Monday, 6 February 2012

Thought control, 'menvring', and a small alien named Zewip!

The above topics play a role in a story I've written for 8-12 year-olds. It's almost finished. So if you were wondering if I'd actually been hibernating for the past few months, now you know.

The story started off as a tale I could tell our two boys at bedtime. Gradually I realised there was too much action and suspense to relax them before sleep, but I've read them the first few chapters in the daytime. Now it's finished bar a bit of last-minute improvement and fine-tuning, and I am going to get it published (do you hear that note of quiet determination?). Do you have a child in that age bracket who'd like to read it now and give me some feedback before the end of February? I can send you the story as an attachment. Here's what could appear on the back cover:
THE CALLING OF VALIN DEROJAN: The galaxy is torn apart in a struggle between the outnumbered forces of freedom and the dark legions of death. It's not the first time that barbaric Thagul raiders have screamed down out of the sky of Elmarune and attacked the nomadic tribes who live along the desert's edge. But this time they take hostage the man who saved young Valin Derojan's life, and he is faced with a stark choice: take on the raiders single-handedly to save his friend, or live the rest of his life in shame. In the adrenaline-rush struggle that follows, he realises that the freedom fighters are calling him into this galaxy-wide conflict. Is he willing to lay his life on the line for his friend?

I found a few pics like this on the internet for private use when I read it to my boys.

The story idea started, I think, as I watched our eldest son gobbling up book after book in the series of young-adult Star Wars chapter books. Yes, whatever you might think about SW as science fiction, when talking about kids and SF you at some point have to deal with the elephant in the room, so let's get to it. I think the Star Wars big-picture story has a lot going for it in some ways, in that it deals with the father-son relationship and gives the main characters a quest, throwing them into a struggle between good and evil. Apparently George Lucas, the original creator of Star Wars, said that he added the Force as a way of dealing with 'God' in his invented universe. Here's a quote from a webpage by Terry Mattingly at :
The trilogy's creator was well aware that his work invaded turf traditionally reserved for parents, priests and preachers. George Lucas wrote "Star Wars" shortly after the cultural revolution of the '60s. He sensed a spiritual void...
The impact of Lucas' work has led some researchers to speak in terms of a "Star Wars" generation. A modern preacher who wants to discuss self sacrifice will be understood by more people if he refers to the death of Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi, rather than that of St. Stephen. 
The major issue I have always felt with the Force is that it's impersonal; it's almost like magic. The Force gives the Jedi control over matter and makes them stronger; the Holy Spirit waits for us to submit to God's way and answers our prayers as He sees fit. As Christians we are given authority, but only within the parameters of God's loving, pure rule.

Fair enough - Star Wars is only a story. It's not meant to portray reality, but young people growing up in a spiritual void grasp hold of these things and feed on them. It's a very compelling story for children. There's an order of warriors who have to keep themselves from darkness in order to battle the evil around them. I can identify with that as a Christian. It's what motivates me to live and do what I do. But sorry, the Force of Star Wars is in many ways closer to Buddhism than the Gospel.

Okay, this has been discussed many times over since Luke Skywalker first watched the sunset as he stood on Tatooine's dusty soil in the '70s. Is there any chance for another story to come along into the arena of SF adventure? Once I'd written most of this new story I realised I'd come close to plagiarism in some ways, or at least to creating a story that might remind the reader of the universe of X-wings and Yoda and Tusken Raiders. But that's almost inevitable, with such an all-pervading 'empire' of audio-visual thrills, games and toys filling many kids' lives.

There's plenty in The Calling of Valin Derojan that's charting a different course from Star Wars while tackling similar themes. The idea of enlisting in the battle between right and wrong requires a dash of reality: it's made up of the little decisions we make, the sort of people we have decided to be. So, can Valin control his thoughts enough, and handle strong emotions? This comes into the big SW too, but The Calling handles it differently, I think. Rather than having to tune in to the Force within, Valin moves towards loyalty to a person. Rather than just stilling his thoughts or emptying his mind, he has to deal with issues that caused his conflicting thoughts and this will eventually mean he has to die to his self-centred ways.

And instead of having the apprentice hero emerging from a broken family background, I wanted to show how things could be - not a perfect family, but my Valin knows his father, admires him, and has grown up within a solid framework of honour and hard work. But he still faces some serious issues. There are enough stories showing how lives can go so very wrong... how about one showing how it should be?

Anyway, that's enough of that. Writing all this out has helped me think through what the story is aiming at, and I need to go and edit it some more. So if you have a child in the (roughly) 8-12 age range who likes spaceships and adventures on other planets, let me know.