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Filing the Serial Numbers Off Part 2

Ok! So everyone who said that yesterday's piece was inspired by Star Wars, you're right!

But how? There's not one single thing in this story that was created by George Lucas, not one single character name, not one place, not one piece of technology, not one term or phrase. There's no droid, no Force, no Old Republic, no Jedi Knights, no landspeeder. There is not one single copyrighted word. This could absolutely be published as an original novel (and in fact might be the beginning of one someday), and there is not one single thing that is a problem in terms of copyright. And yet a bunch of you immediately said it was Star Wars.

The answer is in what I kept -- the twins and their situation. I decided that there were two things I wanted to explore, two things that were essential to the story for me: Luke and Leia and their sibling relationship and the legacy of their parents, and the battle against the Empire and their part in it. If the thing I had been fascinated with was, for example, the Jedi Knights, this might be a story about the dissolution of the Knights Templar, and the story of an old Templar who has taken refuge in Robert the Bruce's Scotland in order to mentor a young man who has no idea of his true origins or power. That would be a really interesting book, but that's not my story. Why Central Europe between the World Wars?

In a way, science fiction and fantasy are the easiest things to move to a historical or historical fantasy setting because they are themselves patchwork quilts. They're made from pieces of the real world stitched together in new and interesting ways. Sometimes you can see where they came from and sometimes you can't, depending on the obscurity of the author's sources and how much you are in sync with the author's tastes and mental directions. For example, when I first met Melissa Scott we had a really interesting conversation about her Roads of Heaven trilogy, which I had been a fan of for years before I met her. She seemed absolutely shocked that I readily identified Marcinik, the Hegemon's Navy, and the entire setting of Silence in Solitude as reworkings of sixth century BC Persia. The source was that obscure. But it's also an interest of mine, the setting for the unbought Numinous World book Lioness, and so to me it was crystal clear that Marcinik is Persian, one of the Thousand. It would be easy for me to rework The Roads of Heaven in a historical fantasy setting in sixth century BC Persia -- really easy -- because in a sense it's already there! Everything would fit. Everything would translate. The relationships between characters, the social setting, the worlds -- everything has an easy and obvious analogy that fits perfectly. Because it's based on that part of real world history at least in part, it's easy to move it back. If you can identify the pieces that made up the quilt, it's easy to match them.

So what are Lucas's pieces? Unlike Melissa, I can't ask him and know for certain, but some of the pieces have been discussed for years. Palpatine's name is close to Palatine, and the fall of the Roman Republic is an obvious starting place. Another less obvious place, but one with a huge amount of resonance, is the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich -- but only if American authors and readers abandon the familiar American and British points of view and look at it from a Central European point of view. It doesn't work if you mentally cast Amidala and Leia as British, or Luke as an American kid. That would be like telling Star Wars from the point of view of the Mon Calamari. It might be an interesting story, but it wouldn't be about Luke and Leia and their parents. To the Mon Calamari, Luke and Leia are peripheral figures, just as the Mon Calamari are peripheral in Luke and Leia's story. And once you make that twist, one that's strange to American audiences and not so much to European ones, the story falls into place.

Amalia is an Austrian noblewoman of the Edwardian period, the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Anakin is Czech, a nobody, one of the inferior peoples of the Empire, a Slav. He is exceptionally talented and becomes the protege of a German nobleman, our Qui-Gon. Perhaps he's his son. He doesn't know. He has no father. But he leaves his home behind and his identity, becomes an officer and a gentleman in the German Army in the days just before World War I. He loves Amalia, but of course he cannot aspire to marry her. She is for a prince whose bloodline dates to the fourteenth century. He becomes one of the Knights of the Air, the peerless flyers of the Red Baron's Flying Circus. And in the dark days of the war, he marries Amalia in secret at the house beside Lake Constance, with only the priest and two servants for witness. Headstrong Amalia, determined to break the rules!

And in the spring of 1918 Amalia dies in childbirth, giving birth to twins, while he is away at the Western Front. Her family, who has always hated this inferior interloper, tells him that she is dead and the baby too. He killed her, you see. He did this to her. And in his rage and anguish and defeat, darkness grows in his heart. The girl twin is taken by Amalia cousin and raised as an Austrian noblewoman. The boy twin goes to a distant cousin in Czechoslovakia. Leonie and Lekso. And everything is put back as it should have been before the interloper appeared.

Or not. The world is changing. A girl born in 1918 can indeed be a minister of state -- if she survives. She is twenty for the Anschluss, a real rebel princess, a resistance leader against Nazi occupation. And Lekso has a destiny in the air, one that will lead him on a mad flight out of occupied Europe with a Polish barnstormer and his old trimotor, to the wings of the Free Czech units of the RAF, and ultimately to battle against the ace of aces of the Luftwaffe -- his own father.

It fits. It all fits perfectly. It's a matter of finding the right setting, pulling the right strings to unravel where the quilt was put together.

The other thing that works in this story that takes it further from the original is that I have opened with entirely original scenes. In other words, Leonie's scene is not close to anything we ever see on screen in Star Wars. Perhaps young Leia did visit Naboo. Perhaps she did find Amidala's picture. But the viewer has never seen that scene. It's new. Ditto Lekso's scene. We don't see the first time Luke saw a spaceship. That happened offscreen before the first movie. His desire to go to the academy and be a pilot was kindled before the viewer met him. And so that scene is new too. As one person commenting said yesterday, she could hear young Leia saying one of the lines. Yes! That's when it's done right. But it's not actually a line that Leia said. It's something that she recognizably might say. I could not get by with her saying, "Get this walking carpet out of my way!"

So how close can you go? Can you rewrite a scene without stepping on the original too hard? It depends. First, if it's something as broadly known and iconic as Star Wars, not very close. Second, it helps to drastically change the genre. This is science fiction space opera changed to historical novel.

Let's see what another example looks like -- this time science fiction space opera changed to Pirates of the Caribbean style historical fantasy with m/m romance. This is actually a rewrite of a scene, rather than new scenes. Tell me what you think of this and where you think it came from!

He was between the devil and the deep blue sea. Twenty feet below the shallow crenellations of the battlement the sea broke against the stones, green and generous and warm and unfortunately very deep. A man jumping into those waves wouldn't freeze, but he would drown unless he swam for land very quickly, and the only land there was housed the fortress above or the headland that was covered by its guns. There was no safety in the sea.

Above, the fortress walls rose pale and unblemished to the gunports above. Perhaps a nimble man might ascend the stones carefully, using every crack and error of masonry to climb, but he could not do it quickly, and certainly not under fire.

And then there was the devil. Captain Esteban Velasquez-Herrera de la Gorda was ascending the perimeter walk with his guards behind him, black frock coat frogged with gold braid, a swept hilt rapier in his hand. His eyes were intent and he wore no wig, merely black hair pulled back in a tight military club, his beard trimmed close, and his eyes did not leave John Stafford.

"We are in so much trouble," Stafford said to his companion.

The big Scotsman drew himself up, tattered shirt not concealing his mighty thews, small use against a dozen men with sword and shot. His red hair lay in tatty braids on his shoulders, the welts across his face still bloody, but his eyes were serene. "It has been an honor fighting beside ye, Englishman. Never thought I'd say that."

"Stafford," the captain said tightly.

"Velasquez," Stafford said, backing up almost against the crenellation. "I need you to understand something. This matter that lies between us was not of my making."

"You killed my brother," Velasquez snapped. "That is the matter that lies between us. My honor demands satisfaction. And my heart -- my heart will see you die slowly and in as much agony as my brother did."

"I didn't mean to…."

"To what? To hit my brother with your shot? For me to hear of it?" Velasquez paced closer, and Stafford watched the point of the rapier, still low.

One of Velasquez' men cleared his throat, and the captain looked around, the guards parting as if to avoid contagion. Yet Amadis de la Vega held his ground, young and slight, black coat and dark hair, beardless face and bright, intent eyes. "Captain, I do not think he has the wit to kill your brother. Laying that gun required skill and intelligence, and Stafford has neither. He is a lack-wit, a fool, practically an imbecile with no skill at arms and no gut for it either. I do not see that he possibly had the ability to best your brother, a valiant man and experienced soldier."

The Captain turned, his eyes raking de la Vega from head to heels. "That is your studied opinion, Lieutenant?"

"It is, sir." De la Vega's eyes were fixed front, his voice precise. "I have spent a great deal of time with these fugitives over the past days as their prisoner. Stafford is an idiot. Even the other fugitives think so."

"A great deal of time." Velasquez said quietly, taking a few steps closer to de la Vega. "Perhaps too much time."

De la Vega said nothing, pale and stiff in his black coat.

"Perhaps time enough to partake of their heresies," the captain said. "Time enough for these pernicious miasmas to contaminate you." He stopped in front of de la Vega. "Perhaps you should make your confession to the tribunal of the Holy Office. Perhaps the good fathers will be able to cleanse your soul after a prolonged period of penance. After all, who knows what manner of blasphemies and debaucheries you have embraced among these pirates?"

"Actually, we don't like him much either," Stafford began.

Velasquez did not look around. "Your sword, de la Vega," he said quietly.

The guards stood as if turned to stone.

De la Vega took a breath, his eyes still fixed on the far horizon. He unhooked the chain and drew his rapier, presenting it hilt first.

"Very good," the captain said. "You will present yourself to the Holy Office immediately on our return to Havana. Until that time you will remain in custody." He turned around, facing Stafford and MacClees as they stood by the wall. "Now for you, Stafford," he said. He tossed the rapier hilt first toward Stafford and it clattered to the stones at his feet. "Never let it be said that I did not meet you with all honor. Take up that sword and face me like a man!"

"He is no gentleman," de la Vega said urgently. "He hasn't the faintest idea…."

"That is enough from you," Velasquez snapped. "I would worry about your own skin at this moment." His eyes met Stafford's. "Take up the sword and fight, or die like a dog."

John Stafford reached down and picked up the sword, its blackened hilt unfamiliar in his hand, more used to the quill than the rapier. He lifted it into guard as he'd seen Amadis de la Vega do, and the captain smiled.

"Your first fencing lesson, Stafford. And your last." He advanced, his own point rising, the sun striking sparks off it.

Stafford backed away, circling, but the low crenellations were at his back. There wasn't much room.

"Wait for him," MacClees said quietly. "And then close. Don't let him play you with the point."

"If that made any sense it would be good advice," Stafford said. Circling. Circling. The captain's eyes didn't leave him. The point of his blade touched Stafford's, testing, and then retreated.

"You've really never done this before?" MacClees said incredulously.

"I told you. I'm an astrologer. We don't fight with swords." And a fine fencing master MacClees made! If he wanted to help he could…something. Rush a dozen men.

"Just stay calm," MacClees said.

"I thought I'd try screaming hysterically instead," Stafford said.

"You may plead for your life," Velasquez said, still circling with precise, graceful steps.

"Will that help?"

"No." A trace of a smile crossed the captain's face. "I will kill you, and my brother will be avenged."

There was a movement among the guards. Stafford couldn't look around to see why. If he took his eyes off the rapier…. He barely managed to lift his sword in time, stepping back again reflexively as the captain's point whistled through the air, missing by an inch a long score down the side of his face. Too close. And he was being played with like a cat with a mouse, the sham of honor.

More movement, the guards shifting. "Sir!"

Velasquez jerked around. "What?"

"There!" One of the guards shouted and pointed, and Stafford spun about too.

Rounding the headland close hauled was Pelagia, her white sails spread to catch the wind, not two hundred feet out, her ports open against the white stripe on her side, the black flag breaking from her masthead. Rustan was at the wheel, white hair and mustaches flying, and Te stood just ahead, her hands raised to fill the sails with eldritch wind.

"Get down!" Stafford yelled, diving for MacClees and rolling against the stones behind the crenellations. Pelagia's guns spoke, two at once with grape and ball, plowing into the side of the tower above. Chips of stone and red hot metal rained down.

Men screamed. Velasquez shouted. One guard writhed on the stones, his blood pooling around him. Amadis de la Vega pressed himself to earth.

Another gun spoke, Pelagia firing as they bore, ball crashing into the top of the tower above, sending a spray of roof tiles over them.

MacClees was already to his feet, crouching behind the crenellation, a fey smile on his face. "Do ye swim, Stafford?"

"Like a fish," Stafford said.

MacClees dived, arrowing through the air from the crenellation to the water below.

Another puff of smoke from Pelagia's side, and he buried his face in his arms as stone and metal rained down.

"Form up!" Velasquez yelled. "Stafford! Damn you, Stafford!" Smoke blew about them, and to the right along the fortress wall the Spanish guns were rolling out, tamped with wad and ready for the match, twenty four pounders that could breach Pelagia's hull as though it were nothing.

Stafford grabbed de la Vega's arm. "Come on," he said, dragging him toward the parapet, the sword still in his other hand. "Jump."

With a deafening crash the fortress' guns opened up. Smoke whirled around them.

"I can't," de la Vega said desperately.

"Traitor! Heretic!" Velasquez shouted. "I'll kill you!"

"Jump or die," Stafford said. There was no time for discussion.

There was a moment in the air, a long endless moment of falling, and then the green water closed over them. Down and down, eyes open to that green world, and then bobbing up like a cork. There was Pelagia, there the white water of her wake, the hands reaching down to haul MacClees up the side.

The last port on her side fired as it bore, the crash simultaneous with the song of chain overhead, the fortress's guns trying to dismast her.

Hard on it came Rustan's voice, "Come about, you scurvy swabs! We're done my lads!"

De la Vega sputtered, hair plastered to his head, black coat discarded in the emerald water.

"Swim," Stafford said. "Swim for the side now."

Pelagia was beginning her turn. It was now or never. Te's song rose again, her voice calling the winds. He felt them shift as he swam, de la Vega just behind him, touched barnacled wood.

And then there were hands reaching down for him, a net draped down that he could get his feet into, and he and de la Vega were up the side.

Chain whistled in the air, falling just short.

The wind rose, Pelagia settling into her new course, standing out from land with all speed, and John Stafford collapsed for a moment against the weathered deck.

"Are ye hit, Stafford?" MacClees said, kneeling beside him, his long red plaits dripping.

"No. Just winded."

MacClees clapped him on the shoulder. "Good man," he said, and got cheerfully to his feet.

Stafford lay there a moment, feeling the pitch of the ship beneath him as she crossed from the choppy waves close to the island to the long Atlantic rollers beyond, the lift and fall in a different rhythm, a different pattern. Te's song rose, coming to him more strongly as the wind no longer carried it away, strange words always on the edge of resolving into something he knew. He lay there a long moment, until he almost thought he would sleep. And then he got to his feet.

De la Vega stood at the rail, his empty scabbard hanging damply, one tendril of black hair escaping from its club and lying against his neck, his eyes fixed on the island left behind. John went and stood beside him.

"My people," de la Vega said. "My life."

"You're too good for them," Stafford said. "Is it honor, do you think, to play with a man who never used a sword and kill him for sport? You're the only honorable one among them. And to be tortured by the Inquisition for that…."

De la Vega closed his eyes.

"You can be more," Stafford said. He tapped de la Vega's arm. "Here."

De la Vega looked at him. "What?"

He handed him his own rapier, hilt first. "Now you sail under the black flag."

So, me hearties, what's this? :)



( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 17th, 2013 12:24 pm (UTC)
De la Vega reminds me of Teal'c. Stafford and Maclees don't remind me of other SG-1 characters, but de la Vega's choice does remind me of Teal'c.
May. 17th, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
Hummm. I see that. But you're right that the other characters aren't a bit like SG-1....
May. 17th, 2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
I knew it didn't fit right.

I think it's that de la Vega and Teal'c are both very much honor-driven characters in a culture that is forcing them to break that honor. Sci-fi/fantasy seems to really like that character archetype, but I don't tend to see it as much or as strongly realized in other genres, aside from historical fiction, which again, is where sci-fi and fantasy draw from.

But I see it in Teal'c, a bit in Ronon, in Worf, and in Babylon 5 the character I see it in the most is Londo, even when he had a very different persona around that core of honor.
May. 17th, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC)
Very much so, the honor-bound type. Which is absolutely Aeryn Sun -- as I'll talk about tomorrow, and why she's gender swapped.
May. 17th, 2013 06:51 pm (UTC)
That's also why I couldn't catch the reference, I never watched Farscape.
May. 17th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
That would be the catch! :)

As Vala Mal Doran says in the SG-1 episode "200", nobody's ever seen that show!
May. 18th, 2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
Ha! I have seen Farscape, but I never saw the pilot :D It's one of the few episodes I never saw.
May. 19th, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
Yep! That's the pilot! :)
May. 17th, 2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
It's the Atlantis team: Stafford is Shephard, MacClees is Ronan, etc. De la Vega is...Todd?
May. 17th, 2013 01:21 pm (UTC)
Stafford being awkward, an astrologer, and not a fighter reminded me more of Rodney, really. Though it has been a while since I re-watched any Atlantis, and if this was a scene from the fourth or fifth season, I didn't see it at all.
May. 17th, 2013 01:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, not Atlantis. And Stafford is definitely not a fighter.

This scene is very, very close to one in the pilot of the original source, down to one line toward the end which is identical....
May. 17th, 2013 01:26 pm (UTC)
Ummmm....no. Good guess, but no! This scene is almost verbatim the original scene, including one line at the end which is exact.
May. 17th, 2013 01:33 pm (UTC)
Heh, I know what this is, but only because we talked about it. A hint for those guessing: someone's been gender-swapped.
May. 17th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Which is a clue! :)
May. 17th, 2013 02:15 pm (UTC)
I'm going with John Crichton and Aeryn Sun as my guess. She/He is speaking with Crais. Farscape for the win?
May. 17th, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC)
YES! You got it. It's the pilot for Farscape.

De la Vega closed his eyes.

"You can be more,"
May. 17th, 2013 02:18 pm (UTC)
The only reason I could guess was that we talked about it! which is what you're looking for when filing.

It would be easy for me to rework The Roads of Heaven in a historical fantasy setting in sixth century BC Persia -- really easy -- because in a sense it's already there! Everything would fit. Everything would translate. The relationships between characters, the social setting, the worlds -- everything has an easy and obvious analogy that fits perfectly.

Yeah, it really would be! It's almost alarming, really. :-)

And it's worth noting that my recent revision of The Empress of Earth went back to using those models much more directly - as I had originally planned, at least according to the notes I unearthed - and it made the story much tighter. I had wandered away from something that was fundamental to the world, and needed to put it back. Looking at the sources again was really necessary insight!

(And if I were going to file off serial numbers from Star Wars, I would definitely go for the Jedi and their dissolution. Templars would be such a tidy parallel, though I bet you could do something with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, too. Or the Thirty Years' War.)
May. 17th, 2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
oh, and MacClees....D'Argo?

And shoot, I can't remember if I read this the first time around, but Melissa and Amy's saying they read it jogged something after the fact. ....Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of the mind before Christmas Retail Hell of 2012? I lose a lot during that sleepless time every year. :)
May. 17th, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! MacClees is D'Argo! :)
May. 17th, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
I love your rewrite! I loved the original, but I think this is even better. And yes, it's closer to the original, but I think that works.

(I know -- if you were doing Star Wars it would all be about Obi Wan!)
May. 17th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
I haven't talked about it with you and I recognized Farscape. Though Stafford seems to have at least half a clue what's going on, which distinguishes him from Crichton at that point in the series.
May. 17th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC)
Definitely Farscape! And yeah, Stafford has more of a clue here than Crichton did at that point. And Aeryn makes a lovely de la Vega! :)
May. 18th, 2013 12:01 am (UTC)
Well having never seen Farscape...weird that that SPACE channel in Canada has only ever aired Peacekeepers Wars and not the whole series. Anyway I wasn't taken with PKW so I never had any inclination to find the actual series so I didn't get the references at all.
My inital impressions by the descriptions of people and the way they spoke was that Stafford was Shepherd and MacClees was Ronan(it was his "mighty thews",lol and his tatty braids that put me in mind of Ronan). I did wonder though at "You can be more", if you were hinting at a Vala-esque character...and I guess Aeryn Sun is close enough,lol
May. 18th, 2013 11:28 am (UTC)
Well, as Vala discovers in "200", nobody's seen Farscape! LOL!

I see that MacClees is very Ronon -- Ronon and D'Argo in Farscape are very much the same type.
May. 18th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
May. 19th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
Yes indeed! What tipped you off?
May. 19th, 2013 04:27 pm (UTC)
The main character named John, and Velasquez's ponytail, actually. But what really sealed the deal was the "you killed my brother!" thing.

Now, of course, if I hadn't known to look for similarities to something I might already know, it would have taken me longer. Probably to the bit where de la Vega attempts to save Stafford and Velasquez condemns him for it. That was the point at which they all really started talking with Farscape character voices and looking like them. By the time Rustan appeared with his white mustache, I was like, "dude, he's way too short to man the wheel."

MacClees actually confused me for a bit and then I was like *facepalm*
May. 20th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the "you killed my brother" was key! :)

De la Vega's lines are really close to Aeryn's. And Rustan -- well, he's not an alien in this, obviously! :)
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )