Exclusive Interview: “The Tangled Stars” Author Edward Willett

 

Be it Goose in Captain Marvel, Spot in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Jones from Alien, science fiction is lousy with cats. And now it’s getting even lousier (and louder) thanks to Edward Willet’s new sci-fi space opera novel The Tangled Stars (Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Willett not only explains what inspired this adventure story, but why he chose to include a cat and not a dog or fish or octopus.

Edward Willett The Tangled Stars

To begin, what is The Tangled Stars about?

The Tangled Stars is a far-future outer-space adventure that takes place largely, but not entirely, in our own solar system, which has been cut off from what was once an interstellar civilization by the collapse of the MASTT network (think wormholes) that made it possible. It begins when Cooper “Coop” Douglas, a con man, thief, and scavenger, suddenly discovers that the only MASTT in Earth system has apparently opened up again. He really needs to get out of the system since he’s being pursued by a crime boss named Eric Gaolioto, so he and his first mate, an A.I.-uplifted talking cat named Thibauld, head to Earth to steal the only working starship left in the system, with the help of an old flame (now a cop on Luna) named Laysa Grey — with Galioto hot on their trail. Mayhem of various kinds ensues, and when they finally do get their stolen starship through the reopened MASTT, they discover things have gone very wrong indeed at the other end…

Where did you get the idea for The Tangled Stars, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?

That’s a tough one. I knew I wanted to write a space opera adventure, I knew I wanted it to have a wisecracking talking cat in it, and I knew I wanted to largely set it in our solar system. I just noodled around with those core elements, and The Tangled Stars was the result.

And is there a reason why the captain is a talking A.I.-uplifted cat as opposed to a dog or fish, or maybe a genetically-modified cat, or even a naturally smart octopus who knows sign language?

Sure. I like cats. I know cats. Some of my best friends have been cats. Octopuses I’m less familiar with, and fish…hard to make a fish interesting. Also, although he is A.I.-uplifted, he is also genetically modified in subtle ways, so I got that in there, too. Dogs have to be taken for walks and are harder to housebreak, which makes them seem less suitable to spacecraft.

It sounds like The Tangled Stars is a sci-fi space opera novel. Is that how you’d describe it?

That’s exactly how I describe it. It’s also a heist novel; that’s probably the other genre that’s baked in a bit.

It also sounds like The Tangled Stars is humorous, and in more of a Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy kind of way than, say, the situational humor of a John Scalzi novel.

Yeah, I’d say the humor is in the dialogue and character’s thoughts, not in the situations. The situations are very serious. I just write about them in a (hopefully) funny way.

So, what writers do you see as having a big influence on the humor and weirdness in The Tangled Stars?

Douglas Adams, now that you mention it, was probably lurking in the back of my mind somewhere, though I don’t quite attain that level of weirdness. R.A. Lafferty, to go way back. Robert A. Heinlein — a bit of him is in every science fiction novel I write because he was the biggest influence on me as a young reader. Oh, and Harry Harrison; his Stainless Steel Rat novels in particular. Maybe a little Terry Pratchett for good measure.

Aside from the people you just mentioned, what other writers do you think had a big influence on The Tangled Stars? And I mean specifically on Tangled, not on your style as a whole?

It may sound egotistical, but I can’t think of any. Even the ones I mentioned previously are tangential influences in that they are authors I read and enjoyed who infused their writing with a sense of humor. The Tangled Stars itself? Nobody specific comes to mind.

What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?

Well, I think there’s a bit of The Expanse hovering over the story because of its solar-system setting and because I was watching that at about the same time I was writing the book, but again, it’s tangential.

As you know, sci-fi space opera novels are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is The Tangled Stars?

Right now, The Tangled Stars is a stand-alone because I haven’t been contracted to write a sequel. That said, I intend to write a sequel eventually, contract or no, so it’s always been, in my mind, the first book in a series. The setup, in fact, is deliberately designed to support a series. The MASTT network has been scrambled (hence the title), and that means there’s a whole lot of exploring to do among worlds that have been isolated for decades, evolving in weird ways as a result. There’s also an overarching threat and mystery that are revealed but not solved in the first book. So, definitely the start of a series, but the continuation of it is somewhat up in the air.

Now, along with The Tangled Stars, you also recently released a short story anthology you edited called Shapers Of Worlds: Volume III, which features writers who’ve appeared on your podcast The Worldshapers. For people unfamiliar with the podcast, what is it about?

The Worldshapers is subtitled “conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process,” and that’s it in a nutshell. In each episode, I interview another author of science fiction and / or fantasy about how they go about shaping their stories. We talk about the author’s background and what drew them into writing, then go through the process (focusing on a book of the author’s choice) from idea to planning to writing to revision to publishing. Then I ask the “big philosophical questions”: Why do you write? Why do you think anyone writes? Why write fantastical stories specifically? I’ve conducted 120 interviews as of this moment, with some of the biggest names in the field, as well as with authors just starting out.

And so what kind of sci-fi stories are in Shapers Of Worlds: Volume III, genre-wise?

It’s eclectic, reflecting the wide range of authors features. So, there’s hard science fiction, urban fantasy, sword & sorcery, a touch of horror, a bit of satire, some humor, and even some poetry. Something for everyone.

One thing that caught my attention about Shapers Of Worlds: Volume III is that the cover says it has “New Fiction From” and then lists a bunch of authors, but it also says “New Stories By” and then the names of four other authors. I’m confused, why are you drawing a distinction between “fiction” and “stories”?

They’re all stories, of course, but I did that to distinguish between the new stories — the “new fiction” — and the reprints, stories which have appeared previously in other venues.

Ah, that makes sense. Now, one of the writers who contributed “New Fiction” to Shapers Of Worlds: Volume III is you. What’s your story called, and what is it about?

My story is “The Thing In The Play,” and it’s really a horror story, I think, albeit not a graphic one, about a man whose wife dies while watching a play who becomes convinced one of the actors is actually a monster who kills audience members and feeds on their life force. The story is his recounting of what he has done to a prison chaplain, and it has a bit of a twist ending.

In addition to being an author, I’m an actor who has performed in numerous plays, musicals, and operas, both professionally and just for fun. Actors often talk about drawing energy from the audience. I decided to make that literal.

Is there any connection between your story in Shapers Of Worlds: Volume III and The Tangled Stars?

No, however, my story in the previous anthology, Shapers Of Worlds: Volume II, “Thibauld’s Tale,” is a direct prequel to the novel, explaining how Cooper Douglas, Laysa Grey and Thibauld the cat meet ten years before the events of The Tangled Stars.

Speaking of The Tangled Stars, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Tangled could work as a movie, TV show, or game?

I don’t see it as a game, although the overall setting, of space-time tunnels that lead to unknown destinations, could certainly work in one.

I’d go for TV series because there are a number of distinct set pieces that could be the basis of episodes, and there’s plenty of room for expansion and guest stars.

And if some producer wanted to make that show happen, who would you want them to cast as the main characters and why them?

I am so not plugged into the world of actors and celebrities that I can’t even begin to suggest anyone.

No worries. So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Tangled Stars?

It’s both an exciting, action-packed science fiction adventure and a wisecracking good read. Also, every chapter begins with a pithy observation from Thibauld’s Private Log reflecting the fact that, while his intelligence comes from an A.I., it’s based on a feline biological substrate that makes him very much, despite his smarts, a cat. They were some of my favorite bits to write.

Finally, if someone enjoys The Tangled Stars, which of your other sci-fi novels would you suggest they read next?

I’d suggest The Worldshapers series, which begins with Worldshaper and continues with Master Of The World and The Moonlit World. Like The Tangled Stars, it largely features a first-person narrator and though Shawna Keys is very different from Cooper Douglas, she, like him, shares my sense of humor and expresses it throughout. It’s also a series where the main character travels to different worlds: the first one is a world much like ours, the second is a world inspired by Jules Verne, the third features werewolves and vampires. Eventually, if The Tangled Stars becomes a series, it will take the characters to many different worlds, as well. So if you enjoy reading The Tangled Stars, give The Worldshapers series a try.

 

 

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