Oh, chapters 12 and 13. Where do we begin?
When I was nineteen and trying to come up with a compelling villain I got most of my inspiration from action films and episodic TV of the ‘80s and ‘90s. This was probably the worst way to figure out how to write a villain. The villains of my youth were less “nuanced” and more “guys who pranced about on-screen with a big sign that said, ‘VILLAIN.’” The stroked their goatees, rubbed their shaved heads, and indiscriminately killed both enemies and disappointing subordinates.
So when I decided the book needed a villain I decided the book needed a VILLAIN. So I wrote Laird as a crazy person who stole a goddamn battleship as part of his greater plan to destroy the world. To save it. Or something. I don’t know, he’s crazy.
This general failing of villainy was a limitation of how we consumed television and movies in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I think. TV was episodic. There might have been some overarching story, but it was almost entirely villain-of-the-week type stuff. There’s really no time in 42 (or 21) minutes to explore the reasons why there’s a guy trying to destroy the world by causing every single volcano to erupt at once. There’s much hero-ing to be done. Movies were more about how awesome the hero was. So the villain was always off doing something completely over the top just to show off the fact that the hero was totally able to face punch a guy who’d kidnapped the President by turning the White House into a giant, angry robot badger into submission.
The villains’ plots and motivations rarely made any sense back in the day. That’s because the villains knew they were villains and they knew that it was their job to lose to the heroes. We saw the world in black and white and knew who was good and who was bad and so did the characters we put on screen.
This is the ultimate failing of Laird as a character. He exists as a VILLAIN. He wants to destroy humanity. Why? Because that’s what VILLAINs do.
There are some interesting ideas around him. He accumulated power by rallying the disenfranchised. He then used his organization to misdirect and obfuscate his true purpose. That sort of thing is always nice.
He also seems to have a nearly supernatural ability to influence events outside of Earth’s gravity well. I had to find a way to explain that. The end result of this particular part of the plot is not pretty. But let’s just leave it at that.
Meanwhile, Laird’s plan also relies on the United Commonwealth completely and totally falling apart at the drop of a hat. The idea is that humanity is at peace and finally trying to stay there. We’re exploring space and colonizing the stars themselves. We’ve functionally abolished war. Then the moment we discover there are actual aliens out there and that they might not be nice to us all of humanity responds with, “Fuck it, where’s my shotgun?” and goes off to kill everyone they see.
So here’s the thing. There’s zero doubt in my mind that some amount of residual anger between groups would remain after a one world government is adopted. I mean, this is humanity. But if the European Union dissolves tomorrow I doubt that Germany will be rolling on Paris by Monday. Moreover, in times of chaos humans have a tendency to rally together. They will sometimes rally together to go after other groups of humans, true, but I basically imagined everyone getting the news that there were potentially hostile aliens out there and just taking to each other with meat cleavers because why go on living?
There’s also another huge hole in the plot as I originally imagined it. Well, three, actually. Why doesn’t the United Commonwealth or Earth Command respond to news that hostile aliens had blown up the colony ship with, “Oh, hey, check this out. It’s our first-ever faster-than-light battlecruiser, the Nightwind. We’ve got two more that are almost done, too. Don’t worry, people, we got this.”
I have no good answers to this, by the way. It’s, um, it’s why I’m rewriting the whole book rather than making some minor changes like I thought I’d be doing when I first set out on this project.
So let’s go to chapter 13.
Poor Horatio Semmes. Poor, poor Horatio Semmes. Everything he does turns to ashes in his hands.
There’s not all that much I can say about this chapter that I haven’t already said elsewhere about major plot failings. This is another example of me not being able to conceive of a large enough universe for all of these characters to occupy. Further, it suffers from my desire to have humanity nearly wipe itself off of the face of the universe.
So, basically, Horatio Semmes has to blow up the Moon. Because if he doesn’t do it who will?
Either way, I’m pretty sure that there would be safeguards to protect against the events of chapter 13. I mean, there’s my general conceit that humanity doesn’t know how to war anymore, but they have to be smart enough to think, “Hey, can we make it so we don’t accidentally blow up the Moon?” Like, y’know, auto-destruct mechanisms or manual overrides or IFF readers or something. Just arming spaceships with Vietnam-era AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles seems pretty stupid.
My big problem with this chapter when I look back on it, though, is geography. I don’t think I bothered to look up a map of the moon before writing it and it shows. Actually, I think I chose to “research” by playing Battle Zone. That was the game where you were in a hovertank on the Moon killing Soviets in hovertanks during the Cold War, right? I’m pretty sure there were moon canyons there. Also, that game was a lot of fun.
Moreover, I have a hard time believing there would be a single colony on the Moon at this point in humanity’s existence. I mean, we’re talking about a couple of centuries after humanity started colonizing the solar system. The Moon’s just next door. It stands to reason that there would be at least two colonies. And each of those colonies probably has two Denny’s so when bored teenagers can say, “Let’s not go to that Denny’s, let’s go to the good one.”
So, yes. That’s chapters 12 and 13. Let us never speak of them again.
One of the reasons I absolutely love Venture Brothers is because it takes that entire idea and runs with it to the very limits of absurdity. There’s the Guild of Calamitous Intent, which is the governing body for all supervillains and determines which of the heroes the guild members can arch. There are rules, dammit!
And, no, you didn’t read the chapter wrong. Semmes didn’t blow up the Moon. That’s just fun to say.
The entire combat sequence in this chapter is actually based on my love of fighter combat. The end is based on reading more than my fair share of accounts of air combat using the old AIM-9B over Vietnam. The heat seekers on the AIM-9B were, well, pretty terrible. If the missiles lost track of the initial target or were launched when the firing aircraft was not properly positioned they could, and would, lock on to any target that presented a properly notable heat signature, including friendly aircraft and the Sun.