Consequences as an Engine of Storytelling: A Guest Post by Robert Repino

Robert Repino grew up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. After serving in the Peace Corps, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. He lives in New York and works as an editor for Oxford University Press. His fiction includes short stories in The Literary Review and Hobart, as well as the middle grade series Spark and the League of Ursus. His latest book is Malefactor concludes the War with No Name series, and follows the novels D’Arc and Mort(e) and the novella Culdesac.


By Robert Repino: Like most sentient creatures, I’m a fan of the John Wick movies. The magnetic anti-hero and the simple revenge plot have sustained my interest for three movies and counting. Somehow, the series has avoided the same mediocrity and self-parody that has plagued so many other franchises that have reached a third installment. I’m looking at you Superman III, Spider-Man 3, Jaws 3-[fucking]-D, and Batman Forever (which should have been the title of the fourth one—think about it). Miraculously, John Wick: Chapter 3 succeeds where those films failed.

After watching the film, my friends and I got some drinks at a nearby bar. There, I found myself repeating a single word from the movie: “Consequences.” Wick utters this word whenever one of the characters points out that his past may have finally caught up with him. Since I like to drive jokes into the ground, I began to say “Consequences” in response to everything that night, in a poor imitation of Wick’s scratchy voice. Why did we need to buy another round? “Consequences.” Why should someone else pick up the tab? “Consequences.” And maybe I should call out sick tomorrow? “Consequences.”

“Okay, stop,” my friends eventually said. “It’s annoying.”

I recently completed the third installment in my own series. It’s titled Malefactor, and it concludes the War With No Name, which tells the story of a global war between humans and sentient animals. One of the main characters is a lot like Wick: a trained killer who is trying (and often failing) to live a normal life. He also happens to be a talking cat. Anyway, while writing that third novel, I came to appreciate Wick’s oft-repeated mantra. There is a simple lesson here: If you want to breathe new life into your story, you must explore the consequences of your hero’s actions. Make them dire and complicated. Force the character to second guess their decisions. Challenge the reader to reinterpret what they took for granted in the previous installments.

And sure, the mistakes your character makes should come back to haunt them. But what about the good things they did? The things that, on first glance, made them heroic? Like winning a war, or rescuing a love interest, or defeating a villain who was the epitome of evil? The negative consequences of those actions can be even more revealing. They add texture to the world. They can expose blind spots for your character. And, ultimately, provide an opportunity for growth.

Take, for example, two Star Trek movies. I’m thinking of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek: Insurrection. In both films, the crew of the Enterprise disobeys orders and essentially commits an act of treason. The Search for Spock is generally considered a solid entry in the series, though not great; to be fair, it had big shoes to fill after the success of Wrath of Khan. Insurrection, on the other hand, is almost universally panned, in part because it regurgitates the plot of a terrible episode of The Next Generation. However you rank these movies, let’s just agree that Search for Spock is the better of the two. And I think I know why. What truly separates these two films is (say it with me): “Consequences.”

In The Search for Spock, Captain Kirk sacrifices everything to save his friend. After rescuing Spock and returning him to his home planet, the seemingly invincible Kirk has been completely humbled. His son is dead. His ship has been destroyed. He’s on the run from the law. When Spock’s father Sarek points out all that Kirk has lost, Kirk responds, “If I hadn’t tried, the cost would have been my soul.” The subsequent movie deals with the fallout of these events. In The Voyage Home, the Enterprise crew now operates a commandeered Klingon vessel; Spock is still slowly recovering from his resurrection; and Kirk sees an opportunity to save Earth, and maybe get their old jobs back (if they don’t end up in prison).

Given the success of these earlier films, I had high expectations for Insurrection. The very title promised some major consequences. After watching the trailer, I wondered, is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of all people, going to fire on a Federation ship? Is he going to sacrifice someone to save the rest of the crew? Is he going to question the colonialism and paternalism of the Federation? The answers turned out to be no, no, and no, respectively. In this simplistic plot, the bad guys are bad, so Picard fights back and blows them up. Yes, there is an overly dramatic scene in which Picard removes his captain’s insignia, thereby turning his back on everything he believes. But after the villain gets vaporized in a big explosion, Picard and his crew set a course for Earth as if nothing has happened. No one seems worried about being court-martialed for disobeying direct orders from Starfleet Command. Even stranger, Picard tells his new love interest—a woman who supposedly showed him how to live a fuller life—that he’ll visit her soon. Spoiler: he doesn’t, and she’s never mentioned again. Everything wraps up like a routine episode of the show.

When you’re slogging through the years-long process of writing a sequel, the temptation to simply do things bigger and more badass, while telling yourself that your characters have undergone some transformation as a result, is so great. To avoid that, I tried to stay focused on the main characters, and the consequences of their decisions from the previous books. First, there’s Mort(e), a housecat turned warrior, who is traumatized by the conflict with the humans. Then there’s D’Arc, Mort(e)’s canine companion, who is as eager to explore the world as Mort(e) is to retreat from it. In book two, she does just that, leaving Mort(e) to wonder what he could have done to convince her to stay.

By the time they are reunited in Malefactor, so much has changed. Mort(e)’s sacrifices have doomed him, while D’Arc’s decision to run off on her own has completely backfired. So, while Mort(e) is trying to appreciate life while he still has it, D’Arc finds herself adopting Mort(e)’s psychological armor as a way of protecting herself from the horrors of the world that he tried to warn her about. The consequences run so deep enough that the characters find themselves becoming something they didn’t want to be. “I was trying to avoid becoming like you,” D’Arc tells Mort(e) after they find each other. “How did that work out?” he asks bitterly.

I guess it remains to be seen how successful I was. But I’ll trust John Wick on this one. If you’ve gotten really deep into a series—either reading it or writing it—I encourage you to ask the hard questions. What are the consequences? Can any set of actions be purely good or purely bad? And how should the consequences force the characters to grow, adapt, and change? The best series will grapple with these questions, embracing the messiness and madness of the human experience.


ABOUT MALEFACTOR

Over a decade has passed since the ant queen began her apocalyptic war with the humans. In the aftermath, she leaves behind a strange legacy: a race of uplifted animals, the queen’s conscripts in the war effort, now trying to make their way in the world they destroyed. While the conflict has left deep scars, it has also allowed both sides to demonstrate feats of courage and compassion that were never possible before. And now, after years of bloodshed, the survivors have a fleeting chance to build a lasting peace.

But peace always comes with a price. The holy city of Hosanna—where animals and humans form a joint government—finds itself surrounded by wolves who are determined to retake the land. A powerful matriarch has united the rival wolf packs, using a terrible power harnessed from the Queen herself.

Soon, the looming violence pulls in those who sought to escape. The war hero Mort(e) suspects a plot to destroy Hosanna from within, and recruits a team of unlikely allies to investigate. Falkirk, captain of the airship Vesuvius, must choose between treason and loyalty to save the city. And D’Arc, sailing aboard the al-Rihla, learns that the wolves may have triggered a new cycle of life for the Colony, bringing a final reckoning to animal and human alike. Once reunited, the three outcasts begin a journey into wolf territory to face the last remnant of the queen’s empire. But while destiny has drawn them together, it may destroy them as well, for even love, courage, and honor may not be enough to stop the forces of destruction set to be unleashed on the world.

ROBERT REPINO ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Robert Repino’s Anthropomorphic War For Human Annihlation

Robert Repino

By Carl Slaughter: In 2016, accompanied by numerous rave reviews, Robert Repino launched his War with No Name series with Morte.  The second book, Culdesac, came out in November 2016. In May 2017, he followed with D’Arc, a story with an even more ambitious plot, and also accompanied by rave reviews.  The series has been described as a mashup of the classic anthropomorphic tales.

MORTE

 

The “war with no name” has begun, with human extinction as its goal.

The instigator of this war is the Colony, a race of intelligent ants who, for thousands of years, have been silently building an army that would forever eradicate the destructive, oppressive humans. Under the Colony’s watchful eye, this utopia will be free of the humans’ penchant for violence, exploitation and religious superstition.

As a final step in the war effort, the Colony uses its strange technology to transform the surface animals into high-functioning two-legged beings who rise up to kill their masters.

Former housecat turned war hero, Mort(e) is famous for taking on the most dangerous missions and fighting the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH. But the true motivation behind his recklessness is his ongoing search for a pre-transformation friend—a dog named Sheba.

When he receives a mysterious message from the dwindling human resistance claiming Sheba is alive, he begins a journey that will take him from the remaining human strongholds to the heart of the Colony, where he will discover the source of EMSAH and the ultimate fate of all of earth’s creatures.

PRAISE FOR MORTE

  • “Morte is complex, beguiling, and often bloody . . . [An] utterly absorbing debut.” —The Boston Globe
  • “Mort(e) catapults the reader into a wild, apocalyptic world . . . [Mort(e)’s] journey, set against the backdrop of an ideological war between pure rationality and mysticism, makes for a strangely moving story.” —The Washington Post
  • “With poignant flashes of a morality tale, this debut novel makes us rethink our relationship to all of Earth’s creatures (since they may someday turn on us).” —Time Out New York
  • “Marvelously droll . . . This novel is all kinds of crazy, but it wears its crazy so well.” —Slate
  •  “An epic science-fiction thriller . . . Mort(e) will stick with you long after you close the pages.” —Tor.com
  • “Dealing with matters of dominance, loyalty, destiny, and justice, this engaging novel might have taken as its epigraph Alexander Pope’s famous couplet, “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew; / Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” In the life of an uplifted cat, the reader sees his or her own quandary as a creature suspended uncomfortably halfway between nescience and angelic wisdom. [T]hought-provoking and tragedy-laden . . . Completely poignant and satisfying.” —Barnes & Noble Review
  • “With sly references to Orwell’s Animal Farm, debut novelist Repino puts a nicely modern post-apocalyptic overlay on the fable of animals taking over the world . . . an engrossing morality tale with unexpected depths.” –Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
  • “Mort(e) is wonderful and weird, never saccharine and always startling.” —Cat Rambo, author of Near + FarI

CULDESAC

The war with no name rages on, setting the world on fire. Humanity faces extinction at the hands of the Colony, a race of intelligent ants seeking to overthrow the humans and establish a new order. The bobcat Culdesac is among the fiercest warriors fighting for the Colony. Driven by revenge and notorious for his ability to hunt humans in the wild, Culdesac is the perfect leader of the Red Sphinx, an elite unit of feline assassins. With the humans in retreat, the Red Sphinx seizes control of the remote village of Milton. But holding the town soon becomes a bitter struggle of wills. As the humans threaten a massive counterattack, the townsfolk protect a dark secret that could tip the balance of the war. For the brutal Culdesac, violence is the answer to everything. But this time, he’ll need more than his claws and his guns, for what he discovers in Milton will upend everything he believes, everything he fought for, and everything he left behind.

Relentless, bloody, and unforgiving, Culdesac is the story of an antihero with no soul to lose, carving a path of destruction that consumes the innocent and the guilty alike.

PRAISE FOR CULDESAC

  • “Repino imbues a startling sense of realism to a story about an intelligent cat’s desire to wipe out humanity; Culdesac’s story is not only tense and violent, but oddly emotional and touching.” —Tor.com
  • “Have you ever wondered what might happen if you raised animal intelligence, stood them up, and made them human-sized? Repino has an intriguing answer. Culdesac is a great entry into his series.” Steve Perry, New York Times bestselling author of Shadows of the Empire

D’ARC

In the aftermath of the War With No Name, the Colony has been defeated, its queen lies dead, and the world left behind will never be the same.

In her madness, the queen used a strange technology to uplift the surface animals, turning dogs and cats, bats and bears, pigs and wolves into intelligent, highly evolved creatures who rise up and kill their oppressors. And now, after years of bloodshed, these sentient beasts must learn to live alongside their sworn enemies—humans.

Far removed from this newly emerging civilization, a housecat turned war hero named Mort(e) lives a quiet life with the love he thought he had lost, a dog named Sheba. But before long, the chaos that they escaped comes crashing in around them.

An unstoppable monster terrorizes a nearby settlement of beavers. A serial killer runs amok in the holy city of Hosanna. An apocalyptic cult threatens the fragile peace. And a mysterious race of amphibious creatures rises from the seas, intent on fulfilling the Colony’s destiny and ridding the world of all humans.

No longer able to run away, Sheba and Mort(e) rush headlong into the conflict, ready to fight but unprepared for a world that seems hell-bent on tearing them apart.

In the twilight of all life on Earth, love survives, but at a cost that only the desperate and the reckless are willing to pay.

PRAISE FOR D’ARC

  • “From Cordwainer Smith’s Underpeople to David Brin’s Uplifted dolphins; from Puss in Boots to Brian Jacques’s Redwall, science fiction and fantasy are replete with sentient beasts, some more humanized than others. But there has never been another series with quite the punch and heft of Robert Repino’s War With No Name saga. Its visceral palpability, hypnotic fatedness, and emotional gravitas make it the War and Peace of beast fables. The latest installment, D’Arc, carries forward the future history of this posthuman world with searing action, unexpected twists and brilliant new characters. Think Margaret Atwood crossed with Robert Stone, and you are maybe halfway to Repino’s virtues.” —Paul Di Filippo, author of Lost Among the Stars, Ribofunk and A Mouthful of Tongues, among others
  • “Think The Fantastic Mr. Fox, with advanced weaponry. Charlotte’s Web, with armed combat. The Wind in the Willows, with machetes. D’Arc is all this and way more besides. Weaving together threads from dozens of ideas, Robert Repino tops his Mort(e) with an epic allegory at once strange, frightening, funny, and altogether remarkable. Repino’s dog, cat, and beaver soldiers are nakedly real, as honest as any characters in modern fiction. As horrible as it may sound, may The War With No Name never end.” —Corey Redekop, author of Husk
  • “The War With No Name series isn’t quite a parable, nor does it rely on its novel concept to break ground. These books, intellectual yet elusive, brutal yet tender, imagine what would happen if the natural order of our world were to be fundamentally disrupted. D’Arc in particular takes Repino’s conceit to its next stage of evolution. Herein, ocean beasts rise from the deep in search of war, giant spiders terrorize assiduous beavers, animals and humans are in the thick of a battle not just for dominion, but extermination. It is for these reasons and more that I get so excited when I see another entry in the series approaching the shelves. Repino isn’t just one of the best writers of his generation, he’s one of the most exciting, brave, and unexpected. D’Arc won’t just delight your senses, it will change the way you think about storytelling.” —Samuel Sattin, author of Legend and The Silent End
  • “Inventive and astounding. D’Arc maps the aftermath of the ‘war with no name’ and the attempts of wizened old warrior Mort(e) and his long-lost love, the dog Sheba, to find some kind of happiness for themselves even as unimagined dangers threaten from the deep. Robert Repino’s Orwellian saga is at once brutal and hopeful as it explores post-war life, love in all its forms, and what being a person—a new person, in a brave new world—truly means.” —Katharine Duckett
  • ?”?Repino’s third novel in the War with No Name series continues to deepen and expand the strange universe he’s created, one that still hasn’t settled after the upheaval of a war between ants, animals, and humans.?”? ??— B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog
  • “Fantastic . . . Well-drawn characters and emotional heft are hallmarks of this unusual series about the power of myth, love, and redemption in a dangerous time.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review