J. Scott Coatsworth, an author of diverse speculative fiction, has graciously agreed to share some insight into his writing process. The Shoreless Sky, book three of the science fiction series Liminal Sky, comes out this week. Be careful not to miss the excerpt and giveaway after this article.
Margaret asked me to write up something about my research process regarding this book. I’d like to broaden that out to include the whole trilogy. 🙂
The Liminal Sky series is science fiction, so a lot of what goes into it is necessarily speculative and hard to pin down via research. I did need to do some research to back it up, though, especially the physical aspects of the world. The first thing I had to do was to find an existing asteroid that had about the right mass to serve as the basis for the world I was building. I found a few that would work, and ultimately settled on 43 Ariadne, which had the mass I needed to make the size of the world that I wanted — a gigantic, sealed cylinder named Forever where the population lives on the inside of the tube.
I also had to come up with a way to provide gravity — centrifugal force in this case, from the turning of the world. And I needed light, so I came up with the combination of the spindle — a glowing filament that runs through the center of the world — and glowing plants and pollen that provide additional illumination.
But from there, I had to jump into pure speculation:
What would an AI really be like? How might humans interface with it? Might humans become AIs themselves someday, or at least digital versions of themselves? How might humanity evolve over the coming centuries? Can an AI have a soul?
There’s no roadmap to answer these questions definitively. There are discussions and theories, and books by many other authors, but in the end, each of us as a science fiction writer has to go it alone.
In Liminal Sky, I chose to explore all of these things, but the most challenging of them was religion. I have been agnostic about organized religion and Christianity since I left the church in my late teens. At that time, few churches were openly supportive of the LGBTQ community, and I saw no reason to stay. But three years ago, my husband Mark expressed a desire to go back to church after his mother passed away. So we found a local church called the Table that’s super LGBTQ friendly, and I have been exploring my spirituality ever since.
In fact, the series title, “Liminal Sky,” was inspired by a sermon by Pastor Matt in which he said that John the Baptist was at the liminal edge of society in his time. Matt’s a big word geek like me, and when I looked up the definition of “liminal” basically at the bleeding edge or a point of transition — it seemed perfect for this trilogy.
All of that spurred me to take another look at religion in my writing. This series includes a few characters of faith and some big questions about the relationship between technology and the Divine. Spoiler alert — I don’t answer any of them comprehensively. I think the mystery is sometimes more important than the answer.
So where does that leave things regarding research? Liminal Sky is a strange blend of research, speculation, and wild hybridization of the things that interest me as a human and as a science fiction writer. It’s a heady brew, and one I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Thank you, Scott, for this window into the challenges science fiction authors face as well as how you have drawn inspiration from many parts of your life. The links to purchase all three novels (assuming you’re as intrigued as I was) are below, as is the sign up for the giveaway. To get a taste of the series before you run off to pick up your own copies, right below the sign up is a standalone excerpt from The Shoreless Sea. It offers a glimpse into the reasons for building worlds like Forever and what might drive someone to risk it all out in space.
Humankind is on its way to the stars, a journey that will change it forever. Each of the stories in Liminal Sky explores that future through the lens of a generation ship, where the line between science fiction and fantasy often blurs. At times both pessimistic and very hopeful, Liminal Sky thrusts you into a future few would ever have imagined.
Get Books One and Two on Sale!
The eBook for book one in the Liminal Sky trilogy, “The Stark Divide,” is just 99¢, and book two, “The Rising Tide,” is $1.99 at all vendors:
Scott is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card with this tour, along with three eBook sets of his Oberon Cycle trilogy. For a chance to win, enter via Rafflecopter:
Excerpt from The Shoreless Sea, Part One, Chapter Three
Gordon peered over the edge of the low wall.
Seven figures in long robes stood in a circle in the middle of a wide roof. They were waving their arms in some sort of incantation, circling something he couldn’t see from his vantage point.
A warm breeze blew in off the Atlantic behind him, laden with moisture. Gordon sniffed the air. A storm was brewing. He’d learned the signs from long practice. It would blow in with dirty rain from across the ocean, likely as not.
The fires had receded for the moment. The air was about as clean as it would get.
His friend Xavi had gotten caught out in the open by one of the acid storms once, and it had burned the skin off his back. Lilith had paid for skin regeneration, but Xavi had never been the same.
Gordon made a mental note to be sure he was close to home by the time this new storm arrived.
The shadows cloaked him in darkness.
In the middle of the rooftop, something bright awoke, shining a greenish light between the bodies of the figures as they danced around it, chanting a string of syllables in quick repetition: Ahm nam rim semin sim… Ahm nam rim semin sim…
One of them glanced in his direction, and her eyes shone with the same greenish glow — or was it just a reflection of the strange fire?
The object at the center of the circle seemed to twist and turn, as if it were made of fire itself. Maybe it was fire, some kind of fire he’d never seen before. It reached toward the sky, quickly surpassing the height of the figures who surrounded it.
At the heart of the flames was a skinny human form, writhing as if in terrible pain as the flames above it climbed higher and higher.
The circle of figures stopped as one and raised their right hands toward the column of flame.
The column grew ever upward, wrapping around itself like water, emitting a sound like muffled thunder.
The thing in the middle let out a thin, reedy scream that chilled Gordy to the bone.
“Are you ready?” The man with the glowing eyes pulled down his cowl and held his hand out. He was much older than Gordon, maybe in his fifties, his chiseled face etched with fine lines.
A younger man stepped out of the shadows.
Gordon gasped and covered his mouth, hoping they hadn’t heard him. It was Crick, one of the runners for the Red Badge.
Crick had been kind to him once when he’d been out of favor with Lilith for screwing up a blackware delivery.
“I’m not… I don’t want to go, Bastian.”
Go where? Was there a way out of this dying place? Gordon edged forward to hear better.
“She needs you.” The man the boy had called Bastian loomed over him, exuding power.
“I can’t. I’m too scared. Please don’t make me go. Send someone else instead.”
Quick as a snake, Bastian’s hand whipped out and touched the boy’s forehead. “You will do as you are told and become a willing foot soldier for the intifada. Do you understand?”
The young man’s whole body shook, and his eyes rolled back in his head. Green energy enwreathed him from head to toe, and his mouth opened in a silent scream.
When Crick’s eyes reopened, they were dull.
Gordon shivered. What the hell had the man done to Crick? And who was inside the flames?
“Yes, I’m ready.”
The chanting of the others rose again.
Ahm nam rim semin sim… Ahm nam rim semin sim…
The flame rose as well, extending up into the sky.
There’s a way out. Gordon had to chance it. This opportunity might never come around again. In a few more weeks, the world would loop, and he’d be back where he started all over again.
He got up and gathered himself, ready to jump.
Lightning struck out of the clear sky, hitting the rod atop the superscraper, illuminating the whole scene for a fraction of a second with its overexposed glow.
The wind grew to a howl, drawn by the flame to form a screeching vortex around the building. The column burned brighter and brighter, reaching a fever pitch of intensity.
Bastian gestured to the column. “Go!”
Crick hesitated, just for a second, but it was enough.
Gordon leapt from his hiding place and dove past his friend headfirst into the flames, knocking one of the cloaked figures aside on the way.
Tendrils of green flame surrounded him, and the figure in the flames howled.
Then Gordon himself screamed like a banshee as his body dissolved in the fire.
Scott lives between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.
He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
A Rainbow Award winning author and Science Fiction Writer’s Association (SFWA) member, he runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction reflecting their own reality.
Author Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com
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