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Archive for July 12, 2011

So how was your drive home, Christopher?

Oh, that.  Well, let’s see if I can remember… it’s all sort of blending together.  I got up pretty early on Monday morning, and cousin-in-law Mark advised me that the longer I waited to set out, the worse the rush hour traffic would be on the DC Beltway.  So after having a big bowl of cereal (literally —  their bowls are bigger than mine so I poured more than I intended) and checking the weather (noting a chance of thunderstorms along the route), I packed up and set out at about 7:20 AM.  Getting onto the Beltway was easier this time than back at Thanksgiving; this time I didn’t miss the exit (even though the sign for it was almost hidden by tree branches).  The Beltway traffic wasn’t too bad, and so it was pretty straightforward from there.  I took advantage of every rest stop, knowing I needed to pace myself.  After just about four hours, I left Maryland and entered West Virginia.  My gas was running low as I neared Morgantown, and I tried using my phone’s Yellow Pages application to find a Kroger gas station (so I could use my discount card).  But I don’t actually subscribe to the phone’s GPS service, and I couldn’t quite figure out the directions it gave, so after stopping for lunch, I decided just to give up on Kroger and get gas from the nearest station I could find.  But the first one said on the pump that the gas included ethanol, and I don’t know enough about my car to know if that’s appropriate for it.  And the second charged too much.  So I just went back onto the freeway in search of the next exit.  And lo and behold, there was a sign for Kroger gas!  Not offering nearly as good a discount as I get at home, but it was the cheapest I could find.

Then I took I-79 north into Pennsylvania and up to I-70, and I think it was somewhere in PA that my eyes really started to sting and water (maybe from sweat dripping sunblock into them — that happens sometimes) and I had to pull over until it cleared up.   Unfortunately, the first available place to stop after I took the next exit was a large gravel lot.  For the rest of the drive home, I could hear a piece of gravel rattling around inside one of the wheels.  At least, I really hoped that’s what it was; I’d gone over kind of a big dip in the road when leaving the lot.  But I didn’t have a wheel fall off at 65 MPH and crash and burn horribly, which is a good sign.

Then I left Pennsylvania and ended up… back in West Virginia?!  Well, just that little tiny extension of West Virginia that sticks up in that very narrow space between Ohio and Pennsylvania for reasons surpassing understanding.  Why did the people who drew the PA border need it to be a perfect square at that corner?  Why not just extend it all the way to the Ohio River?  Anyway, I stopped at a rest stop near Wheeling, and luckily they had a TV showing the Weather Channel, which at just that moment was reporting on a very heavy thunderstorm that was going to pass over my route within the next hour or two.  I figured I’d have to stop somewhere and ride it out, but first decided to make as much progress as I could before it hit, so I wouldn’t lose time.  So I kept driving until the sky grew dark, and once the rain started to fall, I pulled off at the next exit.  The only real place to wait there was a gas station/convenience mart, but the rain was coming down hard by the time I parked there, so I definitely made the right call.  I decided to buy an ice cream sundae, and had just finished paying for it when the power went out.  So I ate my sundae in the dark (or the dim, anyway) and watched the storm.  Eventually, once the rain had become light enough and the thunder was coming some 15 seconds after the lightning, I figured the worst was past and got back on the road, though it was  another couple of hours before the rain ended altogether.

The ice cream was around 4 PM, so I didn’t get hungry for a while, which was good, because the storm had made for a long delay and I was hoping to get home before 8 so I could watch the season premieres of Syfy’s Monday shows, and thus didn’t want to stop for dinner.  Once I got past Columbus and onto I-71, I knew I was pushing it; I didn’t expect I’d get home before 8, but the margin was close enough that maybe I could’ve if I’d gone fast enough.  But I was still a little uneasy about that rattle in the wheel, and I didn’t want to take any chances with safety just to get home in time for a show I was recording anyway.  So I took my time, and as I expected, I got home about 10 minutes after 8 — tantalizingly close, but not close enough.  Just as well, since it gave me time to check my mail and settle in a bit.

I must’ve been pretty exhausted, since I slept until after 8 AM the next morning, and I’m still feeling pretty fatigued.  It was a really long trip — just about 12 hours and 50 minutes.  And I still haven’t fully unpacked or caught up on all my recorded shows.  Or gotten around to picking up that laptop battery I need.  It’ll be another day or two before I’m back to normal, I guess.

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ONLY SUPERHUMAN: Introducing Emerald Blair

At Shore Leave this weekend, I got to talk publicly for the first time about some of the details of Only Superhuman, and now I’m going to share them here, along with some character sketches I also showed at the convention.

Only Superhuman takes place roughly a century from now in the Main Asteroid Belt of the Solar System.  The Belt inhabitants, called Striders (corruption of earlier “stroiders”), have had to embrace human modification through genetics, bionics, etc. to survive the radiation and microgravity of space.  Many soon went beyond mere survival to explore more extensive “mods” (a term that came to apply to transhumans themselves as well as their enhancements), effectively giving themselves superpowers.  Naturally, some individuals, groups, and nations began using these powers for personal gain at the expense of others, or clashing with rivals at the expense of innocent bystanders.  But who would help the victims?  The Striders are a highly nationalist bunch, suspicious of outside authority.  Space habitats must be tightly controlled, regimented environments, and Striders accept the need for that to preserve their own homes, but assert their independence by being highly resentful of foreign or outside authority.  The sheer diversity of the Strider populations (for different asteroids’ distinct orbits, resources, and the like promote the development of distinct cultures) also keeps them from getting along.  As such, any attempt to get Striders involved in law enforcement outside their own local jurisdiction is problematical, and the Belt is a rather lawless place.

But just as there were some mods who used their transhuman abilities for harm, there were some who chose to use them to help and protect their neighbors in times of need.  These special few (at least, those capable and powerful enough to survive the attempt) came to be known as Troubleshooters, and soon gained a reputation in the public eye as larger-than-life, romanticized figures, essentially superheroes.  But the Troubleshooters could only do so much as individuals, and sometimes clashed over methods and jurisdiction.  Eventually, the greatest of the Troubleshooters organized the rest (at least, those who would agree to follow the rules) into the Troubleshooter Corps (TSC), a non-governmental organization promoting and coordinating their efforts.  Knowing that the Striders would resist their aid if they presented themselves as a paramilitary or mercenary group, they embraced their media image as superheroes — colorful, flamboyant celebrity crimefighters with distinctive costumes and code names, role models that people could look up to and trust implicitly.

The newest Troubleshooter is 22-year-old Emerald Blair, nicknamed the Green Blaze:

Emerald Blair, "Green Blaze"

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

In many ways, “Emry” Blair is an ideal Troubleshooter recruit: your classic superheroine, a hot redhead with ample muscles and ample curves.  She’s got superhuman strength, senses, reflexes, endurance, healing ability, and intelligence (though not necessarily judgment).  She’s even got the obligatory tragic past motivating her heroics — a past that includes several years as a juvenile delinquent and mod-gang member called Banshee.  This was a rebellion against her father, who was once a member of the Vanguard habitat-nation.  The Vanguardians were the first human community to embrace transhuman mods beyond mere survival needs and the first to use their augmented abilities to protect people; as such, they were considered the first real superheroes.  But they got too ambitious and heavy-handed.  Public opinion turned on them and they retreated to the outer reaches of the Belt to live in isolation as the Strider community grew without them.

But now they’re back.  And they’re apparently in bed with other mod nations known for unsavory or unethical practices.  The Troubleshooters, under new leadership, send the Green Blaze to infiltrate them, playing on her family ties to find out what they’re up to, if anything.  But the last thing Emry wants is to confront that side of her past.  And she’s uneasy about the Corps going after people who haven’t done anything yet.  Is it a way of heading off trouble before it comes, or something more dangerous?  Emerald Blair is caught between two factions seeking to bring their own brand of order to the Striders, and in the process she’s forced to confront the tragedies of her own past and decide what kind of superhuman — and what kind of person — she will become.

Emerald Blair portrait

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

Why “Emerald Blair?”  Well, because I thought “Emerald” would be a cool name for a character (green is my favorite color), and I decided to create one.   I had recently (back in 1988 when this began) had the idea to explore superpowers in a scientifically plausible way, so I decided Emerald would be a superhuman operative.  I picked the Solar System frontier in the early 2100s because it was a setting I hadn’t explored before — and ultimately it ended up meshing rather well with the transhuman elements of the concept. I chose “Blair” as a name that was neither too ordinary (like the gazillion characters with exotic first names and the last name “Jones,” from Cyrano to Indiana to Cleopatra) or too exotic.  I’m not sure where it specifically came from (maybe just from repeating “Emerald blank” to myself to sound out the rhythm), but it struck a happy medium.

For the first 15 years, she was just Emerald “Emry” Blair, no other name.  But when I abandoned my initial Troubleshooterspec novel, rethought everything from the ground up, and decided to embrace the superhero elements of the concept more fully, that left Emry in need of a code name.  Perhaps “Green Blaze” is unimaginative, too much of a riff on her real name, but I didn’t want to go too far afield, and it’s not as if Troubleshooters’ identities are secret (not most of them, anyway).   Plus it evokes a lot of classic costumed heroes — Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Green Hornet, Green Goblin (hey, at least one version of Gobby has been heroic).

Emerald Blair (profile)

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

Yes, these drawings are my own work, done in pencil and colored pencil.  The full-face portrait was finished in 2002 (though I did several earlier drafts over the preceding 5-6 years), the profile (my favorite) done in 2003.  The full-length “Green Blaze” portrait is a mostly digital reworking, finished in 2011, of a 2002 drawing done before I’d fully embraced the superhero idea (so her costume was not quite so flashy there).  Since this is that design modified to fit my new ideas, I see it as more an approximation, a concept sketch, than an authoritative Green Blaze costume design (although it is consistent with the costume details mentioned in the novel).  But as far as the face and physique are concerned, these are the drawings that guided how I described Emerald in Only Superhuman.

Emerald’s face is inspired by my best friend from college, but I used a photo of an actress from a magazine for reference and adjusted the features from memory (it was a photo from the late ’80s, hence the big hair — just assume she’s in very low gravity).  The hair color is inspired by a different girl I knew in high school, and I’m rather proud of how it turned out in the original portrait, though I’m not sure the colors came through quite right in the scans, especially the profile.  Ideally it should evoke the colors of autumn leaves.   Emry’s physique in the full-length portrait is modeled on tennis star Serena Williams, although Emry is a few inches shorter.  I wanted Emry to be both muscular and voluptuous, but in a realistic way rather than a comic-book exaggeration, and in a functional way like a working athlete rather than the display-oriented build of a female bodybuilder.  I like the contrast between Emry’s dainty, elfin face and her powerful body.

I have no idea if Emry will look like this on the novel’s cover, or if she’ll be on the cover at all.  That’s up to the Tor art department.  But my editor has my sketches.  And at least the readers of my blog will know what she looks like in my mind.

Shore Leave stuff

I’m home!  I was going to make a second Shore Leave-related post on Saturday evening, but I still had three panels that day, and since I had pretty low turnout at my solo panel, I figured my news about Only Superhuman and my Trek projects would still be new information for a lot of people there, so I wanted to wait until I’d “debuted” the news a second time before posting it here.  And after I left on Sunday, I went to Cousin Barb’s in the DC area to stay overnight, and we went over to her friend’s house for dinner and a movie (the same friend who cooked us Thanksgiving dinner last year), and then I went to bed early and set out early the next morning and spent the whole lonnnnnngggg day driving home, so I didn’t get to post until now.

Here’s what I had in draft on Saturday night:

Well, my day feels like it’s been more eventful than it looks when I review my activity.  I didn’t go to that many panels — I sat in the audience on a writing-advice panel at 11 and a Star Trek Magazine panel at 1, then had lunch in my room and rested up, then spent half an hour or so talking to Paul Simpson about my 4 PM panel, as well as to Scott Pearson and Marco Palmieri when they showed up.  Then I rehearsed how I planned to talk about Only Superhuman a bit (and I fumbled it in the actual talk), then came the big event, my panel.  Well, big for me.  The audience was fairly small, maybe 8 people or so.  Still, it was fun to get to talk about OS at last, and I even did a dramatic reading of a scene from the book.  (Maybe I should’ve announced that in advance, but I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it.  I should’ve remembered that I’m an inveterate ham given the chance.)  I also revealed some exclusive info about my upcoming Trek projects.

The Only Superhuman news will be in a separate post following this one.  Here’s the Trek news:

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within has two parallel plotlines, dealing with the least-explored species on both sides of the current political divide in the Trek Lit universe: on the Typhon Pact side, the Kinshaya (a species introduced in passing references in John M. Ford’s classic novel The Final Reflection and only seen to date in Keith R.A. DeCandido’s A Singular Destiny, the novel that introduced the Typhon Pact) and on the side of the expanded Khitomer Alliance, the Talarians from TNG’s “Suddenly Human.”  Most of the other Pact member species will also be featured to some extent.

Star Trek: Forgotten History (or Star Trek: DTI: Forgotten History, as it’s still being billed on the Simon & Schuster sites) is the “origin story” of the Department of Temporal Investigations, a group whose founding date was established in earlier works as 2270.  Naturally, the time-travel exploits of Kirk and the Enterprise are heavily involved in those foundational events.  The main body of the novel begins in 2267, exploring the Starfleet/Federation response to Kirk’s time-travel discoveries, but the bulk of it takes place in the era following Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Yes, I’m finally getting to revisit the post-TMP timeframe I’ve previously explored in Ex Machina and Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again, and I’m very pleased about it.  Additionally, the novel has a frame story featuring the 24th-century DTI characters from Watching the Clock — and several of the DTI’s older members, the characters established as having been alive at the time, will play at least small roles in the main body of the story as well.

So to some extent, Forgotten History is both a prequel and a sequel to Watching the Clock, and both a prequel and a sequel to Ex Machina.   Yet I’m taking care to write it as a self-contained tale, something you can follow without having read either prior work.

I didn’t mention this at the con, since I didn’t know it yet, but Simon & Schuster’s site now has publication dates listed for both of these: The Struggle Within is listed for October 4, 2011 (eBook only), and Forgotten History is listed for April 24, 2012 (making it the May book for next year).

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