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January 30th, 2016

An Ascending Path

I was just reading a new reader review over on Amazon, and basically what they said is that they liked my work because it made them feel good and hopeful. I'm extremely glad of that, because that's one of my purposes! Most of my books, original, co-authored and Stargate, follow the pattern of an ascending path. That's a form rarely used in modern fiction outside of genre.

An ascending path is the opposite of a tragedy. In a tragedy, the beginning of the book is the high point. On page one things are pretty good for the main characters. Then things happen. With each plot twist, the characters are more and more snarled, making worse and worse choices, going deeper into darkness. In the end mostly they die in horrible ways, having screwed up the world in the process. The book goes from high to low. Even when a character attempts a redemptive act, it's just a blip that pulls the line up for a moment before it begins to plunge again.

My clearest example of an ascending path novel is Stealing Fire. Page one is the low point. The book opens with a melee for control of a corpse, and our hero kills as he says "for no reason at all." And from there the path starts to rise. Characters make choices and good choices pay off. Lydias chooses, still in the first chapter, to help Ptolemy save his lover and their young children. He rides from Babylon with the little girl in front of him, sheltered by his cloak, and his life has begun to change. Each good choice leads to better choices. Bad choices and bad things happening are blips that turn the line down momentarily before it begins to rise again. Good people are trying, and the line is turning up. The book ends not with his death but with his return to life, with Lydias realizing he has long years ahead of him to build and grow.

The entire Stargate Atlantis Legacy series is an ascending path. The end of the show in season five was a complete downer with everyone left in pretty terrible places both physically and emotionally. The eight books, all 800,000 words of them, are an ascending path. Piece by piece, the world is restored. Piece by piece, good choices lead to improvements. For example, John's path turns upward in The Lost. He's reached rock bottom when they're lost in the desert because of his mistakes, his friends are injured and may die, and he's suffering severely from PTSD. He makes a choice. He trusts Teyla. He begins to turn upward. Teyla's path turns upward in The Furies, when she accepts her Wraith heritage in order to become Steelflower. Each character has a turn upward. By the end of the last book, the world is restored. It's not perfect, but it's better. The characters we love are left in a better place full of hope for the future.

Lost Things is an ascending path. Each book of the Order of the Air leaves the characters in a little bit better place. They're coming out of their damage, dealing with their sorrows, becoming stronger and more whole. Alma takes a chance on a new relationship in Lost Things. It takes Jerry until Wind Raker. Mitch bottoms out in Steel Blues when he wanders around New Orleans in a suicidal funk. But it gets better. Little by little, it gets better. Each good choice leads up.

Which doesn't mean life is easy, and it doesn't mean bad things don't happen. Bad things continue to happen. The world is not suddenly sunshine and roses. But the characters deliberately try to do the right things, and overall that pays off even if it doesn't always give easy answers. For example, at the end of Lost Things Lewis pledges his life as Diana's Chosen, and knows that at some future date she will require the sacrifice of his life. But it will not be a tragedy. In due time Lewis will die as he knows he will -- for a purpose, and after years of a life well lived. I will cry, and I'm sure you'll cry when you read it, but it will be right. His death will be the high point of his arc, not the low point. And that's what an ascending path is.