Nafeez Ahmed - Zero Point cover

Nafeez Ahmed – Zero Point

I’m giving investigative journalist and international security scholar Nafeez Ahmed the floor today to help promote his new SF thriller from Curiosity Quills Press, Zero Point. Zero Point is the first of Ahmed’s new trilogy, The Unraveling.

ZERO POINT

What do Nazis, the Iraq War, and anti-gravity experiments have in common? Our dystopian near future…

by Nafeez Ahmed

ZERO POINT is a science fiction thriller of the near future. But ultimately, it’s a story about our times.

As I write this, the so-called “Islamic State” terrorist organization is rampaging across Iraq and Syria, while filming beheadings of innocent journalists and aid-workers. In turn, the US has already launched airstrikes in Iraq, with the UK pitched to follow-up with its own.

In ZERO POINT, I predicted this unfortunate development. In fact, the story is set after a Fourth Iraq War, in which the US and UK have been drawn into a protracted re-invasion and re-occupation of Iraq in an effort to shore-up their favoured client-regime in the country.

My main character, David Ariel, is a disillusioned Iraq War veteran who blew the whistle on government lies about the war, and is now working as a cop protecting government ministers. When the British Prime Minister is assassinated in broad daylight on Ariel’s watch by Muslim extremists, the story takes off to explore the dangers and issues we’re all familiar with: militarism abroad, blowback at home, radicalization and extremism, mass surveillance, espionage, and ‘deep politics’ – the corporate corruption of the state.

I bring a lot of my own experiences and discoveries as an investigative journalist to the story, which is why ZERO POINT is very much inspired by ‘true events’. One of the major strands I try to bring out, which is where the story really takes on its science fiction premises, concerns the little-understood intersection between western intelligence agencies and Nazi spies from World War 2 onwards. That intersection, which played a big role in the evolution of the US intelligence community, also involved the appropriation by US agencies of Nazi scientific and technological research.

That’s where things get quite hairy. According to one leading defense journalist, Nick Cook – aerospace consultant at the reputable industry journal Janes Defense Weekly – among the projects being pursued by the Nazis were serious efforts to weaponise quantum physics. In his brilliant non-fiction investigation, The Hunt For Zero Point, Cook shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the Nazis were actively working on all sorts of strange technologies including anti-gravity – though how much success they had is hotly disputed by historians.

Cook’s primary source for his investigations – who provided him leads and sources (and is credited as such in the book) – was identified in his book only as Dr. Dan Marckus, described as a physicist working at a senior level in the British defense industry. But “Dr. Marckus” actually happens to be a close friend of mine, and his disturbing insights into the sorts of wingnut technological R&D going on in the US and UK defense establishment played a big role in inspiring the crazy tech that appears in ZERO POINT!

Of course, while grounded very much in politics and technology being pursued in the real world, ZERO POINT is still a work of fiction, and isn’t ashamed to get into highly speculative territory. Ultimately, both the politics and technology are mobilized to build a plausible near future world in which my main characters must face-off against unbelievable odds. Their struggle – to find the truth, and stand for justice – is close to home not just because their reality will be so scarily familiar to the challenges of our age, but because their personal journeys and moral conflicts represent issues that we will all have contemplated at one time or another.

About Nafeez Ahmed

Nafeez Ahmed, author of Zero Point
Nafeez Ahmed, author of Zero Point

Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist, and international security academic. He writes for The Guardian via his Earth Insight blog, reporting on the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises. The author of five critically-acclaimed non-fiction works addressing humanity’s biggest global challenges, Nafeez’s forthcoming book is a science fiction thriller, ZERO POINT, due out 18th August 2014.

Nafeez has also written for the Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Huffington Post, New Statesman, Prospect Magazine, Le Monde Diplomatique, among many others. He has been a talking head for BBC News 24, BBC World News with George Alagiah, BBC Radio Five Live, BBC Radio Four, BBC World Today, BBC Asian Network, Channel 4, Sky News, C-SPAN Book TV, CNN, FOX News, Bloomberg, PBS Foreign Exchange, Al-Jazeera English, Press TV, Islam Channel and hundreds of other radio and TV shows in the USA, UK, and Europe.

Nafeez is also cited and reviewed in the Sunday Times, Times Higher Educational Supplement, New York Times, The Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Observer, Guardian, Big Issue Magazine, Vanity Fair, among others

Find Nafeez Ahmed

About ZERO POINT

Nafeez Ahmed - Zero Point cover
Nafeez Ahmed – Zero Point cover

Genre: action-adventure, science-fiction, political-thriller

Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press

Date of Publication: August 14, 2014

Find Zero Point Online:

Description

Near future Great Britain is on the brink of collapse. Mass riots. Economic meltdown. Blackouts. And a new oil war in Iraq to keep the world economy afloat.

Iraq War veteran and war crimes whistleblower David Ariel is sick of violence, and trying to make ends meet working for Specialist Protection. But after Prime Minister Carson is brutally assassinated by extremists on Ariel’s watch, he is covertly targeted by a compromised police investigation.

When forensics discover that Carson’s assassination inexplicably defied the very laws of physics, bodies drop like flies as key witnesses are murdered in impossible circumstances.

Fleeing for his life while London is locked-down under martial law, Ariel gets a phone call from Iraq he will never forget. His estranged girlfriend, journalist Julia Stephenson, warns that the Carson killing is just the beginning of a wider plot to bring the West to its knees. Then she disappears.

Ariel’s blood-soaked race against time to track the terror cells behind Carson’s death tumbles into the cross-fire of a hidden battle between mysterious rogue intelligence agencies. The goal: to monopolise black budget technologies which could unlock the universe’s darkest, arcane secrets.

As the world he thought he knew unravels, Ariel faces off against bent coppers, double-crossing agents, psychic killers and super soldiers to complete a black ops mission like no other: stop Quantum Apocalypse.

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Molly Crabapple Has Guts

I’m serious. This lady actually makes her living off her art. I still have a fucking day job. This is what she has to say about the business end of art for Pacific Standard.

I’ve noticed that the people who obfuscate the most about the financial realities of art have another form of income that they don’t want to talk about. They have a spouse who is making a lot of money or they come from a wealthy family. That’s why they are able to disregard financial reality. They don’t have the same pressures that other people do.

Or maybe they just come from an awesome European country that has an actual safety net for citizens and provides government funding for the arts. I wish our country was like that. I wish there were grants for artists. I wish we lived in a country that had a universal basic income, or even just where everyone was insured, so that risking dying of untreated illnesses wasn’t the cost of pursuing your dreams outside of a day job.

But we don’t. We live in a brutal, cutthroat country. Money, unfortunately, determines so much of one’s health, safety, freedom. I think it’s important to acknowledge the realities of our lives.

She’s right. We live in a brutal, cutthroat shithole of a country that takes everything it can from individuals — and only gives back when forced to do so.

I can’t pretend that money doesn’t matter for difference reasons than Ms. Crabapple. I work for a living. I don’t have a rich mommy and daddy. I didn’t marry money. I don’t live in a civilized country.

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Silent Clarion, by Matthew Graybosch

Silent Clarion: Chapter Nine

The ninth chapter of Silent Clarion, my new Before Starbreaker serial from Curiosity Quills Press, is now available.

Chapter Nine

Beyond having booked passage and a couple of nights lodging in central Manhattan, I had no definite plans for my leave. I figured I’d hit Midtown and find something to do after I checked in and dropped off my bag in my room. However, the events and attractions display in the Hellfire Club’s lobby cycled through its programming without catching my interest.

I didn’t want to take a bus tour of Manhattan, too familiar with the city from my student days when I split my time between the Juilliard Conservatory at Lincoln Center and Adversary Candidate School at the old Fordham University campus. Broadway offered nothing I hadn’t seen back home. My implant’s memory still held photos of me and my friends from ACS at the Statue of Liberty. And I felt too restless and energetic to wander the city’s museums.

A sign on the hotel bar’s door caught my eye: ‘Pianist Wanted’. I removed the sign from the door, sat at the bar, and placed it before the bartender. “I play, and I’m available tonight and tomorrow. Who should I contact concerning an audition?”

Suggested Listening

This week’s theme is “Solitude” by Duke Ellington. It’s a piece Naomi plays at the bar, but she’s also alone in New York with no friends.



Read the rest at Curiosity Quills.

Cover for Silent Clarion by Matthew Graybosch. Artwork by Polina Sapershteyn
Cover for Silent Clarion by Matthew Graybosch. Artwork by Polina Sapershteyn

Read the rest at Curiosity Quills.

About Silent Clarion

My curiosity might get me killed. I thought I needed a vacation from my duties as an Adversary in service to the Phoenix Society. After learning about unexplained disappearances in a little town called Clarion, I couldn’t stop myself from checking it out.

Now I must protect a witness to two murders without any protection but my sword. I must identify a murderer who strikes from the shadows. I must expose secrets the Phoenix Society’s executive council is hellbent on keeping buried.

I have no support but an ally I dare not trust. If I cannot break the silence hiding what happened in Clarion’s past, I have no future. I must discover the truth about Project Harker. Failure is not an option.

Silent Clarion is a new-adult science-fiction thriller by Matthew Graybosch, set before the events of the Starbreaker novels. Meet Naomi Bradleigh as an Adversary, seventeen years before Without Bloodshed.

Silent Clarion is serialized and published at Curiosity Quills, every Wednesday.

Links

This week’s chapter: http://curiosityquills.com/serials/silent-clarion-chapter-nine/

Theme song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR3XY6wfSBw

Silent Clarion index: http://curiosityquills.com/published-authors/matthew-graybosch/silent-clarion/

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Silent Clarion, by Matthew Graybosch

Accidental Worldbuilding

J. R. R. Tolkien would turn over in his grave at the notion of a writer not building out his entire world in advance, and I’m sure that if Ursula K. Le Guin gave a damn, she might find a few pointed things of her own to say about accidental worldbuilding.

Not that Le Guin needs to tell me I’m doing it wrong. That’s what the Internet is for. Not that I get paid enough to give a damn what they think.

It's easier to fax a picture than the actual cat.
It’s easier to fax a picture than the actual cat.

Writing Like a Programmer

I favor revealing just enough about the setting to make the story work, and not worrying about the rest until you actually need it. An analogous principle called YAGNI (You Aren’t Gonna Need It) exists in the extreme programming methodology. Why code functionality not currently specified by the requirements? Why labor over a setting you aren’t going to use? Instead, write your code and build your world in an extensible fashion that permits you to add things later without screwing up what you’ve already done.

It’s storytime, so buckle up. There I was at the bagel shop near my day job, banging away at Chapter 14 of Silent Clarion, when I realized I needed to explain why state forests like Cook Forest reclaimed so much of Pennsylvania so soon after Nationfall. Only a couple of farms separated the town of Clarion from the forest that crept southwest along the Clarion River.

Now, this forest actually has what’s left of a road underneath; one of the locals, Michael Brubaker, digs through the humus and soil and retrieve a chunk of asphalt to show Naomi. He then points to some little hills in the distance and says they used to be a strip mall.

Now, Naomi might be snow-blonde (she’s the lady with the sword on the motorcycle), but she isn’t a schmuck. She knows that since less than 50 years have passed since Nationfall, evidence of human habitation should be more visible than it is. She does a bit of searching, and asks her buddy Malkuth (one of many friendly AIs in the Starbreaker ‘verse) what the hell happened.

So, What Happened?

You really want to know? OK. I’ll show you.

A pair of large files hit my implant a couple minutes later, labeled “clarion-valley-topo-2048.svg” and “clarion-valley-topo-2049.svg”. As I opened them, my implant superimposed them over my vision as transparencies while warning me against physical activity. A quick comparison showed a drastic difference between the two topographic maps. 『There’s an impact crater a kilometer east of my position. Meteorite?』

『Worse. There was a protest there just before everything fell apart. Some NACAF general decided it was an insurrection and decided to use an experimental space-based weapon codenamed GUNGNIR to suppress it.』

Gungnir was the spear of Odin, king of the Aesir. Various Norse myths claimed it was so exquisitely balanced that it could strike down any enemy, regardless of its wielder’s capabilities. The use of such a name to signify a space-based weapon couldn’t possibly be coincidental. 『GUNGNIR was a kinetic strike system, wasn’t it?』

『Exactly.』

『Holy living fuck.』 It was one of Jacqueline’s favorite expressions. Damned if I know why, but it fit.

Got Unix?

This conversation took place between Naomi and the AI Malkuth using secure talk, a text-based system. Think of it as SMS with encryption so badass the US would fall apart before the NSA cracked it. I also have a secure version of IRC called “Secure Relay Chat”.

These tools allow fast, text-based communication between characters with implanted computers in the Starbreaker setting. However, a character could be using secure talk while also having a face-to-face conversation. If I use standard English quotation marks for both, it might prove difficult to distinguish between a voice conversation and network chatter.

Matters of Convention

You may be confused by the brackets and wondering why I don’t just quotation marks. and distinguish between vocalization and texting in narrative. I think it would bog down the story. Of course, my refusal to do this creates new problems.

In Without Bloodshed, the publisher decided to italicize all network chatter. This decision imposed on readers the challenge of figuring out from the context what was a character’s thoughts, and what was something they were saying on the network.

So, I’m using corner brackets as “quotation marks” for text-based comms, since they’re used for that purpose in languages like Chinese and Japanese. It’s either that, or persuade the publisher to use monospaced fonts for text-based dialogue.’

Which do you think is more readable? This?

Claire pushed back her chair, glaring at the “You died like a punk.” notification taunting her. 『You backstabbing little shit. I’m gonna get you next time.』

Or this.

Josefine chuckled at Claire’s frustrated trash talk as she made her toon do a victory dance over the virtual carcass of her latest kill. You're welcome to try, but maybe you shouldn't be so obvious.

Don’t forget that the colored text isn’t going to render on all devices. Nor will it render properly on paper. :)

What About GUNGNIR?

Oh, right. GUNGNIR and systems created by rival nations like GAEBOLG and LONGINUS were something I pulled out of my ass to explain widespread destruction conducive to rapid reforestation in the wake of global social collapse. Nukes or conventional ordnance like the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast would have worked just as well, but dropping shit from space sounds cooler — as long as it doesn’t actually happen.

This is just-in-time worldbuilding. It’s worldbuilding done as needed, within the confines of the existing continuity. Reforestation in less than fifty years might be possible without the help of a character resembling Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, but the existence of orbital doomsday weapons named after legendary spears gives me something more than an explanation for Cook Forest’s rapid expansion.

You see, those weapons are still out there, orbiting Naomi’s version of planet Earth. Who has the keys?

Not that Malkuth was finished. 『It gets worse. GUNGNIR is still out there, along with two other systems codenamed GAEBOLG and LONGINUS. The Society has them under control, but could you imagine what might happen if nation-states arose again and started creating more of these systems?』

Staring skyward, I tried to imagine shafts of tungsten raining down as a hail of javelins. The spear was one of humanity’s first weapons. Was it to be our last? Despite the warm of late summer, I shuddered. 『Has the Society ever used these weapons?』

『I’m sorry, Naomi, but you aren’t cleared for that information.』

That’s right. The Phoenix Society, that delightful implementation of one world government masquerading as a NGO has the means to subject opposition to orbital bombardment, and a loyal Adversary like Naomi isn’t even allowed to know if the organization she serves has ever used these weapons.

Trust me when I say that if the Phoenix Society hasn’t used a weapon like GUNGNIR, GAEBOLG, or LONGINUS to enforce it’s rule, it’s used the threat of such weapons. And it also gives me something the Phoenix Society can try using against Sabaoth in the last main-sequence Starbreaker book, A Tyranny of Demons.

It won’t work, of course, because then Morgan Stormrider wouldn’t have to use the Starbreaker. We can’t have that. It would be too easy.


Tomorrow, Chapter 9 of Silent Clarion!

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Cover to 13 by Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath – “Loner”

“Loner” from Black Sabbath’s 2013 album 13 is pretty much my theme song these days. It’s not an anthem, just a fairly accurate description of who I am. I’m my own best friend, and my own worst enemy. And I doubt I’ll be happy when I’m dead.



Yeah, I know this post is a bit negative. If I can deal with it as a high-functioning depressive, then so can you.

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