Must-Read of the week: The Space Traveller's Lover by Omara Williams
The Space Traveller's Lover by Omara Williams is a fast-paced, emotionally charged science fiction novel that questions just how far someone will go for love.
By Gwyneth Rees
We’re all seeking that next book to fall madly in love with, and The Space Traveller's Lover by debut novelist Omara Williams could well be the ‘one’ for you.
A suspenseful and fast-paced work, it artfully blends science fiction with romance to deliver an inspirational read that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the final page.
Set in a bleak future Earth beset by irreversible climate change, it considers how humankind would act if a more advanced alien civilisation invaded with the sole intention to exact revenge.
At the heart of the novel is young female protagonist Erin. Beautiful, strong and independent, she has an unshakable feeling that she doesn’t quite fit in with her surroundings, living with her adoptive parents on the tropical island of Tinian where she helps out with their thriving tuna farm.
Though clearly gifted and different to everyone else, with stunning purple eyes, she lives a remarkably ordinary life and prefers to spend her free time swimming in the ocean rather than interacting with others.
Still, she enjoys the company of her best friend Sam and looks set to settle into a pleasant if pedestrian existence until a planned romantic escapade with him takes an unexpected turn.
Erin has been having a recurring dream about a mysterious man dressed as a soldier watching her from afar as she runs through endless corridors and, then, the strong wind lifts her over a strange multi-coloured ocean.
His soft voice seems soothing, though she cannot discern what he is saying, but each time she tries to reach him, he vanishes behind a dark cloud.
When she is lured to a dangerous cave while out with Sam, intrigued by a mysterious orange light emanating from within, she finally comes face-to-face with the man of her dreams.
An elite space traveller by the name of Rothwen, he reveals that he is a member of the Rom-Ghenshar, a genetically engineered, immortal alien race that is smarter and stronger than humankind. His people have an ancient grudge with humanity, having failed to conquer Earth 10,000 years before.
This time, they have vowed to finish the job.
Like all of his kind, the ruthless Rothwen seems not to have emotions or the capacity for love, yet at the same time he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Erin, despite the Rom-Ghenshars’ hatred of humanity.
Fascinated by her, and having long waited for her arrival, he vows to keep Erin by his side, even if it means changing the invasion plans to do so. She, for her part, is equally mesmerised by Rothwen and is happy to stay.
In Rothwen’s company, Erin meets with other members of his race, with them giving her the new name of ‘Shaillah’, and explaining she has a unique ancestry—finally confirming to Erin why has always felt different to those around her.
She is wooed on two sides—by the domineering yet pleasing Rothwen, and by the attraction of her special heritage, journeying to the Rom-Ghenshar home world as her body is transformed to bring out her full powers.
Rothwen wants Erin to abandon all thoughts and connections to the human race, but coming to doubt the Rom-Ghenshars’ professed claims of seeking peaceful co-existence with humankind, she is hesitant to do so.
And this reluctance, despite a deep yearning to be with her new alien beau, could be humanity’s saving grace, as Earth’s ultimate fate may well depend on Erin/Shaillah being able to keep her human emotions intact.
The Space Traveller's Lover is centred on the complex relationship and power-play between Erin and Rothwen.
Though the Rom-Ghenshar supress their emotions, author Omara Williams has no difficulty in charging the story with emotional impact. Take, for example, this passage that conveys the instant attraction of Erin towards the space soldier.
He keeps perfectly still and allows Erin to inspect him for as longs as she wants. She is intrigued by his exotic looks, puzzled by his magnetic aura. His thick dark eyebrows join together over the long thin nose. When he momentarily blinks, the glow from his pupils flashes through lush dark eyelashes. His slick silver hair flows over his thick neck and falls over his forehead in a jagged fringe. Her fingers play with his hair as she strokes his face, pressing hard on his cheeks and jawbones. Oh, he is real!
Then there are the love-related dilemmas that we all experience, albeit not with literally world-changing consequences. Erin’s competing desires to be with Rothwen and to protect the planet she has called home all these years have a profound effect on her.
There are also other loyalties making things complicated for Erin, such as towards Sam, as well as the uncertainty over her intoxicating lover’s true intentions towards her. Will he ever be able to truly love her, or is this passion so alien to his species that it is just a passing phase?
Given the cosmic gulf between our star-crossed lovers, the angst and drama on display is all the more spectacular.
Closely associated with love is the theme of identity. Erin, in the process of becoming part of the Rom-Ghenshar, wrestles constantly with this problem, wondering if it is either freedom from a dull life or the worst decision she will ever make.
You could view the narrative, in a sense, as a coming-of-age story, packed with the heart-ache and excitement that comes with self-discovery.
It also ventures into the realm of eco-fiction (stories that consider the impact of humankind on the environment). Certainly, one of the questions raised is whether the Earth is actually worth saving, given how badly we have cared for it.
Other big ideas investigated by Williams include whether humanity is capable of redemption, what is the true nature of humanity, and whether it simply nature’s law for those more powerful to exploit and exterminate weaker lifeforms.
These are neatly wrapped within a winning storyline and vivid world full of fascinating sights and compelling characters.
YA readers are the primary audience, but anyone with a taste for soft sci-fi or romance will want to jump aboard this rollercoaster ride, which has many twists and turns to keep your interest.
As a bonus, The Space Traveller’s Lover also features appealing black and white illustrations between chapters, similar to those found in graphic novels. While Williams’ prose is perfectly descriptive in itself, these illustrative additions only help enhance the immersive experience.
Clever and timely, the book is the first in a planned series, and lends itself perfectly to cinematic adaptation.
In conclusion, sci-fi author Omara Williams’ debut novel is a remarkable tour de force. If there is one YA book to read in 2022, this is it.
The Space Traveller’s Lover by Omara Williams is out now on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and eBook formats, priced at £27.99, £13.95 and £2.99 respectively. For more information visit www.omarawilliamsbooks.com. You can also follow Omara Williams on Twitter @williams_omara, and on Facebook or Instagram at @OmyWilliams.
Interview With Author Omara Williams
Originally from Cuba but now based in Cambridge, England, Omara Williams grew up with twin loves of classic adventure stories and science. She would go on to study nuclear engineering and computing, and has enjoyed a distinguished career as an award-winning manager. She has drawn upon her scientific and technical knowledge for her debut novel, The Space Traveller’s Lover, and in this interview she tells us more about the book, her belief in the power of love, and her admiration for with Dame Joan Collins, among other things.
Q: What attracted you to writing a sci-fi romance, and why do you think readers will fall in love with it?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by science and technology, and the intense emotions stirred by love stories. Hence I started wondering, ‘How powerful can love be?’
The Space Traveller’s Lover takes the reader into the mysterious and otherworldly realm of the alien invaders, as Erin, the main character, discovers her intense emotions and desires.
Every chapter reveals a new twist. As the main characters confront their strong feelings, the expectation builds up until the unpredictable but rewarding ending where only love will prevail. The reader will find themselves on an enthralling journey of self-discovery and self-belief.
Q: How much work went into writing the novel, especially considering that English is not your native language, and do you think it was worth all that effort?
A: I have lived in the UK for 30 years and, after all these years, all my thoughts are now in English and the English phrases come easier to me than in my native language.
As I work full-time, I only could write in the evenings and at weekends. Initially, I started writing for an hour or two each day but, as the book progressed, I found it so enjoyable that I spent the whole weekend writing from morning to evening.
I am very proud of having published my book. When I first started, it seemed an impossible task. Now that it is complete, I feel realised as an author. It was definitely worth the effort, the time and the expense.
Q: What are the main points of conflict in your novel?
A: Ten thousand years ago, an alien race, the Rom-Ghenshar, was driven from Earth by ancient humans. They have returned to Earth using perfect human replicas to understand and eventually control the human mind. Stronger, invincible, immortal, and with a technical superiority beyond comprehension, the aliens are fuelled by a zest for revenge while plundering Earth’s remaining resources.
The Rom-Ghenshars have remodelled themselves into a genetically superior race and removed any feelings or emotions they consider a weakness. They don’t feel fear, guilt or remorse, and most importantly, they never fall in love.
Rothwen, a headstrong and ruthless alien soldier, develops an intense obsession with Erin, a bright young human student with a mysterious past. He decides to bring Erin into his world, changing all the invasion plans to be with her, just for his pleasure. The pair embark on a passionate affair that sees Rothwen fight against his will, his plans, and his supreme commander.
Once Erin is with the aliens, she discovers their immense destructive powers. While the aliens promise the humans that they have come peacefully, Erin suspects that not all is as it seems.
Erin’s future and that of planet Earth depend on her next actions. She often wonders where her loyalty lies. Is it with the humans or the aliens? Will she stay with her best friend from childhood who loves her deeply? Or will she stay with the ruthless alien soldier who shows no mercy? Will she be able to overturn the aliens’ destructive plans?
Q: What is so special and powerful about love?
A: I think love is the most powerful force in the universe.
We know about the laws and forces of nature; they always behave according to specific rules and have limits and constraints. But love, coming from a living creature, has an extraordinary power of going beyond any limits, any restrictions. And it can be so profoundly transformational that it could achieve the unimaginable.
There are many kinds of love—mother love, sensual love, divine love, etc.—but they all have one thing in common: the force originating from love can go beyond any limits. It has the power to overcome any obstacles; to create and transform.
Can love even change someone that has never loved? Someone whose only intention is to destroy and subjugate? This is Erin’s story, as told in The Space Traveller’s Lover.
Q: What would you do if an alien civilisation invaded?
A: Arthur C. Clarke, the great English science-fiction writer, once said, “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
The arrival of an extra-terrestrial civilisation to our domain would be truly mind-blowing. If they get here, they must be a Type II or higher civilisation in the Kardashev scale. In contrast, we have not reached Type I yet. Should we believe them if they say they are coming in peace? I address that dilemma in The Space Traveller’s Lover.
Personally, if aliens came here, I would try to find out everything about the visiting aliens before deciding to take action. If they would allow me, that is!
Q: The novel is set in a future Earth severely impacted by climate change. Why did you think it important to address this ecological issue?
A: Our planet’s climate is changing; there is no doubt about that. It has also changed in the past, but the difference now is that there are nearly eight billion of us.
The impact we are having on the planet and the planet on us cannot be underestimated. To what extent will this climate change transform our civilisation and our environment? Are we so intent on innovation that we forget to take care of the planet that gave us life?
I cover a possible scenario in The Space Traveller’s Lover to make us think about the potential consequences. I hope it will make the readers think about our place, duty and responsibilities towards our beautiful planet.
Q: One of the characters in the novel is inspired by one of your personal heroes, the legendary Hollywood actress Joan Collins. Tell us more about her and why you decided to pay homage to your hero in this way?
A: Most of the characters in my novel are unique to the story and inspired by it. But when I needed to describe the glamorous and indomitable Zula-Or, the highly respected Rom-Ghenshar councillor, I always had Dame Joan Collins in my head.
I admire Dame Joan Collins so much for her decisiveness, straightforwardness and for always looking her best—precisely all the traits I needed for my character.
When I was writing the Zula-Or character, I imagined Dame Joan Collins talking to me, and that is what I wrote for the dialogue. I hope someday she reads my book!
Q: You have held a burning passion to be an author since childhood. What advice would you give to anyone inspired to write a book?
A: It may feel daunting to start writing a book, because you have no idea at that point what it will be like when finished and whether it will succeed. But you must begin setting short-term targets and taking pride in every accomplished milestone. The most important step is the first step. Make sure you celebrate it.
Write everything that comes to your mind, and turn your ideas into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and sections. Let your imagination flow as you write and enjoy every moment. Then you can work on the storyline structure, dialogue and refining the characters. As the story falls into place, you will feel a deep sense of achievement and enjoyment.
Q: Who are your biggest literary heroes, and what have you learned from them about the art of storytelling?
A: I have read many books and have so many favourite authors that it’s difficult for me to make a shortlist. I would definitely include Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke as my biggest heroes.
Reading their books, full of vibrant descriptions of exotic places, made me think I was really there. I could get lost in my imagination and visit locations I wouldn’t dream could exist. If it makes you feel like you are there, then the book narrative served its purpose.
I also learned that the storyline must have the fast pace, suspense, intense emotions and dramatic revelations at the end to make for a thrilling read.
All the above is what I endeavoured to achieve in my book.
Q: The novel is the first in a planned series. Without giving away any spoilers, what can you tell us about the next book?
A: Many storylines are waiting to be explored and developed further in my first book. What will happen to the humans after Rothwen’s actions? How will Kuzhma-Or, the alien supreme commander, enact his punishment against Rothwen? How will Rothwen lead the Grand Mothership Fleet to the Omega Centauri supercluster? How will Erin confront the Rom-Ghenshar Great Ancestors Council?