15 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 11

Commentary time!  As always, please read the chapter first.

Like Chapter 10, last week's chapter came about sooner than planned.  I had a wider plotline in mind, but, well, Beaver Flight just never fit the format of a novel.  Chapter 11 began in the last week of November 2012, with the 50 000 word mark of NaNoWriMo within sight.  My goal went from having an intricate story to just finishing the challenge.

I wanted something in between Tori's disappearance and the discovery of where she went, with the base having suffered their first real loss.  Didn't happen, mainly because I felt that prolonging the reveal didn't work in the story as written.  Thus, the jump to Tori.  I had to work out who was abducted by the aliens.  My top choices were Renée and Tori.  With Renée, I had a character who was unsure of being offworld, with only a bulkhead between her and an airless void.  Renée is also a linguist; she would have a chance at deciphering the aliens' language.  With Tori, I had a character whose curiosity gets the better of her.  Give Tori a chance to talk with aliens and she'll grab it.

Obviously, I went with Tori.  That choice meant a lighter chapter.  Sure, there's some mood whiplash from the previous, but a bit of light-hearted prose never hurt anyone, especially before springing new problems and drama to the crew of Darkside One.  It's a technique used by many dramas, including Supernatual and Doctor Who.  I am not claiming that the mood change was deliberate.  I am claiming that I will use what I have to look like I know what I'm doing.

With the aliens finally appearing without a mecha around them, I had to work out what they looked like.  The idea of "Venus needs men!" meant that the aliens should be humanoid and somewhat compatible with human physiology.  Green skin is too cliché, so I went with blue.  Not just one shade, though.  The aliens have light and dark skin.  For a species I never bothered to design before starting, I worked out a few details that went beyond the usual visual SF approach.  Even the clothes took a bit of thought.  Two had green lab coats, one had a black overalls with gold trim, making it easy to show who the commanding officer was.

The game of Telephone the translator plays between her commander and Tori shows the difficulty of learning a new language unrelated to any from one's home planet.  It's not just the lack of similarity between grammatical structures.  Think of all the metaphors and jargon in daily use.

Let's take junk email.  In English, it's called, colloquially, spam, much to Hormel's chagrin, coming from a Monty Python sketch.  In Quebecois French*, it's pourriel, a portmanteau of pollution, or pollution, and courriel, or mail.  In more formal terms, junk email is called unsolicited commercial email or unsolicited bulk email.  An alien who arrives in high Earth orbit and monitors all our communications may see the Monty Python sketch, but without knowing about Hormel's spiced ham product SPAM**, it makes no sense.  There may be a reference, though, to spam email, and a connection to the sketch is made, connecting the Vikings to the junk email, leading the alien to scratch its head in confusion about how strange we are here on Earth.  Now, take that same alien, have it monitor only French broadcasts, and both le spam and pourriel become obscure.  This same line of thought led to the question about the word "wormhole".  Wormholes were originally just the tunnels left behind by a worm as it dug through the ground.  Space sciences, especially the theoretical ones, use terms that are descriptive to label phenomenon.  A tunnel through space that allows for faster-than-light travel is also called a wormhole, which has nothing to do with worms.

If Tori was the first Terran human kidnapped, they'd probably just send her back and leave to find some other world to harvest.  Jie, though, learned from other abductees, who were less willing to talk.  Tori was told what the minimum to say to captors - name, rank, and serial number.  Major di Carlo wouldn't be pleased that Tori answered other questions, but might be happy with the answers.  English isn't a precise language.  "How many of you are there?" may be taken as "How many other people are you with?" or as "How many versions of you exist?"  Tori answered the latter, and told the truth.

Tori's main goal was to make a connection with her captors.  If she couldn't charm them, she'll annoy them.  She discovered a taboo of the invaders.  Sticking out one's tongue is just not done.  Tori does wear down Jie.  Jie and Renée could sit down together and commiserate after this chapter.  Jie also got to learn of a Terran taboo, the anal probe.  Poor alien woman probably heard it from her other prisoners.

The discussion about Pluto is Tori trying to get a new perspective and me adding words.  It helped open a new bridge between Tori and Jie.  Tori got to show off her home solar system and open diplomatic channels.  Jie got a headache.  Tori did score a point.  "One does not shoot friends."  Too bad Jie was so confused at that point to get what Tori meant.

For a chapter I never expected to reach so soon, it was fun to write.  Tori lets me ramble.  I don't think she could carry a story on her own, not without annoying both readers and the writer, but she was ideal for this chapter.

Tomorrow, Chapter 11, "Empty Bunk".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Wonder Woman.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the Adaptation Fix-It Shop engages in salvage operations on Battleship.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* In France, spam is just le spam.  The Office quebecois de la langue français tends to be vigilant when it comes to protecting the French language, creating a small schism with France.
** All-caps is part of the proper spelling of the brand.

1 comment:

  1. In terms of format, I think it's a question of intent. What is here can work as a novel, with some tightening up of earlier material, but it would be a sci-fi action/adventure piece. You seem to have been aiming for something more cerebral, or character driven. The last two parts actually feel a lot more in-line with the setup at the start, and like they should have come sooner (not later), whereas the discussions about coffee and Canada Day drag the momentum down. It makes me wonder why you were resisting the abduction, since you were already approaching the 50,000 words. In the end, the story is at war with itself: the external conflict is driving the plot, yet the internal conflicts are demanding equal time. And yes, the internal conflicts might work better as a serial.

    Also, don't sell yourself short - there was actually quite a bit between Tori's disappearance and this discovery, but it was the latter part of the previous chapter, mostly seen through Darcy's eyes. And there's nothing wrong with that. I do agree with the analysis for why Tori was chosen over Renee. In fact, if it HAD happened earlier, you might have had the extra angle of guilt from the others for treating her badly, or anger over her not following orders again; as it is, we've ended up with a "these things happen" affair.

    Your spam analogy is good (I didn't even know that about Quebec), and it does make sense that language would be a problem. It's not something we always think of (or hand wave away with a universal translator). I think it was handled well. It goes both ways too, "I should send you back without your vehicle" possibly translating to "push you out an airlock". And "What I have learned is that you like to talk" was amusing. As an aside, I thought the fact that Tori HAD a tongue was disgusting, like the invaders can talk without one - but then I guess their diction would suffer.

    Two quibbles, maybe three. First, while the uniforms worked, the rest of the setting suffered. I envisioned her in a cargo bay, or stasis chamber area, with maybe a bunch of other pods, but did it turn out to be a medical bay? Or a laboratory? When she finally stood up and had field of vision, what did she see? Or were the lights too bright still? The bathroom actually had more of a description. Second, from what we know of Tori - she seems TOO at ease with everything. Based on her initial giggle, I'm not sure if that's a coping mechanism or not, but in Chapter 9 she said "It's official. I miss home." You cannot GET further from home than she is, and she may NEVER be returning. But she spares no thoughts for Darcy, or family, there's no hint of regret for disobeying orders, no flashback to Roo 4, no concern, she's just "okay, first contact, let's do this". As I say, could be a coping mechanism, but the fact that she's making demands makes me think she doesn't really care if they put her into a coma, like that other woman who got returned. And that feels a bit false for her character.

    The third "maybe" quibble is the fact that these aliens are far too damn trusting. Consider, if that had been Darcy, not Tori, Jie could have been sedated with her own cylinder before they ever got to chatting about planets. Why is there no military presence? Backup nurse? And does Jie really have the authority to provide a room? As I say, this is only a 'maybe' because perhaps they are that trusting, particularly given their limited experience with Terran women. We don't know enough yet.

    Incidentally, I wonder if the title of the chapter is a call back to the original 'Star Trek' episode of the same name. ("Why would he put a bag on our captain?")