Setting: A Sense of Place

Phtos shows two cruise ships in a foggy bay. One very large, the other much smaller. Rows of hills inthe background
Cruise ships in Juneau, Alaska

Have you ever been on a cruise? I’ve only done it once, a small-ship cruise in Alaska’s Inside Passage. The ship had about a hundred tourists and we were able to go into smaller coves and closer to the glaciers than the big Princess ship we saw a few times along the route. The contrast between the big ship and mine was pretty dramatic and was the inspiration for Endurance and the Aphrodite—though that was based on what at the time was the world’s largest cruise ship. Every year they get bigger.

I’ve no doubt in my mind that if private tours of the solar system ever become a thing, they’ll follow the same trajectory as ocean cruises. Bigger, more luxurious, even with a Titanic-style disaster I suppose. Humans aren’t showing any signs of coming to grips with the limited resources Earth can provide.

In describing the ship Endurance, I wanted to convey the homey feel, the small scale. Also the claustrophobia. I had to imagine what it might be like to spend weeks, months inside a ship, unable to open a window, feel wind or rain. Then to have things go wrong, break down. My tour lasted a week, Endurance’s was supposed to be three months, so that’s what was planned for. My ship had a lounge and a bar and that was about it. Nightly talks by naturalists on board or visitors filled the time, if there was any left when we weren’t totally exhausted. So Endurance had an observation deck and nightly talks and classes and even a fitness center, which is a given on most ships these days. I’ve never written a whole novel set in one small, cramped space. Granted, I’ve only written one other novel. The next will also feature a space ship, but a lot of the story takes place on the ground, or just above it.

I was particularly interested in setting Endurance in the not-so-distant future. It seems a gap in stories I see. Most are hundreds if not thousands of years in the future. Optimists, that we’ll last that long. Setting Endurance in the 22nd century helped me visualize where they were and what they had to work with. Would jeans still be a thing? They were a hundred years ago, so I expect they will be a hundred years from now. It was fun making stuff up, but this isn’t Star Trek with holodecks and transporters and endless whiz bang gadgets. Other than recycling, which I deemed necessary to give them the resources they’d need to be out in space for three months.

My cruise, thankfully, was uneventful, at least the events were all joyous. I saw whales (though only humpbacks, which are like pigeons here on the East Coast—I really wanted to see orcas), glaciers (happy to see, and walk, on them before they are gone), “orca sausages” (seals on ice floes), learned a little about native Tlingit culture, and just seeing Alaska. Definitely a good bucket list item.

I was happy to be on a small ship and have no interest in big-boat cruising where you don’t have to see the sky or sea. So forgive me if I was a bit harsh to the Aphrodite crowd. Those poor sots didn’t deserve what happened. As it was I felt over-socialized. People can be chatty. “W’aa sa’ I yatee.” Huna Tlingit for how are you? Weepy tired.

I got two short stories out of my Alaska vacation. One from the land portion (“Forget-Me-Not”) and one from the cruise (“Tracy Arm”). Both are in my collection A Perfect Life and Other Stories.

Being a science and nature nerd, I was completely there for the, well, science and nature. In my journal I noted the sights and sounds—the rifle-crack of ice breaking off a glacier. Puffins. Hundreds of sea otters in a kelp bed. The Tlingit village was interesting but I couldn’t help wondering if we tourists were doing more harm than good. They were building a dock so tourists wouldn’t have to land in a Zodiac. But this was 2009, and you know what was going on then. The cruise company went under a year later.

Would I take a Grand Tour with Captain Lyn Randall on Endurance? To see the rings of Saturn up close? In a heartbeat. But on a small ship with a hundred others for three months? Or, er, longer? Um, maybe not.


More about Endurance here, and A Perfect Life, including buy links, of course.

And a gentle reminder that if you read a book and you like it, it’d be great if you posted a review somewhere. Especially if they are an indie or with a small publisher. Amazon, Goodreads, wherever. It helps authors’ egos, and that helps keep us writing. Thanks.

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