I’m always fascinated by science fiction novels about ‘generation ships’, where an intrepid group of humans sets off on a journey that will take hundreds of years to reach a new home in the stars. I love watching how the society evolves from the original crew, seeing what gets forgotten or remembered or changed. I like being the omniscient observer as the series goes on, who knows things the descendants of the first pioneers have long forgotten. When an author can put a twist – or several twists! – on the basic trope, I’m even more on board for the journey.
J. Scott Coatsworth’s Liminal Sky series does all this and more. The second book which just released, entitled The Rising Tide, continues the story begun in book one The Stark Divide. The books can be read as standalones but a reader really shouldn’t deprive themselves of the excitement in the first book, which is where the asteroid becomes the spaceship Forever and the final days on Earth happen much sooner than anyone expected. The Rising Tide picks up and builds on the events in book one. I was excited to have the opportunity to ask author Coatsworth some questions about the series.
A little about the author from his official biography: Ushered into fantasy and sci-fi at the age of nine, J. Scott Coatsworth devoured his library of Asimovs, Clarkes, and McCaffreys, but wondered where the gay people were in speculative fiction. Scott addressed the issue himself, creating traditional sci-fi and fantasy worlds into something new. He also runs Queer Sci Fi and Queer Romance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring LGBTIQA communities together to celebrate fiction that reflects queer life and love.
Here’s the blurb for the new book (courtesy of DSP Publications): Earth is dead.
Five years later, the remnants of humanity travel through the stars inside Forever, a living, ever-evolving, self-contained generation ship. When Eddy Tremaine and Andy Hammond find a hidden world-within-a-world under the mountains, the discovery triggers a chain of events that could fundamentally alter or extinguish life as they know it, culminate in the takeover of the world mind, and end free will for humankind.
Control the AI, control the people.
Eddy, Andy, and a handful of other unlikely heroes—people of every race and identity, and some who aren’t even human—must find the courage and ingenuity to stand against the rising tide.
Otherwise they might be living through the end days of human history.
Veronica for Amazing Stories: What were your major influences when writing the series?
J. Scott: Oooh, that’s a great question.
This series has a long history. My first finished novel, written in the early to mid nineties, was a story called On the Shoreless Sea. The premise was that there was a fantasy world – in the sense that it would be agrarian, feudal, and would lend itself to an epic quest story, with the twist that it would be aboard a generation ship. I was heavily influenced by writers like Anne McCaffrey, who was able to effortlessly blend sci fi and fantasy. I mean, dragons in space? Seriously?
When I was sixteen, my Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I asked him to get me Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern. And bless his soul—though he didn’t know sci fi from scientology, he did. I devoured that book. It wasn’t the first Pern book I’d read—far from it. But it moved me in a way few other books had up to that point, from the harrowing danger the world faced to the tragic death at the end.
One of the things I loved about McCaffrey’s world was the danger that thread presented – something so unique to that world that no one else had done in sci fi. So when I went to write my first novel, I decided that my world would not be lit by the sun. No, that was too easy. And this was a generation ship out in space, after all. Instead, it would be lit by plants, a bioluminescence that would be Forever’s unique signature.
So Anne McCaffrey was a huge influence on me at that point, and I regret that I never got to meet her.
But On a Shoreless Sea had another, much less welcome twist. It was rejected by all ten publishers I sent it to, and it just about killed me inside.
In 2013, I decided to start writing again. I dusted off Forever and looked it over. For the last fifteen years, I’d had this weird idea that I’d be able to write better in my forties, once I had more life experience under my belt. And I think I was right. My writing is much better now than it was back in my twenties – richer and more complex. But in the meantime I’d discovered Peter F. Hamilton. If you haven’t read Hamilton, you need to put this interview down and go grab the books in his Commonwealth series. I mean, trains going between planets. Right?
It reminded me of Bob Shaw’s The Wooden Spaceships. I loved the idea of mixing these weird things. One of the things Hamilton is great at is biotech – worlds that were grown instead of built. His vision of the future is so expansive and imaginative that it fired me up as a writer, and filled my writing cave with plot bunnies. I decided to back up and figure out how Forever had been created, and to tell that origin story.
In the original version, Forever was a long tube-shaped world, where everyone lived on the outside and some unspecified force provided the gravity. In the new version, it made a lot more sense to invert it and have the world be on the inside of the tube. Plus, it makes for some awesome visuals.
This new paradigm also allowed me to play with the idea of artificial intelligence and how it might interact with the human world. That has become a central theme of the series, and has led me down a number of surprising paths.
The final influence was a surprise, even to me. I’m not a particularly religious guy. My grandfather was a minister, and my mother took me to church every week when I was a kid, but after I came out, me and organized religion kinda split ways. Religion in the early nineties was, by and large, not kind to gay guys like me, and it wasn’t until the early two-thousandsies that I started really seeing a lot of pastors and openly religious folks at our marriage equality rallies.
A couple years ago, my husband Mark decided he wanted to go back to church, and I went with him. We go to a place called “The Table” – they have a pride flag and a Black Lives Matter banner out in front. One Sunday, Pastor Matt (a bit of a wordsmith) was giving a sermon, and he used the word “liminal.” My writer ears perked up, and I looked it up. Here’s the definition that struck me:
“Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.”
It just seemed to fit, and that’s how the liminal kids were born. But something else crept into the books from that sanctuary. Every society has some form of belief or religion, and Forever would be no exception. So Jackson became religious, and his faith (and his wife Glory’s) have been an echoing theme throughout the story.
Do manmade organisms have souls? Is there a heaven? How do you find redemption? I don’t pretend to answer these questions, but it was awfully fun to play with them as a writer.
See? I told you it was a great question.
ASM.: I feel as if I’d just read the hidden scrolls of Forever! Why did you decide to make your generation ship an asteroid?
JSC.: I love the idea of generation ships and ships that spend centuries traveling from one star system to another. One of the earliest books in the genre that I read was Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C. Clarke’s masterpiece about an alien invader in our solar system that is just here for a gravitational assist, and that doesn’t even realize we are here.
As far as why an asteroid, it just makes sense. If you’re going to grow a spaceship, you want to grow it in space, free of the gravitational pull of a planet or moon. And where are you going to get the food? Three quarters of all known asteroids are carbonaceous, and carbon is the basic building block of life. So it just made sense.
ASM.: Although neither of the books is a romance per se, we meet many loving couples at various points in time, did you have a special favorite pair? And why?
JSC.: LOL… oooh, tough question. I have two. The first is Santi and Eddy. They just clicked in the story, and I loved writing them together. But my second – and it’s partly because they have been a part of all three books (yeah, I know you don’t get to read book three until next October, but Andy is one of the common threads throughout the whole trilogy) and it was a great pleasure to follow them through such a long period of time.
ASM.: I was going to pick Santi and Eddy. I really enjoyed the journey they had to go on to understand each other. I was equally fond of Colin and Trip because I felt they were such a solid couple right from the beginning and provided a strength which ran through the entire series of events. I was kind of like, Are Colin and Trip ok? OK! Which was the most difficult character in The Rising Tide to write and why?
JSC.: I have a hard time with villains. I tend to want to make them pure evil, and I’ve been told I need to make them more nuanced. A good villain should believe that what they are doing is right, even if the rest of the world thinks they are wrong. There should be an internal logic to their actions.
Davian, the big villain of book two, was kind of an accident. The original story, “On a Shoreless Sea,” casually mentioned Davian the Betrayer, and so when I wrote The Stark Divide I included him, knowing he would be a major part of book two. His past, being trapped in a hotbox for weeks as a soldier in one of Earth’s interminable future wars, shaped him and made him need to take control of his destiny, and by extension, the world.
I hope I pulled it off.
ASM.: Are you a plotter or a pantster? How do you keep yourself organized when you write?
JSC.: A bit of both? I started out as a complete pantser – and I have a good fifteen stories in my “never finished” file to attest to it. So I’ve become a bit more of a plotter. I have a good idea where the story story will go when I start. But I leave some flexibility to allow for surprises that may change the direction of the plot.
ASM.: What distracts you when you write?
JSC.: LOL… everything? But mostly Facebook. It’s the boon and bane of my existence, especially since our businesses are so closely tied to it. I write for about an hour to an hour and a half a day, and I’ve learned to work in bits and pieces. It’s actually a good thing, as it gives my writer brain more time to play between sessions and come up with new ideas.
ASM.: Is there a TV show you’ve recently binge watched?
JSC.: Well… we’re in the middle of binge-watching ‘Charmed’ (the original). I missed it the first time around, and we’re really enjoying it. The special effects are generally awful, and you can totally see the Spelling touch in the plots. But there’s something compelling about it. And it has McSteamy in an early incarnation!
ASM.: I was a huge fan of the original ‘Charmed’. Do you have a favorite short scene from The Rising Tide you’d like to share with our readers?
JSC.: This one:
Keera handed Aaron a candle. He held it while she lit the wick with her own. He held it up in the air. “Like her name, Glory was a bright light in the world. Mama, I miss you. God is waiting in heaven for you.” The last bit trailed off in a sob, but he didn’t care. He’d not been as religious as his parents, but right now he could use a little old-fashioned faith that she was in a better place.
Keera squeezed his arm. “May I?”
He nodded and stepped to the side.
“Later on, we’ll tell each other about our memories of Glory.” She held her candle high. “But nightfall is upon us. Each of your candles has an apparatus attached to a hinge. Please rotate the hinge like this.” She demonstrated. “This will make an air sail.”
Aaron looked down at his own candle in wonder and smiled gratefully. When had she had time to arrange this? He raised his own candle’s sail.
“Here comes nightfall!”
The light of the world dimmed all around them, the trees and grasses and cattails fading, and within thirty seconds it was dark. The jetty was lit only by a few lanterns and by more than a hundred candles.
Keera’s face shone with a golden glow. She lifted her candle again. “Love you, Glory,” she whispered so softly that only Jackson could hear.
Then she let the candle go. It floated into the air over the lake, drifting up into the darkness. Soon it was followed by another and another, then tens, hundreds of them.
Aaron held his up. “May God find you.” He let his go and looked up into the sky. It was filled with lights.
He pulled Keera close. “It’s so beautiful. How did you—”
She put a finger over his lips. “Leave me a few secrets.”
One of the lights flared, an incandescent supernova in the night, and then it was gone.
“What the heck?”
There was another, then another, and suddenly the sky was full of flares.
Glory really would have loved this.
ASM.: I thought that was a genuinely moving scene in the book. Which place in The Rising Tide would you most like to visit?
JSC.: Oooh, tough choice. It’s not so much a place, but I’d love to fly long the spindle on the breath of the world, with all of Forever spread out around me.
ASM.: What’s next for you?
JSC.: I’m just finishing up The Shoreless Sea, book three in the series – it’s a different story than the original “On a Shoreless Sea,” but I’ll get there eventually. LOL…
Book three of my other trilogy, The Oberon Cycle, comes out in February, and (spoiler alert) the two series connect.
Next, though? I have another prequel planned.
Earth is dead, sure.
But the moon base lives on.
That’s all I’ll say, for now.
For more about J. Scott Coatsworth and his books visit https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com/
USA Today Best Selling Author Veronica Scott usually covers science fiction romance for Amazing Stories, when she isn’t writing SFR novels herself. She was raised on a diet of science fiction classics, however, and may interview SF&F authors in this space from time to time.
(Scott received an ARC of this book from the author for review purposes.)