Musings on space opera and science fiction

I am not going to take up this post trying to define what the line between true space opera and science fiction actually is–I don’t have the patience for that when the landscapers have unexpectedly started up outside on a holiday and really, it would be yet another rabbit hole that I’ll probably jump down in another post somewhere along the line. For my purposes, I’m collecting both into one bucket to talk about it, in part because I know there are people out there that would try to draw a line between them and while a line probably exists, it’s all semantics anyway when 90% of the time when talking about genre in a bookstore (virtual or otherwise), it’s all collected into the broader “sci-fi and fantasy” category anyway. It’s all speculative fiction and it’s all storytelling, regardless.

In the past few days, I’ve found myself trying to decide what to pick up and read again, what series I have on my to watch list and haven’t yet (I’m looking at you, Strange New Worlds and The Expanse–and before anyone @’s me, I’ve watched some of The Expanse, just not all of it, and I haven’t started Strange New Worlds because I just haven’t yet and it’s because I don’t want to multitask while I watch them and I am in a constant state of multitask) and that’s brought me to a bunch of scattered thoughts.

One thing that I’ve come that I appreciate the older I get and the more I experience is the vast richness of history that is often built into many of the longest-lasting worlds and series in the genre. I say series deliberately, because I very rarely find myself immersing myself in science fiction or space opera where there isn’t a series involved. I would even argue that two of my favorite books in the genre–LE Modesitt’s The Parafaith War and The Ethos Effect–are a series in this way, though I’ll admit that both weave a sense of place and history into the narrative that would fit my interests anyway. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation (thanks Mom) and then branched out on my own into other series as I grew older. I was the nerdy one in the back of the bus, reading a book–sometimes a Star Trek novel, then increasingly Star Wars and a lot of fantasy through middle school and high school. In some ways, those were gateways to things like Shadowrun, Battletech, Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series, the aforementioned Parafaith War and Ethos Effect, Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, the Honorverse (which I will admit that I’ve read very little of but someday intend to read more of), and so many more. I consumed Babylon 5, SeaQuest DSV, X-Files, Star Trek in all of its 80s and 90s flavors, the sadly short-lived Space: Above and Beyond, Stargate (both SG-1 and, for a time, Atlantis), and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, which remains a favorite of mine and one of the few series I own in its entirety in multiple formats. There is a sense of scale to much of what I’ve read and enjoyed, a depth to the worlds they exist in that you as reader or viewer get in bits and pieces throughout the narrative. I often found myself hungering for more information, wanting to know more about the universes.

In the end, very little of what I consumed was singular–they were expansive, parts of a larger hole, a single episode in a sea of so much more. The depth and breadth of the storytelling available in a series, especially an extensive one with evident world-building behind it, is something that’s very attractive to both me as a consumer of the genre and a writer of it as well.

These reflections on what I’ve read and watched over the years have led me to some conclusions about my own work, in fact. I am constitutionally incapable of writing anything with a shallow history, and I will often get stuck if I can’t figure out how to fit pieces together, especially if I’ve decided that they’re important to the story. How events unfold in the present of a story is often informed by or echoes events in the past–this is something that I’ve learned as a historian: there are patterns to the world, and they’re not that hard to find. When you’re like me, and most of your work deals with the interesting things humanity could end up doing to itself, the need to be informed by not only the actual past but the past embedded in any kind of far-flung narrative future is something that’s always on the radar.

Which I suppose is to say that backstory–back history–is important and attractive and I appreciate it in so many ways as a consumer of the genre–because I feel like it makes the storytelling richer and the worlds more immersive and engaging. It can also be frustrating to me as a writer of the genre because sometimes there is just so much to figure out.

But the figuring out can definitely be fun, too.

Down a rabbit hole

One of the things I promised myself that I would do in 2023 is stream more, and as such I’ve been doing things to help prepare myself to do just that. Among those things was, in fact, getting Streamlabs set up again and going through overlays and that kind of fun stuff. This was made a bit more challenging due to the fact that I had to do a wipe and reinstall of Windows on my desktop (which was something I didn’t finish until almost 1 pm today), so I lost a few things related to Streamlabs in the shuffle.

Among the things lost were some elements of overlays, which is what led me to my current rabbit hole. Back when I first started to do a bit of streaming here and there, I’d considered possibly making my own overlays. I quickly backed off the notion for various reasons, but in searching around for alternatives to the overlays I have, I discovered that apparently it’s easier to make them now than it used to be.

So now I’ve found myself exploring the possibilities of making stream overlays–because clearly, I need another creative outlet beyond the 900 I already have.

Stay tuned for more updates – including what’s in store for the coming year. I’m promising right now to post more and to write more this year.

At least, that’s the goal.

Twenty-One Septembers Later

The anniversary is old enough to drink.

That was the absurd realization I had on Friday, thinking about this weekend, remembering again that the weekend was the anniversary of the day.

The anniversary is old enough to drink.

An entire generation of adults have been born since that September Tuesday that should have been as normal as any other. It was bright and beautiful with just a hint of crispness that you sometimes get in early September. I was a college sophomore at Grand Valley State, two months out from my nineteenth birthday. I’d taken a bike ride in the hopes it would help my developing head cold and returned after my roommate was gone for class.

Someone in an IRC chat told me to turn on the television because a plane at hit the towers. I thought he was joking, but after he said it again, I turned on the Today show, thinking that it couldn’t be anything major. I remember watching the anchors be as confused as I was.

I called friends, told them to turn on the TV.

I was one the phone with one when the second plane hit and all of a sudden, you knew.

This anniversary is old enough to drink.

There are more than a few children that have been born to parents who weren’t even born to a world where the towers stood at the edge of Manhattan. I don’t know that it will never not be surreal to think about that.

The university didn’t cancel classes. Individual professors did. Perhaps by the evening classes, the university had shut them down, but I don’t remember that. I only know that all of my classes would have happened if not for professors cancelling them.

The Classics department found out what was happening from me. My Latin professor found out from me. My anthropology professor cancelled class because he and his wife—another professor, my advisor at the time—were trying to figure out where her sister was.

She worked at the Trade Center.

She was okay.

Back then, my dad traveled extensively for work. California was not an unusual destination.

I didn’t know where my dad was.

This was a time before most of us had cell phones. I called my mom long-distance with a phone card.

Where’s Dad?

Safe. He wasn’t on those flights.

Dad was already in California. He ended up staying longer than anticipated because he couldn’t get a flight out. We all forget about that, I think, how long air traffic was shut down.

Shut down for good reason.

My cousin was in the Air Force at the time. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t have her parents’ number.

I called my grandparents to get it. I had three younger siblings. I didn’t want to tie up my mom’s phone line, just in case.

My cousin was okay—and told us a story a long while later about something that happened later that day, at the SAC base in Omaha where she’d been stationed.

My brother was a senior in high school. My sister was in elementary school. I struggle to remember what grade my baby brother was in, but he must have been in elementary school, too, because he would graduate high school eleven years later. For some reason, thinking about it, the story my mom tells about the day centers on my sister.

They stayed at school.

My mom could have pulled them out—she’d been at the elementary school when it all happened and later when word came down and the district was deciding to lock down. The office staff told her that if she didn’t want to get stuck there, she needed to go, but she could pull my siblings if she wanted.

She said no, let them stay, let them be with their friends.

We were all with our friends.

This anniversary is old enough to drink.

Most of my generation wasn’t when the world was reshaped. A bare handful of American millennials were able to drink when 9/11 happened, when the towers fell, when the Pentagon was hit, when a plane was forced down over a Pennsylvania field.

It was not the world that was expected. It was the world we got. We were supposed to have peace and prosperity and flying cars and, to quote Fukuyama, an “end of history.” (Not that I’ve ever bought his thesis there)

Instead, twenty years of war and a generation lost. Innocence lost. Nothing is as we expected. Nothing is as was hoped for by our parents, or their parents, for their children and grandchildren.

We remember and mourn not only those who were lost and what was lost, but what might have been. There has been good. There has been bad.

There’s been a lot.

Twenty-one Septembers later, this anniversary is old enough to drink.

It is not an anniversary we ever wanted, but it’s the one we get.

Twenty-one Septembers later, this anniversary is old enough to drink.

On nerd love and challenges

I’d meant to write this post yesterday, but instead here I am, in the post-Kenobi glow, writing it at 6:30 in the morning, halfway through a cup of coffee, listening to birds outside, the traffic on 4 Mile and Alpine, and the morning news. After two days of unseasonable heat, the weather’s broken and if I had the wherewithal, I could clean my patio table and chair and work outside for a bit this morning.

It is wherewithal that I do not think I possess this morning, nor would my cats appreciate it very much, since they’ve grown very used to cuddling me while I work.

None of this is what I intended to write about today, of course.
Anyone who has known me for any span of time knows that I am, at least on some level, a nerd, a geeky girl, however you’d like to describe it. I came to it early (thanks Mom, for some long-forgotten day when there was a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon on TV and you were doing my hair for something—I don’t know what it was, but it was at the old house and I remember it) and it kind of evolved from there. Star Trek was definitely my first nerd love, but others came behind it—and, in the case of Star Wars, quickly surpassed it.

I don’t remember seeing Star Wars until I was maybe eleven or twelve years old. We got the boxed set of movies at I think Birch Run one year. I remember sitting on the couch in the house I grew up in, watching it for the first time. I was maybe thirteen, maybe a little older. This was before the special editions, before sequels. It was even the early years of the EU—what’s now become the Star Wars Legends line. The first Star Wars book in our house wasn’t even mine, it was allegedly my brother’s, but you can probably guess where that book is now.
That’s right. On my bookshelf, tattered and worn, the blue-covered trade paperback of Heir to the Empire. After the X-Wing novels, the trilogy that started with that book is probably among the most-read books in my collection.

Star Wars is a nerd love that led me to another, one that defines me as equally as several others—it made me a gamer.

Historian. Writer. Gamer.

Yup, that’s me.

Really, this post was meant to be about gaming less than Star Wars, but understanding that nerd love—my many, many nerd loves, but that one in particular—really helps set up the challenge hinted at in this post’s title.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been considering issuing a challenge to myself with regard to blogging. At first, I thought maybe I’d do a month-long run of writing prompts—I did get a new camera, and it could be fun to do interesting image prompts. Slowly, though, as I continued to think, that idea was discarded, at least for now. It’s not to say I might not do it later, I’m just not going to do it right now.

No, I think that this month, in June, I challenge myself in a different way: playing around with something I’d long abandoned, which is developing things for tabletop RPGs. There was barely a night between 2000 and 2005 when I didn’t have a standing game to either run or play—the only nights excluded were either in the summer or reserved for a club meeting (and even then, sometimes there would be a game after a meeting).

I ran a few campaigns myself over the years. One was a large D&D game in my own homebrewed setting, two Forgotten Realms campaigns that became one, and a Star Wars campaign that lasted for more than a year. Those are probably the games I ran that I look back on the most fondly: Forgotten Realms and Star Wars.

Now, as I prepare to possibly run Star Wars for the first time in forever—and trust me, there is so much about my Star Wars gaming experience that didn’t make it into this post (like the 12 years I spent writing Star Wars online with some folks that I appreciate more and more the older I get, especially because they put up with me back in the day)—I’ve decided to also challenge myself to create characters, to create settings, to write adventures and post them for folks to do with what they will. Some of them, of course, will be set in my various writing worlds. Others will simply exist.

So, wish me luck. I’m getting back to my nerd loves, and challenging myself to try something a little new and a little daring and a lot ambitious.

We’ll see how this turns out.

Oh, by the way. Happy Pride.


Sometimes inspiration comes from dark places.

As I imagine many writers–especially writers of speculative fiction–do, often I use my writing as a tool to process and cope with things in the world beyond my control. As a trained social scientist with degrees in history, anthropology, and political science, I view the world through a unique lens, one even further shaped and refracted by my identity as a writer, by my gender and my sexuality, by my sociopolitical and spiritual beliefs, by my morality and my upbringing. Each of us carry these things as we approach the world.

I’m going to talk about Skypoint here, but there are themes woven into most of what I’ve written that draw from my perception of and reaction to the world around me. In a lot of scenarios, some of those themes are not terribly hard to find and in others they’re more subtle.

Skypoint, as I am currently envisioning it as I work through the writing of the first draft, is one of those works that draws on a lot of darker inspirations. Spoiler warning, if you don’t want to know what I’m planning for the book in either vague or precise terminology, stop now and move on.

Still here? Okay.

Skypoint delves into themes around bodily autonomy, secrets, conspiracy, and war–it addresses the lengths governments will go to to protect secrets and to gain the upper hand in conflict, the lies that are sometimes told to justify actions, and who has the right to do certain things. In the book as I’m writing it now, and the wider world surrounding it (currently planned to adjust some of the history of Legacies of the Lost Earth while telling at least part of the story of how Earth was lost in the first place), there’s a question of who has the right to make decisions for another individual about their mind and health, about their very bodily autonomy and agency. This is mostly depicted through the handling of people with psychic gifts (a theme that I obviously play with fairly often), but anyone who’s read the Legacies so far knows that it goes further and deeper than that–Alana Chase of the Legacies being a prime example. David Lésarte and Hunter Drake are further examples in Skypoint, as both were offered very limited options when it came to their futures–at varying points in their lives, both before and after we meet them in the story.

So, too, does the question of justification for war and how they happen come up in the world. Sometimes there are secrets that are kept so conflict can continue to be justified–and sometimes, as a pretext for conflict in the first place. Admittedly, when I began working on Skypoint, there 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia hadn’t started, though there was still the memory of 2014 and Crimea. Neither of these were on my mind at the time, though, but simmering geopolitical tensions certainly were, as was my own memory of the events that led up to the US-led invasion of Iraq two decades ago. These are the things that inspire and the things that you wrestle with and sometimes, they become useful inspiration and the act of writing becomes cathartic and a mechanism of processing all of the craziness of the world.

Works like Skypoint and the Legacies and all of my other projects have a hint of this to it, except for maybe Magic Crystal Justice Squad which is definitely half tumblr-born dare and maybe half escapism born of a global pandemic.

So I guess, in a way, even that’s a coping mechanism.

Inspiration can come from dark places and dark things, but harnessing that inspiration can help a writer–or any artist–produce something beautiful and lasting, in spite of or perhaps because of its roots. Every work is the product of the time, circumstances, and influences of its creation.

Especially mine.

Twenty Years Later

It’s been twenty years since that beautiful, sunny Tuesday morning.

I was at work yesterday, talking to a coworker who was in elementary school when it happened, and then talking to another coworker who hadn’t even been born when it happened, about the day. Thursday evening, I’d watched the History Channel documentary series Road to 9/11 and in the watching, realized two things.

First, that I did work with a lot of people that either hadn’t been born yet or were too young to remember that day.

Second, that twenty years later, I am still processing the trauma.

I could talk about how I still remember more than a few details of that day, how I remember skidding out on my bike that morning in the Arboretum at GVSU and scaring the crap out of some fraternity pledges because I’d gone in and hadn’t come out. How someone in an IRC chat told me to turn on the TV, that I’d returned that favor by calling friends in another dorm and telling them to do the same–and finding myself on the phone with one of them, watching in tandem, as the second plane hit. The Classics department and my Latin professor found out from me what was happening. Staff clustered around every TV they could find and connect to cable or catch the news on–because this was 2001, in the days before phones were smart and before there were TVs everywhere on a college campus, the days before social media.

The trauma was collective, and only grew as word spread.

I don’t remember how many people in that Latin class that morning hadn’t heard yet, but I know I wasn’t the only one who did know. Class lasted for ten minutes. One of the guys ended up joining the service–I’m not sure which one. I never saw him again after that semester.

One sunny Tuesday morning shifted the trajectory of my adulthood and the adulthood of all of my friends, all of my peers. It changed what our tomorrows would hold and altered our futures in ways that we could only imagine. My cousin was in the Air Force at the time, and I can remember worrying about her a lot. As the years went on, several friends ended up in various branches of the armed forces. Several served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don’t know if I would have worried as much if the attacks hadn’t happened.

My mom had the option of puling my youngest siblings out of school that morning before Troy locked down the buildings. She’d been at my elementary school when it happened; she had warning that she could take them if she wanted to. She had been there to do something that morning and she and the front office staff had been watching what was happening in New York on television when the word came. She let my siblings stay with their friends, because she knew. She knew they would need that. I remember talking to my best friend that day–she’d graduated the year before; her brother was locked down at the high school and her parents were locked down at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, where they worked. I don’t remember what I told her. I don’t remember talking to my brother about any of this. He was a senior in high school–his life, and the lives of al of his peers, was altered, too, in ways as profound if not more profound than it was for my friends and I.

We are all still processing the trauma.


Twenty years later.