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Posts Tagged ‘Troubleshooters’

The Kickstarter for my next anthology is open!

We’re at it again, folks! eSpec Books has just opened a new Kickstarter for three anthologies, including Footprints in the Stars, which features my new Troubleshooter story “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.”

The first anthology being fundraised for is In Harm’s Way, Volume 8 of editor Mike McPhail’s military-SF anthology series Defending the Future, which has a focus on rescue and recovery missions (an idea I think is pretty cool), and contains stories by Brenda Cooper, Bud Sparhawk, David Sherman, Edward J. McFadden, Robert E. Waters, Jeff Young, James Chambers, Lisanne Norman, Robert Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher M. Hiles, Eric Hardenbrook, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Footprints in the StarsOnce that book is funded, the other two anthologies will be funded as stretch goals:

Footprints in the Stars: “A traditional science fiction collection with the theme of the discovery of evidence of other life in the universe and how those discoveries impact humanity. With stories by James Chambers, Robert Greenberger, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher L. Bennett, Dayton Ward, Russ Colchamiro, Vincent Collins, Bryan J. Glass, Gordon Linzner, Ian Randall Strock, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.”

Devil Dancers is a single-author military-SF collection by Robert E. Waters, containing reprinted and original stories in the titular universe.

The fundraising goal for In Harm’s Way is $800. Once we reach $1900, then Footprints in the Stars will be funded, and Devil Dancers will be funded at $2800. As with last time, there are also bonus stories and other rewards for people who pledge certain amounts, which will all be spelled out at the Kickstarter page — just click on the widget up above. The Kickstarter will remain open until May 19, 2019.

I’m told that Footprints in the Stars is scheduled to make its debut at this year’s Shore Leave Convention in Baltimore from July 12-14, which I expect to be attending as usual. The eSpec folks are going to be there as well, and we’re going to have a panel and stuff.

So everybody start Kickstarting! Or… whatever.

Minor update to ONLY SUPERHUMAN Historical timeline

Today I had occasion to glance over the Only Superhuman Historical Timeline page here on my site, and I noticed it was a bit outdated in some of the details, as well as containing a significant typo in one entry (with the word “And” and several spaces inserted somehow in the middle of a word). In particular, I referred to the conflict in 2076 as the Belt War, a leftover term from early drafts that didn’t appear in the final text of OS, whereas in “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (Analog, June 2016) I’d renamed it the Orbit War, since it was as much between Earth and its orbital habitats as between Earth and the Asteroid belt. (The Orbit War name also appears in the historical appendix to my upcoming collection Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman). I also realized that the description I’d given of the conflict didn’t quite jibe with “Cislunar” or with the background given in the first chapter of OS. So I made some tweaks to the Timeline text to make it more cohesive. (I also updated “Belt War” to “Orbit War” on the Character Profiles page for the novel.)

Only Superhuman MMPB coverIn the course of doing this, I discovered a convergence that had never occurred to me. In Chapter 3 of OS (the first flashback chapter), when Emerald Blair’s father Richard is explaining the backstory of the Earth-Strider tensions to his young daughter, he says at one point that, as a pacifist, he couldn’t fight in “the war or the troubles that followed,” meaning the dissolution of the Strider states into chaos and internecine struggles in the years after the war. It struck me that if that period had actually been known as “the Troubles” (also the term used to refer to the Northern Ireland conflict of the 1960s-90s, a similar era of political/social strife and violence), that would provide a nice explanation for how the superpowered peacekeepers who emerged to save lives and promote order during the period came to be known as the Troubleshooters. I’d always assumed that they’d picked up that nickname before then, and there are lines referring to early Troubleshooters’ involvement in the war, but those lines are in retrospect, spoken years after the fact, so the name could be applied anachronistically. Even if some of these private vigilantes were informally called “troubleshooters” before the actual Troubles in the early 2080s (and before the Troubleshooter Corps’s founding in 2083), it could’ve been the reason the name caught on during and after them. It’s got a nice resonance, and it doesn’t overtly contradict anything in the text, so it works. Indeed, I wonder if I might have had something like this in mind when I wrote the line “the troubles that followed,” but didn’t remember it later on.

In real life, I chose the name “Troubleshooter” because I initially envisioned the characters as an elite class of problem-solvers within a larger Solar Security Bureau, before I realized the premise worked better without a central Solar System government and started over from scratch with OS. But with that backstory gone, the etymology of the name “Troubleshooter” for what were now outright superheroes became a bit more random. I kept it because I wanted to stress that my heroes were primarily problem-solvers, not just fighters. But this new insight gives the name more of an in-universe justification. And it fits neatly, because in OS I used the word “trouble” as a recurring motif in chapter titles and dialogue (including the Green Blaze’s catchphrase, “Looking for trouble? You just found her.”) I’m kind of surprised I didn’t think of it before. Whether I ever get to use it in an actual story remains to be seen, though.

Anyway, this is a reminder to be more careful about curating my website content. When I check the text of my stories to ensure they’re consistent with each other, I don’t always remember I have further material on the site. That material may not be strictly canonical, but I should remember to check it for consistency with new stories. I’m glad I caught this before the release of Among the Wild Cybers, which will hopefully bring some new readers to my site.

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.

Announcing ONLY SUPERHUMAN, my first original novel!

At last, the contracts are signed, the wait is over, and I can finally make the biggest announcement of my career to date.  My first original novel, Only Superhuman, has been purchased by Tor Books!  Not only that, but it will be my first hardcover novel as well!  It hasn’t been scheduled yet, but it will probably come out sometime in mid- to late 2012.

Only Superhuman is a hard science fiction take on superhero adventure, set in the early 22nd century in an Asteroid Belt civilization where transhuman enhancements are commonplace, and a small corps of superhumans called Troubleshooters strives to keep the peace in a high frontier where law and order are often hard to find.  It’s the story of Emerald Blair, a brash, sexy, action-loving young Troubleshooter who joined the corps to make amends for past sins.  When her estranged father’s people, a once-heroic group whose ambitions tarnished their legacy, re-emerge seeking to bring their own brand of order to the Belt, Emerald finds herself caught between them and the Troubleshooters’ new backers, whose own pursuit of order may conceal a hidden agenda.  Torn between loyalties, Emerald must make peace with her own power and its past abuses before she can distinguish the true heroes from those who crave power for their own ends.

In many ways, this is an atypical tale for me.  It’s more action-oriented than most of my published work (except for my two Marvel Comics-based novels), it doesn’t feature aliens (though there are AIs and multiple varieties of transhuman), and it’s got more sexual content and language than my Star Trek fiction.  But the fact is, I’ve been working on this concept for literally more than half my life, and it’s closer to me than anything else I’ve ever written.

I created Emerald Blair in the summer of 1988, and made my first try at a spec novel about her, called simply Troubleshooter, in 1993.  I spent the rest of the ’90s rewriting and revising it, as well as coming up with ideas for multiple sequels and even a comic-book series.  In the process, I devised new characters, worldbuilding, and backstory that helped me flesh out the universe.  But around 2000, I realized that my basic concepts weren’t strong enough and I couldn’t fix them by rewriting the book I had.  So I abandoned Troubleshooter, rethought everything from the ground up, and crafted a new novel outline that distilled the best elements from all those sequel and comic-book ideas as well as the best of my new thinking.  Initially, in pursuit of plausibility, I’d downplayed the superhero aspects of the concept, but when I realized that I needed something to make this stand out from the crowd of transhumanist adventure novels, I decided to play up those superhero tropes, to justify and explore them as plausibly as I could while still embracing the fun and grandiose charm of superhero comics.

I started Only Superhuman in 2003, but then my Star Trek writing career began in earnest, so I didn’t finish the first draft until ’05.  After a fair amount of rewriting and refining, I began shopping it to agents in ’07, and though I had no success, one agent offered some constructive criticisms that let me tighten and improve it considerably.  After that, I still had no luck, so I decided that maybe it was too idiosyncratic a project to serve as my introduction to agents.  I submitted it for consideration by Marco Palmieri, my Star Trek editor at Pocket, and began work on a different spec novel for my agent hunt.  But then Marco got laid off from Pocket before I got his answer, and I got stalled on my other spec novel.  I switched gears to short fiction for a while, thinking it might be a better way to make a name for myself in original SF.  But then, last year at New York Comic-Con, I learned that my fellow Trek novelist Greg Cox was acquiring books for Tor, and he said he’d be willing to take a look at what I had.  I still haven’t finished the other spec novel, so I sent him Only Superhuman, and the rest is history.  After all the obstacles and delays I faced before, it was a delightful surprise how smoothly it went from submission to acceptance.  (Shortly thereafter, as it happened, Marco Palmieri began working at Tor, so he’ll probably be involved with editing this book to some extent after all.  Nice how that worked out.)

Anyway, bottom line, this is the best news of my life.  Over the past few months waiting for the contract, all I’ve had to do was think, “I sold Only Superhuman!” and I’d be filled with euphoric glee.  That’s faded somewhat in recent weeks, but I’m feeling it again as I write this, now that I can finally share the news with everyone.  I can’t remember the last time I was so happy about anything. This is the culmination of more than half a lifetime’s work, the fulfillment of one of my primary goals in life.  What’s more, I finally get to share Emerald Blair, a character who’s been close to my heart for most of my adult life, with the rest of the world.  And hopefully, it’s just the beginning of my original novel-writing career.  I’ve definitely got ideas for sequels, and for other novels in the same broader universe (which is also the universe of my previously published stories “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” and “The Weight of Silence,” though none of them have any direct links to Only Superhuman).  But that will depend on how well this novel sells.  I’ve been moderately successful as a Star Trek novelist, but this is a whole new start, and I can only hope it does well.