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The Cruel Stars. Spoiler thread

Posted September 11 by John Birmingham

Lord Bob of the Nowhere System requested a spoileriffic discusion thread for either Zero Day Code or The Cruel Stars. I guess we'll work backwards into the future and go with Stars first.

Some of you got in on the beta read and so you saw the first draft, but there were a couple of significant structural changes in the final version. Most significant was the compression of Lucinda's arc. I always imagined TCS as being her story, and with this in mind the first run at the manuscript alternated chapters on HMAS Defiant (see what I did there?) with the introductions to each of the other 'supporting' characters.

My editor, Sarah, suggested this slowed things down too much and so instead we got a long first look at the Armadalen stealth destroyer, before cutting away to McLennan et al. I think she was right, but there were a few reviewers who struggled to tie together the larger narative from the five individual threads. I'll bear that in mind next time.

The next book, The Shattered Skies, is due Jan 24. That's a self selected deadline, to make sure I hit the British/Aust pre-order date of 20 August, 2020. I want the books to be stand alone stories, as much as possible, with closure at the end of each. There's a prequel sitting part-done in a folder on my hard drive too, a joint effort with Jason Lambright called The Javan War. Be nice to drop that into the channel some time in the next six months.

But before then, I'm open to questions, discussion, whatevs. I'll see if I can dig up the pitch document and post it here in the next few days.

25 Responses to ‘The Cruel Stars. Spoiler thread’

Sparty mumbles...

Posted September 11
I think the editor suggestions were right on target. Stopped it becoming the "Lucinda story" not that anything wrong with that but the book wanted to be "bigger" than that. I love (and maybe its only me) that on a geopolitics scale i cant work out whose side I'm actually on. With Speph et al it seems you were doing a bit of a Micheal Moorcock eternal champion type thing (or at least eternal pirates)? So many good things - everything pretty much on target (Rutger Hauer tribute well timed!). one nerd question :-) Flesh eater rounds are illegal (when Steph used then) but by the book Royal Aramadala Lucinda also loaded them?
5 Genuine Cruel Stars from me

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted September 11
Flesh eater rounds re illegal for someone awful like Seph, not a good girl like Lucinda.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 11
How hard was it not to write "we don't need no stinkin badges" when Coto thought there were pirate badges?

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The Admiral mutters...

Posted September 11
Overall: bloody loved this book, enjoyed it thoroughly from end to end. I saw a few comments on Goodreads etc about confusion with the introduction of the characters but it honestly was zero issue for me - I start to worry if people can't keep a handful of arcs happening in their heads.

I was going to ask if we could get the Javan war backstory but you've answered that one. One thing I'd love to see in Book 2 is a map of the galaxy / inner dark etc. I know that's easier said than done but it would help me keep things a bit straighter as far as locations etc.


Between TCS and ZDC you have me rabid to re-start my own hack efforts but sadly study stuff takes precedence.

Again - brilliant stuff and counting the days until Book 2.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon would have you know...

Posted September 11
Also like to add that this has been the first book in ages that i felt like annotating with a pencil on all the references/cookies in there so i wouldn't forget them . . .i didn't (annotate) and i did (forget). Fastest read ever.

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she_jedi mutters...

Posted September 11
I came to TCS cold, and your editor was correct, and is also a genius. The longer Defiant intro gave me a great grounding in the book’s universe, and then the addition of the other plot lines fleshed it out while you wove those strands together.

I’m on my second read through at the moment (was temporarily diverted by beta reading Mr Lambright’s latest opus), and what has struck me on the second read through is how gosh darn tight everything is. Your characters, your plotting, the tech and the rules of the universe, nothing is out of place or a weak link. It’s a frigging work of art is what it is. I know I sound like a deranged fangirl but anyone who’s read it will know what I mean.

Once i’d finished it the first time I immediately started it again because I couldn’t let go of these characters or the world/s you’ve created for them. I felt truly horrified for poor Defiant being jettisoned the way he was, and Chief Trim better survive. In fact we need more Chief Trim; the only way this series could be improved is additional space faring kitteh!

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 11
Read both versions, Beta and Actual. Really liked what happened with the structure, agreed, She Jedi.

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NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 11
1. TCS is a triumph JB.
Easily my favourite Birmo 'spolosions (in paper) since Pete got f*cked by the fickle finger of fate. Cover to cover in first read, then arc by arc second.

2. You delivered 'plastic pals who are fun to be with' beautifully, I was particularly impressed with the Sun Tzu-ish use of them as both strength and vulnerability. I imagined it going further as Habs entirely managed by them begin to fail, complex structures like them wouldn't be set & forget, rather they'd requiring constant tweaking & management -eg our ISS periodically has to boost back up to counter minimal but constant atmospheric drag. Things getting uncomfortably toasty sun-side & chilly dark-side, air getting thick & stale, no water in taps, waste systems failing, won't be long before occupants cracking open the neighbours skulls and feasting on the living goo inside. The relationship between McLennon and his AI were (again, for me) more engaging than Princess stick-in-her-butt and her urchin friends. Was there a discongruance between rocks/no rocks in his whiskey?

3. I stumbled on when FTL was & was not viable. Our protagonist seems to walk >half a K before winking through to the bridge.

Things have been fiscally tricksy out in the Nowhere System, so I was unable to cash up for the Patreon process. With hindsight I hugely enjoyed TCS in a giant gluttonous gulp, I doubt little demitasse servings would have been as enjoyable.

More soon.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon has opinions thus...

Posted September 12
Hey NBlob, i think you got your books mixed up - its the apocalypse 'zero day code" which is the one being watched over through patreon and coming out in what seem like short bursts . . . until you do a word count. I didn't get in on the beta for TCS because i think at the time when the offer went out i had shit going down. I think i picked a good one to miss! Although JB, i think i picked up an continuity error with a bit on McLennan (although i was drinking beers at the time . . . on a Monday night). It is when McLennan is sitting in his stealth sledboat and Hero had packed some whiskey? and some shortbread biscuits (iirc it was whiskey . . . may have been a hot drink in a thermos?). Then a page later you said he tucked back into his jam sandwich - which is what he was eating back at the dig site. I think i only noticed because of the american cookie vs biscuit. If i am way off the mark here please forgive my meat sack brain and carry on.

insomniac mutters...

Posted September 12
He had the coffee/whisky plus the biscuits, and there was another sandwich as well, not jam, although that was referenced as being the last thing he had eaten since the morning.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon is gonna tell you...

Posted September 12
ahh right. Never drink and read folks :)

NBlob asserts...

Posted September 12
FormerlyKnownAsSimon you are correct, I knew of a Beta-Reader thing and got my Birmo'Splodey mixed.
Drinking & reading are a fine combination.

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Therbs reckons...

Posted September 12
I think the editor was right. This was a pretty pacey book, almost as if Matthew Reilly was rapping on your window, shouting things things like "Kick it in the guts JB!"

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jason ducks in to say...

Posted September 13
One of my fave parts of the book was the character voice. Each character had a style of speaking that clearly defined them. A lot of books don't have that and it's easy to muddle characters.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon reckons...

Posted September 13
Any chance of a Master Blaster combo between Coto and the Princess? :)
I also have some very divergent finger crossing on how McLennan ends up . . . . . 1) drives a ship into the enemy dreadnought saving earth/humanity at the expense of self sacrifice. 2) goes completely bonkers and genocidal in his effort to wipe the Sturm off the face of the universe which will inadvertently wipe all humans and so Hero whisks them both into a sun 4) is the last meatbag standing and resigns himself to a long life of seeing all this happen again in a few hundred years heading off into a multiple sun sunset with his trusty horse Hero.

Would also like to add: does using the word Sturm for the baddies bring the Dragonlance chronicles to mind for everyone? I can't divorce the idea of the noble paladin of a dying order of knights that in the end were corrupt and self serving douchebags of purity as compared to the space nazis. Every time i read the word Sturm it brings with it a touch of sadness (and a "thank god that guy is dead - he was boring").

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted September 14
Funny thing about the Sturm, they used to be the Khan. In the series mythology the Republic’s Generation Ships left from the Sandakan Peninsula. Hence the nickname. But Sarah thought the Khan was too reminiscent of Star Trek. She was probably right.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon mutters...

Posted September 16
Yeah - Sandakan also brings to mind the Sardauker from dune. I always wondered about how authors manage a name generator for these things. Does it worry you at night or does it roll off the press? Not being in on the beta and not knowing about the Khan it's nothing but The Sturm all the way in my mind.

Nocturnalist would have you know...

Posted October 1
Never read Dragonlance but Sturm was the name of a nasty, arrogant and ultimately traitorous general in the Gaunt's Ghosts novels so the name came with a solid "boo hiss" factor for me.

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beeso swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 19
I was a DL reader but thought Sturm was perfect word for a nazi like bad guy race. Is there a market for a fully annotated book JB?

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Tregonsee reckons...

Posted October 1
Cracking good yarn. David Weber should start looking over his shoulder.

Only howler: an object being in geosynchronous orbit over the southern continent. Of course it would drift north and south of the equator once an orbit.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 1
Damn it! This is exactly why they kicked me out of astronaut school.

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Naut swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 9
It felt like the story arcs were in sync - going well, unexpected obstacle, despair, unexpected hope. Worked for me, but is that a deliberate thing? I can imagine doing it so the reader doesn't have to change emotions based on the character's situation, but more on the stories overarching situation?

Or is this just going to be whatever the individual reader brings to it?

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted October 9
It is a very deliberate thing, mate. Has been since Plato.

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Naut swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 15
I guess this is why I am not writing a book :)

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balri is gonna tell you...

Posted October 30
Yeah, ok so I'm a slow reader. Finished the book a couple of days ago and absolutely loved it. The universe was so richly drawn that I could easily visualise it. Booker probably could have done with a larger role but love your work JB and looking forward to the next instalment.

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