For the Winter Solstice, three seasonal gifts.
First, an update to the First Protector saga, short but crucial. In Book Two, we finally learn how Vespyr was taken in by Mal'kar, the Aurean Prime who led her to believe there was an alternative to her mission to Velor to warn the High Council about the GAR and bring the proof (see Behind the Stories). This had only been hinted at in the last update, and it is her encounter with a Velorian official who has also been taken in by Mal'kar that triggers her rage and what lies behind it. She has been suppressing it during her journey to Velor, for the sake of her mission, but her outburst will complicate that mission. Thanks to Shadar for advising me that a recollection of her life with Gazrall on Tazzi, and how he got her involved with Kevin, didn't belong in Chapter One – that will now be reserved for her testimony before the High Council. Cosmetic edits to Book One are also part of today's update.
I've also wrapped up "Delphic Obstacles," the story of how Peter Durgin finds a new life and a new love on Delphi, a mining colony of Reigel Five. Durgin had become a pariah on his homeworld Kelsor 7 for having tried to blame Alisa Kim'Vallara for what went wrong on the mission to Cygnias 275, out of jealousy for her having spurned him for Andre Kalik after both he and Kalik were enhanced in Shore Leave. Alisa's mother Naomi has played a role in bringing about his redemption in "Moment of Truth," but along the way I decided to tie the Delphi story in with Shadar's "Blind Justice" – bringing in Jonah Begglestrom, son of an assassin Naomi had dealt with in that story. She plays a hidden role in giving Jonah a chance for a new life, an act of redemption on her part; but while Durgin offers advice on where he and his family might find it, I finally decided to stop short of revealing where they might actually end up – perhaps Shadar could follow up on that. Durgin's new love Sirren was inspired by images of a muscular porn star with abstract tattoos that I imagined could be Aurean military insignia, and their story had turned into a garden variety fuckfest. But I decided at the end to make it more than that, as she and Durgin share in adventure and exploration with the starship Second Chance after finding a new home on Bering's World.
Finally, an update to the Links page, under the Aurora Universe logo, with archives from the Wayback Machine for two previous incarnations of Shadar's site during his Sharon Best days. The first is from Feb. 9, 1999, when he hosted a subdomain at indra.net and was collaborating with AK, S.T. Mac and Toomey Starks. The second is from Feb. 20, 2003, the final version of the Sharon Best site velorian.org. There's a lot of history here...
Not a new story, but an updated link to the Julie of Velor archive on the Links page, which was originally posted more than a year ago. Although the Wayback Machine link worked, the sublinks to stories didn't. I still don't know whhy, but I came up with a workaround -- an intermediate file with the link to the archive itself linked there. It's been working so far, and I hope it keeps working. Please contact me if problems recur.
Hoping for some major updates for the Winter Solstice, but meanwhile here's a blast from the past: "Goddess of Thunder," written 20 years ago by "Sam," one of the early acolytes of the Aurora Universe. Things were a lot wilder then; Velorians could be mixed up with the Greek gods and even dragons, and that could be a lot of fun. The original version of the story is still up at Diana the Valkyrie's site, but I noticed that it has a number of spelling and grammatical errors, which I've addressed in the mirrored version here.
"Getting Home" is a new story by Tarot Barnes. It was intended to be part of my 75th Birthday update, but came in a couple of days late. After that, I was busy with a lot of other things, including serving as an election judge in my hometown.
Although it isn't obvious, because the setting is enirely Earth, this story takes place in an alternate supremis universe. Ever hear of Eigheim? Not mentioned here, but it's the home of the Fjándmethra, whence come the Guardians, who fight on Earth and elsewhere against the Andskoti (who are mentioned here). It was first introduced here at The Bright Empire in "The Long Night," posted Dec. 22, 2010, without any fanfare. It wasn't until March 10, 2012. in an Occasional Blog entry, that I alluded to the series-in-progress of which it was a part. I wish there were more to share now, but I can only hope that this belated exposure will encourage him to pursue what promises to be an alternate epic.
Today I turn 75. I wanted to make it a special occasion at The Bright Empire, and for the past week I've been devoting myself to the completion of "Walking Tall." Frustration at having so much trouble with the story turned to inspiration – I saw my way clear, and ran with it. More important, I've finally done right by Patricia Ortiz, the Velorian Legionnaire heroine, and her family and friends, and the romance she finds at the end... Thanks to Jordan Taylor, who began the story more than 11 years ago – wherever she is today, I hope she would find the final version worthy of her.
Also new today, with help from Velvet Belle Tree, is "Timeless, Clueless, Senseless," a takedown of time travel series on TV – especially one called Timeless, which has to do with a plot to change American history and even destroy the country by doing so, but which never makes any sense despite a supposed Master Plan by the chief villain.
Another chapter of "Walking Tall" today. Patricia Ortiz faces a showdown with the forces behind the murder of her uncle and stepfather Teo Garcia. They've been trying to put the family business on Alguna Parte out of business, but as a Velorian Legionnaire on leave she has an advantage over her merely human enemies.
Only, those human enemies have been working with at least one Aurean infiltrator, and she may have to face him down before long. Yet she has some allies, including the Vigilancia Mundial, the global police that her one-time boyfriend and now ally Reynaldo Lopez has persuaded to intervene against the corrupt local police and the enemies they have been protecting. And there's a Velorian auxiliary Protector playing a role too... her name is Axinia, and she'll have a backstory in chapters to come. Tomas Oriol will also figure in more ways than one...
High time, even past time, for an update to "Delphic Obstacles." But this time it's more about reaction than action. It's about how Peter Durgin and Sirren react to having hit the mother lode of xintanite at the Begglestrom mine on what was once a prison planet and still a pretty wild one. It's about the reaction of the Begglestroms, about striking it rich and the investigation into the attack on their compound. And it's about Peter hearing a name - a name which, in the context of what brought the Begglestroms to Delphi, reveals what must have brought him here.
But that context links "Delphic Obstacles" more clearly to related stories: Part Six of Ordinary Velorians, Part Three of The High Cruel Years, and "Blind Justice" – all of which have been tweaked to strengthen the connections. Cross-connections between stories in an invented universes is a passion, or a vice, or perhaps both, that I picked up from Cordwainer Smith.
If Aurora Universe fiction of this kind is one of your favorite indulgences, I hope you'll indulge in these stories.
Another update to Heart of Darkness is based primarily on edits by Shadar a few months ago to the characterization of Jim Caultron and his relationship to Karalyn Jones in the first section. He may have further edits to later sections in due course. But I'm uploading the story again now because I have a new take at the end on how Allan and Keith can manage to get where they need to go to bring Karalyn back to life -- even as the Aurean Prime Alya has just arrived at Avalon National Laboratory posing as a new employee. Karalyn may have to try to deal with that, but I figure Kara herself will be needed to save the day...
Two more chapters of Walking Tall. I've come up with some new complications to the plot – romantic, political and technical – with another cliffhanger at the end. I want to do right by the other characters – both those created by Jordan Taylor in her partial version more than a decade ago, and those I've added since then. But Jordan's overall story line of how Patricia Ortiz cleans up the corruption on her homeworld remains on course.
Things are heating up in more ways than one on Delphi in "Delphic Obstacles." Having inadvertently saved the Begglestroms from attack, Peter Durgin and the Aurean Sirren (Jewel) have become lovers and have also been taken into the confidence of their hosts – who have come here in hopes of striking it rich on xintanite, the key element in the manufacture of Vendorian steel. But like Peter and Sirren, Jonah Begglestrom has a past he is trying to escape – a past that threatens the very lives of himself and his wife and family. As the official investigation of the attack stalls, time may be running out...
Rebooting "Passion Play" today. I thought I'd had done with it last October, but taking a new look I can see obvious things wrong with it. The most obvious was having taken the scenes of the day Alisa Kim'Vallara's daughter Lillith Liddell is initiated as a Protector and putting them in a separate story, "Options," which I have now killed. For some reason, I'd lost track of a draft that had to do with Ari'jis Zor'el's career after Alisa embarrassed him by recruiting him as Sponsor for her own initiation and then leaving him holding the bag; their reconciliation after Velor offers her amnesty is now part of the story, and he has a new role to play besides bringing word to her at Kelsor 7. Other minor changes are in the interest of greater continuity, while keeping references to events fully told elsewhere to a minimum. Yet it's still necessary to go into greater detail regarding events and revelations told here for the first time. Both new material and reminiscences are necessary to convey the overall story arc of Alisa's life.
It's always summer on Alguna Parte, but it's spring here, and time for another installment of Walking Tall. Patricia Ortiz, home on leave from the Velorian Legion, has saved the Garcia family and the informer Tomas Oriol from attack by a gang apparently sent by the same well-connected businessman who had her Uncle Teo murdered. But she and her kin still have to get the goods on him, and face a threat from an Aurean in his employ. It may be more than she can handle on her own, but can they get Velorian help?
More of "Delphic Obstacles" today. Peter Durgin and Sirren (Jewel) have become an item, and have shared their true names as well as their bodies with each other. But because they have proved their worth to the Begglestrom family during an enemy attack on the family compound, Jonah and his wife Leica want to do right by them. That could mean a bright future for the couple, even if it means arduous work for now. Meanwhile, there is the mystery of just where the atttack came from...
And now a major overhaul of First Protector. I was really embarrassed a few days ago to discover major inconsistencies in Book One. Chief among them was the characterization of Jana Sunderland, who is introduced as an immigrant from the heavy gravity planet Zeta-5, but later seems to come from an old family on Tazzi. Apparently the Zeta-5 version was from a partial update by Shadar and I hadn't followed through.
But while editing Part Three, which centers on Jana and Kevin Galton, first in hiding and then on the run, it occurred to me that I also needed to focus more on their relationship. They've both played the field in the past; sex has been an adventure. But now they have only each other – they have to bond, both to survive and to keep their sanity in face of all that is happening on Tazzi, where they don't even know for sure what is going on because they aren't part of an inner circle, and are helpless to influence events.
Of course, they don't even know anything about Mal'kar Klen besides what has appeared on the news feeds, and have no idea that he has seduced Vespyr. Even she hasn't told the whole story yet in Book Two – hopefully Shadar will come through with that, but I've made a few changes to the opening scenes to clarify the basic situation in the aftermath as a chastened Vespyr sets forth on her mission to Velor.
Just a minor update to "Delphic Obstacles" today. Trying to gear up for some major work on other stories.
Bet you didn't know that today is the Ides of April! Actually, the Ides fall on the 13th of eight of the months in the old Roman calendar of Caesar's time – March was one of the exceptions. But Peter Durgin, living under a false identity on the mining colony of Delphi, doesn't care what the date is. He's busy trying to build a new life for himself in "Delphic Obstacles." So is a woman he's just met on the job, who isn't what she seems any more than he is. But the reality of Delphi has a way of interrupting their plans...
Since tomorrow is April Fool's Day, I'm posting the latest update of "Walking Tall" today, because I'm not just fooling around. I'm adding some new complications to the story of Patricia Ortiz, the Velorian Legionnaire who has returned home to Alguna Parte after serving a stint offworld. She is welcomed by her stepfamily, but disappointed to learn that her former boyfriend Reynaldo has married one of her stepsisters.
Only she soon has a lot more to worry about, because what seems to be a golden opportunity for her stepfather Teo to expand the family business turns out to be a cover for a scheme to manufacture alien weapons – and when Teo stumbles on to the truth, he is murdered. Now the conspirators are after the rest of the family, and in the latest update (Chapter 8) Patricia has to show her super stuff defending the homestead. But in the family's efforts to expose the conspirators and bring them to justice, she has some new allies – including a young man named Tomas who is himself marked for death by the conspirators. And a further distraction is that he and Patricia are hot for each other, but can't do anything about it...
A blast from the future and a blast from the past to mark the 11th anniversary of the Hostway version of this site.
First, there's a change in course for Empress of the Dawn, with plans for a Book Four that will conclude the saga with the immediate buildup to the Battle of the Triple Moons and the battle itself. Book Three, previously titled Peace and War, is being rebooted as Hope and Fear, with a revised ending and a few other edits. Like Book One, Book Four will take place over a few months or so, although there will be flashbacks and doubtless an epilogue. Books Two and Three have jumped from generation to generation, and readers have doubtless missed the kind of human drama that made Book One the most popular story in the Aurora Universe 3 history.
Second, there's a new edit of an old Aurora Universe 2 story, Heart of Darkness, that was begun by Shadar way back in 1995 and last continued at his site in 2003. Shadar, Tarot Barnes and I had fiddled with the text off the board occasionally since then, and had a general idea of how the story should end – indeed, the last scene had been written and illustrated. Maybe putting it up with formatting and art, rather than as just a text teaser that hardly anyone noticed will renew interest in filling in the remaining gaps.
Thirteen years ago today – is that a lucky number? – The Bright Empire made its debut. A lot has happened since then, and not just here. But today's update is a continuation of "Delphic Obstacles," a spin-off of one of one of the earliest stories in what I call the AU-3 series, Ordinary Velorians.
It was that story which introduced Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara, aka Alisa Liddell, the Velorian who refused to become a Protector and fled to Kelsor 7. Alisa had spent her earlier years on Reigel Five, where her mother Naomi was ambassador, and both those seeded worlds have figured in a number of AU-3 stories since. Alisa herself has become a pivotal figure in the overall history.
But there have been loose ends along the way, and the most embarrassing has been the fate of Peter Durgin, a Kelsorian Survey Service captain who had an abortive affair with her in Alisa's Story, and then became entangled in the intrigue and civil strife on Rostran – where he had to be enhanced to save his life. That left him as odd man out among his crewmen, whom he had alienated during a disastrous visit to the Lost City of Cygnias 275, which (along with the Rostran expedition in Shore Leave) became the object of an official inquiry and then a cover-up back on Kelsor 7. It was unfair of the Kelsorians, and perhaps unfair of me, for him to become a scapegoat and pariah – but there wasn't any way for him to explain himself, or to continue with his old career.
But where could he go? What could he do? I wanted to give him an out, and I couldn't think of anyone to give it to him but Naomi Kim'Vallara. And because she had figured in a story by Shadar, "Blind Justice" (revised here), that had nothing to do with Alisa, she could, in my own "Moment of Truth," come up with the idea of finding an "out" for him on the mining planet Delphi. It was an awkward situation, but since posting the tentative first part last November, I've gotten a better handle on it – and on the challenges and complications Durgin has to face. I have a sense now of how he can find a way out of his old life and into a new one.
It's been more than four years since I posted Resurrection, my revision of a story begun by Shadar as A Matter of Love. It was an entirely new take on superheroine fiction here, but nobody seemed to take to it at the time. It had nothing to do with either the Aurora Universe or the mainstream comic book universes.
It had to do, remotely, with a new alien species called the Talantrans, who could work what passed for magic. But it was a very intimate story about a musician dying of cancer who is offered a chance at a new life by the agency that has made contact with the aliens. Only, the man who gave her that chance, a researcher at the agency with whom she had fallen in love, has since been killed – and others at the agency have different agendas for what her new life should be. One of them gets his way. And she isn't given any choice in the matter.
Becoming a superwoman may be a dream come true, but it isn't her dream, and she has to fight to take control of her own destiny as she learns that what's going on at the agency has a darker side – one connected with the death of her lover.
Resurrection was originally posted as just a teaser. But Shadar recently heard from a fan who "really likes our collaboration on Resurrection with XueLee. That seems to be his favorite story and he’d love it if we would continue it." This prompted him to re-read the story himself, finding it had "a lot of flavor and depth." So maybe there'll be more.
To celebrate Valentine's Day, I've uploaded a new htm version – the previous version from Nov. 3, 2011 had display problems I hadn't noticed before – with extra images, including one of the heroine XueLee reborn as X'Sara.
It's the coldest day of the winter thus far where I live, but things are heating up on Alguna Parte, where returned Velorian Legionnaire Patricia Ortiz is caught up in the struggle against a criminal conspiracy that has targeted her family and seems to have greater ambitions. This latest installment of Walking Tall ends in yet another cliffhanger, introducing yet another character who seems to come out of left field – but will play a central role in the resolution of the story and in Patricia's life.
Winter itself is upon us, so to warm things up, here's "Recruiting Lessons," a short story that began as "A Shot in the Light," an entry in the Winter 2016 workshop at Superwomenmania.com. The point there was to write stories using suggested lines – in my case, it's the opening line. I had the idea for a Velorian Legion story and, as usual, I had to invent a planet – in this case, one seeded from medieval southern France (Provence).
But I didn't have time to really do right by Daniel Valgraive (a name taken from a character in a French novel by J.H. Rosny ainé) or his people or his world Clodovie (a name taken from Epigone, a 17th Century French epic romance). What I ended up with was still too much for the SWM readership and too little for the Aurora Universe. It didn't fare well. But I didn't want to say farewell to it, so I've reworked and expanded the story and the backstory to give it a more substance and what I hope is a better resolution.
Winter Solstice is upon us, and so is another chapter of Walking Tall, the Velorian Legion story begun by Jordan Taylor and continued by me. It's political, but it's also personal for Patricia, whose beloved Uncle Teo on her homeworld Alguna Parte has been murdered in what appears to be a conspiracy with an Aurean connection. But how can she and her family get the goods on the conspirators?
Not appearing here, yet, is "A Shot in the Light," an entry in the Winter Workshop at Superwomenmania.com. That too is a Velorian Legion story, but only by happenstance, and set on a different world. There are also a few edits to Real Life Heroines.
Off today to celebrate Thanksgiving with kin tomorrow, but I didn't want to leave before offering holiday "food" for entertainment.
"Delphic Obstacles" features a character we've met before, Peter Durgin, who was introduced 12 years ago in "Alisa's Story" and whose career has had its ups and downs since then. It also features a locale we've met before, Delphi, a planet in the Reigellian system that was introduced by Shadar ten years ago in "Blind Justice."
The story lines of Kelsor 7 and Reigel Five have never figured together before, but in "Moment of Truth," Naomi Kim'Vallara had advised Durgin to try to find a new life on Delphi – no longer a prison colony since the Revolution at the end of The High Cruel Years but still a source of high-grade ores that can bring prosperity back to Reigel Five – only the mining is still so dangerous that it has attracted expatriate Velorians and Aureans, and can offer a fresh chance to Durgin, enhanced in Shore Leave -- but he still has to make something of it.
To rationalize the background of "Delphic Obstacles," I have made some tweaks to "Blind Justice" (Note: more tweaks Sept. 29, 2016) that relate to the background and some of the characters in the new story. I have also gone through all three parts of The High Cruel Years to eliminate typos that I somehow missed when I first posted that serial back in 2005-6.
Supergirl, the new hit series on CBS, has been getting rave reviews in the mainstream media, and from fanboys. I wish I could share their enthusiasm in my own review, which I wrote last week after the premiere and have edited a bit for my 74th birthday update. But while I find the concept and the characters appealing, I think the way the story has been developed has been clumsy and unconvincing. I don't think my criticisms will win me any friends in the superhero film and TV community. So be it.
I wouldn't want that review to be the only thing I have to show for myself on my birthday, so I've also put up another chapter of Walking Tall, the story begun a decade ago by Jordan Taylor about Patricia, the Velorian Legionnaire who has returned home to Alguna Parte after serving on Novo Recife – and discovers that all is not well. Her stepfather Teo, who has expanded his business with help from her, has since been murdered, after having been unknowingly drawn into a plot to manufacture alien weapons. Now the man who was her boyfriend before she joined the Legion and is now her step brother-in-law has more bad news for her – and a idea for how she can help his agency expose the magnate behind the conspiracy. But there are also family secrets and complications as Patricia's kinfolk prepare for the funeral of their father.
Something quite unexpected today: the completion of Passion Play.
It was in the process of writing a new chapter about the birth and naming of Lillith Liddell, the daughter of Andre and Alisa, that I realized that this could be the occasion for introducing Andre's family, which had never been seen before, and to say something about his relations with them -- which are impacted by his relationship with Alisa, of which they had known nothing before his disappearance (seeming death) and strained by the fact that he and Alisa could tell them nothing about what actually happened, the events of the Rostran expedition being under seal.
But then I realized that being part of Andre's family as well as her own would change her outlook, and even help shape her world view and sense of purpose. And both the birth of Lillith and her unexpected christening ceremony hark back to the early chapters set before and after this last, and resonate with them in terms of Alisa's personal journey that leads her from being a fugitive from Velor to becoming a key player in AU-3 history.
An update to Walking Tall was comparatively routine; it sets the stage for the story of Patricia's quest for justice/vengeance after the murder of her beloved Uncle Teo. The quest itself has yet to be written, or any of its details worked out.
An update to Walking Tall. Jordan Taylor had planned for what happens at the end of Chapter Four, but I took my own approach to the actual circumstances. From here on, Patricia will be seeking revenge/justice, and I have only hints from Jordan's scenario to work on. But it's going to shake things up on Alguna Parte, and a lot of heads are going to roll – most figuratively, some literally. It won't be sporting. I'm adding a bit about the story to Behind the Stories.
Readers may be understandably confused/annoyed by the status of First Protector. Two chapters of the original version appeared in 2006 at Shadar's AUOW site, but that was all. In 2013, he and I collaborated on a longer version, which went through some minor edits. But then Shadar reconceived the story as three books, and was going to work on Book One while I worked on Book Two. Only, part of what became Book Two, posted earlier this year, was already embedded in Book One, and the new version alluded to a new villain, Mal'kar, who hadn't appeared in the original version. We had a working draft of the new version of Book One, to which I had added a brief allusion to Mal'kar, and I referenced him in Book Two. The full story of his involvement with Vespyr is yet to come, but to give readers a sense of the overall story I have uploaded the draft of Book One and updated Book Two.
Walking Tall is a story that was begun way back in 2005 by Jordan Taylor, who also began The Popcorn War in 2003. It was inspired by the 1973 movie about a former professional wrestler turned lawman in Tennessee, but here the protagonist is Patricia Ortiz, a veteran of the Velorian Legion who returns home to her planet, Alguna Parte, after serving on Novo Recife in the earlier story.
The first chapter was posted ten years ago, and a missing chapter three years ago. By then, Jordan had long since retired from writing, and I thought there wasn't any way to continue the story – although I did manage to finish The Popcorn War in 2013 after several setbacks. But I recently came across some old notes and correspondence of Jordan's and decided to take a stab at Walking Tall. That involved giving Patricia a family besides Uncle Teo and his son Rick, and providing an identity for her old boyfriend Reynaldo, not to mention taking note of the strange reaction of Clara, an old friend, to her return.
All this, plus giving a bit more of a background to Alguna Parte and its culture, and Uncle Teo's business there, are just part of the setup – the main story is yet to come. There are also some changes to The Popcorn War and earlier postings of Walking Tall itself to clarify the internal chronology of Patricia's life on both worlds.
It's been three months since I've added anything to Empress of the Dawn III, and the reason for that is that I've found it very hard to make the transition from one stage of the story to the next. Jumping from the exile of Alexius to the climactic war with the Aureans, as I had originally planned, was too abrupt. I had to do more to set the stage – in terms of Kalla's personal angst over the loss of her lover and the tangled web of secrets and lies she has been engaged in, the procrastination of Velor and the Scalantrans, and the troubled progress of Andros itself.
There's a new link to the archive of Julie of Velor, based on a version that once appeared at Ubergirls.org. But different browsers seem to work differently. The main link ends with stories.html, and clicking on story chapter links may reach those links or produce an error message. If you get the error message, check the link in the URL box to see if it still has the stories.html ahead of the chapter link. Deleting that part of the URL should get you where you want to be.
Just a short notice today: my take on the upcoming Supergirl series on TV, and what its significance might be for the culture generally and for the genre of superheroine fiction. A few edits to flesh out Passion Play a bit. Changed the picture for "Moment of Truth," because it turned out the one with a blue dress had been used in Ordinary Velorians. Lastly, a reboot of an early (2002) story, "You, and Each of You," because I'd noticed the formatting was all screwed up.
Passion Play once again continues today, with advice from Tarot Barnes on tweaking some details – but also taking unpleasant liberties with his alternate universe on the other side of the Lost City. It all has to do with what really traumatized Andre Kalik there. Chances are that Tarot will never write his own version of the story of Riantra and the Lost City, and certainly not in the context I imagine. It just popped into my head since the last update what would have driven Andre over the edge (now hinted at in tweaks to what has gone before), and why Jason would have to edit his memory in order to give him any hope of recovery. But I couldn't make the entire new chapter grim, which is why Andre's body memory comes into play – as an excuse for a sex scene, of course. Also today, a minor tweak to "Moment of Truth," but I'm sticking to the basic scenario there. Sorry about that, Tarot... and Shadar.
Passion Play continues to unfold in this update, which takes Alisa Kim'Vallara to Sanctuary to be reunited with Andre Kalik. It incorporates some ideas Tarot Barnes proposed ten years ago about an alternate history that lies on the opposite end of the Dimensional Transporter in the Lost City of Cygnias 275 – and the secret of the Old Galactics. The reunion scene itself was inspired by one in A Very Long Engagement (2004), a French movie that is one of my personal favorites. But in terms of the Aurora Universe, it was made possible only by the role of Ultrasybarite's Jason Ungphakorn on Sanctuary...
Related to Passion Play is "Moment of Truth." It began as a long scene Shadar wrote, also about ten years ago, in which Captain Peter Durgin catches up with Alisa's mother Naomi on Bering's World, and is trying to put the make on her. That scenario could no longer work, given what has happened with Durgin in the years since. But it occurred to me that it could be reimagined from Naomi's point of view, with her setting out to do a number on the now-discredited and desperate Durgin. Only she ends up taking pity on him, and the "out" she offers him ties in with "Blind Justice," a story by Shadar in which she played a role... I've also done some edits to Passion Play itself to play down Durgin's excesses – there have been complaints that he was too idiotic to believe.
Passion Play is a project I have been working on for about seven years. It's about the career of Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara, also known as Alisa Liddell, and how she became a pivotal figure in the history of the Aurora Universe.
Another version of this story was posted two years ago, but I was never satisfied with it because there was a missing chapter in her life: how she was changed by her experience on Rostran in Shore Leave. The first two parts of Shore Leave were written by Shadar and myself a dozen years ago, but the third part never got anywhere; Shadar seemed to have written himself into a corner, even with the help of several advisors/collaborators. What was worse from my point of view was that the story line had lost track with Alisa; it was full of complications, but those complications were irrelevant to what I saw as the true course of her life (It didn't help that Andre Kalik, her colleague and lover to be, had practically dropped out of the story.). It was only recently, with my own take on the conclusion of Shore Leave, that I felt I had a handle on Passion Play.
It was only last night, however, that I realized that the lead-in to Shore Leave – "Alisa's Story" – needed work. For one thing, there wasn't any mention of Andre in it, although it seemed from Shore Leave that he must have come aboard the Anders Flame at the same time as Alisa. I had to come up with a dodge, as you'll see. I also cut out some details I'd added to the AUOW version in 2005, having to do with Alisa being gloomy about dark energy and the death of the universe – they didn't seem to fit the overall story line. And, of course, in the AUOW version, Aureans had still been Aureans...
Today's update features only the first part of Passion Play; there is more to come. But I know where the story is going now, which wasn't the case a few months ago.
It's May Day, and time to spring into the new season with an update to Book Three of Empress of the Dawn. The story of how Kalla has to give up Alexius for the sake of Andros has been a long time coming, but I knew I had to make it part of the story of Andros itself and her place in it.
One bit of serendipity was to turn Verina, first conceived as a throwaway character to tease readers as the first female lottery winner to have an encounter with Kalla, into a major player – you'll see just how major in Part Two, Chapter 10. She is part of the technological, political and social evolution of her world, and her engagement and wedding gave me a chance to dramatize all three.
Readers looking for fetish sex will find it in the same chapter, but soon realize that the very same political and social realities that bring fulfillment to Verina doom the love of Kalla and Alexius. And now the stage is set to jump ahead a few decades to the war with the Aureans and the Battle of the Triple Moons...
I'd thought I was done with Shore Leave III, but readers thought the endgame was too sketchy and, looking back on it, I had to agree. So I've done my best to flesh it out, and yet also made it more complicated – with Klara, Alisa and Andrea playing an elaborate Machiavellian con on Frida, giving her the rope to hang herself in a more spectacular version of the grand climax at the stadium. The revision also ties up a few loose ends, and hints a bit more hopefully about things to come on Rostran.
Here's a bit of trivia for you: the Ides of April comes on the 13th. That's because it has only 30 days instead of 31, like March, on the Ides of which (the 15th) Caesar was assassinated... well, there's nothing trivial about what happens to Kalla and Alexius in the latest update to Empress of the Dawn III. It's actually been in the works for a long time, having first been referred to in Homecoming II back in 2005. But I still had to develop the actual story behind that cross-reference, and both the specific details and their context have changed as I worked on the Empress saga. Now it's set in stone, so to speak (Today's update ends on a mini-cliffhanger, after Alexius' enhancement, but before the unanticipated consequences have to be dealt with), the cross-references have to be updated in both Homecoming II and Homecoming III. Now if only Shadar and I can finish First Protector, we'll be seeing more of Alexius....
It's Interstellar Superwomen's Day again, as it was ten years ago today when this incarnation of The Bright Empire made its debut. And this time, I have a couple of treats. One is my conclusion of the Shore Leave saga, after more than a decade, with To Hold the Center. There's a lot of revisionism here, which relates to not only the previous episodes, The Gwyndylyn and Primal War, which were plotted and mostly written by Shadar, but also to Shadar's McCloud's Daughters and my own Bird in Paradise. The details are explained in a new post to my Occasional Blog.
First Protector is another project begun by Shadar, but that has been in limbo – albeit not nearly as long as Shore Leave. It was originally intended to be a single book, and that version – far from complete – was last updated July 20, 2013. But then Shadar reconceived the story as three first-person narratives by Kevin Galton, Vespyr and then Kevin again. It introduces a new nemesis named Mal'lkar – who comes on to Vespyr and deceives her in order to threaten Kevin – on Tazzi's World.
That involves changing a lot of the details of what is now going to be Book One (See Behind the Stories), which leads up to Vespyr's escape. I'm sure all of you are eager to see that, but I don't know how long it will take Shadar. My Book Two, a work in progress, is based on the proposed scenario for Book One. Book Three will be about Vespyr's return to Tazzi's World as the first of the Velorian Protectors.
Happy Valentine's Day, and I hope your lives are blessed with love. Kalla's is in the latest update of Empress of the Dawn III. But that doesn't mean her life isn't still filled with problems and challenges. There's a big universe out there, and it may be closing in on Andros, while Andros itself has to accommodate radical technological and social change. Kalla's role in all this depends not only on her nature as a Velorian and her commitment to Andros, but on how she is perceived by admirers and non-admirers alike. Thanks to Daphne Orgone for some helpful ideas...
Forget about Super Sunday in the NFL. This is Super Sunday at The Bright Empire.
First up, there's more of Shore Leave III, now retitled To Hold the Center. Klara has made her way to the headquarters of the human underground at the end, but there are complications she doesn't know about in the deteriorating situation on Rostran – and Alisa Liddell and her comrades are caught up in those same complications. I've done some editing of the version posted Nov. 25 in line with my latest conception of how the rest of the story will play out.
Second, there's a revised version of McCloud's Daughters, Shadar's story from 2004 that introduced Sanctuary and the McCloud family, including Klara. It was written before what we call Aurora Universe 3 had fully evolved from AU-2, and some of the details – including how Ben Shaffer first met Xara – didn't jibe with AU-3. I also wanted to soften the details of Klara's personality cult, which in the original version made it difficult at best for her to emerge as a sympathetic character in Shore Leave. There were some other inconsistencies between the two stories that I had to resolve as best I could in further edits.
Finally, from Velvet Belle Tree, there's "Imitation Biopic." We'd both been to see The Imitation Game, which purports to tell the true story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist who was a key figure in cracking Nazi Germany's naval Enigma code, which helped the Allies win the Second World War – only to later be prosecuted for his homosexuality. It may be a terrific movie, but like a lot of film biopics, it shades the truth – shades it a lot, in fact. Velvet went to the trouble of reading the doorstopper of a biography on which the film is supposedly based, and found it so far off base that it left me wondering whether its makers could have passed the Turing test (an approach he devised to determine a machine's capacity to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human).
Happy New Year. Just some slight updates, and the most important one actually comes from the Wayback Machine on the Links page.
Although it is still shown on the Aurora Universe Writers Group home page, the Jolie Howard Fiction link there (like several others) is dead. But I've now added a link to the archived version further down my page, just below that for the Julie of Velor archive. Jolie Howard, a.k.a. Lisa Binkley, an inspiration to me, is the author of some classic AU fiction like the Nova'yul saga, but also other outstanding sf and fantasy including As Pretty Girls Do and The Secrets of Katie Zurin.
Another dead link on the main AUWG page is actually still a live sub-link at Infinity Bridge: Susan, the legendary story by Toomey Starks (killed in a car crash back in 2000), an inspiration to Shadar and others. Thanks to Tyler Spivey for pointing this out! Although it isn't a real update, I've made a tweak to Shore Leave III, reversing the two last chapters (79 and 80) to create more of a cliffhanger, based on discussion at the Aurora Universe Readers Group about a new development in the crisis that faces Rostran. And just as a gag, I've turned the title line of the 2005 story "Deer Meadow Shuffle" into a musical link that reveals where that title came from.
Call it Bright Friday, as opposed to Black Friday. The latter may have been something of a disappointment, economists say. But here things are really looking up. Book Three of Empress of the Dawn has been updated, launching the romance of Kalla and Alexius – but that has its challenges as well as its rewards for both of them. Speaking of launches, the SyFy Channel just broadcast a new much-heralded miniseries called Ascension. But as Velvet Belle Tree observes, "It Totally Didn't Fly." As for Shore Leave III, I'm still working on the continuation, but comments on the Nov. 25 update have led me to make some edits in the account of events at München to clarify the narrative. And I'm also correcting a story by Shadar (edited by JH) called "The Downfall of Rapik," had been posted Feb. 18, 2013, but I'd neglected to add it to the Other Voices link. And, finally, I want to invite any readers who haven't already done so to join the Aurora Universe Readers Group and share their thoughts.
Book Three of Shore Leave, Changing Goddesses, gets a makeover today (And goes back to htm format). I wasn't ready yet to deal with what will happen after Klara reveals herself to Rostrans at large, but I realized I hadn't done enough with what happens to Andre and Alisa and their relationship before that -- and also to some of the other characters, major and minor. Plus, I wanted to sort of deconstruct the history/mythology of the Rostrans as seen from the inside and the outside -- how much of it is really true, and how much of it simply believed? I'm being heretical here -- might drive purists nuts, and not only Shadar!
Book Three of Empress of the Dawn gets another reboot today, my birthday, and I think I'm finally getting it right. The version posted July 27 got too far ahead of the game, bringing in the Aurean War as too imminent a threat.
That war still figures in the more distant future, but the story now focuses more on Kalla herself, her life and her loves – one cut short by the legacy of the struggle against Kyros and something she had to do during that struggle, the other an unexpected blessing for her. There is her relationship with Nestor, the patriarch who came to his position young and inexperienced, but must gain experience and even wisdom to guide Andros into a new age. There are the Scalantrans and the Indrans, behind the scenes, who have a stake in the future of what they know is a strategic world.
My thanks to Velvet for some tough but good advice on two chapters, one here that sets the stage for heartbreak, the other included prematurely in the July 27 version but now to come in its proper order in a future update.
An unexpected update. Ultrasybarite has submitted a revised and corrected version of his Finding Sanctuary, third of a series that began with Shadar's McCloud's Daughters and continued with my own Bird in Paradise. These three stories are related to the Shore Leave series through Ann McCloud and her daughters Aayla, Klara and Myra. Ultrasybarite's was the first to tie the Diaboli in with the Aurora Universe 3 history. We may see more of Sanctuary and the Diaboli in times to come.
Another update to Changing Goddesses, only this time in pdf format; I'm having a problem with html. There's a lot of ground to cover in preparing the Rostrans and the Outworlders from the Anders Flame, especially Alisa and Andre, to deal with Klara and her mission to establish a new form of government. There's also further editing of the first and second installments of Shore Leave, in an effort to resolve confusion as to who did what and who knew what and when they did so or knew so in the tangled background of Rostran history and politics. I think I have things straightened out, just barely. What isn't straightened out may be a matter of the players themselves being deceived, or deceiving themselves. But now it's time for things to come out in the open — and next time, I'll have to do the really hard part of resolving the whole story.
Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. You might think that has to do with Johnny Depp in the spate of Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but it was actually inspired by Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in Treasure Island six decades ago. Hey, you can look it up on Wikipedia.
Not that it matters; it's just to get your attention. Do we have any space pirates in the Aurora Universe? If so, I don't have any idea how they'd talk. But Changing Goddesses, the third installment of the Shore Leave series, is turning into an act of literary piracy. The first and second installments, adapted from Shadar's versions a decade ago, stuck pretty closely to his plotting, even though they changed some of the names and terms (For today's update, I've corrected some typos and other glitches in those that I'd missed before.). But the never-completed third installment, to my mind, was going completely off the rails, losing track of the central story of Alisa Liddell, her Kelsorian comrades, and how Klara McCloud takes on the task of changing the future of Rostran itself.
This isn't the whole story that I'm posting today, but it does deal with the arrival of Klara on Rostran to replace her sister Aayla (otherwise called Tyla) as the Goddess — only with a mission to discredit the very idea that the planet should be ruled by a goddess. But little does she know about the deteriorating political situation, with the Kirke openly challenging the Gwyndylyn for dominance, and with Alisa and her fellow Outworlders caught in the middle... She's really going to have her work cut out for her in the continuation of Changing Goddesses... whenever I can work out the details!
It was ten years ago today that I met Velvet Belle Tree. We found that we had a lot of tastes in common, including favorite science fiction, mysteries and movies. Before long, we were becoming a couple, and writing together. Naturally, I wanted something from her for today's anniversary, but she didn't have any ideas for fiction that she could develop on short notice. What she did have was a true-life story. "La Vérité: A Memoir," is a reminiscence of an experience during a trip to France long before I knew her. A case of truth stranger than fiction, but without giving the name of the subject, obviously.
This past Friday, a superheroine movie called Lucy opened here. It's also showing in Europe, and has raised the hopes of a lot of superheroine fiction fans. But the French director, Luc Besson, best known for La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, isn't content with turning the title character into a superwoman with some miracle drug; he wants to Say Something, and what he has to say about the human mind and human evolution is bunk. Read "That Lucy Movie -- Badass or Just Dumbass" for the sad story behind the story.
And then there's Empress of the Dawn. Book Three has gone through several revisions as well as updates already, based in part on advice from Tarot and Shadar. The trick has been to have Kalla stay in character as both a woman and a superwoman, while challenging her with a potential crisis so serious that the Scalantrans and Indrans don't want her to share her knowledge of it with anyone on Andros. Yet she still has to work with Patriarch Nestor and others on projects that are bringing revolutionary changes to the world, while finding solace with a new lover -- only there are secrets and lies even in her relationship with him. Kalla faces both outward and inward conflicts, and she doesn't yet know what some of them are going to be.
What started as just a housekeeping job has turned into a small update. I was fixing some missing links in stories relating to the Diaboli, and in my own archive and the Wayback Machine (for the long-defunct Sybaritical Stories site) found a couple of chapters of Ultrasybarite's Harvest that had never been posted before. Part Two of Harvest is now available, with Chapters Two and Three relating to the Egyptians and the Olmecs. Those date back to at least ten years, and there were never any more. The related story is Finding Sanctuary, which was one of the sequels to Shadar's McCloud's Daughters, along with my own Bird in Paradise.
Father's Day at the Aurora Universe? Well, "Sharon Best" was its father 20 years or more ago, and "Heart of Darkness" was one of his pioneering stories -- and like a lot of his stories, never finished. It was aborted in 2003, when he took down the AU-2 site, but after he returned as Shadar Tarot Barnes and I worked occasionally on new and revised chapters. We actually came close to finishing it, and indeed "Sharon" had had an ending even though some of the middle was missing. Perhaps a final version will appear here or elsewhere, but in the meantime, here's what we have.
Still working on the future of Empress of the Dawn III, but here's a real blast from the past: A Night with Supergirl. It's never appeared here before in its entirety, because it was written ten years ago for an online fiction site called EBookAd.com. They were supposed to actually pay royalties, but they never did. Tarot Barnes, who collaborated on the story, put up some of his own, and so did Lisa Binkley. Same result -- they got rooked, and the site vanished after a while. I had put up a few preview chapters here to promote my story, but there was nothing left to promote, and I no longer had the pdf file myself until by chance I found a pirated version online. The lost-and-found story itself harks back to the days when I first joined the Aurora Universe. As the tale of a geek who learns a Lesson in Life from an encounter with a Velorian at a fan event (Something similar to the fictional AU Convention several people were writing about in 2002), it may now seem by turns perverse and pretentious. But my heart was in it at the time. Since it has been pirated -- I don't know how or by whom -- I wouldn't have any chance of selling it now, even in a revised version. And it's the sort of thing that should appeal to a lot of veteran AU fans, so they might as well have a chance to see it at The Bright Empire. Plus, it has a neat illustration by Vagabond Eye (What ever became of him?).
I also have a post today in Rants and Ramblings: "Larger than Life" an account of the interplay between science fiction and superhero comics, which actually goes back before the comics to a pulp series called Doc Savage that you might have heard of and which may well have been an inspiration for Superman. You probably know all about the comics, but you may not be familiar with such comics-inspired sf works as George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards shared world series, similar to The X Men, (Even if you follow his Game of Thrones epic in books or on TV). And chances are you don't know about Samit Basu's Turbulence (from India!) and Christopher Bennett's Only Superhuman.
On my Occasional Blog, a short piece in readership patterns here, based on my server's statistics.
Book Three of Empress of the Dawn gets another update today, but it's an reboot and elaboration rather than a mere continuation, with significant edits to chapters posted March 21 and new chapters added to the narrative as it appeared then. Coming to that draft cold, I could see that it hardly mentioned Alexius and his relationship with his family and the Indrans. I had to sweat the details, and write entire new chapters as well as time-stamping the old.
The Kalla-Alexius romance is part of the background of the Homecoming trilogy and First Protector, but as first conceived it was a very shaky story. On the face of it, Kalla was simply robbing the cradle and taking advantage of an infatuation on Alexius' part. When it came to writing how they should come together, I was at a loss – I could have Kalla show her initial reluctance, but couldn't rationalize her later acceptance. By sheer chance, reading George Eliot's Middlemarch suggested a fresh approach. Eliot had used "geognosis" for an understanding of the world through exploration, and I realized that since it is derived from Greek, I could have Alexius coin the same term on Andros, and with a different meaning – a sort of synthesis of natural and social ecology and more. Now Alexius will be able to share ideas with Kalla, instead of being just a stud muffin. And he can also become her confidant when she really needs one – she can't share what she knows about the Aurean threat or the ill-advised policy directives from Velor with anyone else. Of course, this all means that I have had to edit a key scene in Homecoming II, in which Kalla tells the story of their involvement, for the sake of consistency.
Also new today is a reboot of the Bright Empire home page, with a link to "Points of Entry," a rationale for what has come to be called Aurora Universe Three (AU-3), the continuity behind most of the AU stories here. And in some unfinished business, a revision to Emigrants – for some reason, Aurean had never been updated to Aurean there.
Spring has finally sprung, and Empress of the Dawn is finally springing to life with the first installment of Book Three. It's still following the general outline Shadar posted at his site more than five years ago, but just as I have deviated from that outline in certain details (like the patriarchate of Methodios in Book Two), I have been taking the story in new directions here with the greater contact between Andros and other worlds. In this installment, what we learn about the other original Companions ties in with events and themes in Velvet's Homecoming and Shadar's First Protector and perhaps other stories Shadar may write. Kalla's budding romance relates to events in Homecoming Two and the epilogue to Homecoming Three, which in turn will (hopefully) tie in with First Protector. Alexius' journey to Indra will parallel that of Russia's Peter the Great to Western Europe. And some of the details, like the Farspeaking Tower, are a matter of serendipity — in this case inspired by the Shabolovka radio tower in Moscow, which was in the news recently as a historic site (built in 1922 under Lenin) that might be demolished.
Another anniversary. It's been nine years since the first post here. And while there hasn't been time to get Empress of the Dawn III or an update of First Protector ready, I do have a conclusion to When We Dead Awaken, which started as a round-robin story at Superwomenmania eight years ago and was last updated two years ago. I'd waited for more robins after that, but none alighted, so I decided to wrap it up myself. It's in keeping with the SWM school of superheroine fiction; nothing profound about it – but one reason for posting it now is to show off a pict of "Caramel Fox" that I'd wanted to use ever since I first found it online years back.
I'm finally beginning work on Book Three of Empress of the Dawn, which will complete the saga of Kalla Zaver'el on Andros. But to lead into that, I've retweaked the epilogue of Book Two, adjusting the chronology a bit and replacing an image of the young Patriarch Nestor, based on a Russian actor who once played the young Peter the Great – you'll see him older in Book Three. And the true story of Peter the Great has also inspired a new story line for Book Three. But more on that anon.
Updating Shore Leave is a challenge, and it's been even more of a challenge with Primal War. It isn't just a question ofwhat happens, but who knows what – and when. The last time we saw Andre Kalik in The Gwyndylyn, he had accidentally made contact with the underground of Ordinary humans. Only, he drops out of the story after that, and never appears in the original version of Primal War. Alisa makes it clear in that version that she meant for him to be enhanced, even though she had never brought it up in conversation with him or (except by implication) with Gudrid. That makes for a story line I thought worth pursuing in new chapters for this version, which also has to account for Gudrid's interest in his enhancement – and for why he and Alisa are kept apart. The fact that they long for each other, but neither realizes their longing is reciprocated, adds some spice to the relationship. But that will have to be further addressed only in Changing Goddesses. Durgin's awakening from enhancement by Lara is also being deferred, as I think his recovery time would be longer than Alisa's. NB: If you're using Firefox, and it takes you to the April 2013 version of Primal War, you can access the new version by copying and pasting the link into Safari or Internet Explorer. See Dec. 21 post for name changes and other general information.
A new take on an old story, the first of several I have in mind.
It’s been just over ten years since Shadar posted the original version of The Gwyndylyn – first book of the Shore Leave series – at Aurora Universe: Other Worlds. Last April, I mirrored the most recent edit at The Bright Empire (along with the second book, Primal War) to tie in with a new Alisa Liddell story, Passion Play.
At the time Shadar was writing Shore Leave, I was still working on the last episodes of Ordinary Velorians – the series he had begun in 2002 that had introduced Alisa Liddell. Earlier in 2003, he had posted “Alisa’s Story,” the account of her (ill-fated, as it turned out) affair with Captain Peter Durgin aboard the Anders Flame. Even before that, I’d given her a part in Throne of the Gods, and made her a lead character in Pictures of an Expedition, a prequel to Throne and sequel to Shore Leave – then still in the final stages of composition. But a lot has happened over the past decade, including another major Alisa Liddell story, Encounter at Westfold, and in looking over Shore Leave recently, I thought it was time for an overhaul of the mirrored version – and even time (Shudder!) to make a stab at completing the series – the third part of which has been in virtual limbo since 2004. That’s a major gap in the Alisa Liddell saga, as is a yet-unwritten story of what befell Andre Kalik at the Lost City of the Old Galactics. This reboot is part of the groundwork for that.
Some of the changes are only a matter of convenience. There were characters named Tyla and Tala, and Mara and Marla, which might be confusing to some readers, so I changed the latter in each case to Frida and Gudrid – old Nordic names, those. I also decided to Nordicise some titles – Prester for priest and Lawgiver for senator, both actually adopted by the progeny of Vikings after they became acquainted with the rest of Europe. Prester was a variation of Presbyter (hence the Presbyterian Church), but in Medieval times it also took on the meaning of patriarch, notably in the legend of a Christian kingdom in Africa ruled by a Prester John (possibly inspired by vague reports about Ethiopia). Of course, here signifies a matriarch. Kirke, likewise, was the Nordic word for church.
Shadar had described Tala, head of the Gwyndylyn salon as “Mother Superior,” but I thought that was confusing because it made the salon seem like strictly a religious order – and yet it is locked in a power struggle with the Church. So besides changing her name to Frida, I made her title Heysta (Highest), and had Mara Kaltquest address her as such. In the same vein, “bishop” seemed an odd title for the head of the Lawgivers (senators), so I replaced that with Vorstaler (a Nordic portmanteau word for First Speaker, a term used in sf by both Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven). In the case of Marla (now Gudrid), the new terminology clarifies her role in playing a double game as a disgraced former Gwyndylyn now working secretly for the Kirke. One other thing: to be consistent with my other AU3 stories, I toned down the effects of a Velorian removing her gold – that could cause some real problems in tight situations.
Despite making these changes, I wanted to keep the complications of Rostran political intrigue – and how Alisa and Andre and then Durgin and his men become unwittingly involved in them. I wanted to keep the problematic details, such as the roles of the child woman Lara and the Goddess Tyla/Aayla, and the connection between Sanctuary and Rostran. And I wanted to keep the raunch – can a Shadar classic be stripped of its raunch and remain worth reading? But for me the core of the story is the development of the relationship between Andre and Alisa, even if they don’t realize it yet, and the extant version seemed to lose track of that – Andre disappears from the story after his chance encounter with the human underground (and is hardly mentioned in Primal War).
Alisa sometimes seems slow on the uptake – from the start, I thought it was important for her to come up with a theory of her own to account for the origin of the Rostrans, based on what the Culture Section thought it knew about how long ago their world had been settled, plus her first-hand observations of their nature. When she learns the truth, and is told by Lara that Durgin is launching a rescue mission, moreover, she seems slow on the emotional uptake – her reaction is just too casual. I wanted to convey how alarmed she must be about in face of what may happen – and how frustrated that she can see no way to do anything about it. For a hard-headed scientist, moreover, she seems all too gullible during her tête-à-tête with Excelsia, coming out of it as practically a convert to the Rostran cause – like the “useful idiots” on Earth who bought into Soviet-style Communism in the 20th Century and are buying into religious fundamentalism (Christian or Islamic) in the twenty-first. So in my reboot, she is playing a game – a game which she can only hope to win. That’s not to say Alisa won’t make mistakes, in this or other stories, but the very last thing I want her to be is a useful idiot.
Yet I’m trying to remain faithful to the spirit, if not always the letter, of the original story. You won’t catch me trashing a crucial Aurora Universe story the way J.J. Abrams has trashed Star Trek! It will be the same with Primal War, and my version of Changing Goddesses, the aborted attempt by Shadar and others to complete the trilogy, will be in the same spirit.
Meanwhile... Happy Winter Solstice!
It's my birthday today, and I have something to show for it: finally, finally the final chapter of Empress of the Dawn 2, plus an epilogue that sets the stage for Empress of the Dawn 3 -- in which Kalla Zaver'el will spearhead a space program for Andros, and lead the world's defense against an Aurean attack.
It's taken longer than I expected to finish Part Two, because while the crucial events were clear in my mind, I needed to find a new way to lead up to them, and give them more substance, greater nuance. Moreover, I had to deal more effectively than I did before with the hard choices Kalla had made, and why she made them, and the pain that they brought to her.
Of course, there's also a teaser at the end about Alexius. He'll appear again in Part Three, but he already appears in the epilogue of Homecoming 3, and will play a part with Vespyr in First Protector -- not that he can have any idea of such a destiny at the tender age of 16!
Book Two of Empress of the Dawn is almost finished today. One last chapter remains to be written, and that may be an anti-climax compared to "Necessary Murders." Here is where Kalla decides that she must become a killer in cold blood to save her adopted world Andros from a catastrophe even worse than it is already experiencing under the mad Patriarch Kyros.
I'd alluded to this eight years ago in a conversation between Kalla and Ju'lette I wrote for Homecoming II, knowing full well that I was writing myself into a corner. It was only three years ago that Empress of the Dawn itself, based on an outline by Shadar, began to appear, and only last year that I got to work on Book Two. But I knew all along I'd have to face up to having Kalla face up to what she had to do, and I knew I couldn't weasel out of it. So here it is, and I hope I've succeeded. I have also made some tweaks to the scene in Homecoming II, but only in a few details. And I've uploaded a slight revision to Book I of Empress, correcting a few glitches.
What a difference a few days make! Hardly had I posted the July 20 update of First Protector than Shadar was shaking his metaphorical head and arguing that the story just wasn't working. It didn't need updating, but relaunching, as two separate and yet related first-person narratives from the viewpoints of Kevin and Vespyr. He's busy with the first part now, and I've made some changes to the second, but I need to see his part before I fine-tune the details. I also have some new ideas about how to carry the story of Vespyr forward. But meanwhile, I'm getting ready to hit the road with Velvet to visit her family, and I want to give readers a going away present.
"Arden" is a short story Shadar wrote last fall as a one-shot. When he sent it to me, we'd just been hit by Hurricane Sandy, and although I read it at the time and did a few copyedits, it kind of fell between the cracks because I was caught up in other projects, including The Popcorn War, Empress of the Dawn and, of course, First Protector. As I said, "Arden" was intended as a one-shot. But it implicitly tied in with First Protector in featuring a Halfen (halfling) Aurean character, and it occurred to me to tie the two stories together explicitly – not in terms of plot, but in terms of background. It's set in what I imagine to be within the first two centuries of the Enlightenment, and one of the early Protectors figures off-stage. But the story itself is still the same. It's a love story with what romance fans call an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending.
Jaren Strikebolt is a whole different kind of Aurean, in an entirely different role than we've seen before. But for those who want a really Big Bad Aurean from the days of Aurora Universe 2, a writer at Superwomenmania.com named Dru has a story there called "An Aurean Ascends." Google the title and you'll find it!
Things are starting to come together for First Protector. But there's more to the story that Shadar had imagined when he began it, and both the new Chapter 16 today and tweaks to previous chapters have to do with the backstory of Salomon Gazrall and the sub-plot of Kevin and Jana on the run, at a time when Vespyr is still making her way to Velor. Plus, I'm trying to give a taste of how concerns about the GAR (only the light version has been heard of by the High Council) is affecting training of Companions. The next update, I think, will return to Vespyr, and what happens when she arrives home.
First Protector is proving a tougher job for me than other projects that I've been involved with from the start. Some 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 Grigory Arkadin in Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin. Where does he really come from? What's his real game?
For a new chapter, I'm introducing a hint that he has a secret past elsewhere, but in such a vague way that this might turn out to be a red herring. Most of the chapter is admittedly a sort of information dump – things Vespyr needs to know that she couldn't have learned back on Tazzi's World. Trpcic takes its name from the costume designer for Firefly, the cult TV series created by Joss Whedon, so of course the factor general there is named Jossalem. It was seeded from what is now Slovakia, thus "sokol" (falcon) and "zubor" (aurochs). But I'm trying to make this transitional chapter as entertaining as possible, with our heroine getting some needed R&R, and learning a few things about interstellar trade.
Happy Summer Solstice!
Empress of the Dawn is one of my favorite projects, but it's also one of the most difficult. It spans generations, in which Kalla must face one crisis after another under a series of Patriarchs on the planet Andros. But she is now facing her worst, under the rule of Kyros – a madman if there ever was one. Only, she can't just take the easy way out and kill him, because that would not be the easy way out for the world she has come to love. She has only her wits to guide her now, using deceit and subterfuge to save the family of the late Methodios, but in the latest chapter of Part Two she is helpless to save the doctor who stayed behind out of loyalty to his work. She cannot even save the old acquaintance who knows why that doctor was framed by Kyros for a crime the Patriarch himself committed. But she can be a friend to the end, and in playing the role of a mere super slut who cares for nothing and no one, she can still influence the course of events. Only, please read the whole thing, because I've had to make some interpolations in earlier chapters to set the stage for "Bad Medicine."
Corrididor first appeared in 2004 at Aurora Universe: Other Worlds, and was entirely Shadar's work. But it tied in with the story line of Ordinary Velorians, even with The High Cruel Years, although in a strange way: I gave detective Vance Calloway, whose front story Shadar tells, a backstory on Reigel Five that leads up to him leaving that troubled planet. As for Corrididor, if you haven't already read it at AUOW, it has to do with a nuclear reactor disaster in the making at an asteroid mining colony, but the core of the story isn't in the reactor, but in the characters: the B-Class Velorian Vera Sho'tovic, who welcomes the chance to escape the stifling kind of life people of her class live on Velor, the people she meets while dealing with the crisis, especially the engineer Calen Donaldson and, later, Detective Calloway; and the Aurean Zarla, torn by conflicting loyalties. My main edits have to do with some aspects of Vera's freedling gang background on Velor that seemed too mundane, too much like Earth; and to clarify several instances of who knew what and when and how. But the essence of the story remains the same; I just couldn't and wouldn't tamper with that. Nor with the character of Vera.
Passion Play, the first part of which appears today (a traditional Spring holiday in Europe, long before it was adopted by the Labor movement), is about a Velorian heroine who has appeared here before. She's bcome one of the most key players in my own fiction, and yet I can't claim credit for her, any more than I can claim credit for the Aurora Universe itself.
Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara, alias Alisa Liddell, was the creation of Shadar (then still calling himself Sharon Best) for Ordinary Velorians, a serial that began at his old Aurora Universe site Jan. 12, 2003. We had some correspondence about it at the time, and as best I can recall he thought of her as a female version of Star Trek's Spock and the Survey Service ships of Kelsor 7 to be the equivalent of the Enterprise.
A couple of months later, after posting four episodes set on Reigel Five, and without having gotten to the point of Alisa's refusal of the Rites and escape to Kelsor 7, Shadar took down the Sharon Best site. I ended up writing the last three chapters of Ordinary Velorians and, when he returned with his Aurora Universe: Other Worlds site, collaborated with him on Alisa's Story, which appeared there July 28 and has been revised a couple of times since. And then came Shore Leave, a monster of a serial – mostly by Shadar but with input from me and a couple of other collaborators who didn't want their true names revealed although they got credit under their initials.
I'd already made Alisa a supporting character, decades later (her time) in Throne of the Gods, which dates back to Feb. 15, 2003 – just after the fourth installment of Ordinary Velorians. She returned later (but earlier in her own life) in Pictures of an Expedition, and much later in terms of both real time and her imagined life in Encounter at Westfold – one of several projects begun by Shadar and taken over by me. I could tell that all of these works were part of a life story. For some years now, I've been toying with the idea of a story about the highlights of her life, as seen by her in later years, and at various times I've written various segments of Passion Play.
But it's been awkward, because I found it nearly impossible to reference the events of previous stories without simply rehashing them. This was especially the case with Shore Leave; that may still be the most awkward part. In the present version, I've tried to convey the sense that Alisa is reminiscing about her time on Rostran, as she is in other segments, and that her reminiscences focus on her relationships and her learning experiences rather than on the events per se. I've added a few bits of dialogue that fit the situation, but weren't in the original serial. The opening scene of Passion Play and the first flashback will be new to readers here, as will the early scenes aboard the Anders Flame, the details of Alisa's breakup with Peter Durgin, and the love she and Andre Kalik find with each other on the return from Rostran. The terrible fate that awaits them at Cygnias 275 has been alluded to in Encounter at Westfield and elsewhere, but the next installment will deal with the aftermath – and be entirely fresh material. A note of thanks to Velvet Belle Tree: for advising me to change the narrative to first person, and for proofing the text.
Those who have followed the saga of Alisa from the beginning should be familiar with the events. But I'm also posting slightly revised versions of The Gwyndylin and Primal War, the first two segments of Shore Leave. The changes relate only to Durgin's attitude towards Alisa, and my updated concept of the Cygnias 275 wormhole that already figured in Encounter at Westfold – but there's also a brief reference to the language of the Rostrans, and to the need for a quick Deepteach course to allow the Kelsorians to communicate with them. For those who may need them, I'm including links to those stories, Ordinary Velorians and Alisa's Story at the end of the Passion Play file.
Also new today is an op-ed piece by Velvet. She's a fan of all sorts of things, and she has always been refreshingly frank in her opinions. In "A Tale of Two Musicals," she offers her take on South Pacific and Carousel, two Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals that are generally regarded as classics. Only, are they actually both deserving of their praise? Not in her contrarian view!
One last thing: an entry on my Occasional Blog, the first in more than a year, not about AU fiction as such but the decline in fan participation.
Finally, finally, the conclusion of The Popcorn War. The first part was posted here Sept. 3, 2007, but the story actually goes back four years earlier than that – Jordan "Ultragirl" Taylor and I had begun working on it even before the 2003 posting of Terms of Enhancement, on which she and Jason White had been advisors.
We'd decided from the get-go that Romana, a walk-on in the original story, should be a lead character in the sequel, and Jordan had written the opening scene and several others by the end of the year. But life happens, and she faded from the superheroine fiction scene to pursue a real-life career. But she's been honored here in the name of a new Protector... I finally decided to go with what we both had, and began posting the story four years later. But it was slow going after that, and the worst of it was my own fault – getting Romana into trouble and not finding a good way to get her out of it. Even when Velvet created the character of Marcelo, I mishandled him in an update more than a year ago. But I started working on the story again a few months ago, and finally did right by Marcelo and his relationship with Romana. That also involved developing backstories for both of them, and the backstories and front stories come together in the conclusion.
Also new to The Bright Empire, although it isn't a new story, is Shadar's "Blind Justice." It was posted at his site in 2005, and is closely related to the Ordinary Velorians series. But the link wasn't updated a couple of years ago when Shadar re-registered his site as a .net instead of an .org. Naomi Kim'Vallara is the heroine, and she finds herself trying to do a Protector's job without being a Protector. It's intense, and very violent – be warned. But it's one of his best. The only edits I've made were to update Aureans to Aureans, and add an explanation as to why the general public in Naomi's world hasn't heard about any of it. Note: further edits Sept. 29, 2016, to tie in this story better with Ordinary Velorians, The High Cruel Years and "Delphic Obstacles."
First Protector was first conceived by Shadar in 2006, and the two parts of his original version still appear at the AUOW site. But when he bequeathed AU-3 to me recently, this was the first project I wanted to take up. I'd taken over and completed two major stories of his, The High Cruel Years and Encounter at Westfold, and in both cases I had some world building to do – Shadar has never been terribly interested in that. But First Protector has been more of a challenge, because it's set near the close of the 15th Century, yet contained obvious anachronisms like "coeds" and "OK." Beyond that, it didn't give any sense of how Tazzi's World came to be as it was. I didn't want to burden the narrative with information dumps, and I wanted to be true to the characters – perhaps truer than Shadar. Kev, during the course of the story, turns out to be half-Aurean –but before that he seems too human in relation to Jana, and thereafter too superhuman (and too ignorant of things Velorian) in relation to Vespyr. So I've tried to steer a middle course. As for the background, it occurred to me that the third part should get into not only the journey of Vespyr to Velor, but what happens to Kev and Jana on Tazzi's World – where they are in peril for having defied Gazrall in conniving with Vespyr. It was through their story, I found, that I could do some historical backfilling about Tazzi's World itself – to account for how such a necessarily insular and conservative seeded culture could have evolved into the cosmopolitan and hedonistic one Shadar imagined. And even how the planet got its name! By the way, today's the eighth anniversary of the Hostway version of The Bright Empire.
A Blast from the Past. You're familiar with "To Be a Scribe," Shadar's "autobiograhy" of Shara'lynn Beset'yul, who missed out on becoming a Protector and was assigned instead to be the Scribe known on Earth as Sharon Best. But she had a best friend, Jaime'Lee Smeyd, who did become a Protector on the world known as Rapik. I hadn't know that her story, too, had been told, by Shadar in collaboration with JH, who chose then and still chooses to remain nameless, but posted archived files for it recently at the Aurora Universe Readers Group. He never had a title for it besides "Digging through the Archives," and that's just how the story is told - as an official report with lots of footnotes. But it's a fascinating piece of world creation as well as a moving story of Jaime... and Shara'lynn , who is also assigned to Rapik - but forbidden to help her. I put the pieces together, and made slight edits, as The Downfall of Rapik.
A New Year begins, and what better way to begin it than with another update of Book Two of Empress of the Dawn? But I have to be honest, and also give credit where credit is due. I had planned to make this a Winter Solstice update Dec. 21; only when Velvet read my original draft of the new chapters she told me in no uncertain terms that they needed work – they were too sketchy, too pompous, too "tell" instead of "show." She was absolutely right; I'd gotten lazy, or at least inattentive. So I've been back over it for the last 10 days, trying to make it a better story (I'd already addressed some other problems others pointed out to me, such as details of technological progress on Andros – and a certain painted statue...). Not constantly, of course; there've been distractions like my day job with a trade magazine, catching Skyfall (maybe the best Bond movie ever), The Hobbit (dreadful) and Les Misérables (a classic, really moving), Christmas shopping...
My 12/12/12 update isn't actually something new, but something true that has long been lost to us. Lisa J. Binkley's "Questlings," part one of a projected three-part saga about the flawed protector Nov'ayul, first appeared in 2001, before I'd even heard of the Aurora Universe. A few years later, it was put up at Fictionwise, a commercial e-book site, but for copyright reasons had to be revised as a non-AU story. Barnes & Noble bought out Fictionwise a year or so ago to eliminate one competitor to Nook, but it turned up its corporate nose at "Questlings" and a number of other works and deleted them. That left only a single chapter of the original version at Lisa's site. Until she can get around to updating her site (and, hopefully, adding to the saga), I'm offering it as a Showcase item. The text is exactly as written 11 years ago, although some of the consensus background of the AU has changed since then. It's a true classic.
One thing about online fiction is that it allows for second and even third thoughts. I've been having some about Empress of the Dawn, but not in terms of the basic plot – rather, the relationships. It has dawned on me that Kalla Zaver'el has never had any experience with a functional human family as opposed to individuals and overall social structures until the reign of Methodios. Jayar was raised in estrangement from Feodor, and was an only child. Methodios was estranged from Jayar, and later his half-brother Kyros. But he turned out to be a good father himself, loving towards and loved by his daughters, some of whom have already figured in the story. In the latest update, I am putting greater focus on that, adding scenes to previous chapters to offer glimpses of other members of the family and how they come together in times of crisis. And there can't be a worse crisis than what unfords in the final chapter of the story of Methodios, which ends with the worst possible cliffhanger. Up until now, Empress of the Dawn has offered war and intrigue, politics and progress, as seen from the viewpoint of a Velorian who has made it her mission to bring enlightenment to a world as well as pleasure to the patriarchs. What it needs most now, and in chapters to come, is heart.
Springing into Fall, a major update to Empress of the Dawn, in which Kalla faces both her greatest opportunities and her greatest challenges during the reign of Methodios as patriarch. I'd been working on two chapters, which have now grown into three, that foreshadow the future of Andros as outlined by Shadar – not only the import of advanced technology that hints at a home-grown space program to come but the threat of Kyros, Methodios' half-brother and heir to the throne because the Patriarch has never had a son of his own. But the first drafts were too sketchy, some of the characters and devices thrown in too arbitrarily to serve the plot instead of being worked into the background beforehand. And I wanted to have at least some impression of Methodios' daughters and what they were up to. I end here on an ominous note, but the end is not yet....
A short update today: another chapter to Part Two of Empress of the Dawn. Also revised the previous chapter a bit, and corrected some typos in the rest. I'm working on a couple of other chapters but I'm not satisfied with them. Real Life, Real Vacation, and other distractions have slowed me down lately, but I hope to catch up soon!
A short update today, but heralding a significant change in direction for Countdown to History. I'd been enamored with the idea of Kira and Roy tracking down Alfred Hitchcock, who somehow found out about the Manhattan project – a bottle of uranium was his maguffin in Notorious because "that's what they're going to make the bomb with," he his screenwriter Ben Hecht. But it occured to me recently that the reaction of Leigh Brackett (the real sf writer I'd envisioned as their Hollywood contact) would not be at all receptive to the idea of their proposed melodrama about a mad scientist and an atomic bomb. So Kira will have to find another way; that will involve her finding out about another nuclear physicist who has mysteriously disappeared from UC-Berkeley. New text and allusions to future text in red, as usual... Also adding links that were missing to "Dear Diary," a Shadar story related to his "To Be a Scribe."
It was ten years ago today that I made my debut as an Aurora Universe writer with The Defector. I didn't know then whether that story would lead anywhere, but it did. It hasn't always been easy, and there have been pitfalls along the way. I've written some good stories and some bad ones, and some that I thought were good but nobody else did. But those that have appealed most to me, and to others, have been long-term projects – part of an unfolding history.
Book Two of Empress of the Dawn, which continues here with Chapter One of Part Two, covering Kalla's first decade with Methodios as Patriarch, is one of these. I was fascinated with Shadar's outline for what amounts to a generational saga in which Kalla helps shape the history of the world where she was originally sold as a mere Companion to the Patriarch Feodor, even though I have had to alter some of the details. But at the end of this chapter, I'm getting into one of his key ideas – importing technicians from off-world; anyone who knows the difference between "sun gas" and "water gas" will understand why. Along the way, though, I've become interested in how progress might come in different ways at different times on different worlds; the swamp gas project is an example of that (No gaslight period, though!). And I want to convey a sense of how, after more than a century on Andros, Kalla knows more of its history, at least some of its details, than anyone else: she is the planet's memory, and she can see and interpret the past as nobody else can – and pursue her vision of the future accordingly. It's a learning process for her as well as for the Androssians she works with – and the reader.
Nothing that serious in "When We Dead Awaken," which was started at Superwomenmania but has been continued here. The last round-robin entry by Matt Reyes added even more wheels to a wheels-within-wheels conspiracy story line involving just where Caramel Fox came from and why that's so important to so many people. My own update today is a bit of fetish raunch between her and Brian, but the upshot is that she recovers her memories. I hope somebody will take the hint and help wrap this up; if not, I'll have to do so myself.
Book Two of Empress of the Dawn, part of which was posted here May 31, continues with Chapters Four and Five, which complete the story of Kalla and the second Patriarch to whom she is a Velorian Companion. As before, the challenge is to maintain a sense of continuity in chapters that take place decades apart, and to focus on both the central characters and how the world of Andros is changing around them. Kalla has a lot to do with that change, which was a focus of Shadar's original outline for the story – an outline I am trying to follow in spirit, even though I am changing the details. Also added the Wayback Machine archive of Julie of Velor to Links.
Empress of the Dawn, Book One of which was posted here well over a year ago, is another work in progress – except that you get to see only the finished parts as I complete them. There are a number of reasons it's taken until now to begin serializing Book Two, but the main reason is structural. In Book One, after Kalla arrives on Andros, the story covers a relatively short and continuous period of time. I knew at the outset that Book Two would have to cover decades, and yet somehow maintain a sense of continuity. I'll explain at greater length in Behind the Stories, but I want to thank Velvet Belle Tree for having suggested the ending of Chapter 3, which inadvertently gave me the key to how the handle the transitions between chapters. Another problem with Book Two turned out to be the chronology; given that Androssians generally live to the Biblical three score and ten, there wasn't any way that Kalla could have completed her indenture by the time Kyros came to power, as in Shadar's original outline. That's why you'll be reading about Jayar having a son named Methodios. You can get a hint of how things work out from a revised version of the scene between Kalla and Ju'lette in Homecoming Two, and Book One of Empress has been revised slightly to have Kalla serving as Companion to three patriarchs.
Haven't done anything with my Occasional Blog in ages, but I have a special occasion for an update now: the debut of a new serial, Niflheim, by Tarot Barnes, previously known for Alternate Histories. His latest effort is a relaunch of Linith & Faré, his series about a young superwoman and a young Earthman growing up together in contemporary England. I've always had a soft spot for the series, and I'm glad to see Tarot bringing a fresh perspective – not to mention a whole new background mythology – to it after ten years.
Another anniversary of The Bright Empire, and I was afraid I'd have nothing to show for it. The Popcorn War has run into a hitch, and an old story of Shadar's I was trying to rewrite has come a cropper. Only thing I have to show today is "An Anthem for Protectors," a speculative rambling about a Czech religious/patriotic hymn that I think might be adapted for the Velorian Protectors. Just one of my idiosyncratic notions, but maybe somebody out there will follow up on it.
It's taken a lot longer than I expected, but I finally have an update of The Popcorn War. As is often the case in fiction, the devil was in the details. I wanted to get the heroine Romana into a jam, but I ended up getting myself into a jam because I had this idea for a cliffhanger ending between her and a naive youth she's tricked into betraying. It was a bad idea, and both Tarot Barnes and Velvet Belle Tree told me in no uncertain terms. But Velvet went further: she rescued the story by coming up with a new and better scenario to lead in to the cliffhanger for this update. By coincidence, today happens to be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Thanks to Velvet for getting me out of a dickens of a fix. As for Romana and the rest... next update will be the finale.
Evelyn York is back, and we've got her. You may remember her for "Paul," which she and Sharon Best (as Shadar was then known) wrote together, years before The Bright Empire came on the scene. On her own, she wrote a couple of stories for us, "Shopping with Katie" and "New Orders" (2005), and then... life happened. But after more than six years, Evelyn has her hand in again with "Fit for a Supergirl," a delightful piece of fashion statement that's true to our favorite fantasy, but from a remarkable woman's viewpoint... Then there's an extra chapter for "Walking Tall," by Jordan Taylor – not newly-written; rather, one I'd forgotten I had, and revised slightly here for continuity with The Popcorn War, in which the heroine Patricia will figure in events that take place before she goes solo in her own story. Another chapter for "When We Dead Awaken" was written not long ago by Matt, and seemed incomplete at the time. But it somehow looks better now with only a light edit; sure, it adds yet another wheel to what was already wheels-within-wheels plot, only... what the hell – the more conspiratorial twists the better, and we can still make further changes if Matt so desires.
Ever hear of Boxing Day? It's the day after Christmas in England and elsewhere, a day off from work and sometimes an occasion for additional gift-giving. For the the Bright Empire, two of these gifts are not exactly new: they are early stories by Jordan Taylor, originally posted at Ubergirls, Inc., which has been defunct since early 2005. "Crazy for You" is one I already had prepped for here; I can't remember why I didn't post it at the time – maybe I was nervous about the reaction to the idea of how unsafe sex could be with a superheroine, at least in a world where there isn't any gold gimmick to safeguard the unlucky man. "Supreme Power" was an attempt to get a round robin going, as indicated in a note by Jordan at the end; I don't think there were any takers then. Perhaps there might be now. Meanwhile, in "Imposters in Crime," Velvet takes on the syndrome of some writers turning famous writers into characters in mystery novels without doing the slightest research on those writers or their times. As usual, her scalpel is sharp.
I'm at last seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for The Popcorn War. If you do a word search for "Popcorn" on this page, you'll see how far back the history goes on this one, which began in 2003 with an idea Jordan Taylor and I worked out between us. I've added a couple of updates since the section we'd worked on was first posted in 2007, most recently last March. I deliberately made that last a cliffhanger, but I didn't know how I'd be getting Romana out of peril or wrapping up the story. I'd had the idea of the Penis Swamp for months, but only in the last few days did I figure out what would happen there – and now I know how everything will work out, for Romana and Cristina and the rest of the Legião, for the other characters (new and old) and for Novo Recife itself. As usual, I owe a lot to Jecel Assumpção Jr., who has corrected my regional Portuguese and come up with local expressions like "carroça de carga" for pickup truck. But I managed to invent "levandor" for elevator – as with "carroça," abductees from the Brazilian Nordeste some two centuries ago couldn't have brought the modern words with them.
Meanwhile, Velvet weighs in with another of her insightful reviews, this one of a novel called Ed King by David Guterson, who has previously won critical praise for Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), which was made into a movie five years later. But unlike a lot of reviewers, she isn't intimidated by inflated reputations or works that don't live up to deserved reputations. You've seen that before in her take-down of a movie generally regarded as iconic, Meet John Doe; or a book as well received by others as Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning. A lot of reviewers, and even more academic critics, seem to judge works by their intentions rather than their performance. Guterson's latest is a retelling of the Oedipus story, and he seems to think his mythological theme is somewhat profound. But a myth can be as good as a mile, and Velvet shows why in "Two Modernizations."
Can we make book on the Aurora Universe? Or, more precisely, Aurora Universe books? There might be a chance of that, but the overtures are still tentative and neither I nor anyone else can promise anything at this point. But Shadar and I have both dreamed of this sort of thing before, and toyed with story lines worthy of commercial publication. I think he'd done that before I ever knew him.
As If the Very Stars Had Fallen is a novel-in-progress that I began about a year and a half ago as an introduction to the Aurora Universe for people who don't already know about it. The story takes place during World War II and the Manhattan Project, and there are a lot of real people in it, from Gen. Leslie Groves to President Truman. The idea I have in mind is to mimic the appeal of Dan Brown: embedding fake history in real history. This is just a snippet, of course.
Resurrection, as those who have followed discussions at the Aurora Universe Readers Group will know, is my drastic revision of a story called A Matter of Love that Shadar began years ago, set in an alternative universe to the AU. As I've explained before, although he may well have a bone to pick with me about it, I think it makes a stronger story for XueLee to have a life of her own as a musician that she is being cut off from by her transformation into a superheroine - even if the only alternative is death from cancer. But I've tried to leave an opening at the end of this preview for Shadar to continue the story of Xsara Sylvan in somewhat the same way he intended. He had commissioned artwork for the story as a book, and maybe I can spur him into continuing with that goal in mind.
Finally, a hastily-written bridge chapter for When We Dead Awaken. Matt Reyes had started a new chapter about Caramel Fox... err, Adelheyd... and Brian Stinson. But he's apparently gotten distracted by Real Life, so to fill in I decided to introduce one of the villains - part of a group whose members get off on fantasies of superheroines being abused.
It's been more than two months since I've updated any of the fiction here. I'm getting almost as slow as Shadar. But today I want to make partial amends with another chapter of "When We Dead Awaken." I hope to finish that and The Popcorn War by the end of the year, and then... we'll see.
Just a short piece for Labor Day, about the value of labor.
And now for a guest rant! You've probably heard about Warner Bros. failed pilot for a new Wonder Woman series. Maybe you've even seen the bootlegged video of that pilot, which has to be about the sorriest excuse for a pilot ever. Did you feel burned? So did Tarot Barnes. But he, better than you or even me, can articulate all the myriad ways in which this venture was a stinker, with "Anything But Wonder-ful."
It was seven years ago today that Velvet and I met for the first time. It was a marvelous turning point in both our lives. While I was away on business last week, she watched an episode of Bones, which is supposed to be a serious and intelligent series abour forensic science. The episode turned out to be anything but. Velvet wrote a rant about that show and another popular series, Glee, that had been recommended by a friend. I'd already been upset about the state of science fiction movies and it occurred to me that as a married couple we could marry our rants. So that's just what we've done in "Where Do They Park Their Brains?"
Adding another chapter to "When We Dead Awaken," that round-robin story I began more than five years ago at Superwomenmania. I was hoping others at SWM might pick it up again, but no luck. So I've come up with some ideas of my own, and I've gone back on others' contributions for hints of other ideas to follow up on in later installments.
Still working on some fiction projects, but I can't let the Fourth of July pass without a piece about the spirit of America, which seems to be misunderstood in a lot of contemporary acrimonious debates – whether in the nation's capital or our backyards. It's called "Truth, Justice and the American Way." It was inspired by some recent incivility in our particular backyard, but it grew in the telling, as you'll see. Meanwhile, on the Links page, I've added links to UltraSexy Heroines and to the weeks of Geek Seven and Alex "Pacifist" Vincent.
Several small updates today. Since I last posted "Before Lara Croft," additional and more revealing pix of model-adventurer. Jane Dolinger have appeared on the Web, so I'm augmenting the file, so-to-speak. Same for my appreciation of composer Angelo Badalamenti; couldn't resist adding a link to a now available piece by him called "Opium Prince" that sounds very much as if it could have been part of the Nutcracker suite. Finally, an Occasional Blog entry about Shadar's latest vision of Velorian femininity.
If you haven't already noticed, Velvet has a sharp critical sense and an eye for essential details when she's writing about movies or TV. I think she wrote the best review of Atlas Shrugged, and I loved the way she skewered the reboot of Star Trek and the sacrosanct (to some) Meet John Doe. But she's right on about literary science fiction too, as with Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear. That's how it is with Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi's reboot of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy (1962). Piper (1904-64) wrote at a time when genre sf was not a royal road to riches, and he had to struggle to make ends meet. He ended up committing suicide when it appeared he could no longer support himself. That was a tragedy, because he wrote some really good sf, including two sequels to Little Fuzzy – the second published only 20 years after his death; a couple of other writers had published authorized sequels in the meantime. But Fuzzy Nation may be the first authorized reboot of an sf novel, as opposed to a TV series or a comic book mythology. Was this trip necessary? Read "A Tale of Two Fuzzys."
Dagny Taggart isn't a superheroine in our sense, but she's certainly one of the greatest heroines of modern fiction. Yet she isn't well served in the low-budget movie version of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (1957). And as Velvet shows in "The Audience Shrugged," the movie is a disappointment on a number of other counts. Rushed into production with a no-name director and a no-name cast, it's being promoted by Tea Partyers as if it were revolutionary. That can be said of the novel, whether you love it or hate it; but the movie is only for purists who can thrill to Rand's message no matter how weakly it is presented. It's got a great futuristic train ride. though...
Meanwhile, on the small screen, it's the silly season at the History Channel – or should it be called the Hysteria Channel? Instead of real history, it's offering reality shows like Ice Road Truckers and Swamp People, but that isn't the worst of it. The "history" is all about Ancient Astronauts, the Mayan calendar that supposedly proves the world is coming to an end next year, and global conspiracies. The alien visitation stuff isn't even good science fiction, and Dan Brown can think up better conspiracies. And here I thought Fox News and the Huffington Post were bad! Well, one consolation in this update; I've replaced some outdated links in my tribute to film and TV composer Angelo Badalamenti.
Just a brief update today, and not about superheroines (I'm working on that, and a volunteer at the Aurora Universe Readers Group named Matthew is working on new costumes for them). Going Mentalist is a love letter to one of my favorite TV series. One of Velvet's too; she thinks Simon Baker is really cool. Or hot. Whatever. Seriously, though, The Mentalist is a terrific show, and last night's episode, the subject of this piece, was awesome.
When Jordan Taylor moved on to a new career, it was a happy turning for her even it it was a loss to us. Although she began work nearly eight years ago on "The Popcorn War," she never had time to continue. I posted the first few chapters in 2007, and added a few more a year later. I left off then, hoping she might have time to make a further contribution, but I know now that can't be. So I'm posting some more today. It's been so long that I can't remember precisely where we wanted the story to go, altough we were agreed about the secret headquarters of the Fernandistas and the enmity of Vitor. So I'm building on that, and leading into a cliffhanger – for now. I've also made a few edits to my own "Terms of Enhancement" and a few tweaks to Jordan's other unfinished story, "Walking Tall," so that they mesh better. But I don't feel qualified to finish "Walking Tall;" like the movie of the same name that inspired it, it calls for a kind of action I'm simply not good at. If anyone reading this thinks he or she is up to the task, feel free to get in touch.
Meanwhile, I've gotten around to revisions of The Mission, the series on which I collaborated with Rob Nagle from 2004 through 2007. Aside from updating references to the Empire from Aurean to Aurean, I've toned down some of the more implausible elements. But I found that I couldn't change the overall tone of the series without rewriting it entirely – which hardly seems worth the trouble. Try to imagine it as sort of a military service comedy when you read the banter among Protectors with funny names like Mar'go and Can'dice – Rob may have missed a chance to call his Messenger Bil'ko. His own site, Within This Realme, on which he posted his unedited versions of six chapters, has disappeared, and I don't know what's become of him.
Because more people seem to come to the What's New page here than to the Yahoo page of the Aurora Universe Readers Group, I'm taking occasion of this anniversary update to promote the works of writers other than myself. I hope that any of you who missed them when they were first posted will enjoy them, and share your reactions at the AURG site.
"What's a Vel to Do?" By Velvet Belle Tree
"Rocky Mountain High," by Velvet Belle Tree
"Blind Justice," by Shadar
"Corrididor," by Shadar
"First Blood." by Shadar
That Which One Begins , by S.T. Mac
Shock of the Other , by S.T. Mac
"Conversational Velorian," by S.T. Mac
Aurora's Tale , byTarot Barnes
Julie of Velor , by AK
Marlen , by AK
"Muscles in Paradise," by Moxie
"Message Board," by Moxie:
"Obsolete," by Jordan Taylor:
"Paul," inspired by Evelyn York
"New Orders," by Evelyn York:
"One Will Come," by Jolie Howard
"Max," by Jolie Howard
"Asylum," by Xoronewithnature
"Scent of a Superheroine," by Daphne Orgone
The Weapon , by Diana the Valkyrie
Susan , by Toomey Starks
"Aftermath," by Keldstarwind
And... a few more entries at my Occasional Blog.
Another interim update here. An updated version of Ultrasybarite's Finding Sanctuary; his website seems to have gone down. Some broken links between stories fixed, and new ones added. But this being Valentine's Day, I want to appeal to all my readers: tell that special someone in your life that she (or he) is super. And for those who aren't already familiar with it, you should check out the Aurora Universe Readers Group:
We need new blood there, and maybe it can be an entry point for new writers. I was once one of those new writers. It was on July 7, 2002, that Shadar – then known as Sharon Best – made the announcement:
I have the great pleasure of introducing a new writer to the AU, one who's skill and imagination and talent excites me to no end. His name is Brantley Thompson Elkins, a pseudonym in the finest tradition of writers working outside their normal genre, and I'm so glad he's tried his hand at writing an AU story. His first attempt, more novella than story (145 pages) is available only in PDF format -- my choice as it fits such a finished work as this -- and you can either load it directly from the AU, or preferably, download it and load it into Adobe's free EbookReader. I guarantee either way, you'll enjoy Sha'Kira's story, a young woman who is Aurean Prime by birth, but with some special genetics and a unique mission. One that she turns from, thus earning the name of Defector.
He even illustrated the link to my first Aurora Universe story:
That's more than I could manage. But I do have an Other Voices section, and I'd like to give others the same kind of start Shadar gave me. It's all about paying it forward – an idea, incidentally, that originated with the great science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein.
An interim update here. After more than four years, I'm trying to get something going again with that Superwomenmania round-robin story, "When We Dead Awaken." I've also added a picture of Omega Girl – you may have seen it before; it may have been the very shot Spulo had in mind when he wrote Chapter V. Meanwhile, I'm uploading an unexpected revision to Empress of the Dawn: Tarot came up with a more detailed version of the Battle of Nesalonika, which I've tweaked just a bit. Tarot knows more about war in that kind of context than I do. Finally, a current events Blog entry that may be out of date in a few days, but the point about what's happening in the Arab world won't be.
Also known as 1/11/11, it's the birthday of Velvet Belle Tree, who has been a life-saver – well, at least a story-saver – with Empress of the Dawn. Her contributions, from writing much of the first half of the story to her criticism and editorial assistance on the rest, have made it far better than I had ever hoped it could be.
Although I wasn't conscious of it when I began I began this story, I realize now that it is the story of Kalla Zavar'el growing into a job – without her even knowing what the job is. Yet her experience on Andros will come to define what it means to be a Velorian. That was at the back of my mind when I wrote her scenes for Homecoming II and "Incident at Madstop." Now it is front and center.
What you read today isn't the entire story of Kalla as Shadar conceived it more than six years ago; that's why it's subtitled Book One: Feodor. But it's the complete book, whereas what I'd posted for my own birthday Nov. 3 was only the first part. Skietra willing, I'll get to the Books of Jayar, Kyros, Nestor and Owen one of these days. Book One diverges a great deal from Shadar's original outline; later Books may follow it more closely. He's still the father of the Aurora Universe – the inspiration to the rest of us.
Speaking of inspiration, you've all heard of "inspirational fiction." What that means is a sort of weak-tea religious fiction. I have to wonder why its authors, if they truly believe, feel the need for a weak-tea euphemism. But it's a shame, because there are books and movies out there which are truly inspiring, as Velvet shows in "Speaking of History," an appreciation of a masssive two-part science fiction novel by Connie Willis, Blackout/All Clear and a British movie The King's Speech. One is the story of time travelers from the future researching World War II in Britain – and themselves being caught up in events there. The other is the true story of King George VI, who had to overome a stammer in order to rally the nation on radio during that war. What links them is that both are about people rising to the occasion, from ordinary ambulance drivers and air wardens to the monarch – all "doing their bit" in their country's darkest hour.
Is inspiration lacking in the very genre The Bright Empire represents? New stories seem to be few and far between, in the Aurora Universe and elsewhere. Has the genre simply run out of steam, or run out of ideas? It's a troubling question, but I can't avoid facing it in "Erotic Superheroine Fiction: Does It Have a Future?" I think I have an answer, at least for myself. I hope others will comment at the Aurora Universe Readers Group. Finally, my latest Occasional Blog entry has to do with inspiration still to be found in the 1943 movie version of Jane Eyre – but you'll notice I've been putting up other entries lately. I hope to make it more than occasional this year.
Just a minor update today, my first blog entry in ages. But I'll try to follow up "Cooking the Books" with other short op-ed pieces, while working on more substantial projects.
Happy Winter Solstice! "The Long Night," a Christmas Linith & Faré story by Tarot Barnes, is just the thing for the occasion. I'd been bugging him for an Other Voices story since he posted a gag at the Aurora Universe Readers Group about a shooting star seen over England having really been Linith speeding home from a mission to catch her favorite soap opera. But he couldn't manage to turn that into a story, at least not on such short notice. So he sent me a draft of "The Long Night," with some scenes and the conclusion missing. My apologies for briefly posting that version; I'd had the false impression that he couldn't finish it in time. But he's really come through!
A few other updates. The High Cruel Years has been re-edited to change Aureans to Aureans. My entries in "Behind the Stories" are now in reverse chronological order, making it easier to find commentaries on more recent postings. I've updated the URL for Shadar's Tales of Aurora on the Links page. And here's a real treat: lawyers, as you must know, will argue about anything. According to a piece in the New York Times the other day, there's now a blog called Law and the Multiverse to take on the legal implications of weapons like heat vision.
Empress of the Dawn, the first part of which appears today, was inspired by Shadar's outline at his site for the background of a story he never wrote, about a Companion named Kalla working on the planet Andros, long after her indenture. What appealed to me was the idea of her living long enough to have pursued a number of different careers, and to help shape the progress of her adopted world. More about that in "Behind the Stories." But I also wanted to shape that imagined world for myself. I was a Byzantine history buff back in high school, and I used that background to imagine the people who called themselves Romaioi – although they weren't Roman – and the kind of society they might create when the Seeders brought them to a new world. Shadar had imagined a world peopled by Greeks from classical times; I had an entirely different idea. Of course, I was fascinated by Kalla herself – enough to give her guest appearances in Part II of Velvet's Homecoming and in "Incident at Madstop," while I was trying to work out the details of her early life. Velvet helped a lot with the opening chapters about her journey to Andros with the Scalantrans and her arrival and indenture and first days with Feodor.
But there's a lot more to this update than one story. I've been working on a novel, Countdown to History, that is set mostly during World War II and introduces the Velorians and Aureans to Earth in my take on the Aurora Universe. Only "Aureans" sounds just like "Aryans," although there isn't any connection between the two – in my first drafts, I had Aureans hedging their bets by working with both the Nazis and the Communists against the West. So I cast about for another name – one acceptable to Shadar and Tarot Barnes as well as myself – and came up with Aureans. It has a certain resonance, because it sounds as if it comes from the Latin word for gold, and we could even imagine that the Naturalists who exiled themselves from Velor early on considered themselves the real Golden People. But making such a basic change meant going over other stories at The Bright Empire to do find-and-replace – and make other minor tweaks for the sake of consistency between stories. Nearly all of that has been done, from Throne of the Gods through "Incident at Madstop," but there are a few exceptions – notably The High Cruel Years and The Mission. In the first case, the confusion of "Aurean" and "Aryan" was a plot point in the story and that has to be rethought; in the second, I'm not happy with the whole tone of what was a collaborative effort, and want to go over it more extensively... when time permits.
Another rant today, albeit a short one. "The Silly Season" is about odd news stories that are appearing out of season, and are not amusing. Also about the media's current obsession with celebrity trivia and the like at the expense of real news.
Finally, although it doesn't relate directly to TBE, I am happy to announce the resurrecton of Infinity Bridge. Created by the late Douglas W. MacBeth, who wrote much of the best Aurora Universe fiction ever, it was brought back by dedicated fans after his death in a plane crash in 2001. Lisa Binkley had been caretaker for the last eight years, but the demands of Real Life had gotten in her way, and there was a problem with the password that should have allowed for a change of ownership. Tyler Spivey donated a complete archive of the original site to the Aurora Universe Readers Group after the site went down, and Tarot Barnes registered a new domain and uploaded the files over this past weekend. It's all there now.
One of the elements of Aurora Universe mythology is that the Galen themselves once walked the Earth, or at least created the pagan gods who walked it for a time and then withdrew or were withdrawn to other worlds. It is supposed that the Galen saw the error of their ways, and came to believe that Terrans should be left to find their own destiny. But they left behind the pagan mythologies they had inspired and, in "How to Succeed in Religion," their Proto agents (with advice from the Scalantrans) are trying to clean up after them by fostering another faith. It's a very sacreligious story, of course... But it also has some sex, and even a bit of heart at the end.
Velvet Belle Tree, meanwhile, commits a secular sort of sacrilege, taking down a film, Meet John Doe, that is widely regarded as a classic. After all, it was directed by Frank Capra, who was already beloved for screwball comedies like It Happened One Night (1934) and the idealistic political drama Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). He would go on to make the perennial favorite It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Neal Gabler, introducing Meet John Doe on PBS, rhapsodized about how "serious" and important it was. After she saw it, Velvet wondered what film he'd been watching. Get real/reel, she tells us in "Meet John Shmoe"
Plus I have updated versions of three essays. There's now a book out about Jane Dolinger, subject of "Before Lara Croft, Before Indiana Jones." The links are different, and the argument is elaborated in "'Peril' Revisited," but the issue is the same. In "Angelo Badalamenti: An Appreciation," dead links have been replaced with live links, and new links added, to give you a better impression of one of my favorite contemporary composers. "Behind the Stories" had fallen behind over the past year, without any notes on "Second Opinion" and "Close Orbit," so I've updated that, too. And as an added bonus, a look at the e-mail exchange that started my career as an Aurora Universe writer: "Losing Virginity." Of course, like some belatedly declassified CIA documents, it's redacted a bit...
"Flare" isn't a new story, but it's a rediscovered variation of a story by Douglas W. MacBeth (1952-2001), who wrote as ST Mac and whose website, Infinity Bridge, was reconstructed and maintained for nearly a decade after his death, but has recently gone down. At this writing, Ed Howdershelt has created a Yahoo group to archive files retrieved from the Wayback Machine [Note: a new URL was later created for Infinity Bridge; see Nov. 3, 2010 update.]. As for "Flare," the version here dates back to 1998, but it is tagged as Version 1.7, whereas the one at Infinity Bridge is 1.0 and does not include edits by or credit to "Sharon Best," as Shadar was then known. I've gone through Version 1.7 to correct grammatical and spelling errors (Scalantran was "Skalantran."), but otherwise left it untouched.
Another mystery story this time, but a musical mystery. Ever wonder when and how a particular kind of music – or, for that matter, literature or painting or whatever – originated? It's the sort of thing that fascinates me as a science fiction historian, but "Musical Family Ties" has nothing to do with sf – or, at least, only in a teaser at the end that might or might not inspire somebody to write a variation of the alternate history story. What it's about is my own obsession with a particular kind of music – film noir jazz – and where it came from.
Murder on the Orient Express is a classic mystery novel by Agatha Christie that was brought to the big screen in 1974 and has been adapted for TV more than once. But in the latest British TV adaptation, which aired in the U.S. July 11, the mystery is as much about the story as in it: What possessed the writer and director to trash the character of Hercule Poirot, Christie's beloved detective? I can't find any clue in reference to their other works to suggest a hidden agenda, and yet their approach seems to be systematic rather than random, as Velvet demonstrates in "Murder of the Orient Express."
Countdown to History is a work-in-progress that takes place in 1944-1946, at the dawn of the Atomic Age. Kira is involved in it, and that's about all I'm going to say here because I don't want to give away the plot. That's because the whole story is one I might actually sell – I hope I can make it that good. But it's part of the Aurora Universe mythology, and specifically addresses how and where and when Kira "came out" to the President. In the extract here, Groves is Leslie R. Groves, the general in charge of the Manhattan Project, who has already been approached by Earth's Protector. He's shot a film showing her holding up a huge test casing called Jumbo, but it turns out that the President needs more convincing than that – and Kira isn't quite up to speed on some matters of protocol and colloquial English. But if you've ever wondered how the relationship between Kira and the U.S. government began, here it is.
I'm working on some other free stories for The Bright Empire, but they haven't quite jelled. Have patience!
Flashforward was a promising science fiction TV series when it debuted last fall. Based on a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, it began with nearly everyone in the world having a blackout during which they saw visions of their own futures six months hence. They weren't all good futures; and some didn't have any flashforwards at all – meaning, presumably, that they'd be dead by then. It was a provocative premise, touching on serious issues like free will versus predestination. But there were problems from the start – such as why the the blackout had happened in the first place, and who was behind it. Complications were piled on complications, perhaps as teasers for a second season. Only there won't be a second season; the series was canceled, leaving frustrated viewers with a cliffhanger ending that will never be resolved. Reading the book doesn't help, either, as Velvet explains in an overview.
Not exactly new is Shadar's "McCloud's Daughters." But after he had trouble with re-registering his site, I made it available again here. There is one change; after he posted the story at AUOW, he decided to change the name of his hero from Ben Smith to Ben Shaffer – but he never actually made the change in his version. So I've changed it for The Bright Empire. Now you can read it, and go from that story to its sequels – my own "Bird of Paradise" and Ultrasybarite's "Finding Sanctuary."
A rant this time, about what seems to be an epidemic of rampant stupidity. But while I'm at it, I want to remind readers of Tarot Barnes' Aurora's Tale, which didn't get much readership when it was originally posted. That was before his Alternate Histories site went on hiatus, so The Bright Empire is the only site hosting any of Tarot's writing at the moment. I think it's a great story, and it offers a completely different take on Aurora Fairchild than Shadar's original version at the old Aurora Universe.
It's been five years to the day since The Bright Empire moved to its current address, and seven years to nearly the day since it was created. That calls for a real update, not just dribs and drabs. First off, there's "Incident at Madstop," a story set at the interstellar conference that created the Enlightenment. But it's only tangentially about the conference itself; rather, it centers on a politician who was foolish enough to bring his children along to the hellish planet that is playing host. They get into trouble, of course, and...
Finally, finally, there's the conclusion to Encounter at Westfold, the story of Kyreen – Aurean born, who needs help from Rostran to bring her baby to term. But her world needs help, too, against the very people who sent her there in the first place. That too must come from Rostran, where you need a scorecard to keep track of the Supremis variants. It's decades after Shadar's Shore Leave saga, so you'll learn new things about that world, and about Alisa Liddell and her husband Andre Kalik, in the course of the story.
And speaking of Shadar, there's "Power of Blue," a previously unposted story he wrote five years ago that, because of its technological and social background, seems to tie in with the Rostran saga and with the post-Theel'dara reforms on Velor. So I made it so, with his approval. It's set on Varig, an Enlightenment world, where a touching romance involving a local cop and a Velorian brava turns on that invented background. It was intended to be the first of a series, and it might still become the basis of a police procedural series -- that would be something fresh for the Aurora Universe.
But there's more. Kalla, the Companion of Andros, makes an appearance in "Incident at Madstop." That and other matters of canonical consistency called for mostly minor but some significant updates to other stories – including Homecoming Parts One, Two and Three, parts of Ordinary Velorians, "Pictures of an Expedition" and "Bird in Paradise." The most important change has to do with a certain social change that Kalla brings to Andros... Cosmetic re-edits to Emigrants and "Hit Me with Your Worst Shot" involve the timing of a space battle and a reference to jazz. And the first part of Encounter of Westfold as well as posted chapters of the second have been gone over to create "native" Westfoldan words for foreign science, and to improve the story flow. Yet another change, this one only of title: "Relentless Breasts" is now "An Unsuitable Job for a Messenger." The original title was exploitive and just plain dumb. The URL remains for statistical purposes.
Just a President's Day blogatorial today, but there's a major update coming next month to mark the fifth anniversary of The Bright Empire in its second incarnation. A new story set at the Madstop Conference, continuation of at least one serial, and canonical and other edits to some previous stories.
Happy Groundhog Day! Whether or not Punxatawney Phil actually saw his shadow, the latest go-round about climate change has left us wondering whether we are truly seeing the shape of things to come or only the shadows cast by people who want to pull the wool over our eyes. But it's always a tough job for us laymen to judge "expert" opinion. Isaac Asimov addressed the issue once, and I address it again in "The Groundhog's View."
Four years ago, I wrote a script for an episode of Athena, a proposed video series for Steele Productions that never materialized. Like Throne of the Gods, it grew out of a plot idea I'd once had for a straight science fiction story, a variation on Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven (1971). In that novel, filmed twice, George Orr has "effective dreams:" he can change reality through those dreams – so completely that nobody else knows it has been changed. Except, somehow, a psychiatrist to whom he has appealed to help find him a way to stop having those dreams – but instead exploits them to "improve" the world and his own standing in it.
It's a powerful novel about the temptations of power, but flawed by the fact that there's just no way that Dr. William Haber could have learned that reality had been changed. So in my own variation, Daymares, I imagine that Amy Burgess has the same power as George Orr – but only within the limits of her knowledge and understanding, and without truly knowing that her effective dreams have been anything but nightmares about events that never happened. Also without having changed aspects of reality she didn't know about. It's a loose end that motivates the story.... I think it began, for me, with a vision of the little girl who became Amy Burgess crying, "Make it didn't happen."
Every once in a while I get disgusted. Now is one of those times. It's all about the exposé of climatologists who, according to hacked e-mails, may have been playing fast and loose with the truth about global warming.
What disgusts me is not only that scientists may be prostituting science for political ends, but that the news media have been reacting based entirely on political grounds – either to play up the scandal if they're conservative or play it down if they're liberal. Both sides are ignoring inconvenient truths – that the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) theory may an exaggeration or even a falsification on one hand; and that there may still be a problem (as indicated by polar ice shrinkage) even if AGW partisans are fudging the figures.
Either way, with the Copenhagen summit on climate change imminent, global decisions on public policy are at issue – and nobody in the news media seems to have the slightest interest in getting at the truth, whatever that may be. Read "No Nose for News."
A birthday present from Velvet to me – and all of you:
One day this summer, Brantley sent me an announcement of a writing contest with unusual requirements. The story had to be a futuristic romance of 1,500 words and it had to use the following four words: amulet, amber, sword and dust bunny. Yes, I said dust bunny.
At first I thought, "what could anyone write using those words?" And then I got an idea and thought I'd have some fun with it. Some I took some pulp sf and mixed in some erotic romance and came up with "Stella Victorious." When Brantley read it, he was really rolling on the floor laughing his ass off, and I hope it has the same effect on you.
And the most amazing thing happened: I won the contest! Of course, I have no idea if anyone else entered ...
Ever wonder how the Aurean Empire discovered Earth? They weren't supposed to know about us, that was never part of the Plan – certainly not the Plan of the Galen. Tarot Barnes has a whole new take on that development in "Making Contact," a story that will in time become part of the background of his new version of the Aurora Universe at a reborn Alternate Histories site. It's like nothing you've read about the Aureans before – but you can expect that from Tarot. And you're getting to read it here first!
Also of note: Emigrants (see below) is now illustrated. Also, I've added commentary at Behind the Stories.
And now for something completely different. Emigrants is an Aurora Universe story without any Supremis. Well, they're out there, but not up close and personal. They're essential to the background, and yet the foreground is occupied by ordinary humans and their Scalantran allies. Oh, and the Therans, too. Remember them from Lisa Binkley's classic Questlings?
The humans are natives of Belside, a world created by Binkley and used here with her permission. She had always had it in mind that Belside would fall victim to the war of the Supremis that has engulfed the Galaxy, and in Emigrants its destruction has come – without warning, without even any clear motive. Among the survivors after the cities were nuked is Tuva Armaan, leader of an encampment of refugees in the Wild. Other survivors, besides those at his and similar encampments are the crew of the Asman -- a ship just returned from a trial run of the new Quantum Electric Drive that promises to revolutionize interstellar travel.
Armaan is recruited to go with the Asman on a mission to find help for those left on the planet or, barring that, to find... the fact that the woman with whom he finds love in the course of their journey is Prima Kelsor, granddaughter of the drive's inventor, should be a tip-off. Now, go and read how history is made!
Today is our anniversary, Velvet's and mine. What better way to mark it here than with a new story by her? "The Hunting Horns of Hades" is straight science fiction, nothing to do with the AU. But it's really good. Great. I love Velvet, and I love the way she writes. You will too, whether you've read her fiction before, or are new to it. This is like nothing you've seen before.
Evelyn Rose, a.k.a. U1trawoman, had a brief fling with the Aurora Universe a couple of years ago. She is currently a partner The League of Amazing Women, which specializes in photo stories of superheroines in peril from supervillainesses -- not my cup of tea. She also has some excellent superheroine art by herself and others at her Deviant Art Gallery. I consider the ten chapters of The Adventures of Vyr-Na she wrote in 2007 a welcome variation on AU lore, and they end on a note of hope amidst the peril. Maybe someday U1trawoman will take up the story again.
To mark the summer solstice, a couple more hot babes at the Gallery. Zanele's been seen before in in Tanzrobian Nights and Murk and Reprisal, but she might be seen again in a later story about the Madstop Conference. Reb'emarix, a Geheimite agent, will be seen there for sure. Also new in Real Life Heroines: film director Kathryn Bigelow.
Now for a blast from the past, but with an eye on the future. "To Be a Scribe" seems to have gone through several versions at the old Aurora Universe site. Shara'Lynn, known on Earth as Sharon Best, was both a continuing character and an alter-ego for the artist now known as Shadar -- and as a character she appeared in other writers' stories as well. But she hasn't been seen much since the demise of AU-2 in 2003. I found some early episodes archived at a mirror site (from which they have since vanished, although some ancillary material remains).
For this edition, I updated the story as best I could in keeping with the current canon (especially about the nature of the Rites, and who takes part), but kept the original text intact for the most part -- including the kinkiest scene (I turned another kinky scenario into a dream, but only because Shara'Lynn wasn't wearing gold in the original veresion and it didn't seem plausible to introduce same.). Plus there's a classic and classy shot of our heroine. I hope there will be a revival of the Shara'Lynn; there could be lots of new stories about her.
Another blast from the past: a discussion from 2003 about the basic appeal of Aurora Universe fiction.
Star Trek! Is there anybody here who didn't grow up on it? Even the Aurora Universe grew up on it: the Prime Directive, the Enlightenment facing the Aureans as the Federation faced the Klingons. Now there's a new movie version, which critics seem to think has breathed new life into the classic. We went to see it, Velvet and I, and came out underwhelmed, to say the least. So we both decided to write about it. I provide the overview in "Star Trek: Biography of an Institution," while she skewers the movie itself in "Star Trek: the Motion Sickness."
Another work-in-progress this time, and maybe some of you superheroine fiction fans out there can help it progress further. "It's U-Girl and You Should Know It" was begun a couple of years ago as a possible e-book from outside the Aurora Universe: Ordinary Girl miraculously gets superpowers after being kidnapped for Kim Jong Il's harem and then buried with a nuclear bomb after insulting him. Back home, she's presumed dead as one of the victims of a serial killer. The only man she trusts is a former boyfriend, a computer security expert. An earlier draft was posted a year ago, and didn't attract much notice. But this time I'm adding an e-mail link to invite comments.
Better a week late than a weak story. That's the reason for the delay in marking the sixth anniversary of The Bright Empire. I thought I had the continuation of Encounter at Westfold ready to go. But it wasn't ready to go, not by a long shot. I was so eager to meet an arbitrary deadline, and to take the plot in a new direction, that I overlooked basic problems like a lack of narrative focus, too many digressions and lengthy information dumps. But Velvet. my best critic, couldn't and didn't overlook them. So I had to sit back and rethink the story, and a good thing I did. Now the focus is back where it should be, on David and Kyreen, and even some of the digressions are closely related to them -- the scenes of Kyreen's foster parents John and Hillary Kiplinger, who had been mentioned in Part One but never seen. It's a much better story now, with new mysteries and a double cliffhanger at the (for now) end. You're going to love Part Two of Encounter at Westfold.
Even Shadar can't remember the exact date, but from the copyright notices for his earliest writing, we know that the Aurora Universe was born in 1994 and thus celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. It occurred to me that Valentine's Day would be the perfect occasion to honor the birthday of our genre. Moreover, there has been much discussion of late, on and off the boards, about Velor -- not the Velor we know today, or even the Velor of the time of the Companions, but the Velor of its early years -- abandoned by the Galen, knowing nothing of the universe beyond it, primitive and provincial, struggling just to maintain a half-understood technology it could never create. Velor then was as unknown to the civilized galaxy as that galaxy was to Velor. And then, one day, the Scalantrans appeared, sent there without even knowing why, accompanied by humans from a Seeder world who had also been sent without knowing why. What they found, and what came of it, is the story of "Close Orbit." Thanks to Velvet for her scenes and for her editing and advice, which made this a far better story than it would otherwise have been.
Still still working on fiction, particularly projects related to the 15th anniversary of the Aurora Universe. But today is the 200th anniversary of birth of Abraham Lincoln, widely regarded as the greatest American president, and a model for others since -- including Barack Obama. But can any president inspire the nation, or the world, after "The Death of Eloquence"?
Still working on fiction, but meanwhle here is a rant called "The Blame of the Game," with my own take on the current economic crisis and "recovery plans." I'd been thinking of doing it anyway, but a friend of mine pointed out that today is the birthday of Ayn Rand, whom some commentators are actually holding responsible for the meltdown even though she's been dead for more than 25 years. That gave me one argumentative hook, but I've got plenty of others.
"The Kitty Business" is a bit of fluff, and not entirely new fluff. The original version, called "The Feline Imperative," was written a decade or so ago by Shadar in his Sharon Best days. Although it didn't really fit into the AU-3 universe, I referenced Sol Estis and the kitty business as far back as Throne of the Gods, and gave Estis and his black Russian henchman a cameo in "The Rescue." Right now, with some new tweaks to the canon, I thought it would be nice to have the first story that refers, however fleetingly, to the alpha and beta states of Velorians. I kept the feline parts of the original story, but tweaked those a bit -- plus the general background.
But the primary reason for an update now is to introduce you to the Aurora Wiki, a new online resource for the Aurora Universe. It was launched Jan.15 by Tarot Barnes, and has grown like crazy since then with entries including an overview of the AU, notes on the species players -- Scalantran and Vendorian as well as Velorian, Aurean and Diaboli -- plus the godlike Galen and Elders. There are also entries on the roles of Companions and Protectors, weapons and space travel technology, the universal calendar and more. Chances are you'll find updates just about every time you visit.
Finally, I missed this by a day, but Jan. 24 was the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh, the first personal computer with conveniences we enjoy today like mice and drag-and-drop. You can still find the classic Riddley Scott commercial that announced the revolution at YouTube:
Can't let Christmas pass without an update of some sort, even if isn't a major one, and only one item has any connection to the holiday. That one is an appreciation of the late Bettie Page, who posed for thousands of nude and semi-nude photos in the 1950s but never more memorably than in a Christmas shot by Bunny Yeager wearing a smile and nothing else. She seems old fashioned in our age of silicone and crude explicitness, and yet her image of innocent naughtiness may hold a lesson for us.
"Second Opinion" is a vignette inspired by recent discussion at the AURG about a new generation of fraul'isets – cybernetic brains housed in Supremis bodies. Just how close to a living being could such creatures seem? Their bodies would be the easy part, but what kind of minds would they have? Could they think, and more importantly, feel like humans – Supremis, that is. Given that their mission is to pose as Aureans and infiltrate the Empire, they'd better. If the Aureans ever get suspicious... But this is only the story of a prototype. The design still needs some work...
Finally, Velvet Belle Tree offers "Thoughts on West Side Story." It was a hit musical back in the day, a hip musical. Today, it may strike some viewers as dated and naive. Yet it still has something to say to people of our day, who are no strangers to the patterns of thought that can lead us into hatred and violence and destruction.
No turkey here for Thankgiving this week. At least, the updated version of Encounter at Westfold had better not be a turkey! It now includes the collaborative version of all six chapters posted in 2005 by Shadar. The story is still the same, but with the background details reworked, tweaks to some of the scenes and a flashback about the first close encounter between Dr. David Morrison and Kyreen Kiplinger -- he a respected academic, she the only survivor of a crashed Aurean ship and a Tset'lar at that.
Westfold has feared a Velorian invasion ever since accessing the Aurean side of the story, but now the Velorians have shown up -- with a different story, and different advice for scientists working on a genetic enhancement program. But a throwaway line at the end (unchanged from Shadar's version) hints that Kyreen knows more than she has let on. Does that mean she also knows what Alisa Kim'Vallara and Andre Kalik have figured out for themselves about Westfold itself? Did even Shadar know what was coming next? One way or another, there'll be a next, but not until Christmas at the earliest.
Birthday cheer for everybody! I'm 67 today, but I'm giving instead of receiving and trying to make a real occasion of it. My own "Birthday Thoughts" may strike you as surprisingly cheery for a man my age, but there is good reason for them. Meanwhile, too late to affect the election in even the smallest way, I sound off on post-election challenges in "Apres Le Deluge, Who? And What?"
"Judgment Day" is the final chapter -- well, my final chapter -- of The Mission, the long-running serial that began as a vignette by myself in 2003 and morphed into a collaboration with Within This Realme's Rob a year later. It's been eight months since my last contribution (See March 5, 2008 update), and I might have just let the whole thing die except that the story involved James Kim'Vallara and his wife Bidu Braga, who have become important to me and are part of a larger continuity I have in mind. But I couldn't summon the energy to go the last mile on The Mission until recently, and it wasn't a terribly rewarding experience. It was even less rewarding for Velvet, who did the editing. Still, it gave me a chance to tie together some strands of the Kim'Vallara saga and hint at stories yet to come. For the rest, I stuck as close to Rob's outline as I could, but he had an HEA (Happily Ever After) for Oon'ah and Xanthra on Binkley's World rather than Sanctuary.
Encounter at Westfold is one of the tie-in stories, and another collaboration, but not the same kind. Shadar posted the beginning of an earlier version in 2005 at Aurora Universe: Other Worlds, and I was intrigued to learn there that Alisa Kim'Vallara a.k.a. Liddell had married Andre Kalik, whom she had first met during the expedition to Rostran in Shore Leave, and that they had three children -- including a Protector. But Shadar never took it much further; moreover, it annoyed me that he'd made Westfold pretty much like contemporary Earth despite the fact that it had been settled 200 years ago and been kept isolated from the rest of the universe ever since then. As Star Trek's Mr. Spock would say, that does not compute. So I've been tweaking the background, adding elements of steampunk fashion and a speeded-up technological revoluton while sticking to the original story. Today's posting covers the Prologue and the first two chapters; the rest will come later -- including some sort of continuation beyond what Shadar wrote three years ago.
Another tie-in story is The Popcorn War, which was planned out by Jordan Taylor and myself five years ago. I posted as much as we had written a little over a year ago, in hopes that we might both add to it soon. Alas, Jordan is simply too busy with Real Life right now to continue with it -- but I still have printouts of our e-mails from October and November 2003 (Good thing, that, because the electronic trail was lost during a change in computers!), and a general idea of where things were to go in the undercover mission of Velorian Legionnaires Romana and Cristina to find and root out the insurgency on Novo Recife. I'd always intended for James and Bidu to reappear at the end, and they will -- just not in Chapters VII-X being posted today. There are also a few continuity tweaks to the earlier chapters, so you should begin at the beginning.
Finally, a conclusion to "The Rescue." Originally inspired by a photo manip of Power Girl in a shower, the story has taken a number of strange turns since then, most of which I didn't imagine when I started it. The conclusion has taken me longer than I anticipated, owing to the distractions of real life and the complications of the story itself. The description of the Tyrrel Corp. building and Kira's offices comes from Tarot Barnes ("Grey November"). And it took Velvet to figure out where Jeff and Olga would be going at the end. But from a vignette of gratuitous sex, I think the story has grown into a worthwhile addition to the AU canon.
There's a link at my About the Aurora Universe page that must have gone dead long ago, or else never worked at all. It was supposed to be a link to an mp3 of a classical music piece that made me think of the Protectors. Since then, somebody at YouTube has put up a two-part recording of the piece I call a Velorian Overture, and you can find the links here.
Three new chapters added to "The Rescue," with three or four yet to come -- perhaps later this week. This story has taken an entirely different direction again, just as it did in the second and third chapters. There'll be more surprises in the finale, but I think it will all hang together in the end, even if it changes the significance of the title.
Has this ever happened to you? You pick up a new novel by an author you admire, an author who has a track record of commercial success and even literary esteem. And you end up shaking your head. I know it's happened to me -- I remember how I couldn't believe that Frederick Forsyth, author of classic thrillers like The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File could come out with a dud like The Devil's Alternative. But I never picked up another book by Forsyth, although he's written a number since. Well, it just happened to Velvet Belle Tree, with Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning. She loved Tan's The Joy Luck Club, and enjoyed other books by her -- but this latest, as she puts it, is just "Drowning in Words."
Nothing new today but a small rant about identity politics to my occasional (Very occasional; it's been three months now) blog. But it gives me an excuse to report on other things. I have figured out how "The Rescue" will end up; it's just a question of finding time to write it. I have in mind another story, as yet untitled, about the Madstop Conference and the creation of the Velorian Enlightenment, which has been the subject of recent discussion at the Aurora Universe Readers Group. I may pick up on Symbala, Shadar's first Tanzrobian character, for a story about the various stages of her life. There's still The Mission to finish, although I've left that alone for quite a while. Maybe another Velorian Legion story, although "The Popcorn War" should be finished first, even if I have to do it myself. And then there are long-dormant shared projects, notably Shore Leave with Shadar...
Today, two more chapters of "The Rescue." Unlike a lot of my stories, this one I've been making up as I go along. It was only the night before last (with help from Velvet) that I came up with what Alfred Hitchcock used to call the maguffin, and just yesterday that I figured out how the third chapter was going to end. Despite the furiously gratuitous sex of the first chapter, this is a sort of Hitchcockian scenario -- a guy getting caught up in intrigue he can't understand. I found out that even Shadar didn't know who the shower scene model was, so the Vel now known as Dawn (not necessarily her real name) was out of the story. "Liz" isn't a Vel, but I know what she will turn out to be, anon...
Nothing could prepare you for the denouement of Tarot Barnes' Aurora's Tale. Certainly nothing prepared me when I read the original draft more than two years ago. It's a heartbreaker, a tragic ending that none but Tarot would dare write. But it is the climax of a tale of incredible courage and incredible loyalty, on the part of Aurora herself and the Porturegans who fight with her and for her. Scenes like the battle for the spaceport and the final duel between Aurora and the Tset'lar Tala will be etched in your memory. With some final edits by Tarot, I am proud to offer the finale of what I am certain will be a classic of our genre.
Herewith the second part of Aurora's Tale, Chapters 5-8 of Tarot's edit, with further edits by myself, almost entirely on matters of spelling, punctuation and style. The substance is Tarot's. Here the action moves to a new front, as the beleagured Porturegans pursue a strategy that doesn't seem to make any sense. Capture an Aurean freighter? Only it does make sense; it's part of a plan that may be the only hope for Betah Stronberg. Yet Aurora, worshipped by many, is often kept in the dark by the military. It's a tense relationship, and an intense one. And for you, the readers, a suspenseful one: it's not just what will happen next, but what it will mean to the Protector and her protectorates?
Real life, and another writing project unrelated to the Aurora Universe, have kept me too busy to update The Bright Empire in more than a month, or to add any fiction in more than two months. To the rescue comes Tarot Barnes, whose Aurora's Tale, a novel running to nearly 80,000 words, was being serialized at his Alternate Histories site when a rancorous thread at the Aurora Universe Readers Group led him to quit the group and suspend his writing.
I can hardly find words for how terrible I feel about that turn of events, and I hope that Tarot will see his way clear to return to the Aurora Universe community. In the meantime, he has kindly authorized me to serialize the whole of his epic -- and it is an epic. I had seen the rough draft of Aurora's Tale more than two years ago, and was overwhelmed by it at the time. I sent him some edits, and he has since worked with JH on refining the story. I had been afraid that most of that refinement had been left undone, but it turns out that Tarot had finished all but the last chapter, and he has advised me on how to complete that.
The installment being posted here today includes Chapters One through Four, which is one less than the version now at Alternate Histories. But the fourth chapter ends at a more natural break point. Moreover, I have put the text through Spell/Grammar check and made a number of minor corrections (mostly in punctuation and spelling, including Americanizing terms like "armour"), and also corrected the chapter numbers (Tarot somehow posted two chapters labeled Chapter 2.). But these were minor glitches in a powerful story -- the story of Aurora Fairchild and her struggle to save the world of Betah Stronberg from Aurean conquest while herself being threatened by the Tset'lar Tala. It is a story of triumph and tragedy, of hope and despair, of great loves and great hatreds. It's like nothing you've read before. If you read any Aurora Universe fiction, if you want to know what greatness it can achieve, you must read Aurora's Tale.
I don't usually post partial drafts of my own stories, but I am making an exception here with "The Rescue" for two reasons. First, I haven't had enough time to work on it. Second, I have to decide, not the overall course of the story, but whether Jeff should be handed off to someine else in the second chapter. The story was inspired in part by a pict Shadar posted at the AURG of a supergirl in the shower. I don't know who the model is, and if I don't find out she'll make her exit and leave it to others to explain to Jeff how he's gotten into this mess and how they'll get him out of it.
It's two days before Independence Day. But the Declaration of Independence was actually adopted on the Second of July in 1776. Anyway, chances are that people will have other things to do than check out this site on the Fourth. And, after all the depressing things, I wanted to post something uplifting. "The Spirit of America" is about how some of the most unlikely people found common cause during a flood 15 years ago. Would that it could happen everywhere.
Friday the 13th turned out to be an unlucky day for NBC newsman Tim Russert, whose funeral was today. But do all the people who have eulogized him really believe in the standards he set for American journalism? Or was he perhaps the last of his kind, leaving nobody willing or able to hold our country's leaders accountable. Is it even "The End of Journalism?"
And now the news! But only the "fashion" news. What with Shadar and Redwulf putting up a ton of Velorian fashion statements at the Aurora Universe Readers Group and View from Helm, I'm inspired to do the same. But "Hot Numbers on the Runway" was also inspired by a photo manip I commissioned from Random FX several months ago. It was supposed to be for a scene in a new Velorian Legion story, with the legionnaire basking in the inferno she had made of an Aurean base. Trouble with the result was, the outfit made little sense, and the sunglasses even less. So I put it aside, wondering what I could possibly do with it, until this whole fashion thing came up. Now I have a chance to use it, along with a related fiery shot (involving a common stage trick) that I'd come across last year. The commentary is pure fluff, with a few bad jokes and "in" references.
D-Day, and a new story has finally landed at The Bright Empire. But "An Unsuitable Job for a Messenger " [title changed from "Unrelenting Breasts" in a later post] isn't just a gag, as the old title (taken from a novel announced but never produced by a French writer a century ago) seemed to imply. While there is indeed a woman with relentless breasts in the story, it is really about a certain time and place: Belside, a world created by Lisa J. Binkley eight years ago, but set about ten years before her classic Questlings -- and centuries earlier than most Aurora Universe stories. The Enlightenment was young then, full of hope, and yet already there were dark clouds gathering, not all of Aurean making -- as a Messenger dragooned into a sexual sting operation against a Prime discovers.
My fictional muse still eludes me, but my combative muse is another matter. So I hereby offer a rant on the controversial issue of gun control: "Going Off Half-Cocked?" It's sure to offend a lot of people on both sides of the issue, and liberals and conservatives alike will probably say I'm full of shit. Maybe I'll even get some hate mail. Well, that beats getting no mail at all, which is nearly always the case with my fiction, whether the downloads are a hundred or a thousand. Fire away!
I'd hoped to have more of The Mission, alias Not Safe for Work ready by now -- but real life and a new concept by Shadar have intervened. But I do have a new essay, "Remembering Stanley G. Weinbaum." Weinbaum (1902-35) was one of the pioneers of modern science fiction in terms of creating strange but believable aliens, heroic women characters and much else. His copyrights ran out at the end of 2005, so now there are new editions of his works, and free downloads of some of them at Project Gutenberg. Weinbaum's stories were great reads in the 1930's, when little sf aspired to literature, and they're still great reads today.
It's Not Safe for Work Week here at The Bright Empire. Shadar has taken to posting NSFW pictures at the Aurora Universe Readers Group, so why not NSFW stories? Moreover, at the AU-Otherworlds group, one fan complained that superheroine fiction was getting too literary, too respectable.
I'm not about to stop writing literary fiction, but I don't have have anything like that to mark the fifth anniversary of The Bright Empire. What I have, to begin with, is another episode of The Mission, that long-running serial which began five years ago with a vignette of my own, but has since been continued mainly by Rob, proprietor of Within This Realme. Only we had kind of a falling out some ten months ago when I jumped the gun on him with Chapter 7, after he'd twice done the same to me with Chapters 5 and 6. He never posted a Chapter 7 of his own, but did leave notes as to where he thought the story was going.
Rob's writing was always over-the-top, but he had some good ideas, so after nearly a year I'm coming out with a Chapter 8 of my own. Only, because he might have plans of his own, even at this late date, I'm posting it under the title "Not Safe for Work," with a brief synopis of what has gone before (Delays between installments that were so long readers lost track of the story were another complaint at AU-Otherworlds; I'm going to try to avoid that here and wrap this up ASAP in one or two more chapters.). I hope it's entertainingly over-the-top without being too bizarrely under the bottom. Lots of raunch involving a new Messenger (The pict of Mar'ek, who also figured in "Undercover Kitty," is the first of its kind for the AU as far as I know; hope the ladies like it. And thanks to Shadar for the pict originally created by the late S.T. Mac for a Lillith of Velor story never written.). Guaranteed to have no redeeming social value.
Then there's "It's U-Girl, and You Should Know It." It's the start of a non-AU superheroine novel that, whenever I get it done, might fly at Fictionwise. But it has nothing in common with While the Evil Days Come Not, my one and only e-published commercial novel, except the genre. It's raunchier, but the continuaton is going to be serious in a different vein: Rainey will be loved by many, and hated by many others, because she steps on too many toes crusading against social evils like child prostituton. There's no hint of that in the excerpt here; it's just in the back of my head. Incidentally, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il figures in the story -- and also in a recent entry of my Occasional Blog.
You want something safe for work, after all? There's "Varieties of Badalamenti," my personal appreciation of film and song composer Angelo Badalamenti. But maybe it's not safe for work, after all -- it's filled with video links (mostly from YouTube) to examples of his work. What if your boss wonders why you're looking at that sort of thing instead of naked women?
It was five years ago today that Throne of the Gods first appeared at the old Sharon Best Aurora Universe site -- a site that was put on hiatus just two weeks later, and taken down for good a month after that. Time flies!
Not too many noticed that "Brief Encounter," a vignette about Ashotour the Kintz becoming a high-class courtesan, appeared the same day. Martha Nochimson, in a review of the longer story, had hoped to see more of "Ashotour, the quirky kintz," but that probably wasn't what she had in mind. I seem to recall that she once told me privately that her favorite kitty might become a secret agent. That got me to thinking, and a recent pict by Shadar of Halle Berry as an Aurean ambassador got me to thinking further. So here it is, Undercover Kitty. It's a riot. Literally.
I'm trying to update my Occasional Blog more often. Check it out occasionally.
Valentine's Day. How to celebrate it? Well, why not have Arish'ka, alias Marian Adams, doing some last-minute gift shopping for her true love George Gregory Grant? And running into trouble when chance places her in the path of a bullet intended for the proprietor of an art gallery? Big trouble, if the shooter or anybody else reports a woman being shot -- and not going down. But all's well that ends well, I can promise that. After all, "Hit Me with Your Worst Shot" is one of my Valentine's Day gifts to Velvet. It's got some philosophizing in it too -- just one of my things.
It's Velvet's birthday, and I can't let it go by without treating you to her latest Arish'ka story, "Inside Passage." It's one she began working on more than a year and a half ago, as part of an abortive attempt by several Aurora Universe writers to produce ten new stories -- enough to get us a Fictionwise account. Only none of the other stories got very far.
"Inside Passage" is a romance, of course, but with a difference: the Terran is the kind of man you might actually expect a Velorian to fall for. In too many stories, male writers will have their superheroines grant their favors to garden variety shlubs who couldn't possibly appeal to them. And the sex is nearly always male viewpoint. It's time for a change, and Velvet Belle Tree is bringing it.
Of course, there has to be some Important Mission to whet the interest of devoted AU readers. I ended up supplying that; it's not really Velvet's sort of thing. But I've added a new twist: the object of the Aurean conspiracy isn't anything like what you'd usually expect, and it confronts the Velorians with an ethical dilemma that Arish'ka appreciates better than even Earth's Protector Kira Jahr-ling (her first appearance in an AU3a story). But Velvet herself ends the story on just the right note, with Arish'ka and her hunk-historian lover George Gregory Grant: whatever happens, they're in this together.
Because it was meant for a showcase, "Inside Passage" incorporates more backstory than previous episodes of the Arish'ka saga (most of which are referenced by link). This might provide a platform for more Earth-based AU3a stories -- but I don't want to make promises I can't keep. To further celebrate Velvet's birthday, however, I'm offering two new essays -- "Fairness in Life an Art" and "The Perils of 'Peril'." The first consists of musings inspired by (Hereby be warned!) the surprise ending of the movie Atonement. It wanders a bit, but I do think it has the right sense of direction. The second is a rant on so-called "peril" fiction (my immediate ire being inspired by a trend in Japanese videos) -- something I consider to be a plague on the superheroine genre, although others may think it is only my equivalent of Mr. Dick's obsession with King Charles' head in David Copperfield.
Thanks, Shadar, for the picts of Arish'ka, Kira and Dani!
Happy New Year!
We all have our resolutions, but your first resolution should be to read Xoronewithnature's Wannabe Heroes. That's because, after more than three years, our mysterious author (I know hardly anything more about him than I did in 2004.) has finally resolved the story (or at least the first story arc) of Jessie/Geisha and the super soldier terrorists who have been wreaking havoc in New York. It's all there now, in a seven-chapter package of 30,000-plus words -- if you remember the first four chapters, posted here over the past two years, you can pick up with Chapter 5. Or you can read or re-read the whole thing from the beginning.
Jessie's like no other superheroine you've ever met, and Xor writes like no one else here at The Bright Empire. He's full of surprises in terms of story structure, supporting characters, action and dialogue. He's got it all. Perhaps his only fault is his modesty. He's always worried about not doing well enough, always wanting to do better. Well, if he does, we'll all be thrilled!
It's always a pleasure to introduce a new writer to The Bright Empire, and it's a special pleasure to introduce "Island Mother," the first story by Betty Bontang. Betty isn't a stranger to those of you who have followed her posts at the Aurora Universe Readers' Group -- which are always intelligent and thought-provoking. I'd thought for some time that she had the makings of a good fiction writer, and I've been after her for some time to demonstrate it. Now she has, and with a story like nothing else that has ever appeared here or, to my knowledge, at any other site. It's a superheroine story, all right, but from a culture -- native Hawaiian -- unfamiliar to most of us, but familiar to Betty, who lives in Hawaii and is studying nursing there. Yes, she puts herself in her story, but don't we all? The point is to do it well, and she does that very well indeed!
This would be the birthday of Jane Dolinger (1932-1995), if she were still alive today. Most of you have probably never heard of her, but back in the fifties and sixties she was a fave with a lot of young men who followed her exploits in Modern Man. And they were indeed exploits. Unlike other models in skin magazines, she lived an adventurous life, traveling to the wilds of South America in search of material for her books on Indian tribes and lost treasures. Modern Man illustrated short versions of her adventures with revealing shots of her killer body -- and it was thrilling to imagine making love to such a daring, intelligent and gorgeous woman. While she wasn't thought of that way at the time, she was a role model for women, and for the male imagination of women. A university professor is working on a biography of her; for now, you can check out "Before Lara Croft..."
And while you're here, check out Velvet Belle Tree's "Back to the..." Fredric Brown was a smart sf writer known for satirical novels like Martians Go Home and gritty stories like "Arena" -- the former was made into a movie, the latter adapted as a Star Trek episode. He was also known for biting short-shorts. But even smart writers can get the stupids once in a while, and here Velvet demonstrates just how stupid he got in "The Waveries," his story of what happens to mankind when an alien infestation eliminates electricity. I should have provided a link here when it was first posted some weeks back, but I got the stupids myself. Sorry, Velvet!
Today I turn 66. For my birthday, I decided to do what my wife Velvet calls a "brain dump." Everything you were afraid to know about me and didn't want to ask. But "I Tell You This for the First Time Ever" isn't the usual sort of biography; you won't find anything about my family or my education save as it relates to my own appreciation of literature and the arts.
You might wonder what this has to do with the Aurora Universe. What it has to with the AU is to explain, in a very roundabout way, why I appreciate the genre that began with Shadar, and what I feel to be my own peculiar contribution to it. And as a working example, here is our collaboration, "Lifesaver." It started as a vignette by Shadar, posted to the Aurora Universe Readers Group. Although it was a simple piece without any real backstory, I could see right away that it was set in the early years of the Enlightenment -- a period that nobody had yet written about except Lisa Binkley, long ago, in "Questlings." So I made some tweaks to the text, and added a frame similar to those of one of my favorite sf writers, Cordwainer Smith (mentioned in my brain dump). Shadar in turn made some more tweaks, supplied new artwork and -- voilà, a new chapter in our ongoing imaginary history.
More than a year and a half ago, Velvet and I began writing what has finally become Part III of Homecoming. I think her "Ship's Life" chapter came first, and then my "Bleak Landing." But the writing came really hard for both of us. What were Ju'lette and Tassos supposed to do on the rest of their journey to Velor? And where were they to go afterwards? It was already in my mind that their mission would be a failure – I wrote the epilogue before any of the story, long before Shadar came up with the idea for First Protector, and before I came up with the idea of the Tanzrobian stories and linking them to Homecoming.
Bit by bit, we came up with ideas. Velvet's exploration of Scalantrans' cohorts and their sexual initiation customs was a brilliant stroke, and made for some of the best interchanges between humans and Scalantrans. And the Youthworld -- perfect. I wish I could say that my parts all started out as perfectly. For a while, I had the really cockamamie idea of a much larger party of Tanzrobians seeking some hidden world to settle; Velvet shot that down pretty quickly. While our contributions to the final text are about equal, moreover, I still consider her the lead writer: she has been a conscientious and exacting editor, catching me out time and again in matters of style, characterization and continuity. I've agreed with about 90% of her edits, I think, and dug in my heels over no more than a couple of scenes. Of course, I had some edits too -- I thought, for example, that the Wild River had to be a lot wilder than she originally described it to have a planet named after it.
But the bottom line is that Homecoming III, like marriage, is a matter of give and take – and all the better for it.
It was nearly four years ago that Jordan Taylor and I undertook to collaborate on a sequel to Terms of Enhancement. She wrote the prologue, which gave me an education in some things military -- a "hasty" is an improvised, spur-of-the-moment firing position -- and inadvertently also inspired the title for "The Popcorn War"
We were going to alternate from there on, based on a loose outline I'd worked out, but after a few weeks Jordan didn't feel comfortable with the project -- it wasn't her world. She later began a solo Velorian Legion story, "Walking Tall," with a plot based on that of the movie -- but alas, she wasn't able to continue with that, either. At least, she hasn't been able to yet.
With her permission, I filled in the rest of an unfinished chapter in the manuscript as we'd left it to submit to a Superwomenmania workshop for collaborations, which had been really hurting for entries -- they had to postpone the deadline several times. Well, here's a version that also includes a pict of Xuxa I'd been meaning to use from the start. And it was a great start. I think that it could still be a great story. Anyone out there want to help finish it?
KeldStarwind comes out of the blue, but he's a hot new talent. "Aftermath" is a refreshingly novel take on the relationship between a Messenger and a Protector and will -- hopefully! -- become the basis of a series about Gabriel and Lysette. The first draft showed up in my mailbox Friday, July 17, with a message that began:
I've been following the AU on and off for many years now, and I've recently decided to try my hand at writing some fic. After digesting a lot of the info from the history links on the Bright Empire, I decided to start small with a quick story.
It was that same day that he joined the AURG. Maybe he'd been lurking there under another name, or names, for those "many years." Whatever, he's picked up on the basics and gone on from there. He's managed to pack a lot of background into less than 2,000 words, and blend the explicitly sexual with the tenderly romantic. Those are hard things to do.
Let's all welcome KeldStarwind to the Aurora Universe.
It was three years ago today that I met Velvet Belle Tree. She'd contacted me ten days before that, through an online matching group to which I'd dropped my subscription because I'd been so disappointed with their matches. Only they not only kept me on their list, but shared my profile with another group she'd subscribed to. Such are the chances of life. Should I believe in fate? All I know is that I got lucky. To mark the occasion, here's her science fiction romance, "The Stars My Witness." She has a few things to say about it under Commentaries at her own page.
It was five years ago, give a take or day or so (And since I was away from home July 7, I had to take several days), that I made my Aurora Universe debut with The Defector. To mark that occasion, here is "Murk and Reprisal," a sequel to "Tanzrobian Nights" and a semi-prequel to Homecoming III (still in the works, and more a collaboration between Velvet and me than the first two parts).
I had earlier worked on a scene in which Zanele gave the Scalantrans an account of how she and the others made their escape. But that was tell, not show -- one of the literary sins that beginning writers are always warned to avoid. And with advice from Tarot and Shadar and most of all Velvet, I found myself reshaping the details of the narrative in ways that should, I hope, make Homecoming III more entertaining.
It was Velvet who steered me away from an implausible plot line that would have had a whole shipload of Tanzrobians seeking refuge on another world to practice genetic engineering on a millenial scale. It was she who created the name and personality of Pimponeous. And it was she who developed the romance between Mbali and Kobe, which will be continued in Homecoming III.
Also new is a Blog entry about the coming endgame in Iraq -- not something to gladden the hearts of either liberals or conservatives. And with the much-admired Daphne Orgone having not been seen for nearly a year, and not knowing whether her blog will even stay on the Web, I've added the rest of her entries to The Adventures of Super Daph.
Summer is officially here, and with it an unusual update. Not a new story, but a lost-and-found story originally posted by Shadar nearly five years ago at the Aurora Universe 3 site, back in his Sharon Best days. "Golden Savior" (It was then called simply "Protector," but I renamed it in 2013 in order to avoid confusion with First Protector) was an startlingly unusual story for him in those days, I think -- short and kind of Hemingwayesque in its simplicity, rather than pouring on the fetish elements and hyped-up prose. Here the nameless Protector is inspirational rather than seductive, sort of a Velorian Joan of Arc.
I must have read this when it first came out, but had forgotten about it until coming across it in a Wayback Machine archive -- pict and all (Archives and caches don't usually save artwork -- that takes up a lot of bandwidth.). But when I reread it, I was immediately reminded of another story, Tarot Barnes' Aurora's Tale. Only the first chapter of that epic has been posted thus far at Alternate Histories, but I think you'll see the resemblance. Perhaps it's pure coincidence, or perhaps "Protector" was the acorn from which a mighty oak has grown.
I don't usually write rants about current issues -- there are plenty of people doing that already. But when it comes to Global Warming and Energy Independence, we nearly always hear from only the knee-jerk liberals and knee-jerk conservatives. Yet what really set me off to write "Hot Planet, or Hot Air?" was a story in The New York Times about a political boondoggle to end all political boondoggles -- a supposed "solution" to both problems that is so patently corrupt, so mindless, so totally vile in its motivaton (feed the coal companies that feed the politicians), so contrived to fail utterly in one of its claimed objectives, that... Well, even in a time of rampant corruption, I was shocked. And this disgusting exercise has won the support of liberals and conservatives alike. But I try to keep the rant itself, as opposed to this rant about the rant, clean and sober.
You must have heard about Bionic Woman coming back to TV this fall. Maybe it will be good, maybe it won't. But it's hard to imagine it could be as good as Jordan Taylor's Bionic Girl, the first part of which appears here today. This has been a labor of love on her part; she began a very different version two years ago, but wasn't satisfied with it. The present version, with its introduction of rival bionic women whose fates are intertwined, appeared at Superwomenmania a little while back, but I've corrected a few minor glitches -- and added picts. Jordan herself chose the models, and she really knows what turns men on. She also has a good idea where the story is going -- but I'm not going to breathe a word about that.
Well, this time I beat Rob to the Internet with Chapter 7 of The Mission. Things are finally coming to a head, politically. For all the sexcapades this series has been known for, my own and Rob's, our intention has always been to develop the story of Oon'ah and Xanthra as an opportunity for and a challenge to the Theel'dara Initiative of trying to win over the enemy.
There are already rumblings from conservatives back home, we learn early on. Colonel James Kim'Vallara thinks he can weather the storm, and use what he knows about the Vel-Aurean couple to prove his case. But he's about to receive a shock from an unexpected quarter -- one that places Xanthra, the other Aureans and his own career in extreme jeopardy. And Oon'ah's and Xanthra's outrageous behavior isn't helping any...
Shadar explains it all in "Invulnerable to Labels," originally a response to a thread at the Aurora Universe Readers Group about whether there could be a handy catchphrase to characterize Velorians. No way, he says -- and he ought to know!
Good Friday and good news: Part 4 has been added to Xoronewithnature's Wannabe Heroes. Xor (I have to call him something for short) is a true original, and so is his story. The heroine who calls herself Jessie (Other people call her Geisha.) and can teleport herself into and out of trouble, is like no one else in superheroine fiction, and the world in which she lives -- a world of strange villains and even stranger conspiracies -- is like nothing you'll see anywhere else. Depend on it. Some of you will pick up where you left off, others will start from the beginning; but all of you are in for a real treat.
Spring has sprung. Daylight Saving Time has returned. And so has The Mission, after more than a year. Cast your mind back to Jan. 22, 2006. That's the last time there was an update here. Also an upset, because Rob had posted a version of Chapter 5 at Within This Realme which annoyed the hell out of me. Well, I put up my own edit, which doubtless annoyed the hell out of him.
We had a few contacts after that -- the last being in July, when I sent him some material for a collaborative Chapter 6. Then nothing until March 10, when he did it again -- posted his solo version without notice. I was royally pissed at first, because I thought some of it was silly as well as going against canon -- no big deal to him, because he saw the story line as satirical; but a big deal to me because The Mission was part of a continuity I'd been developing.
But after I'd had time to calm down a bit, I could see that there was a powerful story there -- Oon'ah and Xanthra and their work with Shad'rah. Outrageous, over-the-top, but powerful just the same. And I saw how I could keep the best of that, put in a few interpolations of my own and.... It took more than a week, but I did it. So here's my version of Chapter 6, posted sight unseen by Rob. Turnabout is fair play. I hope he'll understand.
I hadn't originally planned on writing "Tanzrobian Nights," but the Aurean conquest of a world seeded with African stock by the Galen themselves more than two millenia ago had become a climactic event in Homecoming II, and part of the runup for Homecoming III, a work still in progress. It is also part of the background of First Protector, a work in progress by Shadar. At some point, however, I realized that there was little or no background about Tanzrobi. To the best of my knowledge, no other stories have been set there, and the only significant example of the Azizi was Symbala in Shadar's "Return to Earth" a decade ago in his Sharon Best days. So I began sketching some characters and Googling shamelessly for given names, proper names and a veneer of "Tanzrobian" culture in Swahili, Zulu and other African language and culture sites. Zanele and her friend Mbali will appear in Homecoming III, anon, but here their experience with the Aurean invasion can be a matter of show rather than tell.
I wasn't really expecting to offer readers any Christmas present this year. But soon after I began making tweaks to The High Cruel Years in light of comments by Tarot Barnes that the story should touch more on the Reigel 5 war in general, Velvet began making tweaks of her own to Homecoming -- adding new material about training on Erin'lah and adding more color to the scenes on Andros. I'd been thinking of uploading my updates for New Year's, but Velvet was raring to go, and had hers ready early Christmas Eve. I finished mine just a short time later. As was her original wish, both parts of Homecoming are now in PDF Format:
Homecoming, Part I
Homecoming, Part II
Parts One, Two and Three of the revised version of The High Cruel Years are at their old URLS. Parts One and Two have new chapters relating to the ground war, and changes to other chapters in all three parts reflect that. There is also a new pict in Part Three -- one I'd meant to include in the first place but somehow overlooked. I'm not going to be any threat to Joseph Kanon, but I hope the new version strengthens the sense of history.
An experiment suggested by Velvet. Today I offer a PDF version of her best Arish'ka story, "Rocky Mountain High." Her first AU story, Homecoming, was created in PDF format by Shadar when he did the initial setup for this incarnation of The Bright Empire, and is still by far the most popular work here. The sequel hasn't done as well, perhaps because it has always been in htm format. If the experiment succeeds, we may convert Homecoming 2 and other works.
Just a couple of things today. The sight of Santa Claus in the Macy's parade got me to thinking about Thomas Nast, which got me to thinking about -- well, my latest blog entry is typical of the way I think. Then there was this guy named Tim Lewis who went to the same university I did, only years later. He took over the house paper I once edited, and one of his features was a comic strip called Frog. Years after that, Ross Chmberlain, the production manager at one of the trade magazines I worked for, redrew one episode for an article that never materialized. It surfaced recently among my things, and I think it's still amusing. Kind of a variation on Snoopy.
Do you know what good comes out of?... Out of bad. That's what good comes out of. Because you can't make it out of anything else.
-- Willie Stark in All the King's Men (1949, from Robert Penn Warren's novel)
And now, Part Three of The High Cruel Years , with Shadar doing the showdown scenes with rogue Protector Zar'ya. But most of the story is mine, even though it began with an abortive story of his called "Lounge Singer."
It's been a long and complicated story, because I wanted it to be both personal and political. I wanted to play fair with the characters, a truly diverse lot: Harry Maclendon, and the Velorians Molly and Anya, who came out of Shadar's original concept. Returnees from Ordinary Velorians like Dr. Alex La'Reu and And'rea Cuppers, and more.
But I also wanted this to be a gritty political story. To do that, I had to introduce a number of new figures, including Siemsen Vozeh. They are faced with same dilemma of good and evil as Robert Penn Warren put in the mouth of his Huey Long-like leader. And yet I wanted a nearly hopeless situation to end on a note of hope, in 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.
Besides that, I wanted to build on some of the ideas Shadar and others had thrown out. Shadar created the Jellutong; I gave them a backstory. I also added a bit more about the Christla, another invention of Shadar's that I had reverse-engineered in Companions. I wanted to give the Diaboli of Arcady -- strangers in a strange land -- a greater role in the story. And there were new concepts of my own, such as bringing in Dashiella as a Protector new to Reigel 5, but old enough to have known the Companions -- and even learned from them.
But most of all, I wanted to tell a good story.
It was a little over two years ago -- Nov. 9, 2004, to be exact -- that Lisa Binkley announced at the AURG that she had placed a book review with SFReader.com. But rather than a new novel by Stephen Baxter or Harry Turtledove, the subject turned out to be Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which came out way back in 1957.
Most people who have read Rand's novel, I think, came across it in college or even high school. Some readers of that sort have become acolytes of Objectivism, as Rand called her philosophy of rational individualism; to them, Rand is the greatest writer and greatest genius of all time. Others have found Rand hard to take, to say the least -- some of them think Atlas Shrugged is the worst novel of all time, and its author nothing but a crank.
Coming to it relatively late, Lisa was able to see the novel in the light of greater experience than those younger readers, and her review may be the best ever written. She got the point, without getting all gushy or mushy -- she even placed Rand's novel better in the context of sf than I had. For I was one of those younger readers, one of those who loathed the book at first. And yet it got under my skin. It challenged my thinking. I never became a convert, for I couldn't stomach some of the things she and her acolytes said or wrote -- which struck me as neither rational nor ethical. And yet I came to share her general principles.
I tell that story in "The Road to Salvation?" Lisa's review led to some interresting discussion when it was posted. Maybe this will too.
"Al Sharpton's Cop-out" in my occasional blog is a more topical item than I usually post. But a bit of breaking news got me to ranting. I've recently created a new Links page, adding banners for some of my favorite sites. And Egoboo is devoted to flattering comments about my work here. It replaces some review blurbs for Throne of the Gods that ran below the story index -- the story index is now so much larger that probably nobody was noticing them any more. But speaking of large, this is one of the largest updates I've ever done. Consider it a holiday present.
Another birthday, and for a while I was afraid I'd have nothing to show for it. But then I got it into my head to do a spinoff of that "She's a Marvel" episode on Guiding Light -- despite the fact that it had infuriated soap fans and attracted little or no interest from superheroine and comics fans. I had this idea that Harley Davidson Cooper/Guiding Light represented a whole new kind of fantasy (I touch on that in my blog, and elaborate in "Behind the Stories."), so I wanted to see if I could do justice to it. I had only two days to write it, but here is "Electricity."
Some weeks ago, I heard from Xoronewithnature, that enigmatic author of "Wannabe Heroes" and "Asylum." He wanted me to look at two new chapters of "Wannabe Heroes," but wasn't sure he wanted them posted anywhere. Well, there were some typos and other things that needed to be fixed, but the chapters themselves were dynamite, revealing whole new perspectives on Jessie, his oddly-named Japanese-American superheroine, and the strange world of mystery and conspiracy that she inhabits. I did some edits, but didn't hear back from him after that -- until I appealed to him for a birthday present for The Bright Empire. It's been nearly a year since Part 1, which had a brief exposure at Ubergirls two years ago, was posted here. So I've put all three parts together at the old URL. Now the update is my present to all of you. If you already know how good this guy is, you'll be champing at the bit. If you don't, you're in for a treat. You've got to read "Wannabe Heroes." There's just nothing else like it.
Maybe you've heard about the upcoming (Nov. 1) creation of a superheroine on the soap opera Guiding Light, in a daring but risky collaboration with Marvel Comics. I might have made this a subject for Rants & Ramblings, but anything I say now may soon be discredited. So I'm making it a belated entry in the blog instead. Maybe I'll look prescient, maybe I'll look silly. But it will be fascinating to see how this genre crossover works -- or doesn't.
Like many of you, I saw My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Unlike many of you, I didn't care for it much. Neither did Velvet. Sure, it had some great scenes in it, including superheroine sex and the B&B fetish. But I thought G-Girl's whininess and pettiness were turn-offs. Well, Superwomenmania announced another workshop, this time on sequels. So I thought... Usually, I don't do pure fan fiction (One exception was "The Amulet of Raja."). But I had some ideas, and Shadar had just done a photomanip that would fit if only he'd tint the hair redder, which he did, and Velvet gave me a jump start. And so, "His New Super Girlfriend." It's got action, it's got sex, and it's got my usual arcana and in-jokes.
Yes, it's been a long time. But I've had a load of troubles with the laptop I use to manage The Bright Empire. A mouse gone bad; worse, a hard drive gone bad. I had it in the shop for weeks while the repair guy offloaded the files, put in a new hard drive, and reloaded the files. Then it turned out the Airport card wasn't working right and I couldn't access Velvet's wifi net. That was fixed, but then my Dreamweaver program told me it wasn't registered and it took me a couple of days to figure out how to take care of that problem. During those same two days, I happened to finish reading Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia's Honor, an omnibus edition of two of her best sf novels, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. There was a passage in the latter that jumped out at me and inspired the rant "Only the Necessary." It reflects my own mind and heart on a divisive issue now confronting our nation.
Hadn't expected to add anything again until next month, but Daphne Orgone had a brainstorm the other day and came up with "Scent of a Superheroine." Except for the title, she posted in at the Aurora Universe Readers Group. It's a scream, so I decided to give it a more accessible home here. And that scent? Let's just say it isn't honey and wildflowers!
Velvet and I are working on some other projects right now, but in the meantime we have obtained the rights to mirror the original story line of Super Daph, the diary of a teenage supergirl named Daphne Orgone. The Super Daph blog was launched Oct. 26, 2005, but its author took a long break after Dec. 6, returning only June 19, 2006. Here's your channce to catch up on the 2005 entries, rearranged in chronological order for your convenience. I've rationalized a few datelines that didn't match the text, but left the story unchanged. I enjoy giving promotional support to young writers of merit like "Daphne." You can follow her blog to read more.
There's this porn novel called Ways of a Wanton Wench that I've had sitting around for about 35 years now. Porn novels aren't usually worth keeping; one is pretty much like any other, and the publishers as well as the books are generally here today, gone tomorrow. But the erotic tale of a woman warrior named Bradamante is different. I try to explain why in "Porn with a Pedigree." And in a much overdue addition to my blog, I take note of the failure of the latest attempt at a superheroine movie and the reasons for that failure.
Just a short update to celebrate the Summer Solstice: a new chapter by Spulo for "When We Dead Awaken." Spulo had already done great work on another interactive story at Superwomenmania, "Transformatrix 4000," so I knew he'd come through and continue my story in the right spirit.
What with the press of a demanding day job, a possible Aurora Universe showcase for disk or download, and other projects, I've neglected site updates of late. So I'm trying to catch up now, even though I don't have any fresh AU material - such as Part III of The High Cruel Years - in hand,
"As You Like It" started last year as a failed parody of the Xtreme Strength type of story, and as a possible entry in one of the SGI workshops at Superwomenmania. But I couldn't finish it in time, and as it stood the draft was too gross even for me in my sober moments. But there's still a readership out there for pure fetish fiction, and I still like to cater to that once in a while. So with some major writing and rewriting... Moreover, inspiration returned to me in the form of pictures of a gorgeous African- American model from 20 years ago. Don't worry, I'm not going PC on you, like the folks at DC Comics with their lesbian Batwoman and multi-ethnic heroes. But beautiful female flesh comes in all colors. Rest assured that there is no redeeming social value here -- if you want fetish fiction, that's exactly what you're going to get.
"When We Dead Awaken" started as an interactive story at Superwomen Mania, and it's still there -- my initial two chapters, and two more by Argonaut and CK. But there haven't been any further chapters posted there in ages, even though I uploaded a re-edit not long ago to try to revive interest. Maybe posting it here will get some action. Or not. The genesis of the story was two-fold: an attack on so-called "peril fiction," which I loathe; and a fascination with cross-time travel. Do any of you remember H. Beam Piper's Paratime stories, or Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium series, in which outlaws and lawmen travel between alternate versions of the present with different histories? Some of the SWM people do, and one of them was also well-read enough to know that I'd stolen my title from Henrik Ibsen's last play.
Back when I was watching the soap opera Port Charles (See "A True Story of a Writer Come Lately" ), I wrote an essay on the blend of soap and science fiction in a time travel-time paradox story arc called "Time in a Bottle." I had vague notions of placing it with some soap fanzine or even a scholarly publication. But nothing came of that, and nobody would be interested now -- the show itself died nearly three years ago. But for those who want to see what my science fiction commentary is like -- and I've recently revived my efforts in that field -- "Time in a Bottle:" Vintage Soap Meets Vintage SF is a relatively short and painless introduction.
Nothing new for a while, but I've just updated Throne of the Gods, Ordinary Velorians and "Deer Meadow Shuffle" to reflect a consensus among members of the Aurora Universe Writers Group to remove the last vestiges of DC Comics references from the AU by changing the name of the Zor'El family to Jahr'ling and, in particular, Kara Zor'el to Kira Jahr'ling. A related change is from Rhea-El to Rhea'ling in The High Cruel Years.
Just in time for the third anniverasry of the Aurora Universe Readers Group is "The Adaptive Intimate," a non-AU story inspired by a seeming throwaway scene at the end of Larafan and Stoneyman's "Ultrafemme -- Gemini," recently added to the Story Bank at Superwomenmania. More about that in Behind the Stories; suffice it to say here that my chance encounter with that story (I'd never looked at it on the Xtreme Strength site when it was posted there in 2003) gave me a chance to write a really different ubergirl story.
This time, it's Velvet's update, with a non-Aurora Universe story she wrote for SGI Workshop 2.4 called "It Ain't Easy." Like my "Double Blind" and "Serious Radio," and Xoronewithnature's "Asylum," it had to tell its story within 1,000 words. It's a gem, like everything Velvet writes -- and her first short-short.
It's been three years now since The Bright Empire made its debut, and more than five months since a major fiction update. The High Cruel Years has been my own most popular story of late, and it's high time you saw more of it. So here's Part Two, in which the situation on Reigel 5 continues to deteriorate -- the civil war turning into a dirty war. Molly and Anya are caught in the middle; Cher'ee and James are in the dark -- and the Reigellian government is more hindrance than help. Shadar, who began the story as Lounge Singer, contributed to this part with the scenes of Molly and Anya battling the menschenjagers, and And'rea luring a Reigellian minister to more than le petit mort.
Watch for Part Three, anon.
In a somewhat lighter vein is "In the Penile Colony," which started as a joke but, as often happens with my fiction, grew in the telling (and in a hurry, too, to make the deadline for SGI Workshop 1.7). The title is a spoof of Franz Kafka's classic horror story "In the Penal Colony," but if he could read past the first line he'd be spinning in his grave. So would Aram Khachaturian -- you'll see why. You'll have a good time along with some good laughs. And some good sex which is, of necessity, missing thus far in The High Cruel Years.
When I posted his "Wannabe Heroes," I knew nothing about Xoronewithnature. I still know next to nothing. But I was crazy about his writing from the day I read his "Asylum" at Superwomenmania, it being an entry in SGI Workshop 2.3. Now you can see it here, with typos corrected and italics restored. It's one of the best short-short stories I've ever read, with unforgettable characters, an unforgettably moving relationship, and hints of an entire world in social breakdown behind the surface events. How'd he do it? Read and find out.
"Of Course He Knows That" is an essay I've been wanting to write for years, ever since I watched a TV show called 100 Centre Street and found the first episode lacking emotional honesty. But somehow I never got around to it, even though I'd had my arguments and citations running through my head from a day or two after I watched that episode. Well, I've finally done it. And it tells you something about my own approach to writing -- something I get very emotional about.
Serenedipity happens. Velvet Belle Tree doesn't have a new story this time, alas, but she does have an essay on the marriage of science fiction and romance in novels that have variously been categorized as Futuristic Romance, Science Fiction Romance and Romantic SF. For those who think sf has to be cerebral, or that romance has to be nothing but mush involving TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) heroes and heroines, "Science Fiction and Romance" should be an eye opener.
Every once in a while, Rob finishes another chapter of The Mission. I'd been waiting for the latest for several months. That was mainly because one of the scenes, James Kim'Vallara literally undressing Bidu Braga with his heat vision, was really inspired. I'd read it in partial draft all those months ago, and had a picture of Bidu to go with it -- supplied years ago by Ultragirl. Anyway, here's my edit of Chapter 5, not quite the same as Rob's version at his site. I have a proprietary interest in James and Bidu, you see, and wanted to tweak their part to suit myself. But speaking of seeing, check out the special link at the end of the chapter.
Maybe you've never heard of Xoronewithnature. When I saw his "Asylum" at the Superwomenmania Story Bank as an entry in the SGI Workshop 2.3, the name didn't ring a bell with me. But his story blew me away. When I googled his screen name -- which is still all I know about him -- I discovered that he had posted a story called "Wannabe Heroes" at Ubergirls back in 2004.
I don't recall seeing it at the time, but when I read it I thought: "Wow!" Not knowing even Xor's e-mail address (I still don't), I reached him through the message link at SWM for permission to post that story here (He plans a sequel, but Skietra knows when we'll see it.). What can I say? A brief summary of "Wannabe Heroes" would make it sound like a standard superheroine-comes-to-the-rescue story. Trust me, it isn't. This heroine isn't standard. Neither is the situation. Neither is the writing. Read it!
As another treat, a review by Velvet of a new book by a new author that you really should read. She got me to read Craig Johnson's The Cold Dish, and I hope she'll persuade you to do the same.
Big News Today! In a major reorganization of The Bright Empire, Velvet Belle Tree has been given her own page. What better way to celebrate her birthday? Velvet's Velorians & More under Other Voices will henceforth be the place to find all her stories and essays, present and future. Here's where you'll get to read the story of her literary life in her own words. Her new contemporary story, "Musings of a Rejected Woman," has been uploaded to further celebrate the occasion. It has a real bite to it as a new take on the scorned woman tale. My only contribution this time is "Serious Radio," a spoof about a Howard Stern-type making a fool of himself with ersatz supergirls and then a bigger fool of himself with a real one.
I've done it again! My Christmas Eve essay for Rants & Ramblings got such a response that I decided to try another, "On Becoming a Man." It's totally unrelated, except that it reflects my ethical perspective. It's something I've wanted to write for a long time, about a movie called The Last Prostitute which, despite its title, is really about decency and true manhood. But I wasn't entirely sure of my ground until I showed it to Velvet. She agreed with my argument. She said go for it.
This time, it's my first essay for Rants & Ramblings in a good long time. "Cultural Calvinism" addresses one of my pet peeves. Maybe it's one of your pet peeves too. Plus, I've updated my Blog with Christmas wishes.
Just a brief notice. While working on other projects, including Part Two of The High Cruel Years, I've begun a blog on the Rants and Ramblings page. It will be mostly thoughts and commentary on one thing or another as the spirit moves me -- nothing like a diary or fictional narrative. But I hope it will be entertaining and informative.
Pegasus Gate is not a superheroine novel. But neither is most of the fiction of Ed Howdershelt and Lisa Binkley. An e-book in progress by myself and Velet Belle Tree, it tells the story of men and women from diverse backgrounds who have been chosen by lottery and by fitness to colonize a new world. They have good reason to leave Earth, for Earth some decades hence is not a pleasant place to live: there have been plagues, desultory wars, and general social and economic breakdown.
New Hope is indeed a world of new hope to the few chosen to settle there. And yet it is far from a paradise. Colonists must labor from dawn to dusk to wrest a living from the land, reclaiming it bit by bit from the native ecology - which can strike back at times in terrible ways. There is an odd mix of necessary primitive and necessary high technology, but luxuries are few and far between. Those of New Hope have no one to depend on but each other, as they strive to create a society that will - hopefully - avoid the mistakes that have plagued their old world.
We have each written chapters and revised each other's. "The Widower," in which an ordinary New Hope farmer faces personal tragedy, was begun by Velvet, and revised and expanded by both of us until it took its present form.
But to remain true to the primary purpose of The Bright Empire, and with Velvet's assistance, I have also updated Throne of the Gods, correcting previous unnoticed errors, tweaking details about the Scalantrans in light of her own contributions to the canon on that people, and adding a picture of Alisa-zar Kim Vallara
Well, here it is, another birthday and nothing to show for it from myself or the usual suspects. But serendipity has stepped in. Daphne Orgone, a new member of the Aurora Universe Readers Group, has been managing a role playing Yahoo group superheroine fiction site called Bronze Babe and Friends since the end of June. The central character, also named Daphne Orgone, is a college freshman with all the usual problems of college freshmen, plus some unusual ones -- being a young superwoman and all. I've culled several scenes from early posts and assembled them into a sampler about her first day at college with flashbacks to her high school years. Speaking of which latter, Daphne also has a blog devoted to her that has drawn favorable notice from AU fans. Daphne's a terrific writer, and she has able support from her fellow RPG writers. But a word of caution: her Yahoo group is invitation only, and its members are expected to contribute characters and scenes to the ongoing story. No lurkers!
Only one new story today, "Double Blind," already mentioned here when it was entered in SGI Workshop 2.2. But this version has been tweaked a bit to clarify some points that confused Shadar, and it includes the heroic nude that inspired the story (See more about that in Behind the Stories.). But I've done a few updates on other stories. Part One of Velvet's Homecoming is now available in htm as well as PDF format, with a link to Part Two that the PDF is missing. We hope that more people will read both parts now -- and Part Three whenever it comes. Also new are two mp3 music links: James and Bidu's love song in he final scene of Terms of Enhancement, and a snippet of Reddick Mallard's "angry music" in Chapter XXVI of The Defector. I may try more such embellishments in the future.
There's a famous story by Frank R. Stockton called "The Lady or the Tiger," in which an accused man is brought to an arena and asked to choose between two doors. Behind one, a beautiful woman. Behind the other, a man-eating tiger. But Lt. Ken Dahl has no such choice in Evelyn Y's "New Orders" -- it's the Lady and the Tiger in another chapter of her work-in-progress called Project SG, centering on the genetically enhanced Katie O'Grady. When Dahl's assigned to serve her needs, it may mean love or death or both. Meanwhile, I've got an entry in SGI Workshop 2.2 at Superwomenmania.com. "Double Blind" is a story about two people whose lives cross paths on a remote world, a man and a woman who work together but don't truly know each other until one fateful night....
The High Cruel Years is set on Reigel 5, not long after Ordinary Velorians. Begun by Shadar and continued by myself, it's a rather grim story and promises to become grimmer, because it's about the disintegration of a world in a cruel civil war fueled by fanatics. You'll recognize parallels with the fate of Yugoslavia, but the heart of the story is in the decent people -- Reigellian and Velorian alike -- who are trying to hold things together. For comic relief, there's "Shopping with Katie," a sample chapter of a work-in-progress by Evelyn Y, whose "Paul" has become legend and whose input to my Sleeping Beauty was crucial, but who hasn't been heard from for quite a while. What, a story about a shopping trip? Trust me, you'll love it! And Evelyn also shares her thoughts on the superheroine theme in a short essay.
Just one story this time, "Bird in Paradise." It's a sequel to Shadar's McCloud's Daughters and Scrumbles and a prequel to Andy's Finding Sanctuary, which made it really difficult to keep things straight and maintain some continuity in the lives of Ben Shaffer and the McClouds -- especially since even Shadar isn't entirely clear on some matters. But he has himself to blame for us writing it, because he announced the story at the end of McCloud's Daughters and then left it as yet another of his great unfinished projects.
Another double feature of Arish'ka to mark the anniversary of the first moon landing: Velvet Belle Tree's "Rocky Mountain High" and my own "Deer Meadow Shuffle." These being the first stories posted since our wedding July 3, they may satisfy some readers curious as to what the first Aurora Universe marriage will mean to Aurora Universe fiction. Both stories are raunchy, of course, but in a way we hope will appeal to both men and women. Aside from that, they stand apart even though they stand together -- Velvet's is tied in only with previous stories in this series, whereas mine is a much-belated sequel to "Mundane Secrets of the Yo-Yo Brotherhood" -- not about Charmin, whose destiny was revealed in "Sleeping Beauty," but the people she left behind in a small town in Washington. And there's a nod to the Diaboli of Andy Yakovsky....
It's finally here! What you've all been waiting for. Part II of Velvet Belle Tree's epic story Homecoming. Part I was the most popular story by far on the new TBE, with more than 1,450 reads since it was posted March 8. But the continuation is even better, as Ju'lette reunites with Tassos on Andros and shares councils and counsels with the elite of that world -- including Kalla, oldest of the Companions -- on matters vital to the future of Terrans, Supremis and Scalantrans alike.
Meanwhile, things are also heating up on Binkley's World, where in Chapter 4 of "The Mission," Protectors originally assigned to the liberation of that world from the Aureans are starving for a Messenger. Col. James Kim'Vallara receives a surprise visit from his wife Bidu -- but he has a lot on his mind, including the secret of Oon'ah and Xanthra. Should he confide in her?
The Ides of June brings the first Aurora Universe story by Jordan Taylor, an exciting new talent first seen in "Obsolete." "Walking Tall" is the story of Patricia, a Velorian Legionnaire who has been serving on Novo Recife but longs to return home to Alguna Parte. But as we learn in Part One, her welcome home isn't all that pleasant.
Meanwhile... ever wonder what Shadar's stardates in Shore Leave actually refer to? Velvet Belle Tree has the answer -- a calendar that began with the Scalantrans, but was adopted and adapted by the Terran diaspora because it was the Scalantrans who first united the scattered human worlds, centuries before the Enlightenment and the Empire.
Chapter 3 of "The Mission," revised by Rob, is new today. I hope to have Chapter 4, which will be more of a collaboration and tie in more with the Ordinary Velorians cycle, ready before long -- if wedding plans and other distractions permit. Speaking of Ordinary Velorians, I am restoring pictures to the original serial that have been missing since The Bright Empire moved to its new home. And the About the Aurora Universe page has been updated with links to the new sites of Moxie and Uberepicure and the new URL of Julie and Friends. Further updates, including a link to Shadar's new version of Origins of the Supremis, are in the works.
The delay might have been longer if Velvet BelleTree hadn't created the delightful character of Arish'ka 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.
Which Velvet herself does in "More Than One Way to Skin an Aurean," a sequel to "What's a Vel to Do?" This story is an entry in the latest Supergirls, Inc., contest. Since I'd put up Jordan Taylor's "Obsolete" when that was an entry in the previous contest, I can hardly deny Velvet a place at TBE before the voting. And it's a great story by one who writes AU fiction as if she had been doing it all her life -- a comic take on the ubergirl vs. ubergirl theme of the contest.
But there are other things new here as well.
Charon MacDonald has sent a revised and expanded version of "Death is the Middle (Not the End)." We just can't praise Charon highly enough, and we hope more of you will read his brilliant take on life after death -- and the more-than-life-and-death stakes there.
With Shadar adding to the saga of Alisa Liddell at Aurora Universe: Other Worlds with "Encounter at Westfold," I thought it was time to update the Ordinary Velorians timeline. The new version also includes references to Andy's (formerly Leafblade's) contributions. Besides that, I've added a Vendorian history, AU-3 version, adapted from an AU-L&F version posted by Tarot Barnes at the AU Readers Group.
Finally, having belatedly learned the Velorian words for "I love you" ("Kai tamoor'sk"), I've done a few tweaks to "Sleeping Beauty" to add them. Altogether, what we thought would be a minor update has turned into a major event.
Charon MacDonald returns with his second story for Other Voices -- a tale of the supernatural that puts such famed writers as Stephen King to shame. In "Death is the Middle (Not the End)," as the title suggests, there are worse things than death. Gwenolyn's about to find that out -- she has just been killed, and finds herself called upon to defend her fellow dead as well as avenge herself on her killer.
Meanwhile, taking time out from her stories in progress, Velvet Belle Tree turns to Rants and Ramblings to tell us about The Last Valley, a movie set during the death and destruction of the Thirty Years War -- a truly great movie that none of us should miss.
It's April Fool's Day and time for some fun. And Velvet Belle Tree's just the one to give it to us with "What's a Vel to Do?" -- the story of a Vel agent under deep cover on Earth who's really lonely and really hungry. And that does not mean for food!
As everyone knows, today is Interstellar Superwomen's Day (by coincidence, its also International Women's Day here on Earth), and how better to celebrate that event than with Part One of Homecoming, the first story by a new heroine of AU fiction, Velvet Belle Tree. It's a sequel to "Companions", on which she helped -- but this time, it's her work an I'm just the helper.