The Hub Series

“Hubpoint of No Return”

Analog May/June 2018 coverNashira, David, and Rynyan return in the first of a new trio of comedy-SF adventures! Appearing in the May/June 2018 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

When a hidden vault filled with inexplicable artifacts is discovered in the Network, David, Nashira, and Rynyan must race a band of treasure hunters to claim its contents. (Description from Analog site.)

  • “The best part of the story is the characters, who keep managing to be predictable in unexpected ways.” — Greg Hullender, Rocket Stack Rank
  • “While not necessarily great art, it’s fine entertainment.” — Jason McGregor, Tangent Online
  • “Another fun, wild tale!” — Sam Tomaino, SFRevu

 

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Once Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy came out in 2015, it gave me the impetus to begin working on further adventures for Nashira, David, and Rynan. After all, book series sell better than individual books, so if I could generate enough stories for a second collection, it could improve sales for the first.

Thus, I approached the project with an eye toward writing a whole trilogy of stories in quick succession, so I could promptly collect them once they were published – “writing for the trade,” as they say in comics (referring to the tendency to plot and pace stories to suit their eventual trade-paperback collections rather than the individual monthly issues). I wanted to devise three stories that could stand alone reasonably well, yet still form a cohesive arc. Two of the ideas I chose were ones I’d had in mind for years, but unfortunately, neither one would work to begin the arc. I had an idea for a particular Hub-related crisis that could potentially lead off the trilogy, but it wasn’t until early 2016 that I stumbled upon the key scientific idea that gave me what I needed to make that premise work.

One aspect of the story was much older, though. Starting a new arc was an opportunity to bring changes to the status quo, advance the main characters, and introduce new supporting characters. For one thing, David would need to follow up on his decision in “Make Hub, Not War” to get a job and get by on his own. A job meant an employer, and that gave me an opportunity to bring in a character left over from a spec novel in my Only Superhuman/Among the Wild Cybers universe. That novel got away from me and meandered in the wrong direction, and reworking it meant abandoning several alien characters. But one of them was a comic-relief character who could fit neatly into the Hub universe with minimal adjustment.

I managed to get two stories written in 2016 and then got stuck on the third, because I’d rushed into writing it before I really had an ending worked out. But a Star Trek novel deadline intervened, and only when that novel was done could I finally work out how to conclude the Hub trilogy. I waited until I finished the third story before submitting the first two, just to make sure the continuity held up, although it turned out that I didn’t really need to. Then I made the mistake of submitting all three stories back to back, which made it a tougher decision for Analog editor Trevor Quachri to weigh, and so it took a lot longer than I’d hoped to sell all three stories.

But at long last, the Hub is back—and there’s still more to come.

Spoiler discussion and notes


“…And He Built a Crooked Hub”

Analog_SepOct2018

The second installment in the new Hub trilogy, and the craziest one yet! Appearing in the September/October 2018 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Nashira, Rynyan, David, and Julio get caught up in a four-dimensional bedroom farce when David’s tesseract-based hotel suite goes haywire — and their relationships along with it!

 

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This second story in the second Hub trilogy was based on one of the earliest ideas I had for the series. One of my earliest ideas was that David LaMacchia’s hotel suite at the Hubcomplex was a tesseract, a 4-dimensional hypercube that fit 7 rooms and an interface into the volume of a single cubic room. The first Hub scene I ever wrote, years before the rest of “The Hub of the Matter,” was the sketch of the hotel clerk Yolien attempting to explain the workings of the room to a very confused David. I realized right away that there would be comic potential in the idea of a suite access malfunction that would lead to its occupants frequently entering the wrong rooms. The idea of using it as the basis for a door-slamming bedroom farce in the vein of Noises Off or the plays of Georges Feydeau was a natural outgrowth. I introduced the idea of a malfunctioning suite access in the opening scene of “Home is Where the Hub Is,” but I hoped I could eventually do a whole story around the concept. Once I got to this point in the narrative, with romance, sex, and jealousy in the air more than ever before, it was the natural place for such a farce.

Another major inspiration, of course, was Robert A. Heinlein’s classic tesseract-home story “—And He Built a Crooked House—”, first published in the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, the precursor to Analog. I didn’t even know about the Analog connection, though, since I read the story in an anthology back in college, as part of an easy-A elective course on physics in science fiction. (The anthology was called Where Do We Go from Here? and edited by Isaac Asimov. I believe we got selections from it in the form of a course packet, but I later acquired a used copy of the original book.) Heinlein’s story was a comedy about a family getting trapped in an experimental tesseract house, and I consulted it closely for the expanded tesseract-suite material in the Hub Space version of “Make Hub, Not War,” and again in writing “Crooked Hub.”

There’s also a certain classic Marx Brothers scene that strongly influenced the story. Maybe you can guess which one it is…

Spoiler discussion and notes


Previously, on “The Hub”:

Hub Space: Tales from the Greater GalaxyHub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy

The Hub is the most important place in the galaxy — the single point through which all interstellar travel must pass. Yet no one in the galaxy understands how it works. David LaMacchia, an unimportant man from an unimportant planet called Earth, is determined to change that. He’s got no qualifications and no skills. His only friends are a cynical, sharp-tongued space pilot named Nashira Wing and a smugly philanthropic alien named Rynyan, and they both think he’s crazy. On top of that, the powers that profit from the Hub might just be trying to kill him. Still, that won’t stop David from trying to prove that humanity can make a difference to the greater galaxy.

Now the tales of the Hub from the pages of Analog are collected for the first time in one volume, newly revised and expanded! Includes “The Hub of the Matter,” “Home is Where the Hub Is,” and “Make Hub, Not War,” plus exclusive bonus material!

  • “No hard core science fiction fan could resist the premise…  The characters are irresistible too.  So is the humor.  Biting dialog is icing on the cake.  Intrigue.  Misadventures.  Culture clash.  Sexual clash.  Personality clash.  Very few science fiction stories are this much fun.” — Carl Slaughter on “The Hub of the Matter,” Tangent Online

Published by Mystique Press.

Now in trade paperback! Available from:

And as an e-book from:

It’s always been my hope to do enough Hub stories to collect into a novel-length fixup. But the rise of e-publishing gives me another option that doesn’t require waiting so long, since it’s opened a market for novella-length publications, a market that didn’t really exist in print. The first three stories form a loose arc of their own, so it makes sense to collect them and get them back into print, so that if I sell more stories in the future, it’ll be easier for new readers to track down the first three.

Also, this gives me a chance to revise the stories. The first two were published with errors — somehow the final corrections for the first story got lost in the mail, and somehow I got the name of a major character’s species wrong in the second. So this is my chance to finally get the corrected versions of the stories into print — another reason I decided to act now rather than waiting years more to accumulate a novel’s worth of stories. Not only that, but I’m expanding the stories a bit, adding new material here and there to flesh out the characters and their environment. I went for brevity in the original novelettes, but here I have room to breathe a little more. So readers who own the original Analog issues will still get something extra if they buy the collection.

The cover art, created by David Dodd (with input from me), is assembled from stock images, but turned out rather well. It conveys the characters’ personalities almost as well as Vladimir Bondar’s illustration from the Russian reprint of “The Hub of the Matter,” but comes much closer to how I envision their appearance. Unfortunately, finding stock art of a leonine humanoid alien with a feathery mane was a pretty tall order, so Rynyan had to be left off. I actually did find some stock art of a couple of models in lion-man makeup, surprisingly enough, but they would’ve needed too much modification, and a third figure might have cluttered the cover.

Spoiler discussion and notes


Here are my original discussions of the individual Hub stories:

“The Hub of the Matter” (Analog, March 2010)

  • “[A] fun adventure and interesting aliens… I hope to see more stories with these characters.” — Sam Tomaino, SFRevu

Once, I formulated a theory about science fiction sitcoms.  This was before Futurama, before I saw Red Dwarf.  All the SF sitcoms around, from the best (Buck Henry’s Quark) to the worst (UPN’s Homeboys in Outer Space), seemed to fail, and my belief was that it was because they were all farces and spoofs, set in worlds that were merely mocking SF tropes rather than having any integrity of their own.  It seemed to me that for a series to win an audience, its world and characters had to be believable enough for them to invest in.  Something that was pure spoof could be entertaining as a movie, but as an ongoing series there needs to be more.  Red Dwarf and Futurama supported this belief; while both shows had a lot of spoof in them, they managed to build interesting universes of their own, and to go beyond simply making fun of science fiction to telling stories that actually were science fiction, that worked as interesting and entertaining speculative tales in their own right while being told in a funny way.

So I began thinking about what I’d like to see in an SF sitcom: namely a show whose premise was as solid, credible, and well-developed as any dramatic SF universe, but whose focus was on humorous characters and situations within that universe.  After all, there’s nothing intrinsically absurd about a sheriff in a small town, an Army hospital in the Korean War, a taxi company in New York, or a radio psychologist in Seattle.  Most sitcoms depict naturalistic situations and derive their humor from characters and events.  Why couldn’t an SF sitcom do the same?  Especially since there’s plenty of potential for humor in a plausibly created SF universe.  Just imagine the cultural clashes and misunderstandings between species, or the ways that technology could go wrong.

Naturally, an SF sitcom would be under budgetary constraints, so I’d have to keep those in mind.  Perhaps the best approach would be to emulate sitcoms like Taxi and Wings — or dramas like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 — by using a transportation nexus as the setting, a place that many different people pass through, allowing a wide range of stories while staying on a few standing sets.  What if it’s the transportation nexus, the only means of FTL travel known to exist?  How would it operate?  What would be the ramifications?  Once I had the idea of the Hub, it spawned all sorts of rich possibilities.

The sets for a sitcom couldn’t be too elaborate, so why not make it the cheapest, most run-down, least technologically advanced section of this great interstellar nexus?  After all, if Earth were new to the interstellar community, it might not rate classier facilities.  And humor often comes from failure and frustration.  (The short-lived The John Larroquette Show, set at a decrepit bus station, was an influence on me here.)

But you need hope, too.  Your hero needs a goal, an aspiration.  If humanity’s so lowly in interstellar society, maybe he wants to prove humanity’s worth.  A nice, optimistic, humanist message.  But it needs a comedic twist, so maybe the hero’s a lovable loser, a guy with lots of hope but questionable qualifications.  And what better foil for him than a cynical leading lady who’s been around the block a few times?  Along with a helpful alien who represents the brighter, more idealized side of galactic life — and its comical downside.

Now, not long after I came up with the Hub universe, I decided I really didn’t have any interest in moving to Hollywood and pursuing a TV career.  So I figured I’d do The Hub as a series of short stories and maybe eventually sell the TV rights.  But it was a long time before I came up with enough story premises to feel confident about its prospects as a series.  Once I did, I went ahead and wrote “The Hub of the Matter.”  And rewrote, and rewrote.  Comedy requires precision.  For a while, I was too nervous to submit it.  But I finally did, and it sold on the first try.  Which was heartening.  Once it sold, I began work on a second story.

What I really like about the Hub universe is that it has a single, distinctive core concept that everything else grows out of.  It’s got a clear identity — good branding — but it has so many possibilities.  It’s a universe I’m hoping to spend a lot of time in.

“Home is Where the Hub Is” (Analog, December 2010)

  • “[T]he story is enjoyable, and this new tale strengthens and builds upon the previously laid foundation.” — Dreaming About Other Worlds

With the basics of the Hub universe established, I wanted to delve into how the Hub affected the societies that made use of it.  What does it do to a world’s culture, economics, etc. when its commerce with the rest of the galaxy relies on a single access point?  And what happens if that access point is in an inconvenient place?

I also needed to come up with a way to justify having Nashira make an interesting discovery so soon after the last one, when the first story had established how unlikely such discoveries were.  The key was for the “discovery” to be an arranged event.  But one that didn’t have the expected consequences.

“Make Hub, Not War” (Analog, November 2013)

  • “[A] delightful story that is mostly humorous but has a bit of an edge to it, too.” — Sam Tomaino, SFRevu

I have to admit, this story arose partly in response to a lukewarm review of “Home is Where the Hub Is.” The reviewer latched onto what I’d said here about the sitcom origins of the Hub premise and interpreted HIWTHI through that filter, claiming it was a story that was all about maintaining the status quo and employing predictable sitcom tropes — which is never what I intended the series to be. I wanted it to be an intelligent and plausibly developed comedy, not a shallow or formulaic one. I don’t want to think that I wrote this story solely to disprove a single review, but that review did make me think that maybe I had been too unambitious about evolving the characters and storylines. That sort of thing would be okay for a weekly sitcom, but for a more limited, infrequent series of prose novelettes, I should go deeper and develop the characters and situations more fully — or at least move up some of my long-term plans for them.

I also wanted to take advantage of the fact that what I created was essentially a serious, plausible SF universe, with the stories just happening to focus on a funny set of characters and situations within it. To me, that always created the potential for doing something more serious in the same reality. Many of the best comedies often take a more dramatic turn, just as the best dramas have plenty of humor. In this case, I wanted to explore how the Hub would affect the nature of war, certainly a serious subject. And I realized that the story would give me an opportunity to deepen the characters and bring some meaningful conflict and growth to their relationships. But as always, the more intense the subject matter, the richer the humor about it can be.

This story unfortunately took a long time to write. Partly this is because my father passed away in the summer of 2010 and it threw off my writing for a while, and then other projects such as Only Superhuman got in the way. But it’s largely because, as I wrote the early scenes of the story, I realized it was leading me toward a visit to Earth — and I couldn’t take the characters to Earth without exploring their backstories, their families, and the like. So I needed to flesh out things I hadn’t before, both David and Nashira’s “origin stories” and the specifics of what Hub-era Earth was like. I had to take my time to work those things out, and to figure out how to balance a visit to Earth with the rest of the story while still keeping it within my preferred 10,000-word limit for Hub stories.

By the time the story was finally ready, I realized I’d let three years slip by. And Stanley Schmidt had retired as Analog’s editor by that point. I was worried about whether the new editor, Trevor Quachri, would like the Hub as much as Stan had, and I wasn’t sure what my options were for selling part 3 of a series to a different magazine. Fortunately, Trevor liked the story, so here it is at last.

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