Thursday, 23 May 2013

Legend of the Dead Men's Gold

I was pleased to get a contract from Robert Hale for Legend of the Dead Men's Gold, which will be my 29th Black Horse Western.

The idea for the story came after writing The Search for the Lone Star. I'd written that story when I realized I'd only ever written one book with Legend in the title and I thought I ought to have written more. So I set out to write Lone Star, except at some point the legend of the Lone Star became a search, leaving me feeling bemused.

I decided to try again and this time the phrase Dead Men's Gold came to mind, which felt like it ought to have a legend attached...

The book should be published some time next year.

Trip Kincaid had always been fascinated by the legend of the dead men's gold. It was said the last member of the Helliton gang had cursed the gold claiming that if he couldn't have it, nobody would. Ten years on, the stash remained unclaimed while the bones of a hundred men lay scattered around it. So when Trip went missing, his brother Oliver feared the worst.

Eighteen months passed before Oliver learned that Trip had last been seen in the box canyon where the Helliton gang had once holed up. So to find out the truth about his brother's fate, Oliver must enter the notorious outlaw stronghold where he must uncover for himself the truth that lies behind the legend.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Fergal O'Brien series on Kindle

Tender Valley is a clean, friendly and law-abiding frontier town. In fact, it is such a fine town that an enterprising businessman might just designate it as the official Finest Frontier Town in the West, an award with a thousand-dollar prize.

New Utopia isn't as fine as Tender Valley, but the townsfolk there are desperate to win the award, and they're prepared to go to any lengths to succeed. So they hire gunslingers to shoot up Tender Valley and destroy that town's reputation forever.

In peaceful Tender Valley, the townsfolk are ill equipped to withstand the gunslingers' onslaught. They need a hero to ride into town, strap on a gun and stand tall before their tormentors. But the next man to ride into town is Fergal O'Brien, purveyor of a singularly unsuccessful "universal remedy." He's no hero. But for the right price - he does have a plan.

Available on and

When tonic sellers Fergal O'Brien and Randolph McDougal decided to settle in Destiny, they reckoned the new railroad would make Destiny a boomtown, but it only brought an onslaught of surly gunslingers. While Fergal sells his tonic---a universal remedy to cure all ills---Randolph becomes sheriff of the dusty town. Throwing the ruffians in a half-built jail is his solution for dealing with a corrupt mayoral election and ten thousand dollars disappearing from the town coffers.

Her faith in the decency of the town wavering, the schoolteacher, Miss Dempsey, takes it upon herself to clean up Destiny by educating the gunslingers so that they'll learn the error of their ways! After all, she points out to one of her students, knowing how to read is important if one's own name should wind up on a wanted poster.

As Randolph wants to win Miss Dempsey's heart, he grudgingly supports her cause. But Kent Sullivan, his rival for her affections and a showman of homemade historical memorabilia, is always one step ahead of him in providing her school with just the right support. So Randolph turns to his old friend Fergal for help. Can Fergal devise another one of his legendary schemes to resolve all of Randolph's problems, or will he just get them both killed? Will decency be restored to the town of Destiny through Miss Dempsey's school, or will the roughest gunslinger of all be named mayor?

Available on and

When the showman Fergal O'Brien and his assistant Randolph McDougal help a damsel in distress who has been attacked by the bandit Van Romalli, she repays their kindness by riding off with their display of authentic historical memorabilia.

So somehow Fergal has to find a way to earn a living, and an opportunity arrives when Jim Broughton sells him an attraction called the Treasure of Saint Woody. All is not as it seems. Jim is really a US marshal and the only person he wants him to attract is Van Romalli. Blissfully unaware he is being used as bait, Fergal is starting to rebuild his fortunes when Ezekiel T. Montgomery rides into town to promote the wondrous maiden voyage of a flying wagon.

Faced with a seemingly unbeatable competitor, Fergal tries to solve all his problems with a reckless wager, which leaves him facing his greatest ever challenge. He has twenty-four hours to learn how to fly or he'll lose everything!

Available on and

Harlan Finchley loved reading dime novels, his favorite western hero being the fearless lawman Colt T. Blood, the marshal of the wildest frontier town of them all, Fort Arlen. So when Harlan set out to write his very own dime novel, he sought inspiration by going to Fort Arlen to see firsthand the Wild West action he'd read about. But fact and fiction prove to be very different things.

The town marshal has never met an outlaw in his life, never mind arrested one, and the sleepy town has never seen a saloon punch-up, a bank raid, or even a showdown at high noon. In fact, the town is so quiet, the only wanted poster that's displayed outside the law office shows a picture of a missing pig!

Without any exciting Wild West action to inspire him, Harlan's dream of becoming a writer seems doomed to fail. But just as he is about to give up on his quest, the snake-oil seller Fergal O'Brien rides into town on a quest of his own, and Fergal might just be the right man to make Harlan's dreams come true.

Available on and
The Mission Santa Maria catered to Sundown's needs until bandits murdered their nuns. The young Maria is the only survivor, yet the massacre she witnessed sends her into an endless sleep. For two years she lies unconscious in the mission, gradually becoming weaker, before Bishop Finnegan notices. Unsympathetically, he decides to close the mission, which is sure to speed her demise.

With her outlook quickly becoming bleak, the devious snake-oil seller Fergal O'Brien rides into town. Although Fergal is typically interested in making a quick dollar, Maria's plight touches him. He attempts to wake her with what he claims is his universal remedy. Not surprisingly, though, his tonic fails.

An undaunted Fergal vows to help her by persuading Finnegan to keep the mission open. The bishop, however, decides that the lawless Sundown is too dangerous for a mission. The only options are to hope for a miracle or clean up Sundown with fearless gun-toting skills. Unfortunately for Fergal, though, he has never used a gun in his life.

Available on and

All books also available in paperback.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Today is a good day to rediscover Star Trek: Enterprise - Part 2

Part 1 here

Season 3

After two years of episodic stories, in season 3 Enterprise becomes a serial with every week following on directly from the end of the previous episode. As this is more in keeping with the style of modern television shows, this change works well and the episodes provide consistent entertainment. The longest continual story is the Xindi arc, which starts in the final episode of season 2 and is effectively concluded with episode 3 of season 4. This means it's a 28 part story and as such it's the most ambitious of all Trek's stories, even more so than the Dominion arc in Deep Space 9 that was never allowed to dominate to the exclusion of all else. As a story arc it's a success, but with qualifications as several elements could have been so much better.

The strength of the arc is the plot structure, which gives the impression of being well-planned in advance. The aim of the story is a clear one. The Xindi attack earth and kill lots of people, and they'll be back soon with an even bigger weapon that'll kill everyone. Only Archer and his motley band of redshirts can stop the Xindi, except the moment the crew set out on their mission, they discover that things aren’t what they first seemed. Thereafter, the problems keep on mounting. Every week develops on what came before while revealing a new part of the story, and even the interludes with the various aliens of the week always add another vital piece to the overall plot. Best of all the tension and the pace of plot development increases as the situation grows ever more desperate leading to an enthralling adventure.

What stops the arc being as strong as the Dominion War is the Xindi themselves, as they are poor villains. It's obvious the intention was to recreate the dynamics in the Dominion that had Changelings, Cardassians, Vorta and Jem'Hadar, all of whom had different agendas. As Deep Space 9 only needed to get these alien races together to create strong drama, the Xindi are given the same sort of divergent aims. They have five distinct races. On one side there's the nasty Reptiles along with the enigmatic but probably nasty Insects. On the other side there's the good-natured Apes along with the enigmatic but probably good-natured Fish. In the middle, surprise surprise, is the Humanoids who could go either to the dark side or the light. As a dramatic set up this is promising, even if Big Fish In Space does take some believing, but after creating the situation nothing is done with it.

For the first third of the arc the only thing the Xindi do is sit in an interminable meeting and agree they need to destroy earth, now. For the second third, they potter around while generally agreeing they need to destroy earth, now. And it's not until the third act that the Xindi start getting names and with it character traits that let them become people who are interesting to watch rather than mouthpieces that explain the plot.

If the Xindi had been interesting foes, the arc would have been breathtaking, but as it is, the drama all comes from within by detailing the Enterprise crew falling apart as one by one they abandon the abiding principles all Trek crews have followed. Much is made of Sisko breaking the rules in Deep Space 9's By the Pale Moonlight, but Archer steps past that point in episode 2 and everything keeps on getting darker from there.

The strongest run is the build up to and then the resolution after the battle of Azati Prime. I'm sure this mini-arc within the main arc reuses the year of hell concept originally pitched for Voyager. The idea back then was that Voyager's fourth season would have had half the crew being killed and the ship being left derelict in space forcing the survivors to descend into savagery to survive. The studio thought this sounded too interesting for Voyager and so instead they opted for making the year of hell a time travel story with an in-built reset button. Enterprise rekindles this idea and thankfully it doesn’t press the reset button resulting in the next ten episodes all being played out against a backdrop of debris and repair crews and grimy faces.

The momentum after Azati Prime doesn’t let up and with the Xindi finally being given characters with motivations the closing stages of season 3 is probably Enterprise's finest period. Even then though there are niggles, not least of which is the introduction of a species called The Guardians. They are a mysterious race who dress like the Borg queen, who have prosthetics that make them look like the Changeling race, who live in a realm that looks like the null-space Sisko ended up in, and worst of all everyone talks like the Prophets. Even in the midst of Enterprise's strongest drama, The Guardians made me realize that Trek did need a break as clearly all the original ideas for alien races had been used up.

Highlight: The immediate aftermath of the Battle of Azati Prime which does something that no Trek series has done before and shows sympathy for the redshirts who blindly got themselves killed so that no main cast member need die.

Lowlight: Sadly, it's the filler western episode. Much as I wanted to enjoy six-shooters taking on phasers, the story is the only one with no link to the main arc and the story itself is weak. Heck, I've used every element of its story at least five times so I know it's not very original.

Season 3 ends with what is officially the show's goofiest moment. I'm sure it's never been confirmed, but it's safe to assume that with viewers failing to warm to the Xindi and with the show seemingly as doomed as the Enterprise looked at Azati Prime, the makers decided to end Enterprise with a silly cliffhanger just to annoy everyone. On the other hand, Nazi aliens have a rich Trek history so perhaps it wasn't as barmy as it looks.

Season 4

Season 4 is the final season and it features the last and most successful change of focus. Enterprise's great unanswerable question is what might have happened if the show had been made from the start in season 4's style. Personally I think Enterprise failed to attract viewers because we were all jaded by too much Trek, so it wouldn't have changed anything, but the most striking thing about season 4 is it doesn't look like a show in its death throws. Even though Enterprise was only reprieved for a year to get the episode count up to 100 so it could go into syndication, the lack of faith by the studio and the viewers alike doesn’t show on the screen.

Firstly the Xindi arc, temporal cold war arc and Nazi alien nonsense are wrapped up in an appropriately nonsensical manner. Amusingly when the time lines are reset I noted that Maggie Thatcher's rise to power was one of the key elements in creating the world of tomorrow that needed to be restored, but then again so was Hitler's rise to power.

With the goofy element over with, Enterprise does something original for Trek by presenting a linked series of multi-part stories each lasting 2 or 3 episodes, all featuring in-depth exploration of alien races and ideas from the original series. So there's stories about Andorians, Vulcans, Tellarites, Klingons (both the crinkly- headed type and the greasy moustache type), genetically improved humans, with a side order of Organians, Tholians and even the Gorn.

Most interestingly of all several episodes look at earth and how humans react to the new galactic order. These stories are more complex than anything that was ever attempted involving these races in the other series where the need to wrap everything up neatly in an hour usually ensured a superficial approach. There's even a growth in the fleet with the launch of a second starship, the setting up of the groundwork for the formation of the Federation, and new potential arcs such as a trip to the barking mad alternate universe and a welcome look at the birth of Section 31.

Highlights: Brent Spiner displays a lot of charm playing his maker's granddad, even if his story is let down by the genetic superhumans being so inept. Shran becomes a semi-regular and gets to display a wider range than before with humour and a gentler side. And the alternate universe has the crew on a Kirk era starship, which is fun and nostalgic.

Lowlights: The ill-considered homage to the original series featuring Orion slave girls that invokes the vibe of Mudd's Women, which is a vibe nobody wanted recreated, even if it does let Mayweather explain how he got big biceps as a teenager. And of course the final episode. Like most of the failures in Enterprise, I can see what they tried to do and why, but that doesn’t excuse ending the show with a missing episode from the Next Generation featuring a podgy Riker making pies with holodeck versions of the cast before declaring an end to the program. And Trip deserved better.

Bad final episode aside, season 4 is one of the strongest of all Trek seasons, and following on from the consistent ending to season 3, it's clear that the show was axed in its prime and that it would have only got better. To be fair, any comparison of the show to other spin-offs should therefore only judge it against the other spin-offs' early years: Next Generation before the Borg arrived, Deep Space 9 before the Dominion War, Voyager before Seven arrived. And when that's done, Enterprise fairs well.

Yes, the criticisms usually hurled at the show are valid: the theme song is jarring, the temporal cold war is nonsense, season 2 drifts aimlessly, the Xindi are awful, some continuity errors such as using the Ferengi are ill-judged, and the ending should be condemned. But that's not the whole story. The original series wasn't all like Spock's Brain, Wesley Crusher didn't save Picard's butt every week, while Voyager shouldn't be judged on Fair Haven alone. Enterprise was the same. It wrapped up the temporal war, season 3 and 4 have purpose and focus, and when it got the continuity right, such as the mirror universe being a sequel, prequel and reboot all at once it was very good indeed.

It wasn't to be though, and annoyingly season 5 could have been great. It was planned for the multi-part arcs to grow into a large arc about the formation of the Federation. Shran would have joined the cast as a regular and other ideas planned involved the birth of the Borg queen and a trip to Larry Niven's Ringworld, and if that wouldn't have excited science fiction fans, I don't know what would.

As it is, Enterprise is one of the shorter Trek series, but it's unfair to view it as having killed off the franchise. The franchise was ready to end due to over-exposure and Enterprise happened to be on the screen when apathy finally set in. Its axing didn’t occur due to any failings in the show itself. If anything, its merits hint at what the franchise can achieve if it's ever revived for tv.