Steve Statham is an editor, freelance writer, and photographer who has turned a lifelong love of speculative fiction into a second writing career. Along with short stories and two standalone novels, he has authored two sci-fi series. The first, his four-book Connor Rix SF thrillers, follows the adventures of a bio-enhanced private investigator. The second is Gods and the Starways, a series that brings readers the remnant of humanity a thousand years after they flee an alien invasion of Earth under the protection of god-like beings. Steve’s most recent release is Gods and the Stars (2018), the second of his Starways space opera books. You’ll find Steve on his website at SteveStatham.com and on Facebook. For a look at his nonfiction automotive work, visit StathamCommunications.com.
What sparked the initial story idea for Gods and the City, the first book in your Gods and the Starways series? When did you realize the story was strong enough to continue on to a second book?
I’d been working steadily on my Connor Rix series of sci-fi thrillers, and had also written a contemporary fantasy, but I was really champing at the bit to write space opera. I’ve always loved reading far-flung space adventure, and Gods and The City was going to be the first of what I hoped would be many in that genre. The spark that lit the whole thing was an image I had in my brain of an actual living, breathing god walking through a city, an immensely powerful protector created through technology to guard humanity against all external threats. As I started building a story around that idea, I wanted to create my own pantheon of gods, with their own powers and personalities, and weave them into the lives of a future human society. I always envisioned it as a two-book tale. I originally thought they would be two fast-paced novellas, but, as writers discover all the time, once you start a story it takes on a life of its own, and word-counts climb.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the Starways books?
The story takes place a thousand years after an alien invasion. Humanity barely escaped extermination on Earth, and the descendants of the survivors are living hidden in a domed city on a moon around a distant gas giant. They’ve been protected this whole time by powerful and mysterious gods. So there are no common frames of reference with the reader—their culture, technology, recent history, religious practices, all had to be created from the ground up. Working with a clean sheet like that is liberating, but also a lot of work because you have to think up every last detail. And then in the second book the reader is introduced to the workings of the alien Otrid culture, which I also built from the ground up. That’s part of the fun of being a writer, but it’s also difficult to pull off.
What unique challenges did book two, Gods and the Stars, pose for you?
In the first book, the alien Otrid are a mysterious foe. What’s known about them is mostly rumor, or cloudy history written in the aftermath of their invasion of Earth. That’s fine as the story begins, but it’s unsatisfying for the reader to not get the alien experience that makes space opera so fun to read. So in Gods and the Stars I wanted to have an alien point-of-view character so the reader could understand their motivations. That alien society had to be plausible and interesting, yet wholly unique and strange at the same time. Constructing that society was a challenge, but that’s part of the reason people seek out space opera—they want to be amazed by concepts they’ve never encountered before.
Tell us a little about the main characters in the Starways series. Whose point of view did you enjoy writing the most?
The story mostly revolves around Talia and Mik, and they are basically just regular people who have to step up and do extraordinary things. Talia is an acolyte in the temple of the protector god named Tower, and Mik is a Fixer who works repairing the complex underground infrastructure of The City. Some people view Mik’s job condescendingly, as it is well known that Tower, being a god, runs and maintains all the machinery that keeps the human race alive. But Mik is so good at his job he finds things that get overlooked even by the god. I really enjoyed writing Mik. But I also found I enjoyed writing Vance. He started out as a minor character, but I expanded his role as the books developed. He’s a happily married family man who nonetheless feels constricted by the limitations of living under a dome. He forms a secret society that creates elaborate challenges for like-minded people to test themselves physically and mentally, qualities that come in handy after the Otrid discover where humanity is hiding.
After writing four novels in the Connor Rix SF Thrillers series, did your protagonist still surprise you? What did you focus on in these stories to keep readers coming back for more?
Connor Rix definitely still surprises me as the series plays out. Rix is a bio-enhanced private investigator in a near-future setting. He’s got a variety of modifications that give him superhuman strength, and he’s the guy you call when you have a problem with a violent superhuman outlaw. For a series like this, each book has to tell a complete story, but I have to plan an overall character arc where his fortunes change over time. For example, from the first book to the fourth, Rix evolves from a man who uses a variety of aliases to maintain anonymity to a guy whose identity gets exposed after he cracks a high-profile case, and will have to deal with fame from then on. As for keeping readers coming back, I know fans of the series enjoy the crazy bio-engineered enhancements I come up with, and so in each book I try to top myself. This kind of future is right around the corner, and you just know that as soon as someone comes up with functional cybernetic implants and safe steroids, people will be knocking down the doors to get to them.
Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
In the science-fiction field, Robert Silverberg has long been one of my favorites. He’s such a complete pro, insanely productive, makes it look easy, and each book is completely different from the last. Gene Wolf is so good it’s not even funny. Reading The Fifth Head of Cerberus just left me in awe of his skills, and The Book of the New Sun is a masterpiece. I like Peter F. Hamilton for the grand scale of his books. Dan Simmons doesn’t write much SF anymore, but when he did, I devoured them. Lots of indies are producing good work now too, and I’ve been trying a lot of new names recently. It’s a great time for discovering new voices in science-fiction.
Of all your novels, which one was the most challenging to write and which was the most enjoyable?
Fight for the Night had a difficult birth. It was supposed to be part of a shared universe series of weird post-apocalypse books, but then the publisher pulled the plug on the whole project. So I had to rewrite it to make sense as a stand-alone. It’s kind of an orphan, but I get a lot of positive feedback on that book. As for enjoyable, I really enjoyed creating the multiverse fantasy Strange Trails. I think it’s one of my best books, but it just never got traction. If you read it, you’re in an—ahem—elite group.
If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for?
Well, if we’re being granted wishes and a time machine, I’d want to go back and write the script for the third movie in the Alien franchise. I first saw Alien cold, had heard nothing about it, and it just blew me away. Aliens was a great sequel, building on the mysteries of the first movie. Then it all went to hell. As much as I love the first two movies, I hate Alien 3 in equal measure. And Alien Resurrection was just vile. The new ones aren’t much better. They just completely lost the plot, one of the great missed opportunities in science-fiction history. So magically swooping in and making a third movie that doesn’t suck would be my movie fantasy. If the time machine was down for maintenance that week, though, I wouldn’t mind being asked to collaborate on a Rick and Morty script over Happy Hour.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a new space opera series about a powerful ruler seeking to break the monopoly on interstellar travel held by one particular alien civilization. I have a short story completed that provides background on the protagonist and am well along in the first novel. I think I’ve also broken the logjam on getting the rights reverted on my out-of-print nonfiction automotive history books, so I’m looking at revising and updating them, and releasing them independently in 2019.
Great interview. I really enjoy the ongoing Connor Rix stories. A good combination of near future SciFi and adventure.
I agree. Steve does a great job building his worlds and his characters, and throws in adventure and tech on top of it. Thanks for dropping by!