What to do today
Well, I could talk about Steven Colbert and his war on Amazon. I have no idea who he is (sorry, different country) but I know it caused squeaks of girlish glee from several very anti-Amazon trad authors. Hmm. Looking through the comments on the link I provided, it’s far from obvious that the war is lost by Amazon. I think this card was played, hard, last time. I get the feeling that the world has moved on a little bit since then. People are poorer, and authors have other options. The bestseller list is about 50% Indy now, which considering the accounting, and the transparency, and speed of payment is hardly surprising as choice, for authors with a following and the courage to make the leap. It’s not an easy decision, because we have little or no skills or training in many areas we used to believe someone better would take care of… I still believe there are more skilled people than I am at cover design, blurbs, editing etc… but the value they put on themselves I begin to feel exceeds the reality of what they’re worth to me.
Or I could mention that, purely by chance, Hachette is laying off 30 people. (Anyone want a bet they’ll be editors, cover-copy writers, proof-readers, cover design artists, and not the company drones? Not giving good odds.)
Or I could point out that if Damian Walter of the Grauniad gets his wish that sf/fantasy becomes more ‘inclusive’ of the 7 Billion people on earth and not (Western – European and American) white males (which it sure isn’t now, except in his delusions), and reflective of their world views, that his other daydream a future where sf is queer, is also dead in the water, on account of the fact that a majority outside the Western world (and a good percentage inside it) in Africa, and Asia think… shall we say… otherwise. Stoning, pushing walls on them and jail being more popular in their world view. I don’t think Damian is going want them and their bad-think views, after all, somehow. But given that the demographics of Europe and the US are decidedly negative, and the opposite is true for those parts of the world… well, this year there are actually less people sharing his vision of the future than last year. It’s a whole new view on ‘winning’. Perhaps he needs to rethink this ‘inclusive’ thing. I have a feeling it’s not going to work out terribly well if it ever happens. The role of women or attitudes to other races in the growing part of that ‘inclusive’ may make him terribly sad too (sure as hell don’t make me feel too good). And somehow I don’t think those folk are ready to let him tell them how to think, even if he and his little friends tell them they ought to. But perhaps he should go to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Uganda, and preach it to them, instead of us. Myself I’d settle for a more representative (not ‘inclusive’) English First language readers slate – which would include people of different social and political views from him… and from me (not hard). But thinking is not his metier.
Instead I will put up a piece of STARDOGS, and hope you will be curious enough to buy it. We’re nearly there…
The People’s Empire of Gotha stretched across light-years. The mind-maps of the great Stardogs had taken men to 432 planets. The Empire held sway over all of them, even if only tenuously on a few like Arunachal. And of course many of the Denaari worlds had been virtually uninhabitable… But even so, the new Emperor, Turabi II, ruled absolute over 300 billion people.
Such power is beyond human understanding. Let us turn instead to a weeping girl who had hidden herself deep in the shrubbery of the vast enclosed imperial gardens of Phillipia, the seat of the Empire. She was nineteen. She had survived just about as many assassination attempts as she had years. This, the last one, an hour and a half ago, had cost her the life of her mother-figure as well as her father and step-mother.
She couldn’t have cared less about her father and step-mother, even if their death had put that horrible little toad, her sixteen year old step-brother Turabi, on the Diamond Throne. The Princess Royal wept instead, bitterly, inconsolably for her peasant-born ex-nurserymaid, who had mothered her, raised her, and finally shielded her beloved charge with her own body. Flecks of Lea’s blood stained her dress. The Princess knew that they were still out there, looking for her. Right now, she almost didn’t care if they found her.
Princess Shari buried her face in the fur of a small dog of dubious parentage. The dog, with canine understanding, allowed this, despite the fact that he was a Dog-of-Immense-Dignity, who believed that cuddling should only be permitted at times and places of its own choosing. The dog growled abruptly. The delicate pale green curtain of hanging Sambar-lilies parted.
Shari looked up. For a moment she thought it was her brother’s crony, Selim Puk. The man had the same almond eyes and dark hair, and moved with same catlike deadly grace. But this man was smaller. And the eyes were a softer brown. “I suppose you’ve come to kill me,” she said calmly.
In his hands the thin garrote-wire gleamed, confirming the truth of this. But he was startled. Hers was not the first life the high-priest of Kali-Dewa had sent him to harvest back into the great cycle. There had been many. But this was the first time he had been greeted thus. “You do not beg or plead?” This was an honorable thing indeed. Surely her rebirth would be a great one.
She shrugged, unafraid now that it had come. “Why? It wouldn’t make any difference. You’ve killed everyone I have ever loved. First Senn. Now my Lea.” She scratched the base of the dog’s ears. “I only have Otto here left. You won’t hurt him, will you?” She gave a tiny sigh, and hugged the mongrel, who turned to lick her nose. “I wonder what will become of him. He was only half-weaned when I found him. I don’t think he knows how to look after himself.” The dog, reassured by the calm tones, jumped off her lap and went to sniff the boots of the killer. Without thinking the man put a hand down to pet it.
“I have killed none of these people, lady. I will not harm your dog. I give my word that I shall find it a suitable home.”
She looked faintly surprised, but patted her thigh, calling Otto back to her. “Thank you. I didn’t expect that from one of Selim’s hatchet-men.”
“I am no one’s hatchet-man, lady. I am the holy executioner of the Kali-Dewa.” He stepped forward, unwinding the garrote.
“How depressing. You’re going to kill me for this ‘Kali-Dewa’ and I don’t even know who he is. I thought you were too pleasant to be one of my late father’s or my brother’s pet murderers.”
She made no move to resist as he skilfully dropped the loop of braided steel wire around her slim white neck. “You are a person of great honor, even if you do not know that the Dewa is always female. Where possible we are instructed to allow the victim a last prayer for their souls to ensure rebirth closer to the Dewa. I grant you this time to make your peace with the Goddess.”
His victim sighed. “I’ve no one to pray for except Otto. Lea and Senn are dead. Kill me if you’re going to. I’m so tired of running and being scared all the time.”
The wire slackened slightly. “You are supposed to pray for yourself, for forgiveness.”
The holy executioner was definitely at a loss now. “Because… well, because of your tyrannical rule of my people, and persecution of the holy church. You are the Duchess of Arunachal, after all.”
His victim began to laugh helplessly. Eventually, interspersed with little hiccups of hysterical laughter, she explained to the puzzled killer, “I’m hiding in the garden from my brother’s assassins. I haven’t a friend in the world besides my dog. I might be an Imperial Princess to you, but believe me, I couldn’t tyrannize anybody. I don’t think I could even order lunch now. I’m the titular head of seventeen planets, and patron of dozens of organizations. You don’t really think that really means anything do you? You don’t think I’m allowed to actually do anything, do you? I don’t even know where half the places are, never mind anything about them!”
“That is a sin itself. You should have found out, done something, gone to your dominions,” said the executioner doubtfully, as the dog sprang off her lap.
She shrugged. “So kill me for it. I haven’t even been able to get out of the palace to save myself, never mind visit my so-called dominions.”
By this stage the holy executioner had forgotten the garrote in his hands. The dog barked and he almost throttled the Princess instinctively. But Otto was barking at someone outside the shrubbery.
“That’s her damned dog. The girl must be in there somewhere. Selim said we were to finish off the girl and that damn dog of hers.” The voices were close. The girl ignored the garrote, and grabbed the dog who had pressed against her knees. The holy executioner stared in puzzlement as she turned away from the voices and held it her arms. Abruptly he realized that she was trying to shelter the dog from the bullets she expected. Yet, by the fierce look in her eyes she had been prepared to attack the newcomers barehanded to defend the dog, had she not been certain that the animal too would be killed.
It was a moment of epiphany. The executioner dropped his garrote, and, secure in the knowledge that he stood in the presence of a light-incarnation of the Kali-Dewa herself, went forth.
A single, small Aranachali man armed with two ancient fourteen-inch knives should really have been no match for two of Selim Puk’s professional killers. The men were top-graduate assassins trained for two years by the Imperial Security Service.
It actually was no match at all. The Dagger of the Goddess had begun his training when he could barely walk. He had twenty years of training to their two. His bloodline too had been honed for many, many generations to this purpose.