Last year my editor at Solaris, Jonathan Oliver, asked if I’d be interested in developing a ‘future world’ for a series of adventure space operas to be published by Abaddon Books; I’d also write a couple of the novels.
I jumped at the chance. Not only would I enjoy writing in one of my favourite sub-genres, but it would be a fascinating experience to build a future from the bottom up, and then seeing what other writers, in succeeding novels, would come up with – how they might develop and expand my original vision.
Jonathan and I batted a few ideas back and forth before we settled on the Weird Space background. The human race has colonised more than a hundred Earth-like planets, coming across all manner of weird and wonderful alien races in the process. The governmental organisation that runs the Human Expansion has evolved into a tyrannical, fascistic body, which rules its domain with brutality and little compassion.
On the border of human space is Vetch space, where the alien Vetch have an empire of two hundred worlds. The Vetch is a warrior race, and fifty years before the series opens they invaded several human colony worlds in what they called ‘disputed territory’ on the edge of their empire. They annihilated these worlds and slaughtered millions of humans. From that time the two races have maintained an uneasy peace.
The first novel of the series, my The Devil’s Nebula, was about a human colony world discovered beyond Vetch space, in a region known as the Devil’s Nebula. The crew of the starship Hawk discover a human settlement enslaved by bizarre creatures which emanate from another a dimension, a realm which existed beyond this reality.
These creatures, the Weird, are out to absorb the human and Vetch races; they aim to enslave all intelligent life in nearby space and so assimilate and comprehend their victims. Now the Weird is a hive-mind race and they fail, as such, to see that what they are doing is evil: they’re obeying a biological mandate to seek out, to absorb and understand.
Which their victims, understandably, have issues with...
The action hots up when the Weird breach human and Vetch space and begin opening portals and sending through their monstrous legions.
At the same time, to add another and potentially greater threat, I decided to have the Weird send mind-parasites into human and Vetch space. A hundred years before the action of the first book begins, the Weird loaded a starship with parasitic spores and launched it toward human- and Vetch-occupied space. The ships landed, the spores disseminated, and infected humans and Vetch alike. Now many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of humans and Vetch are carrying the mind-parasites, unbeknownst even to themselves. In time the Weird will give the signal and these parasites will take over.
The infected can only be detected by telepaths working for both races in a desperate race against time.
The second book in the series, Satan’s Reach, features one such telepath, Den Harper who, five years before the novel opens, grew disgusted with the regime of the Expansion and the job he was called upon to do at the behest of his fascist bosses, and absconded from human space. He stole a starship and headed for the lawless wastes of Satan’s Reach. A bounty hunter was sent after him, with orders to kill him on sight. Telepaths are powerful people, and rogue telepaths a danger to the stability of the Expansion regime. Harper killed the bounty hunter in a shoot-out, and continued his life as a star trader continually looking over his shoulder.
Now, however, more bounty hunters are sent after him – this time a human-Vetch team – with orders not to kill Harper but to bring him back alive. He’s worth more alive to the authorities than dead, in that he might help the fight against the Weird by locating and eradicating those humans infected by mind-parasites.
Satan’s Reach is the story of that chase, and the unexpected twists and turns that befall Harper on the way.
It was one of the quickest novels I’ve ever written, and one of the most entertaining to write. I lived the part of Harper and had great fun getting him into predicaments and out of them again.
And now I relinquish the reins of the Weird Space series, and other writers take them up. I’m intrigued to see in which directions others will take my ideas, fascinated by who (if any) of the characters I’ve created they might decide to use... and not a little apprehensive, I must admit, of the fate in store for one or two of them I’ve grown close to over the course of writing The Devil’s Nebula and Satan’s Reach.
But of one thing I’m sure – the world of Weird Space will be in capable hands.