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Edward McKeown tells us about Was Once a Hero
Posted By Flames On January 17, 2012 @ 10:27 am In Articles | 1 Comment
The design essay series continue here at Flames Rising with a new entry from author Edward McKeown telling about his novel Was Once a Hero.
Reluctant privateer Robert Fenaday searches the stars for his lost love, Lisa, a naval intelligence officer whose ship disappeared near the end of the Conchirri War . He’s joined by the genetically engineered assassin, Shasti Rainhell, whose cold perfection masks her dark past. Both are blackmailed by government spymaster, Mandela, into a suicidal mission to the doomed planet Enshar. Leading a team of scientists and soldiers, they must unravel the mystery of that planet’s death before an ancient force reaches out to claim their lives.
Once upon a time there was a science-fiction fan who loved Andre Norton, CJ Cherryh, Larry Niven, Mike Resnick, Catherine Asaro and many others. He gathered their adventures to him and traveled the star lanes with their characters. But something was missing, a connection that had not been made. Then he realized what it was, however wonderful their visions were, there were THEIR visions, not his. He wondered if he could bring his visions to life.
Well I’m that fan and from the day I realized that I have been practicing and growing in my craft in the art of writing. I began with a blizzard of short stories from what came to be the Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess series then the Jeremy Leclerc Knight Templar series.
But the novel beckoned and unlike my other efforts it called out to be a story of deep space, of aliens, starships, artificial intelligences and deadly danger. In short I wanted to do what I thought of as a “Planet Story” creating new cultures, worlds and species.
Too many characters in science-fiction are too heroic, too unafraid, and too matter-of-fact about danger. Those of us who have faced danger and triumphed over it usually did it either with our hearts in our mouths, fighting to overcome fear, or it was over so fast that we didn’t have time for panic. There are surely people of steely nerves and endless reserves of courage (check your local Seal Team) but they are not common. Most of us struggle to find courage and apply it. So I decided that my character would be a man, drawn from a more ordinary life, no Captain Kirk, no Captain Sheridan, but someone more like one of us.
This came out of knowing some World War II vets, genial men in the sunsets of their lives, many who seemed like they would not harm a fly. Yet these were the amtrac gunners at Tarawa, the crew in the B-17 from the mighty Eighth, the marine crouching in the darkness at the edge of Henderson Field when the banzai charges came in. But that geniality masked the fact that we ordinary MEN man are capable of deeds that scar the soul. However gentle and kind we are to friends and family, in the right situation we can be the instruments of immense destruction. So this would be a theme that I would explore in my book.
“Was Once a Hero” was born. I introduced Robert Fenaday, the son of a wealthy merchant family, something of an idle playboy in a family business. My character would be flawed, dealing with a domineering father, having not made anything of himself until he found the love of his life, Lisa Brenton, a Confederate Naval Intelligence Operative. The romance is threatened when the Conchirri, a carnivorous alien species bursts into the hitherto peaceful Confederation of Seven Species. Lisa, now his wife, is called to war and Robert stays to run the family shipping line in a reversal of the usual roles. She is James Bond and he is the one left behind. Then Lisa’s ship is reported missing.
This is the seachange for Robert; he will not accept that the universe can dispose of Lisa. He sells off his family business over much opposition and buys a captured enemy warship he names Sidhe, to become a privateer and search the stars for Lisa. But Fenaday is not fitted to the murky and dangerous world he now inhabits. He survives only because of a chance meeting. In the course of his searches, he rescues Shasti Rainhell, genetically engineered assassin. As cold and beautiful as February moonlight, Shasti is stronger and more perfect than humanly possible. Fascinated by his search for his wife, and hiding from her own past, Shasti serves on Sidhe, keeping the privateer crew in line.
The war ends without any sign of Lisa and Fenaday ends up broke on Mars desperately looking for a commission for his ship to continue his search. It comes in an unusual form. He and Shasti are blackmailed by government operative named “Mandela” into a suicidal mission to the murdered world of Enshar, accompanied by ace fighter pilot, Telisan, and the ancient Enshari scholar, Belwin Duna. Leading their crew of privateers and government soldiers, they struggle to unravel the mystery of a world’s death. In the crucible of battle and terror, Fenaday and Shasti Rainhell are driven across barriers both had set in their lives and into a new and deeper relationship.
Was once a Hero is the first of three novels on Robert Fenaday’s search for his wife, and his companion and sometime lover, Shasti Rainhell’s search for her humanity. The trilogy is written so the reader can pick up any of the three books and have a complete SF adventure in hand, yet all three books form an arc on the overstory of Robert’s search for Lisa and Shasti’s emotional voyage of self-discovery.
In writing what I hoped would be a page-turning adventure novel, things turned out somewhat differently then I envisioned at the beginning. Shasti Rainhell was the chief surprise. I originally created that character because I realized that someone from the “corporate world” wouldn’t last long on his own in the quasi-criminal trade of a privateer. He would need someone to watch his back while he learned this new role. I decided to go with a strong female character because the interactions between men and women are vastly more interesting and complex then those just between men. I wanted my female character to be totally believable in her role. Shasti became a six-foot-nine genetically engineered assassin far stronger than a “standard” human with abilities both mental and physical that made her incredibly formidable.
But Shasti would not stay a sidekick, or merely a hired gun. She was so strong that her past began to sneak into the book, her escape from her creator Jalgren Pard, from her homeworld of Olympia, her emotional scars from her childhood. She saw in Fenaday a determined love and gentleness that she had never experienced before. This fascination became the foundation of their relationship.
Ok you may have noticed that we stopped talking about starships and aliens and began talking about love. While Hero is primarily an adventure story, love too is an adventure.
I populated my book with a crew of characters, always careful to make sure that the secondary characters stayed secondary but interesting. Telisan, the ace-pilot from a species with three genders, the kindly Duna, scientist and scholar of the few remaining Enshari, Kyle Mmok the acerbic robot controller and many others. I wrote with a strong visual sensibility as that’s what I like to read, I need to see the movie play in my head.
So in the end I produced what I feel is a strong adventure where sometimes the air is filled with the flash of energy weapons as deadly enemies close in and sometimes two people cling to each other to banish the universe’s terrors with the strength of their emotions. I hope you will join me for the voyages of Robert Fenaday, Shasti Rainhell and the Sidhe, available through Hellfire Publishing with an introduction by Janet Morris of “Heroes in Hell” fame.
See you around the galaxy,
Edward McKeown – 2012
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