Ness Brown is joining us today to talk about their novel, The Scourge Between Stars. Here’s the publisher’s description:
As acting captain of the starship Calypso, Jacklyn Albright is responsible for keeping the last of humanity alive as they limp back to Earth from their forebears’ failed colony on a distant planet.
Faced with constant threats of starvation and destruction in the treacherous minefield of interstellar space, Jacklyn’s crew has reached their breaking point. As unrest begins to spread throughout the ship’s Wards, a new threat emerges, picking off crew members in grim, bloody fashion.
Jacklyn and her team must hunt down the ship’s unknown intruder if they have any hope of making it back to their solar system alive.
What’s Ness’s favorite bit?
The Scourge Between Stars follows a generation starship on an ill-fated, hangdog return journey to Earth after its failure to colonize a nearby exoplanet. Though the story focuses on the desperate efforts of acting captain Jacklyn Albright to save the ship from starvation, decay, and bloodthirsty alien intruders, my favorite bit is actually the fleeting descriptions of the world that thwarted humanity’s last-ditch attempt at survival: Proxima b.
In addition to being an author, I am an astrophysics graduate student and a former astronomy instructor. I spent six years teaching a course on astrobiology: the study of the origin of and conditions necessary for life beyond Earth. One of the most fulfilling aspects of the class was showing students the beautiful sequence of apparent cosmic coincidences that led to our birth, and seeing their realization of how precious we are. One of the most rewarding aspects of writing The Scourge Between Stars was getting to combine my professional passion for the stars with my long-time love of space horror, by incorporating real astronomical discoveries into a cautionary tale about space colonization.
Exoplanets, short for extrasolar planets, are planets orbiting stars other than our own. We first confirmed their existence thirty years ago and currently know of over five thousand in our galaxy, with many more waiting to be discovered. This is an exciting time in astronomy because, although we cannot yet directly image any exoplanet, we are getting closer to being able to predict conditions on these worlds with our modern observational techniques and high-powered space telescopes.
The next closest star to us after the Sun is Alpha Centauri, which is actually a system of three stars. The smallest and closest of these is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star that frequently throws magnetic tantrums and releases intense flares. It is also the star that hosts the planet from which the colonists are fleeing in The Scourge Between Stars. This exoplanet, Proxima b, is famously in its star’s habitable zone—the region around the star where it should be possible for the surface to sustain liquid water—but its habitability is still up for debate.
No one currently knows what exactly conditions are like on this world, but I had a great deal of fun peppering the story with quick mentions of what Proxima b could be like according to the information we have recovered so far: a barren world regularly lashed by storms from its star, perhaps baked by harsh light on one side and frozen in darkness on the other, maybe only livable at the terminator where temperatures just barely allow life as we know it. I tried to think of what these conditions would mean for a human colony – and any indigenous lifeforms that might arise there.
Given the choice, I would have devoted several pages to how Proxima b, despite representing humanity’s last chance at survival, is actually a punishing landscape where only the hardiest—and most dangerous—life can survive. Shockingly, this is likely the case for most known exoplanets. Among the thousands we know of, we have yet to confirm the existence of one as lush and hospitable as Earth, meaning that we would find it just as difficult as Jacklyn and her crew to find another home in the galaxy.
Although The Scourge Between Stars is a fast-paced horror-action novella with high stakes, brutal gore, and a monster hunt, I hope that between the jump scares readers catch the subtle reminder that in the pursuit of space exploration and new worlds, we should never forget the rarity of the one we came from.
NESS BROWN is a speculative fiction author by day and astrophysicist by night. They are a proud New Mexican living in New York City (and missing green chile) with their husband and two cats, Faust and Mephi. They are currently studying graduate astrophysics after several years of teaching astronomy and encouraging students to wonder about worlds beyond our own. The Scourge Between Stars is their debut.