Last we ended things with the little introduction to A Greater Duty, and before I get into talking about the book itself, I’ll include the back cover blurb/synopsis (which is subject to minor change) once more. (And as a note, the image accompanying this article is the color sketch of A Greater Duty‘s cover, not the final.)
“A warrior struggles to prevent the collapse of the civilization he swore to protect. A young grand admiral seeks vengeance. An emotionless conqueror faces a crisis of conscience…and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.
After her homeworld suffers a devastating attack, Grand Admiral Nayasar Khariah wants nothing more than vengeance upon the Galactic Alliance, the interplanetary civilization that had expelled her people and then refused to punish the organizers of the attack. Her opportunity finally comes when she meets Executor Darkclaw, who has been tasked with conquering the Galactic Alliance— to be followed by the rest of the galaxy—by his master, the all-powerful energy being known only as the High Lord.
Things abruptly change, however, when Darkclaw unexpectedly starts feeling emotions he does not understand, and finds himself heretically questioning the only purpose he has ever known—irrevocably altering his view of the ongoing war.
Meanwhile, within the Galactic Alliance, Second Scion Dalcon Oresh, member of an order dedicated to preserving the it, struggles to stop the Alliance’s bleeding, the source of which may not be entirely external.
Darkclaw’s friendship with Nayasar will be pushed to its breaking point, Nayasar’s relationships with her closest friends and loved ones will be strained as her quest for vengeance becomes more and more a personal obsession, and Dalcon must determine who he can truly trust.
All the while, the imminent existential threat of the High Lord looms over everything, and the key to stopping him, and saving not just the Alliance, but the entire galaxy, may only be found in the remains of a ancient, powerful race, and the creations they left behind…”
Now, on to the main events.
I’ve always had a bit of a hard time categorizing my book to fit in the “genre boxes” that we sometimes seem obligated to when describing books. However, I would classify A Greater Duty as broadly a space opera, though I prefer the term “sci-fi epic.”
Allow me to divert to the topic of genre for the moment, as it is a topic also relevant to Brian Niemeier’s book, Nethereal, which I will be reviewing on this site soon. There has been no small amount of discussion of the concept of genre as relates to science fiction and fantasy, lately, among people I follow online, specifically those involved in the Superversive SF and Pulp Revolution movements (though I would not place my book as a direct part of either, both because I only recently became aware of them, and because I don’t know how it’d fit in either). The thrust of the argument being made is that genres were an artificial creation designed to make it easier to sort books in stores, but over time placed restrictions on what “qualified” as science fiction, fantasy, horror, or other (though those first three were the most impacted, as many older stories casually included elements of what we would now consider multiple separate genres.
In science fiction in particular, the imposed genre restrictions led to numerous arguments about what exactly counted as science fiction. The big one, of course, is Star Wars, one of the biggest early influences on my fiction tastes (both in what I like to read and what I like to write.) Star Wars is set in space, and there is advanced technology, but, as many people love pointing out, to the point where it’s become truly tiresome, is that the “science” of Star Wars wouldn’t hold up in “reality,” and thus it isn’t really science fiction. In theory, this is fine, as Star Wars indeed has both science fiction and fantasy elements. The problem is when people use these genre “rules” to determine what is “better” fiction. Considering Star Wars lesser than a more “realistic” sci-fi story like The Martian, however, is where we have a problem. Leaving aside the fact that even most hard science fiction isn’t actually completely “accurate,” when we rate the quality of fiction by something as arbitrary as scientific accuracy, it’s not healthy for the genre.
In recent years, I have seen a similar movement with fantasy, where people are becoming more and more concerned with “realism,” and with stories being elevated in status by virtue of being more “realistic.” This includes a movement focused on “realism” in fantasy, whether in regard to weapon usage, living conditions, the roles of women, presence of minorities, or even the existence of good and evil. We’ve seen a move toward more “gray” stories, with heroes that are awful people in many respects, villains that are more misunderstood than evil, and more of an emphasis on being “dark,” notable with the emergence of “grimdark” as a subgenre.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. I familiarly believe that a creator can and should do what they wish with their creations, and if it finds an audience, it’ll be successful. But what seems to be an increasing number of rules, bullet points to hit, and boxes to check, is not going to have a positive impact on the genre, at least not in the world of traditional publishing. We’re going to see writers worrying more about those minutiae (not to mention making sure they hold and promote the correct views), rather than on creating great stories with great characters.
By definition, science fiction and fantasy are fictional. Yes, at times it makes sense to use “realism,” more so when using real world objects, such as horses, for example, but that cannot be the focus. If we wanted to read stories about our world we’d read history or literary fiction. Science fiction and fantasy need to be imaginative, enjoyable, and awesome.
But how is this rant relevant to A Greater Duty?
Well, for one, I am very much of the school that believes characters and story come first, and everything else can and should be built around that. While I do enjoy theorycrafting about what might be a bit more “realistic” in a science fiction setting, such as remembering that space in three dimensional (relevant for space battles), that is only a small part of the setting. I want to have my space magic, I want to have my simple, fast FTL travel, and I want to have spectacular battles. So I have them.
I want to have a cool, interesting, setting with many possibilities open for future stories, whether directly related to this planned six (or seven) book series. So I have no fewer than 12 alien races inhabiting the portion of the galaxy where this book takes place, and I almost accidentally created a partial skeleton of an alien language, with a few dozen words and phrases already (but again, this was all in service of the story, and I never came down with what some term “world-builder’s disease.”)
A greater duty has many elements of sci-fi, and it and its sequels will, in their own way address a couple of concepts that hard sci-fi has discussed. It also has fantasy elements, in the type of story I’m telling, and yes, there is what some might term “magic” (though in such a setting none would really use that word.) It has good, it has evil, and it has plenty of levels in between. It’s a story I first conceptualized and fell in love with over a decade ago, and now I’m finally on the cusp of putting it out in the world so that others may experience the first chapter of my grand vision, and hopefully enjoy an awesome story that also established what I hope will develop into a vibrant setting in the mold of Star Wars and Star Trek, where the universe isn’t written into a storytelling dead end after just a few stories (looking at you, Mass Effect). Oh, and there are no humans to be found, because I get enough of them on this blue planet of ours.
Keep an eye on this site in the coming week for the first ever excerpt from A Greater Duty, and, if all goes well, the book itself should follow within another week or two (I made the rookie mistake of only commissioning cover art as the editing process ended, alright? Important thing is that I know better for next time, and everything will be completed very, very soon.
Until then, continue writing the stories that excite you; don’t get hung up on genre restrictions of other arbitrary rules.