Art Scavenger

I have a facebook page for Necrospace (HERE) where I occasionally post scavenged and modified digital art. Most all of this stuff is either stock art that I’ve got laying around in my junk pile or uncredited and random pics that I’ve found online. I take these and give them some text and a few color & texture tweaks, then get the out there. I thought it would be fun to collect all of these into a single blog post. Enjoy!

 

Necrospace Teaser Trailer

A little something I put together using a digital piece by artist Tithi Luadthong, the audiobook(s) prologue from Jeffrey Kafer, and some bootleg garage band sounds from yours truly.

Hostile Salvage Confirmed

NECROSPACE BOOK 5 

At long last the fifth book in the Necrospace series has reached publication. We are at the halfway point in this sprawling tale, and as we meet new characters with their own trials and tribulations there are a number of familiar faces who return to the stage. This book more than any before it embodies the ‘pulp noir’ style that has become the hallmark of the series. Enjoy!

 

Rhett Calibos is a bounty scrapper, his life as an indentured soldier a welcome alternative to imprisonment on a penal colony. A man haunted by his past, Rhett throws himself into the work, his only sanctuary. Sokol Targe is the leader of a mech warrior squad, stationed aboard an ancient and deadly warship, and conducts violent raids on behalf of a Red List commune. Cast away from corporate society, they have embraced the ravager way of life.

As these troubled men endure furious combat across the ragged edges of civilization, neither of them realize they’ve become entangled in the deeper mysteries of necrospace.

It’s a hard universe, and nobody gets away clean.

Junk Empire

 

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The new year dawns with me gearing up to re-apply myself to the grind stone of Necrospace, a military science fiction series published by Severed Press that I have been working with for the last several years. At present I have four books in the series completed, with the first three being focused on the story of Samuel Hyst, a salvage marine from a brutal corporate society who finds himself caught up in events that affect humanity at large. All he wanted was a paycheck and pathway out of debt.

reaperletter

The fourth novel shifts focus to a supporting character from the core trilogy and we are shown a glimpse of the fierce world of the elite mercenaries that stalk the ruins of this scrapyard universe. Since completing those I have taken something of a break from the world of Necrospace and written the first novel in what will be a trilogy about clone troopers striving to save humanity from extinction at the claws and jaws of an alien swarm from deep space. I traded in the futuristic pulp noir of Necrospace for the strange equilibrium of Norse mythology and alien invasion scifi. It was a wild ride, and one I am glad I took. So now I have two series I am working on, with the first of the new series coming out soon and the next Necrospace shortly after, from then I’ll be writing one and then the other in what I hope to be a very productive year.

As I prepare myself to dive back into Necrospace, I find myself planning out the next four books before launching. There are a great many meta-plots and sub-plots at work throughout the first four books of Necrospace, and it is important for me that there be closure. I want to give the series plenty of room to breathe, for not just the epic journey of Samuel Hyst to reach its final conclusion, or for the mystery of the Gedra to ultimately be revealed, but for the Necrospace realm as a whole to reach a milestone that yields a satisfactory series finale. As keen as I may be to develop this series into a number of feature films or an episodic for streaming/television, not to mention my day dreams of table top role playing games, board games, and video games, all of that is a distraction until I am able to complete the robust tapestry that you (the reader) and I (the storyteller) have embarked upon creating.

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As any of you who have enjoyed the first four novels of the series know, there is much that can happen in the span of four novels. As much of an intense journey as the first half of the series has been, you can expect just as much, if not more, from the next half. In the course of the novels we will re-visit our salvage marines, hunt forgotten technology on wasteland planets, and pursue scrap bounties to the edge of the universe. We will fight mutated nightmares, struggle against devastating alien technology, battle space pirates and corporate security forces in equal measure, and we will ride to war with the Folken once again.

Necrospace is rich with salvage, and soon the next chapter in our search for freedom and fortune will arrive. Time for me to get back to work. Until that day…

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Ghost Faction (Necrospace Book 4)

ghost-faction-ebook-cover Available now on Amazon.com

During an apocalyptic battle against murderous machines and hardened soldiers a lone salvage marine turns the tide with a devastating counter attack. Having revealed herself as a consummate warrior, Jada Sek is welcomed into the ranks of the Dire Swords, an elite fighting force loyal only to the contract.

As the other marines return to their salvage duties Jada and her new comrades, each as haunted by the ghosts of their past as she is, plunge yet further into necrospace. They are repeatedly deployed to disrupt and destroy the endeavors of corporate competitors, and along the way discover that the enigma of the machine race is more sinister and complex than any imagined.

Surrounded by the specters of an ancient holocaust and forced to face her inner conflict, Jada must make a choice. When the money ceases to matter, when surviving loses its significance, and the thrill of taking the fight right into the teeth of the enemy seems like the only truth left in this scrapyard of a universe, it is time to let the marine die so that the mercenary can be born.

Future War Stories

Future War Stories presents a Book Review and Author Interview

Salvage Marines (Nerospace Book 1)

For much of the history of military science fiction literature, publishers were more selective of the stories they released. Consequently, military SF literature was more rare and limited than standard space opera in the mainstream literature market. That has altered in the 21st century with military matters being more at the forefront of current events. This fueled a boom in military sci-fi works, especially on the flooded Amazon’s ebook market. The new found popularity of the genre of military sci-fi has forced creators to dig deeper and forge something new that can set them apart from the herd of military sci-fi works. One of the best ways, besides awesome cover art, is world building. This is where we creators can and do set ourselves apart, and that brings us to Sean Michael Argo’s military science fiction novelSalvage Marines (Necrospace volume one) from Severed Press. There are two very unique elements in his overall excellent military SF novel that set his story apart and it grabbed my attention. I was grateful that Mr. Argo reached out to FWS to review his novel, providing FWS with a copy from his publisher the purpose of this review.

The Setting
Samuel Hyst was born into a very different era than us, and his experiences in the age of the galaxy spanning corporations that rule and control over their “subjects” could only be understood by workers during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. At the age of eighteen, Samuel graduated from the educational academy in debt on the order of 18 years’ worth. The Grotto Corporation designed their worlds to be an debt-based society, where debt can and does pass on to the next generation. The goal is for the company to own you by never allowing you to exit out of the debt runaround…and you are owned. The slim dark hope for Samuel and his friend Ben was to join a section of the Grotto military: The REAPERS. This is a feature of the age of corporations: open warfare between the companies over resources, given the term “hostile takeover” a whole new meaning. It is here that Samuel and Ben embark on a new life and new dangers as his old life sits at home, waiting for him to come home.

The Spoiler-Free Review of Salvage Marines
Within a few pages, it was immediately apparent to me that Mr. Argo had set up the world of Salvage Marineswith a solid time-honored sci-fi tradition: taking a current social issue and exploring it via the futuristic setting. Mr. Argo used his far-future setting of Salvage Marines to discuss the current issues of debt, military service stress on families, and corporate role in people’s lives and their militarization. As he lays it out in the first page: “it is the age of corporate” and every single character in the book is affected by that fact. From birth to the sweet release of death, you are in debt before your life starts, and this fact controls how you live your life and dominate society. You are evaluated, processed, and assigned with little care to your wants or needs.This twisted sci-fi reality bears elements of a Dickens’ story or share-cropping. I found this spoke to me deeply and it was a refreshing take on how our main character enters into military service over more conventional means. Mr. Argo moves quickly in these open pages to establish the world, our character Samuel, and his link back to his life back on his corporate colony homeworld of Baen 6. When he enlists into the armed force of corporate soldiers that collect resources for Grotto, the REAPERs, it puts a strain on his family, but liberates them from the life-long debt. At first, the connection between Samuel and his family back home is strained, but it is there. However, it drops off as the pages increase. I am not sure if this was a systemic choice or a simple oversight, but either way, it hearkens to the isolation of military service and has the hard lump of reality.
As events transpire, it only services to further separate Samuel from his family, both physically and emotionally, but it increases his bond with his fellow corporate warriors. This again, was a nice touch of reality and honesty that makes the overall concept of Salvage Marines solid and a firm foundation for the other books in the series. Plus, the author keeps the story moving and that could be considered by some to be a fault. I like that the author did not give us a lengthy boot camp scene that some many books and films have done to death. The action shifts from deployment-to-deployment while Samuel and company are in the Grotto Hive Fleet 822, which is realistic to modern account I’ve read of being deployed during wartime. However, this structure does eliminate some character development via behind-the-wire scenes that often pepper this genre. While there is one major after-action scene, I wished for more. The book, because it is part of a series, does suffer from a lack of completion at the end of the book, but if you are hooked, then you are buying the next one. When it comes to one of the iconic factors of any military science fiction book; the combat scenes, Salvage Marines delivers. These are not over-styled 1980’s action hero battles, but brutal, honest engagements with all of the madness and chaos of the battlefield tossed in. In these scenes, characters die, are horribly wounded, and luck is a roll of the celestial D20 dice. At every engagement that Grotto Hive Fleet 822 was involved in, I wondered if one of the characters I cared about was about to die. While it is serious, there are moments of humor, especially when the author references Warhammer 40,000. Overall, Salvage Marines is a solid military science fiction tale that brings some bold concepts to the table encapsulated within a fast-moving setting of future corporate military services and the terrible price of combat.

Interview with Author  Sean-Michael Argo (Conducted on 8/15/2016)

1. What was the genesis behind your novel Salvage Marines?

I have had this story, in one form or another, in my head for a long time, though only in recent years has it transformed from a vague collection of interests, notes, and scraps into a novel series. I find it impossible to enjoy video games, war games, comics, novels, and film without also imagining what kind of story I would tell. You could call that part of my process, to inhale deeply of other works, even if just to get inspired to create my own. The series started to take on a solid shape when I transitioned from a modest filmmaking career to the defense industry, working with a company to provide counter-insurgency training to soldiers soon to go overseas into combat. I found that working alongside soldiers in the conditions and hours we did continued to bring out ideas, whether through conversations with soldiers, or particular actions or events during the training scenarios. I started taking notes, and for several years continued to do so, though it was only recently that I realized I had been slowly building the setting and characters of Necrospace, the fictional universe in which the stories take place. 

2. What made you decide to write in the sub-genre of military science fiction?

I’ve been a fan of military science fiction since a young age, and eventually I decided that I’ve had so much enrichment and entertainment from the genre that it was time I added my own work to the genre. I’ve always had ‘writer’ as one of those ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ answers, and I have been tinkering with a corporate merc story for a long time. I want to say it was when I was fourteen I wrote a single issue comic book script about mercs fighting over a giant planetary terraforming machine, and over the course of the story it achieved sentience and began to defend itself with the re-animated bodies of slain enemies. On top of just having a fan boy vibe from childhood onwards, Military SF in specific is a rather versatile literary playground as far as speculating about what the future might look like, as a writer I get to explore the world even as I create it, and so one could say I’m writing as both an author and a fan. Another, perhaps more commercial reason, is that Military SF is a genre that has readers who are open to new writers. You don’t have to be a household name to attract readers to Military SF books, because they are an aggressive and savvy sort of consumer who is out there looking for good material. As long as you can deliver, the fans of this genre will reward you with their attention, and so success isn’t so much measured in marketing dollars spent, but the work itself. 

3. What are some of your favorite military science fiction works and how did they influence you during the development and writing of Salvage Marines?

Some kids grow up pretending to be Batman, others play at being cowboys or cobs and robbers. My little brother and I were Colonial Space Marines pretty much every time we stepped out of the house to go play, with our pulse rifles in hand (made by taking hacksaws and hot glue guns to our conventional water gun toys). Yes, I was likely a bit too young to be watching James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’, but it happened, and the concept of badass future soldiers seized me early. Looking back on it, I may have been working on my ‘mercenary space marines’ projects even all those years ago, as I would tell stories aloud (my brother tolerated it but honestly he just wanted to play already!) about how we were highly paid mercs in power armor fighting for mega-corporations in space. As I got older I certainly spent my fair share of time, money, and energy on playing the miniatures games in the Warhammer 40k setting, and in time discovered (a bit late honestly) the novel Starship Troopers. For me it all goes back to the grunts, especially fromAliens, who I see reflected in the real-life faces of the soldiers I work with. 

4. Your fictional universe is tinted through a Gilded Age/Charles Dickens lens that also spoke to the current situation of most of us drowning in college debt. Was this a take on modern society or does it hearken back to the past such as Medieval Europe and Japan?

That is rather perceptive of you about Dickens, I am happy that tone reads clearly in the work. Just as he wrote from a deeply cynical perspective within the post-industrial revolution world, I am certainly coming from a place of cynicism about our globalist corporate dystopia, though like in Dickens’ work there is dignity somewhere inside that bleak world of mine, and hope too. Medieval Europe and Japan are keen examples also, as I am certainly presenting a world that is ‘corporate feudalism in space’ in a no-holds barred sort of way. I am about to reach my 38th birthday, so at least in the USA my own chronological lifespan has been spent living in a decline, with stagnant wages, lost industry, currency inflation, crushing debt, and on and on. All of that finds its way into my work, because so much of it is something real that I can weave into a science fiction tale to make it more authentic. My story is, in a way, what I see in the world, stripped of all the propaganda and nationalism, the grim bits and the hopeful bits all presented with some Military SF flair. I do my best not to get preachy, both because that sort of thing annoys me as a reader, and also because I am attempting to present a story objectively, a great many shades of grey, and so I do my best not to pass on my value judgement as an author, and leave that for the characters. I believe that capitalism can be a force for freedom just as much as it can be a force for oppression, but Samuel Hyst knows better than I do what it’s like to live under Grotto’s rule, so I let him do the talking, and even he has his worldview shaken up a few times. 

5.One of the things I enjoyed were the little touches, like the recoil dampeners during micro-gravity combat. Why did you decided to develop the world to that level?

When I am deployed for my military work I usually don’t have the time or energy to write, and so I think, I take notes, and I make plans. My goal is authenticity, which might sound silly when talking about space marine pulp noir, and I think the little details can aide in that. As I roll ideas over and over, examining them from several angles, those little details find their way into the story. I also try to think about what future soldiers would have as far as equipment, because I don’t want it to be so futuristic that the story doesn’t have that visceral quality to it, but I also don’t want to gloss over things in pursuit of style over substance. I intentionally try to balance the little details with being carefully vague about the exact science behind how things work, because I am not a scientist, and I’d hate to come up with something so ridiculous that it takes my readers out of the story. The same goes for the military jargon, tactics, etc. 

6. I have to admit that the chapter entitled “Space Hulk” made me smile along with the marines discussing their childhood gaming history. Very Clever. Did you play Games Workshop Space Hulk or 40K as a kid?  

Oh hell yes. I liked the Eldar (basically space elves) because they were the cheapest army to buy, since individual warriors were so powerful and I didn’t have the cash to get into a miniatures arms race with my friends (it happens). I wanted to give a nod to Warhammer 40k, as it certainly has influenced me as an artist, and I loved the Space Hulk game so much that I thought it would be a cool moment for the characters to bond while giving a high five to my influences. 

7. As with Game of Thrones, no one seems safe in your universe. What lead you to this style? One of my favorite characters in the book died and I was shocked. 

I find that the older I get the more I prefer stories that have a credible threat present in them, and so writing (or reading) novels about invincible heroes overcoming impossible odds time and time again just isn’t something I am interested in. I want readers to feel some degree of the intensity of these battle sequences, the raw desperation, the mistakes that can be made, and yes the occasional moments of sheer badassery. So many soldiers I work with talk about losing friends and comrades in the blink of an eye. They are there one moment and gone the next, and there is often no large dramatic moment, they are just dead and the fight goes on. That creates an ever-present threat, a tension, and I wanted that to permeate my story. I want the readers to feel just as unsure as Samuel, to know that safety is not guaranteed. Salvage Marines is a story about desperate people rising to the challenges that life put in front of them, they aren’t super-soldiers, they are just regular grunts trying to survive their tour of duty and make a decent paycheck. They aren’t the best soldiers in the universe, they have second rate equipment, and they are continuously thrown into the hostile unknown. If we don’t know who will make it and who won’t, then the fighting starts to matter in a more personal way. 

8. What made you chose kinetic energy projectile weaponry over directed energy?

I didn’t want the technology to be so advanced that the soldiers could blast each other over tremendous distances. I wanted their armor technology to be sufficient that they’d have to get in closer to do the deed. I am attempting to write with a more “Vietnam era” style of combat tactics, and such tactics require the weapons that make those tactics make sense, and so I went with projectiles instead of laser beams. 

9. I have always loved cover-art, and the cover-art of Necrospace Book 1 of Salvage Marines is quite arresting. Tell us more about it and the artist

I will get back to you on that, this was an unknown artist from the publisher’s side of the desk.

10. Why did you decided to use mega-galactic spanning corporations instead of an oppressive government to set up human space society?

I wanted the setting to feel familiar, despite the fact that it is science fiction. Planet-spanning corporations already cover the world, many ruling corners of it through a thin veneer of politics and nationalism. That’s not hyperbole, just the world as it is, all I am doing is changing the scale of humanity’s footprint on the face of the universe and pulling away the veneer. In my setting the mega-corporations do not hide their mastery, and warriors wear logos instead of flags. It may be a dystopian setting, but I feel that it is an honest one, and have presented a setting in which characters do not think in terms of patriotism or nation states, human beings (mostly) are valued by what they can do more than who they are (race, gender, age). This is very much a Military SF take on the wars for profit waged in the real world, the struggles between the 99% (peasants) and the 1% (elites), and the human cost of capitalism left unchecked by compassion. Most of the first trilogy deals specifically with Grotto Corporation, which is the most grinding and powerful corporation in the universe, though later in the trilogy and certainly in the expanded universe we are presented with other corporations, some similar and others vastly different, yet each ultimately serving the Bottom Line.

11. Names and how am author chose them always interests me. How and why did you decided on the corporation names, the names of the main characters, and even the locations. For example like Baen 6, Folken, M5597, and Grotto?

Grotto Corporation has been with me since I was a kid, that was the corporation that the characters worked for in the stories I’d tell when my brother and I were playing, and when I wrote my little comic book script. Most all of the rest of it starts out as something akin to ‘word salad’, and I just write down scraps and notes until a name or title comes out of the chaos. If it sounds legit, then I keep it, if not, it goes back in the mix. I didn’t want the names to sound overly ‘scifi’ so kept most of it blended with more traditional names from various existing Earth cultures. 

12. While the REAPERs are the main focus, the Folken mercenary forces were damned interesting. Tell me about what led to their development and are they featured in another novel? 

The Merchants Militant are the sharks of Necrospace, and in my imagination the Folken are the great whites. Of the elite mercs who wage war across the universe the Folken are the biggest and the baddest. A little backstory is that they were founded by a splinter group of Errolite warriors who broke official ties with Augur Corporation and joined the Merchants Militant. While most of the Merchants Militant are more like modern special forces teams, operating in small and somewhat specialized units, the Folken are able to field a fully functional army, in that they have multiple types of soldiers, tanks, ships, artillery, etc, that while rather small is extremely dynamic. We get more into the Merchants Militant in subsequent books, and the Folken certainly re-appear.  

13. The combat scenes were richly developed, what is your approach to writing and developing combat scenes in Salvage Marines?

I spent some time training in stunts and combat choreography when I started in the film industry, and part of that education is learning how to communicate blocking and movement to actors and camera people, both as a choreographer and a writer. When I started doing the military work I was able to be in the thick of combat training scenarios over and over, in addition to directing and working with officers and civilians to ensure maximum training value. As such I’ve been able to witness first-hand the chaotic insanity of combat (at least in training scenarios) and watch how soldiers move, how they speak, hold their weapons, and overall how they fight. I want the combat in my stories to have a realistic quality, even if still in keeping with the more cinematic and dramatic elements of Military SF. Generally I do not plan my combat sequences, instead I come up with the mission, pre-establish the available forces, dispositions, and capabilities. Once I am ready I insert my Reapers and let my fingers type out a natural resolution, adding a little dramatic flair along the way. 


14. Given the brutality of your setting and novel, did you ever feel bad about the situation that you put Samuel into? Did you ever want him to just go home to his wife and child? 


War, especially in its modern form, is without narrative. So many of the soldiers I speak with who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan talk about a feeling of emptiness with regards to what they accomplished over there. In WWII our troops were on a mission to defeat Hitler, and while that alone isn’t much of a narrative, at least they had that context. Our modern military forces just move from briefing to mission to debriefing to rest & refit and then back to briefing for the next mission. They don’t get to see a wider context, and so often do not see much of a point beyond their individual experience. I approach Samuel’s life in the same way, where he is thrown from calamity to calamity, and the real story is his human journey through those myriad adversities. At the end of the day this is a story about people at war, not so much the war itself, and if he just stayed home and stayed at work we wouldn’t have much of a story to tell, or at least not a Military SF one, which is perhaps where Dickens and I part ways, each tell a different tale of similar folk. 

15. What is next for you and your Salvage Marines series?

As of this interview there have been three books published in the Necrospace series, the first being of course Salvage Marines, followed by Dead Worlds, and then Trade War. The audio books are presently being created. These form the core trilogy (the Reaper Cycle if you will) and from there I am writing stand alone novels in an ‘expanded universe’ that continues the overall story, dives into subplots, gives supporting characters their own moment to shine, etc. Presently book four, Ghost Faction, is being prepared for publication, and I am in the process of writing book five right now. I am committed to seven novels at this point, to complete the meta-narrative that I have laid out. After that I will assess where I stand creatively, commercially, and either continue with Necrospace or see what other adventures await, maybe both. I do plan on creating at least one comic book venture in this series, even if just a three issue arc, though that will be more of a late 2017 affair. If any of you Hollywood types want to take this to the screen, I’m right here daydreaming about it! www.necrospace.com

Should You Read Salvage Marines?
Yes! This is a fast paced solid military science fiction book that hits hard with some unique world buildings that is topical today and sets the tone for the rest of theNecrospace series. The action is rough with characters falling in the name of corporate service of Grotto, which makes you wonder…who is next?  I can fully recommend Salvage Marines and I expect great things from Mr. Argo in this genre in the near future.

Here’s the link to the original review/interview and the great blog site Future War Stories.

Wizards, Jedi Knights, and Superheroes

… and Space Marines?

When it comes to the world of books, video games, films, and merchandise we certainly live in what you could call the Golden Age of the Expanded Universe.

The entire premise of the new film Star Wars: Rogue One is predicated on a single line of dialogue from Return of the Jedi – “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”

And I think that is amazing.

Everywhere you look it’s Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, or something equally vast. You would not believe how many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars branded  items are in my house right now. Being an old hand when it comes to fandom myself, there are plenty of Warhammer 40k and World of Darkness novels and games sitting on my various shelves and awaiting me in a few stashed bins. This isn’t a new sort of phenomenon, though I’d say we have firmly moved into territory where ‘expanded universe’ is the standard now for most entertainment.

There is a strong economic incentive to be sure, as a single product like the video game HALO can become a franchise that presents consumers with not only video game sequels but apparel, toys, board games, novels, and movies. In fact there are many video games that are working with this idea, and again it isn’t an old one, it’s just that it has now become the standard operating procedure. Didn’t get enough from the video game? No problem, we have a few novels you can read while you wait for the blockbuster film to hit theaters in the fall. On and on it goes, so shut up and take my money!

The creative incentive cannot be overlooked, and honestly I think this is where the desires of fandom have really blended well with the world of entertainment commerce. As fans we want an immersive experience, and other than we happy few who have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since we could read this wasn’t much of an option for people who had interests outside of Star Wars, comic books, and bad 80’s cartoons. Once we devour what you’d call the ‘core material’ we fans want to start experiencing the world and the characters from a multitude of perspectives, in whatever form those take (novels, films, games, comics, toys, etc). With the long-term franchises, like Star Wars, there’s always the discussion of what is canon and what isn’t, and that’s unavoidable with things like Star Wars, which as undergone so much change. The same could be said for Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, as those creative lines (originally miniatures games that became a full entertainment empire), even if on a smaller scale (ha!).

The franchise and expanded universe that has my engine purring is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, predominantly because there has been a single creative mind at the helm of the franchise since the beginning. Certainly she has worked with many collaborators through the years, but unlike a film, which is by its nature exceptionally collaborative, the novels (which are the core material) are hers. Much the same could be said of the works of Tolkien and his Middle Earth.

The idea of creating an expanded universe for NECROSPACE is a relatively new one to me, as I had originally intended for Trade War (released this week by Severed Press) to be the third and final novel in a trilogy. As I started work on another story I thought perhaps it would be the start of a new trilogy, also set in Necrospace, though that story went in a different directly entirely. After that I’ve started two different novels, and have many notes for a third, that are unrelated even if somewhat interconnected. There are just so many stories I want to tell in the Necrospace universe that exist outside the tale of Samuel Hyst, for his I believe is done. In some ways deciding to make a Necrospace expanded universe (using the first trilogy as my core material) was something of a survival tactic. I was around 10,000 words into the parallel story of a stranded Augur Corp special operative on a wasteland planet and a Red List mech-warrior trying to stay one step ahead of the law when I realized that it did not belong in the same book as the 15,000 words that followed the Dire Swords mercenaries as they brawled with other contractors over alien WMDs. I’ve got notes at a chapter or so that I originally cut out of Trade War that are likely going to be shaped into a story about the life and times of a Helion battle trooper, as I have used them as antagonists often in Necrospace and its high time we saw the world from their side of the rifle.

It could be awhile before there are any Necrospace video games or comic books, and I do have other genres to explore (as evidenced by how I took a break from space marines and crafted a novelization of Ember Days), but I do want to finish those stories, and I like to believe that there are folks out there who enjoyed the adventures of Samuel Hyst enough that they’ll give a few new protagonists a chance.

In the meantime?

I’m going to finish watching A New Hope with my son… his first time seeing it!

 

 

 

Realism in Military Science Fiction

The title of this post sounds like a contradiction in terms, and on the surface perhaps the idea of a genetically altered human warrior wielding a heavy plasma cannon against unimaginable horrors from deep space sounds a bit… sci-fi, but come on, plasma cannons!

Well… plasma cannons, awesome though they may be, only get us so far.

Just in case I get too preachy later on, the point I’m attempting to make is that a story has to ring true, even if its about space elves fighting jelly monsters.

The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is that the story is going to be more impactful to the audience if there is a degree of realism, with a specific contemporary sensibility. I’m not talking about making the ‘hard science’ of the afore mentioned plasma cannon sound convincing. I’m not talking about creating an alien/cyborg/mutant/etc enemy that makes sense in light of our current understanding of physiology and biology. All such things are just plot devices and set dressing directly informed by our current scientific knowledge and awareness. Realism when it comes to the technology and biology of a story, explicitly a military science fiction story, is of less consequence than realism relative to the characters themselves.

Perhaps I’m beating a drum that has been well-worn by writers before me, but this it my time, and I’ll take my moment thank you very much.

If a story’s core appeal (or message as it were) is “look at how cool their tech is!” or “gosh this hero is an unstoppable badass!” then once our world develops a similar technology or gets bored with flawless heroes, as an audience, we will not be engaged and that story will likely recede to join the miasma of other genre titles. Not that this is a bad thing, because the world needs pulp, and I’ve certainly contributed my fair share of such (and will be contributing a great deal more), but I’d argue that tech-based-pulp is ultimately destined to be surpassed by our own real-life advances.

The books that really stick with us, in specific regards to military science fiction, are stories like “Forever War” and “Starship Troopers” precisely because they focus on the men and women who live through those stories. Sure the cool ships and equipment those characters interact with are exciting, but what hits you is the characters themselves. This may be an old argument, but it is the human experience, or better yet Personal experience of the story, by the characters, that has the real staying power that transcends the ever-advancing technology of our rapidly evolving modern civilization.

To write military fiction, whether it is historical, contemporary, or science fiction, that ‘rings true’ takes something of an effort on the part of the author, in my opinion. If the author is like myself, and not a legitimate combat veteran, then I think it is important to talk to such people. Even in the most far-fetched science fiction setting, I think that a convincing and accurate portrayal of military personnel is important. Not actually the specific nationality, creed, or equipment, but more the intimate experience of war and the physical and psychological consequences of those experiences.

Truth be told that is an easy gauntlet for me to throw down to my peers, given that I am a military contractor by trade, and so while I am not a combat veteran I spend countless days and weeks in their esteemed company. In fact you could say that much of my work in NECROSPACE is a direct result from transitioning from being an independent filmmaker to being a military contractor. The notions of patriotism and the realities of economics are two powerful forces at work in all such men and women, in my experience, and working alongside them has affected both my writing and my tastes in military science fiction.

I find there to be little value, beyond momentary pulp entertainment (which is still awesome), in bigger-than-life protagonists. There isn’t much to glean from the shallow character arc of “Master Sergeant John Mack” who is the Marty Stu or Mary Stu of the usual genre fare, beyond the mindless fun of reading about a peerless badass of a character overcoming all obstacles against ridiculous odds. I am less interested in the story of a superman in power armor than I am an average soldier with an M4 (or the scifi pulse rifle equivalent). The reason is that I’ve never met super-soldier John Mack in real life, but I’ve meet hundreds of regular people who draw a modest paycheck and carry a rifle.

Realism in our portrayal of the future soldiers in military scifi is about creating protagonist characters who are not perfect warriors. Soldiers who make mistakes, who question their own loyalties and motivations, who can’t help but to bring the horror home with them, are the kinds of characters that I want to read about, and the kinds of character I do my level best to create. Whether they are a ragtag militia of scrappy folk heroes fending off an alien invasion or an elite team of space marines about to drop into hostile cyborg territory, and no matter how far-fetched or fantastical their technology happens to be it is the realism of their humanity that will ultimately engage me as a reader.

Tentacle monsters and plasma cannons are the flashy packaging that will bring me to the table, but the authenticity of the characters is what will make me a fan for life.

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necrospaceRedux   DeadWorldsCover   TradeWarCover2

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Risky Fiction

Honorable men, well, they die hard, but they still die.” — Nicola (the film Bunraku)

As an author I want to create a sense for the reader that, once the series is firmly established, anyone could die.

DeadWorldsCover

I have approached my scifi military series ‘Necrospace‘ with this in mind. I know that for the most part (unless I surprise myself at some point) my main protagonist Samuel Hyst is going to survive any given book so that he can be around for the next installment, because though we may visit some subplots, this series is his story.

Until it isn’t.

Do I plan on killing off my main character?

Not really, but I’m open to it, which is why I’m building up all the supporting characters. I don’t know who is going to get killed in this book or that book, because I’m following this story only a few steps ahead of my readers (keeps it fun to write!). Maybe there will come a point in the series where its time for Samuel to meet his end and for one of the other characters to step onto the main stage. In the first book ‘Salvage Marines‘ all of the supporting characters began on equal footing as far as development, though as we go into the second book ‘Dead Worlds‘ not all of the supporting characters survived the first story, and now new ones are taking their place in book two, though a core group of supporting cast have now managed to survive not only one but two installments. They are growing as characters, and while not to the degree of the protagonist, I am confident that I could, if I wanted to, kill off Samuel Hyst and pass the protagonist torch to a supporting character who is ready to take the lead.

As an author I like having that option, and as a reader that is exactly what I want out of a series. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dresden Files, but I know that Wizard Harry Dresden is never going to die, at least until the author decides to write one last novel and call it quits (because final installments all bets are off!). I want to create a story where we have multitudes of characters who can take center stage when a protagonist bites the big one. I’m not writing from so many perspectives as George RR Martin or anythying, though I am certainly taking a page from his style and continuing in my Necrospace series without the certainty that it will always be “The Samuel Hyst Show”, and that he might die or disappear and someone else could take the helm.

I’ll miss Samuel, if he goes, the same way I miss several of the supporting characters in Necrospace who have already come and gone, but that is what I like about what I’ll call ‘risky fiction’, the fact that after the setting and the characters are established the crosshairs of mortality could come to rest on anyone, even the protagonist of an on-going series.

That’s the great thing about stories… those characters that you loved and hated can rise and fall over and over again, in all their glory.

“I live. I die. I live again!” — Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)