In the following email interview, writer Marina J. Lostetter discusses Noumenon Infinity (paperback, Kindle), the second book in her sci-fi space opera series after last year’s Noumenon. And not, as I originally thought, a look at how The Muppets never seem to age.
To begin, what is the Noumenon series about, what is Noumenon Infinity about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first book, Noumenon?
As a series, Noumenon is about societal growth, space exploration, and how individuals doing their best just to live their own complicated lives can change the course of history. Each chapter is told from a different crewmember’s point of view — including the ship’s computer, I.C.C. — so we get to know a lot of the characters as heroes or villains through their own eyes.
The story begins with the inception of the Planet United Missions, and twelve convoys are sent into deep space. In book one, Noumenon, Convoy Seven visits a strange star surrounded by an alien megastructure. In book two, Noumenon Infinity, we return to Convoy Seven and I.C.C. as they attempt to finish construction of the artifact. But unbeknown to them, Convoy Twelve has found itself unexpectedly far from home in dangerous circumstances that directly relate to the alien structure and its true purpose. The two dueling story lines both hold pieces of the puzzle, and…well, let’s just say that in theNoumenonseries, things aren’t always as they seem.
Where did you get the idea for Noumenon Infinity and how different is the finished novel from what you original envisioned?
In Noumenon, the crew of Convoy Seven is informed at one point than none of the other eleven convoys returned to Earth when they should have, which leaves a giant but-what-happened-to-them?-shaped hole in the story. So with book two, I wanted to explore the fate of at least one of the other convoys.
Originally, I was only going to focus on Convoy Twelve in Noumenon Infinity. But changes we made to book one during edits left me with so much more to explore in terms of Convoy Seven that it eventually became clear that I had to include them in the story; it made everything so much more exciting that way.
And I have to ask: how often, when talking about these books, does someone call them Mah Na Mah Na and do you always reply with a jaunty “do do do do do”?
Oh my gosh, all the time! I don’t reply with “do do do do do,” but I should. I find it really amusing, and figure, hey, whatever helps them remember the books is okay by me.
Are there any writers or specific stories that you feel had a big impact on Noumenon Infinity but not on Noumenon?
Oooh, that’s hard. I think for the most part it’s really difficult to look at a long history of books consumed and try to separate out their individual impacts that finely. So my first instinct is to answerno,because Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, for example, had just as much impact on book one as book two. But Ididread quite a few books between writing Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity, and my writing has evolved.
So now that I think about it more acutely, yes. More recently, I’ve been trying to read outside of my usual comfort zone — that comfort zone being pretty squarely in sci-fi and fantasy when it comes to fiction — so I read Good Girl’s Guide To Talking Dirty by my friend, Alice Faris. It is a hilariously awkward romance. It definitely influenced an awkward-romance subplot in Noumenon Infinity.
Now, as you kind of explained, Noumenon Infinity is a mosaic novel, which means it’s basically a bunch of connected short stories that are meant to be read in order and in close proximity. What prompted you to write Noumenon Infinity this way, and what does it give this story that it wouldn’t have had you written it as a traditionally-structured novel?
The entire series takes place over a horrendous amount of time. I’m talking thousands and thousands of years. So really, the only way to tell the story I was envisioning, and still have human characters involved, was to take key points in individual character’s lives and tell those stories within the greater plot line. But because the majority of the characters are clones, we also get to meet different versions of people in different social circumstances, which I hope adds a level of interest and emotional attachment to the characters that might otherwise be missed with this kind of structure.
Speaking of short fiction, you also have a short story collection out, Lifeboats. Are any of the stories in that connected to Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity?
The collection is a handful of my previously published shorts, unrelated to Noumenon. But, if you enjoy Noumenon Infinity, you might enjoy those as well; they’re all space stories focused on exploration, discovery, and intrigue.
Finally, if someone enjoys Noumenon Infinity, which of your other sci-fi novels would you suggest they read next?
Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series [The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet; A Closed And Common Orbit; Record Of A Spaceborn Few] is also great character-oriented spacefaring sci-fi. Semiosis by Sue Burke has a similar narrative structure to Noumenon Infinity, and might play well with sci-fi fans who are looking for darker stories; though everyone should check out the content warnings before diving into that one. And I’m really looking forward to A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martin, which comes out next year; I think readers of Noumenon Infinity will likely enjoy it for the alien-diplomacy aspects.