I’ve long had these three science fiction stories I wrote in the 1990s at the back of my mind. One was completed, one was well underway, and the other was just begun, but together they form a trilogy, and somewhere along the way they gained the names Beholder, Bellerophon, and Cerberus. For a long time Cerberus was almost a myth – I knew there were several parts, but I could only ever find one.
Beholder was in some ways worse – I had tried a couple of times to collate it, but it consisted of chapterettes catalogued by a numbering system that often jumped to the next decade number to mark the end of a cycle, and seemed to jump to the next century numbers to mark the next major ‘book’ inside the novel. Over time, the originals on floppy discs had been taken off, catalogued, analysed and so on but I was never sure how much was missing – for missing an amount certainly is. I remember my first attempt at doing this and the creation of the ‘Lost Lambs’ folder, those missing chapters found on their own on a floppy disc otherwise dedicated to another subject. Eventually, it might be said that there are at a minimum two chapters missing (there is a mid-teens gap that makes no sense in terms of jumping to the next numerical milestone) and at most maybe a dozen or so missing. But the bulk of the story is there, and has finally now been collated into one document. Even that was not without its trials, for I did this on holiday and only had my laptop to work from, but the originals were written using Microsoft Works, yet Vista on my laptop refuses to install Works, so I had to work through Notepad, opening each document, stripping it of code and copying it into Word. Fine, but it had the very peculiar effect of always including a stray snippet of text at the bottom, often somehow pulled from a different Works document. I decided to keep these in on the basis that if I could match each snippet to a piece of text elsewhere, good, but if I couldn’t I might have the only remaining fragment of one of the lost chapters – truly story-writing archaeology!
Bellerophon was intact, of reasonable length and would probably have formed a third of the total novel length, whereas the 3 chapters I eventually found for Cerberus are clearly only a beginning, and may yet be missing a part I vaguely recall writing, or perhaps I only recall planning, but never wrote?
The continuous thread through the three stories was the Artificial Intelligence known as Ariadne, and the possible naming of the books relates to her role in the stories – in Beholder she is watching for the mostpart, in Bellerophon she is fighting, and in Cerberus she is protecting. At least that is a rationalisation!
In the past I had tried to make something of the existing stories, either to rewrite them in a more coherent manner, or expand upon what existed, but neither approach had really worked. They are in a sense too much of their time, even though written in a somewhat distant future, and they were written with influences long since eclipsed by more recent influences – eg there are clear streaks of Deep Space Nine in some of the terminology and imaginings, whereas since that time I have taken in all of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.
Instead, I decided this time to write a sequel to the trilogy, taking it as a whole, and setting it ten years after the events in the original work. On one level this was an easy enough decision, but on another it raised some rather large questions. Due to the disjointed nature of the trilogy, that Beholder’s characters other than the AI are not in Bellerophon, and that Bellerophon’s characters, other than the AI, are not in Cerberus, but Cerberus revolves around one group only of Beholder’s characters, what has happened to all the rest of the characters? This is not simply a question of what has happened to them over ten years, since that is my decision as the writer of the new work, but it is very much the question of what happened to them during the time-frame of the original trilogy. As an example, General Kalister escapes from Station One when it is destroyed by the aliens and is last seen hurtling towards Earth in a convoy of evacuation ships. What happens to him during the timeframe of Bellerophon, and if he survives that what has happened to him by the timeframe of Cerberus?
We cannot think of him as still on that ship when up to a year must have passed within the internal reckoning of the triology.
In a sense, the opening scene of the new work suggested itself to me as a scene seeking a story. I needed not only a background, but a character and this took some working through. What became easiest was to extrapolate certain trends from the existing stories – the Human Imperium is on the backfoot, the enemy is not only choosing the battlefields within human space, but has some kind of secret weapon, but one group of characters has information taken from an alien battlecruiser and intends to use this to bargain for a pardon from the Emperor. Taking these as long term trends I could say that the aliens continue to win, but that the humans are able to fight back and delay them – delay them but not stop them.
Having thus decided the overall strategic situation, it becomes clearer both what to do with many of the characters, and what their likely fate would have been. A lot of the military characters are going to be dead. Given that a continuing alien advance is going to mean that human habitation after human habitation falls to the aliens, then a lot of the political characters are also going to be dead. The war is clearly going to have given pirates, freebooters, outlaws and bandits a certain free rein, but since the aliens are going to make little distinction, this kind of war also gives all of these types the chance to shine as unofficial adjuncts to the human military – or guerillas, if you will. Whilst this gives them a continuing valuable role in the story to come, it also means that, as with the other characters, a lot of them are going to be dead.
All of these dead characters seems a bit daunting on the one hand, but what a trilogy of novels does, even one with incomplete volumes, is to generate a mass of characters. Quite literally some of the ships are overloaded with characters when we last see them, so culling them down to a few key characters makes perfect sense for the story to come. The choice of characters to definitely kill, of characters to promote as it were, and of others to have surviving and able to play a useful role in the story to come was an interesting one. Resolving it, brought clarity to who it was I could see in my mind’s eye in the first scene of the new work. It also led me to kill off some of the leading characters who had survived the previous works, and to promote others into their places.
One thing a ten year gap does is to age people. An important segment of the characters from Beholder were teenagers chosen by the leaders of the criminal cartels for their youth as much as for their skills. They are now in their mid to late twenties, and the youngest of them, chosen for her ability to escape notice and to get around tight corners, whilst at the same time having a high intellect, is now a young woman of twenty-one. But she is not the character who emerged from Beholder intact and in high esteem, for Cerberus (what there is of it) is built around her ordeal at the hands of her captors. She is a more withdrawn figure after this experience, and ten years of fighting the alien menace has not mellowed this in her.
Ten years also does things for the youngest characters in the previous work – the youngest named character was a four year old refugee from Station Two in Bellerophon. Escaping on the yacht that contained the AI, she is clearly missing by the time that Cerberus comes around, and the only in-story explanation was an alien attack badly damaged the ship and the crew took to the life pods. Extrapolating on this, it seemed reasonable to posit that she fell into alien hands and forms one of probably hundreds of thousands of human prisoners on alien slave worlds. This puts a character of an interesting age in an important place, in terms of viewpoint.
The other youngest character was not born, but the mother came on board the pirate ship already heavily pregnant. As this was at the end of Beholder, it is obvious that a child must have been born during the time period represented by Bellerophon, and be present but not mentioned during Cerberus. That child is now ten, and has grown up on a pirate ship, all his life dedicated to the pursuit of such goals, and of hitting the aliens in the guise of being a privateer. This is going to make for some very interesting child development!
At the opposite extreme almost the oldest character is still around. I decided that in terms of what we know about the Spacefleet of the Human Imperium, the old admiral who refused retirement and who was sent in with his reserves when the aliens attacked, would be one of those characters most likely to have been able to use all of his experience to survive in a war where humanity is increasingly out-numbered and defeated. I decided that despite his now truly ancient years, keeping him in command makes perfect sense for the story. After all, this is science fiction, it is the future, and it is quite possible in terms of life-span for the better-off that when they retire they can look forward to some thirty or more years of leisure.
The sequel is now about ready to begin. Characters have been chosen, settings set, backgrounds assigned and the grand strategic overview is in place. A few names have had to be changed, not least that of the aliens for when the story was written Dell was something you associated with Dingley and not with a multinational computer company! Others have been standardised, their spelling having slipped across the chapters, whilst as far as it has been possible full names, including last names, have been data mined from obscure brief mentions in the chapters they occurred. Some characters don’t have any – perhaps they never did, perhaps they do not remember it, perhaps they choose not to use it and nobody really cares anymore, considering the circumstances. Some characters have been assigned roles in keeping with their stature but very different, at least in geography, to where we saw them before.
And of course, this new story also needs a name. Sometimes the name is the easiest part, sometimes it is the hardest. I have the vaguest inkling at the moment, but hopefully when the opening scenes have been written it will coalesce into something I can use. Wish me luck on this great voyage of exploration!
Beholder is available to buy at these locations