A thing I learned since we last talked; Vladimir Putin’s grandad was Josef Stalin’s chef. He lived to tell of it, and to gift us a bunch of Putin memes and GRU plots. But I suppose we can’t hold that against Grandpa Putin. The memes, at least, are fun.
A reader at my blog (the long and winding version of this newsletter) tipped me to the story, which has been confirmed by the Kremlin’s press office. I’m not sure whether that makes it more or less likely to be true, but I like the idea that it is true.
I do remember from researching and writing the Axis of Time books that Stalin loved a feed, and claimed to have invented ‘aravgi’, a type of super fatty lamb stew that he insisted on serving to the politburo with murderous volumes of rough red wine and vodka. And if you couldn’t hold down your drink or Uncle Joe’s spicy lamb stew…
Anyways, I’m back to thinking about Stalin’s love of a terrifying casserole because the Axis of Time is rolling again with World War 3.1.
I’ve been working on it for a while now and I gotta tell you it is a glorious goddamn pleasure to take my daily leave of this, the worst time line, for an alternate 1955 where all I have to worry about is the Red Army’s orbital weapons program, a fanatical Japanese Communist regime and whether Slim Jim Davidson can retro-engineer a working iPhone.
I’m doing about chapter a day at the moment, and hope to have the finished book to you before Christmas. For those who can’t wait that long, I’ve set a couple of chapters free over at my Patreon where I’m writing the book, and writing about writing the book, for anyone who wants to know how the narrative sausage gets made.
You can see the preview chapters here. (And if do you sign up, you get a free copy of the Stalin’s Hammer saga to get you up to speed for the Christmas release.)
Or, you know, you could just wait for Santa. I’m really hanging out for the fat man this year.
Of course, having the Hammer his rock steady crew back at work means I must have finished the Zero Day series.
Okay, I’ll stop doing that now, but yes, the last book in my end of the world series, American Kill Switch, is now off with the editors who’ve already said they don’t see much that needs doing. Rupert Degas is lined up to do the reading for Audible and I am excite!
Some of you have been asking when Zero Day Code will come out in other formats. The audio-exclusive period runs out in January. So I guess… January. Others of you, including some of my editors, want to know when The Shattered Skies (the next instalment of The Cruel Stars) is coming. As best I can tell, depending on the plague, I’ll be finished the first draft by mid December and the publishers will have it to you by mid next year.
It’s a wait, but I’ve seen some terrible things happen to books that were released this year. And on the upside, I am working on some free stuff to tide you over.
Before then though, I’ll give you a little teaser, just to whet the appetite.
At this distance, the star was a far away point of light, slightly larger, slightly brighter than the thousands of its kin scattered through the local cluster. Solar winds streamed out from the main sequence G2 class burner, ionised particles and magnetic fields whipping through the heliosphere, inflating a protective bubble around the local volume, safeguarding the planets within from the harsh radioactive bath of interstellar space. In one sense the volume was small. Just one rocky planet and two gas giants, a modest little neighbourhood that had nonetheless occasioned a savage conflict between two human tribes over their contending claims to that remote and lonely world. In another sense, of course, the measure of three dimensional space both tribes thought of as the local volume was immense; so impossibly vast that the human mind was incapable of truly understanding it, having evolved over millions of years to comprehend distance as something measured in the number of steps needed to find food or water in a small patch of forest or savannah. At the very edge of this unimaginably huge, somewhat fluid area of space, in the electromagnetic turbulence of the constantly moving boundary between the bubble of the star’s heliosphere and the radioactive plasma of the interstaller medium, something profound was about to happen. The structure of spacetime itself suddenly flexed and warped before utterly collapsing to vomit up first one, then two human spacecraft.
A tribe had returned to its hunting grounds.
Enough about my shit, though.
I haven’t just been sitting at my desk, hiding from Miss Rona and grinding out the ‘splodey goodness. I bought me a brand new TV watchin’ chair, after a teenaged ruffian of my acquaintance spent about ten thousand hours putting his filthy feet up, on and eventually through my beloved old TV watchin’ couch. Ruined couch and teenage ruffian have now been exiled to the basement, leaving me and my new favourite chair to catch up on some reading and screen time.
The best nonfiction book I’ve read this year, by a long-long way has been The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson’s amazing, brilliant very, very good biography of Winston Churchill.
You wouldn’t think there was much left to write about the old bulldog, but Larson has pulled his focus in tight on Churchill during the Blitz. More than that, though, he’s placed the wartime leader within a very personal context, going deep into the diaries, letters and memoirs of Churchill’s family and friends to craft this amazingly intimate portrait of those dark months. It reads more like a novel than a history and, I gotta say, it's been reassuring to read it this year in particular. It puts things into perspective.
My fiction pick right now is Devin Madson’s We Ride The Storm, another fantasy novel, which I only mention because I used to be stupidly aggressive about not reading fantasy, but I guess I got over that. Madson’s epic weaves palace intrigue, barbarian hordes and some nice stabby magic assassin shenanigans into a pleasingly sprawling saga that calls forth a bit of Genghis Khan energy, some Kurosawa cool and a lot slice-dicey action. It’s great fun, and I’m enjoying it bigly.
But who am I kidding. Like everyone else here at the end of our civilisation, I seem to spend twenty-five hours a day staring at my TV in a hopeless attempt to get thru my ever-growing stack-o’-streaming-shame.
Some faves so far? Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard on Netflix. I wrote a bit about this earlier on the blog, specifically about The Pleasure of watching Charlize Theron throw a Punch, which this pointy-headed culture maven New York Times enjoys as much as I do.
It’s not just that Theron throws her punches with force and precision, or executes her stunts successfully; this is not a matter of a capable action star hitting her marks. Watching Charlize Theron fight has become one of the singular pleasures of contemporary American cinema, as close as we’re going to get to the endorphin rush of watching Gene Kelly dance, or Judy Garland sing, or Charlie Chaplin pantomime…
Less, fantastical, but just as enjoyable in its own way was Tom Hank’s WW2 naval thriller, Greyhound on Apple TV+. I justified watching this one twice because it was, er, research for WW 3.1. Yes, research, that sounds plausible.
Poor Tom, though. First he catches the rona from Richard Wilkins. (Oh noes!) Or maybe he gave it to Richard Wilkins. (Yay!) And then the virus all but kills off the movie industry, just as another one of his WW2 passion projects is about to hit the big screen. And Greyhound really should have been seen on the biggest of honking big screens.
There was any number of moments watching on my iPad — I have the big iPad, Tom! The really big one! Promise! — where I thought, yeah, that would’ve been awesome to watch in IMAX. Greyhound is basically an hour and a half of tiny little ships climbing mountainous walls of black, freezing water while trying to survive murderous attacks by Nazi U-boats. Oscars all around. And throw in a Nobel Prize or two while you’re at it.
Hanks is back in my part of the world, filming his Elvis movie. (I think he’s playing Elvis’s manager). We’ve been lucky here in Queensland. The government slammed the borders shut pretty quickly and a short, sharp lockdown kept Miss Rona at bay.
My thoughts to all of you who weren’t so lucky.
It’s been a bit of a shit year, hasn’t it. I hope good things happen for you all sometime soon. I gotta get back to the 1950s now. I think Joe Stalin is trying to assassinate Winston Churchill and I can’t let that happen.
I’ll crank a few more chapters out at Patreon, finish the first draft of The Shattered Skies and catch up with you next time.