A Moment of Unrest, Part 1

What follows is a short story based on the history behind the novel I’m writing. This story surrounds events that take place over 10,000 years before the start of the first volume of my story. These events have no bearing on the events of that story, and are unlikely to be referenced in that story. Instead, this is more of a chance for me to practice my writing skills in the universe that I’ve created. I hope you enjoy it.

Admiral Shuren Fenjeelin stood glumly on the bridge of his flagship, the Starfortress Radiant. Radiant and the other 63 ships he commanded were in orbit around the Imperial world of Cortaris, which they had been besieging for the past five years. Admiral Fenjeelin served in the Grand and Invincible Army of Fangalin, which had been at war with the Empire for over 400 years. For much of that time, the Invincible Army had lived up to its name, reducing the Empire to a shade of its former glory. But the current Emperor, Belatras I, known as Belatras the Terrible by those who opposed him, made the Invincible Army seem like it was commanded by raw recruits, and had dealt several severe blows to Fangalin. The siege of Cortaris was part of a plan to reverse the gains made by Emperor Belatras. Admiral Fenjeelin didn’t fear the Empire, but even he had to admit that the prospect of encountering Emperor Belatras made him a little uneasy.

He didn’t believe that was too likely to happen, though. Cortaris was an important world, perhaps the most important world in the Empire (short of the capital, Trisitania) but the Emperor had too many irons in the fire to personally lead a fleet against any one besieging force. Not when another Fangalin fleet was also besieging Medradi, the world where the Imperial Fleet was based. Besides, the fleet commanded by Admiral Fenjeelin was surely far superior to anything the Empire could muster to oppose it.

The Admiral had more important things to do than worry about the Emperor, anyway. Admiral Fenjeelin’s counterpart on the ground, General Vek Mortollin, was constantly hounding him about providing more support to the ground forces. As if General Mortollin didn’t already have the largest single force in the entire Invincible Army under his command. Fenjeelin really didn’t know what else he could do to satisfy General Mortollin, and truth be told, he was sick and tired of dealing with the man.

“Admiral Fenjeelin!” an ensign called out, “General Mortollin wishes to speak with you, sir!” The Admiral sighed and strode over to the comm station.

“What is it, General?” he asked. As if he didn’t already know.

“Fenjeelin!” bellowed Mortollin, “I’m taking a pounding from Imperial artillery down here! I need you to transfer three flights of Nightwings to my command immediately so I can bomb them to hell!” Nightwings were a type of medium fighter equally adept at atmospheric and orbital operations. Which is why Admiral Fenjeelin needed them to stay in his command.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, General,” Fenjeelin replied with a sigh, “I need them in case an Imperial fleet shows up to try and break the siege.”

“Break the siege!” bellowed Mortollin “Nonsense! If you can’t hold off the Imperial Fleet short three flights of Nightwings, then you don’t deserve your command! Now get to work!” With that, he abruptly severed the connection, leaving the Admiral to swallow his reply and begin rubbing his temples.

The problem was that, although General Mortollin was not superior to Admiral Fenjeelin, neither was Fenjeelin superior to Mortollin. Fenjeelin and Mortollin were supposed to be jointly in command of this operation, but too often, Gen. Mortollin treated the Admiral like a buck private.

Admiral Fenjeelin looked around for his XO, Captain Jendrin Soromine. Soromine was another person who Fenjeelin would rather not deal with on a regular basis, but not for the same reasons as Mortollin. Soromine was Fenjeelin’s nephew, his sister’s son. He had a brilliant military mind, but he was cold and arrogant to his subordinates and contemptuous and dismissive of the Empire. Fenjeelin had made his nephew XO of the Cortaris Fleet as a favor to his beloved sister, but it was a decision he was slowly coming to regret.

“Captain Soromine!” Fenjeelin called out. The Captain appeared at his uncle’s side immediately.

“Yes, Admiral?” he said. All respect and deference on the surface, but even in those two little words there was a hint that Soromine believed he was better suited to command than his uncle.

“I need you to go down to the planet and speak with General Mortollin,” Fenjeelin said. “The General is under the mistaken impression that the forces under his command are more important than mine. Your mission is to make him see that what we do up here is as important, if not more so, than what he does on the planet’s surface.”

“I see,” responded Soromine, “And how exactly do you propose I do that? Sir?” Just a slight hesitation at the end, not enough to discipline him for, but enough that Fenjeelin knew exactly what his nephew thought of him.

“It’s not my job to tell you how to do your mission, Captain,” Fenjeelin snapped, “You are an intelligent man. Figure it out.” Captain Soromine saluted, turned on his heel, and stalked off the bridge.

Admiral Fenjeelin returned to sighing and rubbing his temples. All around him, there was a hum of activity as the officers on the bridge went about the tasks that needed to be done to keep Radiant in a constant state of readiness. In some ways, the crews on the ships in orbit around the planet had a harder job than the soldiers on the ground. Oh, sure, the men and women on Radiant and the other ships lived in climate-controlled comfort while the soldiers had to slog around in the cold and the mud. And yeah, the ships’ crews didn’t have the constant threat of enemy soldiers shooting at them and trying to kill them. But they did have to be on guard in case the Empire decided to send a fleet to try and break the siege. Five years of being on constant alert put a terrible strain on people.

And the alert had to be constant, because there was no way of detecting ships traveling in subspace. If the Imperial Fleet arrived, Fenjeelin’s forces would only have a few minutes to prepare before the battle began. Five years of waiting for an attack that might never come was making everybody’s nerves a little frayed. They had a duty to carry out, and Admiral Fenjeelin was beginning to wonder if they would be able to carry it out if the time came.

To be continued…

I Need to Stop Worrying about Global Warming

As a democratic society, we put a lot of stock in our ability, as “the people”, to accomplish and change things. Just look at the Occupy protests that have been going on all over the country. As a political moderate who tends to lean more left than right, I’d like to think that Occupy Wall Street is going to overthrow the plutocratic fat cats that run this country and replace our corrupt capitalist system with something more egalitarian. (Okay, okay, I admit it. I’m pretty much a socialist.) But there’s more to my worldview than my politics.

I may be a socialist, but I’m also a Christian. (Christian socialist? Is that even a thing?) As a Christian, I believe that humanity’s collective ability to influence the course of history is limited, and almost certainly always negative. In other words, when left to our own devices, we don’t really have much of an impact on the universe one way or another, and when we do change things, we change things for the worse.

From a humanistic perspective, this probably sounds like a horribly nihilistic philosophy. Fortunately, Christians don’t look at things from a humanistic perspective. We recognize the sovereignty and power of God, and believe that God is in complete control of all things.

This makes all the difference in the world. If you take God away, your only source of hope is to believe that we humans can change the world for the better. Unfortunately, history shows that such a belief is, at best, comically optimistic. There’s nothing in the historical record to show that we do anything but destroy everything that we touch.

So what hope is there? Well, it’s important to take a look at exactly what I’m saying here. It’s not that humans either have a negative effect or that we have a limited effect. It’s very important that both parts of this argument are true. If it’s one or the other, then we are pretty much screwed.

Why is this? Well, let’s just think about it for a minute. If it’s just that we have a limited impact on the world around us, then it means that, even if we do something that changes things for the better, it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t really change anything. And if it’s just that we have a negative impact on the world around us, then, well, it’s pretty much a matter of time before we annihilate the world with nuclear war or global warming or something.

So, if this is the case, how are we better off if both of these things are true? If we can only change things a little bit, and then only for the worse, how can we have any hope at all? Well, without God, we don’t have any hope. But with God, we have all the hope in the universe.

You see, God created the universe, so he has complete and perfect control of the universe. Everything that happens is according to God’s will, and God is perfect and good, so we know that eventually, everything will work out and all creation will be perfected. (Romans 8:28)

“Wait a minute,” I hear you say. “If God is perfect, and good, and in complete control of the universe, then why do bad things happen? Surely if God were really in control of everything, then only good things would ever happen?” Well, that’s a good question, and I’m not sure that any human could ever fully answer it. But that’s actually part of the answer right there. As imperfect beings, we cannot possibly understand perfection.

Romans 9:20-21 makes it clear that we have no grounds to complain about anything that God does. He made us, he has the right to do whatever he wants with us. If we don’t like it, or if we don’t understand it, the fault lies with us, not with him.

But that’s not really the problem at hand. The question is, what do we do? If we can only change things slightly and for the worse, should we even bother to do anything at all? Are we supposed to just sit back and let God take care of everything? What should we take from all this?

Well, there are two practical things that we can apply to our lives here. One is that we shouldn’t worry about anything. If God is in complete and perfect control of the universe, than nothing can happen that goes against his plan. For example, I have a tendency to worry about global warming destroying our civilization. But I shouldn’t, because if that happens, then it’s part of God’s plan. And if it’s not part of God’s plan, then it won’t happen.

However, and this is the second thing, just because God is in control doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to act. Here’s an example. Let’s say a friend comes to you with a problem. This friend just got laid off from their job, and their rent is due in two days, and they don’t have any money. Let’s also say that you have plenty of money and can easily afford to cover your friend’s rent. What do you do?

It’s not enough to just say, “Well, I’ll pray for you, buddy.” If it is in your power to act, then you not have a responsibility to act. Not because God can’t help your friend some other way, but because God expects those who love him to follow his commands, and one of his commands is to help out our brothers and sisters who are in need.

So, Occupy Wall Street probably isn’t going to amount to much in the end. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t stand up for what we believe and fight for what is right and all that. I’m just saying that we should pay more attention to the One who created all things and in whom all things will ultimately be perfected. If we hope for justice and righteousness in this life, we will always be disappointed. But if we look to God in Heaven, we will be perfectly satisfied.

Orcs? Not So Much

I probably can’t keep writing about writing a novel without actually talking about the content of said novel, but I’m going to try for as long as I can. This week, I’m going to talk about some of the books that have influenced me over the years. Why not, right?

Unfortunately, I haven’t read nearly as many fantasy books as I would like. I’m working on rectifying that now, since I feel like somebody who wants to write a book should read as many different books in that style as possible. It helps that I have a Kindle now. In the past, one of my hesitations about buying books has been the fact that I don’t have a lot of room in my house to store books. Now I can buy as many books as I want and I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to put them.

Anyway, the first fantasy series I remember really loving was the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It took me a while to finish the whole series, but I absolutely adored it. I used to fantasize about visiting Narnia myself. I didn’t even care about becoming the King of Narnia or anything like that. I would have been content just being a tourist.

The Chronicles of Narnia introduced me to the concept of a fictional world that was almost as detailed and believable as the real world. It’s a concept that I’ve been fascinated with ever since. Of course, the classic example of this is the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember reading The Hobbit as a kid, and being fascinated with the world that Tolkien had created, and being VERY excited when I discovered that he had written a much longer sequel as well.

Unfortunately, the sheer massiveness of The Lord of the Rings discouraged me from reading it for quite some time. I think that at one point, in fourth grade or so, I tried to start it, but bogged down soon after. I don’t remember when I finally did make it all the way through, but I do remember that it revolutionized the way I looked at the fantasy genre and fiction in general. And the deeper I delved into the rich universe that Tolkien had created, the more fascinated I got. In some ways, I think the Silmarillion is superior to the Lord of the Rings, because the Silmarillion delves even deeper into the mythology and history of Tolkien’s universe.

Another series that had a major impact on my tastes is the Dragonlance saga, which is in some way connected to Dungeons & Dragons. I never played Dungeons & Dragons, so I don’t really know that much about it, but I got into Dragonlance regardless. As a greasy teenager, I obsessed over Dragonlance, reading as many of the books as I could get my hands on, but I gradually got to the point where I focused on the core books written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The original Dragonlance trilogy, Chronicles, doesn’t hold up particularly well today, to be perfectly honest. It’s fairly generic, and you can tell that the authors were just kind of making it up as they went along. But it still holds a nostalgic appeal to me, and the later Dragonlance books, especially the War of Souls trilogy, are very, very good.

Another series that has had an impact on my tastes is the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time has an interesting backstory. Robert Jordan originally conceived of it as a six volume series. 21 years and 13 books later, the series is still not finished, and the original author is deceased. Fortunately, Jordan’s widow found an author to complete the series, Brandon Sanderson, and the last volume is supposed to come out next year. Sanderson also wrote the last two Wheel of Time books, and while I haven’t read then yet, I have them on my Kindle and I’ve heard that they’re good, so I’m excited to read them and the last book and finally find out how the Wheel of Time ends.

Even though Robert Jordan’s epic saga isn’t finished yet, it has still had an impact on my thoughts about the kind of novel that I want to write. The world of the Wheel of Time is insanely detailed. Every kingdom that exists in this fictional world has its own unique culture, clothing style, accent, cuisine, etc. Each city (and there are many) has its own special flavor and style, and these different cultures come through impressively in Jordan’s writing. If Jordan mentions that a certain character comes from Cairhien, I can immediately picture what that character looks like, and I know how that character would differ from one from, say, Arad Doman.

That ridiculous level of detail is something that I greatly aspire to in my own work. While I will never be as hardcore as Tolkien (who invented his own language for the Lord of the Rings), I do want to pack as much detail into the background of my saga as possible. For example, the setting for my story is a vast interstellar empire. There are over a thousand inhabited worlds that make up this empire, and I have a spreadsheet that contains the names of all of them, as well as the year when they were colonized, and the year when they were made provinces of the Empire. I also have a 79-page, 41,000 word timeline that details the 10,000 year history of the Empire. Did I mention that this timeline is only about halfway finished?

I know this sounds a bit like bragging, but that’s not my intent. I realize that the quality of a story is not determined by how long its outline is, but I hope that my attention to detail will show through in the quality of the finished product. I suppose the only way to know is to just finish the darn thing. I’ll get to that eventually.

Wizards Are Also Cool

A couple of weeks ago, I talked a bit about my ambition to write a science fiction/fantasy novel. I’d like to spend some more time on that topic this week. I’m still not going to give any specific details about the project that I’m working on, but I want to talk some more about my tastes and some general themes that I’m trying to hit in this work.

I can’t remember exactly how I got interested in science fiction and fantasy in the first place. I imagine that my mother was involved, because she was an avid reader of both of these genres in her youth. But I don’t remember any specifics.

One thing I do remember, is that when I was in elementary school, there was a whole imaginary universe that I created and inhabited. In this universe, there was a race of…aliens, I guess, called Cute Creatures. Once I got a little older and “Cute Creatures” began to sound a little childish, I changed their name to “Zylixians”. Anyway, the Cute Creatures were locked in an endless struggle with a bad guy who wanted to conquer them. This villain went by the clever name of Dark. And who led them in this epic struggle? Me, of course. I was the Emperor of the Cute Creatures. And here you thought I was just some dude out in the woods.

Eventually, I outgrew the Cute Creatures/Zylixians, but I have yet to outgrow my love of epic battles between good and evil. I can’t imagine writing a fantasy novel without this backdrop. Not that you can’t have a good fantasy book that doesn’t revolve around a battle between good and evil, but I wouldn’t be particularly interested in reading such a book (unless it was REALLY good), and I’m certainly not interested in writing it.

What is it about the dichotomy between good and evil that I find so interesting? Partially I feel that it’s a good reflection of the world we live in. As a Christian, I do believe that there are forces of good and evil at work in the world, and I believe that there is a war going on between these forces, and I think that this war is the most important thing in human history.

I also find that an epic battle between good and evil makes for a great foundation for the conflict of a story. Every good story needs some sort of conflict, and what better conflict than one for the very heart and soul of the universe itself? Granted, it’s a trope that’s almost certainly been overused, but I still think that, if done well, it provides a powerful and effective backdrop to a good story.

But who cares about the fate of a universe if you don’t have any feelings toward the people who live in it? As important as the conflict is, what I’m really interested in and focused on is the characters. I want my characters to be predictable and yet unpredictable. By this, I mean that I don’t necessarily want the reader to always be able to predict what a character will do, but I do want the reader to be able to go back later and think, “Oh yeah. I can see why that character did that in retrospect.” But there’s also nothing wrong with the reader sometimes being able to predict what a character will do because the reader understands that character’s motivations and tendencies. It makes a character feel more like a real person, which is important when so many of your characters are immortal demigods.

Which brings me to another important point. I find characters who have some sort of “super power” to be particularly interesting. As somebody who has often been, if not necessarily bullied, then largely ignored by the world around me, I am always fascinated by the idea of a character with the power to forcefully impose his or her will on the world around them. And yet, power is something that can easily be misused.

For example, one of the main characters in my book is out for revenge. As a child, his parents were murdered, and he places the blame for their deaths on the main villain of the story. So his lifelong goal/dream is to put an end to this villain. And he has been given incredible power with which to combat this enemy, who of course has considerable power of his own. But what this character finds, is that the longer his battle with his enemy goes on, the more he begins to resemble the tyrant whom he despises.

Because, of course, every character has to have a flaw. If every character was perfect and always did the right thing, there would be no story. There needs to be a tension between doing what one knows is the right thing and doing what one wants. How often do we face that tension in our own lives? How often do we feel like doing the right thing will make us happy? How often do we, deep down inside, know that doing what we want will be disastrous for us and the people we love? How often do we do that thing anyway?

Even though my story revolves around a battle between good and evil, good and evil are not always black and white. Sometimes good guys make selfish choices and things turn out badly. Sometimes bad guys do selfless things and save the day. Just because a character starts out as “evil” doesn’t mean they stay that way. And sometimes good guys betray their friends and ideals in order to obtain something that they desperately want.

So there’s some insight into my thought process. I wish I could say more about the details of the story and the characters, but I also don’t want to say too much. I thought about mentioning a pivotal flaw in a certain character, but I don’t want to spoil anything. The fact that this flaw even exists is supposed to be something of a mystery until well into the story, and the consequences of this flaw will ultimately be disastrous and far-reaching and (hopefully) surprising. So you’ll just have to wait.

Quit Complaining!

There’s a problem in the tech industry. It’s a problem that seems to be getting more and more prevalent, or maybe I’m just noticing it more and more, but either way, it’s getting really irritating. The problem is that everybody is complaining about everything all the time.

Look, I get it. People want things to be as good as they possibly can be. And I know how small things can be really big annoyances. But still. I think that people need to focus more on the positive. Here’s some examples.

First of all, let’s talk about Apple’s new “Find My Friends” app. Basically, FMF lets you track other iPhones from your iPhone so that you know where the people holding them are. It’s basically for families at Disney World or whatever, but I can also see how it would be useful for jealous men and/or women who want to know if their wives/girlfriends/husbands/boyfriends are cheating on them. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. The real reason I bring it up is because of the design.

FMF is decked out in a faux leather motif that Apple apparently refers to as “rich Corinthian leather”. Personally, I find it… inoffensive. I don’t love it, but it doesn’t particularly bother me. But if you listen to some of the complaints on the internet, you’d think that Apple had murdered somebody’s favorite cow to create this design.

Now, design is important. Bad design can negatively impact user experience. But there’s nothing about “rich Corinthian leather” that impacts the usability of FMF one way or another. I’m not saying you have to like the design. But please find something more constructive to do with your time. Like marveling at the fact that an app exists that lets you see where your friends and family are at any moment. That’s pretty freaking awesome.

People also like to complain about their browser crashing. Now, I almost never experience this. So I thought it was kind of odd, hearing all of these tech journalists constantly complaining about their browser crashing all the time. But then I discovered that tech journalists routinely have dozens of tabs open at once. I guess that would make a difference.

Now, I’m not a tech journalist. I don’t really know what the job of being a tech journalist entails. But is it really necessary to have DOZENS of tabs open at once? How can you possibly be using all of those websites at the same time? Is your internet connection really so slow that you can’t just have a few tabs open and load new websites as you need them? I just don’t understand what’s going on here.

I think that maybe instead of focusing on the negative, we need to be looking at the positive. Why not sit back and be amazed that we are able to have such easy access to massive amounts of information? Think about it! The internet is amazing!

I admit that I am probably as guilty of this as anybody. I get really irritated when I’m listening to music on my iPod and I realize that some of the album art for some of my songs is missing. (For some reason, this happens to me a lot. Probably because it really annoys me.) And maybe I do have some justification for being annoyed. After all, when you pay good money for something, you have a right to expect that that thing will work the way it’s supposed to. But at the same time, I’m listening to music on a device that’s the same width and length as a pack of playing cards, and it’s, like, a quarter of the thickness! And it can hold thousands of songs! And play videos! And access the Internet! And I can play games on it! Holy crap! This thing is incredible!

It just seems to me that people have, at least to some extent, lost the sense of wonder that should accompany an interest in technology. We really do live in amazing times. Things that I do on a regular basis now would have seemed mindblowingly amazing to me 15 years ago. Heck, even 5 years ago I’m not sure I could have conceived of the iPad or even the iPhone/iPod Touch.

And I don’t even want to imply that Apple’s the only company doing amazing things. A few weeks ago, Google rolled out something called Google Wallet, which basically lets you use a Nexus S, Google’s flagship Gingerbread device, as a debit card. Now, this service is still in the testing phase right now, but can you imagine not having to carry a wallet because you can use your phone for all of your identification and payment needs? Sure, it raises the possibility of some terrifying privacy violations, but it’s also pretty freaking cool.

These are just a few examples. I could go on and on at great length, but I’m starting to run low on space. The point is that all this complaining really makes us look like spoiled babies. I think this kind of points to a broader problem in American culture. We have this sense of entitlement, this idea that things should just be handed to us without us having to do any work for them. We expect things to go perfectly for us, and when they don’t, instead of realizing that sometimes things don’t go perfectly in life, we whine and complain.

This all just seems kind of ridiculous to me. Imagine going up to a child who is starving because his or her family is too poor to buy food and telling them that you’re so pissed off because you can’t get your data to sync properly in iCloud. Pretty absurd, right?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect products that we pay for to work properly. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t bring problems with products to the attention of those who make those products. I’m just saying that maybe it’s not worth getting angry about. There are a lot of major problems in this world that deserve our anger. Things like crashing browsers and OS fragmentation should not be included in that list.