With the release of Static Ruin (paperback, Kindle), writer Corey J. White is concluding the VoidWitch Saga trilogy he began last year with Killing Gravity and continued with Void Black Shadow. In the following email interview, White talks about what went into writing this novella, as well as his next project, the upcoming cyberpunk novel Repo Virtual.
Let’s start with a bit of background. What is the VoidWitch Saga about and when does it take place?
The series follows Mariam “Mars” Xi, a genetically-engineered telekinetic human weapon who’s spent most of her life on the run from the military research group that made her. In Killing Gravity, Mars learns the truth about her past and unlocks her true terrifying potential. In Void Black Shadow, she puts herself at the mercy of the Empire in order to rescue one of her few friends. And in Static Ruin, Mars finally tracks down her father — the brilliant scientist behind the experiments that created the voidwitch program — and finally learns the truth about her family.
I don’t have a concrete year, or even century in mind, but I imagine it being a couple of thousand years in our future. Part of the impetus for writing a space opera in the first place was wanting to have some sort of optimism about the future. It’s not a utopian future by any stretch, but at least we survived long enough to become a galaxy-spanning civilisation.
And so what is Static Ruin about, and how, aside from being the third book in this trilogy, does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, with the first two books?
Static Ruin picks up a few weeks after the end of Void Black Shadow, but narratively it also returns to some of the themes of both books: the pain a family can inflict upon itself, found family, toxic masculinity and male entitlement, violence, responsibility, and guilt.
When in the process of writing these books did you come up with the idea for Static Ruin, and how did the plot evolve since then?
I can’t remember specifically, but I probably had a rough outline for the full trilogy before I’d finished Killing Gravity, inasmuch as I always knew what each book was going to cover. The first book is Mars realizing she can’t run from the past forever. The second book is Mars learning a hard truth: that our actions have consequences. And the third book is Mars actively excavating the past she tried to flee, accepting it, and doing everything she must to secure herself a future.
As you said, Static Ruin — like Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow — is a sci-fi space opera storiy. But are there other genres, or combinations of them, at work in the book as well?
There’s always been some element of cyberpunk to the series — if only in regards to extreme body modification and an anti-authoritarian attitude — and Void Black Shadow dabbled in some bodyhorror, but otherwise no, there’s nothing new in the mix this time around.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Static Ruinbut not on Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow?
No, the whole universe was well-established in my mind by the time I sat down to write it. For one of the planets I introduce in Static Ruin, I took inspiration from the beauty and devastation of Australian bushfires, and for one of the characters I took inspiration from watching my grandfather’s mental decline in the last years of his life. He was a very intelligent man with an analytical mind — which is one of the things I think I inherited from him — who had worked as an aeronautical engineer, so it was difficult watching that decline, and I’m sure it was even harder for him to go through it.
Now, you recently announced that your next book will be a novel, Repo Virtual, which you’ve described as a cyberpunk heist novel. First, is it at all connected to the VoidWitch Saga?
Repo Virtual is entirely its own thing. If the VoidWitch books are set at an indeterminate point in the future, Repo Virtual is set maybe five years from now, or maybe in a slightly different version of today. I think if you look at our society in just the right way, you can see a lot of parallels between it and the dystopias that cyberpunk fiction showed us: massive wealth disparity, rampant corporations, constant surveillance — whether that’s due to the surveillance-economy so much of social media is built upon, or actual state technological surveillance like what we’re seeing in China — and so on. So with Repo Virtual I wanted to do a very “now” take on cyberpunk, with tech that we mostly either have now, or will have very soon, distributed in a certain way to tell the story that I want to tell.
What can you tell us about it in terms of plot, release date, if it’s the beginning of a series or a stand-alone story, etc.?
Repo Virtual is stand-alone, though because I can’t leave well enough alone, I’m already planning a book thatcouldtake place a couple of hundred years after the events of the book. If there are any actual links between the two books though, they’ll be tenuous at best. After spending three years in and out of the one story universe writing the VoidWitch books, I really just wanted to be able to tell a self-contained story and not have to think in terms of an over-arching series.
Plot-wise, Repo Virtual follows the theft, retrieval, and awakening of the world’s first true strong AGI — Autonomous Generative Intelligence, because if it’s truly intelligent, then why call it artificial? — all set in a city own by a corporation, with layers of augmented and virtual reality anchored in the real.
So does this mean you’re done with the VoidWitch Saga? I mean, I know it’s a trilogy, but some writers — including Kameron Hurley and K.B. Wagers — have expanded theirs with side stories or sequel trilogies.
One of the reasons I wrote Killing Gravity — and wrote it the way I did — is because I wanted to write a space opera where the big picture intergalactic conflict and politics is pushed out to the boundaries, and the focus is instead on people living on the outskirts of the empire. Now that I’ve come to the end of this journey, I’ve already got an idea for what I could do with a trilogy of novels thatwouldinstead follow both sides of a galaxy-spanning war, and maybe — maybe — bring Mars into direct conflict with the Emperor, but I don’t know that I’ll ever get around to telling that particular story. In the short-term, I have four other books and one other series I want to write first, not even counting Repo Virtual, and in the long-term it would require more interest from readers. Tor.com Publishing have already done so much in supporting me and the VoidWitch books just by letting me write the whole trilogy, but to go any further than the three novellas, we’d need bigger numbers.
Going back to Static Ruin and the VoidWitchSaga, with all three novellas now available, there are people who will read all three books in a row. Is there a story-based reason why people shouldn’t do this? Or should?
That’s exactly how I meant for them to be read: as three parts of the same story. I always thought of them in terms of the original Star Wars trilogy; each book has its own story and its own arc, but also feeds into a larger continuing narrative.
In the previous interview we did aboutVoid Black Shadow [which you can read here], you said that there was nothing in the works yet in regards to a VoidWitch Saga movie, TV show, or video game. Is that still the case?
Nothing more to report. I mean, I should have some exciting stuff to announce in the next few months, but sadly nothing film, TV, or video game related.
Finally, if someone’s enjoyed Killing Gravity, Void Black Shadow, and Static Ruin, what sci-fi space opera novella would you suggest they read next?
Space opera novella is perhaps too specific; I can only name one, and I’ve not read it because I was working on my own.
But for sci-fi recommendations, Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing is the best book I’ve read all year, Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon is just as fantastic as you’ve heard, and Albert Monteys’ comic Universe! is gorgeous, smart, and heart-breaking.
If you want novella recommendations, JY Yang’s Tensorate books [The Black Tides Of Heaven, The Red Threads Of Fortune, and The Descent Of Monsters] represent a brilliant, and totally unique take on fantasy, both epic and completely personal at the same time. Then there are Cassandra Khaw’s Persons Non Grata books [Hammers On Bone and A Song For Quiet], which are haunting, and visceral horror.
And as for space opera, I’d have to recommend Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, though I’m way behind on that one.