Sylvain Neuvel talks robots, sci-fi and WAKING GODS.

Sylvain Neuvel burst onto the science fiction scene last year with his debut hit, Sleeping Giants, a 2016 Fantasy Literature favorite. The sequel, Waking Gods, is available on April 4, 2017. Tadiana and Jason were able to borrow a little time from the French Canadian author to learn about his passion for science fiction, backwards-bending knees, and the second novel in his THEMIS series, Waking Gods. After reading the interview, check out our reviews of of the new novel.

One random commenter with a USA mailing address will win a copy of Waking Gods. See below for details.

Jason Golomb: You reference that you’re a “Director of translation services and a software engineer for a Montreal company.” At what point do you become a” full time” professional writer, considering the success of THE THEMIS FILES and that you’ve also contributed to Star Wars ‘canon’?

Photo of Sylvain Neuvel, Credit James Andrew RosenSylvain Neuvel: Good question. I wrote books 1 and 2 with a full time job but it was a bit much. I work two days a week now. I’ve been self-employed for most of my life, had no retirement money. I have a house, a son. I try to be prudent. I actually like having something else to do besides writing. It helps clear my mind. If things keep going the way they’re going, that something could just be a hobby: more robotics, lion taming, part-time astronaut. We’ll see. I feel no pressure about the “full time” thing. I don’t think it means much. I live well. I do what I love. There’s no point in making it more stressful than it needs to be.

Tadiana Jones: It’s apparent you used your linguistics degrees in Sleeping Giants. How have you approached working your passion and profession of linguistics, and morphology, into THE THEMIS FILES? And have you given any thought to incorporating those concepts further in this series?

I made a conscious effort not to bring too much linguistics into Sleeping Giants. Linguist writing about aliens, everyone expects Klingon. That said, there’s plenty of room in that series to do things I didn’t do in the first book, and there is a linguist on-board Themis. I might put him to work at some point.

TJ: We were impressed with how you raised the stakes in Waking Gods, both on a global level and on an individual one. You made some difficult choices with two characters in particular. What was your thought process in deciding how and why to take some of the more controversial plot turns?

Some decisions are tougher than others. I love those characters. But my main concern is always the story, and part of what makes this one interesting is that it’s grounded in real life. I don’t want to spoil Waking Gods, but we can talk about Sleeping Giants. Vincent’s accident serves the plot in a very obvious way, but I could have kept a certain character alive. Killing that character in book 1 was heartbreaking, but I also felt I needed to remind everyone that what these people are doing is inherently dangerous. For the same reason, I chose to let nine years go by between the events of Sleeping Giants and the beginning of Waking Gods. I didn’t want these people’s lives to turn into Murder She Wrote, where something bad happens every single time the main character gets out of her house. The Themis discovery turned my characters’ lives upside down, but I felt they had to have a few quiet Tuesday nights in front of the TV before I put them through hell again.

JG: You’ve stated that you’re a big fan of science fiction. What top 4 or 5 novels or films do you look back on as the greatest influences in building the world of Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods?

I loved Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I was younger. I still do. It’s a movie about first contact with aliens, but half of it is one man playing with mashed potatoes and ruining his backyard. It’s very human. Contact is the same way. The alien part of the story really takes a backseat to the human element. It’s a book, or a movie, about us, not them. The concept behind The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton, is somewhat similar to mine, documenting the work of a team of scientists, all with an alien twist. That book even has a fake bibliography at the end. I loved that. There are bits and pieces of other things I love in THE THEMIS FILES: Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. If I’m allowed to go outside of science fiction, there’s a bit of Tom Clancy in there as well.

TJ: Since reading Sleeping Giants I’ve been trying to figure out if backwards-bending knees in a two-legged humanoid being are actually practical for walking and running. Did you do any research or create any drawings to work out the concept?

Well, they have an extra joint. More points of articulation means more possibilities. They could walk better than we can. And I didn’t draw it, I built it. This whole thing started because I wanted to build a toy robot for my son. He asked too many questions and I had to come up with a story. I did build the toy. It’s not really fun to play with – it was supposed to hold together with magnets, but it keeps falling apart. At least I can look at it. For Waking Gods, I had to describe some of the movements the pilots would have to deal with, getting up when Themis falls down, etc. That was fun.

Finally, we have a tradition here at FanLit of asking authors if they have a signature drink. Maybe a go-to drink during the writing of Waking Gods? It can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood that serves a drink called the Darth Vader. Of course, I ordered it. Rum, Earl Grey tea, Apple liquor, ginger. So good. Replace the apple liquor with apple juice for a more summery version. Try it!

Comment below for your chance to win a copy of Waking Gods. U.S. addresses only.


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JASON GOLOMB, on our staff from September 2015 to November 2018, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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17 comments

  1. So that extra joint in the legs has really helped me make sense of this concept! But now I really want to see a picture of Sylvain Neuvel’s son’s robot. Also, I now feel even more sorry for what Vincent went through!

    ETA: I found a photo of the toy robot! http://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/giant-steps

    • Seeing that toy robot makes SO MANY THINGS fall into place in my head. Thank you, Tadiana!

      And thanks to both you and Jason for a great review!

      • It does, doesn’t it? I was having the hardest time conceptualizing it! That extra joint makes all the difference. It was mentioned in Sleeping Giants (I think just once; I just searched for it) but I overlooked it at the time.

        I loved the insights in your review too!

  2. Sharon Browning /

    Great find, Tadiana! I’ve had “Sleeping Giants” on my TBR pile for a while – I’d better get it boost closer to the top so I can be ready for “Waking Gods”! I lost track of how it’s coming out today. Good luck on the launch, Sylvain (and thanks for the interview, Jason and Tadiana).

  3. Sandy Giden /

    This is a new author for me but it sounds like an interesting series.

  4. Sandy Giden /

    Forgot to check follow up comments

  5. I have been wanting to read Sleeping Giants, and low and behold now there’s another book by the same author (as the wish list and tbr pile keep growing). I wonder if I get into trouble for admitting much of early anime guilty pleasure revolved around giant robots (they were subtitled, Yusha Raiden among others, on local television, and later the original Gundam series).

  6. Shawn Mansouri /

    I live well. I do what I love. That says it all. Would love to check out his new novel.

  7. mary henaghen /

    I don’t know how I missed this. Definitely a must read!

  8. For those who haven’t yet read the first book, Sleeping Giants, the Kindle version is currently on sale for $1.99 (Nook as well). Well worth the price!

  9. Thank you for the interview.
    I really liked Sleeping Giants, and I’d love to get a chance to read Waking Gods.

    I’m not sure if Sylvain checks these comments, but while I was reading the part that mentions linguistics I thought about Villeneuve’s Arrival. It would have been interesting to have his opinion about the movie as a sci-fi writer and a linguist.

  10. Ashley /

    I’m so excited to read this. The first book sort of came out nowhere last year, and was super enjoyable.

  11. John Smith /

    The titles and the covers are really good–I expect these are really enjoyable! Personally, I’ve never liked “Close Encounters.”

  12. Anne /

    I see a lot of great reviews for Sleeping Giants. Got to check it out! Love the covers of both books.

  13. Jovan Trujillo /

    Looking forward to the audiobook version. The library says I just need to wait 84 days!

  14. Shawn Mansouri, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of WAKING GODS!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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  1. Reading Links 4/11/17 – Where Genres Collide - […] http://www.fantasyliterature.com/author-interviews/sylvain-neuvel/ Second book in the Themsis series. […]

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