I’m running late as I dash across the concourse of Glasgow Central Station, hoping to reach my train before the doors close. The weather outside is atrocious and it’s difficult to keep my footing on the slippery wet tiles.
In the distance, rushing in my direction, I see a young lady lose her balance. One of her arms clutches her bag while the other flails the air, but to no avail. She spins out of control. Her hip crashes against a solid bench before she crumples to the ground. Her shoe is broken. She nurses injuries to her hip, her ankle and her pride. She looks pained and bewildered.
Should I offer assistance? Already, the chance of me reaching my train, before it leaves, is slight and it’s diminishing by the second.
I’m spared the dilemma of choosing. A young man arrives first and helps her to her feet. Is he a good Samaritan? Well, Glasgow is renowned as a friendly city. His arm is around her waist and I see words pass between them as they stagger off together towards a coffee stall.
What has just happened? An unfortunate mishap, undoubtedly, but what follows? Has there been a reuniting of friends, a meeting of strangers, the start of a romance, or something more sinister; the prelude to an abduction? If you’re writing a story, then it can be anything you want to imagine.
Something similar to this happened and I took in the scene. Although I wasn’t aware of it making a major impact on me, I must have noted the incident in the back of my head, because I recalled the event as I was writing my thriller, ‘133 Hours’.
Perhaps it was influenced by a dream, but I awoke one morning with the concept of a book I wanted to write. The story begins with my protagonist being shocked to realise she’s been missing for over five days with no recollection of where she’s been or of anything that’s happened to her. As my thoughts developed, preparing to start writing, I had a vivid recollection of the station incident. I thought a fictionalised version would make the perfect opening for my story.
I’m like everyone else: I witness and experience different things every day and some I find significant enough to tuck away in my memory. On rare occasions, I’ll make notes. However, often, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it, as I watch an incident or an event of everyday life. It could be something which amuses or shocks me, or maybe a simple observation of how things are. I store the image away, somewhere in my grey matter. Most of it will be forgotten or discarded, but every so often, I recollect a gem which fits perfectly into something I want to write.
My book, ‘133 Hours’ is written in the first person present tense. Because of this, the event had to be turned around. Instead of being the observer, I had to imagine being the unfortunate young lady who experiences the fall. Being a not so young male, it was a challenge to write an entire book from the viewpoint of a twenty-five-year-old female. It required a lot of consultation, a lot of research and a lot of imagination. I hope my readers are satisfied by the result.
133 Hours – Zach Abrams
Arriving at work to find she’s lost more than five-and-a-half days (133 hours), Briony Chaplin, has no recollection of where she’d been or what had happened to her. She is distraught. Has she been ill, or had a breakdown, or could she have been drugged and abducted?
Doubting her own sanity, Briony is fearful of what she’ll find. Yet she’s driven to discover the truth. When she trawls her memories, she’s terrified by visions, believing she may have been abused and raped.
Assisted by her friends Alesha and Jenny, and supported by a retired detective, she’s determined to learn where she’s been and why.
Having the background of a successful career in commerce and finance, Zach Abrams has spent many years writing reports, letters and presentations and it’s only fairly recently he started writing novels. “It’s a more honourable type of fiction,” he declares.
Writer of the Alex Warren Murder Mystery series, set in Scotland, Zach has also written the psychological thriller ‘Ring Fenced’ and the financial thriller ‘Source’, as well as collaborating with Elly Grant on a book of short stories.
Zach is currently producing a non-fiction series to help small businesses -using the collective title ‘Mind Your Own Business’. The first, ‘So, You Think You Want to be a Landlord’ is already available.
Empire of Silence is classic space opera. Set approximately twenty thousand years in our future, humanity reigns across the galaxy, with seats on millions of worlds, on uncounted moons and asteroids, and even across the Dark between the stars. So what can you expect to see as you journey with Hadrian through the pages of this first adventure? What brave new worlds—and what people in them—will you encounter along the way? Here’s a quick rundown of five things you can expect for the world and worldbuilding in my novel.
WE’VE GOT THE EMPIRE, NOW AS THEN
More than sixteen thousand years old by the time our story begins, the Sollan Empire is the largest nation ever to exist. With the control of nearly half a billion habitable worlds and hundreds of trillions of people, it stretches all the way from the Perseus Arm at the outer rim of our galaxy towards the dense Norman Expanse near the center, carving out a wedge of human-controlled space in an uncaring cosmos. Interstellar travel being slow, the Empire is essentially feudal, each planetary system acting more or less independently, with minimal oversight from the Emperor (and minimal interference from his legions) in his palace at Forum. Each feudal territory—be it a moon, a planet, or an entire solar system—is under the command of one or many noble houses. These nobles are the beneficiaries of the finest genetic engineering: they’re stronger, smarter, better-looking, and they may live for centuries, ruling their respective worlds like tiny gods. Founded as they were out of a reaction to the abuses of artificial intelligence and other forms of high technology, the Sollan Empire tightly regulates access to anything more complicated than an automobile.
The Empire’s culture is self-consciously traditionalist. Built on the back of a human victory over their own machines, the first Sollans experienced a renaissance during which the ancient aesthetic and cultural traditions of our checkered past were revived as emblems of an age before our near extinction. Anything that smacks of the postmodern, the artificial, or the inhuman, is cast out or destroyed.
BUT WE ARE NOT ALONE
There may be billions of habitable worlds in the Milky Way, but if there are other civilizations, we have yet to hear from them. As humanity made its way into space, we discovered the answer to Fermi’s Paradox was rather simpler than we expected: we were early risers. Intelligent life is relatively rare in the cosmos. In nearly twenty thousand years of exploring deep space, we encountered dozens of intelligent species, but none of them had developed any technology more advanced than steel. Some of these species we uplifted, others enslaved. In all that time, we have only encountered one other species capable of star travel: the Cielcin. Like humanity, the Cielcin homeworld is lost, destroyed in the deeps of time. Unlike humanity, they have not settled other worlds, but set to roaming, wandering in the black of space inside ships hollowed out of asteroids: gathering fuel from gas giants, sucking water from comets, and harvesting planets for food—when they can find it. Roughly humanoid, they are carnivorous to a fault, and it is this need to eat that has driven them to assault human colonies. Entire cities are captured and butchered to feed their migratory hordes, leaving only smoking ruins in their wake. Because of their migratory nature, humanity has been forced to fight a defensive war for centuries, unable to find the aliens’ fleets in the dark of infinite space. For mankind, it’s been nothing but a series of losses and losing battles, punctuated by the odd, startling success…that is, until Hadrian Marlowe appeared.
BIOLOGY IS DESTINY
Hadrian Marlowe is a child of lords. A palatine. Born at the very top of the imperial caste system, he is the the beneficiary of dozens of generations of breeding and genetic engineering. Members of the palatine caste may live for centuries, with the very oldest and noblest families living as long as six or seven hundred years. They’re free from most diseases, taller, smarter, more attractive than their low-caste plebeian counterparts who—like you and I—are doomed to live a mere 80-some years with various health problems and insufficiencies. Between them are the patricians, low-caste people given gene therapies and other medical interventions in return for services rendered. Such patricians may live longer—some as many as three hundred years—and may even pass those inheritances on to their children, if their lords are gracious enough. But not all is well for our palatine overlords. Their genomes are so heavily modified, so idiosyncratic, that they cannot reproduce without scientific help. That’s all well and good. The palatine nobility wouldn’t want children the natural way to begin with, preferring instead to have their children in artificial wombs under the watchful eye of scientists. But they also cannot reproduce without imperial permission, as the keys that would allow each noble couple’s children to develop healthy are tightly controlled by the Emperor’s office. Thus the Emperor retains control of the noble houses: through their children.
NEVER TRUST ROBOTS
You won’t find any robots in the Sollan Empire (and if you do, you must report them to the Holy Terran Chantry at once). They’re forbidden. Long ago, before the foundation of the Empire, the ancient Mericanii were ruled by machines, vast artificial intelligences that governed Old Earth in its dying days. Those would have been humanity’s dying days as well, for our machine children turned against us, and it was only the actions of a few offworld colonies—led by the man who would become the Sollan Empire’s first Emperor—who delivered mankind from the machines. Never again, they vowed, would we make monsters out of metal and silicon. That’s where the Chantry comes in: part religious institution, part judicial apparatus, the Chantry polices the imperial world. Every citizen, from the lowliest serf to the Emperor himself, is subject to their inquiry. Their influence even stretches beyond imperial borders, into Jaddian space and amongst the Norman colonies. Though they police all manner of crimes-turned-sins, their primary charge is the hunting down and destruction of illegal technologies, especially any technologies with a glimmer of intelligence. Cybernetic implants are strictly forbidden, as the mixture of man and machine is considered the worst abomination of all.
But beyond the borders of the Empire—in the Dark between the stars—the Chantry’s power breaks down. Among the Extrasolarians (human pirates and barbarians that rejected imperial civilization) it is said the old, forbidden technologies still prosper. Perhaps the machines are not so dead as the priest-hunters of the Chantry believe.
THE SWORD IS MIGHTY
It was space travel that first revived the age of the sword. The delicate hulls of spacecraft and the presence of volatile chemicals made firearms a poor option, but it was the development of the Royse field that truly restored the sword to its rightful place in the hand of every soldier, mercenary, gentleman, and privateer. The force field sidelined traditional firearms, forcing common soldiers to adopt plasma weapons—whose ambient heat can pass through a Royse barrier—and melee weapons, which are slow enough to pass beneath a shield’s energy threshold. This revolutionized combat and reshaped human culture as we expanded into space. Most battles between human groups became fought on the ground or the air, most inter-ship weaponry having been made obsolete by the shield and by the blanket ban on artificial intelligence, and what space combat there is most often performed by boarding parties and by stealth. Just an importantly, the swords themselves improved. Highmatter is a form of programmable exotic matter discovered some millennia before Hadrian’s day. A kind of liquid metal, highmatter is used in some electronics and especially in spacecraft, but it is also used for swords. Highmatter swords can cut through almost anything. Their edges are programmed to an atom’s thickness, and they might cut steel or stone as easily as an arm or leg. The atoms of a highmatter blade are bonded together, making the sword essentially one massive molecule, and nigh unbreakable. The only defense against a highmatter sword is the long-chain carbon atoms that are found in starship hulls—or, of course, another highmatter sword.
About The Author
Christopher Ruocchio is the author of The Sun Eater, a space opera fantasy series from DAW Books, as well as the Assistant Editor at Baen Books, where he co-edited the military SF anthology Star Destroyers, as well as the upcoming Space Pioneers, a collection of Golden Age reprints showcasing tales of human exploration. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where a penchant for self-destructive decision making caused him to pursue a bachelor’s in English Rhetoric with a minor in Classics. An avid student of history, philosophy, and religion, Christopher has been writing since he was eight-years-old and sold his first book —Empire of Silence— at twenty-two. The Sun Eater series is available from Gollancz in the UK, and has been translated into French and German.
Christopher lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he spends most of his time hunched over a keyboard writing. When not writing, he splits his time between his family, procrastinating with video games, and his friend’s boxing gym. He may be found on both Facebook and Twitter at @TheRuocchio.
I was delighted when Kelly from OpenBooks advised me that Stephen Spotte wanted to contribute a guest post to my blog. I recently read A Conversation with a Cat, his new novel – for which I am writing a review very soon!
Today, the spotlight is on Stephen himself. In his post, Stephen gives us an enjoyable introduction to the novel by telling us about the paws behind the cause. I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I did!
My wife Lucia and I occupy a beach house on a barrier island off Florida’s southwest coast where we share space with a large black cat named Jinx, a selfish creature who alternately ignores us and demands our attention. Cats are world-renowned sack-out artists. The average domestic cat is fully awake about four hours of every twenty-four, and Jinx is no exception. A cat can fall asleep almost anywhere, but most have preferred napping sites, one of Jinx’s being my desk beside the computer. There heat from the desk lamp puts him into a soporific state aptly described as cat-atonic. Having zonked out, Jinx stretches and twitches as I struggle to write, maybe dreaming of plump, slow-footed mice or one-night stands after an evening of dumpster-diving during his former life as a virile tom, king of the urban alleys.
Occasionally he creates sentences of his own when an errant paw paw comes to rest inadvertently on the keyboard. These usually appear on the screen as zzzzzzzzzz or eeeeeeeeee. Interesting, although not exactly literary keepers. Such episodes of somnolent creativity are disrupted by intermittent arousal when he sits up to blink away the sleep and gives me a raspberry. Once I was prepared and snapped his picture.
We know nothing of Jinx’s kittenhood and early adolescence, having obtained him several years ago at a local animal shelter. No other visitors had shown interest because black cats are considered bad luck, another of those inane superstitions like belief in ghosts that persist no matter the sophistication of our cultural development.
No one working at the shelter could recall exactly how long Jinx had resided there among the dozens of unwanted cats. On the day we visited the record stated only that Animal Control trapped him in an alley. Soon after arriving he was de-balled, de-wormed, de-ticked, de-loused, vaccinated, and put up for “adoption,” an ambiguous term where cats are concerned. Dogs in their slavering servitude look forward eagerly to being “owned,” a concept universally disdained by cats. As solitary and basically anti-social creatures cats accept human companionship only if the arrangement is personally beneficial and doesn’t trample on their self-respect.
At one time in at least one place that respect was returned with astonishing reverence. Egyptians from the first century BCE (before current era) given a glimpse of contemporary American society would be alarmed and confused by how far domestic cats have fallen in the esteem of ordinary citizens. Sure, you can log into social media and see thousands of cute cat pictures, but cats no longer possess the lofty status they enjoyed in Cleopatra’s day.
A Conversation with a Cat
My new novel titled A Conversation with a Cat features and juxtaposes the lives of Jinx and an imaginary pet cat of Cleopatra’s I call Annipe (daughter of the Nile). Jinx gives us his memoir in chapters that bookend Annipe’s tales. As she reports, “Cats were sacred in ancient Egypt, represented by the cat goddess Bastet and worshipped at temples dedicated in her honor. . . . Even when an ordinary household cat died all human members of the family were required to shave their eyebrows as a sign of mourning, and when the head of a household passed away and was mummified his cat was killed and mummified too. Tradition also called for embalming a few mice so the cat would have snacks in the netherworld.” Although cats have become the most popular pets in the U. S. (dogs trail a distant second), they don’t receive universal respect in any modern country, and certainly nobody today worships them. Don’t take this on my word, just ask any cat you meet.
To hear Annipe tell it, “That cats were worshipped and temples dedicated to [Bastet] is certainly no less than we deserve. And the citizens protected us with a fervor to make Bastet proud. I’ll give an example. When Mistress [Cleopatra] was still a young girl a Roman official visiting Alexandria killed a cat accidently, whereupon a mob of enraged citizens attacked him and ripped him apart. Even earlier, in 525 BCE, the Persians led by the general Cambyses III invaded Egypt only to be stopped at the city of Pelusium. Cambyses ordered images of Bastet painted on the shields of his soldiers, at which point Egyptian resistance collapsed. Think of it: the Egyptians surrendered their country rather than see their cats disrespected. How many times has that happened in human history?
“It should come as no surprise that we cats have always considered ancient Egypt the apex of human development and agree unanimously that after Egypt fell to Roman hands your species underwent a steady regression, a reverse cultural evolution. Romans were arrogant. They thought that anyone who didn’t speak Latin was a barbarian, but to Alexandrians they were the barbarians. And through the centuries others followed. Want proof? Look around at the state of the world and don’t blame us cats for what you see.”
Just as Jason sought the golden fleece, perhaps every cat’s ultimate dream is to capture a rodent with gold-colored fur. I say this despite knowing that cats have bi-chromatic vision and therefore are color-blind. Nonetheless Jinx seems to come alert when he sees President Trump pontificate on television, and I must admit that as the president climbs the stairs to board Air Force One the back of his head does resemble the south end of a golden hamster heading north.
About the author
Stephen Spotte, a marine scientist, was born and raised in West Virginia. He has been a field biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station (Vicksburg, Mississippi); curator and later director of Aquarium of Niagara Falls (New York); curator of the New York Aquarium and Osborn Laboratories of Marine Science (Brooklyn, New York); director of Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, Connecticut); executive director of Sea Research Foundation and research scientist at the Marine Sciences and Technology Center, University of Connecticut (Groton, Connecticut); principal investigator, Coral Reef Ecology Program (Turks and Caicos Islands, B.W.I.), and adjunct scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory (Sarasota, Florida).
Dr. Spotte has a B.S. degree from Marshall University, a Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi, and is author or coauthor of more than 80 scientific papers on marine biology, ocean chemistry and engineering, and aquaculture. Field research has encompassed much of the coastal U.S., Canadian Arctic, Bering Sea, West Indies, Indo-West Pacific, Central America, and the Amazon basin of Ecuador and Brazil. His popular articles about the sea have appeared in National Wildlife, On the Sound, Animal Kingdom, Explorers Journal, and Science Digest.
Dr. Spotte has also published 18 books, including three volumes of fiction, a memoir, and a work of cultural theory. He is a Certified Wildlife Biologist of The Wildlife Society and also holds a U.S. Merchant Marine officer’s license.
Dr. Spotte now lives and writes from his home in Longboat Key, Florida