Science Fiction and Invention

Yesterday, on my professional site’s blog, I wrote on the importance of science fiction as a way to introduce new ideas (yes, including a couple of my own for my Woman at War series).

You can read it here:

The Beautiful Drawing Board

 

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Author Justin Edison dabbles in politics, helping out Dr. Kim Schrier for WA's 8th District

Regards,

Justin

Killing Characters

How do we kill those characters we like?

You can’t write a story about war and not have a death or two, right? For God’s sake, half the characters in ‘Catch-22‘ bite the big one (a few of them memorably, like Snowden). Military conflict and death go hand-in-hand. Some important characters must meet their end.

Other memorable scenes include R.P. McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ of course. It was a tragedy that had to happen. Or scientist Matt Hooper from ‘Jaws.’ (Spared in the film, his gruesome literary end would leave anyone in Brody’s shoes with survivor’s guilt.)
Or Sirius Black from ‘Harry Potter and The Order of Phoenix.’ This one bugged me. Harry needs this living ‘family’ member, a connection to the past that was his parents. And the way Rowling killed him off–his being hit by a spell and falling through the gray-veil doorway–left it open for Harry to bring him back. I wonder if the author herself wasn’t sure what to do about him, thus the mystery. Sadly, he never reappears, and Harry is left without any mentors.

A smug Sirius Black, played by Gary Oldman, from the Harry Potter series.

Killing Characters, the How and Why?

Taking the axe to someone we’ve brought to life is a morbid facet of writing. Obviously, many authors really enjoy it (and some are guilty of, er, overkill).

So how do we kill of people correctly? What is appropriate?

I’ve always tried to write with certain parameters in mind. What is likely? What is realistic? Let the answers to these questions inform the all-important ‘How.’

Combat action is very fast. The different accounts I’ve read (such as ‘Black Hawk Down‘) tell how an intense firefight can last a mere 30 seconds, with thousands of rounds traded across an alley. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for a tearful, schmaltzy farewell.

The Harsh Reality

In ‘Destruction,’ a lot of people perish. It is, at its heart, a story about war. And, for the sake of being realistic, that meant killing off a gentle character I enjoyed creating–a man I’d like to see in other tales and settings. (They could all be tainted by the barn-door analogy, however, a la ‘Solo.’)

Like June Vereeth’s mentor/boss Joffe in ‘Endgame,’ it happens in a flash. (In ‘Endgame’ all Vereeth knows is that the cave ceiling is collapsing, and she and her friend are being shoved away, by Joffe. After the dust settles, she finds his hand protruding from a pile of rock.) This time, she has to watch it–from a distance, unable to do anything about it, during action.

Justin Edison's Destruction, second in the Woman at War series, will be out in 2018.

It’s what fits. And, in a story where Karma is turned on its head, this likeable man perishes while a sexist asshole lives. Obviously, this echoes real life. Fair? Not a chance. Art imitates life, doesn’t it?

And could any of us picture McMurphy carrying on as a piece of broccoli, anyway?

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

Editing Destruction

Things are looking up for Captain June Vereeth. With friends, she escaped the madness of icy P-75. She brought a couple trophies (prisoners of war) back from the outlaw world of Shen-Zinkh. Now she’s even having fun climbing the picturesque mountains of Zycarsus with a new male friend, smiling in the sunshine…

Well, not exactly. She and this new friend (nicknamed Hulk) and 30 other soldiers are hauling themselves up 3000 feet into a maddening fogged-in world. They’re looking for a downed freighter. They’re lost, because they can’t use anything electronic and nobody has a map. And those pesky Mitasterites will have some competition for deadliest foe in this abandoned world.

Justin Edison's Destruction, second in the Woman at War series, will be out in 2018.

First draft done, coffee chugged, I’m now editing Destruction (love my cheery title). And it’s going…well, it’s going. To once-again begin the process of editing a book is to wrestle with a bunch of questions.

Is this what I wanted to write?

Is this story good enough?

Do the right people die (it’s about war) or lose their way?

Am I accurately rendering Vereeth and her flaws and strengths?

Can this heroine reconcile the terrible cost of armed conflict, when she’s often stuck with the most difficult choices?

After two years of notes (the opening chunk came to mind before I was done with ‘Endgame‘) do I have the product I need to have?

Am I a good-enough writer for this?

Justin Edison's three available books on a shelf

Justin Edison’s three available books on a shelf

Time will tell.

Maybe.

How the GOP Has Made Villainy Easier

Without warning, my friend Prubius launched into a lecture on the Mitasterites. “Well,” he started, “the short version is that they have so completely carved up their own planet and their own species. That caste system they have is one example. By the socioeconomic view, forty-three percent of Mitasterites now fall into the three strata below the slave line, and another thirty-one percent are stuck in the so-called Mighty Mid group. These people never eat tuna steak or travel off-planet. Our own soldiers live like princes by comparison. The caste system keeps people where they are. Everything serves industry, there.”

-from Endgame (Woman at War 1)

 

When I was crafting the backstory for Endgame–as the narrative takes place within the context of a war–I knew I needed texture and credibility for the ‘bad guys.’ The Mitasterites couldn’t just be cardboard cutouts to shoot at and run from. Even though they don’t much chance to show personality in Endgame (other than ruthless behavior, such as offering up 1,500 boys as sniper-fodder for propaganda) they still needed to be real enough to me.

These days, it’s very easy to look around and find a model for bad behavior: The GOP. Most everything they have done or opposed (under President Obama) has signaled a cold indifference to individual’s lives (those beneath a certain tax bracket, at least).

[I’m not so typically one-sided, to be honest. The GOP and conservatives used to represent ideals and views that made for healthy debate. Not anymore.]

The party may be on a regrettable road to fascism (yes, look at the latest tax-code revision, if you doubt it) and the leadership harbors a worrisome far-right view. (Bigotry, xenophobia and pandering to extremist views, to name a few.) They’ve made it easy. My fictional Mitasterites are just much farther down that road: Disregard for the majority of individuals–and the environment–in favor of a military-industrial complex which ultimately pursues wealth through aggression. For really, in the modern world, what is war? Nations may squabble over borders and ideological views. In a universe where a party has its own planet, border disputes and threat don’t really wash. So the government has to crank up the propaganda machine and conjure another set of excuses to conceal the truth: Somebody wants to make a lot of money. Human (or Mitasterite) cost is immaterial.

While this draws a lot of parallels from the vast armies of WWII (the buildup, the extreme nationalism, the inevitability) it also allows for plenty of internal fighting. Naturally, not everyone just gets in line with evil intentions. So heroine June Vereeth’s surprise new boss in Destruction is an admiral who has defected from the Mitasterite ranks. Tohk-Mahsda, a middle-aged woman, is utterly furious with her home-world and the government which has taken over. She’s not alone, of course.

It isn’t difficult to imagine her anger, her feelings of betrayal. How would a government–or political party–choose to sell the lie that they want more than serfdom for three-quarters of the population? When the desires of wealthy oligarchs outweigh the needs of the overwhelming majority, and institutions of scientific fact and free press and environmental stewardship are trampled and disregarded?

If the Mitasterites (or those WWII armies) are at the far-right end of the spectrum, what’s uphill and sliding down toward them?

Justin Edison's Destruction, second in the Woman at War series, will be out in 2018.

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

Counter

They way a number of creative brains work–speaking from personal experience–is that doing something unrelated to the creative process can provide the burst, the spark, the breakthrough. I don’t know the science behind it. Maybe it’s immersing oneself in mundane activity that forces the brain to go for a romp in fantasy-land.

I had one of these gem-finding moments while I was at Camp Hamilton with my son’s school last week. As one of the cooks, I was tired (early mornings in the kitchen) and I’d gone back to my cabin alone for a de-groggifying shower before the dinner prep started. Sitting there, showered and dressed and barefoot (painful foot issues set aside, for a spell) in a musty-smelling cabin in the woods, without a single item of technology in sight, I had a thought about technology. That’s a little counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Sleeping bags, trees, breeze, pine needles, dusty windows, dirty laundry piles (four cabin-mates), distant screams of occupied middle-school kids, a bit of cellophane litter outside–and I have a thought about a digital sharpshooter’s scope? How does that compute?

Red lights from bank of walkie-talkies at Camp Hamilton lodge

The item I thought of, for the second book in my Woman at War series, is a pattern-recognition capability for my heroine’s rifle. It would be an expensive piece of tech, to be sure, and I’m willing to bet we (or someone) has something similar in the works, now. (In the story, June Vereeth would use the enhanced scope to target incoming aerial assault vehicles. A tri-layer crosshairs image, in four quadrants, would help the user re-acquire a fast-moving target.)

Whether any of this technology would work out for “Destruction” remains to be seen. The story is, after all, what I imagine warfare might look like in a couple hundred years. (Small victory: I won’t be around to be proven wrong, ultimately.)

Red lights from bank of walkie-talkies at Camp Hamilton lodge

I wrote much of the snowbound first book, “Endgame,” while in sunny San Diego. Palm trees and surf–and I’m trying to figure out how my heroes might survive in an ice cave. I’ve also penned fantasy scenes (for Doublesight shape-shifters and ogres) while sitting in my parked minivan, waiting for kids to get out of martial arts or piano lessons.

Somehow, it all works. Although it may drive my wife crazy when I pause from doing dishes to pen a note, I’ll keep doing it. I know I’m super-lucky. There’s a reason I don’t go anywhere without pen and paper, these days. Inspiration is everywhere.

Red lights from bank of walkie-talkies at Camp Hamilton lodge

A bank of walkie-talkies waiting overnight for owners, Discover Lodge, Camp Hamilton with EAS.