I am currently working on a short story called “A Hill Of Stars”.
I started it in response to a request for “Sword & Planet” fiction, which is a genre that I didn’t know by name but, once it was explained to me, tickles my fancy. Essentially it’s using swashbuckling fantasy tropes in a nominatively science fiction setting. Edger Rice Burrough’s Mars novels are a prime example, but I can think of others, for example Jo Clayton’s sadly overlooked Skeen’s Leap and Moongather books.
I decided to set my story in the world of H. P. Lovecraft’s pre-human Earth of the Great Old Ones–the world he references directly in At The Mountains Of Madness and “The Shadow Out Of Time” and hints at in much of his other work. (The protagonist of “Dreams In The Witch House”, for example, has a vivid dream in which he sees a city of the Old Ones at its height.)
So this story is set on Earth around sixty-million years ago, with an alien race that has colonized the world and is dying off, leaving their cities and machines and alien pets behind. The land mass is one huge continent, Pangaea-style, and the oceans are fresh water. The climate is warmer than is current, with the temperate zone extending into the Antarctic circle. There are dinosaurs and pre-historic mammals in addition to the alien creatures brought by the Great Old Ones.
Now, naturally I have to do some retrofitting to make the setting my own. I have added humans into the mix–they were created by forced rapid evolution of primate like mammals in order to serve as intelligent servants for the Old Ones.
I did all this background world-building as an intellectual exercise–I just mashed up John Carter and Randolph Carter to see what I could build with the pieces.
Once I started writing the story (and I’m about 5,000 words into it now) I discovered that it’s fun.
Now, I loved writing The Book Of Lost Doors novels, and there are some fun moments… although they get rarer as the series progresses. I did some very good work on those books, and I think that I touched people. But the series started out fairly dark and grew bleaker as it went on. In fact for the last line of Gingerbread Wolves I quote what I believe to be the most depressing line of the most depressing poem ever written.
I think it fits, and I like ending on that note–it brings the series to an organic close. But it’s not exactly a Hallmark feel-good moment, you know?
Now I have Kuush Vorbus, former slave of the Great Old Ones turned swashbuckling adventure hero and Talia sebVarner, Deep One pirate, and they are held captive by an evil tribe of raptor-riders that plans on feeding them to a shoggoth.
I mean, forget the Phillip Dick and Thomas Pynchon homages and let’s go full-tilt 1970’s drive-in schlock here.
Now I do need to wrap up this story in another 2,500 words or so, but I think I can do that. And this story, as I said, is already earmarked for submission. When I’m done with it, though, I may use these characters in a full novel. Yes, I do have Tsarina on the fire, and I’ll get back to that eventually, but it might be nice to work on something that isn’t quite so… heavy.
Okay, time to buckle my swash and figure out how Kuush is going to feed the bad guy to his own indescribable horror.