Nightwind Follow-Up, ch 25-26

Chapter 25 continues my least favorite sub-plot of this version of Nightwind. Wait, no, it continues both of my least favorite sub-plots. Sweet.

There’s very little to say about the overall plot of the “crew gets stuck on a planet being held by hostile, primitive people” bit. It wasn’t anything but a time waster for me. This remains baffling to me, since the original draft of Nightwind clocks in at a bit under one hundred thousand words, has about twelve different plots, and doesn’t really explore any of them. I will be the first to tell you that this is bad writing. Is it the worst ever? I hope not. Am I proud of it? Not particularly.

This is one of those things that can only be learned with time and seeing other people do it well. When I started the rewrite I thought I could basically take the original and tweak it. Add in some details here. Make something less stupid there. But the book itself was fundamentally broken. I had too many plots and none were being properly served. So either I make a bigger, more detailed mess or I pull back and reimagine the whole structure.

So I pulled everything back to the point where only one plot line survived. And then I added a whole new plot line that functioned alongside the main one to bring a different perspective. It was, I will admit, terrifying. I spent a lot of time worrying that the new book wouldn’t be long enough. Then, as I approached the halfway point I started to worry I had too much. So I left a couple of big chunks basically as placeholders for some ideas I had but I wasn’t sure I had the room for. The main difference is that I started asking, “What are we seeing in this place? What are we hearing? What are we smelling?” And then I started asking what the characters thought and felt about it.

In chapter 25 we see a hint of what I wanted to do. I’ve always had a sense that Anderson was in over his head and wasn’t prepared for the job. So this is where he’s starting to fall apart. But I didn’t really do the work here. I just made him suddenly go into full asshole mode when dealing with his own crew.

Furthermore, I never bothered to answer one of the most important questions. Why does Anderson have this job? We already know that Turner and Hunt have their own ships. We already know that Horatio Semmes is the most senior captain in the Earth Command Navy. While we can probably eliminate Semmes from contention because of his age and general weirdness that still leaves Anderson as, at best, the third best option.

The rewrite has an answer for this. It’s not a very good answer, at least in the way someone outside of the universe looking in would imagine. But it has its own internal logic. The universe of the rewrite is familiar but quite different. In that universe David Anderson has a particular quality that makes him uniquely suited to this role in Earth Command’s eyes.

Meanwhile, there’s the silly little mutiny sub-plot that’s just getting dumber. See, long ago I had a throwaway line about civilians being aboard the ship. Basically, I had the civilians aboard the ship to answer the question, “Why is Jackson’s husband suddenly here?”

The best thing about this plot line, though? It’s actually survived into the rewrite. It has survived in a completely different form. I’d say it’s completely unrecognizable, in fact. But it’s there.

So we traipse along to Chapter 26 where everything is awful. Seriously.

What we’re looking at here is textbook WWII convoy action. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The transports are, well, the transports. Semmes and Morgan are running destroyer escorts. The rogue ships are playing the role of U-Boats or Panzerschiffe. And Semmes starts off by setting up for a freaking broadside. Like he’s in charge of a wooden ship of the line.

I have figured out many things about theoretical space combat since then.

The other big problem here is that everyone seems to have energy shields. The only reason for that is because Star Trek.

The problem here is that it would be trivially easy for Dragon and Wyvern to take out this convoy. Dump a whole lot of missiles at the fat, slow, transports and skedaddle while its escorts try and fail to shoot said missiles down. Or, even better, drop the missiles and then engage the escorts so they can’t actually defend the ships.

Also, this hasn’t really solved the bigger problem that I have no fucking clue why this is happening other than “because plot.”

Ugh. Let us never speak of this again.

Nightwind Wednesdays, ch 25-26

[Author’s Note: It’s back! The reason that Nightwind Wednesdays disappeared for a good long time is because I was busy with the rewrite. The rewrite is done now. I’m letting it simmer and having a few people read it to offer their thoughts before I begin the revision process. In the meantime I’m also working on getting some professional writing credits so I can approach publishers with more than, “I kinda-sorta write a blog. Sometimes.” Tomorrow, as is my custom, I shall go over these chapters and explain exactly why I think they suck. In hindsight.]

Chapter 25

Ah’dag System
June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2234, Terran Standard Time

David looked up from his display screen as the Command Crew filed into the room.  “Have a seat, folks,” he told them.

Once the group was seated he began the meeting.  “Okay, you all know why we’re here.  Commander Gregory and four of our crew members are being held hostage down on that planet.  The people holding them think we’re pirates and will not give them back.  I need any and all ideas for how to get them back.”

Wing Commander Luchenko spoke up.  “Keptin, are we allowed to use force?”

“Only as a last resort, Mr. Luchenko,” David responded.  “We’re trying to prove to these people that we aren’t here to hurt them and that we aren’t pirates.”

“Well,” Lieutenant Commander Jackson suggested, “We could just sit up in orbit and…not steal anything.”

David’s glare stopped the few chuckles from the officers before they had a chance to truly start laughing.  “I’m serious, people.  Our people are stuck down there and we have basically no leverage.”

“We know that, Captain,” Templeton said.  “At this moment it appears as though the only way we can get them back is by using force or a covert insertion, unless somebody down there starts listening to reason.”

“Is that really all we have?”

“Ensign Thomas has been doing his best to pick up information on what is going on down there,” Jackson interjected.  “We have very little to go on so far, though.”

“Wait,” David inquired, “He has the ability to figure out what’s going on down there?”

“He figured out where their military communication gets routed and broke their encryption codes.”

“Impressive.”

As if summoned by mention of his name, the door of the room opened again and Ensign Thomas stepped in.  “Uh, sorry to bother you, but I just got some bad news,” he said without looking up from his shoes.

“What is it, Ensign?” David asked.

“Uh, apparently Private Nait did not survive the crash.  He’s…he’s dead, Sir.”

The room fell silent.

“When did you find this out?” David asked after the news sank in.

“Just now, Sir.  I picked up a communication between two military commanders.  Apparently they are feeling some doubt as to our occupation as pirates.  Apparently they have seen the people we’re showing close enough to determine who we are.”

“Keep track of that, Ensign.”

“Aye, Captain.”  Thomas spun to leave the room.

“Oh, and Ensign Thomas,” David said just before the junior officer reached the door.

He turned back.  “Sir?”

“Good job.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Thomas responded, a hint of a smile on his face.

“I want you to let me know the moment you learn anything new.”

“Yes, Sir.”

David scanned the faces of his Command Crew as the comm officer left.  “It looks like we’ve got some good news and some bad news here, people.”

“Unfortunately we don’t know how good our good news is,” Templeton pointed out.  “We’re running pretty much blind here.”

“Yeah,” Jackson chimed in, “I think we still need to come up with some way of talking to the people in charge down there.”

“Agreed.” David nodded.

“Should we still come up wi’ a way tae ge’ them oot by force, Sair?” MacDonough asked.

“Of course.  I want you and Luchenko to come up with at least two plans.”

“How are we tae do tha’, Sair?  We dinnae ken where they are.”

“Work with Lieutenant Commander Templeton and Ensign Thomas.  I don’t want to put anyone else at risk, so I hope you don’t mind me telling you that I hope your work will be in vain, but we still may need to do something.”

“Aye, Sair.”

“Yes, Keptin,” Luchenko nodded.  “We understand.”

“Good.”

“Well, we should all get to work,” Jackson said, standing up.

The rest of the Command Crew agreed and stood to leave.  Lieutenant Commander Templeton stayed in his seat as the other three departed.

“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” he asked as the door closed behind Wing Commander Luchenko.

“Well, since I didn’t kill you last time, I suppose so.”

“You’re getting better.”

David raised an eyebrow.

“I mean, the way you gave everyone else jobs and all.”

“That’s what the Command Crew is for,” David responded, “And I don’t believe it’s your job to critique my performance.”

“Yes, Sir.  You’re right.”

“Remember, Lieutenant Commander,” David leaned forward, “Commander Gregory is my Executive Officer, not you.  In fact, Lieutenant Commander Jackson is technically ahead of you in the chain of command.  But she knows it’s not her place to tell me how I’m doing, so she isn’t.”  He paused.  “Just because you were right earlier when I blew up at Ensign Thomas, don’t take that as carte blanche to tell me what you think of my behavior.”

“Uh…yes, Sir,” Templeton replied, slightly stunned.

“Now get to work.”

“Aye.”

Templeton left the room.  As soon as he was alone, David turned to a task that was entirely new to him: notifying Private Nait’s loved ones that he would not be returning home with Nightwind.  For the first time in his Earth Command career he wondered how many people under his command would share in Private Nait’s fate.

*   *   *

After leaving the Command Crew meeting Lieutenant Commander Jackson headed directly to the secondary communications control room in response to a repair call.  Lost in thought, she barely noticed when the lights did not go on as she entered.

“How about some lights?” she asked, knowing the voice activated environmental control system would pick up the command and turn on the lights.

Nothing happened.

“The lights have been temporarily disabled,” a voice spoke from the darkness behind her.

She spun, bringing her hands up and dropping into a well-practiced fighting stance.  “Who is in here?”

“That’s not important right now.  What’s important is that you are here with us.”

She thought she vaguely recognized the obviously male voice as one of the officers from Engineering.  “Lieutenant Dwyer?  Is that you?”

A shadowy form moved in the darkness, but the speaker did not reveal his identity.  “I will reveal myself in due time, Lieutenant Commander.”

“Fine,” she decided to play his game, at least for the moment.  “What do you want.”

“I have a proposition for you.”

“What?”

“I want to give you the chance to help us take the Nightwind back home.”

“What would I need to do?”

“Help us get rid of Captain Anderson.”

*  *  *

Lieutenant Commander Jackson entered her quarters moments after her husband.

“What is it, Sara?” he asked, concern marking his broad, strong features.

“Something big is happening, Carl.  I think I’m going to need your help.”

Carl Jackson had joined the Navy just out of college and quickly risen through the Marine ranks through a combination of physical prowess and intelligence.  After nearly a decade in the service he had met Sara, six years his junior, on her first shipboard assignment as a junior technician.  The pair fell in love and were married the next year.

Carl retired soon after the wedding in order to pursue his love of film making.  After seven years travelling around the Solar System he had joined his wife aboard the Nightwind, promising to “make himself useful as the mission’s unofficial documentary maker.”

He spent most of his time with the shipboard Marines, telling tales, talking shop and lending Lieutenant MacDonough some of his expertise and experience.

“What is it, hon?” he asked.

“I need you to talk to Lieutenant MacDonough for me, completely off the record.  There’s a message I need you to deliver.”

“Sure.”

Chapter 26

Phoenix Convoy
June 3rd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1532 Terran Standard Time

“Is that what I think it is, Lieutenant Commander?” Horatio asked, looking up from the Ops console’s tactical display.

“If you think it’s the Dragon approaching the convoy then yes, it is,” she responded, rubbing her bloodshot eyes.  “It looks like they are on an intercept course this time, though.”

“Then we can probably expect the Wyvern will be joining us shortly, as well.”

The comm system crackled to life and Tina Morgan’s voice boomed across the generally quiet bridge.  “I just got a call from Captain Patterson of the Wyvern, Horatio,” she said.

“And what did the good Captain have to say?”

“Told me if I joined forces with him and the Dragon I’d be, and I quote, ‘well compensated.'”

“I’m not going to have to kill you now, too, am I?” Horatio asked, convinced he knew the answer already.

She laughed.  “You couldn’t kill me if you wanted to, Horatio.  Fortunately for you, it won’t be necessary, anyway.”

“Good,” he smiled at his Executive Officer.  “I just figured I’d check.  What did you tell Patterson?”

“I asked what he was offering.  Turns out our two friends are working for Robert Laird, and if I go over I’ll get to be part of his new empire.”

“I thought he was just a nut who has something against technology.”  Semmes paused to consider the ramifications of Morgan’s new information.  “It seems that there’s more to this guy than we thought.”

“Apparently.  He got where he is by creating an organization with the purpose of getting rid of the Navy and the colonies, but at the same time he gets enough Navy people in his pocket to start his own.”

“From what General Schroeder tells me,” Horatio added, “He also had some of the Army on his side.”

“Makes sense.”  The line went silent for a moment.  “Oh, and Horatio,” she said, “I got one other piece of information.”

“Yes?”

“The location of the Wyvern.”

Semmes looked back down at the tactical display as the Phoenix received a telemetry update from Morgan’s Glory‘s computer.  The second rogue ship was tailing the convoy just outside of the sensor range for either ship, exactly where the Commander thought it would be.

“So it looks like I’m still the only one who doesn’t underestimate you, Tina.”

“Patterson is an idiot,” she confirmed, “He broadcast in the clear, didn’t even try to keep me from tracing his call back to the source.”

“Maybe he was just confident his offer would be accepted,” Bixby offered.  “No offense, Ms. Morgan, but you’re not exactly known for taking stands on principle.”

Morgan’s laugh again rang across the bridge.  “Too true, Lieutenant Commander.”

The alphanumeric string under the Dragon‘s icon changed slightly, indicating a new vector.  It was now perfectly set to hit the exact center of the convoy.

“Hold on for a second, Tina,” Semmes said, weighing his possible responses.  “I’ve got to figure out how to deal with our friends.”

“I’ll be here.”

Phoenix Convoy was spread over roughly five hundred kilometers of empty space in the middle of the Europa passage.  Semmes had the point position in the Phoenix and Tina Morgan was bringing up the rear in the Morgan’s Glory.  Fifteen fat, slow freighters filled the space between.  Of those only three, the Tigris, Orca and Liberty could defend themselves, and not very well at that.  Dragon was headed straight for the center of the formation, or, as Horatio thought of it, his soft underbelly.  Commander Durant of the Dragon undoubtedly hoped to draw Phoenix and Glory toward the center, allowing Wyvern to hit the convoy from behind.

Semmes wouldn’t give them what they wanted, but he thought he could make it look like he was.

“Tina, I’ve got a plan,” he said.

“Go ahead.”

“We’re going to drop back toward the middle of the  convoy and prepare to meet the Dragon.  I want you to swing wide and make like you’re coming forward.  Once the Wyvern makes its move, put the hammer down.”

“Got it.”

“Think you can take a patrol ship all by yourself?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Probably not.”  Horatio wished for what seemed like the thousandth time that Benito Fernandez and the Gold Brick had not been lost in the action over Luna Base.  A third escort for the convoy would be absolutely invaluable in a situation such as the one he was now facing.

But wishes were not any use in a fight.  “Lieutenant Commander Bixby, tell the freighters to close up.  I want the three armed ships to act as a screen against the Dragon.  And put the tac map up on the main screen.”

“Aye.”

“Helm, change course.  I want us up ten kilometers relative to the convoy and out fifty to starboard.”

“Aye, Commander,” the helmsman responded.

“And decelerate.  We’re going to force them to come through us.”

“Aye.”

Semmes fell silent as the bridge crew carried out his orders.  He figured his course change would force the Dragon to pass directly under his bow if the other ship did not change its course again, giving him an opportunity for at least one full broadside while exposing the Phoenix to only minimal fire from the Dragon‘s weaker frontal and ventral weaponry.  Also, for once the slow convoy speed Phoenix was forced to keep would be an asset instead of a handicap, as his ship had a lot less inertia to overcome and would be able to turn quicker to keep the Dragon under its guns.

“Oh, and Lieutenant Commander,” he said, realizing one last thing needed to be done, “Set homing missiles and slave them to the Dragon‘s IFF transponder code.”  The fiasco over Luna Base was still fresh in his mind and now he could not afford another mistake of that magnitude. By slaving the Phoenix‘s missiles to an individual Identification Friend or Foe transponder code he could avoid having his missiles lock onto one of the freighters if Dragon managed to evade them.

“Aye.”

“Oh, and call Morgan and suggest she do the same.”

“Aye.”

Horatio sat in the command chair and watched the distance wind down.  Dragon did not change course and his own ship slowly fell back to the perfect intercept position.  The rest of the convoy, meanwhile, responded reasonably well to his commands, presenting the attackers with a slightly harder target.

Dragon is in range, Sir,” Bixby’s call came at the exact moment Semmes expected.

“Open fire.  Full broadside.”

Earth Command patrol ships did not have the ability to fire off impressive broadsides, as they carried only four laser cannons in either arc and could not fire more than three missiles in any one direction at any time, but Horatio knew that getting in the first hits against his opponent could still make all the difference.  Dragon had taken damage fighting the Gold Brick and Morgan’s Glory over Luna and had probably not been able to stop for repairs yet.

And all he had to do was drive the attackers off.  He didn’t have to destroy them.  Even though he really wanted Dragon to go down.

He watched as the tactical display dutifully recorded the other ship absorbing the fury of his attack with its shields and returning fire with two missiles and the single unmasked laser cannon.  Phoenix didn’t even shudder as it took the hits.

“Again, full broadside,” Horatio ordered.

Dragon continued in, undeterred as more hits struck its shields.  It again returned fire and Horatio soon realized the two combatants could engage for hours with little or no discernable results.

As the other patrol ship swept in beneath Phoenix‘s bow, Semmes ordered the helm to turn and give chase.  They dove under the convoy, poking and jabbing at Dragon‘s rear shielding, damaging but never breaching it.\

Rather than trying to figure out how to get Phoenix off its tail, Dragon opened fire on the transports, getting in several hits before they passed to the other side.

“When they turn,” Horatio told the helmsman, “I want you to get inside their arc.  Keep us between them and the convoy.”

“Aye.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, Sir,” Bixby said.

“What do you mean?”

Dragon isn’t slowing to turn, it’s picking up speed.  And Wyvern is already breaking off its attack.”

Horatio sighed.  Hit and fade tactics.  It was going to be a long trip.

Thoughts on a First Draft

I didn’t write anything yesterday. Which is weird, because as I’m writing this it’s yesterday compared to the earliest you could possibly read it. So I suppose what I should say is that I didn’t write anything on Wednesday.

There were times in my life when not writing anything on a given day or during a given week or month was standard operating procedure. I would think about something to write. I would sometimes sit down and pull up a word processor. And then nothing would come out. The words refused to make the transition from mind to finger, finger to keyboard, keyboard to screen. Writing was a thing I loved. Writing was a thing I hated. It was an adversary, in turn chasing and running away.

I didn’t write anything on Wednesday. I didn’t write anything on Wednesday because I didn’t have anything to write on Wednesday. I didn’t write anything on Wednesday because on Tuesday I wrote ten thousand words over the course of ten hours. This was the final culmination of a ramp up over the course of the Fourth of July weekend and the preceding days where I would write four or five thousand words. It was the final stretch, the last sprint to the finish line.

I didn’t write anything on Wednesday because I finished the first draft of the Nightwind rewrite on Tuesday. Well, technically I did write on Wednesday, since I finished it at 1:30 in the morning on Wednesday. But then I went to sleep. And the day ends when sleep begins. Perception matters more than the calendar or the clock.

Either way, I learned many, many things from this particular first draft that I never learned in previous first drafts. I need to catalog those lessons. I don’t want to lose them. Over the last two months I leveled up as a writer in ways I didn’t expect when I started this process.

————————-

One of the big problems I already see when discussing this is that final sprint at the end. Those days where I wrote four or five or ten thousand words create a false narrative. They create a world where I could sit down and write a book in a week and a half. Ten ten-hour days and you’re done. Boom goes the dynamite. But you can’t write a good book ten thousand words at a time.

Those days at the end where the word count advanced by leaps and bounds came because I’d laid the groundwork. They came not in spite or mockery of the days where I crawled forward, writing a thousand words or a hundred or a sentence but because of those days. Those early days of slog are the training. Those final days of sprint are what the training allows.

I don’t know anyone else’s process and I can’t pretend to speak for anyone but me. But for me I didn’t really know where the second half of the book was going until I was passing the first half of the book. This is odd, since it’s technically a rewrite, but it’s a rewrite because I tore everything down. I told a new story with most of the same characters in the same universe with the same overarching story. But I was gutting and renovating a house with a plan I started drawing up the day after I tore everything old out.

Some days I wrote basically nothing. On those days I looked up everything I could find on space elevators or how light refracts through the atmosphere or had long conversations about firearms technology. Some days I spent hours listening to Mike Rowe tell me How the Universe Works. It’s a lot easier to get important information like that now than it was back at the turn of the millennium when I first sat down to write Nightwind. That’s for damn sure.

Either way, I decided to do the rewrite in, what, February? In March or April I decided that I would take the rewrite in a completely different direction, since just rewriting the first version but better was creating a confusing hodgepodge. At the end of April I thought I’d have the book done by June. Because those multi-thousand word days danced in my head. I knew I was capable of it. I just forgot the reasons why.

———————-

I read a surprising amount over the last three months. I read the sixth book in Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier series.[1] I read John Scalzi’s The End of All Things. I read a couple of Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid books. I just finished re-reading Leviathan Wakes because I didn’t really remember the book that well and wanted to see what was different between the books and SyFy’s The Expanse.[2]

Let’s set Ian Douglas aside for a moment, since the Star Carrier books are actually kind of a mess and my appreciation for them begins and ends with the extreme attention to detail. Scalzi, McGuire, and James SA Corey are four of my current favorite authors. The rewrite of Nightwind owes much to both Scalzi and Corey.[3] I approached them this time not just as a guy reading books but as a guy reading books while also writing books. I saw something this time around that I’d never really noticed before.

Long sections of the books I was reading were downright pedestrian. These were books written by professional authors and edited by professional editors. And don’t get me wrong. They were good books. Hell, this is my minimum third re-read of Leviathan Wakes. I love that book. I loved it as I was re-reading it. I’ll probably read it again in a couple of years.

What holds those books together isn’t unbroken strings of perfect sentences, stringing one after another to create perfect paragraphs and perfect chapters. They’re held together by the fact that writers who have spent years honing their craft by building stories and spinning out universes and putting real, concrete characters into those universes. They didn’t assemble perfect words into perfect sentences. They assembled interesting characters in interesting places and wrote a hell of a lot of words to describe them. Some of those words were very good. Some of those sentences were great. But great words and great sentences assembled to describe stupid places where characters just lurch from one place to another aren’t nearly as effective as good words to describe great characters in memorable places.

I realized that one night while I was still somewhere in the first half of the Nightwind rewrite. I had found myself, as I so often do, doubting my ability to write. The words were often wrong. The sentences that sparkled in my head were dull and lifeless on the screen. Then, one night, I just stopped worrying about it. Because I read a few sentences in Leviathan Wakes and thought, “Huh. That wasn’t very good.” I suppose it’s arrogance on my part, but I realized that my average sentence was probably pretty close in quality to the average sentence from any book I was going to read, especially when I stopped comparing a first draft to a complete, professionally edited book and got my book to the point where it was complete and professionally edited.[4]

———————-

I knew I was going to love The Expanse almost at the beginning of the first episode. There’s a long tracking shot that passes through various parts of Ceres and ends with Thomas Jane as a world-weary detective in a ridiculous hat standing in the middle of the medina watching an OPA hothead harangue a crowd in the strange Belter language of the book. It wasn’t a scene from the book but it was a scene from Ceres. It established in just a couple of minutes that, yes, the people who made the show had every desire to turn to the source material and visualize the world that up until that moment only existed in my mind.

This was one of my most important lessons. I realized shortly after I decided to completely tear the entire thing down and start the rewrite from the foundations that I had no idea what anything looked like. I had never mapped out Nightwind’s interior. People lived there but they just kind of floated in a vast, enclosed void.

It actually started with Zaqar, which was the new name I gave to the colony ship Winged Messenger. The Winged Messenger was just a big blob moving through space on rockets or something. I never described it. So I wrote a new chapter that started with a description of the ship.

Then Kat Silas arrived. She started as an idea. Because with the tearing down of the original story I realized that I needed a new wrinkle. I needed, in effect, a b-plot. So I spent a couple of days just throwing ideas around in my head. Kat’s character solved a couple of different problems that the change to the story created. She brought with her a whole new problem, though. I had to answer the question of where she was when we first meet her and how she gets to where she needs to be.

It’s not actually that big of a deal, really. It’s the matter of a couple of chapters right at the beginning of the book, but those chapters required me to spend more time thinking about the world all of these characters exist in than I put into the entire worldbuilding of the first draft.

She also becomes the first person to smell Nightwind. This might not seem like a big deal, but before Kat Silas it never occurred to me to describe a smell. That also caused me to realize that I had never said a single word about the colors inside of the ship. They surprised me. They will probably surprise my readers, too.

There was another change that came from my first foray into describing the inside of Nightwind. The ship got a lot smaller. When I first wrote the book I just said that the ship was a kilometer long because that’s a nice, round number and the ship needed to be pretty big because duh. One night I sat down with a calculator and a spreadsheet and tried to figure out just how much space there was. I came up with 3.3 million cubic meters of space.[5] That is a lot of space. I put everything I needed to put into the ship and couldn’t fill half of it. So I made the ship smaller.

—————————-

My final realization came right at the start of the final sprint. I had this idea in my head of what would happen. Then I modified that idea a bit. Then I actually put it into the book. And a thing happened that would require a decision. So one of the characters asked, “Why don’t we [do this other thing] first?” And I realized that I did not have an answer to that question. I realized that the most logical thing to do was the thing that the character asked and also that would completely and totally ruin everything. So I deleted a chapter and a half and made sure that the question didn’t and couldn’t come up.

That change set the rest of the book in motion. All of the sudden everything snapped into place and I knew exactly what was going to happen between that point and the end of the book. So from that point out I didn’t have to think. I had my characters. They all had a series of jobs to do and a collection of motivations and everything was laid out.

But some things were still in flux even from the halfway point of the book. Some things didn’t really make any sense. Some characters did things that kind of came out of nowhere.

And that is when I learned what a first draft is for. See, I once believed that the difference between a first draft and a second was that you went through the first draft and made sure all of the words were spelled correctly. But that sort of editing is a third or fourth or fifth draft thing.

The end of the first draft is where the real work begins. Once you finish the first draft you then have to go back and make sure it all makes sense. A lot of stuff that goes into the first draft doesn’t make any sense until it’s all over and everyone has done all of the stuff they’re supposed to do.

One of the other things I realized was that sometimes, especially during the first draft, you just have to write something. Anything. I wrote some paragraphs and realized that they were just placeholders to get me through that and on to the next thing. Hell, there’s at least one chapter that I’m pretty sure won’t survive the first revision.

—————————

The weirdest thing about this first draft is that it isn’t actually the first first draft of Nightwind. It’s technically the second draft. But it’s so far removed from the original that it might as well be a first draft.

I also know that I absolutely became a better writer over the course of writing the book. One of my tendencies as a writer is to see characters as a collection of scenes. Shortly after Kat Silas introduced herself I saw her in a scene that I knew would happen in the book, but almost at the end. I wrote it anyway, since I didn’t want to lose the scene.

When I finally got to the scene I copy pasted it in and gave it a quick edit just to put it in the right context and make sure that the right people were involved. As I did the edit I realized that the scene was not nearly as crisp as the bits that surrounded it. It was shocking to see this scene I thought was great a few months back and realize, “Wow, I’m going to have to revise the hell out of this one.”

But that’s why the second draft exists.

——————————————–

[1]This is now a series that I hate read more than anything else. It’s a weird hybrid of hard core SF and hard core Mil SF. The first three books were actually quite the education, since he spent a lot of time discussing how combat would work in space and endlessly articulating how things like the speed of light would be a hard limit on tactics. He also put tons of work into making his aliens alien. It made me completely re-think how I, as a kid who grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars and Babylon 5 where most every alien was just a human with weird makeup and a universal translator, thought of human-alien interaction.

That said, his humans are all paper-thin caricatures. And he posits a universe where humanity is alone, pitted against an impossibly huge alien empire and the brave Americans lead the fight while the French keep trying to sell the brave, self-sacrificing Americans out. Also, for some reason, it’s a functionally post-scarcity society where the big political issue of the day is, “Yay capitalism!” and the brave, brilliant, not-at-all-sellout-asshole Americans just randomly go on anti-Socialist rants. As you do. So it’s basically Iraq War propaganda, but where Saddam Hussein is in control of a galaxy-spanning empire.

[2]A lot. The answer is, “A lot.” For the record, I absolutely loved the TV show. There are some things about it that genuinely annoyed me. They set up a wholly unnecessary conflict at the beginning for reasons I don’t understand. I’m still not happy about Chrisjen Avasarala’s appearance in Season 1 even though she was nowhere to be seen in Leviathan Wakes. Don’t get me wrong, Shohreh Aghdashloo was amazing and absolutely blew the airlocks open. But re-reading Leviathan Wakes the most striking thing about it is just how isolated the main characters are. They exist in their little bubbles with no view of the larger picture at the beginning and slowly piece it all together while Mars and Earth are in the background and the biggest war in human history happens off stage. I prefer seeing it that way.

Otherwise, while I was not at all on board with Thomas Jane as Miller when I saw the cast lists he was just about perfect. And Wes Chatham was spot-on as Amos. Chad L Coleman did a good job with the more limited Fred Anderson of the show. Dominique Tipper and Cas Anvar as Naomi Nagata and Alex Kamahl obviously did their homework. I only just realized that Athena Karkanis played Octavia Muss. I thought that was a wholly original character they created for the show. She certainly wasn’t the Octavia Muss of the book. Jay Hernandez played a stock character from central casting that they slapped the name Detective Havelock on.

The biggest problem with the whole endeavor was Steven Strait as Jim Holden. I don’t think it was Strait’s fault, either. Holden’s character in the book is repeatedly described as “righteous.” He sees the world in black and white terms and always strives to be one hundred percent on the right side of the line. That’s a difficult role to play and Strait did it as well as anyone. The problem is that they undermined him within a few minutes of his arrival in the first episode and that kind of broke everything. It’s especially problematic since Thomas Jane wore Miller like a comfortable coat and so much of the book is about what happens when someone like Holden and someone like Miller are forced to work together.

The other interesting one was perennial That Guy Jared Harris as Anderson Dawes. Harris so completely stole the show that when I re-read the book I was shocked at just how much Anderson Dawes wasn’t an important character. He shows up, like, four times in the book and mostly exists to hand over some key information and kick the plot in the ass a couple times.

Speaking of that, the one episode where perennial That Gal Frances Fisher shows up to go toe-to-toe with Shohreh Aghdashoo was amazing. Chrisjen Avasarala is basically an amoral force of nature until that one episode where she becomes, if not quite human, at least sympathetic.

[3]Which is not to say I’m copying them. Because I’m not. I’ll get to that later.

[4]With the exception of Cat Valente. Or, at least, Cat Valente’s Dirge for Prester John books. The average sentence in those books is on par with the best sentence I will ever write. And then, every few pages a sentence that makes everything else look like garbage just lights up the page with supernova intensity. I kind of hate Cat Valente for being so fucking good at putting words together.

[5]It was basically this: the ship was 1 kilometer long. The forward 20% was unusable. The rear third of the rear 80% was (and still is) a blank space called “engineering.” So that left me with a not-quite cylinder 540 meters long with a 100 meter diameter. The area of a circle is figured with pi * r squared. Multiply that by the height and you get something like 4.2 million cubic meters. But the ship isn’t a perfect cylinder, so I cut that down by twenty percent. It was a lot of back-of-the-napkin stuff.

Eventually I tried to visualize that. I basically realized that I had a structure with half again the footprint of the Sears Tower and that was as tall as the measurement from Wacker Drive to the tip top of the antennae. That’s just a huge amount of space. And also the actual length of the ship was another Sears Tower on top of that. Give or take.

Ghostbusters Doesn’t Belong to You

One of the biggest stories in social media for the last couple of days[1] is the “news” that the trailer for the new Ghostbusters is the most disliked video in YouTube history. This is the least historically useful piece of news I have ever heard. And I used to watch a shitload of baseball.[2]

Here’s the trailer for the new Ghostbusters:

As a point of comparison, here’s the trailer to the original Ghostbusters:

Based entirely on trailers I can say that the original Ghostbusters looks terrible. Like, just awful. But, of course, it’s a bit handicapped. Here, let’s take a look at the trailer for The Blues Brothers. Or how about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Movie trailers before the ‘90s sucked is what I’m saying. At least for comedies. Things got better during the golden age of SNL movies and SNL alum movies. But that’s neither here nor there.

The internet hates the new Ghostbusters. It hates it with a passion. The reason why is pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain: it’s because the movie was made with four women in the starring role. There is no other explanation.

Internet assholes would have you believe something else. They’ll tell you that Ghostbusters is somehow sacred. It’s somehow this untouchable historical artifact that we had better not mess with. Yet I do not recall seeing news stories about how the universally-reviled-on-the-internet Michael Bay TMNT movie or the eventually-universally-reviled-on-the-internet Michael Bay Transformers had the most disliked trailers in YouTube history. I’m pretty sure that if you total up Michael Bay’s YouTube dislikes they don’t equal the dislikes that the new Ghostbusters got on its first weekend.

There are also going to be people who aren’t big on Leslie Jones’ character. I absolutely get that. You’ve got three white women who are smart and accomplished and their streetwise, sassy black friend. Their sassy black friend also appears to be excessively yell-y and religious. So that checks all the boxes for racially profiled writing and casting choices.

But the thing is that if we take the reflexive Michael Bay haters and the people who have a genuine beef about racial stereotyping and the statistical percentage of people who weren’t going to like it just because there are always people who don’t like things we still don’t get to the, “ZOMG! Most Hated Evar!” status. So here’s the part where I have to tell asshole misogynists on the Internet to shut the fuck up. Because that’s what’s at the core of pushing this movie into historically-hated-before-it-comes-out territory.

Here’s the thing: who the fuck cares? Really. Is Melissa McCarthy going to travel the country, stepping on all DVDs of the original Ghostbusters? Is Kristen Wiig going to go to your house and shit on your copy of Ghostbusters? Is Leslie Jones going to go to Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and force them at gunpoint to sign a contract that says they’ll never stream the original? No. That’s not how it works. If Michael Bay can’t do it then neither can anyone involved in Ghostbusters. Because Michael Bay has people. And a huge stockpile of pyrotechnic charges.

So does the new movie infringe, in any way, shape, or form on your ability to enjoy the original? No. No it does not.

As such, the new movie is forced to stand or fall on its own merits. So let’s draw another comparison. Anchorman 2 was a not-at-all-anticipated, super late to the game sequel to one of the best comedies of the last decade. No one asked for it. No one wanted it. The original response to it from pretty much everyone was, “Why? No, really, why?” The trailer to Anchorman 2 currently has a bit under ten million views and a bit under two thousand dislikes. So I’m calling this the baseline.

Let’s say that the new Ghostbusters starred Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg, and Hannibal Burress. I’m just going to assume that it would be in Anchorman 2 territory. Everyone would be asking, “So, um, why is this a thing?” and then just going on with their lives.

In order to get to the level where something is the most disliked stupid comedy ever it has to be perceived as somehow destroying something important. Ghostbusters in and of itself can’t be that important, in the grand scheme of things.[4] I’ve already pointed out situations where the supposed destruction of a beloved cultural artifact didn’t result in historically low approval ratings.

As such the only thing that can possibly be driving the historically mentionable hatred of the new Ghostbusters is because the internet is filled with misogynistic assholes. There is no other explanation. So just shut the fuck up and don’t watch the movie.

However, this does then get back to a larger issue. I brought up a lot of Michael Bay movies earlier. He seems to keep remaking movies based on properties from my childhood.[5] I mostly manage to not care. I am apparently a rare breed.

Every time some random thing from the ‘80s or ‘90s is rebooted there’s an internet constituency that comes out of the woodwork to make sure we all know how much of an injustice it is that we’re being subjected to it. This week it’s Ghostbusters. Not so long ago it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Next week it will be Voltron or something. Because to some people the very act of making this new reboot is, to use the vernacular of internet dipshits, “raping their childhood.”

First of all, stop. Just fucking stop. A new Transformers movie isn’t raping you. Comparing someone you’ve never met making a new movie based on a piece of intellectual property created by someone you’ve never met to rape is deeply offensive to people who have actually been raped. It’s also fuck stupid and selfish and self-absorbed.

Second, if your entire childhood memory bank is based on cartoons made in the last thirty years then I am sad for you. Because every single one of those cartoons was created with one and only one goal in mind: to convince you to go beg your parents to take you to Toys R Us to buy toys based on that cartoon. That’s it. I had a shitload of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys growing up. I look back on that now and realize that I was a goddamn sucker, played for a fool by a bunch of suits in marketing.

So the primary difference between me and you, dear reader who is bitching about how your childhood is being stolen, is that I’m better and smarter than you. I’m better than you because I’ve moved on. I’m smarter than you because I’ve seen the strings and realized what they are.

Ghostbusters doesn’t belong to you. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn’t belong to you. Transformers doesn’t belong to you. They belong to a bunch of suits in a boardroom somewhere. Those suits bring out new content from time to time. Whenever they do it’s not because of nostalgia. It’s not because they love you. It’s because they’ve come to the conclusion that putting out new content will make them money.[6] They’ll sell tickets. They’ll sell ad time. They’ll sell toys. They don’t care. It’s all debits in the cash revenue column. It’s all yacht money.

So shut the fuck up because it doesn’t matter. Ghostbusters doesn’t belong to you.

————————

[1]This is based on the fact that it just keeps fucking popping up on my Facebook as a news story. This is the least scientific survey of important news stories this side of Glenn Beck telling us that everyone is talking about how Barack Obama is really a space mutant based on articles he read over at Breitbart and cross referenced with the National Enquirer. And my apologies to the National Enquirer, as it does not deserve to be mentioned alongside such obvious non-news entities as Glenn Beck and Breitbart.

[2]There is a ton of dead air during baseball games. So the color guy needs to do a lot of work to fill the viewers’ ear holes while the pitcher is scratching his nuts and trying to figure out which stitch he put his index finger on last time he faced the guy at the plate because he got a K last time and the guy at the plate is the current best hitter in the league. So baseball announcers end up spending a lot of time talking about the historic implications of something that happened. The vast majority of the time there is absolutely nothing worthwhile in those lessons.

Now, there are plenty of historical things worth mentioning in baseball. There are things like perfect games and no-hitters. There are hitting streaks. There are historically important winning or losing records. Those are all genuinely historically relevant. Those also only come along every once in a while, which is why they’re historically worthwhile in nature.

There are also plenty of things worth mentioning in the silly trivia category. This is stuff like, “This is the first time in history twin brothers hit back-to-back home runs,” or, “This is the first time that pitchers who each won two games in the World Series the previous year faced off against each other on Opening Day the following season.” Like, that sort of shit is crazy or fun or crazy and fun.

But then there’s the stuff that usually comes up. That’s stuff like, “He’s the first guy to strike out five switch hitters in the month of May since Fred McJackerson did it in 2003.” First of all, striking out five switch hitters is not something anyone cares about. Second, 2003 isn’t really that long ago. Third, unless you’re Fred McJackerson or his mother you’re probably going to have to look him up. Then when you do you’ll likely find out that poor Fred lost all of the games he pitched in May of 2003 before getting sent back down to the minors by a Kansas City Royals squad that only won 73 games that year. In short, there is absolutely nothing of historical significance about this historically significant event the color commentator is bringing up. He’s only doing it because most of his audience is drunk, asleep, or doing something else while pretending to watch the game.

[4]It would be like if they did a remake of Black Sheep or Tommy Boy with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. Or Sarah Silverman. I bet Sarah Silverman would be an awesome female David Spade. Those are undeniably awesome movies, but no one is talking about them right now because why would they? Much like no one was really talking about Ghostbusters at this time last year because oh my god, thirty year-old movie.

[5]I can’t entirely hate Michael Bay right now, though. He’s an Executive Producer of both Black Sails and The Last Ship. Black Sails is, hands down, the best thing on TV right now. The Last Ship is a pretty good show, too.

[6]I am a lifelong Star Trek fan. I despise the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies. Paramount keeps making them because it makes them money. My response to this is to occasionally make fun of the JJverse while mostly ignoring it in favor of focusing on the things that made me love Star Trek in the first place. It’s not rocket surgery here.

The Democratic Party is Irrelevant

It looks like Hillary has the Democratic Party nomination all but locked up right now. We’re down to recriminations and sour grapes and I-told-you-sos and calls for party unity. Bernie’s still talking a big game but Hillary’s already gearing up for her victory lap and Trump has started ignoring Cruz and Kasich in favor of taking potshots at Hillary and mocking the media for its notion of what “presidential” looks like while the media tells us that he is, in fact, presidential.[1] All of this is maneuvering and posturing for the big show that will consume all of us between now and November. All of this ignores the one thing no one in America is able to recognize. Whether Hillary wins by 90 points or Trump becomes America’s most wildly unqualified President-elect since Zachary Taylor the Democratic Party is going to lose.

We’ve been hearing tales of the death of the Republican Party for years. In 2008 there were gleeful reports of the end of all things Republican Party. John McCain went from being one of the most respected politicians in America to a has-been joke accompanied by a word-salad shooting moron in a matter of months while the Democratic Party Ascendant had Barack Obama and still had Hillary waiting in the wings. In 2012 when the Republican Clown Car was whittled down to a bafflingly wealthy board with an amazing head of hair with no chance of winning the pundits looked at the vast wasteland of Republican benchwarmers and also-rans and asked yet again if the Republicans would soon go the way of the Whigs, the Anti-Masonic Party, and the American Party.[2]

What all of this ignores is the fact that the Republican Party is far stronger now than it was in 2008. The Republican Party won the most important political race of this generation in 2010 while the Democratic Party was asleep at the switch. Don’t believe me? Let me throw three names at you: John Kasich, Scott Walker, and Rick Snyder.

What do all three of those men have in common? All three were inaugurated as state governors in January of 2011. All three followed a Democratic Governor. All three are currently governors of old, mainline Union states whose men had heroic tales of fighting the Confederates in the Civil War. All three had a long tradition of leading the way on labor rights issues. All three states went to Barack Obama in 2008. The states in question are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

You may recognize all of those names. John Kasich is, of course, the current answer to the question, “Hey, who’s the other guy who’s still in the Republican race for some reason?” Scott Walker is famous for having to run another race for his own job shortly after being elected when it turned out that he mostly wanted to tell teachers to go fuck themselves. Rick Snyder, meanwhile, let the city of Flint, Michigan drink and bathe in delicious lead water for a year or so.[3]

The Republican Party didn’t just grab a few governor’s offices in 2010. They took control of the House and very nearly managed to grab the Senate. The Senate seat grab came at the cost of the Illinois Senate seat that had belonged to Barack Obama, although there was the weird influence selling scheme by Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris had already vacated the seat by the time Mark Kirk was sworn in. The big loss in 2010 came in — wait for it — Wisconsin, where liberal stalwart Russ Feingold was booted in favor of Ron Johnson, as dingbatty a Tea Party dingbat as any of the other Tea Partiers.[4]

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other Republicans who won the governorship in formerly Democratic-governed states. Rick Scott took Florida and became the first governor to push for drug testing of welfare recipients. He also refused to say that he knows anything about climate change while governing a state that’s slowly drowning. Paul LePage got the governor’s seat in Maine with just under 39% of the vote and proceeded to just be the worst. Sam Brownback won in Kansas and decided to use it as a laboratory for Republican financial policies of cutting taxes to the rich and services to everyone else and Kansas is suffering heavily from lack of funds. But it’s okay because Kansas is going to pay you $2,500 the state doesn’t have if you check the genitalia of everyone in their public restrooms and find that someone has an outtie where there should be an innie.[5]

So, in short, in 2008 the Democratic Party won the Oval Office and majorities in both houses of Congress. The pundits started asking if that would be the end of the Republican Party. Two years later the Republicans had taken basically everything back but the office of the President. We should all have such a difficult death.

This whole change came about because of the Tea Party, a pseudo grassroots organization that was fueled by equal parts racism, religious bigotry, hatred of the poor, and generalized rage at the Other. Much ado was made about how the Republican Establishment wasn’t a fan of the Tea Party and either the Tea Party would take over the Republican Party or the Republican Party would splinter into a Mainline Conservative faction and a Tea Party faction. This, it was reported, would be the death of the Republican Party as a force in American politics.

We all know that didn’t happen. I’m now convinced that the Republican Party will long outlive the Democratic Party. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The Republican Party is the party of old people, after all. Its supporters will soon die out and its ideologies will soon become irrelevant. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The simple fact of the matter is that it’s the Democratic Party is irrelevant. There is no nationwide plan. They look at the major grassroots, socially-driven, progressive movements in this country and they respond with shrugs at best and lectures at worst. The Democratic Party did nothing to help Occupy or Black Lives Matter. The Democratic Party gave up the high ground on North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” and let Starbucks and Target and Bruce Springsteen take up the fight.

For all of the gleeful discussion of how 2008 was a sign that the Republican Party was in its death throes the Republicans gained ground. For all of the speculation that Donald Trump will destroy the Republican Party the Republicans keep gaining ground. The Republican Party has a strong coalition because the Republican Party has a coalition based on hate and fear. It doesn’t matter if the voters hate taxes or government or gays or brown people, they all hate something. And Donald Trump hates and fears the same things they do just as strongly as they do.

I do not for a moment believe that the powers that be in the Republican Party actually give a shit about whether or not Trump wins the nomination. The Kochs and the Adelsons and the dark money groups know something that most of America doesn’t: the office of the President doesn’t actually matter. It’s a sideshow. Get a stranglehold on 50 governors and 50 state legislatures and a plurality of Congress and the President could be a magical unicorn that farts jobs programs and shits healthcare vouchers and it won’t matter.

The Republican rank and file will go to the polls in November. They will vote for Trump. Whether or not Trump wins it won’t matter, though, since those very same voters will also vote for Louie Gohmert and Chuck Grassley and David Vitter and they’ll go back to the polls in two years to vote for Louie Gohmert and Rick Snyder and Bruce Rauner while the Democratic Party takes a nap and maybe lectures social progressives on what they need to do to get on the Sunday morning shows and the front page of HuffPo.

If Hillary loses, which is not a bet I’m currently willing to take, the Democratic Party will eat its own tail. It will turn on Bernie’s supporters and wag its finger and tell all of those damn Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros that it was their fault. The thing about it is, though, that those same lazy Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros flock to rallies and march in protests and love Elizabeth Warren. So maybe it’s not that they’re too lazy to vote or hate women but that they’re looking for something authentic and they see it in Bernie and Warren and don’t see it in Hillary and the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party needs to find ways to leverage enthusiasm for Bernie but it won’t. How do I know this? We saw it in 2008 with Howard Dean. Dean, for those who can remember things that happened 12 years ago, was the presumptive frontrunner going into the 2004 election. He lost, badly, but became the DNC Chair and formulated the 50-State-Strategy, which was an attempt to counter the Republican tendency to make sure they had people running for every seat from President on down to County Coroner. Dean’s strategy was crucial for the Democratic Party wins in the 2006 mid-term and 2008’s visit to the woodshed with the Republican Party. How was Dean rewarded after the 2008 election? He was kicked to the curb.

See, it’s conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party that some seats just can’t be won and, as such, no money should be spent on those seats. It was Dean’s belief that you lose 100% of the seats you don’t put a candidate up for. Dean’s primary opponent was Rahm Immanuel, also known as Obama’s first Chief of Staff and the current mayor of the soon-to-be-formerly-great city of Chicago. It doesn’t take too much to figure out how Dean ended up on the outside of the fight.

I can assure you, as someone who has taken the Democratic ballot in several primaries and seen that half of the sheet is blank, that it’s frustrating and demoralizing. This primary season I wanted to vote for Bernie. I was also proud to get a chance to vote for Tammy Duckworth. After that most of the boxes on my ballot were blank. All that does is signal that in November those same boxes will have a name with an R next to it and no name with a D.

So let’s review. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about trying to win seats in districts that are in Chicago’s collar counties. The Democratic Party would rather that the people from Occupy and Black Lives Matter go home and be quiet and speak with their votes. When those people do speak with their votes for Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party scolds them for dragging out Hillary’s coronation.

Meanwhile, the unfettered id of the Republican Party runs amok. “Hey, I hear you hate Muslims. So do we!” say Trump and Cruz. “What’s that? You’re worried that the Mexicans are taking your jobs? We’ll build a wall!” “You don’t like the gays getting married? Here’s a bill that will stop all that from happening!”

And that’s the lesson the Democratic Party needs to take from the death throes of the Republicans in 2008 and 2010.[6] There will always be Tea Partiers. There will always be angry people. The rank and file of the Republican Party isn’t united in their love of low capital gains taxes or Evangelical Christianity. It’s united in the fact that the people who vote Republican are deeply, existentially, afraid of something and are looking for someone to tell them that they’re not alone in their fears. They’re looking for someone to tell them, “Yes, we are standing here on the ramparts and we will defend you from that big, scary monster.”

The Tea Party didn’t destroy the Republican Party because as far as the Republicans were concerned the Tea Party was a giant, angry focus group. Trump’s supporters are much the same. The entire Trump campaign has normalized hate and bigotry to a degree that would make Barry Goldwater blush. No matter what happens in November of 2016 the Republicans will take that information and run with it in 2018 and again in 2020.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, begs Black Lives Matter to quiet down and told Occupy to go home because they might make it harder to work with the Republicans. Those self-same Republicans who seven years ago said it was their entire job to keep Barack Obama from accomplishing anything while he was President. On one level they failed, since Obama got quite a bit accomplished. But even when Obama pushed through a victory, like the ACA, the Republicans still managed to functionally stop it from working in states like Texas by just refusing the Federal subsidies. They also made sure it was a horribly written law hated by basically everyone from the start.

Occupy should have been a refreshing of the Democratic Party. Black Lives Matter should be the signal of the start of a new Civil Rights Movement. The enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders should be a wake-up call that a huge chunk of the country is clamoring for a real progressive bent to the supposedly liberal Democratic Party. That’s simply not happening. The Democratic Party is pushing away those they should embrace.

It should be said at this point that the Democratic Party has had a pretty good track record with gay rights and women’s health issues these last few years. But even those victories have to be written down with big, fat asterisks. For every step forward at the Federal level there are huge steps backward in the Red States. Gay marriage is now the law of the land but Republican lawmakers down in the states are doubling-down with discriminatory laws. Planned Parenthood and similar organizations have been all but pushed out of the South because legislators have been allowed to write bizarre, specific laws and then change them on a whim.

What it all comes down to is the idea that a big, splashy win is meaningless if it doesn’t bring about real, helpful change. The Democratic Party focuses on big wins while the Republican Party focuses on little victories because the Republicans know that the little victories add up. The Oval Office is a big win but six governors, seventy Congresspeople, and a whole bunch of state legislators are a heap of little victories. We know from American history that the little victories mean more.

In 1876 the Republicans got the White House. The Democrats got the little victory of the end of Reconstruction. This set the stage for Jim Crow and allowed racist policies to rule the South until the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1963. The Civil Rights Act was a big win. In 1964 the Republicans started their string of little victories with the Southern Strategy. That strategy, as I’ve talked about before, is why we are where we are today.

There are real people in America who are hurting. Transgender people in North Carolina are being told they aren’t allowed to use the bathroom because they’re sexually violent. Black kids in Chicago and St Louis are being shot by the police who are supposed to help them. Toddlers in Flint have developmental defects from drinking lead water. The state of Illinois is no longer paying its bills because Bruce Rauner has made sure there isn’t a budget for nearly a year. Kansas appears to be at a breaking point but Brownback keeps doubling down.

Each of these things costs us something. Each of these things is another step down the road to ruin. It’s not inevitable. It’s not irreversible. But as long as the Republicans keep finding a new way to harness hate and anger while the Democrats keep seeing the progressive grassroots as a hindrance we’ll keep walking down that road.

The Democratic Party either needs to wake up or move aside. Anything else is a death spiral of irrelevance and ruin.

———————-

[1]This is one of the subplots of the 2016 Presidential race that just completely boggles my mind. The news media mocked Trump when it looked like he was just running to sell more books last year. As this bizarre farce has gone on the news has started telling us that, no, really, he can totally be President, you guys. Look! He’s learned how to use a teleprompter! And he went three whole sentences without kicking Ted Cruz in the nuts, metaphorically speaking! So President. Much gravitas.

[2]A.K.A. the Know-Nothings. That’s my second favorite political epithet behind the Mugwumps.

[3]The whole thing with Snyder is actually significantly worse than it looks if you do a little digging. One of the reasons it got to that point in the first place was because of the Emergency Financial Manager position in Michigan. It was a law originally created in 1988 to give the state the ability to step in and fix broken financial situations in municipalities. One of Snyder’s first acts as Governor was to drastically expand the scope of the Emergency Financial Manager’s power. The people of Michigan slapped the revision down but then Snyder pushed a similar bill through in 2012. Flint was living under Snyder’s rule when the city’s Emergency Financial Manager switched from Lake Huron water to Flint River water.

So, y’know, fuck Rick Snyder.

[4]2010 also included an off-cycle Senate election that followed the death of Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. In that election the woefully inadequate Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican empty suit and former underwear model Scott Brown. In 2012 Scott Brown got his ass handed to him by Elizabeth Warren because Elizabeth Warren is one of the five or so politicians in America who is actually good at their job. Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Dick Durbin, and Tammy Duckworth are the other four.

[5]Here in the civilized world we call people who go into public restrooms and force other people to show them their genitals “sex offenders.” I guess things are different in Kansas.

[6]And, for that matter, 1964.

Nightwind Future Friday, part 3

One of the strangest things to me when reading the original manuscript is that I spent absolutely no time actually describing the ship itself. It was just this giant void labeled “generic starship interior.” This is because I was being pretty damn lazy and also impatient to go do cool stuff and write about things blowing up.

This time around I’m doing things a bit differently. My decision to make the book entirely about Nightwind‘s journey forced me to come up with a, let’s call it b-plot. So I needed a new character who could be involved in that plot but who was in a different enough space from Captain Anderson to live their own life. So Corporal Katherine “Kat” Silas showed up. This is not actually the first time she appears in the book but her storyline up until this point has mostly been a travelogue/infodump about life on Earth in 2356 as she travels from Chicago (natch) to Brazil and up the Macapa space elevator into orbit. Because the original version of the book didn’t offer any of that sort of information, either. Worldbuilding. What the fuck is that?

You’re about to meet Kat. Kat is about to meet the ECS Nightwind. I hope you enjoy this little slice of my universe.

—————–

Once the shuttle was a sufficient distance from the station he brought the front end around. Nightwind appeared at the upper edges of the shuttle’s canopy. It rapidly swept across their line of vision and filled the entire view.

“How big is that thing?” Kat asked.

“Just over a kilometer long,” Carter replied. “The main section is about two-thirds of the ship and that arrowhead up front is the rest. The fore section is primarily storage and a big water shield to help with radiation shielding. There’s no gravity and, from what I heard, there was a pretty heated debate over whether or not to even put life support in.”

Carter fired a quick pulse from the main drive and headed for the prow of the massive battlecruiser. Kat stared up in silence as they swept past the ship’s prow and towards the main hull. As they passed beyond the arrowhead and approached the lozenge-shaped main section she saw a neat double row of entryways lining the middle of the main section.

“Is that where we’re going?” she asked.

“Yes,” Carter replied. “There are two shuttle bays forward, then the fighter bays, then another four shuttle bays.”

“So everything is along one side?”

“They’re on the bottom, actually,” Carter said. “Nightwind has artificial gravity thanks to the aliens we reverse-engineered the tech from.”

“Artificial gravity?”

“Yup. Funny story about that, too. The original plans for the ship called for the small craft bays to be on the sides. So we rigged up a grav generator on the Venus Shipyards and tried to land shuttles. It did not end well.”

“Why?”

“It’s really had to compensate for going from null-g to 1g in one of these babies,” Carter patted his console. “I, personally, crashed two shuttles trying to figure it out.”

“So how do you do it now?”

“Vertically,” Carter replied.

One of the small craft bay doors opened as if to illustrate his point. A grappling arm descended from the interior of the ship. Carter fired the reverse thrusters, and drifted in towards the arm. The grappler connected with the shuttle with a dull thump and pulled it up into the belly of the battlecruiser.

“Careful getting out,” Carter said. “We’re now at half a g and falling out of the command chair will really hurt.”

“I’m well aware,” Kat replied, looking back.

A dull thunk sounded from outside the shuttle and the little ship vibrated. “We’re docked,” Carter said. “I’ll go first so I can catch you if you fall.”

“Funny.”

She watched Carter intently as he leveraged himself up and out of his seat, paying attention to what he held on to and where he stepped. Once he was down the ladder and out of the way she mirrored his movements. She soon joined him on the deck of the shuttle. He’d already opened the locker and was holding her bag out for her. She grabbed it and swung it up over her shoulder.

“They say we’re going to get new shuttles specifically for these ships,” Carter said, almost apologetically, “They’re trying to figure out how to make the gravity system compact enough so we can orient everything in the same direction.”

“That would be helpful.”

“Yes, yes it would.” Carter gestured towards the door. “I’ll walk you out to the main corridor. Then you’re on your own. I have duties to attend to.”

“Lead the way.”

Carter opened the shuttle’s hatch. A collapsible airlock was attached to the outside of the shuttle. “We can pressurize the shuttle bays,” Carter said, “But in normal operations we don’t. It’s a lot quicker to go through an airlock.”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

The pair walked down the short airlock. Carter cycled an airtight door at the other end and they stepped out into a small, empty room with doors on opposite walls.

“That door,” Carter pointed to the left, “Leads to the pilots’ ready rooms and lockers. We’re going to take the other one and go up the lift to the next deck.”

He reached out and hit a sensor plate next to the door and a moment later it opened, revealing a standard personnel lift. They stepped in and Carter commanded it to go up a level. The lift quickly ascended and the doors opened again, revealing a narrow hallway. The passageway was painted in a cheery robin’s egg blue. The floor was carpeted with a thin, tan, industrial carpet.

Carter stepped off of the lift. “Take a deep breath,” he said.

Kat breathed in and smelled the ship. There was a deep tang of industrial solvents and a sharp odor of coolant and the unmistakable smell of fresh paint. What mostly struck her was that everything smelled vaguely, indefinably, new. It took her a moment to realize why. Nightwind lacked the odor of sweat, piss, and blood that permeated the rest of the Earth Command Navy ships. They were old and worn and lived in.

“It’s so, so fresh,” she said.

“And it’s not particularly Navy-like in its decoration style,” Carter gestured at the walls. “Each level of the crew decks has its own color scheme. They wanted this ship to feel like a home, since we might spend months or even years on this ship, far away from Earth.”

The idea of being that far away from home for so long made her stomach hurt. “Is it too late to request a new assignment?”

Carter laughed. “This first hop is going to be pretty short. I’m sure they have plans for volunteer crews once we get the kinks worked out.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Well,” Carter checked the time on his comm unit, “I’m sorry to leave you here, but I have work to do and not a lot of time until I have to go pick the captain up,” he said. “Your comm unit can take you where you need to go.”

“Thank you, Chief Carter,” Kat said.

He smiled. “My friends call me Wince.”

“My friends call me Kat.”

“Nice to meet you, Kat. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Will do.”

“Oh, and there will be some parties tonight. Call me up and I’ll make sure you get an invite.”

“Thanks.”

Carter headed off down the corridor. Kat pulled out her comm unit and found it was already trying to direct her to her quarters. She pressed the button and a map of the ship appeared on the screen with a yellow route marker drawn on it. A yellow light lit up on the wall to her right. A moment later another light about thirty centimeters away lit up. Then another a bit farther down the wall. She realized that it was the ship itself telling her where to go.

She followed the flashing lights. About ten meters down the corridor she emerged into what the map indicated was one of Nightwind’s main corridors. It was wide and brightly lit, unlike any corridor she’d ever seen on a ship. She stopped and took it all in for a long moment.

The biggest problem with life as an Earth Command Marine, as far as Kat was concerned, was the enforced inactivity. Earth Command ships were tiny, cramped spaces. In her first tour aboard the Peacemaker she’d nearly lost her mind. There was often nothing to do but stare at the walls. The ship was often at low or null gravity so while it was possible to work out using the spring loaded weights and the exercycle  she’d actually felt her muscles deteriorating day by day. After that tour she’d been assigned to Ishtar Station. If it hadn’t been for that small miracle she would probably have been a civilian at the end of her first tour. Every day she’d run at least two laps around the inside of that vertigo-inducing, inside-out artificial world.

On her map of the ship the corridor she stood in circled most of the ship. It followed the lines of the main hull from the curved fore section down along both sides and then flattened out and crossed over along the bulkhead that separated the engineering section from the rest of the ship. It wasn’t a corridor to Kat so much as it was a long, looped running track. She already knew the first question she was going to ask Lieutenant MacDonough when they met.

The yellow lights kept blinking so she followed them down the corridor. After about a hundred meters she boarded a lift and took that up two decks. The main corridor on that deck was a light beige. She followed the lights down the beige corridor until she reached her assigned quarters. It was only then that she realized she hadn’t seen a single person since parting company with Chief Winston. On any other Earth Command vessel she would have already met half the crew and probably seen at least one naked.

Her quarters were small by civilian standards but blatantly luxurious by Earth Command standard. The room was about four meters by four meters. There was a bed along one wall and a desk mounted against the wall opposite the bed. The wall at the foot of the bed was a giant vid display.

Kat dropped her bag on the bed and stood in the center of the room. She spun around. Then she lifted her arms and saw how far the tips of her fingers were from the bulkheads that defined the room. The sense of space was almost overwhelming. She was a fairly small woman, standing almost exactly 1.65 meters and maxing out at about 73 kilograms when she was able to get enough exercise to maintain her preferred muscle tone.

When Marines were a purely earthbound phenomenon her size would undoubtedly have kept her out of the program. It was much less of an issue in space. In combat situations she had access to the latest in Earth Command power armor, complete with an exoskeletal structure that allowed her to amplify her strength by ten times. She was also an Earth native and grew up in 1g, making her stronger than her compatriots who grew up in Martian gravity or out in the wider Solar System. In noncombat situations she simply took up less space. This was a desirable quality for the Earth Command Navy’s personnel officers.

She dropped her arms to her side and stopped marveling at the space that belonged to her long enough to activate her vid screen and inform Nightwind’s computer that she had taken official possession of her quarters. As soon as she did a message popped up on her screen. The ship’s XO, Lieutenant Commander Gregory, had requested a personal audience as soon as she checked in.

Kat’s heart fell as soon as she saw that message. There was only one meaning for that meeting request. XOs didn’t just demand immediate meetings with Marine corporals.

Her comm unit was already showing the route to the XO’s office. She left her quarters and followed the yellow lights. Two minutes later she stood outside of the XO’s office. She took a deep breath and hit the panel that signaled there was someone waiting outside.

The door opened mere seconds later. Kat stepped through into a cramped office. The XO was sitting behind her desk, studying something on a tablet. The vid wall showed a giant schematic of the Nightwind. One section was blown up and appeared to include notations for work orders. Gregory didn’t look up at first.

Kat snapped to attention anyway. “Corporal Katherine Silas, reporting as ordered, Sir,” she said.

Gregory looked up. “At ease, Corporal,” she said. Kat shifted from the rigid attention stance but did not relax. “You have an interesting record, corporal,” Gregory pressed a few buttons on her tablet, “But I don’t know you. And that’s a problem.”

“Sir?”

“You must understand that I have been in on this project almost from the very beginning. Everyone on this ship is someone I have known for at least five years and worked with in close quarters. Everyone, that is, except for Captain Anderson, who was assigned to this ship at the last minute because that’s what Admiral Belden thought was best for the program, and you, a Marine corporal.” Gregory paused, staring at her.

“Permission to speak, sir?”

“Of course, corporal.”

“I have only known about these orders for three days myself. I had my leave cut short for reasons I did not understand at the time. I did not know about the Nightwind until I saw it. I have no authority over where I am ordered to report.”

“I am well aware of that, corporal. But I know something about your history that’s not in your official records. I am, after all, the XO of a top secret ship and was one of the main project managers and lead designers. I know people who can get me any information I desire.”

Kat’s heart skipped a beat. She forced herself to hold the same stance and not allow even a twitch in her facial features.

“According to my people you went through training for the Special Services Division. Got some of the highest marks in your group, too.” She paused, studying Kat’s face. “Apparently you excelled at counter-intel and something amusingly called ‘unofficial covert policing tactics.’ I’m sure I don’t want to know what that means.

“What I do want to know, corporal, is whether or not I should kick you off of my ship right here and now. I do not like the idea of having the sneaks covertly put one of their people on my ship. I do not like thinking I’m going to have to look over my shoulder all the time. I most certainly do not want anyone covertly policing my people.”

Gregory stopped speaking and stared at Kat. She felt the XO’s eyes boring through her own, drilling into the back of her skull. She forced herself to stay calm and took a deep breath.

“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” she asked.

“Yes,” Gregory replied, “By all means.”

“I mean, can I have your word that absolutely nothing I say leaves this room?”

“I have not told anyone what I know about you yet, corporal. I wanted to meet you before I turned you down or tainted you in the eyes of the rest of the crew.”

“I did go through the Program,” Kat said. “Special Services recruited me right after boot camp. I scored extremely highly on the secret parameters they use to measure agent aptitude on the Core Skills test. So I joined. It seemed like it would be fun and I could do a lot more as a member of the SSD to help Earth Command than I could as a mere grunt.”

Kat paused. “We got a lot of near real-time intel work. The SSD is pretty small and Mars has been making a lot of noise and they were playing catch-up at the time. I enjoyed the analysis aspect of it and was very good at the fieldwork exercises. They didn’t want me sitting behind a desk because they thought it was a waste of my talents, so they pushed me toward the counter-intel and unofficial tactics programs.

“My final exam, as they call it, was to infiltrate a base on Mars. They actually had me do it. They sent me to Mars and my job was to simulate getting into position to assassinate a Martian opposition leader who was engaging in terrorist activity against Earth Command targets. They told me it was a hypothetical scenario.

“Three months later the President of the Colonial Authority died unexpectedly in his sleep. I am convinced that they used my final exam as a dry run to see where the problems were in a real op they already had planned. Then Robert Laird stepped in to the power vacuum and I couldn’t see how that made things better for Earth Command.”

She paused and took a deep breath. “I realized that being an agent in the SSD wasn’t actually helping. Even if I was just being paranoid and it was all a strange coincidence I still couldn’t stomach the idea of actively preparing to infiltrate our own colonial bases and kill people just because they disagreed with United Commonwealth or Earth Command goals. That’s not what I stand for and it’s not what I think the United Commonwealth should stand for. So I quit. I figured that while I might not be able to help much as a regular grunt I certainly wouldn’t be able to do as much damage.”

She fell silent, waiting for Gregory’s judgment.

Gregory’s eyes had softened as she told her tale. “Thank you, corporal,” she said after a moment. “I believe that you’re being honest with me. My source also informed me that there’s no evidence you have been in communications with the Special Services Division since you returned to the Marines.”

Kat shook her head. “I have not, no.”

“In that case,” Gregory stood. “Welcome aboard, corporal. I am actually happy to have someone with your particular skillset on this mission.”

“If I may ask, Sir, why?”

“We are doing something brand new in the history of humanity, corporal. Your official record indicates you have a strong sense of duty. Your unofficial record indicates you have a keen analytical mind and the ability to get into places others can’t. Your story tells me that you have a moral compass that overrides everything else. You have also been out interacting with the rest of humanity while the rest of us have been cloistered away at the Venus Shipyards. I may need to call upon you at some point.”

“I understand.”

“Until and unless that happens, however, you are a Marine Corporal serving under Lieutenant MacDonough. You get no special privileges. You do not get to skip the chain of command for any reason. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good, then. Dismissed.”

Kat drew to attention and saluted her XO. Gregory returned the salute and immediately went back to her work. Kat turned and left the office, light headed.

—————–

You might notice some familiar names. Chief Petty Officer Winston Carter is still a shuttle pilot in this world. Robert Laird is still involved in some way, shape, or form. Nightwind Executive Officer Commander Gregory is still here, too. But while in the original the character was Commander Walter Gregory the character is now Commander Vanessa Gregory. Why? Because reasons. In broad strokes I like Commander Gregory and this version should be very similar to the original. But Walter Gregory was also represented in my head by a very specific person and, well, things change over the course of a decade and a half. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

Nightwind Follow-up, ch 23-24

So, um, there’s not much I feel like talking about in chapters 23 and 24. They’re both pretty standard sci-fi space fillers for a plotline that I’ve already said I now find stupid. How much more can I say?

The one thing about chapter 23 is that I was trying to depict Anderson finally realizing he has no fucking clue what he’s doing and falling apart. On one level this is a key component to the process. On another level I don’t think I’ve really done the necessary work to have this make sense. One of the biggest problems, I have learned, is in the creation of internally consistent characters. Anderson and, to a lesser extent, Semmes suffer from this problem.

This is a byproduct of the problem I’ve talked about continually: I was paying way more attention to following a plot than actually developing the world and the characters who occupy said world. I have learned an interesting lesson through running the re-write concurrently with this critique of the original. The shorthand for the problem is this: the plots in the original version grew bloated and out of hand because I kept realizing I still needed to add more to pad the book out to actual novel length. So I rushed from place to place and jumped from character to character and end up with this weird mish-mash of random crap where I throw a mutiny plotline into the middle of the book because, hey, why the fuck not?

I feel this is probably the hardest lesson to learn as a writer, unless you’re Stephen King or someone like that. The characters and the world are central to everything and if you give them space to breathe they will fill out all the pages you need and more. This is, of course, if the characters are good and worthwhile. If the characters suck then you’d better have a really good central conceit to the whole thing and have something else you’re explaining the hell out of to your audience. This is one of those places where the fact that I really didn’t read fiction when I was writing the original draft hurt me and where having a lot of examples of how to do things well helps immensely.

So, um, let’s talk about that for a while. How ‘bout it?

My most important written influences for science fiction at the time I wrote the original draft were Arthur C Clarke, the Star Wars Extended Universe novels, and the BattleTech novels. This is a really weird combination of influences. It’s also not particularly helpful when it gets right down to it.

Arthur C Clarke never really created a memorable character. He left that job to Stanley Kubrick. What Clarke did was create ideas and places that just stay with you forever. Let’s take, for instance, his Rendezvous with Rama series. I remember nothing of the characters in those books. What I do remember is that those characters interacted with an amazing setting and I absolutely wanted Rama to show up and I wanted to go see it and be a part of the adventure. I also remember that as the first time I saw a reference to the Y2K problem, as one of the main characters had lost everything at the turn of the 21st Century because the computers were all fucked up and there was a major financial disaster.

Clarke loved technology above all when writing. His books and short stories were always thought experiments more than character-driven stories. He also had a key advantage that 19 year-old me didn’t: he’d been fascinated with space and technology and the implications of human interaction with both since before they were really a thing. He was ahead of his time and writing about things he thought would be really cool. I simply can’t do hard sci-fi like Arthur C Clarke could because I’m behind the curve and also I don’t really want to. I’m rather fond of the space opera.

The Star Wars Extended Universe and BattleTech novels, meanwhile, are a whole other can of worms. In both cases the universe was something that was already defined and the authors working in that space could shorthand the worldbuilding. If you open up a Star Wars novel you already know what hyperdrive is, you already know what an X-Wing and a Star Destroyer is, and you already have notion of the relative locations of Corsucant, Corellia, and Tatooine. You also don’t need an entire chapter developing the Force because you probably already watched the movies. Similarly, the BattleTech novels already offered a map of the Inner Sphere. They could assume that the reader knew what a JumpShip was and that it had DropShips and that the DropShips carried Battlemasters and Locusts to planets to try to blow up Marauders and Phoenix Hawks.

In both cases there was a built-in audience who was there for something. The Star Wars audience wanted to see badass fighter pilots in X-Wings blow up bizarrely overengineered weapons of mass destruction. The BattleTech audience wanted to see humongous mecha shoot PPCs and missiles at each other. They were TV shows or movies written on paper. The reader didn’t have to ask too many questions because “the remnants of the Empire found a new super weapon and Rogue Squadron has to blow it up” or “the Clans are invading Coventry and threatening to break the peace of Tukayyid” are all the reader needs. After that it was just mil-sf and heroic storytelling porn.

None of this is really meant to knock the books in question. Most of them were fun and the Michael Stackpole novels were genuinely good.[1] They weren’t necessarily the best place to learn how to be a sci-fi author, though, for all of the reasons I’ve listed above.

So what has changed since then? It all starts with John Scalzi.

I don’t really remember why I decided to read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I know that I first came across Scalzi as I was leaving Christianity because of his amazing write-up of his visit to the Creation Museum. At the time I had no idea he was a sci-fi author. Hell, I had no idea that he’d written more than one blog post in his entire life.

Old Man’s War is mil-sf through-and-through, as it its sequel, The Ghost Brigades. The cool thing about Scalzi’s worldbuilding in the Old Man’s War books, though, is the way that he moves away from mil-sf and book 3 is pretty much old-school sci-fi and then he just keeps moving on to characters existing in a vast, pre-built universe where everything is changing around them. Scalzi’s influence on me is less important for his books than it is for his blog, though, specifically The Big Idea.

The Big Idea is a series he does where he allows authors to write about their books and what lead them to write said books. I, as someone who loves writing about writing as much as, if not more than, I love writing, can’t help but pay attention to such a series. I’m always draw to authors who can explain why their books are cool. Most of my influences have come from there.

The most important is probably[2] The Expanse. James Holden is interesting. Ish. Detective Miller is definitely interesting. The world in which we met Holden and Miller is amazing. You feel like you can walk on Ceres with Detective Miller and travel the solar system aboard the Rocinante with Holden.[3]

After that we get to Mira Grant/Seanan Maguire. I first met Seanan through her sci-fi writing alter-ego Mira and the Newsflesh trilogy. It’s pretty much the only zombie property I actually enjoy, since it’s totally about how the world has changed since the zombie apocalypse came and went and people got back to their normal lives while having to acknowledge that zombie outbreaks can still happen. After that I started reading Seanan’s InCryptid series, a fairly silly series about a family of cryptid hunters who have to survive in a world that doesn’t and shouldn’t know that fantasy creatures totally exist. In both cases Maguire’s skill shines through in creating interesting characters and really cool worlds and having the characters just kind of live in those worlds.

Cat Valente is easily both an influence and a terrifyingly amazing writer who makes me feel bad about my own abilities. I actually can’t recall if it was Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed or one of “Mira Grant’s” books that convinced me to pay attention to Scalzi’s Big Idea. I do know that when I learned someone was writing books based on the Prester John myth I had to read them. They were not at all what I expected but, seriously, Cat Valente is a once-in-a-lifetime writer. Her use of the English language is masterful and beyond beautiful. Every page had a section that just leapt out and demanded to be re-read and savored.

There are others, too. Wesley Chu’s Lives of Tao is great stuff. Ernest Clyne’s Ready Player One is a fun novel that was being turned into a movie last I heard but I’m afraid that Adam Sandler’s atrocious Pixels might have hurt that one.

All of these books have taught me how to build a world. They’ve taught me that I, as the reader, need to feel like I can live in that world. The Nightwind universe really doesn’t feel that way, at least in the original incarnation. But I have spent nearly two decades living in that world off and on and I know what it feels like to walk in the hallways and talk to the people. I hope that I am finally beginning to be able to communicate that experience to others.

Tomorrow I shall be introducing a brand new character. The alternate version re-write of Nightwind is now a much tighter, more focused book and I needed a character who could walk the corridors of the ship. That was when Corporal Katherine Silas introduced herself to the world.

Tomorrow’s excerpt won’t be the first time we meet Kat, as her decidedly uncreative friends call her. It will be the first time she meets the Nightwind, though. It’s my hope that you see the ship through her eyes.

———————-

[1]Michael Stackpole wrote most of the universe defining books in the BattleTech series. He always did it really well and I looked forward to getting new Stackpole books. He also wrote the X-Wing novels for the Star Wars Extended Universe, which were definitely the most fun books in that world. They focused on Wedge Antilles leading Rogue Squadron to all kinds of heroics after Luke Skywalker went off to be all Jedi-y. I actually consider him one of my favorite sci-fi authors. One of these days I should seriously consider reading his non-other-people’s-universe novels.

[2]Definitely. There’s no probably about it.

[3]One of these days I have to write a post or twelve about The Expanse adaptation on SyFy. I was on record as saying I assumed it was going to suck. It, um, it didn’t. It was amazing. The two best shows on TV right now, without question, are Black Sails and The Expanse. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.