Colony, Jungle, and Starforge – My Look Back at the UNSEC Space Trilogy

Six years.

That’s how long the UNSEC Space Trilogy took. Not for me to write and edit, mind. That time period was even longer—though I do note that I had other, smaller projects in between each book in the series. But even so, six years.

Colony, the first book in the trilogy, released in November of 2016, and I’m sure at the time few expected anything from it, even my readers. Prior to Colony, I’d only released a few books, each of them much smaller and far less grand that what Colony promised within its pages. One Drink and Dead Silver, while respectable, were both regular a novella and novel, respectably. Unusual Events, a collection of “short” stories I’d worked on while editing Colony that made it to print first, had sold a few copies, but not lit any fires (in fact, it remains my lowest-selling work to date by a large margin).

Then, with some fanfare but little attention from the world at large, I dropped Colony. An epic Sci-Fi adventure, first book of three in an at-that-time unnamed trilogy. from an author who had only published Urban Fantasy and shorts? There were definitely a few raised eyebrows. I recall that Christmas, when I returned to my hometown to visit my parents, garnering confused questions from people as to my reasons for jumping genres, or whether or not I thought people would buy it.

By then however, I’d already seen the numbers. November was over, and with it came more money than I’d ever seen in my time as an author. Reviews were rolling in too, readers gushing with praise and urging others to “Buy it, now!” Colony had struck, for my tine authorial imprint at the time, gold. Those readers that had trusted me and picked up the book found themselves “immersed” (that’s a deliberate pun) into the underwater colony world of Pisces, wrapped up in far-reaching mysteries as a search for a missing computer programmer by three complete strangers slowly but steadily expanded into an earth-shattering and action-packed conclusion full of big Sci-Fi ideas and tantalizing hints of what was to come.

Not everyone enjoyed it. A few people left one or two star reviews, citing complaints of one form or another. My personal favorites were two reviewers who each left Colony two stars, one angerly citing that there was ‘too much worldbuilding and not enough action,’ the other citing ‘too much action and not enough worldbuilding.’ But those reviews largely slipped to the bottom, mud for those who fed at that level to sling while above them the rest of the world purchased copy after copy, rapidly outselling every other book I’d released at that time and still maintaining a strong lead today despite stiff competition from one of my other books.

Colony was a hit. By my standards, at least. And now, six years later, by indie book standards as well, its sales numbers well above the average for indie titles.

Oh, and did I mention it was huge? It didn’t shy away from the “Epic” part of its genre. The finale alone ended up being more pages in length than my first published book.

And readers loved it. They loved the characters, with fans evenly split over which of the three protagonists was their favorite character (to this day one my favorite questions when someone starts talking to me about Colony is “Who’s your favorite of the trio and why?” because never has one of the three won out, and everyone always has a wide range of reasons why they prefer Sweets, Anna, or Jake as their favorite protag). They loved the setting, the dark future of Earth, the underwater environs and cities of Pisces, that Colony painted. They loved the mystery, even if some questions went unanswered by the end of the book. They just loved it.

Speaking of those unanswered mysteries, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked about the series as a whole is “When you released Colony, was all this planned? Or were you just making it up as you went along?”

I usually give a serious answer, but I’ll dip into humor here: If I could pants a mystery with clues going as far back as the first quarter of Colony, clues that I would then “make up” answers for in the final book … I don’t even know what I’d be doing with that kind of power. I wish I had it, but given the depth (again, intentional pun) of mysteries and teases doled out over Colony … there’s just no way I could make it all up as I went along.

Yes, everything big was planned out from the beginning. I knew, from before Jake, Anna, and Sweets had even boarded the elevator to leave Earth, that things would end with the Starforge. I knew about the All, and the war they had waged against the Sha’o. I even knew what the eventual sacrifices would have to be.

So yeah, that’s how there are questions posed, or background elements given, in Colony that wouldn’t be answered until the final entry in the trilogy arrived. It was all planned, part of a story I’d been building in my head for years before Colony ever saw the light of day. I knew what the twists were going to be, and I knew what the finale was going to involve.

Colony is what I would deem my first hit. It outsold a my first year’s worth of book sales in around a week, IIRC, and basically set the bar for everything that would come. In fact, it wouldn’t be until Starforge that Colony‘s opening would be topped. Not even Axtara managed to outsell Colony‘s opening month … though she came close, and I’d wager that the oft-requested and upcoming sequel to Axtara will put Starforge‘s opening to the test.

But the meaning was clear. Colony was a hit. It had marked a bold new step for my career, and now a lot of new eyes were on me. Readers waited, watching, and wondering what would come next.

Before I get to that next bit, since this is my look back, I do want to talk about the cover a bit. Over the years I’ve been asked about why I chose to go with something so stark and isolated in feeling for the cover to Colony, as opposed to the more traditional “random spaceship with random character that isn’t in the book wearing generic Sci-Fi gear looking pensively or seductively out at the reader, and maybe EXPLOSIONS in the background?”

Simple. I actually don’t like covers that have nothing to do with the book. I want a cover that makes readers hit a spot in the book, flip back to the cover (even if its an ebook or in their head) and go “Oh, that’s what that is.”

That, and I wanted to eschew convention. Convention never would have been open to a book like Colony existing in the first place. I didn’t want a generic Sci-Fi cover. I wanted something that was straightforward and simple, but spoke of menace and maybe a bit of mystery. So I looked to some of the classic images of Sci-Fi, and settled on one in particular that I wanted to capture and evoke the feeling of: Alien.

The original poster for Alien exemplifies the feel of “less is more,” using few elements and bold color to evoke a feeling of isolation and menace. In retrospect, the cover that comes closest to that inspiration would actually be Jungle, due to its use of similar green shades that are nonetheless key to the story. Colony themed its cover color palette around blues, fitting the nature of Pisces as a watery world that is very blue from orbit, while Jungle themed itself around green, the color of the jungle that covers the surface of planet K-247-2. Personally, I actually prefer the final cover, Starforge, with its blood-red portrayal of Mars. But it helps that the image is higher resolution, and in the even of a paperback print, I have plans to go back and create new covers for Colony and Jungle that match up to the size and resolution of Starforge‘s.

That said, I love how each of these covers turned out, with their stark hint of menace and mystery. Sands, at the LTUE I just attended, multiple people during the signing commented on how uniquely eye-catching the covers for the trilogy were compared to “other” Sci-Fi. Part of the success of the UNSEC Trilogy, I think, is in that the covers are different from what traditional Sci-Fi offers right now. They get your attention. They promise something. And then? The text delivers.

But we’re getting head of things, so let’s skip back to November of 2019, when the sequel to Colony finally arrived, and readers who had been wondering for three years where this tale would go next finally got their answer.

At this point, it still wasn’t called the UNSEC Space Trilogy. It was an unnamed trilogy (another thing I should fix about the covers when I get around to that), or as many fans called it, book two of the “Colony trilogy.”

And Jungle … well, let’s just say it caught a lot of people by surprise. To date, I think Jungle is the most divisive of the three among readers, even when they follow-up with how much they enjoyed it. Jungle accomplished this by taking what a lot of people had expected and almost immediately turning it on its head. The opening chapters saw the trio from the previous book returning to Earth only to find that their actions have had long-reaching consequences they’re unable to escape, and their options narrowed down to nothing by the ruthless head of UNSEC herself, Syrah Eidre, in a gut-punch of an opening that both made readers despite Eidre with a fire that could power nations and tore away much of what the trio had earned as their reward on the last book.

The gut punch then kicked the reader while they were gasping for air as well, as the three were split up into two groups, each sent off to two wildly different and disconnected locations, neither of which appeared to have anything to do with one another or the previous book … at least at first.

The gut punch really worked. A lot of readers contacted me at the time expressing horror that this could happen, hatred of Eidre, and complete bafflement as to the direction that the story was taking. To which I generally had only one response.

“Trust me.”

I know a lot did. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a few didn’t, and put the book down, and decided to wait to see what others would say. After all, Jungle was almost half-again as long as Colony had been, hitting about 1600 pages. And the opening had been such a gut punch for many that seemed only to sheer any connection to the events of the first book, rather than once again go back to Pisces or Earth and continue that story.

But most, likely out of seeing that trust rewarded with Colony kept at it. And slowly, bit by bit, the wider picture began to take shape. Layers of greenery (again, pun intended) were pulled back, revealing that not only were the events of Jungle menacing and threatening in an entirely new way—a way that did, some readers claim, leave them with nightmares and perhaps a fear of unknown plants—but intimately tied to the events of Colony and what had happened on Pisces. Not only that, but the “split” of the trio was, and to realize this is a massive spoiler, not a split at all, the characters actually both being in the same system and tackling the same problem from very different ends.

Misgivings at the gut-punch of an opening aside, Jungle‘s reception was just as solid as Colony‘s. Actually, moreso, since the folks who wanted more/less action/worldbuilding had already stepped away from the series, leaving those who were invested to pick the book up and see what it contributed to the overall arc.

And well … there was no doubt when people finished Jungle that this was truly an Epic saga. Colony had played out pieces, many of which hadn’t even made themselves known. Jungle had brought clarity to some of those pieces, revealing the framework of something vast and cosmic beyond the squabbles of Earth versus its rebellious colony worlds. If I were to pinpoint one moment in Jungle that marks this transition more than any other, it would be Jake’s line ‘So what were the rats?’ Such a simple line, but with such chilling promise behind it.

That line was the turning point. One of many, but one of my favorites. The sign that what Jungle was doing was far more than what a lot of readers had expected after Colony, which was “more adventure.” Jungle made it clear that Colony was just the start, and Jungle was just the middle. And much of what had been presented in the first book was about to be reexamined.

I realize some people still have issues with it. Splitting the trio remains by far one of the most unpopular decisions I’ve made as a writer, even if those who didn’t like it admit that it was done for really good reasons and gave the characters more growth than they would have had together. That line I uttered, of “Trust me” was asking for a lot of trust with Jungle, because many readers, who had expected early answers to mysteries of Pisces, instead were being given entirely new puzzle pieces and clues to mysteries that seemed completely unrelated to what had happened in the last book. There were new characters to meet, new places to see. More of the underlying mentality of UNSEC’s dedicated explored.

Until, with horrifying clarity, everything snapped together, and things stopped being wondering what would happen and fearing that nothing wouldn’t.

I killed a lot of characters in Jungle, some of whom I still hear about from readers who were cut to the core by the loss. After so much build-up—and there was a lot—Jungle rewarded readers of both books with a conclusion that blew the doors off of the setting. As I said above, things went cosmic and dove into Sci-Fi’s deeper ideas in a big way.

I’m proud of Jungle, and consider it a formative step in my career. It proved that Colony‘s success wasn’t a one-off. Readers took a risk on it, the second book in a Sci-Fi Epic trilogy from a pretty unknown author, and were rewarded with a book that delivered on its promise. Jungle was a ton of work, but it was important work, a deeper dive into a larger project than I’d ever worked on up to that point. I’m happy to say that I believe I pulled it off (and reviews agree). Jungle stands as a vital middle piece between Colony and what would come after.

You know, it’s funny. In putting together this retrospective, I actually tried to pull a total number of hours worked on the trilogy, only to discover that if you copy-paste a Word file, you get a continuing count, but if you save as … the “hours active” timer resets.


So all I can say is that Jungle took more than 1,200 hours to put together. That’s 150 workdays … but considering that I know it took me eight months to write it, plus about that long editing … I’m pretty sure I hit “save as” in there somewhere and reset the timer. I know I did multiple times for both Colony and Starforge, which puts their estimates in a nebulous place. But I do know that Starforge took longer to write and had more editing than Jungle, so … 2000 hours? I don’t know. Just … a lot of time.

Oh, that’s just when the window is in focus and being used, mind. That doesn’t count research time. And for Jungle, as with Colony, there was a lot of it.

The readers know why. There was a lot of science and biology contained within the pages of Jungle, especially once the story met up with the expedition science team. I had to do a lot of digging, a lot of reading, and more … because I wanted an intelligent science team. Not a “Hollywood science team.”

I actually attribute this to Jungle‘s success. It’s one thing when you watch a movie or read a book where a “scientist” does something really stupid and dies.

It’s another when they do everything in a very intelligent manner, take every precaution, and you the reader think “That’s what I would do!” or even “That’s better than what I would do!” … and then still winds up very, very dead.

That’s terrifying, And to pull it off, I had to put in a ton of work.

I had to track down new readers too, readers familiar with microbiology and other fields of science to double-check the story and make sure I hadn’t goofed somewhere. There were fixes.

There was also a real cliffhanger of an ending. I knew all of it—the time, the effort, the headaches—had been worth it when I started receiving messages and seeing reviews, all glowing, that ended with one question:

When will we see the ending?

Well, this is a retrospective, and even if it wasn’t, most of you know: After almost two years of work, Starforge, the third and final entry in the trilogy—none of this surprise fourth book nonsense here, even if it meant Starforge would be the longest yet—arrived in November of 2022.

And to its credit, it was the only book to date to beat the launch of Colony. A colossal giant weighing in at over half a million words, and about 2000 pages (depending on how you cut it), Starforge was the finale of finales, a definitive ending to the trilogy which at last had a name: the UNSEC Space Trilogy.

Now, this bit of the retrospective is going to be a bit shorter than the other two. Largely because it’s only been out for three months, and I have no intensions of spoiling the vast array of reveals, conclusions, battles, and answers to questions that readers waited six years to get in my own look back. That’d just be selfish.

I will, however, once again affirm that this was by far the most difficult writing project I’ve ever worked on. I’m not exaggerating about the two years that went into it. Ten or so months of writing, and eleven of editing. It was a huge process. One I’m definitely going to take a break from for a time before pursuing again.

Projects that large. Not writing as a whole. Just to be clear.

But me? I’d say all that work payed off. The ratings are golden. The reviews are positive. Very much so, actually. Now that the trilogy is complete, a few readers who shied away from the first and second books under the fear that like many other “trilogies” it would never finish, either left incomplete or suddenly “becoming” four books, or five, or however many the author thought they could milk, have now read through the series, some praising it as one of the best modern Sci-Fi Epics they can remember.

I’m grateful for, and pleased by, that praise. The work paid off. Even now new readers are finding the series, sitting down, and reading through it. Taking in fleet battles and shootouts, trying to piece together clues given as early as the first few chapters of Colony that lead to mysteries revealed in the pages of Starforge … and just in general enjoying the adventure.

And what an adventure it’s been. For the readers, it’s been six years in building. For me, it was eight.

Was it worth it? As I look back … absolutely.

So, what else is there to say about the series? I suppose I could answer a few more common questions about it, in addition to the planning question most ask. Here are a few more common questions I’ve gotten over the years, or recently now that it’s done.

How long is it? Long. The whole trilogy weighs in at 1,294,500 words. A little over, actually, as I rounded down with each book’s count.

How long did that take to write? A little over 26 months. I’m not including editing. That’s just writing time. Combined for all three.

Is the story over? Yes, it is. Jake, Anna, and Sweets’ adventure is at an end. There isn’t going to be a sequel trilogy starring them against some new threat. They earned their ending. I’m sure someone will write fanfic at some point, but …

Is the setting done? No, actually. Jake, Anna, and Sweets’ parts are done, but I like this setting. After all, there’s Fireteam Freelance, a side-series I didn’t even discuss here, that I’ve recently thought about visiting again. But there are other stories that could take place in this universe, and I’ve had ideas for a couple. Okay, more that ideas. You know me.

Will there be an audible version? Not anytime soon. I ran the numbers once for just the first book and came up with a cost of around $35,000 at the cheapest. That’s a lot of dough. And for just one of three. Until I’m earning enough that I’m not worried about rent, audible remains off the table. You’ll just have to read it.

Okay, what about a paperback? This one’s more likely. The real challenge is fitting Starforge into a paperback. Binding technology has finally reached the point where Colony can be bound, but the other two are a bit of limit break for the poor presses. I promise I am going to look into it, but I don’t want to release just one.

Do I think the series is going down as one of Sci-Fi’s greats? Despite the many compliments I’ve been paid for it—some of which have said exactly this—I’d be pretty conceited to think it would take a place with some of the pillars of Science Fiction. However, do I think it stacks up at least near the top of most Sci-Fi? Yes I do. It may never be Dune, but I’m okay with that because it isn’t Dune. I’d be perfectly pleased for it to reach A Mote in God’s Eye status, but I’m not about to claim that it will. Does that mean I think it could? Well … I’ll let the readers be the judge of that. They determine what history will remember.

Okay, common questions answered, so now …

This trilogy been a journey. A real journey. But I’m glad to have taken it, and I’m glad so many of you came along for the ride when it was complete. As time rolls on, I expect that the UNSEC Trilogy is going to find more and more Sci-Fi readers who pore over the pages with rapt attention, because it’s one of those stories that digs in deep and doesn’t let go until the end.

And even though my work with it has largely ended, every time a new reader opens that first page, or takes that first step, that journey in a way starts again.

Eight years. 26-plus months of writing. That number again at the least in editing.

Worth every second. Jake, Anna, and Sweets will always be a part of my writing journey, and like many readers, I’ll think of them fondly in the years to come.

So here’s to the UNSEC Space Trilogy—my first trilogy. To time well spent, and an Epic Sci-Fi journey like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I grew, I improved, but most of all: I finished it. And that makes me very happy indeed. I got to play with Sci-Fi ideas I’d always dreamed about toying with, from answers to the Fermi Paradox to a look ahead at what mankind’s own progress into the stars could be like. I also got to slam giant fleets into one another and drop people out of orbit. I even got to [big spoilers for Starforge redacted] which was awesome.

Thanks for reading everyone. It helped make this trilogy, and more, possible. Hopefully this bit of authorial naval-gazing hasn’t been too boring. I should get back to work on the next book. And with that …





Okay, one last question from people: will the UNSEC Space Trilogy be my last trilogy?

Well, what do you think?

See you soon, readers.

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