Winter Meltdown

Southwest’s Holiday from Hell has dominated the news this week. Their route system has fallen to pieces and I can only imagine the nightmare of piecing it back together. I worked in the business for a long time as an aircraft dispatcher, which is the behind-the-scenes function of planning each flight and making sure each one reaches its destination.

That’s the short version. The long version is that they are the people in an airline’s control center who evaluate the weather, plan and file the routes, determine the fuel required, and manage a zillion other small details for each flight, each day, to make sure the whole system runs like a fine watch. It’s fascinating work, but it can also be a burnout job. Like I’m sure it is right now.

I say all this because it gives me some appreciation of the absolute mess Southwest has on its hands. One of the most memorable (as in worst) days of my career was putting a route system back together after our hub had been shut down for weather. Airplanes were out of position, flight crews were timing out (because they can’t stay on duty forever), and we had run out of options. One night’s disruption took the better part of a week to get back on schedule, and that was for a smallish freight operation with about 20 airplanes. Southwest has over seven hundred.

While they have a lot more people to deal with the minutia, the basic problem remains. If anything, it’s exacerbated by the fact that they don’t operate the traditional hub-and-spoke system. All of their routes are “point to point,” meaning they don’t concentrate airplanes and crews at strategic locations like Delta, United, or American do. Some airports get more Southwest traffic than others, but they don’t necessarily maintain ready spares at those locations to pull from when everything goes south.

This is super efficient when it works, but when it doesn’t? Yeesh. Disruptions cascade to the point where the whole system just grinds to a halt. That’s what we’re seeing right now, a metastasizing boulder of crap careening relentlessly downhill. They’ve trimmed their schedule down to less than half the normal daily departures and added a whole bunch of empty positioning legs–which is pure cost to them–all so they can get back to a mostly normal schedule by the end of the month. In the meantime, thousands of passengers are stranded and don’t even ask about their bags.

Some anonymous SWA insiders on Reddit have pinned a lot of the blame on staffing problems and an outdated scheduling and dispatch system. You can do more with less, to a certain extent, if you have the software tools in place to make their jobs easier. 1990’s-level tech won’t cut it. If crewmembers are holding on the phone for hours just talk to scheduling, that time is ticking away against their daily duty limit instead of being spent taking the next trip.

Other than these few brave souls’ admissions, I have no insider knowledge of what’s going on inside the company. But based on my own experience, I can picture it and sympathize. And I’m eternally grateful to be in a consulting gig now instead of in the trenches, struggling to make chicken salad out of chicken $&!+. There’s a saying that it takes decades to build a reputation and minutes to lose it, and I don’t know if they recover from this fiasco.

If you’re stuck in a terminal waiting for that elusive flight out, be nice to the gate agents. It’s not their fault, and I really wouldn’t want their job right now.

We’re Number One!

Worlds Long Lost is the #1 New Release in Science Fiction Anthologies on Amazon. WOW.

When I was asked to contribute a story for this project last year, I was in the middle of writing Escape Orbit and realized it would be the perfect opportunity for a tie-in. And boy, am I glad to have done it! If you’re intrigued by stories of interstellar archeology amid alien ruins, and if you want some idea of where Escape Orbit will be heading, check out “Rocking the Cradle”.

It was an honor to appear in this, and it was especially thrilling to see my name appearing on the cover along with the great Orson Scott Card. This writing thing is starting to feel like the real deal.

New Book, New Look

Five years ago, astronaut Jack Templeton took the spacecraft Magellan to the farthest reaches of our solar system, never to be heard from again. 

Until now. 

When the Magellan suddenly reappears where an undiscovered planet was suspected to be, it poses more questions than answers. How did Jack survive all this time? Can he return before his life support runs out? And what is the object long thought to be the elusive “Planet Nine?”

In a race against time, Jack’s former crewmate Traci Keene spearheads a desperate effort to outfit a mission to bring him home. But she has competition. Agencies of both American and foreign governments have their own agendas, and saving rogue astronauts isn’t among them. 

And at the edge of all that is known, a gateway to the unknown awaits. . .

Available for preorder now for release in April 2023. If you can’t wait that long, a little taste of what’s in store will be appearing in the Worlds Long Lost anthology this December:


We were not alone. The farther we push into the universe, the more obvious it becomes. The signs are everywhere: canals and pyramids on Mars, old roads on the moons of Jupiter, ruined cities on worlds about the nearer stars. The galaxy once teemed with life, or so it seems. Which begs the question: What happened to it all?

These stories explore the ruins of lost civilizations, solve ancient mysteries . . .and awaken horrors from beyond the dawn of time.

Featuring stories by Orson Scott Card, Griffin Barber, Adam Oyebanji, Jessica Maguire, Patrick Chiles, and an all-new entry in the Sun Eater universe from editor Christopher Ruocchio. Join us for your next adventure to Worlds Long Lost!

Summer Book Blowout

It’s been a busy summer. In fact, the past year has been kind of nuts and the fruits of all that labor are now making it to the shelves. The latest is WORLDBREAKERS, a short story anthology I was honored to be a part of along with greats like David Weber and Larry Correia.

The theme is a little outside of my normal space-nerd setting, so let me sum it up in two words: sentient tanks. If that conjures visions of Cylons and Terminators in your mind, then know that’s also where my head went when Baen first approached me about contributing to it. Here’s a taste from the jacket copy:

Brute force. Intransigent defiance. Adamantine will.

These are the hallmarks of the AI tank. Formed from cold steel and superpowered computing brains, these gigantic tanks with the firepower of an entire army have been the decisive factors in interplanetary battle. But are humans worthy of the extraordinary instruments of war that they have created? Are the World Breakers the greatest protector of human liberty, or its worst threat?

My money’s on “worst threat,” but you be the judge. WORLDBREAKERS will be available Tuesday, August 3rd. You can preorder it now on Amazon. And because I’m so excited about this, BATTLESPACE will also be FREE for a limited time. 

BattleSpace by [Patrick Chiles]

This book was something of a labor of love. I badly wanted to flesh out the story of Vladimir Vaschenko, the missing Cosmonaut at the center of the mystery from last year’s FROZEN ORBIT. It’s set in the 1960’s when the American and Soviet space programs were not only racing each other to the Moon, they were secretly vying for control of Earth orbit.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention FRONTIER. I’ll let you be the judge if I’ve saved the best for last, but I am immensely proud of this one. It’s a near-future tale of the U.S. Space Force and their first crewed patrol ship, the USS Borman. It features plucky spacewalkers, wayward asteroid explorers, and a mysterious space station that is not what it appears to be.

Frontier by [Patrick Chiles]

That’s everything I’ve been up to this year…so far. More to follow this fall!

The Early Bird…

…gets the E-book. Official release day is June 1st, but FRONTIER is available now on Kindle if you can’t wait. So hit that button!

The Need For Speed

Latest iteration of the Aerion AS2 (I think. There’ve been a lot).

This is disappointing:

Aerion Corp. today ceased operations, citing a lack of available financing for its plans to bring a family of supersonic aircraft to market. In a statement, the company said it had built an $11.2 billion backlog for the first of that family, the Mach 1.2 AS2 business jet, but “in the current financial environment, it has proven hugely challenging to close on the scheduled and necessary large new capital requirements to finalize the transition of the AS2 into production. Given these conditions, the Aerion Corporation is now taking the appropriate steps in consideration of this ongoing financial environment.”

-AIN Online

Possibly related: last fall, Boeing suspended its NeXT “future innovations” unit. While not directly tied to Aerion, it’s indicative of Boeing’s cash crunch and the need to refocus on its core competencies (that is, building airplanes that don’t crash). Between the 737MAX and COVID, they’re not in a position to throw billions at projects that might never make it to the runway.

I really hoped they could be successful, but it’s also been in development for close to twenty years so it was hard to get too excited.

Making airplanes go faster presents all kinds of technical challenges as you approach Mach 1, and it’s not as simple as adding more wing sweep or bigger engines. One design choice affects other choices downstream, and sometimes those trades can’t be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. A lot of tradeoffs that are useful for military jets don’t translate well to civil transports and the FAA’s Part 25 certification standards. Adding speed adds complications like wave drag, and the optimum ways to solve it sacrifices performance at lower speeds, which is crucial to controllability in takeoff and landing (and a big focus of those Pt. 25 standards I was talking about). Example: a clipped delta wing is great for high-speed cruise but terrible for takeoff, approach and landing. Maybe you can mitigate this with more power from the engines, but now you’ve created a noise issue that cannot be ignored if you ever want to get the thing certified to fly anywhere civilized.

This really made me wonder about Aerion’s plans for a Mach 4 jet. While that puts it just shy of hypersonic (and the related heating / materials problems), that’s still pretty freaking ambitious when they hadn’t even cut metal on the “slow” Mach 1.2 version.

Finally, before anyone is willing to spend serious money on overcoming the technical challenges, there’s this hurdle: convincing Congress and the FAA to rescind the prohibition on supersonic flight over land. Without that, the business case may never close. It’s a huge chicken-and-egg problem when you consider the newest business jets regularly tickle M.90. Once you’re already at 90% of the speed of sound, adding another 20 or 30% might be too expensive to be worth the trouble. But man would that thing look cool on the ramp.

Having said all that, this is a setback I hate to see. Hopefully Boom doesn’t suffer the same fate.

T-Minus Ten Days

FRONTIER in the wild, at Secrets Beach Resort in Cancun. Wish I could say I took this, but it was one of my “advance readers.”

Writing a new book is always exciting but I especially enjoyed this one. Its an action-adventure / technothriller that builds on characters introduced in PERIGEE and FARSIDE. FRONTIER combines themes of exploration, military sci-fi, and Earthbound intrigue to project present-day geopolitical conflicts into near-future space. The ending surprised me as I was writing it and things didn’t turn out *at all* like I’d planned. It’s a good thing when the writer surprises himself.

Get ahead of the crowd and preorder on Amazon! Preorders are a tremendous help with initial rankings on release day, which increases reader visibility, which increases sales, which secures my ability to keep writing. Bottom line, I sincerely appreciate it and will continue doing my best to provide more great beach reads.

Coming Soon

The blog may have been dormant for a while, but rest assured I haven’t been. I have two titles coming out this summer, and a short story appearing in an anthology with such greats as David Weber and Larry Correia.

First up is Frontier, out June 1st (available for pre-order now, so hit that button!):

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 51kZO+BJc3L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg


Marshall Hunter only wanted to fly: the faster, the higher, the better. But the Space Force has other plans that will take its newest officer beyond anything he imagined.

Assigned to the cislunar cruiser U.S.S. Borman as a search-and-rescue officer, Ensign Hunter is resigned to a life of rescuing wayward spacefarers and derelict satellites. The novelty of Earth orbit soon wears off after a series of arduous spacewalks, confirming his suspicion that the new space economy has attracted too many people with more money than sense.

His fortunes appear to change when a billionaire couple goes missing on their way to survey a near-Earth asteroid. Out of contact and on a course that will eventually send them crashing into Mars, the nuclear-powered Borman is dispatched on an audacious, high-speed interplanetary run to find the couple’s wayward spacecraft and bring them home. As they approach the asteroid, the Borman itself becomes hopelessly disabled, its only chance of rescue coming from a surprising source.

With the Borman suddenly out of commission and far beyond reach, cislunar space begins falling into chaos as critical satellites fail and valuable lunar mineral shipments begin disappearing in transit. Nothing is as it seems, and the crew suspects none of it is by coincidence.

Facing an impossible choice between salvation and sacrifice, Marshall Hunter will have to find a way to save both his crewmates and their civilian charges.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Next is BattleSpace, a novella I’d wanted to write for a long time that explores the background of Vladimir Vaschenko, the Soviet cosmonaut at the center of the mystery behind last year’s Frozen Orbit. This one is a straight-up Cold War technothriller that just happens to be set in space. As seems to be everything I do, but anyway…

This one is taking longer than I thought, as I’d hoped to have it out in concert with the audiobook release of Frozen Orbit last month. Which, yeah, that’s a thing. The new cover looks pretty cool to my eyes:

Frozen Orbit

So, back to BattleSpace. It’s a tightly-paced story, about 100 pages, which is not nearly enough for my publisher to do a print run. This one will be independently published by moi and available anywhere fine e-books are sold later this summer.

It’s going to be a busy summer, so stay tuned!

FROZEN ORBIT Review Thread

Today was a good day. Saw Frozen Orbit in a bookstore for the first time, which floored me. Even though I knew it was there, the feeling of finally seeing it for sale out there in the big old world next to my favorites like James S. A. Corey and Larry Correia is, well…wow. I should be able to find words but I Just. Can’t. Even.

Hot on the heels of that experience, it garnered this mention from Booklist:

The story moves quickly with elements of both a spy thriller and a space race, and never seems to drag, though years pass during the telling of it. Readers are given glimpses of Russia’s Cold War space secrets as astronaut Jack Templeton pores through a long-dead cosmonaut’s journal on the lengthy space flight to the lonely Kuiper belt. A mystery about a crew driven to mutiny at the very edge of nothingness needs to be solved, and questions about humanity’s very existence are asked. Frozen Orbit could make for an impressive movie, one that would stand with greats such as Contact or Interstellar.

I’ll take that all day long, especially the movie part.

UPDATE: From Amazing Stories:

If you’re looking for a hard-core space-hardware saga in the vein of Clarke, Baxter, Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky), or the recent Last Astronaut (David Wellington), you’ve come to the right place…There’s enough character drama to pull the story along (with a married couple and two single astronauts aboard) but the real story here is on the science side…The author covers a lot of ground in this space procedural, and you’ll see a reexamination of the themes in Clarke’s 2001 a Space Odyssey here, but with technology and concepts informed by the five decades that separate the two works.

I’ll update and bump this post as new reviews arrive. In the meantime, you can help a brother out–if you liked it, please consider leaving a review or at least rating it on the Amazon page. That helps make it more visible, which is yuuge.

P.S. There are now signed copies of Frozen Orbit at Barnes & Noble in Hendersonville and Brentwood, TN. Act fast!