For this week’s Feature Friday Future we are joined by Neil Herndon, here to tell us about his series the Star Runner Saga.
- Star Runner: Journey Beyond
- Star Runner: Enemy Among The Stars
- Star Runner: Specter of Darkness
- Star Runner: Imperius Initiative
- Star Runner: Clone Diplomacy
- Star Runner: Across the Hole of Time
How did you build this concept, what research did you do?
First was my desire to create a big space opera story. Just a really grand, galaxy-spanning tale. Then, the set of circumstances that would make mine unique in a larger field of similar books. For that, I thought it would be interesting if the main character didn’t know his place in the larger theater. With one, comes another. In the world I created, the elite of the elite fly family-locked, or gene-locked ships. Only someone of a particular bloodline can hold specific roles.
In terms of research, the vast majority went into astronomy. Planets and star systems and finding good locations for various encampments or stations. I also needed to look into current technology levels as well as projected technological levels as to what might be commonplace far into the future. Quantum computing giving way to gravity core computers. I also had to look at how life might evolve on other planets. Species that resemble those on Earth. And, for me, the idea was to have all life in the galaxy mirror what we have. On Earth, mammals and more specifically apes rose to prominence, with us. But on another planet, it would likely be a different species that achieved the same rise. So, there’s reptilian species, avian species, and so on. In addition, I wanted some to come from harsh environments. This meant researching alternative breathing types. One species makes use of methanogenesis, which is converting CO2 into methane. Knowing that there’s billions of planets means extrapolating dozens if not hundreds of possible life functions and species possibilities.
What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?
The newest book in the series, which is slated for release early winter, had a lot of interesting aspects. It dives into the concept of multiple dimensions to the fabric of space, as well as some interesting planetary features. One planet the main character visits has had such a radical shift to its climate that it now has a surface temperature of -174 degrees C. Cold enough for oxygen molecules to actually slow down and become heavier than those around them. Ten degrees colder and it becomes a liquid. Another aspect on that planet is supercell storms. Which had me looking for the biggest storms on Earth, and amplifying them. That also needed the highest number of lightning strikes per minute witnessed on our planet. There’s a place in Venezuela that has storms that produce close to 30 strikes a minute, one every two seconds. I increased that number for the story, but still an impressive and slightly shocking amount.
Can you describe your world or setting?
That’s probably an easier answer, relatively speaking. The setting is the Milky Way galaxy. Just in the future. Humans have now met over a dozen alien species, and have joined a galactic community called the Collective. There’s a central government with multiple branches, but every member still retains its own primary government. A little complicated, but not too terrible. The Collective’s governing body, the Administration handles a lot of regulatory issues that arise from dealing with so many species. Then, we get the fleet, that elite group, called the Hand of Justice. These are the people responsible for defending those billions of lives. Infantry battles happen, but the decisive blows come from the fleet. The Star Runner universe is one that’s easy to recognize but unique given the circumstances. Wandering through market stalls feels normal, until its aliens peddling the wares.
What’s unique about your world?
I want to say the interconnectivity and cooperation between the various species of the galaxy, but that’s not the most unique when it comes to a space opera. Given that, I’d say the most unique aspect is the hierarchy, the divisions within the galactic government. Centralized lawmakers on a committee, a commerce division to track trade, a centralized infantry and ground force. But maybe the biggest unique factor is the fleet. The gene-locked access. The ‘special’ families with abilities average citizens don’t possess. Though, because there’s an entire military division dedicated to them, an individual isn’t exactly special. There’s lots of pilots, lots of gunners, lots of information specialists, lots of engineers. In that, you get people who are special, but not exactly unique. Professional athletes are special, but they’re not exactly unique. Not when there’s dozens of other people in those exact positions.
How do you explain the science or magic in your world?
With the majority of my stories, I try to actually explain the science. For the Star Runner series, I had to look forward. If what we have now is version 1.0, what would version 5.7 look like? Version 10.2? What would a supercomputer be like? How powerful?
There’s artificial intelligence. Faster than light travel. Some stuff, like FTL, gets kind of glossed over in terms of the ‘how’. However, the in-world explanation makes that far more interesting. It’s a technology that works, and so people just accept that. They don’t really ask how it functions so long as they can travel. Though, even the people selling the technology don’t really understand it. All they know it is allows ships to enter a ‘subspace’ realm where the normal laws of physics don’t apply. This means that ships can travel faster than light using semi-conventional means. There are real-world versions of a lot of the technology I use in the series. It’s just a matter of advancement in most cases. For some things, I do keep a bit of mystery, but I also think that falls into reality. We as consumers don’t ask a ton of questions and don’t know how every device works. They do, and often that’s enough. Another reason is how closely we follow the main character, Simon. In the beginning, he’s an artist, and doesn’t really ask those hard questions. Things work, and they make his life easy. He was born into a world with that higher level of technology. It’s commonplace, just like smartphones are today. However, as he explores the galaxy and learns about stuff, we the audience get a better picture as well.
What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech behind it – what is the tech?
That’s a fun one. The Marker Coins. The tech behind them isn’t fully explained in the books, but the purpose is. Each family in the fleet has a Marker. First and foremost, it denotes their status as member. Second, they are gene-locked to a specific bloodline, and will only activate for said bloodline. Third is the identifying aspect. When in contact with that bloodline, each Marker glows a specific color, and presents a message. Using ancient script, the message details their position. Each coin is essentially a nanite supercomputer. It must test and recognize the genetic structure of everyone to touch it, compare that genetic profile to the one encoded within its memory, decide if there’s a match, and if there is display the relevant message. And activate a small glowing sphere within the center, which goes away if the specific person is no longer touching it. And, to top it off, the Markers can, in extreme cases, be used as trackers and one-way communicators. A lot of micro-tech jammed into something the size of a half dollar.
How do you handle the food in your world?
Now that’s where things get tricky. Sort of. Because a lot of the alien species mirror those of Earth species, the diets vary as well. We don’t see a lot of that in the first book, but the galaxy is home to a wide variety of flora. Because of that, you get some crossing of traits, such as one plant that has fruit flesh similar to a mango, but the protective qualities of a cashew. Irritating skin that needs to be handled carefully and peeled before eating what’s underneath. Different planets produce different grains. There’s a lot of extrapolation based on our own world, but that too is fun. Trying to figure out what is possible under varying conditions. A reptilian species on a jungle world, and the possible food available there.
Do you have a recipe that you could share, maybe one that our readers could try, based on the food in your world?
Given that there’s a lot of aliens, not really. The main character enjoys a lot of traditional Earth foods, and more specifically American fare. In one book, he gets a slice of pizza that the cook has to specially prepare. Though, exploring the food of the world might be something to look out for in later stories.
What did you include that you wish was real today?
Oh, the Stream Drive, definitely. That’s the engine that allows ships to achieve FTL travel. Having the ability to cross light-years in minutes would do nothing but benefit us. Being able to reach the stars, to visit our nearest stellar neighbors, man, that would be a sight to see.
What technology or science do you think will most affect the world of tomorrow?
For today’s technology, I think it would be something like fusion power. I do include that as a common power source in the series, and I think it’ll make a big difference. We need a clean source of power, and if fusion reactors fill that role, it will change everything.
Anything else you would like to share?
These have been some great questions. Thinking after my own heart. I really only talked about the Star Runner series, but I too love the science side of science fiction. A number of my books dip towards explaining some of the more ‘hard science’ aspects to the genre. None of them hit the true sciences, but they do explore theories and hypotheses about what could be possible. Time travel, multiverse travel, the multiverse itself, the complexity of AI in a non-futuristic setting That’s definitely one thing that I love doing. Looking at what’s possible, and trying to get there.