A Sci-Fi Romance Novel
by Kelly Jensen
Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies—what chance does love have?
Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion—someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.
Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything—even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.
Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.
Welcome to Alkirak
In To See the Sun, Bram chooses Gael to be his companion based on a short HV (holo video) at a site called Heart Companions. There’s not a lot of detail about Gael’s profile, except that he’s looking for a single male companion. But it was the video that sold him. Bram was entranced.
For his part, Bram’s looking for a life partner. Missing from his profile would be some vital details about the planet where he lives, though. He included pictures of his farm. Close up pictures. His wind turbines, the small animals he keeps. Rows of soybeans and the small hobby garden he keeps.
But Bram knew better than to include a picture of the land adjacent to his farm—mostly because his farm occupies a wide terrace in a deep crevasse. There is no land adjacent. Just a void. Below the crevasse, poisonous mists swirl. And above, on the sunbaked plateau, the air is too thin to breathe without the aid of a mask.
Why did I have Bram entice Gael out to a barely habitable planet on the far edge of the galaxy? Well, for one thing, I thought it was funny, and one of my favorite scenes in the book is Gael’s reaction to learning that Alkirak is not the paradise he thought it might be. But I also liked the idea of setting this romance in a challenging environment. To See the Sun is a sweet love story—perhaps the loveliest I’ve ever written. The contrast of a hot, dusty, and nearly airless planet could only make it sweeter.
The inspiration for Alkirak came from a number of sources. I have… let’s call it a fondness for inhospitable planets, which I’ve explored in a number of other posts. In creating this planet, I drew on a couple of favorites.
For the surface, I revisited Crematoria from The Chronicles of Riddick—sort of. Rather than have the rising sun bring along with it a wave of lava, I made the surface of Alkirak barely hospitable. You wouldn’t want to be up there at midday, but when the sun is rising and setting, it’s just…warm. Okay, hot. And you can’t really breathe, but you wouldn’t be instantly burned to a crisp.
The hope is that one day the atmosphere in the crevasses will push upward and eventually envelop the planet, making the surface habitable as well.
So, the crevasses. I could have set all the action beneath the surface, in tunnels. Had the farms exist as variously protected greenhouses. But I wanted to show a planet in the process of being terraformed. Therefore, the farms had to be outside, necessitating the creating of a green zone. I placed this about a third of the way down each crevasse, a couple of kilometers below the plateau that makes up the surface of Alkirak. There is flora in the crevasses, thickening to alien forests toward the bottom. There is also water. In creating the first bubble of habitability, I proposed that the mining process released a combination of gases that formed a stable atmosphere, and that continued mining and farming would expand this atmosphere, pushing it upward.
I based this on research done into terraforming Mars or like environments by using lichen and by increasing the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to create something like our ozone layer. My science isn’t exact, but I wanted it to be close enough to be plausible.
The color of the sky is also based on Mars. The difference in atmosphere (or almost complete lack of it) is what makes the inverse colors—the corona of the sun being blue rather than a warmer shade of yellow or orange, and the sky being a dull yellow rather than blue.
For the crevasses, I turned to T'ien Shan, from The Rise of Endymion. Dan Simmons is a master of creating different and challenging environments. T’ien Shan is a planet of mountains. There are no valleys, only seas of acid and poisonous gas, meaning people have to live in the higher reaches. The peaks are crisscrossed with steps and hanging walkways, making travel arduous and dangerous. I borrowed only the poisonous gases, and decided that the deadly mix below the habitable zone was probably a mixture of elements that were necessary, but too concentrated in their current state.
The storms? They were entirely my own invention and happened while I was in the process of writing. There’s a scene where Bram and Gael are having a pretty deep conversation and I needed an interruption. Hello, weather. Initially, I thought to show Gael as being terrified of the thunder and lightning, but he’s just not that easily cowed. So I had the storms scoop poison gas out of the depths of the crevasse instead.
(No characters were permanently… No one we really care about was permanently… There’s a happy ever after, okay?)
I had a lot of fun building Alkirak. I enjoy designing worlds in general—it’s one of the perks of writing speculative fiction. Some of my more outlandish ideas might not be possible, but I generally find that with enough research and imagination, you can make almost anything work!
If you’re interested in reading more about my world building, look out for the post detailing Zhemosen, the city (and planet) where Gael was born, and you can find a few pictures I used as inspiration on my Pinterest board for.
If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.
Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including theseries, co-written with Jenn Burke. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.
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