Michael J. Martinez is the author of the newly released historical fantasy/space opera mashup The Enceladus Crisis, sequel to the critically acclaimed The Daedalus Incident. When not writing fiction, Mike has a day job writing about stocks and bonds. He brews his own beer and travels a lot thanks to his travel-writer wife; their daughter is awesome. Mike lives on the Jersey side of the greater New York City. He’s on Twitter and Untappd.

What I learned from The Empire Strikes Back

by Michael J. Martinez

I wrote a book that came out last year – barely, I might add. There was some question as to whether Night Shade Books would be a going concern if it wasn’t successful in selling off its assets to Skyhorse Publishing, and my pending debut novel, The Daedalus Incident, was one of those assets. But hey, the sale went through, and my book came out.

And then the new Skyhorse/Night Shade folks agreed to let me write two more.

Of course, having just learned to write a novel, I really hadn’t tried my hand at a sequel, so I had no idea how to go about it. Tapping into my intensive journalism training (which most often consisted of, “Hey, there’s a fire, go cover it” or “Find out everything you can about Microsoft NT in the next 20 minutes”), I dove into the research.

There’s a lot of ways to do sequels. You can go the episodic route, for example, in which the characters and setting are basically the same, and you throw new plots at them. Think early Star Trek novels, or most James Bond movies. Those are fun, but they don’t really go anywhere.

You can also jettison the characters and put new people through new stuff within the setting. I liked the setting(s) in The Daedalus Incident a lot – the whole sailing-ships-in-space motif was the very first thing that came to me, in fact. But I liked the characters I had created. I thought there was room for them to grow.

So really, I wanted to keep the characters and the setting, but there had to be evolution. And not just another adventure, but a continuation as well.

There was no real “Ah-ha!” moment when I realized The Empire Strikes Back was a pretty darn good model for a sequel. It was more of a creeping, bit-by-bit realization. A movie like that, if you’re at all geeky – and since you’re reading this site, it’s a safe assumption – is practically a part of your subconscious. But the more I plotted out the book that would become The Enceladus Crisis, the more I realized Empire‘s influence on my thinking.

That’s not to say the book’s plot is ripped straight from the movie, because that’s just sloppy – not to mention the lawyering that would get involved. But there are inspirations, such as:

  • Personal stakes: Empire takes the time to develop character, and gives them something to fight for. There’s far more interpersonal conflict, whether it’s Leia and Han figuring out their relationship, or Luke figuring out whether he wants to complete his training or rescue his friends.

  • Lack of comfort zones: Characters are removed from the places they’re used to. The Rebel base is destroyed. Luke is stuck in a swamp. Han and Leia have a bad feeling about hanging out in Cloud City. There’s unease with the surroundings.

  • Active bad guys: Star Wars is about taking it to the bad guys. Empire, as the name implies, has the bad guys driving the plot, forcing the good guys to react. The sequel, in many ways, deals with the consequences of the original, as the bad guys…you know, strike back.

  • Tonal changes: Look, it’s still Star Wars. There’s thrilling battles and lightsabers and goofy quips. But Empire is darker. It’s meatier. It took a light space opera and, while keeping the good stuff from the first film, made it more nuanced.

There’s more, of course, but those are my big takeaways as I look back over The Enceladus Crisis. It’s a different book, going in new directions. I’d like to think it makes things more personal, but also raises its game beyond the first by adding nuance and developing the characters.

Will the third book, The Venusian Gambit, come out like Return of the Jedi? I doubt it. After all, there are no Ewoks.

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