Apologia pro blogpost sua: An earlier, incomplete draft of this may have posted temporarily before the gods of BlogSpot obliterated it by freezing up the Insert Picture tool. This is a re-draft from scratch.
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|Ain't TOF cute?|
The Wreck, if we may call it by its nicktitle, was called by one reviewer "the best hard-SF tragic novel of character yet written," adding "though this is an uncrowded niche." Uncrowded, indeed. Run out and buy a copy. I'll wait.
A critic friend (though that may sound oxymoronic) said that he found the title intriguing. In form, it was very regular and metric: The Wreck of "The River of Stars has a good beat, as Dick Clark was wont to say. An iamb followed by two anapests. On the other hand, the content of the title is very irregular: Wreck and River. (Wrecks are chaotic, rivers meander.) He found this contrast between form and matter piquant, though I don't know if he considered the Aristotelian aspect of it; but he is well-known as one who reads texts closely and critically. For such a one, the best novel is one that can be read multiple times with the same enjoyment, despite knowing "how it all comes out."
AS NEAR AS I CAN RECALL, the title came before the book, but also independently of the book. I have always been intrigued by stories of doom, of life under the volcano. There is not only the Wreck of the White Ship that changed the course of English history, there are also: the movie The Wreck of the Mary Deare, and the poems "The Wreck of the Hesperus," "The Wreck of the Deutschland," and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," as well as other tales of doomed ships, like Titanic or the Flying Dutchman.
|Luv it when author name|
is larger than title!!
Now, I can't say that I went through this process consciously, or even that those were alternative titles I considered, but night sky→stars→Milky Way→River of Stars was pretty much the train of thought.
At that point I had a title. I often do, well before I have a story. It would be the story of a doomed ship and her crew. But what was the doom and who were the crew, I did not know.
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?It's raining soup out there. Don't use a colander. The story idea was a confluence of several influences.
One was a colleague in the consulting business named Mariesa, who introduced me to Myers-Briggs personality classifications. There are, as you may know, sixteen of these Jungian archetypes, though reality forms probability distributions around them. (Nobody is all one thing.) However, the notion struck me of trying to realize sixteen distinct characters in a single story. What story, I did not know. Would it even be possible to sketch and distinguish that many characters?
A second influence was the mainstream novel by William Trevor, The Boarding House. This involved a boarding house owner who had deliberately set about securing a series of oddball tenants, apparently with the design of messing with them. He deliberately wills the house on his death jointly to the two tenants who hate each other the most. So what if I replace the boarding house with a space ship, whose captain collects the wounded birds of the spaceways, though more benevolently than William Bird, and then makes the mistake of dying, like Bird, leaving his misfits not to fit together. More on this in a later post.
A third influence was Poul Anderson's novel, The Devil's Game, in which seven contestants are lured to a Caribbean Island to compete for a one million dollar prize. What is relevant to the Wreck is that he alternated omniscient narration with stream-of-consciousness, with each of the characters taking a turn in the barrel. Fourthly, and related to this was a remark made by Maureen McHugh on an SF con panel that SF seemed to avoid the omniscient POV that was more or less standard in literary and mainstream fiction. Indeed, I remember being confused at first reading Gore Vidal's Lincoln, because the POV seemed to jump around all over the place, sometimes within the same paragraph.
All these things came together into the Idea: a crew of misfits must bring the ship safely to port after their captain dies unexpectedly. Each crewman (and the passenger) would be a different Myers-Briggs archetype. The story would be a tragedy -- and the reader will know this immediately from the title. Like Titanic, the River would strike an "iceberg" -- but the extent of the damage will not be apparent for some time afterward.
In the Beginning
|Original cover art orientation.|
They called her The River of Stars and she spread her superconducting sails to the solar wind in 2051. She must have made a glorious sight then: her fuselage new and gleaming, her sails shimmering in a rainbow aurora, her white-gloved crew sharply creased in black and silver uniforms, her passengers rich and deliciously decadent. There were morphy stars and jeweled matriarchs, sports heroes and prostitutes, gangsters and geeks and soi-disant royalty. Those were the glamour years, when magsails ruled the skies, and The River of Stars was the grandest and most glorious of that beautiful fleet.
"But the glory years faded fast." Then we get a taste of the long history of the ship. "as he told Toledo when he handed her the command" followed by names of various captains: Johnson, Fu-hsi, Terranova, then an anonymous period harvesting hydrogen from Jupiter's atmosphere when no one bothers naming the captains. A few famous incidents are picked out, like the the Luna-Ganymede race or the murder of the first engineer.
“Some of them struck it rich,” the old song had it,
“And some of them Mars struck dead
And some showed up in the hiring hall,
Begging their old berths back.”
The final touch comes with
And so it was that in 2084 of the Common Era, MSS The River of Stars cast loose as a tramp freighter, hustling after cargoes across the Middle System.
After that, her luck turned bad.
Coming as it does after a litany of steadily declining fortunes from luxury liner to immigrant ship to the hydrogen harvest to the Farnsworth conversion to the murder of the engineer, after that, her luck turned bad.
As I recollect, the entire passage was written in a gulp, free-styling it as it were, letting the moment churn up the legendary past as I typed. IOW, I did not lay out an outline of the putative past and then narrate through it; rather, I simply narrated and later organized and fine-tuned it to the published version. Very nearly every incident in the introduction will have some importance to the main body of the story. The luxury years. The Martian emigration. The Luna-Ganymede Race. The murder. The romance of the Old Days. The resentment between magsail and Farnsworth people is the backbone of the tragedy.
In Times to Come
My thought is to pull excerpts, especially those limning each of the characters, and passages illustrating some of the narrative choices. None of them should be SPOILERS in the classical sense, but you may choose to exercise caution. While I hope the book might be read profitably regardless, there is a certain amount of craft that goes into the order and arrangement of various revelations.