For Your Approval
The Rehumanization of Jade Darcy
While writing my book Mindflight I devised the character name "Jade Darcy," but decided not to use it there. Instead I held onto it for a more deserving project.
Over the years, Jade blossomed in my mind like a fragile flower. I know exactly how Pygmalion felt, because Jade was my Galatea. She was both immensely powerful and unbelievably vulnerable at the same time. But I didn't write anything about her, because I didn't have quite the right vehicle for her yet.
My wife, Mary Mason, was the catalyst that brought things together. With her Bachelor's degree in psychology, Mary had tutored a large number of brain dissection labs and was incredibly enthusiastic about the subject. She had ordered some preserved sheep brains from an educational supply house and was demonstrating the intricacies of brain anatomy to author Steven Barnes and me. One point she made was that learned reflexes could accumulate in nodes inside the spinal column. That way, the nerve impulse didn't have to travel all the way up the spinal column into the brain, and then all the way out again before the body could act on it; it could be dealt with from the spinal node, making reaction time shorter. This is how skilled musicians or typists manage to practice their craft so fast and make it look so automatic -- they can let these trained reflexes take over without having to worry consciously about the petty details.
I started thinking. What if you could put a computer into a person's spine and program it with a series of reflexes? It wouldn't make an untrained clod into a master musician, but it would enable a trained person to react far more quickly than anyone would ever expect. And if you programmed such a computer for the martial arts and implanted it in the spine of a trained soldier....
Thus was born the computer augmented reflex commando -- the carc. And this, in turn, was exactly the vehicle I needed to supply Jade with her propulsive power. Jade was a carc -- but not just any carc. She was a carc with a Past. She was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca -- tough on the outside and wounded on the inside. She's a lot tougher than even Bogey was, which meant she had to be hurt even worse. And indeed she was....
I had every intention of writing the books by myself, but Mary kept making suggestion after wonderful suggestion about characters, incidents, descriptions, behaviors, scenes and story ideas. I realized she was every bit as much in love with Jade as I was. It wasn't a long step from there to admitting her as a full-fledged collaborator -- and not for one second have I ever regretted it. Mary gives Jade and her universe a richness I could never have achieved on my own.
Mary has a wonderful capsule description of the books: "Jade is a space mercenary who can't always find a convenient war to fight, so in between she works as a bouncer at an interspecies bar and grill."
When the first book opens, desperation has driven Jade to Cablans -- a trading world so many transfer stops from Earth that she's the only human there. That suits her just fine. She's lived there now for five years. In order to get there, and in order to survive both her internal demons and the rigors of an alien environment, she's had to turn off everything in her that makes her a human being. To her own mind, she's little more than a machine, keeping itself going for one relentless purpose. Over the course of the books (as Mary and I have envisioned it), Jade will slowly relearn what it is to be human. It will be a strange and frightening odyssey for her.
The first two books have already seen print. (Actually, since Zen Pirates takes place three years after Affair of Honor, there's room to squeeze several more books between them. It may turn out that Zen Pirates is second only in terms of publication date.) Mary and I have plenty of ideas for more stories. Unfortunately, a variety of factors has conspired against us, most noticeably Mary's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and subsequent nerve damage which makes it almost impossible for her to type anything, and a "minor" stroke in 2001. With current improvements in speech-recognition software, we're hoping that soon Mary will be able to get back to production, and Jade's story will continue to be told. We're glad there are other people who seem to love her as much as we do, and we don't want to disappoint them.
TIDBIT: The basic idea of the second book came while we were watching The Pirate Movie on cable television. The Pirate King (Ted Hamilton, I've been informed by a helpful reader) is telling the heroine (Kristy MacNichols) that he and his men aren't really a bad sort; they don't really kill and rape and pillage, it's all just illusory. She looks at him and says, "You're Zen pirates?" That's why we tell the IRS that we're deducting our bills for cable TV. It's research. Who knows where a good idea will come from?
The new edition of Affair contains the original nightmare scene we wrote for the first chapter, not the namby-pamby one that the editor forced us to put in the first printed edition. Fans of the book may want to get a new copy just for the restored scene. (Or maybe they won't.) The cover for the new editions were designed by Mary.