Okay, so you gather 700+ Indie writers and media professionals.
Where ya gonna meet?
LAS VEGAS 2018
Every year the FB community called 20Booksto50K assembles at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino (the latter a Vegas requirement) for three days of meetings, lectures, and pep rallies about Independent Publishing (A.K.A., Indie). The minnows and the whales, all in one pool. (No sharks allowed. Tyler’s Space Marines blasted them in the parking lot. Oh, right. You don’t know about the Marine Detachment soon to be assigned to the Patrick Henry, do you? But I digress…)
And the amazing thing about this trip to Las Vegas was that slot machines were everywhere, but yours truly did not spend a Galactic Credit on gambling, even though I carried my Bank of Rahjen debit card, zipped inside the pocket of my yellow, M-double-I jumpsuit.
Indie giants like Conference Organizer Craig Martelle, mega-bestselling sci-fi authors Michael Anderle, M.D. Cooper, and seven hundred (700) more-or-less successful writers listened to presentations on how to write better and faster to get the books you love out of their heads and into your Kindles.
Let me confess—I was a skeptic. Good books take time, and some of the guys & galz are knocking them out by the dozen. (Question, sci-fi lovers: Which genre sells the most fiction books? Answer at the bottom. No looking until I’m done talking, please.)*
And there are a lot of people writing a lot of books, as mentioned in my last blog. But I discovered it’s possible to deliver quality work to your readers much more efficiently, to find the sweet spot between craftsmanship and productivity. I’m not going to churn out novels like the “big guys” do, sometimes writing a book a month. But there are a lot of stories yet to tell in the Star Lawyers Universe, and I plan on making a conscious effort to get them into your hands as quickly as possible while maintaining the quality of work you like to read.
5-6 books per year
Optimally, that would be 5-6 books per year. That’s my target. Considering it took me two or three years to write one book in the past, it’s an optimistic, some would say whimsical attempt at trusting the muse and driving ahead. I know you will let me know if the pace is too fast and the story loses depth of characters, excitement of their struggles, or believable richness of alien cultures where Star Lawyers do their work.
So…here’s a tentative set of publication dates from now until Valentine’s Day. Keep me in your thoughts & prayers. Or cuss the fact that you have to wait until February for J.B.’s mission to the Ounta-Kadiis to save Bertie (Book 5, see below)—that works, too.
But know that I appreciate everyone who takes time from busy lives to fly with Tyler and the Star Lawyers Corp for a brief visit to their Universe. And besides… Arrested on an alien world? Who ya gonna call?
BULLETIN FOR STAR LAWYERS CREW
Works in Progress**
Star Lawyers – Book 4 – The House of the Silent Moons
[ Release date: 3 December ]
Star Lawyers Origins – Book 2 – Bad Moon Rising
[ Release date: 1 January 2019 ]
Star Lawyers – Book 5 – The Stellar Light Conspiracy
[ Release date: 14 February 2019 ]
**All release dates are tentative targets.
See you out there in the Star Lawyers Universe!
*Which genre sells the most fiction books? Answer: Romance. (For real. Not even close. Look it up.)
“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book!”
(Often attributed to Roman lawyer and orator Marcus Tullis Cicero, 1st century, B.C.)
I love science fiction, but not all kinds. Never went for Creature-features, bug-eyed monsters invading Earth and ravishing sexually incompatible busty human females. Also not cheesy dystopian tales mimicking Mad Max, or shoot-‘em-up action-only space warfare stories modelled on WWII aerial and naval combat or first person shooter games but lacking zesty characters or rich alien cultures.
Star Wars managed to give us plenty of combat, yet we love those movies for the heroes, villains, and comic relief characters Lucas kept sending into the game from the deep bench of a truly creative mind.
Having said that, let me clarify: There are Indie (independent) writers producing great dystopian novels, great Earth-invasion scenarios, and greatMilitary Sci-Fi novels, with good characters and plausible, intriguing alien worlds filled with new species who pass the “Yeah, that could happen” test.
Independent publishing has brought the democratization of the book industry.
Until the late 20th century, if you wrote a book and wanted others to read it (not everybody does), you had two choices.
1) Submit your work to acommercial publisher—anything from big NYC houses to five-books-a-year small presses scattered across the country. It was an uphill swim, like salmon trying to breed, that many authors could not surmount. So, an alternative developed, but it was expensive and labor-intensive for the new writer.
2) Hire a vanity press and self-publish—which not only cost thousands of dollars but made you custodian of hundreds of hard copy books that usually ended up stacked in the garage or basement. You had to find your own customers, package and mail the books manually, and go around town begging bookstores to please carry a few copies, or better yet let me have a book-signing event!
Neither of the above worked well for the average writer. Folks like Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, and Le Guin did okay. Most of us accumulated rejection slips (so did they when they started) from agents and publishing houses. Bummer. After slogging through a major novel, which nobody will publish, only the dauntless will begin the sequel.
Then, salvation—POD!Starting with fee-based models in the 90s, publishing on demand (POD) made it possible for everybody who wrote a book to publish it. POD publishers prepared your book in hard copy and e-book form from a manuscript you sent to them. You had to edit everything and do your own marketing, but THEY sent the ordered paperbacks for you and posted the e-book form which could be ordered on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. Although you paid a hefty fee up front (I shelled out $750 for my first POD in the 90s), it was still cheaper than vanity publishing. And you didn’t have 2,047 copies of Book 1 stacked somewhere in your house.
With free publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace, which morphed into and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), anybody could play. And the flood gates burst open. All those people (see quote attributed to Cicero, above) now had the tools in hand to fling their rough-hewn manuscripts into the stream and see if they could swim against the current. Of course, you still had to edit and market. But now publishing was easy and affordable, depending on how much you sank into publicizing your work.
The blessing and the curse of Indie publishing
That’s the blessing and curse of Indie publishing. There are some amazing books out there by little-known writers. But frankly, there’s a lot of junk in the creek, too. An Indie author must get the attention of readers, so everybody tries their hand at self-marketing, for better or worse.
Indie authors who consistently generate good work begin to develop a following. It’s a snowball effect, and you pray the damned thing swells to boulder-size before it melts on the slopes. (Mixed metaphors. All wet.)
So, readers, you are the omnipotent gods of the Indie universe. If you like an author, follow him/her regularly, tell your contacts online, suggest the books to family and friends. Write a nice review at Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else you think will help the writer find new audiences. We don’t have the budget of a major publishing house backing our next release. It’s all up to you. (Thank you,Star Lawyersaficionados!)
Reach for the Stars : The arc of the moral Universe
“The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One Friday night
One Friday night, not so many years ago, I was indulging in one of the few sinful pleasures still available to a senior citizen. And it wasn’t just the frozen yogurt with shredded All-Bran, but the TV show playing on my Christmas-new wide screen TV while I was enjoying the late night snack: Bill Mahr’s Real Time on HBO. Mahr is unapologetically sacrilegious and politically incorrect, a passionate, libertarian comedian with a penchant for off-color humor, but he is quite often spot on in his analysis of the contemporary American scene. I don’t always agree with him or approve of his linguistic repertoire, but Mahr and his panelists frequently go where the more timid CNN and mainstream media fear to tread.
The Possibility for Change
That week a main topic was gun control, and the panel more or less agreed that the possibility for actual change in American values about guns and violence was very slim. Then one of Mahr’s panelists–Martin Short, another comic–made a startling observation. He noted that twenty years ago, they would have been sitting around that table smoking cigarettes while they talked, but now the whole building is smoke-free. He suggested this evolutionary shift in health consciousness was cause for the advocates of rational control to take heart.
Martin Short’s remark suddenly brought to mind the words of another Martin, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who became a victim of gun violence after a life of tireless advocacy for peace and non-violence. “The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The Moral Universe
The source of this oft-quoted/paraphrased comment was actually a paraphrase of words spoken by the Rev. Theodore Parker, 19th century abolitionist, religious progressive, Unitarian minister:
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Sometimes, change happens so gradually that you wake up one day and say, “Oh, yeah. I remember when we did that. Way back there in the 20th century.”
It takes time…
Most meaningful change takes time. Seasons drift incrementally onward. Today a little cooler… next month winter…. then warming, new life, and summer again. Human consciousness is impatient. If I have a cold that lasts more than a few days, I start wondering if I will ever stop coughing. If I cannot master a new task quickly, I catch myself muttering, “I’ll never get this right!” But I do get better; I do master the task. (My Smart Phone will not make me feel stupid forever, just for a while.)
The key to the equation is to find a common denominator—faith in the arc of learning, the potential for slow but ineluctable change. We started in the seas; we shall sail the stars. But not today. Cool winds must play across our landscape before the warming breath of Spring. Patience. Swords will melt into ploughshares. Nation shall not take up arms against nation. The moral arc bends toward justice, and we ride its rainbow with confidence toward a future that reaches into the Cosmos.
New Spin-Off Series – Three Sets of Trilogies Planned in the Star Lawyers Origins series.
Prepare for a whirlwind flight to the dawn of humanity’s awareness that we are not alone.
New characters appear in each trilogy, which will take readers along on the rise of FTL travel, from frank disbelief that anything living exists beyond the earth’s biosphere to full membership in the galactic community of star nations.
The structure for my new Star Lawyers Origins series appeared in the first Star Lawyers book. Check this excerpt from Jump Gate Omega:
[In the] outer lobby of the Matthews Trade Embassy, a double life-sized bronze image dominated the reception area, an African-Asian woman in lab coat looking upward through the glass wall at the city skyline and visible stars. She held an old-style clipboard under arm, and her hair was swept back into a ponytail.
“Tanella Jennings,” Tyler whispered, loud enough for J.B. to hear.
“A thousand years later,” his brother said, “and we’re still following in her footsteps.”
“Not just Jennings—look.” Tyler gestured to a pair of bronze works farther down the glass-roofed lobby. Even from this distance, the subjects of the metallic statuary were unmistakable. One had a dog by his side. Tyler recited the names like a space-traveler’s prayer. “Aurelio Lupetti and Brian Brightstar.”
“Two greatest captains in human history.” J.B.’s voice quivered with emotion. “Commander of the first faster-than-light starship, side-by-side with the foremost deep space explorer of them all.”
Rosalie smiled. “And his pit bull, Riley.”
Tyler took a deep breath. “Hero worship is adjourned. Let’s focus on tonight’s mission.”
The book just released October 8, STARDATE, launches the spinoff series, Star LawyersOrigins. The series will consist of three trilogies, set in the 21st, 23rd, and 24th centuries along the Star Lawyers timeline. The main action in the Star Lawyers / Tyler Matthews books takes place in the 32nd century.
You’ll find a different setting and tone in the first trilogy. Younger, sassier, PG violence language and no “adult” sexuality. The narrator is 14 years old, and I’m tired of the hard-broiled young characters who sell drugs and pimp their sisters. This is an adventure at the very leading edge of the Star Lawyers timeline, set in the 21st century. It starts at a middle school in Georgia (USA), but soon were boldly going there with Mark, Aaron, Zack, and the mystery girl Keshikka, whose golden eyes you see on the cover. Is she an alien?
Origins Book 2–Bad Moon Rising is already written and prepped to launch early in 2019. Bad Moon Rising is the story of Tanella Blake, who as Tanella Jennings is destined to discover the principles of FTL flight twenty-five years later, as told by her chattery friend, Sally Ann Palmer. It is a murder mystery set on Barrier Island, Georgia, during an approaching Category 5 hurricane. The sci-fi elements are present, but muted in favor of a close up sketch of the young prodigy in the greatest crisis of her life. Her father, Dr. Nathaniel Blake, has been accused of murder, and she decides to find the real killer while the island is cut off from the mainland due to the storm, before the murderer can escape. She also has a conversation with the main character of Book 1 – Stardate, unbeknownst to her, across thousands of light years.
Origins 3 – In Defense of Quia Leimor will bring both sets of characters together when Tanella and Sally Ann are shanghaied by Mark Bricchetti and Aaron Hooper for their second trip into the world of Princess Keshikka, aboard a ship sent to snatch them from Earth for a mission In Defense of Quia Leimor, the besieged last Empress of the old galactic empire.
Origins Books 4-6 return the narrative to adult point-of-view characters. Trilogy #2 is set two hundred years later, when rhe events of the first trilogies are still unknown to the general public. In Book 4 – The Wind Among the Stars readers fly into deep space with Aurelio Lupetti aboard the Victoria, the first fully operational FTL starship built by humanity. Science has not yet confirmed the existence of life beyond the Terran biosphere, so Lupetti has his hands full with politicians trying to cut funding for the project and sabotage it. And the real possibility of a sterile, lifeless Cosmos cannot be dismissed, even by Lupetti. This is the First Contact book of the series, when humanity learns the galactic civilization documented by Mark Bricchetti actually exists. Books 5 and 6 will continue Lupetti’s voyages, and frankly I can’t wait to see what he will discover!
Origins 7-9 Will complete the 3 trilogies with a rollicking ride with Brian Brightstar and his pit bull Riley aboard the São Gabriel as he explores Brightstar Curve.
Star Lawyers Continues
Star Lawyers books with the Matthews clan will continue, beginning with Star Lawyers Book 4 –House of the Silent Moons, to launch Nov-Dec 2018. The “main” series will be interspersed with the above.
Like I’ve said, I’ll be writing these in Arizona until they plant a cactus over my grave. (Now that you have the outline, I reserve the right to change the details!)
Let’s have fun and adventure together in the Star Lawyers universe.
If you didn’t get your copy of Stardate yet, get into the origins story by downloading it from Amazon.
What mysterious gifts are people hiding within them?
Passing people in the street, I sometimes wonder—as a writer and student of humanity—what mysterious gifts are people hiding within them?
True, people carry burdens and sorrows, sometimes almost beyond bearing, and there are real villains loose in the world, who choose to harm others for reasons beyond our current understandings. But if there are secret evil doers, surely the other kind of person—the secret good-doer, the person of kindness and appreciation for life. I suspect these folks are way more typical.
A true story from Southeast Asia takes this thought to a deeper level
Nobody knew how long the stucco Buddha had sat in the courtyard outside one of the Temples. In Thailand there are many, many Buddhas . All over Asia, for that matter. This particular Buddha had sat outside the grounds of a Wat, or Temple for so many years that people didn’t know where it came from. He was covered in clay stucco, about 15 feet (4.5 m) tall, the fairly typical image of Buddha sitting in the lotus position, eyes open, with a little half-smile on his face.
The stucco Buddha withstood Thailand’s political and social changes and weathered monsoon rains for generation after generation. In modern times, foreign visitors frequently posed beside the sacred image. Sometimes they overstepped the bounds—put hats on his head, or threw an arm around the good old Buddha like he was their good ‘ol buddy, culturally insensitive acts that can get a tourist arrested in some countries. Kids left candy wrappers in his lap. Other people brought flower and fruit offerings to the Buddha, or just paused to meditate before the image of Gautama Siddhartha, the Enlightened One.
And the Buddha kept smiling, as though guarding some deep secret, right in the midst of life.
Then the city of Bangkok decided to build a highway
Then the city of Bangkok decided to build a highway right through the courtyard where the Buddha sat. The Enlightened One got an eviction notice. The government was actually quite accommodating and offered heavy-lift equipment to move the stucco Buddha indoors.
The monks realized this would be good for the statue, too. Inside the Wat the Buddha could be venerated by the faithful and photographed by tourists in a more controlled way. After all, even though it was poorly constructed, the Buddha was centuries old and deserved to retire with dignity.
When the government crane began hoisting the stucco Buddha, the massive statue began to crack. To make matters worse, rain started to fall on the split stone. The head monk temporarily halted the project and ordered the workers to lower the Buddha to the ground and throw a canvas tarp over the big idol.
The workers went home and once more the Buddha sat alone in the rain outside the Temple, conspicuously hidden under a weatherproof shroud.
Something shining in the light beam
Sometime in the night the head monk decided to check on whether the cracked statue had deteriorated in the rain. He focused a flashlight under the tarp to see how dry it was. When the beam touched the crack a tiny glimmer radiated back at him. Removing the tarp, the monk examined the crack and found there definitely was something shining in the light beam.
So, he fetched a hammer and chisel and tapped at the stucco, which crumbled away, revealing more gleaming surface. After hours of work in the darkness, the dawn rose over a sight which had not been seen for nearly three centuries: a solid gold, 15-foot Buddhaweighing 5.5 tons.
The Buddha was cast from the gold
Scholars later suggested that Thai monks in the fifteenth century smelted gold to cast the Buddha. Three hundred years later another generation of monks desperately wanted to protect their beloved golden idol from an invading Burmese army. They secretly coated their divine treasure with clay in order to disguise it.
Apparently, they did their work too well. After the monks all died in that eighteenth century invasion, nobody knew what had happened to the golden Buddha… or had a clue about the true identity of this rather ordinary mud-stucco model in the now-deserted monastery. Later, when Bangkok was built, the statue was moved into the city and left outside a deserted temple. And the solid gold Buddha had been hiding in plain sight ever since.
How many people hide great, deep, incredible gifts under a rather ordinary coating of flesh and bone?
Now the question I sometimes myself ask is this: How many people do you pass on the street every day who are, in reality, solid Gold Buddha’s in disguise? How many people hide great, deep, incredible gifts under a rather ordinary coating of flesh and bone?
I encourage all my sci-fi writer friends (and their readers) to think about alien cultures and human beings through this lens.
A blogger’s plea for complicated ecosystems, climate zones, and cultures on hab worlds. A little Bio-Diversity, Please!
The word for today: Bio-Diversity
Bio-Diversity in Sci-Fi
I love Star Wars, but Lucas went off the rails when designing the backdrop for the central action in the original three films (now 4, 5 & 6). Not counting the mechanical planetoid of the Death Star, we get the desert planet Tatooine, the ice planet Hoth, the Cloud City of eternally overcast Bespin, and the forest moon of Endor. The only earth-like planet of the original trilogy, Alderaan, appears briefly in the cross-hairs of the Death Star before foppish Governor Wilhuff Tarkinblows it to smithereens. To mix in a little Trek lingo, was this a message? “No M-class planets need apply!”
Studies of habitability suggest no “higher” (i.e., sentient) life forms could originate on any of the planets Lucas allows to coexist with the humanoid Death Star makers. Desert worlds lack the basic life ingredient, water. Ice planets might have water (unless it’s frozen CO2), but eternal winters are simply too cold for anything but lichens or fungi. And life evolving on planets requiring floating Cloud Cities—really? That’s like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969, hopping out of his spacecraft, and looking for the nearest Starbucks. (They weren’t founded until 1971. NASA still awaits the first Lunar drive-thru.) And although forest moons like Endor might evolve simple life and maybe animals, the habitat lacks seasonal variability, which challenges a developing species to increase its brain size and invent tools and technologies in other to survive. Ewoks used stone-age weapons. Effectively, yes. But still… you know… primitive.
Climate, Biology and Cultural Diversity
What can be said about climate and biology can be multiplied to the Nth degree about alien cultures. (I never understood the need for math-speak in that Nth business. Why not just say a helluva lot?) Let’s talk about why sci-fi aliens often sit on chairs, eat at tables, and have an alcoholic beverage after a hard day of planning to invade of humanity’s homeworld.
Look at the diversity of Earth cultures. (Caveat: Sweeping generalizations follow. Let’s stipulate that exceptions exist and continue, please.)
First example, bathroom facilities. In multiple Asian cultures, sit down toilets do not exist. People squat over floor-installed porcelain toilet bowls or some other aperture to do their business. They consider the Western habit of sitting on a toilet seat—especially one frequented by strangers—to be incredibly unsanitary, and they are right. I have seen Asians on US Military bases adapt to our sit-down latrines by mounting the toilet and squatting on the seat. For real.
In some Asian cultures people remove shoes at the door and sit on the floor. Mats or thick rugs are common. Low tables hold food and drink. Speaking of food, Sri Lankans eat with their fingers, even rice. (They got a spoon for me, because they are Buddhists and amazingly kindhearted.)
In my Series
House of the Silent Moons
An extreme example of cultural differences: Japanese traditionalists will sit seiza, like this excerpt from my work-in-progress, Star Lawyers Book 4 -House of the Silent Moons:
They slapped neural cuffs on Rodney and Suzie and led them at blaster-point onto the deck. After winding through corridors and up turbo-lifts, guards herded them into a suite marked 将軍. Not surprisingly to Suzie, those were the kanji for Shōgun. A fusuma, or sliding paper door, opened onto a large room in the traditional washitsu style. Straw composite tatami mats held low tables.
Hideki Tsuchiya sat at a table in the center of the room in the traditional seiza manner—legs folded under thighs, buttocks resting on the heels, ankles turned outward, hands folded modestly in his lap. Tsuchiya was flanked by four armed warriors, also resting at seiza, whose leather belts bore kinetic sidearms and traditional swords—long bladed katana and shorter wakizashi.
Tsuchiya chose only the long and short swords.
“Miss London, Lieutenant Rooney. Will you honor me with a moment of your time?” Tsuchiya said expressionlessly.
Rodney spoke first. “How about removing these shackles?”
Of course, I’m not suggesting this is how all Japanese live or sit to receive guests. They don’t wear swords or carry blasters, obviously. (It’s a novel, gimme a break!) However, the chasm between Asian and Western norms is deep and wide, even to the inexpressive remarks of their host, who does not want to lose face by showing emotion to an adversary.
If that kind of diversity exists on our home planet, what will it be like when we enter First Contact with a species like the blue Quirt-Thymeans in my novels, who eat six meals a day and fine you for skipping something trivial as Second Breakfast. Furthermore, QTs hold an annual ten-day religious festival of feasting and socializing, during which everybody is free to screw whomever he or she wants. (Yes, they are sexually compatible humanoids, albeit blue with slightly doggy-like ears.)
The Blue King Murders
Did you read that it’s a religious festival? “Impossible!” you say. “Religions are otherworldly and austere and favor sexual abstinence outside of marriage.” Ask your Hindu friends about the goddess Rati. Here’s an excerpt between J.B. Matthews and Parvati, the former holographic pleasure provider reprogrammed as the Patrick Henry’s Helmswoman, from Star Lawyers Book 3 – The Blue King Murders:
“This is so not like me. I was a Catholic monk, for God’s sake!” J.B. said.
“We have gods and goddess who exist to bring us sensuality. One is called Rati, the goddess of desire, lust, passion. And yes, love.”
J.B. shook his head. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“Are you still a monk?”
He smiled sheepishly. “No.”
“Good, because I am no longer a whore.”
“Of course not. I’m glad. Sorry.”
Parvati laughed sweetly. “Jeremiah, in some matters, you are so very shy. I find that alluring.”
“I have no idea why.”
A classic cultural disconnect, and sometimes the differences bring more than a blush. For example, fundamentalist Muslims allow no images of the One God, or any artistic portrayals of humans or birds or animals in their Mosques or wider communities. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed the world’s two largest standing Buddhas, great artistic treasures of humanity. One of them was 165 feet (50 meters) high. They were blown up because graven images are offensive to the Divine. Islamists also have strict, one might say medieval, attitudes about controlling women and shunning literature and music which hints at sexuality.
Contrast that with the world’s oldest living religion, Hinduism. The Hindus have temples featuring carved images of their many, many deities, sometimes illustrating sexual positions of the Kamasutra in stone on those houses of worship. Sexuality is a religious path of which the Divine approves.
Can you imagine a scene in which two person from these radically different cultures—perhaps a Pakistani Muslim from Karachi and Indian Hindu from Mumbai—meet and discuss life in general? It practically writes itself.
The point is that many sci-fi writers are good students of culture and bio-diversity, but all of us need to be. Much good reference material is available online. And if you want to get serious about learning how cultures work, download or buy the CD of the “Great Courses” lecture series by David Livermore, “Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are.” Believe me, Dr. Livermore never realized how far away that “wherever” could be.
Write on, trust your gifts, and let the muse infuse you.
Welcome back to the starship Patrick Henry. Are Aliens out there Friends or Foes?
A Diverse Universe
I sit at my laptop, looking out at the rugged Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, and I can’t help wondering about what other sentient species experience in their daily lives. What do the mountains look like on the homeworld of the ancient, reptilian race called Saurians by humans? Do the Dengathi frog people live in pools, or lakeside pads, or on dry land, and are they really as intellectually challenged as Tyler Matthews believes, or only when viewed through the lens of Terran anthropocentrism?
Are the Rek Kett—who look like fat, humanoid, dried mud creatures—all as pompous as the officious Senior Captain Zalaar-17, who tried to impound Tyler’s Sioux City and summarily sentenced him to death for being a lawyer? What about other spacefaring creatures—the Yegosian insectoids, and the “Zenji, dog-faced humanoids who usually walked upright but dropped to all fours for faster movement” mentioned in Jump Gate Omega?
A Peaceful Universe?
I’d like to think all sentient creatures, who achieved Faster Than Light travel, have also achieved a nonbelligerent demeanor along their route to the stars. In the book you maybe just finished, Tyler discovers the civilizations of Andromeda reached this advanced consciousness long ago. Maybe that was my Emerson/Thoreau/M.L. King/New Thought tendencies seeping into the storyline. Maybe the degree of cooperation required for a society to achieve starflight demands at the very least something approaching the golden rule to function at that level.
Or Endless Struggles?
Or maybe the fascists and other dictators and absolute monarchs were right. Too much cooperation eventually stalls the mechanism of progress. If the election of Donald Trump proves anything, it demonstrates that vilification of the alien can motivate people to action as effectively as the anti-war Hippies or the Civil Rights Movement ever imagined. Mussolini made the trains run on time.
Do we look outward at a Cosmos riddled with endless struggles for supremacy? Is the most effective universal maxim not “Do unto Others” but “Dominate or be Dominated”? The Star Lawyers “Universe” considers peace and war as the Ying and Yang of sentient species. More about this in future books.
Star Lawyers practice law in the Milky Way, where nothing resembling universal concord has prevailed thus far. Yet, most FTL races are at least tolerant of their neighbors, motivated in part by economics and the need for interstellar trade. Rare metals, information exchange and scientific breakthroughs, art and music and manufactured goods, even something as basic as water or breathable gases—the desire for commodities give peace a chance, if only because all creatures, to paraphrase the ancient Greeks, want the beautiful and the good.
I find myself wondering if the sci-fi community—writers and readers—are the visionaries who will, in the words of Jesse Jackson, “Keep hope alive.” We need to believe that a just, peaceful, prosperous future awaits all sentient beings, or the dream dies with our generation. Tell your children to dream of the day we break the FTL barrier and open the Cosmos to humanity. Go to the stars expecting to find new friends, treading carefully while packing serious “don’t even think about it” hardware in case the neighbors are not happy about hairless apes moving into their Gated community.
Humanity will one day boldly go there
But I believe with all my heart that humanity will one day boldly go there. As a progressive Christian, I also believe the Divine Source of all sentient beings makes us all equal. In the words of the poet Alice Meynell:
Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
A million alien Gospels, in what guise
He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.
Keep hope alive. Believe the science to support FTL will happen. See your descendants crewing the starships and tilling the soils of unclaimed, unnamed, unknown worlds.
And if they get in trouble with their neighbors, maybe somebody like Tyler Noah Matthews IV will rush to defend them in alien courts of law.
Why are so many stories about love either sloppily sentimental, cynical or tragic? Why do books about love outsell all the other fiction genres combined? Maybe because we think we know what love is, and maybe we don’t know what it is at all.
Lumped under the generic heading of love, you will find parenthood (especially motherhood), family, religion, patriotism, personal tastes, dating, making out, friendship, sex, romance, adultery, and marriage. (And the list goes on…)
People need to sort these into separate baskets, but the English language fails us here. There is no other word that works in most of these cases. For example, what else can we call our feelings of patriotism but love of country? Desire of country doesn’t work. National pride isn’t strong enough, and the word patriotism itself has a hollow ring these days. What shall we call the sex act, except making love? Oh, I know, there are a few delightful possibilities. Most of us in the writing game freely toss alternatives around like effin’ flapjacks. But public, daily vocabulary isn’t ready to separate tenderness from doing the wild thing by employing act-specific terms when one inoffensive, four-letter word—love—covers the whole menu. (“I’ll have the Love Feast Special, please. No garlic butter.”)
Love in Science-Fiction
Good science fiction usually features a romantic subplot—Han and Leia, James T. Kirk and anything with a vagina. However—forgive me Romance writers—a good sci-fi story is plot or technology driven and notprimarily about the sex life of the dashing, starship captain and our heroine, the busty alien princess. (Although in my Star Lawyers Book Three, Tyler Matthews and the blue Queen Veraposta—naw, you gotta read it.)
Just because main characters hop into bed under alien moons doesn’t make the love-interest, well, interesting. That takes an engaging storyline with nicely flawed players who battle and embrace and learn that real love is harder than orbiting a black hole without becoming its lunch. The original Star Wars trilogy approaches this level, and I contend that’s one of the reasons it is perennially popular.
Love in Literature and Movies
Literature is full of romance. Even Shakespeare, whose heroines were played by pubescent boys in stodgy, Elizabethan England, splashes love across the pages of his scripts like a drunken sailor spilling wine. American movies are punch-drunk over love. The plot of the second biggest movie of all times is, “The Love Boat Hits an Iceberg.” The biggest all-time moneymaker: “Blue lovers in an Ecological Thriller.”
While movies usually have a love interest, Hollywood lied to us, and the producers almost always get it wrong. For lovers who stroll the silver screen, love usually equals sexual attraction, impure and simple. This observation is a gross oversimplification, but the genius of the original Star Wars trilogy was not just its technology or special effects or combat scenes, but in the development of relationships.
Although sex and eroticism plays an important part in male-female relationships, it is by no means the singular or even most important element. So why, if we spend so much money and energy on love, do we get it wrong so often? Here are a few quick thoughts.
Love in our culture
Much of what passes for love in our culture is really:
Sensual attraction and sexuality. Must be there, but it’s a thin foundation.
Glamour. “She was so beautiful…” Okay, but do you like each other?”
Romance and infatuation are not love. Courtship ends—then what?
Neurotic dependency. “I can’t live without her/him…” Yes, you can.
Ego gratification. Reader and fictional characters often will opt for this.
Fear of loneliness. Can bring a compelling sub-tone, storyline or real life.
Convenience and routine. The older I get, the more #6 & 7 appeal to me.
This is not to say that romance and sensuality/sexuality are a bad thing—right the contrary. It’s the beginning point in most relationships not contracted by families for young people. And speaking of alternative ideas about love from cultures around planet Earth, these include:
What Love can be
A commitment, loyalty or duty Don’t flinch. Fidelity and familial identity are almost universal values.
Friendship. Youth to golden age, you’ll fare better if you continue to like each other.
Selfless giving. The golden rule never measures penis size. It is a gauge of the heart.
Some more Thoughts
So, if I suggest a little reflection on the depth and complexity of human love will tidy up the storylines of sci-fi literature, what do you think will happen when writers explore love among alien cultures, or alien-human relationships? Several good authors have done this. I will leave it to you to find them and share your discoveries with readers of this blog.
Meanwhile, now that I’ve set the bar for multifaceted interpretations of love among the many space-faring star nations in the galaxy, I’ll have to continue developing a rich cultural milieu for every race my human characters encounter going forward. To include their love lives. (You’re gonna love the Quirt-Thymeans in The Blue King Murders.)
“Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
Dinosaurs Didn’t Write Science Fiction
You don’t ordinarily associate dinosaurs and KJV biblical texts, but roll with me a sec. The idea that vision–or prophecy, or seeing the future, sameo-sameo–is essential to the survival of a species couldn’t find a better exemplar than the poor, dumb Mesozoic critters who looked up at the sky and noticed a big streaker sailing across the heavens. If they had the gift of speech–oh, hell, let’s give it to them, we’re sci-fi readers and writers–they might have said something like:
“Damn, my brother Triceratops, what is that pretty light in the sky?”
To which the other replied, “I don’t know, fellow Horny-Head, but it’s way up there and can’t hurt us.”
You know what happened in Act II.
Any species that doesn’t look to the skies is doomed
Any species that doesn’t look to the skies is doomed to the same fate, sooner or later. That’s the first, most basic reason sci-fi is vitally important. It looks up and out and says, “What if…?”
Many early science fiction movies captured this primordial fear by casting an ensemble of bug-eyed, tentacled monsters to land on Earth with their invasion fleet, intent on eating all human males and raping all the females. I never understood, even as a kid, why a gray-green octopus with a ray gun wanted to ravish a white, blonde haired, B-movie actress.
The real danger isn’t from incoming flying saucers, it’s incoming asteroids in near earth orbits. Science fiction has raised the public awareness to this existential threat by movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact and a barrage of novels with similar plot lines.
The lethal asteroid impact may occur next year, or it may not happen until Trump leaves office, and therefore take some of the fun out of prematurely ending the world. Doomsday could linger a few million years. Politicians are in no hurry. But there are more pressing reasons why sci-fi is vital to our survival.
Science fiction raises humanity’s sights
Science fiction raises humanity’s sights on something at least as primeval as daily survival: We are, by nature, explorers. Without that vision, we perish. “Space, the final frontier…” Gene Roddenberry prophetically wrote. But he was wrong. Space is the endless frontier.
Let’s do the math. There are 400 billion stars in the Milky Way alone. Visiting one thousand star systems per week (if possible), would take 7.69 million years. And there may be 100 billion galaxies out there. Humanity will NEVER run out of new world to visit, new peoples to meet. The trick will be to learn from our mistakes and not repeat the gruesome, racist, xenophobic history of planet Earth. Another possibility is that alien species are as bloodthirsty as we have been, and humans will have to fight for every newly discovered, uninhabited world. (For a harrowing look at that possibility, read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.)
We could simply become cosmic isolationists
We could simply become cosmic isolationists, for fear of discovery by the bug-eyed monsters who, so far, have overlook our pale blue marble in the ocean of stars. But sitting on Earth until the atmosphere escapes into space in the distant future doesn’t sound like a good plan. Science fiction allows its most creative thinkers to give us the vision hinted at by the Book of Proverbs. Let the visionaries and futurists show us the possibilities.
In an era before the key words shifted to other connotations, British scientist J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) wrote: “The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it’s queerer than we can imagine.” And who knows? Maybe we’ll land on our first alien world in the middle of their bi-monthly Gay Rights Parade.
Science Fiction will save the world. If not, maybe it’ll help us get off. (Double meanings seem to abound today…)