A Man of Destiny

A (belated) Merry Christmas to all!

One of the ways I keep my sanity is by periodically turning off the computer and leaving it alone for a few days.  Holidays are a great time for this - who needs to know the latest outrage?

I had planned to do some work both on this site and on getting Book Two ready for publication over my time off, but neither has happened.  Still, I haven't been completely idle:  the paperback version of A Man of Destiny is now available on Amazon.com.

I hope you had a safe and enjoyable holiday.  Looking back, 2016 has been a heck of a year, with an unusual mix of really good and really bad things.  Hopefully you are on the positive side of the ledger.

No, droids aren't people - or slaves

Earlier today I watched Rogue One and it was better than I expected.  This isn't a review per se, but having seen it I feel even more qualified to smack down the latest lunacy on the web:  Are Droids Slaves?

Jonathan V. Last is famous for arguing that the Empire is the good guys in Star Wars, and his latest installment is just as daft.  Still, in the interest of moral clarity (and because I am a serious Star Wars fan), I think it's worthwhile to give him the back of my hand.

Before we begin, we must accept the notion that humans have a tendency to project our views and traits onto just about anything.  If we're feeling gloomy, the rain outside is nature agreeing with us; if it's sunny, it's because the world shares our joy.

In reality,  it's just the weather.

We do the same thing with animals.  We like to imagine that dogs really do love us, when in fact their "loyalty" to the pack is a survival instinct.  They can't help doing it.

Cats are less domesticated, so we like to imagine that their behavior is filled with nuance and sophistication.  It isn't.  Like every other animal they want food, shelter and a place to poop.  Successful ("good") cats are those that understand that rubbing up against us and sitting quietly on our laps gets them more of these things.  They are adapted for survival, just as dogs that learned to fetch sticks were allowed to breed while those that bit kids were not.

Droids are machines.  They were built by people and because of that they exhibit the traits of the humans (or other sentient creatures - this is Star Wars, after all) that programmed them.

The key element is that unlike other "organics", (a terms that encompasses everything from Hutts to Wookiees), droids can no more go against their programming than house pets can defy their instincts.

Because we programmed them (just as we've basically shaped every domesticated animal for the last few thousand years), droids give us the appearance of liking us.  That makes us feel good.  But they don't, any more than dogs "like" to fetch the stick.  Do you know why dogs wag their tails?  It's because we like it when they wag their tails.

Same thing with droids.  R2D2 and C3P0 aren't particularly loyal, they are merely doing what their programming dictates.

At this point, you may be wondering:  Why do you care?

Well, artificially intelligence is something I delve into in my latest book series.  In "A Man of Destiny," I introduce two robots.  Yes, of course they are inspired by Artoo and Threepio (I did mention I'm a huge fan of Star Wars, right?) but the premise if very different.

The reason we would develop droids is to undertake tasks too dangerous or difficult for humans (or sentient aliens).   That's an intelligent and life-affirming policy. 

The fact is, one could download the entire personalities and memories of the iconic duo into an entirely new body. 

You can't do that with actual living things.

Droids that are required to emote, are given the ability to do so.  Those that don't, don't.

Those (few) of you who have already read "A Man of Destiny" may ask:  "If that's the case, why are Con and Sol so willing to help our heroes?"

The answer is that they have been programmed for different work.  They are programmed to obey, yet they also "know" that they are operating outside their design parameters.  That explains their behavior.

To put it another way, droids are "slaves" in the sense that cars and smart phones are slaves - they are machines that do what they were built to do.  The difference is that the superior interfaces of the droids of the future allow us the luxury of imagining that they have souls and are like us.

But they don't.  Threepio and Artoo have as much free will as your car when you turn the ignition key.

A Man of Destiny is now online!

Finally, the Big Day is here!  A Man of Destiny is now available in the Kindle store at Amazon.com.  A print version will be up as soon as I can get the proofs for review.

If you've been following along over the last few weeks, you know that the next two books in the series are in revision and will be published as soon as I can get them edited and properly formatted.

Since this is a series, getting the look right for A Man of Destiny was a huge obstacle, but now that I've got a theme, I'm hopeful that the next two will take less time to put together.

Cover art found, additional flourishes being added

It took a while, but I've got the cover art I want to use.  I'm still building the actual cover file, but in this exclusive sneak peak, I can reveal that the flag of the Commonwealth will feature prominently:

Commonwealth flag

As one might expect for a space-centric state, stars and sun imagery feature prominently.  The central sunburst symbolizes the Commonwealth itself, while the sixteen stars represent the original members of the Commonwealth Charter.  As our story begins, the Commonwealth has more than 4,000 member worlds.

I've also heard back from more test readers who've asked for additional background materials to be added.   With more than a dozen major characters, I'm told it can be a little overwhelming, so I've put together a brief summary of "who's who" to help readers navigate.



Revised blurb

It's been rather busy what with the kids going to school and because there isn't a hard deadline on publication, like all authors, I'm putting it off.

I haven't been idle, however.  The blurb has been rewritten and I've also put together a new Author's Note.  You can't see the latter, but here's the new text from the former:

The Commonwealth is in crisis. 

A distant and feckless political class has left it paralyzed in the face of growing economic conflict and popular discontent.  The leaders of four thousand settled planets distract themselves with constant maneuvers for control of the tottering machinery of government while the frontier worlds burn with smoldering fires of rebellion.

It is in this environment of escalating violence and constantly shifting allegiances that planetary representative Maxim Darius makes his move.  He is a man on a mission, assured of his abilities and certain of his destiny to lead.

But what is that destiny?  Can the Commonwealth survive it?

The first volume of the "Man of Destiny" series sets the scene and chronicles the initial stages of a conflict that will spread across known space. 

Combining political intrigue, daring raids and pitched battles, it is A.H. Lloyd’s most ambitious project to date.

I think it does a better job of summarizing the action and you'll also notice that I no longer refer to a trilogy.  That's because I've begun plotting a fourth book.

Turns out I rather enjoy the setting and want to explore it some more.  I'm still doing basic plotting, but I need to keep the door open, hence the change. 

I really, really, really want this available in time for Christmas, so that's my final no-kidding deadline.


The question of cover art

One of the toughest things about self-publishing for me is coming up withe cover art.  Sure, Amazon offers a variety of generic book  covers for use, but I want something a little more personalized.

The first book I published - Conqueror: Fields of Victory - originally used a photo I took of a coronet and sword.  It looked like the cover for a romance novel and upon reflection I went with a modified photo of a knight in armor.  It isn't high art, but it works.

Battle Officer Wolf benefited from this experience as well as the input of my lovely wife.  I used a montage of two public domain photos, tinted them to match the mood of the book and added them into an existing stock template.

Scorpion's Pass used a similar approach, though this time the photo was done in-house and then modified to fit the template.

So what about A Man of Destiny?  How best to encapsulate a sprawling three-volume epic of war, adventure and intrigue?

I wish I knew. 

The blurb for A Man of Destiny

We're coming down the home stretch for A Man of Destiny.  The edits are done and now I'm formatting it for publication and putting in the added touches.

One of those is the the blurb - the teaser text that goes on the back of the book and the advertisement.

This is always tricky because you want it to be short enough to get attention but not too short.

Here is what I have at the moment.  Let me know what you think:

The Commonwealth is in crisis. 

A feckless political class has left it paralyzed in the face of economic stagnation and growing popular discontent.  The leaders of four thousand settled planets squabble over control of the tottering machinery of government while the frontier worlds seethe with rebellion.

It is in this environment of escalating violence and shifting allegiances that planetary representative Maxim Darius makes his move.  He is a man on a mission, assured of his abilities and certain of his destiny to lead.

But what is that destiny?  Can the Commonwealth survive it?

The first volume of the “Commonwealth Destiny” trilogy is a tale of intrigue, conflict, love and betrayal.  It is A.H. Lloyd’s most ambitious project to date, drawing upon his own years of experience inside politics and the military.

The Joys of Editing

I’m crawling my way through “A Man of Destiny,” knocking down two dozen or so pages per session and while the progress is encouraging, I find the process tedious in the extreme.

It’s one thing to edit someone else’s work.  There at least the material is fresh and one can approach it with an air of novelty.

When it’s your own product…not so much.  This is the second pass and I know I’ve got one more to go.  I’m all about attention to detail but there comes a point when one gets positively sick of the exercise.

The best part of writing is the creation.  Nothing is better than knocking out 2,000 or so words in an evening and watching your thoughts take a permanent form. 

Editing is the opposite – your thoughts are there, and now you get to shudder at your mistakes and second-guess your decisions.  Continuity and consistent description are also wonderful traps for the aggressive undisciplined writer.  I remember on my first pass I had to do a massive re-write after changing the concept of one of the characters later in the story.

Yeah, that was fun.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that this isn’t just one book.  Everything I change has downstream effects and I’ve got four sets of documents open to make sure I’m not destroying the narrative to come.

Last week I was feeling good about the size and scope of my creation; now I curse it early and often.

I suppose it would be different if I had an actual editor to help, but that’s beyond my reach.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to get a pro for the “revised edition.” 

Assuming anyone ever reads it.

Still, soon it will be done and that will bring the second best part of writing:  talking about the creation with people who liked it.  I think this is more accessible than either of my earlier works, so maybe I’ll get a readership reaching into triple digits.

The end is in sight!

This week I finished the rough draft of Book Three.

The trilogy is finally done!

I still have some work to do on tidying it up and resolving some minor plot points, but all the heavy lifting is done.  I can now focus on getting Book One ready to publish.

On the one hand, I'm a bit burned out, and editing is tedious work.  I miss being able to sit down and just write a scene or two.

On the other hand, it's a great feeling knowing that I finished what I started.  I wrote a trilogy!  How cool is that?

For those that are curious, Book One is longer than Battle Officer Wolf and each successive book gets longer still.  All told, it's pretty close to 200,000 words.

Not bad for someone with two jobs and a family.

I'm hoping to get Book One (A Man of Destiny) our in August, beyond that we'll see how things go.  I'm trying not to think too far ahead.   I'm tempted to just take it easy, but I want to at least get the first book out there.  After that I'll start to relax.

Sympathy for George R.R. Martin

I’m not a fan of “Game of Thrones.”  I watched the first season and most of the second, but gave up at the third.  It never seemed to go anywhere and the constant killing of main characters bothered me.

Call me a traditionalist, but I believe that characters in fiction should serve a purpose.   It’s fine to kill off a main character (even the protagonist) if the plot justifies it, but after a while the trick gets old.  I think that more than anything else burned me out on the tv show.

As for the books, they would take even more time and I’m reliably informed that they are hyper-detailed, filled with even more political maneuverings – most of which comes to nothing because of course people keep getting killed.

Still, as I try to wrap up my own modest epic (and let’s be honest, I’d love to have even a tenth of Martin’s success), I find I have a fair amount of sympathy for what he must be going through as an author.

His books are big and sprawling and he’s working on an epic scale – a big part of his appeal, to be sure.  Plotting all of that has to be demanding and stressful, particularly when he’s publishing and writing at the same time.

One of the reasons that “A Man of Destiny” is being held back from publication is that I want to make sure everything lines up before I put it out.  More than once I’ve gotten the notion of introducing a plot twist only to have to backtrack because the downstream consequences were too severe.  In fact, I’d say that this is what I hate the most about writing a really long book.

Of course I’m trying to keep my prose lean and my cast of characters under tight control.  I have a few plots moving, but nothing even close to Martin’s tangled web.  I can only imagine what he must be going through trying to keep them all straight in his head.

The other problem is getting to the desire end.  From the beginning I knew where I wanted to go, but now I’m not sure if that’s the best place.  I have a scene in particular I’d like to write but I don’t know if it is still viable given all that has happened since I first thought of it.

Another problem is that these characters are getting quite interesting and I’m tempted to go in a different place.  Maybe my original ending isn’t the best.  Should I add a fourth book?

Of course, unlike Martin, the only pressure I’m under is what I place on myself.  My fan base is microscopic, and no one is clamoring for the book to be finished.  Martin, on the other hand, has an entire franchise at stake – let alone is reputation as an author.  If he botches the end, it will destroy the value of the show, all the tie-ins and pretty much consign his life’s work to the remainder bin.

Consider what happened to “The Matrix.”  The first move was a sensation and appeared to create a new sci-fi franchise for the ages.  There were books, games and all manner of spin-offs.

Then the sequels came out.  You don’t hear much about “The Matrix” any more.  It plays on sub-par movie channels and the ground-breaking special effects haven’t aged well.  The big thing to come out of it was the “red pill/blue pill” metaphor.  Everyone’s pretty much forgotten the rest.

That’s the risk Martin runs.  He came up with a nice metaphor (“a game of thrones”) and a good tagline (“winter is coming”) but everything else could be swept away in a spasm of fan outrage and a giant literary shrug.

That’s a pretty heavy load.

The tasks before me are twofold – to finish the rest of the series and then get book one ready to go.  Hopefully I’ll be there by August.