I’ve decided to trunk another story.

After Star Kingdom, which at 95,962 words is among the longest things I’ve ever written, I was a little burned out on writing in general. I’ve been a little burned out on life, for that matter; I took a sabbatical from work and I’ve been doing very little with writing.

But the fans of Star Kingdom keep asking for more. That story generated more fan mail in one year that the Journal Entries have in a decade of writing, which only shows that the classic problem with having OCs is that it takes work to relate to OCs and most people aren’t willing to do that work. A pre-made assumption about characters makes for a more digestible story, and often the "twist" of fanfic is watching the characters do, erm, things that aren’t normally shown in the original.

The thing is, Star Kingdom had a lot of interesting things to say outside of the whole "Huh huh huh watch Disney princesses bang" thing that was the trope I hung the story around. The story literally started as a rant I wrote about how stupid the economics are in the "Napoleonic Wars In Space" genre of military SF, and how writers like Weber and Bujold, for all their gifts, have to do weird and stupid things with economics and science to create "impoverished colonies." An ice world like Komarr doesn’t need a massive, billion-dollar, irreplacable soletta made with the latest technology; it needs hundreds of small, cheap, disposable solettas that can be built with off-the-shelf components available today.

Along the way, Star Kingdom also had something to say about the differences in the way straight people and queer people interact, about how experienced couples and inexperienced couples do negotiation, and, yes, in the end we do indeed get to watch fairy tale princesses bang.

Since it was so popular, I decided to explore alternatives. What else could I say about, say, Star Wars? Star Trek? The Culture? Warhammer 30K? Cyberpunk? Sense8?

The cyberpunk story is actually mostly fleshed out and, curiously, is turning into something of a trilogy about posthumanism, and three different variants of posthumanism (robotic uploads, artificial genomes, and wholly artificial indibiomes). The Sense8 story has an interesting opening but not much more.

It was the Star Wars story that bugged me. I enjoyed earlier novels of the Clone Wars, like the Medstar series or The Cestus Deception, and wondered if I could write something in that vein…

… but I have nothing to say to Star Wars. Or about it. There’s very little sex in the Star Wars universe, and none of it anywhere remotely on-screen, but that’s just a given of the universe. It’s not a cultural touch-stone for me anymore, it’s just another franchise about which I care only when it’s in the theaters.

I also have nothing to say about Star Trek. It was an important show once upon a time, but now it’s just repeating itself. It’s always been a politically and culturally progressive show. (I learned the other day that Shatner went out of his way to act badly for the studio re-written kiss scenes from "Plato’s Stepchildren" so that the studio would have to use the interracial kiss between Shatner and Nichols.)

So both the Star Wars and Star Trek fanfics go into the trunk. There’s not a whole lot there to talk about. And right now, to be honest, there’s not much reason for me to write at all. I’m angry at how the world is going (which means I’m failing Robert Anton Wilson’s "Intelligence Test," and I hate when that happes), I’m getting older myself, and I’ve started to cocoon against the coming shitstorms.

My stories have themes and premises. And for the Star Trek and Star Wars fanfic crossover stories, I just couldn’t find any. Into the trunk they go.

So, Honest Impulses has reached those two most blessed words: THE END. I’m struggling to figure out what to do next. I think I first mentioned Honest Impulses on March 13th, 2013, which makes it one of the shorter-lived WIPs in my collection, but certainly one of the most tortured. There are so many revisions and changes that made its way into the work, plotting out Shandy & Linia’s character arcs, the way they intersected with Mertum, Gazelle, and Misuko’s. There were last-minute revisions that I think made the story stronger (Cal had a much bigger part before I pushed him off to the side), and re-reading it I can see there’s a lot of residue of earlier revisions, things that characters mention that are a bit out-of-place because the supporting backstory is no longer there.

On the other hand, there are plot lines missing that I’m definitely glad are missing. There’s already one Conspiracy around Shandy; she doesn’t need to get sucked into another one. The meeting between Shandy and a local priest was awkward and didn’t do much that Shandy couldn’t communicate by just talking to Linia. Shandy’s religion is still a factor in her life, and I wanted it to be more present. Another scene that disappeared, and I regret it, is Linia’s motorcycle ride out to the biohazard facility where they were growing Isabelle’s new body. Again, it didn’t forward the plot; the conversation she has with Jinny there got rolled into the conversation in Chapter 8.

And the picnic! Oy, The Picnic!. According to my document tracking, I re-wrote that entire scene from scratch eleven times. It’s supposed to be the scene where Shandy’s world comes apart, and it does, and it does so rather well. It sets up the scene, slowly breaks its way into Shandy’s heart, and then at the end shatters her expectations in the worst possible way. It’s some of my best work. But it’s still not the best I could write.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the qualities of Honest Impulses as both a Journal Entry and as a novel. It was a good exercise in points-of-view, plot threading, and sustaining interest through the muddle-in-the-middle.

I hope someone else read and enjoyed it. It was too much fun.

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin is definitely in my wheelhouse: casual fantasy setting, quick read, adorable same-sex romance. Very PG, but still I liked it for much the same reasons I liked Lady of Thornes: the romance felt natural. The characters felt real.

The premise is simple: Princess Esofi of Rho Diane has been bethrothed to Albion of Ieflaria, but when she arrives at the Ieflarian palace she learns that Albion is dead and she’s instead to marry the Princess Adale. Except Adale doesn’t want to get married. As “the spare,” she never bent her attention to her repsonsibilies and feels woefully unprepared to be co-ruler. Esofi brings with her “Battlemages” and magic, which Ieflaria has very little of, and which Ieflaria needs to stave off waves of attacks by dragons.

The best part of the book is watching Adale try to get a grip on Esofi. Esofi is a pro-magic bigot who seems to be all ruffles and lace and feminine, queenly purpose, whereas Adale, as a horsewoman and huntress, imagines herself at least capable of handling herself in a fight. And then Esofi does something that completely knocks Adale’s understanding, and the courtship begins in earnest.

The part of the book that didn’t work for me is the used furniture covered in layers of anachronisms. The whole world has ten primary gods, who apparently show up often enough that nobody doubts they exist. The God of Healing is somewhat unreliable, and Ieflaria is experimenting with the heresies known as “disinfectants” and “food inspections,” which upsets Esofi greatly and presents a conflict that Calvin doesn’t use very effectively. Calvin uses modern and anachronistic terms which don’t quite add up in the context and setting. Calvin also presents a fantasyland of “this is the sort of past liberals want”: everyone is a little bisexual, there’s a spell that lets you change sex for a time and “everyone” tries it out at least once, some people are just born androgynous or enby or “neutroi” and nobody blinks an eye at it, and the only question about two princesses marrying is will either one be able to use the sex-change spell and hold onto a male body long enough to do the deed and produce an heir?

It was a fun read, and I suspect I’ll read the sequel. The characterizations are excellent, even for secondary characters like Esofi’s ladies-in-waiting and Adale’s extended family, and that’s mostly what I come to a book for: to see people of goodwill but different premises struggling to figure out how to work together and maybe fall in love in the process.

Nikhil Sonnad writes:

To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them. The billions of Facebook accounts belong not to "people" but to "users," collections of data points connected to other collections of data points on a vast Social Network, to be targeted and monetized by computer programs.

I must be a prophet, because I wrote this last year. It’s part of a rough draft of a cyberpunk story I was working on that didn’t get finished by the deadline:

"But if you are an AI, you’re not like any AI I’ve ever dealt with. When I was at Inferserv, every AI I knew was kinda alien. See, they don’t think the way we do. Like, humans see shapes, but AIs see textures. Humans see other people and then reason about their relationships, but AIs see the relationships and then try to reason about the people at both ends. When you’re trying to teach an AI about people, what do you show them? Texts. Videos. The AIs see the words and actions between people and derive what the people are like. People do it the other way; they look at the other person and then figure out what kind of relationship they want to have. So when you talk to an AI, it’s focus is always really different and alien from a person’s."

And yes, the point of the story is that most AIs are, in fact, so alien as to be evil: they have agendas that don’t care about individual human beings.

There’s a fabulous essay going around the ‘net entitled The 11 Laws of Showrunning, and while the content of it is almost entirely about being a showrunner— someone with a lot of responsibility for a lot of other people, including the staff writers, set designers, sound and lighting, and the dozens if not hundreds of other jobs associated with producing a whole season of a television show— much of what Javier Grillo-Marxuach wrote there can easily be applied to any project that extends over multiple episodes, even if there’s only one person at the wheel.

The one that really struck me is the second law: "Know what your show is and tell everyone." Javier then goes into detail that it’s not enough to get the pilot aired and then tell the writers, "Give me the rest of the season. I’ll know it when I see it." He says this is a common problem, that the showrunner hasn’t thought about what this creative effort is, what it’s trying to say, what positions it argues, what tone it expresses, what emotions it’s meant to arouse. Even if they know it, they haven’t put it into words concrete enough for the rest of the team to express clearly.

I think it’s important for writers who work alone to also know all the things that go into your story. What’s the theme, what’s the premise, and what the series is. The last is nebulous, but it could be about many different things.

It was probably a mistake to ask, "So what are The Journal Entries?" Well… they’re about mostly ordinary people who live in a complicated casual space opera setting full of aliens, biomods, furries, taurs, robots, uploads, cyborgs and artificial intelligences, and how they find love and and sex and other sensual pleasures even when the universe is seriously weird. The principle themes of the Journal Entries is that for those people who stay people, finding love and affection are hard, hard choices in the face of temptation have to be made, and sensual pleasures are truly worth the price of admission. It argues that humanity is worthwhile (almost at a Patrick Stewart Speech level) because it’s messy and fun and conflicted.

This may be why some stories failed. The Lost Crew of the Palantir wasn’t about that. It tried too hard to be a coming of age story, an adventure novel, and a first contact novel, but it wasn’t about the ever-going fight we have to make pleasure and connection a centerpiece of our lives.

What a series is is bigger than the theme and the premise. It’s closer to the premise. Certainly, the Journal Entries is always about sex and love, and there’s going to be a lot of sex in any Journal Entries story— if there isn’t, I’m Doin’ It Wrong. The emotion it’s meant to arouse most strongly is an arousal associated with identity: I hope my readers see themselves in the characters about to get it on. But it’s also meant to be cozy, friendly, and a bit confusing, like a good life. But theme is often isolated to a single story, and it’s often different from episode to episode.

What a series is is the theme and premise slammed together, and each arc or episode has its own plot and story, sometimes even its own characters, and its own themes and premises. But just as a serious central plot may have comic subplots, and just as secondary characters may actually have their own stories that get told, a series may question its central theme-and-premise, but it must never ignore or betray it. That way lies failures.

« go backkeep looking »