The Light Years is the new sci-fi novel from debut author R. W. W. Greene. The book is set in a far future where arranged marriages have taken on a whole new life in an age of space travel.
Before Hisako Saski is even born, her parents arrange a marriage contract for her. In exchange for a boost out of poverty, and to pay for her education in faster-than-light travel, Hisako will marry Adem Sadiq, a musician and maintenance engineer who works the trade lanes aboard his family’s sub-light starship, The Hajj.
The bride-to-be is understandably not thrilled with the idea of marrying who she perceives to be a pampered stranger. But sparks fly when the betrothed finally meet, except they’re not the kind that necessarily lead to light years of a happy marriage…
We had a quick Q&A with Greene about his new novel, and where the idea for it came from.
This book is an unusual blend of ideas — relativity, refugees, devolution, folk music, and arranged marriages. Where did they all come from?
R. W. W. Greene: The Light Years revealed itself as a short story first (‘Love In The Time Of Light Speed’). We’d just gotten home from the 2014 Boskone (an annual sci-fi convention in Boston), and I was buzzing from all the panels and conversations and thinking about the week of classes ahead. At the time I was teaching at a really diverse high school and I had all these kids – Indian kids, Hispanic kids, gay kids, trans kids, kids from the Middle East – and their lives stomping around in my brain.
The story downloaded into my head while I showered off the convention. As soon as I turned the water off, I grabbed a towel and hit the writing room. About a year after that I started expanding the thing into a novel.
Conditions planetside are a bleak backdrop to this book. In what ways does it represent how you feel about the future of our planet?
RWWG: The book is set 1,000-plus years from now, centuries after humanity has left Earth and gone looking for an unspoiled planet. I’d love to say I’m optimistic about our ability to curtail the climate crisis, but our priorities remain well out of whack. As a species we’ll probably survive. We’re nothing if not adaptable, and we’ve been controlling our own evolution since we figured out how to sharpen sticks. But ‘surviving’ and ‘living’ are not the same thing. It’s really nice to go outside without an environmental suit.
I’d also like to say I’m sanguine about our ability to become starfarers and try the ‘civilisation’ thing again somewhere else, but I’m becoming less confident of that, and I suspect we might find a way to louse that up, too.
The Light Years deals with themes of family responsibility and obligations, especially those of parental hopes and expectations for their children. Were there any real life moments that shaped your thoughts on this narrative?
RWWG: This is where my students come in again. I taught high school for 12 years and met scores of parents who wanted their kids to have better lives than they’d had themselves. Parents who didn’t speak English, who’d lived in refugee camps, who’d left everything they’d known behind… And sometimes aspiration is a gamble. A few years ago, I taught a young woman whose father had been arrested and deported as an undocumented immigrant. The young woman’s mother decided to leave the U.S, too, in order to be with her husband. Meantime, this young woman, a U.S citizen, was 17 years old and in the middle of her senior year. She had grown up in New Hampshire and was now faced with moving to Honduras, someplace she’d never been, or losing her family. Parents, good parents, make their best guess about what’s going to provide the most benefit for their kids, but it doesn’t always work out.
Have you recently be wowed by an idea or concept in science fiction?
RWWG: I’ve loved the expansion of the genre through translated works. I loved Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein In Baghdad, the Three Body series and Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu, Keren Landsman’s The Heart Of The Circle…
Netflix has been great for this, too, at least in the States. There’s 3% from Brazil, Ice Fantasy and The Wandering Earth from China, The Protector from Turkey … It’s a wealth of idea and perspective and entertainment.
Representation matters. Carl Sagan on seeing Star Wars wondered why all the humans in it were white. What wows me the most, and I’m going back to my classroom for this, is that my students are beginning to see themselves in these crazy futures and fantastic worlds we’re dreaming together.
The Light Years is released by Angry Robot Books on 11 February 2020. Get all the latest book news and reviews with every issue of SciFiNow.