Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Question, Answers, and Musings

With Crimson Worlds VI released (except for you Kobo readers...I have no idea what is taking them so long to get the thing live) and summer over, I've been thinking of a few things that might be interesting posts for this blog.  I will discuss some upcoming books, of course, and I also think I'm going to spend some time talking about books I've read and enjoyed (both old and new). 

With Crimson Worlds approaching 150,000 sales, I thought I'd get back to doing a few blog posts on questions and comments I get from readers and see in reviews.  I get tons of emails from readers, which is great.  You guys are a diverse lot (not all guys, but mostly...the lot of the mil sci fi author, I guess).  Some of you are up to date on your physics and technology too, and you keep me honest (close at least) on my tech.

Ok, here are some of the topics (or my own thoughts derived from comments) I tend to see.

1.  Similarities to Starship Troopers...what's up with that?

Ok, no shock here...ST was a book I read a number of times when I was a kid, and it is certainly a classic that was a formative read for me.  I already had the overall idea for CW, and I decided to start it with a first-person, ST-type of book before branching into a more typical, wider-focus mode of storytelling.  Marines isn't really influenced by ST, other than the basic structure of the story, which is somewhat of a tribute to the classic novel.  Pretty much everything else is different.  Also, the style is as much a tribute to The Forever War, which is another book that hugely influenced me.  I like writing first-person, journal-like books, though I also know the format is limiting.

I could just as easily started with a third person book similar to the others in the series, but I thought it would be fun to really get inside the head of one of the main characters.  I'm still not sure which was the best choice.  Marines had sold very, very well, but it is also the book that gets the most negative comments.  A slice of the people who read it clearly just don't care for the first-person perspective, regardless of their opinions on the story itself.

2.  What do you like in a book or series as a reader?

My tastes as a reader would confound those who seek to quantify what makes good fiction.  I have eclectic tastes, and I am also intolerant of things that bother me.  There are a lot of pithy little sayings out there that I tend to disagree with (as a reader, remember...as a writer, I try to pay attention to what readers like).  "Show, don't tell" is one of these.  I'd rather have a book say something like - It had been 100 years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon - than - "Hey, Tom, your grandfather ever tell you about when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?"  "Yeah, Clem.  Wow...that was 100 years ago, wasn't it?"  Just my taste.  I like books heavy on the narrative.  I like good dialogue too, but only when it is purposeful, not when it is being used to detour around just telling me something.

I like backstory, details about the fictional universe, and a lot of basic description about those things.  I'd read something written like a history book IF the future history was interesting.  To me, it's about the universe that is created first and foremost.  With a thriller, I'd say the story itself was most important, but SF (and fantasy) is about universe building to me.  Yes, of course I want an interesting story, but the background is enormously important to me.

When you look at something like Lord of the Rings (not SF, I know) and you think of the amount of work Tolkien put into background and making to world feel like a real place, you get an idea for how far a writer can go in that direction.  If I'm in the mood for fantasy, I'm probably as happy reading the Middle Earth Encyclopedia as reading the LOR books themselves. 

3.  What is one thing you HATE as a reader?

I can't stand when authors find it necessary to try to phonetically represent things like accents (or say, difficulty speaking, etc.).  I can think of one series I really liked that was utterly destroyed (for me) by the fact that one of the significant characters was Scottish and every single time he spoke, it was an incomprehensible series of letters that I suppose was the author's idea of what a Scottish accent sounds like.  Oh my God...just tell me he has a heavy accent and then type something I can read!  If I wanted to decipher hieroglyphics, that's what I'd be doing.

I know, I know...the question said one thing.  But here's another.  I hate Dudley do-right, perfect heroes who are just unspotted, wonderful people.  I've never met one of those.  Ever.    *- exception for older, dated books, like the Lensman series.  Of course, the Lensmen are pure and unsullied, and who could complain about that!

4.  One thing I would do differently.

I think I should have made Book 3 into two books.  There was more story to tell there, and I feel like I rushed the ending a bit.  I live in NYC, and we got hit with a huge storm last fall that knocked out the power for a couple weeks.  Between that and some other things, I got very far behind my deadline, and I was trying to get the book out.  It's the longest of the CW books, but in retrospect, I would have told a bit more story and divided it into two books.

5.  What was I most uncertain about in terms of storyline?

Easy one here.  I was (and remain) a little conflicted about the whole First Imperium storyline.  I was reticent to lose the grittier (more realistic?) feel of limiting things to the conflicts of the Earth powers and their colonies.  But the overall CW storyline is about how those colonies develop and whether they can avoid going down the same road as a dystopian Earth.  I wanted an outside crisis to force the powers to cooperate, to explore how that would change things going forward, and so the First Imperium was born.  In the context of the overall series, I'm happy with it...but part of me wishes I could have kept the restraint of the first 3 books. 

6.  Your military characters are all such great guys.  What are you, some kind of warmonger?

First, they're not all great guys.  Cain, for one, is a very morally ambiguous character.  But they are the heroes of the series, after all.  I think the modern military in the US, UK, and other western powers (and this is just a singular point, not a slap at anyone else's military) are amazingly disciplined, especially compared to armies throughout history.  Many times, these men and women are sent to horrifically dangerous places, often with restrictions that make it very difficult to properly protect themselves.  Yet, with very few exceptions, they perform extraordinarily well.  Hitting Omaha Beach was a clear objective.  It was war, and the purpose was to win it.  Modern conflicts have been far less clear cut for the soldiers that have had to fight them.  Politicians (there are those evil politicians again) are responsible for foreign policy.  Some Marine sergeant in Afghanistan (or Iraq or Vietnam or Korea) did not create the conflict he is fighting, nor did he make the decision to send armed forces to fight it.  The CW series is told mostly from the viewpoint of characters like this.  They don't create the wars they fight, but they're still stuck fighting them.  So, yes, I'm sure they get the best treatment in the books, but I think that's just a natural result of the point of view.

As always, anything you guys want to know...just ask.

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