Genesis of Apollo, part 2

Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet is a book I regard very highly, which likely comes as no surprise to people who know me, and yes, it was partly the inspiration for the title, Apollo Quartet. But only at a remove. A number of years ago, I conceived of a quartet of hard science fiction novels similar in structure to the Alexandria Quartet. I called it the Jupiter Quartet, and each book would be named for one of the gas giant’s moons and would reference both the scientific reality and the original myths. But that idea never got further than a quartet of poems, which were published in Jupiter 30: Hermippe in October 2010.

I’ve always liked the idea of quartets (or quintets) in which each subsequent book alters the reader’s perspective on the previous book(s). So, given that the Apollo programme was so central to Adrift on the Sea of Rains, it seemed like a good idea to make it the first of a quartet – the Apollo Quartet. It had a nice ring to it too. I had an idea for another novella, which I felt might be suitable as the second book – unfortunately, Wave Fronts was originally envisaged to be near-future. And the real Apollo spacecraft now all sit in museums…

I could change Wave Fronts, I decided, so that it was set in an alternate near-future in which the Apollo programme continued into the twenty-first century – much as I had the programme continuing into the 1980s in Adrift on the Sea of Rains

Anyway, Adrift on the Sea of Rains had been launched and people were buying it… so it was time I started seriously thinking about Wave Fronts. It too would have two narratives, one of which would be a consequence of the other. And there’d be a glossary, of course, though it would be mostly scientific, rather than an exploration of story’s alternate history. The first narrative was relatively straightforward – a senior astronaut has been sent to a scientific station on an exoplanet to unravel a mystery. The consequences of that mystery would drive the second narrative, and would in turn present the solution of the mystery to the reader.

But two things bothered me about the story. First, there was no real link to the Apollo programme. And second, I couldn’t think of a good reason why they’d sent the protagonist to the exoplanet.

Then reviews of Adrift on the Sea of Rains started to appear, and something in one of them – I forget which – gave me an idea. I’d make the protagonist the first man to land on Mars. It’s perhaps not an explanation why he’s been sent to the exoplanet, but it does make him more interesting as a character. And then it occurred to me that the Mars mission alone was fascinating enough to be a narrative. So I ditched the one I had originally planned, and replaced it with the first manned mission to Mars. Which put that part of the story in an alternate past, and so pulled in a connection to the Apollo programme – because the mission would be done using re-purposed Apollo spacecraft. And when I looked at how, in the original plan, the second narrative was a consequence of the first, I saw I could turn it on its head and have the exoplanet narrative a consequence of the Mars narrative. Things were starting to some together.

The rest more or less slotted together by itself. A twentieth-century Mars mission meant the glossary pretty much wrote itself. It did unfortunately mean a lot more research than anticipated, much more than I’d done for Adrift on the Sea of Rains (although, happily, some of that earlier research could be carried across). The Apollo missions were thoroughly documented and there’s an astonishing amount of material available, a lot of it extremely technical. The same is not true for missions to Mars, because they never happened, so everything that has been written about them is purely speculative. There’s an impressive number of science fiction novels on the topic, of course, but none of them were anywhere near as technically-detailed as I needed for my novella…

And, well, Wave Fronts now no longer fit as the title for Apollo Quartet book 2. I needed a new title. And since I’d just “discovered” Malcolm Lowry, and a quick google for poetic references to Apollo gave me Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Hymn of Apollo’, a line from that sounded appropriately Lowryesque and appealing. And so Apollo Quartet 2 became The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself. The response on Twitter to the title was… mixed, but more seemed to like it than not.

Apollo Quartet 2 The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself was now plotted out – it only needed writing. The narratives would evolve as I worked on them – it’s the way I write. Connections appear, themes become apparent, the focus shifts. But while I was working on book two, I was also thinking about books three and four…

And they will be the topic of a third post.


2 responses to “Genesis of Apollo, part 2

  1. Pingback: Genesis of Apollo, part 3 |·

  2. Pingback: Writerly bloggy hoppy thing « It Doesn't Have To Be Right…·

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