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The Expanse ate my manuscript: Originality in Sci-Fi Writing

My debut novel was not the first book I wrote. It was the first book I finished.

The first manuscript I started with an honest intention to publish it as a science fiction novel has a timestamp showing 2011. I ran a sales agency for tech companies back then and could only write on the weekends. The project was ambitious; the story featuring a complex web of time travel and wormhole loops. It was slow going. Still learning the writer’s craft and having a hard science fiction setting, a lot of research was required to produce the quality I aimed for. Many authors report they didn’t take it easy on themselves for their first novel, that they strived for perfection and got mired in endless edits and re-edits. So did I.

Science fiction author Bert-Oliver Boehmer talks about not finishing his first manuscript.

By 2015, the novel was what I considered “half-done”. The aforementioned setting, however, became a problem. Set a few hundred years into the future, humans have colonized the solar system. The nations of Earth and a militaristic, advanced Mars colony are antagonistic, and factions of independence-seeking workers in the asteroid belt fuel the fires of interplanetary conflict. If this sounds familiar, it is not because you read my book. It’s because you read The Expanse book series, or because you watched the TV show of the same name, releasing late in 2015. If there is any author-angst worse than ‘my book’s not good enough’, it is this: being seen as a fraud, committing the deadly sin of plagiarism. Even the belters in my manuscript were called ‘belters’.

Science fiction author Bert-Oliver Boehmer felt his very first manuscript would read too much like The Expanse and decided to create the Galacticide universe instead.

I have to admit that my research did not include the works of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who published The Expanse novels under a combined pen name of S. A. Corey). The storylines of The Expanse have nothing to do with time travel, but I found my setting to be too similar with the popular series and even more popular show on Syfy. I feared it would read like a fan fiction story set in The Expanse universe. The manuscript got mothballed on an archive drive, and my writing career ended before it began.

A few years later, I tried again. A nasty virus shut down business travel, and I found myself with plenty of time on my hands. This time, I created a setting detached from Earth, the solar system and human culture as we know it. People in my novel weren’t even supposed to know which planet their species came from. A cataclysm had to sever the history we know and what we can predict from the fictional world I planned to create. The Galacticide universe was born, and with it the extra-galactics causing the namesake event.

Developing 2400 years of history between that event and the setting of Three Immortals, including creating several languages, human, alien, and machine civilizations, did two things: assuring nervous me that the setting was unique, names new, and factions fresh. It also forced me to create. To create more. Deeper lore. More details for readers to enjoy, to feel they are exploring a lived-in universe that—within its wide boundaries—is consistent and exciting.

Looking back, having to restart my novel writing aspirations turned out to be a good thing. That old half-novel is still spinning around on a hard drive. Maybe one day… the heroes of the Galacticide have to face time loops. Who knows?

P. S. Shout-out to the S. A. Corey team: The Expanse rocks! I bow to the originality of their sci-fi writing and happily cede the asteroid belt to the Beltalowda!


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