New Series: Starfighter Design Notes

This one has been a long time coming. I've been wanting to launch a second series in the Triplanetary Universe for years, almost since I first began to write the adventures of the Battlecruiser Alamo, but it's never seemed to really come together until now. Spitfire Station was originally intended as the spin-off series, but there were a number of problems with it that prevented a second book from happening. None of them related to the book itself, I think – I'm very happy with Triple-Cross – but ultimately I found that the core concept of the series just didn't suggest itself to further plots. Partly because it was a spin-off. It could never escape the shadow of the Battlecruiser Alamo, and (mild spoiler) eventually I made the decision to merge the characters I wanted back into the primary storyline – which ultimately boiled down to Kristen Harper in the long-term.

Starting this month, I'm trying again, with a new series, the long-awaited 'Eagle Squadron'. In theory, this series has been in the planning stages for two years, but over time it has changed so much in core conception that I don't think it's really fair to call it the same idea. All that really remains is the title, and the idea that it revolves around the (mis)adventures of a fighter squadron. The key difference this time is simple – this isn't a spin-off. It's an independent series, using the same setting, but with no connection to the saga of the Battlecruiser Alamo, with one key exception that I'll come to in a few moments. Independent plots, independent characters, independent stories. I won't say I'll never do a cross-over, but certainly not for a good while. I want Eagle Squadron to stand on its own first.

Another problem I had with Spitfire Station was that I never really had good ideas for where it could go next, after Triple-Cross. Technically, I did have the plots that became 'Ghost Ship' and 'Aces High', both of which had originally been intended as Spitfire Station novels, but both of them worked out a lot better as Alamo novels. Both of them were altered to some degree, of course, but the ideas were more suited to spaceship rather than space station. This time, that's different – I've got four firm plots in my head – one of which, ironically, was the aborted attempt at 'Forbidden Seas' that I actually think will work better for Eagle Squadron – and all of them are suited to this specific concept.

It's important that this series be distinctive from Alamo, I feel. I suppose I could come up with a new crew doing similar sorts of missions, perhaps with a different feel, but that's not enough. I wanted a new concept, and I got it from Glen A. Larson. Of late, it's become obvious to me that I probably owe an awful lot more to Glen Larson and Gerry Anderson than I ever do to Gene Roddenberry; I think that's down to the science-fiction that was on television when I was in my formative years. Star Trek wasn't shown anything like as often when I was growing up; I was well into my teens before I'd watched more than a couple of episodes of the Original Series, though I do seem to recall looking forward to the start of the Next Generation. (I may have been less discerning in my youth, though I will stand in the defence of TNG Series One if summoned; in a strange way, I think it's the closest to what 'Star Trek' should have been in my head.)

I'm drifting. Essentially, the core concept of this series is a squadron of rogues and renegades on a covert carrier, conducting a series of black-ops missions on the fringes of Triplanetary Space. Something like a cross between the A-Team, Mission Impossible, Airwolf and Battlestar Galactica. With the Millenium Falcon as the base ship. That means a somewhat less military feel, and it also means that they have far more limited resources at their disposal. No quarter-mile laser cannons and thick armor plating. More a question of obsolete fighters running out of a converted bulk freighter, as well as some special equipment donated by Triplanetary Intelligence to even the odds. A commander who gets his hands dirty and goes on the missions, because no-one's going to tell him that he can't.

A perennial problem with Alamo, something I always wrestle with, is finding an excuse for the Captain to get his/her hands dirty. If you think about it, it doesn't make any sense that they would. Captain Kirk should never have left the bridge; Picard rarely did, and that was one of the things that TNG got right. Hence the use of officers such as Orlova, Salazar, Harper and others to do the dirty work. Nevertheless, it does make it a little harder for a writer to weave the commander into the action. The solution in this case that I've taken is to separate the 'Mission Command' from the 'Ship Command'.

One of the beauties of writing fiction is that I can make up the details to fit the plot, and I can make whatever changes to military organization I need, as long as they make sense both from the standpoint of internal consistency in the universe and rational (or at least near-rational) military logic. In this case, it means coming up with the role of 'Strike Commander', an obsolete title from the Interplanetary War.

So, what is a Strike Commander? In-universe, the idea originated from the raiding missions in interstellar space, as the Triplanetary Confederation waged economic warfare with the United Nations. Often, squadrons – or larger formations – would be operating from several ships at once, even if they were engaged on the same mission. Carriers were scarce, but any ship with a shuttle bay could at least theoretically house a fighter or two, and that often meant that a squadron would be operating out of half a dozen ships – either for escort purposes, or covert operations. Naturally, these would require a commander, and that officer would not need to be involved with the command of whatever ship he was based on. Given that the number of fighters involved was usually at squadron size, a senior officer wasn't needed – but the job suggested sufficient independence that it went beyond the purview of a normal Squadron Leader. Hence – Strike Commander, almost a 'Commodore of Fighters', who would command a mission, a squadron or two, but not the individual ships.

Naturally, once the war ended, the practice was discontinued, no longer necessary as fighters reverted to a defensive/patrol function, operating from carriers or capital ships rather than in independent groups. The Strike Commanders were usually mavericks anyway by the very nature of their assignment, and such officers rarely did well in peacetime, so within a year of the war, the last of the Strike Commanders was assigned to other duty. That one of the POV characters in the Eagle Squadron series was one of those Strike Commanders – then-Major Jack Conway – should at this point, I suppose, be obvious.

That's one of the POV characters for you, then, but to give the identity of the other two away would start to enter into the realm of the spoiler, so I'm not going to talk about them here. This is outlined as a three-POV novel, I will say that, and I sincerely hope that it stays that way; Alamo, when I wasn't looking, managed to turn itself into a four-POV series, and that's causing me lots of fun at the plotting stage, I can tell you! What else can I say? Well, the base ship is known as either the CSS Churchill or the Thomas O'Dell, depending on who is asking, and the bulk of the action takes place at Proxima Centauri, orbiting the gas giant Caelus, or in the Janus Belt that surrounds it. And one of the characters – though not a POV character – is Logan Winter. Yes, I'm bringing at least one familiar face over to Eagle Squadron from the primary series.

Yes, he's back. I've been having difficulty fitting him into Alamo anyway, and now that he's been left behind, it was going to be impossible to use him there. Something that was obvious during the latter stages of planning for Eagle Squadron is that I was going to need a 'handler' for the Churchill, someone to provide them with their missions, and rather than invent a new character, I figured that Logan fitted well in that category anyway. Now as Director of Extrasolar Operations for Triplanetary Intelligence, Eagle Squadron is a key asset. At least, that's what both he and I hope, should the series go well!

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