When we received word that Little, Brown Books for Young Readers had acquired Defy the Stars, a new young adult sci-fi book series from author Claudia Gray, we couldn’t have been more excited. Over the past couple of years Claudia has become a real favorite here at Nerdophiles. Her recent Star Wars novel Lost Stars absolutely blew us away and A Thousand Pieces of You remains one of the best young adult romances I have ever read.
Defy the Stars is poised to be yet another epic read.
‘Defy the Stars’ is about a young soldier, Noemi, in an intergalactic war and the robotic enemy warrior forced by his programming to obey her. When Noemi realizes that destroying him could save her world, she’s torn between her duty and her growing belief that he may be far more than just a machine. And far more to her than just the enemy.
After exploring parallel realities and the Star Wars universe, Claudia will be questioning the limits artificial intelligence and the intricacies of what it means to be human. And we can’t wait! Claudia was good enough to take some time to sit down and talk with us on the phone recently. From Star Wars to Defy the Stars and beyond, we tried to cover it all!
Sam Wildman: How did it feel to be approached by LucasFilms and Disney to start creating new stories within the Star Wars universe?
Claudia Gray: It’s a fanish high really. I’ve just naturally gravitated towards pretty much anything science fiction of fantasy my whole life and I always, always, always loved Star Wars. I was super psyched to hear there were going to be new movies. I didn’t really even think about [the possibility of writing books for Star Wars]. So then I got this email and was like, “What!? This is great!” It was one of those things where it really just came out of the blue.
That had to be exciting – but also a little intimidating!
It’s funny because a lot of interviewers after were fans and they were like, ‘Well weren’t you intimidated?” But that thought didn’t even occur to me until the [first] book was done. I was so thrilled that the idea that there could even be a bad side to it didn’t occur to me. Although fortunately people have responded really well to the book so it’s been great. It all turned out fine.
Lost Stars is a very different book from pretty much any other Star Wars book we’ve had. Were you surprised at how well received it has been?
I was surprised at how well it went over because I know that a lot of people heard that “Oh, there’s going to be a young adult love story in Star Wars and that’s not what we want.” I think that people gave Lost Stars a chance because they love Star Wars and after giving it a chance [they] just loved the idea of seeing what it was like for these two people – one on each side of the war.
In Lost Stars you reinvented a lot of those ‘huge moments’ from the original films. How much freedom did you have in reinterpreting those scenes?
I was given a ton of freedom on the book actually. A lot more than I was expecting. When I first got the email I was like, “Oh, they’re going to tell me what to write.” But that was not the case at all. I was given a fair amount of liberty as long as it didn’t conflict with canon in some way.
Did you ever have to change things around because you found out afterwards that your ideas conflicted with canon?
Originally, I had something where after the destruction of the Death Star I wanted the Devastator to be in one place and they were just like, “No. The Devastator isn’t there.” At first I wondered what I was going to do? But this is a universe that has things going on and you just have to work with that.
How excited are you for The Force Awakens? Do you have a little more insight as to what’s coming since you’ve been working on the books?
I specifically asked to know as little as I could possibly know. I really learned almost nothing for Lost Stars except stuff that everyone already knows by now – like that Jakku happened. Bloodline I had to learn a couple of things but neither of them were things I would consider to be too critical. I’m still going to be very surprised by the majority of the movie!
So far what’s been the absolute best part about working on Star Wars?
Mostly it’s just been great interacting with the fans. The people who enjoyed Lost Stars have just been so wonderful.
My happiest moment, though, was sometime this past winter when I realized that as a responsible adult with a career and mortgage that the single most important thing for me to do at that moment was to sit down and watch The Empire Strikes Back. I felt like some of my life choices must have been correct for this to have ever happened.
Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about your newest book, Defy the Stars, which was just announced.
What is it about science fiction that really appeals to you and encourages you to write so many stories within the genre?
If you’re a real geek can you ever really answer that question? For some reason, you know, I think at the core of all of us who are lifelong fanboys or fangirls you just feel like reality could be so much more interesting than it is. Even if you’re leading a really interesting life you’re always like, “But- but- but.”
I love asking ‘What if?” and imagining all the different ways something could play out.
What are some of the particular challenges that go into writing about science fiction?
It’s harder – because I’ve also written some paranormal books – when it’s science fiction or science fantasy because science is just not as malleable as magic. When you’re writing fantasy or magic you can really come up with different sort of exceptions and this and that. I didn’t realize how easy that was until I started working on the Firebird series. You have to obey to some sort of internal laws that feel like real science even if it isn’t. That, I think, is the tougher part of writing science fiction.
How did you come up with the idea of writing Defy the Stars?
You know, the actual genesis of this story came a few years ago when Prometheus came out. A lot of it had to do with Michael Fassbender’s performance as David 8. He just walked right into the uncanny valley and stayed there and it was great.
One area the movie didn’t really explore much but that was really interesting was the fact that Elizabeth Shaw was trying to really evaluate how much of David is machine. It’s this very tiny thing but I thought that was a really interesting thing they should have played with more. They have this person who has this other mission – her job is not to analyze this guy – but who spends time trying to figure out if she’s working with a machine or if she’s working with somebody. And that’s not going to be a question that has a really solid answer.
That idea then took root and became the idea of Defy the Stars.
I know the book has only just been announced but what can you tell us about Defy the Stars?
Defy the Stars is sort of like Interstellar meets Blade Runner. It takes place about three hundred years into the future. Earth has found a handful of other worlds. Now, most of them it’s very difficult for humans to live on but they can do it. But you have this one world – Genesis – which is very fertile, temperate, and perfect. Just perfect. And you have these people who have been settling it for many generations.
Earth is very much on it’s last legs and so they’re starting to get ready to come over and so the people on Genesis are kind of like, “Well, wait a minute. You want to come here and ruin this planet too? Do we have to let you do that? Are you just going to come and destroy everything that makes this place good?” They see themselves as protecting their own planet from having the same devastation wreaked on it that Earth has had. And of course the people on Earth feel like they are the one who set all this up and that the people on Genesis are just leaving them to die. It’s a war where there’s a decent argument on both sides of it.
Noemi is from Genesis and is very profoundly dedicated to protecting this world from that kind of wreckage. Able is a mech warrior from Earth but he’s also sort of an experimental prototype. He’s been given a lot more brain power, freedom, and personality than the average mech. I don’t want to get too spoilery but he has perhaps exceeded his creator’s plans for him in this respect.
So Noemi – who is very used to thinking of mechs as mere machines – has to try and deal with him. He does have a personality. He does have feelings. And he’s stuck obeying her even though her plans could result in him dying. You’ve got this sort of interesting dynamic where they sort of have to go around completing her mission. They’re very much on edge but the more they get to know each other and the more they work with each other the more Noemi starts to realize that maybe this isn’t really a machine but it’s still not a human being.
It’s a lot of fun to read.
How many books will be in the series?
Right now it’s two books. Though, I think with all these worlds and cultures and conflicts there would be room to tell a number of different stories – either through other books or novellas or stories.
So besides Earth and Genesis there are other planets we’ll get to explore in the series?
[In Defy the Stars] you’ve got these worlds that are all connected by artificial wormholes – these gates – that are all sort of in this loop. So you travel through this loop and you get to see all the other worlds and the different measures people have to take to live on them.
The ability to go and see all the different ways human society may start to play it out based on the environment and the culture they have there – I just think it’s a lot of fun!
Defy the Stars sounds like a very solid science fiction story and that’s not something we’ve seen too much of in young adult fiction so far.
Do you think the genre is going to start expanding more in that direction?
I think you’re seeing a lot of expansion in YA. For a long time people kept asking “What’s the next trend?” We’re seeing a lot more sci-fi but I don’t know if it’s going to be the next trend. I think YA is expanding as a category so much that I don’t think everything has to be a specific flavor any more. I do think you’re going to see a lot more science fiction, though, with Star Wars coming out and the success of things like the Martian and Gravity.
Do you think Defy the Stars will be able to draw in new readers to science fiction?
If you hadn’t read much science fiction Defy the Stars might actually be a very interesting place to start. You have Noemi leaving her planet – really leaving her planet for the first time – and she’s coming from a planet that has technology but doesn’t use technology the way these other worlds. She leaves a place that’s more like our world in some respects to go to these more fantastical realms. I think if you are a reader that hasn’t read a lot of science fiction yet your journey might mirror the journey she’s on.
What has been your favorite part about writing Defy the Stars?
One thing I really, really enjoy about Defy the Stars is the character Able and being in his head and viewing the world in a way that’s not totally human. I really, really have enjoyed writing that character. No one has ever dealt with anything like him before. He’s something entirely new. Getting into his head has been delightful. I think readers are going to really enjoy him as well.
I’ve really enjoyed the last few books you’ve written so I don’t doubt it!
Speaking of which, you’ve been pretty busy lately. You’re working on Star Wars and you’ve got two original young adult series releasing now. How do you manage to balance working on so many projects?
In all honesty, the word ‘balance’ doesn’t really come into it much. It was pretty daunting, actually. It was a lot of work. I don’t know if I’ll ever try to do this much at once again. I’m finally getting to venture out of the house!
A lot of the work that you have been doing and that you are doing – especially with Star Wars – is very focused on science fiction. Have you experienced challenges in writing sci-fi as a female author?
I have been extraordinarily lucky in that I have not so much. I think the thing I was most worried about was the reaction to Lost Stars but, again, enough readers gave it a chance and people and enjoyed it and so the blowback I maybe expected from telling that love story never came to pass. People have been by and large really great and supportive online.
You tend to write about a lot of strong, female protagonists in your own work. Do feel any pressure or obligation when it comes to creating those characters?
It doesn’t feel that different to me but I try to be careful in how I write things just so people don’t take it the wrong way. There’s a scene in Lost Stars where Ciena is being bullied and Thane stands up for her. There was a point where my editor was worried about the boy coming to save the girl and I had to be like, “No, no, it’s because there’s six of them and one of her. It’s not because she’s a girl. It’s because she’s severely outnumbered.” So I made sure to reword some of that to make it clearer. Ciena is by no means defenseless she’s just really disadvantaged in that scene.
Do you ever worry about including romantic elements to your science fiction novels and how that may be received?
No, not too much. I feel like what’s right for the story is what’s right for the story and if that’s a really big epic romance like it is in Lost Stars – and it’s organic to the kind of story that’s being told – I think people will respond to that. I never want to shoehorn something in because I think that’s what sets people on edge. But I don’t feel any particular need to particularly dwell on it or steer clear of it in any case.
The thing I wanted to do with Lost Stars that I thought was important was that [the romance] couldn’t be a distraction from the war it had to illustrate the war. Like, you see the great big battles and you see the galaxy pulling apart but here’s what it does to just two people. Like, look and see what it does to just two people.
If you just make romance a part of what’s going on then it works. You know, people didn’t really respond well to Anakin and Padme but they love Han and Leia.
With The Force Awakens coming out and a lot of the other new Star Wars books focusing on stronger female characters do you think as we move forward we’ll see more media embracing strong, female protagonists – especially in science fiction?
Do I hope there are going to be more interesting female roles that are going to be more complicated and varied? I hope so. I saw Mad Max: Fury Road five times in theatres. All the evidence is there that people want it, that people are excited about it. You just have to convince the gatekeepers of that. There are people out there who want to give us that and see that the audiences are ready for that and into it. I think you see it in books and you’re seeing it more and more in TV. Are we going to get in movies? Your guess is good as mine.
At least we have them in YA!
Honestly, I think these diverse female characters are one of the real gifts we’ve gotten from YA. We’ve allowed a whole lot of female protagonists to do a lot of different things. For a long time if you had a female protagonist she was probably either solving a murder or falling in love – or both. I think it’s been really interesting seeing people being brought up as warriors, prisoners, runaways – anything they could possibly be doing. I like that. I like that a lot.
Defy the Stars is currently expected to be released sometime in Spring 2017. He next book, Star Wars: Bloodline, is due out on March 29, 2016.