With Noumenon Ultra (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Marina J. Lostetter is concluding the epic, multi-generational sci-fi space opera trilogy she started in 2017 with Noumenon and continued with 2018’s Noumenon Infinity. In the following email interview about this series, and its concluding chapter, she explains how this third book concludes the saga, and how it took its name from a cartoon character and not, as we all suspected, Michelob Ultra Dragon Fruit Peach.
Photo Credit: Jeff Nelson
For those who haven’t read them, what are Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity about, and when do they take place?
Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity have all the space-opera-y good stuff: Alien artifacts! Artificial intelligence! Clones! Exploration! Devastating accidents! Societal buildup and collapse! Genetic engineering! And people just trying their best to human well.
Noumenon follows Convoy Seven, one of twelve Planet United missions sent from Earth to investigate deep-space phenomena. In Seven’s case, that means a strange variable star that might involve an alien construct. Noumenon Infinity introduces the reader to Convoy Twelve, and interweaves the two convoys’ stories of discovery. The novels both begin in the near future and take the reader many millennia forward.
Through it all, we have I.C.C., Convoy Seven’s singular cross-ship A.I., who shepherds, records, and learns from its human crew over the many, many centuries. Many of the crew members on both convoys are clones, and we get to see how different clone lines react under different circumstances.
Overall, the series is about exploration, human connection — or, sentient connection, really — and survival.
And then for those who have read the previous books, what is Noumenon Ultra about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first two books?
In book one we encountered an alien megastructure, in book two we got to see what that megastructure specifically does, and in book three we discover how that megastructure relates to other alien megastructures found throughout the galaxy. We also get to further explore the evolution of far-future humanity, as introduced in Infinity. And we encounter new aliens! Key figures from Convoy Twelve finally get to meet I.C.C., and together they form a found-family that must solve the greatest interstellar riddle any sentient lifeform has ever faced.
When in the process of writing Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity did you come up with the idea for Noumenon Ultra and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this third novel?
I’ve had this end-game planned for the trilogy since very early on — at least since I finished drafting book one. And the first few chapters of Ultra, where I.C.C. is more or less investigating a planet on its own, have been pretty solid in my mind since before I finished book two. But a lot of the individual chapters in Ultra, those smaller stories, didn’t evolve until I started writing book three. There were a lot of surprises for me as I drafted.
And why did you decide to call this last novel Noumenon Ultra as opposed to Noumenon Ultimate or Noumenon Ultron or Noumenon Ultra Dragon Fruit Peach?
Noumenon Ultra is the name of a sub-convoy that breaks away from its original convoy in book two. Book three largely deals with the ramifications of what that sub-convoy found.
In addition, the concept of an “ultra” civilization — a civilization that could calculate what it would need to do to survive to the end of the universe — has been present throughout the series. Early on, it’s presented as more of a background detail, a neat concept that the characters briefly contemplate. But the idea becomes much more important and present in book three.
Also, it’s a Buzz Lightyear joke. No, really. As a prefix, ultra means “beyond.” So, if you need to remember what order the series runs in, just remember: Noumenon, to infinity and beyond!
Suddenly I don’t feel so dumb for the Noumenon Ultra Dragon Fruit Peach crack. Anyway…Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity were sci-fi space opera stories. Is that how you’d describe Noumenon Ultra as well?
Ultra is definitely space opera. It probably fits the traditional concept of space opera even more closely than the first two.
In the previous interview we did about Noumenon Infinity [which you can read here], we talked about how that story took the form of a mosaic novel. Is Noumenon Ultra one as well?
It is. I wanted to keep the basic structure similar through all three books, but it also allowed me to show different aspects of interstellar phenomena happening on a long-term scale.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, Noumenon Ultra is the final book in this trilogy. As you probably know, there are people who are going to read all three books back-to-back. Do you think this is the best way to experience this story?
I think reading all three back to back is ideal. Since it’s a mosaic series, with an over-arching plot that takes place over many millennia, and only a handful of characters that are present through the entire trilogy, I think it’s easiest to take in its vastness when consumed as a whole. But I’ve also done my best to refresh readers who are returning to the series after the two-year wait for book three.
The only way I suggest not reading the trilogy is out of order. Perhaps that sounds obvious and logical, but you’d be surprised.
There are people who still think the Earth is flat; nothing surprises me anymore. Anyway, some sci-fi authors who’ve written trilogies later expanded upon them with sequels or side stories. Are you thinking you’ll do this with the Noumenon books, or is this it, you’re done?
There is still a lot of room in the Noumenon universe for expansion. The story started with twelve interstellar convoys being sent off into the unknown, and throughout the series we only really see what happened to two of them.
But, if I were to write any more stories in this universe, they wouldn’t be directly related to the plot of the Noumenon series. The trilogy is complete, and closes the loop, so to speak. Any new stories would stand on their own. So, I’m done for now, but there’s always the potential for more.
So, what are you going to do? And don’t say “I’m going to Disneyworld!” It’s not a safe place to be these days.
I’ve started work on a new sci-fi book for Harper Voyager, though the details are still under wraps. I also have an epic fantasy series coming out with Tor. Book one is scheduled for April 2021, and it’s sort of Silence Of The Lambs meets Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn — with enchanted death masks, a serial killer who’s killing again from beyond the grave, and a hidden-world layer to the politics and magic system. Book one is called The Helm Of Midnight, and the series is called The Five Penalties.
Neat. So I assume there aren’t any plans to adapt the Noumenon books into some movies or TV show, we would’ve heard something by now. But if someone wanted to do that, do you have a preference as to what form it should take?
I personally think it would make a great TV show. The mosaic format of the novel could easily translate into episodes, since each chapter is more or less a self-contained story, and there is a lot of leeway for adaptation that could make production choices easier. For example, since a lot of characters in successive chapters are clones of those who came before, the same actors could play them all. Or, the clone aspect could be dropped if the showrunner wanted to make it more of an anthology series with different actors each episode. Basically, I think the original structure is very flexible, and would make it easy to stay true to the stories while taking into account the realities of physical production, and thus would translate well to the small screen.
And do you have any suggestions as to who they should cast as the main characters…
I don’t know. I think for me, casting would be delightful in the same way fan and official art is delightful: I like to be surprised by other people’s vision of my work. So, I don’t have any preconceived notions of who would fit what role. This likely also comes back to how I visualize stories — I’m much more focused on action and movement in my mind, and don’t have a good internal picture of what individual characters look like.
Finally, if someone enjoys the Noumenon saga, what sci-fi space opera trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Read the Protectorate Series by Megan E. O’Keefe. If you love sentient spaceships, twisty plots, and action-adventure, these books are for you. I’m personally a bit spoiled here — I’m in a writing group with Megan, so I get to read the books early, and I cannot recommend them enough. The first in the series, Velocity Weapon, will blow your socks off mid-book.