Another work of size is finished, and so it is time once again to reflect on the work – a service I do for myself as well as for any readers that might be writers themselves. It helps to think critically about a work immediately following a release when it comes to making future plans and improving the craft. Since I have the ability to edit and revise work post-hoc, such a reflection can also serve as the first baseline for revisions when and if the work changes formats (for example, if I publish a work using traditional means in the future). With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts for Prophet of the God Seed, my first Earnest story in the Deep Time universe:
I set out to write a story of moderately short length, a novella, since I felt the story I had in mind would be difficult to tell in less than 20,000 words. My target goal was 25,000 words, but when I finished, the story had expanded a bit, reaching over 31,000 words including the epilogue. I tend to run over projected word goals a bit, so this is par for the course. The increased length ultimately doesn’t change anything about the format of the story; it is still squarely in the novella category, and far from being a short story.
“Deep Time” was originally conceived by myself and Matt Wellman as a series, ideally a one hour drama in the tradition of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Firefly, and Stargate. Unfortunately, writing a pitching a high-budget scifi series is not something easily done by a couple of nobody screenwriters in a business that is, when it comes to risky new IP, extremely conservative these days. Advice (good advice, I might add) was that such a project, at least in a visual format, would be best left for a time when we had at least a few credits under our belt. Still, the IP captures my imagination, and I wanted to work on developing it formats I could operate in more autonomously.
Ultimately, it was these origins that motivated me to decide on the length the story eventually became. I wanted it to feel like an episode of Star Trek, and to me, it really did. We had an A, B, and C story, comprised of Padalmo’s story, the search for stable heavy elements, and Moses’s attempt to understand his romantic feelings. We also, in the pacing of the book, have excluded certain things. We don’t have proper character introductions (I’ve never quite liked heavy-handed exposition anyway), and some of the peripheral characters lack development. We don’t have a matriculation of romance, or really any arrival, just a hint of things to come. These things would be fine in a TV series, where there is always next week to make room for new character development or to advance story arc.
This choice of length, however, leaves the story as a bit of an odd-duck. Novellas have virtually no market in traditional publication models, being too long to publish in story anthologies and magazines, while generally being too short for the book market. For the serial publication of the work, this matters little, but for the future of the project, the length has serious implications.
If I wish to move the story into an anthology, I would need to cut away at least one of the plots, probably that of Moses’s romantic feelings, which to me would relegate at least two of the characters into static actors; that’s not really what I want. The other option would be to expand the story into a full novel, adding at least 20,000 words (ideally 30-50k, doubling its content). I am equally hesitant about this option, since I fear I would lose the quick pacing that the serial format has given to the work, or spend too much time on things that, while important to character and universe development, would be rather irrelevant to the plot.
One scifi book that started as a shorter work comes to mind: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Though I find the book very imaginative and was certainly influenced by it early on, a recent reading of it brought some of its flaws to light. The sections of the book that were added to pad-out the story (which was originally published in a science fiction magazine) ultimately detract from the primary focus of the story, which was Ender’s development in a hostile training environment. I felt like the sections about Ender’s siblings, though possibly compelling on their own as separate stories, felt boring and irrelevant while reading the book. I don’t want to make the same mistake with my own story.
Expansion nonetheless offers some great opportunities to improve the format and story of Prophet of the God Seed. One thing that has been communicated to me on several occasions was how difficult it was to understand the workings of relativity on the primary characters. Most people haven’t been exposed to big physics concepts, and though Einstein’s relativity theories are now about 100 years old, they can still come across as new and scientifically advanced to many readers. Even “hard” scifi in the mainstream, like Star Trek, avoids the complications of the speed of light and relativity, conveniently jumping over it by creating things like “warp speed” that allow the characters to exist in the same time flow as those not traveling around the galaxy. In reality, time is not nearly so set, but it goes against all human experience and intuition to think that time flows at different rates in different locations.
Expanding the story, perhaps including the story of how Moses was rescued and came to be a part of the crew of Icarus, would give me a chance to really explain to readers how relativity and the technology in the book really works. It also represents an opportunity to create more interpersonal conflict, as the rescue of Moses by Anders is supposed to be a controversial decision, ultimately costing Anders his chance at command.
I think I’ll let the novella sit for a bit before making any large changes, but right now I am leaning toward a revision that expands the work into about a 50,000 word short novel.