For the past 17 years, Drew Williams has been a bookseller at Little Professor Book Center in Birmingham, Ala. He was hired at age 16, after walking in off the street and asking for a job on the same day that somebody else happened to quit. Today he is the store's adult book buyer, and next year Williams will make his authorial debut when Tor publishes his science fiction novel, The Stars Now Unclaimed.
"I read across the board, but I've always wanted to write genre stuff," said Williams, who described himself as a lifelong writer. He reads everything from murder mysteries to literary fiction, he added, but whenever he sits down to write, the result is always genre, whether that be horror, science fiction or fantasy. "It's just where all the stories I want to tell seem to be."
Due out on August 28, 2018, The Stars Now Unclaimed is set roughly 100 years after the Pulse, a catastrophic, galaxy-wide event of unknown origin that sent the technology level of countless planets hurtling back to different ages. Ever since the Pulse, children have been born throughout the galaxy who possess miraculous, almost supernatural gifts. The novel opens with Jane Kamali, an agent for an organization called the Justified, on a mission to find a child who has such a gift but doesn't know it yet. At the same time, a group of fascist zealots known as the Pax, who were unaffected by the Pulse and aim to take over the galaxy, are looking for the child.
Williams explained that in writing The Stars Now Unclaimed, he created the world, and the concept of the Pulse, first. He wanted to write something set in an unpredictable, uncontrollable universe, in which there was "always something else" for his characters to encounter. Thanks to the Pulse, he could have his characters visit one world that possessed the futuristic technology one might expect from a space opera, while on the next planet they could find a level of technology akin to Europe in the late 19th century. "There are always more stories you can tell in a universe like that," said Williams. "I took it from there and found the narrative."
The idea behind the Pulse, meanwhile, had its genesis in the real world. Williams recalled once hearing that during the early days of the Manhattan Project, some scientists believed that it would not be statistically impossible for the first atomic bomb test to light the earth's atmosphere on fire and wipe out life on the planet. Though the story may very well be apocryphal, Williams said, it nevertheless made a profound impact on him. The Pulse grew out of Williams trying to imagine that kind of what if, for something like the Manhattan Project but on a galactic scale. What if the worst had happened? What would life be like for the survivors? And what would happen to those responsible for such an event? "How desperate did you have to be to still flip the switch?" he wondered. "They still set the bomb off."
When asked about his literary influences, Williams replied with a "reel of the classics," including Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card and other major science fiction writers. He pointed to Star Wars as another huge influence: "For anyone writing a space opera, if you're pretending Star Wars doesn't exist, it's going to hurt your book." And in terms of stylistic influences, Williams said, the one name that he "most consciously kept in mind" while writing the book was Stephen King.
Though The Stars Now Unclaimed has its own climax and resolution, Williams said that it is very much the start of a series and, in fact, he is closing in on completing the rough draft for the second book and hopes that the sequel can hit shelves before the end of 2019. He also has a third book planned in the series, and while he said there is a "definite end point" for these characters, he could possibly write more stories in the same universe. And beyond that, he'd love to try his hand at other genres, including fantasy and horror.
Given how far away the launch date is, Williams said there are no plans yet for a book tour. "Whatever my agent and editor tell me to do, I'll do that," he said, adding: "And to any stores who want to host Drew--he will come." --Alex Mutter