With Poor Man’s Sky (hardcover, Kindle), writer Wil McCarthy is continuing the series of hard sci-fi space opera / political spy thriller novels he started with 2021’s Rich Man’s Sky. Though as he explains in the following email interview, you don’t need to read Rich to get Poor.
For people who didn’t read it, or the interview we did about it, what was Rich Man’s Sky about, and when and where did it take place?
Rich Man’s Sky is about the future of private space programs, as extraterrestrial resources and infrastructure are increasingly under the control of a small number of high-net-worth individuals, and outside the reach of Earthly law. This is good in terms of getting things done quickly, but it also involves a concentration of power that makes governments — and individuals — uncomfortable. That tension between the good and bad aspects is the engine that drives the story.
And then for those who have read Rich Man’s Sky, and thus can ignore me writing SPOILER WARNING in all caps, what is Poor Man’s Sky about, and when and where does it take place in relation to Rich Man’s Sky?
Poor Man’s Sky is what I’d call a “loose sequel” in that it takes place later in the same year, and involves some (though not all) of the same characters and institutions. But the focus is different, and my goal is for each of the books to be readable on its own as a complete and self-contained story.
The main thread is about a murder at Saint Joseph of Cupertino Monastery, on the moon, but the events there ripple out through cislunar space, affecting everything from the Mars colonization program to the asteroid mining companies to the future of the moon itself.
When in the process of writing Rich Man’s Sky did you come up with the idea for Poor Man’s Sky, and what inspired this second book’s story?
Oh, right from the beginning, I knew Rich Man’s Sky was going to be the start of a trilogy at the very least, and possibly an even longer series. The setting is just so rich, and includes background events happening at a scale too large to fit into just one book. Some periods of history, like the Wild West or the World Wars, or even the Cold War, are just too large and complex to write about, except through the viewpoints of multiple individuals who each see their own unique cross-section of it. One of my goals was to write a future that’s as complex and fraught as the present. And the present can’t be captured by a single story, either.
As I understand it, the four people involved in this story are a homicide detective, a Benedictine monk, an asteroid miner, and a hydroponic farmer. Which sounds like the set-up for a dad joke that Alan Tudyk would’ve told on Firefly if Hoban and Zoe had kids. How did you come to pick these four kinds of people?
There are a lot more than four people involved in the story; talking about these four characters was just a way of slucing off a summary that would fit on the back cover. But these people’s fates are all intertwined, yes, because there simply aren’t that many people in outer space at this time, and so a murder on the moon affects all of them in one way or another. But the short answer is that the Mars colonization program is a reality show type contest, with a prize big enough to kill for. The lunar monastery has set itself up as a kind of school, for teaching colonists how to live in space, and this unfortunately puts them in the center of the intrigue.
Rich Man’s Sky was a hard sci-fi space opera / political spy thriller. Would you say the same about Poor Man’s Sky?
I try not to worry too much about the margins that separate one genre from another. There are certainly elements of a police procedural and a political thriller in Poor Man’s Sky, but there’s also labor unrest and technological discovery and romance. I would say it’s a story about an eventful moment in history that happens to be in the future.
Are there any writers who had a big influence on Poor Man’s Sky but not on Rich Man’s Sky? Or, for that matter, any of your other books?
Too many to count, but if I had to pick one it might for example be Martin Cruz Smith, who wrote murder mysteries that were actually deep, broad ruminations about the Cold War, and its effects on ordinary people.
How about non-literary influences; was Poor Man’s Sky influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Hmm. I mean, I consume that stuff in great quantity, and all of it helps to shape my worldview, so…yes? But nothing really specific.
Now, in the interview we did about Rich Man’s Sky, you said you had at least two more books in this series coming: Poor Man’s Sky and Beggar’s Sky. But you also said, “And there might be more after that.” First, where do things stand with Beggar’s Sky?
I’m working on Beggar’s Sky right now, and it’s going well. Going to be another good book, I think. But until it’s done and handed in, Baen Books isn’t going to put it in their schedule, so I’m reluctant to speculate when it might be out.
And second, will there be more after that?
No specific plan right now, but there are so many people and places and situations in this series, I think the hard part will be picking which ones to focus on at any given time. But I think yes, almost certainly, there will be more books at some point.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Poor Man’s Sky?
Just that they don’t have to rush out and buy Rich Man’s Sky in order to read it. A lot of readers and reviewers have enjoyed the book without even realizing it was a sequel.
Finally, if someone enjoys Poor Man’s Sky, what hard sci-fi space opera / political spy thriller of someone else’s would you suggest they check out?
Hmm. I don’t think Poor Man’s Sky is really very much like the stuff anyone else is doing right now, but I did enjoy The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. That one takes place a lot farther in the future, but in terms of its underlying themes, I think it’s coming from a somewhat similar place.