Exclusive Interview: “Meru” Author S.B. Divya
With Meru (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) writer S.B. Divya is launching a new sci-fi space opera series called The Alloy Era. In the following email interview, Divya discusses what inspired and influenced this series, as well as why the Era series will be more like Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels than a multi-book saga or the ongoing adventures of a single hero.
Photo Credit: David Perry Photography
To begin, what is Meru about, and when and where is it set?
Meru takes place over a thousand years from now, when humans are confined to Earth while their post-human descendants, the alloys, can live and travel through space. When the planet Meru is discovered to be hospitable to humans, one woman and her alloy pilot are sent to test whether human beings can be trusted to live there.
Where did you get the idea for Meru?
I wanted to write a space opera set in the far future that involved post-humans. The plot was loosely inspired by my favorite story from the Mahabharata called “Nala And Damayanti.” I used the bones of that story (with a vastly different setting) and its main characters as a springboard for what ultimately turned into a very different narrative.
So, is there a significance to this being set 500 years in the future as opposed to 50 or 5000?
50 years would’ve been far too soon for the technologies and types of beings that inhabit the world of this book. Some people might find 5000 plausible, but when I mapped out the intervening events (between today and the time the story takes place), I felt that they could reasonably happen in the next millennium.
Also, is Meru named after the mountain in the Indian Himalayas, Meru Peak?
I was thinking of the Mount Meru (also known as Sumeru) that is the abode of the gods in Hindu mythology and makes its way into Buddhism and Jainism. I don’t know if the peak in the Himalayas was named after that one (Wikipedia doesn’t think so), but I could understand if it was.
You said that Meru is a sci-fi space opera story. But are there any other genres at work in this story?
It also includes elements of genetic engineering, so it could be called a biotech story. I’ve also seen some people file it under hard science fiction. I feel like I hand-waved too many elements to call it “hard sci-fi” myself, but there are definitely a lot of scientific terms in the novel, and one of the main characters studies and works in genetics.
Unless I’m mistaken, Meru is your third novel after Runtime and Machinehood…
Mostly correct. Technically, Runtime is a novella, but it is sold as a stand-alone book.
Gotcha. So, it’s your second novel, though you’ve also written a novella, Runtime, and a collection of your short stories called Contingency Plans For The Apocalypse. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Meru but not on anything else you’ve written?
As I mentioned above, the story “Nala And Damayanti” definitely had a strong influence. I wouldn’t say that this story is in conversation with a specific author, but it is a reaction to some common science fictional tropes — e.g., the right to expand and consume the universe’s resources, the right to colonize and terraform planets, or the belief that violence and battle are inherent to civilization.
Any other literary influences?
In terms of scope, Meru was influenced by some of my favorite stories, such as C.J. Cherryh’s Mercantile universe (especially Cyteen) and Frank Herbert’s Dune. I was given confidence to pursue the strangeness of the world by books such as [Yoon Ha Lee’s] Ninefox Gambit, [Kameron Hurley’s] The Stars Are Legion [which you can learn more about here], and [Charlie Jane Anders’] The City In The Middle Of The Night. I also considered the Prime Directive from Star Trek in thinking about what rules a future society might have when it comes to space travel and other planetary bodies, including those that don’t harbor life.
Speaking of Star Trek, was Meru influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Not really, though I loved the robots and solarpunk aesthetic of the video game Horizon: Zero Dawn. I was also inspired by the landscape of southwestern USA for the terrain on the planet Meru.
Now, sci-fi space opera novels can be stand-alone stories or part of larger sagas. What is Meru?
Kind of both. Meru stands alone as a novel, but there will be a second novel [Loka, which is tentatively scheduled to be released February 6, 2024] that takes place some years later and involves a different set of main characters. I’m modeling my approach to this universe in a similar way to the Culture novels by Ian M. Banks. I intend each book to stand alone but all of them to share the same world.
Cool. So, what can you tell us about this series?
The series name is The Alloy Era, and for now it’s going to be two books. Depending on how those do, and if my publisher and readers want more stories in this setting, it could become a longer series, but as I said, I have no plans for a continuing plot arc.
Earlier I asked if Meru had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, like you kids used to say, do you think Meru could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it could work as a movie or TV show for sure. It would need a big budget for special effects. It could potentially work as an animated show, too, but thematically it’s more for adults and young adults, and there’s a bias (at least in the USA) that animation is for kids. I’m not sure how well it would work as a video game.
There have been some recent games with great science fictional concepts (Horizon: Zero Dawn and Nier: Automata come to mind), but the world of Meru has little to no violence, which is the primary mode of play for most video games.
And, if someone wanted to adapt Meru into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Jayanthi, Vaha, and the other main characters?
I think Richa Moorjani would make a fantastic Jayanthi. I love her work in Never Have I Ever, especially her blend of comedy, drama, romance, and geekiness, which would be perfect for this character.
For Vaha, I could see Dua Saleh of Sex Education or Bilal Baig from Sort Of. I would definitely prefer someone who identifies as nonbinary to be cast in the role, and both of these actors have an amazing range of talent as well as a self-effacing style that would work well for this character.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Meru?
This is a book that’s heavy on worldbuilding, and it starts right from page one. Readers who love being immersed in a strange place, where they might not understand everything right away, will (I hope) find the story very rewarding. For example, books like Dune, Ninefox Gambit, or The Stars Are Legion, have a similar dynamic. Personally, I love feeling a little lost at the start of a science fiction novel and the process of discovery as I keep reading. It reminds me of traveling to another country. After the initial culture shock, you end up making connections and having a rich experience like none other.
Finally, if someone enjoys Meru, which of your other books would you suggest they read while waiting for Loka to come out?
Thematically, the closest is Machinehood, which is also concerned with what defines humankind and personhood, so that’s probably what I would suggest.
That said, Meru is quite a departure from a lot of my other fiction. It’s probably closest to a couple of short stories that I’ve written, specifically “Nava” and “Strange Attractors.” Readers can find those in my collection, Contingency Plans For The Apocalypse And Other Possible Situations.