You can read this week's story here!
Summary: Torako and Starhawk try to track down some info on Raving Red Jane. They beat up a bunch of her cronies and get the info, but Torako doesn't feel kosher about the whole affair.
Its September 9th, 2004, in two days it will be the 3rd anniversary of 9/11 for the USA. The world has changed and become a darker place. So it is with WARS as well. We've had our signs that WARS would not be Star Wars, but this story marks the point where we can no longer pretend that WARS is in fact a very good Star Wars clone, for reasons all related to its general attitude about reality. Sure, the first WARS story had its revenge set up, and the second was an ideological debate rather than an adventure, but here we mark the point of no return: WARS steps over the Rubicon, and gets the journey to Rome over with. This is a world too much like our own for fantasy. This is not Star Wars, this is not Star Trek, this is WARS and it is its own thing.
To really think about this, we need to talk about the existing canon of popular Science Fiction, whose crown jewels at the time are Star Wars and Star Trek. Both achieved massive popularity outside of the usual Science-Fiction crowd, and both made massive money at the Box Office for their films. Star Trek was popular enough that after it was brought back to TV with “The Next Generation” it got three spinoffs that all together lasted 18 seasons. Star Wars, despite the naysayers, is in the middle of releasing a series of very popular movies that will conclude with Revenge of the Sith in 2005. If you mention either of these franchises, everyone will know what you're talking about. Even people who haven't seen a Star Trek episode or movie know that if you spread your middle and ring fingers, while keeping your fore and middle, and ring and pinky fingers together, you're making a sign from Star Trek, and non-Star Wars fans will know what the Force and Darth Vader are. We are talking then, about what has managed to latch onto the public consciousness of America for the longest time.
Popularity doesn't always mean best, and there are other popular Science Fiction programs that will be coming back soon, both the return of older shows (Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who to be precise) one of which will end in a still controversial finale, and the other of which will go on even to the time of this writing. But WARS isn't reacting against those, its reacting against the key Sci-Fi of our collective unconscious, two properties that happened to be licensed by Decipher at one point or another.
Star Wars and Star Trek fans like to claim that their beloved franchises have little do do with each other: one is about conflict, the other is about exploring, etc, but at their heart both share in an extremely positive view of human endeavor. In Star Trek, humanity has managed to rid itself of its worst impulses to such an extent that the writers of the show were often annoyed at how little drama they were allowed to write, and after the show's creator Gene Roddenberry died, went hog crazy the other direction in making their shows and films darker and grittier, to various success. At its core, Star Trek is a show about how humanity is on an upwards course, and with our destiny in the stars we are able to conquer our demons and transcend hate and intolerance.
Star Wars might appear to be more cynical, as it is about war, and occasionally about people named Annikan being turned evil, but its still a story about how people have the power within them to transcend the powers of huge repressive regimes. Its a story about mass social change through rebellion, and rogues redeeming themselves through heroism. While the good guys do lose sometimes, we know they will get back up eventually to save the day.
WARS cannot be those things, for WARS has defined itself as being not so noble. Both Star Wars and Star Trek are filled with characters one might label easily as honorable. WARS, less so. While we can certainly find some later on (such as Horatio Hicks, who fits the role of a Star Trek Captain, or Jack Willgress, who is the lovable Rogue of Star Wars) right now we are finding a distinct lack of honor. Our heroes are a murderer, complicit in the deaths of Torako's cousins, and a woman who is trusting this man in order to get revenge on the people who are more responsible. While technically she fights for honor, the lines of what that means are becoming blurrier. Its hard to imagine.
But its when we get into the actions of the story that it becomes clear that those old tales are far behind us. We can't escape it, so lets get it out of the way: Kinnet threatens to make Torako his sex slave, in a display of misogyny both disgusting and blatant. The casualness of his statement, and the way that his cronies laugh with him at this suggestion, brings us to a cold hard reality: humanity hasn't gotten better. This isn't just a universe where Raving Red Jane is evil and crazy and chucks people on asteroids, when her henchmen are left alone they're pretty sick themselves. We've gone into the future hundreds of years, and we are still encountering the same problems. This is both sobering and cynical, and yet also easy to believe. That the institutions of power that oppress people continue, and that people are still oppressed is par for the course. Despite all the fancy technology, and all the miracles of the future that those have brought, some people are still evil, and enjoy hurting others. Torako, our heroine, challenges this corrupt system, and only sort of wins.
Sure, she gets the information she is looking for, and she does so without taking a single life, but she still feels out of balance, like she is doing the wrong thing by trusting Starhawk. Torako is the closest thing we have to honor here: noble, merciful, skilled.... But she is still on a quest for revenge and murder. There is something fundamentally out of balance in the universe. Despite her best efforts, there isn't harmony.
Just as there isn't a quote at the start of this story.
This may strike you as a small detail, after all picking out a fitting quote for every story from the Gateless Gate can't be easy, but this of all places would be the fitting one. This story isn't narrated by Starhawk so its not a snarky take on Gongen culture, even the Earther's got their own quote, while here there is only a void. But that is the problem, isn't it? The Earthers are living an untestable delusion, that if they only work hard enough they will succeed, and if they don't succeed they simply should have worked harder, so they should fail if they can in a way that empowers the next guy. The Gongen are living a testable fallacy. Their society is based on ideals which are notably strict, requiring a depth of self control large enough to allow for Torako's master to gain her attention by intentionally scuffing his sandal. So Torako follows her code to the letter, and finds that following every part of it feels... Wrong. But not following every part of it also feels wrong. The evidence is right there, and confusing. She would be to anyone else's standard a hero, but not her own. She wins the day, but still considers it a defeat. There is no quote, because the rules are hollow.
But her master acknowledges this, and tells her she did better than someone following every rule could have done. This is a stark contrast to the previous story: Sheria convinces her cohorts to follow their Dogma, while master Okurimono tells Torako that the rules are less important than being able to think about them. This doesn't mean not following them, but it does mean that they are not the only thing that defines a person.
Which brings us back to the problem of Sheria: the Earthers really get the short end of the stick in terms of introductions. While Sheria's story is certainly interesting, it isn't exciting in the traditional sense, and their introduction is done with a Jingoistic rant. Its not hard to see why someone reading the first few WARS stories might not latch onto the Earthers. The Gongen are portrayed much more favorably from the get go, as are the Mavericks, and the Shi have at least been threatening, if not relate-able. This is after all everyone's first impression, and the Gongen and Mavericks really come off as the cool kids. This is a set of impressions that's lingered on in fandom since the get go because of this, and it makes a lot of sense. Certainly all the factions have their own fans, and the more a person gets into WARS and learns about the different factions, the more they'll be likely to pick one out of the “ordinary”, but most people who are aware of WARS haven't read all the stories, or even most of them.
Torako and Starhawk are WARS, to some extent. They were the eyes that introduced us to the world, and the eyes that linger on in it. They get this sequel story, and a third part to the “Trilogy”, as well as a spin off of their first adventure. When we leave them, we'll leave behind not just an important part of WARS, but an important part of our perception of it. They've taken is into this dark world, where honor isn't what it used to be, where pirates are allowed to ravage space, and where there are very real and very horrible threats. In some ways, its terrifying. In some other ways, its exhilarating.
While WARS may not give us the inspiration of a perfect future, it gives us a different good: a world where the threats are real, and the characters we care about are in read danger. If Torako and Starhawk die, we know someone else could pop up next week. No one is the main character, and everyone and anyone can kick the bucket, or suffer. But its not hopeless, these characters also have the power to change things, its just not as easy as it should be, and not as simple. But then again, pain isn't easy in the real world, and neither is the struggle. Maybe its about time we had some heroes who have to fight hard and compromise for the change they believe in.
But we're not done with them yet.
One last tango from the pair who came to us with the matter of life or death.