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Glorious February

Good military historians say that understanding the literature can’t compare with knowing the ground upon which a battle was fought. They’re right; terrain almost inevitably influences military events –– as does the weather –– so if you’re writing about any sort of land battle (real or fictional) it’s a good idea to form a clear picture of the landscape before you get started.

In space, things often seem less complex. Like the open seas, the void appears to be a blank canvas, making it tougher to find reasons for battles to take place. Sure, you might have centers of gravity to worry about –– planets to defend, nebulas to hide in, and so on –– but sometimes it can feel as though you’re just plot-devicing a campaign together. They decided to do this, because I said so. Such plots can certainly be valid… but they often require a lot of work.

When it came to Defense Command, I was fortunate to discover a way around all this effort. The series takes place entirely within Earth’s solar system, and at sub-light speeds, meaning the relative orbits of the planets –– the so-called ‘orbital seasons’ –– have a huge impact on strategy. After all, it’s tough to attack Earth from Mars if the worlds happen to be on opposite sides of the sun at the time.

The thought to look for seasons came out of Nelsonian times, when actual seasons mattered a great deal to the war at sea. Once I found software that could project orbits for the 2230s, the plot of the Martian War shaped itself –– I just needed the Admirals from both sides to look at the charts, consider their resources, and figure out how best to fight their respective corners.

Glorious February was a direct result of this process. In February of 2232, Earth’s orbit puts it in a precarious position: sandwiched between Mars on one side, and the Martian outer capital of Mercury on the other. Not even the Martian Admirals would miss such an obvious opportunity… but because Defense Command could look at the same data, First Lord John Fiora knew what to expect.

And he had Admiral Rachel Butler, and Admiral Greg Noyce, and Captain Christian Mikaelsen, and the Bonaventures, with which respond. Obviously I won’t spoil the outcome –– it’s The Gallant Few.

But that was it: an entire book decided by ‘terrain’. I barely had to do anything, which is always the best way for a hack writer to work. I therefore highly recommend that, whenever you’re plotting anything (be it military or non-military) you make sure you understand the landscape in which you’re writing. If you luck out the way I did, your characters will do all the work, and you can just sit in Belt Two’s CIC and watch it on the screens (while discovering that your good friend likes soup, and hates heights).

Sorry, that was definitely an in-joke from The Gallant Few.

Last point of trivia: the name ‘Glorious February’ invokes 1794’s ‘Glorious First of June‘, a massive sea battle in which Lord Howe’s British fleet defeated a French force far out to sea (not common for those times, when many naval battles took place within sight of land). When people realized there was no local landmark after which to name the battle, they just took the date and added ‘Glorious’.

I’ve always thought that was a cool name –– different than the usual ‘Battle of X’ nomenclature you so often get –– and somehow it ended up being applied to these February engagements.

See, I told you: I barely did any work at all.