Why Pirates?

During a quiet moment at 2018’s MileHiCon, author Jane Lindskold and I sat down and had a nice conversation. In that conversation she asked why an apparently law-abiding, nice person like me would be interested in writing about pirates. After all, I’ve not only written about space pirates, but I’ve written about airship pirates in my steampunk fiction, and pirates have appeared in my vampire fiction. The drug traffickers in The Astronomer’s Crypt could also be seen as pirates of a sort. I have a two-part answer to the question. One part is related to story potential and the other is more personal.

To summarize the United Nations definition of piracy, it is a criminal act of violence, detention or depredation committed by the crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft directed against another ship or aircraft—or directed against a ship, aircraft, persons or property outside the jurisdiction of a country.  Apply that idea to any vessel that is either in space or operating on a distant world, and you open up tremendous story potential.

In fact, when I first wrote my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, the working title was simply Sufiro. The novel really is about the history of a planet founded by pirates, the disaffected people who follow, and the unscrupulous people who find resources on the world they can exploit. I added “Pirates” to the title because the planet is not only founded by pirates, but those unscrupulous people who come later are committing acts of violence, detention and depredation against their fellows outside the jurisdiction of a country. In a very real way, they are even more piratical than the story’s avowed pirates.

On a more personal level, pirates stir the imagination despite the fact that they steal from others to make a living and often murder to do so. If you look into the history of piracy—particularly during piracy’s “golden age” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—you find that discipline on military and legitimate trading vessels was brutal and crews were paid almost nothing. On pirate ships, the crews had more of a voice in how things were run and the booty was split more evenly.

Today, in the 21st century, we find ourselves in a world where companies monitor our e-mails and website usage. People can be fired for saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. In point of fact, the corporate world of today has nothing on the day when you could be flogged to within an inch of your life for a perceived insult. Still, the idea of setting out to sea or the stars with no one watching your every move and not having to watch your every word does have a certain appeal.

In Leiji Matsumoto’s famous Captain Harlock anime series and manga, the titular pirate captain fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom and that one shouldn’t be subject to corrupt and decadent governments. I wrote The Pirates of Sufiro before I got to know Harlock as any more than a cameo character in Galaxy Express 999, but the idea does capture some of what I tried to capture in my novel.

As it turns out, The Pirates of Sufiro was the first novel I ever wrote and I think it’s fair to say the idea was more ambitious than my skills were ready for almost twenty-five years ago. I’ve been spending much of the last year revising The Pirates of Sufiro for a new edition. I think I’ve made it much better, but I’m in the process of taking a good hard look and deciding whether or not I’ve succeeded in making it the book I want it to be. Much of that is making sure the characters are true to themselves as they developed in the books I wrote after Pirates.

You can help me in my quest to make The Pirates of Sufiro the book it should be by joining my Patreon campaign. My fix-up novel Firebrandt’s Legacy may be read in its entirety. Also, you can read the last published edition of The Pirates of Sufiro and the draft as it stands now. It’s likely there will be even one more draft before the book is published. Once it is published, I’ll give download codes for all the novels in the Space Pirates’ Legacy universe that are in print: The Solar Sea, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and The Pirates of Sufiro. Of course, I love to hear feedback from my patrons and it’s a great way to weigh in on what you think of the books. You can become a patron for just $1.00 a month. To learn more, click the button below. It’s time for some piracy!

8 comments on “Why Pirates?

  1. Let’s face it, “bad guys” are almost always more interesting than “good guys.” That’s true in fiction as well as in real life. Throughout our lives, it’s the people who cause problems, challenge the establishment and its rules, who get the most attention.

    I suspect that’s built into our brains, and is part of the survival instinct. We don’t tend to pay as much attention to what looks safe as to what is potentially dangerous.

    As for those seafarers, historically there’s also the issue of who exactly was a pirate and who was a buccaneer.

    I’m going off topic, but as you’re a steampunkian (is that a word?) you may have heard Robert Conrad, one of the stars of *The Wild Wild West*, passed away. That show was steampunk before steampunk became a thing.

    As I heard the story (someone correct me if this is wrong), creator Michael Garrison wanted to make a science fiction series. But at the time westerns were big, and the network wanted a western series. So he did both in one program, and *The Wild, Wild West* was born.

    • You make a good point about “bad guys” being more interesting than “good guys.” To invoke a nautical metaphor, those who rock the boat are more interesting than those who keep their place and paddle. Pirate, privateer, buccaneer, corsair, all somewhat different, though not always exclusive. Some privateers made a little extra money as pirates and so on.

      As for the vernacular, I would refer to myself simply as a steampunk. That actually matches the terminology as coined by K.W. Jeter in Locus Magazine many years ago.

      So sorry to hear about the passing of Robert Conrad. I’ve been away from the computer all day and this is the first I’ve heard about it. “The Wild Wild West” was my gateway into weird westerns and steampunk.

      As for the concept of the show, it’s basically “James Bond in the Wild West.” I believe Garrison did have a strong love of science fiction, though the early episode were more straight-ahead spy thriller in the old west. It got much more science fictional when Fred Freiberger took over as producer. Of course, Freiberger would also produce the third season of the original Star Trek.

      • The science fiction western story was something I read in a magazine somewhere, so I don’t remember the source. Even if it did report what people involved said, studios put out a lot of made up “news.”

        I did notice the “James Gang” thing on my own, though, and long before I knew of the connection between the franchises. From James Bond to James West to James Kirk. All James, all four-letter last names ending with a strong consonant sound and all with only one vowel and that as the second letter.

      • I don’t disagree with you and I read much the same thing in Cinefantastique Magazine circa 1988 about Michael Garrison — but I suspect that Garrison wouldn’t have been able to sell “science fiction western” as a concept to the networks back when the show started, but he could sell “spy western” knowing that spies could have science fictional gadgets and he could sneak in more and more science fictional elements as the show progressed.

  2. Interesting that Lindskold asked you about pirates. Doesn’t she write quite a lot about assassins, under her pen name Robin Hobb?

    • Different person. Robin Hobb is the pen name of Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden who also writes as Meaghan Lindholm. Jane LIndskold is probably best known for her Firekeeper fantasy series, though she’s written much more, including novels with David Weber and she finished Roger Zelazny’s last two novels. I think you’d enjoy her fantasy work.

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