Sixty six percent! I’ve officially passed the two thirds mark in the fourth revision for Mercenary Savior–and not a moment too soon. With only a week and a half until World Fantasy 2010, it’s crunch time. I’ll probably quit my temp job a week early in order to devote the last few days of the month to finishing it.
As I’ve been working on Mercenary Savior, though, a fascinating idea for a sequel has been stewing in my head. It was sparked by an online conversation with one of my first readers:
Reader: I was never fully convinced that James felt he had closure
Me: I see
Reader: but I was satisfied with the thought that he would get it sometime after the story ends
he’s still young, so he’s still maturing
even at the close of the novel
It’s true; James does have a lot of room to grow and mature after the events of Mercenary Savior. In that book, his character growth arc (without giving away spoilers) is about him learning to accept change and stop running from adulthood.
Nothing in that arc has much to do with the kind of person James grows up to be, however, or the significant other with whom he comes to share his life. In other words, there’s a whole lot of untapped potential for building James’s character and giving him a romantic interest.
The question that immediately rose to my mind was: what’s the story?
Now when it comes to sequels, I think the best ones take a long, hard look at the first installment and answer the question: therefore, what? Thus, in Star Wars IV, V, and VI (which I believe to be one of the best examples of a trilogy in any medium), the Rebels defeat the first Death Star in episode IV, but find themselves on the run in episode V because the Empire knows the location of their base. Luke uses the force to pull off a last-minute victory in episode IV, but finds in episode V that becoming a true Jedi takes a lot more discipline and self-mastery than he thought.
So I applied that principle to my own work and came up with the following overarching conflict: the Hameji occupation of Karduna is devastating the people of the Colony to the point where they collectively decide to depart en masse and establish a new community somewhere else. It’s a logical conclusion taken from the ending of Mercenary Savior; the people are well enough off to survive, but too poor and oppressed to do much of anything else.
You may not know this, but the first story I wanted to set in this fictional universe was about a group of starfaring pioneers traveling into the heart of a nebula to escape religious persecution and establish a thriving community on the fringes of settled space. That’s right–I basically wanted to set the Mormon pioneer exodus in space.
For various unrelated reasons, that never worked out, but the desire has always been there in the back of my mind. What can I say–I think that pioneers are cool, and stories about colonizing unsettled new lands just fascinate me. I’ll probably write a massive Utah pioneer epic someday.
But anyways, I started playing around with this old idea to see whether I could recycle it. Right now, I think that I can. The idea is that James becomes the leader for one of these emigrant groups, and has to see them safely through to a young planet in the heart of this nebula. They decide to fly into the nebula in order to isolate themselves from the Hameji, since the FTL tech in my universe doesn’t work within a Nebula.
And then something really crazy happened. This scene popped into my head, stronger than any other idea I’d had so far. I imagined that a group of pirates had captured the expedition and refused to let them go unless they gave the pirates three young women to keep as slaves.
Pretty standard conflict, right? But then, I thought: what if three young women of their own free will stepped forward and offered to sacrifice themselves to save the others? What would James do then?
Well, it wasn’t hard to figure that out at all. James would never let them go. He’d fight the pirates, even if it meant risking all the lives of those he’s trying to protect.
This raises some interesting questions of morality. Is it right to risk the lives of everyone in the community when three individuals have already offered to sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole? Is it right to deny someone the opportunity to give their own life to save others? Or is James just being stubborn and reckless?
At a first glance, that’s the way it looks. But then I imagined what James would say to justify himself. After what he learns from the events of Mercenary Savior, James would argue that the community needs to stick together–that in order for the whole to survive, everyone has to know with absolute certainty that no-one will be left behind. Once the leader shows that he’s willing to sign his followers over, how can any of them trust him with their lives? Under such conditions, trust breaks down and the community falls apart.
From that, a whole host of other ideas started gradually coming to mind. How does this event tie into James’s romantic interest? Does it tie in at all? What would the people’s reaction be to this decision? Coming from the background of the Colony, would they want to put the issue to a vote instead? Is it ever right to suspend democracy when facing a crisis, and if so, under what conditions?
So anyway, I won’t tell you what I have in mind, but I have a lot of really interesting ideas. It’s gotten to the point, in fact, that I may just write the sequel after I get back from World Fantasy.
In closing, let me leave with this excellent track from one of ocremix’s latest albums, a rearrangement of Donkey Kong Country 2. Believe it or not, this song could be the main theme of this novel. Listen to it and I think you’ll see why.