July 16th, 2006 | Work
So I was sitting in front of the computer sometime in September 2005 watching an episode of DEADWOOD and thinking about how Alan Moore lucked into all those lovely postmodern ideas like assembling disparate adventurers of the 19th Century into the 20th Century model of a superhero team and remembering how much fun it was to write MINISTRY OF SPACE when my computer told me it’d finally downloaded a piece of public domain film I’d started torrenting four hours earlier. In a rare moment of nostalgia, I’d decided to download an episode of one of the old FLASH GORDON serials. Buster Crabbe running around, with his peroxide hair that he was so embarrassed about that he used to keep his hat on all the time while in public, unconscionable rudeness in 1930 America. Total nostalgia trip for me, because all of those things — the FLASH GORDON serials, the old BUCK ROGERS serial, KING OF THE ROCKETMEN and all that — were shown on British tv when I was a kid. “Steam-powered STAR WARS,” my dad used to call them.
And I’m watching DEADWOOD, the American cable tv series that eviscerates the Western genre, mixing history with fiction in its imagining of the last days of the Wild West. And it suddenly occurs to me. Where did the space heroes go when they weren’t in space anymore? I found myself looking at the clapboard and pine of the Deadwood camp and seeing it made out of bits of abandoned 1930s sci-fi rocketship, and a fifty-year-old Flash Gordon calling people “cocksucker.”
So I noted it down and put it in the Loose Ideas folder on my computer desktop. I told myself that I didn’t particularly want to do another “retro” book. God knows there were and are enough shallow retakes of old genres and materials around, ironic or straight.
But the fucking thing nagged at me.
I decided this year, 2006, that I wanted to do a fairly dense longform serial in the 22-page unit. I spent most of June trying to develop up a new book. Tossed three or four ideas. Because this thing, this concept, kept rearing up in my field of vision.
Looking through my Loose Ideas folder, I found a concept I developed back in the 90s, that’d had a few false starts due to artists bailing and the like. It was a setting in search of a story that deserved it, to be honest. The only thing about it that worked was the setting — Ignition City, earth’s spaceport, a circular island on the equator, fringed by launchpads. It was hot and dry during the day due to all the space launches — Ray Bradbury’s “Rocket Summer” — but at night the weather took its revenge, and it rained and blew, and all the propellant propulsion expressed out of the clouds in the rain…
I started pulling up maps of islands, and through a misclick found myself looking at Iceland (which is spelled Island in the Icelandic), a country I’ve visited a few times over the years. Iceland has a forbidding “interior”, the moonlike centre of the country. NASA in fact trained Apollo astronauts in the interior as preparation for the moon. The country is so raw that some travel guides still refer to Icelandic towns as “settlements.”
And there it was. Where did the space heroes go to die? To the settlement in the interior of earth’s only spaceport, Ignition City.
I swore kind of a lot. I didn’t want to do another retro book, but the bastard thing was writing itself right in front of me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all these years of writing professionally, it’s that you need to go with the flow. I’d be a fool to ignore a story that was writing itself.
I made one attempt to distract myself. I’d been thinking about writing something about explorers, and did some investigatory Google work, hoping that it’d lead me to something interesting that’d become a useful story hook. I ended up at the biography of a man called Lionel Crabb, a British diver and explorer who disappeared in unusual circumstances in the 1950s. Crabb’s nickname was Buster.
I gave up and dropped a publisher a note to tell them I had a new serial for them. I mean, you can’t argue with that. Someone was trying to tell me something.