Exclusive Interview: “The Emergent” Author Nadia Afifi

 

With The Emergent (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), writer Nadia Afifi is presenting the middle part of her Cosmic trilogy, which she launched in 2022 with The Sentient. In the following email interview, Afifi discusses what inspired and influenced this second installment of this sci-fi with a spash of horror saga.

Nadia Afifi The Emergent The Sentient The Transcendent Cosmic

For people who haven’t read The Sentient, or the previous interview we did about it, what is this series about, when and where does it take place?

My Cosmic trilogy is set in North America, beginning in the year 2227. It centers around a talented neuroscientist, Amira Valdez, who escaped from a futuristic religious fundamentalist compound as a child, and has been trying to put her past behind her since. Her memory-reading skills are put to use on a controversial cloning project, where the subjects of the experiment are dying without explanation. As she uncovers a conspiracy to stop the project, she learns a sinister secret and ends up caught in the middle of a conflict between the religious compounds she came from and a New Age movement seeking to push human consciousness to new frontiers. Neither side can be trusted, but she’s forced to navigate a politically-charged, dangerous world to survive.

And then for those who did read The Sentient, and thus can continue reading without fear of SPOILERS, what is The Emergent about, and how is it connected to The Sentient?

The Emergent picks up where The Sentient left off, but the stakes have become much higher. SPOILERS incoming… Amira’s world has been upended — she nearly died, is facing trial for a crime she’s falsely accused of and has to contend with the reality of Tony Barlow’s secret plan to pursue human immortality. His plan for the Pandora cloning project puts Amira in a difficult situation — she doesn’t trust him and is furious at him for what he did to Rozene, the first woman to be successfully cloned, but also needs him to survive and help those she cares about. And the compounds are a bigger threat than ever. The previous lead Elder of the Trinity Compound, Bill Young, is incapacitated and a new Elder is in charge — one who’s more ruthless, more intelligent and has a vision for the future that extends beyond the compounds.

When in the process of writing The Sentient did you come up with the idea for The Emergent, and what inspired the plot of this second installment?

I realized pretty early into writing The Sentient that I intended for it to be a series. I’ve known the story’s ending for a very long time — in the middle of writing an early chapter, it came to me in a very vivid, cinematic way. From there, it was just mapping the plot that led up to that ending, and making it as compelling a journey as possible. For this second installment, I wanted to make the world greyer and morally murkier — Amira has been forced to confront the complicated nuances of her world, and she in turn makes some decisions that can only be described as…questionable. Her environment is getting more dangerous, and that forces her to make difficult choices about who to trust and how to handle her enemies. At the end of The Emergent, her path takes an unexpected turn but her goals become clearer.

The Sentient was a science fiction story. Is that how you’d describe The Emergent as well?

It’s definitely in the same vein as The Sentient: near-future adult science fiction, with the same themes and ideas that the first book tackled. Both novels, in my opinion, also have a touch of horror to them.

Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Emergent but not on The Sentient?

I’d say Margaret Atwood. Specifically, her MaddAddam trilogy. It wasn’t intentional, but when my agent was reviewing an early draft, they commented that they got strong Atwood vibes from the middle section of the novel. And they were right. It carries the same sinister tone, the sense of a fractured world with wild edges.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Was The Emergent influenced by any of those things?

I recently rewatched Firefly, a show I loved when I first discovered it in college, and that definitely had some influence. Amira is a natural loner, who’s built up walls around herself to survive a difficult upbringing, but she learns how to lean on others as the series progresses. Her immediate circle isn’t unlike the crew of Firefly: diverse, sometimes at odds, but loyal when it counts. And the villains in the show who chase River Tam — the “hands of blue” — inspired Tony Barlow to a degree. A person who’s naturally unsettling and content to let the ends justify the means.

Now, in the previous interview we did about The Sentient, you said the second book was going to be called The Congregant. Is there any significance to the name change?

It was a joint decision between me and my publisher. The Congregant was kind of a mouthful, and a word that may not be as familiar to readers outside of the United States. The Emergent had a punchier, more dramatic feel to it, and it fit well: two very different religious and philosophical movements are emerging out of the shadows at the start of the novel, headed by two powerful figures.

And is the third book still called The Transcendent?

Yes, but you never know what’ll happen between now and publication.

Do you know when that will be?

Not yet, but hopefully next year. I’m close to finishing it now. It’ll be a big, emotional moment for me when I conclude the third book. The ending’s been in my imagination for a long time, and I’m very excited to put those final, emotionally-charged chapters onto the page.

So, is there anything else you think people should know about The Emergent?

It’s science fiction with unapologetically big ideas about consciousness, religion, and the power of memory, featuring a complex female protagonist and fast-paced action. The Sentient definitely had a slower pace in the first act as I introduced the characters and the world. The Emergent kicks into high gear early on, with lots of twists and turns.

Nadia Afifi The Emergent The Sentient The Transcendent Cosmic

Finally, if someone enjoys The Emergent — and, presumably, The Sentient — what sci-fi novel of someone’s else would you suggest they read while waiting for The Transcendent to come out?

I’d recommend Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen. It’s a space opera with fantastic world-building, creative technology, and a found family, which I always love in my fiction. There’s a sequel, Azura Ghost, that I’m excited to read soon.

Architects Of Memory by Karen Osborne is another great read. Lots of action blended seamlessly with great world-building, including a past alien war and a corporate indentured servitude system that the main character is trying to escape. It’s gripping.

I also just finished the Remembrance Of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu, which starts with The Three Body Problem, and will recommend it to everyone I meet who appreciates good science fiction. It’s definitely more science-heavy than my writing, but incredibly creative and well-thought out, with a creative take on an alien invasion.

 

 

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