Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Origin Stories -- The Bright Black Sea (Part One)

First cover with its first title. This would end up being the first 1/3rd of The Bright Black Sea

I can pin part of the blame for instigating The Bright Black Sea on a website/magazine called Raygun Revival. It was on the web from about 2006 to 2012 and featured short stories and serials recalling old fashioned space operas. I can’t say I actually read many, if any of the stories – I really can’t read books on a computer (the scrolling gets to me) but the idea of writing the type of story that they might welcome was certainly one of the threads that lead to The Bright Black Sea. I did start to write a short story – on my ipad – with the idea of submitting it to them, but I didn’t finish it, and it got lost… But while nothing concrete came from my interest in Raygun Revival, it planted the seed to write an old fashioned space opera.
A cover prototype, never used.

Of course, I must go much further back in time than Raygun Revival to find the true origins of my space opera. I wrote it as a homage to all of the space operas of my youth, from E E Smith, Andre Norton, Heinlein, A Bertram Chandler, and many others who told stories centered around space ships. The space ship is, to me, the defining feature of space operas – it carries you to adventure.

However, the seeds of The Bright Black Sea were planted even earlier. I think I can go all the way back to the old Flash Gordon serials that I watched on the small screen of a b&w TV in the 1950’s. And from that on to the first SF books I read: the Tom Corbet, Space Cadet series, along with the Tom Swift Jr. books. My decision to set my story based on old fashioned rocket ships was both a challenge to myself and a nod Flash Gordon, Tom Corbet, Digg Allen, as well as Arthur C Clarke’s The Sands of Mars, the first “adult” SF paperback I read. No faster than light drive. No artificial gravity. It was “rockets away, lad!” And magnets in the soles of your shoes!

And it was a challenge. Those old rocket ship stories still had a solar system to explore when they were written, with the steaming jungles of Venus, the ancient ruins of Mars, the mines of the asteroid belt, and all the rest. Setting a rocket ship story in today’s solar system, while certainly possible, did not interest me. I wanted the romance of the jungles of Venus and the dead cities of Mars. So I had to invent a place where I could invent anything I cared to, without sacrificing the authenticity that using rocket ships brought to the tale. I would, of course, have to fudge science somewhat to get everything working – everything from inventing materials that would protect my spaceers from the deadly radiation of space, to making plasma/fusion propulsion easily do-able, to genetically engineering humans to be able to live in free fall, low gravity, or high gravity without health issues. I also wanted a wide canvas to paint my stories against, and, with travel between stars that were light years apart impossible with my rocket ships, I had to invent a place were I could cram as many planets and even stars into a relatively small space of space.

But they couldn’t be too close, either. If there is one thing that makes me close a book, it is when authors chose to set their stories in the “galaxy” and then make every planets a subway stop apart. The universe is really, really big. The galaxy is really big. And yet I often come across stories where stars are just several hours away from each other. And then, as often as not, they’re one feature planets – a desert planet, an ocean planet, a city planet…That being the case, why not set the story on a planet, or even a continent, and have cities or locales so that the heroes can drive, fly, or even take a train to? But before this turns into one of those observations directed at the clouds, I’ll just conclude by saying that I wanted my locales to be a realistic distance away from each other, but close enough that I could write a variety of stories about routine travel between them. So I gave each star a whole host of habitable planets, and packed the stars very, very close together by making them the debris of a failed supernova. In this way, I made travel between planets a matter of days or weeks with months between the solar systems. I created the Nine Star Nebula.
The Lost Star in orbit.

And that brings me around to yet another thread that lead to The Bright Black Sea, which is sea stories. I can remember at least looking at the Howard Pease’s “Tod Moran” series of juvenile sea stories on the library shelves while I was selecting Heinlein’s juvenile books. I don’t think I actually checked one out back then, though I did pick a few up when I came across them at book sales later in my life. Still, that seems to suggests that I was interested in sea stories from an early age as well. I certainly started reading them in late teens and 20’s. There were Basil Lubbock’s books about the China clippers, W Clark Russel’s Victorian era sea stories, C. S Forester, and later, Patrick O’Brian’s (and many other’s) stories of the Napoleonic era.There was Erskine Childer's The Riddle of the Sands as well as the tramp steamer stories of C J Cutcliffe Hyne, Guy Gilpatric, and others. I was never brave enough to go to sea myself, so I went to sea from my armchair. So, with my love of sea stories, I made my rocket ships, ships with crews, not airplanes with a pilot and perhaps passengers, or subway cars that whisk one from stop to stop.And I imagined that the distance between planets was an ocean to sail across in days or weeks, not something to fly over in a couple of a few hours.

The ancestor painting of the present cover 

But seeing that I've a lot more to talk about, I think I'll bring this post to a close. In the next installment in this series I will discuss the how The Bright Black Sea came to take its present shape, what  my original plan for it was, and how and why I abandoned that plan.

Stay tuned.

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