Happy UK debut day to Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings! A fun space heist that leads to the trappings of two ships in a time rift. There’s a Miguel-and-Tulio dynamic between the captains of the Jonah, plus compelling history fanning from the cast of the Gallion. It’s a fun space opera about people trying their best to preserve the future and then some.
Join me in welcoming this book with Ren Hutchings. She talks about bringing the Jonah and the Gallion together, fabricating a galaxy-sized collective mythos, the evolutions this story has taken, and what she’s working on next.
Crafting Under Fortunate Stars
What perspective in this story came to you first: the Jonah or the Gallion?
The first scene I ever wrote for this book was the scene where the Gallion crew first gets the distress call from the Jonah, and grapples with the possibility that they’re experiencing a time anomaly – so the Jonah and the Gallion storylines basically came into being at the same time. Among the POV characters, I think Uma (the history nerd engineer) has changed the least through all my revisions. Her interest in history, and specifically in the Jonah voyage, has always been a core part of the story.
Where did the idea of having two groups of people meeting in a time rift come from?
The story concept has morphed a bit from how I originally envisioned it, but it was always about a history nerd meeting a group of historical heroes from the past, and it was always set in space. Having the two ships stranded in an anomaly and unable to contact the outside world created an added layer of tension, and it pushed the two crews to trust each other and cooperate. They can’t call for help from anyone else, look up any new information or access any new tools, all they have is each other and whatever is with them in the rift.
I’m really drawn to this scenario, where a group of people are removed from everyone and everything else, and have to work things out using whatever resources they’ve got. The show Lost was a big influence on this book. There are some episodes of Star Trek that use this setup too (notably the TNG episode Night Terrors, which also inspired some aspects of the premise!)
How did you go about constructing the mythos for this section of the galaxy?
One of the themes explored in Under Fortunate Stars is about how a collective mythos evolves over time, and how true histories get reimagined to create stories and characters that are, at best, loosely inspired by the actual events. We see this kind of thing happen even when humanity lives on a single planet, so I thought it would be interesting to play that out on a galactic scale, and think about how legends would be passed down about pivotal historical events.
The big event that’s central to this book is the voyage of the Jonah, a starship that carried five human heroes to the peace negotiations where they sealed a treaty with an alien civilization. I thought about how history would conceive of these five figures, and the narratives that would be constructed about them when very little actual biographical data was available.
They each became known by a nickname that’s tied to their role in the peace voyage, and they were given these larger-than-life personalities in the galaxy’s folk songs and dramatizations. As a passionate history buff, Uma is fascinated by these stories, but also by the underlying truth – which is in some cases very different from the pop culture image.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
There’s a soft, character-focused scene where Uma and Eldric Leesongronski – her favorite historical figure – have a drink together and talk about their lives, and she has some important realizations about her own life through talking to him. I really love that scene. The moments when a character reaches a turning point, when their perspective shifts on the page, are always the most interesting to write.
What is your favorite part of the world-building?
Most of the main action takes place on spaceships, but I loved creating all the different worlds that we get to see in flashback chapters. I wanted to build a sense of uniqueness for each of the planets, and a sense that they all have their own fully fleshed-out history. These places evoke vivid personal memories for the characters who lived or visited there, so I wanted to capture that too – not just what a place is like, but what it can mean to a person.
Is Under Fortunate Stars your first book?
It’s the first book I ever pursued publication with! So, while I did complete several other manuscripts before UFS, it is in many ways still my “first book.” I had a lot of new experiences with it (querying, revising with an agent and then an editor, etc.) that I never had with previous projects.
Is there anything you know now that you would want to tell past!Ren?
No, I don’t think so. I mean, there are definitely lots of things I wish I had known sooner… but since I don’t actually know how time travel works, it’s probably best not to try to meddle with the past or risk altering any of my past decisions. (Plus, since I have no recollection of a future version of me ever giving me any advice in this timeline, I can only assume that I’m going to decide not to meddle even if I get the opportunity!)
What are you working on now?
A few different things! I’m slowly rewriting a sci-fi novel that I half-drafted in 2019, about a found family of space rogues and an impossible heist. I’m also noodling with another little manuscript, an unexpected story that came out of a series of flash fiction vignettes I wrote during FlashFicFebruary. It’s got weird time stuff in it, which will surprise absolutely no one.
Which books are releasing or out now that you’re excited to read?
So many! I’m super excited about the first book in Alex White’s new trilogy, August Kitko and the Mechas from Space, which sounds exactly as cool as that awesome title. (It’s out in July, but I was lucky enough to get an ARC, so I’ll be reading it soon!) Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen is also high on my TBR – I absolutely adored The Chosen and the Beautiful, and I can’t wait for this one. Later this year, I’m really looking forward to reading The Stars Undying by Emery Robin – a debut that reimagines the story of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar in a space opera setting.
Ren Hutchings is a speculative fiction writer, writing mentor, and history grad. She spent most of the past decade working in game dev while also plotting twisty space novels. She loves pop science, unexplained mysteries, 90s music, collecting outdated electronics, and pondering about alternate universes. Ren’s debut novel, UNDER FORTUNATE STARS, is out now from Solaris. You can find Ren online at renhutchings.com.