Saturday, November 19, 2011

A sense of history

Ghosts of Innocence is nearing the end of it's round of critiques - the penultimate chapter is in the queue right now - so it will soon be time to get serious about revisions.

I don't like revising at the best of times, and I've spent so long in critique mode that the thought of going back and working all that feedback into the story is daunting.

So I thought it might help me get in the mood if I talked a bit about Shayla's world.

This is the far-future setting for Ghosts of Innocence, and The Ashes of Home.

Deep time...

Events take place roughly fifteen thousand years in the future.

A thousand years from our twenty-first century lives, humanity developed practical interstellar travel. Not a moment too soon, the first ships left a climate-ravaged and polluted Earth behind and began looking for new homes.

Within a few decades, the expanding search found planets suitable for colonisation. Not yet truly habitable, they were at least rocky worlds with atmospheres, liquid water, and in stable orbits in their stars' "Goldilocks zones."

The fledgling colonies made extensive use of geoengineering techniques that had been refined over the centuries in desperate attempts to keep Earth itself habitable. Decades of patient terraforming bore fruit three hundred years after the departure of the first interstellar explorers, when the first colonists were finally able to walk freely under alien skies.

Moderately peaceful expansion continued for another four millennia.

But by then, many early colonies had grown strong enough to rival Earth itself, and began to exert not only independence from an increasingly fragile central rule, but desires to establish their own multi-system mini empires.

Good old human nature reasserted itself, and the spreading civilisation disintegrated into a thousand years of vicious conflict. Terraforming was slow and cripplingly expensive, so truly habitable worlds were prized targets. Many worlds lost contact and degenerated to a pre-industrial state. Many perished, unable yet to sustain themselves. Only a few kept both the technological knowledge and the industrial capacity to build starships.

Starfaring society re-grew from these centres, which eventually hosted the ruling Grand Families. The world of Magentis lay in a region relatively rich in habitable planets, and was always the most powerful. Its ruling family established itself as a dominant and stable force over the next eight thousand years.

I have tried to bring this sense of history into Ghosts of Innocence. The scenes in the Imperial Palace especially touch on layers of antiquity, of new rubbing up against ancient.

I drew heavily on the impressions and atmosphere of places like London, and Oxford University. All the pomp and traditions of the British monarchy. The grime and mechanical heat of the London underground. The soaring cathedral spaces of medieval architecture. The stone staircases of an Oxford college, steps worn into smooth undulations through centuries of use.

All these influenced my thoughts as I wrote those scenes. I have tried to convey something that can only be felt by someone who has spent time surrounded by buildings that were around when America was discovered.

It is worth noting that at no time did the Earthly explorers discover native life on any planets they visited. All people, plants, and animals, can trace their lineage back to Earthly origins.

Ironically, by Shayla's time Earth itself was nothing more than a little-known legend. Earth's dwindling resources were spent with the effort of supporting those early colonies. Its location was lost in the disintegration and rebirth of interstellar civilisation. Its people have likely regressed to primitive, non-technological cultures if they survived at all. It is out there still, waiting to be rediscovered, just another failed world from before The Collapse.

This is why the book only mentions people. No alien species, no beings with three eyes, green skin, or tentacles. And no mention of Earth.


  1. This was really interesting to read. Makes sense and reminds me of Asimov's foundation series (well, without the robots) which was one of my fave SciFi series. I love history, so this was right down my alley :)

  2. Glad you found it interesting, Steph. The Foundation series was huge in both space and time. My sweep is nowhere near as broad as Asimov's, as we'll see in a future post.

  3. Cool! Makes me want to read this even more when it's finished.

    I love all the detailed thought you put into your universe building, Ian. It's very important to "know the facts" from which your characters and plot will spring from. I have a similar novel idea spinning in my head about a universe where Earth is forgotten and humans are not as technologically advanced as they once were. It's a concept rife with possibilities!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I envy writers who can world-build! It sounds so difficult to me, don't think I could ever do it effectively.

    Your book sounds awesome.

  5. David, that's an important part of world building. Even if none of the details mentioned here appear in the story (and I'm fairly sure they don't) they are important in the mind of the author and will show through. I hope :D

    Jennifer, I think it's all a matter of preferences. There's lots of skills other writers use with ease that I find difficult. One of the reasons I write sci-fi is because I'm drawn to the world building aspect. If I found it difficult, I'd be writing another genre.


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