Nimbus, the final book in my Psi-Tech trilogy, is out now. Who-hoo, I have five books out and this is the first complete trilogy.
Sometimes big ideas start with a bang and arrive fully formed, sometimes they start small and grow. The Psi-Tech trilogy has not one big idea but two, though neither works without the other.
Way, way back in the mists of cliché, when dinosaurs walked the earth, we all cleaned our teeth with sticks, and Amstrad was cutting edge technology for a scribbler like me, a scene presented itself and begged to be written.
A telepath sits in a small, grey room on a backwater space station, acting as a human phone operator, making instant calls across the galaxy for anyone who can pay the going rate. It’s a dead-end job, not what she’s trained for, not what she’s capable of doing, not what she’s used to. So why is she here?
She’s here because she’s afraid. She’s on the run from… someone. (I didn’t know who or why, right then, but I knew it was serious.) If they catch up with her they’ll kill her and she’ll be very lucky if it’s quick and painless.
She needs to escape, but her luck and her credit have run out.
She’s contemplating cruising the transients’ bars to see if she can hitch a free ride. She’ll take anything, even the worst bucket-of-bolts mining barge, even if she’s got to sleep her way on board.
Then a last-minute job comes in. She doesn’t want to take it so she jacks the price right up, but the caller agrees anyway. It piques her interest. Telepaths always hear, but they mostly choose not to listen. This time she does. There’s talk of a new colony. The settlers are back-to-basics Ecolibrians who’ve opted for a closed planet. If she can talk her way on to that mission she can steer clear of her pursuers, find safety.
That was how it all started. It grew slowly and changed over time, of course. The first scene didn’t survive, though the frightened Telepath and the Ecolibrian colony did.
The gestation period of a book varies from months to years and this one was years. I wasn’t under contract to a publisher back then, so there was no pressure. I wrote the first draft in four months then let it sit on a back burner, revised it, wrote a different novel, and another. A couple of years later I returned to it, revised it yet again, and sent it to my (then) agent. On her advice I cut it drastically. When I parted company from that agent I sent it out under my own steam then waited three years while a major publisher hung on to it after saying: ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting, I’ll get back to you…’ Three years later I withdrew it from that publisher still, as far as I know, unread beyond the first two chapters. More time passed, another agent came and went. When I sold my first book to DAW (Winterwood, a historical fantasy) and signed up with the Donald Maass Literary Agency, my editor said those words that every writer hopes for: ‘What else have you got?’
DAW’s publishing schedule had an empty slot for science fiction before one for fantasy, so Empire of Dust became my debut novel. Under Sheila Gilbert’s gentle but thorough guiding hand, I added back a fair amount of what my first agent had asked me to remove. I restored plot layers and character complexity, while growing the universe around the twists and turns of the narrative. By this time I knew that DAW wanted a sequel, so I was building the world for at least a two book series and possibly three.
What has become my Psi-Tech Universe now contains a galaxy-spanning human society which uses jump gates and telepaths to navigate foldspace.
Neither jump gates nor telepaths are unusual tropes in science fiction. So what makes them different in the Psi-Tech universe? Mega-corporations more powerful than any single planetary government. race each other to colonise worlds and gobble up resources, using as their agents psi-techs, humans with psionic implants. Each one of them is economically tied to the megacorp that paid for their implant. They are treated well as long as they don’t step out of line. If they do rebel, their attitude can be readjusted, but they may not come out of it exactly… sane.
Add to this the platinum problem. Platinum is a valuable catalyst and though it exists in lots of places, it’s usually only found in tiny quantities and it takes a long time to process tiny quantities from a huge amount of ore. Fun fact: in the whole history of our world to the present date, the amount of pure platinum produced amounts to less than 25 cubic feet. In my psi-tech universe, with every jump through foldspace a small but significant amount of platinum is lost, so the need to find more and bigger platinum deposits drives everything. And the megacorp which controls the most platinum is in the strongest position.
And now back to that frightened telepath, Cara, fleeing from her former boss because she knows too much. When she hooks up with Navigator Reska (Ben) Benjamin, she plummets them both into danger. Friends become enemies. Betrayal follows betrayal. Knowing where to place your trust becomes the ultimate survival skill. If they make the wrong move an entire colony planet will pay the ultimate price.
Cara and Ben’s story is just the beginning, though. Solving one problem highlights another. Ideas demand room to grow and Empire of Dust is only the first outing for my troubled psi-techs.
In the second novel, Crossways, the survivors, now wanted by the megacorps on trumped-up charges, take refuge on a huge space station run by a coalition of crimelords. Crossways fought for its freedom from the big corporations, so its denizens don’t ever intend to let it be taken over again. It’s a kind of future version of Tortuga-in-space where pirates, smugglers and free-traders can take refuge alongside displaced persons, refugees, radicals and opportunists. The megacorporations have been looking for an excuse to take down Crossways and the psi-tech presence there might just be the excuse they need.
But something is stirring in the unfathomable depths of foldspace. Pilots and navigators are trained into believing that foldspace visions are an illusion, but that’s a lie perpetuated by their teachers ‘for their own good.’ Yeah, right! In the third book, Nimbus, what’s really happening in the Folds will change the future of humans in space, but not unless the conflict with the megacorporations is resolved and humankind tackles the problem together. There are some hard choices to be made.