Friday, August 22, 2014

Star Wars Episode VII Fears

It is hard not to be excited about the news of a new Star Wars movie. Yet I find that my excitement is tempered by two factors.

It is absolutely fabulous that Lawrence Kasdan is back as screenwriter and that so many of the original cast are back. John Williams ensures musical continuity. And Kathleen Kennedy has been the producer of some fantastic movies. Yet Star Wars is now owned by Disney and J.J. Abrams is directing and George Lucas is not involved. Those all pull down my excitement.

Yet, if the truth be told, George Lucas did a fantastic job, but fans have increasingly been critical of his choices since the Ewoks. The best movie was Empire with story by Lucas, but screenplay by Kasdan, and Irvin Kershner directing. Reputedly they are going from story notes Lucas made. Abrams has done a smashing job directing, he just has a horrible track record of writing stories.

Which brings us to Disney. A lot of people think that Star Wars will automatically be less because it is now owned by Disney. But is that a valid fear? When you look at Lucas's storytelling and Disney's storytelling, there are some striking similarities. Lucas followed a pattern for how he ended each movie in each trilogy. Over the six movie saga he has quite a few upbeat endings. He even managed to hit the up note in Revenge of the Sith by showing Luke and Leia placed with their foster families. Disney's been accused of much the same thing, yet they have their fair share of dark stories. Bambi isn't always known for its cuteness because the death of Bambi's mother really hit a lot of people hard and they remember. Disney's villains are very much like Vader and Palpatine. Their answer to Star Wars - The Black Hole - was a dark movie. They have a habit of having characters who are orphans, or suffered some tragedy. And the fairy tales that most of their animated films are based on have similar archetypes to what Campbell described that Lucas used so successfully. So is Star Wars now being in then hands of Disney something to be feared? Well, when it comes to the movie, probably not.

So is their really anything to be apprehensive about? I'd have to answer yes to that one. The prequels didn't turn out so well and the fear is that these might be even worse. And the 6 extant movies make a nice arc. What will happen when there are 9?

As much as I want to see more Star Wars, I want them to do it right and we won't know that until Episode VII is released and we hear from the fans what they think. This fan is likely to enjoy it, but it is by no means certain. I boycotted Star Trek Into Darkness because of choices Abrams made in writing and casting the film. So I will wait and see. I intend to give it a chance, but I can't shake the fears, however much I try to explain them away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Changing Face of Han Solo

I would be lying if I didn't admit that Star Wars was a pivotal event in my life. I've been a science fiction addict every since. Key to that was Han Solo. I think as a kid I wanted to be Han Solo with a lightsaber - the perfect mix of Han and Luke. As time has marched on, I've felt more drawn to Han himself, though I'm not nearly so jaded.

But who is this smuggler? Many years ago I got my hands on copies of all of George Lucas's drafts of Star Wars and saw the genius of the complex story he first put down. As a film it would have been an unshootable mess, but it would have made a good book. It seems that someone had a similar idea and has turned it into a comic book. I picked up a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But in those pages is not the familiar dashing rogue played by Harrison Ford, but an alien and very much a side character. But this is where he began. He evolved through the different drafts to arrive at the character we see in the first film.

It was a long time from seven to ten before the second film came out. Still, the movies were not the only source for a kid those days to find Star Wars. I had some of the Marvel comics and I ate up the three Han Solo books by Brian Daley. Here was the Han Solo that has lived in my head. Very much still that rogue you can so clearly see in the original cut of the movie (where Han shoots before Greedo has a chance to).

Han Solo is not a good guy. He is a flawed man. He is not the hero of the tale, Luke Skywalker is. But Han has a good heart and gets pulled in by the Rebellion. In those days between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back that is who Han was. There was the movie, the novelization of the movie, the comic book adaption, the three Han Solo novels, and Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Aside from that was the Kenner action figures and how we took those characters and carried on the story. Much like role playing games.

Then came Empire. A new film with more Han Solo. We get some of his past and Han has gotten a little nicer. Then in the end he is frozen in carbonite. His fate waited for three years. Then he was back in Return of the Jedi and became a general and got the girl.

After that Star Wars kind of fell off my radar for a while. I found Star Trek and became a hardcore trekkie. But I couldn't stay away. West End had created a role playing game and I had friends who wanted to play.

We of course respected the rules and didn't use the characters from the movies, but I had a smuggler character with a YT-1300 freighter and a Wookie co-pilot. I kind of treated it like Han Solo, but more of the image of him I had in my head.

Then A.C. Crispin revisited Han's past. A new, longer trilogy (with a nice footnote about where the previous trilogy fell). It further expanded his background and other novels explored Han and the other characters post Jedi. Now, on the verge of a new film with Harrison Ford back in the iconic role, we get a chance to see just how close those writers came to how the role will appear in the film.

Through it all I think that the Han Solo in my head is the one from the original movie and the Brian Daley novels. He hasn't changed much over the years. He hangs over my own writing and I try to both be different and true to that image in my head at the same time. There are many other influences in my writing, but Han has been there since before I can remember putting pen to paper. He has been joined by many others; The Doctor, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Stringfellow Hawke, Picard, Riker, Worf, Sinclair, Garibaldi, Ivonova, Sinclair, Delenn, Janeway, Sisko, Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, and a pantheon of characters from written fiction.

So while Han Solo, the character has gone through many changes from inception to now (with more possibly on the way), my picture of him hasn't. I think that is because, like many good characters, he resonated with me stuck in the form he first appeared.

Monday, August 18, 2014

On The Twelfth

As the twelfth actor to hold the titular role of BBC's Doctor Who comes to our screens this Saturday, excitement fills the air. While certain things area already known, a great many remain a mystery. While each actor who has held the role (and a few others) have made it their own, the writers have kept the character much the same. Quite an accomplishment for 50 years.

We already know what Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor will wear, but the fun is in finding out how he pics it. That scene has been delightful for each Doctor who has done it.

And then there is how those who know the Doctor, such as Clara, react to the new face. And in his first outing he will encounter other friends.

But Capaldi's Doctor could be very interesting. Peter himself, is the first Doctor Who fan of long standing to become the Doctor. They often say the first Doctor you watch is your Doctor. If that is the case, William Hartnell is Capaldi's Doctor. Here is a person who may have seen the majority of the currently lost episodes. It will give him a sense of the history of the character that none of the other actors are likely to have had.

And besides the Doctor himself, Steven Moffat has repeatedly said that this will be a darker Doctor. That could mean a lot of things. The series has had many highs and lows through the years. The highest of highs has been during the first and fourth Doctor's. The stories of Tom Baker's second, third, and fourth seasons were so dark that they set the infamous Mary Whitehouse's sensibilities on edge. There were also the most watched seasons to date.

There is much to look forward to. Those who have seen the first episode already have given it a good report. If the rest of the season follows that lead, it should be a good one. The perfect sort of season to introduce a new actor to the role.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Origins of Ven Zaran

Every character comes from somewhere. There is some inspiration behind each one. Watching a documentary on James Bond a few days ago inspired me to write about where I found Ven Zaran.

To begin with, I didn't start with Ven himself. He first appeared in a story set much later, featuring his great-grandson, Mishka Zaran. He was history. In the first draft of Well of Dreams, that historical aspect hung on and I had to find him. By the end of the first draft he was mostly there.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that the smuggler archetype from Star Wars (Han Solo and Lando Calrissian) didn't play a part. But in equal part with the American trucker. Ven was born from that, but as the squeaky clean image a great-grandson might build. That wouldn't do so I deliberately mixed in a bit of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a genius, the best at what he does, but he had a drug problem. That is an aspect of the character that has often been glossed over. No glossing with Ven. His drug problem is pivotal to that first novel. But there was one last piece that Ven needed to meet his destiny.

These first six novels tell his story and prepare him for what comes next. In a way it is two trilogies, but not in the conventional way. The first three do form a story arc, but only one of there. Books 1, 3, and 4 delve into Ven as a person. Books 2, 4, and 6 (in the planning stages) lead up to the next three books. But I couldn't wait to write all six before truly knowing who Ven was. Still, the last piece didn't come until I was planning book 5. But considering how long I have enjoyed that series of movies that inspired me for book 5, I think that piece was there all along. James Bond had a part in his development. In fact most every fictional story I have enjoyed had contributed something to the character of Ven Zaran, but those pieces are the majority.

Ven has turned into a complex character with hidden origins. Well, the details are hidden, but the effects are obvious. He knew what he wanted from childhood and was determined to get it and didn't let anything get in his way. That drive had pitted him against many antagonists with more to come.

Some authors put themselves into their characters and I'm sure that is true with Ven, but he is quite different. He is much more a compilation of fictional characters.

Some who read this and who have read the stories might wonder why Malcolm Reynolds hasn't been mentioned. Well, Ven was born long before I ever saw Firefly. I missed the original run and didn't see it until it came out on DVD. By then I'd written the first two novels. I noted the similarities, but that only encouraged me to keep writing about him.

Ven Zaran, part Han Solo, part trucker, part Sherlock Holmes, part James Bond, and in the end wholly original.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cover Reveal - One Corner of the Sky

While my next book, One Corner of the Sky, will not be available until October/November, the cover is done. And I'm not even done with the editing yet.

A lot happens in this book and picking what I wanted on the cover was tough. In the end I just went with the three main characters in this installment over a glowing background (indicative of their mischief). Ven and Chup have graced covers before, but this is your first chance to get an idea of what I envision Wally to look like. I'm not sure his color came out quite right, but the overall effect is what I had in mind. Thanks to Yotsuya-sama on Devientart for his great work.

And now, with no further words from this author, the cover...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


It's been a while since I did a straight blog post. I've been busy reading and editing and its time to report on the progress.

The most important items are obviously the next books on Ven Zaran. Book 5 is in the editing phase. It will be available for pre-order in October with a target release date of November 15. If the editing goes smoothly that will hold true. Normally I make a mockup cover by this stage to give my cover artist some ideas, but I haven't done that yet. And it looks like the temp title I put on it feels too at home to allow another title to take its place. Book 5 is titled One Corner of the Sky.

One reason for my deadline in getting book 5 finalized by the start of October is that I want to get an early start on book 6. I still haven't tied down the story yet, but the characters are forming and I have a place to start and place to end. Enough to get started, but I much prefer to have it a little more fleshed out than that. It makes the editing so much easier.

The reading has been going well. I've actually edited some for some fellow authors (which is why I haven't posted any reviews on them) so I've done quite a bit of reading. I'm about to start on Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization Saga. I may not get past the first two volumes. I feel Brian Daley's Han Solo books calling. Old friends that I haven't visited in a while. But any reading I do needs to be done before October. I want to devote my full attention to book 6.

I suppose I should give a spoiler about where the Zaran Journals are going. War is coming. Not your normal sort of war between two political powers, but one between two economic powers. The conflict will spread across the galaxy, but for Ven Zaran, one corner of the galaxy will become a hot spot of activity that he can't stay out of. Book 6 will be a prequel to that war.

This war will only encompass three novels, but it will include a number of short stories/novellas that relate. It will not be part of the Zaran Journals. I have already published one of the stories, A Captain At War in Edge of Hyperspace. More will follow.

And for those who think I will be spending forever in this Galactic Confederation universe, I do have three other settings in mind, set in different times and different places. They are in development right now, but one is close to being ready. It all depends on which story demands to be written first.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Time Patrol Series - by Poul Anderson

I just finished the Time Patrol series. I read it in order (though I think two of the stories were listed backwards) and in one go.

What I found was definitely out of date, but full of depth. Most of the stories featured Manse Everard and those around him. The stories range from ancient history to the present day, though rarely went into the future. Not surprising considering Anderson's background, but it tended to feature a lot of Germanic history.

The stories were a range of problems. Some were rescues, some were fixing unwanted changes in history, some were research. All featured the time patrol characters doing incredible things to keep history on track and to know what that is.

Now for each individual story:

Time Patrol - a fun romp in exploring time travel that gets things started.

Brave to be King - A Time Patrol agent goes missing. Finding him isn't too hard, but finding him at the right time proves a challenge. A very enlightening look at the danger of getting lost in time with a poignant ending.

Gibraltar Falls - This one takes place in pre-history and revolves around rescuing someone and just what happens when people break the rule. Very nice story with a nice twist to it.

The Only Game In Town - Mongols in the American Northwest. These masters of horse are on their way south and could rewrite all of history if they aren't stopped. Manse has to find a way to scare off the unscareable Mongols to keep history as it should be. A wonderful tale that really explored some uncharted territory.

Delenda Est - A routine trip to the past and return to the future reveals that history has been altered. Manse has to first find out when it changed and then how to put it back on track. A wonderful story that gets into just how much history can hinge on one event.

Ivory, Apes, and Peacocks - The Time Patrol has learned that there is going to be an attempt to change history in ancient Tyre and Manse is sent to stop it. Along the way he finds and unlikely recruit. A fun story with a bit of romance and some nice resolution for some of the characters.

The Sorrow of Odin the Goth - This was probably the best of all the stories. Ultimately it was sad. This is also one of the few to feature a time traveler other than Manse. Carl is a researcher tracing various versions of eastern Germanic legends, but he gets caught up in events and becomes part of them when he fathers a child and then is overprotective of his descendants. Manse comes into the story by interviewing Carl to find out what has happened and to figure out the best way to fix it.

Star of the Sea - Something has changed a minor point in history. No key events rest on it, but it is troubling. Manse and a partner, a woman familiar with the people, take to the past to track it down. In the process they create the very situation they uncovered. Manse must find a way to rectify his partner's interference. The search for the cause made this one intriguing.

The Year of the Ransom - So, what happens when a Time Patrol agent is tortured and reveals the secrets of his time machine to a Conquistador? Well, his niece gets kidnapped and only a well timed visit and business card save the day. This story started something that continues later and was very good.

The Shield of Time - This is not a single novel, but rather a collection of short stories.

  • The Stranger That is Within Thy Gates - An introductory scene.
  • Women and Power and Horses and War - In ancient Bactria the Time Patrol lays a trap for a group of meddlers. Manse is pretty much on his own with little support because having too many people would be too dangerous. His years of skill save the day in this fascinating story.
  • Before the Gods That Made the Gods - This is an interesting interlude with Wanda.
  • Beringia - Wanda is studying the natives in Beringia, the land bridge between Asian and Alaska, when a new group from Asia moves in long before they were expected. Wanda does as she is supposed to and reports it, but the other agent sent to study the newcomers ignores her and her people in favor of the group he wants to study. It is an interesting study of academics in the field. The result requires some other intervention and some sacrifice, but a nice story resolution.
  • Riddle Me This - This is a filler interlude with Manse having a conversation with another agent that really links to the previous story and portends the next.
  • Amazement of the World - When changes happen by chance, all centered around one man. Manse and Wanda have separate but parallel in the first part of this story and come back thinking they are successful only to find that there is still a problem. It annoyed me when they found out that both these altered futures revolved around one man why they didn't investigate his parentage and see if it was malicious interference or chance. The writing was as good as always, but the story didn't work for me.

Death and the Knight - The Templars are about to fall and an agent is captured. Manse must free him and hold history on track. A somewhat lackluster end to the series, especially after the disappointment of the previous story.

I would rate the series very highly, but it tapers off and doesn't finish well. A really good story is needed to finish it off, but alas, that is not to be.