Okay, among other things I’ve been working on, I’ve been sketching out a high-level plan for the series of short novels I intend to write and self-publish. As of today I’m reasonably happy with the overall plan, so it’s time to focus on the first novel in the series, and also to get back to other projects on the priority list.
The series is going to be set in the mid-23rd century, about 200 years after Earth has been conquered by an interstellar civilization called the Khedai Hegemony. Check out previous posts with the “Human Destiny” tag for my evolving thoughts about this setting.
The khedai are an ancient star-faring species, who have been annexing and uplifting other cultures for hundreds of thousands of years. They are reasonably benevolent, but also extremely paternalistic, imposing their rule on the subject cultures “for their own good.” Their rule over Earth has brought all humans peace and a very high standard of living, but at the cost of a great deal of freedom.
My lead character is Aminata Ndoye, a young Muslim woman of mixed Wolof-Egyptian descent, growing up in West Africa under khedai rule. She is sharp and very talented, and more than a little resentful of the “cage” in which human beings are living. At the age of sixteen, she gets the unprecedented opportunity to study for a place in the Hegemony’s space service (think “interstellar navy” or, more accurately, “space patrol”). She wants the stars, so she seizes the opportunity, and to everyone’s surprise she is one of the first humans to earn a position as an officer on the command track. All of which means she’s going to have a lifetime of fantastic adventure – but only if he can find a way to live with integrity in the Hegemony she resents.
An Editorial Comment
Okay. Why am I, a white American dude, planning to write a space-opera epic with a Muslim woman from West Africa as my protagonist?
My starting point is the observation that the protagonists of space-opera epics like this are almost invariably, well, white dudes. Which doesn’t make sense to me. If the human species is going to have a destiny among the stars, then either all of us are going to be a part of it, or it’s going to be a pretty miserable destiny after all.
The human characters in this epic are going to be as representative of human variety as I can manage. Which means there will be white dudes in the mix, but not out of proportion to their likely numbers, in a future that didn’t permit us white dudes to continue stacking the deck to our own benefit.
That’s not just an aesthetic choice. It’s central to the theme of the story. So I need my protagonist to be as different as possible from the generic unmarked-state character we usually see. That’s going to be a challenge to do well, but anything less strikes me as an abdication of responsibility.
I have a series of eight short novels mapped out, as follows. I’m aiming for between 60,000 and 80,000 words for each novel. For each, I’ve listed Aminata’s current age and rank at that point in her career, and a very short plot synopsis which tries not to give away too many spoilers. For the first five books, I also have some notes about theme, expressed as a dialectic: the Hegemony’s guiding principles, and Aminata’s questioning reaction to them.
Aminata is age 16 through age 21 (2273-2278 CE). She is an Officer Candidate.
Aminata is invited to attend a newly established academy for humans entering the Hegemony’s space service, and she has the opportunity to become an officer, but only if she does very well. No one expects her to succeed, and indeed most of her fellow students fail the program, but she perseveres and becomes one of the first humans ever to gain a commission.
Along the way, Aminata becomes a competent pilot and ship-handler, and gains experience in space and zero-gravity operations. She gets a comprehensive education in the sciences, especially astronomy, astrophysics, and xenosociology. She gains a partial understanding of the Hegemony’s motives for conquering humanity, and begins to resolve the question of her own place as a human individual in such an ancient, vast, and diverse interstellar society.
The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization requires decision-makers with exceptional intelligence, perspective, and perseverance. Humans are not yet up to the challenge.
Aminata asks: Do I want the stars badly enough to strive for standards no one believes humans can meet, imposed by a society that excludes us?
This novel will recycle the already-written story “Pilgrimage” (and possibly the story “Guanahani,” as a prologue).
Aminata is age 23 through age 25 (2280-2282 CE). She is a Subaltern.
Aminata is posted to the fleet escort Kadavi as her first active-duty assignment. She is widely regarded as excess baggage at first, and is given little opportunity to excel. But when Kadavi is sent into battle during the Arqanat police actions, her courage and initiative earn her a place.
After Kadavi is seriously damaged in the early battles of the campaign, Aminata is reassigned to another fleet escort, this time as a staff officer in the CIC, responsible for data compilation and tactical analysis. She becomes accomplished at computer operations and ship tactics, and earns the respect of her commanding officers for herself and for humanity. She sees the harsh side of Hegemony policy and how it affects the subject species up close. At the end of the police action, she is promoted to Sublieutenant.
The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization, if it is to be stable over thousands or even millions of years, requires strict discipline to constrain local whims.
Aminata asks: What gives the Hegemony – what gives any government – the right to deprive its subjects of their freedom, justifying it on the basis of what it decides is best for them? What is the Hegemony but the greatest of all colonialist empires?
This novel will recycle the already-written story “In the House of War.”
Aminata is age 28 (2285 CE). She is a Sublieutenant.
Aminata is serving as a staff officer aboard a ship operating independently in a remote part of space, far from any possibility of help from the rest of the Hegemony. Something goes terribly wrong, the ship is badly damaged and the crew takes serious losses.
Aminata is one of the last officers left alive, and although she is seriously injured, she is the only one who can pull the crew together and lead them back to civilized space. Along the way, she gains deep knowledge of galactic-level computer technology and gains insight into why the Hegemony is bitterly opposed to sentient AI. At the end of the story, she receives one of the Hegemony’s highest awards for valor, and is promoted to Lieutenant.
The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization, if it is to permit organic beings agency and significance, cannot be permitted to fall under the control of sentient machines.
Aminata asks: Sentient machines can be frightening, but aren’t they living beings with their own dignity and rights? Is there no way for humans or their allies to live at peace with them?
Aminata is age 30 to age 33 (2287-2290 CE). She is a Lieutenant, promoted to Subcommander at the beginning of the story.
Aminata is assigned as the Executive Officer of a warship assigned to the “eternal front,” a region of space where the Hegemony has a diffuse border with another interstellar civilization of roughly equal age and power. Here, the two interstellar powers have been engaged in an ongoing battle of wits and diplomacy for tens of thousands of years, the conflict occasionally flaring up into open combat.
Aminata finds herself in the middle of a Byzantine conflict over an inhabited star system in the contested zone, where both sides are playing an extremely long game and any move she makes might have consequences thousands of years into the future. Her commanding officer trusts her and assigns her a critical mission, and she is required to think quickly but very deeply to solve the crisis.
The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization requires decision-makers who can grasp objective reality on a very large scale, take a very long view, and think past their instinctive responses.
Aminata asks: What about the instinctive response of compassion? Is a civilization that’s willing to sacrifice millions of lives for the benefit of billions of others still worthy of allegiance?
Aminata is age 34 to age 35 (2291-2292 CE). She is a Subcommander, promoted to full Commander at the beginning of the story.
Aminata is given her first independent command – the first human ever to command a Hegemony warship, thousands of years ahead of the usual timeline for such an achievement from a new client species.
Aminata is forced to develop her diplomatic and leadership skills, as she is now solely responsible for the actions and fate of her crew, drawn from dozens of different species and cultural groups. Even more of a challenge, for the first time she is in command of a significant number of other humans, and must help them to work productively with non-humans. When a sudden crisis turns up, placing stress on all the fracture points among her crew, her work is tested harshly.
In the process of holding her command together, and without really planning it in advance, Aminata establishes a new human ethnos (a distinctive, self-governing cultural group with its own laws and customs, recognized as such by the Hegemony).
The Hegemony says: Interstellar civilization demands that its citizens practice tolerance and productive cooperation with others, even those who may have profoundly different biological or cultural characteristics.
Aminata asks: I agree, actually, but it isn’t always that easy. How do we teach people to productively deal with differences that appear irreconcilable?
Aminata is age 40 (2297 CE). She is a Commander, promoted to Captain at the beginning of the story.
Aminata is given command of a frontier cruiser, a ship assigned to patrol space beyond the Hegemony’s control for several years at a time. Once again, a significant portion of her crew are humans, many of them members of her new (and growing) ethnos. Her command is explicitly designed as a test of the new ethnos on a mission regarded as important to the Hegemony’s future but not necessarily high-risk.
Aminata’s ship ventures from Sol out into neutral space, updating old exploratory data and otherwise verifying that there is nothing in the region to concern the Hegemony for at least the next few thousand years. Unfortunately, after several months the expedition discovers evidence that something is drastically wrong. Other Hegemony expeditions have gone missing, living worlds have been damaged by asteroid impact or other disasters, and so on.
The expedition discovers that a new interstellar society has appeared in the region, a Great Enemy, a horribly malignant culture devoted to unlimited, cancerous growth at the expense of all others. Aminata and her crew must fight a terrible battle just to disengage and run for home, hoping to warn the Hegemony of the danger.
This, and the following two stories, constitute the capstone of the series. All of the lessons Aminata and her allies have learned, all of the questions they’ve asked, come to the fore. Aminata becomes one of the Hegemony’s leaders against a terrible and unexpected enemy.
This novel picks up just after Book Six left off, with Aminata and her crew reaching Earth and the Hegemony only a few months before the advance wave of the Great Enemy. Aminata has to convince the Hegemony to take action, and she has to help humanity to prepare to defend Earth. When the Enemy arrives, she leads the defense.
This novel picks up immediately after Book Seven left off. Earth has been saved from the first wave of the Great Enemy’s attack, but more will come, and the Hegemony is in disarray as many of the subject ethnoi withdraw from the common defense. It seems almost certain that Earth and humanity will be devoured on the next pass.
Aminata and her crew go on a desperate quest, in search of a galactic power that even the Hegemony fears: the so-called Synarchy, which has ruled much of the galaxy continuously for billions of years. The result of the quest finally resolves humanity’s place in the Hegemony, and the galaxy at large, for thousands of years to come.