I’ve just been proof-reading ARTEMIS, which is my fifth novel for Orbit Books, and is published later this year. And I had a bit of a ‘wow’ moment.
Four of these novels are set in the same universe as DEBATABLE SPACE, what I might call the ‘Lena-verse’. DS itself spans at least a thousand years; and in the other books I range widely through time and galaxies. There’s a complex chronological relationship, which I’ve described elsewhere as a triptych; now it’s a triptych in four parts. (Thanks Douglas!) The events of RED CLAW happen DURING the events of DEBATABLE SPACE. ARTEMIS comes next, though it hasn’t been published yet; then VERSION 43. Is that clear? Um…
HELL SHIP however is set in a myriad other universes – all the characters are alien to us, and to each other. Again, aeons elapse in the course of the story. Immense battles take place; and, as I keep proudly telling people, more characters die in HELL SHIP than in the rest of the English literature put together.
But for all the interplanetary carnage, genocide, and shoot ‘em up encounters, these books for me are all about the characters. So here’s my potted A-Z guide of some of the people (by which I mean humans, genetically modified humans and aliens) who populate these five novels.
A is for Artemis. Artemis McIvor is the protagonist and (arguably) heroine of the novel called ARTEMIS. She’s a rebel, a stone cold killer and a bibliophile, who leaves the library planet of Rebus to pursue a life of adventure, murder, and crime. Artemis has kickassitude, poor manners, and a passionate personality.
ARTEMIS IN ACTION: ‘ “Kiss my finger,” I told the six mollyfockers, calmly and quite politely.’
A is also for Alliea, one of Flanagan’s crew in DEBATABLE SPACE. Feisty, cheeky, fearless; named after a good pal of mine who is all of those things, but not a pirate.
ALLIEA’S PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE: ‘That was the buzz. Risk everything. Live for the moment.’
A is also for Alby, the blues-loving superintelligent flame beast who also features in DS.
ALBY WAXING LYRICAL, SIBILLANTLY: ‘I mussse, for a while, at the infinite folly and entertaining variety of humankind. Then I feel a flicker of weariness, and I die.’
A is also for Andrei, the love of Lena’s life, in DS.
A is also for Aretha, the uniform cop in Version 43 who mocks and taunts Version 43, but eventually comes to fight side by side with the Cyborg Cop against the bad guys. ’Sergeant Jones sat in the black armchair. She stared up at me. I stared back. She was rather beautiful, I observed, despite being, to put it mildly, a stranger to fashionable skinniness.’
A is also for Albinia, the beautiful Olaran Star-Seeker who communes with the Explorer craft in HELL SHIP and yearns to experience love. ’ ” I fear that I’ve lost my olarinity,” said Albinia.’
(What can I say – I love ‘A’!)
B is for Baal, as in Hugo Baal. Hugo is a minor character and co-narrator of RED CLAW; but for my money, HE’S the hero. He’s tubby, swotty, nerdy, and addicted to footnotes.1 But he’s redeemed by his passion for science and nature; for Hugo is a xenobiologist who is blessed to live in the Golden Age of naturalism, where millions of new species, and hundreds of new sentient species, are being discovered somewhere, by someone, every day.
EXTRACT FROM HUGO’S DIARY:
‘This has been a ghastly period. Many of my friends are dead. We face, I believe, certain death on this godforsaken planet, pursued by monsters, led by fools. I am fatigued beyond all measure, my arse stings because I just accidentally kicked over a carton of sulphuric acid near the toilet hole just as I was voiding myself, and I am bored and angry and frustrated.
But none of this matters. I am the first to find the New Amazonian octopod.
And I can hardly speak for joy.’
B is also for Brandon, one of Flanagan’s crew in DEBATABLE SPACE. Another nerd; I truly love nerds.2 Brandon is the kind of obsessive who names his watch. ‘People, by the way, tell me I’m weird. I guess I am.’
B is also for Bompasso; John Bompasso is one of the three inventors of quantum teleportation, as explained in VERSION 43; and is the only one who avoids dying a horrible death as a consequence (though he IS laterally inverted). He doesn’t feature as a character but VERSION 43 features as an afterword his paper on the principles of quantum teleportation, which is rich in bile.
B is also for Beebe, as in William and Mary Beebe, scientists who feature in RED CLAW. My books often contain evil cruel characters; but these two are the kind of people I WOULD like to share an alien planet with. They’re good people; there really are some out there.
THE BEEBES DISCUSSING THE ALIEN BUTTERFLY-BIRD:
‘”Beautiful,” murmured Helms, entranced.
“Yes but,” mused William, “why? Why do they fly at all?”
“Indeed,” said Mary.
“Since they don’t need to,” William added unnecessarily.
Mary sighed; and William repented of his unnecessary words.
Helms realised: these two didn’t fully realise he was there, so lost were they in their rapport.’
B is also for Billy, who will feature in ARTEMIS. (Not yet published).
C is for Cheo; the Chief Executive Office of the Galactic Corporation, which means he is the darkest of villains. He is the major antagonist in DEBATABLE SPACE; the off-page antagonist of RED CLAW. The Cheo is also a character we get to know in some detail from Lena’s thought-diary in DS; but to say more would be to risk spoilers.
C is also for Cuzco, a major character in HELL SHIP; angry, cantankerous, and huge; a dragon-like beast with two torsos whose species used to enjoy eating sentient bipeds; a great friend to have, if he doesn’t eat you.
CUZCO. REFLECTIVE: ‘ “I did not know a parent could love a child, and a child a parent, until I came to this place.” ‘
SAI-IAS DESCRIBING CUZCO: ‘like a cloud of golden armour made up of hope and poetry.’
D is for Doro, a shapeshifting alien in HELL SHIP; he is very strange.
D is also for Djamrock, a magnificent giant sentient, also to be found in HELL SHIP.
E is for Explorer 410; this is the spaceship commanded by Jak in HELL SHIP, which has a mind, and maybe even a personality, of its own. ’Revenge is not enough, Star-Seeker Jak. Someone must bear witness to that revenge.’
F is for Flanagan, the anti-hero of DEBATABLE SPACE; a pirate who beheads an innocent ship’s captain to prove a point, and kidnaps Lena; a rude vulgar and opinionated chap; who is also the only man in the universe with the balls to defy the Cheo’s regime.
LENA TO FLANAGAN: ‘ “You are seduced, awestruck, pitiful,” I tell him, with relish. “I humour you but, in truth, I despise you.”‘
ON FLANAGAN IN A DOPPELGANGER BODY: ‘I glance at Flanagan, with his grizzled hair and fierce eyes. At my instructions, the beard has gone. He looks younger somehow. And his body is stretched out, arms ahead, rocket pack on his back. He is the very image of the ageing Superman returning from a trip to the stars.’
F is also for Fray, a vast rhino-like beast who is a major character in HELL SHIP; the Frayskind like to eat their young; they fart often; and the earth shakes when they run; but Fray has a big heart, metaphorically and literally.
F is for Fernando Gracias, one of the gangsters who runs Lawless City in VERSION 43.
F is also for Filipa; the barmaid from Hecate, who features in VERSION 43.
G is for Grendel, a pirate chief based in the outlaw region known as Debatable Space, who joins forces with Flanagan.
G is also for Grogan, in particular Billy Grogan; a gangster in VERSION 43; a bad man, but we like him anyway.
G is also for Galamea, the Commander of the Explorer craft which features in HELL SHIP; a tough and ruthless leader, who yearns to be treated as an equal by a male of her species; rather than as a goddess, which is what tends to happen.
GALAMEA WITH JAK, WHILE IN HEAT:
‘ ” I will never,” said Galamea, “need a male ever again!”
Her body was trembling with repressed passion.I was awed at the strength of will she was displaying in refusing my offer.’
H is for Hooperman, one of the major characters in RED CLAW. He’s a typical scientist; brilliant, nerdish, evil, and manipulative. And, oh yes, inspired by the love of knowledge. He is the author of Hooperman’s Tree of Life; the second best (according to Carl Saunders) guide to alien life ever written.
H is also for Harry, a genetically engineered Loper – think mane and claws – who serves with Flanagan as a pirate and rebel.
‘And when I run I forget all my doubts and regrets. All my hesitations and pauses. All my uncertainties. All my fears. I run, I am the run, the run is me.
I am complete.’
H is also for Hari Gilles; one of the gangsters who runs Lawless City in VERSION 43.
H is also for Hera, who narrates a story in DEBATABLE SPACE; for all the jokes, this is a serious book, and this is the most serious bit.
H is also for Heath, as in Sheriff Heath; he’s a lawman who lives in Lawless City; which pretty much tells you he’s wasting his time. Sheriff Heath is one of the small team assembled by the Cyborg Cop in VERSION 43, to fight the bad guys.
I is for Isaac, another major character in RED CLAW. He’s a sentient alien bird-like creature of the Gryphon species who dwells on the planet of New Amazon; smart and sweet and (in my view) cuddly; his kind have a VERY bizarre way of giving birth.
J is for Jamie, a man in the body of a child, and one of the crew members in DEBATABLE SPACE ’What a fucking mess I just caused! What a total gross-out fucking up of reality!’
J is also for Jak, one of the three narrators of HELL SHIP. He an elegant and beautiful humanoid alien belonging to a species, the Olara, who adore beauty and trading in equal measure; the female Olarans are vastly more intelligent than the males, and the men know their place. (Much like my house.)
‘After five days in the simulacrum tank, I was stiff and muscle-wasted and yearned to lie down and die. But I pushed myself hard, shaking out my shoulder muscles, and turning my head – with a satisfying crack of my neck vertebrae – in a perfect circle, to get it nicely limber.’
K is for Kalen, a genetically modified ‘cat-person’, who serves on Flanagan’s crew in DEBATABLE SPACE. Miaow.
K is also for Kim Ji, a gangster who features in VERSION 43.
THE CYBORG COP’S TAKE ON KIM: ‘I noted that Kim’s hair was red like flames…Kim was, in summary, a woman of considerable beauty. I was fully aware of this datum.’
K is also for Kirkham, as in Dr Ben Kirkham; a Scientist in Red Claw who is the epitome of a snide vicious psychopath; and not at all the person you’d want to be trapped with on an alien planet.
‘ “Don’t you be fucking whatchmacall with me,” Sorcha snarled.
“Do you mean perhaps ‘ironic?’ Ah I think you do.” Then Ben did a rapid double take of shock and horror. “Me? Ironic? Heaven forbid!”
Sorcha felt like punching him.’
L is for Lena, the anti-heroine of DEBATABLE SPACE. She’s vain, deceitful, selfish, sometimes cowardly, and she tells fibs (even though she’s our narrator.) Some might hate her; I love her; it’s was Lena’s sarcastic voice that pulled me into DEBATABLE SPACE and gave me the entire novel; I channelled the mind and emotions of an evil bitch who was born in the very early years of the 20th century, my entire career as a science fiction novelist arose from that. (By the way, I’m very strange; I actually believe my characters are real people.)
FLANAGAN ON LENA:
‘She is very opinionated about everything. Society has decayed. Courtesy is a forgotten art….She is in short, old. She’s selfish, self-contained, cautious, cowardly, bigoted, small-minded, self-pitying, spoiled, self-indulgent, arrogant, uninterested in the feelings of others…she is cocooned.’
PHILIP ON LENA: But she’s also, thanks to rejuve, extremely hot.
L is also for Lirilla, a sweet bird-type who appears in HELL SHIP.
M is for Monroe; Admiral Monroe no less, who serves in the Cheo’s Navy and is eaten arsehole-first by a sentient hive-mind creature and finds himself trapped in the thought bubbles which comprise one entire narrative strand of VERSION 43. Okay, yeah, these books are maybe a BIT strange.
M is for Morval, a seasoned Explorer who is old and bald with eyes like black holes, and features in HELL SHIP.
JAK ON MORVAL: ’This wizened old spacefarer had skin like withered hide, and a scowl that made me shudder. I conjured up my most charming smile, and vowed never to let myself become so decrepit.’
M is also for Macawley, a hospital receptionist in VERSION 43; a minor character who is a cat-person and who (to my utter astonishment, but hey, these characters have minds of their own) turns out to be one of the major protagonists in the battle against the bad guys. ‘And Macawley laughed, and her green eyes glittered and she opened her mouth and her teeth were sharp points, and she hissed, and then she roared a perfect roar.’
M is also for McCoy, as in Private Clementine McCoy; one of the nicer characters in RED CLAW. Hugo Baal writes of her: ‘And, I must concede, I’m fond of Clementine. There’s a wonderful quality to her, and she’s an undeniably attractive young woman. And to be perfectly honest, I never thought that a girl like that would look at a tubby and annoying little geek like me.’
M is for Mia, as in Mia Nightingale; a documentary film-maker making a movie about genocide of aliens, in RED CLAW.
M is also for Minos; read HELL SHIP to know more.
N is for Naurion, as in Mayor Abraham Naurion, who runs Lawless City in Version 43.
O is for Olara; not a character, but a species to which Jak belongs. So that’s cheating really. Go on – sue me!
P is for Phylas, a young naive Explorer who features in HELL SHIP. ’ ” Occasional comments of mine have not always, um, accorded with common sense.” ‘
Q is for Quipu, a three-headed superintelligent alien who features in HELL SHIP; whose favourite pastime is arguing with himselves.
R is for Roger Layton, saviour of humankind, who will feature in ARTEMIS.
S is for Saunders, as in Professor Carl Saunders, one of the greatest xenobiologists of all time, author of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ALIEN LIFE. See RED CLAW.
S is for Sai-ias, one of the three narrators of HELL SHIP. She is kind, and funny, and generous, and big-hearted; and would be my ideal of the perfect woman if it weren’t for the fact she is vast, carapaced, with tentacles. An alien, in short.
‘And so I resolved to change my world. Instead of fighting, I would make peace. Instead of hating, I tried to spread love.
And I was mocked for it.’
S is for Sharrock, who also narrates some of HELL SHIP. He’s a warrior in the Conan mould, from a civilisation which has sword fighting but can also travel the stars. Sharrock is humanoid, but has red skin with ridges; and a fearsome temper.
SAI-IAS ON SHARROCK: ‘Sharrock had a way of being still in a fashion that conveyed boundless inner energy; he reminded me of the many four-legged predators that stalked through the forest, who lived only to hunt.’
S is also for Sorcha, as in Major Sorcha Molloy, the ruthless Soldier in RED CLAW; she has been bred for war, brainwashed into unthinking obedience to the Galactic Corporation; and HATES nerdy Scientists. ‘Sorcha was ten years old when she killed her first man….And so, and then, her childhood ended.’
T is for Tinbrain, the Earth’s quantum remote computer, which Lena is able to access with her thoughts in DEBATABLE SPACE.
T is also for Tonii, as in Private Tonii Newton; an hermaphrodite Soldier (well endowed in every way) in RED CLAW.
T is also for Teresa Shalco, capobastone of Giger Pentientiary, in ARTEMIS.
U is for Um, let me get back to you on that.
V is for Version 43. Version 43 is a cyborg cop, who features in the novel called, er, VERSION 43. He has the intellect and body of a robot, but the personality of a human being; and no memories of who he once was.
V is also for Vishaal; one of the bad guys in VERSION 43. A truly evil awful person; and older than he looks.
W is for Wong-Kei, a gangster defeated by Lena in DEBATABLE SPACE.
X is for Xabar, which for complicated reasons, is what Lena Smith once called herself.
Y is for – um, I don’t seem to have ever written a character beginning with ‘Y’!
Z is for Zala, who fights Sharrock in Chapter 1 of HELL SHIP.
1 Not a bit like me!
2 Though I’m not a nerd myself, of course. Harumph.
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