With just three weeks to go until the publication of my new novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth, the demons have begun whispering in my ear, telling me all the reasons people might find not to like it. Not that I need demons to remind me! You just have to scan a few Amazon reviews to find that lots of people have loads of reasons for hating everything anyone does. (There’s even one poor demented soul on Goodreads who has been through every book and short story I’ve ever published – even things that are out of print and only available second hand – and given them a 1-star “review” comprising the identical gibberish. But then, Goodreads is the badlands of the literary Web.)
What the demons have been whispering of late is that books not set in the US don’t sell well over there. This is probably an urban myth put around by anxious publishers whose sleep is spent in nightmares about eroding bottom lines, clutching desperately at any superstition that might bring them better luck. They tell it to writers, urging them to switch a book’s location from Stowe-in-the-Wolds, England to Deadhorse, Alaska, because, well, Americans don’t like to read about foreign places, do they? I’ve had this same advice myself, from a Big 5 publisher, who suggested I move the setting of one of my novels from Brisbane, Queensland to, say, San Francisco, California. I said no, I wouldn’t. I have more respect for American readers than that. Besides, I know of loads of great novels that sell well but aren’t set in the USA. They didn’t actually publish the book (not for that reason, I hope!) so we won’t know if they were right unless I self-publish it.
The thing is, Heaven is a Place on Earth, is also set in Brisbane. It doesn’t have to be set there, I suppose, although there is a bit of an On the Beach echo about the setting that I hope readers will notice. But why should I change it? Brisbane is a fine city of over two million people spread across one of the largest urban areas in the world (about ten times the area of San Francisco). It rubs up against beautiful Moreton Bay and the Coral Seal on one side, has the gentle Brisbane River running through it, and enjoys a gorgeous, sub-tropical climate. It’s a great place to set a story.
It’s a bit like the argument publishers use for “translating” books into “American”. I write in a dialect of English I learnt and spoke in the UK. It’s very, very similar to the one I speak here in Australia. About half the books I read are written in a dialect of English spoken and written in the US. Somehow I manage to cope with the fact that those writers say “sidewalk” when they mean “pavement” and “pavement” when they mean “road”, “purse” when they mean “handbag”, “Mom” when they mean “Mum”, and so on. It doesn’t need translating into Australian for me. In fact, I’d find it very weird if an American author’s work was presented to me in UK English. Yet many publishers insist – they write it into their contracts they insist so much – that they will only publish books in an American idiom, with American spelling. One publisher told me that Americans complain that their books are full of spelling mistakes if they find UK English spellings in them! The whole attitude is bizarre, and, I believe, denigrating to American readers.
As I see it, if you don’t want to hear other voices, why bother to read at all?
Needless to say, Heaven is a Place on Earth is written in Australian English, using Australian idioms. It even contains Australian slang – God knows what a Big 5 publisher would make of that!
Yet, despite all my self-justification, the demon whispers, “You’ll get 1-star Goodreads reviews saying ‘the guy shoulda used a spell checker,’” and “Once they see a picture of Brisbane on the cover, no American will want to buy it.” Stoopid demon. “Stoopid you,” the demon says. “You think those big-name publishers don’t know their market?”
Well, yes, I suppose that’s what I do think.
What do you think?
Guys, here’s the cover of Marianne de Pierres’ new SF Western, Peacemaker.
The cover art is by Joey Hi Fi, partly inspired by Marianne’s graphic novel of the same name which was illustrated by Brigitte Sutherland. More details about the book can be found on this page: http://www.mariannedepierres.com/books/marianne-de-pierres/peacemaker-series/
Any SF Western fans out there? Marianne is one of Australia’s biggest-name SF and paranormal writers – and she’s also had success as a crime writer too with her Tara Sharp novels. So mark you calendars. Peacemaker is due for release by Angry Robot books in early May 2014.
Ever signed an online petition? I have. In fact, I do it all the time. I think organisations like Avaaz are absolutely fantastic. Even the smaller, less focused organisations like Sumof.us and Care2 are very positive and empowering services, allowing people to add their voices to campaigns which are generally humanitarian and worthwhile.
Sadly, though, they are not always a perfect fit to my ethical position. Normally, that isn’t a big deal. You can pick and choose which causes to support and, if you feel strongly enough that your views are not being represented, you can start your own petition. Sometimes, however, the petitions I am asked to sign are quite disturbing, primarily because the strident demands for action – usually punishments – are as ill-considered and brutal as the wrong they’re trying to address.
What brings this to mind is the case of “Dr. K.”. Dr. K. is a Melbourne GP who is strongly anti-abortion. He has recently been investigated for breaking the State’s abortion laws by not referring patients for abortions and for trying to talk women out of having abortions. He also seems to believe that women who die whilst trying to abort their foetuses deserve what they get. Given he is prone to quoting from the Christian’s Bible, I’m guessing that’s where his motivation comes from.
Now, I disagree very strongly with Dr. K.’s position and I do not believe it is right that he has broken the law and failed in his duty of care as a GP. However, when an email arrived today, asking me to sign a petition demanding to have Dr. K. struck off, my reaction was to cringe. It sounded like trying to silence dissenting opinion. It sounded like people who don’t agree with the petitioner should be demonised and trampled underfoot. It sounded like they were trying to get up a lynch mob.
Let me say, I have no idea whether Dr. K. is a good physician or not. It could be he is a great doctor and his only failure with respect to his patients is in this one area. (I actually doubt it, because with such strong religious convictions, he’s probably not doing well by other groups either – like gays, the transgendered, unmarried couples, and so on.) However, I have to say, I admire him for standing up for what he believes in. He believes that abortion is murder and he refuses to be complicit in it. I believe he is wrong, but I also believe he has the right to believe whatever he wants. And, if that is what he believes, then he should act in accordance with his beliefs.
So why don’t I think we should all be baying for his blood? Well, partly because the punishment is too black-and-white. Assuming that what one has read is correct, he has broken the law, he has badly let down his patients, and, with his weird beliefs, he is probably not a very nice person. Yet he is providing an invaluable service to his community in most respects. His behaviour towards people with cancer or broken legs is no doubt exemplary. It’s only in those areas where his religion-induced “morality” creates a conflict with his legal obligations that there is a problem.
Given that there must be hundreds, or thousands, of doctors who have strong views on various things that make them incapable of carrying out their duties as the law – and the wider society – would like them to, perhaps our system of accrediting doctors should be modified to take account of this reality.
It would certainly be nice to see a full disclosure statement on the door of every doctor’s surgery, saying things like, “Dr. X. is a practicing Moslem. She also believes that abortion is murder, that sex outside marriage is a sin and that gays should be stoned to death. She is therefore unable to conform to the law in the treatment of sex- or gender-related problems, treating, counselling, or referring patients for abortions, treating unmarried mothers, unmarried couples, or treating people who identify as GLBTQ.” Or something like that. Then people could choose which doctor to visit and, when a patient consults a partially-disqualified doctor in error, such a doctor could refer a patient to their full disclosure disbarments and say, “Sorry I’m not allowed to consult with you on that issue.”
Of course, if a doctor then treated someone they shouldn’t, or failed to make a full disclosure of their ethical or religious position, then you could strike them off, throw them in jail, or whatever you liked.
Without that kind of full disclosure and partial disbarment mechanism, then, sadly, the only thing the State of Victoria can do in the face of a recalcitrant doctor who will not do as the law requires is to prevent him from practicing, despite his otherwise admirable stand on his principles. Which is only fair. If it cost nothing to have principles, everyone would have them.
There are plenty of other petitions which touch on similarly complicated issues and most of them offer the most simplistic or banal solution – sack someone, boycott something, tell someone to do something, demand someone resign, and so on. In fact, the language of many of these petitions reminds me of student union meetings I used to attend back in the Seventies, where the resolution on whatever issue was being discussed typically began, “We demand that the Government…” It was all very silly and childish (even though the issues were often extremely serious) and gave me a lasting contempt for politics and politicians.
The biggest petition sites, like Avaaz, are generally more temperate and mix their ethical campaigning with a good deal of practical common sense and, indeed, politeness. But some of the others are, at least in tone and lack of subtlety, almost as bad as the groups they seek to censure. In no case that I’m aware of does a petition site allow its users to work together on the wording of petition, iterating towards a consensus view, or even to offer feedback. A site with an “I disagree with this position” button would be nice. They just blast out their mob justice style petitions and let them sink or swim. And that is a huge pity, since the basic idea of collecting the voices of thousands of ordinary people – sometimes a million or more – so that they can be heard by the people in power, is one of those wonderful notions that makes the Internet worth having.
You know, self-publishing sucks in so many ways – mainly because you have to do all the boring bits yourself – but one of the ways it doesn’t suck is this: you get control over everything. Not that I’m a control freak or anything, it’s just that having control over everything absolutely beats the opposite hands down.
Take the cover for my upcoming novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth. A short while ago I did a big reveal of the cover I was going to use and asked for opinions. I not only got opinions, I also got advice, notably from fellow-writer Patty Jansen. Since I’m a Photoshop/GIMP ignoramus, hardly anything Patty said made sense. So we took it off-line and Patty, who also happens to be an artist (I know this because I’ve seen her stuff in exhibitions) rather than waste bandwidth trying to educate me, showed me what my cover could look like.
It was a real eye-opener. After just one tiny iteration, she’d produced something I thought was streets ahead of my original. In fact, I like it so much it now is the cover of my new book. And here it is!
Many people, when they saw the previous version, seemed to think the image was too “clean”. They wanted me to make it more “gritty”. As much as I’d have liked to oblige, I just didn’t understand what they meant – until I saw Patty’s version. If only they’d said, “Make it grungy,” I’d have understood! (Even if I still couldn’t achieve it.) Because it is, isn’t it? And grunge is just a perfect fit for the story. As well as the obvious changes, there are some subtleties that only an artistic mind might have come up with – like a tiny bit more cropping on the background that makes such a difference to the composition.
Patty tells me she is willing to take on some small cover design jobs if anyone is interested. She actually enjoys doing this stuff, whereas I tear my hair out and agonise over it and still suck. Takes all kinds, fortunately.
And while I’m on the subject of Heaven is a Place on Earth, I heard back today from an advanced reviewer who seemed to enjoy it. (He used the words “Wow!” “unputdownable” and “amazing”, so I’m taking that as a good sign.) Remember, release day is 3 Jan 2014.
Way back in the Eighties and Nineties, I used to work at an R&D lab in Cambridge (that’s the real Cambridge, not that upstart in Massachusetts). Mostly I worked on artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction, but I also got to play around with virtual reality and a lot of what was going on involved augmented reality. By the time I left Cambridge in 1994 and went off to work in Zurich, AR had become a hot field among the industrial R&D folk. I remember having a long conversation with the then head of EuroPARC about what he felt were the two big research directions of the day and they were “wearable computing” and augmented reality. As it happens, I think we’ve just reached the point where the technology is able to give us some of what R&D people like me were dreaming of twenty years ago.
If you want to play with AR right this minute, you don’t need to run a year-long R&D project, you just pick up your Android smartphone and launch the Layar app. Or, if you’re one of those first penguin types who has all the toys, reach for your Google Glass specs. The technology is pretty crude still, but it’s here and it will get better.
In parallel, there have been recent strides in interfacing digital electronics to human neural tissue. This is terrific news for people with disabilities as it is enabling all kinds of sensory prostheses (like retinal and cochlear implants) and direct mental control of mechanical prostheses (like wheelchairs, legs, and arms). Again, it’s all very crude but it will improve. And when you put neural implants together with augmented reality, you really are starting to reach a place where cognitive prostheses are possible (like direct mental access to information, direct mind-to-mind communication, and the real-time manipulation of sensation to re-paint reality as you please).
It will make iPhones look like stone axes, and it isn’t very far away.
As a science fiction writer, it’s my job to look at this coming world and ask what it might mean for us, to try to imagine how these technologies might be used – and abused. In the case of augmented reality, I’ve been looking at what is gained and what is lost when AR is as commonplace as smartphones and TVs. It really could be an amazing world to live in. On the other hand, the technology doesn’t only offer opportunities for medicine and entertainment, it could also leave us exposed to a whole new world of deception and corruption. Just as email brought us Nigerian conmen, and mass media brought us Rupert Murdoch, ubiquitous augmented reality will also have its villains.
And that was the inspiration for my new novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth. The question at the heart of the book is, will augmented reality add more to our lives than it takes away?
Here it is, the cover for my new novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth.
For those who know Brisbane, you’ll notice the background photograph is the Brisbane River with the CBD behind it, taken from Kangaroo Point. And, when you read the book, you’ll realise why there’s a quadcopter gliding towards us
I had a lot of trouble with fonts and colours, working through countless permutations before my various reviewers were not completely unhappy. Most of the text is now in Deja Vu sans bold with the word “Heaven” in something called “Destroy”. Designing book covers is hard when your aesthetic sense can be summed up in the phrase, “I don’t know much about art … etc..” Now that it’s finished, I’m just happy that no-one around me hates it any more. (Many thanks to Meryl, by the way, who gave me some great pointers.)
At the risk of driving myself insane, what do you think? Does it say “near-future sci-fi” to you? Does it have a hint of bleakness? A soupçon of sinister? Does it suggest something vaguely 1984-ish? Because those are all the things I was aiming for.
*Sighs* Yeah, I know.
It’s an exciting time. I have a new book in the works and it will be published in early January (most likely Friday, 3rd January). It’s called Heaven is a Place on Earth. It’s a book about a woman, lost in a maze of deceit and deception, trying to find her way back to reality. Imagine a cross between William Gibson and Robert Goddard.
The cover isn’t quite there yet and the text is still in the final stages of editing and formatting but it’s nearly there. I haven’t even got the marketing materials (blurbs, tag-line, press release and so on) finished yet. As soon as I have all that and the cover, it will go up on Amazon for pre-order. Yes, Christmas is coming too!
Here’s my current stab at a description. If you can see a way to improve it, please let me know. These things are important.
Ginny had only dated the enigmatic Cal Copplin a couple of times when the police arrived to question her about him. He’d disappeared – something that should be completely impossible in the late 21st century when everyone was electronically tagged. And then Ginny received a recorded message from Cal, asking her to deliver a small package for him. Her decision to help him plunges Ginny into a world of fear, corruption, and massive deception. On the run from the police, a dangerous terrorist organisation, and a shadowy corporation, Ginny struggles to stay alive and free while she tries to understand what is happening and prevent a deadly attack on the government. But in a world dominated by augmented and virtual realities, nothing is as it seems, and the deception runs deeper than anyone could imagine.
So, let me know what you think. I’ll be doing the cover reveal soon and asking for reviewers of advanced copies.
(This review first appeared in the New York Journal of Books.)
Really good, new science fiction writers seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth these days. Who is the last one you can remember discovering? Alastair Reynolds? Cory Doctorow? (No, don’t include fantasy writers, we’re talking sci-fi here.) Whoever it was, it was probably years ago.
It gets to the point where you hardly dare pick up a new science fiction writer for fear of the disappointment to follow. So it is a great joy to find Ann Leckie, who not only writes with a strong, clear voice, but who writes science fiction that is intelligent, inventive, and richly textured.
Ancillary Justice is a simple tale of intrigue, betrayal, and vengeance but it is set in a future world that is finely drawn and beautifully imagined. The protagonist, Breq, is pursuing a personal vendetta against the Lord of the Radch, supreme ruler of the Radchaai empire. It has taken her 20 years of risk and privation, and she has visited many worlds throughout the galaxy, but the end is in sight as the book opens on the final few scenes of her quest.
The Radch is a powerful force within the human-occupied worlds and benign in many ways, but it’s economy depends on continual expansion and the subjugation of new worlds. Its methods of annexing new populations are brutal and efficient and have long relied on its massive warships, each capable of destroying a planet, each controlled by an artificial intelligence (AI), and each stuffed to bursting with armies both human and ancillary.
Breq, we soon learn, was once an ancillary—a human whose mind has been replaced with an AI and integrated into the ship’s mind. She was once number nineteen in one cohort of a large ancillary army controlled by the ship, Justice of Torren, until a catastrophe destroyed the ship and Breq’s fellow ancillaries, leaving her alone to pursue her own justice. The story of how that catastrophe came about and how Breq has coped with it is the essence of the book.
Yet it is the detailed world-building of the Radch and its surrounding human and alien polities that sets Ancillary Justice apart from most sci-fi you will find on the shelves. The cultures, the religions, the songs, the clothing, the languages—all beautifully done.
There are some writers (China Miéville, for example) who will dwell luxuriously on the details of a city and its inhabitants for hundreds of pages. There are others (like Ursula le Guin) who have a sharper, less elaborate style and can do the job in a tenth of the words. Ann Leckie is in this latter camp. Like le Guin, she also demonstrates a mastery of the technology of her world and trusts the reader to know enough science (or at least to have read enough sci-fi) to know what she means when she says a character will “take the tether” or “open a gate” in the appropriate context.
Ann Leckie also handles with confidence the tricky business of letting us see into the mind of an ancillary who is as aware of the minds of the twenty others in her cohort as well as of the ship itself, all of whom feel part of a single identity as well as having their own unique perspective and thoughts.
Of course, Ancillary Justice is a first novel and is not without some faults. The plot develops a definite wobble about three-quarters of the way through when Breq seems to realise what the reader has been uncomfortably aware of for some time, that her plan is probably completely futile. This makes the ending seem a little fortuitous for our hero. It is an ending that also raises the difficult question of whether, given the devastating consequences that must follow, Breq did a good thing or a bad thing—a question it would be good to see addressed in subsequent volumes.
The fact that Breq is an AI is part of the charm of the book and the character’s peculiar ways of thinking are very nicely and consistently portrayed; however, the story is a first person telling from Breq’s perspective and, after a while, the flat, almost emotionless voice of the narrator becomes wearing.
One longs for some more emotional colour, for a less monotonous voice. It is to the author’s credit that she maintains Breq’s voice to the very end (a small technical triumph, actually), but especially during moments of high drama that absence of emotion creates a disconnect between Breq and the reader.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent book by a writer who deserves a large and loyal following. It was an impressive first novel. By most writers’ standards, it would be an impressive last novel. Having created such an exquisite future world, it is good to hear that Ann Leckie plans at least two more novels to be set there. This is first-class space opera from a writer who could probably tackle any other sci-fi sub-genre with similar aplomb. Let’s all hope she keeps them coming.
Something that promises to be exciting and fun happened the other day. I won’t say what it was because it’s a secret, but it got me thinking about the things I’m passionate about.
Anyone who has been reading my blogs for the past decade will know I can get very ranty about things. If you asked me, I’d say I was passionate about loads of stuff. Here are a few things that frequently trigger a rant:
- Superstition (by which I mean belief in magical things – like God, fairies, astrology, and so on)
- Predatory people who prey on the weakness or stupidity of other people to exploit them (and here I include not just bankers and scammers but also purveyors of “alternative” medicines, psychics, advertisers, politicians, drug pushers, and so on)
- Wilful ignorance (which is primarily exhibited by supremely arrogant people with closed minds or limited intellects – like religious bigots (I include the Pope, Cardinal Pell, etc.), politicians, shock jocks, so many of the rich and privileged, male and privileged, white and privileged, etc., climate change deniers, and New Age types)
- Liars (the worst offenders are big corporations and the cynical politicians they buy off – big tobacco, oil, mining, agribusiness, big pharma, all of which lie and distort the truth no matter what harm they cause, just to make more money).
I get really angry about such things and devote a lot of my time on specialist blogs, online news sites, and elsewhere trying to counter some of it. The problem is that it is so widely accepted throughout society that corruption and lack of compassion are normal, that nobody even sees it any more. (Recently, the Pope said the Catholic Church shouldn’t spend so much time talking about how bad it is to be gay or to have abortions but should focus on how to help and support people. This was widely reported as a good thing. But why? He didn’t say the church was changing its position on any of its hate-filled and repressive policies, all he said was they should stop talking about it. It was a marketing message about the church’s image. It was cynical and cruel in the extreme – urging Catholics, in effect, to ignore the problems of gays and women with unwanted pregnancies. Problems they have helped cause and will continue to help perpetuate.
See? I’m ranting again.
Notice anything about that list? That’s right, it’s all rather negative. But it’s true. The things that spring to mind when I think of what gets me passionate are all things that make me angry. In fact there are many more than the ones I listed but the others are rather small beer by comparison (people who can’t spell, publishers who “translate” books written by Brits and Aussies into American idioms and American spelling, parents who let their kids cry, cruelty to animals – especially when it’s combined with one of the big ones, like superstition, and leads to live export and cruel halal butchery of cattle, people who can’t drive, and on and on).
So I started to wonder whether there is anything at all that I’m passionate about that is actually positive.
I could start with my family, I suppose. I love my wife and daughter so much it hurts. But I don’t write passionate blog posts about them. I don’t do anything much about it at all, except be as nice to them as I can.
Then there’s my writing. You could say I’m passionate about that, perhaps. I have done it all my life, and by “done it” I mean I have written and thought about writing every single day since I was about 11 years old. In the past five years, it has become a major focus of my life, but is it a passion? Doesn’t a passion imply violent emotions? Do I stand up in front of audiences and demand my right to tell stories? No (although I sign the occasional PEN petition). Do I join professional bodies and work tirelessly for the betterment of writers everywhere? Well, no, actually. I did once join the Queensland Writers’ Centre but, after the first year, let my membership lapse.) Do I give up the things I love and suffer terrible privation for my writing? Again, no. I have always just squeezed it in where I can around my other commitments (mainly the ones to my family) and made do with that.
So not much joy there, then.
I could, I suppose, turn the negative passions on their heads and get a new list of things I passionately believe in:
- Rationality (including the value of the scientific method, reasoned argument and evidence-based decision-making)
- Empathy (which includes kindness to everyone and any creature that needs it, so long as it is in my power, allowing people their dignity, not hurting anyone, and never taking advantage of weakness.)
- Education (for everyone who wants it or needs it, the availability of sound knowledge and the best understanding available to everyone, calling out people peddling misinformation, superstition, and lies, raising awareness of the blinkers of privilege and ignorance).
- Truth. I would so like there to be a law that says no-one is allowed to lie in public or to children – with the onus on the liar to prove, based on the evidence, that what they say is true. How many corporate and political “spin doctors” would such a law put in jail? How many religious indoctrinators would it prevent from spreading their poison to young people? How many anti-vaccination campaigners would it get off the streets?
Sounds better, doesn’t it? And maybe I’m being too hard on myself for thinking that, because I don’t march, don’t run for office, don’t assassinate acupuncturists, because all I do is write about it, that I’m not doing enough to justify calling my beliefs passions.
Writing, after all, can change the world – and it frequently has.
Timesplash has been free on Amazon for the past week (and is still free on iBookstore for some reason) so I’ve been looking at the book charts (because whenever Timesplash is free, it goes racing to the top of the charts and, you know, I like to pretend I’m successful).
When you see a whole page of book covers on your screen, and they’re the top 20 free Sci-Fi and Fantasy books on iBookstore, and you notice that your own cover looks absolutely nothing like any of the others, you do a double-take and you start to notice things – like that 15 of the top 20 books have pictures of women on the covers. And not hot ninja chicks in latex catsuits clutching ray guns of such penile proportions they would make an erotic vampire novelist blush, or supernormal warrior maidens with ten times more flesh showing than armour and a rack that’s sure to lead to back problems in later years. No, these particular cover ornaments are long-limbed, long flaxen haired, long flowing (but tight-bodiced) dress wearing elf-maidens of the soppyest, girliest, droopiest kind. The kind of women who, in the Sixties, would have been swaying around at folk concerts with headbands and flowers painted on their cheeks.
You also notice the titles – like that four out of 20 contain the word “Moon” and three the word “Kiss”.
And that yours is the only sci-fi book on the whole screen.
So, with nothing to do but procrastinate today (I wish!) I did a quick survey of the frequency of words used in the Amazon top 100 Sci-fi and Fantasy book titles. It didn’t take all that long and there were no surprises (except perhaps that Amazon’s SF&F category contains a much higher proportion of SF than Apple’s one does). It did reveal that the most popular word by a long way was “Witch”. The next four runners up were, “War”, “Vampire”, “Chronicle” and “Saga”.
So, in case I ever go mad, or senile, or run out of good things to write, I call dibs on the title, “The Witch War Saga”. In fact, I may not go mad, senile or uninspired; I may just turn bitter and cynical. I reckon that “The Witch War Saga,” with a suitably droopy blonde on the cover, even if it contained nothing but railway timetables, would outsell any damned sci-fi novel I could ever write – probably ten times over. I think this book will be my retirement nest-egg.
(And, of course, in a not untypical case of Life imitating Art, when I checked to see if someone had already used the title, I found two instances of very similar book series names. One is “The Witch Wars Saga” by Ashley Girardi. The other is “The Witch War Cycle” by Alan Burt Akers. So I guess there are at least two writers who are going to cross me off their Christmas card lists now. Which is a shame, because they must both be very rich and famous – and, if they’re not, it’s because neither used an elongated blonde on the cover. Time for a new edition, guys? Hey, don’t be like that. I gave you both a plug didn’t I?)