Story Behind Perilous Shield by Jack Campbell

         The good news is that the Lost Fleet series has been so popular that both the publisher and readers wanted more books in the series.  The bad news is that meant I had to figure out how to keep a series that had originally run through six books from getting stale or repeating itself.  The Lost Fleet universe had a lot of stories left to tell, but how to tell them?

         The original six books of the Lost Fleet had carried the big story arc to a clean ending.  The century-long war between the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds was over.  My hero out of his own time, “Black Jack” Geary, had found the only reward that mattered to him.  However, since I was dealing with a big setting with plenty of loose ends and a lot of good characters, I could start a new big story arc set mostly outside the boundaries of Alliance space.  This main follow-on I called Beyond the Frontier.  But I was still concerned about burning out over the settings and the characters.  No matter how good the story and how interesting the people in it, maintaining enthusiasm for the ongoing tale can sometimes get difficult after writing the first several hundred thousand words.

         I had grown comfortable with the characters, with is also a good thing and a bad thing.  I know Black Jack and Tanya Desjani and their companions very well.  Well enough to know how they would handle just about any situation.  But that raises the risk of the characters going from “well understood” and “consistent,” to “predictable” and “uninteresting.”  I needed something to add to the mix, not just new situations involving those characters, but different situations with different kinds of characters, whose own actions and interactions with people like Black Jack would help keep the stories and the characters fresh.

         Throughout the Lost Fleet series I had been receiving requests from readers to learn more about the enemy in the books, the Syndicate Worlds.  Since the Lost Fleet is told from the perspective of an Alliance officer (Black Jack), only glimpses could be seen of what the enemy was like.  It was clear enough that the “Syndics” had a corporate-dominated government and despite official claims to be “for the people” were actually a repressive, dictatorial regime.  But the humans on the Syndic side weren’t cookie-cutter evil clones.  What did they believe in, how did they feel about their own government, and why the heck were they fighting for leaders who didn’t seem to care at all about them?

I wanted to write about some of those bad guys, to explore the reasons why some people would work and fight for a regime they hated and feared almost as much as they hated and feared the Alliance.  On top of that, the star systems making up the Syndicate Worlds were caught in an end-of-empire situation as the authority of the Syndicate government was challenged almost everywhere.  The old empire was crumbling, but still more powerful than individual star systems, and it was lashing out in attempts to halt its collapse.  What choices do people make in that situation, which sides do they choose, and why?

The original Lost Fleet series had given me a good setting for such a spin-off.  The Midway star system was on the edge of human-controlled space, facing alien threats about which little was known, and with leaders who had already been introduced and shown to be different from average Syndicate CEOs.  In the first Lost Stars book (Tarnished Knight) two of those CEOs, Gwen Iceni and Artur Drakon, realize that they have to unite to survive the loyalty purges ordered by the tottering but still very dangerous Syndicate Worlds.  Brought up in a system in which double-dealing and betrayal were routine, in which anyone who wasn’t solely out for themselves was seen as a fool, Iceni and Drakon want to not only stay alive but also figure out a better way of doing business than absolute rule enforced by ruthless secret police.  The problem is, they don’t know of any other ways, and all of their training and experience is to distrust others (including each other).

This provided a great contrast to the original series.  In the Lost Fleet, Black Jack Geary is from a time before the century-long war.  He represents (and champions) ideals and beliefs that have been badly battered or cast aside under the pressures of decade after decade of war.  One of his most important tasks is to remind the people of the Alliance what they once believed in, and why it is important to remember those things, such as that honor isn’t about how others treat them, but about how they treat others.

The characters in the Lost Stars (not just Iceni and Drakon, but also their closest assistants and allies) are completely different.  They were never taught ideals.  Having experienced the ugliness of the Syndicate system, they want to do things differently, but in order to survive have to often fall back on the only tools they know.  And the citizens of the world they control are not willing to simply accept the same old rulers with new names.  They want something different, too.  Having started rebellion, Iceni and Drakon have to figure out how much voice in the government they can give “the people” while maintaining enough power for themselves.  Aiding and complicating their tasks are their close assistants, some young and fiery with the idealism of youth and some worn-out and cynical from experience.  Some of those assistants, steeped in the same Byzantine culture as their leaders, have their own, secret agendas.

Like the characters with Geary in the Lost Fleet, those in the Lost Stars are also afflicted with the physical and emotional scars of the war they, their parents, and their grandparents fought.  They have seen countless friends and companions die, they have seen worlds battered to ruin, and they have done things that haunt their memories.  The war may have officially ended, but it lives on in the impact it has had on vast numbers of people and in the instability the war left in its wake.

What this adds up to is that the Lost Stars and the Lost Fleet share a great deal, but are also very different.  I make use of this by intertwining the storylines for both series.  What happens in one has an impact on events in the other, and the characters interact at times.  Among other things, this lets me show how those trained in the complex, treacherous Syndicate system view the actions of Black Jack.  Geary is actually a pretty open and above-board kind of person, but to Drakon and Iceni this looks like just an act, as they try to spot the complicated plots that they are convinced must lie beneath the surface of what he says and does.

Most importantly, the Lost Stars books like Perilous Shield are fun to write, and that carries over into the Lost Fleet books, keeping them fun to write as well.  I’ve got lots of new people and tough situations to deal with, different leaders facing different challenges, and the question of whether the damage done to both the Alliance and the star systems of the Syndicate Worlds by a century of war can be countered by the efforts of very dissimilar people trying to create a better future for the people who depend upon them. 

As well as, of course, the question of whether Iceni and Drakon can get past their mutual distrust, and survive battles and assassination attempts long enough, to develop the sort of personal relationship that could immeasurably strengthen their efforts to create an enduring legacy.  If not, if their individual pasts and the plotting of others serves to keep Iceni’s and Drakon’s fears of each other always between them, Midway’s experiment with freedom might become only a brief moment of light, followed by lasting darkness.

The chance to tell that story is why I wrote Perilous Shield.

Jack Campbell
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