So for the last three and a half years I've been working on a secret project that no one has been allowed to know about - and despite writing hundreds of thousands of words of fiction and background material, it's only now that we're finally in a position to reveal it - Maelstrom's Edge.
I was approached back in the summer of 2011 to join as one of the lead writers in a small team working on a new science fiction miniatures game. The idea was to create a completely new and unique far future universe as a setting for a new tabletop wargame with high quality plastic models.
We wanted to do this right - wargaming is a very competitive business and there are lots of other companies out there. We wanted to take the time to work in secret on something that felt unique and innovative across all parts of the game - that everything in the models, art design, game rules and the background would be new and exciting.
The setting was key. We wanted a universe that had the broad appeal and wow factor of great space opera, but with a nod to the trend towards the grittier, more mature themes that modern science fiction has embraced in recent years - closer to the darker 2003 remake of Battlestar Galactica rather than the cheesier original version. We wanted the Maelstrom's Edge universe to be morally complex and populated with flawed characters – the technology may have changed, but mankind still faces the same problems it always has.
We also wanted to keep to a fairly hard science fiction feel - including awe-inspiring elements like aliens, powerful new weapons and faster-than-light travel, but trying to make any such invention feeling grounded in enough worldbuilding logic to feel realistic within our setting. Stephen and I having a background in science helped with designing things like the cybel network to be internally consistent and believable.
With the initial design goal to create a miniatures game where players would battle a number of different factions against each other, we wanted to create a setting where each of these factions would have a legitimate reason for conflict. There is no absolute good or evil faction in Maelstrom’s Edge – each organisation has its own understandable motives for the way it acts. We have also made sure to include conflict and friction within each organisation, to allow conflict both between different factions and between splinter groups of each.
The result was the universe of Maelstrom's Edge, a far future science fiction setting where a golden age of exploration and innovation has been ripped apart and humanity is on the very edge of annihilation. The Maelstrom, a gigantic apocalyptic explosion of dark energy, is rapidly expanding out from the heart of the galaxy, destroying everything it touches. As worlds and stars are obliterated from existence, those who have the means flee towards deep space, while those left behind fight for the chance to escape - and for the resources in the worlds under threat.
For millennia before this catastrophe, humanity spread across the galaxy at sub-light speed, painstakingly eking out an existence in space and on barely habitable worlds. Then the cybel network was discovered. A gossamer web of dark energy threads stretching between every star, the cybel network allowed humanity to colonise thousands of worlds across the galaxy's spiral arm. All the progress that the cybel network brought, the Maelstrom took away. The Maelstrom erupted from the centre of humanity's worlds a millennium ago, racing down the cybel tunnels, splitting them apart and spilling their destructive energy out into real space.
The Edge is a stormfront, light years wide, where real space meets the Maelstrom’s tide of roiling, coruscating energy. The apocalypse is coming inexorably to every planet on the Edge. In the decades leading up the Maelstrom's arrival, every person is forced to make a choice about how they want to live the remainder of their existence. Unite or divide, give or take, love or hate. Those living on the edge are not bulletproof or elite. They are ordinary people caught up in a bewildering cataclysm, their only goal to survive as best they can.
The design of both the Maelstrom’s advance and the relative difficulty of interstellar travel means that it is intentionally impossible for everyone to escape its destructive clutches. Worlds do not have the time or resources to evacuate everyone before they are destroyed. This forces the characters in our universe to confront cold, hard choices about what they do in the face of this implacable enemy – do they run, or try to save as many others as they can? Do they fight for the last remaining ships, or loot the helpless? By forcing humanity into such a difficult position, it encourages nuanced, morally grey decisions and characters, which is just what I want as a writer to encourage me to think of unique situations for stories - and also for scenarios for the game itself. As someone who likes to play miniatures games, I always found it irritating when I turned up to play a game with the same army as my opponent - in most settings, this doesn't make sense. But the stress of the impending destruction the Maelstrom brings means that organisations and governments come apart under the stress - and civil wars and internal strife are all possible as armies from the different factions battle to save themselves.
As part of that work, as well as countless pages of background design for the universe and game design, my fellow lead writer Stephen Gaskell and I have written a lot of fiction content - a bunch of short stories, as well as two novels set on the world of Zycanthus - Faith and Sacrifice.
These two books form a story that tells of two of the factions battling it out for control of Zycanthus, a planet a few tens of lightyears from the Maelstrom's Edge. The corporate Epirian Foundation owners of the world are trying to extract what resources they can in the last few decades before Zycanthus is destroyed by the Maelstrom. The secretive religious extremists of the Karist Enclave however, have identified Zycanthus as a key world for conversion to their beliefs - that the Maelstrom is not the end of everything, but the beginning of a new age for mankind - that if they prepare their souls for the Maelstrom's embrace, they will ascend to a new plane of existence.
In the first novel, Faith, Epirian Sheriff Kyle Wynn is ambushed in the desert by a Karist landing party and left for dead. He begins to uncover just how deep and wide the Karist infiltration of Zycanthus goes - and how dangerous it might be. Meanwhile Karist priestess Zafah has travelled to the world to try and teach people of the salvation that Ascension can bring - but the reaction of the Epirian security forces to her missionary work forces her to consider more direct methods of teaching the people the Karist Way. With both sides adamant that their way is best, the stakes are raised for a cataclysmic battle for control of the Zycanthus star system in the second book, Sacrifice.
I'm pleased to say that both books are finished and have been sent to the printers. We'll be doing a short print run of hard copies for the game's launch at the wargaming convention Salute in London on April 25th, and they are also available as ebooks on Amazon Kindle right now!.
Very exciting to finally be able to share some details with everybody and looking forward to seeing the reactions to something we've been working so hard on for so long!