Jan 302015
 

I’ve been tinkering with Pax Orionis since the release of US Spacecraft Projects #2. I’m still roughing out the historical outline from Then  to Now; I have 16,000+ words, or roughly 50+ paperback pages. While I know the general thrust of the overall story, I’m still kinda torn on *how* to approach parts of it. Parts of it I want to do like a dry government history report, or perhaps something like a PhD dissertation. Other parts like a technical manual. Other parts like standard third person narrative. Any of these would be fine on their own, but it seems like it might be odd to do all three. But would it? Would a book that alternates – a history chapter, a fiction chapter, a tech chapter, rinse and repeat – be a sensible way to go, or would it just annoy the hell out of people? I’ve seen a number of books (Lord of the Rings springs to mind) that have a long unified fictional yarn that ends with a dry factual Appendix, so I know that at least that approach makes some sort of sense.

One of the closest analogies to what I’m hoping to accomplish is World War Z (book, not movie), where tales are told covering many years and many people across the planet. Most of the characters would come in, play their role, then fade away rather than run through the whole narrative. Look at the last 50 years of *actual* history… any novel-length history of that period would either have to be an actual biography, or very few historical figures would carry all the way through from beginning to end.

The purpose of the historical dissertation would be for the fictional author to try to understand the world of alternate 2010 (plus or minus a few years). Because that world is not only *massively* different from ours, it’s also *massively* trashed. Very, very bad things have happened and a whole lot has been lost, including historical records. Just *how* did the world come to this?

Any suggestions or critiques of the idea welcomed.

 Posted by at 11:17 am
  • Knigh26

    The WWZ example might be a good way to go. The narrative would follow the fictional author/editor as he finds all these various bits of historical data. Along the way you can show the differences in the “modern” world as bookends to the chapter. For instance:

    In Chap 1, the world seems pretty normal and the document shows the first divergence, something small, innocuous.

    In Chap 5, we see a documents about the nuclear fallout from the first ground Orion launch. Ending the chapter showing the main character holding the document while in a radiation suit, or talking to someone in a radiation ward.

    Chap 10, has an article about the first war in space and then ends showing the level of destruction that occurred to a major city as a result.

    Just some ideas.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series puts sections from the real Hitchiker’s Guide all through the five books of the trilogy. I see no problems with the idea.

  • mzungu

    Without any personal narration I think would make it really hard to read and make the reader attach to the story, I think. Can you make it like a incident report, interjecting field reports from interviews of soldiers, pilots, ground crew, accident investigators, generals, …and such?

    • Scottlowther

      > would make it really hard to read

      Done badly, sure. But look at the likes of Stapledons “Last and First Men” and “Star Maker.” Novel-length histories that cover billions of years, with no characters lasting more than a few pages, and wholly engrossing. Probably a chore to pull off correctly, though.

      • mzungu

        Haven’t read those two, let me look them up. Thanks for the suggestion.

        I read through the piece you put up in your blog post a while ago. One thing i seem to remember is that it doesn’t have any characters in it… it makes it hard, at least for me…to really relate to just the inanimate ships and battles. I imagine those other 2 books do have some characters in them, however brief..

  • Herp McDerp

    The mixed approach has been used before, with great success — Fred Pohl’s Gateway won a Hugo award. So did Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep (another Hugo winner) with its selection of postings from the Galactic Usenet scattered throughout the novel. (I highly recommend both books.)

    I think a good approach might be to have the personal stories explicitly part of some university’s “oral history project,” written as first person narrative. You can then intersperse fake newspaper and magazine accounts and transcriptions of radio and television broadcasts where appropriate. The technical diagrams might go into an appendix, or perhaps you could include some fake Popular Mechanics articles in with the other news items.

    • Scottlowther

      The biggest problem I have is that I have in midn various sections being done as normal third-person narratives, the usual way fiction is done. Trying to cram that in while maintaining that the complete book is a single unified narrative seems potentially tricky. Or I could say Ta Hell Wit It and just include every damn thing… “fiction” chapters, 1st person official oral recollections/interviews, bits from official reports and histories, pages from “Janes All The Worlds Space Warcraft,” articles, technical manuals…

      What I’ve been plugging on recently is the overarching “world history.” This is being written in the form of either an official history or a dissertation; you hear from the author from time to time. The trick is pointing out the divergence point without saying “here, right *here,* this is where the timeline split.” The thing is, it was a very small event – a guy throwing something left rather than right – that almost immediately results in a nuclear explosion where there otherwise wouldn’t have been one.

      • Herp McDerp

        I think it would be worth the trouble to convert the third-person segments to first-person narrative form … The only real problem with this approach is when the viewpoint characters die at the end of their segments. I guess you could have those particular characters telling their stories to Saint Peter …

        One more possibility: There’s a wonderful alternate history novel by Robert Sobel called For Want of a Nail, set in a world in which British general John Bourgoyne wasn’t an utter incompetent and won the Battle of Saratoga. [http://www.amazon.com/Want-Nail-Burgoyne-Had-Saratoga/dp/1853672815/ref=sr_1_1] As a result, the American revolution fails, and eventually the continent is divided between the Confederation of North America and the United States of Mexico (founded by colonial expatriates). The kicker: the entire book is a high school history textbook, written in that timeline.

      • Herp McDerp

        The trick is pointing out the divergence point without saying “here,
        right *here,* this is where the timeline split.” The thing is, it was a
        very small event – a guy throwing something left rather than right –
        that almost immediately results in a nuclear explosion where there
        otherwise wouldn’t have been one.

        I think you could get away with having this as a third-person viewpoint segment, with all of the other “stories” being first-person, as long as it was the very first section and the only third-person segment — an introduction in which you do explicitly say “here,
        right *here,* this is where the timeline split.”

  • DC

    I think the WWZ approach would work, or you could do a quick historical intro in each chapter, interview/personal account regarding the intro, then scientific/technical discussion to round out the chapter. In the end I just want you to finish the story please. Also if they are making a movie about flying zombie sharks, the idea someone posted about Tsar Bomba vs Cthulhu needs to happen.

    • Scottlowther

      > finish the story please

      Finish? The story is *never* finished.

      > Tsar Bomba vs Cthulhu needs to happen.

      Indeed. Back in the 1920’s, Cthulhu was an unstoppable godlike being. But starting in 1945? Maybe, just maybe, nukes would do the job.

      I’ve often wondered how HPL would have handled the Atomic Age.

  • sjv

    Strieber and Kunetka’s “Warday” might be a good example to follow.

    ww.amazon.com/War-Day-Whitley-Strieber/dp/0030707315

    Interviews 10 years after the war, plus the current tribulations of the writers getting the interviews. Excellent novel, though a bit dated now.

  • Paul451

    Sounds like it would better suit a series of short stories.

    If you want to bind it together, you can use the historian (or researcher/student/whatever) as your framing device. Each discovered document/file/recording/video being the individual stories. That lets you play with forms, first-person accounts, third person descriptions via video, technical reports, fragmented series of emails, etc. The historian’s own story then becomes the “adventure” of them travelling through the solar system (or just on Earth?) finding the individual pieces to fit together.

    As Michael the Somewhat Civilised said, there’s a bunch of novels which intersperse regular story chapters with fragments of technical documents, news reports, etc. But they generally have a single narrative arc with the inter-chapter pages being info-dumps and the like. You want to have a history-spanning story, so I don’t think that works for you. A “modern” story as a framing device for the “historical” documents would seem to work better.

    However, bunch of stand alone short stories might work better for Amazon… Ten minute reads for a buck-fiddy to get people interested in your work, rather than rely on enough people wanting to buy an entire novel.

  • Scottlowther

    A vague plan is starting to come together. What I have written so far is pretty dry historical stuff, a liturgy of political and Orion historical events. When fleshed out and finished, it’ll probably extend to more than 100 paperback pages. There was a time when 100 pages was a pretty substantial chunk of a novel; but it’d hardly cover the introduction to modern tomes. But a single 100-page chunk of alternate-historical yammerings would probably bore people to tears. So my thinking – subject to change – is to finish this, then break it up into digestible chapters, interspersed with sections from other sources.

    My thinking is that the final book would be an attempt at a history of the alternate Orion program, as seen from alt-2015 or so, using the dry historical thesis as a backbone holding it together. The thesis is something that is perhaps undeservedly popular in the alt timeline… think of all the books that get a boost simply because some celebrity (I’m looking at *you*, Oprah) mentioned it. I’m still on the fence as to who this history book is for… is it for the general public… or perhaps it’s an internal publication to be read by staff, officers or crew of the Orion program? I’m leaning towards the former.

    Below is something I banged out to serve as the very beginning of the book…

    Editors note: Trying to piece together the history of the last half century has proven to be one of the great challenges of modern historians and documentarians. To date there has been no single unified narrative that ties everything together that even a sizable majority of historical experts have agreed on. With the loss of so many records and witnesses, we may never be able to fully understand the events that have brought the world to where it is today.

    One of many attempts at producing a concise history of the military space program is “Nuclear War and Nuclear Future,” the thesis written by Jim Griffith while getting his Masters degree in Nuclear History at the University of New Tallahassee. While far from being universally lauded (concerns have been raised about not only historical accuracy but also literary merit), this thesis gained considerable attention when President Chambers famously mentioned reading it during an interview with CBS News in 2003. Since then it has, for better or worse, served as the basis for several novels, movies and teledramas.

    Reproduction of “Nuclear War and Nuclear Future” courtesy UNT Publications, copyright 2001.

    • Paul451

      I was thinking about this some more. Why do you think you can’t have a normal story arc?

      It’s only over a 50-ish year period (based on what you’ve said). It doesn’t need to be anywhere near as forced as KSR’s Mars trilogy, and the time-line isn’t a fraction as extreme as Stapledon covered. You’re only talking two generations. That’s not too long to have a set of characters connecting the events. Multiple characters, multiple overlapping threads, but a single story arc. Frankly, it seems pretty standard SF story telling.

      • Scottlowther

        > Why do you think you can’t have a normal story arc?

        Because I’m an engineer and I’m more interested in the engineering of the spacecraft, and large-scale sweeps of history, than in the stories of the vast bulk of people. For the most part, humans are *boring.*

        > it seems pretty standard SF story telling

        Well, that’s boring.

        • Herp McDerp

          Because I’m an engineer and I’m more interested in the engineering of the spacecraft, and large-scale sweeps of history, than in the stories
          of the vast bulk of people.

          Perhaps you need a collaborator, someone who could complement your strengths and weaknesses. Consider: Balmer and Wylie! Gilbert and Sullivan! Niven and Pournelle! Abbott and Costello!

          You’re only talking two generations. That’s not too long to have a set
          of characters connecting the events. Multiple characters, multiple
          overlapping threads, but a single story arc.

          This. You could have members of a single family as the (third-person) viewpoint characters, framing the story … Say, an engineer at Los Alamos who was involved in the divergence events, with children and grandchildren in the Space Force. The engineering drawings and news clippings could be items in a scrapbook, or family heirlooms, discovered by a great-grandchild in 2020. (Because setting it in 2015 will put it in the past by the time the book is published.)

          • Scottlowther

            > Perhaps you need a collaborator

            Had one. This was the latest in a string of efforts of various types over the years where promises were made and then not followed through. I have lost what little faith I might have once had in the utility or faithfulness of collaborations.

            > setting it in 2015 will put it in the past by the time the book is published.

            Two things:
            1) It might well be set in 2010. In an alternate history that is very different, the meaningfulness of setting it “today” seems absent to me.
            2) It’s never gonna get published anyway. Sure, it might get written, might get posted, but published? No. I no longer have any illusions that anyone will ever publish anything I write.

          • Herp McDerp

            It’s never gonna get published anyway. Sure, it might get written, might get posted, but published? No. I no longer have any illusions that
            anyone will ever publish anything I write.

            Never say never. Jeeze, look at all the self-published e-books on Amazon ‒ some of the authors have dozens of titles, and they seem to be selling. Especially the ones that demonstrate the essential truth of Rule 34 … (Hmm. Does that apply to Orion ships yet? If not, apply Rule 35!)

          • Paul451

            Rule 34 … (Hmm. Does that apply to Orion ships yet? If not, apply Rule 35!)

            Bang bang bang.

          • Paul451

            You could have members of a single family

            It really doesn’t have to be that linear. You don’t have to force the connection between the characters, they can simply be connected by events, by their careers, by their overlapping stories occasionally crossing paths. It gives everything a much more organic feel, rather than just being a family history.

            For example, some of the people involved in the point of divergence would be involved in the development of the Orion project, and later witnesses to WWIII. That’s their arc. Obviously they would overlap with the engineers and crew of the first Orions, the youngest members who would be senior people in the Pax era. Each viewpoint allows you to show a particular part of the overall history, with different arcs crossing and splitting over the years and decades.

            The engineering drawings and news clippings could be items in a scrapbook

            Again, you don’t have to force an explanation for why it’s included. Plenty of SF interleaves chapters with short technical documents without “explaining” them. Sometimes as a quick info-dump, sometimes as wider context, sometimes to contrast “how history sees this” or how “the public sees this” with the events in the chapter you’re about to read, and sometimes just for the author’s amusement.

            HHGTTG and excerpts from the Guide, Asimov’s early Foundation stories and excerpts from the Encyclopedia. Brin’s Earth and Existence novels and bits of news reports, blogs, emails, conspiracy-theory websites, etc.

  • Sounds like a series of linked short stories with different character or a specific event for each chapter.
    There are several different options depending on the style you want.
    One option is have a few paragraphs from the history or a report at the start or end of the chapter with a first person pov in the main body of the chapter.
    If you don’t want a first person pov use a third person pov of the scene. Or use interviews/after action reports describing a battle or event.
    Another option is to do alternating chapters. A technical chapter followed by a story chapter to illustrate. Or since it might grab a reader’s attention better, start with a story chapter followed by a technical summary with the complete technical section at the end of the book. The story chapters would probably be more visceral as a first person pov.
    Another would be a description of a political, technical lead up followed by a first person pov of a event or action followed by a summarizing conclusion of the aftermath which could then lead to the next chapter.
    Or just mix it all up and do whatever you want.

  • B-Sabre

    Scott,

    May not be workable, but you might be able to do a sort of “future war from the past” sort of thing with Pax Orionis an submit here: http://artoffuturewarfare.org/current-challenge/