Category Archives: Inspirations

The Real Unconquered Sun


This image might remind you a little of the Statue of Liberty.  However, it is in fact a roman sun god by the name of Sol Invictus, sometimes translated as the Unconquered Sun.  His worship was popularlised in the third century by the emperor Aurelian.

At the time that Aurelian took over the Roman Empire, it was in decline due to civil wars and poor leadership. In the west, part had broken away to form the Gallic Empire, while several of the eastern provinces had become the Palmyrene Empire.  Barbarians were pouring what was left.  Things were looking pretty bad.

Aurelian reversed the decline, reunited the empire and dealt with the barbarian threat. He was a zealous reformer. He also encouraged all the people of the empire to follow one god, Sol Invictus, in a manner very similar to Constantine The Great’s later adoption of Christianity. Indeed, it is interesting that Sol Invictus is found on roman coinage until then.

We will never know what might have happened to the Roman Empire, if Aurelian had survived longer to consolidate popular devotion to his religion. He died violently as so many emperors before him. A strict disciplinarian, he engendered terrible fear among his subordinates. He even looks severe in many of his surviving images. In the end, it cost him his life. A secretary, fearing terrible punishment for a small lie, concocted a greater lie to save himself.  He convinced other officials that the emperor intended to have them executed, so they struck against Aurelian first, and the rest is, as they say, history.


 Image sources: Flickr 1, 2

Two Steps From Hell

When I am in the mood for music while I am writing, I often turn to classical music or movie soundtracks. However, Two Steps To Hell dominates my favorite playlist. They are an American music production company. Their music is used on many film, trailer, video game and television soundtracks. You also will hear their music on advertisements. It is very dramatic, powerful music, ideal for writing battle scenes. My favorite albums are Invincible, Archangel and SkyWorld. If you want to learn more about them, check out their website.

Roadside Picnic By Arkady & Boris Strugatsky


Roadside Picnic is one of my favorite books.  Six locations around the world exhibit unearthly phenomena, presumably caused by alien intervention. Dispersed in these so-called zones are various strange objects. The function of some is understood at least superficially while others remain enigmas. Access to these Zones is restricted, but thieves called stalkers break in to poach these valuable items. The book follows the adventures of one such stalker, Red Schuhart.

Often in Science Fiction, when faced with a strange phenomenon, the main characters make educated guesses about its nature that often turn out to be surprisingly insightful. Roadside Picnic eschews this trope almost totally. There is some interesting speculation about the nature of the Zones which gives rise to the name of the book, but ultimately the reader is left to ponder their mystery. The stalkers aren’t scientists. They are more like rats in a maze, learning by trial and (fatal) error. This creates tremendous tension throughout the novel, If you like good SF, this book is a must.


I have read a lot of different books by a lot of different authors, some renowned, some unknown, and I have come to the conclusion that the SF writer needs the reader’s trust. In these days of relatively cheap fiction, losing the reader’s trust is the end of the relationship. The reader isn’t likely to look at that author’s work again.

When the trust is there, readers are likely to cut the writer some slack. That unexciting training lecture in the second chapter will be glossed over in the hope of something more interesting to come (soon). The reader will patiently wait for an explanation why the aliens were doing handstands while they planned their invasion of Earth. The reader will accept the nonsensical on the assumption that it will all make sense at some stage.

Of course, if your work is well known, if there are a lot of voices enthusing about it, the reader’s trust comes a little easier. But suppose, you aren’t. Suppose you’re self-published like me. Trust can be a fragile thing. Your main focus must be on securing it.

I know that very deliberately, it is mine.

The Death World Books – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Death World is a really entertaining read. Jason dinAlt is the hero, a gambler with psionic abilities who is hired by the ambassador of planet Pyrrus (hint, hint) to engineer a gambling coup. He ends up visiting Pyrrus, the most deadly planet ever colonised by humans.  All plant and animal life is predatory, and the colonists are locked in a ceaseless battle with them. The colonists, despite their incredible toughness and discipline are slowly losing the battle. Jason sets out to understand this mysterious phenomenon and save the colony. It was a clever story and I really enjoyed it.

I enjoyed the sequels a lot less.


Having enjoyed Death World, I looked forward to Death World 2. My initial issue was that the world Jason is stranded on in the sequel isn’t as inventive as Pyrrus, and it didn’t feel as deadly. However, a much bigger issue was Micah.  The entire book hinges on him being incredibly annoying and doing annoying things, and well. for me at least, he overachieves.  He is the most annoying character in any book I’ve read. EVER. So much misery could have been avoided if what had happened to him at the end happened to him at the beginning. I suppose I have to rate the book a bit higher than I otherwise would, because Micah made such an impression on me, albeit not a very happy one.

Death World 3 started out interesting but it rapidly became clear we were dealing with some pastoral warrior/invader setting. Jason’s plan find a home for the Pyrrans on this third planet is convoluted and over-the-top. He effectively facilitates genocide of the more advanced lowland cultures to wear out the warlike tribesmen in his way.  It is an example of where you are supposed to root for the hero because he is the hero, and ignore the morality of his actions, actions that any dastardly villain would be proud of.  I didn’t enjoy it so much.

Why the worst book I ever read inspired me to write.

If I gave you its name, you wouldn’t know it.

I discovered it in the only English bookshop in Nice. Buying it was an absolute act of desperation. I read mostly SF and fantasy, and this was the only book in the shop I hadn’t read before. That’s not due to my encyclopedic reading but the sparsity of choice.

I have a problem with books. It is a stupid kink in my character. If I start a book, I must finish it, no matter how brain-rottingly bad it is.

It was a typical fantasy – the size of a brick and nearly as heavy.

The world made no sense. The characters’ actions made no sense. I remember the hero’s spirit was transferred to the body of a dead girl to hide him from pursuing villains. I remember thinking that was a bit of an extreme reaction.

There was an underlying seediness to what happened to some of the minor female characters that turned my stomach.

To this day, the phrase “beautiful cornflower blue eyes” affects me like rubbing bits of polystyrene together. It was repeated so many times, it had a mesmeric quality, draining my will to live.

The only good thing I learned from it was the use of cliffhangers at the end of each chapter to draw the reader on. The problem was that the cliffhangers did not move the plot forward.  They worked like this:

Chapter 10

…Something pushed her face down in the water.

Chapter 11

She stood up in the pool. The water was just up to her ankles. “Why did you push me?”

I actually gave the book to friends for Christmas as a joke (having already made my feelings about it loud and clear). The joke kind of backfired as they reciprocated with another book by the same author. I still have it. Unread.

Anyway, at the time, I had kind of given up on writing. I had been writing the first page of the same novel since I was fourteen (that’s a story for another post).  But this book inspired me to start tapping on the keyboard.

I wanted to write something different. Something better. Something that didn’t make me cringe.


A Trio of Ecological Apocalypses

I must have weak spot for ecological apocalypses.

One of the first SF books I read was Day of the Trifids by John Wyndham. I discovered it through the 1980’s BBC television version. The beginning of the book remains vivid in my memory. The protagonist, after being blinded by a Trifid attack on the farm, awakes alone in hospital.  Nobody answers his cries for help, so he is forced to remove his bandages and search the empty hospital. I was absolutely hooked on the series and I was hooked on the book.

It has been described as a cosy catastrophe. And it is. It is the apocalypse that you can bring home to your mother for tea. Yes, there are trials and obstacles, but the trifids create an eerie emptiness about the world which makes life relatively comfortable for the protagonists. They seize the disaster as a chance to build their own idyll in the countryside. Their focus on their own survival and comfort.

In The Death of Grass by John Christopher, a virus kills all grasses plunging the world into famine and chaos. It is a darker work than Day of the Trifids because the protagonists’ enemy is well pretty much everyone else who is struggling to survive. There is no general incapacity inflicting the population. No trifids helpfully empty the land of inhabitants and moral dilemmas. It’s ‘them or us’ where morals take second place to survival. If you brought this one home to your mother it would hold her at gun point while it emptied the larder.

The Day of the Trifids was published in 1951. The Death of Grass was published in 1956. Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore was published in 1947. It is a satire rather than an adventure story. The threat this time is that one plant (a Bermuda grass treated with a special growth chemical) slowly spreads across California and beyond, swallowing cities and making vast tracks of land uninhabitable.

One challenge with this book is that the narrator, Albert Weener, is unreliable. He sees himself as the hero whereas he is the villain and more of a monster than the weed. Plus the reader’s impression of events and characters is initially filtered through his (self-serving) point of view.

Also, the momentum of the story flags a bit in the middle, but the ending redeems it (at least for me). Overall it is well worth reading. And you can get it for free at Project Gutenberg at