Teaching an Old Story New Tricks: Media Influences on Birthright

Today's guest post is by a friend and fellow blogger, Professor Beej.  When he's not writing awesome geekery over at his blog he's busy writing fiction.  Not only does he have a serial novel in the works but he has an ongoing Kickstarter for his cross-genre novel, Birthright.  That's what I asked him to talk about today.

I love pop culture and geek media. Love it. I love the stories, the settings, the themes, the characters, all of it--and because of that, my novel Birthright is the exactly the kind of book I’d want to read.

Now hear me out. I’m not saying that in a self-aggrandizing or egotistical kind of way; I’m just saying that so that you get an idea of what kind of book it is. Because if you’re a pop culture fanatic like me, I think there’s something in Birthright for you, too.

In fact, I think there’s a lot of somethings in Birthright for you. You see, when Void asked me for a guest post about media influences, I thought it would be easy. After all, I describe the book as Ender’s Game meets The Lord of the Rings.

But as I really started writing about and digging into these pop culture and geek media influences, the more I realized how indebted I am to these works. Because without them my work wouldn’t exist. Couldn’t exist.

And so, in no particular order, I’ve narrowed down 5 major (non-MMO) media influences on Birthright.


Let me just get this one out there. You can’t really talk about cross-genre fiction without starting with Firefly. Joss Whedon’s cult-masterpiece is far too ingrained in the popular geek consciousness to avoid. So what role exactly did Firefly play in Birthright’s creation?

Well, primarily, I was able to look at Firefly to see the perfect example of worldbuilding. The Western conventions were never explicitly explained any more than the science-fiction ones were. They don’t explain why there are cattle-rustlers in space; there just are.

So in Birthright, I didn’t think it was necessary to explain why there are SF trappings like holograms and laser guns in a fantasy world. There just are. That’s just the world of Erlon.

Star Wars

I almost didn’t include Star Wars on this list of influences because it’s almost a cliche to say that Star Wars influenced me as a science-fiction writer. Because Star Wars has influenced every single science-fiction writer since 1977 in one way or another.

But I couldn’t leave it off. Not with as big a Star Wars fan as I am, and especially not with one of my lifelong dreams being to write a Star Wars novel. Cliche or not, Star Wars is a part of Birthright.

But what kind of part? Well, that’s kind of hard to pin down because Star Wars kind of permeates our popular consciousness.  It’s SF with a hero growing up, mysticism and pseudomagic, and an underlying theme of inherent ambiguity in good and evil.

And, like one of my readers pointed out, the villain even has the initials DV. Which I swear to you was unintentional.

Lord of the Rings

What’s a fantasy novel without an epic quest, right?

Tolkien did a lot for literature. Maybe even more than you realize. Not only was he the great-grandaddy of the high-fantasy quest and more genre conventions than we can shake a trope at, but he’s also the reason that us English teachers make students read Beowulf.

That’s right. Tolkien’s essay on the now-classic poem claimed that the important aspects of the poem weren’t the histories, but the monsters.

I love that idea, so I wanted to expand on it by bringing “the monsters” in Birthright to the forefront. In Birthright, the villain actually gets PoV chapters instead of being hidden away in a dark tower somewhere or presented through the goody-goody bias of the hero.

Ender’s Game

When I read Ender’s Game for the first time, I was struck by the idea of Battle School. I just loved the concept beind an isolated, high-tech academy for training the soldiers of tomorrow.

So in Birthright, I have the Inkwell Sigil, a ship traveling through the space between Instances, a ship separated quite literally from anything and everything else, where newly recruited technomages are trained for their service in the Archive.

Plus, as a different kind of homage to OSC and what he did with Battle School, the story starts out at Ennd’s Academy and circles back there from time to time.

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series, like Ender’s Game, influenced Birthright with its unique take on a school setting. Nothing in my series is a direct parallel to Hogwarts, so put that out of your mind. Instead, I wanted Ennd’s Academy and the Inkwell Sigil and all other locations in the novel to feel like Hogwarts.

Remember how it felt to read the scene where Harry first enters the Great Hall and sees the enchanted ceiling? Remember that sense of wonder?

That’s what I am going for in Birthright. I wanted a sense of awe and wonder about the setting from the very beginning. And not just from the readers. I wanted the characters to experience that awe and wonder, too. Be sure to check out the sample chapters of Birthright and judge for yourself how well I did.


Obviously. After a life of geekdom, I know there are tons of others out there. From Stargate SG-1 to Michael Crichton’s Prey to Herbert’s Dune to pretty much anything that’s ever appeared in a SyFy original movie. It’s all in Birthright. Somehow.

Because there are no new stories. Just old stories told in new ways. And I think my new way is pretty freaking awesome.

B.J. Keeton is currently running a  Kickstarter campaign for Birthright, the firstbook in The Technomage Archive series.  He is is a writer, blogger, and teacher. When he isn’t trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he writes science fiction, watches an obscene amount of genre television, and is always on the lookout for new ways to integrate pop culture into the classroom. B.J. lives in a small town in Tennessee with his wife and a neighborhood of stray cats, and he blogs about pop culture, geek media, and awesomeness at professorbeej.com.


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