Monthly Archives: November 2013

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

Tapestry Capricorn – Book Feature

Tapestry Capricorn by Elizabeth Audrey Mills Author Elizabeth Audrey Mills

Tapestry Capricorn by Elizabeth Audrey Mills

Where did the name for the title character come from?
I have to confess, I really don’t know. When I conceived the idea for the first story, the name was just there, in my mind, as though she already existed. I even had to do some research to make sure that I wasn’t using a name that someone else had created. It has a lyrical sound –three syllables to each word, with the same vowel in the first part of both names– but the words are incompatible, representing the two conflicting sides of the character.

Tell us about Tapestry
Ah, she is a complex little thing, that’s why I love writing about her. I wanted to create a unique heroine, with endless story options, so Tapestry had to be different, with a strong identity, and a strong personality to go with it. She may be young, but she has been through some tricky situations, and those experiences have made her tougher, smarter, a bit cynical, impatient, honest, outspoken; she hasn’t lost her softer side, it’s just well-hidden. She was born on Felidae, an Earth-like world inhabited by cats, and became an agent for FISH (the Felidae Inter-dimensional Security Headquarters) when she reached adulthood at the age of eight.

What are you trying to achieve with the Tapestry stories?
Writers must build a trust with their audience, and above all else I want my readers to enjoy my stories. But so much of the entertainment aimed at younger audiences is shallow, all action and nothing to stimulate their minds; I think that’s wasting the potential of young people to enquire and question. Although the Tapestry books are aimed at pre-teens and young teens, the writing doesn’t talk down to them – in fact, I make no concessions at all to their age in the language I use and the technical content; I’m sure they are up to it. Reading isn’t just about being entertained, it also has to be challenging. This is what Science Fiction has always been, writing that looks beyond what is known, or looks at familiar things in a different way.

Do you own cats?
I have shared my life with cats at various times, and I love to have them around, but I’m afraid that my current landlord doesn’t allow pets of any kind.

What age do you see as the ideal readers for the book?
Well, advanced readers aged ten or eleven would probably be ok with it, but the stories are aimed at age twelve up to about sixteen (and any young mind beyond).

How important is smell in the story?
Smell is, of course, very important to cats, and it features strongly in the storylines of all the books.

Do you have any artwork of Tapestry Capricorn in human(ish) form?
Not yet, but I am currently searching out artists for that purpose. I have seen some wonderful work, both photographic and hand-crafted, and hope to start consulting with someone soon. If I can find the right person, I would love to have a clear, professional image of Tapestry in various forms, to feature on book covers, posters, etc.

Are you planning a sequel, and if so can you give any details?
Yes … oh yes, most definitely. The first book is just a taster of what is to come – Tapestry has a great future. Without giving away too many details, I can tell you that a second book is under way, featuring more trans-dimensional hoolies, and it will be longer and more complex than the first book.

Elizabeth Audrey Mills, Thank You very much!

The Unicorn And The Wasp

Doctor Who Review
Starring David Tennant

The Unicorn And The Wasp is from David Tennant’s last full season as the Doctor, before his time turned into occasional specials only. Featuring Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, the story was transmitted in the Spring of 2008, immediately preceeding the two-parter set in The Library which would introduce River Song for the first time.

Looking back on it from the perspective of 2013, The Unicorn And The Wasp is a refreshing stand-alone story, from before the period where all stories in a season somehow fitted into a story arc. It can be watched entirely on its own, and enjoyed solely for the characters, the setting and the plot.

The Doctor and Donna just arrive in the 1920s at this country house in time for a garden party given by Lady Edison. The interplay between Tennant and Tate is excellent from the start, with “What do you think, flapper or slapper?” and “Flapper, you look lovely” as they set off to gatecrash the party, Donna in a 1920s dinner gown, and the Doctor with his handy telepathic paper to pretend that he has an invitation.

It is of course no coincidence that the plot resembles that of an Agatha Christie novel, though at first the presence of Agatha Christie at the country house serves to confuse the issue somewhat because, as Donna says, she didn’t go round getting involved in murders, not really!

That said, the plot is something of a pastiche of Christie plots, right down to the murder in the library and the assembling of the suspects in the drawing room while one-by-one the sleuths, now with Christie and the Doctor playing this role, eliminate them one-by-one, whilst revealing their darkest secrets more or less by-the-by.

Best Regards
Grey Wolf

Author Interview with Elizabeth Audrey Mills

We bid a warm welcome to Elizabeth Audrey Mills

Elizabeth Audrey Mills, British author A Song For Joey by Elizabeth Audrey Mills

Thanks, Jon, I was born of gentle, loving parents, in Southend-on-Sea in the county of Essex, England, famous for its pier, shingle beaches and seaweed. I now live in the euphemistically named Three Bridges, in West Sussex, with my writer fiancée Douglas.

My childhood was undistinguished. Expelled from posh school, I found my level in the state secondary education system, emerging with just enough basic skills to enable me to get a job … then another job … then another … and so on. At some point, I married and divorced a few times, producing two children, who are now adults and whom I love.

Writing was always a hobby, followed intermittently, until I shook off the shackles of the capitalist slavery system and gratefully accepted retirement. I developed my writing skills by reading and analysing the work of others. From some, I learnt how to write, while others showed me the mistakes to avoid; I am grateful to all of them.

At the age of sixty, as retirement loomed, I reinvented myself. I threw off the mantle that had stifled me for my whole adult life, and discovered, inside, the person I could have been.

Amazon profile page:
Author page on Facebook:
At Smashwords it’s:
And at Goodreads it is:
There is information about all my books, and links to where you can buy them, in my website:

Elizabeth Audrey Mills – Interview with Grey Wolf

1. How long have you been writing?

Oh, gosh, it started so long ago I can’t remember. I seem to have always been writing little pieces – essays, ideas, poems – ever since my school-days, although I didn’t take the plunge into novel-writing until later in life. When I did finally try to put together my first book, I found I was floundering in the research, and was becoming disheartened. Fortunately, I met Bernadine Evaristo, a talented writer who came to our local library to talk about the writing process. Her advice gave me the confidence to continue.

2. What is the earliest work of yours that you have published or intend to publish?

Oddly enough, the first book I started to write, which eventually became ‘Natalie Tereshchenko, Lady In Waiting’, was not the first to be published. I struggled to take the story beyond a certain part, so I put it aside and wrote ‘A Song For Joey’, a very different story, and published that. Then I went back to ‘Natalie’ with a fresh mind, and was able to write the final few chapters.

3. Who were the earliest authors to be an inspiration for your writing?

One of my greatest inspirations was Jane Austen; I love the way she creates her characters, then sets them free to tell their stories.

4. Which other authors do you consider to be an inspiration and for what reason?

Many writers have taught me the skills of writing, through their books: Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, both of whom write with such imagination, Marian Keyes, Sarah Waters and, most recently a wonderful new author of historical fiction, Gabrielle Kimm.

5. Have you been surprised by a negative reaction to any of your work?

I had to laugh when one reviewer described ‘A Song For Joey’ as being like Mills and Boon; I mean, that really hurt.

6. Why did you choose to write in your particular genre?

Well, I seem to have fallen into writing historical adventures quite by accident. My character, Natalie Tereshchenko, was born from the name of my avatar in the online virtual world Second Life, and I conceived the idea to create a romantic past for her; that is how my writing career started. However, I don’t intend to restrict myself to this genre, and have already written a novelette for pre-teens – a kind of science fantasy, set in modern times. I hope to explore other avenues as I develop as a writer.

7. What is the most interesting lesson you’ve learnt about yourself through your writing?

That I can do it. Honestly. This is the second biggest challenge I have ever undertaken (and I have tackled some big things in my life) so to see it through, learning as I went, has been a wonderful experience.

8. What has been the hardest book for you to write?

‘Natalie Tereshchenko, Lady in Waiting’ … much of the narrative was controlled by the historical time-line and the known facts (see below about research), and sustaining the tension over a prolonged period was a challenge. Oddly enough, when I was released from those constraints, when the Tsar and his family were assassinated, I was lost for a while, unsure of my ability to create an alternative history. Consequently, the book lay unfinished, while I wrote ‘A Song for Joey’. After that was released, I returned to Natalie and found that my mind was filled with ideas, including the stunning ending.

9. How do you get your story ideas?

Always from my characters. Belinda (my character in ‘A Song For Joey’) was originally created in ‘Natalie Tereshchenko, Lady in Waiting’ – she was such a wonderful character that I removed her from there and wrote a new book around her.

10. Do your books require much research?

Writing my first book involved a huge amount of research. It is set in Russia (a country I knew nothing about when I started) in a period of history of which I was completely ignorant. I researched for three months before I could start actually writing, and was continually checking historical records, maps and books (I read most of Leon Trotsky’s ‘History of the Russian Revolution’) as the story progressed. Several times I was forced to change parts of the book (sometimes drastically) as new facts emerged. The same still applies, as I write the sequel.

Even the more familiar situation for ‘A Song For Joey’ involved an enormous amount of fact-checking. I wrote the book as a rest from the intense research for ‘Natalie Tereshchenko’, and set it in a place and time with which I had some experience, but even so I had to look up a lot of historical detail.

11. Is there a new book coming?

Yes, two!! First, there will be a new episode of Tapestry Capricorn, hopefully by Christmas. I love writing about Tapestry, and can see a whole series of adventures to come.

And a sequel to ‘Natalie Tereshchenko, Lady in Waiting’ is also well under way, with publication expected about Easter 2014. Natalie, too, has so much to tell; her past and her future are filled with amazing story possibilities.

Elizabeth Audrey Mills, Thank You very much!

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

Jay Noel cover reveal for Dragonfly Warrior

cover of Dragonfly Warrior by Jay Noel

We bid a warm welcome to Jay Noel, author of Dragonfly Warrior

Cover design by Enggar Adirasa

Dragonfly Warrior by Jay Noel

Dragonfly Warrior Blurb:
The Mechanica Wars: Savage Machines Are Afoot…

At the age of twenty, Kanze Zenjiro’s bloody footprints mark the bodies of those who stood in his way to protect the throne of Nihon. Now, the tyrannical Iberian Empire is bent on destroying his kingdom, and they send their steam-powered giants and iron spiders against him.

Zen embarks on a quest that takes him on the most dangerous journey of his life. To succeed, Zen must live up to his nickname, the Dragonfly Warrior, and kill all his enemies with only a sword and a pair of six-guns. He is called upon to somehow survive a test of faith and loyalty in a world so cruel and merciless, it borders on madness.

Book Information: Dragonfly Warrior is a steampunk adventure like no other. It’s a dynamic mix of Asian and European mythology, the Wild West, martial arts, traditional fantasy, and high powered steam action that will keep you turning the pages.
Dragonfly Warrior is the first book of The Mechanica Wars, and will debut on January 6, 2014.

Author Bio:
After doing some freelance writing and editing for more than a dozen years, Jay decided to stop procrastinating and pursue his dream of being a novelist. He’s been blogging for over eight years, and even had a comedy podcast syndicated all over the internet. All of that was fun, but all the steampunk-inspired stories in his head just wouldn’t leave him alone. Jay spends his days working in medical sales, but he can be found toiling over his laptop late at night when all is quiet.
He draws inspiration from all over: H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, and Isaac Asimov.
And Jay loves cookies.

Jay Noel’s website:

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.