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ravenbell ([personal profile] ravenbell) wrote2011-01-03 09:01 pm

"The Sun Shone on Venus" Meta Post

This one gets long.




Like so many others, I read "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury as a kid, and never, ever forgot it. That story was my gateway to Bradbury's short stories, which were in turn my gateway to science fiction. Over the years I came up with "what happened next" scenarios many times for Margot, including a very bad Mary Sue version that was thankfully never written down.

"The Sun Shone on Venus" really had its genesis in July's San Diego's Comic-Con. I was one of the lucky few who was in the audience for Ray Bradbury's panel. The man was a month away from turning ninety, and in very frail physical condition, relying on a biographer to repeat and simplify all the questions for him and help relay answers. I knew from the moment he appeared that I wasn't going to get in line to ask anything – I didn't need any answers badly enough to take an opportunity away from someone else. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about the question that I had wanted to ask : What happened to Margot?

So I had already had ideas rattling around in my head for a couple of months when Yuletide came around. My recipient gave me a simple "what happened next" prompt for "All Summer in a Day" and helpfully let me know that the timeframe for the story was up to me, be it a week, a month, or years and years in the future. I picked all of the above. I like working with a lot of structure and preplanning in my stories. I've noticed that in extrapolated future fic, you tend to either get stories that take place immediately after the original canon or far off into the future. I'd seen stories told in short segments over increasing intervals of time before, so I figured that was a good way to get the best of both approaches.

I just had to figure out what actually did happen to Margot. I reread "All Summer in a Day" again, and then reread the other Bradbury short story that took place on Venus, "The Long Rain," which was collected in "The Illustrated Man." "The Long Rain" and "All Summer in a Day" only have one thing in common, which is that Venus is portrayed as a planet where it rains nonstop. "All Summer" never mentions Sun Domes, Venusians, and the rules about the weather are different. According to the dialogue in "Long Rain," the sun never comes out at all. If they were connected, I assumed "Long Rain" happened before "All Summer," because it was written four years earlier and it feels like Venus is a wilder, less colonized place. Then I came across this piece of dialogue:

"Boy, me for the Sun Dome! The man who thought them up, thought of something."

And the little, feminist part of me automatically said, why do they assume it was a man? "The Long Rain" was published sixty years ago, so I cut Bradbury all possible slack here, but once I had the thought it was impossible to unthink it. I knew it had to be Margot. So I reread both stories again to make sure there was nothing that explicitly placed "Long Rain" before "All Summer," and I paid close attention to Margot this time. She's portrayed as frail, but she speaks out and she stands up for herself. So I thought, yeah, this kid's got some fight in her. She could do this. I could keep her on Venus and she'd survive it. I had the ending for the story.

The next bit was working out the middle. I plotted the story out following the pattern of one second after the sun coming out while Margot's locked in the closet, one minute after, one hour after, etc. Once I got to one decade after, I hit a snag. After a decade Margot is only nineteen. That would be too early for her to build the Sun Dome, but the next increment of time if I kept following the pattern would be at least twenty years. That's a lot of narrative space I wasn't willing to lose. I also really wanted to write about the struggle to build the Sun Dome, not just magically have it built by skipping ahead by a few decades. In other words, I needed the scope of the story to narrow down again. I figured out the best way to do that was to invert the structure I had, and do another ten years of story, but with the increments of time decreasing.

That left me with a nice, parabola-shaped story structure. Like a dome or the arc of the sun across the sky. Fitting, no?

Now for your amusement, some references, trivia, and oddments:

- Venera City, Venera University, and Venera General Hospital are all named for the Soviet Venera series of probes that were sent to Venus from 1961 to 1983. Venera just means Venus in Russian.

- Amadeo and Tycho Santiago are distant relatives of President Luis Santiago from "Babylon 5." The name of the Earth government's seat of power on the show was Earth Dome, and since I was writing about the Sun Dome, in my head it made sense somehow. Tycho is named after Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.

- Rumi is of Indian descent, but named after the Persian poet Rumi, known for his poetry about spirituality and love. Her relationship with Margot was originally more explicitly romantic, since my recipient's other prompts asked for femmeslash. The story ended up working better with the relationship more ambiguous.

- The elder doctor Chadha's given name is Lakshmi, after the Hindu goddess of light.

- I originally had the time increments for Venusian days, weeks, months, and years worked out to add to the structure, but when I tried to put them together with the Earth/Terrestrial dates, it got too confusing. I took all of them out except the interval for the breaks in the rain on Venus.

- The first and second halves of the story are separated by a few months, enough time for the research grant decision to come through. That means the rain stops on Venus again a few months after the meeting with Santiago, and again after the Sun Dome is completed. This means six-year old Tycho has never seen the sun when he meets Bob.

- Speaking of Bob, short for "bauble," he's a reference to Princess Eilonwy's magical glowing bauble from Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles.

- Who is the young man Margot meets at the end of the story? All I have to say is that he's not Tycho, because he'd only be about thirteen and Margot wouldn't forget him.

- All the science is totally bunk. The extent of my research as to those bits was confirming the sun is powered by nuclear fusion. All the politicking and other drama around getting the Sun Dome built comes from having a lot of friends working at start-ups right now.

And that's about it, but I do have a final thought. I've seen "The Sun Shone on Venus" described and recced in a few places as a fic that fixes the ending of "All Summer in the Day." I don't think there was ever anything broken about it. I love the story and the ending because it's so tragic and deeply hurtful. That's why I remembered it as long as I did. If my fic has any emotional impact, it's a direct result of that original, terrible trauma.

Also, in my fic the bad ending still happened. Margot fully suffered her tragedy at the age of nine. She missed the hour in the sun and she faced seven years of the rain on Venus – I even took the possibility of returning to Earth away from her. She still has the scars twenty years later. But her tragedy was the tragedy of a nine year-old. We don't stay nine years old and powerless forever. Margot wasn't Harrison Bergeron or Oedipus Rex. She could grow up and endure and triumph. Venus could become her home and her world.

And as much as I like those traumatic endings, I like the ones where everyone wins just as much.