Worlds & Time

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Colony 1


Let me say that again for impact: Finally.

During an interview with me Patricia C. Wrede said that some writers are natural born short story writers, and some people are natural born novel writers but there are only a few people that are both.

I'm not a short story writer.

I mentioned that I was working on a short story the last time I posted, but that short story turned out to be a lot longer than I anticipated. It's 17438 words long, which comes out to about 60 draft pages. That's practically a novella.

You can skip ahead to the story (look for the big green link) but let me talk about the idea that the story is based on first.

This story is "hard" science fiction. It's not supposed to be a space drama like Star Wars. Instead it focuses on some aspect of technology and how it would interact with individuals (or society, as in my case).

I was thinking about an aspect that I've been talking about on this blog: founding new worlds. In the universe in which my books are set, this isn't difficult. FTL is common, and so it only takes days or weeks to travel between stars.

What if you didn't have faster than light travel though? What would the colonization of a distant planet look like?

Most of the colonizations that I can think of involve in the science fiction that I've read have involved people getting into ships, flying through space, and then landing on a planet and setting up a new society. I see a substantial problem with that: moving human life around is overwhelmingly expensive.

Humans need to breathe. They need food and water. They need to dispose of their waste. They also require an awful lot of space to live in. Some authors use "cryogenic suspension" or "cryostasis" or just "cold sleep" to get around the mind numbing time that it takes to travel between the stars, but at our current level of technology we can't freeze an adult human body for a week and then wake them up with no ill effects, much less a thousand years.

I'm sure that if you read that carefully, you noticed that I said "an adult human body." That's because we can suspend human embryos in freezers. Reproduction clinics do it all of the time.

If you just sent embryos, then you could cram thousands and thousands of humans into a very small space, and use only minimal resources to suspend them. If the technology was sufficiently advanced, you could keep them suspended and protected for thousands of years at a time, long enough to travel to a completely new world.

Colony is about such a colony ship, carrying no adult humans only embryos.

If you want to read this draft of it, you can find it here:


Of course, this draft needs a huge amount of work.

First, it's much too long. It really should be between twenty to thirty draft pages, and no more than ten thousand words. I don't think that the plot even starts until half way through.

A big chunk of the beginning has more to do with getting my idea formed than furthering the plot. When I revise this short story, one of the first things that I'll do is remove the opening section that describes the Archer's arrival at Cygnus Gamma IV (incidentally, I didn't do any research on Cygnus Gamma, so I don't even know if it's a real star, or if it would support human life). I'll start the story at the point where the children spend the first night in their new houses.

I'll also have to speed up the story so that Bryan leaves Cylinder 7 quicker. I don't think the plot begins until he gets back with Emma. Emma, actually, was not part of my original idea for this book, and neither was Bryan's trip to Cylinder 4. Both of those were added while I was writing and trying to figure out how to create a conflict between my protagonist and antagonist.

I have to say though, that I really liked Emma once she'd sort of taken shape. I don't know how much of her character comes through, but she's a Buffy. She's not afraid of anything.

Still, her character is very nearly superfluous. I might cut out the trip and Emma entirely. The problem is, Bryan and his sisters are not rebellious enough to provoke Arthur in the way that I want to provoke him.

Still, it would shorten the story if I didn't have to deal with the travel scenes.

I also know that the plot and characterization need work. During this draft I had a fairly poor understanding of the characters (I kept another Word document open with a list of the names of the characters, animals, and primary jobs of the robots while I wrote so that I didn't have to keep scrolling up to remember what Bryan's sibling's names were).

Arthur isn't evil enough. I meant to make him smarter than the others, but that never comes through in the story, nor does he ever really figure out why he's treating the others like crap.

Oddly, of the six secondary characters, the one that I couldn't ever get a read on was Christine. She's there to hold that toy that she carries around, and that's it. All of the others have jobs, but not Christine. She was left blank.

I'm also not sure about the ending. Obviously it doesn't end on a strong note, but I wanted to get in what happened to Arthur without Mother actually talking about what she was going to do to him. They'd been traumatized enough by that point.

There are also a couple of things that are included in the story that don't make a lot of sense but are included or excluded because I thought the story would work better if I glossed over them. Bryan never goes to the bathroom when he's looked in his room, for example. Also, Ernestine magically comes up with nails for the boards, even though they haven't learned to smelt metal yet, and I doubt that they carried a bucket of nails with them on the Archer. If you notice any more, let me know. Those are the only two that I noticed.

Here's what else I'm thinking of changing in the next draft:

Instead of separate houses, I'm thinking that they should all live in more of a pueblo style building with a separate Gathering Hall with a kitchen.

I might cut out two of the girls, so that there are six children per generation instead of eight.

Have mother talk about what has happened (to give an overview of the colonization process) and what she wants to happen (so that the children have something to work toward.

Having Arthur shoot one of his siblings so that Mother is reacting to the action and not the threat.

Don't expect to see the next draft any time soon, though. After 17k words, I'm ready to work on something else for a little while. Probably I'll do a Lex and Lia post, and then work on my book.

Until next time, space cowboys.

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  • I love you, Space Cowboy. Will read this when I have more brain energy to devote as much concentration as is deserved!

    By Blogger Ashley, at 1:23 AM  

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