Nightwind Follow-Up, ch 19-20

The whole existence of the Joshans[1] in this book is a problem. They’re kind of a Schrodinger’s Threat. They’re both knowledgeable and unaware, both powerful and weak. At the time I was putting them together I just saw them as a race that knew it was dying and was deeply afraid to face that truth. Their actions and motivations in that context made sense and still do.

As with everything else in this book, though, there’s a huge problem with their decision-making processes. Why don’t they just find out where the Nightwind is from, destroy Nightwind, and then go blow Earth back to the Stone Age? Why did they give Anderson their star charts and then send the Nightwind out on a crazy-ass wild goose chase? This is basically the Unnecessarily Slow Dipping Mechanism of plot points. They sent the Nightwind off where they literally could not track it and made it into a wild card and hoped the angry sea bass with lasers attached to their frickin’ heads would handle their problems for them.

Then, and Firedrake picked up on this problem immediately, they just kind of assume that Nightwind was the only form of defense humanity had and the Emperor commits a substantial portion of his dwindling resources to try and destroy Earth. These are actions taken because the plot dictates, not because they form a coherent decision matrix.

Of course it’s possible to defend this. I could say, “Well, they’re aliens. They don’t think like we do.” Unfortunately I haven’t done any of the necessary work to show that. I just made them a designated villain and had them do designated villain things.

This is one of those places where simply being older and more knowledgeable helps immensely. I have an inspiration for the Joshans now that comes from my unabashed love of the Byzantine Empire. I’ve often wondered what Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror thought when he finally entered Constantinople in 1453 and was greeted by a shrunken, nearly empty city. To me the Joshan Empire is now Byzantium in 1452.

The way Anderson and the Nightwind meet the Joshans and how the initial stages of contact goes have changed dramatically now that I have that image in my head.

Chapter 20 is just kind of one of those placeholder chapters that keep people aware of what’s going on. It’s not bad. It’s not great. It’s the base model Ford Focus of chapters. No one is excited that it’s in the book but if it wasn’t there the rest of the product wouldn’t move out of the showroom. There are some questionable physics in the discussion of the logistics of the passage from Earth to Saturn but I don’t have any major complaints.

This chapter is obviously an attempt to give Semmes a story arc. He’s fairly quiet and reserved here. Cautious, even. This makes sense, given everything that has happened. He’s the only one who really gets a character arc and I think I got it right in theory. Quality of execution, obviously, is in the eyes of the beholder.

I think the interaction with Bixby at the end of the chapter is really where I cement who Semmes is. After everything falls apart and he himself has failed on a scale he couldn’t have imagined he still realizes that it’s his job to teach. So he just does. I don’t feel Semmes should be as kind of the Dragon as he is in this chapter, though. Of course I am currently baffled by basically every bad guy’s motivation, so Semmes should be both confused and pissed rather than conciliatory.[2]

And so but anyway, I’ve been turning the re-write over in my head.

One of the things I said last week was that a book can only take so many storylines. Firedrake chimed in on the comments to echo that sentiment.

I’ve kind of hit a roadblock in the re-write.  One of the things I’ve learned about writing is that if something just isn’t working and you’re avoiding actually doing the work that means the thing you’re trying to write about probably doesn’t belong. If I, as the writer, am finding it impossible to force a chapter into a book that means that you, as the reader, will probably wonder why that chapter exists in the first place.

Do you remember General Hans Schroeder? I’ve taken to referring to him as General No Longer Appearing in this Picture. He actually got an entire story arc. This arc included a chapter that I genuinely don’t remember if I’ve gotten to yet that caused me to just stop writing the book for a while. I just had no fucking clue why I was writing that particular chapter. So when I was putting together the rewrite I just kind of forgot that Schroeder existed.

There’s a structural problem with the original that I simply cannot fix with a simple re-write. There are too many storylines. There’s the Anderson storyline, the Semmes storyline, the Laird storyline, the Joshan storyline, the Schroeder storyline, and the Turner/Hunt storyline. All I really managed to do in the re-write was consolidate the Turner/Hunt storyline and turn it over to Admiral Belden. But then I thought I still needed to have Turner and Hunt doing stuff. And I managed to add in another storyline in the process. So we’re talking, what, seven storylines? Seven or so perspective characters. That’s a lot. That’s too much.

I’ve been asking myself what it looks like if Nightwind has to stand on its own. I know that there’s plenty in the United Commonwealth/Colonial Authority conflict to create story upon story. Can I say the same about Anderson’s trip with the Nightwind? I think that question is as much an issue of whether there is enough of a story there as it is an issue of whether or not I’m a good enough storyteller.

This morning Mike Doughty put up a long-ass post on his Facebook page. In the middle he said, “As always, I feel obligated to focus on what’s new. I think it’s disrespectful to the spirit of art, which has fed me and put a roof over my head for 22 years, not to push myself, to work to the greatest extent of my creative abilities.” For me a book I initially wrote some sixteen years ago is new once again.

One of the questions I’ve asked on and off again since deciding to do a rewrite is, “Does it make sense that humanity just happened to have FTL communication at the outset?” I had considered just dropping it entirely but then I couldn’t figure out how to make the plot work if no one knew that the Winged Messenger/Zaqar had been destroyed by a mysterious, intelligent force. The existence of FTL communication facilitated this plot point but complicated the hell out of everything else. While I like the workaround I came up with in the rewrite where the Colonial Authority stands astride the lines of communication I wondered if that was really the best way to handle the issue.

This, then lead to another question. Why is everything about the Nightwind Project so secret? What happens if Earth Command launches the Nightwind in a public act of pomp and circumstance, then sends Anderson off to be the first human face the colonies have seen in a century or two? What happens when Anderson and the Nightwind get to 82 Eridani and find that it’s the ancient capital of an alien empire?

It did occur to me that if I write the Nightwind’s trip as a stand-alone then it needs a b-plot. That’s when Corporal Katherine Silas introduced herself to the world. When a new character appears that means that there’s a story to be told.

So the re-write is getting a re-write. The good thing is that very little of my effort thus far in the re-write will actually be wasted. Everyone back home still has to deal with the same problems and fight the same battles, but that’s going to be a separate book. Nightwind is back to getting top billing in its maiden voyage.

If everything goes well I might be able to introduce you to Corporal Silas next Friday. Maybe the Friday after that. She’s got an interesting story to tell.

——————

[1]I don’t think I’ve ever actually said anything about the origin of the name Joshan. Back when I was in grade school I used to draw (terrible) pictures of spaceships and starfighters and all that cool stuff. I have no idea what my inspiration was all the way back in the day but I have obviously loved sci-fi for as long as I can remember. The Joshans were simply an alien race that existed in those childish drawings. I don’t know why I decided on Joshans. Also, it’s pronounced Joe shan, with the second syllable pronounced almost exactly like chamois but with an n and without the e on the end. And it amuses the hell out of me that I could just write that sentence and know it makes sense.

The ship name Starfire, interestingly enough, also came from that time. When I first started drawing my little pictures my conception of a space carrier was literally an aircraft carrier with a big force field bubble over the entire flight deck. The first time I realized that was really, really stupid I drew a picture that was basically a long, rectangular box with a hemispherical control section sticking out of the middle of one end and extremely Star Trek-ish warp nacelles sticking out the sides. My idea was that there were eight or nine fighter bays that ran the whole length of the ship. Fighters would launch out the front and recover from the rear and everything could be sealed in.

The name Nightwind came along later, I think, and was for a spaceship created in a completely unrelated context. When it came time to write a book the ideas were already there, lying in wait.

The physical design of the Nightwind, by the way, has its origins in spaceships I drew in my notebooks in junior high. Or maybe high school. I seem to remember the idea for the four-drive system had something to do with the Starfuries on Babylon 5.

[2]This gives me an idea. Write a story where all of the bad guys are just hack villains from central casting and all of the good guys are normal people. Have the bad guys do hack villain stuff because the plot dictates. Have the good guys be completely and utterly baffled. Hope hilarity ensues.

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