Everyone loves a good villain, whether that means unflinchingly evil, completely twisted, or working for the wrong side. I’m rarely able to introduce a character I can’t connect with, so my villains tend to have more going for them than a will to cause harm. This is not always true, but in Samuel’s case it very much is.
My father, who read an early draft of Shafter, identified a little too much with Samuel and so couldn’t face him turning out to be the bad guy. The released version is a little clearer about his path, but I worked hard to keep that person my father identified with for various reasons.
Samuel is not evil. He’s not a shadow in the corner waiting to leap out at the innocent folks who wander by. Many would look at his wealth, respected position, and command of First City and think his life perfect. They could not be more wrong.
You have only to look a little deeper to see the cracks in his perfection.
He’s a failure as a father. He tried to crush his first son’s independence and drove Jared away. On the heels of that disaster, he indulged his second son so much Paul has little sense of character.
He’s driven by the expectations of ancestors (more by the myths than reality), and all he can see is how he will never measure up.
The original Samuel established this colony after he rose to power through disaster. Mechanical failures, combined with alien viruses, transformed what started as a well-supplied, well-funded colony expedition into a struggle for survival. Few of the elite colonists had any experience in real work. That first Samuel bought his way onto the vessel with money of the type the others scorned. It came from hard labor as much as inheritance. When the colonists had to face their true circumstances, though, Samuel and his family knew how to do what was necessary to establish a working settlement.
It’s a heavy legacy to bear, especially as their accessible resources have been tapped by the time Samuel inherits the position as grand polit. The young folks don’t see this as a challenge to overcome, looking instead to the stars and colonies of their own as Trina’s father had done. They didn’t care about the doctrines that pulled survival out of disaster, finding them out-of-date and limiting.
Samuel doesn’t want to be the one in charge when everything sinks back into the sands as if Ceric had never been colonized. Neither can he throw away what his ancestor created out of nothing. He can’t deny the doctrines laid down in the name of God. Those doctrines were necessary to carve a life out of the harsh, untouched planet they’d been given when little machinery remained. He held to them now out of respect and gratitude.
Letting spacers establish a base on Ceric, as his father had done, already threatened the principles underlying their colony. The weakness of relying on machinery didn’t stand out when seeing a small group of spacers bring forth buildings from the sand, and the hulking space ships landing and jumping off into the unknown. If not for that decision, the younger generations might never have looked to the stars. Samuel had seen the consequences of his father’s choice first hand. How could he make a similar one to let spacers bring the very machinery that had failed the first colonists into their lives? How could he let machinery extract the resources which lay deeper beneath the soil, denied to them within their doctrines?
But how could he not? Without the infusion of something new, Ceric would die under his watch, and the other polits refuse to recognize what the future holds. They refuse to make the hard choices, and will not let him make them for all of Ceric.
His is an uncomfortable position, and it’s one he’s put all his life toward shoring up. Samuel could have been like those who relished their wealth and position with little thought to the future, but it’s not his way. He’s responsible to the people he commands, but also to the memory of those who came before.
Meeting his lost granddaughter does much to shake his convictions, but it cannot change the person he was raised to be. She reminds him of what he lost in trying to press Jared into the image of a proper polit, but even that is not enough to lift the weight of the original Samuel’s gaze.
He’s a complicated person with pressures many can identify with. He also has some lovely moments of compassion and delight. It’s his choices that ultimately determine his fate. Villain or hero, there is a fine line between good intentions and good choices that can as easily tip toward the worse self as the better.
If you haven’t had the chance to meet Samuel, you’ll find his story unfolds in Shafter. The start of Seeds Among the Stars is available in eBook and print wherever you purchase your books. I do hope you sympathize with Samuel, as he deserves your sympathy, but his is not a path to follow, no matter how much his reasons seem sound at first.