The idea to write a sci-fi adventure novel based on Moby Dick, and with environmental overtones, evolved in a slow and serendipitous way, beginning with an article in the New York Times about space junk -- those nuts, bolts, parts of old satellites and rockets that orbit the earth and are numerous enough to be a danger to working satellites, space vehicles, and stations.
Accompanying the the Times article was an artist’s rendering that looked something like this. Imagine that all the white stuff is debris.
If you saw the movie, Gravity, you may remember this scene where
the space station is destroyed when a loose field of debris blasts
through it. In an earlier scene another debris field had destroyed the
My original thought was to write about space junk collectors who sail
through space on solar winds, pulling vast nets much the way sea-going
trawlers on Earth gather fish.
Only they’d be gathering space debris.
The concept of trawling through space for junk was my original idea, but not the idea of ships sailing on solar winds.
That I remembered from a story called The Sunjammer by Arthur C. Clarke which appeared in a 1964 issue of Boy’s Life.
Originally, my purpose in writing the book was to point out (in an
exciting and entertaining way, of course), that we humans have not only
managed to pollute the earth with our garbage, but much of the near
space around us as well.
We often hear people complain about invasive species, that is, plants,
animals, or pathogens that are non-native to a particular ecosystem, and
whose introduction to that ecosystem causes or is likely to cause harm
to the native life. Zebra mussels, West Nile virus and Dutch elm disease
But none of them hold a candle to the most enduring, and damaging, invasive species ever -- humans.
Not only have we ruined a great deal of the Earth, but the near space around us as well.
To make the story entertaining and exciting, it would need danger, and
to my mind that led to space pirates. But, as is always the case in
creating stories, that also led to a problem. Why would space pirates
care about nuts, bolts, spent rocket stages, broken satellites, and
other floating detritus?
They probably wouldn’t.
So I decided that the quest would have to be for something much more
valuable (more along the lines of the wonderfully named Unobtanium from
the movie Avatar), something that space pirates would crave.
It was around this point in my thinking that I started to listen to the audio version of Nathaniel Phillbrick’s book, Why Read Moby Dick?
which I’d picked up because at the time (well, actually, even today) I
couldn’t quite wrap my brain around what makes that novel such a famous
and renowned work of fiction.
While I’m not sure Philbrick’s book ever quitey answered its titular question, it did inspire me to incorporate the plot of Moby Dick in
my story… up to a point. Melville’s famous novel does not include
run-ins with pirates, nor does it feature a clan of enlightened and
And finally, as to the amazing, earth-shattering, utterly surprising ending to The Beast of Cretacea?
I believe I can take credit for that single-handedly.
Incidentally, the evolution of The Beast of Cretacea recently came full circle when I was contacted by the editors of Boy’s Life and asked to contribute a short story about Cretacea to the magazine.
Thus, a novel that is partly inspired by a 1964 story in Boy's Life returns the favor in 2015.
Todd Strasser is the author of more than 100 books including such award-winning novels, such as The Wave, Give A Boy A Gun, Boot Camp, and Fallout. His newest novel, The Beast of Cretacea
has already received numerous rave reviews. Publisher’s Weekly said the
book is, “Equal parts Moby-Dick retelling, environmental cautionary
tale, and coming-of-age story. Strasser’s fantastical SF epic blends
disparate pieces into a harmonious whole... Filled with luscious
depictions of life at sea that harken back to the golden age of science
fiction, Strasser weaves an engrossing tapestry that evokes a sense of
wonder and calls to the imagination.”