Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Value of Details in Imaginary Worlds

One of the most fascinating (and time-consuming) parts of writing a Star Trek book is including lots of details that tie it together with the shows, movies and books that are already out there. After watching the DS9 episode "Cardassians" (2x05), in which the character Garak enjoyed a smelly beverage called rokassa juice, saying it calmed his nerves, I knew rokassa juice had to be in my novel.

One of the main characters in Cardassian Language is a military commander in wartime: a tough, proud leader in an already arrogant, macho culture. It would be all too easy to paint him as an irredeemable villain with no weaknesses, no doubts, no humanity. Of course, if I did that, he wouldn't feel real and I wouldn't be much of a writer, but I can't have him breaking down in tears, either. That's where rokassa juice comes in.

In its introductory scene, it's not the rokassa juice that tells the reader he's having a bad day: we get a rare opportunity to use a battle injury to hint at his vulnerabilities. But the rokassa juice will, if I do my job right, establish itself over time as a clue or symbol, and be very useful in scenes where there are no convenient bodily signs.

Here's the passage, from Chapter 18, condensed for this post. We're on a Cardassian warship, and a human prisoner has been summoned for a chat with the Gul, or Captain:

The Gul put one hand on his chair and the other on the desk and pushed himself up on his arms. Slowly, he transferred his weight to his legs and turned stiffly to the replicator. "Coffee, cream and sugar," he ordered, and "coffee, black."

"You're hurt," I said.

He put the cups on his desk and lowered himself back into his chair. "A present from Starfleet," he quipped, "a small token of friendship."

"What's it all about, anyway, this war?" I stood, picked up my cup in its holder and sat down again.

"There was a time when I would have answered, 'Expansionist aggression,' but now I'm afraid it's become little more than a political game."

"Dangerous game," I observed. "I wonder if there's anything I can do."

"I doubt there's anything you could do."

"I see. You haven't touched your coffee."

He picked up his coffee, took a small sip and put it back down.

"Is your leg going to be okay?" I asked.

"Yes, thank you, It's just a temporary inconvenience. But I understand your injury is not from the battle."

I stared into my coffee. "No, not exactly. But Iba only kicked me to keep me from hitting my head."

"I believe your head would never have been in danger if you had not disobeyed my Riyak."

I gripped my cup-frame tightly with both hands in an effort to prevent them from flying up to my face. "True," I admitted. "Earlier you said something about turning the heat down in my room. That would be fine with me, actually. To be honest, it's a little too warm for my taste, and I know you're worried about expenses."

"Might you be referring to my remark that not all the rooms in this ship are warm?"

"Yes," I said, "that was it."

"The rooms in question are specialized storage bays, but I've found they also function effectively as quarters for uncooperative prisoners. I'm afraid they are in fact cold, rather than comfortably cool as you imagine. Oxygen saturation is limited, to slow oxidization of stored materials; it's breathable but very thin. There are no shower or toilet facilities."

"And you would actually put me in there if I refused to work?"

"Of course. I enjoy our little meetings, Vaine, but there's no more time for this one. I'll send for you again another day."

"Yes, Gul." In spite of my efforts, it came out in a growl. I stood up and hobbled to the door.

"Rokassa juice," I heard the Gul say to the replicator as the door swished shut behind me.

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