Authors Nathalie Gray, Robert Appleton and J.C. Hay each wrote an e-book science fiction novella for the Space Opera project Impulse Power. Now the authors sit down to answer RT’s questions about the project, their individual novels and their science fiction inspirations. And don’t miss the *Web Exclusive Reviews* of Gray’s Metal Reign, Appleton’s The Mythmakers and Hay’s Hearts and Minds!
Other than all being science fiction romances set in outer space, what ties the Impulse Power stories together?
Nathalie Gray: the sense of “what if”, I think, unites our stories as science fiction romances (SFR). That you can have rivets and love, that they’re not mutually exclusive. SFR stories are about more than love in zero-g. They’re frontier stories, humanity rising (or falling), people uniting against a common enemy or dissolving into wars. SFR in general and Impulse Power in particular is about transcending time and place, while always keeping what makes us who we are: the relationships important to us. Plus, we get to shoot up stars and shit!
Robert Appleton: I think the heroines have a lot in common. To me, nothing speaks SFR like a kick-ass space babe who gets emotionally compromised along the way. Emotion, strong women, and space-wide kickassery: three things every reader should expect from Impulse Power. After that, the very desperate situations our characters find themselves in are equally squirm-inducing in each story; we ain’t kidding when we say edge of your seat. Also, the idea of finding love in the loneliest (and most unexpected) of places is a recurrent theme throughout romance. In Impulse Power, it just happens those places are some of the loneliest and most unexpected imaginable!
J.C. Hay: For me, there is a great epic sense about the three stories. None of these stories are about small changes – the fates of worlds hang in the balance. With the romance in the foreground, you get this great dichotomy wherein our concern for the characters keeps this big epic story from feeling distant, while that same larger world helps to make the romance feel larger than life. It’s one of my favourite things about SFR, and something I think it does really well.
"No regrets. Achievement did not exist outside the law. Only survival, from one job to the next." This quote from The Mythmakers really seems to sum up the world that the Impulse Power characters live in. In all of the stories, survival is key and human life is oftentimes expendable. Anyone care to comment on this not-so-bright look at our future?
NG: Survival is what’s it’s always been about. Without threat, civilizations and species stagnate and become extinct. We just take it out into space instead, where anything is possible.
RA: The moment you enter space, survival smacks you in the face. All the life-sustaining necessities we take for granted—oxygen, water, food, temperature etc—are suddenly dicey problems that don’t forgive slip-ups. Then there are the ginormous distances involved. Isolation is going to make our space pioneers and colonizers profoundly self-reliant and nomadic. That’s one of the reasons romance shines so brightly in SFR; the emptiness of space amplifies that need for love. Plus, the Impulse Power authors hadn’t taken their Prozac when they thought these universes up.
JH: I think it ties partly into the direction we’ve seen science fiction go in the last 30 years. Utopian futures are fairly rare anymore, partly because there’s no interest in a place where everything is perfect (other than some of my characters desire to break it). A character that has to scrabble for everything they have is more interesting to the reader, and loads more interesting to write about. While it wasn’t the first, I think the art design of Star Wars has influenced that a lot. The vehicle, the ships, the whole world looks ‘lived-in.’ People look like they’re making do with what they have. Han Solo wouldn’t have been nearly so memorable if the Falcon was some gleaming, retro-futurist beauty of a ship.
Each Impulse Power story is set on a spaceship with a female leader. These ships all have great names that reveal the personality of the women who captain them. Can you each discuss how you choose the name of the ship in your story?
NG: I named my ship the Magellan because the real-life Magellan was an explorer, one of the first to cross all of the meridians. I figured it was fitting to have Humanity 2.0 (with Humanity 1.0 having mostly been utterly destroyed, wiped out, and otherwise crushed into tiiiiny, little pieces) come back to claim Earth on a ship called such. Plus, it sounded super cool!
RA: Mine became the Albatross when I remembered the bird in Coleridge’s poem, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. In the poem, an albatross follows the ship and is regarded as a symbol of good luck, but when the titular mariner shoots it with his crossbow, he augers terrible fortune for the crew. As a punishment, he is forced to wear the dead bird around his neck as a penance. That was a juicy parallel of Captain Steffi Savannah finding the giant alien ship. Is she an omen of good or bad luck for the creatures on board?
JH: Syna is a mercenary and a pirate – that was my first image of her, and it remained constant about her. I wanted her ship’s name to reflect that, as well as her triumph escaping from prison (prior to the story). I originally thought about just calling her ship the Quarry, but it felt too short for a proper ship name. As more of her back story came together, the name expanded to Hangman’s Quarry, which fit her flavour perfectly. She still calls it the Quarry a lot of the time, because it makes an easy nickname.
J.C., In Hearts and Minds there are some very cool futuristic weapons. I am, of course, referring to Syna's monoblade which she calls her 'scream sword' because of the noise it makes when it strikes. Also, the reader is introduced to the dangerous flechette gun. Can you describe your process of creating weapons that the characters use with such deadly accuracy?
JH: The main weapons in Hearts and Minds are all about the image of Piracy in High Space. The classic image of a swashbuckler with sword and pistol informed a lot of the feel I wanted to convey. As for the weapons themselves, Flechette guns have been around in science fiction for a while – I can’t remember the first time I saw mention of some form of ‘needle pistol’. For the world I was creating, it became obvious that most people would want a weapon that could be lethal in the close corridors of a starship, but not pose a risk of ripping through the hull and killing everybody on board. This was doubly true for a pirate like Syna, for whom capturing a Prize would be a significant source of income. Plus they make a great contrast to a weapon like the monoblade, which cuts through most everything. Not as much of a story there, sadly. I’m really just a Star Wars fan and wanted something appropriately lightsaber-like. In that respect, ultra-thin, super sharp weapons are such a sci-fi staple I’d feel odd without one.
As an amusing aside, in the very first draft the monoweapons didn’t have a dead man’s switch in the grip – I was blocking out a scene and realized that without it, the blade would cut through the hull if someone dropped it. Oops.
Robert, I was surprised that in the sci fi novella to be reading references to several pieces of classic literature including Brideshead Revisited, Stories of 1001 Arabian Nights and even "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." What made you choose to use these works in The Mythmakers?
RA: Great question! I’ve already answered the "Ancient Mariner" part. Plus I’m a kayaker, so any grandiose nautical references are allowed—call them delusions of grandeur. Brideshead Revisited is my favourite novel about the fading of the English aristocracy, and it really helped me encapsulate the young ship’s mechanic in The Mythmakers, whose highborn upbringing is now only evident in his voice and manner. He’s a toff turned grease-monkey called Joey Flyte (real name Joseph Marchmain), and he cooks a mean heart-stopping English breakfast.
Steffi is reading Arabian Nights just before finds the alien ship, and it alludes to the sense of wonder and magic she’s buried deep down but longs to reacquaint herself with. These classic literature references also reveal how well-educated Steffi is, despite her smelly fugitive status. She’s been forced into this nefarious lifestyle, and it’s not really who she is. Without Earth, you could say humanity in general is feeling pretty rootless and homesick. That’s why our best books have become not just classic, but MYTHIC. Indeed, Earth is the invisible force in The Mythmakers. It no longer exists, but it acts like gravity on the story and all the characters.
Nathalie, you are pretty well known for some steamy romances, but in Metal Reign, you "reign" in the explicit scenes (sorry for the pun, couldn't resist). However, despite the lack of physical activity between your characters, there is still so much emotion and connection between Frankie and John that, as a reader, I didn't feel like I missed anything. How was it writing without the explicit scenes?
NG: It was going back to my roots, in a sense. I started writing fantasy, then science fiction, and only then did I discover the goodness that is romance. I’m a late bloomer. My first book was published in 2005, and since then, I’ve written about werewolf mercenaries (in space, baby!), post-apocalypse vampires, steampunk, and SFR. One of them won an RT award, too! But my first goal has always been and will remain: world domination. Until then, I sit here in my impregnable fortress under the arctic ice sheet and plot (stories, evil master plans, recipes).
While reading the stories, each seemed to have a bit of flavor some popular TV shows and movies. From Nathalie's story I got a bit of an Independence Day feel. In J.C.'s tale I was treated to a few Joss Whedon Firefly moments. And Robert's story brought back the old-school Star Trek (with William Shatner) vibe. Was I just imagining this or was this movie and TV shows influences while writing? Can you name some other influences in your work?
NG: I have always, always consumed my stories in images. I’ve also always drawn, and was raised on animé (Albator, anyone!), on horror movies, and science fiction shows. So to me, it’s just a normal way of telling a story. It’s like a little movie is playing in my head and I type what I see. And that makes me sound like I’m one short of a playing card. Is this how we say it? English, as lovely as it is, is not my first language, so I sometimes get confused. I once said “skank” when I meant “skunk”. But that’s another conversation!
RA: Just to clarify, Nat’s first language is Klingon, so the word “skank” was correctly used to describe Spock’s jockstrap. :ducks: I have to say I’m thrilled that my story evoked old Trek. I hadn’t realized it before, but now that you mention it, I can totally see the connection. I’m a massive fan of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, and those series are seminal works of SF. Certainly the alien technology in The Mythmakers owes a nod to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Firefly is a show I found late but loved, so that will be in the storytelling mix as well. The narrative itself was influenced in part by Mike Resnick’s novella, "Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge", and the action scenes by just about every space-set movie ever made. By the way, Nat’s right about her work having that “movie” vibe—you won’t find a better example of that kind of punchy, visual style.
JH: Like Robert, I’m thrilled that my influences shine through – standing on the shoulders of giants and all that. Firefly and Farscape were both huge influences to me, both for Hearts and Minds, and in general. They carry a lot of the scrappy, survival based sci-fi that I like, while giving us very human love stories to which we can relate at the same time. I love the life on the lawless frontier of both series, and I wanted to capture some of that. Space Opera in particular really adapts well to that sort of setting, letting you bring in Western and High Seas elements as you see fit. As I’ve said earlier, Star Wars certainly had a huge influence me, much like it did anyone in my age group. From its art, to the types of stories, to the way we look at space opera specifically and science fiction in general, the ripples of its presence are inescapable.
Nathalie, you are not only the author of Metal Reign, but also the cover artist for the Impulse Power series. Can you describe the process of creating these covers and how they came together?
NG: Putting on my Kanaxa hat now. When Sasha Knight, our lovely editor for the space opera project (Impulse Power and Men in Space), approached me with her project, I was very, very excited. My inner Chihuahua was chasing her tail with savage glee. We never did exchange those very words, but let me give you the spirit of what our conversation sounded like. Behold, what transpireth:
Sasha: I’m putting together a space opera anthology. I need covers.
Me: Space opera! Can we have rivets? And lots of shiny metal and kickass girls in action poses and a cool spaceship and maybe some explosions because you can never have too much of that on an SFR cover you know.
Sasha: Yes, I guess we can have rivets, but we’d also—
Me: Ooh, and I could make it a triptych, with all three covers connected so it’s like one big, kickass scene. Then we’d add contrast, lots of contrast, and some red, too. Need red. And black—
Sasha: We should—
Me: Oh, I have it! The black of space pressing in, three heroines saving the world, explosions in the background. Did I mention the rivets? The explosions?
Sasha: *head desk*
Don’t miss the *Web Exclusive Reviews* for each of these three novellas, available now!