Now that my second entry in the Union Earth Privateers universe has had a couple months of release to stew it's time to take a look back and peel back the veil. Following are some of my thoughts and plans for the book, the goals I set out with and some behind the scenes workings.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Sequel to a Solo Act
Vick’s Vultures was intended and works well as a standalone book. I had not planned additional installments when I first wrote it, but I made sure to plant seeds and lay groundwork for future stories within the universe. Conversely, To Fall Among Vultures and its follow-up later this year, Where Vultures Dare, are two halves of a matched set. Each is a self-contained 3-act story that directly plays off the other and rewards the reader for tackling the whole set. There’s another popular work of science fiction that follows the same format. You might be familiar with a little series called Star Wars.
Linking the second and third book in such a way was a departure from my original intention of only loosely-related serialized installments, but I think the series is stronger for it. It allowed me to explore the concept of decision-based consequences where characters are forced to confront the way their choices cause ripples in the world around them.
Both Vick’s Vultures and The Sorcerous Crimes Division both delved into religious themes and biblical subversions in some ways, namely the hazards of blindly following faith without critical thought. But never are those themes as front and center as in To Fall Among Vultures. I worried that they would be a little too on-the-nose, but so far it’s received far fewer comments than the parallels to modern day government shenanigans.
Right from the start of the book I started throwing religion at the reader with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which in a very real way draws Victoria into the primary conflict of the book. In fact, the original name for the novel was To Fall Among Robbers, almost a direct biblical quote that perfectly captured the themes and tone of the book. Unfortunately, the name is only perfect in retrospect after reading the book, and after much back and forth and head scratching with the publisher we eventually compromised on To Fall Among Vultures.
Much of the remaining story is a loose subversion of Exodus in which Moses led the Israelites to the promised land. The Gavisar are a race of dogmatic xenos following what they believe is the divine instructions of gods. But when granted a view from the outside looking in, Victoria is shocked at the absurdity of attributing god-like status to aliens and recognizes that the tenants and history of the Gavisar religion are manufactured by the Gavisar themselves. This story is somewhat unique in the role-reversal that the protagonists are forced into the role of Philistines. Neither the Maeyar or the Gavisar are truly villains, they are opposing forces forced to pay for the sins of their forebears. I think a conflict where the lines of good and evil are blurred is more interesting to read, especially when the protagonist struggles to decide which side they should throw their weight behind and realizes only far too late that getting involved at all was quite possibly a moral misstep. And do right and wrong have any place in interstellar politics at all? After all, what’s best for the Maeyar or Gavisar might not be what’s best for humanity.
The Galactic Face-Heel Turn
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), most of the reviews eschewed the vaguely religious themes and critiques in favor of the plot twist in the last act of the book. Up until this point in the novel Victoria, and by extension humanity, was the front and center hero. While the conflict between the Maeyar and the Gavisar painted neither as the clear villain, Union Earth was more than happy to assume the mantle when they arrived at Pedres to break the line of the Maeyar blockade. In a strategic and politically expedient decision that prevented a genocide and secured future colonization opportunities, the Union Earth Navy betrayed a budding alliance, undid nearly all Victoria’s work, and murdered the spouse of a main character in the process.
Both Vick’s Vultures and To Fall Among Vultures placed heavy POV emphasis on alien characters because I wanted to convey how the rest of the Orion Spur perceived these savage upstarts. But that emphasis also allowed empathy, and so when the Zumwalts begin to fire on the carrier line, the reader feels as though the humans are the hostile xenos. Victoria is helpless in this scene, her agency is stripped by military direction, and so too does the reader feel helpless as they look on in horror while they ponder the outcome. To date, this twist is the most divisive scene I’ve written. Readers are split half and half between loving it and hating it, and unfortunately not all of the latter were kind in their reviews. But all of them felt it like a punch in the gut, in fact several have described it like a physical blow.
And that sensation was exactly what I set out to produce. Whatever the reception, I consider it a complete success as a writer to evoke such a strong reaction. I would consider it a disservice to shoot for anything less.
Feel free to let me know what you thought. As always you can reach me on twitter @scottwarrenscd or on facebook.com/scottwarrenscd