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Stewart Hotston

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

Monthly round up

It’s been a busy month. I thought it would be useful to round up – even if only for myself.

First up, a long awaited anthology called Aliens: The truth is coming from Tickety Boo Press. It’s got some superb stories in it but I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my own in this – it’s one that I hope will take you from left field and stay with you after you’re done.

Second is that I’ve actually sold a novel to the same publishing company. It’s called Dreams of Darkness and is the first in the The Fox’s Hope series. It’s a dark and twisted view of myths. I described it to my editor as Steven Erikson meets Grimm.

towl-ebook-coverThird is that I finally got my assorted stuff together and put a collection of my favourite shorts out. It’s called Tales of Wild Light.

I’ve done a couple of posts about this recently, so not a lot more to say here. Well…except that I can’t stop talking about the cover which was done by a friend of mine, John Haynes.

The original is now framed and on display in my library. stewart-hotston-a-peoples-war-titles

Next up is A People’s War, the sequel to A Family War and the second in The Oligarchy Trilogy. It was due out today but we’re still going through proofing for typos – it’ll be this month and before Christmas but watch this space.

There’s another anthology coming for subscribers to my mail list – sometime in January. It’s called Human Machines and will feature stories set in the world of the Oligarchy in which you’ll learn a little more about some of the most important characters in the trilogy whose backgrounds and motivations are their own and deserve some more attention outside of Helena Woolf’s story.

Just in case

Tales of Wild Light is now available on Amazon. There’s also the ebook – but hey, if you’ve gone here, then you should have it already! If you’ve taken the free version from the offer – good on you. If you fancy having a real version of John’s cover then I’d suggest getting yourself a physical copy of this one. It’s pretty amazing and with a matt finish looks even more imposing.

Also, if you’d like to do me a massive favour – please leave a review of the collection once you’re done with it.

ta

Stewart

Tales of Wild Light

After a feverish day yesterday, this is now available for free for those of you who’ve signed up to the mailing list. It’ll be a few days before it hits amazon so not only are you getting it for free, but you’re getting it ahead of anyone else. I especially like the cover, which is by the amazing John Haynes.

To get a free copy, use this link and go have some fun.

These stories have been collected over a number of years – ones that I love but which were written almost exclusively for my own pleasure. Except for Farm Boy – that was written for a friend who wanted to see Destiny get kicked on the pods. That one’s for Ian Belcher.

I hope you enjoy these!

Cheers for all your support and here’s to many more stories in the future

Stew

Aliens – the truth is coming

I’ve a new story out in a collection from TicketyBoo Press, edited by Andy Angel and Dave de Burgh. It’s called We Three Remain and looks at the idea of…aliens! It’s got a contemporary setting but I don’t want to say anything else as giving any sense of the story will spoilerise it.

Anyway, this is one of those stories whose central idea makes me all warm and snuggly from a writer’s point of view. I hope you enjoy it too.

Aliens!

Are you even a person?

This is going to be raw. I don’t have clever words today because I’m sat here having just stopped crying with a lump in my throat and an answer to why I’ve been feeling so unsettled since the summer. On paper I should be a happy camper – I’ve sold a trilogy (a life long dream) and have (hush now) a new job in a sector I love. I’m married and have great kids.

Except that today I witness a rally by the ‘Alt Right’ in Washington DC where they finished by shouting ‘Heil Victory’ after having extolled the virtues of white supremacy and on the same day when on CNN people weren’t shut down after asking whether Jewish people were even really people.

I sit here without a sense of what to do about a society I see dying before my eyes – one where we sensed we could become more tolerant, more accepting and even perhaps a bit more chilled out about that we disagreed with. Instead I feel like the extremes are taking the centre ground, not by reason, not with hope or grace but with hatred at their hearts and violence on their lips. It’s not about left or right – God we’re so passed that now. It’s about those who want to actively see others harmed or denigrated, who want to steal the dignity of others so they themselves feel better because they can ensure there are others whose lives are harmed.

I don’t understand why the press isn’t calling it fascism, racism and naked hatred. I don’t understand why so many people continue to think it more important to worry about their cats’ latest cuddle (and I’m not attacking you, it’s just that right now I can’t see past this massive change in the way our society works).

It seems to me that until people are rounded up for daring to protest about the government on the internet or until people who aren’t white or men who believe in the ‘god given religion of white supremacy’ are being herded into ghettos that we’ll actually wake up.

I have a faith and right now I have no idea how it might inform what I’m facing (it’s an existential crisis right now and to God I hope it never gets beyond that). There is no political party that appears to give a shit about this, no one defending our institutions when they disagree with the abuse of power, no opposition ensuring we have something more than a 1 party state in the UK. Instead, in our ignorance of how independent institutions should function we rant and

And let me be clear – this isn’t about people who voted for Brexit because some of the worst anti-semites and racists I’ve ever met are on the extreme left. This is about what the campaign for Brexit has made possible, what the hatred of immigrants in what has become the centre ground has made possible. This is about how the centre has become a place where we bully those who disagree, where we do not tolerate difference, need, weakness or  reason on ALL sides.

How did this happen? How did we become a people so far from compassion that we’d rather children starved to death in Calais than be given hope in the fifth largest economy in the world?

Oh, I’m sure there are reasons, I could write an essay on post-colonial collapse, on the impact of the financial crash, of how globalisation has been a boon but has left many people in effective serfdom. I don’t need it explaining to me.

Nor is education the whole answer. This suggestion is to miss the point, to focus on the individual rather than the society whose narrative shapes us all. When the centre ground had moved so far to the extreme that it’s ok to question whether people fleeing war are even human then no amount of education can make a position anywhere else look anything except extreme itself. I want a party or a movement to belong to whose voice will be heard when arseholes shout that Jews should be killed, when they say we should torture our enemies, when they say that women should stay in the kitchen, when they say people with my skin colour are naturally inferior and should live separately. And just to be clear, it’s not simply white people who are racist and intolerant but right now it’s WHITE supremacism that’s on the rise in my country.

I want a movement whose voice will contest the very idea of the centre ground.

Is such a movement political? Of course it’s political! Yet it’s no the Labour party nor is it the Conservatives, both of whom in their own ways (Labour with their hideous tendency to operate from the centre and the Conservatives with their horribly regressive sense that poor people need to be told how to live) feed this very problem.

Yet I don’t know if I have the energy for this fight. Which is what those who hate me hope for I guess. I don’t know if people would fight alongside me, would fund and create content, would stand up in the street or hide those who were being hunted. I don’t know my children would be safe nor whether more people than less give enough fucks to stand up for a society in which we hate fascism.

I’m open to ideas but I’ve thought about this hard and see nothing to which I want to give my commitment to. I can only believe we need something new, some resurgence of hope, of grace that is secure enough in itself to stand up to those who would think nothing of beating it bloody to shut it up. I don’t know if you want to follow me in that, I hope you do.

 

Dreams of Darkness

Here’s the blurb for the first of the series, The Fox’s Hope. I hasten to add that it’s a complete novel though, so don’t worry that you’ll discover a world in which you’ll be left feeling unsatisfied.

Millennia ago, man walked the Dream with creatures now dimly remembered in myths and legends. Then came the Darkness, for which all believe man was responsible. To defeat it, man was banned from the Dream, cast out into the world of dumb matter.

Chris Elkin knows nothing of this – he’s more concerned with failing his degree, being dumped by his girlfriend and losing access to the inheritance left to him by his late mother. When his mother’s best friend gives him a stone with a hole in it everything seems to change. Suddenly he’s being forced from his home and discovering that if he doesn’t deal with his mother’s legacy, both worlds will go to war.

On the edge of the Dream, Maela, a Fae ambassador, finds humanity flouting the ban. She travels home to warn her people but her news is not welcome. Maela is sent to determine if man truly is to blame for the Darkness and if he is, to unite the Fae in a war against all mankind.

Shaal, an ancient fox spirit, is a survivor who mourns the loss of his lover in the last war. He still haunts the shattered lands where they once lived. Stumbling across a deliberately forgotten memory. Shaal wants to return home and use its power to restore his land. Instead he finds the Fae want what he has and will sacrifice thousands to get it.

Chris, Maela and Shaal converge in a climactic battle against those forces who would wipe out mankind to stop the Darkness.  Even if they win, shadowing the edges of their confrontation, the Darkness is plotting its first moves.

Dreams of Darkness is an epic fantasy spread across our world and the world of the Dream, that place where all our myths, all our legends are real. It is the first book of a new Epic Fantasy series, The Fox’s Hope and asks, if all our dreams are true, what would happen if our two worlds collide?

Just who is David Chalmers

No spoilers here!

In A Family War, David’s a policeman. In A People’s War he shows a different side. Helena always thought it was strange that an Oligarch wound up as a policeman, even one with as broad a remit as Chalmers.

It’s worth explaining a little about the Oligarchs. They are those whose families were rich enough or powerful enough that when longevity technologies first arrived they could secure these advantages for themselves. They were and remain the 1%. There are, at the time of Helena’s story, about 6 million Oligarchs on the planet. That sounds like quite a lot of them, but it’s not when you consider the planet’s population is closer to 9 billion. These 6 million are tracked and watched for the large part, they have what the media call Adherents, or followers in today’s parlance. Adherents are those who have latched onto specific Oligarchs for whatever special properties they perceive in them.

One of my key drives in building their society was celebrity culture, not simply saturday night television or the movies but how that plays itself out in boardrooms, academia and politics. Even there it’s not really the Trump effect, it’s more about the cult of personality, the idea that the person at the top deserves to earn a thousand times what their lowest paid staff members earn. We all acquiesce in that structure and you see this in how these people at the top are venerated, deferred to and respected as if they alone are responsible for all the good that’s done and profound decisions made. I found the work on organisations by Charles Handy invaluable in trying to figure out how large corporations would engineer this kind of social structure. When I cross referenced that to Richard Sennett and Zygmunt Bauman whose work on modernity, capitalism and the workplace is superb, I realised I wanted my corporations to be miniature dynasties whose boundaries were electronic as much as they were product driven and physical.

If you’re one of just six million among 9 billion ordinary people, something strange must have happened for you to end up as a policeman. Just saying.

Image is from the film Hot Fuzz and is not my own!

Democracy not what it’s cracked up to be?

I have to confess that I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that the UK voted to leave the EU in June. I’m disappointed that the USA voted Republican across all three branches of elected government. Neither of those were my preference. Having said that, I don’t actually have a franchise in the US, but you understand my point.

I’m reading a lot of discontent from those on the sides that didn’t see their preference win out in the elections. I’m also seeing a lot of crowing from the side that did win. I don’t really want to talk about that too much – there are always bad winners and bad losers. In today’s world where so many of us simply block those we don’t agree with we live in as polarised a world as we ever have done. After all, the imprecation to never talk about politics or religion at dinner is much older than the internet so I don’t feel it’s all that smart to blame social media for giving us a megaphone for issues that we’ve always struggled to debate effectively.

It was in the 1950s that Niebuhr said that democracies had to have the consent of all the governed otherwise they become tyrannies. This has always cut both ways for a form of government that is really startlingly new and like a sheet of glass – strong in some directions, brittle in others.

The point of this post is for me to talk about democracy. Not mob rule but the type of democracies we have in the UK and the US (which although constituted very differently are both of a specific type) – that is representative democracies.

I also want to debunk a number of facile arguments made by both sides about the results.

  1. We won, get over it. The country voted our way. This is disingenuous at best and miserable at worst. Representative democracies are not mob rule, they are a way of voting in people to make the complicated social and fiscal decisions for us. They may come with ideologies that we share or dislike but in the end their job is simple enough – rule in our stead. It’s never a case that a candidate is going to agree with their entire constituency, or even those who voted for them. It is massive overreaching to claim that ‘we won, get over it’. Politics is the art of achieving the possible with an underlying aim, for most, of improving society. Whatever your view of ‘improvement’ actually is. To suggest that winning an election is akin to winning the 100m sprint is to misunderstand both races. For elections it simply means the HARD WORK STARTS NOW and part of that hard work is to represent ALL THE PEOPLE. For the 100m dash, well, you may have won, but next week there’s another race and, frankly, you’re only as good as the last one. We should NEVER assume that the story’s over just because we’ve won a stage.
  2. The world will fall apart. Look, let’s be honest here, it’s pretty unlikely. It can happen and it does happen. But it remains pretty unlikely. We can make it more likely, on which more later, but overall, we have a complex and powerful system of government which means that most excesses have been anticipated and curbed before they can be started. Sure, there are always exceptions and issues that break the rules (campaign funding) or simply can’t be contained by the rules (climate change) but these are the cutting edge of how society organises itself and we should be absolutely expecting to fight hard on these battlefronts.
  3. The result wasn’t valid because so many people didn’t vote. I’m sorry, but I don’t care about this. It’s pure speculation to suggest those uncounted masses would vote any differently than the rest of society if they did vote. In fact, statistical evidence suggests they’d vote along the lines of those who did within the margin of error. So this doesn’t invalidate the vote. Now, Clinton may have lost because she couldn’t persuade people to vote for her, but that in itself is a valid message about the candidates.
  4. Particularly for the US, more people voted for Clinton than Trump. Yes they did. So what? We all knew before the election how the electoral college system works. For goodness sakes, it’s what did for Gore. It was deliberately set up to stop mob rule and for the most part it does that job really well. It means that just because California votes overwhelmingly one way it doesn’t mean the other 49 states get overridden. It’s an excellent example of constitutional checks and balances working well.
  5. Tyranny will follow!!!1!1!111!. Tyranny can always follow. So what? Right wing ideologues, of which it’s not clear that Trump is, tend to favour liberty more than left wing populists and although they have several views with which I disagree, fascism is NOT the same as Republicanism or Conservativism. (He may be a populist buffoon but check your judgements because another blond haired politician also presents that way but is far smarter behind that guise than most people credit him for).

I hear a lot of people saying that there’s something wrong with the system, that people on the other side are stupid or ignorant or elite or liberal as if these things invalidate their views. They don’t. That’s the entire point of universal suffrage. The democratic system is NOT broken even if the sponsors of that system on all sides have had their noses bloodied this year on both sides of the Atlantic (including Germany and probably France next year). I am unconcerned about vested interests getting a punch in the face.

I have never seen people more engaged with democracy. I mentioned to someone the other day that I almost wished for the time when we could rely on feckless apathy because it was less exhausting.

Almost.

Yet the point is, our society is worth getting engaged over, getting emotional over. We should be talking, arguing and debating what we think we want from society. If we aren’t involved then that’s the real tragedy and that’s where the disasters we truly fear, the bogeymen themselves, can get their foot in the door. Political volatility has been blessed absent for the last twenty years in English speaking democracies. However, that minuscule interlude shouldn’t let us believe this is the norm.

I am proud to be part of a democracy. I am proud to be English, British, half-caste. I have views that I’ll champion but crucially, when the democracy I’m a part of chooses otherwise I will accept that decision all the while seeking to make my voice heard. Attacking the system is pointless, possibly even disastrous, because what if we succeed in truly dismantling the thing that’s kept debate and speech open in the post war period? What then? Who gets to rule then?

Get engaged in politics. Organise yourself. If you don’t like the parties on offer change them or replace them. Wars have been fought over less and we have a blessed society in which we are far from such danger. Make your voice count but talk about the right things – not the failure of your argument to persuade others, not the success of opposing points of view, nor how you couldn’t game the system but about what you believe in.

Helena Woolf

Book 2 of the Oligarchy is nearly ready to go. We’re aiming for the third week of November – more on that when we have a firm date. In the meantime, I realised that I’d never really talked that much about Helena, the main character throughout the trilogy.

Helena’s an Oligarch. By that I mean she’s solidly within the 1%. Don’t hate her just yet (no…wait until you read about her and what she does before you make the decision). She’s blessed with access to technologies that the 99% are denied. For instance, she’s functionally immortal, although the reality is no one really knows just how long her generation will live. She’s benefitted from genetic therapies that mean she won’t get any of the more common diseases associated with ageing or those we might ordinarily say are heritable.

Add to that the fact that she’s had the best education, the best opportunities and you’d be forgiven for thinking she had everything going for her. A woman who might typify #firstworldproblems. Except Helena is also completely human, just like and I. Well, almost.

In the first book she discovers something terrifying about the world humanity has built for itself, about how it could follow its own logic and destroy the very thing that gives it substance. In A People’s War she’s following through on what she discovered in the first book, not least of which is that her missing father might just be the very man around who everything now revolves.

I’m showing two pictures for Helena above because she has changed her appearance more than once in the story so far. She has, via internal AIs, control over her pigment, hair colour and a limited ability to change her basic features given enough time. For me it’s a sign that in a world where you can change your appearance at will you’re not going to be worried about looking a certain way (except to be fashionable). While that doesn’t exclude racism, nor implicit bias, it does mean that people like Helena aren’t wedded to a certain way of appearing. You might comment that both the women whose images I’ve shown are beautiful (depending on your POV). I’d say, yes. Given the option, most people would probably choose to adhere to symmetry and current norms for beauty. It’s an issue I don’t tackle all that much I’ll admit, but I am very aware of what kind of messages are constructed in choices like this and wanted to highlight that this is deliberate and, hopefully, satirical.

Helena is complex (and I hope that comes across on the page) just like the rest of us.

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