I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of alien civilizations that rose and fell long before our time. I first came across the concept as a young scifi reader in Andre Norton’s Time Traders series, especially in the Galactic Derelict story, where the heroes inadvertently went on a trip on a Forerunner spaceship that made its preprogrammed stops at various worlds that were now abandoned. They ended up on one that seemed to have been the United Nations-type center of its time, and then they had to somehow get the ship to retrace its path back to Earth. She planted many hints and raised many questions about the Forerunners in her science fiction novels and I loved every mention. I craved more.
When I was establishing my Sectors universe, which is the galaxy-spanning civilization for my scifi romances, I knew I HAD to include this element that I love so much, with all the mystery and ability to drop tantalizing hints. I refer to my ‘forerunners’ as the Ancient Observers (or AO for short) and my humans are as fascinated by the ruins and installations they find as I was by Andre Norton’s. Like she did, I try to make it clear there may well have been more than one such civilization in the millions of years before the humans made it off the Earth and out into the wider galaxy.
I kept thinking how cool it would be – maybe – to have my people actually find an AO survivor somehow. But my daughters pointed out that would be giving away too much of the mystery I’d spent all that time creating. OK, good point. So, Bithia, the ‘sleeping beauty’ in Trapped on Talonque is from an ancient, spacefaring civilization but not ‘the’ AO, who predate even her time. To make the story work I had to think long and hard about why such a person would be left behind on a more primitive planet by her own people and how she could survive without aging. Then I got to have fun imagining what it would be like to be her, and finally be set free…but thousands of years into her future. Suffice it to say nothing is as she hoped or expected.
One of our favorite fairy tales at my house has always been that of Sleeping Beauty, so I enjoyed doing a scifi take on the story…but there’s no prince, only my gallant and resourceful Special Forces soldier, Nate Reilly. He becomes fascinated with Bithia, needs her help to survive his own captivity and rescue his men, and of course falls in love with her. So he’s not leaving her behind, is he? Instead of helpful fairies, we have a clan of priests and priestesses who know many of the secrets of the Sleeping Goddess, as Bithia is called on Talonque, but have their own agenda.
And how long can even the best alien technology keep functioning with no maintenance? (I did enjoy throwing problems at this group of characters.)
One of my favorite scenes in the entire book is when Bithia finally gets a few answers to why she was seemingly abandoned by her father and her own people, thousands of years before.
A word about the indigenous civilization on Talonque and its ability to keep running pretty much unchanged for so long, from Bithia’s time to ‘now’ – on our own planet, the ancient Egyptians maintained a civilization for thousands of years. Under the right conditions, it’s certainly plausible on another world as well.
I needed a reason for the local rulers to keep Nate and his men alive in the beginning, and a challenge for them to overcome, so I developed the game of sapiche. It’s based in part on ritualistic ball games played centuries ago in Central and South America, in part on gladiatorial type contests in ancient Rome and owes a nod to the ritual combat the Aztecs would sometimes put captured warriors through, where they had no real chance of winning and saving their own lives but were forced to fight anyway. Sapiche is like all ball games – there’s passing, blocking, strategy, scoring….and very high stakes.
So there you have it – the influences behind what became the novel Trapped on Talonque.
Some day I’d love to write a sequel for these characters (and give the loyal Sgt. Thom Curran his own story). I do have plots in mind but as always, it’s a question of time.
A word on the cover, which is by the wonderful Fiona Jayde as always. On my budget I can’t afford custom photography so I’m always searching on the stockphoto sites for suitable models. In this case, Bithia, the alien heroine, has lavender hair and at one point in the novel is described as having elaborate braids. Well, imagine my surprise and delight when I found this stock photo of a woman with lavender hair in an elaborate braided arrangement! Serendipity! Due to the strong color palette of the cover as a whole, you can’t really see how perfect the shade of ‘Bithia’s’ hair is, but trust me, it was a happy moment to send that image to Fiona (who then created the entire cover in her usual highly creative fashion).
Trapped on Talonque was my third scifi romance novel.
Will an alien sleeping beauty awaken to save him, or destroy everyone around her?
When a Sectors Special Forces soldier and his team crash land on an alien planet, they’re taken captive and given a challenge–win at the violent ball game of sapiche and live. Lose, and they die, sending a mysterious, alien beauty to an even uglier fate. To survive, these soldiers must win the game and find a way to free the dangerous prisoner from her locked chamber.
Nate Reilly and his team are in deep trouble. Prisoners on a backward alien planet, they’re brought before an alien ‘goddess’, sleeping in her high tech seclusion. Nate is astonished when she awakes and establishes a psychic link with him. But her news is not good–he and his men must win a brutal challenge set by their captors, or they will die. She’ll give her aid, but in the end their courage and strength must win the contest.
Bithia sleeps in her chamber, as she has for thousands of years, since her own people unaccountably left her there. Viewed as a goddess by her captors, she must hide her ancient secrets to survive. But only the bravest of men may free her. Can she use her psychic powers to keep Nate and his men alive long enough to help her escape, or will her only hope of freedom die with them?
Note: Portions of this post appeared previously on Pauline Baird Jones’s blog.