Meanwhile, we shall occupy ourselves otherwise.
Previously, we discussed the title, which derived its ancestry from such as "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and the desire to write a story of a tragic shipwreck. Since TOF writes in the genre SF, the ship wrecked would be ipso facto a space ship.
We also discussed Where do you get your ideas, and saw the idea for The Wreck came from a confluence of several things:
- The aforesaid desire to write of a tragic shipwreck.
- The desire to use Mayer-Briggs personality classifications to define sixteen distinct characters, just to see if I could pull it off.
- The notion in William Trevor's The Boarding House of a landlord who deliberately sought out misfits to rent rooms to.
Kick-OffTHE NOVEL KICKS OFF with a character literally kicking off; viz., Evan Dodge Hand, captain of the River of Stars. This parallels (deliberately) the opening of Trevor's book, in which the landlord, William Wagner Bird dies while tenant Nurse Clock pays no attention. A useful writing exercise is to copy a passage of a book you like until you swerve off in a different direction. Then you go back and rewrite the original passage to fit. Anyone seeing some sort of homage in things like Bird→Hand is perfectly justified.
The passage in question can be found at the link in the previous paragraph. Because there are sixteen main characters, they are introduced one at a time. Here, Hand, who in certain ways is the central character of the drama, appears -- only to die within the first few pages. The second character is First Officer Stepan Gorgas, who sits by idly amusing himself with computer games -- a simulation of the Battle of Austerlitz. Three others are alluded to: Corrigan (who he thinks irritably should have notified him of the engine shut-off), Bhaterjee (who shut the engines off), and Dr. Wong (who he notifies of the death). Two others (Satterwaithe and Ratline) are mentioned as having had longer tenure aboard.
We flit from the mind of the dying Hand to the mind of Gorgas because the narrative voice is omniscient. This was a deliberate choice made in light of a con panel discussion in which Maureen McHugh commented on the lack of omniscient voice in SF. Or indeed in most genre fiction. It is more common in mainstream fiction. Well, "rarely done" is a red flag to The OFloinn, who comes from Bizarro World, where everything is backward. "Rarely done" is for steaks, not fiction, sez he.
Hand-offAs the captain is dying, he feels lighter. This is because the engines are shut down, but Hand concludes that dying makes one less massive.
The pain now seemed a sometime and faraway thing, something not quite real, as if it were happening to someone else. His body was but a husk, a thing of no matter."A thing of no matter" is the first of several puns littering the landscape of the book. "No matter" in the sense of "no mass/weight" but also in the sense of "no consequence." We also get a sense of his flightiness: his request to post to the log, his futile enumeration of the ventilator squares, his astonishment that his arm will not move. He jumps from one thing to another. This may be the consequence of his illness; but it may tell us something about the normal Hand, too.
|Gorgas the Chessplayer|
About Gorgas we learn that he is essentially solitary and lives inside his own head. He isn't going out to learn why the engines have been shut down. He is going to wait until someone comes and tells him. He doesn't log the observation as Hand has asked him to, but continues playing Austerlitz. He regards Hand's death as an irritation and a burden on him. His notification to the Ship's doctor is curt and perfunctory.
Gorgas saved his screen with the French in mid-move and unbuckled from the seat so that he floated across the cabin. ... Bhatterji had shut the engines down and Gorgas floated like an angel and hovered over the captain’s bunk.
I have risen above the captain, he thought. So often true metaphorically and intellectually, the statement was now true literally.We learn that Gorgas has detested Hand for most of their long service together -- only Satterwaithe and Ratline have served longer -- and that Gorgas believes he is smarter than the captain. His actual rising above the captain in zero-gee and his metaphorical rising above the captain in his skills strikes him with grave satisfaction. Notice that when the Omniscient POV dips inside a head, everything we see is mediated by that character's attitudes.
The Door Dilated
|Stop and smell me|
The Problem of the White Room refers to narratives where one takes the car or walks the dog or watches TV or stops to smell the flowers. Such bland description is sometimes called for -- for example, if the narrator is himself inattentive -- but more often feels incompletely realized, vague, or inchoate. But if one takes the Jag or walks the Shi-tzu or watches reruns of Perry Mason or stops to smell the titan arum we not only get something more visual, we may also get some characterization of an actor. A character who by choice drives a Jag is a different sort than one who drives a Prius. It is possible to get too carried away with such things, but a certain amount lends verisimilitude.
Now and then, the mainstream writer must refer to a particular unfamiliar to the reader. Stopping to smell the roses adds detail without adding confusion, but stopping to smell the titan arum is another matter, unless you find a way to mention that it smells like a rotting corpse.
The SFer must create an imaginary world that is more or less by definition an unfamiliar one. The author has often the delightful choice between bafflegab and infodump. The sweet way to do this is just have everyone talk the way they would normally talk in the context, but to sprinkle the strangeness lightly. The engines of the River of Stars are introduced here:
The Farnsworths boosted at just over four milligees, barely enough acceleration to give the room a vague notion of up and down, but Bhatterji had shut the engines down...And that is all the reader needs to know at this point. The context makes it clear that "the Farnsworths" are the engines for the ship, but we do not stop the narrative to explain how they work. The thoughts we are following -- Gorgas' -- would not pause to ruminate on them. If the info becomes necessary later, it can be delivered later.