This marks the first post to the new version of Renegade Octopus! Herein you’ll find my worldbuilding, explanations of what I’m doing with it, as well as why I’m doing it. Visitors here will get just this material, while my Patrons will get an additional article for every article here specific to projects I’m working on and a monthly piece of fiction.
Today we’ll start with a rough of what I’m working on now – something born of a conversation with a couple friends and a couple of Patrons. This all started from me wondering what would happen if a necromancer tried to raise a shipwreck, given that these are often ascribed spirits of their own.
Commentary led to this being moved into space, whereupon I had to think about how science-fantasy tends to either not go far enough, making it sci-fi with fantastic add-ons, or else tends to use the science component to justify anachronisms in fantasy stories. From there it was a short step to realizing that a world was begging to be made – a science-fantasy space opera, with a necromancer protagonist raising lost ships into a dread fleet.
To establish the baseline, magic and other fantastic elements need to be part and parcel of the setting. Not just magic as a thing that exists, but as an integral part of it; starships that pack spell-slinging cannons in addition to railguns and lasers, a spellcasting arm to the starfleets, magic as a core component of how the world works without it simply supplanting technology. Starfaring serpents, void-dwelling squid, whale-like creatures that can double as living space stations, and more need to be part of it. It needs to be fantastic.
And then comes the question of where magic is sourced from – it’s clearly a fifth force in this universe, and perhaps related to dark energy and dark matter. However, to be used by people and their machines, it needs a mediating element – in this case, I’ve picked stars as what’s needed; a reaction in their hearts converts a measure of dark matter and dark energy into the baryonic rendition of the arcane force. It’s easy enough to access near stars, and so most worlds with habitable worlds have incorporated it in evolution. The interstellar void has a thinner field of it, mediated by the still-dark forms and the tug of gravity, enough for void-faring life to exist and interstellar ships to be possible using it to travel. The intergalactic void, well, there might be the equivalent of abyssal-zone life out there. The inhabitants of the galaxy don’t go out there, though – technology can’t cross those distances, and magic is too thin.
Because no space opera really exists without one at some point, the galaxy is largely under the boot of a massive imperial power, who see every system as their by right and who aggressively stomp out attempts at rebellion and resistance. Naturally, they tend to see such uprisings as naive unrest about their enlightened rule, to be chastised as much as necessary to quiet them down.
Sometimes the chastisement doubles as a test for new technologies. Such is the case when the home system of the protagonist experienced an uprising and the empire retaliated. The new technology was intended to dim the local star for a time, long enough to threaten an unseasonable cold spell and endanger the crops and lives of everyone without doing lasting harm. Relief ships were standing by to ensure no valuable subjects were lost.
It worked better than they intended, outright killing the star – which is where the necromancer part comes in. Because, you see, one flavor of magic can only be drawn from black holes, which in this universe are born when a star has a traumatic death. They’re common enough that ghosts and other hauntings happens occasionally, but no one has ever managed to draw the line to connect dead stars and ghosts. Not until the protagonist, coming home from the Imperial military, finds that the warning buoys aren’t warning off from a rebellious system, as the official story goes, but a dead one.
A dead system whose black hole heart is angry enough to reach out to the spark of life that it can touch and tells the protagonist what happened – and offers to teach her to harness the power of necromancy the way she’s learned to harness other forms of magic. All she has to do is to promise to avenge it and the billions of lives snuffed out as it awoke.
All she needs are some restless spirits and some derelict ships.