In his self-published science fiction novel The Spaceship Next Door (paperback, Kindle), sci-fi writer Gene Doucette presented a world where aliens land on Earth…and then nothing happens for a couple years. With Spaceship being newly reprinted by John Joseph Adams Books, I took the opportunity to email Mr. Doucette some questions about the novel’s origins and influences.
To begin, what isThe Spaceship Next Door about?
The Spaceship Next Door is about a spaceship landing in a small town in Western Massachusetts, and doing nothing for a while. The story picks up after three years have passed, at which point, something doeshappen.
Where did you get the idea for The Spaceship Next Door and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
I only knew three things before I started writing: the spaceship landing; the town it landed in; and the character, Annie Collins. I figured out everything — and everyone — else as I went. So I guess you could say, it’s exactly the same as the original idea.
The Spaceship Next Door has been described as a science fiction novel, but do you think there are any subgenres of sci-fi, or a combination of them, that describe it better?
I think the answer to that depends on whether we’re calling Young Adult a genre, or a demographic. I treated it like a demographic when I wrote it. The main character is sixteen, and there aren’t any — depending on one’s definition — swear words in it, so it’s a story which will also appeal to younger readers. People who think of YA as a genre have classified it as YA and also sci-fi, and that makes sense too. There are also horror elements, if we want to go down that road. I mostly think of it as just a first-contact sci-fi.
Now, some older readers are wary of books labeled “Young Adult.” Do you think old adults will enjoy The Spaceship Next Door?
I think so, yes. The decision to label it “Young Adult” was more of an inclusiveness thing than anything else. If I only had one category I could put it into, that category would be sci-fi. My first sub-category would be First Contact. I prefer to see it as a novel which young adults can also read, rather than a YA book adults would also enjoy.
The Spaceship Next Door is not your first novel, or even your first sci-fi novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that you feel had a big impact on The Spaceship Next Doorbut not on your other books?
Yeah, Douglas Adams came in big for this one.
I’ve always leaned in with my sense of humor, meaning I learned a long time ago it’s something I can control, but not eliminate entirely. This is the first time I really cut loose, humor-wise, in fiction. It meant employing a little omniscient narration, which is something I haven’t done in any of my other books.
Other than that, I was reading Neal Stephenson’s book Seveneves when I thought of The Spaceship Next Door‘s central conceit. I appreciated how Neal parked the pivotal event at the very beginning of that novel, with the rest of it working out the consequences. I borrowed the structure.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big influence on The Spaceship Next Door?
That’s a tough one to answer. I’m a child of ’80s pop culture, so I’m sure Spielberg’s oeuvre was an influence, especially since I’m a very visual writer. I wouldn’t say you can see the lens-flare in the book, but it’s there. Probably the black-and-white monster movies from the ’50s figured in, because I grew up watching the Creature Double Feature every Saturday. I’m guessing Joss Whedon’s television work weighed in too; Buffy, definitely. But these are just parts of me, so I don’t know if I would call them influences on the book so much as influences on my storytelling sensibilities.
You originally published The Spaceship Next Door on your own three years ago. Is there any difference between this new edition and the original one?
Nope, it’s the same book from end to end. There are some clean-up alterations — word choice changes in two or three places — and the publisher’s preferred house style included more Oxford commas than I evidently used, but that’s all. But the new edition’s so pretty, so definitely re-buy it if you already own it.
Prior to writing The Spaceship Next Door you wrote the Immortal series. Is The Spaceship Next Doorpart of a series as well?
It was intended as a standalone, and should be read that way.
However, after I published it, there was substantial interest from my readers for another book about Annie Collins and the town of Sorrow Falls, so I wrote a sequel called The Frequency Of Aliens to feed that interest. I had to call it a series after that, The Sorrow Falls series, in order to get online vendors, primarily Amazon, to link the two books appropriately.
But I find it hard to call it a series, and it’s also hard for me to commit to the idea that there are only going to be X number of books featuring Annie Collins and/or Sorrow Falls. I could see a future where I don’t write any more follow-up books. I could also see a future where I revisit Annie every couple of years, with a new challenge. I’m not going to force it.
Are there any plans for John Joseph Adams Books [the publisher of The Spaceship Next Door] to republish The Frequency Of Aliens as well?
It isn’t that we’ve made plans to do so or not to do so; we just haven’t had the conversation yet. So, not yes-or-no; just ask-me-again-later.
Gotcha. Earlier I asked if any movies, TV shows, or video games were an influence on The Spaceship Next Door. But has there been any interest in adapting The Spaceship Next Door into a movie, show, or game?
There has, but right now talks are veryearly. It’s not that I can or can’t discuss it, it’s that we haven’t gotten to the point where there’s something I can’t officially discuss.
Do you have a preference?
Because I’m also a screenwriter, I think I’ve written the film adaptation in my head about five times already. If someone said, okay, go, I could probably have it done in a month or two.
Film is how I’ve always thought of it, but the idea of a limited series has been floated once or twice, and that would be fun too. A film script would pretty much follow the beats of the novel. An 8, 10, or 13 episode season would have to be centered on Sorrow Falls more than just on Annie Collins and Edgar Somerville, and that could be really fun. Secondary and tertiary characters could get fleshed out, and things only tangentially referenced in the book could get a lot more time and attention.
I can see it either way, in other words.
If The Spaceship Next Door was to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I have no idea. I would love to see an age-appropriate Annie Collins, which almost mandates that whoever is cast is someone I haven’t heard of yet. Other than her…yeah, no, I have no idea. Anybody. I don’t write with specific actors in mind.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Spaceship Next Door, which of your other sci-fi novels would you suggest they read next?
If they enjoyed The Spaceship Next Door, they should pick up The Frequency Of Aliens immediately. Same characters, plus some new ones, a new story, and so on.
My other two sci-fi novels play to different strengths. Fixer is kind of complicated, and leans more toward techno-thriller, it’s a lot more serious, and it lets me indulge my inner Stephen King a little. Unfiction is probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever tried to write, because at least six genres are represented; one-at-a-time at first, and then all at once. They’re both worth a read, for different reasons.