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.