Traveller Inceptio, Rob Shackleford

Traveller inceptio

An Open Letter to the Author


Your letter to me began –


My name is Rob and I’m an Australian author.

My book ‘Traveller Inceptio’ has been recently published by Austin Macauley and I’m shooting this email to see if you might be interested in casting your eye over it.

Traveller-Inceptio is a gentle Sci-Fi that blends the genres of Historical Fiction and Action / Adventure, with a dash of Romance thrown in.

I’m used to Science Fiction and to the awkwardness of the often geeky (sorry!) types who write it and are its biggest fans. So I mostly regarded your overstretched prose, your blonde heroes, the few token women, and the fewer token people of colour with tolerance. But around half-way through, at Loc 5500, I got angry.

Your words were –

Vague surprise on their simian faces, they shrugged and wandered into the crowd to cruise for any infraction, real or imagined, that would allow them to instigate a forced ejection and the occasional thump if resisted.

I’m sure you know that ‘simian’ means “monkey or ape-like”. This is SF, you may have been referring to aliens or to humanised apes, but in fact the people you are describing are the security staff at an Auckland night club, “bull-necked Pacific Islander[s]”. There are many situations where the use of ‘simian’ in this context could see you in jail or cost you your job. Your usage is made more egregious here because it is in the context of brave white soldier heroes seeing off bullyin, cowardly Maoris.

The antagonist was big and beefy, with the arrogance and barely contained violence of a football player… The Maori looked to his back-up in delight, and they seemed to swell in size and threat.

I do have a second, related area of complaint that I might have discussed in the normal course of a  review and that is from when the initial time travellers, in Queensland, run into a party of Aboriginal men.

… three bearded and naked aboriginal men stood by the fishing line, eyes comically wide in terror as they stared.

What can I say? The Black man with his “eyes comically wide in terror” is a trope of the Jim Crow era, and I struggle to see how you might be so ignorant as to use it here. Further, ‘aboriginal’ should no more be uncapitalised than ‘Australian’ or ‘Shackleford’. You compound these errors, at Loc 3375/Chapter 29, by purporting to describe the encounter, including its religious and spiritual significance, from the Aboriginals’ point of view. This is a form of racism, sadly all too common in White writers, called ‘appropriation’. Look it up.

I can only hope the offence you have given here was unintended and that your book is taken down until it is rectified.

yours faithfully,

Bill Holloway


Traveller Inceptio begins with a group of graduate students in Queensland getting funding to invent a 3D scanner for baggage through customs. They set up in a shed on the beach near the mouth of the Maroochy River (so two of the researcher dudes can go surfing every morning) and an accidental bump to the wiring of their prototype turns the scanner into a transmitter able to send and recover people 1,000 years back in time.

Because, and the author really says this, armies are mostly white and male, half a dozen white, male soldiers from SAS regiments in Australia, NZ, UK, Canada and USA are trained to return to Saxon England – during the Danish invasions at the time of Etherald the Unready, prior to the Norman invasion of 1066 – because they’ll fit in.

Two story lines proceed in alternating chapters – the grad students set up their workshop, make their discovery, deal with their commercial sponsors, the university, Australian and US spooks; a man called Michael wanders through Nottingham Forest (its Saxon name is Snot-something), meets primitive but civilised villagers etc.. The grad student story fades away and is replaced by SAS men training to be Saxon warriors. And it all comes together in a series of very gory battles – not to my taste but I think I understand the point the author was trying to make.

The writing is over-descriptive, but does settle down after a while. There are token women, but that is a given in mainstream SF, of course they are all beautiful and good in bed (SF writers get their sex education from Playboy), except for one geeky woman who is also good in bed but of course wears glasses. The novel starts out as campus fiction but morphs into something else as the author studies what real face to face conflict with swords and axes might mean to modern soldiers. It’s ok, well except for Shackleford’s ineptitude – I hope it’s nothing more – in dealing with race.


Rob Shackleford, Traveller Inceptio, Austin Macauley, London, 2019o

Purchase here
Author website here


22 thoughts on “Traveller Inceptio, Rob Shackleford

  1. Good for you, calling the author out on this. I actually hope he didn’t have an editor, as I’d expect them to have noticed this stuff and worked on it with him!


      • Yes, the underlying tone throughout is, to be generous, very old fashioned. And you would think the almost constant discussion in the news in the last few years about casual racism amongst football fans (including more than one ‘monkey’ taunt’) and political aspirants should have made the author more aware.


  2. I actually laughed out loud when I saw that the last thing in your view is a link to purchase this book. You so totally convinced me to do so, Bill. Har har. I guess this science fiction novel turned into one man’s fantasy. Did you send the review link to the author? I hope he reads it and takes it seriously.


    • Thanks for responding Melanie, as you can see you’re one of the few who did. Lots of times issues like this are consigned to the Political Correctness bin in Australia when then becomes an excuse for disregarding them.
      I copied the author in and he wrote back immediately, chastened. And as for the link, I generally set those things up before I start and anyway I’m a critic, not a censor.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Comments ebb and flow on blogs. Maybe some of your other followers didn’t quite know what to say to your letter. I think being PC crosses a line when people can’t even follow what a person is mad about. I see that on Twitter. However, you gave good reasons with examples from the novel.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this post, Bill! Gave me a chuckle, though the points you raise are serious. I suspect the author probably didn’t even realise… now that he’s aware of his subconscious bias/ faults he may write in a more considered way next time.


    • I hope he does. Write in a more considered way, that is, if he was not being deliberately offensive. I wonder how I would advise a white supremacist to write. However he likes I suppose, and if I was unlucky enough to read it I could only advise non-(white supremacists) not to.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yikes!
    And bravo Bill for clearly stating your objections in such a rational manner and allowing the author a chance to respond/reply.

    Can I confess that your post also made me laugh.


    • Thanks Brona, and I guess I’m pleased you and Kim laughed. That’s generally my reaction to adverse reviews too.

      BTW I gave your Mary Wollstonecraft post a short write-up in my previous post. Years ago I really wanted to know what early Australian women writers read, I still don’t have a clear answer but surely they were aware of Wollstonecraft – but they only ever mention Byron and Shakespeare.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the shout out Bill.

        To be clear, I was laughing with you. I enjoyed how you tackled a tricky topic, lightly, with a touch of self-deprecation perhaps. It was clever & bold – I laughed with appreciation 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Here’s the thing Bill – and I’m being snooty here I know – when I get review offers like this from authors, I check out the publisher. This is one of hybrid publishers where authors usually pay for some or most of the publication costs. This is not a no-no in itself – I know good authors who have used these publishers – but if it’s an author I’ve never heard of I’m afraid I’m suspicious and usually ignore their offer of a review copy or just say no. This work has all the hallmarks of an un-edited work – or if, edited, my it seems to me like a poor editor. (See, “kind” Sue has her limits!)

    Liked by 1 person

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