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Origin story

In my introductory passage on my homepage (quoted in my debut post yesterday), I wrote the following:

I often made up Trek-universe stories set a century after Kirk’s adventures (an idea years ahead of its time), but soon shifted to creating my own original universe.

How did this happen?  I actually owe it all to a set of building blocks I got when I was 11 years old.  Called “Star City,” these were Lego-ish bricks made of a slightly translucent grey-white plastic (although with only two large square connectors rather than eight round pips), along with clear, green-tinged cylindrical segments and colorless dome segments.  You could build a tower out of the cylinders and put a dome atop it, or you could put two dome segments base-to-base and make a “Saturn” shape.  Oddly, I can’t find any online info about them.  I still have them; let’s see if I can embed the crude photos I’ve just taken of the box:

Star City box - front

Star City box - side

Although the blocks in the box photos are more transparent than the ones inside.

Anyway, I would build futuristic cities with these blocks and make up stories about their inhabitants.  As stated, I originally pretended they were in the 24th-century Star Trek universe.  One of the cities I built was supposed to be in orbit of Beta Lyrae, a contact binary that I read about in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and that I thought was really cool-looking.  I think I’d initially forgotten that it was also the setting of the animated Trek episode “The Slaver Weapon” (adapted by Larry Niven from his Known Space novella “The Soft Weapon”).  Maybe that’s why I decided to set it in Trek’s future — to give the Federation time to expand out to Beta Lyrae and set up a colony there?  I don’t remember.

Anyway, I soon began to find the Trek setting restrictive to my creativity.  I was coming up with ideas and then belatedly noticing that they clashed with ideas in Trek.  So I just forgot about the Trek backstory and kept on imagining the stuff I’d been imagining anyway.

Eventually, as I learned more about science, I caught on that humanoid aliens were pretty unlikely.  So I retconned the history of this universe I was building.  First, I came up with this whole backstory to explain why the humanoid aliens were actually lost human colonies — humanity had expanded into space, a computer on Earth had gained sentience and tried to wipe us out (this was several years before The Terminator, by the way), we’d survived but been cut off from our colonies, and they’d developed into separate civilizations that might as well be alien.  And yet I still had all this happening in just 400 years.

But then I started to get interested in the possibilities of exotic, nonhumanoid aliens.  I began doing various drawings, designing them.  I might have been influenced by Wayne Barlowe’s classic 1979 book Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.  I don’t remember the timing of when I read that versus when I began designing nonhumanoid aliens.  Anyway, I decided to drop the whole computer-war backstory and replace the human-descended “aliens” with nonhumanoids, even though I kept some of the names.  (My main bad-guy aliens were called Orions and were initially humanoid, but they had no connection to the Orions of Star Trek.  Somehow I just never noticed that ST already had Orions, or never made the connection.)

Now, at this point, this was all just daydreaming, fantasies I made up for my own enjoyment (and yes, some of them were fantasies in the sense you’d expect from a boy just entering adolescence).  But then I had this one Star City I’d built that was on a world populated by aliens I made from pipe cleaners of various colors.   (You know what those are, right?  Lengths of flexible wire covered in fluffy bristles, used for cleaning tobacco pipes?  My father was still a smoker at the time.)  I came up with a whole ongoing saga about the colonists in the city and their interactions with the aliens, some of whom were intelligent but all of whom shared a sort of symbiotic existence.  One day when I was 13, I told myself a whole story from beginning to end, not playing with the city and pipe-cleaner aliens, but just lying on the bed and thinking about them.  It was then that I realized that what I’d been doing for the past couple of years had been writing.  Well, without the actual putting words on paper part, but I was constructing stories.  It was then that I realized that was where my talents and interests lay.

Over the years that followed, I continued to develop that world of my daydreams, and it became what I referred to yesterday as my Default-verse.  But it went through many changes as I introduced new species, reworked the history, and so on.  Initially it was very close to its Trekkish roots in a lot of ways.  I was designing starships as well as aliens, and they tended to be very Starfleet-like.  My main starship was a keyhole-shaped craft with a Starfleet-style saucer and a pair of red delta wings stretching out behind it, somewhat like the prototype Ken Adam/Ralph McQuarrie redesign for the Enterprise in the early development of the first ST movie, but flatter and without the nacelles.  I did various increasingly elaborate designs for that ship over the years, eventually trying to move away from the Trek resemblance and replacing the saucer with a low half-dome (which ironically took it in a similar direction to Andy Probert’s later Enterprise-D design).  And yes, I increasingly tried to play down the Trek resemblances in other ways as well.  The Orions, which had mutated into a really scary form influenced by Giger’s Alien and the Garthrim from The Dark Crystal, had their name changed, but they remained the Big Bads of my universe for quite a while.  I had this whole epic Orion War novel planned, which eventually grew into a duology with a third volume about the reconstruction afterward, but then I discovered I was more interested in the reconstruction than the war, and ultimately decided I really didn’t want to write a war story, period.  Too depressing.  And instead of focusing mainly on a starship crew exploring the galaxy, I’ve ended up doing a much more eclectic range of stuff, particularly since my ideas of how interstellar exploration should be done have evolved into something pretty different from the Trek model.

So even though the Default-verse is the descendant of those early daydreams, its current form bears hardly any resemblance to what I started with — except that I still have a warp-era interstellar civilization being established in the 24th century, and a story I recently put on the market revolves around a couple of characters who originated in those early teenage imaginings, though they’ve both changed dramatically since then.  And I still try to base my fiction on very Trekkish values: optimism about the future, optimism about technology and intelligence as solutions for problems rather than just causes of them; the embrace of diversity; and so on.

Becoming a Trek novelist has pretty much brought me full circle.  Much of my Trek fiction incorporates ideas I developed for my original SF.  The Titan series with its richly diverse multispecies crew reflects the plans I had for the main starship in the Default-verse (yes, the keyhole-shaped one), and two of the characters I created for Titan, Torvig and Chaka, were originally going to be members of that starship’s crew.  My second Titan novel, Over a Torrent Sea, is based in part on an unsold spec novel I wrote over a decade ago.  Ironically, what started out as Trek and then moved further and further away from it has ended up becoming a part of it.

  1. Arthropod of the psychologically unstable variety
    November 30, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    So, you didn’t get bitten by a radioactive author? How disappointing….

    No, seriously, this was very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • Eli Berg-Maas
      March 25, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      You’re thinking of Keith R. A. DeCandido.

  1. December 4, 2009 at 12:34 pm

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