And I've got a lot for you, including an interview with Phoebe North, the book's trailer, and a giveaway!
by Phoebe North
to be published by Simon & Schuster BFYR
on July 16, 2013
Connect with the author: www.phoebenorth.com | twitter.com/phoebenorth
Summary from Goodreads: Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a job that doesn't interest her, and living with a grieving father who only notices her when he's yelling, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she's got. But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain's guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath her ship's idyllic surface. As she's drawn into a secret rebellion determined to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares most about. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the decision of a lifetime--one that will determine the fate of her people.My take: Starglass is an intelligent and thought-provoking book with a timeless feel, a sci-fi story that also is rich with coming-of-age and political themes. As the book opens, Terra is angry and heartbroken at her mother's untimely death, and chafes at all the restrictions placed on her by the ship's Council, which controls reproduction and assigns jobs to all residents. As the story unfolds, Terra is drawn into a life-or-death struggle between opposing factions on the ship.
For book set on a spaceship, there isn't a strong sci-fi vibe -- I was expecting talk of stuff like particle accelerators and thrust vector control. Because the ship's residents have been on the ship for centuries, they're more like a social experiment in isolation than a futuristic society. And indeed, Starglass is more focused on human behavior than cool gadgets, using the Asherah as a setting in which competing social factions plot and clash. After Terra stumbles on a murder, she's placed right in the crossfire, pulled in one direction by those who appeal to her rebellious side and by others who appeal to her romantic one.
Starglass is definitely strong on characterization. The book does not offer obvious heroes and villains, but a group of characters who are complex and multi-faceted. In many ways, Terra is a typical teenager, her mood alternating between prickly and ebullient. In other ways, she seems like a relic beamed in from the past. Absent any modern technology or cool space age gadgets, Terra perches in a tree with her sketchbook, dreaming of the boy who will come and sweep her off her feet. But as the book progresses, she definitely has to face some unpleasant truths about her community, her family, and even herself.
Starglass is beautifully written and raises interesting political and philosophical issues. How can a small, fragile society balance order with freedom, the need for practicality and survival with a human yearning for joy? Starglass serves up plenty of thought-provoking questions, but doesn't offer any glib and easy answers.
I'm excited that Phoebe North, author of Starglass, could stop by and chat about the book!
Jen: Hi, Phoebe, and welcome! I find Starglass a difficult book to categorize. There are sci-fi elements, it's a coming of age story, and there are also strong political and philosophical themes. How do you describe it?
Phoebe: I consider Starglass soft sci-fi, which is a large umbrella term for any science fiction that focuses on the "soft" rather than the "hard" sciences like physics or biology--instead centering on subjects like sociology and anthropology. My primary concern here, aside from Terra's coming of age (and the novel is certainly in many ways a bildungsroman) was on the society of the Asherah and on how people function in highly restrictive situations. There are elements of dystopia, certainly, but I saw them more as an artifact of the setting rather than the novel's primary focus.
Jen: Given the fact that you are a sci-fi fan and former sci-fi book blogger, I was definitely surprised that Starglass didn't feel as science-heavy as I expected. How did you decide how much scientific explanation to incorporate?
Phoebe: It's funny you say that, because I definitely did a *lot* of research on the path to writing Starglass, from habitable planets to the minimum population necessary to maintain genetic variation in a closed society to constant acceleration drives to genetically modified crops! But I used a method that Jo Walton terms "incluing" to incorporate all of this science into the novel. When a writer utilizes incluing, he or she will scatter worldbuilding throughout via word choice and setting details. This reduces the need for tiresome infodumps, but it necessitates putting a lot of trust in your readership. The best science fiction feels, in some ways, like a mystery, where the reader has to put together the clues of the world as he or she goes along. That was my hope with Starglass, that while the world might feel a little dense or strange at the outset (readers might puzzle over things like children being born in hatcheries), they'll come to innately understand the universe by the novel's end.
Jen: I was definitely a little puzzled at the outset, especially by the Yiddish words! So, the original inhabitants of the Asherah were secular Jews who boarded the ship centuries ago to escape a meteor that threatened Earth. Their descendants -- the characters in Starglass -- still retain some vestiges of their Jewish heritage, but have abandoned or modified other religious practices. Can you talk a little bit about the role that religion plays in your story?
Phoebe: My own religious background is mixed; my father was a broadly spiritual Christian, while my mother was raised Orthodox Jewish. We grew up with both a Christmas tree and a menorah! While I consider myself agnostic, I still find myself enacting the cultural rituals of either religion, decorating our house with string lights every winter and saying prayers over shabbos candles on Friday nights. I've always been fascinated by the way that religious traditions can permeate a culture even when most members of that culture aren't devout, for example in the way the debates about gay marriage and abortion have played out in contemporary America. And my interest in Judaism, specifically, has been long-lived. I feel more culturally Jewish than I do Christian--though maybe some of this comes from my own awareness of the matrilineal nature of Judaism. But I know that my own Jewish heritage is largely invisible to others, due to my last name, my tattoos, my fair coloring, or the fact that I never had a Bat Mitzvah.
Though I've always been fascinated by these tensions, I didn't consciously set out to write a Jewish science fiction story when I began Starglass. Terra's last name, Fineberg, was initially a placeholder, stolen from my mother's side of the family. In fact, in those first early pages of what would become Starglass, I littered the book with generic sci-fi worldbuilding. But something was missing. I needed a grounding element for my world, something that would be naturalistic and real, but still add texture to the story. And I hit upon using the Yiddish of my grandparents' home in place of some invented language. It felt very natural to me--after all, I pepper my own casual speech with Yiddish, despite the fact that I don't truly speak the language. And I was beyond pleased with the result. It added quite a bit of nuance to the dystopian elements; there's nothing quite as off-putting as misappropriated religion. But I also found that it was a natural way to work out my own feelings about Judaism in diaspora, about cultural heritage, and about my own religious inheritance even as I've found myself stepping away from religious belief.
Jen: On the Asherah, marriage and reproduction are carefully controlled. Yet Terra, your main character, has vivid dreams about her bashert -- her soulmate. Can you explain the concept and your decision to introduce it into a society where romantic love isn't always possible? Also, how does the idea of a bashert compare with the much maligned YA trope of instalove?
Phoebe: Ooh, good question. In truth, I don't think that Terra's yearning for her bashert is much different from our own cultural myths about soulmates, even in our own imperfect society with a high divorce rate. The ability to choose one's spouse doesn't making *finding* your perfect match any less difficult, and yet stories of soulmates and flawless YA boys abound.
The reason I believe that these stories are common in media for teenagers is that many teenagers yearn to be understood. And what is instalove if it's not that? You meet a boy, lock eyes, and suddenly you're no longer strange or sad or alone. You're recognized as a good, worthy individual who can experience things like perfect friendship and love (and maybe some kissing too). It's an appealing myth for girls who might doubt their own self worth. What they're really looking for is not just love, but validation and recognition. And wanting that external validation from a partner is totally understandable, even if the way it plays out in fiction isn't always quite believable.
Within the story of Starglass, Terra stands out as quite strange within her society, a side-effect of being a parentless child and the daughter of an alcoholic on a ship full of seemingly-perfect nuclear families. Her anxiety over her ability to fit in is both palpable and realistic; it ISN'T always possible to find your true love in your small home town. And Terra tries, of course, with both Silvan and Koen--but as she's doing so, she's forcing herself into a mold that doesn't quite fit. The dreams that Terra has, meanwhile, are quite embarrassing to her. There's nothing in her societal narrative to explain them. But she needs to embrace the strange, terrifying parts of herself in order to get what she wants. She has to recognize her desires, her history, and even her very self as worthy.
And that's where Starglass ends--with an act of self-validation that is, in some ways, a really strange, scary choice. Terra needs to finally embrace the fact that she is worthy of love to reach the climactic ending of the first novel, when she's spent the majority of it denying and repressing her desires. Which isn't to say that what follows in the second book comes easily, but I'm of the opinion that love is always better for us when we love ourselves, first.
Jen: Given the ending, I figured there was more story to come, and I saw on Goodreads that the sequel will be called Starbreak and be released in 2014. Have you finished writing? Can you give us any hints about what's to come in the story?
Phoebe: Starbreak is all finished! I absolutely adore this book. It's the novel I always wanted to write, ever since I was a thirteen-year-old obsessed with space and aliens. Which, um, might be telling you something about the world you'll see in the sequel! But at it's heart, it's a love story--not a particularly easy one (I like to make Terra's life difficult for her, frankly) but one that I hope feels as real and well-earned to readers as it does to me.
Here's Phoebe's bio, and below that, the book trailer AND an amazing giveaway!
Starglass Book Trailer from Phoebe North on Vimeo.
a Rafflecopter giveaway