Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 436, September 23, 2007

"First Day of Autumn"

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Another Goddamned Idea
by L. Neil Smith

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
from L. Neil Smith at Random

In my communications with other writers, I've discovered that there's a wide variety of characteristics among them. Some, for example, struggle for an idea they feel is worth writing about, maybe only coming up with something that satisfies them every ten years or so. Many of these writers keep coming back to the same idea, over and over again, until the next rare inspiration comes along. If they're good enough at what they do, nobody will mind that they've been there before.

Other writers are figuratively plagued with new ideas, and, after a lifetime of it, whenever a new one comes, unbidden, to their minds, their first reflex is to groan, knowing they'll never live long enough to pursue them all, and if they did, there isn't enough market to use them.

I fit into this latter category, I'm afraid, and my computer (it used to be stacks of notebooks) is stuffed with ideas I've had—sometimes several a week—for novels, mostly, or the occasional movie. Whenever it happens, it's a little like getting hit with a hammer, or being laden down with another sack of birdshot, and I groan.

Just a little, you understand.

I gather that I'm unusually open with my readers about the process of writing a novel. Some writers feel that if they tell the story to their friends, they'll lose the urge to tell it on the page. I'm just the opposite. Telling the story to people who care about my writing helps me flesh it out, and to detect the flaws before I get around to writing.

Be that as it may, I thought I'd do something I've never done before, and share an idea I've just had (or that's had me) while it's still a tiny little spark behind my eyes. Somebody told me recently (I forget who it was) that there might be interest in a sequel to Henry Martyn and Bretta Martyn and to be perfectly truthful I always thought there needed to be a third book. What I call the "co-trilogy"—consisting of The WarDove and two outlined but unwritten sequels—would bring the grand cycle to six books, an exciting idea for any novelist.

Well, for this novelist, anyway.

Here's the idea in as nutty a shell as I can manage. Maybe I should add that if you haven't read Henry Martyn, Bretta Martyn, and The WarDove, shame on you. Go out and buy and read them right now.

Those who have read those books know that a thousand years ago (just a little while from now) the Earth was rendered uninhabitable by a thermonuclear exchange. The only survivors were colonists in the Moon—many stationed there to develop an interstellar spacecraft drive—who had to spend the next several hundred years just barely surviving, because the original plan had never called for complete self-sufficiency.

Early in that process there arose a conflict between those who believed that the devastating war on Earth was sparked by selfish individualism, nationalism, capitalism, etc., and those who knew perfectly well that it would never have happened if there were no governments. Happily, the latter group, while smaller, was faster on the draw. They crammed the former group into the prototype starship and sent them far away on autopilot, not really caring whether they survived.

Now, toward the end of the 30th century, there are two different human cultures in the universe, both largely unknown to each other. The first is descended from those who stayed in the Moon—which has now become terraformed and hospitable—and those who got kicked off it and wound up in a big star cluster at the very outside edge of the galaxy.

The first group, organized in a loose confedeation, has spread throughout this arm of the galaxy and conducts everyday contact and commerce with several dozen species of alien sapients, two of which the humans saved from annihilating one another several hundred years ago.

The second group, once they reached the Cluster, fragmented into many different more or less feudal kingdoms and empires, the largest and most powerful of which, in the 30th century, is the Monopolity of Hanover. All of these entities ply the stars in tall ships with mountains of billowing tachyon sails, ships that can exceed the speed of light. They fight other ships with massive "force-projecteurs" that can generate great bolts of one-way kinetic energy, while their crews wield lesser weapons that operate the same way and are used like swords.

For the most part, nobody in the Cluster knows of their origins on Earth and the Moon except as a distant myth. A smaller group, however, discovers enough of the truth that they launch a brief, long distance war against the Moon-centered civilization now called the Coordinated Arm.

In the end, the Clusterian Powers (which is what the Arm's people call these mysterious attackers) exhaust themselves and withdraw, but relatively soon afterward, having developed terrible slave armies by chemically and surgically altering prisoners, begin to wage war on neighbors in the Cluster. In the end, the aggressors are beaten again, but at a terrible cost. Hanover, the central planet of the Monopolity is subjected to a "scorched earth" treatment that makes it nearly uninhabitable.

Henry Martyn centers about the Islay family, who have been granted baronial possession of the planet Skye. The novel's title is a piratical nom de guerre adopted by one member of the family, Arran Islay, when it is crushed and deposed through the treachery of former friends with approval of the ruler—called the "Ceo"—of the Monopolity.

Fifteen years later, the Ceo's daughter Lia—a former tutor and true friend of the family Islay—has succeeded her father, and the battle with the Powers begins. By now, Arran is married and has a daughter of his own, Robretta, who uses the fighting name Bretta Martyn. Together, having been recruited by Lia to help her, they ultimately defeat the Powers.

That covers enough of Henry Martyn, The WarDove, and Bretta Martyn that I can now describe what's going to happen in Phoebus Krumm.

Five years after the fall of its capital, a new one has just been established by the Monopolity of Hanover, still ruled by the Ceo Lia Wheeler. On New Hanover, it's a much-reorganized regime that Lia controls. Every official in her government is drafted for a single, brief term. It turns out that the chief executive of the Coordinated Arm is her Aunt Anastasia Wheeler, who ran away from an arranged marriage long, long ago. The two women like each other and correspond frequently.

Together they learn that an old rival, the Jendyne Empery-Cirot, has constructed a starship so vast and powerful that she represents a threat to every other polity in the Cluster. Arran is on a mission to the Moon, and unavailable, but Lia remembers that his old friend and first mate Phoebus Krumm is right here on New Hanover. Tragically widowed, he has joined the Immortal School, an exclusive society of wealthy hedonists who live suspended in oxygenated fluorocarbon liquid, eating and drinking only the best, while attended in every way imaginable by flocks of beautiful young girls brought in from the provinces.

With some difficulty, Lia persuades Phoebus to rejoin the world again and go destroy the Jendyne battleship for her before she's fully commissioned. Lia gives him a small fighting ship and letters of marque.

Phoebus recruits his own crew, but he stops in at Skye to urge Robretta Islay to join him in his adventure as "Bretta Martyn". She'll be his first mate. Bretta, in turn, takes Phoebus to visit people she knows who breed and raise spacegoing animals that she's found useful before.

Having evolved a biological forcefield they can extend to protect their young, they can be ridden in the cold, hard vacuum of space like horses.

It's here the story ends for the moment. I know that they'll use the animals to "cut out" the Jendyne warship, which I plan to base on H.M.S. Victory, in my opinion the grandest seagoing vessel ever built. Instead of destroying the beautiful thing, they'll keep her for their very own. Politics being what it is, the Ceo Lia will be greatly angered, and the Jendyne Empery-Cirot isn't all that happy about it, either.

And that's just the first half of the book.

So with two great empires turned against them, Phoebus and Bretta will proceed on an adventure to match those in the first two books. Along the way there'll be "swordfights", interstellar storms to sail through, space battles, interesting aliens, and maybe some romance.

Or even sex.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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