First Drafts: A Non-Fiction Extract from The Fractured Era

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My favourite bit about writing is actually doing the non-fiction bits which add a little more flavour to the worlds. Sometimes they’re news items or book excerpts. The one, one of the first bits I wrote for The Fractured Era was this little piece designed to send as an opening to the main text. This establishes the facts of the book: Juran Elaspe is going to die and he’s going to meet his end for all the wrong reasons at the hands of a government that wants to prescribe societal norms. In this case, a three-person family (male, female and progenitor) plus children.

He doesn’t fulfil those normals, not in the least and that’s where the story lies, at least some of it anyway:

Though spoken of, often in the same breath as Eria Daen, Albert Einstein, Radak Icheb, Kadjat Suru and Nikola Tesla, Juran Elapse’s contribution to the annals of science is often fixated on his tachyon sail and the ship named in his honour, one of his life’s greatest works.

But this is a man who created one of the first artificial intelligences (acknowledged by scholars and scientists alike as Kalafia, the keeper of Maros’ Orrery in Kasan, Coronis), who struggled his entire life with what the Atridian government still call a ‘terminal illness’ despite that fact that love didn’t kill Juran Elaspe, the state did. 

His death was one hundred percent avoidable and starkly contrasts how the Atridian Directorate blithely chose between the genius of its scientists and extinguishing their lives to keep the status quo intact once their usefulness was extracted.

A status quo which died within two generations of the Gathering but still remains spoken of like it was a Golden Age, even one made of pyrite.

Taken from Juran Elaspe: A Short Biography of the Father of Interstellar Travel.

The best part is, I actually feel ready to write this. The world building, the story, it’s a flower waiting to open and I love that. The first draft is always where I get to learn the story and that’s the best bit. I know where the story begins and ends but how I’m going to get there, that’s like driving without knowing which route you’re going to take to your destination.

I know this book is about artificial intelligence, sexuality, gender and religion and faith in an age of science/a giant conspiracy. I want to explore a society built on the bones of a whopping great lie, a scientocracy forged in a desire to destroy the other in the same of survival. The other, in this case, is another civilisation whose existence has become a ‘you or them’ scenario. This is why it’s called The Fractured Era, because it revolves around the Singularity.

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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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Why I’m Applying for Escalator 2016

© The Writers' Centre, Norwich
© The Writers’ Centre, Norwich

Every year, my local writing institution The Writers’ Centre do a mentorship competition called Escalator. Last time they age-locked it (boo!) but this year they’ve one again opened it to all of the writers in the East of England who aren’t in academic study. The deadline is this Friday and, initially, I wasn’t going to apply but it’s a fiver to enter and, this time, I’m eligible to do so (previously I was too old or studying).

My main focus for this week, aside from confirming my Campbell Award eligibility, is to put in my application to the Writers’ Centre. I’m going to focus on my next novel project which deals with sexuality, gender, cataclysms, social upheaval and artificial intelligence. I have more than enough to show off a couple of thousand words for an excerpt and I’m at the point where biographies and outlining my influences are pretty easy to do.

I’ve applied before and know it’s a long shot but I met quite a few recipients of the program at a Writer’s Development Day I went to in October which covered subjects like crowdfunding and applying for Arts Council grants. I now understand I’m in a much better position. Last time I’d only just published my debut novel. Now I have publications behind me, I have things achieved and I’m submitting short stories to markets with disturbing regularly. I’m not really a newbie anymore, or at least I’m more enticing to invest and could use the mentoring and exposure.

From the people I met, it seems almost like you need to prove that you’re serious by investing in your career. This is fine because it sorts the wheat from the chaff and the people playing at author and those who write because they love to tell stories. I’m not a great marketer, I’m too busy writing, but this is partly why the Escalator program appeals to me, it’s all about meeting other authors, getting noticed and networking. Plus, if you don’t apply, you’ll never know and I’m all for making use of opportunity.

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