Posted on Thursday Aug 24, 2017 at 07:18PM in Fiction
by Tomas L. Martin
When I joined the team designing Maelstrom’s Edge in 2011, it was a small team with a great vision. We wanted to create not just a fun and challenging wargame with a bunch of cool-looking multipart plastic models to go with it, but to also design a new science fiction universe that the game and models would fit into. We wanted to bring a broad and complex world to life, somewhere deep and exciting where the tabletop battles would feel like a natural extension to the stories we told in the background fluff and fiction.
Stephen Gaskell and I signed on as lead writers to write the kind of fun space opera stories we loved reading and watching ourselves. Together with the rest of the design team, we would throw around influences that got us excited. The classic settings of Star Wars, Dune and Alien were all mentioned, as they are for many science fiction creations across the years. But it was the dark, morally grey confrontations of the remade Battlestar Galactica TV show that made the most frequent appearance in those discussions, as well as the wise-cracking, fast-paced action of Firefly.
We loved the idea of a universe where it made sense for there to be the kind of skirmishes and battles that the tabletop game depicted. Somewhere right on the bleeding edge of civilisation, where every day was a fight to survive and get the resources you needed, and where characters would be forced to make hard, morally complex choices, where the readers of our work could see both sides of the coin, and be genuinely torn as to what the right choice would be.
It wasn’t just the science fiction settings and heroes of the screen that inspired us. We also took a lot of inspiration from the great works of science fiction written on the page in the last few decades. Amazing writers like Peter Hamilton, Iain M. Banks, Neal Asher and Alastair Reynolds, who would tell big sweeping stories of interstellar conspiracies and wars, whilst keeping a certain balance between gritty action and scientific realism. Vibrant new writers like Aliette de Bodard, Tobias Buckell, Karin Lowachee and James S.A. Corey, who combined vibrant language and unusual characters with deep and interesting worldbuilding.
Stephen and I took inspiration from many of these great writers when we wrote the first set of short stories to cultivate the universe of Maelstrom’s Edge, stories that later were collected into the short story anthology ‘Tales from the Edge: Emergence’. We kept thinking of the fantastic peers we had in the science fiction realm when we co-wrote what would become the first two Maelstrom’s Edge novels, Faith and Sacrifice. And we continue to think of these influences today as we move forward to design the stories and background of future Maelstrom’s Edge releases.
Which is why it’s an incredible honour that such a large number of the authors we admire greatly agreed to contribute short stories set in the Maelstrom’s Edge anthology, Escalation, which is out now on the Kindle Store. Having the expertise of writers like Nebula and Hugo award winning Aliette de Bodard, or the Philip K. Dick award-nominated Karin Lowachee and Liz Williams, was a huge coup for us and we’re delighted with the stories that they have given us for the anthology. Likewise to have such influential authors as Jeff Carlson and Alastair Reynolds writing in the Maelstrom’s Edge universe has been an incredible pleasure, and we hope that you enjoy their adventures in our creation just as much as we have.
Posted on Friday Aug 04, 2017 at 10:00AM in Fiction
One of the things we were most passionate about when we started working on Maelstrom’s Edge was making a new world. We love games where there are lots of stories and background material to get people excited about the context surrounding the game itself - where are the battles taking place, who is fighting and why is there a conflict between them?
As part of the initial universe design, our lead writers Stephen Gaskell and Tomas L. Martin wrote a number of short stories exploring different parts of the setting. These first insights into the Maelstrom’s Edge universe were released in our first short story collection, ‘Tales from the Edge: Emergence’. In addition, during the runup to the Kickstarter for the Maelstrom’s Edge game, we approached a number of other professional writers to provide their take on our world, including exploring new factions, planets and ideas. Now, a second anthology, ‘Tales from the Edge: Escalation’ has been released, containing a wealth of fantastic new short fiction from award-winning and bestselling authors such as Alastair Reynolds, Aliette de Bodard, Jeff Carlson and Jaine Fenn.
From the beginning we also knew we wanted to launch with a set of stories telling the backstory of our first set, the Battle for Zycanthus, and so following on from those initial short stories, Tomas and Stephen wrote the fiction that would become our first two novels, Faith and Sacrifice, set on the planet of Zycanthus. Zycanthus is a frontier planet a few light years from the Maelstrom’s Edge, halfway through terraforming by the Epirian Foundation and their robots. In the boxed game, there is a conflict between Foundation and the shadowy religious group known as the Karist Enclave, who wish to convert the people of Zycanthus to their beliefs about ascension in the presence of the Maelstrom. To set up the battles that people were going to be playing with their miniatures, our team of writers set out to tell the story of what happened on Zycanthus just before the events portrayed in the box set, when the Karist Enclave first revealed itself and the fighting began.
Initially, the task of telling this story was split into two – Stephen Gaskell wrote a series of stories set from the viewpoint of Zafah, one of the Karist missionaries who lands in secret on Zycanthus, whilst Tomas L. Martin wrote the opposing view of the Epirian Foundation, where a backwater Sheriff called Kyle Wynn uncovers the Enclave’s secret invasion. We wanted to publish the books ourselves to have the freedom of getting it to our players in whatever format worked best, but printing a book of that size is challenging and would have meant needing to charge more than we felt was appropriate, so we made the decision to split the story into two smaller novels, Maelstrom's Edge: Faith and Maelstrom's Edge: Sacrifice. You can find them in the Kindle store right now.
What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Five of the first book, Maelstrom's Edge: Faith, where a pair of Epirian lawmakers encounter the Karist Enclave, including a monstrous alien Angel, for the first time.
Kyle Wynn is an Epirian Sheriff keeping the peace in the small desert town of Venusai on the planet of Zycanthus. When he and his partner Randall get reports of terraforming robots disappearing in the desert, they head out to investigate. When they find a set of footprints and strange markings in the sand, they follow them, never expecting the dangers they are heading into...
Maelstrom's Edge: Faith, Excerpt from Chapter Five
Wynn and Randall tracked the footprints for several hours. They sent the drones a few klicks ahead of the prowler, set them crisscrossing the trail with infrared cameras. The evening had really started to set in now, and only the dull purple glow of the Maelstrom in the east gave any illumination. It cast cruel shadows in its sickly half-light.
“I hate that thing,” Randall said, staring up at the bruised sky. “Just staring down at us like that, so you never forget that it’s coming.”
Wynn wondered if the Maelstrom was all that was coming to Zycanthus. When he had been a prospector, he’d heard stories from worlds close to the Edge. Before their destruction, there had been reports of strange creatures attacking isolated outposts, shadowy coups, riots and public executions. These stories seemed to get more and more intense and confused as the Maelstrom got closer, ending in tales of destruction that Wynn had always written off as a product of the panic that set in as the planets fell apart.
Now he wasn’t so sure. The footprints continued to march across the sand for klicks, rarely breaking out of their steady pattern. Wynn thought he could spot at least five different tracks, but he also occasionally saw the imprint of something larger, but always indistinct, as if the thing making the impression was hardly touching the ground at all.
They were nearly at the location of the third terraforming drudge when the signal of one of the patrol drones winked out.
“Huh?” Randall tapped a monitor, on which the drone’s sensor feeds had been replaced by static. “Where did it go?”
Wynn said nothing. He was watching the other patrol drone’s feed. It was hovering above a ravine. In the rocks at the bottom, he could see five figures, clad in frost-white armour. Heavy carbines dangled from their shoulders, and canisters filled with purple energy were strung around their waists. They were the most dangerous looking people Wynn had ever seen on Zycanthus, and they were staring straight back at him.
“Randall,” he said, “We have company!”
Wynn flicked a switch and sent the video feed to Randall’s station. Hidden in a hollow, the group of armoured figures stood, checking heavy looking weapons. From the looks of it, they were military, but Wynn didn’t recognise their markings, two scythe like points either side of a circle, deep black against their white armour.
“Who the hell?” Randall said. “Those are not a bunch of kids. When exactly did we get invaded?”
“Apparently a few days ago,” Wynn murmured, studying the footage. The soldiers held themselves bolt upright, with the discipline of many years of training. Their armour was wickedly curved at the edges, and their helmets had only one eye, with a trio of small lenses where the other eye should have been. “They can see the probe,” Wynn said. “Why aren’t they shooting it down?”
Something flashed across the drone’s camera, blocking the view to the soldiers. Something big. Wynn took in a dark blue body, with a gaping maw above glassy, alien eyes. Below the tortured face, the structure faded away into an amorphous mass of tendrils. Wynn and Randall had one more look at its face before a lithe limb snaked out and snapped into the drone, and the video feed cut out.
“Call for backup,” Wynn said, staring at the screen. “Call for backup right fucking now."
“I’m trying!” Randall said. “There’s no satellite coverage out here, I can’t get a signal.”
“Well, keep trying!” Wynn said. He grimaced as he imagined what that creature would do to the prowler. The vehicle was tough, but it definitely hadn’t been designed to be alien-proof.
“What the fuck was that thing, Kyle?” Randall reached over and locked the prowler’s door. “What did they bring here?”
“I think they called them Angels,” Wynn said slowly, thinking back to the stories he’d heard out in the black. “I heard some spacers talk once about how they show up as the Maelstrom approaches. How the hell did it get here?”
“Sheriff,” Randall said. “How far away was that drone?”
Wynn looked up. In the gloom of the Maelstrom-tinged sky, he could see in the distance the raised silhouette of a pair of recessed cliffs, below which a ravine fell down to the dry riverbed.
“They’re less than a mile away,” Wynn said.
“Who are these people?” Randall said. “And what the hell do they want with us?”
Wynn killed the engine, and reached for his rifle.
“I don’t know,” he said, turning the headlamps and the lights of the cab off. “But I think if we don’t kill them, we’re not going to make it back to Venusai alive.”
“Wait,” Randall said. “Sheriff, what are you doing? Why aren’t we getting out of here?”
Wynn turned and pushed his deputy against his seat, his face close.
“You saw that thing, Randall. That Angel, or whatever you want to call it. Whatever it was, that thing was flying. Do you really think we’d get far?” Randall fell silent. Wynn reached over the seats and grabbed Randall’s shotgun and ammo pack, and shoved them into his deputy’s arms.
“The course they’ve taken,” Wynn told him. “It leads right back to Venusai.”
“What?” Randall’s eyes bulged wildly. Wynn had seen men taken by panic before during the hairier moments of prospecting new worlds. They couldn’t afford for that to happen today. Not if they wanted to get out of here alive.
“Now,” Wynn said as calmly as he could manage, “I don’t intend for that to happen. I intend to stop them before they can go home to Rania, Maggie and the rest of the town. So I’m going to get out of this truck as quietly as I can, move to a defendable position, and take them down. I can’t do it by myself, so I need you to calm down and move with me. Can you do that?” Randall thrashed about for a second, his eyes darting to every possible escape route. Then his body seemed to relax, and he nodded.
“Ok,” he said. “All right. I’m not going to let whoever they are get to Maggie.”
“Then let’s go before they get here,” Wynn said. He pulled his rifle onto his shoulder and cracked open the driver’s door of the prowler.”
Wynn’s heart sunk. If he couldn’t get Randall to overcome his fear, they’d be sitting ducks in the cab of the prowler. But to his surprise, his deputy wasn't cowering. He was clambering over the back seat into the control centre jabbing a finger at the controls. He passed Wynn a headset with a bud microphone curling down from its strap, and then put one on himself.
“We need all the help we can get,” Randall said. “I’m activating all the remaining drones. Even the unarmed ones can provide a distraction.”
“You can’t stay here,” Wynn insisted, pulling on the headset. “You saw what that thing did to the terraformers, we’d be carved apart.”
“I’ll stay long enough to get all the drones moving,” Randall said, stabbing at the control panel, “and then I’ll take the remote headset and move to higher ground. But it’ll take a few minutes to get them all activated, so you should get somewhere you have good line of sight, and I’ll join you later.”
Wynn hesitated for a moment, then nodded and clambered out of the cab. Randall’s plan was about the best they could hope for, and it would do neither of them any good to waste any more time.
He dropped the last few rungs of the ladder to the ground, and set off on a crouching run towards a series of escarpments leading up to a rocky bluff to the right of the prowler. As he left the vehicle he heard the whine of several drones starting up, and a couple sprung up from the rack and began buzzing about the sky, as he pulled himself up onto a prominent cluster of boulders. Wynn dropped to a prone position and unfolded the stock of his rifle, resting it against the edge of the rock, looking down at the prowler some twenty metres away. His rifle, an Ednotech maglock weapon, had been with him since his prospecting days, although he’d upgraded pretty much every component over the years. He cocked the rifle, pulled the butt in against his shoulder and settled his eye at the scope. Just like old times.
For several minutes, nothing happened, except the occasional flash of movement as a drone left the prowler’s rack. Wynn began to hope that maybe the intruders had not heard the prowler, had assumed the drones were on their own and carried on walking. But then he saw a flash of off-white armour plating at the foot of the valley and all thought of getting out without a fight vanished.
“I see them,” Wynn told Randall through the headset. "At the foot of the valley. Try and keep the drones hidden until I can get a shot off.”
“Gotcha,” Randall replied. “Three more to launch.”
Wynn tapped the microphone in reply, and settled into his position. He watched the soldiers advance, using the cover of the boulders that lined the valley, moving in pairs. There was no hope of Wynn getting all of them in one go, they were too well trained for that. His first shot had to work.
One of the soldiers peeled off the main group and crouched, aiming his weapon at the prowler. It was a larger gun than the others, with a belt that fed canisters of what looked like cybel energy into the magazine. Cybel energy, harvested from the cybel network that linked the stars, was incredibly potent and powered many of the ships and industries of the galaxy, but the stuff was so volatile that only the most foolhardy or brave would use it as a weapon.
The soldier barked a command at the other three and fired a round off. The ball of purple-white energy looped up in the air like a mortar shot, splashing into the ground with a sound like thunder. A crater exploded into being in the sand beside the prowler, rocking the vehicle and spraying it with debris but not harming it. With his range sighted, the soldier shifted position for another shot. He would not get another try. Wynn squeezed the trigger of his rifle, sending a bullet straight down the line of the valley. The shot splintered the soldier’s helmet just below the three lenses that covered the soldier’s eye, spraying most of his head onto the rock behind him. The soldier collapsed to the ground, lifeless.
The others span and aimed their carbines in Wynn’s direction, trying to work out where the shot had come from. Wynn reached forward slowly and capped the lens of his scope, hoping to stay hidden for just a bit longer.
“Ok,” he said quietly into the mic, “They know I’m here. Go crazy with the drones, and then get to cover.”
“You got it,” Randall said. A phalanx of patrol drones rose from the stones, pinging laser shots at the soldiers, sending them diving for cover. While they were distracted, Wynn risked another shot, but the soldier in his sights moved at the last moment and the bullet impacted harmlessly into the sand.
One of the drones found its mark, burning a dark hole in the back of one of the soldiers’ armour, sending him sprawling. The remaining intruders sprayed shots at the drones, sending two robots crashing to earth. Then the soldiers hunkered down out of sight and called out to someone behind them.
A tortured sound filled the air, like the squeal of metal on metal. The desert breeze carried the smell of ozone, reminding him of the workshop’s smell when Rania used her plasma cutter. Then the monster emerged from behind the shadow of the escarpment.
The creature was massive, as tall as the prowler. Its features were squid-like in some ways, and bat-like in others, but attempting to compare it to an animal could only vaguely approximate its strangeness. Its body was an elongated smooth surface, with a number of limbs stabbing out from it. Two of these furled back against its body, thin membranes hanging between them as wings. More indistinct limbs propelled the beast along the ground, while at least four more tendrils dangled in front of it, their tips armed with sharp spikes or pseudopods. It was a deep dark purple, almost but not quite black, that seemed to be eaten up by the Maelstrom-tinged shadows of the escarpment.
Behind the creature was a much smaller figure, a crooked, thin man in a hooded robe, carrying an awkwardly large satchel across his back. He had a large staff held in both hands, a large flask of purple cybel energy at its base. The man used the other end to stroke the skin of the creature, and prod it forward towards the prowler. The creature opened the maw at the centre of its body and screamed that tortured metallic sound, like two spaceships colliding.
“Skyfire,” Randall swore. “Are you seeing this thing, Kyle? Is that really there?”
“An Angel,” Wynn muttered. “It’s real all right. You better get out of there.”
“Are you kidding me?” Randall said. “Against that thing? I think I’d rather take my chances in the prowler. Let’s see how it likes a bit of the Foundation’s finest.”
Randall’s surviving drones rejoined their formation, hovering in one place to let the last few launch from the prowler. Then he sent the five robots flying at the new appearance, buzzing the creature with the lasers and light machine guns mounted on their wings and cupolas.
The Angel screeched and flinched at the impacts on its body. Through the rifle’s scope Wynn could see most of the bullets passing harmlessly through the creature’s body, the holes they made closing behind the slug’s passing like it hadn’t even been hit, as if the drones were firing through water. Then with a sudden movement, the Angel leapt forward, its wings unfolding and tendrils leaping out from its body, further than their original length appeared to allow, the creature’s flesh changing in mid-action. Within seconds the drones had been smashed to the floor, strewing mechanical parts across the sand.
“Well,” Randall said in a breathless voice, “Storms. That could have gone a bit better.”
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the first novel in the Maelstrom’s Edge universe. You can read more in Maelstrom's Edge: Faith by Tomas L. Martin and Stephen Gaskell - on Kindle now!
Posted on Thursday Jul 13, 2017 at 02:10PM in Fiction
In the summer of 2014 several members of the team had the opportunity to attend WorldCon in London and give a sneak-peek of Maelstrom's Edge to some of the world's best science-fiction authors. The aim? To showcase our universe and convince them to lend their awesome storytelling talents to our project. Presenting the backdrop, artwork, and prototype models, many of the authors we pitched to came away impressed with both our vision and our commitment to building a long-lasting IP. We came away from the London Excel centre having signed up a great mix of highly-acclaimed established voices and up-and-coming superstars to contribute to our project.
Tales from the Edge: Escalation is the result of that fruitful few days at science fiction’s biggest convention. The anthology brings together a wealth of talent contributing short fiction work to the Maelstrom's Edge universe:
With over a decade of experience as a professional astrophysicist to back up his writing chops, Alastair Reynolds is deservedly called the "reigning master of the intergalactic space opera", and brings a compelling edge of hard-SF to his unique brand of galaxy-spanning science fiction. Author of the Inhibitor trilogy that kicked off with the seismic Revelation Space and ended with the chilling Absolution Gap, Alastair's star has only risen over the last twenty years, and has been nominated for the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award three times.
Here's what Alastair said about getting to play in the Maelstrom's Edge universe:
"Maelstrom's Edge is something different: an SF game universe put together with real originality and incorporating some genuinely clever and inventive thinking. There are enough worlds and stories waiting to be explored to last a lifetime..."
With his gritty blend of dark sci-fi, speculative science, and galaxy-spanning drama he is a perfect match for the Maelstrom's Edge universe and we're delighted to have him on board with our opening story, ‘Remainers’, in which a ship’s captain accepts a client’s dangerous request to return to a world doomed by the Maelstrom.
Author of the spectacular Seed, which Paolo Bacigalupi described as "A hungry beast of a book, rippling with slaughter and sex, powerhouse action, surreal post-human horrors and bigger-than-life heroes", Rob's work combines kinetic action, bleak landscapes, and characters drawn from the grimy underbelly of society. As such we think he is perfect to help us flesh out some of the stories happening at the margins of the Maelstrom's Edge universe, particularly those involving the Broken, our very own faction of survivalists who mix the high-tech and the squalid together with the violent and the tender. ‘Little Bots’, Rob’s story in ‘Escalation’, is a terrific tale of a group of orphans, sneaking and tricking their way to survival.
Described by SFX Magazine as "A major new talent" on the release of her debut novel, Consorts of Heaven, Jaine Fenn has proceeded to flesh out her Hidden Empire series, charting seven-thousand years of future history as humankind adventures among the stars. Known for writing tense and fast-paced stories set in vivid locales, we felt Jaine would create the kind of gripping fiction perfectly suited to the universe of Maelstrom's Edge. For her first story in our universe, Jaine set her sights on two of our future factions – telling the story of a noble Champion of the Artarian Remnant Fleet, amongst the ragtag flotilla of a Broken fleet, in the cracking short story ‘Over You’.
In the Plague Year trilogy Jeff Carlson unleashed a nanoplague on humanity that killed all warm-blooded life below 10,000 feet. In his Frozen Sky novels humankind discovered a deadly species in the icy waters of Jupiter's ice moon, Europa. Who better than this Philip K. Dick Award Finalist to help bring the Maelstrom's Edge universe to gripping life? When we told him about the Maelstrom's Edge universe and invited him to spread his fictional wings he had the following to say:
"These days I write sci fi and tech thrillers that, I hope, are chock full of monsters and chills and cutting edge science. When I heard about Maelstrom’s Edge, I begged its designers to let me play in their sandbox. An unstoppable wave of hellish energy. Civilizations destroyed. Terraforming corporations, mech, refugees, cults, strange planets. Man, that’s what I do!!!!"
Jeff’s story ‘The Spaces Between Us’ is something both beautiful and brutal, telling a tangled family tragedy on a world with something truly worth saving.
Aliette de Bodard
Nominated for multiple Hugo, Nebula, and BSFA awards, and winner of the Nebula and Locus awards, Aliette de Bodard is a highly-acclaimed author who will bring brilliant prose allied to poignant characters to the Maelstrom's Edge universe. Subverting the usual tropes for original twists, and substituting by-the-numbers heroes for vivid individuals deeply entwined with familial and cultural shackles, we were really excited to see what Aliette did with the apocalyptic backdrop of Maelstrom's Edge, and her story, ‘Losses We Bear’ is a superb demonstration of her skills. http://aliettedebodard.com
Tomas L. Martin
Well, that’s me! Together with Stephen Gaskell, I’m one of the lead writers who helped develop the background to the Maelstrom’s Edge universe, as well as together writing the short stories that made up our first collection, ‘Tales from the Edge: Emergence’, and the two Maelstrom’s Edge novels, ‘Faith’ and ‘Sacrifice’. When not writing for Maelstrom’s Edge, I’m a lecturer in materials physics at the University of Bristol, as well as occasionally dabbling in other fiction endeavours! My story, ‘Fleet Champion’ is a little introduction to the tangled politics and heated contests of the Remnant Fleet and the power-suited Champions that compete for the honour and reputation of their noble houses.
Coming via Wolverhampton, Dublin and London, Jonathan Cooper is a novelist and occasional journalist now living in Amsterdam. He has written on film, TV and pop culture for the Mirror and the Independent and has short fiction published in the New London Review and Scrivener Creative Review. He is also the author of Lethbridge Stewart: The Showstoppers, a new novel featuring Doctor Who's very own Brigadier. In this anthology Jonathan gives us ‘The Daughter of Arin’, where a Comm Guild courier delivers a strange package that leads to an increasingly chaotic conspiracy.
Winner of a boatload of awards including Warner Aspect First Novel, Prix Aurora Award 2006, and Spectrum Award 2006, not to mention twice being shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award, Karin Lowachee's Warchild Universe explores the experience of fictionalised child soldiers learning to survive in a war-torn galaxy. When we asked her to expand on what drew her to Maelstrom's Edge universe she had the following to say:
"In a genre that can literally explore anything the imagination envisions, the opportunity to sink my teeth into a doomsday event of galactic proportions was too good to pass. Everything about Maelstrom's Edge speaks to my creative inclinations: high stakes, complex characters, an expansive setting, and a sense of wonder. The possibilities for exploration both external and internal are endless, and my fascination with the human condition—our frailties as well as our strengths—is something I will explore. A psychological close-up of what a random band of survivors on a frontier planet are willing and able to do to reach their destination—and presumably their saving grace to get off-world ahead of the Maelstrom—will take an unflinching look at the nature of selfishness, exploitation, compassion and love."
Karin's tale ‘The Flesh of the World’ explores a lawless, frontier-type world that has been abandoned by the corporations, leaving the population alone to face the coming Maelstrom.
The other half of the Maelstrom’s Edge lead writing team, Stephen is a prolific and talented writer both of fiction and for games. When not writing for Maelstrom’s Edge, Stephen works as a Senior Writer for Amplitude Studios, where he recently completed work on the popular 4X strategy title, Endless Space 2. His fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Years Best Military SF, and elsewhere, and he is currently seeking representation for his debut novel, The Unborn World, a dystopian eco-thriller set in Lagos, Nigeria. An alumnus of University College, Oxford, he holds degrees in physics and artificial intelligence. Stephen’s contribution to the anthology is the fantastic ‘A Keeper’s Duty’, which explores the moral dilemma of a convert to the Karist Faith, growing up to become one of the Keepers who looks after the otherworldly alien creatures known as Angels.
With degrees in philosophy and artificial intelligence, a mother who was a gothic novelist, and a father who was a part-time conjurer, it is no exaggeration to say that Liz William's is one of the most original voices working in science fiction today. Short-listed for the Philip K. Dick Award for her novels no less than four times, Liz is also a master of the short form with her work appearing in many Year's Best anthologies. Writing dark and strange yet utterly compelling fiction, Liz's piece for our Maelstrom's Edge anthology is titled "’Moon Desert’ and is a fantastic read.
Maelstrom's Edge has a comprehensive long term fiction plan which we give as much attention as the game itself. From day one we've been trying to develop a universe which will grab the interest of anybody who has even a passing interest in Science Fiction, and with some of the best sci-fi authors in the world committing stories into the anthology ‘Tales From The Edge: Escalation’, Maelstrom's Edge is going from strength to strength, with plenty more to come from us in future.
Posted on Saturday Nov 12, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
The Epirian foundation is fragmented into many competing franchises. Each maintains control of multiple worlds, and technology and people must be interchanged frequently. Ensuring security on these worlds requires each adult Epirian citizen to be issued with a MATS number. This unique number allows an Epirian citizen to rise to high status on one world, and have that status recognised throughout the galaxy, granting a galactic mobility that would not otherwise be possible without immense personal wealth.
MATS numbers are controlled at the system level, and as such represent an extremely juicy target for infiltrating agents. Getting some fake individuals in to the MATS system is an easy way to gain unfettered access to key Epirian institutions and facilities, and for those desperate to escape a world, can lead to a significant bump in their position on passenger manifests.
Posted on Saturday Nov 05, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
Na-cybel is the type of cybel energy discovered by the Enclave's founders during their escape from a Maelstrom-infected collapsing cybel tunnel, and later reproduced via their Commune reactors. The Fourteen survivors began to experiment with cybel energy, fascinated by the strange new form that had flooded their ship. Eventually they managed to recreate what they called na-cybel energy, a metastable form that seemed not to harm flesh in the same way. Whilst cybel energy had been used often in ship engines, few people directly exposed themselves to cybel energy because of the health risks. The Fourteen survivors decided that the benefits of na-cybel energy outweighed its dangers.
When a commune reactor is used to produce na-cybel, it mixes highly disrupted, almost Maelstrom-like energy with calm, refined cybel energy. At the interface between the two, a hybrid of cybel and Maelstrom energies forms, with the more placid, wispy qualities of cybel combined with the colouring of Maelstrom energy. Unlike either though, na-cybel does not annihilate with conventional energy and matter, instead sparking tiny purple and magenta lightning strikes that topically burn objects. It has been observed that na-cybel has powerful effects on the human nervous system, producing a sense of euphoria and sometimes visions. The Enclave use this as a religious experience and also as a means of controlling their population. The scarring that results from na-cybel exposure is superficial in general, but only to a point, as heavy users such as the Kaddar Nova will eventually be crippled and killed by the cumulative effects.
The na-cybel is only used as a narcotic. Karist weapons do not use or fire na-cybel, they fire refined cybel. The technology in the communes, enhanced with further understanding and insights by studying angels, can be militarized to control and channel natural cybel with peerless performance to all other human civilizations, surpassed and dwarfed only by the angels themselves. It is this deeper understanding, derived from the need to re-produce na-cybel, but re-purposed to weaponising natural cybel, that gives the Enclave their unique weaponry and abilities.
Posted on Saturday Oct 29, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
The Karist Enclave are unable to take huge manufacturing facilities with them when they secret themselves away upon a remote world and capturing large facilities is immediately noticeable as well. As a result, more than any other faction, the Karists use complex refineries and nanoforges. A nanoforge is a molecular level assembly system, which allows almost all Karist equipment to be assembled at a near-molecular level. While organics remain too complex to replicate, armour, weaponry, furniture, electronics and extremely basic foodstuffs can all be produced from a wide array of input resources.
The most common output material is Metalloceramic - the material from which Karist plate armour, spacecraft and day to day tools are built from. As the name implies, the material mixes properties from input metals with the benefits of a ceramic, giving the best of both worlds in terms of conductivity, protection and strength.
Nanoforges are not exclusive to the Karist Enclave, but the energy requirements for operating them are immense, and only the Karists are content enough to sit on top of such large volumes of cybel energy. Most other groups in the galaxy appreciate that human power is a lot cheaper than cybel energy, so tend to vie away from such high levels of automated production for all but the most complex and critical equipment.
Posted on Saturday Oct 22, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
The origin of the Karist Enclave dates back to the eruption of the Maelstrom itself. When the disturbance first exploded into being near the galactic core, hundreds of worlds in the dense centre of the galaxy were quickly wiped out, before many knew what was happening. Few escaped that initial violent expansion, as cybel tunnels ruptured and sublight craft were overtaken by the Maelstrom’s first wave.
A fraction ahead of the event horizon, a small spacecraft named Kariman's Breath succeeded in escaping from the galactic core worlds. Carrying a few hundred people, the ship was in transit through one of the cybel tunnels at the edge of the core when the Maelstrom erupted. Although they were just outside the destroyed region, the tunnel they were in ruptured, throwing the ship into deep space between worlds. Their shields were overloaded by the energy storm, flooding the decks with a strange energy.
Exposure to the energy of the cybel tunnels ordinarily causes burns and ultimately death, but the Fourteen survivors of the Kariman’s Breath didn't die when this energy washed over them. Instead the surviving crew and passengers reported a religious, transcendent experience. Some say that there was a difference of opinion between the ship’s inhabitants, that the experience was just a hallucination and that the early Enclave members killed those who disagreed with their interpretation. Whatever occurred in that moment, upon the re-emergence of the Kariman’s Breath into civilisation, all aboard had converted to the idea that becoming one with the Maelstrom would lead to their ascension to a higher plane of existence.
Isolated and unable to contact the rest of humanity, and suffering from their exposure to the energy, the ship’s inhabitants struggled to keep the ship going. Determined to pass on their revelations to others, they kept the ship limping through the tattered remains of the near-core. Desperate for supplies, they happened upon a small planet far from the plane of the galaxy - Schar's World. Because of the vast quantities of precious metals in the star system, it had been settled despite its distance from the main cybel trade routes, but the scattered population of the mining world was poor and downtrodden, kept under the control of a corporate dictatorship terrified by the Maelstrom's destruction of their superiors.
A few hundred million souls lived on the planet, fearful of the future and grief stricken at leaving their old lives in the past. When they realised the source of the small spacecraft, all were eager to talk to the survivors about their experience in an attempt to calm their own fears. The fourteen survivors of the Kariman incident were unified by their experience, both in the moment the Kariman's Breath was tossed on the crest of the Maelstrom and their long months of isolation afterward. The Fourteen came out with a fervent belief that the Maelstrom was a tool for ascendance rather than destruction. They committed their lives to promoting their miraculous discovery, and showing people how they too could reach enlightenment. As their new religion spread on Schar's World, the Fourteen grew to become the revered leaders of the movement. As the believers shared their philosophy throughout the planet they gained a name - The Karist Enclave.
Posted on Saturday Oct 15, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
The Kasmenai originally came from a barren world long lost to mankind's expansion. Bipedal with elongated limbs, the Kasmenai are radiation resistant and so often find work on human-owned worlds where radiation levels are high. Typically they can be found on mining colonies, and on highly radioactive worlds. Their service is cheaper than robots, especially when the robots need radiation shielding.
When the Maelstrom threatened many of these worlds, the Kasmenai were shown to be the subclass they are amongst humanity, as even those they thought friends fled the catastrophe, leaving the vast majority of the aliens behind. With much greater numbers than human populations on some harsh worlds, the Kasmenai have been driven to rise up and overthrow governments, but besides those in space already, very few find transport to escape. Most are happy to join the Broken given the chance.
Kasmenai bodies are very different from human. Their hardened skin is made of radiation-proof scales, but the absorption of radiation is also how Kasmenai feed, transferring the energy from alpha, beta and gamma decay into the chemical batteries that make up much of their internal organs. Due to this strange electrical sustenance they do not have blood or a digestion system, and their insides are much more radiation resistant, however if they do absorb too much radiation on their outer skin they can shed it like snake-skin, sloughing off the most dangerous contamination. Their bodies are lined with aluminium capillaries that transfer power and thought alike.
Although Kasmenai do not eat like most organisms, getting their energy from radiation, they still need a supply of metals and silicates to build their bodies, and Kasmenai can often be found sucking metallic lozenges to replenish the elements they need to grow and repair. Although their skin is designed to produce energy from radioactive decay, it can also feed off the photons from light and heat, albeit much more slowly due to the vastly lower energies involved. Their dependence on sources of energy can often make them prone to enslavement to work in dangerous locations, and the pallid grey colour of an energy-depleted Kasmenai's scales is a sign of danger, as their normally benign temperament becomes angry and unpredictable when they have not fed properly.
Posted on Saturday Oct 08, 2016 at 06:00PM in Fiction
The Epirian Foundation is most famous for the variety of robots it employs, but the vast organisation made its fortune in the business of finding and cultivating new worlds. There are six stages to the terraforming process that the Epirian Foundation uses to take a planet from a barren wasteland to a verdant paradise. Taking a planet all the way from stage 1 to stage 6 can take thousands of years and huge investments. Frequently a planet is taken to stage 4 and the process is halted, for the cost of reaching garden world status is not deemed worthwhile for all but the richest or geographically blessed planets.
The six stages are:
- In stage one, a planet is barren, inhospitable and even overtly hostile to human occupation, due to extreme temperatures, atmospheric conditions, weather or seismologica phenomena. Even colonists in armoured vehicles or space suits are not safe. The goal of stage one terraforming is to stabilise the world, removing or mitigating the biggest threats to survival so that the terraforming process can begin in earnest. Stage one is dangerous, risky work and can take hundreds or even thousands of years, and in many cases might be too expensive to complete.
- In stage two, the planet is still unsuitable for sustaining life, but is no longer dangerous on a day to day basis. The next phase of terraforming is about removing big impediments to cultivating a viable habitat, such as the removal of toxic materials, protection against cosmic rays and the beginnings of atmospheric tweaking to provide breathable air and survivable temperatures. By the end of stage two, a colonist might be able to survive unprotected for a few minutes, but life still remains under protective domes. The transition between stage 2 and stage 3 typically begins the true colonisation age, as settlers flock to the world in search of their fortunes.
- A stage 3 world is marginally habitable. There might be a thin atmosphere that requires rebreathers, or substantial areas of the planet might be too hot or too cold to survive for more than a few hours. The third stage aims to begin moving more of the world's surface to a habitable state through atmospheric processing, temperature control using greenhouse gases or space-based mirrors, the seeding of a water cycle using comets of ice and the introduction of thousands of variants of nanoorganism that digest the soil or purify the air. It is at stage 3 that colonists begin to settle the planet in earnest, and much of the resource extraction is also performed at this stage. The planet of Zycanthus is around halfway through stage 3 of the terraforming process.
- Stage four begins to move a planet from a marginal world into a more comfortable home for humanity. The air is close to human-standard by now, and extremes of temperature are limited to the poles and equator. Following purification of planetside bodies of water or the introduction of water from ice comets, a truly self-sufficient ecosystem is cultivated, and agriculture moves from a desperate struggle against the elements to a profitable enterprise. Cities grow and the world ceases to be considered a backwater, sustaining a bustling economy and trade network with nearby planets.
- Stage five is where a world truly becomes a desirable place to live. Most of the planet is fertile and verdant, although differences in temperature and ecosystem can still vary widely depending on latitude and longitude. Agriculture is by now a key export, and tourism may even become a factor as outsiders flock to experience the natural world that has been created. Extraction of resources begins to be limited by environmental constraints, as a world of this quality is too rare and costs too much to be sullied by mining and industry.
- Stage six is a status achieved by relatively few planets across the Spiral Arm. Garden worlds or paradises, as they are often known, are blessed by fortunate geography or huge expense to be close to perfect for sustaining human life. Ecologies thrive, with vibrant habitats teeming with plant and animal life. Living on such a world becomes a status symbol in itself, and the rich and powerful flock to holiday in its lush forests and shining beaches. There is no greater prize than a garden world, and their loss to the Maelstrom is viewed as more tragic than almost anything else.
The processes and methodologies of terraforming vary widely between different human and alien cultures, and even within the varying franchises of the Epirian Foundation. The complexities of the process mean that each planet must be treated in a bespoke manner, with the terraforming tools used tailored to maximise the world's strengths and mitigate its weaknesses. When a world blessed with a few of the former but none of the latter is found, the battles to control it can be fiercer than any other.
Posted on Saturday Oct 01, 2016 at 07:00PM in Fiction
We are very proud to announce, that as previously teased, today sees the release of the first volume of the Tales From The Edge series. This series will cover all aspects of the Maelstrom's Edge universe, all factions, and fiction from a large number of perspectives and authors.
The first release - Emergence - includes stories by Tomas L. Martin, Stephen Gaskell and Andrew Everett. It will be digital exclusive on Amazon until February, when it will also get a print release alongside the second volume.
Go and check it out today, and please spread the word to your sci-fi fan friends if you enjoy it as word of mouth really helps us to thrive!
Posted on Saturday Sep 24, 2016 at 06:00PM in Fiction
Across our range of fiction, there have been a number of foodstuffs unique to the Maelstrom's Edge universe noted. We'll highlight some of them here so that anyone who wants to make some labels on terrain, their own fiction, or their own vending machines have some canon options!
- Betelbark - Traded spice.
- Carnglen - Good brand of whisky, Epirian/general worlds.
- Fungal Root - Karist food onboard an Ark, has a 'tang'.
- Kulquat Fruit - Egg shaped fruit known to Phelon IV residents with inward-growing pips on its skin.
- Pareto - Coffee like drink, caffeine source.
- Ragleaf - Tobacco like plant, smoked and chewed.
- Spinifex - Grass like plant (chewed, not eaten). Mild relaxant.
A hearty handshake to the first person to make a Pareto dispenser in scale!
Posted on Saturday Sep 17, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
The Epirians do everything they can to reward risky endeavours. Anyone who can find a valuable world or mining resource towards the fringes of the galaxy is rewarded with a share of the wealth for as long as things are harvested. As a result of this long standing policy, large numbers of Epirian Prospectors have existed for generations.
Individuals as tough as nails, from human to alien, anyone with enough grit and the willingness to risk it all in deep space can register as a prospector and head to the rim of the galaxy, far beyond the reach of the cybel network.
Isolation, alien attack, system failures and simple betrayal cause the number of failed prospectors to vastly surpass the few successes, but with the winners purchasing entire systems with their newfound wealth, the call to the unknown is loud.
Posted on Saturday Sep 10, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
Part of the development of the comprehensive background fiction for Maelstrom's Edge is ensuring a constant level of universe-specific terms. This week we discuss the term tunnelhugger.
The cybel network has been covered in detail before. As one may figure out from putting 2+2 together, the cybel tunnels can be transited by a vast range of spacecraft. The aggregate informal term for these is 'tunnelhugger'.
A tunnelhugger is a ship that has the right kind of electromagnetic shielding to repulse the constant onslaught of energy from within a cybel tunnel. If that energy makes contact with conventional matter (like the hull!) it will explosively detonate in a manner similar to a matter/anti-matter reaction. The energy requirements to sustain such shielding are immense, and therefore an engine with cybel energy capability is practically always a requirement for a tunnelhugger as well.
Tunnelhuggers are much less common than conventional craft which by their very nature reside in individual systems. Escaping the maelstrom in a conventional craft might get you close to a waystation near a cybel gate, but transiting the cybel network to safety is much less common.
Posted on Sunday Sep 04, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
Tales From the Edge is the forthcoming short story collection series from Spiral Arm Studios. The first book is scheduled for release at the start of October, and the second in February. The first book contains short stories from three authors, covering a wide range of our factions and background fluff.
The second book will contain the short stories from the third party authors mentioned during our kickstarter.
Physical copies of the books will likely be printed towards the end of the year, for sale at conventions and likely online as well. Digital copies will be available through amazon as soon as it is ready.
Sorry for the short post this week - we are finalising the cover and just making a few final decisions on the contents over the first two books, so it is a little early for us to go into extreme detail just yet!
Posted on Saturday Sep 03, 2016 at 05:00PM in Fiction
One thing that we see quite frequently is a misunderstanding around cybel energy - the energy which Karist Angels feed upon, and which is harvested from the cybel tunnels at the network's irising gates. The Maelstom's energy is similar and related to cybel, but is highly volatile, unstable and unusable, with far too much volume to be contained in any way.
The energy that forms the cybel network is known as cybel energy, and is naturally occurring. Until gateways into the cybel network were first opened, cybel energy was rarely found in real space, but the first travellers through the maze of tunnels between stars soon learned that the medium of the tunnels was a powerful energy source, and today there are few space vessels that don’t use cybel energy in their shields and engines.
Natural cybel energy will annihilate with conventional matter and energy, ultimately eliminating both in a burst of heat energy. The more cybel energy and conventional matter interact, the greater the resulting explosion. A few litres of cybel losing containment creates an explosion large enough to raze a city block. It is for this reason that cybel energy is carefully controlled and typically not allowed planetside without refinement.
Cybel energy is sometimes classed as ‘Raw’ in the wild and ‘Refined’ after magnetic processing. Raw cybel energy can be harvested from the cybel network, contained or repelled by electromagnetic fields. The refinement process uses a series of concentrated electromagnetic fields to align the energy, in a similar fashion to the polarisation of light. The refining does not change the energy itself, but reduces its volatility, allowing it to be used as a fuel source when contained in various shielded vessels from small battery sized objects to huge drums for industrial and starship use, and lowering the risk of accidental discharge.
In appearance, natural cybel has purple and blue hues with a wispy texture, appearing to the naked eye like tendrils of nebulous smoke or mist. When pinched in an electromagnetic vice inside a fuel source or reactor, the energy of small reactions can be amplified and harvested as heat, driving more conventional engines and devices. Spaceships also use magnetically contained shields of cybel energy to protect their hulls, both whilst travelling through the cybel tunnels and in space combat.
The Karist Enclave, obsessed with the nature of cybel energy, have taken to using it to power their weaponry. Due to the long-term detrimental health effects of exposure to the energy this is frowned upon by other societies, but there is no denying its effectiveness as a weapon, burning into its targets and annihilating any mass it hits with devastating effect. Although cybel energy has been known by galactic civilisations for millennia, another type of cybel energy has only recently been discovered by the founders of the Karist Enclave during their escape from a Maelstrom-infected collapsing cybel tunnel. The wispy, pink energy has a peculiarly unreactive nature, allowing non-lethal physical contact with little more than superficial burns, although it also seems to interact with the human nervous system. Most who experience contact with na-cybel have euphoric feelings, a narcotic like high, and out-of-body experiences. The Karist priesthood claim that this is a glimpse of ascension, whilst others dismiss it as a dangerous drug addiction.
To clarify the above rulebook excerpt further, there is 'raw' cybel energy - that which can be harvested from cybel tunnels, there are various grades of 'refined' cybel energy, which have differing levels of volatility, with a mid-level refined version being the type which is fed to Angels, and the least volatile being 'na-cybel' - used in Karist rituals, and finally the energy of the Maelstrom which is like a super volatile form of raw cybel energy, unusable and exploding forever outwards.