Blogiversary: Greatest Hits

Five years of all this nonsense but what nonsense were people reading and when? I’m down here in the archive stacks of Felapton Towers and blowing the dust off the weird old filing cabinets to find out. These posts are just the numbers-game hits rather than special favourites and often other factors drove the traffic to them.

2015

The first year out for the blog and Puppy-kerfuffling was already in full on kerfluff.

2016

2016 was the year that the unreality field started spilling out everywhere.

2017

2017 was dominated by Rabid Puppy shenanigans. In particular Vox Day’s spoiler campaign for John Scalzi’s new sci-fi trilogy.

2018

I was downloading a report from an online database the other day and I was entering a date range. I wanted to cover the whole set of records which started in 2011. So I picked 2011/1/1 as the start date and that day’s date which I typed as 2018/5/8. What? I think my brain stopped updating the year and I’ve been stuck in 2018 ever since.

The reality dysfunction was going full-on as world politics got even stranger. Meanwhile this blog was forced into self-referentiality as I got caught up in my own Sad Puppy kerbungle and then later became a Hugo Finalist.

2019

At the very start of January 2019 I considered winding down the blog. Later I decided to post something every day. I’m fickle. Surprisingly, it was the Nebula Awards that drove traffic to the blog.

2020

The year isn’t finished yet but it started on fire and followed up with a global pandemic. This is a first-quarter list but I think some of the themes for the year are clear…

Sir Tim Cattenborough Presents The Life Cycle of a Novel

[A stunning new nature documentary by world famous publisher, naturalist and national treasure Sir Timothy Cattenborough]

Our beautiful planet Earth. From up here on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro we can see the vast vistas of nature’s own miracles and what greater miracle can there be than the majestic novel — one of the natural world’s most miraculous miracles.

Here I am in the forests of Borneo gazing in wonder at the spectacular site of thousands of novels making their nests among the natural shelving of the great pine trees of northern Scandinavia. Whether it is these great majestic creatures of the plains of Patagonia or the more common domesticated novel of these rolling hills of Southern England, the novel is a familiar sight to us all.

But very few people have ever managed to see the hidden lifecycle of a novel. How are they born? How do they grow? And how, via the miracle of evolution do they reproduce? Today, via special cameras disguised as robots disguised as librarians we have, over a gruelling five minute project, at last gained unique footage of the novel’s lifecycle.

Here we are in the tar pits of Southern California. Here scatter brained authors drunk on fumes wander into the sticky petroleum products and become caught. This process, known as pitching a novel, provides the perfect breeding ground for more books. Young virile novels land on the decomposing bodies of the authors and there they mate and leave their eggs, flying off to grow even further.

Using our special macro lenses we can see here those novel eggs hatching into their first semi-aquatic form. These tiny monster-like creatures are known, here among the fenlands of Northern Europe, as short stories. They may look tiny but many are infamous for having vicious stings in their tails.

Tiny and vulnerable, these larval novels often huddle together in “magazines” for warmth and protection, as we can see here among the frozen wastes of Greenland. There they feed on tiny protozoic food sources such as ‘subscriptions’ and ‘reviews’. The lucky ones continue to grow while others become consumed by their siblings.

The larger short stories fight for attention and sustenance. Soon the few that have survived the brutal competition for resources have grown into the next stage of the lifecycle: the novelette. Still far from fully formed, the beginnings of novel-like structures have begun to appear. Some novelettes may have begun to grow chapters or even cover-art (the strange colourful crests that might evolve into mating displays).

Birds, small tigers and meerkats all seek out novelettes as tasty treats, thus winnowing the herds of novelettes that appear just before midwinter in anticipation of award season. Hungry squirrels burrow away collections of novelettes and often leave them forgotten in desk drawers or amid poorly named folders on their laptops. Very few of these noble creatures will make it through to the next stage in their growth.

Those that do survive, continue to grow into armoured novellas. Now equipped with their own external exoskeletons, their ‘covers’ may still be soft and their binding may only be rudimentary. Many will still seek to stay in the colonies known as ‘anthologies’ due to their resemblance to ant nests. There, amid the company of both novelettes and short stories they continue to take on adult form.

The passing seasons brings those novellas into full novel form. Some may be not quite full length or be in a ‘young adult’ form. Others will have grown tough outer carapaces known as ‘hardbacks’. These new novels are often garishly coloured. Scientists are divided as to whether the coloured patterns and striking colours are to attract mates or, alternatively, a form of disruptive camouflage to confuse voracious carnivores such as lions, pythons and book hoarders. Some novels form symbiotic relationships with other creatures – in particular librarians – and form large colonies in urban centres.

Later adulthood leads to further growth. Some novels find rich sources of nutrients and grow into mighty doorstop-sized novels. Other bifurcate into bizarre multi-novel book series and spread root-like tendrils known as spin-offs.

But death and rebirth are the only two constants of nature and even giant hardback multi-novel series with embossed leather covers must eventually pass beyond. Yet, by the miracle of nature, nothing is wasted and from the decaying remains of one novel come a myriad of derivative short stories. Thus the circle of life is complete.

Timothy and the Orthography of Biddlesworth

It was a cold March day and Timothy the Talking Cat was stuck indoors. An icy wind would catch on the cat-flap in the kitchen and set the thing flapping noisily in a way that drove the cat away from his comfort position by the infrared glow of the Aga.

Pacing the extensive hallways of Felapton Towers, the loquacious cat felt edgy, unnerved, not entirely as comfortable in his plush purple skin as he should feel. Was it just the unseasonal wind? Was it the photo of Boris Johnson he had unwisely stuck to the bathroom door so that eyes of the mop-haired tyrant seemed to follow you as you passed him by on the way to the lavatory? Or…was it something else…something deeper that only the finally tuned feline instincts of the world’s greatest editor could intuit? Or was it the other unseasonal wind that had come from Timothy unwisely stealing Camestros’s coconut and mushroom chilli from the fridge and eating it in one sitting as a late night feast?

Timothy dismissed his apprehensions and made his way to the extensive library. He strolled bast the shelves of Louis XIV-style Kindle and made his way to the bejewelled Android tablet section of the library. Picking a vintage 2014 Galaxy Tab off the shelf at random he flicked open the first app he saw and began browing.

In a large comfortable chair that was just barely maintaining its integrity after years of misuse as a scratching post by the resident cat, sat Camestros busy reading the latest copy of The Sydney Morning Herald in a bid to maintain an increasingly shaky cover story that he was actual a meat robot living in Australia. For extra verisimilitude he was holding the paper upside down while trying to make notes to help him distinguish between Peter Dutton and Sontaran Commander Lynx. When suddenly his antipodean research was loudly interrupted by the banshee like wail of the cat.

“Omy gosh!” cried Camestros, “you aren’t going to have coconut chilli diarrhoea again?”. The cat stared at him sarcastically, which is a trick only cats know how to do.

“No, I am not going to have coconut chilli diarrhoea — something which I note that you have no idea how to spell never mind clean up properly. I am afraid we have far, far more serious trouble that any intestinal issues caused by your poor cooking and irresponsible positioning of left overs where any innocent cat might find them inside a locked fridge at midnight. No, dear Camelstrop we are facing a far, far deeper crisis. Come hither and look upon what I have found.” replied the cat, without ever once pausing in his direct speech so that the text could be broken up with a brief ‘he said’ or maybe a ‘cat replied’.

Camestros, not wanting to disturb the blanket on his knees, used the heels of his feet to drag the chair across the floor without standing up from it. The cat shifted its otherwise blank expression from sarcastic to sardonic with a mere flick of a whisker.

After the screeching of the chair feet across the parquetry floor had finished and Camestros had reached a position approximate to the cat’s, he looked over Tim’s shoulder to see what the cat had found.

“It’s just Google Maps!” said Camestros, relieved, “I was worried it was going to be some dead animal you’d found behind a wainscot.”

“Firstly you have no idea what a wainscot is. Secondly I have vowed not to show you any more dead animals as you simply do not appreciate them. Thirdly look at the map! Look carefully at the description of our address!”

Camestros adjusted the pince-nez on his nose and read aloud: “Felapton Towers, Biddlesworth, Biddlesworthshire, UK…Wait…what? Biddlesworth?”

“Exactly! You maybe slow of wit but even you can see that something is afoot. Bidlesworth is spelt with only one ‘d’!” replied Timothy triumphantly.

“No, no, that’s not it at all. Our town is, or was, called ‘Bortsworth’ not ‘Biddlesworth’ with either one or two d’s. No, my dear cat, something much worse is going on than the orthography of Biddlesworth!” exclaimed Camestros, “Timothy, everything we knew or thought we knew about ourselves is wrong!”

“Oh no,” said Timothy, “you can’t mean!”

“Yes, our LORE has changed!”

“Noooooooo!!!!!!!” said Timothy quoting his most famous creation, Chiselled McEdifice or was that his most famous creation anymore? Now that the very backstory to Timothy the Talking Cat had changed from Bortsworth to Biddlesworth (with one or two d’s) could any statement about his past be made with any certainty.

“Quick to the kitchen cupboard!” cried Camestros, “We have not a moment to lose!”

“I’d rather not go into the kitchen,” said Timothy, “the cat flap keeps flapping without me making it flap and I don’t like it.”

“Ok, understood. Quick, let me go to the kitchen cupboard!” cried Camestros ammendedly, “I have not a moment to lose.” And off he went leaving the blanket and cat-damaged comfy chair behind.

After much rummaging around and at least one bang on the old noggin, Camestros returned with two aerosol cans.

“The cupboard was a mess. I suspect, Mr Atomic our cleaning robot has ceased to exist during the clumsy re-writing of our backstories!”

“Meh,” said Timothy, “I never really felt he added anything.”

“Also Straw Puppy has gone!” added Camestros.

“That is an outrage!” cried Timothy.

“Luckily I have just the thing!” said Camestros holding up two aerosol cans garishly labelled “RetConBeGon” in comical letters.

[Camestros] Quick, spray it all over yourself!
[Tim] We are back in dialogue format!
[Camestros] That shows it is working!
[Mr Atomic] I smell the sweet smell of propellants.
[Camestros] Mr Atomic! You’re back! Quick! We are having a canonical-crisis! Takes these cans and spray the whole house! The whole town! The whole count!
[Mr Atomic] Excited as I am to engage in the wholesale dispersal of cleaning products I can’t help but note that our collective backstories have never been known for their consistency.
[Timothy] Listen here you no-good anthropomorphised excuse for a Roomba, whether I am a human-sized cat or a regular-sized cat with human sized ambitions is MY choice but I will not have some unknown interloper interfere with my precious town of BIDLESWORTH!
[Camestros] (Bortsworth)
[Timothy] (sorry) [sprays a bit more RetConBeGon on their armpits] I will not have some unknown interloper interfere with my precious town of BORTSWORTH!
[Mr Atomic] Very commendable sir. I shall release the crop-dusting drones fortwith.
[Camestros] Hoorah! We are saved!
[Timothy] For now…but who know when the sinister figure behind all this will strike again…

[Cut to a shadowy meat robot in Sydney] Oh, I shall strike again little cat. Just you wait and see….

The Consuming Book Title

Tor Books have revealed the cover of the third book in John Scalzi’s ‘Interdependency’ series. It’s very nice: big bold text over gorgeous space-art. For reasons far too complex to recap, I have ended up being something of a student of the covers of these books and I’m kind of disappointed that there isn’t going to be a book four in this series because there are some definite trends in these covers.

The title text has got progressively bigger with each one and almost systematically so.

With apologies to Sparth (cover artist) and Tor Books

The ‘the’* has been wandering leftwards** as well, so that a hypothetical book four would have the ‘the’ falling off one side or perhaps appearing on the right hand side like your spaceship in a game of Asteroids.

I’m in two minds as to whether this is a really effective use of text elements on a cover or whether it is annoyingly obscuring the great artwork underneath. With the author name as another text element, there’s only a small window in which the artwork details can be glimpsed.

Is there method in commissioning amazing artwork and covering it in text? I don’t know the actual reasoning but the window the text creates in the bottom third quarter is enough to show the main focus of the picture. The text occludes the rest of the image but it is a kind of tease, a suggestion that more can be seen. You won’t literally see more of the picture inside the book but I can see how that teasing element encourages you to look inside.

*[Not to be confused with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_The ]

**[ I should make a joke about John Scalzi wandering leftwards before one of his detractors do.]

Poster colour schemes

Paul Weimer retweeted an interesting picture:

The article he links to is really interesting. It looks how digital colour effects in film have led to the dominance of a “teal and orange” colour scheme that is visually appealing and yet unnatural.

The accompanying Tweet shows how that same colour pairing keeps appearing on movie posters. It’s not universal, for example the Avengers: Endgame uses a lot more purple than teal/blue even though it is of a similar “all the characters at different sizes” style of image. Even so, the visual similarity between the three posters in the tweet is remarkable once you see it — particularly given they are quite different films. A more extreme example, with slightly different tones:

Orange tends to be a bit bigger and the blues a bit smaller. The style usually has orange to the left and blue to the right. I think the basic template is like this:

The colours don’t quite look right as they average between bright highlights and very dark shadows. Also the figures give more shape. Changing all that to some coloured blurry blobs gives me this poster:

The most ambitious crossover event of the century

Note quite right but closer to the general effect. I’ll keep trying so I can get the style right.

Amazon crackdown?

Has Amazon taken down books from the far-right Castalia House publishing outfit aka Vox Day’s vanity publisher? Vox Day is claiming that they have:

“You may have noticed that you can’t find any Castalia House ebooks on Amazon right now. That’s because Amazon shut down our KDP account on the basis of a wildly spurious claim of publishing material to which we do not have the necessary rights. “

[archive link]

The work that seems to have caught Amazon’s attention is Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1) which Day published (and probably wrote) as a kind of spoiler for the release of John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire (which I read here).

The book in question already had a checkered history. Back in March 2017 Mike Glyer covered the various ins-and-outs of its availability: http://file770.com/amazon-keeps-freeze-on-sales-of-castalias-corrosion/comment-page-1/

Checking Amazon right now, I can see a variety of Castalia House books being listed. I can also see the audio-book version of Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1)  but not the ebook. It’s possible that Amazon had a more sweeping in its takedown of Castalia House earlier but we only have Day’s word for it and he’s not a reliable source.

Day is, of course, presenting this as some kind of authoritarian crackdown etc. etc. but the whole “joke” of his book was that it was meant to have a cover and title and author name intended to look like a more popular book. The rationale given was that it was a parody but the book itself isn’t a parody of John Scalzi’s book aside from its cover.

In short, the self-own keeps owning. A poorly thought-out attempt by Vox Day to strike another blow in his long-running “gamma” grievance against John Scalzi continues to disrupt his own business and its main source of income. A borderline case of deceptive marketing will continue to be a borderline case of deceptive marketing and will keep on biting him on his metaphorical bottom. The master strategist strikes again…

[eta: and apparently Castalia has been re-instated http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/01/reinstated.html?m=1 ]

The Concerning Fine by Tim Catzi: Part 2 of the Colluding Umpire

Chapter 1
The Countess Moggymotheaten of the House of Moggymotheaten surveyed her surroundings on her palatial spaceship.
“F-ck, f-ck, f-ck,” she said using her customary choice of vocabulary.
“Would…” asked her lawyer and occasional ex-lover Buggles Tinternabbeygiftshop, “…you like to me to…take care of this unfortunate incident for you?”
“Of course I want you to f_cking, f-ck take f_cking, f-ck, f-ck care of f_cking it. F_ck” said the Countess.
Then for good measure she repeated the word “F_ck” sixty seven more times at varying distances from Buggles Tinternabbeygiftshop’s face.

Chapter 2
Across the Interminabledependnecy a thousand human habitations drifted through a pithy and not wholly irrelevant info dump that, with a few asides, discussed much of both the history and the underlying physics of the setting of this novel.

True, most of the population of the Interminabledependnecy already knew this, having sat through (as a largely un-talkative population) the first novel of this series and beside which they had all presumably gone to school or something, although the exact details of how these people lived is beside the point as we’ll largely be looking at the lives of particularly sweary aristocrats for several more chapters.

Chapter 3
The Emperatrix Betty Niceperson considered her options which despite the massive power of her position was highly limited. Not naturally being a sweary aristocrat left Betty Niceperson at a distinct disadvantage when negotiating with the powerful families of Interminabledependnecy. She simply did not know how to say “F_ck” with sufficient vehemence to make herself understood. She had experimented with saying “gosh darn it” but it hadn’t had the same effect.
Just then Buggles Tinternabbeygiftshop arrived with his customary vague threat from the Countess Moggymotheaten.
“I’m sorry,” explained the Emperatrix, “I’ve completely lost track of which person was my half-brother and which person was the Moggymotheaten scion I was supposed to marry and which one was trying to murder me.”
“The simple answer,” explained Buggles, “Is they are in fact all exactly the same person with different names. It’s a technical term we call SRAMP.”
“SRAMP” said Brunomars Nicechap, the Emperatrix’s pet physicist from the first book.
“Some rich arsehole merchant prince,” explained Buggles acronymically.
“I see,” said Betty,” but how does that help with the imminent collapse of the Empire?”
“It doesn’t,” explained Buggles, “I just accidentally wandered in from the earlier chapter.

Chapter 4
“F_cccckkkkkk” continued the Countess Moggymotheaten for at least another few paragraphs.

Chapter 5
Brunomars Nicechap stood in front of the crowd of angry looking space geologists.
“Please,” he pleaded, “you have to believe me that the whole Interminabledependnecy is going to collapse!”
“Of course we believe you,” said the scientists, “your math checks out and anyway the whole thing started to collapse in the last book. We aren’t idiots.”
“But, but, we’ve a whole chapter to fill with you guys not believing me.” said Brunomars Nicechap.
“Maybe we could just all sit here and check our emails instead?” suggested the scientists.
Which is what they did.

Chapter 6
“F_cccckkkkkk” continued the Countess Moggymotheaten for at least another few chapters.

Chapter 7
“What was I doing again?” asked Buggles Tinternabbeygiftshop of the Emperatrix.
“I think you were still supposed to be in chapter 1 getting orders from the Countess Moggymotheaten.” suggested Betty as nicely as possible.
“There’s not much point, she’ll be swearing for another six chapters at least.” said Buggles.
“Well we could have sex instead?” suggested Betty.
“Only if it is perfunctory and somewhat unerotic,” suggested Buggles.
“F_ck,” said the Emperatrix.

Chapter 8
Then the Interminabledependnecy collapsed.
“F_ck” said everybody.

“That’s not how you write a novel,” said Jonathon Franzen.

“F_ck off, Jonathon Franzen,” said the Countess Moggymotheaten who then crashed a spaceship into the sun.

Work in Progress

Last year my walrusfysing sci-fi cover maker was fun but I wanted to do something a bit better. I made the last one quickly using a tool called Hype, but I wanted to make something with leaner code that would let people make a big colourful space opera cover. In particular, I wanted the final image to be downloadable as an image file with enough resolution to use as a legitimate book cover

And I’ve done that! The code works and I’ve got a lot of images together (more still to do though. My main issue now is finding a home (the attic workshop can’t hold the number of image files needed).

When everything is ready I’ll announce it 🙂

Meanwhile, here is an example of what it can make. Each image has seven layers (some of which can be blank) and you can pick an image for each layer.

covermarksample

McEdifice Returns: Chapter It’s Grimdark Oop North

penguinmcedifice

By Tim “bobbins” Cat and Straw “fettled keks” Puppy

It were grim all right. Grim and grey. Grim and grey and the air was sulfurous and full of grit.

“This is must be an aspect of the hell dimension,” said McEdifice as the trio trudged up the hillside on the outskirts of the fume enshrouded city.

“It cannot be,” replied Qzrrzxxzq, “the populace was too relentlessly chirpy.”

“Service is required when belt lubrication is low,” stated ScanScan.

“He thinks it is the vast quantity of tea that they drink,” translated McEdifice, “Perhaps the demonic overlords of this place put something in the tea.”

“What I don’t get is the rain,” said Qzrrzxxzq changing the subject to the near incessant drizzle, “When it isn’t raining it is foggy. The air is constantly near the point of saturation but that is manifestly impossible. At some point the water has to evaporate to get into the atmosphere and yet it nearly never stops raining. The water cycle here defies logic – it is completely implausible.”

“Paper jam in the bypass tray,” said ScanScan.

“He says not everybody was chirpy,” explained McEdifice, “there were occasional angry young men with big ideas who were going to challenge the system.”

“Frankly I preferred the constant music-hall jokes,” mused Qzrrzxxzq, “but I think if I’d encountered another colliery brass band I would have enacted violence on a tuba.”

They had wandered the city for days but the polluted damp air had made it impossible for ScanScan to use his transdimensional abilities. After much effort to communicate with the locals they had been told that “thing might be different in Yorkshire.” When asked where this fabled place might be, the locals just waved vaguely at the hills to the east.

The trio had marched out of town and up onto the moors.

On the third day, like a miracle, the clouds parted. Above the smog and coal-fired fumes, ScanScan re-activated the ansible projector.

“But where to now?” asked Qzrrzxxzq.

“I have so many unanswered questions. Why did the vampires send me back to that planet of hippies? Why didn’t they just kill me? And why did they invade Planet Campus?” mused McEdifice.

“There’s only one place that we can find those answers,” stated Qzrrzxxzq.

“Draculon 6 – The Vampire Planet of the Six-sixty-six System.” said McEdifice.

“Settings entered,” said ScanScan.

“Lets kick some vampire butt,” said McEdifice.

“I think they say ‘vampire arse’ around here,” corrected Qzrrzxxzq.

And with that they were sucked into the transdimensional gyre.

Chapters are cultural convention that we need not adhere to

mcedificebeam.jpg

McEdifice Returns by Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy ©Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy. McEdifice™ Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy. All rights reserved. Patent pending. Also, we put this whole chapter in an envelope and mailed it to the Pope but we deliberately used the wrong address so it came back to us which means our copyright claim is recognised by the Vatican and the Post Office.

McEdifice was still recovering from having punched himself out of a hallucination, staggered onward to Outlaw’s Gulch, the infamous hideout of the Treerat Gang against who he had sworn revenge for what was now a multitude of crimes. To wit:

  1. Shooting at his head
  2. Killing Chuck the Pony (don’t worry he isn’t really dead)
  3. Sabotaging Simon the Bicycle (sadly Simon is definitely dead – also we decided to call him ‘Simon’ so you knew which bicycle we were talking about)
  4. Putting hallucinogenic drugs on the handlebars of the bike
  5. Being all round bad people

Oh, those miscreants were in for a heap of trouble once McEdifice got their hands on them! This was going to be a showdown of epic proportions! A gunfight of some significant magnitude! A veritable brouhaha of brutality and bruises. A Toccata and fugue of Bach-like proportions where violence is the organ keys and McEdifice would be pulling out all the stops. (Nice one SP!)

McEdifice stepped through the entrance to Outlaw’s Gulch with a brazen swagger, knowing that his very appearance would intimidate the feeble willed outlaws.

“Come out and meet my vengeance!” shouted McEdifice.

But the only sound was the echo of his cry.

“They’re all gone McEdifice,” said a snide and yet familiar voice.

With reflexes so quick that the nerve impulses in his nerves probably go like faster than lightning, McEdifice whipped around lightning fast with his laser pistol ready to spurt lightning at the intruder behind him.

There was nobody there.

“Over here, you stupid ass.” said the snide voice.

McEdifice looked up and then left and right.

“In the tree. For goodness sake. It is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.”

McEdifice turned back to the centre of the gulch where stood an old oak tree. On a branch sat a man in full dress uniform of the Intergalactic Space Navy Marine Corp.

“Well, well, well,” said McEdifice, “if it isn’t Commander Clench, my old nemesis. I thought I told you never to set foot again on the Grassland Planet of Steppe.”

“Well yes, you did but as I explained at the time, I’m free to go anywhere I like and also I outrank you and also I have an orbiting space-dreadnought directly above us that could wipe you off the face of the planet before you could even grimace at me in a way I didn’t like.” explained Commander Clench.

“Well, I told you then that I was never going back. I’m officially retired.”

“Your choice McEdifice but I’ve some bad news for you. If you want those Treerat boys then they’ve already left the planet.”

“What?”

“War has returned to the Galaxy McEdifice. The massed armada of the evil Space Vampires is claiming huge tracts of space. The Intergalactic Space Army has conscripted every lowlife, miscreant, outlaw, ner-do-well, street punk and tax account into a desperate rag-tag yet elite army of the meanest, nastiest and most financially prudent scum-of-the-earth battalion you never imagined. This ‘bad battalion’ as we have named them will form the vanguard of an assault on the space vampires followed by more conventional (and better groomed) forces.”

“That means nothing to me Clench. My mission is vengeance not another one of your endless wars. No, not even the looming threat of my ultimate enemy – the insidious space vampires – is enough to sway me from my course of avenging Chuck and Simon.”

“Actually Chuck is fine.”

“I won’t fall for your lies again Clench.”

“Have it your way, but the only way you can kill those Treerat Boys is to shoot your way through the Intergalactic Space Army, killing brave soldiers intent on defending the galaxy from evil space vampires. Oh, I know you McEdifice, better than you know yourself.”

“Damn you Clench. What is it that you want from me?”

“Mainly to humiliate you and make you look stupid. To that end, here is a once only offer. If you join the Intergalactic Space Army then you will have the right under the military code of settling debts of honour via the ancient tradition of a duel. Your course is simple: join the army, make your way to the front, challenge the Treerat Boys in turn to duels. And, of course, while you are out there KILL SOME SPACE VAMPIRES.”

“Grrrrr. DAMN YOU CLENCH! OK, you give me no choice. If Major Commander McEdifice needs to take to the field of battle one more time then I’ll do just that.”

“Minor correction: that would be PRIVATE McEdifice. Your rank was for the Space Navy Marines. You’ll need to join the ARMY. It’s back to boot camp for you McEdifice!”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”