Planetary Anthology Sale!

Purchase the Solar System Today!

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! If you are following my website as well as this newsletter, then you already know the Planetary Anthology Series is on sale for $0.99 on Amazon in ebook format! This means the volumes with my stories in them are now easy to acquire.

The first of these would be Luna* (yes, that’s an Amazon Affiliate link), which features my story “Despot Hold ‘Em”:

Next is Uranus*, which has “The Long Dream”:

And finally, Sol*, which has “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.” That story was described in detail here:

So through today, Black Friday, and the weekend you can buy the entire Planetary Anthology Series* for roughly $10. Quite the Thanksgiving treat, wouldn’t you say? Be sure to pick them up before the deal ends. The long weekend will be over faster than you know it!

In addition, please remember to leave a review after you’ve finished each anthology. The more reviews a book receives on Amazon, the more the company will share it with other buyers who might not have heard of it before. More to the point, writers really like feedback, so leaving a review will be a boost for their morale at the same time it helps them refine their craft!

Once again, have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may God bless you and keep you. Thank you for your support, readers, especially today. You’re the BEST! ;)

Rogue One, Kyle Katarn, and the Death Star Plans

Or: How History Affects Fiction, Take 2!

I liked Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Although it wasn’t great, it also wasn’t that bad. At the very least, it felt and looked like Star Wars.

Over the years, others have pointed out that Rogue One is essentially a retelling of the Dark Forces video game series. In these games the lead is a Force-sensitive character named Kyle Katarn, a Stormtrooper who defects to the Rebellion. He chooses to defect after discovering that his father was murdered not by Rebels, but by the Empire he served. Partnered with Alderaanian rebel Jan Ors (played by Angela Harry in Dark Forces II), Kyle is affectionately known as the Chuck Norris of Star Wars among fans of the franchise.

It is not hard to see why people say Rogue One was a rip-off of Kyle’s story. The only difference is that they switched his and Jan Ors’ position; Jyn Erso is the lead in the movie, and her father is killed early in the film. She is also reluctant to join the Rebels, who have Cassian Andor watching her in case she betrays them.

In Kyle’s story, Jan was told to watch him for this very reason. It was implied Mon Mothma assigned her to the role specifically to eliminate Kyle if he was a plant, a spy, or if he got cold feet and decided to return to the Empire. Kyle and Jan would eventually form a strong rapport that deepened into love, though Jan always refused his offers of marriage. With the chaos that enveloped their lives more often than not, she didn’t think they would survive long enough to make it worthwhile.

Having this pointed out does not spoil Rogue One too much for me. There are several reasons for this: first, Rogue One was a largely enjoyable film. It was not perfect and I will never say that it is, but I would not mind watching it again at some point. To date I have had no wish to rewatch The Force Awakens for the sole reason that it simply does not strike me as a movie worth more than a single view. If pushed to decide between TFA and RO, I would choose Rogue One every time.

Second, since Disney’s mishandling of the franchise I have largely restricted my Star Wars fandom to the original Expanded Universe. This is a fictional universe large enough for one to get lost in and remain happily disengaged from the present abuse and misuse of Lucas’ landmark series. I may find something from the Disney canon to add to the original Star Wars lore, but that is not required and it has become more difficult for me to do as time passes.

Third, and this is most important, in the original canon there was no single story where the Death Star plans were stolen from the Empire. There were, in fact, several stories about operatives that stole copies of the plans for the Rebellion. Kyle Katarn’s was one tale, but so was Bria Tharen’s in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. Bria actually died along with her crew after they pilfered the plans for the Death Star from the Empire. She in turn passed her copy of the plans to the Tantive IV – the corvette carrying Princess Leia, which Vader’s Star Destroyer captures above Tattooine in A New Hope.

Other novels and short tales in the Expanded Universe followed these patterns. Sometimes the Rebels lived, sometimes they died. Whichever was true, the fact was that they were all pursuing copies of the same plans so they could bring down the “technological terror” constructed at Moff Tarkin’s behest.

Why were there so many stories about stealing the Death Star plans? Did Lucasfilm have no one managing the continuity of the Expanded Universe? How could he let this happen to his franchise? Isn’t Disney at least keeping everything unified?

Lucas did have people managing the continuity of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Though some things slipped through the cracks, the majority of those errors happened before ESB and after the prequels were released. Prior to the prequels’ debut, the game makers, authors, and comic book artists were largely kept on a straight track. Authors were apprised of things they could and could not do in order to maintain as much continuity between novels as possible, and though it wasn’t a perfect system, it was better guided than others.

Another reason for the multitude of tales about the Death Star plans’ retrieval goes back to real life. Something I have found increasingly disturbing about Disney’s Star Wars stories is the lack of care put into the tales they tell. I covered one such incident in the fourth season of Star Wars Rebels in a post on tactics on my website, but the Death Star plans are another hole in the tapestry the House of Mouse has attempted to reweave.

In the EU, there were several operations put into effect to find the Death Star plans prior to A New Hope. This was done for two reasons: one, the Empire kept the data about the Death Star split up to ensure that anyone stealing it wouldn’t know what they were looking at. This is fairly typical of large-scale military operations: the Manhattan Project, which was the codename for the operation to build the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was not kept in one place. There were multiple locations used for the research and development of these weapons, and the people in one lab didn’t usually have contact with the other labs. So only a few people knew the true scope and breadth of the Project.

This is what the military refers to as “compartmentalization.” In the words of Nick Fury, “Nobody spills the secrets because nobody knows them all.” With the exception of the man or men at the top, the grunts and scientists cannot betray their superiors because they only have disconnected parts of the whole picture with which to work and draw conclusions.

So, as in World War II, the Rebels had to find and assemble as much information as they could piece together to form a complete picture of the Death Star. Since this moon-sized super weapon would be able to destroy entire planets, they had to make sure the schematics were as accurate as possible. This led to the second reason why there was more than one mission to steal the Death Star plans: the Rebels had to find copies of the information they had already acquired to verify their initial findings.

If the Rebellion simply took one copy of the plans from the Empire, they could be lured into a trap. This is what happens in Return of the Jedi. The Bothans who stole the plans for that super weapon were deceived, spending their lives to deliver falsified plans to the Rebel leadership in order to convince the entire fleet to go to Endor, where the Rebels could be slaughtered at leisure. Having defeated the first Death Star and knowing this one was incomplete (not knowing it was operational despite that), and that Palpatine would be visiting the station, the Rebel leaders couldn’t resist the bait. They did not check their information as thoroughly as they did in A New Hope, and it cost them many lives.

If I had to cite one grave flaw in Rogue One as it is presented to audiences, it is that Disney did not make it clear there were other operations in progress to steal the Death Star plans. As a matter of fact, they more or less insist that this is the only chance to find and steal the schematics from the Empire. They even refuse to send a team to fetch the plans. Jyn Erso has to lead a group of near-despairing Rebel fighters on a suicide mission to secure a copy of the plans and then transmit it to the Tantive IV.

…A responsible author would, in the course of worldbuilding for a story of this scale, do his utmost to make it as realistic as possible. Lucas did not have to imply or say in A New Hope how many people stole how many copies of the schematics for the Death Star. It was not imperative to the narrative he was writing.

Nevertheless, in the briefing the X-wing pilots receive before heading out to battle, General Dodonna mentions that they assembled the information with the help of Princess Leia. In other words, Leia had the complete plans not because someone beamed them directly to her, whole and entire. She had bits and pieces that she put together to make the schematic that is eventually shown on the projector in the room. This implies, at the same time, that her mission was to collect the final piece of the Death Star puzzle – not the whole thing.

That is why Vader spares no expense hunting her down, capturing her publicly above Tattooine. He knows the Rebellion has been working to build a picture of the Death Star and that the Alderaanian princess was given the last bit necessary to complete the illustration. The Rebellion finally has the information they desperately need, and Vader cannot afford to let them get away with it. Likewise, Leia cannot afford to let him have it. That is what fuels and drives the tension of A New Hope; the Rebels finally have everything they need, but will they be able to use it in time to save the galaxy? Or are they doomed to failure, slavery, and eventual death?

The original EU writers, recognizing the significance of these minor bits of dialogue in the film, drew their own conclusions about the world of Star Wars and wrote accordingly. They built the Star Wars universe as audiences knew it for decades based on these principles of military and spycraft doctrine. They recognized that while the galaxy might be a long time ago and far, far away, it still had to make some degree of sense.

No responsible general would risk troops, ships, and fighters he could ill-afford to lose on a plan built around a single copy of the enemy’s battle plans or secret weapons. And so the Rebellion, fighting from a position of weakness, could not take the chance that a single copy of the Death Star plans was accurate. They had to employ multiple agents, mercenaries, and even pirate crews to find information that would verify what they already had, as well as reveal the fatal flaw in the Empire’s doomsday device.

I can, therefore, enjoy Rogue One by considering it just another mission to confirm that the Death Star schematics are accurate. Relying on and staying in the Expanded Universe means I do not have to narrow myself to Disney’s ill-conceived storyline. I have room to play in this sandbox, adding and subtracting whatever I choose.

For others, however, doing this may be a touch more difficult to accomplish. Certainly, those who only accept the Disney canon for the franchise will be bereft of this particular reflection of reality. That is a failure on the company’s part which may yet lead to its downfall in the long run.

I hope you enjoyed this article, readers. Please be sure to visit my website, www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com, for more pieces like this one. Also, visit my if you want to see my own fiction. I make an effort to practice what I preach. 😉

Stay tuned for more, readers. You do not want to miss what comes next!

Fear Itself

A Look at Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

If you are interested in anime and are looking for a particular review, readers, then my article from The Everyman Commentary should be right up your alley:

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself- Lessons in Courage from Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Zombie stories typically follow one of two patterns: the zombies overrun humanity, turning most of the world into a reanimated graveyard or the undead are defeated, but only at great cost. However, a little-known Japanese anime series titled Kabaneri no Koutetsujou, or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress in English, breaks these patterns. The story is set in Hinomoto – a fictional country analogous to Japan- and the zombies are referreed to as “Kabane” (“undead corpses”). The Kabane cannot be killed by regular means because their hearts are protected by an iron cage, and cutting the head off is the only way to kill them. The monsters are much faster and stronger than average humans though, so in Hinomoto’s nascent Industrial Age, fighting the Kabane in close quarters is futile.

Kabane spread their variant zombie virus through blood transmission through an open wound which will turn ahuman into an undead zombie in less than three days, or through bite which will transform the human into a Kabane within minutes. Thus everyone – civilian, soldier, and noble – carries a suicide charge on their belt that is capable of piercing the iron cage around a Kabane’s heart at close range, but also allows the newly infected to die as humans and not have their bodies come back to live a monstrous “life.”

Due to the Kabane plague, humanity has retreated into fortified cities known as stations and the only safe method of transportation for people and goods across a zombie-infested land is on enormous trains called "hayajiro" (one of which is called "Koutetsujou" or "Iron Fortress") and even they are vulnerable. Those traveling by hayajiro must be inspected for wounds or bites when they enter a station, particularly if the train has just roared through a horde of Kabane. Anyone found with an injury is quarantined for three days, and those who run from inspection are shot.

Read more….

Writing All the Lamps Are Lit

A Look Back

It is now a bit difficult for me to recall just what inspired “All the Lamps Are Lit,” which is the lead story in DAOwen Publications Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth. Yes, that is an Amazon Affiliate link. This anthology does not appear to be doing as well as the others, so if you can spare some loose change for the ebook, I would much appreciate it.

Going back to what inspired “All the Lamps Are Lit,” I can recall that I had wanted to get to Confession for some time. I had the germ of the idea before I went, and it had been trying to sprout in my mind for some time beforehand. On the day that I finally made it to the Sacrament of Penance, it broke through. Being very grateful, I promised the Lord a story out of gratitude, holding out the base idea as an offering.

“All the Lamps Are Lit” started maturing rapidly. In fact, it proceeded to grow longer than this author originally intended. My original idea was for the story to be around a thousand words, but I ended up with a seven-thousand-word tale that went in directions which I did not anticipate when settling down to write.

From the start I knew the heroine would be a girl dying of cancer. Additionally, this author knew the heroine (Shawnee) would not be the POV character. That role would go to the nurse, though it took some work to find her name. Given the degradation of popular culture going on and my desire to save some part of it, deciding on the key to Shawnee’s strangeness was not difficult.

The story was written at a time when this author was learning just how deep the rot in pop culture ran. Denial was a factor, in retrospect, but so was defiance. These things that had been and still were good, in their original forms, could not be allowed to go into the night unsung. They should be recognized for the venues of grace they had been and which some still were.

That dogged insistence on recognizing the good of the present pop culture was also tinged with some nostalgia. My favorite anime had been much on my mind at the time, and I wished to pay homage to it as well. After all, if that series had not aired when it did, had not drawn me in and fired my imagination, then I would not be a writer.

Those of you who have followed my writing will know the series I mean. Zoids: Chaotic Century was, for this storyteller, one of the many tales she studied to create good stories. In addition, it was that show which put a fine point on her refusal to simply abandon the fight for pop culture earlier than she did. Chaotic Century emphasized not giving up, striving always to find – or make room for – a miracle where none was thought possible.

Looking back, the real miracle is that “All the Lamps Are Lit” was published at all. I have been told it is a very human story. Someone who read it told me that it made her cry. Those are heartening compliments, to be sure, and I treasure them. But sometimes I wonder just how good this little tale really is, in the long run. Whether it is the seed God planted, that I offered back to Him, and that He helped me nurture through a rather uncomfortable series of drafts.

Perhaps it is not for me to know how good or poor “All the Lamps Are Lit” could be considered. That is fine, if it is so. The story does its job, and that is enough. It was a gift freely given and freely returned.

In the end, that is enough for this author.

Should you have enjoyed this post, be sure to subscribe to my Substack and/or my blog, www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com, for more. Make sure to check out my other published stories through this Amazon Affiliate link as well, and stay tuned for more to come. Writing proceeds apace, though not necessarily in the directions this author anticipated.

But then, it’s no fun if you can predict the route your story will take, is it? 😉

Dealing with Despair

How to Write Against the Nihilism Infecting the West

Not too long ago I finished reading the eighth volume in Asato Asato’s series 86 – Eighty-Six. It is a good series. Although the English translation is repetitive on occasion, has misused some words, and has some misspellings, the story flows well. This makes these items less bothersome (to this reader/author) than they might be otherwise. Asato’s storytelling carries through, despite the errors, making it easier to appreciate the prose that does translate well.

For context, the last book series produced by the entertainment industry that I have any praise for regarding technique and style is Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Mistakes or not, though, 86 – Eighty-Six absolutely leaves Games in the dust. Yes, Asato is that good. Her characterization also tends to be deeper, more visceral, and her plot moves at a clip that would allow her to keep up with most of the Pulp Rev group if she were publishing this series in the U.S.

 Apart from this praise of her skill, there is something else of interest in Asato’s series. It is a phrase introduced in book two that sets up a motif in the series; one that is highly disconcerting, especially in this time of rampant despair and apathy. It is a motif that more or less mirrors a trend in modern Western literature but which Asato uses to emphatically state that it is not a right attitude or a healthy one for people to have.

What is this disturbing line in 86? Read it for yourselves: “This world doesn’t need humans.”

This world doesn’t need humans. Did you shiver after reading that? Good. It means you are healthy of mind, if not in other areas of your life.

For the 86, however, health of any kind hasn’t mattered much. Forced by their own country to live, fight, and die in a warzone, they have been “whittled down” to their bare essences. Asato states that the child soldiers, the only remaining 86 who can still fight, have cut themselves off from every happy memory they possess and any aspirations for the future they may have had in order to become weapons capable of surviving a hellish battlefield meant to murder them. Left with nothing else to call their own, these young 86 can only take pride in fighting to the bitter end against the mechanical Legion.

It is a nihilistic view of life, yet it is all that they have in the 86th sector. But as the series progresses, the 86 are liberated from their enforced encampment near the combat zone and their situation improves rapidly – some might say too rapidly. Removed from the battlefield and given proper schooling to help them reassimilate into society, a great number of the 86 volunteer to return to the fight to face the Legion.

Of course, part of that choice is sheer practicality. What kind of future will they have if the Legion wins? Leaving the field of combat to pursue a normal life when that life may be ended at a moment’s notice by the adaptable drones holds no appeal for them.

Moreover, the 86 are survivors; they have fought the Legion in inhumane conditions for so long most of them know the machines’ better than the adult soldiers who rescued them. Additionally, their constant conflict with the drones has honed their combat skills and reflexes to near superhuman levels that normal fighters cannot match. Regular soldiers are terrified of the child combatants, considering the 86 monsters fit only for combat. Having had to rely on sheer tenacity and ferocity to survive, the 86 appear wild and suicidal when they charge into battle against the mechanical demons unleashed upon their world.

Though it seems unfair, the soldiers’ appraisal of the 86 is not inaccurate. Some of the children and teens are, in fact, suicidal to a degree. Shinei “Shin” Nouzen, known by the Personal Name “Undertaker,” is one of these teens. He has survived fighting the Legion for five years, from the time he was eleven. Every squadron of which he has been a member has been obliterated, leaving him the sole survivor.

Shin developed a practice of euthanizing severely wounded Processors to prevent them from being assimilated by the Legion. Since the 86 were not allowed to be buried and had no dog tags, he would take pieces of their mechs – the Juggernauts – to turn into an impromptu name tag for his fallen comrades. This leads to the other 86 referring to him with the affectionate, frightening, awful title of “the Reaper” (“Shinigami” in Japanese).

These items combined to make Shin feel as though he is the cause of a great deal of grief in the world. That he really is a Reaper, a bringer of death. Although his talks with Vladilena “Lena” Milize lead him to respect and fall in love with her, for a time he struggles with the despair and lack of purpose freedom from his burdens gives him. While his perspective is not the one from which a reader first sees the line “this world doesn’t need humans,” Shin does think this later on when he nearly surrenders to nihilism on the battlefield.

By book eight, however, Shin is much healthier psychologically than he has been prior to being sent to the 86th Sector. But Theoto “Theo” Rikka (“Laughing Fox”) has not yet found a reason to keep living beyond combat, and he is still trapped in the mindset he had in the 86th Sector. In some ways, he has it worse than Shin did, since he has no family left and no one for whom he feels strongly enough that he is willing to fight for them. All he has is his pride as an 86 who fights to the bitter end, but the bitter end is no longer assured.

When confronted with the loss of even his pride in fighting the Legion with his last breath, Theo becomes unnerved and psychologically unbalanced. He loses track of the fighting, has no idea how to live in the present anymore, or what to do to keep going. “This world doesn’t need humans,” he thinks, looking out at the beautiful scenery.

Book eight hints that his transformation is coming, that he will indeed learn to live on without his pride. The change has yet to occur and solidify fully as of this writing, but it is promised. And it is that promise which makes 86 – Eighty-Six so much better than most present-day Western novels – including The Hunger Games.

Far too many YA novels, middle grade stories – yes, it extends that deep – and a multitude of books meant for adults presents nihilism as the truth of reality. These state that humanity is brutal, cruel, and not worth saving. A great many novels, films, and television shows not only suggest but applaud the idea of wiping humanity from the face of the Earth, which “doesn’t need humans.”

It may well be true that the Earth doesn’t need humans. But how many of us have actually pictured an Earth where humanity no longer exists – or never existed in the first place?

Somewhere around the age of twelve, I wondered what Earth would look like without humans. I did my best to picture the world as we know it today minus not only the people, but everything human-crafted. Only the plants, animals, birds, insects, and the oceans remained.

Can you see that image in your mind’s eye, readers? No buildings. Only the natural world, untouched by men and never to know mankind’s distinctive tread. The deer are in the field, the mountain lion basks on the cliff, the sharks swim the ocean in search of natural prey. The raptors scream overhead, with only other raptors to answer back. Songbirds in the bushes twitter and chirp, but no human whistles or pleasant prattle answers them. They can only hear their own kind call them.

You don’t hear any hammering, because there is no one to build anything. You don’t hear any cheerful whistling, any happy singing or laughter. You don’t hear any screams of terror or joy; the rumble of traffic is nonexistent. Man never existed, never walked the Earth, never put a mark on this “virgin” world. There is no order here, only the chaos of nature untrammeled, unchallenged, and running rampant as a garden left to the mercies of weeds and time.

What an empty little blue ball of rock, readers.

The first time I pictured that scene in my head, I scared myself so badly that I shivered and immediately wrenched my mind to more pleasant topics. Who would want a world bereft of people? I wondered at the time. It would be boring, empty, and – and not worth having, not worth creating in the first place.

You can doubtless tell that I was a child when this thought occurred to me, because I failed to realize just how many people would prefer an empty, boring, desolate world with no humans in it to the one we presently call home. The nihilistic trend in fiction points to the prevalence of this belief on the part of academia, the entertainment industry, and far too many people in positions of authority across the institutions of the world. Some of them are, like Alexander Pierce in The Winter Soldier, quite open about their desire to severely reduce the population of the planet. Only they do not wish to sacrifice the “few” to save the “many”; they want all but 250-500 thousand people to die. The loss of so many will surely allow these elect individuals to inherit a pure or “virgin” Earth, after all.

86 – Eight-Six ably pushes back against this trend, and it does so by starting from a position of nihilism. Shin and then Theo are the characters who have so far faced the greatest existential crisis after dealing with “the nameless sin,” as Chesterton called it. While Theo still needs to progress, his Reaper has already cleared the path for him by leaving the 86th Sector behind psychologically as well as physically.

In a society drowning in nihilism, 86 is a series I recommend as a lifeline out of the storm. It takes time to build up from that nihilistic view, of course – one doesn’t overcome psychological trauma in a single day, or even a period of a few months. But the trip is more than worth it for reminding a reader that, yes, there is meaning in life. You do not make it, either; you find it. Or it finds you, just as Shin’s girlfriend found him.

But pursuing that meaning – that is where the real adventure begins.

I hope you enjoyed this post, readers. If you so, be sure to subscribe to my Substack and/or my blog, www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com, for more. Make sure to check out my published stories on my Amazon Author page as well, and stay tuned for more to come. There is more on the way!

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