In the midst of the current pandemic, one thing has become perfectly clear: If a writer makes a mistake of even hinting that they have a pet, I will ask a stupid question about it. Which is exactly what happened when I did the following email interview with writer and cat owner Essa Hansen about her sci-fi space opera / space fantasy novel Nophek Gloss (paperback, Kindle), which is the first part of The Graven trilogy.
Photo Credit: © Shawn Hansen
To start, what is Nophek Gloss, and when and where is it set?
Nophek Gloss is a classic revenge story with a core of personal growth and complex morality. The young protagonist, Caiden, has grown up on an isolated world with a singular function. When his whole planet’s population is destroyed for economic gain, he’s thrust into a gigantic, diverse, adult world he had no idea existed. This multiverse is built of countless bubble-shaped universes stuck together like a vast foam, with different physical laws in each of them — and all variety of aliens, creatures, trippy environments, and technology. With only the help of a unique starship and a found family of misfit aliens, Caiden is forced to grow up too fast both physically and emotionally as he struggles with PTSD, identity, perspective, and a residual anger driving him toward justice against the slavers who murdered his people.
Where did you get the initial idea for Nophek Gloss, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this novel?
The world came first, in this case. My mind tends to flip around micro and macro, so while looking at macro photography of foam and soap bubbles, I imagined a “what if” scenario of these structures at galactic size, with ships that could travel through the membranes. Then: what if physical laws were different in each, and things translated / transformed as they passed through? This gave rise to really fun economic implications and an exploration-based multiversal culture.
My initial novel idea had Caiden as a capable adult, but as I began to develop his backstory from childhood to where he ended up, it quickly expanded into a whole book of its own. Currently, the second novel in the trilogy begins at that original starting point I had in mind (a good ol’ bar brawl — we’ll see if it survives through edits).
It sounds like Nophek Gloss a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres you think describe this better or are at work in this story as well?
The definition of “space opera” can vary a lot depending on who you ask, but Nophek Gloss fits space opera tightly if we go by the definitions from Paul McAuley’s “Junk Yard Universes” in Locus — epic narratives with intimate, human-scale stories — and David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer in “Space Opera Renaissance” defining the genre as “colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character.”
Many initial reviewers have called the story hard science fiction, but personally I feel I wasn’t as rigorous with my science as I had initially set out to be. My early readers were responding most to the sense of wonder in my creative ideas, so I focused on that and leaned more toward the science I love that is at the cutting edge, or highly theoretical, or veers into metaphysics and philosophy. In this sense, I feel Nophek Gloss tilts toward science fantasy, and I had a lot of fun imagining a world where science has a better unified grasp of the fabric of spacetime, reality, and consciousness.
Nophek Gloss is your first published novel. But I’m guessing it’s not the first thing you’ve written. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Nophek Gloss but not on anything else you’ve written?
Nophek Gloss is my second or third complete novel, a vague timeline because I wrote two “second” manuscripts at the same time. I can’t say that any one inspiration has percolated up from my subconscious for this story more than others, as I collect bits of idea and detail from all over: art, TV and film, video games, nature, science, personal experiences. What I had the most fun with, with Nophek Gloss, was actively trying to come up with concepts that I personally haven’t seen before in the genre.
Speaking of TV, film, and video games, which of those had a big influence on Nophek Gloss?
I hoard bits of things that fascinate me, and these end up getting grafted on to or absorbed by my original concepts, or serve as launch points to go in a different direction, so I can’t point to any one or few major influences. I focus more on the message I want to tell.
That said, I did grow up with exploration-heavy sci-fi shows such as Star Trek and Stargate, with the model of a crew exploring new worlds and cultures. How do they go about it? What problems do they encounter — moral, physical, or otherwise? What danger is so big that it might threaten all worlds? This fits right into the sort of setup I created for Nophek Gloss. In addition, I grew up playing Final Fantasy games and other Square Enix RPGs, and I definitely think their unique blend of fantasy / magic plus science / technology rubbed off on me.
And this is my last question about influences, so don’t ask for more: What influence did your British Shorthair cat Soki have on Nophek Gloss? I’m assume he named it when he jumped on the keyboard because you rudely weren’t paying any attention to him.
Exactly so: I name new sci-fi terms by having him walk across the keyboard, then I delete every third vowel and every second consonant.
I’ll inform his lawyer. Moving on, you have said that Nophek Gloss is the first book of a trilogy called The Graven.What was it about this story that made you realize it needed to be told in three parts as opposed to one or two or37?
I bet there are 37 or more stories that could be told in this world. But since this particular novel was born out of a backstory seed, and I wasn’t counting on a publisher buying a series, the plot of Nophek Gloss is quite self-contained and can be read stand-alone. I don’t leave you with a cliffhanger, only a final chapter hook. The second book will tangle together key characters and expand scope while setting the stage for a true multiversal, multidimensional conflict in the third book. I couldn’t build something like that in just one novel, so I’m delighted it got picked up as a trilogy.
Do you know yet what the other two books will be called and when they’ll be out?
I can’t share the next two titles yet, but Book 2 will release around October or November of 2021, and the final book a year after that.
As you know, some readers are going to hold off reading Nophek Gloss it until the other two books come out, and some will go further and read all three in a row. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read Nophek Gloss?
Soki encourages readers to buy weekly and send copies to friends.
Story-wise, I wrote the first book to feel like a complete package. During editorial I added more foreshadowing of future plot, and some lingering questions, as well as a final chapter that I hope hooks readers into wanting the next book…but Nophek Gloss can be read on its own and the main questions are all answered. I personally don’t love being left with a big cliffhanger in a first book, or it feeling like “setup” for the next, so for myself I made sure this arc of Caiden’s journey comes to a close.
Earlier you mentioned that Nophek Gloss had been influenced by movies, TV shows, and video games. Has there been any interest in adapting Nophek Gloss into a film, show, or game?
No news on this yet, and although I work in the film industry for my day job, I didn’t write the novel with budgetary concerns in mind. With the amount of tech, number of non-human characters, and variety of settings, it would be heavy on the visual effects! But exciting to see on the screen in any form.
So you don’t have a preference as to what form an adaptation would take?
I don’t, though I think a video game would be fantastic because the world has opportunity for either galactic-scale multiversal space travel or a big sandbox planet with multiple universes bubbling on its surface. Or both? Possibly even an MMO like Destiny or Final Fantasy XIV? During world-building, I was thinking of things like: if a reader was going to create their own character, what species could they be? Where could they be from? What’s their profession? Their faction affiliations? Culture and beliefs?
As for who should make it, of course I gravitate to familiar developers who have done a great balance of story, world, and action with this sort of scope: Square Enix, Guerrilla Games, Naughty Dog, Konami, Bungie, and so on.
Finally, if someone enjoys Nophek Gloss, what sci-fi space opera trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for the rest of yours to come out?
Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger trilogy is complete now, and has a lot in common with mine. The first book is a revenge plot paired with personal transformation, set in an inventive world where space pirates hunt after remnants of ancient advanced civilizations, which…may not be quite what history paints them as. There’s mystery, an awesome spaceship, clever characters, and creative, almost fantastical technologies.