Author Spotlight: Chris Farnell

Fermi’s Progress is a sequence of four novellas about the Fermi, a ship cobbled together from obsolete cold war tech and cutting edge mad science, bouncing around the galaxy leaving a trail of obliterated planets in its wake. Each novella, released every three months, will see the Fermi arrive at a mysterious new world, encounter bizarre new alien cultures, and blow them up.

Why I Wrote Fermi’s Progress

I wrote the four stories that make up Fermi’s Progress because I wanted tales of alien planets. Not human colonies on other planets. Not surviving on some rock that looked like a quarry with no indigenous life. Not a parallel Earth. I wanted actual strange new worlds, planets where the aliens might be intelligent, and have thoughts and feelings that they shared with our own species of hairless ape.

I wanted a world that looked like the illustrations or Wayne S. Barlowe or Alex Ries, intelligences “greater than man’s, but as mortal as our own.”

And I wanted stories, short, self-contained, ideas driven stories, about people for whom this was their job. I wanted characters who would address a planet of completely new alien life the way Gil Grissom would address a fiendishly puzzling murder- compelling, certainly, but still basically just a Tuesday.

But more than that, after I played with the new toys an alien planet gave me, I wanted to put those toys away, forever. I didn’t want to write about the long-term consequences of interstellar diplomacy, or have my jobsworth space explorers trying to “fix” each planet in a way that, quite frankly, hard back to some pretty racist antecedents.

The solution came in the form of two real scientific theories.

One was Freeman Dyson’s “Project Orion.” Dyson, who lends his name to the first Fermi’s Progress story, devised a spaceship that would launch itself into and through space by firing nuclear bombs out the back, using the blast to propel it forward.

The other was a theory by physicist Geraint S. Lewis. Lewis, in turn, was looking at the “warp drive” proposed by Miguel Alcubierre, and concluded that any ship using it would pick up a ton of particles along the way, blasting any planet it visited with a deadly particle cannon.

Together, these ideas synthesized into the ultimate anthology-style-planet-procedural tool. Tweaking (and outright making stuff up around) Lewis’ theory, I invented the Fermi, a spaceship that would obliterate every planet not as it arrived, but as it left. Obviously, you don’t want your characters doing this deliberately, and so the ship was a prototype that was malfunctioning (or was it…?!)

From there, as they say, the stories wrote themselves (they didn’t, they were a lot of hard work). The Fermi’s crew were assembled to represent all the things humans do to ruin everything around them. Greed, apathy, the cast iron belief that we are “the hero” of our story.

And then I got to do The Good Part. The alien planets. A Dyson sphere (thanks again Freeman), a world of sentient mushrooms in the grip of a philosophical zombie apocalypse, a beehive floating in the atmosphere of a gas giant and… well. That would be telling.

I’ve come to love the Fermi and its incredibly deeply flawed crew, and I’ve enjoyed travelling with them across these four stories that also, to my surprise, come together to form a single epic after all.

I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

The final instalment of Fermi’s Progress is available for pre-order now.

You can get all four instalments at Scarlet Ferret here.

And Amazon.

By Chris Farnell