A year ago today, The Racetrack Chronicle was released. Let’s do some Q&A.
Racetrack was, with Adama and Helo, the character with whom I most strongly resonated and empathized. In large part, that’s down to Leah Cairns’ portrayal: Ronald D. Moore and Michael Angeli may have named her, but Cairns made her real and vivid. On the page, Racetrack first appears in Kobol’s Last Gleaming, the season one finale, and in season two becomes—in one description that has stuck with me and which became a sardonic sobriquet for David—“ECO of the week.” As we progress through Final Cut and Flight of the Phoenix, she’s visibly more broken and traumatized than her shipmates, and as the weeks go by, we see her as mordant, sardonic, volunteering for anything; “walking on the razor’s edge with a death-wish,” if you will.
From the start she’s painted as very human, very damaged, and very compelling. Those qualities made her feel like a protagonist: That Racetrack is—in a way, she’s us in the story, an ordinary person grabbed by the riptide of extraordinary events. Cairns (as she’s apt to do) brought depth and veracity, and it’s all there, fully-realized from that very first episode: Watch her when Boomer leaves the Raptor aboard the Baseship. That brittle tension between resignation, fear, and survival-instinct. If you seek Maggie Edmondson, she is in the performance, not the script.
So she was a character with whom I connected, and I’ve told the story of the book’s genesis in this post. Still, when I started writing in late February/early March of 2016, I only intended to write a short-story. It was in the process of working on that, of engaging with the character, and unpacking what Cairns put into her, that a feedback-loop developed. The more I got to know Racetrack, the more I was convinced “this is a character who’s interesting and important and whose story I want to tell,” and that made me more interested in getting to know her better.
Are you aware that on modern warships, the “galley” is the kitchen, not the dining-area?
Yes. In the maggieverse, the galley is where they eat (at least the officers). It’s 150,000 years ago; not everything is the same.
Are you aware that the notion of staff-officers used in the Galactica interlude is why the U.S. military has Warrant Officers?
Yes, but it’s Major C. Sherman Cottle, not CWO Cottle. An early draft of Galactica did raise that point—to the confusion of some beta-readers. There’s no indication that the Colonial military uses warrant-officers, and creating them would have raised questions about Cottle’s position. That was a can of worms that I wasn’t interested in opening.
Are there lines of which you’re particularly proud?
I really like “A race of helpers who would soon rise up against their masters”; I think that’s fabulous. I always hear hat one in Cavil’s voice. I really like the few lines written for Aaron Douglas, it’s a pleasure hearing that voice in my head. And really all of Maggie and Abigail, I feel proud that I was able (I think) to bring veracity to them, especially lines where Abigail makes me cringe, which happens a lot. I like the line with which Gareth brushes her off, “you’re a person to be loved, not a thing to be enjoyed,” which is a paraphrase of John Paul II; I was never sure whether the intent of the head scene in Rubicon played, but I like that line.
My favorite line in the entire book is early in Galactica, when Maggie and David are sitting astern of the Galactica in a Raptor: “‘I like the Galactica. Outside and in.’ She gazed out of the canopy, the lumbering battlestar’s incandescent exhaust the only visual cue that she was there, far ahead, a rosette of blue twinkles barely brighter than the stars.” I love that image.
Did you draw on Cairns’ backstory for Maggie’s? There seem to be some parallels.
No, with two asterisks. When I started formulating Maggie’s backstory, I knew nothing about Leah’s, and I deliberately kept it that way until I had the outline in place. If there are superficial parallels, they’re coincidental. The ones that I know about are the car-crash (scripted from very early because it was the most logical way to get the outcome I needed, see Interlude 1 in Poseidon), and Maggie and David having three kids in Future Imperfect, the FlashForward (because they’re each middle children, and there was an “all this has happened before” loop running in my head). If there are others, I plead coincidence.
Two asterisks because there are a couple of details that are deliberate nods. Maggie’s middle name, Savannah, is obviously an allusion to Savannah & Seattle. “Seattle” didn’t fit. (It became the Midtown Caprica City neighborhood in which Forsyth lives in Evaded Cadence.) But “Savannah”—that was perfect. It meshed perfectly with my conception of Falstone and Maggie’s rural-south background.) And insofar as both “Edmondson” and “Cairns” are names from the Borderlands, it seemed an appropriate nod to borrow Maggie’s hometown from that area—whence Falstone, Picon, a calque of Falstone, Northumbria, transplanted to the rolling backhills of Kentucky.
A line I was sorry to lose—it’s not the right book for it, but the original draft of the disclaimer said “any resemblance to any persons alive today is unintentional—but hilarious.” I had to excise that, it was tonally inappropriate, but if I ever write something more Pratchett-like, I’m using that.
Did you draw on your backstory for either David or Gareth?
No. In writing all these characters, you inevitably take fragments from yourself and you own life, and that’s as true for David and Gareth as it was for Maggie and Abigail. (And as it is for Carolyn, Forsyth, and Nagala.) But it’s irresponsible to take too much from one source, or to leave it there in raw form. The biggest influences in characterizing David was David Gilmour; his voice, background, and mien, although Wright is more buttoned-down than Gilmour. And a little bit of David Mailer. If he seems like an old soul, it’s because he’s patterned after a man in his fifties on upward. Same thing with Gareth: The biggest influence in characterizing Gareth was his voice and mien, which is to say Michael Fassbender’s voice and mien in Prometheus. Well, alright, so he’s a very calm, level-headed guy, how do we build that out in the background? And in each case, it’s fun, by portraying each of these characters as the archetype of a culture we haven’t seen, I get to texture them and do some left-handed worldbuilding of Virgon and Aquaria. (What kind of worlds do they come from, and what does that tell us about them and those worlds?) I like that.
What is Proven Beyond Unreasonable Doubt?
In-universe, it’s a pulpy, noirish detective thriller novel that is later adapted into a hit movie. The original impulse was Star Trek: The Next Generation, which presents a culture in an advanced state of decay, after failing (it would seem) to produce a single piece of worthwhile culture in centuries. It’s not that Trek doesn’t show humans engaging in cultural activities (mainly music and drama), but it’s always art from before the twentieth century. Riker never takes out that trombone and blows a tune from a 22nd Century bebop composer; Picard never has Data acts out a play from a 21st century French master. And I know that there are production reasons for that, but canon is the gestalt of what we see on screen. I wanted to show that pop culture existed in the colonies, not just high art. It’s just a way to make it more real.
Are there any beats in the book you didn’t like?
I hated using a shipping-incident as the event into which Maggie and Abigail are plunged on their brief trip on the Triton. I don’t like recycling ideas from the show, but the fact that a shipping incident was Tigh’s first thought when Gaeta called action-stations suggests that that’s the most common reason for it in the timeframe we’re looking at. This is a peacetime navy that hasn’t seen enemy contact, let alone action, in years, and it felt right. But I didn’t like that.
I had mixed feelings about anything that felt sci-fi or places where I had to reference Cairns’ physical appearance. I don’t mind doing tasteful fan-service—giving Helena Cain a call-sign is pure fan-service—but the description of the trap and its operation felt a little much because it felt both like fan-service and a bit sci-fi. That was in and out of the drafts for probably six months before it stuck. Maggie’s physicality and physical expression inevitably come from Cairns and her performance, but it felt worryingly-personal. But there are tics and physical artifacts that couldn’t be avoided, so in the end you just have to swallow hard and hope that you’re taken as working in good faith.
Is The Racetrack Apocrypha collection still being considered for release?
Yes. I hope to have that out early next year, depending on schedules. There’s a whole book’s-worth of material for it in terms of volume, but it’s not organized. It’ll just be a compendium of fragments and production materials.
Will the original draft of Rubicon ever see the light of day?
Rubicon puts the episode “Escape Velocity” at day 1189. Why?
The Demetrius departs at the end of “Six of One,” and “Escape Velocity” appears to take place approximately three and a half weeks later. “Six of One” continued directly from the Ionian Nebula battle, which in turn took place approximately two months after “Maelstrom.” Thus, “Escape Velocity” takes place approximately 84 days after “Maelstrom.” The titular day of “A Day in the Life” is day 1,087, and we can make a plausible guess that “Maelstrom” takes place approximately two weeks later, which in turn puts “Escape Velocity” at approximately day 1,189—just over three years since the Fall, which lines up with Adama’s statement in “Revelations” that it has been three years since the escape from Ragnar. (I am indebted to the BSGwiki for many of the details that undergird the Chronicle, especially the dating of various episodes, which I think to be enormously important to understanding what’s going on in these characters’ hearts and minds. If you contrast Maggie in the last chapter of Galactica with where we find her in Rubicon, a lot’s happened—a lot of time has passed.
Why is Racetrack in denial of the seriousness of the crash?
The flip answer is “because that’s how Cairns played her in the scene from the show that precedes the scene in the book.” Preserving continuity is vital.
The more serious answer is—I don’t feel that she’s in denial in the book when the CAG benches her. She’s fighting the point because she didn’t screw up and doesn’t want to accept anything that implies that she did. And I don’t feel that she’s in denial when she tries to tamp down Tyrol and Skulls in the episode. I think she’s a people-pleaser and that kind of mediation feels authentic to a conflict-averse people-pleaser character.
The realization that Maggie is a people-pleaser was a key development. In the second draft of Rubicon, “mom” became “mama” because Cairns gave her accent those little southern grace-notes. That seemed a nice touch, I wanted to play that up. And then her mom’s reaction seemed pretty good: Maggie is excited about her assignment, but her mom’s just dismissing her, and I thought, okay, that’s a nice thread that implies lots about that relationship. So now you’ve got a disapproving mother, a difficult family situation, for a character who displays a compulsion to be useful: She volunteered for the “extremely high risk” gig in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, part 2”; for the unprecedented SAR in “Lay down Your Burdens, part 1”; she put it all on the line to help Lee spring Roslin in “Resistance”; in this story, she’s fighting Two-Times to keep flying; in “Torn,” she’s so desperate to keep flying that she’s willing not only to back-seat, but to back-seat a Cylon! A Cylon married to Helo! And after the crash in “Escape Velocity,” what’s the very first thing she does? She tries to placate the conflict between Skulls and Tyrol.
I had an epiphany: “Oh my gods, she’s a people-pleaser. Wait, she can’t be a people-pleaser, that doesn’t work.” But it does. The people-pleaser characteristics that don’t fit Racetrack as we see her on the show (but which we saw in “Poseidon”: Pliancy, unassertiveness, submissiveness, etc.) are things that you’d expect Officer Training and overcompensation to beat out of a person, and in some circumstances, people-pleasers can take on all the traits we associate with Racetrack: Sarcastic, saturnine, resentful, bitter, brittle, caustic—and, now that we’ve parsed her actions, driven by a need for validation by being useful. (No wonder she was knocked flat by Gareth’s insistence that her value is intrinsic, not derived from what she does. I had no idea about any of this when I gave him that line, but it fits achingly.) Now seal that person in a tin can and take her just below crush-depth for 1,189 days.
What is Gareth’s endgame before the mutiny derails it?
I don’t know; I’m not sure that he knows. One of the questions that FilmCritHulk says writers should consider is what movie each character thinks they’re in. For most of the course of Galactica, from the end of chapter one down to the start of chapter four, Maggie thought that she was in a romance movie, as she claims to have thought in the prelude. I think Gareth’s the same. I don’t think he has an endgame—he’s just got a crush, he likes her, he respects her, and he’s quite religious, and trying to be sensitive to their situation and hers, it’s a bonkers situation they’re in, so he’s trying to work it out as they go. Would they have gotten together but for the mutiny? I don’t know, but I think that’s the choice she’s left to make: Go along with Gaeta’s plan or salve her own wounds. So ironically, she chooses unselfishly, and it screws her. And what we get with Racetrack, again and again, she does what she thinks is right even if she’s not personally comfortable with it, which sometimes is good (Poseidon, Resistance), sometimes not (Lay Down Your Burdens, The Oath.)
So, in the end, she fraks him.
Technically, that’s open to interpretation. To be sure, that scene started with a visual and a mood: The visual was Inara and Fess lying together in “Jaynestown”; the mood was “Clone” by Metric. I felt that it was post-coital, but one of my beta-readers noted astutely that nothing in the text says that they slept together, so it’s open to your interpretation. I don’t think that I really care whether she did or not. And beyond the visual, I didn’t really care what they said so long as she didn’t say “I love you,” which she obviously doesn’t. (I don’t think.) For me, the key thing with that scene was that I wanted for her to be at peace at the end.
Now, behind the curtain: Those scenes were originally drafted as little postscripts, written on background, and they weren’t going to be a part of the published story. So I gave myself some room to indulge my own needs: “No one’s ever going to see this, so frak anyone else’s opinion—I need her to have closure for myself. She’s going to die saving us all, I can’t change that, it’s canon, but she’s going to die at peace with it.” When these scenes came into the story, I had doubts about whether this one plays—whether you can buy that in the few weeks or months between “Blood on the Scales” and “Daybreak,” they’re going to be sleeping together, at least this once. But where we left them going out of the prison scene, they’re both broken and vulnerable, and I’m willing to buy that they sat in that cell together and talked and coupled, especially if I’ve called her right as a people-pleaser at heart: He loves her unilaterally and unconditionally, and I can see why she would both reject and long for that. I’m also willing to consider the possibility that, having made peace with a death that now seems not only inevitable but imminent (remember, she’s seen the shirtshow into which they’re jumping), she might just want a last moment of intimacy. (Cf. Kat in “The Passage.”) Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging in the morning. And I like the idea that he might not be sure whether she’s really giving herself to him as he wants her or whether she’s just using him—that he accepts her just as she is, and will be whatever she needs, for her benefit. That seems to give him something of an arc as well, although it’s not necessarily one you’d expect.
So there are fair questions about that scene, and in the end it either works for you or not. But here’s the bottom line: Writing the main story was an unhappy experience because, as I said earlier, canon demanded that my brief be “take this character whom you love, who’s deeply damaged, and break her completely.” Everyone knows that when you write, you put yourself onto the page; what no one warns you is that the page fights back and forces itself onto you! Rethink “Final Cut”: She didn’t want to die! She saw the obvious likelihood of being killed on-mission, and it terrified her. The closer I got to the character, the less able I found myself to bear the thought of her flying out in “Daybreak” still carrying those burdens and—because Skulls is visibly killed on impact— asphyxiating alone and terrified. I needed her to have some kind of resolution; that before the end, she would be over the fear, stress, and bitterness, and to be at peace.
Which bings us to the ending, which is… Unexpected.
I didn’t want to recapitulate the end of the show. And at the same time, I knew that I had to address it. And so it’s left unclear; the reader who doesn’t know how the show ends is going to be a little confused, but I think that the basic idea that this character who has repeatedly said she expects to die in the saddle is sent out on a suicide-mission and, well, dies in the saddle. After the battle, her friends are left to wonder what happened, and that seems poignant. I knew that I wanted to end it on Gareth and Abigail trying to pick up the pieces, and I knew that I wanted to play the epistemological problem that these characters have no idea what really happened out there. Tigh, Gareth, and Abigail all draw the conclusion that Racetrack, for whatever reason, opened fire right when they needed her to, but didn’t make it home. What other conclusion could they draw? Gareth, though it’s not obvious in the text that made it into the book (again, watch for The Racetrack Apocrypha, which has this) is distraught over the idea that they left her behind. But they don’t know.
I also knew that I wanted to end it on a more hopeful, positive note, and how do you do that? You can’t raise the dead. You instead show the impact she had on the people around her, and I like the idea (alluding to the quote from Sirach in the frontmatter) that while Racetrack didn’t make it to Earth, her name did, and that lived on.
The Chronicle ends with a preview of the next book, Evaded Cadence. Is that still on the way?
Is Racetrack in it?
No. It’s in the same continuity, and I believe there’s an oblique reference to her in the current draft. Her sister, whom we met in Vespers, makes a brief appearance. (She is Carolyn’s flatmate.) Paul Katraine, the father of the “real” Louanne Katraine (whom we never met) appears in a supporting role; he’s also the person on the other end of the phone when Lampkin makes a call on Sasha’s behalf in The Racetrack Apocrypha. But no character seen in the show appears in Evaded Cadence, excepting Richard Adar and Admiral Corman, whom we saw very briefly in the episodes “Epiphanies” and “Hero,” respectively, who are supporting characters. Admiral Nagala, whom we never saw but who was referenced in the show, is one of the six main characters. Everyone else is new. Tory Foster was in the original pool of characters, but she didn’t make it. I felt that I had already pushed my luck with as many characters from the show as I ended up using in the Chronicle; time to look beyond the four walls of the show.
What’s it about?
It’s about the intersecting lives of six people at the top of the Colonial power-structure in the last few months before the attacks. It’s thematically like the Chronicle insofar as it’s about what was going on off-camera that you didn’t see. I would say that the overall tone is more like “Caprica,” but without the teen drama.