Weird thoughts about fashion in writing

Writing fiction is something of an artifice. Telling stories is not. Telling stories is a very basic human activity. But telling stories in the context of writing fiction is subject to fad and fashion.

Case in point, some people now consider it so important to address social issues in their fiction, that they neglect to tell a satisfying story. Every checkbox has to be marked, from “people of color” (I refuse to use that horror without quotes) to LGBTQRSTLSMFT, or whatever the current alphabet soup of gender and preference entitlement is. And any fiction that does not check all the boxes is open to criticism. Hell, they complained because “Dunkirk,” an historical movie, did not include women and “people of color,” even though historically there were none of them there. White males, by and large, fought Europe’s wars.

Another fashion in writing is person. It used to be you wrote in first person or third person. These are basic to story telling, from everyday life to high literature. “So I go to the grocery store, and I’m looking for this cheese I saw on television….” Now, once our first person narrator tells this story to one of his friends, his friend passes it on in third person. “So my buddy goes to the grocery store, and he’s looking for some cheese he saw on television….”

Simple, right? Not so fast. There are now a whole bucketful of third persons. Distant 3rd, close 3rd, tight 3rd, omniscient 3rd, single point of view, multiple point of view. A whole cottage industry has grown up around them — teaching them to authors in seminars, and books, and articles. They have a whole vocabulary of technical terms that goes with them.

What are the differences? In brief, as far as I understand it: distant 3rd is where everything is described by an outsider watching the action, like telling someone the story of a movie; close 3rd is basically a first person narrative written in the third person, so you are in the head of the character; tight 3rd is where the narrator only knows and tells what the character knows, so if John is the tight character there are no scenes where John isn’t there; omniscient 3rd is what most fiction was before, say, 1970, and encompasses a lot of what you are familiar with; single point of view means that the narrator follows one character, while multiple point of view means the narrator follows different characters in different scenes. If you have action going on in multiple locations, and you want the reader to be there, you need to do multiple point of view.

Classical fiction is mostly omniscient 3rd, with multiple point of view. Movies are almost by definition omniscient 3rd with multiple point of view. But that isn’t what’s big now. Tight 3rd, single point of view and close 3rd, single point of view are what a lot of writers go for now. There is a lot of “It’s better” talk, but I suspect it’s just fashion. What’s “better” is always going to have to bow before the one Great Question: Is it a good story?

One more writing trope I have to discuss is the concept of a “Mary Sue.” A Mary Sue is a character who is perfect. They don’t need to practice to develop a skill, they are expert at anything they try. They always have the perfect rejoinder right now, not five minutes after the other person has left the room. They are brilliant, they are beautiful, they are strong. They have no character flaws, no petty emotions, no self-doubt. Their hearts are pure and their motives are noble. They are, in short, the author’s wish fulfillment for himself.

At least, that’s what a Mary Sue used to be. Now, though, any character who isn’t deeply flawed, gnawed by self-doubt, and more or less incompetent on multiple levels risks being called a Mary Sue. You couldn’t write a story about Mother Theresa without criticism. “Your main character is a Mary Sue. She’s basically a saint.” Well, yeah. She is.

Or Winston Churchill, a guy who was born to wealth and privilege. Who rode his horse back and forth across the lines with the bullets flying all around him, urging his men on, and did not just survive, but wasn’t even wounded. Was captured,  but escaped. Who learned to fly an airplane a handful of years after they were first invented, crashed one of these primitive planes when it mechanically failed, and walked away unharmed. Who was made First Lord of the Admiralty at age 37. Who, when removed from the Admiralty during the investigation of the Gallipoli disaster, volunteered for the front lines in France as a mere Major, and then shared with his men the expensive luxuries — brandy, cigars, cheese — he had his wife ship to him at the front. Who personally went out multiple times to inspect the wires during the trench warfare, and was never wounded. Who invented the tank, which ultimately won the war. Who was cleared of responsibility for the Gallipoli disaster, and then put in charge of war production, which, of course, he revolutionized, making available the level of supply required to push the war to an end using the tanks he himself had invented. Who railed against the Nazi threat for years between the wars, and then found himself named Prime Minister when his warnings, of course, proved true. Who led his country through the war to victory, in his seventies. Who was re-elected Prime Minister during peacetime, serving until he was 81 years old. Who called out the Soviets, and coined the term “Iron Curtain.” Who was an accomplished artist. Who wrote more English-language prose than any other person, before or since, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Who was famous for the perfect bon mot, delivered on the spot. And who lived into his 90s.

Put him, or a character like him, in your fiction and see what people say.

“Mary Sue! Mary Sue!”

Of course, Winston Churchill was an exceptional person. No question. Can we not now, though, write fiction about exceptional persons?

I say this with a bit of pique. I wrote my first novel about an exceptional character. Her exceptionalism was on three fronts: she was extremely bright, she worked her ass off, and she was grateful for being rescued from the slums. That’s it. Her adult height was stunted from malnutrition. When the story opens, she is basically skin and bones and achieves healthy body mass only through her own efforts at nutrition and exercise. She is so traumatized from the abuses of her youth that she can sink into terror at such everyday actions as disrobing for a bath, and suffers from terrible nightmares for years. She needs therapy to even consider the possibility of normal, human relationships. But she’s very smart, and succeeds through continuous effort on her own part.

And I was told she was a Mary Sue. No kidding.

Whatever. Fiction writing has its own tropes and customs, as arcane as any other activity, I suppose. I’m just going to write stories that appeal to me.

Likely in distant, omniscient 3rd, with multiple point of view, exceptional characters, and without regard to checkboxes.

Deconstructing the Overton Window

A political post this time, but a point of view you may not have heard.

I was talking with a friend the other day, and he put forward an interesting formulation.

Many of the issues that come up in Washington, DC, are hedged about with “can’t do this” and “can’t do that.” This group won’t go for this, this group won’t go for that, this party won’t agree to this, this party won’t agree to that. The discussion has become calcified into very narrow channels of what’s acceptable. The Overton Window, the space that defines what can be talked about, what con be considered, has become very narrow, so narrow that no solution of the issue is possible. This situation has persisted for years on many issues.

And now along comes Donald Trump.

Trump wants to get things done, but he can’t. Not in the normal way. There is a narrow window of things that one can do with respect to Korea, or ISIS, or Russia, or taxes, or healthcare, or fixing the VA, or whatever. And within that narrow window, the Overton Window, there is no solution. What’s he to do?

What he has done is smash the Overton Window, again and again. He makes some outrageous statement, or more than one, or tweets something outrageously outside the common wisdom. Like refusing to take a military strike against North Korea off the table. Or floating tariffs on all steel and aluminum imports.

And DC goes nuts. Chris Matthews gets all freaked out, and Rachel Maddow gets all smirky, and the talking heads tut-tut about Trump’s latest proposal, when they don’t outright call him stupid or dangerous. “Everyone knows” you can’t do a military strike on North Korea because of all the artillery they have pointed at South Korea. “Everyone knows” that tariffs lead to trade wars that are bad for everybody. And so on.

And then Trump backs up to a more moderate position, but one that is still well outside what the Overton Window previously allowed. And people start considering things that were not possible to consider before. Like Republicans giving citizenship to the DACA folks.

What Trump does is smash the calcified conventional DC wisdom into pieces, so he can reassemble the pieces into something that can work.

This is the only way to get any results, and he’s getting results. Firing VA employees who had previously been protected by arcane personnel rules. Rounding up MS-13 and deporting them by the thousands. Tossing out thousands of regulations. Putting through a tax bill that levels the playing field for American corporations and stops incentivizing them to keep foreign profits overseas. Getting rid of the healthcare mandate.

In foreign policy, it’s been a winner, too. For too long, our adversaries abroad knew exactly what we would do, exactly what would provoke us too much, and they went right up to that line and stopped. They don’t know where that line is any more. The rhetoric on North Korea, the talk of tariffs, the cruise missile strike on Syria, the use of the MOAB in Afghanistan, supplying weapons to Ukraine.

There’s a bunch more. Almost twenty years after Columbine, he finally has people talking about hardening the schools. (Duh.) He finally has people actually talking about trade-offs on immigration. (Duh.) He finally has people talking about a sensible, hard-headed middle road between “China is our friend” (It’s not.) and “China is our enemy” (It’s not.). (Duh.)

And Kim Jung Un is (apparently) coming to the bargaining table, probably because he thinks that’s preferable to having his head on a pike, which is where it’s likely to end up if the sanctions continue.

It seems to be a winning strategy for him, so expect it to continue.


I am setting up our eleventh book on CreateSpace, Wendy’s upcoming novel, Becoming Mia. I have laid out four science fiction books, two legal books, three user manuals for my software product, and a memoir over the last two years, with most of them in the last six months. It’s gotten pretty turn-the-crank by this point. There are some tricks, so for you authors out there getting started with CreateSpace, here is what I do.


I bought a group of ten ISBNs from Bowker, at They are the central authority for ISBNs. The account with them was easy to set up, and entering the data for each ISBN is straightforward. If you buy one ISBN, it’s $125, ten is $295, and a hundred is $575, so the per-ISBN price goes from $125 to $29.50 to $5.75 as you bump the volume. I bought ten, and have now bought a second ten. Had to think about that one. If I had bought a hundred right off, I would have a bazillion left for what I paid for twenty, but I decided to stick with ten at a time.


I write directly into Word. I find it easier than writing in manuscript format and then having to re-format the bejesus out of the thing to try to get it into book format. Here are some formatting tips.

  • page and margins — For page size, I use 6″ x 9″. This is under Page Layout, Margins in the Paper tab. Under the Layout tab, I use Different odd and even, Different first page, Header 0.5″ from edge, Footer 0.2″ from edge, and vertical alignment of Top. Under the Margins tab, first set Multiple pages to Mirror margins and Orientation to Portrait. Then I use Top 0.9″, Bottom 0.75″, Inside 0.85″, Outside 0.45″ and Gutter 0″.
  • sections — I use two Sections. The first section I use roman numerals i, ii, iii for page numbering. This runs from the inside title page, over the copyright page, the table of contents page, any foreword. Then a section break on new page. The book text proper starts with page 1. Both sections are set up as the above for page and margins, and the Different first page setting suppresses the printing of the page number on the first page.
  • text — All of the interior text is in 12-point Times New Roman, because it is about the easiest thing to read. The serifs help the eye track the line of text. San-serif type is hard to read for any length of time.
  • header and footer — I put the author name in the left header, and the book name in the right header. I do these in san-serif bolded capitals, like Arial or (if you have it) Euromode. This helps the eye, which is looking for the next line of normal Times New Roman on the next page, skip the header.
  • chaptering — I use a page break at the end of every chapter.
  • titling — I use Heading 1 for titles of the main sections of the book, like Part 1, and Heading 2 for chapter titles. If the book doesn’t have main sections, just chapters, I’ll use Heading 1 for chapter titles. Set up the first chapter title the way you want titles to look. I use 16-point bolded Times New Roman. Now put the cursor in the title, then right-click on the style (Heading 1 or Heading 2) and select Update Heading 1 [or 2] to Match Selection. You have now taught Word how to format the titles to your preference. Using Heading 1 and Heading 2 is important, because then Word can generate the table of contents for you, and you can update it as you write.
  • scene breaks — I also create a new style for scene breaks, so I can format those quickly (I use either just a blank line or blank line plus three centered asterisks plus blank line. The three centered asterisks are 14-point Times New Roman. The centering and font size are handled by my new style button, which makes it faster.
  • table of contents — If you put your cursor on a blank page at the front of the book, such as the last page of roman-numeral-numbered pages, and go to the Reference tab in Word, you can get Word to generate the table of contents for you, using the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles, and inserting all the page numbers.
  • Kindle and dead-tree versions — I end up having to split the files for Kindle and print versions. For the Kindle version, you suppress the numbering in the table of contents, and you have to have hyperlinks turned on in the table of contents. For the dead-tree version, I have to scan the top of text on each page to make sure the blank line from a scene break doesn’t land on the top of a page, making the text start one line down. You don’t want to do that in the Kindle version.
  • uploading — For Kindle, I upload the Word document, which drags along the hyperlinks for the table of contents. For CreateSpace, I convert the Word doc to a pdf file. This gives me a little more control, and keeps CreateSpace from interpreting Word internals with a different template file and messing things up. I use a free version of PDFCreator, which looks like a printer in your printer list. You select print, fill in the pop-up window with the file name and the directory you want it to end up in, and it gives you the pdf version. One benefit of PDFCreator over some of the others out there is that it embeds the fonts correctly for CreateSpace. CreateSpace will substitute fonts for fonts it doesn’t have and which are not embedded in the pdf, so if you use anything out of the ordinary for fonts, they need to be embedded.
  • interior review — CreateSpace’s Interior Reviewer will always complain that the pdf file isn’t on the same size paper as the book, but they put it where they think it goes. They always get it right.


Covers are important, and they’re a pain in the ass to format properly for CreateSpace. Here’s what I do.

  • setup — I use CorelDRAW to layout covers. You can get some older versions free if you hunt for them. I draw a 6″ x 9″ box. OK, there’s the envelope for the front cover. Now I go to the CreateSpace style manual (which is at CreateSpace PDF Submission Specification) and calculate the spine width based on the page count. I select the box I have, and create a new copy of the box 6″ plus the spine width to the left of the first box. OK. There’s the envelope for the back cover. Now I draw a box over each of those that is 0.125″ bigger on each side, so 6.25″ x 9.25″. That is my trim dimension. Finally I create one new box that follows those exactly and encompasses the whole shebang. That’s my trim outline.
  • You end up with something that looks like this.


  • assembly — against this template I assemble pictures, text boxes, title, author name, spine text and imprint — the whole nine yards. I don’t worry about what hangs over the edges, that I’ll trim off. I keep the template boxes on top, so I can see how it will look when trimmed. Sometimes I have to change the template lines to white or some other color to see them.
  • trimming — When I have it all the way I want it to look, and I have saved it as a CorelDRAW file, I erase four of the setup boxes, but not my trim outline. I need the overall trim outline box. I export a 300 dpi jpg file from CorelDRAW. Now this is going to have all the garp that hangs outside of the trim outline, but that’s fine. I now open the jpg in Microsoft Office Picture Manager and select Edit Picture and Crop. I move the crop corners in to where they are close to the trim line, and crop. Now I go to 200% zoom, and go to two diagonal corners to adjust the crop corners exactly on my trim outline and crop again. I save the jpg.
  • printing — You can’t print the cover out of Picture Manager. It wants to scale the picture to the paper, which will really mess up CreateSpace. Instead, open the trimmed jpg in Microsoft Paint. Go into Print, and select PDFCreator, and hit Apply. Close the Print dialog box. Now open Print Preview, and select Page Setup. Set all of the following: Adjust to 100% normal size, Paper Size to Ledger, Orientation to Landscape, And check both the Horizontal and Vertical centering boxes. Click OK in Print Preview, and now print the cover with PDFCreator. That pdf file will work with CreateSpace.

OK, so enough for now. But that’s what I do to prep up for CreateSpace. It sounds really complicated, I know, but you get to where you can do it all pretty fast. Figuring it out in the first place, though, was not fast, especially getting the cover pdf to embed fonts properly and maintain color saturation (use PDFCreator!) and to get it to print to exact size (switching to Paint after trimming), so hopefully I saved you some of that learning curve.


Category: Weird thoughts about magic

On the Internet, on TV, there are lots of postings and TV shows about ghosts, about magic, about the supernatural, about aliens, about yetis or sasquatches, about people having bizarre experiences. They are very popular.

Which of course makes me wonder, Why?

It seems that many of us want to believe in these fictions — in magic or supernatural powers or aliens or strange creatures or ghosts. Somehow we want more than the mundane, everyday world we see around us. How much of that is because we aren’t paying attention?

Shut off the TV, get away from the computer screen. I’ve got some ideas for you.

Sit back in your chair. Shut your eyes. Feel your body. Feel the air going in and out of your lungs. If you listen closely enough, you can feel your heart beating. How magical is that?

Do you have a pet? Call them over, look into their eyes. What do you see. Do you see the intelligence there, looking back at you? Not a human intelligence, an alien intelligence. Right there, in your living room.

Do you have a small child or grandchild? Watch them carefully, watch them pick something up, look at it, turn it around. Think of the process going on, as their brain processes the information, learning as it goes, building that information into a massively interconnected relational database we can’t even begin to understand or duplicate.

It’s night here now. Go outside. Look up at the stars. The stars you see are the mere outskirts of the Milky Way. If you can see the Milky Way itself, spread across the sky, realize it is well over two hundred billion stars. You could give thirty entire solar systems to every human alive right now, and have leftovers.

Look back at those other stars again. Half of what you think are stars are actually other galaxies, just as big as our own. There are over two hundred billion of those as well. Thirty entire GALAXIES for each and every member of the human race.

If it’s daylight, walk outside. Look around you. Look at the plants, really look at them. Little microscopic factories, building the plant, using sunlight as fuel and carbon dioxide as a building material, releasing oxygen as a waste product. Oxygen we need to breathe, so we can exhale the carbon dioxide they in turn need to build.

The sun above. Five million trillion trillion pounds of solar furnace, without which the Earth would be a bare rock with a temperature of 450 degrees below zero.

You don’t need to think up things to be amazed at, or watch the latest TV program or Internet post about something amazing, weird and almost certainly untrue.


You are surrounded by marvels.

On Writing

Writers often discuss their writing methods, the tools they use, and the like, so I thought I would talk about about mine. These work for me, and may not work for anyone else. Then again, if you are having trouble getting started, changing some things may help. This could give you ideas.

Pantsers and Plotters

On the grossest level, writers can be separated into pantsers and plotters. Plotters work on a plot outline, they write character back stories, they often will map out the flow of the book, to the point where they have a sentence or two for each chapter that says what happens in that chapter. Pantsers, by contrast, write by the seat of their pants. They just sit down and start typing.

I’m a pantser. I need a main character, I need a setting, and I need some idea of where the character is going. That’s about it. When I wrote Childers, I had no idea that she was going to kill four attempted rapists in Bahay, win a terribly costly victory in Kodu, or end up heading the CSF as the Chief of Naval Operations. All I had was a starving orphan living in the streets who had two things going for her: she was smart, and she had learned how to be sneaky. That was all I had when I started typing.

I originally started by trying to be a plotter, and it didn’t work. Doing all that up-front shit is b-o-r-i-n-g. I would literally fall asleep. Yet I thought that that was How It Was Done, so I tried, and failed, and had let the dream of being a writer sit for ten more years before I tripped over a little book called Writing into the Dark: How to Write a Novel without an Outline. Basically it said I could skip all that and write. It was very freeing. I recommend this book to you. The method may not work for you, but if it does, you’ll thank me.

So I need a character, a setting, a direction, and also some idea of the story arc. Is it boy gets girl, or hero saves the planet, or what. It needs to gel to some level. Once it does, the story writes itself. I do between 15,000 and 20,000 words a week when the story is writing itself. And it’s not boring. I have to be reminded to eat meals. You see, I need to write the story to find out how it ends.


Plotters like all kinds of tools. Outlining tools, and timeline tools, and character building tools. All kinds of stuff. I don’t use any of that. I use the Word file for a previous book and modify it. So I get all the margins and gutters and paragraph setups and all that for no work. I have a title page and a copyright page and a contents page, as well as page headers for the left (author) and write (book title) pages. I edit that stuff, then I go to chapter 1 and delete the existing chapter 1 text and start writing the new book. After I have chapter 1 written, I delete all the rest of the previous book and just write the new book directly into the book format. It saves a lot of time. When the draft is complete, I basically have a book ready to go.

Once the draft is complete, I do a couple of things. I copy the whole text and drop it into Hemingway to see what grade level it is written at. I write pretty consistently at a seventh-grade level, which is perfect for adult fiction. I check my adverb counts, which are usually a little high, and my passive voice counts, which are usually a little low. The adverb counts are high because a lot of my books are dialogue-heavy, and people use adverbs in speech a lot more than authors use adverbs in exposition. The passive voice counts are low because I write action-adventure kind of stuff, and so I don’t have a lot of “thing was broken” compared to “someone broke the thing.”

Another thing I do is search for things I do a lot. I look for So, And, and But beginning a sentence, and trim them down. I look at every “that” and see how many I can get rid of. The ones that get omitted are ones like “She learned that the widget was broken” or “He knew that the planet was a heavy-gravity world.” So most ‘that’s after learned, knew, forgot, remembered, etc., go away. I look at all the ‘very’s, and usually get rid of all the ones that aren’t in dialogue. People use very a lot, so in dialogue it’s OK, but writers shouldn’t, so in exposition or narrative it’s not.

Then I go through the Word grammar and spell checker and look at everything it highlights. If it’s a word that it flags as a misspelling, and it is the name of a planet or character or something, I tell it “Ignore All” so I only see those once. The other ones that get flagged may be an inconsistent spelling of the planet or character.

Having done all that, I read the whole thing through beginning to end in a single sitting. I am looking for continuity and consistency errors, as well as grammar errors that will jump out at me as I read.

Next it goes to alpha readers, one of whom reads every word and comma, and finds most of the grammar things I missed, and the other one of whom reads for atmosphere and tone and pacing, and catches jerky transitions. I don’t ask them to read that way, that’s how they read all the time, and I use those skills. And they get a free book to read, so it works for everybody.


Covers are important. Everybody says that. The cover should be compelling, make someone say, “Well, this looks interesting.”

Lots of science fiction covers have spaceships, and explosions, with planets hanging in the background. My stories are all about people, though, and the most compelling covers to me are the ones with people in them. My first two covers, on Childers and Childers: Absurd Proposals, were just people, nothing else. Well, a starfield background. Partly because I found two models who looked so much like my vision of the main character, at different ages, that I just had to run with them. For the cover on Galactic Mail: Revolution!, I included an explosion and a firearm, which is drawn from the action in the book, but I still had a person.

Whether those are good covers or not, I don’t know. I like them, so I guess that’s what matters.

Self-pub vs. trad pub

I like self-pub because I’m in control, and because the time to market is basically zero. I’ve written four novels since July 1, 2017 — in eight months — and they’re all out there for sale. With trad pub, the first one wouldn’t even be available yet. The reviews on them have been good, which has been a motivator to write more. It would probably be hard to keep writing for a year or eighteen months after a first novel without even knowing yet whether people liked your stuff.

Of course, if I was an author with Baen Books, when my book finally did come out it would probably sell several thousand books the first week, just because Baen published it. If I could break into trad pub, maybe I would go for it.

At least now, based on the reviews I’ve gotten, I know I probably could go trad pub if I wanted to.

And, as with any skill, the more I write, the better I get.

So anyway, there’s some thoughts about my writing process. I hope they helped you think about your own writing process, and maybe gave you some ideas.

Jan Childers Explains the Central Premise Behind GALACTIC MAIL

From GALACTIC MAIL Revolution!

When she opened the file, Patricia Dawson found herself in a full-immersion VR, on the porch of Campbell Hall, looking out over New Hope. The ancient stone house looked relatively new, while the bustling modern city she was used to was little more than a large town. She sat in a rocking chair on that porch.

Dawson turned to look at the woman sitting next to her. She had never been tall, but was even more shortened with age. Her white hair was short, her skin thin and white as new parchment. She sat with a blanket over her lap, and a cup of tea steaming on the table between them.

The aged figure turned to her, and Dawson was transfixed by her eyes. Those dark brown eyes were the eyes of a person used to command, to the wielding of tremendous authority. With a shock, in the old woman’s features Dawson recognized her own, the family resemblance clear.

“Hello, grandchild. I am Jan Childers.

“That you are seeing this recording means that you are the next person in the chain of Watchers, intended to keep an eye on Galactic Mail. I cannot know how many years have passed by now, or which generation you are. I cannot answer your questions, but I can probably anticipate many of them. It is for that purpose this recording is being made.

“When we created Galactic Mail – Bill Campbell, Jake Turner, Miriam Desai, myself, and others – we bound it with all the legal and administrative chains we could to keep it from morphing into a government. Yet we expect such chains will thin and weaken under the constant pull exerted on them. It is for this reason we put in place another mechanism to restrain Galactic Mail. Twenty-four chains of our descendants, who have extraordinary access into the systems on which Galactic Mail depends, and who can reset the organization to its original, limited purpose.

“You are the newest member of this group, and this is your initial briefing on your position, your powers, and your responsibilities.

“We set up Galactic Mail to solve a single problem, the predation of one star system upon another, throughout all of human space. To put a stop to interstellar war, permanently. An ambitious goal, to be sure. Yet, as I sit here talking to you, it has held now for over fifty years.

“That is a tremendous achievement by itself. In the thirty years I served in the Commonwealth Space Force, we fought no fewer than two major wars and literally hundreds of incursions. While the CSF was largely successful in repelling such incursions, among the Outer Colonies, the number of incursions was much larger. The death toll of all these incursions is impossible to know, but surely ran into the tens of millions. The human toll of the destruction of infrastructure in poverty, disease, and misery can only be guessed at.

“That was in a mere thirty years. Yet, in the fifty-some years since we started Galactic Mail, there have been no successful incursions, by anyone, anywhere. In truth, there have been very few attempts, given that the existence of Galactic Mail doomed them to failure. By now, most star systems have forsaken the study and practice of interstellar war, and, having seen more than my share, I can say that has been a very good thing.

“And I would like to keep it going.”

Childers picked up her tea and sipped it, while looking out at the New Hope of her time. When she had collected her thoughts, she set the tea down, turned back to Patricia Dawson, and continued.

“There are two primary dangers to Galactic Mail. One is external, that some system will stumble upon some new military technology that would make Galactic Mail vulnerable to being countered and allow that system to take up war on its neighbors with impunity. We have taken steps to forestall that eventuality, by instituting research within Galactic Mail to continue to sharpen its technology over time. We hope that, with the resources it has available, it can maintain its lead for quite a while. The estimates put it quite a few hundred years into the future, assuming Galactic Mail maintains its research posture and doesn’t dissipate its resources on other adventures.

“The second danger is internal, that, having achieved its purpose, Galactic Mail will look for new problems to solve, other activities it can undertake to better the human condition. This is a great danger. Allow me to explain why.

“Human beings are messy creatures. We have all sorts of impulses and desires and motives, not all of them noble or honorable or benign. Anything but. That is the human condition. It is not solvable. We set out with Galactic Mail to close off the one worst aberrant behavior of the human race, death and destruction on a massive scale, through war on our fellow man. To have achieved that, to the extent we have, is remarkable.

“But the temptation will exist to solve other problems. In the end, to solve all other problems. This will arise from the noblest of motives, but it is wrong-headed, for two reasons.

“The first is that, in doing so, Galactic Mail will take its eye off the ball, dissipate its energies, will not remain adept and skilled at its primary purpose, maintaining a moratorium on war. War is the great leveler, it tears down everything, reduces humanity to its most basic impulses, and opens the door to every possible evil. Famine, plague, genocide, and worse. Take it from a lifelong student of war, that the abolition of war is the one great accomplishment. All others are secondary.

“The second reason is more subtle. While our basic humanity aches to help the poor, the hungry, the ill, the oppressed, when such efforts are centralized, a great truth emerges. Altruism doesn’t scale well. In fact, such efforts usually end very badly. Dependence destroys independence. It is such a truth that it is built into the language.

“For these reasons, in our effort to rid humanity of the one great evil of war, we left many smaller evils alone. Over time, many of these smaller evils will be solved on a smaller scale, once the disruption of war is removed. The great tyrannies often resulted from the dislocations of war. Without the presence of war, over time they dissipate. That is our belief and our hope.

But it is a slow process. The temptation will naturally arise within Galactic Mail to solve such problems more quickly, to step into the internal politics of star systems, ultimately to use its tremendous military power to force its solutions on individual star systems.

“What one ends up with then is a galactic central government.

“Uniting all of humanity under one government would be a tremendous mistake. Sooner or later, even the most benevolent and well-intentioned government can be corrupted, turn to despotism. To where, then, would one flee to escape it? From what outside point could one oppose it? Humanity would sink into millennia of tyranny.

“We decided the possibility – more, the likelihood – of tyranny on individual planets was a lesser evil than tyranny on the grand scale, across all of humanity. Galactic Mail is structured to prevent a galactic government from forming, as long as it does not become one itself.

“But we believe it will, or at least it will try.

“It is for this reason that you watch. It is your great responsibility.”

New Book in the Childers Universe, and What’s Next?

Yesterday I put a new book in the Childers Universe up on Kindle. The paperback is probably a couple days away yet, as their approval process is slower. I didn’t want to hold up the Kindle version, which is what most people read.

So GALACTIC MAIL: Revolution! is now available. It has a great cover by Oleg Volk.


So I am now considering which book in the Childers Universe to tackle next. There’s the back story — the prequel, if you would — which is the story of Gerald Ansen and the writing of the Charter, the revolution against Earth, and the destruction of Doma. There are a lot of side stories, of colonization, of revolt against planetary tyrannies, the career stories of some of the side characters, like Beverly Bhatia, the cloak-and-dagger stories that cover the Intelligence Division and Bill Campbell’s career. And there is the main thread going forward — what happens to Galactic Mail. The centrifugal forces within the organization as humanity expands. The successor to Galactic Mail.

Any preferences out there, my readers?