In the course of writing my next novel, provisionally titled “Warp Dawn”, I’ve done some brainstorming for the various alien races the leading man and woman (and their baby daughter!) will encounter during their voyage of cosmic exploration beyond the frontiers mankind has yet reached and spreading his new ship-portable wormhole generator far and wide throughout the sphere of the galaxy known to humans and allied species. Together with a group of women in a “sisterhood” they pick up along the way, they will use their wormhole generator to explore strange new worlds, one after the other as they jump through countless light-years of space as easily as we slip through a doorway.
Warp Dawn: the Story begins
Perun, our protagonist and inventor, is nearly killed by a biological weapon, a virus engineered to be deadly for him and him alone, early in the novel. Since he has a genetically enhanced immune system designed to attack and destroy any foreign body virtually instantly, only a few laboratories in the known cosmos could have created such a virus, and only a well-resourced adversary could commission it.
Among them, and by far the most likely, are the Gatekeepers, those who possess the “warp gates”, large centralized fixed wormhole links connecting all of the major star systems, and some points beyond such as the galactic core. To command the means of rapid travel between the stars normally requires risking one’s life in a duel, a law the vast majority of warp gates adopted to avoid the savage warfare generations waged to control them.
Replacing them, as Perun aspires to, is thought by many (but by no means all!) Gatekeepers to lawfully require him to duel them whether new technology is involved or not. Since he refuses to duel every single Gatekeeper in the cosmos just to spread a new technology, this is considered flouting the law (and thus even risking bringing back the savage years), making him a legitimate assassination target.
This threat inspires Perun to change his plans, to focusing on giving his invention to people living in regions outside the warp gates’ range. “Warp links”, wormholes that can be communicated but not traveled through, are ubiquitous, so risk is still there even in the outer reaches, but he surmises it’s much reduced. Spreading “do-it-yourself warp gates” to those disadvantaged by the existing system will not only find a more receptive audience, it will also level the interstellar playing field.
So who are the people who live in the strange new worlds of “Warp Dawn”?
Belperev is a rather Earth-like world by the standards of my setting, boasting of a shirt-sleeve environment with a mixture of land and ocean on the surface; much of the plant and animal life is even reminiscent of terrestrial life. But that’s about where the similarity ends.
The dominant form of animal life on Belperev resembles dinosaurs, ranging much larger than even the largest specimens from Earth’s Mesozoic. Among the largest of these creatures is a sapient species, an alien intelligence that resembles a supersized sauropod dinosaur. Whereas sauropods massed perhaps 100 tons, these creatures are near the maximum size a dinosaur-like structure can support, 1000 tons or maybe even more massive. My idea is for the largest individuals to stretch half a mile from head to tail, perhaps making them the most massive sapients in the Gaiagen sphere.
My inspiration for making such herbivores sapient was elephants, who are clever herbivores. Their lifestyle may resemble that of elephants on our own world. Much like sauropods, they eat tree branches, though in Belperev’s case the trees might be deciduous or even flowering, as opposed to the rather bland-looking conifers that dominated Mesozoic-era Earth.
These trees I have decided will be at least as tall as the redwoods of our own world, covering the lands of Belperev in a vast forest canopy hundreds of feet in height. Notably these canopies extend well out to sea as well, the continental shelves being dominated by trees that sprout from the seafloor and grow hundreds of feet above the waterline; they may superficially resemble kelp forests.
The Belperevians will subsist off both the land and sea forests, being amphibious creatures, habitually both wading or even swimming in water and walking on land. Our sapients, like elephants, have extremely long (when extended) trunks they use to gather food, especially when wading in the water, and also for a variety of other tasks.
The name “Belperev” comes from the Russian “мир белых перьев”, meaning “world of white feathers”. Despite their size, which would ordinarily keep them very toasty, Belperevians, like the lower animals on their planet, grow a coat of woolly white feathers to keep them warm during winter, which they shed early in the summer, leading to piles of huge white feathers all over the planet.
Belperev: a World with a High Axial Tilt and Eccentric Orbit
And that winter is a long and cold one! Belperev is a planet resembling the “super-Siberia” I built in my post “Worldbuilding Seasons on Planets with High Axial Tilts”, a world that has both high Uranus-like obliquity and an eccentric orbit. Most of Belperev is covered by an ice sheet year-round, but the northern (or southern?) continents and the seas near them warm up enough to become verdant in the summer. This summer features constant daylight and is an Earth-like 10-30 degrees Celsius, but it’s brief, and the much longer winter, most of which is during a time of constant night, features temperatures well below -100 degrees Celsius.
Belperev might have a large moon to stabilize its axial tilt, which will lead to a bright light in the otherwise dark winter sky, assuming it’s not in a multiple star system. Belperev’s moon might be an interesting place in its own right.
The Belperevian Way of Life
The Belperevians, having evolved in this environment, will take it all in stride. They are lovers of music and dancing, which their acute senses of ground and ice vibration make even more pleasurable for them. Despite their large size and massive weight they are also lovers of ice skating, liking to slip and slide on their homeworld’s (very thick!) ice sheets.
They are quite inquisitive and keenly interested in other worlds and new technologies, and would surely be connected by warp gate if they weren’t a relatively recent discovery. They’ll become extremely interested in Perun’s voyage and wish to go, but with his ship only being 7 miles in circumference and 2 miles in diameter it’s much too small for them to live in. They still receive the new technology and make it work, though, and look forward to maybe meeting Perun and company again with their own (much larger!) ships.
They also give Emma, Perun’s wife, the gift of some of Belperev’s enormous flowers; even the smallest of the collection they give her is much larger than the big bun on the top of her head. She puts the stem inside her bun and lets the petals form something akin to nature’s wide-brimmed ladies’ hat, making her look adorable.
Belperev will be one of the first planets they visit. Not only will it have been first discovered by the same Sisterhood the detachment they take on board early in their voyage belong to, they consider them to be close friends and allies. Once again inspired by elephants, Belpervian society is matriarchal, being centered on matrilineal family groups, with males off doing their own thing for the most part, mating being the primary exception.
The Sisterhood, which I’ve provisionally named the Order of Mokosh, the Sisters of Mokosh, the Daughters of Gaia, or some such, believes that the mother goddess having created the cosmos and mother humans being the bearers of new life makes it the natural order for women to rule, which is reflected in the culture and (engineered) genetics of their society. Women are dominant but it’s a very feminine form and style of domination; their faces and demeanor are designed to be regal, their bodies soft and supple but also slender and graceful, their build resembling ballerinas. Their tall elegant bodies starkly contrast with Emma’s short voluptuous (to the point of heavy) body, though both are very attractive.
The Sisterhood and the Belperevians have found over the years their values and lifestyle have much in common, and so get along very well. Much remains unknown about Belperev’s people, however, so even here on this friendly planet there’s a hint of danger.
Wine from the Abyss
Belperev is the best-developed of the strange new worlds I will feature in “Warp Dawn”. Another concept I have, which I have yet to even give a name, is for a planet entirely covered by ocean. I’ve touched on this kind of planet before in “Letters from the Airy Deep”; although at no point does the story go underwater in that novel of mine, Thalassa, Proxima Centauri’s planet, is an ocean world, home to the bird-like Thalassans, the first alien species humanity contacted. In the thousand years since then the Thalassans have spread throughout the Gaiagen sphere, making up for their small numbers with their great intellects. Indeed, every previous major advance of wormhole technology was invented by a Thalassan.
The Thalassans, however, live in the air. The planet the “wine of the abyss” comes from hosts an intelligent species that lives deep underwater, much like Earth’s giant squid. Indeed, my concept for this species is that they will resemble the giant squid or the octopus in their physical appearance. In terms of psychology they might strike a contrast with the hotheaded and distractible Thalassans, instead being cool (to the point of seeming emotionless) and disciplined. For whatever reason their planet’s deepwater ecosystem is much more vibrant than Earth’s, filled with an abundance of bioluminescent life-forms, including the sapients themselves.
A creature native to their world that these squid of space have domesticated happens to yield a beverage resembling wine, so unique and so well-loved among humans that there is voracious demand for both synthetic substitutes and the authentic drink, demand which cannot be fully satisfied because even with everything going for it it’s low on the priority list of destinations new warp gates will be built to service, in part because of, once again, how recently it was discovered.
Even with the meager trade they’ve accomplished so far, they’ve been able to become a wealthy race, and they have invested much capital into increasing abyssal wine production to sate demand in the future. They are on a path toward their whole planetary economy specializing in the production of goods biologically or ecologically unique to that one world, and cannot be easily or economically duplicated. Many planets throughout the Gaiagen sphere so specialize in particular rare jewels, precious gems, bones, materials, drugs, and so forth, leading to great wealth, and they aspire to join their ranks.
They’ve been hoping for some time that their system would get a warp gate, instead of the mere warp link they have now, so if someone came offering them a way to warp their own ships at minimal cost they would obviously be very interested.
The last world we’ll explore in any detail is Medabogovia. Instead of the wine of the abyss, this planet produces the nectar of the gods, hence its name, coming from the Russian “мир меда богов”, meaning, roughly, the world of the honey of the gods. A honey-producing world is an idea I really like, and I will include it as one of the strange new worlds of “Warp Dawn”.
Perhaps this planet’s honey is a unique variety that is exceptionally tasty and nutritious. This honey is produced by its sapients, the Medabogovians, a eusocial race whose airborne hives and gardens cover the entire planet. These gardens are something like an airborne forest, cultivated to yield an abundance of foodstuffs for the Medabogovian hives.
Medabogovia and Thalassa: Both Oxygen Worlds, yet so different
One idea I’ve had sitting on the shelf for a while, which I will use for “Warp Dawn”, is an oxygen-drenched world similar to Thalassa but without a water ocean, where the photolysis process stripped the planet bare of its oceans. In addition, to further differentiate it from Thalassa, Medabogovia will have an atmosphere not fifty times thicker than Earth’s, but over a thousand times thicker than Earth’s!
I explore such oxygen worlds in more detail in my post “Worldbuilding Exotic Oxygen Atmospheres”. An interesting property of this much oxygen being in a planet’s atmosphere is that the oxygen forms a supercritical fluid, being more akin to water than air in terms of pressure at the surface. To avoid too much similarity to the deep-water squid, I will have the Medabogovians occupy the heights of the atmosphere, possibly as high as the regions that are human-breathable.
This precludes them being large creatures comparable to a human in size, so these particular nectar-feeders might not be insect-like, but rather more like the birds that feed on nectar, only correspondingly larger due to the giant floating flowers they feed on in the depths below. Siting their abodes in the heights might help them to avoid having to deal with the giant creatures that roam the depths, their sizes enormous due to the high oxygen content.
A dry, rainy, industrial Hive World
Another idea I’ve had on the shelf for a while for a strange new world is a planet whose climate is dominated by torrential rains. While the giant squids’ planet might have this kind of climate, it would become relevant for the sapients’ environment on Medabogovia. While it doesn’t have any oceans, there could easily be enough water vapor circulating in the atmosphere to lead to torrential rains that evaporate long before they reach the surface, or “virga”, much like Venus’s sulfuric acid rains.
On such a world, the gradient in the atmosphere would be such that if the human-breathable heights were comfortable, the surface would likely be well above water’s boiling point; conversely, if the surface were comfortable, the human-breathable heights would be perhaps a hundred degrees below zero. Our sapients could insulate their nests very well, generate tremendous body heat (much like bees on Earth!), or, much like the geothermal power proposed in the ToughSF blog for Venus, they could lower very long tubes from their hives into the depths, harvesting the heat for comfort and to power industrial operations.
And industrial operations they will have! My current thinking is that Medabogovia had the rare distinction of having already had a sophisticated industrial civilization as of first contact, even having spaceflight capabilities. Their very specific environmental requirements and aversion to losing contact with the rest of their planetary hive has severely limited their range, acting as an effective barrier to them reaching much beyond their own planetary system and into the stars (as far as any aliens know…).
Medabogovia: more Thoughts
Due to their recent contact with wormhole-wielding Gaiagen civilization, they have acquired the ability to set up a web of warp links that cut the light-speed lag in communications, enabling them to maintain contact with their homeworld’s vast hive no matter where they are. Thus there has been an exodus of Medabogovians toward the stars in recent years. Even a small hive requires a very large habitat, though, so the total number of colonies has remained limited compared to most races.
Unlike the other races they contact, the Medabogovians are interested not so much in establishing warp gates for travel, though they are interested in that, but rather more in how the same technology can be used to establish warp links far more easily. This isn’t the primary application Perun had in mind, but it is one use of the technology.
In order to further differentiate Medabogovia from Thalassa, I’m considering making it a moon of a larger gas giant planet. Another concept I’m considering is to site it in a multiple star system, with its primary being an orange or red dwarf star, plus perhaps one or two other more distant bright suns in the sky. I’m even considering making Medabogovia’s primary sun a contact binary. All of those ideas combined might seem a bit much, but this is science fiction set a thousand years in the future: unlike my near-future-oriented stories, pushing the envelope I think is a good thing.
More strange new Worlds: beyond Warp Dawn
Those three: Belperev, Medabogovia, and whatever I’ll name the planet of abyssal wine, are the three concepts for strange new worlds I’ve fleshed out the most. They may be the strange new worlds our protagonists visit that I highlight in the eventual novel, “Warp Dawn”.
I do have other ideas, though, that I’m intent on using later, perhaps not for “Warp Dawn” but rather for future adventures. As a counterpoint to the hive-world approach, I’m thinking of a life-form that shoots spores or some such into space as part of its natural life cycle, perhaps at the extreme being naturally space-dwelling. That, however, requires further thought, since once out of its own gravity well it could in principle go anywhere; a photosynthetic life-form, for example, could go dormant for the trip between the stars, so interstellar flight would in principle be no obstacle. Indeed, I speculate in my post “Panspermia, the Alpha, and the Omega” that this is probably happening in real life right now with bacteria and other microbes.
One race I’m more comfortable using, even in “Warp Dawn”, is a species consisting of swarms of little bird-like creatures that are bioluminescent and nocturnal, sort of like butterflies or even fairies. These sapients would be small enough to fit in the palm of a human’s hand. They might not be particularly intelligent, but working together they might be very effective in certain niches. For obvious reasons, their space habitats would be small and cute. The requirements of some of these other races for huge habitats with very specific environments might not be a hindrance for them. Instead of a strange new world they might already be mostly on space habitats.
Other concepts I’ve been thinking of, which I probably won’t include in “Warp Dawn”, include a huge sapient resembling a jellyfish, either aquatic or airborne. Another idea is for tortoise-like sapients, the underlying idea being a visage dominated by well-armored shells. Along similar lines diatoms might provide some interesting inspiration for alien races.
Even more exotically, I’m intrigued by the idea of sapient plants like the Meistersingers from the Orion’s Arm worldbuilding project, or even sapient coral reefs in oceans. Better yet, airborne reefs like on Thalassa, but sapient. That would be awesome.
Well, that was a lot but it’s a good summary of my current thinking of the alien races and strange new worlds that the characters in my next novel, “Warp Dawn”, and other stories I will set in the far future of my space opera setting, will encounter.