Category Archives: science fiction

Story 4 – Fallen Realms?

I reposted my previous blogpost on this sequel to The Ariadne Cycle trilogy, so as to show where these ideas are progressing from.

As yet, this sequel does not have a name, so “Story 4″ is its working title.

The first scene is the Ranger jumping out of warp at Phoenix, battered and with significant visual battle damage, tho the jump time has enabled Kandinsky’s men to enact most of the most vital repair work. Whilst this exterior view is going on, the Commander X of the Ranger (ie basically Kandinsky’s flag captain) is overseeing the bringing out from cryo-med Emperor Karl who was thrown into the medical deep sleep due to wounds received in the hurried and chaotic evacuation of Kitahna, humanity’s last base within the lost Human Imperium.

Due to the haste of the evacuation, the extent of his wounds, and damage to the Ranger itself, Karl is hazy, disorientated and its not at all clear he knows who he is, where he is, or the circumstances he finds himself in. Commander X does not dare report this to Kandinsky or to Levan who was in command of Kitahna’s defences and who is the one who got the Emperor aboard against the odds. X is aware that Kandinsky has some doubts as to his competence, especially since he took up with Felicity, once the young trophy, now a woman who looks for trophies of her own in her faded glamour. He convinces Karl to pretend to remember, telling him that it will all come back soon enough, and that his authority will be dented if his people don’t think he is capable.

This will be worked at as the opening scene. More details to fill it in, include the Governor of Phoenix, Gavrilla Setax, her position now in flux as what was established as Deep Reserve has now become, with the fall of Kitahna, the capital and last central authority of humanity. With the rescue/return of the Emperor, the established political system here is in flux. A Senate and its attendant Consuls already exist at Phoenix, and are pushing to take over legislative powers now that Phoenix is all there is.

At Phoenix, characters such as Visantia, commander of its defence forces, and Karlan Kandinsky, grandson of the admiral and (former ?) poet, one of the Consuls stand as ready as the Governor to receive the Emperor, each looking to stabilise and expand their own power bases. With humanity constricted to just this last Deep Reserve, the conflicting power bases of those who serve there, and those who fled there, come into sharp focus.

But Phoenix is not the total human story, for within what was the Imperium, but is now the Fallen Realms, pirates, guerillas and those who are both remain fighting, battling and surviving. Some of these were renegades against the Imperium when it was at its height, others have taken up the life, and some like Saloran Ratan on the Delh Homeworld have escaped the slave prison camps to fight in the shadows in the very heart of the alien menace.

We should be able to establish a tripartite set of characters that does not get infected by numerical bloating. There are the following settings:-

1) Phoenix

2) Mobile guerilla forces within the Fallen Realms

3) Those in, or escaped from, the slave prison camps on the Delh Homeworld

Number 2) includes the successor to Vorp’s organisation (Beholder/Cerberus) as well as additional, “looser” characters we can meet/use when we need them. Such additional characters would include Salik and the AI Tamara, making their own way and surviving their own way.

Number 3) will include Marnee as a major focus character, four years old when she was taken captive by the Delh (Bellerophon), now fourteen and a slave prisoner on the Delh Homeworld, held since her incarceration in a different camp than Saloran Ratan, but always remembering him, though hardly expecting, rationally, to see him ever again.

And somewhere within it all we have Skorjine, traitor, merchant or survivor whose dual citizenship on the eve of the war prevented his execution by the Delh and now sees him aligned alongside them in an uneasy commercial partnership even he is never sure of.

Fallen Realms would probably be a good name for the book, as long as it survives a Google check for similar names used in similar circumstances. People may not be able to copyright names, but having one which obliterates any hope of your own SEO standing would not be clever.

Beholder can be bought at
Smashwords –
Barnes and Noble –

Best Regards
Grey Wolf

Resurrection or Data Mining

I’ve long had these three science fiction stories I wrote in the 1990s at the back of my mind. One was completed, one was well underway, and the other was just begun, but together they form a trilogy, and somewhere along the way they gained the names Beholder, Bellerophon, and Cerberus. For a long time Cerberus was almost a myth – I knew there were several parts, but I could only ever find one.

Beholder was in some ways worse – I had tried a couple of times to collate it, but it consisted of chapterettes catalogued by a numbering system that often jumped to the next decade number to mark the end of a cycle, and seemed to jump to the next century numbers to mark the next major ‘book’ inside the novel. Over time, the originals on floppy discs had been taken off, catalogued, analysed and so on but I was never sure how much was missing – for missing an amount certainly is. I remember my first attempt at doing this and the creation of the ‘Lost Lambs’ folder, those missing chapters found on their own on a floppy disc otherwise dedicated to another subject. Eventually, it might be said that there are at a minimum two chapters missing (there is a mid-teens gap that makes no sense in terms of jumping to the next numerical milestone) and at most maybe a dozen or so missing. But the bulk of the story is there, and has finally now been collated into one document. Even that was not without its trials, for I did this on holiday and only had my laptop to work from, but the originals were written using Microsoft Works, yet Vista on my laptop refuses to install Works, so I had to work through Notepad, opening each document, stripping it of code and copying it into Word. Fine, but it had the very peculiar effect of always including a stray snippet of text at the bottom, often somehow pulled from a different Works document. I decided to keep these in on the basis that if I could match each snippet to a piece of text elsewhere, good, but if I couldn’t I might have the only remaining fragment of one of the lost chapters – truly story-writing archaeology!

Bellerophon was intact, of reasonable length and would probably have formed a third of the total novel length, whereas the 3 chapters I eventually found for Cerberus are clearly only a beginning, and may yet be missing a part I vaguely recall writing, or perhaps I only recall planning, but never wrote?

The continuous thread through the three stories was the Artificial Intelligence known as Ariadne, and the possible naming of the books relates to her role in the stories – in Beholder she is watching for the mostpart, in Bellerophon she is fighting, and in Cerberus she is protecting. At least that is a rationalisation!

In the past I had tried to make something of the existing stories, either to rewrite them in a more coherent manner, or expand upon what existed, but neither approach had really worked. They are in a sense too much of their time, even though written in a somewhat distant future, and they were written with influences long since eclipsed by more recent influences – eg there are clear streaks of Deep Space Nine in some of the terminology and imaginings, whereas since that time I have taken in all of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

Instead, I decided this time to write a sequel to the trilogy, taking it as a whole, and setting it ten years after the events in the original work. On one level this was an easy enough decision, but on another it raised some rather large questions. Due to the disjointed nature of the trilogy, that Beholder’s characters other than the AI are not in Bellerophon, and that Bellerophon’s characters, other than the AI, are not in Cerberus, but Cerberus revolves around one group only of Beholder’s characters, what has happened to all the rest of the characters? This is not simply a question of what has happened to them over ten years, since that is my decision as the writer of the new work, but it is very much the question of what happened to them during the time-frame of the original trilogy. As an example, General Kalister escapes from Station One when it is destroyed by the aliens and is last seen hurtling towards Earth in a convoy of evacuation ships. What happens to him during the timeframe of Bellerophon, and if he survives that what has happened to him by the timeframe of Cerberus?

We cannot think of him as still on that ship when up to a year must have passed within the internal reckoning of the triology.

In a sense, the opening scene of the new work suggested itself to me as a scene seeking a story. I needed not only a background, but a character and this took some working through. What became easiest was to extrapolate certain trends from the existing stories – the Human Imperium is on the backfoot, the enemy is not only choosing the battlefields within human space, but has some kind of secret weapon, but one group of characters has information taken from an alien battlecruiser and intends to use this to bargain for a pardon from the Emperor. Taking these as long term trends I could say that the aliens continue to win, but that the humans are able to fight back and delay them – delay them but not stop them.

Having thus decided the overall strategic situation, it becomes clearer both what to do with many of the characters, and what their likely fate would have been. A lot of the military characters are going to be dead. Given that a continuing alien advance is going to mean that human habitation after human habitation falls to the aliens, then a lot of the political characters are also going to be dead. The war is clearly going to have given pirates, freebooters, outlaws and bandits a certain free rein, but since the aliens are going to make little distinction, this kind of war also gives all of these types the chance to shine as unofficial adjuncts to the human military – or guerillas, if you will. Whilst this gives them a continuing valuable role in the story to come, it also means that, as with the other characters, a lot of them are going to be dead.

All of these dead characters seems a bit daunting on the one hand, but what a trilogy of novels does, even one with incomplete volumes, is to generate a mass of characters. Quite literally some of the ships are overloaded with characters when we last see them, so culling them down to a few key characters makes perfect sense for the story to come. The choice of characters to definitely kill, of characters to promote as it were, and of others to have surviving and able to play a useful role in the story to come was an interesting one. Resolving it, brought clarity to who it was I could see in my mind’s eye in the first scene of the new work. It also led me to kill off some of the leading characters who had survived the previous works, and to promote others into their places.

One thing a ten year gap does is to age people. An important segment of the characters from Beholder were teenagers chosen by the leaders of the criminal cartels for their youth as much as for their skills. They are now in their mid to late twenties, and the youngest of them, chosen for her ability to escape notice and to get around tight corners, whilst at the same time having a high intellect, is now a young woman of twenty-one. But she is not the character who emerged from Beholder intact and in high esteem, for Cerberus (what there is of it) is built around her ordeal at the hands of her captors. She is a more withdrawn figure after this experience, and ten years of fighting the alien menace has not mellowed this in her.

Ten years also does things for the youngest characters in the previous work – the youngest named character was a four year old refugee from Station Two in Bellerophon. Escaping on the yacht that contained the AI, she is clearly missing by the time that Cerberus comes around, and the only in-story explanation was an alien attack badly damaged the ship and the crew took to the life pods. Extrapolating on this, it seemed reasonable to posit that she fell into alien hands and forms one of probably hundreds of thousands of human prisoners on alien slave worlds. This puts a character of an interesting age in an important place, in terms of viewpoint.

The other youngest character was not born, but the mother came on board the pirate ship already heavily pregnant. As this was at the end of Beholder, it is obvious that a child must have been born during the time period represented by Bellerophon, and be present but not mentioned during Cerberus. That child is now ten, and has grown up on a pirate ship, all his life dedicated to the pursuit of such goals, and of hitting the aliens in the guise of being a privateer. This is going to make for some very interesting child development!

At the opposite extreme almost the oldest character is still around. I decided that in terms of what we know about the Spacefleet of the Human Imperium, the old admiral who refused retirement and who was sent in with his reserves when the aliens attacked, would be one of those characters most likely to have been able to use all of his experience to survive in a war where humanity is increasingly out-numbered and defeated. I decided that despite his now truly ancient years, keeping him in command makes perfect sense for the story. After all, this is science fiction, it is the future, and it is quite possible in terms of life-span for the better-off that when they retire they can look forward to some thirty or more years of leisure.

The sequel is now about ready to begin. Characters have been chosen, settings set, backgrounds assigned and the grand strategic overview is in place. A few names have had to be changed, not least that of the aliens for when the story was written Dell was something you associated with Dingley and not with a multinational computer company! Others have been standardised, their spelling having slipped across the chapters, whilst as far as it has been possible full names, including last names, have been data mined from obscure brief mentions in the chapters they occurred. Some characters don’t have any – perhaps they never did, perhaps they do not remember it, perhaps they choose not to use it and nobody really cares anymore, considering the circumstances. Some characters have been assigned roles in keeping with their stature but very different, at least in geography, to where we saw them before.

And of course, this new story also needs a name. Sometimes the name is the easiest part, sometimes it is the hardest. I have the vaguest inkling at the moment, but hopefully when the opening scenes have been written it will coalesce into something I can use. Wish me luck on this great voyage of exploration!

Beholder is available to buy at these locations

Best Regards
Grey Wolf

Guest Post by Ian Douglas author of Star Corpsman

Today on Grey Wolf’s Blog we welcome Ian Douglas, author of the Star Corpsman series of science fiction books.

Star Corpsman by Ian Douglas

Corpsman Front!
by Ian Douglas

The U.S. Navy Hospital Corps–the “docs” who assist doctors and nurses in Navy hospitals, who run the sick bays on board Navy ships, and who train and deploy with the U.S. Marines and serve as their combat medics–has been around for quite a while. The congressional bill establishing the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps was formally signed into law by President William McKinley on 17 June, 1898.

Before that, however, they were the surgeon’s stewards, the baymen and the apothecaries who served on Navy ships during and after the Civil War, and before that they were loblolly boys–a term borrowed from the Royal British Navy during the American Revolution. Drawn randomly from the ship’s company, they prepared the buckets of sand in the operating room to keep the surgeons from slipping in the blood, and heated the irons used to cauterize amputations and severe lacerations. Loblolly referred to the ration of porridge they brought around each day to the sick and wounded.

From 1916 through 1947, petty officers in the Hospital Corps were called pharmacist’s mates, in keeping with the same rate structure that gave the Navy its gunner’s mates, boatswain’s mates, machinist’s mates, and others. After 1947, the Hospital Corps adopted the terminology used today: hospital corpsmen.

Corpsmen have a long and distinguished record of service in every war the United States has fought. Time and time again, corpsmen serving with Marine companies and platoons have put themselves in harm’s way at the call of “corpsman front!” Unarmed and under heavy fire, they’ve reached fallen Marines, rendered emergency field first aid, and kept them alive until they could be evacuated; sometimes, they’ve picked up dropped weapons to protect their patients at point-blank range, or covered them with their own bodies when a grenade landed close by. There’s no way even to guess how many lives they’ve saved.

But in the process, twenty-two corpsmen have won the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action, while 174 were awarded the Navy Cross, 948 the Silver Star, and 1,582 the Bronze Star, making Hospital Corpsman the single most decorated rating in the Navy, and with damned good reason. Since the Civil War, over 2,000 Corpsmen have died in combat. They’ve gone everywhere the Marines have gone. One of the six men photographed raising the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi was Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley, serving with the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Regiment during the bloody assault on Iwo Jima.

They also serve both the Navy and the Marines as technical specialists. After going through Corps School training, where they learn first aid, basic nursing skills, and patient care, some go on to more advanced “C” schools, becoming lab technicians, x-ray techs, operating room technicians, cardiopulmonary techs, or other medical specialists. Some go through FMF training–that’s the Fleet Marine Force–and it is they who serve in the field with the Marines as combat medics. A few become independent duty corpsmen, meaning they serve on ships or at duty stations with no doctors or senior medical staff. During World War II, no fewer than three independent-duty corpsmen performed emergency appendectomies while serving on board U.S. submarines, far from any possibility of medical evacuation and with no doctor available.

I joined the U.S. Navy in 1969. My dad had been a Corpsman during the Korean War two decades earlier, and I proudly followed in his footsteps. He’d been an OR tech and FMF; I chose to train as a lab tech instead. Most of my hitch was split between the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, and I would not trade the experience for the world. While I was not FMF, I did work a lot with the Marines; corpsmen and Marines share a close-knit bond of history, camaraderie and mutual respect forged in blood from Belleau Wood to Iwo Jima to Fallujah. To my Marine friends, I will always be “Doc,” while for me, my respect for the Marines and what they’ve gone through is summed up in their immortal motto: Semper fi. “Always faithful.”

So what does all of this have to do with Ian Douglas and my stories about the Marines of the future?

It was inevitable, I suppose, that when given the chance I would write about the Marines of the future. It’s a venerable and honorable trope: E.E. Smith’s immortal Lensman series frequently brought in Sergeant van Buskirk and his Valerian space marines… and though they were called “Mobile Infantry,” Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, in their training, their culture, and their esprit, were clearly a future iteration of the U.S. Marine Corps. During the fight for Iwo Jima, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal had just stepped onto the beach below when the flag went up atop Suribachi. “The raising of that flag,” he told General Holland Smith, “means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.” My first three Ian Douglas trilogies–Heritage, Legacy, and Inheritance–followed the future history of the Corps from a war on Mars in 2040 through to a climactic struggle with black-hole aliens at the Galactic Core in 4004… so I actually managed to carry things out a bit beyond the five century mark.

And of course, where the Marines went, even in the future, the Navy Hospital Corps went as well.

It occurred to me at one point, though, that Navy corpsmen might be good for something more in a high-tech future than patching up wounded Marines. Corpsmen are technically trained; not only can they dress a wound or splint a fracture, but some of them operate x-ray machines and sequential multiple analyzers and–nowadays, though they didn’t have them when I was in–MRIs. If the Marines are going to be deployed to alien planets–that “every shore and clime” of the Marine Corps Hymn–they may be too busy fighting off alien beasties to do the necessary technical work: analyzing the local atmosphere and biology and ecology and culture. Know your enemy was one of the foundational principles of warfare laid down by Sun Tzu 2600 years ago, and if your enemy is a life form that doesn’t look like you, doesn’t act like you, doesn’t even think like you, maybe it would be a good idea to have someone along with your Marine unit who can figure out just what makes the bad guys tick.

And the other part of Sun Tzu’s injunction is just as important: Know yourself. The Navy corpsmen of my various futures are responsible for the psychological well-being of their Marines as well as the purely physical. These books, after all, are more about what it means to be human than they are war stories about alien bug-eyed monsters.

And so, in a blinding inspirational flash, a nova against the velvet-black backdrop of space, the Ian Douglas military-SF series Star Corpsman was born.

Star Corpsman is the first-person narrative of HM2 Elliot Carlyle, attached to Second Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion of Deep Recon 7, 1st Marine Division. He serves onboard a Marine interstellar transport, the George Clymer, holding sick call and helping run the ship’s sick bay… and when the Marines deploy to the surface of an alien planet, he’s there to test the atmosphere and study the local biology and, just maybe, figure out how to communicate with the locals on the theory that talking to them is usually more productive than killing them.

Did anything of my experience as a Navy corpsman sneak into my stories?

Well… of course it did. That’s what writing is all about after all–taking your own life experience and presenting it to total strangers for their amusement and entertainment. As it happens, the George Clymer was one of the troop transports my dad served on as an independent-duty corpsman. And my wife suffered a devastating stroke in Maine. And… and… and…

There’s an incident in Star Corpsman: Deep Abyss where a doctor goes off the deep end and puts the hero on report for failing to obey orders. Something very much like that–with somewhat more primitive medical equipment–actually happened in Puerto Rico… not to me, but to a good friend of mine in the lab who had the ER lab/x-ray watch one night. A sailor on board a ship in port had fallen twenty feet and landed on a steel deck squarely on his head. The doctor on duty that night ordered a skull series–meaning x-rays of the guy’s head to see if he’d fractured his skull. The skull series was clear, no fractures, but my friend suggested that he do a c-spine series as well–meaning x-ray the cervical vertebra in the upper back to see if the sailor had managed to break his neck. The doctor was furious that a mere enlisted man would try to second-guess him… and ordered him not to take the extra pictures. My friend chose to disobey those orders… and a damned good thing, too. C1, the top vertebrae right under the skull, was cracked; C2 was completely broken through; C3… well, they couldn’t even find C3, it was so badly fragmented. Comminuted is the medical term.

But the doctor, who had some ego issues, put my friend on report and he had to go up before the captain who ran the hospital. When the chief who ran the lab showed the skipper–also a doctor–the x-rays, though, my friend was off the hook. The doctor on watch that night? He was transferred somewhere else… fast. In fact, the last I heard, he was out of the Navy entirely and practicing pediatrics in California, God help them. I hope none of his civilian patients ever hit their heads.…

So that story ended up, in revised form, in one of the Corpsman books, as did a few others.

But the single most important connection between my personal experiences in the service and those of Elliot Carlyle has less to do with war stories than it does with the Navy and Marine cultures, with the people–with what it means to be in the military, to be a Marine, or to work with them. I have to be damned careful when writing these books because my respect for the Marine Corps comes perilously close to hero worship… and as a writer my job is to show them as human, warts, sucking chest wounds, malfunctioning cerebral implants, and all.

Star Corpsman also lets me indulge in one of my favorite-ever topics: future technology–especially future medical technology–and our relationship to it. I get to talk about Freitas respirocytes and medical nanotechnology, cerebral implants that increase human intelligence and allow direct control of our machines, imaging technologies that let us peer inside the body’s biochemical processes in real-time, and even the CAPTR technology–the acronym stands for Cerebral Access PolyTomographic Reconstruction, by the way–that lets us cheat death. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to work with any of this stuff when I was a corpsman… but I did manage to pick up enough biochemistry and anatomy and physiology along the way to be able to speculate about where medical technology is going.

And most important of all… what will that technology mean for Humankind over the next century or two? Enhanced mental capabilities? Telepathy? Immortality?

Will we even still be human?

Those are the Big Questions… and the reason I write science fiction. I enjoy military-SF battles and fleet actions and weird aliens as much as anybody, but the real reason I do it is my fascination with what it means to be human.

Unfortunately, one part of being human has to do with conflict. Humans have waged war since we shrieked and gibbered and flung shit at one another in the trees of East Africa. Someday, when we mature as a species, when our technology matures, perhaps as we merge with our technology, we might finally break those ancient curses of ignorance and territoriality and fear-hatred of the unknown. I pray so. I’ve seen way too many mangled and broken kids in military hospitals to feel otherwise.

But so long as there is war, tyranny, or threats to our freedom, the U.S. Marines will be there, here, in orbit, or on the worlds other stars. As the famous saying by Marine Captain Ned Dolan so perfectly puts it: “Freedom is never free, but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of your share.”

And where the Marines go, yes, Navy corpsmen will be there as well.

William H. Keith
a.k.a. Ian Douglas


Thank you to Ian Douglas, to Zea Moscone and to Harper Collins

No Future by Paul Cornell

by Paul Cornell

This is one of my go-to books, one I head for when I am depressed and need to have my faith in fate restored. That said, I probably read it noce every five or so years, so this was either my third or fourth reading, probably the latter since I own at least two copies of this book.

Curiously, Paul Cornell does not much like this book, despite it being so well-written, so well-plotted and with such excellent characterisation that you can hear the actors, envision them in your head. I think he disliked it because it was part of an arc, the end of someone else’s plot, the last instalment of something that was not his idea.

But as a fan, and especially as a fan of both UNIT with the Brigadier, Yates and Benton on the one hand and of McCoy’s Doctor and Ace on the other, this novel sings to my soul. In addition, the Meddling Monk as seen in ‘The Time Meddler’and ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ is personified perfectly, and the period, the mid 1970s, the birth of anarchy and punk rock, the build up to the Silver Jubilee, and the last real Labour government, it is all done to perfection. I can breathe the hot summer sun and feel the discordant notes of a future ill-born.

Of course, this being a novel in the New Adventures, it builds on the idea od interference with time, CDs before their time, video discs, and so on, the result of the Monk’s meddling with time. But of course, it is not as simple as it seems, and the Monk is playing a double game, and in cahoots with strange ephemeral aliens. At the same time, these aliens are launching their own invasion, taking over bodies, destroying the integrity of UNIT from within, and subverting the national consciousness by giving out waves of aggressive intent.

So much for the plot. It is important, but it is the background structure to the novel, it is what the characters and their interaction is played out upon, and it is where the great decisions are anchored.

In many ways, ‘No Future’ is a novel about trust, friendship and all the relationships in between. Benny, a character created by Paul Cornell in an earlier New Adventures book, is central to the start of the novel; she joins a punk band, hooks up with young Danny, Kit and Cob and makes a name for themselves as Plasticine. The Queen gets shot, and Big Ben is blown up, but in a sense these are just scenes in this story.

The novel could be about Ace and her feeling of betrayal, about how she has become hardened as a soldier, but at heart still wants to go back to what she was. It could be a story of her betrayal in kind, of how the Monk offers her the role she had always wanted, or it could be a story of how Ace finds her reality amidst a torrent of internal confusion.

At the same time, it could be a story of how the Brigadier creates Broadsword and amongst Buddhist practice and undercover operations they survive against the mind-influencing body-snatching aliens to be there when the Doctor needs them, when the time is right, and when they can strike back.

Black Star as anarchists are at their heart idealists, but the aliens have infiltrated and driven them into open insurrection, but even then things are not as they seem. It is an interesting picture of what was not,

In a way, this book is all about friendship and trust. If you re not a fan of McCoy’s doctor and of 1970’s UNIT, then there is still an excellent story here, but it might not pull at your heartstrings so if this is not your Soul’s Home.

Best Regards
Grey Wolf

The Day The Earth Caught Fire

The Day The Earth Caught Fire
Classic Science Fiction Review

This is one of the best films ever made, and has been a favourite of mine ever since I first saw it. It begins with one of the best prologues to any film, and on all repeat watchings, it never diminishes, it only gets better.

It is many things on many levels – it is one man’s redemption through a woman, it is the story of Man’s idiocy and stupidity taking Mankind to the end of the world, it is a newspaper story, it is a beautiful lyrical journey with numerous quotes, and in the end it is a story of redemption, one man’s or the world’s, with hope and a second chance.

There is a lot in this film from 1961, that might surprise the modern viewer – more cars on the roads than modern reproduction films show, CND in this period “We are not a political party and we have no intention of becoming one”. At the same time, the period detail is tremendous, the amusements in Battersea Park, the fire brands in the street for the fog.

Edward Judd is not a name that I was familiar with, but Leo McKern is well-known and in this story is at his best. The relationship between Judd’s Peter Stenning and McKern’s Bill Maguire is fantastic, a real friendship, edgy and yet trusting.

Then of course Janet Munro, playing a surprisingly liberated Jeanie. She is the love interest, and in a way the survival intererst, of Judd’s Stenning, and works at the Air Ministry, or the Met, in the pool. Just like Stenning, the viewer finds her difficult to like at first and then falls in love with her, and in a real sense she is as much at the core of the film as the disaster that has hit Mankind.

The way this disaster is explained, and declaimed, is very much 21st century green politics, another surprise to the modern viewer. “They’ve shifted the tilt of the earth, the stupid crazy irresponsible bastards” McKern’s character disclaims. Later, “Monkeying around with nature on this scale, who knows what the implications are.”

It is a very interesting look at the newspaper industry, albeit for the times we live in one that seems sanitized and idealized. We can trust these newspapermen to get to the truth, and we can believe in them, and believe them. We see the printing of a slip edition, and remember how newspapers WERE the news back before the internet.

The whole film is not only full of great plot, great characterization and pretty decent effects for its time, but full of fantastic quotable lines.
“Sir there’s an agency flash”
“Yes we just had it”
“In every possible way”, says McKern’s character, who gets many of the best lines.

The bongs of Big Ben feature strongly in the film, symbolizing both everything British and all things portentious.

And the end of the show, the fantastic quotes that Stenning is coming up with
“So man has sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind”
The outcome is not explicit, though if you’re paying attention it is obvious. When I was younger I was either paying less attention (unlikely because I was glued to the film) or less versed in the subtle, so it was not obvious to me.

“Then he can say once more truly the light is sweet and what a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to see the sun.”
And the bells ring out.

Review of The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

When I first read this book I was blown away, it was a unique idea, it was stunningly well plotted and its denouement was excellent. When I read it again, I was a mite confused because my memories as usual played me false and I was like a researcher discovering that what he thought about something was actually somewhat different in the reality of it.

That is not to say it was worse, or bad, or not an excellent book, only that when you first read something and are blown away by it, perhaps then to read it again and be more sober about it later.

The story is simple enough to summarise – an alien scoutship lands in Lincolnshire and is overwhelmed and taken by the local lord, his knights and levies because the aliens rely too much on distance energy weapons and have no defence against close combat edged weapons. One alien survives and an educated monk is able to teach him enough Latin to converse in, at which the lord decides to use the ship to go on crusade, initially thinking France or Jerusalem, but through a trick of the alien ending up in an inter-stellar empire, albeit a very decentralised one.

The characters are well drawn, if actually rather limited in number. In fact, some of the knights and retainers are not at all remembered by name, but the giving of the name grounds them, and makes them and their reactions the more real than if it were just an unnamed Englishman. Sir Roger, the lord, his wife Catherine, Sir Owain the interloper, Red John Hameward and Brother Parvus, the monk, interpreter and narrator, are all well-rounded figures.

The High Crusade is a great story where native cunning, intelligence and reducing a problem to its basics allows a group of fairly primitive Englishmen to win battles against aliens, to take over their technology, to have successful diplomacy with neighbouring alien races, and to eventually create a new feudal empire in space.

One could turn this around, and say that it is equally a story whereby highly advanced peoples are taken apart because they are disunited, because they have reduced warfare to turning up and intimidating people into surrender, and because they are so unused to resistance they cannot work out what a bluff is, though they might suspect it.

The final act of the story is fairly short, but critical. It resolves personal issues between the characters, and it finalises the human realm in space by destroying finally all hope of a way home. The deaths, the fighting and the fluctuating allegiance all make sense given the terror at being marooned from Earth in an alien realm that humans would be bound to have.

The twist at the end I did not foresee at all upon first reading, though I knew it was coming second time around. It is rather amusing, and fitting, and makes perfect sense. But I will let anyone who has not read the book encounter that part for themselves!

Best Regards
Grey Wolf

The Mind Robber – Doctor Who Review

The Mind Robber is a story from Patrick Troughton’s last season as the Doctor, and features Fraser Hines as Jamie and Wendy Padbury as Zoe. It was transmitted in the Autumn of 1969.

The Mind Robber starts off where the last episode of the previous story had left the TARDIS and its crew, about to be engulfed in molten lava. The Doctor initiates an emergency boost which takes the ship outside of time and space, and works on trying to repair its systems, whilst warning companions Jamie and Zoe that what they are seeing on the viewscreen is unreality. But the visions have a powerful emitional effect, appearing to be of their home and both eventually venture outside the TARDIS, entering a white realm, and running into the white robots. Meanwhile, something is trying to get inside the Doctor’s head…

The second sees the crew arrive in a weird and magical land, first Jamie, then Zoe and then the Doctor. Redcoats and life-size toy soldiers, controlled by a mysterious Master, abound in a fake forest and the plot of the next four episodes is laid out in these early encounters.

The Lemuel Gulliver figure is highly amusing, speaking only lines from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, but so as to answer the Doctor’s questions, albeit somewhat obliquely. The bit with Jamie’s face is also funny. Apparently Fraser Hines had chickenpox so his cousin stood in for him, the transition being carried out by means of the Doctor putting together a jigsaw of Jamie’s face incorrectly.

It becomes clear that they are in a world of words, where metaphor can literally come to life. In some way this can seem childish to the modern science fiction viewer, but it is all rather clever and if it is viewed more as Doctor Who doing Fantasy, than as Science Fiction, it all works rather well. Looking at the story from over forty years on, it seems as if the production crew looked at the success of The Celestial Toymaker a couple of years earlier, and decided to see if they could replicate that in a different way.

And I didn’t mention Zoe’s catsuit once…

Doctor Who – the 1st and 2nd Doctors

Doctor Who – Doctor Comparison
1st and 2nd Doctors

How to compare William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton in their portrayal of the Doctor in Doctor Who?

Its not a redundant question because this was the first time that the question would arise. The apparent death of the Doctor at the end of The Tenth Planet led to the new regeneration of the Second Doctor in the lost story, Power of The Daleks (available as an audio adventure as all sound tracks survive).

William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor began in November 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’, a first episode built upon a still-existing but rejected pilot episode, and one which stands alone from the rest of the caveman story that may have served in 1963 to establish the crew of the TARDIS in the viewers’ imagination, but which to today’s viewer seems rather dull, whereas the first episode still stands tall in the passage of time.

November 1966 saw Patrick Troughton in his first story as the Doctor, Power of The Daleks seeing his companions Ben and Polly struggling to come to terms with the idea that although in a new body, the Doctor is the same person, an idea not helped by the fact that his regenerated self has a different and unique personality. But eventually they do accept, and Doctor Who continues on throughout the rest of the 1960s with Patrick Troughton in the title role.

This idea of regeneration whereby the new body also has a new personality was key to the success of Doctor Who going forward. It allowed Patrick Troughton to establish his own personality, his own Doctor, his own independent portrayal that built upon Hartnell without having to be any part of it.

The First Doctor had started off as a cantankerous old guy, becoming both more friendly and more doddery as the months had turned into years, making sense as the idea of companions had become set in his mind, and also as the Doctor’s absentmindedness and slips of the tongue also represented Hartnell’s own personal deterioration. With his wig he looked older than he was, but he was only in his mid-fifties and was to die a decade later, in his mid sixties, but his drawbacks, exacerbated by health issues, did not really cause any problems with the viewer, as the somewhat absent-minded Doctor was an adorable figure to a growing number of them.

Hartnell’s era saw a fair mixture of historical stories and futuristic science fiction ones, with the occasional one set in the present day, such as the rather dated War Machines, which saw the introduction of Ben and Polly. In many ways, Hartnell’s era looking back on it feels like it got a bit lost after the break up of the original crew, Susan departing in the classic Dalek Invasion of Earth, Ian and Barbara later. Whilst Vicky, Stephen (Peter Purvis), Dodo and Ben and Polly plugged the gap, it seems looking back on it as if Hartnell himself was the hold-on, waiting his turn unknowingly.

Reportedly, Hartnell was outraged by the idea that he could be retired from his role as the Doctor, with that character still continuing but with another actor playing it. Looking back we see it as nothing new, but at the time it was revolutionary, and indeed in many another television programme it would have been impossible – recreate John Steed in The Avengers with another actor than Ian McNee? No, of course not! But because the Doctor was an alien, his origins and his abilities unknown, it was possible in Doctor Who.

That Patrick Troughton developed a completely independent and different identity should not be surrprising in this context. He was often described at the time as the ‘cosmic tramp’ or ‘cosmic hobo’ from his initial portrayal in ill-fitting clothes, a funny hat and a recorder he insisted upon playing. Ironically, because most of these stories have been (so far) lost, this early aspect of Troughton’s Doctor has not been made clear to modern viewers, modern being defined as those who have watched him only on VHS and DVD, since the late 1980s. The recent discovery of the majority of The Web of Fear and The Enemy of The World might do something to change this, but probably not. Both stories are very strong in their setting, and the Doctor is very strong in a very strong setting, so his early portrayal is not really seen.

Who is best?! People demand an answer to this whenever you do a comparison. I would say that it is not possible to do a direct scoring one for the first, another for the second. Without Hartnell there would be no Troughton, but more to the point Hartnell makes an excellent portrayal of his Doctor, in The Daleks, in The Keys of Marinus, in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and in The Ark; indeed, the largely lost late story The Celestial ToyMaker is generally viewed by those who saw it as one of Hartnell’s best, despite being one of his later stories.

Troughton’s era began strongly with one of the most powerful lost stories, only available on audio, The Power of The Daleks. If it was discovered today, perhaps in some African relay station, it would sell better than most other Doctor Who stories. From the audio, it is obvious how well plotted it is, how well acted not only from Troughton but from Anneke Wills and Michael Craze (Polly and Ben) and how cleverly the daleks are woven into the story.

Troughton’s era before the rediscovery of Tomb of The Cybermen in Hong Kong, was often viewed by the stories which had survived, largely the last season with Zoe and Jamie, good, fun stories but ones which looked either childish in plot (The Krotons) or embarassing in actualisation (pirates), whilst the classics in this last year were overlooked.

The Mind Robber is fantasy rather than science fiction, whilst The War Games at ten episodes demands a lot from a modern viewer, but a contemporary who watched week-in and week-out would not have been too perturbed, indeed The Daleks Masterplan a few years before had had twelve episodes. People today demand immediate satisfaction, but in the 1960s, as indeed the 1970s, they could wait week after week whilst a story played out.

Troughton hardly ever fluffed his lines, but he was never playing a doddery old man, and whilst Hartnell eventually developed a cameraderie with his crew, it was not the close, fun friendship that was so obvious with Troughton, especially as the seasons went on and Jamie (Frazer Hines) became the longest-lasting companion with Victoria (Deborah Watling) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) as the other companion.

Hartnell’s departure was a shock, an unexpected development, something new, but looking back on it, experiencing it in what remains of The Tenth Planet, it is not that upsetting. In contrast, Troughton’s departure was managed better, it was at the end of a long story in which he had attempted to avoid falling into his enemy’s hands, and had struggled to try to find a way out for himself and for Jamie and Zoe. When it failed, at last, he oversaw the return of his companions to their times, mind-wiped, to forget him, an upsetting concept if ever there was one – but one the BBC thought was fine, since they never envisaged much resale value as they were about to launch colour Doctor Who with Jon Pertwee, for the new decade of the 1970s, for a new vision of the show.

What is better, an apple or an orange, or a jade bracelet opposing a jet one? Its an aesthetic choice, and so no real choice at all. Its the question as to whether you like Marmite or Peanut Butter. Its no question. Its a null question.

I love them both, Hartnell and Troughton and both for their portrayal rather than for their potential or their place in history. Hartnell in The Ark is still a powerful figure. Troughton in The Dominators is still a good actor working with a decent enough script.

In retrospect, both are key to the lasting success of Doctor Who. Hartnell established it and popularised it. Troughton showed how it could continue with a new actor, playing a new role, in a new way.

Beholder – space opera by Grey Wolf

The Ariadne Cycle #1
by Grey Wolf

Beholder is the earliest surviving story by Grey Wolf, dating to 1995 or 1996 and written on a hired Olivetti PC, running Windows 3.1. It was saved mini-chapter by mini-chapter on floppy discs and, over the almost two decades since, several attempts were made to put it together to make a cohesive whole. Once the rented PC was returned to Radio Rentals, only these floppies remained, and thankfully the files remained viable, and were frequently copied, so that when it was finally decided to compile it as the first full-length novel to independently publish, it was possible – but not easy.

It is probable that some mini-chapters are lost for ever. The numbering sequence would often jump to the next decade number, or even the next century number, to mark a significant shift in plot development, but where a numeral was missing in mid range (eg between 115 and 119) then it is highly probable that this marks a lost part of the story.

Nevertheless, Beholder is a cohesive story that reads perfectly and easily as a novel in its own right. What is lost, is sad but has not been seen for perhaps fifteen years, and the story without these few additional mini-chapters works fine as an example of grand space opera.

Most of the action in Beholder takes place in Station One, a world in miniature where criminal organisations, not all outside the governing structure, plot to gain advantage. Into this comes on the one hand Joban, an adventurer looking for a crew and an adventure to go on, and Admiral Locust Huws upon the battlecruiser Hyperion, sniffing that something is wrong, something is a-stinking at Station One.

Vignettes in Beholder see visits to the Imperial Senate and the Imperial Palace upon the Moon, and the ship of Joban as it encounters the Delh aliens. Story threads unite, and we soon see the Delh at Station One, a war in the offing and the characters we have come to know caught up in this. Station One is vulnerable, it is a man-made world in miniature that can be destroyed as it could be constructed.

Key among the characters are Vorp, leader of a criminal cartel, Marat, one of his young lieutenants, and Tarli, an eleven year old girl, used as a runner in normal times, but accompanying Marat as a scout as the mission unfolds.

Character interplay, the alien menace, political skullduggery, and the aftermath of disaster, see Beholder reach the stars where space opera is concerned.

Available for ebook for only $3.99 or equivalent

Science Fiction Month is here – November 2013

Science Fiction Month November 2013

November 2013 is Science Fiction Month

Grey Wolf’s Blog will join dozens of others in featuring Science Fiction themed posts including
– author interviews with Ian Douglas, Elizabeth Audrey Mills and Bruno Lombardi
– cover reveal for Jay Noel
– features on classic Doctor Who stories
– comparison of Doctors from a similar era
– reviews of favourite Science Fiction novels starting with The High Crusade
– reviews of classic Science Fiction films

Have a good one!