The Salvage of Rapha is my first little fiction-baby, and I’m as excited now as I was a year ago when I sent it out to play with the hordes of science fiction already out there. I hope it’s having a good time and I wish it luck.
I never really planned to be a writer. I’ve had storylines and characters in my head entertaining me every spare minute of my time and then some, for as long as I can remember – but that was just how brains work, I figured, anyway it was all embarrassing nonsense. (Honestly most of it still is.)
I started college with a major in computer science, looking to be practical; but a year in, I realized that I dreaded making my livelihood depend on fighting with a computer. For some reason, waiting on inspiration after days of debugging code just filled me with despair – whereas waiting on inspiration after days or months of fine-tuning fictional conversations and sealing up plot holes fills me with something like joy. (Perhaps infatuation? Joy sounds better.) So I switched my major to English. No offense to the programmers and engineers – I leave that work to my betters. I’ve had a look at what they do and they have my awed respect. (I have since married one. He is awesome.)
But that bit of computer science I managed to absorb got drawn in to the maelstrom of narratives inside my head, as most things do, and it came out when I sat down in early 2015, newborn napping beside me, to entertain myself by writing. I recklessly slapdashed out a story based on a weird dream I’d had once, which when mixed up with a couple of shower thoughts and buffed up by friendly feedback, became several months later a real actual novella: The Salvage of Rapha.
The Salvage of Rapha is a story about four people – a captain of a small ship, an overqualified scientist, an unproven young engineer and an adrift ex-soldier – thrown together by their jobs, in which they’re under contract to head to unexplored territory and bring back samples and data. It’s set in the future, somewhere in deep space, somewhere on the frontier where naturally – of course! – they get stranded. Problems get weird and proposed solutions get even weirder.
Without giving much away, I can say that a good portion of the crew’s survival struggle depends on the particular difficulty of trying to understand how a computer works. Any programmer could tell you that few things are more bewildering than trying to understand code somebody else wrote, even if they left notes. You know the program will compile and, and you know it was written by another human with a brain not unlike your own for a sensible purpose. But finding out exactly how this happens is going to demand from you all the wit and stamina you have – at least. It’s going to mess with your head and test your faith in the universe.
That intersection of knowledge and faith. That feeling of sometimes being out of your depth, but of having to believe there’s a method in the madness and that when you finally see it, it’s going to be beautiful – that’s the big feeling I tried to capture in my little novella. It’s a dynamic I experienced in a small way years ago trying to write code; it’s a dynamic I experience in a big way anytime I watch the stars, pray, or ponder theology – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I suspect it’s an integral part of the human experience. So I scaled it right on out to the scope of interstellar adventure and let my characters grapple with it.
The Salvage of Rapha is the story of semi-competent people at the end of their rope, having to make a decision to trust what they can’t understand.
But it’s also the story of inexperienced nerds banging around on an alien planet making dumb jokes at each other’s expense (lest I’ve made it sound too profound. It’s profound and silly at the same time I suppose: what works for Star Trek works for me).
I loved writing The Salvage of Rapha. I hope other science fiction fanatics such as myself will enjoy reading it!
~ C. J. Turpin
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