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Stewart Hotston

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A Family War

Post Cyberpunk Larp

Got your attention? I hope so.

I challenged a friend of mine a few months ago on whether they’d be interested in and whether they could think of a way of turning the world in which A Family War exists into a LARP.

The problem with any sci fi LARP is really getting into the details of scifi – you know, those computers, AI, futuristic weaponry, hacking and the like.

My mate Andy has come up with a neat solution for the physical aspects and I think I’ve worked out how to do the electronic side so that players could experience both.

There are pinterest boards, ideas for plot and I’m going to start thinking about approaching the site and asking a small, select bunch of people if they’d be part of the team that could put this together…

However, the other important thing to note is that it’ll be kind of a post-cyberpunk theme. Beyond the cybernetics and implants that made cyberpunk such a thing. Gibson has been writing it for ages (ie, he moved on from cyberpunk a long time ago) and I realised in talking to Andy that The Oligarchy is also post cyberpunk.

Funny how these things emerge…

More news as it’s ready but for now this is very much at ideas stage. One thing though…if you were interested it would be great to know.

The game’ll be limited numbers and limited run – and it’ll be openly pvp (although pve will be the main focus), cos what’s drama without conflict?

And it’s out

Final checks passed! Launch buttons pressed. A People’s War is out.

Hope you enjoy and as always – regardless, if you do read a copy, please could you do me a massive favour and pop a review up for me?

Stu Keen
Stuart Keen showing a cool demeanour under immense pressure

Not to forget the competition – as per A Family War, the person who posts up the best photo of them with the novel will get the final instalment for free. The winners of the original competition are Bex Cardnell Hesketh and Stuart Keen, both of whom have now received their free copies of A People’s War.

Thanks and merry Christmas

S

 

The price of free

I decided last week in discussions with Matt at AR, that we should put the kindle version of my debut novel up for free at Amazon for 72 hours. That 72 hours runs out tonight. This post is about what’s happened and my feelings about it.

The first consideration was this: lots of people, including a not inconsiderable number of friends, have stumped up proper money for either a physical or ebook copy of A Family War. A decent number of those have then gone on to post very kind and honest reviews about the story they experienced.

I have been really concerned that they’ll feel a little bit cheated that the book has gone for free for a short period. I worry that it might put them off buying anything more of mine in the future because they’ll think ‘I can get it free later on anyway’.

I also worry because they’ve bought the fricking thing, have been supportive and have given me great feedback.

However, at the same time, I’m a fledgling author who’s is trying to establish an audience not just for this novel but for its sequel and all the other ideas that are trapped in my skull screaming to get out. I want this book to get to as many people as possible and create that market that an unknown author like me simply doesn’t have through the machinations of a massive marketing department.

So we come to the event itself – the book has been free since Saturday morning. In that time at least 2,000 downloads have occurred – definitely more as I’m still waiting for today’s numbers to come in. I have NO IDEA how people have found it, I have NO IDEA how it’s got to where it is in the charts – #1 in US Sci Fi, #1 in US Sapce Opera, #111 on the whole kindle store while in the UK it’s been #4 or 6 in the same categories.

I truly don’t understand how people found it at that point or how it’s propelled itself up the charts among other authors who’ve written lots of novels and have well oiled marketing programs. I’ll be trying to figure that out in the coming days with Matt as getting this kind of attention was exactly the kind of outcome I was dreaming of (even though not expecting in any way). It’s something to learn from, to understand and then to figure out how to make it work for me when book 2 comes out.

At the same time, I’m waiting to see if any more reviews pop along, if people continue to buy it when it returns to the heady heights of two bucks a copy and if this does actually help build an audience over time.

I’m an author – loving writing. However, I’m also an author who wants to get his work out there, selling for real money preferably, but also who has just enough self belief to think my work is, on a good day, worth reading. So I wrestle with the idea of creating something and then having to think about how to present it in the best way over time (and by time I mean weeks and months) in order that my secondary wish of getting it in the hands of as many people as possible bears fruit.

The free offer has paid dividends in terms of getting my work out there to literally thousands of people. I have been really tempted to make it permanently free, to ride this wave of people downloading the story to see how far it will take me – the heart gibbers madly, saying thousands could become tens of thousands or even more. Yet I’m listening to those around me who have advised ending the promotion as planned and seeing what happens…Part of me thinks it’s about momentum and that it should stay free, but in the end the argument that it’s actually worth something wins out. We’ll see if readers agree.

Free is tough. I love the people who spent their own money to buy a copy, (I don’t see book 2 ever being free). I truly hope they’ll stick with me as I continue to write and hopefully get published. However, I also really hope that as more people find my work, as some of them even like it, that they will, in future, also think it’s worth paying out their money too!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate anyone who takes the time to try my writing out – trust me I’m humbled that among all the choice out there, you’ve taken the time to pick my stuff up. But I’m trying to figure out how to make this all work and how to ensure that Matt as Alternative Realities thinks it’s worth publishing the next one I send to him.

Future Perfect – why politics, culture and people matter when building a world

A Family War is set in the nearish future and, as importantly, it’s set in our world. I’ve written about world building elsewhere, about how it’s vital to think through how technology and science might impact upon the world one is building but today I want to talk specifically about the other part of world building – the people and the politics. This is a fairly dense post – I’ve had some people say to me that SciFi isn’t their thing – especially stories that are as much about the questions by which we live as they are about technology. I can only apologise and promise that the book itself is a proper thriller with running, jumping and shooting of guns. Yet underneath all that there’s a living breathing idea of how things might be.
In A Family War I was primarily driven by a number of real world concerns and non-fiction pieces. Primarily, Martin Gilbert’s harrowing history of the holocaust (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holocaust-Martin-Gilbert/dp/0006371949) which was what prompted Helena’s story in the first place. I had read this over the course of three months and apart from the horror of the events themselves I wanted to understand just how it was that so many people went to their deaths without resisting. I always felt it was anathema to how I’d respond but then reading about tens of thousands of people who ‘willingly’ boarded trains knowing it would be the end of them – it’s not something I’ve ever been able to process (I saw willingly, I simply mean nothing more than they didn’t attack the soldiers, who they outnumbered, in a bid to live – I’m not judging, I’m simply saying I don’t understand it). I think I understand it a little bit now – with a family of my own who I might consider taking short term decisions for in case it meant that we could walk away in the long term. However, I fight with proper swords every week so I’m probably not the average person anyway.
I wanted to examine how a society built with full post war clarity about the Nazi regime could head back there. It was clear to me it wouldn’t be based on the same surface level detail. There wouldn’t be another Hitler or national socialism. Globalisation appears too deeply embedded or that to happen. Of course, by most measures we’re only really obtaining a similar level of free trade now that existed in the 1920s, so what goes around could still come around. Veering away from Nazis in the future, I decided to explore the impact of technology on human society. This fell into how tech would impact human well being, human productivity and our freedom to engage in leisure – the last of these a subject that’s only really a couple of centuries old.
Looking at productivity first, one could easily see that many people are shifted out of the middle class into lower paid and less secure jobs as machine learning optimise processes far more quickly than human/manual control could ever do. The Luddite call of ‘tech is destroying our jobs’ is never wholly wrong even if it is most often a futile protest – new jobs arise to replace the old but look at how many people you need to man a farm or build a car if you want to see how technology can impact an economy, a society and their communities. Add to that recent research by Saez, Bloomberg and Macquarie that shows that although income inequality hasn’t gotten markedly worse since the 1990s for the advanced western democracies, the middle ground has been eroded. More people work than before and they work in less secure jobs demanding fewer skills. Although the overall measure of inequality (GINI) shows a status quo, inside this data we are seeing the rich remain rich while the majority become poorer overall even while the poorest are better off now than they have been before. It a complicated picture but has some specific implications for what I wanted to write about.
Namely that tech would reduce people’s freedom to act economically even while giving them freedom to connect and express themselves. In other words a rise in freedom of self-representation would run in parallel to a decline in individual economic autonomy. For me this meant that the dividends of peace, economic growth and democracy would consume themselves as capitalist forms of governance slowly shaped the most advanced societies on the planet (be they democratic like Europe or Technocratic like China). In the end, I don’t think most forms of democracy are self-sustaining as they’re too open to being hijacked by demagogues. The US has great forms of protection from these kinds of attacks and even it finds itself twisted far away from what its founders imagined. The UK has always had a democracy designed to empower the elites but this has, ironically, provided for much stability. It too is now facing a turbulent period although the system itself does not appear to be under threat.
However, democracy can destroy itself simply through attempting to appease the majority when the majority decide they don’t want freedom of choice, movement, thought or opportunity. It may take time to get there but for most people in prosperous environments (and by this I mean they have enough food, medicine and movement to want to be left alone on a day to day basis) the pressure to protect the system that provides for the stability to deliver that prosperity is hardly felt.
In trying to arrive at the world in which Helena exists then, I wanted to undo democracy but leave behind the sense of prosperity it delivers. The easiest way for democracy to be undone is for commercial interests to undermine it – for instance corporates whose profits are large but whose products are damaging to either their consumers (eg. smoking) or the world at large (eg. petroleum). If entities in the same vein can impose proper free supranational free trade agreements – especially around how they pay tax to individual sovereigns it becomes hard for those countries to exercise any kind of influence over them. Over time they will seek to protect their goods and property (in a similar evolutionary trajectory to how nation states arose) and become principalities in their own right – but ones who boundaries are no longer physical but instead technological.
For the average person on the street it means that the following is a reasonable trajectory to the kind of society they find themselves in – democracy, increasing state strength, failing state strength, rising corporate influence, subsuming of weaker states, mutual patronage of stronger states with corporates. Can and does democracy ever come back around? Hard to say, but looking at the violence, political physical and ideological that was required to get universal suffrage in the first place it seems that once it’s gone it’s hard to get back.
So I assumed that democracy of the kind we in the UK enjoy now (of the John Hyland variety of representative democracy) faded away, replaced with a technocratic system which eventually evolved into an oligarchic system as is already observed in much of the rest of the world. This was obviously easier to justify when one considered that for the richest, life spans had increased into the centuries, so companies and influencers did not get naturally recycled by old age. As justice for most people is unaffordable, I could then implement a Rawlsian system of relative merits where as long as their immediate peers weren’t perceived to have unfairly prospered, most people would accept their lot if they were left to get on with it. One day I’ll write a system where the justice on offer is that envisioned by Amartya Sen
I’m waffling here, so a little summary before I finish up. We go from here to Helena’s world, a world of material plenty but of spiritual and social poverty for the majority quite easily. Although I’ve used the impact of technology (gene therapy, automation of skilled jobs, impact of machine learning (not even AI)), the same trajectory of declining democracy, a hollowed out society without a middle class and a corporate strength that overrides sovereign states is not one that’s hard to imagine occurring anyway.
Helena’s story is about how this dystopia comes into question, how it’s own centre falls apart. In that sense I think it’s a story for our times and I hope you do to. Book two, A People’s War will explore these issues further because Helena will face events she could not have realised were behind what happened to her in A Family War.

A Family War – Sample Chapter

Hi there. As promised a little while ago, here is the pdf: A Family War – Sample Chapter

If you like it you can get a copy here: UK or RestofWorld

In case you hadn’t seen the synopsis – the story is an action thriller set in the near future with a strong female central character.

“Helena is one of the Oligarchs, genetically-enhanced, centuries old families who rule the world. As a new world war begins, she is ordered to find a boy who could save the human race from genocide. Yet all is not as it seems; Helena finds enemies on all sides, intent on bringing about the war with all its horrific consequences. To make matters worse, Helena’s own integral AI challenges both her motives and her identity. Yet she has no choice but to accept its treacherous aid if she is to have any hope of surviving those who want her dead.”

As always, let me know what you think.

Also, as far as promotions go, is this a good way of convincing you it might be worth your time?

A Family War – My Cover’s Here!

The cover’s arrived, the cover’s arrived!

So AR are just publishing a short blog on the cover for A Family War, but I thought I’d show it here too. A big shout out again for Lawrence Mann, who did the cover.

I’m really happy with this – it captures the sense of difference between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. The story is a thriller but it’s based in a world where the 1% really have taken it all.

Politics aside, Lawrence has managed to bring in the feel of the City that plays such a central role in the story, a place where everything man has built is on display. Yet it’s not all sweetness and light – the greatest crimes sometimes occur right out in the open.

AR are going to send the opening chapter out to people who’ve signed up to their newsletter, so get on over there and sign up!

Cheers all

S

 

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