Boldly Reading Book Club #1 – Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

Boldly Reading Book Club #1 – Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

Welcome to our very first Book Club Discussion! Here’s hoping to it being the first of many. Our first Boldly Reading Book Club Choice is jespah’s Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions a K rated story though possibly K+ given some of the darker themes within.

The choice for the story was mine, and chosen before jespah’s recent promotion to modly powers, because of jespah’s enthusiasm and participation at all levels on Ad Astra. Additionally, before all of that, jespah was willing to be our guinea pig for this little enterprise.

The story itself though is one I thought would provide a lot of delicious little commentary for our book club and offer a number of discussion points considering some of the themes it covers despite how short it is.

 

Introducing Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

Boldly Reading Book Club #1 - Paving Stones Made From Good IntentionsMany of you may already be familiar with the story as it was entered into the January 2012 Ad Astra Pathways Challenge and won said challenge.

Paving Stones is a delicious little story. Short and sweet but I have a feeling aspects of it are going to stay with long afterwards. A Mirror Universe tale set in the ENT era and follows on from the tale seen in the ENT season 4 episode: ‘A Mirror, Darkly’.

It’s a nugget of a story I’m sure you’ll agree and if you care to discover more or read some background on the piece read Throwing Rocks at Looking Glass Houses and Reversal.

Boldly Reading Book Club #1 - Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

Long Live the Empress!

 Story Synopsis – The Elevator Pitch

Why is the Mirror the way it is? It’s bred into the people from an early age. Childhood in the Mirror Universe leads one down a dark road. Families are forced into a corner to put their children on the path to success, paving it with good intentions but at the price of their souls.

Find jespah’s own commentary on the story here.

 

 

coverthumbreversal

Cover to Reversal

Introducing Doug

 

Within Paving Stones you are going to find Doug Hayes Beckett, counterpart to canon character Major J. Hayes.

Doug’s a tactician and like nearly all figures in the MU he’s a soldier. Read about Doug in jespah’s own words: Portrait of a Character – Doug Beckett and appropriate music to accompany Snow Patrol – Shut Your Eyes.

Doug was first introduced to me in Reversal and so Paving Stones on my reading was somewhat of an origin story of Doug in the MU. Again, jespah tells it best when she writes her own review on Reversal.

 

Talking Points

This is all still an experiment, so bear with me folks. However, there follows some theme and discussion points within Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions. Mostly from my own reading of it and derived from other reviews. I offer these as discussion points, something to ruminate on, but in no way feel compelled to try to answer these. The Book Club Discussion Thread will open soon and allow for a fluid flow of the discussion.

Talking Points

 

The story is a Mirror Universe tale. It is properly dark and twisted and offers the reader an insight into life living within the regime of the Terran Empire. There is a story of ambition, survival and even of family love within this short tale.

As you read, things to consider as part of a discussion are given below. But helloooo! This is the Mirror Universe! We have all the Mirror Universe to consider here.

Think about how jespah portrays the Mirror Universe and the Starfleet of this universe. Did the story lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your the Mirror Universe you might not have thought about before?

I think especially striking from the reading is the sense of indoctrination instilled into the young Doug’s mind by his father. What are your own thoughts on that?

What do you imagine or suppose family life within the Terran Empire is like and what did this piece offer on that matter? How do you think education is handled within the Terran Empire?

The Mirror Universe can be a difficult setting to write in. Some of the regular criticisms you will read about the writing of the Mirror Universe is that too often it can be written too pantomime like or too extreme. How do you like jespah’s interpretation of the MU here? Do you think her vision of the MU future credible? What was different or unique about the jespah’s rendering of the MU and did it enhance or detract from the story?

What themes did you find in the story? How did the author highlight them? Were they successful in getting these themes across to the reader?

Given the topic matter, did certain parts of the story make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Is it justified by the story context?

What thoughts do you have on the character of Doug? Is Doug redeemable? Can he rise above his origins, his discipline and his indoctrination?

What’s Lena’s role in all of this? Why isn’t she trying harder to help her son? And why is Jeremiah so insistent that Doug be thrown into the deep end so quickly?

The story is a challenge winner and has already received a number of reviews, after reading and reviewing, do you agree with the reviews of the story? Did it live up to positive reviews?

If you were the author and were to write a sequel continuing Doug’s story, where would you consider taking him and where would you consider the story’s direction might lie? Would you stick to canon and keep the Terran Empire alive and kicking by TOS or take your own path?

 

Plenty to think on.

So all that remains is to get Reading, get Reviewing and get Ready for Discussion.
Boldly Reading, Miranda Fave
 
 

4 Comments

  1. Profile photo of SLWalker
    SLWalker
    Aug 2, 2013

    “Did the story lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your the Mirror Universe you might not have thought about before?”

    Yes, and no. I’ve spent a whole lot of time in that universe, albeit later. But there were several things that did strike me — the sending away of children to boarding school. The indoctrination. It does make sense, in the context jespah puts it; I don’t quite subscribe to it myself, at least not in the same way, but I do like those pieces of it. It strikes me as something that might be more what you’d expect in a military family, and knowing Jes, there must be real world context to go with it. North Korea comes to mind, specifically.

    “What are your own thoughts on that?”

    I think I can’t forgive him, myself. Because you have a delightful amount of male privilege to go with what is absolutely abusive behavior. “Here, I’ll hurt you, but it’s for your own good!” Heck no. And I know this was what she meant to convey, and her narrative is very neutral, but to me? I’d knife that MFer in his sleep, if Doug was my kid. I’d do anything to protect him. And the only way I can see Lena not doing that is that she’s battered herself. Having been in a situation like this, it hits uncomfortably close to home. And I hope Doug’s Dad died a horrible, painful, slow death, preferably involving ACID.

    “What do you imagine or suppose family life within the Terran Empire is like and what did this piece offer on that matter? How do you think education is handled within the Terran Empire?”

    Personally? I see the Terran Empire as the United States gone way to the right in some ways, kind of to the left in others, but definitely following the military-industial complex that we see in the world today. While I didn’t start out to do it, ESPG became an allegory for our world today, and for post-911 USA, and it became a look at terrorism, and what people are willing to do in the name of patriotism, or freedom. I think, in that way, family life wouldn’t actually be like that. However, Jes has a perfectly valid view from an entirely different sociopolitical standpoint. In her universe, women are worth next to nothing. Which makes sense even in a TOS context — Captain’s woman nonsense included, though Marlena was also an officer.

    As to education, I’d say the boarding school idea would likely as not be standard, at least in a universe where the stranglehold is so tight you have the five commandments, there. Any which way, it’d almost have to be compulsory, it would certainly be heavily indoctrinating and state-sponsored. In my universe, they still use corporal punishment, for instance. I imagine in hers, it’s even stronger, especially given they basically are taking kids from families and raising them to be little soldiers.

    This, however, makes me wonder a wee bit how it is that ANYONE can make it out of that, like Doug eventually does, and ever become functional again. Even so, never discount the human spirit. Or, for that matter, said spirit’s ability to adapt.

    “How do you like jespah’s interpretation of the MU here? Do you think her vision of the MU future credible? What was different or unique about the jespah’s rendering of the MU and did it enhance or detract from the story?”

    This… is a tough question to answer. I can only stand in my own boots. Of course it’s valid, it’s her work. And it’s definitely intelligent. But some parts struck me as nearing the parody line — Hoshi, for example. She wasn’t very nuanced, she was sort of a standard villain, at least from my perception. I also think it’d be pretty damn hard to have quite that strong a strangle hold on your populace. Where are your rebels? (Okay, I admit, I’ve only gotten through two so far, but no rebels yet.) I mean, even North Koreans are not quite so indoctrinated that they don’t break the rules and watch South Korea television shows and listen to foreign music. So, that I felt could use some elaborating; the society seems worryingly static from the limited read I’ve had of it.

    On the other hand, the strokes of genius were in that Doug was, especially, very nuanced and had fabulous characterization. And as uncomfortable as it made me — and it did — the relationship between Doug’s parents COULD have happened. Heck, it happens every damn day. I wish it didn’t. There was a lot that was wholly awesome. I’d love to see a broader view, including the rebels.

    I skipped the next one. It’s like 4AM, so moving on.

    “Given the topic matter, did certain parts of the story make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Is it justified by the story context?”

    Hell yes. The abusive relationships. Why? Real life. Too true.

    “What thoughts do you have on the character of Doug? Is Doug redeemable? Can he rise above his origins, his discipline and his indoctrination?”

    I think so. But it’d be a Hell of a long, hard fight, and he’d fall on his face a thousand times in the attempt, I have a feeling. It’s hard enough to shake off the screw ups your parents can leave on you even if the rest of your life is perfect from 18 on. But living in it for decades? So yes, I think he could. But I think it’d take a lot of work and patience.

    “What’s Lena’s role in all of this? Why isn’t she trying harder to help her son? And why is Jeremiah so insistent that Doug be thrown into the deep end so quickly?”

    Be a battered wife, and you’ll know that answer. Because sometimes, they beat you down so far that you’d rather your kid face this horror, instead of a worse one. Because it’s really just that bad, and you don’t know terror until the life of your child is in the balance. Why isn’t she trying harder? It’s a really, really cruel question to ask. It just is. Because she fucking can’t, that’s why. Because in that world, the one where they beat you — no matter how smart, or strong, or brave you are — they hold all of the cards and make all of the rules, and it is all you can do to pick the right battle at the right time so you might just live to see the other side and fight again.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

    There’s a ton of material out there. But just as a personal note, I’d like to tell anyone who thinks of asking any battered woman that question: “Why didn’t you do more?” to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. Survival is a triumph, keeping you and your kids alive is a triumph, and eventually getting free is the ultimate triumph, and the last thing someone needs who manages that is a Monday Morning Quarterback asking about it.

    Just as a caveat, I’m not mad about it being posted here. Nor mad at you, dear, for asking it. Just, suffice it to say, it quite hits a nerve.

    I’m not sure how I’d write a sequel. But as to the Terran Empire, I don’t think even a genius can bring it down in one go, though two geniuses working at cross-purposes can with time. ::grins a little:: So, aye, still kicking into the twenty-third century.

    Hope this is what you were after. As always, these are just my own opinions; take ’em or leave ’em.

    • Profile photo of jespah
      jespah
      Aug 2, 2013

      Thank you for commenting, and I really think you hit on a lot of the themes I’m striving to convey.

      The MU is, for me, one huge land of abused women. And Hoshi actually makes things worse; she wants it all for herself and so she skews the population on the ship heavily to male (in order to dovetail with the ratio we saw in TOS) and doles out her favors as a means to keep the higher ups in line (some of her over the top characteristics are more or less canon).

      There are definitely rebels. Some are more subtle than others; some come from regrets. But Hoshi is something of a parody; she is Livia from “I, Claudius”, writ large (at least, that was my intention), and so she plows through anyone and everyone in order to get her way. But she’s also shrewd. Her ship is powerful but it’s not invincible, so she needs people to run and service it. As for her person, she has bodyguards but her biggest and best human shield is Travis. If she’s offed, he’s in power, and he’s even worse. If they’re both offed, then it’s more chaotic, and it’s possible that no one wants to step into that or thinks they have enough support to do so.

      Spoiler alert – Doug never forgives his parents (see the story Saturn Rise). It’s just too much for him, and he can never get past it. How does Jeremiah die? I have no idea; haven’t written that yet. Lena contracts some sort of illness, possibly akin to cancer (I also write MU medicine as being horrific and mostly pretty backward, another fancy way of torturing people). I am, actually, the person who asked the Lena question, and you absolutely nailed it. She, too, is a victim of the MU and possibly of Jeremiah (in the one other MU family I’ve ever written, the spousal relationship was more equitable).

      The educational system is meant to be a means of indoctrinating good little sheep and the like. Doug is no sheep, but it does take quite a long time for him to get the courage to rise up and, truly, a landing site that isn’t a grave or the Empire, neither of which he wants.

  2. Ln X
    Aug 2, 2013

    Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions is one of the few MU stories to actually address the state of Terran society. It’s pretty gut-wrenching giving Doug is only six and he hast to learn both the five weaknesses (a very cool concept I might add) and how to overcome his fear of leaving home and entering the real world.

    It’s only 2800 words and 4 sections, but it is a compacted explanation concerning everything you need to know about the Terran Empire’s social values. It provides more insight than historical events and timelines ever will.

    As for characterization, dialogue and writing quality, I will say it does not interfere with actually reading this story. It gets the job done and there are never any moments where you cringe over the author’s writing style. That’s all I have to say about this as the nuances of the English language are not my forte.

    The strongest aspect of Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions (PSMFGI) is the analysis of Terran Empire society. It is a good analysis and explores some of the consequences of this authoritarian society.

    Unfortunately it also yields my main criticism; how can the Terran Empire function? Everyone is trying to kill each other or get leverage over other people: for survival, for promotion, for blood-lust and sadism, for the protection of ones position. This is a major disparity because you have the supposed united Terran Empire and then its people who are anything but united.

    How did Earth unite when the common ideology is conquest and the stronger overcoming the weaker? These Five Weaknesses are supposedly guiding principles for every Terran, but they promote violence, ignorance, selfishness, detachment from ones emotions, the importance of the individual over the group and basically everything which brings out the worst in humans.

    Giving the constant murders, assassinations and back-stabbing the Terran Empire would just splinter apart into various warring factions.

    However what really intrigued me with PSMFGI was Lena. If anything she was the only character who actually resembled a human being, and this makes me wonder; is Lena in the minority, is she an exception to the rule? Are Terran women mainly the sensible ones and without them the nuclear family would be a rarity?

    I just feel the Terran Empire has no basis in morality and without that civilizations eventually crumble. Like the Romans and every other great ancient power. Star Trek does have its extremes with races and civilizations, but in the most part morality forms the backbone of these empires.

    The Klingons have their code of honour and the teachings of Kahless, the Vulcans have their principles of logic and so forth. Conversely the Hirogen have only one code; the hunt, so it is no surprise their society has utterly fragmented and dispersed throughout the Delta Quadrant. The Hirogen have no other principles and no other reason to live.

    The strange thing is that the Terrans and the Hirogen have a lot in common except for one thing; the Terrans are somehow united while the Hirogen are not.

    Given the state of our planet right now, world unity and a world government seem like mere dreams. But the Terrans are like us except ten times worse. With this mind how did they ever unite? And if by some miracle a major event did unite them, how did the Terran Empire not collapse immediately afterwards?

    So to sum up, it is a good story but it kind of destroys the whole plausibility of the Terran Empire’s continued resistance. I just don’t see how advanced civilization can function if the individual is more important than the group.

    • Profile photo of jespah
      jespah
      Aug 2, 2013

      Thank you for commenting!

      You hit upon what I think is the biggest issue with the MU in canon, that people could not possibly let it go this far, because how could you function? How can a society get out of its Stone Age?

      One theory I have is a fast-acting genetic mutation, where the two universes are fairly well parallel until the Roman Republic. Then a mutation occurs, making the Y chromosome more dominant than it really is. And so the ration begins to skew to about 75% male, 25% female. The idea being that women are rare. Here, that would potentially make them precious enough that maybe they would be coddled and spoiled but, as I see the MU, the opposite occurs, and they are really treated like dirt. With little political or physical power, they become subservient to the men, nearly from the beginning.

      But the family unit, in part, brings it all back, for the skew increases all male traits, not just the violent ones. Hence (in my fiction), the men are also better fathers. They push for their offspring to survive and thrive – and so the family unit can be a proto-society unto itself. String enough of these proto-societies together, and you get tribalism. Maybe that keeps them together. I should write that.

      Food for thought!

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