Exclusive Interview: “Oceanus” Author Scott Overton


Some people say that space is the final frontier.

But given how little of the deep ocean we’ve explored…

In his new science fiction novel Oceanus (paperback, Kindle), writer Scott Overton takes us under the sea, where we find…well, you’ll see.

In the following email interview, Overton discusses what inspired and influenced this story, including why he set it underwater instead of in that other as-yet unexplored void.

Scott Overton Oceanus

To start, what is Oceanus about, and when and where is it set?

Oceanus begins with a jetliner over the Pacific Ocean that’s struck by a blast of unknown energy with disastrous consequences. Some kind of energy transmission. Clearly, it was either produced by something or someone in the ocean, or transmitted to them, so a team of unique specialists is sent to the ocean floor in a prototype underwater habitat to make First Contact with whatever is down there. Extraterrestrials? Or some previously unknown form of Earth life? No one knows.

Most of the novel takes place in the deep ocean, kilometers beneath the surface.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

There were a couple of themes I wanted to explore.

One was the nature of a truly non-human intelligence. What would it think like? Could we possibly relate to it in any way?

And the other element was the way we humans have damaged our planet and the consequences of that. We can’t even know all the consequences because there are places like the ocean floor that we know very little about, and species we still haven’t encountered. Or if an alien race arrived from space, how would they judge us for how we’ve treated our home?

And I thought the ocean depths were a great place to set a story like that because they’re so unexplored and mysterious.

I was just about to ask why you set it under the ocean as opposed to in space. I was thinking it was because then you’d have to call it Spaceus. Or worse, Spacious.

Ooh, yeah, those would be terrible titles.

You know, there have been some pretty good movies about the deep ocean, but not so many books (I would recommend the Rifters series from Peter Watts, though). So, I thought that was a gap I could fill.

But more than that, I just wanted to go there vicariously — explore such an inhospitable environment through story. I’ve been in love with the underwater world all my life, and a scuba diver for many years, so it was inevitable that I would write about it. I really don’t write space opera. There’s just so much of that on the market.

Oceanus is clearly a science fiction story. But it sounds like there might be more to it.

I’ve written a number of near-future science fiction thrillers, but for my previous book, Indigent Earth, and for Oceanus I wanted to offer some real adventure. But I always start with strong themes and interesting concepts and build my plot and characters from there. So, though there’s action from the first sentence, this is definitely a “thinking person’s” action novel, including a lot of soul searching and speculating about what it would mean if extraterrestrials showed up on Earth. Would they solve our problems? Or would it mean the end of humankind’s initiative and curiosity? Oceanus explores the nature of consciousness and sentience, too. There’s a lot of depth to the novel, figuratively and literally.

Oceanus is your seventh novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Oceanus but not on anything else you’ve written?

Maybe the Rifters series I mentioned, though mainly because of the deep ocean setting — Watt’s writing is much darker than mine.

But otherwise, the authors who’ve most influenced me are Robert J. Sawyer because of how he always creates very human stories no matter what concept he’s describing, and Michael Crichton, who was a real master at creating compelling plots around important technological issues. I never want to copy anyone, but their influence has affected all of my novels, I’m sure.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Because it kind of reminds me of that movie The Abyss.

Sure. The Abyss and also Sphere [based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton] were two of the great movies I was thinking about in your earlier question. Both were a big influence, and not just because of being set in the deep ocean (which they both bring to life really well), but the whole framework of a special team being sent to deal with a major crisis. Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain is a perfect example of that. I’ve always loved that trope, and Oceanus is my best example of it.

Science fiction novels like Oceanus are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Oceanus?

I’ve never written a series, so far. Since I always set out to explore a particular theme or set of themes, you can accomplish that in one stand-alone story — the beginning, middle, and ending are all chosen to express that theme. That includes Oceanus.

Having said that, I know that publishers like series, so I often come up with ideas for a sequel to a given book, just in case. I’d be happy to revisit the main characters of any of my books, and readers are always telling me they want to see more of them. With Oceanus, the two main characters, Alex and Elle, could easily be spun off into a series, which is definitely hinted at. Maybe someday.

Earlier I asked if Oceanus had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Oceanus could be adapted into a movie, a show, or a game?

I can absolutely see Oceanus as a movie. That’s another thing readers tell me all the time, that they can picture the scenes like a movie as they’re reading. That’s how I write. And movies like The Abyss and Sphere show that it could be done really well.

I think it would end up too talky as a TV show. And I’m not much of a gamer myself, though the setting is perfect for either a single or multiplayer video game; very atmospheric, and the player would only see what’s illuminated by their lights. Scary!

And if someone wanted to adapt Oceanus into a movie, who would you want them to cast as Alex, Elle, and the other main characters?

Ha! Tough question. I pick online images of people for me to picture as my characters while I’m writing, but not necessarily anyone well known. And most of my favorite actors are too old. Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend Joe Allwyn has the right look for Alex if he could capture Alex’s strange mix of insecurity and confidence. And Candice Patton, who played Iris West on the Flash TV show, could play Elle: vulnerable but with inner strength. There are a number of great character actors who could embody the others — strong personalities all — but I don’t know if I’d want big names for fear they’d throw the story off balance.

Scott Overton Oceanus

Finally, if someone enjoys Oceanus, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?

My novels are all quite different from each other because that’s how I keep myself challenged and excited. But my novel Naïda is about a guy with an alien symbiote in his body which gives him special abilities, especially in water, so there’s some ocean adventure there, too.

Or how about the inner ocean of the human bloodstream? My book The Primus Labyrinth was inspired by the movie Fantastic Voyage and involves a nano-submersible hunting biochemical bombs through the body of a victim close to the American president. Very high-concept stuff.



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