In my latest novel, tentatively titled “The Saga of the Ilithianades”, the age-of-sail-style treasure hunt for a powerful alien artifact I highlighted as part of the story only really gets started around 40,000 words into it; up until then it’s literally a simple family saga, albeit one set in my space-operatic far future, of a woman who becomes a mother of a clone daughter for a scientific-scholarly sisterhood, and the daughter establishing herself as a full-fledged Sister after she comes of age, and her mother falling in love and marrying a man, and all the changes that come with that, including a softer more yielding demeanor and having children with him.
Oh well, it is supposed to be their saga after all, not just a story about the treasure hunt, hence the title, and besides; the purer family saga bits are entertaining enough I think, letting the reader marinate in all the languid twists and turns in these girls’ lives before a round of heart-pumping action closes out the story, the questions of the mother’s place in life, her true loyalties, and the daughter’s quest to make a mark on the Sisterhood and the cosmos at large answered, and a nice tidy moral at the very end of it for readers to reflect upon.
It’s a natural conclusion, but there’s still more than enough material for a sequel should I ever wish to revisit the clone lineage of the Ilithianades, most likely much further in the future rather than an immediate sequel.
Plethora of Planets
In true space-operatic fashion “The Saga of the Ilithianades” wanders freely and promiscuously through a variety of planets, but the most notable are: firstly, the maritime planet where Anastasia, the daughter, makes her home; and secondly, the worlds on the treasure hunt.
At first I thought maybe I’d have a long complex winding hunt, but I have since distilled it down to three planets so as to not make the fetching of the clues too repetitive: the first place they visit I nickname “snake world”, a jungle planet dominated by huge snake-like animals; the second place is “nuclear world”, a world with liquid radon oceans and creatures that feed off nuclear energy; and the third place is a gravitational choreography of stars, the place they’ll actually find the alien artifact.
Snake world is simple, being rather Earth-like, perhaps with heavier gravity, just with its local life being dominated by slithering serpents rather than legged creatures. The clue in this case is located in an air pocket deep underground, accessible only by a long winding underwater cave system, which starts at the bottom of a deep pit in the middle of a jungle, so narrow and overgrown they have to machete their way through it, fending off the local serpents. Sea serpents might also be a challenge in the underwater caves.
Nuclear world is more complex, as it’s a planet dominated by uranium, its decay product, radon, pooling as a liquid on the surface in vast oceans, serving as the medium for local life to evolve in and utilize for its reactions. I could find literally nothing on the Internet about how suitable liquid radon is as a medium for life, but from my (admittedly very non-expert) research on its properties it’s close enough to be plausible, so I’m going with it.
Obviously any form of life on such a planet would be far more radioresistant than Earth life; it’s possible it may need to not be carbon-based, but with the existence of species like Deinococcus radiodurans (which, let’s keep in mind, didn’t even specifically evolve to fend off radiation) who knows how radioresistant a carbon-based life-form could get? I of course keep the exact biochemistry ambiguous, as it would be superfluous to the story.
Nevertheless there are some specifics I’m going to get into. The life-forms get their energy not from chemical reactors using chemical fuel as we do but rather from nuclear reactors using nuclear fuel. Thus the autotrophs, the equivalent of plants, dig into the ground or filter the liquid radon to extract uranium fuel and the minerals needed to construct their internal reactors.
Natural Nuclear Reactors
Also keep in mind that natural nuclear fission reactors are abundant on this planet, and indeed may have been the milieu in which life there evolved originally, perhaps with colonies of microbes evolving into complex life-forms capturing natural reactors and incorporating them into their own anatomy, much as is thought to have occurred with mitochondria.
As an aside a recent theory posits that life on Earth first evolved in what was essentially a cooling pond of a natural nuclear fission reactor, and it’s honestly the most plausible theory I’ve read so far for where early Earth life came from. Obviously on nuclear world the direction life took was different, no doubt due to the vastly different environment.
Biological Synthesis of Super-Heavy Transuranic Elements or even Up-Down Quark Matter?
Keep in mind there won’t be quite as clean a separation between plants and animals on nuclear world as on Earth, but the more Earth-like animals eat the plants whole and strip them down for fuel for their own reactors, which will be particularly attractive since the plants breed transuranic elements with useful properties.
I envision that the ability to make neutron-rich fusion explosions evolved, perhaps by way of eusocial animals evolving a biological nuclear weapon caste for self-defense, superheavy elements might be synthesized as well, perhaps much further than any plant can take them, up to the island of stability, opening up a pathway for better reactor shielding as well as more effective armor and projectiles and the like. More speculatively, they might even be able to reach the “continent of stability”, where atoms are transformed into “up-down quark matter”, an extremely dense material that’s not radioactive in the least.
Given the much higher energy available, it stands to reason the organisms will grow to enormous sizes, able to ambulate at sizes and masses unattainable by anything on Earth. Godzilla-sized creatures will be mundane on uranium world.
Nuclear World: a Springboard for Space-Dwelling Life-Forms?
I also envision the avian life-forms, this world’s flyers, evolving nuclear jets as their primary means of propulsion, which will easily evolve into nuclear rockets, giving them sufficient energy to leave the planet altogether and become space-dwelling. This too has some serious kaiju vibes.
It also raises the question of its spread through the cosmos. Given that they’re in a galactic core interplanetary and even interstellar travel will be very easy, most likely leading to a rapid spread of nuclear world’s life throughout the core region, albeit at a much lower abundance than on their homeworld, given the relative scarcity of nuclear fuel elsewhere.
They’ll be spreading elsewhere too, though the relative scarcity of nuclear fuel elsewhere they won’t exactly be abundant. Nevertheless over time they might (I’m not sure) be able to transform their nuclear thermal rockets to fission fragment rockets. Such rockets can reach up to 5% of light speed, though to decelerate they might need to keep to 2.5% of light.
Given a Milky-Way-like galaxy they could spread from one side to the other (50,000 light-years from the core) in only 2 million years, though in practice it would take longer, since they won’t be in transit constantly. To traverse intergalactic distances (a couple million light-years) would take on the order of 100 million years, likely longer if they “island-hop” with intergalactic stars. But even that isn’t too unbelievable, since even Earth spores have been revived after 250 million years in stasis.
Back to the planet, the plant ecology of nuclear world is I imagine dominated by huge flowers, perhaps glowing red, which grow up above the root reactor to make them more attractive for the animals to eat and spread their seeds to new places that might have more or better fuel. This is similar to how certain Earth fungi fruit themselves.
Underground on Nuclear World
One key difference from Earth is that there is no reason why plant reactors can’t extend arbitrarily deep into the planet’s core, so the entire planet from core to crust might be colonized by nuclear-fueled plants; there might be extreme competition among many plant varieties for breaching the surface so the largest variety of animals might take their seeds in the form of fruits near the end of the plant’s life cycle.
Animals will also tunnel underground, perhaps by resort to a nuclear melter head similar to a nuclear subterrene; other animals and plants might just make use of pre-existing tunnels to navigate underground. This underground environment may well be as luscious as the surface, though many of these caverns will fill up with liquid radon eventually (unless the plants or animals can control the temperatures a la beavers and their dam engineering prowess), so aquatic creatures may be the norm in those environments.
A really cool aspect of nuclear world is that the abundant liquid radon emits a lavender-colored glow, not too unlike the “energy” liquid in the “Tron” films. Much like how water on Earth freezes to make ice and snow, radon on nuclear world freezes to make radon ice and radon snow, which has a golden to orange glow.
An Homage to “Journey to the Center of the Earth”?
The clue in this world is underneath one of the aforementioned plant root system, a giant glowing flower in the middle of a pond fed by three radon waterfalls; this root system, which will resemble a cave but biological instead of geological, will be host to an abundance of bioluminescent life-forms that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jules Verne novel. In order to avoid being too repetitive the roots will be dry. Deep underground there are perilous encounters with local animal and plant life, with one of the nuclear subterrene creatures even colliding with a root, leading to the heroes only narrowly escaping the magma.
At the end of the journey the clue is in a huge underground chamber that has an analogous landscape of three radon waterfalls, with a pond and the clue in the center of it.
The Gravitational Choreography
Last but not least there is the final destination, a gravitational choreography. A gravitational choreography is a dynamically stable solution to the “n-body problem” in which each body moves along the same trajectory, a simple example being three bodies which all follow a figure-eight path. Many more gravitational choreographies are known, and you can explore them with this web app here.
My favorite, and the one which will appear in “The Saga of the Ilithianades”, is the 11-body solution with a “flower”, a part of the choreography where they spiral in and out in tighter circles. Seeing stars traverse such a trajectory would be nothing short of spectacular, and the center of mass of such a place would be an ideally dramatic site for a powerful alien artifact, not to mention the final duel between the two competitors in the treasure hunt.
For all we know the aliens might have created the choreography artificially, but this question is left intentionally ambiguous in my universe; “The Night of the Calendars” mentions that there seem to be an inordinate number of choreographies across the cosmos, much more than they think would occur naturally, but there is no hard evidence either way.
That’s the last new location my characters will be visiting in “The Saga of the Ilithianades”, but it’s not the last new location I thought up. I had an idea for a world filled with jellyfish-like creatures, but I decided not to include it in this story. Perhaps a different time. Indeed, I have several new story ideas I might pursue once “The Saga of the Ilithianades” is finally completed, but that’s material for another post.
I think the worldbuilding and story elements I’ve made for the novel I’m working on now are some of the finest I’ve done so far. The thing about writing so many books and painting so many artworks is that although it might seem like you’re spinning your wheels you’re really progressing, usually rather well at that. Even after having made nine books and working on a tenth now, there is more than enough drive in me and story ideas on the back burner to sustain my book output deep into 2022. That’s an interesting thought!