touching the void

I am Genro Kane Gupta, Void Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, and mayhap this is my todtentale. Of necessity, it is also the tale of Void Pilot Dominique Alia Wu, but she is gone into the Great and Only, and I lack both the art to present her point of view in the late 20th Century novelistic mode and the insight to say in what sense her tale goes on.

So this tale must not be presumed to mirror any consciousness but my own. Indeed, so acutely aware am I of my own imperfections as a subjective instrument that, were I a Sea Captain of Old rather than a Void Captain of the Second Starfaring Age, I would be sorely tempted to adopt the literary mode known as Ship’s Log, in which Captains even less versed in the tale-teller’s art than I scribed terse laconic descriptions of daily events, reporting everything from the ship’s position to occurrences of tragic enormity in the same even, stylized, objective prose.


On the day that Void Captain Genro Kane Gupta assumed command of the Dragon Zephyr in orbit around Earth, he engaged in an unwholesome exchange of name tales on the sky ferry to the ship with the Void Pilot Dominique Alia Wu.

On the day of the first Jump, he conversed with her at unnatural length afterward.

After the third Jump, they performed a sexual act.

On the ninth Jump, Void Captain Genro Kane Gupta neglected to dump the vector coordinate overlay into the Jump Circuit Computer prior to activation of the Jump Circuit. The consciousness of Void Pilot Dominique Alia Wu left its material matrix and did not return, though the Dragon Zephyr somehow survived this Blind Jump.

The ship is now marooned about a score of light-years from the nearest habited star, without a Pilot. This is the last Log entry I shall make before I call for volunteers.

One must admit that this mode achieves a certain power of understatement, the wu of an unselfconscious artifact crafted entirely by functional imperative.

But like any product of an unselfconscious mechanism, it touches not the spirit. It does not explain how a man could come to sacrifice himself and his ship, his center and his duty, to an unwholesome passion for the unattainable, nor does it enable the audience to judge for itself whether this be a romance or a tragedy or an evil farce.

For that, a mode that admits of its own subjectivity is required, and besides I have neither handscriber nor book leaves with which to produce an artfully pleasing ersatz of an ancient Ship’s Log. So I am encoding an admittedly personal tale on word crystal in our contemporary manner in the wan hope that by doing so, by attempting to tell the story without excluding the storms of the spirit, I may in the end come to gain that insight in the telling which failed to inform the acts in question. In the unlikely event that this account should reach another human spirit, I ask that you decode it first into print, so that some small reflection of lost objectivity be retained.

Having made this miserable and pathetic apologia, I shall henceforth abandon all pretense of objectivity and speak my final tale from the heart as if I were recounting it into the sympathetic ear of a fellow being.

Thus I shall now proceed in the conventional manner with the tales of my pedigree and freenom.

Norman Spinrad, The Void Captain’s Tale