Author's Corner: Stephen Case on writing First Fleet
February 26, 2015
When I told my mother-in-law I was working on a novel, she said she hoped it would have strong female characters. I stared at her for a moment before admitting I wasn’t sure how to create another type of female character. I am surrounded by strong women-- my wife, my mother and mother-in-law, my sister, my daughter, and many of the young women I teach. The main characters in First Fleet, Cam and Beka, came quite naturally to me.
The original impetus of “Bones,” the story that was the seed of First Fleet, was to write Lovecraftian horror in space. Once I created the riddle of the Fleet’s disappearance, the task was then to bring characters into play who could tackle this from different angles. Beka Grale represents a deliberate, analytical approach to the problem: she’s emotionally invested, but she’s going to crack this thing (she thinks) with her mind and her unique skill set. She grows throughout the novel into someone who ultimately has to move beyond this to take charge and responsibility for others.
Cam Dowager represents a more visceral response to the Fleet’s disappearance. She’s pulled into the mystery against her will, and her primary reaction is to protect herself and her family. Cam was also a chance to explore the fact that we never really know anyone completely: there’s a lot more in her background than anyone suspects. Telling the story of the First Fleet through the lens of these two women was a challenge, but I think it was more rewarding-- and I hope more compelling-- than using the standard, primarily male science fiction action cast.
One surprise while writing was that universe of First Fleet began to seem to me eerily familiar. System, the omnipresent background even when we’re far from it, is the solar system as suburban sprawl. The light lines are interstates connecting the solar system with the rest of the galaxy. But what does growth and transportation mean when they push up against things we can’t understand or foresee on the one hand and the consequences of that very expansion on the other? The Colonizers and the ETI are the two sides of this coin, and I hope they pose questions for the reader relevant for our own context today.