Saturnius Mons: An Author's Commentary Track #2

Chapter 2: Author's Commentary

How To Make Your Science Fiction Series Not Sound Like Fuckin' Star Trek.

This was a larger problem than you might think.

So in my first run at this novel, I originally had the crew of Innovation reacting to a problem while traveling to Titan.  Keep in mind that I didn't introduce the main characters in the first chapter, but I had a group of people that we would never run into again.

Which was a problem.

Also, there was another problem:

Kenutson sat down at his seat in the center of the room and pulled a monitor attached to a metal arm down from the ceiling and tapped the screen.  “What’s the status people?” he said.

The navigator turned in his chair, “Captain, there was some kind of miscalculation.   We’re going to miss the optimal orbit trajectory on our arrival at Titan.”

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit on this tin can for another orbit around Saturn.  How bad is it? Can we correct?”  said Kenutson.

“Sir, we’re going to crash into the moon.” said the navigator.

Kenutson suddenly stopped typing, “Crash?  Ensign Nicolae, how does crashing translate into ‘missing our optimal orbit trajectory?’”

“Crashing is less than optimal, sir.”

It sounded like a badly written Star Trek episode.
It was actually one of the few universal comments that I got while I was passing this around writers workshops.  Workshops, for me, were always a mixed bag of helpful critiques and bizzare commentaries.  Always well meaning in both cases, I never had a truly awful experience in any writer's workshop I participated in, but it was often hard to parse one out from the other.

Which is part of the reason I don't participate in them anymore.

But one guaranteed way of knowing if the issue brought up is a real problem or not is consistency.  And when everyone mentions that your first chapter sounds like a Star Trek Episode.

Guess what, son, you just wrote yourself a Star Trek episode.

Kenutson sighed and rubbed the bald spot on his head.  This was it, the best and the brightest the Corporation could come up with.  No wonder he was losing his hair.  “We’re still a week out.  Is it possible to get enough push from our ion thrusters to put us in orbit?”

The navigator looked back at his screen, “According to my original calculations, yes it is possible.”

Kenutson pulled up data from the navigation computer.  The readouts showed Nicolae was right, but it would be close.  He started cycling through the data for a moment and suddenly stopped.

“Ensign, what do you mean by original calculations?” said Kenutson.

“Captain.” said Haroldo leaning back in his chair, “What he means is that he’s been so busy looking at numbers he forgot to look out the window.”

Kenutson slowly pushed his screen to the side and swore.  How could he have missed it when he first arrived?  Outside the window, Titan was so close that the moon was almost as large as the gas giant in the background.

“That’s not suppose to be there yet, is it?” said Kenutson

“We’re not even suppose to see it for a day or two.” said the pilot.

Kenutson swallowed hard, “Shit!  How long?”

The navigator was now typing at a panicked pace, “Still working the calculations.  I should be able to get a reading from the gravitational sensors, but...”

“My guess,” said the pilot yawning, “We got about three hours before we hit atmo.”

The captain slammed his fist on the arm of his chair, “How the hell does this happen?  Who was on watch!”

The pilot shrugged, “I was woken up a few minutes ago, same as you.”

The captain and the pilot both slowly turned their head to look at the navigator who was working on the computer with a certain panicked ferocity.

“Sir, it seems that when we originally charted our route we weren’t planning a gravitational assist on Jupiter.  That was kind of a happy accident, it increased our speed and we cut the trip by a week and saved at least three fusion pellets. ”

The Captain nodded, “Yes, and....?”

“Er.. I forgot to update the computer.” 

You'd think it would be easy to just... I dunno, not write like you got Captain Kirk in the big-ass chair, but it actually took me a couple drafts before I decided to lose this scene completely.  And I'm glad I did.  Aside from being all Star Trek-y, it was just kinda goofy.  As much as I like to write humor into my stories, this scene had the wrong mood going into this story.

So I axed it and replaced it with a scene that let the reader get familiar with the world and the characters.   

I guess the moral of the story is, writers workshops are useful.  Until they are not.  If you're looking to start cobbling together a book, it's worth checking into one just to start building the basic skills needed to write a novel.

Oh, and if anyone from any of my old writers workshops should stumble upon this, thank you for telling me my first chapter sounded like Star Trek.  That would have been embarrassing to discover that now.


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