When I recently asked for ideas of what to post on this blog, the response was unanimously in favor of Firmament posts, especially about the writing process or sneak peeks at the upcoming book. I’ve been pondering different ideas for things I could talk about, and I hope to get back on a consistent blogging schedule.
Thinking about Firmament these days is almost synonymous with thinking of Machiavellian for me, since that’s the book I’ve been immersed in for the past several months. And thinking about Machiavellian always makes me think first of a particular new character in it, who just happens to be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created.
One issue that comes up when writing a series is the need to keep each book unique, to avoid following some formula that makes each episode a slight variation on the last. For me, one of the major ways I seek to achieve this is by the character and motivation of the opponent.
And I said opponent rather than “villain” for a reason. I rarely write what I consider to be actual villains. Even though I’m a firm believer that there are people out there who truly have been overcome by pure evil, I don’t believe most antagonists are that way. Everyone considers themselves the hero of the story. Most people still have at least a germ of a working conscience, and must come up with some fairly genuine way to justify their actions. And most fascinating of all are those opponents who really do not have any more wrong motivations than the heroes. The two simply have mutually exclusive goals.
In my first few books I went more of the “evil villain” route, with my first unpublished novel sporting a despicable filmmaker whose only real goal was to protect his own malicious agenda. The first draft of Firmament: Radialloy involved the typical “I-am-evil-and-I-want-to-take-over-the-world-mwahahaha” type bad guy, which I toned down significantly by the time I reached the publishing stage. And even Never, which I think has a fairly good villain, tends more towards the twisted psychopathic side. But with In His Image, I wanted to break that trend.
Those who have read In His Image know that while there are huge opposing forces, some of which are people, the story lacks a traditional villain. The people who are against the Surveyor crew are only against them because they believe the crew poses a serious threat to their society, and even then, they treat the outsiders completely within their laws. Basilius is no more inherently wicked than Crash is. And the other antagonists are the sun, the wind, and atomic forces, none of which are capable of evil motivations.
I wanted to continue exploring more unique antagonists in Machiavellian, so I brainstormed a human being who is both completely genuine and completely misguided. A compassionate person with a severely skewed moral compass. An unexpected evil — one that does not think itself evil in the least.
In the long run, “hero” and “villain” are at best subjective terms. In the real world, one man’s hero is another man’s archenemy. There are those who act righteously and those who act unrighteously, there are people everyone loves and people no one can stand, there are individuals who assist and individuals who oppose.
Because heroes and villains, like everything else, are meaningless without an unchanging standard to be compared to. And that, in the end, is what Firmament: Machiavellian is all about.