Today we welcome Kelly Jensen to the blog with a guest post on writing her new LGBT novel, To See the Sun, out now from Riptide Publishing.
I might not have been the only person in the audience for Interstellar watching the incoming tidal wave on Miller’s Planet and thinking—how could we make this place work? But I was probably one of a very small handful. Who wants to live in on a planet where not only is time severely dilated—to the point where a year on the surface would mean all of your friends in orbit are dead—but there is no land? There’s a surface, and sometimes it’s only ankle deep. Then the wave comes, taller than the tallest buildings in New York City, destroying everything in its perpetual journey around the globe.
Then there’s Gargantua, the black hole hovering just off the horizon.
In the film, the crew of the Endurance are quick to dismiss Miller’s Planet—and why not? They have a couple of alternatives, and they really don’t have the time to figure out how to live there. I’m not sure anyone could actually live there. But the challenge of it, the puzzle, is one of my favourite aspects of writing science fiction.
My books are all love stories, whether set in the not so distant future, or on a snowy road in upstate New York. So my characters always get a happy ending, meaning my settings can’t be too bleak. They have to be livable. Sort of. But I have had a lot of fun pushing that line back and forth—and considering the wealth of fiction featuring barely habitable planets, I’m not alone in this pursuit.
In Lonely Shore, the second book of the Chaos Station series (co-written with Jenn Burke), the crew of the Chaos visits a darling little planet called Risus. It’s pretty much a backwater—boasting a colonist population that is objectively horrified by the relationship between our heroes, Felix and Zed. They’re none too fond of our alien pilot, either. It’s not the colonists that pose the greatest threat, though. Something even more unfriendly lurks in the forests—something the colonists keep at bay with large bonfires and perimeter fences. Oh, and apparently this something is attracted to the sound of weapons fire, so the crew was asked to surrender their weapons upon arrival. So there is our crew, out there in the forest, in the dark, with no weapons, looking for a way off the planet. They find an abandoned shuttle port with a handful of mostly trashed craft. No fence. And the creature that has been stalking them through the forest is getting closer. Once they fire up an engine, it’s going to get very close indeed.
Risus isn’t exactly pleasant but it is at least habitable. Not so much the planet in Phase Shift, the last book in the series. I called it Paradise. As an aside, Jenn let me do most of the planet shaping and naming. She knows how much I enjoy it—and as a fellow author, understands that every challenge we place before our crew only makes them stronger!
So, Paradise. It’s based loosely on Crematoria from the The Chronicles of Riddick and we snuck a quick reference to the movie into the book:
After checking the outside temperature again—forty-eight Celsius now—Flick made a noise of disgust and disengaged his bracelet. “You ever see that holo, the one with the prison planet that had virtually no atmosphere, so when the sun rose, it roasted the surface? If you weren’t in the shade, you were sausage.”
Zed turned to look at him. “No, I did not. But thanks for that thought. That’s exactly what I needed.”
“The story was pretty good.”
“What? I’m just saying…”
“If I dream about roasted people during my nap, Felix, I’m not going to be happy.”
“Oh, we’re napping?”
Zed leaned more heavily against Flick. “Yeah. We’re napping.”
“Better tuck your hands and feet in closer so the sun doesn’t get them, then.” Zed could hear the smile in Flick’s voice.
“You are such an asshole.”
Unlike Crematoria, where temperatures range from -295F on the night side to +705F on the day side, Paradise is, well, Paradise. The colonists we planted there don’t agree, though. They live in the valleys during winter, and caves tunneled below the hot and dusty plateau during the summer, where temperatures top out at a more reasonable +150 or so. Fahrenheit.
Then there are the tentacled beasties living in the rocks.
For my newest release, To See the Sun, I didn’t start out with a plan to make Alkirak inhospitable. I wanted a setting that was challenging, and one that would become a part of the story. To me, one of the tenets of writing science fiction (or fantasy) is creating worlds that are necessary to the plot. Otherwise, why not use a country road in upstate New York?
I couldn’t have set this story on our Earth—we’re not quite evolved enough to have a mail-order spouse business for same sex couples yet. Also, we’re not at the ass end of the galaxy with only a small population of crusty miners making up the dating pool. We have Tinder or whatever it is the kids are using these days. So I created a planet that mimicked, somewhat, a pioneering town, giving the book a bit of Western feel. Then I made the planet hot and mostly airless. And then I decided that people could only live in the vast crevices running from pole to pole across the surface, hence the name “Alkirak” which is Arabic for “Crack.”
A couple of kilometers down, there’s a thin layer of atmosphere just dense enough to support life. But go too deep and the poisonous mists that well up from the planet’s core will dissolve your skin, from the inside out. Not content with a mostly airless surface and poisonous depths, I then decided that regular storms would scoop the mists out of the deep crevasses and spread them across the towns and farms.
Believe it or not, To See the Sun is the most romantic book I’ve ever written. It’s not all clutching each other beneath the threat of roasting and/or dissolving, however. The book is about competing against nature, the human kind and the poisonous mist kind, and learning to live in balance with both—and that’s kind of the point.
On the surface of it, the allure of harsh environments is pretty simple. They can stand as a hyperbolic metaphor for the challenge of simply being: life is tough, and so we have to be tougher. And there is little more satisfying than a story of overcoming the odds. When we succeed, despite everything. For me, that’s usually when my characters get their happy ever after.
Then there’s the part where we leave the theater, or close a book after the final page, and reenter our world, the one that’s mostly comfortable, with no tentacled beasties living in cracks in the sidewalk and a fairly charitable sun floating overhead. And that should make us just a little more than grateful to live where we do, even with the crazy weather and threat of environmental collapse. Where not all of us are allowed to love whomever we please. Maybe it makes us try a little harder to care for this most habitable of planets.
About the book
Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies—what chance does love have?
Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion—someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.
Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything—even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.
Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.
About the Author
If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.
Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.
Her latest release is To See the Sun, a queer SFF Romance featuring a planet on the edge of the galaxy and two men looking for a place to finally call home.