Interview with John Lawrence:
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Was Once a Hero was born one day when the image of an aerodynamic and ominous red
starship sliding over the surface of a world I knew was dead, came to my mind. I started wondering about that world and why it died. Then I began to wonder about who was on that ship and why they would risk a voyage to such a place. I decided while they had to be the sort of people who would logically, out of duty or avarice, go to such a place, eventually I settled on a mix of government people and privateers to cover both motivations. I did not want to have a crew of stalwarts under a Captain Adams, Kirk, or Picard but rather a diverse crew bringing with them the seeds of their own divisions beyond any dangers that they would find.
What genre does your book fall under?
That is a tougher question then it looks. Was Once a Hero is a science fiction story and the focus is on the action and the adventure, but there is a strong romance element in it as well as a
story of personal growth, destruction and redemption. Again I did not want to do the “heroic crew of the USS Whatever.” My main character is a formerly wealthy rich man, who has descended to the life of a privateer for no other reason than to find his wife, a lost naval officer. His journey is complicated by his involvement with his bella donna sans merci Shasti Rainhell, a genetically engineered assassin and refugee from her homeworld of Olympia.
In Fearful Symmetry, I added the elements of a political thriller to the mix and yet feel I never lost touch with the burgeoning love story that was nurtured in Hero, for all the bullets and beams flying around it.
The trilogy will complete in 2013 with Points of Departure, the last book, written and under contract but more about that later.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
For Was Once A Hero: A rag-tag crw of spacefarers battle each other and an ancient enemy on a murdered world.
For Fearful Symmetry: Fenaday and the deadly Shasti Rainhell have only one chance to stop the rise of a new master race.
Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?
I a published through Hellfire publishing http://www.hellfirepublishing.com/hero.html. I am currently looking for an agent though
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
All my life. :-) I average about a year a novel and have eight written with four under contract. Hero took longer because it was the first the others came quicker
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Let me answer that one by way of saying who my inspirations are. My biggest is Andre Norton
followed closely by CJ Cherryh. I am a fan of Mike Resnick and Catherine Asaro's work as well as Larry Niven and some less well known authors: Brian Aldiss, Morgan Llewellyn, Jeff Sutton and Ken Bulmer. I am a huge anime fan and a lot of my SF is inspired by that source.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In a way it was a desire to read more of the sort of star-spanning planetary adventure that always enjoyed but which are not as common these days. Plus I read a bad book by a good author and thought, “Hey I can do better than that.” Remember the perils of hubris; it was WAY harder than I thought it would be.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I think the fact that there is a anime influence in my visual writing style, beyond that I feel it is the emphasis on the emotional existences of these characters, they are as real as I can reveal them to be, notice that I did not say make them. My characters make themselves.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Another toughie, while I only described Robert Fenaday as brown-haired and strongly
built and about thirty I did not imagine his face in great detail. My cover artist Michael Church, when he came up with the series of covers you see here, choose a face that I immediately said, “That’s it!” I realized that to some degree his image reminded me of Nathan Fillion. But more the Nathan of Firefly then the more amiable and roguish Castle.
Shasti Rainhell, well how many beautiful 6’ 9” athletic actresses do you know with
green eye,s long black hair and a slightly ivory complexion? Send me an email ;-)
The Beyond by Jeff Sutton a Review
This was a book I read in tender years but have kept the copy of it with me for over forty years. It spoke to my sense of alienation as a child and in the limitless possibilities of the future.
It’ sad and sweet, full of pain and based on the premise that while you can hide inside an indentity for a while, in the end, you must strap on your weapon and step into the street on one side of the other.
The Beyond is a tale of the other. In this case on an Australia like penal colony where telepaths are banished to save normals from the invasion of their thoughts, something new has emerged, a PK. A psychokinetic, one
with the power to move objects by thought alone.
The Galatic government has decided it is not enough to send the telepaths into exile. If a PK has arisen, more drastic measures are called for.
Sutton began publishing
fiction in 1958. Throughout his writing career he remained a free-lance
editorial consultant to aerospace industries and published articles in related
professional magazines. He published 23 novels in more than 10 languagees,
including a number of science fiction, war, political, and juvenile books. In
one of his interviews he said that writing came naturally to him. He wrote that
his greatest interest had always been people and the settings in which they
function. As a writer, he focused on subjects related to his earlier work –
space, astronautics, war, newspapers – and on science fiction. Among his books
about space exploration are Bombs in Orbit(1959), Spacehive (1960)
and Apollo at Go (1963).
Jean Sutton helped edit
fifteen of her husband's novels, starting with his first fiction book First
on the Moon (1958). They first collaborated as coauthors on the juvenile
book The Beyond (1968). They published some juvenile books as coauthors,
including The River, The Programmed Man,Lord of the Stars
and others. Two of them, The Beyond and The Programmed Man, were
needed(different from Junior Literary
Switching tracks from some classic SF book reviews I
thought I would comment on some old movies. Many of the old early color or black and white films are great fun and great science fiction.
There are movies from back then such as: Them, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Forbidden Planet that, for me at least, hold as much or more magic and excitement as the latest, special-effects-laden offerings where the effects have
replaced both character and plot.
However this first one is not one of these and it is
proof that mere ageing does not improve everything as it does wine. TCM and DVR are a great combination and I pick up many an old film that I have not seen in forever, sometimes it is like being reacquainted with an old friend. However Queen of Outer Space was more like being reintroduced to an ex-girlfriend who caused you to change your phone number.
Here’s the official plot:
Capt. Patterson (Eric Fleming) and his space crew (Dave Willock,
Patrick Waltz, and Paul Birch) crash land on Venus and are captured. They learn the planet is under the dictatorship of cruel Queen Yllana (Laurie Mitchell),
a masked woman who has banished men from the planet. In the palace, the
astronauts are aided by a beautiful courtier named Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor)
and her friends (Lisa Davis, Barbara Darrow, and Marilyn Buferd). The women long for the love of men again and plot to overthrow the evil Queen. When Patterson has the opportunity to remove the Queen's mask, he discovers she has been horribly disfigured by radiation burns caused by men and their wars. In a fury, the Queen decides to destroy Earth and its warlike
peoples but she dies in the attempt. The Venusians are free again to enjoy the love of men.
This movie is so bad that it sits on its haunches and howls its awfulness at the universe, well maybe not that bad, but Lord it wasn’t good. Originally written as a satirical idea of a female dominated planet, it was done with so little self-awareness that it doesn’t work as satire if in fact that was the intention. Realizing that the movie was done in 1958 and that movies are a microcosm of their time and attitudes (Note that in the vastly superior Forbidden Planet the crew was not integrated as to race or gender- though the US military was) the sexism of the film is still enough to make someone not known for political correctness simply cringe.
“How could a bunch of dames come up with a weapon capable of destroying the Earth and how would they aim it? You know what women drivers are like...” Ouch!
Contrast this with the earlier, Them , where the female scientist, over the objections of her male colleagues, must lead the team into the giant ant mound to see if all of them are dead.
While still classically feminine and attractive she is intelligent and brave and the men’s attraction to her is genuine, respectful and not simply predatory. Ditto the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the original Howard Hawks, The Thing. The women here are not Ripley or Xena but nor are they empty headed dolls. In short maybe being 1958 didn’t really excuse this one.
The only merit I could see to this film was if you were a fan of props. This movie
recycles the entire Forbidden Planet prop department. The men wear the uniforms of the C57D with their dress hats, the women of Venus use the blaster rifles and pistols from that movie.
The male crew from earth use German Mauser pistols spray-painted gold, forgivable George Lucas used the same weapon for Han Solo’s blaster.
You know you are an SF geek was as straight male you recognize the dress Anne Francis wore is now on a cute blond on Venus.
The spaceship Stardust is recycled from several others movies including an Abbot and Costello film which does this plot so much better. The giant spider attack thrown in is a duplicate of one in the superior World Without End.
The sets of this film are otherwise cardboard and cheesecake. While every lovely,
tall girl in Hollywood was given and blaster, miniskirt and heels and as delightful as that is to the eyes it can’t save this howler. Some of the other props look like they came out of a Macy’s toy store of the period.
I am very forgiving of a movie that I believe tried, even if they could not make it, by virtue of money or talent, to make a good movie. There is a true B movie called the Giant Heliah Monster for example that is chock full of decent professional performances by movie lot actors who were doing the best job they could. It didn’t make a good movie but it made a movie that was the sum of their best efforts and I can respect that.
So in sum, unless you want to fumigate your TV to get rid of all traces of this stinker, pass it by, there are so many better period movies.
“Words of the Sword Saint” by Edward McKeown
Musings on Miayamto Musashi and the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No
A long time ago in a land far, far away, there lived a very strange and dangerous
man. He is known to as Miyamoto Musashi also called the Kinsei or “Sword Saint” though a better translation might be Master of the Way of the Sword as his use of the weapon was hardly
saintly in the Western Tradition. To those in the West he is hardly known outside of Japanophiles and martial artists. The most common image arises from a series of movies usually referred to as the samurai trilogy which show the growth of Musashi from a common ruffian to the “beau ideal” of the samurai warrior.
He lived and fought from 1584 to 1645 in the Edo period in feudal Japan. Having accomplished much on the field of battle he retired to a cave in Reigando to there ponder the meaning of his
violent existence. Among his final acts was to gift us with the Book of Five Rings or (Go Rin No Sho.) This book is now know mostly in martial arts circles but became popular during the business craze of the 1990s when movies like Red Sun Rising gave us dire warnings about how the Japanese were going to wipe up the economic floor with us. We searched through the writings of their scholars as earlier generations had looked into China to come up with Sun Tzu and his "Art of War." We later learned that their success was a mixture of a totally rebuilt industrial base (the originally one having been fire-bombed out of existence) an educated and cohesive populace and tremendous financial leverage that blew up leaving them with a moribund banking system and “lost decades.”
The question is, does the Book of Five Rings have meaning in our modern world, in
the martial arts as we practice them and even in life more generally?
It’s important in reading the Rings to understand what Musashi has to say to our
modern world and what he does not. As such it’s useful to remember the context and perspective of his writing of this short and comparatively crude and repetitive series of ramblings.
Musashi was a brutal warrior in a brutal time and place. Note that I say warrior, not a soldier. Soldier is an occupation/job, usually not a lifelong one; warrior is a way of life. Musashi was a warrior, while he studied other skills, including calligraphy, metal-working and painting, even in these he saw the Way of the Sword and studied them to know the Way of the Sword better. First and foremost, Musashi was man-killer. He looked for opportunities to kill other warriors in the same way a carpenter looks for chances to build a table and for the same reason, it’s what he does and all that he does. His skill improves only with application and training only takes one so far.
Musashi killed to kill. It was an end in itself. He didn’t kill just to protect others or because his opponents were evil and he was not. It was simply an application of his skill and did not need a moral context. He was not a wandering knight writing wrongs. He was a guy looking to fight. In that respect the movies and books of Musashi usually romanticize this warrior and his way of life. Truth was that he lived by the sword and expected to die by the sword.
To Musashi there was only winning and dying, anything that won a fight was good. Anything that did not conribute to winning a fight was useless. The concept of a “fair fight” was unknown to him. Musashi sometimes fought other opponents with wooden swords. He did not do this, as a Westerner might assume, to make the fight, “fair” or give the other guy a chance to kill him. He did it to see if he could kill his opponent armed only with a wooden sword. It was a test of his skill and an effort to gain greater skill. Magnanimity and chivalry did not enter into it and he would have thought those concepts stupid.
Musashi mercilessly killed his opponents, unless it was in a situation where he was in a “friendly duel”really more of a teaching exhibition. Even there, had he killed a student or other fighter, he would have shownno regret, nor been chastised or imprisoned. That would just be bad luck during
How much of this can we apply to the modern Dojo of soccer moms, office workers and children? What can we risk in a world of American lawyers and lawsuits?
Musashi ws in the business; to the extent he trained people, of turning out killers. He lived a life, often devoid of physical comfort or compassion. He never married, nor had children, though he adopted one. The adoptive son, vassal to the Himeji lived only four years after that act, committing seppuku because of the death of his own lord.
Musashi disdained comfort and wealth, spending his last few years living in a cave, contemplating the universe. One can be tempted to dismiss him as a psychopathic serial-killer. But that is too simple an analysis. He literally lived by the sword in a world that provided him few options.
Clearly while neither a giant in strength or size- he was naturally gifted with hand/eye coordination and likely was one of those individual for whom physical fear was not a big factor.
He lived in a world without antibiotics, where any penetrating wound was likely fatal, fighting with weapons that would shear off an arm or a leg, in armies or individual fights where quarter would neither be asked nor given.
In this world without mercy he expected to die by the sword at any time and a central tenet of his warrior ethos is that you must be prepared to die, in an instant. Death will arrive unexpectedly. You must have already chosen and resigned yourself to face death beforehand so your spirit is
settled when the moment comes, or you will be weak and flinch; seeking to live, which is not the way of the warrior. Death and defeat are the same thing.
When Musashi says, “Aim at death” he does not mean embrace it casually, or try and get yourself killed, he means to expect that this will be the outcome of your profession, discount it. This advice is less esoteric then it seems. By not flinching, or seeking to live, you increase your odds of surviving by daunting your opponent. If his spirit is not settled, seeing yours as resolute will cause him to flinch, to use improper technique and to thus lose. In short the one who embraces death is less likely to actually die in the fight. Hard to believe perhaps but this is in essence the distilled wisdom of a professional fighting man. He knew of what he spoke.
Sometimes his advice seemed basic or even trite. “To cut and slash are two different things. Cutting, whatever form of cutting it is, is decisive, with a resolute spirit. Slashing is nothing more
than touching the enemy. Even if you slash strongly, and even if the enemy dies instantly, it is slashing. When you cut, your spirit is resolved. You must appreciate this. If you first slash the enemy's hands or legs, you must then cut strongly. Slashing is in spirit the same as touching. When you realize this, they become indistinguishable. Learn this well.”
At first glance does it seem like great wisdom? Yet this is life and death, the most basic and primal of struggles. Lose this struggle and what else matters? It was through such mastery that Musashi lived to 61 years of age undefeated in single combat.
This is true on the macro scale as well. The victorious army, the resolute winner usually suffers far less casualties than the defeated. When Alexander the Great defeated his enemies it was in the rout that followed the battle where the true casualties were incurred. With discipline broken and men not supporting each other Alexander’s disciplined legions harvested their enemies like wheat. It would have been the same in 1615 the defeat of the Toytomi Hideyori’s Army of the West from which Musashi was lucky to escape.
We are not dwellers in the same world. Few of us will ever actually fight, almost none of us will fight to seriously injure or kill, but rather even if we are attacked, we will seek to ward off. But there is wisdom from the old boy. Much of what he painfully learned in how to master himself and others can be applied to business, daily life and the martial arts.
Know a something about a great deal of different things. You never know what scrap of information will help you succeed and survive. Be as good a parent as you are a fighter. Devote yourself to other pursuits with the same fervor you apply to martial arts, whether it is writing, biking, dancing etc.
Do nothing that is useless. I suspect he would regard TV, video games and other passive entertainment as useless. How many of us see a little boy boasting about how many video dragons he slew, when he can neither do a push up or a shoulder roll?
Musashi would urge drill, drill and more drill followed by some drill. Your 50th kick should be as good as your first. The only way to learn to punch is to punch, a lot. Martial art is not in the head. It is in the well-conditioned body with its trained reflex reactions
Don’t do calisthenics or warm up in his thinking. Do drill or forms slowly until warm, then speed up to fighting levels. No one ever won a fight with a jumping jack. Don’t run to get into shape for martial arts. Do the martial arts. The art is all. It contains warm-ups and cooldowns in the tempo. Much time is used up in a modern dojo on things that are not fighting. It doesn’t mean it must all be grim and cheerless. When your students are throwing the red squares at each other and giggling like mad, they are none the less learning the basic principles of throwing a weapon and dodging a thrown weapon. They just don’t realize they are working.
Musashi advocated having a very varied inventory of fighting techniques and never using the same ones. Be unpredictable, be unorthodox, and be decisive. Attack first, while others dither, or do not attack at all, but be the one controlling the pace of the fight. Always have the initiative.
To sum up his philosophy, “Train as you fight and fight as you train.” Musashi would not understand a great deal of what we do in a modern martial art school. Protective equipment would have been ridiculous to him. If you would expect to fight in armor, you would train in armor. The modern person will be attacked in street clothes and wearing shoes. Why are you training with equipment you won’t use in a fight?" Note that equipment, gloves, cups and other padding, changes the way you fight, particularly as to grabs and any other type of strike other than a backfist or punch and therefore the equipment is harmful to training.
Musashi would despise point-sparring as it generates bad technique, essentially a martial arts game of tag. The only blows worth delivering are those that will injure or destroy and opponents. Anything else is a waste of energy and you might as well kiss them.
We often say, don’t kick above the waist in a real fight, Musashi would say, “Then why are practicing high kicks at all?” Hwever he would also disagree with the principal, “Never kick above the waist in a real fight.” Kick above the waist if you are sure you will connect.
Musashi would tell a student not to have a preferred weapon (whether that is a club,
knife or foot) but to attack well with whatever is available. For example if you are great longswordsman or high-kicker, what good does tht do you fighting in a narrow alley or small room? If you can just box, what will you do when the opponent is kicking for your knees and sweeping you?
A central principal that we can learn from Musashi is that effective fighting trumps tradition and form. In this respect he is like Bruce Lee. A good technique is simple and effective and can be applied without thought. He felt that there were only five ways to strike with a sword. All others were ineffective and you could use an infinite variety by combining the five differently.
Musashi was a strange man who lived a hard life. But he was victorious in the field as an army leader and in over sixty individual combats. He knew what he knew down to his bones. We can
apply some of his lessons to the world we live in and always need to bear in mind that the hard cold merciless world that he lived in can spring to life around is in riot, terrorism, crime or war. Br
This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy:
On Characters- Authors take very different approaches to writing characters. I have friends who are excellent authors, but who control their characters like puppetmasters. The characters perform the plot as they are directed to do. My writing is full of surprises and I love it that way.
Writing is an intensely visual experience for me. My stories play in my head with a nearly cinematic quality. I see the people places and events. They do not always come in sequence but I have faith that there is a complete story and if I continue to pay attention I’ll eventually see all of their story, write it down and it will make sense.
The big surprise for me was how much of collaboration it is between my characters and me.
In writing Was Once a Hero I had Shasti Rainhell, who was originally only a device, a way of keeping my everyman, Robert Fenaday, alive as he descended into the world of privateering to search for his missing wife. Shasti, genetically engineered, and more than humanly powerful, was not content with her role. She started telling me about her abusive past, about why she was
fascinated with Robert’s love for Lisa and his unreasonable search. I learned that as Robert was searching for Lisa, that Shasti was searching for her humanity. What started out as an adventure story developed a complex romantic underpinning.
This new character arc became almost as strong as the original main arc as Robert and Shasti followed their paths and eventually intertwined in their own affair. I preplanned none of this but it lead to the Fenaday trilogy and a standalone Shasti Rainhell book.
I found this to be even more the case in the present series I’m writing. Maauro is a 50,000 year old android made by a vanished species for a genocidal war. She is found on an asteroid base by Wrik Trigardt, a disgraced military pilot, on an expedition that turns out to be the cover for the both the government and the Thieves Guild.
This was originally a very gritty monster story without Maauro, and with an Alien-style creature. My writing group hated the story. I reached into my fascination with anime and came up with a character of the deadly but oddly gentle, Maauro. Originally she had a corpse-like look then repatterned herself on a game simulation to an anime appearance after capturing Wrik.
Maauro spoke to me in first person present tense, while Wrik spoke in first person past. I wondered why this was. Eventually l I realized Maauro, who had perfect recall of her past, and
did not look forward (being essentially immune to time) to the future, “lived” entirely in the now. Note however that I did not determine her voice. She did. I just had faith there was a reason.
I had no intention of doing what I call a Pinocchio story, where in the robot character, ala Data from Star Trek and so many others, wanted to become a “real boy.” But Maauro had other ideas. She did not want to become a “real girl” but as a machine made for a war that ended ages ago, she wanted to become more herself. Even her gender was an assumption, a choice.
Maauro preferred the more complicated existence of a female consciousness. She decided that
she wanted to explore emotionality and relationships; for all that hers are cooler than ours as they are not rooted in sex and death.
So I ended up with a girl robot, who acts more like a girl the longer she functions and frankly the trip has been richer for my listening to her
Who says you can't combine your hobbies? Ballroom dance and martial arts. Anyway here I am testing out the new blog on my new webpage. It doesn't list everything that I have ever done like the SFWA and SF readers ones but I can update it myself and I have the more relevant stuff on it. I have tried to max out the freebies so people can have some fun and get to know me a bit. More to come as I figure it all out. Look for me on Amazon with The Robert Fenaday trilogy (Was Once a Hero) the little prequel Regrets and Requiems, The Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess Detective Series and a whole bunch of other things coming down the pike.
Author Edward McKeown is a writer and editor