GREAT STORIES NEVER DIE, THEY’RE JUST REBORN
Guest Essay by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
I get the question a lot: a space opera with the feel of Star Wars: A New Hope based on the Moses story? Why? Why adapt an oft-told tale? Why a biblical story? The answer is simple: 27 years ago I dreamed up a new way to tell the tale and make it fresh, and I just had to write it.
I’ll never forget the experience I had listening to biblical stories in Sunday School as a child. There are so many amazing characters and stories throughout the Bible, but other than Jesus, it’s the Old Testament characters who loomed large for me: characters like Moses, Joseph, and David. These are larger than life heroes. David, in many ways, is even the first anti-hero I remember; a truly flawed human being driven by both good and debased desires and struggling to find his path. These characters and their stories were my first encounter with storytelling. My next encounter came in a St. Louis theater in 1977.
The movie had one of the dumbest titles I’d ever heard but my cousin kept saying how awesome it was. He’d seen it several times already and I just had to go. So the lights faded, and a fanfare played and then text scrolled, and the opening battle of the small Rebel starship against a mighty Imperial Star Destroyer took my breath away. For the next two hours, the tale of Luke Skywalker and his companions enthralled me. And storytelling took on a new life all its own.
That’s a tale you hear from many a write my age, I know, but Stars Wars truly was a revelation for us. It made us want to dream bigger and reach further, to touch the stars or at least imagine we could. It made me want to tell stories. And it was only a few years later that I first dreamed up the tale of Davi Rhii and his evil uncle Xalivar that would become The Worker Prince. At the time, I envisioned a TV miniseries or a thicker novel. I even knew the novel’s opening line: Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the twin suns as they climbed into the sky.
It’s truly an amazing feeling 25 years later to hold that book in my hands.
The story evolved, of course. I departed quite a bit from the Moses tale for one thing. My story is about people who consider those Israelites their predecessors, colonists from Earth who took to the stars and wound up enslaved by an Old Earth enemy. When Davi Rhii, the prince, discovers he was secretly adopted from slaves, he sets out to find out who his native people are and begins to question the justness of how they’ve been treated at the hands of his Uncle Xalivar and the Royal family who’ve raised him. Then tragedy strikes and Davi finds himself on the run. Alienated from family and friends, he winds up working with the workers to help them fight for freedom.
It was delightful to write—a glorious excuse to revisit Timothy Zahn books and others which had inspired me like Ender’s Game. I was inspired and encouraged by writers like Mike Resnick and Kevin J. Anderson. And the book evolved into a series, not just a standalone. It’s been a thrill to write and so much fun to share. My friend’s eight-year-old read and enjoyed it as much as his father, who appreciated having a science fiction story with old fashioned values he could let his son just read and not worry about the message. Both enjoyed the hopeful tenor and the larger-than-life heroism of Davi, who, despite personal flaws, rises above the obstacles and helps an entire people find hope again.
It’s the kind of story I loved as a kid, the kind that made me believe anything possible, and with so many dark stories dominating science fiction these days, it’s a thrill to provide such a story for whole new generations.
But like the Moses story, it’s also a tale of bigotry—ideological and racial both—and speaks to the struggles today between people of opposing viewpoints who sometimes almost seem to wish they could just silence the other or make them go away. It asks important questions like can one man still make a difference? Is freedom worth fighting for? Can you still stand up for what you believe and not lose? For those of us who learned these lessons as children, it may seem odd to recycle the questions, but the answers may seem far from obvious to many today.
Part of the power of stories like Star Wars and stories like The Worker Prince is they resonate from generation to generation. People still want to believe in heroes, in brighter futures, and in the possibility you can stand up for what’s right and make a difference. Cynics might call me a fool for believing it, but I’ve seen it in action with real heroes. And I don’t want to see any generation grow up without knowing the possibility exists.
So I wrote my story and sometimes I still can’t believe it. People are actually enjoying my words, laughing, crying, getting angry at the right spots. It’s resonating with people in ways I could only hope for when I first dreamt of it. And it’s a good feeling to know you’ve touched people.
Old tales have a lot of power. And if you find a new way to tell them that keeps it fresh and even surprising, as I hope I did in The Worker Prince, that power can be revisited time and again and resonate with people, even if they’ve heard the story in previous incarnations. It’s often said there are no new ideas in science fiction, only new ways of telling them. But to me that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. It’s just a challenge to rise above and let your unique voice and talents come into their own.
So why did I tell an old story of Moses meets Star Wars? Because great stories never die, they just get reborn. I hope you’ll enjoy this one in its rebirth.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.