Friday, November 24, 2017

Making the Setting: The Church & the Solar Guard

The far future setting has the vast galaxy divided into holdings by noble families, organized into Houses, due to a combination of a significant time without Faster-Than-Light travel sufficiently speedy to enable the sort of casual travel common people enjoy today on Earth and a similar lack of tele-communications technologies that allow vastly-distributed populations to interact as if living together. It is during this time that the Church returned to prominence as an institution, deliberately moving itself into the central Axis Mundi, filling the conceptual and political space usually taken by secular hegemons, again- successfully, this time.

The Church owns the entire solar system where Earth--still center of Christendom--and rules it directly, a deliberate revival and upscaling of the old Papal States. Possessed of all the Church's archives, the lessons of past mistakes get avoided by the Papacy of the post-Apocalyptic era, allowing for new ones to occur instead.

With an upscaling of the Papal States comes an upscaling of the Swiss Guard. In addition to the deliberate revival and reinvigoration of the old military orders, the Swiss Guard also came into the new age with a revitalization on their core purpose of protecting the Papacy and acting as the Vatican's armed guard. The Guard became the Solar Guard as the Church expanded into space and assumed ownership of the system, with additional duties including supervision of the military orders. As the years wore on, practices that began as pragmatic necessities became political policies, such as the shunning of noble-born recruits in favor of common-born and the right to claim orphans as wards of the Church.

Today, well into the future, the Solar Guard represents the Church, the Pope, and the Court of Stars. While not a monastic order as such, its long association with the monastic orders (military and otherwise) as well as the Church in general means that certain norms of military life in noble houses are believed--but not required by Church law or Guard regulation--to be for retirement, such as marriage and family life. Instead, the Guard is regarded as a fraternal military order of Knights-Errant; a life of military service directly to all Mankind via the Church, and a knighthood to go with it, but to wait until one's adventuring days close to enjoy the joy of family life- thinking that any foes of a Knight of the Guard are long rendered moot by then, and so avoiding the vulnerability that a heroic knight has in love and fatherhood.

This is a long-standing dispute within the Guard and the wider Church, citing both examples both historical and mythical in the arguments that fly back and forth--yes, including Star Wars--to no decisive conclusion as yet. As our story cycle opens, one such senior Knight of the Guard (Sir Ramsey Hennepin) travels on dispatch from the Court of Stars in Rome on Earth to the distant world of Gamil's Gate due to the depredations of Red Eyes and his pirate fleet, where the dispute (and other issues) will seem so far away.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Making the Setting: The Villains of the Piece (Part Four)

This week we're descending from meta-narrative to narrative. Of those two mastermind-level villains I described previously, I'm putting work in on Red Eyes, so I'm writing a story about space pirates. As Red Eyes is the Pirate Admiral, his chief henchmen are going to be his subordinates and staff. At this point< i have a choice to make, which is to decide on the scale of Red Eyes' fleet. It's quite tempting to go with something small, as that's a clear historical parallel, but equally tempting is to go large- very large, such that Red Eyes' immediate subordinates are Admirals themselves.

I'll let you find out what choice I made when the story is ready for purchase, but for now it's time to get down to more immediate narrative concerns.

The reader demands that you capture his attention right away, which is why you ought to start your story as close to the Inciting Incident as it gets. For this tale, I'm starting with a pirate attack that targets our Space Princess for abduction. Our pirate leader is one of the more colorful crooks in the fleet: Dashing Jack. This is one of my double-meaning names, as he's both charismatic and fleet of foot, but nonetheless a thoroughly despicable cad.

Everything about this opening sequence is open for use in establishing Jack as the antagonist, as well as displaying Red Eyes as the greater threat behind him. Exactly what ruse is used, how it is used, and those executing the attack are important characterization details. A brutal, bloody-minded pirate uses intimidation to demoralize targets prior to straight-forward assaults that pound targets into submission. Then get on with plundering the prize and butchering those he cannot justify as booty.

Jack isn't that. Jack prides himself on deceiving his targets, and then taunting them when his cunning gets what he wants before they can do anything about it. From women to warfare, he's all about showing off how clever he is to display his superiority; he's with Red Eyes because the notorious barbarian see Jack as akin to himself- a superior man, entitled to take what he wants because he can.

(And yes, Dashing Jack will be wearing a mask.)

When using a lesser villain, remember that he has to reflect whom he's the stand-in for in some manner. Readers will expect it, so make that expectation work for you. Jack's mask will have red eye lenses, and that's just the most obvious reflections of being a man under Red Eyes' banner. Key words and phrases, operational habits, attire, and more are all there to show symbolically how Jack is the stand-in for Red Eyes in this story. The question I need to answer is "What aspect of Red Eyes does Jack represent most?", and you will have to wait for that answer also.

That about does it here. Leave questions below and I'll get to them as I can. Next week will be something different.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Making the Setting: The Villains of the Piece (Part Three)

When setting up a meta-narrative, there's care that needs to be done upfront well before a reader sees your first release. The mastermind's chief lieutenants must, at first look, appear to be wholly independent and autonomous actors pursuing their own agenda of villainy. Only those taking a galactic perspective at how these schemes' effects interact, and at first that's not your reader; for all intents and purposes, those first few releases are stand-alone works with--at most--themes and motifs shared across them.

Your mastermind sorts aren't that varied. They split between Threat Without and Threat Within, or Warlord vs. Courtier. The rest is all shading on those differences, accounting for specifics of individual villain and their environment, and the better ones can mask one as the other as necessity dictates.

So let's talk masterminds.

Our first Warlord is a charismatic Genghis Khan type, originally from one of the barbarian worlds outside civilized space. He's a giant of a man, and may well be a Nephalim descendent: Red Eyes the Pirate King. He leads a star-faring horde that preys upon civilian shipping throughout the rimward arm of the galactic west, including brazen raids and invasions of worlds believed too tough for such a man to crack. His brilliance comes from his deceptive demeanor, hiding a keen intellect capable of warfighting on a scope and scale that many think to be only for a formal navy.

The catch is that he does run a formal navy. It's not one that civilized space recognizes, but it is formal nonetheless. Most of the core crew comes from Red Eyes' homeworld and related colonies, where severe population pressures push the majority of young men into a berth on a ship in Red's fleet. They seek wealth and women, as they are denied both at home; rampant polygyny means that high-status men take most of the desirable womenfolk for themselves.

Red's reason to bend the knee to his mysterious master, a terrifying figure he knows only as "The Master", is due to the promise by The Master to swing wide the gates into civilized space and allow him and his men all the wealth and women they can carry off- and let them lay waste to all that resist their will.

Our first Courtier is a struggling idealist, leader of a reform movement within the Court of Stars that calls itself "The Speakers for the Obliged" and style themselves advocates for the common man throughout the galaxy. He is young, popular, and charismatic- but as the younger son of a Baron, Lord Gallford has no serious political capital and no prospects for gaining so legitimately.

He bent the knee due to promises of reform of the galactic structure to better ensure that the nobility acts in service to the commonfolk on their lands, and his master now poisons him towards greater acts of covert defiance using honeyed words well-curated to distort the lord's perception of history. "1917 was not a mistake, but a warning" is now a catchprhase of his- as is his increasing willingness to use disposable minions in deniable ways to remove opposition.

You can see how important the key villains are even if they don't appear front-and-center in the narrative at-hand. Their presence will be felt, and must be felt to have the desired effect upon the reader. But villains need henchmen and minions, and more on that next week.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Making the Setting: The Villains of the Piece (Part Two)

Having the Nephilim as their fallen angel fathers around as the penultimate villains (because we know who the ultimate Enemy is), the face of evil first wears a more familiar form. For my purposes, that face is a character that's not going to be revealed yet due to the prominent position that character has in the narrative, but is nonetheless an otherwise normal member of the nobility who has secretly concealed practice of forbidden arts and allegiance to the Enemy in the pursuit of personal power and dreams of empire.

It is this character that plays the narrative role of mastermind, conspiring with lesser villains which are actually pawns used to advance the overall objectives of centralizing power and authority into a single entity- all with the aim of making another attempt (this time on the galactic scope and scale) of uniting--yoking--all nations to one master directly.

The mastermind's allies (pawns) think themselves masterminds in turn, and replicate the web of conspiracy and criminality required to surreptitiously advance their own agendas, resulting in lesser schemes collecting together to achieve greater ends. I will start writing stories about these lesser schemes, hinting as their greater importance as I go. The purpose is to introduce multiple heroes into the setting, giving each one the attention that they are due, and slowly building towards the bigger meta-narrative.

This is nothing new. E.E. Smith used it shamelessly for the Lensman books, and by making each of these adventures self-contained I need not impose the burden of continuity upon the reader; it's a bonus, not a requirement, because Transmedia Doesn't Work. You, the reader, ought to be able to pick up and put down my works as you like without getting confused or lost.

As for these lesser masterminds, each one will be a different expression of the archetype. As their presence isn't always one that I need to conceal for narrative purposes, I will name a few next week.