The Voidstrider books are pulp. They’re meant to evoke the same experience as the old stuff, the Lensman books of E.E. Smith for example. (Roger Jon Grey got his name partially from “Gray Roger,” villain of Triplanetary. And that’s one of the dozens upon dozens of easter eggs in the series.)

Those books, if you’ve never read them, are foundational. They’re also dated, tinged with ideas of eugenics (something I plan to reply to eventually in Voidstrider), colored no small amount by misogyny and racism, scientifically implausible, more than a bit lacking in any kind of human personality… But, still, wow. The way the tale expands, with new villains being discovered and the battles getting ever more incredible until you’ve got what are essentially superheroes whacking each other and wiping out solar systems in the process. It’s really something.

I think Neal Asher may be the true heir to Smith in this regard. I haven’t come across anyone else writing about building what’s essentially a gun that shoots a black hole at something. His Rise of the Jain trilogy is a fucking accomplishment.

When I started the series, I was thinking a lot about Doc Smith’s Lensmen. But I was also giving a lot of thought to some other inspirations. I first discovered the Robotech series through the “Jack McKinney” novelizations, and later devoured the show (a college roommate and I binged the series one semester, and had all sorts of weird in-jokes about it). The format of those novelizations really informed the structure for Voidstrider. Roughly 200 pages, you’d blast through one in an afternoon or two.

Another source of inspiration was my lifelong love of comics. Like just about every other kid in the 90s, I got into Marvel’s X-Men — my favorite bits are from Claremont’s lengthy tenure, when the team ventured out into space. Not just the Phoenix saga, but any issues with the Shi’ar and the Brood.

I have also always been a gigantic Fantastic Four fan. (Dan Slott’s recent run was a masterpiece. I’m still on the fence about the current North/Coello run.) Marvel’s First Family are superheroes, for sure, but they’re also an excellent rendition of that old pulp mainstay, the super-scientist and his family.

I watched a lot of Jonny Quest as a kid too. Read plenty of Tom Swift adventures. And I’m eagerly awaiting the Venture Bros film.

Voidstrider doesn’t really feature a “super-scientist,” but you can well imagine there were a few working in the background to create the Voidstrider drive system that gets mentioned constantly throughout the first three volumes (and will finally be demonstrated in the upcoming fourth volume). And, much like the Fantastic Four, once the experimental ship finally leaves its dock, my heroes (some of them, at least) will be catapulted into strange new worlds and alternate dimensions.

One final bit of inspiration: Perry Rhodan. It’s had far less of an impact, mainly because you just can’t get Perry Rhodan in English. (Ace released a bunch of translations back in the day, which are impossible to find. Good news, J-Novel Club is releasing English translations of the rebooted Perry Rhodan NEO series that started back in 2011. They have 13 volumes (translating the first 26 original German editions) out so far.

The Perry Rhodan series is everything pulp science fiction ought to be, if you ask me. It’s Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and Fantastic Four and all of it, and that kind of magic pulp synergy is exactly what I’m attempting to do in the Voidstrider universe. Here’s hoping I do it well enough that, five decades from now, someone’s translating the books into other languages to open the universe up to a whole new world of fans.

Musing on Worldbuilding

One goal of the Voidstrider books is creating a universe I can play in for decades to come. The central story of the Saga, as it currently stands and as it is planned out, chronicles humanity’s turbulent expansion into that larger stage.

It’s an origin story, I guess.

When I first started, the idea was to write a series of pulpy adventure stories. There was an overarching story (the broad strokes of which I had completely planned out) that would be divided up into segments, each one easily devoured in a day or two. Beach reads. Pulp.

The broad strokes haven’t changed in the years since. I’m still going to the same place, but the story segments have grown more complex. I got drawn in, and this is a good thing.

I’ve realized I’ll probably be writing stories in this universe for the rest of my life.

The upcoming, standalone tale of Serotonin Overload is just the first story set in this universe but set apart from the primary Saga novels. It’ll take place about 50 years before Revolt on Vesta, and there will be some pretty obvious connections to the “later” stories. It’s standalone, but certain elements of the world are ubiquitous and persistent.

Revolt on Vesta does establish, for example, that Valentin Miranov is over 160 years old and has operated his asteroid mining concern for decades. Villain Mick Cross inherited Cross Industries, the solar system’s leading manufacturer of weapons and military technology (as well as neural implants!), from her father … it’s entirely probable that Serotonin Overload, walking the cyberpunky streets of Cap City, might encounter a glittering holographic ad for Cross Industries tech.

These two stories stand entirely separate, but the world is interconnected. I think – hope? – this will serve to make both stronger, at least in terms of world-building. I think a lot about the worldbuilding to be found in Frank Herbert’s Dune novels and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Particularly with the latter, should a devoted reader find themselves magically transported to some random corner of that fantasy world, they would in all likelihood be able to name the city they found themselves in immediately. And those who have immersed themselves in the universe of Dune understand how ten thousand years of history have shaped the factions and situation of the original.

I may not cover 10,000 years … or I may. The original plan leads to a final situation that, while the story is concluded, a sandbox has been built in which to tell endless further stories. Unlike Dune, I’m not winding in on a narrow conclusion. I’m spiraling out into an endless universe.

One in which the story of The Voidstrider Saga – though complex, lengthy, and epic – is merely an origin story.

Finishing Vorkosigan

I recently finished my re-read of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (which in some cases was a first read). The series is an incredible achievement – sweeping space opera, generational family saga, the occasional comedy of manners … it’s a remarkable sequence of tales.

When Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, the chronological final volume as things stand, was released a few years ago, I remember seeing some negative reactions and associating them with certain other negative reactions to beloved science fiction franchises that cropped up around the same time. I mostly dismissed them as nonsense, because I felt that I could devour anything Bujold writes and be left wanting more. After all, that’s been true of every one of her books I’ve read.

Spoilers ahead. I’ve done my best to keep them minor, but you’ve been warned.

Eh. I’ve read it now, and I can see … some of the complaints. I kept waiting for the reveal of the sinister Cetagandan plot, or at least the treasonous machinations of the low-bidding plas-crete corporation. As I neared the final chapters, it dawned on me that these weren’t coming. No, this story really is “just” a romantic yarn.

It seems remarkably shitty of certain “fans” of the series to begrudge Cordelia Vorkosigan a new romance in her not-at-all sunset years. But maybe they’re put off by the nature of the relationship, given that we’re suddenly to believe she and the late Aral Vorkosigan were carrying on what this volume explicitly refers to as a three-way marriage all along.

Jole had been mentioned a number of times, going back years and years. He even turns up in a scene or two at Aral’s side. But while Aral’s bisexuality was addressed from the very beginning, these dots had never before been connected outright. It seemed fairly obvious to me this time through, but then I already knew a bit of where the final volume would go… I have to confess that the first time I read these books, I never noticed Jole at all.

Maybe it’s that we haven’t learned to love Jole? I wept at Aral Vorkosigan’s death. I genuinely love these people. (Even Ivan.) Maybe it’s simply our unfamiliarity with Jole that put readers off?

I dunno. I liked the guy, and I had zero objections throughout the book to him and Cordelia retiring together and making babies. If nothing else, Cordelia deserves another shot of happiness. Cordelia is too fucking awesome to wither in widowhood. She could have run off with the Cetagandan attache (who does have a story, just not one with much meat on it) and I’d have been okay with it. She’s Cordelia, for fuck’s sake.

The only problem I had with the book is that there really is no plot and scheme to uncover, no intrigue, no invasion, no Milesian denouement. I kept thinking – even though I’d read it quite recently – that there was more to A Civil Campaign, which I consider the true high point of the entire series. But there isn’t, not really. Sure, there’s some stuff going on beside the various parallel romantic threads of that novel, but … no huge, galactic ramifications to any of it. The chief difference is that we cared deeply about Miles, and Mark, and Gregor, and yes even Ivan; we were, if reading in chronological order, also quite fond of Kareen, newly enamored with Ekaterin, at least interested in Laisa, and … Oh yes. Ivan hadn’t met his Jacksonian bride yet. That was Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which had a whole ensemble-cast-heist-movie as its B-plot.

It helped, over the final 5 or 6 chapters, for me to view Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen for what it truly is: a capstone. An epilogue.

The story’s ended, and this is how they all wind up:

Miles and Ekaterin have achieved the joy they deserve (yes, deserve, in more senses than one); Ivan’s gotten married and finally moved to a new phase in his career, no longer ducking and playing dumb every chance he gets; Mark’s undergone extensive therapy and at least learned to live with himself, we trust that he and Kareen know what they’re doing, and he’s making gobs of money throughout the Nexus; Gregor has wed and produced an heir, to the great relief of many; the Barrayaran Empire itself has progressed through its character arc, shedding the neo-barbarism Cordelia found when she first arrived, advancing into a better future through the efforts of her family and Gregor’s, and taking its proper place in galactic society.

There’s no need for another clash with the Cetagandans. We’ve had several, and through the course of decades the Vorkosigans have beaten them and earned their highest respect. We don’t need to revisit Jackson’s Whole. Mark and Kareen, I have little doubt, will continue dismantling the worst of that planet’s criminal enterprises. And for Barrayar itself, we can trust that the world and people that once would have killed Miles outright for the misfortunes of his birth has grown wiser and kinder and more civilized, to the point where Miles’ wields power and influence second only to his foster brother the Emperor.

This book didn’t need intrigue, or treason, or salacious gossip for political purpose. It teased us with all three, mind you. I half-expected that Cetagandan exhibit to be a sinister plot right up until the penultimate chapter. I never quite stopped waiting for the Plas-Dan storyline to turn into some economic bid for a coup d’etat, right until the last. But those were red herrings, and that’s fine.

All the battles, of wits and of plasma weapons, have led to this: a happy ending. The struggle, at least for now, for this generation of Vorkosigans, has ended. Let them have their happy ending, even Cordelia. Aral would have wanted it.

Read an Ebook Week

The Smashwords Read an Ebook Week sale starts today! You can find all sorts of discounted prices at that link, thousands of ’em.

Seriously. Thousands. You can browse the sale with a number of filters, seeing only FREE books or $0.99 books or by discount percentage or by length … you know how search filters work.

So, yeah, why not go pick up some words and put ’em into your brain?

On a more direct note, all my titles available on Smashwords will be discounted 50% for the next seven days. Here, let me show you the links.

Revolt on Vesta

Launch into The Voidstrider Saga with volume 1, Revolt on Vesta, normally priced at $2.99 but half off for one week only. (You can find it at other retailers here, but not for half price!) It’s a fast-paced adventure yarn in the vein of classic pulp science fiction, but with a little less cardboard in the characters. Rockets and rayguns! Cybernetically augmented humans and genetically altered posthumans! Maybe even a dash of Alien Mind Control! What’s not to love?

An Officer of the Fleet

Continue the pulpy adventure in An Officer of the Fleet, normally $3.99 but half off for one week only. (Or at other retailers for full price.) Find out what happens next to space captain Aurora Dane, drunken reporter Francis Drake, and Martian space marine Shan Taishan. Discover the identity of the mysterious Djinn and learn the secrets of the sinister Angel and its plans for humanity.

The Angel and the Djinn

Catch up with the latest installment, The Angel and the Djinn, half off this week only. (Or pick it up from one of those lame, not-on-sale joints.) An alien menace bent on dominating mankind! A ghost in the machine! Body snatchery! Snarky robots! Plus, old foes working together, female friendship, and a reluctant hero facing the demons of his past!

Get the whole series (to date) for around five bucks! That’s a deal! And, while the series is not complete, these first three volumes form a (mostly) complete tale of alien invasion and mind control and humanity’s struggle against it. This is the first act of The Voidstrider Saga, an epic pulp adventure that will see humanity spread to the stars … or destroy themselves trying. Volume 4 is in the works!

Did I mention SALE? SALE. SALE!

Hey, Look at the Moon

A couple months ago I decided to get into a new hobby. The weather here hasn’t been terribly cooperative with my desire to sit outside of an evening for hours on end, but last night was … bearable.

I’ve added a few items to my overall kit, and last night I played around with some different filtering lenses. You can’t tell because I’ve desaturated the image, but in the original picture the moon is an extremely gross shade of yellow.

This is the best image I’ve managed to get so far, and I’m not thrilled by the resolution I was able to achieve. Keep in mind though, I’m holding a smart phone up to a tiny aperture on a chilly night. There was some shaking.

I do have a doohickey to attach the phone and hold it for me, but it mashes the power button because why would we design things for universal compatibility? What are you, some kinda socialist?

Anyway. There it is, the Moon. You’ve seen it in the sky, now see it on your screen.

Feel like helping me afford more fancy gizmos and doohickeys so I can take better pictures of faraway stuff? I do write books, you know. You can click that Shop link up above or click right here. There’s even a sale starting tomorrow on all titles at Smashwords!

Update from the Road

Syd and I are on vacation this week. It’s a much-needed break from work and winter. We’re staying in the weirdest house, which I’ll describe in some future post, but for now I just wanted to note a couple of things.

But first, take a look at this mind-boggling sand-sculpture we came across yesterday evening while walking the beach before dinner. The artist – and there’s no more appropriate word than that – had departed by the time we discovered their handiwork, but WOW. Look:

Sand-sculpture Buddha, artist unknown. Reddington Beach, Florida.

SPEAKING OF ARTISTS! I’ve begun working with an artist for the cover of my upcoming cyberpunk novel. I’m not anticipating a release until late fall at the very earliest, given the current state of the draft, but I was antsy. Besides which, the story itself will not undergo any further alterations and the cover itself … well, you’ll see. Eventually.

I found someone whose portfolio jumped out at me, and I think his style is perfectly suited to the story. I’d already marked this artist for the shortlist when I realized he is based in Ukraine. The ongoing war makes communication a bit sporadic – he has blackouts to cope with, electricity only a few hours per day, and of course the chaotic situation that could change dramatically at any time – but I’m very excited to see what he comes up with. And it’s a nice touch to be able to spend some money directly in Ukraine, ultimately insignificant as that may be. (It’s a damn sight more effective than giving the same amount of money to, say, the Red Cross.)

That’s enough of a tease for now, I guess.

In other news, an upcoming promotion! Smashwords is doing Read an Ebook Week from March 5 to March 11. That’s just two weeks away. There’ll be all sorts of promo pricing going on, probably some freebies. You could bookmark the sale page ahead of time:

I’ll be participating, with all my titles set to 50% off regular price – this is on Smashwords only, mind you – for the duration. I’ll be sure to remind everyone when the time comes. In two weeks.