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Vick's Vultures

Monday, February 6, 2017

Vick's Vultures: Post Mortem

Vick's Vultures has been out for some time, and it has to date sold over 4000 copies and generated extremely positive review scores on both Amazon and Goodreads. For multiple days it was in the top 10 Science Fiction sales on Amazon. To those who read and enjoyed it, and those who left those positive reviews I have this to say: Thank you for taking a chance on Vick's Vultures. Thank you for investing the (admittedly modest) time it took to read. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate the kind words.

To those that left a 1-2 star review I have only this to say: Thank you for taking a chance on Vick's Vultures, and for investing the time to read something you ultimately did not enjoy.

Readers have a right to know that they might not enjoy a book or its content, and so negative reviews are important too. I think it's easy for an author to lose sight of that.

With that said, generous Vick's Vultures spoilers lay ahead as I discuss the book, the characters, and what worked and what maybe didn't. For fans that are looking for a little more before VV 2 is finished, this may scratch your itch. For those that have not read it, go ahead and pick up a copy before going any further. Don't worry, I'll wait. In the following paragraphs I'll talk about my intentions as well as the reader perceptions, and the areas where my attempt to communicate an idea or personality trait were unsuccessful and some of the challenges in tackling science fiction. As an author, it's important to remember that I cannot fault a reader for misunderstanding my intent. All a writer has is the written word, and it's my duty to communicate effectively with it.

Laying the Groundwork

I've discussed it in interviews and internet radio several times, and the answer to the question "What was the idea you wanted to explore with Vick's Vultures?" always seems to change a bit. Memory is a fluid thing, and I don't always remember the reasoning behind every decision. One thing remained certain though, I knew that VV was above all else a story of adventure, and before the labels started flying (military sci-fi, mad max in space, space opera, space marines,) I had described it as an interstellar age of sail, with powerful nations trading, conquering, marauding, and trying to scrape by. I had a character, Vick, and her purpose for the next two hundred odd pages was to butt into a millennia old conflict. When I begin outlining a novel, I start with the inciting action and the eventual resolution, and decide what message I want the two to say. That pesky bit in the middle is best left to worry about later (As my publishers at Parvus Press are no doubt tired of hearing).


By far the biggest complaint in the work, even among the positive reviews, was the lack of characterization for the more minor characters. By its nature, a ship like the Condor is a cog of many pieces and the crew is no less crucial to that ship than the micro reactor or the horizon drive. Not only that, but it is a well-oiled machine of professional starfarers, entrusted with the future of humanity. My intent was to present a crew that had long moved past the early stages of group development and were already an efficient, functioning team headed by a capable leader. In that aspect, I think I succeeded. Victoria leads, but respects and considers the advice of her subordinates, and in turn is respected by them. For all her faults (and boy does she have a lot), she makes decisions that minimize risk to her crew in her inherently risky situation. If not for the opportunistic interjection of a certain six-foot bug, it's entirely possible that she would have completed her mission free from pursuit. But because the scope of the story is so narrow, taking place in only a few days, you don't have enough time to see complex relationships develop between crewmembers. This is simply because the humans in Vick's Vultures are as close to, well, human as I can make them and a few days isn't enough time for such complex relationships to develop. I expect this will be a continuing complaint about individual books in the series, though perhaps not the series as a whole. The pulpy, serialized format which I have adopted for the Union Earth Privateers trilogy means that I have accepted this fault and decided to focus effort in improving other aspects.

In regards to Victoria herself, I could likely write an entire post. Part of my intent for her was to be something of a black mirror to the stereotypical vulgar, heavy-drinking, womanizing, Colt 1911 slinging do-no-wrong maverick space captains prevalent in science fiction. Her heavy drinking is seen negatively by a majority of the crew, her vulgarity is purposefully over the top (and unique to her). she can't effectively use her favored sidearm, she marginalizes the opposite sex in a negative way, and sometimes she makes decisions that don't save the day but instead lead to the very real consequence of losing crew members. Her sexuality is quite possibly where I saw the biggest break in terms of what I intended vs what was perceived. More than a few people saw her as simply promiscuous, and I failed to convey that her attitude towards men was in fact harmful and toxic because she saw most men only for the ways they could be used to validate herself. In fact, it is only in spite of these faults that she succeeds as a captain, not because of them, and in fact each of them has caused damage to her both personally and professionally in ways that the tightness of the narrative did not allow me the opportunity to explore without sacrificing the carefully maintained pace of Vick's Vultures.

One last thing about Victoria. Of the negative reviews mentioned earlier, her appetites and her vulgarity are mentioned more than once. The strangest aspect is that I agree with them. Excessive profanity is one of my bigger pet peeves when reading sci-fi and fantasy, and graphic sex scenes are another. More often than not I find that they take me out of the narrative, but I also knew that I wanted to challenge myself with Vick's Vultures and that sometimes the things I enjoy creating do not exactly align with the things I enjoy.  

Set Sail, at the Speed of Plot!

Having previously written Fantasy and knowing that my meager knowledge of cosmic geometry, real-world chemistry, and advanced rocketry were severely lacking I knew I was in over my head the moment I decided to move into Science Fiction. Plainly put, the realism to inject even a modicum of believably makes sci-fi much more difficult for me to write. Having completed my last math class in 10th grade of high school, researching stellar dynamics first required researching how to understand the information I was seeing. Concepts of acceleration, chase mechanics, relativistic delay, and combat at appreciable fractions of light speed had my head spinning. It took me some time to realize that none of it mattered at all. No matter how fast a ship supposedly was, they all moved the same speed: exactly as fast as the narrative demanded. It didn't matter exactly how fast characters were moving, only whether they were closing, escaping, evading, or engaging. It's much more important to know that a Grayling cutter is catching up to your hero than it is to know that cutter is moving at 11,000 meters per second in relation to the local star.

Once I realized this, it was easy to apply my real world experience as part of a tactical ship-board tracking party to making the encounters between these ships as intense as possible, with just enough touch of small group communications to shift the focus from realistic space combat to the realistic team dynamics that make naval combat possible in the first place. The interactions between Victoria and her crew became the highlight, and the way the Condor could be wielded as a single deadly weapon by many small moving parts became the driving aspect of what many have declared to be the best part of Vick's Vultures. I'm glad that I succeeded in this, because a similar approach is rarely seen outside of hard military fiction.

Onward and So Forth

For now, the future of the Union Earth Privateers is secure. Parvus Press has extended me the opportunity to continue my unique take on science fiction and the crowded galaxy of Vick's Vultures. Some of the reader considerations I will take into account, others conflict with my vision for the story and so I will have to disappoint. I hope that future volumes meet with a similar response from sci-fi fans as Vick's Vultures has, but now and for always I write for the challenge and the drive to create. See you around the Orion Spur!

-Scott Warren

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