GUEST POST: “Oh, Those Wild and Crazy Puritans!” by Tom Doyle

Those Puritans never seem to catch a break.

 My debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, is a thoroughly modern-day fantasy of military intrigue. My backstory, however, starts with the founding of the English colonies in North America and focuses on Puritan New England.

The Puritans have always had a public relations problem. Yes, they grew in numbers to the point that they could win the English Civil War, but their stance on the arts made them many enemies among more memorable voices. Even the mild Shakespeare didn’t like them (see Malvolio in Twelfth Night).

In America, Thomas Morton, a real-life figure and fictional ancestor of my protagonist Dale Morton, ran a one-man campaign against what he considered the fanatical Puritan settlements, and was arrested and expelled three times for his trouble. Later, the peculiar tensions of Puritan communities would help to generate the notorious Salem witch hunt, over which my fictional present-day characters still hold grudges.

Still, most Americans prefer to look towards the upright Puritans as the national ancestors and ignore the claims of those opportunistic and sometimes cannibalistic rascals in Jamestown. As pointed out by writers such as Edmund S. Morgan and Sarah Vowell, the dilemmas that sprung from all that religious tension and paranoia led to some creative solutions in governance that eventually helped produce the United States.

Enter my modern-day Puritan character, Major Michael Endicott, the sometimes antagonist to the main character, Captain Dale Morton. Endicott is a fictional descendant of the real-life John Endicott of Salem, who was the Puritan’s Puritan. John Endicott was the one who led the attack on Thomas Morton’s settlement at Merry Mount. He also brandished his sword during the trial of Anne Hutchinson, a notorious heretic among the Puritans (and ancestor of another of my characters, Colonel Elizabeth Hutchinson). In America’s first declaration of independence, John’s sword sliced the cross of Saint George the Dragon Slayer from every flag that he saw.

Major Michael Endicott finds that he has to be more realistic than his Puritan forebears about many things. Michael can laugh at his ancestor John wanting veils for women. But Endicott continues to admire his ancestors for their faith, discipline, and freedom. He is above all loyal to his family.

In my earliest draft, Endicott started out as almost totally unsympathetic, which didn’t work. So he evolved into a quite different character: a person trying to maintain his integrity even as his trials and tribulations seem to mock him.

Endicott’s patience and integrity are particularly tried by his encounters with Dale Morton. The pagan and atheistic Mortons and the Puritan Endicotts have continued as enemies for hundreds of years. Endicott believes that at best Dale is untrustworthy due to his seeming instability, and at worst Dale has gone over to the evil practices of his Left-Hand Morton ancestors.

As Endicott pursues the fleeing Dale across the country, he begins to suspect that Dale may be telling the truth about corruption at the heart of Langley or the Pentagon. But if Dale is right, this also means that some terrible deception may have occurred in the Endicott family.

Despite the gravity of the situation and his normally stern demeanor, Endicott tries his best not to take himself too seriously. When things go wrong, even in ways that make him look slightly ridiculous, he faces adversity with a churchy sense of humor and as much patience as he can muster. Challenged by a great threat to the nation, Endicott is perhaps the character that has to grow and change the most, and in that regard his core principles are more help than hindrance.

As Sarah Vowell came to like the Puritan subjects of her book The Wordy Shipmates, I’ve come to like Michael Endicott’s character as well. I hope you find him and my other magical, fictional descendants of the real-life founding colonists, my American craftspeople, entertaining.

About Tom Doyle:

The Internet Review of Science Fiction has hailed TOM DOYLE’s writing as “beautiful & brilliant.” Locus Magazine has called his stories “fascinating,” “transgressive,” “witty,” “moving,” and “intelligent and creepy.” A graduate of the Clarion Writing Workshop, Doyle has won the WSFA Small Press Award and third prize in the Writers of the Future contest.

Guest Post with Anne Leonard, author of “Moth & Spark”

Fantasy Families

Harry Potter. Frodo Baggins. Luke Skywalker. Katniss Everdeen. What do they have in common? Well, besides being heroes, they suffered the childhood loss of one or both of their parents. When my son was younger, it seemed that every book I read him had a protagonist with at least one dead or missing parent.  And it’s not just fantasy. Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly. Jane Eyre is an orphan. Hamlet’s just lost his father.  King Arthur doesn’t know his father. Many fairytales have wicked stepmothers. It’s hard to think offhand of any hero or heroine who still lives with both parents at the time the adventures begin.

I suspect that a lot of this is because an adventure story is also often an archetypal story about leaving home and entering adulthood. It’s about the hero’s self-actualization. It’s about the heroine learning to use her own agency. Killing off the parents is a symbolic representation of this journey. (Frodo and Bilbo are somewhat unique in being middle-aged when their adventures begin.)

Killing off parents also often serves useful plot purposes – death of a family member destroys a person’s support system, creates a reason for vengeance or a need for help, is the first sign of catastrophic evil, or in some other way becomes the shake that gets the story moving. Handled right, it can bring out rich emotional depth in the characters as they grieve or change their lives.

Wrecking the family before the story starts, however, also cuts off all sorts of interesting possibilities for a more complicated story. Human families are both fraught with conflict and a source of strength and motivation. This was something the Greek tragedians knew. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, so his wife Clytemnestra kills him, and then her son Orestes kills her. Oedipus famously kills his father and marries his mother, then goes wandering the earth with his daughters. Antigone chooses to bury her brother and is thus condemned to die by her uncle. The climactic point of The Iliad is not a battle scene, but is when Hektor’s father Priam comes to the Greeks and pleads to be allowed a proper burial of his son. I think this family drama is one of the things the gives Game of Thrones such broad appeal.  Tangle families with politics and power, and there’s a recipe for limitless stories.

Family is one of the things I’ve tweaked in MOTH AND SPARK. Both protagonists come from families that get along internally. All four parents are still living. No hero-orphans here.

There are two main reasons that I did this. First, it’s a love story. When a person first falls in love, that’s one of the major points differentiating self from parents. I thought it would be interesting to have characters going through all those thoughts about love and family while family is still around to have an influence on the decisions. The normal tension of bringing home a significant other to meet the parents allows the characters to have all sorts of emotions they wouldn’t otherwise. The tension is even greater if you respect your parents and are worried they will disapprove of your choice.

Second, I did want to tangle family with politics and power.  What’s it like to grow up knowing you’re going to inherit the family business when the family business is running the kingdom (instead of, say, a plumbing company)? What about when something as personal as marriage is reduced to obligation? How about being an adult who still has to take orders from the parents? It’s a situation that is pretty foreign to me as an ordinary middle-class person, and that made it interesting to speculate about. If I’d made the main royal character the king instead of an adult prince, a lot of family dynamics would have evaporated.

MOTH AND SPARK tells a story about each of its two main characters fulfilling a quest with support only from each other and not from their families. Tam and Corin are in fact cut off by distance and events from their families in the last part of the book, so in that sense the novel fits the familiar pattern. Independence from one’s family means family members can’t help. However, once the quest is achieved, family is back in the picture. Independence exists within the context of relationships.

Fantasy as a genre does more than retell fairytales. It allows for the exploration of possibilities that don’t exist in the “real” world. As a reader (and, I admit, as a parent) I’d like to see more stories where family dynamics influence the hero or heroine through the entire book, rather than being a backdrop. As a writer, I want to dig a lot deeper into this area.

People unfamiliar with the genre often dismiss fantasy as not about important or real things. Sometimes that’s the case, and there’s nothing wrong with escapism. But fantasy families can have the same experiences and rich emotional lives that literary realism families do, and I hope that as the genre grows and expands, we’ll see more fantasies where family matters.

Anne Leonard lives in Northern California.  She has degrees from St. John’s College, the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, and University of California-Hastings College of Law.  Leonard began MOTH AND SPARK while attending the University of California-Hastings College of Law (where she graduated cum laude) eking out a few hours on weekends or a half hour on the bus, or wherever she had the chance. After 3 years, she had a draft, but ultimately decided to practice law first.  At last readers will be introduced to the deadly harsh steppe lands of Sarian, to the white-barked tree-lined streets of Caithenor.

Guest Post with David Edison, author of “The Waking Engine”

What made you decide to write about death?

I accepted my inner Morticia Addams at a fairly young age.

As a boy, I slept beneath the mounted corpse of a 9-foot dusky shark and ate my dinner in the same room as a mummy and a pair of death masks.  My parents are lovely, cheerful people whose love of travel and history made them accidental necromancers, and their only child was a cross between Pugsley and Wednesday Addams to begin with, so… I was steered toward questions about death early on.

My mother isn’t Jewish, and my father isn’t Catholic, and between the two I never quite belonged to either religious world, which set me up nicely for a cross-cultural survey course of the afterlife with no real attachment to any belief system, but baked-in respect for them all.  I survived lions in Kenya and snakes by the banks of the Nile before I hit puberty, not to mention that I explored more tombs, ruins, and caves than most kids have in their nightmares.

So I guess I’ve been preparing for The Waking Engine (and the books that will continue the story) for my whole life.  As my studies brought me closer to shamanistic practices and other animistic viewpoints, I started to realize that this business of being interested in (and not upset by) death and the transition we will all make, one day, wasn’t just my own weird idiosyncrasy.  It was a role that men and women have played throughout history, for the benefit of their communities.  We need people who are willing to discuss death, and work with it creatively—it will happen to us all, and yet we spend most of our life pretending that it won’t.  But our ends deserve as much emotional investment as our births, don’t they?

Not only is death a fertile ground for storytelling, it’s also a part of our individual stories.  And as is perhaps fitting with its taboo nature, our concepts of the afterlife are relatively lackluster.  Be bad, suffer; be good, enjoy yourself.  Life is a complicated and fuzzy creature—I never understood how the thing that comes after it could be so one-dimensional.  Harps?  Virgins?  Coming back as a cockroach?  Are you kidding me?

I have always imagined what kind of afterlife could match this beautiful, brutal life we lead.  The answer I found, for myself, was that only life could match life: give us dozens of lives, hundreds of scenarios, and see what becomes of us.  Suddenly, the possibility of reuniting with those who’ve gone before becomes complicated, rather than generic—what has your grandfather learned, in his next life, as a sailor?  That’s so much more fascinating to me than harp music and swan wings and peace.  Peace is the death of the interesting, and that’s the one thing I’m afraid to see die.

That said, I knew I was wading into heavy territory, so I tried to fill the story with as much joy and light and living as I could—which, in my head, is exactly the sort of lesson that Grandpa is learning on his successive lives.  What if death isn’t the end?  What if you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep walking down the highway?  That’s a sunset I’ll ride into.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, DAVID EDISON grew up reading and traveling, both to excess.  David was 15 years old when he began his study of creative writing at the college level at Bennington College under Rick Moody and Helen Schulman. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in English Literature in 2000.  In 2006, he co-founded, the first video game news site and community presence for LGBT gamers—which has been reported upon by everyone from The Advocate to MTV to the Canadian Broadcasting Bureau, and was named one of the video game industry’s top 20 most influential game news sites in 2008 by Official PlayStation Magazine, #20 in a similar ranking by Wikio, and one of 1UP’s top ten favorite game blogs in 2010. He divides his time between New York City and San Francisco. The Waking Engine is his first novel. Visit him online at and on Twitter @DavidEdison.

GUEST POST with Myke Cole, Author of “Shadow OPS: Breach Zone”

Let’s talk about how my military experience does NOT inform my writing.

Bear with me here:

This is the thing. We are currently living through the greatest divide in our nation’s history between military and civilian. A lower percentage of Americans serve in uniform than ever before, and the results are unsurprising. A population that is increasingly cut off from the military experience fetishizes it. This is to be expected. Things we don’t have a lot of interaction with become exotic to us. Stereotypes have one drawback . . . well, they have a ton of drawbacks, but I want to hone in on this one:
They’re monolithic. They take things that are incredibly complex, and distill them down into a single item.

There’s no such thing as a “New Yorker.” We all live in New York. Beyond that, the sheer breadth of our diversity is so vast that calling us New Yorkers is effectively meaningless.

Same thing in the military. Let me give you an example (centered around my latest novel, of course). Much of the action in BREACH ZONE takes place on a Coast Guard Cutter. It’s a 225′ Juniper Class Seagoing Buoy Tender (you can read more about them here). Now I’m *in* in the Coast Guard. But the “black hull” working fleet that Juniper Classes sail in are in the cutter world, the deep-water world, and the ATON (Aids to Navigation) world. Those are all worlds that have nothing to do with my work in the Coast Guard. I’m in the small boat squadrons. We run the 25′ Defender class response boats (more on them here). We stick to law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions. There is so little in common between life on a ‘225 and life at my station that we might as well be in two different militaries. And we’re ALL the same Coast Guard.

So, when I began to write about the cutter in BREACH ZONE, I had to confront the fact that I knew nothing about the ship in question. So, I did what all writers do. I went on the Internet and researched it.

The truth is that the military has informed my writing in a million tiny ways that I will never truly have a grip on, but I don’t have a monopoly on the experience. The military influences people who’ve never served, because observing a phenomena is still participating in the experience. I don’t own military stories more than anyone else.

But that’s also the most exciting part about writing in this sub-genre. It gives me an excuse to learn.”


In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

 In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

 When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with his havoc-wreaking woman from his past who’s been warped by her power into something evil…


As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, MYKE COLE’s career has run the gamut from counterterrorism to cyber warfare to federal law enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All that conflict can wear a guy out. Thank goodness for fantasy novels, comic books, late-night games of Dungeons & Dragons, and lots of angst-fueled writing.

Guest Post with George O’Connor, Author & Illustrator of “Olympians: Aphrodite”

Hey there, my name is George O’Connor, and I have been generously invited to contribute this guest post to Bookbanter. In fact, this is the first stop of my virtual blog tour, or blogcrawl as I prefer to call it, commemorating the release of my new book Aphrodite: Goddess of LoveAphrodite is the sixth volume of my graphic novel series Olympians, published by First Second.  Olympians is projected to be a twelve book series, and each volume spotlights a different Olympian god.

So, befitting a site named Bookbanter, I thought I’d take a little time today to speak, or banter if you will (haw!) about how I use the choice of language to set the mood and tone of a piece of writing. You probably noticed already that I affected a very familiar and somewhat non-formal way of speaking as I started this post. It’s a nice easy way of beginning a piece of writing, very inviting and comfortable.  Hopefully you, the potential reader, encountered it and thought “Huh, maybe I’ll give this post a read”. Had I busted out some serious pedantic tone right off the bat, you’d be more likely to give my post a pass (unless that sort of thing is your bag, in which case more power to you).

When I first started Olympians, I made a deliberate choice in setting the tone, linguistically, of how I retold the stories. People tell me over and over again about how they never got into mythology, that it was so deadly dull and stuffy. That’s crazy, says me. If you’re relating a story about primordial giants slicing open the sky with blades made of adamantine, or a perfect woman creating herself out of foam and it comes across as boring, well it ain’t the subject matter that’s not carrying its weight. You’re doing something wrong as a storyteller.

My favorite band is the Pixies and the ‘formula’ of their music has been distilled to loud quiet loud. It’s an enormous oversimplification, but it is interesting to see how many of their songs start off loud, go quiet, and then back to loud again. I utilize a similar formula for writing each volume of Olympians.  I tend to start ‘loud’ –each volume begins with the sort of on-high narration one might expect (and often encounters) in retellings of myth—full of grandeur and lofty language, the sort of thing that might sound impressive on the page but might easily sound hopelessly pompous spoken aloud unless you possess a James Earl Jones set of pipes. I think it’s important to set the tone this way—If you’re telling the story of how Mother Earth begat the cosmos from the ether, well, that’s a pretty big idea, and the sort of thing that is hard to convey properly with, like, y’know, conversational English. “So then Kronos the Titan took a sickle and, like, he cut off his dad’s junk and his dad’s junk fell in the ocean and made a big frothy mess and eventually became Aphrodite”—that language might inspire a lot of things, but grandeur probably isn’t one of them.

So lofty and imperious is good for setting a certain mood, but there is more to Greek mythology than just the huge and powerful. The genius of the Greek pantheon, and one of the reasons why I think they remain so popular millennia after most of their active worship ceased, is that they were patterned on a family. A big huge, uber-dysfunctional family with superpowers, but still, a family. And to continue, my Pixies analogy, this is where soft comes in.

Even if that guy can throw lightning bolts, even if that lady can turn into an eagle, the Greek Gods still have a very relatable, very human quality to their character. They’re jealous, they’re spiteful, they’re silly, they’re sneaky, they’re everything you and I and all people are, writ large. In relating the scenes of their human fallibility I choose a more familiar and down-to-earth manner of language for my retellings. One of my editors was initially slightly thrown when he first encountered this technique in my first book Zeus. We went from a quite literally omniscient narrator to a young and randy Zeus frolicking with nymphs and dropping anachronistic speech like the headstrong kid he was. But as the book progressed, he understood what I was going for. The series is called Olympians, it stars the gods themselves. Through the way they speak to each other, though their banter (did it again), we hopefully, if I did my job as storyteller right, we get to know them, we see them as something more than remote and distant gods, we see them as human.

I admit, I have another trick up my sleeve as far as telling a story besides diction. As a cartoonist I also supply images to my retellings, and I’ve certainly been able to spruce up some dull genealogical exposition with a pretty drawing or two, but comics are not pictures, or words, alone. Even if my images are adding to, or basically telling the sequence, the accompanying language contributes to the mood, and rhythm of the scene.

When Homer and Hesiod recast their gods as a squabbling scheming family they made them more real, more tangible.  It was the words they used to describe Zeus, Aphrodite, Hera and the rest, and the words they attributed to the gods themselves that made them transcend mere religion.

See the rest of George O’Connor’s blogcrawl here.

Guest Post: Top Five Novels That Make Great Holiday Gifts This Year

A book can make a heartfelt present – it is not only a thoughtful extension of your likes and interests, but also an invitation for the gift’s recipient to join in on the adventure of the book you love.

So, for this holiday season, no matter what genre you are looking for or who you are shopping for, one of these five best-selling books will be sure to impress that special someone.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (4 stars)

Genre: Horror and Paranormal

In September, Stephen King finally released his much-anticipated sequel to the 1977 The Shining and boy, is it good. We are brought back to the terror and madness introduced in the original and meet a much older, middle-aged Dan Torrance (the son, and “redrum” Danny in The Shining).

Years after the events that occurred in The Shining, Dan has followed in his dad’s footsteps of alcoholism and cynicism. Eventually, he settles down and takes a job in a nursing home, comforting the elderly and becoming known as “Doctor Sleep”. There is a traveling group of psychic vampires called the “True Knot,” who feed on children with “the shining.” Dan meets a 12-year old girl named Abra Stone, who possesses similar powers, and the demons he once repressed come back to haunt him as he tries to protect Abra from the True Knot.

This book is sure to impress friends and family who are fans of Stephen King’s past work, and other horror-genre lovers who aren’t already King aficionados. For those who want to enjoy the film adaptation of King’s story, The Shining is now streaming on DirecTV, and there are talks of a Shining prequel film in the works called The Overlook Hotel.

The Cider House Rules by John Irving (5 stars)

Genre: Coming-of-age

An oldie but a (classic) goodie, the 1985 novel The Cider House Rules by John Irving is a great gift to give this season. Featuring well-developed characters and covering heavy topics, this novel is perfect for the teenager you just can’t figure out what to get.

It is a classic and beloved coming-of-age novel that follows the life of Homer Wells, an orphan who never was adopted, and Dr. Wilbur Larch, a saint and obstetrician at the orphanage. We watch Homer grow up and learn under Wilbur, as Wilbur learns to love Homer as a son. When Homer finds out a dark secret about Wilbur, he leaves the orphanage and starts a new life on an apple orchard. In the end, we watch Homer fill the shoes of Wilbur and handle the issues of abortion, relationships and love.

This is a case of “read before you watch,” as the 1999 film adaptation starring a young Tobey Maguire does not live up to Irving’s writing.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (4 stars)

Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller

One of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers, also responsible for What is the What, just released this new thriller, which reads like the prequel to George Orwell’s 1984. The Circle is perfect for the Sci-Fi fans, tech buffs, and Dave Egger enthusiasts like myself.

We are introduced to Mae Holland who has just been hired to work for the Circle, a tech company that’s eerily reminiscent of Google which creates one online identity and a new form of transparency for web users. The Circle believes that “Secrets Are Lies and Privacy is Theft”. However, the Circle has its own secrets and Mae is forced to confront the challenging issues of privacy and the ever-increasing power of technology over our society. The novel encapsulates a modern technology and social media centered dystopia and reflects the fears of today’s society over technology.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (3.5 stars)

Genre: Crime, Mystery

Gone Girl is a surprising and fresh tale for the person on your list who loves to solves a good old fashioned mystery. The novel follows a married couple, Amy and Nick, as Amy disappears and Nick becomes the main suspect. Flynn alternates between Nick and Amy’s points of view, and we are strung along by lies and twists by both parties. It is not your conventional thriller; we have untrustworthy protagonists and are led away from the average love stories that are commonly mingled into crime novels.

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (5 stars)

Genre: Action, Adventure

For Lost enthusiasts, and fans of J.J. Abrams other works, S. is a fantastic addition to any book collection. It is not only a good read, but also quite the adventure. When you take the book out of the slipcase, you will find a book inside titled Ship of Theseus, filled with pages that are highlighted and notes in the margins, postcards, letters and news clipping, similar to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. S. forces the readers to become a part of the mysteries inside and chronicles two readers, one author and lots of numbers and codes.

So, for the bookworms you still have on your holiday shopping list, get them one of these five best-selling novels for the holidays and you can’t lose.

Kate Voss

GUEST POST: Jack Campbell, author of “The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian”

Imagine The Lord of the Rings in which the geography of Middle Earth didn’t influence the story. Frodo and friends leave the Shire and bang! They’re at Rivendell. The Fellowship leaves Rivendell and bang! They’re at Moria, then bang! They’re at Rohan and bang! They’re at Minas Tirith. Instead of the long marches through Middle Earth, across the mountains and plains and through the forests and the mines, there would just be a series of events at separate locations.

It doesn’t sound nearly as good, does it?

Yet, that is how most “space” opera handles space. Trips between stars and planets usually take only a short time, sometimes just the blink of eye. Even when long trips are involved, they are shown as a series of destinations. When starships decide to fight, even though they are capable of covering light years of distance in a short time, those starships battle by zipping up to each other in a few moments, then slugging away toe-to-toe like boxers in a ring.

A lot of stories don’t want to deal with space. It’s too big and too empty, unimaginably huge, limitless in all directions, no up or down, and practically nothing in the way of obstacles or barriers compared to the surface of a planet. How huge? It’s about twenty five trillion miles to the nearest star (that’s about forty two trillion kilometers). How do humans get their heads around such a number? Even within a single solar system, the distances are enormous. From Earth to Mars is anywhere from thirty six million miles to two hundred fifty million miles. Why do the numbers vary so much? Because both Earth and Mars orbit the sun. Everything in space is moving, nothing just sits still, so travel is a matter of intercepting a moving target, not going to a fixed location. And if you move fast enough, stuff gets weird thanks to Relativity. Your view of the universe gets distorted. Space is not only big, it’s complicated.

As a result, it’s common to adopt shortcuts that allow a story to ignore space. Means to zip almost instantly across those distances, means to see instantly and communicate instantly across space.

I think that’s a mistake, because all of that empty space matters as much as the mountains and rivers of Middle Earth. Just as the ocean matters on Earth. Space and the sea are different characters, of course. The sea is an active character, aiding you or trying to kill you. Ask any sailor. But space is passive. It sits and waits for a mistake, an accident, an equipment failure, and then it is there, cold and unforgiving. To someone voyaging in space, all of that Nothing is Something. Watch the brilliant movie Apollo 13 and you’ll see what I mean. Space is there, the monster lurking just outside the capsule.

But, if putting space into space opera is a good idea, how can we do it?

As it turns out, the universe has given us a tool to show its huge distances in ways humans can understand. Light. One billion kilometers means…what in terms of distance? It’s considerably easier to grasp the idea that light itself takes one hour to travel that distance. One light hour. Describe the distances as light seconds, light minutes, and light hours, and suddenly we have a meaningful means of measurement. Light itself takes that long to get from here to there? That’s big. Dealing with three light hours is a lot easier to handle than describing the distance as three billion kilometers. Using light as the means of description both simplifies showing how big space is, and makes it clear just how big space is.

It also shows the real obstacles in space. Where hobbits might have to ford rivers and climb over mountains, people in space have to deal with the fact that it will take hours for a message sent from their ship to reach another ship. And though they can see that ship, see it crystal clear across those billions of kilometers, they are seeing where it was and what it was doing hours ago. That distance matters. They need to cross it.

Yes, adding space into a space opera complicates it, just as putting the landscape of Middle Earth into that story complicates travel and plans and action there. But I discovered while writing the Lost Fleet series that those complications add a lot to the story. They make the characters confront more problems, more difficulties, more challenges. They make the setting come alive and feel real. They force me, the writer, to figure out how things would actually work in such a place rather than skipping over it. If I can’t take shortcuts, neither can my characters. I have to write better.

Because space is just waiting for you to make a mistake.

~ ~ ~

Jack Campbell (retired US Navy officer John G. Hemry) writes modern space opera, science fiction, military science fiction and fantasy.

His Lost Fleet series follows “Black Jack” Geary, a reluctant hero who fought a desperate last stand against overwhelming odds. In The Lost Stars series, former leaders of the Syndicate Worlds defeated by Black Jack try to rebuild something better from the ruins of that interstellar empire.

In the Stark’s War series, micro-management and politics have grown to rule the US military with disastrous results during a war on the Moon, while in the Sinclair/ JAG in Space series, a young Naval space warfare officer has to learn leadership as he confronts attacks, terrorist acts, spies and other threats that lead to court-martials in the best tradition of legal thrillers.

Jack has also written numerous short stories about time travel, alternate universes, space and the future.

For more information, check out his website.