Monday, February 15, 2021

Sylvain Neuvel Interview - A History of What Comes

Photo Credit: James Andrew Rosen

Sylvain Neuvel dropped out of high school at age 15. Along the way, he has been a journalist, worked in soil decontamination, sold ice cream in California, and furniture across Canada. He received a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Chicago. He taught linguistics in India, and worked as a software engineer in Montreal. He is also a certified translator, though he wishes he were an astronaut. He absolutely loves toys; his girlfriend would have him believe that he has too many, so he writes about aliens and giant robots as a blatant excuse to build action figures (for his son, of course). His debut, Sleeping Giants, was described by NPR as “one of the most promising series kickoffs in recent memory.”

Publisher : Tor (February 2, 2021)
Language : English
Hardcover : 304 pages
ISBN-10 : 1250262062
ISBN-13 : 978-1250262066


"[This series] is filled with virtually limitless narrative possibilities." ―Kirkus

"An extraordinary twist on the space race and a paean to what smart, strong women can accomplish. I'm always over the moon for Neuvel's stories!" ―Delilah Dawson

Sylvain Neuvel proves once again he deserves the title of the hottest new SF writer of the 21st century ― and this time he does it by looking back at the storied development of rocketry in the 20th. Clever and compelling, with a succession of kick-ass heroines propelling events along via mayhem and murder behind the scenes, A History of What Comes Next blasts off on page one and will keep you enthralled until the end. ―Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of The Oppenheimer Alternative

"A highly crafted and unique look at the space race, through the eyes of those who exist only to ensure its success... Neuvel’s intriguing first-contact story is set through centuries of manipulation and pursuit. It’s a promising start to what looks to be a dark and exciting trilogy." ―Library Journal

"The balance of wry narration, wired action, and delicate worldbuilding make for deeply gratifying reading. Fans of alternate history and intelligent sci-fi will love this." ―Publishers Weekly starred review.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Fan letters, by far (and meeting readers when that was a thing). I’m always profoundly grateful when people take the time to tell me my book had an impact on them. I tell stories about aliens and giant robots so it’s always unexpected but to have someone tell me listening to my books kept them going or put a bit of joy in their lives when they were down means more than winning any award or hitting any list.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I blame my son. I like to build things, so when my son was three, I asked him if he’d like a toy robot. My son, of course, couldn’t just say: “Yes Dad!” He asked me a dozen questions about the toy I hadn’t built yet. Does it fly? Where does it come from? The toy needed a backstory. Somehow, that turned into an adult novel called Sleeping Giants (and he got his toy robot).

Tell us your latest news.
My novella, The Test, is being adapted for film, with Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game) writing and directing, and starring Payman Maadi and John Boyega! Let’s just say I’m very excited about that!

Can you tell us when you started A HISTORY OF WHAT COMES NEXT, how that came about?
I’m not entirely sure when the idea started brewing in my head. I wanted a story that could span millennia, with (more or less) the same characters, but I didn’t want to write immortals. It all clicked when I realized I could have the best of both worlds if the characters passed on all their genes to their child. They could exist at any time, but also have their own unique personalities. It was also the perfect excuse to read countless papers about history, rocketry, ancient astronomy, etc.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I don’t think there’s a “moral” to any of my books, not in the true sense. I care more about the questions. I ask and let the reader come up with their own answers. Whether it’s about identity, what makes us unique, or even human, the cost of progress, the nature of violence, I hope the readers will think about some of these things. After they finish the book, that is. While they’re reading, I just want them to have a good time.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Mia?
Hmmm. I learned so many things writing this book. There is a fish, in Texas, that lures males from a similar species into mating with them, but it doesn’t pass any of the male’s genetic material onto its offspring, only the mother’s. These fish are all female, all genetically identical. It’s the same fish. That’s really cool. That’s what inspired Mia and her ancestors.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Mia and Lisbeth Salander would really hit it off. They have very complementary skills and they could do pretty much anything if they set their mind to it. I’d also enjoy watching them take down whatever villain was foolish enough to mess with those two.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I was pretty disciplined writing this one, but I wrote the sequel during the pandemic and while homeschooling our son for six months. Add to that the constant flow of dystopian news everywhere and it’d be hard to pick a single thing that wasn’t distracting. We’re resilient little things, though, and I adapted, but writing was slow at the beginning. Veeeery sloooooooow.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I wish everyone could go to space, me included, but scuba diving is probably the closest thing, or snorkeling. We went to the Philippines last year and swam inside a gigantic school of sardines. It was the most amazing thing. Turtles are also great because they’re curious and unafraid of just about anything. The first time I got a glimpse of the bottom of the ocean, I got such a sense of wonder that I hope everyone could experience this at least once.

Best date you've ever had?
I hated dating. Hated hated. My wife and I did plenty of things before we ended up together, but we never went on a “date”. Dates are bad. They carry expectations. There’s an implied notion of failure or success, which I think is a horrible way to look at relationships. I don’t think I enjoyed a single date I’ve had in my entire life.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
Our apartment building burned down when I was a teenager. That scared the hell out of me. It was a big fire: windows exploding, a fire door flew right into the street. I didn’t realize how terrified I was that night, with all the adrenalin, but my heartbeat quickened for years after that whenever I smelled smoke.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
My book, Sleeping Giants, won the Seiun award for best translated work in Japan and I was invited shortly after. We went as a family and they took us to this warehouse in the middle of nowhere. It’s a company that makes farm equipment but the engineers there are huge Gundam fans and they build robots for fun in their spare time. One of them is as tall as a four-story building. It was cool enough just looking at it, but they let me and my son climb in together and actually pilot that giant robot.

First heartbreak?
I don’t know. There were a few… My cat did run away when I was four and never came back.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
We went to India twice and loved it. All of Asia is amazing. Indonesia, the Philippines, China. It’s hard to pick one but I’d probably have to go with Japan again. Kyoto was great. It’s gorgeous. I had the best meal of my life there. We also went to the Studio Ghibli Museum while in Japan and it’s the most amazing museum experience I’ve ever had.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
That’s an easy one but I think heartbreaks would be much less painful if we didn’t speak of relationships in terms of failure and success. If you have one year, five years, twenty years of happiness with someone and the relationship ends, it’s not a failure. You’ve had twenty years of happiness with someone. You have a great story together and like all stories, it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

  • 1. Badass women characters. Sarah and her daughter Mia are the ninety-ninth generation of super smart and equally deadly women who’ve been nudging us towards the stars for the past three thousand years. They call themselves the Kibsu and, believe me, you don’t want to mess with the Kibsu.
  • 2. History. The book is fiction, but all the historical events are real. Every single one. It’s not the boring kind of history either. We’re talking daring escapes and earth-shaking explosions.
  • 3. Big rockets. The novel takes place in the early days of the space race and features the first rockets to ever make it to space.
  • 4. Science, lots of science. There’s rocket science, climate science, genetics. You’ll hear about the discovery of genes, carbon dating, how to find air from a thousand years ago.
  • 5. Amazons, Vikings and witch trials. Each section break features a short story about previous generations of Kibsu throughout history.
  • 6. Murder and mayhem. The villains are cruel and evil but the Kibsu don’t mess around either.
  • 7. Romance! I don’t want to spoil anything, but Mia might just meet someone special along the way.
  • 8. Space dogs. For real. Dogs being shot into space wearing tiny dog spacesuits.
  • 9. A full cast. If you like audiobooks, you’re going to love this one. Each character has its own voice. The actors are brilliant. I narrate the Further Reading section at the end where I talk about the events and characters in the book and there’s even an interview with the real-life mother and daughter voicing Mia and Sarah.
  • 10. Music! Chapter titles are song titles from the years the story takes place in. I wrote each chapter listening to its song and you can do the same. The playlist is on Spotify and Apple music and I think it’s worth a listen, even without the book.
Your journey to publication
I wrote my first novel for fun, an hour each night after my son went to bed (I wrote a good chunk of it on my phone.) When it was finished, I thought it was good enough to share and I tried to get an agent for it. I queried something like 56 agents and they all turned me down, so I decided to self-publish, mostly as an excuse to write the next book. I sent the manuscript to literary magazines so I could put a little quote on the cover to make it look professional and one of them loved the book. The review went online a few months before my book release, and I started getting calls from Hollywood producers. One of them found me a movie agent at Creative Artists Agency, my movie agent got me a book agent in New York and three weeks later we’d sold the rights to a major Hollywood studio and I’d signed a book deal for a trilogy. All of that happened in one month, the craziest month of my life.

Showing that truth is stranger than fiction, Sylvain Neuvel weaves a scfi thriller reminiscent of Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, blending a fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940s rocketry with an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence in A History of What Comes Next.

Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.

Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.

But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.

A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them..

You can purchase Sylvain Neuvel at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SYLVAIN NEUVEL for making this giveaway possible.
3 Winners will receive a Copy A HISTORY OF WHAT COMES NEXT by Sylvain Neuvel.
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