The Civilized Man and Dirty War

“By the Pale Moonlight” is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes ever, really. I can tell you why in one sentence: “Pacifism is great, as long as the people trying to kill you are also pacifists.” The ideals of the Federation are portrayed as wonderful and fantastic, but the Dominion held to none of them. I understand some people think “I’d rather lose than violate my principles and win.” Really? When loss means you die, your family dies, and your country is put under the heel of tyrants? I understand that some people think that way; I do not understand why they think that.

And no, stooping to their level doesn’t make Sisko the same monster as the Dominion. Outside of war, Sisko sought peace. The Dominion sought only the next war. The Dominion was an empire but not civilized. You see, civilization regards those outside its borders as real people and seeks to live in peace with them. The Dominion does not. They see anyone outside the Dominion as a threat, and with all the zeal they can muster, seek to put that threat under the boot heel of tyranny. Peace, to them, means not that their flag flies highest, but that no other flag flies at all. They have no rules of warfare. In their ruthlessness, assassinations, and deceptions they showed that the ends of a subjugated Alpha Quadrant justified any means needed to get there. Solids aren’t true sapient creatures. They’re a threat to Changlings. As soon as the Cardassian military turned against them, the Dominion started killing Cardassian civilians-an entire city was razed from a distance to teach a lesson. And then the order came to kill all Cardassians. Can you, with a straight face, tell me that the Founders would not have turned on the Romulans as soon as they showed the slightest threat to the Dominion? The first hint of rebellion, which would undoubtedly come if I know my Romulans, meant millions of noncombatants killed.

Sisko and the Alpha Alliance fought to keep civilization. Centuries of tension and fueds were put aside against this greater threat. The old wisdom of being civilized to your enemy in this war because he might be your ally in the next was shown to be true. Those allied civilizations fought back because no other solution brought true peace, and the Romulans finally saw what the Klingons and Federation had known all along. It took lies and murder for them to see it, but some in the Romulan Senate must have already suspected the Dominion would betray them eventually. Look how quickly they took the fight to them! I’ve always imagined that Sisko and Garek were right and the Dominion was preparing to attack on the Romulan front as soon as the alliance was neutered.

Sisko knew that slavery was not freedom. He knew that a dirty war was better than a false peace. And he knew that without the Romulans, the alliance would fail. He did Section 31’s work for them. The Federation needs men like Bashir who can sleep at night. It only gets there with men like Sloan and Sisko who will get their hands dirty when needed. As Sisko said, his conscience was a small price to pay for victory over the ruthless Dominion. It didn’t bring immediate victory, but without the Romulans, the war was lost.

(I’ve often thought that the only thing that would have made the final push to Cardassia better would have been a fleet of Ferengi Maruaders arriving. Sisko would say, “Why are you here?” The Ferengi fleet commander would reply, “There is no profit in being slaves.” Sisko would give a feral smile and tell them to take their place with Beta Squadron.)

Sisko knew that winning by means of deception and murder was better than losing his freedom and life. This wasn’t cheating. Cheating in sports is frowned upon because it’s just a game. It doesn’t end someone’s life to lose. The Dominion War wasn’t a game where the two teams would play again later in the season after more practice. It was a war where one side wanted to eliminate the other completely. Sportsmanship applies only in sporting competitions, not warfare. Sisko gave the Dominion every chance to live in peace with them on both sides of the wormhole. Remember, it was the Founders who destroyed New Bajor first. The Founders made it clear they would stop at nothing until all were under the jackboots of the Jem Hadar. Sisko did not seek war, but when war found him, he picked up his phaser and loaded the torpedoes.

Sisko offered peace to the Founders. When it was rejected and the Founders showed they were barbarians, he fought, as any should against barbarians, with any and all weapons at his disposal, by any means fair or foul. He showed no mercy to the Founders because they offered him none. And he knew that if the Founders had asked for mercy it was only so they could lick their wounds and prepare for the next war. That’s why the Alliance pressed on into Cardassian space in those final episodes. Letting the Dominion rebuild their war machine was the worst thing they could have done.

It is a simple rule that Sisko fought by. When his foes were civilized, he fought as a civilized man with rules of conduct against his foe (such as during the short Klingon War). Once the Founders showed they were not civilized, Sisko considered uncivilized ways to win. When he saw it was necessary, he did the unthinkable.

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Writing Velocity and Rebirths on Sale

My first book released, Rebirths, is on Kindle Countdown through the 9th. This book had some of my best velocity in writing.  I didn’t track how long it took to write “New Life,” but I know that “This Body of Death” took 4 and a half months. “This Body of Death” was 18.5K words long. That qualifies as a novella. The final novella, “Once Called,” took only 9 weeks to write, and it was 20K words long.

Yes, the longer portion took the least amount of time. When the story is right, it just falls together. I know that some people say you have to sweat and strain over every word, and you should take years to write a single book. Really. I’ve read people that say that.

I take the other view of writing. I believe that when the story is right, the words just flow from fingers to keyboard. My method is somewhere between the pantsers and the outliners. I’ve tried both ways and found my happy spot. I need a goal when I’m writing. When I start writing, I have the beginning and an endpoint in mind. I know where the story is starting, and where it will end. I don’t write the ending yet, but I know what it is. I then write towards that point.

I also write out of order. The first scene I write is typically the first in the story. The next is usually the climax. It might not always be. Sometimes, I’m moved to write a different scene.

But writing velocity is important. Just because you take 10 years to write a novel doesn’t mean it’s 10 times better than one written in one year. If the story is right, you don’t have to sweat blood over every single word. Your creative side knows how to tell a story. Don’t worry about working in themes and literary merit. Just write the story as fast as you can. Let the story flow. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how good it is.

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Living with Purpose, Dying with Same

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand character deaths that mean nothing. All too often, especially in modern books, characters seem to be killed simply because there are too many for the author to keep track of. It shouldn’t be this way. The character’s death should be proportional to their importance in the story. If their life hasn’t mattered, their death doesn’t have to. But if they matter in life, let their death matter.

The other day I was talking with a writing friend, and, though the topic was not writing good death scenes, I started thinking about that afterwards. She is writing a fantasy where the gods/goddesses compete with one another instead of cooperate within their pantheon. This reminded me of DragonLance, and I told her how the three subpantheons work. She has never read DragonLance, so the information was new to her. Though some things aligned with how things work there, several important things do not.

But the magic system isn’t what I want to talk about here. The second book of the Chronicles, Dragons of Winter Night, has one of the best death scenes I have ever read. If you have never read but plan on reading Dragons of Winter Night, you should not read further. There will be spoilers for the trilogy.

In the first novel, we meet Sturm Brightblade, a tragic hero. We are given clues from his first appearance that he is a tragic hero. Sturm is a Knight of Solomnia, an old and honorable order. Everything he does is guided by the Oath and the Measure. He will not break his word. He will not leave a friend behind. But there is something about him, he is despondent as if he has a major secret. Through the course of that novel and the next, we learn that Sturm is one of the last valiant knights. Oh, there are plenty of knights still on the roles (not as many as they used to be, but still a respectable number), but the valor that defined the group is gone. Where they once stood for truth and justice and were beloved by the people of Solomnia, the knights are now divided, gold seekers, holding on to their last few scraps of land.

Justice no longer drives the knights. Now, they obey the exact letter of the law, all the while breaking the spirit to bits and pieces. The lessons of Huma and the founders, gained through blood, sweat, and tears, have been forgotten. All that remains are the rules they made.

The knights are divided into numerous factions. Knights of the same rank scheme against one another, vying for power in the hierarchy. Knights of different ranks seek like-minded knights to solidify their positions against one another.

Sturm, by his actions, reminds them that this is not the way things are to be. Vinas Solamnus, their revered founder, created the Oath, “my honor is my life.” Those five words were to define every action a Knight took. The Measure was a multi-volume set explaining how the Oath applied in different situations. No matter the cost, a knight was not to break his honor. Even if this cost was his life.

In the first book, Sturm’s death was foreshadowed. A forest spirit told the adventuring companions not to mourn those “who die fulfilling their destiny” and looked pointedly at Sturm. I missed that the first time.

Sturm made a “mistake” in the second novel and got on the wrong side of one faction. He refused to play politics and so was brought to trial on charges of which he was technically guilty. Contrary to what he let others think, Sturm was not knighted when first introduced. He was only a squire. Yet, as a squire, he showed us a better knight than those who had taken the Oath and claimed to live by the Measure.

Accordingly, Sturm could have run at any time. He was not bound by the Oath and Measure. Once he saw the threat posed by the dragon armies, he could have quietly taken off his armor and melted into the populace. Sturm did not. He considered himself bound by the Oath and Measure.

For one to live by the Oath and Measure meant one was to be judged by the Oath and the Measure. The leader of the knights, a friend of Sturm’s father and also one of the knights who remembered honor, found Sturm guilty to the letter of the law. He then prescribed a punishment to the letter of the law. Sturm had to take off his father’s armor and command a squad at the High Clerists tower which the dragon armies would have to pass to invade. It was a suicide mission. The knights were too weak from their infighting to win. However, the punishment also meant that Sturm had to be knighted–a squire could not command a regiment of full knights!

On the journey to the tower, Sturm earned the trust of his regiment. They joined together as a unit. When the armies approached the tower, Sturm went to the top of the tower and challenged the Dragon Highlord to a duel. Armed only with his father’s sword (which he had been allowed to keep), Sturm fought and lost.

It was a beautiful Xanatos Gambit. Had Sturm won, the armies would have retreated. But his death brought unity to the knights. When they saw that Sturm was so committed to the Oath and the Measure that he would face impossible odds to fulfill his orders, they rallied. The pass was held. The armies routed. Sturm’s actions had bought time for other heroes, and they now controlled a relic that drove most of the invaders insane.

Sturm died at peace.

The ramifications of his actions were shown in later books. Not only did those knights rally to unity, the rest of the knighthood put aside their divisions. In times to come, Sturm was counted one of the three greatest knights: Vinas Solamnus, Huma Dragonsbane, and Sturm Brightblade.

Sturm lived a life of honor and died the same way. His death was important and served a greater purpose.

What’s the best death scene you’ve read?

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Disagreeing with an Author

I know some people who have a list of authors they refuse to read not because they don’t like the writing style or stories the author creates. No, instead they refuse to read them because they disagree with the author’s politics, religion, or anything else that has nothing to do with the story. This reasoning is ridiculous.

Now, I do have authors whom I no longer read, but I can’t think of any that I’ve stopped reading because of the aforementioned reasons. In both fiction and nonfiction, I regularly read authors whom I disagree with. If I only read those whom I agreed with, I would never learn.

Here are some of the authors whom I read but aren’t like me in thought.

Richard Burlew. I heartily enjoy Order of the Stick. The characterizations are spot on. It isn’t often that I care for the characters the way I do Roy and company. I’m watching with glee as Belkar Bitterleaf finally exhibits character growth. Sure, it started out as fake, but it appears genuine now. I’m eager to see where Rich takes it.

Now, I don’t know for sure Richard’s political standings. I do know that he’s to the left of me, but that isn’t hard to accomplish. I have less knowledge of his religious beliefs as I do not recall them being stated. If I had to guess, I would say he is an agnostic based on his statements of “the [OOTSverse] has a verifiable afterlife.” That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the stories.

John C. Wright. I devour Wright’s fiction and nonfiction. He’s an exception writer, the kind that comes along only once a generation. But he’s Catholic while I am a protestant pastor. He has said some things regarding protestant theology that rather make me blink.

Lloyd Alexander. With the Chronicles of Prydain, Mr. Alexander blessed the twentieth century with it’s best coming-of-age story. Taraan’s journey from childhood to adulthood is shown in his physical body and mirrored in his thoughts. If you haven’t read the series, you are missing out. I disagree with Lloyd as he was a nihilst.

Brad Torgersen. He’s Mormon, and that means he and I have many differences in theology. But The Chaplain’s War promises to be a fantastic piece of fiction. It’s on my reading list, but it will be a while before I get to it. I have to read EMP: Heading Home and Death’s Doors before reading it. Somewhere in the mix, I’m looking forward to reading Sarah Hoyt and Kate Paulk.

L. Jagi Lamplighter. The little I know of her outside her writing comes from her husband’s blog. She’s a Christian Scientist married to a Catholic. I am enjoying the Rachel Griffen series and was considering the Prospero series. However, I will not be buying the books from Tor. Any company that allows one of their high-ranking editors to berate, swear at, and bellow at one of their own authors for any reason does not deserve my reading money. Let alone that this man yelled at a woman because he was mad at her husband.

Naturally, I don’t agree with any writer 100%. However, many of them whom I enjoy, our differences are too minor to list here.

In the last few months, there have been Hugo voters bragging about how they weren’t going to read some works on the ballot because they were nominated by the wrong people and the authors might be presenting badthink. Say what? You are so insecure of your beliefs that reading a piece of fiction that was merely nominated by the wrong people can cause you to change it?

There are writers whom I refuse to read their works. How is that different? Is it different? Yes, in several ways. First up, I am not refusing to read them based on their religious or political beliefs. In others, I have read their work and found it underwhelming. There are too many good books out there to waste on the mediocre ones.

Robert Sawyer. Over a decade ago, I read one of his books-Humans. It stands as one of the few books I couldn’t finish. The books was written from the view of an alien outsider encountering the United States. Sawyer  felt the need to continually scream that anyone who disagrees with him is stupid. Every single idea in Western Civilization was wrong. While the plot idea was fascinating (a parallel earth where Neanderthal came to prominence instead of Homo sapiens), the continual cudgel of “you’re wrong, you’re so stupid” made me throw the book down in disgust. This is the only book I’ve ever done so with. I can take a few eyerolls here and there, but when the entire book is a thinly-veiled screed (and a poorly written one)? No. But, I did attempt the book. I had no ideas of any of Sawyer’s views before I began. After a few chapters, I concluded he was an atheist and a hard leftist. I have never seen anything from him that counters either idea, and I looked. I did read reviews of his other books. Both those who rated them high and low had drawn the same conclusions.

Larry Correia. I find Correia has a great imagination and can tell a great tale. However, Correia’s characters swear heavily. I don’t want to read that. He says it’s realism. I say be creative with the characters expressing their displeasure. Until then, I’ll give others my money. As for his politics, he’s on the right probably as far as I am.

George RR Martin. This is one of the giants in the field whom I do not recall ever reading. I plan on never, ever reading GRR Martin. People whose opinion on books I trust have said the Song of Ice and Fire or whatever is not worth reading. To a man, they have said it glorifies evil. Any character with likable traits dies in gruesome ways. They have also said the number of rapes in the books are stomach turning. Yes, bad things happen in war, but I don’t want or need to read about them in graphic detail. (And someone has said that for all the rapes, there is not a single loving act of congress.) I have no idea on his religion as I have never seen fit to look it up. I do know that he’s a leftist, but I had already decided to never read his material before I found that out. I certainly had suspected it before it was confirmed to me.

Besides, if realism is Martin’s thing, why is he writing a FANTASY series? Mythic creatures. Magic. Yeah. Things you won’t find in the world we call reality. Most people read fiction to escape the realism of their lives for a little bit.

When I write, I don’t expect to make everyone happy. In fact, I lost at least one star on an Amazon review because I made the character “too Catholic.” Near the end of Rebirths, Derke goes to confession. The reviewer did not like that at all. However, the story was set before any kind of Reformation was happening, and it would have been out of character for Derke to forgo confession after the sin he had committed.

That review is actually a point of pride for me. As mentioned, I am a protestant pastor. That I was able to write a character unlike myself so convincingly makes me smile.

So what authors do you disagree with but still read?

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