Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants (Canada, USA, Europe) made quite an impression on me when I read it a few weeks back.
Here's the blurb:
A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power. A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand. Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected. But some can never stop searching for answers. Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
And with the sequel, Waking Gods (Canada, USA, Europe), coming out soon, I got in touch with the author to see if he'd like to chat with me, and voilà! Here's our interview!
- What's the 411 on Sylvain Neuvel? Tell us a bit about your background?
Dad. Nerd. I love toys about as much as my son does. I dropped out of high school at 15, travelled a lot. I went back to school for a BA. Moved to Chicago, got a Ph.D. Did I mention I love toys?
- Without giving too much away, can you give us a taste of the tale that is SLEEPING GIANTS?
It starts with an eleven-year-old girl who falls through the ground and finds herself lying in the palm of a giant metal hand. Seventeen years later, she’s reunited with it as a physicist and leads a team of pilots and scientists, scouring the planet for more giant body parts. It’s a treasure hunt. It’s about humanity and our place in the universe. It’s about human nature and how we can’t escape it.
- Are you happy with the way SLEEPING GIANTS has been received thus far?
Wow. This is a book I was going to self-publish. Fast-forward a couple years, I’m at Del Rey, SLEEPING GIANTS is a USA Today bestseller, finalist for Best Science Fiction on Goodreads. It’s being translated in twenty languages. Yeah, I’m happy. :)
- How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t tried your books before?
I write accessible science fiction. I like stories that are well grounded in reality. I also like my readers to think for themselves. I try to make them work, participate in the storytelling.
- I heard that you meant to self-publish the book at first, but you then changed your mind. Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?
I queried about fifty-five agents for Sleeping Giants. They all turned me down, so I decided to self-publish. I wanted a quote to put on the cover, so I sent the manuscript to Kirkus Reviews, hoping I could salvage a couple words from their review. They loved it. The day they put their review online, I got an email from a Hollywood producer, then another and another. A week later I had a movie agent at CAA, the movie rights sold to Sony. I found a literary agent in New York and we chose to go with Del Rey.
- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write the Themis Files in the first place?
I started this book as an excuse to make toys for my son. He wanted a backstory for a robot I offered to build for him. That turned something completely different, but it’s still his fault.
- Immersive Pictures bought the rights to make a film adaptation with Sony Pictures Entertainment. Are there any news on that front? Are you involved in any way in the project?
There are so many steps to go from book to screen. There is already a script, written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man, etc.). Things are happening, slowly. I hope to have some news in the near future.
- The sequel, WAKING GODS, is about to be released. What can you tell readers about it?
NOTHING! Kidding. I’m really excited about Waking Gods. It’s darker than the first one, faster. For those looking for answers, there are some in there, some new questions as well. It begins nine years after the events of Sleeping Giants, when another giant robot shows up in the middle of London.
- Advance reviews have begun to appear online. Given that the second volume often makes or break a series, are you satisfied with the response the book has been getting now that pub date is just around the corner?
Very much so. Writing it was a very different experience. It’s the first book I wrote someone had already bought, so I felt some pressure, but I was really happy with the result. I’m working on the third now.
- Will you be touring during the course of the spring/summer to promote WAKING GODS? If so, are there any specific convention dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
Nothing yet. I’m not going anywhere in the Spring. I have a launch for WAKING GODS at Indigo in Montreal on April 4th, which also coincides with the release of the French edition of SLEEPING GIANTS. I’ll let everyone know where I’m going later this year on social media.
- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels in the Themis Files? Any tentative titles and release dates?
No title yet. No date either. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came about out a year after WG.
- The dossier-like structure of SLEEPING GIANTS, with its series of recorded interviews and journal entries, is unusual. Did you tinker with various narrative structures early on before electing to go with that particular format, or was this how you set out to write your debut from the very beginning?
I played with it a bit. I like dialogue, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick to a single point of view, switch every chapter, etc. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea for the interviewer and it all clicked. He’s not only one of the most important characters, he’s also the glue that holds everything together.
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
I work hard. That’s pretty much it.
- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?
I’m always trying to improve. Waking Gods was fun to write because I’d learned so much writing the first book. I’m getting better at plotting, figuring out what angle to use, what to say and what not to say. I hope I keep getting better.
- Were there any perceived conventions of the science fiction genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write the Themis Files series?
SPOILERS AHEAD!!! I wrote a book about a giant robot. I really went out of my way not to go the route everyone expected me to take. In many ways, I wrote an anti-Pacific Rim.
- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?
The series is more or less what I intended it to be. I added one major character for Waking Gods while writing it. These books are hard to structure. It’s not so much the story as it is how to cut it, which character to use, so I need things to be pretty well set before I can write anything.
- What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many speculative fiction authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?
I admire people who have managed to write good books year in and year out for a long time. My first reading was with Robert J. Sawyer, who’s a real hero of mine. I was so intimidated. I introduced myself by noting that we had twenty-three published novels between the two of us. They were all his, mine wasn’t out yet. As far as who and what I read, it varies wildly.
- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?
I would probably take the New York Times, just because it would mean I’m reaching a wider audience. One of the things that keeps coming up in reviews for SLEEPING GIANTS is: “I don’t read sci-fi, but…”. I like that. I really like that. I’d be incredibly honored to win any award, though. Can I get both?
- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with them on social media and other online platforms?
We live in very different times than those I grew up in. When I was a kid reading Michael Crichton, it would never have occurred to me to write to him, I mean never, but that’s the way things work now, and I love it. I think it’s fantastic that people take the time to write to authors they like, and every time I have a signing at a convention, I encourage people to let me know what they think after they’ve read the book.
- How has your interaction with fans and critics colored your choices in terms of characterization and plot? Has there ever been anything that you've changed due to such interaction in WAKING GODS and what will come next?
No. Writing by committee is never a good idea.
- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the covers that grace your books?
I must have done something right in another life, because I’ve had the craziest luck with covers for this series. Both the US and UK covers for Sleeping Giants are absolutely splendid, same for Waking Gods. Both have been on lists for best cover of the year. It really makes a difference. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. I’ll admit I judge books by their covers before I buy them.
- According to George R. R. Martin, most authors are either architects, who write novels based on detailed outlines, or gardeners, who have a general idea of where the storylines are going but prefer to watch things grow as they go along. Which type of writer are you and why do you prefer that approach?
Architect or gardener, plotter or pantser. I’m definitely an architect. I usually start with two or three really strong visuals: girl in a giant hand, that sort of thing, and I plot the story around those. Then I divide it in parts, I cut those into scenes and I detail the key moments in each one. Then I start writing. I wish I could just jump into it without a safety net, but I can’t. Writing is really fun for me, but it’s still work, and work is always better if you plan ahead.
- If your readers could only take one thing away from having read SLEEPING GIANTS and WAKING GODS (apart from enjoying the read) what would you want that thing to be?
I want people to find their own answers to interesting questions. That whole series is about us, what it means to be human, to be you. If I can get people to think about those themes, I’ve done my job. It’s the questions that matter. Fun too.
- Neil Gaiman said of Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, “...It’s a rich red wine, which may come as a shock if all one has had so far has been cola.” If SLEEPING GIANTS was a drink, which one would it be? Would you recommend downing it in one shot or sipping it slowly...?
Well, I like wine, but it’s in the question so let’s be more creative… How about we make it a Darth Vader. Rum, Apple liquor, Earl Grey Tea, Ginger. You drink it the way you want to, but a lot of people mention they’ve read SLEEPING GIANTS in one sitting.
- Anything else you wish to share with us?
I’m making a samurai Stormtrooper costume. That’s all I have to say.