In novels about aliens making first contact with humanity, usually one of two things happen. First, the aliens enslave humanity, and we fight back. Or, the aliens become our friends and we still fight back because sometimes humans can be real dicks. But in Rick Wilber’s new novel, Alien Morning (hardcover, paperback), he puts this trope for a tailspin by including some alien-on-alien violence, alien economic policies, and a new kind of social media that carry it all out.
Photo Credit: Samantha Wilber
I always like to start with the basics. So, basically, what is Alien Morning about?
Alien Morning is a first-contact novel about an ex-pro basketball player who’s trying to break into media work with some new technology, and finds himself covering the greatest story ever, the arrival of the colonizing S’hudonni Empire. Things get complicated when two competing S’hudonni factions fight over who will control the profits from Earth, and our hero and his estranged brother are dragged into the aliens’ struggle even as they work to heal their own wounds.
Where did the idea for Alien Morning come from, what prompted it?
The seed for Alien Morning came from a novella that ran in the October 2010 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, “Several Items Of Interest.” Tor Books editor Jim Frenkel liked that novella and thought it would make for a good novel, and off we went. Though, obviously, the novel version has been years in the making.
In deciding how the S’hudonni would look and act in Alien Morning, did you base it on any specific aliens from pop culture?
Well, the S’hudonni are aquatic and vaguely porpoise-shaped, though with arms and legs. Several very good writers have used porpoises to good effect in science fiction, perhaps most famously David Brin and Douglas Adams. But the S’hudonni are very much not from Earth, so the resemblance is more a matter of their coming from a mostly water world than it is the return of long-lost cousins.
Along the same lines, is the social media network Sweepcasting inspired by anything we already have? If so, what and why that?
I think Sweepcasting is very likely in the future, but I’m not aware of anything quite like it just yet. The idea is to have the encoder wearing equipment that captures and transmits all of the sensory data that the encoder has, so the decoder — i.e., the user — wearing a simple headset can see, smell, touch, taste, and hear reality as the encoder does. I would think something like that will be here soon. Can you imagine being inside the head of your favorite athlete, rock star, or Hollywood celebrity as he or she wears the equipment? In Alien Morning, I imagine an ex-pro jock trying to build a new career wearing that kind of Sweepcasting system. As the technology improves, the equipment becomes more internalized and less obvious.
Another piece of future tech in Alien Morning is the idea of helpmates. A number of writers have seen that coming, including James Patrick Kelly. The helpmate is an A.I. that handles your calendar, drives your car, gives you directions, remembers and records everything for you. We’re not very far away from that now, really. My wife and are early adopters of all sorts of media and social media hardware, from Google Glass to Amazon’s Echo device, and I suppose Siri, Alexa, and the chatty voice in the dash of our Prius are all forerunners of the helpmate system I envision in Alien Morning.
While Alien Morning is your first novel about the S’hudonni, you’ve actually been writing stories in this fictional universe for a while. Why do you think it took a while to come up with a story that needed to be a novel, as opposed to a short story?
Yes, I’ve had a number of S’hudonni stories published in various of the magazines and some anthologies, most often in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. The stories really go all the way back to a short story that I sold to Ellen Datlow many years ago for her famous Alien Sex, anthology. That anthology is still in print in various languages and reprints. My story in that anthology, “War Bride,” has a different name for the colonizing aliens; but, in retrospect, its theme about colonization and the damage it can bring to the new colony is very much the same as the S’hudonni stories.
Why did it take so long to move from short fiction to novel length? I suppose that’s more a function of my career having been more focused on short fiction than novel length. That’s a focus I very much want to change now, so I can find a balance between short fiction and novels. I feel comfortable at novel length, and I plan to press on as a novelist, for sure.
As I understand it, some of the short stories have been integrated into Alien Morning. How different are those passages in Alien Morning from the original stories?
Funny you should ask that. When I started writing the Alien Morning novel, I had in mind pulling in entire stories, or sections of stories, with which to build the novel. But once I got deeply into it, everything changed. For me, the process of writing a novel means a lot of changes in pacing, characterization, setting, plotting, and all the rest. Everything grew and morphed. It was kind of fun watching that happen as I wrote, but also a little dismaying, knowing there weren’t any shortcuts I could take, after all.
When you were writing Alien Morning, were there any instances where you wished you had done something different in one of the short stories? Like did you ever wish you hadn’t said that the S’hudonni weren’t big Motorhead fans so you could say that Lemmy was half- S’hudonni on his mother’s side in Alien Morning?
Actually, even in the short stories there have been changes over the years, so I think of the novel as the definitive version of the characters, setting, theme, and all the rest. I’ll stick with this definitive version through the next two novels.
On the cover of Alien Morning, there’s a rather cool looking space ship. Which, I assume, looks like one of the ships in the book. Did you have any say over the cover? Like, if the artist had gotten the ship completely wrong, would you have been able to nix it? Because, as I understand it, a first-time author usually wouldn’t have that kind of veto power.
It’s a fabulous piece of art, that cover, isn’t it? It’s by Stephan Martiniere. I loved it from the first moment I saw it in a sneak preview text to my phone at a World Fantasy Conference. It’s from a scene in the book that takes place in Ireland. The ship itself wasn’t how I pictured the S’hudonni screamships, but it is now. Really, I’m not great at visuals, and Martiniere saw the ship, and brought it to visual reality, far better than I could. I usually operate on the premise that editors, artists, and agents are smarter and more talented than I am, so I’m prone to agree with what they offer. This cover is a great example of that. It’s very striking.
Now, you have already said that Alien Morning is the first book in a trilogy. When did you first decide to make this a trilogy, and what made you decide that?
Alien Morning began as a stand-alone project, but my editor and agent both had in mind a trilogy, since there’s a definite three-part structure to the whole story. So it was sold as a trilogy and I’m delighted about that. The second book takes place on the home world of S’hudon, as well as on Earth, and has to do with the clash of two very different cultures. The third book takes place on a planet that’s been colonized by Earth with the help and guidance of the S’hudonni. As always with the S’hudonni, there’s a heavy price to pay for that generosity. The third book emerges from a novella that was published in Asimov’s some fifteen years ago, and I’m excited about telling that whole part of the story now in novel length.
You’ve already said that the second book, Alien Day, will hopefully be out in the fall of 2017. But how much of the third book — which I assume will be called Alien Night — do you have figured out? Do you know how the trilogy ends?
I’m told that Alien Day, the second book, will now be out in early 2018, and I’m working feverishly to make sure it measures up to expectations. I like your idea of calling the third book Alien Night, so thanks for that. I think I have the plot and characters completely in mind, though I know that once I get into it that everything will change, because that’s how it works.
If Alien Morning does really well, is there room to expand this series from a trilogy into something larger? Y’know, Alien Late Afternoon, Alien Early Evening, Alien Second Breakfast…
Alien Second Breakfast! I love that. Yes, sure, there could be more. At the end of the third book there are some curious alliances doing battle against a great enemy, so that struggle could go on. We’ll see. But I have other books I want to write, too. All of this will keep me busy and out of trouble, I’m sure.
So, has there been any talk of making a movie, TV show, or video game out of Alien Morning and the rest of the books? If so, what can you tell us about it?
There was one very interesting preliminary contact made by a major production company, but we haven’t heard anything lately, so who knows? I think Alien Morning would make for a great movie, and the ideas of Sweepcasting and helpmates in the near future would make for a great television series as we follow a lead character carving out a career in these new media, even as the alien presence brings great changes to society. We’ll see if anyone in Hollywood agrees with me on that.
If Alien Morning was being turned into a movie or show, who would you cast for the main roles and why?
Oh, I think Chris Pine [Star Trek Beyond] would be great as the lead, especially if he can play a little basketball. I’m betting he can. Or perhaps David Walton [from the TV show About A Boy]. And I think Yvonne Strahovski [Chuck] would be a great Heather, who’s my alien shapeshifter, and a very strong and controlling character. I think Jennifer Lawrence [The Hunger Games] would be perfect for the love interest, who begins as a Hollywood star and becomes a warrior. My protagonist’s siblings are important. One is a scientist who becomes a revolutionary, so Johnny Galecki from The Big Bang Theory would be great for that role. The other is a troubled sister with a dark past that she’s trying to emerge from. I don’t want to wander too deeply into the second book, but she, too, becomes more hero than victim in book two, so that needs someone who can handle both sides of that equation.
Finally, if someone enjoys Alien Morning and they’re looking for something to read while waiting for Alien Day to come out, what would you suggest and why?
I have a new novelette that I’m just about ready to send out that ties in with the Alien Day book, so we’ll see how that goes. And then in an entirely different realm, I’ve written a number of alternate-history stories about a famous World War II spy named Moe Berg, who was a baseball player who became an important spy for the OSS. In my alternate past he helps stop any number of threatening projects by the Nazis. Watch for a new Moe Berg story in 2017…assuming I can finish it sometime soon.