This guest post is by Tim Waggoner, who contributed a story to the upcoming Unioverse anthology: Stories of the Reconvergence, available on August 15.
I was thrilled to get an opportunity to contribute a story to Unioverse: Tales of the Reconvergence, and while I’d written many stories and novels for media properties before, I knew right away that the Unioverse was special. A galaxies-spanning system of instantaneous interstellar travel was awesome enough, but travelers’ ability to send their consciousness into a new body designed specifically for the planet they’re going to? The possibilities for stories were endless!
I quickly realized, though, that a time-tested bit of writer’s wisdom applied here: too much freedom isn’t always a good thing. If an anthology’s theme is narrow enough – say, pirate ghost stories centered on revenge – you’ve got only a few elements to work with. First you ask yourself what the most common ideas for pirate-ghost-revenge stories are, and then you eliminate them from your potential choices because you know other writers are going to go for the obvious concepts. You ask yourself if there’s any way to reverse a common pirate-ghost-revenge story trope. A common trope is the ghost of a pirate guards his or her hidden treasure and protects it from anyone who would steal it. So you decide to write a story about a pirate ghost desperate to give away his or her treasure, but who can’t find anyone to take it. (Maybethat’s the curse on the treasure.) You might contemplate all the pirate stories you’ve read or watched throughout your life to see if you can find some kind of personal connection that you can draw on to write your contribution to the anthology. Maybe you dressed up as a pirate for one Halloween when you were young, and while you were out trick-or-treating, several older kids stole your bag of candy. If you can find a personal connection to the anthology’s theme, you’ll be able to invest your story with a strong emotional core. And to make your story idea even more unique, you might combine several elements – say, your idea about the pirate wanting to give away his or her treasure, your candy being stolen during Halloween night, maybe a couple other things that occur to you – and viola! You have enough elements to begin drafting what will hopefully be an interesting story with a strong emotional core which isn’t like any other stories that will appear in an anthology.
These are the steps I normally take when I write for a theme anthology, but I couldn’t do any of them for Unioverse: Tales of the Reconvergence. The concept of the setting was so far beyond anything I’d ever experienced that I couldn’t draw on my own life and observations for inspiration, and the setting was so vast that literally almost any kind of story was possible. And it wasn’t like Star Trek where there are well-established galactic denizens – Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians, etc. – to base stories on. Travelers could go to any planet, as long as it was connected to the Hub. And travelers could go for a multitude of reasons.
Like I said earlier, there’s a lot of freedom in this setting, maybe as much freedom as the travelers themselves have.
I brooded over story ideas for weeks, unable to come up with any that I liked. I started wondering if I wouldn’t be able to write a story for the anthology after all, but finally my brain kicked into gear. I looked for an aspect of the setting that other writers most likely wouldn’t explore, and I realized religion might be one of them. We tend to think of highly advanced civilizations as focusing more on science than religion, but with so many different worlds being part of the Hub and so many more planets that travelers can go to, surely religion would play some role in this galactic civilization. So I created the Immaculance, an organization of the Hub who’s tasked with, as I wrote in the story, “monitoring – and when necessary, policing – religious interchanges throughout the galactic coalition.” The Immaculance would give me my own little niche to explore, which I thought would work well in the anthology.
Since travelers get a new body – or skin, as they call it – whenever they jump to a world, they aren’t constrained by environment. They can visit worlds with different atmospheres and gravity, worlds with conditions so hazardous to human life that they couldn’t travel there otherwise. So I
decided the main character in my story – Ruth Guerrero – would go to such a world, just to make things more interesting. I also decided to give agents of the Immaculance embedded nanotech AI’s called Paracletes that could assist them in their missions. (In Christian theology, a paraclete is the Holy Spirit as advocate or counselor.) I gave Ruth’s Paraclete the name Shepherd. This way, Ruth would have a partner on her mission to talk to and bounce ideas off of. My characters needed a mission, so I decided they’d investigate an incident of religious interference on a primitive world by a rogue agent of the Immaculance, and to add an emotional core to the story, I gave Ruth a conflict regarding her own religious beliefs.
And thus was “A Deeper Song” born.
I had a lot of fun writing the story, and I hope readers enjoy it. I really like Ruth and Shepherd, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to create more adventures for them. There’s more than enough work in the Unioverse to keep them busy.