This one was written for the Macmillan website last year.
The Polity is a far future society run by artificial intelligences. In the early years of space travel, as we spread out into the solar system, the political make-up of humanity is a mixture of national and world (or moon) governments, and large corporations rather as depicted in The Expanse. However, unlike that series, these separate political entities – polities – employ AI for gain. During this time a scientist by the name of Iverus Skaidon direct-links his mind to the AI Craystein Computer and invents underspace travel, just before his mind blows like a fuse. The invention of this faster-than-light travel results in a diaspora from the Solar System with many groups heading out into the galaxy, usually in cryogenic storage in their ships, to set up numerous colonies. Shortly after this the AIs decide enough is enough and firmly take over. This relatively bloodless coup is later known as the Quiet War. Thereafter, during a renaissance, a second wave of humanity, guided by the AIs, spreads out into the galaxy (quite often running into that first wave). Skaidon’s technology, whose naming template is based on the poems of Edward Lear, gives the nascent Polity the runcible: gateways for instantaneous travel between worlds.
Many worlds beyond Earth are occupied by alien life, but alien intelligence seems harder to find. Polity scientists find the remains of ancient civilizations they name the Atheter, Csorians and the Jain. Remains of Jain technology soon reveal themselves to be very dangerous – the stuff growing like plants and subsuming other technology. Another alien race is not encountered until the Polity occupies a substantial area – a sphere of expansion whose breadth is the thickness of our galactic arm. The prador – giant arthropods much like a by-blow of fiddler crabs and wolf spiders – are hostile xenophobes ruled by a king. They at once attack the Polity.
The Polity, its means of travel mostly by runcible, does not have adequate ships to counter the heavily armoured prador vessels. In the ensuing war whole solar systems are wrecked, suns detonated, billions of lives lost as the Polity fights a steady retreat. However, it being anathema to them, the prador do not have AI. This turns the tide of the war as the Polity ramps up industrial production and technological development producing ships in immense factory stations: war factories. Amidst this war a human pirate called Spatterjay Hoop finds a world inhabited by a strange ecology. Leeches there transmit a complex virus which, when it infects humans, makes them rugged and near indestructible (a reusable food source for the leeches – as all the virus’s hosts). He captures millions of humans and, in alliance with the prador uses their technology to core-and-thrall the humans with prador tech, turning the victims into mindless slaves of the prador. During this operation a prador captain also becomes infected with the virus. It changes him, and his crew (his family) in many ways, one of them being an increase in intelligence. He understands the tide of the war now and, realizing the prador cannot win, returns to the Kingdom and usurps the old king, then makes a truce with the Polity. It is an uneasy truce and an area of space, devastated by the war and named the Graveyard, lies between the two realms, while Earth Central the ruling AI of the Polity, and the king of the prador, sabre rattle at each other.
Shadow of the Scorpion
In this milieu Cormac grows to adulthood, haunted by childhood memories of a sinister scorpion-shaped war drone and the burden of losses he cannot remember. Signed up with Earth Central Security he is sent out to either restore or maintain order in worlds devastated by prador bombardment. Old enemies and new dog his path to memory through the ruins left by wartime genocides, where he discovers in himself a cold capacity for violence.
The Cormac Series
Now an Agent of the Polity, Cormac is dispatched on a mission to investigate a runcible disaster that killed thirty thousand people on the world of Samarkand, and sank the world into an Ice Age. This was apparently caused by an alien entity called Dragon – a giant creature consisting of four biomech spheres miles across, who might be older than human history, or might just be a liar. Other missions ensue involving Separatist (those who want to secede from the Polity and its ruling AIs) terrorism, a rogue biophysicist, the terrifying Mr Crane – a brass android killing machine – the brutal theocracy of the planet Masada, and always the involvement of Dragon. But during these investigations Cormac finds one linking thread and uncovers a larger threat. Ancient Jain technology provides individuals with great power, even as it takes control of them. This is especially dangerous when the individuals are disenfranchised AI war machines – drones and warships – who have developed contempt for humanity.
The Spatterjay Trilogy
Many centuries after the war, the leech-infested planet now named Spatterjay, is not part of the Polity but is a ward of the same. Here living sails drape the spars of primitive sailing vessels, Old Captains, stronger than Polity Golem, sail the seas and contemplate their endless lives, while the ancient war drone Sniper looks for action. Three travellers arrive. Erlin is immortal and seeks from an Old Captain a reason to keep living. Janer is host to the hornet hive mind – a tourist. And Keech is a policeman who’s been dead for seven hundred years – but still hunts the notorious Spatterjay Hoop, who might have turned into something monstrous. But their small journeys become entangled with ancient prador agendas, the truth behind the Spatterjay virus, and the ever- present threat of Jain technology.
More history is revealed. On the world of Masada the gabbleducks appear to be strange animals who speak nonsense in human language. They turn out to be the devolved descendants of the Atheter who, in a strange act of racial suicide, deliberately sacrificed their intelligence to escape millennia of war instigated by the Jain tech they took up. On their world too are hooders – giant vicious creatures resembling centipedes – that are in fact devolved war machines of the Atheter. It seems that this Jain tech is responsible for the destruction of them, the Csorians and the Jain themselves. Atheter technology is only somnolent, however, and activates again.
McCrooger, Polity ambassador, is ancient and tough when he comes to the worlds of Sudoria and Brumal. A cosmic super-string drifted into the system of the two planets when they were locked in war. It is packed with alien technology, or even life. For safety it was stored – in four segments – within a maximum-security space station. A female research scientist there fell pregnant and gave birth to quads before committing suicide. By the war’s end, one planet was devastated by the other’s hilldiggers – so named as their weapons can create mountain ranges. When McCrooger arrives the quads have reached adulthood, and are gaining power in post-war society. One of them has his sights set on claiming the hilldiggers and their power for himself, but is his agenda his own?
The Transformation Trilogy
The AI Penny Royal, driven insane by orders no soldier should be forced to obey and fractured into a swarm AI, is a dark presence in the Polity and the Graveyard. For payment it transforms people to their ideal, but this always turns out to be a deal with the Devil and the transformations grotesque. Has Penny Royal returned to sanity now? What are its aims? Thorvald Spear, resurrected after a hundred years, sets out intent on vengeance against this entity. But it seems Penny Royal, hunted down by the dangerous forensic AI the Brockle, might be atoning for previous sins and following a larger agenda, which leads back to the place where it lost its mind, and to a black hole.
The Gabble and Other Stories
This is a collection of short stories about some shadier corners of the Polity. Find out about the gabbleducks of Masada and the hooders, ancient races and ancient technologies resurrected, dangerous alien life forms – the hunters and the hunted.
The Rise of the Jain Trilogy
A corner of space swarms with Jain technology, a danger to all sentient life. The haiman Orlandine has made it her life’s work to contain it, and is hatching a plan to obliterate it. Dragon shares her vigil, but fears she is being manipulated by some alien intelligence. Meanwhile, Polity and prador fleets watch this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. Things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.
The Polity started out in short stories in the small presses. I wanted a far future in which I could tell any story, and it grew organically without much in the way of a plan bar this. I create ecologies because the logic of the predator and its prey must be adhered to, though my preference is always for the most grotesque of the former. I visualize that ‘technology indistinguishable from magic’ and give it credence from heavy science reading. And I try to wrap all this up in stories you will enjoy and characters you’ll care about. Here then are some of the stories I’ve told in the ever-expanding Polity.
And I will be telling more.
On a final note: the Polity is not all of it. In the Owner Trilogy I tell the story of a near future and brutal dystopia, while in Cowl I venture into time-travel and a war across the ages between far future humans, to the beginning of life of Earth.