TTN: Over a Torrent Sea

Over a Torrent SeaStar Trek: Titan: Over a Torrent Sea

As the Federation recovers from the devastating events of Star Trek: Destiny, Captain William Riker and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan are ordered to resume their deep-space assignment, reaffirming Starfleet’s core principles of peaceful exploration.  But even far from home on a mission of hope, the scars of the recent cataclysm remain with them as they slowly rebuild their lives.

The planet Droplet is a world made mostly of water without a speck of solid ground.  Life should not exist here, yet it thrives.  Aili Lavena, Titan‘s aquatic navigator, spearheads the exploration of this mysterious world, facing the dangers of the vast, wild ocean.  When one native species proves to be sentient, Lavena finds herself immersed in a delicate contact situation, and Riker is called away from Deanna Troi at a critical moment in their marriage.

But when good intentions bring calamity, Lavena and Riker are cut off from the crew and feared lost.  Troi must face a life-changing event without her husband, while the crew must brave the crushing pressures of the deep to undo the global chaos they have triggered.  Stranded with her injured captain, Lavena must win the trust of the beings who control their fate — but the price for Riker’s survival may be the loss of everything he holds dear.

  • “Bennett has restored a sense of exploration and boldness… “Over a Torrent Sea” is the most complete, entertaining, and though provoking Star Trek book to have appeared in the past year.” — Robert Lyons, TrekMovie.com
  • “It’s the kind of science fiction storytelling that Star Trek books don’t often do… a solid return to form for the Titan series.” — Steve Roby, Starfleet Library

 

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This novel started as an afterthought.  After finishing Greater Than the Sum, I let Marco know I was available, and mentioned a particular topic I was interested in exploring.  Marco suggested doing a TTN proposal around the topic.  The thing was, this would’ve been a revisit of something we’ve seen before in ST, and I feel TTN should be about discovering the new.  So I wanted a pure-exploration subplot, ideally different in tone from the grand interstellar quest of Orion’s Hounds.  As I often do, I decided to cannibalize an old, unsold idea.  Years ago, I had written a spec novel called Daughter of Earth and Water, involving the exploration of a world of ocean and islands called Archipel, a world I created a rich biosphere for.  But over time, I realized the story was too basic, the environment wasn’t exotic enough, and the plot was based on some outmoded ideas.  Over the years, I tried to rework it, and the Voyager episode “Thirty Days” inspired me to try to come up with a way a planet consisting almost purely of water could arise naturally and support life.  This was when I changed Archipel to Droplet.  But I could never really get that idea to work out plausibly.  Over time, the idea got pushed to the back of my mind, something I hoped to revisit someday but had no serious plans for.

Then I learned about the concept of an Ocean Planet, a newly theorized category of world made largely of water — essentially a Neptune-type planet without its hydrogen atmosphere.  It wouldn’t be a world of nearly pure liquid like I wanted, but that would be impossible anyway, since the water would be compressed to exotic high-temperature ices past a relatively shallow depth.  I realized that an Ocean Planet was the closest I could get to Droplet.

So this idea was on my mind when I was fishing (ha ha) for a pure-exploration B plot to my TTN novel.  I reworked the plot of Daughter with Aili Lavena as the lead and trimmed it down to subplot length — although I changed the dolphinlike aliens of Daughter to something more exotic.

The thing was, though Marco didn’t dislike the A plot, every time it came to the fore he found himself impatient to get back to Droplet.  So he suggested expanding the B plot to full novel length — with the A plot to be saved for a later novel, perhaps TTN, perhaps something else.

So I finally got to do a version of Daughter of Earth and Water after all.  The title wouldn’t fit, though, since Aili’s not a daughter of Earth.  I found Over a Torrent Sea elsewhere in the same source poem, Shelley’s “The Cloud.”  I still got to use the “daughter of earth and water” line, though, since its stanza made a perfect epigraph.

One thing that OaTS had to do was to follow up on David Mack’s Destiny trilogy, which brought great upheaval and destruction to the Federation.  Although the novel would return the Titan crew to their journeys of exploration, they would still be dealing with their grief at the losses they and their civilization sustained. As it turned out, this story would end up having more personal meaning for me than I expected.  Early in the writing, my beloved cat Natasha died at the age of 17.  So I was going through much the same process of grieving as the characters, and I believe that helped me write about grief more honestly, and that the writing helped me work through my personal loss as well as letting me pay tribute to Tasha.

As indicated in the Acknowledgments, I consulted several of the key theoretical papers on Ocean Planets.  Whereas most of my Trek novels have contained some fanciful elements to fit the Trek milieu, the worldbuilding for Droplet is as plausible and scientifically grounded as I know how to make it. The proportion of hard SF herein is higher than in any of my prior Trek fiction. And due to the novelty of the Ocean Planet concept, this is surely one of the first science fiction novels ever to feature one, if not the very first.  (Edited to add: I have subsequently discovered that Ian McDonald featured an Ocean Planet briefly and peripherally in his 2008 novella “The Tear,” beating me to it by a year or so.  But OaTS is still the earliest novel-length, in-depth treatment I’m aware of.)

Cliff Nielsen’s cover is based on my description of Aili Lavena from Orion’s Hounds, but he’s added his own touches, including the facial features, the skin mottling and stripes (they aren’t scales, more like camouflage patterns), and the seaweedy quality to her gill crests.  It’s actually not that far off from the cover I imagined for Daughter, which was of the leading lady caught in mid-leap out of the water, arcing in midair.  It’s a nifty piece of artwork, and I take pride in being the author of the first ST novel with full frontal nudity on its cover.  (Well, 98% full.)

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