If you trace the origins of any particular thought, idea, or feeling … or any work of art, you will find far reaching roots. The stories we tell have their origins in complex webs of experience and memory, as well as myriad conscious and subconscious inspirations and influences. To untangle that web completely is impossible, but we can peer into it and catch glimpses of at least some of the conscious raw materials of the creative process.
My story “A Darkquick Sky”, featured in the ShadowSpinners Anthology, A Collection of Dark Tales, is a science fiction horror story about the captain of an exploratory expedition that finds the remainder of a previous expedition marooned on an uncharted alien planet. It’s also about a man, far from his family, who is having an affair with a woman he works with.
When I set out to write this story, I was very conscious of wanting to write a somewhat hard science fiction story set among the distant stars. I wanted to portray space travel in a realistic but exciting way. And although I hand-waived faster than light travel, as even the hardest science fiction authors occasionally do, I wanted to get all the other physics and facts as right as I could. In this, my greatest inspirations were a lifelong love of science, the space program, the classic writers from the golden age of science fiction, and various stories of exploration. Some specific influences that come to mind are 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark, Explorer by Douchan Gersi, Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD by Steward Cowley, and Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, as well as the story of Magellan, the moon landing, and the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
I also wanted to explore the idea of alien contact, and specifically the idea that any meaningful communication or understanding may be impossible with any truly alien entity. I wanted to create an alien so strange in its form, thoughts, and motivations that it was incomprehensible to the human mind. And for this idea my greatest inspiration and influence was the incredible and mind-bending science fiction novel Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem. Of course, this is also a somewhat Lovecraftian theme, and I imagined the alien being as a kind of dark and terrible god in the minds of those it touches, an elder thing who reaches into your dreams, and whose strange thoughts drive human beings to unspeakable violence and madness.
Some of the horror elements were definitely influenced by a variety of zombie and vampire stories, as well as classics like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Melville’s Benito Cereno. But the dramatic situation of a small crew isolated in an utterly remote location, surrounded by a hostile environment, and faced with a terrifying alien entity, is directly influenced by two of my favorite science fiction horror movies, Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as the original story The Thing is based on, “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell.
These are just a few of the external inspirations and influences that were running through my mind while I was writing A Darkquick Sky. The underlying story of the protagonist, Mahendra Singh, his lust for adventure and his romance with the stars comes from something much deeper inside. It is a story of hope, horror, disillusionment, and reconciliation, with inspirations and influences not as easily pulled apart and identified. They are rooted more in personal experience, and the life of any human being is infinitely complex, a web of thoughts, memories, and emotions that are impossible to know in their entirety. And even the big obvious influences on a person’s psyche may require a lifetime of introspection to understand. And perhaps we never will fully understand … perhaps the full nature of our existence, its meaning, and its ramifications, will forever be as strange and unintelligible to us as a distant world and a darkquick sky.