How a Debut Novelist Sold a Book About the Battle Between Two Invincible Spaceships

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Who says giant, thrilling space opera is dead? British author John Love just sold his debut novel, Faith, to Nightshade Books, and it has a huge widescreen premise that sounds like the perfect mix of space battles and politics.

Top image by Jabraniho, via Concept Art Forums

The announcement in Publishers Marketplace described Faith as:

a sci-fi mix of Moby Dick and the classic movie Duel, in which an unknown, invincible, Kafkaesque alien ship has returned 300 years after breaking one galactic empire to now threaten the human Commonwealth, and the best and brightest minds that are sent in a invincible ship of their own to stop it, with the only problem being that those best and brightest are also some of the Commonwealth's most twisted sociopaths and if they win, the human empire may find itself in more danger than ever.


We were so excited by that description, including "sociopaths on an invincible starship," that we had to ask Love about it. How did he come up with this insane concept, and how did he sell it to Nightshade? Is it space opera or military SF? Here's what he told us:

The actual writing of Faith took about fifteen months, but I'd had the idea in my head for a few years before that. My job in the music industry (I was Managing Director of PPL, the world's largest record industry copyright organisation) meant I never properly sat down to write it until after I retired. Before then, it existed as disconnected scraps of dog-eared paper. Once I'd written it I looked on the net for agents active in the SF field who were open to submissions from new authors. Jason Yarn of Paradigm was about the tenth agent I contacted, and he seemed to get what the novel was about. I signed a deal for Paradigm and Jason to represent the novel about a year ago. Nightshade's offer came about three weeks ago.

I've always liked the idea of a serious literary novel which is also a really good page-turner. That's what I always wanted Faith to be. If I had to choose between the categories you mention (hard military SF and space opera) I'd say it's closer to space opera. But I always wanted it to have a philosophical dimension too. I tried to write it so it goes deeply into character, and raises questions of identity and motive (sorry- that sounds pretentious) but the peg on which all that is hung is the story of a space battle against a mysterious and increasingly strange opponent. The key is the opponent's identity, and that is revealed, fully, right at the end.

[The alien] ship has already destroyed the Sakhran Empire. The Sakhrans are humanoids, with a rather static and conservative society. What is left of their Empire, after Faith first visits them, is now assimilated into the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth (as you'll also see from the attachment) is not an Evil Empire (I like Star Wars, but I didn't want to go down that route). Most of it is fairly open and decent. I didn't want to have a simple good-and-bad division of the two opponents. One of them (the Commonwealth) is frighteningly powerful but has both good and bad qualities, probably more good than bad. The other one (Faith) is unknowable, at least until the end. And strange.

The synopsis describes Faith as "the bastard child of Moby Dick and Kafka, invincible and strange," and maybe the idea comes from a sort of subconscious amalgamation of those two. Moby Dick, because of the idea of a mighty opponent (the whale) against an equally mighty hunter (Ahab). Kafka, because as the battle proceeds and more is revealed about Faith, it becomes clear that this unidentified ship comes from somewhere Kafkaesque, where all normal laws are inverted, where water flows uphill. (That's a good phrase. I wish I'd used it in the book!)

I don't think I know enough about the market for heavy-duty space opera to know whether it's as strong as it used to be. Iain M Banks novels still sell very strongly in the UK, though I think they have qualities you don't find in some other space operas. As I said, I wasn't consciously writing a space opera, but something else which used the story of a space battle as a peg on which to hang other things I wanted to say.