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Timekettle

Gohrlay exiting the time travel kettle.

Last night I was looking back at the first two chapters of Jack Vance's novel Star King, which is the first book in the Demon Princes series. I've long been puzzled by the split between those first two chapters and I've wondered if it has something to do with the fact that the story was first published in a magazine. However, it seems more likely that Vance just wanted to pause and create a place where he could add more epigraphic commentary.

In The Start of Eternity, I have started to mimic Asimov's epigraphic style of his Foundation series novels in which he began chapters with snippets from the Encyclopedia Galactica (example). For the last few chapters of The Start of Eternity, I've been providing epigraphic quotes from Vicktir Klempse (example) and imagining that these are things he might have said to Wints.

If Vance made a split between Chapters One and Two of Star King in order to add a couple of epigraphic blurbs, then I can comfortably think of Chapters One and Two as a single chapter that takes place at Smade's Tavern. Gersen's visit to Smade's World (the only thing there is the Tavern) is eventful and Vance takes the time to introduce us to both Gersen and the fictional universe where the Demon Princes series is set. How does Vance manage to gracefully pack so much into 28 pages?

  • The first page is all epigraph, and most of that is from an interview of Smade published in Cosmopolis.
  • The next page describes Smade, Smade's Planet and Smade's Tavern/Inn
  • The protagonist, Kirth Gersen, does not appear until page three; he is introduced as simply a tired "locater". In casual conversation with Smade, Gersen learns that there is an alien Star King in residence at the Inn.
  • Another locater, Teehalt, arrives and tells Gersen about his troubles with the criminal, Malagate, arising over ownership of a planet, newly discovered by Teehalt.
  • The reader learns that Gersen has dedicated his life to finding and killing five "Demon Princes" and Maligate is one
  • five pages are given to a descriptive flashback, an account of the newly discovered planet, which is Earth-like, but with an alien biosphere
  • Gersen meets several of Malagate's ruthless foot soldiers, including "Beauty Dasce" and "Tristano"
  • Teehalt is murdered by Malagate, but Gersen does not witness the murder.
  • Gersen is left with important clues about Malagate's identity and the location of "Tehalt's planet"
  • a four page flashback explains how Gersen was set on his life's course and events immediately leading up to his arrival at Smade's planet

Whew! We've been introduced to a criminal mastermind, Malagate, who killed Gersen's parents, and now Gersen is on his trail. At stake is not only Gersen's life-long dream of revenge, but also the beautiful and unspoiled "Teehalt's planet", which Malagate hopes to claim for a secret scheme. And what does the mysterious alien Star King have to do with anything?

The Start of Eternity is a time travel story, and I do not want to give it anything close to the nearly linear sequence of events found in Vance's Star King. However, I face the same challenge...a need to introduce the setting of the story and "hook" readers. Some people claim that there is only really one type of story: the hero and his quest. The Demon Princes novels are united by Gersen's quest to find and destroy five evil men. Personally, I do not believe that stories always have to be about a hero. The Start of Eternity is set in Asimov's fictional universe where humanity spreads through the galaxy over the span of millennia. The Foundation Series of novels originated as a series of stories published in magazine format and there is no single hero. The Start of Eternity continues on with that format and it has several subsections where different characters appear and dominate the story for a while. The closest to a "hero" in The Start of Eternity is Gohrlay. Gohrlay is introduced in the first chapter of The Start of Eternity, but that is really just a teaser. Gohrlay then leaves the stage and many other characters take over the show. Eventually Gohrlay returns to pop up in the middle of the story and dominate the final few chapters.

I've been thinking about ways to provide additional information about Gohrlay, right near the start of the story. I want the first page section to be a fairly concise introduction to Gohrlay and her death, which is a rather challenging way to introduce the main character of a novel. The start of the story is intentionally mysterious and the reader should be stimulated to wonder: what is going on here, why must Gohrlay die? The second page section shows that Gohrlay is successfully "reincarnated" in robotic form, but there is a huge time gap between the first and second page sections...more mystery.

I'm thinking that it might be possible to include the idea that when Gohrlay is arrested for her crime of trying to interfere in the lives of Earthlings, she notices gaps in her memory and starts to write a diary. She starts to have the eerie sensation that there is an evil presence in Observer Base. When she agrees to die, her only hope is that her mind might be re-instantiated in robotic form. She starts to think of her notes to herself as her "die-eerie" and she makes arrangements with Klempse to have her writing passed onto to her future robotic self. I kind of like the idea of not only having a non-linear narrative, but also having optional parts of the story. Gohrlay's diary could be an optional part of The Start of Eternity that gives more insight into the Gohrlay character. I think there are some people who do not mind stories that are largely "plot driven". Asimov has often been criticized for having poorly-developed characters. Optional parts of The Start of Eternity that expand on particular characters might be a way of staying true to Asimov's rather spare narrative style while providing readers who like complex characters with what they are looking for in a story.

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