My friend Aviva Rothschild recently published a sequel to her Beatles/gaming novel With Strings Attached. It's called The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. She's here to discuss some of the themes in Keys. Take it away, Aviva!
Many thanks to Sandra for giving me this space today!
Almost six years ago I finished what turned out to be a 29-year project: the Beatles fanfic fantasy novel, With Strings Attached, or The Big Pink Job. I'd always had sequels in mind, and I had gotten started on the first one while finishing up Strings. It went through several name changes (not to mention plot changes), but I settled on The Keys Stand Alone. Because it's turning out to be longer than Strings, I decided to split it into two volumes; hence, the first volume is now The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. (The second volume will be Keys: The Hard World.) It is currently available in a Kindle version on Amazon, and I intend to have the hard copy version done within a few days.
Strings followed our heroes in 1980, when they suddenly found themselves thrown together on a planet called C'hou, sixteen years younger and terrified out of their minds. One thing led to another, and by the end of the book they'd been considerably empowered and had accomplished a universe-spanning quest to remove a curse from a continent... though their actions resulted in even greater changes to the entirety of C'hou, as well as changes to themselves and their peace of mind. Changes that they would confront ten weeks later in Keys, after having been sent back to Earth in their original bodies. While those days had been slipping by here, C'hou saw almost six years go by, and our heroes quickly discover that now nearly everything is different, including the landscape and the inhabitants.
Not to mention the war that had broken out in the interim between the newly established White and Black Towers. And the huge swarm of outworlders who had been imported by the enfeebled White Tower gods to fight for them, but who tended to fight one another more than the Black Tower and its minions.
So here come our peace-minded heroes, more powerful than nearly everyone else but absolutely opposed to the violence around them. Imagine their horror when they're told by the gods that they must help one of the outworlder Power Groups defeat the Black Tower, or they'll never get home!
Strings touched upon a lot of the themes in Keys, but with more time to mull everything over, I did my best to more fully examine certain problems inherent in both the situation and in the kind of empowerment that our heroes experienced. For example, what is good? What is evil? How contextual are they? What happens when people, especially powerful people rubbing up against one another, have very different definitions of good and evil? Is pacifism always good, or are there times when it could be considered evil? I do not and cannot provide answers, but hopefully I convey how complicated such questions are, and how seeing things in simple black-and-white terms is fairly useless in real-world situations.
Keys is also sort of a parallel to the middle part of the Beatles experience, in that what they once found fun and exciting in Strings has now become much more toxic, if not outright deadly. Again, the toxicity is both internal and external to them. Not only must they deal with magic that can be dangerously unreliable—or worse, dangerously seductive—but they find that nearly everyone wants something from them. And quite often, what people want is not something that our heroes want to give....
At least, though, they have each other. At least they can trust one another. If Keys does nothing else, it reestablishes what a tight unit the four can be, and had been at their peak. It reminds readers that whatever their differences, the four loved one another deeply and shared something that no one else can really fully comprehend.
The Kindle edition of The Keys Stand Alone is here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MROVWSZ
Curious about With Strings Attached, or want to buy a copy in one of several different formats? http://www.rationalmagic.com/Strings/Strings.html
The Facebook page for Strings, which includes some artwork not in the book or on the website: https://www.facebook.com/With-Strings-Attached-Fan-Page-111118925586155/
Aviva's Bio: Aviva Rothschild is the world's most overeducated fanfic writer. In the past she worked as a book editor, technical writer, and (briefly) website designer. Currently she writes, makes soap, and sells stuff on eBay in the store “Gatsby's Great Stuff.” Besides her Beatles writing, she's known for having written the very first bibliography of graphic novels, Graphic Novels: A Bibliographic Guide to Book-Length Comics. Naturally, she collects graphic novels. She also collects musical theatre recordings on CDs and other musical formats.