Siblings, am I right? Can’t live with ’em; can’t throw them out of an airlock. Especially since there are no airlocks on Earth worth throwing anyone out of. But while relatives may be annoying in real life, they do make for some interesting stories. Take the sibling rivalry at the center of Kristyn Merbeth’s science fiction space opera trilogy The Nova Vita Protocol, which she kicked off last year ago with Fortuna, and now continues with Memoria (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview about the latter, Merbeth discusses what inspired and influenced this second sci-fi story of three.
Photo Credit: SunStreet Photo
For people who didn’t read the first book, Fortuna, what is The Nova Vita Protocol trilogy about, and when and where does it take place?
The trilogy takes place in the far future, in a planetary system called Nova Vita. There are five habitable (though “survivable” might be a better word) planets, where humanity has built new civilizations on top of the ruins of a now-extinct alien species known as The Primus. Though the planets are deeply distrustful of one another, and have as little contact as possible, the book follows a crew with the rare ability to cross otherwise-closed borders: the Kaisers, a (very dysfunctional) family of interplanetary smugglers. The point of view swaps between Corvus, the oldest and once “golden child” of the family who has spent the last three years fighting in a civil war on his home-planet, and Scorpia, the scrappy, screw-up second-oldest who has been struggling to fill her brother’s shoes in his absence. When a deal gone wrong lands the Kaisers in the middle of a deadly interplanetary conflict, both siblings will have to make difficult decisions about the family’s future and their place in the system.
And then what is Memoria about, and, aside from being the second book of three, how else does it connect to Fortuna, both narratively and chronologically?
Memoria begins a few months after the ending of Fortuna, and continues chronicling the lives of the Kaiser family through the eyes of Corvus and Scorpia. Corvus is hoping for a peaceful future, while Scorpia is eager to return to traveling the stars and continuing the family business. But both of them soon discover that they can’t run from the consequences of their past decisions — and a shady job investigating ancient alien technology is about to drag them back into the crossfire between two planets on the verge of war.
When in relation to writing Fortuna did you come up with the plot of Memoria, and how, if at all, did the plot change as you wrote this story?
I did a lot more planning and outlining with this series than I usually prefer to, so I had most of the major plot points in mind from the get-go. I originally planned for the plot of Memoria to go in a much darker direction, but when it came to writing some of those scenes, I found myself balking. I wasn’t having fun writing it, and I didn’t think readers would have much fun reading it, and I realized it just didn’t fit with the overall tone I wanted for the series. The story still gets quite dark at times, but in the end, I chose to keep the story more hopeful overall. I’m much happier with the story I wrote than the one I originally planned.
Fortuna and Memoria are sci-fi space opera stories. But are there other genres at work in these stories as well?
Family drama, certainly; I would say the series is just as much about the relationships between the Kaisers siblings as it is about interplanetary conflict. And due to my love for writing action and fight scenes, I feel as though all of my books have strong thriller elements.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Memoria but not on Fortuna? Or, for that matter, your other novels?
Last year, when I was writing the first draft of Memoria, was a shockingly good year for science fiction. Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, The City In The Middle Of The Night by Charlie Jane Anders… I was blown away by each one in turn while I was working on my own draft, and found myself inspired by not only their brilliance, but by their strangeness. They’re all such unique, unexpected, voice-heavy stories. I would say they all influenced me in that they encouraged me to put as much of myself into my work as possible, and block out all of the noise and expectations to focus on writing the story I wanted to write.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Any of those have a big influence on Memoria? Because when we did the interview for your novel Bite [which you can read by clicking here], you said, “If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably gaming.”
There have been some really great TV shows centered on sibling relationships over the last couple of years, such as Succession and Umbrella Academy, which definitely kept me thinking about how I wanted to portray family relationships in my books.
On the game side, I fell in love with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which is a pretty and colorful JRPG on the surface, but also digs deeply into themes of loyalty and the tragedy of war, which are also some of the core ideas explored in Memoria as well. One thing that really surprised me about that game is when you — playing as a professor at an academy of war — lead your students into their first real battle, they are all horrified after they kill someone for the first time. That isn’t something that I see explored often in games, and it left a lasting impression on me that I believe seeped into my writing as well.
Speaking of Bite, that book was published under the name K.S. Merbeth, but Fortuna and Memoria are credited to Kristyn Merbeth. Any reason for the change?
The main reason is the simple fact that I was making a genre jump. While it’s all under the science fiction umbrella, the post-apocalyptic world of The Wastelanders and the epic space opera universe of The Nova Vita Protocol are obviously quite different in both setting and scope, and differ quite a bit in tone as well. I think many of my readers will still enjoy both series, but I understood the need to differentiate between them.
And, while I don’t think this is something that factored into the decision, seeing my full name on a book cover is also pretty cool.
As we’ve been discussing, Fortuna and Memoria are the first two books in The Nova Vita Protocol trilogy. Do you know yet when the third book will be out and what it will be called?
I’m not sure exactly when it will be published yet — though, to be fair, that’s usually true right up until someone points out to me that there’s a release date up on Amazon. But I can tell you that the first draft is complete and so, fingers crossed, it shouldn’t be an overly long wait. And… I do know what it will be called! We actually just decided a few days ago, as of the moment I’m typing this. But I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell you. Sorry! I’m very unhelpful, I know.
There are people who are going to wait for that third book to come out before they read any of this series, and some will then read all three in a row. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
I do understand why some readers feel this way, especially if they’ve been burned by incomplete series in the past. And yet, I feel that there is often an extra layer of meaning you get when reading something very fresh, knowing that the author has experienced some of the same events that you have over the last couple of years. I think that’s especially true of science fiction, which is a genre that is as much a reflection of our current times as it is a projection of a potential future. For example, I previously mentioned Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade, which is full of such a fierce and revolutionary kind of hope, and would not have meant as much to me if I hadn’t read it after such a dark couple of years beforehand. And Paul Tremblay’s zombie-virus horror novel Survivor Song was such a haunting read not only because it was released in the middle of a pandemic, but because I knew its eerily prescient words were conceived before it began.
I wrote this trilogy during a time of great turmoil in the United States and the world at large, and I have poured all of my anxiety about the present and my fears and hopes for the future into them. So there will never be a better time to read them, and really understand them, than this very moment.
Earlier I asked if Memoria had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interest in adapting The Nova Vita Protocol trilogy into a movie, books, or game?
Not at the moment. But my dream would definitely be to see it as a television show. It would be so cool to see the vast world and extensive cast of characters explored in a series, and I think it would be a little bit difficult to do the story justice in a movie.
If that happened, who would you want them to cast as Scorpia, Corvus, and the other main characters?
Alright, so I said television show, but I’m terrible when it comes to casting my characters, so I’m going to cheat and make it a game instead. Also because I love games, as you know, and it is way too much fun to think about this question.
I believe I said I’d want a Telltale game for Bite, which would be really fun for this series as well (I’m mostly picturing Scorpia making bad decisions and “Corvus will remember that” popping up over and over again). But I think my first choice would be an RPG from someone like BioWare or Bethesda. Though, oh, man, it would also be incredible to see the world as a Legacy board game, where you could play as the different planets over generations of history, trading and / or warring with one another and dealing with the unique advantages and disadvantages of each planet’s geography as you build a civilization…so many possibilities.
Finally, if someone enjoys Fortuna and Memoria, what sci-fi space opera trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for the third Nova Vita Protocol book to come out?
Ooh, the final book of Alex White’s Salvagers series — starting with A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe — was just released this year, and while I haven’t read the final book yet, I have no doubt that I’ll love it as much as I loved the first two. It’s a super fun, action-packed space fantasy series with a messy yet deeply loveable cast of characters, and I think it would appeal to a lot of the same people who enjoy my work.