Fred Kerns's latest update for Uncharted Territory

Dec 6, 2018

Finally, an update. I’ve been going over the whole book from the beginning, doing a light polish, tweaking a bit here and there, to help get my brain back on track to finish the story. Just finished revising Chapter 9 a few minutes ago, and something in it that had been sloshing around in my head for a very long time finally solidified. There’s a sinister alien that appears in an ancient video record that was inspired by something I saw when I was a little kid and had mostly forgotten over all these years.

The image stuck in my head when my age was still measured in a single digit. It lodged in my imagination and percolated away for somewhere around thirty-five to forty years, but I’d long since forgotten exactly where I’d seen it or who the artist was. But when I was trying to come up with a scary creature for that scene in Chapter 9, my fuzzy memory of that image sprang to mind:

A dark thing emerged from the rift. Kolya couldn’t guess its size with nothing nearby to compare it to. She couldn’t make out its exact shape, either -- its features rippled and blurred and faded in and out as if partially obscured by thick smoke. She caught a glimpse of what might have been a cape or cloak. Near the top were six orbs that glowed sickly yellow-green. Eyes, possibly.

It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch, being unable to remember exactly what had inspired that. Then, recently, it finally came back to me. I had a set of books when I was a kid -- not the complete set, only four of six volumes -- filled with artwork by Steven Caldwell. Those images had inspired my imagination, and often my nightmares as well, back in those days. The four books I had were Aliens in Space, Star Quest, Fantastic Planet, and Settlers in Space. Aliens in Space was the one that had the image that sparked off the idea I had for Uncharted Territory decades later.


It’s good to finally scratch that itch ... but that thing still makes my skin crawl. When I was a kid, it was utterly terrifying. No wonder it stuck in my head, as degraded as my memory of it became over the years. The idea it inspired ended up being rather different as a result. The creature in Chapter 9 appeared to be partly obscured by shifting smoke as well as fading in and out of focus. Also, I probably got the idea for its six glowing eyes from the Iconians in Star Trek Online


Another thing I remember from those books is a sense of wonder about the universe, which I haven’t gotten from sci-fi very much aside from Babylon 5 and some episodes of Doctor Who and Star Trek. Trek and Star Wars, in particular, treat going to different planets the way we treat driving to the nearest grocery store. One of the things I wanted to infuse Game Over, Uncharted Territory, and its sequels with was a sense of mystery and wonder, of traveling to places no one has set foot in thousands of years, of uncovering tantalizing glimpses of civilizations that vanished hundreds of thousands of years ago, beings who were -- to borrow a bit of dialog from Babylon 5 -- vast and timeless and who walked among the stars like giants.

This scene from B5, in fact, does a pretty good job of bringing a sense of wonder into its setting.

As much as the Mass Effect series is one of my favorite sci-fi franchises, it does seem to have a tendency to recycle the idea of a precursor species in the distant past that returns and threatens to wipe out all life in the galaxy. So that’s a trope I’m trying to avoid with these novels, but I do love the idea of playing around with extinct civilizations and having characters uncover hints of what came before, but I’ll be going out of my way to avoid having said ancient species return with an evil plan to enslave or exterminate everyone in their path. I just love the little shiver I get when thinking about ancient, deserted planets and ruins left behind by once-mighty civilizations that have long since gone to dust.

I’m hoping to capture a bit of that "magic" in Uncharted Territory ...