her, and was perhaps doubting our future as time passed and I made no attempt to offer a larger commitment. I had made the decision then, and was in the process of devising exactly how I would go about asking her to marry me, naturally wanting it to be perfect.

Without warning she pulled a petal from the defenseless flower, and because of the quiet her voice seemed harshly loud: “He loves me.”

She carelessly flicked the separated petal away, took another sip of her Darjeeling. No sooner had the mug been returned to the table then off came another petal.

“He loves me not!”

Curiosity, warring with wanting to step forward and comfort her, had the best of me. I wanted to know how this would end.

Shortly, there were but two fragile looking petals on the decimated rose, and both of us could see that the result was not going to be the most desired one. Reluctantly, she pulled one off with quite unnecessary force. It made me think of ripping the tag from a new pillow.

“He loves me,” she mumbled forlornly.

She stared at the one remaining petal on the tortured flora and drew her feet up off the cold linoleum. It seemed that she was going to finish the ritual as she prepared to tear off the final piece, but she hesitated just a moment, and tore half the petal off, accompanied by a wickedly self-satisfied grin. “He loves me not.”

She plucked the last half-petal, and before she could give the final verdict, the verdict of her own choosing, I delivered it for her.

“I love you.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Respect the Earth

So, I watched a lot of CNN last night, having heard about the big earthquake in Japan just a few minutes after it happened.  I've seen a few people on social media freaking out about the end of the world, and it makes me shake my head because people just don't understand the ground they walk upon.  The planet is like a living thing, and it is always in some form of upheaval.  It is inevitable that disasters will happen, and they get more and more likely to kill scores or thousands of people as the population of the planet continues to skyrocket upwards.  Natural "disasters" are not getting more frequent, or more severe.  This is just the way the world works...take a few geology classes and if you don't already understand, your perspective may change a bit.  Hell, go seek out the recent episode of Nova that highlighted the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  Some very good basic explanations (and great educational graphics, too).

The images from Japan, particularly the tsunami sweeping across the rural areas of Sendai province, are frightening.  The planet is host to immense power, and we are like insects when she decides throw her weight behind her actions. 

Thoughts and prayers go out to those in Japan who were affected by this disaster.  The company I work for will likely do some relief fundraising as a result.  And I wish things like this never happened--people don't deserve to face these situations.  But always respect the Earth's power, and we'll be as prepared as possible when these inevitable events weigh upon us.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Review: Soul Born by Kevin James Breaux

I will admit heading into this review that I have known the author for a couple decades, so granted, I'm sure I have a little bit of bias, and anyone who has read the handful of entries in my blog will be aware of this connection.  Following, however, is my honest opinion of Kevin James Breaux's debut novel, Soul Born.

My personal taste when it comes to fantasy has generally been works that include a great deal of detailed worldbuilding.  I love reading about history so when I consume fantasy stories about strange and exotic new worlds I often have the mindset that I looking for historical and geographical snapshots over and above a strong plotline and interesting characters.  This is usually what holds my attention in fantasy, because I am always looking for clues, for a broken potsherd that tells me about the way the people in the land lived their lives.

Soul Born is a very focused novel.  There are no meandering passages in this book and no exposition that isn't relevant to what's happening.  There is no scenic route to get to the destination.  The book is the GPS equivalent of telling you the quickest way to get from point A to point B.  And baby, it makes the book ROLL.

I'll note here that it took me a little while to appreciate this characteristic.  I had to put the book down half way through and think about it.  Something about the style of Soul Born then clicked for me, and I enjoyed the hell out of the book.  Most fantasy novels have clearly delineated good guys and bad guys, maybe some gray area third party that swings back and forth for a while until finally aligning with one group or the other for the Big Final Battle.  Not so in Soul Born: these people are not out for some high falootin' grand ideal, they are, each and every one of them, pushing their own agenda.  The result of this is a cast of characters that have a seeming tendency towards erratic actions, but in reality are simply adjusting their plans to the shifting tide of events in the story.  If the characters, Karn and Opal in particular, realize that staying the course isn't going to get them what they want, they simply head in a different direction.  It's kind of refreshing. 

There's no dead wood in the plot.  The characters are fun, if sometimes a little reprehensible.  The book is action, action, action.  It isn't your typical fantasy, and that's a good thing.  It really stands out next to everything else on the shelf because it breaks all the standard fantasy tropes. 

Thumbs up!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aspiring Author and Collector of Interesting Facts

I'm thinking that, with the news I received yesterday, that the little description of me above can perhaps now read like this:

Aspiring Author and Collector of Interesting Facts

I say this because I got an email yesterday afternoon that included the following sentence from an editor to whom I had submitted my novellette, The Tree:

"We enjoyed it and would like to publish it in TOLD YOU SO."

I'm feeling on top of the world with this news; it's like the culmination of years of dreams, and it's an excitement that I must admit I have rarely felt in my life.  If you are imagining me rushing to read and fill out the contract they sent me that will permit them to print my story in their anthology, you would be very close to the mark.

First phone call went to my girlfriend.  Second one to my mother.  Then Facebook and Twitter found out.  Yes, safe to say excitement was the word of the day.  I've gotten a ton of encouragement that has managed to help me get to this place, from the two women mentioned in this paragraph chief among them, and also from my good friend and award-winning author Kevin Breaux (whose first book, Soul Born, I will be posting a review of shortly...I finished it a few days ago and have been digesting my thoughts on it), among many others along the way.

Certainly, I still have to work very hard to keep this from being the only success I ever have as a writer, but my hope is that this starts the snowball rolling down the hill, and that by the time it reaches the ditch it could be used for the base of a very large snowman.

The Tree will be printed by Pill Hill Press in their conspiracy anthology Told You So later this year.  I will, of course, be crowing about it with more information as soon as I can!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lose, damn you, LOSE! Go Team!

This post is about sports.  But not about sports.

I am a sports fan.  Baseball is my favorite, but football, hockey, soccer...they all stoke some passionate fire for me.  I have found myself, as a fan, in an odd place recently: cheering for my favorite team to lose.

As far as hockey goes, this is one sport where my favorite team is not the one I grew up cheering for.  Though I'm from the Philly 'burbs I am more of an Ottawa Senators fan than a Flyers one.  The interest there started when Ottawa got an expansion team that entered the NHL in the 92-93 season.  The Flyers stunk at the time, and with a teen interest in all things Ancient Rome I decided to follow the new team with the Roman Centurion logo.  The effort I put in trying to keep track of a small market Canadian team in a little-televised or reported on sport...well, let's just say it wasn't easy.  If I was lucky, I'd catch 30 seconds of Ottawa highlights a week, and The Hockey News was always a week behind at the local 7-Eleven.  Eventually, my hockey heart resided in another country.

And boy, did the Senators suck the first few years.  Spectacularly.  But they managed to squeak into the playoffs in the spring of 1997 in the final game of the season.  I got to watch the last 5 minutes of that game on ESPN2, saw them take a 1-0 lead on the Buffalo Sabres on a goal by defenseman Steve Duchene, watched the team skate around the ice like they'd just won a championship.  It would be the start of respectability for a team that had been the laughing stock of the league, and their high point would be an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007.

They're going to miss the playoffs for just the second time in 15 seasons, and there's so little hope for a turnaround with this year's roster that I've actually been hoping they lose games for the sole purpose of getting a higher pick in the next amateur draft!  The general manager has started trading away the players with any value, and the team has become a bunch of kids and minor leaguers who are playing with more spunk and fire than the jaded vets who preceded them. 

No need to be so glum, coach!

It's a weird feeling, rooting for your team to lose.  I feel like I should be ashamed, for urging them on the downward spiral.  It's not that I want them to do poorly, I just want what is best for them going forward.  I think that the house needs to be razed right to foundation, rather than keep shoring up the sagging floors and bowed walls.  Even this logic doesn't make sense to some fans, I guess, who feel that if the result doesn't get tabulated in the W column, then it was a failure. 

Starting over from's sometimes a better option.  I discovered this when I felt I had to break up a ten year marriage.  A few years later and I'm in a much better relationship.  The pain of taking a match to something that was "safe" but flawed in every way was worth the rebirth I experienced as I stood up from the ashes.  I discovered it again when writing a story that was, to be honest, a train wreck of plot, and the problems couldn't be fixed through revision, the whole thing had to be dumped and started over with a new focus.

So I say to the Ottawa Senators: it's okay to tank the rest of the season.  Yesterday's win against the Maple Leafs, which vaulted you 1 point ahead of the Oilers to be ranked 29th (of 30 teams) in the league is only a minor setback.  It might be hurting right now, but it'll only get better from here.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Road to Empire, Part 2

Here's Part 2 of the War Journal of Gardner Sean, in which a vanquished foe returns with a vengeance, great plots never seem to go as planned, and the enemy fields some of the greatest generals in feudal China. Find Part 1 here

196 AD
Yuan Shao dies, and while this comes as a shock, even more surprising is his successor: Gongsun Zan, who immediately brings the warfare against Lu Bu nearly to a halt.  I can feel his attention turning to me, and I watch Ande port closely as its garrison grows.

Under Lu Bu, Dong Zhuo's legacy has been reduced to 3 of the wealthiest cities in China—Xu Chang, Wan and Luoyang—and they are all on my doorstep.  These cities and the potential of adding Lu Bu to my coterie of military geniuses make me greedy, so I push to reorganize my military and attack before Gongsun Zan throws my plans out the window.   

Everything is proceeding apace, as I advance north from Ru Nan.  First Xu Chang falls, then I am besieging Wan and without warning Lu Bu has surrendered…

…to Gongsun Zan!

The Charge Against Lu Bu

My blood boils as I continue to attack Wan and it falls to me.  Lu Bu would not have been able to hold out against me, and he surely yielded to my biggest rival at the promise of better resources to fight me.  Yuan Shao had been the most powerful man in China when he died.  I am not prepared to wage war with his successor, and so starts the standoff.  Armies of unprecedented size soon grace the border between our lands.  And I slowly put a massive plan into place.

197 AD
When Yuan Shao had been waging war with Liu Biao he captured Guanling port just south of Xia Pi.  His advance was halted when I, his trusted ally, sacked and occupied Xia Pi.  Since that time Guanling had maintained a garrison with 25K troops in it and a pair of lazy, ineffectual generals.

But with Yuan gone and a belligerent foe on his throne, I now found myself with an enemy fortification in my own lands.  Granted, it was a small force, but it could not be ignored and while I developed a plan with my generals it was a nagging concern that could not be avoided.  I wanted to launch a two pronged assault against Gongsun Zan's holdings.  One half would be an obvious, full scale frontal assault from Chen Liu against Pu Yang, led by myself and Gan Ning.  The second would be landing a smaller, more mobile force with my most cunning officers—Breaux Kevin, Daj Kirender, Sun Jian and Zhou Yu—at Gongsun’s rear that would harry the seemingly safe (and thus poorly defended) cities in his heartland.  I would also leave a massive army at Beihei under Vang Qaishi and her father Vang Lu.

The attack on Pu Yang would mean that he could not spare any of the large number of soldiers there to defend his rear.  The same would hold true for his garrison at Ande Port—it would be held in place by my army at Beihei as surety that it would not advance north to Gongsun’s capital, Ping Yuan.  Breaux, Sun and the rest would be able to run wild, sacking cities and disrupting the enemy’s supply lines.  If he did pull soldiers from Ande or Pu Yang, my armies would rout him.  Gongsun Zan also had substantial armies in his easternmost provinces, but they were occupied in a holding action against a foreign tribe raiding from the north, and thus were neutralized.  In the far north, Gongsun Zan is engaged in small scale border skirmishes with Ma Teng.  I periodically send Ma Teng gold to keep this going.

I amass my army at Chen Liu, and do so in obvious fashion, knowing that it would appear as a threat to both Pu Yang and the Hulao Gate to the south of Luoyang.  Less obviously I create a force at Xia Pi to deal with the garrison at Guanling Port, commanded by a set of reliable, if unspectacular, officers.  This is a smaller, but necessary, third prong.  Though I plan on launching the back-door surprise from Beihei’s peninsula, I do not increase the size of the Beihei army because Gongsun always increases the Ande port garrison in response.  I don’t want my Beihei intimidation force to be outnumbered when I start my offensive.  So Sun Jian gathers his resources at Mo Ling, and prepares to sail.

A map of the Unused Grand Plan--Donglai Port is mislabeled

I am putting the final touches on my preparations.  The first half of Sun Jian’s force has set sail, and the second half is about to get underway.  They will regroup at Donglai Port, to the east of Beihei, raise the morale of the soldiers and then my three pronged attack will get underway.

And that’s when all my plans go out the window.

A messenger comes to me at Chen Liu.  I am being asked to join a coalition to overthrow Gongsun Zan.  A month later and I would have been ecstatic.  I don’t quite have everything in place, but I cannot refuse this invitation.  For my plans against Gongsun Zan to go forward, I must not be on negative terms with my western neighbors.  There is no way I could conduct two wars effectively.  I clench my jaw and agree to join, and they ask me to head the coalition.  I agree to this as well, leading the alliance in front of Liu Biao, Taishi Ci, Ma Teng, and Huang Quan. 

The Emperor visits me.  He’s been meeting with me regularly since I took Beihei almost two years ago, conferring upon me greater and greater status.  This time he appoints me Chancellor and blesses the actions I am about to take.

No sooner had the ink dried on the scroll acknowledging the coalition than Gongsun Zan crossed the Yellow River with his troops, leaving Ande Port and occupying Linzi Port on the Beihei side of the river.  He is now just a two day march away from Beihei.  When Sun Jian arrives on the peninsula, I do not send him on to his original mission, but to reinforce Beihei.

I launch the attack from Xia Pi on Guanling port, but I also divert what had been the remainder of Sun Jian’s men, still at sea and very close to Guanling, to attack from the sea and rid myself of this threat faster. 

Elsewhere, I change my overall strategy on the fly.  If I can push Gongsun Zan to the other side of the Yellow River I can establish a strong natural border and reformulate my plans.  This means capturing Luoyang and Pu Yang in the north and destroying a handful of fortified outposts in the process, then maintaining control of the ports on my side of the river.  It also means driving a large army out of Linzi and back to Ande Port.

My greatest generals attack Linzi, home to 120K troops.  To my horror, I find that Linzi is defended by Zhang Fei and Lu Bu.  My losses are terrible.  My men resolutely slog forward.

I also decide to be the hammer against Ma Teng’s anvil.  From Chen Liu, I attack Pu Yang.  I detach Gan Ning to Wan and he heads against Luoyang, where he runs smack into an infantry unit commanded by Guan Yu.  I abandon the action against Pu Yang to reinforce Gan Ning against one of the greatest generals of the age.

My victorious troops at Guanling reinforce Beihei.  As the defences of Linzi Port fail, Zhang Fei and Lu Bu retreat back to Ande.  I pull my men back to Beihei rather than defend Linzi, wrecked and difficult to occupy.  Of the 250K men in Beihei, I have lost two fifths of them in repelling Lu Bu and Zhang Fei.  Their casualties are half of mine.  This is a victory in that I accomplished what I wanted to do, but I sacrifice so many men that it feels like losing.

The Yellow River Corridor Between Ande and Linzi Ports

Gan Ning duels Guan Yu and loses, but before Guan can leave the field an up and coming officer of mine, Huo Qubing, takes Gan Ning’s position and defeats the great warrior.  The tide turns and Luoyang falls despite soldiers reinforcing the city from Pu Yang and Hulao Gate.  We turn back to Pu Yang and find that Gongsun Zan has pulled many of the remaining soldiers there and sent them to Ande.  We pause to regroup and motivate the men at Hulao Gate, now empty of the enemy, and batter Pu Yang into submission.  I am holding Guan Yu and 16 other officers as prisoners of war.

The enemy has reinforced his installations on the opposite side of the Yellow River from Pu Yang.  My side of the river…is a mess.  I try to make everything defensible, and to reinforce Beihei.  I lucked out against Guan Yu, but if I’m going to have a chance to make real headway, I have to deal with Lu Bu and Zhang Fei. 

I knew I would not be able to hold Guan Yu indefinitely, but I could not afford to allow this great man to return to my enemy’s service.  I attempted to recruit him, but he was too steadfast.  His sworn brothers, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, were conquered vassals of Gongsun Zan, and he would not waver.  With a heavy heart I ordered the execution of Guan Yu and the other captives. 

Back when I defeated Gongsun Zan in his first incarnation, many of his generals joined me even though he did not.  One of them was an inconsequential administrator name Li Yie.  This man had been left in charge of Shou Chun while my most able men were at the front of battle.  As it turned out, this man remained loyal to Gongsun Zan because in December of 197 he wrested control of the city and announced his defection.

A month later I send an expedition to Shou Chun to take my city back.  The headsman dealt with Li Yie.

198 AD
In the west, at Yong An, I have maintained a light governance of the city, leaving a single officer, the steadfast Bu Zhi, to run things and manage improvements.  I have also left him 90K men on what amounts to a tiny outpost in a sea of greedy, if friendly, rulers as a deterrent.  Bu Zhi finishes improving the defenses but he lacks subordinates to which he can delegate.  He requests more men to administrate, but I do not heed his request because I need people on the border with Gongsun Zan. 

Yong An is strategically unimportant, but I am reluctant to simply abandon the city and so I leave Bu Zhi to manage as best he can.

Through the spring Zhang Fei and Lu Bu play a game of cat and mouse with me, occupying Linzi only to have me repel them.  I keep retreating back to Beihei because the port’s defenses are stripped bare.  I let them come back just so I can make them retreat when it nears collapsing again.  This tactic works for me far better than the all out assault I originally carried out.

The coalition against Gongsun Zan ends after a year without ultimate success, but the previous 12 months of warfare have actually strengthened my position, because Gongsun has now been effectively evicted from my side of the Yellow River.  I ply my former allies with gifts, and most accept them.  Out west, Huang Quan rejects the gift I send him and my relations with him suffer. 

I garrison the ports around Pu Yang and send more men and most of my generals to Beihei.  I plan on making a push against Ande Port that will result in a deciding breakthrough.

But yet again, someone else looses an arrow before I can pull back the bowstring.

To be continued....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Road to Empire, Part 1

The following post is the first excerpt from the War Journal of Gardner Sean, a man who rose from obscurity in feudal China to become Emperor, and unite the land under one ruler.

Well, okay, it's actually proof of my card-holding Geek status, because last year I was playing a lot of Romance of the Three Kingdoms IX, a strategy game by Koei, which is a historical simulation of the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, a beautiful and brutal piece of history.

It's a flash of my geek card because I took notes on all the big events in my campaign, and also created characters named after a few friends, my girlfriend, and some Bollywood actresses.  And then I took the notes and fleshed them out into an epic tale of a man who was forced from his home by a barbarian tribe, made of himself a leader, then an emperor.  I did it for the sole purpose of trying to jump start my writing, and it was a lot more fun than I anticipated, so I thought I would share it in installments.  I even made some helpful maps.  Later, there may be a brief video.  I hope you enjoy it!

The Road to Empire, Part 1

Southern China
190 AD
The uncivilized Shan Yue tribe has sacked Hui Ji, expelling the citizens.  I fought them, bravely I suppose, winning a number of followers as the people fled the city, and have set up an estate in nearby Wu.  A few reliable friends form my innermost circle.  Word of my deeds had gotten to Wu ahead of me, and fearing the might of Shan Yue, the people asked for my protection.  I organize the town with the aid of my trusted lieutenants, and begin recruiting an army.

I send a detachment of officers to nearby Mo Ling, knowing that it is unclaimed by any warlord and could be a powerful center of commerce if developed.  My little corner of China has doubled very quickly.  I spend nearly two years increasing trade and agriculture, and fortifying the defences of my cities.  I try to recruit promising new officers to my cause with little success.  My reputation is non-existent…few outside of the local area have heard of me, and those with any skill seek employment from the great generals and warlords like Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao and Sun Jian. 

191 AD
With money flowing more freely from the mercantile city of Mo Ling, I begin to build an army and draw up plans for expansion, because to stand still in China is to beg for someone to conquer you.  Wu and Mo Ling sit on an east-pointing peninsula at the mouth of the Yangzte River.  To head west to the mainland, I would have to go through the ruins of Hui Ji and past the powerful Shan Yue tribe—not an option when I am puny in comparison.  Across the mouth of the Yangzte however are lands controlled by Liu Biao.  He is clearly stronger than I, but the closest of his cities, Shou Chun, is poorly defended.  While Shan Yue tribe is a difficult hurdle for me, they also create a natural barrier to any force approaching me from the west.  In effect, I am far enough from Shan Yue that they do not attack, but they also create a shield for me to the west.  My little peninsula is a safe haven!  I need only worry about naval attacks from across the Yangzte or from the sea. 

The rest of China is in turmoil.  Dong Zhuo is wreaking havoc as a coalition forms to bring him down, headed by Cao Cao.  When an emissary arrives to enlist me in the coalition, I refuse.  Joining would mean that I could not move forward with my assault on Shou Chun because it would ally me with Liu Biao.  I would lose what little reputation I have in proceeding with an attack on a fellow coalition member, and I do not want to wait another year for the coalition to dissolve. 

My generals Breaux Kevin and Daj Kirender lead my first military campaign, and I make my first enemy.  Under their brilliant leadership Shou Chun falls under my control so easily that I turn my army west and attack Lu Jiang, which has had its garrison depleted by Liu Biao to attack Dong Zhuo in the north.  I halt here as Liu Biao sends reinforcements to Jiang Xia.  I also don’t have enough men to hold any more territory than I have just taken.  Best not to bite off more than I can chew, and I’ve already accomplished more than originally intended.    With Wu as my capital, Mo Ling as my economy, Shou Chun as my fortress, and Lu Jiang as my breadbasket, I settle down to consolidate my territory, now 4 cities strong.

192 AD
Liu Biao has been mostly apathetic towards me since I stole land from him, because the chaos in the north has occupied him.  The coalition eventually falls apart without accomplishing their objective, and Liu Biao attempts to retake Lu Jiang.  I repel his attack and rebuild the orchards and rice fields.  Caution sets in.  I feel as though I do not have the strength to defend my two northern cities because the melee in the north is so close to them.  Were I caught in the middle, I would perish quickly.  So I attempt to protect myself through good relations and offer gifts to other rulers.  I befriend Yuan Shao, who has defeated both Cao Cao and Liu Bei and is slugging it out with Dong Zhuo.  And beyond belief...Liu Biao warms and becomes a friend.  As I start to feel comfortable, Dong Zhuo dies and Lu Bu takes his place. 

194 AD
I live in peace with my neighbors, growing my population, bettering my cities, establishing a reputation as a benevolent and tolerant leader, promoting cultural affairs and beating thugs away from my people.  Sun Jian emerges in the west, a monsoon of destruction, and soon controls a third of all of China.  A coalition forms to overthrow him, with Yuan Shao at its head.  This time when the emissary comes I eagerly join up for the opportunity to better my relations with the members, knowing that I will never send a single soldier or piece of gold to support the distant effort.  The year-long coalition against Sun Jian fails just like that against Dong Zhuo, but it does succeed in reducing him to less of a threat.

195 AD
I realize that my reputation has become strong through the land, but as Emperor Xian calls upon other generals of great repute, granting them titles and power, I have yet to meet him.  I set out to find a way to increase my power.

My advisors form a council to deliberate and conclude that any warlord who has been granted a title by the Emperor controls at least one defined region of China in its entirety.  Some regions have as many as 7 cities, and my realm consists only of 4 cities spanning incomplete parts of 2 regions.  I send agents across the land.

It comes to my attention that Gongsun Zan has withdrawn to a single city, though he has an extraordinarily large army.  His city, Beihei, is the only one in its region.  Controlling Beihei may put me on the path to advancement.  So I prepare an expedition, and sit to wait for an opportunity…

Just as I am about to launch a seaborne attack on Beihei, word comes to me that Sun Jian has been driven back to Yong An and is nearly defenceless, the city poorly fortified.  Though the coalition failed, the warfare against him never stopped.  He has a wealth of incredible talent following him, and is one of the great generals of the age.  I consider asking him to surrender to me, but I know it will be fruitless.  He is too proud and I am of little influence.  I know that time is short, that his neighbors, depleted in their containment of Sun Jian, will soon resume their attacks and Sun will fall.  I also know that Gongsun Zan has sent half his military might to the north to attack Yuan Shao, leaving Beihei with a smaller than expected garrison, though still a major obstacle.  But Beihei is also vulnerable to the predators around it. 

I need Sun Jian’s abilities and influence, but I also need Beihei for the recognition it will give.  Choosing one course over the other means that the road NOT taken will be lost to me.  Yong An and Beihei are in complete opposite directions.  There isn’t time to take one, and then the other.  This is going to be a decisive moment for me, and I change my mind multiple times from one choice to the other and back again.

I make a radical decision, ignoring my Sun Tzu teachings, deeming the reward worth the risk.

I decide to split my forces.

I send over half my troops (about 90K men) under generals Breaux Kevin and Vang Qaishi to the stronghold of Beihei—well fortified, I slightly outnumber the enemy who remain in the city.  Gongsun Zan has accompanied over 100K soldiers to the north

I send another 40K men under Daj Kirender and Vang Lu to Yong An.    I don’t plan on holding distant Yong An, knowing I will be recalling those troops immediately, and bringing home a slew of new officers.

This leaves only about 30K troops to guard my 4 home cities...they are woefully underdefended.  My ministers begin drafting new soldiers aggressively to supplement the home guard.  Training can wait, it’s numbers I need to keep my now-friendly neighbors from getting too greedy.

Both forces depart from nearby ports on the Yangzte and will cover most of the 2 month voyage on the water.  The morale of the troops will suffer from so long in the ships.

In late July I hear that Huang Quan has dispatched an army to Yong An.  They are traveling on foot through mountains.  It looks like Daj Kirender will get there first, but it will be close.

Breaux Kevin makes landfall near Beihei and begins a siege of the city.  My scouts tell me that when Gongsun Zan got word that he was under attack, he disengaged from Yuan Shao, turned his army around and began marching back to Beihei.  If the city doesn’t fall before he can cross the Yellow river, then Breaux’s mission will fail.  The expertise of the generals attacking Beihei is far greater than that of the enemy and Gongsun’s officers fall in duels, the morale in the city is dropping like a stone in a pond.  But their reinforcements are not far away and the clock is ticking.

Daj Kirender reaches Yong An a week before Huang Quan, and after a brief battle he flies my standard above the palace before the other ruler even comes within sight of the city.  My relations with Huang are strong, and he turns his army back. 

A case is made to Sun Jian that I have saved his life—the lords all around him have blood-feuds with him and would likely execute or imprison him.  I outline my plan for unifying China, tell him that I want him in my service, and that if he refuses…I will let him go.  Sun Jian and many of his generals, including the great Zhou Yu, are convinced to join my cause.

Meanwhile, Gongsun Zan has closed the gap, and his army is crossing the Yellow River.  Breaux Kevin sends a detachment under Gan Ning to harry and slow Gongsun’s advance.  He succeeds in the delaying tactic but his unit is small and soon overwhelmed.  And then, the gamble pays off and Beihei falls!  Breaux Kevin enters the city and Gongsun Zan is left with an army—but nowhere to quarter them, no food to supply them, and no money to pay them.  Unlike Sun Jian, Gongsun Zan refuses to enlist with me.  I free him, true to my word, and attempt a number more times to convince him without success.  Eventually, he disappears from Beihei, but I know not where.  Many of his generals don’t suffer from the same overweening pride, and eagerly give me their service, if not their loyalty.

195 AD
A month after my double-victory has given me great renown, Emperor Xian visits me at Shou Chun, and grants me the title of Governor.  Bristling with this new-found power, I prepare a military build-up that would put the previous one to shame. 

Liu Biao breaks our truce and attempts to set my ambitions back, but his plans are too confident and I turn the tables, taking Xia Pi and other central China cities from him.  After a few months of losing ground he retreats west to Xiang Yang to lick his wounds.  Yuan Shao has renewed his offensive against Lu Bu in the north and Lu Bu is losing.  Though Yuan Shao is friendly with me, he fortifies Ande Port, on the other side of the Yellow River from Beihei in response to the growing army in my city, as assurance that his capital of Ping Yuan is protected.  There is mutual respect, and no hostility. 

Ma Teng and Huang Quan continue to be the dominant rulers in the West, slowly eating up their competitors.  Taishi Ci and his meagre force eventually exist as an inexplicable island between the two western powers and Liu Biao.  

For the next 10 months I rebuild what I have conquered.

To be continued.....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bag O' Miscellany

In early January I submitted The Tree to a conspiracy anthology, ultimately making no change to the title.  Looks like they will start reading the submissions in mid-February.  This is really big for marks my first actual submission of any of my work for publication. 

I'm in the middle of a zombie story for another anthology.  I've never written in this genre before, but I feel like I have a good idea to flesh out.  Kinda stalled on it for a bit, but that was mostly because of my job.

Started a re-read of the first draft my book, A Separate Breed, red pen in hand.  I figure I need to add at least 20K words, and there are plenty of gaps and abandoned plotlines that I can use to fill the space around the main storyline.  I'm very excited to get back to this, and I've also gotten myself a lot more organized as far as keeping track of ideas when they come to me.

My dog, Lily, turned 13 on January 30th.  She's hanging in there for an old girl, though she's declined a bit over the last year.  Her hips and back legs just aren't as strong as they used to be.  She's partially some of the inspiration for A Separate Breed

I've been in a plaintive mood lately, first sending a letter to the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) for their terrible service lately, and then a written complaint about the woman who lives in the apartment just below mine.  She's been harassing me for a year over noise that she claims comes from my apartment...when I'm not home!  And we're not talking dog noise, as she says she never even hears Lily bark.  I'd just had enough of that nonsense.

Eagerly awaiting the snow storm tonight.  Gonna look beautiful tomorrow!