Once I had the idea of a quartet that made use of the hardware from the Apollo programme fixed in my mind, I knew there was one particular story I wanted to tell. But I felt it should be the final book of the four because it was about science fiction and the reality of space exploration, and the contradictions between the two.
But first I had to think about book three…
Unlike the previous two posts on this topic, this one feels somewhat strange. But then it is discussing two books which have yet to be written. Adrift on the Sea of Rains was published and available when I wrote Genesis of Apollo, part 1; and The Eye with Which The Universe Beholds Itself was finished, but for a final polish, when I wrote Genesis of Apollo, part 2. So of course any discussion of books 3 and 4 now is highly premature, and the novellas when they appear may bear no resemblance to what I write here. But I thought it might prove interesting to document my thoughts now, so that later I’ll be able to see how much they’ve changed.
Anyway, Apollo Quartet 4 had been fixed in my mind since about halfway through the writing of Adrift on the Sea of Rains. I knew it would be set during the actual Apollo programme, and would feature an astronaut training for a lunar mission. And it would also be about the science fiction of the time. One of my favourite films is Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and, while it’s set in the 1950s, it is partly an inspiration for the story I want to tell. So I “adapted” its title, and Apollo Quartet 4 became All That Outer Space Allows.
Apollo Quartet 3, however, was a blank. I had the vague idea that I wanted to write a story with two glossaries, and each glossary would give a completely different perspective on the story. Based on that structure, I had a “situation”, which was far from detailed enough to even be called a plot; but I couldn’t find a way to link it to the Apollo programme. So I went back to my ideas book to look for something I could use. And yes, there was something. It was a real-life incident from the early 1970s, completely unconnected with the Apollo programme, and I had been planning to use it in a short story. But after an email exchange with Gavin Smith, I realised it would suit perfectly well for Apollo Quartet 3… providing I added another narrative that was linked to the Apollo programme. And that’s what I did. And, like Adrift on the Sea of Rains, it’s about a topic that fascinates me and which I’ve written about before – both on my blog and in fiction.
Once that was sorted, I only needed a fitting title. So I did the same as I had for Apollo Quartet 2, and went hunting for poems about Apollo in the hope of finding a new phrase to borrow. And that’s where Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above came from – a Homeric Hymn to Apollo (translated by Evelyn-White). Again, it sounds a little Lowryesque, which appealed to me. It also suits the story.
It’s going to be about four or five months before I start work on Apollo Quartet 3, so I don’t want to reveal too many details of the plot. Like the previous two books, it will be set in a twentieth century which features an alternate US space programme. It will have a glossary. It will require lots of research. Everything in it, as will be the case in all four books of the quartet, will be documented in the real world. Nothing will be made up, it’s only how it’s used that will be invented. The Bell in Adrift on the Sea of Rains is a case in point – I didn’t make up the Bell, it’s here in Wikipedia, nor did I make up its supposed workings… but what it actually did while functioning was entirely my own invention. But then no one knows what it was for anyway. Likewise, the plan for the mission to Mars in The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself is a real documented proposal (though I made some changes to the hardware side of things).
I started out wanting to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landings using a science fiction story. That was three years ago, and now I have a quartet of, as it’s been described, “art house hard sf” novellas – of which the first has been published, the second is soon to be published, and the third and fourth will follow within the next 12 to 18 months. Along the way I founded my own small press – although at present, it’s more of a teeny tiny press. I’ve also discovered that I enjoy writing deeply-technical and highly realistic literary sf and that there are people who enjoy reading it. When I published it, I suspected Adrift on the Sea of Rains would only really appeal to people who remembered and/or were fascinated by the Space Race, but sf readers who aren’t space enthusiasts seem to have enjoyed it as well.
It was never my intent to write a quartet which told a single story split over four novellas. The link between the books of the Apollo Quartet is chiefly thematic. Each one also makes use of an alternate version of the Apollo programme – although the last one uses the real Apollo programme. But there is also a common point to all four stories. It’s not just the marrying of a realistic treatment of space travel with established sf/weird science tropes – the Bell, FTL, and so on. I’d hope the Apollo Quartet makes a point about science fiction, about what I think it is and what I feel it should be. This point, however, may not be entirely clear until the last book. So I guess you’ll have to buy them all and read them…