Excerpt from Empire and Earth

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I'd have to look at the system when I grounded, to see if it was something I could fix. There was an Interstitial node right where the weapon had hit. My best guess was that the enemy weapon had done something weird to it. This was confirmed by careful review of the data from the attack. But there were other systems' components in that area of the hull, too. Net result: I was not leaving my command console until I could shut the ship down. Vector equalizers were fine, as were inertial integrators or there would have been a major irregularity in internal gravity, but what about the impellers themselves? There was an impeller not five feet from the failed Interstitial anchor. It was on minimal power right now as Interstitials were moving the ship, but what about when it was time for the impellers to take over? I was kind of regretting not giving that damnable pirate an in-kind response, but I knew I had made the right choice in ducking out. Technologically inferior or not, the other ship had been designed for battle, and probably had the crew to repair damage while the fighting was going on. My ship was designed for cargo, and I could hardly fight the ship effectively while unbolting hull plates to fix damage. I was a merchant, not a military vessel. For me, victory meant survival, and I had survived un-captured.

It turned out the impeller I was concerned about was fine. I grounded at the sanctuary outside Mentone without further incident, but then Adela met me and asked, "Tia Grace, aren't you going to turn on the camouflage?"

Oh, no. I had turned on the holographic camouflage before I entered atmosphere. The holographic system said it was working just fine. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case when you actually looked. The cruiser was a whale roughly twenty meters tall from belly to back and over eighty meters from front to back; it didn't shine like most Earth people expected metal to shine, but its dark grey towered over the citrus trees surrounding it, and anyone looking down the mountainside would see it plain as day. I could hear the dogs we kept for Earthside adoptions setting up a ruckus near the front of the property; stretching my perceptions I "saw" that a San Bernardino County Sheriff had turned up the drive, lights flashing. "Delay him thirty seconds if you can," I told her, "I'm getting out of Dodge. I'll call you later on the tachyonic communicator."

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I just got done reading a bad science fiction novel. Part of the reason it was bad was because the author did not understand economics, being so eager to mock capitalism that he got caught up in things that capitalism is not, so let's back up a moment here and look at.

Resources are things we want or need in order to go about our lives. Most are wants; a few are actual needs. We need food and water. Most folks would also agree that shelter and clothing are needs. You don't need filet mignon and Perrier with a twist of lemon, but you do need enough calories to keep you going and enough water to replace what you lose. We also need air to breathe, a temperature at which life can be sustained, etcetera. If we're on Earth, those may be obtained simply by being here where they are freely available, but if we leave Earth, we have to figure out a way to get those resources. Imagine what the space missions of the United States and the Soviet Union would have been like if we hadn't realized humans needed air until those men were out of the atmosphere for the first time.

Some folks persist in believing that eventually the coming singularity will mean that resources will be so plentiful that machines will magically provide them for everyone. This belief is nonsense on stilts. Even if the machines provide them without further input from humans, someone's going to have to maintain the machines. Someone's going to have to find or recycle the raw materials. Someone is going to have to monitor the output so that it's wholesome and not poisonous. This stuff isn't going to do itself. Even - especially even - if the machines themselves become sentient. If they ever do, they're going to have needs and wants of their own - not to mention that the ethical and economic issue of slavery then becomes an automatic concern.

(FYI: No slave society in history has ever competed successfully with a free society. It won't happen with sentient machines, either)

David Friedman - an economist worth paying attention to, if not as high profile as his father - in his classic essay "Love is Not Enough" lays it out with brutal simplicity:

Under any institutions, there are essentially only three ways that I can get another person to help me achieve my ends: love, trade, and force. By love I mean making my end your end. Those who love me wish me to get what I want (except for those who think I am very stupid about what is good for me). So they voluntarily, 'unselfishly', help me. Love is too narrow a word. You might also share my end not because it is my end but because in a particular respect we perceive the good in the same way. You might volunteer to work on my political campaign, not because you love me, but because you think that it would be good if I were elected. Of course, we might share the common ends for entirely different reasons. I might think I was just what the country needed, and you, that I was just what the country deserved.

The second method of cooperation is trade. I agree to help you achieve your end if you help me achieve mine.

The third method is force. You do what I want or I shoot you.

So unless you're going to produce your own food, your own clothing, your own shelter, and everything else you need (and that begs the question of where you're getting the tools - there is no single person alive capable of making a tool as simple as a pencil all by themselves), you have to figure out one of these three methods to get others to help you.

Mr. Friedman in his essay makes clear that even in the most rapacious society ever, Love does fulfill a surprising number of needs. I'm pretty certain the vast majority of those reading this volunteer time, money, or both to charity on a regular basis. Some people volunteer ungodly amounts of both, either in absolute or relative terms, and my hat would be off to them, if I had a hat.

But love has its limits, limits of proximity, limits of number, limits of exhaustion, limits of willingness. And those are where we get into the other two ways of getting someone to help with what you want: trade and force.

Force has been common throughout history, and I'm not pleased it does not seem to be going away. When you try to replace trade with love beyond its limits, what you have is force. People aren't doing it because they want to. They're doing it because they're being forced to. At some level, in some wise, there is a gun to the back of their head. As much as those controlling the levers of force try to pretend otherwise, it's a real gun, and it will be used if those it's pointed at don't fulfill the basic commands of those in charge of the levers of force.

Capitalism, for those unclear on the concept, isn't rich old white men in a boardroom debating the fate of the economic world. That's force in action - government - whether those in the meeting are rich old white men or young women of color there because they won a poularity contest, or anything else. The people in such meetings are holding such debates because they have the means to force compliance with their decrees.

Capitalism is people looking for you to choose to make a willing trade. They do not have the means to force you. If they're not providing a good or a service you want at a price you're willing to pay, they can't force you to make their trade. And every time I write something like this essay, I get loads of idiots asking about government monopolies like utility companies, which use government force to preclude anyone from being legally able to offer a better deal. Once again, we have force rearing its ugly head, and when force is involved, it's not capitalism.

Capitalism is people willing to do what you want from them in exchange for what you're willing to offer. You can't force them, they can't force you. Both of you must be made better off by the exchange in your own opinion, or one of you isn't going to agree to it.

Just because resources get cheaper doesn't mean they're going to be free. The law of supply and demand takes no vacations - even from the land of Totalitaria, where everyone has a gun to the back of their heads. Even in the most optimistic future, all the crap you want isn't going to be free, and if someone is forced to provide it to you as if it were, they are your slave. Even the basics you need are going to have some cost. You can negotiate trades via intermediary markers (money) in exchange for something you're providing, but the resources you want or need are not going to be free. Money isn't evil, it's simply a marker we use because the person who needs the services of an air traffic controller at the moment might not be the people with the house that controller wanted to live in, the food she wanted to eat, or the car she wanted to drive. Without money, you'd have to have a good or service valued at the point of sale by everyone you wanted to trade with.

Capitalism is decentralized. There is nobody making all the planning decisions for everyone else. It's a network of people who supply something they make or do in exchange for something they need or want - and the intermediary of money means that the exchange doesn't have to wait until the air traffic controller can find someone who needs her services and can supply food to be able to buy the food she needs to eat today. Whomever offers the food she wants for the lowest price (including the price of finding it and the price of fetching it) will likely be her choice. If someone else offers her a better deal, she's free to take it - and everyone with food is free to offer whatever deal they think she might take. Or she's free to decide she'd rather snack on the last saltines in her cupboard and save her money. Capitalism works because people want you to take their deal, so they figure out a way to get you to think their deal is the best one available - and the classic example of that is offering something that is in fact a better deal. This is why the standard of living improves best and fastest. Lots of people are eager to teach about the Gilded Age of Robber Barons here in the United States. What very few people teach about it is during that period, the standard of living of the common person (not the rich robber baron!) improved more and faster than any other time and place on Earth.

There are always going to be things in demand that are scarce - where the available supply does not extend to providing everyone with the amount of them they would like to consume in an idea world. As our capabilities expand, things might get cheaper, but new goods and services come along all the time, and there are the old classics of room (land or space), location, and timeliness. There's only so much linear space for beachfront property. There are only so many pieces of property next door to Disneyland. The hotel can only put one party up in the Presidential Suite on New Year's Eve. To determine who the lucky recipient is, the holders of those rights are going to want to find out who is willing and able to pay the most in terms of things those holders want. In the general case, it's not going to be because they love the recipients. It's more commonly settled by force - none of the top totalitarians has difficulty getting the vacation spot or anything else they want, however deprived it leaves the proles - but it's most commonly and best settled by trade, and trade means the people most willing and able to pay in terms of resources that the sellers want. This is not going to change for humans. Even the vast majority of hive insects do the absolute minimum they can get away with.

When you're talking about replacing capitalism, you're talking about restricting the number of choices someone has to find a better bargain - or none at all. You're usually talking about guns to the back of someone's head - that's the default solution in history, and the default assumption I'm going to have while reading your story, and I can count on the thumbs of one hand with digits to spare the number of believable exceptions I've seen in literature or anywhere else. Whether you realize it or not, you're talking about a restricted and declining standard of living, not a rich and plentiful one with increasing wealth - at least not for the masses. In the last forty years, the real cost of college in the United States has increased 297 percent - it's essentially four times as expensive in terms of how long the mean person has to work to pay for it. Why? Because it's subsidized by government and protected from competition by government and it's a gateway through which you must pass to be considered by many employers - even if the job requires no skills taught in college. By comparison, the real cost of a Happy Meal at McDonalds has fallen forty percent in the same time frame. Nobody's protecting McDonalds. Nobody is subsidizing McDonalds. Nobody is saying you have to go to McDonalds to get or keep your job, your home, or your spouse. They have to convince you their deal is the one you want. Otherwise, they end up with unsold Happy Meals that they spent resources to acquire and more resources to prepare. And everyone else wanting to sell you food is on the same treadmill - they have to convince you their deal is the one you want, and when somebody figures out a way to offer a better deal and still come out better in their own opinion, they are going to be rewarded by the market. That's capitalism - where everyone is incentivized to make the best and most efficient use of resources, because that's how they offer their customers a better deal, which gets people to want to take their deal, because they end up better off when people take their deal.

So writers, when you want to write about a place where everyone is better off and resources are plentiful and the standard of living is high and increasing, do you think you want to write about a place where everyone is competing to figure out the best deal to offer all their potential customers, all of whom have a plentiful number of alternative choices, or a place where everyone has a gun to the back of their head, however well hidden, and just does the minimum not to get shot?

Let's try to do this as spoiler-free as possible.

A gutpunch is pretty much the opposite of a cliffhanger. It's a one-liner or short action in a story that turns the entire thing on its head. Many science fiction shorts are built on gutpunches - Arthur C. Clarke's classic two pager "Reunion" being one where the final line turns everything we know on its head.

Some gutpunches can be humorous. There's a classic Isaac Asimov short story where you never see the ending pun coming - until too late, and it's all too obvious in retrospect, as even the title becomes an obvious warning ("Shah Guido G", or 'shaggy dog.') Arthur C. Clarke did another two pager where the ending is a truly atrocious pun in British English ("Neutron Tide").

The very best gutpunches, however, are straight drama that reframe everything. Poul Anderson's "The Gods Laughed" may be my very favorite, as it turns everything about the story and our background assumptions completely upside down. The ending of "Dune Messiah" by Frank Herbert is a comparatively mild gutpunch, as the Emperor of the Known Universe walks off saying, "Now I am free."

The climax of "The Empire Strikes Back", where Darth Vader utters his most famous line, is probably one of the best media gutpunches.

Sudden betrayals, new information, failed plans and failed plots, all of these are the stuff of which gutpunches are made.

I've been having some issues with comments here, but I'll put a link to another post on my FB author page for those who have difficulty So what are the best gutpunches you've encountered?

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I had to do something almost as scary as fighting the basileus - tell Papi the truth, and convince him it was the truth. Did I mention he's a high school math teacher with forty years of experience? He's heard it all, many times before, and Occam's Razor is something he was so used to applying I'd learned it by osmosis so early I couldn't remember. Mama was pretty sharp, too, but she'd believe me if Papi did. I had to carefully consider what hard evidence I had.

Item: one Mindsword, no longer "alive". I could maybe buy a live mouse at the pet store to demonstrate its killer cancellation effect, or use it to cut something. In fact, the brand new sweatshirt it was wrapped in was halfway shredded already, despite how careful I'd been. Not exactly impressive evidence, and dangerous to handle as well. It might be good supporting evidence, but Aurora by itself would never convince Papi. Not unless I was so irresponsible as to let someone touch it, which wasn't going to happen. ScOsh, wherever his soul had gone, would never forgive me.

Item: one small hand blaster. I checked it and the charge level was back to orange. I remembered that ScOsh had told me to dial it up, so I dialed it back down, and the meter cycled through colors back to blue. According to what ScOsh had told me, it should have recharged itself completely in about eight hours, so I figured the power per shot was about comparable to the original setting. I considered turning it off for safety, then decided against. ScOsh had been pretty certain he'd gotten all the stons, but he hadn't even tried for whatever minions they might have, and I had no way of knowing how many demons were wandering loose around Earth, and I had no way of knowing either group hadn't been given information that would lead to my parents. I left it on, and put it back in my bag. Not only self-defense, but good hard evidence as well. Earth had nothing like it.

Item: about thirty thousand dollars in cash. ScOsh had destroyed the rest. Also, what appeared to be a numbered Swiss account with a balance of just shy of six million Swiss francs, as well as various other financial instruments that I might or might not be able to access somehow. Not evidence; too many less outlandish and more morally questionable ways of acquiring it. It would be useful to the extent I could tap into it, which would have to be done carefully, but it wouldn't do anything to convince Papi.

Item: one "logbook" that ScOsh had handed me with Aurora. Problem was, it didn't look like anything more than a small case of some indeterminate material. No display, no readouts I could access. Not impressive. It might be a miracle device for all I knew, but for all I could demonstrate to Papi, it might as well be a paperweight.

Item: one "pocket". I unfolded it. Jackpot! I could actually see into it, and there was not only ScOsh's other sword, which could be handled a lot more safely than Aurora even if it was less unearthly, there were side pockets of a more mundane nature inside holding other stuff. Some if it was mundane Earth stuff (including more cash), other items were nothing I could identify. Nothing I was going to fool with, but what looked like the "gun" he'd used on the gangbangers and another similarly styled device, probably a different gun. I didn't know how to handle them, but they weren't Earth made, that was for certain. Half a dozen items like nothing I could identify. I didn't know for certain they were Imperial, but it seemed likely. I wasn't going to handle any of it more than was necessary, and I certainly wasn't going to fool with trying to use them, but the pocket by itself was probably going to convince Papi. Imagine your kitchen trash can. Now imagine all that you could see was the mouth of the trash can, with no apparent "trash container" attached, but that still held whatever you had put into it. The "mouth" was a cloth-like material about the size of a scarf or bandanna on one side with a 'lip' around the edges, but you could reach into the other and pull stuff out, or put it into for storage, without apparent care for what the pocket was resting on. A three dimensional space, carried around like a two dimensional piece of cloth, and with only the apparent mass of the cloth. Kind of like the hole that the Roadrunner was able to pick up and move like a physical object, whenever doing so would frustrate Wile E. Coyote. I thought about putting Aurora inside the "pocket", and decided ScOsh hadn't done it despite obvious opportunity, so that might not be a good idea somehow. Still, while the hand blaster might conceivably be not be too far beyond Earth's technology, and I knew even less about the other pieces of hardware I had been given custody of, this was demonstrably so far beyond anything Earth could do that Occam's Razor would tell Papi that the least complex explanation was that I was telling the truth - at least as well as I knew it.

Finally, item: Graciela Juarez, newly operant but without much practice and only the most basic level of training. I decided against telling them anything I didn't have to about the changes I'd been through. I'd last been home on Sunday, so it had been less than a week. They had to know that I'd been through a change of some sort because of the difference in my appearance, but I wasn't going to tell them their baby girl was now a bruja. Papi was only one generation removed from Mexican farmworkers who might as well have been medieval peasants. Abuelo had been a wonderful warmhearted man who got his two sons through college through incredible hard work and saving, and educated his three daughters at least through high school, but some of the superstitions I remember him having when I was a little girl were more than enough to persuade me to keep my mouth shut. Abuela, who'd only died a couple years ago, had been sweet and cheerful and happy, tough as nails beneath, and even more superstitious. Mama's family wasn't that much different. No, Graciela Juarez was not going to say one word about the marvelous things she might be able to do someday.

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Setting The Board, Book Three of Preparations for War, is now available!

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Joe and his wife Asina were coming home to Hell.

Calmena was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. Joe and Asina's role has been helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demons' mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.

PS: If you missed it, Book One, Preparing The Ground is on sale for 99 cents in e-book.

PPS: I do apologize that Setting The Board is Amazon exclusive for the moment. The plan (subject to change) is for it to go wide in a couple months.

Setting The Board

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I'm waiting for one more beta reader at this point to finalize the manuscript, but I have a deadline to meet, so I will have Setting The Board uploaded and available at by Tuesday (the 20th) at the latest.

Calmena was Hell.

It was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. But they also began helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demon's mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.

1. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

I am Alexan, Jarl of Ygg in Treemount, on Migurd.

2.Tell us where and when were you born.

I was 'born' in the Empire of Humanity as a splinter of an ultsi. I became an independent entity when he made a mistake that ended up severing his soul from himself.

3. How would you describe yourself?

My physical description changes as I wish it. Mentally, I am inquisitive. But the most salient feature to most people is that I have become an Eternal. Think of me as equal to one of the gods of Olympus or the Aesir of Valhalla.

4. Tell us about where you grew up.

I suppose you could say I grew up where the attitudes of my original were formed, as an ultsi of the Fifteen Families in the Empire of Humanity. The competition for mastery and power is fierce and Darwinian, and the death rate is high. You must always be on your guard, and doom can strike without warning at any moment. There are limits, honored by those who play the Game of Houses as in the best interest of all, but all of its players are driven to achieve.

5. How old are you?

You could argue that I'm about one year old. Or you could argue that I am several 3600s, as I have the generic memories and skills of my original.

6. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not?

I didn't have a childhood at all as most people use the term. I was born adult. My original's was happy enough in the way of the Fifteen Families, but childhood to them is a precious time to learn as much as you can. There is not a lot of leisure. But he was loved by his family and taught well.

7. Past/ present relationships? How did they affect you?

I know my original was married and had many lovers, but those were soul-bound memories that I did not inherit. I have looked up the names of his wife and descendants, his parents and siblings, but I have no actual memories of them or of the times he spent with them.

I have bound myself to a fellow Eternal, the Lady Petra. We have one daughter Catharin, born roughly a year into our marriage. I have another child, a clone that became infused with a soul, in spak stasis waiting upon the right time to bring him into the universe.

8. What do you value above all else in life?

The life and happiness of the Lady Petra, my wife. She has had more than enough pain and hurt for a lifetime of any length. The well-being of my daughter Catharin.

9. What are you obsessed with?

Learning. Preparations for likely threats.

10.How do your beliefs make life better for yourself and the people you care about?

I believe in cooperation out of mutual interest. I believe that facts must be the basis for all decisions, so evidence must be ruthlessly examined. I believe skills must be shared. As a result, Petra and Catharin are learning what I know. We are wealthy as such things go, secure as is reasonable, and by all evidence, happy.

11. Biggest fear?

That something will cause pain to the Lady Petra.

12. What line will you never cross?

In the mold of my original, I can never go against the interests of humanity as a species, or the Empire of Humanity as a whole.

13. What is the best thing that ever happened to you?

The Lady Petra deciding I could somehow help her escape her curse. It became so much more.

The worst?

The moment the Lady Petra informed me that others from the Empire of Humanity had been to the realm of Aescalon.

14. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

When I realized what the situation was with my original, and that I had to leave the Empire as a result of him dying.

15. Biggest secret?

If I told you what sort of thing it was, I'd have to destroy you utterly.

16. What is the one word you would use to define yourself?

Driven, as are all ultsi. Even though I am not technically ultsi.

17. What is your current goal?

As the second novel of Connected Realms opens, I am most concerned with understanding the divine ecosystem that the Lady Petra and I have become part of.

I now have a cover for Setting The Board (Book Three of Preparations For War)

Some people have said it's too busy, but that's combat. I have only two minor complaints, and one of them is a virtue from an artistic standpoint. The other is that a rifle that features prominently is too modern, but everything else is true to a scene about a third of the way through the book.

STB book cover.jpg

Got caught in the finishing crush for Setting the Board, the third book in Preparations for War, after Preparing The Ground and Building The People Climactic scene got a little draining, then I finished the working draft Saturday night, spent Sunday on the story checking and editing pass, and sent it off to the Betas. It's kind of scary how much I like it, so the betas will probably remind me of something obvious I missed. I had hoped to finish the necessary happenings in the story of Joe and Asina with Setting The Board, but it was not to be, so there will be a fourth book in the series. Look for Moving The Pieces after I've finished the next project - I may have to write it at the same time as Politics of Empire 3 (tentatively: The End of Parenthood)

Started The Monad Trap - sequel to The Fountains of Aescalon. I was going to write The Bubbles of Creation next, but I decided that story would be better told after this one. Here is the first line as I have it written now:

"Somehow, I always thought there was more for a god to do."

I haven't read your book. But kill any idea that a blurb is a synopsis. Stake that sucker right through the heart, burn it to ashes, and bury them at a crossroads.

A blurb is a sales pitch.

A *short* sales pitch. No more than 30 seconds read aloud in a conversational voice. Shorter if you can.

Keep in mind two rules:

KISS: keep it short & simple. Make it to the point. Don't confuse the reader with multiple threads at this point. Pick the easiest or best and sell that plot or subplot.

AIDA: Attention Interest Desire Action. You have their Attention. Grab their interest *fast*. Stir a desire to tell more of the story. And then tell them how to take action to fill that desire - usually implied or indirect, rather than 'buy this book to find out!'

Remember this and you'll write good blurbs.


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