Crash Site, Jackbox, and the War Hero universe

I enjoy experimenting with perspective in my writing. My novelette “Crash Site” (now available in the May/June 2018 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction) was written as a large-scale canvas to explore a rogue’s gallery of viewpoints within the frame of a rollicking space opera.

The story is a direct sequel to last year’s “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2017), though written to be capable of standing on its own. The teaser trailer:

An advanced spacecraft crash-landed on the planet Osiris centuries before human colonization of that world. The ensuing quest for this ancient crash-site (and the priceless technology it may contain) involves a number of different factions: there’s cunning opportunists, grieving outcasts, self-serving exploiters, and those who are simply trying to increase survival odds.

“Crash Site” is my favorite kind of composition: building the individual pieces, setting them into place like the gears of a clock, winding it all up, and setting it loose. It’s a chase across diverse points-of-view, with the participants residing in a morally complex grayscale rather than the absolutism of classic pulp adventure.

The story is also a pivotal tale in my War Hero universe, as it brings together several important characters and events. Look closely and you’ll glimpse pieces and references to other connected stories. Harris Alexander Pope from “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” is there, as is Umerah Javed from “An Incident on Ishtar”. There’s a few subtle references to “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates”, and “Galleon”, and “Sparg”. Again, familiarity with these other stories is not a prerequisite. Dive into them all or enjoy this one as a standalone adventure, there’s no wrong approach. The origin story of all of this will be told in my novel TEN THOUSAND THUNDERS, due out in October.


As a deliberate contrast to the complexity of “Crash-Site,” my story “Jackbox” (also published this month, in the May/June 2018 issue of Galaxy’s Edge) is a straightforward single-perspective present-tense snippet of life-in-action. A soldier in the very near-future encounters a corpse in the sands of the Gobi desert. The war they’ve been fighting is over sand, which is actually a thing and is only going to heat up in the coming years.

My approach here was to craft a tale that exists in the space of just a few minutes of life. It was inspired by a true story as related to me by a soldier I encountered at a party. The fellow had served in the first gulf war, and while on patrol on the outskirts of Baghdad, he noticed a dead body on the roadside. There was no sign of movement or life. Yet as he approached, the body suddenly jerked upright, pointed his service pistol, and pulled the trigger over and over and over again… on an empty chamber. The annals of war are filled with nightmarish moments like that. In hearing him relate the episode, I could see that he still lives with that nightmare; the other soldier is always pulling the trigger in his head.


So what is the War Hero universe?

Several years ago, I sat down to write a science-fiction novel. It was set many centuries from now, concerning the phoenix-like restart of civilization after a period of global collapse. I sought to make it a tale of future history and, subsequently, I shied away from the binary “Good Guys versus Bad Guys” trope. I wanted it to reflect the chaotic maelstrom of history and humanity. History is not made or controlled by an Illuminati-like overseer. One person, event, or idea can have explosive ramifications in our world, from a suicide in the Middle East to a near-fatal taxi accident in New York.

Worldbuilding is a major passion of mine; I typically develop meticulous pages of backstory for what I write. In the case of my science-fiction novel, I took that to an extreme, detailing the technologies, political and cultural factions, and major events that created the foundation for this universe.

When I completed the novel, I had a heap of backstory. Why not write other stories set in that universe? Why not venture forth a few years, a few decades, a few centuries in the future of that future, to see how things might develop? Some of those stories were concurrent with the book, others taking place before or after. Some (like Galleon) start in its near-future and conclude millennia later. There are recurring characters and events that are referenced from tale to tale, but against the backdrop of history these are blips on a galactic stage that humanity has only just begun to anxiously shuffle onto.

For interested parties, here’s the chronological order of the stories, not of when they were written, but of where they sit on the timeline. Some tales cover a vast span of time, others occur in a single day. Some are directly tethered, others are veritably standalone tales, yet all feed into the chronology in one way or another.

Two quick things: Firstly, this list does not include the many stories I wrote that are not connected to this universe; one of the supreme joys of writing is creating as many worlds as one likes, to play in those sandboxes, to explore ideas without constraints. For example, no gigantic mutated insects take over Mars in my War Hero universe; that grim incident occurs solely within the standalone “The Nightmare Lights of Mars.”

Secondly, the below list will continue to expand and grow as publications are announced, so feel free to check this (outer) space:

  • Across From Her Dead Father in an Airport Bar
  • Jackbox
  • The Memorybox Vultures
  • The Theseus Woman
  • By the Moon Unblessed
  • Dayshift
  • Sparg
  • Ten Thousand Thunders (novel)
  • The Monsters of Olympus Mons
  • Theft, Sex and Space Pirates
  • War Hero
  • A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone
  • An Incident on Ishtar
  • Enchantment Lost
  • Galleon (opening here, but concluding much, much later)
  • Death on the Nefertem Express
  • Crash Site
  • Breaking News Involving Space Pirates
  • Death on the Nefertem Express
  • Hic Sunt Monstra
  • Karma Among the Cloud Kings
  • Shadows and Shore Leave
  • Last of the Sharkspeakers


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