Born and raised in Toronto, Arlene F. Marks began writing stories at the age of 6 and can’t seem to stop. Although she’s been published in multiple genres, her first love has always been speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Onder Magazine, and Daily Science Fiction. Her science fantasy novel, The Accidental God, was nominated for the 2015 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Retired from the high school classroom, Arlene lives with her husband on Nottawasaga Bay but spends an inordinate amount of time in the Sic Transit Terra universe that she has created.
Arlene discusses in detail aspects of her universe.
The Relativity Bomb is the third book in the Sic Transit Terra universe. How would you describe the Sic Transit Terra universe?
I write space opera, which is defined as a dramatic story set in the future. In the case of Sic Transit Terra, that’s the turn of the 25th century, when mind-blowing secrets about Earth’s ancient past are starting to come to light. This is social science fiction, with the emphasis not so much on the nuts and bolts of future science and technology, but rather on how developments in these areas will affect us as a society of human beings. Because family and power are such important themes in my novels, there’s a fair amount of soap opera in the first story arc as well. Characters are morally ambiguous, and even the aliens are conflicted. In fact, in high concept terms, it could be described as Star Trek meets Dynasty, with a side helping of 24.
These novels are set almost 400 years in the future. What sort of things do we have to look forward to? What should we be afraid of?
The future depicted in the first story arc of Sic Transit Terra holds both good news and bad news. The good news is, we’re out among the stars. We’re exploring space, building and staffing space stations, and establishing colonies. The bad news is, the impetus for our aggressive space program was a series of pandemics that wiped out more than half our population over a period of two hundred years, spurring the planetary government to move all the best and brightest people off-world to ensure that the cream of humanity would survive. This created two classes of citizens, the privileged 2% and the dispensable others, who have been simmering with resentment for a long while and just need a leader to bring them to a full rolling boil.
You preface each section of the overall story with an excerpt from a yet-to-be-written unauthorized history of planet Earth. This leads to two questions.
First, some of the information in these excerpts doesn’t match exactly with the events of the novel. What’s the reason for that?
Another of the major themes in the series is the malleable nature of truth. It’s been said that history is written by the winners. I wanted to show readers both the story that actually happened and how characters and events became edited by the passage of time before being written up in a history of the planet some three hundred years later.
And second, some of these excerpts seem to hint at future stories. What are your plans for future books?
You’re right — they’re teasers for stories that I plan to write. I especially want to continue following Gael Dedrick and his cousin Lania once he resigns from the Fleet and becomes an independent ship owner. There’s a space battle in Book 5: The Cockroach Crusade that’s going to change a lot of the characters’ lives and send them off in different directions, and I look forward to tagging along and recording as many of their further adventures as I can.
Science fiction is often a mirror on the present. What aspects of our society are you shining a light on in Sic Transit Terra?
There are several, but I would say that the first story arc is primarily an examination of the use and abuse of power, and in that regard, very little has changed from the present day to the year 2398.
Alien races play a very important part in the unfolding of the story. How did you come up with the various alien races in Sic Transit Terra?
First, I decided that all the races in our arm of the galaxy would be carbon-based beings that had evolved from lesser life forms. Then I considered the variety of creatures that we find here on Earth and imagined what each of them might look like if it had evolved to become the dominant species instead of homo sapiens. Lions evolved into the felid races (Kularians, Reyota). Emus and ostriches evolved into the ornithoid Dimmlesi. Reptiles became the sauroid Nandrians and Proat. And so on.
What was your process for ensuring the various races were different from humans, from each other, and yet still recognizable as cogent life-forms?
I treated each race as if it were a separate character. I gave it a backstory, a dominant personality trait, and a unique defining gift or ability. I also gave each race a dark secret to protect, and I used all this to create a culture that included a language, pastimes, and rituals and ceremonies around birth, death, and marriage. Finally, I gave them all a shared history that explained their attitudes toward one another. Thus, the Nandrians are the most feared warriors in the galaxy. Theirs is a military culture, prizing honor above all, and they live in constant battle readiness, and with a hate-on for one of the other races, for reasons that will be revealed in Book 5 when their backstory is told.
Creating the Sic Transit Terra Universe was a massive undertaking. What are some physical steps you took to keep track of everything?
Trial and error taught me that file cards or sticky notes simply wouldn’t cut it for a project this large, so I opened a Word file on my computer and began writing a “bible”. This document is one of the sources for the editor’s guide that I now submit along with each manuscript in the series. Included in the bible are: a timeline, an explanations of Earth time versus standard time, information about the alien races, a summary of Earth’s future history, details of life on Earth circa 2399 C.E., a Forrand-Dedrick family tree, diagrams of Daisy Hub, Zulu, and the Marco Polo, and glossaries of alien languages. As well, I jot notes and do calculations in spiral bound notebooks, one per novel. It’s a lot of work, for sure, but it has saved me even more.
What valuable lessons have you learned you’d like to pass on to would-be authors?
Writing a 500,000 word novel and breaking it into six parts, as I’m doing with Sic Transit Terra, has been extremely educational for me as an author. It was a giant step out of my comfort zone just to consider a project of this magnitude, but I was already a published novelist when I began it, and I relished the challenge of bringing it to a successful conclusion. To anyone with a series of novels rattling around in their brain, I would like to offer two bits of advice that will help you to maintain control and save your sanity:
First, keep the cast of characters as small as you can. That way, when they stage their palace coup and take over the narrative (as they will if you’ve brought them to life on the page), there will be fewer different plot threads for you to manage. (My characters never let me forget that it’s their story, not mine, especially when they spring their backstory on me, then gleefully throw away my map and take off down an unmarked side road. Halfway through Book 5, two of them have fallen in love with each other, one has stolen a ship, and a fourth just switched allegiances for the second — no, make that the third time. Honestly, it’s like herding cats.)
Second, consistency is an important part of world-building, so you’ll need to begin recording and tracking everything right from the get-go. I use Word files and a stack of spiral-bound notebooks, one per novel. Other authors use file cards or spreadsheets. Pick whatever tool works best for you and keep it updated. You’d be amazed how important a timeline can be, and how easy it is to forget from one book to the next how an alien word is spelled, or whether you previously put single or double quotation marks around a character’s nickname.
Sic Transit Terra Book 3: The Relativity Bomb is written by Arlene F. Marks
Published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing
Listen to an excerpt from The Relativity Bomb as read by the cast of Sage and Savant.
Find out more about Arlene F. Marks
Author web page: www.thewritersnest.ca
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The Genome Rally (Sic Transit Terra Book 4)
And the second most dangerous race? The Galactic Great Council believes it’s the Humans. However, as the captain and officers of the Earth ship Marco Polo are about to find out, Humanity has plenty of competition for that title.