A Xenobiologist Finds Herself in a Sticky Situation in the First Look at Christopher Paolini’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

While still a teenager, author Christopher Paolini funneled his passion for all things epic (dragons! Quests! Magic! Prophecies! Power-mad villains! Apostrophes!) into Eragon, a book that kicked off one of the bestselling young reader fantasy sagas ever published.

In the nine years since the release of the final volume of the Inheritance Trilogy Cycle, however, Paolini has been fairly quiet, his only work of significant length being last year’s short story collection The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, which gave readers a glimpse of the future that awaits Eragon, Saphira, and the kingdom of Alagaësia.

For his next book, he is looking into our own future: late last year we learned Paolini will return to bookstores in September with a brand new adventure in a genre publicly untried by the author, as he releases his first foray into science fiction, the space opera To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.

Today, Entertainment Weekly gave us an exclusive look at the novel, providing more hints about what we can expect from Paolini’s first work for adults—a book he calls a “love letter to science fiction.”

The official summary released last year promises a few of your favorite old standbys, from a mysterious alien artifact to the promise of first contact, and the excerpt drops us right into the thick of things as our protagonist, xenobiologist Kira Navárez, comes to after a fall during a routine survey mission on another world, only to find herself quite literally inside of the most important discoveries in human history:

A ragged shaft of light filtered down from the hole she had fallen through, providing the only source of illumination. By it she saw that she was inside a circular cave, perhaps ten meters across—

No, not a cave.

For a moment she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing, the incongruity was so great. The ground was flat. The walls were smooth. The ceiling was curved and dome-like. And in the center of the space stood a . . . stalagmite? A waist-high stalagmite that widened as it rose.

Kira’s mind raced as she tried to imagine how the space could have formed. A whirlpool? A vortex of air? But then there would be ridges everywhere, grooves… Could it be a lava bubble? But the stone wasn’t volcanic.

Then she realized. The truth was so unlikely, she hadn’t allowed herself to consider the possibility, even though it was obvious.

The cave wasn’t a cave. It was a room.

We learn that humans have encountered a hint of the existence of intelligent aliens already, via the discovery of the “Great Beacon” on Talos VII (a cute reference to Star Trek: TOS and, oddly enough, the more recent Star Trek: Discovery!). But with no other extant information about the Beacon’s purpose or origins to go on, we remain in the dark about our status in the wider galaxy… Kira’s accidental discovery clearly may change that….

The excerpt does’t give us much more than that to go on, honestly, but it does sprinkle in a bit of worldbuilding, providing a sense of how Paolini will handle the presence of technology in his story. Kira wears a “skinsuit” with an HUD that provides readouts on her vitals and allows her to access a dose of painkillers to treat her injuries (unfortunately she failed to bring along the “gecko pads” that would allow her to scale the smooth walls of the alien structure); she can easily switch on her “thermals” with a voice command and carries a scanner than seems to function much like a tricorder (sing along with me: “lifeforms, you precious little lifeforms…”).

We end on a note of action, as a rock falls from the ceiling and nearly crushes Kira; she winds up near that aforementioned weird alien stalagmite and notices it is covered in space dust and giving off a weird blue glow. Luckily, she proves to be a bit brighter than the xenobiologists of Prometheus:

She wasn’t so stupid as to touch the dust. That was the sort of rookie mistake that got people eaten or infected or dissolved by acid.

Unfortunately, said dust doesn’t require being touched, as it soon begins to crawl over her and engulf her body, seeping into her suit faster than you can say “grey goo.” Uh oh.

Read the full excerpt over at Entertainment Weekly. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars publishes with Tor Books on September 15.

Joel Cunningham was the founding editor of the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog (RIP), where he got to explore the galaxy for 5 years and picked up a Hugo Award (well, tangentially) along the way. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children, despite the fact that this is a thing no sane person would choose to do. He tweets @joelevard.

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