Feature: The Devil is in the Detail: An Introduction to the world of Empires

Empires Extraction‘A curious choice,’ commented the Fermat construct. The clones shut themselves down briefly as the nuke went off.

‘It didn’t do anything useful,’ grumbled the Exponential. The Aqar clone was already bringing its systems back on-line. ‘They didn’t know what they were dealing with, and when all you know is that you’re dealing with something, trying to hit it with the biggest stick you can find is an absurd first response.’ The Exponential was sounding huffy these days. ‘So. . .’

The Irrational Prime interrupted with an extensive review of human history and the application of logic to the initiation of conflict. There was a long pregnant pause and then the frigate conceded defeat. ‘I don’t care how common it is,’ it grumbled, ‘it still seems a disastrous species response.’

‘We have information on probable interference events within the timeline of various cultures,’ offered the Fermat construct. ‘The massacre of Novgorod in the local year 1570. There is a single reported sighting of a “devil-like figure with a long face and arms, his fingers too long and like claws, horns upon his head and a grin that split his face from ear to ear.” Unfortunately the imagery is also consistent with local native mythologies of the time.’ The construct laid bare the disassembled memories of the captured Shriven. ‘That particular connection is now proven incorrect. They did that by themselves.’

The construct fell silent. For a few nanoseconds, the two ships regarded one another.

‘The massacre by the Jivaro of Ecuador and Peru of twenty-five thousand non-local settlers including the execution of one by pouring molten gold down his throat until his bowels burst,’ said the Exponential suddenly. ‘Promising? A similar devil-like figure to that of Novgorod is reported by both sides. While the non-local settlers’ mythology mirrors that of the Novgorod incident, that of the Jivaro instigators does not. A Shriven was present. Am I right or am I right?’

The Irrational Prime, peeling back the layers of the disassembled Shriven, made a dismissive noise. ‘No. They did that one all by themselves too.’

‘The devastation in 1646 of the Sichuan province of China. Jesuit missionaries report a devil-like figure at the court of Zhang Xianzhong. Again, the mythology of the missionaries is similar to that of Novgorod while the local mythology is substantively different.’ The Exponential sounded smug.

‘No such figure was recorded in the local mythology though.’ The Irrational Prime found itself reluctant to encourage the frigate.

‘One of the most extreme genocides in their history? I’m putting this hypothesis in the high ninety-five plus percentage points of right. I’m right, aren’t I? Heads collected in piles. And noses and ears and hands. . . why count noses and ears separately? What’s the sense in that? And he cut the feet off several hundred woman once because he got—’

‘Because he had a Shriven whispering in his ear,’ interrupted the Fermat construct.

‘Oh good. I got one. How about this: from 1670 to 1730 there are repeated stories of a ghost-like man with arms of snakes and a mouth of lion’s teeth wide enough to swallow a man’s head originating from the African coastal towns of Grand-Popo, Porto-Novo and Badagry, all of which existed primarily to facilitate the capture and transport of slaves from the local population. There’s no apparent precedent for such a creature in local mythologies.’

‘A devil-like figure reported to preside over a massacre on the island of Haiti in 1804,’ suggested the Irrational Prime immediately annoyed with itself for joining in.

‘Or this picture of a witch-doctor in the presence of Shaka Zulu.’ The Exponential seemed to be enjoying itself. ‘We could do this for a while. Shall I make popcorn?’


Empires InfiltrationA lot of Empires: Extraction is set in London, England, over the first half of 2015, general election and everything. There are excursions to various other parts of the globe, Mars, Saturn, Neptune, some nameless other star and the blue hypergiant VY Canis Majoris, which is, by the way, an immensely cool star and will one day do something truly spectacular – the sort of thing that you’d really like to be around to see, only you really, really actually wouldn’t. There are some excursions into history too, although not many. It’s no secret that Empires, between the two books Gavin and I have done, is an alien invasion story, and it’s not really a spoiler to say that Gavin’s aliens and mine don’t much like each other – Gav pretty much establishes that in the opening chapter of Infiltration. It’s also hardly a spoiler to say that our two races have encountered one another before, and neither of them much liked the result.

But why does Earth get invaded in the first place? Where’s the sense to it? Why do any aliens ever invest inordinate time and energy into extracting a resource from a planet that’s already inhabited when you could just as well synthesise it yourself for far less effort or else get it floating around in space without any local sentients trying to kill you with a virus or strange music or any other preposterous and previously unrecognised weak spots your species might have (I could go on, but Gav has covered this somewhat more thoroughly elsewhere).

I don’t think either of us hit on the Cuban Missile Crisis as a source of inspiration while we were writing Empires, but in hindsight it’s not a bad analogy. Why Earth in Empires? Why Cuba in 1962? It wasn’t that Cuba mattered that much in and of itself. Castro might have asked for the missiles, but it wasn’t as if most Cubans had a great deal of choice or say in the matter. Did anyone ask: “hey, would you like some Russian missiles on your island that might just mean you get nuked by your big neighbour to the north?” The Cuban Missile Crisis could just as easily have been the Jamaican Missile Crisis if the Russians had happened to have a foothold in Jamaica. Or the Mexican Missile Crisis or the Nicaraguan Missile Crisis. I bet the old Soviets would positively have howled with delight to have had the Canadian Missile Crisis. But they didn’t have enough useful allies in any of those other places. They had Cuba, and so Cuba is it was. Sometimes the two big men in the room just have to square up to one another for a showdown because reasons, and the little men get caught in the middle. So that’s why Earth. Poor little humans caught in the middle between two forces they could barely even understand, never mind influence. That was the point all along.

Mind you, the Cuban Missile Crisis, close as it got to triggering nuclear death-for-everything, was saved in the end by the truth of Mutually Assured Destruction and a few human beings who demonstrated, despite the atrocities recorded in the opening here, a capacity in our species to not be idiots sometimes. So the analogy only goes so far.

As for the passage above itself? Someone has been interfering with the course of human history for some time. Some devil-like creature. The Weft? The Pleasure? Someone else? At least Cuba never had that to worry about.



  1. Pingback: Blog round up for Empires. | Gavin G Smith - December 22, 2014

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