The Guy with The Coolest Job in the World
Judge Liberty Hardy interviews Sylvain Neuvel
Liberty Hardy, Sylvain Neuvel
Judge Liberty Hardy's July selection is a debut sci-fi novel that's being compared to The Martian. She interviews the intriguing Montreal-based writer.
Hi Sylvain! How's life these days?
Hi Liberty! Life is'¦ Life is exciting, and terrifying, and great. The response to Sleeping Giants is better than anything I could have dreamed of. I'm a debut author. Everything is new, everything.
**Where did the idea forÂ Sleeping GiantsÂ come from?**Â
You can blame my son for this one. I asked him '“ he must have been two or three at the time '“ if he'd like me to build him a toy robot. Simple, right? 'œYes, dad!' is the proper answer to that question. But no, not my son. He wanted to know everything about the toy before I built it. What does it do? Where is it from? Does it fly? I didn't have the backstory he wanted so I put the whole thing on hold. A few days later, we were watching Japanese anime about '“ you guessed it '“ a giant robot from outer space, and I asked myself what it would be like, in real life, if we found giant artifacts from an unknown civilization. I started writing that night. In some ways, Sleeping Giants is really about a father building a toy for his son.
**How much did the book change from your original idea, if at all?**Â
Not much. I wrote the prologue first, but I plotted the whole book before I went any further. I'm sure I changed a few things along the way, but most of what I had is still there. I'm a plotter.
Did you plot the story out for three books, or are you building it book-by-book?
I had the plot for book two about halfway through writing book one. Book three was one sentence, but I knew where it was heading. Everyone assumes it's a trilogy but I started this as an open series. We'll see where it goes, but I love that universe. Right now, I can't imagine getting tired of playing in it.
How did you come up with the idea of telling the story through interviews and reports?
Besides the fact that it fit the story really well, I always liked epistolary novels. It forces you to participate. As a reader, I really enjoy authors who put me to work, who trust me enough to let me figure things out on my own. Dialogue will do that. You're not in anyone's head, so you have to discover the characters like you would a real person, not so much through what they say, but how they say it, what they won't say, their enthusiasm or their hesitation.
What limits/freedoms do you think you have as a writer when you structure a book in that way?
It takes forever to structure these books. The characters are in charge, and the point of view I choose for a particular scene is often as important as what's happening. I can present things as they occur, or after the fact. Sometimes the best thing is to not present them at all and let the reader infer what happened from the consequences. There are some limitations in what you can do with action scenes, for example, but a lot more freedom elsewhere. You can choose from a multitude of perspectives, play with time. Oh, and you don't have to tell the truth.
Who is your favorite character to write?
That's a tough one. Kara and Rose are fun. Kara a little more so because I don't have to read science papers every time she opens her mouth. My inner Kara is pretty close to the surface too. She comes out easily. The interviewer is the one I feel closest to. He's always there. Whether I try to 'œbe' Rose, or put myself in Mr. Burn's skin, I always have to be the interviewer.
Have you decided on the nameless interrogator's identity yet, or is that still a surprise even to you?
Oh, I know. :)
**Your biography mentions you've had several different jobs - did you always write, as well?**Â
Well, many of the countless jobs I had involved writing. I was a journalist; I wrote training courses. I co-wrote a screenplay that was optioned when I was much younger, published some questionable poetry. I'm also reasonably well published as a linguist. But I always wrote for the pleasure of it. First book I ever wrote was for a public of one. I walked into the wrong bathroom in Venezuela and I met someone. She had a boyfriend. I mailed her a book chapter by chapter.
Your biography also mentions you'd like to be an astronaut. What attracts you to space exploration?
Well, it's there, for one thing. To not go would be like spending a week in Paris without leaving your hotel room. I've been staring at the sky ever since I can remember, not so much wondering if there's anyone out there, but just in awe at the size of everything.
There's enough space between Earth and the moon to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare. We get email alerts whenever the International Space Station flies over. I love the fact that little kids all over the world can see it go by. It's the brightest spot in the sky after the sun and moon, and we made it. That's inspiring. When I was about twenty years old, I made a bucket list. There were three things on it: Get a degree (I was a high-school drop-out), have children, go to space. I got a Ph.D., my son says he wants to be a writer. I'm two out of three.
Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?
The interviewer asked Kara that same question. She said no. Me, I guess it depends on how you word the question. Is there life out there? Yes. Certainly. But it could be microbes, green goo. Is there something intelligent enough for us to call it sentient? Probably. Something that thinks in a way we can comprehend, in a shape somewhat similar to ours? The odds get lower and lower the closer you get to movie aliens. Do I want there to be? Hell yeah!
Can you tell us anything about the second book,Â Waking Gods, coming in April 2017?
I know people have questions after Sleeping Giants. There are some answers in Waking Gods, hopefully some interesting new questions as well. It takes place nine years after the last one. It's darker, faster. The stakes are much higher in this one, for the characters, and for all of us. I think people will be surprised.
Could you possibly have the coolest job in the world?
Let me think... I write about giant robots for a living. Yeah, I win. Runners-up: the guy who designs little toys to put in Kinder eggs, National Geographic photographer.
Thank you, Liberty!