While my Tarot card of “Balloon Ship Armageddon” is dated August 8, 2003, I didn’t think of the phrase as a writable novel until I digitally colorized the card in June 2015. Even then it was just a concept with no plot. Since then I’d idly mused about Jonathan James, or else Jack Commer, captaining a Balloon Ship Armageddon, but the February 2018 dream below was the first spark of getting anything underway. Within a month I’d committed to writing Jack Commer Seven. In April and May I interviewed twelve series characters at length and published the interviews on the blog. At 22,956 words, this effort was around a quarter of the length of the first draft. The interviews were an unusually high energy warm-up to beginning the novel, though just a small amount of the interview wording found its way into the rough draft.
The February 2018 visionary dream of space wars and empires: In the ongoing warfare, a huge spherical sector of the universe has been made uninhabitable. An exotic, medieval-looking two-dimensional map of the entire universe has been made on the black stone floor of a thirty-by-thirty-foot room in a castle. Astrological symbols are inscribed along the sides of the map. On the floor sits a basketball-sized object representing the uninhabitable region, rendered to scale in the universe. One must try to wrap one’s head around the fact that this 3-D spherical rendition is sitting on a 2-D map, thus: what would it look like or represent in the actual 3-D universe? In any case a basketball-sized object in a thirty-by-thirty-foot room is a definite amount of space, but certainly not taking up too much of the universe; it can be avoided with some thought.
In Book Six, The SolGrid Rebellion, Jack’s son Jonathan James wound up trapped inside a solid chromium pyramid after being obliterated by a Martian shattergun. In Balloon Ship Armageddon he’s successfully separated from the pyramid to become a Wounded robot, though the two companions trapped inside the pyramid with him, Rick Ballard and T’ohj’puv, die horribly. The Wounded are a robotic race that infiltrate civilizations in order to steal all the energy from their stars to create quasar artworks billions of light years away.
Jonathan James heads to the Greater Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way 163,000 light years away. Ailyuae, the world he conquers there, has no electricity, even down to the subatomic level, and for 124,400 years the leaderless Wounded robots deposited on this planet have fought endless senseless wars floating in balloon ships, since the oceanic surface of the planet is toxic. After he defeats all his enemies with balloon ship Armageddon, Jonathan James realizes he’s Lord Wounded, destined to initiate an Anti-Dark Energy Lens that will destroy the Orion Arm of the Milky Way, including the troublesome Sol which has resisted Wounded attempts at takeover.
Meanwhile, Amy Nortel, a Wounded spy and the doctor who rescued Jonathan James from the pyramid, turns out to have been Jack Commer’s English AP teacher back in high school. And robot Laurie Lachrer 283 decides she’s much more qualified to fly in the Typhoon VII as Jack’s physician/engineer than the human Laurie Lachrer she’s modeled on. Unfortunately, the Marsport Automated Transport System, which has gotten too much of a grip on United System Space Force software, agrees with the robot’s assessment, and stymies Jack’s search for his traitorous son.
The Long Journey from The Martian Marauders to Balloon Ship Armageddon
Space captain Jack Commer has been with me since September 1962, first appearing in four of the thirty-four science fiction stories in my fifth grade Blue Notebook. He and his three brothers then starred in my first attempt at a novel, Spring 1964’s Trip to Mars, and the unfinished eighth grade draft of The Martian Marauders, a book which I happily rediscovered, completed and rewrote as a modern novel decades later. Some blog posts flesh out this history:
The idea for a seventh book to conclude the series originated with Jack’s wife Amav’s declaration at the end of Book Six, The SolGrid Rebellion, that she and Jack ought to mount a search for their traitorous son Jonathan James. But there was no plot beyond that, which Jack and Amav both lamented in their blog interviews with me this spring.
I’m not killing off main characters in Seven, or otherwise making an Eight impossible, as, who knows, I may want to compose Eight a few decades from now. One purpose in declaring this the last Jack Commer novel was to open space for completely new writing after Book Seven. While the daily self may quail at not being up to such a task, deeper levels know there’s a vast unknown novel waiting, a blank at this moment despite recent unproductive idea strip mining experiments. But in any case I’m certain “space opera” isn’t my fate.
But the end of the book loads a teaser to a future Jack Commer novel: Jack and several series comrades have just embarked on a dangerous mission to the multidimensional Uninhabitable Sphere of leftover karmic crap from the beginning of the universe. This unresolved plot can both end the series and invite speculation for a sequel that nevertheless doesn’t demand to be written. A good place to be.
Twelve Character Interviews, April-May 2018
Rick Ballard, bombastic, ego-saturated seducer
T’ohj’puv, ancient tetrahedral robot for creating Martian Empress gowns
Jonathan James Commer, Jack’s troubled, insecure son
Amy Nortel, Wounded doctor and Jack’s old high school English teacher
Jack Commer, Supreme Commander, United System Space Force
Amav Frankston-Commer, Jack’s wife and planetary engineer
Waterfall Sequence, cloudlike entity of the Ywritt race at the star Iota Persei
Ranna Kikken Commer, Joe’s Commer’s wife and negotiator with the Ywritt
Joe Commer, Jack’s brother, Deputy Supreme Commander, and perennial sidekick
Jackie Vespertine, Ranna’s sister, Joe’s former femme fatale, and influential exobiologist
Laurie Lachrer 283, insolent robot seeking to supplant the human she’s modeled after
Laurie Lachrer, the human version, Jack’s new genius physician/engineer
Draft 2 Contents
- The Hospital
- English AP Class
- Arkonsky Stasis
- Hologram Joe and Know-How
- The Upgrades
- Heightened Levels of Anxiety and Distress
- Edward Unbound
- Balloon Ship Armageddon
- First Mate Henry Jannes
- The Holy Room
- The Uninhabitable
- Enter Ballard
- I Should Change into My Uniform
- Snuggled Deep
- My Apologies, Supreme Commander Commer, for Raising Your Blood Pressure
- Coming To on Ailyuae
- What One Second of Normal Time Equals
- The Lens Project
- Quiet Death
- Team Commer
- To Bow Our Heads in Prayer in the Twilight of the Orion Arm
- The Murky Existential Seed of the Ancient Alpha Centaurian Grid
- You’re Not Supreme Commander Yet
- The Star
All words and images copyright by Michael D. Smith