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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

In the Belly of the Whale

 TOF has begun working on a new Novel, if you will pardon the redundancy. It is set upon a generation ship traveling toward Tau Ceti at sublight speed. It will be set about 14 or 15 generations into the voyage, when the original constitution of the Whale's society is beginning to crack. By this I don't mean a written Constitution, though there is one, but more like how the society is constituted. What follows is a very rough draft of the Introduction. It's final version may differ considerably, depending on how things go from here. I'm thinking it will be an omniscient narrator and perhaps interleaved chapter of different kinds. We shall see.


Faint beneath the azure sky twilight bells do peal
Midst ruins where their echoes tone:
We were real. We were real.  We were real.  
As once they were, when life enfleshed these bones
And they fared forth to find what stars conceal.

        – Méarana Harper, Bailéad an Domhain Terra.

Prologue

All this happened a great long time ago, by which we mean not only that it was long ago but also that it was great. It was an age of drama and romance. People dared greatly and they failed greatly. At times, they even achieved greatly. This is the story of one of their achievements. As well as one of their failures, as they are often the same.

They called the ship “The Whale” both because it was large and because it was destined for Tau Ceti. It was one of those dreams that they dreamed greatly. The Whale was built from a hollowed-out asteroid to provide spacious habitation for the travelers. Its manifold decks were stocked with all manner of good things: with power and light; with gravity plates; with water and air meticulously recycled; and with plants and animals (both manifest and eminent). The voyageurs needed an ecosystem entire to sustain them, for this journey would be no short jaunt, and those who raised the farther shores would not be those who cast free of Earth. They volunteered not only themselves but their children’s children’s children for, swift as the Whale would fly, twelve light years is a damned long slog.

This was in the days of the Audorithadesh Ympriales. Brethidiendy Miwell II attended the launch in his own person to bid them dyos. Orators spoke, women wept, strong men sighed. Children cheered and danced in the sunlight. Fireworks soared and burst and paper dragons capered through the throngs. Far above, the Whale cast loose from the Beanstalk and the solar powersat lasers beamed gigawatts of power into it. Then everyone went home and after a few centuries had passed, forgot entirely that there ever had been a “Whale.”

In the time after, bones piled upon bones beneath the grass, cities fell and new ones rose, ashes blew in the wind, and names that once did grip the heart in ice faded to musty memories. Can there be forgotten memories? Perhaps those are the happier kind.

Meanwhile, the Whale hurtled on. People aged and died and their children after them. Farms and industries flourished, or not. Vendors haggled. They never forgot they were aboard a vessel, but after a while, they ceased to care.

The Planners had thought of every small thing. They had even written a constitution for the Whale, devised by the best social technicians Earth had to offer, laying out the duties and authorities of every rating and rank on board. They had accounted for every contingency; but they had forgotten one large thing.

Those aboard would be human beings.
###



9 comments:

  1. Ah, this snippet makes the mind soar! I very much look forward to reading it.
    Maypo

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  2. This sounds great; it sounds in general its general dynamic a bit like a more sociological The Wreck of the River of Stars -- ordinary human flaw interacting with ordinary human flaw in a series of individually predictable events that become unpredictable in the mass.

    If I have the overarching timeline right, our era, as space travel becomes common, eventually results in the Gran Publicamericana, which is replaced by the Audorithadesh Ympriales, which begins interstellar travel, which leads to the Commowealth of Suns, which collapses into the Confederation and the worlds across the Rift? I always like the filling-in of these gaps with something; it helps to have little islands to ease the strain on the imagination of these mind-bogglingly long socio-temporal vistas.

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  3. I love this idea, and wish to pre-order now in all formats. I re-read Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun earlier this year, and I'm still very much in the mood for more perspectives on this sort of thing.

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  4. In the Belly of the Whale?  hmmm . . . Will Geppetto or Pinocchio put in an appearance?

    Occasional Correspondent

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  5. I want to read this. And will definitely pre-buy when that option arrives.

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  6. Back as a high school student in the 1980s, I came across an imaginative painting in an astronomy book showing a "star ark" (an asteroid transformed into a massive space craft) carrying a large population of humans to another star system. That inspired me to begin to write a tale I called "The Stellar Ark" -- basically the same idea for your novel, only my version was horrible, being written by a high school student who didn't know the first thing about writing fiction. My tale was set in the last generations prior to the Ark's computer-controlled voyage to the new solar system -- the Ark's society had degenerated and fragmented, and very few aboard even knew what they were doing any more, and the ship's systems were failing. I didn't even get 100 pages in before I gave up and tossed it in trash -- but I still have the Ark deck plan map from the spiral bound notebook in which I'd written the story. I later realised that I was unconsciously writing a sort of allegory of modern civilisation and its apparent death throes -- the kind of thing thousands of other people have already written, only far better than I could.

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  7. Really looking forward to reading this! Loved "Wreck of the River of Stars"!

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