In my previous installment in this series, I talked about the major influences on Flight Of The Vajra. Here, I'm going to talk about the way those influences came together to form a story.
Sometimes my books begin with nothing more than the impulse — giant, breezy, unformed — to write a certain kind of book. Flight Of The Vajra stemmed from my long-standing urge to write some large, wide-ranging spacefaring epic, but for the longest time it had no definition outside of that impulse. No details, no shape, just the longing.
Few good books can emerge from such hazy conditions, and I knew this even then. To make any headway, I had to be more specific. A "big story" only mattered to me if there were characters in it I cared about — something I had liked about Dune, with its cast of striking and strongly individuated people. Writing something "like Dune" wasn't the goal; it was to take the best qualities of that book, and others that seemed properly inspirational, as object lessons.
The one thing I got most from Dune, I think, was the need for a setting that had unresolved internal tensions that the story itself brings to a crisis point. Settings like the earlier Star Treks were more or less static, some of that a product of its origins in TV. They had little internal tension, in the sense that the setup itself was not the source of the tension. All of that came from outside aggressors (the Klingons, etc.) who, once dispatched, dispelled the tension. What I wanted instead was something where the setting itself was the source of the tension.
From that came the idea of the Highend vs. the Old Way — the folks who want very much to move past what is human, and the folks who want very much to keep what is human a living, going concern. Neither side is "wrong", just limited, and each expresses their limitations in different ways. The two need reconciliation, but that reconciliation might not come from a new philosophy or stance — at least, not as first — so much as the ongoing synthesis of the two in the context of many individual lives. First one has to live the new, then one can talk about the new. The story would be a journey towards the incarnation of such a thing in the lives of its main characters.
I've always been fond of stories with large casts that revolve around a strong core of a few people who directed the action. Once I had some idea who those people were, things got a little easier. Henré Sim, Angharad, and Enid (all described in passing earlier) were the core. All I had to do was establish the dynamic between them. The people had to be at the center of the story at all times, though. This is less a science-fiction thing than just a fiction-in-general thing, but some of the SF elements I drew on had a soupçon of that feeling: Cowboy Bebop, Andromeda (and of course Star Trek before that). But before that it was Seven Samurai and the like: a cadre of would-be heroes.
Next time around I'll talk in detail about the roster of characters I created (something I've been hinting at all along; now you get the nitty-gritty), and how they fit into this story.