In space no one can see you bleed...
By C.T. Phipps
Later, I would continue this conversation with a friend who explained to me the problem wasn't I was writing a dark science fiction novel but I was writing a dark science fiction novel IN SPACE. "If you'd written it on Earth then you could have cyberpunk and everything is controlled by robots or it's a nuclear wasteland. In space, everyone expects things to have at least marginally gotten better. Space opera is meant to be happy don't you see?"
No I didn't.
My first space opera story was Dune, where the lesson wasn't, "Paul Atreides defeats the evil Harkonnens and builds a utopian space empire" but "Paul recruits a bunch of future Taliban who massacre billions in his name, he becomes suicidal, and his son becomes a giant worm." It's just Frank Herbert's editor wisely removed Children of Dune from the back of Dune since it wasn't the ending people were looking forward to.
I wasn't helped in this obvious misconception by also enjoying the universe of Warhammer 40K which was based on the fact the genocidal theocratic space fascists were the setting's Good GuysTM not because the authors agreed with their politics (being a bunch of 70s-80s British anarchist youth like the kind who gave us virtually every author I like in comics) but because the universe was that awful.
When creating Lucifer's Star, I made it as a deconstruction of something I loved. Which was the sanitized and heroic view of war in Star Wars. Having watched The Force Awakens, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling of, "You know, I would have done that differently." Less so than after the Prequels where all I would have kept was Qui Gon Jinn and Mace Windu but close. I wanted a universe where war was hell, the enemy really was as human as you, and space swords would draw blood.
Now, my final book wasn't anything close to Star Wars as it drew as much from Alien, Blade Runner, Dune, and (if I'm being honest) Halo when it was still good. I wanted to tell a fundamentally different kind of space story than the kind I'd read. The idea of a universe where technology has grown exponentially but where human nature hasn't changed in the slightest or, if anything, has gotten worse because we've developed ever more efficient ways of killing one another.
Shatterpoint and Traitor novels prove. Some of my favorite authors have made a living transplanting the struggles of the past and present to the future. My favorite part of the Expanse series isn't the demonic alien fungus that threatens existence but the conflicts between Belters, Martians, and Earthlings over resources.
For me, I ended up writing a story that was based on my own experiences watching people deal with the consequences of returning home from war, the arbitrary labels we put on people, and the idea of generational conflicts. In my universe, the "Evil Empire" gets smashed to pieces by the "Good Guy" galactic power only to result in this causing people to lionize the destroyed Evil Empire as standing up to the imperialists. Veterans of the war who lost everything then recruit the next generation and fill their heads with nonsense nostalgia before sending them out to fight the next round.
I've read a lot of military science fiction over the years and while it tends to be harder than space opera, there's often a sense of 'rah, rah, rah' which accompanies the conflicts fought. Victory is usually complete in these stories with humanity's brave defenders crushing the aliens by virtue of our awesome and courage. The idea of never surrender and never give up is ingrained in the story. But, for me, I can't help but think, "What if giving up is the right decision and continued conflict is just more meat for the grinder over petty feuds?"
Food for thought.
The big thing I wanted to achieve with Lucifer's Star was to create a novel of deep contrasts. A world where mile long spaceships pound away at each other but each blast ends up causing people to be incinerated or suffocate in vacuum. A novel where a handsome prince type leads thousands into battle, only to deal with the consequences of the fact they were all killed thanks to his speeches. A place where we finally perfect androids and replicants ("bioroids") who can't rebel and then use them to fulfill every dark urge. You know, the fun sort of future we all imagined we'd experience.
Why do it in space? I dunno, I think there's just something to be said about human nature that points made about it are just more grandiose in the far future. I think we're eventually going to leave this planet but we're going to take everything with us.
Good and bad.
About the Author
He's the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism.
About the Book
by C. T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus
From the bestselling author of The Rules of Supervillainy:
Cassius Mass was the greatest star pilot of the Crius Archduchy. He fought fiercely for his cause, only to watch his nation fall to the Interstellar Commonwealth. It was only after that he realized the side he'd been fighting for was the wrong one. Now a semi-functional navigator on an interstellar freight hauler, he tries to hide who he was and escape his past. Unfortunately, some things refuse to stay buried and he ends up conscripted by the very people who destroyed his homeland.
LUCIFER'S STAR is the first novel of the Lucifer's Star series, a dark science fiction space opera set in a world of aliens, war, politics, and slavery.