The Big Idea: Jason Fry

Intergenerational family dynamics — in spaaaaace! This might sound like an odd combination at first blush, but with any idea, it’s the execution of the concept that matters. Author Jason Fry is here to tell you how he made it work in his new middle grade novel The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra.


The Jupiter Pirates, my middle-grade space-fantasy series, didn’t start with a big idea at all, but a little one. While walking through Hudson River Park with my wife Emily, I mused that it might be fun to write a kids’ book about space pirates. We chatted about that and the ideas started clack-clack-clacking into place, in a faintly miraculous way that almost never happens to me or any other writer.

“Space pirates” became “a family of space pirates.” Then “a family of space pirates” became “there’s a family starship – the mother’s the captain, the father’s the first mate, and the children are midshipmen.” And then the last domino: “As a ship’s crew, the children have to cooperate. But they’re also competitors. The rank of captain is handed down from one generation to the next, and only one of the children will be the next captain.”

Emily and I looked at each other. That did sound like fun. In fact, it sounded like a lot of fun.

Starting with that little idea, I layered in ingredients inspired by stories I loved. Star Wars went into the mix, of course – I was eight years old when the original hit theaters and have written some two dozen Star Wars books, so it was guaranteed to be in there somewhere. There was a helping of Treasure Island and all its descendents, a pinch of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and even a dash of “The Sopranos.”

But the big idea came later, while I was writing what would become The Hunt for the Hydra. My first glimpse of it came as I figured out the backstory. When my protagonist Tycho Hashoone was a baby, there was a big battle in which warships from Earth ambushed and destroyed many of the Jupiter pirates. After that the Jovian Union outlawed piracy, but gave some of the surviving pirates letters of marque as lawful privateers. The family patriarch, Huff Hashoone, was so badly injured that half his body was replaced with cybernetic parts and he had to step aside as captain. His daughter Diocletia was raised a pirate but became the captain of a privateer. And her children – Carlo, Yana and Tycho – would grow up thinking of piracy as a thing of the past.

And that’s where my mind started to go beyond carbines and tattoos and unironic uses of “Arrrr!” (Though all those things have been great fun.) The kids are privateers, learning space law and standards of conduct. Their grandfather is an unreconstructed pirate, given to grousing that the end of piracy was the ruin of the family tradition. Their mother and father are caught in the middle, ex-pirates trying to teach their children to stay on the right side of the law.

That made for a basic, fundamental family conflict beyond the competition to be the next captain. And that, in turn, showed me the path I wanted for my protagonist.

Tycho is 12 years old in Hunt for the Hydra, insecure about his skills and doubtful that he can eclipse his twin sister or his older brother in the struggle to become captain. Hunt for the Hydra starts as a mystery (with a side of courtroom drama) and ends with a hammer-and-tongs fight between warships and their crews. By the time it’s over, Tycho’s learned he has capabilities he hasn’t guessed at, and that some of his skills are more important to commanding a starship crew than he thinks.

I think that makes for a satisfying story — but there’s also a shadow of what’s to come for Tycho. He’s trying to measure up to his famous grandfather and his formidable parents, but he’s not growing up the way they did. As he gets older, Tycho will start to question the value of the Hashoone family tradition. He’ll discover family mysteries and become obsessed with solving them, even though he might be better off leaving them alone. He and his siblings will wind up valuing very different things. And he’ll ask himself hard questions about what he thinks is right and what he really wants.

That’s the big idea that came into focus: What happens to the hero’s journey if the hero changes his mind? I think answering that question will lead to a more believable path than those taken by some heroes, one with unexpected roadblocks and detours and a chance of getting thoroughly lost. That’s something I think kids will understand – you’re a different person at 18 than you are at 12. Now, it’s my job to make sure future books in the series fulfill the promise of that idea, while making sure Hunt for the Hydra feels like a first step and not a feint in a different direction.

The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Visit the official site, or download an excerpt. Jason’s site is here. Follow him on Twitter.

16 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jason Fry”

  1. Sounds like it has a touch of Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones, which is a good thing to have a touch of. That book, still read by me on a regular basis, is still an excellent example of “juvenile” fiction. Looking forward to this.

  2. “What happens to the hero’s journey if the hero changes his mind?”

    Rejection of the Call is a standard part of the monomyth, but it presumes that the hero eventually comes around. Is it still the hero’s journey if the path the hero takes isn’t the one that the external forces want for him/her? I wonder – maybe it’s not really rejecting the call if you eventually come around to Do Great Things, even if they’re not the ones “the gods” or whoever are expecting of you.

  3. I recommended this book to a pirate-loving friend who will borrow a child of the right age, if necessary, in order to read it.

  4. Many thanks, folks — apologies for being a poor correspondent, today was the post-holiday travel day. It’s an immense relief to have the book actually be out instead of being a theoretical thing to agonize over.

    The point about the hero’s journey and rejecting the call is a very good one. It’s a bit of a tricky storytelling challenge: Having my protagonist come to question family tradition and want to find his own path is an important part of the series narrative, yet I also want readers who invest the time to read five books to wind up with a satisfying conclusion to the hero’s journey.

    I think I’ve figured out how to thread that particular needle, but working it out is still the stuff of much muttering and pacing.

  5. When my protagonist Tycho Hashoone was a baby, there was a big battle in which warships from Earth ambushed and destroyed many of the Jupiter pirates.

    What, they sneaked up on them (in the depths of space while firing their rockets)? They hid behind an asteroid and waited for them to pass close by?

    How EXACTLY do you credibly “ambush” anyone in space?

  6. The latter, more or less. Jupiter Pirates is space fantasy — the ships dogfight as if they were in atmosphere, asteroid fields are hellacious obstacle courses, and other Lucasian touches. Totally understand if that’s a deal-breaker for you.

  7. Ok, Mr. Fry, I’m sold. This book is on my list. I do love a good soft sci-fi novel.

  8. Sounds creative and nice take on soft sf. Can I ask why you chose to take that route? Seems like an entertaining series with a hard sf real world astronomy planetology will be a rewarding niche to aim at…

  9. Thanks Tf — all I can say is that route felt right. I could be all fancy about it, but any answer would come down to that.

    Perhaps because I was writing for kids, in initially shaping the Jupiter Pirates setting I drew inspiration from a number of books/movies that I loved enough from my own childhood (and sometimes later) to get lost in — pirate stories, Star Wars, adventure tales of wooden ships/iron men, and more. (It’s funny what random things bubble up here and there.) But in each case, I took the stuff I wanted and left the rest. That applied to physics too. (Though the planets and moons are depicted fairly realistically, at least according to what we know now. Even though JP is space opera, that felt right to me.)

    I agree that a hard sf niche for a series like this would be pretty rewarding — it’s just not my niche.

    I’d be beyond thrilled if Jupiter Pirates got enough attention for a scientist to call the series on the carpet for a point-by-point review of its creative licenses. As a kid, I always loved those examinations of favorite sci-fi series. At least in my case, they made me appreciate real-world science more without diminishing my enjoyment of space opera.

  10. I very rarely read these Big Idea posts, mostly because my reading list is long enough as it is, and I can’t afford to buy books anyway, so I’ll have to wait for a library copy if my crappy library in fact even gets it. But every now and then I end up reading one anyway, and they almost without fail sound awesome. This one more so than usual. I don’t even care what reading level it’s for, I will definitely be looking out for this.

  11. Jason –

    Totally understand; have to go where the muse leads.

    I don’t have any little ones, but if I did, I would point them toward your story – maybe a series?


  12. I finished this a couple days ago. Great fun, and it ended too soon for me (but that’s probably the right length for the target audience).

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