The Veil War

"and then I was like, 'Holy crap, goblins!'"

Category: Discussion


Of a different sort:

Not the kind of dragon I normally write about here, but an awesome one nevertheless. That’s a pic of SpaceX’s dragon capsule approaching the ISS for docking – the first commercial craft to do so. Dragon is not currently man-rated, but it won’t be long before vehicles like that are ferrying astronauts to and from orbit.

SpaceX is, I think, poised to make real changes in how we get to space. Cost most obviously – Musk is pushing hard on the $1000/lb to orbit barrier. But also in a philosophical sense. If we are no longer dependent on a hidebound, design-by-committee bureaucracy for our access to space, then (miraculously!) we will have access to space on a far wider scale than we’ve seen so far.

And when the goblins do invade, it will be well for us to be able to nuke them from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

Spiders from Space!

Doesn’t quite have the cache of “Pigs in Space” but an interesting idea. Baen has an article up on what it sort of starfaring species social spiders might turn into. Interesting stuff:

Think Like Spiders with Starships

…First they have to find us. Or at least they have to find suitable sites to establish new nests, presumably rich, wet worlds like our own Earth. The drive for spiders to expand territory results in exploratory threads sent out at random. If strands stick, spiders investigate.

Imagine a technology that mimics what spiders know from biology. Von Neumann probes scattered to space might carry explorers who evaluate new nodes, new planets. Each planetfall expands a web work across space of increasing complexity and shifting connectivity. Communication vibrates along the connection points like a hum across the galaxy, with the spiders focusing on attractive worlds. The fact is, with expansion following their ancient ethological roots, they might eventually visit every world in the Milky Way.

…When they arrive here, they will not care about individuals. They will seem pitiless in the way they advance. There will be no opportunity for prisoner exchange. No quarter given or expected, indeed no conception of such a thing. We will likely not understand them and they can’t even try to understand us. We will see a campaign of conquest, but should realize the intellectual emptiness of evolution’s moral compass.

As a hierarchical species capable of independent thought at different levels, our advantage on the battlefield will play greatly to our advantage. While initially we may be awed and cowed by the technology they wield, the uncanny way they coordinate their ground troops, or their pitiless methods of advance, human instincts should launch our own problem solving abilities to defend our world and defeat the menace. We, who killed mastodon with fire-hardened sticks. We, who took the dens of cave bears as our own. We, who crossed mountains with nothing but furs wrapped about our bodies. We, who must now repel the seemingly implacable alien menace from our midst.

The tactics and strategy of the spiders following ancient biological algorithms would manifest in rapid adaptations on a battle field. Fluid with emergent properties, spider troops react almost instantaneously to our positions and movements with their own age old mechanisms honed over almost a half billion years longer as a social species. But their thinking is not heuristic, it is only reactionary. And this is their weakness. Our individuality will outwit programming.

Reminds me a bit of two of my favorite sf novels – Blindsight by Peter Watts, and Killing Star by Zebrowski and Pellegrino. (You should read both instantly.)

Intelligence Enhancement

Great post by Greg Cochran on intelligence enhancement and science-fictional possibilities thereof. Previously, some very fun stuff on intelligence here, and here.

The idea that the Ashkenazi Jews had their intelligence boosted by selection effects over the last thousand years is a fascinating one. What I am imagining right now is that the same process could have effects on other abilities. In the context of my story, there are so many possibilities…

Writing Advice

No I don’t have any. But I have found some people who do.

Self-published author Michael Hicks has some good advice on the mechanics of being a writer, as opposed to advice on actual writing. His advice lines up tolerably well with what I’ve come up with, with the added bonus of actually having been put to use in the real world.

Why do these things always come in lists? Still, Chuck Wendig has assembled a powerful good list of 25 points on story structure. Good list, but I particularly like the accompanying graphic:

That’s my kind of chart.

Cat Volente is guest blogging at Charlie’s place, online home of author Charles Stross. Her tour still has two weeks to go, and she’s already kicked out some amazing posts. Read, and when you’re done squeeze the rind to get all the juicy goodness out.

  • Hello, My Name is the Problem of Memory – her introduction, and some interesting thoughts.
  • #shitsiskosays – ruminations on DS9 and the inexcusable lack of social media therein. Or not so inexcusable.
  • A Far Green Country – Cotton Mather, New England’s first horror writer, and thoughts about the rapture of the nerds.
  • You Are What You Love – part one of a series on writing. Includes admonitions on cliche and a mention of TV Tropes, linked here just the other day. Powerful advice and it has if not changed the course of the book, has made me reexamine some of its parts. Closely.
  • Between the Perfect and the Real – writing advice of the “Buck up, Camper” sort.

Reading this stuff makes me really want to read her stuff. That will have to wait, though – but I must admit that “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” is a compelling title.

What’s another word for Bigfoot?

Given Captain Lewis’ speculations on goblins, perhaps you’ll find this interesting:

Bigfoot. Sasquatch. Yeti. The Abominable Snowman. Whatever you want to call it, such a giant, mythical ape is not real-at least, not anymore. But more than a million years ago, an ape as big as a polar bear lived in South Asia, until going extinct 300,000 years ago.

Scientists first learned of Gigantopithecus in 1935, when Ralph von Koenigswald, a German paleoanthropologist, walked into a pharmacy in Hong Kong and found an unusually large primate molar for sale. Since then, researchers have collected hundreds of Gigantopithecus teeth and several jaws in China, Vietnam and India. Based on these fossils, it appearsGigantopithecus was closely related to modern orangutans and Sivapithecus, an ape that lived in Asia about 12 to 8 million years ago. With only dentition to go on, it’s hard to piece together what this animal was like. But based on comparisons with gorillas and other modern apes, researchers estimate Gigantopithecus stood more than 10 feet tall and weighed 1,200 pounds (at most, gorillas only weigh 400 pounds). Given their size, they probably lived on the ground,walking on their fists like modern orangutans.

From io9.

From evidence collected from the teeth, it appears that the bigfeet were probably plant eaters. But throughout the world, plant eaters are some of the most dangerous animals going. Hippos kill more people than lions, fer instance.

What other names do we have for very large humanoid creatures?

Goblins in Space!

Okay, not really. But in the interest of providing quality content and getting you ready for tomorrow’s really big idea post, here’s a link to an interesting and long discussion on war in space over at perfidy.

Orion Drive

The exception to much of the mass considerations discussed above is the nuclear pulse, or Orion drive.  This concept involves building a very large ship with a heavy base plate attached to the back of the ship by some very serious shock absorbers.  Then, you light off a small nuke behind the ship.  Repeat as necessary.  This is an over-the-top propulsion scheme.  With this, you could accelerate very large masses very quickly.  Ships using an Orion drive would simply have to be big just to make the acceleration survivable.  Since you need a big ship; adding armor, huge power plants, or anything else you want is not such a big deal.  An Orion powered warship would be a huge hulking brute.  It would not be subtle, and stealth would be a lost cause.

No other type of spaceship (based on current technology) could match the Orion for speed and payload.  It will be in a class by itself until and unless someone invents fusion or antimatter drives.  Meanwhile, the inherent limitations of the other propulsion types will limit the kinds of warships that can be built around them.  (As will the existence of Orion powered warships.)

House slave or indentured servant?

Some more thoughts on publishing:

IndieGogo is the Canadian version of Kickstarter, apparently, and one author is using it to crowdfund his novel. Well, part of his novel. He’s hoping to raise money to pay for cover art and for editing costs. He’s actually already written the novel, it seems. So far he’s raised $334 of his $1380 goal. I’m guessing those are Canadian dollars. I’ve seen a couple of these sorts of campaigns. It would be really interesting to see someone try to crowdfund a living wage for a period of time to actually write the novel – but I imagine that you’d have to have proven your self first. You would in that case essentially be trying to recreate the old renaissance patronage system, replacing decadent but wealthy popes and whatnot with decadent but numerous members of the public.

There’s a lot of flux in the publishing world, obviously. I ran across this article – well worth reading – by author Michael Stackpole. (Avoid the comments, though. It’s a needless and interminable discussion of the validity and appropriateness of equating authors with house slaves.) Stackpole’s essential argument is that authors are typically paid for their future labor, and that most of the guns and leverage are on the side of the publishers. This suggests a rough equivalence with indentured servitude, especially once you factor in hidden clauses and traps for the unwary young author.

Here’s how that system works. A person wants to come to the colonies for a chance at  economic bounty. They can’t afford the passage. So, they sign a contract with someone who will pay for their passage, and they promise to work the debt off. The redemptioneer might cut his deal with his future employer, or might have his contract sold from the shipper to someone in the colonies. The redemptioneer has sold his future to fund his present, commonly for a period of three to seven years.

This is what authors do when they accept a contract and advances which are accounted against his future output. An author is selling his labor to move him into a position of future bounty. (It’s also what professional athletes do, but they have strong unions which specify how labor can be treated by ownership.) While this seems like a straight-forward contractual agreement, let’s examine the finer points of what we get:

1) The publisher does all the accounting. Tales abound of errors which are uncovered by all-too-infrequent audits. Because an author can never be sure of the accounting, he never really knows when his term of servitude is up. This problem is typified by the “reserves against returns” practice where the publisher may withhold as much of earned royalties as they wish, for as long as they wish, from the author—even if the book is being reprinted and selling well.

2) Publishers demand that authors sign non-compete clauses in their contracts that prevent them from taking any other work during the period of the contract, despite the fact that the contract might last for multiple years, but the payout schedule and advance level are insufficient to provide a living wage for that same period of time. Even if an author goes ahead, writes the books fast, delivers and they are accepted, the non-compete would prevent them from doing any other work which might be published during that same period.

3) All contracts have a “right of first refusal” clause in them, which means the publisher has the right to first look at your next new work, and the right to match any offer from any other publisher for that work. Most of those clauses, however, have a timing aspect, where they don’t have to consider your next work until the final book has been delivered, or within a time period around that delivery. The author, therefore, can be blocked from making any money with anyone else as the publisher takes his time deciding if he wants to continue to work with the author.

4) Some contracts have clauses that prohibit an author from writing any other work in a particular universe except for work to be published by that publisher. This looks great in a contract if you have a long and ongoing relationship with that publisher; but once you’ve been dropped, suddenly your best-loved work may be forbidden to you unless you, with no leverage, can get the publisher to strike that provision. (I found one of those lurking in a contract I signed a long time ago. It stings badly.)

5) Contracts regularly buy up rights the publishers know they are not going to exploit—like gaming rights, audio rights, stage play rights, movie rights. Those are lottery tickets for the publisher. If the author or his agent works hard, puts together a movie deal, the publisher wins, even if their publishing the book had nothing to do with the movie deal. (Face it, who in Hollywood actually reads books?) If an author does a treatment of his own book, sells it to a filmmaker on his own, he still owes money to the publisher and, in fact, under some contracts, may be prohibited from actually doing that side deal since those rights reside with the publisher.

6) Contracts allow a publisher to hold on to the rights to a work for a period of three to seven or more years, from the point that the work goes out of print. When that period is over, the author can ask for the rights back. In today’s world, however, with print on demand making short runs feasible, and digital meaning something is always available, books never go out of print. Publishers hold the rights to those works for a minimum of 35 years, at which point United States Copyright law allows authors to petition to get those rights back. That means, for many authors, that their grandchildren will be the ones doing that petitioning.

Publishing practices likewise use authors rather roughly:

1) Publishers can, and have, worked in lock-step to determine “dealbreaker” aspects of contracts. Is it any surprise that prior to 2009 publishers would give authors 50% of income from electronic publishing (IEP) but that after Random House sent a note to agents in early 2009 that they were cutting that to 25% of IEP, other publishers fell into line? While critics might point out that an author is free to sign a contract with an onerous provision or not, their needs and lifestyle may not permit them to walk away from an offering. If an author has a mortgage, or kids, or has to pay for his own health insurance, he’s handcuffed. Sure, in the eyes of many those handcuffs may be of gold, but they’re still handcuffs.

2) More importantly, publishers have asserted, over and over again, that they own the electronic rights to books for which they have no contract for electronic rights. Short of suing to get those rights back, what can an author do? If he does sue, there goes any chance of future deals with that publisher.

3) Publishers, as often as not, will be late in paying authors, without any interest or penalties paid to the authors. Conventional wisdom has it that payments are always late, and a welcome surprise when they arrive early.

4) Conflicts of interest abound in the industry. A publisher who owns translation rights to a book will let a foreign branch of that company purchase the rights without negotiating. That’s good for the corporate entity, but sucks for the authors. (I’ve had repeated cases where a publisher undersold my work into foreign markets and could do nothing about it.)

5) Publishers, when soliciting titles, will mention, as a matter of course, that “author appearances” are part of the marketing for the title. More than once I’ve had booksellers tell me that they’ve asked publishers if I’d go to their stores. The response is, “the author isn’t touring”—making it sound like I’m the one who refuses to honor the promise the publisher made.

There are many more things which lurk in contracts and practices (and you can mention them in comments if you wish) which put authors in difficult and even onerous positions. The bottom line, however, is clear: authors are indentured servants whose futures are purchased. Their ability to make a living at their craft is restricted by someone who has complete control over their output and the accounting for its success. While authors can refuse these contracts, in theory, it boils down to a question of can you afford to be unemployed?

(The house slave bit comes from his accusation that some authors are exhibiting a sort of Stockholm syndrome and defending their oppressors – the publishers.)

There are a number of reasons why I chose the path that I’m following. Not least are considerations like those above. I am pleased with the reception that I’ve gotten so far. I am reasonably confident that in the fullness of time works that I put up for sale will actually, you know, sell. I have a straight job, too, and so I am not dependent on income from fiction writing. Clearly I want to make money, but I have the freedom to wait for the right offer, or search for a better one.

I think I’ll be saving that article – it’s one of the better lists of things to be afraid of in contracts.


There’s been a significant uptick in traffic over the last couple weeks. I am pleased that all is proceeding as I have foreseen…

To all the new readers, welcome! I hope you enjoy the Veil War and tell all your friends.


And a general informational message:

I thought I might take a moment and talk about drafts. What you are reading is not a first draft. But neither is it a finished product. What it is is about a draft and a half. What happens is: I write. Then I go back and look for obvious mistakes, correct things, smooth things out a bit, and generally make a decent first pass at editing. The penultimate stage is my wife doing a quick copyedit; checking for spelling errors and rapidly proliferating commas. Then, you read it.

Right now, I’m doing an actual, serious rewrite of chapters 1-8 so that by the time my cover art is ready I’ll have something that I can put up on Amazon that will be as good, and as free of error, as I can possibly make it.

There are two things to know about me and errors. One, I hates ’em. Two, I makes ’em. You can help: by pointing out errors of fact or imagination, typos, bloopers, mistakes, grammatical and syntactical infelicities and wtf? moments. Or just by making suggestions for improving the story. Hell, even asking questions often makes me think more clearly about what I’m writing. Point out errors in the comments, or send me an email at thestephengustav [at] I embrace criticism. I give it a hug and tuck it in at night. Because it’s the only way to get better.


Drone Wars

As the Veil War moves on, things like this will become increasingly important. Drones are one of John Robb’s major interests, and he’s one of the best sources for good thinking about their future.

How does the addition of drones change the nature of combat/conflict?  Why?  The tech is moving too fast.  Here are some of the characteristics we’ll see in the near future:

  • Swarms.  The cost and size of drones will shrink.  Nearly everyone will have access to drone tech (autopilots already cost less than $30).  Further, the software to enable drones to employ swarm behavior will improve.  So, don’t think in terms of a single drone. Think in terms of a single person controlling hundreds and thousands.
  • Intelligence.  Drones will be smarter than they are today.  The average commercial chip passed the level of insect intelligence a little less than a decade ago (which “magically” resulted in an explosion of drone/bot tech).  Chips will cross rat intelligence in 2018 or so.  Think in terms of each drone being smart enough to follow tactical instructions.
  • Dynamism.  The combination of massive swarms with individual elements being highly intelligent puts combat on an entirely new level.  It requires a warrior that can provide tactical guidance and situational awareness in real time at a level that is beyond current training paradigms.

As will become clear when the bonus story goes out later today (remember to sign up for email updates or befriend the Facebook page so you get it) the invasion hits the United States fully as hard as it does Iraq.

How will the United States fight back when large chunks of its territory and population are no longer under its control? When the Federal government is disemboweled and almost non-existent? When most of its traditional manufacturing heartland is under the yoke of alien domination?

The need will be to create cost-effective weapons systems that can be manufactured in a distributed manner. No F-22s, no B1 bombers – those simply won’t be feasible in the new environment. The core of a drone is essentially an RC plane with a camera and some computer guts. People have already built homemade cruise missiles for $5000. The capabilities of future drones will increase dramatically just as the cost of goes down – just as has happened in the computer world, and for the same reasons.

For a great read, and a fictional depiction of how these technologies might be employed, read Daniel Suarez’ Daemon and Freedom™. Both are fantastic books and well worth your time for more reasons than just the treatment of drone warfare.

Freedom™ also discusses in detail another obsession of Robb’s – resilient communities. These ideas will have an important place in the future of the Veil War – not so much immediately, because the primary focus of our characters right now is surviving the next minute or hour.

If you were a refugee in Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, or California fleeing what Capt. Lewis is fleeing but without heavy weaponry, what could you do to survive?

This would not be very threatening

Ran across this when I was looking for a dragon image for the A10 v. Dragon post.  I think the A10 would stand a decent chance against this dragon.

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a lot of dragon images out there in the intertubes. Liked this one:

I’ve always liked the oriental dragon look.

I find it interesting that many creatures in the traditional magical bestiary are six-limbed – typically four legs and two wings, even though every large creature that we find in real life is quadrupedal.