Monday, September 10, 2012

Introduction to Space Corps

A long time ago, on a carpet far, far away...

Space Corps is something I've been working on since at least 1995.  It's a direct product of my love for Star Trek, which at that time was being supercharged by Deep Space Nine's third season, which remains a high watermark for me in my experience with the classic sci-fi franchise, when a good show started figuring out how to be great.

Of course, Space Corps (it had a different name then) didn't start out anything like Deep Space Nine.  It was designed to match the kinds of stories the original Star Trek and Next Generation series had done, episodic adventures that hopped to something new every week.  In 1998, perhaps coincidentally when DS9 was again revolutionizing the franchise during its extended Dominion War arc, I expanded Space Corps to include the Seven Thunders saga (it had a different name at that time), the first time I had a self-contained story that could stand up against my other great sci-fi love, Star Wars.

So yes, I'm one of those people who can love Star Trek and Star Wars at the same time.  To me, they've always been distinctive yet complementary.  They're both visions of starships zipping through space.  What happens between the starships featured each franchise certainly distinguishes them.  In Star Trek, it's always been about a voyage of discovery, with a set of individuals deliberately (and sometimes accidentally) challenging the unknown.  In Star Wars (and here's why I've always had a problem with all the spinoff material that has swamped the landscape over the past twenty years), it's always been about one great story, the rise and fall of evil, and the individuals who challenged the known.

Where Star Trek often allows familiar characters to explore the unfamiliar, Star Wars follows unfamiliar characters exploring the familiar.  You know who Kirk and Spock are, right from the start (that was the genius of J.J. Abrams' 2009 film).  But you don't really know Luke and Han.  You don't know where Kirk and Spock are headed, but you do know that Luke and Han are confronting a giant menace.

That's something I thought could be combined.  There've been plenty of incarnations of Star Trek that've attempted to do that, but they're always succeeded best when they understood exactly what always made Star Trek work best, even if some fans have had a hard time processing that.  Star Trek can do what Star Wars does, but Star Wars can't really do what Star Trek does and remain Star Wars, just as Star Trek is no longer Star Trek if it starts to be too much like Star Wars.  Do you follow?

What Space Corps has increasingly attempted to represent is a melding of these experiences.  If it started out like a match for Star Trek, I eventually realized that it wasn't very much like Star Trek at all.  When you analyze the Star Trek tradition, you come up with a lot of very specific things that the franchise has always done, throughout each of its incarnations.  It loves time travel.  It loves moral dilemmas, but in very deliberate frameworks.  It loves allegories.  It loves having a very specific cast layout.  There must always be a captain. There must always be a starship.  (Even when DS9 rebelled against these last two, it eventually assumed them both, in that third season of course.)

Many of the original stories I plotted for Space Corps in the early years embraced most of these elements.  When I created my version of DS9, I started to move away.  I combined, in fact, DS9 with Voyager for one story.  Then I tried DS9 again.  Then I started to break away and figure out what gave Space Corps its own framework.  I kept circling back to Seven Thunders, one epic saga that had already resonated through some of the earlier stories, recurring elements that started feeling more like Star Wars than Star Trek, even when something like the Dominion War happened.  In college, I found myself starting to shape the reality of Space Corps further, figuring out its origins.

I never even considered getting any Space Corps material published.  A part of me must have realized that the whole process would need refinement.  Although it was already a sizable entity in my own head, I always wanted to start with Seven Thunders.  Was it ready?  Seven Thunders underwent its own refinements.  Character names are important to me.  One major character got a new name.  Now I can't imagine what it would have been like if the old one had been codified.  The new one helped shape the character in ways I hadn't even considered before.  Even now, I'm learning more about them because of that one crucial difference.

I've changed a lot of names in Space Corps over the years.  As I've said, names are important to me.  I've always considered it a mark of a good writer to come up with distinctive, memorable names, and good ones.  Plenty of writers try to come up with distinctive names, but they just don't work.  Plenty of writers overthink this.  Sometimes a good name can be as simple as Spock, and a great many people will be able to juggle the existence of the Vulcan science officer Spock with the baby expert Benjamin Spock.  It's still rare, even though it's familiar in two different contexts.  Plenty of writers come up with weird "foreign" spellings that will never look natural, and will only be a stumbling block to the more discerning readers.  If you can't come up with a good name, what else can't you do?

So I've juggled a lot of names, and I have a lot of characters in Space Corps.  There are many different stories in this saga.  There isn't a single story in this saga, so it's not completely like Star Wars, but I've tried to embrace the vision of having iconic things happen to characters against dramatic backdrops.  That's what Star Wars is to me, an intimate story that happens to encompass a giant event, what happens to Anakin Skywalker as the the Republic is for a time taken over by the Empire.  Yes, there are Jedi knights and smugglers and bounty hunters running around in the background, but even in the original trilogy, when it was Luke Skywalker trying to figure out what was going on and how he fit into things, it was always dominated by that distinctive black-clad individual, Darth Vader.  Even in the very first movie, Vader was an outsider in his own group, and the greatest moment of intrigue was when the audience realizes that this guy cares as much about the old desert hermit as Luke does.

How do you combine Star Wars with Star Trek?  Star Trek, even when things like Khan and the Dominion War and the Borg happen, is always about a crew of explorers who are trying to survive events that are bigger than them.  Even when someone like Benjamin Sisko ends up being the religious savior of an entire population, it's Sisko's need to understand that role that defines him, rather than anything he actually does.  Star Trek is introspective.  It doesn't breed characters who deliberately try to shape events, but rather characters who are shaped by events.  They're always at the fringe, even when Jean-Luc Picard becomes the Borg figurehead.  There was nothing of Picard in Locutus.

With Space Corps, I try to imagine ways that characters can be introspective and still drive big events, try to merge the intimate with the grand.  It was always my playground, after all.  Once you expand the story a little, there's a lot to play with.  I started out thinking Space Corps would be episodic, and gradually realized that it wasn't.  There was at least one great saga at the heart of it, and that's what stood at the heart of Seven Thunders.  In Seven Thunders, two friends end up on opposite sides of a conflict.  As an American, I suppose there will always be a residual of the Civil War running through my thoughts.  I'm no great Civil War scholar, but it's an intrinsically American narrative.  When I started expanding that conflict between friends, I realized that the Civil War wasn't the only time friends could have ended up in that position.  It's happened countless times throughout American history.  One could say we've always been a polarized nation.

I don't want to say that Space Corps ended up being about that.  Star Wars had the Empire.  Star Trek had the Klingons.  I have the Danab.  The nature of the conflict defines the nature of the franchise.  Once I figured out exactly who the Danab were, I started figuring out the rest of Space Corps, starting with Seven Thunders.  And once I figured out Seven Thunders, I started to understand the shape of Space Corps, the most important elements.  I started to understand the intimate and the grand, started to see where Star Trek and Star Wars met, once you removed all the barriers.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Space Corps became my Middle Earth.  George Lucas began and ended with a single story.  Gene Roddenberry began and ended with a single vision.  Space Corps isn't fantasy, but it borrows more from what Tolkien helped establish in that genre than from what most creators have done with science fiction.  It builds a world and a comprehensive history, one that follows a logical path.  If Gollum is a tragic character who accidentally puts a series of events in motion, then I figured I had to have a character who sows seeds throughout Space Corps. This character has no major role in Seven Thunders, but he helped form the backbone for the rest of the saga.

Hopefully in time I will be able to write it all down in books that will help better explain all of this.


  1. Wow Tony, this looks huge. Star Trek and Star Wars are very different in tone, but the new movie is bringing them closer. What you have in mind sounds like a very expansive and detailed world. Cool.

    1. I've spent a ridiculous amount of time developing it, figuring out what works and why, the relationships between species, which was always something I liked about Star Trek, which even the prequels in Star Wars didn't really deal with, except for on Naboo (brilliantly, I'd say).

  2. Was the Space Corps in that last story from Monorama or was that something else?

    As far as names, I usually just look around me for inspiration: a baseball player or a singer or an author or sometimes just an object around me. Like one character in my book is named Mrs. Chiostro, the last name being a kind of coffee they were advertising at Starbucks when I was writing. I don't usually concern myself too much with the names someone else uses unless it's something dumb like someone planned to write a mystery series with a main character named Priscilla Presley. No, not THAT Priscilla Presley. Ha ha ha, what a funny joke. Not. That bit gets old in about five seconds. I suppose because it seems too precious to me.

    1. "Quagmire" is part of the foundation story I was talking about in the post, yeah. I ended up doing a whole story about the truth behind the foundation myth, as it turns out, so that's another reason why I've since decided it's not wise to put the whole myth (or what I wrote of it) in the public. I would substantially rewrite it if I were to do that now.


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