In the movie Hidden Figures, and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly that inspired it, we see how women at NASA were instrumental during the ’60s space race. Which is kind of what Sylvain Neuvel’s sci-fi trilogy Take Them To The Stars is about…if you swapped human women for alien ones. In the following email interview, Neuvel discusses this series’ second installment, Until The Last Of Me (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook).
Photo Credit: James Andrew Rosen
People can read the interview we did about A History Of What Comes Next for some background on this series, but for people morally opposed to clicking things, what is the Take Them To The Stars trilogy about, and when and where is it set?
The series follows over a hundred generations of mothers and daughters, all genetically identical, messing with history to nudge us towards the stars. It’s set here on Earth, and the series spans from 1945, in the earliest days of the space race, to about 2005.
And then what is Until The Last Of Me about, and how does it connect to A History Of What Comes Next, both narratively and chronologically?
The book is set after the events of A History Of What Comes Next, mostly through the ’70s. Mia, the daughter in the first book, is now a mother herself, and struggling mightily to combine saving the world, saving herself and her daughter from the Tracker, and raising a teenager in the ’70s.
It’s obviously a continuation of the first book, but it has a completely different mood. It’s not quite as dark.
Is there anything you can think of that specifically inspired the plot of Until The Last Of Me, or was it just what felt natural to follow what happens in A History Of What Comes Next?
Kind of. I was reading about the Voyager space probes and their mission is full of ups and downs, suspense, wonder. I wanted the plot of that book — which takes place at the same time — to loosely follow this emotional rollercoaster.
A History Of What Comes Next was a sci-fi story. Is the same true of Until The Last Of Me? Because the press materials call it “…a meticulously researched work of historical fiction.”
Well, none of my books fit neatly into a box. Sleeping Giants was definitely sci-fi, but also pitched as a political thriller. History plays a role in the book — maybe not as much as it did with A History Of What Comes Next — but it’s also undeniably science fiction. I mean, the main characters are aliens.
So then what kind of research did you do meticulously, and how do you think it influenced the story? You mentioned reading about Voyager…
Like with the previous book, I was neck-deep in research about space exploration. This book is set mostly in the ’70s, so it was mostly science and engineering and didn’t involve reading about Nazis, war and labor camps. There are also countless major events of the era I had to familiarize myself with, though by the end of the book, I actually remembered some of them.
Were there any instances where being historically accurate ran counter to telling a good story?
No. The plot of the first book was entirely based on history so being historically accurate couldn’t logically interfere. After the moon landing, however, there’s a lot less happening in terms of space exploration, so the plot of Until The Last Of Me is really more about the character’s journey. It’s about their history.
Moving on to the ever-popular questions about influences, are there any writers who had a big influence on Until The Last Of Me but not on anything else that you’ve written, especially A History Of What Comes Next?
Hmmm. Well, since the Voyager mission plays a part in the book, I’d say Gary Flandro. He’s not a fiction writer, but he did write a paper about the discovery of a super rare alignment of the outer planets that made the mission possible.
And how about non-literary influences; was Until The Last Of Me influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Nothing specific comes to mind, but I think people who like the book should watch For All Mankind on Apple TV. I watched it recently and it has a lot in common with this book series.
As we’ve been discussing, A History Of What Comes Next and Until The Last Of Me are the first two books of the Take Them To The Stars trilogy. Do you know yet what the third book will be called and when it will be out?
Well, it hasn’t been announced yet, so I suppose it might change, but at the moment it’s called For The First Time Again. I have absolutely no idea when they plan to release it. Most likely early 2023.
And is the plan for that to be the end of the story, or are you thinking you’ll expand upon it with prequels or sequels or side stories?
It’s certainly the end for now, but I always have plans. I have millions of plans. I loved writing about these characters, so I might want to bring back the Kibsu at some point.
In the aforementioned interview we did about A History Of What Comes Next, when I asked if there had been any interest in turning this saga into some movies, a TV show, or a game, you said, “There’s nothing in the works right now.” Is that still the case?
Kind of. There’s nothing definite, if that’s what you’re asking. As for the rest, it’s Hollywood and we’re more or less never allowed to talk about anything, so this is me not talking about it.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Until The Last Of Me before deciding to buy it or not?
Well, just like with the first book, every chapter title is a song title from the years the story takes place in. The playlist is available on Spotify and Apple Music. This one starts in 1969 and ends in the ’80s. I think you’ll love it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Until The Last Of Me — and, presumably, A History Of What Comes Next — which sci-fi trilogy of novellas would you suggest they read next and why that one?
The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal is completely different but shares some themes and inspirations with Take Them To The Stars, plus it’s awesome. The first book, The Calculating Stars, won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus Awards. That’s quite the resume.