Please welcome Anna Butler with
Taking Shield #3
Returning to duty following his long recovery from the injuries he sustained during the events recounted in Heart Scarab, Shield Captain Bennet accepts a tour of duty in Fleet as flight captain on a dreadnought. The one saving grace is that it isn’t his father’s ship—bad enough that he can’t yet return to the Shield Regiment, at least he doesn’t have the added stress of commanding former lover Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, knowing the fraternisation regulations will keep them apart.
Working on the material he collected himself on T18 three years before, Bennet decodes enough Maess data to send him behind the lines to Makepeace, once a human colony but under Maess control for more than a century. The mission goes belly up, costing Albion one of her precious, irreplaceable dreadnoughts and bringing political upheaval, acrimony and the threat of public unrest in its wake. But for Bennet, the real nightmare is discovering what the Maess have in store for humanity.
It’s not good. It’s not good at all.
About the Taking Shield series:
Earth’s a dead planet, dark for thousands of years; lost for so long no one even knows where the solar system is. Her last known colony, Albion, has grown to be regional galactic power in its own right. But its drive to expand and found colonies of its own has threatened an alien race, the Maess, against whom Albion is now fighting a last-ditch battle for survival in a war that’s dragged on for generations.
Taking Shield charts the missions and adventures of Shield Captain Bennet, scion of a prominent military family. Against the demands of his family’s ‘triple goddess’ of Duty, Honour and Service, is set Bennet’s relationships with lovers and family. When the series opens, Bennet is at odds with his long term partner, Joss, who wants him out of the military and back in an academic, archaeological career. He’s estranged from his father, Caeden, who is the commander of Fleet’s First Flotilla. Events of the first book, in which he is sent to his father’s ship to carry out an infiltration mission behind Maess lines, improve his relationship with Caeden, but bring with them the catalyst that will destroy the one with Joss: one Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, who, over the course of the series, develops into Bennet’s main love interest.
Over the Taking Shield story arc, Bennet will see the extremes to which humanity’s enemies, and his own people, will go to win the war. Some days he isn’t able to tell friend from foe. Some days he doubts everything, including himself, as he strives to ensure Albion’s victory. And some days he isn’t sure, any longer, what victory looks like.
The noise was always the most difficult thing to assimilate when it came to a fire fight. He was only peripherally aware of it while the fight lasted, registering the shouts and screams and explosions and using the data they brought him as he assessed and reassessed what was going on around him. But he wasn’t able, while he was in the thick of it, to analyse them and put them into their proper place. It was usually the point at which everything grew quiet again that his brain processed and replayed all he’d heard, as if the memories had been parked somewhere safe until he had the time to deal with them.
So it was only now, while he got his breath back and kneaded the kinks out of his knee, his mind added the audio track to the memories stored there: the whooshing whoop of short bursts of intense energy flung from the muzzle of his laser rifle, the flat boom of something exploding, the yells of fright and anger from the troopers. Someone had been screaming.
He looked around for the source, trying to do a quick head count. Thirty yards away someone bent over a huddled mass. The downed man’s legs kicked, heels drumming on the ground. The screaming had died away into a pained gurgling.
Van landed beside him, slumping against the building wall with an audible whoof, sighing out a relieved breath.
Bennet arched an eyebrow at her. “Status?”
“Two down, status unknown. The paramedic’s checking.” She glanced at the downed man and grimaced. “Maess hunting now?”
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Pushing the boundaries
There are days when I’m glad that the house of speculative and science fiction has such wide, welcoming doors.
I’ve been trying to analyse why I write the kind of sci-fi I do, you see. That’s the old school type, the stuff of Star Wars/Trek space opera—big spaceships, faster than light travel, alien enemies, cool weaponry and heroes running around shooting their lasers. The only difference in the Taking Shield universe to the space opera norm is that my heroes are two men who love each other.
It is old fashioned. It perhaps does have its roots in the fiction and films of the 60s and 70s, when we were still aglow with all the certainties of right and might in the world, when we thought we (generic Western we) were the bastions of freedom and free-thought. When no one had heard of climate change, or the idea of Islamic jihad, or sub-prime mortgages crashing the world’s economy. Perhaps when the future looked bright and adventurous and we owned it all, and we didn’t know that our enemy wasn’t something out ‘there’ but our own flawed natures.
Dare I say it’s from a time when we weren’t depressed, but energetic and hopeful? Yeah. I dare.
Science fiction is an evolving beast. From a bright future with laser guns and space travel, it’s caught up with all our new uncertainties. At its best, it’s a boundary pushing critique of politics, society, and life. Often it’s a vision of a future where all the stresses of modern living—political, governmental, environmental, global economics, societal—have aggregated into a world where humans have been dealt a mortal blow, where we’re no longer outward looking but brigaded into smaller, more confined societies where the daily struggle is survival. Where we’re fighting ourselves instead of uniting to fight something outside ourselves.
There’s a reason Katniss Everdeen is a popular heroine. She embodies wish fulfilment. We see her fighting for her family, we see that she has agency and courage and the sort of survival skills that leave us gasping. When our greatest trial is the rush hour on the London underground, when we’re trammelled in like cattle and the most important decision we’ve made that morning is whether we have full or half-fat milk in our Starbuck’s, who wouldn’t fantasise about the sort of world where we can take control of our own lives?
So, why do I cling to the old fashioned sort of sci-fi rather than embrace dystopian fiction, depict societies in failure and eviscerate the forces that cause it? Simple. I find those books depressing. I don’t deny they’re well written, I don’t deny the heroines (because often now it’s girl power, hurrah!) are engaging and admirable. I just find the whole idea that we can’t solve our problems, that we’re sleepwalking into allowing ourselves to be disenfranchised and controlled and we’re condemning our world to the sort of place where Katniss is needed, to be so disheartening I don’t want to write about it.
So I write escapism instead. Taking Shield doesn’t avoid the issues of war or politics and how those twist and warp a people, and nor does it deny the seeds of Albion’s problems are within itself, but despite all that happens, I don’t think it feels so unremittingly hopeless. There’s a glimmer of that fine, carefree time that acted as space opera’s midwife. It’s more fun.
Bottom line? If I’m going to be writing something that will clock in at about half a million words, I want to have a bit of fun with it in the process. So there it is: my selfish, self-regarding reason for staying with stuff that I love to read, watch, and—above all—write.
I enjoy it.
I suppose there could be worse reasons! Still, I hope you enjoy reading it, too.
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