When Derek Kunsken released The Quantum Magician in 2018, his plan for The Quantum Evolution series was that it would be a trilogy with a prequel novel. But as he reveals in the following email interview about that prequel novel, The House Of Styx (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), the series will now include four novels, a collection of short stories, and a soon-to-be-released reprint of the novella that predated Magician, Pollen From A Future Harvest (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) , while Styx is now the first book in a prequel duology.
We have a lot to cover, but let’s start with The House Of Styx. What is that novel about?
The House Of Styx is a science fiction family saga. Set in the acidic clouds of Venus, it follows a family of Québécois colonists who live one of the floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can from the storms. The D’Aquillon family are free-rangers, trying to distance themselves from a colonial government they see taking the colony down a losing path with an anglo bank. They spend most of their days simply surviving, but Venus has secrets, and on the surface they find a mysterious wind that shouldn’t exist.
And as a prequel, how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first two novels in The Quantum Evolution series, The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden?
The House Of Styx is set in the same universe at The Quantum Magician, about 250 years earlier. In The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden the major nearby imperial power is the Congregate, and The House of Styx shows the dawn of the Venusian Congregate.
When in the process of writing The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden did you come up with the idea for The House Of Styx?
In 2014, Analog Magazine published my novelette Persephone Descending, which was a survival story set in the clouds of Venus, involving a Québécois colony. I enjoyed that environment and politics and metaphors and symbolisms available in that story; I knew that one day I would want to come back to it.
I was assembling the world of The Quantum Magician in the summer of 2014, in part by pulling elements from my short fiction, including not only the Homo eridanus from Beneath Sunlit Shallows and the Sub-Saharan Union, the Hortus quantus and the time travel gates from Pollen From A Future Harvest, but also the Québécois colonists of Venus who were to play the hegemonic imperial power in my first novel. Including them as the Venusian Congregate in The Quantum Magician made me want to explore their early history — how and why they went from impoverished floating colony to interstellar super-power and what cultural and political insecurities they carried with them as they grew into power.
From 2015-2020 I took some time away from my day job. I finished The Quantum Magician, wrote and delivered The Quantum Garden, and hadn’t sorted out the third book in the series, but I had a really good sense of what I wanted to do with Styx, so I just wrote it. When I showed it to my agent, she loved it and Solaris picked it up right away. I’m happy to say that even Publishers Weekly liked it and gave it a starred review.
The Quantum Magician was a sci-fi space opera story, while The Quantum Garden added time travel to the mix. How then would you describe The House Of Styx, genre-wise?
The House Of Styx is solar system sci-fi, in the tradition of [Kim Stanley Robinson’s] Red Mars, concerned with politics, culture, and religion as much as the science fictional elements. It’s not about space ships, it’s not about a glimpse of a future Earth — it’s about what life in a colony might be life, what we take with us, and what we discover there. I invented a lot of culture in the Quantum Evolution series, but in The House Of Styx I drew from Québécois culture, which was a rich creative experience for me.
So what do you see as being the big influences on The House Of Styx? And I don’t just mean books, but movies, TV shows, and video games as well.
It’s interesting that you ask about TV and movies, because they, far more than books creatively influenced me here.
The movies The Godfather and The Godfather II showed a lot of emotional resonances I was looking for, as did the TV series Sons Of Anarchy. More than in many other works, I was really going for an emotional and personal and cultural feel that took a lot of introspection and thinking about a culture I inherited through my mother’s family.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the eBook version of The House Of Styx is out now, but the hardcover won’t be out until April 13, 2021. What happens if, in the time between now and April, someone notices a huge mistake in The House Of Styx?
[laughs] I hope there aren’t any big mistakes because it was already serialized in Analog Magazine this year.
Yeah, the publication sequence is a bit weird, but my eBook and audio sales on my other books have been good, so I think that those readers will be happy not to have to wait. It is interesting that this does give a chance to correct errors, which isn’t a bright side I’d considered before. Any chance to fix those will be great.
Now, in the previous interview we did about The Quantum Garden [which you can read by clicking here], you said that the last book in this series, The Quantum Temple, will be out next year as well. What is that book about, and aside from being the final part, how does it connect to the other three, narratively and chronologically?
So, I haven’t said this in public yet, but I’ve been working through my thoughts on The Quantum Evolution series, and think that the third book will be The Quantum War, which will be about the Congregate-Union war and the nature of the involvement of the Homo quantus. It should be out in 2021.
The (previously unmentioned) fourth novel would be The Quantum Temple, and will be the story focusing on the Homo quantus exploration of the permanent wormhole network that humanity has discovered, and Belisarius’ quest to resurrect the Hortus quantus.
Also, The House Of Styx is now the first book in a new duology called The Venus Ascendant, with the second book, The House Of Saints, slated for 2022. And somewhere in there Solaris will decide how to release the novella Pollen From A Future Harvest, which shows the early history of the Sub-Saharan Union and the Hortus quantus, and some collected short stories.
Wow, cool. At the risk of sounding like a greedy asshole, you’ve also said in the previous interviews we did for The Quantum Magician [which you can read by clicking here] and The Quantum Garden that there were also plans for a collection of Quantum Evolution short stories. Is there anything you can tell us about that collection?
I’m excited to say that as of the time of this interview, my agent and my editor are hammering out an agreement for Solaris to acquire about a quarter to a third of my short fiction. Solaris has a number of ideas on the table about when and how to release them. I’m not sure when that might appear, because between the releases of The House Of Styx, the next Quantum Evolution novel The Quantum War, and my novella Pollen From A Future Harvest, that’s a lot of work. I guess that collections often come in years when a novel isn’t coming out? I don’t know. They have enough stuff of mine that I produced on my four years off of work that the strategy of how to pace it out is important. In the meantime, I’ve had a new short story (“Tachyon Hearts Cannot Love“) and a novella (Tool Use By The Humans Of Danzhai County) appear in Asimov’s Magazine and a short story (“The Ghosts Of Ganymede”) in Clarkesworld in 2020. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to write a bit more new short fiction.
The new version of Pollen From A Future Harvest is slated to come out May 28th. So, let’s talk about it: What is Pollen From A Future Harvest about, plot-wise?
When I started developing The Quantum Magician, I pulled from four works I’d already written. They were published inAsimov’s Magazine or Analog Magazine, but are out of print. From Beneath Sunlit Shallows, I pulled in the mongrels. FromPersephone Descending, I pulled in the Venusian colonists and the political haves and have not of the 23rd century solar system. From Schools Of Clay, I pulled in the skates that circle pulsars. And from Pollen From A Future Harvest, which is about the military force of a client nation (the Sub-Saharan Union) and their discovery of a pair of conjoined wormholes that travelled through time instead of through space. They decide to cut their ties with the Venusian Congregate, who have political commissars and spies among their client nations. It’s not a clean break and the story opens a couple of months after that break. There are still spies and assassins around and political factions within their little fleet. The lead character is an auditor who is asked to investigate a mystery related to the time wormholes, but she really wants to use the opportunity to investigate the death of her husband, which she thinks was an assassination.
By the way, Solaris acquired all the stories I’m referring to (and a few more) and are looking at publishing them.
Pollen From A Future Harvest came out before the first book in this series, 2018’s The Quantum Magician. But when does it take place in relation to that book, The Quantum Garden, and The House Of Styx?
In my head-cannon chronology by year is:
2215: Persephone Descending
2255: The House Of Styx
2475: Pollen From A Future Harvest
2515: The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden (although in Garden, they go back through the time gates to 2476, to just after Pollen concludes, a bit like Back To The Future)
In the aforementioned interview we did about The Quantum Garden, you said that were, “in discussions with Solaris on expanding [Pollen] and giving it new life.” So is the version of Pollen From A Future Harvest coming out in May the same as the one that appeared in Asimov’s in 2014, or did you end up expanding it?
I jumped at the chance to expand it. When I originally wrote it, I was targeting Asimov’s Magazine and asked Sheila Williams what her word limits were. Novellas officially go from 17,500 words to 40,000 words. She told me Asimov’s had to cap their novellas around 20,000 words. So there was more I wanted to put in the story, but in 2014 I made some creative choices to keep it to about 20,000 words. Solaris doesn’t have the space constraints of a monthly magazine, so I worked with Michael Rowley to deepen the culture and character moments, as well as letting the story breath a bit more. The other chance that’s great as a writer is that I felt I improved in the 6 years since 2014. There were quite a few creative choices I was really happy to polish and sharpen. I’m very proud of what it became. I guess in movie terms, this is the directors’ cut?
Finally, if someone enjoys The House Of Styx, and they’ve already read The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden, what sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for [checks notes] The Quantum War?
During lockdown, I’ve found myself rereading a lot, rather than engaging with new work. That said, I recently listened to and enjoyed [the audiobook of] Arkady Martine’s Nebula-nominated A Memory Called Empire and reread Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children, both of which are wonderful space operas.
Not all my reading is space opera though. Prior to lockdown, I discovered that Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is beautiful, as is Peng Shepherd’s Book Of M, and Stanley Chan’s Waste Tide is powerful and challenging, and translated from Mandarin if you’re looking to expand the cultural voices in your reading. On non-space opera, I’m also looking forward to Jordan Ifueko’s YA fantasy Raybearer, which will be a lockdown read.