In the following email interview about her new sci-fi space opera novel The Blighted Stars (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), the first book in a new sci-fi space opera trilogy called The Devoured Worlds, writer Megan O’Keefe is very clear about what influenced this story, and why certain aspects are the way they are. But when asked where the idea for it came from, she just as confidentially says, ” Nowhere in particular…” As for why, well, you’ll just have to read the following Q&A.
To start, what is The Blighted Stars about, and when and where does it take place?
I think the description I worked on with my publisher is pretty spoiler-free:
Stranded on a dead planet with her mortal enemy, a spy must survive and uncover a conspiracy in the first book of an epic space opera trilogy by an award‑winning author.
She’s a revolutionary. Humanity is running out of options. Habitable planets are being destroyed as quickly as they’re found and Naira Sharp thinks she knows the reason why. The all-powerful Mercator family has been controlling the exploration of the universe for decades, and exploiting any materials they find along the way under the guise of helping humanity’s expansion. But Naira knows the truth, and she plans to bring the whole family down from the inside.
He’s the heir to the dynasty. Tarquin Mercator never wanted to run a galaxy-spanning business empire. He just wanted to study rocks and read books. But Tarquin’s father has tasked him with monitoring the settlement of a new planet, and he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.
Disguised as Tarquin’s new bodyguard, Naira plans to destroy the settlement ship before they make land. But neither of them expects to end up stranded on a dead planet. To survive and keep her secret, Naira will have to join forces with the man she’s sworn to hate. And together they will uncover a plot that’s bigger than both of them.
Where did you get the idea for The Blighted Stars?
Nowhere in particular, and I think that’s the most interesting thing about how humans make art. I have a deep interest in geology, programming, ecological collapse, and the power dynamics involved in a hyper-capitalistic society. I can’t point to any one of those things and say, “that’s it, that’s where the story came from,” because they were all mingling in my subconscious and, eventually, synthesized in such a way that sparked the idea for the story.
Is there a significance to Naira posing as Tarquin’s bodyguard as opposed to pretending to be his girlfriend or some other important person in his life?
Before Naira turned against Tarquin’s family, she worked as his father’s bodyguard. It’s a role she’s familiar with and easy enough for her to impersonate. How she ended up having her mind uploaded into that body is a mystery that unfolds with the story, though, as she had originally planned to masquerade as a more nondescript employee.
And should I read anything into the fact that Tarquin sounds a lot like Tarkin…? As in Governor Tarkin…? From Star Wars…?
Hah! I’m afraid not. I must admit that I’ve never seen the Star Wars movies.
The Blighted Stars is obviously a sci-fi space opera story, but are there any other genres at work in this story as well?
Oh yes, I rarely color completely within the lines. One of the fun things about space opera is that it lends itself so well to enfolding other genres. It’s fundamentally about exploration, internally and externally, and in this specific case I had great fun pairing that with a dash of horror and romance.
The Blighted Stars is your seventh novel after The Scorched Continent trilogy and The Protectorate Series trilogy. And it’s also part of a trilogy, The Devoured Worlds. What was it about this story that made you think it needed to be told in three parts as opposed to just one or two or, conversely, four or five?
The trilogy format has always felt natural to me. I tend toward long, fairly complex stories, and three books gives the story room to breathe without letting it drag on too long.
And just to be clear, while they’re both sci-fi space opera stories, this trilogy isn’t connected to The Protectorate Series.
Nope, it’s a completely separate universe from The Protectorate.
Do you know what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?
The second book is titled The Fractured Dark, and it releases on September 26th of this year. The third book is yet untitled and doesn’t have an official release date yet, but it should be out in the spring of next year.
Is there anything that you learned from writing The Protectorate Series trilogy that you’ve applied to this series?
I can’t say for certain. Every book I’ve written thus far has proven a learning experience in how to write that particular book. Each story requires a different approach. Even when the macro structures are similar, I always feel like I’m learning how to write that story each time I start something new.
So, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Blighted Stars but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not the Protectorate, given that they were also sci-fi space opera novels?
For Blighted, I drew a lot of inspiration from two non-fiction books: Annals Of The Former World by John McPhee and The Entangled Life by Martin Sheldrake. My grandfather was a miner, and I’ve always had a love for geology, so getting to enfold those elements within the story was a great joy.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? I ask because in the interview we did about Catalyst Gate, the third and final novel of The Protectorate Series, you said that the Mass Effect games were a “large influence” on that trilogy…
Final Fantasy VIII was certainly an influence on the themes of The Devoured Worlds. When I was growing up a lot of media at the time, including that game, engaged directly with environmentalism in a way that certainly imprinted upon me. There are a few small winks to Final Fantasy VIII in the trilogy to acknowledge that connection.
And then, to flip things around, do you think The Blighted Stars and The Devoured Worlds trilogy could work as a series of movies, a TV show, or a game?
I suspect the story could work well in any of those formats if the right person was developing it. Films and games are their own artforms, and I’d be curious to see the different angles all of them approached the story from.
So, if someone wanted to make that movie or show, who would you want them to cast as Naira, Tarquin, and the other main characters?
If it was up to me, I’d prefer unknown actors to take those roles. Not only to spread those opportunities around more, but to ensure that actors with backgrounds that mapped closely to those of the characters were given a chance to shine. I deeply believe that being able to see yourself in a story matters, and I’d want that to be reflected in any adaptation.
And if someone instead wanted to make a Devoured Worlds game, what kind of a game should it be?
I think a survival video game would be interesting. Funnily enough, I actually created pixel art versions of the characters to use for playtesting a mechanic I was working on for another game in development. I’d be fun to expand upon that someday.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Blighted Stars and /or this trilogy?
I just hope that readers enjoy it. We could all use a little respite with a good book.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Blighted Stars, what sci-fi space opera trilogy that someone else wrote would you suggest they read while waiting for The Fractured Dark to come out?