John Ayliff lives in Vancouver, Canada. He honed his writing skills while working in the computer games industry, and still sometimes calls his protagonist the ‘player character’ by mistake. Outside of writing, his hobbies include tabletop roleplaying games and going to the opera. He can be found on Twitter @johnayliff and online at his website:http://johnayliff.com/
Worldbreakers do not think, do not feel and cannot be stopped.
Captain Gabriel Reinhardt’s latest mining mission has been brought to a halt by the arrival of a Worldbreaker, one of the vast alien machines that destroyed Earth and its solar system long ago. As he and his crew flee they are kidnapped by a pirate to be mind-wiped and sold into slavery, a fate worse than death in this shattered universe.
But Captain Reinhardt is hiding a secret. The real Gabriel Reinhardt died six years ago, and in his place is Jonas, one of the millions of clones produced for menial labour by the last descendants of Earth.
Forced to aid the pirate Keldra’s obsessive campaign against the Worldbreakers in exchange for his life, Jonas discovers that humanity’s last hope might just be found in the very machines that have destroyed it.
#VirtualVoyager: The Road to Belt Three
In the summer of 2009, someone from my local writing group shared a link to an anthology that was seeking short stories about female pirates. The stories could be set in any setting or era, and I found myself struck by an idea about a ruthless space pirate living in the ruins of a destroyed solar system, who uses her piracy to fund a personal crusade against the robots that destroyed the Earth. I called the story Belt Three.
The anthology rejected the story, saying it didn’t focus narrowly enough on the pirate. (Which was fair: I’d decided to show the pirate through the eyes of another character, but that other character had ended up being co-star rather than supporting character.) My writing group said they liked the story, but that it read less like a self-contained story and more like the start of a novel. So I decided to keep going.
At the time I’d been writing short stories with a serious goal of getting published for several years. I was also working in the computer games industry, writing content (including stories) for a major online game. I’d never completed a novel, though; I’d always started strong but run out of steam at around 15,000 words. Luckily, there was an event coming up designed to help with that: NaNoWriMo.
I’m usually a slow, careful writer, but NaNoWriMo forced me to change that. Fifty thousand words in a month – nearly 1,700 per day, every day. I took time off work and went to the library every day. I made myself stop thinking too hard and just write. What I produced was an unpublishable mess – including characters named after candies I was snacking on while I wrote – but I got to 50,000 words in the month.
None of the text of the NaNoWriMo version would survive into the published version of Belt Three, but NaNoWriMo had given me a rough outline I could use as the basis of a better novel – and, more importantly, it had shown me that I was capable of writing a coherent novel-length piece of fiction. Over the next couple of years I rewrote the novel from scratch, using the NaNoWriMo version as an outline.
My original short story had been a portrait of one character: a space pirate engaged in a futile crusade against the robots that had destroyed the Earth. For the novel, I gave her a more specific quest, and fleshed out both the setting through which she was moving, as well as the other characters.
The world of Belt Three, as I eventually developed it, is a dystopian setting in which humanity barely clings to existence in the ruins of the destroyed planets, while the alien machines (called Worldbreakers) devour their living space one rock at a time. Society is highly unequal, divided into a ruling class of “true-borns”, natural descendants of people from Earth, and a working class of “tank-born” clones. Many people have brain implants that let them do things like record and play back memories, or control space ships, and those who fall foul of pirates may find themselves turned into servitors, mind-wiped slaves under the total control of an implant.
My main character, Jonas, is a tank-born living under an assumed true-born identity, a master manipulator with a knack for reading other people. The book starts when he is kidnapped by Keldra, the space pirate, who forces him to use his manipulation skills to acquire an old Earth artefact she needs for her crusade against the Worldbreakers. But Jonas is also attempting to manipulate Keldra and escape from her, while avoiding the consequences of impersonating a true-born in the first place.
Eventually, in 2012, I had a version of Belt Three that I was happy with. I sent it to a few literary agents, who turned it down, and then saw that HarperVoyager was having an open submissions period. I sent it to them, and a year and a half later heard that it was one of fifteen books they were picking up out of the thousands that had been sent to them. It’s now available as an ebook, with a paperback coming out this December. Not something I’d dreamed of back in 2009 when I had my idea for a quick short story about a space pirate.