Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Reviews 31 - Dave Bara The Lightship Chronicles

Reviews 31
The Lightship Chronicles
David Bara

I have not yet done an Index Post listing all the previous 30 Reviews posts, but you can find most of them by searching for Reviews in the search slot for this blog at the right.

This Review of Dave Bara's Lightship Chronicles series might also belong to the series Marketing Fiction In A Changing World.


We have been discussing the impact of Star Trek and Star Wars -- and other hugely successful movies and TV Series such as Avatar and Stargate -- on the science fiction novel field.

If we can figure this out, we may have an inkling of what to write now that will become hugely successful 10 years from now. Dave Bara may have hit on one important change that is still ongoing, and I am recommending you read and study The Lightship Chronicles.

In the 1930's and 1940's, "science fiction" was an obscure field, barely represented in public or High School libraries, not even known by the general public as existing.  The few dozen writers and few thousand readers just buzzed along in private, much as fanfic started in the 1970's.  When ordinary people (Muggles) heard about what we read, they greeted the entire thing with scorn.  The comic strip, Dagwood, got more respect.

On this blog, we have been analyzing what we, as Romance Writers, can do to convince the "general public" that the Romance genre in general, and science fiction romance in particular, are worthy of respect.

Meanwhile, that general public's respect for our field may actually be rising.

Gini Koch's Alien Series - that I've been raving about on this blog for years - is still prominent and the series is growing.

I've noted several other works that touch the edges of "The Love Story" -- novels about interstellar war, Aliens, dimension travel, or paranormal inter-dimensional travel.  Many writers, and their editors, are dabbling at the edges of the depicting of a Universe where Love Conquers All, producing a Happily Ever After.

So we are marketing fiction in a changing world, and some editors are willing to publish novels that would never have been accepted for Mass Market in the 1970's.
And as usual since then, DAW Books is a leader in changing the publishing landscape.

DAW has now brought out three of Dave Bara's Lightship Chronicles novels.


Find them at

These are space-war, military science fiction with a Star Trek like leap into an era that emerges from what technology might do with today's science.  Now, we see that technology only via Mathematicians speculating and Physicists dreaming up experiments.

That speculative leap into a future where humans live with the results of applied science creating impossible technology  is the hallmark of great science fiction.

The science makes the fiction.

But fiction is about Characters living through a Story - in spite of, or because of the Events that happen, the Plot.

Human Characters have the same character flaws (and strengths) that the readers do.

Human Characters make mistakes, boast egotistically, embarrass their parents, offend everyone, ingratiate themselves, and regularly pull of miracles -- just like you and me stumbling through Life.  Human Characters fall in love.  Learning to tame the force of Character we all bring to bear on Life is Story.

The Story is the Character Arc where the Character learns an abstract lesson, a moral, a rule of thumb, and gains maturity.

If you examine the early Star Trek fanfic, you will find a type of Character drawn with broad strokes, who is painfully close to the typical reader of such fiction.  That Character was branded "Lt. Mary Sue" after the lead Character in an particularly egregious example of the sub-genre.

Today, we refer to such stories just as "Mary Sue" stories.

Now, oddly enough, I am a blatant Mary Sue fan.  I loved the stories as they were published in T-Negative, and I still love this type of story.  My definition, therefore, may differ from that in current usage.

One feature of the Mary Sue Character is the absurdly long and varied list of accomplishments, talents, abilities, and credentials Mary Sue has garnered before she graduates from Star Fleet Academy at an age younger than others.

She skips ranks, solves any problem with apparent ease, and because of her precocious accomplishments, she has little respect for authority.

At the same time, Mary Sue has an emotional maturity somewhat below her age-group, does not understand people and can only evaluate any situation from her own point of view.  She has no clue why people don't trust her and admire her.

For the most part, people define the "Mary Sue" as a type of story not worthy of their respect.

The reasons the Mary Sue story does not garner admiration and respect center around how "unbelievable" these Characters are -- the Character is "unreal."

Mary Sue is implausible.

That is the exact complaint readers have about Romance -- Love At First Sight is implausible, Romance is not realistic, and Love always Loses -- there is no such thing in real life as Happily Ever After.  Maybe, Happily For Now might happen, but not as a result of Love Conquering All.

We all know how many people regard Romance, but most of us do know a few people who have experienced real life romance, fought through vicissitudes and then lived many decades "Happily Ever After."  Real life examples abound, and we are aware of a few.

In real life, many people look at a "Happy" couple and imagine the discord they keep private.  Then they conclude the couple is not actually happy.  That turns out to be true enough times that people conclude happiness does not exist.

So, if we know that Romance does indeed strike, Love forges Couples amidst vicissitudes, and those Love-tempered Couples do have good, long years of "Happily Ever After" then why is Mary Sue implausible?

Many people do not know a Mary Sue in real life.

I, on the other hand, have met quite a few, dealt with them, done business with them, and watched them try to cope with not fitting in.  So I do not find Mary Sue implausible, just as I don't find Romance implausible.

I noted this disparity of experience when Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced Wesley Crusher.  Fans reacted explosively.  Some adored him and were relieved to see such a Character on TV -- someone they could identify with.  Others loathed him because he is so implausible -- no real person could be like that.  Others objected to the Character being introduced into the show because it struck a sour note -- this Character does not belong in this Show.

I suspect Wesley Crusher was the first presentation of a Mary Sue Character in a Professional venu -- and not a mere Mass Market Paperback, but a TV Series.

At first, in 1987, I didn't notice anything odd or strange about Wesley Crusher (I was already a Mary Sue fan for life) -- I've known a few real people like that and found them very amenable and not at all remarkable.  But I understood the objections when I heard them, but disagreed.

The Character Wesley Crusher is probably the best known example of what has become known as the Marty Stu -- the male version of Mary Sue.  Spock, as a child, must have seemed like that to his peers.  He outgrew it, as most do.


But through the ensuing 1990's, we did not see this type of Character turn up in Mass Market paperback Science Fiction or Romance.

Throughout the 1990's, the online communities were growing faster than the technology.  The fans of my Sime~Gen novels were, likewise, writing millions of words of fanfic set in my universe -- at first on paper, and then online in various hosted communities.  We moved several times before launching our own simegen.com.  So I had a ringside seat during this transition, and now host classic Star Trek 'zines on simegen.com


Today, fanfic.net and others host a wide variety of fan writers enlarging on stories they share with others.

In fanfic, the Mary Sue and Marty Stu stories flourished.  Very likely, people enjoy writing them more than others enjoy reading them.  The scorn is just as hot now, but the Character Type is still common.

And now, after 2010, we are seeing the Marty Stu Character turn up in Mass Market.

Gini Koch's Kitty Kat (ALIEN SERIES) is a more tame, plausible, believable Mary Sue because, written from inside Kitty's own mind, we see her uncertainty, her struggles, her misunderstandings, her mistakes, and flaws.  Kitty Kat is aware of her own flaws -- and that is a signature of Maturity.  Kitty Kat has out-grown her Mary Sue years when we first meet her.  But we can imagine what a pain she must have been as a kid, and so we understand why her Mother didn't tell her "everything."

Kitty Kat apparently grew up among Marty Stu Characters, and that spurred her maturation.  And she has matured markedly through her adventures in this Series.  She's adorable and lovable because she's not a Know It All and is accepted by others for her unique Talent.

In the last six or seven years, I've been finding Marty Stu Characters strewn through Mass Market paperback Science Fiction.  Gradually, the "wraps" have been taken off this Character, and even so he is still selling books.  Yes, people buy books to follow a Character.  Create the Character for your Readership and it will sell books.

Which brings us to the Magic of creating a Character that readers remember for years even when they don't actually remember that they remember.

Picking a book to read may merely be a matter of liking the cover art, or something about the packaging seems similar to some other book which was a pleasurable read.  It is very intangible.

And somehow I did it.  I picked a book without remembering the writer's name, or the prequel title. I started reading convinced I'd never read IMPULSE by Dave Bara.

I was several chapters in when the story finally twanged my memory -- and it was not the main Character, Peter Cochran, that reminded me.  It was a secondary Character -- and not even that Character, but his technology, that had lingered in my mind.

In IMPULSE by Dave Bara, we learn about an FTL ship exploring the cosmos -- encountering hostiles, fighting frantically and being nearly beaten.  This FTL ship gets its technologically advanced weapons and propulsion systems via a group of humans called Historians.  I didn't remember what they were called, but I did clearly remember the one feature that distinguishes Bara's universe from all the other Military Science Fiction, and galactic war stories I've read in between.

And therein lies a lesson for us all.  Hollywood wants, "The Same But Different" -- and this is the reason why.  I remembered the Historian, his name and his Character, but mostly his personal transportation -- a whole ship attached to the bigger FTL ship and almost indistinguishable from it.  It's a whole private apartment, loaded with technology and know-how the main ship does not have access to.

That unique feature of Bara's Universe stuck with me.  It's fabulously interesting, and the secondary Character (the Historian) is the one who has my interest (as Spock riveted my attention no matter what Kirk ever did).

This is a lesson in how to write for a market.  Lightship Chronicles is "just another" galactic war story -- except for The Historians.  It is the same, but different from all others.

That alone is a good reason to read this series if you want to write Science Fiction Romance.  But another reason that you'll enjoy the Lightship Chronicles is the classic, indefatigable Love Story.  There is Romance in there, but it is a Love Story with a lot of friction, and a lot of reasons why this Couple can never make it to Happily Ever After.

The main Character, Peter Cochran, is Marty Stu.  He is "royalty" from a planet that is trying to forge a union of planets to stand against the current attackers.  He has "intuition" measured at the top of human range, but he makes mistakes that get dozens of those under his command killed.  His bridge station is under the command of the resident Historian, and he has a security clearance above the Captain's.  He is a classic Marty Stu, by accident of birth and by on-paper accomplishments.

His list of heroic accomplishments would win him respect, but he's just too implausible for his compatriots.

But he is clearly on his way to maturity.  We are seeing through his eyes as he is attracted to the one particular woman who is an awkward fit for his personality and position in his society.  He values her for the exact attributes all women want to be valued for -- accomplishments not appearance.  She is beautiful to him because of her accomplishments, and she just can't see what's happening.

The Marty Stu motif is born out in STARBOUND by an awkward and inept writing style absolutely conforming to the average fanfic.

This is Hardcover/Mass Market publication upholding the best of the fanfic style.

The first thing I noticed in STARBOUND was the inept use of dialogue.  I recommend studying this novel just for the dialog lessons you can learn from this.

1. Dialogue is used where narrative should be, to inform the reader.  The Characters tell each other what the Characters already know.

2. Dialogue is used where symbolism and action (in screenwriting, this is called "business" -- little things the actors add) should be.  The Characters argue at length during action scenes.

This second item is really big because it both conveys and undermines Peter Cochran's Character and Situation.

This is a military exploration vessel, armed to the teeth with the latest weapons, going into enemy Territory on a stealth Extraction Mission (which they never bother to mention again or complete).

In each and every instance in the opening chapters, where an official order is given, whoever that order is given to answers back with an argument or objection (that is ridiculously inappropriate).  This dialogue exchange actually is there to inform the reader what is going on - but it is typical fanzine writing in that the craft-tool of Dialogue is substituted for Narrative.

It would work if in only one instance an order was objected to, but it is in every single instance.

So you have an illustration to study here explaining to you exactly why we keep saying "SHOW DON'T TELL" -- and that whatever you show and whatever you tell, it all must explicate the THEME.

The way dialogue is used in these action-opening chapters (space battles etc) shows us this is a lax, non-vertical chain of command where laid back argument and discussion is encouraged.  We are shown that Orders are not Orders, and the life-or-death-by-the-second decisions are not really life-or-death (except people die because of the discussion intervals).

But we are TOLD - that this is military exploration on a rescue mission, a stealth extraction of spies.

What we are shown does not match thematically with what we are told.

You really must study these three novels, and the market shifts their publication indicates.
Read the review praises in the front page in the LOOK INSIDE feature.  Every sort of reader is loving these books.

OK, the next fanzine structure issue in STARBOUND comes around page 100, where after they get the ship shot up and so damaged it has to go back to repair dock, Peter Cochran and his woman are sent to testify about their losing their previous ship (in the novel IMPULSE).

Now we go to Peter's social duties as a royal heir, and he goes home and gets bumped up a rank, then off to testify on another planet.

This interval is a drastic shift of pace -- it is another book entirely -- with totally different themes and conflicts.  The plot connects but the rest of everything just does not go together artistically.

This kind of "lurch" in pacing is typical of fanzine writing.

It is also something I rather enjoy reading -- fanfic has its charm.

But I am seeing this in Mass Market Paperback -- knowing what my editor would have done if I'd ever turned in a book structured like this -- and I know I'm looking at the taste of a readership that has grown up on fanfic.  They know real Marty Stu people, and believe they exist and can grow up to be mature and respectable.

In our current world, you can be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, score incredible successes before age 30, be an utterly immature and abrasive idiot in your 40's, and come into your 60's scoring even bigger successes while displaying mature Character.

Mature Character is an independent variable from Success in our world.  So readers find the Mary Sue and Marty Stu Characters acceptable, and even respectable in their adult form.

We live in a whole new world.  We are writing for a whole new readership.  Evidence here indicates they can be convinced that Love Conquers All and leads to Happily Ever After.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot films strikes me as a Marty Stu. That's the main reason why, although I enjoyed the movies well enough on a single viewing, they didn't enthrall me and I have no desire to re-watch them. I can't get past the absurdity of this person who's barely out of his teens being made a starship captain. Sure, temporarily in a dire emergency (such things happened in the age of sail when all senior officers on board were killed in battle, leaving only one ensign -- for example -- alive in the chain of command). But not as a permanent promotion. As a career Navy wife, I know this set-up makes no sense.

  2. Thanks for the review of the Lightship Chronicles, Jacqueline. I'm sure you know from your own career, especially as a 'new' author, that often times editors insist on things the writer would never think of putting in the book. "No, the romance should be between the two princesses," etc. I do not regret any of these changes, only that I didn't always get to write fully the way I wanted to. I am a big supporter of romance in sci-fi, and that element will likely always be there for me. Writing is an imperfect profession, and not everyone can be pleased, but I'm happy you read the books and seemed to get some enjoyment out of them.

    All the best, - Dave Bara

    1. Dave - I am discussing DEFIANT in a blog connected to THE ORVILLE and my discussion of that. Yes, I did have a Character's gender and function in a story changed by editorial decree (fortunately before writing the first draft) (that was MOLT BROTHER and CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS). But I do love the LIGHTSHIP CHRONICLES - but because I love the story and universe you have created, I am more irritated by the lack of craft-skills. On the other hand, that lack of writing craftsmanship makes these novels perfect for teaching Science Fiction Romance.

      The particular skill set that needs work in DEFIANT is scene-structure which affects Dialogue and thus Characterization.