World building is the cornerstone of science fiction. Always has been for me. Yet the world building has to be convincing, otherwise belief isn’t suspended and, personally, I cash out of the story.
In building the world of my debut novel, Red Rising, I created a brutal futuristic society dominated by a caste system based not on race or gender, but color—that is the color of your eyes and the sigils that mark your body. But evolution didn’t create these colors. We did.
Strict division of labor is necessary for interplanetary colonization. There is no room for excess weight, so when the first of mankind’s ships rose to make their colonies on the Moon, they were filled with specialists.
In the beginning, these specialists were pulled from the bounty of earth’s brightest. They wore color-coded uniforms and chose the common language of English for their new colonies.
And so there were pilots who wore blue. Brilliant men and women with bodies to handle g-forces and mines to master astrophysics. There were leaders with gold nametags. Engineers with orange jumpsuits at loading docks. Computer specialists with green badges. Doctors who with yellow lab coats. Men and women who mined the soil for resources in protective suits of red.
The color of these first colonists did not decide them. On earth, they’d learned their skills. They’d gone to school or worked oil rigs. They’d chosen their vocation based on the gifts they were born with, on the gifts they chose to nurture. But then the leaders with gold nametags had an idea.
What if we build humans like we build our colonies—for an express purpose? There would be no waste.
Through eugenics—the matching of ‘compatible’ partners—and genetic and surgical manipulation, the leaders of the colonies began crafting human beings who could perfectly fulfill the requirements of labor. Slowly, the Colors took shape.
As the colonies began to thrive, and as the worldbuilding engines terraformed the moon to grant it a sky, to give it lakes and grass and oxygen, new needs arose.
Coppers were created to manage a burgeoning bureaucracy. Silvers to manage finances. Gray security forces and Obsidian warriors to maintain order and protect the colonies from the armies of earth. And slowly, the Golds who took had once been mission leaders chosen by the leaders of Earth became oligarchs, passing the reins of leadership down to their sons and daughters, who they made sure shined more brightly than all the other Colors.
Seven hundred years pass. The moon rebelled against her earth, conquering her. The Colors infected humanity like a plague, eugenic programs and the Purge eliminating all non-Color coded humans. Mankind spread through the solar system. Moons became worlds. Golds became gods. Reds became slaves.
And into this world, Darrow was born—one Red who is willing to rise.