This is part of a series aiming to annotate the entirety of the second draft of Stargirl, and is most definitely not to be taken as advice for anyone else who might want to write something! For more context, please see here.
Right, here we get into something that’s been a real headache for me: the RPG sessions. When I was initially writing Stargirl v1 for NaNoWriMo 2015, I knew I might struggle to keep coming up with stuff that was actually plot-relevant, so I decided that it would be a great idea to include these stretches where the guys basically just hung out and did nerdy stuff like play a TTRPG or watch wrestling or speedrun games or something. It did help me get to the word count, as I found those parts really easy to write, but I’m not sure they actually achieve much. They definitely take up too much time uninterrupted at points, without doing much to advance the story, so I think v3 will have to see a fairly heavy reduction in the ‘bits where the gang geek out’ sections. That said, people who have read Stargirl have often said that without those parts, it wouldn’t be the story it is (which is to say, a story that may or may not be about some big cosmic stuff but is mostly just about normal people embracing the weirdness of life), so I’m conflicted.
Anyway, this is the first chapter like this, and if nothing else I hope it’s at least reasonably entertaining, as well as giving us a bit of an introduction to our supporting cast.
Dominika doesn’t speak but excels at anything she turns her mind to; Derrida will attempt to deconstruct things just for the sake of it; Marty’s just kind of fun. And everyone in the Stargirl universe is pansexual. That’s canon.
That’s kind of a joke, but also sort of not really? I kind of don’t see why you wouldn’t have all your characters be able to develop romantic feelings for all your other characters, if that’s what the plot demands – I don’t think Stargirl reads like some sort of heavy-handed assertion that literature needs more gay characters or anything, but certainly a lot of the characters in the story are either explicitly LGBTQ+ or hinted at being so.
(Quick check: TM has had a relationship with Aster (female) but occasionally expresses an interest in the male form; Veggie can and will hook up with literally anyone; Ziggy is… curious about sex as an extension of being curious about humans in general but resolves to probably not having that kind of attraction; Derrida is gay; Dominika has been with Veggie but also flirts with anyone she comes across; Marty, I think, is sexually active with both sexes but mostly has relationships with other men.)
There is a wider question about diversity, and I’m not really sure my cast is diverse enough other than in respect of their sexualities. TM is mixed-race (his mum is white and his dad is… well, I picture Terry Crews) and Ziggy is of undetermined origin (see the previous set of annotations for my thoughts on that one), but everyone else is… well, I don’t think I really state what anyone else’s race is other than that Veggie is whiter than TM, although in the previous chapter we saw that Derrida’s blonde and Dominika’s green-eyed (and I think she’s described as pale later on). Quite possibly in v3 Marty will be of Indian descent; Marty’s undergone a lot of changes since draft 1, more on which in later chapters. It’s not a question of filling a quota, but of me realising that I’ve inadvertently created a cast which isn’t sufficiently representative of all the people I might want to read this story. I mean, I could probably never create a cast that diverse – I’d need thousands of characters! – but there’s no reason I shouldn’t try, I think.
ANYWAY. With all that said, a quick return to the actual chapter at hand: Hero’s Adventure is not Dungeons & Dragons or any other tabletop RPG that exists in real life. I didn’t want to use an existing system for a) copyright reasons and b) the overwhelming probability that I would get the rules wrong. So Hero’s Adventure is the solution: something quite similar to D&D but using different terminology, dice throws you wouldn’t see, and rules that deliberately are not explained but which you can hopefully follow in the context. The adventure the gang undertake is pretty much self-contained, but does contain a few… hints, or expressions of themes that will come out later in the story proper.
Mostly, though, it’s an excuse for me and the characters to blow off steam and entertain ourselves.
Oh, and this chapter contains one of my favourite TM quips towards the end (he’s not much of a quipper, but the ones he gets are quite nice):
‘Fuck off, Derrida,’ said TM, ‘you’re meant to be a deconstructionist, not a psychoanalyst. Go home and rethink your worldview.’
I think that was the first line that popped into my head after I decided I should have a character named after Derrida; it’s hopefully also a nice way of showing again that TM is a giant nerd by subtly referencing famous phrases from both Star Trek and Star Wars.
Another Aster bit here, this one confirming that she and TM were together fairly recently (remember they haven’t had the cats, who appear in this flashback, all that long). Aster’s argument for the universe-as-consciousness is kind of a souped-up version of a theory of consciousness which holds that sentience is something called an ’emergent property’: for example, none of the molecules in glass are transparent, but when arranged together in a certain way the thing as a whole has this emergent property of transparency. Similar idea for neurons/ physical brain matter and consciousness. I’m not sure whether anyone has seriously made the argument anywhere else that the universe itself might be capable of doing a similar thing.
French philosopher (well, mathematician, mostly) Rene Descartes also gets a bit of a nod with the whole ‘you can’t know anyone else’s mind’ thing. Descartes is best-remembered for ‘I think, therefore I am’, but he did a lot of work categorising the properties of the mind versus the properties of everything else in an attempt to establish that the mind could not be the same sort of thing as physical matter. Pretty much everything he said has, of course, been ferociously both supported and argued against ever since.
After the Aster section, we get what I think of in my head as ‘the not-sex scene’. Ziggy comes to TM in the night seeking physical intimacy because… basically, it’s what she thinks people do to feel close to each other, and that sort of authenticity is what she utterly craves. TM, fortunately, is sensitive enough to realise that she’s not propositioning him for the right reasons – and, we learn, Veggie was too! (So why did she try TM, if Veggie had already cleared it up? I reckon Veggie was probably still half-asleep and unthinkingly told her to ‘ask TM’, in much the same way a father might tell a child to ‘go ask your mother’.)
I wonder whether some might read this scene and think ‘ah, TM says he’s not the right person and it’s not the right time, but surely they’ll develop feelings for each other and eventually get together later on and it’ll be all the sweeter for it’. I mean, maybe, but to me this is one of my favourite expressions of this theme of love in all its forms: Ziggy and TM can totally love each other, in the truest sense, without it having to be romantic or sexual. All the main cast truly love each other, in different ways. If you’ve read to the end of the story, highlight the next paragraph for some more spoiler-y thoughts:
I don’t actually know whether Ziggy and TM’s relationship might eventually have turned romantic if things had worked out differently. Her abrupt departure from Earth kind of scuppers any prospects they might have had! They are, of course, human (or, well, star-person) and may well have eventually spent a night together or something just because that’s how that night happened to go, but I think they’re supposed to always be together just as these really awesome friends.
I think every character should eat cornflakes differently, y’know? Veggie pours the whole bowl straight into his mouth; Ziggy eats one flake at a time with her fingers; TM goes for the classic use-a-spoon technique. (He’s also the only one to have milk on his cornflakes. This is, presumably, an enormous insight into his character.)
Once again, Ziggy is a catalyst for TM to start thinking about Aster: this time, it’s the way she looks around at everything with wonder. I think the Aster sections are starting to give more of a feel that Aster isn’t quite OK; the description of her as needing to hold onto things like a novice ice skater (possibly one of my favourite images/ similes, for what it’s worth) and her preoccupation with not being able to see the world as something that’s as beautiful as she knows it really is are intended to give the impression that she really is in danger of floating away, albeit not literally. The balance of the conversations between her and TM shifts, too; in her first flashback, Aster did all the talking, but now TM is expressing his own thoughts (inspired, perhaps, by her earlier ones) while Aster mostly stays quiet. You can perhaps see now how TM ends up inserting conversations about Giordano Bruno into regular old chat, and might also be beginning to imagine Aster gradually drifting away from TM even as he comes to take on more of her thoughts and preoccupations.
Ziggy, of course, snaps TM out of this by making a joke about a Zen Buddhist asking for a burger stand to ‘make him one with everything’. If you’ve not seen the video where a news reporter actually tries to tell this joke to the Dalai Lama, I highly recommend it. (His Holiness’ response? ‘Ah, theoretically possible.’) We then get to meet TM’s dad, Mr TM – or, more commonly, ‘Senior’ – who, as I’ve mentioned, I definitely imagine as being Terry Crews with a nice thick knitted jumper and an English accent. Senior has this habit of just picking people up, which is completely ridiculous, but I like the image anyway.
On names, by the way… I’ll talk more about a couple more names when we come to particular points in the story, but you’ll notice that TM’s dad is Thomas Major Senior, making TM Thomas Major Junior. The Bowie motif isn’t actually all that plot-important, but I think it just gives the right sort of kooky vibe, so TM being named, effectively, after Major Tom is just kind of another nod in that direction. (Of course, TM could also stand for ‘trademark’, an important thing for an inventor to have.)
Senior also confirms for us that Veggie’s first name is Jonathan, although we won’t learn his surname for a while, and that Marty Rook’s real name is Benjamin Miles Parker. Highlight for spoilers about those two.
Veggie is of course Jonathan Vega, which prompts Orion at the end of the story to believe that he is the missing star she’s looking for. He’s not, it’s just an unhappy coincidence that that’s his name, but he does have sufficient Star Power for it to work anyway. As for Marty, he actually died in Stargirl v1 in a sequence that was supposed to prompt Veggie (who was engaged to him by that point) to go on a rampage of revenge against Orion. He was therefore given the name of someone else in fiction who dies in order to provide motivation to a hero: Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben (Benjamin Parker). The middle name is from Miles Morales, who in at least one comic story takes on the Spider-Man mantle after Peter Parker dies. Anyway, Marty does survive v2, because… well, there just didn’t seem to be any point killing him in the end.
Back to the story, I do like that Senior refers to Veggie as TM’s ‘life partner’, even while he and Lily (TM’s mum) are quite overtly trying to get themselves a grandkid. TM is, as of Stargirl v2, an only child; there was a brother vaguely mentioned in v1 but he didn’t do anything, so he’s just sort of been excised for now. Ziggy, however, mentions having a sibling: this is because, when in space, she was a binary star. (It’ll be confirmed before too long that she was Theta Aquila.) The sibling doesn’t really have much of a role, if any, in the story as a whole, but I think it just adds a bit of flavour/ context to Ziggy being… well, like, an actual star, and perhaps also what it means for her to have come down and become human.
Ladies and gentlemen, Al Tyer and Riegel O’Ryan. Do their names sound dumb to you? That’s because they are, for reasons that will become clear before too long.
This might technically be a spoiler but I’m gonna put it here in the main text anyway because I don’t think of it as a twist or anything: Tyer and O’Ryan are the main antagonists of the novel (O’Ryan primarily). I like them both as characters, but we’ll come to why that is a bit later on when we see more of them. You might note that O’Ryan’s ethnicity, like Ziggy’s, is difficult to determine. Could this mean something?
O’Ryan’s dog is based on Kia, my other half’s family’s dog. She was a German shepherd who just happened to be blonde; the closest thing I ever saw to what she looked like was an Arctic wolf at the zoo one time. I loved her very, very much. O’Ryan’s dog was initially called ‘Keyer’ (a homophone for ‘Kia’) but I changed it to something that actually meant something.
A couple of things we learn in this chapter: Derrida is good at hustling and Dominika is good at most things (and isn’t happy when someone else can do something as well as her). O’Ryan says Al Tyer’s name with too much emphasis on the last syllable, and something about ‘as above, so below’. That phrase comes up again later on. Also, there’s a space rock at the museum.
Gary Mackerel, incidentally, will also be making a return later on. This was his only appearance in Stargirl v1, but I liked the name too much to let him fade into obscurity. His role still isn’t exactly huge, but he gets something to do in the second half of the story.
Next time, we play video games at Marty’s house!