Master and Prey

Master and Prey!
(Click for large version)


"Dark side? Light side? They're not opposites. They're a false choice created by people. The Force is one. The opposite of it is Death.

Darth. Sith. Titles and honorifics taken from history long gone. But before that, they were names.
Lu Kas is Captain of the liberated Star Destroyer Justice, and he has received an unusual assignment. An agent of the New Republic claimed to have found the final resting place of the first of the Sith on the frozen world of Ulduth... and then vanished. The New Republic leadership wants Lu Kas to find out what happened, and what's there.
The problem is that Ulduth is far off the main trade routes. It's the perfect place to hide, or to plan, or to keep something secret that should never see the light of day.
And Lu Kas is not alone in trying to find whatever is hidden on Ulduth. There are reports of First Order operatives swarming into the area, mercenaries out for a quick credit, and darker things. They're all searching... for what?
And if anyone succeeds, will they find a treasure... or unleash a horror?

April 1, 2017

Disclaimers

Star Wars, and everything remotely related to Star Wars, is owned by Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC, which is in turn owned by The Walt Disney Company. I'm not even trying to claim I came up with any of the concepts here. Good grief no. Jedi, Sith, Darth, Lightsabers, Star Destroyers, The Force, all of that stuff... it's all Lucasfilm and its associates. My use of it here is protected by fair use and protected speech (as it's parody).

Explaining the Joke Ruins the Joke
by Roswell Camp

I'm not the world's biggest Star Wars fan. Far from it. In the constant struggle between Star Wars fandom and Star Trek fandom, I'm solidly on the Trek side of the balance. That said, I've enjoyed Star Wars stories in the past [1], and will probably enjoy them in the future. Sure, they're flawed, but what story isn't? Half of the fun in fandom is defending the thing you like from accusations that you know to be true [2].
So when I thought I'd do a series of April Fools' covers based on well-known, licensed properties (as opposed to last year's series of covers, which were all based on literature in the public domain [3]), Star Wars was at the top of the list [4].
I was not expecting it to become the best book cover I've ever done. Not by a long shot. I put a lot of work into it, and rather than miring the design in lots of wasted time and dead-end decisions [5], it shows. Sure, there were changes, but this time everything worked.
I still can't art [6], but I look at this and compare it to previous years and think to myself, "Maybe I'm learning something after all."
Anyway.
The synopsis came from an idea I had a few years ago. In the Star Wars universe, we know about the Jedi Knights, and the Lords of the Sith, and Darth Icky [7] and all those names... but where did they come from? I mean, Christianity is named after Christ, Lutheranism is named after Martin Luther... that sort of naming is common. Many movements are named after people, and I figure that Jedi and Sith and Darth and all that probably are the same way. It's just that now, thousands of years after the movements started, nobody really remembers them. The names persist, but their origins are gone.
So I wondered, okay, what if the original rebel — the one who thought the Jedi were all rules and no-fun and monastic lives — was actually named Darth Sith? He'd [8] be the Luther of his time, nailing a list of 99 Problems I Have With The Jedi (But The Force Ain't One) [9] to the door of the local Jedi temple. And then he'd go off and start his own sect. Years later, they'd probably know it by his name. They might take "Darth" as a title showing that they were brothers in spirit — why not? — and eventually they get a reputation as being "evil" to the Jedi's "good".
It's a perfectly fine idea. It won't happen, of course [10], but there's nothing wrong with using it for a Star Wars April Fools' Day cover.
But, as I've said before, I can't art. I have no drawing skills. I can't even reliably sketch what a human face looks like. I'm limited to stick figures. But I can take photographs with some skill, and I've picked up some techniques in that area, and I've got a huge backstock of photos to use, and Photoshop...
A small digression: a week before I assembled this cover — and trust me, "assembled" is the right word — I was at a small local science fiction & fantasy convention called Condor. One of the workshops they had was something like "Making Science Fiction Scenery in Photoshop". Since I Can't Art™, it's not exactly my kind of panel. But I went, thinking maybe it'd help for these upcoming book covers [11].
I learned a lot. A lot. And all of it went directly into making this book cover.
Again, it's not drawing or any kind of skill that takes a pen or pencil or brush or other manual implement that I'm not entirely sure how to even hold [12]. I didn't need that. I had Photoshop, and that stock of photos, and cameras, and now I had some actual learning I could apply to it.
So. The mountains are stolen — they're not one of my photos — from a Wikipedia article on "mountains". It's a common license, so I can just sorta use it. The foreground snow is from a photo of our house when we lived in Lake Arrowhead — it has no connection to the picture of the mountains. Previously I'd have had a lot of trouble matching them. Now? Easy. The clouds are from Colorado, when we were on a trip. The Star Destroyer... yeah, okay, that's someone else's rendering of it. Look up "phoenix class star destroyer" in Google and you'll find it quickly enough.
But remember what I said about I Can't Art™? There's a reason none of my covers have people on them. I can't do people. I have a hard time even approximating them. But I got my wife to take a picture of me in the backyard. Me, wearing a robe and holding two lightsabers [13]. A bit of photoshop magic later, and... there it is. All together in one place.
The one thing I'm not completely happy with is the shading. The shadows from me don't quite match the shadows of the rocks, which don't quite match the shadows on the Star Destroyer. But all in all, it's close enough for right now. I Can't Art™, but maybe it's not too late to learn.

Footnotes

1. I was ambivalent about The Force Awakens because it was just the first movie all over again, with a bit of added snark and some modern character touches. The effects were great, but I stopped being wowed by effects quite some time ago. I enjoyed Rogue One a lot even though it was a hell of a downer.

2. The big dividing line here is knowing when you're doing it out of fun and respect, versus doing it because you're a pedantic twit. I've been on both sides of the equation. There are still a lot of things I'm overly pedantic about [14]. I'm trying to stop, but forty years of bad fandom habits aren't brushed aside so easily.

3. I actually wanted to do an all-big-properties set last year, but I asked Putnam about it, saying that, "Or I could always just give up and do a bunch of boring Public Domain things." A week later I got a response of "I've asked around and everyone here really loves your public domain properties idea!" So I don't know that I'm going to ask again.

4. And originally the list was just sci-fi. It was Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. I ended up not doing Doctor Who [15], and I couldn't think of four more big sci-fi franchises everyone would know, so I branched out a bit.

5. For Slender Prey, the X-Files -themed cover, I went through probably twenty iterations of Slenderman. None of them really worked. I kept second-guessing myself and doing things badly. At one point I accidentally closed my master file after doing an hour of unsaved work. Whoops. So yeah, I've gone down a lot of dead ends in doing these covers over the years.

6. I'm not really sure where it started, other than "on the internet somewhere", but the word "art" has slowly become a verb. It is not uncommon to see people ask "Can you art?" My inversion of it is, obviously, "I can't art." Because of the nature of this, the art being referred to is very specifically sketching / drawing / painting. If someone asks if you can art, they're asking if you can draw or paint. They're not asking if you can sing, play an instrument, take decent photographs, sculpt, or cook. It's all about holding a pen or brush.

7. Supposedly when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was in pre-production, the new staff met with George Lucas because he "had some ideas". This was mostly a courtesy, as Lucas no longer owned the rights. His ideas were — and again, I have no idea if this is true, but it's repeated a lot — "Darth Insanius" and "Darth Icky". It was not immediately clear that he wasn't joking...

8. I say "he" because I'm the one on the cover in the hood, but Darth Sith could very easily be female. The character, as a woman scorned by and rebelling from a religious order that's trying to control every aspect of her life, might make for a much more sympathetic character than a Martin Luther -like one.

9. It would not be called that.

10. If it does happen, by some astonishing coincidence, I'm going to be feel sad if Darth Sith isn't handled appropriately. By which I mean if it doesn't conform exactly to what I think it should be. Is that so much to ask? [16]

11. I actually went to three of the Photoshop panels, because I felt that somehow it was important for me to do so. I can always go to some panel about aliens or bad science in movies, but when do I ever go to a Photoshop workshop? Never.

12. On the flip side, I am very skilled with chopsticks. I just hold them in an extremely... um... different style from how you're supposed to. Someone years ago said that I was holding them "Osaka style" but I have no idea if they were joking.

13. I almost said that they're not real lightsabers, but of course they're not real lightsabers. There's no such thing as a real lightsaber [17]. But anyway, I have two of these things — I don't want to call them "toys" but that's really what they are — and they worked wonderfully for the photos. In Photoshop, I made one of them a white lightsaber, and the other black — a darksaber — because in my mind Darth Sith is all about the balance between things, not so much about either the light or the dark.

14. On the plus side, one of my large remaining pedantries is about real science. That wouldn't be so bad, but it's getting harder and harder for me to suspend disbelief. I mean, if something's clearly fantasy it gets a pass: Superman can fly because he absorbs solar radiation. That's fine. But when fiction gets something wrong that could be right with almost no effort, it kills my enjoyment dead [18].

15. It was going to be Prey of the Daleks because of course it was.

16. Yes, yes it is. If your version of a character doesn't match up with what the actual producers / directors / actors want, you don't have much grounds for complaining. Maybe — maybe — if you actually created the character in question, but even then it's hard going.

17. At a sci-fi convention decades ago, I overheard a Star Trek fan say "But that's not how Transwarp drive works!" I did not immediately turn around and yell "Transwarp drive doesn't work at all! It's not a real thing! It does what the writers say it does!" I sometimes wish I had.

18. A stupidly specific example: a couple of years ago, Superman was fighting a dragon in Metropolis, because that's the kind of thing that happens. He gets hit by its tail, and BAM he immediately hits a building... in Ireland. Seriously, the dragon hits him so hard that he lands six thousand miles away, one second later, in Ireland. The problem here is that the Earth is what we call "round" and if you hit Superman so hard that he crashes into Ireland one second later, he either (a) is going so fast that he's not coming down at all — he is literally going forty times the escape velocity of the galaxy — or (b) is going through the Earth with enough speed to destroy the planet. There is no middle ground. There is no one-second ballistic firing solution for Metropolis to Ireland. It simply doesn't work. So yeah, the fact that he's fighting a dragon doesn't bother me. The fact that the writers don't seem to know that the Earth is round or that its roundness might have consequences... that makes me rage.