Exclusive Interview: “To Each This World” Author Julie E. Czerneda
Stories about space ships getting lost in space are as old as, well, stories about space ships going into space. And yet, there’s still interesting versions of those stories left to tell. In the following email interview with author Julie E. Czerneda, she discusses what inspired and influenced her hard sci-fi novel To Each This World (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), in which, interestingly, some space ships go into space, and some space ships get lost in space.
To start, what is To Each This World about, and when and where does it take place?
You would start there. Plot summaries are hard. This one in particular. It’s a book I’ve found unusually contrary and I’ve tried for over a year to pin it down in a paragraph.
Just for you, here’s my latest kick at it.
To Each This World is set in a distant future, with a Human society established on a planet they call New Earth. They arrived there on a sleeper ship, woke to silence from Origin Earth, and have done well since. So well, New Earth sent forth sleeper ships of their own two hundred years ago, ships they haven’t heard from since.
In the interim, aliens called the Kmet arrived in orbit around New Earth, offering technology and passage through kmeth’s space-spanning Portals in return for Human help mining on sunless, rogue planets. A peaceful Duality is established, a single Human called the Arbiter assigned to all interactions, and everything’s humming along nicely except for one problem. The Kmet refuse to believe Humans ever made and launched the sleeper ships, or that they could exist on any other world. Linguists and the Arbiter continue to try to convince them without success.
My story begins when a probe from one of those lost ships arrives, proof the Kmet can’t ignore. The aliens respond with dismay, insisting any Humans not on New Earth are in mortal danger from a mysterious enemy that claims all other worlds.
The current Arbiter, Henry, convinces the Kmet to take him to the destinations of the six sleeper ships, to find and evacuate any humans. It will be up to Henry and his companion Flip (a sentient construct), the Portal’s human pilot, Killian, and an increasingly difficult-to-comprehend Kmet to save the day.
If Henry can believe the Kmet. Only thing is certain. The threat to humanity is real.
Meanwhile, Beth Seeker, descendant from one of New Earth’s sleeper ships, roams her planet in an effort to make first contact with aliens they’ve never seen, but know are there. Aliens who might hold the secret to both the Kmet and the wave of destruction chasing Humans home.
If that’s too long (I’m sure it is), let’s call it a race to solve an alien mystery before time runs out for all.
Sounds like it. So, where did you get the idea for the plot of To Each This World?
In 2000, I wrote a short story about deep space exploration and the settlement of worlds called “Down On The Farm” for the anthology Far Frontiers, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff. In my story, being a biologist, I postulated an effort to keep Terran and native biota intact: “…From orbit, one could see how the prep crews had ribboned the colony’s agriculture between preserves of native life, preserves kept inviolate by molecular disintegration fields powered from Demeter’s own core. Within these fields, Demeter’s life could continue to evolve as it would–without further human influence. That these sentry fields protected the spreading leaves of alien vegetation, from bananas to maple trees, was equally important…”
I liked the story. And I loved the idea of a purposefully divided world even if, twenty-two years ago, I didn’t know what to do with it. Still, I started a folder of notions and kept thinking about it. Often. As one does.
My other interest, if you’ve read my Esen books, is interspecies communication. My aliens and their worlds, my stories, are all about how we might get it right — but even more about when biology makes mutual understanding difficult, if not impossible. I found myself entranced by the combination.
To Each This World is centered around a trio of humans. Is there a reason why it’s a trio as opposed to a duo or a foursome or a dozen people?
Nothing I’m conscious of — and there are more people “present” than seem to be. New Earth turned to avatars for anything as risky as space travel, with brains wired to hold conferences with others back home. So Henry travels with a committee that meets in his head and Killian has her partner / advisor. As for Beth, her job is extremely dangerous and she’s good at it. Company would get in the way.
I did want to keep the point of views to an absolute minimum. There’s Henry, Killian, and Beth. That’s it.
It sounds like To Each This World is a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it?
To Each This World isn’t space opera. It’s hard sci-fi, asking questions about our future in space. I’m speculating on how we might live on other worlds, how societies might be impacted by environment and situation and time, how we’d change — and not. The negotiations between Henry and the Kmet are fundamental explorations of how biology programs us to struggle to understand what’s outside ourselves, yet we can do it. Can others? That’s another question I ask.
The science in the book, from Human space travel tech to biology, is rigorous, with the one clearly identified “go with me” being the Portal technology. I’ve vetted details by experts (hugs to all!) and spent, conservatively, four years on the research for my worldbuilding, etc.
For those familiar with my work, Each is like my novel In The Company of Others [which you can learn more about in this interview] or my Species Imperative series. Or my novella, No Place Like Home. The pacing is much faster. It had to be. There’s not much time.
Speaking of which, you’ve written more than two dozen novels and tons of short stories. Are there any writers who had a big influence on To Each This World but not on anything else you’ve written?
I can’t say there’s been any other writers who specifically influenced To Each This World. Other than me. I wrote my first fantasy because I didn’t see anything like what I wanted. This book is the same. It’s about how we try to save one another, about the best of us. With a huge dose of the difficulty trying to grasp another viewpoint when you’ve different eyes.
Oh, wait. I did gobble up Prof. Brian Cox’s The Planets, along with several other recent books about exoplanets. Definitely influences there.
How about non-literary influences; do you think To Each This World was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Goodness, you’re making me feel terrible.
There’s nothing…unless it was watching one too many “let’s be awful to each other and the locals because we’re Humans and behave badly by default” films.
One of the interesting things about To Each This World is that it’s a stand-alone story, which makes it only the third time you’ve written something stand-alone. What was it about this story that made you realize it could be told in one book and not two or three or 37?
I always knew this would be a story with a huge finale, in part because there’s a mystery solved, but also the scope is, well, interstellar. You don’t mess with that potential.
If anyone’s disappointed it’s not a series, trust me. Henry and Co visit multiple planets, each very different. It fills that fix.
Now, along with To Each This World, you also recently released your first collection of short stories, Imaginings: 25th Anniversary Collection. First off, does this include every short story you’ve written, every story that’s been published, or is it just a selection of them?
I believe in rewarding myself. A little something from each bit of loot that comes from my writing (Sometimes a Dairy Milk bar, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s a driveway.). A special celebration with my Roger [Julie’s husband]. You have to mark the moments. Hence the collection. I picked stories that came with tales of their own, a peek into my past 25 years. And yes, that proved a wonderful reward indeed.
How then did you decide what to include, and what not to include?
I wanted to span the years while showing how short fiction changed and informed my writing as a whole. My very first published story is there, because I’d never planned to write short fiction. My first horror and fantasy, because I’d never thought to write in either genre. (Disclaimer: I don’t read or watch horror if I can help it, but apparently writing it is fine.) There are other stories where the theme or editor challenged me. Others I wrote from a moment of passionate disagreement, or mistake on theme.
I wanted to share how I grew to appreciate the power of short fiction. How it allows me to explore darker ideas because I don’t have to stay in that story or with those characters for months, as in a novel.
And there had to be something brand new, to reward my dear readers. That’s the fantasy novella from my Night’s Edge series.
Going back to To Each This World, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask if you think To Each This World could work as a movie, show, or game?
I believe To Each This World would make an amazing movie…maybe even better as a series, similar to The Expanse. There’s the underlying alien mystery with sequences of adventure, discovery, and gratifying resolutions. And, between us, I cut so much from the book. More worlds! More problems! It’s all on my shelf. I suppose this fits a game format as well, and that would be remarkable, but I love watching genre film and shows, so that’s my thought.
And, if someone wanted to adapt To Each This World into a movie or show, who would you want to play the main characters?
For Killian: Gina Torres. Killian being a pilot might make that seem obvious, but I loved Torres’ portrayal of Zoë in Firefly. Bold, capable, complex. Her physicality.
For Henry: Robert Aramayo. His Elrond in the Rings of Power is a negotiator, and I’m thoroughly enjoying his deft little touches in every scene.
And then Jodie Foster [Panic Room] as Beth: She clearly can do anything, but I especially love the roles where she’s incredibly tough, and smart, while showing wonder and curiosity — and that’s Beth. Though I’d have to apologize for arduous nature of the costume, makeup, and settings. It’s an incredibly physical role.
Finally, if someone enjoys To Each This World, what science fiction novel of someone else’s that you read recently would you suggest they check out?
If you liked To Each This World, I highly recommend these science fiction works to you: Juliette Wade’s The Broken Trust series, starting with Inheritors Of Power, for exceptional societal sci-fi and worldbuilding. And Adam Oyebanji’s Braking Day for a great fresh treatment of generation ships. [For more on Braking Day, check out this interview with Adam Oyebanji.]