We got to talking the other day about how the finished version of a story looks nothing like its original version. For fun I sat down and mentally traced the progress of my earlier SF-space-opera thingy Flight Of The Vajra. Even I was surprised by the number of steps involved, and the evolution along the way.
One of the earliest incarnations of Vajra, or at least one of its most distant ancestors, was a story I outlined but never wrote. It involved a near-future war scenario, where an enhanced female supersoldier took refuge — in multiple senses of the term — in a Buddhist monastery somewhere. The supersoldier character didn't really make it into Vajra, except maybe by way of the character of Ioné. Although the head nun might well have been the first primordial version of Angharad (the "galactic pontiff" in that story).
This was where Henré Sim, the protag of Vajra, took shape. The underlying idea was a variant on things I'd read about North Korea's program for kidnapping people from other countries with specialized technical knowledge and using them as forced labor, both intellectual and physical. In this story, Sim was a starship designer (much as he is in the final product), enslaved by Continuum, a highly homogenous, post-human civilization. The plot would have involved Sim being sent by Continuum back into the universe at large, but beyond that I didn't have much save maybe for the way the two parties hard-nosed and blackmailed each other into getting what they wanted.
Another abandoned idea that moved Angharad that much closer to her final incarnation. Here, she was the human component of a human/AI dyad used to pilot starships. Every ship had its "goddess", and a whole separate belief system and practice path had sprung up around this. Of this I retained almost nothing save for, again, the character herself.
Here's where things really began to take shape. Henré and Angharad had been knocking around in my head in separate places for some time; what really kicked off Vajra for me was the realization that they belonged in the same story. They complemented each other.
My original stab at the idea involved Henré leaving behind his original career after it fell apart around him, and descending into the underworld to sell his skills to the highest bidder. At the opening of the story, he's a Lupin-esque super-criminal, with a teenaged sidekick — a character that eventually became Enid in the finished story. She turned the dyad of Henré and Angharad into a triad — the good, the bad (well, sorta), and the spunky.
The mission they undertake at the opening of the story involves stealing and transporting a suspended-animation pod. Turns out the pod contains Angharad, the pontiff of the universe ... who's been on ice and missing for decades. Adventure ensues.
Tempted as I was to use that opening, it didn't click. I decided to try another take on it (as documented here), and ended up with the story you know and, I hope, love.
Now that my current novel-in-progress, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, is almost finished, I'm turning my attention to what comes next, and realizing what I have on deck is very much like what I saw in the early, furtive stages of Vajra. There's a lot of potential — many ideas, tons of vibrant characters — but none of it is at a level of focus and direction yet that makes me want to shove everything else off the desk and get to writing. It might be a while before the fuse is lit. But once it starts burning ...