“The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure”, my first novel, is now published on Amazon! Click here to purchase the paperback version, or click here to purchase the ebook version. Having begun this book around two months ago, it feels like quite an achievement to have seen it through to the end. I enjoyed myself very much, and look forward to writing more books and stories. But before we get into that, what is The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure? Well, as the description says:
It is 2020 in a world whose history took a different path from ours, a path where the dawns of spaceflight, nuclear technology, and the computer age all started much earlier. Man has reached for the stars, colonies are spread throughout the solar system. Menteith Reinhardt, Count von Gleichen, one of the richest and most visionary men in the world, intent on stimulating human achievement and interest in spaceflight, sponsors a hunt across the solar system to find a valuable treasure he has hidden away somewhere in space. His protégé and heir Vidar Zhyvov enters the race, keen to keep his position as the recipient of a unique opportunity to shape the future of the cosmos and with good reason, since he himself replaced a predecessor in the same role.
Taking his wife and ten children with him on the quest, they find both love and danger in their journey, for the solar system of 2020 not only harbors men and women ready to fall in love with them but also mercenaries and pirates who will go to any lengths to seize the treasure for themselves. Tracking each other from the cloud cities of Venus to the rings of Saturn, from the depths of Jupiter to the cave forests of Mars, from the geysers of Enceladus to the tail of a comet, from Mercury’s icy craters of eternal darkness to beyond Neptune, as the Zhyvovs and the pirates both close in on the site of Count Gleichen’s treasure, they will face each other in a climactic duel where Vidar Zhyvov will meet his destiny.
In my original blog post on the book I outlined the plot in more detail. I quote that post here but with notes on the changes I’ve made between then and publication:
Count Gleichen gives a speech announcing the treasure hunt, followed by the treasure hunters starting in his mansion on the North Shore of Minnesota, then the action in space starts. Each treasure hunter is shown a different path to take to the ultimate destination, helping to scatter them and prevent a dog-piling upon the same clues at the same time; the length of the path each one takes is randomized in some fashion that I have not elaborated upon, but the point is that it is designed to be a fair contest. The first location the main character and his party visit is a space station where the aquamusical shows described in one of my earlier blog posts takes place. Their next stop will be Mars, where they will visit the colonies and landscape there, the civilization there being relatively well-developed since the first manned landing took place in 1963 in this timeline. A location I find very intriguing is what I call the “Cave Forests”, a lava tube that has been made airtight and pumped full of breathable air, trees being planted and grown in the soil, light provided by artificially-drilled skylights or concentrated sunlight. It might be a beautiful place. [Note: In the final novel the Zhyvovs do in fact pay a visit to a cave forest on Mars]
Their next stop will be Venus, where they will come on board an experimental cloud city installation, of the type described in another one of my blog posts. By 2020 civilization on Venus will be somewhat experimental, but an infrastructure and population will exist. Zeppelins and floating structures will figure prominently in this part of the story. [Note: that did make its way into the final novel; there’s even an “air mansion”, a large house floating in the sky, they search for a clue in]
The main character, Reinhardt’s apprentice Vidar Zhyvov, comes from a space habitat that was built as humanity’s first in the 1970s under the patronage of Menteith Reinhardt himself when he was younger. For this experimental space habitat the inhabitants chosen by Reinhardt were a (neo-Pagan, spiritualistic, and animistic) pro-natalist new religious movement that fulfills the “Space Amish” trope mentioned in another blog post on space demography; they adhere to the creed mentioned there of rewilding and naturalistic primitivism through space colonization, and deliberately encourage the attainment of natural fertility. Following the example of the real Amish, they practice a custom similar to Rumspringa, and this is when Reinhardt’s protégé left the habitat he was raised in to experience the outside world, ultimately choosing not to remain with the community; during this period he met Reinhardt and became his apprentice. He never renounced all values of his home community, though; pro-natalism remained, and this was shared by his wife, who he met during this same period. By 2020 they have ten children with an eleventh on the way.
Vidar Zhyvov takes his wife and most if not all of his children [note: it is all of the children in the final novel] with him on the journey, and the part of the story where they reach Venus is the first one where one of his sons [note: his name is Sigmund] falls in love with a local girl [note: Eirlys is her name], and a whirlwind romance ensues. The Zhyvovs end up taking her with them for the rest of the trip. While on Venus, they have a big dinner on a zeppelin, and the airship blows its top in an “accident”, putting them in danger, though they manage to make it out unscathed. “Accidents” have been happening at high rates to other competitors too, leading to suspicions of sabotage.
These suspicions turn out to be correct, because earlier the captain of a stealth spaceship, using a hydrogen-steamer-style design to remain hidden from detection, is revealed to the reader as the antagonist of the story. An experienced mercenary, he does want possession of the treasure for those reasons, but also thinks it’s important that Reinhardt be stopped. From the beginning he lent credence to the conspiracy theories that the true objective of Count Gleichen’s philanthropic network was building a base of power for his family and successors to establish a new order which they would control, but now rumors are swirling that the treasure is actually designs or prototypes for a weapon or some other dangerous new technology, which deepens his belief that it would be good for Reinhardt to be humbled in this instance. I’m not entirely sure that this latter part of his motivation will make it to the final product, though. [Note: it did, but the motivation is primarily mercenary]
In any case Zhyvov’s next stop will be Jupiter, where it turns out that in addition to the crushing gravity, two and a half times Earth’s, the next clue has to be fetched in a special installation deep within Jupiter’s atmosphere built by Count Gleichen in a special submarine-style vehicle also built by Count Gleichen. The challenge is increased with the depth of the installation not being far above the vehicle’s “crush depth”, and with the installation and the clue descending further down into the atmosphere when it detects the vehicle’s approach. Due to these challenges Vidar Zhyvov leaves his wife and children in orbit while he goes down himself.
Due to this separation the villains, who have been tracking them, take the occasion to attack with their stealth drones in order to capture or interrogate the wife and family to gain greater leverage over the situation, successfully using warning shots to threaten the wife into letting a drone ship filled with combat-ready robots dock with and board her ship. As it turns out after the suspicions of sabotage the wife’s ship has more than enough battle robots on board already to fend off the attack. The villains fail and worse yet for them the Zhyvovs and all the other competitors now know they have enemies; a silver lining is that the robots and drones are not traced back to them.
After this their next stop, as the clue from Jupiter told them, is somewhere in the Saturn system [note: I made it the rings of Saturn and from there a space habitat the size of a large town orbiting Enceladus]. This part of the plot isn’t as developed, but Vidar needs to fetch another clue, and the family meet some colonists, with for balance one of his daughters [note: her name is Signy] finding a love interest there [note: his name is Drake], but in contrast to the Cytherean girl (Cytherean being the favored demonym for Venus in this timeline), the boy from Saturn doesn’t work out as he doesn’t want a whirlwind adventurous romance.
From there the journey takes the Zhyvovs all the way back across the inner solar system to the innermost planet of all, Mercury, where not only a clue but a lover for another one of Zhyvov’s daughters [note: I instead made it Signy again; the poor girl deserved a break!] is found, also staying with them for the rest of the trip, the boy from Mercury [note: his name is Alaric] proving more daring than the boy from Saturn. From there one of the journey’s more interesting legs begins, as the clue points them in the direction of a comet passing through the inner solar system at the time. This comet, which unless any showstoppers come in my way will be one and the same with our own Comet NEOWISE [note: no showstoppers did come in my way and it is supposed to be the same comet, though for obvious reasons that’s not stated in the actual text of the novel, since people of that world would know it by a different name], will contain another clue planted there by a robotic space probe that was officially sent to intercept it for “research” purposes. After retrieving this clue, perhaps in another special-purpose vehicle they pick up near Mercury, the Zhyvovs wonder what else might be deceptive about the trip.
As if to continue with the cometary theme, they must from there go to a research station in the inner Oort cloud, the first piece of the Telescope Cloud I mention in another one of my blog posts. By 2020 it has become more than the lonely space station it started out as; it has become a full-fledged research center with a growing community of scientists, families, technicians, and service providers. [Note: As detailed in another blog post I had to change the inner Oort cloud idea because the travel time would be too long to keep up the story’s momentum. I changed it to a space habitat serving as a ship ferrying the same characters from the research station to the inner solar system. I had the Zhyvovs meet up with them in the Kuiper belt. There’s also another love interest for another son, Sigmund, namely Isolde, who has questionable loyalties] From here if I provided too much detail it would spoil the climax, but it should suffice to say that there is a femme fatale, or at least a girl suspected of being one, at this research station and this will lead directly to the hero and villain meeting face-to-face in a swordfight…on Neptune.
I had so much fun writing so many of these scenes; it finally gave me a chance to flex my worldbuilding muscles in a way that produced a nice final product: a 64,000 word, 185 page novel. If you like reading about heroic and adorable people going to new and fascinating places, finding lovers, and having perilous adventures in a bright and futuristic world I think you’ll love this novel.
For a novel it’s rather short, but while I love florid prose I detest plots that move at such a glacial pace that the reader almost forgets what’s supposed to be happening. The scenes, places, and action move through at a fast pace, even if most of the scenes themselves aren’t very action-packed; the few that are aren’t disappointing, though.
It turned out to be much more of a romance novel than I felt it would be going into it, though with a total of four (!) relationships with seven different people, five relationships with nine if you count husband-and-wife Vidar and Lada, I prerhaps should have expected that. Still, I enjoyed writing the romances, and that is an aspect I would certainly like to explore further in my future work.
As for my future work, I confess having completed my first novel I’m not entirely sure what direction to pursue for subsequent stories. I have several ideas that might fit well into a purer romance plot, which is a great way of flexing some worldbuilding muscle. I find the idea of short stories or vignettes to be attractive after having written a whole novel, so I might go with that option. I have several ideas for plots, however, that could be expanded to novel length, or perhaps a series of shorter pieces.
One idea I’ve had recently is to set novels and stories in the colonization of Thalassa around 2060 and later, a setting outlined in this blog post. That would be a fascinating environment to explore, and with a fleet of space habitats filled with thousands upon thousands of colonists there would be any number of stories to tell. A lot more worldbuilding would be required, though, so that might be put on the back-burner.
In any event I sincerely hope you’re sufficiently intrigued by the novel I’ve already completed, The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure, to want to buy it, crack it open, and give it a read.