July 7 is the anniversary of the publication of my first space opera novel, The Dangerous Type. I wrote this piece about faster-than-light travel back then, but it was never published. I thought you might be interested in it.
New Worlds Await
In our universe, interstellar travel is slow and time-consuming. It takes nine months to get an unmanned rocket to Mars and that’s only 140 million miles away. The closest planet outside our solar system is more than 25 trillion miles away. We’re not getting there any time soon.
For my space opera trilogy, I took interstellar travel as a given, something necessary for the story to take place. There are different and unfamiliar people in my galaxy, therefore there are different and unfamiliar worlds. There must be ways to travel amongst them.
My editor encouraged me to think more deeply about the modes of transportation. What interested me was not the theoretical science of bending laws of space and time to drive ships across the vastness, but the economic inequities of space travel.
One of the things I wanted to explore in my galaxy was the way wealth changes the experiences available to my characters. I’m dealing with two generations: the humans who were shaped by surviving the Human-Templar War and the multispecies crew of the Veracity, who grew up in the war’s aftermath.
In my galaxy, space travel is expensive. Either people buy personal craft at great cost or they buy passage on other people’s ships. If they’re dying to travel — or to escape wherever they’ve found themselves — they might take a job on a ship hauling food around the galaxy or catering to travelers. The sort of travel we’re familiar with now — jumping on a plane for a quick vacation — is rare. People might save their whole lives for a vacation on a pleasure planet. They might travel once in their lives, but afterward they might not be able to afford to leave.
For the most part, only the wealthy or the useful get to travel through space. Everyone else stays on the ground.
The In the Wake of the Templars series focuses on the crew of the Veracity, led by reformed Imperial assassin Raena Zacari. The Veracity is much older than most other ships in service at the time of the trilogy. It served as a diplomatic transport during the Human-Templar War and was hidden away, rather than scrapped, at the war’s end. It’s trickier to fly than newer ships and requires someone in the cockpit to monitor it constantly. Its human-made drive skips the ship across space, zipping in and out of hyperspace. At the end of each hop, the course needs to be recalibrated. Haoun, the Veracity’s Na’ash pilot, learned to fly on simulators. The rest of the Veracity’s crew is capable of monitoring its flight, but they need Haoun to run the ship’s calculations.
The Veracity’s crew makes enough money to keep their ship flying, but they wouldn’t have been able to buy it in the first place, if Raena hadn’t stolen it for them.
Personal craft do exist that can cross space more quickly and easily than the Veracity, but ships owned by individuals are small and fuel is not easy to come by. Former arms dealer Ariel Shaad has a racer that she can fly by herself, but it’s really only comfortable when she’s solo or traveling with an intimate friend. Just before the events of The Dangerous Type, she had it upgraded with a Templar-derived tesseract drive, which proves to be a problem in book 2 of the series.
Before the trilogy begins, the Templars were wiped out by a genetically targeted plague during the war with humans. Prior to the war, they provided gates that most large ships used to travel from one solar system to the next. Use of the gates was subject to tolls, collected by the Templars, who profited from – and could regulate – all galactic trade.
Once the Templars were gone, one of their stardrive technologies was appropriated by the rest of the galaxy. The tesseract drive, which is not as well understood as most people believed, warps space. Tesseract ships are fast, but in Kill By Numbers, the second book in the trilogy, they are starting to malfunction. Ships go into tesseract space — and sometimes, unpredictably — they don’t come out. This has been happening for a while before the Veracity’s crew gets involved, but the intragalactic shipping companies hid the evidence.
After the tesseract flaw is revealed, the galaxy is thrown into turmoil. Delivery ships have gotten too big to use the gates. Insurance to pay families of haulers lost when ships enter tesseract and don’t return is so expensive that shipping companies are driven out of business. Tech shortages and famines result. The tourist industry is gutted when people decide travel on tesseract-powered ships is unsafe. Only smaller — older — ships like the Veracity are reliable and there aren’t enough of them to keep the peace.
So where did all of this come from? I’m fascinated by the power of transportation and the slow collapse of cities because I grew up outside of Flint, Michigan as General Motors ceased manufacturing automobiles there. Michigan in the late 20th century had been designed around the automobile and trucking industries. There wasn’t a reliable public transit system any longer. The town where I grew up had neither a train nor bus station, though it had once had both. If you didn’t have a car, you walked, rode your bike without benefit of bike lanes, or you stayed put.
My trilogy gave me a venue to explore the ubiquity of transportation and the ways in which we take it for granted. It’s so easy to overlook, until the system breaks down and leaves you stranded.
Of course, space travel and its deficiencies are only the underpinnings of my story. When you’re writing science fiction, it’s fun to take something as familiar as travel — or the ability to eat produce delivered from all around the world — and wonder what would happen if those constants were disrupted on a galactic scale.
Find out more about the Templars trilogy here: https://lorenrhoads.com/writing/the-dangerous-type/