Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Author: Jonny Nexus (page 2 of 26)

Sleeping Dragon: Gadgets & Items

Sleeping Dragon’s world is a world of magic, not electricity, with the universal laws of magic explaining that universe in much the same way that physics explains ours. The devices that Sleeping Dragon’s civilisation is built upon are powered by magic, having been designed by mage-programmers and mass-produced in factories.

In our world, one word can often serve two meanings, with the correct meaning being obvious through context. For example, a mouse can refer to either a rodent, or a pointing device. Or if I tell you that a tank once crashed through the ceiling of my bedroom I’m referring to a water tank, while if an elderly German man raised in East Prussia tells you that back in 1945, a tank crashed through the wall of his family’s house, he’s referring to a T34[1].

Similar double-meanings exist in the world of Sleeping Dragon, but they are different double-meanings, typically derived from either:

  1. The spell that a wizard would have cast to perform this task back in the days before magic and magical items became mass-produced (e.g. a wizard would once have cast a whisper spell to communicate at a distance, so now people carry mobile-phone like devices that they refer to as “whispers”).
  2. The device originally designed for other tasks that a wizard would once have enchanted to perform a different task, back before the physical item being enchanted was specifically designed for that purpose (e.g. where once a wizard would have grabbed a broomstick / sweeping brush, and cast a levitate spell on it, now engineers design what is essentially a flying motorbike, which then has a levitate spell cast upon it – but which for historical reasons is still referred to as a broomstick).

The point here is that while to our eyes it might seem strange that when the inhabitants of the world of Sleeping Dragon can be referring to either a flying car or a rug when they refer to a “carpet”, but it’s no more strange than us using the word “tank” to refer to an tracked, armoured fighting vehicle[2]. We don’t notice it, because we’re used to it[3].

To make things a little easier for the reader, I’ve put a glossary at the start of the novel. Here’s a sneak peek.

bolt noun

A ranged weapon firing a beam of pure mana. A modern refinement of earlier wands enchanted with lightning bolt spells, bolts are available in small one-handed versions and larger two-handed versions.

broomstick noun

A small personal flying vehicle for one or two passengers. Originally a broom magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal spine equipped with handlebars, seat, and footrests, and propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

buggy noun

A wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically seating two to five persons, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

carpet noun

A personal flying vehicle carrying two to five passengers. Originally a rug magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal monocoque shell propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

crystal noun

A round, flat-screened device used to broadcast entertainment and informational programming via ethereal plane transmissions, originally derived from crystal balls used for communication.

dial noun

A timepiece, either wall-mounted or free-standing, or worn on the wrist (a wrist-dial). Originally passive outdoor devices requiring sunlight to operate, dials now use chronological spells to track the time and a magical face to display it.

guard noun

A law enforcement officer, often a member of a city or town guard.

herb noun

Collective term for plant-derived psychoactive substances. Herb is often ingested in powdered form via the nose and is illegal in most jurisdictions.

mana noun

The fundamental energy force that powers all magical spells and devices.

oracle noun

A mana powered device incorporating thinking spells. Used for data calculation, analysis, and storage. Smaller models typically incorporate a crystal screen for display and a keyboard for input.

pictograph noun

Image of a person, scene, or object, taken by a camera. Originally saved on paper magically sensitive to different wavelengths of light, pictographic images are now usually downloaded to oracles in informational form.

pictographic memory noun

The ability to remember or recall information, particularly visual information, in exact detail.

wagon noun

A larger wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically used for the transportation of cargo, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

whisper noun

A personal communication device used for person to person voice communications. Originally derived from the use of whisper spells for long-distance communications.

whisper verb

To contact someone using a whisper.

worm noun

Colloquial term used for Empire City’s underground rapid transportation system.

So now if I talk about leaning out of a carpet with a hand-and-a-half assault bolt in one hand, and a whisper in the other, while trying to evade the herbed up nutter who’s pursuing you on a souped up broomstick, and thinking maybe you should just have stuck to white-collar crime using oracles or picking pockets on the worm, you’ll know what I mean[4].

[1] That’s a hypothetical example, but back in the mid-nineties, when I was just starting my career in programming, I met a German guy who in 1945, at the age of 15, had been conscripted into the German army. His career ended somewhere in East Prussia when he stumbled across a tank whose turret was already turning towards him. Luckily the shell missed, and he was captured. He ended up in a prisoner of war camp near Stalingrad where he was fed only watery soup and was to hard labour. Pretty soon, he realised he was going to die if he didn’t change something. (Of the four million German soldiers taken prisoner by the Soviets at the end of the war, only one and a half million survived to eventually, some years later, go home, with the other two and a half million being worked / starved to death). Then a guard came around asking for engineers. He wasn’t an engineer; he’d been a schoolboy. But he had been at the German equivalent of a grammar school, so he put up his hand and was taken away to a drawing office. The older men there quickly clicked that he wasn’t an engineer. But they covered for him, and taught him. In 1948 he was released. His family were gone, and the family home was now in communist Poland, so he made his way to West Germany, enrolled in university to study engineering, and ended up becoming a successful businessman. When I asked him how he felt about his experiences he just said, “It was a good training for life.”

[2] The reason why we call tanks “tanks” rather than the more obvious “landships” is because when, in 1915, the British army were developing the first tanks they wanted to keep it secret. So they developed a cover story that they were intended as mobile water tanks for delivering water to the troops in the trenches, and in keeping with this referred to them as “tanks” – and the name stuck.

[3] I should give a hat tip here to Harry Turtledove, because this whole area of language and terminology is a line of thought that occurred to me having read his Great War series (an alternate First World War in a world where the Confederacy won the American Civil War). In this timeline, it was the USA who developed the first tanks, and their cover story was that they were mobile water barrels. So through this entire three book series, and the WWII trilogy that followed it, you have the phrases “barrel” and “anti-barrel gun”. And you know what? It ingrained itself in me. Right now, some ten years later, if were to read the phrase “three barrels appeared over the horizon” I’d be picturing tanks in my mind.

[4] That’s a made up example by the way, any not any kind of scene or plot line from the novel. You’ll have to wait for someone to produce a Sleeping Dragon RPG if you want to see that scene played out.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

Countdown to Sleeping Dragon: An Introduction

The Sleeping Dragon, my third novel, is set in what I call a “post-Tolkienesque” world. Five hundred years previously, it possessed all the standard trappings of a typical fantasy setting – kings, wizards, warriors, magic, dwarves, dragons, and elves who’d been so pissed off at the rise of men that they’d sodded off over a western ocean in a monster sulk.

But that was then, and by the time of my novel’s now, the world has changed beyond all recognition.

After enduring thousands of years of largely unchanging culture and history, the discovery of the means to mass-produce and commoditise magic triggered a tsunami of world-changing events and developments. Adventurers equipped with hand-held weapons shooting beams of pure mana tamed the wild East, broke the power of the once lawless Orc tribes, and looted so many abandoned dungeon complexes that paper money had to be invented as an alternative to wheelbarrows’ worth of not-particularly-valuable gold.

It is now a world encircled by flying ships and linked by a web of instantaneous communication links. Huge metropolises, each home to several millions of people, sprawl across what were once unspoiled landscapes.

And all of this is powered by magic; there is no electricity in this universe.

The once heroic past is apparently over. Where once adventurers wove tales of myth and legend, now they wield their skills and talents in towering arenas against programmed constructs, competing in sporting contests for audiences that number in the millions, their prize not glory or treasure but sponsorship and salaries beyond the dreams of the average Joes who worship them.

The story of the Sleeping Dragon is built around a central question. In a world changed so utterly that heroism itself seems an obsolete concept, will there still be heroes?

From Sleeping Dragon’s prologue…

Five figures sit around a table. In a heroic age, these men are heroes. They have humbled tyrants, slaughtered dragons, and reduced entire tribes of rampaging orcs to tears. Occasional difficulty with taxes aside, no man or beast has bested them, and no challenge have they feared.

Until this day.

For even they feel stunned disbelief at what has just been revealed.

One of them, a priest, clears his throat before breaking the awed silence created by his previous announcement. “And so that, gentlemen, is that. In a little over five hundred years our world as we know it will be destroyed. Civilisation will fall. Starvation and plague will stalk the land. All that we value, all of our learning, all that we hold dear: gone. Nothing left save dust and ashes.”

At the far end of the table sits an armoured warrior, his sword and shield placed on the table before him. The sacred symbol painted on the shield testifies to his faith and piety; the bloodstains and nicks on the sword bear witness to the fury and vengeance with which he has recently expressed that faith and piety. “Are you sure?” he asks.

The priest nods, his face a solemn mask. “The runes do not lie, Sir Ethelded. Nor the stars, nor the cards, nor the numbers. I have consulted them all, and it is certain: in five hundred years the sleeping dragon will wake and bring forth an apocalypse upon our world.”

I hope that’s given you a flavour of both the book’s setting and its themes. I hope you like what you’ve read.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

 

 

On The Naming Of A Series

This is something of an announcement twice over, the first announcement being of a new novel that I’ve started working on1, and the second announcement being that of the resulting marketing / naming predicament that this decision has precipitated.

The new novel, provisionally titled the Elven Lands Murders, is not so much a sequel to the Sleeping Dragon as a follow-on, set in the same world, and featuring Blade, one of Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists in a story that, as the title suggests, is set in the Elven Lands that lie across the Western Ocean, and which involves murders.

I’m calling it a follow-on rather than a sequel because while it follows on from that story, Sleeping Dragon itself is a completely self-contained novel whose story brings all its plot threads to a full and complete close.

And that’s where I arrive at the resulting predicament. Right from the start, If Pigs Could Fly was conceived as the first book of a series. Before I typed the first word of chapter one, I’d typed the title, “If Pigs Could Fly (WKPDA I). When the first cover was designed, it bore the words “West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency: Book I”. When I uploaded the book to Amazon’s Kindle Desktop Platform and it asked me if it was part of a series and, if so, which series and number that was, I typed in “West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency” and “1”.

But Sleeping Dragon is a stand-along novel, with no sequel.

Or at least, it was. Until now.

Now I need some kind of unifying subtitle. Not necessarily a series title, but a description for the shared world that can then go onto the cover and in the Kindle subtitle. Something like S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse or C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance–Union universe. Something that allows me to put “An XXX novel” as a subtitle both on the Sleeping Dragon, and on the Elven Lands Murders.

And that’s where I’m stuck. In these blog posts I’m calling it “the world of the Sleeping Dragon”, but that’s essentially a circular reference (I’m saying that the Sleeping Dragon is set in the world that the Sleeping Dragon is set in). What I really need is something that captures the essence of the setting (which I described in the first Sleeping Dragon blog post).

And so far, nothing’s come. 🙂

1This is in parallel with Sticks and Stones, book 2 in the West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency series, and the sequel to If Pigs Could Fly. At this point, I’m not sure which novel will be first out of the gates, but the smart money should be on Sticks and Stones given that it is 90% complete in first draft, even if the reason for it being paused on 90% is that it has metaphorically fallen at the final hurdle, that hurdle being how to make the damn ending work from a narrative point of view.

The Gutter Prayer, by Gareth Hanrahan

I’ve just (belatedly!) ordered the signed, limited Goldsboro Books edition of the Gutter Prayer, the debut mainstream novel of my very good friend1 Gareth Hanrahan (actually Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, but that’s apparently too long a name to fit on a novel’s cover). Limited edition as it is, it costs £24.99, but I think that’s actually excellent value for money given that Gar’s first published work cost me €4002.

The paperback version isn’t being published until January, but ARCs are already getting some pretty stunning reviews, such as this short but sharp one on Goodreads:

“From carrion gods to alchemical warfare, this is genre-defying fantasy at its very best. An absolutely stunning debut. Insanely inventive and deeply twisted. I loved it! Highly recommended.” – Michael Fletcher

Alternatively, you can check out Gar’s own elevator pitch, or the series of blog posts he wrote about the story’s fantasy city setting. Either way, I’d recommend checking it out, and I’m not just saying that because he’s a mate.

1I mean this in the genuine non-Hollywoodian way, as in we attended each other’s weddings. At his, my wife and I stood on a County Kerry beach in glorious sunshine and watched a magical ceremony. At mine, he couldn’t go back to his hotel room, and I believe ended up part of a group who were locked out of the hotel – but in my defence I’d already departed on my honeymoon at that point, and so I’ll admit to no responsibility.

2This was at the 2003 (I think!) Gaelcon charity auction, back in the pre-Lehman days when Irish charity auctions were mad, bad, and dangerous to one’s wallet. If you don’t believe me, here’s a video of me paying for the lots I won, afterwards, although I should point that that about €300 of that was Evil G’s.

 

I Have A YouTube Channel

I’ve never really got into the vlogging area. Back when Game Night came out in 2008, Jules and I filmed three videos that I thought were actually quite funny, and which I uploaded to YouTube. But I didn’t really get any response from them, and I never followed it up. Of course, since then, YouTube had exploded, and I’ve found my own usage of its changing – especially having bought a smart TV. While I used to see it only as a place to watch occasional clips, I now find myself watching it as very much a form of TV – such as the brilliant WWI documentary series The Great War. Anyhow, I’m still not sure what I could or should be doing in this area, but I’ve created a channel, and uploaded an introduction.

44 Per Cent: A Party Game About Populist Politics

Type: Party Game

Players: 5 upwards (20 is ideal)

Duration: ~20 minutes

Equipment: Paper and pencils

Complexity: Simple

Risk of Conflict: High

44 Per Cent is a fun and educational party game that takes its name from the fact that in the 1933 German General Elections, Hiter’s Nazi party achieved a 44% share of the vote, on a highly populist platform that combined violence with the following broad themes:

  • An emphasis on rhetorical appeals to emotion over logical appeals to reason.
  • A rejection of conventional economic and political theories, and of the “experts” that expounded them.
  • A commitment to make Germany “great again”.
  • Assertions that Germany was the greatest country in the world.
  • A belief that Germany’s problems were not internal in nature, but instead had external causes:
    • Persons living in Germany who were deemed to not be German in culture and ethnicity (i.e. Jews) and who supposedly therefore did not have Germany’s interests at heart.
    •  Other countries (chiefly the United Kingdom and France) who were actively conspiring against German interests for their own advantage.
  • A belief that the rule of law and established political structures should be subordinate to anything that might be deemed “the will of the people”.
    • A belief that anyone (such judges or politicians) who attempted to block or defy measures that had the support of the people were “traitors”.
  • A belief that there existed an “establishment” which served to promote its own selfish interests at the expense of the people.
    • A belief that anyone who might be termed an intellectual or progressive, including artists and academics, was likely to be a member of that establishment.
    • Assertions that existing political parties and movements were part of the establishment, even those that purported to represent the working classes.

Participants

44 Per Cent is best played in a mixed group that contains participants from a range of political persuasions and demographics. Family gatherings are particularly ideal.

Setup

The setup of the game is simple:

  1. Count the number of players and calculate (rounded to the nearest whole number) what 44% of that number is. This is the Nazi Voter Number. For example, if you have 9 players, then the Nazi Voter Number is 4.
  2. Read the above description of the Nazi’s party’s 1933 populist platform to all participants.
  3. Two participants should be selected to serve as vote counters.

The Game

Each participant is given a piece of paper and a pencil. They must then write on that paper a list of other participants of a number equal to the Nazi Voter Number.  For example, if there are 9 players and the Nazi Voter Number if 4, then they must write the names of 4 of the other 8 players on their list.

The participants they select should be those who they feel would have been most likely, had they been living in Germany in 1933, to have voted for the Nazi Party’s populist platform. Participants should not write their own names on the lists (i.e. the lists should be anonymous).

If prepared in advance, pre-written lists can be made where participants merely have to put ticks against names.

Once all lists have been written, they will be folded and then gathered up (in a hat or other suitable container). The vote counters will then count the “votes” for each participants, then rank them in order, highest to lowest, and then select the Nazi Voter Number highest names. These names will then be revealed to the participants as the people who would have voted for the Nazi Party in 1933.

For example, in a game with 9 players, 4 players will be declared to be persons who would have voted for the Nazis.

Upabove: Sleeping Dragon’s Decaying Jewel

Sleeping Dragon’s origins lie more than ten years in my past, to a weekend break my wife and I took to Venice back in the autumn of 2007. This was just three months after our wedding, but full disclose compels me to admit that this was the result not of some romantic gesture by me, but of an impulsive purchase of bargain flights by my wife on some last-minute type site.

I arrived with in possession of a degree of scepticism, but that scepticism was blown away by the reality of Venice. I found it both beautiful and inspiring, though not perhaps in the way it is commonly portrayed.

To me, Venice appeared akin to the clichéd English stately home, once grand, but now crumbling, with its once wealthy owners living amidst the faded grandeur of what had once been – but with Venice, this was repeated a hundred-fold. To take a trip along the Grand Canal is to take a trip past crumbling palace after crumbling palace, the peeling paint on the epic visages revealing that this is a place that was fabulously wealthy once, but now isn’t.

Somewhere during that visit, the vague dust cloud of ideas that had been orbiting my brain’s creative centre for several weeks began to coalesce into a rounded planet of an actual idea, that idea being the “fast-forwarded fantasy world” of Sleeping Dragon. And orbiting that planet of an idea was a satellite moon of a plot-point location: a Venice-like city that sat not in the sea but instead floated in the clouds.

Upabove.

This is what I wrote about Upabove in Chapter Twenty-Five of Sleeping Dragon:

Upabove was an obsolete relic that shone with the light of ages past; a name that conjured up images of wealth, intrigue, and decadence. It had been founded a little over three hundred years ago by a group of refugees fleeing the carnage brought by the Empire’s Great Succession War. Desperate, they’d set out by carpet across the Middle Sea towards the independent lands beyond; a destination far beyond the range of that era’s early and crude flying vehicles. Reaching safety would require them to ditch in the sea while their vehicles’ mana stores recharged, in carpets not designed for ditching.

Many refugees undertook those sorts of desperate journeys, and many were never seen again. But fate, chance, and geography smiled upon this particular group, for at the halfway point of their journey they encountered a unique and hitherto unsuspected anomaly: an area a mile or so across, around five thousand feet above the surface of the sea, in which the background level of mana was more than five times the standard. The downward progress of the charge needles in their carpets, which had been moving relentlessly towards zero, halted, and then reversed. The needles began to rise, and within hours were sitting at the top, fully charged. The refugees realised they were sitting atop some kind of flaw in the world’s mana field that leaked mana like a volcano leaks magma.

People with lesser ambition, or who were less blessed in imagination, would have waited until their carpets were fully charged, and then resumed their journey, thanking the gods and fate for the good fortune that had spared them a risky and possibly terminal ditching. But these were not such people. Instead, they took the older and slower carpets and lashed them together, building a temporary shelter for the children, the old, and the sick. Then a group sped back to the Empire, returning with supplies, building materials, and people. From those ramshackle beginnings they built a floating city that they called Upabove.

Upabove grew fabulously wealthy in its first two centuries. Its skilled magical artisans were able to use its high background mana level to create items that were both better and cheaper than those produced elsewhere; its position at the centre of the Middle Sea allowed skyships and carpets to travel directly across the sea rather than around its periphery, stopping at Upabove to recharge.

Upabove was never technically an independent state; in fact it was never a state at all, consisting legally of nothing more than a collection of skyships, tethered together. But its inhabitants used their wealth and power to gain a de facto independence, registering their floating palaces under a succession of flags of convenience with border principalities on the fringes of the Empire. They called their state a republic, and themselves merchant princes. But then, some hundred or so years ago, a series of advances in magical technology rendered Upabove obsolete. Improvements in mana storage and more efficient motors meant that skyships and carpets could now fly not hundreds of miles on a single charge, but thousands. And new techniques for magical item production allowed finer items to be crafted using far less mana.

On Upabove, little appeared to change. The merchant princes continued to party as decadently as before, but now the money was flowing outward, not inward. It was said by some that it had taken the inhabitants of Upabove two centuries to earn their fortunes but less than one century to squander them. Others joked that while Upabove was now bankrupt, its inhabitants would notice this only when the drinks tab ran out. Like a neglected gemstone, Upabove started to tarnish. The magnificent palaces, now old and their maintenance neglected, showed signs of rust under layers of peeling paint. Meanwhile, Upabove’s hard-earned quasi-independence grew fragile, maintained only by the inability of surrounding governments to agree on what its new status should be. People whispered of mortgage defaults and hostile takeovers, and talked of an invasion by stealth.

But through all of this, the merchant princes partied on. Upabove might have been a relic, and a bankrupt one at that, but it was still Upabove.

And it was still magnificent.

A little late on, when Dani arrives, I’m able to give a description of Upabove itself, in an infodump made possible by virtue of a talkative cabbie:

Upabove was built like a spinning top, albeit one made from hundreds of separate pieces that merely floated in formation, connected by a spider’s web of walkways. The “disc” consisted of a ring nearly half a mile in diameter, with a rounded outer surface sculpted to deflect the strong winds that blew at this altitude; and an inner surface terraced into gardens, balconies, and public walkways. Floating inside the ring were hundreds of separate buildings, some squat, others shaped like long, thin cigars set on end with their tops and bottoms extending far above and below the ring’s protected inner space.

At the centre of the “disc” was a long, thin needle that extended both further above the ring and further below than every other part of Upabove. At its bottom were clusters of docking ports, connected to which were more than a dozen large skyships, including the one that Dani had just arrived on. At the needle’s top, a forest of communication dishes and antennas sprouted. And somewhere in between was the long narrow platform of the cab rank, upon which Dani now found herself.

A line of carpets painted in yellow and black checkers floated next to the platform. Dani stepped carefully into the first of the waiting vehicles, which was piloted by a slightly chubby man just this side of unkempt. “Far Clouds Hotel, please,” she told the cabbie. “But could you take the long way? This is my first visit here and I’d like to see a bit of the place.”

“No problem love,” the cabbie told her. “I’ll take a loop around the hoop.” The man smiled, clearly pleased with the rhyme.

The carpet glided away, passing over the floating buildings that made up Upabove’s “disc”. The cab pilot started pointing out various features. “That building there, the one that looks like it’s covered in gold – that’s the casino. And see that group over there that form a square? That’s Founders’ Place, where the Opera House is.”

Dani looked further down, at the docking platforms below. “A friend of mine said her skyship was docking at Platform Twenty-Seven. Do you know which one of them that is?”

“Ain’t any of them, love. Twenty-seven’s over there.” The cab pilot hooked his thumb back at somewhere the other side of the central needle. “It’s not down there on the hub. It’s a private platform attached to one of the buildings on the eastern side. Think your friend must have got her numbers mixed up.”

“Really? I was pretty sure she said twenty-seven.”

“Yeah? Tell you what, I’ll show it to you.”

So that’s Upabove, inspired by Venice, but subtly different: not merely a floating Venice but instead a product of the World of Sleeping Dragon’s culture and technology. I hope it sounds intriguing, and if it does, please considering pre-ordering the Sleeping Dragon at the links below.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

The Cast of Sleeping Dragon: Dani

The cast of the Sleeping Dragon is an ensemble one, featuring five misfits bought together by circumstances beyond their understanding, who swiftly realise that only by working together can they work out just what the hell’s going on and, more importantly, just how the hell they can get out of it.

In this post we look at the woman who supplies the ensemble with a streetwise mix of skills and knowledge gained from a life lived in Empire City’s darker margins.

* * * * *

Dani fought her way out of a tough childhood spent in the care of the state after the death by overdose of her herb-addicted parents when she was still just a toddler. A loner, both by nature and circumstance, she now earns a living, albeit an illegal one, as a grifter. Not for her the cosh, or the rope and grapple: this is the Second Millennium of the Third Age and the tools she uses are somewhat more sophisticated.

Dani swung her pack off her shoulders and pulled a flat object out of one of its side pockets. It was a small, but highly powerful, portable oracle she’d got from Pete’s loaded up with a whole load of cutting edge software that she most definitely hadn’t got at Pete’s. She reached back into the pocket and pulled out an even smaller device that also hadn’t arrived on her person via any legitimate retail sales channel, plugged it into a port on the back of the oracle, then nodded at Blade.

Dani opened the oracle and ran up a general-purpose security-monitoring program available only to certified professionals in the security industry, and people like her. The screen, blank initially, gradually filled with a variety of icons of varied colours and shapes, each representing a particular device installed somewhere in the landscape before them.

“I’m guessing that means there’s stuff down there,” Blade whispered, nodding at the screen.

“Yeah.” Dani jabbed a finger from icon to icon, listing each type as she did so. “We’ve got line sensors here, forward looking motion detectors over there, a belt of general proximity stuff, and then some general comms gear. All pretty standard. Good quality. But standard.”

“Can you get us through it?”

Dani gave him a smile, then flexed her fingers. “Watch me.”

When we first meet Dani, she’s living a life she believes is the one she wanted.

The mark gave a smile and a wave as he caught sight of her. He stepped briskly up to the table and sat down, hand outstretched. “Ms Smidt,” he said to Dani, smiling. “Good to meet you in the flesh at last.”

Dani took the hand and gave it a good, firm shake. “Call me Johanna.” She tossed a twenty gold piece note onto the table and pointed towards the statue of Sir Ethelded. “How about we go and take a look at the goods?”

“You’re reading my mind,” said the mark, smiling. They walked across the paved expanse to the statue, stopping just in front of its polished marble plinth. Dani gave him some time to admire it. After a few seconds, the mark spoke. “It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Dani nodded. “It is.” And to be fair, even covered in pigeon shit, it was.

“Hard to believe your bosses want to get rid of it.”

Dani leaned in, looking first left, and then right, as though checking that none of the sash-wearing old ladies could overhear. “Which is why the City Council is insisting on absolute discretion. There are still too many who don’t understand progress, who can’t see this statue for what it is: an obsolete symbol of a bygone age. They don’t see the shame in honouring a man who ethnically cleansed the East of orc, goblin, and beastman.”

The mark paused again, the expression of oily covetousness upon his face showing clearly that it was the vision of the statue set upon the front lawn of his new-money mansion that currently occupied his mind, and not the fate of any orc, goblin, or beastman. “Ms Smidt.”

“Please, call me Johanna.”

“Johanna. I want this statue. Now.”

Biting at the bait, thought Dani, time to start reeling him in. She waved a protesting hand. “This is a discreet process, not a secret one. There will be an auction. Sealed bids.”

The mark snorted. “Auctions can be talked about. Bids can be leaked. Do your bosses want this to happen or not?”

Reserved and suspicious as she is, Dani’s talents and strengths are not immediately obvious. But as time goes by, her companions comes to realise that she is someone they can rely on.

* * * * *

Just for fun, I created some mocked up RPG-style character sheets for Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists. Here’s Dani’s:

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Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

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The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

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Cover vs Cover: Fight!

Last weekend, during a browsing session in an Oxfam bookshop in Chester, I found an interesting pair of books on opposite shelves, which resulted in me making the following tweet shortly after:

Templar-Books

Now I should say at this point that referring to these two novels as “Dan Brown wannabes” is unfair. Shorn of the shackles imposed by the Twitter’s 140 character limit, I would probably have described them as books in the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” genre created by Dan Brown’s hugely successful 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.

But what I find fascinating is that we have his two books, published at around the same time, that are not merely in the same genre, but on themes so similar that the designers of their covers were probably given near-identical instructions. Which means that just as identical twins are irresistibly fascinating to biologists, these two books allow us to see two forks in the wood, both of which were taken, and decide which fork we think was the most successful.

The Brief

Both books focus on the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order active between the years 1139 and 1312, and about whom much myth and legend has accrued in the years since their violent suppression by the French King Philip IV.

Both covers were produced with a quality finish with embossed text.

Potential Resources Available to the Designers

Templar knights wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross, and to this day, the red cross is associated with them. In addition, the order had a seal, which depicted two knights sharing a single horse. I found some examples of both:

TemplarCrossTemplarSeal

The Contenders

The Red Corner The Blue Corner
Title: The Last Templar Title: The Templar Legacy
Author: Raymond Khoury Author: Steve Berry
Nationality: British Nationality: American
Published: 2005 Published: 2006
LastTemplar-Front TemplarLegacy-Front
LastTemplar-Back TemplarLegacy-Back

(Click for higher resolution images).

Thoughts on the Designs

What I find fascinating is that both cover designers have gone with the same elements (the cross and the seal), but in very different ways.

The Last Templar uses the whole cross, and puts the seal at its centre. It then adds a background of a New York skyline inside the cross (click on the image to see this in more detail). It combines this with an “old, torn manuscript” backdrop.

The Templar Legacy by contract, is much more abstract. The cross is there, but in a blurred, partial form, and the seal is used only as a very muted backdrop to that cross (again, you might have to click on the image to see this). Combine that with the black background and you get a much darker image, which perhaps is not trying quite so hard to project the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” angle.

Me? I think I prefer The Last Templar. Perhaps the cover isn’t quite so subtle, but I just like the aged manuscript theme. What about you? Please let me know in the comments.

* * * * *

P.S. I will be at Innominate (Eastercon 2017) in a few weeks selling Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. I’m going to bring both of these books along and run a vote as to which one people like best. So if you’re at the con, and fancy examining the actual physical items, please drop by.

You Think 2016 Was Bad?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking on plots of novels, and so it’s only natural that when I think about events occurring on our world, I try to imagine how they would develop were they events of fiction rather than reality.

People talk about 2016 as being the year from hell, but the thing is, most of the bad things about 2016 were the taken of decisions to do something bad, with the something bad itself having not yet occurred.

In other words, if 2016 were fiction, it wouldn’t be a stand-alone novel, but would instead be one of those slightly frustrating first books of a trilogy where lots of plot lines are initiated but nothing ever gets finished – and you then have to wait a year for the next book.

And that leads onto a second thought: if 2016 were merely the first book of a trilogy – what’s going to happen in the next two books.

Well with thanks to my friend Ian McDonald for the crucial plot development at the end, here goes…

2016: The Unfolding (Book I of the End Years Trilogy)

2016 begins in a world still struggling to extract itself from the Great Recession of 2008, and racked by wars triggered by climate change and ill-advised imperialist interventions.

In Europe, the European Union is under assault from the forces of left and right, while in the United States dark populist forces are gathering.

As mainland Europe struggles to cope with the refugees pouring out of a war-torn Middle East, the disastrous result of a recklessly called referendum plunges the United Kingdom into political and constitutional chaos. Meanwhile, the American presidential election produces a stunning shock of unprecedented proportions as a racist and misogynistic narcissist utterly unsuited to the role is elected on a tidal wave of neo-fascist populism.

2017: The Unravelling (Book II of the End Years Trilogy)

2017 begins with the results of the American election turning from tragedy to farce as the president-elect is revealed to be a Russian intelligence asset whose election was largely due to the Kremlin’s intervention. Meanwhile in Britain, the phony period of fudge and bluff comes to an end as the process to leave the European Union is begun.

As the world economy spirals further into the chaos triggered by Brexit and the nationalistic protectionism of the American president, Russian president Vladimir Putin invades the Baltic states. Shorn of effective leadership, and betrayed by the United States at the moment of invasion, NATO disintegrates.

Alongside this, and goaded by the United States’ ascendant right-wing, an increasingly belligerent Israel attempts to increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Western World attempts to celebrate an uneasy Christmas, a drunk American president engaged in a late night Twitter argument with the president of Iran orders a nuclear strike on Tehran. Following a rehearsed script written several months previously by Pentagon lawyers, and deploying pre-written letters signed by certain departmental heads, the Air Force officer carrying the “nuclear football” announces that by issuing such an order the president is clearly incapacitated as defined by the twenty-fifth amendment, and as such, presidential authority will now lie with the vice-president.

2018: The Unleashing (Book III of the End Years Trilogy)

2018 starts with the United States engulfed in a full blown constitutional crisis, with a still-tweeting president claiming to have been the victim of a military coup and the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming to be following the now legitimate commander-in-chief, the former vice-president.

Both the military and civilian authorities are split as to the legality of the Joint Chiefs interpretation of the 25th amendment. A majority of state governors declare allegiance to the former president, with several calling up their state national guards. The regular military itself fractures into uselessness. Within weeks constitutional crisis has given way to a limited, but still bloody, civil war, with fire fights breaking out in Washington DC between different factions.

The American economy, paralysed, enters a death spiral; the world economy follows. Vladimir Putin meanwhile, follows his move into the Baltic states with an invasion of Poland and a declaration of a new Russian Empire, with himself as emperor.

With the world on the brink of an all out war, only one leader remains with the moral and political authority to hold the centre: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gathering together the remains of NATO, she forges a new alliance. While her forces meet and defeat the Russian invasion, triggering a democratic uprising in Moscow, a Canadian led force allied with the anti-Presidential forces occupies Washington DC in the last hours of 2018.

When the sun rises on New Year’s Day 2019, it is on a new world, in a new era.

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