The stories behind the stories

Overdraft: “Human Error”

“Wondrous diversity in the galaxy. Nobody can use the same tailor.” — Bridget Yang

Overdraft: “Human Error”

What happens when a military force gets sent the wrong species’ armor? My first story in the Overdraft universe.
First published by Baen Books • March 27, 2012
Written by John Jackson Miller

Faraway Press edition cover by Shawn Williams

Baen edition edited by John Joseph Adams

In 2011, after the Star Wars: Knight Errant novel came out, I was contacted by science-fiction editor John Joseph Adams, who was compiling a new book of power-armor themed stories, Armored. As I had written for Iron Man and many stories about Mandalorians, he was interested in seeing what I might be able to contribute.

Now, I had been writing stories — short and long — using worlds I’d created for most of my life; I never wrote fan fiction as a teenager or adult, only material using original characters and situations. It was my fiction set in other people’s sandboxes, however, that got me published eight years earlier, and I had written exclusively for other publishers for all the time after that. I’d been meaning to branch out, however, and I welcomed the opportunity to write something — especially for a book with stories from such illustrious authors.

The story presented in “Human Error” is intended to be lighter in tone than most of the action stories in the volume, centering as it does on a clerical error. That error was suggested by friend and occasional assistant Cathe Smith: what if a team of armored warriors was sent the wrong species’ armor? It’s a great thing to wonder about — and I quickly built it into the world seen in this story, featuring Bridgie Yang and her Surge Team.

An interesting thing is that even though the story runs 22 pages in the book, there’s a fully imagined science fiction environment here. I needed to know how the Signatory Council worked, how interstellar travel worked, what the knockboxes and knowglobes did — and how those things fit into the lives of our very human characters. I also wanted to describe a milieu where the other aliens were very alien — there’s not a lot of bumpy-headed humans in this realm.

So there’s a lot more to the world seen here — and while some fantasy worlds are created for one story and out, I do expect to return to it again.

By the time the Armored anthology was published in March 2012, I was already underway with several more fiction projects of my own. I suppose I didn’t need a single project to kick me into gear in that regard, but it certainly helped.

The Overdraft: The Orion Offensive serial launched the following March in 2013, and at that point I released “Human Error” as a stand-alone work for Kindle.

“Not what we ordered.” — Temmons

Cathe Smith, who suggested the dilemma for this story, asked for one thing in return: that I include a character named Skippy. And Skippy is the Great Spore.

It’s true that starfish are from the class Asteroidea. Sometimes you find out fun things doing research.

The absence of the instantaneous interstellar transfer of information — subspace, et. al — is one of the keys to this milieu, setting up a number of fun situations like this one. I very much like the thought of space opera crossed with what the sailing ships faced in olden times: you don’t know a ship has left until it arrives.

We learn a little bit about life back home from tiny bits of dialogue here: “zoo-bear” indicates that wherever back home is for Bridgie, there’s not a lot of wildlife running loose.

We also see something of the international nature of the world back home through the crew: O’Herlihy, the hulking good ol’ boy, is from Beijing — not Chief Yang.

The idea for “Human Error” was hatched during Midsouthcon 29 in Memphis; the book was released the following year in time for Midsouthcon 30, where Michael Stackpole and I were both in attendance.