The Price of Admiralty: Author's Notes

(Warning – Some Spoilers)

The 'Battlecruiser Alamo' series went through an awful lot of iterations before it finally hit home; I think I did four complete drafts before the final one, most of them bearing little resemblance to what I actually ended up publishing. In a way, this is a series that has been in my mind for the last twenty years, ever since I started to read science fiction in a big way, and I think one of my primary influences was a book written by Stewart Cowley, 'Spacecraft 2000-2100 AD'. This was an art book, a collection mostly of Chris Foss artwork, but it had connected text describing the ships within, and a lot of effort had been made to create a consistent universe. More – it came at a great time, as I had also picked up a book called 'Flight to the Stars' by James Strong; this book was a description, from a 1960s point of view, of how interstellar exploration and colonisation might actually take place. Heady stuff for a ten-year-old!

At the back of a book was a list of 'Stars within Twenty Light-Years'. Well, I was lost here. I spent ages pouring over the names, stars such as Procyon, Tau Ceti, Groombridge 1618; all of them seemed full of promise and potential, and that's really the genesis of the setting. I wanted an interstellar setting, but one that used real stars – I wanted my heroes to go to Lalande 21185, to Ross 128, to Van Maanan's Star. (And yes, Frontier: Elite 2 was also a bit of an influence here as well. I spent months playing that game.) When I got around to actually writing in this setting, well, it was a foregone conclusion that this was the sandbox I would be messing around in.

Then came the core of the book itself, the heart of the plot. Optimism. There has been a tendency for a long time for 'anti-heroes' to come to the forefront, for people to have to do bad things to succeed. I never really bought into that, not properly. Maybe I spent too much time watching Star Trek when I was a kid, but I wanted to have an optimistic setting, one where there was a determination that the future is to be better than the past, that questionable acts can be avoided. In short...I wanted heroes. Not anti-heroes, but people who would do the right thing for the right reasons. And so came the Interplanetary War; because the best way to show that off would be to have this as an improvement from darkness in the past.

Thence the war; well, this has some elements of the American Civil War because they are unavoidable, but I drew primary inspiration – as, I know, many others have before me – from the War of Independence. Three colonies, each for different reasons, choose to secede from the increasingly tyrannical United Nations of Earth, and form their own state, the Triplanetary Confederation, which starts out as a loose alliance but increasingly becomes tighter over time. At some point, I really must write some books set in this time, but for the moment, aside from the odd flashback, I'm writing in a period a decade later, when the wounds of the war have healed and mankind can begin to look outward again.

My priority was always to keep things realistic. I didn't want to just create a setting filled with self-defined rules, I wanted to get into the guts of how space flight, space colonisation, and space war would be. (And so came the Third World War and the eco-caust of the mid-21st century. There had to be a strong reason why millions of people would flee Earth; it being on the verge of destruction seems like a good one to me.) Warfare doesn't involve death rays and photon torpedoes; the Battlecruiser Alamo is equipped with missiles and a large laser cannon. There are 'screens', but that simply denotes the range where Alamo's counter-measures become most effective, rather than presenting any sort of physical 'forcefield'. Ships have to spin for gravity, or get it from acceleration, or just live without it...and people get spacesick if exposed to zero-gravity, because generally it is artificially produced. (Lots of evidence that humans like gravity, you that just makes sense.)

Ah, yes...the name itself. Well, I've always been a bit of a sneaky fan of the Texas Republic. It's the romantic in me. And that goes double for the Alamo itself; I still like the John Wayne film. (Mind you, I'm the person who actually likes 'Green Berets'.) That there haven't been any warships named Alamo seems odd, in a way – though I suppose the Navy likes to name ships after sea battles. It had a nice ring to it, as did Battlecruiser – there really wasn't any justification further than that for the name. The idea of a class of ships named after 'glorious last stands' came a lot later, though it gave me a lot of fun picking them out. (Yes, I have a provisional list – and so far, I've named five of them in books either published or in the process of being published. One left, and I'm holding that for a while.)

The length was a bit of an accident; I was shooting for 80,000 words and ended at 76,000, and the last thing I wanted to do was pad out the story. (When the next book came out at 72,000, I decided that 70-80,000 was probably a good benchmark for the series long-term, though I suppose it might expand a bit in the future. I don't want to go under it, though.) I actually think this is a good length in any case; long enough to keep someone occupied for a few commutes, or a few lunch-breaks, or a couple of evenings. My personal use of the Kindle is far more 'take on journey' than 'sit down and read', though I must confess lately I've been reading it in bed – maybe my tastes are changing a bit!

When it finally came to write the final version (there were four earlier drafts, none of which had much resemblance to the ultimate book), it actually went surprisingly smoothly. By that point I knew the setting and the characters to the point that I could answer questions about them, I almost felt as if I was 'living' in that world. (Heck, I still do!) 

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