Thursday, June 23, 2022

Story Sheets: "Dead Planet Drifter"

Welcome back to a new Story Sheets! It's been awhile, but that's mostly because I've been writing more stories to continue this series on. Believe me, there is a lot coming down the pike.

This edition is a long time coming since I've wanted to talk about Dead Planet Drifter for awhile now. The reason is that this series usually helps me understand myself a little better when I write these entries, and this is one I've really wanted to dig into. It was a fun one to jot down.

For those unaware, today's subject was just printed in the newest issue of Cirsova, my first ever story in said magazine. I am honored to be in its pages with some of the best modern adventure writers that I've admired for some time now. Being in Cirsova was one of my writing goals that I am beyond ecstatic I was able to achieve. Dead Planet Drifter is one of my favorite stories I've written, but I tend to say that a lot, especially when the story involves Ronan Renfield, the Galactic Enforcer. There is a good reason for that.

I wrote about this a bit in the last post about said new issue, but not very much. Truth be told, when I have a story in a new anthology or magazine I don't want to make it about myself, because it's not. These things are a collaborative effort, and they should be spoken about as such. Every author, editor, and cover artist, deserves the spotlight for bringing these projects to fruition. Nonetheless, now it is time to talk about the story itself.

Today's edition of Story Sheets is about the second published Galactic Enforcer story, Dead Planet Drifter. The first is in StoryHack #7.

The Galactic Enforcer idea came about as a reaction to two separate styles of story. One of the most famous style of space opera is that of the space pirate. Another is that of the military force aiming to achieve victory against an opposing space force. Somewhere along the way, these became basically 95% of all space opera stories. I wanted to do something a bit different and, in a way, took a few elements from each to travel down the path I wanted.

The idea of Ronan Renfield was to find someone who slipped into the cracks of a this large and wide open universe. Someone who was a bit of a wanderer, but also fought for what he believed in--a Good above himself. In the distant future, according to a lot of modern space opera, we would all either be lawless brigands looking out for ourselves, or we would be highly organized intuitions looking out for one group or another. It all felt a little closed in to me.

Ronan Renfield is a lawman who operates above the law (which can get him in trouble, depending on the locals), and an individual working for the forces of Good, despite local politics and rules. What is that "Good" you might ask? You'll have to learn more about the Galactic Enforcers in future stories, but I can say is that they are not your typical organization. He dresses like a twentieth century man, though not for nostalgic reasons. You will see why he does that eventually. He is an anomaly in a wild future that is very alien, and yet familiar, to our present state. Nonetheless, he is an Enforcer above all. They are feared for a reason.

I wanted a man as tough as Charles Bronson but also one with Justice always on his mind. At the same time, despite the continued crashing down of material reality around him, he never loses focus of his goals. How this chaos affects his job and his thoughts on the supernatural will come into play later. For now, he puts it all aside to get the job done.

As for his name's origins, I have a few notes. Renfield is a name taken from the character in Bram Stoker's Dracula, a man who hewed too close to the supernatural and it consumed him whole. He is essentially the flipside of the other Renfield in how he deals with it. Ronan is a name with many meanings. In Japanese, it means "wanderer" or "drifter" (where it can also be written as Ronin) and in Old German it can mean "well-advised ruler." The Irish origins five the name as "Little Seal." The originating story is described by Wikipedia:

"The name is derived from a very old Irish legend, which tells the story of a mother seal who is warned never to stray too close to the land. When the seal is swept ashore by a huge wave, she becomes trapped in a human form, known as a "Selkie" or "seal maiden". Although she lives as the wife of a fisherman and bears him children, known as "ronans" or "little seals", she never quite loses her "sea-longing". Eventually she finds the "seal-skin" which the fisherman has hidden and slips back into the ocean. However, she can't forget her husband and children and can be seen swimming close to the shore, keeping a watchful and loving eye on them."

The detective is being watched over, as we all are, his best protection against the madness he finds is not always his antiquated revolver, but his awareness that he is protected by much higher forces. I think this story will let you know exactly what those forces are. In addition to the above, there were also twelve Irish saints named Ronan, which matches up with the twelve apostles of Christ, though that is more of a happy coincidence.

Detective Renfield is a man constantly finding himself next to, or just out of the range, of incredible supernatural experiences in a universe that is technologically advanced, but broken apart by groups and nations that all have different ideas of how to operate. You've read two of these stories by now, so you can guess much about the future portrayed in them and how even we can reject advanced pleasures for the same basic vices of modernity. Even in a wondrous universe as open as the seas and as infinite as the stars, man still finds new ways to try and bend it to his whims. He still wishes to rule that which he does not understand and to get a step ahead of his neighbors.

In Dead Planet Drifter, Renfield arrives on a world that has consumed life in an attempt to thwart death. While he confronts the madmen that have thrown away humanity for power he also faces a shadow of his past that also underestimated the supernatural. But Justice comes first, even in the face of madness. How will he put a world right that desires to devour itself? 

Exploring the stars has taught us new ways to create abominations against God and nature. But just how bizarre can it get before it cannot be put right again? You'll definitely see in this story. Sometimes dead is better.

CL Moore's Northwest Smith by Julien Noirel

Of course I would be remiss to admit that the inspiration for Ronan Renfield did come from CL Moore's Northwest Smith adventures, particularly Black Thirst and The Tree of Life. Her story setups for the series were all rather similar, but they all emphasized the horror of the unknown hidden in the known. Despite being a hard edged pulp protagonist he still found himself at the mercy of the awakened supernatural that should have been left alone and now the hard-bitten rogue must put it all right again before he is consumed by it.

The main difference here to a Northwest Smith story is that Renfield deliberately seeks these situations out in order to resolve them. He is prepared and willing to do what must be done to stop the perversion of the natural state of things. He isn't above showing mercy to those who need it, but by the time he gets there those deeply involved are far too gone to be saved. You wouldn't tear the universe apart if you cared about those in it, would you?

In essence, these stories are a lot like westerns starring a no nonsense lawman. The setting is as open as any space opera, but the horrors are also far blacker and needing of dispensing immediately. Does this fall into Sam Lundwall's old line about space opera masquerading as "Science Fiction" in order to gain clout from Fanatics? No, because I have no desire to be seen as respectable by people who hate what I love. These are adventure stories first, and that is the goal: to scratch that wonder itch. Heroism always comes before respectability.

As I said, I like the idea of future adventures in an unknown place far away from home. However, I find much of said story type today is stuck in a post-1940 framework and missing the freedom of an EE Doc Smith or a CL Moore when the universe was a lot more open instead of being locked to the same handful types of stories involving either rogues or military forces. I wanted to see something a bit different than both. Not to say others haven't done so themselves (you can read Cirsova and StoryHack for other examples of it) but this is what I want to see more of.

We need more wonder and more adventure! There can never be too much.

His appearance was inspired by Terry Bogard from Mark of the Wolves (much shorter hair though!)

His gun is inspired by the Colt Python .357 Magnum Revolver

This is all for fun, as it should be. This universe is far greater and more exciting than we know. Why not let it show as best as we can?

When I was reading Sam Lundwall's books, he appeared very fascinated with a future that was completely disconnected from his present. He desired a place where humanity "grew out" of bad habits and essentially evolved to be something new in an alien universe that would be far beyond our own. "Science Fiction" is supposed to prepare us for change, he says. We need to throw away the hated present in order to reach Paradise.

Of course I don't agree with him. I wanted to write stories that show how similar we are to the men we will be in the future. Even if we kiss the stars we will still be sinners in need of salvation, attempting to fill the cracks in our souls with anything to ease the discomfort of not being able to find a comfortable place, much like we do now. It is not pessimistic--we can still build great republics and empires, ways to travel, advanced colonies, and the entire like. But we will still, at the heart of it, be the same people who care about king, country, and family. We will still be humans, even though we still will try to escape that reality in the far future. That will never change.

We will constantly seek new frontiers and eventually we will learn that we cannot conquer them all, because we were never meant to. Instead we will strive on, much as we always have, to make things a little better, to reach the Good. Whether we do it the right way or not, well, that is to be seen. I'm sure Detective Renfield would prefer we do it the right way.

But we wouldn't be humanity if we always did the right thing, would we?

What is waiting out there, not just on the horizon, but in the spaces between?

Wonder implies large, vast spaces, far beyond what we can even imagine. This does not mean everything we find will be welcoming, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep exploring. Just know how to put the right thing forward, and keep your eyes on the Good. We will never have Paradise in this life, but it doesn't mean that we can't hope for better days.

They will come eventually.

Here are a few final stray notes on this story before I wrap this up. 

The titular "Dead Planet Drifter" is not necessarily referring to Renfield. You'll know what that means if you've read the story.

There are other spaces and ways to travel besides the surface-level material ones. Whether we should use them or other, this is something to ponder. Now that I think about it, I believe every Renfield story has this in it in some aspect. I'm not quite sure why that is.

It should be no mystery at this point that I enjoy writing weird tales, and this is a particularly weird one. But I also like the western, noir, and hero tales, all of which combine in one in what I do. If you're expecting the sort of safe corporate brand space stories that have been commonplace for decades then you might want to look elsewhere. But if you want to have a blast in a slightly alien vein with plenty of excitement, danger, and wonder, then be sure to check out Dead Planet Drifter and future stories of Detective Ronan Renfield. You most definitely won't be seeing anything like this coming out of OldPub.

And that is what makes it so much fun to write!

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