With Beggar’s Sky (hardcover, Kindle), writer Wil McCarthy is once again exploring the completely fictional, and downright outlandish idea, of what might happen if the super rich took over the space race. Like that would ever happen,
In the following email interview, McCarthy discusses what inspired and influenced this hard sci-fi space opera/ political spy thriller.
Rich Man’s Sky takes place a few decades into the future, and is about what happens when the 1% (actually, the 0.00000001%) control access to space, and start operating outside the reach of Earthly law.
Poor Man’s Sky is set a few years later, and is about what happens when the people who work for the 0.00000001% start to realize they literally control the trillionaires’ air supply.
And then what is Beggar’s Sky about, and when does it take place in relation to Poor Man’s Sky?
Again, we’re jumping a few years into the future. Not too much of a spoiler to say this is an alien contact novel, but one in which the contact is managed entirely by a single high-net-worth individual. That’s a lot of power for one person to wield, and it has a very distorting effect on the people and industries operating in cislunar space. Where previously there had been intrigues and what we could call “unfriendly competition,” things are now threatening to break out into outright warfare. That’s where we are when the story opens.
When in relation to writing Poor Man’s Sky did you come up with the idea for Beggar’s Sky, and what inspired this story?
The Beings make an appearance of sorts in Rich Man’s Sky, as the drug-induced hallucinations of a possibly crazy trillionaire, and later on of people coming out of cryogenic suspension. But I knew before I started the trilogy that The Beings were real, and that contact with them was inevitable. The other threads of the story — the buildup of weapons, the aging of autocrats, the settling of Venus, the rise of a new generation — are logical extensions of everything that’s gone before.
So I didn’t come up with an idea for Beggar’s Sky so much as I came up with the idea for the whole trilogy, which has been unfolding ever since.
Regarding The Beings in particular, I’ve always been fascinated with this idea that people on a drug called DMT consistently report the same hallucination of being contacted by otherworldly entities, sometimes referred to as “machine elves.” So right from the beginning, my thought has been, wow, what if that were true? It’s a fascinating idea.
Rich Man’s Sky and Poor Man’s Sky mixed elements of hard sci-fi, space operas, and political spy thrillers. Does Beggar’s Sky do this as well?
All of the above, yes, plus first contact with an alien species. The Beings are really alien, though, so some parts of the book may seem a bit psychedelic or supersciencey as well. There were elements of that in Rich Man’s Sky, too, but only really in the background. Here it’s often front and center.
Are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on Beggar’s Sky but not on any of the previous stories?
The Beings communicate in something close to pure math — specifically, set theory — and they are powered by quantum gravity, so the biggest influence here comes from talking with mathematicians and physicists about what that would really be like. The contact is told through a dozen different points of view, so really the new influences were real people and real theories, more than literature.
There’s also a storyline about people living in the upper atmosphere of Venus, and I wanted that to be as vivid as possible, because I think it’s an underexplored possibility in science fiction right now. So there was a lot of research there as well.
How about non-literary influences? Was Beggar’s Sky influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Not directly, but I do love games like Dune and Supremacy, where different factions are battling over resources, and nonlinear network effects can tip an exponential advantage to some players. So there’s a bit of that in the DNA of Beggar’s Sky, yes.
And how about the real billionaire space race? Have any of those guys done anything in recent years that prompted you to add something, or remove something, from Beggar’s Sky?
Ahem. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Next question!
Now, in the interview we did about Rich Man’s Sky, you said it was the first in an ongoing series, and that there were two more books planned: Poor Man’s Sky and Beggar’s Sky. But you then added, “…and there might be more after that.” But you just said Beggar’s is the third book in a trilogy. So, I have to ask: Are there going to be more Sky stories? And why doesn’t that plan including calling the fourth book Thief’s Sky?
Well, OK, first of all, Thief’s Sky is a terrible name for a book, and second, I haven’t started outlining a fourth book for the series yet. But I do have some ideas about the direction things are heading. So yes, there will be at least one more book. Right now I’m working on something else, though, which I’d like to keep a bit secret, except to say it’s a comedy, quite different than the Rich Man’s Sky series.
You also, in the interview about Rich Man’s Sky, talked about how this series could be the basis for an interesting board game. Did you ever pursue that idea?
Paul, I am hoping one of your readers will pick that idea up and run with it, because I personally do not have the time. But yeah, it would be fun.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Beggar’s Sky or this series?
Hmm. I am not a particularly religious person, but people may be interested to know that the Catholic Church plays a major role in the series, mainly because they have the money and the history and the drive to do things like build a monastery on the Moon, and generally make themselves indispensable, as they did in the settling of the Americas. Brother Michael is one of the viewpoints through which we get to see The Beings, and he sees them very much through a religious lens, which is very different from my own natural lens. So that was interesting.
Finally, if someone enjoys Beggar’s Sky, and they’ve already read Rich Man’s Sky and Poor Man’s Sky, what similar sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Similar? I don’t know of anything that really compares. But hey, every lover of hard science fiction should read Count To A Trillion by John C. Wright. What a great book.