Debatable Space, my first science fiction novel, is part of a triptych of books all set in the same Universe with similar themes, and comparable lunatic story twists.
This is a triptych (the Harbaville triptych):
And this is also a triptych, by Francis Bacon:
And this is MY triptych:
Okay, it’s a vertical triptych not a horizontal one, but the basic principle is the same: three different things that together add up to one big thing. But it doesn’t matter in which order you look at or read them.
This is, I guess, not entirely orthodox. The trend in SFF is to write series (which ideally ought to be read in the order in which they’re written) or serials - which HAVE to be read in the right order or you’re sunk. But my brief from the Orbit guys was very much to write self-contained novels that AREN’T serialised – because Orbit passionately believe that the books I wrote should be unique and stand-alone. They weren’t looking for ‘more of the same’ from me, they wanted bold, radical and fresh. Which is kind of, you know, crazy of them really. (Thanks guys!)
But the stories do connect up, in ways that are obvious, and in other ways that are far more covert. And the timelines overlap, and zig and zag. The action of Red Claw happens about half way through the action of Debatable Space. That’s because DS has a VERY long time frame – starting with Lena as a child in the early twenty first century (i.e. NOW) and covering all of the events of her turbulent life, through the invasion of Earth by Peter Smith, and long after. And Peter Smith is – the smallest of spoilers this, for those who haven’t read the book, and also for those who’ve forgotten every blessed thing about it - the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an evil Corporation that controls all human civilisation.
In Red Claw, Smith is in power but we never see him; the book does, however, refer to his underling, the CSO – Chief Scientific Officer – of the Corporation. But the wellspring of this particular story occurs hundreds of years earlier, in the Amazon rainforest, in a world before the Corporation came to power.
And Version 43 takes place hundreds of years AFTER the events of Debatable Space. But, when you read it, you’ll see how it connects up, or so I hope.
The chronology between novels is complex therefore, but goes something like this:
Lena and her career; Saunders and Hooperman’s expedition to the Amazon Rainforest
What’s happening in the Universe during the evil reign of the Corporation
Lena and Flanagan’s war against the evil Corporation
The Universe hundreds of years AFTER the Corporation has er – I won’t say after WHAT, because that’s the finale of Debatable Space.
The future history of this universe is recounted by Lena in DS; and is taken for granted in RC and v43. It relies upon a couple of major assumptions, and is inspired by a collision of cynicism and optimism on my part.
The cynicism is fuelled by what is happening in our world NOW. The Iraq war. The incompetence of governments. The prevalence of lies, including climate change denial. The undeniable evidence that scum rises to the top.
In my future history, doppelganger robots are the instruments of oppression in all the human-settled planets in the Solar Neighbourhood. These are basically drones – they don’t have to be humanoid in shape , though they usually are- that can be controlled from afar. And yeah, we’ve seen how that works on the news accounts of all the major conflicts in the world where Western technology makes the slaying of foes terrifyingly easy and, frankly, safe. (This is not me snarking: I salute the courage of those British and American and European soldiers who have fought and died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere; my point is about the horror of remote control warfare.)
But whoah, all that’s like, pretty serious huh! Dark depressing stuff.
Well, that’s the other common factor of these books. I write pulp – and pulp should be fun! And I hope these books ARE fun. There are humourous moments, and dumb fucking jokes. I grew up on the X-Men and Buffy; I don’t do dour techno-stuff where characters tell each other how spaceships work.
But there’s optimism too. According to the sensible extrapolations of mundane SF, interstellar exploration is unlikely, settling the stars is a fool’s dream, and the future will be much the same as the present, but perhaps a little more crowded. However, I’m imbued with a Utopian belief in the power of science, fuelled by my childhood reading of Asimov and Heinlein and those ‘can-do’ greats of the Golden Age. So in my future, technology SOLVES the problems of climate change, it deals with the crisis of the population explosion, and it makes short shrift of food and fuel shortages. My future is a world of plenty; almost limitless amounts of energy, coupled with almost limitless resources. Wow, am I a dreamer or what!
It all hinges on access to energy, in my view. Coal is running out; oil is running out; we can’t build enough wind turbines; nuclear energy is too dangerous – so where, oh where can we find a source of energy that will power all the machines and devices of our technological society!
Er, try looking up. The sun. Huge great fusion reactor. From a distance of 93,000,000 miles away, it generates enough energy to sustain all the plants and forests on Earth. That’s a lot of energy, and we haven’t even begun to tap it. So my future has solar panels in orbit around the Sun, capturing energy and storing it in ultra-efficient batteries.
Batteries, in my future universe, are the key to the salvation of the human race.
Yeah, it sounds a bit pathetic doesn’t it, put like that? The future of humanity depends upon – Duracell! But the energy of the sun alone – which pumps out its darned heat into space willy-nilly and incessantly – is enough to sustain a trillion civilisations, if you could somehow store it. And every other star in the Solar Neighbourhood is comparably profligate. But if you could store energy safely and efficiently, then with a liberal use of other science fictional gadgets – like ‘fabricators’ which use robots to build machinery, cars, spaceships, other robots – and quantum beacons (my own invention, which allow for FTL travel of emails and other signals) then everything is fine and dandy.
This doesn’t, however, mean I think the future will be a happy place.
Firstly, my future time-line casually assumes all manner of grief over the next 50-100 years, as our civilisation pays the price of its failure to invest in solutions to climate change, and as the Capitalism of Greed collapses, after wreaking total havoc with the lives of ordinary people.
So this is where cynicism kicks in; limitless wealth, in my future scenario, will not lead to limitless freedom and justice, and equality. It just won’t; because, as I’ve argued, scum rises to the top.
And besides, Utopia and fiction do not make comfortable bed-fellows. Because, as I said before, these are pulp novels -fast, furious, violent and fun. And to have fun in the action-SF pulp genre you need genuinely evil villains and utterly terrifying jeopardies. So though I aim to provoke a thought or two along the way, the main purpose of the stories is to entertain – by scaring the bejasus out of the poor old reader.
I have a couple more stories I want to write in the Debatable Space universe – making it a four-book or even a five-book triptych, as my hommage to the Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide ‘trilogy’. But in my next novel Hell Ship – well, that’s when I go into a whole other universe, and then some…