The Desolation Trilogy began with a single image on a TV screen; an image that inspired the idea of a “Western in space.” That idea, in and of itself, isn’t all that original of course; we can point to TV shows like Joss Whedon’s Firefly as an obvious example of the genre, and even Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was originally pitched as “Wagon Train in space”. But, as I began creating the universe my story would take place in I also found myself thinking about the ideas I wanted to talk about in the story and which characters might embody the ideals and ideologies that would drive events.
As I began to outline those events, I found myself thinking about the serial killer I wanted to create the murder mystery aspect of the story. As I pondered his motivations and the events that would create the monster, I began to think about his origins.
Originally, I found myself resistant to the idea of the killer being an alien who looked human. As much as I enjoyed Star Trek growing up, by the time I was in college Star Trek: The Next Generation was on, and while I was a fan of that show one thing that became a minor annoyance to me was that all of the aliens encountered were basically a human being with different bumps and appliances on their heads. Star Wars at least had aliens who looked different; the classic cantina sequence in the original Star Wars was a sensory overload of truly different species. The idea of an alien species identical in appearance to humans was something I’d always wanted to avoid…except that I found myself thinking about how horrific that would be: a villain capable of hiding in plain sight.
There is a saying that if you give a million chimpanzees a million typewriters one of them is going to bang out the works of Shakespeare; I wondered about the possibility that in a universe where one galaxy can contain a million habitable planets then wouldn’t it be possible that with all of the infinite vagaries of evolution – even in an environment humans would find hostile – that a species could develop that would look outwardly identical to humans even if they were very different internally? Thus I imagined the harsh world that would become Nasata, home of the warrior species known as the Nasai.
Oddly enough, as I began to imagine the Nasai and their culture, I wondered what would motivate one of them to travel to another world to become a savage killer, I became enamored of the idea of a society of warriors that would send its youth out to earn the right to be accepted into their society; if you look back at history there were human societies that did much the same, whether it was the Spartans whose rite of passage was to send a young warrior into the wild to survive on his own, or the Romans who saw merit in even the nobility sending their sons to serve with the Legions in faraway lands, that they might learn to “ride, shoot straight, and speak the truth.”
With that, the character of Vahran was born: a young man – a boy, really – who earns the right to test his mettle against the universe, at least partially out of a desire to avenge the murder of a friend at the hands of the rogue Nasai who would go on to be the Desolation Slasher. But, although he demonstrates the skill to pass the test necessary to earn the right to pursue his quest, he is still possessed of the arrogance and intemperance of youth and thus convinced of the superiority of his own people. With that came the idea of his ties to humanity through his father’s best friend, a human who helped raise Vahran even though he might not represent the qualities most Nasai would hold dear; creating the conflict of the young man being forced to grow into a man and to face his own biases and learn how to move past them and see the merits of people and cultures very different than his own even as he learns from his own mistakes at least partially created by his personal arrogance and prejudices.
When he meets Reed Cooper, he first sees Cooper as just another human he has to deal with; but over time he can’t help but respect Cooper’s grit, determination, and ferocity in combat that shows him that humanity might actually possess some of the very qualities his own people hold most dear. As time goes on he becomes more understanding of not only humans but his own father’s respect and regard for them… and in the process gains the maturity and wisdom to become the very type of warrior he most hopes to be.