You can read today's story HERE!
Sorry about the delay of this essay, work on my book's release continues to sap a lot of my time away. )
Summary: James Howler and his troops wait around on a mining platform on Ganymede expecting and attack and being bored. There is an attack.
Its December 2nd 2004. We've passed thanksgiving, and we're moving on to Christmas. In WARS news, with the first Cardset now about two months out, the push to market the next cardset begins, though that set won't be out for yet another month, ish. This beginning is of course Nowhere to Hide, the story named after the upcoming set, Nowhere to hide. Its even fair to say there is nowhere to hide from writing the name Nowhere to Hide for me, especially because this story is only the first half of the story Nowhere to Hide.
Nowhere to Hide.
Whats most notable about Nowhere to Hide is that this is the WARS story we'd in many days been expecting since day one. While we've been treated to Cyberpunk lowlife, corporate infiltration and Samurai squabbles, and a few minor skirmishes, other than the flashback to Phobos we haven't gotten a look at a the sort of giant proper space opera style battles the name WARS implies. In fact, its been fairly strange because of that. While the stories we have had have certainly been a lot of fun, and established a unique world that captures the imagination, its still missing the kind of stories that you'd actually imagine when playing the card game the stories are supposed to be taking place in. You can't really imagine that two players face off in a discussion of the fate of humanity as they spread through the stars and whether jingoism or snark is the most appropriate response to problems when the card game has you giving them weapons instead of witty retorts and blowing each other up. No, its time to admit a failing of the WARS stories so far I really didn't want to, because to be honest I prefer those stories to this one. To me, those stories are more of what WARS is: snarky and mildly philosophical space adventures. But lets face the painful fact here that making a card game about interstellar war where you don't show the people reading your short fiction and interstellar war might have some problems with it. For all I love those earlier WARS stories, this story should have come much earlier, because this story imagines perfectly what an interstellar war would look like in WARS, and more than that you can imagine that the story actually could take place in a battle in the card game.
This is WARS taken back to its roots. This isn't the weirdness of “The First Arrow Was Light But the Second Went Deep” where when I read it as a kid I had to take a minute to go “is this whole story really just an alien putting its body back together while being stuck up?” with a tone of awe that the story was willing to do something that weird and cool. This isn't Cyberpunk. This isn't a political thriller. This is a story where essentially the Imperial Assault on Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back” happens in WARS. Its the set up and beginings of a big battle ending on a cliffhanger. Its what we needed to see to imagine this world , because its what was supposed to be happening from the get go. Finally we understand little things, like how the Gongen deploy their giant Nobot robots, and get to see things in WARS we saw on the cards that were supposed to be so very important but we never saw: Juggernauts, James Howler in action, Blades, Ikazuchi, Gongen carriers. For anyone who loved these things in the game, this is a real treat. Its fantastic fun. Even Sheria Coreg finally returns, giving us some much needed character continuity between tales with all the newly introduced people showing up every week.
A pessimist could call this story generic, after all it doesn't try anything new, but that would not be fair at all to it. After all, what is wrong with Star Wars? For all people love it, the original Star Wars film from 1977 really didn't challenge any line of political thought, or make some grand philosophical statement. The good guys fight the bad guys. Boom. Things explode. Its exciting. And so is this. Its just what WARS needs, some good old military Sci-Fi fiction to spice things up. But its sadly too little too late, not that we know that yet.
WARS first tried to make itself Star Wars, then tried to make itself decidedly not Star Wars, and now its back to being Star Wars again. While this story is too little too late in some regards, it also is a testament to the absolute versatility of the setting. WARS can support stories like a big popcorn heavy summer blockbuster where things blow up everywhere, and it can support just as easily a story with no violence that’s just a philosophical discussion. These types of stories might not be everyone's cup of tea, but WARS can do each of them, and do them well, and that is its greatest strength. This isn't a universe where good always wins, but its also not a universe where it can't. Its multiplicity is the best thing about it, and when it finds ways to change, it finds ways to thrive.
So oddly, doing something derivative is actually a kind of creative leap. We have a story here that sounds very much at times like it could be set on Hoth in Star Wars, with characters being sent out to fix things, and strange goings on inside that base that are reminiscent of elements of the deleted Wampa subplot where they sneak into the rebel base.
Which brings us to what makes this different from Star Wars in the end, and what makes it still WARS. Despite being only a short story, this manages to fulfill some of the unfulfilled promises of Star Wars. This isn't just good versus evil, because the Gongen aren't evil, and neither are the Earthers. The kinds of conversations between background characters many people wanted to see in Star Wars get to take place. Even though this is a space opera, its not only the heroes making the big decisions getting lines and interesting things to do, but the little guys working at every part of the system get their own time in the sun as well.
Maybe this is the big thing that makes WARS unique and interesting. Because its so cut up, made up of so many different people, there are no main characters. Now, I've called this a fault before, and from a marketing standpoint it totally is. There should be big characters that can be latched onto as the iconic heroes of the setting, and while we have important people we all know the name of, only Starhawk and Torako have really fallen into the role of people on a heroic quest we can follow the adventures of. I've said this story was a great move marketing wise as well, and it is in the sense that its the card game and Star Wars reflected on the page.. But lets throw aside marketing at the time, and look at what the story does for us now. We get lots of people, all interacting on a base. We learn about them in broad strokes enough to care about them at least a little, and we see they are all important and do their own job in their own way. None of them can function without the rest. Luke Skywalker isn't going to come in and blow up all the Gongen with a lucky hit, or kill their leader in a duel. No, WARS isn't that kind of Universe. This is a place where everybody matters.
Not just the gods and kings, not just the hero with the magic sword, everyone. The guy who fixes the vents. The young woman in her bunk. The commander. The mechanics. None of them are treated as any less important to the narrative, and hence none of them are less valuable as people. It doesn't feel like if they die it would be meaningless. No one is expendable.
That's a beautiful thing about WARS, I think.
But of course, we leave you on a Cliffhanger, with nowhere to hide from it till next time.