Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Introduction To Stories From The Quiet War

One of the stories collected [in Stories From The Quiet War], ‘Second Skin’, was the first short story I wrote in what would become the Quiet War sequence. Written way back in 1996 and published a year later, it contains several of the signature tropes of the sequence – the setting on an obscure little moon of one of the outer planets in the aftermath of a war between Earth and outer system colonists, vacuum organisms, the pursuit of the gene wizard Avernus, weaponised biotech, huge construction projects built by robots, and so on.

In the stories, the war was pretty conventional, triggered by a failed attempt by colonists to free themselves from the control of powerful interests on Earth. The novels reworked that history, turning the ancestors of the inhabitants of the outer system into refugees whose growing ambitions to spread out through the Solar System and push human evolution forward threatened a fragile peace between themselves and the political powers on Earth. But the novels shared with the short stories my interest in how the large movements of history affect the lives of those caught up in them (and vice versa), and my fascination with the fantastically varied landscapes of the moons of the outer planets. That fascination was first sparked by the images captured by Pioneer 11 and the two Viking spacecraft as they sped through the systems of the outer planets. Here were sulphur volcanoes, icy landscapes cratered by ancient bombardments, a moon with bright and dark hemispheres, a moon whose jigsaw surface might hide a vast ocean of liquid water, shepherd moons embedded within a vast ring system, and so on, and so on. The kind of exoticism that science-fiction writers traditionally mapped on to planets of far stars, right on our doorstep. The Galileo and Cassini-Huygens spacecraft sharpened those images and revealed fresh wonders – the geysers of little Enceladus, the rivers and lakes of Titan. Here were real places, named, mapped in detail. All I had to do was insert figures in those landscapes. But how did they live there? How did living there affect them? What were their dreams, their ambitions?

I wrote nine ‘Quiet War’ stories over a period of about ten years, extending the history of the war, and exploring various locations on and inside the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and eventually took the plunge and wrote a pair of novels, The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun.The first was about the causes of the war and the long build-up to final act of violence; the second was about the consequences of the war for both victors and vanquished. Gardens of the Sun, set like the stories in the aftermath of the war, borrowed from several of them heavily modified settings and characters. The four stories republished here weren’t reworked into Gardens of the Sun, but the previously unpublished story, ‘Karyl’s War’, is a modification of an unused opening sequence of the novel and, like the novel, it contains rewritten passages from an earlier story (‘The Passenger’). It was intended to give a new perspective on the quick and violent conclusion to the long game of the Quiet War, but in the end I didn’t use it because I decided that I didn’t need to introduce a new character; the five main characters of The Quiet War were perfectly able to carry the various strands of the narrative forward. The Quiet War sequence has now been extended 1500 years into its future. A new novel, In the Mouth of the Whale, is a self-contained story set at the edge of the dust ring around the star Fomalhaut, where one of the characters from The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun arrives in the middle of a war over control of the star’s single gas giant planet. There’s a big dumb object floating in atmosphere of that gas giant, probing for signs of life. Thistledown cities and an archipelago of engineered worldlets. A vivid dream of childhood that begins to unravel. A secret hidden in the cityscapes of a virtual library. The termitarial mindset of an ancient cult. Visions of cul-de-sacs in human evolution, and an exploration of the costs of longevity . . .

‘Second Skin’ and the other stories collected here are where all this began. The first steps on a long exploration of strange worlds, and the people who live there.


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