Commuting Between Universes
An author, especially a science fiction and fantasy author, has to have a big imagination—big enough, in fact, to hold an entire universe. Sometimes more than one universe.
We have spent many years developing and expanding Frank Herbert’s extensive Dune universe, telling its story from ten thousand years before the original novel to more than five thousand years after. Right now, we are completing Mentats of Dune, the second in a trilogy set in the formative years of the Dune universe, revealing the origins of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, the Mentats, the Spacing Guild and the Navigators, and the Suk Doctors.
But the Dune universe isn’t the only place we work. After eleven novels based on Frank Herbert’s creation, we developed our own original science fiction universe, a big galactic empire with a colonization initiative, a corrupt government, and a planet so damaged and difficult that only the hardiest of colonists dare to settle there. We called it, appropriately, Hellhole.
While it’s the same type of big, epic story with politics and multiple characters, Hellhole’s universe is different from Dune’s, and when we commute from one to the other, we have to keep the specific details straight. We have to remember what a “communicator” is called in each universe, what weapons are used, what exotic materials, the names of peripheral planets, as well as the mindsets, the cultures, the societies.
Even as we’re finishing the edit of Mentats of Dune, we are about to go on a promotional tour for Hellhole Awakening, and during one of our joint book-signing stops, the two of us will brainstorm the third book in the Hellhole Trilogy.
Just bouncing from the Dune to the Hellhole universe is only one part of the commute. While collaborating, we alternate manuscripts; while one of us works on an edit, the other one tackles an original project. It’s like a constant relay race among universes.
Kevin is currently finishing the first book in his new space opera, The Saga of Shadows, which spans numerous star systems, alien races, and superpowerful enemies; for something completely different, he has also done five humorous horror capers featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Brian, meanwhile, is digging closer to home, dealing with ecological shifts and the politics of a green “utopia” for The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma, and he’s just released a new ecological disaster story, Stormworld, with Bruce Taylor.
Some might say all this takes multiple personalities, or at least a lot of energy and imagination. We are both voracious readers, so we are continually exposed to other science fiction ideas, as well as history, sociology, philosophy, and science. We use all those ingredients to create and build upon our imaginary universes. But it requires great care not to get things mixed up as we move from the desert planet of Arrakis to the volcanically active ruin of Hellhole, from a world of zombie detectives to a universe where aliens are at war, or from any of these to a green utopia.
Still, for us, it’s all in a day’s work, and we commute to our jobs, from one universe to another to another….
From the Tor/Forge March newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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