Today I am interviewing Drew Williams, author of the new science-fiction novel, The Stars Now Unclaimed, the first book in The Universe After series.
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DJ: Hi Drew! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Drew Williams: No problem – happy to have been asked! For starters, I’ve been a bookseller in Birmingham, Alabama for most of my adult life (longer than that, actually, depending on when you count ‘adulthood’ as setting in; I was first hired at sixteen, when I walked in off the street looking for work and the owner needed someone to fill a shift that night). That means books – reading books, recommending books, arguing about books (Moby Dick is the most overrated classic in the canon; it just is) – have been pretty much my whole life, so moving on to actually writing books only seemed natural! (Plus, I’ve been writing for my own entertainment since I was a teenager, so I managed to get through the ‘really, really dreadful stuff, just unreadable’ pretty early on.)
DJ: What is The Stars Now Unclaimed about?
Drew: The Stars Now Unclaimed is space-opera science fiction, set in a universe that has been ravaged by an event called ‘the pulse’: basically, a strange radiation that spreads from world to world, causing local technology to collapse. In other words, on one planet, you could have perfectly functional spaceports, medical facilities, all that fun sci-fi tech, and on the same moon of that very same world, you might be stuck with pre-Industrial Revolution era technology.
So: that’s the setting. As far as the actual narrative concerns, it follows Jane Kamali, an operative of the ‘Justified’ (a kind of intergalactic peace-keeping force) tasked with rescuing ‘gifted’ children – children granted supernatural abilities by the pulse radiation – from the war-torn worlds they were born in. As the book begins, Jane’s current mission is going just swimmingly – she only nearly dies a few times – as she rescues a young telekinetic girl named Esa from her backwater home, only to find that she’s not the only one interested in Esa’s gifts: a would-be empire of intergalactic conquerors called ‘the Pax’ are also on their trail, and from there it’s a race across the pulse-stricken universe to get Esa to safety.
DJ: What were some of your influences The Stars Now Unclaimed and the series?
Drew: I mean, this book flat-out doesn’t exist without Star Wars. It just doesn’t. I’m of the opinion that ninety-nine percent of space opera science fiction doesn’t exist without Star Wars, and it’s no exception. Being a sci-fi fan all my life, listing all the influences on The Stars Now Unclaimed would take all day, but some of the bigger ones include Ender’s Game, the X-Men (the Claremont Kitty Pryde stuff most notably), and James Cameron’s Aliens, plus all the various sci-fi that has taken that ‘space marine’ conceit and run with it.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Drew: I most definitely can, but we’re going to have to add some spoiler bars here for what I want to talk about, which comes in the first act:
Yeah, there we go!
The thing that defines Jane as a person is very simple: the Justified, the organization she works for, were responsible for setting off the pulse. (This isn’t actually all that spoiler-y, since her narration gives it away pretty early to the reader, but I wanted to protect that reveal for people who would rather go entirely blind). What actually occurred and what the Justified intended to occur when they set off that catastrophe have very little in common, but she knows she’s still ultimately responsible for all the suffering that followed in the wake of the pulse, and as the other characters learn of her role in the cataclysm that changed the universe forever, the dynamics of guilt and grief and blame start to shift between them, asking the central question of the novel: are there acts that are simply beyond forgiveness? (Jane’s backstory isn’t the only place where that question will come up, but the rest I really do want to save for the book itself!)
And we’re out!
DJ: What is the galaxy and the setting of The Universe After like?
Drew: I touched on this a little bit above, but honestly, the most interesting thing about the universe of The Universe After is its breadth. Not only do you have billions upon billions of worlds to play in – each affected differently by the pulse – you also have seventeen different alien species interacting, each with their own cultures, their own religions, their own histories, both within those cultures and with each other. The universe before the pulse was a place defined by war: not just species against species, but ideology against ideology, belief against belief, many of which have persisted even after the chaos of the pulse. It is, after all, an entire universe, so there’s no single ideology – or even society – that has dominion over every character we meet, much in the same way there are no two people who think exactly the same.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Stars Now Unclaimed?
Drew: The writing itself! I know that may sound a little general, but I do love the actual act of writing: sitting down and staring at a blank page and not knowing where these characters are going to take me next. Honestly, my least favorite part of any project is when I get into the homestretch of a novel, and I know where it’s going to wind up, and suddenly all the doors that had been open – all the paths that story could have taken – are closed, except for the one remaining direction that is ‘the end’. So everything before that point (which is… most of the book for me; I’m not exactly a big ‘outline’ guy) is pure bliss: when I can actually surprise myself, I consider that a good day.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Drew: Honestly? The best reaction I could possibly hope for would be ‘that was really, really fun’. To me, books – art in general – exist to elicit an emotional reaction, and Stars runs a gamut of snarky humor, adrenaline-pumping action, skin-crawling horror, and intensely felt emotional beats, so my hope would be that all adds up to a complex alchemy that equals ‘a good read’. (Which, as someone who has read – and written! – some terrible books in my time, is definitely harder than it seems!)
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began The Universe After? The Stars Now Unclaimed is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Drew: I think the theme of the entire series is definitely present in The Stars Now Unclaimed, and plays like a harmony across the novels, growing clearer and clearer the more you read/hear: that sometimes the best thing a generation of people can do is to not pass their sins on to their children. That doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the universe a better place, or teaching their children how they wished they had been taught: it means realizing that everything they learned about life might not apply in a newer world, and indeed, some might be lessons better left behind.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Stars Now Unclaimed that you can share with us?
Drew: Ha! Honestly, I’d love to (there are some lines in there I’m really proud of, and I’m always beaming like a proud papa whenever someone mentions one to me), but since they’re almost entirely either jokes (which are never quite as funny the second time around, not to mention divorced from pacing and context) or incredibly spoiler-y, I think I’ll let the readers find them for themselves!
DJ: Now that The Stars Now Unclaimed is released, what is next for you?
Drew: Book two! Then book three! Then maybe book four, we’ll see, like I said, I don’t actually plan ahead very well! (The series of The Universe After has a definite end-point in mind, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be entirely done with the universe after that.) And then hopefully book something else! As long as there’s one person out there willing to read something with my name on it, I’ll be here, working on the next book: it’ll most likely still be genre (though maybe not science fiction, just to mix things up), just because genre stories are what entertain me, and ultimately, I feel like if I don’t love what I’ve written, nobody else will, either.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Stars Now Unclaimed and The Universe After that we haven’t talked about yet?
Drew: Honestly, I can’t think of much – you’ve done a great job covering all the bases! (Oh, and also: I’m pretty terrible at self-promotion, so there’s that, too.)
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** The Stars Now Unclaimed is published by TOR and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Perfect for fans of Firefly and James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series, The Stars Now Unclaimed is a fun, adventure-filled ride around a far-future galaxy.
Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.
Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.
Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.
And that’s just the beginning . . .
About the Author:
Drew Williams has been a bookseller in Birmingham, AL since he was sixteen years old. Although he got the job because someone had called in sick the day he applied, working with books became a vocation. It is full of amazing moments like arguing with coworkers about whether Moby Dick is a brilliant encapsulation of the human condition (it’s not) or an overlong, over-obvious metaphor for futility (it is.) It is discovering authors like (fill in people here) and sharing them with his customers. He loves to write, and he hopes you will love these characters and their story as much as he does.