Exclusive Interview: “Braking Day” Author Adam Oyebanji

 

In many novels about generational space ships, the problems that arise are with the crew. But in his new science fiction novel Braking Day (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Adam Oyebanji presents a generational ship whose crew are not the problem. In the following email interview, Oyebanji discusses what inspired and influenced this story, which he says isn’t just a sci-fi one.

Adam Oyebanji Braking Day

To start, what is Braking Day about, and when and where does it take place?

Braking Day takes place in deep space, and is set in a future where technology is significantly more advanced than today, but not so advanced that it looks like magic.

The Interstellar Vehicle Archimedes has been hurtling through space for more than five generations. But now the aging starship is preparing to brake, to fall into the gravity well of Tau Ceti, the Destination Star: a new home for the space-born descendants of the First Crew.

For trainee engineer Ravinder MacLeod, the world he has known is coming to an end. Once Archimedes succumbs to the gravitational pull of the Destination Star and its (hopefully) habitable planet, there will be no going back. As Braking Day approaches, Ravi finds himself caught between the rigid requirements of the officer class to which he aspires and the unwritten rules of his blue-collar, ne’er-do-well family. A position that Ravi’s brilliant ex-con cousin, Boz, seems determined to make as uncomfortable as possible. She has begun experimenting with forbidden technology, technology that the First Crew intentionally left behind on Earth.

With Tau Ceti burning brighter each day, Ravi is assigned a routine maintenance mission deep in the massive engines of the Archimedes. Alone and out of contact, he comes face to face with something impossible. Mind-breakingly impossible.

Plagued by nightmares and visions, and worried that his grip on reality is slipping, Ravi turns to Boz for help. Their search for answers takes them to the jagged place where the ship’s future intersects with its long past. Because on ISV Archimedes, not everyone is excited to be reaching journey’s end, and the ghosts of the First Crew may not have been fully laid to rest.

Where did you get the idea for Braking Day?

I grew up reading some of the classic generation ship novels, like Robert Heinlein’s Orphans Of The Sky and Captive Universe by Harry Harrison. These are books where crew discipline has broken down in the distant past, and the degraded societies that result are kept alive only by the magical technology of the ship. I got to thinking about what would happen if the ship started to break down, but crew discipline did not. What would that look like? And how would a crew that knew nothing but the ship deal with the prospect of journey’s end?

Obviously, Braking Day is a sci-fi novel. But are there any other genres, or qualifiers, that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?

If you strip out the sci-fi bits, what you have left is a mystery novel and a family drama about coming of age. If you like stories like that and are, shall we say, “sci-fi curious,” Braking Day might not be a bad place to dip your toe in the water.

Braking Day is your first novel. But I’m guessing it’s not the first thing you’ve written. Are there any writers or specific stories that you think had a particularly big influence on Braking Day, but not anything else you’ve written?

Orphans Of The Sky and Captive Universe for the reasons I said earlier. There may be others, but I’d need therapy to winkle them out of my subconscious.

And while we wait for the doctor, why don’t you tell me about the story’s non-literary influences; was Braking Day influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Not in the sense I think you’re asking the question, no. But I am a lawyer, and some of that has leached into the book. Rules and regulations (or the absence thereof) are both products and producers of the societies in which we live. Archimedes (like a present-day naval vessel) has a fully functioning legal system, and a bunch of rules that encourage and/or constrain the actions of certain characters. Without them, the plot would almost certainly have headed in a completely different direction.

As you know, science fiction novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Braking Day?

I don’t know yet. I can tell you that, right now, it’s not part of a planned trilogy or anything like that. But if enough people like it, I am certainly open to writing more stories in this particular universe. When Braking Day went to market, I told my agent I only wanted to commit to one book up front because I wasn’t sure at the time I could write a second I would be happy with. I’ve read a number of trilogies where the first book was great and the other two less so because the original concept wasn’t robust enough for three good books; and I’ve read first books where the pacing and ending are all wrong because the author is determined to write a trilogy come hell or high water. I just wanted Braking Day to be as good as I could possibly make it and worry about the rest later.

Along with being self-contained or the first step into a larger world, some science fiction novels are also just adventure stories, while others explore social and political issues. Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, for instance, is about a generational space ship, but is also about race, class, gender, and privilege. Where does Braking Day fall?

Fortunately, because I am a simple soul, there is a simple answer: Braking Day is an adventure / mystery / coming of age story set on a sub-light starship. Thrills! Spills! Suspense!

But it’s also sci-fi. And there’s the rub. Because with sci-fi there’s almost always something else going on. It’s not simply about the story, it’s about the other stuff. The thing sci-fi brings to literature that no other genre can is this: it has the power to make readers think about stuff they would otherwise refuse to, because sci-fi removes it from the reader’s everyday experience. A sci-fi novel is a shortcut to a completely different perspective. One of the underlying themes of Braking Day, for instance, is what it means to be “other,” to be stuck between two worlds. The “other” here has nothing to do with the here and now. But we could just as easily be talking about race, or gender, or religion: whatever tool the natives of Sol III need to turn their fellows into “them” and not “us”. This sci-fi tradition, this let’s-talk-about-something-else-so-we-can-talk-about-this, is an old one. It goes back pretty much to the beginning of the novel in the 18th Century. I’m thinking about Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu. A war that begins with disagreement about the correct way to crack open an egg. I’m pretty sure Swift’s point had very little to do with eggs. But the point is made in the context of a sharply observed, wickedly funny story. And that’s what I hope for Braking Day. Come for the fun, page-turning adventure! And if you happen to leave with more than that, great.

Earlier I asked if Braking Day had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to turn things around, do you think Braking Day could work as a movie, show, or game?

I suspect it could be made into all three. If the underlying story is basically sound (as I hope is the case here), a good movie maker, TV person, or game producer can turn out a quality product. I would be happy to watch or play any of them.

And if a good movie maker or TV person wanted to make Braking Day into a film or series, who would you want them to cast as Ravi, Boz, and the other main characters?

Okay, this is a game I refuse to play. First, I feel like I would be jinxing myself. Second, given it generally takes 10 years or more for a book like mine to make it to the screen (if ever), anyone I would want to pick for Ravi and the like aren’t even in high school yet. And third, readers / fans should be free to make up their own minds without being troubled by any ruminations of mine. Mine are utterly worthless. I wouldn’t know the difference between the movie business and a hole in the ground.

So, is there anything else that people interested in Braking Day should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?

A lot of the positive feedback I’ve received has centered on the book’s worldbuilding and pacing. So, I guess if you like deeply imagined environments and stories that keep you turning the page it’s worth a shot. Worse comes to worst, you can always regift it.

Adam Oyebanji Braking Day

Finally, if someone enjoys Braking Day, what sci-fi novel of someone else’s about a generational spaceship would you recommend they check out?

The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien. It’s also, among other things, both a mystery and a family drama. The Archimedes in Braking Day was recently described in the Washington Post as a “megastructure,” but Levien’s generation ship is far bigger. It is huge. Different take from Braking Day and brilliantly executed. But if you like Braking Day, I think you’ll like this, too. And even if you don’t like Braking Day, you should still give it a shot. It’s a wonderful, poignant novel.

 

 

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