Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Creating an Alien: Designing Renar

 The funniest part about my life is that I have a history degree that I have used almost as much for fiction as for nonfiction.

Sure, everyone (by now) has heard me talk about The Pius Trilogy having been born from a graduate paper gone amok.

Then I used it to design an alien race in the White Ops series. In book one, you might remember that I had the Soivan and the Touri as two empires who expanded into each other and just didn’t stop since. Well, I took the “two empires expanding into each other” from the Zulus and the British, and I just let it ramp up for five hundred years, because why not? Also, I wanted two political entities that truly and deeply hated each other.

Then there are the Renar.

In designing the Renar, there were several elements I wanted to throw in.

The look

First, the Renar were going to be similar to humans, but I wanted them to stand out, something the demarks them as nonhuman.

I put an external bone on the skull, because I hadn’t seen that since Babylon 5. However, unlike neat the bone crest of Babylon 5’s Minbari, it’s more like a helmet that covers the sides of the head, wraps around the back, and goes from the nape of the neck to either the hairline of a human, or just above the eyes. There are no eyebrow muscles, or ears—the “ears” are a thin part of the bone, with slight, almost invisible divots to channel sound better. Their eyes are two-toned: the iris and the pupil are two different colors.

Oh yes, and the skin tone is the color of metal. Variable metals, but metal.

So yeah, metal / high gloss skin, two tone eyes, full bone helmet like a stone. It was going to look DIFFERENT, damn it.

The Culture

This is where the history was going to come in.

The culture was going to circle around, four castes, like the medieval period. I know what you’re thinking: weren’t there three castes? Nope. By the late medieval period, there was an entirely new social class that had emerged: the merchants.

So this world was going to have four castes: The Ansolas are the peasants / workers. There will be the soldier caste, the Zahal. Then there’s the Religious and Merchants.

With the Religious, there’s going to be an overlap in philosophy. Natural philosophy is a thing. It works no matter where you are. Unless something is decidedly off, it works wherever you are. They believed in a deity, because cause and effect is a thing: the big bang (for which we currently have evidence via telecommunications satellite—they hear the echo). They know there’s a starting point, so they reasoned to a First Cause, and if Something could create the universe, then it’s not going to be the cartoon cutouts they have in most mythologies—there will be no Zeus that has sex with everything.

The Clothes

This is going to be a culture that uses a lot of robes. I’m thinking designs and colors that are more like kimonos. This stems from part of their culture which will come up on the

The religious will wear brighter colors, because they need them for their various professions—like medics. Both Ansolas and the Zahal will prefer darker colors, as they hide blood and dirt better. The merchants will be more of a wine-dark royal purple, because don’t they always?

The Language

I am not a linguist. I’m not Tolkien. I’m not even going to try.

However, I have an eclectic collection of words floating around in my head.

So, I steal from everything.

White Ops is part of a group called the Toten’tanz, they who dance with death. Or death dancers. In context, it’s “sentinels against death.”

Meanwhile, on Earth, you may have noticed that the word is German and I just threw in an apostrophe. I was going to make it “toten’shok” (death + hydrashok hollowpoints) but it looked too close to another SF.

The toten’shok are based in Muskva… which is how the Russians pronounce “Moscow.” I just changed a vowel.

“Ansolas” means “worker”… in Gaelic.

The Zahal… is a mistake on my part. Because the Zahal is another Earth word. It’s Hebrew, and it’s what they call the Israeli Defense Force.

I stole Renar cursing from a Dublin phone book when I was there in 1998. But maybe 6,000 people on the entire planet read Gaelic, so what are the odds?


Putting all of this together, I have

Turak: a Zahal turned religious. Obsidian bone crest / helmet, with silver skin, silver eyes and blue pupils. A wiry sucker, he has to make some hard choices if he’s going to stay in the toten’tanz.

Lakonn: Ansolas. A design engineer. His skin is gunmetal blue. His bone crest looks like granite and almost a battering ram. His eyes are the color of molten metal—a bright yellow in the middle, and a brighter red in the iris. He’s built like an Italian garage mechanic, and he has to design a new weapon system. Preferably before everyone gets eaten.

Furlann: Religious, a medic. She’s almost an albino. Her skin is pale, almost stark white. Her bone helmet is almost smooth, and a pale green, so pale it almost looks like the rest of her skin. The most striking part of her body is her bright violet pupils.

So yeah, I had fun here.

By the way, White Ops #2, Politics Kills, is out. Enjoy.

Monday, February 28, 2022

(Red) Dragon Awards

Guess what everybody, it's that time of year again... 

Time to have yet another Dragon Awards discussion!


If you’ve been here a while, you know I often talked about the Dragon Awards, from January to July. They’re the largest fan-voted awards out there. It’s free to vote on it. You don’t even have to register attending the convention.

It also gives me an excuse to talk about books at large. Not that I really need an excuse.

If you want to think that way, the Dragon Awards a front in the culture war. Nerd culture is, surprisingly, important. If you don’t believe me, look up “GamerGate” sometime. It was largely just a matter of calling out gaming journalism for being, well, crap. While GG has been out of action for years (at least seven years, IIRC) you’d think that it was a massive conspiracy theory on par with the Illuminati. It left a mark. You’d think the line was that “the Geek shall inherit the Earth.”

It could be worse. It could be Sad Puppies. And that’s another kennel for another time.

One of the reasons I even go into the cultural aspect of things is that, in 2020, no one cared about the Dragons. I can’t imagine why. Something about the Beer Plague, probably. So, that front was ignored entirely.

The dirt bags interested in taking over every aspect of American life moved in. And while DragonCon is not a bastion of the Right (just look at the parade of Handmaiden cosplayers a few years ago) it has always been a place where everyone can show up, do their own thing, and most importantly, be left alone.

People are trying to make it not that. Then 2020 became… a clusterfuck, really.

So yes, we need to push back.

Voting in the Dragons is a way of making sure that we can all push back without any real investment … aside from a little bit of time.

And if you want to vote, trust me, I’m going to be investing WAY more time than you are.

Nominate here

Yes, the nominations are already open! I'm not even joking.

Yes, I have a list of who I’m voting for. Here, for you folks, I’m also going to give you my reason for why I’m voting for each, and why I think it’s important.

But first…

My thought process

I'm not nominating anyone who already has an award. Most of those who have won already have the attitude of “Oh, I don’t need more dust collectors.”

I’m leaving out Big Name Authors. Frankly, if you're Jim Butcher or a Baen author, you don't need my help.

If I leave the categories blank, it means I STILL got nothing.

You may wonder why I’m not having a full, massive, months-long discussion, gathering up every eligible author and product.

Been there, done that. It turned into an unmanageable mess. Authors came in a hit and run to my posts, screamed "ME ME ME" in the comments, then dropped links to their book and ran. There was no discussion. That’s it.

I seriously want a discussion if I can get one. Why do this? Because if I don’t try one, who will? And the nominations **are already open.** Believe it or not.

Voting happens here: 

Please remember that eligible nominees came out AFTER 7/1/21, up 6/30/22. So double check before throwing something into the ring. I’m starting with who I’m voting for at the moment. Unless I have no other option, if someone has an award I’m not giving them more dust collectors

But then again, if you’re Jim Butcher, you don’t need my help.

So... here... we ... go.

Best SF

White Ops


It could also be Military SF, but since it’s a space opera, it’s genre fluid.

Then again, I’m so far behind on my TBR pile, this is one of the few SF novels that I know came out in the eligibility window.

Yes, for the record, White Ops is mine. I’d like to boast that I deserve it. I’m the best out there. I covet the shiny award, blah blah blah.

But I also can’t name you a damn thing in SF that came out in the eligibility window.

Best Fantasy (Paranormal)

My personal pick is The Dragon and his Wrath, by Dan Humphreys.

Yes, this this is an Urban Fantasy novel.

Why can’t the Dragons please get one lousy UF category?

We can call it the Jim Butcher award.

Best YA

Sworn to the Light, the Avatar Wizard Book 1, by Denton Salle.

My Review.

Sworn to the Light: The Avatar Wizard - Book 1 by [Denton Salle]

Good God, this was just plain FUN. I do recommend you at least check out the review over here. It’s where I did most of my gushing.

Best Military SFF Novel

Karl Gallagher, Seize What’s Held Dear.

My review.

Imagine if Honor Harrington were fighting 1984 and not the French Revolution. You’d get this. I don’t think I’m exaggerating how good this is in the review.

Best Alternate History Novel

The Romanov Rescue, by Tom Kratman, Kacey Ezell, et al.

This review is incoming, but it’s Tom and Kacey. Are we really surprised that it’s entertaining?

Best Media Tie-In Novel

I just found out that Timothy Zahn released a Thrawn book last year, called Lesser Evil. I’ll read it and get back to you.

Best Horror Novel

Summer Storm, Morgon Newquist

Best Comic Book

I’ve been told that "Finnian and the Seven Mountains #5" is good. No, I haven’t read it. I haven't read a comic book since Straczynski left Amazing Spider Man nearly 20 years ago.

However, I’m told that Demon Slayer outsold the entire American Comic book industry last year. And the English run finished in in August 2021. So it’s eligible.

Offical Demon Slayer DvD Cover : DemonSlayerAnime

Best Graphic Novel

I got nothing. [To be clear, it’s: an illustrated story in traditional comic book format that is at least 36 pages long and has been first released in print or electronic format] 

I’m told Kamen America is good.

Kamen America, Volume 4: Scars and Bars by [Timothy Lim, Mark Pellegrini]

Best SFF TV Series, TV or Internet

I hope someone comes up with something, or Disney shills are going to just vote in Book of Boba Fett, and everyone seems to hate that... except for when it's an episode of Mandalorian.

I’m not a fan of what they’ve done to The Witcher.

I couldn’t get into The Expanse.

However, I’m told that Resident Alien is pretty good.

Best SFF Movie

While I haven’t seen anything that came out last year, I’m told the following were good.

  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife?
  • Dune?
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home?

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game

I have no idea, I have a stack of video games over a foot high that I haven’t touched.

Halo: Infinite, 343 Games?

Demon Slayer?

And not for the "I have no f***ing idea" categories.

Best SFF...

  • Mobile Game?

  • Board Game?

  • Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game?

Good luck with those, I have no clue.

So that’s it. Those are my best guesses for right now. I'd throw in hashtags or tag people, but most of the ones who I'd want to bring in either don't care, or are so self-aggrandizing, it wouldn’t be a discussion, it'd be nothing but "ME ME ME."

Trust me, been there, done that. Never again.

So if you want to start voting, you can.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Declan Finn! (Geek Gab, Episode 263!)

 If you’ve wondered why I’ve slowed down with the blog posts, it might have to do with all of the podcast interviews I’ve been working on.

White Ops 1

White Ops 2

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Monday, February 21, 2022

White Ops Reviewed

 Sorry for the lull between posts. But I wanted to collect some reviews out in the wild. Previously, I had posted these online one at a time on my old blog.

But yikes that sucks up a lot of time and effort.

So, I have some excerpts and links.


Upstream Reviews

Finn takes his penchant for larger than life characters who have no problems taking out the bad guys and puts it in space. What follows is not just action but a healthy dose of political intrigue and a hint of mystery that demonstrate that the author can do a lot more than just write a solid fight scene.

NR La Point

Sean Patrick Ryan is basically a huge, Irish, telepathic, Catholic leprechaun. With guns. And who also likes to break and explode things. Think if Cable had a brogue and decided to put together an elite team of space Templars to stop a malevolent group of very hungry alien monsters ripped from nightmares. You get the idea of where this plot is going.

Jimbo’s Blog

What do you get when you mix Star Wars, James Bond, The Hardy Boys, Chuck Norris and The Manchurian Candidate? Honestly, I get excited, but if you’re Declan Finn and you mix all of those things you get White Ops.  What a thrill ride. Seriously, this was a really good time but it’s really hard to classify outside of being a Science Fiction novel. There is a lot here though.

Castalia House Blog

The opening description of a ramshackle space colony, serving as the backdrop to a kayfabe barfight between Ryan and a partner, sold me on White Ops. For once in an indie secret agent space opera, the setting felt broken-in, disheveled, and grimy. The setting was brought into the foreground. And then Finn throws an ill-tempered space raptor headfirst through it.

Anthony Avina

I can only describe this book as the ultimate sci-fi opera meets space western meets sci-fi military action-adventure all blended into one epic sci-fi tale. Simple, right? For such a lengthy read, the author did such an incredible job of writing in a way that allowed the action and mythos that the author created for this universe to flow smoothly and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, eager to jump into the next chapter of this story.

So, I recommend trying these.

White Ops 1

White Ops 2

White Ops 3

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Writing the future... again... dang it.

People who have read my novels probably have noticed that I have the uncanny ability to predict the future.

Those who follow me on social media know that I’m not particularly happy about it.

The Pius Trilogy wasn’t all that bad. I mean, only some of it came true.

But geez, Saint Tommy drove me nuts. I wrote a particularly horrific circumstances, with demons and a cult motivating it and the circumstances around it… it becomes law.

I have a conclusion to a massive three-book conspiracy… then New York state codifies it.

I have an entire book centered around AntiFa minions acting as muscle, burning down entire cities, rioting, and generally carrying on cranky. THAT one I wrote in February of 2020, before the “summer of love” burned down a city or two for a few hundred days.

Hell! I have enough demonic politicians and scuzzy evil bastards that I’m still pissed off at the whole Qanon thing. (Demonic pedophile politicians? I killed those guys like three times!)

This got to the point where I said, screw it! I’ll use ripped from the headline stuff from years ago, and modify it. At least I can’t have these things come true, they already ARE sort of true. (Then freaking CNN producers started running pedophile rings! AYFKM? Thankfully, that book isn’t published yet.)

How do I do it, you ask? I reductio ad absurdum—I take everything out to their dumbest, most absurd end point. The point where no one, and I mean no one in their right mind would ever think about going. Then I have fun with it.

So of course, I have my plot elements become headline news.

Because there is nothing so freaking stupid that can’t become a political platform!

Why do I bring it up? Why isn’t there a post here on alien design and how I built a culture? You know, like I wanted? Why am I writing this post in the evening, far after I’ve usually shut down for the day?

In Politics Kills—which is literally releasing today—I had Earth under martial law. A tyrannical dictator locks down the planet and turns it into an armed camp. Anyone who disagrees gets arrested, thrown in jail, and disappeared.

So the night before the book releases, Justine Castreau in Canada declares emergency powers.

Really? Emergency powers? What? Did someone give this guy Attack of the Clones and he thought it sounded like a great idea?

Seriously, could the bastard son of Castro have waited five minutes? Maybe a day or two? Argh.

Right now, I’m hoping—really, truly, madly deeply hoping—that everyone looks at Justin Trudeau throwing a fit and goes “Really? AYFKM? Go have sex with a goose while the adults go talk with some truckers.”

There’s a saying among historians, and anyone who pays attention to history, is that history happens twice. The first time is a tragedy and the second time, it comes through as farce. And oh boy is this a farce. “Let’s break out emergency powers! Some truckers are parked in town, they’re honking, and they’re building shelters for the homeless and bringing in bouncy castles for children!”

I’m sorry, the level of stupid makes my brain hurt.

Anyway. I’m marking this piece, right here and now, so I can say “called it” at a later date. Just one of many stupid things that I called by complete accident. But nothing would please me better than to look back on this post and go “well, that was a wet firecracker.”

If I’m really lucky, it will have been misreported, no one is actually putting up with this crap, and this was all for nothing. I will have been pissed off by wasting my time, but frankly, I will prefer NOT having called this one in fiction.

For once.

Anyway, Politics Kills is out to day, please buy it, and let me know what you think.

White Ops 1

White Ops 2

White Ops 3

Other books

Monday, January 24, 2022

What is White Ops?


White Ops is my first book, and therefore, it is a very long story just to detail how it became a novel that long.

If you’ve followed my ravings online, the story of my writing career—and the story of my life— can be summed up in one phrase.

“And then it spiraled.”

White Ops started as fan fiction. It was going to be a short story to get something out of my brain.

Fifteen months and six novels later, you could say that it spiraled.

Much of the book as is came about in the last few years. I’ve been rewriting this space opera epic for the past two decades, and so it looks very little like what I started it as.

For right now, the overall effect is looking at it like Lord of the Rings. Because when I steal, I steal from everyone.

And I do mean

In the beginning, we have a massive war. A relatively backwards race called the Pharmakoi have had a massive technological spike. For years, they had been harassing the Renar race, but the Renar put them down and moved on with their lives.

Then, seemingly overnight, the Pharmakoi became the technological equals to the Renar, and all Hell broke loose.


But, like Lord of the Rings, we have an emerging evil getting ready to rock and roll across the galaxy. No, they’re not some ancient threat like Sauron, and they’re not some alien enemy from a thousand years ago, like Babylon 5. They’re not even from a different part of the galaxy, like Deep Space 9. No, these guys are from a different galaxy.

But like Lord of the Rings, these monsters have the ability to reach into the blackest part of the human heart, and bring forth the darkness within.

While he doesn’t realize the full scope of the coming threat, one man sees it coming. His name is Sean Patrick Ryan. The Pharmakoi’s sudden technology spike make Sean think that the Pharmakoi either found the technology, or was given the technology.

If the Pharmakoi found the technology… how and where did it come from? Who left it? And how likely is that?

If the Pharmakoi were given the technology… whoever is behind the Pharmakoi wouldn’t have handed over their best weapons. They would give out the equivalent of muskets while owning nuclear weapons.

When the Pharmakoi go down, it’s only a matter of time before whoever’s behind them comes out of the woodwork. While everyone prepares, someone has to keep watch, and counter any moves this new race makes.

These people will be White Ops, and Sean Ryan will lead them.

Toten’tanzers / Rangers

This is the point where we have to explain what the Hell Sean Patrick Ryan is.

And this is where the background on the book gets complicated.

While White Ops is the first book I wrote, it didn’t even have that title. The original title was Tales of the Rangers.

Then I realized that “Rangers” is a term so overused, it might be the most generic thing in the SFF genre. The books became Tales of White Ops. Then, simply, White Ops.

Then I went off and wrote a dozen novels. Half of them ended up with Sean A.P. Ryan, because the Ryan family won’t leave me alone. More on that here. Later on in life, the 21st century Ryan wanted to be a pirate.

Okay, he would be a privateer. He would kill terrorists, steal their loot, then use that to finance killing more terrorists—repeat.

While I haven’t written those books yet, they’re in my head. They’re can(n)on in my universe. They are a thing.

Then I went back to perform a massive rewrite on the world of White Ops.

And Sean AP Ryan had screwed up my ENTIRE UNIVERSE. How?

Somehow, and I don’t know why, but the Renar had made first contact on a covert level sometime in the late 21st century. They reached out based on their own cultural assumptions. The Renar culture is big on robes, and the colors in the robes explain a lot about your position in society—well, robe color and weapons.

When the Renar observed Earth to see who to reach out to, they made a decision that this one place near the equator —the center of the planet — must be the place where the leader of Humans lived. And there was one guy who wore pure white robes, with constant international communications. Even the name, Pontiff, implied he was a great leader.

So, the Renar visited the Pope.

The Vatican said, “Please hold, we want to talk with someone.” In comes Sean AP Ryan’s privateer company to consult on the matter.

The Renar hear what Ryan does for a living, and thinks it’s a great idea. The merchant caste thinks it’s a great way to make money. The religious caste thinks it’s a way to do good. The soldiers think it’s a great idea to get into fights, and for good causes. The peasant caste … doesn’t really get a vote, but it seems like a good way to get out of blue collar work.

Take the idea back to Renar, filter it through an alien culture, and shake well for 300 years. Privateers became Toten’tanzers.

In the Renar language, a Toten’tanzer is “one who dances with death.” In context, it reads as “a sentinel against death.” You can translate it as a Ranger, if you want to.

If you’re reading the word and wondering “Is Declan using German and passing it off as an alien language?”

You might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment.

You’re also reading a guy who stole Gaelic out of a Dublin phone book for an alien language. I just throw the kitchen sink in and see what works.

White Ops...

Sean Ryan’s White Ops team is a subsection of the toten’tanz. They’re going to seek out new threats and new conspiracies, and they’re going to send them all straight to Hell.

Why why Ops? Black Ops are usually the sort of thing you don’t want people to hear about, because they may be morally iffy.

White Ops are fighting the good fight, but right now, we don’t want the enemy to know that we’re onto them.

You might be able to tell, but I had fun here. I’ve got a small cast of characters, only six or seven. It shouldn’t be too cluttered or confuse too many people.

So, White Ops comes out tomorrow, and this link should have most of the available vendors.

The second one comes out in a month.

The third one the month after that.

The complete books.