Exclusive Interview: “For The First Time, Again” Author Sylvain Neuvel
With his new novel For The First Time, Again (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Sylvain Neuvel is concluding the Take Them To The Stars trilogy he launched in 2021 with A History Of What Comes Next and continued in 2022 with Until The Last Of Me. In the following email interview, Neuvel discusses what inspired and influenced this finale, as well as how he concludes this story.
Photo Credit: James Andrew Rosen
For people who didn’t read the first two books — A History Of What Comes Next and Until The Last Of Me — or the interviews we did about them [here and here], what is the Take Them To The Stars trilogy about, and when and where is it set?
Take Them To The Stars is the story of over a hundred generations of mothers and daughters, all genetically identical, messing with our history to help us reach the stars. Each book follows one generation, the daughter in one book being the mother in the next. The series starts in 1944 and ends in 2005.
And then for people who have read them, and can ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT, what is For The First Time, Again about?
First Time begins in 1999, ten years after the end of Until The Last Of Me. It follows Aster, the last surviving member of the Kibsu, who finds herself a fugitive from the government after a blood test comes back with very unique results. Unaware of who and what she is, she’ll find help from the most unlikely ally. Together, they’ll face dangers from this planet and beyond, and determine the fate of humanity.
When in the process of writing A History Of What Comes Next and Until The Last Of Me did you come up with For The First Time, Again‘s story, and what inspired Again‘s specific story?
Aster existed in my mind before I even started. In a sense, the whole series lead up to her existence. We’ve seen many stories of people with unusual skills or ancestry finding out who they are (think Buffy). I wanted Aster’s discovery to be a different experience for the reader, and so we begin her journey armed with the knowledge from the first two books. She may not know who she is yet, but we do, and that allows the story to move forward in unexpected ways. One way or another, the story ends with Aster. I can’t wait for people to meet her.
A History Of What Comes Next and Until The Last Of Me were both sci-fi stories, though Next also had elements of historical fiction. I assume For The First Time, Again is also science fiction, but does it have any other elements in it as well?
All three books are crossing several genres, though this one has fewer historical elements, if only for the fact that it takes place closer to today.
For The First Time, Again is not the first time you’ve written the last book of a trilogy. You did it before with Only Human [which you can read about here], the final book of The Themis Files. While writing Human, did you learn anything about ending trilogies that made writing Again easier, or made the story better?
I’m not sure I’d call that learning, but Only Human made me come to terms with the fact that I can only write the stories I’d want to read. Finales tend to be bigger (bigger battles, bigger death count), but that’s not really my cup of tea. I like to go in unexpected directions, write wildly different books within series, and this one is no exception.
Speaking of influences, are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on For The First Time, Again?
Hard to say. I don’t think so, at least nothing I read recently. I usually don’t read much while writing, then I binge a bazillion books in between projects.
As for books I’ve read during my life, I suppose each has had some sort of impact but I couldn’t tell you which were more influential to this series in particular.
What about Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut novels, which your Take Them To The Stars trilogy has sometimes been compared to?
I read The Calculating Stars after I finished writing Until The Last Of Me. It’s one of my favorite books of the last decade. The way Mary Robinette completely transports us to another era is absolutely amazing. It’s rare for me to read things that are similar in theme while I’m writing, but by then I was writing in the 2000s and I already knew how the story would end.
I’ve also seen my series compared to For All Mankind on AppleTV, and there are some similarities, but that show is much closer to Mary Robinette’s books that it is to mine.
Speaking of For All Mankind, do you think For The First Time, Again was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Again, not really. For All Mankind is the closest thing to what I was doing, but they were making an alternate history, taking inspiration from real events but reshaping them to fit their narrative. That is, in some way, the opposite of what I was trying to do, to take fictional characters and have them play a role in actual events. Let’s call it a secret history.
As we’ve been discussing, For The First Time, Again is the third and final book of the Take Them To The Stars trilogy. Some people who write trilogies expand upon them with side stories, prequel novels, sequel trilogies, etc. Are you planning on doing this as well?
I don’t know. There are 102 generations of Kibsu, and we’ve only followed three somewhat closely. There’s certainly room to play in that universe. I also suggest you read the last book all the way through. There is a second epilogue at the very end that you might enjoy.
Either way, there are some people — myself included — who have been waiting for For The First Time, Again to come out so we can read all three books of the Take Them To The Stars trilogy back-to-back. Do you think this is the best way to take in this story?
To each their own, but I write rather short books, so binging all three isn’t a bad idea, and it won’t take forever.
That said, some people read For the First Time, Again as a stand-alone, without any knowledge of the first two books, and they seemed to enjoy it. I’d say do whatever you like. Books are supposed to be fun, so read them whichever way you enjoy.
In the interview we did about A History Of What Comes Next, I asked if anyone had expressed interest in making a movie or show based on that book or the trilogy, and you said, “There’s nothing in the works right now.” But when I asked again in the interview for Until The Last Of Me, you said, “There’s nothing definite…” Is there anything definite now?
Ha! Asking Hollywood questions and expecting clear answers is probably wishful thinking, we can never talk about anything, but no, there’s nothing going on at the moment.
So, is there anything else people need to know about For The First Time, Again or the Take Them To The Stars trilogy?
Check out the three book playlists. They’re on Spotify and Apple Music and they are awesome. I also made short videos about the space race, rockets and stuff at the beginning of the pandemic when we were locked inside our homes. You’ll learn some stuff, and you can make fun of my pandemic hair. You can find them on my Youtube channel.
Finally, if someone enjoys For The First Time, Again and the rest of the Take Them To The Stars trilogy, what sci-fi trilogy by someone else would you suggest they read next?
The Lady Astronaut series, definitely. Then there’s The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert J. Sawyer. Those are for people who like space history, or just really good books. You should also read The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson. It has absolutely nothing to do with space but it’s awesome.