Please welcome Jay Allan to The Qwillery. Shadow of Empire, the first novel in the Far Stars trilogy, was published on November 3rd by Harper Voyager.
I love worldbuilding. As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to books with richly-developed universes, well-crafted settings that were themselves as compelling as the story itself. Imagine the vastness of the empire in Dune, for example, with its feuding noble houses and ten thousand year history. Or the setting of the Lord of the Rings, a trilogy that covers less than a year of actual time, but paints a picture for the reader of millennia of struggle and lore. Stories like these simply wouldn’t be the same without the rich backgrounds the authors imagined and so effectively communicated to the reader. The worlds they created seem real to us because of the depth and detail they crafted.
The story is the heart of a book, no question…and well-developed characters as well. But the worldbuilding, especially in space opera, is the foundation that holds it all up. A thriller, a romance-most books outside the realm of fantasy and science fiction-exist somewhere in our own world. But a space opera occurs somewhere else, thousands of years in the future perhaps, or in a setting completely unrelated to our own reality, one invented solely for that purpose. It is on the author’s shoulders to make us understand the place he is creating…and to care about it, to believe in it.
This applies to most science fiction, at least to a certain extent, but I think it’s even more vital in space opera, where scale is often a dominant factor. Whether it’s galactic empires clashing, revolutions tearing apart the established order, or noble families jockeying for power, to me the “opera” in our beloved sub-genre screams out for vastness in the scope of the story, and depth in the settings in which it lives. When I read space opera, I want to be swept away, into something big and exciting. And it is worldbuilding that allows that to happen.
When I made the leap from reader to writer, I took these thoughts and preferences with me. All my books have extensive settings, and their cultures, customs, and histories are central to driving the plotlines and forming the characters’ personalities and beliefs.
In my new Far Stars trilogy, for example, the main storyline follows Arkarin Blackhawk, a smuggler and mercenary with a mysterious past, as he and his crew are drawn deeply into a desperate struggle against the dark regime that rules the rest of humanity. I put a lot of thought and effort into developing Blackhawk as a character, but that’s not where I started.
When I sat down to write the Far Stars books, my initial idea was the setting itself, a small group of planets existing on the other side of a vast, hard to cross region of space known as the Void…and the only place in all the galaxy where people lived free of the tyranny of a brutal empire. A small group of frontier worlds, independent and often fighting against each other, I imagined most of the people lived their lives afraid of the empire in theory, but were in practice carelessly unconcerned about the danger of imperial aggression. My characters would be the ones who recognized the danger, who formed the frontline of resistance to imperial encroachment…in every way, products of their surrounding and situation.
I knew the Far Stars had to feel like a real place, one full of worlds that would be the stages on which I would tell the story. And those planets had to seem genuine-they had to have their own histories, cultures, religions, technology levels, conflicts. They needed prejudices too, and rivalries. Even hatreds. All the things that drive nations and societies.
The empire, the dark shadow looming over the Far Stars, had to be developed as well. I didn’t want some undefined evil, an empire I said was dark, but one that had no substance, that stirred no real emotion. No, I wanted something that allowed readers to understand the fear, to fully grasp the horrors the heroes of the trilogy are facing.
Only then, once I had a detailed image of the Far Stars in my mind, did I begin to imagine the characters. Blackhawk, of course, the adventurer with a dark secret I would slowly reveal to the reader, and his band of loyal followers. Marshal Lucerne, the noble warrior struggling to unite the Far Stars into an entity capable of resisting the encroachment of empire…and a tragic character consumed with duty and ready to sacrifice everything dear to him to save the Far Stars. Kergen Vos, the ambitious imperial operative determined to bring the frontier sector once and for all under the yoke of the empire. I knew my readers needed to understand this universe to truly comprehend the men and women at the center of the story and to find them truly compelling.
We don’t need to look past the massive fictional universes that have built up around such storied franchises as Star Trek and Star Wars to see the importance of richly-developed backstory, and how the histories created for these works support, and sometimes drive, the plotlines of the individual stories within.
My own reading list has continued to be dominated over the years by books set in vast universes, stories like David Weber’s vast Honor Harrington series (which has become so well-developed it’s spawned its own name, Honorverse), David Drake’s ongoing Lieutenant Leary books, and Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series.
Worldbuilding will always be, in many ways, the beating heart of space opera, and I have no doubt we will see immense and fascinating new universes unfold in the years to come, imaginings that are now merely the sparks of ideas in the heads of tomorrow’s writers.
Shadow of Empire
Far Stars 1
Harper Voyager, November 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
The first installment in the Far Star series, a swashbuckling space saga that introduces the daring pirate Blackhawk and the loyal crew of the Wolf’s Claw, from the author of the bestselling Crimson Worlds saga.
Smuggler and mercenary Arkarin Blackhawk and the crew of the ship Wolf’s Claw are freelance adventurers who live on the fringe of human society in the Far Stars. A veteran fighter as deadly with a blade as he is with a gun, Blackhawk is a man haunted by a dark past. Even his cynicism cannot banish the guilt and pain that threaten his sanity.
Sent to rescue the kidnapped daughter of his longtime friend Marshal Augustin Lucerne, Blackhawk and his crew find themselves drawn into one deadly fight after another. When the Wolf’s Claw is damaged, they are forced to land on a remote planet subsumed by civil war. Pulled unwittingly into the conflict, they uncover disturbing information about secret imperial involvement that could upset the plans of Lucerne.
For the Marshal is determined to forge a Far Stars Confederation powerful enough to eliminate all imperial influence and threats in the sector. He needs a skilled warrior like Blackhawk on his side, but the mercenary, plagued by dark memories from the past, refuses to join the cause. All too soon, though, he and his crew will have to take a stand.
Enemy in the Dark
Far Stars 2
Harper Voyager, December 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
The second book in the Far Star series follows Blackhawk and the crew of the Wolf’s Claw as they are gradually (and unwillingly) drawn more deeply into Marshal Lucerne’s campaign to form a united power bloc in the Far Stars to resist imperial encroachment.
Successfully completing their mission to rescue Marshal Augustin Lucerne’s daughter, Astra, the crew of the Wolf’s Claw are enjoying some well-deserved rest—all, that is, except Blackhawk. The space gun for hire cannot escape Lucerne’s relentless pleas for help against growing imperial control in the Far Stars. While Blackhawk deeply respects his friend, he fears that the power Lucerne offers will lead him back to his old dark ways.
His resistance crumbles, however, when Lucerne presents evidence that the imperial governor has been manipulating the conflicts in the Far Stars. Convinced of the deadly danger of imperial domination, Blackhawk and his crew board the Wolf’s Claw once more and set out to gather intelligence on the Empire’s movements—the proof Lucerne needs to unite the fractured and feuding worlds of the Far Stars into single power bloc capable of resisting imperial aggression. But deep in the sparsely populated territory of the Far Stars, he discovers that the imperial governor’s machinations are far reaching—and threaten the independence of every world this side of the Void.
A man seemingly running from himself, Blackhawk is beginning to realize he can no longer remain a prisoner to his own past while the future of the Far Stars is in jeopardy.
Far Stars 3
Harper Voyager, January 19, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 464 pages
The Far Stars stands on the edge of a precipice. The forces of Governor Vos have surged forth, conquering worlds and imposing the emperor’s brutal rule over millions. Only one thing stands in the way of total victory: Marshal Augustin Lucerne’s newly created confederation. Vos has a simple plan: assassinate the marshal and manipulate his generals to fight over his legacy, destroying one another in the process.
But another threat lurks—Arkarin Blackhawk. The smuggler and mercenary has been the marshal’s ally, working in the shadows and unraveling Vos’s plans. The governor can only hope the mysterious adventurer continues to resist a formal position with the confederation.
Or he can have Blackhawk assassinated, too.
Because if Blackhawk succeeds Lucerne, the black-and-gold imperial flags will be stained red with blood. Blackhawk’s past is a dark and dangerous one, and if he is put at the helm of the confederation armies, the brutal imperial general he once was may rise again.
The Far Stars is facing the final battle. The imperials seem unstoppable. But if Blackhawk somehow survives—and can come to grips with the horror deep within him—he just might be able to save the Far Stars from the iron hand of the empire.
JAY ALLAN is a former investor and the author of the Crimson Worlds series. When not writing, he enjoys traveling, running, hiking and reading. He loves hearing from readers and always answers e-mails. He currently lives in New York City.