Nightwind Follow-Up, Chapters 7 and 8

Chapter 7 was originally supposed to follow directly from chapter 5 and, I suppose, create a sort of mini-arc in the story alongside the old chapter 7, currently chapter 8. It was, in short, an attempt to set up the main conflict of the book. So let us begin with the disclaimer: the primary problem I see now in chapter 7 is that it clearly exists in a universe that is way, way too small. But that’s not really where I want to start.

Let us, instead, start with Horatio Semmes. I created him because I loved the idea of an overly specific name and backstory and wanted to create a character who was attempting to fit that mold. I think that over the course of the original book he became my absolute favorite character. This actually kind of sucks because in his storyline he just kind of lurches from tragedy to tragedy and most of those tragedies are completely and totally unnecessary. In one part it’s even probably impossible, but we’ll get to that later. He also ended up being something of an inconsistent character because it’s really hard to write outlandishly outsized characters. I also had a hard time deciding if he was the iconoclast who kept fucking over his own career or the guy everyone loved and respected who stayed where he was to teach the young’uns. Overall, though, Horatio stays in the picture, outlandish name and all.[1]

Either way, Horatio steps into a story that’s far too small for his personality. Basically, I wanted humanity to be on the verge of a disaster and Horatio in the classic position of a man racing against the clock and human nature. The problem is that the universe I created was far, far too small for this story. So I solved and created several problems all at once in a single chapter. Because I’m brilliant like that.

The Earth Command Navy had all of 4 ships. These ships were the only 4 warships in the entire solar system. This makes setting up a convoy and getting supplies out to the hapless colonies pretty easy. So I dealt with that through the simple expediency of getting the captains of 2 of the ships out of the way and having everyone mutiny. I guess. That’s a really stupid plot point. But, hey, at least we now have tension. But Semmes is now outnumbered and outgunned, so he needs help. I solved that problem by creating so, so many more problems, starting with the pair of hookers, I mean pirates, with hearts of gold.

See, now we have smugglers and pirates. Some of these pirates have apparently armed their own ships well enough to be able to compete with the Earth Command Navy. Yet I’ve also been telling everyone that none of the Earth Command ships have ever engaged in combat. So what, pray tell, are those pirates and smugglers doing and why would they be armed to the teeth? Furthermore, if one of Earth Command’s best officers knows how to find them at the drop of a hat why wouldn’t they have been rooted out long ago? There are literally only 4 places where they can hide: Luna, Mars, Europa, and Tethys.

Also, the United Commonwealth is supposed to be some sort of idyllic, post-scarcity utopia. Pirates and smugglers don’t seem necessary in one of those. Also, half of your Navy doesn’t just up and join the pirates at the point of crisis, either.

Clearly, then, this storyline doesn’t work. It can be solved fairly easy by making the universe bigger, though. Put more colonies on the map, which would have the added benefit of requiring more shipping and creating more opportunities for pirates and smugglers.

It also creates an opportunity to give Semmes a much larger and more believable part in the story. Basically I reimagine a solar system where human colonization has reached much farther. Mars, Europa, and Tethys are now hubs allowing shorter hops to mining and research stations all across the asteroid belt and the various moons of the outer planets. We’re now at a tipping point where there are a few generations of humans who have never been to Earth and are incapable of ever heading into Earth’s gravity well.[2] Earth has been expanding the Earth Command Navy while the colonials are asking why Earth gets to be in charge.

Resentment really began to boil over with the solving of the alien language puzzle at the Deimos base and the subsequent takeover of the base by Earth officials. Mars is now arming itself. The attempts to keep the Nightwind project secret have created additional problems. So what we have now is a tense situation that could easily lead to a shooting war between what I’m currently calling the Colonial Authority and the United Commonwealth while Horatio Semmes engages in a bit of gunboat diplomacy. This also means it won’t be so bleedingly stupid for Anderson to be all, “Nah, they don’t need this giant battlecruiser.”

Meanwhile, in the book as written the Nightwind could easily solve Semmes’ problem in about five minutes. Later on the Starfire will also be able to solve Semmes’ problem in about five minutes and will also not, y’know, do that. This is one of those problems with game changing technology. So I needed to have Anderson decide to simply not head back to Earth. This is why we have chapter 8.

The problem here is one of communication. The main plot obviously doesn’t work if the Earth can’t get news of Winged Messenger’s destruction, which requires some sort of communication and FTL seems the way to go, as it’s hard to really worry about the urgency of, “20 years ago a ship we launched 250 years ago was destroyed and we just found out about it,” compared to, “Hey, everyone here is on the verge of killing each other and we just so happen to have this big-ass battlecruiser.”

Solving this problem requires a radical departure from the original story. I have a few ideas but I haven’t really settled on anything yet. The simplest, though, is that the FTL comm array is on Mars (why? Um, because the technology is sensitive to gravitational interference and when they built it Mars was the better option? Sure, sounds good) and now that Mars and Earth are on the verge of a shooting war it’s going to be rather difficult to communicate with that top-secret battlecruiser you don’t officially have. This also means that Anderson would simply head out with standing orders to figure out what happened to the Winged Messenger and return on his discretion without reporting back.

Actually, now that I think about it, that could solve a couple of plot points at once. News of the destruction of Winged Messenger gets back to Mars. Earth Command tells them to keep it quiet. Mars is all, “Naw, fuck all a y’all. The people deserve to hear about this.” Also, I think I’ve decided to change the name of the Winged Messenger. The more I write it the less I like it.

Meanwhile, in chapter 8 we also have the rather annoying introduction of Ensign Lindros. I needed a character who wasn’t a big fan of leaving Earth behind. I also basically didn’t want Anderson to really give a shit about Earth. So I introduced the shrill, nagging woman to be shrill and nag. Ugh.

Either way, I had this odd obsession with humanity nearly wiping itself off the face of the universe over the course of a single summer when I wrote the book. Why? I’m honestly not sure. Probably because it’s easier to write a lot of world destroying than world building. Also, I was setting up the tension for book 2, where a nearly extinct humanity had to come to terms with the fact that it’s now part of a much larger universe. That seems like an unnecessary step in retrospect.

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[1]Although on one level I do kinda want to change his name. I keep writing it as “Horation” for reasons I truly do not understand. I have always added that “n” on accidentally probably more than half the time. I also tend to turn “ratio” into “ration.” This mystifies me.

[2]This is where I’m forced to admit that, yes, this mode of thinking is heavily influenced by The Expanse books. I don’t really see it as derivative by any stretch of the imagination, since the story I want to tell is extraordinarily different than the story they wanted to tell. The realities of humans living off of Earth was, on many levels, the story of The Expanse and might simply be the best world building possible for the story. I don’t want to tell that story but I recognize the basic tenets of an evolutionary separation of the human race and the inherent conflict therein are spot-on.

Also, again, The Expanse books. Read them. Then read them again. Also, a new one came out in July and I didn’t realize it. So that’s exciting. Also, there’s the SyFy adaptation. Please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck.

Spoiler alert: it’s probably gonna suck. SyFy’s track record has been pretty shite of late. Also, they’re doing Scalzi’s Ghost Brigades now, since the Old Man’s War movie fell through (to which the only response is, “DAMMIT!” I mean, seriously, we’re on Fast 8 Furious 8 or whatever and we keep making goddamn Terminator movies no one is asking for).

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