I’ve never been particularly satisfied with the world I live in. That’s not to say I’ve had an especially difficult life, because I haven’t. I have two loving parents, an awesome sister and brother-in law, an adorable baby nephew, many supportive friends, and a longsuffering cat. Sure I’ve faced hardships here and there, but none of them are really responsible for my dissatisfaction with life in general. Mainly, I just find our universe kind of boring.
That perspective has always been there, and it’s manifested itself in a lifelong need to consume and create new worlds through storytelling. For me, it’s a biological need as significant as eating or breathing. I must discover new stories, I must tell them, I must experience as many worlds as I can. I’m a lover of hard and soft sci-fi, high and low fantasy; it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s well-written and creates an engaging, well-constructed new world to explore.
I guess that’s escapism, by definition. I don’t see it that way myself. To me, it’s a sort of moral imperative, a responsibility. My brain creates fictional worlds on its own, and I feel an obligation to give those worlds a chance to live in the real world. I feel the same desire to visit the worlds created by others, to reinforce them with personal investment.
Tantalus Depths is the first novel I’ve actively attempted to publish. It’s far from being the first story I’ve written, and whether it successfully sees publication or not, it won’t be the last. Whether it was writing and illustrating Star Wars comic books with my dad as a kid, writing Lord of The Rings spinoff stories in my preteen years, or creating an original five-book space opera about bounty hunters in high school, I have always been working on creating something.
Tantalus Depths is my most recent story, written during the latter days of my college career. It’s the first thing I’ve created that I consider to be fully ready for publication. So hows about we get to talking about that, then?
Rise of the Depths
Tantalus Depths is born from a few separate ambitions. For one, it’s an homage to a few of my favorite sci-fi stories. There is a sort of subgenre in science fiction that’s kind of hard to define; it lies where stories of the wonder and mystery of space exploration meet with the cosmic horror genre. Star Trek meets Lovecraft. This semi-subgenre revolves around both the draw and the dread of the unknown. When you read these stories, you feel that thrill of risk, that life-and-death gamble. Maybe that light up ahead is a gateway to heaven, maybe it’s the lure of some ravenous celestial angler fish. You don’t know, but you must know.
One of my favorites in this genre is the criminally underrated groundbreaking 1956 classic Forbidden Planet. It flawlessly creates an eerie tone of uncertainty throughout, a sense that something is not quite right on that alien world. Yet, it still shows such promise: there is a mystery to this world, a secret prize left behind by its long extinct inhabitants. The possibility that said secret is the reason for said extinction isn’t even discussed until the end, because nobody wants to acknowledge the possibility.
I really wanted to write a story with a similar theme, a story where a few human explorers find themselves in an ancient, alien environment wrapped in mystery and an inescapable undertone of cataclysm. What is Tantalus 13? It’s not a planet, they learn that very shortly after arriving, but what is it? What does it do? What is it for? What happened to its creators, and why did they work so hard to disguise their work from the universe? For that matter, what does their human-made AI SCARAB know about Tantalus 13 that it isn’t sharing? What is the relationship between SCARAB and Tantalus 13?
Some of these questions will be answered, some will not. Some will beg even more questions, and by the time the crew of The Diamelen realizes they’ve really gotten in over their heads, it’s too late to go any direction but forward.
SCARAB: A Polite Menace.
I’ve had a fascination with AI in fiction for as long as I can remember. Stories about well-written AI characters invariably shed a great deal of light on human nature. How can you tell if an AI genuinely feels emotions, or if it is merely flawlessly able to parrot them? What if a machine that is friendly and helpful and speaks to you with a cheery tone is still just cold, calculating, and emotionless underneath? We have a term we use for humans who are capable of imitating normal human emotions and social interractions but possess absolutely no empathy. We call them psychopaths.
SCARAB has secrets. It has motives, and it plots in order to achieve them. Nobody knows what they are but SCARAB, and it’s so perfectly capable of emulating positive human interactions, nobody even has a clue about SCARAB’s dark side except for Mary.
Beyond that, SCARAB is a building-sized intelligence. They live inside of it while they’re on Tantalus 13. It has eyes and ears in every wall. It controls the air they breathe. It has fifteen robotic drones that it can use at the same time. It’s not simply a matter of Mary realizing something’s wrong with SCARAB. She has to find a way to tell the crew without the essentially all-powerful machine realizing she knows its secret…
Mary Ketch: A New Kind of Heroine
Finally, another intention of Tantalus Depths was to create a really strong female protagonist. I’ve long felt dissatisfied with the portrayal of women in fiction, for several reasons. One is the obvious reason that everyone has heard before: women exist, more often than not, only to serve as the “prize” for the male protagonist. Female leads in fiction are rare on their own, which baffles me, since they account for half the population.
The other thing that bothers me about women in fiction, though, is the fact that the “strong female character” has, in some ways, become a cliché on its own. Most of the time when you see a “strong female character,” she’s either portrayed as a Michelle Rodriguez “I’m as tough as the boys and I’ll prove it by sneering and punching everything” type or a Megan Fox “I’m strong because I can get the guys to do whatever I want if I undo enough buttons” type.
I’m not going to say there isn’t a place for characters like this, because sure, there is. But I’ve always wondered…where are the others? Where are the women who are strong and capable for their own sake, rather than out of a need to prove something or to gain approval? Where are the women who don’t see men as rivals, playthings, or necessary pursuits, but simply as…people?
I wrote Mary to fill a literary void I wanted to see filled. She’s not a perfect character. She has baggage, she’s suffered loss, and she’s struggled with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Yet…she deals with it. She’s not dependent on anyone but herself. She’s married, but her husband isn’t even present in the book. Her male colleagues help and defend her when she needs it, but she helps and defends them too. She’s no one’s princess in a tower. By the end of the story she’s facing catastrophic dangers from all sides, and yet she endures through her own intelligence, will, and stamina.
I recognize that I’m kind of putting myself on a pedestal for all kinds of criticism. Anyone could rightfully say that, as a man, I can’t be an authority on what we really need in a heroine. But I also feel that the only way these things change is if everyone takes an interest in changing them. Above all else, I write the kinds of characters I want to see, and Mary fills that void for me. I’ve known too many women in real life who inspired her character for me to be content with anything less.
So Here’s the Pitch
I could ramble about Tantalus Depths for hours, and I have several tolerant friends who can attest to this. I haven’t even discussed the other members of The Diamelen’s crew: Gorrister, Ramanathan, Hertz, Becky, Yancy, and Rook, each one well deserving of an article of their own. I could talk about the importance of symbolism, which ranges from the obscure inside jokes of some of the names to the actual significance of the book’s own title. I could explain the scientific concepts that allow for faster-than-light travel, or the revised Laws of Robotics that SCARAB shouldn’t be able to break (but can). Ultimately, though, there’s only one real question I should be answering:
“Why should I buy your book?”
Well, for one thing, it’s finished. Many books being promoted on Inkshares are still being written, some are little more than concepts. Some have been fully funded for months but have yet to submit a final manuscript.
As of this moment, Tantalus Depths is 24 chapters and 77,016 words long. The first words are “Tantalus Depths,” the last word is “End,” and there is a complete, significantly polished third-draft novel between them. Granted, when it reaches the publishing phase, more revisions may be needed for one reason or another, but the fact remains that the novel is complete. The only thing yet to be done is publication, which only happens if I get preorders. That part’s up to you.
Beyond that, if you love to see strong, well-developed, multilayered female protagonists, you’ll want to read Tantalus Depths. If you love stories about cosmic mysteries, relics of alien civilizations, and the thrill of discovery, you’ll love Tantalus Depths. If you love stories about AIs gone mad and rebelling against their human masters, you’ll enjoy Tantalus Depths. Overall, if you love science fiction, I think you’ll really enjoy Tantalus Depths. There is a little bit of everything for everyone there.
You can learn more about Tantalus Depths and pre-order your own copy here until August 16.
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Check out the various promo videos on youtube here,
Evan Graham is a KSU graduate, a stage actor, a writer, an avid consumer of books, movies, video games, and meets most definitions of the term “geek.”