With her trace of a foothills accent and her cup of herbal tea, Beth Revis comes across as a down-to-earth person. A casual observer might not pick her out as the creator of a bestselling science fiction series. She is, though. Revis’s Across the Universe trilogy takes readers from a starship a couple of centuries out from Earth to the surface of an alien world. On Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m., Revis will return to Malaprop’s (“One of the best bookstores in the world,” she says) to celebrate the release of The Body Electric, her newest novel and the fourth set in the same universe as her trilogy.
The Body Electric does have one significant difference from Revis’s previous books, though: the setting. “It is loosely what’s happening on Earth while the characters in the trilogy are in space,” she says. “It takes place on a futuristic Earth, about three or four hundred years in the future.”
She adds that the future she envisions for Earth is not exactly the dystopia readers may have encountered in other works of YA science fiction. “It’s not like we must fight the big, bad, evil government,” she says. “It’s what the future society is like and how it’s gotten twisted.”
While the setting has changed, The Body Electric nevertheless continues many of the themes Revis took up in her previous books. It explores the boundaries between technology and human biology and raises questions of social control, civil strife, and the use (and abuse) of authority. And it maintains another tradition: The Universe trilogy featured subtle echoes of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books, the Firefly television series and other elements of pop culture. “I always love hiding little things,” Revis says. Careful readers of The Body Electric may find similar sly references to C.S. Lewis and to Phillip K. Dick, whose mind-bending stories “We’ll Remember It for You Wholesale” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (inspiration for the movies Total Recall and Blade Runner, respectively) inspired elements of the plot.
In The Body Electric, just as in Dick’s work, the Earthbound setting allows Revis to ponder ordinary people’s interactions with technology and social change. But the setting also gives Revis an opportunity to explore a place that has long been close to her heart: Malta. She fell in love with the Mediterranean island nation on a college trip. In The Body Electric, she makes the island the seat of a recently formed global government. “I knew for years that I wanted to set a story there,” Revis says. “I had never seen a YA novel set in Malta before, and I wanted more people to know about this wonderful area.”
At the moment, Revis already has another book (“a very, very early draft”) in progress for Penguin, the publisher of the Universe series. Pressed for details, she adds that “there are superheroes, but not all is as it seems.” Asked if she plans to set any more books in the world of her trilogy, she says that she has no plans to — at least not at the moment. “This is probably it,” she says, “but never say never.”