Exclusive Interview: “Descendant Machine” Author Gareth L. Powell
With his new sci-fi space opera novel Descendant Machine (paperback, Kindle), writer Gareth L. Powell is presenting the second half of the Continuance duology he launched last year with Stars And Bones. In the following email interview, Powell explains how Bones and Machine are connected, and unconnected, as well as why you don’t have to read them in the order they were written.
For those who read Stars And Bones, or the interview we did about it, and thus can ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT in all-caps, what is Descendant Machine about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Bones?
Descendant Machine is set in the same universe as Stars And Bones, but fifty years later. The background is much the same, but the characters are different. There are thematic links — both books contain some political speculation and satire, and once again, the human race finds itself brushing up against something far older, and far more powerful than it could ever have imagined.
When in relation to writing Stars And Bones did you come up with the idea for Descendant Machine, and what inspired this second book’s specific plot?
We sold Stars And Bones to Titan Books as the first in an interlinked duology, so while writing the first book, I was always considering the idea of another story set in the same milieu.
As to the plot, without giving too much away, I wanted to write as classic “what’s in the box?” mystery, and also address the nature of time and how civilizations evolve and pass down knowledge, and what happens when a highly technological species accidentally [SPOILER REDACTED]
Stars And Bones was a sci-fi space opera story with, as you described it in the previous interview, “…a side helping of cosmic horror.” Is that how you’d describe Descendant Machine as well, or does it come with a different side dish? Like maybe sweet potato fries or yam fries or curry fries — great, now I’m hungry.
Descendant Machine doesn’t have the same level of horror as Stars And Bones. The threat facing humanity is different, though still cosmic.
What do you think had the biggest influence on both Stars And Bones and Descendant Machine? And I don’t just mean books, but movies, TV shows, and so on.
Some readers have spotted the influence of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, and I’d have to agree. The Culture novels are some of my favorite works of the genre. But I don’t think Iain and I have similar writing styles or approaches to storytelling. We’re very different and trying to achieve different things.
Stars And Bones was also influenced by movies such as The Thing, Event Horizon, and Alien, and some of the wilder possibilities of space opera. Descendant Machine is more of a mystery at heart, akin to something like Greg Bear’s Eon or Alastair Reynolds’ House Of Suns, with nods to influences as diverse as Die Hard, Aliens, and Cowboy Bebop.
As you said earlier, Stars And Bones and Descendant Machine form an “interlinked duology.” Do you think people should read Bones and Machine back-to-back, or should they spread them out?
As I mentioned, the books are set fifty years apart and feature different characters, so can be read in any order. Stars And Bones tells the story of how humanity left the solar system and ended up in its present situation, but that information is recapped in Descendant Machine, so it’s not essential to have read the first book in order to enjoy the second.
That said, what will someone get out of Machine if they’ve already read Bones that they wouldn’t otherwise?
Being already familiar with the set-up, you might get more out of the second if you’ve read the first. Though, obviously, I want everyone to read both.
Finally, if someone enjoys Descendant Machine – and they’ve already read Stars And Bones — what sci-fi space opera duology, maybe with a side of cosmic horror, would you suggest they read next?
It’s a trilogy rather than a duology, but Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Final Architecture series features moon-sized aliens ripping apart inhabited worlds, human telepaths trying to stop them, and creepy demonic presences in hyperspace…