FIRST ASSIGNMENT: STORY STATEMENT
A post-colonial Martian astronomer who is afraid of space travel, Red must navigate a ship through the solar system using only dead reckoning to find out why Earth has suddenly fallen silent.
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: ANTAGONIST
James Carson immigrated to Mars as a small child. He studied at the best university on Mars and became the planet’s preeminent expert in rocket propulsion. His brilliance led him to engineer the propulsion systems for some of the most advanced spacecraft in existence. But it was Project Echohawk that forever changed him, when he was tasked with building a drive that could take a ship from Mars to Earth in a matter of days.
With the knowledge and perspective gained during the top-secret project, the logistical minded Carson finds his pessimistic worldview confirmed, and he devises a solution: he can use the new drive to unite Earth against Mars. Carson views his actions as pulling the switch on the trolley car tracks, deliberately condemning millions to die so that billions may live.
THIRD ASSIGNMENT: BREAKOUT TITLE
Transit of Earth
Sparks in the Dust
FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: COMPARABLES
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Readers who enjoy Cixin Liu’s building of tension using an ever-evolving dance between scientific and geopolitical plot-drivers will also enjoy this story.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Much like Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary and The Martian, this story is set in a hard-science-based near(ish) future where characters must use technologies not too different from our own to solve much larger problems. Hard-sci-fi readers will have a steady stream of “aha” moments, driven both by plot and by the ways the characters improvise in difficult situations. Mythbusters would rate the solutions they come up with as “plausible.”
FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: HOOK LINE WITH CONFLICT & CORE WOUND
A scientist must willingly serve the government authority responsible for his parents’ deaths if he is to prevent an interplanetary war.
SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: INNER CONFLICT AND SECONDARY CONFLICT
Inner conflict – Red must face the truth that his intuition and alertness are the remnant product of a metabolic drug his parents had taken before he was born to help with their transition to living at an extreme latitude on the already frozen and barren Mars. The now banned drug eventually killed them years ago. But the hyper-alertness Red inherited is what’s keeps him alive in the void of space. We get glimpses of Red’s state of mind throughout, but through a close 3rd person perspective, we only get glimpses of explanations. When Red confronts Carson, Carson makes Red confront his past and the fact that the Science Directorate where Red is employed negligently killed his own parents.
Secondary conflict – Because of political considerations far beyond his control, Red finds himself on a several week journey from Mars to Earth with Mira Hall, a Martian government spy who just days earlier gassed and searched him while they were alone on a train. Knowledge of the encounter on the train turns the rest of the small crew against Mira. But after their chief engineer, Arnie, betrays them halfway through the voyage, the rest of the crew – including Red – realize they have no choice but to rely on Mira to get the ship safely to Earth.
SEVENTH ASSIGNMENT: SETTING
Part I – Mars
While there are some transitory scenes that take place on a shuttle and a rover, the majority of the first part of the book is set in one of the four locations: The Phoenix Observational Laboratory and Research Station (POLARS), a hyperloop car, the “Vault” in the Martian military headquarters, and the Lakebed training facility
POLARS – Red’s lab in the northern city of New Phoenix. The facility is dark and isolated, even by Martian standards. Because it’s the winter in the Northern hemisphere, Red has not seen the sun in months. First chapter takes place here, and Red’s heightened state of alertness allows us to capture details through his eyes an observer might not otherwise see. The underground laboratory largely resembles a modern-day Earth lab, just with newer equipment. But when Red climbs the stairs into the domed section of the facility, we see that everything outside the dome is dark, barren, and alien.
Hyperloop car – Red takes the hyperloop from his lab to the Martian capital after he discovers a distress call from an Earth station. Seconds after boarding, he’s knocked out by an unknown assailant. He comes to halfway to the first stop on the line with no sign of his attacker. The hyperloop car isolates Red from the rest of the world, and he hardens significantly along the 12-hour voyage. Because it moves across the Martian landscape, the hyperloop is also a way to do some fundamental world-building in ways that will serve key plot points later.
The “Vault” – the makeshift Martian military command center located in the underground sections of their headquarters in the Martian capital of Deuterona. It’s here that Red learns about the mission to Earth and has to decide whether or not he will join. This is Jordan’s world, build on rules and order. But even here, rules are being bent, outside parties are being read in, and a normally stoic Martian Guard is scrambling to figure out why Mars has lost communication with Earth.
The Lakebed – the secret facility in the southern hemisphere where Red receives a grueling crash course in space travel. It’s a small city unto itself, run entirely by the military. It’s the farthest Red has ever been from his home in New Phoenix until his training completes and he launches into orbit.
Part II – Interplanetary Space
Aside from minor jumps to Mars, the second part of the book takes place in space, almost entirely on the Sargasso, the interplanetary transport that will take the crew to Earth. Other than during a few comparatively short rocket burns, the entire second part of the book takes place in zero gravity.
The command deck – exactly what it sounds like, but the seats gimbal so that the crew face forward while under power.
The Panoptes – Red’s workstation on the ship, a small room just behind the command deck. An enormous window allows him to see out into space through the side of the ship. He navigates from here, using six scopes attached to the outside of the ship to check on their position at all times. It’s laid out to somewhat mimic his workstation at POLARS, but the scopes are not nearly as powerful, and Red must find a way to work effectively in the space both in zero gravity and during intense rocket burns. It’s here that Red checks the ship’s trajectory and calculates their burns. It’s also Red’s default place to be when he can’t sleep or when he’s worried.
Mira’s quarters – where Mira is confined for most of the trip, until the crew realize they need her expertise. Small bunk, what one might find in a cramped crew quarters on an actual ship.
Core section – Massive, hollow cylindrical core of the ship and the passenger compartments surrounding it. No passengers, but the compartments are full of fuel, batteries, and mechanical parts. It is in a corridor of one of these passenger compartments that the crew find they’ve been betrayed by Arnie, who is sending an unauthorized transmission to a mysterious recipient. They confront him. After a struggle, Arnie kills himself by going through the airlock. Because the normally occupied passenger compartments are empty, there’s an extra empty feeling to the corridors of the compartments, which are cold and dark when the ship is controlled only by a skeleton crew.
Outside the ship – Several spacewalks occur during the voyage, and while the reader becomes more familiar with the external layout of the ship and how the characters move around it, circumstances beyond the crew’s control make the outside environment more and more hostile as they battle crew shortages, fatigue, and complacency.
Part III – Earth’s Gravity Well
Two more main settings are added, in addition to the Sargasso.
Waypoint Alpha – the refueling station located in Earth’s sphere of influence about 4 times farther from Earth than the moon. Located at one of Earth’s solar Lagrange points, it stays nearly fixed compared to the Earth. The station is the Sargasso’s destination because of the distress call Red received from the station while the rest of Earth was silent. The station has three rotating rings: the force in the inner ring simulates lunar gravity. The force in the middle ring simulates Martian gravity. The force in the outer ring simulates Earth gravity. Like the Sargasso’s passenger compartments, it, too, is nearly empty, with only one inhabitant, Sofia. Sofia pretends to be in distress but is actually allied with Carson and is luring the Sargasso into a trap.
Escape pod – after Carson takes Red in the Sargasso, Jordan and Mira take one of Waypoint Alpha’s escape pods to pursue the Sargasso. It’s a small, spherical, and rudimentary ship meant only for orbital operation. But because it’s built for emergencies, it’s fast and nimble. Jordan must find a way to catch the pod up to the Sargasso before the pod runs out of fuel, and Mira must find a way to get from the pod to the Sargasso. Currently, about 4,500 words worth of Mira’s POV takes place in the pod over two chapters, culminating in a daring maneuver that catches the escape pod up with the Sargasso and positions Mira to jump from the pod to the massive transport. But the forces from the maneuver blind Jordan, meaning Mira must rescue Red on her own.