Really…kill ’em all?

One Reader's take on "Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle"

The author, at home

Pretty much anyone who knows me, also knows I’m a bit of gym rat. Which is not, despite how it sounds, a backhanded way of saying I’m a stud. I’m not. There are a ton of guys who work out in the same gym who are, but I’d never claim to be one of them. Fit, yes.

But that’s not why I led with this. Recently I met a guy doing concentration curls while I was working on traps and we got to BSing.

. It didn’t take long to get around to who we knew and what we did for a living and I copped to being a retired Marine  turned author. His polite inquiry about what I’d written morphed to apparent genuine interest when I told him I was writing a science fiction series about first contact. The gentleman, it turns out, is a science fiction buff.

After a few more questions he asked where he could buy it. I generally have a few copie in the car, so I gifted him a copy and asked him for a review. I’m as optimistic as anyone, but I’m also familiar with how many “free copy for an honest review” arrangements actually pan out, or for that matter, how many even get around to reading the book. Still…hope springs eternal.

Good news, bad news...

In my workout companion’s case, he actually did read it. A couple weeks later, (it’s not a short book) he flagged me down while I was doing my cardio, saying he’d finished the book and he had a couple thoughts. “Great,” I said. “I’ll find you when I get of the eliptical.”

I braced myself. Usually when a science fiction buff reads my work, they tend to focus on the science and (admittedly) Tier Zero asks the reader to accept a couple things for which (as yet) there is little basis in science to accept. “Shoot,” I told him. I was unprepared for what he said.

      “You should have killed everyone off,” he opined. “Like Martin does in “Red Wedding.”

I tried not to sigh. Not because I don’t think George R.R. Martin is a great writer. (He is.) And not because the “Red Wedding” chapter isn’t memorable or in keeping with Martin’s themes and the world he has created. It’s all those things.

Theme and Meaning

But it’s not congruent with the themes underpinning my work…nor would killing everyone off be congruent with the world I’ve attempted to create. Neither the Knolans nor their adversaries the Valdrōsians are remotely akin to the cultures of Martin’s world. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Authors have a theme in mind (or at least in the back of their mind) when they write. The compulsion prompting us to sit at our laptop or computer (or typewriter, if you’re old school) for hours on end, day after day would not be sustainable if we didn’t have a theme (or themes) in mind. It’s what keeps writers going when the going get tough. And it always does, if you’re trying to give birth to your vision. Writing is work. A good writing is even harder work.

Please don’t misunderstand me. My critic is entitled to his take. What would have made Tier Zero meaningful or a more fulfilling read to isn’t invalid, it’s just not aligned with my purpose in writing the story.

The Knolan Cycle's Overarching Theme

The Knolan Cycle is about the collision of values and cultures with the fate of Earth and other inhabited systems in our corner of the galaxy. As a tale of first contact, it is also about the unique and often contrary, contradictory organism we call homo sapiens. In my view, to see oursleves in all our glory and our gut churning dysfunction demands a conflict of titanic proportion with clear objectives and delineations on the surface.

It is against a backdrop of simple goals that the hard choices we confront in execution come into focus. All of us want consistency because what is consistent is relatively predictable. But as the Knolans have learned (and we are beginning to learn) the Universe isn’t necessarily all that predictable. And life tends to resist with might and main all our attempts to make it predictable.

Which isn’t to say that Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series doesn’t accomplish much of the same thing. It does. It’s just  that his approach is  different, as is his purpose in writing the series.

Besides. I like some of my characters too much to kill them off. I think you will, too. Available in both paperback and Kindle, you can purchase Tier Zero here.

The sequel, Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula will be released later this year. Subscribe to Dirk’s Tribe at the top right of this page to be among the first to know when Eryinath-5 will be out.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and former corporate trainer turned full-time author.

Individuality Vs. Society

Art and the Slippery Slope...

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the latest reading sponsored by “Lit-Up, A Conversation Between Local Authors and Readers.” Sponsored by Pure Fiction League & thoughtfully hosted by Maddie Margarita, it’s one of the true highlights of my month. I never willingly miss it.

One of the readings, Hard Bite, chosen by Book People/Mystery People as one of the five best debut novels of 2013. this month was given by Elaine Ash, under one of her Noms de Plume, Anonymous-9. 

In Hard Bite, a crippled man nearly killed by a reckless driver takes it upon himself to become an avenging angel for people he deems worthy of an awful death, using a Capuchin Monkey as his weapon of choice.

Lit-Up Orange

For this reading, the avenging angel has selected a target whose crime is to have sideswiped a mother of four, killing her and orphaning four children in the process. The law has been unable to locate him, but our avenging angel has connections and secures “justice” the law has been unable to provide.

A quick word on Elaine’s writing before I cut to my point. Her command of language, artful manipulation of readers’ empathy couples in  this novel with a delightful sense of humor to render an otherwise outrageous and (in places) macabre story both thoughtful and  entertaining. The reading, however, did spark a discussion and I’m going to share it with you.

Elaine’s skillful manipulation of readers’ emotions was noted, which in turn led one of the folks in the audience to speculate that author’s sympathetic treatment of the vigilante murderer could be construed by some to be tacit approval and his observation raised (obliquely), the question of an author’s ethical responsibility. Some, he opined, might conclude as a result of her treatment of the murderer that it was somehow okay to take the law into our own hands when the law itself failed. 

Setting aside for the moment that Hard Bite is a work of fiction designed to entertain, does the question raised remain valid? What if any lessons do readers take away from the works they read in books or see in films? Scientific inquiry into the correlation between viewing violent content and a propensity toward violence in any form is mixed. An APA study spanning a fifteen year period showed a positive correlation between violent content viewed during the formative years 6-10. But as Psychology Today notes in one of their posts to their online magazine, correlation between ideation and action remains an open question and stories of lawbreakers with altruistic intent are literally cultural bedrock.

Whether it’s the story of Robin Hood or the long-running series starring Timothy Hutton and Co. in “Leverage,” a pervading theme running through art in western (at least) liberal democracies seems to be that organizations in general & (businesses in particular) cannot be trusted. I should add that the the time-honored traditions  of organizational mistrust is often well-earned.

 And it is that same organizational mistrust that attaches naturally to our ubiquitous federal government. It’s not hard to understand why, if you’ve been paying attention. A pretty strong argument can be made suggesting we have the president we do precisely because of that same organizational mistrust.

Depending on how you view “the Donald,” that’s either a good or a bad thing. As a  retired Marine officer, by whatever metric I use, he comes up short. Admittedly that’s just my opinion, albeit an informed one, I think. Quite apart from unproven allegations of conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, Mr. Trump’s choices for his cabinet, his abandonment of our allies and his sophomoric rants on Twitter the fiscally disastrous tax cut leave me in little doubt as to his legacy in the arc of history. 

Which brings us full circle to my scare-head, “Art and  the Slippery Slope.” As an author and (hopefully) artist, I am fundamentally opposed to formalized (or worse) institutionalized censorship. I oppose it for the same reason I oppose censorship of the press, even in the face of the (sometimes) grotesque abuse of truth. If you’re guilty, you know who you are. But as with anything that attaches to the public good, we all have an obligation to safeguard it. 

Artists believe we are entitled, even “obligated” to show our readers or viewers truth as we perceive it…even when it is uncomfortable or offensive. I hear you, agree and support you. To that support let me add a couple cautionary thoughts. If your truth has power, are you quite certain of their target? The more powerful the truth the more potentially destructive. And what, pray, will you replace what you are potentially eroding? Just a thought…    

Dirk is the author of West of Tomorrow, an intelligent, last-chance romance of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix living in all of us. It’s also a thoughtful look at our times and the flexible ethics that seems to populate our age of shifting paradigms.