MV Melcer is joining us today to talk about her novel, Refractions. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A DISTANT COLONY SHROUDED IN SILENCE.
In the vast expanse of space, Bethesda – humanity’s first extra-solar colony and home to a thriving population of adults and children – has ceased all communication with Earth.
A DEADLY RESCUE MISSION.
Nathalie Hart only joined the New Horizons interstellar rescue expedition to escape the pain and guilt after her sister’s senseless death. But when she’s wrenched out of cryo-sleep far too early, she realises something has gone very wrong on board…
SABOTAGE. MURDER. BETRAYAL.
As the ship’s alarms blare and smoke fills the corridors, Nathalie finds herself thrust into command amidst a crew of strangers, each harbouring their own secrets. A scrawled threat in her cabin, written in a language only she knows, confirms her suspicions. Someone on board will do anything to stop them reaching the colony and revealing Bethesda’s secrets.
Surrounded by deceit, and with Earth a distant memory, Nathalie must decide who she can trust as they desperately race towards the unknown horrors of Bethesda.
A deadly secret threatens everyone back on Earth. And if their mission fails, five-thousand innocent lives hang in the balance…
If you loved The Expanse and anything by Ann Leckie or Arkady Martine, you won’t be able to put down this gripping tale of betrayal and survival in the vastness of space.
What’s MV’s favorite bit?
Refractions tells the story of an international crew attempting an interstellar rescue mission. Bethesda, the first human settlement in another solar system, has gone mysteriously silent after two decades of apparently thriving. With multiple colony ships already on the way to other planets, the volunteer crew must find out what happened on Bethesda before the same fate befalls the other settlers.
This is an interesting setting—but it is not my favourite bit.
The question really driving the novel is this: with the colony light years away, the volunteers will spend decades in hibernation. By the time they return, everybody they knew and loved will be gone. Why would anyone volunteer for such a mission? Maybe what they are really doing is running away? Hiding from something they’ve left behind?
The protagonist, Nathalie Hart, has a secret she desperately wants to keep hidden. But, unbeknownst to her, her secret is tied to the other crew members, and even to the mystery of Bethesda itself.
To make this work in the novel, I needed to reveal Nathalie’s past in such a way that the reader would gradually build a picture of her world and the events that defined her, making the pieces fall together at just the time when they become relevant in the main story.
And this is my favourite bit: the weaving of the backstory into the main narrative in a way that (hopefully) raises the tension instead of slowing the reader down.
I couldn’t use short flashbacks. I wanted to show these past events happen, wanted the reader experience them together with the character not only in order to explain her state of mind but also to show her world in greater detail and illuminate the sources of tension that touched and shaped the rest of the crew as well. That required entire chapters—and risked pulling the reader out of the main storyline.
So instead of flashbacks, I created “countdown chapters”.
The novel starts at chapter 0, which may appear to be a thin disguise for a prologue except it isn’t, it is truly a point 0, the axis where the two stories meet, after one has ended and the other one begins. The next chapter is -5, the furthest in the past. Then we move on to chapters 1 and 2, the beginning of the main story. (And if it reminds anyone of Iain M. Banks’s amazing The Use of Weapons, it was definitely an inspiration.) But the chapters don’t weave evenly over the length of the novel—there are only five backstory chapters, and the two narrative lines meet around one third of the novel, when the impact of the past events becomes fully relevant.
What makes it work, I believe, is giving the chapters negative numbers, the countdown that indicates we are heading to a point of collision, to some reveal crucial to the story.
This is my favourite bit not because it’s never been done before—it has, many times, by writers far better than I. But each book is its own piece of clay, each story its own unique shape. In retrospect, the solution seems obvious, but it certainly wasn’t at the time of writing. I kept trying to write the story linearly, fighting with flashbacks, dreams, or memories, only to find each single device falling short. But the novel is a malleable form, and it can be fashioned into just the right container needed to carry the story. And that is my most favourite bit.
MV is a science-fiction writer and a recovering filmmaker. Born in Poland, MV has lived in the USA, the Netherlands and Belgium before settling in the United Kingdom, where she now lives with her husband and a not-very-smart tabby cat. When not writing, she is pursuing a degree in astronomy.