Dearest internet friends:
Despite giving you TWO clickable links, this blog post will contain no book reviews in the body of the post, although the review links are provided; you may read (and vote for) my Amazon review of 'The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley' here, and read (and vote for) my Amazon review of 'One Jump Ahead' here.
Instead of including sections of my book reviews, what follows is my entry in a some-time-ago Baen Contest, which they run on a regular basis because they are delightful people. The current one allows you to make your case before the Council of Aliens about why we should be allowed to the stars.
Alas, I must give the BRIEFEST of background information, or this story will not amuse.
First, the literary hobby called Killing Joe Buckley.
Joe Buckley is a real person with many skills and delightful characteristics. One of those skills was his ability to proof-read manuscripts for authors. The way I understand the story, then-unpublished author John Ringo was sending Buckley chapters of his new novel as it was being written, and Buckley was was returning them with corrections. However, one day he accidently sent Ringo the entire file, instead of the most recent corrections, and Ringo thought he had re-worked his entire novel.
So, he killed him.
On paper, as one of his characters, that is.
And from there, it caught on. Before long, LOTS of people, most of whom had never met Joe Buckley, were cheerfully killing him off with abandon, in the most grisly way possible.
Now, I doubt I was the first, and I CERTAINLY wasn't the only, but I DID make the suggestion in that den of iniquity known as Baen's Bar that all of the Buckley death's be collected into a single volume, and it happened. And ALL of the profits from the sale of this book are donated to charity, either to provide ebooks and readers to the military, or to give access to the Baen catalog to disabled readers.
Second, the John and Lobo series. In 2007, Mark L. Van Name erupted on the scene with a new series which combined hard science fiction with the best of the exploding-spaceships genre. The two main characters are Jon, a human, and Lobo, a space-to-ground assault craft. What makes Jon different is that he was horribly tortured for science as a child, leaving him deeply emotionally scarred, and with the hidden ability to communicate with machine intelligences. What makes Lobo different is that due to 'irregularities' in his construction, he has developed self-awareness. And just as Jon kept his ability to communicate with machines hidden, so as not to undergo further scientific tortures, Lobo has kept his awareness a secret, for fear he will be similarly disassembled. When they meet, it's a matter of a perfect complementary relationship. They set out to seek certain lost elements of their past, BUT, because each bears such trauma from their background, every time they encounter a helpless victim of oppression, they HAVE to rescue them.
It's a beautiful thing, really.
So, maybe five to ten years ago, as van Name was presenting a new book in the series, Baen's monthly contest was to write a story to tell what you would do, if you had the intelligent and deadly war machine, Lobo, at your service for a day.
This was my entry. It didn't win.
I won a day's ownership of Lobo from Jon in a poker game.
Short-term, it added to the self-hate Jon crucified himself with constantly. That was knowledge I would rather not have, but the slight empathic powers I possess made it impossible for me not to see the consequences.
Jon had never taken advantage of the sybaritic pleasures Lobo could offer; indeed, he had never even been able to completely be open with the closest analogue of a friend he would allow himself to have.
He had made the decision to devote his life to liberate children from the hands of those who exploited them, and that meant he had to pay the emotional cost of inflicting death on the evil-doers. Whether that was the result of unleashing the hellish power of Lobo's weapon systems, or by using his own nanites to bring death to the perpetrators, the emotional cost was the same.
It was obvious that his chosen life was taking a toll on him. After all, what else but some form of temporary insanity would drive Jon to play so amateurishly in a high-stakes poker game? Particularly when short-term chattel slavery of a friend was the consequence?
I suppose you could chalk it up to his childhood as a mental defective gnawing rats, or to survivor's guilt from living through missions that had taken his teammates. Regardless of the cause, it was, in fact, the way that Jon acted. I cared for him, but I was not responsible for him. He had, on many occasions, refused my offers to provide safe haven and counsel.
With respect to Lobo himself, I knew intuitively that he yearned to be more than a destroyer; that he craved an outlet for what would be described in a flesh and blood person as affection, even love. That Lobo was a person, I had no doubt; that his circumstances forced him to show NOTHING to outsiders, and only sarcasm and competent mayhem to Jon, was equally clear to me.
And, just as Jon's personal demons drove him to seek to set captive children free, mine drove me to seek to heal the spiritually sickened. Thus, when Jon failed to fill his inside straight against my three kings, and I knew Lobo was mine for a day, my plans were already half-formed.
For some time, I had my eye on the shell-shocked victim of countless cruel tortures. Driven from humanity to live in a hovel on the outskirts of a squalid spaceport, this pathetic creature spent his days pawing through garbage for bits of dry bread and wilted vegetables. I had only been able to approach him once, and that by making a silent approach as he distracted himself by scratching at his vermin-ridden beard. I left a small package of personal cleaners and ration bars behind, hoping to make contact again later.
With only a day to work with, my healing tasks seemed impossible. However, Lobo could experience much more in 24 hours than human people could. If I could persuade him to offer care for another, I should be able to break through his prickly facade, and reach his innate compassion. Treating a poor creature, in much worse condition than he, with compassion instead of bombs and lasers, would begin to work healing in Lobo.
And then, Lobo in turn would have the many years ahead to work on Jon.
When I explained my plan to Lobo, that I wished to use his power to help a poor wretch recover from misery, he was at first reticent. Then, I asked him to come up with suggestions as to how he could use his facilities to bring a life-changing experience to this pitiful human, and almost instantly, his entire persona began to change. Slowly at first, then gushing forth, came his ideas of soothing music, bubble baths, massage, wonderfully nurturing holographic experiences, and I knew Lobo had caught my vision of healing.
I do not like to use my empathic gifts to overwhelm the will of others, but I could see no alternative; I had to get the pitiful survivor out of his hovel, and into Lobo's living quarters. I spoke soothing words, but the poor man was still trembling with fear as he emerged from his hut. He cast one last look at his garbage pile, as he tottered into the warm and glowing interior of Lobo's shell.
Lobo smoothly and swiftly arose miles into the sky, and then ejected the wretch from the airlock.
In shock, I cried,"Lobo! Why have you done this?"
"I don't know, Habakkuk," he replied. There's just something about Joe Buckley that pisses me off."
Peace be on your household.