Character Missions

Character Missions,Guest post by Clay Gilbert

Around the time I first started working on the project that ultimately became Annah and the Exiles and Annah and the Gates of Grace, the second and third books of my Children of Evohe science-fiction series, I had an idea for a story about a young man stationed aboard a starship, whose job it was to monitor transmissions from space and respond to it, and about the habit he had of collecting conversations; a confluence of event and habit that would lead first to a series of conversations with, and eventually to a relationship with, a young woman named Rynn Handel, aboard another ship, somewhere. 

Character Missions,Guest post by Clay Gilbert
The “twist”, as they say, would be that Rynn was a cyborg—a being comprised both of human tissue and cybernetic parts—but in Rynn’s case, without a humanoid body, or really a body of any kind beyond a kind of mechanical casing.  I thought the story would be an interesting metaphor both for online communication and the relationships that develop online in the current Internet age, as well as a commentary on the challenges of life with a disability, especially as the story developed, and I ‘discovered’ that the young man, named Northrop Wynn, had a disability of his own—a (fictional) neurological condition called thalamic hypercognition.  North’s condition allows for accelerated cognitive function, but this acceleration takes a toll on other functions of the body, to the point that by the time he’s in his late twenties, at the beginning of the story, he can’t walk on his own, having to use either a wheelchair or a cybernetic brace which enables him to walk, but cuts off his hypercognitive functions.  Ultimately, North’s condition also promises to cut short his lifespan, leaving him with a life expectancy of around fifty years at best.  These challenges give North a unique perspective from which to understand Rynn’s struggle with her own condition, one that she didn’t ask for any more than he did. 

As I said, I conceived The Conversationalist with only the basics of the situation and the names of my two characters in place, and I didn’t start writing it when I first had the idea, for a couple of reasons.  First, I was deep into writing the Annah sequel, which later turned into two sequels, and I’m not a fan of veering off-course into another project just because I have a neat idea one day.  Secondly, I had no idea what Rynn was doing on board the ship she was on, or what would cause Rynn and North to ultimately meet ‘in real life’ so to speak.   So I took a few notes in a MS Word file, titled it “The Conversationalist”, and set it aside.

Character Missions,Guest post by Clay Gilbert
Later on, when one Children of Evohe book had become two, and I was midway through writing the second of those, Annah and the Gates of Grace, I had a situation in the book where Annah and her friends found themselves in a prison underneath the surface of a planet called Holdfast; a prison which, it turned out, was run by a cyborg intelligence installed for that purpose by the prison’s administrators because they wanted someone to run the prison who wouldn’t die, and they didn’t want a simple computer, because computers can’t truly reason or feel.  When I arrived at this point in the story, it was clear that the cyborg in charge of Gracegate Prison had to be Rynn Handel, even though I hadn’t planned it that way to begin with.  Rynn’s part in Gates of Grace both fleshed out her backstory, established her motivations and personality, and also explained what she’s doing on the ship called the Broken Road, where readers of The Conversationalist will find her, whether they’ve read Gates of Grace or not.

Once I began writing the story, I discovered things about both Rynn and North that I had neither thought of, nor planned on.  I didn’t know about North’s hypercognition until I sat down to write, and I had no idea about Rynn’s quirky sense of humor or her obsession with the twentieth-century Earth rock group ELO until I started working in earnest on the book, either.  I also didn’t know about North’s friendship with Connor Reynolds, a man who was the head of the Earth government in the first Children of Evohe novel before he is assassinated, or the role that friendship would play in North’s being on the run in space when The Conversationalist begins.  All of these things became important aspects of a project that would once again turn into two novels: The Conversationalist: Out of the Blue and The Conversationalist: Mission on Mercy Prime.

Fundamentally, I hope The Conversationalist, like most of my novels do to one extent or another, makes the case for the outsider, and particularly for the disabled person.  Like Annah, Rynn and North are disabled people, or, to put it a better way, differently-abled people, who have vital things to offer to their culture and to each other.  I think the genres of imaginative fiction stand in a unique position to model a vision in which the marginalized are no longer so, because the margins of society will be widened and adjusted to shape a world that reflects all the unique things they can bring to it.  If my fiction has a mission, that’s it.  Rynn Handel’s story is one more step along the road of that particular mission.

Character Missions,Guest post by Clay Gilbert
Clay Gilbert says he’s always liked stories, and that from the time he knew there were people who told them for a living, that’s what he wanted to do.  Clay’s work in various genres has been in print since his first short science fiction story, “The Computer Conspiracy,” was published in Scholastic magazine when he was just thirteen. Clay is the author of the science fiction series Children of Evohe, including the novels Annah and the Children of Evohe, Annah and the Exiles, and Annah and the Gates of Grace.  He is also the author of the YA dystopian novel Eternity, as well as the vampire novel Dark Road to Paradise.  He lives and works in Knoxville, TN.  

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