Friends in High (Suborbital) Places

So a thing about the Con(vention) business is you gradually develop a family. One of the really good folks in the fam, Dorothy Grant (spouse of the indomitable Peter), took up the writing gig a relatively short time ago. Her latest book is out now on Amazon, and having heard the pitch I recommend adding it to the “Nah folks, I’ll be hanging out in the hacienda for a bit…”-reading list. You can find it on Amazon here.

Ancillary Items–Editors and Illustrators

So, as those of you who have heard me give a talk before can attest, I usually state that the first two and likely largest outlays an author should have are the editor and cover artist. Note that some self-assessment has led me to realize which I place first is dependent on what phase of the book I’m in / recent issues I may have had in one department or the other. But bottom line, if you have $500 for marketing, editing, and cover, I’d say that it should be $225 editing, $225 cover, and $50 for marketing. Why? Because if your cover is crap and your editing subpar, odds are a marketing budget under six figures isn’t going to do you any good.

A good “one stop shop” for indies is Reedsy, and an article on the service is here. I know a few authors who have found their editor on Reedsy, and generally the reviews have been good (although check out the comments for the article). From the editor side, I’ve heard of the stringent requirements to gain a listing. This is a good thing, as it means that odds are you’ll be happy with what you’re paying for. While I seem to keep running into my editors through “word of mouth,” “friends of friend” (and have been really lucky with both), or through folks finding me on Twitter people do point out that I’m the rare “extrovert author.” Reedsy seems to be a good resource for those who are less “Hi random person, I’d like to talk to you!” (Full disclosure–haven’t tried Book Angel yet, but I appreciate someone who reaches out to independent authors to help.)

Illustrators are a bit harder to wrangle. As I’ve mentioned before in a blog post or two, the first part is figuring out what you want out of the illustration. In this case, I was primarily concerned with ad copy (as some of the Usurper’s War imagery is getting repetitive after five years). This desire was followed closely by the possibility of images getting used again for novella / short story covers set in the Usurper’s War universe but not part of the main plotline. Thankfully, I recently discovered a Twitter page that features aviation artists (@theaviationart). There were also artists I had found on FB through several aviation artwork pages I’m part of. Through various means, I winnowed things down to the following:

For various reasons things didn’t work out with anyone in the list above. In some cases, it was a matter of timing. Others it was subject matter, as “alternate history” could potential cause other clients to call into question their attention to detail or accuracy. (Which, as you can see in every case, is most excellent.) Finally, there was that bugbear of price point, as I couldn’t quite justify spending four figures on art that was first and foremost going to be ad copy. All that being said, almost everyone was a professional, and I heartily encourage A. going to buy their art and B. seeing if your needs would mesh with their timing / ability more than mine did.

Ultimately, Itifonhom 3D Models was who I went with. We’d previously worked together before for the piece commemorating “Fate of the Falklands” out of Those In Peril. I knew from perusal of his site that World War II was his area of expertise, and he jumped at the opportunity. I think you’ll enjoy the two pieces below, both of which depict scenes from Against the Tide Imperial.

Jill goes to Massachusetts
A Victorious Encounter

As for the book in question, things have moved along well. There’s going to be some parts that end up on the cutting room floor (see possible novella cover), but with a little bit of wrap up it’s getting close to time for it to go out to beta readers. I’ve been debating doing preorder, but after the algorithms screwed up with Aries Red Sky, that’s probably not going to happen.

Warship Wednesday–Decking the Hulls (Carrier Doctrine #2)

As you guys may have noticed, I am completely willing to lean on the works of others.  With that in mind, for today’s discussion, we’ll talk about a topic which as absorbed much ink:  decks.  Specifically, armored vs. unarmored iterations thereof.

So, without further ado, I’ll turn it over to the video host Drachinifel and his very helpful 5 minute video on the design process / doctrine differences between armored and unarmored flight decks.

*waits for people to actually watch the video*

[UPDATE] Or see a much longer video with two British naval historians.

As I mentioned in the last iteration of carrier doctrine, the above design decisions made for a very different air group capacity.  However, that being said, I 100% agree with the Royal Navy’s considerations  given how they expected the war to unfold.  Yes, the trade off is a small air group, but the Royal Navy wasn’t expecting to spearhead an assault on the European continent from the sea versus nibbling at the periphery / conducting convoy protection.  As Drachinifel points out, when you expect to have literally dozens of enemy squadrons in range, there comes a point where your vessel better be able to take a lick.

Illustrious’ experience during World War II is an excellent example of this.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Illustrious made a wonderful nuisance of herself with the Italians, to include making a house call to Taranto.   Indeed, the Illustrious so upset the Axis apple cart in the Med that the Germans decided to have Fliegerkorps X throw her a Stuka party off Malta in January 1941. As you can see from J.A. Hamilton’s painting done for  the Imperial War Museum, the Germans threw a lot of ordnance at Illustrious.  They tossed even more at her after she managed to limp into Malta Harbor.  Despite multiple bomb hits, however, the carrier’s powerplant was not critically damaged.  Thus she managed to sail to the “neutral” United States for repairs.  Now, there is some discussion of just how much damage the beating did to her hull and longevity or whether armored flight deck even did its job.  I find a lot of this to be really nifty sophistry, as the bottom line is she survived.

(Note:  “Neutral” is in quotations above for what I would think are pretty obvious reasons.  When you’re repairing one belligerent’s warships basically free of charge, one is no longer neutral.  Sure it all worked out in the end, but seriously?)

Now compare and contrast this with the fate of the AkagiKaga, Hiryu, and Soryu at Midway.  While, yes, Japanese ordnance handling and damage control were partially to blame, once again the bottom line is that each of the carriers was undone solely by American 500 and 1000-lb. bombs.  Or put another way, the Japanese CAP more than did its job against the American torpedo bombers, only to have as little as one bomb see off a fleet carrier.  Is that a slight simplification regarding the Kido Butai‘s demise?  Oh yes.  But I’d also argue that Princeton (sunk at Leyte Gulf by a single bomb hit), Franklin (mission killed off Japan by two bombs from a single aircraft), Yorktown (briefly knocked dead in the water by a pair of bomb hits at Midway), and Enterprise (nearly a mission kill at Santa Cruz through bomb damage) all illustrate instances an armored flight deck might have saved lives and kept a carrier in the fight from limited strikes.

(Note:  I am specifically not addressing kamikazes.  This was so outside the realm of things designers could expect that dinging people for choices doesn’t make much sense.  Not even the Japanese expected they’d be sending teenagers on one way strikes by 1945.)

The above is a polite way of saying that anyone who gets, shall we say, jingoistic about there only being one “correct” way of carrier design prewar can probably be safely discounted.  Both the USN and RN had good reasons for doing what they did and, in a way, both are lucky that they were able to fight their flattops in the theater that was intended from 1939-1942.  Fliegerkorps X vs. a USN flattop circa early-1942 is the stuff of nightmare fuel.  Somerville vs. Nagumo during the Indian Ocean Raid should similarly be the kind of thing that requires changing one’s bedding.

By 1943, the advances in damage control, radar, FDC, and fighter aircraft kind of made the initial design questions seem quaint.  In the Mediterranean and off Norway, Allied carriers operated well within the Luftwaffe‘s threat envelope without damage.  In the Pacific, the Japanese would find out by several times that TF 38/58 could overwhelm a local fighter force and still maintain a killer CAP bolstered by excellent AA.  When the British Pacific Fleet arrived in force during late 1944, both purchased American aircraft and their own developments allowed them to also provide a credible defense / offense mix.  In short, as often happens in wartime, the unforeseen had made most debate on “proper” carrier design superfluous.

Zeroes vs. Spitfires

Come friends, I’d like to provide a resource regarding one of aviation buffs favorite questions:  “Which was better, the Zero or the Spitfire?”

Note: Well yes, I know that’s actually an Oscar catching the business from one Adam Haynes above.  Something about I might have wrote the book.  However, half the time Allied pilots couldn’t tell the difference anyway, and I didn’t feel like chasing down another image…or asking Anita C. Young to do one for me.

While I could go on for a couple 1000 words on this one, I’d much rather spend those keystrokes solving a certain carrier battle in the Indian Ocean.  So, instead, I present to you a web resource that provides much more information.

Of course, there’s also the small problem that the Spitfire and Zero both fought the entirety of the conflict for their respective nations.  As noted in the source above, the Mark V and most Zeroes were evenly matched through 1943.  Even more so than the Germans, however, the Japanese were playing from behind in the aeronautical research and developmental department.  Therefore, while the 1945-version of the Zero was, at best, a moderate improvement, the Mk XIV Spitfire was basically a full generation beyond the 1939 version.  Indeed, as Eric Brown, quite possibly the world’s foremost pilot of all time put it, “[t]he Spitfire XIV was the greatest British fighter of World War II.”

Even ignoring the pilot disparity that existed by 1945, the British fighter was faster, more rugged, and had heavier firepower than its Japanese counterpart.  In short, all other things being equal, the Spitfire would dictate the terms of the engagement from sighting to the Japanese pilot getting a free cremation courtesy of the Royal Air Force.

 

Conventions in a Time of COVID

Just popping in here briefly to inform everyone of another postponement.  Soonercon, originally scheduled for June, is now postponing to June 25-27, 2021.  As I’ve been doing to help ease the pain for most conventions, I’ve merely asked to have my vendor space passed forward to 2021.  I figure it’s the least I can do.  At the moment, this makes my next event to be Libertycon where I’ll be going as a professional and a couple of small engagements in St. Louis, MO and Lawrence, KS in the summer. Given how things are going, I’ll put those dates out once they’re reconfirmed.

Against the backdrop of a pandemic, this is not a back breaker for me.  I still have the day gig and *knocks on wood* haven’t had a brush with the virus yet.  Others are not so lucky.  A lot of artists, authors, and other entertainers I know are hurting horribly from the ripple effects of this pandemic, and it’s going to take awhile for the “Con Familia” to recover.  So I implore you, if  you know someone whose primary business is being a vendor at a convention or artist, please “toss a coin to your painter / writer, etc.”  If you’re not able to see them in person this year, I encourage you to go to their internet, Etsy, etc. and buy something.

Don’t want to risk dealing with germs possibly being carried on packages?  Well, if you have the change to spare, become a Patreon for a little bit at their lowest level of contribution.  Yes, it’s probably only a buck…but if 400 friends each donate a buck, that’s a car payment, groceries, utility bill, etc..  “1000 people, sufficiently motivated, can kill a hostile lion armed only with ice picks”-definitely applies in these times of economic stress.  To be clear–by no means should you put yourself at economic risk (unlike the hunters in the analogy), but every little bit would help artists who may literally be worrying about keeping the lights on.

(For those who like Anita C. Young’s art, her Patreon is here.  I mean, I’m pretty sure I’d go to the proverbial “Special Hell” if I didn’t promote my favorite artist and booth babe.  In that same vein, if you like fantasy art, I also recommend my regular con neighbor and  DnD player, Chelsea Mann.)

Failing direct economic action, promote your favorite authors / artists on social media.  Quarantine is a great time to dive into a new book series or recommend something for a group read along.  Or if you’re so inclined, buy a book to donate to your local nursing home, cancer ward, or assisted living library.  With a lot of the restrictions in place, the inhabitants of those facilities are not getting to see visitors.  You can both help an author and put a smile on people’s face.

Things are bad, but I’m convinced that we will all collectively make it through this.  Yes, it is grim when multiple friends are not able to hold funerals, weddings, or graduations due to this. I don’t even think we’re into the worst of it yet.  But at heart I’m an optimist, and so far Humanity has managed to pull through all sorts of calamity to get to this point.  Hug your loved ones close and check up on friends who may have been suffering from mental illness previously.  Try to get outside as the restrictions of your area permits.  Take this time to reconnect with someone you might have lost touch with.  I’m looking forward to seeing all of you later this year when all this is behind us, and hopefully with more books than you saw me with last time.

Warship Wednesday–Territories and Mission

If you ever wonder just how crazy things got with the end of the Washington Naval Treaty, look no further than the Alaska-class large cruisers.  Unlike the poster (and it’s a lovely series), I’ve never been of the school of thought that the Alaska-class were considered to be battlecruisers.  First, generally the Navy tended to be pretty clear about their designations during the design process in the 1930s-1940s.  This was due to Congress having a nasty habit of shifting around funds.  Second, the Alaska vessels were NEVER intended to get anywhere near a battleline or, for that matter, really stand in a line of battle.  Finally, there’s that problem with the underwater protection.  While not strictly true, in general the pre-World War II USN believed capital ships needed to reinforced against torpedoes and mines, whereas cruisers were more of a “Meh, sucks to be that crew, but we had to figure out something to keep it within treaty limitations.”

In any case, it would be interesting to see what would have happened had these vessels have ended up in a surface fight.  Thankfully the constraints of construction prevented it from happening in time for the Solomon Islands campaign.  That would have been very, very bad, given the Alaskas were not known for their nimbleness and presented a rather large target.  I can see First Guadalcanal being even bloodier with Alaska present, as there would have been probably a few minutes of her punching the crap out of Hiei or Kirishima followed shortly by “I’ve never seen a vessel take so many Long Lances in my life.”

All this means is that the Alaska-class really serve as a cautionary tale regarding hysteria, intelligence, and mission.  They were far from bad ships.  However, they really represent resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the lag between design, resource allocation, and construction meant they developed an inertia of their own.

On the alternate history front, expect to see the Alaska and Guam make an appearance in both the Usurper’s War-series as well as another project.  😀

The Cosmic Chuckling Continues

So the original version of this event was announcing my location and attendance at Planet Comic Con 2020, 20-22 March at Bartle Hall in Kansas City.  As usual, I was going to be in attendance with Anita C. Young with her artwork and books.

Well, as you can see if you go to the Planet Comic Con website link above, the Con has been postponed (full statement here).

 

KCPCC 2020 Location

Alas, right now the dates they’re talking about for the postponement take place in September 2020.  Given that I have a couple commitments in that month already (see Cincy Comic Con), this means I’m going to take the option to have my tables this year rolled over to 2021.

This is going to be a crazy time due to the Covid-19 virus.  I hope everyone stays safe and healthy and look forward to seeing you guys on the Con circuit when (and I do think it will be when) this pandemic is past us.

You can order Anita’s new magnets at our Etsy store.

Warship Wednesday: Fun With Turrets

Thanks to the U.S.S. Iowa for filming this interior of the 16-inch turrets.  In the case of the Iowa and many other late war ships, each gun could elevate and fire independently.  Bonus:  Here is a World War II-era training video.

As an author, as I watched this I realized just how many things could get knocked out by a partial penetration of the armor.  Bombs hitting near the turret would probably cut power cables, shells could jam the turret ring, etc., etc.

I also noted the redundancy in plotting and fire control, something which was not always prevalent in early war / World War I modernized ships.  Although switching positions is going to lead to a degradation of capability, at least redundancy gives the vessel a chance to keep swinging rather than becoming a mission kill.

Warship Wednesday–Carrier Doctrine #1

Interesting thing I discovered about carrier doctrine in writing the Usurper’s War series in general, but definitely with regards to Against the Tide Imperial: The three main carrier navies in our timeline did things very, very differently.

The USN basically went all in on “every carrier throws a haymaker.”  This was shown both in early task force doctrine (where each carrier and escorts operated separately for the most part) and in how the aircraft were warmed up, parked, then launched.  Although this had the advantage of “not all our eggs are in one basket,” it also made strike sequencing problematic.  The “dribs and drabs” approach likely saved Shokaku at Coral Sea, and then also was detrimental during Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz.  On the other hand, the spread out arrival of the American torpedo bombers and inadvertent lack of synchronization at Midway fortuitously wore down the Kido Butai‘s CAP / disrupted Nagumo’s strike iterations.

For the early war (as in before late ’44), the unfortunate combination of the RAF being responsible for equipping the Fleet Air Arm from basically 1924 through May 1939 plus European geography did no favors for RN carrier design.  This is not to say that the carriers were “inferior,” as some historians have stated.  No, it’s to say that despite an early lead in developing the type, the RN focused on gunline in basically a littoral setting rather than open ocean combat.  Thus, a RN carrier task force meeting either an IJN or USN force of equal strength in daylight during 1942-1943 would have had problems.  If the numbers were uneven?  Well, not to say “foreshadowing,” but you’ll see my take on things when Tide finally comes out.

As to the Japanese–diagramming out “split deck” strikes by division is a pain in the neck.  There are advantages to it, and some of those are discussed here, once again, in this article.  But man, those disadvantages are killer.  Especially when one has to factor in “Who is the duty carrier?” and whether or not the Tone and Chikuma‘s searchers should be augmented.  As noted above, at Midway the added friction of split deck operations eventually undid the Kido Butai’s sequencing…and that’s how you end up a bunch of Dauntlesses dropping virtually unopposed.

As a teaser, I’ll present the strike that gets launched in one Against the Tide Imperial‘s key sequences:

1st Division (Akagi and Kaga)

17 Shiden

15 Suisei

27 Tenzan

2nd Division (Hiryu and Soryu)

21 Zero

16 Suisei

12 Tenzan

3rd Division (Taiho and Shokaku)

20 Suisei

24 Tenzan

Now, in each of these cases, rather than each carrier launching an “alpha strike” of their own group, each division has designated one vessel to provide the fighters / dive bombers, the other the torpedo bombers.  I can only imagine this gets kind of hectic if one doesn’t have the fuel or time to practice it.  It also means _every_ carrier will be launching / recovering aircraft at the same time.  Taken to the next level, suddenly Japanese outcomes at Pearl Harbor (see no third strike), Midway (see returning Midway strike discombobulating ability to react to ship sighting), and Philippine Sea (see lack of strike training due to fuel issues) make a lot more sense.

In the Usurper’s War timeline, this is a pretty hefty strike.  Defending against it, the RN force only has a total of 66 fighters (of which 16 are Sea Hurricanes) on four flight decks.  Given deck handling practices, CAP rotations, and the fact that there’s a rather major intelligence miscommunication that’s coming, they won’t get that many fighters airborne.  How does it turn out?  Well, you’ll know in a few months… 😀

2019 in Review

Man.  It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating the imminent release of Those In Peril and preparing to go to Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE) Symposium in Utah.  Next thing I know, 2019 is in the rearview mirror, the Phases of Mars series is complete, and Against The Tide Imperial is…well, still not done, but definitely getting there.  Still, 3 anthologies in a year is not bad, and objectively I think it was a fair trade.  I mean, guys—I edited S.M. Stirling, Kevin J. Anderson, Taylor Anderson, Sarah Hoyt, and David Weber this year.  In books with my name on the front cover.  Shout out to Chris Kennedy for taking on a beer bet and to team “and more” for being amazing.

By the numbers, over 1,500 people visited the page this year, which was almost double the number of folks who showed up in 2018.  Thank you for coming along on this wild ride, and here’s to hoping that you continue to enjoy a glimpse inside the crazy.  Externally, this was my second year in a row over 1,000 books sold / 500,000 Kindle pages read (not counting the anthologies) both online and in person, and with at least one book coming out that will helpfully increase.  Moreover, I learned a lot this year about marketing, networking, and this profession in general.  While those could be 20 or more blog posts in and of themselves, the “Top 3 Things I Learned in 2019 Are”:

#1 Professionalism Matters—Nothing like being the chief editor for something to help you realize one’s reputation precedes you.  From the perspective of dealing with fellow authors, I was taken aback by the number of folks who do not understand some basic etiquette in dealing with their fellow human beings.  Or the importance of things like, “Hey, when the requirement says 7-10,000 words, that means you don’t turn in 6500 and cop and attitude with the editor.”  People will remember if you pull some prima donna crap when you really didn’t have to, and word spreads quickly.  Likewise, if you become, shall we say, radioactive in other venues, there will be folks who have problems with sharing a common battlespace with you.  Bottom line:  If you’re involved in a project, be on time (or admit that you’re not going to be able to do something in a timely manner), write to the specifications, and don’t be a jerk.

#2 People Plan, the Universe Laughs—I can honestly say 2019, while not the craziest year I can remember (oh hey, 2009), was up there.  Between deaths, getting forcibly invited to someone else’s car accident, a new job, and various other “What the Hell?!” things that occurred, I’ve come to realize the path to sanity involves accepting that life is chaos.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m still very much a work in project on this.

However, I’ve increasingly tried to take an objective look at what has occurred, then ask myself “Why did this happen?”  If it’s someone else’s fault, that’s usually followed by “Was this accidental, malicious, or unforeseeable?  If accidental, has the other party acknowledged their role in the negative outcome and taken measures to keep it from happening again? If malicious, is this salvageable or is it time to just close that particular airlock?”

If it’s my error, “What have we learned and how do we keep from dropping that ball again?”  This is usually followed by “How do we make amends?”  Because saying “I’m sorry…” is kind of pointless unless there’s an actual intent to make things right.

Above all these things, however, 2019 taught me this:  “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy I spent ___ minutes / hours / days dealing with rectifying this problem?”  Because having someone go from “I’m glad I’m finally going to meet him…” to “Whoa.  He’s going to be dead in less than eight hours…” definitely made me start assessing time and how I spend it.  Spend time doing what you love and with people who make time for you, as our hourglass only has so much sand in it.

#3 Network Makes The Dream Work—Among the “people who made time” for me were my writing tribe.  It really does take a village, and one never knows what connection will suddenly bear fruit.  I can honestly say that in 2019 I had positive interactions with people I first met back in the 1980s, went to school with in the 90s’, served with in the Army in the ’00s, and even folks I saw in passing at a random con sometime in the last six years.  In some instances this was expected.  In others, it was definitely one of us saying to each other or about someone else “Uhhhh, you know, let me see if _____ can help with that, because holy smokes you’re in a bad way”-response.  The outcomes were almost always great and definitely far better than I would have accomplished on my own. Whether it was fiscal (increasing royalties!), introducing me to another pro who provided a story (or stories) for the anthologies, or just providing a “morale boost” when I was questioning my sanity for even pushing on with this crazy dream, I’d like to issue a blanket THANK YOU! to the tribe and fans at large.  You all made 2019 great, and I look forward to what 2020 has to bring.

All right, that’s enough from the foxhole for today.  I’m going back to figuring out what happens when over 100 American aircraft surprise six Japanese carriers equipped with stolen British radar.  That’s right, it’s called “alternate history” for a reason, and boy howdy does the Kido Butai having decent radar change a lot of factors involved in World War II carrier fights.