Behind the Stories: Part I

Brantley Thompson Elkins

Passion Play is an overview with elements of storytelling. I'd had an idea for a novel under that title way back in 2004, but one of the ideas I'd had in mind for it worked its way into Companions (q.v.). Over the years, I toyed with the idea, and even wrote a number of scenes beginning in October 2010, after one false start in 2007. Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara aka Alisa Liddell had by then become a central character in the Aurora Universe 3 saga. The germ of this was her brief appearance in Throne of the Gods, as advisor to Theel'dara – she seemed to know exactly how to have the errant Protector prepared for her fateful return to Velor.

But how had she known that? In Pictures of an Expedition, I hinted at her interest early on in the process of history. Lionel De Camp, the close friend of Alisa in the Culture Service, had been introduced in Throne as her point man, and one of my aims in Shore Leave was to give him an origin story that hinted at his keen insight and later importance. There were further elements, including Alisa's romance with Andre Kalik, that needed to be fleshed out, and Encounter at Westfold – begun by Shadar – gave them a family (including a Protector daughter, which meant she and Velor had made their peace). Because he looked older than Alisa, and seemed to have a different personality, I created the backstory about what happened to him at the Lost City and afterwards.

But the heart of the story was Alisa herself, how and why she had become a mover and shaker as opposed to the sort of female Spock that Shadar had imagined when he created her for the story line of Ordinary Velorians and in "Alisa's Story." My first attempt was in 2013, but that was before I had a chance to finish Shore Leave, which Shadar had pretty much given up on, and that finally enabled me to put things together in a more coherent manner – the flashbacks, the sidelights on other stories and the new story elements. But some of these elements were previously shifted back and forth with a related story, "Options" (Mar. 6, 2012; rebooted May 25, 2015, killed July 3, 2016). And one aspect of the main story, involving Ari'jis Zor'el, who had been Alisa's Sponsor when she failed to show up for the Rites, had somehow been sidetracked into another story file – even though Zor'el played a key role in bringing word to her of her amnesty decades later. That too has now been restored to its proper place.

First version posted May 1, 2013, new version May 25, 2015; updated June 18, 2015; July 2, 2015; Oct. 15, 2015, July 3, 2016

Two relatively minor works, "Moment of Truth" and "Delphic Obstacles," are spin-offs from Passion Play and the Shore Leave trilogy, aimed at tying up a loose end: the fate of Peter Durgin, once Alisa's lover and later an enhancee – but with his career ruined and no chance of a love life. The first, in which Naomi Kim'Vallara suggests an"out" for him on the former prison colony of Delphi, debuted June 18, 2015, and was edited July 2-7. The latter, set on Delphi, deals with Durgin, under an assumed name, finding redemption working in a dangerous mining job with expatriate Velorians and Aureans, but ending up as a starship entrepreneur. As things worked out, it also ties in with Shadar's "Blind Justice" – with Jonah Begglestrom, son of the assassin in that story, also trying to find a new life; with Naomi playing a hidden role. It was first posted Nov. 25, 2015, and updated Mar. 5, Apr. 13, May 4, June 6, Aug. 1, Sept. 29, 2016, Dec. 21, 2016

First Protector is another of those projects I inherited from Shadar, who wrote the most of Book One. It's proved a tougher job for me than other projects I took over from him, The High Cruel Years and Encounter at Westfold, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Shadar hadn't done much in the way of world-building for Tazzi, and hadn't left much room for me to improvise. The planet was presumably seeded with mostly English stock not long after the Norman Conquest of 1066, in order to have advanced so far by 1487, but unlike for Westfold (settled around 1800), there aren't any readily available sources for period customs and idioms to replace the modern ones Shadar had used (like "coeds," for which I had to contrive "scholassies"). Secondly, some AU readers have complained that the details of the on-again, off-again testing program for the heavy GAR are implausible, and one of the reasons for this is that Gazrall, the plutocrat who holds Vespyr's indenture, is so enigmatic – rather like Gregory Arkadin in Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin. Where does he really come from? What's his real game? Will he come to just as bad an end?

 

I'm introducing hints that, like Arkadin, he indeed has a secret past elsewhere. I've created a bit of historical backstory to explain why, even though it has old monasteries, Tazzi is anything but a Christian world. There's a subplot about Kevin Galton and Jana Sunderland being on the run from Gazrall's people, and escaping assassination in the current version of Book One. This is part of a reboot splitting the saga into three books. Vespyr herself has to pick up more vital information in the course of her journey in Book Two, and there will have to be scenes set on Velor itself to tie in with Homecoming III. As of late 2015, Shadar was working on a definitive revised version of the Book One, set entirely on Tazzi, to feature a new villain. This was Shadar's preview:

 

Mal'kar Klen
He previously served on a Imperial commission on Aurea that was investigating the breadth and nature of the Companion program. However, everything he knows is academic. Vespyr is the first Companion he meets.

He's a handsome, well-spoken man who is nothing like the brutish Primes that Vespyr has imagined based on the rumors. That puts her off guard. He's not only the first Prime she has met, but the first high-born (high class) Supremis she's seen since she left her fellow Companions on the Scalantran ship twenty years ago. He winds up disarming her and then seducing her, and almost convinces her that the Empire is not evil, and nearly convinces her of their Naturist argument. (She will never go back to Velor, she will never contribute to the Maternity Engine and never have a child. Yet out here, she could have a child, one that could help heal the rift between Aurea and Velor. Or so he tells her.)

She's almost sold (thanks to his magnetic personality and the wild chemistry between them, not to mention some unfettered sex), and if not for his violently racist attitude toward Kevin, she might have fallen. But in the nick of time, she sees Mal'kar for what he truly is, and not what he pretends (and she imagines) he is.

In my own take on Shadar's idea, I thought it would be more dramatic for Vespyr to believe that she had already caused the death of Kevin in the nuking of the refuge where he had been hiding out. And Kevin doesn't know what's become of her. Book Two now invokes Vespy's harrowing memories of Mal'kar, who has been mentioned only passingly in Book One in a newsfeed items – Shadar having not followed thrugh with his rewrite. It will evebtuallly tie in with the epilogue of Homecoming III. Book Three will deal with Vespyr's return as the first Protector, and be told from Kevin's viewpoint.

 

First version of Book One posted here Mar. 8, 2013; updated July 20, 2013. Interim revised version posted Sept. 2, 2015, revised May 18, 2016, Dec 21, 2016. Book Two of rebooted version March 8, 2015, updated Sept. 2, 2015, May 18, 2016, Dec. 21, 2016

 

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Book One of Empress of the Dawn is the first part of a saga about a woman who can live more than one life, Kalla Zaver'el. She is a Velorian, of course, but innocent of the universe as Velorians go, for she is one of the very first to leave her homeworld – to be sold as a Companion on some distant planet. It was in 2004 that I posted "Companions," the first story to deal with the trade. At the time that story was set, in the 1400s, it was an established institution.  Here it is an experiment.

The title of the story is a reference to John W. Vandercook's Empress of the Dusk (1940), a novel about Theodora,  a woman of the streets in the sixth century who caught the eye of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian – and became not only his wife but his trusted counselor and an influence on law and public policy.  I imagined a similar role for Kalla, and that may indeed be the most she imagines for herself at the outset of Empress of the Dawn, which takes place beginning in the 12th Century by Earth count. She has already learned that Velorians have greater powers beyond the gold field of her homeworld; what she does not yet know is that she will live far longer on Andros than she would have on Velor.

By time of the death of Feodor, the first Patriarch Kalla has served, that will be obvious. Shadar's background for the Kalla story he never wrote refers to her pursuing careers from education and the arts to nuclear engineering and starship development in the centuries that follow. That struck a chord with me. I have been a writer nearly all my life, and yet other interests I had in my youth might have led to careers in science, engineering or even music. Unlike me, Kalla can have it all, and unlike ordinary humans, she can gain wisdom over the long years, take the long view. Neither the power of magic wishes nor the power of Velorians can make things right overnight in face of social inertia, the dead weight of history. But time and wisdom can. That's what Empress of the Dawn is, and will be, about.

But it is also about world creation. When Shadar first conceived the world of Andros, he imagined that it had been Seeded with people from ancient Greece. But Feodor is not a Greek name; it is the Russian version of Theodore, because Russian doesn't have the Th sound. That was what gave me the idea that he must have had a Russian mother, and that could have happened only if the planet had been Seeded with abductees from what is commonly called the Byzantine Empire but called itself the Roman Empire, since it could trace its history back to the Eastern division of the old Roman Empire. During the 10th and 11th centuries, the Byzantines had contacts with the Varangians or Rus – a Nordic people who had invaded what is now Russia, converted to Orthodox Christianity, and created a state centered on the city of Kiev. A number of them settled in Constantinople and elsewhere in the Empire. Kievan Rus gave me part of the cultural background for the world that was first called Romaia and later Andros. But "Romaic" is my own invention; it is simply Medieval Greek – as distinct from both classical and modern Greek.

The Battle of Nesalonika was inspired by the Battle of Nagashino between rival Japanese clans in 1575, as depicted in Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, in which matchlock muskets played a decisive role. But I changed the details, and not just in regard to Kalla's intervention. Tarot Barnes, who had written a fight scene nearly eight years ago for Throne of the Gods, offered a grittier and more detailed version of the battle scene, which I later added with just a few tweaks. Apart from that, there is also another case of serendipity in The Book of Feodor. The dress Kalla wears in her second picture – the nude on the title page is just bait – was intended by Shadar to be the height of Velorian fashion. But much to my surprise, I discovered that it almost precisely matched the style of the Byzantine stola which was in fashion in the 11th Century. As for my style, the prologue is inspired by the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith, who often framed his stories as legends of a distant future as told from the viewpoint of a more distant future – as with the opening of "Under Old Earth." I conceive of Empress of the Dawn as being part of a cycle of stories very much in the vein of Smith's epic of the Instrumentality of Mankind, alluded to here.

Book Two was in development for nearly two years, but was left aside for most of that time. I finally got a handle on it only this spring. The first thing I realized was that I was going to have to stray from Shadar's outline in the portrayal of Jayar. If he were as wise as Feodor, there'd be no story; things would go too smoothly. There has to be conflict; with the war of unification over, and the Aurean threat generations in the future, there wasn't any in the outline. But Jayar is the son of Helena Gregoras as well as Feodor Andros, and his mother could have played on her clan's resentments – and also spoiled him. He isn't an evil man, but he's at once prejudiced and clueless; Kallas thus has to work around him rather than with him. And that sets up an entirely different kind of conflict, which surfaces in Chapter 3 as Kalla schemes to mend relations between the Patriarch and the Northern Reach. We also get to meet Methodios (not Kyros), first son of Jayar, who will become the third Patriarch; he's there because Shadar's chronology turned out to be flawed, in that it was implausible for Kalla's indenture to be completed before the accession of Kyros.

Because the chapters of Book Two jump from decade to decade, I was hard put to maintain a sense of continuity, but Velvet Belle Tree inadvertently gave me the idea of how to do it by ending Chapter 3 on a note of suspense. Things were left hanging, but I knew how to open Chapter 4 by resolving the suspense in an indirect way – and getting into the details later. Velvet helped again with Chapter 5, by criticizing an ending where I had Methodios' wife Pateria going along with his having a relationship with Kalla for no reason any normal woman would accept. I had to find a good reason – and did. It has been a continuous learning experience for myself as well as Kalla, the more so moving from The reign of Jayar to the reign of Methodios – and then the reign of Kyros, during which she has to make some terrible decisions to preserve the idea of the Patriarchate even as she rescues and hides the family she has come to love from the madman who is now Patriarch.

One of the other challenges has been to come up with Androssian terms for things familiar to us by names that hadn't been coined at the time of the story, like lifecyphers for DNA, lightning power for electricity, water gas for hydrogen, marsh gas for methane, sun gas for helium and worm tube for appendix. There were probably technical terms for all of these on other Seeded worlds, and the Scalantrans would also have names for them. But Andros at the outset isn't a technically sophisticated world, and whatever technical terms were current on other worlds would be meaningless to readers here, so I've opted for more colloquial expresssions that convey what they mean. Then there is the naming of personal names. "Hayama Minyomi" came to me one night in a dream, and nobody could have been more surprised than myself to learn from Google that Hayama was a real Japanese surname and Minyomi a real Jewish name (a variation of Benjamin!). "Tofky" also came to me in a dream, as the name of a town, but turned out to be a given name in Azerbaijan, which is near where the Khazar Empire once lay, and may even have been part of it. Wakoku was what the Japanese called their own country before they adopted Nippon/Nihon. For Indra, which figures later, I researched the history and culture of the Gupta Empire in India, which reached its zenith about 500 AD, and used personal names I knew were authentic for that time and place -- as was the Kama Sutra. Empress of the Dawn has contnued to be a learning experience for me as well as the reader.

When it came to Book Three, I faced yet further challenges: with the Restoration under Nestor, it would seem that the domestic crises of Andros are over, and that Kalla is no longer needed as a protector of the family. But she and Andros now face the potential threat of the Aureans – only the Scalantrans, who have told her about this, don't want her to share that with Nestor or anyone else, even as they want her to cooperate with the Indrans to bring space travel and space war capacity to her adopted planet. Nestor has one role for her to play, the Scalantrans another. Kalla is part of the history of the planet now, but how she plays that part is getting more complicated. The past can still haunt her, as when a terrible decision she had to make during the reign of Kyros brings tragedy into her life. How she sees herself, and how others see her, is a central concern, and Daphne Orgone has offered helpful advice on how to develop that aspect of the saga.

I had already made it part of the background of the Homecoming saga that Kalla and Alexius, the younger brother of the new Patriarch Nestor, had become lovers – and how that would change history, although neither knew it at the time. But in trying to relate how and why they should should come together, I was at a loss – I couldn't have Kalla simply rob the cradle. Then, reading George Eliot's Middlemarch, of all things, suggested a fresh approach. Eliot had used the term "geognosis" for the understanding of the world through exploration, but the Oxford English Dictionary considers the word to be illegitimate – an error for "geognosy." Yet, because it is derived from Greek, I could have Alexius coin the same term on Andros, and with a different meaning – as a sort of synthesis of natural and social ecology and more. Alexius could thus become a man of ideas as well as action, and appeal to Kalla on higher level. I could move ahead on that basis. That required editing a key scene in Homecoming II, in which Kalla tells the story of her involvement with Alexius, for the sake of consistency, and it also required the tragedy that ends the life of her previous lover.

Meanwhile, there has been the tension in her relationship with Nestor himself, with whom the Scalantrans don't want her to share their knowledge of the growing Aurean military threat; and with the Indrans, with whom she must work to prepare Andros to meet that threat – but under a cover story. But the time comes at last when she has to open up to the Patriarch -- about everything. And thus the stage is set for the run-up to the war itself, to climax with the Battle of the Triple Moons.

First part posted at TBE Nov. 3, 2010, complete Book I (Feodor), Jan. 11, 2011. Revision, based on Tarot's battle scene, Feb. 1, 2011. First chapters of Book II (Triumphs and Trials) posted May 31, 2012, further chapters, July 7, 2012, July 27, 2012, Sept. 4, 2012, Sept. 21, 2012, Jan. 1, 2013, Nov. 3, 2013, March 8, 2014, March 31, 2014, revised Dec. 19, 2014. First chapters of Book III (Peace and War) posted Mar. 21, 2014; updates May 5, July 7, Nov. 3, Dec. 19, 2014 (revised Feb. 14, 2015), April 13, 2015, May 1, 2015, Aug. 4, 2015, revised Mar. 8, 2016, Mar. 8, 2017.

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"How to Succeed in Religion" started as a joke, and almost ended there. Velvet and I had been watching a Teaching Company course, The Foundations of Western Civilization, in which Prof. Thomas F. X. Noble, chairman of the History Department at Notre Dame, remarked at one point that the success of Christianity had been due in large part to its organizational model, which showed a "certain 'corporate' mentality" based on a sense of common purpose and a "network of leaders" binding together local communities.

I kidded Velvet later about how it might have all been just a Galen plot, and she laughed out loud. That was enough to get me going, and I thought the idea would actually fit into the AU canon – after all, the Galen are supposed to have withdrawn from Earth, taking the Protos with them, some time during the emergence of classical civilization. What better way to cover their tracks than to discredit the pagan cults they themselves had inspired? And who else but the Scalantrans to think up a business model for a new religion? That model was based on Noble's observations.

But I got off on the wrong track after several chapters, worrying too much about the details of early Christianity and which were historical as opposed to mere fable. I was searching Biblical texts for story hooks, and got completely bogged down. Velvet told me I should stick to the business model aspect of the story, but it was only nearly two months that I finally figured out how to do so. That was when I decided to have Miriam ditch Shimon in favor of Paul because she stood a better chance of achieving her goals through him. Pure realpolitik. Only I didn't want to leave it at that, which is why I hooked her up with Crispus the Roman legionary. That added spice to the story, naturally, but it also left Miriam aware at the end that there was a human cost to the success of her mission – something lost on her supervisor Vodinaz. I think that gives it an edge.

A bit of trivia: Velvet came up with the name of the Scalantran Harbusum, a play on Harvard Business School.

Posted at TBE Sept. 1, 2010

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"Incident at Madstop" is based on an idea that had been floating around in my head ever since Shadar wrote the first draft of the first part of First Protector. He'd mentioned a planet called Potsdam, which annoyed me because that's the name of a suburb of Berlin that didn't exist at the time of the story -- which begins in 1487, Terran count. But because one of my perverse interests is the backwards speech of the Red Room in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, I applied that to Potsdam and came up with Madstop. But why would a world be called Madstop? It had to be a pretty unpleasant place, and I incorporated that by reference to the story line of Part Three of Velvet's Homecoming.

But there was another perverse connection: Potsdam was the locale for a conference of the World War II allies after the fall of Nazi Germany. So why not a Madstop Conference that would have to do with setting up the Velorian Enlightenment after Vespyr's successful mission and the Advent of Aphro'dite? I incorporated that too by reference in other stories, beginning with an edit of Shadar's "Lifesaver." But a story about the Conference itself? That would have made pretty dull reading, so I came up with the idea of just catching glimpses of it through the eyes of one of the representatives – and the children he foolishly brings along. I had a bunch of picts of a red-headed model; in some of them, she is covered with grime, and that gave me the idea for Erika. A great idea for a story, but Velvet and Tarot agreed that my first draft of the story itself was far from great. I was taking too much for granted, making the details too sketchy, telling rather than showing. I was so intent on connecting some of the dots of the Aurora Universe mythology that I was missing the trees for the forest. "Incident" is a better story for their input.

Those familiar with the Aurora Universe will "get" the canonical references, but they won't get the source of the family name Ironcastle. That comes from a French sf novel by J.H. Rosny ainé, Hareton Ironcastle’s Amazing Journey (1922). Philip José Farmer did an adaptation in 1976 for DAW Books, but Brian Stableford's straight translation came out this year from Black Coat Press.

Posted at TBE Mar. 8, 2010

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"Daymares" is the first teleplay/screenplay I have ever completed, although I played around with the form years earlier in soap opera fan fiction. in 2005, Kelly Johnston invited me to write an episode of a video series he was planning, Athena. It was going to produced in Louisiana, and he and a couple of colleagues drafted scripts for nine other episodes. Mine was revised by one of them, keeping the basic story but changing some of the details. Johnston later moved to Texas, and has worked on other video projects as well as photoshoots for his Steeleverse sites – discovering several new super models along the way. But nothing has ever come of Athena; it may just be too elaborate to produce with the resources at hand. The version of "Daymares" here is my original draft, with a few minor edits.

Posted at TBE Dec. 13, 2009

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"Emigrants" is an experiment in telling an Aurora Universe story without any contact, or at least any face-to-face contact, between Terrans and the Velorians or Aureans -- save an appearance by one of the latter on a viewscreen. It was written for a contest sponsored by Samhain Publishing for space opera romances of 25,000-30,000 words. Contests like those are a long shot at best, so I hit on the idea of a story set in a universe I already knew, rather than going to the trouble of creating a new one. In any case, I had already wanted to write a story about the settling of Kelsor 7 by refugees from Belside -- the world created by Lisa Binkley for "Questlings," but destined for destruction in a sequel to that story yet to be written. I had already implied a connection between the two worlds in "An Unsuitable Job for a Messenger," and Lisa gave me permission for this latest crossover story. But it doesn't involve any of her characters, and thus leaves her free to pursue her own take on the story. Tuva was inspired by a man of the same name who led a group of Jewish partisans hiding in the forests of Belarus during World War II; I thought the idea of trying to survive in primitive conditions -- and the limits to that kind of survival in the long run -- gave the story a strong motivating force. I also wanted to get into the bitter ironies of insterstellar power politics that led to Belside becoming an Aurean target. And I tried to give Belside more of a history and, likewise, to do more with the Therans. I hope that nothing I've done in that regard contradicts Lisa's vision. Finally, this story could not have been written, or at least not written so well without the collaboration -- and constructive criticism! -- of Velvet Belle Tree.

Posted at TBE Aug. 24, 2009

"Close Orbit" came about in discussions related to the Aurora Universe wiki. What kind of a planet had Velor been in the first place, and what sort of society did it have after the Velorians were abandoned by the Galen? Given that the Velorians had been created only to serve the Galen, they would feel that they had somehow failed their creators, just as humans elsewhere have ascribed ill fortune to having displeased their gods and have hoped to propitiate them with W pointless rituals. They would also have had few resources other than the Maternity Engine; not much high technology, and what they had would be breaking down. No wonder they would later jump at the chance to export their women to serve as Companions... But First Contact with the Scalantrans doesn't end well for them. Besides offering a prelude to the whole Aurora Universe cycle, I wanted to play with the Ishtari – Seeders elsewhere, advisors here – and throw in a few bits of their Babylonian language. And Velvet enriched the story offering a female gaze to complement the usual male gaze of Terrans encountering Velorians for the first time.

Posted at TBE Feb. 14, 2009, to mark the approximate 15th anniversary of the AU.

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"Second Opinion" offers a sidelight on the cyborg theme that was introduced into Aurora Universe lore with the fraul'isets, the robotic (but female) defenders of Vendor. The original conception was that they looked like robots, as in the case of Rotwang's invention in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). But just as Rotwang's robot was miraculously transformed into a seductress with the body of a woman in the movie, so has been the conception of the fraul'isets. My own take is that those with robot bodies came first and those with seemingly human bodies later. But it occurred to me that there could be an unantcipated design flaw here... and a reason for that flaw, in the persons of designers too isolated from women of their own or any kind. Then there was the matter of too much secrecy. As for Laboratory W, I got the name from the title of a Russian sf novel by Aleksandr Belyayev. But we may seen it again in some future story.

Posted at TBE Dec, 24, 2008.

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Encounter at Westfold is my take on, or rather takeover of, an unfinished project of Shadar's. In his version, the inhabitants of a seeded world far, far away are just like people on Earth -- despite being isolated from the rest of the universe, they know all about things like jazz and even beach volleyball. That does not compute. I might have simply ignored the story, except for the intriguing references to Aliza-zar Kim'Vallara (Alisa Liddell) and her family – a marriage to Andre Kalik and three children, by Skietra! But I was also intrigued by how a culture might actually have evolved on Westfold, given the circumstances.

And so came the steampunk version. You've probably heard of steampunk. It's a school of science fiction inspired by the kind of technology that was imagined in Victorian times. The first explicit steampunk novel was William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine (1990), but the roots of the subgenre go back to earlier entertainments like TV's The Wild Wild West (1965-69), with its retro versions of James Bond gadgets. Steampunk has become a fashion statement as well as a literary (and comic book and movie genre, as with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), so I was able to find a lot of cool art to go with the story.

But after posting the first installments, I was stuck for nearly a year, because I couldn't figure out how to develop the plot about Kyreen's baby. Shadar couldn't remember what he'd had in mind. Until quite recently, I'd thought of making the issue of the baby all a bluff on the part of Alisa in order to bring David and Kyreen to Rostran for other reasons. But that would have been a cheat, and I didn't want to cheat the reader. Finally, in my re-reading of the Shore Leave saga, and the serendipitous discovery of Shadar's "Power of Blue," I found the answer. I found a connection, albeit one he himself hadn't ever noticed, between those two stories – one I could exploit for the conclusion of Encounter. And while I have tried to tread lightly on the background of Rostran, Shore Leave itself still being incomplete at this time, I have brought back Lara and Klara in key roles – and given Nevil Rafish a new family and a new role, decades after the events in the original serial.

Encounter at Westfold also touches on the relationship between Andre and Alisa, which I hope to explore further one of these days in a longer work called Play.

Posted at TBE in segments, Nov 3-25, 2008; March 12, 2009, March 8, 2010.

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"The Rescue" was a bad idea from the get-go. All I had to go on was a photo manip Shadar had found somewhere or other of a girl in a Powergirl outfit in the shower. People at the AURG were offering ideas about how it could be used in a story, and I didn't like any of them. Mine, which became the first chapter on August 11, wasn't really any better. Aside from having the girl sing in the shower and then shower my viewpoint character with sex, it was a dumb idea because there weren't any other pictures of the girl available. It took me more than two weeks to write myself out of a corner with a scenario of double and triple-cross among splinter spy agencies. But I got myself into the same bind, because the only picts available of the new superheroine were shot on the same porch with the same outfit. I had to write myself out of a corner again with the shapeshifting thing, the idea for which came from an sf novel you've probably never heard of called The Morphodite by M.A. Foster. By then, the heroine had a new name (Olga) and a new game (getting Jeff to Denver, and Kira). I'd originally planned on having Kira meet them in Dollywood, but decided that didn't make any sense, and sending Jeff to Pigeon Forge in the first place turned out to be pointless. So now "The Rescue" became a road story, and I knew where the road was going. I knew that Jeff and Olga would have to go off planet, but it was more my fault than the fault of anyone else in the story. And at that, I was stuck on the question of where they'd be going until Velvet supplied the obvious answer. And yet for all these problems, the story has gotten a good response. Go figure.

Posted at TBE in segments, Aug. 11-Oct. 15, 2008.

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Not much to say about "Hot Numbers on the Runway," beyond what's posted on the What's New page. It's not a story, but hints at events in stories yet to come. And it's yet another nudge to Shadar to do something about First Protector.

First posted at TBE June 10, 2008

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"An Unsuitable Job for a Messenger" began with a different title -- “Relentless Breasts” – that was in doubtful taste. Once upon a time there were two budding French pulp writers named Gustave Le Rouge and Gustave Guitton, who promised (but never wrote) a novel called Les Mamelles Inexorables (The Relentless Breasts). I couldn't imagine what they had in mind, but I could imagine a bizarre sex scene in an Aurora Universe setting. The scene was cliché-ridden, of course, so I tried to think of a context for it.

The context I came up with was Belside, the world created by Lisa Binkley way back in 2000 for "Questlings," the first novella in The Story of Nov'ayul. Of course, I needed her approval and got it -- she welcomed a chance to revisit her world and catch brief glimpses of Nova as a child. But as I re-read "Questlings," I noticed certain things about Belside that I hadn't noticed before, or at least hadn't remembered: its red sun, its scientific culture. At the end of "Questlings," Lisa revealed that Belside would later be devastated by war. War produces refugees, of course, and there is another world called Kelsor 7 that has a red (dwarf) sun and a scientific culture. I had always imagined that those who settled Kelsor 7 were fugitives. Now, again with Lisa's approval, I can reveal where they must have come from.

First posted at TBE June 6, 2008. Title changed March 5, 2009.

***

Martha Nochimson thought Ashotour was the cat's meow when I introduced her in Throne of the Gods and "Brief Encounter" five years ago. She wanted me to write more about her. But I never did, because I could never think of a good idea. With the anniversary of her debut approaching, I began fiddling with the notion of her being enlisted to break a Prime in sexual combat, but I wasn't sure that would work. Then Shadar came up with the idea of an alluring Aurean ambassador trying to seduce a world seeded by people of color into joining the Empire -- and with a manip of Halle Berry to represent her. How could I resist? So I reworked my idea, incorporating a female Prime on a world seeded by prisoners from 17th Century slave ships, whose distant descendants have an ancestral antipathy towards blue-eyed blondes. But Ashotour has one thing in common with their forefathers: being an escaped slave.... And that's how "Undercover Kitty" came about.

First posted at TBE Feb. 15, 2008

***

Velvet and I had been trading gags about possible exhibits at an Ellsworth Toohey art gallery or museum for months when it occurred to me that I might use some of them in a story. Toohey, for the unendarkened, was the chief villain of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, a repulsive man who hated any real human achievement and devoted his life as an art critic by tearing down anything great and enshrining anything mediocre -- he surrounded himself with a coterie of talentless acolytes, and flogged them in both senses of the word. He was also cruel to his niece, who might have found some happiness in the world but for his incessantly driving her down the path of puritanical self-abnegation. But all that is just background; "Hit Me with Your Worst Shot" is about how a stray bullet that can't hurt Arish'ka's body might hurt her life. The book she's just acquired when that happens really exists; I found references to it by Googling the name of Alessandro de Medici -- a mixed race duke of 16th Century Florence whom I'd never have heard of but for Misterdoe.

First posted at TBE Feb. 14, 2008

***

There are two inspirations for "Lifesaver," my collaboration with Shadar posted on the occasion of my 66th birthday. The first comes from Shadar, the memory of a Muslim woman he once worked with, the namesake of the character in the vignette version he posted Oct. 11:

When I was living in a Muslim country, a woman named Nahlia worked for me. She was devoutly Muslim, one of the few women who left work to attend mosque on Friday afternoons (all men must do this), and she was the manager of my finance department. Between her work ethic (absolute honesty) and her delightful sense of humor, she was a real joy to work with. She was a beacon of what it means to both live in her faith and to live in the 21st century industrial world. She wore only traditional gowns, brightly colored flowing robes and scarf in the local tradition. 

The second comes from my customary methods of superficial research, such as looking up what "World of the Prophet" would be in Arabic (Kawbab an Nani), and borrowing the technique of Cordwaimer Smith for the frame of the story, as in this prelude to "War No. 81-Q:"

For a few brief happy centuries, war was made into an enormous game. Then the world population passed the thirty-billion point. Acting Chief Minister Chatterji presented the "Rightful Proportions" formula to the world authorities, and war turned from a game into realities. When it was over, hideous new creepers covered the wreckage of cities, saints and morons camped in the overpasses of disused highways, and a few man-hunting machines scoured the world in search of surviving weapons.

The only difference is that Smith died before he managed to turn the hints there into other stories,  the Madstop Conference (An in-joke: Shadar originally called the world Potsdam) has since come to life in “Incident at Madstop.”

First posted at TBE Nov. 3, 2007

***

The Popcorn War began with the training scene by Jordan Taylor, who also worked out the business of Vitor’s unwanted attentions to Cristina. But I came up with the Fernandista rebellion, and turned her introductory sections into a story of intrigue. I had hoped Jordan could contribute more, but she has… moved on. I had a general idea how to work out the rest, but the devil has been in the details, some of which I mishandled at first – especially the story of Romana's captivity and release. Velvet offered the character of Marcelo as a solution, but in a 2012 update I didn't do right by him or his relationship with Romana. I finally realized that their backstories and front stories were the key to wrapping up the story – nearly ten years after it was conceived. That made it a pleasure for me. One of the other pleasures of working on this story is the bits of Brazilian Nordeste culture and idiomatic language. The former come from Wikipedia, the latter from the vetting of Jecel AssumpćČo, Jr., who lives in Brazil. One in-joke in the March 7, 2011 update: Antônio Barros is the name of the actual police chief of Recife – the city here, not the seeded world of the story. And I couldn't resist bringing in a Protector named Johr'dan for the final chapters...

First posted at TBE Sept. 3, 2007, updated Nov. 3, 2008, March 7, 2011, Dec. 6, 2011, Feb. 7, 2012, Mar. 30. 2013.

***

"Walking Tall," a sequel to The Popcorn War, also began with Jordan Taylor, who was inspired by the 1973 movie about a man who returnns to his home town to clean it up. She wrote a couple of chapters in 2005, and then abandoned it. I didn't know enough, I thought, to continue the story until I came across some notes she'd sent me in 2005, plus a few hints in e-mails. So I took it up and began fleshing out the details about the family and friends of Patricia Ortiz, a Velorian Legionnaire returning to her homeworld of Alguna Parte – where she would learn that all was not well. Jordan's part ended here, in an exchange with Rick:

“ I don’t want to hurt you, Patricia,” he said, in a mock-serious tone.
“You can’t.”

I had to go on from there, introducing other members of her family, giving her ex-boyfriend a name and position, plus adding details about the planet, including the names of cities and towns relevant to the plot, the political structure, native foods, and even pastimes. I also tweaked some of the details in the backstory and going forward. Jordan planned to have a football game figure in the story, but football (soccer as we know it) hadn't been invented at the time Alguna Parte was settled. So I hit on using commonball, based on a game from Greek and Roman times (The pict is of modern Italians playing a variation of that, Calcio Fiorentino, which was invented in the Middle Ages and disappeared after the Renaissance but was revived by Mussolini in 1930 and is now played again in its home city of Florence.). And I also had to pick up where Jordan left off about Patricia's nemesis, making him the owner of a commonball team that he uses as a cover for criminal enterprises – and not just gambling, as she had it, but a conspiratorial bid for far-reaching commercial and political power with help from an Aurean infiltrator. And I introduced further family and romantic complications and cultural background, plus police procedural details and court sessions. Even a sidelight on Velorian history. But the bottom line is that Patricia finds love at the end with Tomas, a man who has risked his life to expose the criminal conspiracy... it's not the story Jordan would have written, but I hope it's worthy of her.

First chapter posted June 15, 2005; second (belatedly) Jan. 11, 2012; updated Aug. 18, 2015, Oct. 15, 2015, Nov. 3, 2015, Dec. 21, 2015, Feb. 13, 2016, March 31, 2016, June 20, 2016, Sept. 1, 2016, Oct. 17, 2016, Nov. 3, 2016

***

When I started writing "Murk and Reprisal," I had it in mind to create a tie-in with a story Ultrasybarite had proposed about a group of Zulus/Tanzrobians who left their homeworld with the connivance of a friendly official to find some planet beyond the beyond where they could remake themselves into superhumans by genetic engineering. But it didn't work out that way.

In the first place, I couldn't see any plausible way to introduce the sympathetic official, not on a world just conquered by the Aureans. I tried to keep the idea going with a ship full of refugees, who were to appear in Homecoming III as well as the present story. But Velvet kept objecting that this simply didn't make sense -- there would be too few people to make it work, and there was no way Tanzrobians could know or learn anything about genetic engineering. Eventually, I scrapped that whole scenario.

I had always intended for Zanele and Mbali to travel to the Velorian system, but Velvet pointed out that -- unlike Zanele -- Mbali would be pretty lonely among the supremis, without hope of finding love. Thus I invented Kobe, but it was Velvet who wrote their first love scene. It was also Velvet who gave a name and personality to Pimponeous, a character I had invented for the sole purpose of being gulled into teaching the Aurean language to Zanele. As for Arkabad Tschokke, he takes his first name from that of the villain in Paul D'Ivoi's sf novel Le Docteur MystŹre (1900), and his second from Heinrich Tschokke, a German writer of political novels verging on sf in the late 18th Century. But his talk of "ed-ju-ca-tion-al" opportunities is a parody of an argument by sf editor John W. Campbell, who once told me that Mao had similarly given the Chinese an edjucational opportunity -- learn his teachings or else.

First posted at TBE July 11, 2007.

***

With "Tanzrobian Nights" I have to thank Google for the kind of liguistic and cultural details I needed to bring the world and the Azizi to life. But I have to thank Velvet for making it a better story. I'd thrown in some of the old fetish stuff, which she didn't like at all. Looking back on it, I didn't like it either, so I decided to scrap it. But that meant I had to come up with something better, and the new scenes of Thabo and Zanele on one hand and Mbali and Siyanda on the other make the story at once more intimate and more edgy.

The roots of the story are in Velvet's Homecoming II, in which one of my collaboratory contributions was the surprise conquest of Tanzrobi by the Aureans. Shadar had conceived the Tanzrobians more than a decade ago, in his Sharon Best days; but to the best of my knowledge neither he nor anyone else has ever written a story set on their planet. Indeed, the only story featuring a Tanzrobian that comes to mind is Shadar's "Return to Earth III" -- in which Symbala crashes a gathering of the KKK and thinks the bullet bath they give her must be some sort of a greeting.

Well, "Tanzrobian Nights" isn't that kind of story. It's an exercise in providing a background for the climactic revelation of Homecoming II, and an introduction to Zanele and Mbali, the Tanzorians who, in Homecoming III, will travel to Velor to seek help. This is just the first part of their story, leading up to the Aurean invasion, and completed just in time for the second anniversary of the second home of The Bright Empire. Thanks to Shadar for introducing me to Ainett Stephens (model for Zanele) and for blue-eye manips of her and Oluchi Onweagba, the model for Mbali.

First posted at TBE Mar. 8, 2007.

***

Finally, finally, Part Three of The High Cruel Years , which has, as J.R.R. Tolkien would say, grown in the telling. This final part has grown to nearly 28,000 words, more than the first two parts combined, with Shadar contributing about 11,000 -- including the showdown with rogue Protector Zar'ya that takes up nearly a third of the text. The character of Zar'ya, although not her name and not originally for this story, had been his idea.

For my own part, I wanted to accomplish several things here.

First and foremost was playing fair with the characters, a diverse lot -- from Harry Maclendon and the Velorians Molly and Anya (whom he first encountered in Shadar's "Lounge Singer," the germ of this epic) to those introduced in Ordinary Velorians like Dr. Alex La'Reu and And'rea Cuppers who were lost in the shuffle at the end of that serial. Playing fair, of course, doesn't necessarily mean being merciful...

Second, I wanted to tell a gritty political story in the tradition of C.J. Cherryh, who never makes things easy for heroes or heroines. To do that, I had to introduce a number of new figures, including Siemsen Vozeh. And yet I wanted a nearly hopeless situation end on a note of hope, expressed ironically in interior monologue paraphrased from Robert Penn Warren, contrasted with a speech by Vozeh that paraphrases the famous address by Emperor Hirohito to his people at the end of World War II. And I wanted to create a resonance between the political and personal stories, as you'll see in the epilogue.

Third, I wanted to build on some of the ideas Shadar and others had casually thrown out. Shadar created the Jellutong, but never provided any details. I gave them a backstory. I also added a bit more about the Christla, another invention of his that I had reverse-engineered in Companions. I wanted to elaborate on Shadar's Diaboli of Arcady -- strangers in a strange land -- and give them a greater role in the story. I hope that Ultrasybarite will be pleased with the results. The Aryan mythology, of course, was entirely Shadar's.

There were other things: bringing in Dashiella as a Protector new to Reigel Five, but old enough to have known the Companions and even learned from them. I also wanted to provide a backstory for Vance Calloway, the cop Shadar had introduced -- at a later stage of his life -- in Corrididor. There's even a passing tie-in with "Double Blind:" see if you can spot it. And I decided to provide a hook for some future story about Anya, by having her exiled from the planet for what the powers-that-be consider good and sufficient reason.

As with Parts One and Two, I've added music links, the last being Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's "Speak Low," from One Touch of Venus.  Somehow it seemed just right for Harry.

First posted at TBE Dec. 1, 2006. Revised Dec. 24, 2006, tweaked Sept. 29, 2016.

***

"Electricity" takes an explanation almost as long as the story itself. It began with a much-ballyhooed publicity stunt: a collaboration between an ailing comics publisher (Marvel) and an ailing soap opera (CBS-Procter & Gamble's Guiding Light). As I noted in my blog, turning one of the soap's heroines into a Marvel superheroine was either "an inspired crossover idea, or an accident waiting to happen." It turned out to be the latter -- veteran soap fans hated it. Comics and superheroine fans pretty much ignored it -- not that word got around that well: the manager of a comics shop where I picked up a copy of a comic with a tie-in insert hadn't even heard of it. And yet I loved the episode. Why?

Because Ellen Wheeler (executive producer of Guiding Light ) and David Kriezman (head writer) builded better than they knew when they teamed up with Marvel to produce and write "She's a Marvel" for the venerable soap opera. For they developed a whole new approach to the superheroine story.

We all know how the superheroine genre got started: it was a sexual fantasy: Boy meets Supergirl, Supergirl shows off her Powers, Boy gets to..... That scenario has been much refined and complicated in most of our stories, but it's still there in the background. We all know it.

There's a single girl's variation in the work of Jordan Taylor, Evelyn Y and others. I don't know exactly what to call it, but it's the female equivalent of the male cock-of-the-walk fantasy -- feeling on top of the world, and basking in the admiration of men and perhaps other women. Maybe we need a new idiom for this.

But "She's a Marvel" struck me as a working mom's fantasy. We all know that working moms face all sorts of demands on their time and energy. Wouldn't it be wonderful to fix meals and mend clothes by magic? Even in her encounter with Dash and Bash Carnage, one of Harley's weapons is a vacuum cleaner! Of course, just like Jordan and Evelyn, the working mom may well fantasize about being a super-sexy crime fighter or adventurer, but she has more experience -- she knows about commitments of work and family, and the denouement of "She's a Marvel" was an expression of that. And that's what inspired my story.

If any soap fans read "Electricity," they'll doubtless hate it even more than they hated "She's a Marvel." While I used to watch Port Charles, General Hospital and One Life to Live for a while, I had rarely seen Guiding Light and my knowledge of it was quite limited. So I had to do some quick and superficial online research about Harley Davidson Cooper and Gus Aitorno and their immediate families. As is typical on soaps, their lives were unbelievably complicated: to cite just one instance, Gus (who arrived in Springfield in 2000), turned out to be the son of business mogul Alan Spaulding, a long-time GL fixture, and was thus half-stepbrother to Harley's former husband Phillip and uncle as well as stepfather to her son Zach. Only Phillip was adopted. Not that it matters any more; Guiding Light was canceled in 2009 after 57 years on TV and 15 years before that on radio.

Enough!

First posted at TBE Nov. 3, 2006

***

Neither Velvet nor I cared that much for Ivan Reitman's My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which opened July 21 and soon sank out of sight. Yet the movie drew favorable responses from Shadar, Ultragirl and others, mainly because of its fetish aspects -- super sex, including a flying fuck, bullets and boobs, and so on. For us, Uma Thurman's G-Girl was so nasty that she undercut the superheroine appeal. Anna Faris as Hannah Lewis might have been a lot sexier, if she'd had more screen time. Well, we aren't going to see a screen sequel to a bomb, but that doesn't mean we can't imagine one of our own that explores issues unresolved by Reitman -- such as wardrobe expenses and the public reaction to G-Girl's alliance with Professor Bedlam. And Shadar happened to have a photo manip of a model in a Powergirl outfit somewhat the worse for wear. So... "His New Super Girlfriend."

First posted at TBE Sept. 28, 2006

***

I can't say much about "When We Dead Awaken," because it isn't entirely my story. When I posted the first two chapters at Superwomenmania as the start of an interactive story, Argonaut thought the premise was too restrictive and that I should just forget about the whole thing. But then CK posted his chapter, and Argonaut was impressed:

I'm the guy who suggested that Brantley's opening chapter might be too constricting for an interactive story.

I'm pleased that someone had the imagination and enterprise to prove me wrong!

Nicely done. You've built on Brantley's chapter and opened up lots of possibilities for the next writer.

Despite my whining, I'd actually been writing my own continuation of Caramel's story -- and it turns out I was going in the direction Brantley said he had in mind.

Argonaut subsequently posted that chapter, but it fit in better before CK's, so that's where it now appears in my re-edit. Shortly after that re-edit was posted here, Spulo added a fifth chapter, which gave a fresh direction to the story. The basic premise, the rescue of a brainwashed superheroine trapped in a timeline where she is exploited for "peril" fantasies, is pretty obvious; and the idea of alternate timelines is well established in science fiction. The concept means a lot to me, enough that I tried to revive the round-robin four and a half years later with another chapter. That led Matt Reyes to come up with a new installment. But no other takers since, so I finished it myself for a site anniversary update.

First posted at TBE June 1, 2006, updated June 21, 2006, Feb. 1, 2011, July 20, 2011, Jan. 11, 2012, Mar. 8, 2014

***

"As You Like It" is pure superwoman fetish porn fiction in the old tradition. If you're turned on by the vision of a naked superwoman bathing in molten steel and the like, and then offering some lucky guy all a superwoman has to give, this is for you. If not.... The only difference between my story and Xtreme Strength fiction is that in the latter the superwoman is usually smashing things up instead of fixing things up. When I began my story, too, it was even grosser than it is now, with the workers getting to gang bang the heroine at the end. But I decided later that was too cheap. Anyway, even in porn, there's nothing more erotic than one-on-one sex between a man and a woman who are totally absorbed with each other. That's how I see it, anyway. The choice of the model came at the same time I took up the story again, a year or so after having abandoned it. Superheroines don't have to be Nordic types, and Shauna (she also went by several other names in men's magazines) is one of the most stunning chocolate beauties I've ever seen.

Addendum: Hardly anybody liked this story,  despite the title. You won’t be seeing any more like it, at least from me.

First posted at TBE June 1, 2006

***

"The Adaptive Intimate" was a story I never expected to write. I'd never have written it if Larafan hadn't reposted "Ultrafemme -- Gemini" at Superwomenmania as an entry in SGI Workshop 1.7. A collaboration betweeen himself and Jason White, it had originally appeared three years ago at the Xtreme Strength site as one of a few stories inspired by Anterion about Dr. Julia Brooks and her enhancement treatments. Most of that story is about how Dr. Brooks' nieces get carried away by their enhancement, but it was a thowaway scene at the end that grabbed me:

Back in the city is a girl. A young fifteen-year-old girl. A homeless girl who was [never] given any chance in life. A girl who has known nothing but want and concrete all her life. All she owned was the clothes on her back and a cardboard home. All that, and two little pills...

Suddenly I knew I had to tell her story. And so I did. Perhaps Larafan and/or Stoneyman had intended to do so, but never got around to it. The title is a variation on "The Adaptive Ultimate," a 1935 sf story by Stanley G. Weinbaum in which a sickly young woman is given a serum that transforms her into a radiantly beautiful but amoral goddess who is immune to any disease and can heal any wound instantly. Determined to use her beauty to rule the world, she has to be put down by the man who loves her -- and that isn't easy. But I wanted to do better by Patti O'Dorn than Weinbaum had by Kyra Zelas, and the entire story proceeds from that determination. Still, I hope I've left enough room for Anterion -- wherever he is -- and others to pursue the further adventures of Dr. Brooks should they choose to do so at this late date.

Shadar was impressed with the supposed realism of the story -- the mean streets, the lingo. Hey, I just got them from cop shows and Google. But he was right about it being a story of redemption. I believe in that, I really do.

First posted at TBE April 1, 2006.

***

"Once in history Australia was a penile colony." That line from a review of Liz Maverick's The Shadow Runners, part of the 2176 series (See Velvet's essay on Science Fiction Romances), was what inspired me to write "In the Penile Colony." Especially after I checked out Franz Kafka's classic horror story, in which the first line was: "It's a remarkable piece of apparatus."

But once I got past that double entendre and other bad jokes, I found myself fleshing out some of the background details as well as the characters of Jol'ana and Mon'ika -- who had to be sisters, as this was an entry in SGI Workshop 1.7 on the sibling rivalry theme. And I worked up a few new details about Velorian law, ritual and politics. Still, this is meant to be an erotic story, which is needed right now given that there hasn't been any good sex -- yet -- in The High Cruel Years.

First posted at TBE March 5, 2006

***

Part Two of The High Cruel Years took a lot longer to write than I expected, mainly because Velvet and I were putting a lot of work into our e-book, Pegasus Gate. But I was working on the story of Reigel 5 by fits and starts nearly all the while, and working out new ideas in terms of character as well as plot. Shadar had outlined some major plot elements: the planting of the bomb near the Parliament building, and a kidnapping of President Bergstrom's daughter. And for a long time, he'd had an idea -- not necessarily for this story -- of a rogue Protector coming to the aid of the Aryans.

But I took it from there. The menschenjagers are mine; they don't look or act like the ones in the Cordwainer Smith's "Mark Elf," where the word (German for "manhunters") was first used. The rogue Protector Zar'ya is mine. Alice Maclendon is mine, as is the reason for her alienation from her father. Vivi Bergstrom is mine -- and I decided that it would be the Jellutong rather than the Aryans who took her: they have good reason, by their lights. The members of the Cabinet besides Nazillah and Tofflan are mine, as are the other minor characters. Dr. Alex La'Reu is almost mine; Shadar (then Sharon Best) had given him only a brief scene in Ordinary Velorians, but here he is about to become a major player.

This my first story to have theme music -- taken from what is said to be the world's first movie soundtrack recording, the 1935 score for H.G. Wells' sf classic Things to Come. One of the tracks now appears in Part One, but that was added in a re-edit months after it was first posted. Shadar worked on two action scenees -- the battle with the menschenjagers and the assassination in bed of Sayid Nazillah. And an old comics friend, Dwight Decker, prevailed upon a German friend of his to provide the right Doych touch for Part One as well as the continuation here.

First posted at TBE March 5, 2006

***

"Serious Radio" was a throwaway piece, written for SGI Workshop 2.3, on the theme of a superheroine coming to the rescue. Somebody at the Superwomenmania forums happened to have mentioned Howard Stern, and Stern was in the news then on account of his Sirius satellite radio deal. That gave me the idea, but the story was also an experiment in letting dialogue carry the narrative. Reading it is supposed to be like listening to a Stern broadcast. Or netcast. Whatever they're calling it now.

First posted at TBE Jan. 11, 2006

***

"Double Blind," like several of my stories, was inspired by a picture, in this case of a nearly naked model standing proudly on a sailing ship. But the pose itself reminded me of a scene from Phillip Noyce's 1988 movie Dead Calm, in which Nicole Kidman stands high on the mast of a schooner in her role of avenger and rescuer as she scans the horizon for a sinking ship on which a psycho killer has marooned her husband. The same heroic spirit seemed reflected in that model's picture, and this gave me the idea for the story. But there happened to be a contest at Superwomenmania (SGI Workshop 2.2) for stories of a thousand words or less in which a superheroine suddenly appears on the scene -- in most cases, it seemed, to rescue the hero. I found it challenging to tell a rescue story within that limit, stripping the plot to the bare essentials yet creating character and atmosphere. This version has been tweaked a bit from the contest version, but still comes in under the limit.

First posted at TBE Oct. 25, 2005

***

The High Cruel Years began as a story by Shadar called Lounge Singer ("Terrible title," he admitted in a note for his draft from December 2004.). He wrote four chapters and notes for several others before running out of steam. At that time, the plot was strictly about Harry and Molly and Anya on one hand, and Cher'ee and James and the Velorian embassy on the other -- with both threads centering on the Aryan menace. But I saw this as part of a larger story, the breakdown of social and moral order on Reigel 5 -- a process against which even the Velorians might be of no avail. Think Yugoslavia. Think Somalia. Think even Iraq. And this process could be abetted by And'rea Cuppers, an Aurean Betan agent left behind in Ordinary Velorians. I didn't know what to do with her in OV, but I had some idea of what she could do. And so here she plays a female political Iago, feeding hatred and fanaticism to leaders on both sides.

My title comes from an imagined period in future Earth history in an early draft of a story by Cordwainer Smith, one of by literary icons. My writing is haunted by the ghosts of Smith and other science fiction writers that many of you may have never even heard of, but whose words resonate in my mind. Menschenjager is one of those words; it was used by Smith for roving killer machines unleashed by the Germans in some future world war. But I knew they were necessary here, and in Part Two they will be necessary to Molly and Anya. The Deep Keeps were my idea; Shadar had had the Aryans simply building lead-lined tunnels. Sayid Nazillah was a bit player in Ordinary Velorians, but I decided to make him a major player here: he is the polar opposite to the Aryan supreme leader (Yet to be introduced), and yet they are brothers under the skin. Vance Calloway is seen much later in Shadar's Corrididor, but I decided to give him a backstory here. We will later learn when and why he leaves his world. We will learn a lot of things, few of them pleasant, let alone inspiring.

First posted at TBE Oct. 1, 2005.

***

"Bird of Paradise" may seem like just a piece of fluff, but it actually has a serious side. When Shadar sprang the idea for the story on me in a notice at the end of McCloud's Daughters, I was annoyed at first. But as he pointed out, Nikki's life wasn't going anywhere on Velor. But where would it go on Sanctuary? I'd already revealed in Ordinary Velorians that she had a secret fantasy of being a Protector that could never be realized at home -- that would have to be the "hook" for her, even if Ben Shaffer had other things in mind.

But Shadar thought Nikki should become more mature, meaning -- among other things -- less promiscuous. Only, why should she? Velorians are naturally promiscuous. So is Ben, despite his affection for Myra. Nikki's problem on Reigel 5 and Velor was lack of self-esteem -- she couldn't make anything of herself there. On Sanctuary, she can, and does. Eric Hoffer was once told by old-timers in California that the sturdy pioneers of the 19th Century were very much like the shiftless tramps of the Depression -- only the pioneers had a chance to make something of themselves. Bernard Shaw similarly used Bill Walker in Major Barbara to illlustrate his thesis that a man could improve his behavior without changing his basic character. So that's what I did with Nikki.

And if you think that's pretentious, the inspiration for the final chapter was Molly Bloom's soliloquy in James Joyce's Ulysses.

First posted at TBE Sept. 1, 2005

***

"Deer Meadow Shuffle" started as an entirely different story. I began with the idea of Senator John London from Velvet Belle Tree's "More Than One Way to Skin an Aurean" running for President on a fusion ticket called the Bridge, only to see his candidacy shattered when his running mate was compromised by the same Aurean who had intended to seduce him. There was going to be a big elaborate conspiracy behind the whole affair, but I couldn't get it going. Instead, I began what was supposed to be a subplot involving Arish'ka's mission to Deer Meadow. But the subplot took over, and I ended up dropping what had been the main story in favor of what became a sequel to "Mundane Secrets of the Yo-Yo Brotherhood." (The title comes from a piece of music by Angelo Badalamenti in Twin Peaks: Fire, Walk with Me.)

Velvet had already been working on "Rocky Mountain High," and we were reviewing each other's drafts and brainstorming ideas. One of them, which had us laughing hysterically (As legend has it, husband-and-wife sf writers Henry Kuttner and Catherine Moore were prone to similar outbursts.), was the outrageous parody of "Three Coins in the Fountain" that accompanies the raunchy scene between Arish'ka and the Beasley boys in a mountain meadow. But the borrowings from David Lynch's mythology of the Black Lodge, and the attempt to integrate them with the Aurora Universe mythology of the Diaboli, are strictly my own -- Velvet can't stand anything to do with Twin Peaks, and cringes at the mention of the Electrician, enchanted utility poles and the like. I also wanted to do my own take on a duel between a Velorian and a Diabol (Or should that be Diabolus?), and let the Beasley boys play a role that would redeem them of their (undeserved) self-reproach for having lost Charmin in "Yo-Yo."

First posted at TBE July 20, 2005

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Almost six months since "Companions" and I hadn't posted a new Aurora Universe story. The delay might have been longer if Velvet BelleTree hadn't created the delightful character of Arish'ka, who made her debut in "What's a Vel to Do?" But there were two other inspirations: Mandi Steele's photo set "Houseguest," in which a drop-in at some (lucky!) guy's house turns out to be Supergirl; and Sharon Best's "Evana" (recently rewritten by Shadar as "Evan'ya"), in which a Vel rewards an ordinary guy for showing bravery. In my own "Houseguest," I wanted to make the Mandi Steele fantasy come alive, do something fresh with the Sharon Best fantasy, and tell a story worthy of Arish'ka -- even though I don't use her name.

First posted at TBE May 1, 2005; revised slightly Dec. 21, 2013

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"The Amulet of Raja" was written for a contest at Supergirls, Inc. (Workshop 1.1) on the theme of "I Wish I Was Super, Too." I wasn't the only one to try a Lara Croft story. I liked the character as a female Indiana Jones, and I liked Angelina Jolie playing her. What I didn't like was the movie: no story -- and the producers bent so far over backwards to avoid making her the sex object of the video games that they practically turned her into a nun. I wanted to avoid that. And I also wanted to get some authentic archaeology into the story. Well, it wasn't what SGI readers wanted -- the story came in dead last in the contest. But I know it's a good story, and my friends agree. So there!

First posted at TBE Nov. 27, 2004.

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"Companions" is the first Aurora Universe story set during the era before the Protectors, when Velorian women were sold to the rich and powerful on other worlds to earn foreign exchange needed to bring to their own world the technology it could not otherwise afford. The trade in Companions was shameful, yet the stories of the Companions themselves (Shadar plans another) could be inspiring -- wherever they and those they served could see beyond the letter of their indentures.

But the origin of this story dates back more than a year before Shadar and I collaborated on the new Canonical History of the Supremis that explained the Companions. It began with a reference he had made in "Alisa's Story" to a strict religious sect called the Christla on Kelsor 7. What would it be doing on a world of science and secular humanism? I was stumped at first. Then I thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit theologian who strove to reconcile Christianity and Evolution: The same kind of ideas could have earlier inspired the Christla, and I imagined that this would have resulted from a devout Catholic community being suddenly exposed to the reality of the cosmos and cosmic evolution. It was a matter of literary reverse engineering.

Yet I hadn't really thought of how to work this into a story. The Christla were simply going to be part of the backstory of a projected novel,  Passion Play, in which Alisa Liddell -- although she could never become a convert -- would be influenced by their philosophy. It was only with Shadar's innovation of the Companions that I knew I had the basis of a story that would account for the origin of the Christla. But I had to build the world for my story starting with a time and place -- medieval Spain -- that would be compatible with true intellectual history and the imagined history of the Aurora Universe. Google proved to be invaluable in running down the details, from Spanish culture and politics to the works of Thomas Aquinas. "Companions" grew in the telling -- it's about ideas, but not in the abstract: only as they move people. It is about Liz'bet and Ju'lette and Gabriel and Esteban and Manuel and Almeida Beatriz and Alfonso -- and how their lives come together in a time of crisis that will test all of them.

"Companions" is also my first story with the collaboration of Velvet Belle Tree, a writer new to the Aurora Universe and yet already at home in it. It was Velvet who fashioned the image of the Scalantrans for the first time ever in AU fiction. Several other scenes here are her work, in whole or in part, and she also copyedited the entire story.

First posted at TBE Nov.  3, 2004.

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Sometimes things just happen. I'd hit a snag with a crucial chapter of While the Evil Days Come Not, my first e-novel -- and then Shadar posted a picture of these seemingly vapid Velorian twins. So I decided to take a break, write some kind of vignette around the picture. It was going to be just a piece of fluff, but you know how it is with me -- renaultlouis (Message 1874 at the Aurora Universe Readers Group) really has my number. So of course "Twins" turned into a quite different kind of story. But, as with "Rail Gunner Joe," it didn't spring into my mind all at once; rather, my subconscious kept telling me what I had to do at each step.

First posted at TBE May 26, 2004.

"An Uncertain Sacrifice," alluded to in About the Bright Empire, is X-Files fan fiction, and was posted at an X-Files Usenet group at the end of 1998. It drew little if any notice at the time and, like most fan fiction based on TV series, soon became obsolete (Series creator Chris Carter killed off the Elders a couple of months later.). But you have to be an XF fan to appreciate it. You have to know who Clyde Bruckman was, for example, and you have to know what was happening to Mulder and Scully emotionally during the year before the story takes place. I haven't changed a line of either the Disclaimer or the story itself to make it any more accessible.

First posted at TBE Mar. 5, 2004.

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"Sleeping Beauty" began as a commission from Ed Howdershelt. Well, not exactly a commission. An e-mail in December 2002, just after he'd finished reading "Mundane Secrets of the Yo Yo Brotherhood." He was upset that I'd left the fate of Charmin hanging. "Finish the damn story," he told me. So I made a stab at it, wrote the first draft of the prologue. Ed didn't like it; he thought it dissed Charmin. So I left it alone for a while. I was busy with "Throne of the Gods" in any case.

I took up the story again in late February 2003. By then, I had made the virtual acquaintance of Evelyn Y, a one-time collaborator of Shadar's, and she was willing to collaborate with me. Evelyn turned out to have a killer day job, and before she dropped out of the project, she'd written only the first draft of one scene. But she influenced the story profoundly. She gave Alex his first name, and her one scene implied some of the details about his ship's environment that I made explicit. The shopping spree was entirely her idea, and led me to solicit ideas for that from members of the Aurora Universe Readers Group.

While waiting for more input from Evelyn that never came, I worked off and on with the rest of the story, including the chapters where Charmin does her swan dive mining, and where she and Alex are threatened by Perry the Rodent at Adara Station. But there I hit a dead end. It would have been easy enough to have Alex and Charmin "clean up the town," as in some old formula B western. But Adara Station was a pretty big place to clean up, even for a Velorian. Besides, the background of the story involved too many social and political complications. I could see no way out or round or through. Months passed.

Then Shadar made a casual remark about the Vendorians. I'd heard about Vendor, the legendary planet of steelmakers and weapons makers that had been destroyed by the Aureans. I'd even heard about the Frau'lisets, their android defenders. But I'd always believed that they were extinct. Oh no, said Shadar, in response to a query about a reference to them in the draft of McCloud's Daughters , they're still out there, a bunch of industrial gypsies roaming from system to system. But he'd never written anything about them; all he could say was that he imagined them as looking a bit like Santa's elves.

Eureka! Suddenly the path was open before me, and I could see where it led, right to the end. I quickly tweaked Shadar's elf image, and all sorts of other things began to spring into my head, beginning with the Vendorians' speech patterns. "Régime change" came to me the minute Izaht popped through Perry the Rodent's door, and the first scene aboard Izaht's ship quickly followed. Ideas kept coming, not only about the Vendorians and the Vauld (a term Shadar coined on the spot) but other aspects of the story.

A love scene in Chapter VI using the Velorian language was one I'd wanted Evelyn to write, but I ended up doing it myself. I'd come across the late S.T. Mac's Guide to Conversational Velorian at Infinity Bridge, and I knew from that moment that there just had to be a scene making use of it. Alas, to the best of my knowledge then, Mac hadn't recorded any more of his Velorian vocabulary; I had to crib a bit from another version of Velorian called Vel'ana, created by the Pacifist, for some of the dialogue in the preceding chapter. But that was all because I hadn't yet read Mac's That Which One Begins, and when I did, my eyes lit up at reading "Kai tamoor'sk" – "I love you." But I didn't get around to working into my story until May 1, 2005.

The World Brain entry for Supremis hibernation came from WordMouse, who is working on a story called "Waifs and Estrays" that I hope to see someday. But the coded message Alex receives is only a doctored version of a couple of spam e-mails; random series of words are apparently one of the dodges for spam filters these days. Alternate Histories helped with Charmin's flying lessons. Vendorian names are derived from Amazon Indian words. The Steele family names, as with Mandi's Galactic Emporium, are used by permission.

Notes: video and music weblinks require Quicktime. The stride piano link may produce an error message, but the address in the URL box is correct, so click on that. The picture of Charmin on the tether between the ship and the asteroid is a manip by Shadar and perhaps the best he's ever done. The original shot of Darlene Kurtis showed her simply holding a rope in a gym; that whole background had to be replaced by a starfield and the rope replaced by a metal cable.

First posted at TBE Jan. 11, 2004.

Postscript, Feb. 10, 2004: I don't usually make significant alterations to my stories after they're posted. It seems unfair to the reader, somehow. But I've made an exception here, because some critics -- notably Lisa Binkley -- thought that the appearance of the Vendorians to save the day was too sudden and too implausible: deus-ex-machina, as it were. So I've added a chapter and some other tweaks to lay the foundation better. But I couldn't accommodate some ideas, notably Martha Nochimson's to have a Prophecy about the return of the (supposedly extinct) Vendorians. That didn't work in terms of the Ordinary Velorians cycle of which this story is a part. More important, it didn't work in terms of the characters, who are not sophisticated enough to make direct contact on their own with a supposedly vanished race based on nothing but such a Prophecy. Alex and Charmin are good people, and competent within their areas of expertise and experience. But they aren't Prime Movers.

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"Rail Gunner Joe," posted Nov. 3, 2003, to mark my birthday, was also inspired by a picture, in this case a Shadar manip of a shot of a model (alas, since ordered removed from both the story and the Gallery) whose hands-on-hips pose and sassy smile appealed to me as quintessentially Velorian. It was Shadar who supplied the manip describing it as a test of a rail gun. I had a notion for turning it into a story, but wasn't able to come up with an angle until I hit on the idea of violating the standard AU canon by having Velor covertly aiding Earth in open war against the Aureans. The story was written quickly to meet my self-imposed deadline, yet somehow inspiration never failed me when I ran into a problem that might have derailed it -- the most important being: what is really the matter with Joe, anyway?

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Like "Pictures of an Expedition," "Terms of Enhancement" is related to Ordinary Velorians.  But there the resemblance ends. Although Alisa's, brother James Kim'Vallara, soon emerged as the protagonist, the inspiration for the story was actually a series of pictures of a Latina bombshell -- who became the model for Bidu Braga.

Because the model was dressed in a skimpy camouflage outfit, it had to be a military story, but I don't have any military experience. No problem: Jason White does, and he vetted that aspect of the story. Because she was Latina, the setting had to be a world of Latinas, only because of my affection for certain things Brazilian (Heitor Villa Lobos, Jorge Amado, Sonia Braga), I decided to make its people of Brazilian origin. That involved some use of Portuguese, beyond what BabelFish could provide. No problemo: Jecel Accumpćao came to the rescue, even giving some of the dialogue the flavor of the archaic variant of Portuguese spoken in the Brazilian Nordeste. Because Carla was so incredibly sexy, I wanted to enhance Bidu so that she could enjoy every pleasure with James -- including the kind more typical of Xtreme Strength fiction (going beyond it in some respects, I hope!), and Ultragirl had some helpful advice there. But I wanted it to be romantic as well as raunchy; that's still my heart of the fantasy.

Shadar was generous enough to go along with my idea of James' career choice, something he'd never thought of, and had some tips on his characterization. AH and Jecel did yeoman service on editing the text. Indeed, I've had more varied advice and editorial assistance with "Terms," perhaps, than with any other AU fiction I've written. Thank you one and all.

First posted at TBE Sept. 5, 2003.

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"Pictures of an Expedition" is both a prequel to "Throne of the Gods" and a sequel to Shadar's "Shore Leave," which is in turn a continuation of Ordinary Velorians,  a Velorian family saga that he had barely begun -- as Sharon Best -- before he took down the old AU site. As such, it is an episode in the life of Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara, who had appeared in TOG and is the protagonist of "Shore Leave." Her life is taking some strange turns, but I hope that it all makes sense in the end.

Prequels are harder to write than sequels. With sequels, the past is set in stone, but the future is open. With prequels, the future is set in stone. In theory, there can be no great surprises, no great revelations. Everyone knows what's going to happen, if they've read the original story. And yet they don't know the whole story. In this case, I didn't know it myself, beyond the brief account of the Kelsorian mission to Domyr in TOG. But as I began to write, the details swam into my head -- details that sometimes surprised me as much as anyone.

One of them was the character of Noenda Li Gran, whose remark about "mild-mannered muppets" came from a review of TOG by Martha P. Nochimson (Martha's e-mail handle is Noenda, derived from No End to Her,  her book about soap opera.).  From a throwaway line, Noenda evolved into a signal character, taking her place beside Alisa and becoming the bearer of the heaviest burden of the story.

Another surprise was the structure of the tale: I found myself writing it in short chapters, almost like a series of snapshots. Somehow Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" popped into my head, and I had a new title for the story in place of the tentative "Alias Alisa" -- which, in any case, no longer fit with the way it was evolving.

First posted at TBE Sept. 5, 2003.

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"The Mission" was also inspired by a picture, a photomanip posted by Sharon Best back in 2002 as a challenge to honorary lesbians to come up with a vignette to match it. None of them responded, so I took the opportunity to twist the lesbian scene into a sidelight on Throne of the Gods and the Theel'dara Initiative. Also to introduce Binkley's World, which was to play a part in the background of "Sleeping Beauty." But Sharon never posted the piece before "her" reincarnation as Shadar; I kept hoping that some other honorary lesbians would spice it up, but there was no response and the draft just sat there on my hard drive. I did make other edits, such as the reference to Star Marshall Raul'lan, but no spice, before posting it myself.

Until, that is, an honorary lesbian made a belated appearance, more than a year after the original version appeared. And, boy, did he ever add spice. Spice with a vengeance! Not only that, but Rob Nagle, proprietor of Within This Realme, was full of ideas – which were not always the same as my ideas. And we're both really stubborn about our ideas. It took weeks to thrash out the details and resolve the disagreements. But this was classic AU raunch from an author who hadn't previously written any AU fiction. It seemed like a godsend at the time, but as time went on the new chapters, written mostly by Rob, were not always to my own taste. Indeed, I did my own redaction of Chapter 5, because some elements of his version at Within This Realme didn't make sense to me. Not only that, but I was peeved by the whole direction in which he was taking the story – among other things, he was turning James Kim'Vallara into a fool. More than a year later, the same thing happened with Chapter 6. It got to the point where I had to strike out on my own with the chapters I put up as "Not Safe for Work" and "Judgment Day." I didn't know it at the time, but Within This Realme died some time in mid-2008, and Nagle seems to have disappeared. Nearly three years later, I did some edits to the rest, trying to downplay the excesses but keeping whatever was truly essential to the overall story.

First posted at The Bright Empire Mar. 5, 2003; new chapters July 18, 2004; Aug. 22, 2004; May 30, 2005; June 29, 2005; Jan. 22, 2006; Mar. 20, 2007; Mar. 5, 2008; Nov. 3, 2008. New edits Mar. 7, 2011.

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I have written so much about "Throne of the Gods" in "About the Bright Empire" that it might seem that little more need be said about it here, save that it takes place about 30 years after the first chapters of Sharon's Ordinary Velorians -- from which it borrows Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara and her mother Naomi. We are seeing more of their earlier lives, now that Shadar, the Artist Formerly Known as Sharon, has returned to "classic" AU fiction.

Shadar and I had had our differences, even before he took down the original AU site and, with it, my story. One of them was over the Victoria Silvstedt pict he chose to portray Theel'dara: it just wasn't her. When I posted the story here at TBE, it was without picture links, and so it remained for months. But then I found a manip of Nicole Kidman at a Brazilian site, and it was just right -- except for the hair color! I linked it anyway, along with other picts -- including an adaptation of an abstract painting I'd had for some 30 years to represent the destruction of Domyr. Shadar protested the red hair, of course, and Jecel took it upon himself to apply some electronic Clairol -- whereupon Shadar himself produced the improved version now being used.

I can't miss the opportunity to again thank Tarot Barnes for his contributions to the story, especially the chapter that so vividly portrays the destruction of Domyr. I can be as stubborn as Ayn Rand about the integrity of my work, and I do not suffer foolish criticism gladly. But for me it was a matter of integrity to recognize that Tarot could write that chapter, and a later scene of Theel.'dara's fight to the death with a Prime, better than I could. I hope that his pride in his work is as great as my own. I would also like to thank Lisa Binkley, whose scene of the Great Door of the Hall of Protectors in her "Questlings" helped inspire my own scene at the Great Door leading into the climax of the story.

One further item: Ashotour's new profession at the end of TOG was a surprise to me (although it grew out of an earlier allusion to the "kitty business" in Sharon's "Feline Imperative"), and that led to the vignette "Brief Encounter." In this case, a set of catwoman picts posted on-line by Richard was the erotic inspiration. I wish I knew how the catwoman photo shoot came about; the same model -- without the feline makeup -- was later recycled for Xuxa in "Terms of Enhancement."

Both TOG and "Brief Encounter" first posted at the Aurora Universe site Feb. 15, 2003.

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"You, and Each of You," my exercise in "shameless self indulgence," was conceived in part as a sidelight on Sharon's "Desert Wind," one of her numerous unfinished serials that will now doubtless remain so. It was also an experiment in second-person narration, and an attempt to see whether I could gross out even the Queen (She was still Sharon then, as far as the world knew) of superheroine fiction erotica. I almost succeeded in one scene.

In the end, she proclaimed the story to express the "heart of the fantasy," and it certainly does that with reference to all the erotic icons of AU fiction from honey and wildflowers to bullets and boobs. But I'm not sure she quite understood that, for me, "self indulgence" had as much to do with the expression of ideas as the expression of wild sex. Even a passionate state of mind is still a state of mind, and I had as much fun bringing my arguments together as bringing my protagonists together.

First posted at the Aurora Universe site Nov. 4, 2002. Rebooted July 7, 2015 to correct formatting problems. The underlying ideas are still valid, even if the AU fantasy now seems quaint and, likewise, the history -- this was barely a year after 9/11, and a lot has gone down since then.

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"Mundane Secrets of the Yo Yo Brotherhood," my first Aurora Universe 3 story, was intended to be as unlike "The Defector" as possible, beginning with the first person narration. And while the story started out as broad comedy, it took an unexpectedly sad turn before my eyes as I wrote it.

In this I must have been inspired by the movie Car Wash and an episode of the TV series Millennium," Somehow Satan Got Behind Me." Both start off as pure comedy, one broad, the other satirical: the first involving hi-jinks at a car wash, the second a gathering of devils at a doughnut shop to talk about their troubles. But both undergo a sea change at the end, the comedy turning to bitterness and even tragedy.

Hank, Dave and Mike are very loosely based on some sf fans I once knew. Jeffrey is myself at, as it turns out, my worst. And Charmin... well, I don't want to talk about whether she was inspired by anyone real. I'm not entirely sure whether she was. But suffice it to say that her kind of invincible innocence would be possible only to a true Velorian. Those who imagine otherwise must learn better to their cost.

Some of the locales, and even some of the denizens of Deer Meadow, can be seen in the first half hour of David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire, Walk with Me . Fans of Twin Peaks and its movie prequel will understand the in-jokes, but they aren't essential to enjoying the story. Charmin returns in "Sleeping Beauty." But I doubt that she will never see Earth again. Some things that are broken can never be repaired.

First posted at the Aurora Universe site Aug. 31, 2002, revised Sept. 26, 2002

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"The Defector" was my first AU story, inspired, as I have written elsewhere, by a fantasy "Sharon Best" had sent me about a Vel seducing a professor in the college library. Well, I asked for it; I'd already suggested the idea of a professor who wants to learn about the culture of Velor, but who obviously also wants to...

But I couldn't make it that obvious. Somehow, I had to set up a situation in which that Velorian goddess needed the professor as much as he needed her. But how could a Velorian possibly need help from a middle-aged frail? Well, she had to be in deep trouble; in fact, she wasn't even a true Velorian; rather a defecting Aurean mimic, wanted by both sides, and with a mission of her own that could go horribly wrong, and nobody to confide in but....

Most of the action is set at the University of Winnemac, which otherwise exists only in the novels of Sinclair Lewis. The epilogue takes place in Port Charles, NY, which otherwise exists only in the soap operas General Hospital and Port Charles . And, of course, there is a nod to Evana, the indiscreet Velorian in a story by Sharon -- who wrote the earlier explanations of Sha'Kira's original mission and what she feared was her true secret mission.

For all the in-jokes and the satire, I'm quite serious about the educational ideas of my protagonist, and I'm serious about the AU issues of the story. And while I knew from the start that they couldn't last, I also knew that Mallard and Sha'Kira were absolutely necessary to each other's salvation at that certain point in their lives where they seemed fated to come together.

I wasn't in on Sharon's secret identity when I wrote "The Defector," but the man behind her outed himself to me shortly after it was first posted. Perhaps I was naēve; I later learned that some had never been fooled. Others were fooled longer, to their embarrassment and even hurt. Yet for myself, the deception was a blessing; while I could have accepted another man as a mentor, I could have accepted only a woman as a muse. Without "Sharon," there would never have been a Brantley.

This edition of "The Defector" has been edited twice from the version posted July 7, 2002 at the old AU, in order to eliminate some inconsistencies and some material that now seems superfluous. The most recent edit, Jan. 11, 2005, was inspired by Velvet Belle Tree. It also includes a new pict of Sha'Kira and two other graphics.

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Behind the Stories: Part II

Jordan Taylor

Obsolete: "You could mention that the story is based on an a concept album by Fear Factory. The setting is all theirs. The characters and story are all mine. Although, it's not unlike The Matrix or The Terminator either."

Jan. 13, 2005

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Behind the Stories: Part III

Joe R. Haley

 

"A Time for Love:" This was my first story for the Aurora Universe. For me the idea of a blonde, beautiful, super race has obvious comparisons to the Third Reich. Thus the idea for a time travel story. How ironic my story is now on view at Ubergirls.org!

April 16, 2003

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"To Love an Arion:" I've been a fan of galactic empires ever since I read Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series many years ago. So it was easy for me to write this story from the imperialist point of view.

March 16, 2003

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"In the Imagicon:" After I got familiar with the planet Velor, I realized the original version of "In the Imagicon" could be adapted for the AU. The story is blatantly and deliciously sexist. The original version was a Nebula Award finalist back in the sixties - before the birth of the modern woman’s movement.

June 10, 2003

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Behind the Stories: Part IV

Paul Walker

"Henry the Spaceship" was originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction (June 1978). It has never appeared anywhere else since then. The author declines to comment on it at this late date: "Let it speak for itself."

Feb. 12, 2004

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