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.

Blackout: a Pioneering Term from Destruction

Writing my first sequel (ever) for Endgame has given me a few challenges.

One of those–natural for a sci-fi series about war–is penning my first space battle since I was, well, a teenager. What would it really be like? Since everything in the book is seen from heroine June Vereeth’s perspective, the moments were a combination of what she hears (communications) and the too-fast objects moving across various display screens. (She’s on a space station, not in the battle. Bonus: The worries and concern from watching something you have no control over.)

Since I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG, one of the questions that bugged me was how did the Enterprise crew see what was happening at some far-off outpost or near a cosmic rift. Bridge stalwart Lt. Warf says “On screen,” and, bam, there it is! Piece of Cardassian cake: You’re watching something from a two million kilometers away. No mention of satellites or camera-bearing probes. (The tech in that show was always frustratingly fool-proof, too.) If only.

So, how would we see such events in space? Especially when we’re nowhere close to them?

Introducing the term blackout, playing a minor role in Destruction. A blackout is an SUV-sized pod which would detach from a larger ship, like a battle cruiser, ahead of an event. The craft would move to a spot two miles away (things move pretty fast in combat) and sit stationary, offering tactical and radar assistance. If there are multiple vessels engaged in battle, the third-party view would give the good guys something of an advantage. For one, ships couldn’t hide behind others (a concept which sounds far-fetched but actually makes perfect sense in scenarios, such as in Ender’s Game).

Justin Edison's Destruction teaser featuring red lights on a black background with 'blackout' lettering in yellow.

I’m not pioneering the term ‘blackout’ of course. But, of the dozen or so definitions that appear (the term first being used in 1913) none refers as slang for a ship. That’s exactly what it would be. With space, of course, being quite dark, it would make sense for techs to use dark metal, or just paint the thing black. Then, while the pod was in use, it would make even more sense for all the lights to be turned off. Otherwise, a Mitasterite fighter makes a quick loop out and eliminates this tactical nuisance.

It might be fun to write a comedy piece, too: A mismatched couple (Felix and Oscar, or Elliott and Todd from Scrubs) arguing in the ‘dashboard’ light while all hell is breaking loose twenty seconds’ flight away.

I honestly try not to take myself too seriously, so there’s potential.

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.

Endgame is available now!

Oversimplifying

On FaceBook the other day, there appeared an ad which a younger, less-mature me would’ve gotten really pissed-off about. It was for a weekend writing retreat (hundreds of starry-eyed writers crammed into a conference room) where someone could ostensibly learn to write a novel in 40 hours. Four-zero hours.

When I thought about it (and this feels like a gimmick sale) this would only make sense if someone gets the bones and structure and a few character details in place. Then, their story is done. (Well, not really.)

To get the bones and structure worked out is to simplify the overall narrative and arc into elemental terms. “Man falls in love with woman” becomes “boy meets girl” and so on. Naturally, life is that simple, isn’t it?

For fun, I decided I’d try it with “Endgame,” a war/sci-fi novel told from the perspective of my heroine, sniper Captain June Vereeth. (Probably 2,000 hours of work, all told.)

(The story starts in the middle of a battle, when Vereeth and company are defending a fuel dump on a Hoth-like world.)

snowy mountain peak with treetops in foreground

Girl (Captain June Vereeth, in the midst of battle) shoots bag-guy enemy commander.

Girl meet boy (Dhani, equipment tech) in cave during battle.

Girl re-joins best friend (Prubius) and boss (Joffe) in battle.

Girl is nearly killed by falling, exploding enemy craft.

Girl and best friend are nearly killed by cave-in. Boss dies (crushed).

Girl, best friend, boy and two others are trapped, cut off from battle. Boy’s arm is pinned.

Girl, as ranking officer, orders removal of boy’s trapped arm (lest boy dies).

Girl tries not to panic, orders party to find a different route back to Base (main route is compromised).

Girl and party are saved from cataclysmic blast (fuel cache detonation) when bad guys penetrate the Base.

Girl wonders what to do (party is without maps or radio and is stranded 70 million miles from friendly territory).

Girl orders party to push on, mulling options and the war itself and the opposing side.

Girl and party emerge from cave tunnels, look back to see volcanic-blast aftermath of Base explosion behind them.

Girl and party are surprised to see planetary defense rockets (which were delayed by cyber attack) suddenly launch skyward, aimed at bad-guy cruisers in orbit.

Girl and party are nearly crushed by many tons of falling debris (those bad-guy cruisers).

Girl and party move on, knowing bad guys will be back (and will be as surly as ever)…

 

Okay, so this story doesn’t break down into really simple statements, after all. But it sure was fun to write!

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.

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Leaving it Behind

What have you left behind to become who or what you are, now?

Several years ago, helping my godparents move out of their closed cafe, we encountered one item which wouldn’t budge. The waist-high iron safe was so heavy–or had actually settled into the poured-concrete floor–that we couldn’t move it. It seemed to chant “Back injury” every time I touched it. Ultimately, we left it for the suite’s next occupants to deal with. Ali and Farzaneh had no use for a 500-pound metal box, anyway.

On my first night of MFA courses at Hamline, program chair Mary Rockcastle said she had a first novel (about a young woman’s sexuality, I believe) sitting in a box up on a closet shelf. When asked if she’d ever get it down and publish it, she laughed it off. A soft-spoken fellow student (a Morocco-born physician) asked her about it again in a follow-up class. Nope. It wasn’t going to happen.

How can a writer abandon an entire novel? Even then, I knew it was a monumental work. Now that I’ve been through the process four times, mistakes and all, I’m certain it is. Endgame alone gobbled up 1,700 hours.

Red pen and coffee mug with Edison's draft work.

More than a few times–in fact, it seemed to be an unchallenged mantra at Hamline–people have said your first novel is an exercise in process. You have to write that first one–stumbling miscues, wee-hours epiphanies, atrocious errors–simply to experience all of that. Then you’re ready to write a novel. “To the closet shelf with you, Rookie Effort!”

Seriously?

But it’s true. My first, and MFA thesis, was called “Journeys of the Razed Bridge.” Jack and Jehanne. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, girl has god-awful secret (and misdeeds), boy…You get the idea. It had everything (I thought) with an appropriately literary title. Bam, I was on my way.

Well, no.

Somewhere, harsh reality set in. A solid year of work now exists as an old Word doc and a paper copy in my basement. My writing went on.

Solidly into my 40s, now, I’m in a stage of life where casting off regrets is entirely healthy. Crucial, even. So there are random moments when I consider dragging out JOTRB for a re-work (a stroll down amnesia lane, if you will). But I’ve learned what I’ve learned. Jack and Jehanne may live again, or may spend eternity riding the baggage carousel. Either way, they did their job. I can be grateful.

 

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