Exclusive Interview: A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe Author Alex White

Well, this is a new one: In the following email interview with writer Alex White, they explain that their epic new space fantasy novel, A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe (paperback, Kindle) was inspired by EDM, In Cold Blood, and Formula 1 racing. And it only gets cooler from there…

Alex White A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe

Photo Credit: Rebecca Winks

To start, what is A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe about?

A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe is about Nilah Brio, a pampered race car driver at the top of her game who has the power to control machines with her mind. Everyone in the universe of The Salvagers has their own magic spell — fire, teleportation, luck, and so on —  though not everyone is talented with it. Nilah witnesses, and is subsequently framed for, a murder on the track, and she has to go on the run with only one lead: Boots Elsworth sold the murder victim a map.

Boots Elsworth is a washed-up treasure hunter, and suffers from arcana dystocia; she’s one of the one-in-five-million who was born without the organ required for spellcasting. She comes from a dead world, destroyed by civil war, and now makes her living selling garbage salvage maps to desperate enthusiasts. At the core of each map, she uses a piece of hard evidence, and she doesn’t realize she’s stumbled upon one of the greatest finds of all time: the legendary warship Harrow.

The two are kidnapped by Boots’ old crew, who she betrayed with a fake salvage map, and swept into the stars, where they must uncover and topple a vast, galactic conspiracy.

Where did you get the idea for A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe and how different is the finished novel from that original concept?

I was listening to this Seven Lions album, Worlds Apart, basically on repeat, and that music is begging for space battles. I immediately knew I had to write space opera, regardless of what I came up with.

The dam broke when I was reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. One of the killers is hardcore into treasure maps, and he sends off to this office somewhere in the Midwest for treasure maps of Acapulco or somewhere similar. I couldn’t help wondering…who was making those salvage maps? What kind of person cons people out of their money like that? And thus, Boots was born.

At the same time, the 2014 F1 season was heating up, with a massive rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pettiness and poor sportsmanship, and I thought, “I have to write a character like this.”

The book ended up being very similar to the initial concept, with a lot of little changes throughout.

A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe sounds like a science fiction story. But is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that describes this novel better?

There’s not much science in this science fiction, but people call Star Wars sci-fi, and that’s about as scientific as a seance. I prefer the term “space fantasy” because it captures the magic inherent in the setting. I’ve always enjoyed the fusion of magic and tech inherent in a lot of Japanese role-playing games [JRPGs], and I figured I’d bring that to a mainstream sci-fi book market. I’m sure there are others, too!

A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe is not your first novel. But are there any writers or specific books that were an influence on A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe but not on your earlier work?

Absolutely. I fell in love with the race car designs of Daniel Simon, and was captivated by his book, The Timeless Racer. He has a bunch of other good ones, including Cosmic Motors. Simon is a brilliant designer and artist, and I strongly suggest you look him up.

I was also reading The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith [a.k.a. J.K. Rowling], and I was in love with the dialogue. I wanted to write a story as snappy and fun as that one.

What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; have any of them had a big influence on A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe?

In addition to JRPGs, I was always a huge fan of Cowboy Bebop, since the day it appeared on the scene. I can still remember my buddy showing up with a bootlegged Hong Kong VHS of it, and we watched that tape until it stopped working. I think I modeled a lot of my action sequences on such old animes as Spriggan and Jin-Roh, whether I meant to or not.

Furthermore, since everyone has exactly one magic domain/spell, it kind of works like the mutant powers from X-Men, which was always one of my favorite comics as a kid. What spell would you want? I personally think teleportation would be the most useful.

And this is my last question about influences: Prior to A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe you wrote Alien: The Cold Forge, which is, obviously, connected to the Alien movies. Did writing a novel set in someone else’s fictional universe have any impact on A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe?

I may have thrown in a reference or two.

In truth, the writing style is so different that it’d be hard to compare them. Writing for Alien, though action-packed, felt like writing a literary fiction novel. Everything was about allegory, symmetry, flawed characters… Basically, everyone in that book is a realistic asshole coworker. A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe, on the other hand, has a ton of lovable, dynamic characters that represent the best parts of my friends.

Alex White A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe A Bad Deal For The Entire Galaxy cover

Now, you have already said that A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe is the first book in a series. What can you tell us about this series?

For now, it’s a three-book series, but I’d love to write more. The Harrow conspiracy is just the tip of a very, very deep iceberg, and there’s a lot of evil to dismantle. Book 2, A Bad Deal For The Whole Galaxy, arrives in December, just a short ways away. We aim to have Book 3 out mid-year next year. It’s a super-quick release schedule.

Earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that influenced A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe. But has there been any interesting in making a movie, show, or game out of this novel?

Let’s just say it’s making the rounds in Hollywood, and has some pretty big-name parties reading it. Honestly, I’d love all three, because then I could write full time. I’ve always been a film buff, but living in the golden age of television has altered my perceptions of that medium. And I’m a gamer, so having my own video game would be a dream come true.

If A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe was being adapted into a TV show, who would you like to see them cast in the other main roles?

I would love to see Nathalie Emmanuel [Game Of Thrones] or Tessa Thompson [Thor: Ragnarok] play Nilah Brio because either one of them could crush the role. They’re both confident badasses in their own right, capable of being posh while bringing the acidic wit. In her forties, Frances McDormand [Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri] would’ve been the perfect choice for Boots, and Hollywood hasn’t done a good job promoting actresses that look like normal human beings. Boots should be stocky and short, and salty as hell.

And if was going to be a game, what kind of game should it be?

I could see it being a good Destiny-style adventure game, blending melee and shooting attacks, along with various utility and attack magic. The battles in that universe are strange, with wild magic flying left and right, and unpredictable changes at every turn.

Alex White A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe

Finally, if someone enjoys A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe, what would you suggest they read while waiting for A Bad Deal For The Whole Galaxy to come out?

I’d recommend Alistair Reynolds’ Revenger, which is also a treasure hunting book in space. It’s so different and wonderful, though, written in a manner like Treasure Island, with all sorts of exciting tech to discover. It’s simply marvelous.

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