On occasion, a writer will go back and make small revisions to one of their older novels when they’re being reissued. But most of those times, the stories aren’t radically different. No so for Christopher Hinz’s 1988 out-of-print debut novel Anachronisms, which is getting a very different new life as the sci-fi space opera thriller Starship Alchemon (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Hinz discusses how this top-to-bottom rewrite happened, and why, as well as some quick questions about his recently released novella Duchamp Versus Einstein, which he cowrote with Etan Ilfeld.
To start, what is Starship Alchemon about, and when and where is it set?
It’s set in an unspecified era several hundred years in the future. “Quiets” — Quantum intra- entangled transpatial systems — make interstellar travel feasible, and the Alchemon has been sent to investigate an anomalous biosignature on a desolate planet. The mission quickly goes to hell as freakish incidents plague the A.I.-controlled ship and its nine- person crew. Imagine Ridley Scott’s Alien but with an unknown enemy (or is it enemies?) able not only to launch physical attacks, but utilize the most subtle forms of emotional and intellectual manipulation to achieve cryptic aims.
Where did you get the original idea for Starship Alchemon and how did the plot change as you wrote the book?
As noted in the book’s intro, its earliest incarnation, many years ago, was Anachronisms, which was the first novel I ever wrote. Back then, my storytelling skills left something to be desired and I vowed that someday I’d do some minor tweaking and render the novel something I could truly be proud of. But when I finally found the time to take on the project, it blossomed into a complete, page one revamp. On every level, Starship Alchemon grew into a new and radically different story.
Starship Alchemon has been called a sci-fi space opera thriller. Is that how you see it?
The book is equal parts space opera, thriller, multi-pronged mystery, and in-depth probe of humans under extreme pressure. I’ve always loved genre-blending and believe most fans do as well. Publishers tend to have a different outlook, preferring fiction that often adheres to rigid categorization in order to make marketing a book easier (which is not always the case). Fortunately, my publisher, Angry Robot Books, adopts a more liberal attitude toward such things.
Now, while Anachronisms was your first novel, you’ve written quite a few since then. But are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Starship Alchemon but not on anything else you’ve written?
I’ve always loved incorporating high-stakes plotting, intense characterization and exotic action. Literary influences range from Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke to Stephen King and A. E. Van Vogt.
What about non-literary influences; was Starship Alchemon influenced at all by any movies, TV shows, or video games? You mentioned Alien earlier.
Cinema also had an impact on the story, not only Alien but films like Arrival, with its clever blend of first contact, time-warping metaphysics, and psychological enigma.
Starship Alchemon is a stand-alone, the entirety of the story contained within its 300-plus pages. Could there someday be a sequel? I wouldn’t entirely rule it out, but no plans at the moment.
Now, along with Starship Alchemon, you have a second book that came out a month ago, Duchamp Versus Einstein, a novelette you cowrote with Etan Ilfeld [my interview with whom you can read here]. What is that book about?
An ethereal female, able to freely navigate through space and time, arranges for the radical artist Marcel Duchamp and the famed scientist Albert Einstein to play a chess game that just might alter world history. The match takes on a surreal flair, with bizarre mid-game rule changes prompting the men to think far outside the box. The story’s style and focus is a big change from my previous novels and served as a welcome creative challenge.
By the way, Etan’s extensive knowledge of the game — he’s a U.S. chess master — infuses that aspect of the story with plausibility.
Did writing Duchamp Versus Einstein with Etan Ilfeld have any influence on Starship Alchemon, either in what you wrote or how you wrote it?
I don’t believe there were any direct influences intertwining the two projects, even though at times they were being worked on concurrently. Then again, maybe I’m too close to the writing. Astute readers might have a better sense for detecting crosscurrents.
So do you think people who enjoy Starship Alchemon would like Duchamp Versus Einstein as well?
Hard to say. Although both are SFF, they possess somewhat different sensibilities. Still, there are similar elements, such as the fact that both the novel and novelette deal with alien / human conflict.
Along with Starship Alchemon and Duchamp Versus Einstein, you also recently published a graphic novel version of your novel Liege-Killer. Given that you originally published the novel version of Liege-Killer in 1987, thirty-two years ago, did you change anything about the story for the graphic novel version?
The graphic novel weighs in at about 125 story pages, not including the bonus prose story that’s set in the Paratwa universe. Frankly, that wasn’t nearly enough breathing room for an effective, scene-by-scene translation into sequential art. Roughly estimating, I would have needed somewhere in the range of 500 to 600 pages to capture all the characters, intersecting plot lines and nuances of the prose novel — from a publishing standpoint, not feasible. Thus, the graphic novel reimagines the core story of Gillian and Nick versus Reemul, the liege-killer.
So are you planning to do a graphic novel adaptation of Ash Ock, The Paratwa, and / or Binary Storm?
Nothing on the current workbench when it comes to further graphic novel adaptations. But the future bubbles with quantum uncertainties. Who can say?
That actually raises a question: Why did you decide to write Starship Alchemon as a prose novel instead of as the script for a comic book?
With most of my projects, the medium is an intuitive choice. That was certainly the case here.
Earlier I asked if Starship Alchemon had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting that novel into a movie, show, or game?
Starship Alchemon, in my honest opinion, would make a fantastic movie, either as a theatrical release or a feature debuting on a streaming service. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s radar often fails to detect novels that are anything less than huge bestsellers. Still, the book isn’t published yet; my agent will certainly attempt to stir interest in an adaptation.
If Starship Alchemon was being adapted into a movie, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
How about Jennifer Lawrence [Red Sparrow] or Lily Collins [Tolkien] as the psychically tormented “LeaMarsa” and George Clooney [Gravity] or Jeff Bridges [Kingsman: The Golden Circle] as the ship’s besieged captain, “Ericho.” Throw in Halle Berry [John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum] as perceptive crew doc “June” and Javier Bardem [Mother!] as the deranged “Lt. Donner” and all that’s left to do is pass the popcorn and strap in for a cinematic thrill ride!
Finally, if someone really likes Starship Alchemon, what thrilling sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
That’s always a tricky question because readers interpret stories in such different ways. I can’t really think of any specific books that offer the particular blend of elements found in Starship Alchemon. In general, I’d say that if you like this novel, seek out stories that offer high tension space opera with profound stakes; sharply etched characters and an exotic culture from which they sprang; and a kaleidoscope of exotic notions about the universe and humanity’s place within it.