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At The Bright Empire....
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- Uberposter of Distinction
again struck by how very good a story it was. It has it all, drama, love,
sex, battle, intrigue and discovery, starting by introducing us to the very
first Companions as they left Velor and discovered many things about
themselves. Exciting stuff.
From there, we are immersed in a wonderful bit of world-making, drawing as
Brantley does on the history of the Byzantine Empire on Earth and how it might have been
transported to another planet.
We see how a great dynasty is
built and maintained, and also how political marriages can produce heirs who
lack many of the good qualities of the original Patriarch that Kalla is
indentured to — Feodor. How ruling families can produce both admirable and
disgustingly bad rulers thanks to their political marriages.
With Feodor and Kalla, Brantley lays out a classic love story, one that
started in disrespectful fashion (he purchased a concubine!!) and then
develops into a great love that is based on both respect and adoration.
At the same time, we begin to see how this concubine (actually a Companion)
begins to shape not only the ruling Andros Family but also an entire planet.
Given her long life (for all purposes, she’s immortal), her influence
crosses the generations. To her credit (and in respect to the local culture)
she always tries to work behind the scenes. Yet she alone makes the
difference between a world that could be caught forever in feudal decay and
battle, but instead takes strong steps to develop into a world that casts
off its superstitions and begins to develop a true technology and a basis
for trade. All of which begins to slowly lead toward the develop of a middle
class, a technology and an education system, which in the fullness of time
could introduce a measure of equality among its people and between the
sexes. It is a microcosm of the development of a great civilization on
Earth, which is undoubtably what the Seeders and hoped for. (Although others
would simply say these are experiments by the Galen on humans. Its anything
but an experiment to those who live on the seeded worlds. Its their life.)
There were many outstanding scenes in the story, including one where a
defeated conquering ruler stands atop a high tower and throws Feodor’s heir,
and infant son, from the tower. (That reminded me a bit of Sauraman standing
atop Orthanc as Gandalf and company stand below to offer amnesty — which he
does not take advantage of.) Kalla of course can’t allow the heir to die, so
she reveals more of herself to more people than ever before. Up to that
point, in every pivotal moment of the development of this world, Kalla is
there, making a difference, even if very few people witness or even know the
roles she plays.
Beneath it all is a nice ticking clock in the form of Festus and his invading
army of devotees to the Orthodox Church. That drives the story forward,
creates tension, and makes the reader truly care for the outcome. The battle
is nicely set and well described and fought, with an ending that only Kalla
could bring about, all without revealing herself.
And in the middle of all this, we see the battle between enlightenment and
knowledge on one side and superstition and corruption on the other. A battle
between Humanism and the Church if you will.
While Feodor can be hard and even brutal when he has to (ala Ned Stark in Game of
Thrones season one), he is also merciful when he can afford to be. He most
certainly isn’t cruel. His son Kyros is nothing like his father, and its
heartbreaking to see Kalla bound to serve the son the way she was his
father. Yet she comports herself according to the rules of a Companion, even
while working to encourage others to pursue learning in areas that were not
traditional for their people, all with the occasional help for her friends
among the Scalantrans. A distinction no other Companion can claim.
In essence, we see this lowly girl from Velor, a concubine of the Velorian
priests before being sold into the same role on a distant world, as the
driving force behind the development of an entire civilization. We can even
see the earliest seeds of the development of that great interplanetary
federation, the Enlightenment. It’s a tale that only a Donaldson fan could
I could go on forever on Part 1, but this is supposed to be about Part 2.
At first, part 2 pleased me with a continuation of the excellent story line
of Part 1, and while it is very satisfying when it comes to further showing
us how a world can be created through the sacrifice and hard work of its
people (with some key contributions from Kalla), it lacks the kind of
ticking clock drama of the first part. No grand battle to decide the future,
but lots of palace intrigue. It does a nice job of preparing the way for the
second major pivotal moment in the planet’s development, that drama remains
to be told, presumably in Part 3.
However, I found the lack of a driving plot made it somewhat difficult to
absorb all the characters that we are introduced to. Way too many characters
for me to keep track of, to be frank. Of course, that’s the way of real
dynasties, who required many, many family members who often warred with each
other to drive toward the future. Lots of politics and intrigue and
backstabbing. Brantley shows that the bright future we see hints of could
collapse anytime back into a dystopian future if not for continued
interventions from Kalla.
Yet she’s both humble and devoted to the development of the planet, working
as she does behind the curtain in the ruling family. But she might as well
be a goddess in the way she reaches down and saves the situation from
sliding into ruin. Brantley does a really great job of trying to show how
someone can be both powerful and powerless at the same time. How humility
can be stronger than bravado. How one determined woman with a clear purpose
(albeit someone who remains young for centuries and has Velorian abilities)
can influence an entire world.
In the telling, we begin to see how the Velorians moved from being a truly
depressed, abandoned and unlikable race, powerful without the slightest clue
to how to use their power, and how they move closer to being the mighty
Protectors that we read about in later stories. Its a fascinating tale of
the limits and opportunities of physical power, but more than that, it tells
the story of how a single determined person can change the future for
billions of people. All while living a life that would be regarded by most
as amoral and shallow, a life that we presume most of her other Companions
have not risen above.
Hopefully Brantley will carry a critical subset of his characters
(and their descendants) into a Part 3 which will show us how the planet now
named Andros become a space power and a modern world. Most importantly, we
have the great conflict with the Aureans to look forward to, given they will
undoubtably pay attention to Andros and its Companion once they find their
way into space. I can easily foresee Part 3 becoming very dramatic, filled
with action, as it further sets the stage for a work that I’m trying to
revive which deals with how we moved from the era of Companions into the
In so many ways, this work is a cross between the AU and the great works of
world-building SF. Brantley clearly understands what those great works were
built on. Yet instead of being stuck in a single time and place (ala the
excellent and very contemporary Song of Fire and Ice — Game of Thrones),
Brantley is showing us how worlds and civilizations are built.
So while Part 2 was a bit of a pause and a head filler after the wonderful
story of Part 1, it has necessarily set the stage perfectly for a return to
an exciting Part 3.
- Legend of SWM
Of course, I ended up changing a lot of the details. To begin with, Shadra imagined Andros having been seeded with ancient Greeks. But Feodor isn't a Greek name. In both classic and modern Greek, the name is Theodor. But Feodor was the equivalent in old Russian (which didn't have the Th sound) at the time the Varangians (who came from Sweden, like the ancestors of the Velorians) founded the Kievan monarchy in 882 and adopted the local language. The Varangians/Kievan Rus became involved in war and then trade with the Byzantine Empire, and some of them settled in the Empire. Although we call it the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantines called it the Realm of the Romans (Romaioi) because they saw themselves as inheritors of the Roman Empire even though they hadn't ruled Rome or spoken Latin for centuries. So I went with that. In a bit of serendipity, the gown Shadar shows Kalla wearing at the time of her indenture is actually very much like the stola, formal female attire in Byzantine times, so I used it accordingly in Book One:
I drew on other elements of Byzantine history and culture, but the battle of Nesalonika is a variation on the Battle of Nagashino in Japan, where firearms from fixed positions were first used. But I had to adopt a different narrative strategy for Book Two
I faced the problem of covering a lot of ground in no more space than devoted to less than a year in the reign of Feodor. Not more great wars; if there had been, it would have meant that Feodor and Kalla had failed in their purpose. So instead I turned to mini-stories of political maneuvering and progress in technology, trade and education. As usual, I did a lot of Googling to make details about other seeded worlds, Fujiwakoku and Indra, authentic in terms of how they might have developed from the societies of medieval Japan and Gupta India. I brought in more Andros family members to give Kalla a sense of family that I don't think she would have experienced on Velor -- and also to show them as taking part in building progress; these people aren't just idle aristocrats. Beyond that, it was important to give Kalla a greater sense of commitment. This comes in an exchange with Pateria, Methodios' lawful wife, who is willing to sanction Kalla's relationship with her husband, on condition that she protect him from Kyros. And even after that...
“Protect my daughters, and their loved ones. You must swear it."
"I swear," Kalla said, after only moment's hesitation.
Kalla is now bound by honor to do more than her indenture requires, and the protect the family even after her indenture expires. The chapters posted Jan. 1 are motivated by that commitment, and she will have to see that through in further chapters -- in a time when she is helpless to protect others from the madness of Kyros (I have to point out that Shadar carelessly identified him as the son of Feodor; he is actually a grandson, and half-brother to Methodios -- he inherits the throne only because Methodios, the older son of Feodor's heir Jayar, never had a son of his own -- only daughters.).
--Brantley Thompson Elkins
Off-the-board reaction to my first redaction and expansion of FIRST PROTECTOR hasn't been exactly favorable. There were a number of scientific glitches and logical holes I inherited with the original version. But since a strict approach to dealing with these would require rewriting the story practically from scratch, I've tried to deal with the basic problems, or perhaps only gloss over them, by ratcheting up the conspiratorial elements -- which were there to begin with. It's all a matter of who you can trust, which is practically nobody, including not only Gazrall and his ilk but the Scalantrans and even Vespyr herself (who has her reasons, but is "playing" everyone else). Maybe this won't satisfy critics, but it's the best I can do.
By the way, FIRST PROTECTOR has gotten 780 hits since it was posted March 8.
brantley wrote: "The Popcorn War" and "Blind Justice" were posted only yesterday afternoon. By midnight, they had gotten 170 and 60 hits, respectively – and most of these must have come from here (on the Aurora Universe thread) and the AURG, because the What's New page had only 20. Thanks, guys!
By the way, FIRST PROTECTOR has gotten 780 hits since it was posted March 8.
Not a real update, but I noticed I'd neglected to update a 2008 story, "Judgment Day," to conform to my usage of "Aureans" as opposed to "Arions" (to avoid confusion with "Aryans" as used here on Earth):
As of last night, about 360 hits for "The Popcorn War" and 150 for "Blind Justice."
Passion Play, the first part of which appears today (a traditional Spring
holiday in Europe, long before it was adopted by the Labor movement), is about a
Velorian heroine who has appeared here before. She's bcome one of the most key
players in my own fiction, and yet I can't claim credit for her, any more than I
can claim credit for the Aurora Universe itself.
Alisa-zar Kim'Vallara, alias Alisa Liddell, was the creation of Shadar (then
still calling himself Sharon Best) for Ordinary Velorians, a serial that began
at his old Aurora Universe site Jan. 12, 2003. We had some correspondence about
it at the time, and as best I can recall he thought of her as a female version
of Star Trek's Spock and the Survey Service ships of Kelsor 7 to be the
equivalent of the Enterprise.
A couple of months later, after posting four episodes set on Reigel Five, and
without having gotten to the point of Alisa's refusal of the Rites and escape to
Kelsor 7, Shadar took down the Sharon Best site. I ended up writing the last
three chapters of Ordinary Velorians and, when he returned with his Aurora
Universe: Other Worlds site, collaborated with him on Alisa's Story, which
appeared there July 28 and has been revised a couple of times since. And then
came Shore Leave, a monster of a serial – mostly by Shadar but with input from
me and a couple of other collaborators who didn't want their true names revealed
although they got credit under their initials.
I'd already made Alisa a supporting character, decades later (her time) in
Throne of the Gods, which dates back to Feb. 15, 2003 – just after the fourth
installment of Ordinary Velorians. She returned later (but earlier in her own
life) in Pictures of an Expedition, and much later in terms of both real time
and her imagined life in Encounter at Westfold – one of several projects begun
by Shadar and taken over by me. I could tell that all of these works were part
of a life story. For some years now, I've been toying with the idea of a story
about the highlights of her life, as seen by her in later years, and at various
times I've written various segments of Passion Play.
But it's been awkward, because I found it nearly impossible to reference the
events of previous stories without simply rehashing them. This was especially
the case with Shore Leave; that may still be the most awkward part. In the
present version, I've tried to convey the sense that Alisa is reminiscing about
her time on Rostran, as she is in other segments, and that her reminiscences
focus on her relationships and her learning experiences rather than on the
events per se. I've added a few bits of dialogue that fit the situation, but
weren't in the original serial. The opening scene of Passion Play and the first
flashback will be new to readers here, as will the early scenes aboard the
Anders Flame, the details of Alisa's breakup with Peter Durgin, and the love she
and Andre Kalik find with each other on the return from Rostran. The terrible
fate that awaits them at Cygnias 275 has been alluded to in Encounter at
Westfield and elsewhere, but the next installment will deal with the aftermath –
and be entirely fresh material. A note of thanks to Velvet Belle Tree: for
advising me to change the narrative to first person, and for proofing the text.
Those who have followed the saga of Alisa from the beginning should be familiar
with the events. But I'm also posting slightly revised versions of The Gwyndylin
and Primal War, the first two segments of Shore Leave. The changes relate only
to Durgin's attitude towards Alisa, and my updated concept of the Cygnias 275
wormhole that already figured in Encounter at Westfold – but there's also a
brief reference to the language of the Rostrans, and to the need for a quick
Deepteach course to allow the Kelsorians to communicate with them. For those who
may need them, I'm including links to those stories, Ordinary Velorians and
Alisa's Story at the end of the Passion Play file.
Also new today is an op-ed piece by Velvet. She's a fan of all sorts of things,
and she has always been refreshingly frank in her opinions. In "A Tale of Two
Musicals," she offers her take on South Pacific and Carousel, two Rodgers &
Hammerstein musicals that are generally regarded as classics. Only, are they
actually both deserving of their praise? Not in her contrarian view!
One last thing: an entry on my Occasional Blog, the first in more than a year,
not about AU fiction as such but the decline in fan participation.
So much for May Day. Now M'aidez. All you lurkers out there, de-lurk. Post
comments and suggestions!
--Brantley Thompson Elkins
CORRIDIDOR first appeared in 2004 at Aurora Universe: Other Worlds, and was all Shadar's work -- one of his best.
But it tied in with the story line of Ordinary Velorians, and even with my THE HIGH CRUEL YEARS, although in a strange way: I gave detective Vance Calloway, whose front story Shadar tells, a backstory on Reigel Five that leads to him leaving that troubled planet.
If you haven't already read CORRIDIDOR at AUOW, it has to do with a nuclear reactor disaster in the making at an asteroid mining colony, but the core of the story isn't in the reactor, but in the characters: the B-Class Velorian Vera Sho'tovic, who welcomes the chance to escape the stifling kind of life people of her class live on Velor, the people she meets while dealing with the crisis, especially the engineer Calen Donaldson and, later, Detective Calloway; and the Aurean Zarla, torn by conflicting loyalties.
My main edits have to do with some aspects of Vera's freedling gang background on Velor that seemed too mundane, too much like Earth; and to clarify several instances of who knew what and when and how. But the essence of the story remains the same; I just couldn't and wouldn't tamper with that. Nor with the character of Vera.
FIRST PROTECTOR is proving a tougher job for me than other projects that I've been involved with from the start. Some have complained that the details of the on-again, off-again testing program for the heavy GAR are implausible, and one of the reasons for this is that Gazrall, the plutocrat who holds Vespyr's indenture, is so enigmatic – rather like Grigory Arkadin in Orson Welles' MR ARKADIN. Where does he really come from? What's his real game?
For a new chapter, I'm introducing a hint that he has a secret past elsewhere, but in such a vague way that this might turn out to be a red herring. Most of the chapter is admittedly a sort of information dump – things Vespyr needs to know that she couldn't have learned back on Tazzi's World. Trpcic takes its name from the costume designer for FIREFLY, the cult TV series created by Joss Whedon, so of course the Scalantran factor general there is named Jossalem. It was seeded from what is now Slovakia, hence "sokol"(falcon) and "zubor" (aurochs). But I'm trying to make this transitional chapter as entertaining as possible, with our heroine getting some needed R&R, and learning a few things about interstellar trade.
Happy Summer Solstice!
"Arden" is a short story Shadar wrote last fall as a one-shot. When he sent it to me, we'd just been hit by Hurricane Sandy, and although I read it at the time and did a few copyedits, it kind of fell between the cracks because I was caught up in other projects, including The Popcorn War, Empress of the Dawn and, of course, First Protector. As I said, "Arden" was intended as a one-shot. But it implicitly tied in with First Protector in featuring a Halfen (halfling) Aurean character, and it occurred to me to tie the two stories together explicitly – not in terms of plot, but in terms of background. It's set in what I imagine to be within the first two centuries of the Enlightenment, and one of the early Protectors figures off-stage. But the story itself is still the same. It's a love story with what romance fans call an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending.
I'd alluded to this eight years ago in a conversation between Kalla and Ju'lette I wrote for Homecoming II, knowing full well that I was writing myself into a corner. It was only three years ago that Empress of the Dawn itself, based on an outline by Shadar, began to appear, and only last year that I got to work on Book Two. But I knew all along I'd have to face up to having Kalla face up to what she had to do, and I knew I couldn't weasel out of it. So here it is, and I hope I've succeeded:
I have also made some tweaks to the scene in Homecoming II, but only in a few details. And I've uploaded a slight revision to Book I of Empress, correcting a few glitches.
Shadar might be weighing in this week. He's just returned from one long trip, and is soon to embark on another. The reboot of First Protector has been in abeyance for several weeks as a result, but I'v been working on my end.
--Brantley Thompson Elkins
It's my birthday today, and I have something to show for it: finally, finally the final chapter of Empress of the Dawn 2, plus an epilogue that sets the stage for Empress of the Dawn 3 -- in which Kalla Zaver'el will spearhead a space program for Andros, and lead the world's defense against an Aurean attack.
It's taken longer than I expected to finish Part Two, because while the crucial events were clear in my mind, I needed to find a new way to lead up to them, and give them more substance, greater nuance. Moreover, I had to deal more effectively than I did before with the hard choices Kalla had made, and why she made them, and the pain that they brought to her.
Of course, there's also a teaser at the end about Alexius. He'll appear again in Part Three, but he already appears in the epilogue of Homecoming 3, and will play a part with Vespyr in First Protector -- not that he can have any idea of such a destiny at the tender age of 16!
- Legend of SWM
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(formerly Anon, still Librarian)
"What is the point of having free will if one cannot occasionally spit in the eye of destiny?" ("Gentleman" John Marcone)
And then I thought of SHORE LEAVE. Last spring I fiddled with Shadar's old version in connection with another story about Alisa Liddell, PASSION PLAY. But PASSION PLAY didn't get much readership because it couldn't just rehash the events of SHORE LEAVE as part of her background, but without that background it's impossible for the reader to understand where she's coming from. So now I'm taking another look at SHORE LEAVE and its two sequels, trying to do a bit more world-building (The façade of Rostran versus the reality), and clear up some confusion of the whys and wherefores and multiple conflicting motives, and take a more serious look at what it will mean to Alisa and Andre Kalik -- who are the real center of the story, however spectacular the events around them. I may also tweak a couple of other stories to accommodate this, and will do major surgery on PASSIONPLAY.