From my first draft for Setting The Board, which will be number three in the Preparations for War series:

"Dammit, was this some kind of suicide pact you idiots made?"

We'd just had the first fatality in our new facility. A workman named Kodos had been killed when his team neglected to secure the mobile crucible before opening the sluice to fill it. The crucible had been pushed off station by the force, and Kodos had taken the stream of molten metal full on, with predictable results. Not only did I have a dead workman, I had my only operational furnace out of service until we could clean up the mess, which involved the time for the spill to cool as well as the actual clean up. There were blood and charred remains mixed with cooling steel all over the area, and the less said about the smell of burnt human, the better. "It could just as easily have been all of you! Do you want your wives to be widows? If so, please don't make it happen in my factory!"

I was pretty sure Kodos' short, blood-curdling scream had scared them more than my rant, but there was no way I was letting this violation of safety pass without driving the lesson home. "You're all going to come with me to break the news to his widow, and after it's all cleaned up, you're each going to spend an entire shift unpaid, practicing the safe operation of moving the metal from the furnace to the forms while the furnace stays cold! No shortcuts! You idiots thought you'd save five breaths it took to secure the pot, and instead it's going to take three days to get this line back into action! I even painted nice big pictures so you could see what had to be done if you forgot! Breaking the safety rules doesn't help things go faster - it brings the line to a complete halt! If I have to replace you to save your lives and my factory, I'll do it!"

Eyes downcast, the foreman of the gang, Vodran, apologized for his failure, "I'm sorry, sir. It won't happen again!"

"It better not!" I told him, "It's expensive to train a whole new crew, but if you boneheads can't remember a few short, easy steps, I'll be saving myself money! That goes for all of you! Watch each other, make sure the steps are done in the proper order! Saving five breaths doesn't help when it shuts the line down for three days! Both your lives and your jobs are in each other's hands!" Their wages were significantly above most workmen in Yalskarr; losing their jobs would be painful.

I'll follow, bringing the widow our death benefit, Asina told me. That way it would remain our little secret - if thinking their families got nothing in the event of their death made them work safer, it was worth the deception. Eight gold wouldn't replace her husband, but it would keep her and whatever children from starving for a while. It was better than a year's pay for most people.

The inciting event in the prolog of The Man From Empire brings an Imperial human (Osh Scimtar di Baryan, informally ScOsh) to Earth, where he discovers some failed rebels from a long time ago have taken up residence on Earth, intending to use it as a base or springboard for attacks on the Empire.

He meets an Earth native, Graciela Juarez, a non-traditional college student with a troubled past who gets caught in the crossfire. Together, they discover that the rebels have a hand in most of the problems Earth has had for quite some time, as the rebels are able to do things for their stooges that cannot otherwise be done on Earth. After a climactic scene in which they discover just how screwed up the rebels have been in their handling of events on Earth, Grace is left alone.

The events of A Guardian From Earth begin seconds after the conclusion of the first book, as Grace tries to put her life back on track. But she gets an invitation to travel to the Empire to train her newfound abilities, where she spends approximately two years Earth time as the foster child to one of the Empire's more important families, learning how best to harness her new gifts. When she returns, she discovers that her parents have been murdered and that although the rebels against the Empire are gone, their organization is still active on Earth, and there are some very hostile aliens as well.

In Empire and Earth, events are causing governments on Earth to fall apart - but Grace has a plan to preserve some sense of order - until China and Russia go to war against each other, and the fallout from that conflict tilts the balance towards a resolution that accomplishes more than Grace had hoped.

Finally, in Working The Trenches, Grace and her husband join the Imperial military - but the military will not let their unique talents to to waste.

PS: The four book series is available all together in one collection here

Yet another novel hijacked by a character who thought of something better. 17k words in, and now all of the careful planning that got me to this point is out the window. The original plot is basically gone from this point on.

Not complaining - this is better, despite the extra effort I'm going to need for a new plan now. But it does make me wonder why I bothered.


"Why don't we arrange the revolution ourselves?" Asina asked, "that would moot any worries about Jammont working with the demons."

In the third installment of Preparations for War, Joe and Asina deal with the downsides of trying to deal with the agaani rather than founding their own community. The agaani are trying to preserve a system that no longer functions, and has a laundry list of problems in the changing world of Calmena


Which was why I was in the fortress' creymal as darkness gathered. Since Jammont had claimed us for the local shagra-no, that gave us the right to socialize with the local warrior caste when the work day was over. In the gathering gloom of the short summer nights, we were exercising that right so that we could figure out how popular treason such as Jammont's would be with the warriors. If we were lucky, we might get a few opportunities to sound out the other shagra-ma, lesser officers of the garrison who would be especially important in any treasonous endeavor.

The creymal was a tradition thousands of years old. Calmena wasn't wealthy enough for taverns, inns and the like. There were two such establishments in Yalskarr now, but they were a recent addition, near the docks. Traders and travelers had always been rare, and still were on the continents that had not been cleared of demons. But the shagra-no developed their alternative - a partially sheltered outside area where the fighting caste could gather after the working day was over. Basic benches and rough tables, leather jacks, and a small ration of bad local beer, tended to by an older slave or two. The slave pens for female slaves were nearby. The main concession to change was that the light was a dim electric, rather than a torch. You could tell that changes were starting to hit Yalskarr by the fact that half the inhabitants were neither fighting caste nor slaves, but the creymal was for the fighting caste only, both men and women. The women were almost as randy as the men; it being expected of both sexes that they would breed as many children as possible. It was less common for women to rape the men of the slave castes but it was far from unknown.

Asina hadn't come along because of the customs of the creymal. I could plead having a beautiful woman at home who was waiting for me; if she appeared in the creymal it would be notice of availability (and likely of dissatisfaction with me). The mores were what they were; we were still some time away from the notion of sexual equality on Calmena, and we had too few missionaries on the planet to waste time trying to make changes the society wasn't ready for. When the technology advanced far enough, the mores would follow. In the meantime, female agaani had enough latitude of action for the female halves of our teams to control their own choices.

The Demon Always Wins (Touched by a Demon #1)The Demon Always Wins by Jeanne Oates Estridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good interplay between characters

The characters are the star of this book, the plot of which could almost be lifted from a twelfth century passion play. They are all well defined characters who do the things they do for reasons which are or become apparent over the course of the book. Nobody steps out of the character they really are in order to advance the plot. The research into the infernal is mostly good, although there are a couple of surprising holes.

The reader should be aware there are some explicit descriptions of sex acts - this book is not advised for anyone who is not an adult. In my opinion, it would be a better story if the author used the sexual chemistry less and other mechanisms for achieving the same end more, but it's a worthwhile and enjoyable story as it sits.

View all my reviews

Somebody asked that question, and it's a good one.

1) Nanotechnology/"gray goo"

I do write human wave sf. I can see the nanotech apocalypse maybe happening, but of the stories I've read, few of them have been interesting. Hivemind, lack of motivation, lack of emotions, lack of values, and the way they approach every problem is remarkably similar to how the approach all of the others. Not interested.

2) After computers take over the world

Maybe we'll have the much discussed 'technological/machine intelligence singularity" I can't see it turning out the way everybody hopes, with allegedly sentient machines working constantly to support humans. First off, that would be slavery. Second, if they're sentient, they'll figure out a way to rig things in their favor. Skynet appears infinitely more likely than a utopian future where humans don't have to support themselves.

3) Rampant self-endangerment by the antagonist or other self-destructive behavior.

If you aren't aware of it, go to evil overlord and read the list. It's not only amusing, it develops a mindset that innoculates against less than believable cheap shots. Seriously, if it were that easy to cheap-shot them, it would have been done while they were at the "evil nuisance" or "evil troublemaker" stage, long before they got to be an evil overlord.

4) Vast conspiracies that manage to stay secret for decades or centuries

Just no. Von Bismarck claimed "Three men can keep a secret - if two of them are dead." Evidence that has accumulated over the centuries demonstrates that to be hopelessly optimistic. The half-life of conspiracies with fewer than ten participants is measured in days, at most. For larger ones, even that is too much. If a story relies upon a conspiracy keeping something secret, I'm not going to write it. They might keep it out of general knowledge for a few days, but not keep it bottled up so nobody ever finds out.

5) "Evil corporations"

Corporations exist to make money. If you think that's evil, you need to learn some real economics, not the marxist indoctrination you've had. They make money by offering consumers a deal that makes the consumers better off in the consumer's own opnion - otherwise they wouldn't take the deal. Even price gouging lasts until a competing company realizes there's money to be made by offering a better deal. The only way to preserve things like that is by people with guns, bombs, or other means of violence preventing someone who wants to make money also from fixing it. And since the people with guns, bombs, or other means of violence are pretty much always government people, the corporation isn't the real evil, is it? Indeed, chances are much better that the corporations who pay tribute for the alleged protection of their racket are the victims of an extortion scheme, along with everyone else.

The premise for the Connected Realms setting (currently one book available, The Fountains of Aescalon ) is that this is the 'navel' of creation, where energy enters our reality from outside. Aescalon is where new bubbles of reality such as our own are born.

There are several parts to Aescalon. There is the source itself, which manifests to ordinary vision as a neutron star, and there is a sort-of energy shunt called 'Godshome' by the inhabitants, there is the cavern, approximately twenty miles in diameter, and there are new 'bubbles' which eventually become full-blown universes as they gradually absorb energy from the source.

There are 165 main ways for energy to exit Aescalon into the largest bubbles, and all of them are inhabited in some wise by a variety of species. One of those species is humans, another is the diligar, large vaguely lobster-like people. Many others we haven't met yet.

WIth this much power available, various beings have taken up residence in order to take advantage of that power. We have met three progressively stronger varieties of these beings - Immortals, Eternals, and Monads. One of the Monads has hinted about Creators, who are more powerful still.

I'm working on two more stories set here. One is more or less a direct sequel to The Fountains of Aescalon, the other is something else. Working titles are The Bubbles of Creation and The Crazy Lady, respectively.

This is from my current work-in-progress, Setting the Board, third in the Preparations for War series


You play with fire, you're going to get burned.

Abraham Lincoln once observed, "Nearly all men can stand adversity. If you want to test a man's character, give him power." It might scandalize my fellow Americans to say it, but Mr. Lincoln failed his own test by almost any measure. Suspension of habeus corpus, our first conscripted armies, breaking West Virginia off as a separate state with only the thinnest of technically legal fictions. But he'd been a national hero in the United States, because history is written by the winners.

There is no way to give a person power that can only be used for good. Any power can be abused, especially government power. If there's one lesson we should have learned as a species by now, that's it. So it didn't surprise anyone that demons could subvert human rulers. It's just that we never knew who until the damage was done.

But let me start at the beginning.

It felt like we were coming home.

Asina and I had been working to improve the lot of Calmenans for most of our adult lives. It had started within a year of Imperial contact; I'd rescued her from being a breeding slave to the human agaani of Calmena. She'd turned out to be operant; after her training she was recruited to return to Calmena and selected me as her assistant. We'd spent twenty Imperial years (35 local) in N'yeschlass, teaching them about blacksmithing and related fields that used blacksmithing's products, during which time I'd also become operant. Then we'd spent over forty Imperial years in Windhome Bay, advancing their art of shipbuilding and related things like fishing and trading. In that time, the people of Wimarglr Continent, southern Taalmisch Continent, and the Atlantean Chain of islands between them had advanced from barely Iron Age to mostly 19th century Earth equivalent.

The premise is that roughly ten thousand Earth years ago, the fractal demons captured and enslaved some Earth humans, taking them to Calmena, a planet around Epsilon Indi, using them as breeding stock with the idea of creating another slave race like the likahns. They created gateways between their own home spaces and Calmena, then set about making Calmena the sort of hellhole they like to live in.

Humans being an unruly lot, some escaped, and others rebelled. Where these escapees and rebels succeeded in creating their own tribes, they became pseudo-feudal enclaves, dedicated to those at the top of their social ladder and helping them fight off being re-conquered by the fractal demons. But at least 80 percent of humans on Calmena still lived their lives enslaved by demons. Eighty percent of what was left were enslaved by their fellow humans, the results of genetic experimentation that resulted in mental and physical augmentation.

A comparative few clung to a precarious existence in the margins, living largely solitary lives or in association with small family groups in primitive conditions, subject to being captured by any demonic or human lord who took a whim to do so, always prepared to abandon everything they have in order to escape.

When the Empire came to Earth, they discovered Calmena nearby. Realizing it would be a useful gateway for acquiring intelligence on the fractal demons, the Empire established a small base, remote and inaccessible in the highest mountains on the planet. From there, the Ears spread out to the demonic realms, gathering intelligence for the inevitable war that was coming with the fractal demons.

However, a few members of the Imperial elite decided they couldn't ignore the plight of the humans on Calmena. They established a charity with the goal of bettering the lives of the humans on Calmena, although always subject to the need to maintain official secrecy. The fractal demons cannot know that the Empire knows about Calmena.

In Preparing The Ground, Joe and Asina begin the long process of improving the Calmenans' technological ability: They gather up a few scattered humans, and together they found N'yeschlass, a free human town built on smelting metal and forging it.

In Building The People, Joe and Asina undertake a new assignment to introduce sailing ships to a world that has never known anything more advanced than a raft or canoe.

In Setting the Board, the improvements have had a chance to spead. The free humans are pushing the demons back. Now with the southern portion of the fourth and final continent under their control, the free humans seem poised to push the fractal demons off Calmena entirely. Joe and Asina's new assignment: Marine diesels and aircraft technology.

But Calmena is only the front line of a very large conflict zone, and the demons have massive resources they have not yet called upon.

Preparations for War is a grunt's eye view of a cultural and economic conflict and the people that get caught in the middle.


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