Thursday 26 December 2013

Dr Who, the sound and fury and lots of nothing years.

These days I’m a lapsed Dr Who fan. I’m old enough to remember the first Doctor and I watched all the versions from the glory Tom Baker days to the not-quite-so-glorious Colin Baker era. I liked it because the format was quirky and because the stories were involving.

I’ve been less taken with the reboot. I enjoyed Eccleston and the Donna and Tennant partnership, but most of the Tennant era left me cold. When Smith arrived, I quickly gave up on the show. I could just about cope with Tennant leaping around to disguise the fact there wasn’t much going on in the story, but not a new Doctor doing the same routine. But the great thing about Who is, if you don’t like the current Doctor, a new one is just a few years away and so the news that Peter Capaldi is set to take over enthused me all over again. He has the right look and he has an acting style that makes me think he’ll be a great Doctor, so I decided over Xmas to dip my toe in the Who universe again. Unfortunately, that’s dumped cold water all over me again.

It wasn’t all bad news though. Amongst the plethora of recent Who-related offerings there were some gems that demonstrated what I liked about the format. There was a five-minute short featuring Paul McGann, and that crammed in a story along with wit and drama that showed just how great McGann could have been as a long-term Doctor. The five Doctors reboot featuring several old Doctors trying to get a role in the show managed that rare thing of being crammed full of in-jokes while actually being funny. My favourite moment was the Doctors piling into the Tardis and then just standing there until Sylvester McCoy moans that he wants to go home now. The best of the lot was the William Hartnell biopic that told a good story with emotion and with a sense of what makes the show tick. I enjoyed everything about these offerings, so suitably enthused I moved on to watching some recent Who episodes, and if they’re typical of the show now, I’m bemused as to what it’s trying to do.

I watched the last episode of a series thinking that was the most recent series, although it turned out to be from two years ago, followed by the 50th anniversary episode and the Xmas episode. All three stories merged into a surreal mass of light and colour and people running around where I never once cared about anything that was going on. With my mind wandering I longed for the Russell Davies era. I gave up on his Xmas episodes after that one where a giant cyberman invades London, but that no longer feels silly simply because it told a story the traditional way. New characters and the situation were introduced and time was spent letting us become interested in these people’s domestic lives, so when the jeopardy crept up on them we cared about their fate. Problems then mounted and everything the Doctor tried was thwarted until the big ending where the Doctor saved the day. That’s simple storytelling and it works every time, but clearly that’s no longer what today’s kids want. They want running around and soundbites and bogeymen leaping out of cupboards.

In all three stories the characters and situation weren’t introduced and then developed, but just sort of dumped on screen. In the Xmas episode there was a planet in perpetual winter, but we weren't told who these people were, whether they were real people with lives, or whether they were anything other than cannon-fodder. The jeopardy in all three stories was the same one that all of time and space for all eternity along with all alternate universes and anything else not already mentioned previously would be destroyed unless the Doctor does something that doesn’t make any sense and which he doesn’t want to do. And he solves the problem by doing something else that doesn’t make any sense, which is completely lacking in tension and isn’t very involving. To fill in the time before the non-conclusion random aliens turn up for a few moments to provide scary footage for the trailers. So the Daleks arrive and say their catchphrase scarily, and then go away. Then the cybermen arrive and stomp around scarily, and then go away. Then some statues move scarily, and then go away. Then some aliens with a big finger waggle their big finger scarily, and then go away. I assume the reason for this is that kids are deemed to have short attention spans and they can’t sit still through a whole story. But having an involving story worked before so I don’t understand the current style of replacing plot and believable characters and resolutions with running around, loud music, and narration to fill in the gaps in the storytelling.

Yeah, it’s light entertainment fluff for kids, but it used to be good fluff. Now with this desire to be clever and to fill the screen with dynamic stuff in every scene, even the good ideas are lost. There was a running joke about the Doctor and his assistant being naked, and if you’re going to inflict that on families on Xmas day there’d better be a good reason and it’d better work. Except there was no explanation of why they had to take their clothes off beyond the usual clever comment that’s provided whenever there’s no good reason for stuff happening. Worse, the scenes were so badly filmed that I had no idea if they were naked and wearing holographic clothes, or wearing clothes and being naked only on a holographic image, which made the punch line at a Xmas party fall flat as it was hard to tell if it even was a joke.

Anyhow, I’ll give Capaldi a chance because I still hope he can be at the head of a less-frantic and more-involving style of storytelling. I hope his show returns to the old-fashioned virtues of witty, quirky tales where the Doctor arrives somewhere interesting, faces an understandable problem, and solves it by the end, and there’s none of this smug, timey-wimey nonsense.

Monday 9 December 2013

Calhoun's Bounty now available on Kindle

For this month’s Kindle offering I’ve moved on to Calhoun’s Bounty, my 12th Black Horse Western. I chose to do this one next purely so I could get to read it and find out what happened.

I had almost no recollection of this book with even the blurb not helping my memory. The only thing I could remember about the story was that I’d killed off one of my recurring characters, which I’d regretted doing afterwards as it meant I couldn’t use him again. Amusingly, when I’d worked my way through the book, I found that the character didn’t die after all and even stranger, I realized he wasn’t a recurring character either. The other thing I found amusing was I spent the whole story wondering why I’d taken a certain direction with the plot. It just felt like I’d made a horrible mistake or at best missed an opportunity, except everything became clear when I got to the end and hit the big twist.

In the end I quite enjoyed being surprised by something I’d written! Anyhow, the story is a sort of Maltese Falcon type tale with lots of bad guys chasing around after a macguffin and shooting each other up in their quest to find it. The title is now available for around 99 cents from Amazon.


A bullet-ridden man staggered into Stonewall’s saloon clutching a gold bar and with his dying breath he named bounty hunter Denver Calhoun as his killer. Although the dead man turned out to be one of the bank-raiding Flynn gang, when the gold bar was offered as bounty on Denver’s head every man in town was on the hunt for him.

Denver himself had moved on to Bluff Creek where he joined a high stakes poker-game, and when the formerly impoverished Horace Turner wagered a gold bar, Denver reckoned the Flynns had to be behind the gold turning up in the hands of the most unlikely of people.

Despite all the guntoters on his trail, Denver vows to bring the Flynn gang to justice. But can he succeed now that the bounty hunter has become the hunted?

Saturday 23 November 2013

Devine goes large

I received the welcome news that my 2012 title Devine will be going to large print. It should appear around Xmas 2014.

Pinkerton detective Nimrod Dunn is hired by Lieutenant Governor Maddox Kingsley to infiltrate an outlaw gang, but when Nimrod's cover is blown an innocent life is lost in the raging gun battle. 
With Nimrod's detective career in tatters, the fearsome US Marshal Jake T. Devine sets about bringing the outlaw Cornelius to justice. Devine always gets his man, but his methods are as brutal as those whom he pursues. 
So with Devine's blood-soaked trail making a mockery of the Governor's promise to clean up the county, Maddox calls on Nimrod's services once more. And, to resurrect his career, Nimrod must carry out the most dangerous mission yet: to kill Marshal Devine.

Monday 11 November 2013

Six-shooter Tales now available on Kindle

I've bundled together some western short stories and they're now available on Kindle. They comprise the two stories I wrote for the Express Westerns anthologies, a couple of stories I wrote a few years ago for websites that no longer exist and a couple of new tales.


Anyhow, the book is now available from Amazon.

Six western short stories with a sting in the tail.

Once Upon a Time in Mirage - Tucker Crowley and Durango Jones share a cell in the jailhouse, and they both have a story to tell about how they got there.
Last Throw of the Bones - Bounty hunter Broughton McKay visits NeetaanTakaTa for advice, but he'd be better off not knowing his fate.
Return to Purgatory - Somerville Durant seeks answers about his past, but does he have a future?
Five Hundred Dollars for a Dead Man - Clarence Lear gets more than he bargained for when he calls on the services of manhunter Mortimer Drago.
The Finest Deputy in the West - Six men apply to be Sheriff Callaghan's new deputy and only the finest lawman will get the job.
The Man Who Shot Garfield Delany - Frank Beckett relives the day he became a legend, an event he's regretted every day since.

Sunday 10 November 2013

The Devil's Marshal now available

My latest western The Devil's Marshal has now been published. I had a lot of fun writing this one. It's one of those mystery tales where I had to keep writing so I could find out who done it. The original title I was using was Spectre of a Forgotten Lawman, which may or may not have been a clue as to where this one was going, but I still got to the final shoot-out before I worked it out.

As it turned out, the title was too long to fit on a Black Horse Western and so the final title is The Devil's Marshal. Anyhow, it's my 28th BHW and it's now available from all good libraries (well, the three or four left that Davy boy hasn't shut down).

In a travesty of justice, bounty hunter Brodie Latimer's sister Lucinda is found guilty of murder. Thwarted, when a witness is killed, but convinced of her innocence, he vows to find the real killer and, as more of Hamilton's leading figures die in mysterious circumstances, the clues lead him to Derrick Shelby, a man known as the Devil's marshal. 
The only trouble is, Derrick died a year ago. How can Brodie clear his sister's name and bring the guilty to justice when the killer appears to be the spectre of a long dead lawman?

Saturday 19 October 2013

Bullet Catch Showdown

I was pleased to receive a contract from Robert Hale for Bullet Catch Showdown. It’ll be my 30th Black Horse Western.

For this milestone novel I wanted to write something a little different, although in actuality I’d planned on this novel being my 25th. A few years ago I wrote a short story about a man who earned a living by catching bullets with his teeth. When I’d finished the story, I thought the idea could be developed further and so I carried on writing.

The story went well until I reached the half-way point. I usually have at least one major plot twist in my stories, and this time I wrote in a particularly massive twist. I hadn’t thought that would happen beforehand and when it did, it took me completely by surprise leaving me with no idea where the story would then go.

The twist was only two words long and I could have easily deleted those words and carried on writing, but I didn’t want to do that. So the story languished in development hell for a couple of years until the obvious solution hit me and so I resumed writing.

By then my projected 25th novel had become my 30th, but that’s not as important as finally getting the story finished and, as it’s turned out, published. The novel should be available around November 2014 and here’s my draft blurb:

The stage magician Malachi Muldoon claimed to be the world's most dangerous practitioner of the arcane arts with his performance of the notorious bullet catch. So his show in Bear Creek intrigued both Adam Clements and Deputy Hayward Knight, but for different reasons.

Adam joined Malachi on stage and became a part of his act while Hayward got a chance to solve an old mystery. It seems the show harbours a dark secret, as wherever Malachi performs a trail of bodies is left behind.

Before long, Adam and Hayward become embroiled in Malachi's web of deception. So can they unmask the guilty when they are forced into a showdown with a man who hides the truth in plain sight?

Friday 11 October 2013

Bad Day in Dirtwood now available on Kindle

As nobody has stopped me yet, and as my sales figures for the last one have now rocketed into double figures, I've moved on with my self-publishing schedule. My early western Bad Day in Dirtwood is now available on Kindle for 99p, or its equivalent elsewhere.


I couldn't remember much about this one's story, so it was fun typing it out again. The story is a straightforward tale where bad guys take over the town and the hero tries to stop them, but I can see now that this story introduces several themes I'll use again later. There are three main characters: a good, a bad, and an ugly. The bad guy Josh Carter isn't all that important as defeating him isn't the main problem to be resolved, while Ethan Craig is the first character to use my personal heroic archetype. He's not quick to use a gun because he's not proficient with weaponry, and he wins through purely by being stubborn and resourceful.

The ugly character has the capacity to either go to the dark or the light side and in this case Luke McCoy is something I'm sure I've never done elsewhere, being the lightning fast draw who unerringly hits everything he aims at before anyone can even blink. I'm glad I did that type of character once, but I won't go there again, although I'm pleased for this one excursion into indestructible gunslingers, Luke is melancholic and insecure.

The other thing I stopped doing after this book was putting in Star Trek references. The Outlawed Deputy had Cassidy Yates, The Last Rider from Hell had a gratuitous use of the number 47, and Death or Bounty had a Kirk. This one has a McCoy and even worse I called two characters Rock and Big Dawson just so they could walk into a room together and I could write Rock and Big Dawson, which sounds a bit like Roxann Biggs-Dawson, who played a character in Voyager. I wisely decided to stop doing that sort of thing.

Anyhow, the book is now available from Amazon.

When Luke McCoy killed his first man, the townsfolk of Dirtwood formed a posse, arrested him and threw him into Beaver Ridge jail to rot. For seven long years Luke plotted his revenge and then he finally managed to escape. Now he could act out his vengeance!

But when he rides into Dirtwood, the town is already in the grip of fear. Josh Carter and his ruthless outlaw gang have taken over the town and only Luke’s childhood friend, Ethan Craig, has the courage to stand up to them.

Luke readily adds to Dirtwood’s woes, but as the lead flies and the bodies mount, can an old friendship offer a man as murderous as Luke one last chance of redemption?

Tuesday 1 October 2013

A bit of a whinge about New Tricks

The final episode of series 10 of New Tricks airs tonight. Once, the end of a series was a sad occasion only enlivened by the fact I knew I’d watch all the episodes again, probably several times, before the new series started. That’s no longer the case as these days I struggle to watch the episodes even once. Sadly, this once classic cop show is no longer must-see television.

After eight glorious years of crime solving with a smile, series 9 had a massive drop in quality. I’d hoped this would be a blip and series 10 would bounce back, but it didn’t and if anything, this year is even weaker than the previous year. It pains me to slate what was once one of my favourite tv programs, but this is no longer the show where Sandra shot only one dog and so got landed with a bunch of dinosaur cops. That show had a winning formula.

Sandra was the officer who had to deal with the antics of her subordinates while trying not to annoy the officers whose cases were being re-opened. Jack was the melancholic ex-hard man who employed rigorous police work. Brian was the troubled obsessive who used his photographic memory. Gerry was the jack-the-lad who used his dealings with the underworld. They all had personal lives. Sandra’s was troubled, Jack’s was sad, Brian’s was loving, and Gerry’s was complicated. Every week they’d get a cold-case crime and it’d feature an interesting slice of history. The cops would solve it using their own distinctive styles with plenty of wit while wrestling with their home lives that would sometimes hinder and often help them solve the crime.

The show was a perfect example of how to take a potentially dry concept and make it work. It did this by concentrating on characters and by the simple process of applying the old adage that it’s better to show than to tell. One good example is the classic old episode featuring a gang war between rival drug dealers who deal from ice cream vans. Jack reckons the assumption that the bloke who was seen driving a motorbike recklessly was a young man could be wrong, but he doesn’t tell anyone. Instead he invites everyone down to the car park and then drives around on a motorbike like an idiot. When Brian works out that the strange chemicals at the ice cream factory could be used to make a drug, he doesn’t tell anyone. Instead he builds a laboratory at home and inadvertently destroys Esther’s beloved kitchen. When Gerry figures out the gangsters are dealing from the back of ice cream vans, he doesn’t tell anyone. Instead he gets his daughter to buy some drugs.

This technique of showing the crime being solved was so much more entertaining than the dry facts and led to comic scenes, a good mix of family and work life, and a perfectly integrated mix of character and plot. This formula worked for eight years, but then it was replaced. I presume the logic must have been that to avoid the show being too strongly identified with lead characters who were leaving, the show needed to become less character based so it could continue with a new cast. If that’s the reason, it’d have been better to end the show on a high and then create a spin-off, because the new formula is bland.

The formula now is for four cops, who don’t have much of an existence outside work, to solve cases in a routine manner, which usually involves them talking through the facts in the office, fingering a suspect, and then waiting for them to confess. Sandra is no longer irritated by the antics of her subordinates, because they don’t get up to any antics and neither do they have any definable idiosyncrasies, and any quirks they do present are inconsistent.

It never used to be like this. The pilot episode was a master class in how to define characters instantly with a single line of dialogue. Sandra got her ‘you shoot one dog’ line and you knew how she’d react to any situation. Jack got to look through a list of potential applicants to the new team and declared them, ‘Dead, dead, dead, might as well be, dead, dead, will be if get hold of him.’ Brian got asked if Jack was mad and replied, ‘He isn’t, but I am.’ And Gerry in his interview reacted to the news of who his new boss would be with the declaration that, ‘I met him once. I broke his jaw.’ In each case, in a matter of a few words, you got to know the character, and the writers stuck to that character for eight years. That’s no longer the case.

New man Steve was defined in his first episode as having a broad accent and being sprightly. He was always the first in the office in the morning, he was a maverick, and he has a backstory of being on an epic quest to find his long-lost son. This is a good profile for a character, except it rarely gets used. His accent softened after one episode. Sometimes he’s lively, but most of the time he slopes around like everyone else. Sometimes he’s a maverick, but at other times he tells others off for breaking the rules. And he finds his son by looking in the telephone directory. The end result is that Steve’s lines could have been written for anyone because none of those lines are consistent with a defined character. This is doubly irritating because Denis Lawson is a great actor who is worth watching in anything, but here he has nothing to do but explain the plot.

The same could be said of new-boy Danny, whose lines sound like they could have been written for Brian. Then there’s Sandra’s replacement, whose one interesting feature is being happily married to a senior officer, except that’s removed as she immediately separates. And finally there’s Gerry, who no longer gets to do anything that Gerry once did. It’s actually a shock when in one episode the show remembers that Gerry is scared of trees. That joy is short-lived when for no good reason he’s abandoned in a forest and he stumbles across the killer who just happens to be hiding a body and so he promptly confesses, which brings up the last main irritation this year of stories that are mediocre at best.

The opening two-parter is a one hour story padded into two hours, presumably to justify the budgetary needs of filming in Gibraltar. The only good point is that this sets up a reason for Brian leaving, except the groundwork is abandoned for his last two episodes. Episode 3 has the novel approach of not having a plot. Instead, after setting up a situation nothing develops until the hour drifts to an end. Episode 4 goes to the opposite extreme with a convoluted plot that makes no sense. Brian and Esther deserved a better way to be written out, just like Jack last year, although thankfully later on Sandra is written out with some emotion in a simple story that gives her character time to breath.

Episode 5 introduces Danny and is probably the best written episode all year, but any good feeling that generates erodes quickly as the rest are poor. Worse, many themes such as politics and badly treated migrant workers are rekindled ideas from previous, better years. There’s also a heavy reliance on the victim being accidentally killed rather than being murdered. Unlike the early days this is always shown in flashback, which shows a lack of confidence on the part of the writers as all the culprits are weak people with weak motivations and we have to see the scene to understand it.

In brief, for most of its run this show had charm and wit, but now it's dreary and routine. The show may continue with a new cast for a few more years, but it’ll be New Tricks only because it says so during the bouncy opening theme song. And I assume that song will get replaced before long, as it no longer fits the show.

Having said that, I still hope that next year with the new cast the show can rekindle the glory years. All it’ll need to do to achieve this is to get back to basics by creating defined characters and then showing them solving the crime.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Star Trek: It’s not particularly dark really

Last weekend I finally got round to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness. Although I’m a life-long trekkie with a deeply-sad love for the franchise, I have no interest in summer blockbusters, so I was in no hurry to see this film. Having done so, I enjoyed it for what it was. As there’s no need for yet another review of the film, I thought I’d offer my opinion on the negative opinion about this film, a backlash against the backlash if you like.

A recent, well-publicised poll amongst one band of trekkies voted this film as being the worst ever Trek movie. This is amusing and says more about the group dynamics in fan bases than about the film, especially when considering that before the reboot the movies started with The Motion Picture and ended with Nemesis.

TMP is the slowest and most brain-numbingly boring film I’ve ever seen, and I like Andrei Tarkovsky’s science-fiction films, which are both about four hours long and mainly feature people staring into space, in black and white, discussing philosophy. But TMP is apparently better than ID because it features important Trek themes, which as far as I can make out are: if a bald-headed woman appears in your shower, make sure you give her a really short bathrobe.

25 years later Nemesis appeared, which is one of the most inane science-fiction films I’ve ever seen. Apparently it’s better than ID, too, because of its important Trek themes such as Picard getting a really cool car to whiz around in and then telling Troi to stop whinging after she’s suffered a sexual assault.

Now, I’d agree that ID lacks these important Trek themes in favour of having everyone run down corridors, but the prevailing criticism doesn’t end there. Apparently, it ripped off The Wrath of Khan, and that’s a bad thing, although that simple assessment isn’t strictly correct. If anything got ripped off it was season 4 of Enterprise. The set up for the manhunt was similar to the Vulcan trilogy. Khan’s plan resembled Brent Spiner’s motivation in the Augments trilogy. The use of Section 31 owed more to season 4 than Deep Space 9, and Robocop played pretty much the same character in season 4, too. I don’t mind this. I liked season 4 of Enterprise and if you’re going to re-use themes, pick the best.

But as it turned out, the bits that were borrowed from TWOK are about five repeated lines and a re-imagined scene, and that scene appeared to me to be more about being a follow-up to Kirk’s father’s scene in the first film. In the end it’s less of a rip-off and more of a homage, and being self-referential is pretty much the whole point of Trek. Nobody complained when Quark stood up for Ferengi culture by quoting Picard and drawing a line in the sand. Nobody complained when Janeway got a retrospective bit-part in The Undiscovered Country. Nobody complained when Worf refused to explain why Klingons no longer have smooth foreheads. Obsessive self-referencing and knowing nods to previous glories are what we sad trekkies are supposed to enjoy. But not this time, it seems.

This time the use of Khan has been deemed a bad idea because the bad guy didn’t need to be Khan and he could just have been John Harrison, a new bad guy. To some extent this is valid. The new actor has none of the glorious campness, the fun, chest-bearing silliness and the cheesy quotes of the original, but I reckon the criticism stems less from the failings of nu-Khan and more from the modern obsession with comic book heroes. Every Batman has his Joker, is the modern attitude to action films. Each superhero film franchise builds up to the superhero taking on his arch-enemy and when he’s done that, the studio reboot and do it all over again. So, the logic appears to be that Khan is Kirk’s arch-enemy and he must do epic battle with Kirk about once every ten years. I say, no he doesn’t. Trek was never so simple as to have arch-enemies, well, except for Voyager and the Borg Queen. Khan was only ever just another bad guy and in this movie he got the level of respect he deserved.

But, I’ve read repeatedly, the new Khan story has plot-holes. Er, yes it has, but for a moment let us look back at the top rated Trek movie, the aforementioned TWOK, the movie that is sacred and which has a story that's so superior to ID’s, apparently. TWOK features this bloke who fought in a war in the 1990s that we somehow all missed hearing about and he got frozen and blasted into space because apparently that's how we deal with war criminals. Kirk finds Khan and being a nice chap he gives him a world to live on.

Twenty years later a nearby planet has blown up, but some top planetary scientists didn’t spot that, even though they're conducting a detailed planetary survey. They forget Khan is on the nearby planet, but uh-oh they got the planets wrong and mistakenly they land on Khan's planet. Chekov, who joined the show after the Khan episode recognizes Khan and Khan being a superior intellect recognizes Chekov. The only other surviving life forms on the planet are bugs that turn people into mind-controlled zombies if the bug crawls into their ear. So Khan uses the bugs to escape and he's hell-bent on getting revenge against Kirk even though it's not Kirk's fault that the other planet blew up and that nobody came for tea in the last twenty years.

Despite being the cleverest man in all creation, Khan's not so clever as to know about starship access codes and he's also so dumb he thinks that stranding Kirk on a moon will somehow kill him because nobody else will come looking for him. Anyhow he gets hold of this device that creates ecosystems because that's what people hell-bent on revenge do and this device, which amazingly was created by Kirk's son and former lover can also destroy...

The point is you can have this sort of fun with any movie, tv series, book, play, comic etc. But it's irrelevant. Good stories are about the strength of the narrative high points, not the depth of the plotholes, and stories don’t become stronger by filling those holes. Attack the high points, if you wish, but don't probe for weaknesses because all movies have them and you’ll find plenty.

But apparently the plot-holes in ID are too large to ignore. The biggest irritation appears to be Khan using a transporter to reach the Klingon home world, which apparently will henceforth render spaceships obsolete. I don't accept this. The transporter was added to the stories in the first place to save the money involved in filming trips down to planets and to speed up the story telling. Only when the show could afford to build a shuttle did we see them and afterwards, we saw plenty of shuttles, despite the existence of a transporter that ought to render them obsolete. The reason for this is that the show created dramatic reasons why the transporter wouldn't work to counter the effect of the magic beam, such as shields and power failures, and deep scientific reasons such as fluctuations in the tachyon thingy field.

I assume Khan's magic beam will also get constraints later. Perhaps it can be used only on supermen, or perhaps if the location selected has shields the transported person dies, thus rendering it as technology that can be used only in extreme circumstances, like several hundred other magic solutions to impossible problems the series has come up with over the years.

But it didn't end with Khan's magic beam as there's then Khan’s magic blood, which single-handedly destroys the franchise’s scientific credentials. This didn’t concern me either, as every Trek incarnation has had its own magic blood. The Next Generation solved most of its problems with DNA. A character could get turned into wood, put through a chipper, burnt to ashes and scattered in space, but a single strand of DNA gleaned from a hair-brush would bring that person back to life, with all their memories intact.

Deep Space 9 had Ketracel White, the magic blood that resolved the tricky problem of how the Founders would control their soldiers in the Dominion. Then there was Voyager and Seven of Nine’s magic blood that could solve any tricky plot problem. Heck, there was one episode where Neelix died horribly, got left in the back of a shuttle for three days until he was going a bit whiffy, and Seven still declared that the nanobots in her magic blood could bring him back to life, and they did. Strangely, she never offered to bring any of the non-contracted actors back from the dead, but I find it hard to accept that her magic blood is never criticised, but Khan’s magic blood makes trekkies foam at the mouth.

Curiously, Enterprise with its low-tech approach didn’t go in for magic blood and trekkies hated that, but then again we trekkies, as a fan-base, hate change. We hated The Next Generation at first because it didn’t have Spock and Kirk in it, until he found we quite liked it because the new characters were good. We hated Deep Space 9 at first because it was dark and it violated Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future, except we now love it because it’s dark and because it tested the Trek ideals. We hated Voyager at first because it was crap, but now we quite like it because it didn’t take itself too seriously. We hated Enterprise at first because it was goofy and, well, admittedly that’s yet to flip, but it seems the same thing is happening with the re-boot.

I could bang on some more, but in short, yes, the latest film is big, dumb and silly, but that’s what it tried to be. And yes, it has numerous faults. It’s not as fun as the first re-boot. There’s too much soulless CGI action and not enough character moments, and some characters, especially McCoy, get too little to do, while other characters like Scotty get too much to do. But no matter, the re-boot knows what it’s trying to do, and it does it, so I hope the next film in the series doesn’t take heed of the critics and try to be important. I hope it continues ploughing the same big, dumb trough, although hopefully without the lens flares. Yes, there are still plenty of interesting Trek themes that need exploring, but in-depth exploration of the human condition should be left for a Trek tv series where there’s the time and space to do more. With the 50 year anniversary coming up, I think the time is right for Trek to return to the tv and a few more big, dumb movies making half a billion at the box office will help that happen better than if they were still making movies like Nemesis.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Ellen: These Friends of Mine

I recently discovered, courtesy of youtube, that the 1990s sitcom Ellen had a first season. This might not sound like a stunning discovery, but it surprised me.

When Ellen was shown in the UK, they didn’t show season 1, so I was under the impression that season 2 was the first season and that it lasted for four years. During those four years it transformed from a flat-based sitcom to a work-based sitcom to an angst-filled sitcom until finally dying when it became a worthy sitcom. Finding it had a first season completes the story, as yet again that year was different to all the rest, being essentially Friends.

Of course plenty of sitcoms have tried to be cheap rip-offs of the most successful sitcom of all time, but Ellen was more interesting than most for the simple reason it was made before Friends.

The similarities between Ellen and Friends are many and strange, and I'm surprised it's not commented on more. The premise is the same of late twenty something friends sharing flats. Plots are broadly the same, such as Ellen dating an older guy and hilarity ensues, or Ellen and a friend date the same guy and hilarity ensues. Bit part actors crop up in both shows. Phoebe's weird brother appears in Ellen, Ellen's annoying friend Audrey plays a similar role in the Friends pilot, while Maggie Wheeler is a main character in Ellen playing a less nasal version of Janice.

Strangest of all, the title credit sequence comes over as a first draft gentler version of the Friends title credits and ends with everyone sitting on a sofa outside beside an illuminated lamp. And that's before even considering the sitcom was actually called These Friends of Mine before being changed to Ellen in season 2.

There's probably an alternate reality somewhere where Friends was cancelled after a few troubled and unsuccessful years, probably after revealing Chandler was in the closet after all, while These Friends of Mine became a global phenomenon with everyone wondering whether Adam and Ellen would ever get together. The reason it didn't happen is simple: These Friends of Mine isn't all that funny, but that in itself is interesting.

One of the odd things about successful sitcoms is that the main cast are nearly always horrible people. Friends is a classic case with all six main characters being arrogant, selfish, self-absorbed, entitled, whiney, vain good-for-nothings who spend every episode being rude to nicer people. For some reason horrible people make good comedy, whereas These Friends of Mine shows what happens when the main characters are genuinely nice people: you get nice people being nice and that's not very funny.

In season 1, Ellen is a kooky motormouth, but not so kooky and talkative that she's annoying. Adam is a pleasant bloke, while Anita is an ordinary woman. Oddest of all is Holly, who is shy and quiet. This isn't an unusual trait in sitcoms, but, for example, in shows like the Big Bang Theory shy and quiet people have to show they're shy and quiet by being outgoing and loud. Holly doesn’t do that. She's genuinely shy and quiet and is usually shown sitting nervously with downcast eyes. The thing is, that doesn’t work in comedy and neither does being ordinary or being nice.

So for season 2 the show was retitled as Ellen, it stopped trying to be Friends and left the new sitcom Friends to be Friends, and the supporting cast were unceremoniously ditched. Shy Holly left, never to be mentioned again, and was replaced with the loud and brassy Paige. Friendly Anita left, never to be mentioned again, and was replaced with the loud and annoying Audrey. And before long ordinary Adam left, never to be mentioned again, and was replaced with the loud and aggressive Spence while even the pleasant Ellen became loud and whiney.

And with those changes the comedy worked, until Dan put Ellen off men for life, but that's another story.

Sunday 1 September 2013

Mendosa'a Gun-runners now available on Kindle

My 8th Black Horse Western Mendosa’s Gun-runners is now available on Kindle. Unless anyone stops me, over the coming months I plan to re-publish several of my early westerns on amazon and for no particularly good reason I decided to start with this one.

I’m one of those writers who never looks back at anything I’ve written after it’s been published. I just know within a few words I’ll find something I could have done better or, worst of all, a proof-reading error, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Reading a story I wrote over ten years ago was therefore something I approached with trepidation.

As it turned out, I was still happy with the story. I think it was my first novel to include a massive plot twist at the half-way point, and I reckon it still works. I also remember agonizing over the ending.

As it’s a western, I did what I’d always done and wrote a huge climactic gunfight, except afterwards, I just wasn’t happy with ending the book with twenty pages of non-stop mayhem. I wasn’t sure why, but this tale didn’t feel like it was that sort of story

So I gritted my teeth and pressed the delete key. Then I made the lack of an on-page resolution between the good guys and the bad guys into a plot point for a slightly different sort of ending. Thankfully that still felt like the right thing to do.

Anyhow, the book is now available from Amazon.

When Quinn Mendosa’s gun-runners steal fifty crates of rifles from Fort Stirling, Sheriff Rourke Bowman reckons that plenty of trouble will be heading his way.

But that trouble arrives sooner than he expects when his jailbird brother Dave Bowman rides into town and raises hell. Rourke has enough trouble on his hands, but when Dave offers to help him capture Mendosa by infiltrating his gun-runners it’s an offer that’s just too good to refuse.

Can the unreliable Dave complete his mission before those rifles fulfil their deadly purpose? Or will Rourke live to regret not running Dave out of town the moment he first clapped eyes on him?

Wednesday 14 August 2013

The Fall and Rise of Big Brother

In a few days the 14th series of Big Brother will limp to an end with the crowning of its latest champion. As usual, the winner will be the least offensive out of the group of housemates who were too boring to be evicted. To my surprise, this year has been entertaining, although in fairness my expectations were low.

The show’s glory days are a long way in the past, although opinions differ as to when the decline started. Some say the show died as a social experiment half-way through year 1 when Nasty Nick wrote on a sheet of paper, some think it died in year 5 on fight night, but for me it died in year 8 when Brian Belo pretended he’d never heard of Shakespeare. After that it was diminishing returns until after series 11 Channel 4 axed the show on the basis nobody was watching any more.

Channel 5 brought the show back from the dead and for a while few people thanked them. Their take on the celebrity version featured something called Jedward, which involved two ignorant kids running around screaming. While the traditional version featured young and beautiful models who were slightly more inane and slightly more famous than the celebrities. The show was edited in the most annoying manner possible with musical montages, unfunny commentary, and production techniques designed to disguise the fact that nothing interesting was happening. I was set to finally do what I’d been threatening to do for the previous 5 years and give up on the show, but then something unexpected happened: the show got better.

The improvements started with the celebrity version with the simple process of recruiting some people I’d heard of such as Julian Clary and that woman who was married to Tim Healy. Best of all, Michael Madsen went in the house and he turned out to be just as amusing as you’d expect. The moment when he accidentally cut his ear while shaving probably saved the show for me, although the moment was slightly tarnished by the commentary pointing out this was an ironic shaving injury.

Building on this success, this year’s traditional version finally started to work out what makes the show tick. The presenter changed to someone who can present, the musical montages were reduced, the commentary became more deadpan, the editing started letting us understand events and best of all, the producers accepted that the show lives or dies on having interesting housemates. Admittedly, they are all awful examples of humankind, but many of them were different to anything we’ve seen before and so they were worth watching.

We had a new age hippy lesbian who talked to animals and communed with nature, and who showed how harmonious she was by spitting everywhere and arguing with everyone. We had every tabloid’s dream housemate of the gay copper who’d worked on the Jimmy Savile case, who accurately worked out every twist the show could throw at the housemates, usually just after Big Brother revealed the twist. I miss his cries of, ‘I knew it!’ We had older housemates who had fun until the effect of living with young and stupid people wore them down. We had the nicest bloke in the world, who was so nice to everyone he turned the whole house against him. And we had several housemates with more words tattooed on their bodies than were in their vocabulary. Sadly the voting public removed all of them for the crime of being interesting and the ones who are left are the usual mob.

We have Sam, who is a low-rent version of Pete, BB7 in that he stays out of trouble, has a disability, and has had anything dubious he’s done edited out. He’s the current favourite. We have Gina, who’s a low-rent version of Kat, BB9 in that she’s invented a reality character to play, in this case the posh bitch. Like Kat she was the favourite, but the cumulative effect of her over-confidence and the growing feeling that she’s only pretending to like Ferrero Rochers and other classy things means she’ll probably go out to boos. Dexter is a low-rent version of Rex, BB9 except Rex really was an arrogant game-player whereas Dexter is a sad creep pretending to be an arrogant game-player. He’ll probably win.

Making up the rest are the twins, who are a low-rent version of the twins, BB8, except they don’t need subtitles. As a Will Hay fan I wanted to like them as they look like Will’s sidekick Graham Moffatt, and accordingly they’ve rehearsed dozens of comic routines to entertain us with. The effect of a twins comic routine is something like watching Keith Lemon and Ricky Gervais on a loop for 3 months, while having root canal work without an anaesthetic. Then there’s Sophie, who was billed as a low-rent version of Jade, BB3, presumably in the hope she’d make racist comments and become inexplicably popular, but it’s turned out she’s a low-rent version of Sophie, BB10 in that she’s playing the stupid bottle-blonde card. The previous Sophie pretended to be so stupid she didn't know how to spell her own name and won; this one won’t.

That leaves Charlie, who is a not a low-rent version of anyone and is something we’ve never seen before on Big Brother, which in her case is not a good thing. She’s hopelessly self-absorbed, has endless reserves of self-pity, can talk for ever about her favourite subject of Charlie while never actually saying anything, and is so tactless she’d probably shock Prince Phillip with her faux pas. She could well be the wettest housemate ever. She’ll probably go out to boos on Friday, after which she’ll write to everyone in the audience thanking them for being rude to her because she deserves it.

This mixing of the old style of housemate with the new is also the policy for the production of the show. One of the reasons for the show’s decline is that reality tv has moved on. When Big Brother started it was exciting watching a dozen people sitting around in a house for three months, but slowly it dawned on viewers that the show was just a dozen people sitting around in a house for three months. They wanted more and so scripted reality shows became the norm and took over, while Big Brother with its organic reality started to look dull. So this year stage managed most of the reality and that ensured a steady diet of conflict, but not so much that it lost the reality, and the reason for that is a simple one.

The thing about Big Brother is that a show that was seemingly about watching a dozen people sitting in a house for three months was never really about that. The people being watched weren't the housemates; it was us. The show throws up a mirror to society and by our reactions to the events in the house, we learn something about ourselves. This was most obvious in the Daley and Hazel saga, which grew into the most controversial incident since the Race Row.

The previous two Channel 5 series avoided controversy for fear of inciting the wroth of the complaining generation who watch Big Brother in the hope they’ll be offended and so keep OFCOM on speed dial. In BB12 someone apparently took a dump in a freezer, but this and all discussion about it was edited out. Now, I have no desire to see someone use a domestic appliance as a toilet, but if it does happen, I’d like to watch and judge and perhaps learn something about human nature. BB13 appeared, allegedly, to have some housemates being, shall we say, less than nice to another housemate who happened to be a different colour, but most of this conflict was edited out. I have no idea what the root cause of this situation was, but I’d like to watch and judge and perhaps learn something about human nature.

BB14 didn’t shy away from controversy, perhaps because this year provided a limited live feed ensuring the producers couldn’t stop reality intruding when viewers had already seen too much. So, after stage managing a situation where two horny people who fancied each other were locked in a room for several days with an unlimited supply of liquor and a limited supply of clothes, the show sat back to see what happened. It didn’t go according to plan. The female housemate flirted with the male housemate and in return the male housemate grabbed the female housemate by the throat and, allegedly, threatened her with physical violence. He was promptly evicted.

Presented with that situation, the reaction of the majority of the viewing public was fascinating as it was the opposite to what it ought to be. The male got sympathy for his plight and the female was blamed because she was a flirt, because she was asking for it, because, well, she was a woman. In the end, she was evicted to the loudest boos since the days of ‘Get Grace out.’ For that incident alone the show regained some of its credentials as a social experiment, because despite all the efforts of the producers to stage reality, sometimes real reality creeps in through the cracks and that reality can be an unsavoury one.

Friday 2 August 2013

The Legend of Shamus McGinty's Gold on Kindle

The first Fergal O’Brien novel The Legend of Shamus McGinty’s Gold is now available on Kindle, meaning the entire six book series has been published in e-book format.


When Amazon bought Thomas Bouregy, the publisher of the Fergal O’Brien series, they acquired the rights to books 2 to 6, but the first book came out before anyone had thought of adding e-books to the contract. So I kept the e-rights to that one with the intention of self-publishing.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally published the title. It sure was a fun task typing the entire novel out again using my only remaining copy of the original hardback, while all the time forcing myself to resist the temptation to rewrite the story. Anyhow, the book is now available on amazon at a bargain price of £0.99 or $1.49, and next year I’ll publish the 7th book in the series.

There's enough gold to make you think you can live forever, but Shamus McGinty has hidden it where no one can ever find it. The only way to find the gold is to stop looking, but once you find it, you won't even realize it. So goes the legend of Shamus McGinty's gold.

After forty years, Morgan Armstrong thinks he's close to solving the legend, but he's at death's door. He offers a share of the gold to the ruthless outlaw Quinn Rogers in return for finding a cure to save his life. Quinn looks no farther than Fergal O'Brien, purveyor of a “universal remedy” he claims will cure anything and everything.

Too bad for Morgan that it hasn't cured anyone yet, and too bad for Fergal when Quinn finds that out. His ultimatum to Fergal is simple: cure Morgan or die. To avoid the wrong end of Quinn's gun, Fergal and his trusty bodyguard, Randolph, must find a way to help Morgan. Their treatment just might be the key to solving the legend of Shamus McGinty's gold.

Available from Amazon.

Friday 19 July 2013

Sheriff without a Star in Large Print

I've just received my complimentary copies of the large print paperback version of Sheriff Without a Star. The bloke in the picture looks tough enough, although I was amused by the decision to advertise a book called Sheriff Without a Star by depicting a sheriff with a star. The book is my 18th Linford Western and it'll be available in all good libraries from the end of the July.

Cassidy Yates had been stripped of his Sheriff's star by the townsfolk of Monotony. Leland Matlock's son had died, due to his error of judgement. Then Leland, ready to reveal information that could have shed new light on the sheriff's downfall, was shot. Cassidy believed that Leland's shooting was connected to the death of his son. So, rising to the challenge to uncover the link, Cassidy endeavoured to get that star pinned back on his chest where it belonged.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Cover for The Devil's Marshal

I see that the cover for my next Black Horse Western has now been posted on amazon. The depicted character doesn't look particularly devily or marshaly, but as I'm fairly sure there's a scene somewhere in the story featuring a hat-wearing bloke with a gun standing outside a saloon, I'm happy. The book will be out in October.

In a travesty of justice, bounty hunter Brodie Latimer's sister Lucinda is found guilty of murder. Thwarted, when a witness is killed, but convinced of her innocence, he vows to find the real killer and, as more of Hamilton's leading figures die in mysterious circumstances, the clues lead him to Derrick Shelby, a man known as the Devil's marshal. The only trouble is, Derrick died a year ago.

How can Brodie clear his sister's name and bring the guilty to justice when the killer appears to be the spectre of a long dead lawman?

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Beyond Redemption in Large Print

I was pleased to get the news that Beyond Redemption will be published as a Large Print paperback. It should come out around the summer of 2014 and it'll be my 20th Linford Western.

As a child Jeff Dale witnessed the terrible aftermath of an atrocity. Elmer Drake killed three members of a family and when the surviving girl Cynthia went missing, Jeff vowed that one day he'd find her, no matter how long it took.

Ten years later, after finding a clue about Cynthia's fate, Jeff becomes a bounty hunter and follows the trail to the frontier town of Redemption. And in Redemption stalks a gunslinger who carries a gun in one hand and a cross in the other. A man with a rope-burn around his neck, called Elmer Drake...

Saturday 15 June 2013

R.I.P. Tom Sharpe

I'd missed noticing that the author Tom Sharpe died last week. He was another author of whom I can say I've read everything he ever wrote. In truth his recent comeback produced several not particularly funny books, but that only accentuated just how hilarious his early books were.

His comic novels in the 70s and 80s were a delight as they came before the need to be politically correct sapped humour of its bite. His tales featured inadequate buffoons and fat nymphomaniacs in crude and outlandish stories filled with the comic mayhem that would inevitably result when condoms are filled with helium or mountaineers buy tampons instead of crampons. The above cover depicts some typical scenes from an early Sharpe novel and to avoid the risk of offending anyone I probably shouldn't describe what they depict other than to say political correctness would deem these tales to be sexist, racist and homophobic and miss the point that they were of course poking satirical fun at the idiots who hold such views.

Even if comedy tastes have changed and his brand of humour stopped being fashionable, it'll never change the simple fact that Tom Sharpe was a very funny writer, in a snorting coffee out your nose and having a choking fit sort of way.

Monday 10 June 2013

R.I.P. Iain Banks

I've just heard the sad news that the author Iain Banks has died, only a few months after announcing he was officially very poorly. He was one of my favourite authors and I've read all but his last few novels, as I tend to be a few years behind.

I started reading him before he turned to science fiction with Espedair Street, which was my favourite of his non-sf novels. His science fiction mainly featured the loosely connected universe of the Culture that, unusually for space opera, was a utopian vision of the far-future. My favourite of those was Consider Phlebas. I remember at the time I'd gone off science fiction as most new books tended to be depressing dystopian cyberpunk where I never had a clue what was going on or what half the words meant. Then along came the Culture featuring fast-paced, lively, grand old-fashioned space opera that was above all else fun.

For the last 25 years, whenever I'm seeking out a new science fiction novel to read, my definition of good science fiction has been stories that are a bit like Iain Banks. I can’t see me changing that definition.

Monday 3 June 2013

Amazon's Fathers' Day promotion - Kindle westerns for $2.99 or less are running a promotion for selected western titles. It's already started and runs through to June 16, which is Fathers' Day in the U.S.

There's 175 Kindle titles to choose from and I'm happy to report that several of mine are in there, and I'm even happier to report that for a whole hour yesterday Miss Dempsey's School for Gunslingers was outselling several books by two up and coming authors Max Brand and Louis L'Amour. Although I was less happy to note that The Miracle of Santa Maria was the 171st bestselling title in the promotion.

Anyhow, all the books in the promotion can be found here.

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.

Monday 29 April 2013

Review of Night of the Gunslinger

I’ve always enjoyed stories that take place over a short period of time, and here Ian Parnham does just that; with everything happening during one night...

Read more at Western Fiction Review

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Night of the Gunslinger

I received my complimentary copies of Night of the Gunslinger today and I like the cover. The picture is set at night and as an incident at the poker table is a crucial part of the story, it feels appropriate.

The story was an itch I had to scratch. I'd tried several times to write a story set during a single day, but every time the plot contrivances grew and I abandoned the principle. With this novel I'd originally started the story at sundown on the night before a man's trial for murder. I didn't know if he was innocent or guilty, but I hoped to find out as I went along.

As it turned out, I wrote and wrote without any sign of the trial getting started until I realized I'd written eight chapters and it was still dark. Without trying I was accidentally doing the thing I'd tried to do before of writing a story in almost real time. So I carried on and as it turned out, everything came together before sun-up letting me finally itch the itch...

It's my 27th Black Horse Western and the book is now available.

With the town marshal laid up with a broken leg, Deputy Rick Cody must stand alone to protect New Town during a night of mayhem. At sunup Edison Dent will stand trial for Ogden Reed's murder and although Rick suspects that Edison is innocent, he also reckons his own sister knows more than she's prepared to reveal.

With Rick having only one night to uncover the truth, his task is made harder when the outlaw Hedley Beecher plots to free the prisoner while Ogden's brother Logan vows to kill Edison and anyone who stands in his way.

Within an hour of sundown four men are dead. And so begins the longest and bloodiest night of Rick's life...

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Today is a good day to rediscover Star Trek: Enterprise - Part 1

I've just finished watching the last and, in the opinion of the handful of fans who've watched it, the least Star Trek spin-off tv series. Having watched Enterprise in its entirety for the first time I think it's time the series got some of the credit it's never been accorded. Even today in the world of Trekkie fandom, there appears to be only two subject matters on which many fans can agree: that JJ Abrams couldn’t give a stuff about Trek, and that Enterprise was rubbish.

I can't get excited about debating the first subject and in truth I used to agree with the second one. When Enterprise started in 2001, I'd watched over 500 episodes of the franchise during its 14 years of being continually on air, and that's enough crinkly-headed aliens, malfunctioning holodecks and temporal disturbances in the duotronic tachyon matrix for anyone. It wasn't helped that in the UK it aired on Channel 4 as part of the T4 schedule, which caters for gormless teenagers. So every week I had to sit through the single most annoying and smug human in history June Sarpong interviewing boybands before getting my weekly dose of space nonsense.

I watched most of season 1, started to drift away in season 2 and when the Xindi arrived in season 3, I checked out for good. A break of ten years has helped me to see past those irritations and I now reckon the series holds together better than I expected. It's not a masterpiece and it makes mistakes, but then again so do the other Trek spin-offs. Next Generation opens with two dire seasons and closes badly. Deep Space 9 has several dodgy years until Sisko shaves his head and Voyager plumbs the depths in the early years with Kes and Neelix and the Kazon. Enterprise on the other hand presents four solid seasons of entertainment and it has glossy production values and modern story telling techniques that have yet to date. So over two articles I'd like to address the balance and heap some praise on the most maligned of the Trek spin-offs.

Season 1

The series starts promisingly with Broken Bow, probably the best Trek pilot show. It doesn't have The Cage's goofiness, Farpoint Station's ponderous nature, Emissary's filler scenes, or Caretaker's poor use of the Prime Directive. Instead, it provides a lively story and situation that feels as if it is set somewhere between now and Kirk's era. People wear suits and ties and get excited about space travel. Enterprise is cramped and functional. Technology is limited. Transporters are untried, there are no universal translators and there's definitely no holodeck.

Aliens are also in short supply with the Vulcans being portrayed as arrogant and the Klingons as murderous thugs. The only weak note is that the new alien race of the Suliban are uninteresting, which sadly sets a precedent for the show in which all the new aliens are dull. The story gets the balance right for a pilot with the characters being introduced by the way they react to the plot and the plot itself about returning a Klingon to his home world is a strong piece of space adventure featuring numerous set pieces. The Suliban space station built out of thousands of small ships and the ice-bound frontier town both feel like places Trek has never visited before.

After all the excitement in the pilot, it's strange that once the series gets going, individual episodes turn out to be quiet character pieces. One of the strengths of the Trek format was to remove the science from the science fiction so that it could concentrate on the stories. For example the transporter took the characters from the spaceship to an alien planet in a moment freeing up the time taken in getting from A to B. Enterprise turns this on its head and makes stories out of the fact that the technology isn’t available. So alien ships have to be boarded with shuttlecrafts and spacesuits, alien dialogue needs to be translated, and with a maximum speed of warp 5 it takes time to get places.

With the technology being a struggle the show depicts how the characters react to being in space, with some of the crew being wary and others treating the mission as a holiday with a chance to visit alien bars, meet alien women, and make snowmen on comets. Most pleasing of all is the show's colour palette and design. Trek had increasingly become about bright lights and day-glo costumes, but Enterprise is more in keeping with modern science fiction with its grime and darkness. The predominant colours are dirty grey and dirty brown. Every alien ship they meet looks like a cargo ship with rust and oil on the walls. Doors need to be dragged open while to operate anything, levers must be pulled and cogs have to be cranked.

The small scale stories of season 1 are an interesting change to the usual plot heavy Trek stories, but it highlights a problem that plagues the show, namely the uneven balance of time devoted to the characters. I assume the show tried to recreate the three-part act of Kirk, Spock and McCoy with the rest being secondary support, and it almost works. Scott Bakula with his cheesy acting style is for me the perfect actor to play a Starfleet captain. Nobody else could deliver lines like, 'You just don’t know how much I want to knock you down on your ass right now.' and not make you groan. Archer's sidekick Trip, played as an cheerful Chief O'Brien is always watchable, but the third part of the group T'Pol was a bad idea. The thinking behind the character is obvious. Leeta's breasts livened up later seasons of Deep Space 9 while Seven of Nine's breasts were so big they saved Voyager from cancellation. So all Enterprise needed for a great character is even bigger breasts, but sadly the makers forgot that Leeta was a lot of fun and Seven was a compelling character, whereas T'Pol is so quiet and disinterested in everything, she makes every scene she's in drag.

The rest of the cast rarely get the chance to shine. Phlox could have been a great Trek doctor, being an optimistic opposite of Voyager's misanthropic Doctor. His early line of: 'There's a chance he could live, just not a good one.' shows so much potential, but it's never realized. Linguist Hoshi is scared of her own shadow and so is a much-needed antidote to all those fearless Trek officers, except the writers rapidly tired of her being scared all the time and so she only gets to be nervous when the script calls for it. Security officer Reed is such a mystery the first story in which he gets more than one line involves the cast trying to work out why he's so mysterious, and then finding out his big secret is he likes pineapple. The actor should have stayed in the sitcom Desmond's as he got more to do there. The last main character is of course Enterprise's big joke, except it was done better in Galaxy Quest when they had a character whose name nobody could remember. Archer's dog Porthos gets more screen time than poor old Ensign Mayweather, and once you notice the scripts go out of their way to avoid having him do anything, you're left to wonder why he's even there, which he usually isn’t.

Highlights: The episode Doctor, Doctor where the crew help aliens for noble reasons, but then discover their intervention is harming their natural development. Exploring the need for a Prime Directive is the perfect subject for a prequel and this story does it well. Also strong is the developing arc involving friction between the Vulcans and the Andorians, which introduces Jeffrey Combs' recurring character Shran. My favourite individual moment is an episode where Enterprise blasts off a torpedo only to watch it bounce off the alien's spaceship without making a scratch, leaving the crew to just sit there and hope they don’t get killed in retaliation. This scene perfectly depicts Enterprise's lowly role in galactic affairs.

Lowlights: The temporal cold war arc, which is the lamest time-travel idea in all Trek. It's obviously being made up as they go along, so it’s impossible to care about any of it. The worst moment of the year is the Decontamination chamber, in fact it's probably the worst moment in all Trek, evicting the two previous candidates of Paris and Janeway turning into lizards and mating, and Spock jamming with groovy hippy alien chicks. The Decontamination chamber is something you watch assuming it's an ironic joke, except it's not and once you've seen it you can never unwatch it. Here's a clip. You have been warned.

Season 2

The most noticeable thing about season 1 is there are no dreadful episodes and I reckon it can be classed as the best first season of any of the Trek spin-offs. But sadly, season 1's low-key, low-tech, low-action approach to space stories didn’t appeal to viewers and so what would become an annual rethink leads to season 2 increasing the amount of action. So Reed invents red alert leading to everyone running around with phasers instead of interacting.

This new sense of urgency works well for a while. One excellent early development has the ship taking heavy damage in one episode only for the next week's episode to start with the damage still unrepaired, which leads to a story about searching for raw materials. After seven years of Voyager and its reset button attitude to ship repairs, this was an excellent note of realism. But the early promise soon fades away and mid-season 2 presents the worst of Enterprise with the temporal cold war blundering along and the promising Andorian arc stalling.

With the show drifting along aimlessly failing to build on its potential while retelling stories that have all been done before and better, it looked as if the show would be cancelled. So all thoughts turned to re-inventing the format, which I have mixed feelings about as just before the big change, Enterprise unexpectedly comes into focus and season 2 ends with a strong series of episodes. Cogenitor, which deals with a disastrous cultural misunderstanding, should be acclaimed as one of Trek's finest ever episodes, while The Breach highlights Phlox's strengths. Judgement pays homage to The Undiscovered Country with a visit to a famous Klingon prison and the Borg episode is better than Voyager's Borg episodes and the later Next Generation ones too.

Highlight: The annual Hoshi being drippy episode.

Lowlight: The episode where Trip falls in love with an annoying princess, who is played by the single most wooden actor I've ever seen in anything. Oh and the one where Porthos is the central character.

Pondering on what does and doesn’t work in season 2 rapidly becomes irrelevant as with the final episode of the year, everything changes with the show moving from an episodic format to becoming a serial. So in a couple of weeks I'll look at the second half of Enterprise, the good part.