What is The Art of War Trilogy? A Note on my Self-Pubbed Work
If you are reading this, you have most likely read or heard of The Justice of Kings, my debut fantasy novel from Orbit books. Which is great! You might have even seen my Goodreads page or my Amazon author profile and noticed a bunch of random sci-fi novels on there too.
What are those books, you wonder? Are they the product of some erroneous concatenation of two profiles, me and that of another sci-fi author called Richard Swan?
The Art of War trilogy was indeed written by me, and self-published by me between 2015 and 2016. Knowing that those who enjoyed The Justice of Kings might be interested to see what else I had produced, I thought I would write this post to explain precisely what the Art of War trilogy is and where it came from.
I have said a number of times before in interviews that I have been writing since my early teens, and for a very long time it was normal for me to turn out a book a year. I did this until my final year of university, and then I took a break from writing. I had written so much in the previous ten years (especially in the previous three; like, a shit-ton of Black Library fanfic on the [now long gone] official forums) that I was feeling a little bit burned out. I was also entering the heady world of corporate London, which monopolised my time and brainpower and left little room for the fairly cerebral hobby of novel writing. As a result, I had a writing hiatus of perhaps two or three years.
In about 2013, the itch to write was back, and I picked up an abortive attempt at a manuscript I had started a few years before, re-read it, brought myself up to speed, and continued to chip away at it until it was complete. This manuscript would eventually become “Reclamation”—replete with loads of epigraphs from Sun Tzu’s the Art of War.
At around the same time I had just found out about Kindle Direct Publishing, a way to self-publish that wasn’t a vanity press. I don’t think KDP was particularly old at the time — in fact a quick Google search tells me it was started in 2007. I could see that some authors had really got in at the ground floor and were flourishing, in a time when the algorithm didn’t seem to distinguish books by published and self-published (in other words, self-published titles appeared next to traditionally published titles, rather than being algorithmically ringfenced).
Buoyed by this, I wrote the rest of Reclamation. It was in many ways the book I had always wanted to write; a proper space opera in the vein of Tiberian Sun / Mass Effect / StarCraft / Halo / Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (my biggest sci-fi influences outside of sci-fi literature), with English-speaking humanoid aliens, political manoeuvrings, diplomacy, espionage, and proper high-tech ultra-ballistic action sequences. I wanted to combine the pulp aspect of aliens as written by say, C.J. Cherryh in her Chanur Saga, but within an at least moderately scientifically-plausible universe (it is science fiction, not science fantasy). Indeed, it was seeing a picture of Mike Whelan’s Chanur’s Homecoming (easily, to my mind, the best science-fiction book cover in existence) that was the spark that began Reclamation.
In writing Reclamation, I had been heavily influenced by Iain M. Banks, in the sense that his Culture series tended to focus on the “Special Circumstances” division, itself allegorical of modern Western nations using increasingly underhanded and unlawful techniques to wage the War on Terror. Indeed, Reclamation was heavily influenced by the Global War on Terror in and of itself, it having formed a staple of the news cycle throughout my teens.
After Reclamation came The Ascendancy War, and then to cap off the trilogy, Empire of the Fallen. I also wrote a couple of spin-off military science-fiction novellas (the VIPER series), and a prequel to Reclamation, Hadan’s Reach. Collectively, I refer to this body of work as my “UN-iverse”, since the human empire is simply called the UN.
When The Justice of Kings was well on its way to becoming my debut traditionally published novel, and the fanfare was building around that, I was initially tempted to (and briefly did) remove the UN-iverse from publication. I was worried that people would read The Justice of Kings and then go back through my self-published work and find a bunch of old novels that weren’t up to scratch. Indeed, I started to go back through Reclamation with a view to editing it and bringing it up to spec (and did edit the first chapter also, as well as remove the more egregious sex scenes(!)); but, by and large, I was actually pleased with it. In fact, I don’t personally think it’s any worse-in terms of quality of prose-than The Justice of Kings; the biggest difference is that my self-published work has had no editorial oversight. I hired a freelance proof-reader, but that was it, and I suspect it may be a little uneven as a result.
You might wonder why I chose to self-publish it in the first place. In fact I didn’t even think to try and get it traditionally published. I didn’t think the market wanted another space opera (this opinion was based on the single rejection I had received from Orbit when I was 15 for a very bad novel I had submitted to their slush pile). Besides, I was consumed by the excitement of having complete creative control over something, especially the cover art commission process—though I did end up licensing an older John Harris illustration in the end:
I released Reclamation in around 2015 to very little fanfare. I was a million miles away from the top indie self-publishers of today, around whom has grown an entire cottage industry of editors and cover artists, and who turn out work of remarkable quality. I never had the time or patience to put in the huge marketing efforts that self-published titles require to flourish—though I’m pleased to say that the books did do pretty well, notwithstanding. Eventually, though, per the laws of entropy, it all dried up into nothing.
You can only imagine my delight to see people unearthing the trilogy again thanks to the visibility that The Justice of Kings has brought me. I am extremely fond of those self-published titles. As some point I may find the energy and effort to do paperback copies, but for now they exist as e-books only.
So there you have it. That is the Art of War trilogy! If you do decide to pick them up, do leave a review or reach out to me to let me know what you thought!