How the Heartstriker Series ISN’T Popcorn Fiction

How the Heartstriker Series ISN’T Popcorn Fiction

The other day, I was having a discussion online with an author I respect. He referred to Nice Dragons Finish Last (affiliate link) as popcorn fiction. I disagreed and I’m going to explain why, but before I get started with that, I wanted to point out that there is nothing wrong with popcorn fiction. The world we live in is pretty messed up. Just yesterday—as I write this—the House passed an atrocious bill that would make it impossible for me and million of others like me (self employed with a pre-existing condition) to get health insurance. If this becomes—and stays—the law of the land, I’ll die sooner. Sometimes when you face an evil backed by an entire government, it can seem impossible to do or see anything that’s any good.

When that happens, simple escapist fiction is one of the greatest things in life.

If you think I just got too political, I’m not sorry and you should just go fuck yourself. My existence, and the existence of those whose lives are more fragile than mine aren’t political.

He’s Not Like Other Dragons

Soo…what was that I was saying about the Heartstriker series not being popcorn fiction? That claim rests primarily on two things, the fundamental reality that what we read shapes how we look at the world and the entire premise behind the Heartstriker series.

See, the protagonist of the series is Julius, the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan and one that rejects the typical deviousness and everyone-is-an-enemy-ness of dragons. Everyone—in clan and out—is plotting and scheming all the time. Any alliance is simply a betrayal in waiting. Everyone is the enemy every minute of every day.

It’s messy and dangerous and stupid and Julius rejects it all. In doing do, he demonstrates several fundamental principles of being decent people.

Being Yourself in Spite of Family

Julius refuses to be just like his family. He’s been taught since he was a hatchling that it’s his nature to be callous and devious—that the right way to behave involves manipulating people into doing things for his benefit.

In refusing to accept these lessons, he’s not only refusing to be a stereotype, he’s insisting that his own moral compass is sufficient. He’s asserting that there’s more than one way to be a dragon, and that everyone else has it wrong.

When Julius has to deal with a dragon from a rival clan, he rejects the instinct to treat her as an enemy and treats her like a person. Sure, she’s similar to her clan in a number of ways, but she’s different in many ways as well. The result is an alliance built on mutual respect and understanding rather than political convenience.

Guess which lasts longer.

When a Weakness is a Strength

Sometimes, something that’s perceived as a weakness is actually a strength. You can see it today when the enemies of decency decry diversity. They think—in the words of V for Vendetta—that strength comes from unity and unity comes from faith.

Strength doesn’t come from unity, at least not in the sense they mean it. They take unity to mean sameness. Same background. Same religion. Same music. Same art. Same whatever, I’m already bored.

Strength doesn’t come from sameness, it comes from acceptance. It comes from humility. It comes from understanding that everyone has the right to be who they are. It comes from having a diversity of perspectives that offer a number of different solutions to every problem.

If all you know how to do is plot and scheme, you’re going to try to plot and scheme your way out of things that would be better faced with cooperation. When you see each person as an individual and not a stereotype, you can open yourself up to addressing different problems with different solutions.

You Can’t Fight Evil by Doing Evil

But none of that is the fundamental point of the Heartriker books—at least not so far. The further Julius gets in his adventures, the more pressure there is on him to succeed and the more dire the consequences are for him if he does not.

And yet, he persisted—or persists, I suppose, if you think grammar is more important than a callback to the real-world. There is a point at which Julius is in a fight—not figuratively—and he’s getting his ass kicked by a dragon he could beat.

He refuses to fight back, not because he doesn’t want to win and not because he doesn’t think he can win, but because winning the fight would mean losing the war. Julius understands one very significant principle. You can’t fight evil by doing evil. If you want to make the world less evil, you’re not going to accomplish it by doing evil. You’re going to accomplish it by doing good and letting other people see you do good.

And that, ultimately, is why the Heartstriker series isn’t popcorn fiction. It has a message behind it, and if more people heeded that message, well, we’d live in a better world.