Exclusive Interview: The Quantum Garden Author Derek Kunsken


With his new novel The Quantum Garden (paperback, Kindle), sci-fi writer Derek Kunsken is continuing The Quantum Evolution series he began last year with The Quantum Magician. But in the following email interview about this sequel, he not only discusses what inspired and influenced it, but his rather interesting plans for The Quantum Evolution series going forward.

Derek Kunsken The Quantum Garden The Quantum Evolution The Quantum Magician

As always, let’s begin with a plot overview: What is The Quantum Garden about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous book in The Quantum Evolution series, The Quantum Magician?

The Quantum Garden actually begins about a week after the end of The Quantum Magician. The Congregate hasn’t managed to contain the rebellion of the Sub-Saharan Union and their intelligence agencies, especially their Scarecrow, know that something big happened, and that the Homo quantus were involved. So the opening scene of The Quantum Garden finds the Congregate nuking the Garrett, the home of the Homo quantus. Belisarius and Cassandra see it happen, but can’t stop it. However, they do have a time travel device. So The Quantum Garden is, in a way, a time travel rescue story, except that one feat of time travel isn’t enough. They need information that is only available forty years in the past, in the paranoid period when the Sub-Saharan Union had just discovered the time gates. So their rescue mission becomes a dark science fictional Back To The Future story.

When in relation to writing The Quantum Magician did you come up with the idea for The Quantum Garden, and how, if at all, did the idea evolve since then?

In 2014, when I was plotting The Quantum Magician, I had a lot of ideas for places I wanted the characters and politics and the war to go. Most of it couldn’t fit in The Quantum Magician, but I mapped out the possible subsequent novels in rough. Once I got representation for The Quantum Magician, I knew there was a shot of it getting published so in 2016, I started turning the rough ideas into something concrete. And like many things in The Quantum Magician, the setting and alien concepts for The Quantum Garden first appeared in my short stories, novelettes, and novellas that were originally published in Asimov’s magazine and Analog magazine. I’d introduced the beginnings of the Sub-Saharan Union’s rebellion in my 2014 Asimov’s novella “Pollen From A Future Harvest.” It was a world of political and personal intrigue and mind-bending aliens I really wanted to revisit more deeply. Sending Belisarius, Iekanjika and Saint Matthew on a dark Marty McFly trip to the past was the way to do it. Unfortunately, “Pollen From A Future Harvest” is out of print after its appearance in Asimov’s magazine, but given its importance to The Quantum Evolution series, I’m in discussions with Solaris on expanding the novella and giving it new life.

The Quantum Magician was a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe The Quantum Garden as well, or are there other genres at work in this story that weren’t present in The Quantum Magician?

Space opera is such a slippery term. David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer wrote an excellent essay on space opera a while ago whose definitions I find compelling. Space opera goes from Lensmen to Star Wars to Iain Banks. I tend to see myself most closely following the British space opera school, whose characteristics seem to be concerns with politics, character, most often flavored with hard science. So even though I describe The Quantum Garden as a dark Back To The Future, that’s story structure rather than genre.

Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on The Quantum Garden but not on The Quantum Magician?

I don’t think so. I think there are a lot of aesthetic space opera influences on The Quantum Evolution series as a whole, but I think that within that series, the voice, concerns, and themes are relatively consistent.

What I do see changing from the first to second novels is the scale. The Quantum Garden steps up the impact that human genetic engineering has on the interstellar civilization. And the third book will eventually be an exponential jump in that scale, but I can’t talk much about that yet because I’m only writing it now.

How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of those have an influence on The Quantum Garden?

I don’t play video games and I’m really bad at watching movies and TV — but I’m trying to watch more, honest! I really love the worlds of Stephen Baxter [Ring and Vacuum Diagrams], Dan Simmons [Hyperion], Iain Banks [Consider Phlebas] and so on. Those were the sort of big picture influences, not necessarily in a direct sense. I get a lot of ideas by reading other authors, because I look at what creative questions they answered and ask myself if I would have answered the same. Inevitably, my answers are different, but knowing what kinds of questions are important to space opera is a useful clarifier for me.

Now, in the previous interview we did [which you can read here], you said that The Quantum Magician was the first of four stand-alone but still connected novels in The Quantum Evolution. Is that still the plan?

I was really excited in May when Solaris offered me another 2-book deal. There’s nothing I can say about the third novel, The Quantum Temple, without spoiling something except that I’m really happy that Solaris decided to call the series The Quantum Evolution. It really fits.

I would guess that The Quantum Temple would have an October 2021 release date, but with two series to play with, Solaris has more flexibility in how it wants to schedule.

Speaking of that second series, you also said in that previous interview that you were putting together a novel called The House Of Styx that took place 250 years before The Quantum Evolution, as well as a collection of Quantum Evolution short stories. Are those happening as well?

I delivered The House Of Styx to Solaris and it’s already been edited. I’m assuming a 2020 release, probably October. There will be some announcements about it soon for various exciting reasons, so I’ll be loud about it on my twitter (@derekkunsken) when I can be.

On the collection, I think I don’t know enough about the business side of publishing to know when is the best time for a collection in the context of a writer’s career, but luckily, my agent Kim-Mei Kirtland and the people at Solaris have a good sense of those things and are discussing. I feel really lucky to have extraordinary people helping me on the business side, because that leaves me free to focus on creating and trying to level up as an author.

Speaking of which, at the time of the previous interview, you had just met with movie and TV producers from China about the idea of adapting this series. Where do things stand with that now?

Ha! Like all movie/TV stuff, nothing is ever happening unless it is happening. I was flattered to have met with media people, but recognize the production challenges to any story that isn’t set on Earth. I think things like The Expanse and The Wandering Earth are exceptions that prove the rule rather than pointing to a path forward.

That being said, I’ll be a Guest Of Honor again at Chengdu’s 5th International Science Fiction Conference, and that will give me a chance to huddle with my Chinese publishers on any possibilities over there. The Quantum Garden was already serialized in China and will be released in the fall.

In a similar vein, Solaris, your publisher, is connected to the video game company Rebellion. Has there been any talk of doing a Quantum Evolution game?

I don’t know much about video games but suspect that companies adapt properties that are not as young as mine. The Quantum Magician has only been out ten months. I am excited to meet more of the Rebellion people next week when I’m at WorldCon in Dublin and book touring for a bit in London.

Derek Kunsken The Quantum Garden The Quantum Evolution The Quantum Magician

Finally, if someone enjoys 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 the next book to come out? Oh, and you can’t say Iain M. Banks’ The Algebraist; you said that last time.

It’s hard to go wrong with a collection like Alastair Reynolds’ Galactic North or Ann Leckie’s novel Ancillary Justice.


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