y current project is Tubitz and Mergenstein, a story I wrote nearly thirty years ago. The original dealt with a young couple, opposites in every way, who flee across the galaxy pursued by corporate and governmental forces.
Back then, I was writing a luke-warm scifi novel – nothing special. Spaceships traveled through black holes to get places (‘downsloping’, I called it). Now it’s a full steampunk yarn, with runnered sailing ships crossing vast seas of mirror-flat rock. Should be easy, right? Just say “sailing ship” instead of “spaceship” and you’re covered.
As I read this, I’m coming to grips with just how much the background tech threaded into the original story. In the opening section, the heroes manage to punch downslope at the last second while leaving Earth, mostly because, even though they were gripped by a tractor beam, they dump a pod containing some defeated boarders out the airlock. It goes into the tractor beam, snaps back, and looks like a missile to the attackers who sheer off. By the time they realize they have been spoofed, it’s not a missile at all, D’oh!, the heroes have downsloped and are away. Hooray!
Which doesn’t’t quite work with steampunky sailing ships.
First problem – disengagement. It takes a bit of time for sailing ships to officially lose sight of each other. No StarWars/StarTrek star-blur, no instantaneous vanishing. Even if they spook the baddies, they are still within a couple of hundred yards off, not anything off-putting. So even if they do drop that pod with its struggling cargo over the side, making the skip trackers drop their grapple, how far can they get?
Second problem – grappling. That was an instrumental part of the trick – using the boarders (sealed in a cargo pod) as a fake missile. Because tractor beams (we imagine) pull evenly at a ship across a broad area, dumping a pod means it will get sucked up, accelerate at the tractoror (?) and cause them to finch at the wrong moment. That doesn’t’t work with a physical grappling hook, embedded (one imagines) in your railing. Even if you somehow affix the boarders to the hook and then manage to get this under-tension cable to come free, so what? You are still right there and there is no reason the pursuers can’t just try again.
Other problems I know I’m looking at – a gunship that uses thought-control guidance which the original owners repossess because they are so attuned to it. And AI programs that chatter away and become full characters in themselves (computers are cogwheel affairs in this book, and I’ll be going overboard by making them anything more than simple sentient characters). And decoding a randomization seed to determine where a ship would randomly go. All these things were in the book, and now they simply will not work.
What to do? I could come up with weak explanations, transferring them across by giving all sorts of crazy names and explanations as to why these technologies still hold.
But I think the best thing will be to re-creatify the story, coming up with new reasons for making things work and escapes will come off. No hyperspace portals. No tractor beams. None of that. Just brand new stuff I’m going to have to think and think and pull out of my creative ass.
Just like last time.