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Spelunking Speculative Fiction: Sci-Fi

Hello, dear readers,

Today I'm thrilled to be hosting one of my favorite (shhh...don't tell the others) clients. Autumn Kalquist is the best-selling author of the Fractured Era series, and today she's going to tell you a little about building a space. 

Hey, Autumn. Thanks for stopping by! Tell us about your sci-fi series and your story world. 

My Defect, Legacy Code, and SunPath (not yet released) series all take place in my “Fractured Era” universe. Each subseries follows the same family lines over the course of nearly one thousand years. In Defect, the world faces the apocalypse. The story follows a group of people called the “Protecteds,” who have been genetically modified for superimmunity by the Infinitek corporation. But their gift comes at a price—the children of the first generation suffer from birth defects. The resulting public scandal forces the Protecteds into camps and into hiding. Infinitek claims the Protecteds need protection, but the truth of what happens in the camps is far more sinister than most know. 
Legacy Code takes place 300 years after the events of Defect. The last humans fled Earth during an apocalypse event and are now searching for a better world. They suffer from the same defective genes that plagued the Protecteds. When secrets, civil unrest, and terrorism threaten to tear the fleet apart, humanity is threatened with extinction yet again. 
SunPath takes place 500 years after the events of Legacy Code and reveals what happened to humanity and the family lines followed in Defect and Legacy Code.

What drew you to this genre in the first place? 

I loved epic fantasy growing up, and I didn’t learn to love science fiction until my husband introduced me to the Mass Effect video game. I became addicted to sci-fi, playing every game and watching every good show. But I didn’t find many books that I connected with. I like character-driven stories, not stories that focus too much on space battles and tech. 
I wrote SunPath first, and it was inspired by a snippet of an idea I had. As I rewrote that book, I started wondering how this society came to be, so I decided to go back and write the prequel stories first. A lot of my friends say they don’t like science fiction for the same reasons I used to cite. So my goal has always been to write character-driven stories that have a nice balance of world-building, tech, and relationships and that won’t overwhelm my readers with tech-focused infodumps. 
I loved epic fantasy because of the complex relationships between characters, the fantastic worlds, the epic scope, and the love, betrayal, and intrigue. I sometimes say I’m writing “epic science fiction” because space opera is probably the closest subgenre label for what I’m writing, and I’m not sure it fits. 

How do you build a world that's both familiar and unique? 

A lot of what I’ve created in Fractured Era could actually happen. It’s based on what’s happening with the environment, with genetic engineering, and with other cutting edge technologies. I do take creative license, of course, but I look at the societies I create and base them on what we know about human behavior. For instance, in Legacy Code, I have a fleet where people die by their early 50s, and half of all babies have the Defect because of the defective genes the Protecteds were burdened with. 
It makes sense that in such a society people would marry young, that the population would be carefully managed, and that on a fleet with few resources, defective pregnancies wouldn’t be permitted to come to term. And so in this society, they refrain from thinking of a baby as a human until later in the pregnancy, because it helps them deal with their reality. In this world, it makes sense that adulthood starts early (as it did on Earth when human life expectancies were short) and that teens would be expected to marry (pair). 
Infinitek built the fleet, and their infinity symbol logo has taken on almost spiritual connotations in the 300 years since the fleet left Earth. The original colonists were from every faith and corner of the globe, and people mostly believe the “old gods” died the day they left Earth. But there are people in the sublevels of every ship who hold tightly to the belief that their adherence to the strict social structure and their sacrifice and suffering mean something. That if they work hard enough, someday the old gods will lead them to a better world. The plot is tightly linked to the unique challenges the fleet faces and the beliefs they hold. The world and the stories may be different, but humanity stays the same. 

How do you handle creating new terminology? 

I like to use Greek and Latin roots or combine terms people would recognize so they can easily guess what a new term means. For instance, I use “helio” (greek: “sun”) for a floating globe used as personal light source and for growing crops aboard the fleet. There’s a “genscanner” in Legacy Code that scans a fetus for the genetic defect. I like to keep it simple. I never want the language I choose to get in the way of the story. 

You write songs for your books, right? How did that come about? 

I’m a singer, and when I was writing SunPath, my character listened to a song she found in a file called “Songs and Stories from the Fleet.” The lyrics were about life in the fleet 500 years ago, yet mirrored her current situation perfectly. Honestly, this song made me wonder about the past and ended up being the reason I went back and wrote Legacy Code first. 
I found a local music producer, Freya Wolfe, with the intention to get back into the studio for fun to record this song. But we really hit it off and have been working together ever since. I consider “Better World” to be the theme song of the Legacy Code series now. 

What are your favorite tools for world-building and keeping track of world details? 

At the most basic level, I like to use Pinterest, and my real life pinboard for inspiration. I find pictures of my characters and scenes from their world, and sometimes I look at gorgeous fantasy art or tech blogs for ideas for my sci-fi.  

I use Aeon Timeline to keep track of when the events in my world take place. It takes a bit of work, and it’s something I need to update, but so far I’ve been using it for really major world events. It’s also great for keeping track of when things were invented or when characters were born (and died).
I currently have a document that is probably 40,000 words and has all the details of my world, but that’s less than ideal. A private, personal wiki is a great way to organize all of this, but it does take time to maintain. I have an ongoing shared-world project with another author, and we try to keep our wiki updated so we can easily look up character and world details. 

Autumn is the best-selling author of the Fractured Era series. You can find out more and get free songs and short stories by signing up for her newsletter at

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