Several months after I joined Water Dragon Publishing the editor invited me to submit a manuscript to their shared-world anthology The Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. This was just as the first other stories were being prepared to appear. But I was game to give it a try. It sounded like a lot of fun.

Patricia Monk wrote an interesting review of shared universes in 1990 and concluded that they represent an extension of collaborative writing that can become an effective way to foster in-group bonding among authors. And they can be an effective way to help readers bridge the gap to becoming writers.

I hadn’t been there for any of the initial discussions and creation of the shared-world setting so I didn’t really have any idea what it was all about. But, in a couple of days, I knocked out a weird short story and ran it by the editor, who was enthusiastic. It was about a somewhat odd man named David who is trying stop a bad guy from selling non-human biological androids, called “Little Angels,” as sex slaves.

David knew from past experience that the “Little Angels” did not exhibit a programming interface. All androids, whether biological or mechanical, were required by law to exhibit a public programming interface, even if locked, that would allow anyone to confirm their status and the responsible party: the owner or manager of the android. But it wasn’t just a feature of daytime dramas for rogue androids to have their interface turned off.

from Better Angels

By the end of the story (not to give too much away), the Little Angels have been rescued and have been returned to their original mission as singing and dancing idols called “Better Angels”.

It was just a short story, only available on-line as an eBook, but I really enjoyed writing it. And I particularly enjoyed playing with the characters. As a daily writing exercise I participate in the #vss365 group, which offers a prompt word every day. Early on, I actually found participating very helpful to let me sharpen my ability to tell an actual story with a problem, rising tension, and some kind of payoff — in just a few characters. I found myself telling some Better Angels stories this way.

In many of them, the Angels make David’s life difficult:

“Play dodgeball, David!” the Better Angels called.
Reluctantly, David joined the game. One by one, the girls were eliminated until it was just David and Zaza.
Zaza tossed it to David who tried to not catch it, but it stuck to his hands.
“I’m out!” shrieked Zaza. “David wins!”
“Wait! Who covered the ball with glue?”

Or where Zaza is one step ahead of the other Angels:

“Let me hold your hand, David!” Zaza said. David held his hand out and Zaza took it.
“No fair! No fair!” the other Angels called, crowding around.
“Here!” David said. “You can each have a finger.”
After two steps, Zaza said, “I have a thumb!”
“No fair! No fair!”
David sighed.

Most of them could have the caption “Poor David”:

“What should we eat tonight?” David asked.
“Fun Meals!” shrieked the Angels.
“No!” David said, putting his foot down. “You need a balanced diet. You can’t keep eating Fun Meals everyday!”
“Look, David,” Zaza said with a sly look, opening the replicator. “We already made Fun Meals for tonight. But we made you a Fun Dinner.”

For Halloween that year, a friend persuaded to me to write a Better Angels story which I did:

The lights suddenly cut out and there was darkness. There were a handful of screams in the giant space. Then the drums started up and the space stadium erupted with cheers. The bass picked up the beat. Then a spotlight stabbed down illuminating Zaza, wearing a pink-and-blue magical girl costume. She made a dramatic gesture and the stage lights came up, illuminating the rest of the Better Angels who struck a pose while the crowd went wild. They moved smoothly into their first number, a cover of a favorite PuzzyCure song.

The Better Angels and the Very Scary Halloween

My editor was interested enough that he encouraged me to write a few more stories. And then I found I couldn’t stop. He finally suggested constructing an anthology to contain them all. Eventually we got to sixteen and I thought a title might be The Better Angels and Sixteen Seriously Sweet and Significantly Sanguinary Stories Set on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. My editor suggested that would simplify creating artwork for the cover, since there wouldn’t be room for any. But then I wrote one more story so the number wouldn’t work anyway. And, after much discussion we settled on Better Angels: Tour de Force. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

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