I hadn’t looked at Nightwind in nearly a decade when I decided to post it here. I was honestly expecting to be embarrassed. At the time I wrote the novel I didn’t read that much fiction. My main written touch points were Arthur C. Clarke, the Star Wars extended universe, and, of all things, the BattleTech novels. It’s pretty obvious to me as I look back that the true influences were television, specifically Babylon 5, Space: Above and Beyond, and Star Trek.
I’m re-watching Babylon 5 right now, literally as a write this. I’m in the middle of season 2. It’s pretty much one of the best things that ever happened to science fiction. Take that for what you will.
Taking influence from sci-fi television is both positive and negative. In re-reading the book it’s obvious to me that the positive comes in the form of visualization. I knew how to compose a scene in my head and because I knew how to do that I knew how to describe it with a certain level of competence. It’s equally obvious that the negative comes in the form of time. We’ll get to this more later, but one of the things I’ve realized about TV and movies is that the viewer engages in, for a lack of a better notion, an agreement with the creator. We all know that a television show has an hour, minus commercial breaks, to solve the problem and add in a b-plot. So if the hero just so happens to be in the exact right place at the exact right time…well, that’s just expedient. Books have more time, both to develop the plot and to allow the hero to find what he or she needs. The reader also has more time than the television viewer to see such plot expedience and say, “Wait, what?”
So as we take this journey through the Nightwind’s universe it’s best to be aware that, yes, I realize that there are problems with the book and that, first and foremost, the tendency towards, “This happened because plot,” creates problems. It helps to remember that I was 19 when I started writing the book and had a lot to learn.
Given that, let’s talk about what I’m proud of.
I’ve read a lot of sci-fi, or, more accurately, speculative fiction, since I wrote Nightwind and most of it was pretty damn good. For starters, I’ve read every piece of fiction John Scalzi’s written that I’m aware of, from the Old Man’s War books to his various and sundry short stories. I’ve read Mira Grant’s Newsflesh books two or three times. Add Ernest Clyne’s Ready Player One, the Expanse Series by “James S A Corey,” The Forever War, and any number of other sci-fi books to the mix and we’re talking about some of the best sci-fi novels of recent years.
There are sections of Nightwind that stand up to the best of what I’ve read. The book as a whole isn’t particularly great. I flogged some pretty crazy plot points and made some silly mistakes. I made some laughably bad decisions. On balance, though, I enjoyed the hell out of my dive back into the Nightwind universe.
I opened up the file on my laptop and couldn’t stop reading. I’m excited to have the opportunity to discuss the points where I triumphed. I’m even more excited to discuss the points where I failed. Were I to write the book today I would do many things differently. That doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me more, though, is that there are a whole lot of things I would keep more or less the same. This is how I learn and improve as a writer.
Before we begin we should talk about the book itself. I initially conceived of it as a single story. I don’t specifically remember what that story was, as it’s been a while, but I imagine it was fairly close to the story that I ended up writing. I decided that there was far more to the story and turned it into a duology. Eventually I conceived of a trilogy, called the Earthrise Saga, with each book focusing on one of three ships: the Nightwind, then the Starfire, then the Belden. I actually got a decent way into the writing of Starfire, but never quite got the plot of Belden figured out.
This, of course, changed the nature of Nightwind. It was no longer a self-contained story, but the first part in a saga. I decided to spend more time on the introduction of secondary characters, especially Elizabeth Turner of the Starfire and Robert Hunt of the Belden. I also decided to introduce a larger collection of alien races and spend more time working on galactic history.
The first place where this decision shows up is with the introduction of Jason Tanaka. He initially showed up as a supporting character. After I finished the original draft of Nightwind I wrote a couple short stories, one of which focused on Tanaka’s time in school and his initial conception of the Nightwind. I decided to incorporate that particular short story into the beginning of the actual novel. I did a kind of terrible job of that at first, as when I initially opened the file there were two chapter 1s. I decided to make it part of the prologue because it made all kinds of sense. Or, at least, it was the most workable solution to the problem I had of wanting to include the section but not wanting it to be chapter 1.
So that’s the start. Anything else will have to wait until later.
I think that I’m one of about twelve people on the planet who remembers Space: Above and Beyond. It lasted for a season in the mid-‘90s at a time when televised sci-fi that wasn’t created by Gene Rodenberry or J Michael Straczynski didn’t make it very far and the JMS sci-fi only did so because, and I cannot stress this enough, Babylon 5 was one of the greatest science fiction things every created. Space: Above and Beyond was top-notch military sci-fi that delved deeply into the questions sci-fi has always asked better than any other media. I recently re-watched it and was blown away by how well it holds up. If you happen to find it anywhere I strongly recommend you take the time to watch.
Also, from time to time, “What, what? In the butt.”
A.K.A. Seanan Maguire, because apparently different sub-genres must be written with pseudonyms.
Take my money. Take all my money.
Speaking of “heavily influenced by Babylon 5,” think of Nightwind as “Babylon 5 with Starfury engines strapped to the back.” That’s not really what it was, but the initial idea of a starship with a rotating torus and quad engines on the back? Yeah. If nothing else, I still think the Starfury is one of the coolest sci-fi space fighters of all time.
This also allows me to point out one of the biggest flaws in Babylon 5: the human gravity generation systems. The eponymous space station is a classic rotating torus that uses centrifugal force to create false gravity. The observation dome, though, somehow has gravity in spite of the fact that it’s in the exact center of the torus. The gravitational force would be much lower to nonexistent in the center of the torus. Similarly, the Omega-class destroyers and Explorer-class ships had a rotating section but seemed to have gravity throughout, which is basically completely impossible according to physics. But, y’know, what are ya gonna do?