Pat Hayden Jones is the central character of a universe. The Earth has survived mega-droughts and sea-level rises; hundreds of years have passed since the crises which destroyed the old nations. A single bureaucratic system rules the planet. On Earth, relics of the bad days — great dykes and vast saline deserts — are a backdrop to a system of mundane oppression. Americans are second-class citizens, living under a protectorate, having traded away their birthright centuries ago. They are relegated mainly to service jobs, maintaining an infrastructure which bans robotic assistance as a way to keep the population busy.
Opportunities are more varied in the colonies. The closest systems — the Nexus — are much like Earth, well under control of the Benevolency. As one travels farther, the grip of central planning weakens. Some systems are ruled by despots who have created cultures of personality. And in the Fringe, almost anything goes, especially in the Estrella Roja star cluster, where a rebellion loosened — but not relieved — the grip of the Space Commission a hundred years ago.
My goal was to imagine a system which could persist for centuries, mostly unchanged — a new Dark Ages. The idea that technology could be proscribed to control obsolescence was born of the realization that interstellar trade would never work unless the rate of change was controlled. Else, cargoes would be worthless, obsolescent by the time they reached their destination. Even with methods of collapsing travel time, in this universe there is a cost to space travel and it is non-trivial. I’ve explored these concepts in some early posts, here, here, here and even more here,
As for Jones, he is yet another instantiation of an old archetype — the everyman. Yes, he’s male. I chose a male protag as this is my first book, and though I have a constellation of female characters, including a couple POV characters, I’m not quite sure I can portray the changes and challenges to be faced from solely a woman’s POV. Yet, Mayana, the other primary POV character, has taken a major piece of the story, and allowed me to explore the psyche of a female refugee. She struggled with her place in her home society, the expectations of centuries of their peculiar culture. Escaping into the wild, wide-open ways of the Spacers, she reacts by taking the reins and driving the plot forward, complementing Jones’s canonical, sometimes didactic approach to problem solving with her own pragmatic, down-to-earth attitude.
In the great tradition of zero-to-hero stories, Jones and many of his comrades start humbly. Whether they reach hero-hood or not is left to the reader to decide; no decision is without some ambiguity, no act is without its unintended consequences. The path forward is perilous, no one tells the whole truth, and the fates are uncertain.