Nick Evans's Blog: Wordsmithery

November 26, 2017

Show me the upside of Brexit? I dare you ...

A couple of days ago, I made a public post on Facebook, asking those of my FB friends who had vocally supported Brexit on the social media platform to come forward now with some positives of the way ahead as we enter the final phases of negotiations. There has been so much negative press about Brexit that I felt that it was necessary to offer these people who were, after all, victorious in the vote, the chance to put the up side of the situation to everyone.

We’ve had news of the great financial institutions in London preparing to move their operations into Europe in order safeguard their passporting rights, taking with them the literally billions of pounds that they generate in taxes every year … perhaps this is “fake news”?

The value of the pound has plummeted and shows little sign of improving. Therefore our money is worth less, holidays abroad are more expensive and ... yes, there IS an upside ... the value for exporting is beneficial. However, imported goods are much more expensive so those manufacturers who bring in raw materials from Europe are having their costs raised. Storm in teacup? Perhaps it'll go back up again?

Growth predictions for the coming few years are at an unprecedented 2% - the Chancellor has told us the story and the press are aghast. These are the lowest predicted growth rates, relegating our economy to that of a backwater ... and the ratings agencies are likewise downgrading our economy. But, what does this mean? Surely nothing in the great scheme of things - just people playing with numbers?

We’ve learned that the likely average wage will not achieve levels last seen in 2008 - a depressing failure for all those working at any level and by any measure, but something that has not been seen for many a long year. Perhaps this is merely “Remoaners” bleating about not having won?

We also hear of the fact the the UK will be excluded from all of the European initiatives that lift our societies beyond the mundane and build a sense of European identity - The European City of Culture being one. Are these just hollow things that no one will care about in years to come?

We’re finding that all of a sudden our supply of nurses, doctors, fruit and vegetable pickers and a whole raft of people in the service and hospitality industries are deciding that the UK is not for them after all. There’s been a massive drop in people feeding into these much-needed sectors. Well, I guess we don’t want them anyway, perhaps? Immigrants, aren’t they? We should be self-sufficient as a country, entire of itself … perhaps?

News comes that diplomats and politicians from across the world see that Britain’s footprint on the world stage is being diminished and there’s little point in referencing it now as part of any political, strategic or diplomatic initiative. What was the point anyway of this stuff - just the UK pretending to be a player on the world stage?

There are plenty more negative stories about Brexit and the impact it will have on the UK and I felt it was only right to give those who had promoted it so strongly - you know who you are - the chance to put a positive spin on something which to the rest of us looks like an unmitigated disaster.

The result, you’ll be interested to know, was nothing. There was total silence. Not a single person offered a positive comment. No one told me where I was missing the point. Oh, and just to be certain, I made my post public - available to anyone who cared to read it - so it wasn’t just limited to my pro-Remain, self-selecting bunch of cronies.

Not a word. Not a peep.

So, I’ll ask this question of us all, but particularly of our government, which is stumbling in the general direction of some sort of Brexit but who the fuck knows what it’s going to be:

Why are we doing this? There is no upside. There is no benefit. No one can see a way in which we will be substantially advantaged. (Please don’t come and rant at me about “immigrants” and “taking back control” and “the rule of law” - if you’ve read anything with any insight you’ll know it’s hollow.)

Moreover, we were all lied to - remainers and leavers. Every one of us had lies rammed down our throats by cynical politicians and groups with vested interest (not forgetting the likelihood that there was serious planting of real “fake news” in social media by person or persons unknown) all designed to destabilise us and persuade us that one course or another was right.

It was ALL lies or, at best, conjecture. No one knew what the outcome would be and, now that the horrible truth is dawning on us, we need to back pedal and you, yes YOU! The people who most supported Leave and are now staying silent, YOU need to stand up and say, “I was wrong, perhaps.” We need to think again.

Why are we not seeing that this is a folly on a scale unprecedented in our history? There has to be a way out. There has to be an alternative. We should allow the people, now apprised of the facts as they emerge, the opportunity to change their minds. This is too serious, too monumental not to take a second vote. People change their minds. Politicians change their minds. We now allow women to vote, homosexuals to marry, people to have abortions … just continue the list. These are all products of a change of mind.

Let us have the chance to change our minds. Now.
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Published on November 26, 2017 14:06 Tags: brexit, leavers, new-vote, referendum, retainers

June 4, 2017

An Open Message To Those Who Hate Us

We don’t hate you - we are horribly, horribly saddened that you are driven to these awful acts.

However, if you can’t abide …

* Open, democratic government
* Freedom of speech
* Equality of gender race and religion
* Freedom to wear what you want, do what you want (within the law) and be who you want to be

… and you want to change our society to match your own ideals …

Then …

Use the methods that have governed us for so many years
* Democracy
* Legislation
* Campaigning
* The ballot box

Your current methods of indiscriminate slaughter of people of all races and religions, including your own, achieves nothing. It hardens us against you. It makes us *more* determined to fight for the things we value and that you hate.

You could never win either through violence or through legislation and regime change … because none of us wants what you want. We see a dark, misogynistic, parochial, bigoted perversion of an Abrahamic religion, from the same root as Christianity and Judaism. Even those of your own faith reject you … except those who preach hate and drip poisoned words into your receptive ears.

* You are being used - offerings burned on the altar of a warped ideology that is practised by a tiny minority.
* You are being exploited by those who would never dream of doing the things they incite you to do.
* You are being made fools of, with promises of impossible happiness in the next life … and we can’t believe that you fall for it.
* You are being hated because of your actions when you attack a society that has welcomed you with open arms.

Here’s an action plan:

* Give up your armed struggle and your vainglorious attacks on those who mean you no harm.
* Reject the twisted words of those who manipulate you.
* Set your own agenda instead of being the tool of others’ agendas.
* Most of all, seek help - it’s there for the asking, in your community.

Don’t be a loner and a loser. It can only end badly.
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Published on June 04, 2017 07:11 Tags: extremism, hate, islamist, terrorism

January 31, 2017

Look to the future and what do you see?

The continuing debate about the rights and wrongs of everything to do with the Trump administration, as well as its impact on the UK, polarises people in the US and at home in a way that little else has before. Those criticising Trump are vilified as slack-minded, do-gooding liberals, while his supporters are characterised as ignorant, xenophobic fascists. Small wonder that social media is full of vituperative exchanges where each side snipes at the other, to little effect or productive outcome.

So here I enter into the fray with my six-penn’orth. I have one main question (which also spawns a number of smaller, subsidiary questions) to ask of those who support Trump or at least support his policies and also of our government, which seems determined to defend his behaviour, come what may. Here it comes:

If we project forward into the future, what sort of administration do we anticipate will be in the US, say in two years’ time? Will it be a country that sits comfortably with the Founding Fathers’ vision of the New World that they created (as immigrants, incidentally)? Will all Americans look at their country and be proud and will we in the UK look at the US and say, yes, we are proud to be partners of this great nation? Or, given the first ten days of President Trump’s administration, can we see the writing on the wall?

Where is it going to? How will it end? Our current cosying up to Trump seems to be a determined effort to ensure we have a major trading partner on board before Brexit is enacted. Is this good politics? Do we really like and admire Trump, to the extent that we want to give him a state visit. Theresa May characterised his comments on Muslims as “"divisive, unhelpful and wrong” before the election victory. This is the same man with whom she now claims to have a “special relationship”.

Do we want to be closely aligned with a government that is heading down an isolationist, protectionist route? And if it’s “America first” for trade, where does that leave the UK, even given our ultimate aim to get trade agreements from the US after we have finally left the EU?

No doubt there will be those who will post against these comments, saying that Trump is upholding his election commitments (yes, indeed - again, why are we surprised and what will our government do with such a right-leaning ally?) The US Christian right vociferously supports him, yet, to my mind there is very little that is Christian in policies that segregate, discriminate and persecute people on the grounds of their race (Mexicans) and religion (Muslims). I’m struggling to find the Bible verses in the New Testament that say anything other than things along the theme of “Love your neighbour”, “blessed are the meek” and let’s try to look after the underdog (couldn’t find that one verbatim!)

So back to the original question - where is this all heading for all of us, UK, US and the rest of the world? When the President sacks people who disagree with him, tells his own consular staff to shape up or ship out when they advise that his strategy is wrong-headed. When even members of his own party are watching in dismay as he confidently destroys any chance that the Republicans will be elected again for many a long year (why? Because he is so certain he is right on everything, yet blind to consequences and resistant to any informed advice, that it will almost certainly end in economic disaster and possibly social unrest). Where is it going? No one will vote for a party that has failed its country - oh, and that includes the Democrats who are now toothless and leaderless.

Where will it end up? A new party emerging - one that is centrist, not too liberal, not too right-wing, perhaps? One that balances the warring factions and makes America Great Again, but for real this time. We in the UK better pray that’s going to happen, because if it doesn’t and we are in the Brexit wilderness without a big strong ally, we’re all screwed.

And, Theresa May, you need to start looking in your crystal ball to see where we are going because on current showing, you’ve lost your compass.
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Published on January 31, 2017 06:37 Tags: future-trade, theresa-may, trump

January 7, 2017

Been a bit quiet!

Well it seems a long time since I wrote on this blog - that's because my work at ExtraMile took over all of my writing time. However, I'm now back on the writing and working on book three of the Xalata Orbit series. Watch this space for news!
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Published on January 07, 2017 09:17

March 30, 2016

Guns - a universal symbol of what's wrong in films, tv and media?

Check out any poster for an action movie, almost regardless of the country and there's one thing you'll be almost certain to see (go on, prove me wrong with a famous example!) - a gun. Usually wielded by a man, although occasionally by a woman, the gun is a universal symbol of strength, power and success. It underpins almost any narrative, particularly in the cinema - yet apart from my own general problem with guns, I believe it's a lazy deus ex machine that is used to dig the hero - and the plot - out of a hole. Indulge me for a few moments ...

Image - thank you Funny Junk!

As a Brit, I still get a frisson of fear, or is it curiosity, when I see an armed police officer or military personnel. Although we more generally accept that those who take care of us need to be armed, particularly when we are faced with terrorist threats, there is still the underlying view that guns breed guns in a society and therefore we do our best to do without them.

A gun is a terribly powerful tool and, in the wrong hands, wreaks all sorts of mayhem. Whether those hands are those of a criminal, intent on wrongdoing or those of a small child who stumbles upon the weapon that its parents have secreted, little good will come of that situation. We all see the stats about how many people die of gun-related incidents in the US - this is not going to be a rant about that, sorry, Piers Morgan. Americans have made their choices and choose to interpret the Second Amendment in this way. Frankly, it's the single thing that most persuades me not to visit the US - but I doubt anyone will weep a bitter tear about that!

No, the stats say that if your populace is armed, then people will die by dint of that fact - it's inevitable and I for one am grateful that we in the UK have maintained that people in general shall not carry weapons.

However, in our fiction, in drama on stage and screen and in our literature, our characters frequently resort to firearms to solve their problems. In police dramas I can allow that - it is, after all, a fact of life that many police are armed on occasion in our country and all the time in other countries. My beef is that this is actually a very simplistic approach to plotting, "Caught you Jones, right in the act. Get your hands on your head," (wielding weapon wildly), "there'll be no more of your dirty tricks."

Jones of course, appears to submit but then, suddenly pulls out a hidden pistol from his ankle holster and a firefight ensues. (And please let's not get into how many times their guns fire without a reload - that alone has my jaw dropping with incredulity!) Finally, something happens - probably another character wanders onto the scene with a bigger gun and Jones, now out of bullets is bundled away, or shot or whatever fate may befall him. Great drama? Nope. Tedious, repetitive, unimaginative hogwash.

We've seen this scene a thousand times and it still makes me want to turn off. From the days of cowboys in the Wild West firing their guns from their covered wagons at the attacking locals to high-value scifi using the latest CGI, we still have guns, guns, guns.


And insidious. And I guess that's my main comment about this phenomenon - if guns are everywhere in our media, then we believe that guns should be everywhere in life. You can see why kids like model guns - it makes them look like their heroes. Yet, we're creating a mindset that says "guns solve problems". And they don't. Not in any respect.

So, you say, "OK, Nick, have you fired a gun?" And I will answer, "I most certainly have - and really enjoyed it." Shooting clays is great fun and I am reasonably good at it although I don't get much practice. I have no problem with guns - they are necessary for our military defence; they are necessary for farmers to protect their livestock and they are a source of good recreation in gun sports. Can't bring myself to shoot living things - I think there's something really unmanly about that, despite the general opinion among heterosexual males that shooting things is good. However, that's up to them and I'm not going to rant about it.

Nope. This is about our cinema, television and entertainment generally. If you can't, as a scriptwriter, come up with something better than the hero whipping out a gun, then you're being lazy. There are exceptions though - military dramas necessarily centre around armed combat, Andy McNab's books would be a little tame without it! Some police thrillers need armed coppers after the bad guys, since that is how it is in real life.

And yes, I get it, the villains are tooled up nowadays therefore we ought to reflect that? Really? Can we possibly imagine writing something where we consciously avoid this cliché - because cliché it is. Let's think a bit harder and come up with something where brain power and strategy win the day.

Can we give guns a rest please?

I've tried to do this in my own work for teenagers. Check out Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar and its sequel, The Simulant Swarm

I'm hoping for lots of comments - but no guns, please!
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Published on March 30, 2016 04:27 Tags: deus-ex-machina, guns, guns-in-cinema

March 20, 2016

Female heroes in teen fiction

There's much talk of the incipient racial bias in public awards such as the Oscars and in everything from senior roles in government to promotion chances in the workplace. Added to this, there is huge gender bias in many films and plays. The "little lady" has to be rescued by the man and he protectively wraps his arm around her while fending off their attackers (usually with a gun - a subject for a whole other post, I think).

Yet we know that strong female characters in the lead of stories have a great following. You only have to check the success of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Similarly, Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games. So why do we accept this view of women as simply passive responders to the action in so much that Hollywood churns out?

Our preconceptions are set at an early age. "Girls can't/don't do that sort of stuff," is a mantra that has meant that Maths, Science and Technology subjects in schools are dominated by boys. Yet, in real life, we all know that women are just as capable as men at pretty much everything (and can do a few things that men can't!), yet we make a big deal out of the fact that Royal Brunei Airlines' first all-female flight crew landed a plane in Saudi Arabia. Wow! Women! Flying a plane!

It may still be a minority occupation for women, but why ever not? Why do we gasp in astonishment? It's all down to simple good old prejudice, unfortunately and its rampant, not just in terms of gender bias, but racial and religious stereotyping that pigeonholes people on the basis of ... myth.

Was that why I chose girls as the main characters in my first stab at fiction? Not really. The two current books in Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar and its followup, The Simulant Swarm are based on my own perceptions of girls in my wife's family. They are all strong characters in their way and they refuse to accept a bit part role in the play of life - just how it should be.

Xalata and Melody are two sides of that same coin. Xalata is brash, bold and insecure. Whereas Melody is more measured, deeply afraid of life, but has deep wells of resolve that help her overcome her fears.

The truth is though, that boys are just as conflicted, just as afraid of failure (and as likely to fail) and have the added burden that society expects them to take up the pastiche characterisation that is a "man's role" in the world. Few can aspire to that Hollywood ideal, thankfully. Yet in failing to get there, they damage their own self-picture and suffer crises of confidence - just like girls do.

I hope that, as we move away from the contraints of religion and towards a society based more on respect of others that we might understand that men and women, girls and boys are all the same animal, all suffer the same problems and are forging their path through life as best they can - with the help of others.

I'd be interested in your view!
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Published on March 20, 2016 08:58 Tags: female-lead, gender-bias, stereotyping

March 7, 2016

Formats, fonts and fal-da-las

Part of the writing process is presentation - getting the book or article into a format that can viewed by the target audience. Most of my books are written to be published online. You'd think that I'd have become used to the process by now ...

My beautifully presented book has been styled to look the part. Its images have been carefully crafted. Its fonts have been chosen to reflect the weightiness of the words. Its layout has been designed to be pleasing to the eye.

Then I put it into a book generator - [gasp!]. Sounds familiar? For those of you who don't write books but support we struggling authors by buying them, take a peek inside the tent of our anguish!

Essentially, unless your book is practically plain text - not forgetting a Heading 1 tag to indicate chapter breaks - then you may be disappointed with the output once it's converted to HTML or into an ePub format. By a process of trial, error and much stamping and swearing, I've come to the conclusion that the book content's format should be as simple as possible.

If you have any layout that depends on tabulation, be aware it may break. Chunks of text separated by tabs behave with a mind of their own, as I have discovered in producing my work, A Student Guide to Effective Research Questionnaires and Surveys. Questionnaires, by their very nature, have tick boxes next to words or numbers. These are then separated out by tabs. It looks fine in Word, not too bad in HTML, but when you come to test the ePub, it's all over the place.

The same can happen with images. Watch out for full-width images suddenly deciding to over-run margins, half-width images blowing themselves up to full-width or images simply disappearing for no apparent reason.

Then there's styles. You may think that a number of neat styles for different headings would be a cool thing to do. Don't do it! They gain a mind of their own and will render in random colours, sizes and fonts. Check back to the source document and it all looks fine. What's gone wrong?

My advice? Start from a very plain text only document. Add the minimum styles you can get away with - for fiction, it's probably body and chapter title. Add images slowly and with caution. Where you use tabs to carefully align content in columns, consider rendering them as images instead - and then beware how the images behave. Keep all images inline, locked with the text to which they are associated. Keep wrap turned off.

And don't forget that e-readers don't like fancy fonts. Moreover, the user may choose any of the selection of fonts at their fingertips and then choose their own size, overwriting any plan you may have. Therefore, render everything down to the simplest and most basic approach. Select a standard sans-serif font (Arial or Helvetica, for example) or serif font (Times New Roman, for example) and stick with that. Make your styles for titles and so on simple variants of the chosen font - bold, italic or change of size.

Remember, your 12-point Arial text may be read by a sight-impaired person at 24 point or higher. Layout breaks. Keep it simple.
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Published on March 07, 2016 07:03 Tags: fonts, formatting, layout, publishing

February 11, 2016

Hollywood here we come!

Yes. We're on our way to greatness with Xalata Orbit and her nervous friend, Melody Fret. Hollywood beckons with cinematic blockbusters and all the glory of an author's book made flesh (or celluloid or digital) and the choice of great names to play the parts.

Who should play Xalata? Some sparky young thing, making her way into the world of movies - perhaps this is her big break? And Melody - perhaps a shy newcomer who also is stepping into the limelight for the first time.

Then there are key adult characters - Wiglet, someone solid, perhaps English? Could be Bill Nighy, perhaps? And Brett? Someone with jutting jaw and determined look (please, not Tom Cruise, after what he did to Jack Reacher!)

So many fascinating decisions - who will direct? J.J. Abrams is favourite at the moment, With music by ... has to be Craig Armstrong, of course!

Yes, so many decisions and so many steps forward, all to be taken into consideration as we plan the screenplay, the locations, the cast, the crew and so much more.

Yes, a truly magnificent day, with the right royal acclaim when my son said, "This'd make a good movie, Dad." Quite right son. Anyone out there listening?

If you are listening, check out Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar - it's going to be a great movie! Oh, and the sequel, The Simulant Swarm!

Now, who will do the CGI and special effects? Of course, Industrial Light and Magic.
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Published on February 11, 2016 12:03 Tags: hollywood, movie, xalata-orbit

February 8, 2016

Updated first chapter for The Hammer of Asttar!

All things change and nothing stays the same. That's true of books too, in a medium such as Kindle. I've updated the first chapters of Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar and you can either browse them with the Look Inside feature of Amazon's Kindle store or you can read it here for yourself. Let me know what you think!

Chapter One
The moment she was grabbed, Xalata had kicked with both feet, as hard as she could. The satisfying "Oomph!" that exploded from her attacker, when she made contact with her foot, was soon followed by her being wrestled through a door into a much lighter area. She shouted for help, but a gloved hand was quickly wrapped around her mouth so that she could barely breathe, let alone scream.
"You've caused quite enough trouble," said a rough voice, "and we need to keep you quiet. We don't want to wake the bogeyman now do we? Now, are you going to be a good girl and make no noise, or shall we gag you? I have a lovely dirty rag here to stuff in your mouth," and the speaker waved in front of her face a piece of oily cloth that looked as if it had been used for cleaning drains. Xalata nodded to show that she agreed to be quiet, although every part of her was straining with the impulse to scream.
She couldn't see her attackers as they held her from behind, but the sound of their voices was slightly muffled, as if they were wearing something over their faces. She felt a bag being pulled over her head and the last thing she saw was the image of a very derelict-looking area of habitat that had no place being part of the Outpost.
Another voice laughed and Xalata was hauled onto some sort of vehicle where she was dumped like so much luggage. Her hands were tied behind her back and her feet were fastened together with strong, thin bands. Then the hands let go of her and she was left lying on her front while the two attackers evidently climbed into seats on the vehicle and drove silently away - to where, she had no idea.
As she lay there, she felt her hands going numb from the tightness of the bands and so she tested them but they were fastened firmly and, as she wriggled, they cut into her wrists and ankles, making her gasp with pain. Then she tried to move her head to see if she could manage to find a chink of light to see out from under the hood. Nothing. So she stopped moving and listened carefully. The vehicle hissed along on near-silent wheels, making little jolts as it passed over slight unevenness in the tunnel through which they were driving. The two kidnappers - for such they were, she realised in horror - were not talking, keeping silent because perhaps they did not want to give away any more than they had already. She had not recognized the voices, but she was in no doubt that she would know at least the one voice again, if she heard it.
The vehicle travelled on and the silence simply grew deeper. So, what had she seen when she was attacked? The light had been bright in the space she had entered, but the area looked totally unlike the rest of the habitat that made up LunarBase. In fact, it looked more like the images she had seen on the newsfeed about the attack on Habitat 14. As she considered what she had actually seen, she recalled a large space with blast-damaged walls and smoke patches as well as broken furniture and fittings that were strewn around. But was she remembering the newsfeed or was it what she had actually seen? She couldn't be sure as her mind was in a whirl from the adrenalin pumping around her body.
Still the vehicle zipped along and Xalata had a strong sense of motion whenever it went around corners - but that happened very rarely. The gentle hum made her feel quite sleepy and, despite being very uncomfortable, she fell into a sort of shocked sleep where wild dreams screamed around in her head.
* * * * *
She couldn't tell how much time had passed when she felt the deceleration of the vehicle and heard sounds of a much larger space, voices echoing and the noise of heavy machinery. The motion stopped altogether and she felt the two attackers get down from their seats and muffled talk that she could not make out. All at once, rough hands picked her up bodily and carried her away from the vehicle.
"Where am I being taken?" she shouted. The answer was a quick thump on her shoulder.
"Be quiet," the same rough voice again. "We don't want to hear from you at all. I still have the gag so just behave. You, my dear, are just a pawn in our little game."
The other man laughed again, but said nothing. She heard the hiss of an airlock door being opened and she was put down on the ground. Someone cut the binding on her feet and she was dragged upright again.
"Right, now, you walk. No silly tricks - just behave like a nice girl, my dear, and nothing'll happen to you." With that, one of the men pushed her forward, still with the bag on her head and she stumbled to stay upright as the sensation began to return to her numbed feet and, without any vision, her balance was unsteady.
She staggered along the corridor, guided by a firm hand on her shoulder and lurched through another airlock into a space where there was very little sound. They all stopped and Xalata was pushed down onto a seat and someone undid the ties on her hands.
"Don't make a move until we leave. If you decide to take a peek at who we are, that'll be the last peek you make, my dear." Again with the 'my dear' bit, thought Xalata.
"You can't get out of this room. Food will be brought to you and you'll have everything you need. Your job is to sit and wait." With that, she heard footsteps retreating and the airlock door closing. There was a clunk as it resealed and then everything was silent.
She paused, listened again and then decided it was safe to remove the bag on her head. Rename myself, Edna Bagg, she thought and laughed, despite feeling very scared. As the bag came off she looked around. There wasn't much to see. She was in a standard type of lunar habitat living space. It was small, with a table and chairs, a couple of armchairs, a large screen on the wall and a kitchen area with a cooler. Everything was a neutral grey colour and there was no decoration or ornamentation at all. To be honest, she thought, this could be my home. But she quickly discovered that it wasn't.
She got up and wandered around to explore the space - first trying the airlock door to see if it would open. Nope - no luck there. Not that she had really expected that people would go to the trouble of capturing her and then leave her in an unlocked room.
In the kitchen space the cutlery was all flimsy plastic - no weapons there then. The cooler contained some drinks and a couple of parcels of ready to cook food: all standard stuff. Through a door to the left of the kitchen was access to a shower room and then a single bedroom with a bed made up. There were clothes in the wardrobe - her size and style: someone was expecting me, she thought.
So why had they captured her? What was the plan? How was she a "pawn" in their "little game"? She thought suddenly about her dad and what he would think when he found she had been captured - if only I had been able to tell him where I was going. And Glitch isn't going to tell - he's in on it! With sharp realization, she suddenly recalled that her friend - so called - had betrayed her. Why? There were plenty of questions - no answers.

Check out the two books in the Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret series:
Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar
The Simulant Swarm
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Published on February 08, 2016 11:22 Tags: scifi, second-draft, xalata-orbit

February 6, 2016

The Simulant Swarm - First Chapter free!

The second book in the Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret series is now available on Kindle and iBooks. Check out the first chapter below and, if you've not already read the first book, you can find it right here: Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar and the second one here: The Simulant Swarm.

The Simulant Swarm (Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret #2) by Nick Evans

The Familiar waits and watches
The Familiar was hidden, deep inside the storerooms of the Academy. Its tiny size enabled it to secrete itself in the smallest spaces and yet it could suddenly emerge at high speed to target its intended victim. Its instinct was to be patient and find only high grade hosts - ones that would not only duplicate well but would also create opportunities for new farms of livestock.
It had evolved to spread its Essence in any living creature - whether carbon-based life forms or those from harsher environments like that found on Mars. The Familiar and many others just like it had been responsible for the extinction of all highly-evolved life on Mars, duplicating, consuming and ultimately destroying their hosts in the quest to spread their kind across the planet.
Once the hosts had gone, though, there was nothing left to feed on, nothing left to duplicate and so The Familiars had gone into hibernation until such time as new targets should arrive on the planet. And arrive they did, stirring up the dust of the Red Planet and waking the sleeping destruction that lay just beneath the surface.
Now, it had begun its work. The first hosts had been found, seeded and were even now developing simulants of themselves. Not living. Not breathing. Not human. But very dangerous.

Chapter One

It wasn't just that Xalata had seen Rose Pretty in two places at the same time. It was the fact that no one seemed to believe her or to be interested. All this after she, Melody, Glitch and Wiglet had returned from Farside after an epic battle with the forces of the Lord Asttar, who wanted to destroy civilisation with an asteroid. Tired and strung out after their ordeal, she was in no mood for Rose's particular sense of humour.
After a bitchy exchange, she had followed Rose out into the corridor where she saw her leaving the building. At the same time though, another Rose had also appeared from behind her and Xalata decided to chase after the one that had left. Dashing through the atrium and heading to the terminal, she could see the distinctive figure of Rose marching directly and almost without noticing other people until she reached the entrance.
Following her into the TransTrak, she saw Rose board a pod that was just about to depart and watched as it moved out of the station. Their eyes locked. There was no doubt about it - there were two Rose Prettys. She stood in amazement, not certain what to do and then, to gather her thoughts, plonked herself down on one of the red seats that lined the platform.
She needed to get her head straight. What had she just seen? Scratching her head, she jumped up from the seat after a few moments and headed back to the Academy to look for Melody. But she didn't get much joy with her.
"Look, you must be mistaken - maybe it's the shock of what's happened over the past few days?"
"Are you saying that I don't know what I am seeing?"
"No, not really, but stress can make people do funny things. Perhaps your subconscious mind was projecting ... I don't know ... an image ..."
"What? Of Rose Pretty? I'd just had a bit of verbals with her and she walked out. I thought I should deal with it, ran out after her and there she was - twice! I'm not blind or stupid. One Rose tackled me in the corridor and spouted her usual bilge while the other one walked out the building. It was her. I caught up with her just as the TransTrak left the station."
"Well, I don't know, is all I can say," said Melody, looking at her friend with a worried smile. "It certainly doesn't seem right, but, come on, two Rose Prettys? Really? You've got to admit it's a bit far-fetched. How can you explain it?"
"That's just it, I can't and you not believing me isn't helping any."
Xalata looked cross and Melody couldn't decide whether keeping on talking to her was making things worse. In the end, she decided to drop it and let her friend suffer in silence. She picked up with the coursework she had been doing, trying to catch up on some of the topics she had missed while she had been away from the Academy. Fortunately, as Wiglet had also been out of school, the bulk of their new work had not been taught so the catching up involved remembering what had gone on before the adventure had taken place.
"Anyway, where's Rose now," asked Melody.
"Back of the room, as usual, with the Wrath creature."
"Why don't you go and ask her what happened?"
"I'm not asking her anything. She can't speak a civil word ..."
Things had been strange since they had all returned from Farside. Xalata had been distracted anyway and this incident with Rose had made things worse. Glitch had been his usual self and was currently telling tall tales to anyone who would listen about how he had saved the world. Most people took it all with a pinch of salt, although there were one or two girls who seemed to hang on his every word, much to Glitch's delight.
Mostly, Xalata and Melody ignored Glitch's story-telling, but the way he embroidered the facts and added to his own role in the tale made both of them feel angry.
"So, yeah, when I saw the Cryomorph, the others all ran off, but I wasn't afraid, cos I knew that it could be controlled easily and so I ..."
"So you what, Glitch? So you made it all up?" Xalata was not best pleased. Her mood had been down ever since her conversation and now she had leapt up to face Glitch, who was looking startled and a bit scared.
"What ... what do you mean, Xalata? I was just telling the girls here about what happened and ..."
"No you weren't. You were making it up, like you have been ever since we got back! Why don't you just tell the truth instead of making yourself the hero of the story? We all fought the Cryomorph. We all fought Fark and Machin. We all were part of the whole deal and it was Wiglet who actually destroyed the creature and got us out of there. So, stop rewriting history!"
Glitch didn't want to lose face in front of the girls and he was just about to square up to Xalata and defend his version of events when Wiglet walked into the room. "Ah, we're all gathered. Good. I would like to have a word with the whole group, if possible - is everyone here?"
Taking a look around, the students agreed that most people appeared to be there. Penny and Rose were at the back of the room, as usual and gatherings of others were dotted about at tables around the room. Glitch's bevy of admirers faded away and sat down with their friends and Melody, Xalata and Glitch eventually sat down together with a couple of other students.
"Sorry," muttered Glitch. "It's such a good story and I sometimes misremember bits."
Xalata grunted, "Misremember! For Frank's sake, Glitch, oh - let's forget it. I'm sorry too - just wound up like a spring. You were great - your tech knowledge saved the day."
"Really?" said Glitch, brightening a little.
"Yeah, but don't get big-headed about it - now shut up. Wiglet's prepping to say something."
Sure enough, Wiglet stood to address the classroom. "Following the events of the past few days, we need to bring a level of normality back to your studies if we are to ensure you all graduate to the next stage of your education by the end of the academic year. With that in mind, we are proposing an extended curriculum for the next four weeks where we shall be setting you assignments that you can work on at home or here in the Academy. Much of this work is theoretical, particularly the bio-chemistry and synthetic biology elements. Some of you could do with brushing up your knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry basics and so the personalised revision timetable for all of this has been sent to your workspaces."
There was a sigh of resignation as everyone realised that this meant a good deal more work outside the Academy's normal hours, but everyone was motivated to achieve and so they checked their pads to see what was involved.
"And one more thing," continued Wiglet. "We have a new student joining us today," and he waved forward a tall, rather good-looking guy of about 14 years of age, dressed in Earth clothes, with styled black hair, dark eyes and coffee-coloured skin. "This is Astro Lane and he has just arrived from Earth today and will be settling into his home with his parents who also arrived on the shuttle." Astro Lane nodded to the students who had turned to look at him.
"Ooh, he's nice," whispered Melody to Xalata.
"What? Concentrate on your studies, Miss Fret," grinned Xalata.

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Published on February 06, 2016 02:44 Tags: scifi, simulant-swarm, teen, thriller, xalata-orbit, young-adult


Nick   Evans
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