MEETING AUSTEN ANDREWS - by Noel LeFevre, Staff Reporter
Stratics Meets Austen Andrews at Book Signing

Adventures in Crime and Space Bookstore hosted a book signing with local Austin, Texas novelist Austen Andrews Saturday, February 23. His latest release, Ultima: The Technocrat War: Masquerade, is the second book in his "Ultima" trilogy.

Also on-hand was former Origin Worlds Online [ed. aka Ultima Online 2] designer Aaron "Ahriman" DeOrive. The pair met in 1985, both being new to the Austin area. Andrews explained, "I posted a note at a local comic shop looking for gamers and he called me the next day. We've been close friends ever since." In the dedication of the trilogy's first book, Ultima: The Technocrat War: Machinations, DeOrive was dubbed Andrews' "guardian devil."

Though the books bear the title "Ultima," they are not so saturated with Ultima lore that they are insupportable without it. Andrews stated, "I wrote it that way because I wanted it to be for everybody. The whole point of this was that people don't want to read game fiction. They want to read a novel." Fantasy fans will find plenty here to sink their teeth into whether or not they have ever braved the Britannian shores. The first two books of the trilogy are being received with rave reviews from all corners of the globe, by gamers and non-gamers alike.

It is impossible to tell the tale of how the trilogy came to be without mentioning the ill-fated online game "Origin Worlds Online" (OWO). As the OWO team worked to develop a follow-up to the tremendously popular "Ultima Online," DeOrive was responsible for generating much of the fiction on which the game would be based. It was a daunting task to undertake. Over the years, many die-hard fans of the game had committed much of its history and lore to memory and he was apprehensive about dabbling with their virtual world, unsure of how his changes and introductions to it would be received. "When we first started creating the history, I didn't think we'd be successful," he said. He sat down with the creator of the original Ultima series, Richard Garriott, for his insight into everything from the virtues to jukas. The story, and the game, began to take shape.

DeOrive then contacted his old pal Andrews to pen fiction for the OWO website. (These prequels have now become the basis for Origin's "Lord Blackthorn's Revenge," the recently released expansion for "Ultima Online." This upgrade includes many of the features that OWO would have contained.) Once skeptical fans were able to read Andrews' accounts of the events which would unfold in Britannia and get acquainted with the characters who would participate in them, the reception for the idea of the game warmed considerably. "The prequel really turned the tide," DeOrive remarked. "Austen really turned it around."

Origin decided then to license and market toys and merchandise related to the developing game. The fans having been so enchanted by Andrews' web fiction, he was approached to expand the story through a paperback trilogy to be published by Simon and Schuster. He admits that the decision to accept the commission was not an easy one to make. A devoted father and husband, and the son of a novelist himself, he knew what a tremendous undertaking it would be. He mulled over the decision as long as possible until DeOrive told him that if he didn't accept it, the offer would be passed along to someone else. "I came to my senses," Andrews laughed, "and said, 'Oh my god, I would be crazy to pass this up!'"

Though he had toyed around with some of the Ultima games, he had never tried his hand at "Ultima Online" or any other MMORPG. Most of his gaming experience was through the table top/pencil and paper types. "I started with D&D in 1979 but after I found 'Champions' a couple of years later, I never much went back. Even now, I only GM using 'Hero Games' rules. I also have a fondness for 'Runequest,' which has given me plenty of good times in the last two decades."

Contract-in-hand, he faced the same challenge now that DeOrive had previously: How does one make up a story about people and places borne of another man's imagination? Austen insists it was not as difficult as it may seem. Like having a hotline to God, he found assurance in that the creators of this universe were only a phone call away. "I knew a lot about it because I knew people who worked on it," he said. "This world was created by Aaron, so I didn't have any problem. We were experienced at world building because we had gamed together for so long." DeOrive had written such volumes of material about the realm and its inhabitants that Andrews was able to benefit from the wealth of knowledge already available. "I think it was the background of the whole project. He laid it out so it was a resource for the programmers." And for Andrews.

DeOrive refuses to take that much credit. Though many of the physical aspects of the realm, its races and the Virtues system was established long before Andrews became involved, the depth and richness of the inhabitants were vague. "The team came up with the skeletal story and some of the characters. Austen fleshed them out."

And fleshed them out, he has. From the first chapter of the first book, the reader is immediately drawn into the world of Montenegro, deftly and concisely. Andrews' economy with words and the skill with which he chooses them keeps the story fast-paced and exciting. As he delved into his task of bringing the characters to life, he acknowledges that they often took on lives of their own. Andrews said, "Montenegro was the most forceful of the bunch in terms of resisting my outlines. I had originally intended him to be even more of a bastard than he is. The Virtues are definitely inside him. But Way Master Thulann spoke most clearly to me. I was surprised how robustly she emerged. Deep down inside, I think I must be a sixty-six year-old female martial artist with green skin and no nose." He added, "Montenegro has a line in Book 2 that particularly sticks with me: 'The purpose of great skill is not to win more victories, but to win better victories.' In today's world, the sentiment really resonates, doesn't it?"

The first book was finished and Andrews was two-thirds done with the second when Origin suddenly announced it was pulling the plug on OWO. Wails of lament rang out from the gaming community as the news hit, reminiscent - in a drama queen sort of way - of the scene in "Star Wars" when Alderaan explodes ("I felt a disturbance in the force, like thousands of voices all crying out at once, and suddenly silenced.") Programmers, writers and community liaisons abruptly found themselves out of work. Aaron DeOrive was one of the casualties. Andrews finished Book 2 and set to work on Book 3, which was completed in October and will be released in May.

Though Ultima: The Techno War: Maelstrom will be the final installment in this series by Andrews, he doesn't rule out publishing more books in the future. It's genetic. His father, the science fiction novelist Arlan Keith Andrews, Sr., has an expansive list of works to his credit, including one co-written with his son. When asked what valuable information he gained from his father he would be willing to impart to others who might be entertaining romantic thoughts of becoming a novelist, Andrews was generous with his response. "Now that I'm a father myself, I have a better appreciation for what my own father gave to me. He didn't give me advice about how to be a professional writer. He gave me a living example. I watched him pursue writing in addition to his day job, because writing doesn't generate enough money to live on. [Andrews himself, a Java script programmer, is currently between jobs and doesn't rule out the possibility of accepting employment in the gaming industry.] I watched him chase after his interests in science and engineering, giving him the background to write science fiction, instead of wasting time and sweat being a fan of someone else's work. I watched him network with editors and other writers, which is the proverbial inside track. I watched him market stories often for years at a time because rejection is par for the course."

"More than anything else," he added, "I learned that writing is real, in the sense that it is just another part of mundane, everyday life. There's not much glamor in it. There's definitely not a lot of money in it. You have to write and market stories alongside grocery shopping and paying bills and raising a family. It's filing cabinets and obscure tax forms and dirt-under-your-fingernails work. But once you slog through all that stuff, the sight of your story in print, typeset and illustrated and sitting in a reader's hands, makes all that work seem to vanish. The payoff is personal and tremendous."

Want to get a taste for Austen's work? The following are links to several Prequel Fiction Stories that Austen wrote for the now-cancelled Ultima Online 2 [also called "Ultima Worlds Online: ORIGIN"]. Enjoy!



Blind Virtue - Part I

Ultimate Wisdom - Part II

Indomitable Conscience - Part III

Cataclysm - Part IV


The Matriarch - Serial Part I

From Earth To Sky - Serial Part II

Maelstrom - Serial Part III

Parting The Veils - Serial Part IV


A Forged Race - Serial Part I

Faces of Victory - Serial Part II

Conquest - Serial Part III

Exodus - Serial Part IV


Gilthas - Good evening and welcome to our 32nd Ultima Online Celebrity Chat. The UOCC is a forum wherein we bring to you celebrity guests from the UO community ranging from OSI personnel to famous players from your very own shard. Guests drop by to answer your questions about UO, their experiences in it, and their contribution to the community.
Gilthas - Tonight's question takers are Magellan, Loki, and Valeria - all with in their name. All you need to do is /msg or /query a designated question taker with your question. Please do not ask the other operators, or the guest your questions; they will be ignored!
Gilthas - Our guest tonight will be Austen Andrews, author of the Ultima Technocrat War series and the Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorne's Revenge fiction. While we are waiting for questions, let's give our guest a chance to introduce themselves.
Austen_Andrews - Good evening, everyone. I'm Austen Andrews, author of some of the recent Ultima fiction. My latest release is book 2 of The Technocrat War trilogy, entitled Masquerade. Check online retailers or your local bookstore for a copy.
Gilthas - Hehe.
Austen_Andrews - Thanks to Gilthas and everyone at Stratics for inviting me here tonight. Let's roll. :)

Gilthas - *Kehleyr* Do you have any advice for aspiring authors wanting to get something published, not necessarily UO fiction...
Austen_Andrews - Sure. First of all, craft is 85% of writing. By that I mean, you should learn the basics of writing - plotting, characterization, dialog, etc. There are countless books that can help you.
Austen_Andrews - Read as much as you can about the craft of writing. Then write, write, write. Write every story idea that pops into your head.
Austen_Andrews - Practice is the only way to get good enough to be published. No editor will pay attention to you if your writing doesn't meet the minimum standards.
Austen_Andrews - The other critical thing to remember is to format your work properly. Editors won't read a piece that's sloppy or filled with misspellings. That stuff is easy to do and it can break you if you don't do it right.
Austen_Andrews - I could go on all night, but let's press ahead. :)

Gilthas - *HoustonDragon* I am curious if you plan to write any fiction dealing also with the core Ultima series, similar to the Lynn Abbey books?
Austen_Andrews - No, I've got no plans to write any more Ultima fiction at present, either core or online. I'm basically a hired gun working for OSI. It's their call, and I know of no plans for any more Ultima books.
Austen_Andrews - As for online fiction? Since they publish regular online stories, I may well return for more.

Gilthas - *LordOfTheLlamas* What efforts has austen andrews made to be true to classic ultima fiction (ie from the old pre UO games we all loved)
Austen_Andrews - In the Technocrat War trilogy, I wrote in the milieu designed for the late-great Ultima Worlds Online: Origin project. The UWOO team took great care to make that history resonate with "traditional" Ultima.
Austen_Andrews - One aspect that was weaker in that project, however, was an emphasis on the Virtues. I knew that I could not write an Ultima novel without highlighting the Virtues, so I worked them back in as integrally as I could.
Austen_Andrews - At the same time I wanted to reflect the edgier spirit of the UWOO project. That's why the protagonist of the books is a knight who works very hard to live up to the Virtues, but is not always successful.
Austen_Andrews - I also sprinkled little Easter Eggs throughout the trilogy, bits of old lore that old-timers might smile at. But really, the world created by the UWOO team was so rich and wonderful that I had more than enough material to draw from without reaching back a lot.

Gilthas - *HoustonDragon* Moving to a new subject, the characters, events, places that are in the UO2 books, are they your own creations? Will they be seen/implemented in the UO:LBR system, or will it not use from the UO2 lore?
Austen_Andrews - Some of the character from the books are taken from UO2 (UWOO) lore - Warlord Bahrok, General Nathaniel, Blackthorn of course. But the only UO2 characters that I'm aware of that will appear in LBR have already shown up in the prequel fiction I wrote.
Austen_Andrews - I can't say much about LBR, frankly. One, I've got an NDA, and two, they haven't told me much beyond what I needed for the prequel stuff. :)
Austen_Andrews - I do know that they're trying to capture the proper spirit of the two UWOO races, the Juka and the Meer, which is why I was brought on board.

Gilthas - *Danny5* Are the books a direct representation of what UWO:Origin would have been like, or are they more of your personal view of the world?
Austen_Andrews - That's an interesting question.
Austen_Andrews - To the best of my ability, they represent the world as it would have appeared in the game. I tried to stick close to the monsters and their power levels, the spell lists, etc.
Austen_Andrews - That said, the game was still very much in development while I was writing the books (up until the cancellation, anyway :), so sometimes things would change out from under me.
Austen_Andrews - But myself and Ahriman (the lead writer & world creator) had a philosophy: He created a fantasy world. One depiction of it would appear in the game. Another depiction would appear in the books. Some disconnect was necessary between the two genres.
Austen_Andrews - But overall, I tried to capture the real flavor of the game itself. Heck, I even threw in a PK. :)

Gilthas - *HoustonDragon* On the subject of writing, what was it that inspired you to your profession? As a writer, do you feel you have been sucessful?
Austen_Andrews - Certain writers inspired me as a child -- Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, H. P. Lovecraft. And my father, who's a longtime SF writer himself.
Austen_Andrews - Words have always held magic for me, and my head is always filled with fantasy. Am I successful? Given that I've sold and (almost) published a trilogy, I can't complain. But I've got a long way to go before I'll be able to die happy.

Gilthas - *Renegal_Varler* How did you get selected for LBR fiction etc?
Austen_Andrews - I was working with some Marketing folks at OSI concerning the novels, when they started to work on the McFarlane contributions. I suppose I was the obvious choice, being as I was popping into the office anyway on other business. At the time, I probably knew more about the Meer and the Juka than anyone else at the company. :)
Austen_Andrews - I think it says something about their respect for the UWOO fans that they brought me on to "bridge the gap" as it were, to make sure the spirit of UWOO was reflected in the new incarnation.

Gilthas - *Nec|bbl* How old were you when you wrote your first fantasy?
Austen_Andrews - I wrote my first stories as a young kid. I was in high school when I wrote what I would consider my first real fantasy stories. I finished my first novel at 24, though it will never see the light of day. :)
Austen_Andrews - I'm 34 now, if it matters.

Gilthas - *HoustonDragon* You've mentioned that in the UO2 trilogy you've left Easter eggs from the original lore. What research went into preparing you to be able to write the story?
Austen_Andrews - I played the old games when I took the contract, though to be honest I didn't have the time to play them all through. So I actually scoured the web for a lot of my research. Kudos to the Dragons and many others for some nice sites!
Austen_Andrews - Of course I had already played many of the old games when they came out and spent a fair amount of time in UO.

Gilthas - *ArizailD* In your books have you tried using any elements from existing ultima fan fictions?
Austen_Andrews - I didn't use anything from fan fictions per se, though I did spend a lot of time reserahcing the actual histories of different shards. I'm sure I dropped a mention or two of names or events that must have appeared in some fan works.

Gilthas - As a reminder, or question takers tonight are [QT]Magellan, [QT]Loki, and [QT]Valeria - send 'em in!

Gilthas - *Kog* What gave you the idea to turn blackthorn into a living machine/cyborg guy?
Austen_Andrews - That wasn't my idea. The UWOO team came up with the tech side of things. I don't know for certain, but I'm guessing Starr Long had a hand in it, as the character was based on him. :) Then Ahriman fleshed out the character. After that they contracted McFarlane's people to do some designs for it, one of which is terrorizing UO as we speak.
Austen_Andrews - I should mention this:
Austen_Andrews - And I might get in trouble for it, but ...
Austen_Andrews - I'd like to set the record straight on who created the characters of Adranath, Kabur and Dasha. Ahriman, the Minister of Fiction, created everything about those characters except the visuals.
Austen_Andrews - McFarlane did a fantastic job of visualizing them, but he didn't create them.

Gilthas - *Danny5* I was an avid follower of UWO:Origins, but I never quite figured out the technocrats. They are a mix of Juka and humans. What I don't understand is why they don't have the physical grace, or other traits of jukan and human society?
Austen_Andrews - The Technocrats are a fairly new society, less than 80 years at the time of the trilogy. They were created when Blackthorn took control of the remnants of the old Juka/Overlord civilization. At that time, both Blackthorn's humans and the former-slave Juka abandoned their old ways and followed the new path of the Machine.
Austen_Andrews - Meanwhile the Juka who formed into clans vigorously revived their ancient traditions of honor and martial arts. In a sense, the Technocrats and the Juka clans deliberately went down opposite paths.
Austen_Andrews - The Technocrats abandoned the "primitive" notions of nobility and individuality and all those things that stand in the way of logic and Order.

Gilthas - Ok folks, this'll be our last question.

Gilthas - *HoustonDragon* Concerning the Technocrats/Juka/etc, the fiction deals with the past, present, and future being combined due to the spell Lord British attempted. Is there any further plans to expand the Lord Blackthorn character in your books?
Austen_Andrews - Only in the third book of the trilogy. I wish I had the luxury of writing more, but I'm happy with Blackthorn's role in book 3, which is due out in May. The scene that's most fun is when we see him cut loose in a crowd of enemies. Needless to say, it does not go well for the enemies. :)

Gilthas - Ok folks, that'll do it!
Gilthas - This concludes tonight's Ultima Online Celebrity Chat. Thanks to all of you for attending tonight, and special thanks to our guest(s) for coming and answering questions, and our question takers for their work.
Gilthas - Please send an e-mail to [email protected] if you have any suggestions regarding future topics or guests. Tonight's log will be posted at shortly. Have a wonderful night everyone!
Austen_Andrews - Thanks for having me. Look for book 2 in stores now, and book 3 in May!