Tag Archives: Traveller

Backwards Compatible – Part 6: Enter The Fox

So, after recovering from the single greatest bout of writer’s block I’ve ever had, I had to dust myself off and get back on the horse. During that time in limbo, however, when the main plot of the novel was on hold, I decided to write some sequences out of order.

Normally I don’t do that since it makes continuity pretty tricky to maintain. Still, I wanted at least some words on paper while I tried to sort out the real quandary of the A-story. In one of these sequences, I introduced the primary antagonist of the book, Captain Gaylon Fox.

The Man Himself.

Not even gonna lie, this is my dream casting for the character: Jason Issacs.

Most of the time, villains are more interesting to me, literarily, than heroes. I knew he would be key the story, so this was my chance to show the reader what this particular villain was made of. To be an effective nemesis to the main character, Captain Coeur D’Esprit, he needed have certain things in common with her. I wanted him to be a shadowy double of her, like the dark side of the same coin.

The previous novel, To Dream of Chaos, which I did not write, gave me the perfect set up. In it, the crew of Hornet faced off against a ship of the Solee Navy, Royal Vengeance, near a gas giant. During the battle, Vengeance was critically damaged and, in an act of desperation, uses its Jump drive to get away without first getting to a safe distance.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Traveller canon, Jumping while in a gravity well is only slightly less horrible than crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. The ship might be instantly destroyed, or never emerge from Jump space, or appear parsecs away from where they meant to go, and be stranded.

Crossing the streams.

I love this plan. I’m excited to be a part of it.

A situation like that was one of Coeur’s defining moments, which led to some serious survivor’s guilt when only 4 crewmembers (including her) survived that stunt out of a crew of 100. If that weren’t enough, Royal Vengeance returns at the end of To Dream of Chaos, and is once again repulsed, and nearly destroyed.

Now that it was my time at the helm of the story, I decided that Gaylon Fox had been the Executive Officer on Royal Vengeance during that deadly encounter. When his incompetent Captain is killed during Coeur’s initial attack, he was the one who made the call to Jump. Subsequently, he became captain of the ship, and had been jonesing for a rematch ever since.

It felt only natural that Royal Vengeance should play a part in the third act of the New Era trilogy. And now I had a villain who had been in a similar situation as the hero, and forced to make some of the same hard decisions. Where the hero used those horrific events of her past to make something positive of herself, Gaylon Fox has gone down a darker road, using his experiences instead to focus his ambition like a laser and further his own agenda.

Snidley Whiplash

Nope!

Having said that, I didn’t want this guy to be a complete mustache-twirler like Snidley Whiplash or Dirk Dastardly. So, I made him competent at what he does, fearless (though not reckless), polite, and coldly self-controlled. Besides that, he often rewards initiative, and inspires service and loyalty in his subordinates. While he’s no saint, I built him so that he might be viewed as a hero from his own side of the war.

To me, those are the best kind of villains, the ones who—even if it’s just for a second—you want to win. After the first scenes with Captain Fox, I knew that’s who I had on my hands. He would naturally be the unstoppable force to Coeur’s immovable object.

Force Paradox

Like that, only with more lasers.

What would happen when they inevitably collided? I would have to wait to find out.

Next time on Backwards Compatible…canon gets murky when another version of The Backwards Mask surfaces.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


Backwards Compatible – Part 2: Just a Few Hurdles

When we last left off, our author was tasked with reigniting a milieu that had long since grown cold. We also secretly switched his coffee with new Folger’s crystals. Let see what happens (particularly since he doesn’t even drink coffee)!

Okay, so there were some immediate challenges facing me on this project, which I will outline here in a conveniently number format.

1.) Lack of Clear Direction

When we started, all we had to go on was the name (The Backwards Mask) and the existing cover art in black and white. There was no indication of where the storyline was going from the second book or how Paul Brunette intended to wrap up the trilogy.

After much debate and back and forth, Marc and I decided to create the new story as he put it “out of whole cloth.” I scoured the setting books and the two novels to figure out the core of the third story. In many ways it was harder than writing one from scratch. I needed to write a novel that was, if you’ll forgive the term, backwards compatible with the other books. At the same time, the series had been fallow for over a decade. While you could still find the first two novels in used book stores, Amazon and eBay, they weren’t readily available. That meant that the third story would need to complete the trilogy AND work well as a standalone story.

So how does one go about doing that?

Any which way you can

Whoah, thanks for the assist, Philo and Clyde!

2.) Literary Baggage

Since I was stepping in after two novels, I inherited characters and storylines that were not my own. It was not unlike a comic book author who takes over a title after the previous writer’s run. You want to tell your story, but you don’t to break faith with what has gone before too much, even if it’s terribly inconvenient. Sure, you can wave the ‘retcon’ wand around if you want, but that can work against you if you give your readers too much of a disconnect.

Much of the crew of the aboard RCS Hornet did not have given names. Instead, they were known by their taccode, or callsign. Even though it was part of the property, the excessive use of callsigns felt a little artificial to me, and seemed like a throwback to Top Gun.  I understand that many pilots in the armed forces (in real life) do use their monikers in place of their real names, but this wasn’t just limited to pilots. Practically every character involved with the Reformation Coalition had to have one, seemingly from the highest commanding officer to the professors at the academy.  Did the janitors and the mailmen have them in the Coalition as well? When a character’s mother, a politician or someone outside of the military addresses them, did they use their callsign then as well?

Negative, Ghostrider.  Clearly, I would have to fill in the blanks in some places, and explain away things that didn’t make sense in others. In short, I needed to write my way around certain elements to get free and clear to tell my story.

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What do you mean Whizbang and Bonzo have no real names? Seriously?

3.) Inconsistent Background Material

Besides all of the story elements, characters and history that I had to account for in the third installment, I had to contend with something else. The novels were not entirely consistent with the game books of the setting. There was some definite rule bending when it came to ships and how they operated. Even the game books varied at times from the ‘classic’ canon of the rest of the Traveller universe.

Worse yet, the game books themselves were not consistent with each other. One of the New Era books couldn’t decide who the Empress of Solee was (the leader of the bad guys) within its own pages. Was she an ex-naval officer who used her expertise to overthrow a planetary government and crown herself Queen, or had she been born a noble, inherited her throne by nefarious means, but had no real military expertise whatsoever?

There was also a ship named the Ashtabula, which was pretty much like the Enterprise in Star Trek (any of the non-Scott Bakula ones at any rate).  In one place it said that there were only two people alive who had served aboard the ship before she disappeared. In another place it mentions that one of the intelligence types attached to the government (who was still alive) had once served aboard her. And on…and on…

This left me on shaky ground. I couldn’t trust the previous novels to be entirely faithful to the setting, and I couldn’t trust the setting to be faithful to itself.

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But then…how do you know?

Once I had a solid look at the wall I was expected scale, it suddenly seemed much taller than I had originally thought.

But this was me…not giving up. *Cue the 80s inspirational power chords.”

[Check out the Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


Backwards Compatible – Part 1: Genesis

You knew it was coming…the inevitable post about my novel. This is, in fact, the first in a series of posts explaining how my novel came about.  The road from its inception to execution was a long and twisting one.

Well, let’s start at the beginning.

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No caption required, really.

In the mid-90s, Games Designers’ Workshop (hitherto referred to as GDW) launched their expansion to the popular Traveller RPG universe, entitled “Traveller: The New Era.” Unlike previous milieus of the game, which centered around a massive star-spanning Empire, this one was post-apocalyptic. Now I’m not talking your run-of-the-mill Mad Max/Tina Turner post apocalypse. No, this was devastation on an interstellar scale.

In the time period of The New Era, the great Empire is toast, laid waste thanks to an insidious, self-aware computer virus that makes Skynet look like shy and retiring by comparison. The virus (appropriately named “Virus”) has ravaged the Empire and its citizens, leaving trillions dead in sector after sector of smashed and ruined worlds.

skynet

Geez, I’m bad, but not that bad.

Yet not all hope is lost. There are little islands of civilization among the vast ocean of cemetery worlds and boneyards that struggle to recover in the wake of the worst calamity in all of human history. It’s an uphill climb for the survivors to avoid a descent into barbarism and darkness.  If that weren’t enough, Virus is still out there, waiting to finish what it started. Civilization itself hangs by a very thin thread.

Pretty bleak stuff, huh? Well, many fans of Traveller thought the same thing, including yours truly. The epic scope of the previous settings shrank dramatically. Instead of focusing on an empire of 11,000 star systems, the new setting introduced the Reformation Coalition, a small polity with a little over 20. It was a controversial move and one that would divide fans of the ‘classic’ Traveller universe from those of the New Era to this day.

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Welcome to the new age, to the new age.
I’m radioactive, radioactive.

To promote this new setting, GDW added a trilogy of science fiction novels to their lineup to explore the setting in detail.  Paul Brunette was chosen to tackle this project.  He produced The Death of Wisdom and To Dream of Chaos. Before the third novel − The Backwards Mask − could be commissioned, however, GDW went out of business. The New Era trilogy went into limbo.

Years passed, until I happened to meet Marc Miller (the creator of the Traveller universe) at a convention.  At the time I was working as a writer for a game company. Though I was just a fan, Marc took the time out of his busy schedule to sit and talk with me. There was a great richness to the Traveller universe that I felt lent itself to fiction, and Marc agreed. After the convention, we started an email dialogue where we discussed possible Traveller fiction ideas. It was during this time that Marc dusted off the unfinished TNE trilogy and offered me the chance to write the third installment.

Of course, I jumped at it.

[Check out the Backwards Mask on Kindle.]