When it comes to science fiction, the jobs we usually think about are ship captain, bounty hunter, smuggler, and so on. But there’s also a handful of sci-fi stories about people who work in the repossesion industry, including the 1984 cult classic Repo Man, Eric Garcia’s 2009 novel Repossession Mambo, and the 2010 movie based on Garcia’s book, Repo Men. And now you can add Suzanne Palmer’s new novel sci-fi Finder (hardcover, Kindle) to that list. In the following email interview, Palmer discusses the inspirations and influences, as well as her plans for sequels.
Let’s start with an overview of the plot. What is Finder about?
My main character, Fergus Ferguson, is basically an interstellar repo man, and he arrives at this backwater, deep-space settlement to steal back a stolen spaceship, and gets caught up in a fight between a crooked junk merchant and a family of very strange lichen farmers, and it all just goes downhill for him from there. Also: scary marauding aliens! Because that always makes things more fun.
Finder is your first novel, but you’ve written a ton of short stories and some novelettes. But did you set out to write a novel, and Finder is what you came up with, or did you have the idea for Finder first and, in the process of writing it, realize it needed to be novel length?
I did intend at some point to try my hand at writing a novel again — I wrote one very early on in my career that never got anywhere — but I wasn’t specifically thinking, when I started this story, that this was going to be it. I’m not much of an outliner, and I’ve written stories where all I had going in was the title, or opening line, or one scene I wanted to wrap action around. So I jumped into Finder with the idea for the cable car and the first two characters you meet and not much beyond that, and it just took off on me. Within a few thousand words I knew it was at the very least going to be a novella, and I considered early on trying to cap it there, but I kept going.
So where then did you get the idea for Finder?
I had the visual image of the cable car strung on a line between asteroids, and that seemed like a fantastic place to start a story, and the world and plot and characters kind of filled themselves in around me as I went. I wish I could say I had some grand plan from the beginning, but really for me it’s like racing a go-cart down a very steep and bumpy mountain, where half the time you’ve got your foot out trying to make yourself go faster or go around some obstacle, and the rest of the time you’re flying down the hill at breakneck speed thinking, well crap, what do I do now? Once I get far enough through that I can see the overall shape of the story then I can go back with a broom and make it look like I picked the best path from the get-go. It helped that Fergus is a lot of fun to write.
Finder has been described as a sci-fi caper. Is that how you see it?
I’ve tended to describe it as space opera, though I think it doesn’t have that epic scale that genuine space-opera technically requires. Caper is more fitting, but that’s just one element of the story, you know? So I’m not sure it fits neatly into any one particular genre, but borrows from a bunch, and I’m pretty happy with that.
Has anyone coined “snarkpunk” yet? Fergus has a knack for attracting snarky people, which is maybe way more autobiographical than intended.
I’ll check with the patent office. In the meantime, are there any authors or specific stories that had a big influence on Finder but not on any of your previous stories?
Oooh, that’s a tough question. I’m always reading, or at least as much as time allows — which became a lot less when I took up writing, which is my one big regret — and on some level everything gets filtered into the subconscious in both big and little ways, and you don’t always know when or exactly how they’re going to combine or emerge. A lot of my science fiction short stories are set in the same conceptual universe, although I rarely draw direct lines between things, but there are places and people that have appeared in multiple works, and in some ways that has the effect of spreading out the sort of internal conversation I’m always having with myself as an author across a lot of my work.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on Finder?
I grew up a massive Doctor Who fan as a kid, and I would love to think that at least some of the hopeful, thoughtful, empathetic, just nature of that show has been internalized not just in my writing but also in how I generally approach the universe as a human being. I love smart SFF, and I like movies, TV, books, etc. that leave the viewer or reader — regardless of how tragic or dark the story may be — with some spark of hope, or some sense that the characters chose doing the right thing over the easy or lucrative thing, regardless of personal cost.
Finder has been likened to the work of John Scalzi and Becky Chambers. Which makes me think it’s somewhat humorous. Is that the case?
I hope so! Man, I’ll be bummed if no one gets a good chuckle here and there.
Oh, much more situational. There are definitely dark things in this book, and bad things happen to good people, and I hope that the humor that’s in the book doesn’t dim the impact of those things, but at the same time, real life is grim enough, you know? I’ve dealt with a lot of really awful events in my life, and being able to laugh about it is sometimes all that got me through, so maybe that’s just me, but there it is in the book to grab onto like a hand to hold in the dark, if you need it.
So who do you see as being the big influences on the humor in Finder?
I loved Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and I love John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines and the humor in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, and some of the subtler but often sharper humor in Elizabeth Bear’s SF. SFF is such a rich field it’s hard to name names without knowing you’re leaving a whole lot of excellent work out that touched your own.
Now, you’ve already said that Finder is the first book in a series. First off, does the series have a name?
Um…not yet. Can I get back to you on that in another book or two?
Sure. So is this series going to be an ongoing thing or a set number of books?
Right now there are plans for three books, but while there are certainly character and plot arcs that run across all three, they aren’t some cohesive whole that excludes other stories. So if DAW lets me write more, there are definitely more stories that fit in seamlessly. I don’t know how many, but already I can totally envision how a fourth book would connect, and I really hope I get to write it. I guess time will tell.
As we mentioned earlier, you’ve written a number of short stories and novelettes. Is Finder connected in any ways to any of your short stories?
I know I had at least one very early story that mentioned Cernekan, the deep space habitat where most of Finder takes place, though I don’t think my characters in that story went there. Likewise Crossroads has gotten a mention in a number of stories, and there is a brief minor character overlap with my Asimov’s Reader Award-winning novella “Lazy Dog Out” for the sharp-eyed. The other side of that coin is that there are a lot of minor characters I introduced in Finder and its immediate sequel I’m just finishing now that I can totally see giving a more prominent role in a shorter story of their own.
So you’re thinking you might write any short stories connected to Finder and this series?
Are you thinking you might do a whole collection of them when the time comes?
I don’t know about a collection. I have a partial short story already written set in Cernee’s Sunshields that I hope to finish sometime this spring, because the Shielders are really interesting to me and just don’t get enough page-time in this book. I fully expect there will be other stories as well, here and there, soon enough.
Speaking of which, has there been any talk of doing a collection of your short stories and novelettes?
A few brief conversations with my agent, but nothing further than that yet. It would be awesome to put together, but gets harder every year to decide what to pick, because my favorites aren’t necessarily anyone else’s.
You’ve also said on your website that you, “Finished a novel, then some shorts and a novella. Started a new novel!” I assume the first novel you mentioned is Finder, and that the other is the second in this series, but what are the plans for the novella?
The novella is named Waterlines and will be appearing in Asimov’s sometime later this year. Unlike a lot of my stories, this one is not set in the same universe as Finder. The new novel is, just as you guessed, the sequel to Finder, and is currently titled Undertow. I am, as of this interview, just making my last sweep through prior to sending it off officially to my editor, the wonderful Katie Hoffman.
Earlier I asked if Finder had been influenced in any way by movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Finder into a movie, show, or game itself?
Not yet, but — in my clearly biased opinion — Finder would make a truly fun, great movie and someone should definitely contact us now about making one before someone else jumps on it. Could be the next Star Wars. You never know, right?
If Finder was to be made into a movie, who would you like to see cast as Fergus and the other main characters?
James MacAvoy [Split] would make a great Fergus, I think, and I’d be totally thrilled with Chiwetel Ejiofor [Doctor Strange] as Harcourt. The Vahns are trickier because they have to be kind of cast together? I have a strong mental image of what both Mari and Mother Vahn look like but I don’t know any actors who match up well. Christopher Lee [The Lord Of The Rings] would have made a wonderful Vinsic but sadly he’s left us. Katey Sagal [Sons Of Anarchy] would be an excellent Ms. Ili.
Finally, if someone enjoys Finder, what similar sci-fi novel would you suggest they read while waiting for the Undertow to come out?
Well, it’s going to be a year between Fergus books, so that gives my hypothetical fan time for more than one, right? So definitely I’d say read all the Murderbot novellas from Martha Wells because they are extraordinary and entertaining and incredibly human. And if you’re done there, my favorite series of all time is Karl Schroeder’s Virga series and you just can’t go wrong with anything by him, or Tobias Buckell, or if you really want humorous SF Jim Hines’s Terminal Alliance. And there’s so much great fantasy out there, too…
So, okay, my advice is read everything. I can’t even decide what I want for lunch in a timely fashion most days, so I’m a terrible person to ask about decision-making. But the short version is I recommend any book that takes you somewhere new and interesting, and gives you something back for your time — I certainly hope Finder does.