So in chapter 9 we meet the Joshans for the first time. I had a clear idea of the Joshans as an ancient alien race who were kind of the exact opposite of what we think of in sci-fi when it comes time to meet an ancient alien race. There’s this idea that ancient = majestic and powerful. I like the idea of ancient meaning, well, old and feeble. The problem here is the same as many of the problems so far in the book. I was too lazy to really think through the implications of that plan and in too much of a hurry to get going with the “real” story. So the Joshans just provided the next plot point as opposed to really feeling like they were a part of the narrative.
There’s so much more space for storytelling here. The Joshans are an ancient alien empire that’s basically next door to Earth. They know about Earth and humanity but have had no impact on humanity’s development. The big question here is “why?” Shouldn’t they at least have left a footprint on the Tau Ceti system, even if they had left Earth alone? What’s going on here?
I was completely uninterested in answering these questions when I originally wrote the book. It hadn’t even occurred to me to ask why they didn’t have a presence on Tau Ceti. That’s actually kind of a huge hole in the whole thing, now that I think about it, since I just assumed humans and Joshans could share a similar atmosphere. Even a declining empire would surely be interested in keeping a presence on a star system that’s just a few light years away.
Also, if nothing else we’re talking about first contact here. This is the first time humans have met the Joshans. Even if the latter civilization doesn’t care about us we would certainly care about it. But all I did here was handwave the whole thing away. That’s just bad writing right there.
After that I did try to go for some good, old-fashioned character building. We have Lindros being a nag and Anderson being really, really uneven. At this point I’d started to realize that Gregory was an interesting character and it’s beginning to come out. His story is somewhat messed up by the fact that I basically modeled him after Commander Riker from TNG with a little bit of Garibaldi from Babylon 5 and never really managed to give him his own character arc. But more on that later.
Chapter 10 is just plain stupid. It’s a later insert into the book that exists because of chapter 6. Chapter 11 used to be chapter 10, but when I decided I needed to put Turner and Hunt into the book earlier I decided they needed more airtime. I guess I also decided that I needed to break up the two chapters of people talking aboard Nightwind in a row or something. So I tossed chapter 10 in.
The Turner/Hunt/Tanaka insert basically breaks everything with no payoff. They become a sort of Greek chorus, telling us about how everything is falling apart and announcing what the characters who are actually doing things will have to do to make things work. It’s telling and not showing. It’s also stupid, since the original manuscript just showed. Even if the thing it showed was stupid it got the job done.
Chapter 11 is all about character development. I like the interplay between Anderson and Gregory at the beginning. Sadly, it sets up a really stupid subplot. So let that be a lesson. Not all subplots are good and not all foreshadowing pays off.
Gregory also knows just a little too much here. Why does the XO know everything about why Earth Command made Anderson captain? I needed a Mr. Exposition and Gregory seemed like the best option. There’s a way to allow Anderson to have doubts. There’s a way to allow Gregory to try to encourage him. The way I chose to do it is a bit heavy handed.
The Luchenko bit is a bit of good development overshadowed by the terrible way I introduced the character. I also can’t read it too closely because of that terrible accent.
The conversation with Lindros is basically the same thing.
There’s also one big problem that starts to come out in this section. It’s more of a knowledge problem than a skill problem. I simply didn’t know much about the locations of other nearby stars. I remember it took me a long time to simply nail down Tau Ceti and 82 Eridani. So I kinda handwaved the entire thing away by having them just use the Joshan star names. There just wasn’t much out there to find.
It’s actually still somewhat hard to find that information. Google “star map.” You know what you’ll get mostly? Maps of the locations of stars and constellations in the night sky. But Google has allowed us to search smarter and Wikipedia now exists, meaning it’s much easier to figure out where to start now than it was back in 2000 or so.
That said, there’s still something about the idea of using the Joshan star maps that makes sense. I…I don’t know, really. This is usually the place where I’d wander off into a long conversation with myself about the validity of either approach. The fact of the matter is, though, that as I piece the re-write together the problem I was trying to solve with Joshan star charts is no longer a problem. The entire basis for the Human/Joshan contact and immediate relations has radically changed and the meat of the book as I originally wrote it just isn’t a thing anymore.