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Singers War: Origin

This article originally appeared on RPG.Net in December 2022, and wass reprinted with permission in the March/April 2024 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Singers War: Origin. J.L.Billings
Original Publication: 2020
Current Availability: Print (DaringPlay.com), eBook (Amazon)

Traveller had many literary influences that affected the design of the game and its Charted Space, and it’s also seen many fictional publications of its own over the years. The article, the 30th in a series discussing Traveller Fiction, looks at one of the recent publications set in the Traveller universe.

This review covers Singers War: Origin, a book by long-time Traveller fan J.L. Billings that purports to be the beginning of a series.

About the Story

This is the story of the Creator (Grandfather) and his battles across (and through) time with a never-before-heard-of enemy called the Singers. The super-technology of Grandfather has perhaps never been examined as deeply and believably, nor has Grandfather’s effect upon all of Charted Space been so clearly revealed.

But, that focus alone would be abstract, so it’s more precisely the story of the Grandfather’s agents in a specific space and time: of the Zhodani Hayatlas and how she travels across a vast space to Terra, where she meets with other agents of the Creator and begins to prepare for a mission that may save all of civilization.

Finally, it’s the story of those other agents, including the marine Tori Takihashi, the scout Turreguer, and others, offering a look at a broad swath of Humaniti.

Genre & Style

Singers War: Origin is another grand space opera. But, it’s not just a golden-age space opera. With its occasional look at ancient-tech, it feels like a pretty modern space opera that at least hints at transhumanism.

It’s also a first novel, and that shows a bit. The staccato writing style, with scenes rarely lasting longer than a page or two take some getting used to, but flows pretty well once you do. However, on the larger scale, there are some areas where the plot doesn’t flow as well as it should and you’re left wondering why things are going in a direction (or stalling out) or where an abrupt right-hand-turn for a character came from.

I felt like much of the issue was not getting deep enough into the characters’ head. To offer a non-spoiler example, after Hayatlas is transported to Earth, she’s able to masquerade as a delegate from the Sword Worlds. As more and more of the story focuses on her building up the Sword Worlds delegation, the reader is left wondering why she’s taking it so seriously, as if it were a real thing, and not a facade cooked up to give a Zhodani legitimacy on Earth. Obviously, the author had a reason, but we just don’t live the character’s life strongly enough to understand what it is.

Finally, Origin is the first book in a series. A sequel called Guerilla is advertised in the book. Unfortunately, that makes this first book a bit inconclusive, with much of the latter half involving the characters hurrying up to prepare for the voyages that won’t happen here. Oh, there are certainly major plot points that are fulfilled, but you’ll be well aware that this is just part of the story.

Overall, Billings’ writing is strong enough to carry the book, but I suspect a professional editor could have helped him bring it up to the next level by offering some advice on how to revise the book to bring its plot threads into better focus across the whole book.

Applicability to Traveller Gameplay

Here’s why you absolutely want to read Origin: based on its deep dive into the canon of the Traveller universe, Origin is nearly the best official Traveller fiction to date, with the only one that surpasses it being Agent of the Imperium — which was by Marc Miller himself, making it hard to challenge!

That starts out with the setting. Origin is set primarily in the Milieu 0 era, which is to say the time when the Third Imperium is just establishing itself after the Long Night. This was the setting for the short-lived T4 version of Traveller (1996) and theoretically for the horrible Gateway to the Stars novel from that era, but where Gateway to the Stars totally botched the Milieu 0 setting (if that’s even what it intended), Origin knocks it out of the park.

There’s a real feel of an empire that has fallen, leaving the outskirts such as Terra still in the dark of the Long Night. The “Lost Stars” are far away sectors that have largely receded into legend. Nowhere in the T4 corpus was the fallen empire of the stars so well described as it is in this single novel, with its viewpoint so far away, on Terra.

Beyond that, you could name any number of elements of the Traveller universe which Billings effortlessly details both through classic descriptions and new revelations. The Zhodani are revealed through Hayatlas as being so much more than the evil brain-monsters of the earliest Traveller publications. The rivalries of Earth and its organizations (such as the Terran Scouts and the Psionic Corp) also receive great attention. Even the Aslan get some nice focus, though mostly as distant adversaries.

Most interesting is the revelation of the Singers as timeless foes who have been battling Grandfather and civilization itself across the aeons. Billings adds a lot of details here, describing the gas-giant-dwelling Singers, revealing their psionic weapons, and reporting Grandfather’s responses. This new storyline is intriguing, and it builds well on one of the biggest (revealed) mysteries of Traveller canon. For years some members of GDW staff have regretted the revelation of the Ancients; Origin shows how it can create bigger, better stories.

Some of this new background also seems to be based on Billings’ much older work, an interactive fiction game called Star Crystal Episode 1 — Mertactor: The Volentine Gambit (1985). The eponymous star crystals from that game recur in this novel as a tool of Grandfather, but I don’t actually know if anything else from the game reappears here as I’ve never played it.

I do have some qualms over the “this-was-the-force-behind-universal-events” retcon that’s implicit in the introduction of the Singers. Encompassing retcons like that can weaken a setting by robbing it of diversity of action. But on the other hand, the retcon creates interesting stories underlying the inevitable Rise and Fall of Galactic Empires that is so central to Traveller. So I was willing to suspend disbelief and/or see what’s next.

As a whole, Origin drips with Traveller flavor and gives one of the best windows into Charted Space ever.

Publication Notes

Singers War: Origin was published as part of the “Traveller Ascension” brand, which appears to be licensed Traveller products set in what’s traditionally been called Milieu 0. The one other Traveller Ascension publication to date is a board game called Imperial Warrant which was kickstarted way back in 2014 by Terry Coleman and released in 2019.

Origin is available as a hardcover from Lost Battalion or a Kindle release from Amazon.

Caveat: Lost Battalion has come under criticism for the “‘political’ nature” of recent email newsletters, likely including one that supported alt-right beliefs about “fake news” and another that advertised their newest book Blood of Patriots as being for those who are “tired of stories promoting woke ideology”. I’m not aware of Billings being involved in any of this, and I think Origin worth reading despite it, but other readers may have different lines they’re unwilling to cross.


Singers War: Origin is a great Traveller novel. Despite editorial qualms, it was an enjoyable read, and I very much hope that Billings continues the series.

(Preferably using a different publishing house.)