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The rank-structure of the Colonial Fleet

The Racetrack Chronicle mentions two ranks of the Colonial Marine Corps that seem to follow uncontroversially from canon: Brigadier and General, the CMC equivalents of Commander and Admiral. Natalia Caldwell receives a brevet to the former at the end of Poseidon, and General Ishawa is mentioned as heading the Colonial Forces Training Command. Commandant of the Colonial Marine Corps General Kim Bratton, plays a supporting role in the next book, and General Hague (spot that reference, sportsfans) instigates an important event in its backstory.

More controversially, the Maggieverse implicitly discards a rank that has been presumed to exist. Fanlore bifurcates the Colonial Lieutenancy into two ranks, junior-grade and full, relying on a blog post from RDM and a slight difference in rank-devices worn by different actors playing different Lieutenants. I’m skeptical, and I wrote the Chronicle with an assumption that the Colonial Lieutenancy is a single rank.

Assumptions, canon, and the costuming-department.

Watching a show like BSG, we generally assume that what we see on-screen are specific instances of a broader, coherent world. Thus, for example, we assume that the uniforms worn by Cdr. Bill Adama in the Miniseries are typical for a Commander in the Colonial Fleet, and the badges worn on-set by actor Edward James Olmos that correspond to the character Adama’s rank-devices are, in-universe, the rank-devices that ordinarily denote the rank of Commander. Thus, when we see Jurgen Belzen wearing the same uniform and rank-devices as Col. Tigh, we infer Belzen’s rank and position. This insinuation of a world beyond the frame—one that is consistent with but larger than the on-camera environment—creates a veracity and suspension of disbelief that to draw us into the portrayed world.

Let’s start, then, with the badges and ensigns of the Lieutenancy as they appear on-screen and in the canon.

On-screen, the portrayed universe shows us junior officer ranks that progress linearly through spearhead-shaped rank-devices: Major (three chevrons), Captain (two chevrons), and Lieutenant (one chevron):

But there is a common variation of the Lieutenant badge—in fact it was the most commonly-worn badge on-set—with a short chevron that doesn’t hang over the side of the badge:

For purposes of this post, I’ll refer to these as the “long” and “short” badges, meaning only the IRL badges worn on-set, not whatever the might denote in-universe. Alessandro Juliani, playing Lt. Felix Gaeta, for example, wore the short badges, while Katee Sakhoff, playing Lt. Kara Thrace, usually (but not always) wore the long badges prior to Thrace’s promotion to Captain:

(During his brief demotion to Lieutenant, Lee Adama also appears to wear them interchangeably, although the resolution is too low to be sure.)

Fanlore—citing this RDM post written after season one—treats these badges as distinct rank-devices connoting distinct ranks. RDM explained that “[f]or our internal purposes, we’ve decided that the ranks are indeed a mixture of naval and army nomenclature and are basically as follows: … Ensign, Lieutenant JG, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, Commander, Admiral.” This list can be thought of as an addendum to the show bible: It’s not canon, it’s a guide for the writing staff’s assumptions. And like the show-bible, ex natura, it is and proved subject to revision. Significantly, for example, RDM’s list omits Lieutenant-Colonel, Jack Fisk’s rank in “Razor.” (And that of Galactica second-officer Nathan Blake in the Chronicle.) The list wasn’t intended as, and in fact can’t be, an exhaustive, well-considered taxonomy of the ranks of the Colonial Fleet.

I accept that as products of the costuming department worn by actors on-set, the short and long badges are distinct. (They are, confessedly, more distinct than I thought when I formed my conclusions on this issue, which was before I had access to the resolution provided by Blu-Ray disks.) But as to what if anything their distinction connotes in-universe, that is, whether they are in fact different rank-devices in-universe, connoting different ranks (rather than, for example, older and newer patterns of the same rank-device)—that’s another question.

The two best canonical arguments for the bifurcated lieutenancy come from very early in the show. In the Miniseries, the nameplate JRLT SHARON VALERII “BOOMER” is visible on Boomer’s Raptor, and in “33,” a captured Helo verbally offers the familiar prisoner-of-war formula: “Agathon, Karl C. Lieutenant, junior grade, Colonial Fleet. PK789-9348….”

Taken in isolation, I concede that these point toward a bifurcated Lieutenancy, albeit not with certainty and not without some minor difficulties. For one thing, they aren’t quite consistent: If the rank is called “Lieutenant, Junior Grade,” why not LTJG? For another, that isn’t Helo’s serial-number; Propworx auctioned his dog-tags, which give his serial number as 384162. (1 Propworx, at 145, lot 390.) That sounds like splitting hairs, I know, but if we can to infer canonical information about the world from props, it would seem odd to say that only some props count.

Still, JRLT is a plausible substitution of “Lieutenant Junior Grade” for that purpose. It’s two other issues that really scuttle the theory.

First, if Boomer and Helo are our prototypical JGs, it bears noting that although Grace Park (playing Boomer and later Athena) wore the short badges throughout the show, Tahmoh Penikett (playing Helo) wore the long badges throughout season one:

Helo has no opportunity for a change of clothes in the 62 days between being marooned on Caprica in the Miniseries and his escape in the middle of season two. He was assuredly not promoted between episodes 101 and 103. Future promotions notwithstanding (were “Final Cut” our only evidence, one could argue for offscreen promotion), he left Caprica holding the same rank with which he arrived. If the long badges are taken as denoting a discrete rank, full Lieutenant rather than the JG as which he seems to identify himself to Six, this is a discrepancy.

Second, no other pilot has a JRLT nameplate on their plane—even those who wear the short badges. Luciana Carro’s Louanne Katrine (AKA Sasha Billings in Vespers) was a Lieutenant until her promotion to Captain. But Carro wore the short badges until or even after Kat’s promotion to Captain; if the Colonial Fleet had a JRLT rank, Kat’s pre-promotion nameplate should have read JRLT LOUANNE KATRAINE “KAT”. It didn’t. Her nameplate styled her LT. (2 Propworx at 286, Lots 785 et seq.) The same goes for her on-again-off-again lover (fight me), Bodie Olmos’ Brendan Costanza. Olmos wore the short badges throughout the show; if the Colonial Fleet had a JRLT rank, Hot Dog’s nameplate should have read JRLT BRENDAN COSTANZA “HOTDOG”. It didn’t. His nameplate styled him LT. (2 Propworx, at 287 lot 789.)

“Ah,” I see you getting ready to say—”but why assume that Raptors and Vipers follow the same nameplate conventions?” Alright: Leah Cairns wore the short badges throughout the show, but Racetrack’s Raptor was always designated either LT MARGARET EDMONDSON “RACETRACK” or LT. MARGARET EDMONDS. “RACETRACK”, never JRLT M EDMONDSON. (2 Prp. at 288 Lot 793.) The same goes for “Sharon Mark II.”After Grace Park’s Sharon Agathon received a field-commission, her Raptor styled her LT SHARON AGATHON “ATHENA”, not JRLT, notwithstanding Park continuing to wear the short badges.

With all this in mind, it is reasonable to assert this much: Canon doesn’t settle the question. At best, there is canonical evidence consistent with the existence of the JG rank, and there is other canonical evidence that cuts against it. Each set of evidence can be attacked on the IRL grounds that it was later retconned or was a production error, but when all’s said and done, canon is ambiguous on this point. And ambiguities in the canon should be resolved in favor of coherency.

Why fight it?

Very early in the writing-process, I needed to resolve a knot of closely-related issues about the career-paths of some key characters, which meant engaging with deployments, time-in-grade requirements, and rank-structures. I wanted to understand the trajectory of my characters through the Colonial Fleet’s normal world.

You have to start somewhere, so I started here: Cairns (Racetrack) and Park (Boomer, Athena, Number Eight) are the same age and each wore the short badges. In trying to reconstruct Racetrack’s career path, I started with an operating assumption that she and Spitfire were the same age as (and so reported aboard at the same time as) Boomer, whose arrival we can bracket from canon. In “Sacrifice,” Tigh says that Boomer reported aboard “two years ago.” That episode isn’t dated, but its timeframe is bracketed by “Epiphanies” (day ~217) and “Downloaded” (day 270). Accordingly, the timeframe in which Boomer, Racetrack, and Spitfire reported aboard the Galactica is approximately days -513 through -460. At Zero Hour, then (i.e. the Miniseries, or chapter four of Galactica), our heroines had been aboard the Galactica for between fifteen and seventeen months. The original operating assumption may not have been sound, but it yielded a workable initial number.

The ordinary naval life.

In peacetime, U.S. Navy officers are not eligible for promotion before serving a minimum period in their existing rank—the time-in-grade (“TIG”) requirement. And ships, especially aircraft-carriers, operate on activity cycles comprising deployments, maintenance phases, and time in port. These are perfectly reasonable, comprehensible patterns that any well-ordered military operating aircraft-carriers or their analogs might be expected to follow. It stood to reason that the Colonial Fleet would have similar cycles.

More canonical facts fill in more blanks. We know that the Pegasus’ maintenance-phase was to last three months (“Pegasus”). We know that at Zero Hour, Gaeta has been aboard the Galactica for “three years” (Miniseries), which is unlikely to mean 36 months to the day. And we can presume that the Galactica is at the end of a deployment at Zero Hour because she is on the cusp of being decommissioned. (A scene scripted and shot but excised in post would have canonized that the ceremony was not held in advance of the event, and that the Galactica was in fact no longer a commissioned warship at Zero Hour.)

Further assuming that rooks typically reported aboard when a battlestar deployed rather than when she went in for maintenance, I could posit a sixteen-month deployment based on Boomer’s arrival. The numbers then lined up nicely: Gaeta reported aboard after the Galactica’s penultimate maintenance phase, then served a sixteen-month tour, followed by a three-month maintenance-and-training phase, followed by another sixteen-month tour (the one I chronicled in Galactica from the perspectives of Maggie and David). That gives us to a nice round and close number of 35 months for Gaeta’s pre-zero-hour tenure on the Galactica.

(Sixteen months is a long time, to be sure, but given the exigencies of real-life spaceflight on the scale of the Cyrannus system, it seemed a plausible unit, especially when a sixteen month tour could cleanly break into shorter deployments strictly-defined. At any rate, I gave Blake a line about exactly this point in Galactica.)

Apart from lining up the numbers in a pleasing way, this hypothesis would suggest a few more things. First, at the beginning of the miniseries, Gaeta was probably under consideration for a promotion before his next assignment. Second, Boomer, Racetrack, and Spitfire would have reported aboard together on the deployment after Gaeta, and would have been eligible for promotion to captain approximately halfway through the sojourn over New Caprica but for the Fall. (It does not require a particularly astute reader to realize that both Simon actual and Maggie are somewhat traumatized by the idea of where these characters would have been had life gone on as everyone expected, and Future Imperfect was, without doubt, the hardest and most emotional bit of writing in the book.) Third, it contextualizes the remark that I gave Racetrack in Rubicon about a 55-month deployment: Colonial officers expect deployments in units of three, eight, or sixteen months and assignments of 35 months.

Sorting into ranks.

But when it came to the rank-structure, there was a problem. Some oddities of the show can be ascribed to wartime exigencies; Adama continuing to wear a Commander’s piping after his field-promotion to Admiral, for example. That’s one of the caveats to the presumption of regular order I mentioned above. But when it comes to the presented world before the Fall of the Colonies, we assume regular order. And there isn’t room in a regularly-ordered rank-structure for a bifurcated Lieutenancy.

At Zero Hour, Apollo is a Captain and Gaeta is either a Lieutenant, or, if such exists, a JG. Thus, we must posit a rank-structure that can reconcile Apollo being a Captain after not more than four years in the service (“Daybreak”) with Gaeta, an ambitious go-getter (“Final Cut”) with around four years in the service (Miniseries; “The Oath”) still being a Lieutenant. If the JG rank exists, then, even if Lee is a freshly-minted Captain (never stated in canon but surely canon-compliant), even if Gaeta had been due for promotion immediately after the Galactica’s deployment ended, no amount of string-pulling-by-daddy (a thumb on the scale that would be in tension with several canonical facts) could satisfyingly explain Apollo managing to progress from JG to LT to CPT in the same (arguably less time) that Gaeta was a JG. Not unless Gaeta was shockingly incompetent, that is—but that seems wildly inconsistent with the character.

The discrepancy between Apollo and Gaeta exists (and the epicycles required to explain it need be incanted) only if we presume a bifurcated lieutenancy. The problem disappears if there is no JG rank.

Absent contrary evidence, we assume that a character’s approximate in-universe age is consistent with the apparent age of the actor on-set. (Sidebar/tangent: I wrote Racetrack as three years younger than her actor. Cairns would have been 30 when KLG2 was shot in spring 2005; in-universe, Maggie was 27. Carro would have been 24; Vespers noted Sasha’s age right before Zero Hour as 22.) Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta) and Jamie Bamber (Apollo) are approximately the same age; Bamber is slightly older, and while age isn’t dispositive as to rank, it seems entirely plausible that Gaeta is just a step or two behind Apollo. It also becomes less critical that Apollo’s promotion have come fast.

Another age-related point worth noting: Michelle Forbes was 40 when “Pegasus” was shot, but Helena Cain can’t have been much younger than seven in the “Razor” flashbacks, which makes her ~47 in “Pegasus.” That is very young for an admiral, and this is where the TIG requirements start to really bite. If the Colonial Fleet has two ranks of Lieutenant through which Cain’s career had to progress, her rise is even more meteoric, or else she is significantly older than the actress who played her. But if there is no JG rank, her rise is merely fast rather than astonishing,

Difficulties with three more field-promotions likewise disappear if there is no JG rank. Kat and Helo are each promoted to Captain during the New Caprica sojourn. (The exact dates of their promotion are a subject for another time.) If Helo was in fact a JG notwithstanding Penikett wearing the long badges, he jumped a rank. And Kat definitely did: Carro went directly from wearing the short badge in “Occupation” to wearing Captain’s badges—days later, in-universe—in “Exodus.”

Likewise Kendra Shaw, who is promoted to Captain (“Razor”) while wearing the short badges. If a JG rank exists, Cain skipped Shaw over a rank. All three of these promotions are more plausible if the Colonial lieutenancy is a single rank, because all three examples then become a straightforward promotion from one rank to the next rank up: LT to CPT.

Still, there is a counterargument to be acknowledged: Wartime exigencies. Helo and Kat received their promotions in order to take up specific positions, and one can argue that their promotions were to ensure the consistency of the chain of command. The CAG must outrank the next-most senior pilot, that argument goes, and the XO must outrank the next most senior line-officer aboard, so Adama skipped JG Agathon and JG Katraine over the full lieutenant rank in order to give them the rank required for their position.

That theory doesn’t quite work, though. If we’re skipping ranks to preserve the integrity of the chain of command, why skip only one? Why promote Kat merely to parity with the squadron-leads (“The Passage”) instead of making her a Major, giving her rank over all the remaining pilots and the LSO? A fortiori Agathon: If the argument is that Adama had to promote him in order for the XO to outrank the next most senior line-officer and would skip ranks to do it, why not make him a Major, giving him authority over the new CAG, Cpt. Katraine, and parity with the most senior staff-officer, ship’s surgeon Sherman Cottle, nominally a Major?

The theory also fails to explain Shaw, whose promotion is a reward rather than required to fill some exigency. Note also that Shaw is later promoted to Major when she becomes the Pegasus’ XO; if skipping ranks is acceptable, at least in the circumstances, why not Lieutenant-Colonel? Why not a full-bird? Granted, there are plausible explanations; Major is probably the minimum rank required by the T.O. for a battlestar’s XO (thus explaining Apollo’s promotion to that rank in “The Captain’s Hand”), and perhaps, insofar as we know the Pegasus had several Captains in her company but know of no line-officers ranking Major in her company, no jump in rank was necessary for Shaw to outrank the next-highest-ranking line-officer aboard. The significant point for now is, once again, that canon fails to resolve the question definitively, leaving the question ambiguous.

(Concededly, Lee Adama is promoted directly from Major to Commander. But that promotion seems bespoke, and one can imagine several in-universe explanations ranging from “proud poppa” to “T.O. requires that the CO of certain classes of vessel hold the rank of Commander.”)

Conclusions

Ambiguities in canon should be resolved in favor of coherency. We have seen that canon is ambiguous as to the existence of the JG rank, and that it would create difficulties if that rank were held to exist. Accordingly, in the Maggieverse, it does not. Instead, the Fleet’s rank-table with time-in-grade requirements is:

Note that this makes Cain at least 22 years into her career, which, if 47, means she was graduated from one of the Academies no later than age 25. That seems reasonable, and leaves some breathing-room to finesse her age downward, closer to Forbes’. It also puts her in the ballpark of the expected duration of service for a new USN Captain (O6), leaving intact the idea that she rose through the ranks quickly compared to the norm.

This supplies a simple rank structure that reconciles Apollo and Gaeta and we can explain the otherwise-anomalous single year in which Gaeta served somewhere other than the Galactica: Ensign, with a one-year TIG requirement; Lieutenant, with an eighteen-month TIG requirement, and then Captain on up. Thus, Racetrack served at least one year in the Colonial Fleet as an ensign before her commission as a Lieutenant and sixteen-month deployment aboard the Galactica—sufficient time for the bloom to come off the rose.

To be sure, the show sometimes made costuming mistakes. The CO’s jacket and Admiral’s rank-devices in which Costuming vested Michael Hogan in one scene in season four don’t require us to imagine a whole subplot in which Tigh receives and loses a promotion. In the same vein, I have no doubt that Sakhoff’s pins in “The Hand of God” were a mistake. At the same time, it’s important to remember that characters sometimes lie and sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes things in–universe don’t mean what we assume them to mean based on analogies to our own experience. Maybe Helo lied to Six. Maybe JG is a thing that exists in-universe but means something other than what we understand as a discrete rank.

At all events, though, creators’ intent is not the same thing as canon, and we should construe canon in a way that promotes the coherence of the portrayed world. Inferring a whole discrete rank introduces a number of problems and for that reason, my continuity operates on the assumption that the Colonial Fleet and Marine Corps have a single O1 rank, Lieutenant, and that Racetrack, Starbuck, Helo, Kat et al all held the same rank, even if some had more seniority than others.

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Kara’s coordinates: Notes and the scale

Spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica series finale

In the climactic moments of “Daybreak,” the Colony is struck by a volley of nuclear warheads—fired (depending on how you choose to interpret it) either by our heroine Maggie “Racetrack” Edmondson in her dying moments, or at least, by divine intervention, from her plane. In its death-throes, the Colony slides toward the black hole it orbits, dragging with it the Galactica and what’s left of her crew. At this moment, the significance of “The Music” (i.e. the Final Five theme and Hera’s notes) is revealed: Ordered to jump the ship to literally anywhere else, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace intuits numerical values from the notes, punches them into the FTL control console, and turns the key.

For just a moment, above the report “Jump Complete” displayed in large, friendly letters, we glimpse what Kara typed:

1123,6536,5321

Where,” Laura asks, “have you taken us, Kara?” Home, it turns out.

“Daybreak” ties together many threads of story and mythos, but it leaves us with some technical questions. This post considers one of them: What did Kara tell the FTL system to do?

I.

Some context. Colonial faster-than-light technology involves an instantaneous, space-folding jump rather than rapid travel in what Larry Niven’s books call “Einstein space” à la Trek. The mechanics and limitations of this technology are unspecified. The practical limit on its use is the compounding uncertainty about one’s destination as jump-range increases: The speed of light is finite, so any observed information about a destination 1 light-year distant is, by definition, a year old. Safe operation of jump-drives therefore require sensory equipment to observe the vicinity of your destination and computers to calculate the motion of every object that may cross through your arrival-point. The farther you jump, the greater potential for error, and the less certain you can be about your destination.

During production of season 4.5, producers asked composer Bear McCreary to figure a theory that could explain Kara’s intuition, linking his Final Five theme to something the FTL system can accept as input. In a blog post that has won wide but uncritical fan acceptance, McCreary explains where he came out on the question. First, he consulted science advisor Kevin Grazier, who said:

“When we specify coordinates in astronomy, it’s usually done with two angles – one that ranges 0 to 360 degrees, the other +90 to -90 degrees. Necessary also is the distance … we’ve already established that one unit of measure used by Galactica is the SU, … similar to the Astronomical Unit used in our Solar System … So as I see it, we will need from the music: XXX carom YYY dist ZZZZZZ.”

Then, after discarding more complex approaches to generating numbers, McCreary

decided to assign each note in the C# scale a number, excluding the chromatic notes between them. This is a diatonic approach instead of a chromatic one … [with] several advantages. It produces only single digit numbers. It is also the most intuitive solution … [because] In basic ear training exercises they make you sing melodies with words or numbers corresponding to the notes … So, someone like Kara who was taught by a professional musician as a youth could be familiar with thinking of the tonic as ‘1’, the second scale degree as ‘2’ and so forth. It’s believable that Kara might be humming the tune to herself as the numbers come to her mind. With this philosophy in mind, I took a second look at the Final Five Theme. The melody is either 11 or 13 notes (depending on if you count the little triplet ornament figure that does not consistently appear with the theme). The easiest way to arrive at 12 notes was to discount the triplet figure and then repeat the first note, which is technically the way the phrase is looped in my arrangement of “Watchtower” anyway. Assigning numbers based on the diatonic scale system I described earlier yielded … [a vector]: 112 carom 365 dist 365321.

For the record, I wrote everything published heretofore with the Grazier-McCreary solution assumed. It never became relevant to consider in depth. But further reflection has changed my mind: While the producer’s intent is clear, intent isn’t canon, and that can’t be how the FTL targeting system works.

In Grazier-McCreary, Hera’s notes become Kara’s vector: 112365365321 becomes 112 carom 365, range 365,321. The smaller objection to this solution is that it doesn’t match what’s shown on screen. The number-grouping displayed on the FTL console is 1123,6536,5321 not 112,365,365321. It would be very strange—nay, weird—to write military software displaying a vector that way. That contradiction bugged me while I was writing; not enough to get stuck on a detail that wasn’t relevant to my project, and it’s not conclusive, but it’s worth noting in this context.

The bigger objection is units—365,321 whats? Grazier & McCreary say that the range input is in SU, the Colonial equivalent of AU. That can’t be right.

For one thing, if the FTL targeting computer takes SU as its range, then, with no room for decimal places in evidence, 000,001 SU would be the minimum range cognizable by the computer. That feels far too imprecise. If the targeting computer uses SU, it is incapable of the precision that we have seen in the show: Jumping into orbit, jumping into an atmosphere, jumping in close formation, jumping within a boat-length of the Colony. SU is just too coarse a unit.

And even if the minimum jump distance were precisely 1 SU, i.e. 150 million kilometers, that’s far larger than the minimum-distance jump we’ve seen Galactica perform. For example, in “Exodus,” Galactica jumps from ~4900 meters (sic.) over New Caprica to orbit, a jump of no more than ~40,000 kilometers. So the input can’t be in SU.

But obviously if SU is too large and coarse a unit, the input can’t be in a unit so small and precise as meters, either. So—what?

II.

Let us observe that if one aspect of Grazier & McCreary is unsound, others may be, too. Fan Thomas Roewer has suggested that we discard the vector framework entirely and consider the possibility that the FTL computer takes only range as input. We don’t need bearing, Roewer argues, because the system could take those from the orientation of the ship: From the axis made between the FTL spin-sync generator and some counterpart unit that, in the Galactica and most other Colonial ships, is located in the bow.

That solutionis surprising, but, intriguingly, nothing on screen contradicts it. Several things are at least consistent with it; a few could be read to affirm it, if implicitly. In several episodes, not least “Daybreak” itself, we see Colonial vessels engage in positioning-maneuvers before making jumps. We also see the apparent conservation of rotation and direction through jumps, not to mention conservation of relative positioning and attitude of the ragtag fleet. It could also explain why jumps produce first a visual flash from the presumed location of the spin-sync generator and a second flash that travels down the long-axis of the jumping ship.

At very least, then, canon doesn’t exclude the Roewer solution. And there’s a very good argument in favor of it: Roewer liberates Kara’s numbers from the need to provide a bearing. If all twelve numbers are available to describe range, we can solve the “stellar units are too big but meters  are too little” riddle.

Assuming that the input takes a single variable, range, we’re back to the “what units” problem with a different number: 112,365,365,321. Still, we can now discard SU as a contender. For one thing, any problem of the coarseness of SU as a unit of input is vastly multiplied. But there’s another and stronger reason why it isn’t SU.

Bracket the question of the theoretical range of the FTL system itself. Assume that the engines are effectively limitless—or at very least, they can perform any jump within a margin of safety beyond the maximum input range of the FTL targeting computer. (Why would anyone design a control system that lets a helmsman ask the engines to perform beyond their ability?) If the FTL input is range in SU, the Galactica’s last jump was 112,365,365,321 SU or 1,776,778 light-years. And the maximum range that can be entered into the system is 999,999,999,999 SU, or 15,812,507 light-years.

That’s an absurd result, and so an implausible one. It isn’t just that the telescopy and computing-power required to perform the necessary observations and calculations at even the lower end of that range is implausible, although that’s certainly a problem. The fatal flaw is: Why would Colonial civilization—limited, so far as anything even vaguely canon-adjacent tells us, to a single system less than a light-year across (Cyrannus rounds to .1616LY at total Opposition)—write software that accepts so vast a range as an input? That doesn’t pass the laugh-test.

So if SU isn’t a viable unit, what about something smaller? 999,999,999,999 kilometers is .1057 light-years. Better yet, 999,999,999,999 miles is a very Trek-friendly .1701 light-years. We don’t know what units the Colonies use in this ballpark, but any unit in the general scale of miles/kilometers would allow for jumps as precise as those into and out of the atmosphere of New Caprica, and as far as from one end of Cyrannus. That’s a reasonable distance that fits within the parameters and scale of the presented world.

* * *

Two objections should be met. First: The QMX map says that Kobol is 2,000 light-years from the Colonies, and a maximum jump-radius of .17 light-years is too small to make it there in the number of jumps shown in season one. Still, that objection isn’t fatal. The 2,000 LY number isn’t canon, and there’s no particular reason to believe that the Colonials share our lack of a standard unit larger than 1km but far smaller than 1AU. As “33” opens, the fleet is on the run from the Cylons and has completed jump 237; we see jump 238. At a range of .1701 LY, if they are running in a straight line, they’ve made it 40.48 LY from Ragnar. Kobol could be closer than QMX says, and the colonial unit of input could, without any violence to the foregoing analysis, be significantly larger than a kilometer. If the Colonials have a unit of measurement answering to 5000 meters, the same logic applies.

Second: It’s stated more than once that it’s supposed to be impossible to track a ship through a jump, and if Roewer’s right, insofar as a ship’s orientation can be seen before a jump, wouldn’t you just need to look along that axis to track a ship? Not necessarily. For every additional light-second of range, the uncertainty field increases in area, spreading conically, with different possible solutions based not only on distance but small variations in observed orientation. You would need to know orientation with great precision past a few light-minutes.

All told, the evidence is not conclusive, and significant deference is owed to production statements like the Grazier & McCreary solution.And Roewer’s theory isn’t without difficulties and contrary evidence; one could point, for example, to “Crossroads,” in which Racetrack does not appear to perform an orientation before the emergency jump back to the fleet. Nevertheless, Grazier & McCreary leaves a significant problem for interpreting Kara’s numbers, and adopting Roewer’s theory opens the way to solving those numbers: An FTL control system that takes bearing from orientation and accepts input in some unit approximating miles (or within a few orders of magnitude thereof) provides a possible solution for how the FTL system operates.

Ltc. Jackson Spencer

The battlestar Galactica’s CAG during her last deployment is Jackson “Dipper” Spencer, CF. The Miniseries script specifies neither a name nor rank, but the Viper he flies off the Galactica has a nameplate for MAJ JACKSON SPENCER “DIPPER,” whence the CAG’s name and presumed rank has entered the lore.

Accordingly, The Racetrack Chronicle refers to him twice as Major Spencer. But in the waning days of the deployment chronicled in part two, “Galactica,” I reference Spencer receiving a promotion. That’s to accommodate the fact that in the Miniseries (which coincides with the following chapter), Spencer wears the bright, shiny rank-devices of a newly-minted Lieutenant Colonel rather than those of a Major:

There are a few ways to think about this, but my own view is that Spencer should be treated as a recently-promoted LTC for his short life on screen.

To be sure, I doubt that it was intentional, and the pins are clear for only a few frames, but canon is a gestalt that includes unintentional and even unintended elements. Still, it’s worth considering how this seemingly-contradictory costuming datapoint made it onto the screen.

An in-universe explanation could be that the Viper flown by the CAG was not his own, and so the name and rank on its plate don’t pertain to him. Plausible, perhaps, given the stand-down, and given that other characters in the Miniseries fly planes with other names on them. (Starbuck, if memory serves, flies Raymond “Raygun” Lai’s plane. It was the first to hand.) But that explanation’s unlikely, because the CAG climbs into that Viper at the peak of Colonial civilization. And in any event it’s unattractive, because that would leave us with no canonical name for the character.

An IRL explanation is that the pin was a costuming mistake. It was early in the show, the script didn’t specify a rank, so the props department went one way, costuming another; who’s gonna notice?” And, to be fair, I’ve argued that we must make allowances for mistakes and artistic license, and so we could just say “well, it was a mistake, they gave the actor the wrong pins.” (Worth noting on that point is that the scripted sequence in which the Armistice Officer ages through the ranks was shot, according to RDM, which would suggest that rank-devices proper to both MAJ and LTC were already imagined and fabricated for the Miniseries.)

But why would we do that in this case?

To be sure, we shouldn’t invest costuming mistakes with canonical significance. But we shouldn’t rule out acquiring new information and in-universe texture from costuming, either.

The crux is: What’s a mistake? Something on-screen that seems to introduce information contradicting established canon may be a mistake. I can point to two examples of clear mistake in BSG, both involving Colonel Tigh. In a scene in season one, Tigh wears the ship pin from his dress-uniform in place of his wings, and in a scene in season four wears Adama’s jacket, including latter’s rank-devices. Neither of these scenes should be taken as introducing canonical novelties or tension; they’re just production mistakes. No big whoop.

But it introduces no canonical tension if the CAG is wearing LTC rank-devices, even if he was flying the correct plane and was, for the preceding deployment, Major Spencer. At the time of the Miniseries, the Galactica is concluding her deployment. The CAG, like much of the crew, is moving on; he is literally leaving the ship right then. That’s exactly the time when we would expect a promotion to come in. It’s also a time when we would not be surprised if it’s not a priority to repaint the nameplate of a recently-promoted officer who won’t be flying that Viper again.

Thus, it seems to me that the most elegant solution, one that preserves all the canonical information presented, is to say that Jackson Spencer was a Major for most of his tenure as the Galactica’s CAG but was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the days or weeks before the events of the Miniseries as he prepared to leave the ship for his next assignment—which is exactly what I reflect in the Chronicle.

Re-post: The Background Notes

Back in May 2016, about two months into writing the first parts of the Chronicle, I wrote a blog post that set out some of the basic ground-rules I was following, including some interesting math on the Cyrannus system (cf. this post). I thought this might be a good time to re-surface it.

Eons ago, man lived in harmony with the gods in the paradise of Kobol. Eventually, the twelve tribes of man left Kobol, and founded the twelve colonies: Caprica, Gemenon, Picon, and Virgon;  Leonis and Tauron; Scorpia, Sagittaron, and Libran; Aerilon, Canceron, and Aquaria. 

For millennia, the children of Kobol bickered and fought amongst themselves. But one day, a man distraught for loss of his daughter resolved that death should not be the end. He created life outside of its natural order, and thus came into being the Cylon: A race of robotic slaves who would rise up against their masters, convinced that God—not the long-dead gods of Kobol worshipped by man, but rather the one, true God—loved them, the Cylon, the children of man, just as well as He loved man, His children.

War raged; by necessity, the Twelve Colonies united against their common enemy. At last, an armistice was concluded, and the Cylons left the Colonies to search of worlds of their own. We now live in the golden age of man; not since Kobol have the nations of man known the peace and harmony that we now enjoy.

No one has seen the Cylons in over three and a half decades.

So opens the first draft of the [first] novelette component of my Racetrack Chronicles story-cycle, a fiction project on which I’m working, set in the universe of Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica. This is the “official myth” of the colonies, the Colonials’ self-perception of their history after the Cylon War. Chronologically, I open six years before the Fall and follow Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson thence down to, ultimately, the end of “Daybreak.” Three very, very, very short teaser ficlets are out; more are on the way [see this post –SD]; the first short-story is in private beta; the novelette and second and third short-stories should appear over the summer and early fall.

In the background of the last two, you’ll catch glimpses of the broader Colonial world as I imagine it. But the Racetrack Chronicles collection is all about Racetrack; it is narrow, personal, and specific in its focus. You’re going to know this woman a lot better by Christmas. [How overoptimistic I was about the timeline! -SD.] Once it’s done, though, I intend to broaden my focus, hoping to write something that will flesh out my vision of the worlds. For the most part, my continuity follows the geography established in the QMX map of the colonies (with two exceptions explained below), but I want to take a few minutes to outline that world, as I see it, partly to stake my claim, partly to whet your appetite.

In my reading, the twelve United Colonies of Kobol are not the Federation (“Star Trek”), nor even the Alliance (“Firefly”); they are America in 1810. They are a vast, sprawling, diverse collection of societies. They are tied together by history, commercial intercourse, and a remote federal government on Caprica, and of course the silver chain of the Colonial Fleet, but ineluctably separated by immense distances and profound cultural and aesthetic differences. Communications are limited by the speed of light but the existence of FTL jump technology means that travel is not—and so most  information is conveyed on paper or digital media by FTL courier.

Not only are the worlds separated in time, they don’t line up: Fly from Aerilon’s southern continent (“Sporkshire” home to Gaius Baltar—no, it’s not literally called that, come on, but you know what I mean) to its northern continent (“Spireland,” home to Romo Lampkin and Abigail “Spitfire” Ainslie) and you go from Spring to Fall, but FTL jump to Caprica City, CA, and you end up in Winter. Colonial Day, the federal holiday, is thus early summer in Caprica City, but mid-spring in Falstone, PI, Racetrack’s hometown, and may well be midwinter  in Gareth “Nightlight” Lowell’s northern Aquaria, or high summer for Nicola Edmondson, esq., on Libran. Moreover, different colonies have slightly different gravities and different average temperatures. [A point that  the book surfaces in “Galactica.” -SD] The diverse realities of life in the kind of society latent in the QMX depiction are the precise opposite of Star Trek‘s cloying uniformity. And that’s intriguing.

The Cyrannus system in which the colonies are located comprises two pairs of binaries, the Helios αβ pair and the Helios γδ pair; sublight travel within each system is like long-haul flight IRL, and FTL jumps between systems are routine. But there is a constant flow of sublight traffic within each pair, and intra-pair travel takes about eight to ten days. There is also a flow of sublight traffic down the long axis between pairs (the “deep black”), along well-defined shipping routes (“Intercolonial Lanes”—the Galactica’s final pre-Fall cruise takes her parallel to “I9,” for example, en route from Helios Delta to Helios Alpha), a trek that takes between sixteen months and three years depending on speed. Because of the length of the latter, the lanes are packed with very large non-FTL ships, often serving as mobile manufacturing/processing platforms similar to the refinery towed by the Nostromo in Alien.

A word on canon

For purposes of the Racetrack Chronicles continuity, I accept three levels of canon.

The A-canon is the word of the gods; it comprises only the show itself, as aired—that is, everything said and shown in the Miniseries and the four seasons, including “Razor,” but excepting “Hero.” (The latter is so riddled with errors and continuity headaches that I have written it off as a dream sequence.)

B-canon includes things like the show bible, the QMX map (linked above), etc., webisodes (“The Resistance” and “The Face of the Enemy”), extended cuts and some deleted scenes. B-canon materials are presumptively binding, except insofar as A-canon materials contradict them, whether explicitly or by necessary implication, as I’ll discuss in a moment.

Finally, C-canon includes statements and commentaries by the production team, most deleted scenes, the dailies (should they ever emerge), interviews with actors, novelizations, Edward T. Yeatts’ “Lords of Kobol” series, and “The Plan.” C-canon materials are not binding, per se, but receive significant deference.

Long-grass math on the geography of the colonies

Now we’re going to talk math. I think it’s pretty interesting math, but if that frightens you,  feel free to skip this and move on to the next subhead if you don’t want to know the long-grass details that undergird the geography that I’ve summarized above.

My vision of the Colonies is influenced by but not beholden to a slightly harder sci-fi ethos than the show depicts. Let me say up-front: I’m not interested in writing science fiction, and while there are certainly science fiction stories to tell in the BSG universe, the stories that I want to tell are about people. I don’t care how the FTL drive works; I care about Margaret Edmondson and showing you how she evolves from a damaged young woman from rural Picon into the Racetrack we know and love on the show.

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the background setting in which those stories will occur is science fiction, and we must tip our hat to science. I start from several canonical facts and the QMX map linked above. Let’s start with what canon tells us: As Colonial Heavy 798 leaves Caprica, Billy reminds Laura that there is a thirty-minute comms delay between them and the Galactica, and the pilot says that their flight-time from Caprica to the Galactica is “approximately five and a half hours.”

Consider what this tells us about the Galactica’s position. The comms delay puts her at approximately thirty light-minutes from Caprica. That’s because the maximum speed for a communication signal is the speed of light, with one exception: Quantum-state communications are conceivable, but since they would be instantaneous over any distance, the existence of a delay means that Colonial wireless isn’t based on QS. On a Sol-system scale, assuming for sake of argument that Caprica’s orbit is roughly analogous to Earth’s, that puts the Galactica about five light-minutes inside the orbit of Jupiter, which is consistent with what we see on screen. (This hard limit on communications speed combined with the availability of instantaneous FTL travel felicitously explains why, in a modern, technological society, the Colonial Fleet would rely heavily on hand-delivered, hand-signed paperwork, and adds what I think is an enormously interesting texture to the continuity.)

Now consider what it tells us about velocity. First, we have to clear away an obvious difficulty: We can conclude that Colonial Heavy 798’s flight doesn’t include an FTL jump, for two reasons. One, because if you’re going to make a jump, you’d just plot the jump from Caprica’s orbit to wherever the Galactica is. Two, because they have a Viper escort for the trip home; while it’s conceivable that the trip back to Caprica is longer than the outbound flight, it can’t include an FTL jump and it can’t be longer than it’s plausible to imagine sitting in a Viper cockpit. Thus, the reasonable assumption is—no FTL jump.

Therefore, second: Let’s assume that we can average Colonial Heavy 798’s velocity as distance over flight time. Jupiter’s orbit is approximately 4.2 AU from that of Earth, so the math on Colonial Heavy 798’s speed is: ((149597870 * 4.2)-(18,000,000 * 5)/5.5, i.e. (628,311,054km-90,000,000)/5.5 i.e. 538,311,054/5.5 = 97,874,737km/h. For comparison purposes, that’s 387 times faster the current recordholder for fastest human-built widget, Helios 2’s 252,792km/h: Very fast. But it’s not implausibly fast by sci-fi standards; it’s only one-eleventh the speed of light, and there would be no significant time dilation at that speed. For sake of rounding, let’s say that the pilot’s got his foot on the gas, and that Colonial liners would ordinarily cruise at 96,000,000km/h.

(Hard sci-fi would point out that the human body would liquify under a fraction of the ΔV necessary to achieve these speeds in a gravity-well, but again: This isn’t hard sci-fi, and we can look past that for the sake of science fiction, let alone human drama.)

Now let’s consider scale. The QMX map supplies some  details. The long axis between the two pairs is .16ly, and we can average the barycenter of each star to its barycenter at the ends of each end of the axis at 65SU (1SU = average distance of the Caprica-Gemenon barycenter from Helios Alpha = 150,000,000km). So the stars in each pair are 130 * 150,000,000km apart—19,500,000,000km. If we’ve clocked Colonial Heavy 798 at just shy of 98 million km/h, let’s round up and say that the Galactica cruises at a nice, round hundred million per hour. That gives us an approximate flight time of 199 hours across the short axis—just over eight days. That’s close enough that you can easily imagine both “United Colonial Postal Service” and long-haul shipping doing it sub light, but also far enough away that you can just as easily imagine “Colonial Express” and “Pan-Colonial” jumping between systems. The long axis (the “deep black”) is 1,513,684,544,800km between barycenters. Sticking with our hundred-million-per-hour benchmark, the Galactica would take 15445.76 hours or 643.57 days to make the cruise, sublight. That’s longer that the standard sixteen-month deployment. (Why sixteen months? You’ll find out in the first short-story.) But keep in mind, that’s barycenter to barycenter, and it doesn’t take alignment into account. Again, this is close enough that you can easily imagine long-haul shipping  doing the trip sublight (imagine mammoth tylium tankers-cum-refineries! As I mentioned above, I’m picturing the refinery towed by the Nostromo in Alien), but far enough away that the commercial intercourse of the twelve colonies would demand regular FTL travel. The scale fits the universe like a glove.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that because B-canon must give way to A-canon, the same math demands two corrections to the QMX map.

First, I have to flip Virgon and Tauron. It seems reasonable to assume that the Galactica can go much faster than a liner, if necessary, at least in interstellar space, but there are limits on what’s plausible. Shortly after events are set in motion in the miniseries, Gaeta says that “the main fight is shaping up over here, near Virgon’s orbit. But even at top speed, they’re still over an hour away.” And Adama observes they can approach the fight unnoticed by keeping Virgon between them and the fight. That is a problem if Virgon is where the QMX map shows, even assuming optimal alignment (i.e. the Galactica is near the orbit of Zeus and on its way out of the Helios Alpha system bound for the Helios Beta system. I can suspend disbelief for a lot, but I can’t buy that the Galactica (which has to be thirty light-minutes from Caprica, i.e. in the Helios Alpha system) could sail at subluminal speeds to the Helios Beta system in an hour.

Thus, in my continuity, I take QMX to have made a typographical mistake, flipping the positions of Virgon and Tauron. Getting the fundamental building blocks right is what makes it possible for an audience to suspend disbelief and come along for the ride, and flipping Tauron and Virgon is the solution that does the least violence. Nothing canonically insists that Tauron is in Helios Alpha, and canon seems to require that Virgon must be. If Virgon is just inside the habitable zone of Helios Alpha and the Galactica is between the asteroid belt and Zeus, it becomes conceivable that if the fight is far enough toward Zeus’ orbit that it can plausibly be called “near” Virgon’s orbit, and if the alignment’s just right, maybe the Galactica could make it there in an hour? It’s still stretching it, but it becomes close enough that the objection is, like the objections to raw speed, fundamentally a hard sci-fi objection, and, once again, this isn’t hard sci-fi.

Second, Ragnar must orbit the αβ pair not the γδ pair, again based on canon and inexorable math. Col. Tigh says that “the Ragnar station is at least three days away at best speed.” There is absolutely no way  that the Galactica could sail down the long axis in three days. If Ragnar is where QMX places it, then, assuming optimal alignment, she would have to sail the lion’s share of (1,513,684,544,800km – (110 * 150,000,000) = 1,497,184,544,800 in 36 hours. That would imply a “best speed” of 41,588,459,578kmh. That’s forty times the speed of light. Even if we set aside the physicists’ objections, the economists should have their hands in the air: If conventional engines could push a ship to FTL speeds, why would you ever develop a superluminal jump technology? It’s just not plausible. So applying math to canon demands a second correction of the QMX map for purposes of my continuity. The correction that does the least damage is to agree with their inference that Ragnar orbits a pair, and simply say that it orbits Cyrannus’ αβ pair rather than the γδ pair. That does it nicely—nicely enough that we don’t have to get too granular about the last piece of the puzzle: Assuming the same 110SU orbit, we can stipulate that the Galactica is no more than 16,500,000,000km from Ragnar. At the hundred-million kmh cruising benchmark we’ve been using, she would cover 3,600,000,000km in 36 hours, and it doesn’t strike me as so implausible that her maximum pedal-to-the-metal speed is four times faster than her cruising speed that I feel compelled to work out the precise math on that.

Notes on the fleet

The Colonial Fleet operates approximately 120 of its principal assets, “battlestars,” heavily-armed aircraft-carriers, plus numerous smaller warships including non-FTL littoral combat vessels, plus support vessels. While ships do sail solo, Battlestar Groups (commanded by an admiral) are anchored by larger Mercury-type battlestars, supported by one or more Valkyrie-type battlestars and a few destroyers and support vessels. All told, the fleet has in the vicinity of three to four hundred thousand men and women at arms, plus the permanent ground staff and admiralty. It is a lethal force run by men who have grown restful and indulgent, fattened by years of peace. [This is a point that I hope comes across with adequate force in the book, but it’s played subtly. -SD]

We know from the miniseries that the fleet comprises approximately 120 battlestars; for sake of argument, I say that they have 80 Valkyrie-types and forty Mercury-types. BSGwiki says that the Mercury-type has a complement of 2500, and it seems a reasonable guess that the Valkyries carry about 1600. That gives us 228,000 by themselves, and provides a maximum of 40 BSGs. But we want to include some slack, so let’s say there are 30 BSGs, each comprising a Mercury, two Valkyries, and support vessels. That leaves thirty battlestars (ten mercuries, twenty valkyries) available for solo assignments, plus special cases like the Galactica, and so on. At any given time, most of the fleet is at sea, on sixteen-month deployments, but between deployments they spend three months in a maintenance phase; offers are typically attached to a battlestar for a tour comprising two deployments and the down phase for training: The “front sixteen,” “down,” and “back sixteen.” (The commentary for “The Turning Point” [the working-title Rubicon for most of the project -SD] for  will explain the math that drives that sixteen-month deployment.)

It seems reasonable to double and round the 228,000 deployed on battlestars to give us the total for the fleet: Call it a round half-million officers and enlisted, roughly the size of the U.S. Navy. And based on the U.S. Navy’s ratio of enlisted to officers (approximately 80% enlisted), we would expect an officer corps of around 100,000, which is small enough (especially when served by only two officer-candidate schools) that one can easily imagine that officers who went to the same school at the same time would recognize one another even if they don’t know (i.e. aren’t close with) one another, which accounts nicely for the little Apollo-Helo interaction at the start of the Miniseries.

So…

There’s a lot of writing ahead. The Racetrack Chronicles are my focus for the next several months, but I intend to spend a lot more time fleshing out this universe.

This post originally appeared on May 11, 2016, at this link.

Of Two Davids

[Light spoilers for the book]

Sometimes inspiration is very general; sometimes very specific.

In a previous post, I noted that the first full draft of The Racetrack Chronicle went out on December 1, 2016. In the pages of that draft, we find Maggie’s inamorato, David Wright, basically complete. But two weeks later, Travelers began airing in the United States, and Patrick Gilmore’s characterization of David Mailer swam into view.

And it changed everything, really.

So much so, in fact, that Gilmore’s mentioned by name on the “thanks” page. Right by James S.A. Corey, without whom I couldn’t have written the dang thing at all! What gives?

I wrote about Travelers after season one, so I won’t rehash those praises here. Suffice to say that it’s the best show on television at the moment, challenged only (in a different genre) by The Good Place. (I’d associate myself with Jason Snell’s comments on The Incomparable.) This post is about how Gilmore’s performance as David Mailer helped me bridge my “empathy gap” with David Wright and Maggie.

Here’s a window into how things work in my shop. Because I’m a fraud—that is, because I can’t actually just make things up, like wot proper writers do—the only way that I can write is to do what I think actors do: Fully-imagine fully-formed characters, get into their skin, develop Stockholm syndrome, and let them tell me what they think, how they feel, and what they say. Of course, actors go through that process after getting the script, whereas I’m doing it precisely in order to create the script. But you get the idea. There’s almost no line of dialogue in the book that I feel that ”Simon actual” “wrote”; I finessed, polished, and structured, but in substance, it’s all from the characters.

(Especially Abigail. She routinely spouted things that made me blush and sputter “there’s no way that’s going in the book, Abi.” And then we’d fight, and she’d usually win because Jon frakkin’ Winokur kept sandbagging me, posting quotes about how writers need to be brave and just put the frakkin’ line in the frakkin’ book. “See?” Abi would cackle. Sometimes reprovingly, but mostly lecherously. But I digress.)

In the first round of drafts, inhabiting David Wright was fun but difficult. By contrast, inhabiting characters like, say, the COB or Jackson Spencer was just fun, and I understand better now what attracts people to acting. (Writing a couple of lines for Aaron Douglas’ Chief Tyrol was pure joy.) Inhabiting Abigail was fun and difficult in equal parts; she gets some of her traits from me, her self-loathing, misandry, and overcompensation, for example. David was tougher because the stakes were higher: I’m not like any of those characters, so writing any of them required an act of empathy. But David was central to Maggie’s character-arc. He, more than any character save Abigail and Maggie herself, had to work; had to not just scan (as he did in the pre-Mailer 12/1 draft), but feel right.

Inhabiting Maggie was usually painful, but—because she’s the primary character, the person with whom I always identified in the first instance, of whose personality and background I had the strongest impression, and in whom I was the most invested—it was never hard. With one exception: David.

Structurally, I needed Maggie Edmondson to fall in love with David Wright. Truly, madly, deeply, irrevocably. Dramatically, I needed the reader to feel it. And personally, just for myself, I needed to feel that I was doing that relationship justice. That it was organic and fair; that nothing was imposed on her.

As a near-middle-aged, heterosexual male with more than a little bit of misandry, that posed a serious challenge of empathy: How could I write a young woman in love, with a man, in a way that had veracity and integrity, in a way that conveyed real feeling? David falling for her was easy to empathize with; her for him? I found that difficult. So it’s fair to say (and some beta-readers did say) that in that first draft, David Wright (and Maggie’s romance with him) was functional, but felt hollow.

Enter stage right Travelers, Gilmore, and “other David.”

From the instant we meet him, David Mailer radiates warmth, integrity, decency, and humanity. It’s no surprise as Marcy is drawn off-mission and in. Always hard to know how much of a characterization comes from the writing and how much from the performance, of course; I think that what’s sympathetic in Maggie Edmondson came from Cairns, but I’m less certain where Kat MacLaren is concerned, for example. My feeling—with due respect for the writers—is that what connects us to David Mailer is in the timbre of Gilmore’s open-hearted performance. Either way, though, the operative point was this: In David Mailer, Gilmore believably provided a model of a good man, and I felt that I could entirely empathize as Marcy falls for him. And that gave me a way “in” for writing Maggie falling for David Wright.

I don’t think that Wright’s then-existing dialogue changed an awful lot. There’s more of it in the final draft, to be sure. What changed completely was the way that the character felt to me, and as a result, Maggie’s interaction with him and the way it’s presented. Maybe it’s in my head—I hope not, I hope it’s on the page—but I see a sea-change between the December 2016 draft and the final text in how Wright comes across, and in Maggie’s feelings for him. There’s a warmth and veracity to him, and I think a depth to her feelings, that couldn’t have been there. After seeing Gilmore as Mailer, I was able to get into Maggie’s skin on this and feel her feelings for him as her boundaries melt and gives herself over to their relationship.

And when (as he eventually must) he meets his untimely end, I genuinely feel it as a hammer-blow, not only in Maggie’s reaction, but directly and organically as a reaction of my own to this character’s fate. It changes the context of that event, not only in the book, but when watching season one of the show. It amps up the pathos to the “flash forward,” Future Imperfect. And in Rubicon, Maggie’s lingering hurt years later rings true in a way that I’m not sure that it did before; the theme that we don’t really ever get over these losses resonates more strongly because of the warmth watching Mailer let me imbue into Wright and his relationship with Maggie.

Gilmore’s performance created a context and inspiration, and a range of empathetic and emotional possibility for the 2017 redraft that significantly and materially improved the book. And for that I’m very thankful to him.

Behind the scenes part two: … To Revelation.

In part one, I covered the genesis and early writing process. In this post, I want to finish out that story and remark on a couple of developmental aspects. Some spoilers, naturally.

IV.

I took June and July 2016 off; a summer hiatus. A break seemed healthy, critical distance from what I’d already written seemed helpful, and I wanted feedback on what I had already. Early returns from beta-readers would prove overwhelmingly positive, and it’s hard to overstate how important and encouraging that was. This was also the timeframe when I started development on a possible sequel. (An excerpt from the first chapter of which appears at the end of the Chronicle.) That seemed a good compromise: It kept me in the universe but apart from my own text.

The first thing written after the hiatus was Maggie and the shrink, O’Deen. Although it ended up becoming a pivotal part of the text, I intended to write a throwaway scene; just something to get back into practice, to find Maggie’s voice again. I had just watched the original BBC adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” so I took a pass through the scene doing the shrink in Alec Guinness’ voice. I still see remnants of that on the page. But on subsequent passes, I found myself channeling Dean Stockwell’s voice, and by about the sixth pass, Guinness was out and Stockwell was in. That was delightful; Cairns and Stockwell shot no scenes together, and I felt that their voices worked well together. And Stockwell was fantastic at delivering winky, snarky cliches—which let me feel that “tell me about your childhood” played.

So is Doc O’Deen a One? It’s up to you. That interpretation would raise some questions: Why would a One take a moment to show her some kindness, to encourage her to work out her differences with Abigail? Read it as you please.

Oh, by the way: Ah’deen is the Russian cardinal number one. So there’s that.

Also, there’s a one-shot coming soon (it’ll be in The Racetrack Apocrypha, too) which gives a possible answer.

V.

Broadly-speaking, the main challenges at that point were bringing home “Poseidon”’s dramatic payload (still frustratingly-undiscovered at that point) and actually writing the bulk of “Galactica.” I had rushed out a skeletal version of the latter for one of my beta-readers, and it would prove a useful scaffold. It told me what to write, in broad strokes. But there was much to do. And it was hard: By that point, I was deep enough into the process that I really loved Maggie, and I knew that “Galactica” had to end with some bombshell event that would shatter her, leaving her distraught, angry, and on the cusp of despair. Why? Because that’s how we see her in her early episodes of the show: “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part Two,” “Resistance,” and “Final Cut.” It was inescapable. Inexorable. Her fate was sealed. Written in the stars above and in God’s decree—literally, as Gareth tries to tell her in “Rubicon.”

But how she got there wasn’t. That, I could do something about.

Almost without thinking about it, I had introduced Maggie to David “Speedway” Wright in the last few lines of “Poseidon.” He was clearly a romantic interest; that’s practically the first thing out of Abigail’s mouth in “Galactica”! It took no time at all to realize that he needed to be that and more. If David were to be the love of her life, if he was her soulmate, her betrothed in actuality or in all but the formalities, then his being ripped away from her mere hours before we met her for the first time… That would supply the charge necessary to fire Maggie through Racetrack’s character-arc in the show. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came from that he would be ECO on the ill-fated recon Raptor in Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part One, but—early. It was logical. His fate, too, was sealed.

I should say at this juncture that I love David, and I feel his loss almost as keenly as I feel Maggie’s. Your main characters have to be people, whole and complete; they have to live, breathe, and exist independently of the machinations in which your plot will involve them. The writer’s job (sometimes the actor’s) is to build out and imply that specificity. And it’s a difficult thing to invest yourself in a person you know you’re going to have to kill. That’s a funny thing about writing fiction; no one warns you how emotionally involved you’re going to become with these characters, if you’re doing it right. And when I now watch “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part Two,” I feel (and I hope readers of the Chronicle will feel) a far more intimate loss than they did before when that plane was crewed by redshirts.

Also worth mentioning at this point (although I’ll never get any credit for this): I really hesitated to take Maggie down this road. It was bad enough (in some folks’ eyes) to make Racetrack a country-girl. To go further, to portray her as traditionally-inclined? As a virgin, and deflower her? To ground her short-range wounds in a relationship, in something personal and immediate rather than something grander, something abstract or political? That risked blowback. It risked accusations about intent; frankly, I worried about how Cairns might react. But it felt undeniably right. It felt natural for the character. It complied with the Whedon mandate described in part one: More personal, more painful, the next logical thing that happened to these characters. (That decision also fed back into the characterization in “Poseidon,” especially the scene between her and O’Deen, which is of necessity a little gauzy about her past, but strongly hints at a woman whose primary relationships were non-romantic.) And besides: It felt like something new. It was a tonality we hadn’t seen in BSG but which felt organic to it, something that made the worlds more diverse and interesting. And that, too, was in the mandate of the Background Notes, which had insisted that the “United Colonies of Kobol are not [Trek’s] the Federation, nor even [Firefly’s] the Alliance; they are America in 1810. They are a vast, sprawling, diverse collection of societies…, tied together by history, commercial intercourse, and a remote federal government on Caprica … [but] separated by immense distances and profound cultural and aesthetic differences.”

I’m not exactly sure when “Poseidon”‘s last main act snapped into focus, but I do remember a moment of realization that Maggie now articulates in the book. I had over-engineered the hangar-deck, made it too safe, and I couldn’t for the life of me fathom how this accident was supposed to go down. Nor did I have a sense of the motives of the players. But once I had what is now Maggie’s realization that the launch-tubes are a potential point of failure, things moved quickly from there as events and character motives fell, satisfyingly, into place.

At any rate, I did a draft a day for most of that autumn, and had set 12/1/16 as a deadline. That was the day that “the first draft” of the whole shooting-match would be done and out the door. I had told Cairns and Carro that it was going in the mail to them (among others) on December 1, and that was that. Deadlines are helpful for focussing the mind, and I raced to meet it.

I made deadline—barely. By late afternoon on 12/1, I was running dangerously late, but I got to the print-shop, everything was printed and collated, everything was good to go. But because I’m a worrywort, I checked, and there were a few pages that had a problem. Naturally, they were the racy ones, the ones that I would most hate someone to glance at out of context. And, long story short, the nature of the print error made it more complicated than just reprinting a couple of pages. By the time everything got corrected and re-collated, my stress level was pretty high, the post-office was close to closing-time, and I would swear that I heard an alarming pop! sound in my temple as I pulled into the USPS parking-lot. Phase two was over.

VI.

A couple of weeks of decompression passed, and I found that I had ideas for shorter pieces that weren’t in the book. Writing them was mostly for my own enjoyment; publishing them was self-consciously promotional, for the character, for my “brand,” so-to-speak, and for my vision of the RDMverse, which is on plain view in some of those shorts. (A catalog of them can be found in this post.) I’m fond of them. Those shorts (particularly “Soveremenny,” “Dry-Dock,” and the as-yet-unpublished “City of Lights”) are a purer expression of my original “Adventures of Racetrack and Spitfire” concept than is the Chronicle itself. Mostly set in the lacuna between “Poseidon” and “Galactica” while Maggie and Abigail are ensigns on the battlestar Triton, and unencumbered by any need of serving an overarching plot, I was able to dream up interesting things in the universe that I wanted to see and have our heroines go visit them as our proxy. Writing a happy, light, unburdened version of Maggie and the developing relationship between the Maggie-Nicola-Abigail trio was a breath of fresh air after the weight, depression, and occasional brutality of writing the Chronicle.

(Now is not the time to discuss the personal tolls exacted by writing the book. That may come later, in another place.)

Some of those shorts, however, were held back for one reason or another. Among them were drafts of texts that would enter the Chronicle as the Prologue, the “Galactica” Prelude, and “Future Imperfect”; the notion of correspondence between Maggie and Nicola also dates to that period of downtime, which lasted roughly from Christmas 2016 to mid-summer 2017.

VII.

Feedback on the private preview was less uniformly-positive than had been feedback on the earlier round of circulating drafts. That, too, was helpful. Although some of the criticisms missed the mark, most struck me as well-considered and actionable. A strong criticism, I thought, was focus: The text presupposed a reader who knew the show very well, and the narrative thread—by design, to an extent—meandered in “Galactica”’s second act. Stronger yet was the “footnote problem.” In part one, I talked about the notion of a dialogue between the page and the background materials, each informing the other as they developed; from the earliest drafts, I had included a running commentary on the text in footnotes, a la Ron Moore’s commentaries on BSG episodes. Early beta-readers had liked that, and it was helpful to me in writing. But readers of the private preview balked. It was too elaborate; it was confusing insofar as the footnotes dragged the reader’s eye and pulled them out of the flow of the story; and too much of the thematic material was clearer in the commentary than on the page. (That last one had been deliberate, a tilt toward minimalism, but I took the point.) Oh, and “hire a pro editor who doesn’t have any connection to you or the franchise.”

With benefit of hindsight, it’s striking to me that none of the feedback criticized the thing for which I cared most: The characterization and the character-arcs. The only critical notes on the substance regarded Abigail’s threadline getting lost and “Galactica” meandering in the second act. No one objected to any of the things that had frightened me. Still, at the time, it was tough. It was helpful; essential, even, and the book is stronger for it. But I won’t pretend it wasn’t tough to hear.

Broadly-speaking, I responded in four ways.

First, I moved all the thematic material from the commentary into the main text—at first, literally just cut-and-paste dumping—and everything else into a separate document. Message received: No footnotes. The footnotes had always been my safety-net, a way for me to tell the reader “no, no, this is deliberate, it’s not a mistake, that passive-voice is deliberate characterization, that contradiction of an earlier statement by a different character is intentional.” Suddenly that security was gone. It would all happen on the page or not at all. Thus, for example, the religious undertones regarding King’s motivations became much more clear as further rounds of iteration milled and digested the raw footnote material into the text. “Future Imperfect” also came in at this moment, as a kind of bittersweet pivot in which we see more of the character as things might have been, sharpening the knife and setting a context for her interior-life in the show.

Second, insofar as the Chronicle had been written as a collection of semi-independent pieces, I took the point that it needed a superstructure if it were not to read that way. I cast around for a structural vehicle that could tie the five into a single, coherent work. The idea I hit on was the Prologue and framing subsequent parts as being within that ongoing conversation. I don’t like first-person present-tense, I find it unreadable, but during the hiatus, I had listened to Claire Danes read The Handmaid’s Tale (the primogenitrix, I suspect, of the present vogue), and that had really worked for me in an unexpected way. I felt that if it were kept short, the virtues of that style, its intimacy and immediacy, could be used to powerful effect. It’s not quite “Call me Ishmael,” but opening The Racetrack Chronicle in Racetrack’s own voice? That felt forceful and emotional. It also provided a unique stylistic cue that could be used to thread that conversation throughout the book. That bit of needlework provided an overall structural coherence; it turns the Chronicle into Maggie telling Gareth her story, until the narrative flow finally catches up to and moves into the last hours of her life in the last part of “Rubicon.” (It also implies that Lowell is the eponymous chronicler, as I’ve said in a previous post.) This was also the point at which Maggie’s correspondence with Nicola went into “Galactica,” providing more color and cartillage, and culminating in the letter that that thread is really all about: Her goodbye in chapter five, which was painful to write.

Third, I ditched some minor characters, bolstered others, and worked in characters I knew would have to appear in the transit through miniseries. Brief appearances from Boomer and Kelly were excised and dialogue that had been drafted for Kelly was reworked for the COB. Until that point, the COB had not been a significant player. Now I cast J.B. Smoove to give him a specific voice and expression, and gave him more lines and interaction with Maggie and David, magnifying him as a character and contextualizing Maggie’s above-and-beyond concern for him later in the book. Starbuck loomed larger as an antagonist in “Galactica” than she had in the Private Preview, contextualizing their later confrontation in “Rubicon” and making her involvement in chapter four somewhat less out-of-the-blue for readers unfamiliar with the show. (It also answered an early beta-reader note that wanted more of that antagonism. Scenes like that were apparently written but never filmed; I had already inferred it and written it in, but the voltage was now increased.) Same for Tyrol and Cally: If they were to appear in chapter four, they had to be introduced in chapter three, otherwise I’m presupposing the reader’s familiarity with the characters.

Fourth, with all that work done, I hired an editor, and his work was immensely helpful in tightening things up and providing a fresh perspective. My biggest fear hiring an editor was that things I loved might have to be deleted, but surprisingly, the text got longer at this point. He wanted more material covering the development of the relationships between Maggie and Abigail and then Maggie and David; that was fine, because I had a whole bag of deleted scenes into which I could reach. Maggie and Abigail at the range and on the running-track, and Maggie and David canoodling by the loading-gantries came in at this point (see this post), as did a slightly longer version of their romantic interlude on Canceron.

VIII.

I had announced in December 2017 that the book was coming out in March. Mostly that was to have a deadline; as mentioned above, deadlines help focus the mind. As we closed in on February 1, I realized that March 18 was an attainable and desirable release-date. It was already in the text as Maggie’s birthday; would mark two years to the day since the very first part of the project had been “done” insofar as it had gone to Cairns. That felt like coming full-circle. There were a lot of markers that had to be hit and a March 18 release imposed a tight schedule. Two items on that checklist are worth mentioning. Advance Review Copies had to go out before I was able to make a handful of final tweaks to the text, so if you have an ARC, it’s a unique version with a few idiosyncrasies toward the end of “Rubicon.” The final, published text is better. And the cover image had to be finalized; it had become an “uncanny valley” problem where all the elements were there but the tyranny of little details was delaying things. See this post for more on that.

The day after release, positive feedback started rolling in, which was awesome. The most surreal moment, however, came the following Saturday. I had already committed to doing no writing work on book #2, Evaded Cadence, for six months. For the first time in two years, then, I woke up on a weekend with no obligations and nothing to do. It had been a long journey. A lie-in was a most welcome novelty.

Behind the scenes, part one: From Genesis…

My wife and I watched Battlestar Galactica for the first time in the first few months of 2015. How did I get from there to having a book set in that world? Why Racetrack? How did all this get started? Minor spoilers for “Poseidon” throughout part one, with more serious spoilers to come in part two.

I.

Over the summer of 2015, after a decade writing non-fiction, I read James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series. And I found it revelatory: Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War in particular are set in the kind of brisk, plain, concise, forceful prose in which I would hope to set non-fiction. (Corey cited Asimov to me as having a similar style. I’ve read a lot of Asimov, and I think Corey’s being too modest.) For the first time reading fiction, I felt a definite conviction that in terms of the style, in terms of the writing, “I love this and I could do this.”

Fast-forward a few months to late February 2016. I run across this Galacticon panel with Leah Cairns (Lt. Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson), Luciana Carro (Cpt. Louanne “Kat” Katraine), Richard Hatch (Tom Zarek), and Michael Trucco (Sam Anders). As someone who doesn’t go to cons, I had some genuinely first impressions. Hatch was wry and delightful. Cairns (who could scarcely be less like Racetrack), bright, vivid, and hilarious. Carro, completely charming. Trucco, the big brother we all always wanted, boundlessly-enthusiastic, funny, radiating affection and generosity. And I remember thinking: “I love these voices and I wish I could write for those voices.”

The penny, as they say, dropped.

I had favorite characters from the show, and two of them were represented by actors on that panel: Racetrack and Zarek. Backstory on either seemed interesting. But what grabbed my attention was Cairns’ anxiety about Racetrack joining Gaeta’s mutiny.

Why the writers did it would seem obvious. A mutiny of redshirts and villains would have lacked the moral complexity in which BSG traded; the mutiny’s integrity required that characters whom we loved and in whom we were invested side against Adama. Other obvious candidates might have been Kat or Cally, but with both dead, the show was short on options. Racetrack was the inevitable choice.

(Worth noting: That choice makes sense only on the assumption that viewers loved and empathized with Racetrack, and would be hurt and wrong-footed to see her join the mutiny.)

But that’s an exogenous reason. Characters require in-universe motives. I understood why Ron Moore had Racetrack join the mutiny. I wanted to know why Maggie Edmondson joined the mutiny.

With no satisfactory answer in view, I started writing. That was February 28, 2016, and I already knew what I didn’t want: It shouldn’t be political. That felt facile, cheap, and a betrayal of the specificity and depth with which Cairns had embroidered Maggie. I also knew that I loved Joss Whedon’s line about how to write a sequel:

“By being smaller. More personal, more painful… By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work [before]. By having a theme that is completely fresh and organic to itself.”

That seemed the way forward. Maggie’s story should be about her. Decisions should arise organically from things within her backstory.

In those early days, I went back through the show, focusing in on why Racetrack had resonated so strongly with me and inferring a picture of who she was that pointed through the decision to join first the mutiny and finally the rescue. The answers were all in Cairns’ work, which I have praised elsewhere. There’s something uniquely and compellingly sympathetic about Racetrack, from her first appearance in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” (where “Galactica” leaves her in the Chronicle) to her last in “Daybreak.” Cairns imbued Maggie with both wounds and scar-tissue, hurts both immediate and intimate that went beyond her shipmates even in the context of people who had lost their entire civilization. And throughout the show, I felt that Racetrack behaved as I think we would have behaved: Not as a heroic archetype as we might wish, a la Helo, nor even as a flawed hero, a la Adama, but as a normal person, terrified, devastated and numbed by events, just trying to survive.

On that basis, I wrote the first drafts of what became “Rubicon.” It went to Cairns for review on March 18, 2016—not coincidentally, albeit perhaps pretentiously) in-universed in the Chronicle as Maggie’s birthday, and two years later, release day for the Chronicle.

II.

For the longest time, I had forgotten when or why Margaret Edmondson became, firmly and irrevocably, Maggie. It happened almost instantly, it’s in my very first draft. While writing this post, I remembered.

There is a famous piece of R-rated (and very fanficcy) BSG fanfic centered on Tahmoh Penikett’s Karl “Helo” Agathon. In one scene, Racetrack puts the moves on Helo; BSG lore holds that Cairns and Penikett reenacted that scene at a cast party and worked it subtextually into their characterizations thenceforth. (You see it in, for example, “Torn.”) In that story, an amorous Racetrack tells Helo to call her by her name:

“How long have you been here?” She opened her locker door….

“Not long.” Feeling awkward and having been stung before by her prickly exterior, he said, “Look, Racetrack, I wasn’t going through your things, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Margaret.”

“What?”

“My name is Margaret. Or Maggie.” She didn’t look at him as she took clean clothes from the locker and tossed them to the bed. Her color had faded to pink by the time she turned toward him and crossed her arms over her chest, the gesture defensive. “I thought you were leaving.”

Maggie. That immediately felt right. I’ve never met a Margaret who went by Margaret; it’s a beat that the Chronicle uses in several contexts, and it stuck. I’d forgotten its origin, and I’m happy to remember it.

Although it isn’t canon, that story was influential in a second way. I wrote the Chronicle with a background assumption that Helo is exactly Maggie’s type, and there are deleted-scenes with David (to whom we’ll get in part two) and Helo in which we see their similarities and differences.

III.

Right from the get-go, there were two collections of writing running in parallel, between which there was a constant dialogue: The story-cycle and the background materials. Between those two collections, I was trying to develop a characterization of Maggie that complied with and expanded on Cairns’ performance. I would improvise dialogue around a piece of research, or research around improvised dialogue, I’d tinker with things earlier to point toward things that came later, working toward a gestalt that I could feel but couldn’t quite see.

A good example of that dialogue between the page and the background materials would be the Raptor crash in Poseidon’s second act. I knew that it was a beat that worked for the character-arc, and sketched the dialogue. Then I worked out in detail what actually happened, consulted a plane-crash investigator and an aerospace engineer, and wrote the PCI report mentioned on the page. (It’ll be in The Racetrack Apocrypha.) With that in hand, I went back to the story-cycle and was able to rewrite that scene with a lot of confidence and specificity but without feeling any need to Trekify it with distracting technical details.

Anyway, we’re getting ahead. The March 18 “first circulating draft” of “Rubicon” raised a number of implications and questions. That Maggie is a people-pleaser with a difficult relationship with her mother was a key to unlocking her. That she had originally joined the fleet because she was running away from some traumatic event was also implicit in what I’d written. Gareth Lowell (named for Bruce Dern’s Silent Running character, and implicitly the in-universe Chronicler) was already in the mix

The other vital thing that happened was creating Abigail. The very first draft sat Racetrack and Athena at the bar, but in the second draft, having realized that Athena was unavailable at the necessary moment, I created Abigail as a counterpart to Maggie: A vivacious cheerleader to Maggie’s saturnine sarcasm. I immediately liked the character, I liked their interplay, and wanted to see the backstory: I wanted to see “Adventures of Racetrack and Spitfire.” I wanted to see “Maggie and Abigail at USNA.”

I started writing that in late March, and at the same time, started writing a background document called the Character Arc Synopsis. The former was very free-form; I was just riffing and coming up with scenes and dialogue that now appear in “Poseidon”’s opening act. The latter started with the conclusions I’d reached about who Maggie is in the show and started developing a backstory that would explain and contextualize that characterization.

Serendipitously, I was working for a university, which gave me access to a faculty that would be instrumental as domain-experts in several relevant fields, particularly psychology, physics, and nursing. I was also able to make contacts with, for example, someone who had attended USNA. To the extent to which the Chronicle counts as science fiction, it bears noting: Getting the science part right makes it easier for the reader to come along for the fiction part.

The first act and last page of Poseidon came quickly. The second act, too, and the idea of the first twist, that our perspective would lurch into Abigail’s and turn upside-down—that came early, too. But the third act was proving difficult, and on the last page, I had written Maggie’s first encounter with David as they board the Galactica, sixteen months before the Fall. That seemed to invite another piece of work, and so, by mid-April, I had started improvising dialogue and themes for “Galactica.” As with Poseidon, I had a very clear idea of where it had to start and end, and I knew the broad strokes I wanted to paint, but it didn’t yet have a plot. “Vespers” did. In late April or early May, having introduced Maggie’s sister Nicola in Poseidon, I came up with an outline for a noir-ish short-story for her and Romo Lampkin that I really liked, and a first draft was written. Of all the elements in the Chronicle, that one is unique insofar as it emerged almost fully-formed and changed only in its detailing over the many drafts.

In mid-May, I wrote a public post announcing what I was working on and noting some of the ground-rules I’d set myself. As the first summer hiatus began, then, there were several plates in the air and much to be done.

To be continued next week, in part two.

The Racetrack Chronicle is available as a free eBook here.

People, ships, and planes in the book

It’s not a nerdy book, but its author’s nerdy, and I fancy that some of the readers are, too. For the record, then, some lists…

Main cast

  • Lt. Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson, CF*
  • Lt. Abigail “Spitfire” Ainslie, CF
  • Ms. Nicola Edmondson, esq.

Supporting cast

  • Ltc. (later Bdr.) Natalia Caldwell, CMC – Poseidon
  • Cdr. Robert H. King, Jr. – Poseidon
  • Lt. Gareth “Nightlight” Lowell – the eponymous chronicler, appears throughout
  • Lt. David “Speedway” Wright – Galactica and Future Imperfect.
  • Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace* – Galactica
  • Lt. Karl “Helo” Agathon* – Galactica
  • Lt. “Switchblade” Molenaar – Vespers
  • MCPO Hardison (“COB”) – Galactica
  • Mr. Romo Lampkin, esq.* – Vespers

With

  • Cdr. (later Adm.) William Adama* – cameos in Galactica and Rubicon
  • Col. (later Adm.) Helena “Cutthroat” Cain* – special appearance in Poseidon, cameo in Vespers
  • Ltc. Nathan Blake – Galactica
  • Maj. (later Ltc.) Jackson “Dipper” Spencer* – Galactica
  • Cpt. (later Ltc.) Appleby – Poseidon, cameo in the Dry-Dock short
  • Cpt. Lee “Apollo” Adama, CFR* – cameos in Galactica and Rubicon
  • Lt. Ronnie “Ronin” Beale – Galactica
  • Lt. Nadia “Harrier” Coswell – Galactica
  • Lt. Felix Gaeta* – voice and cameo in Galactica, cameo in Rubicon
  • Doctor John O’Deen – Poseidon and the John short
  • Sasha Billings (alias Louanne Katraine)* – Vespers

You can read them as you like, but it seems worth mentioning whose voices the new-in-the-maggieverse characters were written for.

  • Nicola: Shiri Appleby (Roswell, UnREAL)
  • Caldwell: Dana Delany (Body of Proof)
  • Nightlight: Michael Fassbender (Prometheus)
  • Speedway: David Gilmour
  • Lydia: Stephanie Jacobsen (Battlestar Galactica: Razor)
  • Switchblade: Kenyan Lonsdale (The Flash)
  • Harrier: Arti Mann (Leverage)
  • King: Brian Markinson (Caprica)
  • Appleby: Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion)
  • The COB: J.B. Smoove
  • O’Deen: Dean Stockwell (Battlestar Galactica)

And on the ship side of things. The maggieverse has so far mentioned three destroyers and fourteen of the 120-or-so battlestars in service at the time of the Fall; of those, five (Galactica, Triton, Pegasus, Solaria, and, by implication Mercury) draw their names from the show, and nine are new coinages that try to fit within the aesthetic of the existing continuity but without falling into the bear traps that beset a lot of fan-created materials. (No one, in our time or theirs, is stupid enough to name a ship Prometheus, and if they are, they deserve whatever they get.)

Battlestar-class ships

Galactica-type:

  • The battlestar Bretannia (locus dramatis in Poseidon; mentioned in Atalanta)
  • The battlestar Galactica (locus dramatis in Galactica and Rubicon; mentioned in Poseidon, Vespers, and Atalanta)

Mercury-type:

  • The battlestar Mercury (glimpsed in Dustman Down)
  • The battlestar Pegasus (locus dramatis in Vespers)
  • The battlestar Solaria (a VR simulation of it appears in Poseidon)
  • The battlestar Tethys (mentioned in Lacuna #1)

Valkyrie-type:

  • The academy-attached battlestar Triton (locus dramatis in Poseidon)
  • The academy-attached battlestar Theseus (mentioned in Galactica)

Type unspecified:

  • The battlestar Agamemnon (specified in Poseidon as Cdr. Cain’s pre-Pegasus billet and glimpsed in both Sovremennyy and Dry-Dock)
  • The battlestar Hibernia (appears in Galactica)
  • The battlestar Minos (specified in Poseidon as Cdr. Earle’s command)
  • The battlestar Nautilus (mentioned in Poseidon)
  • The battlestar Australis (mentioned as Maj. Ainslie’s assignment in Future Imperfect)
  • The battlestar Knossos (mentioned in Sovremennyy)

Escort-class ships

  • DE-610, “the Flying Dustman” (Dustman Down)
  • DE-715, “Fleetfoot” (Sovremennyy)
  • “Cerberus,” hull-number unknown (mentioned in Dustman Down)

Raptors

  • Raptor 327 (Switchblade’s plane in Vespers, numbered for obvious reasons)
  • Raptor 429 (Racetrack’s plane-for-the-day in Lacuna #1)
  • Raptor 602 (Racetrack and Spitfire’s assigned Raptor in Galactica, numbered for Cairns’ birthday)
  • Raptor 616 (Racetrack and Spitfire’s simulated Raptor in Poseidon, numbered for SHIELD-6-1-6)
  • Raptor 1098 (Racetrack’s plane in Dry-Dock)
  • Raptor 4077 (the ill-fated descent vehicle in Poseidon, numbered for M.A.S.H. #4077)

The Maggieverse so far

The Racetrack Chronicle spans a period of approximately nine years. It begins six years before the events of the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries and concludes a few weeks after the end of the series finale, Daybreak, which aired nine years ago today. But the continuity in which all my BSG writing takes place, I think, embraces a particular vision of the entire post-exodus history of the twelve colonies. Let’s call it the “Maggieverse” to remind us who in all this is the central, animating figure.

In addition to the Chronicle itself, that continuity now sprawls over thirteen published shorts (one-shots, deleted-scenes, and lacunae) with at least three more to come, a second novel in the works (Evaded Cadence), and a whole legendarium’s worth of ancillary materials which may or may not ever see the light of day (an anthology of short-stories, tables, charts, production-materials, essays, concept-art, and the like entitled The Racetrack Apocrypha, anyone?).

The backstory between Edward T. Yeatts’ Lords of Kobol trilogy —embraced as canon in the Carillon one-shot—and Caprica, and thence down to “the present day” is outlined in the Enchiridion, found in Appendix 4 of the Chronicle. Excerpts from the in-universe author Claude Bentinck’s magisterial histories of Virgon show up here and there in the shorts to flesh out details. (Bentinck is a thinly-veiled Edward Gibbon figure.)

I scare-quote “present-day” only to observe that for narrative purposes, it is almost always “now,” flashbacks, premonitions, and plot-devices aside. Generally-speaking, “now” means the Twelve Colonies on the cusp of the Fall or wherever we are relative to the “narrative cursor” in the Chronicle. (Pro-tip: In the Chronicle, you can tell whether it’s “now” or “then” based on whether the chirons are italicized.)

More broadly, the general timeframe for our “present-day” is two thousand Caprican (Gemenese, technically) years “A.E.”—after the exodus from Kobol under Stephen Acastus, the event with which volume three of Yeatts’ Kobol trilogy concludes. That’s because “Caprica” take place 58 years before the Fall (a chiron during the opening scene of that show tells us) and 1,942 years after the exodus (the Serge Graystone twitter account that was maintained by the showrunners during the show’s run told us). While different worlds have different years (and so calendars: Several fan organizations use “Military Date,” which I have assigned to the year of Canceron and Aerilon), it seemed reasonable to use “x [years] AE” as an in-universe dating system. Thus, for example, Maggie Edmondson is born on March 18, 1,973 AE.

Against that backdrop we can organize the published shorts in time:

In The Racetrack Chronicle itself, “Poseidon” (excepting a flashback to 1983 and very brief coda in December 1998) takes place between 1994 and 1997. “Galactica” takes place between December 1998 and June 2000, i.e. sixteen months before the Fall to just over two months after it. “Vespers” takes place during the last three weeks before the Fall with a brief coda on Day 1,116, i.e. the timeframe of “The Son Also Rises,” shortly before In The Eye of the Storm. And “Rubicon” starts on Day 1,189, i.e. “Escape Velocity,” and spans the remainder of Season Four. (Evaded Cadence jumps around a little, but is bookended by a funeral in mid-1998 and the Fall.)

I’ll mention a few of the shorts with which I’m particularly happy:

  • Aftermath: Aquaria and Dustman Down take place on the morning of the Fall, and capture ground-level glimpses of the the attacks that we hadn’t seen in the show (or The Plan). The former gives us some information about Aquaria and shows us what happens there, and the latter I think is probably one of my strongest bits of work, despite playing to none of my strengths and being wholly outside of my usual character-focused approach.
  • The Crossroads deleted scene, which weaves through Racetrack’s appearances in that episode, is our chronologically-first alarm-bell that Maggie, after a brief period of being relatively happy (as you’ll see in the Vespers coda and In The Eye of the Storm) is plunging back into depression as we go into season four.
  • Sovremennyy, Dry-Dock, Lacuna 1, and City of Lights (forthcoming) are worth mentioning because they’re close to the original “adventures of Racetrack & Spitfire” concept that I had for a preview take place during the ensign year on the Triton. They’re just fun-—a relatively happy Maggie and an ebullient but more seasoned Abigail running around various interesting sights in the world of the Fleet.
  • Atalanta was the first canonical appearance of Margaret Cavendish (always played in my head by Rekha Sharma), of Picon, the first President of the Colonies for whom Maggie will later be named, and Adm. Bethany Page, of Canceron. (I was gratified to be given the opportunity to work with Chris Dykes at CMOD to include Cavendish in an article on the founding of Colonial Day.) Carillon is not especially strong, to be honest, but it stands out as an attempt to do some straight-up worldbuilding, to show us a lot about the worlds through the vehicle of a little story about some of the humans who are living in them.

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