"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." --H.P. Lovecraft
Why do we FEAR that which we don't understand?
This is a theme I explore in my series The Chronicles of Jegra: Gladiatrix of the Galaxy.
In the prequel story, Origins of the Gladiatrix, my protagonist Jessica Hemsworth is abducted by aliens and taken aboard an alien slave trafficking ship where she is then sold to a bidder who buys her specifically to groom her for the Intergalactic Gladiatorial Syndicate. A galaxy-spanning gladiatorial fighting tournament designed to keep the masses entertained and distracted from the empire building that is subjugating most of them and exploiting their resources.
Jessica's fears are mundane at first. She fears being late to work. She fears not being liked by the more beautiful librarian she works with. She fears her curmudgeonly boss who makes sexual advances toward her because he finds her an easy target.
Then her life changes. Because she learns what REAL fear tastes like.
Being snatched up by aliens is scary enough. Anal probes aside. Jessica simply doesn't have the confidence or experience she needs to deal with the world she's thrust in to. Everything is alien to her. Everything is unknown.
When she is headed into a group of aliens, not knowing why, she's so terrified she pisses herself. Not very becoming of our heroine. But this is where things get interesting. She has to make a choice. Does she face the unknown, and persevere? Or does she continue to a coward like she always has done?
After she is sold off she is sedated only to wake up hours later in a cage next to other prisoners who are about to be sent into the gladiatorial arena in Arena City on the desert moon Thessalonica. A moon that orbits Dagon Prime, home world to the Lord Emperor Dakroth, leader of the most powerful empire in the galaxy.
Before her debut match, however, she is injected with a serum. She believes it to be routine, and she befriends a peculiar satyr named Grendok who gives her some sagely advice on surviving.
It turns out the serum she was given modifies her, in real time, and she grows into a She-Hulk sized Amazonian woman who is taller, stronger, with rippling muscles, and a gravity-defying bosom.
Meager Jessica Hemsworth giggles at the changes and can't believe her eyes. It's outlandish. Impossible even. And, yet, she continually finds herself in impossible situations.
Now that she has the strength of She Ra and Wonder Woman combined, she doesn't fear anymore. She marches onto the field and fights. Like she's expected to.
She gets clobbered. Of course, having no experience, but her raw strength ends up saving her. Bloodied and battered, she gets praised by the crowd and gets a newfangled confidence she never had before. The announcer, who cannot seemingly pronounce Jessica, announces her as Jegra, and the rest is history.
The Gladiatrix of the Galaxy is born.
But even as she becomes more powerful, the various themes of fear seep into every aspect of the story.
Jegra's greatest fear is that her friends will be hurt because of her. She is a magnet for a certain kind of violence that continually endangers the safety of those around her. And she realizes this all too late, when her girlfriend, an intersex Dagon woman, chastises her for being reckless in her choices.
Our heroine then must face challenge after challenge, including betrayal, imprisonment, isolation, and being powerless to prevent others from harming the people she cares about. Every fear that Jegra has ever had compounds, and she swears to fight until the end to right the wrongs. Because she is the only one who can.
This is a big set up, of course, because in the background, a cosmic entity known as H'aaztre has been growing in power. And, eventually, this supernatural being will threaten the fate of the entire galaxy. And the only one powerful enough to stop him, well, I don't want to give away any spoilers. But you can see where the story is headed.
My goal in telling this epic space yarn was to play on all the valid fears we have as well as the invalid.
An example would be this. Jegra fears for her friend's safety. This is a valid fear we all may experience. Jegra's lover and girlfriend is an intersex transsexual blue-skinned alien woman replete with vestigial, yet still functioning male organs.
Jegra discovers that alien species are more diverse in sex and their sexual make up than humans could ever have imagined, and she grows comfortable with the idea that she must choose love above physical attributes.
In other words, she has to get over any hang-ups about sex, gender, and sexual orientation and just accept the variety of intergalactic life. After all, we're not dealing with just humans and anthropomorphized alien beings here.
So, she has to let go of any irrational fear regarding notions of sex she once may have had. (Surprisingly, many readers cannot and find this aspect of the story grotesque. But, again, highlighting the irrationality of the fear should make them feel equally uncomfortable, and if my books ever have any political agenda it would be to show that love is powerful enough to overcome any irrational fears we may have).
In the end, Jegra loves her friends, because they represent the family she never had. They become her home away from home and it’s all she had. The fear of losing them would destroy her. Which is why she fights so hard to keep them safe.
Coming out of horror, I wanted to keep a string of tension throughout the series, and I found that through the myth building of my Jegra universe, I was able to weave in a strand of cosmic horror -- a horror of the unknown. The dark void at the end of all time. And the strange tear in space that threatens to eat anything that approaches it.
These all tie back to the mythos building of these fantastic alien worlds, the beings that populate them, their cultures, and the ancient religions they practice.
Stories only feel believable when they are populated with realistic characters, cultures, and environments, and not having any actual alien worlds to study -- I have to imagine them into existence, and so, I try to paint them with highly detailed characters, cultures, and environments. Everything that lends to a sense of realism.
And fear, yes FEAR, is one of the emotions we ALL experience.
As such, relying on this primal emotion gives my whole universe a cohesive sense of "it could actually be like this because I've felt this way too" that makes everything else, even outlandish Amazonian warriors with large tits, all the more believable.
It's only when I see readers saying that my Jegra series has the best world-building they've ever read, that I know I've succeeded in drawing them in. Not only with the minute details that flesh out the worlds and races in astounding detail, but the emotional realism as well.
Jegra book 2, Imperatrix of the Galaxy is now available. So, be sure to check it out if you haven't already. And, as always, feel free to drop a review.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.