Furioso Italian Wars landed today!

A great day today with a new book put up on the website and beginning shipping out to customers and to trade contacts as well.  The follow up to Furioso a wargame set in the 16th century is its expansion which is all about Italy and city state war and semi-historical machines of war.  A blog article in detail on this new book by me HERE.

I am a great lover of Leonardo Da Vinci and his genius and when Steve Danes spoke about creating an expansion for Furioso which would deal with this I was really excited.  The book was in development for several months and I now have my own copy which I will be reading this weekend.  If you want to see the book and more then go to the Alternative Armies website.

The artwork on the cover was created by Sam Croes and really captures the essence of the title.  Pike, soldiers, wooden tank, castle and the sunny climes of Italy.  I might even get it printed as a big poster!



12 Rules for Life…essential reading

I have just finished reading 12 Rules for Life An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.  It was a truly excellent book and I also listened to it on Audible too told by the author himself.  A professional clinical psychologist who has taken great time and great effort to try to explain the world and a way to live within it.  It is a valuable book which I think anyone would benefit from listening to.  That said the sheer hate he is subjected to by people who frankly strike me as a bit insane.  ‘Hate Speech’ they call it.  Well sadly for them the contents of this book are rational, incisive, provable and backed by experience and history.  I could find no fault with it.  It resonated with me.

If you wish to know more please go to Google and look for reviews of this book and you will see what I mean (Financial Times, Guardian etc).  History will repeat itself if we are not careful.  Live a good life, do good, gain in experience, be grateful, value free speech, respect the Christian tradition, raise a family well and take care of your children and parents.  It is a great book and I challenge anyone to take the notion that what it says is wrong based only on a narrow ideological basis.  Nihilism is a dangerous thing and must be combated just like the attempt to destroy the very foundations of the civilisation which has brought life and prosperity to all us poor apes.

Go HERE for the penguin books page on this title.  It will be the best money you will spend this year.

I should also point out that George Orwell and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are greatly admired by me and I shudder in terror of the left wing now.


Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A short look at Children of Time the winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award
by Adrian Tchaikovsky which I have just finished listening to on Audible.

Desperate to find a new home amongst the stars, the last remnants of the human race which persist in the ruins of an earlier stellar empire are thrown out into deep space. Hundreds of thousands  in cryo asleep aboard a colossal colony ship until a habitable planet is located. Eventually they discover a world which was ‘successfully terraformed’ by Professor Kern during the gone era of the Empire.

Left Abandoned by Humans, this new planet isn’t the unoccupied Eden they had hoped for and is populated by two other forces who fight for power and territory.  They are not men..not even close.

Until Children of time the author had really focused on Fantasy and hadn’t turned his hand to writing science fiction novels. It is a move I’m glad he made as Children of Time is not only a rewarding, memorable novel but one that can take its place amongst the finest science fiction.

The story alternates between the humans on board the colony ship (Gilgamesh) and the changing creatures on the terraformed planet. These creatures have been given a helping hand to evolve after a nano-virus that was meant to uplift monkeys instead finds the most promising of creatures on the freshly terraformed surface. We get to see how creatures such as spiders and ants could evolve in a short space of time (relatively speaking). The book travels forward as these creatures evolve while aboard the Gilgamesh the opposite happens. Devoid of the knowledge required to effectively repair or improve their ship, life for the humans gets difficult.

There is a sense of wonder and immersion, being carried along on an alien world with hosts both familiar and strange at the same time. The novel also has the grand vision that is a characteristic of a Peter Hamilton’s space opera. It’s a combination that works perfectly managing to describe the evolutionary steps of earth-like creatures in a realistic fashion. Its clear the author has a fondness for insects.

The way that future technology is described is both modern and creative. This distant view of our culture and society, while a small part in a much larger story, really strikes a chord. It’s the way that the uplifted race of creatures are described that sets the book apart though, the juxtaposition between human and non-human is both reflective and distinct.

Children of Time Explores themes of religion, evolution, sexism and the nature of humanity along with what it takes for a species to call something “God”. The book also provides an effective example on just how evolution can work and just what makes one species superior to another. It’s a mind-blast, thought provoking story just full to the brim with ideas. The book that essence of the classic science fiction novels, that sense of wonder and unfettered imagination but combined with this is the charm of a writer who really knows how to entertain, how to spin a good story. Essential science fiction and a book not to be missed.


Humans in 3rd Edition Flintloque – Advent 2018!

A broken tusk jutted from its lower jaw and pierced through its upper lip drawing blood. The arrow had grazed the mouth. With its free hand the Orc tore two more arrows from its chest breaking the wooden shafts with apparent ease. It awaited the order. Blood trickled down its face staining the rough white fabric and leather around its neck. Blood flowed out of injuries and mixed dark with the red of its crudely stitched coat before dripping onto its course black leather boots. It awaited the order. Ahead the Hoomans rode horses their armour sparking brilliant in the sun; lances shining as they began to charge. Arrows rained down from the Men further back behind the riders and struck the Orcs along the thin two deep line drawing grunts but no movement; a couple of Orcs toppled forward onto the grass. It awaited the order. The spear had been lighter, the spear has been faster but the spear was gone and now he had Bessie. The order was shouted gruffly. Bessie moved from resting on the shoulder into both hands and up until it pointed at the Hoomans. The plains had been his hunting ground and the spear had thrown far and silent. Now the ranks and the lash for speaking out of turn. Bessie spoke with fire and anger but there was no fear. No fear now of the Hoomans. The lances came down to level and then gouts of grey smoke and fire stabbed out and the Men died. Dresda was theirs and his Lordship would give sips of Ladye Juniper to all who served in the ranks. Blood mingled with bitter powder as the unbroken tusk bit into a new cartridge and then he spat the lead ball into Bessie’s smoking maw.

It was my great pleasure to make my entry into the 2017 Advent Calendar over at Orcs in the Webbe and article at the request of the site’s owner Craig Andrews.  I write an article each year for his birthday on or around the 18th of December.  This time it was a play tested article for using the now vanquished Human race on the battlefields of Valon in the time of Flintloque the Skirmish.  You can read it HERE and download a formatted PDF of the article on that page too.

I do not play Dresda but others do, the game first made for Alternative Armies range of High Fantasy miniature.  I wrote DarkeStorme to replace it and Flintloque does not really use Humans.  Such as those above in the Knights and Footsoldiers part of the range.  Orcs have wiped out Mankind and taken their cities including Dresda and now call it Londinium.  The article was fun to write and play out the scenario included in it.  Humans are like Elves but slower and being afraid of black powder makes playing them in Flintloque tough at anything but close range.  It does bring up some nice ideas though.

In 2018 I will be working with other authors and creators to expand Valon even further with titles set in the twilight of the Crystal Empire of the Elves.  Revisiting a classic title and also a brand new one too.  There will be more on this at the time but for now I just wanted to say it is coming.  Stay up to speed by following the Alternative Armies blog or facebook group.

I leave you to enjoy the Advent Calendar and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018 now just under two weeks away.  Time flies.


Artemis by Andy Weir a review

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.   Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Artemis. The new science fiction novel by the writer of The Martian, Andy Weir.  I picked it up on Audible and hence listened to it rather than reading it.  It was narrated by Rosio Dawson and ran at just under nine hours which I did in two sessions.  I was greatly impressed by The Martian and a follow up for such a success would be very difficult…so..how was the story?

So, what is Artemis? It’s…a few things, actually. The top of which is, it’s heist story. On the moon. It’s not just that, of course. The protagonist, Jasmine (“Jazz”) Bashara is being offered an opportunity to change her life…we’ll get on to that shortly. What I’m saying is that, though this is a heist story, one where careful planning and unexpected reversals are the order of the day, it’s also a story about a woman looking to make something of herself, and the book is as much about character and personality as it is about chases through vacuum and dubious law enforcement.

The world well, it’s in some ways familiar, in others…less so. The moon is a harsh place, at least externally. It’s cold, dead, and the slightest mistake could kill you. There’s a certain sterile beauty to it, to be fair – but Weir has built a moon which can kill, and emphasises the fragility of life in that environment. The larger part of the world, though, is in the city which humanity has settled. It has a certain retro vibe to it – domes rising out of the moon rock, habitable areas underground as well as above. Relatively small, the cultural cadences of science and technology are interspersed throughout – this is a people who make up for their lack of numbers with intellectual capital and skill. The city bustles and thrives, and the industry around it – aluminium, for example – helps sustain it; it certainly feels both alive, and familiar – and at the same time, ever so slightly strange.

Character-wise – well, the main focus is on Jasmine. I have a lot of affection for Jazz, as she’s known – a smart-mouthed young woman, with a laser-like intelligence and an impressive facility for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or otherwise putting her proverbial foot in it. Still, she has a sharp tone, and a degree of hustle and charm which it’s a lot of fun to read along with. We pick up some of her history through the text. This lets us explore wider issues as well, like how parenting, or nationality work on the moon, or the role of currency in the context of moon-living. Jazz is energetic and cheerfully self-serving, and if there’s hints of larger issues there – guilt, issues with authority, family difficulties – then they help make a more nuanced character.

Jazz is backed up by a fairly large ensemble cast – from snide EVA instructors who also happen to be ex-boyfriends, to seemingly baffled scientists. Jazz’s father, a man seemingly confounded by his daughter’s ability to do absolutely anything other than apply herself, steals every scene that he’s in, with a combination of pragmatic competence and an obvious love for his daughter that pours off the page. There’s others of course – engineers in life support, and a particularly persistent lawman. I think my only complaint is that we don’t see enough of them. They’re there, and serve the plot rather well, and give Jazz the contrasts and banter in her life that we need to see – but I’d love to have seen them in more depth.

The plot…well no spoilers. But it’s a lot of fun. In some ways it’s a slow burn, as facets of a plan come together. But there’s enough going on at every stage to keep you locked in. When things do kick off, then there’s heart-in-mouth moments aplenty, tension broken with chases, brawls, and the occasional explosion. It’s a journey in exuberant prose, which is taking joy in both the science and discovery of it all, and in the personal dramas, the horrible mistakes, the bare-knuckle recoveries and the personal triumphs.

It’s not The Martian, but that’s a good thing. Artemis is strong enough to stand on its own. It’s clever, fast-paced, tense, and carries moments of sparkling humour and emotional weight. If you were a fan of The Martian, then yes, you should give this one a read. If you’re coming to Weir’s work for the first time – this is very much worth the time.

So that is my review.  I must also mention that the author did an excellent job of ticking all of the diversity boxes without causing any offence which is a hard thing to do. Kudos!


Bladerunner 2049 as it was for me

“Every civilization was built on the back of a disposable workforce, but I can only make so many.”

I had waited a long time.  I had waited before I knew there was anything to wait for.  Anything to anticipate.  Then when I knew there would be more my heart sank.  For I knew…I knew..that it would bring despair.  That it would fail to emulate what Bladerunner was to me and that was a cornerstone of my artistic identity.  When the date was announced for the new film Bladerunner 2049 I just had to see it.  I had to.  I had to know.  So when tickets came online they were bought and to the cinema I went.

So…how was it?

I will ignore all that has been said about it being boring…you don’t get it.  I will ignore the lack of cinema revenue…who cares it will be a legend.  I will ignore the pedants who laugh at it…no one will remember them.  My thoughts after nearly three hours in the seat is that Bladerunner 2049 is a masterpiece of film making and it restored my faith in the medium.  The best film in a decade.

The universe set up in the original film survived and was expanded.  Atari and the Soviet Union are both still going strong.  The visuals were stunning and the music…souring and epic.  For me the giantess of the virtual billboard was a highlight.

A core tenant in the film was the nature of what it is to be Human and the reactions of the Human with the Enhanced and now the Virtual too.  All too relevant for the world as it is now and as it will soon be too.  After all her eyes are blue but they should be green.

I could wax on for an age.  But I will not.  I loved this film and I will continue to do so.  Do yourself a favour and see it.  Also do yourself a favour and ignore the critics and their screeching about feminism and other issues..they will never be happy.  This film is a gem.


Running to Gold at Culzean

A hearty well done to my eldest son who won first place and gold in a decathlon held last week at Culzean Country Park. The event was organised by Competitive School Sports South Ayrshire and many schools in the area took part. Running and Cycling several miles each he came home tired but elated.

Running was never on the cards for me as a teen.  Too big, too heavy.  Rather it was Rugby and Chess for me..plus wargaming of course.  I am proud of my lad hence this little post.  Effort brings rewards in this family and a reward is incoming soon for him.


Baron Book update and snippet one

The Ion Age ended September with a short update on the progress of the fourth book for Patrol Angis namely Baron. Baron was outlined HERE on its blog in an article and during September I had been attending to several parts of the build of the book. This included assembling the play test results of exotic weapons and new equipment as well as organising the feedback from the Alternative Armies Tabletop Wargaming Group on Facebook where we had been chatting it over with IonFans. The selection process for which star systems will be detailed in the book is over and the selection of which Condot Mercenaries will feature is done too. Notes have expanded to form in the story of the Civil War and lastly some very over powered mechanics for the Starvaulters were rejected! Starvaulters are the best of the best but one versus a Battlesuit was a little much.

I want to share with you a little snippet…from the exotic weapons and equipment section which is part of the advanced rules in ‘Baron’. Here are the first few hundred words….

“You want this little sparkling box? You want to try and take it from me? Don’t even think about it. My father gave me this when I joined up. Told me to use it when the time came. It’ll turn you into a wet stain on this grey dirt before you even get your rifle up. It’s my box of tricks.” 
Private Ricky Falacan, 403rd Regiment, Fulton Prime. 4322 IC 

There are places in the Prydian Precinct which were never the remit of Humanity. Places where other creatures ruled and something of their technology remains behind them. Sometimes such things are unearthed or relics from the dim past of the Ban of Prejudice are found. Many of these rare weapons and items of equipment find their way into the hands of far traders, rich nobles or sons and daughters of the original locator. A lot of them are located to the edge of the Precinct that leads to the Galactic Core. Cost in points is given and follow the special rules as laid out. 
Note: If you wish to add any of these items to an existing template type of infantry, infantry scale vehicle or vehicle you can do so using the rules for them if allowed. Simply remove a weapon and its points cost and replace it with your choice modifying the points cost total appropriately. 
Clade Dancers: Often coming up illegally among Far Traders for sale these large slab like objects are too heavy for ten men to lift and are thought to have originated in one now totally ruined and abandoned temple complex on Clade Prime where they were its floor tiles. They are inert and can be fitted into structures or larger vehicles. They have no effect upon machines but they tamper with the complex minds of Humans. When one is nearby to people they describe strange visions of dancing shapes which grow stronger with proximity with an influence much like excessive alcohol when very close. They can be destroyed and are so when the structure (a Hab Dome) or large vehicle (like a Mullo or Taranis) is destroyed. When one is in play there is a chance of losing Activation Tokens during the Initiative Phase…… 

I intend another update on the book at the end of October with another snippet but I hope you enjoyed the above and the pictures too…man I had some fun with the new Cold Climes planetary militia. They use the exact same rules as the typical Planetary Militia which are in The Khanate Return but geared up for Arctic conditions. I want to thank everyone for their support of The Ion Age and my living from it.


Starship Troopers as an origin thread of current Wargaming


There is no doubt that Robert Heinlein wrote a masterpiece of science fiction literature in 1959 with the publication of Starship Troopers.  It is a military science fiction novel which is told in the first-person narrative about a young soldier named Juan ‘Johnnie’ Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military service branch of ‘The Federation’ who are equipped with ‘powered armour’. Rico’s military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an arachnid species known as ‘the Bugs’ and also ‘the Skinnies’. Rico and the other characters discuss moral and philosophical aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, juvenile delinquency, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and war.  It is a book of two aspects.  The first being the action and technology of the Mobile Infantry and the second being the structure of The Federation.  I will not go into detail about the moral aspects of the book as it is not my purpose here but I will say that I agree with many points the book makes (not all) and secondly to say that in a social media forum setting invariably makes one suffer from Godwins Law and when posting this article I am sure I will get the same.

I recently listened to the book as an audio through my audible account and it has been years since I last turned the pages of my own paper copy.  Critics of the book have a point when they refer to the lack of a dense plot and deep characters but there is no denying the success of the book much of which was actually to Heinlein’s surprise.  I agree that the plot is very thin but I think that it actually does not matter all that much as the career and thoughts of Rico are the prime mover in the text.  The purpose of this short essay however is not to discuss the book itself but more to see its influence upon the industry where I make my living; that of miniature wargaming and science fiction wargame rules.

It cannot be argued that Starship Troopers has not had a big influence upon science fiction in terms of books, films and more which followed it.  This was in the 1960’s with The Forever War by Haldeman and also Harry Harrison’s lower brow Bill the Galactic Hero both putting their own takes on Starship Troopers.  These served to flesh out and humanise the core ideas of the original book in different directions and indeed to this day authors such as John Scalzi pattern their tales upon Heinlein and his work.  A whole generation grew up with the book and then an Avalon Hill Board Game as well as early home computer games with the setting.  But it was in 1986 for wargaming in particular that arguably the greatest combination of events EVER for science fiction wargaming occurred with the release of the seminal Aliens movie.  Aliens directed by James Cameron riffs heavily upon Starship Troopers and borrows lines and concepts from it such as the infamous ‘Bug Hunt’.  This powerful combination locked into the mind of wargamers just want a possible future would be and to this day it is one of the most reliable narratives for scenario settings including the recent Osprey book Bug Hunts by Mark Latham which is literally this combination.

While there are other powerful combinations such as that of Dune and the original Laserburn into Rogue Trader one and the Japanese Anime Mecha into Techomancy one I would say that Starship Troopers and Aliens combine into the biggest for wargaming overall.  Powered Armour features very heavily in science fiction wargaming as does chisel jawed alpha men with no deep personalities both are from this start.  An alien enemy implacable and totally unlike us has a beginning in Starship Troopers too.  In fact Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of the mecha anime TV series Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)  cited Starship Troopers as an important inspiration. He coined the term “mobile suit” used to name the piloted mecha from the anime series as a reference to the novel’s own ‘mobile infantry’. All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is a newer example. In direct terms the game by Mongoose Publishing in 2005 which picked up on the 1997 movie written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven license is the biggest thing done in purely wargaming terms with Starship Troopers.  Though I enjoyed the film the movie and the game have little to do with the original book.

For Science Fiction Wargaming two core aspects of the book shine through as pioneering.  The innovation of powered armour exoskeletons used by the Mobile Infantry. Suits controlled by the wearer’s own movements, but powerfully augmented a soldier’s strength, speed, weight-carrying capacity (which allowed much heavier personal armament), and jumping ability (including jet and rocket boost assistance), and provided the wearer with improved senses (infrared vision and night vision, radar, and amplified hearing), a completely self-contained personal environment including a drug-dispensing apparatus, sophisticated communications equipment, and tactical map displays. Their powered armour made the Mobile Infantry a hybrid between an infantry unit and an armoured one.  Wargamers adore all kinds of amour in this fashion.  The other core was that of space-borne infantry. The heavily mechanised units of M.I. troops were attached to interstellar troop transport spacecraft, which then delivered them to planetary target zones, by dropping groups of Mobile Infantrymen onto the planet surface from orbit via individual re-entry capsules. The uses for such a force—ranging from smash-and-burn raids, to surgical strikes, conventional infantry warfare, and holding beachheads—and the tactics that might be employed by such soldiers are described extensively and inspire wargamers.

Many wargame miniature producers make miniatures which borrow from Heinlein. Armoured Steel Gorillas as the novel puts it as common as ‘Power Armour’ or ‘Mobile Suits’ or ‘Battlesuits’ or ‘Dreadnoughts’ or ‘Mates’ etc giving a single man the mighty of a whole platoon of conventional troops.  I will not quote makers since there are too many and indeed some may not even realise the origin since as time moves on each subsequent generation borrows or is inspired by the last.  HALO with its ‘Spartans’, now a tabletop game by Spartan Games in the UK, owes its lineage to the Mobile Infantry in this sense.

I will say that my own creations in wargaming have been influenced by Starship Troopers though not directly up to this point.  I have made use of powered armour and of deep space transports to deliver soldiers to the warring front.  But in that I am common for this is the very crux of sci-fi to many.

In conclusion Starship Troopers is a vital thread to wargaming without which there would be a mighty big gap in both the technology commonly regarded as military for miniatures and games but also in the terminology and mindset of wargamers for the portrayal of alien life as a hive mindset.  In fact when you take out everything that came from Starship Troopers the cupboard is rather bare and barren.  The book is the origin and jumping off point for a thousand other works which lead us to now.

Thanks for your time.


Caracan and 2000 words in under two hours

Over on the blog for The Ion Age I published a little story about Caracan the Strider; a light mecha used in the Patrol Angis game system in 15mm scale.  I write a lot of fiction and non-fiction but on this occasion I decided to set myself a challenge in that I would try and create 2000 words of fiction in less than two hours with only five minutes of editing afterwards and then straight to publish.  I just managed it and the article went live half a day later.  Responses have been kind and nice and sure I made a couple of mistakes but all in all it worked.   Have a look and enjoy if you like science fiction with a military leaning.

Writing Two Thousand Words in Two Hours…How?

So.  You might be thinking how do I write a story of 2000 words in 120 minutes.  Well there is no magic formula really.  From my point of view I have and do write a lot so my typing speed is faster than typical.  It helps I use a wired full size keyboard as smaller boards and wireless can pose problems and slow you.  I am a great believer in the motto of ‘just start’ as it works.  When you try this just begin with one sentence which sums up what you are going to write about.  Such as ‘This mecha, what is it, who is its pilot and where are they fighting’.  Then drop a few lines, I use open office mainly in single page view, and type in salient points of the story you are now thinking of.  So any action or dialogue or description you intend to hang the story on.  It could be the opening or last line for example.  By this time you are five minutes in and have the skeleton of a two thousand word tale.

Now.  Do not stop.  Type typing and ignore everything else if you can.  Take your salient points and begin to build on them with paragraphs.  Name your characters and identify places.  Ignore the beep of the phone, the call from mates and such (if you are on fire then put it out of course!) and carry on.  Frankly I am ignoring Messenger and Whatsapp right now!   By the time you are an hour in you should have nearly a thousand words and a story that would work if left as it is.  It would be somewhat vapid and missing elements but it exists.  Now take a minute and read it back.

The second hour is the power hour.  You are in the zone now and you are burning up the virtual paper.  Now is the time for the main focus of the tale to take place, focus on the action scene or the central trunk which readers will remember.  Get it done and then jump back and expand upon the beginning then hop to the end and write it out and then expand it.  Two hours goes fast.  You should now have your story…

Pompous eh?  What am I like.  A fast thinking, fast typing, veteran scribbler telling you it is this easy.  Well it ain’t easy and I got there with seconds to spare.  It is perfectly fine to try for 1000 words or for three hours when you begin and I recommend you try and do an exercise of 500 words several times if you are very new to this.   If you manage to craft a tale then you deserve some applause as many people simply never do it.

I began with books like the one above and they are well worth reading.  I will end on this notion.  Begin with the End clearly in Mind.  It makes all the difference.