About the cover design

A guest post from Gene Anderson, who designed the cover.

Soul Boundary by Katarina Stenstedt

When designing anything, whether an image, a website, or a piece of software, to me the first question is always: what is it about? If it’s art, what is it trying to convey? If it’s software, what is it trying to accomplish? The style of the art, or the best computer technologies to use, will generally come out of those things.

For the Soul Boundary cover, it was clear that, well . . . souls would be part of the design. Except no one knows exactly what a soul is, or anything tangible about them. We just know that the idea of a soul is at the root of most major religions, and they represent who we are as unique, sentient beings. Which by definition makes them pretty darn complex. There are a huge number of pieces connected in a staggering, ever-changing way. How do you convey that in a piece of two-dimensional artwork?

My first ideas for a cover looked something like a constellation of stars surrounded by a nebula, or a bunch of neurons and a colorful fog. Even after adding in weight on some connections to suggest shapes like a person (or a cat), the results were too abstract. Visually appealing and interesting, but it didn’t click.

So what other ideas and elements were there to draw from? I talked with Katarina some more, and came away with: spirituality, quantum physics, genetic engineering, interstellar space travel . . . hmm. Now we’re getting somewhere. Still abstract ideas, but at least some that we have a mostly common frame of reference for. And of course, there’s Zoë, the transgenic cat. Her role in the book is small (or is it?), but like the other main characters, Katarina had a strong visual sense of what she looked like.

So . . . start with a planet (thanks, NASA!), add in a strand of DNA or two, a constellation or maybe a suggestion of neural pathways or quantum states, and we had something closer. The boundaries represented by the atmosphere and magnetosphere were added bonuses. I wanted to include the spaceship Svalbard, but nothing I came up with worked, so I went back to NASA, and used an image from the International Space Station (ISS) cupola as the basis of suggesting the inside of a spaceship.

The final element was Zoë. She’s a beautiful, striking-looking cat, and although she’s not the central character of the book, it seemed fitting she would be in the center of things, because our cat, Rosie, always wants to be in the center of things.

All these elements are at vastly different scales, from sub-atomic to molecular to planetary to interstellar, with Zoë and the Svalbard somewhere in between. The results end up playing with your perceptions of scale. Is Zoë inside the ship? Outside the Temenos or a scanning chamber? In someone’s mind? How big is the ship, and how big is this view port looking out on a planet? The juxtaposition of scales lead to some other ideas in the image, which are left undescribed for the curious to find.

Creating characters

A few years ago when I was stuck in the middle of writing Soul Boundary, I decided to attempt little portrait sketches for some of my characters, in hopes of learning more about them. 

Some came out better than others, but the main surprise was how strongly Miriam (with the piercings and the hair and the scowl) showed up when I offered her the chance. I’d been trying to remove her from the story because she complicated things, but clearly she did NOT want to be deleted! Complications can be a good thing.

Qualia, Koalas, and You

The following chapter from a 27th-century textbook for 9th graders is a prolog that didn’t make it into the final cut of Soul Boundary….


Qualia, Koalas, and You: A reality-based video-immersion textbook

Chapter 8: The Discovery of Soul Fabric

Now that you’ve seen how soul fabric is manufactured and how it lies hidden inside the soul-detection gadgets we use every day, you’ll be surprised and amazed to learn that soul fabric didn’t always exist. Hardly!

Before 2312, most people didn’t believe souls existed, so you can bet nobody was looking for ways to detect them. But three centuries ago, Dr. Elizabeth Subraman accidentally discovered soul fabric and … this just logically follows … the soul! Eureka.

It took her a few decades of fiddling around, though, and more than one lucky break.

But let’s back up. Here’s a sample of soul fabric—please touch it. We know, it’s sticky. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice it’s a lot like electrode webbing (remember Chapter 2?), which is the stuff neurologists sew into people’s heads during surgery.

Maybe you know someone who’s had an implant touch up? Well, doctors monitor these people for a few weeks after the surgery, right? It’s the electrode webbing that lets the doctors keep track of what’s going on inside their patients’ brains. The webbing amplifies low-frequency signals that would otherwise be too weak to penetrate the closed skull. Coolio!

After a few weeks of soaking in cerebrospinal fluid, the electrode web dissolves.

Anyway, Dr. Subraman was messing around with electrode webbing. How could she make it amplify more signals? Could she do that by splicing organic components, a living part or two, into the webbing? Hmm. She had a hefty grant, meaning she had a lot of money and time to play around with. 

The first samples she created had veins and a shiny, velvety surface, as you can see here. Ew! (Don’t worry, those are only your virtual fingers getting wet.) This gunk no longer worked as electrode webbing, but it had bizarre properties all its own. When you left it close to a living mammal, bird, large tree, anything like that, it was fine. But if you left it alone with only machinery, it would die. Why?

Dr. Subraman’s best friend Julia spoke the answer one evening as she and Elizabeth faced each other over the dinner table. “Maybe the fabric can’t live without being close to someone,” Julia said.


The material Dr. Subraman had invented only thrived in the presence of living humans and certain other living creatures, those with coherent macro quantum patterns. (More on this if you make it to college….)

It wasn’t scientists who called this stuff “soul fabric,” by the way. And it certainly wasn’t any of them who called the macro quantum patterns that it detects “souls”—ha ha. It was regular people like us. Once we realized what this fabric did, we named it, and our name stuck.

So here’s where you come in, O intrepid freshmen. Plenty of questions still need answering: What is a soul, anyway? What does it do? Why? Do souls live forever? Have souls evolved? Do we each get just one, or can we have two or three? Can a soul move from person to person? Can a soul live without a body? You might not have thought about these puzzles, soulistics professors of the future, but there they are, yours for the solving.

Quiz: What’s the only event known to change a living creature’s effect on soul fabric?

Hospitality question: Are you tired of watching this lesson? Right-blink “pause” any time to take a break. We’re getting tired too.

Quiz answer: Death! 

Learn more about Soul Boundary.