The Big Idea: Chris Gerrib
When robbing a bank becomes too mainstream, try hijacking a spaceship! Author Chris Gerrib tells us a little about how he came up with the idea for his newest thriller, One of Our Spaceships is Missing.
Stories sometimes have more than one Big Idea. For my latest novel, I had a lot of big ideas. For this post, I’d like to discuss the two biggest of the Big Ideas.
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared while on a routine night flight from its home base of Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The aircraft was a new Boeing 777, which had (and still has) a very good safety record. Needless to say, there were a lot of theories as to what had happened. At the time and while writing the first draft of this novel, I thought it was a hijacking gone bad.
That then was the seed of the first Big idea – a heist novel. “Hey, gang, let’s steal a spaceship!” Well, heist stories are thrillers, and so I had an opportunity to play with Standard Thriller Subplots. And that’s where I got my first Big Idea.
Standard Thriller Subplot #3 is this – hunky, honest and not-terribly bright man is paired with sexy, mysterious and smart (oh, and did I say she was sexy?) woman and asked to investigate something. Whenever the author needs to pad their wordcount, the two characters have hot sex until the requisite wordcount is reached. There are subvariants of this – #3A is where the female character is really working for the Bad Guys, #3B is where she used to work for them but now is reformed – you get the picture.
I decided to take this subplot and stand it on its head. I do have a hunky and not-very-bright male investigator – Ray Volk, Special Agent, FBI. He’s gay, single and a player – he’s wrapping up a one-night-stand when he gets called to start investigating. He’s paired with a sexy and to-him mysterious man. Alas, his partner is not into sex with anybody, male or female. This opens the door for Standard Thriller Subplot #4 – A Girl In Every Port. And actually Ray has an opportunity to tick that box; alas he’s not looking for a girl.
Going back to Malaysia Flight 370, I now think that one of the pilots decided to commit suicide by depressurizing the plane and flying it over the ocean until it ran out of fuel and crashed. This “suicide by airliner” has happened on several occasions now – Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed because the copilot locked the captain out of the cabin and flew the plane into the ground.
This was the second Big Idea – spaceship safety. Germanwings was a classic MIAR – Madman In a Room disaster. (As far as I know I’ve invented that acronym.) In the tight confines of an airliner, you might not be able to prevent MIARs. But on a large passenger ship? Maybe you could prevent it.
You would need two things – one, dual control, such that critical functions require two people to perform them. Second, you’d need to ensure that nobody can truly lock themselves in a room. You’d need a way to bypass the locks. And wouldn’t having a way to bypass a lock be helpful in hijacking a ship?
As I mentioned in the beginning, I have a lot of Big Ideas in the book. I’ll just list a couple of them here.
- The US now only has 48 states.
- We’re not a superpower, at least not in space – Mars is.
- The same historical events that caused items #1 and #2 above created a lawless region in our Solar System that’s just perfect for a spaceship to disappear into.
They say science fiction is the fiction of ideas. I believe that One of Our Spaceships is Missing is an example of that. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you have fun reading it!