Friday, September 29, 2017

Behind the Scenes: More Practical Worldbuilding

My Space Opera setting has Space Feudalism. While the real thing tends to be messing, complex, and organic I'm keeping it simple because I need only enough for my creative works. In short, it works like this:

  • This is our galaxy far into the future, where Mankind long ago became a mature star-faring species and thus is omnipresent in the galaxy.
  • During this time, the successors to today's powers on Earth decided to Get Off This Rock after fighting a series of wars that almost wiped out Mankind several times. Not all of them were Man-on-Man either; other entities were involved, which had the consequence of revitalizing the Church and becoming the unifying force keeping Mankind from extinction.
  • Nationalist movements today become national powers in the future, and how huge swaths of space are dominated by a single nation. As communications technology improved, internal tensions between houses within a nation increased until one house became the dominant one; the wiser dominators made allies of enemies, leading to feudalism's resurgence.
  • The Church aided this resurgence, as a peace-improving measure, and made Rome on Earth into the host for the galactic nations to meet and dispute loudly--but peacefully--in the forum dubbed "The Court of Stars".
  • By treaty, no house is acknowledged as Emperor. The position of "Speaker" is chosen by the electors, which are the Dukes of each nation (or their chosen agents, acting on the Duke's behalf), and is mostly ceremonial and parliamentarian in nature. The process is a deliberate blend of the models used for selecting the Pope and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • "Duke" is the title (with attendant forms of address) used with outsiders for diplomatic reasons. Internally, a Duke may also be a King or Prince- but never a lesser title. The practice is meant to preserve face for nations particularly concerned with how prestige influences politics and culture; it gives all concerned a way out of otherwise inevitable conflict.
  • The Church, learning from centuries of experience, recruits clergy only from the sons of common households across the galaxy; noblemen and their retainers are not permitted to be more than Deacons, and its militant orders are also closed to those of the noble houses. The current pope, Justinian XXV, is a shipwright's eighth son.
  • A Duke controls the dominant house of his nation, with it the sector of space his nation controls. Counts control entire systems. Barons entire planets. Landed lords control significant subsets of a planet's mass. As with their historical counterparts, nobles are not only expected to be competent soldiers and warriors themselves, but also be capable of raising and fielding significant forces as required. The Dukes maintain standing militaries for this purpose, with nobility routinely comprising the professional officer corps.
  • The houses have autonomy over internal affairs, aside from where the Church exercises its dominion. This is a Christian galaxy, but one where all of the nations of Mankind strong enough to survive the dark times of the Age of Azure Flames stand proud in their own ways.
  • Inhuman threats exist, material and spiritual alike. The greatest is still out there.

This is how you can fork something and make it your own. I'm very much going with the emphasis on the fantastic that George Lucas drew upon for Star Wars, only more concrete. What's above is meant to focus my attention on what sorts of stories I want to tell here, and where to place the emphasis of attention. This isn't a setting where Space Submarines face off without ever seeing each other, letting computers do all the heavy lifting. This isn't a place where hopeless masses get drafted by the billions to die screaming in desperate crusades against inevitable foes hoping to buy another day for a false messiah to return. This is a setting where faith matters, hope is vital, fidelity is rewarded, and even the lowest-born can change the course of the galaxy merely by being the utmost example of his kind. Princess love their princes. Princes risk life and limb for faith and family, and the common folk follow the noble examples.

And there is NO modern architecture, aside from where the villains dwell. Less Coruscant, More Naboo.

I look forward to bringing it to life and sharing with you all.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Behind the Scenes: How I Did Some Practical Worldbuilding

Over on the main blog, I did a post this week about practical worldbuilding, using the blasters of Star Wars as an example. Allow me to expand a bit here.

For my own Space Opera stories, I use blasters. Not just for immediate familiarity, but also because it makes illustration and any adaptations easier to do. It also makes things easier for me to write; if I know what Duke Far's sidearm looks like, then I can write more fun things he can do with it that may not be so with others.

I'll summarize here how they work: they're plasma casters. The "ammunition" is gas sealed in the cartridge, and the action has the electronic power required to ignite the gas and discharge it down the barrel. You think it's "pew pew" until you see the hits, where you get a fist-sized (for sidearms) burn that goes into the target. Shields can defeat them until overloaded, but they aren't cheaper than blasters by a long shot; personal armor isn't to stop the hit from doing damage, but rather to keep it from killing you through some level of heat dispersion.

Personal blasters I model on rimfire-chambered pistols and rifles. Duke Far's sidearm, in particular, is modeled on a Ruger Mk.IV Target model like this one here. Just imagine that pistol discharge discrete blasts of plasma upon Baron Sheelak's minions while leading his loyal marines in the story I wrote for the PulpRev Sampler: "The Ghost Fist Gambit"

The end result gives me what I want out of blasters. Not only do I get to signal character by having a character prefer to use a specific item--using character's preferences in aesthetics as shorthand--but I also get to preserve the use of the logistical problem of ammunition, something that I can turn into plot-relevant complications with ease. Also, if I get enough people wanting to do fan art, official illustration, I have easy guides to point people to.

Now, I'm under no delusions that folks with money and connections are going to read my short and back dump trucks to my door looking to buy this or that set of rights. However, if I get anywhere in this hustle then I had better be ready for that possibility. (If you want a good reason as to why, read Brian Niemeier's post on protecting your IP as a writer.) Yes, it's the Boy Scout talking, but I've never gone wrong by being prepared.

So yeah, I'll be doing what Brian's done and boning up on the negotiation thing for when that dumptruck backs up to the door, and making that event happen down the road will be because I've done some practical worldbuilding to make it easy to adapt to other media.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Good Anthology News & A Bit of Wish-Casting

On this day last week, I sent in my revisions for my contribution to the PulpRev Sampler Anthology. My story, "The Ghost Fist Gambit", benefited significantly from the efforts of my editor (N.A. Roberts) and I am grateful for his suggestions. Each one made it a better work, and I look forward to seeing it in its final published form. There is no release date as of this post, but as soon as one is announced you'll see me on all the socials proclaiming it loud and proud.

Which reminds me of Brian Niemeier's post the other day on casting the characters in The Secret Kings. Since I'm shameless about hyping my own stuff, and have no problems with swiping a good idea, here's my take on the protagonist and antagonist for "The Ghost Fist Gambit".

Duke Far: Tony Leung

Tony Leung played historical warrior roles, real and fictional, for much of his career. Moving that sort of character into a Space Opera setting works just as well as moving Toshiro Mifune's many samurai roles forward (as Lucas did by all-but-remaking The Hidden Fortress into A New Hope), and adapting Chinese wusha isn't any harder. It's not like Chinese forms don't work with beam swords, as Ray Park's portrayal of Darth Maul proves conclusively.

Baron Sheelak: Sam Witwer

Sam Witwer's career in live-action may not have what we're looking for, but his voice-over career does. He played Darth Maul in The Clone Wars and Rebels, and played Vader's secret apprentice in Force Unleashed. Giving this man the opportunity to mix that experience with the creepy physicality he's made his bones doing with this character would be a god-send, especially if I expanded this story into something long enough to be an ideal feature film story.

Once that language barrier got sorted, I think he and Tony would work well on screen. Sam's stage-fighting experience isn't Tony's (and doesn't have Tony's past experience in action, what with Tony being a John Woo associate), but he's the best fit for the role I can think of- and, unlike Tony, is cheap enough to actually be affordable to any production.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"On The Books" Talks Dragon Awards & Indie Publishing

The Dragon Awards got announced and handed out last weekend at Dragon Con. While previous winner Brian Niemeier didn't win again this year, he's hardly broken up about it, and explains why here. He spent this week's episode of Geek Gab: On The Books talking about that with another nominee: Daniel Humphreys, author of A Place Outside the Wild. Settle in and take a listen over your lunch break.

If there is one consistent theme to a lot of Brian's posts at his blog, and his episodes of this podcast, is that the old model that the Big 5 and their London counterparts built into massive corporate empires is not only decaying, it's collapsing and there is no future in it for most authors- no matter if they have a contract or not.

Furthermore, the attempt by the SJWs dominating SF/F publishing to control the narrative concerning their control through the Hugos is also collapsing. The Dragons' second year makes it crystal clear that the Hugos are not relevant, do not give voice to the fans, and has no business purporting itself to be a marker of quality. The fans came out big for the Dragons this year, and they will come out even bigger next year. The SJWs can't get more than half of the votes in a single Dragon's category to vote at all; they're done, and the smarter ones know it.

The business is changing, and the fact is now becoming obvious to the unobservant. Time to seize the future for ourselves.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Craft: Characters Are Tools. Handle Them Accordingly.

Over at the main blog, I posted a follow-on to Razorfist's last video for Mad Max Month. I hit upon my chief objection, which is that George Millar lied to me. He sold a Mad Max story, where the story itself just had Max in its as some extraneous character that has no justification for being there at all (in narrative terms). This is a tell of fan fiction.

And, as much as folks want to believe otherwise, "fan fiction" is synonymous with "bad writing" for a reason. One of them is the insertion of characters that cannot justify their presence in the story's narrative, and that's what happened here.

Writing is a craft because there are such things as Best Practices. It is a body of knowledge that accumulates over time, can be learned, can be mastered, and improved upon by those masters. Best Practices arise through the repeated trials, errors, and successes that previous generations attempt and observe. They are passed on because they reliably, repeatedly, work; you might as well argue that gravity isn't real.

Which means that characters are tools, just like every other element of the writing craft, and as such you use only those characters that are required to execute the narrative properly. Surplus elements get the chop. Editing identify them, and revision culls them. Your characters are there to do things, and once their job is done you need to hustle them off the stage because they have no further authorization to be present in the narrative. You know this is true because you've seen, first-hand, what it looks like when a story doesn't do this.

That's why editors are are useful. Engage one if you are able to do so. Brian Niemeier's post today at Kairos addresses this very matter. Listen to them, learn from them; one of the most reliable ways to improve your craft is to heed your editor's reasons for revision. If you want to do more than dabble--if you want your writing to pay bills--then heed this and master your craft. Cut the fat, and that includes characters you do not need, and prosper.