Self-Review 13: Grey Engines

Grey Engines smallGrey Engines

A century and a half after a weaponized message from space devastates Earth, leaving the few survivors with telepathic abilities, the recovering society faces the arrival of the species which sent the message.

With society still rebuilding, its delicate balance threatens to collapse with the tensions of facing an invasion, and the revelation of a secret at the heart of their way of life. Then there are the aliens.


This was based on a short story Mind/War Games the ideas of which continued to grow in my mind until I needed to turn it into a full novel.

I was slightly concerned that the shift from the preparation for the invasion in the first half of the book to the action stuff in the second half could feel odd, but it is a logical progression of the story, so hopefully it isn’t too offputting to readers. Not that the early chapters are that slow (I don’t think) and possibly don’t have enough world building early on.

One comment is that I didn’t fully explain ACTORs (Artificially Constructed Thoughtforms), which is something I may need to review. I didn’t explain everything about them straight off, but thought I’d done enough.

ACTORs are basically telepathic AIs implanted in telepaths at birth to regulate their telepathic abilities. They started off since I decided telepathic abilities developing as individuals grow wouldn’t be as interesting as if they had them at birth (or before) and had artificial minds implanted to help control the abilities. They grew then to become a teacher and eventually confidante. In writing terms they also allow me to explore the character’s thinking in conversation rather than just thinking to themselves, which makes it more interesting (I think).

While writing this blog post I started to wonder whether Carver’s accent might be a bit too strong, and unintelligible to some readers. So I’ve put a glossary on the website for his version of a Yorkshire dialect (while I worked in Yorkshire for six years its possible the dialect is a bit off, but than Carver is working from reassembled memories of what it should be, so you can hardly expect it to be exact).

I do have a kind of sequel in mind, some centuries after this one. It comes from the idea that ACTORs are kind of like a policeman in every telepath’s mind. How then do you do a murder mystery in such an environment? I have a few ways, and haven’t yet decided on which one to use.


UPDATE: Since writing this, the ideas for the sequel have become a lot clearer. A few things click into place and I’ve basically got the structure of the story in place. It looks like I may be able to use more than one of the ideas I had for how to get around the inner policeman. Not sure when it’ll get written yet, since it’s one of four novels I’ve got planned for after my current projects, but at the moment it’s pushing its way to the front of the thought queue.


Cage of Thoughts

I’ve just released the third short story in the Tales of the Thief-City
series, Cage of Thoughts.

Cage of Thoughts smallCage of Thoughts

Nexi can overwhelm newcomers. When new arrivals run afoul of the city’s dangers and a young girl goes missing, they turn to Rax Darkthorn to learn what happened.
In the Thief-City, where myths walk the streets, and minds can change in back alleys, seeing is believing. Especially when it’s a lie.
A 6500 word fantasy short story.

Self-Review 12: Shadow Lantern

Shadow Lantern small

Shadow Lantern

Trading in magic can be costly.





This came from a writing prompt on the Writing Excuses podcast to do a story in pure dialog. I started with a few lines, building up the situation, and eventually found the actual story as I went along. So it was mainly discovery written, then forced into a narrative later.

I’m relatively happy with it, although some comments have been that it’s hard to get into initially, so I’m wondering what could be done to better set the scene straight off. Other than that I’m happy with the flow of the dialogue, and the story in general.

I was going to expand the setting in a novel, but the story evolved so the magic system no longer quite fit what’s in this short. Maybe I’ll go back to it for something else.

Self-Review 11: Allegiances

Allegiances smallAllegiances

When an agency operation is attacked in Athens, Greece, and the local office is slaughtered, the local fixer and a surviving member of the operation are left on the run from the Russian mob, cut off from aid.




This was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month. Since I have a manic deadline I finished the novel (just over 50K in the first draft) in ten days. I did outline it in detail during October, so I had it mapped out fairly well and didn’t have problems working out what to do next.

I chose Athens since I did a six week exchange thing there when I was in college (early 90s) and still have some memories of what it was like. The internet also helps with researching what bits look like now, and a variety of details and maps of the city. Not that there won’t be errors, but I try to be vague enough to get past most stuff like that.

This isn’t the first novel I’ve written in the setting. The Agency played more of a role in Paragon Protocols, the first novel I wrote (which needs more work before it can be released). I have more planned for the series, both for the Agency and the mercenaries from this book. Whether I’ll get around to them is another matter.

Self-Review 10: Stoneweaver

Stoneweaver smallStoneweaver

In a flooded world only small peaks dot the seas, with civilization confined to waterborne cities. Society is ruled by tyrannous bosses, enforcing their will with an army of thugs and Stoneweavers, those able to use the remnants of magic. Resources are conserved by selling the poor into slavery. With such a cleansing due, what danger do an escaped slave and thief pose to this fragile society?



This was an experiment in free writing, starting off with only a few ideas (although the magic system was worked out beforehand), and I published a chapter a day on Wattpad as I went (they’re still up there for comparison). I was going for a fairly pulpy feel to it, which seemed to fit the writing process.

A lot of the inspiration came from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. I liked the magic systems, and how it allowed for interesting fight scenes, so stoneweaving was an attempt to develop a similarly combat-oriented magic system (it has applications beyond that, but society has forced it into that role). I also took the idea of a post-apocalyptic setting following a magical disaster, setting it on a flooded world where society survives on seaborne cities.

Only after I’d published it did I realise some elements were a bit too similar to Mistborn, in that Welden is a bit too similar to Kelsier in terms of elements of his history and role. His role is too tied in to the story to change him without significantly rewriting it, so I’ve left it as is. Hopefully I’m being too picky, but it’s something I’m trying to be watchful for in the future.


Another thing I’m watchful for is that I hadn’t realised I’d accidentally done the girlfriend in refrigerator syndrome. This was unfortunate, and while I’m not sure it technically classifies as such it needs watching. A quick review of my work shows I’m more inclined towards killing off male supporting cast, though, so I don’t think it’s too much of a problem.


I made this free when I released the sequel (Coral Throne), although some places still have it priced (Smashwords has it free in all formats). It’s only had around 4,000 downloads since then (end of April) but it maintains a steady pace so there’s hope of it catching on.


For today Coral Throne is free on Smashwords.