With Our Child Of Two Worlds (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Stephen Cox is completing the Coryverse duology he started in 2018 with Our Child Of The Stars. In the following email interview, Cox discusses what inspired and influenced both this second half and this series, and why it’s just super.
For people who haven’t read Our Child Of The Stars, what is that book about, and when and where does it take place?
Small town, New York State, the year of Woodstock and the moon landings. Gene and Molly are a childless couple, getting their marriage back together, when the Meteor hits the town. Passionate nurse Molly is tasked to look after a strange boy named Cory in a secret part of the hospital… He is a wonderful kid — the sole survivor of a disaster in space — but soon Gene and Molly have to take him home and keep him safe from the government and the Russian agents crawling around the area. And to keep him safe, they need to keep him an absolute secret. Late sixties, kind aliens, mysterious threat from space — a loving family under severe pressure — and a naïve boy who is a challenge to all of us. Main narrator Molly is an idealist of that time, passionate, caring, flawed, stubborn, complex. It is several sorts of fun and what’s not to like? In fact, I hoped people outside sci-fi would love it and many do.
And what’s the best joke anyone made about you getting sued by DC Comics for copying Superman?
Yeah, that was painful. But then, we all remember that the Superman guys in 1934 got a cease and desist from Moses and Hercules and Perseus…
Look, so far people who say it’s E.T. (it isn’t) are running ahead of people who say it’s Superman by about 7-1. The real bummer is those few jokers who think the book is based on only one thing — it’s a love letter to science fiction, and “…a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent” (Los Angeles Times) and a chance through looking at that far off world of 1969 to think about how far we’ve come and how far we’re just relitigating the same issues with worse music.
Cory is truly original — that’s a fight me point — and yet falls into the “sweet kids but special powers” trope. Which comes from stories from all over this planet of storytellers.
Originality is odd. I mean vampires had been done to undeath then we got Buffy.
Also, I enjoy being told I have ripped off books and films I haven’t seen.
Was the Meteor me channeling the opening of Smallville? I plead the Fifth.
Next, for people who have read Our Child Of The Stars, and thus can ignore me writing SPOILER WARNING in all capes, sorry all caps, what is Our Child Of Two Worlds about, and how is it connected to Our Child Of The Stars?
Simple enough. The two books are two halves of the same story. Two Worlds picks up shortly after the end of the first book. Cory is no longer a secret and the world is reeling. Everyone wants a piece of the only alien on earth — but where are Cory’s people? Do they even know where he is? Gene and Molly built a great family, but if his people come, won’t they take Cory away? And Earth needs their knowledge because there is something else, very nasty, in space. Can the West and this Communist bloc(s) get their shit together to save the Earth? The President’s historic trip to China has a new dimension.
When in the process of writing Our Child Of The Stars did you come up with the idea for Our Child Of Two Worlds, and what gave you the idea for this second story?
The draft of Stars sent to my agent was a mess — really a rush through two books. I had to write the first part, Stars, as a stand-alone, but there’s big clear questions for the main characters and the Earth outstanding. So, pleased to say, I was commissioned to write the sequel. It felt for me, looking at the family, it was two strong books.
Our Child Of The Stars was a mix of sci-fi and alt-history. Would you say the same of Our Child Of Two Worlds?
The two books are the same story and the same genre. The focus remains on Cory’s family, but there is big stuff happening with his people, with the Earth, and they’re in the middle. My wife coined the term “emotionally literate sci-fi” for my subgenre, which is rather unfair to much sci-fi, but yeah, the books are written for the characters and family dynamics to drag people in. (With explosions and Deep Pondering). I literally have people who have never finished a sci-fi book before recommending it to their Book Groups, saying it changed their reading habits.
So are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Our Child Of Two Worlds but not on Our Child Of The Stars?
Tricky one. Influences are legion and it’s hard to pick from (urgh!) 45 years of reading and watching what influenced what.
Specific to Two Worlds, I suppose having read or watched hundreds of “the aliens come to Earth” stories — great ones and crap ones — it seemed to me lots of things have not been worked through. Neither “they eat us or enslave us” nor “with a wave of their magic technology, everything was kittens and rainbows” seem to fit the bill. Particularly as Cory tells us quite a bit about his people, which has to be worked up in Two Worlds. I mean what would a highly empathic and non-violent species — which clearly contains strong minded individuals because Cory is — what would it be like? How would you get stuff done?
Today’s headlines were a big influence on the second book — leaders jumping on and off bandwagons as it suits, people stirring up hate to advance their career, people arguing Cory is a hoax just to get on TV or to make money, people twisting or ignoring the facts to suit their ideology. Madison Avenue willing to use anything to sell us stuff. People ignoring the world burning down because hey, it’s not burning here.
For both, I usually quote Ray Bradbury — the original short story was me trying Bradbury pastiche, Ursula le Guin, a bit of Mary Renault, Neil Gaiman — a child’s POV in a book for all ages done brilliantly — Dianne Wynne Jones.
Stephen King for weird stuff in well visualized small North Eastern US towns. Firestarter riffs off his own books but is IMHO better than Carrie. I realized writing the first one I have the characters fleeing across a snowy New York State chased by unaccountable government forces…desperate for Cory not to [spoilers]…all quite unconscious. Kind and loving Charlie, the girl in Firestarter, resonates with Cory in several ways. (The new film is, alas, terrible, speaking as someone praying it would be good or OK.)
Speaking of movies, was Our Child Of Two Worlds influenced by any movies? Or maybe TV shows?
There’s a streak of the first four Doctors — Doctor Who probably got me into sci-fi and there’s a talk-first shoot last-vibe in the early shows. Music was big, I played the music of the era constantly and questions like, why is Joan Baez Molly’s favorite singer? Turned out to be fruitful.
Both books relied heavily on films and books beyond number to get the setting right. The USA was split, change didn’t happen everywhere at the same speed, and I had to reflect both sides of those arguments as I could.
E.T. clearly was in the air though I had never watched it through before about draft 3 of the book. The first book has been called “E.T. from the mother’s viewpoint.” E.T. is in one sense the perfect film about childhood, almost beyond criticism. In another sense, Cory is better. Certainly, Cory is a far more interesting character, his origins and his people better shown, his powers have costs, etc. And in scope, E.T. is small but important; the alien changes Elliot and a few people he knows. Cory changes the world.
Earlier you said Our Child Of The Stars and Our Child Of Two Worlds were “two halves of the same story.” But are there any plans to expand this story further?
It seems to me that because Gene Molly and Cory are the focus of the two books, where I chose to leave them makes a third novel mainly about them unnecessary. Obviously, they have lives to lead beyond the end of book two. Would I return to the Coryverse in a different way? Maybe. Never say never. It’s certainly important to me having worked on this since 2013 that I get to do something else for a bit.
Of course, the demand for a third one is flattering.
Given that Our Child Of The Stars and Our Child Of Two Worlds form a duology, some people will decide to read them back-to-back. Do you think this is the best way to take in this story?
I think reading them back-to-back is fine. Personally, if I really like a book, I usually leave it a bit to digest before I pick up the sequel / next one. If it’s good I can wait and if the second one disappoints, it hurts less. That’s a very personal thing though, I hate being dogmatic about this stuff. I love how many people reread the first one before ploughing into the second, but it has been three years. (I was working for a hospital during the pandemic so the edit was sloooooooooooooowww.)
So, is there anything else that people interested in Our Child Of Two Worlds should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
Both books have a serious side but they were fun to write and fun to read. Particularly Cory at large in our world. I set out to write a book which my splendid nerdy daughter and my wonderful but sci-fi phobic mother would both enjoy. It “makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you think, and sends you on your way with a song.” It celebrates the courage to be kind.
Can I make an important point about commercial publishing every sci-fi reader needs to know?
Thanks. The days have gone where a two-book or three-book deal was set in stone. The success of book #1 will affect how much weight if any is put behind #2 (print runs and marketing) and both affect whether book #3 happens at all. Yes, they can just decide not to produce a commissioned book and write off the advance. The sales figures out-bid everything. If your friends rave about a book, buy it or don’t buy it, but just know that waiting till the whole series is out to buy them is a brilliant way to help ensure the series will never finish. Wear a t-shirt – a stake through a book and the slogan “Proud to kill off book series.” (There’s an element of this in self-publishing too.) If you like something, review it, and buy the next one, or pre-order it. Seriously.
Finally, if someone enjoys Our Child Of The Stars and Our Child Of Two Worlds, what alt-history sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you recommend they check out next?
Wow. MY TBR in this field is vast, I’m slow at keeping up. I’m also not much of a genre purist. Michael Moorcock’s Warlord Of The Air is a witty foundational text for steampunk, but he saves the British Empire to hammer imperialism and colonialism. (In the UK we have people determined to resurrect the zombie myth of moral greatness.) I just reread Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle, and it’s as weird and original as I remember. I plan to read Sarah Gailey’s River Of Teeth, which has ranch-escaped hippos wrecking-havoc in Louisiana. Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights [a.k.a. The Golden Compass in the U.S.], the first book in that series, is an astonishing piece of worldbuilding. (Not sci-fi but so what). I think alt-history is over-obsessed with the Reformation, 1776, the US Civil War and WWII. Although I have an alt-history novel in the drawer which involves one of them, tangentially.