Hey everyone I just wanted to let you know that this blog is going to be going to twice a week now. With my current schedule of things, trying to complete three posts a week has just slowed down two of the posts most of time, and rushed them or left them incomplete. I'd rather the blog be consistent than this constant random post timing. Sorry about the reduced frequency of posts.
Doctor who 3-26-05
If you're a fan of Doctor Who, check out my Doctor Who poetry book I wrote to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary HERE!
If you don't know anything about WARS, get a quick rundown HERE!
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Russel T. Davies is putting Together his new version of the Television show Doctor Who. A classic sci-fi series from the 60's it had been in in a sort of limbo between existing and not existing for quite some time after being canceled in the late 80's. It came back for a one off TV-Movie that was meant to be the pilot for a new TV show, but it didn't work out and fans of the show had to wait till 2005 for the show to get new regular episodes. When it came back, the show was re-invented, rejuvenated, and yet still adhered to being the same show it had been when it was a niche show in the 60's. Doctor Who of course became massively popular, and is still going strong with the premiere of the newest actor to take on the leading role, Peter Capaldi, not too long before this writing. Doctor Who as far as we know didn't influence the creation of WARS much, none of the original creators have ever mentioned it as an influence, but it became a success at exactly the time WARS was failing and proving to be exactly the sort of failure the naysayers had anticipated. Both Doctor Who and WARS were new versions of an old concept trying to reinvent themselves for a new market. Unlike Battlestar Galactica, this new version of Doctor Who didn't just last a few years with short lived spin off, it's still going, and had two spin offs that lasted for as many seasons (though not as many episodes because of the lower orders per year of British TV) or more than BSG did, as well as a whole TV show just about making Doctor Who. It even managed a gigantic worldwide 50th Anniversary celebration, with a giant episode screened in Cinemas and posting record breaking viewing figures. Its pretty clear that this is the kind of success that any property dreams it will have, and as fans of WARS looking on at a 10th Anniversary that is rapidly approaching without the hint of anything specifically made to celebrate that Anniversary in the works. Sure, we're far more than grateful for the final trilogy of WARS novellas we'll be getting in 2014, but anniversaries are times to celebrate with something special, and its hard to celebrate when WARS is still trying to get on its own two feet.
Doctor Who has of course earned its new-found place in the throne of geekdom, the new 2005 series has managed to constantly reinvent itself over and over again to keep itself fresh. While this has led to charges that the show is constantly dying, constantly being ruined, and constantly terrible from the moment that the first episode of the revival “Rose” aired on March 26th 2005, to the episode that aired the weekend this was written, “Robot of Sherwood”. The show has been constantly changing, and constantly finding a new audience. The show has done everything from dark gritty war stories to wacky comedies, and has changed its tone from everything from an educational science and history show to one about fairy tales, all while managing to have new fans who love and appreciate what the show has become despite all the changes, even while it always inevitably loses a few who hate the new changes.
However, Doctor Who was also and is also totally recognizable as itself. No matter what there are always some recognizable elements: the Doctor (an alien who travels around the universe righting wrongs and having adventures), the companion(s) (the trusty sidekick(s) of the Doctor who help him out on his journeys) and the TARDIS (a time traveling blue box that can also travel through space). Sometimes the show will try to do stories without one of these elements, but even then it usually ends up being a story about how that element isn't there and what happens when its not. Even while the show changes, it never strays too far from its core. The essential elements are always still there, or right within reach to bring back in at a moment's notice. Its familiar even when its different.
Its amazing how clever Russel T. Davies was when he brought the show back in how he managed to make the show so utterly accessible to new viewers while still respecting the canon of the old series. The way he did it was fairly simple: he simply killed off some of the elements of the setting that were the hardest to explain quickly to new viewers, and then slowly introduced them to the viewers as the Doctor tried to deal with their demise. While it pissed off plenty of fans to have killed off (offscreen!) elements considered so important to the world of the show, the show itself could function easily without them. You just need the Doctor, a companion, and a TARDIS. The audience was totally free from having to deal with the burden of having a massive amount new information dropped on them, and could instead absorb it slowly while picking up the very simple idea of “a guy in a timemachine/spaceship picks up a friend to have adventures with” and gets introduced to the complexities of the world through those adventures.
We're also given a figure to identify with through the companion, the first of which in the revival is Rose, a working class girl with few prospects outside of working a job in a shop for the rest of her life. We follow these new alien worlds the Doctor takes her to and share in her wonder and delight at them, and revel as she meets historical figures. Its all very good fun.
Less talked about is the careful structure of Doctor Who's episodes. In every season of the revival show there is an episode set in space/the future/an alien world, and episode set in Earth's history, and an episode set in the modern day on Earth, and oftentimes these can be found within the first three episodes of a season. By showing these three types of stories to the viewer, the show reintroduces its basic premise of the kinds of stories it tells so that new viewers are always aware of them, while also providing a structure for the show so it always has certain sorts of thematic beats for viewers to latch onto. Its also terribly clever, and it works so well the show hasn't changed that aspect of its structure even while its experimented with different types and lengths of stories constantly.
Its sort of depressing trying to compare all of this to WARS in some ways, because the story of WARS' setting was in many ways secondary to the fact that there was a cardgame. And I mean, of course it was. I'm under no illusions that the stories around the game only exist in order to help sell the card game in the first places, but it does make one wish the stories had reached the level of narrative coherence of something like Doctor Who, even while they were in a different medium far less accessible than television.
Essentially, the different between WARS and Doctor Who is that Doctor Who realized that it doesn't really matter if people understand your setting as long as they care about the stories that are set in it. Doctor Who barely has a setting, it changes constantly, but the characters and their stories remain despite the shifting between worlds. WARS took this approach backwards, and cared first about introducing the setting.
For all I love the brave ridiculousness or WARS' early “essay stories” which I've gushed about previously for how fantastic they are, and for all I love the weirdness of WARS' setting, we come back once again to the tired tired point this blog has reiterated so often I'm not even sure I need to write it anymore: there isn't one story people can go back to and say “this is WARS”. The essay stories focus almost entirely on not just introducing, but dissecting different elements of the WARS setting, and lest we forget, the first real thing we got to look at was a document introducing the setting and the different factions of the universe. Its all very cool, and if you're invested in WARS, you're going to lap up the massive amount of detail there...
...But what if you don't care at all about WARS? What if you're some casual person dropping in on the setting with no real clue why you should care about it? What is going to make you care?
Doctor Who catered to the newbies first, the people who weren't obsessive about it, and it really paid off. WARS was targeted at people who had been playing the Star Wars card game Decipher had already been playing, hoping to get them interested in something new obsessively, but even there we find an issue. You see, Doctor Who has always been similar to Doctor Who. You can always recognize it. WARS is really very little like Star Wars, and while I love the setting for what it is, from a marketing standpoint it probably should have felt a bit more like Star Wars to draw in the people they were targeting. The strangeness of the setting screamed that it wanted new blood, but the way it was marketed screamed that it wanted the old guard. It didn't catch either group with the fervency it wished. All of which is old hat at this point. We know WARS didn't work, and Doctor Who did. Doctor Who celebrated a crazy spectacular 50th, while WARS 10th is filled with hoping that this amazing setting gets more exposure than it has in the past and more stories.
But this article has been fairly doom and gloom, so lets take a glimpse to the future. We're not going to go too far down this rabbit hole, but the latest WARS Novellas have been taking lessons from the Doctor Who model: they Novellas have all featured small groups of consistent characters with one central protagonist running through each of the faction's novellas. This gives them variety as they show different perspectives and cultures, while still holding together a narrative consistency. They've removed some of the more complicated and hard to explain elements by setting the Novellas in the past so that they can be introduced and explained slowly as opposed to all at one. The Grail Quest Books Novellas really seem to be doing everything right so far, and they're a heckuva lot of fun. Here's hoping there is another round of them.
WARS is a terribly rich setting, and like Doctor Who it can tell a vast array of different types of stories. Its exactly the kind of Sci-Fi that should get the chance to go on and tell crazy stories in the future, but due to its obscurity, might not. We can only hope.
Happy anniversary WARS, Happy anniversary Doctor Who, you've both done so well and I love you both. Cheers to dreams of the TARDIS running through the Mumon Rift.
Cheers to a long future for us all.
Nathan P. Butler is the author of two WARS Novellas, and is our guest once again! (You can read his first interview in two parts HERE and HERE.)
Our fanfiction contest is still running, and you can find details on how to enter Here!
First off, could you introduce yourself to the readers?
I am Nathan P. Butler (the “P.” so as not to be confused with the Star Trek writer, Jerry Sohl, who used “Nathan Butler” as a pen name). I am the writer of two WARS: The Battle of Phobos novellas for the Earther faction, Healers and Hunters and On Red Soil. I am also the writer of the time travel novel (that folks really should read, plug plug plug!) Greater Good, and I contributed a few times to the Star Wars saga’s “Legends Continuity” with Equals and Opposites in the pages of Star Wars Tales, assistance on The Essential Atlas (by Jason Fry and Dan Wallace), and the like.
Writing is a freelance sideline for me. I’m a high school Social Studies teacher by profession. I teach at a Title I (i.e. many low income households) high school in the southwest Atlanta metro area, currently teaching World History and Advanced Placement World History, with previous years teaching American Government, Economics, World Geography, Debate, and Constitutional Law.
In fandom, I’m an active member of the Star Wars fan community. I am the creator/compiler of The Star Wars Timeline Gold (“the most comprehensive Star Wars chronology available anywhere”), founder of the Star Wars fan audio directory StarWarsFanworks.com, and a Star Wars podcaster since 2002, currently heard on Star Wars Beyond the Films and The Star Wars Report’s Rebels Roundtable. I also host a series of YouTube videos on Star Wars, such as my From the Star Wars Home Video Library series.
I’m a total geek, but my wife adores it, so I’m allowed to live.
How did you get involved in WARS?
I was contacted by Josh Radke of Grail Quest Books in late 2009. He had found me through Facebook, I believe, and at the time I had written for Star Wars Tales in 2004 and had just self-published the original version of my time travel (and telepaths!) novel Greater Good maybe two months earlier. He asked if I was interested in writing for the WARS franchise, and my first reaction was . . . “What’s WARS?” (And why is this guy capitalizing every letter?)
He brought me up to speed on the general idea of the WARS saga, and I got excited by what I was hearing. I dove into the WARS saga headfirst, buying a lot of WARS TCG boosters (from both Incursion and Nowhere to Hide, of course), the six starter desks, and the three Mongoose Publishing WARS RPG books out of my own pocket, then researching the heck out of the WARS universe. (To date, I still have an almost complete set of the WARS TCG – all the regular cards but two, I believe.)
After that, it was a matter of coordinating with the series editor, the other writers, and the previously existing materials to pitch the story that eventually became Healers and Hunters.
Since we last talked, your second WARS novella was released, which delves much deeper into some of the complicated aspects of WARS. What was it like getting to deal with some of the more personal consequences of a WAR between planets?
I really enjoyed it. Healers and Hunters was written with sort of an Aliens vibe. You know, the ol’ “monsters are in the dark, so you’d better not be a minor character if you value your life” type of tale. It was more about introducing the universe to new fans and setting up characters than being able to use an existing foundation to delve deeper into those characters. With On Red Soil, I finally had the chance to do that with Rogan, Jannett, and Jerlen, but there’s something to be said for the freedom that comes with
taking a character that didn’t exist in the game (Kippli) and getting to create and develop that character from the ground up.
I know we’ll get into the genesis of the character later, but I loved being able to zoom in on one man’s personal struggle to do right by his people, his job, and, most importantly, his family. The war between the Earthers and Gongen would be all about powers and principalities, so to speak, but for a person caught amid that war, the primary concern has to be: “how do I protect my family?”
At one point, I had actually planned to make the first novella I wrote into a story about Chan Whitmer. I thought it would be fun to tell a spy story with a primary character who was East Asian by ancestry but Earther by allegiance. We abandoned that idea early on because we wanted to set up heroic Earther characters to be a sort of core “fellowship” to carry on through all three Earther faction novellas.
As it turns out, my second novella gave me the chance to look at the cultural issue (and briefly use Whitmer) by making one of the protagonists an Earther with East Asian roots whose wife is Gongen and son is of mixed heritage. At the time we started fleshing out ideas for what was then just called Earther-2, the only things that were certain about Kippli were his name and that he was a diplomat from Earth to Gongen. What better circumstances to have a man who understands both factions and finds himself with family roots on both sides of the fence? He’s a good man “going native” and finding that the other side isn’t all “evil” but instead a nation of other “good men.”
If you’ve ever seen the film Thirteen Days about the Cuban Missile Crisis, there’s a great moment where Anotoly Dobrinyn, representing the Soviets, tells Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s brother: “You’re a good man. Your brother is a good man. I assure you there are other good men. Let us hope the will of good men is enough to counter the terrible strength of this thing that was put in motion.” I think that’s Kippli in a nutshell.
Would you live on the Earth of WARS, or on Gongen, if given the chance?
Confession time: writers often write characters to be similar to themselves or idealized versions of themselves. That said, I think I would hope to be someone like Rogan Hallard. He lives in a meritocracy, he is a proponent, presumably, of economic freedom (something I particularly value, given that I’ve been an economics teacher), and he is a patriot, but at the same time, he values life and honor, and he is willing to try to see both sides in the conflict and serve the greater good by helping the wounded on both sides. Rogan’s characteristic of being from a family with many people in the medical field, yet him serving others in a different way is very much based on my own family, with my father, stepmother, sister, and an aunt all in medical fields, yet my mother and I both feeling a similar call to “serve” through teaching.
So, I’d be an Earther, but I wouldn’t be a jingoistic bigot. (I’m looking at you, Jossel Swin . . . at least after I was through with you!)
What stories inspired or influenced your writing?
I’m a big fan of Star Wars, which is my main sci-fi passion and the franchise I grew up wth, so that universe influenced me in both writing and much of the rest of my worldview. I tend to aspire to produce writing that reaches toward Aaron Sorkin in terms of dialogue and J. Michael Straczynski in terms of weaving a solid sci-fi adventure tale. A lot of my WARS writing was inspired by the game, once I dug into it. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but writing in the pre-Rift era has a different feel than telling a story in the post-Rift era of the actual game, so it felt at times like the latter was inspiring ideas in the former.
What is your favorite thing about writing in the WARS Universe?
I love the idea of three (or five post-Rift) factions in WARS. I mean, Star Wars has the Rebellion and the Empire, or the Separatists and the Republic, but it is usually pretty easy tell who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are. WARS is much more like Babylon 5 with its handful of major races and the interactions between them. Each side has its own view of right and wrong, good and evil, and thus makes each side feel like the heroes in their own tales, yet villains in the eyes of others. A good villain is often one whose decisions and actions aren’t about “being bad.” They make decisions they feel are toward a particular greater good or goal, but their methods and the underpinnings of their goals are what make them villains. Heck, when it comes down to it, Darth Vader was a boy who grew up a slave, grew up without a father, was taken away from his mother when he was a kid, was brought up in a monastic order that put pressure on him to be the fulfillment of a prophecy, and then ended up just wanting to save his wife from dying in childbirth. Just being “evil” is too simple. It’s the way each side looks at itself and the other factions that makes WARS so interesting.
Is there anything about the setting you don't like?
In terms of the setting as described through the roleplaying and trading card games, probably the thing that stands out the most is that there really aren’t designated “main characters.” There are characters who got their own cards when others only rated a mention in a card’s lore, but when writing for a franchise, you really need the ability to harken back to a core group of characters. Star Wars is about Luke, Han, Leia, Anakin, Obi-Wan, etc. Lord of the Rings is about Frodo, Gandolf, Aragorn, and the rest. Before we started writing the novellas, there really wasn’t a way to look at WARS and say it’s the story of Characters X, Y, and Z. It was a huge, sprawling, really cool setting, but outside of small bits of prose fiction and card lore, it was in most respects just a setting, rather than a storyline. The story was all the backstory for the game, not the game playing itself out, with the exception of the Incursion RPG adventure book. As a fan, I want more WARS stories to read myself.
Earth's corporate structure is very much a meritocracy, but in many ways Gongen's is too with Shocho putting people into career path's based on their strengths. Do you think their cultures are more similar than they would like to think they are?
Well, if we assume that a person will play to their strengths in terms of the career path they embark upon and their eventual choice of corporate affiliation, then one could argue that Earth is using the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith’s capitalism to accomplish the same ends as Gongen’s socialist or communist central planning. That’s one thing I find intriguing about WARS’ take on command economies. In real life, socialism and communism, when applied to entire societies, have resulted in more of an oligarchy than actual equality, the ol’ “some are more equal than others” aspect that George Orwell wrote about. WARS, though, leaves the decisions of its command economy (Gongen) to an artificial intelligence that, in theory at least, removes the element of human ambition and lust for power from the equation. The result is a capitalist society on Earth and a communist or socialist one on Gongen that both manage to thrive (unlike how purely communist countries in the real world have essentially self-destructed in the vein of the Soviet Union). Their methods are different, but their end result, at least in terms of individual skills being realized and put to use, ends up being very similar.
But that is a big part of the human experience, right? We enter into conflicts not just over major ideological differences (Judaism vs. Islam in the Middle East, Confucianism vs. Buddhism in China at one point), but also over minor differences amid many similarities (such as Shi’a vs. Sunni Islam in Middle East geopolitics).
Obviously a huge difference between them is the Western/Eastern cultural divide between Earth and Gongen. Do you think the divide in WARS is in any way an adequate Sci-Fi parallel of reality?
It isn’t the kind of divide that I think Americans often think of these days. We are preoccupied with American culture versus the goals of Islamic Extremists or with American sovereignty versus Central American culture in the immigration debate. In reality, yes, there are some pretty wide gaps between Western and East Asian cultures, but many of those differences have been papered over by changes in the last century, especially in Japan after World War II and China after the Great Leap Forward. As “they” have become more like “us,” our cultures have come to seem less different than they were in the past.
I would argue that the East / West divide is either more akin to (a) the era before Western Imperialism (the Opium War, etc.) when Western Europe was surging through the aftermath of the Renaissance, Reformation(s), and the Age of Exploration, and China had dominated East Asia (both on their own and under Mongol rule) for centuries or (b) the division of West and East that gave rise to the Cold War, since its philosophies better mirror WARS, but the culture of the West in that case was most concerned about the Soviet Union, rather than East Asian communists.
Again, there’s a lot we can see in WARS that is an allegory for history, but it isn’t a perfect parallel. Instead, it does what most good Science Fiction does: it takes elements from reality, realistic human behavior, and a dose of “What if?” to create a tale that is different enough to entertain but similar enough to our own experiences to feel grounded in realism.
Your Novella also features a family that is being torn apart by having parents on opposite sides of the war, a personal touch that really brings the war down to earth (so to speak). Can you tell us anything about the creation of Kippli Darnel?
Well, you hit it right on the head. My goal (and the goal of the team when discussing the different angles being taken in the different novellas for each faction) was to provide a more personal struggle in On Red Soil than something as sweeping as a planet versus planet throwdown. In Healers and Hunters, I had a responsibility to sort of reintroduce readers to the WARS universe while telling a story focused on the Earthers and building characters for that faction that would be able to carry forward into the series and, eventually, into the game era. With that in mind, I’d focused in on the inter-company rivalries on Earth and how the Mavericks could come in to profit from it. I’d hit two of the three factions, but not the two that were about to engage in full-scale war. I look back on it as being akin to what Fantasy Flight Games (for fellow RPG fans out there) did with their Star Wars roleplaying line recently. Rather than jumping straight into the Rebellion versus Empire conflict, they focused more on a seedier, fringe side of things with Edge of the Empire, holding that greater conflict for their second outing, Age of Rebellion.
In that same vein, I had introduced (reintroduced? Is there such a thing as “pre-introduced?”)Rogan, Jannett, and Jerlen back in Healters and Hunters when dealing with Pepper and Joker, but that was a sort of fringe conflict. I’d made references and such within that story to explain the situation in the Solar System, but On Red Soil was about taking these characters that we now knew (better than we knew them from just their trading cards) and putting them into the primary conflict of the Battle of Phobos series: Earth versus Gongen.
As I said earlier, what I really enjoy about WARS is that it isn’t simply “good versus evil” all the time. Each faction has reasons to see itself as “good” and the others as “evil,” so there is a lot of gray in this universe. That is something I think the novella series does well, as a whole, since there are three novellas from each faction in the full nine-novella series, but I wanted to get into the gray areas on a more personal level within one novella.
The result was Kippli. Having taught history for over a decade now, I’ve always been interested in the “other” people in war: not just the soldiers and leaders but the citizens, refugees, and foreign nationals caught in the middle. I think about what it may have felt like to be a Japanese diplomat, delivering Imperial
Japan’s message to FDR right after the Pearl Harbor attack. You know that you are stuck in an enemy country and the only thing that really protects you are the “rules of war” that in themselves are just artificial boundaries society has created and said we won’t cross in order to make ourselves feel that war can be somehow kept “civilized.” I don’t know about you, but if I’m that diplomat, I’m in need of fresh undies after that meeting!
I also frequently teach students who are of mixed heritage, especially those who have one white parent and one African American parent, and I see how they are often tugged back and forth between “cultures” by their peers. I also remember my mother’s story of how, as a white kid, growing up in Evansville, Indiana, which is something like 80% white, she once tried to point something out to me and said it was over by where “that black man” was standing, and I had no friggin’ clue what she was talking about because the concepts of “white and black” had never been part of my upbringing, probably because of how monochromatic my town tended to be. Juxtaposing those two different racial perspectives on childhood, I actually started out wondering if perhaps I should have Kippli be of mixed heritage: Earther and Gongen.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I kept thinking about the childhood angle, and how the way one is introduced to cultural, racial, and gender differences as a child shapes how one relates in those ways as an adolescent and onward. What intrigued me, though, was how a young child doesn’t naturally see things through those lenses. Kids just see “people” until someone teaches them that there are differences. That interested me, but it wasn’t as though I could make Kippli a toddler or something, so I latched on to my feelings of sympathy toward parents who face raising mixed heritage children in areas where cultural differences are the subject of intense feelings on both sides. Thus, Kippli became that kind of father, torn between cultures not because of his heritage but that of his son.
Rogan, Jerlen, Jannett, and Ryuu are great and all, but to me, the most interesting character in either of my novellas is Kippli. I’m excited to see where the third Earther novella takes him, since I’m not writing that one!
Is there anything you'd like to say we didn't ask you about?
Well, if you are looking for any of my “stuff” online, you can find more on my written works and links on how to find them at nathanpbutler.com, my Star Wars Timeline Gold and some of my podcasts at starwarsfanworks.com, and my current podcasts among the podcast family over at starwarsreport.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter, and you can find that info on those sites as well.
And, on a completely obsessive compulsive note: If you happen to have an extra “Premeditated Reaction” or “Seyal / Dark Side” . . . the folks here at the site know how to reach me. Help an Earther out!
Is there anything you'd like to say to fans on this 10th Anniversary of WARS?
I am almost embarrassed to say that I was not a fan of WARS when it began in 2004. I had honestly never heard of it until I was asked to write for the franchise in the year of its 5th Anniversary. I tip my hat to those of you who were there in the beginning. I have come to love this saga and had a blast during my time writing in its universe, and I can only imagine the thrill of having discovered it for the first time back when the card game and its spinoff RPG were both still in full swing.
Thank you all for welcoming me and the rest of the team into WARS with such enthusiasm, and I hope we have done the universe we all enjoy justice. Above all, I hope you have enjoyed Healers and Hunters and On Red Soil. Where the franchise goes when the WARS: The Battle of Phobos novella series ends is anyone’s guess right now, but I know my fondness for the community built around this five-faction slugfest will be around for the rest of my days as a writer, gamer, and fellow fan.
Claim Jumper by Michael O'Brien 12-16-04
You can read today's story HERE!
Summary: Two Mavericks break into a ruined Gongen base, find some Traginium filled NoBot hearts, blow up some Shi and Quay while trying to betray each other, and then team up.
Its December 16th 2004, and we're getting introduced to Michael O'Brien. We've had several distinct things WARS has been at this point, most of which could have been several totally different settings if it weren't for the names shared between the stories. Nowhere to Hide part 2 changed that with its changing perspectives between Earthers and Gongen, and here we have the first of Michael O'Brien's stories that focus on taking the diverse world's we've built up, and chucking characters from one world into the other. This is quite distinct from the times we've had characters encounter other factions before in that this time we're encountering elements we’re familiar with. Indeed, this story's actual focus is to act as a pseudo-sequel to Nowhere to Hide, allowing us as the audience to learn information that explains the events of that story without those characters from Nowhere to Hide learning it.
This is a great way to do serialized storytelling as it turns out, and while as we stated before its totally too late, its certainly an effective way to deal with the problems of wanting to make a running story out of a card game where you want as many figures from the card game to appear in the fiction as possible. That's been the straining element in WARS fiction this whole time: where is the line between marketing and narrative? The flush of characters rushing in and out, the way that people drop off of the stories after only one or two appearances, it makes it very difficult to be invested. But this is an adequate replacement: if you aren't going to let people get invested in people over the long term, you need to get them invested in something, and a long running intertwining mystery is certainly a good way to go. While this story explains one thing from Nowhere to Hide (why is it that people want the Traginium anyways?) it still doesn't actually explain all of the reasons why they need it (okay, so you can make NoBot hearts out of Traginium... Why do you need more? Are the NoBots running out and need replacements? Are the Gongen planning on building a whole new slew of NoBots?). Which is the perfect balance of giving readers an answer to a mystery while still leaving them wanting more. Over all, WARS has finally found its form, and its a form its basically going to stick with all the way to the bitter unanswered end.
Its just a pit they didn't figure this out from the get go.
The story itself as a story definitely falls into the category of Cyberpunk, with a pair of Mavericks who are living in a very Cyberpunk plot (one isn't about to pay off their internal organs, I mean, this is classic gritty future stuff here) who don't like each other searching for things to get money, but also working hard to figure out how to betray each other. The ending, where after a Quay and Shi pop into the base that the pair are searching in, they get blown up because the crates of equipment were rigged to blow up in case one of the pair betrayed the other, is the sort of rollicking black humor that Cyberpunk is built on. That the characters lightheartedly decide to team up based on their mutual dishonor is just the icing on the cake here. Its good fun, and exactly the sort of thing that brings a smile to your face on a cold December afternoon.
We've now bound our worlds together: the Cyberpunk grunge has met the Space Opera, and instead of choosing one over the other has shrugged, thrown up its hands and asked why it can't just go ahead and do both.
We're also shown a new side of the Mavericks here: while Starhawk managed to fit into Gongen culture, this time we're shown Mavericks who treat the rest of the factions in the WARS Universe as being inherently outsiders that all get nicknames. Gongs, SeeGeeks, Floaters, Demons.... The new names change the other factions inherently.
Names are a powerful thing, what something is called changes the way people think about it, the power that it holds over a person and the way it affects the universe around it. There is a reason that throughout history people have been choosing to rename things in order to change the way that people perceive them. From cities being renamed to lay a new claim to the city's purpose (New Amsterdam to New York, New Rome to Constantinople to Istanbul) to political concepts being renamed (the fight over the terms “Global Warming” and “Global Climate Change” comes to mind) to words that change people's personal identities (new words coming into being for new identities and movements, words being invented to change those groups into angels or demons) words hold a significant and increasing power in the Universe. As our world becomes more technological, these words hold more power to change the way we perceive the world as we can spread the meanings of those words over a wider playing field than ever before. Its not just that the worlds have power, its that we're giving them even more power without realizing it.
But there is something arcane to this whole affair, its not just that words are potent because of our brain chemistry, but because language itself is something inherently outside of nature. Sure, many animals communicate, but only humans have developed a complex system of symbols and sounds that communicate complex imagery and ideas. Our speech and text may be something we can do biologically, but it has still separated us from the natural world. In being able to mentally understand the underlying systems of the universe, we get farther from touching them at a base animalistic level. Which really isn't a bad thing, after all who would really in all honesty want to go back to hunting and gathering with no way outside of pointing and growling to express the pool of chaos with ourselves? No, words are a good thing, they are simply unnatural, and thus people have often associated them with the arcane.
With this comes the idea that a name has a spiritual power, and in some cultures secret names are given upon joining or initiating into certain groups that give that sort of power. It carries into mythology where there are some mystical creatures that can be controlled if only one learns their true secret names. Its from this big mess of ideas that we begin to make sense of names, which is a concept we're going to be talking about again so I may as well get the introduction to the topic wholly out of the way.
The Mavericks are the least powerful group in WARS, they mainly have to scrounge and scavenge their way around the Universe, and even their largest and most powerful groups are strange confederacies of gangs assembled under one larger banner like the Cartel and the Accord. Its only natural then that the Mavericks are the first to rename not one but all the factions. They're the most away from civilization, tied to strange frontier worlds and the blackness of space. They have the least safety nets, and seem to be the most superstitious of the WARS factions. Naturally, renaming things comes second nature to them.
The big name change in the setting is of course Gongen, which used to be Mars for the longest time till it got rechristened. Which once again shows a parallelism between the Gongen and the Mavericks. While the Mavericks certainly don't get along with the Gongen often, they got along with them well enough to have a city, Colocog, on the Gongen surface, which is more than can be said for the Earthers and Gongen. But the Mavericks are inherently averse to being too tied down to anything, making them less of a unified whole and more of freelancers.
But this synergy is played into in the story: while no living Gongen appear here, the Mavericks in the story still end up blowing up their payload (though of course its revealed there was more) in order to save the Gongen from the inevitable power the Shi would gain over them by knowing that the Traginium was so important to them. While they were certainly not above robbing the Gongen dead, they also aren't just going to commit them all to death.
The Gongen chose their own name, and Mavericks chose another one for them. They slink around each other in the rim, feeding off their successes and failures while the Earthers ready themselves to take back the solar system that should be theirs. The Shi and Quay fight their endless battle between each other, and ruin and lay waste to endless space in the process. Everything is being redefined, from names to friends to battle lines. Even here two Mavericks who should kill each other team up. Things are changing, the setting already isn't the place it was when the game started, and maybe if we go far enough the secret names of the Universe will change again.
Nowhere to Hide, Part 2 by Tim Ellington 12-9-04
You can read this week's story HERE!
Summary: The Gongen assault on the Earther facility takes place, and is defeated by cunning from James Howler. Sheria Coreg kills people like a badass and then vanishes.
Its an unfortunate truth of WARS that it was left unfinished. Plot threads dangle unconnected and unresolved. Characters we learned about open their mouths to say unfinished sentences, and the stars themselves shed light on half of half berried secrets, enticing us with the romance of a dead could have been empire. We said there was Nowhere to Hide, but it seems in the end we can hide ourselves in obscurity.
Its December 9th, 2004. We've had some time since the first part of this tale, and we've had the first really proper cliffhanger in WARS serialization. The story picks up where the last one left off, and we get most of a resolution to what we'd been wondering about. Most of one, anyways. This story though doesn't really end, there are too many unanswered questions here, ones which mostly weren’t questions we were asking to begin
Sheria Coreg: who was she in the end? She was the symbol of Earther Jingoism, but also the symbol of its future. Sheria was the hope in a united humanity, one that could stand together against the onslaught of outsiders. Certainly there are important questions about this ideal: is the binding of humanity to one ideal the murder of its diversity? Is a forced freedom one person chooses really freedom when its restricted? But these questions seem oddly worthless when Sheria is in fact lost in the end of WARS. She may as well have stepped into the rift at this point, because she is gone from our sight. Has her mind been gutted by CiSyn? Is she being trained to be a super soldier? A super hero? She's fairly clearly a Kizen, but what are the intentions here?
With. These questions haunt the narrative like ghosts. You can keep reading on till the end of this blog, you won't find any answers to them. They haven't been resolved. They won't be resolved. Well, a few will. A handful. A smattering. But this is in fact the story's greatest weakness, and its one it has no control over, which really is a pity because
Which also makes us question Kizen powers. The disappearance of Sheria is troubling because she is our introduction to the Earthers, she is their firmest believer and largest stalwart, and what does it say about the Earthers if she becomes and other to them? That something uncooth is going on here is fairly clear: after all CiSyn informs no one, simply whisking Sheria away. But what? And why?
Really this story is quite good, and its the kind of thing WARS needed to be. The actual battle itself is resolved wonderfully, and the switching of perspectives between the Gongen and the Earthers actually works incredibly well as a way to spice up the story. Where part 1 kept its suspense by showing us what the Earthers are doing without telling us who or what was planning against them till the very end, this story keeps moving by showing what everyone is thinking or feeling about the battle, even as both sides make incorrect assumptions, and follow their plans through realistically with no knowledge of the other side's plans. This not only works well, it works spectacularly, and ends up being a rather perfect model for how these sort of stories can be told in the
And who is that Gongen man anyways? The one we've never seem before, shadowy and elusive? What role does he have to play in the future? Who is he? What are his end goals? Certainly he is concerned about Traginium, and wants a lot of it. We will learn more about why they want the material in the future, and that mystery will be made clear, but this figure will continue to sit in the shadows. His motivations as elusive as the Illuminati. An all seeing eye of insight, perhaps.
Future. But what sort of future this is leading to is still a mystery. Certainly we are finally in the realm of space opera, rather than cyberpunk, but we're also in the realm of comparisons. Previously WARS showed us individual's stories, with the enemies in the stories showing us their vision of who those people are. Here though, we're given the group's views of each other. Whats strange is how it took us going into a more mainstream story style to get here. Star Wars of course isn't structured like this story, we don't see the empire's point of view on the battles. We aren't shown the view of a stormtrooper who thinks the Jedi were a dogmatic group holding the galaxy back through religious zeal, or how General Veers planned the invasion of Hoth. This is a huge shift, and after quite a bit of turmoil WARS has finally figured out how to properly be Star Wars while not being Star Wars. In many ways this lesson won't become apparent till WARS returns, but we're going to see more of this, and we're definitely going to see more adventures rather than philosophical ruminations. Of course, there is no reason why we can't have all of these things, and having all of them makes WARS stronger than it would be without them, but the shift comes here, in the middle, in the second part of a two part story, long after what WARS is has already been decided. This isn't a refinement, WARS doesn't stop being what it was, but it does open up new frontiers.
Its also nice to just see so many returning figures again, after all, these people have been disappearing from the page quite readily. We've had a massive turnover rate of characters, and some continuity is a blessing. The sad thing is, that after this there is only one more story that is a sequel. There isn't any other story like Nowhere to Hide, its a big event piece, the kind of thing you might expect WARS to have more of. After all, this story actively changes the setting. This doesn't just introduce new factions or concepts, but is taking the ones already there and throwing them into new roles. This is the direction you want any property like this to go in, a direction
That is filled with untapped potential. Reading this is an act in frustration. Its like trying to grasp water by clenching your fists. There are no answers, only guesses, only possibilities. We're most left to wonder about the fates of the characters who aren't world shaping in regards to their futures. We can be assured that Sheria would show up again and do something interesting, as with Jylan Rythe, and James Howler, but what about the Gongen who gets his arm cut off and is in custody? Or the interestingly paralleled Eather with a broken arm? What happens to these people? Even if these stories get finished someday, will the little guys fall through the cracks? In search of the larger answers, will the fates of tiny characters be diminished? One is reminded of Sisyphus the Hamster in “The Fault in Our Stars” whom the protagonist searches for the elusive fate of from the author of her favorite book. There is no answer there, and there is no answer here. Only the abrupt end of the things we love.
That is sustainable. Its easy to forget that WARS was supposed to go on for a very long time, and was cut short. This story is frustrating in the present tense, but exiting in the past tense. These unanswered questions are everything the story should be in 2004, its intriguing, its mysterious, and the world of WARS finally feels like its going someplace as a universe rather than as simply being a collection of stories. These events are larger than the characters in this one tale, there are big things going on, and these things will impact the future. Finally WARS is fulfilling on a promise: these stories will create a collective story told over the coarse of many stories, a big web of tales that defies the expectations that it needs to be a novel at all. What if WARS could just be short stories, and we get to see events unfold through a thousand unconnected eyes, drawing us into their own view, showing us a new way of thinking about the world and these character's places in it?
Only, we of course won't ever get to see that.
But the possibility is here. This is the lynchpin in a new way of telling a story, one that never comes to fruition, but one that would have been amazing to watch as it unfolded. Finally, WARS becomes clear as a project, the plan makes sense. This wasn't a bad idea, it was an idea that didn't understand what it needed to do to establish itself until it was too late.
Imagine: stories whose mysteries blur into each other. Actions characters do in one story impact people they will never meet. Perspectives shift. The world is deeper and more complicated than we imagined. We didn't need a novel after all, but if only we'd realized that.
But we didn't, or rather the consumers at large didn't quite catch on to the grand scheme till WARS had already had its big chance at establishing itself in the limelight. When it launched, it was new and could be anything, now its trying to redefine itself, and the way its doing it is amazing.
The only problem is if people are listening to hear the changes when the sales of the next cardset come in.
Nowhere to Hide Part 1 by Tim Ellington 12-2-04
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.
Cloud by Erika Stensvaag 11-18-04
You can read today's story HERE!
Summary: The Battle of Phobos happens, and Sana Camrik saves a bunch of Earthers by realizing the Gongen have a ton of tricks up their sleeves and are going to slaughter them.
Its November 18th, 2004, only a day after our last story strangely enough, and after that rather short tale, we're met with one far longer, far meatier, and far more important. We've got a lot to unpack from this story, and more than the author could have imagined. This is Erika Stensvaag's only WARS story, and as far as I can tell her only published story period. This leaves us in a strange situation, because there once again isn't anything to compare it to. The Story stands on its own however, and as far as the short stories are concerned leaves no room for a direct sequel. As WARS stories go, this is in some ways a trifle, because it doesn't drive forward the plot of the universe, this is a duck back in time, a history lesson, and the earliest WARS has gone into its own past in fiction form. But it does more than that, totally unintentionally Cloud sets up the entire future of WARS, and might very well after the Stackpole stories be the most important WARS short story for reasons that have nothing at all to do with anything that was intentionally planned by the writer. You see, this story takes us back to the Battle of Phobos, and features a woman named Jannett Yens, a place and a character we will be revisiting for a huge amount of story space in the future. Because the future of WARS is the past, the future of WARS is this story, an anecdote about the battle written of in the backstory of the universe, which was probably to be never seriously seen. Now it is center stage.
But when this story was written, none of that was known. WARS wasn't dead, the second card set was well underway, and while we don't know the exact story behind the commissioning of this story, since Erika wasn't a professional writer but just a part of the WARS staff, one might surmise they just asked her to write a story to keep up the flow of free online content. Maybe she pitched the story because she had a great idea for one. Regardless, she picked an event that mattered, and one that will resonate throughout the future of WARS, and she executed it very well.
The story is snarky, like so many WARS stories, and we're given a nice unreliable narrator who is constantly passing judgment on people in things in a way the reader can tell is probably not entirely on the level. Its nor particularly subtle, but its not like much of the snark in these stories ever has been. We're introduced to three major characters here: Sana Camrik, Jannett Yens, and Horatio Hicks. Despite Sana being the narrator and protagonist, she's actually the least important character of the bunch (sorry Sana). She's a capable character, a funny character, and one who doesn't fall into a lot of the cliches of characters in military based stories. She's a good one. But lets be clear again here: the view here is on the future.
From that light, we look at other other major characters. Horatio Hicks is a fairly obviously important figure in WARS, he lead the assault at the Battle of Phobos, and is one of the most respected commanders not just on Earth but anywhere. Highly skilled, highly trained, he's going to show up again simply by virtue of that fact that he is the most visible military Earther in the Solar System. Its not a far reach to imagine we'd see more of such a man. Jannett though is less obvious. Certainly she is a capable person as well, and even has her own nifty card in the TCG, but she doesn't jump out and scream “I'm going to be highly influential and get more written about me than Sheria Coreg or Horatio Hicks.” But she is different to, we've seen wunderkind pilots like Sheria, badass admirals like Horatio, snarky guys like Sana, but Jannett is more like that reliable friend you'd like to have around when you're in a bind. She's not particularly flashy, but who cares? Ironically, its the way she doesn't jump off of the page and try to please the reader that brings her back later.
All these short stories are written like short stories, which means that they are written with quick down and dirty characterizations that are easy to grasp, There are some exceptions to this of course, mainly with Torako and Starhawk, but even when we're given more than our initial impressions, we're still given a quick initial impression that could be the entire character. This is not a bad thing whatsoever, its the nature of these stories to require that kind of writing. If the stories set out to carefully craft deep characters with multiple levels of nuance every single time, they'd either have to be much longer or cut out the plot. As it is, we get what we need for the stories we are reading. But it does mean that a lot of the characters have ended up as snarky know it alls, because is a quick funny way to make people like a character. When you have part of a character's personality established as a means to provide easy comedy, your quick story is going to be able to grab and hold your reader much easier, but when you're expanding those characters into longer fiction, that doesn't always cut it. Jannett is a much more sincere character, abet one that isn't very developed here, and because of that becomes the perfect candidate for an elevation in importance when it comes time for some Novella length WARS stories. What makes her a sidelined woman here, will bring her to the forefront later. Its almost strange reading about her now though, having read the Novellas, because Jannett is so developed and important in them seeing her as a background character is off putting. But here was her birth, and its why she was ever important to begin with.
That being said, this story influences those Novellas also in its setting. WARS made a conscious effort to make itself Star Wars like, adding in the Force and Aliens in different ways, and getting to see the universe of WARS before those elements appeared is fascinating. In fact, its almost too fascinating. There has been an undercurrent of WARS fans who lament that the Mumon Rift ever opened in the setting, because the setting before it is so interesting. Gongen and Earth on the brink of war, Mavericks interfering, strange robots rising up out of the ground to punch armies, its awesome stuff, and the lack of any superpowers brings the war down to a much more human level. I don't hold by that theory, because I find the Kizen powers and aliens extremely engaging, but those who believe this also have a point. Without worrying about the mechanics of the universe and the massive pseudo science at the base of the universe, WARS is boiled down to its purest form, and its one that allows for much more character building. This short story teaches us quite a bit about who these people are, even if its just sketches. We don't even need an essay explaining exactly whats going on: Mars and Earth are at war. Great, got it. There are no frills here, and despite the worry it would be boring, its in someways much more interesting. There is a reason the Novellas go back to before the Battle of Phobos, its because its a time ripe for more character based tales that don't have to worry about how shooting lightening out of your hand works.
This is the only time we'll be this far in the past in the short stories. While the tales will go onwards, and bounce around in the timeline here and there, they will all take place after the Mumon Rift opens. There will be no more adventures to the echoes of the past for now, the past will have to wait for the future.
But there is one more thing notable about this story, something I've been griping on since the blog started: this is the story where the Earthers as a faction really make sense. We've seen them before, we've heard them talk and believe and seen them dogfight, but this is where being an Earther becomes something you can dream about at night. Its not just running around being jingoistic, there's finally something noble here about Earthers. Hicks Exemplifies it, with his willingness to halt the attack based solely on his respect for one woman's father, the Earthers become the faction that honors family and trust, the faction where sincerity and truth is rewarded. It took a long time, maybe too long, and by now they have already taken their place in fandom as least popular of the three human ones, a label that will stick for a long time, but they have finally shown themselves to be more than their labels.
Earth made their way here from the past after all, it was a long journey.
A journey that will leave them with Nowhere to hide.
Keeping Score by Chuck Kallenbach II 11-17-04
Today we return from our Hiatus, awkwardly on a Tuesday.
You can read today's story HERE!
Summary: A Quay kills a lot of people and then gets killed by the final person it kills.
Who exactly are the Quay? Sure, we've met them before, but from the outside. You can't really know someone till you learn whats going on inside, for all you know their outer shell isn't a true reflection of the interior. We've only seen the Quay's shell, their exoskeleton, and its thicker than a person's. Its not the same. You can try to make the Quay into people all you want, but they will never bow to your wishes. They will never submit. They aren't people, they are something else entirely and don't want to be lumped in with people anyways. But who are they? We may only catch a glimpse, but perhaps that is enough.
Keeping Score is another change for WARS fiction, in that is incredibly tiny. Its only a three page PDF, and the story is quick, concise, and condensed. Its also our first real look at the Quay, as their previous appearance was through the eyes of Earthers. This is a full blown first person narration by a Quay, giving us their perspective on events finally. We've been waiting for this, and yet it doesn't give us what we'd expect. Where the Earthers and Shi got essays, the Quay find themselves much terser. But this isn't a problem, because this is a story befitting of a Quay, not because they don't have a rich culture, but because a Quay doesn't need to sit around musing about the fall of stars to have a fulfilling day.
Out of all the cultures in WARS, the Quay have always been outliers. One got the distinct impression their design by John Howe, that vivid image of what a Quay is and could be, was more important than half the thought about what their culture was. If you see a Shi, you don't intuitively understand that they are galaxy hopping god-wannabes. When you see a Quay, you know who they are, you understand intuitively. Their mere silhouette invokes strange fears and urges; tusks that gore and legs that skitter like spiders. They are not simply aliens, they are something large and brutal out of the back of your subconscious. The ur-Quay. In many ways, their inner dialogue is unnecessary, as long as we understand their image. Their image is enough.
But that image also pushes us to other troubling points. They Quay are not merely monsters, they are not just the nightmares of our dreams. They are marked with symbols and tattoos, they wear masks and have culture, even from the image they are something else that lingers outside us, something we don't wish to acknowledge.
The Quay have always been a remnant of colonialism. From the moment they were abandoned by the culture who claimed to be raising them up from dust, but instead drove them into slavery, they were a dark mirror of the sins of the western world on so much of humanity. That their culture has hallmarks of tribal lifestyle is no mere co-incidence, the Quay haunt the narrative like ghosts of forgotten peoples. They aren't just the fear of spiders creeping in, but the fear that everything we've done to wrong foreign peoples for our own gain will come back to hurt us. If this sounds like reaching too far, consider that the Quay are only in our solar system via an act of terrorism. They targeted their oppressors quite specifically, and quite boldly, and attempted to wipe them off the map for their sins.
Part of the brilliance of the Quay then, is that it allows people to see through their eyes the wrongs they have suffered, and pose their actions far in the realm of fantasy as right or wrong. Where actions taken by humans are derided instantly for similar justifications, the Quay are inherently sympathetic to so many who would never dare take the side of an oppressed people standing up violently to their oppressors in reality. Its a strange dichotomy, and one that is the kind of wonderful thing Science fiction is so capable of achieving.
The Quay become a lens through which violence against oppressive systems can be seen as justified, and that alone is worthy of being fascinated by them.
But we still haven't covered whats going on in their heads.
This story has a Quay kill quite a lot of people, thirsting for a challenge, keeping score, looking to kill more. Where the story defies the expectation of what it should be lies in how the Quay here treats its victims. It doesn't kill like the generic proud warrior guy race so many science fiction properties have. The Quay doesn't give up its advantage to have a fair fight, it openly uses its advantages and doesn't make dumb decisions that would get it killed for the sake of driving the story along. When it finally comes up against a worthy foe, they kill each other. The Quay doesn't think “ah, what a worthy way to die!” it just.... Dies. Yet, the Quay is clearly a warrior, and it clearly runs on some sort of internal code, but that code is not one we're familiar with. Once again the Quay is defined by its otherness, even when we reach inside its head into its very thoughts, the Quay is not our friend. The Quay is not instantly recognizable as someone you know (at least I hope not). Its something else. Whatever it was mean to be.
Notably, both times we've seen they Quay they have also focused on adaptability. They wish to learn in order to increase their success at their goals. There is no lollygagging, or refusal to admit an opponent has an advantage, the Quay are in complete acceptance of their own failings, and instantly wish to learn how to overcome or ignore those faults. Its no wonder they survived the Shi, they're the most ingenious bugs around- and the most deadly. While the Quay in this story dies at the end, it was clearly far more physically capable than any human. A bit worrying if you ran into one in a back alley.
Though all though, though the death of the narrator at the end, through the hints at colonialism, through the pain and gore and suffering, through the violence and kill counts, we must ask one final question: how did we get this story? Disregarding that this story comes from the future, the Quay who tells us the tale is dead. The Quay isn't being recorded inside its thoughts, and it isn't telling the story to anyone else, it dies with the words in its brain cells. Perhaps then, for a species so intent on counting the dead, and remembering them, the memory of their ancestors goes far deeper than the the sealed image of the blink of an eye. Perhaps, though all the cold hard realism of the future, the Quay are the ones who have forgotten our spirits least of all.
Everyone's favorite WARS blog will be going on Hiatus this week so I can get my new book An Eloquence of Time and Space to Print properly. Its been taking a lot more of my time than I expected, and I simply can't reasonably say I'm going to be able to write three posts this week while attempting to get this all done.
You can check out info on my other writing work at my other website http://www.jameswylder.com
Thanks for your understanding! I'll see you next week! -Jim
Don't Divulge the Whole at Once by Evan Lorentz 10-21-04
Summary: A lady is trying to steal stuff from her employers at XeLabs, but finds out that she isn't the only one, and the alien ship she was working on is a trap which kills her, and then keeps stealing info.
Its the 21st of October, 2004, and Evan Lorentz is now our writer for his only outing in the WARS Universe. We're coming up on a weird set of stories now, because aside from those stories written by Kallenbach or Tuttle, we get a rash of fiction by writers who write only one or who WARS stories, and this is the strangest and most egregious of the solo affairs, in that it clearly is calling out for a sequel story, which we will get to, but it won't be by Evan Lorentz. This leads to a rather strange bit of WARS, in that ultimately Tuttle, Kallenbach, and Stackpole end up defining the entirety of what WARS is more than they would if the fiction had gone on for longer. The stories that aren’t by the big three feel like interlopers, strange little diversions from the main line of tales, a stigma that is only increased by the fact that this story gets its conclusion written by someone else, and that most of the major character introductions get given to the big three. This story isn't bad, in fact its quite memorable, but its influence is hard to pin down.
It doesn't help that the protagonist of the story, Carene Goff, dies leaving the story with only a nameless Shi and a single human background character to have any chance of appearing again. After all of her development, she slips away into death. This isn't a bad thing so much, it fits the story and makes the story feel self contained and finished even as the underlying action is totally unresolved, but it also makes the story feel a bit shortchanged. After all, we haven't gotten to meet many Earthers, and so far they've all been essentially one-shots. We'll get to see Sheria and company again, but the Earthers have so far been treated with a transitiveness that no one else has. By the end of the fiction line the Earthers will have gotten more stories written about them then the Gongen, but their heroes are treated a bit more stodgily. Its not till Horatio Hicks that we really meet an Earther that is a character you can easily imagine, say, a TV show being about for instance. We'll meet a lot of them, but they often end up like Carene: characters who are destined to be one-shot and done people.
That the Earther in question is also a lying scammer manipulating people to steal their secrets doesn't really help either. The Mavericks and Gongen and been presented as flawed but honorable, the Quay as viscous monsters, the Shi as fallen gods, but the Earthers seem to just be corrupt warhawks.
While the portrayal of the Earthers will improve (most heavily notably in “Family Ties” which I will go ahead and say is the very best Earther short-story there is) they won't escape this beginning. We talked before about how even though the Gongen stop getting stories, Gongen and Maverick are basically the default fan favorites because “A Matter of Life and Death” used them to introduce the setting. In the same way even though the Earthers get more stories, they don't really escape the early negative pit they've sunk into, something which isn't helped by the egregiously small echo chamber of the WARS fandom. Its very notable that for those who started WARS off with the WARS Novella series, which began with an Earther story, the view of them is more positive.
While there is a tendency to say that WARS fans associate most with the faction they relate to most in terms of their personal beliefs, and this is certainly somewhat true, that factor of introduction shouldn't be discounted or left out of the equation. How we get our first impressions matters loads, and when everyone else gets a cooler introduction, what else can you do? It doesn't help that this story and many of the later ones weren’t easily available during WARS Wilderness Years after the game was put on Hiatus, leaving most people to read the first stories published.
But after so many words, what is this story itself? Sure, its suffered in contect outside of the author's control, but what is this story as a single message in a bottle? The answer is a really nice concise thriller. Its a pity Lorentz didn't write more WARS stories, because this tale is a very nicely done piece of work. You could show this story off at a creative writing classroom as an example of efficiency: a lot happens in this story, but because Lorentz has been smart enough to reduce the story down to its base elements, it doesn't feel bloated, and doesn't feel rushed. Indeed, two entire conspiracies to steal information run parallel to each other hear, and its all done in a way that makes logical flowing sense. Lorentz doesn't overload the story with characters, because he knows the tension and drama will work much better if he can focus on fewer ones. He doesn't waste our time showing the day to day workings of the lab the story is set in, as he knows we're familiar with this genre.
Treating the reader with respect, like they are intelligent, is always a pleasant thing, and leaving out needless clutter knowing the reader can fill in the blanks is nice as well. All of this whittling makse it so that the story actually gets fairly far into Carene's character before she dies, and allowing this development makes the death of her character actually feel like an event rather then the inevitable closure of a spy story about two spies trying to steal the same information, which it is. Despite any whining about the larger ramifications of these single stories to the larger perception of the WARS Universe, this story functions exactly like its supposed to for what it is. Its not like Evan Lorentz sat down at his keyboard and said, “I'm going to write a story that will not add a sufficient amount of stuff that could be added to a WARS RPG game or wikipedia page.” No. He wrote a story to help sell the WARS TCG, and did a pretty great job of it. For what this really is is another story you can download for free from Decipher's Website and enjoy reading. Its a little adventure, no worries, no biggie. Its not supposed to be important or matter in the long run, its only with our hindsight it takes on any larger role. Its only because the game was canceled that its role goes from slight to foundational.
But it is foundational in one keen respect: this is the first WARS story we've had to really play around with Genre. While Stackpole's stories all fit into his sort of writing, and Kallenbach's are very Cyberpunk, this is a spy story that has been shifted around to fit into the WARS Universe, and its really successful at bending that to fit into WARS. What's weird is it works so well at being a one off spy story, we're going to see a lot more of that, not just now but when WARS returns later. Stackpole already found small groups wandering around to be more interesting than armies, and Kallenback has continued that trend: we have yet to see a war in WARS. Lorentz though, shows us the cold war. This is in many ways a brilliant shift. This isn't just people fighting in a bar over information, this is backhanded back room dealing where the people working the strings are invisible to us. The paronia of the cold war works well here, especially in the post 9/11 era.
After all, so much war today has been the stealing of information, the hacking of computer networks, the destruction of Iranian machinery with computer bugs, this story feels sort of relevant, and it feels like it fits into the setting of WARS more than the cardgame itself does in some ways. The setting doesn't have infinite fleets to bash each other to bits, it seems fairly specific that the Battle of Phobos took an incredible toll on every power involved in it, and the current state of the Universe is one of crippled powers warring with each other very carefully. In this state, you can't have epic battles every week and have it feel genuine. Instead, you need to have the war take other forms, slicker forms, and to do that you have to tap other genres.
So WARS adapts and changes, and does it beautifully. Its a pity we have to say goodby to Evan Lorentz, because it would have been quite the pleasure to discover what we would have done with WARS if he'd been given more changes to tell us stories set in the universe. So we're grateful for what we have. A single piece that stands alone, hard to really work out the future from, and missing its ending but totally complete. A frustrating piece that doesn't leave us the chance to imagine more adventures, but widens our entire view to change exactly what an adventure can be.
So thank you Mr. Lorentz, you did well for so short a brief. For now, we return to Kallenbach, who will continue his contributions to WARS canon en mass.