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.

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.

Serials are fun and a mess in a dress

This is the conclusion I’ve come to as a result of (re?)starting the process of working on fixing books 3-7 of the Awakenings series. Of course, it’s a serial, the story predates the serial, and it’s all very complicated and crazy and fun.

It’s a story that I wanted to tell but it was a story that I dove into with barely half a plan which sometimes works out great and sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes writing to a deadline, while it forces you to continue to stretch creative muscles, doesn’t do you many favors.
There’s a lot that needs fixing, needs updating, needs smoothing out—this is true of books 3-7, but also specifically true of some plot and character arcs that turned out to be, in the end, not what they were originally intended to be (I’m looking at you, Matt and Hecate, who took the prize for “biggest surprise” so far—which is not to say other characters didn’t also do this to me because more than a few did). This means I have a lot of material to play with, but there’s also a lot of material that needs tightening up.

Some things will need to be pulled out, new things will be added in. In reviewing the content that ended up being book 3 content (since book 2 and book 3 ended up being mixed around a little bit from how they were originally posted—just to make some things flow better and properly link things together), there’s almost no content with the group that Aoife’s with, which is something that will need to change so their plot arc can be properly tied up in subsequent books. I can’t cut them entirely because a) it wouldn’t make sense to do it given the role some of the characters play later and b) at least one particularly important instance where we see exactly how wild talents and magic can be in the broken world.

In many ways, the books of the Founders Cycle (which comprises the first seven books of the series), is about the survivors learning exactly what they can do—the power they possess—and then stomping down hard on the war that they didn’t start but will play a role in finishing. It’s a fun, interesting arc that takes them through the first few years after the end of everything they knew and one that sets up the Ambrose Cycle that follows—but more on that story sometime to come.

Either way, I’ve got my work cut out for me with all of this.

Awakenings: Book One and War Drums are available where books are sold.

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.

Of Starships and Intergalactic Wars

Probably ten years ago, when the Internet was a younger space and podcasting and the concepts of web fiction and indie e-publishing were young, I ended up guesting on a podcast dedicated to web fiction, talking about Awakenings initially. The conversation with the host eventually drifted to my recently released book, Broken Stars, about which the host was duly enthused.

The universe of Broken Stars is in some ways more optimistic than the world of Awakenings—sure, the human race still has problems but the actual apocalypse hasn’t happened and hey, we’re in space. Sure, Earth is held by a galactic state that stands in opposition to our heroes in Broken Stars and there’s definitely a simmering conflict there, but we’ve managed to survive two wars of annihilation and enslavement by an alien race to get there.

More on that in a second.

The question—in the midst of this long-ago interview—that came up from the host, something that is probably the only thing that I remember from the whole interview, was the question whether or not Broken Stars would ever be released as web fiction, if anything in that universe would be released online as web fiction. I remember laughing and saying that I wasn’t sure it quite felt right to do it that way, that the format might not be right.

Fast forward to a pandemic, to another bachelor’s degree, to a much different point in my life than where I was in the days of that interview.

There has been an idea rolling around in my head for a little while now, suggesting that in addition to getting back to both Awakenings and at least the world of the Legacies of Lost Earth, perhaps there was hope for a web-facing taste of the Epsilon universe—of which Broken Stars is a major part.

The Preytax Wars are a historical event that takes place in the Epsilon universe, an event that planted the seeds for the status quo that exists in Broken Stars. Taking place in the 22nd century, several decades after humanity has made its way deeper and deeper into the stars (thanks to a bit of help from a few friendly alien races that made first contact in the later 21st century), the Preytax Wars represent humanity’s first encounter with a hostile alien race and two major conflicts with that race—both of which are generally characterized as life or death for humanity and human society on the whole.

Humanity won, but not without cost and not necessarily as decisively as anyone characterizing it as an existential conflict might have hoped—but no one actually thinks they’ll come back, right?

More on that to come in the future.

I have never been sure if I would actually write a full-blown book in the era of the Preytax Wars—I would have to write several, in fact, due to knowing who some of the important macro and micro stories live with. Something that I have been playing with is putting together a site that gathers fictional news reports, journal entries, sequences, etc. that would tell at least part of the story of the Preytax Wars. It’s been an idea that’s simmered for a little while now.

I suppose we’ll see what happens next.