The Continuity Universe

Originally published in Eclipse Online.

Since 2003 or thereabouts I have been quietly working on a science fictional universe shared amongst my short stories – a “future history”, to use Heinlein’s term. When Jonathan Strahan asked me to write a short introduction to “The Memcordist”, to explain how it related to the other stories, I realised that I had never set down ( to anyone other than myself, anyway) the nature of this shared world, not even that I was working on this project. Perhaps some more diligent reviewers, or editors who bought multiple stories, had noticed (as Jonathan did). By now, these stories easily comprise some three hypothetical volumes, were they to be collected, with more forthcoming.

This world had no name, so for the purpose of this note I have settled on the Continuity – for it is a continuity of stories, a shared universe. I also think of them as the Evolution of Others universe, since it is partly concerned with the evolution of digital intelligences, who form at least the background hum of some of the stories, and also as the Exodus universe, since, at some point, starships begin to depart the solar system towards unknown stars. But any name, or none, will do.

The stories are roughly divided into three spatial sections, presented below. Stories set on Earth, stories set in the Solar System, and stories set beyond the Solar System. The universe they are set in continues to change, evolve and be added to.

And so, the stories.

Note: a few of the links lead to audio editions, when that is the only version of the story available online.

EARTH

The Night Train (Strange Horizons, 2010)

A genetically-modified bodyguard stops an assassination attempt on board the Bangkok-Nong Khai night train. Introduces the Other, Darwin’s Choice (who reappears in “The Long Road to the Deep North”) and the Kunming Toads, if I remember rightly.

The Shangri-La Affair (Strange Horizons, 2009)

The record of a weapon (The Shangri-La Virus), which is possibly linked to the strigoi strain in Central Station (“Strigoi”, “The Book Seller”) and the anonymous agent sent to destroy it. Set in Thailand and Laos.

Spider’s Moon (Futurismic, 2009)

Set in Vietnam, and concerns Ni-Vanuatu members of the Tarilaka clan (who operate the Gel Blong Mota) and their contract to supply the Other called Dragon with decommissioned battle dolls.

Thinking about it this might be the first story to mention Dragon’s World.

Aphrodisia (Strange Horizons 2010)

Off-world visitors on a night out in Vientiane, Laos. I didn’t make much of this up. Possibly the first mention of tentacle-junkies in the Continuity.

The Insurance Agent (Interzone 2010)

An eponymous agent (possibly of the same agency as that featured in “The Shangri-La Affair” and “The Ambiguity Clock”) is sent to protect a spiritual leader in the Golden Triangle. Possibly first mention of adaptoplant in the Continuity? Ogko pops up, as he does increasingly from around this point.

In the Season of the Mango Rains (Interzone, 2011)

A very brief story, almost a sketch, set relatively early on, with plenty of references to events in other stories.

The Integrity of the Chain (Fantasy Magazine, 2009)

A young tuk tuk driver in Vientiane, Laos, dreams of going to space.

The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String (Fantasy Magazine, 2010)

A slice-of-life story set in Vientiane, Laos. Associational, but fits into the larger Continuity.

Eksuberans (unpublished)

A slice-of-life story set in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associational, but fits into the larger Continuity.

The Ambiguity Clock (Daily Science Fiction, 2011)

An anonymous agent is sent into the Golden Triangle to destroy a somewhat ambiguous device… I love the adaptoplant jungle here, with its ill-formed houses.

The Monks of Udom Xhai (Abyss & Apex, 2010)

Concerns a mysterious group of monks in Laos and their possible attempt at creating a singularity. One of the monks makes a cryptic appearance in “The Integrity of the Chain” – elsewhere they are generally referred to as the Singularity Jesus Project.

Needlework (Asimov’s, forthcoming 2013)

Two young Vietnamese dream of going into space.

This, Other World (Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana, 2012)

Follows Rama of Clan Ayodhya on his quest into Laos in search of his lost love, who in turn is related to Boss Gui and the Kunming Toads (“The Night Train”).

Burial of the Dead (Chizine, 2007)

Set in Borneo. An early story, though first introduction of Elvis Mandela’s classic Night of the Tokoloshe.

What the Thunder Said (Strange Horizons, 2007)

Another early story, this one set in Malawi, Africa. Others crop up, and there’s an intriguing mention of the Cetewayo Curse.

CENTRAL STATION

A cycle of linked stories set in and around Central Station, a space port between Tel Aviv and Jaffa in a future entwined Palestine/Israel. It follows the lives of several of the residents, themselves the children of African and Asian migrant workers who have arrived in Tel Aviv in the 21st century.

The Indignity of Rain (Interzone, 2012)

The first story in the sequence, in which Boris Aaron Chong returns from Mars and meets his childhood sweetheart, Miriam Jones, and her adopted son, Kranki.

Under the Eaves (Robots: The Recent A.I., 2012)

A romance between Isobel Chong (a starship pilot in the Guilds of Ashkelon virtuality) and a robotnik, Motl.

Robotnik (Dark Faith 2, 2012)

The history of Motl and the Robotniks. In a way this is an expansion/revision of “Crucifixation” in the same way that “The Oracle” revisits “The Breeding Grounds”. Also, it explains just why the robotniks speak Yiddish…

The Smell of Orange Groves (Clarkesworld, 2011)

Boris’s childhood and the history of his family, beginning with Zhong Weiwei’s arrival in Tel Aviv, and the bargain he strikes with the Oracle on the hill.

The Lord of Discarded Things (Strange Horizons, 2012)

There’s a mention here of the Messiah Murder. I still want to write that story one day. This one’s about Ibrahim, the rag and bone man, and the child he adopts.

Strigoi (Interzone, 2012)

Carmel, a Shambleau, arrives in Central Station following Boris, with whom she had been intimate. It follows her own story, from the asteroid belt to Mars and finally to Central Station.

Crabapple (Daily Science Fiction, forthcoming 2013)

Another love story, this one concerning Boris’s cousin, Yan, and his boyfriend Youssou.

The Book Seller (Interzone, forthcoming 2013)

Carmel meets Miriam’s brother, Achimwene, and the two of them decide to play detectives and try to find a cure for Miriam’s condition. I get to introduce a literary genre called Martian Hardboiled so again, I’m happy.

Filaments (unpublished)

A story about a robot moyel – R. Brother Patch-It. And yes, I’m tremendously pleased about that!

The God Artist (unpublished)

It turns out Central Station has a god artist but then, what good neighbourhood doesn’t.

Vladimir Chong Chooses to Die (unpublished)

This story focuses on Boris’s father, Vladimir.

The Oracle (forthcoming in Analog)

The story looks at the Oracle’s background, and in parallel the true story of St. Cohen of the Others, and the emergence of the Breeding Grounds in Jerusalem.

GAMES WORLDS

In Pacmandu (Futurismic, 2010)

The first story, I think, to introduce the games worlds, in particular the Guilds of Ashkelon universe. In Central Station, Isobel works as a starship captain in the GoA (“Under the Eaves”).

SOLAR SYSTEM

The Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion (The West Pier Gazette, 2008)

Set on the Zion asteroid, and concerning an enclosed-space communication/mind-network based on the movement of marijuana smoke particles. The Zion asteroid heads out of the solar system at the end of the story. Various references to the departed asteroid (and to Zion Special Strength) are scattered throughout the Continuity stories, suggesting this has happened fairly early on.

Temporal Spiders, Spatial Webs (ESA/Bradbury-Clarke Prize winner 2003)

Probably the first story in the Continuity, it follows one of the Spiders, autonomous von Neumann machines seeding communication hubs across the solar system, in this case out in Trans-Neptunian space.

It won the Bradbury-Clarke short story competition organised by the European Space Agency and published in various places since then.

The Long Road to the Deep North (Strange Horizons, forthcoming 2013)

Follows a poet as he travels across the solar system. Darwin’s Choice (“The Night Train”) reappears, as does the Gel Blong Mota (“The Memcordist”).

The Memcordist (Eclipse Online, 2012)

Follows the Narrative (or recorded life history) of Pym, a Memcordist, from birth on Earth and his travels around the solar system, from Earth as far as Jettisoned.

Earthrise (Redstone SF, 2012)

Only Lunar set story to date. Goes into some details with regards to the Jakarta Bomb and the Terrorartist, and Introduces the word “Ubiquing” to describe someone forced into a virtuality, which I was kind of pleased about!

Also recurring in passing are Martian superstars Sivan Shoshanim and Elvis Mandela – Elvis first appeared I think all the way back in “Burial of the Dead” while Sivan appears in Martian Sands.

High Windows (Strange Horizons, 2006)

Introduces Polyphemus Port on Titan (Polyport), as well as the Galilean Republics on the moons of Jupiter. The hero runs away from home – a Baha’i space habitat – to Titan, then to Ganymede on board the Ibn al-Farid, an outer system transport ship. I think it is also the first mention of Joined Others and the golden prosthetics they are usually housed in.

The explicit sex was deemed pornographic by some readers.

Martian Sands (short novel, PS Publishing, forthcoming 2013)

Set mostly in Tong Yun City, the first and oldest city on Mars, and follows several diverse characters across the Martian landscape in a quest for an impossible utopia. The Martian Re-Born are first introduced here, I think. Also New Israel on Mars, and the Martian kibbutzim. One of the characters is a Golda Meir automaton, and I hope she one day returns.

Chains of Assembly (short novel, unpublished)

The second in the Martian Trilogy (because every SF writer needs a Martian Trilogy), but a little too weird, I think, so I never figured out what to do with it. It introduces the long-running Martian soap Chains of Assembly (Which Miriam avidly watches in the Central Stationstories) and dwells into the life of the Martian robotniks. It also introduces the Church of Robot, of which R. Brother Patch-It (“Filaments”) is of course a member.

EXODUS UNIVERSE

Set in worlds colonized by the Exodus ships.

Cloud Permutations (novella, 2012, PS Publishing)

Set on the planet of Heven, settled by a Melanesian (Ni-Vanuatu) Exodus ship some centuries in the past. It references Others, and there seems to be a an alien Migdal tree (“Covenant”) on the planet. The end of the story suggests (but does not tell the story) that one of its two heroes, Bani, went off-world and later met Mikhaila Petrova (“Lode Stars”).

Lode Stars (The Immersion Book of SF, 2010)

Set in a society (the Illuminati) who live in a region of space dominated by three black holes, who had built their religion around them, and which they call God’s Eyes.

Generations (Son & Foe, 2006)

A lone human explorer discovers a strange backwards-evolution alien race and follows them through the centuries until only one alien is left.

Covenant (Apex Digest, 2008)

Set on a planet settled by an Israeli Exodus ship, and concerns the symbiotic (and religious) relationship the settlers have with the indigenous aliens.

Butterfly and the Blight at the Heart of the World (Daily Science Fiction, 2010)

On a planet settled by Iban (originally from Borneo, and later migrant-labourers to the asteroid belt) a young woman must go on a journey of discovery and explore the legacy of long-dormant aliens.

MISCELLANEOUS

There is a handful of early miscellaneous stories that are associational. “The Breeding Grounds”, published in 2003, first introduces the man who would become St. Cohen of the Others, and the Breeding Grounds. “Crucifixation” (2005) first introduces the robotniks, and the religion-drug they are addicted to. “The Solnet Ascendancy” (2010) is referred to several times in the Continuity. Some others are less significant, and are therefore excluded here.