“Vol de Nuit” was published in Broken Eye Books’ collection Ride the Star Wind: Cthulhu, Space Opera, and the Cosmic Weird (September 2017). It’s a story that pretty much is what it says on the cover of the book: a Lovecraftian space opera with a pretty heavy dose of weirdness.
The story is illustrated by Nick Gucker, and I’ll pop the illustration into the bottom of the post, just for balance’s sake. In the meantime, look at that cover!
My mother, a French-Canadian, has always been a huge fan of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s work, and especially his autobiographical books about working as an airplane pilot. At some point early in my stay in Korea, I read a few of those books (in English translation): Wind, Sand, and Stars was the first, followed by Flight to Arras and Night Flight. The last one, originally titled in French Vol de Nuit, stuck in my head as the most interesting.
Really, on some level, Saint-Exupery’s aeronautical books are all about how flying a plane changes you as a person, as well as how it puts you in touch with fundamental questions about your values and priorities, what you’re willing to do as a part of civilization, how you deal with adversity and risk, and so on. And while many of us think of Saint-Exupery as a children’s author (thanks to the popularity of The Little Prince), in these books values survive much harder testing: what if your job is flying the mail around across treacherous desert or ocean? Are you willing to starve and thirst to death—or to crash into the ocean in the blackness of night and perish—for the sake of a postal delivery?
There’s a discomfiting-but-beautiful idealism in Saint-Exupery’s novels that, when exposed to still more extreme instances of those tests—bends and warps into the uncanny valley of moral thinking: are you willing to give up your humanity for the sake of humanity? Are you willing to actually become monstrous in order to hold the monstrous at bay? How much can you give up before you no longer are human enough to have human values? I’m far from the first to ask such questions, obviously, but though the story externalizes these questions in a science-fictional way, I feel like it’s not a science-fictional question at all. Rather, it’s a question that faces all of us as we figure out what sort of cog we’re willing to become in the world machine as it is today.
(And also, I suspect that the story is on some level probably a story about the expatriate experience and how it can transform you, not always for the better.)
As for the space battles, I’ll just note that the influences here are much more cinematic than literary: I’ve never read that much space opera to begin with, and anyone who notices a little X-Wing Fighter in the DNA of my own story’s space fighter-ships is probably onto something. I saw the Star Wars trilogy in reverse order as a child, and while I didn’t immediately become a huge fan like some kids, the X-Wing Fighters struck me as cool right from the start. (There’s probably a little bit of The Last Starfighter in there too.) Come to think of it, the Lovecraftian entity in this story probably owes a little bit to the reality-warping black hole in The Black Hole—a film I saw at the same birthday party I saw The Empire Strikes Back… on, yes, Betamax tape. That, plus maybe a touch of the Death Star.
But for all that, my space warriors are way more, er, posthuman than anything I’ve ever seen in a space opera film. I feel like they have more in common with the genetically engineered squid Sheena in Stephen Baxter’s Manifold: Time.
Oh, last thing: the story has a reference to a “T-resonator.” I wonder if anyone caught the reference to “From Beyond”? If you did, then kudos!
I think that’s about it for “Vol De Nuit.” I hope you enjoyed it.