Summer 2020 is filled with so many exciting new books. One book on my radar is Sarah Lahey’s first book in her new science-fiction romance series, Gravity Is Heartless.
I had the opportunity to ask Sarah Lahey a few questions about the book, ranging from her inspirations, Sarah’s sci-fi and romance book recommendations, and how readers can be more environmentally conscious to prevent a world like Gravity Is Heartless from ever occurring.
About Gravity is Heartless:
What will the world look like in thirty years’ time? How will humanity survive the oncoming effects of climate change? Set in the near future and inspired by the world around us, Gravity Is Heartless is a romantic adventure that imagines a world on the cusp of climate catastrophe. The year is 2050: automated cities, vehicles, and homes are now standard, artificial Intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and quantum computing have become a reality, and climate change is in full swing—sea levels are rising, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up. Quinn Buyers is a climate scientist who’d rather be studying the clouds than getting ready for her wedding day. But when an unexpected tragedy causes her to lose everything, including her famous scientist mother, she embarks upon a quest for answers that takes her across the globe—and she uncovers friends, loss and love in the most unexpected of places along the way. Gravity Is Heartless is bold, speculative fiction that sheds a hard light on the treatment of our planet even as it offers a breathtaking sense of hope for the future.
Hi Sarah! Welcome to Fangirl Fury! Can you share a little about yourself and your writing?
I grew up in a house where words mattered, and people read. My father and stepfather were writers and newspaper journalists, and my mother was chief-of-staff at the local newspaper. My parents often worked from home and often from the dining room table, so my brother and two sisters were essentially immersed in a world of words and stories from a very young age. Then, I married a journalist, his friends became my friends and we’re still discussing stories and books, and the fascinating things that people do.
However, I chose a different career; I’ve been an interior designer for over 30 years. But during that time, I wrote a few small romance novels and finished a degree in communication, so writing stayed close. Then, about a decade ago I started teaching and lecturing university students, and I became aware of the importance of sustainable design and the significance of climate change. I started the Heartless Series as a way of exploring these topics in more detail, and science fiction is the perfect way to investigate our concerns about technology and our fears about the future.
GRAVITY IS HEARTLESS takes place in 2050 and in a world largely affected by climate change. What was your inspiration(s) in writing this book?
I posed the question, what will the world look like for the next generation? I have three adult children and I wanted to consider what the lives of their children, my potential grandchildren, would be like. So, I set my novel in 2050, one generation ahead. I asked myself, how will humanity survive the oncoming effects of climate change, where sea levels have risen, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up? I thought if people read this, they might understand more fully what life would be like in a world affected by massive consumption and the impact of burning fossil fuels for energy. But I also wanted the novel to be accessible to the youth culture of today, so it needed to be fun, an adventure, and above all optimistic.
GRAVITY IS HEARTLESS is described as SFF meets romance meets women’s fiction. What were the challenges in writing a book within this mixed genre?
Well, you’re supposed to write about what you know, and what you love. I’m pretty passionate about sustainable design and I love science. I have a close family of sisters, I’m the mother of two daughters, and I’ve been a single parent for almost two decades, so the female voice was always going to be strong. I love action plots and romance plots, but so often the protagonist is male, and it’s the men who drive the narrative forward. Women make terrific action heroes. They bring new and fresh dimensions to the genre, which are often amusing and complex.
The writer Stephen King has a wonderful phrase that describes the writing process and story development. He likens it to an archaeologist digging up the bones of an ancient fossil, and as the dig goes on the writer is required to use finer tools to polish and craft the work. For me, the main point is that the story is a pre-existing thing that needs to be revealed. There is a complete dinosaur, and this is your story, sometimes you dig up a foot, at other times it’s a backbone, but if you dig up a bone that doesn’t fit, then it’s not part of this story. So, in many ways this is also about finding the truth and keeping on track. I don’t really think too much about genre, for me it’s more about revealing the story.
The main character, Quinn, is a climate scientist who studies clouds. There have been so many recent discussions and studies about the need for women in STEM. Are there any specific people IRL who inspired you to write Quinn? Did you interview any female scientists while writing?
By all accounts STEM is still a boys’ club, with women drastically underrepresented, so gender equality has a long way to go, but I’m hopeful. I think society is moving closer to a creating a more egalitarian field. Many universities have introduced programs to increase the number of females and support their career development, and this needs to continue.
Science is a major theme in the book and there is strong female representation. The main character’s mother is a world-famous scientist, having won four Science Medals and a Nobel Prize in mathematics (Fields Medal). Quinn, the main character, has several female role-models, including the Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, and also the wonderful Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist and anthropologist. And Marie Curie features in NOSTALGIA IS HEARTLESS, the second book in the series, due out in 2021.
My background is in the arts, so I didn’t study STEM subjects, but I love science. I think the way the Periodic Table categorizes atoms is absolutely fascinating. I find the Standard Model of Elementary Particles amazing, for the sheer fact that there is a formula that describes the particles and fundamental forces, which make up almost everything in our universe. It’s not yet a Super Model, it doesn’t allow for gravity, quantum theory, or dark matter and dark energy, but if we keep smashing things together, we we’ll continue to fill in the missing pieces.
GRAVITY IS HEARTLESS has such an eye-catching cover! How were you involved in the cover design process?
Ideas for the book’s content spun around inside my head for several years, and during that time I’d developed a number of what I thought were fabulous cover ideas, or at least interesting possibilities. Initially I had a very clear idea that the main character and her artificial intelligence (AI) offsider would grace the cover, but that’s not what happened at all. In hindsight, most of my ideas were too complicated, cliché or already overused in the industry.
I worked with Julie Metz, from She Writes Press, and she told me to sketch what I imagined the futuristic climate city, called Harmonia, would look like. It was great advice, and it’s what I tell my students to do—get the ideas out of your head and onto the page. I sent her my rudimentary sketches with some notes, and the fabulous Ben Perini did the rest.
I love Ben’s design and I think it’s perfect for the book. One of the overarching premises is that the global economic divide now includes access to cool air. Climate change and rising sea levels have caused massive human displacement, along with the rise of megacities. These cities accommodate over a 100 million people, many of whom live in disused containers and swelter in 50-degree Celsius heat. Surrounding these megacities are gated climate cities, cool havens where it never gets above 30-degrees Celsius. The cover depicts one of the climate cities in the novel.
What are your go-to sci-fi and romance book recommendations?
My all-time favourite romance novels look something like this.
- Atonement – Ian McEwan
- Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
- Brokeback Mountain – Annie Proulx
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
As for science fiction, the list is broad, and includes hard science, fantasy and dystopic fiction.
- The Road – Cormac McCarthy
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
- Frankenstein – Many Wollstonecraft shelly
- Neuromancer – William Gibson
What are some ways that readers can be more environmentally conscious, especially at home right now?
There are some very effective ways we can all individually help the planet.
Reduce your consumption; reuse and recycle everything you possibly can and encourage your friends and family to do the same. When you do buy something, do your very best to select sustainable products. Value craftsmanship and turn your back on the poorly designed mass-produced products using artificial materials.
Then, before you switch on any appliance, light or air-conditioner, pause, and think about where your energy comes from. If it is coming from fossil fuels, then consider if you really need to flick the switch right now. Fossil fuels must be phased out—they will not be the future sources of our energy—the sooner we switch to solar, wind and geothermal the better.
And finally, reduce your meat and dairy intake. If you do eat meat, then buy top quality and keep it to once or twice a week. The planet can no longer support millions of people with meat-based diets.
What messages do you hope your readers take away from reading the book?
Climate change, and how we engage with future technologies, particularly our relationships with robots and AI, are some of the obvious themes. But the book also explores what it means to be human and what is consciousness, and this includes how the subconscious mind works. We navigate the world through our senses, but how we individually process this information is quite unique and dependent on our experiences, memories, religious beliefs, inclinations—all of the stuff that exists within our subconscious, which enables us to live in a meaningful way. I find it fascinating that we consider ourselves to be rational creatures, yet we’re driven by impulses, and often make decisions based on heightened emotions, rather than rational thought.
Fiction often mirrors reality. Tell us something about the global pandemic that you mention in GRAVITY IS HEARTLESS.
Building a believable world of the future is great fun, but it’s also a complicated task. The book is set in a world grappling with climate change, but that’s not the only thing that’s happened. Capitalism has collapsed, but is rising again, there was an eight-year war, quantum computing is now a reality, and in the early 2040s a global pandemic killed 5 per cent of the world’s population.
The pandemic is a side plot that will be explored in another book and I wrote this a few years ago, but Quinn, the main character, has a close friend, a scientist who works programming AI, and she’s close to the singularity—the creation of a super intelligent machine that continues to evolve—but she’s struck down by a third wave of Feline Flue (FF). Her symptoms mirror an ordinary flu; joint-pain, headache, fever, sore throat, but the exception is the yellow-streaks that show up in her irises. Her only chance of survival is to enter CyberSleep until a new vaccine can be found.
In the book FF is a coronavirus that mutated from a cat virus. Environmental heat factors caused a switch in the feline gene trigger, and the disease spread to birds, larger mammals and then to humans. It was particularly difficult to control as the virus constantly mutated, so a new strain meant a new vaccine, and it took years to get on top of the disease.
Gravity Is Heartless comes out on June 2, 2020.
About Sarah Lahey
Sarah Lahey is a designer, educator, and writer. She holds bachelor’s degrees in interior design, communication, and visual culture, and works as a senior lecturer teaching classes on design, technology, sustainability and creative thinking. She has three children and lives on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, Australia.
Design Blog: theautomaticpencil.tumblr.com
What are your sci-fi and romance book recommendations? Is Gravity Is Heartless on your TBR? Share in the comments!