Alma Alexander is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Second Star. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Parada had been lost for almost two hundred years before they recovered the ship, drifting in stygian interstellar darkness, and brought her home again.
But that was not the miracle.
The miracle was that the crew was still alive.
That was also the problem.
Six crew members went out on the Parada, Earth’s first starship. All contact was lost, and the ship vanished for almost two centuries. When the Parada’s successor found the drifting ship and somehow managed to bring it home, the six crew members were not only still alive but barely older, due to the time dilation effects of near-FTL travel. Their return was a miracle – but it could not be revealed to the waiting world. The problem was, six individuals went out to the stars. More than seventy fractured personalities came back.
Psychologist Stella Froud and Jesuit Father Philip Carter were recruited as part of the team assembled to investigate the mystery, and to try and help the Parada’s crew understand their condition and possibly reverse it. What they discovered was a deepening mystery, and very soon they found themselves forced to take sides in a conflict that nobody could have possibly predicted. Their world would never be the same again.
What’s Alma’s favorite bit?
One of the questions this book asks – one of many questions it poses – is if you can in fact “go home again” – the place you belong to, or used to belong to; the place you are “from” and which you always carry inside of you, no matter how far away from it you wander. Can you leave home, to find another? And is it even possible to go back to your original point of origin, after you have left it and have been changed by the world beyond?
As someone who is a little mythical in this regard – I was born in a country which no longer exists, which means that I literally cannot ever “go home” again” – this is something that I have thought about many times.
In “The Second Star”, I posit a future where the crew of Earth’s first starship, lost in space for almost 200 of our years, is returned home, having aged only just under three years ship-time as a factor of close-to-lightspeed travel. Not only do they come home to a world changed by centuries of passing time, they also return sufficiently changed, themselves, so that they find themselves unable to recover the place they thought they’d held in the world they have carried in their memory. They do not fit together any more, in a comfortable way. There are edges now where no edges have been before. Things hurt; they chafe. And yet… and yet they’ve come HOME.
Here’s one of my characters, ‘The Poet’, musing upon the subject:
When I was a child, I dwelled in a garden with high walls, and I was safe there, and contented, and protected, and nothing evil could ever happen to me there because this was home, and it was a happy place, full of light. I thought it was the whole world, and I was ready to accept that world, those walls, those boundaries, because they kept me safe and happy. And I was young, and innocent, and I knew only that comfort that surrounded me and gave me value in the context of that place, and shaped me into that small young thing ignorant of all but only the things that I knew were real to me because I could touch and taste and smell them, and happy in that ignorance.
But I grew up, and I have passed the gates, and I have been beyond the walls. And I have seen the shadows that teem on the outside, the shadows with claws and with teeth and with terrible glowing eyes of hunger and covetousness, the shadows that would devour you. I have seen them and I have known the fear of them. But I have faced them, and I have faced that fear, and I understand now without those shadows, even just the stories of those shadows, the light in that childhood garden could never have been so beloved and so bright. I have stood outside the walls, and they look so small, so fragile, from here – and yet I know, I remember clearly, how high and how strong they seemed to me when I dwelt within them. I have left the garden of my childhood and I have walked the wilderness that lies all around it and I have fought its traps and its monsters and sometimes I win and sometimes I lose – but there is one thing I never knew, before I stepped into that wild desert, and that is that the place is stark, and deadly, and beautiful beyond all reason. It isn’t safe. It isn’t protected. But it is free, and its shadows sing, and the songs are sung with the voices of dark angels, and once you have heard those songs you are lost forever…
You can never return, you know. You can never come home again, not truly home, you can never come back to that safe and happy garden where you were a child. Because the wilderness leaves its seeds in you, and the seeds sprout no matter how hard you try to stop them, and something takes root inside of you and in the fullness of time it blooms – a flower that is dark, so dark, and yet it is velvet to the touch and it is full of stars, and its name is yearning – a yearning for what you know is out there, will always be out there, the knowledge that there is always more…
This book gave me the opportunity to ask the question that has haunted me… and the place to tell in with all the poetry of love and loss that I think any answer to such a question must so richly deserve.
Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination.