Tim Pratt’s sci-fi space opera The Wrong Stars was easily one of my favorite books last year. Now Pratt is continuing that story with The Dreaming Stars (paperback, Kindle), the second stand-alone story in his ongoing Axiom series. In the following email interview, he discusses the origins of The Wrong Stars, how it connects to The Dreaming Stars, and how things are going with the third book, 2019’s The Forbidden Stars.
For those unfamiliar with this series, what is The Dreaming Stars about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first book in The Axiom series, The Wrong Stars?
The Dreaming Stars is set about three months after the end of The Wrong Stars. The crew of the spacecraft The White Raven and the cryostasis time refugees they rescued from the clutches of the ancient aliens known as the Axiom are hiding out on an asteroid, pretending tobe dead, because the secret society dedicated to hiding the existence of the Axiom from humanity is still a threat. Eventually they get the all-clear to emerge from hiding, and travel to a colony system to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances of surveyors exploring an asteroid belt. In the process, they discover a vast Axiom facility performing an unimaginably huge computation…and running a simulation where members of the Axiom live out dark fantasies in a virtual reality. In order to save the colony world and stop the Axiom from achieving their universe-altering goals, the crew will have to enter the alien dreamworld and fight the Axiom in their own private world.
Also there’s kissing and jokes and drug use.
Where did you get the idea for The Dreaming Stars, and when in the process of writing The Wrong Stars did you come up with it? Because when we did the previous interview about The Wrong Stars [which you can read here], you already knew The Dreaming Stars was coming out in the fall of 2018, which is now.
When I first created the world of the Axiom — set about 600 years in the future, in a universe where the mostly friendly but endlessly confabulating aliens called Liars have opened the galaxy to human colonization through a series of wormhole gates, and where an ancient race called the Axiom pose an endless background threat — I immediately began to generate ideas for what the crew of the salvage-and-security ship The White Raven might discover in various systems. The Wrong Stars is about humanity’s first accidental brush with Axiom technology, and in The Dreaming Stars, the crew is deliberately seeking to destroy Axiom facilities before the Axiom can destroy them. I knew I wanted to do a virtual reality/simulated world story, but set in an alien simulation that humans could barely comprehend, that had to be filtered and simplified in order for our minds to even cope, and where there were very clear real-world stakes if the mission failed.
The Wrong Stars was a science fiction space opera story. Is The Dreaming Stars as well, or is there some subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that describes the book better?
It’s mostly space opera still — there are lots of Ganymede facts —with a dash of VR/simulation stuff.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Dreaming Stars but not on The Wrong Stars?
Oh, sure, lots of simulated world stuff: [Charles] Stross’ Accelerando, The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch by [Philip K.] Dick, even The Girl Who Was Plugged In by [James] Tiptree. “Dreams Are Sacred” by Peter Phillips was a story that had a huge influence on me, too.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big impact on The Dreaming Stars?
The film Dark City, for sure. There’s a fun, dark little game called Superhot that plays with notions of simulated worlds and whether “imaginary” actions have real consequences. And just science and philosophy and epistemology in general, I suppose. I play a lot with the idea of what’s “real” in the series, and it’s not always clear what’s a simulation and what’s not; if your senses tell you it’s real, who’s to say otherwise? Are you a person dreaming you’re a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming you’re a person, etc. Are we just brains in vats being stimulated to think we see things that aren’t there? Who’s to say our universe isn’t a simulation anyway, like Nick Bostrom famously argued?
And this will be my last question about influences. You are the senior editor of the sci-fi/fantasy magazine Locus. How has working there influenced your writing, and specifically the writing in The Dreaming Stars?
Only in a general sense. It’s a place where we talk a lot about the history of science fiction and the modern state of the field, so in seventeen years there I’ve been exposed to a lot of stories, novels, ideas, and writers I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Now, as we mentioned, The Dreaming Stars and The Wrong Stars are both part of The Axiom series. Which, in our previous interview, you said would be an ongoing series of stand-alone but loosely connected novels. Is that still the plan?
Still the plan. The Dreaming Stars certainly makes more sense and is a richer experience if you read The Wrong Stars first, but the plot of this one is completely wrapped up by the end. The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or with any immediate issues unresolved…though I did include a little launching-pad for the third book at the end.
Speaking of which, are you still on track to release that book, The Forbidden Stars, next year?
It’s on track. I’m working on it now, and if all goes well it will be out in about a year, in fall 2019.
Also, in the previous interview, you said that The Wrong Stars was being shopped around as a potential movie, TV show, or game. Has anything come of that?
No developments to mention at the moment. The wheels of media grind slow though. We’ll see. I’ve optioned many things over the years, so Idon’t get too worked up about it anymore; it will happen, or it won’t, and it’s nothing I can control.
Finally, if someone’s enjoyed The Wrong Stars and The Dreaming Stars, what similar sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for The Forbidden Stars to come out?
Certainly the influences I mentioned above. Some of my favorite current science fiction is Ian McDonald’s Luna series, Luna: New Moon and Luna: Wolf Moon. His earlier books, especially Brasyl, are also really wonderful. My work is often compared to Becky Chambers, too, in terms of fun space opera. And Rivers Solomon wrote an amazing dark powerful generation ship story called An Unkindness Of Ghosts that should be widely read.