Works in Progress

After one of the harshest Michigan winters in 20 years, I’m finally getting caught up and am able to begin writing again – and support the writing I’ve already done.

While the timeline is still fluid, I hope to have my second novel, Scorpion’s Pass, ready for publication this summer.  If the stars are in alignment, it might go live this June.

Scorpion’s Pass is an adventure/romance that crosses a couple of genres.  I’ll share more as we get closer to its publication date.

After that, I’m planning on returning to the sci-fi with a trilogy.  It is not as crazy as it sounds – the first book is already written and I’m now in the process of revising it.  Books 2 and 3 have titles and a story arc, but I probably won’t get to them for another month or so – it will depend on how much free time I have over the summer.

Thanks for visiting and don’t forget to leave a (hopefully positive) review if you like the books!

Seamus Heaney R.I.P.

It is appropriate to note the passing of Seamus Heaney today, at the age of 74.  His verse translation of “Beowulf” was what both inspired me to write “Battle Officer Wolf” and the text I used as a guide.

I doubt he had any idea of the connection and I had hoped that if the book ever caught on, he might be amused to learn of it.  Alas, that will never happen now.  Rest in Peace.

Hart Station has nothing on this place

The problem with writing science fiction these days is things are being built almost as fast as we can think of them.  It’s hard to be a futurist when the future is moving so quickly.
Compared to this pleasure dome, Hart Station is a hovel.  In my own defense, however, I will note that Hart Station is a research facility, not a tourist/business establishment meant to cater to the super-wealthy.  Besides, there was no way Dane Research was going to create an indoor ocean beach on Vitellius.

King Hrothgar as bureaucrat

 This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The American Civil War is somewhat unique in that it marks the transition from the old way of warfare – with generals leading columns of troops waving colorful flags – to the modern method of trenches, foxholes and the “empty battlefield.”

Winston Churchill described the change thusly:  “War, which used to be cruel and magnificent has now become cruel and squalid.”

While he would have been amazed by the gunpowder weapons, the author of Beowulf would have recognized many of the features of battle.  Despite the vast size of the armies involved (especially compared to those of 800 years earlier), leaders were still expected to accompany their men to the front, with only the highest commanders remaining away from the actual fighting – though even these would seek to see as much of the battlefield as they could.

Among the more than 50,000 dead and wounded at that terrible battle were three Union corps commanders:  Major General John Reynolds (I Corps) was killed and two more, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock (II Corps) and Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles (III Corps) were badly wounded.  Confederate losses included several divisional and brigade commanders, perhaps most famously Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead, who was shot down at the head of his men while leading Pickett’s Charge.

By contrast, it is rare these days for officers above the rank of battalion commander (lieutenant colonel) to face that kind of risk.  Certainly it is unheard of for heads of state – kings – to take the field.  The last British monarch to do so was King George II in the mid-18th Century.

The old view of leaders as warriors has changed.  Modern leaders are bureaucratic warriors -administrators and paper-shufflers – who manage resources via computer screens.

In re-imagining King Hrothgar as Dr. H. Roth Garr, I determined that he needed to be a savvy administrator.  His courage would still involve confrontation, but instead of facing mail-clad warriors on a misty field he would square off against pencil-pushers wearing suits seated around a conference table.

Certainly this is something most of us can relate to.  Even if we do not work in a corporate or government environment, we interact with these kinds of people in countless ways and most of us have an easier time understanding what motivates a successful CEO or top-level administrator than a 6th Century Danish king.

Of course, there is still a place even today for an elite soldier like Battle Officer Wolf, but those who ultimately command him do so by using Power Point slides and satellite pictures, not hand-drawn orders conveyed by messengers on horseback.

It is this mixture of old and new, the time-specific and the timeless that I have tried to capture.  I look forward to hearing how you feel it turned out.

Why Beowulf?

In recent years there have been two major attempts to bring Beowulf to a modern audience by way of the big screen.  Both of them were awful.

One version of the story posited that Grendel had an unhappy childhood and was bullied by the Danes and that when he grew up, snacking on warrior was somewhat justified.  This retelling is entirely based on the notion that there are really no enemies, just friends we haven’t made yet.  I have not the space to address in detail just how wrong this is and will content myself with noting that this view has no place in a Beowulf adaptation.

Then there was the animated version, which left me frantically trying to find a way to fast-forward through the dialogue so I could get into first-person warrior mode.  Again, the screenwriters felt the need to clarify why Grendel was such a bad guy – in this case it was a really bad ear infection.  Add in the bizarre subplot where Grendel’s mother looks like a amphibian Angelina Jolie and any pretense of loyalty to the story was wiped out.

It was after watching both of these flawed adaptations that my wife suggested I have a go at a proper retelling, one that treated the story honestly, respecting both the narrative and the sensibilities of the original author.

Before getting started, I consulted J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal lecture on the subject The Monsters and the Critics.  Tolkien reacted strongly against the then-prevailing view (in the 1930s) that Beowulf should be studied by historians, archeologists, philologists, mythologists and basically taken every way but as a work of poetic literature. I thought it more than a little ironic that while scholars have embraced his view of Beowulf as first and foremost a poem that should be studied as it is, not dissected like a lab specimen, the entertainment industry is now projecting its biases into an otherwise heroic narrative.

Thus inspired, I began the process of converting the narrative into a more accessible format, something modern people can relate to: space.  As a culture, we are simply more comfortable dealing with people in space suits than chain mail.

There is also the problem of why anyone would put up with Grendel preying on them.  Americans are rather mobile and have no problem with leaving a place when we no longer feel safe there.  Maybe this is a Michigan thing – after all, we know all about outward migrations from dangerous city cores.  When I first encountered Beowulf in school, the universal belief was that he should simply pack up and move.  (A modern Michigan retelling would have Hrothgar set up shop in the suburbs – perhaps naming the place Hrothgar Hills.)

This ability to move simply would not apply in Beowulf’s time.  The Spear-Danes were surrounded by hostile tribes making any migration fraught with danger.  They clearly felt it was better to suffer as free men than risk enslavement by moving.  Besides, Grendel didn’t eat all that much.

Only space – with its problems if distance – could give the same sense of isolation.  The strangeness of an alien planet also allowed Grendel to resume his proper place as a terrifying and mysterious adversary, unmoved by the concerns of his prey.  In our day and age, it’s still acceptable for aliens to be true monsters, beyond our understanding.

The result is for you to judge.