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.

How Phaethon is Trying to Save the World

How Phaethon is Trying to Save the World

It means “Shining One” and has been used to name everything from birds to more than one character in Greek myth to an asteroid and a maybe planet, but for our purposes, Phaethon is an attempt to save the planet.

This attempt comes in the form of a novel by Rachel Sharp (affiliate link) featuring a millennial couple that for some strange reason that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with ships and icebergs go by Jack and Rose. Jack and Rose are just folks, cobbling together a living with a part-time job and whatever they can scrape together by what my generation might call dicking around on the internet.

Some of that dicking around involves taking apart pieces of tech to see what makes it tick. When they get the newest, super-coolest phone—the Phaethon—they do what their followers expect and take it apart. What they learn sends them down a rabbit hole of weird that ends with them fighting some big-ass fae who are trying to take over the world.

When I say the book is trying to save the world, that’s not what I mean. I mean that if we were all like Jack and Rose, the world would be a much better place.

How? Why?

Curiosity

It starts with curiosity. Jack and Rose don’t take apart a Phaethon simply to generate YouTube ad revenue. They do it because they are curious about how the world works. They take apart tech because they understand tech, because they want to see what new devices do with existing tech, and because they want to pass on the knowledge to others, the philosophical underpinning of which is simple. The more we know about how our world works, the better we all are.

What they discover—and this is all in the Amazon description—is that the components in the phone cannot possibly do what the phone does. Do they chalk it up to magic and let it be? Hell no, they investigate and hack and pry and conclusively demonstrate that it’s magic. Their new phone is powered by a living being.

Conscience

Very few living entities are happy being the power source for a magical new phone. Rose and Jack rather quickly realize that this entity isn’t one of those few exceptions and take it upon themselves to track down the real location of this entity and see what’s what. When they accomplish this—using one of those sufficiently advanced technologies that is indistinguishable from magic—they realize that not only is the entity behind their phone being held prisoner, she is far from alone.

Someone else’s problem, right?

Mmmnope.

Jack and Rose have more than a bit of compassion for their fellow creatures and even though they’re more than a little freaked out by the existence of things that really aren’t supposed to exist, they do everything they can to help.

As one might expect, this causes problems. The evil overlords that are enslaving the fae aren’t really thrilled with the idea of someone coming along and freeing all their phone-enablers. It messes with their plans for global domination, don’t ya know?

Which is to say, the Big Bad fights back.

Responsibility

Jack and Rose are just folks and even though they have semi-unwillingly roped some friends into the battle, they’re not really equipped to fight with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

But…who else is there? While they use their tech skills to get the truth out there, that’s the kind of thing that takes time for people to grok and time is not something they have much of. The fight is now and they and their friends are the only ones who know there is a fight happening at all, so of course they go into the fight with everything they have even though it looks hopeless.

In many ways, we are what we read, especially when we read it at those ages where we’re figuring out who we are. If enough people read Phaethon, it will do its part to help save not just the planet, but those of us who inhabit it.

The curiosity to seek out knowledge of our world, the compassion and conscience to try to improve the situation of those who are being oppressed, and the responsibility to tackle a problem—even an absurdly large one—when nobody else is in a position to, these are traits we need more of in this world.