Previously, I reviewed Jean Johnson's ...
...mostly Military Science Fiction series, 5 books collectively called Theirs Not To Reason Why about a precognitive, half-human time-traveling woman.
I told you to read those books, even though they are not specifically or ostensibly "Romance Genre" -- there is a love story in there, and it does affect the story but not the plot.
Now I'm going to tell you to read her new, prequel-series, THE FIRST SALIK WAR, (1st book THE TERRANS), set centuries prior to the events of THEIRS NOT TO REASON WHY, and I'm going to tell you why you should read The First Salik War saga (which is hot-Trekfic-Style-Romance). When you get done, you'll see the ROMANCE inherent in Theirs Not To Reason Why.
She is working on a huge, gigantic, multiplex canvas to display an artform to the mass market that hasn't actually been created yet. She's at a forefront of things to come.
...we discussed the impact of online fanzine distribution, particularly Star Trek, via a Guest Post by Kirok of L'Stok, and as an introduction to what he had to say, I pointed to The Terrans and how Jean Johnson had blended the writing craft styles of Romance into Science Fiction, bringing one to the fore and then the other.
To see where this is coming from and how it is not only changing the online fanfic market, but also the mass market paperback market, we have to look deeply at The Terrans.
Jean Johnson has made a good reputation as a Romance writer. I met her on Facebook, and did a #scifichat with her on Twitter. She's a good conversationalist, as well as a good writer.
She says she was writing Harry Potter fanfic and got a request from an editor at a mass market publisher for a Romance. She had a book already written (see? that's the key -- write and keep writing, develop a file of stuff you have written), and "dusted it off" and sent it in.
That's another key. You have to have a file full of material you've written a while ago, and when requested for something designed to mass market to a specific market, you have to be able to "dust it off" -- to update the writing techniques, rephrase things, scrub typos, and generally conform the raw artistic sketch to a specific market as requested.
And you have to be able to do that lickity-split -- it has to be just a few days between request and produced manuscript. Markets flow fast, reshape, open and close.
Publishers work a conveyor belt operation with specific dates set years in advance, a wide variety of different departments all producing pieces of the work (cover art, cover copy, copy-editing, publicity reserving ad space, all sorts of things you've never heard of if you don't work in publishing).
And budget - budget is the biggest item. The longer a thing takes to do, the more it costs. Readers will buy at a certain price, and balk at a price just 25 cents higher, and publishers know where the break-point is. And they know their warehousing costs, trucking costs, etc.
As a writer, you have to produce an item that fits their conveyor belt within the time-slot of when their empty slot moves by the editor's desk.
Timing is everything.
In fact, that is exactly how we sold the non-fiction book STAR TREK LIVES! that blew the lid on Star Trek fanfic.
Prior to publication of the Bantam mass market paperback, STAR TREK LIVES!, reviewers for the large magazines and reporters for newspapers had never, ever, heard of fan fiction and had no idea what it was! Now there are lots of books, academic and mass market about fanfic, and it is casually referred to in news stories and by Characters on TV Shows.
We are Marketing Fiction in a totally Changed World, that is still changing fast.
We sold STAR TREK LIVES! to Bantam (Fred Pohl being the editor at the time, and he knew me because he'd bought my first story, set in the Sime~Gen Universe but he didn't know the connection between Sime~Gen and Star Trek). At Bantam, they had a conveyor belt filled with pre-contracted books, contracts with reliable professional writers with selling track records.
As happens, but rarely, one of the writers failed to deliver on time, but as with professional writers, enough warning was given so the panic in the offices was muted to, "We can handle this."
In midst of "handling this," Fred Pohl met one of my co-authors, Joan Winston, at a Meet The Authors event at a Star Trek Con in Canada, mentioned his problem with a vacant conveyor belt slot, and asked if the book he had turned down previously was still available. It was, and had been rewritten a couple times since -- and it didn't have a title. Fred chose the title STAR TREK LIVES!
And the reviews fastened on the FANFIC element we presented.
Sondra Marshak went on to compile the VOYAGES series of fanfic professionally published. That went best-seller, and little by little, changed science fiction as a field and the thinking behind publishing. Of course, all during that time, online publishing was rising, and computer-data-feedback from stories grew, and Amazon launched obliterating brick-and-mortar Indie Stories, and the world changed.
Into the aftermath of this melee in the business side of things, around 2007, Jean Johnson started publishing in the Romance arena, capitalizing on all the change rooted in Star Trek, carried forward by B-7 (which also had telepaths), and then transmitted to a whole new generation via Harry Potter.
And of course, the Fantasy arena likewise morphed, and some serious contributions have been made there.
The confluence of all these influences is launching us into a new epoch in publishing, in science fiction, in romance, and in science fiction romance.
Jean Johnson may be one of the leaders in this new Epoch.
It may not be on purpose, but I can easily see that she is writing to change the world. Or at the very least, my world.
With Theirs Not To Reason Why, she presented a blend of the Fantasy ESP premise of the precognitive ability originating in an energy-based (shades of ST:ToS) beings mating with humans (shades of Greek Mythology), all seamlessly integrated into an interstellar war.
She billed that war as The Second Salik War, with only hints of what dire events had transpired in The First Salik War.
In 5 large volumes, she painted a mural of future-history.
Now in The First Salik War, she is taking us through the details of how Earth made First Contact with that galactic civilization filled with a panoply of species, fought in the war, and survived.
The writing style of The Terrans is mostly all tell, very little show. It is, as I said last week, one huge expository lump after another, painting an enormous picture of Earth's history, and "current" mode of governing.
That violation of all science fiction structural "rules" has a certain validity, and it has a target audience.
The payload for wading through all that exposition is enormous.
Just barely arriving at the story/plot beginning at the 3/4 point of the novel, the book turns into the quintessential reason why Star Trek fanfic exploded out of an audience that would never touch a "science fiction novel."
It's the Romance. That's it, pure and simple. Adding Romance, in all its facets, to a life-or-death war situation complicated by clashing governmental forms, by laws, rules, unconscious assumptions, and RELIGION.
The Science Fiction Romace field has two requirements that few writers can meet at the same time in the same work:
1) the Aliens have to BE ALIEN
2) the Human/Alien Romance requires the ALIEN to be HUMAN (but still alien).
In both Theirs Not To Reason Why and The First Salik War, Jean Johnson has managed to fit both criteria without straining the underlying worldbuilding.
I've just barely met her, so I don't know how deeply and consciously she has thought through her worldbuilding. She did tell me that she had been mulling and imagining this universe for many years, and that shows in the overwhelming plethora of detail she presents about it.
So I want to look more closely at the Content of The Terrans, as separate from the structure and writing craft choices, or even the artistic choices leading into using enormous expository lumps disguised as conversation, and telepathic conversation.
There are so many other ways to style the crafting of such a tapestry against which to fling an interstellar war Romance, a Helen of Troy With A Twist Romance, that you can read these novels, mull over what Jean Johnson has extracted from the Potterverse fanfic, combined with her audience's everyday experience of the world, and morphed into an interstellar war, and then use that same technique to create something vastly different.
If you can pick up what Jean Johnson has done, why she's chosen the tools she has chosen, what she injected into the blended field of science fiction romance with fantasy elements, and re-cast it into your very own, original concept, I think you can carry this New Epoch of the world of publishing forward yet another step.
So don't miss any of these books.
Meanwhile, think about this quote from STAR TREK:
STAR TREK II THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
McCoy: [Kirk runs in to the engine room and sees Spock inside the reactor compartment. He rushes over but McCoy and Scotty hold him back] No! You'll flood the whole compartment!
Kirk: He'll die!
Scotty: Sir! He's dead already.
McCoy: It's too late.
[They let go and Kirk walks to the glass and pushes the intercom button]
[Spock slowly walks over to the glass and pushes the intercom]
Spock: The ship... out of danger?
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh...
Kirk: The needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?
[Spock sits down]
Spock: I have been, and always shall be, your friend.
[he places a Vulcan salute on the glass]
Spock: Live long and prosper.
Science Fiction and Fantasy-Action Romance stories require Heroism in the main character.
Many novels today, especially Fantasy, portray the main Character as a victim, not a Hero. That's fine if the writer does it on purpose, having chosen deliberately for artistic reasons and telegraphed the reason for that choice to the reader. But that fine-point is often overlooked. It is a sophisticated technique many new writers haven't mastered when they first break into print.
I discussed "The Hero" a little in
Creating a "strong" character and casting that character into a Situation that is "beyond him/her" -- so that the Character is tested to destruction and rebuilt anew by the end -- requires a great deal of study of Human Nature -- psychology and all of its manifestations.
Jean Johnson says, on her Facebook bio, that she studied Religion in college.
In Theirs Not To Reason Why and now The First Salik War, Jean Johnson portrays some characters with a sense of the spiritual, but who eschew Religion, and some who are deeply steeped in their own (non-Terran) religious texts.
She deals with Prophecy -- one of the elements that make the Bible such essential reading for writers looking for hot-plots.
I discussed Prophecy and its plot-potential in the context of reviewing Jennifer Roberson's novels -- which I recommend across the board. Read anything by Jennifer Roberson you can lay hands on.
Strong Characters meeting Prophecy often brings some element of Self Sacrifice into the plot.
Heroism is often defined in the popular culture as self-sacrifice.
Some people regard self-sacrifice as noble. Others think it's a stupid way to behave.
Both kinds of people, religious and anti-religious, shed a tear or two or three at Spock's (first) death scene.
We didn't know he'd be resurrected, and neither did those in charge of making contracts to get Leonard Nimoy to portray Spock again-still-once-more-forever.
In few other genres can writers resurrect characters and make such a wide audience believe and accept. The Genesis Planet used science. Alternate Universe travel, time travel, all sorts of nonsense Fantasy premises are turning into science now.
While the audience was held in the limbo of having lost Spock to a graphic death, we were all left to ponder this philosophy.
As usual Roddenberry put his finger on the central theme of the philosophy -- graphically depicted in prevailing religions -- of Self-Sacrifice.
More than 30 years ago, Roddenberry stated the conundrum of the confluence point of Government and Religion without apology.
Self-sacrifice is taken as a sign of heroism.
It is the eternal tension between the individual and the group, or in astrological terms, 1st House vs. 7th House which is discussed in these posts on Astrology Just For Writers where Character Development is also addressed.
The struggle between the rights of the individual and the rights of the groups supporting that individual's right to individuality continues today.
It is being worked out on the world stage via ISIS or ISIL or whatever they're calling themselves these days, the attempt to reinstate the Caliphate -- a theocracy.
Their particular theocracy is based on the idea that the highest spiritual reward, the most exalted heroism, is achieved by dying to kill those who refuse to adopt their religion. Dying while killing earns a higher reward than saving a life.
In that theocracy, the force of government is brought to bear on those who disagree with government, and the religion is the government you must agree with or die.
The U.S.A. was founded on the Legal Philosophy rooted in the idea that a Monarchy (England) could not use Government to enforce conforming to a Religion (the Church of England).
American Government is a limited government designed to protect the rights of the few or the one from the power of the many or the majority. In this philosophy of law, government does not impose the will of the majority on the individual but protects the individual from being bullied by a majority.
In other words, Spock cited a principle in diametric opposition to everything America holds sacred.
The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. That's the political philosophy behind the modern concept of Human Rights, and most of the Legal Philosophy behind our concept of Justice.
Spock's voluntary sacrifice re-defined and/or confirmed the Spock Character as a Strong Character, a Heroic Character. His reason for it posed the kind of salient question Roddenberry was always famous for.
In America, the rights of the individual outweigh the rights of the many -- UNLESS that individual voluntarily and without coercion (sword at the neck, ISIL style), and with informed consent, offers to wave a right for a specified time (such as in joining the Armed Services or taking an Oath for an elected Office.)
Jean Johnson showed us an individual in Theirs Not To Reason Why who made the sort of voluntary contribution that Spock made by giving his life. (really, I'm telling you, you must read those books even if they aren't Romance -- really!)
The Hero of those novels had to fight her government to achieve a position where she was able to make that self-sacrifice.
In The First Salik War, The Terrans, Jean Johnson shows us another kind of sacrifice - a circumstantial and inevitable one, very much like the dilemma that Spock faced in entering the radiation-hot chamber to twiggle a device to avoid the ship blowing up.
In The Terrans, we meet this Character who has been embedded in the Political scene, working as a representative in Earth's world government.
Go read that novel, and we'll discuss more about the content in another post on this blog.
It raises questions. Gene Roddenberry taught that good fiction doesn't answer questions, but rather asks them.
Posing a question in a form that depicts a problem that can be worked is an artform.
The art of posing questions is not taught in the early schooling in America today. Schooling has also become political, a matter for a central government not parents.
There are good arguments on both sides of that dilemma, rich fields for Romance novels to find conflict. How easy is it for parents to agree about how their children should be educated? How much discussion of the High School education of children goes on during a hot Romance?
Yet, how many good marriages founder on a point of this sort -- how to educate children, how to pay for it, how many children to have and whether to choose the number of children or let God decide?
Yes, Religion invades education as well as Romance.
Religion is a bedrock component of Romance. As I've pointed out, you aren't likely to bond with a Soul Mate if you don't have a Soul.
The are of question formulation leads one to the obvious problem: if you have a Soul, must you also adopt a Religion?
And what has having a Soul, and a Soul Mate, got to do with good governance? With choosing a form of government that is "scalable" -- that is can be scaled up to govern a humanity flung to the stars and beyond?
How do you govern Earth in such a way that we can become part of an Interstellar ciivilization that's already "out there." What if our political philosophy clashes with that which we find out there?
What if their idea of where religion and prophecy belongs in the scheme of the Philosophy of Law differs from ours? What if the ideas are incompatible?
What if the two people who make First Contact will die (or worse) if they obey the law?
Is there any such thing as a sacrifice that is not a self-sacrifice?
What is a sacrifice? What is it if I sacrifice your life to my benefit, turn around and walk away happy that I have gained so much for so little? Is it possible to "sacrifice" someone else? If it is, what is the person who sacrifices another for the greater good? Is that a Hero? Can a villain be a Strong Character?
Where do ethics and morals intersect the Philosophy of Law, and what has Law to do with good governance, with global governance, with interstellar government forms?
If you've read Jean Johnson's novels so far, you can ponder those questions and see why a degree in Religion equips you well for a career in fiction writing.
For contrast check out the book I reviewed here:
When I find one of these writers, I just go on and on about them!
This is important work. This is writing to change the world. This is the kind of writing that can change the world.
The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.
War is nothing in the face of fiction. Fiction reveals the "truth" of politics, law, philosophy, religion and opinion by examining the various shadow governments we can imagine espousing various religions, with and without the bullying of the minority by the majority, with or without the informed consent of the bullied.
Study this image again. Think hard about it.
How do you pose such ineffable questions to build a world around the story that you want to tell?
These are the sorts of questions Jean Johnson has chosen answers to in her First Salik War saga.
Read the books, consider other ways to answer those questions and write your own novels rooted in such profound questions which your Characters answer in their own Characteristic ways.
This is content, not structure. Structure aims a novel at a given audience. Content can be carried to any audience if you choose the correct structure, the structure that audience prefers. The structure is your vehicle. The content, or payload, you put into your vehicle is your theme, what you have to say.
First, question everything you think you know. The more positive you are that what you think is true is actually The Truth, the more likely you are missing something important.
Aliens may have that something important, and be missing something we think is obvious.