Oct 20, 2012

Web Weaving

This is the time of year when houses mysteriously sprout giant spider webs and I can't avoid thoughts of the ghost story Moon Hammer. In Moon Hammer, the normal boundary between life and death receives no respect. Characters from Earth's history who we all know to be dead and buried show up as characters in the story, living out their lives at a secret underground city on the Moon. Moon Hammer was intentionally written as a Halloween story, so it might be possible for readers to relax and have fun with the rather casual way in which some terrorists are at one moment blown up in an explosion on Earth then in the next moment shown to be living on the Moon. As Viole Falushe says in the Jack Vance novel, The Palace of Love, "Life, death; these are imprecise terms."

In other circumstances, I find it a challenge to relax my standards and allow fast-and-loose play with the deaths of fictional characters. I've previously declared it a Dirty Trick when authors first make the reader think that a character died, only to later say, "fooled you, that character did not really die!"

That particular Dirty Trick is part of a larger challenge faced by story tellers. My previous blog post touched on the sometimes irresistible temptation to insert a character into a story who just should not be there. Examples of when I've done this include inserting Isaac Asimov into the story The Start of Eternity and inserting Carl Sagan into a fanfiction Contact television series. It is pure mischief to insert Asimov and Sagan into fanfiction extensions of their works, but as Asimov himself wrote, some authorial pranks are just too much fun to resist.

The Final Problem
I'm currently developing the story Exode and my compulsion to insert a real world figure into the story has been growing. Previously, I agonized over the idea I could advance the story by engineering the death of Hana's husband. With time, I was able to accommodate myself to the introduction of a senseless death into Exode. About a month ago I decided that it would be convenient to construct the story in such a way that Hana would spend considerable time and effort searching for her husband, then finally discover that he had been killed.

I still like the idea of making Parthney agonize over the death of Hana's husband in some way. I also like the idea of there being a period of time during which Hana blames Parthney for the loss of her husband. This is becoming a rather tangled bit of web weaving:
1) On Earth, Hana's husband becomes a security risk for Parthney and so Parthney must send him away. Parthney lies and tells Hana that her husband is dead. Since Parthey won't explain the circumstances of the death, Hana suspects that Parthney is responsible for the death of her husband.
2) Eventually, both Hana and Parthney have left Earth behind. They meet again while Parthney is trying to make contact with the Huaoshy. At this point in Exode, Parthney is desperate for Hana's cooperation with the search for "god" (the creators of the human species). He admits that while on Earth he lied about the death of her husband. As is so often the case, one lie leads to another and so Parthney tells Hana that her husband accompanied some Fru'wu on a trip to the Andromeda galaxy.
3) Hana now wants to find her husband and she works with Parthney in an attempt to find a way to travel to the Andromeda galaxy.
Original artwork by Lee Moyer
4) Eventually, Parthney develops a working relationship the Fru'wu who decide that they must provide a spaceship to Parthney for an all-human mission to the Andromeda galaxy. By this point in the story, a romantic relationship has developed between Hana and Parthney's son, Boswei. Hana's devotion to her husband and her desire to find him has become a distraction by this point in Exode. Parthney, now well practiced in lying to Hana, lies once more, saying that her husband died while on an earlier Fru'wu mission to the Andromeda galaxy, a mission that was destroyed by the Nereids (who have their home world in the Andromeda galaxy).

Of course, once they reach the Andromeda galaxy and make contact with the Nereids, Hana learns that the earlier Fru'wu missions to the Andromeda galaxy were not destroyed. The crews of the ships that previously arrived in the Andromeda galaxy are still alive and living as the guests of the Nereids. The Nereids are able to assure Hana that her husband was not part of one of the Fru'wu missions to the Andromeda galaxy.

By this point in Exode, Hana and Boswei are happy together. Parthney returns to his original lie, telling Hana that her husband died on Earth. Of course, by now Hana cannot believe anything that Parthney says, particularly since he still has never given her a coherent account of her husband's death.

Eventually, Hana's son Izhiun goes to Earth. Hana requests that he try to find out what happened to her husband. While on Earth, Izhiun discovers that Hana's husband is still living on Earth! Long ago he made a deal with Parthney to disappear from Hana's life and Parthney promised to never tell Hana that had been her husband's choice.

Now, here is where my instinctive dislike of the Dirty Trick is aroused. The reader has been told several times that Hana's husband is dead. Suddenly, near the end of Exode Hana's husband finally walks on stage. And, to make things worse, this is where I feel the need to compound my transgressions.

At the end of Exode (which is actually described on the first page), Izhiun decides to provide the people of Earth with a written account of Genesaunt Culture. A Buld spaceship has reached the Solar System from the galactic core, and the Overseer-enforced restrictions on Earthlings having knowledge of Genesaunts have finally been eased. It is a trivial matter for Izhiun to leave behind on Earth a copy of the Exode story when he departs for Mars, but I've been feeling a little strange about the physical form that Exode takes (pages of a blog).

The very first part of Exode that I wrote was an account of a meeting between Parthney and Hana on Earth, just before she decides to leave Earth. In that chapter of Exode, it is revealed that Hana's husband is a writer who she met when they were attending college. I'm tempted to write myself into the story and say that I am Hana's husband...a choice that would explain how the Exode story ended up reaching the internet by way of a blog that I created.

Writing yourself into a story
I've previously mentioned the fact (see the end of this blog post) that Jack Vance found an amusing way to write himself into one of his novels. The Demon Prince novels are full of fictional quotes and blurbs that help sketch for readers some of the cultural background of the fictional universe that Vance created. Vance stuck this in:

"Is it conceivable that he Institute wields more control over the human psyche than we suspect?" - Jan Holberk Vaenz LXII

To me, this looks like a hint from Vance about the dramatic extent to which the mysterious Institute exerts control over the people of the Oikumene. He inserts the hint in such a way that we can imagine it coming, 1,500 years in our future, from a mysterious writer named "Jan Holberk Vaenz".

This kind of trickery reminds me of Isaac Asimov's story Gold. Although the story Gold never mentions either Asimov's name or The Gods Themselves, it is clear that he modeled the "Gregory Laborian" character in Gold after himself.

When I wrote (what was at that time) the first chapter of Exode I originally provided a name for Hana's husband, but it might be possible to simply refer to him as "Hana's husband" through most of the story.

Question for fiction authors: have you ever written yourself into a story?

If so, did you openly use your own name or did you use some trick to disguise the fact that a character in your story was actually you?

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