The Reading Guru is pleased to host a guest post today by William J. Benning, author of space opera “First Admiral”.
(William J Benning)
Throughout the First Admiral series, the focus tends, as with most stories, to be on the lead character. In the First Admiral series this is the lead character of Billy Caudwell and his ongoing adventures.
However, Billy wouldn’t be able to be so darned heroic without his ‘supporting cast’. A character who is forever perfect, apart from being unrealistic, is someone the readers would most likely want to strangle as opposed to keep following their adventures.
Even Superman had his weaknesses.
Billy Caudwell’s ‘supporting cast’ are as important to the story as the lead. Poor supporting characters make for a poor story. They have to be more than simply vehicles for shouting “Yes, sir!” and jumping to attention. In the First Admiral series, I have created two very different primary support characters who share a set of common objectives in (a) Supporting Billy, (b) supporting the Universal Alliance and (c) providing a degree of support for each other; despite a great deal of ‘history’ between their respective species. What emerges is not quite a ‘friendship’ between the two characters, but more of an understanding of the circumstances in which individuals find themselves.
Marrhus Lokkrien and Karap Sownus are two very different and very distinctive characters. They are not quite in the vein of a Spock and Bones to James Tiberius Kirk. Spock was the eternal voice of logic and reason whilst McCoy brought the human and emotional to the table. With Billy Caudwell’s ‘supports’ the distinction isn’t quite so clear cut. Both characters bring different things to the table and influence the lead character in different ways.
Marrhus Lokkrien is a Bardomil and acts as Billy’s second-in-command for the Universal Alliance Fleet. He defects to the Alliance at the end of “First Admiral”. Keeping Lokkrien’s presence a secret in the Alliance becomes increasingly challenging because of the threat to his family back on Bardon. Like all Bardomil males, Lokkrien has been a soldier almost all of his life. Well indoctrinated into the myth of Bardomil superiority, the defeat of his Imperial Fleet, at the hands of Billy Caudwell, brought home the reality of the decline of the Bardomil Empire. However, a lifetime of indoctrination dies hard, and sometimes the Bardomil arrogance breaks through again. The fire that warms can also burn. His commitment to Billy and the Alliance is unswerving as he hopes to be able to liberate his family from Bardon before the final, and inevitable, showdown with the Alliance.
Karap Sownus is a Thexxian and is the Senior Intelligence Officer for the Universal Alliance Fleet. For the last twenty years of his life he was caught up in the Thexxian Exodus. The Thexxians, after decades of war with the Bardomil, were forced to abandon their home planet and took to the ships to find a new one. On the point of starvation and extinction, Billy Caudwell offers the Thexxians sanctuary; military protection and a safe harbour, in a disused military base. Like most Thexxians, Sownus has an inbuilt mistrust of Bardomil, but his loyalty to the Alliance outweighs his own personal views. Billy Caudwell is viewed with almost saviour-like adulation by the Thexxian species which forms part of Sownus’ loyalty.
The future of the Thexxian species is now irrevocably linked with the Alliance. Thus it is in Sownus’ best interests that the Alliance succeed. Both characters really have nowhere else to go other than fight for Billy’s Alliance. But, at the same time, the Alliance is far a better option than they were both previously used to.
Both Lokkrien and Sownus are fiercely loyal to Billy and the Alliance. However, Lokkrien is more self-confident, forthright and challenging in his views and opinions, whilst Sownus is less self-confident, far more rank/status conscious and, hence, more deferential and supporting. Sownus is not a natural soldier. During the Exodus, the democratic Thexxians conscripted their civilians to defend the convoys. There was no lifelong military indoctrination for Sownus.
The dynamic between Billy and the two supporting characters is also different. Billy Caudwell, at fourteen or fifteen years old is in the middle of a family breakdown; that he has unwittingly exacerbated by implanting both of his parents with the mind profiles of successful aliens. Lokkrien, in his interactions with Billy, is more of the ‘surrogate father’ figure, whilst the more reticent and distant Sownus is more the ‘stranger on the train never seen again’ type of confidante.
Even in stories where the supporting characters’ function is to drive the story forward by being either a support or to challenge the lead, these characters cannot exist in splendid isolation of each other. At some point their activities must intersect. As senior officers of the Universal Alliance Fleet, both characters – to be considered realistic – must interact. They too must conflict or support each other. Giving two very diverse characters a common purpose is only part of the story. Truly realistic characters have their own ambitions and agendas that also drive the overall story forward. Lokkrien wishes to rescue his family whilst Sownus strives in the murky underworld of Intelligence to keep the Alliance – and his species – alive.
The theme of ‘family’ is very strong I the First Admiral series. Billy’s family life; his one source of stability is falling apart. Lokkrien is exiled from his family; who believe him to have fallen in battle, whilst Sownus’ family was wiped out in the Exodus. And, it is through the common bond of family that the ‘understanding’ between Sownus and Lokkrien is forged. Both of the characters, through their work for the Alliance, have earned the professional respect of the other. Both see the common purpose that they each strive for in making the Alliance a success. Both understand that Billy Caudwell is vital to that success. However, Sownus; having lost his own family, very quickly understands that for Billy Caudwell to function effectively he needs both Lokkrien and Sownus. Lokkrien; coming to terms with his own exile, is much slower to recognise that dynamic.
In “The Burning Sun”, Sownus reaches out to Lokkrien, in his own awkward way, with news that Lokkrien’s eldest son has qualified as an Officer Cadet back on Bardon. Sownus understands what the loss of family means, even for a former enemy of his entire species. Despite his own insularity and real inability to communicate with Lokkrien beyond the professional level, Sownus understands the fundamental value of family to every species. Sownus also understands the crippling effects of isolation. As a Bardomil; the bad guys of the galaxy, Lokkrien is a figure treated with mistrust and suspicion outwith is professional sphere. There is no ulterior motive in Sownus’ action. It is a simple act of common (human?) decency of the kind exhibited by Billy Caudwell’s own naïve (childish?) idealism. Again, characters interacting and influencing each other, rather than everything simply flowing towards the lead.
Creating both Lokkrien and Sownus was both challenging and enjoyable. And, as with Billy Caudwell, they both have a long way to go with their development. I shall enjoy continuing to bring them both to life for my readers.
The author, William J.Benning was born in Dumfries (south west Scotland) in 1963. With his 50th birthday fast approaching, Benning has decided to grow old disgracefully. An intensely private individual, Benning recently returned to his home town seeking inspiration for his passion of creative writing. At age 18, Benning left home to take an Honours Degree in Psychology at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. He has some very fond memories, and many nights of vague recollection – which are, on the whole, probably best forgotten (!) – from his student days. After graduating, Benning had a career “false start” moving into the world of Pest Control Management. However, after several unhappy years, he switched tack and took further qualifications in Personnel Management, carving out a successful and enjoyable career in Human Resources as well as Learning & Development. Throughout his career, Benning has worked to support the activities of the British Red Cross.
From his early days as a First Aid Volunteer, he enjoyed working for the organisation which gave him further skills and built his self-confidence. Progressing within British Red Cross, Benning became a First Aid Instructor (Trainer), Assessor and Lecturer plus becoming invoved in training other Trainers and Assessors. Having returned to Dumfries to further his writing career, Benning now lives alone, but has been adopted by four members of the Canine Community. With four dogs in his life – and a newly arrived litter of Tibetan Terrier pups – plus a newly published novel, life is never going to be dull for Benning. William likes his sci-fi, but is also keen on military history and speculative fiction. Among his fiction favourites are Harry Turtledove, the late George MacDonald Fraser, Bernard Cornwell and Clive Cussler. William collects Edinburgh Crystal and has a terrible weakness for malt whisky. He has published his novel First Admiral with Malachite Quills in 2012.
Buy your own copy of the First Admiral series here: http://www.clockworkquills.com/the-first-admiral-series.html