Digging into HELLHOLE

The following brief article was written for the Tor newsletter:

HELLHOLE: There’s No Place Like Home

Who says the galaxy has to be a pleasant place to settle down?  I grew up reading space opera stories set on strange alien planets filled with lush flora and exotic creatures, steamy dinosaur-filled jungles on Venus, bleak but poignant lost civilizations on Mars.

Of all the planets in habitable zones around stars, a great many may fit in the broad category of “fit for human life,” but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable for human life.  In the classic Dune, Frank Herbert was one of the first authors to show sufficiently motivated people using their ingenuity to live reasonably normal lives in a truly inhospitable place.

After writing eleven books in Frank Herbert’s Dune universe, Brian Herbert and I had stretched our collaborative muscles and practiced building complicated epics.  We felt it was time to craft a large science fiction story of our own making.  Hellhole.  But it didn’t have to be a pleasant place.

I’ve traveled extensively in the desert southwest, hiked and explored in the red rock canyonlands of Utah, in now-abandoned potash and uranium mining towns, in Death Valley, in Arizona and New Mexico.  Because of the arid climate, much of the history remains intact, petrified dreams and rusted detritus.  People came out to these places, staked their claims, fought the elements, and tried to make lives for themselves.  I remember vividly one hike out to a crusty dry lake bed in Death Valley, the ruins of a large borax mining operation where hundreds of Chinese immigrants had slaved under 120°F heat, choking on air filled with alkaline dust, boiling chemicals out of the ground to make cakes for soap . . . and they did it willingly because these conditions were better than what they had left at home.

How much worse might it be on a planet that had been hammered by an extinction-event asteroid impact centuries earlier?  In a broad galactic empire, filled with malcontents, misfits, exiles, criminals, and people on the run, there would be volunteers to settle even in a place like this . . . Hellhole.

Our novel is their story, but it’s more than just a pioneer tale, also filled with galactic politics, treachery, and buried secrets.  And human fortitude to make a home . . . wherever it might be.

For more links to excerpts, audios, and the book trailer, see the Tor/Forge Blog.