Christopher Paolini’s latest novel may not have any dragons, but it does have spaceships. And tentacles.
The “Eragon” author is turning from fantasy to science fiction in his new novel, “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars,” out Sept. 15. While Paolini’s bestselling “Inheritance Cycle” was set in a world of swords, magic, and — of course — dragons, the setting of “To Sleep” is quite different.
“It’s a big epic story full of alien planets, heartache, spaceships, adventure and then the occasional tentacle — as one has to have in science fiction,” Paolini jokes.
Though Paolini has published four novels in the “Inheritance Cycle” series, as well as a short story collection last year, he admits he is still “a little nervous” about his new book being published.
“I’ve been working on this book for over seven years, and I got the idea for it back in 2006, 2007,” he explains. “So that’s a long time to have a story live in your head.”
But soon, that story will be living in the heads of readers, as well. Paolini will be discussing “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” with those readers during a virtual, COVID-19-era book tour — which includes an event later this month hosted by The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, where he will appear with Utah author Brandon Sanderson.
In an interview with the Deseret News, Paolini discussed his decision to turn from fantasy to sci-fi, the pros and cons of doing virtual events during a pandemic, and whether he plans to return to the world of “Eragon” and the “Inheritance Cycle.”
“To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” tells the story of Kira Navárez, a xenobiologist who discovers an alien relic while on a survey mission of another planet. The novel is the first in a new universe of stories that Paolini intends to write, which he calls the “Fractalverse.”
It is also the first novel that Paolini has published outside of the “Eragon” universe. The first novel of the four-volume “Inheritance Cycle” — which he began writing at age 15 and originally self-published with the help of his parents in 2002 — quickly became a bestseller. Sequels and a movie followed, as well as a short story collection in 2019.
The sci-fi setting of “To Sleep” is a departure from the fantasy world of “Eragon,” but for Paolini, the change of genre wasn’t that much of a leap.
“I love science fiction as much as fantasy,” says Paolini. “I grew up reading it as much as fantasy.”
Citing works like “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons and “Dune” by Frank Herbert as some of his inspirations, he says that writing “To Sleep” was his way of “daydreaming” and thinking about some of the larger themes of science fiction.
“I love thinking about the future of humanity and what we might be able to do as we move out among the stars,” he says.
“With this book, I was attempting to capture the sense of awe and wonder that I feel when I look up at the stars at night and think about what it would be like to go out into the rest of the universe.”
For most authors with a new novel, a book tour and in-person book signings are the traditional way to promote their work. But amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual book tour — usually with online discussion or readings — is quickly becoming the new normal.
While this could be viewed as a challenge, Paolini — who will start a virtual tour on Sept. 15 with an event with Barnes and Noble — sees a bright side to online events.
After nearly 20 years of touring and promoting his books, Paolini says that he has been surprised by the number of his fans watching some of his recent online events that have said they have never heard him speak before. Through virtual events, he is able to reach many more fans than he would in a traditional book tour.
“I’ve done hundreds of events with thousands of people, but the reach of that is limited,” Paolini says. “And online stuff allows you to reach a new audience and in different ways, and I personally find that very exciting.”
One of his upcoming tour events will be hosted by The King’s English Bookshop, which Paolini calls “a wonderful resource for the local community and for authors all around the country.” He will be joined in the online event by Utah fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.
This is not the first time that the two authors have crossed paths — in fact, earlier this year Paolini and Sanderson were involved in a virtual conversation together for an event for their publisher, Tor Books.
“I really like Brandon,” says Paolini. “I enjoy his writing and I love chatting about writing with him.”
Looking ahead, Paolini says that he has quite a few projects planned beyond “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.”
The author has already been working on both a sequel novella and a prequel novel for “To Sleep,” and has plans for more works that will be set in what he calls the “Fractalverse.” Paolini says that “To Sleep” is the “pillar” of the “Fractalverse,” but that it is “a setting that I’m hoping to use for stories for the rest of my life.”
But that doesn’t mean that he’s leaving behind the world of “Eragon.”
Paolini currently has plans for what he’s calling “Book Five” of the “Inheritance Cycle,” and says he intends to write “quite a bit more” in that universe. Though he doesn’t yet have a timeline, he says he expects to be able to give more attention to the fifth book once he’s finished working on the promotion for “To Sleep.”
Though he’s currently focused on science fiction and fantasy, Paolini hasn’t ruled out writing in other genres. In fact, he says it’s something he’d like to do at some point. He has just one criteria.
“As long as it’s a good story, that’s all that really interests me.”
Christopher Paolini will be in conversation with author Brandon Sanderson in an online event, hosted by The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, on Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. Tickets to the event can be purchased at kingsenglish.com.