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The campus

The physicality and specificity of the campus of the Poseidon Colonial Military Academy—one of the colonies’ two main officer-candidate schools and the eponymous locus dramatis of part one of the Chronicle—has been a good example of the dialogue between the background materials and the book itself.

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In creating a map, I drew on the imagery in Poseidon’s first few drafts. It seemed natural to start with the academy’s IRL counterpart (the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD) and augment it with additional complexes. Blenheim Palace became a stand-in for the Manorhouse, for example. I scaled everything to the same size and dropped it onto a fondly-remembered geography from the west coast of Wales, whence a handful of geographic names are taken, most prominently (Saint) Bride’s Bay northwest of the campus.

Mapping the campus is about more than creating a neato graphic. It’s important to track where the characters are, and how long it takes them to get from place to place. It also becomes a feedback loop. When the map was made, I more-or-less arbitrarily designated adjacent buildings as the infirmary and chapel. (USNA friends tell me that PCMA’s Frand Infirmary is actually Ward Hall.) A scene in which Abigail visits the infirmary existed from the earliest drafts, but only after creating the map did I realize that, having hinted that she is more religious than we might expect, I have placed her right next to the chapel—so let’s go into the chapel, and that became the starting-point for a scene in act three.

Because almost none of the buildings’ names are mentioned in the text, when it came to denominating them on the map (which lives in Appendix 2), I felt pretty free to make this the place for some serious hat-tipping.

  • Several of the wizards who made BSG get buildings named after them: Moore & Eick Halls are obvious, but there’s also the Hudolin Barracks (production designer Richard Hudolin), the Seklir Athletics Complex (editor Andy Seklir, IRL USNA cognates Michelson & Chauvenet Halls and Ingram Field), the McNutt Building (D.P. Steve McNutt), the aforementioned Frand Infirmary (the late Harvey Frand), and, I thought fittingly, the (Glen) Larson Chapel.
  • Two in-universe characters, Margaret Cavendish and Bethany Page (respectively, the Pican first President of the Colonies and the Canceran Admiral who takes the helm of the newly-created Colonial Fleet, who first appeared in Atalanta) get buildings named for them.
  • The Maplethorpe Building… Well, I’ll let you figure that one.
  • Last but never least, Haran Hall (USNA cognate Nimitz, which is admittedly neither mighty nor black, but is at least somewhat stumpy) is named for Doctor Brady Haran. I think he might be tickled that, of all the buildings his name might adorn, it’s on one that is, both in-universe and IRL… A library.

(For more on the Crest, see this post.)

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Happy valentines

As a Valentine’s Day surprise, I thought I’d share a scene from early in Maggie’s romance with David in the Chronicle. And I also thought that it might be interesting to share not the text that’s actually in the book, but, instead, one of the in-house development documents from late in the process, which became the scene in the book. Let’s start with the scene and then talk about it.

Page onePage twoPage threePage four

So—not the format you’re expecting, right? Here’s what’s going on, and maybe this is a good window into the process.

Teleplay format is a useful tool, even if you’re writing a novel rather than making a show. A teleplay isn’t the finished product, it’s a guide for the creation of the product, you’re describing what the finished product will be. So for one thing, it allows you to write substance without the pressure (and I doubt I’m the only one who feels this) of getting the form perfect. It also allows you to describe in simple, plain language exactly what you’re seeing in your mind’s lens. Thus, when a scene is being a problem, or if I have doubts about it, or if I’m not quite clear on the blocking, or any of a number of other use-cases, what I’ll do is take the text and convert it into teleplay format, work with it, and then convert it back into “novel format.”

In this case, this scene was originally drafted quite early in the process and became a late addition. Throughout the process, as ideas and images for possible scenes crossed my mind, I’d take a quick pass at writing them, whether or not there was any intention of them going into the book. Some of those drafts were pretty complete; others were the proverbial back-of-the-napkin sketch. But they all went into a folder, and that gave me a grab-bag into which I could reach if I needed something.

That was fortuitous, because when Poseidon and Galactica (parts one two of the Chronicle) came back from my editor, one of his notes was that he wanted a few extra scenes developing the early Maggie-Abigail friendship and Maggie-David romance. No problem. I just had to reach into the grab-bag, and in the case of this scene, I had a draft which could be a good starting-point. But even after milling it through a couple of redrafts and about a dozen iterations (see this for more on the iterative writing concept), something still wasn’t quite gelling. So I converted it over into teleplay format and worked it through a few more iterations in this format. Eventually, I felt that something had now clicked and everything had fallen into place; the pictures above are the final teleplay version before it was converted back into novel format and subjected to a couple more iterations before finalization.

In a sense, this process is like adapting one’s own novel for the screen, and then re-adapting one’s own teleplay for the page. In doing so, you take the scene apart to see how it works and reexamine it from other angles, in another and more clinical, abstract context. And that’s the value of it. What I’ve described isn’t the right tool for every situation, but it has its uses.

None of which changes how much I love seeing the couple in this early, happy state. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Hug your special someone. ❤️

The family tree

The events of Battlestar Galactica, the Racetrack Chronicle tells us, tragically interrupt what would have been a loving and fruitful Edmondson-Wright romance. Here’s the family tree: Where they came from and where it was going.

Edmondson-Wright_FamilyTree

Behind the scenes: The Caldwell-Ballantyne-Edmondson side of the family-tree was drawn Summer 2016 to clarify Maggie’s relationship to Col. Caldwell. Most of the names were chosen randomly, but I should say something about Maggie’s mother. “Lucianna” was obviously chosen to doff my cap to Luciana Carro—but, I should underline, was chosen long before any specifics of the character became clear. That character later evolved in ways that are unflattering, so in some ways, I regret assigning that name to that character. But that also points to something no one tells you when you start writing: These things have a way of becoming fixed. Past a certain point, “Maggie’s mama’s name is Lucianna” became a datum baked into the book’s DNA, no more changeable than the color of her eyes.

The Wright side of the family tree came much later. The only fixed point there was that David, like Maggie, is a middle-child. Maggie and David’s three (so far) children are mentioned in passing in the part of the Chronicle which Simon actual finds the most heartbreaking, the “flashforward.” IRL, their names are hat-tips to characters played by Genevieve Buechner (previously Caprica‘s Tamara Adama) and Shiri Appleby on UnREAL (Rachel also does double-duty as one of several Moby Dick references), and Leah Cairns’ character on Travelers. To in-universe those names, I ensured that two of the names are in their family trees. The in-universe origin of ‘Madison’ as the name of Maggie’s firstborn is left unsaid. Another thing that they don’t tell you when you start doing this is how very real these people will become to you. Once that flashpoint is reached, one starts to become weirdly protective of their privacy, feeling that there is only so much information about these people to which readers (or, verily, the writer) should be privy.

Helios Alpha and Virgon

The good folks at QMX sell a gorgeous map of Cyrannus,* the system which contains the Twelve Colonies. It’s based on the IRL Epsilon Lyrae system. I have one framed on my office wall. But as I identified from the outset (and will summarize here) the “Maggieverse” insists that QMX made three significant mistakes. The Racetrack Chronicle cannot avoid confronting one of them directly: The location of Virgon.

Battlestar Galactica may start a long time ago in a star-system far, far away, but it takes place in our own universe, subject to the same rules of physics. This allows us to extrapolate some “canonical facts” (i.e. things that are not explicitly stated in canon but which follow by necessarily implication from things which are so). From those, it follows that contrary to QMX’s positioning of it in Helios Beta, Virgon must be in Helios Alpha.

  • Canon: As Colonial Heavy 798 leaves Caprica, their flight-time to the Galactica is “approximately five and a half hours.”
  • Canon: The “thirty-minute communications delay” tells us that the Galactica is ~thirty light-minutes (~539.6 million KM) from Caprica.
  • First necessary implication of canon: With no reason to think that the pilot had his foot on the gas (or was taking his time), we must assume the flight to be within routine parameters. Thus, Colonial liners cruise at ~98 million KM/h.

(For more on why CH798’s flight and Colonial comms must be subluminal, see the fuller explanation in the post linked above.)

  • Second necessarily implication of canon: The Galactica is in the Helios Alpha system at Zero Hour. We can’t know where to mark the outer edge of the system, whether in terms of colonial astronomy or law. But we know from the QMX map that the outermost of its significant planets is the titanic gas-giant Zeus. In our Solar System, the innermost gas-giant, Jupiter, orbits the sun at 43.2 light-minutes (778.5 million KM). Thus, even if Zeus’ orbit marks the outer boundary of the Helios Alpha system, the Galactica is well within that system for any reasonable value for Zeus’ orbit.

Now let’s talk about Virgon.

  • Canon: Shortly after the attack on the colonies begins, Gaeta reports 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” from the Galactica’s position. Adama notes that the Galactica can avoid detection during her approach to the battlefield by keeping Virgon between them an the fight.

(A minor nitpick rejected: Technically, Jupiter is “over an hour away” if we were to drive there this afternoon in a beat-up Morris Minor. But the pragmatics of the phrasing are clear. Virgon is more than 60 minutes away but fewer than ~100 minutes away.)

  • Necessary implication of canon: Virgon is in Helios Alpha. Although we can reasonably assume that the Galactica has a flanking speed well in excess of CH798’s cruising speed, it cannot be anything like what she’d need to reach a planet in Helios Beta in a timeframe which reasonably answers to “over an hour away.”

We can demonstrate this by running the numbers on the best-case scenario. Suppose that the Galactica is 30 light-minutes directly along the axis between the αβ pair, and both Caprica and Virgon, coincidentally, are also sitting right on that axis at that moment. On those facts, the Galactica is at least 18.5 billion KM from Virgon’s orbit.** Even if we stretch the pragmatics to breaking-point and say that the Galactica is two hours from Virgon, she would have to move at 9.2 billion KH/h, which is 94 times faster than our clocked speed for CH798 and a significant percentage of the speed of light. And, again—that’s the best-case scenario.

Thus, in my continuity, I take QMX to have made a typographical mistake, flipping the positions of Virgon and Tauron.

This is an idiosyncrasy of the Maggieverse continuity, I admit. But swapping the positions of those two planets is the solution which does the least violence to the map while making the math work. Nothing canonically insists that Tauron is in Helios Alpha, and canon requires 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 doing a speed within the ballpark of that at which we clocked CH798.

The consensus in the fan community seems to be that the QMX map is the most canonical non-canon thing there is, so I hesitate to deviate from it. I treat it as canon except for those places where it cannot be correct. This is one of those cases: The math is inescapable.

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* How’s that pronounced, you might wonder? The word comes from a TOS episode in which Starbuck refers to his home port as “SIH’ra’nus galaxy” (rhymes with tyrannous), which was presumably scripted as Cyrannus. That’s also the prevailing pronunciation among fans. Nevertheless, I have made an argument for “KŪR’ah-nus.”

** Okay, if you’re reading the footnotes, that means you’re a nerd like me. Which means that you want the actual math. Here you go: Galactica is ((299792.458*60)*30)+(15000000+((384400*4.332)/2) KM along our notional axis between the two stars. QMX says that Helii Alpha and Beta are 126 AU apart, and the maximum possible orbit for “Virgon” in this scenario is well within Mars’ 1.524 AU orbit because of the limits of the habitable zone. If the Galactica is 690,459,034 KM from Helios Alpha, it is therefore no less than 18,520,567,390 KM from the orbit of Virgon.

The crest

In the Chronicle‘s Appendix II, there is a visitor’s map of the PCMA campus—the officer-candidate school that is the locus dramatis of most of Part I, “Poseidon.” We’ll get to the map in another post. But the school’s crest bears a moment’s examination. We have the four stars of the Cyrannus system, in which Picon’s sun, Helios Alpha, looms largest. We have a foundation year, 1893, the year after Picon declared independence from Virgon. The nautical imagery in the shield is, with an asterisk, familiar: Waves, a trident, and a sextant.

PCMA’s motto is never quoted in full in the book. But it is specifically-chosen, and encompasses what Maggie Edmondson, Abigail Ainslie, and Bob King are each seeking. It reads: Cuique Abyssus spem novam dabit, “the Deep shall grant new hope unto each.” If that sounds familiar, it should. It paraphrases a poem quoted by Marko Ramius at the end of the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October.” (Sharp-eyed readers will spot several references to that book in part II, “Galactica.”) Despite Ramius’ attribution, the original—”and the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home”—to Columbus, it was, according to this, written by Red October scribe Larry Ferguson. In “Poseidon,” it speaks to Maggie’s need to recover her sense of security, Abigail’s need to assert control over her life, and King’s need—well, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

There’s one other element to which I want to draw attention: The sextant is broken. Lacking its mirrors, it could not function. The in-universe graphic designer who drew the crest in-universe was familiar with the concept and general design of a sextant, but not its actual function. This, I feel, speaks to a civilization on the cusp of decline. Like Colonial religion, which I treat seriously in the book, but through an Anglican lens, the crest shows that although ritual obeisance is still being performed to the symbols and forms of the ancient tradition, it is done at a distance, with a level of abstraction and incomprehension.

A ship alone on the ocean

I have been doing a series of renders of Chris Kuhn’s gorgeous Galactica model to find promotional images for the Chronicle. This one, I feel, speaks to my aesthetic. This is around fourteen months before the Fall as the Galactica finds her legs and leaves the Helios Delta system in part II. Although the stern still basks in the far light of the sun, the bow shrouded in darkness as she faces out into the deep. It emphasizes that space is cold, dark, and empty, and implies the the isolation and loneliness of our heroes and heroines. They truly are, in JMS’ evocative phrase, “all alone in the night.”

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