Published by Safkhet Publishing on 2015-07-01
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The aliens from your nightmares are coming. The colonies of Earth are next. And it looks like nothing can stop them.
A blue star, a dying friend, a kidnap and the dusty contents of an old room: Septimus Esterhazy's life is about to change. As he blows cobwebs from the manual of an old spacecraft, hidden for decades, a Pandora's box creaks open.
Little does he know that the universe's very nature is being threatened by a powerful alien race. Nor does he know that he is somehow involved with why the Wraith, destroyers of worlds, are coming.
The self-proclaimed 'Protectors of the Known Universe', the Sassrit, are trying to do everything they can to thwart a Wraith attack. But time is running out and resources are stretched.
A Sassrit agent, one of the shapeshifting Jarthiala, is recruited to help. The path he follows leads to the doorstep of a planet called D, an Earth colony, above which a blue star hangs, its light reflected in the eyes of Septimus below.
This is a journey which will change Septimus Esterhazy forever. It will make him question his nature. He will uncover secrets about his family that have lain dormant for years. And it will test the loyalty of those closest to him.
But first he has to watch his best friend die.
Interview With Guy Martland
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
My latest book is called The Scion and is SF novel in the Space Opera tradition. When I started writing this book, it was my intention to write a gothic SF novel. However, I was having a lot of fun and some of my humor also crept in, which offset the bleakness. Nevertheless, those who have read it tell me that it is pretty dark in places.
The plot concerns a young man called Septimus Esterhazy, an aristocrat, who lives in a penthouse on an island called Kennet; he has little to do, so whiles away his life as a part time DJ (or at least a future equivalent thereof). When we meet him, his best friend Persephone, is dying. But not is all as it seems. Odd things then begin to happen: a blue star appears above his home planet, his cousin is kidnapped and then he begins to be followed and evenutally attacked by some odd creatures. He is oblivious to the fact that the universe’s very nature is being threatened by a powerful alien race, called the Wraith. Nor does he know that he is somehow involved with why they are coming.
In a separate thread, the self-proclaimed ‘Protectors of the Known Universe’, the Sassrit, are trying to do everything they can to thwart a Wraith attack. But time is running out for them and resources are stretched. A Sassrit agent, one of the shapeshifting Jarthiala, is subsequently recruited to help. The path he follows leads to the doorstep of a planet called D, an Earth colony, above which a blue star hangs, its light reflected in the eyes of Septimus below.
As the threads begin to weave together, Septimus has to go on journey which will change him forever. It will make him question his nature. He will uncover secrets about his family that have lain dormant for years. And it will test the loyalty of those closest to him.
What makes your book unique?
I think it would be a bit presumptuous for me to say that my book is unique. It is Space Opera, so there are some tropes within it common to the genre.
However, there are also some ideas which I can’t remember reading about before: the terrorist with a lair composed of anatomical cross-sections of his victims, permanent kittens (see below) and a character developing a cancer for the purposes of an ‘experience’, to name a few.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
I got the ideas in the book from my brain. Mostly. A friend called Rich (Grenyer) told me about the concept of Neoteny and permanent kittens though, so I guess I should name-check him.
Is there any message you want readers to get from reading the book?
Primarily I want people to enjoy reading it. I write the pictures I imagine, so if that translates into what readers are seeing, I’ll be happy.
How long did it take to write the book?
I wrote part of the first chapter in 2007. This seems like a long time ago, but I have lots of first novel chapters lying around which either get used in shorter works or just sit in my computer’s hard drive, awaiting resurrection. For some reason, I was quite taken with Septimus and his friend Persephone and wanted to find out what happened to them as characters (I knew the overriding story arc). So I wrote their story.
Most of the book was written in 2010 and 2011. Then came various edits. I called a friend, Liz (Williams), to ask if she’d have a look. At the time I wasn’t even sure if it was any good. Anyway, I drove over to Glasonbury and we met in her ‘office’ – the back room of the George and Pligrim pub. She read it, seemed to like it, made some suggestions and a while later I sent it to Safkhet.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
One of the Jarthiala, Alberozen (Zen for short) was a lot of fun. He’s a kind of hippy space agent who has a spaceship that looks like a grasshopper. And everywhere he goes, plants seem to flourish (he is one of the so-called Arcane Biologists, and has a way with botany).
Having said all that, Septimus and Persephone are my favourite characters though.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
After filling up lots of notebooks (analogue pen to paper stuff), with scenes from the book, I began to weave them all together on my computer. I knew what was going l happen from the outset – the end was one of the bits I wrote first. So the story arc was already there. The process was more about filling in the gaps than outlining the plot.
The protagonist ends up meeting an old family member at one point, which I hadn’t quite expected. This lead to an interesting journey into a mountainous region, which added some depth to the story.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
‘The Scion’ has been through innumerable edits and I was tweaking things right until the bitter end (much to the annoyance of my publishers, Safkhet, I’m sure!). So a lot changed during the process, hopefully for the better.
I’m sure I’d have kept tinkering, but sometimes you have to let go: deliver the child kicking and screaming into the world. Only a few novels have a perfect delivery, most are covered in metaphorical blood and mucus.
How did you come up with the cover?
I didn’t – this was the publisher’s job, although I gave the final version my nod of approval.
I was keen for a beach to feature – the opening scene is set on a beach. But the other ideas came from Safkhet. The swirling shapes within the title text are meant to represent the approaching alien Wraith as they attack said beach. The other fonts spell ‘The Scion’ in alien style fonts which could symbolize the coming together of disparate alien races as they try to thwart the Wraith’s advances.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be a writer – I have to write. This may sound a bit clichéd but it is unfortunately true. If I don’t get some words on a page almost every day, then I simply don’t feel complete as a human being.
Words have been with me from a very young age. My mother gave me The Odyssey and Brideshead Revisited to read when I was five years old. So maybe I blame her.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
At school I used to enter into creative writing competitions. The first time I had a go, I was 13 and came second. We were given a title: Castles in the Sky, which at the time I didn’t know was a Thoreau quote (‘If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.’). The story had something to do with mountains and nothing much happened.
I didn’t write much more until 5 years later, when a story called Water from a Vine Leaf came along. This was about a group of indigenous people living on a tree planet, but being overrun my a tech city growing amongst the trees.
I’m still building castles, albeit in space though. I hope their foundations, or structure, is better than my juvenile efforts!
What is your favorite genre, and why?
Without a doubt SF. For me, SF is the best way of explaining the increasingly complex, dehumanising scientific world we live in and trying to make some sense of it. There are all kinds of definitions of this genre, but if it has a story and some science, that’ll do for me. Some of our most enduring stories are SF: 1984, Brave New World, Frankenstein to name a few. In a way, stories such as these can keep humanity in check, or maybe highlight the dangers of our future before we catch up.
Are there any books you are absolutely inspired by?
There were a few books that really kickstarted my interest in SF. Images from them have stayed with me always. Red Dust by Paul J McAuley was one, with its beautiful evocation of a terraformed Mars. Much of Iain M Banks’ work is, as far as I’m concerned,without comparison; my favorite is one of the non-Culture novels Against a Dark Background (although Consider Phlebas I have also read innumerable times).
What are you working on next?
I’m currently in the process of editing a new novel (unrelated to The Scion), called Machine Songs, with view to sending it off somewhere. This is about a future Earth overrun with alien growth, but one which still harbours some interesting drone tech.
I’ve also started writing a sequel to The Scion as well as a standalone SF medical dystopian piece. In addition, I’ve got a few stories I’m working on which I hope to get out into the world soon.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read and write as much as you can. I’ve found critique groups can be helpful, such as the Milford SF conference. But really, you have to sit at your desk, and grind the words out. Writing takes time and a lot of effort, with a huge dash of patience thrown in.
When I first started out I wrote to Paul McAuley asking him this very question. His reply was along the lines of you either are a writer or you aren’t. Make of that what you will.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
I live with my fiancée and a cat. We have no children yet. However, I do have a busy hospital job, so time is precious. I try to write about 500 words a day before I get to sleep. My brain always feeds me ideas around that time, so it seems to work well.
For the more laborious editing process, more time is needed, so this usually happens on breaks away from work. Most of the major editing for The Scion happened in a cottage on Exmoor national park, the only interruption being an occasional coastal walk.
The swirling, towering clouds of black which had gathered on the horizon didn’t look right. A writhing movement within them suggested something else, something more organic than a simple weather pattern. Bolts of lightning flickered from the cumuli, lightning that seemed to harness the entire colour spectrum: red one minute, purple the next, then an iridescent green. The light was reflected in the eyes of the onlookers on the shingle beach ridge, who cheered as one of the first warships roared overhead, heading into the fray.
Khail’s fear had escalated to a level where it was now numbness at the back of his mind. He knew better than most what these creatures could do. He’d seen their devastation first hand. But it was only now, standing on this beach and seeing them with his own eyes, that he knew it meant the probable end for Arkenthria. As if to mark this thought, the warship was hit by a sheet of lightning and exploded. A gasp of shock rippled through the crowd. The ensuing ball of fire arced onto the broiling sea, flames dancing over its surface until they were eventually extinguished by the waves.
His fellow Arkenthrians watched aghast as the eldritch cloud continued its approach unabated. Khail wondered how many actually knew what this was about, how he and his team had brought this upon them all. Would they be standing next to him in solidarity if they knew? The images of the mangled spacecraft – those that had made it – limping back to their planet had been broadcast to every home, as had the ceremonies for those lost. And then the images of the creatures which had done this, images that had struck terror into the heart of the planet, had filled their screens. The research on the creatures since the first attacks had been widely publicized: Khail’s department.
They’d gathered to face the oncoming disaster calmly, in unison, in a defiant although probably futile gesture. His wife stood to the left, his arm draped over her shoulder. She watched, eyes glued to the horizon. His two boys stood on either side, slightly confused by the adults’ strange behavior.
A blind man stood nearby, a priest, kissing the hands of the devoted in a final act of absolution. A strong gust of wind caught the man’s robes, flapping them around his thin body, before his tail whipped out to flick them back into place. Someone next to him then began to jump around in a spontaneous dance, a man from the local hippy commune. Nearby acolytes began to copy his motions, crunching around on the stones.
Khail shook his head, overcome with a desire to laugh. His scientific thinking was at odds with these people’s thoughts, sometimes even at odds with his wife’s more ‘spiritual view’ on life. He tried to contain it, but something inside burst, deep rolls of laughter booming out of his barrel chest. As people turned to look, his wife instinctively nudged him in the ribs. Her desire for them to fit in at such a time seemed to him more inappropriate than his outburst. But he stopped himself, the laughter replaced by a wave of sadness which crashed down, smothering everything. He turned around to look at the other faces, most of whom were staring ahead, waiting for the end, as they solemnly watched two more of Arkenthria’s prize warships get swatted out of the way of the incoming clouds.
Mixed emotions still ran through him when he thought of the strange man, the alien Huwred. He could hardly bring himself to think of his name – if that indeed was his name – but found himself looking up into the heavens, willing him away from the planet, hoping he’d escaped. There were bigger things afoot here than Arkenthria, this Huwred had made him see that. There was a whole delicate tapestry out there, mysteries woven into its fabric; mysteries that he, Khail would now never see. At least Huwred had shown him that, and had shown him how important a part he’d played in the whole thing. He’d just been too late to save his own planet, to save Arkenthria.
The clouds started to approach with greater speed as they scudded across the ocean, but the perspective looked wrong. The sun remained hidden in the overcast sky, a faint bright blur in their cover. As they approached, they ceased to be clouds and became an edgy swarm: thousands of black winged creatures, swirling around with a furious energy. Their wings and talons were clear, but their torsos were blurs of darkness, hurting the eye when it tried to focus. People on the beach began to wail, plaintive sounds that seemed to carry the basest human emotions in their tone. The cries of a small child rose in reply, clearly oblivious to what lay ahead, but detecting the growing unease of the surrounding adults. Those who’d started the crazed dancing stopped abruptly.
Part of the cloud burst forward, expelling a shard of coloured fire, which flickered as it tried to hold onto reality, before crashing into the ocean. The impact caused the sea to swell and rise, a wall of water coursing toward the pebbled shore. To Khail, everything seemed to slow, as fear put a brake on time. More buds broke off from the swarm, issuing similar evanescent bolts of flame. Groups of the creatures descended from the heavens, attacking the beach directly.
The sky turned dark as the Wraith swooped over them. The wind ceased, and there was a sudden hush across the water. Then an impression of sound, rising in volume: the clattering of the creatures’ wings, like bones being crushed in an ossuary. Khail closed his eyes, held his head back as the sea exploded onto the beach. He felt a wing glance his cheek and pulled his wife and sons tighter to him. Searing pain scythed across his back and he was thrown forward, his wife and sons torn from his grip. He saw a black talon and glimpsed a blurred, cowled head, mucus dripping from its angry maw. A black flash of pain, followed by the water cracking like a whip, then seconds later, Khail was gone forever.
Space moves inexorably slowly. On its wide canvas, one hundred and twenty six years pass in an instant. And then, in the vicinity of a planet called D, a blue star blossoms into life. At almost exactly the same time, perhaps separated by a few milliseconds, something similar happens in a nearby system. Above a planet called Sanrelick, the natives look up and see a heavenly body bursting into existence, its wavelength the same. However, unlike the inhabitants of D, for those on Sanrelick, this event is something they’ve been expecting. And for some of them, it may be the defining moment of their lives.