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The Cytoverse is the setting of Defending Elysium and the Skyward series. It is our own world, albeit in the far future; as such, it is not part of the cosmere. Alongside Earth and humanity, it contains numerous spacefaring species, all of which share a magic system known as cytonics, which is what the universe is named after.
The Cytoverse is a setting possessing highly advanced technology, from laser weapons and anti-gravity to lifelike holograms and atmospheric envelopes capable of keeping entire space stations breathing. Vast empires, encompassing various species, spread across the stars, connected by faster-than-light ships. Ranging from grand merchantmen to small starfighters, those vessels are propelled by biological FTL system, based on two fundamental aspects of the universe: the nowhere and cytonics.
The universe is comprised of two connected realities -- our own and nowhere, an interdimensional "world" with strange relation to time and space. Little is known of nowhere's appearance, though it is home to a type of beings called delvers, as well as a mineral called the acclivity stone. Regular rules of physics do not apply there completely, and everything to come from nowhere possesses extraordinary properties. The best-known among them is acclivity stone, which is used to counteract gravity and thus provide lift to all spaceships and space stations.
The easiest way for most people to enter nowhere is through a nowhere portal, a stable wormhole leading to it and back. Such portals can be found on many worlds, and though the markings on them indicate that they were made rather than arising naturally, it's unknown who created them. The portals let both people and equipment be taken through, which allows for mining acclivity stone.
Apart from the portals, nowhere can also be accessed by people called cytonics. Species, including non-sapient ones, are capable of developing cytonic abilities; how they first appear is undetermined, but once they do show up, they are passed down to the original cytonic's descendants. They allow for more than just peering into nowhere -- "cytonics" refers to a whole host of psychic powers.
Cytonic abilities include, among others, telepathy, mind swapping, illusions and teleportation. Most, if not all of them require that the cytonic connect themselves to nowhere. Teleportation in particular utilizes nowhere heavily, as the body of the cytonic, along with whatever else they're carrying, travels through nowhere to its destination. Though time appears to pass for the cytonic, to others, the jump happens instantly.
In fact, both teleportation and telepathy work instantaneously, and thus faster-than-light. As such, they are the basis of the two most crucial technologies in the universe: cytonic communication and FTL travel. All FTL-capable starships in the Cytoverse travel using cytonics, with non-sapient slugs known as the taynix serving as living hyperdrives. Moreover, cytonics can be shared with the rest of the populace, as cytonics can be augmented with mechanical equipment; that's how a single creature can carry an entire ship across the stars. Conversely, machines can also be built to utilize nowhere, albeit to a lesser extent than living creatures.
Cytonics are not without their dangers. Chief among those are delvers, the inhabitants of nowhere. Delvers despise both radio signals and, more importantly, cytonics. When sufficiently agitated, they can transport themselves into the physical world. A single delver can be as large as a moon, and possesses a number of deadly powers, including the ability to create and launch meteors, and the capacity to destroy any living being they pass through. This makes them extremely dangerous, and has led to extreme limits being put on the use of cytonics.
Discovery of cytonics and First Contact
Across the known universe, all sapient species developed cytonic abilities prior to discovering advanced technology; as such, they would often abandon further pursuit of conventional sciences in favour of the psionic powers. Humanity is one exception to that. Earth was already advanced technologically by the time the Phone Company began developing cyto, a cybernetics-based method of telepathic linking. Those early experiments were unsuccessful, but they were enough to attract the attention of the spacefaring tenasi. After a misunderstanding led to the tenasi scout being shot down by United Governments military, the Phone Company negotiated more peacable relations, and, as a result, became the sole point of contact between humans and aliens.
From then on out, humanity spread across the Solar System, watched over by the Phone Company. Some of its employees believed that the other races of the universe needed to be protected from humankind and its barbaric ways until the time was right for them to join the truly civillized societies. However, it eventually became apparent that the aliens' peace came at a cost -- they would imprison their dissidents and cut them off from cytonics. In the aftermath of this revelation, a PC operative named Jason Write decided to share the FTL technology, which the Company had developed, but kept hidden, with the rest of the populace.
At some point, possibly decades or centuries afterwards, humanity, now an interstellar power, attacked other sapient races, seemingly aiming to conquer them. This was the start of a series of three conflicts known as the Human Wars. In the first war, humanity conquered several species, including the kitsen, while being allied with other aliens, figments.
The war ended in humanity's failure, but soon after, the second conflict began. This time, humanity sought to weaponize delvers, the dwellers of the nowhere, constructing massive laboratories on abandoned planets circling dying stars, with Detritus being one such world. However, they lost control of the delvers, and thirteen of the creatures rampaged across the galaxy for the decades to come. Even after they faded, their presence became a constant threat, leading to many cytonic technologies being abandoned.
Despite this, at some point afterwards, humanity attacked again, though not all of them were involved in the conflict this time. Nonetheless, all humans became targets for the newly-formed alien alliance, the Superiority, and were consequently defeated.
At some point, either during or between those wars, the Old Earth, humanity's homeworld, vanished. It's unclear how it happened, or whether this means it can't be found or if it's no longer physically present within the Solar System.
The Superiority and human preserves
In the century since the Third Human War, the Superiority, led by five species who considered themselves to be of primary intelligence, grew to become the foremost political power in the galaxy. They achieved this by monopolizing both safe faster-than-light travel and FTL communications, and keeping their mechanics secret. Many other species, such as the kitsen, joined the Superiority with secondary citizenship, which limited their rights within the empire. Others, like the UrDail, remain independent, though still reliant on the Superiority for trade.
Of all the species, humanity had its rights curtailed the most. The remnants were mostly chased down into solitary planets called preserves, and kept down there by the Superiority bureau named the Department of Protective Services, with occassional missions sent out to suppress them and keep them near-extinct. However, in the recent years, many began to worry about humanity escaping to wreck havoc once more. While such fears are often stoked by the Department of Protective Services to aid their political causes, the people of the Detritus preserve did manage to leave their home planet, and figure out a way to travel beyond their star system.
”Even the wildest of Gran-gran's stories couldn't compete with the universe's biodiversity.
Cytoverse is inhabited by numerous sapient species of varied shapes, sizes and configurations. Most appear to be roughly humanoid, walking upright with an even number of limbs. Their sizes vary, with the smallest being only a handspan tall, while the largest are bigger than humans. Despite apparent physical similarities, they can differ vastly in their biology; for example, the dione can change their biological sex during their lifetime, while the varvax are actually small creatures possessing large exoskeletons.
Apart from the humanoid aliens, the Cytoverse is also home to vastly different ones. Those range from a species resembling spike-covered balloons, to figments, which are invisible, sapient smells.
- Superiority leaders
- Other species
Human culture has had a vast impact on other sapient creatures. This seems to have began even before the Human Wars, with kitsen using the Japanese term daimyo to refer to their leaders. However, it was during the Wars that humanity truly put their mark on the universe. Human languages -- mainly English, Spanish, Hindi and Mandarin -- are to this day carried by all translator pins, and serve as common tongues for all species of the galaxy. The UrDail, which saw extensive contact with humans, have been impacted even further, with their native tongue coming to resemble English.
Humans are also the original engineers of prefabricated space cities known as platforms. Platforms are massive flat pieces of lightweight metal with integrated buildings on both the top and the bottom sides, and use advanced artificial gravity and atmosphere technologies. They are capable of sustaining millions of residents. They were first deployed in Earth's solar system at increasing distances from Earth, with the Evensong platform beyond Saturn being the most distant station as of the year 2211. Many centuries later, the Superiority operates dozens of platforms of nearly identical design, including Starsight. Similar platforms are also seen orbiting Detritus.
Humanity has also left their mark on the universe in the form of delvers, whom they brought forth during the Second Human War, leading to the drastic decrease in the use of cytonics. This, alongside the history of conflict, is one of the reasons why they're so feared in the present day. This extends even to those trapped in the "preserve" planets, with many people afraid that humans would one day break out and go to war again. Those fears are often stoked by Superiority's Department of Protective Services, especially whenever they desire a bigger budget.
After the Third Human War, the Superiority became the primary political power of the universe. It's some form of a federation or republic comprised of various species, though only five -- varvax, tenasi, dione, heklo and cambric -- lead the government. Numerous others have either primary or secondary citizenship. Whether a species is allowed to join the Superiority depends on whether they exhibit the so-called primary intelligence. This appears to refer to how aggressive a species is, with only the most peaceful ones allowed to join, so as to not corrupt the current society. There are also other conditions, such as converting to a democratic government.
While the Superiority does not directly rule over every species, it does exert indirect power over them. This is done though absolute control over faster-than-light travel and communications, as the government has effectively suppressed all information about it, making themselves indispensable to interstellar travel and trade. As a result, they possess a relatively weak military force, since all they need to resolve any problem is to cut any world they wish off the FTL grid.
Brandon created Defending Elysium in 2003; it was the last story he'd written prior to selling Elantris and thus kickstarting the cosmere. Though Defending Elysium won a honorable mention at the Writers of the Future contest in 2003, it wouldn't see the light of day until 2008, when, after substantial re-editing, it won the first prize at UPC Science Fiction Award in Spain. It was subsequently published in Asimov's Science Fiction's October/November 2008 issue, and then released publicly on Brandon's website in 2009.
The travels of Spensa, space pilot
As with most things Brandon had been writing at the time, he planned to create more works in Defending Elysium's setting. His intention was always to evolve it, and see how the universe changed over time. Over the next fifteen years, many of those plans were abandoned, while others rose up in their place. However, Spensa was not initially part of the setting.
Spensa was conceived as a pilot character from Mistborn Era Four (the space-age of the cosmere). Her particular plot was not developed beyond the concept of "the travels of Spensa, space pilot". However, Brandon was most interested in a particular technological aspect of her setting -- the biological faster-than-light travel system that would eventually be folded into cytonics. As the bio-FTL did not fit with the cosmere, Spensa was cut out of Mistborn Era Four and transplanted into the world of Defending Elysium. Her story morphed into "a girl and her spaceship", and became Skyward, which came out in 2018.
The Eyes and future stories
It wasn't just the cosmere that Cytoverse borrowed elements from. In 2016, Brandon began writing a novella titled The Eyes, based around the concept of answering the Fermi Paradox. It was never finished, although the first chapter became a Patreon reward for $10 patrons at the time. The story of The Eyes was eventually absorbed into the setting wholesale, although in its current form, it's not fully canon-compliant. Nonetheless, some of its characters are still around by the time of Skyward, and one of its alien races made an appearance in Starsight. It's unclear which aliens those would be, though they might be the figments or the dione, as both are introduced in that book and feature in it prominently. Considering the title, delvers may also originate from The Eyes.
The name "Cytoverse" itself came about fairly late, almost half a year after the publication of Starsight. Up until then, the name Skyward Universe was used, with "cytoverse" making rounds in the fandom until Brandon canonized it at one of his livestreamed signings. Unlike cosmere, "Cytoverse" is not an in-world term.
While so far, the future of Cytoverse includes only the final book in the Skyward Series, Brandon does have some ideas for more stories in the setting. In particular, he remains interested in the concept of biological FTL.
Bibliography of the Cytoverse
|2021||Sunreach||Skyward #2.1||Novella||Co-written with Janci Patterson|
|ReDawn||Skyward #2.2||Novella||Co-written with Janci Patterson|
|Evershore||Skyward #3.1||Novella||Co-written with Janci Patterson|
The following are confirmed upcoming works set in the Cytoverse:
- Defiant - the fourth and final book in the Skyward series.
- YouTube Livestream 8
— Arcanum - 2020-05-14#
- Skyward Denver signing
— Arcanum - 2018-11-15#
- Starsight chapter 3#
- Defending Elysium#
- Starsight chapter 34#
- Starsight chapter 25#
- Starsight chapter 7#
- Starsight chapter 1#
- Skyward chapter 53#
- Skyward chapter 54#
- Starsight chapter 18#
- Starsight chapter 4#
- Starsight chapter 10#
- Starsight chapter 26#
- Starsight chapter 35#
- Starsight chapter 23#
- Skyward epilogue#
- Starsight chapter 24#
- Starsight chapter 15#
- Starsight chapter 9#
- Starsight chapter 19#
- Skyward chapter 55#
- Cytonic chapter 32#
- Starsight chapter 13#
- Starsight chapter 12#
- Starsight chapter 20#
- Starsight chapter 8#
- Starsight chapter 28#
- About Defending Elysium
— Brandon's website - 01-01-2020#
- Starsight Release Party
— Arcanum - 2019-11-26#
- Skyward Pre-Release AMA
— Arcanum - 2018-10-04#
- Skyward Pre-Release AMA
— Arcanum - 2018-10-04#
- Skyward release party
— Arcanum - 2018-11-06#
- State of the Sanderson 2016
— Brandon's website - 2016-12-18#
- General Reddit 2018
— Arcanum - 2018-12-21#
Skyward · Starsight · Cytonic · Defiant
(Defending Elysium · Sunreach · ReDawn · Evershore)
|Characters||Spensa · M-Bot · Doomslug · Jorgen · Cobb · Kimmalyn · FM · Rig · Hurl · Nedd · Arturo · Ironsides · Morriumur · Vapor · Hesho · Brade · Cuna · Winzik · Jason Write · Alanik|
|Groups||Varvax · Figment · Kitsen · Dione · Taynix · Delvers · Skyward Flight · Defiant League · Defiant Defense Force · Superiority · KRELL|
|Places||Detritus · Igneous Cavern · Alta Base · Flight School · Starsight · Platform Prime · Nowhere · Earth · ReDawn · Evershore|
|Other||Cytonics · Lifebuster · Human Wars · Battle of Alta · Battle of Alta Second · Phone Company · Cytoverse|