The Veil War

"and then I was like, 'Holy crap, goblins!'"

And now for something completely different

I have come up with a scheme to combine alternate history, the civil war, steampunk, planetary romance novels and the singularity in one cohesive whole.

There will be aerial ironclads. A global war. Victorian spaceships. (Well, Late Victorian shading into Edwardian Spaceships.) Venusian jungles, the Dying World of Mars and the mysteries of the Jovian Moons. North Polar Adepts. The Ten Thousand Worlds of the Martian Old Ones. And one small boy.

You may applaud.

The Really Big Idea: Madeleine Holly-Rosing

I’ve long been fascinated by steampunk, so it is perhaps strange that I’ve read so little of it. The first steampunk novel I ran across was The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling. I read it because of the authors’ previous work, but loved the world they created, a world where Babbage’s engines created a world infested by computers a hundred years ahead of schedule. There is something about the Victorians, a something that Neal Stephenson captured in a book set not in their own era but in the future. The Neo-Victorians of the Diamond Age were a conscious reaction to the follies of our era. (And if you read closely, the grandfather and Equity Lord who is the instigator of most of the action in the story is probably about 40 right now.)

While we may like the clothes, the industrial design, the steam engines; what fascinates me is Victorian confidence, the assuredness with which they lived. They knew they could solve problems, conquer worlds. And so they did. Our modern temporal parochialism insists that because they did not share our concerns they were benighted, bigoted, backward. So what would they do if they had mechanical computers, airships and Tesla death rays? Fascinating things.

Madeleine, though, is looking at other aspects of the Victorian Era. And between this entry and last week’s, I have a lot of steampunk to read.

Boston Metaphysical Society

When Stephen asked me to write this blog for his website, he seemed to be particularly excited this week’s guest would be talking about a webcomic.  I secretly think all he wanted was the pretty pictures and I’m happy to oblige. But be forewarned, writers are writers no matter medium we write in. However, I digress…

BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY (“BMS”) is the name of the webcomic and for those of you who are not familiar with it the story is about an ex-Pinkerton detective, his medium/spirit photographer partner and a scientist who battle supernatural forces in late 1800’s Boston. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is a steampunk webcomic though in some circles it has been called steamgoth. (Think steampunk with paranormal elements.)

BOSTON

What the heck is steampunk, you ask? Well, some people define steampunk as late 1800’s Victorian science fiction, i.e. Jules Verne. However, I think it evokes the time period in fashion, culture, technology and innovation. I also don’t believe it has to be set in Victorian England. If you do a search on Google, you can find steampunk stories and fashion that are influenced by other cultures and geographical locations. For instance NEXT TOWN OVER is a western steampunk webcomic. On Facebook, there are steampunk groups from every point on the globe. It is probably the most inclusive genre I’ve ever worked in but most of all, it allows people to be creative and express themselves as individuals without any hard and fast rules other than it must vaguely relate to the Victorian era.

I fell into steampunk by accident or rather it almost fell on me in the form of a former UCLA classmate by the name of Alex Diaz. He was in the MFA directing program while I was in the MFA screenwriting program and we met in a TV development class. I was developing BMS as a TV Pilot when he dropped down next to me on the couch in Melnitz Hall and uttered the words, “Steampunk.”  My reaction was like “OK and that’s supposed to mean???” He explained it and said he thought BMS should be set in a steampunk world. I thought it sounded interesting, so I did a lot of research, reading and determined he was right. I’ve been a huge science fiction and fantasy fan since my mom read me A WRINKLE IN TIME as a kid, so steampunk wasn’t really a stretch. I’m also a fan of period drama and watch BBC productions religiously. So, I re-developed the story and eventually adapted into it a six-issue comic mini-series.

All of the above is the short version of what you see on the website or the print edition on how this story came to pass.  However, the themes and issues dealt with in the comic have as much or more to do with my own fascination with class distinctions and social mores than anything else.

Characters who are derived from different classes have built in conflicts which are a huge plus for a writer. Societal expectations are different for the men and women of each class. Two very good examples of this are the TV shows SPARTACUS and DOWNTON ABBEY. How can you dare put these two shows in the same sentence, you ask? One excels in blood, lust (and blood lust) hard bodies and lots of naked people with a show which has very pretty polite people who remain fully clothed and generally argue over tea (except for the WWI scenes).  Easy, like BMS they are about class distinctions and expectations.

Spartacus and his people are slaves who are fighting their Roman overlords for freedom.  Their society expects slaves to do what they are told and can be bought and sold on a whim. However, even among Roman society there are cultural and societal expectations for men, women, sons and daughters. To challenge these rules of society usually results in something bad happening. In Spartacus’s world to challenge usually results in death. For Romans, the result can also be violent if a wife or child challenges their husband/father who is the defacto representative of Rome within the household.

The society and culture at DOWNTON ABBEY also has a clear set of rules. Don’t date the help. Marry within your class. If you’re a woman, you cannot inherit. If you’re an aristocratic man who can’t afford new plumping for the estate, forget about marrying for love you have to marry money. Arrogance and political position will often ride roughshod over any who think differently.  Here, the Earl is the defacto representative of the crown who is the one who decides the family’s fate.  Obviously, the Earl’s character is not one to lop off heads, but his influence is just as powerful as any Roman patriarch.

I’m not here to yammer on about the evils of patriarchy because many people, before and after us, find great comfort in knowing where they belong in the scheme of things. They wouldn’t dream of challenging the status quo because it tells them how to behave and what to expect from life. However, when those expectations are not met then you might run into a revolution or two.

All of the lead characters in BMS have or will challenge the social norms for the day. That is one of the most fun things about writing them. If they stayed put and led a “normal” life for someone of their class there would be no story. These characters are firmly grounded in their class yet on occasion they challenge it. Sometimes they will be rewarded for it, but they will also pay a price. Maybe not now, but later.

One of my favorite panels (see below) is after Caitlin curtsies to Granville and his response. For one brief moment she has crossed racial barriers and given him the respect he deserves, not only as an educated gentleman, but as a courtesy to a fellow human being. He responds in kind even though she doesn’t believe she deserves it.

BMP-1

Another panel demonstrates the utter disregard of Jonathan Weldsmore for his servants’ well-being. His only thought is for his political and social standing.  The next panel (not here) shows Caitlin becoming angry, but she can do nothing about it.  Though she is a necessary to these people, her presence is neither wanted nor desired for three reasons: wrong class, wrong gender and she has psychic abilities.

BMP-2

Even Samuel is caught between a rock and a hard place because of his social standing.

BMP-3

In future chapters, we will see more of Caitlin’s mother, Erin, who is so entrenched in her social class that she will do anything to stop Caitlin from “over stepping.”  Members of B.E.T.H. will also challenge and be challenged by their own prejudices and presumptions.

Class defines how we were raised and our world outlook.  It is a theme that has bled into almost everything I have written including the novellas.  My question to you is what themes have permeated your writing and where did they come from? Understanding that will help you be the writer you are meant to be.

Read the webcomic | buy dead tree version | buy novellas and short stories

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THE CLOCKWORK MAN (A BMS Short Story) is available in the February issue of eSteampunk. THE WAY HOME (A BMS Short Story) will be published by Atomeka Press in September as part of a comic anthology.

 

Peering into the future

The end is in fact near. With the decision to post chapter 36 in its entirety, the final chapter of the Veil War will post in less than a week. Does this mean that there will be nothing more to read, forever?

Not quite. There will in fact be a bonus chapter posted the week after. Material that was cut from Part I (in a series of maniacal editing binges occasioned by the harsh criticism of Ian Healy) has been revamped, polished, wrapped in a bow, set upon a velvet cushion and will be restored to a more appropriate location. To wit, right after Chapter 17. This interstitial chapter is a big one, approximately equal to two (2!) regular chapters. So there’s that.

But every ending is just a beginning somewhere else. So what else? Right now, I’m editing the entirety of the Veil War – both the parts you have seen, and that which remains unseen. Preparing it for publication. This will take some little while, given my work and commuting schedule. But in the not-too-distant future, The Veil War will leave the nest and be sent somewhere so that eventually you might buy it. At this point, I’m still wavering between the Scylla of self-publishing and the Charybdis of traditional publishing. I don’t know exactly how that will work. But I’ll keep you updated. (Hint: I’m leaning towards self-publishing, which should allow you to own your very own copy of the Veil War sooner rather than later.)

Now you may be asking, “When will I get more rollicking, exploding, profanity-filled adventures to occupy my lonely Thursdays?”

Soonish. After I finish the editing, I am technically free to immediately dive into The Veil War, Volume II (TVWVII). I will make that dive, but probably not until summer. I want to write some short stories and submit them to actual, paying venues. One is already complete, and two more are under construction. I intend to churn out a fair number of these because: money, practice, fun, money, and to clear my head a bit before returning to the Veil War. But also, and more importantly, because of a promise to my son.

The first several excuses should be fairly self-explanatory. The last one deserves some little comment. Back when I first started writing the Veil War, my son was obsessed with the idea. He woke me up an hour early every day so that we could talk about it. And he had a ton of ideas. Whole bulk-cargo ship loads of ideas. Most of which, sad to say, did not fit the Veil War’s unique and special idiom.

They weren’t bad ideas. In fact, rather the opposite. The unbridled id of an bright eight year old boy fed on steady diet of nature documentaries, violent cartoons, and a thin sprinkling of scientific knowledge can come up with some wild shit. In fact, the boy became upset the more I told him that his ideas didn’t fit the Veil War. (Son, where am I going to add a fifteen-mile long dreadnought of space with particle beam weapons that can boil oceans? Where?) So I promised him that after I finished the Veil War, we’d write stories that had room for all his ideas. In a universe not constrained by the prejudices of gun-forum habitues. I encouraged him to just cut loose. I took notes. And damn me if the result isn’t the framework for a freaking awesome Space Opera.

Galactic scale war, vast fleets, starkly unimaginable forces harnessed for the destruction of worlds. You know, the typical. But there’s more.

Some of the short stories will be set in that world. And I’ll be splitting any profits with the boy.

So, to sum up:

  • One more chapter
  • Bonus, double-length interstitial chapter
  • Hiatus (behind the scenes editing)
  • Short Stories!
  • Veil War II

My thinking on short stories is that I’ll try and get each one published maybe twice. Anything that doesn’t stick for whatever reason, I’ll throw up here. Once I have a decent number, I’ll bundle them and put the result up on Amazon. Obviously, I’ll keep you posted on that front, too.

The end is nigh

Chapter Thirty-Five is up, and we are now one week from the end. One week!

The Prince spoke in Occitan. Father Pietr did not provide a translation. Prince Raimond removed the armored gauntlet from his right hand and handed it to the priestmonk. He stepped up and slapped Lewis full in the face. Lewis’ head snapped to the right. Fuck, that hurt! He stifled the urge to curse, and his tired legs almost betrayed him. He managed to remain standing, barely.

As always, feel free to point out any errors and screw-ups in the comments. Thanks for reading!

The Really Big Idea: Ross Kitson

In fantasy, the line between the real and the unreal is intentionally blurred. The extent of the blurring may vary, but that line generally stays reliably outside the skull of the protagonists. The Infinity Bridge moves that line decidedly inwards. It strikes me that writing a believably insane character would be problematic for someone who is not themselves insane. We should be glad that Ross found writing those scenes difficult…

What it is about psychosis and dirigibles?

The opening text for the second chapter in my YA sci-fi / steampunk book Infinity Bridge reads:

Ever since he could remember Sam had seen monsters. That wasn’t quite true—he recalled the first time, so he must have been aware of the time before. His dad had just read him Not Now Bernard, a book about a boy who had found a monster in his garden.

Sam’s monster was actually shimmering behind the radiator, but the irony wasn’t lost on him.

He learned very quickly to keep quiet about it. If you told your parents about this sort of thing then they did one of two things: they either smiled then ruffled your hair or they made odd noises, like constipated hens.

Sam’s brother Ben had told them that he also saw monsters. He currently resided in a psychiatric hospital. That had pretty much made up Sam’s mind on the matter.

One of the core relationships in the book is that between Sam, the teen ‘hero’ of the book, and his older brother, Ben, who is being treated for schizophrenia. As we progress through the book we learn more about Ben and his subjective experience of  his psychiatric problems, and also start to wonder whether the fact he, like Sam, sees ‘rifts’ into other dimensions has created confusion with the diagnosis.

infinity bridge

I decided from an early stage that I wanted one of the key characters in the book to have schizophrenia, as I’d touched on other psychiatric illnesses in my epic fantasy series, Darkness Rising. It’s a condition that has fascinated me ever since I first treated patients with it during my brief stint in psychiatry. Yet being interested in it and writing about it in a believable, engaging and sympathetic way are two entirely separate things. How does one approach writing such a character?

The first is to try understand what the condition is and what it isn’t. I had some head start on this. There is a preconception, promoted mainly by crap films, that schizophrenia equates to (i) spilt personality, (ii) psychopathic serial killer or (iii) eccentric loner hobo characters. In reality it is a complex disorder, possibly caused by a mixture of neurobiological problems, genetic factors and environmental triggers, that may in fact represent a range of varying conditions. What it does involve is a break down in thought processes, altered perceptions, altered emotional responses and disordered beliefs. When I learned about it there was a division of symptoms into positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder) and negative symptoms (depression, emotional flatness, self-neglect, poverty of speech).

Ben’s symptoms are predominantly positive—he has increasingly active auditory hallucinations through the book, such as one point where he has a dialogue with a Sat-nav (GPS to the American readers). He has delusions about intelligences within computer systems, which ironically turn out to be true in the book. There is escalating paranoia through the book as he comes off his meds, and he also has ‘ideas of reference.’ This is where he misinterprets meaning within things as having a direct reference to him as an individual.

‘Ben flopped his belly on the bar and had a quick look behind it. There was a serviceable stereo system connected to an amplifier there, as well as an army of glasses. He smiled as he saw a packet of cigarettes and a lighter tucked next to a bar towel.

He tugged them loose and pulled one out. A tingle of horror ran through him. There were exactly six in the packet. That couldn’t be a coincidence could it?

Ben’s eyes darted to the far end of the bar. Sure enough, there were six beer mats on the end of the bar. He took a deep breath and looked at the optics above the bar. There were eight dusty bottles of spirits.

He stumbled back from the bar. His hand reached for the handgun tucked in his jean’s waist band. Six-six-eight. It was an omen, he was certain: a warning that danger was nearby.

Ben held the gun in his shaking hand then moved cautiously across the dance floor. Whispers were drifting like pollen on the breeze, tickling his ears, pinching his brain. Ignore them, Ben, he thought. They are working against you—making you more paranoid.

A poster was half peeled from the wall by the door to the stairs. It promised two drinks for three quid each Monday before ten’o’clock. Ben counted the words and then swapped the letters around in his head. It was a code. It really said—‘Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean someone isn’t really out to get you.’

He ran. His boots pounded on the stairs in time to his racing heart as he hurtled to the first floor. The large room was cluttered with furniture, mostly covered in white cloths. Like shrouds hiding corpses.

The whispers were getting louder.

Ben retains insight into his psychosis throughout the book, which makes his deteriorating condition more manageable. Often he will have an internal monologue going, an argument between himself and another voice, often Sam, and this allows him to rein in his impulses and compulsions when the pair enter a Steampunk alternate.

One challenging part of the character was to write decent dialogue. Some individuals with schizophrenia display distinct speech patterns, which in severe cases become an unintelligible ‘word salad.’ If you have ever seen the (excellent) film A Beautiful Mind you can hear how Russell Crowe’s speech deteriorates in the latter parts of the movie. There are features of rhyming words (e.g. Sam, spam), neologisms (I.e. fabricated words), substitutions (e.g. Nick, to ‘shaving cut’), repetition and changes in context, which may display their underlying thought disorder. The ‘derailment’ of the theme of a dialogue, with very loose associations between topics, can make it tricky to follow what is meant.

I tried to create a balance which displayed Ben’s underlying mental state, illustrated his meaning and thoughts, and also showed his warm humorous character. At times it involved a lot of rewriting to adjust the balance, not least because there has to be some ability for the reader to comprehend what he means within his dialogue.

Ultimately what I wanted to create in Ben as a character was a likeable older brother who, on a background of mental health problems, is thrown into a bizarre world of clockwork androids, intelligent computer viruses and alternate worlds. In doing that Ben displays courage and reserve that drag Sam through some of his own demons and insecurity, and indeed guilt, to come through for his friends at the story’s finale. In future books there is a lot more planned for Ben, and as difficult as it is to write him I look forward to every moment of it.

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Democracy in action

You, the voters, have made your wishes known.

Fully 100% of you indicated that you would prefer to have all of the final installment at once, in a big steaming pile nine days from now. While there might be some readers out there who would prefer their Veil War in smaller, manageable doses – it doesn’t look as if they’d outnumber the gluttons in any reasonable voting model.

So mote it be.

Question for you, the dear reader

Here’s something for you to consider. I’ve just been editing the final chapter – #36 for those of you keeping track at home – and realized that it’s coming in at nearly 4000 words. Over the course of this whole thing, I’ve aimed at 2000 word chapters, and usually failed. Most are in the 2200-2700 range. A couple broke 3000. But 4000 is pretty big. There were a few things I needed to take care of…

So, I put it to you. Do you want the whole big thing next week, or should I break it up into two chapters and post them separately?

Make your opinions known in the comments and I’ll do whatever the majority chooses, almost as if this were a democracy or something.

Antepenultimate Chapter

It is, once again, that most treasured time of the year: Veil War Thursday. Chapter 34 is now come into the world, and is awaiting your attention.

“No!” he screamed. He ran toward the fire, icon tucked under his left arm like a football and axe in his right. Like the bow wave of a speedboat, the icon pushed the serpents back as he charged. He slowed; he was running through molasses. The resistance of the mystical barrier or the palpable evil of the serpents fire pushing him back. Kimball dug in, felt pain in his legs and arms as he pushed through. Agony arced down every nerve, and he screamed again, wordlessly.

He fell to the ground when the wall collapsed. The icon flared golden-white and the serpents were blown to wisps of fog, and dispersed. Another goblin summoner dropped, gripping his head in both hands and crying out in agony.

Remember your duty to catch my mistakes and trumpet them in the comments!

The Really Big Idea: Paul Ducard

Theodicy is a real problem for literature. A real problem for anyone, sure, but the problem of the origins and nature of evil is a thing that most authors assiduously avoid confronting. When even the greatest writers try to hit it head on, the results are often… interesting. Outside the Old and New Testaments, the two most powerful and influential Christian works are the Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost. Milton was a believer, a puritan, yet when he set pen to paper to craft his poem, Satan ends up the hero. We can understand, and sympathize with, Satan’s cry of Non Servium! Lucifer has a human face – we recognize him. How can something we recognize be entirely evil? Flawed, perhaps…

God himself is ineffable, impossible to relate in fiction. Gregory Palamas said that we can’t know Gods’ essence, but we can know his energies, his effect on the world. Perhaps true evil is something else altogether as well – something more Lovecraftian. We can see the effects of true evil, but not know it without losing our sanity.

War in Heaven: The Other Side of Evil

“Are you religious?” It’s the inevitable question I’m asked whenever I explain the concept and theme of The Other Side of Evil to an interested potential reader.  My most common response, “No.  I was baptized Catholic but I’ve been to more Shinto shrines and Jewish Synagogues than Catholic Churches,” often leads to quizzical looks.  “Then what made you write the book?”  It’s not an easy question to answer.

Truth be told, I don’t adhere to any organized religion.  It was my interest in the development and history of religion that drove me to explore the foundations of the many faiths that proliferate, not the spirituality supposed ingrained in belief.  What I consider to be logical questions motivated me:  How do these religions have such a hold on so many people? Where did their rituals develop and what social and economic conditions influenced their core belief systems?  What was considered apostasy and why?  Who got to decide what was important and upon what basis were these decisions made?  What motivated people to release themselves totally to something that can’t be touched, tasted, or seen in a literal way?  It was the history of religion that drove me to classes on John Milton in university.

Paul Ducard cover

Sitting one day while discussing Paradise Lost, it struck me as odd when the professor introduced the idea of Satan as the “hero” of that most famous of modern epic poems.  It’s Milton 101, yes, but I was still an impressionable 19 year old and the concept was new to me.  I mean one simply does not naturally associate Lucifer/Satan/the Devil as the “hero” of anything other than evil.  But if one regards the “hero” as the main protagonist of a story, the character for whom the reading audience develops the strongest connection, the deepest sympathies, then Milton’s Satan takes the cake.  He’s the classic underdog so many people like to root for, leading the “free armies” of heaven to make things right.  His only real evil is that he does not obey God and for that he burns.  Literally, it turns out.

Identifying with this controversial take on the supposed author of all evil, I considered whether the stories we know of Satan were the stories of a crooning victor; God’s version of what happened, as biased as one would expect it to be. What conquering society hasn’t changed written history at least a little bit in order to persuade posterity that their cause was the right cause, carried out in the right way?  So far as I know, no ancient, medieval, or modern society has proven itself completely immune to this little creative indelicacy.

That got me thinking.  What if I had the chance to sit down with John Milton’s hero and understand the story of his fall from God’s grace…from the his point of view?  The loser’s point of view?  What would Satan tell me?  Would he lie, as all students of western religion are taught to expect?  Would he take the opportunity to give his jump-up-and-down-on-the-sofa, shouting out to the airwaves, “tell it all” story?  And if he did, and it turns out his claim is that God rewrote history to cover up what would otherwise be the proverbial chink in the armor of faith, what would Satan tell us about the lies God had to tell in order to justify the slaughter of so many of His angels and the insubordination of his most revered creation?  Even more, what would happen if Man came to know of God’s half-truths, fabrications perhaps?  Would Man’s faith, so elemental to accepting God as the divine light that so many religions claim him to be, falter when it became known that Man’s creator was, indeed, as malignant, deceptive, and self centered as so many of history’s victors?  “The story of Satan has to be told,” I thought.  My paper on the evolution of Satan as portrayed through literature got me an “A” in the class but, more importantly, it set me up to begin crafting the tale that would become The Other Side of Evil.

I harnessed my love and knowledge of ancient and military history to create a truly new storyline but with many of the same characters and places we’ve become accustomed to and comfortable with.  The Heaven and Hell of The Other Side of Evil had to be something no one had ever read before, yet it had to be plausible.  To that, Heaven had to be like any empire that’s existed through time.  Roman.  Vicious and singularly focused on making itself the most important power in the known world.  Byzantine in the huge bureaucracy needed to keep the known universe afloat, with the inevitable backstabbing and power brokering that accompanies so many people jockeying to get ahead.  Olympian in the sense that violent revolution brought the Supreme Being to power and his subjects were slaves to his ephemeral whims.  When, years later, I finally got down to putting words to paper, it wasn’t too difficult to dip into my many experiences working as a lawyer for international broker/dealers, banks, and government regulators, and develop the vile and vituperative world that had to make up the Heaven and Hell, in all their glory, of The Other Side of Evil.

As it turned out, the smoke-and-mirrors world of government and the faith-based world of religion were two sides of the same coin.  I mean, let’s face it.  What could the war of all wars, the war in Heaven, have been if not political?  And if it all came down to politics, why should any of us have the faith demanded by the great religions of the world necessary to achieve salvation?

In the end, The Other Side of Evil is fiction.  It tells a story.  It’s not meant to espouse atheism directly but it is meant to give a reader another angle from which to look at something that has often been taken for granted.  And if that reader comes away from my story and asks themselves some deeper questions than perhaps they’d asked themselves before, I’ve done the job I set out to do those many years ago, in that classroom, reading of Man’s first disobedience and the supposed cause of it.

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Achievement Unlocked

 

Typed, “The End” today.

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