Worldbuilding: Atridia

© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)
© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)

For me worldbuilding is the most fun and best bit about writing (it’s also my Achilles’ heel, my one weakness). Of course, Atridia has been around a while (it even gets destroyed in my short story “The Breaking of the Circle”, albeit briefly) and it, or rather some of its inhabitants (Amel, Kella and others) had a role to play in The Parting of the Waters. Writing that told me several things about Atridia and its culture for later use:

  • They are beginning to explore the universe, the Juran Elaspe being a prototype ship and the first one to leave the Sirian solar system.
  • Taborin is the centre of Atridian culture but it’s not a democracy. The best comparison would be North Korea.
  • Same-sex relationships are taboo and Amel, in particular, has a really big issue with his daughter, Kella, being gay (oddly falling for an alien doesn’t seem to bother him at all).
  • Homosexuality is a mental illness on Atridia, treated with crude attempts at conversion therapy and, if the subject isn’t cured to the satisfaction of the auditors, they can be euthanised. It’s also believed to be communicable, like an idea, but also genetic and travels in families.
  • There is a translation matrix (the beginnings of what will eventually become the Union’s neural rig) but it’s hit and miss.
  • The Atridians are a curious people, looking for others in the sea of space but they also want to be important and powerful.
  • Science is their religion, administered by the Directorate. It strictly controls information, censoring anything deemed inappropriate.
  • There are three genders, with the Ubani, or progenitors, vital to the continuation of the species but segregated and strictly controled by the Directorate. No one remembers why, at least not regular folks like Kella.
  • Creativity is viewed with suspicion and strictly controlled.
  • The neighbouring planet, Arcadia, is simultaneously Occupied and also independant and known for its medical advances/export of doctors.

So I started expanding on things. I wanted to know who Juran Elaspe was and why Amel was so upset by Kella’s choice to live amongst the Kashinai, unable to interbreed with them but finding family regardless. Time to worldbuild and write.

The awesome @snarkbat posted this photo of a statue in a Swedish park and the colouring of the metal/the dress immediately pinged my ‘hey, Atridians look something like that’ sensor. I had this image of a humanish race with copper-coloured skin, maybe a little lighter (Kella, for example, tailless as she is being not-Kashinai, can pass for one of them in a temple hakashari). There’s a difference in the odd organ, the number of fingers (I need to check the specifics/hire an assistant) but as photo-inspiration goes this is as close as is.

The dress just seals the deal.

I’m assembling a Pinterest board with imagery and also thinking about music. For example I’ve found two tracks which really jumped out of me (I get a lot of them via Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature, it’s actually really useful). The first I told you about when talking about expanding “When the Stars Fade” into a longer piece, probably a novella. This song makes me think of Jaada, specifically due to a lyric which talks about rewriting scenes, something she as an author is able to do—except she’s writing what amounts to historical fiction and the Narrative demands honesty, even when writing about things she’d rather change (in this case specific to her past life as Kadjat).

The second track is below:

In my head, this song perfectly sums up Jaada’s relationship with Tobai Estus, a narssasistic who slowly takes over control of Jaada’s life, attracted by her fame and her creativity but envious of it. He eventually gets his revenge after ‘suggesting’ the pair return to Atridia from the Ceipheian city of Serani where Jaada has spent her entire life so he can take up a specific post. Atridia doesn’t pride creativity and though Jaada is able to work as a teacher, it’s not the same. As she tries to reprioritise her life, he gets upset and the deterioration of their relationship ends a month later when he burns her books (a symbolic act as well as a physical desecration of her work) and then reports her to the auditors of the Hall of the Mind, which leads into my currently unsold story “The Mystic of Room 316” (which I plan on expanding into its own second person ‘chapter’ of the book).

Jaada’s incarneration then forces her to confront and learn to control her abilities, something she’s not able to do until Bry and Chaya break her out (mentioned briefly in “The First Day and the Last”, sanctioned by the highest powers due to Jaada’s ability to create unstable micro-realities). It’s in the two to three-ish years between that and the establishment of the Union/Atridian Commission to look into the Directorate that she has to learn to wield her abilities. As a teacher on Mnemosyne, she learns to inspire others but that’s only half of her ability and getting broken out of the Hall of the Mind, it wasn’t just to save her life and soul, Jaada is needed and her abilities, well they’re rare.

The true learning, that happens during The Broken World as Jaada works for the Commission. It forces her to learn about the Narrative (her name for the thread of reality that passes through linear time and allows her to tell true history from the fiction created by Atridia’s fallen government) and access historical information that no one remembers, except for the universe. This ability, it’s not oracular like the Voices of Aia on Coronis, but it’s a similar ability except governed by words rather than sight. The Divided Land (and a more formal report) is the result because, on most world, fiction is easier to believe than cold, hard facts.

By the time she publishes When the Stars Fade, Jaada’s in full command of her abilites (and will probably write more stories about other lives suppressed and whitewashed from history) but this is the one which important to her. Because it was hers. This is her way of healing, as writing “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” was mine.

Now to find more music, more images and write more words. Wool and Fallout are big inspirations for parts of both The Divided Land and The Broken World. Oh and everything about viruses that Seanan McGuire has ever written. On that note, it’s time to get back to the words!

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When the Stars Fade: Expanding the Short Story

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I liken writing to being a jigsaw puzzle. With anything—a short story, a novel—you have the corners and sometimes the outside pieces but the middle is a hole, an absent picture you have to piece together.

I wrote “When the Stars Fade” a couple of months ago and only as I’ve gone through more drafts and several rejections have I realised that there are several components to the story which makes it bigger than 7500 words.

  • Hesri’s relationship with her eventual murderer, Meiku
  • Kadjat’s romantic relationship with Hesri, their marriage and Kadjat’s widowing.
  • Meiku’s execution and how this affects Kadjat.
  • Hesri’s faith in the Ubani, the Mortal Gods, and Kadjat’s agnosticism versus Meiku’s suspicion/atheism.
  • Kadjat’s application to the Space Program and the process involved with her becoming an astronaut.
  • The winnowing of the other applicants.
  • Nadir, his secret and Kadjat’s discovery of it.
  • Her decision, not that she actually gets to make one, the moral quandary, however remains.
  • The shuttle disaster and Kadjat’s demise in space.

I also know several other things, such that this is a story written in-universe by Jaada Serani after her world for the Commission investigating the Directorate, after she learns to use her abilities as a wild muse.

I usually find a track and this one, well, it perfectly reflects Jaada’s perspective given her relationships, with Tobai in her present and, as Kadjat, with Hesri and Meiku. This one sums up her desire to rewrite history, to change her past, but this is tempered by the knowledge that she’s a muse, not a god:

When this story came back from being critiqued, the one thing the group wanted to know more about was the Ubani. This story, which will probably be a novella, is about pieceing together the world between The Mortal Gods and The Singularity, the two parts of Jaada’s novel The Divided Land. This is a world after war but before chaos, there’s a unique status quo coupled with a desire to find a way out of the cycle of violence.

The faith in the Ubani is strong, even in Taborin, but science is rising. Oh and there’s a planet to colonise … of which Jaada’s failed mission is the first tentative step.

The story itself is set decades before the Singularity and is going to help me fill in important holes needed to make sure there aren’t any in the Atridia Duology. After all, jigsaws do come with pictures to help you put the pieces together and this story is not onlu Jaada’s attempt to deal with her own demons but it’s my way of making sure nothing is left out and the world will be all the richer for it.

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The Atridia Duology: Three Stories in Two Books (With Excerpts)

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Despite the image above this is not a trilogy. It’s a duology. For the sake of my sanity (tenuous as it is), rather than slice The Divided Land into The Fractured Era and The Broken World, I’m writing in its own folder and will splice later. You can however see where it’s split: The Mortal Gods will feature in Fractured while The Singularity will be found in Broken.

I made this image to represent the series. The city represents the Taborin of Juran’s time, a futuristic city that blinds the viewer to darkness hidden behind glass spires and the veneer of science and knowledge. The field, the regrown trenches where wars were once fought that are a memory evoked in Jaada’s novel and, finally, Atridia itself as it struggles to adjust to a new place within the Union, one which involves revisiting its own past in order to heal properly.

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But you want a taste, right? A sample? Well here are three.

Here’s an excerpt from Fractured:

Juran was an eager child, he looked forward to his first days of schooling with a zeal few children could match. On the chosen day, the one set aside for intake, his mother dressed him carefully, aided by Usaki, their progenitor. Then both his parents walked him the twenty minutes or so, though crowded, stone-paved and tree-lined streets, to the school in which he’d been enrolled. 

As they walked away from the house, which was all he’d known bar the local parks and a small cluster of shops, Juran remembered Usaki wiping tears of pride from its eyes as he turned to look back and waved goodbye. He didn’t understand why it was crying, after all he’d only be gone the day. Tonight the four of them would sit around the table as they always did, sharing the food Usaki had made.

Mother Reshi and father Danuk were both so proud, Juran having gained a place at one of the most prestigious schools in all Taborin, which had counted some of the planet’s greatest scientists as alumni and they themselves had attended as children. 

They had fought hard to see him go here, arguing that an excellent start to his education would see him soar later and both were convinced, thanks to the blending of genetics in the melting pot of Usaki’s womb, that he would have his father’s mind and his mother’s logic. 

According to Juran’s test scores, they were right.

Knowing about the entrance examinations required by the school, both Danuk and Reshi had started him early, turning play into learning. She began teaching him his letters and the dying art of cursive handwriting as soon as he could hold a stylus with chubby, childlike fingers. 

Danuk, meanwhile, had gone out into a specialist shop, commissioning a set of child’s playing things. On Juran’s second birthing day, he presenting his son with blocks inscribed with elements and showing him how to take them, using carbon as a heart, and turn them into molecules like water or air.

Juran loved it.

On that first morning, dressed in the school’s uniform, a micro version of adult clothes which would set their minds to a future goal, Juran stood in the front line, waiting for registration. There were two perfect rows of fifteen other children, boy standing next to girl standing next to boy, all identical in their uniforms. Childlike microcosms of adult society, so full of promise and expectation.

Behind them was a third row, this one of neutrally-dressed progenitor children; eight of them and this was the day when Juran learned that not all genders were treated equally. All schools, he later learned, were required to take progenitors though the education given to the third sex was not mandated by the state but, instead, left up to the individual schools. He watched as names were marked off and a female teacher led them away to a classroom on the far side of the campus.

He had never met a progenitor other than Usaki. They looked like Atridians of either gender, though their features were uniform and almost bland. They didn’t look like boys or like girls but instead seemed suspended between and far away. He knew they were essentially walking wombs for the carrying of children thought what that involved was unknown to his child’s mind.

Juran watched they moved, almost as if they’d been taught subservience from birth. There was no raucous chattering, laughter or even words. Yet when he looked into the eyes of the closest progenitor, marked out by a name badge as Kotori, he saw a mind behind them, active and alive, drowning in anxiety and frustration, the cost of compliance.

“Don’t stare, Juran Elaspe.” One of the teachers admonished. “Come now, follow me, children.”

They were given a short tour, guided through landscaped gardens and a large grass-covered space the teacher informed them was for sports, lap-running and other outdoor activities. Juran hated running and the day was a warm one so when they finally stepped inside, away from the twin suns’ light, it took him a moment to adjust.

The building used to educate the youngest children was a single floored building with solar panels on the gently sloping roof, the eaves overhanging so low that, in the winter, beskathi bats would hang upside down, much to the delight of the children. Even in the melancholy that took him in the darker months of cold, Juran loved to watch them, hanging from tiny feet that seemed like their hands but in microcosm.

The carpet was soft under their socked feet, their shoes stored in boxes marked with each child’s name, right above lockers in which to store their bags and a first day’s lunch, lovingly made by parents or progenitors. The UV-protective glass protected their skins from Hadob’s fiery magnificence, from Oanon too, and offered stunning panoramas of the grass covered grounds, of the raised planters and the climbing frames and pits filled with sand.

The walls were covered in posters, one had numbers and the most basic of mathematical formulae, mostly simply addition and multiplication. Another had the letters of the main Atridian alphabets, the local, older, dialect and the common tongue. Juran hadn’t even realised there was a second dialect spoken in the city, his parents had never conversed with him in anything but the main dialect, the one spoken all over the planet as a unifying language.

There was one other sign, given pride of place and laminated to last. The light caught it and Juran had to stand just so in order to read it. There were images and words, both: an image he recognised as meaning ‘male’, another that said ‘female’ and the final one which was the mark for ‘progenitor.

He sounded out the words in his head, the strokes that made up the words and the message: One male, one female, one progenitor = family. Nothing more, nothing less.

He found himself staring at the poster, unsure of precisely what it mean or why it was even there. He seemed to be the only one who had even noticed it and the tutor, Teacher Hevali, gently called for his attention. He promptly forgot the poster existed even as it confined to form part of the white noise of his existence all through his education.

“Good morning, welcome to the Gahverin School of Childhood Excellence. You are all very lucky children and come from families who care deeply about your education and your futures. Past graduates of this school have gone on to become innovators, scientists, scholars and iconoclasts. If you study hard, if you apply yourselves, you too will join them. Now, tell me, what do you want to be?”

They went around the class, boys and girls answering. One girl called Kitraia wanted to become an innovator, charged with working for the good of the people, a boy named Yerin wanted to be an engineer working with vehicles. As they approached him, Juran realised he had no idea and burned crimson as the teacher asked:

“And you, Juran, what would you like to be when you become an adult?”

“I don’t know, teacher.” 

The boy next to him snorted with laughter and Juran suddenly wanted to cry, his shame exposed for all to see but he hadn’t known he’d be asked this question. He vowed to prepare, next time he would not be caught out and, instead, he began to run possible scenarios in his mind so he would never again be shamed.

“Amel, enough!” Hevali snapped. “I suppose you know what you wish to do, eh?”

The boy, Amel, puffed up his chest and nodded solemnly. “I want to work for the Space Administration and command a ship of my own. I want to see the stars beyond the Two, become a pilot.”

Juran frowned. “A spaceship?”

“My mother works for the space fleet.” The boy boasted, though Juran was sure he heard something in the other boy’s voice that suggested he was lonely and missed his female parent.

The name didn’t mean anything to him but Juran was amazed. He had no idea there were ships drifting through space though, logically, it made sense. Especially when, after a morning of introductions, Teacher Hevali explained the layout of the world and Atridia’s place in the system of Hadob and Oanon. 

There were three planets, one of light, one of earth and one of water. Atridia was the first, closest to their two stars and the most advanced in technology and social peace. Next to them—several dozen billion miles away—was lush Arcadia that exported doctors and the important inoculations that Juran would endure over the next few days. Finally, there was the mysterious and somewhat unknown water world, Atlantia, with its strange submarine dwellers with their own cities and civilisation, bipedal but creatures of the ocean who seldom lifted their heads above the water’s surface.

Some of the girls found this idea, of underwater creatures sleek as fish, as something to fixate upon but Juran dismissed their dream-like fascination. The undersea, it might as well be space. There was no air, no gravity and no Atridian could survive long there. The pictures showed unfriendly outcroppings, land made from larva cooled in the sea and a strange sky, tinged enough that it didn’t look like the blue of their own.

And water, so much water.

During the break, while the other children drank viri milk and ate fresh bread filled with sausage or cured meats and herbs, Juran ignored his own food and stuck his head out of the classroom door into the long, echoing corridor. The floor caught the long lights, reflected. It was too soft to be stone but had a quality which made it feel strange. 

He grasped for the right word: Imposing? No. Terrifying? No. Alien. Maybe. Ah, wait, forbidding. That was it.

The atmosphere was completely different to the classroom, more forbidding than he had ever encountered.

“Juran, come and drink your milk!”

Juran sighed and did as the teacher asked, gulping down the grey liquid with a scrunched nose. He hated the taste, the smell, and it turned his stomach even as the liquid lined it. The bread was better, filling, and it would keep him going until lunchtime. The he was half way done with the day and it would be nearly time to go home.

He began to count down the hours, wanting nothing more than to be at home with his books and the sea of knowledge ready to be absorbed via his parents’ librarium of books. He would curl up in Usaki’s arms and it would sing gently, not a lullaby but an ancient song that felt almost like a story being told.

The boy who’d boasted earlier sat next to him. “What’s your name?”

“Juran Elaspe.” Juran replied. “Do you really want to pilot a starship?”

“My mother is on long-term secondment on the Array.” Amel said and Juran knew he meant the telescopes which hovered on the edge of their system, watching out for future calamities and other astronomic phenomena. “I want to be like her, to go to the edge of known space. My father works at the Directorate, planning out future space missions.”

“So does your progenitor look after you?”

“No,” Amel said and frowned. “We’re going to sleep here, when school is done. Didn’t you realise that?”

Juran paled and shook his head. “So we’ll never go home?”

“Oh well, our parents will come and visit but we have beds here, books too. Can you write yet?”

He nodded. “The main dialect. My mother taught me cursive. I know the elements too.”

“What are elements?” the boy asked.

“You use them to make things like water or people.” Juran explained.

“That sounds really cool. I’m Amel,” the boy said and grinned. “Let’s be friends.”

Here’s an excerpt from Broken:

Jaada was having nightmares again.

A tiny part of her mind, the piece she’d trained over many years, held sway and kept her calm as the narrative played itself out to conclusion. This was a dream, she knew it. The familiarity only confirmed it but it didn’t make it any easier to bear. She was in a chair, hands bound to the arm rests, lights shining in her eyes that were so bright, her brain pulsed in her skull. The world was swimming around her, the lights glowing with a halo stark against the gloom of the room.

Despite her lucidity, the fear burned through her. That was why she hated dreaming, there was this part she couldn’t control and it reminder her of her tenure in the Hall of the Mind, when drugs had made her lose control. She never wanted to experience that loss again and it was that which haunted her still, not the imprisonment, not the self-imposed solitary confinement or the cocktail of mind-altering drugs.

It was the loss.

Consciousness cut the dream off before the worst bit began, before the auditors had tried to tell her she was mad, that she didn’t want to get well. Before, she really lost control and the worlds began to grow like crystals, fragile and brilliant. They had been beautiful and imperfect, collapsing within moments of their birth, unable to stand alone or be anything more than echoes. It burned her as they died, a thousand supernovas fading into the dark, never quite strong enough to keep the bubbles of reality from imploding.

The room was cool and nearly silent, a fan gently spinning above her head. Kaoishran summers were short but brutal and she was still trying to get used to the twilight world on which she’d found her sanctuary. Though a world of many suns, Mnemosyne had periods of silence, even if none of the stars ever set at the same time. She found the skies calmed her, the spheres of light floating in gaseous glory, blue-white and eternal.

She felt for the light, letting its muted glow dispel some of the darkness. The pen and notebook were on her night table, where she’d left them. It was often, in those moments before sleep, that her best ideas coalesced. She’s learned the hard way that sleep wiped them from her mind and so scribbled notes to remind herself of their souls, the pure essence of thought.

The timepiece said first dawn was coming, Alcyone would rise soon and the world would start waking up. Jaada knew in her gut she wouldn’t be able to get anymore sleep so she rose, washed her face in the sink and pulled on a summer dress left behind from her time living in Serani. She wore it for comfort, one of the last thing she’d bought before Tobai stumbled into her life and began to slowly strangle her.

Tea would help, it always did.

Jaada enjoyed walking through the sleeping streets. It reminded her, just a little, of the river-centred megacity of Serani. Mythreia had managed to retain its sleepiness even after the Union declared Mnemosyne the new capital of a world-spanning entity. Jaada had a small apartment in the north of the city, about as far from the river as you could go while still within the city’s borders. She found the compactness of her rooms calming, the Hall of the Mind had been large and maze-like and she found comfort, surrounded by her possessions and her words.

The tea shop in the square near the river was just opening when she took her accustomed seat outside, the early morning breeze pleasant as opposed to the heat which would come later as the city sweltered in its own bones. The waiter bid her good morning and she ordered the breakfast blend and a bowl of porridge.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?” 

The Taborin dialect almost made her flinch and Jaada’s eyes followed the sound to see a figure standing across from her, teacup held in one hand. They were obviously a progenitor, despite the choice of dress. and Jaada had to remind herself that wasn’t an uncommon thing, the city attracted many from all the worlds within the Union, including those from her own planet.

“That depends on who you are.”

Gold skin, violet eyes and a Mnemosynian dress and sandals. Whomever this person was, they knew the weather. They was also blind; a staff held in their other hand, white and polished.

“My name is Vira Dansho, I’m head of the commission investigating the Directorate. You’re Jaada Serani, are you not?”

Jaada felt her stomach turned to stone, sinking just as deep and quickly. “I’m done campaigning.”

“This isn’t about the Hall of the Mind.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Maybe a little, it was one of many dubious practises we’re trying to uncover. The Directorate is a piece of fruit with many segments inside. We’re trying to look at the entire picture.”

“No offence to you, but how did a progenitor get to be commission head?”

“I was elected to the position five weeks ago. I’ve worked in legal services since the Directorate finally decided we could do more than just bear children, when the Union forced them to realise we had rights just as you do. I helped my siblings get access to the things they need, most weren’t even aware they had a right to ask for.” Vira smiled. “And, given the discrimination my gender’s suffered, I was keen to see the truth revealed.”

“You identify?” Jaada asked, knowing some progenitors preferred one or other gender. Not all, but some, a tiny portion of the official genderless population. More were genderfluid, like water in a cup, flowing to fill space and moving into new roles with the Union’s birth, previously locked to male and female.

They smiled. “Sometimes. Today I simply wanted to wear a dress. It caught my attention, the feel of the material, and lulled me into a purchase a few days ago. I’m told the pattern is quite beautiful.”

“It is.” Jaada conceded. “No one else is up, how did you know I was here?”

“A few questions, you’re predictable in your habits. And people notice you, even though you’ve adopted this planet as your home.”

“If you’re commission head, then you know precisely why.”

“And I can understand your reasons, I empathise with them as well. What the auditors did to you was unforgivable and I have to thank you for helping end their tyranny.” A pause. “I had a relative: Vadis, he identified as male, even had surgery so his body matched his mind. The auditors didn’t believe he was a progenitor and when they did, they couldn’t understand him or his choices. His very presence broke their world-view and they couldn’t deal with it.”

“Then I apologise for any assumptions made. What pronoun do you prefer, Vira?”

Jaada knew, amongst themselves, that the progenitors preferred ‘they’. Until recently, the official pronoun of choice had been ‘it’ which she knew was best understood as derogatory, suggesting progenitors were things and not people. It was polite to ask and not assume, especially as identifying didn’t always mean the progenitors took on the gender-specific pronoun.

“‘They’ is fine. Might I ask your aid in return? You’re free to say no, if you wish, but I’m hoping you’ll agree.”

“I will, at least, listen.” Jaada said, after all it was only polite. Especially when Vira had traveled all this way to seek her out. “My parents and progenitor taught me to be polite.”

“I assumed as much.” Vira smiled. “The commission exists to decide if what the Directorate did was illegal.”

“Surely that’s obvious?”

“That’s the problem, they were thorough in their rewriting of history. We don’t actually know what happened during the Singularly for example and even we progenitors, well we have an oral history, our own myths and legends that don’t actually gives us much about where we truly came from.”

“And I can help how?”

“I was told by an unimpeachable source you’re sensitive to something called the Narrative? To great stories?”

“Did a woman tell you this?”

“She sounded female, yes.”

Jaada noticed her hands shaking, felt the wave of terror rush over her. Her stomach clenched, bile rushed into her throat and she struggled to speak, to get the words out, as the past flooded her myriad senses and tried to drown her where she sat.

Here’s an excerpt from Divided:

The trenches smelled of shit and death.

Life’s blood spilled and turning the mud into something darker than simply dirt and water. Had the warring sides been fans of blood magic, as the old stories said each had once been before pre-history, before science and medicine, art and order, perhaps they might have invoked dark gods fuelled by sorrow. The old legends said they could be summoned in places of true despair, mortals foolishly thinking of them as weapons that could be sicced them on the other side. Each waiting to see who walked from the chaos with their lives.

But war, for the Xoikari and the Tabori, it was simpler than that. More bloody.

They were perennially at war with each other, perhaps once every other generation things would simply break down. Armistices and treaties would burn. Everyone of the cursed age would find themselves drafted, male and female alike, into service on those bloodied fronts. Each day lives would be lost over a few inches, perhaps a metre or a mile, of land. The follow day, trenches still blood-soaked, the war would be reset and more would be sent to literal slaughter.

Eventually, lives and cannon fodder depleted, each side would meet—unable to admit that their depleted numbers were a cursed battle strategy neither side could break—and a temporary peace would fall over Medran, north and south co-existing in an uneasy truce once more.

The true source of the enmity between them? Little things that would have made other peoples, other species, laugh.

The north was known for science, for facts and figures, ordered books and even more precise lives.. The South, well though just as advanced, they preferred focus on art and faith. Yes, in the aftermath, it was the Xoikari who replaced limbs and switched up battle-wounded men and women lucky to have survived the killing fields, but it was the Tabori who decried science was the true path of peace.

Neither city-state, which gradually amassed lands around its own hub over many years and more lifetimes, wanted war, it was simply all they knew, engrained into them as lessons from a parent to a child. Taborin, as the larger city holding the north, wanted dominion and order over all of Medran, each tiny town and province under their order. Xoikari, in the southern lands, simply wanted to be left to pursue their people’s passions. They had no interest in ruling but neither did they wish to be ruled.

So they fought and there was war, until there was peace. Then the trench-grass was left to regrow, the heartland of Medran given a generation to heal.

But the bloodied mud would come again, it always did.

As far as I’m concerned, I plan to get this project done over the summer. As you can see, 50k (most of it from Fractured) exists already but that’s just a start. I do hope, however, the entire duology isn’t 300k long in total, that’s my upper limit though I expect it to be less.

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New Short Story: “When the Stars Fade”

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I’ve been wanting to write a space story for a while and Kadjat Suru was mentioned, off-handedly in two other Ashteraiverse stories: The Fractured Era and “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul”. Both Teiru and Juran know the name as being one of the pioneers of science, in Kadjat’s case she was a noted Atridian mathematician who specialised in launch trajectories and she was also the first person from her planet to die in space.

“When the Stars Fade” was always her story and began with a single line: My name is Kadjat Suru, I’m the first and I’m alone.

I discovered several things about Kadjat, primarily that she was married to a woman named Hesri and that relationship which pushes her to join, at her boss’ insistence, the space program as an astronaut. By Juran’s time, her life has been sanitised (same-sex relationships having been banned under the Directorate and partially blamed for the near-collapse of society during the Singularity) and it’s known she had a spouse but Hesri’s name and gender were wiped from the history books.

Kadjat became a loyal member of a fake past where she went into space for the advancement of science, willingly giving her life to prove it was possible to leave the planet. In reality her mission was the first step in a much larger plan, to colonise the neighbouring planet of Arcadia. But none of this is public knowledge by the time of Juran’s birth and only the Ubani remember her wife even existed.

Of the two of them, Hesri was the religious one and a follower of the Ubani sect, the religion which grew up around the progenitors who also serve as the Atridian’s third sex, needed to carry children until they’re ready to be born. This ability has turned them into mortal deities and being blessed by them is seen as a sign of good fortune, especially during weddings and naming ceremonies. By the time of The Fractured Era, however, the sect has been banned and no one remembers what Ubani actually means, much less their former place in society, except the persecuted progenitors themselves.

Kadjat remembers Hesri telling her about the Ubani belief that souls are the stars in the sky. After her wife’s death, that throwaway comment is behind her desire to go to the stars and see if she can find Hesri there. She doesn’t believe she’s literally there, of course, but it becomes Kadjat’s motivation to do the impossible. Except things go wrong and the story concludes with the tragedy that secures Kadjat’s memorium in Atridian and Union history.

Now to let it rest and get the final pass for edits/tweaks while I figure out where to send it.

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The Juran Elaspe Project (AKA The Fractured Era)

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I need to get back into novel writing. I’ve been focusing on short stories since January but novels are my true calling. Specifically the Juran Elaspe project, The Fractured Era, my novel about an alien genius who creates his world’s first artificial intelligence as part of his work on a starship which will eventually bear his name (and features heavily in The Parting of the Waters).

The picture above popped up on my Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago and I looked at it and went: “That’s Atridia!” I eventually found it on Shutterstock and am determined this image will make it on the final cover once the story is done. I know it’s fake but it’s also beautiful and the fact that someone made it, it doesn’t stop me from loving it any more.

I’m still trying to decide on a name for this novel (though The Fractured Era is the current front runner) but I know it is set during two time periods, the main one follows Juran Elaspe as he balances his personal and professional lives in a society that has decided he has a sickness, just because he loves someone of the wrong gender. The fact that the other person refuses to admit his feelings are mutual and that his own career is more important … well, that’s the interesting bit.

Interspersed is the story of a bureaucrat who lives through the Singularity, a cataclysm which sees the power of a world change hands, heralding the beginning of a scientocracy. I’m not yet sure if this person was Juran in a previous existence or if Juran finds some record of this person while researching forbidden texts (maybe he hacks the Directorate’s servers or sneaks into their Archive of Forbidden Things). I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a box of letters found in an attic from his grandparents, some deep family connection that could—if revealed—be the final nail in Juran’s coffin.

There’s a conspiracy. Of course, there is and, sometimes, not even the determined can win. But this isn’t a story about defeating a big, bad government. It’s much simpler than that.

Though I’ve written a large amount already, I really do need to go back to the beginning and sketch things out. I have a large Moleskine in which to draw maps, to map out a timeline of events (both past and ‘current’), plus a smaller one in which I first started scribbling a few months ago.

I’m quite looking forward to getting started on this, it’ll be nice to have another long project to do. The outline is there, it’s all about getting the words down and seeing where we go with this. I do know, however, that it’s one of two stand-alone novels set in the period before the Gathering (also featured in Parting).

The second book is called The Fourth Race and focuses on the Willan diaspora and their attempts to find a cure for the plague which is sending their race to extinction. Neither are connected, except by where they’re going to end up and that’s another book I’m hoping to get written this year.

But until then, it’s time to worldbuild.

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The Ashteraiverse: Writing Aliens without the Alien

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I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction lately, some of which I knew from the start were set within the Ashteraiverse, except it’s not obvious unless you recognise certain characters. Most of the time I try to avoid giving characters recognisable species or appearances, it’s just not important and I’m not a very visual person anyway. Many of these stories could pass as secondary worlds or futuristic sci fi but I never once reference these characters as human because they aren’t.

I’m being careful not to send them to anyone who might think they’re secondary worlds because that would be misrepresentation. This is an important thing to me because I want to make this stories stand alone but also be part of a larger canon. So while the civilisations and planets are definitely not Earth, it’s not always obvious if the protagonists are human or not. I like it that way … the species isn’t important, the stories are.

“When the Stars Fade” is the story I’m currently working on. It started out purely from referencing Kadjat Suru as the first Atridian to go into—and die in—space. I mentioned her as part of Teiru’s litany of names in “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” and she’s one of the many pioneers of technology and science that Juran Elaspe thinks of during The Fractured Era (my next novel project). I just had this line in my head which said:

My name is Kadjat Suru, I’m the first and I’m alone.

Until she started talking, I didn’t even realise Kadjat was female. I did know, however, that this story is set maybe a hundred plus years before the colonisation of Arcadia and perhaps two centuries before the Singularity, the cataclysmic event which sees Atridia embrace technology and sees their governmental system subsumed by the nefarious Directorate. This is how my characters tend to speak (and why I’m sure I’m just channelling people in another dimension or something), telling me the story as we go.

Kadjat is remembered almost like Laika from the Russian Space Program—except she was never supposed to die. The story is a meditation on life and death, especially as Kadjat only became an astronaut after losing her wife, Hesri, who was brutally murdered by a former boyfriend. Becoming the first person to go into space gives her something to focus on and her progenitor, her birth parent, raised her on stories of the stars which have lingered through her life. Now she gets to be the first person to go beyond, to where the stars shine.

“The Mystic of Room 316” is set on Atridia. I want to say it’s a contemporary story but I’m not all that sure, even if the final scene takes place on Mnemosyne (and so after the Gathering of the Races). In truth, I’m not one hundred percent sure but it feels like it could either be set in the period just after the Gathering or far into the future around the time of Contact with Earth (or at least a little before). It doesn’t matter, it’s not about that, it was inspired by my Bipolar diagnosis and my—albeit misguided—fear of sectioning.

The main character, Jaada, isn’t mentally ill, at least not when she was was admitted thanks to the malicious conniving of her ex. The problem is that she has abilities which don’t place nicely when medicated (she’s a Muse, albeit a wild and mortal one). Being confined to a ward and medicated makes her abilities turn inward and rather than inspiring others, she begins to lose the ability to tell reality from the worlds built in her head … and then begins to create unstable realities of her own, albeit ones unable to last more than the span of a dream.

“The Technopath and the MMO” is the only story so far actually set on Earth, it’s also straight sci fi set in the period after the Esper Registration Act is brought into force (and just after Contact in August 2015). I’m still writing this and it’s a lot of fun as I’m an old school MMO player. Daniel, the protagonist, is a normal kid who doesn’t realise he’s a technopath and gets hooked on an MMO called Empires of Eternity. Oh and he starts leveling his character in his sleep which means I have to finally figure out how a gaming server can tell the difference between a computer logging onto the net and a human brain.

“Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” is set on Coronis and Elara, the smallest world of the Alcyone system of the Pleiades. This one is definitely the most recent of the tales and I’m pretty sure, regardless of the ending, Teiru is going to reappear somewhere along the way. This was one of those stories I wrote to exorcise demons and, stuff like this, it helps. Plus I really wanted to write another story featuring Kalafia (the computer program from The Parting of the Waters), this time fully sentient.

I have other stories in mind, these are just the most recent. Also, I really need to get back into writing something novel length before I lose the skill entirely. Next week, I think, and we’ll start The Fractured Era. I have a larger Moleskine all ready for it. Yes, that sounds like a plan.

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First Drafts: My Untitled Ashteraiverse Blind Lawyer Stories

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I actually don’t know what this is yet. A novel? A series? Short stories? Novellas. There’s definitely more than one though because they’re each set in a different year. Randomly writing scenes has been my guilty pleasure while I should be doing other things, like revising short stories and finishing  Ash Seeketh Ember (which I’ve just now finished).

I know the basic outline and that each story involves a particular case from a technopathic teenager to an alien cleric accused of murder. Oh and the legal ramifications of interspecies sex in London, that’s my favourite. I have five sketched out, each taking place in a different year, from 2016 through 2028. The final story ushers in Second Contact and the Terran Schism, the Ashteraiverse endgame, which I’ve been wanting to write for nearly a decade.

For now, here’s a rough first draft exploring one of protagonist and Ashterai Elder Astraea’s dates with her eventual husband and soulmate, Marc, on a snowy day in January 2005.

Edit: And here’s the perfectly fitted song I found while writing it …

#

The day Tara died, it had snowed the night before and I was praying someone had gritted the streets.

I could taste the cold in the air, feel the burn on my skin as I huddled under layers of clothing, a turtleneck jumpers, a coat, an infinity scarf, thick boots with special studded oversoles that offered me some traction on snowy streets, trousers and wool socks. I hate being cold and sometimes it feels like I’ve been exposed to absolute zero in the moments before the heat death of the universe.

Maybe it was a memory, of before and beyond.

Bad weather makes me even more hyper-vigilant than I usually am. When your blind everything tries to kill you and snow, in particular, makes the streets deadly when you have a working set of all six senses. I was down one of the major ones.

“Hi, Tara.” Marc made me jump, waiting just outside the lobby of my building. “I wanted to meet you, the sidewalks are murder.”

“Sorry, you made me jump. Thank you.” I smiled, liking the fact he cared, risking his own life because he wanted to help me and not out of pity either but genuine concern.

“No, thank you. The weather was worrying me. I’m terrified I’m going to slip and break something.”

“What do you want to do today?” he asked, it was a Sunday and I’d been looking forward to a day with him. What we’d do hadn’t occurred to me.

I grinned. “Something new. Something I’ve never done before.”

So he kissed me.

#

You have to understand from the get-go that reality has rules.

That’s part of why now is better than the place I grew up. There were rules but they were fractured, nonsensical and we knew, all of us, a clean slate was required and guardians to make sure the rules are kept sacred. The world I was born into, it was a mess of cataclysmic proportions.

But I was never happy being disconnected from time and so I asked to live within it, with Marc as my companion. Each time we’re reborn in a different place and age, our memories are suppressed. For a while we think we’re normal, average, it makes it easier when Marc and I finally meet, when we remember who we are. We have people to be as a foundation and time to just be like everyone else, even if it’s only a few decades per lifetime.

We don’t always sync or fall in love. Once in a while I can go an entire lifetime believing I’m no one special—which is a good thing, it keeps you humble—until I hear the voices of the guides and my true self is reasserted. It’s like a tide rising on a beach, the water washes away the memories of my old life and I’m left knowing what I am, liberated from the cycle of life and death. It’s like waking up from a dream and it’s always easier when Marc is waiting for me.

“Saere?”

I looked up at him, my eyes opened the fraction I could allow and see his shadow against light then smiled. “Yes. Hey—”

He cut me off. “Don’t, not my first name. I’m not him anymore. Marc suits me better, don’t you think?”

“Yes.” I agreed. “I’ll always be Saere.”

“Shut your eyes, before you get a headache.” He gently set my dark wraparounds back over my nose, careful not to catch my ears. “Are you all right?”

I nodded. “I will be. Once I figure out who I am.”

“It’s easy, remember? I’m Marc and you’re Saere.”

“Except I’m also Tara.” I said. “We have families.”

“We always do.”

Maybe it was because I’d never had a family; my mother, the original one, was never in the picture and my father abandoned me, his blind daughter, to the street rather than claim me as his own. It was easier than be saddled with me, not that I even had time to be a burden on him. Not even the Princess of Stories could get him to be the better person and admit I was his, despite my mother naming me so, as his true child.

Perhaps getting over that was my true lesson and, if it was, it was one I still had trouble learning.

“Ahhh, I get it.” He knew this. “You have Dee.”

“Who do you have?”

“Parents, an aunt. You?”

“Dee and her husband have a baby, Ella. Our parents live in San Diego, enjoying the sunshine.”

“Are you close?”

“I guess. I speak to them once a week, if I remember.” I shrugged. “Can we get a coffee? Do this somewhere a little more warm.”

“We could go back upstairs?”

I shook my head. “I want to be around people, not because of you, not because I don’t trust you. I need to be Tara, not Saere.”

“Sure. We do have some catching up to do.” Marc suddenly flustered. “Do you want a hand?

I nodded. “We’ve just found each other, I’d rather this not be a quick meeting.”

With that I set my hand on his arm for the first time and we headed out into the snow.

#

The coffee mug in front of me smelled delicious, I cupped my hands around it for warmth. I felt like I’d spent the last two and half decades method acting my way through life. Tara was just the mask I’d worn and now it had been removed, a band aid pulled from a wound, raw and hurting.

Marc was doctoring his coffee, I prefer mind basic and boring. I could smell the headiness of recently roasted beans saturating the air and inhaled, coffee has always calmed me.

“So,” he said and sat down on the opposite side of the table. “How are we going to do this?”

“Carry on as normal.” I said, not even having to think about it. “It’s not time yet.”

“Okay.”

“Actually, give me one second before we talk about normality.” I picked up my phone and began to dial. The numbers were random but the intention was there, the desire to connect with someone not on this plane of reality.

“Lady Saere, hello.” Amber’s voice was warm and welcome, I could hear other ones behind her, as if she worked in a call center. “It’s been a while.”

“Indeed.” I said. “Would you mind calling me Astraea? Pass that around, too.”

“Not at all. I was about to ask. What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to announce my reappearance, Marc’s too.”

“Marc? Oh you mean Lord—”

“No need for titles, Amber, you know that.”

“Sorry, force of habit.” She said and I could hear the unspoken ‘Lady’ on her lips. The young like to give their elders epithets because we were there in the beginning, despite reminding us them they will be there at the end, just as we will.

“Oh and he’s decided on Marcus for now. Can you make sure his employees are aware if they’ve not already heard.”

“Done. In regard to yourself, would you like me to make sure Alycia, David and Matt are notified.”

“I’m sure they already know but please make sure they have a corporeal method of communication. My email, phone number.”

“I can do that.”

“Are the aware?”

“Everyone bar Alycia.”

That meant she was probably going to wake up with a bump. “Where is she?”

“Chicago. Erm, Lady?”

“Yes, Amber?”

“She’s in a relationship. With a human.”

“Ouch.” I winced. “Then definitely make sure she has my phone number. Actually, I need one from you if possible, for someone.”

“Sure. Just tell me who?”

The name popped into my head, a residual note left intentionally in the back of my human brain that I’d otherwise not know. “Chaya Jordan.”

“Shall I email it to you? Do you want me to let Lady Chaya know you want to speak to her?”

“She knows and, yes, please.”

“Thank you. Oh and Amber, has the new girl started yet?”

“New girl? I don’t believe so.”

“Damn, ask Chris to let me know when she does. He knows who I mean.”

I heard whispering and then Amber’s voice. “He says 2015.”

“Really? That ages away.” I sighed, hating that it was 2005. “Okay, thanks, Amber. Can you email me your number as well, I’d rather have a fixed line for you if I need you.”

“I’m typing it right now.”

“Thanks.” I said and signed off.

Marc was sipping his drink almost meditatively. “Everything okay?”

I was envious of his calm. As the Buddhist, I should have had it but reawakening, it always left me feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. I had a prescription in my bag—being a paralegal was stressful—and felt guilty reaching for the tiny bottle, as if by taking the little tablets I was proving mortality won out over my older self. “It will be.”

“You’re like this every time. It’s okay.”

“Easy for you to say. How do you do it? Be so calm?”

“I’m southern. Nothing phases me, Sae.”

I looked up at the sound of the contraction of my true name. “I missed you calling me that.”

“I’ll be better once I’ve spoken to Chaya, it’s my ritual.”

“You and her have always been close.” It sounded almost like a concession but he wasn’t jealous. She and I, we’d known each other longer. “And if it helps you come to terms with remembering, I’m all for it.”

I loved him in that moment, for the first time as Tara. “Thank you.”

“Do you know what you’re going to do? Are you going to tell Dee?”

“Not yet. She wouldn’t understand.” I said. “But I am going to change my name.”

“Oh?” Now he sounded curious. “That was … fast.”

“New life, new me.” I replied. “How do you like Astraea?”

I heard the frown. “That’s … Greek, right?”

“She was a goddess of justice in one of the older myths. Or the daughter of the goddess of justice, Themis. When the ages changed, she was the deity who stayed on Earth the longest.”

“Sounds like you.” He set his cup down. “Astraea Themis.”

I grinned. “That does sound good.”

“Dee is going to be …”

“Furious?”

“Wow, you’re actually scared of her, aren’t you?”

“You don’t have siblings.”

“Somehow that makes me glad. I’ve always been a loner though.” Marc murmured. “But I’m close to my family, my parents, my aunt.”

“I’m glad you had someone.” I said.

“Now we have each other.” I didn’t answer, not immediately, which unsettled him. “Sae? Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no. I’m just … it’s going to look odd. We’ve known each other a month.”

“So? We keep on dating, if you want to that is. We don’t have to get married and, even if we do, it’s not instant thing.”

“Yes.” I said. “And I do want to keep on seeing you.”

“So we keep on doing that. Or are you worried I have a ring in my back pocket or something?”

I must have sounded pained. “You don’t do you?”

“No. Do you know how much teachers make?”

“Probably more than a paralegal.”

“Quite possibly but not much more. Plus, you’re a feminist, if anyone’s going to ask, it’ll be you not me.”

“True.” I agreed. “My parents are going to want a proper Jewish wedding.”

“I thought you were Buddhist?”

I am. My family on the other hand are very Jewish, hence why Dee is so damn protective of me, and why she must never know I have bacon in my fridge. There’s a reason I go to stay with my sister on Friday nights. I can read Braille in Hebrew as well as English.”

“There are different versions?”

“For each language, yeah.”

“I thought Buddhists didn’t eat meat?”

“I’m a bad Buddhist. I got into it for the meditation and never quite got as far as giving up meat. I like meat.” I replied. “And now I get why. I thought it was all about the cycle, liberation from birth and death. It wasn’t, it was my Ashterai nature seeping through.”

“If it helps you, where’s the harm?”

“The stance on religion …”

“You’re human right now. Faith is never a bad thing.”

“I used to dream of a woman, I thought she was the Boddhisatva who bears my name.”

“She has lots of names. I think we only know a quarter of them. I used to hate church, it always felt like I shouldn’t have been in there, despite being dragged by my aunt. She’s a pious woman.” He stopped. “Wait, girlfriend?”

“Yes. Problem?”

“Am I the wrong gender?”

“No, stupid. I wouldn’t have let you buy me apology wine if I thought your masculinity mattered.”

“Why’d you break up with her? Your girlfriend?”

“She kept trying to cure me.”

I heard him wince. “Yes, I can see why that would be a problem.”

“I’ll make this easy: I like women and men, I like people. I just like you more.”

“No problems then.”

“Good.” I sipped my coffee. “I love how understanding you are.”

“I didn’t used to be. Marcus Hunter was known as being a little stern. Especially with his charges.”

“Then time to mellow in your middle age perhaps? Love can change people.”

“You sound like a movie tagline. Are you okay?”

My phone had started ringing and I must have gone the wrong shade of white. “It’s Dee.”

“So answer it.”

I fumbled with it, my heart stuck in my mouth. I’d not expected to have to speak to my sister so quickly after reawakening. “Dee?”

“Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Did you have the same amount of snow as we did last night?”

“I don’t think so. I’m okay, I’m with Marc.”

“Wow, you two really are serious, aren’t you?”

I went bright red, my cheeks burning. Tara would blush, be embarrassed, the physical side-effects of my fake life were still there. I didn’t even have to pretend to be her and I almost felt relived.

“No comment.”

Dee was laughing but then said, serious. “Well at least you’re safe. I was worried about you with the streets so icy.”

“Marc’s a gentleman and I’m always careful, you know that.”

“Cool. Listen, give me a call later in the week? Paul wants you two to come to dinner. Mom and Dad will be in town too, she just called me to confirm the flights.”

“Sure.” I said. “I’ll call you once I’ve got my diary in front of me.”

“Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

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The Liner Notes: “Infinity Girl and the Shadow”

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This actually started out from a very specific question relating to a rewatch of Sailor Moon Crystal (apologies for the anime screengrabs) and re-reading the manga in Japanese to help make my language skills not so rusty. Sailor Moon was how I learned Japanese, because I was eighteen and magical girls were cool. Plus the manga’s simple language and furigana helped, as did the size. I used to work in a kitchen and had an apron with two pockets. I’d keep the English Tokyopop translation (hahahahah!) in my left and the original Japanese edition in my right.

Yes the translation was crap but the idea basically survived and it did help (now I’ve switched to Japanese computer game streams, Dark Souls and Bloodborne, mostly). The early 2000’s were, however, a much more analogue age and there were two Japanese books stores in London that would accept my Student Loan money to feed my burgeoning addiction.

But, anyway, back to the question. Excuse the long, rambling, fangirlish and roundabout way we get to it.

Usagi (the main character) was Princess Serenity in a past life, heir to the moon kingdom known as the Silver Millennium, who fell in love with the heir to the Earth, Endymion (yes it is based on the Greek myth of moon deity, Selene, and human shepherd, Endymion). With the second arc, we’re introduced to her future self Neo-Queen Serenity, monarch of Earth who kicks arse and is awesome. I adore both princess and queen forms of Usagi’s alter-ego but NQS literally performs miracles and has all the grace, age and power Usagi lacks.

Within the mythology of the manga, Usagi gets her throne because of her past life (though this makes little logical sense as she’s reincarnated as a human, Tsukino Usagi, not a White Moon princess). As part of the storyline Usagi, Sailor Venus and Chibiusa—who has the full and surprising name of Usagi Small Lady Serenity, ChibiUsa literally meaning ‘Little Usa(gi)’—travel to the future, 3oth Century Crystal Tokyo.

There Usagi is informed that she became Queen after giving birth to ChibiUsa around the age of 22. ChibiUsa is like 904 years old and all the humans of Earth are now functionally immortal upon reaching adulthood because of a mystical crystal which serves as the series’ McGuffin/awesome-looking magical power source.

Unsurprisingly Usagi is like ‘OMG I got to have SEX with Mamoru!!!!!!!!’ (Her reincarnated, destined-to-be husband).

My question was not ‘Cool, Usagi got to be Queen’ but how. I mean like, literally.

Did she have ChibiUsa and then declare, to her civilian family (who are never mentioned outside of 20th century Tokyo) that she was now ruler of the planet? Was there a coup? Did the other senshi forcibly help her take over? Did the UN just go: ‘Sure random Tokyo woman, go nuts, the Earth is all yours’. Did she use the Silver Crystal and perform miracles/brainwashed the planet’s population? Did all the Japanese TV/newspaper coverage and the Guardians’ wins against Queen Beryl, Metalia, the Black Moon Clan, Wiseman and Black Lady, Pharaoh 90 and Mistress 9, the Dead Moon Circus and Sailor Galaxia, finally teach all of Earth’s governments that Sailor Moon’s ultimate self could keep the Earth safe?

(Though, in the manga, NQS admits she lost most of her power as a Guardian when she ascended the throne.)

How has rankled me. I’d love to think given NQS’s benevolence and her posse of planetary guardians, plus cats, that it was a peaceful transition but the writer in me much prefers some kind of coup d’etat. Not bloodshed but not compliance either.

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So I started writing my own magical girl story about a Latina girl in a US school who becomes the saviour of a planet (complete with merchandising and hard-core PTSD). Tara Morreno is a kid in high school who also happens to be an old enough soul that the Fates have co-opted her into serving as saviour of the planet against a succession of more powerful foes.

Except this is a story in the vein of Madoka Magica, not Sailor Moon, meaning when Tara turns up to school with bruises and a black eye, her best friend Esme thinks she’s being beaten by a family member, her dead-beat father who left when she was small.

She certainly doesn’t think her best friend is fighting against a Dementor-like monster that is leeching the life from a parallel dimension in order to digest the Earth in chunks. Esme has her own role to play in the story because Tara is also, in her civilian life, a gay teen who has deep, unspoken feelings for her best friend. Esme is the one thing that keeps Tara going even when she’s so close to walking away from her life as Infinity Girl or dying in the middle of battle because she’s just not strong enough.

And that’s where I kinda forgot the question and this story became about Tara and Esme, being a magical girl where those wounds leave a mark. This is definitely an origin story and the start of a series of tales focusing on Tara’s adventures and the various creatures trying to take over the planet.

This is going to be fun.

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The Liner Notes: “Sun Glass”

By Chi King (Huangshan, China (YELLOW MOUNTAIN/LANDSCAPE)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Chi King (Huangshan, China (YELLOW MOUNTAIN/LANDSCAPE)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m in the processes of working on a redraft (the fourth) of a rather epic story called “Sun Glass”, it’s a secondary world story focusing on a civilisation based on ancient China. Except that the people live on a planet with three moons and a population of shadowy creatures called demons—the native species—who appear at night and do not like the humans one iota.

When I started the story I knew several things for certain:

  • Humans came to this world from somewhere else, aka Earth, documented in a semi-mythicised text called The Annals of the Arrival. But enough time/generations have passed for this to become near mythological.
  • The ‘demons’ were the native inhabitants of the planet, who dwell in the dark and the shadows and are capable of taking partial form as smoke-creatures with coloured, jewel-like eyes.
  • Magic, encapsulated around arts and crafts, words and meaning, exists and the moons of this world can enhance magic.
  • There are specific clans and castes who teach children how to forge a magical weapon from a meteorite or how to capture a spell in glass.
  • Humans either have magical talent or they don’t.
  • The hardest of these professions are the glassweavers, a protective form of magic that shields people from being attacked by demons.
  • Hu Xia, my MC, is a glassweaver of some skill who became one thanks to personal tragedy. She’s also spent her life pretending to be her dead brother, Jin, in order to learn her art.
  • The demons are getting stronger and more bold; no one knows why or how to stop them.
  • Xia must stop them. Because reasons.

This story was unabashedly inspired by TV. I was watching Kevin McCloud’s series on making his man-shed which involved making his own glass, the process captivated me (as does any hobby involving hot things, danger etc). The process was literally magical and thus was Hu Xia born. The story opens with her crafting a magical totem made of glass to protect her village from the demons.

I knew I wanted to set this in a Chinese-based secondary world because, like Japan, ancient China lends itself perfectly to magic. Add in a sci fi angle and a secondary world with a crux focusing on magic and off I went, building a world which included lost villages, angry demons and (though it’s never stated) genetically-engineered sentient unicorns. Oh and, once, there were dragons too.

This is one of those stories where, as I write it, I’m mentally reminding myself I want to submit it to a certain place, in this instance I have the market’s submission guidelines open so I can review them as I go, things like word counts and genre. I’ve got a list, helpfully provided by my crit group, of places if my first choice isn’t successful which helps because I tend to be very narrow-minded and focused when it comes to submission. I want to sell it to X, it doesn’t mean they’ll take it.

This story has been a beast but it reminds me a novelette I think I beta-read for Mary Robinette Kowal a couple of years ago called “A Fire in the Heavens” which was essentially about a journey and this discovery of the unknown. The entire time I was writing “Sun Glass” I couldn’t stop thinking about this story, even though there’s no connection whatsoever with my pseudo-Chinese society on an alien planet. No MRK’s story feel’s epic, even if it’s just over 15k in length and the world was so vibrant, so strange.

I gave the third draft to my crit group a month ago and then, in the wake of their ever so helpful comments, literally pulled the story to pieces and added in what I call a Viola subplot (Yes, guess what I studied for my English GCSE). It actually fit well with the cultural feel of the story and turned Xia into a very active character (something I’ve been having problems writing) which has pleased my beta readers muchly. I can’t help squeeing every time one of my trusted crit group tell me they love something, even if it also means (because they’re good), I have a page by page list of things to fix or clarify.

I can’t help squeeing every time one of my trusted crit group tell me they love something, even if it also means (because they’re good), I have a page by page list of things to fix or clarify. Now I just have to go through, clean it up, check for typos, remove a few over-used words and wait for a rejection so I can submit it to Market No. 1. That’s tomorrow morning in Starbucks and my first coffee accounted for then.

That’s tomorrow morning in Starbucks and my first coffee accounted for then.

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