Sometimes it seems like it would all be easier if someone else sorted it all out. Especially these days when our problems seem so insurmountable. It’s a thought that writer Gareth L. Powell not only entertained, but is also exploring in his new cosmic horror-infused sci-fi space opera novel Stars And Bones (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Powell discusses where this idea took him, and how it’s going to require more than one story to complete that thought.
Photo Credit: TomShot Photography
To start, what is Stars And Bones about, and when and where does it take place?
Stars And Bones takes place around 75 years into our future, after an alien entity has kicked humanity off the Earth and set us adrift in a fleet of a thousand arks, each the size of New York. The story is about how we come to adjust to this new situation, and how we confront the horrors waiting for us in a vast and uncaring universe.
Where did you get the idea for Stars And Bones?
I was talking to someone about climate change, and flippantly mentioned how good it would be if aliens came and sorted it all out for us. And that comment sparked something in my brain, and I decided to explore what it would actually be like if that happened.
And is there a reason you set it seventy-five years in the future as opposed to twenty-five or seven hundred and fifty?
I set it 75 years out because I felt that was the farthest I could push it before the effects of climate change altered society beyond all recognition. And also because I wanted to make sure it was far enough from today that I’d be safely dead and gone before my predictions were proved false.
It sounds like Stars And Bones is a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d classify it?
I think of it as space opera with a side helping of cosmic horror.
Stars And Bones is, of course, not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Bones but not on anything else you’ve written?
I think all the usual influences apply. In terms of hardware, Iain M. Banks, Samuel Delany, Ann Leckie, Peter Hamilton. In terms of characters, Michael Moorcock, Becky Chambers, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler…
How about non-literary influences; was Stars And Bones influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Setting the story on a fleet of arks obviously invites comparison with Battlestar Galactica, which was a huge influence on my developing imagination as a child in the early 1980s. I don’t want to give too much away, but astute readers will also spot some nods to John Carpenter’s classic movie The Thing.
Now, Stars And Bones is the first book in a series called Continuance, which your website says will be, “…for fans of Becky Chambers and Ann Leckie.” Chambers’ books tend to be a little funny. Will Stars And Bones and the other books in the Continuance be funny?
These are not funny books. There is humor, but it arises organically, through the interactions of the characters rather than any set piece “funny moments” or jokes. As humans, we tend to use sarcasm or pith to alleviate tension, and these characters are very, very human.
So, what can you tell us about the Continuance saga?
At the moment, the Continuance series consists of two stand-alone books, but there might be more in the future. I wanted to create a series readers could dip into anywhere without needing to have read any of the other books, and which I could return to whenever the right story presented itself. The other books will be set in the same universe, but won’t be sequels.
Along with Stars And Bones, you also recently put out a novella called Light Chaser that you co-wrote with fellow sci-fi author and middle initial enthusiast Peter F. Hamilton [which you can read more about here]. How do you think writing Light Chaser with someone else — and specifically with Peter — influenced Stars And Bones?
Working with Peter reminded me that it’s okay to let your imagination off the leash and paint in widescreen occasionally. He really gave me a masterclass in world building.
You also have a TV series in the works based on your Embers Of War novels. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
We have a script and a director attached. The next stage will be to pitch it to the networks.
And has there been any interest in adapting the Continuance series into a show? Or maybe a movie or a game?
The book is only just coming out, so it’s early days.
So, is there anything else that people interested in Stars And Bones and the Continuance series need to know?
They should know that there are some scary parts, some introspective parts, and some non-stop thrill-ride action sequences.
Finally, if someone enjoys Stars And Bones, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Embers Of War is a great place to start.