by Brian Trent
“An Incident on Ishtar” [March/April 2018 Analog, on sale now] is, on one hand, a tale of sinister espionage and political intrigue set on a notoriously dangerous planet.
On the other hand, it’s about a young woman driven by the most fundamental of motivations.
Most of my stories first occur to me as a setting. Every writer I know has his or her own unique entry point into composition, be it a character or action sequence or line of dialogue. For me, those initial coordinates are a location, which I like to vary from tale to tale. Mars (or Mars-like planets) are a genre favorite, but I wanted to try something a little different with “An Incident on Ishtar.”
I immediately liked the dynamic between such a deadly environment and the bubble of humanity dwelling within it: the microcosm of civilization, and sheer defiance of threat, that such a station would represent.
Named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and to still older cultures as the tempestuous goddess of love and war. In “An Incident on Ishtar,” a human colony floats above the planet’s toxic conditions—an intriguing colonization option that has been suggested in scientific literature as an alternative to its Martian brother. I immediately liked the dynamic between such a deadly environment and the bubble of humanity dwelling within it: the microcosm of civilization, and sheer defiance of threat, that such a station would represent. It’s not a place that easily invites “terraforming” on any comprehensible time-scale, and so the challenge becomes surviving it, on its own terms and our own ingenuity.
My characters typically grow out of the chosen setting, but this time things were different: the character of Dr. Melissa Lobo was right there at the very beginning. Bags packed, knuckles white around her luggage handle, the ticket in her trembling fingers. A woman who has never fit in anywhere, suddenly determined to start life anew on a planet of storms. Sailing brightquest from Earth to the aerostat colony of Ishtar with her few belongings and little understanding of what’s in store for her.
As settings go, the maelstrom of Venus is at heart of a larger vortex in “An Incident on Ishtar.” People are jockeying for power, and plans hatch in the shadows. This is the universe of my novel Ten Thousand Thunders, which details the ascent of humanity to the stars. My Analog novelette “Galleon” (July/August 2017 issue) occurs toward the opposite end of that timeline as the seeds of civilization have already been flung far and wide.
Indeed, readers familiar with my work may recognize some of the characters and events Melissa encounters, but this is not an ensemble piece, nor is any familiarity with the larger universe required. My philosophy has always been that every story should be firmly capable of standing on its own.
So this is Melissa’s story. An outcast seeking to carve out a small place of comfort and stability in an unpredictable universe, even if that place happens to be an island in the sky.