I’m interviewing Anna Hackett over at USA Today/HEA for my SciFi Ecnounters column, about her novel At Star’s End. The heroine is a galactic archaeologist who happens to be searching for an Earthly relic – part of the “Mona Lisa.” The how and the why is all part of Anna’s plot and worldbuilding, which we discuss in the column, but I’m perpetually fascinated by the idea of what remnants of other civilizations we might stumble across once we finally get into the galaxy.
I’ve always been drawn to the stories of the old, mysteriously unknowable civilizations on our own world, hence my writing a paranormal series set in ancient Egypt! But when I first started reading Andre Norton’s science fiction novels many years ago, one of the most intriguing aspects of her world building to me was the Forerunners. As I understood it, the Forerunners were actually many alien civilizations and/or possibly one large, unified galaxy-wide association of these worlds. They and their accomplishments were lost in time thousands (millions?) of years before Ms. Norton’s characters ventured on the scene. She was excellent at giving the reader only tantalizing hints and tastes of the Forerunners and I always wanted more.
Her 1955 novel Galactic Derelict was especially fascinating because over the course of this novel an alien spaceship is located on Earth, having crashed and wrecked maybe hundreds of thousands of years ago. (SPOILERS, although the book dates to the 1950’s LOL.) But conveniently, in this series, humans have time travel (acquired perhaps from another wrecked alien vessel? I can’t remember) so they go back and find the ship when it’s freshly crashed, still in one piece with all its technology and marvels functioning. As the ship is being brought forward to our time, the engines are activated and the ship takes off in the now, trying to complete its long overdue voyage home.
The ship makes stops at various places in the galaxy and each time the unwilling human passengers have to hope ancient mechanisms for refueling are still working, they do some exploring…and then the ship reaches its home and turns itself off. So then the humans have to figure out a way to retrace the journey yet again. In the meantime, home base for the ship seems to have been a central place of Forerunner civilization and we get glimpses of buildings and artifacts and Forerunner descendants…
I was thoroughly and totally hooked, let me tell you!
When I started writing my Sectors science fiction series set in the far future, one world building element I included was a galactic civilization that had come and gone, leaving traces and tantalizing clues, and perhaps even a few working installations. I decided to call them the Ancient Observers or AO for short (although that’s subject to change). I haven’t been able to talk about it much in any of the books I’ve written to date. One of the AO devices was going to play a part in Escape From Zulaire but my editors and I concluded that adding in any significant discussion of this ancient civilization was just too much for the pacing of the novel. So the device is still in the book but without much reference to who built it. (Hint: think REALLY giant emerald. You’ll know it when you see it!)
I have some other plots in mind for future novels where my Ancient Observers may come up again as hopefully intriguing tidbits, might get more “time on the page”…we’ll see.
So, do you have any novels to recommend that feature archaeology out there, among the stars? Or vanished ancient races on other worlds that our descendants are trying to understand through shards and wall paintings? I’d love to read some more stories along these lines!