Catholic Wonkery


...Culture War Edition. Wherein Catholic Wonk Dr. Taylor Marshall attempts to advise Catholics how to win the culture war by writing exactly the kind of article that's been losing Catholics the culture war.

First up, there's no clearer mark of a commenter who has his finger on the pulse of today's fruit fly attention span, post-literate media culture than front loading a comparative analysis of Platonic and Hindu social hierarchies--complete with a (hopefully facetious) trigger warning.
  1. Brahmins (priestly scholar class)
  2. Kshatriyas (royal warrior class)
  3. Vaishyas (artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers)
  4. Shudras (laboring classes)
Marshall goes on to deliver a shocking revelation.
We like to think that human society is now finally enlightened and that there are no castes or classes. Whether you call it a “caste” or a “demographic,” you’re just moving around words. The concept may become more humanitarian over time, but the idea of “political layers” transcends cultures and transcends time. Human society has different parts.
The Platonic way of understanding political levels has little to do with wealth. Bill Gates is very rich, but he still belongs to level 3 as a merchant and producer. A modern example of how the the levels can be transcended is how both Barack Obama and Donald Trump ascended from level 3 to level 1. A person at level 3 could be poor, middle class, or a billionaire.
Partial credit to Dr. Marshall for acknowledging that human hierarchies are natural and inevitable while almost calling out egalitarianism as a vicious lie. But I call shenanigans on Obama ever having been level 3. He has always been part of the ruling class and was groomed for power from the start. Pro tip: Getting paid a big advance to not write a book doesn't make you an "artisan".

But I digress. Here's how Marshall categorizes contemporary Western demographics into the classical caste system:
  1. Head (priestly scholar class). This was the Catholic Church’s ecclesial hierarchy (from AD 600-1500). Now it is the University, the Professor, Politician, Judges, the “experts” and (since the 1960s) the TV Media and Social Media (Facebook). They are still almost impossible to circumvent. They seek to influence our daily thoughts and our children. And as always, they are usually very rich.
  2. Chest (royal warrior class). This is the military, but more and more so it is the IRS, FBI, CIA, police, ATF, TSA, game warden, et al. They have the power to imprison us and kill us. In a good political system, they are inspired by the Head to promote justice and protect the innocent. It was for fear of a corrupted “chest level” that the United States allowed its citizens to arm themselves with weapons and, notably, firearms.
  3. Stomach/Loins (artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers). This is your “middle class” white collar executives, and your corporate owners. They bear the load of society according to Plato, they must be controlled through “myths or noble lies” crafted by the philosophers. Civil religion is the best way to do this. It can be Roman imperial paganism with an Emperor cult (very powerful). In the same way it can be 16th century Church of England with civil obligations ordered to the king or queen who is “Head of the Church.” Or it can be a form of state-controlled Catholicism (Napoleonic Catholicism or Chinese Communistic Catholicism) or controlled Protestantism (state Protestantism/Lutheranism found in Northern European nations). In the last 30 years, the controlled state religions are being replaced with political correctness and class Socialism.
  4. Limbs (laboring class). We no longer call them “servants” but our society has people who are deeply in debt (in the Bible, debt is de facto slavery) and who work only to: pay off debt (to banks), have food, and have a roof over their heads.
Not a bad attempt. Still, Marshall appears to be too caught up in literalist thinking and old paradigms to get a fully accurate picture of where the class lines are currently drawn. Here's my revised list:
  1. Head Marshall gets this level mostly right. The Catholic hierarchy's prophetic/priestly role has long since been usurped by a rootless, cosmopolitan class of secular elites. They are an over-culture of experts, entertainers, and managers who live in the same few zip codes, send their kids to the same schools, and work in the same industries--usually government and finance, which makes Marshall's omission of bankers odd, especially in light of his level 4. Also, it's become undeniable that it's not so much the politicians who reside at level 1 than the permanent bureaucrats who control them.
  2. Chest Here's where Marshall's literalism blinds him to a key facet of the culture war. Yes, the cops and the military are the warrior caste in meatspace. The culture war is not (yet) a hot conflict fought with fists and guns. Marshall apparently understands that we're in a war of ideologies, but he fails to fully grasp the implications. The real level 2 players come into focus when you look at how the Head exercises authority. The managerial class relies less on the IRS and the cops to remove opposition and more on Big Tech to deplatform, disemploy, and unperson dissenters. Look at Google's firing of James Damore and Twitter's constant suspensions and shadowbans of its insufficiently Leftist users, including me. As the enforcers of the ruling class, the tech oligarchs' goal isn't to reduce dissenters to level 4. It's to make us untouchables.
  3. Stomach/Genitals Marshall is right in naming political correctness as the new religion of the ruling class. However, he makes the classic mistake of seeing socialism as their idol instead of globalism. Since the end of the Cold War, the primary conflict hasn't been between capitalism and socialism, but nationalism and globalism. The managerial elite are firmly in the globalist camp. In fact, they're running it, with the intent of doing away with level 3 altogether. Their dream world is a global version of Brazil, with a small elite class maintaining corporate enforcers as go-betweens who keep them from having to deal with the great unwashed masses.
  4. Limbs Creating a permanent underclass of debt slaves is our elites' ultimate goal. It all makes sense when you realize that our entire economy is based on an ocean of fake credit. This is the main motive for pushing open borders and immigration--to keep inflating the credit bubble by importing new debtors from the third world.
Black Pigeon explains.

What is Dr. Marshall's solution?
My belief is that Christians currently have possess all 4 levels in action whether or not we are recognized in society (we have intellectuals, warriors, artisans, laborers).
Therefore we should be pursuing both strategies at the same time:
We should be fighting to take back levels 1 and 2 (apologetics, academics, along with undermining the anti-Christian institutions).
We should build parallel institutions (e.g., our own Universities, schools, Troops of Saint George, our own TV/radio stations, our own art, our own Social Media outlets, our own news stations).
Some of us can push forward and fight on the front lines of layers 1 and 2 now, while some of us can retreat and construct our own parallel society (of layers 1-4).
It's encouraging to see Marshall correctly point out that Dreher's Benedict Option is insufficient. The enemy won't leave us alone in our self-imposed ghettos, and you can't win a war without a) taking ground and b) taking back ground captured by the enemy.

However, Marshall makes another critical mistake in his prescription for how to fight back. Undermining converged institutions is indeed vital. Focusing on apologetics and academics, on the other hand, is what Catholics have been doing for decades while continually losing.

Marshall provides an excellent example of a pundit who is limited to dialectic. (My advice: Read less Plato and more Aristotle, especially his Rhetoric.) Neither the level 1 professors and entertainers nor the level 2 social media enforcers won control of the institutions through reasoned argument. They did it with Alinsky tactics, social proof, and propaganda that almost exclusively appeal to emotion.

For crying out loud, Marshall knows that the academy has been taken over by anti-Christians. What makes him think their pupils, who've been indoctrinated since kindergarten to hate Christians, will be moved in the slightest by Christian apologetics? He should read Catholic blogger Joseph Moore, who has thoroughly chronicled how American secondary--and even primary--education has been purpose-built to brainwash kids.

Marshall next points out the obvious: that Catholics are struggling to turn the tide in the culture war. In his view, we're too tied to converged institutions and outmoded means of communication.
Also, the Catholic hierarchy in the West still acts like it is operating at level 1 influence. Sadly, this is not the case. Secular nations have spent the last several decades figuring out ways to transform bishops from level 1 priestly spiritual leaders into level 3 producers of funds (taxation of church is the end game) and into level 3 producers of government service (grants to do government work which we saw occur in America under President Obama).
Again, mostly right. Except taxation of the Church isn't the endgame. The Church's destruction is.
The most brilliant minds in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are talking about the Benedict Option (Option 2: parallel institutions), but we need to engage both fronts. The intellectuals who are currently “fighting the culture war” while trying to win back levels 1 and 2 are either Jewish (Ben Shapiro, Mark Levin, Michael Savage) or secular in outlook (Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnis, Jordan Peterson). Some might see this “diversity” as a strength. I see it as as weakness. Here’s why:
As much as I like listening Jordan Peterson or even Ben Shapiro, I sometimes cringe when I think of how much better an equipped Christian could respond. We have a profound intellectual tradition (Thomism), but we are not using it. This is likely why God has allowed Christian influence to wane.
Pro tip 2: Don't opine about how Catholic intellectuals need to improve their familiarity with social media and then peg Milo and Gavin as secularists when five minutes of research would reveal that they're both self-identified Catholics. Milo in particular did more to move the needle culturally than all the Catholic professors in America combined. But he did it with rhetoric (though Milo does his homework and can bring the dialectic when needed), so he doesn't count as a Catholic culture warrior to wonks like Marshall.

The last two sentences in Marshall's second paragraph above are dead wrong. The problem isn't that Catholics haven't been using our profound intellectual tradition. The problem is that our thought leaders keep deploying tactics that lead with dialectic informed by that tradition when the public at large a) is not equipped to understand that tradition, b) has no desire to understand that tradition, and c) have been conditioned into both of those predispositions by the media and academia, including many Catholic schools.

As for why God has allowed Christian influence to wane, it's because we have free will, He lets us have the consequences of our bad decisions, and Christians have been making a fuck ton of bad decisions over the past several decades. (See divorce and contraception rates, degradation of the liturgy, and Democrat party voting rates among Christians.)

Marshall ends with this lament:
Where are the Christians? We need to spend the next decade prayerfully cultivating sharp and relevant Christian minds to engage the culture and social media.
To reiterate, Milo and Gavin are two Christians who've been extraordinarily successful on social media. John C. Wright is a prolific and gifted Catholic author and blogger. Vox Day is making inroads in publishing and tech. Even I'm making my own modest contribution. But Guys like Taylor Marshall won't support or acknowledge any of us because we're not engaging in Thomistic disputations on Facebook.

I do think he's spot-on about the Church's out of touch hierarchy. Here's my list of actions Catholic bishops must take now to stop the decline, get people to take them seriously, and start winning back ground.
  1. Begin offering at least one Latin Mass per week in every diocese. We're going on four generations raised with no connection to the Church's great liturgical tradition (which Marshall overlooks in favor of our intellectual tradition, but as Joseph Campbell pointed out, Liturgy is how theology is applied to daily life). Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, and Gen Z crave solemnity and mystery, not guitar masses. The Catholic Church is uniquely disposed to provide the sense of  structure and tradition that our rulers have purposefully destroyed.
  2. De-feminize the liturgy. No more "altar girls", female lectors, extraordinary ministers, choir directors, or DREs. Female leadership is the canary in the coal mine that presages imminent descent into full-blown witchcraft as seen in the Anglican Communion, for instance. St. Paul was right.
  3. Immediately stop taking even one cent of government money. As the HHS Mandate debacle should have taught the US Catholic bishops, taking money from the government is like taking money from the mob. Do it even once, and they own you. It's baffling how Marshall misses this point since he correctly discerns that our elites have reduced the hierarchy to an NGO for their political ambitions. Shut down the hospitals, charities, and even the schools if you have to. This mess started when the Catholic schools started accepting federal money, anyway.
  4. Stop assisting the elite's plan to undermine national sovereignty by importing waves of immigrants to become generational debt slaves. No one is fooled by Catholic Charities' claims of wanting to welcome the stranger when it's clear that the US bishops are supporting unrestricted immigration in a cynical attempt to replace American Catholics (and their tuition and donations) by importing new Catholics from south of the border. Support for programs like DACA and opposition to President Trump's travel ban violate the spirit and the letter of the Catechism's teaching on the complementary rights to immigration and national sovereignty.
  5. Inform self-described Catholic politicians who publicly persist in grave sin that they have excommunicated themselves. Barring grave, unrepentant, public sinners from receiving Communion is an obligation and a mercy on the part of the hierarchy. It isn't "compassionate" or "open-minded" to let the likes of Nancy Pelosi and the Kennedys who endorse and vote for infanticide and the abolition of marriage to present themselves for Communion. It sends the message (there's that pesky rhetoric again!) that you aren't serious about your own teachings.
  6. Open the priesthood to married men. I'm not advocating the end of priestly celibacy for the usual reason, viz. to increase the quantity of priests. Rather, I propose admitting married men to the altar to address the priestly quality issue. Let's not dissemble. The sexual abuse crisis was caused by homosexuals in the priesthood. Men who suffer from same-sex attraction are already supposed to be banned from the priesthood. Requiring celibacy made sense when feudalism meant that a percentage of bright, educated sons of the nobility couldn't be married off and lay investiture was a pressing concern. Now, a lot of gay men go into the priesthood to hide their affliction (ask Milo). Letting married men become priests will drastically increase the pool of clergy who are not attracted to teenage boys and who possess the masculine leadership abilities that attract women.
  7. Call a holy crusade to liberate Christendom from the Saracen. At the rate Europe is going, Reconquista II will be necessary sooner or later. Best to get a head start.
Thankfully, some bishops, like Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IL, get it.

I'm under no illusions that the steps I outlined are at all likely to happen anytime soon. The Boomers in the Church's hierarchy will have to retire and/or die before we can expect any effective leadership from the top.  

Fortunately, it is the laity, not the clergy, who are called to consecrate the world to God. Fire up your memes, your rhetoric, and your unpozzed art, and let's get to work!

"Star Wars on exotic mushrooms and psychedelic tree frog secretions snorted through a rolled up copy of Heavy Metal magazine."

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier


Fighting the Void

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed on a live stream series aptly titled Fighting the Void. Topics covered include as close to a succinct recap of Sad and Rabid Puppies as I could deliver on short notice, a brief discussion of #ConGate, and a digression into Nick Cole's indie publishing model.

But first, I delve deeper into the secrets of the Soul Cycle than I've ever gone in an interview before.

Bonus feature: At some point, a little girl wanders in and starts playing with the awesome toys on the shelves.

Check it out!


XSeed Preview


You guys are awesome, so here's a little treat: a sneak preview of my upcoming mecha/Mil-SF novel Combat Frame XSeed.


The future is over.

Cascading social and economic crises led to the Collapse of civilization on earth. Wealthy oligarchs partnered with the last governments to found a new order in manmade space colonies at earth’s Lagrange points.

In time, life in outer space stabilized. A group of powerful colonies formed the Systems Overterrestrial Coalition to improve the standard of living on earth. The returning colonists were seen as meddlers seeking to impose an alien culture on earth’s new nations. Rising tensions erupted into violence. In response, the Coalition sent combat frames—armored bipedal weapons platforms—to protect their terrestrial interests.

Prime Minister Josef Friedlander has fought to maintain the L3 colonies’ independence from the Coalition. His wife and daughter have been seized by SOC Security Director Sanzen Kaimora. Amid the tense political standoff, Friedlander’s son Sieg has launched an unauthorized rescue mission to Sanzen’s compound in L1’s Byzantium colony.


The giant’s approach shook the pines atop the low ridge where Sieg lay hidden. A flock of starlings took flight from the trembling boughs but found no sky. They rose over the treetops, through a patchy layer of cloud, and toward the sunlight reflected through the thirty kilometer window arcing overhead.

Sieg didn’t linger on the flock spiraling into a pointillist corkscrew in the twisted gravity of the colony’s longitudinal axis. He trained his field glasses on the stocky, olive drab combat frame tromping through the woods below. Boughs halfway up the trees’ thirty-five meter tall trunks scraped its domed head. The CF held its oversized machine gun at the ready.

ZoDiaC’s intel didn’t mention Soc patrols this far from the compound. But the demilitarized colonies’ report had already proved less trustworthy than Sieg’s own eyes. The giant approaching his team’s position was a Grenzmark C, a last-generation Systems Overterrestrial Coalition combat frame rushed into production as a stopgap measure. Its presence meant the Socs had tightened security on short notice.

It’s almost on us. Sieg slid back downslope across the fragrant needles blanketing the ridge. When the rocky crest stood between him and the Grenzmark’s sensors, he sprang to his feet and ran downhill. His life—and the lives of his mother, his sister, and his friends—depended on him taking down the giant before it reached Elliot and Werner. He leapt the last four meters to the ground and landed in a crouch at his work frame’s feet.

“How bad are we screwed?” Elliot hissed from the cab of his work frame, which stood to the right of Sieg’s.

“Grenzmark C inbound,” Sig told him and Werner, who manned the third work frame at Elliot’s right. Werner’s dark eyes and pale face brooded in contrast to Elliot’s ruddy-cheeked anxiety.

“The three of us can take a Grenzie,” said Werner, “but not the reinforcements who’ll answer the pilot's distress call.”

Sieg climbed into his cab. The construction machines, plus forged work orders, had gotten him and his friends inside Byzantium colony. But the compact, utilitarian work frames were no match for their larger, better armed combat frame descendants. Not in a straight fight.

“Where are you going?” Elliott asked over the radio when Sieg shut his work frame’s hatch. The window reflected sky blue eyes glinting in his determined face under a crown of neatly trimmed blond hair. He started the machine and strode toward the cleft in the ridge.

Sieg answered by extending his work frame’s three-fingered hand toward his friends. He knew they’d take the hint and stay back. Sieg had been swarmed with suck ups and hangers-on since his father’s election as L3’s prime minister. But Elliot, Werner, and Chase—who they were counting on to have the shuttle prepped for a fast exit—were among the tight circle of friends whom Sieg had known since childhood, and the only ones he trusted with such a vital mission.

The Grenzmark’s approaching footfalls rattled Sieg’s cab. The Soc’s coming right through here. It stood to reason. The artificial hills ran to the massive windows that flanked Sanzen’s personal land strip. The thick panes were covered with water to create artificial lakes. Neither the Grenzie nor the work frames were rated for aquatic use, so the cleft was the only way through the ridge for over a kilometer in each direction.

Sieg fought the urge to rush his target and stayed behind the cover of an outcrop to the Grenzmark’s left. The secondhand work frame had no active sensors, which was a blessing in disguise since using radar would have triggered the combat frame’s sensitive instruments.

Three more steps. Sieg drew a carbon-reinforced utility knife from his work frame’s hip-mounted toolbox.



Sieg’s work frame pivoted into the cleft. The Grenzie’s head swiveled to glare at its smaller foe. The squat metal dome was really a protective covering for a circular array of high intensity LED panels interspersed with mini cameras. Three columns of five horizontal slits made the CF’s face resemble a gladiator’s visor.

Sieg jammed the control stick forward. His work frame charged the Grenzmark with two jarring bounds. The CF’s pilot swung his 110mm machine gun forward but failed to adjust for his unusually short opponent before Sieg plunged his utility knife through the cockpit hatch in the Grenzie’s chest.

The suddenly unmanned combat frame started to list, and Sieg propped it up against a tree. He relieved the Grenzmark of its machine gun. The weapon—essentially a handheld automatic tank gun—was awkward but useable in the work frame’s three-clawed hands. He grabbed an extra magazine from the CF’s skirt armor and rejoined his friends.

“I knew you’d pull it off,” Werner said.

“Is the Coalition pilot…dead?” asked Elliot.

The weight of what Sieg had done pressed down on his chest. Mom, Liz, forgive me. I had to.
Werner knew how to interpret his friend’s silence. “Let’s move out,” he said. “It won’t be long until more Socs come looking.”

By silent accord, the three childhood friends turned comrades-in-arms filed past the motionless Grenzmark. Their work frames navigated the woods more stealthily than the combat frame had managed, and they soon reached the forest’s edge. A verdant field stretched from the tree line to a stark concrete wall that, according to Sieg’s informant, encompassed Sanzen’s house of horrors.

“A hundred meters of open ground looks a lot bigger in real life than on paper,” Elliot said. “How do we cross it unnoticed?”

Sieg’s hand sought his red and black flight suit’s left breast pocket. His thumb and forefinger closed around a smooth strip of fabric, which he gently drew out. He stared at the pink silk ribbon—one of two that his young sister was fond of wearing in her hair. That Sanzen sent my father as a warning.

“I passed the point of no return when I killed that Soc,” Sieg told his friends with cold subdued wrath. “You two have done more than I had any right to ask. Withdraw to the maintenance hatch, call Chase, and wait for me. I’ll go after Mother and Elizabeth.”

Elliot’s work frame stepped forward to stand beside Sieg’s. “I promised to help rescue your family from Sanzen,” said Elliot. “No use trying to change the terms now.”

Werner lined up next to Elliot. Sieg didn’t have to hear his explanation. His quiet friend’s crush on the lively and beautiful Elizabeth Friedlander was an open secret.

“There are no combat frames visible on the ground,” said Sig. “We rush the wall at full speed, go over the top, and head straight for the research wing. If we meet any resistance,” Sieg readied the oversized machine gun in his work frame’s hands, “keep going and leave them to me.”

The only reply was a whispered, “For Elisabeth,” on Werner’s channel. It spurred the three friends like the report of a starter pistol, and together their work frames charged from the safety of the trees toward the imposing wall.

Screaming fire rained down. Werner’s scream was cut off as his work frame vanished in a burning cloud. Sieg reflexively jerked his control stick hard to the left. The missile that had been meant for him detonated in the trees. Splinters drummed against his work frame’s back like flaming hail.

The smoke cleared. A debris-lined crater yawned at Werner’s last known position. Elliot’s work frame lay slumped against a blackened tree, its right arm and leg blown away.

Sieg fixed his camera on the colossal window above. Applying a dazzle filter showed him the stocky outlines of six combat frames silhouetted against the sun’s reflection in the colony’s angled mirror.
Grenzmark IIs. The current-model combat frames had been waiting in the air over the compound, hidden by the sun. They knew we were coming.

Sieg’s cold anger burst into white-hot rage. He punched his work frame’s jump jet switch and fired a series of controlled bursts from his machine gun as he rocketed toward the enemy squad. Three of the six CFs went down trailing smoke from their ruptured cockpits.

The remaining Grentos opened up with their own automatic rifles. Huge bullets flew past the small, fast-moving target until one volley shredded the work frame’s legs. Missing its thrusters, the critically damaged machine crashed to the ground. Emergency airbags deployed, sparing Sieg the full force of the impact that knocked the air from his lungs.

Sieg mashed the door release and tumbled from the work frame’s cab. He landed on soft mowed grass, lurched to his feet, and bolted for the trees. The whine of the Grentos’ thrusters harried him like onrushing thunder.

Elliot sat beside his ruined work frame, his left leg bent at an unnatural angle. The color had drained from his normally flushed face. “I’m done,” he panted as Sieg ran to him. “Werner’s gone. He was right next to me, then…”

“Don’t talk,” said Sieg. He bent down and slung his arm around his friend’s back. With Sieg’s help, Elliot rose to stand on one shaking foot. Together they hobbled into the forest.

“I’m sorry,” Elliot said as they limped through the woods. Three searchlight beams swept the shadows of the canopy close behind them. “I tried my best. Just wasn’t enough.”

“It’s not your fault. Someone set us up.”

“We’re trapped,” said Elliot. “I don’t know what to do.”

Sieg knew exactly what to do. From the moment he and Elliot entered the woods, he’d been heading back toward the cleft in the ridge. They might still have a chance if they could reach it before the Socs caught up—which would be any second with Elliot slowing Sieg down. He gathered his injured friend in his arms and made a run for the ridge.

Time seemed to dilate as Sieg ran. But the trees parted, and his heart leapt when he saw the small pass between the hills. Summoning a final burst of speed, he sprinted through the cleft and set Elliot down at the Grenzmark C’s foot.

Sieg’s lungs and limbs burned, but the low roar of thrusters just behind the ridge drove him up the steel rungs set into the combat frame’s armor. He reached the cloven cockpit door, pried it open, and fought his gag reflex as he dumped most of the dead pilot to the ground below. Elliot’s cry sent panic stabbing up Sieg’s spine until he saw that his friend was only reacting to the bloody mess that had landed a few meters to his right. They hadn’t been discovered yet.

Good thing my suit’s mostly red. Sieg took a deep breath and hoisted himself into the Grenzie’s cockpit. His knife thrust had destroyed the main monitor and split the pilot seat’s back, but the controls mounted on the armrests remained functional. He lowered the combat frame into a crouch and set its left hand on the ground. When Elliot crawled into the giant metal palm, Sieg raised the CF to its full height and set off with the punctured door open.

“Chase,” he called on the shuttle’s frequency. “This is Sieg. Do you read me?”

After an agonizing moment, the line crackled. “Chase here,” the shuttle pilot said. “Reading you five, Sieg. Didn’t expect you so soon.”

“I need an evac, stat.”

“For five, I hope.”

“Negative. It’s just me and Elliot.”

Chase’s voice fell. “And Werner?”

“He didn’t make it. I’m in a stolen Grenzmark C with at least three flight-capable Grenzmark IIs in pursuit. What’s your ETA to the maintenance hatch?”

“Give me ten minutes,” said Chase. “And Sieg? Stay alive, or I’ll fly this bird to hell and beat your dead ass. Over and out.”

Sieg set the Grenzie’s feet toward the access hatch partway up the curve of the colony’s end cap. Negotiating the colossal bowl was like climbing the inside of a hollow mountain. The climb proved more difficult than his and his friend’s initial descent from the same hatch what seemed like a lifetime ago, especially with Elliot cradled in one of the CF’s hands.

Equally relieved and wary that he hadn’t been spotted yet, Sieg tuned in the Coalition Security Corps’ dedicated frequency. From the three surviving CSC pilots’ chatter, he soon learned that his combat frame theft had gone unnoticed. The Grentos were still searching the forest near Sanzen’s compound for intruders fleeing on foot.

Sieg piloted the Grenzie into the warren of enormous passages that riddled the space between the colony’s inner and outer hull. Navigating by memory, he reached the CF-sized airlock that led to outer space and freedom.

“Seal your suit,” he called down to Elliot, who pulled his helmet over his head. Sieg did likewise. His helmet magnified his heavy breaths of metallic-tasting air.

“Come in, Chase. This is Sieg. Elliot and I are in position. Do you copy?”

“Copy, Sieg,” said Chase. “I’m parked just out of sight. It’s a straight shot from the hatch to the shuttle. Come on out, and I’ll have you two home for supper, over.”

Sieg’s anger blazed like red coals in the pit of his stomach as he opened the airlock. “I’ll come back for you,” he promised his mother, his sister, and the unavenged ghost of his friend before activating the Grenzie’s jump thrusters and rocketing into the black.

What looked like a white dot soon resolved into the blunted bullet shape of the shuttle’s hull, which grew to dominate Sieg’s vision. Within moments, he and Elliot would be safely aboard and bound for L3, where the wayward son would face his father’s disappointment. I’d rather fight the Socs again.

Sieg had come alongside the shuttle and was reaching his Grenzmark’s free hand toward the bay door when a nasal male voice came over the CSC channel. “Gamma One to Control: Unauthorized shuttle confirmed twenty klicks to spinward off the end cap. Transmitting live feed from my Grenzmark’s optical array.”

“Acknowledged, Gamma One,” a brusque voice replied. “Target lock acquired.”

“Chase,” Shouted Sig. “They spotted you. Get out of here!”

A point of light streaked from the colony and connected with the shuttle amidships. The resulting blast reduced the spacecraft to a hot vapor. Sieg barely managed to turn his Grenzie aside before the shockwave hammered the combat frame, sending it hurtling away from the colony at an acute angle.

Sieg feared the damaged chair to which he was strapped would break loose and eject him into space. It held, but he almost wished it hadn’t when the tremors rocking his CF threatened to batter him into paste. The shaking subsided, leaving him bruised and in shock with cockpit alarms blaring.
A frantic thought shattered Sieg’s respite. Elliot!

Sieg’s throbbing hand gripped the control stick and commanded the Grenzie to raise its left arm. Nothing happened. He repeated the process twice before a dread realization penetrated his numbed mind. Against his muscles’ protests, he released his harness, leaned forward, and craned his neck outside the cockpit.

All of the Grenzie’s limbs had been blown off.

Despair drove Sieg back into his seat. He sat motionless for what could have been seconds or hours, until a familiar voice intruded on his daze.

“Gamma One to Control: Missile strike confirmed. The target has been vaporized. Request authorization to search for CF spotted near target before impact, over.”

“Negative,” said an icy female voice Sieg couldn’t quite place in his near-delirium. “Break off pursuit and return to base. This mission was a total success.”

Mother, thought Sieg as he tumbled through space. Liz. I failed you.

Earth's battle against the Socs will continue in the self-titled first installment of Combat Frame XSeed, my upcoming mecha/Mif-SF novel series. Keep your eyes on this blog and my social media feeds for more details as they emerge.

In the meantime, get your space adventure fix with my award-winning Soul Cycle series, now on sale for less than the big publishers charge for a single eBook.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier



I've written at length about how Disney's Star Wars movies are nothing but hate mail to the franchise's core audience. After the precipitous second week box office drop suffered by The Last Jedi, I concluded that Solo would be the first Star Wars movie to fail outright.

Professional comic book artist Ethan Van Sciver has recently been chronicling the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story (or as he calls it, Soylo: A Soy Wars Soyry). In the following video, he explains why the movie's lackluster critic reviews and catastrophically low levels of audience interest has Disney panicking.

Update: As of this writing, Solo's critic score has fallen back down to 70% fresh, and moviegoer interest in seeing the film has plummeted to 41%.

Soylo 41%

At this rate, Deadpool 2's second weekend may actually give Solo's opening a run for its money at the box office. Speaking of money, while I expect Solo to earn back its production budget, don't be surprised if it ends up in the red when marketing costs are factored in. As always, we shall see.

Except I won't see it because I don't give money to people who hate me.

Unlike Disney, I value and respect my audience, which is why my entire thrilling Soul Cycle is now on sale.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier


Three Big Questions

Ten Gentle Opportunities - Jeff Duntemann

Author, editor, and publisher Jeff Duntemann poses the three questions that authors of speculative fiction must ask when designing magic systems.
There are three Big Questions you need to ask yourself as you take on a task of designing a magical system:
  • What is the source of magical power? Where does it come from and how do you obtain it? In Larry Niven’s Warlock stories, magic is an inherent property of the created world, an essence present everywhere but which may be depleted by use over time, like a seam of coal. Aleister Crowley (a real guy, if an unutterable nutcase) created a system of sex magick, which was powered (as best I can figure) by orgasms. In Ten Gentle Opportunities, magical power emerges from a fully-developed pineal eye, which is present in a small fraction of humanity and must be perfected by practice and study. The magical force itself is drawn from primordial chaos, and is inexhaustible. In some systems, magical force emerges from sacred or cursed artifacts, and in others from alchemical concoctions. Can magic be stored somehow for later use, or use by ordinary people? Stypek stores ten nuggets of magical force in stasis inside a wand made of “wereglass,” which is dense and scary and serves a plot point more than the magical system. (Sometimes you have to do that.)
  • Who is able to manipulate magical power? Magic is sometimes the purview of explicitlty magical beings like elves, fairies, pixies, etc. Sometimes it’s a skill that may be learned by anybody. In my system, it depends on a genetic talent that mundanes don’t have and can’t obtain. Spellbenders like Stypek, in fact, are incomplete magicians, in that they can examine and change magical spells but can neither draw magic from chaos nor send it back when no longer needed. (Unwanted or abandoned magic can cause all sorts of problems, like animating corpses into zombies.) Can one magician do things, or does it take some sort of cooperative effort? (One flashes on Crowley’s sex magic.) Can multiple magicians do bigger or more difficult things working together? (This was the case in the classic Witches of Karres.) Are magicians specialists? (Larry Correia’s are; see below.)
  • What are the limits of magical power? This is the big one, kids. Magic that can do anything is…boring. Stories engage us by pitting characters against challenges and their own limitations. A magician who controls magic without limits can’t lose and so isn’t especially interesting. One of the best modern magical systems is what Larry Correia built into his Dark Magic / Spellbound / Warbound trilogy. Magical persons are specialists, sorted into numerous categories by the nature and limits of their power. Some teleport. Some command electricity. Some influence weather. Some heal. Some control gravity, and so on. All of these powers draw on personal energy, which the body creates from food and rest, and when that energy is used up, the powers fail for a time until the body can restore its energy levels. All magical/super powers must have limitations. Superman has Kryptonite. Green Lantern’s lantern doesn’t work on anything colored yellow. (At least this was the case when I was reading my friends’ comics in the first half of the 1960s.) Sometimes magic is tied to the Classical Elements, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Aether. (Brian Niemeier’s magical system includes but is not limited to this.) You can be as clever as you like, but your magic must have quirks and limitations.

Authors take note. Jeff is dispensing solid gold advice, here. He goes into even more detail on his excellent blog. Read the rest.

NB: Jeff intimated that his post was partly inspired by one of my earlier posts on designing magic systems. When you're done with his, check mine out for a treatment of magic system design that's fully complementary with Jeff's and gets a bit more granular.

Recommended: Jeff's fantastical science novel Ten Gentle Opportunities, in which he puts his money where his mouth is by demonstrating the principles he laid out.

And don't miss the Soul Cycle Spring Sale. Time is running out to get my entire award-winning eerie adventure series for less than six bucks. Get all four exciting installments while the gettin's good!

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier