Saturday, 31 January 2015

Alien Races: Kohathi

Kestrel is part of the Fast-Response fleet of PACT, the Planetary Alliance for Co-operation and Trade. The Alliance is between the seven races who have warp drive (fast-than-light travel). One of the races is human. I have discussed the Altairians and the Anak so far. Let me introduce one of the others.

Planet: Kohath, higher gravity than Earth

An actor, giving an impression of what Kohathi look like
The Kohathi look like gentle, bewhiskered old men, even when young, and they live to be over 200. Females look the same as men, and non-Kohathi can usually only distinguish the sexes by their dress. They are stocky due to coming from a higher gravity planet, which means they are unusually fast-moving in Earth-normal gravity.

They are gentle and polite, and have high principles. In Intruders, Doctor Dathan excuses himself whenever there is any sign of conflict. He always tries to see the good in everyone.

They revere their long-lived ones and continue to consult and use them in all fields of knowledge and endeavour. They have no concept of retirement. Although they live longer than humans, they are aware there is not enough time to learn all there is to know. So they take apprentices and pass on their knowledge, for them to continue the research afterwards.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Alien Races: Anak

Kestrel is part of the Fast-Response fleet of PACT, the Planetary Alliance for Co-operation and Trade. The Alliance is between the seven races who have warp drive (fast-than-light travel). One of the races is human. I discussed the Altairians last week. Let me introduce one of the others.

Planet: Ana
The Anak look like lions, with a mane of hair and powerful jaws with long canines. Lithe and graceful, tall and broad-shouldered, the Anak are not as dangerous as they look. This picture from the old TV series Beauty and the Beast gives you some idea:

The planet Ana is rich in resources and treasures, so those from other worlds believed their riches would be easy to take. Naturally peaceful and gentle, Anak are warriors by necessity.

They have needed to fight to survive. But they do not wish to be aggressors, and since being invited to join PACT, have been able to return to more peaceful ways. Still their reputation precedes them. They are experts in scanners and weapons. As Ehu says in Intruders, “You have to find your enemy before you can shoot him.”

Ehu is called Ehu Pathrusim, signifying he is from the clan of Pathrus. They are renowned for their bravery and loyalty but also their fairness. There is a story in Ehu's family of the warrior Tarn who threw away his weapon in a fight because his enemy was unarmed and he refused to take an unfair advantage!

The Anak live in clans, who each send a representative to the government. There is little inter-clan hostility because they needed to work together to protect their world. Hence, they are also skilled at conflict resolution.

In Intruders, Ehu goes to great lengths not to make Barak, the Casparian, fell intimidated. Casparians are small in stature, and whenever Barak enters a room, Ehu sits down. Barak never notices. Anna says Ehu reminds her of a friendly lion.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Magna Carta for Free Men

The clauses in the charter only spelled out the rights of free men

Figures, Victoria & Albert Museum
Clause 1 states that the liberties were confirmed “to all freemen of my kingdom and their heirs for ever. The majority of the population were not free, they were villeins, regarded as the property of the lord who owned the land on which they lived or worked. They were only protected as part of the lords' valuable property.

Those who were considered free men fell into four categories:

The aristocracy (lords, barons, earls etc.)
Their rights come first because it was these men who brought King John to the situation where he had no choice but to agree the charter.

The church
The main force behind Magna Carta was the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. While it was the barons who had the greatest grievances against John, with his treatment of William de Braose and his family the prime example, the Archbishop was a learned man and helped frame the document. He also made sure that the church benefitted as well.

Tenants and minor lords
The show of force by the barons consisted of the men they could muster to fight. They secured the support of their men by ensuring there were provisions in the charter for them too. Clauses 15 and 60 stated that the rights which were granted by the king to the barons would also be granted by the barons to their own vassals.

Merchants and traders
The charter confirms existing customs and privileges, which they had already won for themselves, so although they are mentioned, they actually received very little that was new.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Alien Races: Altairians

Kestrel is part of the Fast-Response fleet of PACT, the Planetary Alliance for Co-operation and Trade. The Alliance is between the seven races who have warp drive (fast-than-light travel). One of the races is human. Let me introduce one of the others.


Planet: Altair, lower gravity than Earth
Altairians are superb movers in low gravity, very graceful and swift, but need to wear a back brace in Earth-normal gravity. They are tall and slender, a little taller than the average for humans. Instead of hair on their heads, they have cranial spines, like a coxcomb, which rise and move when they are excited or agitated. Their skin is very pink in the oxygen-rich atmosphere on board Kestrel – the oxygen level is lower on Altair.

They don't sing, but make a kind of hum which can be soothing or irritating. Their voices are melodious and their manner mild, which can be deceiving, as they have no problem with violence for the right reasons.

Altairians appear to live in family-type groups, but relationships are never explained, they just introduce others by name without saying what their relationship is. Their mating practices are not known – they refuse to talk about them.

They can seem rather silly, but it is mostly their mannerisms. They are excitable, and may be incautious, but they are actually very intelligent. They live three times as long as humans.

The Kestrel has an Altairian crewman, Shom Reuel, who is very soft-hearted. He shares a cabin with the only other non-human on board – Balitoth the Zoan. They have become friends, and make an odd pair. Reuel is always trying to understand humans better, and is particularly fascinated by idioms and strange sayings, which he struggles to understand.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Fascinating Facts: Henry II

This is a king you may have heard of, thanks to Peter O'Toole!

 Fascinating Facts: Henry II [1154-1189]

  • This is the king made famous in the film The Lion in Winter.
  • Son of Matilda, grandson of Henry I, only 21 when he came to the throne.
  • Son of Geoffrey of Anjou, he inherited Anjou, Normandy, Maine and Touraine. Marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine brought him control of Aquitaine. Together, a huge swathe of land in France – more than held by the King of France!
  • He was a whirlwind of energy whose officials and servants struggled to keep up with him, and who believed he could solve any situation with enough willpower.
  • He restored order to England within only six months, and eventually ruled an empire that stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees.
  • He was well educated and intelligent and spoke several languages.
  • He found love with Rosamund de Clifford, even though he stayed married to Eleanor.
  • Thomas Becket was Henry's close friend and chief justice until Henry made him Archbishop of Canterbury, where Beckett's unbending principles angered Henry. Henry famously wished out loud that he could be rid of him, and four knights took him literally and murdered him.
  • Because of Beckett's murder the pope laid an interdict on Henry's lands: no masses could be said, no marriages or funerals, no church rites or services. Henry had to repent publicly, he was flogged and fined.
  • He had four sons who were impatient for power and the three eldest contantly rebelled against him, encouraged by his wife Eleanor. To secure the succession he had his eldest son Henry crowned, the only time there have been two kings at once in England. It didn't work because the Young King Henry died.
  • In 1185 he was offered the crown of Jerusalem, but he declined.
  • He fell ill in summer 1189 and died when he heard his favourite son John, the youngest, had joined the rebellion.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Flight of the Kestrel: Intruders - Synopsis

If you are a regular visitor to my other blog, you will have heard about my science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel, the first book of which, called Intruders, I have been working on for more years than I care to admit. But it is finally finished and with a professional editor, and hope to publish it soon. [Note April 2016: now published and available in print and ebook on Amazon US and Amazon UK

So here is my synopsis:

Due to a crew shortage, 18-year-old Tabitha Enns is given work experience on board the Kestrel, part of the fast-response fleet of the Planetary Alliance for Cooperation and Trade (PACT). The fast-response fleet is a diplomatic and emergency service, and Tabitha is excited at the chance to get away from her home planet for the first time. She is shocked to find she is the only female on board and has to share a cabin.

Her first mission is to a razor quartz mine where there has been an explosion and a cave in. But the Kestrel’s captain, Joseph Darrow, is also asked to investigate possible sabotage to cover up thefts of the valuable razor quartz crystals.

Darrow's investigation gives him the final evidence he needs to prove that there is an unknown alien species stealing raw materials from sites across the galaxy. One of the miners is killed during an attempted theft, but why did the dying man say, 'butterfly'? Darrow’s superiors in PACT have their hands full with tension on the border, and do not see the urgency. Eventually Admiral Keever is convinced, but due to the crisis elsewhere, no ships are available for a mission to find the Intruders.

The Admiral orders Darrow to take the Kestrel, a small ship with a crew of eleven, and not equipped for such a task. To make it worse, at a briefing with the other Alliance species, they insist that a representative from each species should also go on the mission, putting the crew complement up to seventeen. Tabitha finds herself moved into a corner of Engineering, where Roy Stubbs works, who is attracted to her. Having never had a boyfriend, this is a problem.

Several crew changes are also necessary, so Darrow must undertake the most serious and potentially dangerous mission of his career with an overcrowded ship and untried crew – to look for energy beings who may be pillaging the galaxy.

As the representatives arrive, so does a mysterious woman, Anna, who has a head injury and amnesia. As they follow the trail, Anna shows that she can ‘hear’ the thoughts of the Intruders, and is a valuable asset, but where did she come from and who operated on her brain to give her this ability, which terrifies her? The questions add to the tensions between those on board.

Tabitha gets to meet her first aliens, but it doesn't go smoothly, and being out in space isn't what she expected. When an Intruder ship attacks an Altarian colony, Kestrel goes to their aid, and Tabitha helps with the cleanup and gets her first experience of another planet.

The finding of a crippled Intruder ship and offer of assistance gives Darrow the breakthrough he needs, and solves the ‘butterfly’ mystery, but not before deaths among the crew and the Intruders. When the Intruders’ planet is finally reached, despite a friendly reception, the landing party are taken captive, and it is up to Anna to save the day. Tabitha's future remains uncertain though, as she stowed away with the landing party to see the new aliens for herself.

If you like Star Trek, Babylon 5, and similar 'wagon train in space' series on TV, you'll love my new book. Sign up for my mailing list, then you'll be able to receive free gifts and monthly updates.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Magna Carta Debunked

Over the next few months there will be all sorts of fuss over the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in June. Over the centuries it has passed into legend as the dawn of democracy.

Let me tell you a secret: At the time, it was no such thing.

The barons had had enough of King John riding roughshod over everyone, and finally gained enough support to threaten him. He reluctantly agreed to the barons' demands and, after some negotiation, set his seal to them.

Another secret: King John didn't sign the charter – he couldn't write, he had people to do that for him.

So the barons had brought the King to heel, and democracy dawned, yes?

No. John had already written to the Pope about what his barons were trying to do to him, and within a few weeks the Pope absolved him from any compliance at all.

But Magna Carta was enforced when John died, and that was the dawn of democracy and rights for all.

No. Democracy was only for 10 percent of the people. Magna Carta is specifically for freemen. Most of the population were serfs and had no rights, and the charter did not apply to women.

So what's all the fuss?

The fuss is really about the idea that the king is not above the law. This was the first time the king's power was reigned in. Until then, the rule had been 'the divine right of kings', which meant they could do anything they wanted. Previous kings had had some respect for their subjects, even though they often treated them badly. King John used his subjects for his own ends, and paid the price. Magna Carta made sure (when it was eventually enforced) that no king would ever do the same.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Introducing Flight of the Kestrel

My new science fiction series is called Flight of the Kestrel. Let me introduce their world:

Human life is not radically different to now. More technology, better medical treatment, but sociologically the same. Space travel has enabled colonies to be settled on the Moon and some other planets, some of which are in other solar systems. 

Among the Kestrel crew, Enns comes from Alpha, the first colony outside our solar system. Ryan comes from another colony world (Orion 3) that sought to return to simple pre-technology living, or at least minimal technology and mostly physical labour. This backfired when they lost their doctor and couldn't find someone with the older healing skills, or who was willing to 'rough it' on their terms.

Space travel also brought contact with aliens, and PACT was formed as a sort of United Nations in space. When Earth developed warp drive, for faster-than-light travel, they were invited to join. The Kestrel works for the 'peace-keeping' arm and acts as a fast-response diplomatic and trouble-shooting force. All the ships are named after birds of prey. 

There are other sections of PACT which we do not meet, which deal with exchange of technology and ideas, shared scientific and other developments, cultural exchange, and trade. They encourage diversity in their crews to promote inter-species understanding. Out of 11 crew, two (Enns & Ryan) are humans not from Earth, and two (Reuel & Balitoth) are aliens. Dr Grace is from Earth but has worked away from Earth for many years, most recently on a space station. This may apply to some of the other human crew also.

The alien species in PACT are from Altair, Zoa, Kohath, Ana, Ochra and Caspar. In the first book in the series we meet them all. Just because they are part of the alliance, doesn't mean they all get on well. When a representative of each species is added to the Kestrel crew, the overcrowding bring out all sorts of frictions. I'll be blogging about the species in the weeks to come as well as introducing the crew.