It’s always the middle book of a trilogy where things go to shit. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Ada Hoffman’s cosmic horror sci-fi space opera novel The Fallen (paperback, Kindle)…but only because things already went to shit in the first book, 2019’s The Outside. In the following email interview, Hoffman discusses what inspired and influenced this middle part, as well as her plans for the conclusion.
Let’s start with some background. For those who didn’t read The Outside, what was that novel about, and when and where does it take place?
The Outside takes place in the 28th century, when a small group of artificially intelligent supercomputers have set themselves up as Gods and have guided humanity to the stars. Yasira Shien, who was brought up to worship those Gods, is a scientific prodigy who’s developing a new form of power generation for a space station, but things start to go wrong as the power generation system goes online. She ends up hunted by the Gods for a scientific heresy she never intended, and They coerce her into to helping Them track down the heresy’s source. Yasira finds herself increasingly caught in the middle between the repressive Gods she knows and a set of cosmic horrors that might be even worse, and the fate of her whole planet rests on what she decides.
And then what is The Fallen about, and when in relation to The Outside does it take place?
The Fallen takes place six months after the end of The Outside. Shit’s gone down, a planet has been devastated, and Yasira has gone into hiding. She, her girlfriend Tiv, and a small group of friends have developed abilities they don’t fully understand and are trying to use them to help survivors on the planet’s surface. The planet is also in a state of martial law thanks to the Gods, who are more interested in containing threats to Their authority than in actually helping people.
The Fallen is about how a resistance movement against the Gods forms and grows, and it’s also about the characters supporting each other through mental illness caused by the events of the first book. Madness has always been a huge theme in cosmic horror, often in very reductive and ableist ways, but also in ways that seem to resemble a PTSD narrative despite themselves — you experience something too horrific for your mind to assimilate, so your mind breaks. I really enjoy reinterpreting those themes through characters who are more like myself and the mentally ill people I know, who have their own community and dignity and inner lives even as they struggle.
When in the process of writing The Outside did you first come up with the idea for The Fallen?
I made my first attempt at an outline for The Fallen back in 2016. A lot of elements have changed since then, but the central idea of Yasira and Tiv hiding out somewhere, recovering from trauma and planning a rebellion against the Gods, was present very early on. The Outside can stand on its own but the idea of a series was always in it from the beginning.
The Outside was a sci-fi space opera story. Is The Fallen one as well?
I think it still fits in the sci-fi space opera genre, yeah, with about the same dash of cosmic horror vibes as The Outside. Mind you, it’s tricky because nobody actually goes to space in this one; the action is almost entirely confined to one planet. I’ve also had readers identify a bit of a superhero element in this story, with Yasira and Tiv and their friends having to figure out how to use their new magical abilities, although if it’s a superhero story then it’s not a very typical one. But fundamentally it’s still a story of people in the future and the artificially intelligent supercomputers who try to control them, and it fits pretty solidly on the sci-fi, space opera shelf.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Fallen but not on The Outside?
Yes, though I was influenced more by nonfiction than fiction. Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster was a huge influence. This is a book about how people behave during and after natural disasters. We often see fiction about the aftermath of a disaster, and it’s this very grimdark free-for-all where everyone is out for themselves, raiding and plundering. In real life, that’s not really what happens. Solnit presents case studies from several different disasters — several historical earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina, the Halifax Explosion, and 9/11, among them — and shows how, in the aftermath of these disasters, people who were previously strangers came together to support and care for each other. Meanwhile, it’s elite groups, such as the government and the very wealthy, who tend to bungle things up — they’re more afraid of losing control than of allowing people in their community to suffer. I drew quite a lot from this book when thinking about how survivor communities in The Fallen are formed and how those people live their lives, as well as how the Gods’ own attempts at regulation and relief work are drawn. There’s a lot of mutual aid!
Another book that strongly influenced The Fallen is Donna J. Haraway’s Staying With The Trouble: Making Kin In the Cthulucene. This is a very odd book — which of course I had to check out based on the title alone — and it’s mainly about trying to imagine ways we should think about nature, about our interconnectedness with and responsibilities to other beings, in the face of catastrophic climate change. The influence of this book is more subtle and less obvious but I thought about it a lot, especially when thinking about the worldview of the gone people — a mysterious group whose lives have drastically changed in the wake of what happened to their planet, and who are extremely difficult for ordinary survivors to communicate with.
How about non-literary influences; was The Fallen influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Hmm, I can’t think of any at the moment.
In the previous interview we did for The Outside we talked a little about how you have Asperger’s, and are, “passionate about autistic self-advocacy,” and about how that worked into the story of The Outside. You kind of answered this already, but did it also have an impact on The Fallen?
Yes, the theme of neurodivergence is still very much present in The Fallen, but it’s broadened a bit. We’ve got Yasira and her group of friends who are living together in an arrangement they’ve cobbled together for themselves, and who are all affected by trauma and neurodivergence or mental illness in different ways. Yasira has acquired some new forms of neurodivergence since the beginning of the first book, including a profound change in her sense of identity.
There’s the subplot with the gone people, which doesn’t directly resemble any real-world neurodivergence, but which is still very much about communicating with people whose minds work very differently from yours. Yasira turns out to have a knack for connecting with gone people, and it turns out that they have their own ideas for what should happen with their planet and some sophisticated plans of their own.
There’s also a subplot with Enga, an angel who is autistic and non-speaking as well as having a brain injury. Enga had a supporting role in The Outside, but in The Fallen we learn more about her backstory and goals. In Enga and Elu’s scenes we see more about how the Gods prey on people whose neurodivergence makes them vulnerable to manipulation, and how They fill Their angelic ranks with people they’ve to some degree taken advantage of that way.
We also talked in that previous interview about how you were thinking The Outside would be the first book of a trilogy. Is that still your plan?
Yes, it’s still going to be a trilogy. As I write this interview, I’m in the midst of drafting the final book, which will be out in 2022. We haven’t officially settled on a title yet (this may have changed by the time that the interview goes live) but working titles include The Infinite and Nemesis.
The Outside got a lot of love when it came out in 2019. Did any of that love translate into people wanting to turn it into a movie, TV show, or game?
Alas, no! That hasn’t happened yet. But it’s being translated into Czech and Catalan, which I think is delightful.
Finally, if someone enjoyed The Outside and The Fallen, what sci-fi space opera of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for the third book to come out? Oh, and to keep things interesting, see if you can stick to ones you read during lockdown.
I am looking frantically at Goodreads right now! Sadly I am one of those people who’s had trouble keeping up with the reading I’ve wanted to do during the pandemic. If we’ve got to stick to things I read during lockdown, then I might recommend Julie E. Czerneda’s Survival — a Canadian sci-fi about a cranky biologist who gets recruited to solve an eerie interplanetary mystery that might spell the doom of Earth and many other worlds. No cosmic horror per se, but a very charming, very well-developed, very weird alien culture with which we gradually become acquainted.
And while I am still only partway into it at the time of writing, I also strongly suspect that fans of The Outside will enjoy Essa Hansen’s Nophek Gloss. This debuted in 2020 from Orbit Books — one of the first Big 5-published sci-fi books for an adult audience by an openly autistic author — and it’s a space opera with metaphysical themes. I’m really excited to see where Hansen goes with it.