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Scream and Leap -- Writing Destiny's Forge

The seed for Destiny�s Forge was planted when I read Donald Kingsbury�s Man-Kzin Wars novella Survivor.� Survivor was told almost exclusively from a kzinti point of view and gave us an unprecedented look into the kzinti social system.� From the standpoint of the series it was a vitally important story and it remains one of my favourites to this day.� The Patriarchy Kingsbury paints runs on the feudal system, and the disconnect between its politics and its technology is severe.� It is this disconnect which renders the mighty Patriarchy vulnerable to humanity despite their higher technology and unsurpassed combat skills.� The premise of the series to that point was that the kzinti lost wars because they were overaggressive and thus easily tricked by clever humans.� Survivor shows us a more complex reality, and explains that aggression as a logical consequence of the Kzinti social structure.

Of course when Survivor came out I immediately wanted to write my own story that dealt with the gritty underside of the Patriarchy.� First I had some work to finish.� Prisoner of War was done and I was well into writing The Chosen One (published as Jotok) and Windows of the Soul.� My intent with Prisoner of War was to write the closing chapter of the Man-Kzin wars, the very last story (in chronological terms, not publishing terms) possible in the series.� One goal I had with the story was to make exactly the point that Kingsbury was making, which was that kzinti, like humans, were social animals.� Scream and leap as a strategy was driven far more by pressures internal to the Patriarchy than by its effectiveness in battle.� In a very real sense it didn�t matter to the Patriarch if his Heroes won their conquest or just died trying, so long as they didn�t stay on settled systems to compete for wealth and mates.� The question of what to do with surplus young males is a critical question for any polygamous society, and the kzinti are very polygamous because kzinrette are nonsentient.� As such they are literal property and like all property they tend to wind up belonging to the powerful.� Because power is something that tends to increase with age, young males are left mateless unless they can do something to gain power.� In the Patriarchy, that something is to go out on conquest.� The question of victory or defeat is of vital interest to the conquest fleets, but of total irrelevance to the power structure.� Combine this with the decades long lags involved in organizing a war effort over dozens of light-years and there will inevitably an almost total lack of central co-ordination.� Without central co-ordination the conquest fleets will be little more than loose and shifting coalitions moving in the same general direction.� At every level they kzinti raiders will cooperate only where they have to, because they are all ultimately in competition with each other for the same prizes.

The goal with The Chosen One was to explain a very intriguing premise of intelligent kzinrette that Dean Ing set up in Cathouse the very first Man-Kzin Wars book.� Kit, Ing�s kzinrette heroine, gives us a glimpse of a kzinti pre-history where kzinti females are as smart or smarter than the males and hints that their change in intelligence came about through a deliberate program of culling carried out by the priesthood.� The Chosen One shows the inevitable result of this is the marginalization of the society.� Even on Earth there is a quite direct linkage between a nation�s wealth and power and the amount of freedom its women enjoy, and the fastest way to boost a nation�s productivity is to invite it�s women to participate in the economy.� (Societies which disenfranchise other groups suffer as well of course, but these groups are usually minorities whereas women are actually a slight majority so the effect is less).� The twist in The Chosen One is that the marginalized tribal group with its barbaric traditions that breed out intelligence in kzinrette (and also telepathy, as is hinted at in Hal Colebatch�s Telepath�s Dance and explored in detail in Destiny�s Forge) wind up running the show.� This happens because the jotoki arrive and enlist the backwards tribe in their war with the more advanced kzinti, gifting them with high technology weapons, multiplying their numbers with forced growth techniques and training them as mercenaries while somehow believing that they can maintain control of the process.�� We witness the founding of the Patriarchy here, and of course the reader knows (though the protagonists don�t) that the jotoki will wind up paying for their interference by becoming the first kzinti slave race.� I also got to write a story without any human characters at all, which was an interesting challenge, and my very own first contact story.

The last tale I had to finish before I started working on the story seed that Survivor had planted in my brain was Windows of the Soul.� Unlike Prisoner of War and The Chosen One, I wouldn�t be developing any of the series backstory here.� My goal with Windows was to write a noire detective piece in the style of Niven�s Gil the Arm.� Windows was fun to write, but it�s characteristic of me that I get more excited about the next project than the one I�m working on now, and I really wanted to work on my new story.

The plot that I dreamed up after reading Survivor envisioned a kitten, eldest son of a kzinti noble, who is forced to flee when his father�s rival attacks.� The young hero manages to escape into the ventilation system only because he�s small enough to go where his pursuers cannot follow.� He would rescue his younger brother in the attempt, and the two would grow up half wild in the wilderness.� Eventually they would return as adults to regain what had been stolen from them.� I had the structure for the opening scenes in my mind and I had named my hero Pouncer � and that was all.� Other projects and the rest of my life intervened and for several years Pouncer never made it out of my brain and on to the page.� That turned out to be a good thing.� I had time to polish my skills as a writer and to work with longer stories, both vital to the book that would become Destiny�s Forge.� Had I written it when I first wanted to I wouldn�t have done justice to the idea.

By the time I had time to write it the original concept had grown considerably.� This fit well with the next literary challenge I wanted to take on, which was to write a truly epic story.� Pouncer was no longer just the son of a noble but the son of the Patriarch.� The coup that steals the throne from him would trigger the collapse of the Patriarchy and the final, genocidal Man-Kzin war.� I planned on a length of at least 160,000 words.� Considering the fact that the next longest Man-Kzin wars story is a novella of around fifty thousand words (though The Children�s Hour was later extended to book length) this was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least.� I pitched the idea to Larry and wrote up an outline.� The original plot involved humans only peripherally and was confined entirely to the kzinti homeworld, but over lunch at Worldcon he convinced me that I needed human protagonists to make the story run, and that the action needed to move offworld.� He was right of course, and I began typing.

One of my favourite things about writing is that it�s a journey of discovery.� Many, even most, of the elements in Destiny�s Forge weren�t planned in from the start, they arrived as logical necessities as the story grew and evolved.� The story as finished bears only passing resemblance to the outline I presented Larry with when I started.� What happens is that characters take on their own lives and act according to their own demands while the universe they live in grinds forward with its own inexorable forces.� Like a sculptor who merely releases a trapped statue from it�s encasing rock, a writer simply reveals the story that the characters live in the world they inhabit.� That has consequences when you�re trying to move a plot forward, because frequently your characters don�t want to go where you�d like to push them.� The plot demands a traitor and so you find one or create one, but once he�s in the book he stays there.� He haunts the story, lurking in the shadows with a hidden blade until he finds redemption, destruction, or both.� In the meantime he leaps out at intervals to completely alter the direction you want the story to take.� To merely mention him at the beginning is to entangle his fate with that of entire worlds by the end.� Put a man and a woman in a room and you have to deal with sexual tension even if they never touch.� Make a prophecy and you commit yourself to its resolution one way or another.� Every story thread interweaves with every other, and they all have to come together at the end.� When I started I was worried that I might not have enough story to fill 160,000 words.� By the time I got to 200,000 words I was getting concerned that I might not get finished before 300,000.� The book finished itself at 262,000, which certainly meets my goal for writing a sweeping epic.� I�ve had agents tell me it was too long to sell, but every last word counts.� Larry Niven, who was quite happy to see Windows of the Soul cut in half, took out only forty words when he edited it.

A good example of this dynamic is one of my favourite characters in the book,� the black-furred Ftzaal-Tzaatz, expelled from the notorious Black Priest cult for poorly explained reasons.� He is a consummate warrior of unassailable honour and a dangerous adversary.� His role in the book proved to be central, though I hardly guessed that when I created him.� He is zar-ameer to his ambitious brother Kchula, a role somewhere between bodyguard and grand vizier that falls to the younger sons of noble kzinti houses.�� Ftzaal is smarter than Kchula, and subtler.� He has the power to seize the leadership from his brother if he wants it, and it might be a good thing if he did.� At the same time, Ftzaal contains murky depths that his sense of honour barely keeps in check, and how those would play out if power fell into his lap is an open question.� I didn�t know until the very end whether he�d come down on the side of good or evil.� It was the infamous Hot Needle of Inquiry that finally decided the issue, though I won�t tell you how to avoid spoiling the surprise.

A related problem the book presented me with was the question of the title.� I wanted something that encompassed the scope and cataclysmic nature of the story.� The concept of the forge was something that occurred to me early, implying as it does violent reshaping through high heat and pressure.� In that I was simply borrowing the concept from a series I had long wanted to do entitled the Forge of War.� For a developmental title I used Forge of Empire which was a good enough label to use for talking about the book to other people, but it simply wasn�t right for the simply reason that the story spans the collapse of an empire and not the building of one.� For a while I worked using Empire as the base concept for the title rather than Forge.� Crash of Empire was an alternative I briefly considered but discarded as heavy handed and awkward.� Empire�s End and Empire�s Fall didn�t last much longer.� I returned to the Forge concept when I realized that ultimately the book was about the characters and not the events.� They were the ones whose lives I was hammering out with anvil and fire, they were the ones whose decisions would shape not only their own fate but that of the worlds of Known Space.� From that moment the title could only be Destiny�s Forge.� Once I had the title, all I had to do was finish the book.�� It took three years of effort, interspersed with other projects, and it became almost a saga in itself.� My life is very mobile, and so I store my manuscripts online so I can get access to them anywhere.� As a result the story was written not only at my own trusty and well worn desk but in internet cafes and hotel rooms and friend's houses and in army command posts in the middle of nowhere. It was written on borrowed laptops and in university computer labs and on library open access systems and basically anywhere I could beg, borrow or steal access to a computer in my travels.

It has been an exciting journey.� I hope you enjoy the results.

Paul Chafe
Kentville, NS

The War Starts in -3425 Days

Cover Story:
Stephen Hickman

On the Wars:
Toni Weisskopf

     Chapter 1  
     Chapter 2  
     Chapter 3  
     Chapter 4  
     Chapter 5  


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