Tony is an Active Member of the SFWA and an Associate Member of the HWA. His novel INHERIT THE STARS will be published by Penguin Random House in November 2015. Tony possesses a keen interest in progressive thinking, wine, history, Transhumanism, and planetary exploration. Happily married, he resides in rural southwest Virginia with a wonderful view of New River. Find out more at www.tonypeak.net.
by Tony Peak
I once wrote a science fiction story for my fifth grade spelling class. It featured a cadre of elite, well-equipped soldiers tasked to put down a robot rebellion. I can’t recall the story’s title, and I really wish I still had the hand-written, two-page manuscript in my possession, but one thing always stuck with me: what I had named the elite soldiers. I’d dubbed them ‘Aldaakian Shock Troopers’; no doubt influenced by the Avalon Hill board game, ‘Starship Troopers,’ that I had based on Robert A. Heinlein’s quintessential SF novel. These Shock Troopers were dressed in black, spacesuit-like armor, and used rifles that fired green laser blasts.
This is the earliest reference I can remember to my upcoming novel, Inherit the Stars, due out this November from Penguin Random House. I have no idea why that detail stuck with me for so long. I’m not a believer in fate or determinism, but it’s amazing that my ten-year old self already knew what I wanted to do with my life.
In my novel, the Aldaakians are an albino, humanoid race that are militaristic, masters of cryogenics, and birthed in a eugenically strict caste system. They aren’t the main players in the plot, but they came first in my imagination. They are the beginning of a circle that is almost complete.
My love of science fiction goes back to the first time I saw the original Star Wars. I was five, and it was a televised broadcast. Ever since, the wonders of space, and our future in it, have captivated me. There have been phases in my life where I became focused on other things, but science fiction was always there, ready to take me on yet another awesome journey.
But most of the characters, worlds, and races I present in Inherit the Stars actually come from a role-playing game I tried to create in 1997-98. The xenomorphic Sarrhdtuu, the godlike Vim, the beautiful, furred Ascali—they all originated from that work. I was heavily into Dungeons & Dragons at the time, and like many others, my first attempts at world building were rooted in fantasy. But as I added more material to my little RPG, it took on science fiction aspects. I wanted it to be grander in scope, and feature worlds strewn across a stellar expanse, populated by a variety of intelligent species.
My first love, science fiction, refused to be denied. It showed itself no matter what I tried to create. And even when I took writing seriously in 2008, science fiction forced its way through the historical fiction I wanted to write. It was melded forever into my subconscious. Tales of Rome’s collapse, King Arthur defending the Saxon Shore, or the Sea Peoples raiding the Aegean? Nope. Starships and alien worlds came to the fore.
I was afraid to write SF at first. When you’ve read the masterworks of the genre, it’s daunting to think you can add something new. And though I love science, I’m not a physicist, and I feared getting a technical detail wrong. But, I always wanted to write a space opera. My own Star Wars meets Dune meets 2001 meets whatever the hell I could toss in there that worked.
When I wrote the original draft for Inherit the Stars in February 2011, it was my fourth novel. None of the others had gotten published yet, but that didn’t dim my enthusiasm. I was unemployed at the time, and wrote 97,000 words in thirteen days. Though my brain would be fried at the end of each day, I loved the experience.
My three previous novels had featured a male protagonist, but I wanted a change. So at the outset, I made the main character a female—Kivita Vondir.
A young, redheaded space salvager, Kivita could hold her own in any situation. She explored planets and derelicts more out of curiosity than to make a profit. She wanted to know, and to see, what dwelled out there in the dark reaches between the stars. Deep down she knew, that in doing so, she was also exploring her own heart.
Though I had notes beforehand, it wasn’t until I leapt into that first draft that all of the elements came together. My Aldaakian Shock Troopers, my Sarrhdtuu, my love of adventure, mystery, and epiphany, and my hopes and fears for humanity’s destiny out there in the limitless void. The wide-eyed five year-old boy, the curious ten year-old stargazer, the ambitious twenty-year-old dreamer—I was all of them, and more, when I wrote the novel.
Years passed. I sold a few short stories, wrote four more novels, including a sequel to Inherit the Stars, and wondered if any of it would ever reach an editor’s desk. I’d get depressed, frustrated, indifferent—all the moods a writer suffers. But I never gave up. It seemed masochistic at times, staying up late hours, revising a novel for the upteenth time, reading the rejections in my inbox. I was still riding the edge of that circle, but barely—like a lifeless asteroid in an erratic orbit around a dying star.
Then I spotted a Penguin editor’s manuscript request on Twitter, seeking space operas. What the hell, I sent it. Months passed. I assumed Penguin wasn’t interested, and moved on.
Then I got an email expressing interest. A few weeks later, I was offered a contract. I was still completing my circle. Still on course.
Now, when Inherit the Stars finally hits the shelves, the circle will only be complete when you, the reader, picks up a copy and reads it. This lifelong curve that my imagination has traveled doesn’t end just because my book gets published. It continues when you, too, are transported along with Kivita to worlds covered in skyscraper-sized geodes, through vicious battles with tentacled pirates, and across starry vistas where the light within us illuminates the darkness without.
But that’s only the first circle; the initial orbit. My imagination has many other circles to travel, many other stories to discover. I hope you’ll travel them with me.