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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guest Post: Black and White or Gray in Space? By. C.T. Phipps

"Breathe. Just breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?"

"Light. Darkness. A balance."

"It's so much bigger."

-Luke and Rey, The Last Jedi trailer

I remember when I first came up with the idea of Lucifer's Star, it was not that long after watching The Force Awakens. I really enjoyed that movie but I found myself in the awkward position of not really liking where it was taking the story. My tastes had changed in the thirty years since I first watched Star Wars as a six-year-old boy on my VHS player.

Back when I was a youngling, I had no difficulty accepting the basic premise of the story of Light, Dark, Rebels, and Imperials. It wasn't until I was an adult I had the slight issue of wondering just what the Imperial pilots had done to deserve Han blowing them out of the sky or whether the Ewoks ate the captured Stormtroopers after the Battle of Endor. Ironically, it was the redemption of Darth Vader which caused me to think about the fact every one of those Space Fascists had a family.

Lucifer's Star was written due to an idea I had percolating in my mind that things might not be so black and white even in a space opera setting. While in The Force Awakens, the First Order appears to be every bit as bad as the Galactic Empire if not worse, I really wanted to investigate the dynamics of what made someone want to sign up with organizations like both. How did they view themselves? Why were they convinced they were the good guys?

"All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed - casualties of a war they had nothing to do with."
 - Randall Graves, on the Second Death Star

One thing I've noticed with a lot of science fiction and fantasy is they tend to want to divide up the galaxy between the good and the evil. Whether it's the Federation versus the Klingons, Babylon Five versus its war-mongering neighbors, or Humans vs. Bugs--it's a genre which thrives for clear antagonists and a lack of moral ambiguity. There's certainly exceptions (even in the above examples) but there's a real sense of celebrating conflict with amazing machines and plucky heroism.

The first scene in my book was one I had crystal clear in my mind. I wanted to have a big huge epic space battle between a stereotypical "evil" space power with elitist nobles and scary named ships versus a bunch of freedom-named good guy seeming types. Then I wanted the protagonist to be one of the "bad" guys, have his reasons explained, and then I wanted the good guys to slaughter them like animals. Then I wanted to cut five years later and see how the war's aftermath was affecting the survivors on both sides.

Really, I've seen many plucky heroes who absolutely refuse to give up and refuse to surrender across my years of reading genre literature. This is almost always treated as a good thing but it occurred to me it's the same sort of attitude which results in generations of violence. For my protagonist, Cassius Mass, I wanted a guy who was trying to move on from the war and his cause because continuing to fight would only get more people killed for no gain. No one ever wants to think ending on a loss is the right thing but someone has to. That, at some point, the cost is worth more than the reward.

"Only the Sith believe in absolutes!"

-An absolute spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi

I also had a good bit of fun playing around with the concepts of how conflicts like the kind in my favorite space operas would be seen by both sides. Would the plucky resistance be a bunch of people like Leia, Han, and Luke or would there be more people out for pure vengeance? Would there be people who really are blinded by the empire's propaganda and trying to just do the best job they could? Star Wars was created in the turmoil of the Vietnam War, its prequels during the War on Terror, and its present series in the aftermath of such. My writing is certainly affected by how muddled allegiances can be.

Lucifer's Star was written with the concept of a character who begins as an idealistic soldier who just so happens to be working for the Archduchy of Crius, a government which could not be more stereotypically evil seeming to outsiders. A bunch of space feudalists and militarists living in a constant state of expansionism until they meet another state which conquers ones like theirs so they can give "freedom" and "democracy" to them (for a price).

In the end, the war costs Cassius Mass everything and he's left trying to pick up the pieces. Something he can only do if he abandons his need for revenge as well as pride--two things most heroes in space opera have an abundance of. It's not a quest he will completely succeed in. His is the journey of the Anti-Han Solo, the man who believes in something before deciding it's better to believe in himself. 

"How will it end?"

"In fire."
 - The Centauri Emperor and Kosh

Of course, even as I wrote my story with its dark meditations on war and conflict, I also found myself throwing in all the stuff I loved from space opera. There were epic fleet battles, thrilling starfighter fights, duels with electrified swords, and even a romance or two. Just because the situation was dark and depressing didn't mean that amazing things couldn't happen. Apocalypse Now was one of the most anti-war movies ever made yet had The Ride of the Valkyries playing during a helicopter assault along with an intense confrontation with Kurtz and our anti-hero Willard.

In conclusion, I had a lot of fun writing Lucifer's Star to subvert a lot of the tropes I found in popular military science fiction. I wanted to embrace the themes of War is Hell and victory can come at too high of a cost. Nevertheless, I was still writing a story about fun things which I think will appeal to those who love more traditional handling of the genre. I liken it to the fact George R.R. Martin's Westeros still has dragons and ice zombies.

Only mine is laser swords and starfighters.


Official Author Website
Order Lucifer's Star HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Chthulhu Armageddon
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Straight Outta Fangton
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Esoterrorism
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with C. T. Phipps
Read "Giving Back Vampires Their Bite" by C. T. Phipps (guest post)
Read "To Mythos Or Not To Mythos" by C. T. Phipps (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: C.T. Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger, reviewer for The Bookie Monster, and previously published the urban fantasy series, The Red Room. C.T. Phipps is also the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Chthulu Armageddon, & Straight Outta Fangton.



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