You never know when inspiration might strike. It could hit you at the least opportune moments, like, say, when you’re taking a shower after returning home from a sci-fi convention. Which is exactly where R.W.W. Greene first got the idea that grew into his sci-fi space opera novel The Light Years (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Greene discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as what he’d like to see it adapted into.
To start, what is The Light Years about, and when and where is it set?
Let’s see…a thousand-plus years from now humanity has been forced to flee its little blip of a solar system and take up residence elsewhere. They left a lot behind in the process and lost more in the rebuilding. Now there are several human planets, and the only thing keeping them connected is a handful of aging starships run by trading families. The captain of one of these ships sees an opportunity for long-term financial security and uses a marriage contract to get things rolling.
Where did you get the idea for The Light Years and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
The marriage-contract thing just popped into my head. We’d gotten home from Boskone, my favorite sci-fi convention, and my brain was kind of sparking from all panels I’d gone to. That evening, I wrote a short story called, “Love In The Time Of Light Speed,” which a year later became part of the first chapter of the book. The story gave me some character and setting seeds, and everything else grew from there. I wrote the first draft of The Light Years in 2015. The Baltimore Riots were in the news. The sentencing of the Boston Marathon bomber was in the news. Same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S. The Charleston church shooting. All that got into my hindbrain and came out…somewhere.
It sounds like The Light Years is a romantic sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you see it?
Sci-fi and space opera, sure. The “romantic” part, I’m not so sure about. In my understanding romances tend to adhere pretty closely to an established pattern, and the relationship between Adem and Hisako doesn’t do that. There’s a lot in there about family responsibilities. Maybe it’s a sci-fi, space-opera family drama.
Now, while The Light Years is your first novel, you’ve published a number of short stories over the years. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on The Light Years but not on anything else you’ve written?
I really wish I could remember what fiction I was reading while I wrote The Light Years. I have a feeling I’d just discovered Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, which is kind of lone-wanderer thriller, and I was burning through those pretty quickly. Some stories I can trace back and say, “Yeah, I was reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut at the time or listening to a lot of Pearl Jam,” this one I can’t. I know I was reading Letters To A Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash because I wanted to have that voice in my head, and listening to an audio book of Stephen King’s On Writing when I went out for walks because that’s what I tend to listen to when I’m on a writing tear.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big impact on either what you wrote in The Light Years or how you wrote it?
Probably not. I wasn’t really gaming then, though I’ve caught up a bit since. We might have cut cable by then. What movies came out in 2015? Mad Max? Age Of Ultron? More I think I was influenced by the people I was around the most, which back then were my students.
As you said, The Light Years deals with a marriage contract. Did you set out to write a story about arranged marriages and this is what you came up with or did you start off writing a sci-fi story and this aspect just naturally developed?
The two big ideas — relativity and an arranged marriage — showed up when I was taking a shower in February 2014. It was one of those times when a story feels more like a painful download than any kind of creative work. Water pouring, shampoo foaming, BANG! Story. I wrote the first draft of “Love In The Time Of Light Speed” as soon as I dried off. A thousand words with six characters who also wanted parts in the book.
In writing this novel, did you consult anyone on how arranged marriages have worked in different cultures or did you just make up your own parameters?
I’ve met one woman who was in an arranged marriage and fled it, and several of my Desi friends kind of winced when I told them what the book was about. There’s a lot about arranged marriages that I’ve absorbed over the years, either through friends, movies, or books. The Light Years is set a thousand years in the future, with Earth far, far in the rearview, so I felt pretty free to pick and choose and change. My arranged marriages are secular, totally financial, negotiated civil contracts.
As you know, some sci-fi novels like The Light Years are stand-alone stories, while others are parts of larger sagas. What is The Light Years?
When I write, there’s a cool point where the book or story starts talking to me. Usually, it talks loudest at the least useful times, say, when I am driving or trying to sleep. So, in my conscious mind, I was writing The Light Years as a self-contained novel, but my subconscious kept racing ahead and yelling back that there was more story beyond “the end.” So, there’s a sequel out there or at least part of one. Whether I try to dig it out or not depends on how The Light Years is received. Beyond that, the story’s not talking. Yet.
Earlier I asked if The Light Years had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting The Light Years into a movie, show, or game?
I’ve not heard of any such interest, but I’d be open.
Do you have a preference?
A game would be cool. I’ve been swayed by games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Life Is Strange, and Mafia 3 to see the narrative potential in the genre. The Light Years could be a less whimsical The Outer Worlds, maybe, with an M rating.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Light Years, what sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series is a favorite of mine. When I was a kid, I had hopes that I’d be living and working in space by now, and she really captures that “we’re up here and this is what we do” feeling for me. Same with bits of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. Both give me hope while fulfilling that “wherever you go, there you are” prophecy that we, as a species, can’t seem to escape.